Facebook Helps Blind People See, Google Bricks Smart Home Devices… [Tech News Digest]

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The sharing of photos has become a huge part of the Web, driving sites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to new heights. Which is great for those of us who can see, but not so great for visually impaired people. Which is why Facebook has launched a new feature called Automatic Alternative Text.

This feature uses object recognition technology to generate descriptions of photos as they appear on users’ News Feeds. This means anyone using a screen reader will hear a list of items contained in each photo as they scroll past it. While Facebook’s system is currently only able to recognize around 80 objects, the number will increase with usage.

Automatice Alternative Text was developed by Shaomei Wu, Software Engineer, Hermes Pique, Software Engineer on iOS, and Jeffrey Wieland, Head of Accessibility, who stated in a Facebook blog post:

“We are launching automatic alt text first on iOS screen readers set to English, but we plan to add this functionality for other languages and platforms soon. While this technology is still nascent, tapping its current capabilities to describe photos is an important step toward providing our visually impaired community the same benefits and enjoyment that everyone else gets from photos.”

Accessibility issues such as this are things most of us rarely think about, simply because it does not affect us. But with billions of photos uploaded to social networking sites every single day, bringing them to life in some small way is an important development which could change lives for the better.

Google Bricks Revolv Products

Nest, which is owned by Google (Alphabet) is dropping support for a whole line of smart home devices being used in the wild, and it means they will completely cease to function. This means anyone still using a Revolv product will be left with a device about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Google acquired Nest in January 2014, and then in October of that same year Nest acquired Revolv. This was an acqui-hire, with Google buying Revolv for the talent rather than the technology. And now, less than two years on, Google is abandoning owners of Revolv devices, with Revolv’s co-founders Tim Enwall and Mike Souciestating:

“We’re pouring all our energy into Works with Nest and are incredibly excited about what we’re making. Unfortunately, that means we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service. As of 15 May 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.”

Stopping supporting products, which usually leaves users with buggy software and no customer support, is one thing. However, in this case it means Revolv hardware will stop working completely, and users are rightly aggrieved at the situation. It should also worry owners of other connected devices, as there’s nothing to stop them suffering a similar fate in the years to come.

Play 3D Zelda in Your Browser


Believe it or not, The Legend of Zelda is 30 years old this year, with the first game in the long-running series (one of the best franchises of all time) released in Japan in February, 1986. Now, thanks programmer Scott Lininger and artist Mike Magee, you can play a 3D version of The Legend of Zelda right from within your Web browser.

The Legend of Zelda 30-Year Tribute is an open-source version of the original game built using WebGL and rendered in voxels. This means it can be played in any Web browser on a PC or smartphone, although some appear to handle it better than others. Regardless, it should give some of you a heady hit of nostalgia.

Stream The Beatles Anthology

It took many years and much persuading for The Beatles to agree to stream their extensive back catalog of music on services such as Spotify and Apple Music. However, three months after this finally happened The Beatles Anthology has also been added to streaming services.

The Beatles Anthology is a three-volume collection of outtakes, unreleased performances, and demo tapes presented in chronological order. Together they recount the history of the band and its four members. And now that it has been added to streaming service, pretty much the entirety of The Beatles’ output is readily available at the touch of a button.

Watch Chromecast Working on an Old TV

And finally, while Chromecasts are up-to-date, innovative technology, old cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets belong to a bygone age, and are most likely to be found in skips. Therefore, the two don’t really belong together, but that hasn’t stopped a YouTuber named Dr. Moddnstine from trying.

He has succeeded too, getting a Chromecast to work on an old portable TV. The process does require messing around with the internals of the TV, which isn’t for the faint of heart, and the end result is, well, pretty underwhelming to be honest. Still, the fact he did it at all is impressive. [H/T Gizmodo]

Your Views on Today’s Tech News

Should more be done to help visually impaired people get the most out of the Internet? Are Revolv users right to be aggrieved at Google’s actions? How far did you get through The Legend of Zelda 30-Year Tribute? Will you be streaming The Beatles Anthology? Do you know anyone who still owns an old-style TV?

Let us know your thoughts on the Tech News of the day by posting to the comments section below. Because a healthy discussion is always welcome.

Tech News Digest is a daily column paring the technology news of the day down into bite-sized chunks that are easy to read and perfect for sharing.