Monday, July 28, 2014

Tower Bridge at Night

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Razer tries on wearables with the Nabu smartband

Every year there's a few obvious trends at CES, and this year wearables are everywhere. We've seen fitness tracker announcements from Sony, Intel, Garmin, and one rather surprising candidate: Razer. Best known for its stylish peripherals and gaming laptops, the company is jumping into the fray with a smartwatch and tracking band mash-up called the Razer Nabu. It's a stylish band that melds smartphone notifications with a suite of fitness-tracking features, but unlike its competitors — who focus primarily on all-in-one turnkey solutions — Razer is hoping third-party developers will take the reins and turn the Nabu into a full-fledged platform. "We've been working on the Nabu band for about three and half years," says Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan. "So we've looked at everything from smartwatches to fitness bands along the way, and we were pretty unhappy with the state of things." Smartwatches often suffer from mediocre battery life, he says, while fitness bands have a hard time retaining users after the honeymoon period ends. Razer's approach was to think of the device in broader terms: less of a single-use device, and more of a lifestyle-focused accessory. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan. On the outside, the Nabu's biggest differentiating feature is the inclusion of two OLED screens (despite the dual displays, Razer says the device will achieve between 7 to 10 days of battery life). The smaller screen on the outside of your arm lights up with icons for emails or calls, for example, letting you know when you have a notification. The larger "private" screen is on the inside of your arm, and displays the name of the caller or specific details on the notification. It's a thoughtful approach: people you're talking to at the dinner table may know you're getting a phone call, but only you will know who it's from. The device will work with both iOS and Android phones over Bluetooth Low Energy, and Tan says any notification that a phone displays can be surfaced on the Nabu. It also contains an accelerometer and altimeter for counting steps walked, stairs climbed, and tracking your sleep. That feature lineup is pretty much table stakes in the fitness tracking market at this point, but it's the uses that haven't even been dreamt up yet that Razer is betting will really set the Nabu apart. "We're opening up all this information." "We're opening up all this information, all this data — subject of course to the user's permission — to developers out there. So first-party and third-party developers can now use all this data that they didn't have access to before." Whether it's the steps you've taken or the locations you've visited, all of the data collected by the Nabu is synced back to a user's smartphone via a Razer utility app, at which point developers can work with it all. While many similar products have APIs, access is usually limited to reading or modifying data from a user's account rather than keying off the device itself. It opens up a realm of possibilities, particularly considering that one Nabu band will be able to talk to another. Using a set of pre-defined gestures — such as a handshake — users could share information or add each other over a social network. While the company will be releasing its own apps for sleep and fitness, it's otherwise an accessory-style approach, with Razer providing the device that collects the information, but letting developers out there find clever and exciting uses for it. Of course, that only matters if the device itself is fantastic, and it was hard to get a sense of the final product from the early prototype we saw. The design was minimalist and unobtrusive, the twin screens fading into the black band when not in use, but in terms of functionality things were rather spotty. It was running with an alpha version of the smartphone app, we were told, and the Nabu wouldn't reliably connect. The OLED displays also weren't as effective as we'd hoped; while the icon notifications were nice and clear, the text on the private screen was tiny and required some squinting to make out the messages. Selling direct to developers first Razer will have time to iron out those kinks, however. It plans on selling the device in the months ahead for $49 — but only to developers. That will give the company time to drum up support and make sure there are apps that take advantage of the Nabu when the consumer version launches later this year at a slightly higher (and unannounced) price. Either way, Razer is heading into a hotly contested market segment with some established competitors, but the company is hoping it can leverage its own pair of secret weapons against the Nikes of the world: gamers and game developers. He describes a scenario where a gamer could be driving home, and an online game — aware of his location through the Nabu — could send him a message asking him to join in when he arrives home. "Or for that matter, if they can see he's meeting his guild mates in real life, and send him cool stuff along the way. That's the stuff we're really, really excited about."

The world's most powerful planet-hunting instrument shows off its first images

The image above might not look like much, but what it shows is in fact stunning: a 10-million-year-old planet called Beta Pictorus b, located around 63 light years from Earth, orbiting around its giant parent star. And images like this one are poised to become much more common, thanks to the launch of a camera that'll vastly improve our abilities to detect far-off planetary systems. The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), a collaborative international effort among institutions including NASA, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of California, Berkeley, has been in development for nearly a decade. This week, however, researchers unveiled the camera's first shots of distant planets, which were snapped from the Gemini South telescope in Chile this past November. Spot and capture an exoplanet's image within minutes The instrument is specifically designed to detect infrared radiation (allowing it to readily spot young planets still glowing brightly from their formation) and actually "masks" light emitted by parent stars that would otherwise block or distort a planet. Researchers estimate that it's about ten times more sensitive than previous instruments, and will be able to spot and capture an exoplanet's image within minutes — rather than days. Not to mention that, until recently, detecting and analyzing exoplanets was largely a matter of inference. "Most planets that we know about to date are only known because of indirect methods that tell us a planet is there, a bit about its orbit and mass, but not much else," said team leader Bruce Macintosh in a statement. "With GPI we directly image planets around stars — it's a bit like being able to dissect the system and really dive into the planet's atmospheric makeup and characteristics." A planet's formation, atmospheric composition, temperature, and orbit In the months and years to come, scientists will certainly have no shortage of exoplanets to dive into. For now, those working with GPI plan to study some 600 young stars to create a survey of their orbiting planets. And of course, GPI will yield much more than just mind-boggling images: data from the instrument will offer clues into a planet's formation, atmospheric composition, temperature, and orbital pattern.

Amazon will stream new Halle Berry sci-fi series four days after episodes air on CBS

Last year CBS and Amazon struck a deal that brought episodes of the Stephen King adaptation Under the Dome to Amazon Prime Instant Video just four days after they aired, and the companies will be continuing that arrangement with another upcoming summer show. Extant is described as a mystery thriller, and stars Halle Berry as an "astronaut trying to reconnect with her family when she returns after a year in outer space." The series will make its premiere in June. Much of the focus this past year has been on original streaming programming, but the original Under the Dome deal was a novel hybrid of the old and the new. Subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime usually don't carry new shows until the full season has aired, making them a great option for binge watching but not very helpful if you simply want to catch up on a few episodes you forgot to DVR. With the streaming deal, the series was able to get exposure across multiple platforms to an even broader audience. Under the Dome ended up being a huge summer hit, and the companies renewed that streaming arrangement last September.

Nokia’s Android phone UI revealed in leaked photo

Nokia has been building its own Android phone, codenamed Normandy, and the first examples of its user interface are now starting to emerge. Evleaks has posted an image of Nokia’s custom Android implementation, with three examples of how the smartphone maker has tweaked the UI. A Skype app can be seen running on one device, and a phone dialer and lockscreen with notification center are shown on the other devices. The UI appears to be a mix of Asha and Windows Phone elements, with hardware support for dual-SIM. It’s not yet known whether Nokia’s Android device will ever be released. While the company has been testing it as a low-end option in its device range, Microsoft’s Nokia acquisition leaves the project in limbo. The Verge previously reported that Nokia’s “Normandy” device uses a special forked variant of Android that’s not aligned with Google’s own version. Microsoft is expected to close its Nokia deal in the coming months, at which time we’ll likely learn Normandy’s fate.

Doc Brown sets the DeLorean to 2014, arrives at CES to shill for Gibson

When Marty McFly uses your guitar to introduce the world to rock 'n' roll and "Johnny B. Goode," your marketing department is pretty much set forever. So when it's your 120th anniversary, and you're at CES 2014, a place where a replica Back to The Future DeLorean is basically a celebrity, there's really only one thing Gibson could do. Get a DeLorean, get Christopher Lloyd to get out of it (apparently Michael J. Fox was otherwise engaged) and play the same ES-345 guitar Marty used to scandalize the Hill Valley High School crowd in 1955, and watch the money pile up. Just for good measure, maybe also get someone to hand Dr. Emmett Brown a blue set of Google Glass. Welcome to CES 2014. Gibson's booth is just outside the Verge trailer, next to the Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. After crating in palette after palette of electric guitars, Monday night was the beginning of an evening ritual: deafening concerts for the many middle-aged businessmen who populate CES every year. (Tonight, it's Huey Lewis and the News covers.) But on Tuesday morning, with only the bottom of a DeLorean peeking out of the bottom of a cover, a different kind of buzz started. And at 4PM, Lloyd showed up, took a lap in the car (which, since it doesn't drive itself and probably can't even drift, is now incredibly out of date), and spent a few minutes pretending he played the guitar. Then he, the time-travel-discovering Emmett Brown, fumbled around with Google Glass as he took a set from someone in the crowd. His concert was brief, but crowded, and Doc Brown quickly became a story at CES. It was all part of an elaborate event from Gibson, during which Lloyd “traveled back” to 1894 to see Gibson's very first guitars (some now worth millions of dollars). Because at CES, everything is a marketing gimmick. But unlike bringing Michael Bay up to talk about your curved TVs or asking Shaq to hawk your HDMI cables, bringing out the Back to the Future gang is awesome.

Vizio's first 4K TVs will start at only $999

Vizio announced its first lineup of 4K TVs yesterday, but there was no word on price. Surprisingly enough, the company has already broken its silence on the matter — its consumer-grade P series lineup of 4K TVs will start at only $999.99 for a 50-inch model. The top-end, 70-inch model will go for $2,599.99, making Vizio's series the most affordable we've seen yet. While Polaroid announced a $999 4K TV, its quality leaves a lot to be desired — but that's not the case with Vizio's models. We had a chance to check them out for ourselves and you're definitely looking at a high-quality picture. Of course, getting 4K content remains a challenge, but Vizio has also formally announced that Netflix's 4K content would be available on its new TVs. That's no big surprise, as Netflix was involved in announcements with a number of other huge hardware makers yesterday (including LG, Samsung, and Sony). It's still good news for anyone looking to get into 4K — now there's a quality, affordable option and the promise of content to come throughout the year.