The next video game controller is your voice

For all of modern gaming’s advances, conversation is still a fairly unsophisticated affair. Starship Commander, an upcoming virtual reality game on Oculus and SteamVR, illustrates both the promise and challenge of a new paradigm seeking to remedy that: using your voice.

In an early demo, I control a starship delivering classified goods across treacherous space. Everything is controlled by my voice: flying the ship is as simple as saying “computer, use the autopilot,” while my sergeant pops up in live action video to answer questions.

At one point, my ship is intercepted and disabled by a villain, who pops onto my screen and starts grilling me. After a little back and forth, it turns out he wants a deal: “Tell you what, you take me to the Delta outpost and I’ll let you live.”

I try to shift into character. “What if I attack you?” I say. No response, just an impassive yet expectant stare. “What if I say no?” I add. I try half a dozen responses, but — perhaps because I’m playing an early build of the game or maybe it just can’t decipher my voice– I can’t seem to find the right phrase to unlock the next stage of play.

It’s awkward. My immersion in the game all but breaks down when my conversational partner does not reciprocate. It’s a two-way street: If I’m going to dissect the game’s dialogue closely to craft an interesting point, it has to keep up with mine too.

The situation deteriorates. The villain eventually gets fed up with my inability to carry the conversation. He blows up my ship, ending the game.

Yet there is potential for a natural back and forth conversation with characters. There are over 50 possible responses to one simple question from the sergeant — “Is there anything you’d like to know before we start the mission?” — says Alexander Mejia, the founder and creative director at Human Interact, which is designing the game. The system is powered by Microsoft’s Custom Speech Service (similar technology to Cortana), which sends players’ voice input to the cloud, parses it for true intent, and gets a response in milliseconds. Smooth voice control coupled with virtual reality means a completely hands-free, lifelike interface with almost no learning curve for someone who’s never picked up a gamepad.

Speaking certainly feels more natural than selecting one of four dialogue options from a menu, as a traditional roleplaying game might provide. It makes me more attentive in conversation — I have to pay attention to characters’ monologues, picking up on details and inconsistencies while coming up with insightful questions that might take me down a serendipitous narrative route (much like real life). No, I don’t get to precisely steer a ship to uncharted planets since voice control, after all, is not ideal for navigating physical space. But, what this game offers instead is conversational exploration.


Video games have always been concerned with blurring the lines between art and real life.

Photorealistic 4K graphics, the disintegration of levels into vast open worlds, virtual reality placing players inside the skull of another person: The implicit end goal of every gaming advance seems to be to create an artificial reality indistinguishable from our own. Yet we communicate with these increasingly intelligent games using blunt tools. The joystick/buttons and keyboard/mouse combinations we use to speak to games do little to resemble the actions they represent. Even games that use lifelike controls from the blocky plastic Time Crisis guns to Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons still involve scrolling through menus and clicking on dialogue options. The next step is for us to talk to games.

While games that use the voice have cropped up over the years — Seaman on Sega’s Dreamcast, Lifeline on the PlayStation 2, Mass Effect 3 on the Xbox 360’s Kinect — their commands were often frustratingly clunky and audio input never seemed more than a novelty.

That may be coming to an end. Well-rated audio games have appeared on the iPhone such as Papa Sangre and Zombies, Run! At E3 this month, Dominic Mallinson, a Sony senior vice president for research and development, referred to natural language understanding among “some of the technologies that really excite us in the lab right now.”

More than anything, the rush by Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple to dominate digital assistants is pushing the entire voice computing field forward. In March, The Information reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants gaming to be a “killer app” for Alexa, and the company has paid developers that produce the best performing skills. Games are now the top category for Alexa, and the number of customers playing games on Echo devices has increased tenfold in the last year, according to an Amazon spokeswoman. “If I think back on the history of the world, there’s always been games,” says Paul Cutsinger, Amazon’s head of Alexa voice design education. “And it seems like the invention of every new technology comes along with games.”

“It seems like the invention of every new technology comes along with games.” – Paul Cutsinger, Amazon

Simply: If voice assistants become the next major computing platform, it’s logical that they will have their own games. “On most new platforms, games are one of the first things that people try,” says Aaron Batalion, a partner focused on consumer technology at venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners. “It’s fun, engaging and, depending on the game mechanics, it’s often viral.” According to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice assistant device like Echo at least once a month this year, while 60.5 million Americans will use some kind of virtual voice assistant like Siri. The question is, what form will these new games take?

Gaming skills on Alexa today predominantly trace their lineage to radio drama — the serialized voice acted fiction of the early 20th century — including RuneScape whodunnit One Piercing Note, Batman mystery game The Wayne Investigation and Sherlock Holmes adventure Baker Street Experience.

Earplay, meanwhile, has emerged as a leading publisher of audio games, receiving over $ 10,000 from Amazon since May, according to Jon Myers, who co-founded the company in 2013. Myers describes their work as “stories you play with your voice,” and the company crafts both their own games and the tools that enable others to do the same.

For instance, in Codename Cygnus, you play a James Bond-esque spy navigating foreign locales and villains with contrived European accents, receiving instructions via an earpiece. Meanwhile, in Half, you navigate a surreal Groundhog Day scenario, picking up clues on each playthrough to escape the infinitely repeating sequence of events.

“What you see with the current offerings from Earplay springs a lot out of what we did at Telltale Games over the last decade.”

Like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, these experiences intersperse chunks of narrative with pivotal moments where the player gets to make a decision, replying with verbal prompts. Plot the right course through an elaborate dialogue tree and you reach the end. The audio storytelling activates your imagination, yet there is little agency as a player: The story chugs along at its own pace until you reach each waypoint. You are not so much inhabiting a character or world as co-authoring a story with a narrator.

“What you see with the current offerings from Earplay springs a lot out of what we did at Telltale Games over the last decade,” says Dave Grossman, Earplay’s chief creative officer. “I almost don’t even want to call them games. They’re sort of interactive narrative experiences, or narrative games.”

Grossman has had a long career considering storytelling in games. He is widely credited with creating the first game with voice acting all the way through — 1993’s Day of the Tentacle — and also worked on the Monkey Island series. Before arriving at Earplay, he spent a decade with Telltale Games, makers of The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead.

Earplay continues this genre’s bloodline: The goal is not immersion but storytelling. “I think [immersion] is an excellent thing for getting the audience involved in what you want, in making them care about it, but I don’t think it’s the be-all-end-all goal of all gaming,” says Grossman. “My primary goal is to entertain the audience. That’s what I care most about, and there are lots of ways to do that that don’t involve immersing them in anything.”

“My primary goal is to entertain the audience … There are lots of ways to do that that don’t involve immersing them in anything.”

In Earplay’s games, the “possibility space”– the degree to which the user can control the world — is kept deliberately narrow. This reflects Earplay’s philosophy. But it also reflects the current limitations of audio games. It’s hard to explore physical environments in detail because you can’t see them. Because Alexa cannot talk and listen at the same time, there can be no exchange of witticisms between player and computer, only each side talking at pre-approved moments. Voice seems like a natural interface, but it’s still essentially making selections from a multiple choice menu. Radio drama may be an obvious inspiration for this new form; its overacted tropes and narrative conventions are also well-established for audiences. But right now, like radio narratives, the experience of these games seem to still be more about listening than speaking.

Human Interact


Untethered, too, is inspired by radio drama. Created by Numinous Games, which previously made That Dragon Cancer, it runs on Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform, combining visuals with voice and a hand controller.

Virtual reality and voice control seem to be an ideal fit. On a practical level, speech obviates the need for novice gamers to figure out complicated button placements on a handheld controller they can’t see. On an experiential level, the combination of being able to look around a 360 degree environment and speaking to it naturally brings games one step closer to dissolving the fourth wall.

In the first two episodes, Untethered drops you first into a radio station in the Pacific Northwest and then into a driver’s seat, where you encounter characters whose faces you never see. Their stories slowly intertwine, but you only get to know them through their voice. Physically, you’re mostly rooted to one spot, though you can use the Daydream controller to put on records and answer calls. When given the cue, you speak: your producer gets you to record a radio commercial, and you have to mediate an argument between husband and wife in your back seat. “It’s somewhere maybe between a book and a movie because you’re not imagining every detail,” says head writer Amy Green.

The game runs off Google’s Cloud Speech platform which recognizes voice input, and may return 15 or 20 lines responding to whatever you might say, says Green. While those lines may meander the story in different directions, the outcome of the game is always the same. “If you never speak a word, you’re still gonna have a really good experience,” she says.

“It sounds like a daunting task, but you’d be surprised at how limited the types of questions that people ask are.” -Alexander Mejia, Human Interact

This is a similar design to Starship Commander: anticipating anything the player might say, so as to record a pre-written, voice-acted response.

“It sounds like a daunting task, but you’d be surprised at how limited the types of questions that people ask are,” says Mejia of Human Interact. “What we found out is that 99% of people, when they get in VR, and you put them in the commander’s chair and you say, “You have a spaceship. Why don’t you go out and do something with it?” People don’t try to go to the fast food joint or ask what the weather’s like outside. They get into the character.”

“The script is more like a funnel, where people all want to end up in about the same place,” he adds.

Yet for voice games to be fully responsive to anything a user might say, traditional scripts may not even be useful. The ideal system would use “full stack AI, not just the AI determining what you’re saying and then playing back voice lines, but the AI that you can actually have a conversation with,” says Mejia. “It passes the Turing test with flying colors; you have no idea if it’s a person.”

In this world, there are no script trees, only a soup of knowledge and events that an artificial intelligence picks and prunes from, reacting spontaneously to what the player says. Instead of a tightly scripted route with little room for expression, an ideal conversation could be fluid, veering off subject and back. Right now, instead of voice games being a freeing experience, it’s easy to feel hemmed in, trapped in the worst kind of conversation — overly structured with everyone just waiting their turn to talk.

An example of procedurally generated conversation can be found in Spirit AI’s Character Engine. The system creates characters with their own motivations and changing emotional states. The dialogue is not fully pre-written, but draws on a database of information — people, places, event timeline — to string whole sentences together itself.

“I would describe this as characters being able to improvise based on the thing they know about their knowledge of the world and the types of things they’ve been taught how to say,” says Mitu Khandaker, chief creative officer at Spirit AI and an assistant professor at New York University’s Game Center. Projects using the technology are already going into production, and should appear within two years, she says. If games like Codename Cygnus and Baker Street Experience represent a more structured side of voice gaming, Spirit AI’s engine reflects its freeform opposite.

‘Untethered,’ a virtual reality title from Numinous Games.

Every game creator deals with a set of classic storytelling questions: Do they prefer to give their users liberty or control? Immersion or a well-told narrative? An experience led by the player or developer? Free will or meaning?

With the rise of vocal technology that allows us to communicate more and more seamlessly with games, these questions will become even more relevant.

“It’s nice to have this idea that there is an author, or a God, or someone who is giving meaning to things, and that the things over which I have no control are happening for a reason,” says Grossman. “There’s something sort of comforting about that: ‘You’re in good hands now. We’re telling a story, and I’m going to handle all this stuff, and you’re going to enjoy it. Just relax and enjoy that.'”

In Untethered, there were moments when I had no idea if my spoken commands meaningfully impacted the story at all. Part of me appreciated that this mimics how life actually works. “You just live your life and whatever happened that day was what was always going to happen that day,” Green says. But another part of me missed the clearly telegraphed forks in the road that indicated I was about to make a major decision. They are a kind of fantasy of perfect knowledge, of cause and effect, which don’t always appear in real life. Part of the appeal of games is that they simplify and structure the complexity of daily living.

“Not everybody is necessarily into games which are about violence or shooting but everyone understands what it is to talk to people. Everybody knows what it is to have a human engagement of some kind.” – Mitu Khandaker, Spirit AI

As developers wrestle with this balance, they will create a whole new form of game: one that’s centered on complex characters over physical environments; conversation and negotiation over action and traditional gameplay. The idea of what makes a game a game will expand even further. And the voice can reduce gaming’s barrier to entry for a general audience, not to mention the visually and physically impaired (the Able Gamers Foundation estimates 33 million gamers in the US have a disability of some kind). “Making games which are more about characters means that more people can engage with them,” says Khandaker. “Not everybody is necessarily into games which are about violence or shooting but everyone understands what it is to talk to people. Everybody knows what it is to have a human engagement of some kind.”

Still, voice gaming’s ability to bring a naturalistic interface to games matters little if it doesn’t work seamlessly, and that remains the industry’s biggest point to prove. A responsive if abstract gamepad is always preferable to unreliable voice control. An elaborate dialogue tree that obfuscates a lack of true intelligence beats a fledgling AI which can’t understand basic commands.

I’m reminded of this the second time I play the Starship Commander demo. Anticipating the villain’s surprise attack and ultimatum, I’m already resigned to the only option I know will advance the story: agree to his request.

“Take me to the Delta outpost and I’ll let you live,” he says.

“Sure, I’ll take you,” I say.

This time he doesn’t stare blankly at me. “Fire on the ship,” he replies, to my surprise.

A volley of missiles and my game is over, again. I take off my headset and David Kuelz, a writer on the game who set up the demo, has been laughing. He watched the computer convert my speech to text.

“It mistook ‘I’ll take you’ for ‘fuck you,'” he says. “That’s a really common response, actually.”

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The best wireless outdoor home security camera

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending almost three months looking, listening, adjusting angles, and deleting over 10,000 push notifications and emails, we’ve decided that the Netgear Arlo Pro is the best DIY outdoor Wi-Fi home security camera you can get. Like the other eight units we tested, the Arlo Pro lets you keep an eye on your property and provides smartphone alerts whenever there’s motion. However, it’s one of the few options with built-in rechargeable batteries to make it completely wireless, so it’s easy to place and move. It also delivers an excellent image, clear two-way audio, practical smart-home integration, and seven days of free cloud storage.

Who should get this

A Wi-Fi surveillance camera on your front porch, over your garage, or attached to your back deck can provide a peek at what really goes bump in the night, whether that’s someone stealing packages off your steps or raccoons going through garbage cans. It can alert you to dangers and can create a record of events. It should also help you to identify someone—and if it’s a welcome or unwelcome guest—or just let you monitor pets or kids when you’re not out there with them.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Rachel Cericola

During initial research, we compiled a huge list of outdoor security cameras recommended by professional review sites like PCMag, Safewise, and Safety.com, as well as those available on popular online retailers. We then narrowed this list by considering only Wi-Fi–enabled cameras that will alert your smartphone or tablet whenever motion is detected. We also clipped out all devices that required a networked video recorder (NVR) to capture video, focusing only on products that could stand alone.

Once we had a list of about 27 cameras, we went through Amazon and Google to see what kind of feedback was available. We ultimately decided on a test group based on price, features, and availability.

We mounted our test group to a board outside of our New England house, pointed them at the same spot, and exposed them all to the same lighting conditions and weather. The two exceptions were cameras integrated into outdoor lighting fixtures, both of which were installed on the porch by my husband, a licensed electrician. All nine cameras were connected to the same Verizon FiOS network via a Wi-Fi router indoors.

Besides good Wi-Fi, you may also need a nearby outlet. Only three of the cameras we tested offered the option to use battery power. Most others required an AC connection, which means you won’t be able to place them just anywhere.

We downloaded each camera’s app to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. The cameras spent weeks guarding our front door, alerting us to friends, family members, packages, and the milkman. Once we got a good enough look at those friendly faces, we tilted the entire collection outward to see what sort of results we got facing the house across the street, which is approximately 50 feet away. To learn more about how we picked and tested, please see our full guide.

Our pick

The Arlo Pro can handle snow, rain, and everything else, and runs for months on a battery charge. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Arlo Pro is a reliable outdoor Wi-Fi camera that’s compact and completely wireless, thanks to a removable, rechargeable battery that, based on our testing, should provide at least a couple of months of operation on a charge. It’s also the only device on our list that offers seven days of free cloud storage, and packs in motion- and audio-triggered recordings for whenever you get around to reviewing them.

The Arlo Pro requires a bridge unit, known as the Base Station, which needs to be powered and connected to your router. The Base Station is the brains behind the system, but also includes a piercing 100-plus–decibel siren, which can be triggered manually through the app or automatically by motion and/or audio.

With a 130-degree viewing angle and 720p resolution, the Arlo Pro provided clear video footage during both day and night, and the two-way audio was easy to understand on both ends. The system also features the ability to set rules, which can trigger alerts for motion and audio. You can adjust the level of sensitivity so that you don’t get an alert or record a video clip every time a car drives by. You can also set up alerts based on a schedule or geofencing using your mobile device, but you can’t define custom zones for monitoring. All of those controls are easy to find in the Arlo app, which is available for iOS and Android devices.

If you’re looking to add the Arlo Pro to a smart-home system, the camera currently works with Stringify, Wink, and IFTTT (“If This Then That”). SmartThings certification was approved and will be included in a future app update. The Arlo Pro is also compatible with ADT Canopy for a fee.

Runner-up

The Nest Cam Outdoor records continuously and produces better images than most of the competition, but be prepared to pay extra for features other cameras include for free. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Nest Cam Outdoor is a strong runner-up. It records continuous 1080p video, captures to the cloud 24/7, and can actually distinguish between people and other types of motion. Like the Nest thermostat, the Outdoor Cam is part of the Works With Nest program, which means it can integrate with hundreds of smart-home products. It’s also the only model we tested that has a truly weatherproof cord. However, that cord and the ongoing subscription cost, which runs $ 100 to $ 300 per year for the Nest Aware service, is what kept the Nest Cam Outdoor from taking the top spot.

Like our top pick, the Nest Cam Outdoor doesn’t have an integrated mount. Instead, the separate mount is magnetic, so you can attach and position the camera easily. Although it has a lot of flexibility in movement, it needs to be placed within reach of an outlet, which can be a problem outside the house. That said, the power cord is quite lengthy. The camera has a 10-foot USB cable attached, but you can get another 15 feet from the included adapter/power cable.

The Nest Cam Outdoor’s 1080p images and sound were extremely impressive, both during the day and at night. In fact, this camera delivered some of the clearest, most detailed images during our testing, with a wide 130-degree field of view and an 8x digital zoom.

The Nest app is easy to use and can integrate with other Nest products, such as indoor and outdoor cameras, the Nest thermostat, and the Nest Protect Smoke + CO detector. You can set the camera to turn on and off at set times of day, go into away mode based on your mobile device’s location, and more.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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Sling TV extends cloud DVR to iOS devices

Sling TV’s cloud DVR service is now available for iPhone and iPad. The streaming service’s DVR “First Look” option costs an additional $ 5 per month and gives you 50 hours of DVR storage.

The iOS devices now join the growing list of DVR-supported systems, which includes AirTV players, Amazon Fire TVs and tablets, Android TVs and mobile devices, Apple TVs, Roku™ streaming players and TVs, Xbox consoles and Windows 10 devices.

Sling TV began beta testing its cloud DVR option last year and started rolling it out to users in April. This month, the feature got an upgrade with an added option to protect recorded shows from being deleted.

However, there are still a number of channels that don’t allow DVR recordings. Those channels are ABC, Freeform, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney JR, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded and the SEC Network as well as any on-demand only channel.

An app update released today will enable the new service on iOS devices for those with the “First Look” subscription.

Source: Sling TV (iTunes)

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The Morning After: Thursday, June 22nd 2017

Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Welcome to Thursday morning. We’re reliving the ’90s through, as Sega launches a selection of classic hits both with ads and without. We’re also talking Instagram and its stealth shills, and new emoji. We hope you like fairies.


It should focus less on surprise and more on delight.Apple’s paranoia about leaks is misplaced

Apple’s inability to keep its secrets is so bad that even its internal presentation about confidentiality leaked. It reportedly conducted an hour-long briefing titled “Stopping Leakers — Keeping Confidential at Apple” for about 100 employees to make sure they understood the importance of not leaking information. But that concern is misplaced: Clamping down on leaks won’t help Apple’s bottom line.


The games are free, but you can pay $ 2 to drop the advertisementsSega Forever makes Genesis classics free on mobile

The Sega Forever collection is five titles meant to begin “a retro revolution that will transport players back through two decades of console gaming.” Starting today, the 1991 version of Sonic the Hedgehog, fan-favorite RPG Phantasy Star II, classic arcade-style beat ’em up Comix Zone, platformer Kid Chameleon and Greek mythology-themed beat ’em up Altered Beast will be available on Google Play and iTunes as free ad-supported games.


Can Travis Kalanick’s resignation fix Uber?Uber’s future is still tied to its founder

Uber’s disruptive effect on the taxi business, went hand in hand with throwing out the rulebook. Some of the rules avoided, however, included strict background checks on drivers, and safety laws to ensure that drivers didn’t work for too long, according to Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, who sits as chairperson of the company’s board. He said the team “failed to build some of the systems that every company needs to scale successfully.” Those systems included restrictions on employees sexually harassing their colleagues and preventing engineers from developing tools to hinder law enforcement investigations. Following Travis Kalanick’s resignation, can Uber change enough?


Your next set of emoji includes zombies, vampires, fairies and dinosaurs. The latest emoji update is a playful one

Finally, the monocle emoji.


A new tool could make hidden ads more obvious — if shills use it.Instagram gives social media influencers the benefit of the doubt

social media platform. The “Paid partnership with [enter brand name here]” post format is designed for users who want to advertise products on their page, letting them easily disclose when one of their posts is an ad. Instagram says this is an effort to bring the platform some much-needed transparency. The feature is set to roll out in the coming weeks to a “small number” of creators and businesses, according to the company. The question remains: Will influencers actually use the feature? And what will happen if they don’t?


The monsters caught with cheating tools may not behave normally.‘Pokémon Go’ will flag creatures caught using cheats

Niantic has decided that forcing Pokémon Go cheaters to a life of catching Pidgeys isn’t quite enough punishment. Now, any Pokémon caught using “third-party services that circumvent normal gameplay” will be marked with a slash in people’s inventories and “may not behave as expected.”

But wait, there’s more…

  • Airbus imagines a faster helicopter with wings
  • Google gets closer to building its own city in San Jose
  • Lenovo’s pro workstation is as light as a MacBook Air
  • An iPhone is your only option on Virgin Mobile
  • Self-driving shuttles are coming to U of M this fall
  • Todoist ‘Twist’ is supposed to be better than email, less annoying than Slack

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

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Emojis for zombies, T-Rex and Colbert are almost here

Your phone chats are about to get more… fantastical. Right on cue, the Unicode Consortium has released its promised batch of emoji and text characters. The finalized set of 56 emoji (up from 48 when we last reported) includes a slew of outlandish people and beasts, including zombies, vampires, fairies and dinosaurs. It also does more to accommodate women with emoji for breastfeeding and the hijab, while Stephen Colbert fans might be happy with the familiar-looking raised eyebrow (second from the upper left).

Outside of the emoji, the update also introduces a Bitcoin character and is more adept at handling less common languages or written requirements.

Don’t expect to use all these new characters right away. Your device operating system will need an update to recognize them, and there’s a good chance you’ll be waiting a while. You’ll likely have to wait until Android O to see them on a Google-powered phone, while the iPhone and iPad crowd will likely have to sit tight until iOS 11. There’s nothing stopping companies from adopting the new Unicode pack, however — it’s now just a question of everyone getting with the program.

Via: Emojipedia

Source: Unicode

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An iPhone is your only option on Virgin Mobile

It’s no secret that American carriers sell a lot of iPhones. Virgin Mobile, however, is taking that to a logical extreme. The Sprint sub-brand has announced that it’s the US’ first iPhone-only carrier as of June 27th — if you don’t like iOS, you’ll have to head elsewhere. In return for the exclusivity, you’ll get a fairly good rate as well as some potentially juicy promos.

You’ll normally pay $ 50 per month for unlimited talk, texting and data, with the potential for “deprioritized” data (read: it may slow down) if you use more than 23GB per month. There are no commitment. However, you’ll get 6 months of service for $ 1 if you buy an iPhone and sign up — and those who enlist before July 31st will get a full year of service for the same buck. Also, Virgin is selling the iPhone SE at a starting price of $ 279 ($ 379 for 128GB), well under Apple’s usual $ 399. Combine those with perks with Virgin brands (such as a round-trip companion ticket to the UK on Virgin Atlantic) and sales of used devices and it may be tempting to switch over, at least if you’re looking for a new iPhone.

We’ve asked Apple about the extent of its involvement and whether or not more is planned down the line, and we’ll let you know if there’s anything it can add. Regardless, it’s an audacious move. Apple may be playing it safe by partnering with a relatively small carrier like Virgin (Sprint can still count on its own brand and Boost Mobile), but you don’t really see providers limiting themselves to one manufacturer — even fledgling networks like Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile have some diversity. Apple and Virgin are clearly betting that many Americans are more interested in a sweet deal on iPhone service than a wide choice of devices.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Virgin Mobile

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Samsung ready to relaunch the Galaxy Note line in August

Samsung isn’t letting the Galaxy Note 7’s battery failure hinder the release schedule for its next pen-toting smartphone. A Reuters source understands that Samsung is planning a New York City launch event for the Galaxy Note 8 in August, or roughly around the same time as it introduced the Note 7 last year. The tipster hasn’t revealed many details of the phone itself, but does appear to corroborate earlier rumors. It’ll have a curved screen slightly larger than the 6.2-inch display on the Galaxy S8 Plus, the source says, and there should be an iPhone 7 Plus-like dual camera setup on the back.

There’s no indication that Samsung is being overly hasty in launching the Note 8 on a familiar schedule. The safety processes that emerged from the Note 7 debacle were already in place for the S8, which isn’t known to have run into any battery fires so far. In other words, there’s no reason why it can’t get back to business as usual.

All the same, it’s apparent that Samsung still feels pressured to launch the new Note sooner than later. It not only has to worry about courting skittish buyers (particularly fans who had to return their Note 7s), but preempting what could be one of the larger iPhone launches in recent memory. If it can deliver the Note 8 in August, it might steal a bit of Apple’s thunder and hold on to customers that might otherwise look for alternatives.

Source: Reuters

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Verizon’s first LTE-only handset is an LG flip phone

When Verizon finished rolling out its LTE network for calls, it became apparent that it also plans to drop its CDMA phone service altogether. Now, the carrier has begun offering its first LTE-only handset to subscribers, and it’s obviously an attempt to lure people who prefer basic feature phones over smartphones away from the legacy network. The LG Exalt LTE is a flip feature phone, and even though it looks much nicer and sturdier than its plasticky counterparts, it’s still far removed from the advanced devices we’re used to today.

Its specs underline that it’s definitely not something for those expecting everything an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S8 can offer. The Exalt has an unnamed 1.1 GHz Snapdragon processor, a 3-inch WQVGA screen, a 5-megapixel camera, text-to-speech function, up to six hours of battery life, 8GB of storage and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. For people who just want a phone that makes clear voice calls, though, it could be more than enough. Since its calls go through Verizon’s LTE network, it takes advantage of the carrier’s HD Voice feature that delivers high-resolution sound.

LG’s Exalt LTE is available from Verizon’s website right now for $ 7 a month for two years or $ 168 up front. If it successfully entices feature phone lovers into upgrading, then the carrier can finally dedicate its CDMA network to powering internet of things devices.

Source: LG

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Microsoft Pix Camera imitates Prisma with its AI-powered filters

Microsoft Pix Camera uses artificial intelligence to make your pictures of people better. It uses algorithms behind the scenes to analyze the 10 frames it snaps for every picture you take, looking for sharpness, exposure and even facial expressions to make sure you get the very best shot. It even takes good data from the pictures it doesn’t use to enhance the photos it chooses. The app, launched last summer and just updated, now offers new filters that can help you make your photos look like real works of art.

These artsy filters may sound a lot like what standalone app, Prisma, does, but Microsoft’s implementation was developed by Microsoft’s Asia research lab in collaboration with Skype. According to a company blog post, Pix Styles use texture, pattern, and tones learned by deep neural networks from famous works of art instead of altering the photo uniformly like other similar apps. Microsoft researcher Josh Weisberg told Engadget that the app uses two different techniques, run in tandem to save time, to produce these effects. “Our approach lends itself to styles based on source images (that are used to train the network) that are not paintings, such as the fire effect,” he said in an email.

The initial 11 Styles filters are named Glass, Petals, Bacau, Charcoal, Heart, Fire, Honolulu, Zing, Pop, Glitter and Ripples — more will be added in the coming weeks. Pix Paintings creates a timeline of your picture as if it were being painted in real time, giving you a short video of its creation. The Paintings feature is accessed with a button that shows up when you apply a new Style, and you can share or save the resulting short video (or GIF) it makes, too.

“These are meant to be fun features,” said Microsoft’s Josh Weisberg in a blog post. “In the past, a lot of our efforts were focused on using AI and deep learning to capture better moments and better image quality. This is more about fun. I want to do something cool and artistic with my photos.”

All this AI magic works right on your iPhone or iPad and won’t access the cloud, saving your data plan and decreasing your wait time. You can still use Pix’s other features with the new styles, adding frames and cropping your still photos. Microsoft Pix Camera is available now in the App Store and as a free update to existing owners, as well.

Source: Microsoft Blog, Microsoft/Twitter

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CNBC: Apple wants the iPhone to manage your medical history

Apple has been working on a hush-hush project that would make your whole medical history more accessible, according to CNBC. The tech titan reportedly wants to turn your iPhone into a repository for every diagnosis, lab test result, prescription, health info and doctor’s comment. That way, you don’t have to go through a bunch of emails to find that one test result sent as a PDF attachment or to have your previous doctor send data over to your new one. All you need to do to share any part of your medical history is to look fire up your iPhone.

According to CNBC, Cupertino is attempting to replicate what it did for music: it wants to create sort of an iTunes for health that would serve as a centralized management system for all your medical info. Apple is reportedly already in talks with various hospitals and health IT industry groups to work out the best way to make its vision a reality. One of those groups is “The Argonaut Project,” an initiative promoting the widespread adoption of open standards for health info, while the other is “The Carin Alliance,” an organization that wants to give patients control over their own medical data.

It’s unclear how far into the project Apple is at this point, but it sounds like the tech titan plans to store all your data on the cloud, since it has already started talking to cloud storage startups. If the company succeeds into making your full medical history available on the iPhone, it will solve what the medical industry calls “interoperability crisis.” That’s the lack of data-sharing between health providers that could lead to unnecessary mistakes and missed diagnoses that could be fatal for some patients.

Source: CNBC

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