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31
Mar

AT&T said to be building a Cyanogen-powered phone with ZTE


AT&T is reportedly working with Cyanogen and ZTE on a new phone for the US market. It would run Cyanogen’s forked version of Android, allowing the carrier to push services like DirectTV in a more aggressive manner. That’s according to The Information anyway, which cites two sources — one with direct knowledge and one that’s been briefed on the talks between the three companies. There’s no guarantee that such a handset will ever materialise, but the talks do emphasize the growing interest from networks to increase their revenue through services.

Carrier bloatware is a longstanding problem on Android. Networks are forever pushing their own apps, hoping they’ll take hold over those offered by Google and other developers. There’s some method to the madness — if the app is on the home screen or visible in the app drawer, there’s a chance customers will use it at least once. For the countless startups trying to battle for visibility in the Play Store, that’s half the battle already won.

For now, the exact nature of the phone is a mystery. The Information suggests that the entire project could merely be a “spectre” to help AT&T wrestle some control from Google. Cyanogen is keen to integrate its platform with other services — Cortana, for instance, has been mixed into Cyanogen OS. AT&T’s proposals could, therefore, appeal under the right circumstances. For ZTE, such a phone would be a huge victory as it fights trade restrictions imposed by the US Commerce Department.

Via: The Verge

Source: The Information

31
Mar

iPhone SE Launch Day Overshadowed by Tesla Model 3


Apple launched the iPhone SE today in the United States and eleven other countries and territories, prompting a number of early adopters looking to get their hands on the refreshed 4-inch smartphone to line up over the past twenty-four hours.

Early morning lines for the iPhone SE could be found in a handful of major cities, ranging from Sydney, Australia to Miami, Florida, but many other Apple Stores had no queues whatsoever as excitement was unsurprisingly more tepid compared to the launch of a flagship smartphone like the iPhone 6s.

iPhone SE lines in Sydney, left, and Miami, right (Image: Nick Sas/Julio Perera)
In fact, the launch of the iPhone SE was arguably overshadowed by Model 3 reservations, which began today at Tesla stores and galleries, some of which are located directly adjacent to or within close proximity to Apple retail stores.

At the Tesla store in the Bellevue, Washington shopping mall pictured below, for example, the queue at around 10:30 a.m. local time was significantly longer than many of those outside of Apple Stores today.

The line in front of the Tesla store in the Bellevue mall is absurd. pic.twitter.com/pk6NfZVbeb

— Lorenzo Pasqualis (@lpasqualis) March 31, 2016

Meanwhile, the Tesla Model 3 reservation queue in Düsseldorf, Germany actually extended past an adjacent Apple Store earlier today.

people in line in front of #Tesla stores in #Zurich + #Duesseldorf (note: waiting for #electriccars , NOT iPhones) pic.twitter.com/MCw3d1lKlW

— Stefan Hajek (@Stefan_Hajek) March 31, 2016

iPhone SE reaction has been mixed in Asia, where the smartphone launched to little fanfare in Japan but reportedly received over 3.4 million pre-orders in neighboring China. The low-cost smartphone is expected to be particularly popular in emerging markets such as India and Pakistan.

Investment bank Piper Jaffray performed a spot check of iPhone SE stock in select American markets and found that 90% of stores had the device in stock:

We checked 100 Apple Stores in NYC, LA, Dallas, and Minneapolis market areas for availability of the Space Gray iPhone SE 16GB and found that 90% of stores checked had the device in stock. We did spot checks for other device colors (Gold, Rose Gold, Silver) in about 25 stores and found a similar ~90% availability.

For new orders, Apple currently lists delivery estimates of between April 6 and April 21 in the U.S. depending on the iPhone size, color, and carrier selected.

Related Roundup: iPhone SE
Tag: Tesla
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31
Mar

Riding shotgun with Batman: We’ve driven in the Batmobile


When you get a chance to ride in the actual Batmobile you take it, right? We were offered a ride and deliberated, in fear of having to wear the green panties of Robin. The outcome was inevitable, the experience mind-blowing.

The new Batmobile, featured in the not-so-well-reviewed Batman V Superman movie, was left out with the keys in so we took it.

Alright, we’re not ballsy enough to try and steal Batman’s ride. In reality Jeep, whose Renegade SUV was driven by Bruce Wayne at one point in the film, gave us access. There were three of these £1 million cars made for the film and one was allowed loose for a morning.

But going for a ride in the Batmobile is half the experience. You immediately need to sit in the car after the sight and sound of it turn your legs to jelly. It’s stunningly aggressive. But who could resist giving it a try?

Pocket-lint

Batmobile: Designed to scare

To call this a car is a stretch. It packs a car engine, sort of, at 6.3-litres with an ear crippling V8 roar. It has tyres, even if they are from a combine harvester and wider than the Joker’s smile. It even has indicators. Yes, even Batman needs to refill his utility belt down at the shops once in a while. Not that law abiding lighting is really needed when those indicators are mounted either side of 50mm twin rotating cannons – he’s not getting pulled over.

The gull-wing doors, now famous for being ripped off by Superman, flow with the aerodynamics of the armour-plated machine. Air intakes warn of heat danger, right next to gun barrels. There’s a step to climb in the cockpit, right next to a sign saying “No step”, Batman, ever the comedian. Exposed shocks and engine look great but probably aren’t ideal when being shot at. Must be armoured as, you know, Batman doesn’t make mistakes.

The entire Batmobile is arched up at the back with dramatic spoilers to hold it to the road, while doubling as a cape-like rear. The fact the front is super low wasn’t lost on us as a design point. It’s obviously there to help flip other cars or smash through obstacles more easily, something everyday non-sports car manufacturers are really missing right now. Can’t think why.

Pocket-lint

Batmobile: Ride of the brave

If you’re riding shotgun in the Batmobile, chances are you’ve been in danger and just got saved, so you’re shaken up. The last thing you need is a ride in this beast.

Riding in the Batmobile, we imagine, is what it sounds like to stowaway on the undercarriage of a jet plane – right by the engine. Say goodbye to your hearing. And don’t expect to understand a word of Batman’s dusky tones.

This video doesn’t do the sound justice but gives you an idea of how it moves.

The engine is sat high, behind your head and two large air intakes. Instant adrenaline guaranteed from the engine start. Driving along adds another layer.

The ride position is low – not Tumbler headfirst Batmobile low – so it feels fast, really fast. We have no idea how quickly we were moving as Batman doesn’t bother with a speedo in this model, more room for weapon controls we imagine.

But despite being 3.5 tonnes it felt quick and, surprisingly, cornered really well. It looks so huge you’d think it wouldn’t handle corners but those stupid-wide-wheels grip to the road tighter than Robin’s exposed undershorts hug his nethers.

Pocket-lint

Batmobile: Get close

Unfortunately, due to his busy schedule, Batman isn’t going to let this car loose much again in the future.

If you want to get a look you’ll need to go and see the Batman V Superman film. Or show willing to buy the new Jeep Renegade and you might be allowed a try.

The only other alternative would be to build you own Batsignal and hope the caped crusader isn’t too mad when he realises your treating him like a fancy Uber.

READ: Jeep Renegade 2015 first drive: Compact SUV with big potential

31
Mar

Tesla Model 3 event: How to watch and what to expect


Tesla Motors will unveil its first affordable, mass-market electric vehicle in California on 31 March, but the automaker doesn’t plan to reveal everything all at once, according to a recent tweet from Elon Musk.

Musk, the co-founder, CEO, and “product architect” of Tesla Motors, has said on Twitter the Tesla Model 3 event will technically be “part one” of a two-part launch, with the initial unveiling slated to occur during the actual event. The “part two” aspect, which hasn’t been clearly defined yet by Musk, will apparently take things to another level closer to production. The car is expected to go on sale in limited numbers in 2017.

In a follow-up tweet, Musk clarified to the world that we should see the Model 3 “very clearly” during the event and that “some important elements will be added and some will evolve.” We therefore get the feeling Tesla is warning consumers not to expect much from the Model 3 event. It seems like some ground-breaking features of the car aren’t ready to be unveiled, but they’re still in the works and coming down the pipeline.

The Model 3 is thought to be a critical, perhaps make-or-break product for Tesla. The company’s first electric car was a small-scale Roadster, followed by the Model S saloon and Model X SUV. None of the vehicles are cheap, which explains why Tesla only sells around 50,000 cars per year and loses money despite its overwhelming critical success. Delivering an affordable car for consumers could change all that however.

Tomorrow is Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil. Part 2, which takes things to another level, will be closer to production.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2016

Tesla Model 3: What can you expect from the event?

Musk has confirmed Tesla will unveil the Model 3 during its 31 March event.

The Model 3 is thought to be a four-door sedan. Musk has already shared some key attributes of the car, like its 200-mile range and $35,000 price tag. Other than that, there have so far been relatively few leaks of any details. The biggest mystery surrounding the Model 3 is what it’s going to look like. Musk has only said the Model 3 “won’t look like other cars.”

Apart from the Model 3, there may even be another vehicle announced at the event. Called the Model Y, it’s rumoured to be a crossover variant of the Model 3. Check out this round-up for more information about both cars:

  • Tesla: Everything you want to know about Model 3, Model Y and more

Tesla Model 3: How can you watch the event live?

The event will stream live on Tesla.com at 11:30 pm EST/ 8:30 pm PST.

Model 3 unveil will be webcast live at 8:30pm California time at https://t.co/46TXqRrsdr

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 31, 2016

Tesla Model 3: When can you pre-order the car?

Pre-orders for the Model 3 will begin during the event on March 31 in Tesla stores only and will require a $1,000 reservation fee. You can check this page to find a dealership in your area. Alternatively, you can wait until 1 April, when online reservations open up worldwide.

Model 3 reservations ($1000 down) will be accepted in Tesla stores on March 31 and online April 1

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2016

I stood in line for 1.5 hrs to reserve a car I haven’t even seen yet, & all I got was this free coffee. #Model3 pic.twitter.com/ZZ8ot2locK

— Amanda Bell (@amanda_bell_) March 31, 2016

Tesla Model 3: Want to know more?

Stay tuned to Pocket-lint’s Tesla hub for related news and analysis.

31
Mar

Explore a multimedia multiverse in Santa Fe


What links Kickstarter, alternate dimensions, George R. R. Martin and the image you see above? House of Eternal Return, a new art exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In House of Eternal Return, visitors explore a 20,000 square foot space, created by Meow Wolf, an arts production company focused on interactive multimedia experiences. The many environments within can be visited in any order, and tell a larger story. Created by dozens of artists, together they form a narrative of a family in the midst of a dimensional rift, and explores the theory of the multiverse through wormholes linking the exhibits. Installations are varied and interactive; one has a full-scale mastodon skeleton with musical ribs and light-up mushrooms, while many play with sound and visuals in interesting ways.

Although ostensibly funded through Kickstarter last year, the project was only made possible thanks to Martin’s involvement. The Song of Ice and Fire author purchased an old bowling alley, leased it out to Meow Wolf and partnered with the company on renovations.

House of Eternal Return opened earlier this month, and is a permanent exhibit. Tickets range between $10-$18, depending on your age and whether you’re a New Mexico resident.

The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

Source: Meow Wolf

31
Mar

iPad Pro 9.7 review: Apple’s best tablet, but it won’t replace a laptop


The iPad Pro raised some eyebrows when it debuted last year, but it really shouldn’t have. While tablet sales as a whole have been tanking, sales of tablets with detachable keyboards have actually grown. Is it any surprise, then, that Apple built a 9.7-inch version of the Pro to try and regain some of its tablet momentum? Not at all. Whether or not this new Pro can be the “ultimate PC replacement” Apple was hyping at its launch event depends on your personal preferences, but let’s get one thing straight from the start: This is one the best tablets you can buy.

Hardware

Review: Apple's 9.7-Inch iPad Pro

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Apple, looking to broaden its appeal, takes an existing high-end device and squeezes its important bits into a smaller, familiar-looking body. That was the case with the iPhone SE, and at first glance, that appears to be true of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro as well; it seems like last year’s iPad Pro in the body of an iPad Air 2. Still, there are some omissions to be aware of. The A9X chipset in the 9.7-inch model is back, for instance, but it’s paired with 2GB of RAM — half of what the larger model has. I’ll dig into what that means for performance a little later (spoiler: not much for most people), but the change nonetheless makes this Pro seem, well, a little less Pro. 3D Touch still hasn’t made it over to the iPads, either because of cost or sheer technical infeasibility. There’s a Touch ID sensor embedded in the Home button as usual, but it seems to be the slower, older version, not the one in the iPhone 6s. Oh well.

Your mileage may vary, but the tradeoffs seem well worth it to me. It’s been a week since Apple loaned me a review unit (a silver LTE model with 256GB of storage, priced at $1,029) and I’m still impressed with its fit and finish. The physical differences between this model and the Air 2 are negligible: It’s a hair thicker and wider, but not noticeably heavier. If you’re the sort of person who prefers tablets that are easy to hold with one hand, you’ll find plenty to like here.

Then again, I’m not the kind of person who’s eager to trade a traditional laptop for a tablet. Full disclosure: I’ve been an outspoken fan of the Air 2’s design since it came out, but using the super-snappy Pro ruined that older tablet for me. Now nearly all that power is available in a more manageable size, albeit one that feels less like a full-blown PC replacement. After all, the big Pro’s 12.9-inch screen was great for movies and certain professional applications (as was that extra RAM).

The rest of the new Pro’s broad strokes are the same as its big brother’s: There’s a power button up top, four speakers drilled into each corner and the same three-pin Smart Connector on the left side for accessories. Apple couldn’t downsize the massive 38.5Wh battery to fit in the Air 2-sized chassis, though, so we’re left with a smaller 27.5Wh battery instead.

Curiously, the 9.7-inch model is in some ways more impressive than the original. For starters, it features the iPhone 6s’s 12-megapixel rear camera with a f/2.2 lens (tourists, rejoice!). I won’t dwell on it since I’ve basically reviewed the same camera sensor three times now; suffice to say it’s the best camera ever put in an iPad and you’ll be able to capture some primo shots if tablet photography is your thing. Oh, and the plastic panel on the back of 3G models has been placed with an iPhone-like antenna band, too. Now it’s time for some nitpicking: The antenna band carved into the LTE Pro’s aluminum body isn’t completely even, and I can’t un-see it. On the plus side, the camera lump on the back doesn’t make the iPad wobble when it’s resting face-up on a table — iPhone 6s owners can’t say the same.

All this power might cost you, though. The Pro starts at $599 for the 32GB WiFi model, with 128GB and 256GB versions costing an extra $150 and $350, respectively. And as always, cellular-ready options will cost you even more: a $130 premium across the board.

Display and sound

Now, about that screen. It’s fantastic. The 9.7-inch LED display runs at a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, so it’s not any crisper than the Air 2 or original Pro, but whatever: It’s still sharp and beautifully saturated. Videographers and editors in particular will appreciate Apple’s support for the P3 color gamut, a standard with a broader range of colors that sees wide use in the film industry. The feature first debuted on the recent 4K and 5K iMacs and could be quite valuable for some — after all, the Pro offers enough power to ingest and edit three 4K video streams at the same time. Then again, if you’re an amateur like me, you’ll likely never need to know these specifics.

The screen is very bright too — actually a hair brighter than the first iPad Pro (the difference is 100 nits, if you’re keeping count). The difference might not be vast, but if nothing else, it makes for a display that’s easy to read in direct sunlight. The sun’s only going to get more intense as spring wears on, but I was able to breeze through a few chapters of a Rafik Schami novel while lounging in my backyard. Reading, as it turns out, is a great way to test one of the new Pro’s unique features, the True Tone display. In short, it uses an ambient sensor stuck in the iPad’s forehead to figure out what kind of light you’re in and change the screen’s color temperature to look more natural.

It might sound like one of those uber-nerd features you’ll never use, but it’s actually lovely. See, the iPad’s display is normally neutral to the point of looking slightly bluish. True Tone automatically adjusts the color so that whites look like a sheet of paper no matter what weirdly lit environment you’re in. This might sound a little familiar: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S did this too years back, but it’s a neat feature nonetheless. True Tone doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on battery life either, so the only reason not to use it is if you’re editing photos or cutting video — situations where you really need that color accuracy.

Meanwhile, the speakers are just as loud as they were on the original Pro. If you haven’t used the larger model, take it from me: This is a good thing. Speaker design aside, we’ve also got some clever software to thank for this. As on the first iPad Pro, no matter which way you’re holding the iPad, highs and mids get routed to the top-most speakers, while lower frequencies issue forth from the bottom pair. The end result is crisp sound whether you’re listening to audiobooks or the amazing finale from Whiplash.

Performance and battery life

Geekbench 3.0 Multi-core 5,235 5,379 4,510
3DMark IS Unlimited 33,403 32,544 21,659
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Off/onscreen (fps) 51.2/34.9 79.3/33.6 13.0/8.8
SunSpider 1.0 (ms) 199 191 393
Google Octane 2.0 19,946 19,872 10,659
Mozilla Kraken (ms) 1,512 1,499 2,332
JetStream 1.1 139 141 83
SunSpider and Kraken: Lower scores are better.

I’ll admit it, I was pretty curious coming into this review. After all, this iPad Pro has half the RAM the other Pro does, but then again, it’s driving a much smaller display (and therefore needs to push fewer pixels). As it turns out, I was concerned over nothing. Thanks to Apple’s A9X chipset, the 9.7-inch Pro is almost equally fast.

I spent my week putting the Pro through a wide (and weird) variety of scenarios. It was well-suited to shooting off Slack messages and Outlook emails during workdays, as well as light photo editing in Pixelmator and incessant Tweetbot refreshes. Basic actions like switching between apps and using iOS 9’s Slide Over feature to run two apps in split-screen felt smooth too. I expected multitasking in particular to be a little jerkier because of the smaller RAM allotment, but nope: all was well.

Of course, the Pro line prides itself on running specialized, power-intensive apps, and those posed no problem here either. I blew an entire evening spinning a meticulously rendered skeleton around to learn the names of bones and trying (in vain) to design something worth showing off in 3D design apps like UMake and Autodesk’s Formit 360. (Sorry mom, I’ll never be that architect you wanted.) When my misguided attempts at creativity failed, I threw myself into gorgeous games like AG Drive and Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade. Surprise, surprise: Both of them (and many others) ran smoothly.

Now, I didn’t see any differences in graphical and gaming performance between the two iPad pros, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. The Pro 9.7 notched near-identical benchmark scores as the bigger model, except for some strangely low frame rates when I ran GFXBench’s off-screen Manhattan test. (Both Pros delivered near-identical numbers when rendering frames on-screen.) That hiccup aside, this is the most power Apple has ever crammed into a 9.7-inch iPad, and if you’re coming from an older iPad it’s downright revelatory.

The iPad Pro 9.7 ships with iOS 9.3, and aside from a few notable additions like Night Shift and a more secure Notes app, the software experience is nearly identical to the original Pro. Sadly, that means multitasking can feel clumsy and inelegant — not quite what I hoped for out of a device Apple claims can replace a traditional laptop. Swiping on the screen to open the app drawer (where you can choose an app to run in “Split View” mode) reveals an unorganized list that often requires some poking around to find the app you were looking for.

And when you’re split-screening, it takes to work to change how those two apps are displayed. Let’s say you’ve got Safari running on the left side and Mail on the right: To make them switch places, you have to drag the divider to make Mail full-screen and open up Safari from the Slide Over panel. Nightmare? Hardly, but it’s still more tedious than it should be. Then again, this is the sort of interface issue that affects power users and PC switchers more than anybody else; if you’re just looking for a speedy tablet, you might not care at all.

Battery life

iPad Pro 9.7
9:21
iPad Pro 12.9
10:47
iPad mini 4
13:04
iPad Air 2
11:15
Galaxy TabPro S
10:43
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
7:36
Surface Pro 4
7:15

Apple likes to say that each of its iPads can last through “up to 10 hours” of continuous use, and each of the last three iPads we tested easily exceeded that mark in our battery rundown test (looping an HD video with screen brightness set to 50 percent). The 9.7-inch Pro sadly didn’t fare quite as well: It lasted for nine hours and 21 minutes before giving up the ghost. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t do better, but I also can’t fault Apple for “only” delivering what it promised. Managing expectations can be tricky, folks.

Not everyone uses their tablets for daily Netflix marathons, though. The 9.7-inch Pro hung around for between three and four days of mixed use. Think: firing off emails, watching YouTube videos, streaming podcasts and more, mixed with long stretches of idle time. This sort of off-and-on usage more accurately reflects the way most people use their tablets, and in that regard, the iPad Pro does a fine job.

Accessories

The iPad Pro formula extends beyond just the tablet: It includes some first-party accessories too. First up is the $99 Apple Pencil, which is as useful as always. I did a lot of doodling in notebooks growing up and even tried my hand at drawing webcomics (which you will never, ever see). Using the Pencil to sketch in Procreate and even the stock Notes app is a surprisingly lovely experience; the screen does a great job tracking the Pencil’s textured nib, and pressing harder to get bolder lines works way better than I expected it would. If anything, I enjoyed using the Pencil more with the smaller Pro because the tablet is closer in size to a clipboard, making it better for one-handed note-jotting.

Then there’s the new, smaller Smart Keyboard cover ($149). I tried writing this review using the keyboard just to prove a point, and man, I just couldn’t do it. Mechanically, there’s no difference between this version and the bigger one meant for the full-size Pro; the whole thing is covered in a custom fabric is both liquid-repellant and gives the keys their shape. Since iOS doesn’t support mice, there’s no trackpad here either, so you’ll frequently be reaching to tap the screen.

The problem is, the keyboard itself can feel pretty cramped if you’re used to anything more spacious. Notably, the Return and Tab keys are much smaller than on the big Pro’s keyboard, making it frustrating to navigate and format some documents. I eventually got half-decent at pecking out short stories, but using it for anything longer than that can be tricky. The keyboard cover only props up the iPad at one angle, so you’re out of luck if you need to adjust it. If you don’t mind looking a little silly, though, you can attach the Smart Keyboard meant for the full-sized Pro onto the baby model and peck out memos no problem. In fact, that’s how I wrote the majority of this review. While there aren’t any keyboard alternatives that run into Apple’s Smart Connector, that’ll change soon (and they’ll probably cost less too).

The competition

At the company’s recent keynote event, Apple’s Phil Schiller kept calling the iPad Pro the “ultimate PC replacement,” but that honestly seems like a stretch for most people. That’s why I’m not lumping the new Pro in with typical flagship laptops. Between its smaller screen and thin build, I suspect people are more likely to use it as a normal tablet than a full-on productivity machine.

Anyway, if you’re considering buying this, there are two obvious alternatives you’ll need to consider: the 12.9-inch Pro and the iPad Air 2. Apple dropped the price of the 16GB Air 2 to $399 to serve as the company’s entry-level big iPad, but really, if you’re scrimping for a roughly 10-inch tablet, you’re better off paying the extra $200 to get a 32GB iPad Pro 9.7. The better screen, improved horsepower and extra memory are worth it. Meanwhile, there really isn’t a functional power difference between the two iPad Pro versions: The bigger model ($799-plus) is the better bet if you really want to use an iOS device as a workhorse, but you’ll probably need to buy some accessories to complete the effect.

You could also consider something like Google’s Pixel C: It’s a well-built tablet that also doubles as a faux-laptop with a surprisingly nice little keyboard add-on. The base 32GB model will set you back $499 — $100 less than the base iPad Pro 9.7 — but Google needs to do a better job getting developers to craft thoughtful, well-designed tablet apps. There’s no split-screen multitasking in Android Marshmallow, though that won’t be a problem for too much longer; Android N includes that feature and it seems to work well even on phones like the Nexus 5.

And of course, there’s the Windows side to look at too. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 starts at $899 but comes with more storage, its own pressure-sensing pen and an OS that can run crucial legacy desktop apps in addition to touch-optimized ones. In short, the Surface Pro 4 is a Windows laptop with the body of a tablet. The iPad Pro 9.7, meanwhile, is a tablet that only aspires to be as versatile as a PC.

Wrap-up

As I’ve been working through this review process, I’ve been struggling with one question: What, beyond just marketing, makes this iPad a Pro? Don’t get me wrong, the 9.7-inch Pro is easily the best conventionally sized tablet Apple has ever made, but its size makes it tougher to use as an “ultimate PC replacement.” In the end, though, the “Pro” distinction might prove to be meaningless. If you’re looking for a new tablet, you’d miss out if you didn’t at least consider this thing. It’s just a fantastic little machine.

31
Mar

Facebook’s Instant Articles now support video ads


From a user’s perspective, Facebook Instant Articles are a no-brainer. Just tap the relevant link in your News Feed and the piece is visible immediately. Brilliant. For publishers, however, the feature is a little more complicated. There’s a trade-off between performance and control which not all news rooms are comfortable with. To tempt them across, Facebook is introducing video ads to Instant Articles. It’s a move to show that the format can be as flexible and, more importantly, as monetizable as the rest of the web. Animated ads and “click to play” videos will be supported immediately, followed by autoplay video ads in the coming weeks.

Publishers can already sell and display ads themselves inside Instant Articles. Doing this will net them 100 percent of the resulting ad revenue. If they give the space to Facebook to sell, however, the social network takes a 30 percent cut. Video ads are, therefore, a move on Facebook’s part both to bring publishers on side and also to increase its own advertising business. It could prove to be a valuable revenue stream, especially once the Instant Articles are opened up to all publishers next month.

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Via: WSJ

Source: Facebook

31
Mar

Trim this 3D-printed bonsai tree by hand, just like a real one


Bonsai trees are cool. But Nendo is cooler. Pair the Japan-based design studio with a future-centric baby tree, and you’ve got something. As phone carrier Softbank launched its own crowdfunding site, amid a sea of products we’ve already heard about, the design firm’s Creative Director Oki Sato took to the stage with something actually intriguing: a plastic bonsai tree that you can prune — or even print a finished article.

The pitch remains pretty broad (and there’s not even funding site for the project just yet), but it looks like you’d be able to choose your base — see the selection above — and it’ll come with cross-knit network of plastic lattices. You can then trim to your Confucius heart’s desires. Not so gifted at arbory? There will also be a companion app that allow you to digitally design the end result, which you can send to a 3D printer to get it made. Naturally, you could also replicate any beautiful creations other bonsai artists make. But that’s not all that zen, now, is it?

Crucially, Nendo is a well-respected design office with a broad remit, including interior design, tech products and more — which is probably why it looks so damn magical for a plastic tree. This is one of three ideas the company’s announced for its Design of Things (DoT) platform — this is what is tying into Softbank’s crowdfunding site, Plus Style. Unfortunately, there’s no concrete ideas of how much the bonsai concept will cost — or when I’ll be able to prune away at plastic. New crowdfunding site, same old problems.

Plastic bonsai tree you can trim. From #nendo. 💕💕💕

A photo posted by MT (@thtmtsmth) on Mar 29, 2016 at 6:57pm PDT

Source: DoT (Nendo, Japanese)

31
Mar

Untethered and unguided: Our first deep look at HoloLens


There’s a white unicorn with a rainbow horn on the wall in front of me. A tiger sits casually by the door on the right. On a grey couch at one end of the room, a globe starts to spin when I gaze at it. A second celestial object with the word “Fragments” floats over a white coffee table. I walk towards the couch and turn onto a short hallway next to it. I see a bright pink octopus staring back at me from the tiled toilet floor.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is an augmented reality headset. It’s a self-contained Windows 10 computer that projects high-definition holograms onto real objects, walls and surfaces. As the device makes its way to developers this week, I strapped on the untethered headset for a first-of-its-kind unguided demo in a suite at San Francisco’s W Hotel. After a year of suspense, carefully controlled experiences with prototypes and a strict no-pictures policy, the company is letting its prized hologram-generating machine operate in civilian hands (like mine).

Hands-on: HoloLens

After a quick run through with Lorraine Bardeen, GM Windows and HoloLens experiences, I was left alone in the living room to discover the digital information all around me. The juxtaposition of three-dimensional holograms and real objects had created a mixed reality. Interacting with the projections peppered in the room quickly started to feel like some sort of technological hallucination. The holograms were only visible to me.

One of the first things I noticed about the headset was its see-through “holographic lens”. It’s held in place by a matte black frame that looped around my head. I could move the lens front and back ever so lightly to fix it at a comfortable distance away from my face (this feature created enough room for my large-framed prescription glasses, too.) There’s a second black rim with an adjustment wheel to tighten the device around the head. It supports the entire contraption and keeps it firmly but comfortably in place.

The headset, which weighs a little over one pound, is packed with sensors, a custom-built holographic processing unit and a ton of cameras. There’s a front facing camera and four environment-mapping cameras — split into pairs on both left and right corners of the lens –- that make the precise placement of holograms possible.

The HoloLens experience requires a complete engagement of senses. It’s not trying to hack the senses to create a virtual world, instead it works with sight, sound and movements to create an interaction between human, machine and the environment. That’s what makes the experience feel unique yet natural. While the system imposes an artificial overlay on reality, it relies on intuitive controls like direction of gaze, gestures and voice.

Staring at projected objects to indicate intent is a big part of the HoloLens experience. Before I could take the contraption for a spin around the room, I had to calibrate my eyes to make sure the holographic effect worked the way its creators intended. I looked at an introductory app that was projected on the floor, held out my right index finger and pushed it down to make the “tap” gesture, which indicates a selection. It starts with an automatic interpupillary distance feature that measures the distance from the center of one pupil to the other.

For the calibration, I closed my left eye and looked through my right eye at the image in front of me. Three taps later, I repeated the same process for my left eye by closing the right. The process, which took a few seconds and was saved on the device for future interactions, made sure the holograms in the room were customized for my eyes.

A mechanical voice proceeded to tell me how I could use gestures and my gaze to indicate what I wanted. While I had learned how to tap and select an app, it also told me how to exit one. I followed instructions, moved my hand up to my field of view and flared my fingers up and out to indicate a blooming flower. The “bloom” gets you out of an experience in an instant.

Now that I knew how to start and quit the apps floating around me, I was set for a barrage of demos. The first app I tried was a browser. The Engadget website was preloaded in front of me (it was the live site, too, I refreshed to check the front page stories). After messing around with the Internet projected on a wall, I quickly launched into RoboRaid, a first-person shooting game that used spatial mapping of the room (done at the beginning of the demo) to project alien enemy creatures on the walls around me. Seconds into the game, I heard crunching sounds on my left and I swiftly turned to spot the mini-Transformers-looking creatures bursting out of the walls. I saw them, zapped them, destroyed them. They hurled fireballs at me that I dodged. The game was straightforward. But it illuminated the profound possibilities of projections that are loaded with 3D sound.

I could turn up the sound of the holograms with small, inconspicuous buttons on the right arm of the headset. But even at the highest volume, the ambient sounds in the room were not blocked out. The speakers are concealed in one inch bars on either side of the headset to ensure that the sound stays close to the ears but it doesn’t overwhelm them like headphones.

In addition to the speakers, there are four microphones in the device. So at any point in the demos, I could call on Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant which has been integrated into the holographic system. I could switch from using my index finger to communicate my needs to simply stating them. As a bonus, I could ask my assistant to take pictures and videos of my imaginary experience as part of the Mixed Reality Capture feature. There’s a micro USB port on one side to download those captured shots.

“Hey Cortana, record a video,” I tell her when I want to capture shots in a game or an app. Almost every time, she threw up a string of random words ending in “video” in my field of view. She didn’t always decipher my words with accuracy. (My accent, while clearly understood by humans in my daily interactions, is currently beyond the comprehension of most digital assistants.) But she understands the intent and starts recording almost every time. Except for the time she thought I said “God video” and opened a browser for me as if to say “you’re on your own for this one.”

Despite Cortana’s occasional struggles to truly understand me, the voice-activated interaction feels ingenious and necessary. It makes the application possibilities wide-ranging — interaction between an astronaut and a NASA operator on the ground, collaborative work among a couple of group of designers, a Skype call with a family member or an expert dialing in to help fix a broken refrigerator. Using my voice quickly became a crucial part of the experience.

Through some of the experiences, the voice in my head, err, the one that was coming from the headset, often reminded me to move around the room. I forgot I was untethered. Having tried enough VR (some that made me nauseous), I have adopted a stand-still-and-be-immersed approach. Partly because wired headsets like the Oculus Rift curtail movement, but mostly because moving around in VR, completely disconnected from reality, can make the experience of walking feel precarious.

My legs didn’t quiver at any point through the many experiences of HoloLens. Even when I walked the simulated cobbled streets of Italy in HoloTour, a travel app locked inside the floating globe on the couch, I felt immersed but I wasn’t disconnected from the reality of the hotel suite that I was in. And that’s precisely the point. The magic happens because the holograms mediate reality, not replace it. It’s a different kind of immersion that neither leaves you nauseous nor disoriented.

All the applications aren’t geared for immersive experiences, though. Practical ideas like the HoloStudio allow you to create your own models of places and objects. A pop-up menu lets you drag and drop holograms and even resize them. You can also replicate those movements outside this app. Each hologram can be adjusted and moved with a tap and hold gesture. It’s a useful feature but it wasn’t the easiest one to learn. I struggled to relocate a yellow puppy projected on the floor. But when I slowly got the hang of it, I noticed the low latency of the hologram that moved in sync with my gesture.

While I had trouble engaging with the lifeless dog in the room, the holograms that were loaded with spatial sounds were incredibly believable. 3D audio is critical to an immersive experience like VR. It’s the thing that draws you in and tricks your brain into thinking the simulated is real. But the audible cues are just as significant, if not more integral, to the experience of augmented reality. What good is a holographic RoboRaider if you can’t hear it firing at you from behind?

Spatial sound makes you look in the direction of the virtual characters. In Fragments, a murder mystery game that’s a cross between Minority Report and Clue, I was given both audio and holographic clues to solve a crime. An AI helper — a pale-skinned, dark haired man in an indigo spacesuit –- narrated events and guided me through the game. But the thing that drew me in was the sound of sobbing. It took me a second to find the source but the weeping alerted me to the presence of a young boy on the floor in front of me, below and out of sight. The murder scene was right next to the couch.

Projecting sound in front of the listener is an incredibly hard feat in spatial audio. But the audio cues were spot on in the game. They weren’t just helping me locate the holographic people in the room, they were significant to the believability of the mixed reality experience.

Sounds aside, the characters in the game sat on the furniture and were able to pinpoint my location in the room. They fully inhabited the space to complete the illusion. At one point in the experience, when the leader of my mysterious investigative group showed up, she knew exactly where the couch was. She was sitting on it. HoloLens had mapped the entire suite with its sensors at the beginning of the demo.

Minutes later, when she addressed the room, while looking away from me, I realized we weren’t the only ones in the room. On my right were three other key members of the investigative team. Sarah, the one standing closest to me, looked straight at me when she introduced herself. The hologram had sensed my presence.

The virtual crew was clearly simulated. But the HoloLens projected them with stunning clarity. As Bardeen would later tell me, Microsoft has devised its own unique terms to define the resolution of its holograms. The absence of a benchmark for 3D projections makes it hard to measure and compare the clarity and density of these objects. But visually, the projections looked drastically different. While the puppy and the pop orange tiger were clearly cartoony avatars, the characters in Fragments were much more detailed and comparable to existing Xbox One graphics. I noticed the lines on their faces and the creases on their clothes.

Through the hour and a half of the demos, I continuously found myself struggling with the limited field of view that remained unchanged across all HoloLens experiences. The holograms only appear in a rectangular frame right in front of the user. It leaves a wide gap on both right and left. But I’m told the peripheral view that borders the holographic frame is intentional, even necessary, to the experience. Augmented reality is all about overlaying information onto real environments. It works when the room is constantly in your view.

The unguided experience showcased the strengths and pitfalls of the HoloLens. But Microsoft is ready. With the technology packed in a sturdy and surprisingly comfortable headset, it’s time for the developers to test the holographic power of the computer that’s been in the making for years. More importantly, it’s time for app creators to unleash the potential that the medium presents. While NASA’s already sent a couple of headsets to the International Space Station to assist crew members, down here on Earth, Microsoft hopes the device will transform the way we learn, teach, communicate and collaborate in the future.

It’s easy to draw comparisons between the two new mediums that are starting to shape new realities –- the virtual and the augmented. But everything from the physical headset, the experience, the human impact and the future applications are entirely different.

As my demo drew to a close, I noticed that I had no trouble returning to the reality of the hotel suite. Unlike VR, where I was often disoriented after taking off the headset, this time my brain wasn’t struggling to differentiate between the real and the virtual. But I did get used to seeing things that weren’t really there. After I handed back the HoloLens, I walked by the toilet to an empty spot where I’d parked my bag at the beginning of the demo. I stopped and instinctively turned to look for that bright pink octopus on the tiled floor.

31
Mar

Apple patents on-the-fly censorship technology


Apple recently patented a software system that can automatically detect and remove swear words from streamed audio tracks. The patent, dubbed “Management, Replacement and Removal of Explicit Lyrics during Audio Playback” scans a piece of music, compares the lyrics against a database of banned words, marks any explicit bits it finds and then removes the offending content, replacing it with either a beep or silence. The technology can also, according to its patent filing, detect the background music and boost that to cover what’s being censored. The system isn’t limited to music, mind you, it can just as easily be applied to audio books. As with many of Apple’s patents, there is no word on when — or even if — the technology will ever make it into an actual product.

Source: Business Insider

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