Microsoft rolls out revamped Xbox One user interface

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on November 15th, 2015

On November 12, Microsoft rolled out a new Xbox dashboard update and it brings a totally revamped user interface to the surface along with backwards compatibility. Microsoft’s been keen on doling out monthly updates to its home video games console/entertainment hub, and this latest one is its boldest yet.

Xbox One now features a UI based on Windows 10 with a focus on speed, efficiency, and social interactions. Along the top you’ll notice four sections: Home, Community, OneGuide, and Store. Inside Home, you’re presented with your most recently used games and apps, and your pinned games and apps live below them under a category titled “My stuff.” Along the left-hand side there’s a new Guide pane that presents quick access to Friends, Parties, Messages, Notifications, Settings, and app-snapping functionality. From here you can also sign-in and manage users. This pane can be accessed at anytime (read: inside games and apps) by double-tapping the Xbox button on your controller. Inside Community, you’re presented with an activity feed filled with unlocked achievements, screenshots, and clips shared by your friends. Here you can interact with them with likes, comments, and sharing. Above the feed, there are buttons to refresh it and dive into your Game DVR. Next to the feed you’ll see what’s trending on Xbox Live with quick access to content from sources like Xbox and YouTube. A new OneGuide section features trending entertainment offerings across TV, movies, and sports. App channels from content providers like Amazon and Crunchyroll provide quick access to preferred programming. Last, there’s Store; when this section is selected it auto-expands to reveal sub-sections Games, Apps, Movies & TV, and Music. These redesigned storefronts highlight popular media and make it easy to discover and search for content thanks to large thumbnails and detailed splash screens.

In addition to the faster, streamlined UI, the “New Xbox One Experience” brings with it Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, a feature that gamers have been clamoring for ever since launch. Microsoft is launching the initiative with 104 Xbox 360 titles on Xbox One, and it promises more to come as soon as December. You can view the complete Backwards Compatibility Game Library right here, and you’ll want to bookmark that link to stay updated about future additions. Oh, and it’s been confirmed that multiplayer-enabled games will support cross-play between the 360 and the One–how cool is that?!

Kinect owners may notice that motion-activated gestures are no longer supported by the dashboard with this update. There’s no need to fret, though. An even more natural way to navigate the system is coming and that’s Cortana integration. Soon you’ll be able to call up Microsoft’s digital assistant to perform even more advanced commands; finding out if a friend is online, inviting a friend to a party, and recording and sharing gameplay to your activity feed will be handled swiftly by Cortana in the near future. Also coming in 2016 is DVR functionality, so you can look out for that, too.

I’ve spent some time with the updated dash and I’m happy to report that it’s a breeze to use. The redesigned Home, Community, OneGuide, and Store sections present consolidated and streamlined portals into the best of what Xbox has to offer. Accessing your content and sharing your achievements are simple affairs. Peering into your Xbox Live community (Friends list, Parties, Messages, etc.) is made much more efficient thanks to the new Guide. Your favorite Xbox 360 titles are injected with new life on Xbox One; in addition to emulating them on your console, you can also take advantage of Xbox Live’s latest features including taking screenshots, recording Game DVR clips, and even game streaming to Windows 10 devices. In an effort to make Xbox One an easily accessible destination to play games with friends and consume streaming entertainment, Microsoft succeeded with flying colors with the New Xbox One Experience.

In case you haven’t automatically received the NXOE yet, you can manually download and install it inside Settings. And if you’ve got time to kill, jump after the break to preview the nooks and crannies of the new UI with Xbox’s Major Nelson. (Click here for more…)

Xbox and PlayStation at Gamescom 2014

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on August 13th, 2014

Gamescom is a video games trade show–like E3, except for the that fact that it takes place in Europe (in Cologne, Germany to be precise) and it attracts a much, much larger crowd of attendees including members of the press and game developers. And just like they did at Los Angeles’ E3 in June, console makers Microsoft and Sony held press events revealing new titles, providing updates on previously announced ones, and showing off new system features. For the latest on the games, I recommend you visit Joystiq. This post will mostly focus on software updates coming to the Xbox One and PS4, as well as new hardware options revealed. For the full scoop, jump after the break. (Click here for more…)

PlayStation 4 launches today

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on November 15th, 2013

The next generation of gaming has finally arrived. Sony launches PlayStation 4 today, November 15. Whether you preordered the sleek, black console months ago or if you’re waiting on line at a retailer, the PS4 is ready for action right out of the box. However, you should note that the system requires a Day 1 update that activates many features such as the ability to log into the PlayStation Network and play Blu-ray movies; so make sure your Internet connection is running smoothly! Also, don’t forget that Sony has pushed out a PlayStation App available for free in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store; it’s similar to Microsoft’s Xbox app in that it allows you to control the console’s menus, view your profile and trophies, and receive game notifications and invitations. One cool feature is that you can browse the PS Store on the go, download a full game and have it pushed to your PS4 so it’s ready to play when you get home.

A revealing video sits after the break. We’ve seen bits and pieces of PS4’s user interface, but now on launch day Sony is ready to dive in and show off some of the UI’s nooks and crannies. The nine minute clip previews the PlayStation Dynamic Menu (which replaces PS3’s Xross Media Bar) as well as a redesigned PlayStation Store.

So what are you waiting for? Greatness awaits.

Update: Two days after the PS4’s launch date, the company announced that it sold 1 million units during the first 24 hours after it became available on November 15 in the United States and Canada.

“PS4 was designed with an unwavering commitment to gamers, and we are thrilled that consumer reaction has been so phenomenal,” said Andrew House, President and Group CEO at Sony Computer Entertainment. “Sales remain very strong in North America, and we expect continued enthusiasm as we launch the PlayStation 4 in Europe and Latin America on November 29. We are extremely grateful for the passion of PlayStation fans and thank them for their continued support.” (Click here for more…)

Microsoft demonstrates Xbox One user interface ahead of launch

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on November 10th, 2013

Microsoft has been pretty coy about showing off Xbox One’s user interface…until now, that is. Xbox’s Yusuf Mehdi and Marc Whitten demonstrate the One’s UI and its speedy multitasking prowess in the 12-minute video embedded above.

They mostly demonstrate features we’re already aware of, but seeing truly is believing in this case. Sit down in front of your Xbox One-equipped TV and Kinect will sense your presence, recognize you, and automatically sign you into your Xbox Live account. If your buddy’s with you too, no problem; Xbox will sign both of you in and you can switch between your personalize dashboard and your friend’s simply by saying “Xbox, show my stuff.”

The One’s home screen is pretty straightforward. The middle, main section is called Home and there is the space that shows you your most recent live session, whether that may be a game or an app. To the left of Home is Pins; this is a customizable space where you can pin and save your favorite and most frequently used apps and content for easy access. And to the right of Home is Store; this space is divided into various storefronts such as Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Apps.

Multitasking on Xbox One, or jumping in and out of games and apps, is truly a breeze. In this demo, Yusuf and Marc are playing Forza Motorsport 5. Say “Xbox, go to Netflix” and the system will automatically pause the game and jump into the Netflix app. Say “Xbox, return to Forza Motorsport 5” and you’ll jump back into the game exactly where you had left off. It’s just as easy to switch to Internet Explorer, Hulu Plus, and any other app you might have installed on your console.

Also discussed are the advantages of having your games system tied to your cable box. With the One’s HDMI IN port you can hook your TV feed into the Xbox and browse and watch live TV through the system. So, when you’re watching TV now you receive Xbox notifications and jump directly into a game when an invite is presented. You may also receive a Skype call when you’re watching TV and you just as easily pause your programming to initiate a video chat. Skype on Xbox One boasts a 1080p HD widescreen picture and Kinect will smartly track your movements as you move around your living space during a conversation.

Lastly, two new features of Xbox Live are demonstrated here. With Game DVR, gamers can record their gameplay, edit it and share it with friends via the Upload Studio app. You can even select picture-in-picture mode which will record your gameplay as well as instruct Kinect to record you and your narration as you play. With One Guide, you can browse your TV channel lineup by saying things like “Xbox, what’s on HBO” or “Xbox, what’s on ESPN.” You can also create customized favorites lists within One Guide with your apps; for example you can make it easy to browse Hulu Plus’ latest offerings right inside One Guide without having to jump into the app itself.

Side note: Speaking of digital entertainment apps, Microsoft has announced the full list of said apps that will be available on Xbox One at launch and you’ll find the full list after the break.

But words can only say so much. Hit play and discover just how fast and intuitive the new Xbox really is. Xbox One hits the market in just 12 days on November 22.

Update: Yusuf is back to demo another Xbox One feature not covered in the extensive video above. It’s called Snap and it allows you to “snap” or pin an app to your screen while you’re doing something else. For example, while you’re playing Forza you can say “Xbox, snap Internet Explorer” to pull up the browser  and view a website while you’re playing the game. You can even say “Xbox, snap TV” and you can watch live TV while you’re racing. It’s multitasking for the hyper-active generation. Watch it in action after the break. (Click here for more…)

A Google Glass tutorial shows off the stock UI

Posted in Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on May 2nd, 2013

Google Glass is starting to ship out to key members of the press who attended last year’s Google I/O, developers, and winners of the #IfIHadGlass contest. If you aren’t included in any of these precious categories, here’s a little something to keep you occupied. Google has released a how-to video for their futuristic wearable technology and it brings you closer to the sleek hardware and the Android-powered user interface. Memorize the “getting started” clip above so that you’ll be ready to interact with your Glass when Google eventually decides to open its new product category to the masses.

Sony outs PS4 UI in system and mobile screenshots

Posted in Images,Technology by Scott Meisner on March 2nd, 2013

During the unveiling of PlayStation 4 last month, Sony briefly glimpsed at what the next-gen console’s user interface will look like this holiday season. Since then, however, a handful of images surfaced on the ‘Net giving gamers an extended look at the PS4’s UI both on the system and on mobile devices. Player profiles, the Share portal, game streaming powered by Ustream, and other menus with a social aspects baked in are all previewed. So without further ado, a gallery filled with shiny screenshots awaits.

[Via Engadget]

Google Glass, future wearable technology, exposes its simple user interface (new video & pictures inside)

Posted in Images,News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on February 23rd, 2013

This week Google launched a new online portal that sheds more light on its wearable technology previously labeled Project Glass, now called Google Glass. The search giant and Android maker first unveiled Glass in April 2012 to much fanfare in the tech crowd. Later in July at Google I/O 2012 the company brought it back on stage to keep the hype going. Pictures were posted and some specs floated around, but Google kept its intriguing concept still truly under wraps. And although it still hasn’t announced a hard release date or price, Google has officially lifted the veil on what exactly Glass can do in its current stage of production and the company is giving ordinary people the chance to experience Glass first-hand this year. (Click here for more…)

Google+ goes under the knife to provide a more streamlined experience

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on April 15th, 2012

The next time you login to Google’s social network things will look entirely different. That’s because the search giant has gone ahead and updated Google+’s interface practically from head to toe. You’ll notice that the static icons that used to live up top have been replace by a dynamic ribbon of applications that are now located to the left. Apps can be organized to your liking and quick actions can be accessed simply by hovering your cursor over them. Your list of Google+ and Gmail Chat buddies can be exposed to the right in a move that mimics Facebook’s sidebar. Other big changes include the Explore app that shows you “what’s hot” and trending on the network and Hangouts now has its very own page dedicated to informing you about open Hangouts you might be interested in joining. The new version of Google+ is currently rolling out to all members of Google’s social spot, so log in and explore the alterations and new additions today. After the break there’s a video highlighting it all.

[Via Google] (Click here for more…)

Twitter gets a new look, again

Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on December 11th, 2011

On Thursday Twitter announced that it’s rolling out another new look for its homepage. This time around, the desktop and mobile experiences are getting simpler and streamlined. (New) New Twitter is organized into four sections: Home, Connect, Discover, and Me. Let’s take a brief tour…

Home is home to your personal collection of tweets. The desktop version is organized into two columns. To the left there’s your personal info including your name, profile picture, your number of tweets, who you’re following, and your followers; there’s also a link to your profile page and a way to quickly compose and send out a tweet. Underneath that you’ll find follower suggestions and the trending topics list. To the right there’s the familiar list of incoming tweets from the people you follow. The new interface allows tweets that are attached with images and videos to expand so you can easily explore embedded media. Replying, retweeting, and favoriting tweets are all just one hover and click away.

Connect acts as a hub very much like the Activity Feed of the old Twitter. It’s the place where you’ll see who has followed or mentioned you, retweeted or favorited one of your tweets. Tweets are organized by Interactions and Mentions. A search bar sits at the top and you can use it to find and discover people by entering their @username or full name.

Discover highlights trending topics and stories that are being talked about on the social network. This section is organized like this: Stories, Activity, Who to follow, Find friends, and Browse categories. Stories that are shown to you are based on recent popularity as well as your connections, location and language. Activity shows everything your connections do related to the accounts that they follow. See who else your connections follow, their lists and what Tweets they favorite, retweet or reply to most. In Discover the search bar at the top allows you to enter a hashtag or keyword to further explore a topic of your choice.

Me servers as your profile page and it can be fully customized from here. A gallery of your recently tweeted photos and videos are stored here, as are your Direct Messages.

The new Twitter design is the network’s most simplistic to date, and best of all it transfers over to the mobile space too. Whether you’re accessing Twitter from a desktop or your cell phone the experience will be nearly identical. How do you enable the new look? Easy! Download and login to the latest versions of Twitter on your iPhone or Android device and then you should be able to access the new desktop version. Twitter says they’re working on rolling it out to all users “over the next few weeks.”

[Via Twitter 1, 2]

Gmail takes a bold step forward with new look [Update: official iOS app released]

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on November 1st, 2011

Today Google flipped the switch and transformed Gmail with a new look. It was previewed back in July and now it’s ready for primetime. The navigation panel on the left is more customizable;  you can resize the labels and chat areas depending on which section you access most often. Search has been upgraded, too. The search box up top now features a drop box with helpful options that should make finding exactly what you’re looking for easier and faster. You can also create filters from search queries. Emails have been aesthetically transformed to look like streamlined conversations. Profiles pictures for your contacts show up inside emails and unneccesary text has been stripped out of view making reading a conversation a better experience. In addition, Google has figured out a way to make the Gmail window fit your screen perfectly; the spacing between elements on the screen will automatically change based on the kind of display you’re using. In the settings menu, you can play around with display density and manually select “comfortable,” “cozy,” and “compact” views. Last, the Gmail team has added high resolution themes to the mix. They say most of the popular themes have been upgraded to HD, so the switch on your end should happen automatically. The new look has rolled out to everyone today; to enable it simply click the “Switch to the new look” link located at the bottom right in Gmail. There’s a brief video highlighting these changes after the break.

Update (11/3): Today Google finally released an official Gmail app for iOS devices. Google says they’ve “combined your favorite features from the Gmail mobile web app and iOS into one app so you can be more productive on the go.” The Gmail app promises to bring speed, efficiency, and optimized touch input to the table. The iPad version takes advantage of the larger display, naturally. Moments after Google released the Gmail app into the wild, unfortunately, they pulled it from the App Store due to “a bug which broke notifications.” As soon as the app returns to the Store you will be notified.

Update 2 (11/16): And it’s back! Get your download on right here.

[Via GoogleBlog; GmailBlog] (Click here for more…)

Facebook redesigns profile pages with Timeline, partners with app developers to make things more social

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on September 22nd, 2011

Hot off the heels of updating the News Feed and adding the Ticker, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced more changes coming to the social network at today’s F8 developer conference.


Your profile page is about to undergo an extreme makeover. The page is becoming wider to offer up more content at a glance and it will house three distinct sections: Cover, Stories, and Apps. Your Cover is dominated by an enlarged image, something that is separate from your profile picture and better expresses who you are. Your Cover can be personalized at any time and with any image you uploaded to Facebook. This section of the profile also shows off your About info (where you live, where you went to school, your job, your relationship status, etc.) and it also gives your friends a quick glance at your total number of friends, photos, likes, etc. Directly below that section is your Stories; this is an enhanced version of your Wall and it’s defined by an integrated Timeline. The Timeline makes it easier to highlight and go back to older posts. Up until the introduction of this new interface, the only way to see go back and see post from the past is to scroll all the way down to the bottom of your profile page and click “Older posts.” Users are forced to keep clicking that link to dig into the past. With Timeline, the past is easier to rediscover with the ability to highlight past memories that you don’t want people to forget happened so fast. All the content you ever posted on Facebook can be scrubbed through by date (month, year). And the Timeline is totally customizable; you can go back to a particular date and add events and pictures that you might have forgotten to post at the time they occurred. You can mark (or “star”) your favorite stories and these will expand to widescreen so your friends can see them more clearly. You can also remove the stories you want to hide. In addition to your Stories, the Timeline section of your profile page will also highlight apps.

Social apps

Facebook has offered apps in the past, but never like this. Zuckerberg and company have teamed with more than a handful of third-party developers to make apps more social on Facebook. Here’s an example: You’re an avid user of the new music streaming service Spotify and you’ve connected your Facebook account to your Spotify account. Since you’ve been using Spotify when it launched earlier this summer in the US, you’ve been listening to tunes and sharing what kind of music you listen to with your friends over Facebook. Today Facebook is bringing the listening and sharing experience to a whole new level. When you tell Spotify to share your listening habits to your Facebook friends, not only will they see what you are listening to but they’ll also be able to play the song directly within Facebook (granted your friends also signed up for Spotify). This will make music discovery simpler and definitely more social. And the world of social apps only begins with music. Facebook also partnered with major developers like Netflix, CNN, Kobo, and Foodily to make sharing what movies you’re watching, news and books you’re reading, and recipes you’re cooking a whole lot more engaging. The social apps you use regularly will show up in your friends’ News Feeds and Tickers and of course inside your profile page on your Timeline alongside the rest of your Stories.

In sum, Facebook wants your profile page to evolve into “the story of your life.” It will become the place where you and your friends can see what you’re all about and discover your life accomplishments as they happen. And with social apps, you and your friends will have greater access to sharing and engaging in conversation around similar interests you may never have known existed. Users tend to lambast Facebook for messing around with the interface on a regular basis, but it’s tough (at least for me) to deny the sheer amount of potential social apps have for the future of online interaction and discovery. And with Timeline, you won’t have to worry about your most exciting and interesting posts getting lost in the past. Of course, it’s tough to say how effective all of this is going to be without having played around with it. Facebook says social apps are rolling out today and the new profile design is going out to developers now and will slowly trickle out to all users soon. For now click here to view a sample “New Profile” and start getting used to the future of social networking.

[Via Facebook] (Click here for more…)

Facebook “improves” News Feed, Friend Lists; adds Subscribe Button and Ticker

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on September 21st, 2011

Logged into Facebook recently? What was your reaction to the new look? Are you joining the bandwagon and hating on Zuckerberg and company for changing the ways things operate on the world’s most prolific social network yet again? Or maybe you are taking a liking to the new features just tacked onto the site. Whatever your feeling, it’s time you got used to these transformations in appearance and functionality. It’s not like you’re jumping ship and joining Google+ anytime soon (or are you?). Take my hand and let’s tour all of the “improvements” and additions Facebook integrated into the site almost overnight.

News Feed

The News Feed is no longer split up into two separate sections. Top Stories and Most Recent are now combined into one flowing, constantly updating list. Here’s how Facebook describes it: “All your news will be in a single stream with the most interesting stories featured at the top. If you haven’t visited Facebook for a while, the first things you’ll see are top photos and statuses posted while you’ve been away. They’re marked with an easy-to-spot blue corner. If you check Facebook more frequently, you’ll see the most recent stories first. Photos will also be bigger and easier to enjoy while you’re scrolling through.” Facebook considers “the most interesting stories” to be the status updates, photos, and links that are commented on most. When you see posts that interest you, there’s now an option to mark it as a “Top Story” and this is done by clicking blue corner. Tap it again and Facebook will say “We’ll try not to put more stories like this at the top of your News Feed.” In other words, you can teach Facebook what stories interest you from which friends and hide the ones that you don’t care to see. In sum, the updated News Feed will provide you with friends’ posts depending upon how frequently you visit the site.

The Subscribe Button

The new Subscribe button allows you to tweak exactly what you see in your News Feed. Facebook says you can use it to: “1. Choose what you see from people in News Feed; 2. Hear from people, even if you’re not friends; and 3. Let people hear from you, even if you’re not friends.” In your News Feed, you already see what your friends are posting; with the Subscribe button you can choose how much you see from them–“all updates,” “most updates,” and “important updates only.” Things can be broken down even further. You can decide what types of updates you see; for example, “you could see just photos from one friend, no stories about games from another, and nothing at all from someone else.” Simply hover your mouse over a story in your News Feed and a transparent arrow appears; click it to enter a drop down menu with Subscription settings. You can also subscribe to people you aren’t friends with, like musicians and political figures. If they have a Subscribe button on their profile page, click it and you will receive their public posts in your News Feed. If you want to add a Subscribe button to your profile and allow anyone to view your public posts, click here to activate it.

Friend Lists

Facebook has ripped a page from Google+’s playbook to improve the way users organize their friends. Much like Google+, Facebook has made it easier to add and place friends into specific categories, such as School and Work. “Smart lists” are created by Facebook and automatically group your friends together based on location, school, family, etc. For example, “if you list Boston College as a school you’ve attended and your friends John and Sarah do too, then you would instantly have a smart list called “Boston College” with John and Sarah on it.” Facebook has also created Close friends and Acquaintances lists; you can manage these lists yourself and place the appropriate people in them. The Restricted list is for your parents or bosses, people that you want to hide most of your content from; they will only see your Public posts. In fact, you can create as many lists as you like, edit them, and name them whatever you like. Very reminiscent of Circles, eh? Once a list is created, it will appear on the left-hand side of the webpage. When you click a list, your News Feed will show you top and recent stories only from the people in that list. Also, when you go to share a post you now have the option to share content specifically to one or more lists and only the people in them will see it. Facebook is making it easy to get your lists started. From now on when you go to add a new friend or accept a friend request, you will be prompted to add that person to a list (just like Google+ when it forces you to add a new friend to a Circle).


In the top right corner of the webpage, directly integrated into the sidebar is a new feature called Ticker. In essence, it shows you all of your friends’ Facebook actions in real time. “Now when a friend comments, asks a question or shares something like a check in, you’ll be able to join the conversation right away. Click on anything in ticker to see the full story and chime in – without losing your place.” It’s a miniaturized version of the News Feed, and Facebook thinks it makes it easier and faster to see what your friends are up to and initiate conversations around their posts.

[Via Facebook 1, 2, 3] (Click here for more…)

ESPN on Xbox LIVE gets a makeover

Posted in Images,News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on August 29th, 2011

The ESPN app on Xbox Live is getting its first major update since it launched last summer. The dashboard can be customized to feature your favorite sports teams so fans can see a daily feed of news and highlights from those specific teams; the addition of the ESPN BottomLine keeps fans in the know with breaking news and score updates; a Mini Guide can be called up from the bottom of the screen to give fans a preview and quick access to personalized sports content; and Reminders and Live Alerts can be set. Two new features that stand out are Split Screen and Voice Control with Kinect. Fans can watch two events at once (i.e. watch live events on both screens or a live event on one while catching up on news and highlights on the other) and they can navigate through the Content Guide, skip to the next highlight, or play, pause, and rewind plays through voice control.

Remember that access to live events is only available to customers of an affiliated service provider; if you’ve got that and you’re an Xbox LIVE Gold Member you’re set! Screenshots below, demo videos and full PR after the break.

[Via Engadget; ESPN]

(Click here for more…)

Google+ …what comes after Facebook? A comprehensive tour of Google’s attempt at social.

Posted in Image cache,News,Technology by Scott Meisner on June 30th, 2011

Google is the king of search. But when it comes to social networking…well, we only have to look at Wave (an experiment that failed) and Buzz (a Twitter competitor that never caught on) for that answer. With Google+, the search giant takes aim at Facebook and it wants to become the destination for socializing with the people you know and the ones you’ll make down the road. The Google+ Project is currently in “Field Test” mode meaning that the company is still working out the kinks and tweaking and adding features to the service while a small selection of users try it out. The project is by invitation-only, and I was able to snag an invite earlier today. Read on after the break as I take you on a tour through the interface and the handful of features the service currently offers.

(Click here for more…)

Google intros Voice Actions, Chrome to Phone; updates Gmail UI and contacts section, enables multiple account sign-in

Posted in News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on August 15th, 2010

On Thursday Google introduced a new app for Android devices called Voice Actions.  “Voice Actions are a series of spoken commands that let you control your phone using your voice.”  Sounds simple and yet it is extremely helpful.  There are a total of twelve voice actions you can perform by speaking into the device’s mic.  Including the already implemented method of performing a Google search with your voice, other actions include:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]
  • set alarim for [time]
  • Here’s how a number of them work.  You can complete a text message or email without touching the (physical or on-screen) keyboard simply by saying “send text to Bill Will” or “send email to Bill Will” respectively.  The phone will take a second to understand your speech input and then present your message all ready for delivery.  Tapping send will shoot your message off.  Speak and send, it’s that simple.  Voice actions extend beyond text messaging and emailing.  Say there’s a restaurant you want to call to make reservations for dinner.  You know the name and location of the restaurant, but you don’t have the business’ phone number handy.  You could bring up the browser and find the number that way, but with voice actions you can more quickly and efficiently obtain and dial the restaurant’s number.  The voice action “Call Sarabeth’s in NYC” will prompt your device to quickly search the Internet (using Google Maps)  for the restaurant’s phone number by pinging the name and specific location.  Within seconds of your voice action you’ll hear your phone ringing the restaurant or place of business.  You can even use voice actions to find and listen to music.  When you say “Listen to The Decemberists” your phone will search across your music library and any number of related apps (Pandora,, etc.) to start playing music from that particular band.  “Note to self”, as cliche as it sounds, serves as another interesting voice action that’ll likely come in handy from time to time.

    Voice Actions require Android 2.2 (Froyo) and they are currently available for U.S. English speakers only.  Droid 2 owners will find the app preinstalled on their device.  If you have an Android 2.2 device, search ‘Voice Search’ in the Android Market to find the free download.

    Google also announced Chrome to Phone, a Chrome browser extention and Android app that communicate with each other to send browser-specific information from your desktop to your phone.  Once you have Chrome to Phone installed on your desktop and phone, you can send websites, directions, and phone numbers from your desktop Chrome browser to your Android device.  For example, say you’re catching up on national news at The New York Times website but you are interuppted and forced to leave home.  Simply tap the new phone icon located at the top right corner of your Chrome browser window and the website will appear on your Android phone.  Now let’s say you are planning a road trip using Google Maps in Chrome.  Instead of wasting paper by printing out the directions, now you can send the directions from your desktop to your phone.  The instant transfer will automatically open up the Google Maps app on your phone and you’re just a tap away from initiating a Google Maps Navigation route using the transferred location information.  One more example.  You want to make a reservation at Sarabeth’s in NYC and you found the restaurant’s phone number on your desktop.  Ready to make the call?  Highlight the phone number, tap the new phone button in Chrome, and the transfer will bring up your phone’s dialer prepopulated with the restaurant’s number.

    The Google Chrome to Phone Extention is available (in English only) to download today.  The free Chrome to Phone app requires Android 2.2 (Froyo) and can be found in the Android Market by searching ‘Chrome to Phone.’

    Look after the break to learn about Gmail’s latest updates.  There you’ll also find brief video demonstrations for Voice Actions and Chrome to Phone. (Click here for more…)

    Google spruces up Images portal

    Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on July 22nd, 2010

    This week Google pushed out the most significant overhaul of Google Images since it was introduced way back in 2001.  The instantly recognizable cosmetic changes?  The portal has gone textless, opting for a tiled layout with instant scrolling.  When you input a keyword, Google will present 1,000 related images to you, allowing you to instantly scrub through the content without the hastle of clicking through various pages.  Since the text is gone, larger thumbnail previews result.  Where’d all the text go, you ask?  If you hover over a particular image, a “hover pane” will pop up and show you the image size, name, source, and Google’s “similar images” option.  When you click an image you are brought to a new landing page; the image will be produced on top of its source’s website.  When you click anywhere outside the image it disappears and reveals the source page so you can see exactly where it’s coming from.  Optimized keyboard navigation and Image Search Ads round out the updates.  Google is rolling out the new interface worldwide over the course of this week.  Check in now to see if you’ve got it.

    [Via GoogleBlog]

    MIT students watch Minority Report, make the “glove mouse” a reality

    Posted in Images,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on April 8th, 2010

    Controlling a computer using nothing but your hands.  A feat we’ve all seen done before by Mr. Cruise in Minority Report.  As part of a final project in a digital media course, a couple of MIT students have created an extremely crude version of what we saw in the sci-fi movie.  Using gloves with LED tips and a webcam, the students demo how an on-screen image can be manipulated with various hand gestures.  So we’re not there yet, but at least we’re moving forward.  Take a look at the gloves in the gallery below.

    [Via MIT; Engadget]

    YouTube gets a facelift

    Posted in News,Technology by Scott Meisner on April 3rd, 2010

    YouTube has gone ahead and given itself a makeover, pretty much making everything a whole lot more streamlined.  The overall look is stripped down and clean, making the video player the most prominent part of the screen real estate.  In the past, the user’s video information was placed in an expandable box to the right of the video.  All of that has been move and broken up into two different place.  Directly above the video player you’ll find the username link, more videos from that same user (when clicked it expands down to reveal a horizontal list of all their uploaded videos), and a subscribe button to subscribe to all of their videos.  Directly below the player you’ll find the video description that expands down to show category, tags, and more information about the video.  Next to the video description is the Views total; not only does it tell you the number of view the video has, but it can also be expanded down to share stats, links, and honors associated with the video.  Underneath the video description you’ll find a panel of buttons called the Actions Bar.  First there’s the new ratings system; a thumbs up/thumbs down model replaces the original 5 star rating system.  The Save To button allows you to favorite a video or add it to one of your playlists.  The Share button allows you to share the video via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Lastly there’s the Embed and Flag buttons, to copy the video inside another website and flag a video as inappropriate, respectively.  If you happen to click on any video in a playlist, you will find the Next Up box, located in the top-right of the page.  Next Up makes for a consistent viewing experience; depending on what you search, the Next Up box will queue up videos related to your search.  And, if the auto-play option is turned on, the video player will automatically play the next video in the series as soon as the previous one is finished.  The video player itself hasn’t really changed much.  It includes the full screen and ‘make wider’ buttons, scrubbing controls with real-time time stamps, volume, and video quality options (360p to 1080p HD).  Other neat updates include Closed Captioning (which can be turned on in certain videos where you find the Annotations toggle) and a cleaned up comment section.

    Overall, the YouTube facelift really enhances the user experience.  Everything is organized, tidied up, and looking better than ever.  If it weren’t for those pesky ads, the whole thing would be downright perfect.

    [Via YouTubeBlog]

    Microsoft details WP7S at MIX’10: developers, developers, developers

    Posted in Images,News,Technology,Video by Scott Meisner on March 20th, 2010

    This past week Microsoft revealed more details surrounding its brand new mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7 Series.  During their WP7S launch event last month, Microsoft showed off all the UI basics and promised more information to come this month at their annual conference held for developers and web designers called MIX.  And boy did they deliver.  MIX’10 proved to be a highly informative conference, focusing on how developers will get their applications onto WP7S devices.

    Technical details.  Third-party developers will have access to XNA and Silverlight tools to create applications for WP7S devices.  Microsoft is offering free dev tools, providing Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone and Expression Blend for Windows Phone, to get things started.  In addition to these programs, developers also have access to many services like Microsoft Location Service, allowing devs to make their apps location-aware, and Microsoft’s Notification Service, a push notification system much akin to Apple’s that allows devs to send notifications to users of their apps, regardless of the app being open.  Notifications slide down in a tray at the top of the screen (less obtrusive than Apple’s pop up way of doing it).  Other prominent services that devs are given include multitouch, accelerometer, and camera & microphone support.  If you are a developer or know someone who is a developer, Microsoft is offering free beta versions of the dev tools today at

    Where will all the apps be sold, you ask?  In the Windows Phone Marketplace, of course!  Just like the rest of the hubs, the Marketplace hub will be “panoramic,” meaning menus are opened with left and right slide gestures.  Microsoft is encouraging all developers to create trial versions of their full apps.  The Marketplace supports credit card purchases, operator billing, and ad-supported content.  Purchased apps can be pinned to the user’s home screen for easy access.  Finally, the revunue split:  70% goes to the publisher, 30% to Microsoft.

    Marketplace partners.  Microsoft announced the first slew of app partners and they include exciting picks like Pandora, Sling, Shazam, EA Mobile, Namco, Foursquare, and the Associated Press.  Look after the break for a full listing of all partners.  A majority of the demos show that at least this initial batch of apps will deeply integrate with the WP7S look and feel (think panoramic views and shiny, sleek interfaces).  Many of them show off 3D animations, incorporate images and video, and they can reach into your local content (like a photo editing app opening up a picture you took).  The most interesting app demo came from Netflix.  They demoed a prototype app that supports Watch Instantly, allowing a subscriber to browse and watch their Netflix collection on the go.  Unfortunately this was being pushed as a concept, and we likely won’t see anything like it for some time.  Another exciting app demo showed off the gaming capabilities of WP7S devices.  The Harvest is a 3D Xbox Live-supported title that excited developers with its gorgeous graphics, destructable environments, and Xbox Live in-game leaderboard, gamerscore, and acheivement support.  Look in the gallery below for screenshots from some apps.

    Lingering questions are answered.

    Multitasking: WP7S will not support true multitasking.  Microsoft’s first-party applications will run in the background when exited, but third-party apps will remain in a suspended state until the device needs additional resources.  For example, Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and the Zune music player will run in the background, but other apps like Yelp will be forced to quit when not in direct use at any point without notification when you start opening other apps and the device needs to access more resources.  This “intelligent app management” is also purportedly found in Google’s Android OS.

    Copy & paste: Following in the footsteps of its big competitor, WP7S will not support the copy & paste function at launch.  Apparently this was a conscious decision made by Microsoft; they believe cell phone users do not use this function very often.  Instead, Wp7S devices will use a data detection service that recognizes text input like phone numbers and addresses.  Hopefully they won’t take as long as Apple did with bringing clipboard functionality to its mobile OS.

    What’s contoso?: Contoso is the placeholder name Microsoft added to the Marketplace UI, and now we know its purpose for being there.  Microsoft has alloted a space in the Marketplace for phone carriers to put their own branded store.  So this is a separate place where Verizon Wireless can sell their content to users, for instance.

    Hardware minimum requirements: capacitive touch; A-GPS, accelerometer, compass, light and proximity sensors; 5 megapixel camera with flash and an independent camera button; 256MB RAM, 8GB Flash; DirectX 9 & codec acceleration; an ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion CPU; and Back, Start, and Search face buttons.  Initially Microsoft will require all handsets to boast a 800 x 480 (WVGA) resolution screen.  An update will allow for 320 x 480 (HVGA) screens at a later undisclosed date.

    Exsisting WP7S devices: At Mobile World Congress, we were introduced to the Asus model.  At MIX, two new devices were unveiled–a Samsung slate and LG slider (the first with a keyboard).

    All in all, MIX’10 was a huge invitational for all developers and Microsoft welcomed them with open arms.  Microsoft is making it extremely easy for developers to jump into Windows Phone 7 Series by offering free dev tools.  With their stringent hardware minumim requirements and terriffic initial batch of app partners, the apps out of the gate should look great and function well.  With graphics-intensive games like The Harvest linking Xbox Live to cell phones, Microsoft could very well raise the bar for mobile gaming, giving the App Store and its growing number of sub-par games (and even the likes of DS and PSP) a tremble in their boots.  I am really digging Microsoft’s start-from-the-ground-up mentality and I am excited to see what developers can do with their brand new mobile platform.  However, as many have pointed out, Microsoft is stuck in a classic case of Catch-22: Microsoft wants customers to choose WP7S phones and developers to write programs for them.  But developers won’t bother pushing their apps into the Windows Phone Marketplace if customers aren’t attracted to WP7S phones, and customers won’t purchase WP7S phones if they don’t offer a wide-ranging marketplace of apps!  Microsoft still has more work to do.  Priority number one?  Come up with a good marketing campaign.

    [Via Engadget, here, here, here, here & here; Gizmodo; Slashgear]

    (Click here for more…)

    JooJoo tablet updates its UI before launch

    Posted in Images,News,Technology by Scott Meisner on March 17th, 2010

    We first got wind of the JooJoo tablet back when Michael Arrington of TechCrunch was calling it the Crunchpad.  Flashforward to present day, and through a heated legal battle, one Chandra Rathakrishnan of Fusion Garage has taken over leadership of the forthcoming device.  When a product delay was announced in February due to capacitive touchscreen issues, Fusion Garage wasted little time to revamp the JooJoo’s user interface.  The most significant change can be found in the home screen (see above).  Instead of being limited to a solid color background, you can now customize it with a high-resolution image of your choice.  Navigation gestures have been updated, too.  The pinch-to-go-back gesture has been replaced with “a vertical swipe that brings down a status bar containing the home button, status indicators, browser navigation controls, and a combination address bar/search field.”  Also, there’s two new ways to scroll: “a two-finger scroll that works like a scroll wheel, and a single finger “pan” that works like a mouse arrow.”  You can choose from two on-screen keyboards–a standard, large keyboard and a smaller one designed for one hand that is less obstrusive.  In previous video demos, Flash video playback was questionable and Fusion Garage was quick to fix that.  Now Flash video plays fine, supporting a standard player, a “custom H.264 HD breakout player” and a wide range of codecs.  One more change, and it has to do with the hardware shell.  Fusion Garage has gone ahead and changed the backplate casing color from black to “champagne” (silver-ish).  Check out the gallery below for a few more images of the new UI and casing from Engadget.

    The JooJoo device was our dream tablet coming to life back in December.  With the introduction of the coveted iPad, however, the spotlight has shifted to Camp Apple.  Although the iPad has captured the mindshare of most tablet buyers, the JooJoo still looks like a solid device with an impressive UI and I am looking forward to its release into the wild.  With HP cowering behind the secretive Slate, the iPad and JooJoo will be the first to market with sleek and shiny new tablets, vying for consumer’s hearts.  The JooJoo is available for preorder today at $500, and Fushion Garage expects them to ship within 8-10 weeks.

    [Via Engadget; Gizmodo]