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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Programmable drums and self-making bedsheets

At any given moment there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunded project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Sensory Percussion — programmable drum sensors

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Sensory Percussion is a modern take on electronic drums that captures the true expressive nature of drumming. While standard trigger systems turn your drum into little more than an on/off button, Sensory Percussion listens and reacts, responding to the essence of your performance in real time. Unlike your typical programmable drum pad, which doesn’t have the same articulation and sonic freedom that a regular drum has, the Sensory Percussion system is designed as an overlay for your existing acoustic drums.

It’s a hardware sensor that clamps to the side of a drum (snare, tom, or kick) and connects to our Mac/PC software via a standard audio interface. Thanks to its finely-tuned sensors, the system understands where and how you hit the drum. It not only lets you map different parts of the drum to any sound desired (from samples and synthesizers to digital audio effects), but it also lets you control those sounds in an intuitive, expressive way. Sounds follow your playing in real-time, so rather than twiddle knobs and push buttons, you can control the experience simply by playing the drums.

Scribbler Duo — dual extruder 3D printing pen

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Remember 3Doodler, the world’s first 3D-printing pen that took Kickstarter by storm back in 2013? By using a special thermoplastic filament, it allowed users to draw free-form three-dimensional objects by hand, instead of drawing out designs on a computer and using a 3D printer to bring them to life. The product has since been manufactured and delivered, and it’s fantastic little gizmo. The only problem is that if you want to draw with multiple colors, you have to switch off the device and insert a different color — a process that acts as a sort of creative speed bump, so to speak.

To remedy this problem, a team of designers decided to make Scribbler Duo: a dual-color version of the same concept. Just like it’s predecessor, Scribbler Duo is essentially a handheld extruder that you load with a special ABS or PLA filament, and has buttons that allow you to control the rate at which the material comes out. This gives users the ability to draw at different speeds, create lines of varying thickness, and now, create three-dimensional artworks with two different colors simultaneously. No more swapping back and forth!

SmartDuvet Breeze — self-making bed with temperature control

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Hate making your bed? SmartDuvet is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. It’s an app-controlled inflatable insert that makes your bed at the touch of a button — so no more toiling with your comforter before you leave for work in the morning. With this gizmo, you can walk out the door, tap your phone a few times, and then come back to a perfectly-made bed. It’s a lazy person’s dream come true.

Here’s how it works: SmartDuvet is essentially a grid-shaped network of inflatable tubes that you slip inside your duvet cover. When deflated, you can hardly notice that it’s there, but when inflated, the inflated tubes will become rigid, thereby forcing your comforter to unfurl and return to its original position. After that’s done, the tubes deflate again, and your comforter goes back to looking normal. The original version launched about a year ago, but now the company is back with a new-and-improved version that allows you to control the temperature of your comforter — with two separate zones, no less!

The Public Radio — single-station mason jar radio

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Let’s be honest here — in the era of smartphones, ubiquitous internet access, and music streaming services that allow you to play virtually any song in the world without interruption; how many FM radio stations do you actually listen to anymore? If you listen to traditional radio at all these days, we’re willing to bet you probably just stick with one — that one good station that you listen to on your way to work because your car stereo doesn’t have a USB port, and you’re sick of the mix CD that’s been in your disc drive for the past four years.

Designed with this in mind, The Public Radio is a simple single-station radio built inside of a small mason jar. The lid of the jar is outfitted with all the tech it needs to function — all the circuitry, a pair of batteries, a speaker, antenna, and a single knob that functions as both an on/off switch and a volume controller. The glass jar apparently helps to amplify and direct the sound, while also acting as a safe, sturdy enclosure for the innards. It’s minimal in every sense of the word, and its decidedly simple design strips the experience down to its bare bones. No frills; just that one radio station you love.

Fourneau 2.0 — cast iron bread oven

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Baking a perfect loaf of bread is easier said than done, so most of us just leave the breadmaking to our local bakery. But thanks to a clever cooking contraption that’s currently up on Kickstarter, making bakery-quality bread in your home is easier than ever before. It’s called the Fourneau, and you may remember the first iteration of it from 2015, which was ultimately backed by nearly 800 people from 20 different countries. Now, the creators are back with the latest and greatest version of the oven: The Forneau 2.0.

So what exactly is this bread oven? Don’t worry, it’s not a whole new appliance you’ll have to install in your kitchen. Rather, this cast-iron bakeware device simply sits in your existing oven, creating the perfect environment for you to make artisan bread at home. Baking bread with the Forneau is pretty straightforward — simply place the device in your oven to preheat, and when it’s at the correct temperature, place your bread dough onto the peel and slide it in. The cast-iron walls promise to heat the dough thoroughly and evenly, and because it’s in an enclosed space, it will trap the steam from the bake. That means you’ll end up with a golden-brown, crisp crust, just like at the professional bakeries.


A 3D-printed bridge is being built using reinforced concrete

3D printing is a massive category that covers everything from small, DIY, plastic projects to metal meant to be used in Boeing’s 787 airplane. Yet another usage has come to light, courtesy of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Researchers there have started manufacturing parts for a 3D-print reinforced concrete meant for a cycling bridge. When the construction is complete, it’ll apparently the first bridge to use 3D-printed, reinforced concrete (but not the first 3D printed bridge using other materials — or even concrete itself. (The image above shows a 3D-printed concrete test done at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore; the one below comes from the Eindhoven University of Technology.)

It sounds like the university is getting by on a technicality with its “first-ever” claims, but that doesn’t make this project any less interesting. Manufacturing of the concrete parts has begun, and it’s anticipated that bridge construction will start in September. To get to the point where the 3D printed parts were considered reliable, the team at the university first built a 1:2 scale model, which was able to hold a 2,000kg (over 4,400 pounds) load.

As for why this process is an improvement over standard concrete techniques, printing a bridge will use far less concrete than pouring it into molds. There’s an environmental impact here, as well — the production of concrete cement releases CO2, so cutting down on those emissions is worth noting. There’s also more freedom of design, as a 3D-printer can fabricate shapes that are much harder to produce with a mold.

Another benefit is that the steel reinforcement cables can be printed at the same time as the concrete parts, leading to pieces that are “pre-stressed” for additional stability. Of course, this bridge is meant for much lighter weights than those that handle auto traffic are meant for — it’s not clear that this production technique would be able to scale up to handle a more intense load. But even if 3D printing can only be used for less strenuous jobs, there’s still plenty of places where it could be useful.

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology


First, DeepMind AI conquered Go. Now it’s time to stop playing games

DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence shut out the world’s best Go player, 19-year-old Ke Jie, ending their series at 3-0. Shortly afterward, the company announced that AlphaGo would be retiring from active competition, having beaten the very best around.

It makes a lot of sense for AlphaGo to bow out while it’s ahead. But by digging deeper into this decision, and looking at historical context, we might be able to see where DeepMind plans to head next.

There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Team’

On the surface, AlphaGo is retiring because of a lack of competition. However, there might be a bigger problem for DeepMind. The project has grown bigger than the research group that created it.

Google Trends: Deepmind and Alphago comparison

As the above Google Trends chart demonstrates, there’s more awareness of AlphaGo than there is of DeepMind, at least when one of the system’s high-profile Go matches is taking place. That’s troublesome, because AlphaGo is simply a step along a path towards the goal of creating an adaptable and competent AI, not the goal.

AlphaGo was developed to be good at Go, as its name suggests. Its ability to play the game has no doubt raised the profile of its creators, but it seems that DeepMind is being overlooked. People know AlphaGo, and they’re aware that it’s a project that’s backed by Google. The actual team that’s working on the technology, however, is rather anonymous outside of Silicon Valley.

DeepMind is the brand, and AlphaGo is the product – and right now, the product is eclipsing the brand.

DeepMind is the brand, and AlphaGo is the product – and right now, the product is eclipsing the brand. This could all change when the group launches a new project which, coming from the creators of AlphaGo, will likely be able to hit the ground running in awareness.

Stepping away from Go will help DeepMind demonstrate the full breadth of its capabilities when it comes to artificial intelligence. Of course, this isn’t the only reason that AlphaGo is retiring. A lengthy reign at the top can only end one other way.

A Fighting Champion

AlphaGo is no longer the underdog. From here on out, its human opponents will enter any series expecting a loss. That puts the impetus on the AI to defend its reputation. Top ranked players will be able to square off with the system, knowing that they can take the loss without losing face, and with the prospect of making a major name for themselves in the unlikely event of a victory.

It’s the perennially relevant story of the prize fighter who climbs to the top and stays there — right up until the point where they’re knocked from their perch. The weight of expectations and the eagerness to see someone slay the giant makes it incredibly difficult to remain a champion, and almost impossible to make a second ascent.

Even holding steady doesn’t do AlphaGo much good. AI is interesting because it’s a new technology that’s constantly evolving. Maintaining a position as the best Go player in the world doesn’t prove that DeepMind is moving forward in the same way that its victories up to this point have done.

It’s important to remember that when IBM’s Deep Blue system beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov two times in a row in the 1990s, Kasparov was denied the rematch he requested. Projects like AlphaGo and Deep Blue are developed to demonstrate blossoming technology, to drum up awareness among the public, and hopefully garner financial support from entities that can apply the ideas that are in play. Exhibition matches against the best of the best only have a limited amount of utility, no matter what game is being played.

However, if DeepMind can take on a new challenge, then the slate is wiped clean. The group’s next public-facing project needs to be a similarly insurmountable task as defeating the world’s greatest Go player. The challenge is to find an activity that doesn’t just measure up to AlphaGo’s recent accomplishments, but exceeds them entirely.

The house always wins

DeepMind isn’t the only group out there that’s pushing the limits of AI, and various other teams have their own ideas about how to demonstrate the capabilities of their technology. For instance, one project saw a neural network take on top Super Smash Bros. players. DeepMind itself is collaborating with Blizzard to teach an AI how to play Starcraft II.

However, though video games are more complex than board games, there’s something less impressive about seeing a machine excel at digital entertainment. Being that these games are made up of ones and zeroes, it’s easy to assume that a computer would be better than a human player. Whether that’s true or not, exhibition matches that pit man against machine are all about public perception.

For the same reason, DeepMind probably won’t teach a machine to play Arimaa, a board game developed with the specific purpose of being difficult for machines to play. It would be a great demonstration of how far this technology has come, but since it’s an incredibly niche game, it wouldn’t appeal to the masses in the same way an AI playing Go could.

Looking to traditional board games in the same vein as Go, there are a couple of options. The Chinese xiangqi and the Japanese shogi both stand out, each being complex and competitive. However, good progress has already been made in teaching computers to play both, so it remains to be seen whether DeepMind would want to throw its name into the hat, considering that mastering another one-on-one strategy game wouldn’t be too much of a diversion from the AlphaGo project.

Instead, we can expect DeepMind to pursue a challenge that will have a clear relevance to all onlookers. In January 2017, an AI called Libratus took on some pro poker players and won, making headlines around the world. It wouldn’t be surprising to see DeepMind field a similar project.

Even though it’s already been done, poker could be a potent choice, with bigger stakes and better competition, providing more spectacle. Libratus took on players at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, PA but it wouldn’t be surprising to see DeepMind head to Vegas or Monte Carlo to add some pomp and ceremony.

Poker is an interesting challenge for AI because it represents a marked increase in the volume of human competition. From Deep Blue facing Kasparov, to AlphaGo squaring up to Ke Jie, there have always been detractors who have claimed that the computer players have been programmed with a specific opponent in mind. With several players around the table, DeepMind would be able to demonstrate an ability to take on a selection of different playstyles at once.

However, it may turn out that DeepMind is done playing games. It’s might be time for AlphaGo — or at least the technology that underpins it — to grow up and get a real job.

An end to the exhibition era

Everybody knows that Deep Blue took down Kasparov at his own game, and anyone that keeps an eye on tech news knows that AlphaGo has demonstrated a similar mastery of Go. Over the past twenty years, we’ve been given plenty of evidence that AI is more than just science fiction.

That said, most of us are yet to feel any palpable benefit from AI in our day-to-day lives. Sure, various companies wheel out terms related to the technology as a marketing buzzword — but the results are seldom the quantum leap we’re looking for.

While the AlphaGo project was making headlines, the company was also working on several less showy projects.

This is the real challenge that DeepMind must face. Few doubt the potential AI holds to change the world for the better, and AlphaGo has quite capably demonstrated what the group’s specific strain of the technology can accomplish. The time for exhibition matches is over. Now, we need to see what AI can do in terms of practical applications.

DeepMind is aware of this. While the AlphaGo project was making headlines, the company was also working on several less showy projects. These efforts are set to take center stage going forward

In DeepMind’s blog post officially announcing AlphaGo’s retirement from competitive play, it noted that the team behind the technology is moving on to algorithms that could help with tasks like “finding new cures for diseases, dramatically reducing energy consumption, or inventing revolutionary new materials.”

We’ve seen how the company’s AI can improve energy consumption in the past. In July 2016, Google detailed how the technology was being used, and it seems the next step is to roll out on a larger scale. This project isn’t going to grab headlines, but it also won’t rub anyone up the wrong way.

The same can’t be said for DeepMind’s efforts to branch out into medicine. The idea of using AI to detect early warning signs of disease sounds like a PR win, but the execution of the project has already caused controversy.

In May 2017, DeepMind was criticized after it was given access to over 1.6 million medical records by the U.K.’s NHS. The issue was whether the company was providing direct care, given that the records it was supplied with were personally identifiable.

That’s the kind of problem that Deepmind didn’t have to worry about while conquering Go. AI in the real world, performing tasks that affect real people, will cause real consequences — whether they come in from the information being analyzed, or the aftermath of something going wrong.

AlphaGo was AI with training wheels on. Losing the game was the biggest risk. While it might’ve been embarrassing for Deepnmind, failure was an option. The next stage of the company’s lifespan is going to see more consequential challenges than the hurdles its AI has already cleared.


Venmo reportedly made physical debit cards for a trial run

Venmo is reportedly taking a leaf out of other digital payment services’ book and making a physical debit card. According to Recode, the PayPal-owned mobile app created to make going Dutch with friends a lot easier has already begun testing a card that would allow users to spend the money in their accounts in brick-and-mortar stores. Some Venmo employees’ feeds show them using the app to pay for purchases from fast-food chains like Taco Bell, confirming that the company is indeed testing something outside its core features. Before this, people could only use Venmo to pay for purchases from partner apps.

A Venmo card means users will be able to spend their money without having to wait for their withdrawal to appear in their bank accounts. For the company itself, Recode says it could mean a way to generate revenue, since payments to merchants come with a corresponding fee.

We still don’t know if the card will actually be released, but if it does make its way to users, the question is how long it’ll last. Bigger companies have tried and failed to connect physical cards with their digital payments services. Take for example, Google, which launched a card to work with Wallet and then killed it merely three years later. We can’t fault Venmo for wanting to try, though, when other payments services like Square are also still toying with the idea of releasing debit cards to go with their users’ accounts.

Source: Recode


TouchArcade iOS Gaming Roundup: Sega Forever, Death Road to Canada, Hearthstone, and More

This week in iOS gaming was dominated by a single thing: The unveiling of the “Sega Forever” program that Sega first started teasing around a month ago. The original announcement came with practically no details beyond Sega was doing something with its massive back catalog of games, which in turn caused speculation to run wild. Eventually the internet decided Sega Forever was going to be a Netflix-like service for classic Sega titles, which turned out to be totally incorrect.

Instead, Sega Forever is five mobile game ports, with more on the way. Each game is free to download, and can be played for free forever with ads. There’s also a one-time $1.99 unlock inside each game to permanently disable ads. The initial batch of Sega Forever titles include:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog [App Store Link]
  • Altered Beast [App Store Link]
  • Phantasy Star II [App Store Link]
  • Kid Chameleon [App Store Link]
  • Comix Zone [App Store Link]

Unfortunately, our first impressions of these were not great. The quality of the emulation is subpar, performance is bad (even on recent iOS devices), and the games lack any of the configurability options that have become standard in both emulators themselves as well as iOS games in a general sense. There are no options for screen filtering or screen stretching, and you can’t even adjust the virtual controls, which is a particularly baffling omission as they often block vital on-screen components in these games.

Our own Shaun Musgrave, who is basically the TouchArcade equivalent of Encyclopedia Brown, spent a ton of time playing these new ports, and discovered among other things that when Sega first released some of these games back in 2009, they performed better than these “new and improved” Sega Forever titles.

Needless to say, this has really left us scratching our heads. The one exception to these bad ports is Sonic the Hedgehog, which isn’t emulated but instead was re-built from the ground up by Christian Whitehead back in 2013. Whitehead is also responsible for the amazing Sonic CD remake that has was released on the App Store a few years ago. Regardless, Sega has plans to constantly release new Sega Forever titles, so we’ll have to wait and see if their emulation wrapper improves at all or if this is the new normal. If you want to hear even more about Sega Forever, check out this week’s episode of our podcast.

In other news, Rocketcat Games released a new trailer for its upcoming Death Road to Canada update. The game itself leans on a lot of roguelike tropes with randomized encounters, surprise party members, and more. This latest update adds more structure to the progression of the game, shifting things slightly away from total randomization and instead allowing players to buy persistent perks and abilities. When it’s released, the price of the game will rise from $8.99 to $9.99, so if you want to save a buck be sure to grab Death Road to Canada now.

With its next expansion, Hearthstone will see a massive change to how opening packs work: In a nutshell, if you open a Legendary card in a pack, it will be a unique card and not one you already own. Similarly, you will never open more copies of a card in any single pack than you can use in a deck – so the days of opening a pack with the same four commons and one junk rare are over. It’s a huge quality of life improvement, and the player reception to the change has been incredibly positive.

When we cover upcoming game trailers, typically there’s just one new game being teased. Developer and publisher Umbrella released a trailer of its entire summer lineup. Fifteen games in one video. It’s a lot to take in, but if you enjoy quick pick up and play iOS games that mass market mobile gamers seem to love, these are definitely all going to be titles that are worth having on your radar in one way or another.

Last but not least, while last week’s news was all about Supercell’s latest soft launched game Brawl Stars, there’s one important thing to note: Currently the game is only available for iOS. It will eventually come to Android, but Supercell has not yet released a date for the Android version of the game.

Unfortunately, the number of scams floating around in the Android world right now trying to either trick people into jumping through all sorts of hoops (often making the scammer money) or to just download malware APKs is off the charts. As of this writing, all Android Brawl Stars guides, download links, and whatever else are scams. When the game finally launches on Android, it will be a big deal. You won’t miss it.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. If you enjoy reading this weekly roundup, be sure to visit TouchArcade where we post things like this, as well as way more news, reviews, previews, and everything else covering the world of iOS (and, like this article, a tiny bit of Android) gaming.

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It’s now easier to get Purism’s security-focused laptops

Purism is nowhere near as well-known as other PC makers, but you may want to keep it on your radar if you’re becoming increasingly concerned about security and privacy. The company, which only used to sell made-to-order machines, has just announced the general availability of its security-focused Librem 13 and Librem 15 laptops. That means you don’t have to wait months in a waiting list just to be able to buy one — you’ll now get your computer within “a few weeks after purchase.”

The company says it works with hardware manufacturers to make sure its components can’t be used to infiltrate your system. For instance, its laptops have a kill switch that turns off their mic and camera, so you can make sure nobody’s spying on you through your webcam, which unfortunately can happen to anyone. Another kill switch disables their WiFi and Bluetooth in an instant to prevent unauthorized connection to your computer in public. Librem 13, 15 and the brand’s other computers also run the company’s own PureOS that’s a derivative of Debian GNU/Linux.

Purism might have decided it’s high time to make their computers more accessible now that people are becoming more conscious about the security of their devices. It specifically mentioned the WannaCry ransomware attacks in its announcement post as one of the more recent large-scale security scares. By eliminating the need to wait for months, the buying process becomes much less intimidating for ordinary people or non-security researchers. Take note that the Librem laptops aren’t cheap, though: based on what we’ve seen from the manufacturer’s website, the 13-inch laptop will set you back at least $1,699, while the cheapest 15-inch configuration costs $1,999.

Source: Purism


Seek Adventure App takes the Pokémon Go concept a step further

Why it matters to you

Pokémon Go was a huge craze. With the ability to earn tangible prizes, Seek has the chance to be even bigger.

When Pokémon Go launched last year, the world changed for weeks. All of the sudden, people were gathering in large numbers in locations they didn’t gather before. The aim was to get people outdoors and it worked. Seek Adventure App plans to take things a step further.

Just like Pokémon Go, Seek uses geo-location based gaming to engage users with their phones and the real world. Where Seek takes it a step further is by partnering with various brands and companies to offer real-world rewards through adventure.

When opening the app, Seek users can use the on-screen map to find digital treasure chests filled with prizes. These prizes can be anything, such as cash, gift cards, TVs, and more. Smaller treasure chests might contain coins, which can then be used to purchase keys to unlock Rare, Epic, and Legendary chests. These chests are harder to find, but offer better chances to earn big prizes.

All users have to do to start unlocking chests is go out on a walk, bike ride, or hike. Chests are scattered throughout neighborhoods and parks, or at destinations like theme parks or ski resorts. When users are within the capture range of 10 to 20 meters, they can tap on the chest and select “Capture.” Once selected, users will need to use their phone to look around for the chest using a radar. Once found, tapping it will reveal the prize. With over 90 million digital treasure chests around the world, there are many chances to earn some tangible rewards.

Seek is unique in that it provides a powerful marketing platform for meaningful consumer engagement. Current sponsors include Universal Pictures, Cinemark, Samsung, Six Flags, Blendtec, Goal Zero, and more.

With these sponsors come special promotions. For instance, when Seek partnered up with Universal Studios and Cinemark to promote the release of The Mummy, users could open the mummy sarcophagus. Opening one at a Cinemark theater offered the chance to win $100 gift cards, concessions discounts, or free movie tickets.

Seek Adventure App is currently available for both Android and iOS devices. It is completely free for all users, who have nothing to lose except battery power.


Uber is having trouble holding onto its drivers, according to recent data

Why it matters to you

While drivers are downloading the Uber driver app with considerable frequency, they’re not keeping it for very long, and that could spell trouble for Uber.

The bad news just keeps rolling in for Uber. Not only has there been a shakeup at the very top of the company, but the folks who make up the base of the transportation giant also seem to be leaving. We’re talking, of course, about Uber drivers. According to data provided to TechCrunch by app analytics firm Apptopia, Uber’s new driver retention rates have seen a precipitous decline in the U.S.

According to Apptopia’s analysis of app downloads and usage of Uber, 30-day user retention for the Uber driver app is down 47 percent from January to May. As TechCrunch noted, “This measure looks at the proportion of users opening the app each day after the initial day of download — continuing until the 30th day … the idea being to measure engagement meaningfully versus looking at app deletions (as lots of people just stop using an app versus actively deleting it).”

Curiously enough, over the same period of time, the number of driver app downloads actually increased by 20 percent. But if the Apptopia’s data (and its interpretation) is correct, while Uber is doing a solid job of getting folks to initially come onboard, they’re having trouble getting them to stay.

We should point out that Apptopia doesn’t obtain any of its data directly from Uber, but rather pulls from a network of 250,000 apps that it has developer account access to. This, the firm says, gives way to “strong trend data for major apps.”

While Uber has pulled in plenty of negative headlines as of late, it’s unclear as to how much of an impact that ultimately has on its driver retention rates (though users could be a whole different story). The more likely culprit for the decline is the relatively low pay rate from Uber pool rides, and the historical lack of in-app tipping. Of course, Uber has since remediated this second concern, so perhaps future analysis of the driver app will show that numbers are back up.

Ultimately, it seems safe to say that only time will tell whether or not Uber and its drivers will be able to weather the storm.


What’s that on the roof? A giant Macbook will top off Chicago’s new Apple Store

Why it matters to you

Apple Stores are known for their innovative design, but this is something completely different. Will the trend catch on with competitors?

You won’t be able to not know what this new building in Chicago sells. Unless, by some chance, you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so. According to the latest photos and videos from DNAinfo, the new Apple Store currently being constructed on the Chicago River is topped not with a cherry, but with a Macbook.

The Windy City’s latest retail store is located at Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, and on Thursday, it got a big, white Apple logo on its roof. But that roof just so happens to be curved and metallic, which of course, makes it look a whole lot like the lid of an Apple laptop. But don’t get too excited — you can’t just head over there and snap a photo yourself. DNAinfo reported that less than an hour after the logo was placed, crews rolled the apple up and removed it (because apparently, you don’t want to give away all your surprises at once).

The addition of the Apple logo appears to be of particular interest because when renderings of the new store were initially publicized back in 2015, the telltale sign was nowhere to be seen. But it’s been two years, and just maybe, plans have changed.

The new store will serve as Apple’s new home base in Illinois’ largest city — previously, the flagship store in Chicago was located at 679 N. Michigan Avenue. “Our store on North Michigan Avenue has welcomed more than 23 million customers since it opened in 2003, and we’re now creating something even more remarkable for Chicago,” Nick Leahy, an Apple spokesman, told DNAinfo in 2015.

When it’s completed, the new store is slated to span a whopping 20,000 square feet, and of course, will be largely made of glass. Designed by London-based Foster+Partners, the new building will extend from Pioneer Court to the riverfront. But alas, we still don’t know when the newest Apple store will open.

Of course, the new Apple store in Chicago may not be quite as cool as Apple’s new headquarters (because is anything as cool as a spaceship?) but it’s still something to talk about.


Android O’s notification coloring is an abomination


This idea needs a second look, Google.

Not every idea is a good idea. And some good ideas aren’t nearly as good as they sound once put into use. I’m not sure where the idea of colorizing media notifications in Android O fits into the “good” scale of ideas, but I know one thing. It’s an idea that needs to change.

In case you’re not up to snuff with what I’m talking about — even when launched Android O will take about a year to get on the majority of phones out there — the new version allows developers to build rich media notifications that include playback controls, album art and a different color template based on the album or video thumbnail. right now, Google Play Music and YouTube will give you these new colorized notifications if you’re running the Android O beta.

And they are a mess.


The twitch level is off the charts when I see something like this.

Alone, they’re not horrible. A notification that’s not base gray with darker gray lettering (on the Pixel launcher, because that’s different on every phone) is neat. A splash of color goes a long way and can help brighten things up. But eventually, you’ll come across a colorized notification that’s a color combo you can’t read (Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedos in Google Play will throw a pink notification with white lettering that refuses to show up in a photo of an AMOLED screen). I am on the lookout for a black on black notification, but so far even AC/DC has failed me.

It gets worse when you have two of the new rich colorized notifications or a normal notification and a colorized notification or any mix of either. The photos above demonstrate. This is not a good look.

The idea can be fixed if given a little attention.

OK, this is a beta. I know this. That means there’s a chance the final product won’t look anything like this, but that chance is slim. But I still want to give my feedback while there is time. Readability issues are easy enough to fix. Every color has a numerical value, and the software can be written so that certain numerical values won’t ever be shown together. No more white text on light pink. But that still doesn’t fix the fact that you might have one light pink notification beside (or above in this case) a normal one. Or one light pink one and one orange one. Or two brown ones with different color text.

And this is just the Pixel so far. Who knows how things will look on a Samsung or Huawei phone that has a pretty custom job going on up top for notifications. Which is part of the problem. Android can be too openy. It’s cool that developers and users are able to change up how things look, but there needs to be a bit of control in some places. As mentioned in a recent episode of the Android Central Podcast, sometimes Google needs to stop suggesting how things are done and make a rule that needs to be followed. Especially for apps in Google Play.

Notifications with album art and controls are awesome. Can we make sure they look awesome?

The idea of having album art or thumbs in the notification is awesome. But they could be isolated from the rest of the notification area. Or something. I’m not a graphic designer, but I know at least a few work at Google. All I know is that no matter what phone I’m using, I never want to see the mess in the example photos.

A lot of people are going to disagree with me here, and that’s fine. You should be able to have your stuff look the way you like. So should I. Let’s hope there’s an easy to find setting to kill the color when O makes its way into the world.

Android O

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