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Updated: 34 min 45 sec ago

PSA: Amazon launching next Nintendo Amiibo toy wave in 30-minute waves

5/28/2015 7:52pm

The world of Amiibo toy collection is not for the faint of heart. Debuts of each wave of Nintendo's game-compatible toy line have been met with crazy lines, eBay price spikes, and computer-system meltdowns, and we have no reason to believe that tomorrow's "wave four" launch at American shops will be any different. Amazon, in particular, seems to agree, as the online retailer has sent a notice to interested toy collectors one day ahead of the launch with an unusual, staggered release plan.

Starting at 2pm Pacific time on Friday, Amazon will open one Amiibo buy listing every 30 minutes until all nine of its offerings have gone live. The first, a Pac-Man figurine from the Smash Bros. Amiibo series, will surely start the proceedings off with a bang, thanks to its Nintendo-Namco crossover appeal, and the rest of the day will include all of Splatoon's offerings (which are required to unlock its so-so "challenge" modes), along with a silver-coated Mario, two Fire Emblem characters, longtime nemesis Wario, and Pokemon favorite Charizard.

Ready your phone alarms and alerts, Amiibo fans on Amazon!

"Quantities of the new characters are extremely limited," Amazon warned customers (that was their italics, not ours), and the e-mail concluded with the no-brainer warning that " we cannot guarantee that every customer who wants an amiibo will be able to purchase one when they become available on May 29th." The site will also limit buyers to one of each toy, and none of them will work with the site's one-click ordering option.

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After FBI domain expires, seized Megaupload.com serves up porn

5/28/2015 6:57pm

Earlier this week, something suspicious started happening with Web addresses related to sites seized by the FBI from Megaupload and a number of online gambling sites. Instead of directing browsers to a page with an FBI banner, they started dropping Web surfers onto a malicious feed of Web advertisements—some of them laden with malware.

The hijacking of the Megaupload domains wasn't the result of some sophisticated hack. Based on evidence collected by Ars, it appears someone at the FBI's Cyber Division failed to renew the domain registration for CIRFU.NET, the domain which in turn hosted Web and name servers used to redirect traffic headed to seized domains. As soon as they expired, they were snatched up in a GoDaddy auction by a self-described "black hat SEO marketer," a British ex-pat who calls himself "Earl Grey."

As of Thursday afternoon, all of the server names associated with the domain no longer resolve to Internet addresses. GoDaddy has apparently suspended the domain registration, and Earl Grey has been ranting about it ever since on Twitter. The CIRFU.NET domain currently remains in limbo.

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Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC impressions: A better loop, endlessly retold

5/28/2015 6:12pm

The Dark Below, the first expansion for Bungie's shooter Destiny, broke me of an addiction. The base game had (and still has) its share of flaws, but I pumped hundreds of hours into the game across two characters in spite of those flaws. Not bad for a game that was often maligned for not having enough content.

That obsession disappeared with The Dark Below. The expansion compounded the original game's problems by making the base game's hard-won gear obsolete. It felt like the grueling, unfriendly, and often completely random leaps of progression before the expansion’s release were all completely meaningless. This knowledge was enough for me to excuse myself from those months of daily play and wait for the promised second half of the game's first season of extra content.

That second update, House of Wolves, is here, and it carries the unenviable baggage of needing to expand on the game proper while also fixing the problems its predecessor introduced.

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Android M makes another attempt at automated device backups

5/28/2015 5:47pm

We've got the Android M preview installed on some devices already, and we're beginning to dig down past the major improvements that Google announced on stage earlier today. One of these is an improvement to Android's backup system—if you choose to back up your device with a Google account, apps that target Android M and newer will have all of their data and settings backed up by default. That data can then be downloaded and restored to your phone if you get a new one or need to wipe it for some reason.

It should be noted that this isn't Google's first stab at a more comprehensive backup solution for Android, however. Android has had a backup API for years, but it required more effort on the part of developers. Lollipop was another step forward, though in practice it only really restores a limited number of things—Wi-Fi settings, wallpapers, language and input settings, and a few others are restored reliably, and Android is good about restoring the specific apps you had installed from Google Play. Backup of app data and settings usually doesn't work, though, since developers need to expend more effort to make it work. The Android M backup system is opt-out rather than opt-in, which should help with adoption.

All data is backed up to a private folder in Google Drive, and data kept in that folder does not count against your regular Drive storage quota. Developers can use an XML configuration file to explicitly exclude or include certain data, and users can opt out of the backup service altogether. Google also says that "large files" and temporary files generated by your apps won't be backed up by default.

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Android M has a dark theme option

5/28/2015 5:09pm

Dark and Light mode on Android M.

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SAN FRANCISCO—We just got our hands on Android M and we're working on a full write-up, but one thing that sent us running for our laptops was buried all the way in Developer Settings.

Android M has a dark mode.

For the last few years, Android users have complained about the amount of white apps in Android, which many have described as "staring into a lightbulb" when used at night. The Developer options in Android M present a "Theme" setting, which allows the user to pick from Light, Dark, and Automatic. "Automatic" changes between light and dark based on the device's clock.

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Amazon Prime launches free same-day delivery in 14 cities

5/28/2015 4:30pm

Amazon Prime's list of benefits grew one bigger on Thursday, as the $99/year subscription service now includes free same-day shipping—and same-day delivery—for certain parts of the United States.

Should an Amazon Prime member live in one of 14 qualifying metropolitan areas—including the company's home base of Seattle, along with the Bay area, New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Boston—they can get free same-day delivery on orders of $35 and up. Be advised: you'll want to check at Amazon's zip code search site for your own eligibility if you live in a sprawling region; our test of addresses in the Seattle and Dallas/Fort Worth regions proved scattershot.

Prime members in these 14 metropolitan areas should double-check the linked zip code search tool before attempting to place a same-day delivery order.

Qualifying same-day orders that cost less than $35 will be charged an additional $5.99 for same-day speed, as Prime customers had already paid up until today. Meanwhile, should an order be placed too late in the day, Prime customers will still enjoy free one-day shipping.

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How bad would the ozone hole be if we did nothing?

5/28/2015 3:30pm

The “hole” in the ozone layer is sometimes invoked by those who downplay environmental concerns as an example of “sky is falling” warnings that never came to pass. It's an odd example. There's a simple reason ozone problems didn't come to pass: the world came together and agreed to phase out key ozone-depleting chemicals.

It’s a major success story, and one that should be remembered. As we consider the cost of dealing with ongoing environmental problems, it's worth considering: how much better off are we for the action we did take to preserve the ozone layer? Some scientists have now tackled this question.

Ozone gas in the stratosphere is enormously important for life on Earth. Ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation emitted by the Sun, greatly reducing the amount that reaches the surface. It’s sunscreen for the planet, as UV causes skin cancer and sunburns. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it was discovered that compounds called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), commonly used as refrigerants and in aerosol sprays, were breaking down stratospheric ozone.

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Pakistani CEO arrested for selling degrees from “Barkley” and “Columbiana”

5/28/2015 3:27pm

The CEO of a Pakistani company called Axact, which called itself the country's largest software exporter, was arrested yesterday in Karachi. Axact and its CEO, Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, are accused of running a global network of selling fake diplomas.

Local television showed pictures of a room filled with the fakes, according to reports in The New York Times and The Guardian. The documents were stamped with letterhead from fake Axact-owned universities with names like Bay View, Cambell State, and Oxdell.

Other Axact institutions adopted names that mimicked well-known US universities, such as "Barkley" and "Columbiana."

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De-crapping the Windows Store, take two

5/28/2015 3:20pm

Last August, Microsoft announced efforts to remove misleading and deceptive applications from the Windows Store. Apps needed to have clear names and proper categorization, plus they couldn't use misleading icons.

Less than a year later, Microsoft has announced a new effort to remove misleading and deceptive applications from the Windows Store. While this new decrapification process isn't identical to the old one, it nonetheless feels very similar.

Much of the focus concerns icons. App icons should reflect what the app does, and they should be differentiated from other app icons. Mass-produced copy/paste style apps where a developer can create dozens of minute variations on the same base app are still allowed, but at least a little more effort will be required.

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Google releases bigger, iPhone-compatible Cardboard VR viewer

5/28/2015 3:11pm

Building on the success of its Cardboard VR kit for smartphones, Google announced today at its I/O conference version 2. It's still just a paper holder for a smartphone, but the new Cardboard works with bigger phones—up to 6-inch screens—has a more reliable button that will work with any phone, and now requires just three assembly steps instead of 12.

Cardboard is no longer just for Android, either; the company also announced that the Cardboard SDK for creating VR apps would be made available for iOS, and you'll be able to use your iPhone as a VR headset, too.

Google also launched a similar low-tech/self-build solution for creating VR videos, called Jump. There are three parts: a rig for capturing 3D video, software for combining multiple videos into a single VR world, and a player to actually use the video.

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AT&T wants to choose which online video services count against data caps

5/28/2015 3:10pm

AT&T doesn't want any rules preventing it from choosing which online video services count against its customers' data caps.

AT&T's "Sponsored Data" program already charges businesses, often in the ad industry, for the right to deliver services without counting against customers' mobile data caps. AT&T could potentially charge online video streaming services for exemptions from the caps imposed on AT&T home broadband subscribers as well or exempt its own online services from caps.

Though AT&T doesn't appear to have done this yet, the company this week asked the FCC to make sure it's allowed to do so. AT&T's request came after a group of companies and consumer advocacy organizations asked the Federal Communications Commission to prevent AT&T from granting data cap exemptions. 

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Hands-on (again) with the Nvidia Shield—the first good Android TV device

5/28/2015 3:00pm

The Shield can either stand up...

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);NEW YORK—As you read this, Google I/O will currently be raging on—and hopefully just wrapping up the keynote. A few days before the show, however, Nvidia invited us to check out the Nvidia Shield—the company's first entry into the Android TV market.

As promised in the lead up to the launch of Android TV, Nvidia is positioning the Shield as a set-top box and game console. Gaming is such a big focus for the company that it showed the device off at the 2015 Game Developer Conference, where our gaming editor, Kyle Orland, looked at the Shield from the point of view of a game console. The Shield isn't just a game console, though—the device also feels like the next generation of Android TV.

Android TV's first device—the Nexus Player—had a multitude of show-stopping problems, even with the latest 5.1.1 Android TV update. For starters, the 1.8GHz Intel Atom chip isn't up to the task of smoothly playing 1080p video. Not everyone is sensitive to framerate slowdowns, but if you are, the Nexus Player's occasional hiccups during complex scenes was infuriating—and really, it's inexcusable for a device whose primary job is to play video.

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Google Maps allows turn-by-turn navigation—offline

5/28/2015 2:41pm

At the Google I/O keynote today, Jen Fitzpatrick, Google vice president of engineering and product management, announced that Google Maps will be updated with a more fully featured offline maps function later this year.

Google first introduced offline maps at its I/O developer conference in 2012, letting users select and save a region of Google Maps for later use. With offline maps, GPS-enabled devices were still able to see the blue locator dot on the offline maps.

Now, Google says that users will be able to search for locations within that offline region and even see ratings and other information, just as they are able to with online maps. Turn-by-turn navigation will also be available as well, again without an Internet connection. “Now I can search and navigate the real world, online or offline,” Fitzpatrick said.

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The Dealmaster wants to offer you a moment of Zen(book)

5/28/2015 2:40pm

A merry Google I/O afternoon to you all, Arsians! Most of our readers are geeking out over all of the stuff Google is announcing, but our partners at TechBargains never rest, so they've got a whole pile of deals to tide you over on this fine Thursday. The top deal this time around is an Asus Zenbook UX305FA Ultrabook, with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state disk, for $599—and that ain't bad!

There are other things in the list if you don't happen to need an Ultrabook today. Maybe you're enmeshed in a bitter fight with a neighbor over property lines or something, and you need to know exactly how far his stupid tree overhangs into your yard because there's no way in hell you're ponying up the cash again to rake up the stupid leaves this autumn. If that's the case, we've got a neat Bosch laser distance measure down in the list—perfect for proving to that idiot that his stupid tree does extend 1.21 meters over the line, and that you're perfectly justified in taking a chainsaw to the branches and then throwing them through his stupid window into his stupid smug face.

Maybe the Dealmaster has some anger issues to work through. Regardless, I'm buying that laser thing. If I'm not back in an hour... call the president.

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UN says encryption “necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom”

5/28/2015 2:23pm

The United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner released a report Thursday heralding encryption, but it was wishy-washy when it came to government-mandated backdoors to undermine encryption.

The report said:

Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age. Such security may be essential for the exercise of other rights, including economic rights, privacy, due process, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to life and bodily integrity.

This isn't the first time the UN weighed in on the digital age. In 2011, it declared Internet access a human right.

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Google announces cut-down Android-based “Brillo” for Internet of Things

5/28/2015 1:47pm

At its I/O conference today, Google announced its entry into the Internet of Things (IoT) market with a pair of offerings.

First up is Brillo, an Android-derived operating system for IoT devices. Brillo is smaller and slimmer than Android, providing a kernel, hardware abstraction, connectivity, and security infrastructure. The company didn't talk technical details, so the range of systems-on-chips supported and specific hardware requirements are currently unknown; previous rumors estimated that it would go as low as 32 or 64 MB of RAM, making it a lot smaller than regular Android.

A preview of Brillo should be available in the third quarter.

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Google Photos leaves Google+, launches as a standalone service

5/28/2015 1:47pm

SAN FRANCISCO—At its I/O keynote, Google announced that Google Photos is now a standalone product. The service has officially been spun off from Google+ and is being billed as a brand new product, according to Google's Anil Sabharwal, and Google hopes the revamp will enable it to better take on the likes of Flickr and Facebook Photos. The new service will be available at photos.google.com.

Google Photos looks a lot like Google plus Photos, just without the Google+ part. There is still tons of cloud storage; pictures are still automatically backed up to the cloud, and Auto-Awesome (though it has been renamed to "Assistant") is still here. That feature still automatically surprises the user by adding funky effects, making panoramas, and creating album slideshows using copies of your pictures.

There are a few new additions however. Google+ Photos has long been able to use image recognition to automatically tag the contents of pictures for search results, but the new service is exposing these computer vision results to users in a more obvious way. Google Photos automatically makes collections of your most-frequently photographed people or objects like "food" or "landscapes." Tapping on a person's face will search for other pictures of that person in your collection. It also relies heavily on gestures to navigate through one's entire timeline, letting the user pinch and zoom out from individual pictures all the way up to a high level view that shows pictures organized by years.

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Android M Dev Preview delivers permission controls, fingerprint API, and more

5/28/2015 1:41pm

SAN FRANCISCO—The next version of Android is official—Google just announced "Android M" at Google I/O 2015. This isn't a full version of Android; it's a developer preview like "Android L" (which launched at I/O last year). As a dev preview, it will largely be only the core OS, and it isn't suitable for day-to-day use (but try to stop us). It remains a tantalizing look into the future of Android, though, and we expect all of this will hit consumers before the end of the year.

App Ops is back! Permission controls come to Android

The individual permissions for WhatsApp.

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);The biggest change for developers in Android M will be user-selectable permissions. Currently, Android permissions are an all-or-nothing affair—you give the app the full list of permissions it wants or your don't install it at all. In Android M, Google will be letting users pick and choose which permissions they allow in an app, and the company will provide a control panel for managing permissions.

The system looks a lot like App Ops—Android 4.3's hidden permissions manager—which was promptly removed after it was discovered by users. Just like in App Ops, you pick an app in the permissions manager and you'll get a list of every permission it has access to alongside on-off switches for each. You can also look at apps by permission type if you want to, for instance, see every app with access to your microphone.

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Play Store to add Developer Pages, A/B app listings, and more

5/28/2015 1:40pm

SAN FRANCISCO—App developers don't really have a home on the Play Store. Their apps have a home, but if developers want to show off what their company is about, they have little more to link to than a list of search results on the Play Store. At Google I/O, Google is looking to remedy this situation with the launch of Developer Pages on Google Play.

Developer pages remind us a lot of YouTube channel pages. Developers get a big banner at the top of the page, a profile icon, and the ability to add text that explains what type of apps they make. Dev pages automatically show a list of apps under the developer's account, but devs can also pick a particular app to feature, which gives them an easy way to promote that new page or app.

Google is also releasing a round of developer console updates that will focus on analytics and improving user conversion and monetization. There will be an "acquisition and conversion" report, which will let developers see where all of their Google Play users are coming from. The report will be split up among arrival sources, like paid links and ads, external links, and organic search traffic. It's like referral analytics for app installs.

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Android M embraces USB Type-C, MIDI devices

5/28/2015 1:39pm

USB Type-C is still a rarity today, but as the year goes on, the new port is going to begin showing up in more and more devices. In anticipation of this, Google has introduced a handful of features in the Android M release to support some of Type-C's new features.

Google hasn't released a ton of information about the new features, but the most significant ones relate to the USB Power Delivery spec. A menu that pops up when you plug one USB Type-C device to another asks you what kind of connection you're trying to make. The standard MTP and PTP file and photo transfer protocols, available in current versions of Android, are on this list, but the menu will also ask you if you'd like to charge the device or use it as a power supply for another device.

The USB selection pop-up in Android M. Google

This effectively makes Android M devices with USB Type-C ports into external batteries. Your tablet can charge your phone. Your phone could charge a camera battery or Bluetooth headset. Not every device combination makes sense (using a large laptop or tablet battery to charge a small phone battery seems useful; using a small phone battery to charge anything else seems ill-advised) but for compatible devices, it will be a handy feature.

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