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Technology

27th June 2017

iOS 11 turns your iPad into a completely different machine

iOS has been around for 10 years. It’s hard to keep innovating after so many iterations. And yet, in many ways, iOS 11 feels like a completely new beast on the iPad. For the first time in years, it feels like Apple is taking risks with its operating system update.

I’ve been playing with a beta version of iOS 11 on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro for the past few weeks. While the final version of iOS 11 is not coming until later this fall, Apple just launched the public beta. Here’s a preview of what you can expect.

If you’re using an iPad, get ready to be disoriented by the update because the iPad simply doesn’t work the same way. Apple has completely changed the user experience with a big emphasis on multi-tasking. Everything seems more fluid and connected. For instance, you can drag and drop app files between multiple apps, drag an icon from the newly introduced dock to open a windowed app on top of your full-screen app and more.

More importantly, if you were using an iPad a few years ago and you’ve abandoned it in favor of your smartphone and laptop, iOS 11 is a fresh start and you should plug your old iPad and try it out.

I’m not going to list all the new features in iOS 11. You can go on Apple’s website to see them all. Instead, I’m going to focus on some of the most important changes.

When you install iOS 11, the first thing you’re going to notice is that the bottom row on your screen has been replaced by a macOS-like dock. You can put a dozen apps in that dock, and you can pull up that dock by swiping your finger from the bottom edge of the screen. It works even if you’re using an app already.

You can tap on an app icon and drag it on the side of the screen to open a narrow version of it. For instance, you can tap and drag the Messages icon to open up the Messages app. Once you’re done checking your new messages, you can dismiss the app and go back to your full-screen app. It works just like Slide Over in iOS 9 and iOS 10, but with a new presentation.

And if you need to use two apps at the same time, you can still open both of them using split view. You can easily replace one of the apps by dragging an icon from the dock and dropping it on one side of the screen.

With this new dock metaphor, you rarely go back to the home screen. It feels more like using a computer as you don’t go back to the desktop to open an app — you switch between apps using Cmd-Tab, the dock or the task bar.

The other massive change is the new app switcher. If you drag your finger from the bottom edge of the screen even more, you get an Exposé-like view with thumbnails of your most recent apps and spaces. For instance, you can switch between a space with Safari and Tweetbot opened side by side and a space with Ulysses filling up the screen.

This new app metaphor is just an example of a much bigger change under the hood. Apple has implemented a system-wide drag-and-drop gesture that lets you drag files and app icons from one place to another. Folders, app icons and menu items are all spring-loaded. While we’ll have to wait until the fall to see how it really works with third-party apps, it’s already quite impressive to see it in action. For instance, you can drag a photo from the Photos app, hover over the Notes app icon, navigate to a specific note while holding the photo and then drop it.

I can’t stress this enough. With iOS 11, you’re going to end up holding your finger on a file, pulling up the dock with your other hand and use your iPad like you’re in Minority Report.

And you can see that Apple is willing to switch things up as the company finally introduced a proper Files app. It’s going to support cloud services, such as Dropbox, Box and iCloud Drive.

Let’s list some of the other smaller changes. You can access numbers and punctuation on the main iPad keyboard by swiping down on keys. The Notes app feels more like Evernote because you can now scan documents. Your handwriting is also indexed so that you can search for it later and more.

I’m not going to lie to you. It takes time to get used to those new gestures. I’m not there yet, and I often find myself thinking about what I’m supposed to do to pull up Spotlight, look at my Today widgets and find an app that I don’t use very often.

iOS 9 introduced Split Screen and Slide Over. It was the first time Apple introduced new features for the iPad in particular. But with iOS 11, the company is going one step further and finally considers the iPad as a capable device that can be so much more than a bigger iPhone.

If you don’t have an iPad and don’t ever plan to get one, this year is a different update. While there are a few user-facing features, the most promising changes are going to take time. Developers will have to embrace new frameworks.

But first, let’s start with the main difference with iOS 10. Control Center has been completely redesigned. Instead of having two or three different cards, everything is now on one screen. Some shortcuts, such as volume control and AirDrop are tucked away. You need to use 3D Touch to expand controls and access these features.

Control Center is now also configurable, or at least a bit. For instance, you can add a shortcut to Low Power Mode or the Notes app.

The second thing you’re going to end up using a lot is the new annotation feature. When you capture a screenshot, iOS shows you a thumbnail in the corner so that you can use this screenshot instantly. You can crop it, draw stuff and share it right away. When you’re done, you can instantly delete the screenshot from your photos so that it doesn’t clutter your pretty photo library.

But the major changes are under the hood, starting with ARKit. Your iPhone camera just got much smarter. This augmented reality framework can detect a table and project a 3D object on this table. You can move around, put your phone closer and the 3D object reacts just like you’re looking at a real object. There is a ton of potential for games and apps. iOS developers have become AR experts overnight thanks to this framework.

? BOOM ? And just like that we have #ARKit measurement app number 2 https://t.co/cjfQMpHmx0 → by @laanlabs ? pic.twitter.com/U8QKFjiMXs

— Made With ARKit (@madewithARKit) June 25, 2017

Core ML is the other big technological update. Apple has been working on smart features for the Photos app for years. The company has turned that work into a general purpose framework so that you can build and execute machine learning models on the device.

With this preview post, I’m just scratching the surface of the new features in iOS 11. So here are everything else you didn’t know but you actually want to know:

It’s hard to cover everything about iOS 11 in just one post as your experience with this update is going to be very different if you’re using an iPad or just an iPhone. On the iPad, iOS 11 feels like a brand new operating system. Some things will need to be revisited and adjusted, but it’s an encouraging step for the tablet space.

On the iPhone, you’ll get a ton of small refinements. But the most promising changes are going to come from third-party developers taking advantage of new frameworks.

While iOS started as a constrained operating system with each app living in its own sandbox, Apple has been opening it up to third-party developers. It’s never been easier to build an app that competes directly with one of Apple’s default apps. Eventually, iPhone and iPad users benefit from Apple’s open approach.

27th June 2017

Apple just released the first iOS 11 beta to everyone

Are you excited about trying out the new features coming up with iOS 11? If so, Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 11 now available to download for everyone. You don’t need to pay $99 for a developer account to download it. But remember, it is still a beta.

While the company still plans to release the final version of iOS 11 this fall, Apple is going to release regular public betas over the summer. This way, the company can iron out the bugs and test new features on a large group of users.

Apple released the second developer beta just last week, so it’s safe to say that this first public beta is more or less the same build as the one in the developer channel.

But remember, you shouldn’t install an iOS beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. Some things won’t work while others might crash your phone altogether. Many developers will tell you horror stories about iPhones that simply don’t boot up because of a beta.

If you have an iOS device lying around, back up your device first. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by going to the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad. Even more important, plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual encrypted backup in iTunes. That’s the only way you can restore your iPhone or iPad to iOS 10 if things go wrong.

Then, here’s how to download it. Head over to this website and enroll your compatible iOS device. You have to install a configuration profile, reboot your device and update iOS like it’s a normal software update — AirDrop works well to transfer configuration profiles between your Apple devices. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 11.

iOS 11 features a ton of improvements for the iPad. You can now drag and drop files and app icons to open new apps, work with multiple apps at once and more. It’s a complete rethinking of the iPad user experience.

The iPhone is also getting many small and big improvements. The Photos app is going to learn new tricks, you can now send money in Messages using Apple Pay, and Control Center and lock screen are getting some much needed refinements.

Finally, there are some major changes under the hood, starting with ARKit and Core ML. Many third-party developers are already working on augmented reality apps and features as it has become much easier to turn the iPhone camera into an AR-enabled device.

While you’re downloading the beta, why don’t you head over to our early look of iOS 11. This way, you’ll learn everything you need to know about iOS 11 so you can impress your friends with the new features.

27th June 2017

Amazon is turning every Echo device into an intercom

If you’ve got multiple Amazon Echo devices throughout your home, you’ll soon be able to use them as a connected intercom. Amazon just launched the feature today across the original Echo, Echo Dot and its new screen-toting Echo Show. We heard last month that the intercom capability was in the works, and it seemed like a given once Amazon brought hands-free calling and messaging across the Echo family. The company is rolling out the feature over the next few days, but be sure to update your Alexa app to access it.

We haven’t had a chance to test out the intercom feature yet, but it seems pretty straightforward. You just have to name your Echo devices by room and enable the “drop-in” feature in the Alexa App. After that, you can tell Alexa to call or drop in to a specific Echo device. Even better, you can also use the intercom feature when you’re away from home through the Alexa app.

While the idea of a home intercom might seem a bit antiquated in our hyperconnected lives, it makes sense for the Echo devices. Many Echo owners end up buying multiple devices, and it’s not that difficult for Amazon to add room-to-room communication. And, most importantly, it cements the Echo family as something essential to your daily life.

27th June 2017

Here are the games on Japan’s Super NES Classic Edition

Nintendo announced earlier today that it will release the Super NES Classic Edition this September in North America and Europe. The wee version of Nintendo’s 16-bit console comes packed with two controllers and 21 built-in games, the company said.

But Nintendo of Japan was quiet about the release of a Classic Edition-style Super Famicom for Japan, until now.

Japan will get the Nintendo Classic Mini Super Famicom this October, and it looks a lot like the model coming to Europe (which is based on the original Super Famicom design). But the list of included software for Japan differs from what Nintendo fans will get in North America and Europe.

The Japanese release of the Nintendo Classic Mini Super Famicom includes Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyūshutsu Emaki (aka Legend of the Mystical Ninja); Panel de Pon, which came stateside as Tetris Attack; Super Formation Soccer (aka Super Soccer); and Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem. The mini Super Famicom will also ship with a different Street Fighter game: Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers instead of Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting.

The Nintendo Classic Mini Super Famicom will ship with the following 21 games built in:

The mini Super Famicom will cost 7,980 yen (about $71) and will be released in Japan on Oct. 5. The box art looks nice.

27th June 2017

Former Valve initiative CastAR shuts down

CastAR, the augmented reality start-up co-created by two former Valve employees, laid off its staff, shut down internal studio Eat Sleep Play and closed its doors today, according to now former employees.

Less than 70 people have been laid off between the Palo Alto headquarters and its Salt Lake City studio which was comprised of former Eat Sleep Play and Avalanche Software employees.

A core group of employees are working to try and sell the existing technology, a source tells Polygon.

We’ve reached out to CastAR and Eat Sleep Play for further comment and will update this story when they reply.

Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson launched the company in 2013 after leaving Valve with permission to take their AR research with them.

The company, which had plans to launch its self-contained AR glasses later this year, was backed by finance group Playground. But, according to former employees, Playground Global declined to invest any more in the company last week. The company also failed to land any Series B funding from other potential investors.

Related

With no current backing and no future financial prospects, the company was left without any money and was forced to shut down.

The layoff news hit this evening. The entire staff of the Palo Alto company was called into a big meeting and told the news, according to those present. Everything is being liquidated, they were told.

The news comes months after co-founder Ellsworth spoke to Polygon at length about her past and the future of augmented reality and CastAR.

The tech behind CastAR came out of work Ellsworth and Johnson did while researching hardware, AR and VR at Valve. When Valve decided not to back AR, the company allowed the duo to leave with the research to form their own company.

Technical Illusions (which would eventually be renamed CastAR) launched a CastAR Kickstarter in October 2013; the campaign hit its $400,000 goal 56 hours later. By the time it wrapped up, the funding drive had raked in a bit more than a million dollars.

With that first million, the company made developer units and got them out to a bunch of the Kickstarter backers and developers. Then it raised some seed money and used it to move out of Johnson’s home and into a real office in Silicon Valley. Once moved, the company went to venture fund and design studio Playground Global to raise $15 million. It was Andy Rubin, one of the fund’s founders and creator of Android, who not only backed the concept, but convinced Ellsworth and Johnson to essentially start from scratch.

They knew that the Kickstarter product was really not the sort of device they had always wanted to create. They wanted a self-contained unit that is its own sort of platform.

So Rubin told Technical Illusions that it should return all of the money it raised through the Kickstarter campaign. The company agreed, but also decided to still send out the promised units to those backers.

Late last year, Eat Sleep Play, the developers of the 2012 reboot of Twisted Metal, joined CastAR. The group teamed up with a collection of former Disney Infinity developers from Avalanche Software to form a new studio focused on AR software development in Salt Lake City.

While virtual reality has received a bulk of the attention when it comes to reality technology, interest in augmented reality has recently been on the upswing. Facebook earlier this year announced its intentions to invest more heavily in AR.

Both Apple and Google have shown interest in AR.

Update: Another source has updated Polygon with more information about the current state of CastAR. The story has been updated to reflect that a core group is still trying to sell the tech and that less than 70 were let go.

27th June 2017

SNES Classic coming this September, with a never-before-released game (update)

The SNES Classic Edition is coming Sept. 29, Nintendo of America announced. The box will include 21 games on it for $79.99, giving it a smaller library than the discontinued NES Classic for $10 more — perhaps because there’s an extra controller in the box.

The system ships with two wired SNES Classic controllers, as well as an HDMI cable, USB charging cable and AC adapter. The two controllers are to make the Classic Edition’s multiplayer games playable right out of the box. (The NES Classic Edition’s special controllers retailed for $10 each, accounting for the price markup.)

Of the games included on the SNES Classic Edition — EarthBound, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past among them — there’s one never-before-released title in the mix. Star Fox 2, which has been widely available as a ROM, never actually made it out onto the Super Nintendo. It was canceled before its official release.

That game won’t be available to play from the start, however. Players will have to unlock it through playing the original Star Fox game, also included with the SNES Classic Edition system.

It shouldn’t be too difficult, however; Nintendo notes on the system’s website that they’ll only have to play the first level of Star Fox.

The full list of games can be found in the image below:

The SNES Classic Edition replaces the NES Classic Edition, the smash hit that launched last fall. Nintendo stopped manufacturing the system this spring for reasons unknown; we speculated then that a possible SNES Classic Edition was among them.

Update: Nintendo promised that it would produce “significantly more” SNES Classic Edition system than NES Classic Edition units, which were notoriously hard to find. Shipments are expected through the end of 2017, although it’s unclear whether that means they’ll only be available through then.

26th June 2017

Uptime, YouTube’s experimental app for watching videos with friends, opens to all

YouTube’s experimental app Uptime, which lets you watch videos with friends while reacting and commenting, has now opened up to all users. The app was first launched in March of this year, from Google’s internal incubator, Area 120, as a means of testing a more interactive and social way to watch YouTube.

However, it initially required an invite to use it. That requirement was dropped a few days ago.

Instead of viewing YouTube videos on your own, then sharing those you like with friends via links in chats or to social networks, Uptime lets you watch videos with friends directly in its app. Friends can either co-watch with you in real-time, or they can join later to see others’ reactions to the videos played back as they watch, giving Uptime a lively and interactive feel even when you’re watching alone.

The reactions – emoji you tap as you watch the video – are inspired by other live streaming video services, like Facebook Live or Twitter’s Periscope, for example. There’s a smiley face, surprised face, heart eyes, angry face, grimace, and crying face. You can also tap on the video to leave “sparkles,” but these will only be shown to those you’re watching with in real-time.

Since its launch earlier this year, Uptime has added new features, including a Facebook friend-finding function, support for watching music videos, and it has revamped its home screen to make it easier to find things to watch.

The idea to offer a co-watching experience is not unique to Uptime, however. It’s the hot idea du jour, with a number of apps moving into this space, including Tumblr’s Cabana, Let’s Watch It, Fam, and others. Even Skype has said this is a feature it plans to introduce in the future, starting with support for YouTube.

The Uptime experiment is now one of several to emerge from Google’s Area 120, which lets entrepreneurial-minded Google employees try out new ideas. The program has already launched other projects, including a personal stylist app Tailor, a voice messenger Supersonic, and a learn-to-code app Grasshopper; another app, a salon booking tool called Appointments, has not yet launched publicly.

However, Area 120 apps aren’t branded under Google’s name in the App Store, nor does Google offer much help in terms of promotion. Instead, these apps have generally been spotted by reporters, outside of any sort of formal launch announcement.

Uptime hasn’t yet had a chance to gain many users because of this fact, and because it previously required an invite to test it out. It quietly dropped the invite code last week, which means anyone can download and use the app now. Despite these roadblocks, the app did manage to briefly snag a place on the App Store’s charts – at a peak of #403 in the Entertainment category, which has fallen since. That sounds unimpressive, but for an app that was basically in pre-launch mode and not open broadly, it’s worth noting that it ranked at all.

Uptime is a free download on the iOS App Store.

26th June 2017

Infarm wants to put a farm in every grocery store

Imagine a future where you go into a grocery store to buy some fresh basil, and, as you traverse the aisle, instead of polythene bags containing mass-produced snippets of the herb that have been flown in from thousands of miles away, in front of you are a stack of illuminated containers, each housing a mini basil farm.

The plants themselves are being monitored by multiple sensors and fed by an internet-controlled irrigation and nutrition system. Growing out from the centre, the basil is at ascending stages of its life, with the most outer positioned leaves ready for you, the customer, to harvest.

Now imagine no more, because, to paraphrase science fiction writer William Gibson, the farm of the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

When we presented our idea three or four years ago, people looked at us and thought we [had] lost our mind

— Infarm co-founder Erez Galonska

Infarm, a 40-plus person startup based in Berlin is developing an “indoor vertical farming” system capable of growing anything from herbs, lettuce and other vegetables, and even fruit. The concept might not be entirely new — Japan has been an early pioneer in vertical farming, where the lack of space for farming and very high demand from a large population has encouraged innovation — but what potentially sets Infarm apart, including from other startups, is the modular approach and go-to-market strategy it is taking.

This means that the company can do vertical farming on a small but infinitely expandable scale, and is seeing Infarm place farms not in offsite warehouses but in customer-facing city locations, such as grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, and schools, enabling the end-customer to actually pick the produce themselves.

“When we presented our idea three or four years ago, people looked at us as though we [had] lost our mind,” says Infarm co-founder Erez Galonska. “We are the first company in the world that has put vertical farming in a supermarket. We did it last year with Metro Group, which is one of the biggest wholesalers in Europe, and now we are facing very big demand from other supermarkets that want to do the same”.

Each farming unit is its own individual ecosystem, creating the exact environment our plants need to flourish

— Infarm co-founder Osnat Michaeli

That demand — which has also seen Infarm recently partner with EDEKA, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation — is driven by a change in consumer behaviour in which “people are seeking more fresh produce, more sustainable produce,” says Osnat Michaeli, another of Infarm’s three founders (the other is Guy Galonska, brother to Erez). More generally, she says, the food industry is looking to technology that can help solve inefficiencies in the supply chain and reduce waste.

“Our eating habits have created a demand for produce that is available 365 days a year, even though some varieties may only be seasonal and/or produced on the other side of the globe… The food that does survive the long journey is not fresh, lacks vital nutrients, and in most cases is covered in pesticides and herbicides”.

In contrast, the Infarm system is chemical pesticide-free and can prioritise food grown for taste, colour and nutritional value rather than shelf life or its ability to sustain mass production. Its indoor nature means it isn’t restricted to seasonality either and by completely eliminating the distance between farmer and consumer, food doesn’t get much fresher.

“Behind our farms is a robust hardware and software platform for precision farming,” explains Michaeli. “Each farming unit is its own individual ecosystem, creating the exact environment our plants need to flourish. We are able to develop growing recipes that tailor the light spectrums, temperature, pH, and nutrients to ensure the maximum natural expression of each plant in terms of flavor, colour, and nutritional quality. Weather that be an arugula from Provence, Mexican tarragon or Moroccan mint”.

The Infarm vertical farming system has been designed to enable a “perpetual daily harvest”. Taking inspiration from the petal 
constellation of the sunflower, the growing trays move plants from the centre to the outer perimeter according to their size and growth. Replenishing the plant food is as simple as changing a cartridge and water supply can also be automated.

In addition, a matrix of sensors collect and record data from each farm so that Infarm’s plant experts and tech team can remotely monitor crops and optimise the plants’ growth in real-time or troubleshoot any peculiarities, such as a change in atmosphere.

“The system is smart. It can guide you where to harvest and can notify you when the produce needs to be harvested, and this is your part in the game,” says Galonska. “Machine learning can help us understand and predict future problems”.

When a new type of herb or plant is introduced, Infarm’s plant experts and engineers create a recipe or algorithm for the produce type, factoring in nutrition, humidity, temperature, light intensity and spectrum, which is different from system to system depending on what is grown.

The resulting combination of IoT, Big Data and cloud analytics is akin to “Farming-as-a-Service,” whilst , space permitting, Infarm’s modular approach affords the ability to keep adding more farming capacity in a not entirely dissimilar way to how cloud computing can be ramped up at the push of a button.

This makes Infarm potentially scalable, both in terms of biodiversity and supply: from a small number of units in-store, where customers can get up close to the produce, to additional capacity at the back of a supermarket, to a large online retailer that may require 1000s of units and grow 100s of varieties.

None of which has gone unnoticed by investors.

The startup has just closed a €4 million funding round led by Berlin’s Cherry Ventures. Impact investor Quadia, London’s LocalGlobe, Atlantic Food Labs, design consultant Ideo, Demand Analytics, and various business angels also participated.

Christian Meermann, Founding Partner at Cherry Ventures, says the distributed nature of Infarm’s system is one of the things that made the startup stand out from other vertical farming companies the VC firm looked at. This, he says, is seeing Infarm create a network of farms that are centrally controlled and monitored from the cloud and do not require the startup to build huge farming warehouses of its own.

Meermann also talked up the machine learning behind Infarm, which he says is enabling it to figure out the most optimum recipe for different plant types to not only significantly enhance flavour but also let crops grow in parts of the world they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

“When we started out, we were looked at as ‘idealistic dreamers’. In part, this might have been because we were self-taught and not many believed that we had the necessary expertise needed to invent a new agricultural solution,” adds Michaeli.

“The challenge [now] is in finding the right partners. Our initial focus is on supermarket chains, online food retailers, wholesalers, hotels, and other food-related businesses, for whom the superior quality and range of produce — with no fluctuation in costs — makes Infarm an attractive partner. In return, we can reintroduce the joy of growing to the urban population”.

26th June 2017

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

As always, Apple spent a considerable chunk of WWDC earlier this month hyping up iOS 11 and all of the new features it brings. Now it’s your turn to take them for a spin. The first public release of the iOS 11 beta goes live today for people participating in Apple’s testing program, and we’ve been playing with it for a few days to get a better sense of what it has to offer. Long story short, it’s already shaping up to be a very valuable, very comprehensive release.

In order to find out for yourself, you’ll need the right hardware: an iPhone 5s or newer, an iPad mini 2 or newer or a sixth-generation iPod touch. Before you replace your iVessel’s perfectly functional software with something that’s still months away from being ready, keep reading for a primer on what to expect.

Before we go any further, here’s the usual disclaimer: This software, while mostly functional, is a long way from being finished. Over the past few days of testing, I’ve seen my share of lock-ups, app crashes and overall funkiness. (As I write this, my iPhone’s “home row” has disappeared and I can’t figure out how to get it back.)

Since we’ve had a limited time with this preview, we haven’t been able to test all of the updates it contains either. Even though I work for Engadget, my home resembles that of a Luddite, so I didn’t have much of a need for the updated Home app. And since my car is relatively ancient, CarPlay was also a no-go. Meanwhile, other things just weren’t ready for prime time, including multi-room support in AirPlay 2 and the ability to send cash to friends via iMessage. And while we’re starting to see some really neat augmented reality tricks made with ARKit, none of those are available in the App Store yet. Long story short, just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you agree to the install.

The iOS aesthetic has undergone some major changes over the years, but that’s not really the case here if you’re using an iPhone. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference until you swipe up in search of that flashlight. The iOS Control Center no longer looks like a handful of pages with quick options; it’s a more condensed cluster of buttons and controls that you can finally customize. I appreciate Apple squeezing all of this functionality into one place; it generally works well, and if your iOS device supports 3D Touch, you can press on these icons to access more controls. That said, I’ve already screwed up my screen brightness while trying to close Control Center maybe a thousand times, and I’m not sure I love the look either.

You can also view all your recent notifications from the home screen just by swiping up from your lock screen, which is nice if you need to get caught up on things quickly. That said, if you’re a digital pack rat (like me) and never clear your notifications, this is a great way to see iOS lag.

You’ll also see a big focus on big text: It’s meant to be clear and visually punchy, but if you didn’t like the Apple Music redesign, you’re probably not going to like this either. That bold approach is used everywhere to some extent, from the Messages app to your list of albums in Photos. The best new example, however, is the revamped App Store. It’s not just a place with lists of apps (though those still exist) — it’s more curated, and there’s a strong editorial bent. Featured apps get miniature articles (crafted with help from the developers), lots of big imagery, and more video to help explain what makes them so special. It kind of feels like Apple squeezed a teensy blog into the App Store.

And for the first time, games and apps are kept separate from one another. Sifting through these distinct lists is definitely more convenient than before, but it mostly benefits developers. With these lists now separate, apps won’t get pushed down in the Top Paid and Free lists by whatever the buzzy game of the moment is.

Apple’s pushing the concept of “intelligence” really hard with this release. With Core ML, developers will be able to weave machine learning features into their apps, and hopefully make them more responsive to our desires and behaviors. Too bad none of those apps are ready yet. There’s still one concrete example of Apple’s pronounced focus on intelligence here, though: Siri.

For one, it sounds profoundly more natural than before. There are still small tells that you’re talking to a collection of algorithms, but the line between listening to Siri and listening to an actual person is growing strangely thin. (You’ll notice the improved voice in other places too, like when Apple Maps is giving you directions.) Hell, Siri even sounds good when you ask it to translate something you’ve just said in English into Spanish, French, German or Chinese.

It’s also able to act on more unorthodox requests like “play me something sad,” which happens to launch a playlist called “Tearjerkers.” And if you’re tired of hearing Siri altogether, you can now type queries and commands to it instead. Unfortunately, you’ll have to disable the ability to talk to Siri in the process. Ideally, Apple wouldn’t be so binary about this, but there’s at least one workaround. Worst-case scenario, you can enable dictation for the keyboard, tap the button and start chatting with it.

If some of this sounds familiar, that’s because Siri actually has a lot in common with Google Assistant. While the feature gap between the two assistants is closing, Google is still better for answering general-purpose questions. Apple’s working on it, though. The company says Siri now pulls more answers from Wikipedia, which may be true, but you’ll still just get search results most of the time.

More important, the underlying intelligence that makes Siri work has been woven into other apps. Siri can help suggest stories you might be interested in inside the News app, and if you register for an event within Safari, Siri will add it to your calendar.

Sometimes I wonder why Apple doesn’t just go all out and create its own social media service. Then I remember it did. It was called Ping, and it flopped hard. So it’s a little worrying to see Apple bake a stronger social element into Apple Music. At least the company’s approach this time is based on delivering features people actually use. In addition to creating a profile (which only partially mattered before), you can now share your playlists and follow other users. Sound familiar? Well, it would if you were a Spotify user. Apple’s attempts to stack up more favorably against major social services doesn’t end here, either.

With the addition of new features, iMessage has become an even more competent competitor to apps like Line and Facebook Messenger. You want stickers and stuff? Apple made it easier to skim through all of your installed iMessage apps, so you can send bizarro visuals to your friends quickly. You’ll get a handful of new, full-screen iMessage effects for good measure, and it’s not hard to see how the newfound ability to send money through iMessage itself could put a dent in Venmo’s fortunes. (Again, this feature doesn’t work in this build, so don’t bother trying to pay your friends back via text.)

And then there’s the most social tool of all: the camera app. The all-too-popular Portrait mode has apparently been improved, though I’ve been hard-pressed to tell the difference. (It’ll officially graduate from beta when iOS 11 launches later this year.) You’ll also find some new filters, but the most fun additions are some Live photo modes. You can take the tiny video clip associated with a Live Photo and make it loop, or reverse itself, or even blur to imitate a long exposure. Just know this: If you try to send these new Live Photos to anyone not on iOS 11, they just get a standard Live Photo.

The new update brings welcome changes to iPhones, but it completely overhauls the way iPads work. This is a very good thing. Thanks in large part to the dock, which acts similar to the one in macOS, they’re much better multitaskers. You can pull up the dock while using any other app to either switch what you’re doing or get two apps running next to each other.

Just drag an app from the dock into the main part of the screen and it’ll start running in a thin, phone-like window. Most apps I’ve tested work just fine in this smaller configuration, since they’re meant to scale across different-sized displays. And you can move these windows apps around as needed. To get them running truly side by side, just swipe down — that locks them into the Split View we’ve had since iOS 9.

Having those apps next to each other means you can drag and drop images, links or text from one window into the other. This feels like a revelation compared with having to copy and paste, or saving an image to your camera roll so you could insert it somewhere else. Now it just needs more buy-in from developers. Literally all I want to do sometimes is drag a photo from the new Files app into Slack to share it, but that’s just not possible yet.

Oh, right, there’s a Files app now. It’s another one of those things that do what the name implies: You can manage stuff you’ve saved directly on your iPad, along with other services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Those third-party integrations are sort of theoretical right now, though: Dropbox sync isn’t ready yet, and navigating your Google Drive doesn’t really work the way it’s supposed to. It’s a great idea in concept, and I can’t wait to try it when it actually works.

When you’re done dragging and dropping, one upward swipe on the dock launches the new multitasking view. The most annoying part of this new workflow isn’t how your recent apps are laid out as a grid instead of the usual cards. No, it’s that you can’t just swipe up on those cards to close an app like you used to; you have to long-press the card and hit a tiny X to do that. I get that it’s more akin to the way you delete apps, but the original gesture was so much more intuitive and elegant. Otherwise, sifting through open apps to pick up where you left off is a breeze.

That said, it’s odd to see the Control Center to the right of those app windows. Having all these extra control toggles shoved into the side of the screen looks kind of lousy to me, but don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of thoughtful touches on display here. Consider the new on-screen keyboard: Instead of tapping a button to switch layouts for punctuation and numbers, you can just swipe down on a key to invoke the alternate character. I still haven’t gotten completely used to it, but I’m much faster than I was on day one. Hopefully, your muscle memory resets more easily than mine. The Notes app also has been updated with the ability to scan documents on the fly, which has already made my life easier when I’m filing work expenses.

And don’t forget about the Apple Pencil. It was always kind of a hassle going through multiple steps before I started writing a note — you had to unlock the iPad, open Notes and tap a button to enable pen input. Now I can just tap the lock screen with my Pencil and I’m already writing. Longtime readers probably know my handwriting sucks, but it’s generally clean enough for iOS to parse it, so I can search for things I’ve written straight from Spotlight. Tapping a result brings up my note, and, even in its unfinished state, it’s honestly a little crazy how fast Apple’s handwriting interpretation works. Then again, Apple is pushing on-device machine=learning processes like this in a big way, so if we’re lucky, behavior like this will be the rule, not the exception.

These are all valuable improvements, and I’m sure I’ll wind up using these features a lot. At this point, though, I still wouldn’t choose an iPad over a traditional notebook or convertible as my primary machine. The situation will improve as more app developers embed support for all these features into their software, but the foundation still doesn’t seem to be as flexible as I need.

As always, there are lots of little changes baked into these releases that don’t require a ton of words. Let’s see…

Even in its unfinished state, iOS 11 seems promising, especially for iPad users. I’ve always maintained that iOS 10 was a release meant to weave Apple’s sometimes disparate features and services into a platform that felt more whole. It was maybe a little unglamorous, but it was necessary. When iOS 11 launches in the fall, we’ll be able to get a better sense of its character and value.

26th June 2017

Final Fantasy 15 goes off-roading with a monster-truck Regalia

Final Fantasy 15’s newest title update introduces a way for players to drive off-road with a bonkers-looking new vehicle called the Regalia Type-D.

Until now, players were kept on the roads by rails. With the Regalia Type-D, sporting some phat knobby tires, jacked suspension and rad exhaust pipes, Square Enix answers one of players’ top complaints since launch day: Hey, why won’t you let us drive off-road?

The vehicle modification is easy to get. Go to Cindy at Hammerhead, who has news of the new off-road upgrade to share. The video above shows that process, and then the vehicle in action.

Update 1.12 is out a day before Episode Prompto, the newest DLC chapter, launches, and also helps get the game ready for that. Update 1.12 is, of course, free. Episode Prompto is part of the $24.99 season pass of DLC. The title update is 8.65 GB on PlayStation 4 and 10.96 GB on Xbox One.

26th June 2017

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds’ next patch tweaks loot spawns, adds guns

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is getting a significant patch in the next few days, which includes two new weapons as well as a big tweak to loot spawns.

This month developer Bluehole is adding the Groza. It’s a 7.62 mm bullpup that promises excellent stability and stopping power at short and medium ranges. It will only be available in care packages, which are dropped into the game via parachute. The Groza will replace the VSS, a suppressed 9 mm sniper rifle that was added just last month. The VSS will now only spawn as random loot in the game world.

Also being added to random spawns is the P18C, a 9 mm pistol with a fully automatic mode. It remains to be seen if it’s actually an effective primary weapon or if it’s just a novelty sidearm.

Big changes are also on the way to the spawn rate generally, both for weapons and armor. The SCAR-L, a 5.56 mm assault rifle with exceptional stability and a long range, will appear less frequently as will the 9 mm UMP submachine gun. The spawn rate of the Uzi is being raised to compensate. Lower end helmets will also see their spawn rate reduced, while the occurrence of low end body armor is being boosted.

June’s update will be the fourth monthly patch since Battlegrounds launched. The team at Bluehole has vowed to remain in Steam’s Early Access program for only six months total, which means they have two more months to go before the game’s full commercial release. Not that early access is slowing them down at all. Last week the team announced it had sold more than 4 million copies, which converts into roughly $120 million in revenue.

You can read more about the history and the future of Battlegrounds in our interview with the creator, Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene, from this year’s E3 in Los Angeles.

26th June 2017

Pathfinder will finally get its own isometric RPG thanks to successful Kickstarter

Dungeons & Dragons’ younger sibling, Pathfinder, is finally getting its own isometric role-playing game thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Pathfinder: Kingmaker has already hit its $500,000 goal, and the developer is teasing a handful of stretch goals with two weeks left to go.

Kingmaker is being developed by Owlcat Games, a Russian team whose previous titles Skyforge and Allods Online have mixed reviews on Steam. Working in their favor is the fact that they’ve signed on Chris Avellone, former chief creative officer and co-founder of Obsidian Entertainment, to do the narrative design. Avellone has been on a tear recently, contributing his talents to Torment: Tides of Numenera and Prey among other titles.

Pathfinder is a game system from Paizo Publishing, which used to work very closely with Wizards of the Coast to create adventure modules in the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition ruleset. In late 2007, with the release of D&D’s 4th edition on the horizon, Paizo made the decision to go its own way. Since then, Pathfinder has grown to become one of the most popular tabletop RPGs in the world.

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Previously, the most successful digital version of Pathfinder has been a collectible card game called Pathfinder: Adventures. That game, which is developed and published by Obsidian Entertainment and Asmodee Digital, started on mobile platforms and just this month launched on Windows PC and Mac via Steam.

Kingmaker is based on the Pathfinder module of the same name, and will include “a host of brand-new events, companions, allies, and threats that expand and enhance the original” according to the Kickstarter page. In it, players will journey through the Stolen Lands region of Golarion on a quest to create their own kingdom. In addition to top-quality graphics and animation, the Kingmaker campaign touts an unusual progression system.

“Building a kingdom goes beyond simply building a stronghold,” reads the Kickstarter page. “Your kingdom is a reflection of your character and your choices throughout the game. It is a living thing shaped by your alignment, your allies, and your ability to lead your people. Not only can your kingdom expand, opening up new territories and allowing you to build new towns and communities, but your capital city will physically change based on your decisions, your policies, and even whom you choose to ally with.”

The promised delivery date for the final game is listed as August 2018. Backers can get their copy for as little as $28, while higher tiers include a soundtrack, art book, physical miniature and a cloth map among other perks.

You can watch the full Kickstarter pitch video below.

26th June 2017

Why was Star Fox 2 canceled?

It’s taken more than 20 years for Nintendo to release the sequel to Star Fox, simply called Star Fox 2. For the first time, the Super Nintendo game will be playable this September, when it’s included among the 21 games installed on the SNES Classic Edition.

Star Fox 2’s official release marks the conclusion to one of Nintendo’s most high-profile cancellations. While an alpha version of the game has been playable with SNES emulators for years, the fall release of the SNES Classic Edition will make this hardly played, unfinished project widely available to the masses. (That is, assuming they can even get their hands on the system.)

Work first began on Star Fox 2 at both Nintendo and U.K.-based Argonaut Software not long after its SNES predecessor, which launched in 1993. The game followed the plot of the previous entry, with the Star Fox crew picking up its fight against Andross. The gameplay changes from Star Fox were vast: Players controlled two ships that could travel anywhere throughout the space system, entering fights with other ships as they encountered them on the map. There was also a damage counter on home planet Corneria that went up to 100 percent; players had to defend it from getting attacked.

Nintendo showed off the game at the 1995 Consumer Electronics Show, and magazines at the time featured screenshots of Star Fox 2. But the project was quietly canceled not long thereafter, leaving only an early build ROM in its wake for players to discover later on.

In 2015, former Argonaut Software developer Dylan Cuthbert told Nintendo Life that Star Fox 2 was “about 95 percent complete” before Nintendo nixed it. The reason to drop the game, he said, likely had to do with the Super Nintendo’s popular competitors changing the graphical landscape.

“It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan,” Cuthbert said. “I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision was made because they didn’t want the old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side.”

Nintendo went on to release Star Fox 64, the official second game in the series, in 1997. Cuthbert later started up Q-Games, a studio that developed both the Nintendo DS game Star Fox Command and a Nintendo 3DS port of Star Fox 64. Both titles borrowed some of Star Fox 2’s innovations, like splitscreen multiplayer, the map screen and multiple playable characters.

Shigeru Miyamoto said in 2015 that he’d “rather have people play a new game” in the Star Fox series, rather than the decades-old Star Fox 2. For many of us, Star Fox 2 is that long-awaited new, true Star Fox game. We’ll get to check out the full Star Fox 2 on Sept. 29, when the SNES Classic Edition is out. (We’ll have to beat the first level of Star Fox to unlock it first, but that’s way easier than finding a ROM on our own.)

26th June 2017

HMD’s Nokia 6 will arrive in the US next month for $229

Like so many European acts that tried to make it big in the US, Nokia never really managed to crack the market in its original form. But HMD Global, the company that produces smartphones using the Nokia brand, is hoping that will change with the arrival of the Nokia 6. The company has announced that, a little later than expected, the handset will be available in America at the start of July. Unfortunately, there’s no carrier deal or other such tie-up, and instead you’ll have to purchase the device, for cash, on Amazon.

The device is a perfectly reasonable mid-range Android device, packing a 5.5-inch HD display and a body hewn from aluminium, or aluminum, now that it’s being sold in the US. Tucked inside is a Snapdragon 430, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage and space for a microSD card, running Android Nougat. Imaging-wise, there’s a 16-megapixel primary camera and 8-megapixel forward-facer, although we don’t expect either to be as good as those from OG Nokia.

As for pricing, you’ll be able to snag the phone in matte black or silver for $229 at some point next month. Those able to delay their gratification a little longer will be able to pick up the phone in blue or copper at some as-yet unspecified time.

26th June 2017

Chimps are not as superhumanly strong as we thought they were

JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTO ARK

Chimpanzees do have stronger muscles than us – but they are not nearly as powerful as many people think.

“There’s this idea out there that chimpanzees are superhuman strong,” says Matthew O’Neill at the University of Arizona in Phoenix. Yet his team’s experiments and computer models show that a chimpanzee muscle is only about a third stronger than a human one of the same size.

This result matches well with the few tests that have been done, which suggest that when it comes to pulling and jumping, chimps are about 1.5 times as strong as humans relative to their body mass. But because they are lighter than the average person, humans can actually outperform them in absolute terms, say O’Neill.

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His findings suggest that other apes have similar muscle strength to chimpanzees. “Humans are the odd ones,” he says.

O’Neill’s team has been studying the evolution of upright walking. To create an accurate computer model of how chimps walk, the researchers needed to find out whether their muscles really are exceptionally strong. So they removed small samples of leg muscle from three chimps under general anaesthetic and measured the strength of individual fibres.

The same procedure is used to study human muscles. Comparing the results with the many studies on those revealed that, contrary to the claims of several other studies, there is nothing special about chimp muscle. “Chimpanzee muscle is really no different than human muscle in terms of the force that individual fibres exert,” says O’Neill.

So why, on a pound-for-pound basis, are chimps slightly stronger than humans? The team went on to look at the muscle of chimps that had died of natural causes, which revealed that two-thirds of their muscle consists of fast-twitch fibres, whereas more than half of human fibres are slow-twitch. Fast-twitch fibres are more powerful, but use more energy and become fatigued faster.

Another factor, O’Neill found, is that chimps have longer fibres on average, which also enhances their strength.

This adds to the evidence that walking is considerably more energy-costly for chimps than for people. The results fit neatly with the idea that early humans evolved to walk or run long distances. It seems that we sacrificed some strength for greater endurance.

An earlier study found that our jaw muscles are particularly weak, which may have helped our brains grow larger.

Quite how the myth that chimps are incredibly strong came about is not clear, says O’Neill. But it may have been fuelled by a 1923 study that claimed one chimp could pull nine times its own body weight. Later studies suggested they could only pull two to four times their weight.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1619071114

More on these topics:

26th June 2017

Nintendo making ‘significantly more’ SNES Classic units than NES Classic

Nintendo is aiming to meet the already intense demand for the SNES Classic Edition by manufacturing “significantly more units” than it produced of the NES Classic Edition, the company said today.

Earlier today, Nintendo announced that it will launch the SNES Classic on Sept. 29 for $79.99. The system will come preloaded with 21 games, and the package will include two SNES Classic Controllers. That’s all well and good, but considering that Nintendo vastly underestimated demand for the NES Classic last year, the question on everyone’s minds right now is this: Will the SNES Classic be just as impossible to find as its 8-bit predecessor was?

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“We aren’t providing specific numbers, but we will produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition,” Nintendo said in a statement to Polygon.

However, the production run may not last forever. Nintendo only manufactured the NES Classic from November 2016 through April 2017, and the company isn’t guaranteeing a long tail for the SNES Classic at this point.

Nintendo told Polygon that it is currently planning to manufacture the SNES Classic “from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017.” That doesn’t necessarily mean Nintendo will end production at that point, but the company added, “At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year.”

When the NES Classic debuted in mid-November, it instantly sold out. Although Nintendo said it was producing units as fast as it could, the company was never able to supply enough consoles to keep store shelves full. All the way through the 2016 holiday season and right up until Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April, it was never possible to simply walk into a store and pick one up (unless you got extremely lucky).

Nintendo sold about 196,000 units of the NES Classic in the U.S. during the month of November, but analysts believed the figure could’ve been much higher if more systems had been available to buy. Final worldwide shipments of the NES Classic landed somewhere north of 2.3 million units from November 2016 through April 2017. Nintendo could easily sell at least as many SNES Classics by the end of this year.

The company drew criticism when it tried to retroactively say that it had always intended for the NES Classic to be a limited-time product. At least this time around, it’s being upfront from the start.

Here’s some free advice from your pals at Polygon: Don’t assume that the SNES Classic hype will eventually die down, and that the system will be readily available at some point. Nintendo will probably end production well before then, so if an opportunity to buy one comes your way, don’t pass it up.

26th June 2017

XCOM 2 dev is hyped for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

XCOM 2’s creative director Jake Solomon was just as surprised as everyone to learn about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

The turn-based Nintendo Switch game, which is being developed by Ubisoft, appears to borrow heavily from the mechanics laid down by the X-COM series reboot launched in 2012. You’d think that Solomon would be a bit peeved seeing his team’s hard work being applied to a competing product, but he tells our colleagues at Game Informer that instead he’s absolutely thrilled.

“It was really cool to see,” Solomon said during an interview at E3 in Los Angeles. “I started getting all these tweets, and so I went and watched the gameplay video of it. At one point they say something like, ‘And at this point Luigi has entered half cover,’ and I was like, ‘What world am I in?’”

Solomon was quick to point out that he owes much of his own success to Julian Gollop, the co-creator of the X-COM franchise. Solomon told Polygon that he made an appointment to meet with Gollop in person at this year’s E3, and spent much of the time picking his brain about his next game, a spiritual successor to X-COM: Apocalypse called Phoenix Point.

“I feel honored to be curating [these mechanics] for the audience,” Solomon said. “I just went to lunch with Julian and I think that to me it’s cool. And if they do something great, I’ll steal it … anything good you do. … It’s not a zero sum game. Especially not in the genre that I design in. The rising tide and all that. I think that there’s an underserved audience. It’s going to generate more fans and it’s going to come up with new ideas.”

The biggest surprise, he said, was the fact that Nintendo was willing to put a rocket launcher in Princess Peach’s hands in the first place

“If I had know we could have done that, I would have pitched that to Nintendo a long time ago,” Solomon said with a laugh.

You can watch the entire segment below.

26th June 2017

The Echo Show is a small step for Echo, a big leap for Amazon

The Echo Show isn’t a great piece of hardware. It’s beefy and clunky, and kind of looks like something that fell off the back of a RadioShack truck in the late-80s. The display isn’t great (there’s a reason the company’s not talking specs) and sure, the speaker gets loud, but if you’re looking for music playback, there are thousands of better Bluetooth speakers on the market.

But none of this really matters. When it starts shipping on June 28, the Echo Show is going to be huge. So far I’ve been an Echo holdout. I’ve never seriously considered buying one, and I didn’t think the Show would be the product to win me over. I mean, think about it for a second — it’s just an Echo with a seven-inch display attached.

Not exactly revolutionary — and yet it makes all the difference in the world. From new features like movie playback and video calls, to the simple addition of visual search results, it’s easily the most capable and compelling Echo yet.

Like the standard Echo before it, the Show is pretty uninteresting at first glance. It’s a wedge-shaped device with a middling seven-inch touchscreen tablet built-in, flanked by a webcam and a big, ugly speaker grille. It’s pretty bulky — not the sort of thing you want to move around from room to room. Mine’s been parked in the same place since Amazon sent it, sitting on the edge of my office desk, next to my modem.

But unlike the Echo before it, the Show demands interaction. The screen is always on, a subtle reminder that the device is there, just waiting to be played with — like a less creepy version of the twins from The Shining. By default, it cycles through screen savers — pretty stock images like grass and close up shots of peacocks. The time and the weather are up there too, along with some suggestions of questions you might like to ask it. If anything, it’s a little overeager.

After you’ll take it out of the box and pair it with your phone (still, strangely, a necessary part of the process), you’ll probably start by asking it some of those questions. “Alexa, what’s the atomic weight of carbon?” or “Alexa, tell me about Ron Howard?” (spoiler: 12.01 and directing the new Star Wars, respectively). From there, though, you’ll slowly start noticing the Echo creeping into other facets of your life.

The Echo won me over one morning. It’s legitimately helpful in that scrum between waking up and getting to the train. It’s an alarm clock and a weather and traffic reporter all in one, and after Alexa gives you a an audible response, the information lingers on the display, letting you interact with it on the touchscreen. In the case of, say, the weather, you can keep swiping right to get more information for the rest of the week.

When I ask Alexa for the morning tech news, she plays me Anthony Ha guest hosting the Crunch Report while I’m brushing my teeth, thus encouraging tech news awareness and proper dental hygiene.

The addition of the screen also means Amazon can take advantage of even more of its services. By default, the system routes all TV and movie requests through its own offerings.That’s good news if you’re looking for something that’s on Amazon’s decently sized selection of Prime movies. But if Alexa can’t find the movie, she’ll suggest you buy it. Alexa was born for the up-sell.

Additional services like Netflix may be coming soon (the company did add default Spotify and Pandora playback last July, after all), but for now, you’re stuck with Prime and whatever you can cobble together on YouTube.

This could well be the killer app for many users. The seven-inch screen size is pretty restrictive if you want to, say, sit through an entire movie. But it’s just right for a quick call. The app will prompt you to enter your phone number during setup and will pull out a list of Echo owners from your contact list. If the contact has a Show, you get something along the lines of an Amazon Skype.

It’s a lot easier to use than Skype (though, to be fair, most things in this life are), but it’s currently limited to Show users, which means Amazon is going to sell a lot of these to family members looking for a simple way to keep in touch. There’s also an odd Drop-In option, which takes the whole picking-up-the-phone bit out of the equation, so select friends and family can communicate directly with little warning. I suppose there’s some value for users looking to periodically check in on loved ones, but the whole thing is too intrusive for my tastes.

Amazon’s recent security camera integration also deserves mention. A handful of home camera makers including, most notably, August Home and Nest, will work with the new device, so you can stick it next your couch and see and talk to whoever is at the front door. For selfish reasons, I’m hoping they’ll add that functionality to Canary some time in the near future.

Like the rest of its Echo brethren, the Show is a simple device by default. That model certainly makes sense when attempting to communicate exclusively through voice with a cheap Bluetooth speaker. When you’ve got a display in front of you, on the other hand, it can be frustratingly restrictive.

For one thing, Amazon still prefers to default to voice control. That means you can’t just open up a web browser and starting search for content. It also means you can’t look for videos and such by touch typing. When it comes to finding additional content, the screen hasn’t really freed things up all that much.

This is both for the sake of keeping it simple and, let’s be honest, keeping you tied to Amazon’s services — the real money-maker on these hardware devices. This is the closed-loop system the company has always been shooting for with its FireOS devices.

Alexa also still has its limitations. The assistant has grown quite a bit over the past couple of years, but I still found myself frustrated with some requests. Sometimes Alexa misheard — and sometimes she just didn’t have that functionality programmed in. When she’s confused, she’ll either prompt you to try again or just give up on the question altogether, depending on how the day is going.

And then there’s the privacy question. All the previous devices have raised security concerns, thanks to those always-on microphones just sitting around waiting for their wake word. All of those issues are compounded when you add a camera into the mix. Fortunately, the company has added a big button on top of the device that keeps the Show on, while disabling the mic and camera, and turning on a hard-to-miss red light just below the display.

It’s a nice feature, but if I’m being completely honest, I just unplug the system when I’m not using it. You know, just in case.

Amazon’s world domination plans are continuing apace. Just the other week, the company was buying Whole Foods and launching a clothing service. And now it’s releasing the most capable Echo to date. Try as you might to resist the Seattle-based behemoth, the lure of asking a smart assistant to pick up your free-range kale and cage-free quinoa could well prove too strong to hold out forever.

At $230, the Show is a fair bit pricier than any other Echo. But the addition of the display feels like it increases the product’s usefulness ten-fold. It’s a lot more than just a surrogate for the smartphone app. The call functionality alone is going to sell a ton of these things to families. The Show will probably be a lot of users’ first Echo device, and they’ll likely supplement it with additional Dots to blanket their home with the smart assistant.

In turn, it will lock even more users into the company’s many services, like the not-so-subtle ad for Amazon Music Alexa tosses out each time a song or band isn’t available through the free Prime subscription.

I’m still not entirely sure I’m ready to add an Echo to my life. The question of usefulness vs. privacy continues to weigh pretty heavily on my own buying habits — but the Show is easily the most compelling Echo yet, and Amazon’s going to sell a boatload of the things.

26th June 2017

Nintendo is releasing the Super NES Classic Edition on September 29th

Slated for a launch on September 29th, the Super NES Classic Edition is a console kit similar to the original console that launched more than 20 years ago. Like the NES Classic edition that came before it, the new Super NES allows you to play retro Nintendo games in high-definition, over HDMI with two included wired controllers.

Nintendo will pre-install the following 21 classic games:

The  Super NES Classic Edition launches on Sept. 29 at a retail price of $79.99, starting with direct availability from Nintendo, here.

26th June 2017

The SNES Classic is real, arrives on September 29th for $80

The delicious rumors are true: Nintendo is gearing up to launch the SNES Classic, a miniaturized version of the glorious original Super Nintendo Entertainment System. According to Nintendo’s Twitter account, the system will be available on September 29th with 21 games built-in — including the never-released Star Fox 2.

Super Mario World, Earthbound, Star Fox 2 + 18 more games? Now you’re playing with super power! #SNESClassic launches 9/29. pic.twitter.com/BPPGjpskPT

The $80 system generously includes two controllers this time (the NES Classic only came with one) and fits in the palm of your hand, just like last year’s throwback model.

In addition to Star Fox 2, the SNES Classic comes with other massive hits like Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Yoshi’s Island and more.

Interestingly, Nintendo is opting to do region-specific releases this time — the UK and other territories will get the Super Famicon styling — it’s the same console, just with some different visual flair.

Step back into the ’90s with #Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, launching September 29th https://t.co/Jf9wfMkd6i pic.twitter.com/Sq83yEVGNf

There’s no question this will be an incredibly hot holiday season item, but we’re going to be skeptical about Nintendo’s commitment to the SNES Classic after last year’s debacle. It was basically impossible to get your hands on an NES Classic from the moment it launched, and Nintendo never really caught up with demand. Instead, they just discontinued it, apparently giving up on the truckloads of money they could have made keeping it around.

We’re really, really hoping Nintendo doesn’t make that mistake this time.

Here’s the complete list of games:

26th June 2017

Amazon Echo Show review: Seeing is believing

Siri may have ushered in the era of the digital assistant, but Amazon’s Echo (with Alexa) really took that concept and put it in our homes. The Echo wasn’t an immediate, breakout hit — but having Alexa around to ask questions, manage smart-home devices, play music and much more has turned out to be a pretty great thing. It’s a concept Google and Apple are now chasing (to varying degrees), but Amazon isn’t standing still.

The $230 Echo Show is the first Echo with a touchscreen, and since it was announced, we’ve been wondering how much a display will really add to the Alexa experience. It depends on what you want to do with it and where you put the Echo Show in your home. But after a week with Amazon’s latest, I’m convinced that yet another touchscreen in your life actually makes the Alexa experience better in a lot of ways — and that’s not to mention the special tricks the Echo Show brings.

Images of the Echo Show appeared online a few days before it was formally announced, and the immediate reaction was one of disdain. Seeing it in person makes it a little bit better, but there’s no way around it: The Echo Show is an oddly angular and blocky device. It’s also strangely large, almost bulbous at the base. It’s definitely not the sleek cylinder that we’ve come to associate with the Echo. The matte-black plastic (it’s also available in white) picks up fingerprints quite easily — but this isn’t a device that you’ll be moving around often, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

It turns out, that wide base houses the Echo Show’s two speakers, which perform much better than I expected (more on that later). They make up the bottom half of the device, while the top is dominated by the 7-inch, 1024 x 600 touchscreen. That’s the same resolution as Amazon’s Kindle Fire 7 tablet, and while it’s certainly nothing to write home about, it fits the Echo Show’s purpose.

It’s not something you’ll be staring at for hours on end; instead, you’re more likely to be giving it quick glances throughout the day. To that end, I found it performed well; it’s bright and clear enough, and viewing angles are fine. Given that the Echo Show can play back video from YouTube and Amazon, a panel that hits 720p would have been nice, but I didn’t spend any time really thinking that the screen wasn’t up to par.

On top is a 5-megapixel video camera, which you’ll use for video calls and, potentially, third-party services down the line. The top features three buttons: two for volume control and one to mute the Echo Show’s eight-microphone array. The mics are set in an oval around the buttons up top, but there’s no light ring like what you’ll find on the original Echo. Instead, the bottom of the screen glows blue when you talk to the Echo Show. That works fine — it’s just not as elegant as the light ring.

Overall, the Echo Show hardware is solid and functional, but not much more. I will say, that once I placed it on my shelf, I spent less time thinking about its strange form factor. It does a good enough job of blending into the background, which is really what you want from a device like this. It’s not something that’ll draw attention, and that works for me.

Setting up the Echo Show is a very simple affair and the first time that the touchscreen shows its usefulness. It’s pretty easy to go through the setup process right on the device, although the Alexa app for iOS, Android and Amazon’s own Fire devices will also do the job. Once you get the Show connected to WiFi and sign in with your Amazon account, you’re basically off and running.

If you’ve used an Echo before, everything you can do with that one is an option here, as well. I set up my location (for weather alerts), Google Calendar, my Todoist account and a few music services (including Spotify and Amazon Music) in the Alexa app and then I could easily access my personal info.

The default view on the Echo Show is a rotating view of your calendar appointments, to-do items, weather and a bunch of trending news stories. In all cases, the screen prompts you to ask Alexa for more details on whichever particular item is on display. Talking to Alexa works just as well on the Show as the standard Echo; I had very few instances where it didn’t pick up my voice right away, though there were definitely occasional moments of confusion as it tried to understand what I wanted.

A big part of the value I found in the Echo Show was how useful it was to… well, have the device show me information. When I asked about the weather, Alexa would respond and show me the forecast for the next few days. When I asked about my to-do list, I could see it and hear it as well. Having some time to sit there and digest the info in a visual way was immediately useful. It’s not necessary, but it is nice. And if you’re not right in view of the screen, you can still talk to the Echo Show and get the info you’re looking for.

The screen augments most of Alexa’s usual features, but it also enables a number of things that you couldn’t do before. Chief among those is video calling. Amazon added voice calls and messaging to the Echo family recent, but the Echo Show is the only one with a screen and camera. You can make video calls with anyone who has the Alexa app set up on their phone — regardless of whether they actually have an Echo Show yet.

Unfortunately, as of this writing the feature isn’t fully live, but I was able to do a test call with an Amazon representative, and it worked just as smoothly as you’d hope. The incoming call lit up my screen with the name of the caller, and the speaker started playing an alert to get my attention. I could pick up the call with either my voice or by tapping the button that appeared on the screen, and then the call just went on without any issues. Naturally, you can ask Alexa to place voice and video calls as well as send messages.

I don’t do video calling much, but this could be a killer feature for many families. Being able to do a video call hands-free was definitely better than holding my phone the whole time. But just about everyone has a phone that can make video calls, and that’s probably enough for most people. I could imagine this being useful for families with older relatives, though; the Echo Show is probably a bit easier to use. Of course, that means setting up yet another calling service, because the Show doesn’t support apps like Skype or Hangouts.

Another new feature that takes advantage of the screen is integration with smart-home cameras. The Echo Show will work with cameras from Amcrest, Arlo, August, EZViz, IC Realtime, Ring, Nest and Vivint. By saying a phrase like “Alexa, show the front door” you’ll be able to pull up the feed from that camera right on your Show. That’s another feature I wasn’t able to test — but given that the Echo is quickly becoming an essential hub for smart devices, households already with smart-home cameras might find the Echo Show worth shelling out for.

What’s most intriguing about the Echo Show is how third-party developers will use the new hardware. Alexa is getting more skills all the time, and seeing what makes its way to this new screen will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. Unfortunately, there’s nothing out there yet that I can try, but the smart way Amazon has used the screen to enhance existing Echo features makes me excited to see what developers do here.

One of the best things about the original Echo was just telling it to play whatever music popped into your head, and the Echo Show is even better in that regard. That’s primarily because the Echo Show’s speaker represents a solid upgrade over the original model. It’s still not in the same realm as dedicated audio speakers that Sonos is making, but it’s a lot better than the Google Home.

The screen also makes searching for music a lot easier. You can ask Alexa to show you top playlists on Spotify or the top songs on Amazon Music and a grid pops up on the display. You can then tell Alexa to scroll to the right to see more, but it’s easier to just swipe through the selections. Each item on the list has a number, and you can then just tell Alexa to “play No. 3.”

If that’s too much work, you can still just tell Alexa to play specific albums, songs or playlists, or just tell it to play music from a certain genre. Once the music is playing, the Echo Show displays lyrics from the song, though you can turn that off easily enough if you find it distracting.

Depending on where the Echo Show sits in your home, you might even want to watch video on it (despite that low-resolution screen). As you’d expect, you can just say “show me videos on Amazon Prime” or “play clips from YouTube” and things just start right up. Browsing Amazon Prime videos is similar to browsing songs or playlists: There’s a list that scrolls to the right and you can then tap or ask Alexa to play your selection.

That’s fine for casual browsing, but if you want to find a specific movie or video, you’ll need to ask Alexa to pull it up. Fortunately, the search is fairly contextual, so you don’t have to say the exact title word for word to find the YouTube clip you might be looking for. Alexa also responds to hands-free commands like skipping forward or back, adjusting volume and pausing your content. I don’t think I’d watch an entire film on the Echo Show, but if you spend a lot of time cooking and want to watch a few sitcoms while you’re at it, it’ll do the job nicely.

It’s worth noting that the Echo Show can also output audio to a Bluetooth speaker, just like the original Echo. So if you have a better speaker lying around and want to upgrade your audio setup, it’s a fairly trivial matter.

The Echo Show doesn’t have any direct competition. If you’re considering a voice-activated speaker, your choices are basically the Echo or Google Home. While Google has added plenty of features to Home since it launched last fall, Amazon still has the more-complete ecosystem here. If you’re deeply entrenched in Google’s world, Home is a good choice, but Amazon works pretty well with most Google services at this point.

If you’re trying to choose between the standard Echo and the Echo Show, you’ll want to consider where it’ll go in your home and what you want to do with it. My Google Home typically sits in my living room next to the TV, and I wouldn’t want another device with a screen there. But in a kitchen, office or bedroom, this little display could come in handy.

Another consideration is how interested you are in video calling and other future features that will rely on the screen. If you buy one without a screen, you’re locking yourself out of any potentially interesting use cases that could come down the line. For an extra $50, there’s a good chance you’ll get a lot of extra functionality out of the Echo Show, and the screen enhances plenty of the day-to-day info you’ll want to check on the device.

Amazon essentially created a category with the Echo, and the Echo Show marks the first significant re-thinking of what a voice-activated home-hub can be. Ultimately, the screen isn’t essential, but it proved to be very useful. And the improved speaker quality is almost worth the $50 upgrade over the standard Echo by itself.

Aside from costing more money, the only downside to the Echo Show is that it’s more obtrusive than the slim, cylindrical Echo. But if one more screen won’t disturb your room too much, the Echo Show should be a strong contender for people looking for a virtual home assistant.

26th June 2017

SpaceX has launched and landed two used rockets in one weekend

SpaceX

SpaceX just did a double-header. Two of the firm’s Falcon 9 rockets were launched within 49 hours of each other, one from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and one from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That’s a first for SpaceX and provides a proof-of-concept for efficiently reusing rockets in the future.

The launches, on 23 and 25 June, marked the second and third time that Elon Musk’s spaceflight company reused rocket boosters that had already been to space, landed and been refurbished. After successfully releasing their payloads into orbit, each booster returned to Earth and safely landed on a drone ship. Now they will be examined for damage and possibly refurbished and launched a third time – a feat which SpaceX hasn’t yet attempted.

The 23 June launch, pictured, lifted Bulgaria’s first communications satellite – its second satellite ever – into orbit. The 25 June launch carried 10 communications satellites for the Iridium company, marking the second of seven planned batches that will make up a global satellite constellation called Iridium NEXT.

After the launches, Musk tweeted that his aim is to re-launch a booster within 24 hours of its landing back on Earth, with no intermediate servicing necessary. Launching a satellite aboard a SpaceX rocket is already $300 million cheaper than other launch vehicle providers, and consistent, quick reuse could drive down prices even further.

More on these topics:

26th June 2017

David Cage’s scripts are always over 2,000 pages long

It turns out we took the bait.

“[Detroit: Being Human’s] script is about 2,000 pages,” David Cage said in an interview with Geoff Keighley at E3 2017, which we reported on. “It’s big. Its a big process. Everything is locked down, and once it’s locked down, there’s little room for change.”

That’s an awful lot of pages, right? 2,000 pages has to be a pretty big script for a game, and it’s the sort of big, round number that looks and sounds good in a headline.

Who can sit down and write 2,000 pages worth of script for a game? David Cage can, and he’s obviously very proud of that fact. Proud enough that it comes up in interviews about the game.

But there’s a slight detail we missed.

Polygon: “David Cage is trying to outdo past narrative efforts…’the script is about 2000 pages”

Where have we heard this before? pic.twitter.com/XsE7emSRgu

David Cage writes a lot of games that feature long scripts, it turns out.

“[Cage] wrote the 2,000-page, non-linear script that prescribes not only the game’s characters, locations and scenarios, but also its gameplay mechanics, over a period of 15 months, preferring the help of Hollywood script-doctors to established game developers,” Eurogamer reported about Heavy Rain.

The script for Beyond: Two Souls was also reportedly over 2,000 pages, a detail that was widely publicized. Sony even sent out mock scripts to show just how big a document that would be if printed out.

For reference, Hollywood scripts break down to — and this is a very rough estimate — about a minute of screen time per page. This is a possibly questionable list of the longest game scripts broken down by number of lines and the English word count, and Heavy Rain is right in the middle. It’s not short, but it’s not so long as to be that impressive.

Page number itself is a pretty meaningless way to measure the size of a game anyway, even past the obvious questions about font size and formatting. A longer adventure game isn’t necessarily better, nor does it indicate a higher number of choices on its own. Verbosity by itself isn’t an indicator of anything other than whether the writer enjoys listening to themselves speak.

The only value that number has is that it’s nice and round and sounds impressive with context removed. We’re not the only outlet to have turned that number into a headline, which is likely why David Cage continues to use it. It’s awfully convenient that every game script he writes ends up over 2,000 pages, isn’t it?

You’d think those Beyond scripts sent out by Sony to promote the length of the game would at least give us insight into what they mean by “page,” but alas it’s just a stack of paper. The pages themselves are blank.

26th June 2017

Raid Battles in Pokémon Go: How to defeat the strongest Pokémon

Pokémon Go’s getting more social with the addition of Raid Battles. The new feature is the biggest change to the game since it launched, and while they’re still not the classic multiplayer experience of the handheld games, Raid Battles are easy for the seasoned Pokémon Go trainer to jump into.

In case you’re intimidated by those big eggs — and bigger Pokémon — towering above the gyms in your area, we’ve got the basics on how to take on your first Raid Battle.

Related

Pokémon Go’s Raid Battles are like gyms on hard mode. They’re a multiplayer-based, extra-difficult fight against a single strong Pokémon. A group of players work together to take down this Boss Pokémon in the hopes of earning some special items and maybe even catch the Pokémon. The tier-based system ranges in difficulty from level one to level five, with five being the toughest. Try to gather as many people as possible to take these on.

The game will notify you of any that are in your vicinity; Raid Battles are also tracked on the Nearby Pokémon screen in a separate tab. You’ll see a gigantic Pokémon Egg above the gyms that will house the Raid Battle once the timer attached it goes off. Basically, you and your pals will want to hover around there to hop in once it’s time.

The main appeal of Raid Battles is that you can participate in them with your friends — up to 20 of them! Even if you don’t have that many people hanging out with you on the regular, you can still join a Raid Battle, however.

You’ll be able to play with others through lobbies. To gain access into a lobby, you’ll first need to find a gym with a Raid Battle ready to go. Once you’ve entered the gym and exchanged your Raid Pass (more on those in a bit), you can choose to enter either a public lobby to fight with trainers automatically or a private one with a special password for you and your friends.

There’s no difference to how Raid Battles work mechanically than typical gym battles. You choose a team of six Pokémon to fight for you, and then you’ll enter the fight with a bunch of other trainers’ Pokémon.

Related

As for fighting, you’ll still be tapping on the screen to do different kinds of attacks and dodge. But keep in mind one thing: There’s a timer ticking down for how long this Raid Battle will last. Try to defeat the Boss Pokémon — who will be super high-leveled with a lot of health, mind you — in the time allotted.

You do! If you and your party manage to wipe the floor with that Boss Pokémon, you’ll get some goods. These include TMs, Rare Candy items and Golden Razz Berries, which will come in handy for the real prize.

You can definitely try. After the battle’s done, everyone will get a number of Premier Balls. Anyone who did an especially impressive job during the fight will get some extra Premier Balls for their trouble. These are used for the specific purpose of catching the Pokémon you just creamed in a Raid Battle, so you’ll have as many chances as you have Premier Balls.

The Golden Razz Berries make the Pokémon much more amenable to being caught, which is a great help. You may catch it. You may not. Either way, you’ll have the memories of your Raid Battle.

Every player gets a single Raid Pass for free daily. That gives them entry into, well, a single Raid Battle. You can go buy a Premium Raid Pass from the in-game shop to play more than once a day, if you’re really into it.

Note that if you fail to knock out the boss before time’s up, you can still replay the same Raid Battle until you win … or until the timer runs out.

There’s much more to learn about Pokémon Go, and we’ve got details on a bunch of that stuff. Our big FAQ will help you out with the basics, but if you want to branch off into catching Pokémon, finding PokéStops and more, we’ve got that covered too.

26th June 2017

Mario + Rabbids, Wolfenstein 2, Shadow of War lead E3 critics’ nominations

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus were three of the best games of E3 2017, according to the world’s foremost gaming publications.

In the list of nominees for the 2017 Game Critics Awards, the aforementioned titles each received nods in four categories, including the coveted Best of Show. The other two games in that field are Assassin’s Creed Origins and Super Mario Odyssey, each of which landed three nominations alongside Destiny 2.

Ubisoft led all publishers with a whopping 14 nominations — 11 more than it received last year. That was twice as many as the second-place finisher, Sony Interactive Entertainment. In the platform breakdown, which does not include the hardware category, the number of nominations was similar across PC (49), PlayStation 4 (49) and Xbox One (44); games for the Nintendo Switch, which launched less than four months ago, picked up 17 nominations.

If you’re wondering why some of the biggest games of E3 2017 are missing from the list of nominees, the organization stipulates that a game must be available to judges for at least five minutes. Titles that weren’t playable at E3 included a number of games with 2018 release dates, but also titles that are launching rather soon, such as BioWare’s Anthem, Studio MDHR’s Cuphead, SIE Santa Monica Studio’s God of War, Deck Nine Games’ Life is Strange: Before the Storm, EA Tiburon’s NBA Live 18, Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

You can see the full list of nominees, which includes a total of 58 products — 53 games and five pieces of hardware — below. The judging outlets that determine the Game Critics Awards comprise 38 publications from around the world, including Polygon and its sister site The Verge.

Best of Show
Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft)
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks)

Best Original Game
Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Dragon Ball FighterZ (Arc System Works/Bandai Namco Entertainment)
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft)
Sea of Thieves (Rare/Microsoft Studios)
Skull & Bones (Ubisoft Singapore/Ubisoft)

Best Console Game
Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft)
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks)

Best PC Game
Destiny 2 (Bungie/Activision)
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord (TaleWorlds Entertainment)
Total War: Warhammer 2 (The Creative Assembly/Sega)
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks)

Best VR Game
Doom VFR (id Software/Bethesda Softworks)
Fallout 4 VR (Bethesda Game Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
Lone Echo (Ready at Dawn/Oculus Studio)
Moss (Polyarc)
Transference (SpectreVision/Ubisoft)

Best Mobile/Handheld
Durango (What Studio/Nexon)
Metroid: Samus Returns (MercurySteam/Nintendo)
Hidden Agenda (Supermassive Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
King’s Knight: Wrath of the Dark Dragon (Square Enix)
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (Atlus)

Best Hardware
– Astro A10 Gaming Headset (Astro)
– DisplayLink XR (DisplayLink)
– Razer Thresher Ultimate (Razer)
– Logitech PowerPlay Mat (Logitech)
– Xbox One X (Microsoft)

Best Action Game
Call of Duty: WWII (Sledgehammer Games/Activision)
Destiny 2 (Bungie/Activision)
Far Cry 5 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Star Wars Battlefront 2 (EA DICE/Motive/Criterion/Electronic Arts)
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks)

Best Action/Adventure Game
Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Days Gone (SIE Bend Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Best RPG
Battle Chasers: Nightwar (Airship Syndicate/THQ Nordic)
Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Warhorse Studios/Deep Silver)
Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord (TaleWorlds Entertainment)
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (Level-5/Bandai Namco Entertainment)
South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Ubisoft San Francisco/South Park Digital Studios/Ubisoft)
Vampyr (Dotnod Entertainment/Focus Home Interactive)

Best Fighting Game
Arms (Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)
Dragon Ball FighterZ (Arc System Works/Bandai Namco Entertainment)
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (Capcom)
Pokkén Tournament DX (Bandai Namco Studios/The Pokemon Co.)

Best Racing Game
Forza Motorsport 7 (Turn 10 Studios/Microsoft Studios)
Gran Turismo Sport (Polyphony Digital/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Need for Speed Payback (Ghost Games/Electronic Arts)
Project CARS 2 (Slightly Mad Studios/Bandai Namco Entertainment)
The Crew 2 (Ivory Tower/Ubisoft Reflections/Ubisoft)

Best Sports Game
FIFA 18 (EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts)
Madden NFL 18 (EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PES Productions/Konami)

Best Strategy Game
Battletech (Harebrained Schemes/Paradox Interactive)
Frostpunk (11 bit Studios)
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft)
Total War: Arena (The Creative Assembly/Sega/Wargaming)
Total War: Warhammer 2 (The Creative Assembly/Sega)

Best Family/Social Game
DropMix (Harmonix/Hasbro)
Just Dance 2018 (Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft)
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (TT Games/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)
Hidden Agenda (Supermassive Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment)
That’s You (Wish Studios/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Best Online Multiplayer
Call of Duty: WWII (Sledgehammer Games/Activision)
Destiny 2 (Bungie/Activision)
Star Wars Battlefront 2 (EA DICE/Motive/Criterion/Electronic Arts)
Sea of Thieves (Rare/Microsoft Studios)
Skull & Bones (Ubisoft Singapore/Ubisoft)

Best Independent Game
Ashen (Aurora 44/Annapurna Interactive)
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Inti Creates/505 Games)
Donut County (Ben Esposito/Annapurna Interactive)
Laser League (Roll7/505 Games)
The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti (Beethoven & Dinosaur/Annapurna Interactive)

26th June 2017

Sega’s free, classic mobile games slammed as poor ports

Sega Forever is one of those exciting ideas in theory — a new program from the publisher where classics from its entire library are made into free-to-play mobile games. But players have found that, in practice, Sega Forever is a bit of a bust. Reviews criticize the ports for being poorly emulated, with Sega Networks’ chief marketing officer Mike Evans calling the launch not “as strong as it could have been” in an interview with Eurogamer.

Reviews on iTunes for much of Sega Forever’s first wave of free, classic games, including Phantasy Star 2 and Altered Beast, say the games need work.

“I love Sega’s attempt to entice customers by providing a promising vision of classic games on mobile platforms,” wrote user Jeratain in the most helpful review on the App Store. “Unfortunately, the execution leaves something to be desired.”

Among the issues the user encountered were great deals of lag, freezing or crashing and volume errors. They weren’t alone; several other reviews call the game “jittery” and a “glitchfest.”

John Linneman of Digital Foundry, Eurogamer’s gaming tech-focused section, took to Twitter to warn users against the Sega Forever games as well.

“DO NOT TOUCH those Sega Forever games,” he tweeted just after launch. “Lousy emulation in a Unity wrapper. Not good at all.”

Yet Evans, who works at Sega’s mobile division, said the negative reaction comes mostly from a small number of users.

“For the vast majority of our fans it’s solid, but the specialist guys who are looking for the absolute epitome of quality, we’re going to keep improving for those guys,” Evans told Eurogamer when asked about the launch’s mixed reception.

As for choosing Unity, Evans explained that it helped the company reach as many mobile users as possible. That’s the primary goal with Sega Forever, he said — although the various operating systems on mobile means there’s always some issue that the publisher can’t anticipate.

“I think that whilst we’re continually working to improve on quality — we have to understand the context of mobile in that sense — if you look at the vast majority there’s a lot of very delighted fans out there,” Evans said. “We’re going to continue to improve, the core is very important to us as well, and make those changes so we’re happy and they’re happy.”

26th June 2017

SNES Classic coming this September, with a never-before-released game

The SNES Classic Edition is coming Sept. 29, Nintendo of America announced. The box will include 21 games on it for $79.99, giving it a smaller library than the discontinued NES Classic for $10 more — perhaps because there’s an extra controller in the box.

The system ships with two wired SNES Classic controllers, as well as an HDMI cable, USB charging cable and AC adapter. The two controllers are to make the Classic Edition’s multiplayer games playable right out of the box. (The NES Classic Edition’s special controllers retailed for $10 each, accounting for the price markup.)

Of the games included on the SNES Classic Edition — EarthBound, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past among them — there’s one never-before-released title in the mix. Star Fox 2, which has been widely available as a ROM, never actually made it out onto the Super Nintendo. It was canceled before its official release.

That game won’t be available to play from the start, however. Players will have to unlock it through playing the original Star Fox game, also included with the SNES Classic Edition system.

It shouldn’t be too difficult, however; Nintendo notes on the system’s website that they’ll only have to play the first level of Star Fox.

The full list of games can be found in the image below:

The SNES Classic Edition replaces the NES Classic Edition, the smash hit that launched last fall. Nintendo stopped manufacturing the system this spring for reasons unknown; we speculated then that a possible SNES Classic Edition was among them.

26th June 2017

The European SNES Classic Edition is super cute

The Super Nintendo Classic Edition is heading to Europe on Sept. 29 too, and it’s virtually identical to the North American one. Well, except for one big difference: The system looks much different.

The Super Nintendo that launched in Europe and Japan looks a lot different from the North American edition, so that explains why their miniature sets don’t look the same. We’re not hating on the mini-SNES we’re getting stateside, of course — it’s charming in its own way. But look at how simple and stylish the system Europe’s getting is:

Just as the Family Computer, or Famicom, was redesigned for Western markets to become the Nintendo Entertainment System, so too was the Super Famicom. But the strange thing with the NES’ little brother is that only those in North America got the redesign. Nintendo kept the much sleeker Super Famicom casing for all other regions.

The other difference between the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, as it’s known in Europe, is that it won’t ship with the AC adapter required to power the console. The North American SNES might be uglier, but at least it comes with the AC adapter right in the box.

26th June 2017

Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck quits as Matt Mazzeo steps away from the firm

Justin Caldbeck, the co-founder of Binary Capital, and Matt Mazzeo, the firm’s newest partner, have both resigned from the venture firm, according to a statement from the firm’s remaining co-founder Jonathan Teo.

The statement confirms reporting earlier in the evening on Sunday from Axios and comes as the investment firm struggles to remove the stain of allegations of sexual misconduct by Caldbeck during the years he was managing money there.

Here’s the text of the full statement from Teo:

Caldbeck was the subject of an article in The Information that exposed several years worth of allegations of sexual misconduct, and after a formal apology and a decision to take a leave of absence he has now officially resigned from the firm.

Matt Mazzeo, the former partner at Chris Sacca’s wildly successful Lowercase Capital fund, is stepping away from embattled venture firm Binary Capital only weeks after quietly joining up with the young venture capital shop.

According to reporting from Dan Primack at Axios, Mazzeo (whose position at Binary had never been formally announced) quit the firm earlier today.

Citing a source close to Mazzeo, Primack wrote that Mazzeo had “terminated all ties with Binary today with immediate effect.”

The source tells Primack that Mazzeo had only been at the firm for weeks, but that the allegations and the facts that were revealed meant that he had to step away from an association there.

This news comes on the heels of the Binary delaying a planned $75 million additional close to its $175 million second fund.

The news is grim for Binary, and, at this stage, there are serious concerns that the fund may be unwound by its limited partners.

For that to happen, limited partners could argue that Caldbeck’s departure triggers a “key man” clause in the partnership agreements which would allow them to take back their capital. Investors I’ve spoken with said that even with the “key man” provision triggered investors could unwind the new fund and set up a new shop with co-founder Jonathan Teo managing the money under a new vehicle.

Alternatively the limited partners who backed the fund could find a third party to manage the money, as Primack speculated in his piece.

Mazzeo did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

26th June 2017

Jeff Bezos says Amazon will ‘keep investing’ in India as rivals raise new war chests

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has pledged to continue to invest in India as it bids to keep pace with rivals in the country that have landed large investments from big name backers.

SoftBank and Alibaba have pumped close to $2 billion into Paytm lately while India’s original online retailer, Flipkart, won the backing of prestigious trio Microsoft, eBay and China’s Tencent via a recent $1.4 billion investment. Despite those developments, the Amazon supremo is undeterred on project India for Amazon.

Bezos went public with his continued commitment to the country in a tweet that followed a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington.

Terrific meeting with @narendramodi. Always impressed, energized by optimism and invention in India. Excited to keep investing and growing. https://t.co/xhQ58dik3y

— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) June 25, 2017

The prize on offer is a slice of one of the world’s fastest growing internet markets. India’s online population is tipped to reach 450 million-465 million people by June 2017, according to a report co-authored by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, thereby widening the audience of e-commerce customers. China and the U.S. currently dominate global e-commerce spending, but the value of online sales in India is predicted to rise to $48 billion by 2020, analyst firm Forrester has forecast.

Exact data on who is leading the market right now is both hard to come by and difficult to trust, but Amazon is widely thought to have gained ground on India’s local e-commerce players since it landed in the country four years ago. Last summer, Bezos pledged to invest $3 billion to grow the Amazon India business, having put an initial $2 billion into it back in 2014, and there could yet be more money soon.

Speaking back in April, when he claimed his firm had become India’s top e-commerce player, Bezos hinted that more capital would be supplied to develop the Indian business. This tweet is another indicator that it could come soon.

There are certainly plenty of signs that Amazon is in the mood to invest in areas where it can grow.

Aside from the recent bid to buy Whole Foods in the U.S. for a cool $13.7 billion, Amazon has expanded to the Middle East via a deal to buy Souq.com — which sources peg at around $650 million — and made plans to move into Australia. It also laid the groundwork to bring its service to Southeast Asia, although that plan has been postponed to later this year.

In India itself, Amazon has gone beyond the basics, too. It introduced its Prime service last year, although that initially launched without the video service component. That was soon rectified the following December, when Prime Video went global and expanded its reach to over 200 countries.

26th June 2017

Sorting Lego sucks, so here’s an AI that does it for you

Neural networks are currently being tasked with everything from adding animations to video games to reproducing images taken from MRI scans. Training the AI, which needs to be fed vast amounts of data, can be a slog and even then it may not produce completely accurate results. But when it comes to recognizing and classifying images and objects the AI can cut out a lot of leg work, as Jaques Mattheij found out when he built his own neural network for the novel task of sorting through his massive Lego collection.

You see, Mattheij decided he wanted in on the profitable cottage industry of online Lego reselling, and after placing a bunch of bids for the colorful little blocks on eBay, he came into possession of 2 tons (4,400 pounds) of Lego — enough to fill his entire garage.

As Mattheij explains in his blog post, resellers can make up to €40 ($45) per kilogram for Lego sets, and rare parts and Lego Technic can fetch up to €100 ($112) per kg. If you really want to rake in the cash, however, you have to go through the exhaustive process of manually sorting through your bulk Lego before selling it in smaller groupings online. Instead of spending an eternity sifting through his own, intimidatingly large collection, Mattheij set to work on building an automated Lego sorter powered by a neural network that could classify the little building blocks. In case you were wondering, Lego comes in more than 38,000 shapes and over 100 shades of color, which amounts to a lot of sorting even with the aid of AI.

Starting with a proof of concept (built using Lego, naturally), Mattheij spent the following six months improving upon his prototype with a lot of DIY handiwork. In his own words, he describes his present setup as a “hodge-podge of re-purposed industrial gear” stuck together using “copious quantities of crazy glue” and a “heavily modified” home treadmill.

The current incarnation uses conveyor belts to carry the Lego past a web camera that is set up to take images of the blocks. These are then fed to the neural network as part of its classification training, and all Mattheij has to do is spot the errors in its judgement.

“As the neural net learns, there are fewer mistakes, and the labelling workload decreases,” he states. “By the end of two weeks I had a training data set of 20,000 correctly labeled images.”

With his prototype up and running, Mattheij claims he is just waiting for the machine learning software to reliably class all of the images itself, and then he can start selling off the lucrative toy. If Matthiej manages to get the system working, he could then rechannel those profits into new expensive Lego projects.

26th June 2017

Faulty airbag maker Takata files for bankruptcy

Takata, the Japanese corporation at the heart of the auto industry’s largest ever product recall, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The business supplied airbag inflators that, thanks to poor standards in the plant where they were manufactured, were faulty. The scandal forced a worldwide recall of more than 40 million vehicles and several deaths have been linked to the issue.

CNBC reports that the company has filed for Chapter 11 in Delaware and will do so in Japan, where it is also based, on Monday. There’s no detail about how much the business owes in fines, settlements and other costs, but a Japanese financial analyst puts the figure at around $15 billion. But a rescue plan has already been agreed, with the US-based company Key Safety Systems buying Takata for $1.6 billion.

It appears that the deal will see Takata, essentially, broken into two: a division that Key Safety will own, involving the “non-toxic” assets, and the airbag arm. The latter business will remain operating to replace the damaged airbag components in the recall, and will be wound down soon after work is completed.

Earlier this year, executives at Takata were indicted on charges that they knowingly falsified safety checks to hide the news that they were selling faulty airbags. The company admitted criminal wire fraud back in January, and was planning to pay $1 billion in fines for its wrongdoing.