Category Archives: Technology

Apple’s AR is closer to reality than Google’s

Apple has often been accused of acting like it invented things that others have been doing for years. That complaint is not without merit, however Apple can lay claim to transforming existing things into mainstream successes, which takes no small amount of invention in its own right. Fingerprint authentication and contactless payments are just two recent examples, having both existed in Japan and on niche devices for over a decade before Apple raised them to global prominence with the iPhone.

 

Next up on Apple’s agenda is augmented reality, the act of superimposing digital data and visuals atop a live video feed of your surroundings — something that Google, Microsoft, and many others have been experimenting with for a long time. Apple is far from being able to claim it invented AR, but its new ARKit in iOS 11 is already showing signs to suggest that Apple will help bring AR into the mainstream faster and better than anyone else.

The chronic problem with augmented reality has always been one of practicality. You could have the most basic forms of AR on your regular phone, as provided by apps like Layar, which has been around since 2009, but those have never been particularly compelling. Or you could have more sophisticated and appealing augmentations, as presented by Google’s Tango project, but you’d need a big fat phablet to lug around to make them happen. Apple’s difference is to combine the convenience of your daily phone with the appeal of advanced AR.

Looking at this distance-measuring app, it seems so simple and obvious. Of course your super-powered, multi-core phone should be smart enough to measure out basic distances, and there have indeed been many wonky apps trying to do that in the past. But measuring with AR, as already shown off by Google Tango phones, allows you a much more intuitive method for doing it. Having the phone actually aware of the three-dimensional space in its view allows for precise measurements, which can be represented with a neat hologram of a measuring tape. Apple’s advantage in the contest for doing this best is simple: while Google Tango demands special hardware, ARKit requires only that you have a recent iOS device. At WWDC earlier this month, Craig Federighi described ARKit as “the largest AR platform in the world,” and he was right.

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Apple’s AR will immediately reach millions of people who already have the requisite hardware. And while it looks to be functionally as flexible and capable as Google’s Tango (check out some early examples of fanciful experiments with ARKit), its broader audience makes it much more enticing for serious developers to invest their time and money into. Google’s Tango is about the future whereas Apple’s ARKit is about the present.

Considering how little time it took to develop two convincingly accurate AR measuring apps with the iOS 11 beta, and reading the comments from their makers, Apple also appears to have an advantage in the ease of development with ARKit. It’s exciting to think that there are still three months before the release of the next iPhone and the accompanying finalization of iOS 11, by which time Apple’s big-budget app developer partners are likely to have a deluge of AR-enabled apps for people to play with. That’s how stuff goes mainstream: as a big wave of change that touches everyone from casual Pokémon Go players to serious home DIY geeks figuring out how to arrange their living room furniture.

For the people who don’t care about incremental changes in phone specs or design, the differentiator between devices has always been in the unique things that each one can do — or, failing that, the convenience and ease of use of common features. Apple’s iPhone is more convenient than Google’s Project Tango devices and with iOS 11 it’ll have much better AR capabilities than its nearest premium Android rivals. So if we’re looking for the AR innovator that will take the technology into the mainstream, Apple once again looks like the likeliest suspect.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/26/15872332/apple-arkit-ios-11-augmented-reality-developer-excitement

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New Snapchat feature pinpoints your location; how to turn it off

Millions of people post the details of their daily lives on Snapchat, but now there’s worry that the sharing app may be getting a tad too intrusive.

A new feature on the app, Snap Map, pinpoints a user’s location whenever and wherever the app is being used.

Called an Actionmoji, the small cartoons indicate on a map where the user is in real time, whether or not the photos they’ve shared intentionally specify their location.

A post on the Snapchat blog states that the feature will allow users to “see what’s happening, find your friends and get inspired to go on an adventure.”

While some adults may find the new feature fun, other parents believe the app has stepped over the line into potentially dangerous oversharing.

Parents concerned the new feature may put their children’s safety in jeopardy need to know safeguards that can be put in place. Parents can find an illustrated guide to erasing the GPS feature below.

Users must opt-in to “Snap Maps,” meaning your child’s location won’t be shared unless they’ve chosen to do so.

It’s possible to share location with only certain people. Additionally, users can use “Ghost Mode,” which blocks any other users, including friends, from viewing where a user is sharing their photos.

Snapchat will designate places where a glut of photos are being taken as “heat spots,” which the company believes should motivate other users to get out and take pictures of their own adventures.

A statement by the company outlined a user’s ability to maintain privacy. “Nothing happens without your consent,” they said. “You share what you want to share. You need to choose to add friends, you need to opt-in to make yourself visible on Snap Map, you need to select the friends you have first approved so they can see you on Snap Map, you need to opt in to post to Our Story and choose to make your Snaps visible.”

Snap Map’s product designer, Jack Brody, said in an interview with Refinery29 that the feature was intended to cater to an unmet need. “One of the habits we’ve seen with our users is that they’ll take a snap where they are, put on the geofilter, and post it to their story with a caption like ‘hit me up,’” he said. “They’re basically saying come hang out with me here.”

How to turn off Snap Maps

Called an Actionmoji, the small cartoons indicate on a map where the user is in real time, whether or not the photos they’ve shared intentionally specify their location.

Snapchat will designate places where a glut of photos are being taken as “heat spots,” which the company believes should motivate other users to get out and take pictures of their own adventures.

It’s possible to share location with only certain people. Open the app’s “settings” to manage your GPS privacy.

Users can turn on “Ghost Mode,” which blocks any other users, including friends, from viewing where a user is sharing their photos.

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New Snapchat feature pinpoints your location; how to turn it off

Google’s AMP pages mean visitors spend more time with content

Chartbeat says visitors to web pages that load with Google AMP are spending 35 percent more time with that content on average than with standard mobile web pages.

 

On average, visitors spend 48.2 seconds with pages found through Google search that load with AMP, compared to 35.6 seconds on average with standard mobile pages found through search.

That means pages that load with accelerated mobile pages software (that’s what AMP stands for) are more valuable to advertisers, because visitors that spend more time with content spend more time scrolling through ads.

“In sum, speed matters more to the consumer than we anticipated, and leads to deeper engagement with content,” a white paper from Chartbeat shared with Recode says. “However, it remains to be seen what the long-term benefits of high-speed platforms are for publishers — and whether the effort and investment required outweighs the results.”

 

The finding was based on data from 360 of the approximately 60,000 sites that use Chartbeat’s web analytics tools and services. All 360 sites included use AMP.

While the point of data is promising for advertisers, fast pages from publishers don’t directly translate into faster loading ads, which means you can have a page load faster than the ads that appear on it. Google has an initiative within AMP for advertisers to help them bring their ads up to speed.

Here’s some other interesting data mentioned in Chartbeat’s white paper:

 
  • 55 percent of visitors to sites spend less than 15 seconds with content, whether mobile or desktop.
  • The median page-load time of a Google AMP page is 1.4 seconds, compared to 5.3 seconds for standard mobile web pages, and less than one-thousandth of a second for Facebook Instant Articles.
  • 88 percent​ of Instant Articles load too quickly for Chartbeat to register a load time.
  • Of the 360 sites included that use AMP, 97 percent also use Facebook Instant Articles.
  • Publishers that use AMP see 16 percent of their mobile traffic come from AMP content, and those using Instant Articles see 14.8 percent of mobile traffic from those articles. In both cases, this is part of an upward trend.

Source:

https://www.recode.net/2017/6/5/15732990/chartbeat-visitors-35-percent-more-time-google-amp-pages

China clamps down on live-streaming services

The Chinese government has cracked down on three of the country’s top live-streaming services over their apparent broadcast of unsuitable political content.

Weibo, the Nasdaq-listed microblogging site, disclosed that it had received a notice from The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China (‘SAPPRFT’) asking it to remove illegal content and user accounts.

“The SAPPRFT had recently requested the local competent authorities to take measures to suspend several companies’ video and audio services due to their lacking of an internet audio/video program transmission license and posting of certain commentary programs with content in violation of government regulations on their sites, and Weibo is named as one of these companies,” Weibo wrote in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported that similar notices were issued to Phoenix New Media — the company behind ifeng.com — and video site AcFun.

It some ways it was inevitable. First came the investors with money, then we saw incredible revenue growth as the medium took off — now the government arrives with regulations for some of the edgier content out there.

 

News of this week’s clampdown comes after regulators forced WeChat and Weibo to close down celebrity gossip outlets using the services to disseminate news. China’s strict new cybersecurity laws went into effect on June 1. Although the exact details of how they will impact businesses is unclear right, containing online media seems to be one of the major focuses.

This is the second controversy that Weibo has dealt with this past month. Overseas-based users of the Chinese service found themselves unable to publish videos or photos during the weekend of the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Weibo blamed the situation on a systems upgrade, but the timing of the restriction made it seem like a method to prevent content that would be deemed unsuitable by authorities. The Chinese government has never acknowledged nor commented uponthe events that took place in Tiananmen on June 4, 1989 — which resulted in upwards of 300 deaths as troops forcibly suppressed student-led protests.

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China clamps down on live-streaming services

Amazon’s vision for the future: delivery drone beehives in every city

Amazon’s drone delivery program stopped being a joke a while ago, but the company still has to overcome serious challenges to make the technology actually work. One of these is getting drones near enough to large populations so they’re more efficient than regular road delivery. Amazon has an idea for that though: Huge. Drone. Beehives.

 

In a patent application published yesterday, Amazon described how “multi-level fulfillment centers for unmanned aerial vehicles” could help put drones where they’re needed. The application notes that due to “their large footprint,” current warehouses are located “on the outskirts of cities where space is available.” But multi-story drone centers could be built vertically, rather than horizontally, allowing them to be placed within “downtown districts and/or other densely populated urban areas.” And, of course, making them high-rises would let the drones fly in and out without getting dangerously close to pedestrians at street level.

Amazon’s application includes sketches of a number of differently shaped buildings and interior views, showing how human employees would load-up the drones with packages:

But flying large numbers of drones in cities invites other problems too. Who’s going to want to live near a drone delivery tower if it makes so much noise? And what if drones start falling out the sky, making impromptu, and possibly fatal, deliveries? Amazon is obviously thinking hard about these problems, and in the same round of patent applications as the delivery beehive, suggests a few solutions.

 

For drone noise, the company is suggesting custom rotor designs that would chop through the air more quietly. These include adding “trailing edge fringes,” “leading edge serrations,” “sound dampening treatments,” and “blade indentations for sound control” to rotors, but all focus on the same principle: breaking up the airflow around propellers to try and alter or reduce the sound they make.

The image below shows how “trailing edge fringes” — the tiny plant-like fronds — might be added to the rotor blade. These might make drones quieter, but let’s face it: they’ll also look terrifying.

And the last significant item on Amazon’s patent application list? Drones with multiple sets of rotors and motors, so that if one set fails, the other can take over. It’s a simple idea, but an essential one.

 

Of course, all these are just applications. It doesn’t mean Amazon is necessarily going to build these things, or that drone deliveries will ever become widespread. What it does show, is that the company is continuing to think hard about the future of deliveries. And who knows? These things always seem silly, right up until the point they’re real.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15860668/amazon-drone-delivery-patent-city-centers

Google begins removing personal medical records from search results

Google has removed private medical records from its search results, Bloomberg reports, after quietly changing its policy on content removal. On Thursday, the company’s search policy was amended to include “confidential, personal medical records of private people” under a list of content it may remove from search results.

 

Although Google has historically been reluctant to intervene with its search algorithms, it has banned some confidential material from appearing in results, such as credit card numbers, bank account information, and social security numbers. In 2015, the company began removing revenge porn from search results, as well.

The decision to remove medical records follows several high-profile data breaches around the world. Information on tens of millions of people was stolen following a 2015 hack targeting Anthem, the second-largest insurer in the US. Between 2010 and 2013, approximately 29 million medical records in the US were affected by data breaches, according to a study released in 2015.

Source:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15860740/google-medical-records-removed-search

YouTube’s New L.A. Studio Will Help Creators Crank Out VR Videos

CANNES, France—YouTube wants to help creators make more VR video, so it’s announcing a new program today at Cannes to arm folks with the equipment and expertise that they need to do so.

The VR Creator Lab will be housed within YouTube Spaces Los Angeles, where top creators and brands learn the platform’s best practices and make videos. The three-day program will offer creators cameras and equipment, tools for stitching clips together and resources including training sessions and talks from Google that will all center around making VR videos.

To participate in the program, creators need to have already made two 360-degree videos, have at least 10,000 subscribers, go through an orientation and be at least 18 years old.

Adweek sat down with Google’s VR business boss Amit Singh to talk about the new studio and how brands are using virtual and augmented reality.

“We teach you how to do it, we handhold you, we help you with creative so that you can experiment,” said Amit Singh, Google’s vp of business for augmented reality and virtual reality. “Whether it’s original content or an ad that you’re building for a brand, this technology should start to become mainstream.”

After the program ends, creators are tasked with producing at least four VR videos and one behind-the-scenes clip. Participants will also meet at the L.A. YouTube Spaces every two weeks from Aug. 28 to Nov. 6 to talk about their VR projects and meet with mentors.

Google has also greenlighted VR series with Major League Baseball, Vogue magazine and Discovery Travel. The studio will work with creators and brands to develop different types of content specific to VR.

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For example, the NFL worked with Google late last year to make a VR series. One of the biggest learnings about the series is that people don’t want to watch games using a headset. “The energy and 12 hours before the game [and] the search query interest in the game and all the activation before the game is bigger than the game,” Singh said.

Based on those learnings, MLB’s series will focus on content around the games and players.

The league will, “do a bunch of behind-the-scenes dugout, player interviews and stuff that you haven’t seen before,” Singh said. “Whether you do it in a big headset or a Cardboard or the Major League Baseball app, you can see the pitch in three dimensions.”

The education part is particularly important in getting brands up to speed on the shift from mobile to virtual reality.

“People are looking for that next deeper immersion,” Singh said. “It’s moving from a gimmick or marketing activation to where there’s storytelling about the brand tied into the series—that’s where we’re trying to go next.”

Source:

http://www.adweek.com/digital/youtubes-new-l-a-studio-will-help-creators-crank-out-vr-videos/

Apple may eventually launch ‘iGlass’ smart glasses for augmented reality

Apple may leverage augmented reality on the iPhone to help pave the way for a future smart glasses product, UBS said in a note to investors Tuesday.

Apple recently launched its ARKit developer tools, which will allow its partners to build new augmented reality applications for millions of iPhones already in the hands of consumers. It will give Apple an overnight leg up on companies like Google that are participating in the space on a much smaller scale.

Apple hasn’t participated in the smart glasses space yet, but the idea is that a user will be able to wear a special pair of glasses that overlays computer images over the real world. You might learn more about a restaurant, perhaps view its menu, by standing in front of it, for example.

 

Right now, companies like Apple and Google would be forced to create bulky glasses that wouldn’t be feasible or comfortable to wear. UBS believes Apple could use AR-ready iPhones to power the experience.

“Advanced sensors and camera capabilities will enhance the iPhone; eventually there could be independent hardware offerings, perhaps iGlass,” UBS analyst Steven Milunovich said. “We can imagine a pair of glasses with quintessential Apple design (iGlass), which enable a Hololens-type experience,” the company said, referring to Microsoft’s bulky alternative.

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“However, the amount of compute power and sensors required likely pose a serious design challenge. If Apple could find a way to send massive amounts of data from the eyeglasses to the iPhone where the bulk of the compute would occur, the eyewear could have a more attractive design. The issue then becomes how to transfer massive amounts of complex data between devices quickly.”

Milunovich laid out 10 AR use cases ranging from games and entertainment to home improvement and health care/medical diagnostics. It said AR will help Apple retain iPhone users.

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Source:

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/20/apple-smart-glasses-for-augmented-reality-could-leverage-iphone-power-ubs-says.html

GM eyes HD mapping to boost self-driving car development

Last year, GM bought Cruise Automation, a startup focused on self-driving car technology, and now it appears the automotive giant is getting serious about creating HD maps. Cruise Automation has just announced that it’s recruiting a Head of Mapping, who will “own the strategy, planning, and execution of our specialized HD maps,” according to the job posting.

 

While GM might be the country’s top auto manufacturer, it lags behind Google and other Silicon Valley companies when it comes to self-driving technology. Indeed, Google’s self-driving project, called Waymo, has an upper hand on its rivals because of the company’s robust maps. GM and other car companies are racing to keep up with the tech giant.

However, GM has an advantage that Google does not: actual cars on the road. Last year, GM announced that it would begin to use OnStar, the safety system and in-car concierge installed in its cars, to create maps for autonomous vehicles. Now, it appears as though the company is ready to take advantage of all that data. “Look at how many cars GM sells — it won’t take much to have that data very quickly,” Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc., told The Wall Street Journal.

GM also recently announced that it was adding an additional 130 cars to its test fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolts. Between its prototype driverless cars and advances in HD mapping, it appears as though GM is very serious about developing safe and effective self-driving vehicles as quickly as possible.

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Source:

https://www.engadget.com/2017/06/19/gm-hd-mapping-self-driving-cars/

Driver killed in Tesla crash was warned seven times to put hands on wheel, report says

Joshua Brown’s Tesla warned him seven times to put his hands back on the wheel before he plowed into a truck.

A National Transportation Safety Board report on the deadly crash also found that Brown had his hands on the wheel of the Tesla Model S for 25 seconds out of 37 minutes that the car was on autopilot.

The crash, near Gainesville, Florida, in May 2016, drew attention because of the questions it raised about the safety of self-driving cars.

An earlier investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the crash was not the result of any defect in Tesla’s autopilot feature, which can keep a car in a lane and brake to avoid traffic and other obstacles.

In this case, the car hit the trailer of a truck that pulled across its lanes of traffic at an intersection.

The NTSB cautioned that its report was only fact-finding about the crash. The agency said it was not drawing conclusions about why the crash happened.

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Source:

http://www.nbc26.com/news/national/driver-killed-in-tesla-crash-was-warned-seven-times-to-put-hands-on-wheel-report-says

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