Apple ‘HomePod’ speaker to take on Amazon, Google

Aided by Siri digital assistant, device will be priced at $349 in December release

Apple will later this year release a ‘HomePod’ music-centric smart home speaker, challenging a market currently dominated by Amazon and Google in its latest move to weave deeper into people’s lives.

HomePod, aided by Apple’s Siri digital assistant, will be priced at $349 when it begins shipping in December in the United States, Australia and Britain, the tech giant announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

“We really believe it is going to take your home music experience to the next level,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said as he unveiled it.

HomePod will take on lower priced Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have had momentum in the arena of voice-controlled speakers capable of controlling smart appliances, fetching content from the internet and more.

It is designed to work with the Apple Music subscription service and can produce rich sound while tapping into the artificial intelligence power of Siri.

Apple Vice-President Phil Schiller said the company’s Siri team had tuned the assistant into a “musicologist” that learns the tastes of listeners and gets songs from the Internet cloud.

The speaker has the “power to rock the house,” according to Mr. Schiller, and the aim is to make HomePod a potent assistant for news, messages, weather, traffic, home controls and more.

HomePod capped a keynote presentation that included updates to Apple’s iPad and Mac laptop lines, and upgraded operating software enabling augmented reality for iPhones and iPads.

Playing to strength

Analysts said Apple is playing to its strength in the music industry by focusing on sound quality and its catalogue of songs.

“Apple is smart to frame the HomePod as a music-centric and audio-centric device rather than just another smart speaker or another home for Siri,” said Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson.

“The fact that Apple is claiming to marry really great and smart audio with a smart assistant and cloud music service makes this device unique in the market.”

Some industry insiders, however, note Apple will be under more pressure to improve the computing smarts of its Siri software in the face of offerings from rivals Google and Amazon.

Apple has given Siri new male and female voices, described as more natural and expressive, and added abilities such as translating English phrases into Chinese, French, German, Italian or Spanish.

Apple said it is also using ‘on-device learning’ to enable Siri to take people’s tastes into account.

Amazon has dominated the connected speakers category since 2014 when it introduced its first Echo, which responds to voice commands and allows users to order goods and control connected appliances.

Macs and iPads

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6% of the U.S. market, compared with 23.8% for Google Home.

Mr. Cook also used the Apple keynote to show off new iPad and Mac computer models, as well as provide glimpses at coming versions of the software powering the technology titan’s devices.

Apple senior Vice-President of software engineering Craig Federighi said the next Mac operating system will be named “High Sierra” in tribute to the California mountain range.

High Sierra features will include being able to stop unexpected videos from starting to play automatically when landing on web pages and ‘intelligent tracking prevention” that will prevent ads from following people about the internet.

High Sierra will be released later this year as a free update, according to Mr. Federighi.

Along with upgraded versions of iPad and Mac laptops, Apple unveiled an iMac Pro work station that had the computing built in behind the screen and was touted as the most powerful computer the company has ever made.

Ten new upgrades at Apple’s WWDC17

Apple’s Keynote conferences rarely disappoint. Every time they hold one, you come away dazzled by some game-changing announcement or the other. Yes, yes. We all know Apple now has a whole new and improved iOS 11 High Sierra, a better iPad Pro, a Watch 4 fitted with Siri, enhanced Photo-editing, Metal for VR, Amazon Prime video on Apple TV, the ARKit to rival Microsoft’s Hololens, the Homepod, and a whole host of other impressive tech.

But these are the usual big-ticket updates, the likes of which have become par for the course with the Worldwide Developers Conferences. So, what can we really take away from WWDC17?

Here are the ten most pertinent take-aways…

The Internet is actually doomed

Now that Apple has introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention in desktop Safari browsers, helping users avoid being persistently stalked by online advertisers, we shall witness a shift in online commerce and the third-party ecosystem. And this will either mean the price of data usage shoots way up or the Internet implodes as advertisers withdraw their investments in digital ad spaces. To be fair, this isn’t as bad as ad-blocking software — the ITP feature will not block ads per se, only advertisers won’t be able to track or profile you, the user.

Which is a great thing for your privacy, but rather harsh towards the product-placers who keep Internet affordable.

More bad news for advertisers…

That’s not all. Apple’s gone in for autoplay video blocking in Safari. You won’t have to do a treasure-hunt on a news article to locate and pause the video that started blaring loudly. But again, thwarting ad revenue to aid user convenience.

Oh well, at least this is only limited to desktops. Mobile Internet is safe. For now.

Siri just found a way to make you even dumber

One of the most annoying yet character-building exercises in life is when you’re on a long car-trip in unfamiliar country, with only Siri to rely on for your safe passage, and you end up in a lake.

 

But now, Siri just got its ability to mollycoddle you upgraded. She can now speak to you in a bunch of languages for your convenience, sounds more human-like with speech inflections, and works more closely with the Internet of Things to adapt more accurately to your reality.

ARkit makes desk-work ridiculously entertaining

Developing new properties like ‘fast, stable motion-tracking’, ‘plane estimation’, ‘ambient lighting estimation’, Apple has made a solid foray into Augmented Reality. It has taken the phrase ‘plain and boring’, and turned it on its head, into ‘plane and interesting’. But the real cool part is how all you need is a plane surface to create an entire Tolkien’s universe.

Or you can be plane and boring and just sit around watching a tea-cup hug a flat surface.

ARkit demo shows a virtual teacup and saucer generated on a flat real surface. | YouTube screengrab

Size doesn’t matter, but numbers do

After an inexplicably long time, Apple has put a NumPad on its Magic keyboard. Besides the numeric keypad, there are also a Home button, more function keys, and actual page-up and page-down buttons. And it has provided much delight to users.

@tim_cook Thank you thank you thank you for listening to pro users and introducing a Magic Keyboard w/ numeric keypad. So appreciated!

 

What’s more, the arrow keys have been enlarged too. So, all in all, the Apple Magic keyboard is much bigger. Apple may have a fetish for the small, but it’s great news that it recognises the importance of numbers too. It’s almost like Apple was embarrassed about this foible, because this upgrade found no mention in the actual demo, and was released silently later.

Millennials are about to get a bit more spendthrift

iMessage conversations between young people (read inveterate consumers) often showcase discussions around the latest new cool thing to buy. Caught in a torrent of excited OMGs, NoWays, and WeTotallyHaveToBuyThises, millennials can work up quite a crescendo of consumerism that need no longer be pegged back by navigational challenges.

View image on Twitter

That first time you use Apple Pay.

 

For, now that Apple Pay is on the grid and allowing peer-to-peer payments, and is integrated with iMessage, you don’t even have to quit your conversation or stop squealing in delight as you make that purchase.

Runners are going to trip over a lot more

If Minnie was about as quiet and un-distracting as a mouse, Apple Watch 4’s latest speaking watchfaces are right out of the Toy Story franchise.

Toy Story Apple Watch faces featuring Buzz, Jessie & Woody coming this fall with the watchOS 4 update -animated gif http://www.pixarpost.com/2017/06/toy-story-apple-watch.html 

 

Woody, Jesse and Buzz are quite a bit more expressive and zany, and can potentially make you trip over with distracted laughter after you ask watchOS 4’s Siri how long it’ll take for you to lose those four pounds.

Pack your typing fingers away

…Because iPhone cameras too can now read QR codes. Which means you will rarely have to type in URLs, or input a selection. Using your iPhone camera, you can point to and scan the QR code for a product, and get a prompt that takes you to straight to the relevant website, or make payments directly.

If developing the opposable thumb was what set homo sapiens apart from its simian ancestors, this update may be bad news for the already-quite-lazy human race’s chances at further evolution.

It’s either iOS Apps or worldwide Apocalypse

This time, Apple wasn’t just the harbinger of what technology is going to look like in the near future, but also went as far as to predict a total and complete collapse of society as we know it if iOS Apps were to somehow get deleted and disappear.

Apple’s showed a new video at depicting a world without apps — and it’s total chaos.

 

 

In that hilarious 3-minute video, Apple showed us how indispensable and cool its tech is. Or, how tragically our lives have become interwoven with it.

Futurama goes deeper than just being a funny animated series

Guess what the inside of the iMac looks like.

It looks like Futurama‘s Roberto, a mentally unstable supervillain robot with moves like a dagger.

View image on Twitter

Seems like the new iMac is dedicated to Roberto from Futurama?!? 😱

 

So, Apple — slow on the uptake in this respect — has finally made a real bid to embrace VR. The new and improved line of iMacs comes with heavily modified interior to make Apple products competitive for developers who want machines powerful enough to run VR rigs on. Going all the way up to Radeon Pro 580 and 8GB of VRAM, Apple is souping up its Graphics Processing Unit as well as making the screen much brighter.

It could be just a coincidence that this ambitious upgrade renders the iMac’s insides a doppelgänger of a criminally insane albeit fictional robot. But it could also be foreshadowing.

Apple unveils VR features on Mac, new iPhone software

Apple nodded to several up-and-coming technology trends, unveiling new device features touching on virtual reality, online privacy and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

New iMacs unveiled on last Monday at Apple’s annual conference for software programmers are getting better displays and graphics capabilities. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual reality experiences.

But Apple is late to the game on VR. Samsung and Google already have VR systems centred on their smartphones. Facebook, HTC and Sony have high-end VR systems, too.

Virtual reality has been described as the next big thing for decades. But so far, interest has been strongest among gamers, developers and hardware makers rather than everyday users.

Apple’s entry into the market could change this. Its entry into digital- music sales streaming with iTunes, or the smartphone market with the iPhone, upended those industries and took them to the masses.

Mac gets an upgrade

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the latest operating system for Mac computers. Called High Sierra, it recognises more faces automatically, which should make it easier to organise photos, and will offer more photo editing tools.

Safari, Apple’s web browser, seeks to make users’ online experience smoother and less annoying. It will allow users to automatically block auto-play videos by detecting videos that shouldn’t be playing when you open a webpage to read an article, for example.

The browser’s new “intelligent tracking prevention,” meanwhile, will use machine learning to identify and block digital—ad trackers in order to keep advertisers from following and profiling users. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

Watch the watch

Apple is also updating the operating software for its Apple Watch, including new watch faces, more personalized alerts that use machine learning to tailor information to you based on your routines and tastes.

It also enhanced its workout app to, for instance, support high intensity interval training. It will also be possible to exchange data between gym equipment and the watch.

In a nod to Amazon streaming fans, Apple is also bringing Amazon Prime to its Apple TV app.

New Google project digitises world’s top fashion archives

Anyone who has waited on a long, snaking line to get into a fashion exhibition at a top museum knows just how popular they’ve become and more broadly, how fashion is increasingly seen as a form of artistic and cultural expression.

Google Inc. is acknowledging this reality by expanding its Google Art Project — launched in 2011 to virtually link users with art collections around the world — to include fashion.

Up close

The new initiative, “We Wear Culture”, uses Google’s technology to connect fashion lovers to collections and exhibits at museums and other institutions, giving them the ability to not only view a garment, but to zoom in on the hem of a dress, examine a sleeve or a bit of embroidery on a gown up close, wander around an atelier, or sit down with Metropolitan Museum of Art costume restorers.

The project partners with more 180 cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Japan’s Kyoto Costume Institute, and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

The site also offers specially curated exhibits. You can click your way to, for example, a curated photo exhibit on Tokyo Street Style, or an exploration of women’s gowns in the 18th century. You can search by designer, or by their muse examining, say, Marilyn Monroe’s love of Ferragamo stiletto heels, via the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, Italy.

At a preview demonstration this week, Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute,explained that he wasn’t initially clued into the possibilities for fashion, because at the tech giant, “we all wear hoodies.”

But, he said, collaborating with an institution like the Met showed him that “art and fashion have a long history together.” The idea behind the new project, he said, is to tell the story or rather, the multiple stories behind fashion.

Inside story

There are several virtual reality films included in the project. A 360-degree video displays the Met’s conservation studio, with conservators explaining how they keep delicate clothing strong enough for display. One of the conservators explained that the team uses needles designed for eye surgeons.

It is the ultimate fragility of clothes, though, that makes the project appealing to museum curators, explained Andrew Bolton, the Costume Institute’s head curator. Many garments are too delicate to be permanently displayed but digitising a collection makes it viewable forever.

New Windows 10 version to come with better UI

Microsoft has released a new test version of Windows 10 that introduces new user interface (UI) for “Start” and “Action Center” features.

The new build number “16215” includes elements of the new “Fluent Design System”. “Fluent Design” is a revamp of “Microsoft Design Language 2” that includes guidelines for the designs and interactions used within software designed for all Windows 10 devices and platforms.

The new build is open for developers and members of ‘Windows Insider’ programme for testing before market release.

“Action Center” has been redesigned to provide much clearer information separation, hierarchy and also groups notifications together in a more coherent way from devices and apps.

“We heard your feedback, and in this build, you can now pin a website to the taskbar from Microsoft Edge. We will use the site’s icon to give you quick access to your favourite sites right from the taskbar. Simply select ‘Pin this page to the taskbar’ from the settings menu in Microsoft Edge,” said Dona Sarkar, Software Engineer, Windows and Devices Group, Microsoft, in a blog post on Friday.

In the new build, with your permission, personal assitant Cortana will now prompt you to create a reminder after noticing event posters in camera roll.

The company has also added a new “lasso” tool to circle the relevant information and Cortana will recognise the time and offer suggested follow-ups through a context menu.

Quantum Shift

The technology world is eagerly looking forward to the advent of the next generation of mobile connectivity, or 5G. Taking into its fold cutting-edge innovations like autonomous cars, smart cities and machine-to-machine communications, it will make the world more interconnected. It’s going to be so transformational that every technology company is gearing up to ensure they are fully equipped for the data-rich, ‘new world order’.

One of the companies that is leading research on this front is Intel. It recently announced the Xeon Processor Scalable family, which the company said represented the biggest platform advancement in this decade. The new product has the design flexibility to take on common applications and mission-critical operations, and also to harness actionable insights from areas like advanced real-time analytics and Artificial Intelligence.

In January, Intel unveiled a 5G modem, with the aim of augmenting computing power and access to cloud resources. The device, with speed exceeding 5Gbps, hundreds of MHz of aggregated bandwidth and ultra-low latency, would lead to significant improvement in the efficiency of self-driving cars, drones, smart-city facilities etc.

In the context of the huge data explosion, how can we get to the most relevant data quickly?

That will happen in two ways. With large amounts of data, you aren’t going to transport that across your network to data centres for aggregation. You need to have data aggregation at the edge of the network. And that will be a fundamental transformation as we move towards 5G. You’d see functions that exist in data centres distributed into the very fabric of the networks. So it’s compute and storage within the fabric of the network to deal with data explosion at the edge of the network, instead of overburdening the network infrastructure.

The other will be Deep Learning, where you have greater context and search precision around the information you are looking for. Essentially, the context of search will be rapidly residualised into data-retrieval criteria, which will quicken the access to the information that you need.

How different will the transition to 5G be?

The move from 4G to 5G will be as profound as the move from analogue to digital. It will be more than merely supporting mobile devices. It will support vehicles, drones, robots, aeroplanes, connected factories and connected cities.

5G is going to be as much about the transformation of the network and the services offered over the network, as it is going to be about the mobile environment. So the infrastructure is going to be tremendously evolved to support the explosive changes in the user environment.

What would the challenges be?

Most of us are familiar with megabytes per day of usage and gigabytes per month. But an autonomous vehicle, for instance, will generate through its sensors and navigational capabilities gigabytes per hour, and terabytes per day and perhaps petabytes per month. You can’t transport that amount of data, from say 150,000 cars, simultaneously. Your network infrastructure will grind to a halt.

How will the network of the future be?

With 5G, you will move from the network being a dimension for Internet telephony and mobile broadband, to the interconnectedness of everything. Smartphone and PC traffic, thought of as the burden of the network, will represent a small proportion of the network bandwidth and traffic.

So what Intel is doing is really reinventing the fabric of network architecture to be able to embed the compute and storage capabilities in the network elements themselves.

The network of the future will have more capability to adapt and evolve as the load and nature of the traffic changes. So concepts such as network function virtualisation and software-defined network would become very important.

5G will offer capabilities like network slicing. An operator can basically say my network is no longer a monolith. A part of the network capacity can be sliced and offered to a customer over here and create a virtual private network for that person.

We hear a lot about the way Artificial Intelligence will change our world. How much is hype and how much is reality?

There is a difference between setting a vision and practical implementation of that vision. I am sure when Orville and Wilbur Wright were going to emulate a bird and fly in the sky, a lot of people probably thought it is just as aspirational as having an automated car.

Maybe having cars driving around without drivers is utopian. But in an urban situation, if you move into autonomous control of the car, and you plug in a route, your route could be centrally planned. Traffic is distributed more optimally around various roads, so that everybody has a predictable way of getting to a certain location, as opposed to everybody thinking they know the fastest route and everyone taking that route.

Just as flight safety has been helped by the autopilot technology, it could be applicable to a vehicle as well. We have in many countries fairly advanced forms of automated driving, like for example, lane deviation, and we are very close to a point where you can go into a semi-automated driving mode. It is more of a legislative environment rather than the technology setting the timeline.

In the context of rapid digitisation in the country, are you partnering with projects?

The Indian government has made some very bold visions of the future through its Digital India initiatives, and a lot of the visions of the Prime Minister and the government in that regard are aligned closely with Intel’s view of the world. There are a lot of opportunities for us, and one of the things we are trying to figure out is what is the right constellation of partnerships and key activities.

Anything specific you are looking at?

When the time is appropriate, we will be able to say more. But certainly for us, India represents a tremendous opportunity, because our general strategic thinking is very much aligned with the whole Digital India programme, and there are a number of key players within India that have aligned thinking with Intel’s.

The technology world is eagerly looking forward to the advent of the next generation of mobile connectivity, or 5G. Taking into its fold cutting-edge innovations like autonomous cars, smart cities and machine-to-machine communications, it will make the world more interconnected. It’s going to be so transformational that every technology company is gearing up to ensure they are fully equipped for the data-rich, ‘new world order’.

One of the companies that is leading research on this front is Intel. It recently announced the Xeon Processor Scalable family, which the company said represented the biggest platform advancement in this decade. The new product has the design flexibility to take on common applications and mission-critical operations, and also to harness actionable insights from areas like advanced real-time analytics and Artificial Intelligence.

In January, Intel unveiled a 5G modem, with the aim of augmenting computing power and access to cloud resources. The device, with speed exceeding 5Gbps, hundreds of MHz of aggregated bandwidth and ultra-low latency, would lead to significant improvement in the efficiency of self-driving cars, drones, smart-city facilities etc.

Venkata Murthy Renduchintala, President, Client and Internet of Things Businesses and Systems Architecture Group, Intel Corporation, who was in Bengaluru recently, spoke to The Hindu on how 5G would pan out, its challenges and opportunities. Edited excerpts:

In the context of the huge data explosion, how can we get to the most relevant data quickly?

That will happen in two ways. With large amounts of data, you aren’t going to transport that across your network to data centres for aggregation. You need to have data aggregation at the edge of the network. And that will be a fundamental transformation as we move towards 5G. You’d see functions that exist in data centres distributed into the very fabric of the networks. So it’s compute and storage within the fabric of the network to deal with data explosion at the edge of the network, instead of overburdening the network infrastructure.

The other will be Deep Learning, where you have greater context and search precision around the information you are looking for. Essentially, the context of search will be rapidly residualised into data-retrieval criteria, which will quicken the access to the information that you need.

How different will the transition to 5G be?

The move from 4G to 5G will be as profound as the move from analogue to digital. It will be more than merely supporting mobile devices. It will support vehicles, drones, robots, aeroplanes, connected factories and connected cities.

5G is going to be as much about the transformation of the network and the services offered over the network, as it is going to be about the mobile environment. So the infrastructure is going to be tremendously evolved to support the explosive changes in the user environment.

What would the challenges be?

Most of us are familiar with megabytes per day of usage and gigabytes per month. But an autonomous vehicle, for instance, will generate through its sensors and navigational capabilities gigabytes per hour, and terabytes per day and perhaps petabytes per month. You can’t transport that amount of data, from say 150,000 cars, simultaneously. Your network infrastructure will grind to a halt.

How will the network of the future be?

With 5G, you will move from the network being a dimension for Internet telephony and mobile broadband, to the interconnectedness of everything. Smartphone and PC traffic, thought of as the burden of the network, will represent a small proportion of the network bandwidth and traffic.

So what Intel is doing is really reinventing the fabric of network architecture to be able to embed the compute and storage capabilities in the network elements themselves.

The network of the future will have more capability to adapt and evolve as the load and nature of the traffic changes. So concepts such as network function virtualisation and software-defined network would become very important.

5G will offer capabilities like network slicing. An operator can basically say my network is no longer a monolith. A part of the network capacity can be sliced and offered to a customer over here and create a virtual private network for that person.

We hear a lot about the way Artificial Intelligence will change our world. How much is hype and how much is reality?

There is a difference between setting a vision and practical implementation of that vision. I am sure when Orville and Wilbur Wright were going to emulate a bird and fly in the sky, a lot of people probably thought it is just as aspirational as having an automated car.

Maybe having cars driving around without drivers is utopian. But in an urban situation, if you move into autonomous control of the car, and you plug in a route, your route could be centrally planned. Traffic is distributed more optimally around various roads, so that everybody has a predictable way of getting to a certain location, as opposed to everybody thinking they know the fastest route and everyone taking that route.

Just as flight safety has been helped by the autopilot technology, it could be applicable to a vehicle as well. We have in many countries fairly advanced forms of automated driving, like for example, lane deviation, and we are very close to a point where you can go into a semi-automated driving mode. It is more of a legislative environment rather than the technology setting the timeline.

In the context of rapid digitisation in the country, are you partnering with projects?

The Indian government has made some very bold visions of the future through its Digital India initiatives, and a lot of the visions of the Prime Minister and the government in that regard are aligned closely with Intel’s view of the world. There are a lot of opportunities for us, and one of the things we are trying to figure out is what is the right constellation of partnerships and key activities.

Anything specific you are looking at?

When the time is appropriate, we will be able to say more. But certainly for us, India represents a tremendous opportunity, because our general strategic thinking is very much aligned with the whole Digital India programme, and there are a number of key players within India that have aligned thinking with Intel’s.

Microsoft challenges Sony with powerful new Xbox One X and ‘Assassin’s Creed’

Microsoft on Sunday unveiled Xbox One X, billing it as the most powerful video console ever made, and escalating a battle with market king PlayStation.

The $499 product was built with the muscle for seamless play on ultra-high definition 4K televisions and will be available worldwide on November 7, according to Xbox team leader Phil Spencer.

He introduced the much anticipated Xbox One X, called Scorpio during development, at a Microsoft event ahead of the official opening of the major Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

Aiming at the hearts of gamers, Microsoft also showed off 42 coming games, with 22 titles being tailored for exclusive play on Xbox One consoles.

Independent publishers tend to make blockbuster titles available for play on Xbox, PlayStation and personal computer hardware in an effort to sell creations to as broad an audience as possible.

Keenly-anticipated new games shown off here include a new installment of “Assassin’s Creed” from France-based Ubisoft, intended to reboot the long-running franchise by taking players back to the “origins” of the storyline in ancient Egypt.

Game play on 4K screens, whether they be televisions or personal computer monitors, is expected to be among themes at E3 this week. Enabling ultra-rich visuals also tunes into the budding trend toward virtual reality games.

Switch supplies tight

Sony PlayStation 4 has dominated the latest generation of consoles, outselling Xbox One by 2-to-1, according to industry trackers.

PS4 consoles from the outset could power virtual reality, and Sony sells head gear for those experiences.

PlayStation has also become the prime driver of revenue and profit at Japan-based entertainment giant Sony, according to executives.

“We are selling every single one we can make,” Sony Interactive Entertainment worldwide studios chairman Shawn Layden said of PS4.

Nintendo’s recently-launched Switch has been a winner, with fans snapping up the console and a “Legend of Zelda” game that has become a must-play title for fans.

Demand for Switch consoles has been so intense since its launch early this year that the consoles are tough to find in stores and Nintendo has reportedly doubled production.

Switch launched at the start of March and some 2.74 million were sold by the end of that month, according to Nintendo.

Hot Switch sales also boosted shares of the Japanese company, which ran into a tough patch after it failed to build on the popularity of the first generation of Wii consoles.

PS4 and Xbox One are both performing better in the market that their respective predecessors, and Nintendo “is back in a big way” with Switch, according to NPD analyst Mat Piscatella.

Sony has sold close to 60 million PS4 consoles and will reveal its latest innovations and offerings at a press event on Monday, according to executives.

“We are in the 4K world already,” Layden told AFP. “That is what the future of gaming is going to look like.”

Old games made new

Microsoft is also courting players by working to make more popular games from earlier Xbox console versions playable on its latest hardware.

Microsoft also just launched a subscription service for Xbox, letting players pay a monthly fee for access to a videogames library for its console.

Sony makes a library of videogames available as part of a subscription service for PlayStation consoles.

Google brings ‘Daydream View’ to India

Tech giant Google has launched its ‘Daydream View’ in the Indian market for Rs 6,499 as it attempts to cash in on the nascent, but growing virtual reality market in the country.

The VR headset, which competes with the likes of Samsung’s Gear VR and HTC’s premium offering, Vive, will allow users experience sports and live events in full 360-degree panoramic view.

Google’s Daydream View headset and controller will go on sale on the e-commerce platform, Flipkart. The device was launched in markets like the U.S, the U.K and Australia in November last year.

“Swim with a pod of dolphins, stand at the edge of a volcano and even visit Pluto with Daydream View. Users can teleport from virtually anywhere to pretty much everywhere. Our aim is to make the VR experience mobile so that customers can easily carry it anywhere with them,” Google Vice President Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Clay Bavor said.

He added that Google is working with developers, smartphone companies, and content creators to make VR accessible to all.

Daydream View, however, works with Google’s Pixel, Pixel XL and Moto Z currently and will soon be available for Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Daydream-ready phones are built with high-resolution displays, powerful mobile processors and high-fidelity sensors-all tuned to support great VR experiences, Google said.

Daydream’s controller is packed with sensors that respond precisely to a user’s movement and gestures, letting them interact with the virtual world the same way they would in the real world around them.

Some apps and games on Daydream include NYT VR, Guardian VR, The Turning Forest, Netflix VR, Google Play Movies, Within, Fantastic Beasts, The Arcslinger, Need for Speed No Limits VR, LEGO BrickHeadz Builder VR.

Future: flying cars and neural nets

There’s been a lot of talk about the technologies that will drive our future, and the companies that make them. The past couple of weeks have had some big companies make big announcements on new developments at the cutting edge of technology

Transport takes off

Let’s hope Uber drivers get better at using navigation technology, as they may soon be dealing with an extra dimension. The company recently held a summit for its proposed flying car programme, called Elevate, in Dallas, Texas, where it made it clear that it envisions having VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) vehicles operational in its fleet in select cities by 2020. To this end, the company is partnering with real estate companies, charging network operators and manufacturers of VTOL aircraft, all of whom are incentivised by having Uber’s massive customer base available to their finished product. Understandably, Dubai is one of the cities on board with the idea, and Texas has also expressed interest in participating in the programme. As with all ambitious projects, technical and legal hurdles lie ahead, but if this takes off (pun intended), the way we commute might be a whole different story at the end of the decade.

India is not isolated from the future of transportation technology. Hyperloop India is among the five shortlisted teams developing pods for SpaceX’s Hyperloop One Global Challenge, trying to bring serial entrepreneur Elon Musk’s dream for land-based transport at 1,000 km/hr a reality. Bengaluru-based WorkBench Projects has partnered with the team on pod design.

Speaking of Musk, the entrepreneur had recently responded to an Indian Twitter user’s query about his electric car company Tesla’s entry into India. While Musk stated that the local laws regarding localisation of parts would impact the entry timeline, the Indian Government’s Make In India handle promptly cleared up Musk’s misunderstanding of the laws, indicating that the powers that be are keeping an eye on the transportation revolution happening in the West.

Augmented humans

3D printing has been continuing its advances, most notably in the medical sector. While already used to create supplementary structures to allow collapsed body parts to recover, and in the creation of prosthetic limbs, the last week saw new advancements in the space. Scientists at the Northwestern University in Illinois induced fertility in mice using 3D printed ovaries, a step they believe will go a long way in helping cancer patients, rendered infertile by radiation treatment, conceive. The team managed to construct a durable structure by creating a lattice of gelatin, made up of broken down collagen, even allowing for blood vessels to form in the ovary.

A smarter assistant

All the big names in technology have been taking stabs at making personal assistants better. While they all did basic tasks like composing and responding to messages, opening apps and playing music, engineers are trying to push them to the next level by perfecting the little things.

Samsung’s Bixby, for instance, launched with the ability to tap into the phone’s camera to analyse objects and provide actionable information. Google has recently rolled out Lens, which effectively gives Assistant the same powers, while slowly expanding the extent to which its neural networks operate under the surface of phone interfaces. Google Photos now suggests image sharing based on people it identifies in images, and the company is even incorporating a specialised software engine called TensorFlow Lite into Android, to make the phone better at the mundane task of recognising text likely to be copied and pasted by the user.

In the larger scheme of things, the brainchild of Google’s DeepMind AI team, the Go-playing AlphaGo AI, is now slowly being accepted as being better than humans at the game — an impressive feat, given that Go has millions of potential move combinations available.

The AI, having beaten 9 dan world number one Ke Jie of China last week, is now being teamed with human players to enhance our own cognitive abilities by analysing the moves it makes in game.

This last week also saw one of the world’s leading technology writers, Walt Mossberg, end his columns on technology after a period of 26 years, more or less bookmarking the era of the technological revolution. In his last piece, ‘The Disappearing Computer’, Mossberg touches upon a future defined by ambient computing, where the device fades into the background, but the functionality is everywhere — a far cry from when he started reviewing clunky personal computers. At the rate that the future is closing in, sometime in the next few years, we may find ourselves dictating apologies about being late to our assistants as we fly to work — “Sorry boss, my Uber pilot landed on the wrong building.”

Android creator unveils new Essential phone, home assistant device

Andy Rubin, the co-creator of the Android mobile phone operating system, has launched a new company called Essential Products to sell a high-end smartphone and a home assistant device.

Palo Alto-based Essential said the new Essential Phone features an edge-to-edge screen, a titanium-and-ceramic case and dual cameras. The phone sells for $699 and will run the Android operating system. The price pits it against high-end smartphones including Apple Inc’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S8.

Essential also launched a household assistant called Home that looks like an angled hockey puck with a screen. The device will compete against the Amazon.com Echo and Alphabet’s Google Home speaker, which are powered by the Alexa and the Google Assistant voice services respectively.

Essential confirmed the Home device will let the user choose between Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. It was not immediately clear how Siri would be available on Essential. While Amazon and Google have released the software needed to embed their assistants on devices they do not make, Apple has not done so.

Essential declined to elaborate on how it plans to embed Siri on the device, and Apple declined to comment.

The Essential Home takes a page from Apple’s privacy play book. Like an iPhone, the Home will do much of the processing for voice and image recognition on the device itself rather than sending data to remote servers.

Essential also said the Home device will communicate with home appliances like lights and thermostats directly over the home network, rather than sending data to remote servers. Apple’s HomeKit system takes similar approach.

Rubin, Essential’s CEO, co-founded Android and sold it to Google in 2005. He ran Google’s mobile efforts until 2013 before a brief stint running the firm’s robotics division. He left Google in 2014 to focus on starting hardware companies.

Investors in Essential include Chinese tech company Tencent Holdings, iPhone contract manufacturer Foxconn , Redpoint Ventures and Altimeter Capital.

Essential plans to announce a ship date for the devices in the next few weeks. The company did not say whether it planned to sell the phone directly to customers online or in physical stores.

Essential for the first time revealed its staff on its website, listing Wolfgang Muller as head of channel sales. Muller previously ran North American retail operations for phone maker HTC, according to his LinkedIn profile, suggesting that Essential plans to sell phones through retail stores, carriers or both.