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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

Illustrations by Kris Blanco

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Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

Apps

Apple launches the Apple Music Voice Plan

Cheaper and exclusive to Siri

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With voice technology today, using an interface feels less of a necessity now. The tech world can now control their favorite apps completely hands-free with only the power of their voices. Is it finally time to ditch the user interface? Apple seems to think so. Apple Music has launched a new plan, allowing users to control the app using only their voice.

Subscribed to the new Apple Music Voice Plan, users will have access to the streaming platform’s gallery of over 90 million songs and Apple Music Radio.

To complement the introduction of voice-centric features, Apple Music is also getting a boost of new playlist and mood functions. Subscribers can use Siri to play music customized to specific activities and moods. Apple specifically mentioned examples like “Play something chill” or “Play a playlist for hiking.” Though obviously optimized for voice, the new feature is available for every Apple Music subscriber.

 

Currently, the new plan will launch for only a selected slate of launch countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Apple Music Voice Plan will cost US$ 4.99 per month. The regular individual plan costs US$ 9.99. Finally, the family plan (available for up to six accounts) sells for US$ 14.99.

SEE ALSO: Apple Music could soon support HiFi audio streaming

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iShop: One-stop solution for Brother’s products

Get those printers, sewing machines, and cartridges!

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Fans of Brother, assemble!

Brother Philippines has just introduced iShop — a new feature on the brand’s Customer Plus App serving as a one-stop solution for all Brother products.

The new feature puts together Brother’s available products. From inkjet and mono laser printers, label makers, sewing machines, to consumables like an ink cartridge. You can access iShop by tapping the shopping cart icon on the Customer Plus homepage, which will allow you to purchase products through Brother’s authorized dealers and partners.

Moreover, you can shop for Brother products on other e-commerce channels, which is also accessible from the feature. Furthermore, you can opt to reserve or purchase products from physical stores. So you can pick it up on your preferred schedule.

The iShop feature is now available on Brother’s Customer Plus App. The app can be downloaded on Google’s Play Store and the App Store.

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Pixel 6 will reportedly have a Magic Eraser feature

It can erase strangers from photos

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Taking photos at a crowded location is usually a problem for most tourists. Most of the time, you’ll end up taking photos with unwanted strangers in the background. In worse situations, someone might even bomb your photos on purpose. Luckily, with artificial intelligence now, getting perfect photos is easier. To show its power in AI technology, the upcoming Pixel 6 series will reportedly have a Magic Eraser feature.

Accidentally shared by retailer website Carphone Warehouse (and preserved through Wayback Machine), the upcoming flagship series will sport a flurry of camera features. Though the series will have the standard array of photography improvements, the most notable feature is an upcoming Magic Eraser which will “remove strangers and unwanted objects in Google Photos.”

To anyone familiar with photography software, this is already possible especially through Adobe Photoshop’s healing tool. However, getting the feature natively in a smartphone is a big step especially for tourists who might not have access to Photoshop.

Besides the feature, the accidental webpage reveals a lot of details about the upcoming flagship series. Of course, it’s not a big reveal anymore. Google itself has already shared more about the Pixel 6 series more than the leaks. The series will officially launch on October 19 in a launch event.

SEE ALSO: Pixel Pass bundles a Pixel 6 with a subscription service

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