Fortnite is just a black hole right now

Posted by | fortnite, Gaming | No Comments

Fortnite just blew up its entire map and all that’s left is a black hole.

Some are speculating that this is simply a teaser for a new Fortnite map, but it’s unclear when that new map will arrive. On Epic Games’ status page, it says Fortnite is currently experiencing a minor service outage, noting “anomaly detected.”

As Kotaku reports, players this morning were only able to access a team fight mode called “The End.” That led to a massive explosion that resulted in a black hole.

Fortnite’s website is currently just a Twitch stream featuring a black hole.

https://t.co/cTqXvOTuoa

— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) October 13, 2019

Powered by WPeMatico

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold concierge service is live in the US for those who need it

Posted by | galaxy fold, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold | No Comments

Part of Samsung’s reboot of the Galaxy Fold was the announcement of a Premiere Service. Along with a reinforced version of the phone and a lot more warning labels, the company announced that it would also be a 24/7 care service…just in case something happened with the device.

I had some issues with my in just over a day, after not running into any trouble with the original version of the phone. Given how gingerly the company insists users act with the device, my issue doesn’t appear to be particularly widespread — good news for Samsung on that front. Even so, this sort of things feels pretty necessary for a $2,000 (and up) phone that is effectively in mass beta testing.

close fold

Two weeks after making the device available in the States, Premier Service has gone live. Sammobile noted the addition of Fold Concierge via a new software update, bringing with it support via phone or video chat. The list of potentially helpful features ranges from on-boarding with the device to a $149, same-day screen replacement service. That can be accommodated in person at a number of locations.

It’s a pretty unique offer from a big consumer electronics company — though the Fold is nothing if not unique, I suppose. I’ve got a fuller write up of my impressions of the handset here. The TLDR version is the I can’t recommend the purchase of what is very much a first generation device that’s double the price of a standard flagship. If you’re so inclined, however, Samsung’s got a hotline for you.

Powered by WPeMatico

Google’s Pixel 4 briefly went up for preorder on Best Buy Canada

Posted by | Google, google hardware event 2019, hardware, Mobile, Pixel 4 | No Comments

The Pixel 4 is set to be unveiled at an event on Tuesday. This much we know for sure. We know a bunch more, too, (as outlined in this rumor roundup from yesterday), thanks to both official reveals and unofficial leaks. How much of this was planned is hard to say, but Google seemingly doesn’t mind building up the hype cycle.

Earlier today, Best Buy Canada made what may well be the most egregious reveal today (granted, there are three more days left to leak). The big box store posted up a preorder page for the upcoming smartphone. As expected, the listing was taken down, but not before 9to5Google managed to snap some screen shots.

From the looks of things, the rumors are pretty spot on. The device will come in both standard and XL versions, at 5.7 and 6.3 inches, respectively. Both models sport a Snapdradon 855, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, along with a new Face Unlock feature. There are dual camera on each, per the listing — 12 and 16 megapixels — in the iPhone 11-esque square configuration.

pixel 4 specs leak

There’s a single front-facing 8 megapixel camera on each, and a 2,800 and 3,700mAh battery on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Other highlights including the expected addition of “Quick Gestures,” which use use a wave of the hand to interact with the device — similar to features we’ve seen on other handsets before.

Conspicuously missing from the preorder, however, is the expected “Oh So Orange” color. Could be a preorder thing or maybe Best Buy Canadian customers will have to settle for Just Black and Clearly White. Maybe the company is saving some surprises for Tuesday’s event. Maybe.

Powered by WPeMatico

Life with the Samsung Galaxy Fold

Posted by | foldables, galaxy fold, hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold, smartphones | No Comments

Avoid pressing hard on the screen.

Tap lightly to keep it safe.

Your Galaxy Fold isn’t water or dust resistant.

Don’t allow any liquids or foreign objects to enter it.

Don’t attach anything to the main screen, such as a screen protector.

So begins your journey. It’s the story of one of the most fascinating product releases in recent memory. It’s also the story of the most polarizing product I’ve ever reviewed…twice.

The Galaxy Fold is at once a hopeful glimpse into the future and a fascinating mess. It’s a product I can’t recommend anyone purchase, but it’s one I’m still glad Samsung had the guts to make.

CMB 8166

What’s perhaps most frustrating are the glimpses you get using the device, those moments it transcends lovely and is legitimately useful. And when you leave the device at home, you actually start to miss the 7.3-inch display.

Two scenarios in particular have really highlighted the value of Samsung’s strong-headed approach to pushing boundaries.

First is the gym. Unfolding the device and propping it up on the control panel of a piece of exercise equipment is a beautiful thing. Full-screen Netflix, baseball games from MLB At Bat. Watch the minutes and the calories just fly away. The Fold also works great with the Galaxy Buds, which are legitimately one of the best hardware products Samsung has produced in ages.

Second is the subway. I’ve been prepping for interviews by reading Pocket stories on the train, with the Notes app open in a side window. This is great. Like a seriously awesome thing. And this is coming from someone who still has trouble embracing smartphones as serious productivity devices. There are just too many limitations to that small screen. When I want to get work done, the laptop comes out. I’m not suggesting the Fold completely changes the math here, but it does edge ever closer, blurring that line a bit in the process.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

So there you go. That’s two distinct examples, covering both entertainment and productivity. The fact is the same as ever: big screens are good. The question is how we get there. It’s a true fact, of course, that plenty mocked Samsung with the first Note device. It seems hard to believe, but in 2011, 5.3 inches seemed impossibly large for a phone. By 2018, however, 5.5 inches was the most popular screen size for handsets. And that number appears to still be growing.

Clearly Samsung was right on that one, and the Note played an outsized role in pushing those boundaries.

After years of teasing flexible and foldable displays, the tech world was understandably excited when the Galaxy Fold finally arrived. Honestly, there were long stretches of time when it felt like the handset would never arrive. As such, it feels strange to suggest that the product was somehow rushed to market.

It’s important to remember, of course, that part of the mainstreaming of big phones has been the technologies supporting the large screen. Samsung, Apple, Huawei, et al. have done a good job consistently increasing screen to body ratios. The new Notes may have bigger screens than ever, but other breakthroughs in manufacturing means we’re not walking around with bricks.

Similarly, this decidedly first-generation device is big and thick. Anecdotally, reactions have been…mixed. The two separate rounds of review devices I’ve received from the company (round two, for reasons we’ll get into in a second involved two devices) have coincided with big TechCrunch-hosted events in San Francisco. First TC Sessions: Robotics in April and then Disrupt last week.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Take some of this with a grain of salt, because my co-workers can be pretty damn cynical about new technologies (and yes, I’ve been at this long enough to include myself in this). Reactions ranged from genuinely wowed to disappointed bafflement. There was also one co-worker who repeatedly threatened to eat the device because she said it looked like an ice cream sandwich, but that’s a story for another blog post.

There are plenty of things to be critical from a design standpoint. The “first-gen” feel runs very deep with the device. When closed it’s quite thick — like two phones stacked atop one another. The crease is visible, as has often been reported. And the front display isn’t particularly useful. I get why it’s there, of course. There are plenty of moments when you just want to check a quick notification, bit it’s incredibly narrow and sandwiched between two massive bezels.   

None of those really matter much compared to the device’s fragility. The Fold will forever be the device whose release date was pushed back after multiple reviewers sent back broken devices. Mine worked fine. The company went back to the drawing board for several months and came back with a more robust device that patched up some holes and reinforced the folding mechanism. Mine broke.

CMB 8200

After about 27 hours with the device, I opened it up in line at CVS and noticed something weird about the screen. Sitting between the butterfly wings was a mass of pixels I referred to as an “amorphous blob.” I’d been fairly gentle with the thing, but, as I put it in a followup, “a phone is not a Fabergé egg.” In other words, it’s understandable that the product isn’t designed to, say, survive a drop onto hard concrete or a dunk in the toilet.

While it’s true that many other modern phones have evolved over generations to withstand such accidental bumbles, it’s also understandable that the Fold is a little more fragile. We can’t say Samsung didn’t warn us, and I do appreciate that Samsung was able to go back to the drawing board before wide release, but there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that a smartphone that needs to literally ship with warnings like the ones stated up top isn’t fully ready for prime time.

CNET recently got its hands on a folding machine and found that the handset could withstand 120,000 fold. That’s a little more than half of the promised 200,000. Another third-party test found similar results. Not ideal, but not terrible. It’s about three years’ worth of folds. If you’re dropping $2,000+ on a phone, you may well want it to last closer to the promised five years — though if you have that sort of disposable income, who knows?

Samsung Galaxy Fold

I would honestly be more concerned with the kind of day to day issues that could potentially result in damage like what I saw. It’s possible that mine had a defect. I’ve been using a replacement that Samsung dropped off after collecting mine to send back to Korea for testing. Granted, I’ve been using it even more gingerly than its predecessor, but so far, so good.

This morning I saw a report of a user experiencing what appears to be the same defect in the same spot. A commenter astutely pointed out the placement of a screw discovered during a recent teardown that could be the source of these issues. As ever, it will be interesting to see how this all…unfolds.

I’m not going to get too far into the other specs here. I wrote thousands of words in my original review. Nothing about the underlying technology has changed between versions one and two. All of the big updates have been to the folding mechanism and keeping the device more robust.

It’s fitting, I think that my model had 5G built-in. Both technologies feel like a glimpse into the future, but there’s little to recommend plunking down the requisite money to purchase either in 2019. The clear difference is that slow saturation of next-generation cellular technology is a bit more understood at this point. Telling someone that their fingernails can damage their $2,000 phone is a different conversation entirely.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

I do think that Samsung’s committed to the Galaxy Fold long-term. And I do believe that there will eventually be a place for the products in the market.

The biggest short-term concern is all the negative press following the first wave of devices. The FlexPai felt more like a prototype than consumer device. The Fold feels like something of an extended public beta. And the Huawei Mate X, which, although incredibly promising, is still MIA, as the company does another pass on the product. Global availability is another question entirely — though, that’s due to…other issues…

Knowing Samsung, the company will return from all of this with a much stronger offering in generation 2. There are a LOT of learnings to be gleaned from the product. And while it offers a glimpse into the promise of foldable, you’re better off waiting until that vision is more fully realized.

Powered by WPeMatico

Nomad’s new Base Station Pro offers a taste of what Apple’s AirPower had promised

Posted by | Aira, AirPods, AirPower, Apple, apple inc, energy, Gadgets, hardware, inductive charging, iPhone, Nomad, qi, TC, usb, wireless, wireless chargers | No Comments

Accessory maker Nomad already offers a couple of excellent wireless chargers that work great with Apple and other Qi-compatible devices, but they’re introducing a new one that could be their most versatile yet. Using technology provided by partner Aira, called “FreePower,” the new Nomad Base Station Pro will be able to charge up to three devices at once placed in any orientation on its surface — cool both because of the three-device simultaneous support and the fact that you don’t have to make sure the gadget you’re charging is lined up exactly right on the charger, as is typically the case.

This is pretty similar to what Apple’s AirPower promised, before its unfortunate demise. The hardware similarly makes use of a matrix of multiple charging coils, which interlink to offer charging capabilities across the surface of the Base Station Pro. Perhaps intentionally, Aira’s website URL is “airapower.com,” one letter off from Apple’s shelved first-party accessory.

Nomad’s charger inherits the same aesthetics of the company’s existing chargers, which means you get a black soft leather surface for putting your devices on top of, and the surrounding frame is made of slate-gray aluminum. The charger should look and feel very premium, if Nomad’s other Base Stations are any indication.

The Base Station Pro supports charging speeds of up to 5W each, which is not the max supported by the iPhone or other devices — but according to Aira co-founder Jake Slatnick, that’s not actually much of a limitation at all.

“An interesting detail that we’ve learned through benchmarking is that our 5W output charge time is comparable to other 10W advertised chargers,” Slatnick explained via email. “It turns out, as soon as the phone starts to heat up, the charge speed slows down significantly, usually below 5W. The 7.5W+ chargers seem to only last at those speeds for a few minutes. We think the performance right now is on par with everything else and that it shouldn’t be noticeable to most users.”

The Nomad Base Station Pro supports up to three devices, all at 5W; you could use it to charge say, two iPhones and AirPods with Apple’s wireless charging case all at once.

Nomad also includes a 27W USB-C charger with Power Delivery in the box with the Base Station Pro, and a USB-C cable to connect to the charger. This probably will be a fairly premium-priced piece of hardware, but we’ll find out for sure when pre-orders begin in November.

The one significant way this differs from what Apple was building, at least for Apple fans, is that it doesn’t provide charging for the Apple Watch. Nomad has a Base Station model that offers an integrated Apple Watch charger, but of course with that you’re not getting the “place anywhere” overlapping coil design built for this new model.

Powered by WPeMatico

Apester unveils a new Story Strip format for online publishers

Posted by | apester, Media, Mobile, Startups | No Comments

Apester, which helps digital publishers add interactivity to their content, is rolling out a new format called the Story Strip.

CEO and co-founder Moti Cohen told me that the Story Strip is modeled on the Story format popularized by Snapchat and Instagram — a format that he praised for being one of the few content types that’s truly “tailored to the mobile experience,” offering a fast, interactive experience for readers.

Cohen said that by bringing the format out of “the social walled gardens” and allowing publishers to embed Story Strips into their articles, Apester is “paving the way for media companies to capture a new audience, a young audience.”

You can see a Story Strip for yourself on TV Insider, a pop culture and entertainment website of NTVB Media. It appears in articles as a carousel of related stories, allowing readers to select the story that interests them and then quickly swipe through slides summarizing the story highlights.

Cohen said a Story Strip can be created by a publisher’s editorial team, or Apester can automatically generate them based on an article. And because they can also include ads, this creates new monetization opportunities for publishers. In fact, Apester says TV Insider has seen its daily revenue double since the two companies started working together.

As for how these kinds of content widgets might fit in as publishers explore subscriptions and other business models beyond advertising, Cohen argued that even as business models change, “the blend is what’s going to be important.”

And by allowing publishers to engage with users and collect data about their behavior, he said, “Apester is going to allow you to monetize all of [your audiences] differently … You can use the engagement that’s happening and understand why it’s happening in order to drive the right action.”

Powered by WPeMatico

IAC outlines its plans for a Match Group spin-off

Posted by | IAC, Match Group, Media, Mobile, Social | No Comments

Digital media holding company IAC has taken the next step toward spinning off Match Group, with a proposal outlining what that process would look like.

Match Group (which owns Tinder, PlentOfFish, OkCupid, Hinge and of course Match itself) is already a publicly traded company, but IAC remains the majority owner. With the spin-off, IAC says it should distribute its Match Group shares to IAC stockholders, “resulting in two independent public companies.”

“Today IAC proposed an important first step in the separation of Match Group from IAC,” said IAC CEO Joey Levin in a statement. “IAC is confident that the proposal communicated to the Match Group special committee provides strong footing for Match Group to begin its journey as a thriving, independent company.”

Under the proposal (which IAC says still needs to be approved by its board of directors, as well as the aforementioned special committee, as well as stockholders), Match Group’s dual-class stock structure would  be eliminated, creating a single class of stock.

The company said in August that it was exploring spin-offs of both Match Group and ANGI Homeservices.

In his statement today, Levin said, “As it relates to evaluating our ownership stake in ANGI Homeservices, we don’t currently expect to turn our attention to the question of a spin-off until a Match Group transaction has been completed.”

Powered by WPeMatico

NASA’s new Moon-bound spacesuit is safer, smarter and much more comfortable

Posted by | aerospace, Artemis, Gadgets, Government, hardware, NASA, Space, spacesuit | No Comments

The next Americans to set foot on the Moon will do so in a brand new spacesuit that’s based on, but hugely improved from, the original Apollo suits that last went up there in the ’70s. With easier entry, better mobility and improved communications, these won’t be nearly as clumsy or restrictive — though you still wouldn’t want to wear one around the house.

The new spacesuit, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or xEMU, is still deep in development, but its features have been more or less finalized. It’s already being tested underwater, and orbital testing is scheduled for 2023.

Rather than build something completely new from the ground up, NASA engineers decided to address the (sometimes literal) pain points of a previous, proven design. As such, the new suit superficially resembles the ones in which we saw moonwalkers bunny-hopping around the lunar surface. But that’s because the basic design for a suit that protects you from hard vacuum and cosmic radiation is relatively straightforward.

In NASA’s words, a spacesuit is “a personalized spaceship that mimics all of the protections from the harsh environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide.” There’s only so much wiggle room there.

But while some parts may not have changed much since the old days, others are getting major improvements. First and foremost, both for safety and mission purposes, maneuverability has been upgraded in tons of ways.

xemu suit info

Infographic showing new and updated features of NASA’s new xEMU spacesuit

For one thing, there are altogether new joints and better ranges of motion for existing ones. The standard “astronaut stance” indicative of the inflexibility of the Apollo suits should be all but eliminated with the new freedoms afforded xEMU users. Not only will the normal range of motion be easier, but astronauts will be able to reach across their own torso or lift something clear over their head.

More flexible knees and “hiking-style” boots with flexible soles will make crouching and getting up much easier as well. It’s hard to believe we got this far without those basic capabilities.

xemu digitial fit check

A 3D scan of the body (indicated by the dots) shows how various suits and parts would fit

The fit of the suits will be vastly better as well; NASA is using anthropometry, or 3D scanning of the body, to determine exactly which pieces and fits will be best for a given astronaut.

Speaking of which, much of the suit will be made from easily swappable, modular parts. The lower half can be switched out when doing an orbital EVA versus a surface EVA, for instance. And the helmet’s visor has a “sacrificial” protective layer that can easily be replaced with a new one if it gets damaged.

Inside the helmet, the familiar but apparently widely disliked “Snoopy caps” that housed microphones and such are gone, replaced by modern voice-activated mics and headphones that will produce much better audio quality and much less sweat.

For that matter, the entire communications stack has been replaced with a new HD camera and lights, connected by a high-speed wireless data link. Live video from the Moon may be old hat, but it’s going to be a bit different from that grainy black-and-white business in 1969.

One of the most important new features is rear entry. The awkward process of donning an old-style EVA suit requires a good deal of space and help. The new ones are entered via a hatch on the back, allowing more natural placement of arm hinges and other features, and possibly changing how the suits are mounted. One can easily imagine a suit acting as a sort of airlock: you climb in the back, it seals you in, and you walk right out into space. Well, there’d probably be more to it than that, but the rear-entry hatch could facilitate some cool stuff along those lines.

Although NASA is designing and certifying these suits, it may not actually make them itself. The agency called last week for input on how it might best source spacesuits from the commercial space industry.

That’s part of NASA’s decision to rely increasingly on contractors and private industry to support its 2024 Moon ambitions. Of course, contractors were an essential part of the Apollo program as well, but NASA is now giving them much more leeway and may even use private launch services.

You can keep up with the latest NASA spacesuit news here, of course, or at the agency’s SuitUp tag.

Powered by WPeMatico

Steam will soon let you play local-only multiplayer games with far off friends

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Co-op video games are wonderful.

Alas, it’s not always possible to get everyone in front of the same TV — and not all co-op games have online play, so playing across the internet is out.

With that in mind, Valve has been working on something it calls “Remote Play Together” that it’s planning on rolling into its Steam game launcher later this month. By more or less tricking the game into thinking all players are in the same room, it’ll let you remotely play with your friends generally local-only multiplayer games.

Valve published on its developers-only Steamworks site a note about the upcoming feature, first noticed by PCGamer. The note quickly made its way to the Unity developer forums.

“Your local multiplayer games will soon be improved with automatic support for Remote Play Together on Steam,” it reads. “All local multiplayer, local co-op, and split-screen games will be automatically included in the Remote Play Together beta, which we plan to launch the week of October 21.”

The pending launch was later confirmed by Valve’s Alden Kroll:

Today our team announced another great new platform feature that will be built into Steam: Remote Play Together. This will allow friends to play local co-op games together over the internet as though they were in the same room together. https://t.co/jEZyGoXEfc

— Alden Kroll @ PAX Australia (@aldenkroll) October 10, 2019

So how does it work? If you’ve ever used PS4’s remote play (which lets you push PS4 games to your smartphone) or cast a game from your PC to an Nvidia SHIELD, it’s a bit like that… just tweaked for multiplayer. One player hosts the game on their computer; Steam sends a stream of the visuals to everyone else, capturing controller/keyboard input and sending it back to player one. As far as the game knows, everyone is sitting around the same screen.

It’s important to note, of course, that some games will almost certainly fare better than others here. While streaming tech is only getting better, it inherently introduces latency — and in plenty of games, latency kills. Hopefully Valve makes it clear to players that this is all pretty unofficial; if a game isn’t playable because of latency or anything else remote play brings into the mix, it’s not really the developer’s fault. Valve says developers can opt out of the beta feature if they see fit.

Valve says Remote Play Together will officially support up to four players in one game, and notes that the experience will only be as good as the connections of everyone involved.

Powered by WPeMatico

Daily Crunch: Apple pulls Hong Kong app

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Daily Crunch, Mobile, Policy | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Apple pulls HKmap from App Store, the day after Chinese state media criticized its ‘unwise and reckless decision’ to approve it

Less than a day after Apple was criticized by Chinese state media for allowing HKmap in the App Store, the crowdsourced map app said it had been delisted.

This is Apple’s second reversal on the issue, which it explained with a statement claiming it learned that the app “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”

2. Grammarly raises $90M at over $1B+ valuation for its AI-based grammar and writing tools

Grammarly provides a toolkit used today by 20 million people to correct their written grammar, suggest better ways to write things and moderate their tone depending on who will be doing the reading.

3. Okta wants to make every user a security ally

Okta is giving end users information about suspicious activity involving their login, while letting them share information with the company’s security apparatus.

4. Waymo to customers: ‘Completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way’

Waymo’s existing programs all use a human safety driver behind the wheel. Now the Alphabet-owned company is getting ready for completely driverless rides.

5. Calm and Room made a $4,000 branded ‘meditation booth’

From the looks of it, the Calm Booth by Room is little more than a standard Room booth, with frosted glass, softer lighting and “a soothing misty forest interior.” But it’s a pretty smart partnership between two white-hot startups.

6. Creators of modern rechargeable batteries share Nobel prize

The prize this year honors M. Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino, all of whom contributed to the development of what is today the most common form of portable power.

7. Silicon Valley’s competing philosophies on tech ethics with The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz

Marantz has in recent years trained his attention on the tech world and its contribution to social unrest in the United States and beyond. And he has just published a new book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Powered by WPeMatico