Amazon has redesigned its Alexa mobile app with a focus on improving the software’s layout and reorganizing key sections.
The tech giant has been incrementally making changes to Alexa throughout 2023 like the time it added a new Home Shortcuts Bar. But instead of drip-feeding users, Amazon seemingly saw fit to roll out the rest of the update in one big push.
The first thing you’ll notice is the Home tab is more structured than before. As TheVerge points out, the old app had a random assortment of “Most Relevant” and “Recently Used” items on the Home tab. The layout is more compartmentalized with a Shortcuts carousel at the top, an Activity section in the middle, and Favorites at the bottom taking up a large amount of space.
According to Amazon, Shortcuts “organizes devices by category and” displays commonly-used features like Routines. If you don’t use certain features, users can customize the carousel to better suit their needs. That area will even show you the current status of your smart home gadgets. The availability of the status readouts is a bit strange, however. The announcement states it will first come to users who have “20 or fewer devices” before expanding to others in the coming months.
Activity cards will display “time-sensitive information” like reminders or upcoming alarms. Looking at the preview image, upcoming events are placed at the front. The rest will be hidden although you can tap See All to expand the menu.
Favorites offer quick access to frequently used devices, so you can control them with a single tap. At the time of this writing, eight device types are supported including smart lights, locks, and cameras just to name a few. Amazon says it has plans to expand this list later down the line.
The Devices page has been revamped too, effectively becoming the app’s new settings menu. Groups, located at the top of this page, pool all the connected hardware in a house’s room together for easier configuration. But if you prefer to tweak them individually, each gadget will appear in the list below. Amazon also took the time to upgrade the software’s search function. Now you can sort devices by alphabetical order, the date they were added, their name, or using certain keywords.
The updated Alexa app is making its way to Android and iOS, however, we should mention the latter will have an exclusive feature called Map View.
This tool creates a digital floor plan of your house and then pins all your connected smart home gadgets so you can see where everything is located. It will only be available to a select group as a preview in the United States. No word on when it’ll see a widespread release or if it’ll roll out to Android although we did ask Amazon for more details. This story will be updated at a later time.
Microsoft has quietly reduced the amount of Microsoft Rewards points users can earn, enraging users who have used the points to offset some of Microsoft’s more expensive services, like Game Pass.
Microsoft has removed the daily 15-point bonus for using Microsoft Edge, and has reduced the rewards for daily activities to just one or two points (down from five to ten points). On the Xbox, users report that the company is making additional changes to reduce the point opportunities as well, possibly killing the Rewards app altogether.
Microsoft Rewards debuted in 2016 as the evolution of Bing Rewards. Think of it as Microsoft’s frequent-flyer system: The more you use Microsoft’s services, the more Microsoft will pay you in points, which can be exchanged for real money in the form of Amazon gift cards, food delivery services, and Microsoft Game Pass for PC and Game Pass Ultimate.
What’s so great about Microsoft Rewards is the fact that you really didn’t have to do anything to earn free stuff: Provided you don’t mind using Bing over Google Search, or Microsoft Edge over Chrome, Microsoft will automatically “pay” you for using both services. Historically, you’ve also received points for using the Xbox, as well as PC Game Pass and the mobile Microsoft apps. Microsoft has also “gamified” rewards for completing specific tasks or “quests,” but those have been entirely optional; you could accumulate a few bucks in your Amazon account just by doing everything you do without thinking about it.
Put another way, you used to be able to earn 270 points per day just for searching with Bing, browsing on Edge, and using Microsoft’s mobile apps. A $5 Amazon gift card “costs” 5,250 points, which works out to about 19 days of normal use. But Microsoft also awarded bonus points for “daily streaks” and additional tasks, so the points could add up the more wholly invested you were in Microsoft’s ecosystem. Microsoft provided a Rewards dashboard on PC to monitor and complete additional tasks, as well as an Edge plugin to monitor your daily activity.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Microsoft Rewards changes are ticking off users
That’s changed. Now, the additional 15 points for using Edge is gone. Completing a puzzle or a quiz is just a single point, which many people on the Microsoft Rewards subreddit find insulting. Windows Central has reported that overseas users are receiving warnings that the Xbox Rewards app is going away, though that change hasn’t hit English-language users yet. Microsoft is still paying out five points per Bing search, but with an annoying caveat: Rewards begin on the third search, not just the first. Searches also have “cooldowns,” users say: Search too frequently, users say, and you won’t get credit. In March, Microsoft previously pulled the option to score a daily 50 points on the Xbox for a daily achievement, known as “Achieve More, Earn More,” or AMEM.
“From having no more monthly bonus punchcards to reducing points of AMEM to taking away Edge points to adding search cooldowns to reducing points of extra activities to even mysteriously banning accounts, I think Microsoft Rewards has become more of an inconvenience and I hope I’m wrong but Microsoft’s changes to the program definitely means that they might sadly soon retire it,” a Reddit post bemoaning “Nerfmas” stated.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Most of the Microsoft Rewards subreddit was saying much the same thing. “I’ve switched to DuckDuckGo and Mozilla,” another wrote. “I cannot see MS reverting back on this one, and it just is not worth my time.”
Microsoft representatives called the changes a “tuning” of the program. “Over the last few years, the Microsoft Rewards program has regularly evolved to reflect our growth and expansion,” representatives told WindowsLatest. “We evaluate every change for consistency and fairness, tuning the methods and frequency through which our members can earn points.”
You can’t help but think that Microsoft saw itself paying out too much in terms of rewards, however, while feeling pressure to take in more revenue through ongoing Game Pass subscriptions — whose deals aren’t as good as they once were, either. It looks grim for the future of Microsoft Rewards.
The hits keep on coming at OpenAI. After dismissing CEO and Co-Founder Sam Altman, inviting him back, and reinstating him as CEO just a few days ago, the ChatGPT developer is apparently pulling back, at least temporarily, on its plans for a GPT Store.
Earlier this month during the first OpenAI Dev Day, Altman introduced the concept of “GPTs”, basically custom versions of the ChatGPT generative AI model. These bespoke versions would use custom data and therefore do what you wanted them to do. They’d be less generally smart, like the current ChatGPT that turned 1 this week, and much more specifically smart to your needs. Perhaps the most exciting part of this announcement was that you’d be able to post and buy these custom GPTs in an online GPT Store.
Now, Axios is reporting based on a developer memo it obtained that OpenAI is pressing pause on the GPT Store launch at least until early 2024. In the memo, according to the report, OpenAI wrote, “While we had expected to release it this month, a few unexpected things have been keeping us busy!“
That comment, if real, might be a nod toward the tumult that consumed OpenAI over the last two weeks.
“I love and respect Ilya, I think he’s a guiding light of the field and a gem of a human being. I harbor zero ill will towards him,” wrote Altman on Wednesday.
Perhaps notably, Altman made no mention of “GPTs” or the GPT store in his post. Instead, he focused significant attention on AI safety, writing the company has three immediate priorities and listing this as the first: “Advancing our research plan and further investing in our full-stack safety efforts, which have always been critical to our work.”
There’s no indication in the reported memo that OpenAI is pausing GPTs work or really any part of its march toward Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), of which Altman writes, “One of the most important things for the team that builds AGI safely is the ability to handle stressful and uncertain situations, and maintain good judgment throughout.”
Assuming this pause memo is real, the delay to early 2024 is just a matter of a few months. Knowing OpenAI and the rapid development pace of ChatGPT and the large language model (LLM) powering it, the delay could shrink to weeks.
Editing on a computer is one thing, but why not edit on the phone or tablet you used to shoot your movie in the first place? This is nothing new, as ever since coders realised a phone was powerful enough to do some editing on it, we’ve been able to do that. But how far can that particular envelope be pushed? For instance, Final Cut Pro has finally made it to the iPad, but only on tablets with M1 chips or better.
But they’re actually late to the party. One of the best video editing apps, LumaTouch’s LumaFusion, launched in 2016, and provides many advanced video editing features across loads of different iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.
LumaFusion: Pricing & plans
Great balance – a simple, one-off price with some optional add-ons for those who want or need them
LumaFusion isn’t free video editing software. And it’s not easy to compete in a field where many of your competitors offer their apps for free with ads, in-app purchases, or ongoing subscription.
But if you’re in the market for an advanced professional-level video editor in your pocket, you might well find the $30 cost to be more than justified. And that’s a one-off fee, no never-ending subscriptions, with all future updates included in the price.
There are some in-app purchases as well, but these are for some advanced features that most will not need, so it makes sense to include them as optional add-ons. There are currently three available:
Multicam Studio automatically synchronises up to 6 sources for you, letting you tap to switch between cameras, thus editing on the fly, for $20.
Export to Apple Final Cut Pro transforms all the work you’ve done on your project’s timeline into an FCPXML file, which, along with all the media you’ve used, is merged into a single file, ready for you to transfer to your Mac to carry on editing on Final Cut Pro… for $20. A kind of alternative to subscribing to Final Cut Pro for iPad.
And finally, we have the Storyblocks library, offering royalty-free music samples, songs, sound effects, videos, and backgrounds right from within the LumaFusion interface. This one’s a subscription, being either $10 a month, or $70 for the year.
Pricing & plans: 4.5/5
Sleek interface in any orientation, looks great on large and small screens with good keyboard integration, although it’s not necessary to edit
The designers at LumaTouch have done an excellent job here. The interface works great whether you’re working on a tablet or a phone, and in either portrait or landscape orientations. There’s even a way to choose between six different layouts as well. Everything works flawlessly, with panels resizing and reorganising themselves instantly whichever layout you choose and however you’re holding your device.
The interface is divided into sections. One’s the Preview, where you get to see your work as you build your edit, another’s the Timeline, where you add your clips, and essentially create your film, and the last one is where you access various elements, such as your clips, titles, transitions, effects, etc.
If you’re familiar with the best video editing software on desktops, you’ll feel right at home in LumaFusion. And if you’re in the market for one of the best video editing software for beginners on mobile, we really liked to see the app offer a series of tutorials to help you quickly understand the interface. It’s all very welcoming, whatever your experience level.
Should you need to change the parameters of a particular clip in your timeline, simply double-tap on it. The interface will be replaced with your clip and all its alterable parameters. As you’d expect, you can also keyframe these, changing their values over time.
If you’re working on a tablet, you can hook up to a keyboard, and take advantage of various keyboard shortcuts, many of which are pretty much industry standard, like setting in and out points (‘i’ and ‘o’ respectively), adding a marker (‘m’), jump to the beginning or end of a clip (the ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows), and so on. You certainly don’t need a keyboard to work with LumaFusion, but it grants you additional functionality if you have one.
LumaFusion: Video editing
Great responsiveness, coupled with ease of use and loads of features – LumaFusion offers a lot and does it all exceedingly well.
Dragging and dropping is pretty much ubiquitous throughout the interface. Which isn’t surprising since it’s designed for touch. And here it works exceedingly well.
You’re able to work with up to six video layers and six additional audio tracks, allowing you to create fairly complex video sequences. Your timeline’s first layer has a ‘magnetic’ effect, which means that if you delete a clip, all subsequent ones will automatically move to the left to fill the gap left by the now-missing clip. This is a standard feature on Final Cut Pro and some others, and not only makes editing much faster, as you don’t have to deal with unwanted gaps in your project, but having to move all your clips by touch would be unbelievably tedious.
There’s a miniaturised timeline directly beneath the preview section. This represents your entire project. It is very useful to have when you’re zoomed into the timeline itself, as you can always see where you are within your project at a glance. It’s also a great way to scroll through your project, and see how all your clips are placed.
Your media can be accessed either from your device’s Photos app, a connected drive if you’re on tablet, and most of the best cloud storage providers. This includes services such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud.
Editing videos felt surprisingly easy, even on a phone’s relatively small screen (although admittedly, the larger the screen, the easier it is to work). Rendering is pretty fast. The app even lets you work with 4K clips, and we can tell you, it handles these high-resolution clips with ease.
It’s not loaded with the best VFX software, but you will find a good number of transitions, titles, and visual and audio filters are available, and pretty much everything (aside from transitions) can be keyframed and altered over time, including colour correction effects. In addition to that, there’s all the usual tools you’d expect from such an application, like trimming and cutting, chroma and luma keys, and even a built-in image stabiliser.
One thing we really liked was how you’re given the ability to create your own presets, for anything like titles or keyframed effects for instance. This allows you to have at your disposal unique looks that you can reuse in other projects, greatly saving you time, and helping set a unique tone for yourself across your videos. You can also export these presets, and import other ones.
Once you’re done, you’ve the option to save your work back to your device’s photos app, send it to an online storage service, or publish it directly to YouTube or Vimeo.
Video editing: 4.5/5
LumaTouch has done an impeccable job packing in professional-grade video editing tools into an app like this. And somehow, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
If we had to nitpick, we could ask why we need to select “original” in the colour filters in order to gain access to a clip’s colour parameters? Why can’t those values be available as you select the ‘colour and effects’ option, saving you a tap? And LumaFusion does put your battery to the test, but to be fair, this sort of software will chew through batteries on the best video editing laptops, let alone a phone.
LumaFusion is a great piece of software and the designers have done a remarkable job fitting a powerful editing studio in your phone or tablet. Add to that the fact this app gets regularly updated, and you’ve got a hit on your hands. If you’re serious about editing on the go, give LumaFusion some serious consideration.
Microsoft’s Windows 12 will launch in June of 2024, according to Taiwan media quoting the chairmen of Acer and contract manufacturer Quanta.
The Commercial Times, Taiwan’s largest financial paper, led its report about a recent medical conference by stating that Microsoft’s Windows 12 will launch in June 2024. The paper was reporting on comments made by Barry Lam, the founder and chairman of PC contract manufacturer Quanta, and by Junsheng (Jason) Chen, the chairman and chief executive of Acer.
The CT did not directly attribute the Windows date to either executive, though it said that Lam stated that Quanta would be the “first to invest in AI PCs,” a new category of PCs that Intel chief executive Pat Gelsinger announced in July.
Though the definition differs slightly between companies, an AI PC is generally assumed to be a PC with a processor (such as Intel’s Meteor Lake, AMD’s Ryzen AI, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite CPU) with on-chip AI capabilities. Intel will bring PC makers together in New York on December 14 to launch AI PCs, which should then be seen more broadly at CES in Las Vegas in January.
Microsoft, of course, has already begun shipping its own AI capabilities as part of Copilot, part of Windows 11’s 2023 Update. That large-language-model currently connects to the cloud, not a local processor. It’s unclear whether Windows 12 will continue that trend, or whether the OS will be able to use local AI capabilities instead.
PC makers, however, have certainly been given roadmaps by all of the AI players, as they ready their own hardware. (Quanta, as a “white box” PC maker, makes PCs that third-party PC makers sell under their own brand names.)
What’s unclear is the certainty of the June 2024 launch date. Similar reports by the Central News Agency (the news service of the Republic of China) and DigiTimes don’t mention that specific date, though it’s largely assumed that Microsoft will launch Windows 12 next year. While Windows 11 launched on October 5, Windows 10 launched on July 29, 2015 — so there is precedent, of a sort.
“He expects that by the summer of next year, with the launch of a new generation of Windows operating system, AI PCs will also be launched, and the demand is still difficult to estimate, but it is ‘a good opportunity’ for the industry,” the CT added, using AI-powered translation services.
Microsoft representatives had not responded to a request for comment by press time.
The first place you may go to stream a movie is Netflix. But in reality, there’s more competition out there than you might think. We’ve rounded up some of the best streaming platforms here, and one of the top picks in the UK is Now (formerly Now TV).
The Cinema membership offers just what it sounds like – the best movies Sky Cinema has to offer – and we’ve done our best to pick our favourites here.
In case you didn’t know, the Now Cinema membership costs £9.99 per month, and it’s worth pointing out that it’s separate from the TV membership, so you only get access to the films, which means it is pretty expensive if you want access to both. However, if you’re still interested check out our top picks of shows on Now. New customers can often get bundles on the two memberships.
There are more than a thousand films included in the Sky Cinema membership right now, so ranking our top picks obviously meant missing out on some favourites. It’s also worth remembering that one of the best things about the membership is that it offers far more of the biggest recent blockbusters than Netflix or Amazon do, so it’s arguably the best streaming service for watching new movies.
Top Gun: Maverick is the sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun (also available to stream on Now right now), and stars Tom Cruise as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he reluctantly returns to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program. There, he trains a group of young recruits, including the son of his late best friend.
The film was one of the most popular titles of 2022, and is a great action flick for both fans of the original and newbies alike.
Matt Reeves’s take on The Batman is a gritty and dark one, but a stellar one nonetheless. Bruce Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson) works undercover as the caped crusader, attempting to make Gotham a better place.
However, his skills are tested when he comes up against a formidable serial killer, who always appears to be one step ahead.
All films in the Three Flavours Cornetto are hilarious, but our personal favourite is Shaun of the Dead. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a 30-something who works in a dead-end job with a dull personal life.
However, that all changes when one day his neighbourhood is overcome with zombies. He must band together with his best friend, girlfriend and family to save the day (or wait for all of it to blow over).
Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn star in the quintessential rom-com, as an odd couple who fall in love on the streets of Rome – except she’s a European princess trying to hide her identity, and he’s a journalist who’s seen through the ruse and is hoping to use her for a story.
Naturally, things are never that simple, and Peck’s character just has to go and develop feelings – this wouldn’t be a rom-com otherwise, we suppose – but Roman Holiday doesn’t fit too neatly into all the familiar boxes otherwise.
It’s also a beautiful love letter to Rome in the ’60s, the sort of film that leaves you absent-mindedly checking flight prices five minutes after it’s over – don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Every big blockbuster that Christopher Nolan produces if often mind-boggling, and Inception is the top dog when it comes to this genre. Based around the concepts of dreams within dreams, this movie creates worlds where even the impossible is within reach.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a professional thief who works by entering people’s dreams to steal important information. In order to pull off the ultimate heist, he must plant an idea in someone else’s mind by going deep into their subconscious.
However, he has a big Achilles heel: the memory of his late wife, who often enters his mind unexpectedly.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is one of the highest grossing video game movie adaptation of all-time, and its no wonder. With the addition of fan favourites Tails and Knuckles, plus plenty of action and fun jokes, this is a massive improvement on the first film.
Sonic must once again work against his nemesis – the diabolical Doctor Robotnik – to help keep Green Hills safe. However, he faces an obstacle in the form of a mysterious Echidna.
If you’re looking for a bit of silly fun, then Zoolander will fit the bill perfectly. Derek Zoolander is one of the most famous male models of all time, despite competition from his rival, Hansel. However, the pair must team up when they become aware of an assassination plot in the fashion world.
Terminator 2 is one of the best action films of all time, and you can stream the Judgement Day Special Edition on Now.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a Terminator – a robot from the future who is on a mission to protect the future saviour of the world, John Connor. However, the boy is being hunted by another Terminator – the T-1000, which can morph into liquid metal, making it incredibly difficult to kill.
2008’s The Dark Knight is widely considered one of the best Batman films ever made, namely due to Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker.
Christian Bale stars as Batman as he begins to put a stop to organised crime. However, his efforts are thwarted when the mob hires the Joker, who will go to extreme lengths to try and kill Bruce Wayne.
If you want fun for all the family, then The Lego Movie is one of the best choices on Now at the moment, with plenty of laugh out loud moments.
Emmet is just an ordinary builder who is living his normal, awesome life. However, his entire world is turned upside down when he has to save the planet from an evil tyrant, along with a whole bunch of other Lego heroes.
All four excellent films in The Hunger Games franchise are available on Now, and the first is where the action begins.
In the dystopian land of Panem, every year one young man and woman from across the country are selected to compete in a televised fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen steps up to represent District 12 to protect her sister, but she is up against people who have trained their entire lives for this moment.
The Holiday is like a cup of mulled wine – cosy, warm and full of Christmas cheer. Two women from across the world agree to a house swap. On their travels, they find love and affection in unexpected places.
Back to the Future is one of the most beloved sci-fi films of all time. During an altercation, Marty McFly is accidentally sent back in time and meets his parents when they were younger. Marty must work with his friend Doc to ensure that he saves not only his own life, but those who he loves.
Tom Hanks has many roles he’s known for, but Forrest Gump is one of the standout ones. Forrest looks through life with an optimistic lens, and his mindset takes him through extraordinary scenarios, including the Vietnam war and becoming the captain of a shrimp boat. However, he encounters many reoccurring issues with the love of his life, Jenny.