Google Japan’s outlandish keyboards might be the best running joke in tech

The TechCrunch newsroom fears only one thing: the coming of April 1. Because, I’m just going to say it, the tech industry isn’t very funny. But Google Japan’s ongoing series of ridiculous keyboards, where they completely commit to the joke, suggests we may have found the first known exception.

The latest is the “Gboard Bar Version,” (or stick version depending on the translation), a keyboard about 1.6 meters feet long (down from 2.4 meters in the prototype) with all the letters and numbers arranged from left to right in a “one-dimensional QWERTY layout.” There are options for ABC, ASCII codes and katakana.

No longer will you have to hunt and peck for individual keys, the creators explain. “With this keyboard, it is very convenient to know immediately that the 16th letter from the left is G.” So simple!

It also has ergonomic advantages:

“When you use this keyboard, your arms will naturally spread out, so you can stretch your arms secretly even at work. When you press the rightmost and leftmost keys at the same time, you may stretch your legs unintentionally,” the team writes.

Of course it also doubles as a reaching implement for hitting far away light switches, and triples as a walking stick for when you need to touch grass. Watch the video below for many more little light-hearted and genuinely chuckle-worthy uses and benefits:

It was posted on September 1, I think because it has 101 keys. The joke not appearing on the traditional day for such things makes it all the funnier.

But this isn’t the first “new input proposal from the Gboard team.” The posts have been going on for 10 years now, starting with a Morse Code input method and getting rather more involved from there. Some are more successful than others, but even if the spoon-bending one is a bit much, the origin video is still amazing. I love send-ups of self-serious product journeys, and this is no exception:

The Tegaki “physical handwriting” keyboard, essentially a real-world version of the swiping used on the actual Gboard and others, is close enough to reality that you might just think it’s an actual product. In fact I feel sure I’ve seen something like this before, as a way of controlling the cursor.

Some of the designs are genuinely interesting and remarkable little pieces of engineering, like this tilting-key keyboard:

Image Credits: Google Japan

And this integrated teacup item is delightfully absurd:

Image Credits: Google Japan

In case you’re wondering how you use it (translated by Google from the Japanese): “The kanji for fish are arranged in the syllabary on the 50 keys. Instead of [an] alphabet, it uses a sushi arrangement of horse mackerel, sardine, eel, ei, and okoze, and characters are input by fish-kanji conversion.” Very finny.

But the team clearly had fun with it, and amazingly they’ve actually built these designs — you can find the code and blueprints here.

This is certifiably ancient news for our Japanese readers, but I hadn’t seen it get any play over here in the States. And I figure the opposite end of the year from April Fool’s is the best time to highlight this delightful bit of work by a team that seems to be funny and dedicated in equal measure.

Google Japan’s outlandish keyboards might be the best running joke in tech by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Google debuts a new Nest Doorbell, faster Wi-Fi router and redesigned Home app

Seems Google couldn’t wait until Thursday to announce all of its upcoming hardware. In a pair of blog posts this morning, the company announced two additions to its Nest line of smart home products: a new Nest Doorbell and the Nest WiFi Pro.

The latter amps up the company’s dead-simple mesh Wi-Fi offering. The top-line feature here is the addition of Wi-Fi 6E. The “E” there is short for “extended,” a reference to the new 6GHz radio band, which promises speeds “up to two times faster” than the standard Wi-Fi 6.

Beyond that, the core draw of the product remains: an ultra simple setup. Google has done a fine job removing some of the most annoying things about setting up home Wi-Fi. The new hardware maintains that, making the Google Home app the centerpiece of the process, promising the get things up and running in “minutes.”

After setup, the app can run speed tests, share passwords and continue monitoring the network for potential issues. The system will alert you if something like a connection issue arises and work to walk you through the process toward resolution. There are also a number of family-friendly features on board, including content blocking and Wi-Fi scheduling for kids.

The router is made from 60% recycled material by weight and comes in four pastel colors, as part of Google’s bid to make home networking devices a bit less ugly. A one-pack runs $200, the two-pack is $300 and the three-pack is $400 — the latter of which is designed to cover up to 6,000 square feet. Preorders start today and the system ships October 27.

There’s also a new version of the Nest Doorbell. The second-gen wired product stores an hour of “important events” locally, in case of Wi-Fi outage. The camera has been improved to include HDR support for various lighting conditions. That’s available today, starting at $180.

Image Credits: Google

All of that comes as the company announces a long overdue redesign to the Home app in parallel with the release of the Matter 1.0 standard. The new app features fast Matter pairing, which will arrive as an update to its smart speakers, displays and older routers. There are new customization options on board as well, as Anish Kattukaran, group product manager, notes:

For me, I care most about making sure our doors are locked and viewing our security cameras, while my wife loves quick access to the thermostat. With favorites, you can set your own personalized view of the devices, actions and automations that matter most. And this also includes being able to favorite all of your Nest cameras so you can view your livestreams, right when the app opens, no additional taps required.

An update will also be arriving for the Wear OS version of the app, after the Pixel Watch hits the market.

read more about the 2022 Google fall event on TechCrunch

Google debuts a new Nest Doorbell, faster Wi-Fi router and redesigned Home app by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Matter’s Internet of Things standard, certification ready for developers

The consortium behind the Matter standard for the Internet of Things have officially approved the long-award standard. The open-source connectivity standard was built around a shared belief that smart home devices should seamlessly integrate with other systems and be secure and reliable.

Smart home device makers understand that people will integrate lots of products from different brands into their homes. The Matter 1.0 standard and certification program was created so the devices you like to buy from companies, like Apple, Amazon and Google, aren’t fragmented, but can be easily set up and communicate with each other from one place via a local controller device.

The Connectivity Standards Alliance organized the testing for the first Matter-certified devices and comprises over 550 technology companies, including those aforementioned tech giants, which are some of the big names involved with the standard’s creation.

When I spoke with Michelle Mindala-Freeman, head of marketing for the Connectivity Standards Alliance, during the January 2022 CES tech show, she said that “2022 will be a big year for Matter.”

At the time, over 50 companies had tested 134 unique products which are expected to be the first available at launch, Mindala-Freeman told TechCrunch.

That number has now grown to over 280 companies that worked together on requirements and specification development, reference design, multiple test events and final specification validation.

The Matter 1.0 standard and global certification program launches with eight authorized test labs to test Matter and its underlying network technologies, Wi-Fi and Thread.

The certification, specifications, testing tools and software development kit enable companies to be faster to market with new hardware and innovations aimed at providing better privacy and security, while also reaching a broader consumer audience.

Alliance members with deployed devices, and plans to update their products to support Matter, can now do so when their products are certified.

Matter’s Internet of Things standard, certification ready for developers by Christine Hall originally published on TechCrunch

Xiaomi’s latest flagship has a 200-megapixel sensor — so don’t think spec race is over

Xiaomi just launched the 12T Pro, a flagship with a 200-megapixel main camera. The company is using Samsung’s HP1 sensor with a base pixel size of 0.64μm and f/1.69 aperture.

The sensor, which was launched last year, uses pixel binning in different ways: it can combine 16 pixels to produce a 12.5-megapixel image (2.56μm pixel size), combine four pixels to produce a 50-megapixel image (1.28μm pixel) or produce a full 200-megapixel image. For comparison, binned 12-megapixel photos on the new iPhone 14 Pro’s 48-megapixel camera has a pixel size of 2.44μm.

This main sensor provides features such as 2x zoom, night-mode photography and video recording in up to 8K resolution. Xiaomi says it expects the device’s extremely high megapixel sensor to churn out images with super crisp details and color depth in both day and low-light situations. However, other things such as the size of the sensor and the company’s post-processing algorithms matter a lot. So using a 200-megapixel sensor doesn’t guarantee that the resulting photos will be superior to sensors with a lower megapixel count.

The other specifications for 12T Pro are on par with Android flagships launched this year: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor; 8 GB or 12 GB RAM; 128 GB or 256 GB UFS 3.1 storage; 120Hz 6.67-inch AMOLED display; and a 5,000 mAh battery that can be charged with a 120W charger packed in the box.

The company also claims that the new device has a 65% better cooling system than its predecessor.

Apart from the admittedly ridiculous 200-megapixel main camera, the Xiaomi 12T Pro has an 8-megapixel ultra-wide camera, 2-megapixel macro camera and a 20-megapixel front-facing camera.

Last month, Motorola released a device called the Edge 30 with the same 200-megapixel sensor supplied by Samsung, so it’s officially a trend.

The phone will be available in black, silver and blue colors starting at €749 ($743) when it goes on sale October 13.

Xiaomi’s latest flagship has a 200-megapixel sensor — so don’t think spec race is over by Ivan Mehta originally published on TechCrunch

EU vote paves way for USB-C to be common device charger in 2024

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to back EU legislation that will standardize mobile chargers on USB Type-C — paving the way for the law to start being applied by the end of 2024.

MEPs have been pushing for the e-waste measure for over a decade so today’s massively affirmative plenary vote — of 602 in favour of the directive and just 13 against (plus 8 abstentions) — is hardly a shock.

Parliamentarians also previously pushed to expand the common charger rules to include more types of portable consumer electronic devices (including laptops).

The directive isn’t quite law yet. It still needs final approval by the Council — but that step is considered a formality given the provisional political agreement already reached between the co-legislators this summer.

Once the Council has signed off, the directive will enter into force 20 days after publication in the EU’s Official Journal and Member states will then have 12 months to transpose the rules — and 12 months after the transposition period ends to apply them. So it looks set to start to bite towards the end of 2024 — when all mobile phones, tablets and cameras sold in the EU will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C charging port.

After that, there’s a second deadline — of spring 2026 — when the obligation will extend to laptops.

Products placed onto the EU’s market before the date of the directive’s application won’t fall in scope — so we’ll have to see whether there’s a scramble by manufacturers to flush out existing non-USB-C regional inventory by dumping it onto the market ahead of the 2024 deadline.

There will also be plenty of eyes on what iPhone maker Apple does — and how quickly it moves to adopt USB-C across its suite of mobiles — given it’s been such a stickler for its proprietary smartphone charging standard (and all the dongles it can sell around the Lightning port).

“Regardless of their manufacturer, all new mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, earbuds and laptops that are rechargeable via a wired cable, operating with a power delivery of up to 100 Watts, will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port,” the parliament writes in a press release.

“All devices that support fast charging will now have the same charging speed, allowing users to charge their devices at the same speed with any compatible charger.”

MEPs have also tied the Commission to tackling wireless charging interoperability in the near term — saying the EU’s executive will have to come up with a proposal to harmonise interoperability requirements for the tech by the end of 2024 as adoption of wireless charging increases (and to ensure manufacturers don’t just swap proprietary charging ports for proprietary wireless charging tech, generating a fresh firehose of e-waste).

The EU expects the common charger obligations to drive greater re-use of chargers — reducing the environmental impact of consumer electronics purchases while helping buyers save up to €250M a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

Another component of the directive requires device makers to apply dedicated labels that inform consumers about the charging characteristics of new devices, with the aim of making it easier for them to see whether their existing chargers are compatible.

The idea for the label requirement is so consumers can make an informed choice about whether or not to purchase a new charger with a new product. However there will surely be a risk that unsure consumers will buy a new charger ‘just in case’ — generating fresh unnecessary charger e-waste — and/or be nudged to buy another charger by sharkish retailers spotting an opportunity to generate extra revenue.

Currently, on the e-waste front, disposed of and unused chargers annually account for about 11 000 tonnes of e-waste in the EU, per the Commission. So it will be interesting to see whether/is there’s a real terms cut in e-waste resulting from the directive or more complex impacts.

Increased interoperability between different gizmos might actually increase consumption of portable electronics by creating more demand linked to expanded utility. But we can probably all agree that unused chargers that spend their lives untouched and box-fresh before being binned are a particularly sad kind of e-waste.

Europe’s push for a common charger is creating some reflective pull elsewhere.

This summer, a trio of US lawmakers seized on the EU directive to press for America to follow suit and adopt a USB-C common charger standard by 2024.

 

EU vote paves way for USB-C to be common device charger in 2024 by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch