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Stadia controllers could become e-waste unless Google issues Bluetooth update

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Enlarge / Ars originally liked the Stadia controller, describing it as “solidly built, with springy, responsive inputs.” It could still be that way without a giant USB cord if Google unlocked its full Bluetooth capabilities.

Kyle Orland

Google’s Stadia game-streaming service will die a nearly inevitable death early next year. Google is refunding players the cost of all their hardware and game purchases. But, so far, Google is also leaving Stadia players with controllers that, while once costing $70, will soon do less than a $20 Bluetooth gamepad.

Stadia’s controllers were custom-made to connect directly to the Internet, reducing lag and allowing for instant firmware updates and (sometimes painful) connections to smart TVs. There’s Bluetooth inside the Stadia controller, but it’s only used when you’re setting up Stadia, either with a TV, a computer with the Chrome browser, or a Chromecast Ultra.

The Google Store’s page for the Stadia controller states in a footnote: “Product contains Bluetooth Classic radio. No Bluetooth Classic functionality is enabled at this time. Bluetooth Classic may be implemented at a later date.” (Bluetooth Classic is a more traditional version of Bluetooth than modern low-energy or mesh versions.)

That potential later date can’t get much later for fans of the Stadia controller. Many cite the controller’s hand feel and claim it as their favorite. They’d like to see Google unlock Bluetooth to make their favorite something more than a USB-only controller and avoid a lot of plastic and circuit board trash.

“Now if you’d just enable Bluetooth on the controller, we could help the environment by not letting them become electronic waste,” writes Roadrunner571 on one of many controller-related threads on the r/Stadia subreddit. “They created trash and they at least owe it to me to do their best within reason to prevent millions of otherwise perfectly good controllers from filling landfills,” another wrote.

Many have called for Google, if they’re not going to push a firmware update themselves to unlock the functionality, to open up access to the devices themselves, so the community can do it for them. That’s often a tricky scenario for large companies relying on a series of sub-contracted manufacturers to produce hardware. Some have suggested that the full refunds give Google more leeway to ignore the limited function of their devices post-shutdown.

You can still plug the Stadia controller into the USB port on your Smart TV, computer, or gaming console and use it as a controller through a standard HID (Human Interface Device) connection. How-To Geek reports that it’s working well on PCs and with Android devices but not great on Xbox or Playstation consoles. At least one Github project reportedly improves the Stadia controller’s Windows function (as an Xbox controller). One intrepid Stadia fan, Parth Shah, had already cobbled together a “Stadia Wireless” Python hack to get the Stadia controller working “wirelessly”: connected to a phone, then that phone connecting to a Windows PC over Wi-Fi, emulating a standard Xbox controller.

Yet Shah is also active in the Stadia subreddit, asking for his creation to be made obsolete: “Not having to go through all this trouble would be so amazing. Hopefully [G]oogle does something about it.”

There’s some precedent to pushing new firmware to old business ideas. Valve, makers of the Steam PC gaming store and assorted hardware connected to it, enabled Bluetooth Low-Energy on Steam Controllers just before its Steam Box and Steam Link hardware ambitions fizzled out. Valve had something else in mind for them, namely its Steam Link software on other platforms. But Valve made Steam Controllers viable for lots of other platforms and prevented them from ending up in, at best, e-waste sorting facilities.

E-waste from abandoned hardware is an area where Google, along with many other large tech companies, is far more quiet than it is about carbon emissions, water, or even food waste. The company’s pledge to create “A circular Google” states that the company believes that by “incorporating circularity into our designs from inception, things created today can become the resources of tomorrow and enable reuse, repair, and recovery.”

In this case, it seems like circularity, in the form of a standard Bluetooth controller, is sitting inside Stadia controllers. The reuse and recovery would be much appreciated by customers.

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Apple Watch Ultra becomes a diving computer with launch of Oceanic+

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In September, Apple announced a new wearable called the Apple Watch Ultra, and one of the company’s key pitches for the device was its use as a diving computer. Now Oceanic+, the app that makes that feature possible, launched exclusively for the Ultra, Apple announced today.

The Watch Ultra has depth gauge and water temperature sensors that drive some of the features in the app. To access a few of those features—such as decompression tracking—you’ll have to subscribe to the app’s premium version for $4.99 per day, $9.99 per month, or $79.99 per year. There’s also a family plan at $129.99 annually. If you don’t subscribe, you can still use some key features like dive logs, depth tracking, and so on.

The app—which was developed in partnership with Apple by a company called Huish Outdoors, lets you track dive conditions like tides, water temperature, and more. Here’s a quick summary from Apple’s blog post announcement:

In the dive planner, users can set their surface time, their depth, and their gas, and Oceanic+ will calculate their No Deco (no-decompression) time—a metric used to determine a time limit for a diver at a certain depth. The planner also integrates dive conditions, including tides, water temperature, and even up-to-date information from the community, such as visibility and currents. Post-dive, users will see data—including GPS entry and exit locations—automatically pop up on Apple Watch Ultra, along with a summary of their dive profile. The summary on the Oceanic+ iPhone app provides additional information, including a map of entry and exit locations, as well as graphs of depth, temperature ascent rate, and no-decompression limit.

A lot of the features focus on either planning dives in advance or viewing dive reports after you’re done, but for those that you use underwater, the app utilizes haptics to send you alerts. The Watch Ultra’s very bright screen can help with legibility underwater, too.

The app doesn’t work with other Apple Watch models. To use it, you’ll need an Apple Watch running watchOS 9.1, and that Watch must be paired with an iPhone 8 or later running iOS 16.1.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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Regulatory filings suggest Nvidia’s scrapped RTX 4080 will return as the “4070 Ti”

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Nvidia

Last month, Nvidia took the unusual step of “unlaunching” a previously announced product. The 12GB version of the GeForce RTX 4080 graphics card was, by the company’s admission, “not named right” and was delayed and rebranded to avoid confusion with the 16GB version of the RTX 4080 that launched. Besides having less RAM, the 12GB version of the RTX 4080 also offered less memory bandwidth and fewer GPU cores than the 16GB version.

Nvidia didn’t announce exactly what branding it would use for the revived RTX 4080, but regulatory filings submitted by Gigabyte (as reported by VideoCardz) suggest that the company has settled on calling it the “4070 Ti.”

This isn’t guaranteed to be the actual name—regulatory filings like this can be placeholders rather than actual products—but this branding would be more consistent with how Nvidia has named past GPU generations. The xx80 cards usually use the same physical GPU die as the flagship xx90 cards but run at lower clock speeds and with parts of the die switched off; this allows Nvidia to use GPU dies with defects rather than tossing them out. The xx70 cards generally use a smaller, less-performant GPU die based on the same architecture.

Nvidia made the rebranding decision late enough in the process that it reportedly caused Nvidia and its partners to throw out finished packaging and other elements with “4080” branding. Redesigning and then re-manufacturing those things takes time, as does re-flashing the BIOSes on already-manufactured graphics cards so that they identify themselves as 4070 Tis rather than 4080s.

Nvidia still hasn’t said whether the price of the cards would also come down along with the model number; the 12GB version of the RTX 4080 was originally slated to launch for $899, while the RTX 3070 Ti was originally launched at $599. But existing RTX 4090 and 4080 cards are already difficult to get anywhere near their already-high $1,600 and $1,200 starting prices. It may be that an RTX 4070 Ti with decent 4K gaming performance, DLSS 3 support, and the other RTX 4000-series architectural bells and whistles would still sell out even with a big generation-over-generation price hike.

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Google says Google should do a better job of patching Android phones

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Google’s “Project Zero” team of security analysts wants to rid the world of zero-day security vulnerabilities, and that means it spends time calling out slacking companies on its blog. The group’s latest post is a bit of friendly fire aimed at the Android and Pixel teams, which Project Zero says aren’t dealing with bugs in the ARM GPU driver quickly enough.

In June, Project Zero researcher Maddie Stone detailed an in-the-wild exploit for the Pixel 6, where bugs in the ARM GPU driver could let a non-privileged user get write access to read-only memory. Another Project Zero researcher, Jann Horn, spent the next three weeks finding related vulnerabilities in the driver. The post says these bugs could allow “an attacker with native code execution in an app context [to] gain full access to the system, bypassing Android’s permissions model and allowing broad access to user data.”

Project Zero says it reported these issues to ARM “between June and July 2022” and that ARM fixed the issues “promptly” in July and August, issuing a security bulletin (CVE-2022-36449) and publishing fixed source code. But these actively exploited vulnerabilities haven’t been patched for users. The groups dropping the ball are apparently Google and various Android OEMs, as Project Zero says that months after ARM fixed the vulnerabilities, “all of our test devices which used Mali are still vulnerable to these issues. CVE-2022-36449 is not mentioned in any downstream security bulletins.”

The affected ARM GPUs include a long list of the past three generations of ARM GPU architectures (Midgard, Bifrost, and Valhall), ranging from currently shipping devices to phones from 2016. ARM’s GPUs aren’t used by Qualcomm chips, but Google’s Tensor SoC uses ARM GPUs in the Pixel 6, 6a, and 7, and Samsung’s Exynos SoC uses ARM GPUs for its midrange phones and older international flagships like the Galaxy S21 (just not the Galaxy S22). Mediatek’s SoCs are all ARM GPU users, too, so we’re talking about millions of vulnerable Android phones from just about every Android OEM.

In response to the Project Zero blog post, Google told Engadget, “The fix provided by Arm is currently undergoing testing for Android and Pixel devices and will be delivered in the coming weeks. Android OEM partners will be required to take the patch to comply with future SPL requirements.”

The Project Zero analysts end their blog post with some advice for their colleagues, saying, “Just as users are recommended to patch as quickly as they can once a release containing security updates is available, so the same applies to vendors and companies. Minimizing the ‘patch gap’ as a vendor in these scenarios is arguably more important, as end users (or other vendors downstream) are blocking on this action before they can receive the security benefits of the patch. Companies need to remain vigilant, follow upstream sources closely, and do their best to provide complete patches to users as soon as possible.”

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