VSCO brings GIFs to its main iPhone app

In October, Giphy reported that it has over 100 million users every day. Yes, GIFs are huge, and camera app VSCO wants in. That’s why, back in 2015, it introduced DSCO. The iOS-only spin-off app allows users to create looping images and share them on the company’s own portal or their favorite social networks. Today, VSCO announced that it’s reducing phone clutter by bringing DSCO’s GIF-making capabilities to its main app.

The new feature appears to function very much like DSCO does: Open the in-app camera, switch to DSCO mode, hold the rainbow-colored circle to record a few seconds of video, then swipe to choose preset filters and post away. The company didn’t say whether this means the standalone DSCO app will be discontinued. What it did make clear in its blog post introducing the feature is that like DSCO, GIF creation will remain exclusive to iOS.

With the update, which VSCO says is rolling out in the next couple weeks, the app will also add some meat to its community features. The option to favorite an image will be added, although VSCO calls it “a private acknowledgment between two people,” since only an image’s creator will be able to see if their photos have been starred. Users will also soon be able to block annoying people, but not entirely: Blocked users will still be able to see a person’s images, but will be unable to follow them or interact with their posts.

VSCO’s devotion to Apple devices is clear: DSCO was introduced in late 2015 but has yet to make its way to Android. The company has previously addressed this preference, saying on its support website that “due to some device limitations found while developing for Android, there are some key features that are available for the iOS version that are not available in the Android version of VSCO.” With that in mind, non-iPhone users shouldn’t expect to see GIF capabilities on their VSCO apps any time soon, if ever.

Source: VSCO

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Matterport brings its Virtual Reality Spaces to the iPhone

iPhone users who love exploring the world from the comfort of their couches have a new app to download: Matterport. The Google Street View rival has brought its virtual reality tours of various real-world locations to the iPhone. Matterport originally offered 3D views of everything from popular travel destinations to celebrity homes and historic places like the very first Boeing 737. It started going into VR late last year, though, and even launched a platform called CoreVR that makes it easy for content creators to turn their Street View-like shots into virtual reality experiences.

The company has around 300,000 VR spaces, 150 of which make up a curated premium selection, that you can access through the iOS, Gear VR and Cardboard apps. It also promises to keep converting and adding the rest of its 3D spaces. Take note that the app will only work if you have an iPhone 5s or one of the device’s newer iterations, and only if it’s running iOS 9.1 and higher. In case you’re a business owner looking to show off your place place in VR, though, you’ll also need Matterport’s $ 4,500 camera in addition to a new-ish iPhone.

Source: Matterport, iTunes

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Korg brings the iconic ARP Odyssey synth to iOS

Synthesizer companies have a knack for bringing digital versions of analog gear to mobile devices so hobbyists and pros alike can get creative with ease. Earlier this year, Moog released a $ 30 app that brought the legendary (and massive) Model 15 to the iPad. Korg already has synth apps under its belt, including a more mobile version of its M1, and now its introducing another. Based on the iconic ARP Odyssey, the company built the appropriately-named ARP ODYSSEi mobile software for iOS.

This $ 20 iOS app houses versions of all three ARP Odyssey analog synths. Yes, that includes the 2015 reissue that offered an updated take on two well-respected instruments. Korg said it wasn’t content with just reproducing the sounds of those synthesizers for the app, so it put its Circuit Modeling Technology (CMT) to use so that the sounds you’re able to make with your iPad or iPhone are as close as possible to the physical gear.

The three filter types and Drive function from the 2015 model are here on the digital version of the ARP Odyssey, but new effects, a voice assign mode and a programmable arpeggiator expand the functionality of the instruments even further. This new ODYSSEi app can be put to work with Korg’s own DAW software and GarageBand if you’re looking to do more than just tinker with the virtual controls to make some noise. The company says the $ 20 price is “introductory,” so you might end up paying more if you wait too long to commit. For now, you can hear the app in action via the video below.

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Allo brings Google’s ‘Assistant’ to your phone today

If you’re going to unveil a new messaging app, it had better do something unique. At this point, finding a place amongst entrenched options like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage is not an easy task. Google didn’t quite pull it off with Hangouts when it launched in 2013. Sure, it’s installed on basically every Android phone out there and anyone with a Gmail account has probably tried it, but Google’s messaging strategy never quite came together in a compelling or clear way.

So Google is rebooting yet again with Allo, a mobile-only messaging app that leverages the company’s biggest strengths in an effort to stand out from the pack. That strength is the vast amount of knowledge Google has about you and the world around you. It shows up in the app via the Google Assistant, a conversational chatbot that provides you and your friends with contextual info based on your chat history. The bot will show up across multiple Google products, including Google Home, but this is our first look at it in action.

It’s an outgrowth of what Google’s been doing for a long time with the Knowledge Graph and the info it serves you in things like Google Now, and that really is something no other app can do. I’ve been playing with Allo for about a week to see just how much the app can do — and where it still falls flat.

Getting set up is a simple affair: Once the app is installed, you create a profile linked to your phone number and Google account. From there, you’ll be able to see who in your phone’s contact list is using Allo to initiate a chat; you can also invite friends who don’t have the app to give it a shot. Then you can start a one-on-one chat, a group chat, an encrypted “incognito chat” or talk directly to the Google Assistant.

The Assistant is what really sets Allo apart from other chat apps, and it can provide you with a host of info depending on whether you’re in a private chat with it or bringing it into a conversation with other human beings. Probably the best way to sum up the Assistant is that it lets you bring info from around the internet right into your conversations without having to jump back and forth between apps.

If you’re planning dinner, for example, you can ask it to show you nearby Indian restaurants, and then tap on a specific result to get more details. Results from the Google Assistant typically have “chips” below them to prompt you to continue getting more info; you can pull up a map, call the location, see pictures inside and more with one tap. And because it understands natural language, you can follow up your query about Indian restaurants by saying “What about Chinese?” and it’ll know you’re interested in food, not the language.

This can be genuinely useful — it’s easy to share things like flight status, local weather and nearby points of interest with groups of people just by asking Google. And there’s lots of silly fun to be had as well. Google built in some games like “emoji movies,” where you have to guess the name of a film based on a series of emojis. You can also have it pull up pictures and GIFs from Google images, so it’s pretty easy to drop cute cat pictures to your group on the fly.

The downside to the Google Assistant is that it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of letting you do everything in the app, through the bot. Many times, tapping on various items will bounce you out to your browser, and while I can look up a bunch of restaurants with my friends, I can’t actually book one through OpenTable right in the app, for example. The Assistant doesn’t yet work with third-party services, so I can’t say “get us a table for four at 8PM.” That’ll come down the line, though.

When it can’t complete a task itself, you get bounced out to the web. Sometimes that makes sense — seeing a restaurant’s full menu is better in a browser than in a chat app, and getting directions to a location is a lot better in the proper Google Maps app. But the experience occasionally felt a bit more disjointed than I’d like. Google says the Assistant is considered only a “preview” right now, so it should become smarter and better integrated in time.

Chatting directly with the Google Assistant (rather than interacting with it in a chat with other humans) opens up more functionality. For the sake of privacy, it can do certain things only in private chat — you can ask it to get you directions to work, show you emails from yesterday, pull up your calendar agenda and more things based on your personal Google account. You can even have it pull images from Google Photos using natural language like “show me my pictures of dogs.”

The app also lets you set reminders and alarms as well as sign up for recurring “subscriptions.” You can search for a particular news item (I tried “Red Sox news”) and it’ll pop up every day at the time you specify. This is all well and good, but I don’t think a chatbot is the best place for a lot of these interactions. In fact, in a lot of cases, it’s easier to just say “OK Google” and ask your Android phone for this sort of help or info. Siri also does a lot of this on the iPhone at this point, as does the Google iOS app. Don’t get me wrong, the Google Assistant can be quite knowledgeable and useful, but in a lot of ways it’s just replicating things you can already do in Google search.

Beyond the Assistant, Allo has the messaging basics covered, but there are few surprises here. You can tap and hold the “send” button and then scroll up and down to increase or decrease the size of text — Google calls this “yelling” or “whispering.” It’s quite similar to the “loud” and “gentle” settings Apple added to iMessage in iOS 10, if you’ve checked that out. Google has also added in the “smart reply” feature that originated in Inbox. It’ll analyze the content of your chats or photos and offer suggestions. I found it to be pretty hit-or-miss; it’s handy to have it offer up a quick yes or no reply, but deeper replies don’t usually work out terribly well.

Naturally, Allo also has stickers; there are 29 different sets you can download, for starters, some of which are animated. They’re nice, and Google notes the name of the artist who created each set, but they’re not wildly different from what’s out there already. And as of yet, there isn’t a way to add more third-party options.

You can share your location or photos in Allo, but I ran into one surprising omission during my testing: On Android, you can’t see content from Google Photos and add them to a chat — you can access only images you’ve shot directly on your phone or downloaded to storage. There are work-arounds — you can go to Google Photos directly and share a photo to Allo from there — but it still seems like a strange omission. On Android, you can add text to photos and draw on top of them (a la Snapchat), a feature that’ll be coming to iOS down the line.

Allo also offers end-to-end encryption in “incognito” chats. The Google Assistant isn’t allowed here, and the participants in the chat can decide how long they want the messages to stick around for. You can set the chat expiration time as long as a week or as short as five seconds (you can also make it so messages don’t disappear). Most users probably won’t bother with this feature, but apps like Telegram made highly secure chat a feature of note, so it makes sense to see it pop up here.

Overall, there’s not a lot to make Allo stand out from the competition beyond the Google Assistant. And unfortunately, the Assistant feels a bit like it’s under construction, still. The breadth of information that Google has access to, both about a user as well as the world around him, is stunning, and it’s great to tap into. But Google has already given us a plethora of ways to do that; Allo is just another. The difference is that Allo makes it easy to bring that data into a conversation with other humans.

That’s the killer feature. But it’s not a simple one to explain, and it’s not something that becomes immediately useful. Some co-workers and I goofed around with Allo for several days, but the Assistant never elevated itself to a must-have feature. It was fun to show off and experiment with, but it didn’t feel like enough to keep any of us conversing in the app over the many other options we already have available to us. I’d like to keep giving it a shot, because it feels like it could be useful under the right circumstances. The trick is getting your friends to use it long enough for those situations to arise.

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Microsoft’s new camera app brings AI to your iPhone

Microsoft sure loves it when research projects beget actual products, and it just released another for the masses to play with. Pix is a replacement camera app (what?) available for iPhones and iPads (what?), and in short, it promises better photos of the people around you without any extra work on your part. It’ll run on just about every iOS device from the iPhone 5S on, and an Android version is in the works too. (Microsoft didn’t have a firm answer when I asked if these features would make their way into the Windows 10 Mobile camera.) And you know what? In some ways, I wish this was the camera app that Apple built in the first place.

First, the basics. The most important thing you need to know about Pix is that it’s been tuned to make your pictures of people look better.

“There are things the Apple camera does that we don’t do and might not ever do,” said Josh Weisberg, GM of computational photography at Microsoft. “The goal was around people photos — can we make better people photos than the stock camera? And we succeeded.”

From the moment you start Pix, it’s capturing what your camera is pointed at -– you can never tell when something’s about to happen, after all. Once you press the shutter button, Pix snaps 10 frames, and Weisberg says that’s where the magic really kicks in. Algorithms evaluate those ten frames for obvious things like sharpness or exposure, but also underlying characteristics like whether a person in the shot seems happy or sad. When that near-instantaneous process is done, you’ll be given up to three “Best Images.” The image data from the leftover photos is used to enhance those winners before being deleted. All of this happens on the fly and without any extra fiddling, so you don’t need to be a photo buff to snap some great shots.

If the app detects a bunch of similar pictures, it’ll stitch them into a Live Image, but only when it thinks what’s going on in the photos is interesting. Oh, and the Hyperlapse feature that Microsoft has been working on for years is here too. This time, though, you can turn existing photos into time-lapses, or just use it to stabilize video you just shot.

Using Pix is very much a learning process, and I don’t just mean for you, the user. According to Weisberg, the app sends anonymized bits of “telemetry” — settings data and what Best Images people fave’d or deleted — back to the mothership, where human judges will examine them and adjust the image processing algorithms accordingly. Basically, the more you use Pix, the more insight it gains into what makes a photo good. All told, Weinberg was right: The app really is helpful for improving your photos of people. Usually, anyway.

In no time at all, I was snapping photos using Pix that came out punchier and with a greater emphasis on the people in the shot. When the testing period inevitably overlapped with post-work drinks at a local dive, Pix shined even brighter. I mean that literally too. Smartphone camera sensors often flounder in dim, dank conditions, leaving software to do the heavy lifting required to make a passable photo. Microsoft’s photo processing was both super-fast and mostly great at brightening up pictures of my colleagues and removing grain without making things look unnatural. I was utterly impressed… until I wasn’t.

Left: Microsoft Pix; Right: Apple’s camera app.

My biggest issue with Pix in its current form is that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes my shots were clear improvements over what Apple’s camera app was capable of. Other times, though, Apple’s softwaer had a clear edge. Take landscape photos, for instance: Even before Microsoft’s instantaneous image processing did its thing, the app had trouble exposing shots with bright backgrounds. Pix’s outdoor shots tended to be a little blown out, while Apple’s camera software was generally better at balancing exposure levels.

And for all the work that went into teaching Pix to enhance photos of people, it still struggles at times. A “Best Image” it suggested of a colleague in the dimly lit dive mentioned earlier was noticeably less crisp than the image the camera actually captured. In the app’s zeal to brighten up her face, it smoothed out her features a little too much. Long story short, the version of Pix I played with was still fairly hit or miss.

Left: Microsoft Pix; Right: Apple’s camera app.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. In fact, I’d strongly recommend giving this a download, even if you’re not the sort of person who already juggles multiple camera apps. The benefits of better image processing can be seen from the get-go, but the weightier, far more fascinating goal is to see how much Microsoft’s system can learn about good photographs. In a way, it’s almost as though we’re collectively training it to better understand art. The very nature of Microsoft’s algorithmic processing means these early issues will probably get ironed out over time, and I’m fascinated to see how long it takes before Pix becomes great in every situation.

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Electro-Harmonix brings ’80s synth sounds to your iPad

The likes of Korg and Moog have their own synthesizer apps for iOS devices, and now there’s a new option for loading up a virtual instrument on those mobile devices. Electro-Harmonix has released a version of its Mini-Synthesizer EH-1600 for iPad and iPhone that delivers a digital re-creation of the ’80s analog gear. The original had pretty basic controls, but it was responsible for some fairly iconic synthesizer sounds like you’ve heard from Rush, Van Halen and more.

The app comes with 22 presets and offers users the ability to store any custom settings as well. While the original Mini-Synthesizer was a monophonic instrument, this digital version is a polyphonic synth, meaning that you can play four notes at the same time rather than just one. There’s a switch to toggle between modes though, so you can still get the classic tones alongside the new functionality. The company also expanded the keyboard to a full 88 keys, too. In total, there are 12 sliders and 9 switches for tweaking pitch, filters, delay, reverb and more inside the app that has a look that closely resembles the physical instrument. And yes, you can use the mobile software with connected MIDI devices.

If you’re looking to give it a shot, the app will set you back $ 2.99 for the iPhone version and $ 4.99 if you’re looking to use in on an iPad. Don’t worry Android users, the synth will arrive for Google’s OS in late September. For now, you can hear what the app is capable of in the video below.

Via: Fact Magazine

Source: App Store

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Add-on brings Game Boy cartridges to your Android phone

Hyperkin toyed with gamers last year when it teased a peripheral that would play real Game Boy cartridges on your phone, but it wasn’t just kidding around — it’s making good on its word. The company is now taking pre-orders for a Smart Boy Development Kit that lets your Android smartphone play Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges. The $ 60 peripheral isn’t meant for everyday use — Hyperkin is hoping you’ll improve the open source code yourself. Nonetheless, it’s likely the closest you’ll get to reviving your childhood short of dragging the original hardware out of storage. Just be ready to wait until December 1st to get yours… and while Hyperkin originally talked about an iPhone version, Apple handset users are out of luck so far.

Via: SlashGear, Neowin, Gizmodo

Source: Hyperkin

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AT&T brings WiFi calling to Android phones

Hey, AT&T subscribers: you no longer need an iPhone to make calls over WiFi. The carrier has introduced WiFi calling for Android. If you have a supporting device (currently limited to the LG G4), a postpaid plan and HD Voice support, you can grab an update that lets you make calls over the internet when cell service just isn’t an option. As on the iPhone, what you pay for a call only depends on who you’re calling — you can reach a US number at no extra charge while you’re abroad. AT&T certainly isn’t the first out of the gate with WiFi calling on Android, but this will definitely make a difference if you’d rather not switch networks just to get the improved coverage.

Source: AT&T

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