Apple World Today News Update: March 2, 2018

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On today's News Update podcast, we give you three stories that deal with Apple competitors Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Please note that the podcast will be on spring break until March 14.

  • Facebook is testing a new feature that could make it easier to post your status to your News Feed: something called Voice Clips. It lets users record short audio clips that friends and family can then listen to.
  • Amazon's Alexa digital assistant went mute for a while today after a data center issue caused a regional outage of Amazon Web Services
  • Apple's wonderful accessibility features for the vision impaired and blind received a boost today from Microsoft with the Redmond, Washington company's new Soundscape app for iPhone

The text version of the podcast can be read below. To listen to the podcast here, click the play button on the player below. Apple News readers need to visit Apple World Today in order to listen to the podcast.

Text Version

This is Steve Sande for Apple World Today, and you’re listening to the AWT News Update podcast for Friday, March 2, 2018. Just to let you know, there will not be a podcast next week — March 5 through March 9, or on March 12 - 13. We’ll be back to our regular schedule on March 14, 2018.

We’ll start off today’s new update with word of a new feature that is being tested on Facebook that could be rather interesting — something called Voice Clips. Rather than typing in a status update in your News Feed, testers are able to click a “Add Voice Clip” button, then record an audio snippet so your friends can hear you instead of reading your words. While this is in limited testing, there’s no word on whether or not it will actually make it as a full-time Facebook feature. Facebook makes changes from time to time that fail; it also ended an experiment in several countries with an alternative News Feed called Explore. It provided two feeds, one for posts from friends and family, and other for posts from Pages. Well, most people. Hated it, so the company discontinued the feature. 

Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant was going mute today due to a regional outage of Amazon Web Services in Northern Virginia. The issues started at about 11 AM ET today, with issues spreading throughout the United States and even parts of Europe. What would happen is that users would receive failure responses from Alexa-equipped devices when making queries, and the issues would not only result in a verbal apology but chimes from Alexa as well. Some users saw the top ring of Amazon Echo devices turn red in response. The issue was also affecting third-party hardware that supports Alexa, such as the Sonos One smart speaker. 

Apple’s iPhone is loaded with accessibility features for those who are blind or have limited vision. Now Microsoft has released a free iPhone app called Soundscape that can be used by the blind or visually impaired to get more of an idea of where they are in relation to their surroundings by providing 3D audio clues. Soundscape provides audio cues as the user walks through an area, with the audio cue being broadcast to the user from where it actually is in the real world. The position of the cue changes as the user moves, so the user can keep track of the destination in relation to their current position. Soundscape also calls out points of interest to the user, including roads and intersections that the user may need to navigate. Audio beacons can be placed at any landmark for future reference. Three buttons at the bottom of the app screen provide details of location: My Location tells the user where he or she is standing and what direction they’re facing, while “Ahead of Me” calls out points of interest in front of the user. “Around Me” describes nearby points of interest in each of the four directions, which Microsoft says can help with getting oriented after getting off of public transportation. 

That’s all the news for today - join me again on March 14 for another edition of the AWT News Update.