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Google Spaces helps you share things with small groups

Apparently, Google+ refocusing on communities just wasn’t enough. Google has introduced Spaces, an app for Android, iOS and the web that’s designed solely for sharing experiences in small groups. All you have to do is start a topic, invite a few people (no, they don’t need Google+) and you’re off to the races — there’s a conversational view that makes sure you see whatever’s going on. Chrome, search and YouTube are built-in, so you don’t have to hop between apps to find a relevant story or video.

The app isn’t live as we write this (it arrives later on the 16th), so it’s hard to say how well it’ll work in practice. However, it’s clear that the folks in Mountain View believe that Google+ communities can only accomplish so much. They tend to revolve around larger groups, and it’s easy for someone’s thoughts to get lost in a sea of posts. Spaces is the antithesis of that: it’s for book clubs, developer meet-ups and any other close-knit community where every person’s input is valuable.

Source: Google Official Blog


Tesla accused of exploiting cheap labor to make its factories (updated)

Tesla may pride itself on making the world a better place through eco-friendly electric cars, but it’s not immune to ethical concerns. Mercury News has discovered that at least one of Tesla’s contractors has been using sub-contracted, low-paid labor (as little as $5 per hour) from eastern Europe to work on the automaker’s facilities. The partner companies have avoided offering overtime pay and even compensation for injuries — one man is suing his employers after he fell three stories while working on a Tesla paint plant in Fremont. The practices let those contractors finish crucial factory work at a fraction of the cost of using American labor, which could cost as much as $52 per hour for similar tasks.

Tesla initially downplayed the findings. In a statement, it maintained that its work agreements require contractors to “hire and pay their workers appropriately” while saying little about its own responsibility. However, CEO Elon Musk is very much the hands-on sort. He tells his Twitter followers that he only just learned about this exploitation, and that he plans to “investigate and make it right.” Don’t be surprised if Tesla has better oversight of its contractors going forward.

To some extent, the problem rests in the US visa system. While it’s easy for officials to verify that temporary workers are going home at the end of their stints, it’s difficult to make sure that workers are doing what their visa says they’re doing — let alone that they’re being paid well. Tesla isn’t alone among tech companies facing labor issues, and it certainly bears some responsibility in caring for its contracted workers, but it may need help from the government to minimize labor abuses.

Update: Tesla has written a blog post explaining its views. It stresses that government regulators cleared it of wrongdoing, but it also vows to “take care” of underpaid and injured workers. The company doesn’t want the “wrong thing to happen” just to save a few bucks, it says.

@margotroosevelt Only heard about this today. Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels. Will investigate and make it right.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 16, 2016

Via: The Verge

Source: Mercury News, Elon Musk (Twitter)


Top soccer club FC Schalke 04 signs ‘League of Legends’ team

When West Ham United and VfL Wolfsburg signed their first eSports players, they were surprising but understandable deals. After all, both clubs were supporting FIFA — a video game franchise that ties back into their normal soccer (or football, as it’s known to most of the world) businesses. Now, FC Schalke 04 — one of the top clubs in the German Bundesliga — has bucked this trend and signed a League of Legends team instead. Formerly known as Elements, the new-look squad comprises of Etienne “Steve” Michels, Hampus “Fox” Myhre, Berk “Gilius” Demir, Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm, and Hampus “Sprattel” Abrahamsson.

League of Legends is one of the biggest games played on a professional level. With growing audiences, prize pools and sponsorships, it’s not surprising to see a traditional sports club wading in. FC Schalke 04 has the finances to sign some of the game’s best players, as well as staff that can provide vital support and advice. Elements is by no means a dominant force in the League community, but it does have a legacy dating back to 2013, when it competed under the name Alliance. With Schalke’s help, it’s possible the team can grow into World Championship contenders.

#Schalke 04 acquires eSports team “Elements”.

More info:! @LeagueOfLegends

— FC Schalke 04 (@s04_en) May 16, 2016

Source: FC Schalke 04


British YouTubers jailed for faking an art gallery heist

Four members of the YouTube channel Trollstation have been jailed staging hoax raids on two prestigious London galleries. The group pleaded guilty to two counts of using threatening words or behaviour after they performed a fake kidnapping and caused mass panic at the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain in July 2015.

Daniel Jarvis (27), Endrit Ferizolli (20), Ebenezer Menzah (29) and Helder Gomes (23) wore tights over their heads and played alarm sounds through a loudspeaker as they pretended to smuggle pre-purchased paintings out of the National Portrait Gallery. The stunt left one woman unconscious and came at a time where London police were on high alert following a terrorist attack on holidaygoers in Tunisia the week before.

Jarvis was sentenced to 20 weeks in jail and Ferizolli will serve 16 weeks in a young offenders’ institute. Gomes and Menzah both received 18-week sentences. Trollstation’s founder and cameraman, Danh van Le, was sentenced to nine months in jail in March for his role in the gallery stunts and a separate prank involving a fake bomb.

Prank channels have become big business on YouTube. In fact, Google helped turn one of the most popular stunt channels, Prank vs. Prank, into an original series. Trollstation has over 700,000 subscribers and has a history of public pranks, including a three-man pitch invasion during a Europa League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Partizan Belgrade.

“The defendants in this case are part of a group called Trollstation, a group that considers it amusing to carry out acts on the public and upload them on to the internet,” said District Judge Mike Snow. “We have been told that the defendants intended this a joke. Their sense of humour is warped and immature. It’s likely that the members of public who had seen images of people running for their lives in recent terrorist attacks would run in fear. And that’s what happened.”


— TrollStation (@TrollstationYT) May 16, 2016

Source: Metro


‘Yo-Kai Watch 2’ invades the US this September

Yo-Kai Watch 2 is on the horizon, and it’s headed to the US this September, with a second season of the anime series to follow. Originally launched last November for western audiences, the 3DS title served up decadent and accessible role-playing goodness, with collecting elements for the youngsters and meaty side quests and commentary for adults.

The sequel launches September 30 with over 100 new Yo-kai to collect and fight alongside, a new town outside of the area of Springdale, time travel, and a new and improved Yo-kai watch. Its being split into two distinct versions, each with its own rare Yo-kai that can only be found in its unique game: Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Yo-Kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls.

The second season of the animated series will follow heroes Nate, Whisper and Jibanyan as they continue their adventures with the brand new Yo-kai Watch Model Zero. There’s also a whole new line of toys coming by way of Hasbro to snap up, including the new Yo-kai Watch itself.

While Yo-Kai Watch didn’t enjoy the exact same success as Pokémon in the west, it still managed to grab plenty of consumers’ attention, with plush Yo-kai, collectible medallions, trading cards and various other merchandise selling like hotcakes behind Nintendo’s 3DS release and in support of the series that airs on Disney XD. Not long ago Yo-Kai Watch Wibble Wobble, a mobile tie-in, debuted on iOS, enjoying a comfortable Top Ten spot in the App Store.

Now might be a good time to brush up on your “Gera Gera Po” dance moves, play the original Yo-Kai Watch or watch the series on Netflix. There’s a lot to catch up on.

Via: BusinessWire


Fitbit’s lead in the wearable world shrinks due to newcomers

Fitbit has ruled the wearable roost for a while, but it’s clear that the activity tracker maker can’t become complacent. IDC has released estimates which show that Fitbit lost a significant amount of market share in the first quarter. While its shipments were up 25.4 percent (to 4.8 million), its share plunged from 32.6 percent a year ago to 24.5 percent at the start of 2016. Simply put, the market is much more crowded than it was a year ago — it has to contend with the Apple Watch, China’s BBK and Lifesense, as well as a slew of smaller brands jumping into the field.

Not that some of the other incumbents can complain too loudly. Xiaomi and Garmin also lost share (they’re down to 22.8 percent and 5 percent respectively), but their shipments surged by more than a third.

As for smartwatches specifically? Apple was still out in front by a hefty margin, with 46 percent of the high-end wearable market. The next closest was Samsung, which fell to 20.9 percent. With 1.5 million shipments, though, Apple had less than a third of Fitbit’s clout — and that number was a sharp drop from the 3.9 million watches it shipped in the last quarter of 2015. Such a dip isn’t surprising (there was no holiday demand to boost sales), but it’s notable that Fitbit’s unit count didn’t fall. It’s clearly easier to justify a relatively inexpensive tracker like the Alta outside of gift-giving season than a smartwatch that costs more than twice as much. Apple’s price cuts weren’t in effect for much of the first quarter, mind you, so it’s too soon to say whether or not you’ll see a repeat performance this spring.

Wearable market share in Q1 2016

Wearable market share in Q1 2016

Source: IDC


YouTube, celebrity and a passion for destruction

A few sites on the internet are so vast and multifaceted that in some ways, they are the internet. Facebook is one, of course. YouTube, with its millions of videos uploaded every single day, is another. There’s almost no way to be surprised at what you find on the site, because almost anything you can think of is there, and almost everything has an audience.

My latest obsession is the Hydraulic Press Channel, run by a pair of Finnish factory owners who have garnered hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of viewers in the short time they’ve been active. The channel started about 6 months ago but has hit critical mass in the last six weeks. They’ve been posting multiple videos a week, most of which have garnered well over a million views. Press coverage of this new phenomenon has come from publications as diverse as The Washington Post, New York Magazine and People Magazine. The HPC has most definitely broken into the mainstream, in a big way.

But the channel is hardly unique. There are plenty of accounts like Tito4Re, which specializes in pouring molten copper on random objects and Carsandwater (general mayhem, including lots of burning) that are dedicated to what looks a lot like mindless destruction. The flip side of that coin are channels dedicated to creating odd, impressive, niche things (often in the service of destruction), like Jörg Sprave’s Slingshot Channel. They may seem pointless to the majority, but these acts of creation and destruction are clearly important to the people making these videos — as well as the sizable audiences that these seemingly random channels are able to gather.

There’s a clear passion and dedication required to make these videos week after week, and it seems like audiences respond to authentic, unfiltered enthusiasm like this. The hysterical cackling and cursing coming from HPC’s Lauri and Anni Vuohensilta when they crush objects (or experience ridiculous setbacks) is almost as much fun as watching the actual destruction — they’re clearly having a blast. Lauri said over email that he started the channel “for fun and for a hobby,” and that “as long as I get some YouTube money, making these videos beats my regular job 100 [percent].”

Sprave sounds even more passionate about his slingshots and the many other insane projectile weapons he creates. “My channel gives me a vent for that pent up creative drive in me,” he said via email, “which I enjoy immensely.” And the idea for focusing on slingshots came out of a childhood love of the toys. He let them go for a good 30 years though before rediscovering them as a “cheaper and more comfortable alternative to archery.” After a year of experimenting, the Slingshot Channel was born, and Sprave plans to keep it going “indefinitely.”

Neither Sprave nor the Vuohensiltas expected their channels to take off the way they did, and that’s part of the charm — they’re very obviously DIY affairs, with minimal production values. Both channels are run by a husband-and-wife duo, and the videos are labors of somewhat unusual love. That level of minimalism is something audiences seem to respond to. “Before YouTube, you were lucky if 5 people would be willing to endure your homemade video,” Sprave said. But his channel has picked up more than 158 million views to date — that’s a lot of people “enduring” his videos.

While Sprave never imagined his slingshot obsession would catch on, Lauri Vuohensiltas said that he had expectations his videos would find an audience — just not as fast as they did. “I expected that it would get quite popular within two or three years — but not this fast.”

A lot of these types of videos are rather formulaic — both the HPC and copper-melting channels follow nearly the same setup in every episode — but that belies a lot of the work that goes into figuring out how to crush a bowling ball or pour 2,000-degree copper onto a 5-pound gummy bear safely. Lauri says his process is the same every time: “Set up your cameras, crush, clean, edit, publish and answer for some comments for 30 minutes.” But there’s a lot he does to make sure his project won’t cause bodily harm. “I typically check [for] chemical dangers, and when crushing pressure vessels what gas they have inside and what is the pressure,” he explains. ” After that I think what would make this crushing safe and deploy necessary safety measures,” like his home-made blast shield.

He’s anything but reckless; Lauri admitted that he’s had to let some potential videos go in the name of safety. “I was planning to crush a full size fire extinguisher,” he says, “but I calculated that it can fly with too much force to trust my current blast shield.” Fortunately for HPC aficionados, he said that he’s getting a new, larger press that’ll have full protection for all dangers. “With that, I can crush almost everything that I can fit there,” Lauri predicts.

Ultimately, that drive to be able to crush anything or build contraptions that are then put into service to destroy things simply taps into the curious, child-like part of our brains. It’s that part of my brain that wanted to build up a giant Lego castle only to knock it down it, or craft a complex sand castle and laugh as the waves washed it away. But most of us don’t have giant hydraulic presses or the skills to build our own tools of destruction (not to mention the time for such pursuits). These YouTube channels let us get a little taste of what our lizard brains might do if we had unlimited resources. Let’s be honest — who doesn’t want to see what’ll happen when you try and flatten a bowling ball?


YouTube for iOS Now Supports Google Cardboard

YouTube for iOS has been updated today with Google Cardboard support, allowing for all videos to be watched in VR mode on iPhone. The functionality was previously limited to the YouTube app on Android smartphones since November 2015.

To activate Cardboard mode, tap on the three circles in the top-right corner of a video and select the Cardboard icon. The video will then switch to an immersive VR experience, even if it was not originally filmed in a full 360 degrees.

YouTube for iOS is a free download on the App Store [Direct Link]. The app is now at version 11.18.

Tags: YouTube, Google Cardboard
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Google Combines Search, YouTube, and Chrome Into New Sharing App ‘Spaces’

Google this morning announced a new app called “Spaces” for iOS, Android and desktop, that combines Google Search, YouTube, and Chrome together into one app to easily share and discuss content amongst friends. Similar to Gboard launched last week, Google is hoping to lessen the amount of time needed to jump between apps by streamlining multiple features into one application.

To start off, users can create a Space within the app centering around any article or video they like, and invite friends and family to the Space through texts, email, or a connected social network. From there, they can start discussing the topic in question, and even go through old conversations with a search function that can pull up image results as well as hits related to text.

Group sharing isn’t easy. From book clubs to house hunts to weekend trips and more, getting friends into the same app can be challenging. Sharing things typically involves hopping between apps to copy and paste links. Group conversations often don’t stay on topic, and things get lost in endless threads that you can’t easily get back to when you need them.

We wanted to build a better group sharing experience, so we made a new app called Spaces that lets people get people together instantly to share around any topic.

Google said it plans to test out Spaces at its annual Google I/O conference starting this week. The company will have Spaces set up for each session, letting developers and conference goers connect and discuss all of the event’s biggest topics in one organized app.

google spaces 2
The rollout for Spaces is starting today, so users on iOS, Android, and desktop should be able to check out the new app soon.

Tag: Google
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Fitbit Continues to Outpace Apple Watch in Broader Wearables Market

The latest data from market research firm IDC reveals that the Apple Watch remained the most popular smartwatch in the first quarter, with an estimated 1.5 million sales and 46 percent market share through the first three months of 2016. Meanwhile, basic wearables unsurprisingly continue to outpace smartwatches.

Samsung was the closest threat to Apple Watch among smartwatches in the quarter, with an estimated 700,000 sales and 20.9 percent market share, followed by Motorola, Huawei, and Garmin with estimated 400,000, 200,000, and 100,000 shipments respectively for a combined 18.6 percent market share.

Apple finished third in the overall wearables market with 7.5 percent market share, behind lower-price fitness tracker vendors Fitbit and Xiaomi. Fitbit commanded a leading 24.5 percent market share off an estimated 4.8 million shipments, while Xiaomi had 3.7 million shipments for 19 percent market share.

Apple does not disclose Watch sales in its quarterly earning results, instead grouping the device under its Other Products category alongside iPods, Apple TVs, Beats Electronics, and accessories. IDC and Strategy Analytics estimates place total Apple Watch sales at nearly 16 million from April 2015 through March 2016.

Fitbit began 2016 the same way it finished 2015: as the undisputed leader in the wearables market. The launch of its new Alta and Blaze devices resulted in million unit shipment volumes for each, pointing to a new chapter of fashion-oriented fitness trackers. It also points to significant declines for its previously successful Surge, Charge, Charge HR, and Flex product lines. Still, with a well-segmented portfolio, pricing strategy, and a strong brand, Fitbit’s position is well-established.

IDC’s data supports the notion that Apple continues to cede market share to Android Wear smartwatches and other wearables as the market evolves. Strategy Analytics data from April, however, had a higher Apple Watch sales estimate of 2.2 million for 52.4 percent market share in the first quarter.

Many prospective buyers are now holding out for the Apple Watch 2, which is rumored to debut in the second half of 2016 and could feature a FaceTime camera, expanded Wi-Fi abilities, cellular connectivity, and thinner design. New bands, finishes, and models are always possibilities as well.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 2
Tags: Samsung, IDC, Fitbit, Xiaomi
Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Caution)
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