Category Archives: Trends

Another Snapchat Redesign is Coming

Another Snapchat Redesign is Coming

If you use Snapchat but have been frustrated with it recently, there’s some good news. Snapchat is getting a redesign…again.

You may remember how Snapchat released their new redesign in some areas back in January. When it was first released, it was only in some countries, like the UK, and the change immediately caused an uproar. Users began pleading with Snapchat to let them revert back to the old system. And once it rolled out in the US, even more people began venting their frustration, which lead to Snapchat making it clear the redesign was here to stay.

The main problem stemmed from the way Stories were suddenly mixed in with messages. It made the design cluttered and unnecessarily difficult to navigate for many users. People wanted their Stories and messages to be laid out in a more organized way (they were separate from each other before the redesign).

Now, according to The Verge, some users are getting a new version rolled out to them that should address some of the concerns. The new update is currently rolling out to many iOS users, The Verge reports. In the new update, Stories and messages will go back to chronological order, and the Stories will be on the right side of the app once again.

This should hopefully eliminate some of the complaints that have been pouring in for months. Of course, Snapchat has already had to deal with months of mockery and frustration. Social media has been filled with memes and jokes at Snapchat’s expense after their poorly-received redesign, and users were likely not happy with Snapchat’s response saying that they would be keeping the new version despite the users’ anger.

The Verge notes that the newest update is currently coming for many people on iOS, but it’s not currently clear when Android users can expect the change.

Instagram Adds New Polling Feature with Emoji

Instagram Adds New Polling Feature with Emoji

Instagram is adding another fun feature that can connect friends and start conversations. They already had a polling feature, but they are now adding a new type of polling that works differently and uses emoji.

Emoji Slider is the new feature coming to Instagram, says Mashable. There was already a polling sticker on Instagram. However, that sticker simply let users type a question and let people respond with “yes” or “no.” This new Emoji Slider polling sticker works differently and allows for different responses.

According to Mashable, the Emoji Slider is also a sticker added to Stories. However, it gives a range of response options. When you add the sticker, you can add your own question. But instead of a yes or no question, the questions will typically start with “how,” like “How much did you love Infinity War?” or “How much do you like the new gelato place downtown?” After this, you pick which emoji you want to use on the slider. There are a lot of emoji to choose from, not just a handful of basic ones. Others will then be able to move an emoji along a slider to give their response. After responding, like with the other polling sticker, they can see how the responses are currently totaling up.

This makes polling on Instagram much more intuitive and fun. Only being able to answer “yes” or “no” was very constraining and didn’t allow for any nuance or gray area. Plus it will be fun to be able to ask questions in a different way and make the visuals more enjoyable.

Mashable notes that the Emoji Slider is available with Instagram’s version 44 update. And unlike many updates that roll out slowly to either iOS or Android users, it’s currently available to most people. To see if you have the feature, update Instagram now. If you have it, simply create a new Story, tap the Stickers button, and add the Emoji Slider from there.

Some Autoplay Videos Now Blocked in Chrome

Some Autoplay Videos Now Blocked in Chrome

Chrome has been making changes to how ads are displayed in the browser for some time now. In the most recent update of Google’s browser, some autoplay videos will now be blocked, while others will be allowed automatically.

In a blog post, Google outlines how the new autoplay video update works. Now Chrome will learn your preferences when it comes to videos that autoplay with sound. Using your browsing history, Chrome will start enabling or disabling autoplay videos with sound. If you typically choose to play videos on certain websites, Chrome will allow autoplay videos to run with sound. If you typically don’t watch the videos on a site, Chrome will start disabling their autoplay videos with sound.

Even if you don’t have a browsing history, the blog post says, certain sites will have their autoplay videos enabled or disabled as you start building your history. Whichever sites have the most people clicking to play videos with sound will automatically be enabled for you until the browser learns that you don’t want videos played on those sites.

This update comes after Google has already implemented many other ways to avoid certain ads and mute sites that autoplay ads with sound. In February, Chrome’s ad blocking system went live. Their ad blocking is meant to start automatically blocking certain ads that don’t meet their standards. And in January, Chrome introduced a way to permanently mute sites instead of just temporarily muting them while the tab was open.

All of these changes mean Chrome should soon become the browser to use if you specifically want to avoid annoying ads and autoplay videos (especially if you don’t want to deal with browser add-ons). In their blog post, Google notes that their new autoplay video blocking system will block “about half” of the autoplay videos that users want to avoid. Though not a full block of autoplay videos, it should cut down significantly on the annoyance of sound suddenly blasting from your device.

iTunes is Now in the Microsoft Store

iTunes is Now in the Microsoft Store

If you use Windows 10, you can now find iTunes in the Microsoft Store.

According to Ars Technica, iTunes is now available to Windows 10 users in the Microsoft Store. Ars Technica notes that bringing iTunes to the Microsoft Store was actually supposed to happen by the end of 2017, making its addition now a bit late. But it seems to be a welcome addition.

The program still works the same way as iTunes does if you download it straight from Apple, says Ars Technica, but they also note downloading from the Microsoft Store has some advantages. In particular, you won’t get prompts asking you to download other Apple products, plus it won’t install things that run in the background (which can seriously bog down a computer).

iTunes was previously available for Windows and MacOS. This means it was likely already accessible to many people who can find it in the Microsoft Store now. But there were also some people who now have access who didn’t before: those using Windows 10 S devices. Windows 10 S devices can only install programs from the Microsoft Store, so these users can now download iTunes. This is useful since iTunes is still a hugely popular service. It’s not just a music service, either; you can download music, movies, shows, podcasts, and more.

The Microsoft Store previously already offered other popular music programs. You could already find the streaming services Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, SiriusXM, TuneIn, and more. So if you’re simply interested in streaming and you have an account with any of these services, the addition of iTunes may not excite you much.

But if you specifically enjoy iTunes and like having a way to organize your media and access more than just music, this new platform may be good news for you. You can find iTunes in the Microsoft Store right now.

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa has gotten an interesting new addition, and in the near future the smart assistant may also be able to continue a discussion without using a wake word.

To correspond with what’s known as ‘Alien Day,’ Alexa has a new skill called Offworld Colony Simulator. According to Fortune, you can use the skill on all devices that have Alexa. The skill is a game that’s similar to roleplaying games and that uses voice prompts and responses to challenge you to get away from a Xenomorph. There have been other voice-based RPGs available on Alexa (like The Magic Door). This one, though, is for sci-fi and Alien lovers.

There’s also news that Alexa may soon gain some more useful abilities. TechCrunch reports that Alexa users will be able to talk with Alexa more naturally and have Alexa remember certain things they choose.

Currently, when you want to use Alexa, you have to use a wake word (like “Alexa” or “Echo”). But in the future, Alexa will not always need you to use the wake word when you’re asking follow-up questions. So if you ask a question and then need more information, you won’t have to wake Alexa up all over again and form a complete new question. This will make conversations with Alexa flow more smoothly and be a little easier to manage.

As TechCrunch notes, you’ll also be able to ask Alexa to remember things. You can ask her to remember peoples’ birthdays or other important pieces of information. Then you’ll be able to ask her about that information in the future and retrieve it easily.

All of this is meant to give Alexa a more expansive and useful memory. It will make her more personal to each user’s account and it will make conversations with her feel a step closer to a conversation with a human (though, of course, we’re not fully there yet).

Offworld Colony Simulator is available to play now, while Alexa’s new memory updates are coming soon (TechCrunch says there’s not yet a launch date).

Nest Announces New ‘Power Project’

Nest Announces New ‘Power Project’

Nest has announced their new ‘Power Project’ to correspond with Earth Day this year. Their Power Project will focus on energy efficiency and bringing energy efficient devices to families that might not be able to afford them without help.

According to the Nest website, the Power Project hopes to address energy usage. Energy inefficient homes can cost far more to maintain and contribute to environmental issues. And many people are struggling specifically with these high costs at home. Nest notes at the top of their Power Project page that 1 in 5 families are spending at least 20% of their income just on energy costs. This is a significant chunk of a family’s money. For families that are already struggling financially, it can just make things worse. And it also makes it difficult to spend the money on energy efficient devices.

A major part of Nest’s new Project is their announcement that they’ll be working with other organizations (including energy companies and non-profits) to place their thermostats in homes. They pledge to place one million thermostats in the homes of people who need them the most. They say they’ll do so by selling their devices to agencies at a special low cost so that the agencies can then give them to people in need for either a very low cost or no cost at all.

The website for the Power Project illustrates another part of Nest’s campaign: education. They hope to teach people about the importance of energy efficiency. They also hope to promote useful tips for creating an energy efficient home. After describing how important it is to become energy efficient, they give tips for weatherizing homes. Their tips describe all the areas that should be checked, and they also note how to fix problems in easy, straightforward, and often inexpensive ways.

People can also get involved with the Project. On Nest’s website, there’s an area to “Give Help.” You can enter your zip code and be directed to the organizations in your area that currently help people maintain energy efficient homes. And if you need help yourself, you can click “Get Help,” enter your zip code, and see which organizations in the area might be able to help.

Nest’s Power Project website is live now. To see more about the Project, visit Nest’s website.

Mobile Previews Added to Netflix App

Mobile Previews Added to Netflix App

Netflix is now giving their app users a chance to preview shows before watching.

The Netflix app now has what they’re calling mobile previews, Fortune reports. These mobile previews will seem like a familiar feature if you use an app that has Stories (like Snapchat). The previews appear at the top of the app and can be clicked through one after another. You can even go straight to the content from a preview if you see something you like.

According to Fortune, most of the previews are around 30 seconds long. You also don’t have to turn your screen to watch them because they’re vertical videos instead of horizontal.

If you watch on your gaming console or laptop, you’ve likely already seen their auto-playing trailers. These trailers promote content, sometimes showing previews of shows you may not have seen, other times showing a preview of the content you currently have selected. They have also been quite an annoyance for many people. There have been consistent complaints about how the auto-playing videos can’t be disabled, meaning if you stay on one screen for too long while browsing for what to watch, you have to either click away, open content and pause it, mute your TV, or find some other creative way to stop the videos from playing.

Fortunately, the previews now added to the Netflix app are something quite different. They don’t auto-play, which is surely a relief to Netflix app users who don’t want to have previews blasting through their headphones as soon as the app opens. And they appear to be a genuinely useful way to find out about more content you might actually like, particularly since you can tap a preview that’s playing to skip it and move on to something more relevant.

Mobile previews are already available on iOS devices, says Fortune, and Android users can expect the feature to arrive “soon.”

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

Amazon has now given Echo users a new way to make Alexa even more personalized. Skill Blueprints, added this past week, allow Alexa users to program their own customized skills for personal use.

Amazon announced the new ability for Alexa on their Alexa blog last week. Skill Blueprints is a feature that makes it easy to further personalize an Alexa device by creating your own trigger phrases and setting Alexa’s response, building your own trivia game, making personalized stories, and more.

On the Alexa Blueprints website, the feature is explained and the many different Skill templates are described. After logging in to the Amazon account that’s connected to your Alexa device, you can choose from a template and customize your personal skill. These skills are only available on your Alexa devices and aren’t publicly published. You can also have as many Skill Blueprints as you want.

Alexa is known for having some silly quips and fun easter eggs when she’s asked the right phrase. Now you can make your own fun responses with the Q & A Blueprint. You can set up a phrase like “Who’s the best basketball player?” and program Alexa to respond however you’d like. You can also have fun with other Blueprints like the one that “roasts” your guests with custom insults. There’s Family Jokes, which lets you put in your own jokes, as well as Compliments, Trivia, Inspirations (with your favorite quotes), and much more.

Plus you can use these Blueprints to make your smart home easier to navigate. You can use the Pet Sitter Blueprint to enter all the information someone might need to care for your pet (like where to find the food, how often to feed your pet, who to call in an emergency, etc.). And Houseguest has you enter information about staying in your home (and the nearby area) so that if someone is house sitting or visiting, they don’t have to keep texting you with questions about where to find extra paper towels or how to turn on the dishwasher.

There are many other Blueprints available, as well. In fact, there are currently 21 different Blueprints to choose from. Whenever you’ve created a Blueprint, you can go back to it and edit it whenever you want. Amazon’s blog says that your newly-created skills show up on your Alexa devices “instantly,” though it’s important to note that it takes a moment or two for the skills to actually be created. (The Blueprints website asks you to wait as the skill is actually finalized and ready to use—this seems to typically take less than a minute.)

Alexa Skill Blueprints are now available for use in the US. For more information, take a look at the Alexa Blueprints website.

Uber Announces New Safety Features

Uber Announces New Safety Features

Uber riders will hopefully be able to feel a little bit safer with Uber’s newly announced additional safety features.

A post in Uber’s Newsroom outlines Uber’s plans for making their ridesharing service safer for everyone. One new feature they describe is a centralized safety area in the app. Riders will be able to access these safety features on the home screen during a ride, so they won’t have to hunt around for safety tips and assistance.

Riders were already able to use their Share My Trip feature, which lets them message contacts to tell them they’re using Uber and to link them to a map of their ride. But according to Uber’s post, they will also be letting riders add “Trusted Contacts” they can choose from when sharing their status. They’ll be able to add as many as five people to notify about rides. This simply makes things quicker and easier. Also, users will be able to change their settings to a kind of night mode that specifically alerts people about ride statuses when someone is using Uber at night.

Uber also announced they would be adding a new Safety Center. This area of the app will give information about how to stay safe. Uber worked with law enforcement and other organizations to put together this information.

A huge part of the new features involves making 911 calls. Uber will soon be adding a button users can press to be connected with 911, making the process a little quicker during an emergency. And when using this feature, you’ll see exactly where you are. They’re also testing a feature that will automatically send location information to 911, as well as working to make 911 communication quicker and more efficient.

They also mention they’ll soon be making driver screening a little more intense. Uber already had screenings in place, but now they plan to rescreen drivers every year and work to find out sooner about new criminal issues with drivers. On top of all of this, they’re working on their Safety Advisory Board.

In the past, there have been stories of dangerous situations that occurred during Uber rides. Since strangers are riding in vehicles with each other, there’s bound to be some risk involved for both drivers and riders. Uber’s previous safety features were helpful, but their newest features will hopefully make the process smoother when protecting yourself during a ride. And with more driver screenings, perhaps some dangerous situations can be avoided altogether.

For more about Uber’s safety plans, take a look at their news article.

You Can Bundle Spotify & Hulu (Plus HBO on Hulu Price Dropped)

You Can Bundle Spotify & Hulu (Plus HBO on Hulu Price Dropped)

Music and TV lovers, good news! You can now bundle Hulu and Spotify and save some money.

Currently only available to Spotify Premium subscribers, you can currently try Hulu for only 99 cents a month, says TechCrunch, and after this three month trial, you will be able to get both Hulu and Spotify for a combined total of only $12.99. This saves about 5 dollars a month on the popular streaming services.

The bundled Hulu subscription will be the version of Hulu with ads, but this is still a great deal and good news for people who already use one or both of the services anyway. And if you don’t currently use either one, this summer you’ll get a chance to start trying them both for quite a bit less than before.

A Spotify and Hulu bundle is certainly not a new concept. As I wrote last year, the Spotify Student Hulu Bundle became available for students. This bundle gives students both Spotify and Hulu (with ads) for only $4.99 a month and is available right now. Students simply have to follow the verification process to prove they’re currently enrolled in an institution.

Of course, $12.99 is a bit more than what students pay. But it still saves a decent amount of money. According to TechCrunch, the deal will be available to everyone in the summer. For now, if you have Spotify Premium, you can head to their page and add Hulu for an additional 99 cents during your three-month trial.

And for those of you using Hulu, there’s even more good news: for a limited time, you can add HBO to your subscription for only $5 a month. CNET reports that the add-on, which is usually $15 a month, is currently available at a huge discount. If you sign up for HBO during this promotion, you’ll get the $5 a month price for six months before it goes back to the normal $15 a month.