Welcome back from the long festive weekend. In the midst of all that egg-nog, present opening and family router troubleshooting, you might have missed Apple’s first published AI research, the worst gadgets of the year, and the latest Chinese luxury smartphone that goes all-in on battery life.
No, you’re the worst.
The worst gadgets of 2016
Sidestepping the rest of the bad news that 2016 managed to deliver, there were some stinkers when it came to this year’s new gadgets. Smoking (then exploding) phones, plain racist app photo filters, excessively overpriced smartwatches and those dongles.
It’s all about object recognition.
Apple reveals its work on artificial intelligence
When Apple said it would publish its artificial intelligence research, we had a few questions: Would the company keep potential trade secrets close to the vest? What exactly is the company working on? Well, in its first published AI paper, it outlined the issues with teaching AI to recognize objects using simulated images, which are easier to use than photos (since you don’t need a human to tag items) but poor for adapting to real-world situations. Apple says the trick is to pit neural networks against each other: one network trains itself to improve the realism of simulated images (in this case, using photo examples) until they’re good enough to fool a rival “discriminator” network. Ideally, this pre-training would save massive amounts of time. It’s still far too early to say how this will make its way to Apple’s assembled collection of goods or services. For now.
Big battery, big price tag.
China’s latest luxury phone goes all-in on battery life
China’s Gionee is taking a different approach with its new big-screened premium phone: it’s giving you one huge feature that might help to excuse its ‘luxury’ price tag. It just launched the M2017, a metal-and-leather 5.7-inch phone that houses an enormous 7,000mAh battery. Possibly a bigger battery than your tablet. When the M2017 goes on sale in China on January 6th (an international release isn’t likely), it’ll start at about $1,007 for a 128GB version and jump to $2,500 for a 256GB model. Not the most expensive smartphone, but likely more than that iPhone 7 Plus model you were eyeing up in the new year sales.
LG has a floating speaker ready for 2017
Levitating (and magical) Bluetooth speakers have been around for years, but LG is the first major electronics company to throw a product in the ring, and is doing so with its classy-looking, albeit blandly named, “Levitating Portable Speaker,” which will make its debut at CES in January. The company promises 10 hours of playback, although it looks like we’ll have to wait for the big tech show in a week to pin down a price.
But wait, there’s more…
- Tesla’s next-generation Superchargers should be much faster
- This week: The biggest losers of 2016
- Fake news starts an Israel-Pakistan Twitter dispute
- A new ‘Double Dragon’ game is on its way next month
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.
One of the first entries in your 2017 calendar should be the release date of a 30th Anniversary entry in the Double Dragon series. Arc System Works acquired the rights to the series last year, and just announced that Double Dragon IV will be released January 30th on the PS4 and Steam platforms. Despite being the first new update since 2012’s Double Dragon Neon release and first update of any kind since Double Dragon Trilogy, its trailer flashes the classic side-scrolling beat ’em up action this series has been known for since it started as a coin-op in 1987.
According to a press release, three developers from the original game are helping to create it. The original planner, designer and composer from the arcade game are involved, which should help keep the classic feel going. The Japanese price of the game is listed as 800 yen ($6.84 US), so it shouldn’t be too hard on the pockets once it’s released.
Via: Wario 64 (Twitter)
Source: Arc System Works (YouTube)
Star Citizen is still far from being ready, but it now has a more solid underpinning. Cloud Imperium has revealed that it has switched both Star Citizen and Squadron 42 from Crytek’s CryEngine to Amazon’s Lumberyard engine as of Star Citizen’s just-launched Alpha 2.6 release. It was an “easy and smooth transition” due to Lumberyard’s CryEngine roots, but both secures the “long term future” of the games and promises some distinct advantages. It taps directly into the cloud through Amazon Web Services, for instance, and makes Twitch streaming easy.
The studio has already been collaborating with Amazon for “over a year,” so this isn’t a panicked response to Crytek’s financial woes. The timing is more than a little convenient, mind you. It gives Cloud Imperium more of a safety net if Crytek ever has to stop its own development — it won’t have to switch engines while it’s in panic mode. It’s easy to imagine frustration from backers at the thought that the Amazon switch might delay Star Citizen even longer, but that might be better than risking the entire project.
As it stands, Alpha 2.6 is a big step forward: it’s the first release with Star Marine, the game’s first-person shooter component. You now have two competitive multiplayer modes (everyone-for-themselves and a Battlefield-style capture-and-hold mode) for those times when you just want to fight friends instead of exploring the cosmos. Numerous other parts of Star Citizen have received some polish, too, such as first-person animations and third-person cameras. Although this is still no substitute for a finished game, it at least shows that Cloud Imperium is getting a handle on some of the many, many features it has been promising over the years.
Source: Roberts Space Industries (1), (2)
Letter from the Editor
Happy Holidays everybody! As 2016 winds to a close, we’re spending its last two weeks looking at the best and worst in the world of technology. On this Christmas Eve, I give you the greatest successes in the tech world over the past year. (Those hoping for some holiday schadenfreude will have to wait until next week.)
In case it wasn’t already apparent, Elon Musk has done pretty well for himself in the past 12 months. Roberto Baldwin detailed how Musk’s car company made major strides toward vertically integrating sun to volts and realizing his master plan to get everyone driving (or being driven by) his EVs. It’s his world, y’all, we’re just living in it.
Meanwhile, where Musk’s extra-terrestrial pursuits with SpaceX saw some setbacks, Mariella Moon explained how NASA truly thrived in 2016 (particularly on social media), despite having fewer relative resources than in years past. Turns out, most of us think learning about space is cool, but apparently not cool enough to get Congress to increase the agency’s funding.
Netflix increased its own funding by raising the cost of its streaming services. Much to the delight of shareholders, that price hike couldn’t stop the company’s upward trajectory. Richard Lawler wrote that the company’s success was driven by its growing slate of original shows and international expansion, among other things.
And finally, Aaron Souppouris explained how augmented and virtual reality entered the mainstream in 2016, but they’re really just stepping-stones on the road to mixed reality — the true melding of real and digital worlds.
Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the sequels to “Rogue One”DARPA’s LUKE bionic arm is going to vets first
After eight years of development, two of Dean Kamen’s prosthetic arms have been delivered to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Dubbed LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution), it was inspired by the Star Wars character and can understand multiple commands at once, allowing for more natural movement.
Gamers, hide your walletsMicrosoft, Sony and Valve are all offering big holiday sales
Now that you’ve snagged gifts for everyone else (if you’ve waited until the last minute, don’t worry, we can help), it’s time to pick up a few things for yourself. If video games are your habit of choice, you’re in luck: Deep discounts are available on PC and consoles alike, covering every genre and style of release we can think of.
ShockerApple is reportedly putting Mac development on the back burner
If you think Apple’s computers aren’t getting enough love, this report could help explain why. MacBook Pro issues and a focus on mobile devices mean there aren’t as many resources for developing new desktops. Tim Cook says Apple has “great” desktops in its roadmap, but who knows when we’ll actually see them.
Real-time fantasyNBA InPlay app listens in to know what game you’re watching
The NBA is rolling out a fantasy basketball app that works in a unique way: to rack up points, you have to watch the game. It uses the audio to recognize national broadcasts, while viewers select players and get points from their performance. The league’s slate of Christmas Day games is a perfect opportunity to try it out, which is probably why InPlay came to Android and iOS this week.
Remember: The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals2016: The year in winners and losers
So far, our looks back through 2016 are all positive, so peruse the year’s winners while you can. Tesla, Netflix, mixed reality and NASA all walk away from 2016 with heads held high and a seemingly bright future. All that changes next week when we figure out who took a step backward in the past twelve months.
But wait, there’s more…
- Samsung Gear S3 Frontier review: Lots of features, not enough apps
- Sling TV accidentally reveals its set-top box for cord cutters
- Death isn’t enough to keep a classic character out of the latest “Star Wars” film
- The first trailer for “Blade Runner 2049” is here
It’s just a few days until Christmas, and plenty of people will probably end up with an Xbox One or PS4 beneath the tree. Naturally, both Sony and Microsoft are offering a raft of game deals for people to load up their new consoles, and it’s worth taking a look whether you’re just getting a new console or have had one for years now.
On the Sony side, there aren’t many deals on brand-new to be had, but some of the best of the last couple years are on sale — including Shadow of Mordor (Game of the Year edition, $10.99), Star Wars Battlefront (Ultimate Edition for $27.99 or the standard edition for $9.99), Overwatch ($39.59) and the full Destiny collection ($39.59). You can also grab Bloodbourne for only $7.99, Grand Theft Auto V for $29.99 and the first season of Hitman $29.99. That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens more games on sale. Note that all of these prices only apply if you have a PS Plus subscription — though all these games are also on sale if you don’t have PS Plus, they’ll just cost a little more. Sony’s deals are on through 12/27 at 8AM, though there will be another sale right on the heels of that one.
Microsoft has a similarly expansive sale going on through the 28th. Among the many games on sale are Battlefield 1, BioShock: The Collection, Dishonored 2 and Destiny: The Collection all for $44.99 each. Forza Horizon 3 is on sale for $38.99 and Forza Motorsport 6 is $29.99. If you want to pick up some games on the cheap, Batman: Arkham Knight and Star Wars: Battlefront are only $11.99 each. And if you want to get your hands on the latest from one of Microsoft’s flagship franchises, Gears of War 4 is on sale for $32.99. Microsoft is also having daily deals today through the 31st, and another sale will kick off on the 29th after this current one ends.
If PC games are more your speed, Steam is also holding its big holiday sale right now — it’s a good week to blow some cash on games regardless of what platform you prefer.
Source: Microsoft, Sony
Australia’s federal court has fined Valve AUD$3 million (USD$2.2 million) after ruling that the company breached consumer law when it didn’t offer refunds between 2011 and 2014. This is the maximum fine requested by Australia’s competition regulator and it’s 12 times more than Valve itself suggested it should pay, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. Justice James Edelman said he imposed such a harsh penalty because Valve willfully disregarded Australian law.
When Valve established Steam in Australia, it did not seek out legal advice or ensure it followed local regulations until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was alerted in 2014, Valve’s general counsel Karl Quackenbush said. This lack of forethought did not sit well with Justice Edelman.
“[Valve] had a culture by which it formed a view without Australian legal advice that it was not subject to Australian law, and it was content to proceed to trade with Australian consumers without that advice and with the view that even if advice had been obtained that Valve was required to comply with Australian law the advice might have been ignored,” his judgement reads, according to the Morning Herald.
Valve is a United States company serving 2.2 million accounts in Australia, and between 2011 and 2014 it received 21,124 tickets with the word “refund” from Australian IP addresses, Justice Edelman said.
Australia’s federal court found in March that Valve’s lack of a refund policy on Steam violated consumer law. Valve implemented an international refund policy in mid-2015.
Valve initially suggested it should pay a AUD$250,000 penalty, but Justice Edelman said that figure was “not even a real cost of doing business. It would barely be noticed.”
Luckily, refunds are now definitely a thing on Steam — and the site’s winter sale is going on right now.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
You don’t need a degree in marketing to know promotional material that could offend and alienate potential customers is obviously a bad call. But it’s a fact Indie Gala — an online store selling Steam keys for indie titles — seems woefully unaware of. In an effort to promote its winter sale, specifically a discount on tactical first-person shooter Insurgency, the store bundled an insensitive and years-old Steam recommendation with an equally crass meme to create the advert you see above. The tweet has since disappeared, likely due to the devs of Insurgency publicly deploring the promotion, not to mention a chorus of other Twitter users clearly offended by it. The ad remains live on Indie Gala’s Facebook page, however.
@IndieGala Remove this tweet. We do NOT accept you promoting our game in this offensive manner.
— Insurgency (@insurgencygame) December 22, 2016
Video games in general, whether we’re talking specific titles or the industry as a whole, struggle with diversity as it is. Given that issues of stereotyping and sexism come up all too often, you’d think an online game store would know better than to come up with such an obviously insensitive promotion.
Via: Rami Ismail (Twitter)
Source: Indie Gala (Facebook), New World Interactive (Twitter)
One of the reasons why Pokemon Go was such a success is because it got people out and about during the summer. Now that winter is settling in and the snow is starting to fall, however, the developers at Niantic Labs have to figure out a way to keep people playing. Beginning on Christmas Day morning, Pokestops will dole out a single-use incubator. More than that, until January 3rd you’ll have a better chance of finding Togepi, Pichu and other Johto-based eggs.
To further celebrate the season Pikachu wearing Santa hats are going to be a thing as well. An adorable thing that will stick around a bit longer. Need more reason to brave the unforgiving tundra your neighborhood has become? Come December 30th, finding the original starting Pokemon (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and their subsequent evolutions) will be easier too, according to a press release from the company.
To give you a leg up in finding them, Lure Modules will double their lifespan and last for an hour. These bits only last through January 8th, though, so time is of the essence. But hey, now you have a valid excuse for taking a walk when your family members are on your last nerve.
In this week’s episode guest host Devindra Hardawar is joined by managing editor Dana Wollman and senior editor Chris Velazco as they run through the biggest winners of 2016. While it might have been a rough year for our musical legends, it was a pretty solid one for Netflix and Tesla. Heck, even in the throes of a growing fake news crisis, Facebook managed to have more wins than loses. And, once they’ve finished listing off all the ways emoji are taking over the world, they’ll look at some of the best gadgets of 2016.
- 2016: The year in winners and losers
- This was the year of VR, until AR stole it
- Tesla’s master plan was realized in 2016
- NASA dominated space and social media in 2016
- The best gadgets of 2016
- The best games of 2016
You can check out every episode on The Engadget Podcast page in audio, video and text form for the hearing impaired.
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