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Big tech companies building an Apple AirPods competitor

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Microsoft is reportedly planning to launch a pair of earbuds that rival Apple AirPods.
The earbuds are reportedly called Morrison internally.
Amazon is also planning to enter the market, according to a report.
Samsung recently released the Galaxy Buds, and Google is said to be working on a new version of its wireless earbuds.

Microsoft is building its own set of in-ear headphones to compete with AirPods, according to Thurrott, a website that follows Microsoft closely. The move adds to the growing list of major tech companies seeking to capitalize on the massive popularity of AirPods.

The product is currently code named Morrison, according to the site. Microsoft announced its Surface Headphones last year, and they let consumers speak to its digital voice assistant, Cortana, much the same way AirPods owners can speak to Siri. Thurrott speculated that they are named for the late rocker Jim Morrison of the Doors

This would mark Microsoft’s second attempt at headphones and would further position the company as a hardware player. In recent years, Microsoft has bolstered its portfolio of products to align more against Apple’s, with its Surface Laptop, Surface Pro and Surface Studio desktop.

Apple’s AirPods have exploded in popularity, and it appears that other manufacturers want a piece of the market, especially among people who might not own Apple products.

The Thurrott report follows another from Bloomberg earlier this month, which said Amazon is planning to launch a pair of buds that are similar to AirPods, and that they would let people speak to its Alexa voice assistant. Samsung recently released its take on the product with the Galaxy Buds.

Thurrott didn’t provide details on Morrison and whether or not they’ll come with a charging case like AirPods.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

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Industry

LG V50 ThinQ 5G launch in South Korea delayed

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LG announced earlier today that it delayed the South Korea launch of its 5G-capable V50 ThinQ. The phone was originally slated to launch in South Korea this Friday, April 19.

The delay is due to LG wanting to further optimize the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset and Qualcomm X50 5G modem inside of the V50. LG also said it’s working with Qualcomm and South Korean carriers to improve 5G service and phone interoperability.

LG V50 ThinQ 5G price & release date: What we know so far (it’s not much)

LG didn’t say when the V50 will be available in South Korea. Android Authority reached out to LG for comment on a new release date and whether the delayed launch in South Korea will affect the U.S. launch, but did not receive a response by press time.

The delay comes at a bad time for LG, which saw rival Samsung launch its first 5G smartphone April 5 in South Korea. LG likely had hoped to use the Galaxy S10 5G’s launch momentum for its own 5G smartphone, but now we don’t know when the V50 will debut.

That said, LG might have dodged a very big bullet by delaying the V50’s launch. Business Koreareported last week that Galaxy S10 5G owners have struggled with poor 5G connectivity and an inability to switch to 4G LTE. Samsung pushed out an update that supposedly addressed the issues, but the update didn’t help much.

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Business

Verizon’s new activation fees cost more in-store, less in-app

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It’s adding an extra $10 on top of in-person and over-the-phone upgrades and activations.

Verizon has simultaneously slashed and increased its activation and upgrade fees, depending on how you process the transaction. According to CNET and reports posted online, you now only have to pay $20 if you upgrade your device or activate a line on the carrier’s website or the My Verizon app. That’s down $10 from the previous $30 fee for either service. However, if you walk into a store or call the company’s phone line for upgrade or activation, you’ll now have to pay $40 instead.

A Verizon spokesperson described personal and over-the-phone transactions to CNET as a “full-service experience,” perhaps suggesting that those channels deserve the extra $10. The company is probably hoping to discourage people who can do things on their own from engaging customer service and sales reps, though what the fee adjustments mean for employees remains to be seen. The Redditor who posted the news on the website claimed to work for an indirect store and said employees aren’t getting a pay upgrade despite the higher fees. We’ve reached out to Verizon for confirmation and will update when we hear back.

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Tech News

Google’s Pixel 3 uses AI to detect when you’re kissing someone in a selfie

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Google’s Pixel phones have always had stand-out cameras, thanks in no small part to the company’s use of AI. The latest application? A built-in kiss cam for the camera on the Pixel 3 that automatically detects when subjects are puckering up and snaps a quick photo.

The feature is an update the Pixel Camera app’s Photobooth mode. This is a shutter-free mode which automatically takes photos with the Pixel 3’s wide-angle selfie cam. In addition to spotting kisses, Google says the software recognizes five key facial expressions that “should” trigger capture: “smiles, tongue-out, kissy/duck face, puffy-cheeks, and surprise.”

That’s the theory, anyway. Our tests with the app were inconsistent. “Its ability to detect duck-face is questionable,” was the assessment of The Verge’s Jon Porter. Though he added it did successfully spot him kissing his reflection in a mirror. “It grabbed the image the moment my lips made contact!”

The Verge’s Jon Porter puckers up. 

The tech for this comes in part from Google Clips, the company’s 2017 experiment in using AI to make photography easier. Clips was supposed to be a tool for families to capture important moments. It was small, lightweight, and minimalist, and used built-in algorithms to decide when to take a photo. But while a neat concept, it was redundant for most users.

While Clips has been clipped out of Google’s history (we couldn’t find it for sale on the Google store), the tech it helped incubate lives on. With neural nets scanning your facial expressions and making sure your eyes aren’t closed, Google says the Pixel 3 makes it easier than ever to take perfect selfies and group photos.

Photobooth mode in the Pixel 3 camera can now recognize facial expressions and kissing. 

DO YOU TRUST ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO TAKE A GOOD PHOTO?

As part of the Pixel Camera’s update, the app also helps users know when they’re looking their best for a photo. A white bar on the side of the display (on the left in the GIF above) responds to users’ actions. When everyone’s looking at the camera and making a nice face it expands to the full width of the display and the phone takes a picture.

“We’re excited by the possibilities of automatic photography on camera phones,” write Google’s engineers in a blog post. “As computer vision continues to improve, in the future we may generally trust smart cameras to select a great moment to capture.”

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