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'Emojiland' review: Come for the 💩, stay for the 💗

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Warning: This review contains mild spoilers.

Spending two hours of my life watching emoji deal with existential crises isn’t something I ever expected to do. That almost feels fitting considering that the show’s creators, Keith and Laura Harrison, never expected they’d have the chance to stage their emoji musical off-Broadway. Emojiland runs through Sunday as part of the New York Musical Festival, and it endeavors to deal with weightier subjects than you might expect from a show in which a woman dressed as a 💩 brings the house down with a brassy, gospel-inspired number in a bathroom stall. But what is it like to actually sit through? Not bad, actually, as long as you’re walking in with an open mind.

The narrative is, as you might expect, pretty thin. All is more or less well in this microcosmic kingdom until a software update arrives — which obviously calls for a party at the Progress Bar — bringing a handful of new emoji with it.

Packed with endearing characters and scene-stealing performances, Emojiland is a charming way to kill an evening off-Broadway. Just beware of the show’s uneven pacing and scattershot character development — it’s been four years in the making, and the show still feels like it needs more focus.

The newcomers instantly give the cast a jolt of energy: The feckless, domineering Princess emoji (played with scene-stealing verve by Broadway vet Lesli Margherita) suddenly meets her match in a flamboyant Prince (Josh Lamon) who can belt just as well as she can. And Emojiland co-creator Keith Harrison soon appears as Nerd Face, the endearing, nasal pseudo-protagonist who quickly forms an emotional connection with the Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes emoji (also known as Smize) played by the show’s other co-creator, Harrison’s wife, Laura.

Given their years-long marriage, it’s little surprise that the moments the Harrisons share onstage feel so substantial. Even though the circumstances of Nerd Face and Smize’s meeting are somewhat trite, their affection embodies an earnest magnetism that’s totally absent in the bond Smize shares with her douchebag boyfriend, Sunny. (You might know him better as 😎.) It’s at this point that Emojiland reveals its true colors. Sure, you’re there to see how emoji deal with a world-ending crisis in two hours, but it revels in fleshing out the relationships that the world is built around.

Especially affecting was the easy, natural romance between the female Police Officer emoji (Angela Wildflower) and female Construction Worker emoji (Megan Kane), which provided a satisfying contrast to the show’s other love story. While Nerd Face and Smize spend the show sorting out their feelings for each other, PoPo and CoWo, as they refer to each other, have an established, caring relationship between two working women devoted to their careers and each other.

Theirs is the most mature and functional relationship in Emojiland, and the fact that the show portrays a gay, interracial love story without so much as

Tech News

‘Emojiland’ blends musical theater and existential angst

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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The thing about musical theatre is that pleasant surprises are never too hard to find. A rock musical about 19th-century German teenagers exploring their sexuality won a Tony. And right now, a man playing a cartoon sponge from Nickelodeon is charming audiences on Broadway. Is it so strange, then, that someone out there decided a musical about emoji needed to happen? Nah.

The real surprise is that such a show — Emojiland, which makes its off-Broadway premiere tonight as part of the New York Musical Festival — seems set to defy expectations. That’s because married co-creators Keith and Laura Harrison haven’t just spent the last four years writing a musical about emoji. They spent the last four years writing, staging, performing and rewriting a musical about emoji, all in hopes of sharing a piece of art with real emotional resonance.

Let’s get a few things straight up-front. Yes, every character in the show is an emoji. Yes, there’s an actual narrative here. All of the action is contained within a phone that has just received a software update and, sure enough, things start to go awry very quickly. And no, humans aren’t a part of this story (though they sort of were in earlier drafts).

Thankfully, the Harrisons understood that trying to create a valuable piece of art about emoji of all things meant having to grapple with the concept’s intrinsic absurdity. Rather than continuously wink and nudge at the audience — as if to say, hey, how weird is this? — the creators chose to frame the show’s many conflicts with some good, old-fashioned existential angst.

“We have certain characters that have romantic conflicts, political conflicts, dietary conflicts — whatever,” Keith told Engadget. “Essentially it’s framed by [the Skull emoji], who is the embodiment of death and is therefore more important than anythig else. Skull is the one that believes emoji are as insignificant as all the people in the world who go ’emojis, really?'”

As the update-based chaos continues to unfold around the cast, it’s Skull the nihilist that serves to skewer the show’s silliness. At one point, when the antics subside, he asks a poignant question through song: “Who is it among us who has really lost their noodle? Isn’t it a fact, my friend, you’re more or less a doodle?” To the Harrisons, moments like that are crucial injections of context — the conversations that preceded the song are immediately called into question because, as Keith puts it, “they’re all just dust sitting there, who the hell cares?”

This “textistential” quandary is made more complex by the different layers of distance at play here. The audience is separated from the cast by an invisible fourth wall. The emoji are separated from the human world by unseen layers of metal and glass. Because emoji aren’t much more than characters on a keyboard, and Skull is around to remind us of their frivolousness, the emoji’s problems

Tech News

Google is resurrecting blob emoji again

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Google

Fans of Google’s now-dead blob emoji have a reason to be happy today. The company announced that it’s resurrecting its cute, flatly designed characters, albeit as a sticker pack for Gboard and Android Messages, as spotted by The Verge. What’s the occasion? Well, it’s World Emoji Day, of course. This isn’t a direct replacement for the standard circular emoji Google adopted after unceremoniously killing its own version off, but if you’re feeling nostalgic for a time before Android O it should do the trick. Now, Google has done this before, on World Emoji Day last year to be exact, but the adorable ‘lil guys were imprisoned in Allo which put a damper on the festivities. Thankfully, the search juggernaut seems to have learned it’s better to wait before sending a drunk announcement this time.

Tech News

Apple’s new emojis will include a superhero and more hair options

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Apple

Apple announced today that more than 70 new emojis are on the way, including characters with more hair options, new food items and additional animals. Emoji faces will soon have the option of having red hair, will include more gray and curly hairstyles and will also have a bald selection. As for new smiley faces, Apple will be releasing a cold face, party face, pleading face and face with hearts. New animals will include a kangaroo, parrot, lobster and peacock while new food options will include a mango, cupcake, lettuce and moon cake. Also on the docket are more sports emojis, like a softball, as well as superhero characters.

Earlier this year Apple proposed 13 emojis representing people with disabilities including guide and service dogs, individuals with canes and a person signing the word “deaf.”

The new emojis have been approved by Unicode and will be released later this year.

Images: Apple

Tech News

TouchPal built an AI for its alternative Android keyboard

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Over the years, TouchPal has remained one of the most popular Android keyboards with its generous bundle of features, including gesture typing, neural network-powered prediction, multilingual support, GIF search, themes and more; though some of these have also become standard on other keyboards, such as Google’s very own Gboard. As an attempt to stay on top of the game, the company has finally pushed its new TouchPal Keyboard Pro out of beta to debut “Talia,” its AI personal assistant.

Talia is designed in such a way that it delivers quick suggestions in a bubble as you type, but also in a way that doesn’t overburden you. These include simple offerings like one-tap paste aka “Swift Paste,” very basic calculations (with no more than two numbers for convenience’s sake) and currency conversion, as well as something a little more advanced like smart replies, GIF predictions, weather forecast and dining recommendations — part of this relies on Yelp, so availability depends on your region.

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I’ve been using TouchPal Keyboard Pro over the last few days, and overall, these features do make my life easier by saving me a few taps. “Swift Paste” in particular is one of my most-used features here: it delivers my copied text in a bubble as soon as I tap a new text field, and I can just poke that bubble to paste the text, which is a tad faster than the usual pasting method.

I’m also a fan of the GIF prediction feature, which offers a menu of related GIFs whenever I type in common internet slangs like “LOL,” “WTF” and “LMAO,” or even just simple reactionary words including “wow,” sad,” “cool” and more. But of course, if I need more specific GIFs, I can always just load up TouchPal’s built-in GIF search engine or text-to-GIF generator — both of which are just two taps away.

The dining recommendation has been hit-or-miss for me, but that’s only because the feature has yet to be optimized for Hong Kong. This “restaurants nearby” bubble shows up whenever you type food-related words — be it “breakfast,” “lunch,” “dinner,” “meal,” “hungry” or simply “food” itself. Tap it and you’ll be given a list of restaurant recommendations within your city, then tap “send” and TouchPal will paste the restaurant’s name, address plus its Yelp link in your text box for sharing.

This is no doubt a neat feature, though at the time of writing this article, some of the recommended eateries I saw were a bit far out, and there was no way for me to sort the list by distance. A TouchPal rep said that his team will be working closely with Yelp to fix this in the near future, so stay tuned.

In addition to the aforementioned assistant features, TouchPal Keyboard Pro also comes with its very own AR emoji feature, which uses just the front-facing camera on almost any recent Android device to animate

Tech News

Google releases second Android P beta with a ton of new emoji

June 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Google

Announced at Google’s I/O event last month, Android P is set to change the way we use our phones in some significant ways. The first beta launched soon after the announcement, showing up for 11 different phones, including Pixel, Xperia X72 and the Essential Phone. Now, Google has just released the second Android P beta, which includes 157 new emoji along with updated tools to help developers get ready for a late summer consumer release.

Android P users will get a host of new emoji characters, including red hair, superhero, face with three hearts, bagel with cream cheese, mooncake, lobster and llama. The first two will be available in male and female genders and with five skin tones. In addition, Android P will support two new gender-neutral designs: Family and Couple with Heart, with more to come. There will also be some updated emoji, including a more cooked-looking bacon symbol, a salad without an egg (to make it vegan-friendly), a newly textured turtle emoji and a cricket that looks less like a grasshopper. As this is a beta, of course, these could change again before the final release.

This beta release has the final APIs, along with the official SDK for developers to get started readying their apps for Android P. The new OS has some new features devs will want to take advantage of, including the AI-based Adaptive Battery system, App Actions (like Siri App Suggestions), and Slices.

Tech News

LED screen shows happy thoughts in your rear window

June 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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When I commuted by car every day, I always wanted to build an LED display that would communicate my displeasure with my fellow motorists. My lack of engineering know-how put paid to the idea, but thankfully someone has turned the idea into a product, albeit with a focus on the niceties. CarWink is the brainchild of Wei Cheng Chou, a Taiwanese electrical engineer who studied at California’s exclusive ArtCenter College of Design. It’s a little display that tells other motorists you’re full of love rather than, say, where to stick their genitalia.

Commuting in California was a troubling experience, and he wanted to find a way to express his frustration in a more constructive way. “Japanese culture,” Chou explained, “shows you how to be polite,” joking that it’s necessary, because “everyone in the US has a gun!.” Rather than the essay-length screen in my own fever dreams, CarWink has a round, five-inch display packing 480 LEDs over a solar panel. You can also recharge it over microUSB, but the hope is that you’ll use it sparingly, so the sun can keep the battery topped up.

CarWink displays pixel art emojis, like that of a pedestrian crossing the street, a winking cat face or a love heart. You can even spell out certain words, like Thanks, Need Help or Slow Down, all of which Chou says can be seen up to two cars’ distance behind you. He was inspired by “Nintendo games and Tamagotchi,” which helped him design art that was cute and inoffensive. It will initially be able to display 50 images, with users able to submit more for their own use.

Before I could ask, however, Chou added that he has to “check each one,” and will block anything too offensive or provocative. And it appears that, even before he has shipped the models for his Kickstarter, he has already received a number of requests for a middle finger symbol. Activating these pleasant messages will be down to your phone, which will connect to the device via Bluetooth. It’s expected that, as well as a series of easy-to-push buttons on the app, users will be able to command messages using their voice.

If there’s one thing to be said for CarWink, it’s that it’s pretty chunky and it might be too big for some smaller cars to handle. Not to mention that if you’re spending your time looking at your phone for the right emoji, you might not be devoting all of your time to the road. Given the campaigns to get people not to play with their phones while driving, a device like this has a slightly counter-productive edge. That said, its message of positivity can’t be criticized, especially since we could all do with being nicer on the roads.

After meeting its Kickstarter goal, CarWink went onto Indiegogo, where users can pick up a unit for an early bird price of $92. After that point,

Tech News

2019's emoji hopefuls include a service dog and flamingo

June 1, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Unicode has released a preview list of what might end up in the next round of emoji. Potential additions to Unicode 12 include a diving mask, axe, falafel, waffle, diya lamp and Hindu temple. Oh, a flamingo and a white heart, too. Because people were apparently craving those. Most importantly, the list includes a smattering of new emoji for people with disabilities, like an ear with a hearing aid, a motorized wheelchair, a service dog and mechanical leg among others.

A few months ago, Apple proposed 13 emoji for folks with hearing, motor and vision disabilities. Given that the Unicode list of possibilities includes a number of those, it seems like we could start seeing those next year. Until then, we’re just 🙆 that it won’t be too long before we can cryptically drop emoji for a test tube, bar of soap and a supervillain into a message and 🤷 everyone.