Soderbergh’s experimental ‘Mosaic’ HBO series hits iPhone and Apple TV

Director Steven Soderbergh has made a name for himself by pushing cinematic boundaries, so it’s no surprise that his upcoming series for HBO, Mosaic, isn’t your usual TV fare. Today, he’s launching the Mosaic app on iPhone and Apple TV (with Android and web versions to follow soon), which will let you decide how you watch the show. It’s not quite “choose your own adventure,” since you’re not making any decisions on the show’s outcome. Instead, the app, which was developed by PodOp, lets you determine how Mosaic’s narrative flows.

The first episode introduces you to Olivia Lake, an author played by Sharon Stone. After viewing that, the narrative path branches into two episodes. You could just watch them in parallel, or you could follow the path down all the way to the end, then go back and catch up on what you’ve missed. You can also unlock additional clips, documents and recordings to flesh out the story. HBO is making all 7.5 hours of the series available in the app, but it’s also going to air a six-hour version of the series edited by Soderbergh (naturally) on January 22nd.

“While branching narratives have been around forever, technology now allows, I hope, for a more elegant form of engagement than used to be possible,” Soderbergh said in a statement. “At no point were we reverse-engineering the story to fit an existing piece of technology; the story was being created in lockstep with the technical team. The fluidity of that relationship made me feel comfortable because I wanted it to be a simple, intuitive experience.”

Conceptually, Mosaic sounds similar to what Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz attempted with the fourth season of that show on Netflix. He originally said you’d be able to watch those episodes in any order, but then later backtracked on that suggestion. Francis Ford Coppola also tried something similar with Twixt in 2011, a film that he could “remix” narratively with an iPad. He wanted to tour with the movie and edit it live, but eventually settled for a traditional release.

HBO

For Soderbergh, Mosaic is just the latest in a string of TV experiments. His Cinemax series, The Knick, tackled the early days of medical surgery with an anachronistic synth-heavy score. Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience is now a TV show, as well, and its second season is also dabbling with branching narratives. Soderbergh says he’s working on two more series using the Mosaic platform. Eventually, he hopes to open it up to other directors.

I’ve only seen part of Mosaic’s first episode, but I’ll definitely be devouring the entire series as soon as I can. It’s unclear if the app will appeal to anyone beyond Soderbergh fans and cinephiles, though. In the age of bingewatching, it seems like more viewers simply want to sit back and consume hours of content without lifting a finger.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Mosaic (iTunes Store), HBO

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Israeli company claims Apple copied its dual-camera tech

Whatever you think of your dual-camera iPhone, there’s one company that’s less than thrilled. Israeli startup Corephotonics is suing Apple for allegedly infringing on patented technology with the cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus (it’s likely none too pleased about the iPhone X, for that matter). Corephotonics says it pitched Apple about a potential alliance, only to be shot down and see Apple implement dual cameras on its own. The plaintiff company even claims that Apple boasted it could infringe on patents without fear. Apple’s negotiator said it would take “years and millions of dollars” before the iPhone maker would have to pay if it did infringe, according to Corephotonics’ version of events.

We’ve asked Apple for comment and will let you know if it can provide its take on the situation.

The case may be more complicated than it seems at first. Apple has its own dual camera patents, so it’s clearly been exploring the idea. Corephotonics may need to show that Apple couldn’t have developed the iPhone’s dual cameras independently. Also, it may have to demonstrate that negotiations played out as described. There have been more than a few lawsuits where plaintiffs swore they’d informed tech giants about patents — Corephotonics’ detailed account of this is uncommon, but the court will likely want more tangible proof.

The one certainty is that this isn’t a fly-by-night lawsuit. Corephotonics got into dual camera technology relatively early, and it has worked with big-name partners like Samsung Electro-Mechanics and OmniVision. Whatever the truth, Apple can’t brush this off.

Source: Reuters

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What we’re playing: ‘Super Beat Sports’ and ‘Animal Crossing’

Welcome back to Gaming IRL, a monthly segment where several editors talk about what they’ve been playing in their downtime. This month we’ve been loving Super Beat Sports and Stardew Valley and taking an early look at Nintendo’s Animal Crossing mobile game. But first, let Kris Naudus tell you about the scariest dating sim she’s ever played.

This article contains spoilers for ‘Doki Doki Literature Club.’

Doki Doki Literature Club

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

It’s sort of impossible to not have expectations when you start a game. I certainly had preconceived notions when I began playing Doki Doki Literature Club. I’d seen headlines that proclaimed it one of the scariest games of the year, and I certainly knew I was in for something… interesting when one of the opening screens warned that people with depression should not play.

The game looks like another dating sim, with your main character wooing the girl of his choice from among three options: the cheerful best friend (Sayori), the quiet geeky lady (Yuri) and the nasty but secretly nice freshman (Natsuki). Your courtship is conducted by writing poems, angling your word choices toward the girl you hope to end up with. I found the whole thing rather tedious. But when the girls would show me their own works of poetry, the cracks started to show. They were weird. They were unsettling. Clearly we were heading somewhere outside of the normal bounds of otome games.

The more I progressed with sensitive girl Yuri, the more my relationships with the other girls unraveled. Monika, the president of the eponymous literature club, was catty and passive-aggressive. Natsuki hated me. Sayori confessed that she suffered from severe depression. But it was when Sayori revealed her true feelings to me that things fell apart.

I could either tell her I loved her or reject her with an affirming “You’re my best friend.” I became disgusted with the game. I was angered by the obvious emotional blackmail, even if Sayori never actually said, “I will hurt myself if you reject me.” I had already committed myself to choosing Yuri. So I rejected Sayori. And the game did exactly what I expected it to.

Still, I felt awful, and resolved to do “right” by her on my next playthrough.

That’s one of the things we count on with video games. You live, you die, you live again. You can always reload your last save, start from the beginning of the board or even reset and do the whole thing all over again. This is especially important with visual novels and dating sims, where you might want to play it again to see all the paths untaken. This is expected enough that some games now count on it, requiring multiple playthroughs to reach the “true” ending like the Zero Escape series, or rewarding you with new story paths and game modes like Hatoful Boyfriend does.

Doki Doki Literature Club punishes you.

I figured I’d pick Sayori the next time around, if only to see what her story would have been like, to see how things would have been different if only I had just chosen her. But when I loaded the game, she was nowhere to be found. She had been removed from the game.

The choices are always wrong. You’re always going to fail.

So, with that choice removed, I made a play for Natsuki instead. And while I did everything I was supposed to do, I somehow ended up getting scenes with Yuri again and again and again, until… well, things continued to go wrong.

In the end, that’s the real horror of Doki Doki. In visual novels, you’re supposed to make choices and have those decisions matter. Sometimes you’re wrong and you fail, but you try again. Here, the choices are always wrong. You’re always going to fail. The game will emotionally abuse you as long as you continue to play. It will even break down the fourth wall to do it, something that made me scream, even though I knew the entire time it was just a game.

I’m constantly reminded of the ending of War Games, where “the only winning move is not to play.” And if you never open Doki Doki Literature Club, all of the girls get to live and be happy. Or not. It’s Schrödinger’s cat, but in a file folder.

Opening this box made me feel awful. But it also constantly surprised me. It’s like riding a roller coaster, or watching a jump scare in a horror movie. You feel a terrible shock for a brief moment, and then you find yourself laughing afterwards. Doki Doki didn’t make me laugh, but it subverted my expectations and denied my choices so brazenly, I can’t help but smile a bit.

Stardew Valley

Rob LeFebvre

Rob LeFebvre
Contributing Writer

Oh, I do love Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve just gotten through winter, my least favorite season so far, and my virtual farm is finally shaping up again. I’ve got beanstalks, parsnips and a few other “springtime” seeds in the ground, and I’m watering them daily with my upgraded watering can, which can pour across three different plants at once. I’ve got a full chicken coop with four egg-layers in there and a barn with a couple of cows that just started producing milk. I know pretty much all of the folks in town, including the wizard and that weird ancient mariner who has a magic amulet he refuses to sell to me.

If video games are all about a sense of progression and mastery, Stardew Valley ticks all the boxes. It’s clearly inspired by the Harvest Moon games, though it also has a touch of Animal Crossing thrown in for good measure. You are given a farm by a relative and tasked with meeting the residents, amassing a fortune and (of course) growing crops and raising animals. That’s really not the whole of it, though.

Stardew Valley offers quite a bit of exploration, combat (while in the deep mines — I’ve only made it down to level 65) and supernatural mystery to boot, with a haunted community center, the aforementioned wizard and some weird totems scattered around town. There are holiday festivals for each major season change too. Taking it on the go is even better; I’ve whiled away plenty of time, while waiting for my kid to finish a piano lesson, harvesting blueberries and fighting off slimes in the mines. Overall, Stardew Valley is a charming title with a ton of things to do; you won’t get bored if you enjoy the gentle Zen of growing crops and exploring your little corner of the world.

Super Beat Sports

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

Like many others, I got my first exposure to Harmonix’s work through Guitar Hero 2. But outside of The Beatles: Rock Band, I didn’t spend a ton of time with the studio’s band-simulator franchise. Usually I didn’t have friends around to play it with, and lugging out a plastic drum set for a quick song was always a pain. I’ve loved the studio’s one-off games like Rock Band Unplugged for PSP and Rock Band Blitz for consoles, though, because they took what I loved about the full-on games — awesome licensed music and beat-matching gameplay that was second to none — and stripped away the bulky plastic instruments. Imagine my surprise when I fired up the team’s Nintendo Switch effort Super Beat Sports and discovered it was basically a portable Rock Band in disguise.

I’m talking specifically about the “Whacky Bat” mini game. On the surface, it looks like a simple batting practice exercise, with adorable pink monsters hurling baseballs at you in time with music. You have to knock them back from whence they came, using audio cues to get the timing right. It all seemed a little familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why. After a few rounds of this, I unlocked “Pro Mode,” which had me facing down multiple monster pitchers across five lanes, swapping between each. That’s when it hit me: This was basically one of the pared-back Rock Band games on my Switch.

The balls are the note gems; each pitcher’s lane is the note highway; and swinging my hockey stick (it makes sense in the game) to the beat, keeping a streak going, is nailing a full combo on a plastic instrument. Of course, there are other mini-games (“Net Ball,” a take on volleyball, and “Gobble Golf” are great as well) and deeper multiplayer offerings, but none of them grabbed me quite like “Whacky Bat.”

Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best games I’ve played in years, sure, but I’d rather experience that at home on my TV with surround sound. If I’m on the go, you can bet I’m playing Super Beat Sports.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Aaron Souppouris

Aaron Souppouris
Features Editor

On first impression, I was as entranced by Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as I was by New Leaf on the 3DS. Just as Fire Emblem Heroes is exactly what I want from a mobile Fire Emblem game, Pocket Camp seemed to be the perfect distillation of what makes the series so special. You shuffle around, solving various animals’ problems (mostly by gathering fruit, bugs or fish), and in return you get materials to add furniture to your campsite and camper. Pick the right objects and animals will come visit your camp, making space for more characters to appear around the game’s small world. It’s a nice loop that works great on mobile.

After a week or so, though, I felt like I was running out of things to do. The NPCs were giving me similar lines of dialogue, and the challenges were all the same. Perhaps that’s by design. A lot of the game seems to hinge around real people — you can make friends with people you know and don’t, and then team up to complete challenges or wander around their campsite looking at how they’ve chosen to decorate it. Because I played the game on a throwaway account, I’ve been unable to add any people I actually know to the game, and the world Nintendo has crafted began to feel oddly dull and lifeless.

This isn’t really Nintendo’s fault. I jumped through hoops to download Pocket Camp early, essentially lying to my iPhone until it believed I was living in the Sydney Opera House. I’m cautiously optimistic that when the game is released worldwide later this month, I’ll find more to do, because I’ll be playing with friends.

The other lingering question is about the payment structure. Pocket Camp is free to play, and the gifts that Nintendo gives away to new players dry up very quickly. Doing anything after a week seemed to take forever unless I paid to speed things up. Fire Emblem Heroes mostly strikes a good balance here, providing enough hooks for big spenders to keep spending while ensuring that you could choose never to part with real money and still have fun. That equilibrium doesn’t seem to be there for Pocket Camp.

This is definitely Animal Crossing; it’s just not very good right now. But even with these pre-launch issues, I’m still hopeful. The monthly updates to Fire Emblem Heroes over the past eight months have consistently improved it, and if Nintendo pays that much attention to Pocket Camp, it could grow into a great game.

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.

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Facebook Messenger’s money transfer tool is heading to the UK

Back in 2015, Facebook introduced the ability to send money to friends through Messenger and now it has brought that capability to UK users. It’s the first time Facebook has launched the feature outside of the US.

A number of companies have begun working peer-to-peer payment abilities into their services. Skype lets users in nearly two dozen countries send cash within its mobile app via PayPal and PayPal has a bot that let’s you send money within Slack. In May, the encrypted messaging app Telegram began supporting payments through chatbots, as did Facebook last year. Facebook Messenger also lets you send payments through PayPal and introduced a group payment option earlier this year. Apple is also in on the money transfer game, allowing iPhone and iPad users to send money within iMessage via Venmo or by telling Siri to send cash via Square Cash, Monzo or PayPal. Additionally, Apple has its own Venmo-like money transfer service in the works that’s due to be released sometime this fall.

Transfers through Facebook Messenger will work in the UK as they do in the US. Users will need to link a debit card to their account before sending or receiving money. The feature is rolling out to UK users in the next few weeks.

Via: Bloomberg

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Samsung trolls every generation of the iPhone in one video

If you want to start your week with a little bit of tech shade, check out Samsung’s new Galaxy commercial. The ad follows a young man through the years as he meets and falls for a young woman. However, the focus of each touching moment in their blossoming relationship is how his iPhone is inferior to her Samsung Galaxy and Samsung makes sure to put every single downside of owning an iPhone on blast. That includes waiting in lines for the new model, inadequate photo storage space, lack of water resistance and, of course, the headphone dongle. There’s even a not-so-subtle swipe at the iPhone X’s notch. And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s the ad’s title — “Samsung Galaxy: Growing Up.”

You can watch the ad below and if you want to compare the latest iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models yourself, you can check out our reviews of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the iPhone X, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Source: Samsung

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Apple Watches were crashing when asked about the weather

We hope you didn’t ask your shiny new Apple Watch about the weather on November 4th — you probably got a rude response. Many Series 3 owners reported that their wristwear crashed (specifically, the “springboard” interface restarted) if they asked Siri how the weather was that day. It wouldn’t crash if they asked about weather in subsequent days, but the odd hiccup affected users across North America and Europe. We’ve asked Apple for comment. With that said, there’s already a potential culprit… and it’s a familiar one for iPhone users.

Reddit user rgsteele has theorized that the crashing was related to the end of Daylight Saving Time. If you asked about the time either after DST was over or in areas that don’t observe it (such as the Canadian province of Saskatchewan), you were safe. And sure enough, the issue appears to be over: we’ve checked both before and afterward, and it’s now safe to ask Siri if it’s raining. The Apple Watch didn’t have this issue in previous years, but it’s notable that iOS devices had long-running alarm and calendar bugs related to DST shifts.

There’s no guarantee that the time change is the cause, and it’s not certain how much of the fault would rest in Siri’s servers versus the watch software. However, it’s a safe bet that Apple will want to prevent this from happening again — you don’t want a common voice command bringing everything to a standstill one day out of every year.

Via: MacRumors

Source: Reddit

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After Math: Xs and Os

It’s been a wild week for schemes and strategies. A band of thieves made off with a load of new iPhones, the CIA released more of bin Laden’s hard drive contents, and Netflix nixed House of Cards because Kevin Spacey turned out to be a sexual predator. Numbers, because how else will you know if your fence is underpaying for those looted wares?

$ 370,000: That’s the street value of some 300 iPhone Xs a band of thieves managed to purloin from a UPS truck parked outside of the Apple Store in San Francisco on Thursday. Be wary of any unreasonably good deals (read: less than a grand) you see on eBay for them in the coming weeks.

11 minutes: The only tolerable span of time to occur in 2017 was when the president’s personal attack vector, er, Twitter account was taken offline by an American hero.

Lafayette, US - December 27, 2016: Tesla Supercharger Station. The Supercharger offers recharging of Model S and Model X electric vehicles XI

$ 7,500: That’s how much the electric vehicle tax credit is worth that the Republicans want to get rid of. Because who needs to reduce the global carbon footprint when a couple dozen rich families here in the US can reduce their tax bases?

CIA

321 GB: That’s the size of the CIA’s most recent file dump from Osama bin Laden’s personal laptop. Turns out the dude was super into off-brand sexy ROMs, who knew?

1440p: That’s the maximum monitor screen resolution the new Xbox One X will support. Don’t worry, it’ll still display in 4K when you hook it up to your living room TV.

4 seasons: That’s how many seasons too long House of Cards ran before Kevin Spacey’s sexual predatory past caught up with him and curb stomped the remainder of his career.

A 3D rendered image of cells.  One of the cells has dark tubules protruding from it as compared to the other clear cells.

86 percent: That’s how effective a new AI system developed at Showa University in Japan is in detecting colorectal cancer. Because the quicker you catch this form of cancer, the better the chance you have of beating it.

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Apple reminds iPhone X owners they’re using an OLED display

Apple’s bezel-less “X” is the first iPhone with an OLED screen — a technology known for its greater contrast and saturation, but also for its tendency to get burn-in. To make sure customers understand that their $ 1,000 phone might suffer from image persistence in the future, the tech titan has updated the iPhone X’s display support page to explain how an OLED screen works.

The company explains that the “slight shifts in color and hue” when viewing the screen off-angle (read: not straight on) are perfectly normal. It also says OLEDs exhibit slight visual changes with long-term use, such as showing remnants of a high-contrast image displayed on the screen for extended periods of time even when it’s already showing another image.

Those two are also the most common issues Pixel 2 XL owners have with their Android Oreo devices. By pre-empting potential complaints, Apple is most likely trying to avoid facing a similar debacle. In Google’s case, though, some customers’ complaints might be warranted, since they reportedly got burn-in as soon as a week after their purchase.

Despite the warning, Apple assures customers that their pricey new phones aren’t going to have less-than-perfect displays anytime soon. The company says it “engineered the Super Retina display to be the best in the industry in reducing the effects of OLED “burn-in.” And, as AppleInsider notes, iPhone X uses OLED made by Samsung. The Korean conglomerate also manufactures OLED screens for Pixel 2, which doesn’t suffer from the same issues as its bigger sibling.

Via: Apple Insider

Source: Apple Support

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Take a peek inside the iPhone X

As they tend to do, the folks at iFixit have descended upon Apple’s latest creation to pull it apart piece by piece. While we didn’t spot any fairie dust spilling out of the iPhone X, they did dig into its TrueDepth camera system (above) that enables all those new recognition features like FaceID and Animoji. Interestingly, Apple decided to rely on a dual-celled battery design to better utilize space behind the nearly-all-screen OLED display. In total, it packs 2,716mAh, which is just a bit larger than the iPhone 8 Plus (2,691mAh) but smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus (2,900mAh) and Galaxy Note 8 (3,300 mAh).

Source: iFixit

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Apple says ‘tears of joy’ face is the most-used emoji

In an overview of its differential privacy technology, Apple slipped in some super important data regarding the popularity of its emojis. The document included an image ranking the top 10 emojis among US English speakers and taking the number one spot was the “face with tears of joy” emoji. The red heart and “loudly crying face” rounded out the top three.

The image is just a simple chart without any real numbers attached, so there’s no telling just how popular that emoji is over all the rest. Really it was just a demonstration of how Apple uses its differential privacy tools, many of which it described in the overview. In it, Apple said, “There are situations where Apple can improve the user experience by getting insight from what many of our users are doing, for example: What new words are trending and might make the most relevant suggestions? What websites have problems that could affect battery life? Which emoji are chosen most often?” But the company said getting that information while maintaining privacy is a bit tricky but key. To do that, it uses its differential privacy technology, which Apple describes as “a technique that enables Apple to learn about the user community without learning about individuals in the community. Differential privacy transforms the information shared with Apple before it ever leaves the user’s device such that Apple can never reproduce the true data.”

Apple says it uses these tools to improve the usability of features like QuickType and emoji suggestions, lookup hints and Safari energy draining domains, among others. You can check out the full overview here.

With the release of iOS 11.1, Apple added over 70 new emojis, and I’m betting the cursing face one will make a run for one of those top 10 spots pretty quickly just based solely on how often I plan to use it. However, iPhone X users will no longer be limited to the selection of static emojis as the company announced in September that the new phone will include the ability to animate a selection of emojis based on what you say.

Image: Apple

Via: The Verge

Source: Apple

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