iFixit Says The 2018 MacBook Pro Keyboard Might be Fixed

The ongoing saga of the unreliable MacBook Pro keyboard continues. According to Sam Lionheart for iFixIt the new 2018 MacBook Pro 13″ and 15″ keyboard has a new silicone barrier that:

…is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to cover up the mechanism from the daily onslaught of microscopic dust. Not—to our eyes—a silencing measure. In fact, Apple has a patent for this exact tech designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

Apple Updated the Unreliable MacBook Pro

The Terrible Keyboard Got a Slight Update

Apple invited some journalists to see new MacBook Pro laptops, they have newer and faster chipsets and processors with more RAM as an option, but didn’t talk about reliability. Dieter Bohn:

…it’s just hard to trust a keyboard after so many reports that it can be rendered inoperable by a grain of sand and that is incredibly difficult and expensive to repair or replace. This new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those issues, Apple says. In fact, company representatives strenuously insisted that the keyboard issues have only affected a tiny, tiny fraction of its user base. (There’s now a four-year repair program for the keyboard in case it fails.)

Casey Johnston wasn’t invited to the event.

Apple also stopped selling the only reliable laptop you could buy from them, the 2015 MacBook Pro that had the old keyboard.

Microsoft’s Surface Go is Almost An iPad Cheap

Dan Seifert for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting back into the cheaper tablet game today with the new Surface Go, a smaller, less powerful take on the popular Surface Pro device. The Go features a 10-inch screen, integrated kickstand, Windows 10, and a similar design to the Surface Pro, and starts at $399. It is available for preorder starting July 10th and will ship in August.

The Surface Go doesn’t change Microsoft’s Surface design philosophy one bit — it really just looks like a smaller version of the Surface Pro design that’s been around since 2014’s Surface Pro 3. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio display (1800 x 1200 pixel resolution), the signature built-in kickstand with unlimited positions, a front-facing camera with facial recognition login, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector port for charging and connecting to a desktop dock. Microsoft has added a USB-C 3.1 port, capable of charging the tablet or outputting video and data to external devices. It has also rounded the corners a bit compared to the latest Surface Pro, but overall, it’s the same familiar magnesium design Surface users have come to expect.

The thing that kind of sucks about the Surface Go, besides the lack of capable and competitive apps in Microsoft’s app store, is that even Paul Thurott points out how shitty the base model is and you really have to get a more expensive Surface to have an acceptable level of performance:

Sure, the $400 price tag looks compelling. But the PC you’re getting at that price is not compelling, and it’s absolutely not future-proof. The biggest issue here is the same thing that doomed Surface 3 to poor performance: This entry-level Surface Go utilizes slow eMMC storage rather than speedy SSD storage. Combined that with just 4 GB of RAM and a low-end Pentium processor, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The good news? For just $150 more, you get some nice upgrades: 8 GB of RAM and more and faster storage: Not only does the higher-end Surface Go configuration double the storage from 64 GB to 128 GB, that storage is dramatically faster, since it is based on NVMe SSD technology. That’s a device that might actually make it through four years of high school or college.

I’m not sure if the eMMC storage performance, as well as the other cheap parts, are as bad as Apple carrying around 16GB base models of their iOS devices for too long, but it’s pretty bad that you have to go to $550 before you get something that might be functional. I’d probably rather have the 2018 iPad Cheap.

Casey Johnston: Apple admits its computers are broken

The “winner?” of the ongoing Apple portable keyboard saga, Casey Johnston, writes about the new repair program for Macbook keyboards:

While the repair and replacement program covers costs and notes that Apple will repair both single keys as well as whole keyboards when necessary, it doesn’t note whether the replacements will be a different, improved design that will prevent the problem from happening again (and again, and again). Having become a one-woman clearinghouse for people complaining about these keyboards since I broke this story, I feel justified in saying that keyboard failures – dead keys, sticking keys, double-spacing spacebars – appear to happen early and often, and repairs do not permanently fix the issue. I also feel justified in saying that the design on offer as recently as February still presented the exact same issues as the design I purchased in the fall of 2016.

Of course, that means nobody should be buying Apple’s modern* laptops until there’s some kind of hardware revision to stop the problems with minuscule grains of nothing destroying these delicate keyboard keys. It’ll be better when I have a reason to stop pining for an iPad with XCode, gcc, an official Terminal.app, and a clamshell keyboard case from Apple.

*Apple will still sell you the 2015 MacBook Pro in various configurations online if you want more standard ports and a keyboard that won’t quit on you if a butterfly flaps its wings within the surrounding 200 miles.

GitHub Getting Acquired by Microsoft

Microsoft, today:

Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced it has reached an agreement to acquire GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform where more than 28 million developers learn, share and collaborate to create the future. Together, the two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences.

Yours truly, 3 years ago when Google’s Google Code code hosting service shut down:

This is your continued reminder that Google, and start-ups funded by VC money, are not a safe place to store your work. Own your shit before GitHub starts inserting malware into downloads or sells out in some original and disruptive way. Get a domain, some shared hosting, maybe a Linux or BSD VPS if you’re rich. With git it is easy enough to move a project if you have cloned the project locally and have established a web presence that people can check for updates. At the very least, don’t make the GitHub page the public-facing home for your project.

This kind of bullshit is why ioquake3.org exists and is the front-door for that project. Github has some great collaboration tools in their web front-end, and I’d guess there are developers out there that don’t even understand yet that there are other options for Git hosting.

It’s a burden that hosting is expensive, but these kinds of sell-outs happen all the time, that’s why you have to give your project a real homepage and not rely on a third-party that doesn’t have a sustainable business model.

I don’t know yet if we’re going to move ioquake3’s code off of Github, but at least people will still be able to find the project if we decide to do so.

Apple’s “Fuck You” to Mac Game Developers & Players

This wasn’t in the keynote, but Apple had some bad news buried in the “What’s New in macOS” section of their developer site for anyone who makes games or other software with the OpenGL graphics API :

Deprecations and Removed APIs
Periodically, Apple adds deprecation macros to APIs to indicate that those APIs should no longer be used in active development. When a deprecation occurs, it’s not an immediate end of life for the specified API. Instead, it is the beginning of a grace period for transitioning from that API and to newer and more modern replacements. Deprecated APIs typically remain present and usable in the system for a reasonable time past the release in which they were deprecated. However, active development on them ceases, and the APIs receive only minor changes to accommodate security patches or to fix other critical bugs. Deprecated APIs may be removed entirely from a future version of the operating system.

As a developer, avoid using deprecated APIs in your code as soon as possible. At a minimum, new code you write should never use deprecated APIs. And if your existing code uses deprecated APIs, update that code as soon as possible.

Deprecation of OpenGL and OpenCL
Apps built using OpenGL and OpenCL will continue to run in macOS 10.14, but these legacy technologies are deprecated in macOS 10.14. Games and graphics-intensive apps that use OpenGL should now adopt Metal. Similarly, apps that use OpenCL for computational tasks should now adopt Metal and Metal Performance Shaders.

Metal is designed from the ground up to provide the best access to the modern GPUs on iOS, macOS, and tvOS devices. Metal avoids the overhead inherent in legacy technologies and exposes the latest graphics processing functionality. Unified support for graphics and compute in Metal lets your apps efficiently utilize the latest rendering techniques. For information about developing apps and games using Metal, see the developer documentation for Metal, Metal Performance Shaders, and MetalKit. For information about migrating OpenGL code to Metal, see Mixing Metal and OpenGL Rendering in a View.

Apple is already requiring that apps get updated to be 64-bit, or they’ll stop working in a future update.

As much as I loathe John Carmack today, and it certainly didn’t help that he decided to write this on Facebook, he recently wrote about how he persuaded Steve Jobs to support OpenGL on the Mac:

I was brought in to talk about the needs of games in general, but I made it my mission to get Apple to adopt OpenGL as their 3D graphics API. I had a lot of arguments with Steve.

Part of his method, at least with me, was to deride contemporary options and dare me to tell him differently. They might be pragmatic, but couldn’t actually be good. “I have Pixar. We will make something [an API] that is actually good.”

It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about, like the price of memory for video cards and the amount of system bandwidth exploitable by the AltiVec extensions.

But when I knew what I was talking about, I would stand my ground against anyone.

When Steve did make up his mind, he was decisive about it. Dictates were made, companies were acquired, keynotes were scheduled, and the reality distortion field kicked in, making everything else that was previously considered into obviously terrible ideas.

I consider this one of the biggest indirect impacts on the industry that I have had. OpenGL never seriously threatened D3D on PC, but it was critical at Apple, and that meant that it remained enough of a going concern to be the clear choice when mobile devices started getting GPUs. While long in the tooth now, it was so much better than what we would have gotten if half a dozen SoC vendors rolled their own API back at the dawn of the mobile age.

While OpenGL isn’t going away immediately in macOS Mojave, when it is finally gone there will be many fewer games on macOS, it has been the only portable graphics API available for developers to bring their games to Linux and macOS, as well as other platforms, for decades.

Without OpenGL on macOS the Mac and Linux will both suffer, as will new platforms. They’ll have a harder time getting games and other software when bigger platforms are locked to vendor-specific APIs like Metal instead of cross-platform ones like Vulkan and OpenGL.

If I had to guess, I would hope that Valve will ship an intermediary layer to translate OpenGL calls for games on Steam, and hopefully they will make this software available for everyone else. There are already some other projects to translate OpenGL to platform-specific calls but it’s not going to be easy for games to support them. It’d be better if these projects had something to handle the translation on-the-fly. It’s also entirely possible that Valve will just give up on older games supporting modern versions of macOS after Apple fully deprecates OpenGL.

I don’t envy anyone trying to support old software and write good OpenGL drivers like Apple has (even when they don’t update their OpenGL support for years), but the deprecation of OpenGL is a real “Fuck You” to game developers and players unlike any other. Games getting updated from 32-bit to 64-bit, as well as going through the process of having any kind of graphics portability layer added on top, seems unlikely. Thousands of games are going to be lost to time when OpenGL dies off. Competition with popular hardware and software platforms will be even more difficult. I understand the desire to get rid of technical debt, but this is bad.

Apple’s WWDC 2018 Event Notes

Here’s everything that Apple announced today.

Keynote

Here’s everything that Apple announced at their World Wide Developer’s Conference Keynote for 2018. The event opened with this four-minute nature documentary style advertisement on migrating developers:

iOS 12
Craig Federighi boasted about iOS 11 being available on iOS devices from 2013, and that the majority of their users are on 11 versus the 6% they claim are on the latest Android update. According to Google, the percentage of Android users running their latest operating system (Android 8.1) is 0.8%, ouch. I would guess that Apple based their estimate on the percentage of devices that are capable of running 8.0 or 8.1, which is 4.9% and 0.8% respectively. The majority of Android users (25.5%) appear to still be in the stone age on Android 6.0.

According to Federighi the primary focus of iOS 12 will be performance, specifically he said that older devices would perform better. Using an iPhone 6 Plus as an example, Federighi claimed that apps would launch 40% faster, the keyboard would display 50% faster, the camera would open 70% faster.

USDZ
Because this keynote is ostensibly for developers, Federighi announced a new format for 3D scenes to be bundled together, USDZ. Pixar created the USD format in 2012, and this is their update to it for 2018 (thanks to coolpowers).

Adobe’s CTO Abhay Parasnis announced that their products would support the new format and that Apple’s developer State of the Union would have some kind of demo of this integration.

Measure
Federighi announced a new app for augmented reality, Measure, which will presumably replace everyone’s first ARKit app by giving you measurements for real-world objects. The app can detect some shapes and automatically provide measurements for those, but you’ll need to tap at the ends or corners of most real-world objects to get the app to measure them.

Apple’s USDZ Demos
Federighi showed off a USDZ 3D scene of a fish embedded in their Apple News app, and then customized a guitar on Fender’s web store only to display it on the stage through an iPad’s AR viewfinder.

LegoARKit 2
Federighi said that iOS 12 would include a new version of their ARKit API for developers to create augmented reality experiences. The flagship feature for ARKit 2, shared experiences, allows multiple devices to view and interact with the same scene. A slide depicted a pre-recorded video of people playing a multiplayer AR game where both participants and an observer could see and interact.

Martin Sanders, the Director of Innovation at Lego, demonstrated the new object detection features of ARKit along with shared experiences by scanning a physical Lego set and then awkwardly holding two iPads around it with someone else from the Lego company. The iPads showed a city being built around the town square Lego set with some limited interactivity to place vehicles and minifigures. It looked like it could be fun, but this kind of AR scanning will probably be limited to sets that Lego produces, not the modifications people make to them. Sanders said that the Lego AR experience app would ship later this year.

Search in photos

Photos Search & For You
Federighi said that Photos would improve in iOS 12. He highlighted the search functionality that would offer suggestions and other improvements to help you find photos you’re looking for. The app will also get a new tab, For You, that offers suggestions of photos you might like to see or ways you could change them to make them more appealing. It seemed like the editing suggestions were limited to ones that involve Apple’s features like looping a live photo or making some specific change to a portrait photo.

The For You tab will also suggest sharing photos with people who appear in them. He said that they would be shared at full resolution, which is an improvement because photos shared today aren’t at the original resolution. Federighi also said that the recipient of shared photos would be prompted to share photos from the same event so that everyone ends up with the entire set.

Siri Shortcuts
Federighi mentioned a new feature called shortcuts that would let Siri easily start functions of other apps. The first example was “I lost my keys” which would have Siri open part of the Tile app’s functionality within Siri and look for them. Apps in iOS 12 would make suggestions of shortcuts to add to Siri. The iOS 12 lock screen and search will make suggestions of things to do like re-ordering coffee or turning on Do Not Disturb when you’re at a movie theater.

Federighi said that you’d be able to make your own shortcuts in a new “Shortcuts Editor” app.

Shortcuts editor

Apple’s Kim Beverett demonstrated the shortcuts functionality with a few examples. One of which was adjusting a shortcut she made in the Shortcut Editor. Beverett’s Heading Home shortcut would compress a bunch of steps into one action. It lets her roommate know how long it’ll take her to get home, set her thermostat to 70 degrees and turns on a fan, and opens maps with the course home preconfigured. Beverett quickly used the editor to play a radio program she wanted to listen to every time she goes home whenever she uses the shortcut. This Shortcut Editor is clearly the Workflow app that Apple acquired last year.

Other App Updates
Apple’s Susan Prescott demonstrated a few other iOS 12 app updates. Apple News is going from a 5 tab interface to 3 tabs with a new tab called Browse to handle the functionality from the current Search and Following tabs.

The Stocks app is completely rebuilt, and has business news built-in and new charts. The app will also be on the iPad.

Voice Memos is “even easier to use” and is also on the iPad, it’ll also use iCloud for file synchronization.

iBooks is getting refurbished with a new name and interface, it’s just Apple Books on iOS 12.

CarPlay is going to support 3rd party navigation apps.

Dnd

Do Not Disturb
Federighi returned to show us how iOS’ Do Not Disturb will be updated with a new feature called Do Not Disturb During Bedtime. It will hide notifications so you won’t be “barraged” with them if you wake up in the middle of the night and just want to see what time it is. You can also granularly enable Do Not Disturb until you leave a location or for a certain amount of time.

Notification Updates & The Screen Time App
You’ll be able to change the way notifications are delivered, or turn them off entirely, directly from the lock screen. You’ll also get suggestions to disable them for specific apps when you rarely interact with them.

Notifications will also be grouped together by what app sent them.

The Screen Time app will give you a weekly report of how you’re wasting your life on your devices. It’ll also let you set time limits for each app. You’ll get reminders about that limit when you’re about to reach it, or you can set limits for the apps your kids use by category or by picking each specific app.

 

Animoji

Animoji & MeMoji
Animoji are getting updated to let you stick out your tongue with your 3D avatar, they’re also getting four new characters. The ghost, koala, tiger, and t-rex. You can also make a character based on your own face, Apple calls that a “MeMoji.”

Kelsey Peterson demonstrated these effects on stage, and the selfie camera can now display the characters over your real face.

Facetime
Facetime can now have up to 32 people on a group video chat. It can be launched directly from a group text message chat in Messages. The different camera effects, like Animoji, are also available on Facetime.

WatchOS 5
Apple’s Kevin Lynch talked about new improvements for fitness and communications.

WatchOS 5 is getting improvements to compete with your friends in exercise. The Workouts app is getting a Yoga workout type, hiking, running gets a rolling pace measurement, pace alerts, and cadence measurements. WatchOS 5 will also automatically detect when you’ve started some types of workouts, it’ll retroactively credit you with the workout if you tell the Apple Watch to start the workout late.

There’s a Walkie-Talkie app for WatchOS 5 that goes over cellular or wifi connections.

The Siri watch face is getting information about sports, map information, and your heart rate. Siri Shortcuts will be on that Watch Face, as well as third-party apps.

Raising your wrist will let you talk to Siri right away, you won’t need to use the “Hey Siri” hotword.

Watch notifications

Notifications can also be more interactive, like on the phone. One example was getting a notification from Yelp about a dinner reservation

Apple’s WebKit embedded browser will be available for some web links on the Apple Watch.

The Podcasts app is going to work on the watch, it’ll sync full episodes from your phone.

Apple’s Julz demonstrated these new features while riding an exercise bike, which was pretty impressive.

Kevin Lynch returned to tell us about Student ID Cards coming to the watch, it’ll work with just 6 universities to start, but it includes Temple University in Philadelphia.

Lynch also introduced a new rainbow watch band and watch face for Pride month. The watch face is supposed to be available today.

Apple TV 4K
Apple’s Jen Folse talked about how the Apple TV 4K from last year is getting Dolby Atmos in the next version of tvOS, she also talked about how movies will get free upgrades to support the new audio format.

Folse reiterated Apple’s support for live TV and sports.

Folse also said that various cable providers are letting their users replace their cable boxes with the Apple TV, and use a new “Zero Sign-On” instead of the single sign-on system from last year.

The Aerial screensaver on the Apple TV is going to tell you what you’re looking at, finally. It’ll also get a new view from the International Space Station of the Earth.

Mojave

macOS Mojave
Craig Federighi returned to talk about the new features in macOS Mojave.

As Apple leaked, the next version of macOS is getting a dark mode. Previously you could dim the menu bar dock in their settings, but this is a system-wide feature that is more complete.

Desktop Stacks is another new feature that organizes the crap that gets scattered all over your desktop into stacks of documents matched by type, or date, or by tags. It’ll automatically keep those stacks organized as new files are added to the desktop.

Finder gets a new Gallery View that appears to replace the Cover Flow view with thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and a quick look type of view at the top.

The Finder is also getting a detail side bar with shortcuts to different actions you might like to take on the file, Federighi specifically mentioned adding customized automator actions to the side bar for certain types of files like watermarking files with one that was put together earlier.

The quick look utility is enhanced to let you do more from it, Federighi demonstrated trimming a video without opening a separate editor and signing a PDF document.

Screenshots are enhanced to be similar to the iOS functionality but with more powerful functionality that you’d expect on a computer. You can also capture video directly from that utility now.

The Continuity Camera feature was demonstrated by Federighi to take a photo from his phone and pop it directly into a Keynote slide. It can also scan in documents from your phone directly into a Mac app.

A few iOS apps are hitting the Mac. Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home for using HomeKit devices.

Mac voice memos

Privacy
Mojave will have better privacy enhancements to prevent other apps from getting access to your personal data unless you want them to do so.

Safari on Mojave and iOS 12 will prevent advertising publishers from tracking you based on sharing functions and comment fields. Mojave and iOS 12 will also hide more of your information from being fingerprinted by websites and advertising publishers.

New mac app store

Mac App Store
The Mac App Store is finally getting updated, it hasn’t had many changes since 2011. Apple’s Ann Thai showed off a redesigned UI that takes a lot from their iOS App Store. It looks much better.

Metal & Core ML on iOS and macOS
Federighi returned to talk about Apple’s Metal graphics and computation API and external GPUs. He boasted about the speedups that Macs can get from up to four GPUs. It’s kind of crazy that the only GPUs that Apple supports for external GPUs are from AMD.

Apple’s machine learning API, Core ML, is getting updated with a 2nd version. It’s supposed to be 30% faster with a 75% reduction in the model size.

UIKit on the Mac
As has been rumored, Apple is making it easier to bring iOS apps to macOS. No specific name was given for this technology, but Federighi says they’re using it internally with apps like Apple News and promises that it’ll be available for 3rd-party developers next year.

Release Dates for iOS 12 and macOS Mojave
“This fall”

Overall
I’m very happy that macOS is getting updated with a new Mac App Store, it’s been way too long and developers have been abandoning it for independent distribution systems. I like having apps bundled into one store, but it’s also good that Apple finally wants to compete with independent distribution.

It’s a little disappointing that the iPad Pro didn’t get updated with this event, but perhaps they’re moving the majority of hardware updates to the Fall event.

I’m very happy to see that Workflow is still getting updated, and it looks like it is even more useful after Apple has updated it under the Siri banner. I wish that it were on the Mac as an alternative to Automator.

The Oculus Go

Adi Robertson has a review up of the $200 Oculus Go, a VR HMD with a built-in old-ass (seriously, it’s from 2016) smartphone chipset for people without a Samsung phone:

The Oculus Go improves on the Gear VR in one big way: you don’t need a high-end Samsung phone to use it, so the headset is convenient for people with iPhones or other Android phones. It also fixes a lot of minor annoyances that make using the Gear VR unpleasant. Its stretchy head strap has a comfortable split-backed design, and its velcro straps slide through plastic guides that make them easy to adjust. (If you have long hair, the split back also works better with buns and ponytails.) The headset doesn’t have a wheel for adjusting focus, but it comes with a spacer insert for people with glasses, and you can buy the headset with prescription lenses.

I’m glad that VR is continuing to remove the tethers that make it cumbersome to use, but I’ll never buy anything from Oculus/Facebook. The Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) branded headsets sound much more interesting to me. Lower quality tracking with good screens at a lower cost compared to the big boy Vive and Rift.

One more note, the website for this headset has this text:

Screen Shot 2018 05 02 at 11 22 43 PM

At first glance I thought to myself “Huh, this thing has surround sound? Why wasn’t it mentioned in the review?” which, of course it doesn’t. Give me a break.

Google AIY Voice Kit Review

The Dumbest Kid in Smart Speaker Class

AIY Voice Kit box

Google is selling a DIY smart speaker kit in the US through Target stores. They call it an AIY Voice Kit with the sub-heading of a “Do-it-yourself intelligent speaker.” Is it a kit that lives up to what the box promises for only $50? Let’s find out, together.

I’m not super fond of Google, they’re great at search but really make their money today by selling advertising space on websites. In my opinion, their “don’t be evil” motto has shifted as their priorities changed. There’s always the upfront cost of a product ($50) but with any smart speaker device there’s also the intangible cost of allowing a company to listen to, and process, whatever it can hear.

Ideally a smart speaker would only listen after a physical input, or most smart speakers also have a wake word to summon the device to interpret your speech and do something with it.  This kit has an arcade button on top for physical input if that’s your game.

The do-it-yourself aspect is mostly fun, you assemble the included bare speaker, wires, cardboard, arcade button, and a Raspberry Pi Zero WH with Google’s Voice Bonnet add-on board to make the smart speaker. It’s not very difficult to put this kit together, the instructions are clear, but it is missing two things you’ll need, and one critical component of the setup requires other tools or devices.

You’ll need a very small flathead screwdriver to connect the speaker cables to the terminals. I happen to have the right screwdriver, but these terminal screws are incredibly tiny. Your regular household tools aren’t going to work with them.

It only takes about an hour before you’re putting the included Micro SD card in and powering the speaker up, or you would be. If there were a power supply included. You get a USB cable in the box, but no power connection.

Why not include the power supply and the screwdriver in the box? The screwdriver is almost understandable, because you could own one already if you’re into technology. The power supply is just necessary for the device to function, it makes no sense to me that it isn’t included in a general-purpose kit.

Wires

There’s one other small issue with the connections inside the kit. The wires to connect the arcade button are not friendly to the color blind. I am only mildly color blind, so I can’t differentiate between some colors with red and green in them. The arcade button wires are blue, green, grey, black, red, and orange. I had a hard time picking out the green from the grey and the red from the orange.

Okay you’ve got the kit assembled, and you’ve found a power supply to turn it on.

How do you connect to the box so that you can get it on your home WiFi?

The Rapsberry Pi Zero WH included with the kit has USB, it has HDMI, but they’re all mini connectors that need adapters and a hub to connect a keyboard and mouse. The other option, and this is what I chose, is to use an app that is only available for Android devices to get the diy smart speaker onto WiFi and find out the IP address so you can connect to it via SSH.

Once you get that IP address, and learn SSH and the Linux shell, you’re in business with a shell prompt at a Linux terminal running a variant of Raspian that Google’s engineers modified to support their Voice Bonnet.

Finally, you’ve got a smart speaker, right?

This is the real thing that kills this project, it doesn’t include any kind of hot-word, or wake-word, detection. Just like hotkeys, hotwords like “Hey, Siri,” and “Okay, Google” tell our phones and other smart speakers to start listening. Ideally the processing for these prompts happens on the device so they’re not just uploading everything you say to Apple’s, Google’s, or Amazon’s, servers.

This AIY smart speaker box promises, on the back, a “…smart device that understands and responds when you speak.” I don’t think that is truthful. It is not at all a smart speaker that listens when you speak, you have to press the arcade button before the included Python code will fetch Google’s assistant to start listening and interpreting your words into a reply. It’s an infuriating experience to have to press that button, especially whenever Google’s assistant demands interaction.

Google’s assistant can play a MadLibs game with you. Just like the real game, you supply the nouns, verbs, and adjectives and the assistant fills in a virtual MadLibs sheet to make a silly story. Unlike the real game, you have to press the stupid button each time the assistant needs the next word.

The times when I’d press the button there was no guarantee the assistant would listen. Many times it would just ignore me and I’d have to press the button again. I ended up pressing the button about 25 times to get 18 words into the MadLibs game. I don’t think I will ever do that again.

This built-in python-based assistant code was just slow to react and frustrating to interact with.

It was also incredibly limited compared to other assistants and even the iOS version of Google’s assistant is easier to use. This smart speaker version of Google’s assistant can’t even access your calendar or other information tied to your Google account.

So, overall it’s a pretty disappointing device as shipped by Google. But this is a DIY thing, right? Well, I haven’t found much of an active development community around it. The forums for Google’s “AIY” projects are sparsely populated and the best use I’ve gotten out of the device was to load free software onto it that made the assembled device into a genuinely useful AirPlay speaker.

Some of the replies from Google engineers on these forums indicate that more functionality could come to the device soon, but I don’t think they have any plans to add hot-word detection.

The most surprising thing I’ve found on that forum is that there was an older version of this project that included hot-word detection. This was possible when version 1 was based on the more capable Raspberry Pi 3 single-board computer. Apparently this is version 2 of their voice kit.

I don’t understand a lot of the choices Google made here, but the most important question is: Why did they drop the hot-word detection? Why don’t they mention anywhere on the box that you need an Android device or a bunch of adapters so that you can get this device on the network?

Maybe parents buying this kit for teenagers (the box lists it as appropriate for ages 14 and up) were concerned about it listening to them all the time. That’s the only reason I can think of as to why Google decided to drop the smartest feature of a smart speaker, otherwise it’d just be down to cost. The Raspberry Pi Zero WH is about $10, the Raspberry Pi 3 is about $35.

When I first saw this project in the store I knew there had to be some limitations to hit that $50 price point, and it went lower than even my wildly low expectations. I don’t think most people would be happy with the device as a “smart speaker.” Years ago, when you assembled a transistor radio kit, you ended up with a radio. What you end up with here is a very versatile Linux computer kit with microphones and a speaker that could be incredibly useful in the right hands. I turned it into an AirPlay speaker without having to write any code at all, and I haven’t even remarked about the quality of the sound yet — it’s fine in general, but turn it up loud and you’re gonna get distortion — but without hot-word detection this kit is just too dumb to be called smart.

1 out of 5 HomePods for the Google AIY Voice Kit

Homebrew Users: Run brew cleanup & Get Your Gigs Back

If you use a macOS machine for development, or even just to get some bonus commands that you wish the system came with, then you probably use Homebrew as your command-line package manager.

Perhaps you’re like me, you’ve been using it for years and didn’t realize that it has left gigabytes of detritus on your local drive, I certainly didn’t until someone in the homebrew IRC channel mentioned the brew cleanup command, and now I have 21.3 gigs of disk back.