Google Home’s Philips Hue integration can now wake you up gently

Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wakeup (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Google Home now lets you use your Philips Hue lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room.

Philips first announced this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life.

Just like you can use your Home to turn on ‘Gentle Wake,’ which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you can also go the opposite way and have the lights mimics sunset as you get read to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately.

While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.

Xbox One does away with discs in new $249 All-Digital Edition

Discs! What are they good for? Well, if they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, Microsoft’s latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time.

Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front.

The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right).

The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s strategically timed tease of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox.

“We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.”

The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc.

It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.)

At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft, and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid, and Minecraft is of course Minecraft.

You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started).

You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.

Amazon launches a certification program for Alexa skill developers

Developers building voice-enabled applications for Amazon Echo and other Alexa-powered devices will now have a new way to validate their abilities, with Amazon’s launch of a new AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification. This is the first time Amazon has offered a certification program for Alexa developers, the company says.

Certification programs are standard in the technology industry — and AWS already offers a training program and certifications of its own that allow organizations to identify professionals with cloud expertise and an understanding of AWS.

The new Alexa certification will be a specialty within the AWS program, and will validate those with an understanding of all aspects of Alexa voice app development.

This includes the more practical matters — like how to develop, test, validate and troubleshoot skills, the use of the Alexa Developer Console, how to manage skill operations and life cycles, and more. But it will also get into more high-level concepts, like the “value of voice” and how a voice user experience should flow — something that many Alexa developers today still seem to struggle with.

To get started, developers can review a new exam guide, which helps them learn about Alexa skill building through tutorials, technical documentation and more. Amazon is also making self-paced training courses available online.

When ready, developers aiming to get certified can create an AWS Training account and schedule their exam.

The goal, says Amazon, is to open up “more opportunities to build engaging voice experiences” that can reach customers across the more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices on the market today.

In other words, Amazon wants those Alexa developers dabbling with skill building to learn not only the basics, but also the industry best practices — then use this knowledge to create more skills that will actually resonate with customers.

The certification program arrives at a time when smart speakers have hit critical mass in the U.S., but the ecosystem of third-party skills has not had its “app store moment” with a breakout hit, as Bloomberg recently noted.

Arguably, music, timers and smart home controls are the breakout hits for smart speakers, but these are native functions. It’s unclear how many of Alexa’s 80K+ third-party skills have a long-term future if consumer adoption continues to struggle.

In the meantime, however, businesses are still keen on the platform, given the sizable installed base for Alexa. Every day, some organization is announcing the launch of its skill. (Today, for example, it’s the Red Cross.)

“The demand from organizations for skilled professionals who can build skills for emerging voice-enabled workloads is increasing,” says Kevin Kelly, director, AWS Certification and Education Programs, in a statement. “This new certification validates those skills with the only credential in the industry focused on Alexa skill building,” he added.

Daily Crunch: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold

After eight years of teasing a folding device, Samsung finally pulled the trigger with an announcement at its developer’s conference late last year. But the device itself remained mysterious.

Earlier this week, Brian Heater finally held the Galaxy Fold in his hands, and he was pretty impressed.

2. YouTube’s algorithm added 9/11 facts to a live stream of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire

Some viewers following live coverage of the Notre-Dame Cathedral broadcast on YouTube were met with a strangely out-of-place info box offering facts about the September 11 attacks. Ironically, the feature is supposed to fact check topics that generate misinformation on the platform.

3. Hulu buys back AT&T’s minority stake in streaming service now valued at $15 billion

Disney now has a 67 percent ownership stake in Hulu — which it gained, in part, through its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Comcast has a 33 percent stake.

4. I asked the US government for my immigration file and all I got were these stupid photos

The “I” in question is our security reporter Zack Whittaker, who filed a Freedom of Information request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain all of the files the government had collected on him in order to process his green card application. Seven months later, disappointment.

5. TikTok downloads ordered to be blocked on iOS and Android in India over porn and other illegal content

Video app TikTok has become a global success, but it stumbled hard in one of the world’s biggest mobile markets, India, over illicit content.

6. Smart speakers’ installed base to top 200 million by year end

Canalys forecasts the installed base will grow by 82.4 percent, from 114 million units in 2018 to 207.9 million in 2019.

7. Salesforce ‘acquires’ Salesforce.org for $300M in a wider refocus on the nonprofit sector

The company announced that it will integrate Salesforce.org — which had been a reseller of Salesforce software and services to the nonprofit sector — into Salesforce itself as part of a new nonprofit and education vertical.

Apple could build macOS feature to use your iPad as extra Mac display

According to a report from 9to5mac’s Guilherme Rambo, Apple is working on a feature that would let you pair your iPad with your Mac to turn your iPad into a secondary Mac display. That feature codenamed Sidecar could ship with macOS 10.15 this fall.

If you’ve been using Luna Display or Duet Display, you’re already quite familiar with this setup. Those third-party hardware and software solutions let you turn your iPad into an external display. You can then extend your Mac display, move windows to your iPad and use your iPad like an external display.

And it sounds like Apple wants to turn those setups into a native feature. It could boost iPad sales for MacBook users, and MacBook sales for iPad users.

Apple wants to simplify that feature as much as possible. According to 9to5mac, you would access it from the standard green “maximize” button in the corner of every window. You could hover over that button and send the window to an iPad.

By default, apps will be maximized on the iPad and appear as full screen windows. Maybe you’ll be able to send multiple windows and split your display between multiple macOS apps, but that’s still unclear.

Graphic designers are going to love that feature as you’ll be able to use the Apple Pencil. For instance, you could imagine sending the Photoshop window to your iPad and using your iPad as a Wacom tablet.

Sidecar will also be compatible with standard external displays. It should make window management easier as you’ll be able to send windows to another display in just a click.

Finally, 9to5mac says that Apple is also working on Windows-like resizing shortcuts — you could drag a window to the side of the screen to resize it to half of the screen for instance.

Sony shares some details about the PlayStation 5

Lead architect for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita Mark Cerny gave a lengthy interview to Wired’s Peter Rubin and shared some details about Sony’s next-gen console — the console that is likely to be called the PlayStation 5.

The next PlayStation will be based on an AMD architecture just like the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro. The custom-made CPU will be based on the third-generation AMD Ryzen CPU line. It’ll feature eight 7nm cores.

As for the GPU, Sony plans to use a custom version of AMD Radeon’s Navi GPUs. While AMD is supposed to unveil this new generation of GPUs in the coming months, Cerny says that the next-gen PlayStation GPU will support ray tracing.

Those chips should also lead to a jump in audio performance. You can expect better 3D audio support if you have a set of speakers or headphones that support this kind of stuff.

The PlayStation 5 will also ship with SSD hard drives by default. This is a key differentiating factor between PC games and console games. Spinning hard drives lead to endless loading screens.

Opting for an SSD changes everything. For instance, Cerny says that fast-travel in Spider-Man running on a PlayStation 4 Pro takes approximately 15 seconds, while it takes less than a second on a next-generation PlayStation devkit.

On the hardware front, Cerny also said that the PlayStation 5 will have a Blu-ray drive to read physical games. And you’ll also be able to play PlayStation 4 games on the new console.

Based on the interview, it’s unclear whether Sony wants to launch a second-generation PlayStation VR headset. But if you already bought a VR headset, it’ll be compatible with the future PlayStation.

Sony is skipping E3 this year, which means that we won’t hear more about the PlayStation 5 for a while. The company most likely will launch the new console in 2020.

iOS 13 could feature dark mode and interface updates

According to a report from 9to5mac’s Guilherme Rambo, the next major version of iOS for the iPhone and iPad will feature many new features, such as universal dark mode, new gestures, visual changes for the volume popup and more.

Dark mode should work more or less like dark mode on macOS Mojave. You’ll be able to turn on a system-wide option in Settings. Apps that support it will automatically switch to dark mode the next time you launch them. Let’s hope that third-party developers will support that feature. Otherwise, it would be a bit useless if Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or Amazon still feature blindingly white backgrounds.

The other big change is that you’ll be able to open multiple windows of the same app on the iPad. You can already open two Safari tabs side by side, but it sounds like Apple plans to expand that feature beyond Safari with a card metaphor. Each window will be represented as a card that you can move, stack or dismiss.

Other iOS 13 features sound like minor improvements that should make iOS less frustrating. And it starts with new gestures. Instead of shaking your device to undo an action, users will be able to swipe with three fingers on the virtual keyboard to undo and redo a text insertion.

Similarly, Apple could be working on a new way to select multiple items in a table view or grid view. You could just drag a rectangle around multiple items to select them. Once again, Apple is reusing a classic macOS feature on iOS.

Some apps will receive updates, such as Mail and Reminders. The default email client will sort your emails in multiple categories (marketing, travel, etc.) just like in Gmail.

Finally, that annoying volume popup could be on the way out. Apple could replace that popup with a more subtle volume indicator.

Overall, the most exciting change is probably the ability to launch multiple windows of the same app. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple plans to implement that feature and what you’ll be able to do with that. Moving away from the traditional “one app = one document” metaphor could open up a lot of different workflows.

Disc-free Xbox One S could land on May 7th

Microsoft is about to launch an even cheaper Xbox One S. In order to cut costs, the company is removing the Blu-ray disc drive altogether. According to leaked marketing images spotted by WinFuture (via Thurrott), the console could launch on May 7th for €229 in Germany.

Given that the launch is just a few weeks away and that those marketing images line up perfectly with previous rumors, chances are this is the real deal.

As you can see on WinFuture’s images, it looks exactly like an Xbox One S without the disc slot. The console is called Xbox One S All Digital and comes with a 1TB hard drive — most standard Xbox One S consoles currently also feature a 1TB hard drive.

Microsoft states clearly that this console is only for digital games. If you already have physical Xbox One games, you won’t be able to insert them in the console.

Customers get three games for free with the console through download codes — Minecraft, Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 3. You can then buy more games in the online store or subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass to access a library of games.

This model should cost €229 in Germany, but you might be able to buy it for less. For instance, an Xbox One S officially costs €299 on Microsoft’s website, but you can easily buy it for €200 on Amazon and through other retailers.

Microsoft usually uses the same price points in USD, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox One S All Digital officially costs $229 in the U.S.

It’s clear that Microsoft is testing the market with this console. The company has been pivoting to a subscription model. The Xbox brand is evolving from a gaming console brand to a service brand. This should be Microsoft’s key differentiating factor with the next generation of consoles.