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In news from the UK, Uber gets banned from operating in London and flying most drones in the country now needs a license. Google Maps starts offering to pronounce addresses and place names for you, and Motorola announces the weirdest folding phone yet.
It’s our final news roundup for the year!
Uber Kicked Out of London, But You Can Still Use It (for Now)
Uber’s had a difficult relationship with regulators around the world in recent years, but especially so in London. The company has been operating on a series of temporary licenses after being found not to be “fit and proper” back in 2017, but Transport for London (TfL) has now decided enough is enough.
The short-term extensions were meant to give Uber time to improve several of its practices around driver licensing and passenger safety, but despite some changes for the better, TfL ran out of patience.
Giving the example of a security lapse that allowed at least 14,000 rides to be provided by someone other than the booked driver, the regulator announced it would not be renewing Uber’s license to operate in the British capital.
This has big implications for locals and tourists alike, many of whom rely on the ridesharing service to get around the city. For now, though, you can still book Uber rides in London — the company is appealing the decision, and can continue to operate while that process takes place.
Longer-term, though, Uber’s future in London looks very precarious indeed.
Most Drones in the UK Now Require a License
We mentioned back in April that the UK was introducing a licensing scheme that would cover the flying of almost all drones in the country, and as of a few days ago, it’s now in force.
From November 30, the owner and operator of any drone weighing more than 250g/8.8oz (ie, nearly all of them) need to be licensed. This means getting two separate identification numbers, passing an online test, labeling the drone with one of those ID numbers, and paying £9/year for the privilege.
On the upside, in an attempt to soften the blow, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority is also launching a site to help reunite owners with their lost drones. If low battery, obstacles, or just being a crappy pilot mean you and your drone part ways, that nine pounds could end up being the best money you ever spent.
As annoying as the process may be, if you live in or are planning a trip to the UK, and intend to fly a drone while you’re there, don’t forget to do it. There’s a £1000 fine lying in wait for those who don’t.
Google Maps Is Sick of You Mispronouncing Local Addresses
Have you ever been traveling in a foreign country and struggled to tell a taxi driver where you’re trying to go? I certainly have, to the point where the best part of using ridesharing services like Uber overseas was being able to type the address on my phone instead of having to say it.
Someone at Google apparently had the same issue, which is why the company is now combining its Maps and Translate products a little more. Now, when the app detects you’re traveling somewhere with a different language, it’ll add a little speaker icon beside addresses you look up in Google Maps.
Tap the icon, and your phone will speak the address or place name in the local language. It’s such a simple improvement that it’s surprising it hasn’t happened before, to be honest. The feature is available for over 50 languages, for both iOS and Android users.
Motorola Reboots the Razr Folding Phone, and It’s Weird
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll likely remember the Motorola Razr. This iconic flip phone from the mid-2000’s was the must-have accessory for the fashion-conscious of the day. Shockingly, perhaps, I didn’t own one.
Skip forward 15 years, and the company’s at it again, announcing a brand new Razr model that’s due to start shipping early next year. It’s a foldable smartphone like the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X… except it’s not really like them at all.
When folded, the short, squat shape of the phone is very different. So, thankfully, is the hinge mechanism, which shouldn’t bend, flex, and fold anywhere near as much as other folding smartphones. Less bending should mean a longer lifespan, which is kinda what you’d be hoping for from devices costing as much as they do.
As well as the main folding screen on the inside, there’s also a smaller screen on the front for notifications and basic interactions like controlling music or taking selfies.
It’ll be interesting to see the reviews of this thing once it actually starts shipping. I love it when companies get weird with their smartphone designs rather than throwing out yet another bland rectangular slab, and the loosely-folding hinge is undoubtedly smart. The real question, though, is whether the Razr will actually be any good as a daily smartphone.
Nostalgia might drive a few sales, but the $1500 price tag will put people off, as will the Razr’s thickness — while it’s short, it’s about the same height as two standard smartphones on top of each other when folded. Even if I had the cash, I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to try and stuff in my pocket as I wander around.
We’ll find out next month!