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Tech News

The Macallan distillery opens up for 4D virtual reality tours

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Denis Balibouse / Reuters

Not everyone has the means to travel to Scotland and visit their favorite distillery a la Ron Swanson. To help connoisseurs live out their dreams of traipsing through its facilities, The Macallan has created the Macallan Distillery Experience. VRFocus describes it as a “4D multi-sensory” group tour that guides folks through the company’s process for making its Single Malt spirit. Along the way you’ll explore the Scottish distillery an the estate it resides on, learning about the outfit’s history along the way. Visitors will step into a “15x15x15 cube-like projection structure” with 360-degree videos beamed to the installation’s walls.

This won’t be the first time Macallan has experimented with VR-tech. Back in 2016, it released a 360-degree video featuring its 12-year double cask liquid. The experience apparently makes use of scents and wind machines to help sell the illusion.

It will debut next week in New York at a private event in Brooklyn on the 23rd, and a few days later it’ll take up temporary residence at Grand Central Station, running from the 25th through the 27th, National Scotch Day. Everyone not in New York will have to make do with talking a walkthrough via their home VR devices. Hopefully if Macallan hands out samples it’ll happen after you take the headset off. Shooting the spirit is kind of beside the point, VR can make you sick while sober and adding booze to the mix can exacerbate that uneasy feeling.

Gaming News

The One Thing Windows Vista Did Right

July 20, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Vista was bad. Coming five years after XP, it was heavily anticipated by Windows users who were impatiently awaiting something interesting from Microsoft as Apple’s star was on the rise. Yet when the OS dropped publicly in January 2007, it was immediately reviled by, well, everyone (except our expert reviewers). It was slower than XP, had annoying DRM that grossly restricted what people could do, and removed a ton of features people liked. It is not hyperbole to say it might be the most hated software product Microsoft has ever produced—impressive for the company that gave us Internet Explorer and Clippy. But Vista did one thing very, very right, and 11 years later, it’s never been more in fashion.

So what was Vista actually prescient about? Translucent design elements.

All the way back in Vista, Microsoft introduced Aero, a design language intended to be a futuristic update to XP. Aero’s most eye-catching feature was the Glass theme, which could make elements throughout the UI transparent. When it was released, it didn’t get more than a passing nod from reviewers who noted it was slick if somewhat irrelevant to the actual performance of the OS.

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Aero lasted through Windows 7—Microsoft’s most critically lauded OS until Windows 10. Then in Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a new design language: Metro. Metro actually kicked off another major trend in user interface design: flat design elements. But it still maintained some of the cool translucent effects introduced in Aero.

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Those translucent effects were carried over to Windows 10 and are easily seen in Edge, the Start menu, and the Notifications panel. They’re so popular, some Windows 10 users are even hacking the OS to add translucency and transparency to everything else!

The effect is super noticeable in the start menu.Screenshot: Windows 10

The trend isn’t reserved to Windows. Apple seems to have been inspired, too. That’s because UI designers, like everyone else, are subject to trends. Once upon a time, everyone tried to make their app icons and buttons look rounded because of iOS. Then, after Windows and Android embraced a flatter look, iOS followed suit with iOS 7 in 2013. It also began sprinkling that sweet, sweet translucent design throughout.

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Look at these pretty menus!Screenshot: macOS Mojave

The translucent elements first appeared in Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 as an option to turn the menu bar translucent. That was in November 2007, nearly a year after Vista launched. Apple seriously began showing off translucent elements when iOS 7 added translucent menus and notifications in 2013. MacOS 10.10 Yosemite began embracing translucency a year later.

Since then, both Apple operating systems have added more and more translucent elements. The most recent additions come courtesy of the betas for macOS Mojave and iOS 12. That’s because both are adding dark translucent elements, which seem to highlight the translucency effect even more. It is reminiscent of glass that’s been frosted and tinted. It’s very attractive. Sometimes I get distracted into marveling at it instead of doing work.

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I mean just look at it in Safari!

GIF: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

It’s so good, I find myself using Safari instead of Chrome just so I can watch stuff I’m scrolling through turn blurry as it hits the browser frame.

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The transparent elements, while not as ubiquitous in iOS, are still present there too—particularly in the iOS 12 beta, which has done away with the garish white panels in the notification center and embraced a dark and translucent look.

Screenshot: iOS 12 Beta

Since Microsoft introduced Aero in 2007, the transparent elements of the Windows UI have evolved and been refined from an operating system’s splashy party trick to an elegant element you might not even notice. Apple has embraced the trend, and even Android is now flirting with translucency. Since Android Oreo was released last year, more and more translucent design elements have appeared throughout Android. It’s especially noticeable in the beta for Android P, the next version of Android expected later this year.

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From left to right: The Notification menu in Android P. Top view of open apps in Android P. The notification menu on a Samsung Galaxy S9.Screenshot: Android

Google’s Android, like Apple, is embracing the trend begun with Vista. Which means, yeah, one of the touchstone design ideas in operating systems and apps today didn’t come from Microsoft’s best operating system. It came from its worst.

Tech News

Zero motorcycle’s modular battery is one pricey upgrade

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

FX Get more info More Scores Engadget Not yet scored   Critic Not yet scored   Users Not yet scored   Key Specs

On a spreadsheet, electric motorcycles can be a tough sell. For starters, gas-powered bikes get outstanding mileage. So while hybrids and electric cars can save a driver money in the long run, that doesn’t really apply to motorcycles. Instead, there’s the warm fuzzy feeling that you’re doing something good for the environment. In addition, you can silently cruise around without frightening the neighborhood pets with a bombastic exhaust. Oh and there’s also the incredible electric torque.

Engadget Score Poor Uninspiring Good Excellent Key Zero Motorcycles FX 83 Pros Fast and nimble Fun to ride No transmission Over-the-air updates Cons Pricey Modular battery pack only makes sense for a small group of people Summary

A fun, quick and nimble commuter bike with a modular battery pack that most people won’t use. The fixed 7.2kWh is probably the the better bet.

The new Zero FX with modular battery (starting at $8,495.00 for the 3.2kWh version) is an even tougher sell on that spreadsheet. It’s a great bike with an intriguing feature: the ability to swap batteries and keep on riding without the hassle of waiting for a bike to charge. That sounds awesome right? It is, but it’s for a select group of riders and to be part of that group, be ready to pony up some cash.

The FX is the more capable version of the FXS I rode before. It’s able to hit the asphalt as well as the dirt. I had a blast riding it in both environments. Plus its lightweight (289 pounds) which gives it a nimbleness that’s perfect for lane splitting on San Francisco’s narrow streets.

I rode the 7.2kWh version of the bike which actually uses two 3.6kWh modular battery packs. Removing the batteries isn’t tough (you just unlock a bar and pull them out) but it requires you to be ready to carry a very heavy brick of electrons. The FX only requires a single battery to operate giving you the option of charging one battery while riding with another hence the 3.2kWh version of the bike. But with that second power supply plugged in the FX bike has 78 foot-pounds

Tech News

Netflix refreshes TV interface with a handy navigation bar

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Netflix

Netflix is giving its TV interface a fresh lick of paint with an update that should make navigation a little easier. A new bar on the left of the screen lets you jump to the TV show and movie catalogs, depending on what you’re in the mood for. You can also check out all of the latest content Netflix has added in the New tab. So, when the new seasons of Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things arrive, you’ll know where to find them quickly. The bar lets you access search and My List in a flash too — you’ll no longer need to scroll through a bunch of rows in the home screen to find everything you’ve saved for later viewing.

The company says the update required extensive research, testing and tech improvements. As with video previews, this refresh is all about spending less time scrolling through titles for something you want to watch, and more time actually kicking back with a show or movie. Netflix is rolling out the update to everyone today.

Tech News

Audi’s latest infotainment system is a smarter driving companion

July 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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“Does the glass move or is the haptic feedback tricking my brain?”

Sometimes you have to ask dumb questions. I was 99 percent sure Audi’s updated MMI infotainment system was creating the illusion that the display moved when I pressed it. But, you have to ask questions just in case. I was informed that the glass does not move.

Gallery: 2019 Audi A7 MMI Touch Response | 19 Photos 19 +15

In addition to tricking your brain, the new infotainment system, called MMI Touch Response, has done away with the rotary dial found on the previous version; there are now two displays instead of one. The top 10.1-inch main screen handles navigation, media and most of the car’s settings and the new, smaller 8.6-inch display takes care of climate controls, text input and shortcuts. The setup is a leap forward for Audi’s in-car tech. That is, if you’re a fan of digital climate controls.

I actually liked the old rotary dial. It gave you quick access to the system without moving your hand too far from the shifter. The top of the controller also had a capacitive touchpad that let you “draw” letters. It was a huge improvement to the hunt-and-peck on-screen keyboard found in some vehicles.

Fortunately, when you do need to input letters into the new system, the lower screen becomes a giant tablet. Even better, the new MMI lets you quickly write out the letters in sequence and it keeps up. Just write the letters over one another and you got yourself a word. I thought I’d miss the rotary controller, but after a few days, I was fine with its absence.

As noted earlier (with the dumb questions), Audi has done a commendable job on the haptic and audio feedback for their infotainment system. Initially, it took a bit to get used to the amount of pressure needed to use the touchscreen — I wasn’t tapping hard enough for the first 15 minutes. But after an hour of driving up and down the autobahn, I adjusted to the pressure requirements. It’s a bit like when everyone got excited about Apple’s Force Touch glass trackpad? Audi’s basically done that for cars.

I’m happy to say that Audi’s plan to make a flatter menu system was a success. I never felt I was more than two taps from something I would interact with while driving. It’s helpful that the automaker moved the most used items to the left-hand side of the screen: Navigation, home screen, media, phone and radio. They’re available via a single a tap that doesn’t require you to stretch to the far side of the display.

Throw very little latency into the mix and you have yourself a winner. Well, mostly a winner.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of climate controls on

Tech News

Adobe plans a full version of Photoshop for iPad in 2019

July 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

It’s never been entirely clear why Adobe never entirely embraced the iPad given its increasing prominence in the creative industries. The company has launched several apps for the slate, but none as full-featured as the full-fat, desktop version of Photoshop. That’s now set to change, according to sources familiar with the matter, who have told Bloomberg that Adobe is going all in on the slate.

It’s believed that Adobe will announce a full version of Photoshop for the iPad at its annual conference, Max, in October. It will then be able for users to actually try at some point in 2019, although we’re at such an early stage that the deadline could slip. Bloomberg received some confirmation from Adobe’s Scott Belsky, who said that the company was working on a “new cross-platform iteration of Photoshop.”

One stumbling block is likely to be the numerous architectures and systems that underpin Adobe’s key pieces of its Creative Cloud. Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator may need ground-up re-writes to both work better with each other and multiple devices in the future. When completed, however, people who pay for Creative Cloud will be able to seamlessly switch between devices — including iPads — when working on projects.

That’s not to say that there aren’t several Photoshop-branded apps already available for iOS, of which there are a handful. It’s just that Photoshop Express, Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Fix don’t offer the same features as its namesake. Not to mention that it’s likely that, before the iPad Pro, developing software that ran on relatively limited hardware would have been quite an investment.

Gaming News

The Crew 2 Players Are At Least Happy With The Game's Car Customization Options

July 10, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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If you don’t have the confidence or time to craft your on decals, you can always use the ones shared by other players. Screenshot: Kotaku (The Crew 2)

On paper there’s a lot to do in The Crew 2. Ten hours in, my map is full of icons. Various races, skill tests, and other points of interest are sprinkled generously from Maine to Washington. Most of it gets boring pretty quickly, and the world itself feels barren and incomplete. That’s probably why so many players are spending time inside their garages decorating their cars.

This picture of a Lamborghini Gallardo riding along a desert canyon at sunset by Reddit user kbl1974 titled “lonely but beautiful” perfectly captures both the shortcomings and enduring appeal of The Crew 2. The game has a lot of cars, and at least in photo mode all of them look gorgeous. Unlike most subreddits where players argue about overpowered weapons or recite their favorite in-game moments, The Crew 2’s is mostly just filled with pictures. That’s because unlike most racing games, The Crew 2’s cars are more fun when they’re not moving.

Screenshot: CMDR_Gungoose (Reddit)

Players have two separate home bases they can hang out at in the game, one in Miami and one in LA. In addition to walking around in first-person admiring the rustic exposed brick and queen mattress sitting on the floor in the corner of the garage, this space is also where you can customize your cars. In addition to paying in-game currency for changes to everything from the front fender to your back rims, there’s also detailed livery editor (aka sticker designer) you can use to add an extra level of detail to the car.

The first game didn’t have this option, but it’s turning out to be one of The Crew 2‘s more charming and robust distractions. There’s a large but finite repertoire of symbols and shapes you can work with, but finding a way to combine them to get complex patterns or cultural iconography like SpongeBob is half the fun. This stuff doesn’t have any effect on sponsorships or your likelihood of winning a race, but it does allow you that much control over how your favorite car appears during impromptu photo shoots while touring the country.

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Screenshot: Superpluisje (Reddit)

Some of the game’s most dedicated players have taken to making uniform liveries for each type of vehicle in their fleet. Others have added their favorite anime characters, or advertisements similar to the ones on the vehicles anime characters have driven themselves. It’s possible to do incredibly detailed liveries in part because The Crew 2 allows 1,000 layers to be customized on each side of the car. Naturally, some players have put in the time and made use of every single one.

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In this way The Crew 2 is more like The Sims or Animal Crossing than a traditional racing game, or even the first Crew game. That’s not exactly by design. The game’s big new feature is the ability to seamlessly shift from driving cars and boats to piloting planes. This increased freedom and verticality has proven a dead end though, since few of the races make interesting use of this ability in their design. There’s also an overriding sense that the world of The Crew 2 has been stripped down somewhat in order to compensate for the fact that you can fly just about anywhere in it. Players have responded by focusing instead on something the game still nails: letting you pick from a large brochure of incredibly expensive cars, customize them to your heart’s content, and then snap pictures of them to share with all your friends.

Tech News

Fiske’s Reading Machine was a pre-silicon Kindle

July 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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E-readers have become one of the most pervasive pieces of tech for many reasons. They survive alongside tablets because they’re accessible — Amazon’s entry-level Kindle is just $80 — and don’t require daily charging. E-ink displays don’t strain your eyes nearly as much as backlit screens, nor do they keep you up at night. Above all else, though, they can hold the entire works of Shakespeare countless times over while being thinner and lighter than any paperback. But this idea of portability, of condensing the written word into a format only a device can understand, is older than The Great Gatsby. It can be traced back to the early 1920s, and the invention of the Fiske Reading Machine.

Bradley Allen Fiske, born 1854, had a long and illustrious career in the US Navy, peaking at the rank of rear admiral. Fiske wasn’t just a naval officer, but a serial inventor. He’s credited with many advancements in warfare technology, masterminding telescopic sights for ship artillery, an electric range finder, motorized gun turrets, as well as radio control and aerial launch systems for torpedoes. The list is exhaustive. And when he retired from service in his early 60s, a year before the US became involved in World War I, his passion for invention did not abate.

From a 1922 edition of ‘Scientific American’

The stories behind many early inventions and concepts are somewhat lost in time, but not Fiske’s Reading Machine. Whether it was down to his long naval career, his pedigree as an inventor or the unique nature of the contraption itself, Fiske’s device captured the imaginations of his era. In 1922, his machine was covered in both Scientific American and Science and Invention magazines. Later articles appeared in The Miami News and Popular Mechanics magazine in 1926.

The Reading Machine was a metal, handheld device featuring a magnifying lens for one eye and a shield to mask the other. Using photo-engraving techniques, Fiske miniaturized printed texts onto cards roughly six inches high by two inches wide, far too small for any standard press to produce or human eye to read. A user would insert the card into the machine and read it through the magnifying lens, moving both the card and the eyepiece to switch between several columns of print. It was a simple but elegant way of compressing any text into something pocket-sized. To demonstrate the idea to journalists, Fiske condensed the first volume of Mark Twain’s Innocent Abroad (a book of roughly 93,000 words) into 13 of these cards.

Credit: Harris & Ewing (circa 1921) / Library of Congress

Fiske believed he had single-handedly revolutionized the publishing industry. Thanks to his ingenuity, books and magazines could be produced for a fraction of their current price. The cost of materials, presses, shipping and the burden of storage could also be slashed. He imagined

Tech News

After Facebook and Google, the EU tackles… daylight savings

July 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Brian Snyder / Reuters

After holding tech giants to account with fines and legislation, the European Commission (EC) sights are now trained on a new target. The commission is polling EU residents to figure out whether it’s time to reconsider daylight savings.

The public survey, available in all official EU languages, asks whether the Union should keep with current setup, or recast the rules for something more consistent throughout the year. For now, member states are obliged to switch to summertime on the last Sunday of March and to switch back to wintertime on the last Sunday of October, “ensuring a harmonized approach to the time switch within the single market.” While daylight savings is observed in the US and most of Europe, elsewhere, including the majority of Africa and Asia, do not.

There’ve been surveys in the past: In 2014, most EU states were fine with daylight savings. Some countries are less happy about it, however. Take Finland, which, given its northern position, sees bigger changes from summer to winter when it comes to hours of daylight. In summer, the sun doesn’t completely set for several weeks in some parts of the country, while the reverse happens in colder months. Conversely, the southernmost states see barely any change in daylight hours throughout the year.

The EC does a good job at spelling out some of the benefits and drawbacks here, and includes the inconclusive health benefits associated with shifting the hours to ensure more daylight during peoples’ typical workdays, and the marginal energy savings in an era where electricity is everywhere and mostly on.

The commission’s survey will run until August 16th — which is good, because the online poll is still down. If those polled want to discontinue the current bi-annual time changes and prohibit periodic switches, each member state would have to decide for itself whether to go for permanent summer or wintertime. (But at least you wouldn’t have to remember whether you had to put your clocks forward or backwards without googling it.)

Tech News

The unique stress of running a successful indie studio

July 2, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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It’s a big year for Capybara Games. Below is actually coming out, five years after its announcement and three years after its original promised release date, but that’s only the half of it.

“I’m just starting to come to the realization of what’s left in 2018,” Capy co-founder Nathan Vella says. “We’re only halfway through and I’m like, ‘Aww, I’ve gotta fit everything into the last half?'”

Capy is working on two other games while it prepares Below for launch, which is a beast of a project unto itself. The team plans on announcing the new games around August.

“I believe pretty strongly in waiting for the right time,” Vella says. “As proven by a game that’s, like, three years late.”

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It’s busy at Capy, but this is precisely how Vella likes it — one independent studio working on multiple projects at the same time. It’s a system that most indie teams, especially ones just starting out, can’t quite swing, due to a lack of resources, time or funds.

However, Capy operates in an indie-studio sweet spot. It’s been around for 15 years, and it has a solid track record of shipping acclaimed, successful games. At this point, a decade and a half into the studio’s existence, Capy is financially stable enough to take three extra years developing the most complex game in its history. And a few more games on top of that.

“The big studio focus is shipping Below, but we also have a couple other titles,” Vella says. “We’re super interested in getting on all kinds of platforms, like we’ve always been really big into doing stuff on everywhere. So, some of the new stuff is not necessarily the same platforms that we’ve been working on in the recent past, which is really fun for the team.”

Capy is the house behind Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Critter Crunch and Super Time Force, and it’s developed games under major publishers, including Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes for Ubisoft and OK KO! Let’s Play Heroes for Cartoon Network. Its early focus was mobile, but more recently it’s been building games for PC and consoles.

Vella and a dozen members of Toronto’s International Game Developers Association founded Capy in 2003, and by 2009 the studio had grown to 23 people. They made a living working on mobile games for Disney and other major publishers, but the studio cemented itself as an indie powerhouse in 2011 with the launch of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, which Capy developed and published. It was a stylish and innovative title that helped drive the early market for high-quality mobile games.

Below has a similar genre-shifting vibe: It’s something entirely new and mysterious, and it has a trademark art style. Players control a tiny character in a vast cave system, exploring the depths and fighting