While full-fledged VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have gotten a lot of press lately, it bears remembering that Samsung’s Gear VR has been around for a lot longer. And, due to its lower price and the fact that it only requires a phone, means it’s also a whole lot more accessible. Which could explain why almost six months after the consumer Gear VR launched, Oculus revealed today that over one million people used Gear VR in the past month alone. The Facebook-owned entity took this milestone opportunity to not only introduce a slew of new video content, but also to give us an update on how mobile VR is progressing.
“Oculus’ mission is to help people experience anything, anywhere,” says Max Cohen, Oculus’ head of mobile to a roomful of journalists this Tuesday. There’s the high-end experience of the Rift, of course, but there’s also the portable easy-to-use version of the Gear VR. “The secret [with VR] is it can’t just be slightly better than other experiences that you’ve had,” says Cohen. “It has to be even better.”
Part of the reason why the million number mark is so exciting, then, is because it’ll hopefully push developers to create even more content for the platform. Cohen admits that it’s sometimes a daunting task trying to get developers to spend time making VR content. “They tell us, ‘Give us a call when you’ve a hit a million users’.” Well, now they have. Plus, Cohen says, the average time that users spend on the Gear VR is around 25 minutes a day. “They’re highly engaged with the product,” he says.
Aside from the number of users, Oculus is also working on increasing app discovery. There’s over 250 apps for Gear VR right now, but finding new content can be a problem, especially for newcomers. That’s why Oculus is rolling out a revamped Oculus Home design next month, which will hopefully make it that much easier to find recently downloaded content. You’ll also see a “What’s New” section starting this week plus an updated library that offers deep links directly into the apps. There’ll also be a social element so you can see what your friends are watching or doing.
In conjunction with the announcement, Oculus wanted to highlight several new VR experiences. They include 6×9 (available now), a Guardian-produced film that lets you feel how it’s like to be in solitary confinement; Notes on Blindness: Into the Darkness (available late June), which puts you in the shoes of someone who’s slowly going blind; Tactera (available late May), a real-time strategy game with holographic pieces; and lastly Nomads, which lets you explore how it’s like to be in different nomadic tribes such as the Maasai in Kenya, the yak herders in Mongolia and the sea gypsies of Borneo. Nomads, which debuts today, was produced by Felix & Paul Studios, which has done other Oculus content such as Jurassic World and Wild.
Additionally, Oculus has been working on a partnership with Discovery to develop a new Deadliest Catch VR experience that’ll put you on the rough seas as a virtual crew member. It’ll launch next week on May 17th. There’ll also be an experience called First Life, which is narrated by renown naturalist David Attenborough. It promises to bring you back 500 million years in the past and give you a first-hand look at prehistoric sea creatures.
If it seems like there’s an unusual number of video experiences on this list, that’s no coincidence. Seven of the top 10 most used apps on Gear VR are video-related. Eugene Wei, head of video at Oculus, says that over 2 million hours of video are consumed on the mobile headset as of last check. That includes the usual 2D movie experiences that you can watch in a virtual cinema (either via Oculus Video or a Netflix VR app) or live 180-degree streams of events like the Kentucky Derby. “But when most people talk about video and VR, they think 360-degree video,” he says. “It’s continuing to gain momentum.”
But the problem with 360-degree content is that there’s a really high barrier to entry. Creating VR video is not the same as regular video; there’s still a lot that filmmakers have to figure out. It’s why Facebook released the blueprints for the Surround 360 camera. Not because they want to be in the 360 camera business, but because they want more people to create content. “Our goal is to get this camera into the hands of as many creators as possible,” says Wei, adding that the team has also worked to integrate consumer-level cameras like the Gear 360 and the Ricoh Theta S with the ability to upload directly to the Facebook Newsfeed.
There’s also the issue with just how much bandwidth 360-degree video takes up. To get around that, Facebook developed a technology called Dynamic Streaming, which increases the quality of the video you can see but degrades the video that’s off-screen. The improved display resolution of the recent Samsung phones is also integral to the Gear VR experience. “[1440p OLED screens] might not matter on a traditional phone,” says Wei. “But when it comes to VR, it really makes a difference in the quality of the experience.”
Storytelling in VR is also pretty different from traditional mediums. For example, take the opening credits of Game of Thrones that was created in 360-degree video. If you watched it on your phone or on your computer, it retains that same camera swooping motion you’d see on TV. But put that same experience on a headset and it starts to feel a little strange. That’s why Oculus is now working on creating a special VR headset experience of the Game of Thrones title sequence that would put you in the middle of King’s Landing where you’ll be able to see the buildings sprouting up around you. “It’s an example of the visual grammar that people have to learn,” Wei says. “We have to have creative collaboration with creators to help them understand [these new] design constraints.”
Right now, most VR video content is still on the short side; maybe a few minutes at most per clip. That’s mostly because it’s just really cost-prohibitive to create a two-hour 360-degree movie. But Cohen and Wei say there have been some legitimate interest from filmmakers on how to do exactly that. “I’ve heard of a few film directors who want to tackle that,” says Wei. “I’m excited to see what happens.”
Wei also wanted to emphasize that 360-degree content isn’t unique to just video. He says that in the coming weeks, Facebook will announce support for 360-degree photos as well. You can either shoot and upload panoramic photo spheres with your phone, or use one of the aforementioned specialized cameras.
“There’s this underlying belief that a mobile platform is fundamentally unserious,” says E McNeill, the creator of Tactera and Darknet, both of which are video games designed for the Gear VR. “I think that’s a mistake […] The Gear VR really punches above its weight. Once you have the headset on, you’re not squinting at a small screen. It’s VR.” Plus, Cohen says, a lot more games are making the jump from Gear VR to the Rift and vice versa, thus adding legitimacy to the platform. Dragon Front, for example, is a game that will launch concurrently on both the Rift and the Gear VR.
“Think about the kids learning five, ten, fifteen years fro now,” says Cohen in regards to the Nomads VR experience. “They’re not going to be using text books, when they can experience first hand what these people went through. It really creates this kind of emotional connection.”
“We want to get mobile VR in the hands of as many people as possible,” says Cohen. “We think we can actually change people’s lives.” It’s an admittedly grandiose statement. But it seems that at least a million users are intrigued enough to give it a go.
Back in September, Facebook introduced support for 360-degree videos in your Newsfeed. Soon, that same treatment will apply to photos too. The social network announced today that starting in the next few weeks, you’ll be able to snap a panoramic photo sphere on your phone and then upload it to Facebook. You can also use other 360-degree cameras to take those shots too, like the Gear 360 or the Ricoh Theta S. As for viewing said photo, you can either tilt your phone around to get the full view, or drag it around with your finger or mouse cursor.
But what if you want to view those 360-degree photos with your VR headset? No worries there either. Facebook will also add a new photos section to the Oculus app so you can go ahead and strap your Gear VR on to get the full immersion. “We’ve been beta-testing 360 photos internally for awhile now,” says Eugene Wei, head of video for Oculus. “It’s a lot of fun. You get to share where you are; the story of your life with other people.” Assuming, that is, you want to share.
Less than four months before Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, which may have a “Pro” moniker instead, purported new blueprints of the smartphones have been shared by uSwitch on behalf of noted leaker Steve Hemmerstoffer, who runs the Twitter account OnLeaks.
The drawings, purportedly sourced directly from Taiwan-based Apple casing subcontractor Catcher Technology, seemingly confirm that Apple plans to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack on both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Both smartphones will also retain protruding cameras, but without the metal ring around the lenses.
Meanwhile, the drawings show that Apple plans to add a dual-lens camera system and Smart Connector exclusively to the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, much to the chagrin of some customers that are hopeful Apple will not differentiate features beyond screen size. The 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will supposedly retain a single-lens camera.
The report also corroborates rumors claiming Apple will reposition the rear antenna bands along the top and bottom of its next iPhones, but the drawings also stifle stereo speaker rumors with only a single speaker grille shown on both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Each smartphone retains a Lightning port and bottom microphone.
Both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus look similar to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s series, suggesting that Apple will retain the same overall smartphone design beyond minor tweaks for three consecutive years. The report confirms the new iPhones will have identical dimensions as the current 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models.
Recent rumors have been conflicting about which features Apple will reserve for the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, or OLED-based iPhone expected in 2017, but these drawings are mostly in line with expectations. The images were reportedly taken from Apple’s January testing stage, however, so changes could arise.
Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: Smart Connector, Onleaks, uSwitch
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Google’s Google Translate app was today updated to version 5.0.0, adding a new feature that allows users to translate words and phrases even when offline in 52 of the 103 languages available in the app. With the offline update, the app remains useful when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available, making it ideal for traveling.
Today’s update also adds instant camera translation between English and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), which is useful for reading signs and other content without needing to type words into the app. Instant camera translation is now available in a total of 29 languages and camera mode, which allows users to take pictures of text for higher-quality translations, is available in 37 languages.
– Offline translation in 52 languages
– Instant camera translation: English to/from Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
– 13 new languages
Google Translate can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]
Tags: Google, Google Translate
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Apple plans to produce a single iPhone 7 Plus that will ship with a dual-lens camera and 3GB of RAM to compensate for increased image processing demands, according to a new report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that walks back from past reports suggesting Apple would produce two iPhone 7 Plus models.
Earlier rumors from Kuo indicated Apple was working on multiple versions of the iPhone 7 Plus — a model with a single lens camera to match the iPhone 7 and a second “Pro” model with a dual-lens camera — but Kuo now believes this is no longer Apple’s plan as a single-camera iPhone 7 Plus would undermine demand for the dual-camera model. Apple is expected to continue producing two iPhone models, in 4.7 and 5.5-inch sizes.
In a previous report, we said the new 5.5-inch iPhone model (referred to as iPhone 7 Plus), to be launched in 2H16, may come in two versions: one with rear single-camera and the other with rear dual-camera. However, we now believe Apple (US) will only roll out the dual-camera version in 2H16, with 3GB RAM to meet image processing requirements, and we estimate shipments of this model in 2016F of 20-30mn units.
Kuo does not foresee any significant supply bottlenecks that would affect production of the dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus, but because of design constraints, he predicts optical zoom capabilities, which have been previously rumored for the device, will be limited.
Today’s report from Kuo follows the leak of design blueprints said to be sourced from Apple supplier Catcher Technology, which suggest that the iPhone 7 Plus will also exclusively feature the Smart Connector that first debuted in the iPad Pro.
Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: KGI Securities, Ming-Chi Kuo
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Apple recently reported its first year-over-year decline in iPhone sales, with CEO Tim Cook claiming one of the reasons is that the upgrade cycle for the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s series has stretched out longer than it anticipated.
Despite the launch of the lower-priced iPhone SE, that decline is expected to continue into the second half of this year. In reporting its first negative-growth quarter since 2003, Apple forecasted another revenue drop next quarter.
The sales decline is placing downward pressure on Apple’s overseas suppliers, who have rode the iPhone’s coattails to success over the past half-dozen years. Not only does LCD supplier Japan Display reportedly expect to post a nearly $300 million loss for the fiscal year ended March, but Nikkei reports that Apple’s slowdown is also sending Taiwanese suppliers into a downward spiral.
“Suppliers are saying that they are getting fewer orders for the second half of this year compared with the year-ago period,” a source said. “The traditional peak season this year will not be able to compare to the past few years.”
The report claims Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), one of Apple’s primary chip suppliers, may ship up to 30% fewer chips in the second half of 2016 compared to the year-ago period. The decline is attributed to the iPhone 7’s expected lack of innovative features, saturation of the smartphone market, increased competition, and a global economic slowdown.
Another source said that for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the sole supplier for the latest A10 chips used in iPhone 7, its iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 chip shipments for the June to December period will likely shrink to 70%–80% of the level reached in the second half of 2015.
Apple suppliers Largan Precision, LG Display, Catcher Technology, Foxconn, and Pegatron have and will likely continue to face similar declines in the near term.
Largan Precision, a key high-end camera module supplier for Apple’s iPhone, reported its first year-on-year decline in revenue in three years in the last quarter of 2015. The company has suffered a revenue fall for five months in a row since last December.
Adam Lin, chief executive of Largan, attributed the dip to a “significant scale-back of orders from a major customer.”
Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the latter of which may be branded with a “Pro” name instead, in September. Newly leaked drawings suggest both smartphones may have no 3.5mm headphone jack and a single speaker, while a dual-lens camera system and Smart Connector will seemingly be exclusive to the larger 5.5-inch model with 3GB of RAM.
Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: TSMC, Foxconn, pegatron
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Apple today released a new update for Safari Technology Preview, the experimental browser Apple first introduced on March 30. Apple uses Safari Technology Preview to test features that may eventually be introduced in the release version of Safari.
The Safari Technology Preview update is available through the Mac App Store to anyone who has downloaded the browser. Release notes are available on Apple’s Safari Technology Preview website.
Apple’s goal with Safari Technology Preview is to gather feedback from developers and users on its browser development process. Safari Technology Preview can be run side-by-side with the existing Safari browser and while aimed at developers, it does not require a developer account to download.
Tag: Safari Technology Preview
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Rumors suggest Apple’s 2016 iPhone 7 will look very similar to the iPhone 6s, with major changes to the iPhone’s form factor actually coming in 2017, the year that marks the 10th anniversary of the device’s initial launch. Apple blogger John Gruber recently shared some tantalizing details about the 2017 iPhone, which may see some radical design tweaks.
In the latest episode of his podcast The Talk Show, Gruber said he’s heard “scuttlebutt” suggesting the 2017 iPhone will include an edge-to-edge display that eliminates the top and bottom bezels on the device, with the front-facing camera, Touch ID, and other sensors hidden under the display.
Concept image via ConceptsiPhone
I think next year’s phone, the 2017 model, the one that will come out in September of 2017. What I have heard — now this is not really from the rumor mill but just scuttlebutt that I’ve heard — is that it will be an all-new form factor.
And there have been some rumors, I guess, but what I’m saying is that I’ve heard this independently and it is completely getting rid of the chin and forehead of the phone. The entire face will be the display. And the Touch ID sensor will be somehow embedded in the display. The front-facing camera will somehow be embedded in the display. The speaker, everything. All the sensors will somehow be behind the display.
What I don’t know… I have no idea, but whether that means that they’re going to shrink the actual thing in your hand to fit the screen sizes we already have, or whether they’re going to grow the screens to fit the devices we’re already used to holding… I don’t know.
Previous rumors have indicated Apple is planning to introduce a flexible OLED display in the 2017 iPhone, and an OLED display panel would allow for an edge-to-edge screen design. Apple has already signed a deal with Samsung for a portion of the OLED panels it will need for the devices.
Multiple rumors have suggested one 2017 iPhone could include a 5.8-inch OLED display, which would perhaps mean Apple plans to have the display wrap around the edges of a 5.5-inch device, but it is not clear how such a screen size would work without top and bottom bezels as suggested by Gruber.
Along with an OLED display, the iPhone coming in 2017 is rumored to include a glass shell, like the iPhone 4 and 4s, rather than the aluminum body that’s been used for the iPhone 5s, 6, 6s, 6 Plus, 6s Plus, and SE. Long-range wireless charging and expanded biometric features like iris or facial recognition are also features that have been rumored, along with a 10-nanometer A11 chip from TSMC and NAND flash memory supplied by Samsung.
Apple has been working on developing touch and display driver integration (TTDI) chips since 2015, which would let the Touch ID fingerprint recognition system be embedded directly into the display, allowing for the elimination of the Home button. Analyst rumors have previously suggested the Home button will be removed in the 2017 iPhone, in line with what Gruber has heard.
With Apple planning major design changes for the 2017 iPhone, there have been rumors indicating the devices will not feature an “S” name, with Apple perhaps skipping the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus to move directly to the iPhone 8 or another name.
Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: iPhone 7s, iPhone 8
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Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade offer is ending soon — July 29, to be exact. If you’re currently running Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, you might be feeling the pressure to upgrade for free (while you still can).
Not so fast! While a free upgrade is always tempting, Windows 10 might not be the operating system for you. Here are five reasons you shouldn’t upgrade to Windows 10 yet — even if it is free.
Your system doesn’t meet the requirements
The system requirements for Windows 10 aren’t crazy, but your PC may not meet them — especially if you’re low on hard drive space. You’ll need at least 20GB of open hard drive space to install the 64-bit version of Windows 10 (16GB for the 32-bit version), plus a 1GHz or faster processor, 2GB of RAM (1GB for the 32-bit version), and a DirectX 9-capable video card with WDDM driver. If you’re just short of the requirements, check out these ways to quickly make room on your hard drive.
You use older or obscure peripherals
Now that Windows 10 has been out for almost a year, most peripheral-makers have released updated Windows 10-compatible drivers for their devices. Most, but not all. Before you upgrade, I suggest checking to make sure all your peripherals will work — everything from keyboards and mice to speakers and graphics cards could be affected.
You’re concerned about privacy
Windows 10 — like most operating systems — has its share of privacy concerns, many of which are valid. By default, the OS is set up to automatically send feedback to Microsoft, allocate part of your device’s bandwidth for its P2P update service, and show ads in your Start menu. Most of these invasive behaviors can be turned off (though you’ll need to comb through the settings menu), but not all of them can be disabled. It’s a fact: Windows 10 gathers more data than its predecessors. It’s the price of cool features such as universal device syncing and Cortana.
You don’t want to be forced to update
Windows updates are usually a good thing! Most of them bring important security patches and bug fixes to your device. But that doesn’t mean you should update your computer the second a new fix is out, because the updates themselves can come with bugs that can mess up your machine. With older versions of Windows, you can choose when to update.
But with Windows 10 you won’t have that choice. Windows 10 automatically downloads and installs updates to your computer. There are a few ways to avoid these automatic updates (for example, by tricking your computer into metering any and all Internet connections), but they’re a hassle. One silver lining? At least you can schedule when your device restarts after an update.
You love Windows Media Center
Microsoft has revamped a lot of things in Windows 10, replacing many of its legacy desktop programs with universal apps. For example, Windows Photo Viewer is dead, replaced with the new Photos app. But while you can get Windows Photo Viewer back in Windows 10, you can’t get Windows Media Center back. Because it’s gone, along with DVD playback support. For many, this isn’t a huge loss — many of us stream rather than watch DVDs, after all, and Microsoft has been trying to kill off Media Center since Windows 8. But for some, it could be a deal breaker. If you’re a Media Center fan — or if you desperately love any other legacy features that don’t currently exist in Windows 10 — then Windows 10 may not be for you.
You’ve probably heard the news: Microsoft will end its free Windows 10 promotion in just a few short months. And while Windows 10 isn’t for everyone, it’s pretty darn popular according to Microsoft, which reports that the new operating system is now active on more than 300 million devices around the world.
Is your device one of those 300 million? If not, congrats on successfully weathering Microsoft’s nagging pop-up prompts to upgrade. But you may want to reconsider your anti-upgrade stance — here’s why.
(And here’s how to upgrade, for free, right now.)
Microsoft is so confident in its new operating system that it’s offering free Windows 10 upgrades to all users running Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. But this offer won’t last forever — in fact, it expires in less than three months, on July 29, 2016. You’ll still be able to upgrade to Windows 10 after July 29, but the upgrade will cost you $119, £100 or AU$180.
You can change your mind
If you upgrade to Windows 10 and decide that the new operating system isn’t for you, you have 30 days to roll back to your older version of Windows. And by upgrading once — even if you downgrade later — you’ll have secured the free Windows 10 license for future upgrades. In other words, you can upgrade to Windows 10, roll back to your old operating system, and then you’ll still be able to upgrade to Windows for free after July 29.
You have a touchscreen
Windows 7 may look good, but it’s not touchscreen-friendly. And Windows 8 and 8.1 were designed with touchscreens in mind, but we all know how well that went over. If you’ve got a touchscreen on your laptop or you’re planning on upgrading to a touchscreen for your desktop, trust me: You want Windows 10’s touchscreen-friendly settings app and its customizable Start menu.
You have more than one Windows device
Windows 10 is a universal operating system, which means it works on all Windows devices — computers, tablets and phones. If you’re already part of the Windows ecosystem, upgrading to Windows 10 will make everything that bit more convenient by syncing your settings, notifications and apps across all devices.
Microsoft’s intelligent, voice-activated virtual assistant has been around since Windows Phone 8.1, but she’s really come into her own in Windows 10. While other virtual assistants are primarily designed to work on mobile devices, Cortana has been optimized for your desktop — she can do all these things, from finding files or photos from a specific time frame to drafting and sending emails. You may not think you need to talk to your device, but you’ll never know until you try.