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26
Dec

GoNNER for NVIDIA Shield Android TV review: A beautiful game with infinite challenges


The NVIDIA Shield Android TV box is getting a boost of firepower with the release of GoNNER.

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Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing more that I love than a well-made 2D platformer. Throw in frantic gunplay, procedurally drawn levels, and roguelike elements and you’ve got GoNNER, the latest noteworthy addition for the NVIDIA Shield Android TV box. Developed by Art in Heart and published by Raw Fury Games, it’s an incredibly stylish action-platformer that’s reminiscent of games like DownWell and Super Meat Boy, and is well worth it’s discounted $6.69 price tag.

The first thing that strikes you when you load the game up for the first time is the cartoon-creepy graphics and outstanding music and sound design. The developers really nailed the overall art style, with cleverly designed enemies and procedurally generated levels that feel as if they’re literally being hand-drawn around your character as you progress. It’s a game that you need to experience for yourself, as descriptions do no justice.

You play as a character named Ikk who — with some help from the specter of Death itself — is on a mission to cheer up his best friend Sally, a beached whale, by exploring a sprawling, ever-evolving underground hellscape in search of a present. That’s the backstory, though it never factors into the actual gameplay much outside of visiting Death when you die, and occasionally visiting Sally for some health.

The developers really nailed the overall art style, with cleverly designed enemies and procedurally generated levels that feel as if they’re literally being hand-drawn around.

One thing to prepare yourself for — this is a game where you’re going to die… a lot. Early and often. GoNNER offers no tutorials or exposition, so you’re thrown right into the game and expected to just figure things out as you go. Since every playthrough is slightly different than the last, the emphasis is placed on the player to improve their skills rather than simply memorizing level layouts.

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Ikk requires three items before heading into battle — a head, a weapon, and a power-up. These are all collectible items, discovered at random points throughout the game, and each offers different abilities and advantages for your character. Heads will affect the way your character moves and also your health. Power-ups offer special abilities, such as weapon reloads or a brief blast of rapid fire, that you can use infinitely with a short cooldown period after each use. These new items are often found in secret areas scattered throughout the game and unlocked via mysterious parameters.

The trick to mastering GoNNER is unlocking as many heads, powerups, and guns as possible, then experimenting to find the combination that works best with your gameplay style. It’s all about making calculated compromises. Your first head, for example, seems like a good option with its ample hitpoints — that is until you discover that it’s prone to pop off whenever you get hit, requiring you to carefully recollect it without getting hit again or else it’s game over. When you eventually unlock a sturdier head with less health, you have an important choice to make.

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There’s no denying that GoNNER can be tough and unrelenting at times, and this alone might turn some gamers off. But there’s a stark difference between a game that’s difficult and a game that’s hard to play. While the learning curve here is steep to start, the controls are spot on and nothing ever feels inherently unfair — once you understand how the game mechanics work. The game heavily rewards you for linking kills together into combos, which are indicated with skulls in the top-right corner. Link five in a row and you unlock a purple artifact, which can be spent on upgrades before boss battles or, more importantly, exchanged to negate a game over screen.

There’s no denying that GoNNER can be tough and unrelenting at times, and this alone might turn some gamers off.

The one downside to GoNNER is its length; there are only four bosses in the game. By the time you’ve invested a few hours and have a solid handle on things, you’re well on your way to finishing the game. It should take a capable gamer around six hours of trial and error gameplay to beat, which isn’t too bad considering the game’s price. Whether or not you decide to return to the game after beating it sort of depends on whether not you’re a glutton for punishment.

Overall I had an absolute blast playing GoNNER. It’s a beautiful game that provides a new challenge every time you play. If you’re in need of more great gaming content for your NVIDIA Shield Android TV, you definitely need to check this game out.

GoNNER is available for the NVIDIA Shield Android TV via the Google Play Store, and can also be found on Steam for PC and Mac.

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26
Dec

Pros and cons: Our quick verdict on the Oculus Touch


The Oculus Rift VR headset went on sale back in March, but it was only this month that the optional motion controllers arrived. Better late than never, though. In fact, if you already own the Rift, you’re going to want to spend an extra $199 on the Oculus Touch: It’s comfortable to use, works well as a game controller and allows for smooth, precise motion control. Also, there’s already a robust selection of games that support it, with even more to come. As that score of 88 suggests, we have very few complaints, but if we could change one thing, we’d like to see a rechargeable battery in future iterations. Even so, having to periodically swap out the AA battery is a small trade-off for the experience you get.

26
Dec

Stanford students discover how to build wires like Lego


Scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy have developed a way to make incredibly thin wires with extraordinary properties. Using diamondoids — the smallest possible pieces of diamond — the researchers have been able to build electrical wires that measure just three atoms wide. Thanks to their microscopic size, these remarkably thin wires have the potential to be used to make fabric that conducts electricity without energy loss.

The wires practically assemble themselves through a Lego-inspired building method. The process starts with attaching a sulfur atom to the diamondoids. Once put into a solution, each sulfur atom bonds with a copper ion, creating the nanowire ‘building block’ that draws the Lego comparisons. Thanks to the attraction between the diamondoids, the building blocks snap together to create a wire.

The best part? This complex-sounding process is actually surprisingly quick, creating a super-wire in only half an hour. After spending more than I’d care to admit on Star Wars Lego over the years, it’s good to know that even atomic researchers can learn things from toys.

The new method of assembly has other benefits too. The attractive properties of diamondoids allow scientists to build the tiny wires with pinpoint precision. Scientists can essentially construct the wire atom-by-atom, ensuring that the end result has properties that simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. “Much like Lego blocks, they only fit together in certain ways that are determined by their size and shape,” explains Stanford graduate student Fei Hua Li, one of the key researchers responsible for synthesizing the wires. “The copper and sulfur atoms of each building block wound up in the middle, forming the conductive core of the wire, and the bulkier diamondoids wound up on the outside, forming the insulating shell.”

Although research is still in the early stages, it’s impressive stuff, and could lead to the creation of brand new materials with electrical properties. With wires that can conduct electricity without loss, this research could usher in a new era of electrical efficiency, as well as opening the door to clothing with badass electrical properties. That flashing LED jacket you always wanted? Thanks to this wonderful world we live in, that questionably stylish dream could soon become reality.

Source: Stanford news

26
Dec

Theranos had an awful year, and it only has itself to blame


Theranos was — is — a blood-testing startup that promised to identify illnesses from a single drop of blood. Its innovative hardware, called Edison, could quickly spot diseases without the need for vials of blood. It was so revolutionary that pharmacy chain Walgreens partnered with the startup to offer “wellness centers” inside its stores. Except the biology and technology that underpinned Theranos’ business was junk, and the company spent the bulk of 2016 trying to convince everyone that it wasn’t a massive con.

It’s hard to mock a company that’s hit the skids, especially when there are real people suffering as a result — whether that’s employees losing their jobs or patients who have made medical decisions based on misleading data. Back in May, Theranos voided and corrected “tens of thousands” of blood tests that it had taken and examined across the previous two years. All because a lab staffer used a generic piece of testing equipment with the wrong settings and nobody thought to check.

Even worse is that Theranos knowingly sent inaccurate test results to between 40 and 81 people that placed them in “immediate jeopardy.” Whistleblower Tyler Shultz found that when Theranos tested its Edison machines, any inconvenient data — meaning that which conflicted with the company’s official narrative — was discarded. Internal paperwork said that Edison was accurate 95 percent of the time, but in reality that figure was somewhere between 65 and 80 percent.

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In hindsight, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong, and where founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes should have made amends. But with Theranos, the whole venture seemed misguided from the moment her professors at Stanford told her that fingerprint testing wouldn’t work. Whenever there was a hint of discord, Holmes would immediately send a cadre of lawyers around to intimidate them into silence.

It is often the case that the most thin-skinned and deceitful people are the first to call in lawyers. The day after Theranos’ chief scientist, Ian Gibbons, died after attempting to take his own life, lawyers turned up at his widow’s door. They were there to ensure that she didn’t repeat her late husband’s objections, and to seize any Theranos documents at their home.

You’d have to wonder if, at any point, Holmes looked in the mirror and wondered if she had turned into the villain of this story. It seems not, since she then spent 2016 desperately trying to deny reality, distract customers, investors and the media, and generally pass blame on to others. The company’s statement in response to the Walgreens lawsuit is to suggest that the retailer “mishandled” its partnership, which caused Theranos “significant harm.” But the harm that Theranos has suffered has all been self-inflicted, and now it’s all coming back, with interest.

Theranos’ miniLab / Theranos

First came the lawsuits. Walgreens, which until recently was Theranos’ key retail partner, wants $140 million. The investment fund PFM believes that it was misled by Holmes into investing $100 million in the startup “through a series of lies, material misstatements, and omissions.” Another investor, Robert Colman, believes that he, too, was misled about Theranos’ capabilities and technology. Others could soon pile on as well. Holmes herself, who at the beginning of the year was on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women, has seen her perceived net worth written down to nothing.

Theranos attempted to distract from its malaise by announcing a new piece of testing equipment, called miniLab. Holmes claimed that one of the key new features of the box would be to detect the Zika virus — timely, given the global crisis surrounding the disease. In the same month, however, the FDA inspected the box and said that it was unsuitable for general use because the company had flouted agency rules. Elizabeth Holmes is now banned from running or owning a lab for two years after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies audited one Theranos facility.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Adam McKay, who directed The Big Short, has signed a deal to direct a movie based on Holmes’ life. On the upside, it’s currently pegged to star the Academy Award–winning Jennifer Lawrence. On the downside, it’s likely going to use all of these grisly pieces of news as fodder for the screenplay, which will probably paint Holmes as a charlatan. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

26
Dec

Apple’s AI Team Publishes First Research Paper Focused on Advanced Image Recognition


Earlier in December, Apple announced that it would begin allowing its artificial intelligence and machine learning researchers to publish and share their work in papers, slightly pulling back the curtain on the company’s famously secretive creation processes. Now, just a few weeks later, the first of those papers has been published, focusing on Apple’s work in the intelligent image recognition field.

Titled “Learning from Simulated and Unsupervised Images through Adversarial Training,” the paper describes a program that can intelligently decipher and understand digital images in a setting similar to the “Siri Intelligence” and facial recognition features introduced in Photos in iOS 10, but more advanced.

In the research, Apple notes the downsides and upsides of using real images compared with that of “synthetic,” or computer images. Annotations must be added to real images, an “expensive and time-consuming task” that requires a human workforce to individually label objects in a picture. On the other hand, computer-generated images help to catalyze this process “because the annotations are automatically available.”

Still, fully switching to synthetic images could lead to a dip in the quality of the program in question. This is because “synthetic data is often not realistic enough” and would lead to an end-user experience that only responded well to details present in the computer-generated images, while being unable to generalize well on any real-world objects and pictures it faced.

This leads to the paper’s central proposition — the combination of using both simulated and real images to work together in “adversarial training,” creating an advanced AI image program:

In this paper, we propose Simulated+Unsupervised (S+U) learning, where the goal is to improve the realism of synthetic images from a simulator using unlabeled real data. The improved realism enables the training of better machine learning models on large datasets without any data collection or human annotation effort.

We show that this enables generation of highly realistic images, which we demonstrate both qualitatively and with a user study.

The rest of the paper goes into the details of Apple’s research on the topic, including experiments that have been run and the math proposed to back up its findings. The paper’s research focused solely on single images, but the team at Apple notes towards the end that it hopes to sometime soon “investigate refining videos” as well.

The credits on the paper go to Apple researchers Ashish Shrivastava, Tomas Pfister, Oncel Tuzel, Josh Susskind, Wenda Wang, and Russ Webb. The team’s research was first submitted on November 15, but it didn’t get published until December 22.

At the AI conference in Barcelona a few weeks ago, Apple head of machine learning Russ Salakhutdinov — and a few other employees — discussed topics including health and vital signs, volumetric detection of LiDAR, prediction with structured outputs, image processing and colorization, intelligent assistant and language modeling, and activity recognition. We’ll likely see papers on a variety of these topics and more in the near future.
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26
Dec

How to program Google Home to talk to you


If I could talk to the gadgets in my life, just imagine it. “Okay, Google, what will today be like?”

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Thankfully, I don’t have to imagine it — this is actually my life. When IFTTT announced integration with Google Assistant, I logged on and started setting up a few tricks of my own. My initial inclination was to have Google Home recite me my daily mantras, sort of as a way to remember them for each day of the week. But from there, I realized I could program Google Home to simply have an entire conversation with me using a few key phrases.

I’ve also programmed Google Home to broadcast our WiFi password to our house guests. The best part of the feature is that I don’t have to be the one to ask it. Google Home will immediately respond to anyone shouting out “Okay, Google,” which makes it easy for me to focus on getting drinks for my guests while they furiously log on to save their cellular data.

If you’re curious about setting this feature up yourself, read on.

Start with IFTTT

IFTTT already has a wide range of available applets for Google Assistant, which works with the Pixel and Google Home. The nice thing about some of these formulas is that you can use them even if you’re out and about as long as you have a compatible phone on you.

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To start, select the option to make a New Applet. Search for Google Assistant as the service (you can simply search for “Assistant” to bring it up) and select “Say a simple phrase.” This is where you’ll program Google Assistant to reply to certain phrases.

Make it dynamic

Before we move on, I want you to take a second to visualize how you’d want artificial intelligence to reply to you. Do you like a smarmy tone or would you rather have a robot sound like a robot? You can program Google Home just as you like it by choosing the right diction.

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Okay. Now think about what you’d want to say to Google Home to trigger the formula. Make the phrase easy to say and as few words as possible, for your own sake, though do take advantage of the option to add two other ways of triggering the formula. I’d also suggest avoiding using punctuation, sine that’s not the way Assistant will parse your question. Once you’ve figured out what to say, you can instruct Google Home on how to respond.

Then that

The only bummer with IFTTT is that you have to program a then that for the formula to work. This is great news if you’re a Tech Head and your house is filled to the brim with services that integrate into IFTTT, but it’s sort of useless when you’re simply trying to talk to Google Home.

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So, here’s what I do. I set up Google Home to send me a notification every time I pull this trick out of the hat. To do so, simply search for “notifications” as the “then that” formula of the applet. Once it’s set up, the IFTTT applet will push a dismissible notification to your smartphone. You could also use this to your advantage: For instance, I programmed IFTTT so that when one of my guests asks for the WiFi password, I’m notified on my smartphone.

How do you talk to Google Home?

Tell us in the comments! What have you programmed Google Home to say?

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  • Google Home review
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  • Google Home vs. Amazon Echo
  • Join our Google Home forums!

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26
Dec

How to spend the Google Play gift card you received this holiday season


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Looking for the best way to spend your new Google Play gift card? Here are some great ways!

Google Play gift cards are awesome gifts, and if you got some for presents this holiday you should be very thankful. Having them is only half the battle though, spending them in the best way is the other half. There are lots of things you can use those great gift cards on, and getting creative helps out.

Some like to play games, other prefer to watch movies or listen to music, and luckily your gift card can assist with all of it. Here are some of the best ways to spend those new gift cards in the Play Store on things you won’t regret.

Apps

There are tons of awesome apps available in Google Play. So many that sometimes it can get overwhelming trying to find the best ones for what you need. There are generally a bunch of options that do the same or similar things, but sometimes some of them do it a bit better. Whether you know what you need or are looking for something completely new, here are some of the best out there.

  • Best apps of 2016
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  • Best travel apps

Games

Not everyone likes to game on their phones, but it can actually be a great way to pass some spare time. Whether you are looking for something you can pick up and put down as you want, or something you can get lost in for hours on end, there are tons of options that you will like.

  • Best Android games of 2016
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Media

Google Play has more than just apps and games. There are tons of movies, TV shows, and albums available to explore as well. From full series to individual episodes, new movies to old ones, you’ll likely be able to find your favorites with ease. Google Play allows you to not only own the titles but also rent a bunch of them. This is great for those random family movie nights, or those times when you aren’t sure you want to own it but still want to watch it.

There is a lot to look through, and it is always being updated with new content. Google often times offers various sales, so be sure to check frequently to score some sweet deals.

  • Browse Google Play’s Movies & TV shows

Subscriptions

Did you know you could use your gift cards to pay for a Google Play Music or YouTube Red subscription? How cool is that?! This is a perfect way to try things out for a month or more, depending on your balance, without having to spend any of your own cash.

  • Sign up for a Google Play Music subscription

Your favorite?

Do you have a suggestion that isn’t listed here? If so, be sure to share it in the comments so others can check it out as well!

26
Dec

How to setup an Amazon Kindle for children


Amazon’s Kindle has established itself as a leading reading device and where you have reading, you hopefully have eager children. 

Although real books, on paper, as well as using public libraries, should be something that all children experience, there’s no denying that a Kindle has something to offer. 

But a Kindle device, hooked into an Amazon account, offers a great deal of connectivity that you probably don’t want your child to have.

There’s a web browser, for starters, as well as, potentially, your Amazon account through which they can buy books with wanton abandonment.

Whether you’re buying a new Kindle specifically for a child, or letting them use one you already have, here’s what you need to consider when setting-up a Kindle for your kids. Here we’re talking specifically about Kindle ebook readers, rather than Fire tablets, although in many cases, the same information applies.

Account decisions

A Kindle needs to be registered to an Amazon account. 

If you’re getting a new Kindle specifically for a child, then you need to decide whether you’re going have it linked to their own Amazon account, or to your account. 

If the child/Kindle gets its own account, then that account needs an email address, as well as a payment method. You don’t want to hand over your credit card, so using a pre-paid card to setup the Amazon account is an option.

Using this means, you can have a small value for some initial book purchases without having to worry about them emptying your bank account. You can always top up that pre-paid card for future purchases. 

If you opt to have the Kindle on your account (or have a child use your Kindle), then you’ll have to make sure you use parental controls to ensure they don’t spend on your account, or use the FreeTime function.

Parental controls

Kindle has plenty of parental controls, which is good place to start. If you’re giving your child a Kindle, you can opt to close off the major access points to the internet: web browser, Kindle Store and Cloud.

Each of these can be disabled, with parental controls getting password protection. That means you can, for example, disable the web browser and Kindle Store on that device, but leave access to Cloud. Cloud is where your Kindle purchases are stored when not downloaded to a device – it’s your complete online catalogue of content.

You can shut everything off, so you know that your child only has access to the content on the device and can’t go exploring. The Kindle is still connected to the internet, there just aren’t any access points from the device. 

This is a better option that simply turning on Aeroplane mode, because books will still sync, and importantly, you can still send books to the Kindle from the Kindle Store on your computer’s browser. You can also send documents to the Kindle using the email address assigned to your Kindle device, for example coursework packs from school.

This means you can put the Kindle in the hands of your child and buy books and have them delivered to their device to read. They will just appear on the home page.

Kindle FreeTime

However, Amazon has a system for children called Kindle FreeTime. This is, essentially, a locked down area specifically for them. Using Kindle FreeTime means you can have “your” adult/parental side of the device fully connected and “their” side safely locked down with only their content.

Kindle FreeTime lets you setup a child (or number of children) and then assign books to them from your collection. Using FreeTime means you’re buying those books on your account and sharing them, rather than buying them through an Amazon account in your child’s name.

Importantly, however, once you’re in FreeTime, you need a password to get out, so it’s a safe area.

From within FreeTime the navigation controls work very much as they do elsewhere, so you can still go home, search, and change some settings, but it’s all behind that safety barrier. There are awards and you have a reading target to encourage children to read regularly.

Progress through books will also be tracked separately from your reading. If you both want to read The Hobbit, for example, your child’s progress will be tracked separately from yours. If you simply used the same account and were reading the same book, it would be constantly trying to sync that book to the furthest read page, which isn’t ideal when two separate people are reading it.

Importantly, unlike locking down a device with parental control settings above, you still have to assign that content to FreeTime for your child. This can be done on the device itself or through a browser, so you can easily buy books and assign them to children, but it’s a deliberate action.

Cleverly, you can turn on FreeTime on a device and leave it in that state most of the time. Restarting the Kindle from FreeTime sees it returning to FreeTime: the only way out is to plug in the password.

Households and Family Library

Family Library is a new Kindle feature that let you share content with family members. It’s a convenient way for you to share or manage the content you have and you only have to buy things once.

To have a Family Library, you need to create a Household. This can consist of two adults, each with their own Amazon account, and up to four children. These child accounts are setup using FreeTime.

As a Household can’t accept more than two Amazon accounts (notionally two parents) it is a disadvantage to have a child’s Kindle with its own Amazon account, as that third account can’t be accommodated and you can’t share content through the Family Library. (Of course not all Households will have two parents, or might not have two parents who want to share content.)

However, once you have a Family Library setup, the two adult accounts can manage the content the children get access to. That means one adult can buy the content and the other can add or remove it from their own account if they need to.

Once you have adults and children in a Household, it’s really easy to manage content through a browser. In your account settings > Manage Your Content and Devices you can see all your Kindle books and who in your household gets access to them. 

What’s the best child Kindle setup?

The range of options and approaches means that settings can be tailored to the age of your child and how much autonomy you want them to have. For the younger children, you’ll want their Kindle registered to your Amazon account, but with all the parental controls engaged, so there’s no access to your account, Cloud or the web browser.

Then you’ll want to use FreeTime for that child. If they are getting their “own” Kindle device, you can then remotely control the content they get access to. You can gift books by simply buying them an assigning them to their FreeTime account.

You remain in control of content at all times and can easily remove books that they’ve finished with or outgrown. Importantly, if you’re buying it through your account, it’s your content and you can then share it with younger members of the family. Equally, as a child grows older, using a Household, you can still share older content in the future you might have bought for yourself.

There’s lots of information on the Amazon website about the different features and functions, as well as a range of options to suit different ages of children within a family.

Most of the features are available on recent Kindle and Kindle Fire models, but sadly aren’t yet available through the Kindle apps and some older devices. You can check full compatibility here.

READ: Amazon Kindle Voyage review: A first-class trip

At internetmatters.org parents can find all the advice they will need to keep their children safe online. Designed specifically for parents, the site offers a wealth of up-to-date, unbiased information and advice about how to deal with online safety. Parents can learn about the latest issues and technologies, get great tips on how to talk about online safety with their children and get the best advice on dealing with issues and taking action. Created with experts, Internet Matters provides detailed information, but also signposts to best-in-class resources from individual expert organisations. Our goal is to ensure parents can always access the information that they need, in a format that is clear and concise.

26
Dec

The worst gadgets of 2016


2016 was a year in which the fates seemingly asked, “Oh, you think that’s bad? Here, hold my beer.” We lost a Prince but gained a nacho-cheese-flavored, would-be king. We saw drones that couldn’t stop falling out of the sky, Snapchat filters that only a racist uncle could love and more poorly executed gadget gimmicks than you can shake a selfie stick at. Here are some of the cringe-worthiest consumer products we had the misfortune of covering this year.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

26
Dec

Apple to Hold New Year’s Sale in Japan Starting January 2


Starting on January 2, Apple plans to hold a special New Year’s Sale both online and at all of its retail locations in Japan, continuing a long tradition of offering something special on January 2 in the country.

Up until 2016, Apple took part in the Japanese tradition of offering “Fukubukuro” or “lucky bags” to customers. Fukubukuro used to contain an assortment of random Apple products at a price of approximately $300. Some bags contained things like backpacks, speakers, and other small accessories, but there was always a chance to win a larger product, like a MacBook Air or an iPad.

The Fukubukuro tradition is still ongoing in Japan, but 2015 was the last year that Apple participated, opting instead for in-store sales and doing away with the long lines retail locations used to see as people hoped to snag one of the limited edition bags.

It is not clear what kind of discounts Apple will be offering on January 2, but it could be similar to the Black Friday event in the United States, which saw the company offer Apple Store gift cards up to $150 with the purchase of Macs, iPads, iPhones, and more.

Apple is also likely to offer additional sales in various countries around the world ahead of Lunar New Year, set to take place on Saturday, January 28.

Related Roundup: Apple Deals
Tags: Japan, Apple retail
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