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Lyft joins Uber in cutting back on new hiring

After Uber announced that it was cutting back on hiring and other expenses due to the economic slowdown, rival Lyft is doing the same, according to The Wall Street Journal. "Given the slower than expected recovery and need to accelerate leverage in the business, we've made the difficult but important decision to significantly slow hiring in the US," Lyft President John Zimmer reportedly wrote in a memo to staff.

There are no layoffs planned. However, the decision means the company will give priority to fewer initiatives and not fill many current open roles, focusing instead on critical roles that support its core rides business, the memo further states. 

Tech companies have been hard hit during the economic slowdown, with Amazon reporting its slowest growth in nearly 20 years and Snap shares declining 43 percent after it reported earnings yesterday. Lyft has been hit particularly hard, having lost more than 60 percent of its value since the beginning of 2022, with a 15 percent decline alone yesterday.

Lawmakers ask Google to stop collecting location data before reversal of abortion rights

Senator Ron Wyden and 41 other Democratic lawmakers are urging Google to stop collecting and keeping location data that could be used against people who've had or are seeking abortions. In a letter (PDF) to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, the lawmakers referenced the Supreme Court draft obtained by Politico in which SCOTUS justices have voted to reverse Roe v. Wade. The landmark case protected the federal rights to abortion across the country, and states with trigger laws will immediately criminalize abortion if it truly gets overturned. 

"[W]e are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google's current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care," the lawmakers wrote. Their issue mostly lies with how Google designed Android so that it also has to receive location data if a third-party app asks users for access to their location information. On iOS, Google can only collect information data while people are using Google Maps. 

As Google reveals in its transparency reports, it routinely gets court orders, subpoenas and search warrants from law enforcement agencies looking to get their hands on user information. In the first half of 2021, for instance, the tech giant received 50,907 requests for disclosure of user information involving 115,594 accounts. A total of 82 percent of those requests resulted in the disclosure of some information. 

In their letter, the lawmakers pointed out how a quarter of the court orders Google gets is for "geofence" data, which can show information on people near a particular location at a given time. They means it could be used to identify people who visit reproductive health clinics and other places that help people seek access to abortions.

The signees praised Google for being one of the first companies to require a warrant before disclosing user data, but they said it's not enough. They compared Google to Apple, saying the latter shows that it's "not necessary for smartphone companies to retain invasive tracking databases of their customers' locations." By continuing to collect location data, the lawmakers say Google is creating a digital divide, since those who can afford iPhones have greater protection against government surveillance. 

They closed the letter with this plea:

"[W]e urge you to promptly reform your data collection and retention practices, so that Google no longer collects unnecessary customer location data nor retains any non-aggregate location data about individual customers, whether in identifiable or anonymized form. Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against women."

Injury rates of Amazon’s delivery contractors climbed 40 percent last year, new report claims

Drivers for Amazon’s rapidly growing third-party delivery partner network are being hurt on the job with shocking frequency according to data compiled in a new report by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) — and the rate of injuries increased dramatically between 2020 and 2021.

Among the Delivery Service Partner (DSP) drivers it found OSHA data for, SOC claims there was "nearly one injury per five full-time-equivalent workers" in 2021 — an incident rate of 18.3. The Bureau of Labor Statistics's most recent incident rate average among "couriers and express delivery services" stands at just 7.5 per 100. According to SOC, the 2021 injury numbers represent an approximately 40 percent increase from the previous year.

There are some important limitations to the findings SOC — which itself is a collaboration between Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, Communications Workers of America and United Farmworkers of America — published however. Because DSPs are subcontracted, their injury data is submitted individually to OSHA; SOC was able to obtain incident logs for 201 such delivery companies that work with Amazon, but estimates that pool represents just ten percent of the total DSP workforce. Still, given the wealth of reporting on injury rates among Amazon's warehouse staff, the report indicates that trend may be broadly applicable to the company's workforce.

Working for a DSP, according to a lawsuit filed by one such company earlier this year, involves assenting to "near complete control" by Amazon without the ecommerce giant providing the "required safeguards." DSP drivers are also regularly monitored by Amazon through the company’s Mentor app and surveillance cameras installed in their vehicles. According to one driver in Indianapolis that SOC spoke to in March, Amazon uses a system of scores that rank drivers against their own co-workers in terms of delivery speed and completion rate; the driver said she knew of 15 drivers who were terminated for not meeting Amazon’s performance demands. The aforementioned lawsuit notes that “exceedingly aggressive time limits that could rarely be safely met” are a mainstay.

"This report cherry-picks data from less than 10% of our delivery partners to tell an inaccurate and misleading story," Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, told Engadget. "Safety is a priority across our network, which is why we’ve rolled out technology like innovative camera systems that have helped lead to an overall reduction in accident rates of nearly 50%, and we’ll keep investing in new safety tools to try and get better every day.” It's not clear if DSPs are obligated to share their injury data with Amazon as well as OSHA; Engadget has reached out for clarification.

The DSP program — which Amazon first launched in 2018 to reduce its reliance on USPS, UPS and Fedex — has grown rapidly since then to a network of over 2,000 companies. As Bloombergnoted, many DSP operators are veterans, retirees, first-time business owners and other neophytes to the logistics business. The same productivity demands placed on drivers are similarly leveraged against DSP owners who have reported razor-thin margins, and a feeling of being trapped in the program by "exit fees" if they choose to leave.

Harley-Davidson made an electric mountain bike without front or rear suspension

Harley-Davidson's Serial 1 brand unveiled its latest ebike model on Tuesday, and it's something of a head-scratcher. The company describes the Bash/Mtn as a mountain bike, but unless you have the technical skills to go under-biking, you probably don’t want to take its newest ebike on anything but the most forgiving single-track.

That’s because the Bash/Mtn features a fully rigid aluminum frame and fork, with no front or rear suspension. It also doesn’t come with a dropper post, and as far as I can tell, there’s no elegant way of adding one on your own. The only shock absorption this bike comes with is its SR Suntour NCX seat post, which offers up to 50mm of travel.

Harley-Davidson claims those missing features are actually the reason to buy the Bash/Mtn. “No fussy suspension to tune, no finicky drivetrain to adjust — just two wheels, one gear, and one purpose, to provide the most direct connection between you and the trail,” the company said.

Once you get past the unorthodox design, the Bash/Mtn looks like a decent e-bike. It features a removable 529Wh battery the company says will provide between 30 and 95 miles of range, depending on the terrain and drive mode you use. It takes just under five hours to charge the battery to full, though you can get it up to 75 percent after about two-and-a-half hours. As a Class 1 e-bike, the Bash/Mtn will stop providing you with assistance once you’ve reached a speed of 20 miles per hour. Completing the package are TRP hydraulic disc brakes and 27.5-inch tubeless-ready tires from Michelin.

At $3,999, the Bash/Mtn is on the more affordable side of what you can expect to pay for an electric mountain bike from companies like Canyon, Giant and Trek, but then those models are entirely different bikes. Harley-Davidson plans to produce only 1,050 units of the Bash/Mtn, with 525 units slated for sale in the US.

Activision Blizzard employees form a committee to fight workplace discrimination

A dozen current and former Activision Blizzard employees have formed a committee aimed at protecting workers from discriminatory practices at the studio, outlining a list of demands for CEO Bobby Kotick, newly appointed diversity officer Kristen Hines and chief human resources officer Julie Hodges. 

As detailed by The Washington Post, the group's demands include ending mandatory arbitration in discrimination cases, improving on-site lactation rooms, protecting workers from retaliation, increasing support for trans employees and instituting independent investigations in cases of discrimination, including sexual harassment. The employee group, called the Worker Committee Against Sex and Gender Discrimination, submitted their demands to the studio's leadership team today.

The committee specifically demands private lactation rooms and appropriate storage spaces for breastmilk and pumping equipment. Breastfeeding workers at Activision Blizzard have documented their issues with the studio's lactation rooms, describing them as filthy, uncomfortable and poorly secured. Employees said fridges for breast milk were also used to store beer, that people pumping often had to sit on the floor and that breast milk was sometimes stolen. In regards to trans rights, the group demands the creation of a trans network similar to the in-house women's resource network and for software tools to be wiped of employees' deadnames.

In response to the formal call for change, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told the Post that the studio appreciated hearing employees' concerns, and outlined a few changes that had already been made to improve lactation rooms, the arbitration process and channels of communication.

Activision Blizzard executives have been accused of cultivating a sexist, discriminatory workplace in multiple lawsuits over the past year. California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing first sued Activision Blizzard in July 2021 after conducting a two-year investigation into allegations of unchecked sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and a pervasive "frat boy culture" at the studio. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal group, followed up with a similar lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in September 2021. Activision Blizzard settled the federal EEOC lawsuit this March, agreeing to establish an $18 million fund to compensate employees who experienced discrimination at the studio.

Backed by the Communications Workers of America, Activision Blizzard employees have been advocating for change and unionization — to some degree of success — since the lawsuits were filed. CWA called the $18 million settlement "woefully inadequate," arguing it would provide the maximum compensation to just 60 workers, when there were likely hundreds of claimants. 

Former Activision Blizzard employee and campaign organizer for the tech-industry group CODE-CWA, Jessica Gonzalez, appealed the $18 million settlement this week, seeking an increase in compensation. Gonzalez is one of the 12 employees in the Worker Committee Against Sex and Gender Discrimination. 

An additional lawsuit accusing Activision Blizzard of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation was filed this week by a current employee. And there's the wide-ranging investigation into the studio's workplace practices currently underway at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Apple's latest Pride Edition Watch bands include a nod to the company's history

With the start of June a week away, Apple has announced two new Pride-themed Watch bands. The first one is a take on the company’s classic sport loop style. The design features a color gradient that incorporates the iconic rainbow colors seen on a variety of Pride flags with the addition of light blue, pink, white, brown and black. The first three colors symbolize transgender and non-binary individuals, with the latter two representing the Black and Latinx communities.

The band also includes a nod to the company’s history. Apple employed a new weaving process to remove some of the band’s woven textile loops. The technique creates a two-tone effect that the company used to include “Pride” on the outward-facing part of the band. The word is written in a cursive style that’s similar to the one the company used for its signature Macintosh “hello” greeting in 1984.

There’s also a new Pride Edition Nike Sport Loop. It features the original rainbow colors in between black stripes. It also comes with a matching Nike Bounce face. Both bands are available to purchase for $49 starting today from Apple’s website, with retail availability to follow on May 26th. Apple has also released a Pride Threads watch face. It’s available on Apple Watch Series 4 models and above with watchOS 8.6 installed. “This new watch face combines colors to represent the strength and mutual support of the LGBTQ+ movement,” according to Apple. The threads of the watch face move as you turn the wearable’s digital crown, tap on the display or raise your wrist to wake the display.

Stellantis and Samsung SDI to build $2.5 billion EV battery plant in Indiana

Automaker Stellantis and Samsung SDI are teaming up to build a $2.5 billion EV battery plant in Indiana, reported CNBC. It’ll be the first US-based battery plant for Stellantis, which has an umbrella of 16 brands that include Jeep, Maserati, Dodge, Fiat and Chrysler. Construction on the lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility is set to begin later this year, with a projected launch date for the first quarter of 2025. This timing fits in nicely with Stellantis’ goal of selling 5 million EVs globally by 2030. The plant will be located in Kokomo, where the Chrysler parent company already has a supplier base.

Stellantis said the Kokomo facility will provide lithium-ion battery modules for a wide range of vehicles, including plug-in hybrids and full battery-electric vehicles. The timing makes sense, given the automaker’s ambitious electrification plans in both Europe and North America. As TechCrunchnotes, Stellantis has been a pretty late arrival to the electric future. Currently the company only sells three plug-in hybrids — the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivan, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe and the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe. Stellantis has thrown a lot of time and money into changing that, with plans to offer more than 75 battery vehicle models by 2030.

We’re due for a number of new EV concepts from Stellantis in the next couple of years, including an electric Dodge muscle car, an all-electric Ram pick-up, a fully electric 4xe model in every Jeep SUV category and Chrysler’s 400-mile range electric SUV. All together, Stellantis has planned to invest $35.5 billion in electric vehicles by 2025. The automaker recently also teamed up with LG to build a $4.1 billion EV plant in Windsor, Ontario, which is projected to launch in 2024.

Windows 11 will get third-party widgets later this year

Windows 11 widgets could become more useful in the coming months. Microsoft revealed at its Build developer conference that the operating system will start supporting widgets for third-party apps later this year. Developers will be able to create widgets for their Win32 apps and progressive web apps using Microsoft's Adaptive Cards platform.

"We’re energized by the customer feedback on widgets to date. People are enjoying the quick access to content most important to them in a way that is seamless without breaking their flow," Panos Panay, Microsoft's chief product officer for Windows and devices, said.

Microsoft brought back widgets, which previously appeared in Windows 7, when it released Windows 11 last year. However, it tucked the widgets behind a dedicated button. In any case, we felt they weren't all that useful.

Opening up widgets to third-party developers so they can provide some at-a-glance information Microsoft doesn't offer through its own apps could be handy. You might, for instance, eventually see your Twitter timeline or WhatsApp messages in a widget.

The company shut down widgets (aka gadgets) in Windows 7 in part because they could be exploited. Microsoft hasn't revealed too many details about how third-party widgets will work in Windows 11 just yet, so here's hoping there's some quality control to fend off bad actors.

Universal Audio brings its excellent vintage amp emulations to your pedalboard

Last year Universal Audio decided to make the leap from plugins the pedal with the UAFX line. Then it got into the mainstream audio interface game, launched a series of high-end modeling microphones, and even a subscription plug-in service. But, UA isn't doesn't appear ready to slow down yet. Now the company is expanding its line of stomp boxes with a trio of amp modelers. 

The Dream '65 Reverb, Ruby '63 Top Boost and Woodrow '55 Instrument Amplifier bring UA's excellent emulations of vintage amplifiers to a board-friendly format, using the same hardware it did for last year's Astra, Golden and Starlight pedals. The UAFX Guitar Amp Emulators all have a host of modern amenities and options, but they are, at their heart, recreations of iconic amps that have been staples of studios around the world for over five decades. The Dream is based on a Fender Deluxe Reverb, Woodrow is a Fender Tweed Deluxe and Ruby a take on the Vox AC30. 

Each pedal has a handful of speaker, cabinet and mic options to further shape your tone, as well as reverb and vibrato on the Dream and Ruby, respectively. The pedals also have additional customization options available the UAFX Control mobile app, plus the ability to save presets. 

Of course, UA doesn't cheap out on the hardware front either. These are solid pedals built to withstand abuse, with stereo ins and outs, plus USB-C and Bluetooth connectivity. 

All three of the UAFX Guitar Amp Emulators are available now for $399. Which, certainly isn't impulse purchase territory, but considering a real-deal Fender Tweed Deluxe can fetch around $5,000, this seems like an absolute bargain. 

Waze finally adds Apple Music integration

Five years after Waze first added Spotify integration, Google’s navigation app finally supports Apple Music. Starting today, you can use Waze’s built-in audio controls to play, pause and switch between songs in your iPhone’s Apple Music library. That means you don’t need to switch between apps when trying to drive to a destination you haven’t been to before.

Before today’s announcement, Apple Music was effectively the last major music streaming app that didn’t include integration with Waze. Over the years, Google has added support for a long list of smaller services, including Pandora, Deezer and iHeart Radio. Before today's announcement, it was even possible to listen to audiobooks and podcasts through integrations with Audible and Stitcher. All of that is in the past now. And if you’re an Apple Music subscriber with a fondness for Waze, you’re probably just happy that you can use the two apps together.

'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II' will arrive on October 28th

Call of Duty fans might want to start looking into taking some time off around Halloween. The next entry in the franchise, Modern Warfare II, will be released on October 28th. It's the sequel to 2019's Modern Warfare, which was a reboot of the blockbuster series.

Activision Blizzard released a teaser video that doesn't show any gameplay. Instead, it reveals artwork for some of the characters who'll be featured: John “Soap” MacTavish, Simon “Ghost” Riley, Captain John Price, Kyle “Gaz” Garrick and Alejandro Vargas.

A gameplay reveal (if you really need one to know what a modern Call of Duty game looks like) may not be too far away, though. The teaser includes a quick flash of text reading "J-8-22." That may be hinting toward a broader reveal on June 8th, just ahead of major gaming showcases from Summer Game Fest and Xbox and Bethesda.

It's Infinity Ward's turn to release a Call of Duty title and the studio has its hands full, since it's also responsible for Warzone. A "massive evolution" of the battle royale will take place later this year in line with the release of Modern Warfare II. Both games will have a new engine, for one thing.

Modern Warfare II is arguably the most important Call of Duty title for Activision Blizzard in many years. The series is the company's crown jewel. While the most recent release, Call of Duty: Vanguard, was the biggest selling game of 2021 by some estimations, it saw "lower premium sales" at launch than the previous year's entry, Black Ops Cold War.

In the first three months of 2022, the Activision side of the business (which Call of Duty falls under) saw a big drop in engagement year-over-year from 150 million monthly active players to 100 million in the wake of the company's misconduct scandals. With the Microsoft takeover pending and reports that there may not be a new Call of Duty game in 2023, Activision Blizzard will be hoping that Modern Warfare II performs strongly.

Microsoft's Project Volterra is a mini PC for ARM developers

At its annual developer conference, Microsoft doesn’t typically announce new hardware. But at Build 2022 the company made time to unveil Project Volterra, a PC Microsoft designed to assist developers with building native ARM apps that employ AI-accelerated workloads.

While we don’t have all the details on Project Volterra just yet, what we do know is that it will feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset with a dedicated neural processing unit or NPU. Microsoft told TechCrunch the component would deliver “best-in-class” AI computing capacity and efficiency.

A neural processor isn’t something you typically see on PCs. They’re far more common in phones where they help save on battery power by taking on machine learning tasks from the CPU. But with chips like Apple’s M1 including built-in NPUs, they’re becoming more commonplace, and it’s that future that Microsoft wants to be prepared for when it comes.

“Because we expect to see NPUs being built into most, if not all future computing devices, we’re going to make it easy for developers to leverage these new capabilities, by baking support for NPUs into the end-to-end Windows platform,” said Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer.

With Volterra, Microsoft is adding Windows support for NPUs. The company also said development tools like Visual Studio 2022 and Windows Terminal would soon run natively on ARM hardware. All of that suggests the company is keener than ever to get developers to program native ARM apps for Windows.

'The Sims 4' players can now customize their characters' pronouns

EA and developer Maxis are bringing a welcome inclusivity feature to The Sims 4. Starting today, you'll be able to customize the pronouns of your Sims. The feature is only available in the English version of The Sims 4 for now. EA and Maxis plan to improve it over time and make it available in more languages. They say it's "one step in the direction of a more inclusive experience for Simmers."

A screenshot of the feature suggests players will be able to enter whichever pronouns they prefer into text boxes. The settings show how the pronouns will work in context too — e.g. "he/she/they would like a grilled cheese."

The developers worked with GLAAD and the It Gets Better Project to gain a deeper understanding of the impact and use of pronouns. The organizations helped the team grasp where and how binary representations of gender are used in the game.

Although The Sims 4 was originally released in 2014, EA and Maxis have continued to support the game with expansion packs and updates. It has a thriving modding community too. According to Mat Piscatella of The NPD Group, The Sims 4 was one of the 10 most-played games in the US in the first three months of this year, beating out the likes of Rocket League and Elden Ring.

Walmart is expanding its drone delivery service across six states

For nearly two years, Walmart has been testing a drone delivery program across parts of the US. Now the company says it’s ready to expand that offering. By the end of the year, the retailer plans to add 34 sites to its existing DroneUp network. With the expansion, approximately 4 million households in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah and Virginia will have access to drone deliveries from the retailer. For a delivery fee of $4, you can order up to 10 pounds of groceries and household items. If you use the service, Walmart says to expect your package in “as little as” 30 minutes.

By the end of 2022, Walmart estimates it will have the capacity to deliver 1 million packages by air annually. It’s an impressive milestone, to be sure, but it doesn’t sound like the program is profitable just yet. The retailer notes it will offer drone services to local governments and businesses. As just one example, Walmart suggests the drones could help construction companies with one-site aerial photography. “Not only will the added revenue help offset the cost of delivery, but it also serves the entire drone industry by gathering more flight data as we work together to expand drone operations in a safe and regulated way,” the company said.

Walmart won’t be the only company operating a drone delivery service in Texas. Alphabet’s Wing division recently expanded its program to include the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

SteelSeries' latest gaming headset offers 360 audio and a fresh design

SteelSeries makes some of the best gaming headsets on the market, but with its new flagship Arctis Nova Pro, the company is doing a top to bottom overhaul featuring with a brand new design, a second-gen GameDAC and an innovative audio suite with support for 360-degree spatial audio and more. 

Available in both wired and wireless versions for PC, Xbox and PlayStation, the Arctis Nova Pro's revamped design was created to be super comfortable even during marathon gaming sessions. SteelSeries added four different points of adjustment including rotating and height-adjustable earcups, pivoting hangers, and a flexible tension band. Meanwhile, for people who want to customize the look of the headset, the company is offering $35 Booster Packs consisting of interchangeable headbands and exterior plates in red, lilac, mint and rose.

When it comes to audio, the Nova Pro uses custom speaker drivers with a dual-diaphragm design, while the new Sonar Audio Suite adds support for what the company claims is the world's first pro-grade parametric EQ for gamers. The idea is that by allowing people to highlight specific frequencies like the sound of footsteps or breaking glass, gamers can get a jump on anyone sneaking up behind them. On top of that, SteelSeries developed a new 360-degree spatial audio feature generated from your content's 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound track, which should make noises and effects sound more realistic when compared to traditional virtual surround sound techniques. 

The headset also features built-in ANC to drown out any potentially distracting noises. And to make sure your friends and teammates can hear you loud and clear, SteelSeries includes a fully retractable mic with AI-powered noise cancellation. For the wireless model, the Nova Pro also features a dual battery system so you'll also have a fresh power pack you can swap in when the headset runs low on juice. And thanks to the company's Quantum 2.0 Wireless system, users can connect to two different devices at the same time using Bluetooth and the Nova Pro's dedicated 2.4GHz connection. 

Finally, the new GameDAC Gen 2 features Hi-Res Audio Certification and a new Quad DAC that SteelSeries says delivers a 78 percent purer signal. And by using the DAC's OLED display, you can easily adjust your EQ, audio inputs, volume and more all without ever needing to close or pause your game. 

The Arctis Nova Pro is available today, with the wireless models going for $350, while the wired models being a bit more affordable at $250. 

Samsung is investing $356 billion in chips, biotech and AI

Many folks mainly associate Samsung with smartphones and TVs, but the company is looking at other parts of its business for long-term growth potential. In the five years to 2026, it will plow 450 trillion won ($356 billion) into strategic areas, with a focus on things like semiconductors, biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

This marks Samsung's largest investment pledge to date and it's an increase from a 240 trillion won commitment it made last August. The figure is 30 percent more than the 330 trillion won the company invested in itself over the previous five-year period.

The Samsung Electronics division will use the funding to bolster its chip design and manufacturing process, according to The Korea Herald. The company is preparing to start making 3nm chips to help it keep pace with TMSC. It's also working on advanced chips for supercomputers, robots and AI purposes, and it plans to focus on the development of 6G tech.

Over the next few years, Samsung expects to create 1 million jobs. It plans to hire 80,000 people by 2026 and create hundreds of thousands more positions with its vendors. Around 80 percent of the announced investment is earmarked for the company's home country of South Korea.

Microsoft Teams goes beyond screen sharing for real-time collaboration

What's cooler than just sharing your screen with colleagues? Sharing live projects that everyone can edit at the same time. That's at the heart of Microsoft's new Live Share feature, which make it easier for Teams apps to enable real-time collaboration. If this sounds familiar, it's because Microsoft announced plans to make Teams go-to location for collaborative apps last year. Live Share relies on Fluid Framework, Microsoft's attempt at atomizing components of traditional documents, which is also the core of the Loop app it debuted last fall.

Microsoft Teams Live Share
Microsoft

Microsoft says some partners, including Accenture, Frame.io and Hexagon, are already building Live Share experiences within Teams. It'll take time to see how developers take advantage of Live Share, but given the rise of remote work over the last few years, it's certainly an intriguing way to spur on more collaboration. Additionally, Microsoft announced a new Teams and Microsoft 365 SDK, as well as general availability for Fluid Framework, both of which should make it easier for developers to bring their apps to the company's cloud offerings.

Linksys rolls out a pair of more affordable WiFi 6 mesh routers

WiFi 6 mesh routers are a favorite of gamers, smart home devotees and basically anyone with a lot of connected devices — but they can be pricey. Linksys has unveiled two dual-band WiFi 6 routers — the Hydra 6 and the Atlas 6 — that could be an attractive option for those who want higher speeds on a budget. Both are dual-band, so they’ll support the 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies. For smaller households or those with fewer devices, either of these two will likely offer more than enough coverage. 

Linksys Hydra 6
Linksys

The Hydra 6 (pictured above) is a traditional router that can also serve as a base point for mesh networking points. The Atlas 6 has a less obtrusive, vertically-oriented shape and is sold in sets of up to three, so they can be placed around the house. 

Both the Atlas 6 and Hydra 6 claim to cover around 2,000 square feet and up to 25 devices — although the former can be bought in packs of two or three, with each additional router adding another 2,000 square feet and supporting 25 more devices. That expandability is sort of the whole draw of a mesh system. The somewhat wonky technical improvements made available through WiFi 6 support might also deliver faster connectivity.

Both models are less costly than many premium WiFi 6 mesh systems, including the Linksys Atlas Max 6E, which retails at $999 and its recently-released WiFi 6E system, which costs $1200 for a pack of three. The Atlas 6 is $149.99 for a single router, $279.99 for a two-pack and $349.99 for a three-node system. The Hydra 6 will retail at $179.99. Both will be available in the US early this summer, with a global release planned for the second half of 2022.

Google claims its text-to-image AI delivers 'unprecedented photorealism'

Google has shown off an artificial intelligence system that can create images based on text input. The idea is that users can enter any descriptive text and the AI will turn that into an image. The company says the Imagen diffusion model, created by the Brain Team at Google Research, offers "an unprecedented degree of photorealism and a deep level of language understanding."

This isn't the first time we've seen AI models like this. OpenAI's DALL-E (and its successor) generated headlines as well as images because of how adeptly it can turn text into visuals. Google's version, however, tries to create more realistic images.

To assess Imagen against other text-to-image models (including DALL-E 2, VQ-GAN+CLIP and Latent Diffusion Models), the researchers created a benchmark called DrawBench. That's a list of 200 text prompts that were entered into each model. Human raters were asked to assess each image. They "prefer Imagen over other models in side-by-side comparisons, both in terms of sample quality and image-text alignment," Google said.

It's worth noting that the examples shown on the Imagen website are curated. As such, these may be the best of the best images that the model created. They may not accurately reflect most of the visuals that it generated.

Like DALL-E, Imagen is not available to the public. Google doesn't think it's suitable as yet for use by the general population for a number of reasons. For one thing, text-to-image models are typically trained on large datasets that are scraped from the web and are not curated, which introduces a number of problems. 

"While this approach has enabled rapid algorithmic advances in recent years, datasets of this nature often reflect social stereotypes, oppressive viewpoints, and derogatory, or otherwise harmful, associations to marginalized identity groups," the researchers wrote. "While a subset of our training data was filtered to removed noise and undesirable content, such as pornographic imagery and toxic language, we also utilized LAION-400M dataset, which is known to contain a wide range of inappropriate content including pornographic imagery, racist slurs and harmful social stereotypes."

As a result, they said, Imagen has inherited the "social biases and limitations of large language models" and may depict "harmful stereotypes and representation." The team said preliminary findings indicated that the AI encodes social biases, including a tendency to create images of people with lighter skin tones and to place them into certain stereotypical gender roles. Additionally, the researchers note that there is the potential for misuse if Imagen were made available to the public as is.

The team may eventually allow the public to enter text into a version of the model to generate their own images, however. "In future work we will explore a framework for responsible externalization that balances the value of external auditing with the risks of unrestricted open-access," the researchers wrote.

You can try Imagen on a limited basis, though. On its website, you can create a description using pre-selected phrases. Users can select whether the image should be a photo or an oil painting, the type of animal displayed, the clothing they wear, the action they're undertaking and the setting. So if you've ever wanted to see an interpretation of an oil painting depicting a fuzzy panda wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket while skateboarding on a beach, here's your chance.

Imagen text-to-image AI
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'Lord of the Rings: Gollum' hits consoles and PC on September 1st

Following a delay from 2021, Daedalic's "cinematic stealth adventure" game The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will officially arrive on September 1st, the company announced today. The game will explore the untold story of Gollum during the first few chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring. We don't have any new footage of the game in action yet, but the latest cinematic trailer gives us an idea of the sort of stealth gameplay expect. (It's also nice to see that Daedaelic's take on Gollum hews closely to Peter Jackon's Lord of the Ring films.) 

As with any story-driven game worth its salt, you'll be able to make distinct choices—in this case, you'll be going between Gollum's more vicious desires and his kinder Hobbit self, Smeagol. You'll definitely be hiding in tall grass quite a bit, but hopefully you'll have some creative ways to torture your enemies, as the trailer implies. Daedalic also promises you'll run into some familiar faces from Lord of the Rings, as you'd expect.  

Samsung's new Smart Monitor M8 is $100 off for the first time

Samsung added to its Smart Monitor lineup a few months ago with the introduction of the M8, and now you can pick up that display for less for the first time. Both Amazon and Samsung have the Smart Monitor M8 in white for $100 less than usual, bringing it down to $600. You won't find any other color options at Amazon, but Samsung has the green, pink and blue versions as well. While those models are also $100 off, they start off more expensive at $730, so you can pick up any of them for $630.

Buy Smart Monitor M8 at Amazon - $600Buy Smart Monitor M8 at Samsung - $600

These Smart Monitors are designed for those that want an all-in-one display that can do a lot of things, even without a connected PC. The M8 is essentially a 32-inch, WiFi-capable smart TV and a monitor in one, allowing you to connect your PC or laptop to use it as an external display or use it on its own with the included remote control. You have access to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others, and you won't have to connect external speakers since the M8 delivers audio via built-in, dual 5W speakers.

The M8 can also control SmartThings-compatible IoT devices thanks to its built-in home hub. That means you can use the remote control, or Alexa or Bixby voice commands, to turn off smart lights, adjust smart thermostats and more as long as those devices work with the SmartThings platform.

As for specs, the Smart Monitor M8 has a UHD resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 and supports HDR 10+ and refresh rates up to 60Hz. It also comes with a magnetic SlimFit Cam that you can attach to the top of the monitor whenever you need to hop on a Zoom call for work or video chat with friends. We appreciate the M8's slim, 11.4mm thick design and its height-adjustable stand, plus its support for AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth 4.2. While you don't need to drop $600 on a 32-inch monitor, the Smart Monitor M8 is a good option for those with limited space who want a TV and an external display in one, or those who just want a monitor with a bit more versatility than your standard screen.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Panasonic's latest modular Toughbook is larger and lighter

Panasonic's Toughbooks may be extra-rugged and modular, but they haven't exactly defined portability. That's about to change, however slightly. The brand has introduced a new Toughbook 40 that weighs over a pound less than its predecessor despite a larger 14-inch display. It's still not svelte at 7.4lbs and 2.1in thick. Still, that's no mean feat given the military-grade outdoor resistance as well as modularity that includes four expansion slots (for extra ports, drives and readers) as well a replaceable battery, keyboard, RAM and storage.

You won't find cutting-edge performance, but you'll still get an 11th-gen Core i5 or i7 processor, up to 64GB of RAM, up to 2TB of SSD storage, ports that include Thunderbolt 4 and your choice of 5G and LTE modems. The field-friendly design is reflected in the specs, too. The 1080p screen can ramp up to 1,200 nits for use in bright sunlight, and a second battery can stretch the runtime to 36 hours.

The Toughbook 40 will be available in late spring with a $4,899 starting price. That's more expensive than even some other Toughbooks, but Panasonic isn't aiming this machine at everyday users who would buy an XPS 13 or MacBook Pro — it's meant for on-site staff, first responders and military personnel who may need to work in very unforgiving conditions.

Logitech accessories are up to 52 percent off on Amazon today only

If you're keeping an eye out for discounted gaming and streaming accessories, you may want to check out Amazon's deal of the day for Logitech devices. The brand's headsets, mice and streaming gadgets, such as cameras and microphones, are currently on sale for up 52 percent off — and there's less than 20 hours left as of this writing. You can get the Logitech G535 Lightspeed wireless headset for $80, which is $50 less its usual price of $130. The device comes with a USB connector and is compatible with PC, the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 5. It will stay connected up to 12 meters away from the source and can last for up to 33 hours on a single charge. 

Buy Logitech accessories at Amazon - up to 52 percent off

If you're looking for an even cheaper headset, Logitech's G435 Wireless over-ear headset is also currently on sale for $50, or $30 less its retail price. The Bluetooth device is compatible with PCs and smartphones, as well as PlayStation and Nintendo Switch gaming devices. It supports Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic to deliver surround sound, and it can last for up 18 hours on a single charge.

In case ordinary wireless mice are too slow and aren't able to keep up with your games, you can pick up the Logitech G Pro wireless gaming mouse from the sale, as well. It typically costs $130, but it's currently on sale for $90. The device boasts pro-grade performance that Logitech says "overcomes the traditional limitations of wireless latency" and has a report rate connection of one millisecond.

Logitech's G920 Driving Force racing wheel and floor pedals are also currently on sale, in case you take your racing games seriously. At $70 off, you can grab a set for $230 instead of $300. It has dual-motor force feedback designed to simulate the real feel of your car and tires, and it's compatible with the Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC and Mac.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

HP is putting an OLED display in a Pavilion laptop for the first time

After announcing a refresh of pretty much all its Envy and Spectre notebooks, HP has revealed that it's also updating its mid-range Pavilion line with new components and features. The HP Pavilion Plus 14-inch laptop can be configured with up to 12th gen Intel Core H-series processors and with up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2050 4G discrete graphics. 

You can also choose to get it with an OLED display with up to 2.8K resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio instead of a standard LCD, which is a first for the Pavilion line. If you do choose to use it for gaming or for other resource-intensive tasks, the laptop's two fans and two heat pipes will help keep things cool. 

HP has also refreshed the Pavilion x360 14-inch laptop so that you can get it with up to 12th gen Intel Core U-series processors. The convertible, which can rotate 360 degrees so you can use it as a tablet, can also be equipped with an optional Intel 5G solution 5000 component for built-in mobile data connection. It's HP's first consumer laptop with a physical shutter door for its camera, so you no longer have to tape it up if you're concerned about privacy and security. 

Speaking of cameras, both laptops come with a 5-megapixel camera that has HP Presence technology, including AI Noise Removal. They both also come with dual Bang & Olufsen speakers. The Pavilion Plus 14-inch laptop will be available starting on May 25th at HP's website and retailers with a starting price of $799 in space blue, warm gold, mineral silver, tranquil pink and natural silver. Meanwhile, the new Pavilion x360 will be available this summer with prices starting at $599 in space blue, pale rose gold and natural silver. 

The Morning After: Our guide to the best laptops

Whether you’re planning for the back-to-school season, or you just need a refreshed work machine, a new laptop is an expensive purchase that warrants some thought. Despite a global chip supply shortage, companies are still making a ton of new laptops, and there’s still plenty of choice.

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Engadget

Most laptops with top-of-the-line specs can cost you around $1,800 to $2,000 these days. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a good system for under $1,000 — a grand is the base price for a lot of premium ultraportables in the 13-inch category. Then again, if you do most of your work in a browser (lots of online research, emails and Google Drive), then a Chromebook might be a cheaper alternative.

Let Engadget’s Reviews Editor, Cherlynn Low, guide you through the best choices.

— Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

Logitech’s MX Mechanical is a gaming keyboard made for work

Thankfully without all the RGB.

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Engadget

Logitech’s MX Master mice are well regarded for both gaming and office-based pointing and clicking. Its keyboards, however, never commanded the same level of respect. With the new MX Mechanical, though, your next keyboard might be a Logitech one. Sam Rutherford walks us through what it can offer. The MX Mechanical is available today, starting at $170.

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AT&T customers can now stream ‘Control’ for free on their phones and PCs

It uses the same tech that powers Stadia.

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AT&T

Following a pilot last fall that saw AT&T test Google’s Immersive Stream for Games technology to allow its customers to stream Batman: Arkham Knight, the carrier is back with a new game. Starting today, AT&T mobile postpaid subscribers can play Control: Ultimate Edition on their phones, tablets and computers on the company’s Play Now website at no extra charge.

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Amazon installs AI-powered cameras in UK delivery vans

A privacy group called it 'excessive, intrusive and creepy worker surveillance.'

Amazon in the UK will use cameras to record footage from inside vans and out to the road. The cameras detect road violations or poor driver practices and give an audio alert, while collecting data Amazon can use later to evaluate drivers.

The cameras don't monitor the drivers in real-time and won't capture sound but can supposedly upload footage to a dedicated safety team in certain circumstances. They track illegal road behavior, like failure to stop or speeding, and actions like hard braking or seatbelt violations.

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Take-Two's $12.7 billion purchase of Zynga is complete

'Words with Friends' and 'FarmVille' now belong to Take-Two.

We’ve already touched on EA’s search for a suitor, but elsewhere Take-Two’s billion-dollar purchase of Zynga is now officially wrapped up. Zynga has joined the likes of Rockstar Games and 2K under Take-Two's umbrella. As a result of the deal, Take-Two now has a bigger stable of well-known mobile and casual gaming franchises, including Words with Friends and Farmville.

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