‘Hey Beeb’ – BBC Developing Voice Assistant for iPlayer App and Website

The BBC has announced its intention to launch its own voice assistant next year to help users find their favorite programs and interact with online services hosted by the public broadcaster.


The voice assistant's working title and wake-word is currently "Beeb," and it will be built into the BBC's website, its iPlayer app and other mobile apps, and made available to manufacturers who want to incorporate the British broadcaster's software.

The BBC said it had no plans to launch a Beeb hardware device, but the voice assistant is being designed to work on existing smart speakers and smart TVs that include the iPlayer app.

BBC staff around the UK will be recording their voices to help train the assistant to recognize different British accents, something that U.S. voice assistants have been known to struggle with.

The BBC said having its own assistant would enable it to "experiment with new programs, features and experiences without someone else's permission to build it in a certain way."

"Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programs and services - in a trusted, easy-to-use way," said a BBC spokesman.

According to The Guardian, from the end of the month BBC radio stations will no longer be available on the popular TuneIn radio app, which is also used by Amazon's Alexa, because the U.S. company refused to share information on listeners of BBC stations.

Instead, the BBC wants people to access its content through BBC apps or via Alexa, in the hope that people log in and it can better understand what people are consuming.


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Amazon’s Alexa to Offer NHS-Verified Health Advice to Britons

From this week, users of Alexa devices in the United Kingdom will be able to get expert health advice from the voice-activated smart speakers, thanks to a partnership between Amazon and the National Health Service.


When health-related queries such as "Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?" or "what are the symptoms of flu?" are put to the devices, Amazon's algorithm will use information from the NHS website to provide answers.

Britain's NHS says the technology will help patients the elderly, blind and those who cannot access the internet through traditional means, to get professional NHS-verified health information in seconds, potentially reducing the pressure on the NHS and GPs, specifically when it comes to providing information for common illnesses.

Currently, Alexa gets its answers to health-related questions from a number of sources, including the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. As a point of contrast, Apple's Siri currently retrieves answers to health-related queries from Wolfram Alpha and Wikipedia.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock offered the following comments on the new Amazon-NHS partnership:
We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists.

Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future and NHSX will drive this revolution to bring the benefits to every patient, clinician and carer.
In addition, Hancock told Sky News there are "privacy rules" in place to prevent peoples' information being sold on, and that the government was "up for doing this sort of collaboration with other tech companies".

The Royal College of GPs welcomed the move, but warned that independent research will be needed to ensure the advice given out is safe.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the RCGP, told Sky News:
"This idea is certainly interesting and it has the potential to help some patients work out what kind of care they need before considering whether to seek face-to-face medical help, especially for minor ailments that rarely need a GP appointment, such as coughs and colds that can be safely treated at home.

"However, it is vital that independent research is done to ensure that the advice given is safe, otherwise it could prevent people seeking proper medical help and create even more pressure on our overstretched GP service."
NHS experts believe half of all health-related searches will be made through voice-assisted technology by 2020. The U.K. government has set up a unit called NHSX to boost the use of digital technologies in the health service over the next few years. Measures already being pursued include an expansion of electronic prescribing and the use of artificial intelligence to analyze scans.


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BBC Sounds App Updated With Apple CarPlay Support

The BBC Sounds mobile app has been updated with CarPlay support, meaning users can now listen to the broadcaster's extensive library of live and on-demand radio, music, and podcasts from their in-car infotainment systems and dashboards.

As noted by Pocket-lint.com, CarPlay and Android Auto support was originally available for iPlayer Radio, which the Sounds app replaced, but this version has extra options and an improved in-car experience.

From the BBC Sounds website:
Here's what you'll see in the new car-friendly view of the BBC Sounds app:
  • Browse: Have a look through our simplified Podcasts, Music Mixes and Recommended for You menus

  • Stations: Listen live to all of the BBC’s national and local radio stations across the UK

  • My Sounds: Easy access to all of the radio programmes, podcasts and music mixes you're subscribed to or added to your Bookmarks

  • Downloads: Offline playback of programmes you've downloaded onto the app
    BBC Sounds was launched in June last year to introduce a more personalized listening experience and bring a new look and feel to the site.
BBC Sounds was launched in June last year to introduce a more personalized listening experience and bring a new look and feel to the site.

The BBC app is designed to learn from the user's listening habits and introduce them to shows and podcasts that they might not otherwise know about.

BBC Sounds is available to download on iPhone and iPad for free from Apple's regional U.K. App Store. [Direct Link]


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O2 Mobile Network Now Offering Apple Watch Cellular Contracts to UK Customers

O2 has became the latest network carrier in the United Kingdom to offer the cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 4. iPhone users can now order the LTE-enabled smartwatch through the O2 website, which is offering several personal pay-monthly plans that let users make calls and use a data connection from their wrist, even if they're untethered from their smartphone.


O2 has launched plans on its website for both Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 4 LTE models, and is offering customers six months of free airtime for the first six months if they sign up to a plan between now and Wednesday, December 18, 2019.

For example, customers who take up the time-limited offer for a 40mm Apple Watch Series 4 must pay a £20 upfront fee and can then expect to pay £19.50 a month for 36 months, and when their free airtime runs out after six months, they pay £5 a month for the data contract.

Apple Watch is available to O2 Pay Monthly customers with an iPhone 6 or newer. New O2 customers and customers who don't have a compatible iPhone can also buy a new iPhone from O2, then add an Apple Watch. The network's full range of plans are available on the O2 website.

EE was the exclusive mobile network in the U.K. to offer a tariff for the Apple Watch when Apple debuted the first LTE-capable Apple Watch (Series 3) in September 2017. Vodafone announced its own Apple Watch LTE tariffs about a year later, and now O2 has joined the eSIM ranks. Out of the big networks in the U.K., that leaves Three as the only carrier yet to offer Apple Watch cellular contracts.

(Thanks, Edward!)

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5, watchOS 6
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)

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Apple News+ Expanding to United Kingdom and Australia in iOS 13

Apple today at WWDC 2019 announced that Apple News+ will be expanding to the United Kingdom and Australia in iOS 13.


Apple News+ is currently available in the United States for $9.99 per month and in Canada for $12.99 per month. The service, based on Apple's acquisition of Texture, provides unlimited access to hundreds of digital magazines and newspapers.

Apple's WWDC 2019 keynote is underway. Stay tuned for updates…

Related Roundup: WWDC 2019

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Powerbeats Pro Now Available to Order in UK, France and Germany

Apple's Powerbeats Pro totally wireless earphones officially went on sale today in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, as predicted. However, the fitness-focused, Beats-branded earphones are only available in black, and stock appears to be limited.


As of writing, Apple's online UK store is switching between allowing customers to add the earphones to their bag, and graying out the Add to Bag button to prevent them from doing so. Delivery dates are also flipping between June 6-10 and "coming soon."

If you're having trouble ordering Powerbeats Pro via Apple's online store, try the Apple Store iOS app, as it appears to be allowing more orders to go to checkout. Customers can also try their luck ordering through the Beats website, which is quoting similar delivery dates.

Powerbeats Pro cost £219.95 in the UK and 249.95 euros in France and Germany. They're Apple's first totally wireless Beats earphones, featuring the same H1 chip as the second-generation AirPods for hands-free "Hey Siri" and faster connection speeds between the iPhone, Apple Watch, and other devices. They last up to nine hours per charge, with more battery life available on the go via an included charging case.

Powerbeats Pro are similar to traditional earbuds, with silicone tips that nestle in the ear and an earhook to hold them firmly in place. The silicone tips come in four sizes, but the earhooks, which wrap around the ear, are one size, and make sure the Powerbeats Pro stay firmly in place during physical activity.

The earphones are initially available in black only, with ivory, moss, and navy colors set to become available this summer, although Apple cautions that color availability is subject to change.

Powerbeats Pro have been on sale in Canada and the U.S. since early May. In June they will be available in Australia, Singapore, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Austria, Italy, Spain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, and Brazil in June.

For more info on Powerbeats Pro, check out our Powerbeats Pro guide.


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Apple Pay Express Transit Coming to London ‘in the Coming Months’

Apple is working closely with London's transport network (TfL) to enable Apple Pay Express Transit, a feature which allows riders to pay their fare without needing to wake or unlock their device, or authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or a passcode.

Image credit: TfL

"We are having positive discussions with Apple about enabling express transit on Apple devices on the TfL network," a TfL spokesperson said in a statement given to The Verge. "More information about timing and plans will be available at a future date."

TfL's Twitter account also noted that the company is "working closely with Apple to allow the benefits of this update to be introduced on London’s transport network in the coming months."

Users of London's transport network can already use Apple Pay for ride purchases at Oyster terminals and gates, but they must first authenticate with Face ID, Touch ID, or passcode. Express Transit would change all that with its tap-and-go system, speeding up entry into subway and train stations in the process.

Apple Pay's Express Transit mode can be used on iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, or iPhone 6s Plus or later, and Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 or later. Owners of iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR can also use Express Transit in power reserve mode, which is available for up to five hours when an iPhone needs to be charged.

Apple introduced Express Transit in iOS 12.3, which was released earlier this month. London would join a handful of cities with transit systems that support the express Apple Pay feature, including Beijing, Shanghai, Portland, and New York City (from Friday). Express Transit also works for Suica cards in Japan.


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Apple and Other Tech Giants Condemn GCHQ Proposal to Eavesdrop on Encrypted Messages

Apple and other tech giants have joined civil society groups and security experts in condemning proposals from Britain's cybersecurity agency that would enable law enforcement to access end-to-end encrypted messages (via CNBC).

British Government's Communications HQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

In an open letter to the U.K.'s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), 47 signatories including Apple, Google and WhatsApp urged the U.K. eavesdropping agency to ditch plans for its so-called "ghost protocol," which would require encrypted messaging services to direct a message to a third recipient, at the same time as sending it to its intended user.

Ian Levy, the technical director of Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, and Crispin Robinson, GCHQ's head of cryptanalysis, published details of the proposal in November 2018. In the essay, Levy and Robinson claimed the system would enable law enforcement to access the content of encrypted messages without breaking the encryption.

The officials argued it would be "relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call," and claimed this would be "no more intrusive than the virtual crocodile clips," which are currently used in wiretaps of non-encrypted chat and call apps.

Signatories of the letter opposing the plan argued that the proposal required two changes to existing communications systems that were a "serious threat" to digital security and fundamental human rights, and would undermine user trust.
"First, it would require service providers to surreptitiously inject a new public key into a conversation in response to a government demand. This would turn a two-way conversation into a group chat where the government is the additional participant, or add a secret government participant to an existing group chat.

"Second, in order to ensure the government is added to the conversation in secret, GCHQ's proposal would require messaging apps, service providers, and operating systems to change their software so that it would 1) change the encryption schemes used, and/or 2) mislead users by suppressing the notifications that routinely appear when a new communicant joins a chat.

"The overwhelming majority of users rely on their confidence in reputable providers to perform authentication functions and verify that the participants in a conversation are the people they think they are, and only those people. The GCHQ's ghost proposal completely undermines this trust relationship and the authentication process."
Apple's strong stance against weakened device protections for the sake of law enforcement access was highlighted in the 2016 Apple vs. FBI conflict that saw Apple refuse to create a backdoor access solution to allow the FBI to crack the iPhone 5c owned by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Responding to the open letter, which was first sent to GCHQ on May 22, the National Cyber Security Centre's Ian Levy told CNBC: "We welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data — for example to stop terrorists. The hypothetical proposal was always intended as a starting point for discussion."

"We will continue to engage with interested parties and look forward to having an open discussion to reach the best solutions possible," Levy said.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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BT Sport’s iOS and Apple TV Apps to Stream Champions League Final in HDR

BT Sport has announced its first ever live mobile HDR stream will be the Champions League final in Madrid between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool on Saturday, June 1. BT Sport subscribers will be able to watch the match in HDR via the BT Sport app for iPhone and Apple TV.


HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR videos provide a broader range of colors and luminance compared to sub-HDR content, and the format also supports quality video playback on a wide variety of screen sizes.

Logged-in subscribers of the BT Sport app on an iPhone X, XS, XS Max, Apple TV 4K, or iPad Pro (2nd and 3rd generation) will be served with a tile on the homepage so they know the Champions League soccer final is available to them. Users without a HDR-capable device or logged-out users will see the normal tile on the homepage without any reference to HDR.

To AirPlay the match, users will need a capable TV to watch in HDR. The vast majority of 4K TVs sold in the last few years also support HDR. The app will detect HDR compatibility and serve the appropriate stream.

The Champions League final will also be available to non-BT Sport subscribers for free, though not in HDR. It will be shown on the mobile and large-screen apps, on BTSport.com and on YouTube. BT Sport's live coverage begins at 7pm on BT Sport 2 and BT Sport 4K UHD.

Apple debuted HDR support with the "Super Retina" display in the 2017 iPhone X, which became the first HDR OLED display incorporated into one of Apple's smartphones.

Apple also lists the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone XR as supporting HDR, but the displays for these devices are not the same as the Super Retina display on Apple's OLED iPhones, so any HDR content played on the 8 or 8 Plus isn't true HDR.

BT Sport claims its live HDR coverage of the Champions League Final on a mobile device is a "world first," and says that going forward it plans to show up to 70 live sporting events in High Dynamic Range per season.


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Powerbeats Pro Orders Begin This Friday in UK, France, and Germany

Apple's totally wireless Powerbeats Pro earphones become available to pre-order in the United Kingdom on May 31, according to a social media ad posted on the official Beats By Dre U.K. Twitter account.


The date was spotted in the small print at the end of the 15-second video short, which features British professional boxer Anthony Joshua and touts the nine hours of listening time offered by the fitness-focused earphones. The promotional ad originally went out on May 27.

The black Powerbeats Pro have been available to pre-order since May 3 in the United States and Canada, with the first deliveries to customers arriving on May 10. However, they remain listed as "coming soon" on Apple's online U.K. store, while fine print on the Beats website for the U.K., France, and Germany simply states that the earphones will begin their rollout later in May.

Extrapolating from the U.K. date in the ad, and given how late in the month we now are, it's highly likely that Powerbeats Pro will also be available to pre-order in black in France and Germany from this Friday, May 31.

According to the fine print on other regional Beats websites, Powerbeats Pro will be available in Australia, Singapore, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Austria, Italy, Spain, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, and Brazil in June.

The earphones are initially available in black only, with ivory, moss, and navy colors set to become available this summer in the United States and Canada, and most of the countries listed above, although Apple cautions that color availability is subject to change.


Powerbeats Pro are Apple's first totally wireless Beats earphones, featuring the same H1 chip as the second-generation AirPods for hands-free "Hey Siri" and faster connection speeds between the iPhone, Apple Watch, and other devices.

The Powerbeats Pro feature adjustable, secure-fit ear hooks and earbud tips with four size options. As mentioned, they last up to nine hours per charge, with more battery life available on the go via an included charging case.

Powerbeats Pro are priced at $249.95 in the United States, $329.95 in Canada, £219.95 in the United Kingdom, and $349.95 in Australia.

Thanks, Chris!


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