Mixed reality comes to your iPhone thanks to the Bridge headset

There’s something more than a little magical about seeing the world in front of you being devastated by dragons or augmented with arrows pointing you to your next meeting. Alas, while mixing realities like that with our smartphones is already possible, the tech still is a long way off from reaching its potential — just look at early, disappointing efforts like Lenovo’s enormous Tango phone. Luckily, startups are chasing the mixed reality dream too, including one — Occipital — that has a solid track record of solving the tricky problems that pop up when blurring boundaries between worlds. That’s why the team’s new mixed reality, the Bridge, seems so impressive right out of the gate.

Oh, and another thing: it’s specifically for iPhones. For years now, most mobile virtual reality fun has been confined to Android, with cheap Gear VRs and Daydream Views making it easy to see what all the hype was about. While some VR games and apps exist for iPhones, Apple hardware historically hasn’t gotten the same kind of developer love as Android has. To Occipital, that smelled like an opportunity. The Bridge will go one sale to the masses for $ 399 starting in March, but developers and the adventurous can snag their Explorer Editions as soon as next week. To understand what you’ll actually get for your money, we’ll have to rewind a bit.

Three years ago, the company released the Structure sensor, a fascinating bit of depth-sensing tech that was originally meant to bring augmented reality experiences to the iPad. Mixed reality still seemed like a hard sell back then, but there no denying the sensor’s ability to measure the world around it was the real deal. To hear Occipital marketing chief Adam Rodnitzky tell it, the sensor eventually started being used by real estate agents, interior decorators and doctors, and after three years, the Structure was still excellent at its job.

So, with headsets being hawked alongside smartphones all over the place, Occipital decided to make their own — they took a Structure sensor, slapped a five-element wide-angle lens in front of it, and built a sturdy, balanced frame around it. Turning an existing product like the Structure into headset might seem like opportunism at its finest, but the end result has so much potential it almost doesn’t matter.

I played with one of the Explorer Editions recently, and it was more impressive — and elaborate — than I expected. You can pop an iPhone 6 (or newer, but no SEs) into the frame and a magnetically latched door keeps it in place. From there, you place the Bridge on your head as you would a crown, and use a dial in the back to tighten it. Yes, it sounds like a sort of torture device, but the system actually works like a charm. The only real problem I came across was that the lenses sit closer to your eyes than in most other mobile VR headsets — that meant they pushed right up against my glasses most of the time. It could’ve been worse, but Rodnitzky assured me future models wouldn’t smash my frames so noticeably.

Actually using Bridge was a much smoother experience. Occipital doesn’t have any launch titles planned for the Bridge’s debut, but it does come with a demo app that stars at adorable robot pet of sorts named Bridget. With the help of a Wiimote-like Bluetooth controller, I spent a good ten minutes tossing a virtual ball around the office and watching Bridget loop around coffee tables to retrieve it. Her understanding of the world around her was fueled by a depth-scanning session that only lasted a few seconds — once that was done, I had a mapped out a corner of our office with a level of precision that Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro wasn’t able to match.

That might not be the fairest comparison to make, though: for now, the Structure sensor’s software is only tuned to capture spaces of about 10 ft. by 10 ft., while Tango software usually tries to record whole swaths of a room at once. Structure’s scope might be more limited, but it does a much better job within those constraints.

After dropping that ball one time too many, Bridget was tired and needed to charge. The answer? To grab her power cord and connect it to something that lit up, like a lamp. This is what I so sorely missed when I played with Tango — I wanted to badly for someone standing next to a virtual dinosaur to be able to interact with it or to pluck a virtual domino off the ground. This was a pretty basic example, but the sort of object recognition the Structure can pull off was unexpectedly good for a headset.

Don’t think the Bridge is only capable of the usual augmented reality tricks, either: at one point, I was directed to drop a portal on the ground in front of me. Once I stepped into it, I found myself walking around inside a space station with a planet hanging lazily in the dark outside a hatch. A red mesh enveloped real-world obstacles, allowing me to dodge coffee tables and loungers as I (all too briefly) explored the station. After a few more moments of stumbling, that was that — demo over. I was just a little crushed.

With any luck, Occipital gets the sort of support from developers it’s been gunning for. The Bridge system isn’t perfect for a whole host of reasons, like the iPhone’s non-AMOLED display and the potentially big hit on the phone’s battery, but even the unfinished demo software was almost enough to make me toss the Phab 2 Pro in a desk drawer. The right kind of love could turn the Bridge into a must-have down the road — for now, I’ll just have to wait and hope.

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Even breastfeeding is getting quantified thanks to Momsense

The health benefits of breastfeeding are well-known, yet for various reasons, many new mothers quit after a few months. Maybe they don’t have the time, they find it uncomfortable or they believe that the baby just isn’t getting enough milk. A new product called Momsense is taking aim at this last problem with a product and app that can keep track of how much a baby is actually drinking, hopefully putting mom’s worries at ease.

We live in an age of smart baby cribs, scales and onesies so it seems only natural that something like breastfeeding would be next. Newborns can nurse eight to twelve times a day, meaning there’s a lot of data for moms to keep track of. So why not delegate it to an app? And, rather than ask moms to guess how much the baby drank (which is what traditional pen-and-paper methods demand), the Momsense’s small sensor handles that task.

The Momsense attaches to the baby, not the mom: It’s a small circle that the mother places under the child’s ear, along their jawline. The Momsense functions similar to a stethoscope, listening to the sound of the baby’s swallows to determine how much the baby is drinking. It’s also smart enough to tell the difference between a real swallow and random gurgles or half gulps. Mom can also listen in thanks to the attached headphones, so she’s not ceding all responsibility to the app — she can still take action if something’s wrong, or she may just feel reassured having all that sensory data available.

I don’t have children, so the sounds in the demo I checked out were a little too visceral for me, but I can see how they might benefit a new mom. By making breastfeeding more immersive, the Momsense monitor might help mothers bond with their offspring even more.

What lifts the Momsense beyond just an ordinary stethoscope is the app that keeps track of all this data being generated. Unlike most health-tracking apps, Momsense isn’t built around a particular goal. Even though it keeps track of feeding time and quantity, it doesn’t say “your baby needs this much milk” or “your baby should feed for this long.” Every baby is different, and adding any kind of metric just puts unnecessary pressure on the mother.

To that point, the app doesn’t present its data like a fitness app would. Fitness apps tend to focus on bar or line graphs a lot, which lets a person easily compare progress over a given period of time. Momsense eschews comparisons by displaying each day as a circle with each feeding as a small bubble that sort of “orbits” around it like a moon around a planet. The larger the bubble, the more consumed during each feeding, and you can click on it to see more details like time spent and a breakdown by individual breast.

The Momsense connects to phones via a traditional headphone jack (sorry iPhone 7 users), so it’s easy enough to just get started and never have to worry about the signal dropping out. When a mom starts a session the Momsense app displays a weird design of interlocking circles that pulses in time with the baby’s swallows. The design feels reminiscent of mammary glands and I personally found it a bit unsettling, but mothers using it will probably be more focused on their babies anyway.

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Right now the app can only handle one baby at a time, so mothers taking care of multiple children will have to rely on workarounds like using alternate mobile devices for different babies or reserving their left or right breast for a particular child. Regardless of how many children they have, they’ll only need one Momsense, which can work with any Android or iOS device. Momsense is available at the company’s website for $ 89, or via stores like Target, Babies”R”Us and Bed, Bath and Beyond, which happen to have baby registries — great for expectant mothers who’d like to give this “quantified parenting” thing a try.


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Samsung’s highest profit in two years comes thanks to the S7

Samsung just had a great quarter, and it’s all because people are snapping up Galaxy S7s. The Korean chaebol has revealed that it’s expecting its second quarter operating profit to reach 8.1 trillion won ($ 7 billion), thanks to its smartphone business. That might be far from the 8.84 trillion won ($ 7.6 billion) operating profit it posted in January 2013, but it’s still around 17 percent higher than last year’s. It’s also the highest in two years since it notched a profit of 8.5 trillion won ($ 7.4 billion) back in the first quarter of 2014. The company expects its revenue to be up by three percent, from 48.5 trillion won ($ 42 billion) to 50 trillion ($ 43 billion), as well.

While Samsung won’t be releasing its detailed earnings until the end of July, Reuters believes the top earner this quarter is none other than the mobile division, which also topped the last one. The news source says the division’s profit could be up 54.5 percent from the same period last year. According to Yonhap News, Samsung shipped out around 15 million S7 and S7 edge units from April to June, with the latter beating out the basic S7 despite being more expensive.

The company hasn’t revealed the total number of phones it sold from April to June yet. Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Mehdi Hosseini told The Wall Street Journal, however, that Samsung might have shipped out around 78 million units. To note, it sold 81.18 million phones in all in the first quarter, mostly because it released the S7 in late March. Clearly, Samsung’s latest flagship device got its smartphone business out of the slump it experienced last year brought about by the iPhone 6. This time around, it’s Cupertino that’s hit a bump on the road, announcing the first ever year-over-year iPhone sales decline in April.

Source: Reuters, Yonhap News, The Wall Street Journal, Samsung

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