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Use your phone to call somebody, not just to read coronavirus news

Use your phone to call somebody, not just to read coronavirus news


It’s going to be a long haul

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Google Pixel 2
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

This week has felt like a year. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how most stories in tech — heck most news stories in general — tend to have a much shorter half-life these days than they used to. Remember how T-Mobile is buying Sprint and how the legal hurdles are almost all fully cleared? It’s a gigantic realignment of the entire mobile industry and it has zinged by. Hell — there was an impeachment trial this year and it feels like ancient history.

We’ve become used to stories lasting a day or two and having weirdly little immediate impact on our lives even when they’re hugely important. Here’s another tech example: Huawei is still unable to use Google software or sell phones and networking equipment here.

That changes a lot. Beyond what phones you can buy, it will alter the price and access of rural wireless service, has national security and trade implications, and could eventually change the way Google builds Android itself. You can’t think about it every day, even if you’re into tech, so you just kind of dip in and out of the story when there’s a new development.

But the coronavirus is different — it refuses to get turned over in the news cycle and the effects are everywhere, every day. It is frankly exhausting. I have a tiny piece of advice, then: as the news comes in, you should read it with a different state of mind than your usual news consumption. This isn’t a Twitter trend that will be forgotten next week. As you consume news on your phone, think about the longer timeframe this story occupies and your place in it as a human with friends, family, and fellow citizens.

Consider taking another pass on your breaking-news notification settings. We are all desperate for more information that will put this entire thing in context, help us wrap our heads around it and know what to do next. But it’s okay to turn off some push alerts and instead choose when to read the news yourself instead of letting it pop up on your phone unbidden. Trust me: you’re not going to forget to look for what’s new.

And if that means that the next time you look at your lockscreen it’s a little barren of new information, that’s okay. Use that moment to open your phone and check in with a loved one or a friend. It’s a phone, after all — it was originally designed to help you communicate with people you know. There’s an AT&T “reach out and touch someone” joke to be made here about social distancing, somewhere.

As for me, I’m going to keep on writing about gadget news and computers in this newsletter and probably just a little less about the pandemic. The Verge will of course continue its excellent coverage — yesterday we published an organized, comprehensive guide to help you find what you need to know. I’ll link to lots of coronavirus stories, but write about it a little less myself.

Because there will still be new product launches, new software updates, and new ways regulators will propose changing your digital life. Some of those stories will be directly related to the coronavirus — I’m very interested to see how this summer’s “virtual” developer conferences are going to work, for example.

Many others won’t be, and that’s okay too. As Monica Chin eloquently wrote on the site yesterday, it’s okay to continue being interested in things like gadgets and tech even during a pandemic. More than okay, it’s important to keep paying attention to the rest of life. Monica puts it better:

Last November, my guinea pig died a few days after a close friend’s mother died, and I cried about my pet and then told myself I was an asshole for crying. I went to see Hamilton to take my mind off things, and I felt like an asshole for that, too. People are dying. But there is no value in pretending we don’t care, about guinea pigs or debate careers or basketball or Sony Xperia phones. There is even less value in trying not to. It is not panache; it is our nature.

See you next week.


News from The Verge

┏ Dr Disrespect is the villain who could change the future of TV. Great profile from Bijan Stephen:

Over the course of two days, the cockpit of a helicopter has taken shape in the middle of a very large soundstage, an assemblage of ‘80s-era buttons and dials and a generous amount of black paint. It’s all because Doc is here to shoot a hype video for his latest announcement: he’s re-signed to Twitch for an exclusive two-year contract — for a lot of money.

┏ New MacBook models with scissor-switch keyboards are reportedly coming soon. Can’t come soon enough. But it also puts Apple in a bind: if it does indeed have an ARM Mac waiting in the wings, should people wait for that? There’s a lot of pent-up demand for a better keyboard, but perhaps some of those customers would be better served by waiting for an ARM-based Mac.

Then again, this is a debate about Apple releasing too many Macs in one year instead of a debate about whether and when Apple will bother updating Macs at ALL, so maybe I shouldn’t complain about choice.

┏ Mario makes the jump to Lego with new interactive sets. These look positively joyful.

┏ US delays full Huawei ban yet again until May 15th.

┏ ACLU sues for records on facial recognition at the border. Seems likely that it’s getting used more than you know and used in ways that it shouldn’t be.

┏ Tag Heuer’s third-generation luxury smartwatch gets more sensors and a refined redesign. They got rid of the modularization idea to make it thinner and got rid of the trade-in-when-it’s-out-of-date-for-a-real-mechanical-watch program because honestly everybody knows only rich people who want to spend money on silly things would buy this anyway, so a trade in program that would save you a measly $2,000 or whatever isn’t making anybody more or less likely to buy this watch.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, it finally has sensors that should pretty much be standard on any smartwatch. But it’s also running Wear OS — a platform that needs radical changes in the near future.

While the older models offered GPS connectivity, the new model adds heart rate, compass, accelerometer, and gyroscopic sensors for far better fitness and sports tracking.

┏ A new Twitter client finally gives us the power to edit tweets — sort of. The “edit” feature is a delay between when you hit tweet and when it posts. I might be interested in that. But I am absolutely interested in this, which works exactly how I want a tweet deletion service to work:

Meanwhile, auto-delete allows users to choose between 24 hours, one week, or one month to have their tweets deleted, regardless of whether they were sent through Brizzly. If users do want to save certain tweets, they can do so with a feature called “Fave to Save,” which lets them set any number of likes as a threshold, and tweets that meet it will be saved from deletion.


┏ A guide to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s our full guide from the Verge Science team and beyond — there is a ton of helpful information here. Bookmark it and use it as a reference whenever you need.

┏ You can care about COVID-19 and also be sad when things are canceled. Here are more things that have been cancelled, paused, delayed, or made virtual: March Madness, the NHL, MLB opening day, Microsoft’s Build developer conference, the Call of Duty League, Broadway, Disneyland and Disney World, an appropriate amount of your personal health data privacy, and these memes. Sephora, however: not canceled.

┏ AT&T is suspending broadband data caps for home internet customers due to coronavirus. As Motherboard notes in its story here, home broadband data caps are mostly about jacking up prices, not actually managing congestion.

┏ Comcast modestly raises slow internet speeds for low-income customers. A modest bump, but good nevertheless.

Customers have to apply for approval before they can sign up for Internet Essentials. Comcast says this process can take up to five business days if they receive “auto” approval, and up to 10 business days if not. To be eligible, customers have to qualify for public programs like Medicaid or SNAP.