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World’s first foldable smartphone launched

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

California-based start-up Royole has beaten major players Huawei and Samsung in launching what it claims is the world’s first foldable smartphone.

Unveiled Wednesday at a conference in Beijing, the FlexPai mobile phone was made available to consumers in a flash sale on Thursday. Priced from 8,999 to 12,999 yuan ($1,295.49 to $1,871.33), the company said it would start delivering the phones in December.

Royole, a six-year-old components manufacturer, said FlexPai would “subvert people’s perception of traditional smart phones,” functioning as a portable device and a high-definition large screen tablet, with the capability to support dual-screen use.

During the press conference, Bill Liu, founder, and CEO of Royole, also announced that the firm would invest 200 million yuan into global firms that would develop apps and software for the device.

“The Royole FlexPai foldable smartphone provides mobile phone users with a revolutionary experience compared to traditional phones,” Liu said.

“It perfectly solves the contradiction between the high-definition large-screen experience and portability, which introduces a whole new dimension to the human-machine interface. The phone’s inherent design will forever change the consumer electronics industry, as well as the way people interact with and perceive their world.”

Courtesy: cnbc.com

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Facebook’s Virtual Reality Device Cost $399. Oculus Quest is Compelling but fails to solve some basics

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

Facebook on Wednesday unveiled the Oculus Quest, the company’s long-awaited, standalone virtual-reality headset that will go on sale in early 2019 for $399. I had a chance to try out two demos on the device.

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The Oculus Quest’s main advantage over other standalone VR headsets is its motion tracking technology. Unlike other portable headsets, the Quest is able to determine the motion of user’s head turns, hand gestures and overall body movement.

These capabilities were showcased on “Project Tennis Scramble,” a demo developed by Armature Studio. In the game, users play tennis as colorful avatars in a cartoon world, running around and swinging their arms in real life to move their avatars on the virtual court and hit the animated balls.

The Quest perfectly tracked my swings and the demo was a blast to play, especially when it emphasized elements of a tennis match that could only be possible in a virtual world, such as substituting the tennis racket and tennis ball for a cricket bat and ball.

Whether a demo like Project Tennis Scramble can ever succeed as a consumer game is an entirely different question.

Such a scenario requires that users have someone around to help them put on the Quest properly. They’ll also need access to rooms large enough to safely run around swinging their arms, blind to the real world, without breaking anything. For many folks, that type of space just isn’t available.

Just take a look at this photo, provided by Oculus, that suggests how it might be played in an apartment. Try to imagine the player, unable to see anything, getting through a virtual tennis game without running into the walls or furniture.

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Now look at the demo space Facebook actually used at its Oculus 5 conference. That’s a lot of space! If you need a whole tennis court, why not just play a real game of tennis?

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An attendee plays a virtual reality tennis game on the Oculus Quest at Facebook’s Oculus 5 event in September 2018.
Besides the spatial requirements, the Quest has other issues.

On “Face Your Fears 2,” a demo developed by Turtle Rock Studios, I found myself underwhelmed by the graphic-rendering abilities of the Quest. The horror game looked just fine, but it pales in comparison to the PlayStation 4 games I play every day.

I also felt nauseated when I was playing.

The demo required that I walk around, but the size of the room limited how much I could actually move, forcing me to use the Quest’s control joysticks to move the character. That felt unnatural and gave me motion sickness.

Another challenge for the Quest will simply be content. The two experiences I got to try were fine as demos, but there’s no chance I would ever drop $399 for the ability to play them. Oculus needs a killer title to draw in casual consumers, and it doesn’t have one yet.

The company said it will have more than 50 titles ready at launch. It also showed a short preview of “Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series,” an experience coming next year that will focus on Darth Vader. That title will surely attract some “Star Wars” fans.

Finally, there’s the question of battery life. The company declined to disclose any information on the battery, which raises doubts about users’ ability to play on the Quest for extended stretches of time.

The Quest has promise, but unless you’ve got $399, a large vacant room, someone to help you put on the headset each time you want to play and faith that great content will arrive, you may want to wait before lining up for this gadget.

New features coming to Google Assistant, including manners

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

Google made multiple major announcements related to the future of its Assistant today, including new voices, a feature to teach kids good manners, the ability to continue conversations, and Assistant being able to make phone calls on a user’s behalf.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai says he wants Assistant to be “natural and comfortable to talk to.” As such, users can now keep a conversation going with Assistant without repeatedly saying, “Hey Google,” to start every query. If you want to ask a question, you can keep asking more until you’ve reached a natural stopping point in the conversation. The feature, called continued conversations, should be available in the “coming weeks.” Amazon’s Alexa assistant already does this with its follow-up mode.

Assistant can now also handle multiple actions, that’ll let users ask for multiple things at a time.
Most interestingly, Google says Assistant will eventually be able to make phone calls for us. Users might be able to use Assistant to book appointments at salons or doctors’ offices. The live demo Google conducted showed Assistant making a phone call and then carrying out a conversation to book a hair appointment. It considered various time slots and compared them to the Assistant user’s calendar to find a convenient booking. The demo was incredibly impressive and natural sounding. It’s hard to believe it’ll work that well in the real world, but it would be life-altering if it did. This feature likely won’t be rolling out anytime soon, although Pichai says Assistant will soon automatically call businesses to ensure that it knows the correct hours, especially during holidays. You’ll see this information automatically updated in Google Search without knowing Assistant had to make a phone call.

The calling technology, called Duplex, is explained in a longer Google blog post that describes how the team is thinking about latency in responses and the Assistant’s natural cadence.

Director of product Lilian Rincon also demoed how voice controls will assist with more visual tasks, particularly with smart displays. Users will be able to ask Assistant to call up cooking videos and other video programming from YouTube. The Assistant is also getting a revamped look and experience on phones. It’ll act a lot more like Google Now and will call up a full-screen page of information when a question is asked. Smart home requests will also show up on the phone’s screen. The company has partnered with multiple food retailer chains, including Starbucks, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, to streamline food pickup. Users can ask for their “usual order” and Assistant will pull up what it thinks they’ll want. The Assistant will also come to navigation in Maps later this summer, and users will be able to use it to play music from YouTube without video and to get their ETA.

The company’s new “pretty please” feature teaches kids to be kind and say “please” and “thank you” to their Google Assistant-equipped device. The Assistant will thank kids for saying please and will call out when the kids have asked for something nicely. This might help them learn to not demand things from their Assistant. Finally, six new voices are coming to the Google Assistant, including some male voices, like one based off singer John Legend

The company said last week that its Assistant is now compatible with more than 5,000 home devices, which is up from only 1,500 in January. Today, it said Assistant will support more than 30 languages and will be in 80 countries by the end of the year. Google’s clearly focusing on its Assistant, both from a usability standpoint and its prominence in the public conscience. The company installed a huge brand activation at CES and aggressively started marketing its Alexa competitor. Beyond getting the word out, Google needs to keep adding these features in order to stay ahead of Amazon and beat it in the smart assistant race.

Facebook Rolls Out ‘Watch’ Video Service Globally

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

Facebook is rolling out its Watch video service globally one year after it launched in the United States with original entertainment news and sports content to compete with platforms like Alphabet’s YouTube.

Facebook’s Head of Video Fidji Simo said Watch was gaining real momentum in a crowded marketplace because it was built on the notion that watching videos could be a social activity.

“Every month more than 50 million people in the US come to watch videos for at least a minute on Watch, and total time spent watching video on Facebook Watch has increased by 14 times since the start of 2018,” she told reporters.

“With Watch … you can have a two-way conversation about the content with friends, other fans or even the creatives themselves.”

Facebook said eligible creators would be able to make money from their videos using its Ad Breaks service in Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as well as the United States from Thursday, with many more countries set to follow.

Simo said publishers were making “meaningful revenues” from its automated video advertising system on the platform, which has featured shows such as beauty mogul Huda Kattan’s “Huda Boss” and live “Major League Baseball” games.

“We know it’s been a long road but we’ve worked hard to ensure that the Ad Breaks experience is a good one for both our partners and our community,” she said.

Ad revenue will be split 55 percent for the content creator and 45 percent for Facebook, the same ratio as in the United States, Simo said.

Publishers need to have created three-minute videos that have generated more than 30,000 one-minute views in total over the past two months and must have 10,000 followers to participate in Ad Breaks, Facebook said.

Simo said Facebook was working on a variety of other options for creators to make money, such as branded content and the ability for fans to directly support their favourite creators through subscriptions.

“(Fan subscription) is something that is rolled out to a few creators now, but we are planning on expanding that program soon,” she said.

New Music-Focused AI Can Guess Your Tastes & Habits

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

A new AI program created by computer scientist Bruce Ferwerda of Switzerland’s Jönköping University and marketer Mark Graus from The Netherlands’ Maastricht University is supposedly able to figure out a person’s “musical sophistication” by checking out their Spotify. The AI looks to a number of metrics concerning a person’s music listening habits to determine their musical sophistication score, most notably what tracks they listen to and how often they do so. Based on this, the AI can tell how varied a person’s tastes are and even how likely they are to engage in “musical” behaviors, such as listening to a wide variety of different music or even exhibiting musical talent themselves.

The study that helped create and train the program centered on 61 participants. Between all of their top tracks on Spotify, the AI was given a list of 21,080 pieces of music to analyze. The tracks were analyzed using various Spotify API plugins, looking for things like valence, beats per minute, danceability, and how much of the tracks were instrumental, among other metrics.The participants were then surveyed about their music tastes and habits to create a profile for each of them that detailed things like how much they spent on music, from albums to instruments, along with their emotional responses to music and how often they could be found listening. All of this data was enough to classify the participants and create a scale of “musical sophistication”. The higher somebody’s score was, the more likely they were to be deeply involved in music. The most sophisticated individuals were those with extremely wide-ranging tastes who created music as well as consumed it.

The practical use cases of such an AI are many; it could be used to vet music school students, to help cater music playlists and discovery algorithms on music services for listeners, and even to help train the presumably more human-like AI of the future in how they should “feel” about music, just to name a few possible uses. As to real-world examples, Google already has a musical AI project known as Magenta, which serves as a baseline for music-focused projects to build from. Something like this could greatly expand the knowledge base and training data set of an AI like Magenta.

If your eyes or hands are busy? It’s okay, Now you can listen the news.

by Cinideep Sasikumar Cinideep Sasikumar No Comments

Back at Google I/O, Google launched the new Google News to help you keep up with the news that matters to you. Since then, millions of you have turned to Google News to follow the big stories of the day, subscribe to your favorite local and national publishers, and dig into topics and people you care about.

 

But there are moments in the day when you want to catch up on the news while your eyes or hands are busy. Maybe you’re listening to a podcast as you walk to work or catching up on what’s happening while driving to pick up the kids. We are beginning to bring the best of Google News to devices with the Google Assistant so that you can stay up to date wherever you are.

 

Last week, in the U.S., Lenovo launched the first of many Smart Displays with the Google Assistant. Smart Displays help you get more done with a glanceable touch screen and offer video or audio news briefings to catch you up on headlines, sports, politics, and more. You can choose your preferred news sources from hundreds of national and local broadcasters including CNBC, CNN, Cheddar and more. Just ask, “Hey Google, what’s the news?”

When you want to go deeper or learn more about a specific topic, ask the Assistant: “What’s the news on the women’s national soccer team?” or “What’s the latest on NASA?” The Google Assistant will find relevant videos from YouTube to play on your Smart Display, and on Assistant speakers like Google Home, it will read out excerpts from news articles from a growing list of publishers.

And whether you’re at home or on the go, the Assistant is there to help you stay informed. All these features are available today on Android phones and will soon be coming to Android Auto and Assistant-enabled headphones (including Google Pixel Buds).

Right now, these updates are coming to devices with the Google Assistant in the U.S. Google plan to learn from the U.S. launches and then expand further, so stay tuned for more as google grow the news on the Google Assistant community globally.

 

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