While the Futurecraft 4D shoes are cool looking sneakers, the story behind those shoes is even more interesting. The sportswear company has partnered with to design a new kind of sneakers. Behind the Futurecraft 4D, you can find a process that is not that new — 3D printing. Many companies promised an industrial revolution by bringing back factories to service-driven countries, such as the U.S. and European countries. But this partnership between Adidas and could turn that wild dream into a reality. “What you saw there was basically this integration of hardware, software and chemistry all coming together to take a digital model, print it very fast, but do it out of the materials that have the properties to be final parts,” Carbon co-founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone told TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino. And the secret sauce behind Carbon’s process is its cloud-based software tool. You use a primitive CAD, define some mechanical properties and it gets manufactured in front of your eyes. It’s quite hard to buy Futurecraft 4D shoes right now because production is still extremely limited. Adidas CMO Eric Liedtke is hopeful that it’s going to change over the coming years. “Ultimately, we're still ramping up the innovation. It will be faster, more limited material. Ideally, the vision is to build and print on demand,” he said. “Right now, most of our products are made out of Asia and we put them on a boat or on a plane so they end up on Fifth Avenue.” You could imagine Adidas reducing the stock in its warehouse. “Instead of having some sort of micro-distribution center in Jersey, we can have a micro-factory in Jersey,” Liedtke said. When it comes to material, this manufacturing process lets you partly use corn-based material. And it’s not just design. Making shoes on demand lets you optimize the structure of the shoe for different sports and bodies. “In this case, we took 10 years plus — maybe 20 years — of science that we had on foot strikes, and running, and how runners run, and where the impact zones are, and what we need to design into it from a data standpoint. And then, we let the creative takeover,” Liedtke said. Carbon isn’t just working with Adidas. The company is quite active on the dental market for instance, working on resins. “We now also have the world's first 3D-printed FDA-approved dentures,” DeSimone said. It’s interesting to see that a simple product, such as a pair of shoes, can become the representation of a long process of research and development, engineering and design.
Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time. Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company. There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale. As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger. [gallery ids="1707207,1707205,1707204,1707202,1707209,1707002,1707003"] The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings. It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it. The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible to do it faster and in greater detail than before. Not to mention on a drone that’s flying around an indoor space full of people and valuable inventory. On a full charge, ABI can fly for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound very impressive, but the important thing isn’t staying aloft for a long time — few drones can do that to begin with — but how quickly it can get back up there. That’s where the special docking and charging mechanism comes in. The Vtrus drone lives on and returns to a little box, which when a tapped-out craft touches down, sets off a patented high-speed charging process. It’s contact-based, not wireless, and happens automatically. The drone can then get back in the air perhaps half an hour or so later, meaning the craft can actually be in the air for as much as six hours a day total. Probably anyone who has had to inspect or maintain any kind of building or space bigger than a studio apartment can see the value in getting frequent, high-precision updates on everything in that space, from storage shelving to heavy machinery. You’d put in an ABI for every X square feet depending on what you need it to do; they can access each other’s data and combine it as well. This frequency and the detail which which the drone can inspect and navigate means maintenance can become proactive rather than reactive — you see rust on a pipe or a hot spot on a machine during the drone’s hourly pass rather than days later when the part fails. And if you don’t have an expert on site, the full 3D map and even manual drone control can be handed over to your HVAC guy or union rep. You can see lots more examples of ABI in action . Way too many to embed here. Lenoff, Moreno, and third co-founder Carlos Sanchez, who brings the industrial expertise to the mix, explained that their secret sauce is really the software — the drone itself is pretty much off the shelf stuff right now, tweaked to their requirements. (The base is an original creation, of course.) But the software is all custom built to handle not just high-resolution 3D mapping in real time but the means to stream and record it as well. They’ve hired experts to build those systems as well — the 6-person team already sounds like a powerhouse. The whole operation is self-funded right now, and the team is seeking investment. But that doesn’t mean they’re idle: they’re working with major companies already and operating a “pilotless” program (get it?). The team has been traveling the country visiting facilities, showing how the system works, and collecting feedback and requests. It’s hard to imagine they won’t have big clients soon.
founders Polly Rodriguez and Sarah Jayne Kinney have long and varied careers. Rodriguez worked for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill on Capitol Hill before heading to Deloitte Consulting and dating startup Grouper. Kinney was a graduate of University of Cincinnati worked at Puma and then at Esquire and O, Oprah’s magazine. She worked shooting products for fashion houses in New York. The duo met in 2014. Now they make fashion-forward vibrators. Their latest, the , is the most fashion-forward yet and it just launched at TechCrunch Disrupt. “Unbound is closing the very real orgasm gap by putting knowledge and product in the hands of women all over the world,” said Rodriguez. “Unbound is the first brand taking sexual wellness mainstream through elevated design and accessible pricing.” The new device masquerades as a ring, offers multiple speeds, and is completely waterproof. It’s made of surgical grade steel and comes in silver or gold. Further, the team plans to add accelerometer features to the device. It will ship in 2019. The team has raised $3.3 million in seed funding to date and are on track to hit $4 million in revenue in 2018. They’ve been working on improving the state of the art when it comes to vibrators. They are, it seems, tired of the status quo. “It’s important to note that vibrators are used in one of the most absorbent parts of the body and not regulated by the FDA. The lack of regulation results in manufacturers using carcinogens in their materials like parabens and phthalates. Unbound only uses medical grade silicone,” said Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s message is simple: she wants to destroy the negative stereotypes around sex and health. And she has good reason. “Each of us is motivated to change the stigmas associated with sexual health for different reasons. For me, it was going through menopause at 21 as a result of radiation treatment for cancer and ending up at a seedy shop on the side of the highway trying to buy lube and a vibrator. My doctors didn’t tell me I was going through menopause, only that I wouldn’t have children. As I got older, I realized that had I been a man, that conversation would have gone very differently… because we view male sexuality has a health need and female sexuality as a vice,” she said. “To put it in perspective, think about the fact that Bob Dole, a former presidential candidate was the spokesperson for Viagra. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton being the spokesperson for a vibrator brand? That’s the difference in how we view male vs. female (cis, femme, non-gender identifying) sexuality.” “Our dream at Unbound is for female sexual health to be viewed through the same lens as male sexuality — as a part of our overall health that deserves a conversation, platform, and shopping experience that doesn’t feel like a flaming pile of garbage,” she said.
As a speaker I often find myself mumbling into a microphone with little thought about the sound system powering it. While most PAs are massive affairs requiring a soundboard operator and lots of wiring, I’ve also had to hoot into portable PAs, a practice I rarely relish. But who was I to judge the quality of a portable PA system? When asked me to review their new $1,299 I decided to send it to a real professional, my childhood friend , who helped me tag-team on the review. The most important reason that Rick liked the Eon One Pro was the built-in battery. Everything else, he said, was icing on the cake. [gallery ids="1706524,1706523,1706522,1706511,"] Rick is a professional musician, performing shows every weekend, and some weeknights, in a wide variety of venues. His go-to PA is the Bose L1 Model II with the B2 bass unit. It’s a beast in terms of sound quality and immersion, doesn’t take up much floor space, and really soars when used in outdoor environments. We immediately recognized that a smaller, more portable unit could be extremely useful. He had just recently performed at a new outdoor event that wasn’t well-equipped with power and he had to come up with a makeshift solution. It worked, but the idea of being able to “cut the cord” to avoid all that was certainly appealing. JBL says you can get up to six hours of battery life from the extended-life lithium-ion. In our tests, he was able to make it through three-hour shows without a problem. Charging it is as simple as plugging in the AC cord to the back. So, in short, we were pleased with the battery performance. Still, going cordless is all well and good, but it’s really the sound that matters. So, let’s take a look at what this unit can do. The Eon One Pro weighs 37.5 pounds, and it’s all very compact. The 8” subwoofer is right up front, and you fit the 118 dB speaker array directly on top. This, and the two optional spacers, fit nicely in the back of the unit. The overall design of the Eon Pro really is nice. The spacers essentially increase the range of the speaker, so their usefulness is really dependent on your environment. The 7-channel mixer features 2 Hi-Z inputs, 4 combo ¼” / XLR inputs, a 3.5mm jack, and an input. Each of the 4 combo inputs has controls for volume, treble, bass, and reverb. This allows for very basic mixing, but if you prefer to have more options, it is easy enough to plug in an external mixer and run through that. In our tests, we used the on-board controls. You can also stream from a mobile device via Bluetooth, or connect directly via USB. Rick connected via his cell phone using Bluetooth and found the overall sound to be extremely good. There is also phantom power for condenser mics and an XLR Pass Thru to other systems, as well as RCA output jacks for a monitor. So, on to the show. The first venue Rick played in was your typical bar, with a medium-sized square room, wood floors, and a decent crowd. He was able to get set up in just 10 minutes, compared to 20 for my Bose. It took some extra time to adjust levels and once he started playing, just a little more tinkering got him where he needed to be. He did notice that he had to turn the volume up for his Sennheiser 935 mic quite a bit in order to match the guitar level, which leads to an interesting omission: lack of level meters. There are none, so you need to rely solely on your ears to get the right mix. The speaker did a fine job of filling the room, while the subwoofer provided some nice depth to the overall sound. Rick had some friends out who sat just six feet in front of the speaker who said they weren’t overwhelmed by the volume and others will able to hear the music very clearly outside of the room. The speaker covers 100 x 50 degrees, and while testing this at his shows, Rick stood slightly behind and to the side. This worked well enough, though in a noisy environment, having a monitor speaker might be helpful. He could hear the music pretty well, but it seems you’d want to be at least 90 degrees on either side, if not a little forward. The second show we took the Eon One out to was another small bar, fairly narrow but long. It was completely different from the other bar in terms of dimensions, and a really good test of how far the speaker could project. Again, folks sitting up front were just fine with the volume, while people in the back, some 50-60 feet away, could hear it as well (and reported that it sounded very nice). “I’d played at this venue before but this time, the electrical outlet wasn’t working. The girl at the bar didn’t know how to turn it on. This is something that rarely happens, but if I’d had my Bose or any other kind of amp, I would have been hosed. I hadn’t planned on testing the battery again but in this instance, it saved me,” Rick said. Given that most offices purchase something like this at some point for broadcasting at meetings or meetups it makes sense to get something that works well for a gigging musician. Rick’s requirements – that this thing be reliable and sound great – is in line with the average desk jockey’s and the built in battery can save the day when it comes to situations where power is unavailable.
Meet , a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at . If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset. Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions. And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries. PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with for instance. [gallery ids="1705634,1705625,1705622,1705621,1705619"] Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API. It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth. “We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me. On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests. It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.
Snapchat isn’t revealing sales numbers of version 2 of its Spectacles camera sunglasses, but at least they’re not getting left in a drawer as much as the V1s. The company tells me V2 owners are capturing 40 percent more Snaps than people with V1s. And today, Snapchat is launching two new black-rimmed hipster styles of Spectacles V2 — a Wayfarer-esque Nico model and a glamorous big-lensed Veronica model. Both come with a slimmer semi-soft black carrying case instead of the chunky old triangular yellow one, and are polarized for the first time. They look a lot more like normal sunglasses, compared to the jokey, bubbly V1s, so they could appeal to a more mature and fashionable audience. They and will be sold in Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom later this year, while the old styles remain $149. The new Spectacles styles (from left): Veronica and Nico Spectacles V2 original style (left) and V1 (right) Snap is also trying to get users to actually post what they capture, so it’s planning an automatically curated Highlight Story feature that will help you turn your best Specs content into great things to share. That could address the problem common amongst GoPro users of shooting a ton of cool footage but never editing it for display. The problem is that V1 were pretty exceedingly unpopular, and those that did buy them. Snap only shipped 220,000 pairs and reportedly had hundreds of thousands more gathering dust in a warehouse. It took a $40 million write-off and its hardware “camera company” strategy was called into question. Business Insider reported that less than 50 percent of buyers kept using them after a month and a “sizeable” percentage stopped after just a week. The new styles come with a slimmer semi-soft carry case That means the bar was pretty low from which to score a 40 percent increase in usage, especially given the V2s take photos, work underwater, come in a slimmer charging case, and lack the V1s’ bright yellow ring around the camera lens that announces you’re wearing a mini computer on your face. Snap was smart to finally let you which are useful for sharing beyond Snapchat, and let you automatically save Snaps to your camera roll and not just its app’s Memories feature. I’ve certainly been using my V2s much more than the V1s since they’re more discrete and versatile. And I haven’t encountered as much fear or anxiety from people worried about being filmed as privacy norms around technology continue to relax. But even with the improved hardware, new styles, and upcoming features, Spectacles V2 don’t look like they’re moving the needle for Snapchat. After shrinking in user count last quarter, Snap’s share price has fallen to just a few cents above its all-time low. Given most of its users are cash-strapped teens who aren’t going to buy Spectacles even if they’re cool, the company needs to focus on how to make its app for everyone more useful and differentiated after the invasion of Instagram’s copy-cats of its Stories and ephemeral messaging. Whether that means securing tentpole premium video content for Discover, redesigning Stories to ditch the interstitials for better lean-back viewing, or developing augmented reality games, Snap can’t stay the course. Despite its hardware ambitions, it’s fundamentally a software company. It has to figure out what makes that software special.
In an important move for inclusion in the gaming community, the , created for gamers with mobility issues, is . The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also announced today that it has acquired the Xbox Adaptive Controller for display in its Rapid Response gallery dedicated to current events and pop culture. First , the Xbox Adaptive Controller can now be . To create the controller, Microsoft collaborated with gamers with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as partners from several organizations, including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged. According to the when one of its engineers spotted a custom gaming controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a non-profit that provides gaming devices for wounded and disabled veterans. During several of Microsoft’s hackathons, teams of employees began working on gaming devices for people with limited mobility, which in turn gave momentum to the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. In its , the V&A said it added the Xbox Adaptive Controller to its collection because “as the first adaptive controller designed and manufactured at large-scale by a leading technology company, it represents a landmark moment in videogame play, and demonstrates how design can be harnessed to encourage inclusively and access.” The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large buttons that can be programmed to fit its user’s needs, as well as 19 jacks and two USB ports that are spread out in a single line on the back of the device to make them easier to access. Symbols embossed along the back of the controller’s top help identify ports so gamers don’t have to turn it around or lift it up to find the one they need, while grooves serve as guidelines to help them plug in devices. Based on gamer feedback, Microsoft moved controls including the D Pad to the side of the device and put the A and B buttons closer together, so users can easily move between them with one hand. The controller slopes down toward the front, enabling gamers to slide their hands onto it without having to lift them (and also makes it easier to control with feet) and has rounded edges to reduce the change of injury if it’s dropped on a foot. The Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed to rest comfortably in laps and also has three threaded inserts so it can be mounted with hardware to wheelchairs, lap boards or desks. In terms of visual design, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is sleek and unobtrusive, since Microsoft heard from many gamers with limited mobility that they dislike using adaptive devices because they often look like toys. The company’s attention to detail also , which is very easy to unbox because gamers told Microsoft that they are often forced to open boxes and other product packages with their teeth.
The Pansar Augmented is a Swedish smart watch that looks like a standard three-handed wristwatch. However, with the tap of a button, you can view multiple data points including weather, notifications, and even sales data from your CRM. Pansar is a Swedish watch company that uses Swiss movements and hand assembled components to add a dash of luxury to your standard workhorse watch. The watch is fully funded on . It costs $645 for early birds. The watch mostly displays the time but when the data system is activated the hands move to show any data you’d like. The world is full of interesting data: be it the quest for information on the perfect wave, keeping track on your stock value, or the number of followers you’ve acquired since yesterday. Pansar Augmented collects the data that matters to you and streams it conveniently to the hands of your watch. This is made possible because of the unique dual directional Swiss movement combined with the Pansar Augmented app. The watch comes in three models: the Ocean Edition that shows “relevant data on weather, wind, and swell amongst others,” the Accelerator Edition that shows website visits or views, and the Quantifier Edition for the “analytical mind” that wants to track sales numbers. It’s definitely a clever twist on the traditional smart watch vision and, thanks to some nice styling, these could be some nice pieces for folks who don’t want the distractions of a normal Apple Watch or Android Wear device.
The VoCore2 is a Wi-Fi capable computer with a 580 MHz CPU and 128 RAM that supports video, USB, and Ethernet. And it plays Doom. That’s right: this is a computer you can easily swallow and allow your biome flora to play a hard core FPS while you slowly digest the package. The product where it raised $100,000. Now it’s available for $17 for the barebones unit or $24 for the unit with USB and MicroSD card. You can also buy a four inch display for it that lets you display video at 25fps. What is this thing good for? Well, like all single board computers it pushes the limits on what computing means in the 21st century. A computer the size of a Euro coin could fit in all sorts of places and for all sorts of weird projects and even if you don’t use it to build the next unmanned Red-Tailed Hawk nest surveillance drone it could be cool to blast some demons on a computer the size of a joystick button. The VoCore2 is shipping soon and is available for .
has quietly about a year after it launched. In a message on its site, the company said it stopped taking new enrollments on August 31 “after much thought and consideration.” The change does not affect existing customers, however, who will still be covered by their current financing plans. Financed by a Stockholm-headquartered online financial services provider, the Surface Plus financing program . It targeted students and other people who wanted an affordable way to own a Surface device, allowing them to spread payments over 24 months. The Surface Plus plan also enabled customers to upgrade to the latest device after 18 months, as long as they returned their previous device in good working condition. In a FAQ, Microsoft said existing customers will still be able to upgrade their Surface under the plan’s terms. The program’s end also does not affect existing warranty plans. Microsoft’s Surface Plus for Business payment plans launched around the same time as the Surface Plus program and it . TechCrunch has contacted Microsoft for more information.
has always been an odd brand. Aimed at a younger, hipper audience, the headphones always featured wacky graphics and a lower price point. Now, facing competition from multiple players, they’ve decided to step up their game in terms of quality and style. Their two new models, the noise-cancelling , are designed to hit the Bose/B&O/Sony quality point while still maintaining a bit of Beats styling. The Venue are the most interesting of the pair. They are true over-ear noise cancelling headphones that cost a mere $179 – over $100 less than Bose’s best offerings. The Venue’s noise cancellation was excellent as was the sound quality. The headphones were solidly built and last for two five-hour flights, a first for me when it comes to wireless or wired noise-cancelling headphones. Usually in almost every model I’ve tested I’ve had to charge or change the battery after about eight hours. This is a vast improvement. As for audio quality I was quite impressed. Having heard earlier models, I went in expecting tinny sound and muddy bass. I got neither. What I got was a true sound without much modification and very nice noise cancelling. In short, it did exactly what it says on the tin. One peeve is the size of the headphones and the case. Most headphones can fold up to a smaller package that is unobtrusive when it hangs off your back or sits in your lap. These headphones come in a massive, flat case that is not imminently portable. If you’re used to smaller, thinner cases, this might be a dealbreaker. That said, the price and sound are excellent and the Venue is a real step up. [gallery ids="1702440,1702439,1702438"] Then we have the Crusher 360s. These are also well-made headphones that collapse into a slightly smaller package than the Venue’s. They also offer what Skullcandy calls Sensory Bass and 360-degree audio. What that means, in practice, is that these things sound like a bass-lover’s very effusive home theatre system on your head. The Crusher, like the Venue, is wireless and lasts about 30 hours on one charge. They don’t have noise cancelling but what they do have is a set of haptics inside the ear cups that essentially turn bass events into wildly impressive explosions of sound. You can turn this feature up and down using a capacitive touch control on the side of the headphones and, if you’re like me, you probably will probably be using that feature multiple times. How do they work? Well, the bass these things pump out is almost comical. While I don’t want to completely disparage these things – different ears will find them pleasant if not downright cool – the Crushers turn almost everything – from a drama to a bit of dubstep – into a bass-heavy party. I used these on another flight and heard every single bang, boom, and bop in the movies I watched and, oddly, I found the added bass response quite nice in regular music. If you like bass you’ll like these. If you don’t then you’d best stay away. The headphones cost $299. [gallery ids="1702432,1702431,1702430"] Skullcandy isn’t the audiophile’s choice in headphones. That said, their efforts to improve the brand, product, and quality are laudable. I avoided the company for years after a few bad experiences and I’m glad to see them coming back with a new and improved set of cans that truly offer great sound and a nice price. While the Crushers are definitely an acquired taste I could honestly recommend the Venue over any similarly priced noise cancelling headphones on the market, including Bose’s businessperson specials. These headphones aren’t perfect but they’re also not bad.
In addition to models, also got a hold of a photo of the upcoming Apple Watch Series 4. The new Watch, which now sports an edge-to-edge display, is expected to be revealed on September 12, at the , along with the iPhone XS. The photos of the forthcoming Apple Watch (which 9to5Mac notes are “not a render”) show off a watch that’s clearly different from the existing editions. The display now stretches to the edge of the watch face, confirming earlier that said Apple was planning to give the Apple Watch its first big redesign since its launch in 2015. Analysts have been the new watch would sport a 15% larger display, offer extended battery life, and include upgraded health monitoring features. Image credit: Apple is apparently taking advantage of the bigger screen area with a new watch face that packs in a lot more complications. In the image 9to5Mac published (see above), there’s an analog face that’s practically cluttered with extra complications, including the temperature, stopwatch, weather, activity rings, date, music, calendar updates, and even a UVI index. These are both spread around the outside of the clock itself, and inside the clock, underneath the hands. Arguably, it’s a bit much. But the image is likely showing off all the possible complications that could be added to a customizable face at the user’s discretion, rather than a suggestion that one should – well – add them all at once. Of course, we’ve already begun debating the look, with some more enthusiastically in favor of the new face and all its accompanying accoutrement, and others – let’s say, more cautiously optimistic. The photo also shows a new hole underneath the Digital Crown, which seems like an extra mic, the report notes. Other changes, including whatever hardware upgrades and watchOS software features may arrive, aren’t yet known.
The just got more useful for multilingual families. , you’ll be able to set up two languages in the Google Home app and the Assistant on your phone and Home will then happily react to your commands in both English and Spanish, for example. Today’s announcement doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, given that Google announced at its I/O developer conference that it was working on this feature. It’s nice to see that this year, Google is rolling out its I/O announcements well before next year’s event. That hasn’t always been the case in the past. Currently, the Assistant is only bilingual and it still has a few languages to learn. But for the time being, you’ll be able to set up any language pair that includes English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. More pairs are coming in the future and Google also says it is working on trilingual support, too. Google tells me this feature will work with all Assistant surfaces that support the languages you have selected. That’s basically all phones and smart speakers with the Assistant, but not the new smart displays, as they only support English right now. While this may sound like an easy feature to implement, Google notes this was . To build a system like this, you have to be able to identify multiple languages, understand them and then make sure you present the right experience to the user. And you have to do all of this within a few seconds. Google says its language identification model (LangID) can now distinguish between 2,000 language pairs. With that in place, the company’s researchers then had to build a system that could turn spoken queries into actionable results in all supported languages. “When the user stops speaking, the model has not only determined what language was being spoken, but also what was said,” Google’s VP Johan Schalkwyk and Google Speech engineer Lopez Moreno write in today’s announcement. “Of course, this process requires a sophisticated architecture that comes with an increased processing cost and the possibility of introducing unnecessary latency.” If you are in Germany, France or the U.K., you’ll now also be able to use the bilingual assistant on a Google Home Max. That high-end version of the Google Home family is going on sale in those countries today. In addition, Google also today announced that a number of new devices will soon support the Assistant, including the tado° thermostats, a number of new security and smart home hubs (though not, of course, Amazon’s own Ring Alarm), smart bulbs and appliances, including the iRobot Roomba 980, 896 and 676 vacuums. Who wants to have to push a button on a vacuum, after all.
is doubling down on the custom in-home audio market with new products and partnerships. The company today announced a new version of the Sonos Amp and a partnership with Sonance that will result in three architectural speakers — in-wall, in-ceiling and outdoor — that Sonos says will gain additional functionality when paired with a Sonos system. Sonos is also announcing upcoming Control APIs that the company says will make it easier to integrate Sonos into the ever-evolving smart home. This jibes with Sonos’ long-standing approach of working with other platforms to offer its customers as many services as possible. The new Amp allows owners to use traditional home audio speakers with a Sonos system. Connect a turntable or stream media with just the Amp and power a set of bookshelf speakers. According to the spec sheet, the Amp has enough power to push most high-end bookshelf speakers. The Amp replaces the Connect:Amp. The new version is more powerful, works with more platforms and is more expensive at $599 rather than $499. This new version outputs 125 watts per channel at 8 ohms; it can power four speakers instead of two. The additional power makes the Amp more versatile than its predecessor, too. Sonos says the Amp can be used to add stereo sound to a TV (thanks in part to HDMI Arc support) or add wireless rears to a Sonos theater setup. Or, two Amps can be used to add a complete surround sound system. Multiple Amp units can be stacked or mounted in a rack. The Amp works with AirPlay 2 and with Alexa when used in conjunction with an Amazon Alexa-enabled Sonos device like a Sonos One or Beam. With a product like the Amp, Sonos has a new offering for those customers looking to integrate the convenient Sonos line into their high-end home theater setup. That’s a serious market, too, and the company’s new partnership with Sonance shows Sonos is committed to addressing the home audio enthusiast while building products to compete with Apple and Amazon. Together, they will produce in-wall speakers that when used with a Sonos Amp will offer additional functionality. The company stopped short of detailing the added functionality. These speakers are set for an early 2019 release. This is Sonos’ first large announcement after going public on August 2.
Surprise, the AirPort Express isn’t dead! While stopped selling AirPort products back in , the company is still updating the firmware of the once beloved AirPort Express. This firmware update is quite significant as it adds support for AirPlay 2 and the Home app. In other words, you can now plug speakers to a dusty AirPort Express and turn them into wireless speakers for your home sound system. The AirPort Express was a pretty basic home router. It hasn’t been updated since 2012, which means that it’s nowhere near as performant as today’s cheap routers. It only supports 802.11n while everybody has moved on to 802.11ac. Its Ethernet ports are limited to 100 Mbps. So if you have fiber internet, the AirPort Express is not a good solution as it caps your internet connection to 100 Mbps. But the AirPort Express also has an audio jack — something that you can’t find in many Apple products these days. Today’s update makes this audio jack relevant again, as it’s a cheap way to get started with AirPlay 2. After updating the device with the AirPort Utility app on your Mac or iOS device, you can launch the Home app and add the router as a new Home accessory. After that, you’ll find the AirPort Express in your AirPlay speaker list. Apple recently released , an update to its audio and video protocol. With AirPlay 2, you can stream music from your Apple devices to multiple speakers at once. On your phone, you can control the volume of each speaker individually and play the same song across your home. While Sonos, Bose and other speaker manufacturers are updating their devices to support AirPlay 2, chances are many devices won’t get an update. The AirPort Express update can help you go through this transition.
published a news item announcing Xbox All Access on the and then unpublished it. But spotted the article before Microsoft could take the post down. So now that the cat is out of the bag, it looks like Microsoft’s new hardware and software subscription is real. There have been over the past few weeks that Microsoft was planning to announce a new subscription. Today’s announcement lines up with those rumors. Microsoft is launching Xbox All Access in the U.S., which includes a console, Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. You get to choose between an Xbox One S for $22 per month or an Xbox One X for $35 per month. After paying for 24 months, the subscription stops and the console is yours. You can then choose to keep paying for Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass or you can cancel your subscriptions — it’s your console after all. So let’s do the math. You can currently buy an Xbox One S for around $299. Xbox Live Gold lets you play multiplayer games and access free games for $60 per year. The lets you download and play games from a library of 100+ games for $9.99 per month — it’s a sort of Spotify for video games. If you buy a console and subscribe for two years, you’ll end up paying around $659. An Xbox All Access subscription lets you save around $130. If you already planned on subscribing to those two services, it sounds like a good deal. If you didn’t really care about Xbox Game Pass, you’ll end up paying more than buying a console the normal way. The Xbox One X currently costs around $499. If you add two years of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, the bottom line is $859. Two years of Xbox All Access with the Xbox One X costs $840. So it’s not that good a deal if you’re interested in the Xbox One X. With this new offering, Microsoft shows that it wants to shift its gaming strategy to subscriptions. Buying a console every few years isn’t as lucrative as buying an all-in-one Xbox subscription. Subscriptions increase customer loyalty and create predictable recurring revenue. More importantly, gaming consoles won’t stick around forever. At some point, games will run on expensive servers in the cloud and you’ll subscribe to a service. Rumor has it that Microsoft is already getting ready to launch to stream games from the cloud. This is what Microsoft is thinking about with Xbox All Access.
A new from Bloomberg confirms and lines up with Ming-Chi Kuo’s from November 2017. It sounds likely that Apple is going to introduce three new phones in September — an updated iPhone X, a bigger phone and a successor to the iPhone 8 with the iPhone X design. The updated iPhone X could be considered as an “S upgrade” with a better system-on-a-chip and better cameras. The phone itself could look exactly the same as the iPhone X you can buy today. But you can expect faster performance thanks to an updated A12 chip designed by and manufactured by TSMC. The bigger device could feature a gigantic 6.5-inch display. It should have exactly the same features as the updated iPhone X — stainless steel edges, two cameras on the back, an OLED display, etc. This model could have two SIM slots in some countries to make it easier to roam in other regions and countries. More interestingly, Apple wants to replace the iPhone 8 with a device inspired by the iPhone X. It could cost around as much as the iPhone 8 today, but it should be a big upgrade for those who are focused on the entry-level model. Of course, there will be some compromises. For instance, Apple will replace the stainless steel edges with aluminum edges. There should be a single camera on the back. And the display won’t be as sharp as it should be a 6.1-inch LCD display. A previous indicated that this new model could come in a wide range of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange. Bloomberg confirms that the disparition of the home button means that this phone will get Face ID. On the software side, it sounds like the bigger 6.5-inch iPhone could let you run two apps side-by-side, pretty much like opening two apps on the iPad. If Apple follows its usual pattern, the company should unveil these new devices in just a couple of weeks.
have torn the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset all to pieces, and the takeaway seems to be that the device is very much a work in progress — but a highly advanced one. Its interesting optical assembly, described as “surprisingly ugly,” is laid bare for all to see. The head-mounted display and accompanying computing unit are definitely meant for developers, , but the basic methods and construction Magic Leap is pursuing are clear from this initial hardware. It’s unlikely that there will be major changes to how the gadget works except to make it cheaper, lighter and more reliable. At the heart of tech is its AR display, which overlays 3D images over and around the real world. This is accomplished through a stack of waveguides that allow light to pass along them invisibly, then bounce it out toward your eye from the proper angle to form the image you see. The “ugly” assembly in question; pic courtesy of iFixit The waveguide assembly has six layers: one for each color channel (red, blue and green) twice over, arranged so that by adjusting the image you can change the perceived distance and size of the object being displayed. There isn’t a lot out there like this, and certainly nothing intended for consumer use, so we can forgive Magic Leap for shipping something a little bit inelegant by iFixit’s standards: “The insides of the lenses are surprisingly ugly, with prominent IR LEDs, a visibly striated waveguide “display” area, and some odd glue application.” After all, the insides of devices like the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9 should and do reflect a more mature hardware ecosystem and many iterations of design along the same lines. This is a unique, first-of-its-kind device and as a devkit the focus is squarely on getting the functionality out there. It will almost certainly be refined in numerous ways to avoid future chiding by hardware snobs. That’s also evident from the eye-tracking setup, which from its position at the bottom of the eye will likely perform better when you’re looking down and straight ahead rather than upwards. Future versions may include more robust tracking systems. Another interesting piece is the motion-tracking setup. A little box hanging off the edge of the headset is speculated to be the receiver for the magnetic field-based motion controller. — no doubt there have been improvements, but this doesn’t seem to be particularly cutting-edge tech. An improved control scheme can probably be expected in future iterations, as this little setup is pretty much independent of the rest of the device’s operation. Let’s not judge Magic Leap on this interesting public prototype — let us instead judge them on the farcically ostentatious promises and eye-popping funding of the last few years. If they haven’t burned through all that cash, there are years of development left in the creation of a practical and affordable consumer device using these principles and equipment. Many more teardowns to come!
The largest trend in photography over the last five years or so, not counting smartphones, has been the emergence and maturity of mirrorless camera systems. These operate in a very different manner from traditional SLRs, and as such market leaders with decades embedded in the latter — namely Canon and — have resisted making the shift. That changes for Nikon today with its announcement of the and , which show the company is making the change wholeheartedly. The Z series comprises both these two cameras and a new lens mount, which in many ways is the more important news for photographers. The F mount has been around for decades and boasts some of the world’s best glass. But ultimately a more or less clean break was needed, and the Z mount manages to provide that, as well as solid back-compatibility for those who can’t bear to part with their old standby kit. The cameras themselves, which have been rumored for ages and , are both full-frame, meaning their sensor is as big as a 35mm still-film frame. Full-frame cameras are generally intended for professionals or deep-pocketed hobbyists: bodies generally cost well over $1,000 but offer improved image quality for a variety of reasons. So it’s somewhat ambitious of Nikon to aim at this elevated market, where competition is tough, standards are high and prices are higher. Old favorites like the Canon 5D vie with new challengers like Sony’s a9, and it seems as if slowly but surely the latter are coming out on top, due in no small part to the advantages conferred on them by their mirrorless nature. The Z7 starts at $3,400, which puts it squarely in professional territory. The Z6, at $2,000, sacrifices resolution but offers some other advantages — aside from holding onto that $1,400. If it were me I’d go for the latter, no question. Big and small changes The Z7 is the new flagship, and it closely replicates the ability of the popular Nikon D850, while adding a variety of improvements. Most obvious is body size; the camera is much, much smaller and lighter than its SLR predecessor, but is still far from petite. It also improves on a few stats like burst speed and autofocus in ways that will be appreciated by pros, and a new 10-bit N-LOG video output mode should provide more flexibility in post. Its sibling, the Z6, has a lower megapixel count (24 versus 45) but further improves burst speed and may in fact prove superior in terms of video performance. Both make the switch to an electronic viewfinder, or EVF, and apparently Nikon was very particular about this component. The resolution of the OLED eyepiece is 1280×960, which sounds low compared with phone and VR displays, but should be fine — and really, motion and color are more important. The rear LCD is also OLED, as is a little up-facing status display on the top plate. Both also have in-body stabilization, which means lenses can be lighter and cheaper. The stabilization will work with older lenses too (more on this in a moment) and in cases where a long lens has its own stabilization system, the camera will defer to that at least on some axes. I haven’t had a chance to play with these in person but I expect to soon; in the meantime, as always, . Z-mount into the future For many, the biggest change will be the switch to the new Z-mount system. There will be a series of Z lenses, and bonny lenses they will be, with the new dimensions allowing improved optics across the board. Everyone is hot about a F/0.95 Noct lens Nikon has been teasing for 2019. But with a hundred million F-mount lenses out there, backwards compatibility is a must. For them there is the FTZ adapter, which fits between the Z and the old lens, bridging the old technology and the new. If the lens is relatively new and supports automatic aperture and focus, those will be available. And, in fact, these lenses will benefit from the new autofocus system and may perform better than they did originally, if not identically — slight changes will no doubt emerge from the addition of the new optics. Older lenses, such as classics with manual focus and aperture, will still fit the adapter but can’t be magically endowed with automatic features. The adapter is not inconsiderable in size — more like a pancake lens than a filter. So your favorite lightweight walk-around setup may be impacted negatively. But overall it seems like it should do nicely for most. Nikon has made its play, and the Z series looks like a natural jump for thousands of photographers who have stuck with the brand for years out of loyalty and investment. It doesn’t take much away, it adds quite a bit and in a few years it will probably be a no-brainer rather than a “well, maybe.”
You can tell a lot about what’s going on in a home from how much electricity it’s using — especially when that information is collected every few minutes and recorded centrally. It’s revealing enough that a federal judge has ruled that people with smart meters have a reasonable expectation of privacy and as such law enforcement will require a warrant to acquire that data. It may sound like a niche win in the fight for digital privacy, and in a way it is, but it’s still important. One of the risks we’ve assumed as consumers in adopting ubiquitous technology in forms like the so-called Internet of Things is that we are generating an immense amount of data we weren’t before, and that data is not always protected as it should be. This case is a great example. Traditional spinning meters are read perhaps once a month by your local utility, and at that level of granularity there’s not much you can tell about a house or apartment other than whether perhaps someone has been living there and whether they have abnormally high electricity use — useful information if you were, say, looking for illicit pot growers with a farm in the basement. Smart meters, on the other hand, send exact meter readings at short intervals, perhaps every 15 minutes, and these readings may be kept for years. With that much detail you could not only tell whether someone lives in a house, but whether they’re home, whether the fridge has been opened recently, what room they’re in, how often they do laundry, and so on. The fingerprints of individual devices on the house’s electrical network aren’t that difficult to figure out. To be sure this can help the utility with load balancing, predicting demand and so on. But what if the government wants to do more with it, for example to establish whether someone was home at a certain time in a criminal investigation? A group of concerned citizens sued the city of Naperville, Illinois, which mandated smart readers several years ago, alleging that collection of the data was unconstitutional as it amounted to an unreasonable search. An earlier court decision essentially found that by voluntarily sharing electricity consumption data with a third party, residents surrendered their right to privacy. No privacy means it’s not a “search” to ask for the data. But as the 7th Circuit pointed out in its ruling on appeal (), there isn’t really a third party: the city collects the data, and city authorities want to use the data. And even if there were, “a home occupant does not assume the risk of near constant monitoring by choosing to have electricity in her home.” So it is a search. Collecting the data is not an unreasonable search, however, when it is done with no “prosecutorial intent,” the court ruled. That means that when the city is acting in its own interest as far as administrating and improving the electrical grid, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to collect this information without a warrant. But should it be required for more than that, for instance in a criminal investigation, a warrant would certainly be required. This distinction is important and not always observed. Systematic collection and analysis of metadata can produce remarkably detailed records of a person’s movements and habits, and it can be difficult to find and plug the holes by which that data pours out of protected containers like the Fourth Amendment. Although it’s possible that this could be appealed up to the Supreme Court, it seems unlikely as this is not a major issue of free speech or government access. A warrant for electrical usage is rarely, one presumes, a matter of life or death, but could indeed be critical in a court battle — for which reason requiring a warrant is not an unreasonable requirement. It seems more likely that the city of Naperville, and others in its position, will abide by this decision. That’s a win for your privacy and a foot in the door for other data collection practices like this one.