New iPhones could make augmented reality a mainstream reality

The runaway success of “Pokémon Go” last year taught the world at least two things. One: Lots of people love Pokémon. And two: Creating good augmented reality — the kind that superimposes 3-D objects into the real world and convinces people they’re actually chasing a Pikachu — is really, really hard.

“It’s not so hard that it’s impossible,” said Jeff Kelley, an iOS developer at app design and development firm Detroit Labs. “But it’s hard enough that you’re probably not going to get a return on your investment.”

Previously, if a developer wanted to add augmented reality to an app, first they’d have to spend months building their own tools and performing a bunch of math to calculate how a 3-D object should look when light hits it from different angles, and how it interacts with real-world objects, Kelley said.

That high barrier to entry will all but disappear when iOS 11 launches Sept. 19 with AR Kit, a set of developer tools that takes out the hardest part of developing augmented reality experiences for the iPhone.

“As a developer, you don’t have to do all the hard math stuff to get it to work,” Kelley said. “The minimum time investment now goes way down.”

That means there soon could be a surge in the number of apps that feature augmented reality experiences, exposing more people to a technology that was once considered the purview of hardcore geeks.

Despite the enormous popularity of “Pokémon Go” last year, only 31% of Americans know what augmented reality is, according to a survey conducted in July by Skrite, a start-up that makes a social augmented reality app.

Like its more immersive cousin, virtual reality, tech companies have for years tried to bring augmented reality to the mainstream, with little success. Google’s infamous Google Glass — a head-mounted display — was a flop that drew criticism over its conspicuous design and potential for privacy violations (the device could be used to record people). Start-ups at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas year after year have hawked augmented reality screens that act as virtual dressing rooms, none of which have gained mass market adoption. And furniture stores and interior design firms have long offered tools to let people see what a sofa or coffee table might look like in their home, but these apps have been clunky or difficult to use.

Until “Pokémon Go,” most augmented reality experiences just weren’t very good, Kelley said. Even the most basic of experiences left much to be desired. Kelley recalls working on an app five years ago for wall decoration company Fathead, in which users could point a smartphone at a wall in their house and see how a Fathead wall sticker might look in their home. In order for it to work, though, users first had to print a PDF and stick it to their wall as a physical marker so that the app knew where to superimpose the virtual sticker.

With Apple’s AR Kit leveling the playing field, developers can spend less time worrying about the tech that powers augmented reality, and spend more time focusing on the experiences they want to create, Kelley said, which could ultimately lead to more experimentation and better products.

“The main push is that it’s priming the consumer field and the developer field,” said Gregory Curtin, whose Los Angeles firm CivicConnect works with city and transit agencies to integrate city data with augmented reality.

Curtin’s firm, which counts cities such as Palm Springs, San Diego and Mission Viejo among its clients, spent three years developing its own augmented reality platform, which can integrate transit schedules and commuter data so when a person opens a transit app and points their phone at a bus stop, the bus schedule appears on their screen.

Although a lower barrier to entry could mean CivicConnect will soon see more competition, Curtin welcomes it, because greater awareness of what augmented reality can do will mean more opportunities for developers in new markets.

Some challenges still will lie ahead, though.

AR Kit can solve the tech component, but many augmented reality experiences require 3-D art. Even Snapchat’s dancing hot dog, silly as it may be, had to be drawn and rendered by someone.

“For a lot of developers, that’s another difficult piece, because developers aren’t always good 3-D artists,” Kelley said.

The other challenge is that while the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X are optimized for augmented reality viewing, many phones — particularly cheaper options with lower-end cameras — aren’t. At a starting price of $699 for the iPhone 8 and $999 for the iPhone X, experiences made for those phones may exclude many potential users.

But it’ll be just a matter of time before the technology is readily available to everyone, developers said. Facebook already offers its own platform, AR Studio, for developers wanting to create augmented reality experiences for the social network, and dozens of third-party platforms such as Vuforia and EasyAR allow developers to create AR experiences across multiple platforms, including iOS and Android.

That Apple is throwing its weight behind AR Kit, with augmented reality-ready phones, is a big deal, developers said.

“I do think this will be a milestone in terms of changing the game,” Curtin said.

Twitter: @traceylien

As high quality 4K video goes mainstream, Apple’s HEVC will help keep file sizes at bay

Upcoming support of the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding ) codec in macOS Sierra and iOS 11 will help to improve file efficiency of high quality video files. With an added emphasis on high quality 4K content in upcoming Apple hardware and software, the deployment of such technology is occurring at an ideal time.

The best wireless keyboard for the Mac?

Already users running the beta version of macOS High Sierra are taking advantage of HEVC encoding (also known as H.265) via QuickTime and are reporting positive results. Apple notes that the significant efficiency improvements could yield an up to 50% reduction in file size, with limited end-user-discernible quality degradation.

There are a few things to keep in mind with regard to HEVC video exports at the moment. First and foremost, its implementation into macOS and iOS is new, and initial compatibility will be limited across various platforms. For instance, macOS Sierra is unable to play H.265 content out of the box, and neither do tentpole apps like Final Cut Pro X.

For those in the Apple ecosystem, much of that will change after this fall’s software release schedule comes to a head. Yet, compatibility will continue to be an issue that needs to be considered, and the patent and licensing situation that currently surrounds the codec will likely serve to stymie universal adoption.

There’s also the matter of how taxing it is to encode H.265 video when compared to H.264 encoding. As explained at Apple’s WWDC Introducing HEIF and HEVC session, H.265 features the ability to wield a more diverse set of macro blocks during encoding, allow for higher efficiency:

HEVC introduces notion of CTUs or coding tree units. And these it start down at 4 x 4 and go all the way up to 64 x 64. And it’s when you can use these larger sizes is when you realize the greater compression benefit. And this is especially true when you’re dealing with high resolution videos and images.

Fabio Sonnati explained some of these benefits in his detailed technical overview of H.265 back in 2014.

In order to compare H.264 vs H.265, I took a lossy, yet very high quality, ProRes 422 HQ clip and used QuickTime to export the video twice — once as H.264 and again as H.265.

The H.265 export was smaller in size, as expected, but it was also significantly more taxing on my Mid-2017 entry-level 5K iMac. The export of the 4 minute and 28 second video took less than 2 minutes when using H.264, whereas the H.265 export took more than 10 minutes.

File size was better with the H.265 file coming in at 587MB while the H.264 version yielded a file size of 755MB, an efficiency increase of 22%. That’s certainly nothing to laugh at, especially when considering how similar the two videos look when compared side by side.

Obviously doing a video comparison via YouTube has its limits due to so many variables being in play. These include YouTube’s compression, browser support, available bandwidth, etc. But YouTube recently gained support for H.265 uploads, so I figured I’d go ahead and upload both videos for a quick and dirty comparison.

Switch H.265 Export

Switch H.264 Export

H.265 will definitely save on storage space used by high quality 4K content when compared to H.264. Whether or not it’s worth using, at least initially, will depend on the source content, hardware used to do the HEVC encoding, and how you plan on using the content after export. For example, if you experience significant file size savings, and plan on uploading to YouTube using a limited bandwidth connection, it could be worth it once H.265 support arrives in Apple’s professional video toolsets like Final Cut Pro X and Compressor.

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

Weekend tech reading: Radeon RX Vega revealed, metal 3D printing nearing mainstream, petition to open source Flash

AMD RX Vega 64 & 56 pricing leaked – $499 & $399 respectively, liquid cooled model to cost $599 Pricing & clock speeds for AMD’s upcoming Radeon RX Vega high-end gaming cards have just been leaked. We’re fast approaching on AMD’s Radeon RX Vega launch which is set to officially take place later today but the barrage of info is already in full force. As we’ve detailed previously, RX Vega comes in a variety of configurations. RX Vega will be available in two main versions, Vega 64 and Vega 56. WCCFTech

It took DEF CON hackers minutes to pwn these US voting machines After the debacle of the 2000 presidential election count, the US invested heavily in electronic voting systems – but not, it seems, the security to protect them. This year at the DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, 30 computer-powered ballot boxes used in American elections were set up in a simulated national White House race – and hackers got to work physically breaking the gear open to find out what was hidden inside. The Register

100x faster, 10x cheaper: 3D metal printing is about to go mainstream Desktop Metal – remember the name. This Massachussetts company is preparing to turn manufacturing on its head, with a 3D metal printing system that’s so much faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems that it’s going to compete with traditional mass manufacturing processes. We’ve been hearing for years now about 3D printing and how it’s going to revolutionize manufacturing. As yet, though, it’s still on the periphery. New Atlas

Home automation: Evolution of a term Home automation: for me the term recalls rich dudes in the ’80s who could turn off their garage lights with remote-control pads. The stereotype for that era was the more buttons your system had—even non-enabled ones—the more awesome it was, and by extension any luxury remote control had to be three times the size of any TV remote. And it was a luxury–the hardware was expensive and most people couldn’t justify it. Hackaday

Petition to open source Flash spec Adobe is going to stop distributing and updating Flash player. That’s ok. However Flash is an important piece of Internet history and killing Flash means future generations can’t access the past. Games, experiments and websites would be forgotten. Open sourcing Flash spec would be a good solution to keep Flash projects alive safely for archive reasons. Github

The end of Arduino 101: Intel leaves maker market This looks like the end of the road for Intel’s brief foray into the “maker market”. Reader [Chris] sent us in a tip that eventually leads to the discontinuation notice (PCN115582-00, PDF) for the Arduino 101 board. According to Intel forum post, Intel is looking for an alternative manufacturer. We’re not holding our breath. Hackaday

The top 5 best motherboards of all time After the positive responses I received for The Top 5 Worst Motherboards of All Time article, I decided to create a list for the the best motherboards. Unlike the worst boards which were picked for obvious reasons, it was important to qualify exactly how I chose the best motherboards on this list. HardOCP

Taking pictures of PCBs I’ve been taking many pictures of circuits as part of the (now defunct) Omzlo One Kickstarter and the new follow-up “Skware”CAN-bus IoT project we are building. I’ve started to develop a strange pleasure for taking pictures of PCBs and I thought I’d share my experience. Omzlo

Seymour Cray: The man who brought style to supercomputers A supercomputer is simply a computer that can perform many more calculations per second than the typical computer of its era. The definition is in constant flux: Yesterday’s supercomputer packed the punch of today’s smartphone. From 1969 to 1975, Control Data Corp.’s CDC 7600 was considered the world’s fastest computer, running at 36 megahertz. An iPhone 7, by contrast, runs at 2.33 gigahertz—nearly 100 times as fast as the 7600. IEEE Spectrum

For 20 years, this man has survived entirely by hacking online games Manfred’s character is standing still in the virtual world of the 2014 sci-fi online multiplayer game WildStar Online. Manfred, the real life person behind the character, is typing commands into a debugger. In a few seconds of what seems to be an extremely easy hack, Manfred’s virtual currency skyrockets up to more than 18,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 18 quintillion. Motherboard.Vice

Where’s all my CPU and memory gone? The answer: Slack I’ve recently joined a few more Slack groups, outside my core business Ably’s team account, to chat with old colleagues, the tech community and even our recent investors and their portfolio companies. I noticed that my machine has been sluggish and its battery life has become poor. Whilst investigating this, it turns out that Slack desktop fails badly when used with multiple accounts. Medium

Windows Subsystem for Linux out of Beta! We’re excited to announce that in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (FCU) due to ship in fall 2017, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) will no longer be a beta feature and will become a fully supported Windows feature. Early adopters on the Windows Insider program will notice that WSL is no longer marked as a beta feature as of Insider build 16251. Microsoft

First human embryos edited in U.S. The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned. MIT

Booting the Nintendo DS – a technical summary The Nintendo DS boot process involves three parts – two BIOS ROMs for the ARM CPUs and a firmware image. While it is feasible to high-level emulate all three components and directly load a game ROM on start-up, such a task will seem daunting in the beginning of a DS emulator’s life, as it was for mine. Thus, in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the DS, I decided that my first goal would be to low-level emulate booting from the BIOS. CorgiDS

Samsung Galaxy S8 showdown: Exynos 8895 vs. Snapdragon 835, Performance & battery life tested The Samsung Galaxy S8’s headline features are its edge-to-edge Infinity Display and striking new design. Of course it still comes packed with the latest hardware and technology like previous Galaxy phones, including iris recognition, wireless charging, and a flagship SoC. Actually, there are two different SoCs for the S8 and S8+. AnandTech

Live esports is coming to BBC Three Big announcement. We’re going to bring you four hours of live esports coverage every weekend for the next six weeks. In the first deal of its kind for the BBC (we like to be first), we’ve signed up the Gfinity Elite League Series One. Want to know how you can watch it? Well simply tune in on Fridays from 8.45pm, Saturdays from 9pm and Sundays from 5pm on BBC Three’s website or BBC iPlayer. BBC

The reign of 3D is over in US cinemas Have you ever gone to the cinema only to find the movie you want to see is only available in 3D? And, not wanting to wait around for the next non-3D showing, you succumb, pay the extra money it costs for a 3D ticket, and don the plastic frames? That inconvenience could soon be over. Quartz

Nvidia HBM2 Mainstream GPUs Coming In 2018? Tapping Into Samsung’s Production

Vega used 8GB HBM2 chips in order to provide the performance that it is capable of. On the other hand, we have seen Nvidia use GDDR5X memory. Samsung has now announced an increase in production of these chips so we can expect Nvidia HBM2 mainstream GPUs soon. Nvidia has gone with GDDR5X memory because it is the cheaper and readily available, but that could change now.

We know that AMD Vega uses HBM2 memory and that is one of the reasons why Vega based GPUs are available in limited quantities. HBM2 is expensive and more complex to make as compared to GDDR5X or GDDR6 that will be coming out later. It would be no surprise if people thought that there will be more supply of Vega GPUs in the upcoming months.

Sadly that is not the case as Samsung will primarily be supplying to Nvidia and not to AMD. Nvidia will be using Samsung’s production for the upcoming Nvidia HBM2 mainstream GPUs. This could be one of the reasons why Nvidia has not released Volta based gaming GPUs yet. According to Jaesoo Han, Executive VP of Memory Sales and Marketing for Samsung Electronics:

“By increasing production of the industry’s only 8GB HBM2 solution now available, we are aiming to ensure that global IT system manufacturers have sufficient supply for timely development of new and upgraded systems. We will continue to deliver more advanced HBM2 line-ups, while closely cooperating with our global IT customers”.

Nvidia uses HBM2 memory in high-end GPUs like the Tesla V100 but it has not made its way to consumer GTX GPUs. With Samsung ramping up production, it is more than likely that Nvidia will be introducing Nvidia HBM2 mainstream GPUs for next year along with GDDR6 based GPUs as well.

Let us know what you think about Nvidia HBM2 mainstream GPUs and whether or not you think Nvidia should stick to using GDDR6 for upcoming gaming graphics cards.


5 ways chatbots need to evolve before they go mainstream | VentureBeat | Bots

It’s hard to swing a $400 juicer in Silicon Valley these days without hitting a chatbot. Advances in artificial intelligence have enabled these talkative assistants to become a reality, and they’re now cropping up in many different forms. Facebook has greatly improved its chatbot game in Messenger, and everyone from Mastercard to Maroon 5 are climbing on board. In a way, voice-controlled chatbots drive personal assistants like Siri on our phones and Amazon Echo in our living rooms. It’s enough to make you believe the bots are taking over.

Except they’re not, at least not yet. The technologies that drive chatbots, and those related to machine learning and AI in particular, need to advance before “conversation” becomes a standard interface. Just this week, Google recognized this with its People + AI Research Initiative, whose goal is to advance the development of “people-centric” AI systems. Computers need to understand humans better, in terms of language, emotion and intent. Big brands are testing the waters with chatbots to ensure they don’t get left behind, but AI must evolve in several important areas before they have a chance of being widely used. Some of the needs are obvious, like improved speech recognition, while others are more subtle, like the ability for chatbots to signal what services they have to offer.

Here are five areas where these talkative bits of AI need to improve before they really take off.

1. Advances in AI and Natural Language Processing

Remember the early days of the web, when pages were a sea of flashing neon and blue links? That’s where chatbots are today. If bots are to reach ubiquity, people need to be able to ask questions and place orders using natural language. Whether that’s through voice or text, users can’t be expected to master a special vocabulary. If you ask Alexa to play a song and she doesn’t understand the first time, no big deal. The user is already committed to the “relationship” and willing to overlook issues. But if a customer can’t order a movie ticket on the first try with a brand new chatbot, they’ll go elsewhere.

NLP does a reasonably good job today, but it struggles with local dialects, slang and idioms. Speech recognition programs can learn speech patterns over time — but not if you only call a business once a year. We’re still at the early stages of human-machine interaction.

This all reflects on the image of a brand. Chatbots have to do better than simply replicating the atrocious experience of today’s automated call menus. With social media’s ability to massively amplify a bad customer interaction, businesses will want to get it right. Everything people can do today through the web and mobile apps should also be available through natural language, and we’re not there yet.

2. Know your customer

A huge part of any AI implementation is understanding context. Much as marketing and sales are searching for that mythical 360-degree view of the customer, chatbots need to know more about the individuals they interact with — who they are, how they got here, what they’re looking for and what they did in the past. How does that information get collected and shared among chatbots? Only then can bots reliably and consistently respond to people’s needs.

For example, Admithub began working with Georgia State University last year to build a chatbot to handle its college admissions and financial aid workflow. In the early stages, the bot helped the University process questions directed at admissions, financial aid, and student activities offices — and it wound up increasing enrollment yield by a significant margin. Over time, the University expects that the bot will better understand the academic and financial profile of each student as they progress through the University. And by the time those students return as alumnae, the bot will know everything about them.

3. Machines chatting with machines

The web is an amazingly interconnected place. Type any product into Google and you’re instantly connected to merchants that have the exact product you’re looking for in stock. Chatbots need to evolve in a similar way, so they can intelligently hand users off to each other and seamlessly take over a communication.

If I type “I want a burger” into Facebook Messenger, it should be able to broadcast that to other chatbots in a manner they understand, so another service can fill my order. On the web, this is handled through well defined REST APIs. The chatbot space has a multitude of APIs competing for attention. It needs a mature conversational API that the industry can get behind so that chatbots can interoperate.

4. Illuminating what’s on offer

If I interact with an app or a web page, I can instantly see which services are available through links and other elements on the screen. Chatbots don’t have this visual language. When you talk to a chatbot, you’re going in with your eyes closed. What can I ask it? What does it do? Microsoft and Amazon have worked hard to educate consumers about the capabilities of products like Cortana and Echo — and whole articles have been written on the topic. Interacting with a chatbot for the first time, people need to know — will this bot let me choose seats or only buy a ticket? Can I change an appointment or only make one? Am I allowed to customize this restaurant order? With no visual cues, new expectations need to be established, or a way to signal what’s on offer.

5. Reading emotion

Chatbots will provide infinitely better service when they can read facial features and inflections in tone to understand the emotion of the person they’re communicating with. This is partly about simple customer service — if the user is becoming frustrated or angry, it may be time to hand the conversation off to a human. But there can also be an entire class of services, in areas like counseling or therapy, that operate based on the reactions of the user. Advances in AI and computer vision will make this possible, but there’s much work to do.

Chatbots have a promising future, both at work and in our personal lives, but we need to address these challenges before they can enter the mainstream. When they do, we can expect new conveniences and new experiences — and new ways of engaging with customers. But moving too early risks alienating people before they have a chance to see the benefits.

Andy Vitus is a Partner at Scale Venture Partners, a venture capital firm.

Apple’s purchase of SensoMotoric Instruments might take virtual reality mainstream

HTC ViveVirtual reality headsets, like the HTC Vive, are bulky and need lots of power.Stuff Magazine

Apple has quietly acquired a German company, SensoMotoric Instruments, which can track people’s eye movements.

It isn’t clear how much Apple paid, but the company certainly tried to keep the acquisition quiet by purchasing it through a shell company called Vineyard Capital.

On the face of it, this looks like a pretty niche virtual reality play.

Eye tracking is generally considered pretty important in making the user feel immersed in virtual reality. Imagine you were playing a horror game where you swore things kept moving when you weren’t looking. It’s the headset’s ability to track where you’re looking that gives you that feeling.

But Apple’s acquisition of SensoMotoric might be much bigger than making augmented and virtual reality look and feel realistic — it might be the key to making the technology mainstream.

Here’s why:

Before Apple bought the company, SensoMotoric was showing off just how good its eye-tracking technology was.

The company did the rounds of tech trade shows last year, like the Consumer Electronics Show, showing off versions of the Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive with its technology built in.

Samsung Gear VRAP

VR fans got pretty excited about these modified headsets. There was one specific aspect of SensoMotoric’s tech they really liked, called “foveated rendering.”

Foveated rendering means a VR headset can save power by only showing you a high-resolution image where you’re actually looking. Anything in your peripheral vision is less high-resolution.

Overall, this means games can look better in VR without a bunch of extra processing power.

This is a big deal. Current VR headsets are pretty bulky and most have to run tethered to a PC because they require so much computing grunt. Anything that reduces that load is a major step forward. And anything that leads to smaller VR headsets will probably help encourage people to buy them.

SensoMotoric’s tech is also potentially huge for mobile VR. Foveated rendering should mean running virtual reality apps on your phone won’t kill the battery life. That’s currently a big drawback in mobile virtual reality — poor quality graphics that use a lot of processing power.

SensoMotoricSensoMotoric’s tech can tell where you’re lookingSensoMotoric

Before Apple bought the company, SensoMotoric was so confident in its tech that it partnered with ARM to show off how it could make mobile VR higher quality. It also partnered with Qualcomm on a VR reference headset, which one reviewer described as more impressive than any other headset. A reference headset is designed for other manufacturers to copy, using Qualcomm’s technologies.

What we don’t know yet is whether Apple will integrate SensoMotoric’s technology into the iPhone somehow, but it feels likely. Google bought a similar company, Eyefluence, in October last year and has integrated the team into its Daydream mobile VR project.

There’s also a chance Apple bought the company for its intellectual property, given SensoMotoric holds multiple patents relating to eye tracking and virtual reality.

When touting its modified headsets at Mobile World Congress last year, SensoMotoric’s director of OEM sales Christian Villwock told the RoadtoVR blog: “We want this to be standard in the headset and we don’t offer this as a consumer add-on reference, because it’s not a snap on device … this is basically targeted to convince all the headset manufacturers to give them the real thing.”

In short, SensoMotoric was so confident it could persuade the big VR manufacturers to integrate its technology, that it didn’t bother selling its own modified headsets to consumers.

And now Apple owns it.

Get the latest Google stock price here.

With the Moto Z2 Participate in, modularity is Motorola’s new mainstream

A good deal dismissed modularity (the thought of earning a phone’s innards swappable and upgradeable) the initially time all over. And for very good reason. Like just about every single other gimmick in smartphoneland, the plan has been tried and deserted more occasions than any person cares to point out. With the announcement of the 2nd technology Moto Z, however, the Motorola is not only fully commited to the plan of modular smartphones – it’s earning the line its flagship.

It’s a rather gutsy stance from the business. The plan of the initially a single was laughed off by some on arrival, but Motorola changed minds with what turned out to be a genuinely very good cellular phone, Mods or no. I reviewed it a although again, and I preferred it. A great deal more than I imagined I would.

The device’s hardware was solid and the execution was there. The super-skinny cellular phone, coupled with the magnetic backing that driven the products. If there was any major downside on that initially technology Z, it was the lack of Mods at start. The promise was there, but the execution was constrained. But right after LG’s poorly fumbled execution with the G5, the cellular phone was breath of contemporary air.

The business additional a couple more in the intervening months and introduced designs to launch an typical 4 a quarter this calendar year – a determination it tells me it designs to maintain. It’s also opened up prototypes to 3rd-functions and experienced a handful of hackathons throughout the globe in hopes of finding builders more intrigued in building for the platform. Here’s a single with a breathalyzer and a child watch.

The Moto Z2 Participate in ups the ante, but only marginally. In addition to a far better hunting, fabric-lined model of the SoundBoost kickstand speaker, the cellular phone will be launching alongside a quick charging battery pack , shells with wireless charging built-in and a GamePad.

All were present at a briefing I attended, but I cannot present you a image of the GamePad, due to the fact it wasn’t a remaining model. And, of program, the mods and telephones are backward suitable, so people can combine and match with previous year’s hardware.

By way of explanation, the old Ion iCade controller really should give you a rather very good plan of what Motorola’s performing on. The case positions gaming controls on both aspect of the screen, earning for a genuinely, genuinely extensive cellular phone. Not groundbreaking and actually, rather clunky, but a great addition to the overall ecosystem. Still, the business is going to will need at the very least double its latest Mod providing to make the program a success.

That claimed, Motorola apparently hasn’t experienced a difficulty going item. The business doesn’t split out cellular phone revenue for the Z, but it says it’s offered “millions” of the machine – admittedly wide, but surely a victory for a machine that genuinely could have feasibly tanked the company’s ambitions a la the G5. And evidently high adequate to warrant earning this 2nd technology item the centerpiece of its handset line.

And with this week’s Necessary announcement, Andy Rubin at the same time complimented and threw some significant shade at the Moto Z program. The Android father complimented the company’s embrace of modularity, although contacting its execution flawed, pointing to its whole-again program, which boundaries the product’s sort issue going forward. Even nonetheless, a slight vindication for the mainstreaming of modular telephones.

Sales of the Mods, meanwhile, aren’t quite as extraordinary. Motorola’s internal investigate says that Mods are, no shock, the most important driving issue in acquiring the item — but people who buy Mods are finding up among a single and two for each machine. A Moto rep tells me that it’s closer to two than one… but when swappable backs are the device’s full raison d’etre, which is not exactly marketing like very hot cakes.

The middling quantities are in all probability thanks in section to the point that Mod selection was rather constrained. Launching a modular cellular phone without having ample modules is a little bit like launching a video match program with minor in the way of titles – it’s an quick way to shoot by yourself in the foot correct out of the gate. And although speakers and battery packs are great, what operation does the Moto Z present that you cannot currently get from in essence every single cellular phone?

But the Mod selection will continue on to expand – I saw a persuasive a single at the event that I’m not supposed to discuss about nevertheless – and the business says there are a good deal more on the way, such as some from winners of the hackathons, which the business will aid builders make true.

As for the phone’s hardware (which is admittedly fairly secondary), the phone’s specs are okay. But maintain in head, with the initially gen, the Participate in was the lower-stop machine, so you can in all probability count on a increased stop flagship to be additional to the 2nd technology line shortly. The business ditched the contact buttons, instead sticking all of that operation into the elongated fingerprint reader, to help save some house up entrance, so you can, say, swipe still left to go again.

As claimed beforehand, the headphone jack is again on the Participate in – which is in section thanks to the company’s endeavor to broaden the Z line to more people. Ditching the jack is a very good way to alienate possible consumers who never have the money to swap all of their equipment to Bluetooth. Though the business tells me that it nonetheless sees the wired headphone finding phased out – however potentially not as promptly as other folks experienced originally imagined.

But can Motorola make on the momentum of the Z with this 2nd technology? The novelty of the initially batch has worn off a little bit, and although the business is fully commited to the challenge as its flagship line, it nonetheless has a strategies to go as considerably churning out mods at a pace that will genuinely drive use.

For now, in spite of that early success, the Z line nonetheless feels like a gamble. That goes double for mum or dad business Lenovo, which has been struggling in the Pc division. The Moto reps I spoke with advised me to count on modularity on even more of its products going forward. If which is the case, it’s time to genuinely commence hauling ass on building these mods.

‘Farpoint’ brings PlayStation VR to mainstream

One of the major problems facing virtual reality is something most games take for granted — movement. In first-person shooters, players sprint around a map, running and gunning while dodging bullets and laser fire.

If they do the same feats in VR, they will be reaching for a trash bin to toss their cookies. The problem comes from a dissonance, in which players’ eyes tell the brain they’re moving, but the body at rest relays a different feeling.

Developers have created a few ways to handle this. High Voltage lets players teleport to other bodies in “Damaged Core,” while Survios came up with a novel concept of moving one’s arms in “Sprint Vector” to simulate running. It’s a gesture that’s close enough to running that players can endure high-speed movements.

For “Farpoint,” Impulse Gear uses a peripheral and level design to solve the motion-sickness issue. The project is the first game to use the PlayStation VR Aim Controller, a device that looks like a bundle of PVC pipes duct-taped together. Despite the simplistic look, the peripheral works flawlessly with VR, and it’s as important to “Farpoint” as the plastic guitar was to “Guitar Hero.” The controller makes the game.

The device has a way of cementing players into the VR world. Holding the controller feels like handling one of the game’s five weapons — assault rifle, shotgun, plasma rifle, spike cannon and sniper rifle. The gun reacts with one-to-one movement, meaning that if players swing the gun around a wall, they can fire blind. If they peek around the corner, they can target a sniper atop a bridge.

But the feature that amplifies the immersion is the ability to look down the iron sights of a rifle and use it to blast aliens accurately, from a distance. The whole process feels perfect, with the force feedback in the controls. In addition, some weapons have secondary ammo that players will rely on during tougher encounters. This adds a strategy to combat that has the potential to be great.

For its first attempt at a VR shooter, Impulse Gear does a better job than most developers. The freedom to approach gunfights from new angles and the depth of each battle make combat feel unshackled. There’s a boundless improvisation to blasting away aliens and robots. Players can play hide-and-seek with them. They can tag them from around corners.

On the other hand, the level design and enemy intelligence is rudimentary, partly because of the design. Players run around with an analog stick embedded in the Aim control, but the movement is restrictive, limited to just four straight-line directions. Still, this linear level design and streamlined control further reduces the possibility that players will experience any queasiness.

When battles get hectic and players are weaving around rocks for cover, the fact that the battlefield is narrow improves the ability to focus on the enemies in front. During frenetic combat, “Farpoint” would have been better served if the fighting were slower and more tactical. The speed can be too much for some players.

Also holding “Farpoint” back is its story. Players take on the role of a nameless pilot who is heading to a space station when a wormhole opens and sucks everyone inside. They land on a strange planet 800,000 light years from Earth.

Most of the story follows the pilot as he retraces the steps of two survivors — Eva Tyson and Grant Moon. The plan is to meet up with them and find a way to escape the alien world, but nothing is as it seems in a plot that is surprising, but feels schizophrenic at times. There’s no real flow, as the campaign reveals what happens to Eva and Grant.

Despite the drawbacks, “Farpoint” is one of the rare VR games that feels like a full-fledged console title. It doesn’t play like a tech demo or an arcade game. This project will suck in players with the gameplay and VR — and keep them enthralled while they get their virtual-reality sea legs.


2 ½ stars

Platform: PlayStation VR

Rating: Mature



Abbott Bypasses the Mainstream Media with Facebook Live

Governor controls the spotlight as he signs a sanctuary city ban into law.

By R.G. RatcliffeMay 8, 2017


Governor Greg Abbott stole the spotlight from his allies and thwarted protestors, the news media, and Democrats Sunday evening by signing the “sanctuary cities” bill into law on Facebook Live. The video has been viewed more than 640,000 times, which exceeds the combined daily circulation of the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News. It also prompted conservative commentator Glenn Beck to declare Abbott “a boss” of social media. Hosting Abbott on his talk radio show, Beck noted some were complaining about Abbott using Facebook for the bill signing. “What a coward, or a genius. You decide,” Beck said.

The actual policy behind the sanctuary city bill aside, in those five minutes and ten seconds of live streaming, Abbott and his aides took a major step in this year’s efforts by Texas Republican leaders to bypass the state’s mainstream media and obtain unfiltered access to the public. By signing the bill unannounced, Abbott’s staff denied protestors the opportunity to gather outside so that they could be heard chanting in opposition in the background. Abbott also avoided questions from pesky reporters who might want to know how he could sign a bill that is opposed by every major city police chief in the state. And though Abbott acknowledged the hard work of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus, and bill sponsors Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, he grabbed sole credit by not having them stand behind him as he signed the bill.

From the start of this legislative session, it has been obvious that the state’s socially conservative Republican leadership has been trying to create a new normal for dealing with a news media that is viewed as both hostile and liberal.

The Texas Senate moved first with a “decorum” enforcement that required journalists to sit only at a press table, and if the table was full, they would have to move to the Senate gallery for overflow. If a journalist wanted to interview a senator, then they had to submit a written request on a blue slip of paper, and interviews were barred in the foyer outside the chamber. Most socially conservative senators declined interview requests or delayed answers until past most reporters’ deadlines. The crackdown on journalists was decided upon in a closed-door caucus of the Senate, which would have been a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act if done by a city council or a school board. Texas senators, like members of Congress, often are exempt from those types of rules.

Restrictions on the news media like those adopted by the Texas Senate have in the past been declared by a federal court as a violation of First Amendment protections of a free press. Long before he was The New York Times Washington bureau chief or the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bill Kovach was a young reporter for the Nashville Tennessean covering the state’s Senate. When a Senate committee attempted to meet in secret, Kovach, with the permission of his editors, refused to leave the committee room. The Tennessee Senate retaliated by banning reporters from the chamber and blocking the doors of the Senate chamber to require them to watch the proceedings from the spectator gallery. The Tennessean went into federal court and had its floor privileges restored.

The Senate rule, wrote Chief Judge William E. Miller, “represents an unreasonable prior restraint upon plaintiff’s freedom of the press and freedom of speech and is itself unconstitutional and void under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” Miller went on to write that newspaper access to the Senate floor was not just a matter of whether it was ‘convenient for the Senate.” Whether it is a right or a privilege for the press to have a place on the Senate floor, “it cannot be plausibly denied that the interest involved insofar as a newspaper is concerned is one of real if not indispensable value. It gives direct, immediate and effective access to an important and vital source of state news. Denial of such an opportunity…would place a serious handicap and burden upon any newspaper which could not be materially alleviated by access to the Senate gallery.”

The point of the Texas Senate enforcement was not to punish journalists but to set the stage to bypass them in favor of advocacy groups like Empower Texans and Texas Values, which often give unchallenging video interviews to legislators and public officials who support the bills they are backing, particularly on socially conservative legislation involving gay rights and opposition to abortion.

James Cardle runs a conservative news site called Texas Insider, which he said has 172,000 email subscribers. Cardle said he and his staff try to give his audience news conservative coverage based on issues rather than agendas. Many of the politicians who agree to appear in his videos or on an associated talk radio program do so because they have a perception that they will get a “fairer shake” than from the mainstream media. “All we’re trying to do with Texas Insider is truly reflect the Texas populous, because that’s our customer,” Cardle said. “You look at the Supreme Court justices last time, every stinking one of them got 59.8 percent to 61 percent (of the vote). That is the baseline of the Texas Republican, I would call them conservative … That is who the news customer in Texas is.”

Conflict between the news media and the powers that be is nothing new. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman thought the Civil War reporters covering his campaigns against the Confederacy were nothing more than spies whose reports were ”false, false as hell” and the people who read them were “the non-thinking herd.” Sherman’s frustration arose in no small part from his version of the internet, the advent of news reports spreading rapidly because of the telegraph. The Confederacy might not be receiving the dispatches directly, but soldiers on the front line were trading southern tobacco or northern coffee and newspapers.

In the presidential campaign of last year, the campaigns of both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump took shots at the mainstream news media. Since becoming president, Trump has turned attacks on the media into a form of deconstructing art in an effort to destroy the credibility of those who question his administration.

The effort to isolate the news media in Texas is a phenomenon of just the past several years. Governors Bill Clements, Mark White, and Ann Richards were available to the news media at least weekly and often daily during legislative sessions. Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry did not hesitate to talk to reporters covering their events. Past lieutenant governors routinely met with journalists at the press table. But Patrick has almost completely halted that practice, and Abbott rarely meets with journalists and his communications office has a closed-door policy and usually only wants to communicate by email. (I sent his press secretary an email today asking simply why Abbott did the bill signing on Facebook and received no reply.)

In the days when the Texas Capitol news media could catch a governor on the front steps, the interactions were so natural that the Clements administration formalized the gatherings at lunch when the Legislature was in session. Pigeons cooed on the ledge above, and tourists stopped to snap pictures. Television camera crews jostled for position, while the pen pushing print reporters strained to hold their tape recorders close to the governor. Asked whether he preferred the outdoor news conference to the ones in his reception room, Clements replied, “I think it’s lovely. Maybe we’ll get some pigeons with us.”

Surface Laptop hands-on: Microsoft transforms the Surface Pro 4 into a mainstream laptop

Two things will immediately strike you about the new Surface Laptop: It’s amazingly light and sturdy, and it borrows a lot of its look and feel from Surface Pro 4.

Microsoft debuted two classes of devices for education at its event Tuesday morning: a number of third-party, rugged inexpensive clamshell devices for elementary and middle-school classrooms to compete with Chromebooks; and the Surface Laptop, designed for college students. We went hands-on with the latter after the event concluded.

Think of the Surface Laptop as Microsoft’s answer to the MacBook Air: pricey, thin, and with battery life that goes on and on and on. It’s not a Chromebook competitor, but a far more premium experience. It does, however, run the new Windows 10 S: essentially Windows 10, but limited to apps from the Windows Store. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Mark Hachman / IDG

A nearly invisible hinge secures the dispay to the base. 

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, which will begin shipping June 15, starts at $999, and quickly goes up from there: the Core i5/4GB RAM/128GB SSD model is priced at $999, the Core i5/8GB RAM/256GB SSD is priced at $1,299, the Core i7/8GB RAM/256GB SSD is priced at $1,599, and the Intel Core i7/16GB RAM/512GB SSD is priced at a whopping $2,199.  But those prices don’t include a Surface Pen, or an even more optional accessory, the Surface Dial.

20170502 121603 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Laptop seems to recline a bit further than the Surface Book, which I’m in favor of.

Just open the Surface Laptop from a folded position (where it’s just 0.57 inches thick at its thickest point) to reveal the fantastic 4:3, 13.5-inch Surface display:  At a resolution of 2256×1504, with 201 PPI, it looks absolutely gorgeous—but that’s what we expect of a Surface display, right? 

Below that display lies the keyboard, which looks like it was lifted from the Surface Pro 4, and then infused with some additional backbone. It’s both strong and sturdy, allowing you to grasp and support the entire device from the bottom, with just your fingers holding one edge. The Surface Laptop weighs 2.76 pounds, about a half pound more than a Surface Pro 4 and its associated Type Keyboard. It also appears to recline slightly farther than a Surface Book, which is a step up in my book.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Mark Hachman / IDG

Both the keyboard and the trackpad feel like the Surface Pro 4.

Microsoft said the keyboard’s key travel is about 1.5mm, consistent with the SP4. The laptop uses the same Alcantara fabric as the Surface Pro 4’s Signature Type Cover, and the keys are about the same size, too. Like other Surfaces, the trackpad looks and feels fantastic.

At the back of the keyboard resides a pair of Dolby Pro-quality speakers. Traditionally, the speakers hide behind the display. But by placing them behind the keyboard, Microsoft freed up additional room behind the display for batteries: enough to deliver 14.5 hours of video playback, according to Microsoft. That’s simply amazing.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Mark Hachman / IDG

There’s a surprising lack of ports on the Surface Laptop.

If there’s anything about the Surface Laptop that will give you pause, it’s the port selection. On the left side you’ll find the Surface connector, a mini DisplayPort port, and a single USB 3.0 connector—no SD card slot, no USB-C output. Microsoft engineers said they had to make some tough decisions about what to exclude, including both of those features. Of course, using the same Surface connector allows Microsoft to maintain charger compatibility. 

I’m not a huge fan of the Alcantara fabric, and it remains to be seen how significant an omission the USB-C connector is. For folks who have already bought into the Surface ecosystem, these issues are probably minor.

So far, Microsoft hasn’t announced a cheaper Core m version of the Surface Laptop; I suspect that will arrive at some point to entice the student crowd who live off day-old pizza and beer, and not their parents’ credit card. Still, the Surface Laptop feels great in the hand, seems quick and responsive, and offers the Surface an important entry into the mainstream market. 

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