Category Archives: Technology

Jam-packed Apple event introduces iPad Pro, iPhone 6s & all-new Apple TV (and so much more)

Today is a HUGE day for Apple. The tech company managed to pack in so many updates across its ever-expanding product lineup. The Apple Watch, the iPad and iPhone families, and even the Apple TV all received notable boosts in functionality. There’s so much to discuss, so without further ado, let’s dive right into it. Jump after the fold for a comprehensive breakdown of the day’s events. READ MORE Jam-packed Apple event introduces iPad Pro, iPhone 6s & all-new Apple TV (and so much more)

Hulu lets you ditch ads for $11.99/month

And just like that, Hulu’s jumping on the ad-free bandwagon. To compete with the ad-free competition (namely Netflix and Amazon), Hulu is now offering a No Commercials plan at $11.99/month. That’s four dollars more than the Limited Commercials plan (formally known as Hulu Plus) that has been around for awhile now. Nearly all of Hulu’s library of TV shows and movies will steam without ads; there are only a handful of series that will roll ads before and after (but not during) a viewing session and they are: Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, Grimm, New Girl, and How To Get Away With Murder. The reason? It’s simply a matter of licensing deals. Other than that, you can say goodbye to commercials on Hulu as long as you sign up for or upgrade to the new plan.

“At Hulu, we pride ourselves on listening to our customers and giving them the best possible experience,” said Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins in a blog post. “Many of our customers have asked us for a commercial free option, and so today we are excited to introduce just that. Providing more choice for consumers is fundamental to the Hulu experience, in addition to an array of choices in content and devices, our customers can now choose to watch with or without commercials.”

The ad-free plan comes at a time when Hulu really has to start showing its muscle if it wants to continue to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Both of those streaming services have consumers flocking to their content libraries thanks to high quality original productions (see: House of CardsTransparent, etc.) and exclusive partnerships with major film houses. In addition to introducing this new plan, Hulu is doing its part by churning out original content (The Mindy Project is coming soon, as is an anticipated new series from J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, 11/22/63) and making deals with companies like EPIX. In fact, Hulu recently snagged EPIX away from Netflix, and this will result in an influx of hit films from Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount. Game on.

[Via Hulu 1, 2]

Nintendo brings the New 3DS to US gamers, ‘Animal Crossing’ bundle in tow

That took awhile. Nintendo has finally decided to bring the New Nintendo 3DS stateside. In October 2014, the Mario makers introduced the New Nintendo 3DS XL in its home country of Japan (there they call it the 3DS LL). Three months later, it came to the U.S. with all its input enhancements including the C-stick nub and the ZL and ZR triggers, as well as NFC inside and improved facial tracking technology. However, if you’ve been in the U.S. market holding out for an updated version of the regular-sized 3DS, you’ve been SOL, until now, that is.

On Monday, Nintendo announced that the New 3DS is coming to the States on September 25. There’s a slight catch, however. Instead of coming in the standard red and black paint jobs, the New 3DS is bundled with Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and the hardware itself is plastered with an Animal Crossing cover plate (see above). Of course, there’s no telling if/when Ninty will release a standard version of the New 3DS to consumers, so for now you’ll have to live with this (the interior of the hardware, mind you, is white). The bundle comes with two themed cover plates, the game, an amiibo card, and a 4GB memory card. The MSRP is $219.99; bookmark it to preorder soon.

On the subject of 3DS, also outed is a Legend of Zelda themed 3DS XL Hyrule Edition, priced at $199.99. The gold-colored, Hylian Crest emblazoned handheld releases October 23; Gamestop’s got it up on its site.

Elsewhere, Nintendo has entered into a partnership with Amazon allowing the online retailer to sell digital downloads of Wii U, Wii, and 3DS titles. Simply purchase a game, redeem a code, and the game will automatically download onto your console of choice. Browse the storefront here.

[Via BusinessWire; Engadget]

Apple rebrands its London-based music festival, announces headliners including Pharrell & Disclosure [Update: More performers added]

Since 2007, the iTunes Music Festival has attracted many talented and hugely popular musicians to its London venue including Adele, Beck, Coldplay, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Muse, and Paul McCartney. For its ninth outing, Apple is rebranding it to give more exposure to its recently launched streaming music service. In September, the newly christened Apple Music Festival will headline 10 artists; so far, Pharrell Williams, One Direction, Florence + The Machine, and Disclosure are confirmed to perform live.

“We wanted to do something really special for music fans this year,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services in a press release. “The Apple Music Festival is a greatest hits set of ten unbelievable nights featuring some of the best performers on the planet appearing live and interacting directly with their fans on Connect and Beats 1.”

The festival will take place over ten nights from September 19-28 at London’s Roundhouse venue; each night is dedicated to a headliner and a special opening guest. As of today, only One Direction have selected its opening act–English girl group Little Mix. Tickets will be offered for free exclusively to London residents. If you’re Stateside or anywhere else around the world for that matter, you can still watch the concerts live via Apple Music (on an iOS device), iTunes (on PC and Mac) and Apple TV. In addition, Zane Lowe and his team of DJs on Beats 1 will air coverage from the festival, and participating performers will be posting backstage content on their Apple Music Connect pages.

Apple claims that iTunes Music Festival musicians have played in front of more than half a million fans and tens of millions more online and on-demand. With the proliferation of Apple Music subscribers (who’ll continue to use the streaming service for free until Sept. 30), I’ll bet that those numbers increase exponentially this fall when the Apple Music Festival jams out across iPhones, iPads, iPods, computers, and Apple TV.

Update (9/2): Apple’s announced more headliners and openers for this month’s Apple Music Festival. English pop group Take That, “I Can’t Feel My Face” singer The Weeknd, and British electronic dance music band The Chemical Brothers are the latest headliners to join the lineup. As far as new openers are concerned, Pharrell has picked Leon Bridges to warm up his crowd, and Florence + The Machine will introduce James Bay before taking over the stage. Will update this post as more performers are added.

“G is for Google,” says Alphabet in company restructuring

Google is now just a letter of the Alphabet. Let me explain…

In a letter to investors and the public at large, Google co-founder Larry Page made a major announcement about his company. Which is no longer called Google, it’s called Alphabet. But don’t worry! Google is still a thing–one of the world’s biggest, most recognizable brands, of course–and you won’t have tell your brain to “Alphabet” keywords. What’s happening is that Google is becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alphabet. In other words, Alphabet is a big umbrella that houses Google and many other current and future innovations from Page and other Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google,” says Page in his letter. “This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead.”

Page doesn’t break down all of Alphabet’s subsidiaries in the note, but he gives honorable mentions to “Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity).” Alphabet also includes “X lab, which incubates new efforts like Wing, our drone delivery effort. We are also stoked about growing our investment arms, Ventures and Capital, as part of this new structure.”

All in all, Page thinks that such segregation will offer his team “more management scale, as we can run things independently that aren’t very related.”

He goes on to lay the groundwork for how Alphabet will be structured. Page is CEO, Brin is President, and CEOs will be picked to run each business, with the Google co-founders “in service to them as needed.” So far, they’ve appointed Google’s SVP of Products Sundar Pichai to be the CEO of Google. They also note that unlike Google, they “are not intending for [Alphabet] to be a big consumer brand with related products–the whole point is that Alphabet companies should have independence and develop their own brands.” Like Google!

Page and Brin will implement segment reporting when fourth quarter financial reports come out; this means that Google financials will be reported separately from other Alphabet businesses. As far as the stock market is concerned, Google will continue to trade on Nasdaq as GOOGL and GOOG. In related news, the market responded positively to this announcement; Google shares were up around five percent after-hours on the day Page posted the letter, and the next day shares increased by another four-and-a-half percent.

Why Alphabet? I’ll let Page explain: “We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!”

In the beginning (circa 1997), Google was simply a search engine. Today, it has sprouted myriad limbs: Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, Android, and so on. From the desktop to mobile, Google’s services have matured and spread to help people quickly look up information, watch and share video, navigate the world, and communicate with one another. These are all things that Page says “seemed crazy at the time” of their inception. “We are still trying to do things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about,” he continues and this is where Alphabet comes in. It didn’t take long for Google the company to outgrow its roots in search. Alphabet allows Google to continue to grow and breath, while other teams continue developing other innovations such as self-driving cars and the aforementioned delivery drones. The shift to Alphabet and Alphabet-owned subsidiaries won’t affect consumers (at least initially); what it will do, however, is make Google a stronger brand to live amongst a flock of more to come.

Whether or not this turns out to be a good idea in the long-run, Page is confident that the unconventional decision will drive his company to do better today. “We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.”

[Via Google]

See an actual Hoverboard in action, powered by Lexus, liquid nitrogen & magnets

It only makes sense that a company finally produces a functioning hoverboard in 2015, the same year that Marty McFly discovers one in Back to the Future Part II. Would you ever guess that it’d be Lexus, the Toyota-owned luxury car maker, to pull it off? Well, they did it, and you watch the Lexus Hoverboard in action above.

Pretty cool, huh? Dying to look “under the hood?” Let’s. First off, I don’t want to get your hopes up, if I haven’t already. Lexus’ hoverboard was made specifically for its “Amazing in Motion” marketing campaign; it is not being mass-produced and you won’t get the chance to buy–let alone ride–one. With that out of the way, it’s time to expose the magic that makes it work.

Lexus and a crack team of scientists specializing in magnetic levitation technology figured out the impossible using liquid nitrogen and magnets. The puffs of smoke emitting from the natural bamboo board? That’s liquid nitrogen and it’s required to keep the board cool during use. The board houses two cryostats, reservoirs which contain superconducting material kept at -197°C through immersion in liquid nitrogen. The hoverboard’s biggest caveat: it cannot be used anywhere you like. It requires precisely placed magnets beneath it in order to float in the air (and even above water). To shoot this innovative commercial, Lexus constructed a “hoverpark” near Barcelona, Spain. To the layman it would appear to be a standard skatepark, but lying beneath the surface is around 200 meters of magnetic track. When the board is placed above the track and cooled to its operating temperature, “the track’s magnetic flux lines are pinned into place, maintaining the hover height of the board,” explains the car company.

“The magnetic field from the track is effectively ‘frozen’ into the superconductors in the board, maintaining the distance between the board and track – essentially keeping the board in a hover. The force is strong enough that the rider can stand and even jump on the board,” says Dr. Oliver de Hass, one of the scientists who worked on Lexus’ innovation. Click here to learn more about how it was made.

Skateboard Ross McGouran is the featured rider in the astonishing clip. “Everything I knew about skating went out the window,” he said about getting acclimated to the hoverboard. “I’ve spent 20 years skateboarding, but without friction it feels like I’ve had to learn a whole new skill, particularly in the stance and balance you need to ride the hoverboard.” There’s a lot of stumbling going on in the video, but in the few instances where McGouran maintains control, the Lexus Hoverboard wows.

We’re a mere two months out from the October date that Marty visits in BTTF2, and at this rate it’s hard to imagine we’ll all be riding hoverboards from Mattel Lexus anytime soon. Still, we should take solace in the mere fact that companies are attempting and even succeeding at making the tech come alive. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads–we need magnets. Bitch.

[Via Lexus 1, 2] READ MORE See an actual Hoverboard in action, powered by Lexus, liquid nitrogen & magnets

Microsoft dominates gamescom in Germany with Xbox One games lineup, software enhancements & welcome hardware additions

This week Microsoft took over gamescom, the world’s biggest video games expo (even better than E3!) in Cologne, Germany. The Xbox maker hosted a media briefing, while the competition–namely, Sony and Nintendo–sat on the sidelines this go-around. The briefing played mostly like a reiteration of Microsoft’s E3 presentation, highlighting Xbox’s “greatest games lineup in history.” Numerous upcoming titles were previewed. Among the most prominent are these Xbox One exclusives: Remedy Games’ Quantum Leap, a “cinematic, story-driven action game” with a live action show baked inside is to Xbox One on April 5, 2016. Actors Shawn Ashmore (X-MenThe Following), Dominic Monaghan (Lost), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), and Lance Reddick (Fringe) are among the talent lending their likeness to the game. ReAgent’s cooking up Crackdown 3, the next installment in the third-person open world shooter, and it lands on Xbox One in summer 2016. It supports a 4-person co-operative campaign mode. Befriend a dragon in PlatinumGames’ Scalebound, an action-adventure RPG from renowned game director Hideki Kamiya, coming fall 2016. Killer Instinct Season 3 arrives in March with cross-platform functionality across Xbox One and Windows 10. From Mojang (the makers of Mincraft) and Oxeye Game Studio comes Cobalt, a new 2D platformer with multiplayer support. This one is coming to Xbox One and the 360 in October; the alpha version is out now for PC and Mac today. KickStarted game We Happy Few, from Compulsion Games, is a first-person stealth game that looks to be as unsettling as it does fun; it’s due out sometime next year for Xbox One and Windows 10. Halo Wars 2, from 343 Industries and Creative Assembly (Total WarAlien: Isolation), capped the briefing and received big applause from the press in the audience. The sequel to the 2009 real-time strategy game is coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 in fall 2016.

For more from Xbox at gamescom, including software updates and new hardware announcements, jump after the break. READ MORE Microsoft dominates gamescom in Germany with Xbox One games lineup, software enhancements & welcome hardware additions

This singing machine alleviates our inevitable A.I.-run future

Artistic takes on artificial intelligence, such as Alex Garland’s excellent sci-fi film Ex Machina and AMC’s new synth series Humans, provide a glimpse into our not-so-distant future. A future where humans and robots co-exist and it is hard to tell where the “natural” line breaks. What you see here, an art installation by German creative technologist Martin Backes, is a primitive stab at the future of AI. And yet, this fully automated machine which endlessly sings classic ballads from the ’90s, manages to mimic real human emotion. Hit play and close your eyes; if you weren’t told this was machine belting out Whitney Houston and Celine Dion tunes, you might just think it was coming from a muffled human singer. It’s kind of frightening to think about, sure, but I also find the sound soothing.

“As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments,” Backes says on his website. “This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.”

Behind the scenes, Backes has a paired a computer with SuperCollider, a programming language used by musicians, scientists, and artists working with sound. The minimalist execution impresses: the screen, the stand, the mic, and the captivating graphical interface supplanting human eyes with lyrics and a mouth constructed of a fluctuating white bar matching note inflections.

Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely already accepted primitive AIs into your life. Siri and Cortana and Google Now are all proactive assistants on your phone that communicate with you and learn your preferences and habits. Imagine Siri going off and starting a band; Backes’ creation is just that. Can you imagine a future where Taylor Swift is competing against a machine for a Grammy? It’s strange, but I can.

Microsoft launches Windows 10 marketing campaign with the world’s cutest babies

It’s easy to breeze past commercials when you’re watching TV. I’ve got a TiVo at home and it’s a rare thing these days to catch me ever sitting through an ad when I can simply sift through it with the click of button. Boy am I glad I didn’t miss out on this one.

With the release of Windows 10 just about a week away, Microsoft is launching its marketing campaign to push its first-year-free fresh OS unto the world. With taglines like, “The future starts now” and “A more human way to do,” MSFT is building a brand that highlights Win10’s new feature set and its focus on user accessibility.

The spot stars a number of the world’s cutest babies from all walks of life. “Imagine, these kids won’t have to remember passwords, or obsess about security. For them, every screen is meant to be touched,” says the voiceover. Essentially, Microsoft is saying that Windows 10 will transform the way we interact with our PCs today and it’s future-proof for the kids of tomorrow. ALSO HOW CUTE IS THAT WINDOW BABY!?

With Windows Hello, remembering login passwords is a thing of the past; built-in webcams will scan your smiley face and you’re in. Internet Explorer’s more secure and leaner successor Microsoft Edge allows you to draw directly on web pages and share with others. Cortana, Windows Phone’s personal assistant, is coming to the desktop and she’s there to answer your questions and learn your preferences. And course, the company’s pushing familiarity here. Gone is the “Metro” Live Tile interface; the classic desktop from Windows 7 is back with a modernized touch–helpful Live Tiles now live inside the Start Menu.

Windows 10 begins its rollout on July 29, starting with Windows Insiders (those that beta-tested the OS) and then getting to reservations. If you’re a Windows 7 or 8.1 user, Win10 is offered to you as a free upgrade for the first year of its existence. To learn how to reserve a copy, click here.

[Via Microsoft]

Apple reports 2015 Q3 results: $49.6 billion revenue & $10.7 billion net profit

On July 21, Apple reported its 2015 third quarter financial results. Apple posted a record quarterly revenue of $49.6 billion and net profit of $10.7 billion. Compare this to one year ago, that’s up from revenue of $37.4 billion and net profit of $7.7 billion. Says CEO Tim Cook: “We had an amazing quarter, with iPhone revenue up 59 percent over last year, strong sales of Mac, all-time record revenue from services, driven by the App Store, and a great start for Apple Watch. The excitement for Apple Music has been incredible, and we’re looking forward to releasing iOS 9, OS X El Capitan and watchOS 2 to customers in the fall.”

Now let’s break it down by product category. Apple sold 47.5 million iPhones in the quarter (compared to 35.2 million in the year-ago quarter); 10.9 million iPads (compared to 13.3 million); and 4.8 million Macs (compared to 4.4 million). As for iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch, the company stuffs these products into a single category called Other Products and unfortunately does not disclose how many units of each were sold. However, what we do know is that this division accounted for $2.6 billion of Apple’s revenue this quarter.

Interested in how Apple Watch performed out of the gate? The company’s not sharing exact figures, but in an interview with The New York Times, Apple CFO Luca Maestri says that “the watch’s sales in its first nine weeks exceeded those of the iPhone and iPad in their first nine weeks of availability.” Also, Maestri informed Engadget during the earning call today that the watch “was responsible for “over 100 percent” of the “Other Product” category’s growth in the quarter and offset any losses from iPod and accessory sales.”

Looking ahead to the fourth fiscal quarter of 2015, Maestri expects revenue between $49 billion and $51 billion.

[Via Apple]

Apple splashes a new coat of paint across its iPod lineup, beefs up the aging touch

It speaks volumes about Apple’s iPod division that Tim Cook’s company decided to roll out a new version of the iPod touch in a press release as opposed to dedicated stage time to it at a public event. The ubiquitous iPhone and its tablet counterpart the iPad play music and so much more, making the iPod touch, nano, and shuffle more obsolete than ever. Still, Apple is keeping its iPod line alive with refreshed innards and a splash of new colors.

First and foremost, the new, sixth-generation iPod touch packs the same A8 processor found inside the powerful iPhone 6. This boosts the music player’s graphics performance 10x and CPU performance 6x, it brings a 64-bit architecture to the device, and it supports Metal, Apple’s technology for developers that helps them make more immersive games. Additionally, the new touch also includes the M8 motion coprocessor for enhanced fitness tracking. *Note: TechCrunch reports that the A8 processor is slightly underclocked inside the touch (1.1GHz versus the iPhone 6’s 1.39GHz), likely to conserve battery life and keep prices down.

The cameras have also been upgraded on the touch. Around the back, the iSight Camera now sports an 8-megapixel sensor (up from 5 before). It supports slo-mo video recording in 720p HD at 120 fps, burst mode, time-lapse video, and high-resolution panorama shots. The updated front-facing FaceTime HD Camera also supports burst mode, plus improved HDR, face detection, and exposure control. Elsewhere, users will notice up to 3x faster WiFi speeds thanks to 802.11ac support; Bluetooth 4.1 is also on board.

The new iPod touch, which comes preloaded with iOS 8.4 and the new Music app with access to Apple Music, starts at $199 for the 16GB model. For another 50 bucks you can get it with 32GB of memory. 64GB and 128GB models are also available at $299 and $399, respectively. The largest model is exclusive to Apple retail and online stores. The new colors match the iPhone & iPad lineups; there’s space gray, silver, and gold, for starters, plus vibrants options in pink, blue, and (PRODUCT)RED. The 16GB iPod nano ($149) and 2GB iPod shuffle ($49) also received the same coat of new colors. All iPods are available to ship today.

Enjoy ’em while they last. As the iPhone, iPad and even the new gadget on the block, the Apple Watch, continue to cannibalize the market with their never-ending feature sets, the iPod’s future remains murky.

[Via Apple]