The new, Nadella-controlled Microsoft is already around 13,000 employees lighter than it used to be, and that number is only getting bigger. To wit: The company just confirmed to ZDNet another wave of layoffs that’ll see 2,100 more employees let go as the company fights to reinvent itself. Most of the employees let go the first time around hailed from Nokia, but Microsoft hasn’t said which of its teams are taking the big hits in this new round of cuts.
But why is this happening? Well, there are a few reasons. When Microsoft snapped up Nokia’s devices and services business for around $7 billion, it took on some 25,000 new employees — naturally, some of those people would be made redundant. CEO Satya Nadella’s new Microsoftian vision in an open memo released in July is part of it too. To him, a leaner Microsoft is a smarter, more nimble Microsoft and he’d ultimately like to see “fewer layers of management, both top down and sideways, to accelerate the flow of information and decision making.” When all is said and done, Nadella said the company would cut a total of about 18,000 jobs — this next wave of layoffs is getting him awfully close to that goal, but you’d be wise to expect at least one more batch to make headlines in a few months.
Grumpy Cat, as you probably have heard by now, is set to star in its own motion picture. Worse yet, it’s going to be a made-for-TV holiday film on Lifetime. But, before you put your plant to sabotage the production into action (I’m confident your plan involving buckets of cat pee and spiking the water cooler with LSD would have worked), consider this: Aubrey Plaza has signed up to voice the unstoppable cat meme. Now, we’re not saying that the Parks and Rec star is enough to save Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever from be an unbearable pile of dreck, but the enigmatic Plaza has made few missteps at this point in her career.
Filed under: Misc
Since Disney picked up Lucasfilm back in 2012, they have taken over all things Star Wars. For better or for worse, Disney has produce two prior Star Wars themed titles that are available for Android; Star Wars: Assault Team – a strategy card based style game and Star Wars: Tiny Death Star – a vertical tower 8-bit game. Today we now have a new one to add to the roster, Star Wars: Commander.
In Star Wars: Commander you choose your side as either the Rebellion or the Empire. Like many titles before it, you build up your base, train troops and go on various missions all themed after the iconic franchise. You will need to build up defenses to thwart attacks and go one the offensive with a variety troops and vehicles all across the galaxy.
The title was launched a few weeks earlier on iOS and has now since made its way to both Android and Windows devices. Disney is keeping it real with in-app purchase business model. So you can sit ideally by while you wait for troops to be trained and building to be built and upgraded, or you can drop cash on in-game currency to speed things up a bit.
I pulled the trigger to see how she played out a bit. The opening story puts you on Tatooine as a mercenary. You get a little taste of Rebel Alliance and the Empire in a tiny mission supporting both sides. They give you a good little tutorial along with enough ‘credits’ and gems to get thing up and running pretty quickly. I can already see a little frustration coming from the deployment of troops on the battlefield though. Once dropped they just attack things. You have no control over their targets. It also seems apparent that you need to be a bit frugal with your troops deployment too. At least on the first few levels, if I deployed all troops, when I returned to the base I was troopless, no matter if they all survived.
Play Store comments seem to be less than stellar. Seems most issues are centered around Facebook connection not functioning. That is a fairly critical element if you plan to make friends or cross sync your game data to play on multiple devices.
If you are a die-hard Star Wars fan, or happen to really enjoy base defense combat strategy style games, Star Wars: Commander is looking pretty good. If they can get the Facebook situation ironed out it will certainly help out a lot. The title is free, so it doesn’t hurt to give it a shot, right?
The post Disney launches Star Wars: Commander combat strategy game for Android appeared first on AndroidSPIN.
Earlier today, we highlighted how a number of new third-party systemwide keyboard for iOS 8 are topping the App Store charts, with SwiftKey Keyboard [Direct Link] displacing Facebook Messenger from the top spot on the free iPhone app chart in the United States.
Moving beyond the charts to look at raw download numbers, the success of these new keyboards is even more clear, with SwiftKey telling MacRumors that its iOS 8 keyboard has just passed one million downloads in less than 24 hours.
SwiftKey saw a brief launch delay yesterday due to App Store processing, and thus it did not go live until around noon Pacific Time, meaning that it has reached the milestone in roughly 22 hours.
SwiftKey is certainly benefiting from its positioning as a free app compared to competitors such as Swype and Fleksy, but it offers users a good opportunity to try out an alternative to Apple’s default keyboard. SwiftKey will continue to upgrade its keyboard over time, no doubt at some point adding in premium features to generate income for the company.
Ever since Anki Drive — a toy car racing system powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning — made a big splash at Apple’s WWDC 2013 keynote, it’s been iOS-only. That ends next month, however, as Anki Drive is finally coming to Android for the first time. Sean Levatino, Anki’s lead designer, tells us that one of the company’s big core commitments is accessibility, and Android compatibility is a big part of that. “We want to support as many platforms as possible,” he says. Anki’s goal, after all, is to bring robotics to the masses.
So what took Anki so long? Mark Palatucci, Anki’s co-founder, says that it really had to do with Apple’s early support for Bluetooth low energy. “Only really in the past year have we seen Android phones adopt the standard in any real capacity,” he says. Now as more modern Android devices support the standard, Anki’s finally able to roll out support for Android on a wide scale.
There is an important caveat however: for the time being, there is no cross-platform play. That means iOS users can’t race their cars against Android users and vice versa. That’s because the Android version uses WiFi for multiplayer support while the iOS app communicates via Bluetooth LE. “Eventually we’ll work on interoperability,” says Palatucci, but the team wanted to focus on bringing the Android app to market first.
In the meantime, the iOS app is getting a huge update in terms of gameplay. For one thing, now you’ll be able to play in “Team mode.” Players can gang up against an AI, or users can play team versus team, or you could even go up against three AI cars by yourself if you feel like a challenge. “We never really supported that,” says Levatino, though he says that according to surveys, people were doing it unofficially anyway. The most recent update lets folks mix and match up to four human or AI players in teams, even letting you pair up with an AI if you wish.
Another welcome update to the iOS app is something called “Balance Cars Mode” which essentially lets new users play with higher-level folks without getting their asses whooped. When this mode is enabled, upgrades in the higher-level cars will be disabled to match that of the lowest level car for a more even playing field.
Anki is also rolling out a new character as part of this announcement. Called “Spektrix,” the car has a trickster personality, with a special “Scrambler” ability that messes with other car’s systems and causes them to go out of control. “It’s fun to play on its own, but it really shines in team play,” says Levatino. “It’s a great support character.” The Spektrix is available today on Anki.com for $69.99 and you can purchase it from other retailers later this week.
And that’s not all. Anki has also dropped the price of the Anki Starter Kit from $199.99 to $149.99 in the US (£149.99 in the UK). The Starter Kit, as a reminder, comes with two cars, their charging cases, a 3.5 foot by 8.5 foot race mat, a tire cleaner and a fast charger. The aforementioned iOS update should be available starting today while the Android app will be in the Google Play store some time in early to mid October.
Filed under: Misc
Since EE is somewhat responsible for the reason Phones4u can no longer honour iPhone 6 or 6 Plus preorders, the network’s trying to make it right, at least for some of you. The carrier’s just told us that when Apple’s latest handsets launch tomorrow, anyone that preordered on an EE plan through Phones4u can walk into a store and pick one up. If you’re still keen on getting a day-one device, then take along a copy of the Phones4u preorder confirmation to get hooked up. EE’s putting aside as many handsets as preorders it received via the troubled retailer, but you’ll have to take out one of the network’s own contract options, rather than whatever you may’ve opted for originally. Reserved iPhones will be spread out across the carrier’s many stores, however, so there’s always a chance you won’t be successful at the first location you visit, but we guess that depends on how many went elsewhere when Phones4u folded. Sure, this is a bit of clever PR on EE’s part, but if you helps you get the handset you want when you want it, then so be it.
WARNING: This story contains references to the use of marijuana. Do not try this at home — unless, of course, you’re an adult living in a state or city where the use of such substances is legal or, you know, you like the way it feels.
I’m writing this while under the influence of semilegal marijuana. Mostly to replicate my state of mind from multiple weekends ago. I’d gathered a group of coworkers at my North Oakland home to test a single-use kitchen gadget called the Magical Butter, and doing so required that we get high.
Basically, it’s a high-tech weed butter maker.
Testing a device that looks something akin to an electric water kettle isn’t a daily occurrence at Engadget, but Magical Butter claims to be “the world’s only botanical extractor.” It boasts “fully automatic, microprocessor-controlled program sequences,” an “integrated digital thermostat and sensors” for “laboratory-grade temperature control” and something called “Digital Fire Technology.” Basically, it’s a high-tech weed butter maker.
Both Washington and Colorado recently legalized recreational marijuana; New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd chronicled a candy bar-induced psychedelic freakout, while the paper called for an end to pot prohibition; and Wired‘s Mat Honan likened the rapid growth in weed-related startups to the Gold Rush in an article entitled “High Tech.” This is the time for a technologically advanced “botanical extractor,” if there ever was one. And given our position as a trusted voice in consumer electronics reviews, we considered it our duty, nay, our calling to put it to the test.
The day’s adventures started at the grocery store. First, we needed butter — lots of butter. The standard Magical Butter recipe calls for four to 10 sticks and four to eight grams of “botanicals” per stick. Since our local grocer doesn’t carry the sorts of “botanicals” called for in this recipe (you know, the sort that comes in quotation marks), we obtained some the night before. The only other ingredient necessary was lecithin, a binding agent that we somehow forgot in our frenzy to amass munchies for the post-“botanical” comedown.
Compared to the manual alternative, making Magical Butter in “the world’s only botanical extractor” is a lot less messy and a whole hell of a lot less smelly.
Back at the house, we unpacked the groceries and popped a bottle of champagne. Nothing goes better with “botanicals” than champagne. Then we got to grinding, which took an extraordinarily long time due to the density of our “botanicals.” Unfortunately, we failed to notice the ALL CAPS print at the bottom of the recipe that read “FOR BEST RESULTS DO NOT PRE-GRIND BOTANICALS.” We did, however, “adjust botanical weights according to personal preference,” in an effort to avoid any Dowd-style meltdowns.
Meanwhile, we looked into lecithin substitutes, which, according to Livestrong.com (yes, it still exists), can be replaced with eggs since they contain naturally occurring lecithin in their yolks. From there, the process was pretty simple. We plugged the Magical Butter machine in and then dropped four sticks of butter, an untold amount of “botanicals” and an egg into the stainless steel pitcher and reattached the lid, which is equipped with a commercial immersion blender. As instructed, we set the temperature control to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and selected the “2 Hours/Butter” setting. Moments later, the machine beeped and a ring of multicolored LEDs lit the rim of the lid, indicating that things were operating according to plan.
For the next two hours or so, six adult human beings stood around my kitchen drinking champange, watching a very small-scale LED light show and discussing the finer points of manual botanical extraction. As we noted the relative lack of odor coming from the machine, which boasts a “ScentLock Lid,” it alternated between a gentle purr and a sound appropriately reminiscent of an immersion blender. A subtle, but steady stream of steam escaped as we, having underestimated the time necessary to churn Magical Butter, dipped into the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Puffs, gnawed on powdery doughnuts and emptied a few bottles of Rosé.
The substance wasn’t the bright green concoction pictured in the promotional material; instead we ended up with what looked like a mass of runny baby poop.
Compared to the manual alternative, making Magical Butter in “the world’s only botanical extractor” is a lot less messy and a whole hell of a lot less smelly. That is, until it’s time to separate the botanicals from the butter. Once the infusion was done, the machine beeped a couple of times, beckoning us to what we’d all been waiting for. One of my colleagues slipped on the love glove (a neon green oven mitt) and popped the lid off the pitcher. What we saw was, well, disgusting. The substance wasn’t the bright green concoction pictured in the promotional material; instead we ended up with what looked like a mass of runny baby poop. Did that stop us from digging in? Hell no.
We strained out the murky bits, leaving behind a lump of something that brought the words “lung butter” to mind. The end result was a nearly clear, subtle-tasting butter. It smelled, looked and tasted better than any “botanical” butter I’d ever had, but as anyone who’s eaten the stuff will tell you, it should not be eaten alone. So we whipped up some homemade brownie batter, poured it in a Pyrex pan, threw it in the preheated oven and set about plowing through a platter of artisanal cheeses and meats. While we waited, we gave the machine’s self-cleaning function a try. It works something like throwing hot water and dish soap in a blender and turning the thing on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to free the baked green egg we’d cooked up in the process.
When the brownie bell tolled, it was time to test the Magical Butter machine’s ultimate claim. Could it, as advertised, alleviate us of our dependency on pharmaceuticals? We each took a brownie that fit our perceived tolerance and sat down to watch what I estimate to be the perfect movie for such an occasion: Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby.
If you were expecting oddball high jinks and adventure to ensue, you’ve probably never gotten high with a collection of 30-something tech journalists.
To its credit, that particular film (if it can be called a film) is enough to make even the most seasoned burner feel like they’re tripping, but about an hour in, it was clear that our new butter machine was working its magic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all bleary eyes and uncontrollable giggles. In fact, if you were expecting oddball high jinks and adventure to ensue, you’ve probably never gotten high with a collection of 30-something tech journalists.
Reactions ranged from disappointed to comatose, but the final verdict was that it worked. For my part, I spent the rest of the evening trying to keep my eyes open while a pair of our senior-most colleagues worked their way through what remained of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Cracker Jacks and gummy things, and eventually moved on to ordering pizza. I vaguely recall playing Mario Kart 8 and sucking at it, while one of our coworkers spent the evening glued to his phone collecting high heels or selfies or whatever in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. (For the record, he claims he’s still never been stoned.) Another editor didn’t fully feel the magic until he got in an Uber to head home, at which point he became antisocial and paranoid, convinced that his driver was taking him for a ride. At least three of us woke up stoned the next day.
So is the Magical Butter machine a must-have for green gadget connoisseurs? As someone who only partakes in edibles about twice a year and has no intention of making his own lotions or essential oils (other apparent uses for the machine), $175 dollars is a lot to ask for a single-use kitchen appliance. If you ask me, you’d have to be high to buy one of these things. But isn’t that the point?
Toshiba has been slinging Satellites and Qosmios and Kirabooks for basically ages now, but its days a purveyor of consumer computers may be winding down in a market near you. According to a statement the company issued last night, it’s shifting its focus a bit — the big priority is now crafting PCs to woo business customers, and Toshiba’s going to cut about 900 jobs as part of the transition. Don’t fret too much, though: Toshiba might be looking to streamline its consumer computer operations, but it’s not going to give up entirely. To hear them tell it, the new Toshiba will “withdraw from unprofitable markets” and continue bringing those consumer-friendly PCs to developed countries, though we’re still not sure how its mix of gadgets will wax and wane ’round those parts. The move will be a somber one in some places (especially for anyone who’ll soon be out of a job) but there’s not much else to be done — the global PC market may not be shrinking as fast as some thought it would, but the seas are still rough for companies trying to plot a course to PC profitability.
If you’re worried about missing a once-in-a-lifetime photo op, Panasonic and Red have a proposition: Why not shoot ultra high-res video and just grab still images? Both companies had the same idea at Photokina 2014 (though Red had it long before that), albeit with wildly different thoughts about price and quality. Panasonic’s system is called “4K Photo,” and allows you to extract a still from its 4K, 30 fps, 100 Mbps video stream, for as little as $900 on the new LX100 compact camera. Red, on the other hand, has got a more extreme plan: Capture up to 100 fps, 19-megapixel RAW stills starting at $17,000 for its Red Scarlet Dragon cinema camera.
We spoke with both companies at the bi-annual photo show about shooting video for still photos. Panasonic has implemented the new “4K Photo” feature on its new high-end compact, the Lumix LX100, along with the FZ1000 superzoom, CM1 camera phone and the HC-X1000, its latest 4K camcorder. The feature is also now available on the Lumix GH4 thanks to a new firmware upgrade. Here’s how it works: Simply shoot 4K video and search through the resulting footage to retrieve a desired still, complete with EXIF data. Images can be captured at 16:9, 4:3, 3:2 and even 1:1 (hello, Instagram). With a data rate of 100 Mbps, that will give a compressed .MP4 still image of about 400-plus KB, not very much for an 8-megapixel photo, but still equivalent to about a 70 percent compressed JPEG image. You could use an external recorder to capture better-quality stills on the GH4 too.
Panasonic sees it as a way for the average Joe to extract that one fleeting, perfect moment. With a 1/16,000th of a second shutter speed, you could freeze a water splash from Junior’s cannonball, for instance. This can all happen while you’re also grabbing video, though there’s one drawback. In order to capture still frames, the necessary higher shutter speed will eliminate the normal (desirable) motion blur from video. That means that event videographers who want to grab still photos from video will need to choose between natural-looking video or non-blurry still images. Still, having more options is always better, and this is opening up a new way of shooting photos on a $900 camera.
On the other end of the scale, professional photographers have been using Red cinema cameras to do the same thing since a Megan Fox photo spread appeared in Esquire back in 2009. For Photokina this year, the company has formalized the process with a new tethering system that lets you send RAW images across an Ethernet network. On top of that, the company’s RedcineX Pro now supports frame tagging, making it easier to pre-select still frames from a video feed of up to 100 fps.
The company gave me a quick demo of the process. It starts by shooting 6K RAW video at 15 fps on the Red Epic Scarlet ($16,700 for the body only) up to 100 fps on the Red Epic ($31,200). While shooting, the photographer can tag frames to help the editor find the best shots. With the new Dragon sensor, Red claims you’ll get a 16.5-stop dynamic range (DR), with 16 bits of color information from its sensor — which is larger than APS-C, but smaller than full-frame. That beats every other DSLR on the market for DR, though 19 megapixels is half of a Nikon D800’s resolution — and many photographers prefer larger full-frame or medium-format sensors. I tried hefting a stripped-down RED Scarlet Dragon camera (above) with a Canon EF mount and it’s definitely heavier than any DSLR I’ve hoisted, but certainly feasible.
The photos can instantly be transferred along an Ethernet network thanks to a camera tether, though that option is still in the testing stages. But to prove its point, Red was grabbing stills from a swimsuit photo shoot (yes, it’s a trade show) and printing them out at poster sizes from a large, professional printer. Judging by the results, the cameras could be equally at home on a Vogue photo shoot or the set of a Hobbit movie.
Of course, all of this was possible before Red and Panasonic put a label on it. There’s no reason why you can’t take high-quality stills out of cameras from Sony, Samsung, Blackmagic Design (above, with 4K RAW DPX) or others. What has changed is that 4K video is becoming more and more common — and 4K can give you an 8-megapixel still, compared to only two megapixels for HD. Since most of us aren’t professional photographers with perfect instincts and reflexes, that means we’ll no longer need leave it to pure chance to capture the perfect image.
Smartwatches may be the most popular wearable products right now, but facewear is certainly on the up and up. Devices like Samsung’s Gear VR and the Epson Moverio glasses are either already on the market or will be coming in the very near future, but what good are these devices if developers have limited access to them? Qualcomm’s working on a solution of its own by releasing a developer kit for digital eyewear, and companies like Samsung, Epson and others are on board. The new platform, called the Vuforia SDK for Digital Eyewear, is supposed to aid developers in building hybrid virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) apps that are capable of recognizing objects and images that are within your field of view; the company hopes this ability to lay interactive 3D content over the rest of the world will result in handy apps for gaming, education and shopping. The kit will be available this fall as a beta that will only be available to a small group of developers, and the company hasn’t specified when it’ll be open to everyone else.