The Shins made a collage app for band flyers

It’s been thirteen years since Garden State propelled The Shins to mainstream success. In that time, the band’s lineup has changed entirely, save for James Mercer, its founder and ever-present frontman. Now, Mercer is hoping to use his band’s profile to propel another venture into the mainstream. At SXSW 2017, Mercer was in town to promote both his band’s new album, Heartworms, and “Pasted,” a collage application for iPhone and Android.

At a random house in East Austin, Mercer played a short set of Shins songs new and old, and also gave demos of his new app. In an interview with Engadget, he explained why he believes Pasted is a necessary addition to your phone. He’d been searching for an app that could create collages; something that could recreate the “hand-made” look of the flyers he’d created when The Shins first formed in the ’90s. “There are a lot of really amazing AI-based apps,” he said. “Prisma is fantastic, but the problem is that, if you’re somebody that has an artistic bent, you want to be able to hack it and find your thing.”

And so, he, together with musicians-turned-coders Zeke Howard and Ben Fogarty resolved to create Pasted. It’s a simple app to use — you select photos, and then it combines them together. You can then redefine the masking for each image, enlarge, rotate and position the individual elements, and apply various treatments. You can also add stickers and other pre-made elements to your images.

The Shins

Using the app, Mercer was able to put together a simple image with his and the Engadget video team’s faces in a matter of minutes. The more time you spend on a collage, obviously, the better results you’ll get. The cover art for The Shins’ latest two singles (like “Mildenhall,” above) was created using the app, and it looks far more professional than the quick image of Engadget faces.

Pasted will launch in April on iOS, with an Android version to follow later. Over time, Mercer hopes to collaborate with artists to offer “Paste Packs” that may be charged for, but for now the app and all of its content will be free. “My big picture goal is to be driving around and see a flyer that some band has used our app to make,” said Mercer. “I think we’re just trying to fill a niche, just another little tool where you can express yourself artistically, efficiently, and share it.”

Click here to catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2017.

Source: Pasted

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TAG Heuer made a modular $1,650 smartwatch

When TAG Heuer released its first smartwatch two years ago, it had an $ 1,800 asking price and was dubbed the most expensive Android Wear device on the market. Still, more than 56,000 people bought it, which is certainly enough reason for the Swiss watchmaker to give smartwatches another shot. And so it has. Say hello to the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, the company’s second Android Wear collaboration with Intel and Google. The starting price is still pretty high at $ 1,650 (£1,400), but the cost might be worth it this time. The reason: The Modular 45 comes with interchangeable parts, making the watch a lot more versatile than its predecessor.

What’s more, it’s the watch’s modular nature that makes this the “First Swiss-Made Connected Watch.” That’s because the 45mm smartwatch module can be swapped out with a purely Swiss-Made mechanical option that transforms it into an “ordinary” luxury timepiece. (Your options include either the Calibre 5 or the much more premium Heuer 02T Tourbillon, which TAG Heuer claims has “the most accurate mechanical movements around.”) So even if the connected module part of it gets outdated eventually (as it likely will), you’ll still be able to have a high-end TAG Heuer on your wrist just by swapping that module out. And, who knows, maybe TAG Heuer will make future connected watch modules for the same system, making the whole thing wonderfully future-proof.

As mentioned, it’s not just the watch modules that are interchangeable. It’s pretty much every part of the watch, including the straps, buckles and lugs. The core Connected Modular 45 range consists of 11 different designs; the watch module comes in either silver or black, while the straps are available in rubber, leather, titanium or ceramic, and in a slew of different colors. If that’s not enough, TAG Heuer offers 45 additional options, some of which include premium materials like patent leather, rose gold and even diamonds. That amounts to a grand total of 56 different designs and, according to the company, over 500 different design combinations.

Swapping out the different parts of the watch isn’t too difficult, but it does require a bit of finesse. During a hands-on event in San Francisco, I tried assembling and reassembling the watch a few times and it definitely took me several attempts before I finally got it right. The lugs and the central module connect to each other via a couple of pins that snap together, and a push button underneath releases them. The trick was aligning the parts correctly, which is harder to do than it looks. Still, after some trial and error, I eventually learned how to do it. The cool part is that the parts are all interchangeable without the need for a screwdriver; just use your own two hands.

The Connected Modular 45 watch module is quite a stunner. It has a 1.39-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, which is a lot sharper than the transflective LCD on its predecessor. It’s covered in 2.5mm sapphire crystal glass and the entire thing is encased in titanium. And, of course, it also comes with a few different TAG Heuer designed watchfaces. Yet, those with smaller wrists might not like it so much. The 45mm watch is really quite bulky on slender arms, and goes against the rumors that it would be more female-friendly. Of course, something like that could come out some time in the future, but for now, the Connected 45 is undeniably on the chunky side.

As for the internals, the watch is comparable to most modern smartwatches. It has an Intel Atom Z34XX processor, 4GB of memory, WiFi, GPS, more than 24 hours of battery life and water resistance to 50 meters. It also ships with the newly released Android Wear 2.0, which means simpler navigation, NFC support so you can use it with Android Pay, third-party complications and a standalone app store, so you can use it with an iPhone as well.

As mentioned earlier, the Connected Modular 45 will start at $ 1,650, but of course, additional options will cost extra. If you opt for the top-of-the-line accessories and add-ons, it’s very likely you’ll be spending thousands more. Still, the cost is very much on par with other non-connected luxury timepieces, and even those aren’t as modular as the Modular 45. So if you think of it as a modern Android Wear wearable disguised as a versatile Swiss-made watch, that might make the price easier to swallow.

We’ll have more thoughts on the watch once we get our review unit, but for now, you can get your own in the following regions: the US, the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Update: CEO Jean-Claude Biver has confirmed that Android Wear 2.0 will be coming to the original Connected watch at the end of the month as well.

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Native Union made a USB hub that blends into your home

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a gadget freak and may need to recharge multiple devices on a daily basis. That’s when you’re greeted by a pile of messy cables plugged into a dull-looking and maybe under-powered USB hub. Cable boxes may hide the ugliness, but they’re bulky and don’t actually solve the issue. Not one to admit defeat, Native Union — the mad folks behind the marble iPhone case — came up with the ultimate solution: a stylish, cylindrical USB hub dubbed Eclipse. On the outside, it looks like a piece of home decor thanks to its wooden top, but it’s really the inside that got our attention: as you touch the top gently, the main body slowly rises up to let you uncoil the cables tucked inside, while the base emits a subtle halo for night-time usage. It’s rather mesmerizing to watch.

The Eclipse offers three standard USB ports — one of which can be flipped to USB-C — which total up to 7.8A of current, and each standard port can go up to 2.4A while the USB-C port maxes out at 3A. There’s no Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0 magic here (so the voltage stays at 5V), but the high current output is already plentiful for office hour or night time charging. And don’t worry, all the essential electrical protection mechanisms are in place. The device itself supports 110-240V variable voltage input so you can use it anywhere around the world, and it’s attached to a 4-foot long power cable with an electrical plug of your choice in the Kickstarter campaign.

While Native Union makes its own USB cables, the Eclipse is designed to house any cable that are up to 8-foot long. All you have to do is plug one end into the ports on the inside, then wrap each cable around one of the three slots on the cable management part, pop the part back into the cylinder and you’re good to go. To grab a cable, simply tap the top, let the body rise (powered by a motor), unwind your desired cable, and then tap the top again to let it slowly sink back down. This works even if you choose to hang the Eclipse on the wall — because it’s that good-looking — using the bundled wall mount. There’s a 4mm gap between the outer case and the wooden top, which should let most types of USB cables go through.

The Eclipse is already proving to be quite popular on Kickstarter, as it reached its $ 50,000 goal within the first couple of hours after launch. For those who don’t mind waiting until April 2017 for delivery, early birds can grab an Eclipse for $ 49 while everyone else will have to pay $ 50 — which is still a bargain considering that it’ll retail for $ 80 next year.

Source: Kickstarter

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Anki’s tiny Cozmo robot is a Pixar character made real

Best known for its sleek and intelligent remote controlled cars, Anki is stepping into new territory with its latest product, a small robot toy named Cozmo. If you’ve seen Wall-E, you’ve already got a good sense of its personality. Thanks to a combination of artificial intelligence, robotic movement designed by former Pixar animators and computer vision technology, Cozmo is curious and incredibly expressive, with the ability to interact with the world around it. It’s smart enough to recognize your face and remember you over time, and it can explore its environment and play games with its very own toys. But it’s most interesting feature? It’s not a perfect robot, and that’s just how Anki wants it.

“Perfect is boring,” Anki CEO and co-founder Boris Sofman said in an interview. “With the [Anki Drive] cars, the first version was boring because it was too good. When he goes and fails to do something, that’s not a bad thing… As long as you can detect what happens, it’s a good opportunity to show off the emotions it generates.”

While we’ve seen plenty of toys claiming AI and robotic capabilities in the past, Cozmo feels unique. I’ll admit, I fell for it pretty quickly during a brief demo. As it was charging, it “slept” in a tiny dock, complete with a snoring sound effect and sleeping animation that can only be described as adorable. When it woke up, it looked around the table and came up right to the edge, quickly realizing it couldn’t go any further. Upon recognizing my face, it wandered up to me with a suspicious look. Like a child, it will recognize people it’s already met and be a bit more hesitant around strangers.

Cozmo also comes with a bunch of smart blocks, which basically serve as its very own toys. It stacks them when it’s bored — and trust me, Cozmo gets really annoyed if you mess up its work. We also used the blocks to play a competitive game, which involved tapping down on them when they displayed like colors. In the first few games I easily trounced Cozmo, much to his adorable dismay. Eventually, he learned to hit the blocks faster, and he had no problem letting me know it.

Sofman says the company was inspired by how toddler and pets interact with the world. They can’t speak, but they can clearly explore and interact with you. Like a child, Cozmo slowly learns to recognize people and explore its world, and over time it learns to play games. But also like a child, it gets frustrated when things don’t work out. Instead of being annoying, though, those little personality quirks — like gloating when it wins a game, and getting angry when you beat it — make it more endearing.

Cozmo is a tiny thing, which adds to its vulnerability. It’s light, has a small display up front for its eyes, a single articulating arm to pick up objects, and uses two tiny treads to get around. Eventually, you’ll be able to replace its arm mechanism with other types of appendages. Cozmo communicates through a combination of Star Wars-like bot noises (yes, in many ways this is the Droid you’ve been looking for), and expressive movements. It relies on an iPhone and Android app to have your phone do much of the processing, which also plays a soundtrack perfectly suited to Cozmo’s mood. Its battery lasts a short two hours, but it recharges in just 10 minutes.

Anki paid particular attention to Cozmo’s emotional smarts. It has an “emotion engine” that lets it respond to situations realistically, which should help you bond with it pretty quickly. (Again, it took me all of five seconds.) Its animation team is led by former Pixar animator Carlos Baena, so they know how to toy with your feelings with simple robotic movements and noises. Anki also developed a customized version of the Maya 3D software to have it directly command how Cozmo moves, allowing the animators to quickly get up and running.

Looking ahead, Anki plans to release an software development kid (SDK) for Cozmo, which will let anyone program it. It could also end up being used in STEM programs in schools; it wouldn’t be hard to convince kids to learn programming so they can control Cozmo. The company is also sending Cozmo units to Carnegie Mellon, where Anki’s founders got their start.

You can pre-order Cozmo today from Anki’s website for $ 180, and it’ll be widely available in October. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s only slightly pricier than Sphero’s $ 150 BB-8 toy, which every geek coveted last year (and wasn’t nearly as smart as Cozmo).

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iOS 10 will transcribe voicemails and show calls made in apps

Not many of us send voice messages anymore, and most folks sure hate checking them. Apple’s trying to solve that with voicemail transcription, a new beta feature on iOS 10 revealed at WWDC 2016. Instead of listening to Aunt Edna drone on for 10 minutes, you can get the gist by scanning a transcript of the message in text form. At the same time, you can still listen to the message visual voicemail-style, call her back or delete the message.

Another related feature is an API for VoIP apps, which will help developers like Cicsco incorporate their apps into favorites, recents and the lockscreen. So if someone calls on a VoIP app when your iPhone is locked, for instance, you’ll see their picture on the lockscreen. Other than mentioning Cisco, Apple hasn’t said which, if any, apps will support it yet, but developers will soon get their hands on the API.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2016 here!

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