Well, we can’t say that today’s Google I/O conference keynote didn’t have some surprises.
To be certain there wasn’t anything as world-turning as the announcement of Glass, in fact the offerings this time out–another attempt to take over TV screens, smart watches–almost look like Google is out of big ideas. Yet everyone at the event was given a cardboard box which might be the most high tech thing ever: a DIY setup that turns Android smart phones into virtual reality devices.
The app that allows all this to happen is called Cardboard and Google has released both the app and instructions on how to build your own viewer to the public.
I’m torn over this. On the one hand this definitely gives people and developers who are excited about virtual reality something to play with. The DIY nature means that those who bother to build their own Cardboard viewer will know just how “alpha” the tech is. The problem is that VR has some serious issues when it isn’t working near 100%. Cybersickness isn’t just about the possibility of puking: it can lead to some serious aftereffects when exposures are long and users are unaccustomed to virtual environments.
In so many ways the last thing VR evangelists need are super-cheap viewers in the hands of the general public. It has more potential to turn people off than it does to get the general public fired up. Given how badly Google botched the public relations rollout of Glass it doesn’t surprise me that they’re diving in with both feet and a smile on The Next Big Thing. It just disappoints me that the company hasn’t seemed to have learned the lesson that public betas of hardware aren’t a wise bet.
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Airbnb, the “sharing economy” darling that lets anyone become a hotelier for a day (week, month, lifetime) is not known for sharing their data. That’s something that fair housing advocates and others who are concerned with how deeply the practice of temporarily renting out a home/apartment impacts housing stock in an era of high rents.
So the San Francisco Chronicle took matters into their own data-savvy hands:
Although the company refuses to release numbers, a data analysis commissioned by The Chronicle found almost 5,000 San Francisco homes, apartments, and private or shared rooms for rent via Airbnb. Two-thirds were entire houses or apartments, showing how far Airbnb has come from its couch-surfer origins, and contradicting its portrayal as a service for people who rent out a spare room and interact with guests.
Look: I’ve known more than one person who has managed to make ends meet thanks to Airbnb, Lyft and their cousins. The core idea isn’t all that hideous, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that so long as these practices are left unregulated they will trend towards behaving like industries and not as ways for people to eek out a little extra cash. That can have all kinds of unintended effects: like turning the already tourist-centric San Francisco into a city where no one really lives.
Via Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things
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In the world of start-ups no name is more polarizing than Uber. The car service “disruptor,” which has become the poster child of the so-called “sharing economy” has drawn the ire of pundits and regulators alike as it seeks to redefine urban ground transportation.
It has also drawn boatloads of cash. Today Uber announced a funding round of $1.2 billion against a massive $17 billion valuation. The Street believes in Uber, despite a string of nasty regulatory battles and a string of lurid reports about the actions of some of its drivers.
And Uber? Uber totally believes in itself:
Uber is changing the fabric of these cities. At our current rate, Uber is responsible for directly creating 20,000 new jobs per month and powering billions in economic impact in cities around the world – while also improving the environment, reducing DUI rates and fueling urban economic development.
Of course, that 20,000 doesn’t run the math on how many taxi drivers Uber puts out of business or flips. Nor does it cop to the fact that the service built out its infrastructure on the back of a long standing rivalry between cabbies and black town car drivers. It also fails to mention the Uber ambition of adding driverless cars to its fleet.
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As I get older I find myself becoming sympathetic to the idea of “radical transparency.”
The recent ruling by the highest court in the European Union establishing a “right to be forgotten” for its citizens has created a tricky trap for search giant Google: they have to provide a way for EU citizens to remove search results that link to pages that are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.” That’s a pretty broad mandate, and it has been left to Google to define how to do this.
So they created a form.
The form requires a photo ID, a list of the offending URLs, a statement of what country the request originates from, and an explanation of how the request meets the EU criteria.
Naturally there are critics that say this isn’t enough.
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With all the concerns we have about privacy and data mining by marketers Apple’s iBeacon technology, which uses low energy Bluetooth signals to communicate with iPhones, has seemed to have more downsides than up. After all, if a store shelf is talking to your phone, then it knows where you are. That fact alone can make people uncomfortable.
So what are the potential upsides?
How about a pair of sunglasses that hollers at you when you lose them? That’s what the Australian sunglass maker Tzurkuri has in mind, as reported by 9 to 5 Mac:
As for iBeacon features, the companion iOS app will automatically start sending notifications if you leave the glasses behind (at 16ft, then again at 32ft and 50ft). You’ll also be able to track your glasses “if you misplace your Tzurkuris at home, you can track distance to the nearest foot. Alternatively, in wide-open spaces, the app will save the last location you had your glasses and show you on a map.” With iBeacon post iOS 7.1, users won’t even have to open the app to get notified.
While this is a vision of the Internet of Things I can get behind (I’m already down two pairs of sunglasses this year) it’s going to cost: the glasses will be available for around $230 dollars as part of a crowdfunding pre-order, and then jump in price once they land in stores next year.
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The integration of Twitch.tv into both of the new video game consoles released this past holiday season all but anointed the service as the one, true platform for streaming games. This week the service has taken two steps towards its evolution into a game distribution platform.
First, the company is matching funds in the Kickstarter campaign for the game Choice Chamber, which uses a chat room based mechanic similar to the cultural phenomenon Twitch Plays Pokemon that allows the audience of the game to create the challenges that the player faces. In an article at The Verge designer Michael Molinari says that the game turns the audience into “torture artists” who have their fun by throwing the player into trouble at every turn. Choice Chamber is built around a concept known as “asymmetrical multiplayer,” in this case with the potential of thousands of audience members slipping into the role of sadistic game designers for a short while.
Twitch’s other big move? It is now possible to buy games on the service. Okay. A game. Indie studio Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne. The pitch for buying it through Twitch as opposed to the other supported marketplaces, i.e. Steam and the Humble Store? Access to subscriber-only chats on Twitch.
This tiptoeing into game distribution raises a question: how will the distribution platforms that have already embraced Twitch–Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Valve’s Steam–take the streaming service’s moves onto their turf? Choice Chamber and Nuclear Throne are both indie efforts, but that’s a part of the marketplace that Sony and Valve have staked out pretty heavily. Can any of these platforms they tolerate partner/competitors who have an intense relationship with their users?
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This story airs on American Public Media’s Marketplace.
Over the past two years, there has been an explosion of interest in competitive online gaming, known as eSports. Professional video game players face off in matches broadcast around the globe, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars in arenas filled with tens of thousands of fans.
At the recent Call of Duty World Championship in Los Angeles, two four-man teams of gamers, their shirts covered in corporate logos, faced off for the top title.
The gamers were observed by a studio audience, which peered into a control room constructed on a gunmetal stage. On the side of that stage sat the play-by-play men, who called the action in suits and ties.
A million dollars in prizes was on the line at the tournament, which was broadcast free online by Major League Gaming, an eSports promoter that’s been around since 2002, when most of America was on dial-up. (more…)
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Here’s the pitch: three game developers hop in a van in Austin, Texas and travel to another city to interview some of their heroes. On the way they make a video game inspired by their interviewee’s work.
While in the van.
That’s the premise behind Indie Van Game Jam a documentary web series about indie games that puts the spotlight on a different studio with each episode. The team behind it, Binary Solo, took a stab at raising funds for the project on Kickstarter last year, but when that didn’t work they persevered.
Now the first episode is out in the wild. The first episode, and the first game. Each episode of the series will not only feature the video documentary, but alongside it will release a game from the roving game jam.
Episode one focuses on Chicago’s Rob Lach (Sphere, Pop: Methodology Experiment One) and features the Binary Solo jam It’s Not Me, It’s You. The game is a perspective twisting play on the first-person shooter genre, and is a delightful way to spend a few minutes on a foggy headed Monday.
Here’s to more game jams and vans from the Binary Solo crew.
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Just because everyone else on the Internet has noted it won’t stop me from mentioning it too:
The first of what could be many of Google’s April 1st gags–let’s not call this a prank, since no one is gullible enough to take it seriously–is a mod for the mobile version of Google Maps that turns the app into a Pokemon catching game. The video that announced the game claims that a “strong willed” competitor who can find all 150 Pokemon will earn the right to battle for the job of Google’s own Pokemon Master.
Logging into the latest version of Maps on Android or iOS and tapping the search bar will reveal an option to go to the Pokemon Lab. Said lab just so happens to be located inside the Googleplex, and there are a fair amount of Pokemon nearby.
The pocket monsters, however, are spread out all over the world. I’ve already found Pokemon in France, Ireland, and Antarctica. In fact I’ve already caught 25 Pokemon, including Pikachu and a Bulbasaur, so you might as well give up now!
On a more serious note: I wonder if this little experiment will prove popular enough that Nintendo decides to make a *real* Pokemon mobile game?
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A version of this story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.
When Facebook purchases a company, you can often hear a collective groan go around the internet — “there goes the neighborhood.” The social network’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp gave Facebook access to a younger and more global user base.
But the Oculus acquisition is the first time Facebook has bought a high-profile hardware company, one that comes with a pre-exisitng fanbase. Since debuting on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter 18 months ago, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset has been the most talked about device in video games.
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