Netflix has begun testing a new feature on mobile that allows select users to "Play a Popular Episode" of certain TV shows, without having to scroll through and pick which one they want to watch. As spotted by Android Police, the test only appears to be on the Android app as of now.
Images via Android Police
Additionally, users have noticed that in the playback controls of a TV show, there is a new "Random Episode" button. With this feature you would be able to shuffle around within the TV show you're already watching, which would be useful for people who watch their favorite shows repeatedly and don't necessarily need to see everything in order.
As with all tests, it's unclear if Netflix will ever launch these features to a wide audience on both Android and iOS devices, or other platforms. If you're on Android, the random episode test is on v7.6.0 build 19 34157 of the Netflix Android app.
Netflix will be gaining competition in the streaming market later this year when Apple TV+ and Disney+ launch, but the company has said that it isn't worried about these launches because of the "differing nature" of the content on offer. The company is also ramping up original content production, which means a price hike to $12.99/month for the popular HD streaming plan for all users beginning in May.
In lockstep with Amazon, Google has announced a free, ad-supported music streaming option for use with smart speakers that feature its voice-activated assistant.
The new "free" streaming tier means owners of Google Home or other Google Assistant-powered speakers can listen to tracks from the YouTube Music catalog, albeit interspersed with ads.
Listening to music on your Google Home speaker right out-of-the-box seems too good to be true, right? It’s not! Starting today, YouTube Music is offering a free, ad-supported experience on Google Home speakers (or other Google Assistant-powered speakers).
Free, ad-supported YouTube Music is available on smart speakers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, and Austria. Google says it will be available in more countries soon.
Note that the ad-supported streaming tier isn't supported on computers or phones. On that note, Google appears to be using the free offering to entice people to upgrade to YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month), which enables listening on both supporting smart speakers and the YouTube Music mobile app, which also lets users background play music while using other apps and download tracks for offline listening.
Amazon on Thursday also announced the debut of a free music option for Amazon Alexa users in the United States alongside its Prime music service, which provides access to more than two million songs, and Amazon Music Unlimited, Amazon's on-demand music service priced starting at $9.99 per month ($7.99 for Prime members).
Introduced late last year, the BoseSmart range of speakers support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and Alexa voice activation. Models in the range that now support AirPlay 2 include the Bose Home Speaker 500 ($399), the Soundbar 500 ($549), and the Soundbar 700 ($799). Bose says the feature support is being delivered to eligible speakers as an over-the-air firmware update, via the Bose Music app.
As noted by HomeKit Hero, the company's announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise, as Bose had previously given no indication that AirPlay 2 support was coming to its speakers, and the brand didn't appear on Apple's own third-party AirPlay 2 speakers list, which includes both available and upcoming products.
In its forum post, Bose mentioned it is still working on bringing AirPlay 2 compatibility to its SoundTouch speakers, which start at $199 and also include Alexa support, but offered no timeline for its introduction.
Earlier this week, rumors suggested Amazon would launch a free, ad-supported music service, and today, Amazon indeed announced the debut of a free music option for Amazon Alexa users.
Alexa device owners in the United States who do not have a Prime membership or a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited are now able to listen to an ad-supported selection of top playlists and stations at no cost with Amazon Music on the Amazon Echo and other compatible Alexa-enabled devices.
The new ad-supported service adds more utility for Alexa users who do not otherwise have access to a music subscription service.
Alexa users can ask Alexa to play stations based on songs, artists, eras, or genres, and can also ask to hear Amazon Music's top global playlists.
Amazon's free music offering is available alongside its Prime music service, which provides access to more than two million songs, and Amazon Music Unlimited, Amazon's on-demand music service priced starting at $9.99 per month ($7.99 for Prime members). Amazon Music Unlimited allows users to access more than 50 million songs.
Given the limitations of Amazon's new free ad-supported service for Alexa users, it does not appear that it will turn Amazon into a major Spotify competitor. Spotify has its own free ad-supported service and is one of the few music services to offer such an option.
BlackBerry Messenger, aka BBM, is set to shut down on May 31, 2019, BlackBerry announced today. Prior to when the iPhone launched and for several years afterwards, BBM was a key communication method on BlackBerry phones.
As BlackBerry devices fell out of favor, BlackBerry aimed to keep BBM alive with an iOS app that's been available since 2013, but with Messages, WhatsApp, WeChat, and other messaging apps, it's been tough for BBM to compete.
BlackBerry tried to revamp BBM three years ago as a cross-platform messaging service for chatting, watching content, and using payment services, but it didn't work out.
We poured our hearts into making this a reality, and we are proud of what we have built to date.
The technology industry however, is very fluid, and in spite of our substantial efforts, users have moved on to other platforms, while new users proved difficult to sign on.
Though we are sad to say goodbye, the time has come to sunset the BBM consumer service, and for us to move on.
BBM users who don't want the service to end can download BBMe through the Google Play store, as the enterprise version of the app is still available. There is no version for iOS, but CNET says an iOS app is in the works.
Instagram has considered hiding the like count on images uploaded to the social network, which would prevent people from seeing how many people have tapped the "heart" icon on each photo.
The feature was found by Jane Manchun Wong, who often hunts down features in testing in Instagram and Twitter. As depicted in an image shown by Wong, the like count on a photo is hidden by default and visible only by the person who posted the photo.
"We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who shared a post will see the total number of likes it gets," reads the description of the feature.
In a statement to The Verge, however, Instagram says that the feature is not being tested at the current time: "We're not testing this at the moment, but exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we're always thinking about.
Hiding likes would fundamentally change the way Instagram works, as liking photos and garnering likes is one of the platform's main features.
Apple has expanded mobile phone billing to additional countries and carriers, according to an updated support document on its website.
As of this week, the feature is now supported by Movistar in Chile, and dtac and AIS in Thailand. Elsewhere, Vodafone and O2 has been added to the list of supporting carriers in Netherlands and Czech Republic, respectively.
The payment method allows Apple customers to pay for iTunes Store content, App Store apps, iBooks, and Apple Music subscriptions without needing a debit or credit card, or even a bank account. Instead, purchases are added to a customer's mobile phone bill and paid off at the end of the month.
The payment method is already offered by select carriers in Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent and used the data to build a web of their social connections, it emerged today. Business Insider reports that Facebook began collecting the contact lists in May 2016 when new users opened a new account on the social network.
Image via Business Insider
The harvesting occurred when users were offered email password verification as an option to verify their identity when signing up to Facebook, a method widely condemned by security experts. In some cases if users did enter their password, a pop-up message would appear informing them that it was "importing" their contacts, without even asking their permission to do so.
These contacts were then fed into Facebook's database systems and used to build a map of users' social links and inform recommended friends on the social network. It's not clear if the data was also used for ad-targeting purposes.
In a statement given to Business Insider, the company said that these email contacts had been "unintentionally uploaded" to Facebook when users created their account.
It also said that prior to May 2016, it offered an option to verify a user's account and voluntarily upload their contacts at the same time. However, the feature was changed and the text informing users that their contacts would be uploaded was deleted, but the underlying functionality was not. Facebook says at no point did it access the content of users' emails.
We estimate that up to 1.5 million people's email contacts may have been uploaded. These contacts were not shared with anyone and we're deleting them. We've fixed the underlying issue and are notifying people whose contacts were imported. People can also review and manage the contacts they share with Facebook in their settings.
The news is just the latest addition to a long list of privacy blunders and violations by Facebook. In March, for example, it emerged that between 200 and 600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text in a database accessible to 20,000 Facebook employees. Some Instagram passwords were also included.
That was followed earlier this month by news that cybersecurity researchers had discovered millions of Facebook records publicly accessible on Amazon's cloud servers, after the data was uploaded by third-party companies that work with Facebook.
In yet another development just this week, over 4,000 pages of documents from 2011 to 2015 were leaked which provide insight into how Facebook took advantage of user data while publicly promising to protect user privacy before and after its 2015 move to end broad access to user data.
2020 Toyota Highlander with wide 12.3-inch touchscreen in Platinum model
CarPlay will be a standard feature in the 2020 Toyota Highlander, equipped with a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen display on the highest-end Platinum trim and an 8-inch display on all other trims. Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, Waze, SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi connectivity through AT&T in the U.S. also come standard.
CarPlay and Android Auto come standard in the 2020 Hyundai Venue, the Korean automaker's all-new subcompact crossover SUV. All trims of the vehicle are equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen display.
Nissan is making CarPlay and Android Auto available as upgrade options in its 2020 Versa, equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen display.
CarPlay is wired in all three vehicles, with USB ports for connecting an iPhone via Lightning cable, providing convenient access to frequently used iPhone apps such as Phone, Messages, Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Apple Music, Spotify, and those from the MLB and NHL directly from the dashboard.
Fully gas 2020 Highlander models will arrive at Toyota dealerships in December 2019, followed by hybrid models in February 2020. Hyundai says the 2020 Venue will arrive at dealerships in the fourth quarter of this year, and the 2020 Nissan Versa goes on sale in summer 2019. No prices were disclosed.
The New York International Auto Show opens to the public Friday.
To get Alexa controls for Apple Music on Sonos, users will need to update to the newest version of the Sonos app, enable the Apple Music skill in the separate Amazon Alexa app, and link an Apple Music account.
From there, Sonos owners will be able to use commands like "Play My Chill Mix on Apple Music," or "Play Beats 1 Radio on Apple Music."
It's not yet clear if other Alexa-enabled devices will also be gaining support for Apple Music controls in the future, but right now, the feature is available on all Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices along with the Sonos One and Sonos Beam.
Apple Pay is now available as a payment option in the Uber Eats food delivery app for the first time, allowing users who make food orders to pay with a credit or debit card stored in the Wallet app.
The addition of Apple Pay will make food ordering through Uber Eats a more streamlined process as payments will be able to be approved with Face ID or Touch ID instead of through full billing information.
As TechCrunch points out, the main Uber app has had Apple Pay as a payment option since 2014, but it was never made available in Uber Eats until now. Uber Eats already supports other third-party payment options like Venmo and PayPal.
Apple Pay support is coming to Uber Eats over the course of the next few weeks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates.
Sleep tracking has become a popular activity for many people, since the practice can result in major benefits to your daily wellbeing, restfulness, stress levels, and mental health. There are many ways you can go about tracking your sleep, and Apple itself sells a few products that can help, including the Apple Watch (paired with a third-party app like Pillow) and the Beddit Sleep Monitor.
Withings' solution to sleep tracking is similar to Beddit's, coming in the shape of a slim mat that you place beneath you as you sleep to automatically track and assess your sleep quality, heart rate, snoring, duration, and more. With the latest update, Withings Sleep can even detect breathing disturbances, and later this year the device will add an ability to detect the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Design and Setup
Withings Sleep is a 25" x 7.5" mat that has a straightforward design with a very nice and premium fabric finish, which matches well with the braided power cord. In reality, you don't ever really see Withings Sleep once it's placed where it needs to go, but it's easy to see that the company strived to make a nice-looking product despite the fact that it's not something everyone coming over to your house will see.
Withings Sleep is also super easy to install: you simply unroll the mat from the box, plug in the included USB power adapter into an outlet near your bed, and place Withings Sleep underneath your mattress at chest level.
This is a crucial difference between Withings and Beddit's sleep trackers, since the Beddit Sleep Monitor sits right below your fitted sheet and above the mattress. With Withings, I never noticed the mat while I slept, and some nights I even forgot that it was tracking my sleep. I just placed the mat under my mattress the first night, and guided the power cord through slats in my bed, and I haven't touched it or needed to adjust it since.
Once it's plugged in, Withings Sleep goes through a brief pairing process with the iOS Health Mate app [Direct Link]. If you're new to Health Mate, which is Withings' iOS hub app, you'll have to create an account with an email address, password, name, sex, birthdate, weight, height and consent to allowing Withings to process your personal data (which in this case could include your heart rate, sleep cycles, snoring episodes, etc). Withings says it does not sell your data, and only uses anonymized data to develop new products and services and sometimes conduct data studies.
After creating an account, Withings Sleep will calibrate and once that quick process is done the mat will be ready to track your sleep. This is done automatically, so the first time you sit in your bed to fall asleep, the sensors in the mat will begin accumulating data.
What Data is Tracked in the App?
Withings Sleep tracks the following nighttime data:
Sleep duration (this includes the time it takes you to fall asleep and wake up)
Sleep cycles (deep, light, and REM phases)
Continuous and average heart-rate
Sleep quality score
Each morning, this data is presented to you on the main "Timeline" tab of the Health Mate app, which also encompasses your daily steps (if you want to sync to Health), average heart rate, and your currently enrolled Wellness Programs. When you tap on a night you'll see your Sleep Score (Withings uses a basic 100-point scale), a chart of your sleep cycles, and all of the other tracked data in little squares.
Each of these can be tapped on to expand the data and to learn some more about each metric. Overall, Withings has taken a no-frills approach to presenting sleep data in its app, and I really appreciated how simple it was to understand my previous night's sleep. Over time you're also able to combine all of your data into weekly and monthly charts to really get a wide glimpse at your sleep habits.
Of course, the question is whether this data is helpful and can it actively change your sleep cycles for the better? In the weeks I've used Withings Sleep, I've found these data snippets to be fun and interesting recaps of my nighttime routines rather than integral stats that I could use to change any negative habits.
According to Withings Sleep, I don't have too many bad sleep habits. My Sleep Score consistently remained above 90 and -- as I could have told anyone before owning a high-tech sleep mat -- my worst area was always the time it took me to fall asleep. Withings's Wellness Programs told me to stop staring at my iPhone before bed and to dim my lights, but these are already things I do (or I at least have Night Shift enabled), and I've long since accepted the fact that I simply will always need to be in bed about 30 minutes before the time I actually want to be asleep.
Withings Sleep didn't really change that for me or provide new solutions to the issue, and there were a few problems with some of its findings, particularly with the time to get up stat. For every single day I've used the mat, it's placed my time to get up at zero minutes. I consistently set my alarm to go off earlier than I intend to actually get out of bed (another no-no according to Withings), which could be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. This is definitely a nuanced statistic that the mat missed every morning.
On the positive side of things, my time to sleep was always between 20 to 30 minutes (the app wanted me to be under 20), and on one particularly tiring day where I couldn't wait to get into bed, Withings Sleep tracked me at falling asleep in seven minutes, which proved very accurate.
Other stats that feed into your overall Sleep Score include interruptions, which was accurate save one or two nights when I know I was awoken by a loud noise before falling back asleep, which the mat didn't detect. The mat also tracked my breathing disturbances over the course of a few weeks, which was an interesting chart to watch evolve and the feature should become a bit more impactful when full sleep apnea detection is added later in 2019. Lastly, the snoring and heart rate tracking appeared consistently accurate throughout my testing, no matter what position I laid in at night.
As to the sleep cycle tracking, it's a bit harder for me to determine whether or not Withings' middle-of-the-night tracking is on point or not. Each night followed an expected falling asleep pattern: I first entered light sleep for about an hour to 90 minutes, fell into deep sleep for another 45 minutes, and then entered the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. The pattern wasn't exactly the same every night, but Withings Sleep said I entered the REM stage about four to six times every night, which is accurate for the average adult.
Some irregularities appeared in the early morning and waking hours, where sometimes the mat indicated I was in REM sleep the minute I woke up and got out of bed. Most mornings I lightly doze in the minutes before I actually get up, and am definitely not in any sort of deep sleep.
After using Withings Sleep for a few weeks, I began questioning the method Withings was using to add up to my overall Sleep Score when I received a few 100, so-called "perfect nights." I had solid sleep duration, good depth, no interruptions, and decent regularity and time to sleep numbers, which is all good, but these nights didn't particularly stand out to me as exceptionally great or anywhere near perfect.
Withings says that it grants Sleep Scores that even reach above 100 in some instances, depending on the quality of each parameter on each night. Some parameters (like sleep duration) hold more weight than others, so if you get an extra lengthy night of sleep that's full of poorer, light sleep periods, you could still reach a near-perfect night. This exact example happened to me one night, resulting in a score that definitely did not mirror my fatigue the next day.
On the middle tab of the Health Mate app, Withings encourages users to participate in its Wellness Programs, which are daily activities that are built to help you meditate, sleep better, lose weight, learn more about cardiovascular health, track a pregnancy, and even compare activity stats with friends. I joined the mindfulness and sleep programs early on, and was largely disappointed with this aspect of the company's overarching health goals.
While the tab still has a sleek design like the rest of the app, the programs themselves feel hollow. Particularly the "Meditate with Petit BamBou" class that I joined for a few days, which has every traditional mindfulness exercise like body scans, posture work, anchored breathing, etc. I've been a big fan of Calm and have found some success with that app, and comparatively Withings' version is very anemic.
You can look at a schedule of the 21-day class, start a session, read about what you'll be doing that day, and then hit play. The UI in each daily session is poor and makes these additions feel like an afterthought, and the voice over work is a bit stilted and not relaxed enough. The classes will also move forward each day no matter if you've completed them or not, making it particularly confusing to keep track of your progress. On the plus side, I like that Withings adds in offbeat meditation days, like some that have a brief story to read or an animated video to watch.
The other Wellness Programs offer essentially the same idea as the mindfulness one, but focused on other topics. Unfortunately, there is some bugginess to this area of the app, as I consistently could not continue my Sleep Smarter program and got an error message every day.
With Withings Sleep, you can connect the mat to other IFTTT automation platforms and activate lights or thermostats just by getting in to or out of your bed. Keeping with other aspects of Withings Sleep, this is something that I've been enjoying during my time with the mat and it works quite well, but it felt a bit like a superfluous addition to my daily schedule.
That's especially true of the Nest Learning Thermostat IFTTT integration. With this automation, I set my Nest thermostat to drop to 65 degrees when I got into bed at night, and then to rise to 72 degrees when I got out of bed in the morning. This is something that is entirely unnecessary because the Nest Learning Thermostat's main draw is that it learns your schedule and automates a weekly routine for you, so even before Withings Sleep my thermostat was dropping around 9 p.m. every night and rising at 6 a.m. every morning.
The Philips Hue automation offers a bit more utility. Before Withings Sleep, when I would get into bed I would activate my Goodnight HomeKit scene via a nearby HomePod, which turns off all my Philips Hue lights and turns on my bedside fan. Thanks to the Withings Sleep IFTTT automation, I was able to turn off my lights simply by getting into bed (there is about a 10 second delay), so I didn't need to speak to turn off the lights. However, I did still need to use HomeKit to activate the iDevices smart plug connected to my fan.
This slightly expedited my bedtime routine, but not in such a way that it felt like I couldn't just go back to using Siri. There were also some nights where I wanted to get into bed and keep the lights on to read, and although you can set boundaries to activate the IFTTT scene only during certain times of the day, the feature lacks any more nuanced settings.
Lastly, there were some bugs with the IFTTT features of the Withings Sleep, although they were rare. One evening, I began receiving frequent notifications on my iPhone that my IFTTT applet had been activated, turning off my lights and dialing down my Nest. I was on my couch at the time and no one was in my bed, and the notifications became so frequent (about 20 within 5 minutes), that I eventually had to temporarily turn off each applet in the IFTTT app. I turned them on again the next day and things went back to normal.
Withings Sleep is a worthy addition to the growing sleep tracker market, and it earns a lot of points for its unobtrusive placement, clear-cut app statistics, and mostly accurate sleep data. For someone who wants to take an active approach to tracking their sleep, Withings is a good place to start, but there are caveats.
Some of the mat's data readouts aren't consistent, the app can be buggy, its Wellness Programs aren't very deep, and the various IFTTT automations are more of an interesting afterthought rather than a selling point. For $99.95 ($50 cheaper than Apple's $149.95 Beddit device), these downsides are easier to deal with, especially because the company has already committed to ongoing updates for the mat, like the sleep apnea detection add-on coming later in the year.
Note: Withings provided MacRumors with a Withings Sleep mat for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is also an affiliate partner with Amazon, so you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.
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