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Day: December 13, 2017

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Google Assistant is coming to older Android phones and tablets

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The Google Assistant, Google’s take on Siri, Cortana and Alexa without the approachable name, has long been available on most modern phones and tablets. But given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, many older devices will never get the newer versions of Android that actually feature built-in support for the Assistant. Now, however, Google is bringing support for its voice-activated helper to phones running Android 5.0 Lollipop and tablets running Android 7.0 Nougat and 6.0 Marshmallow.

Lollipop launched back in 2014, so we’re talking about a rather old phone operating system here (Android 8.1 is now standard on Google’s own Pixel phones), but according to Google, more than 26 percent of all Android devices still run some version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Just over 30 percent run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Still, with an update to the Google Play Services, even these older devices will now get access to all the goodies that the Google Assistant promises — and often delivers.

If you still own one of these older Lollipop phones, you should see an update relatively soon. It’ll only be available to users who set their language to English in the U.S., U.K., India, Australia, Canada and Singapore, as well as to those who have set their default language to Spanish in the U.S., Mexico and Spain. Google says it will also roll out to users in Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil and Korea.

Because the Assistant on these older devices isn’t baked right into the launcher, though, you’ll have to launch the Google Assistant app before you can ask your phone for directions, the weather, recipes or jokes (in case you are feeling sad).

As for Marshmallow and Nougat tablet users, they’ll get the update over the course of the coming week, as long as they are in the U.S. and have set their language to English.

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Mario Bear has come to save 2017

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It’s been a long year – it feels like it actually spanned about 50, in fact. But now, at the end, some relief: Mario Bear.

Yes, it’s just a bear from Build-A-Bear Workshop. And a ‘brand collaboration,’ that horrific thing that usually just means some executives get a larger Christmas bonus and more people are convinced to part with their hard-earned money for something they don’t need. But this is a Mario Bear.

There’s also a Yoshi. And a Bowser. And a Toad. And a Luigi costume in case you want your bear to represent one of Nintendo’s slightly less appreciated protagonists. And a Princess Peach costume so you can prep your bear for far-flung adventuring (play Super Mario Odyssey if you don’t get this reference).

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Nintendo also licensed BAB (do people call it that?) to create a 3-pack of “Super Mario Wrist Accessories,” a Super Mario branded hoodie for bears, and sounds including the Mario theme song. I assume these all mean something to people who understand what Build-A-Bear is and how it works.

All I know is that this is not the Mario Bear we deserve, but it’s definitely the one we need right now.

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Apple invests $390 million in TrueDepth component maker Finisar

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Apple announced a substantial investment in Finisar. Apple is giving Finisar $390 million to build a new 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas. Finisar is going to hire 500 people to work on the laser sensor in the TrueDepth camera in the iPhone X.

Today’s investment is part of Apple’s commitment to invest $1 billion in U.S.-based companies with its Advanced Manufacturing Fund.

Apple says that Finisar is going to work on both research & development and high-volume production of optical communications components. The most complicated components are the vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) used in the iPhone X for Face ID, Animoji, Portrait mode and other face-mapping technologies. But Finisar also works on proximity sensors including the ones in the AirPods.

And it’s quite easy to understand why Apple is investing in Finisar. There are simply not enough suppliers in this field today. In the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, the company will purchase 10 times more VCSEL wafers than the entire VCSEL production in the world during the fourth quarter of 2016. So Apple needs to foster production.

The new facility should be up and running at some point during the second half of 2018.

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