Niantic is working with Qualcomm on augmented reality glasses

We’ve known for a while that Pokémon GO creator Niantic feels a bit limited in what it can do with augmented reality today.

Between the latency limitations of 4G cellular networks and the need for players to wave a smartphone around to do anything in AR, the tech just isn’t where Niantic wants it to be. As I wrote in a profile of Niantic back in April, the company has been focusing a ton of its efforts on what’s possible as things like 5G and AR glasses become more readily available. Niantic CEO John Hanke is betting on AR glasses being the thing after smartphones.

It makes sense, then, that Niantic is working with Qualcomm to build 5G-ready AR glasses.

Early this morning, Qualcomm announced XR2, a new chipset platform built specifically to power augmented reality and virtual reality devices.

Shortly thereafter, Niantic CTO Phil Keslin took the stage to announce that they’ve joined Qualcomm in a “multi-year collaboration” on this project.

So what does that actually mean?

Immediately, not a ton. You’re not going to be booting up Pokémon GO on a pair of Qualcomm/Niantic AR glasses this Christmas.

Moving forward, though, it means that Niantic will be working with Qualcomm to flesh out the reference hardware for augmented reality glasses, helping them figure out exactly what it needs to do.

Meanwhile, Niantic will be tuning its Real World Platform (the architecture that powers all of its existing games, and which they’re slowly opening up to third parties) to make it play friendly with XR2. Niantic has quietly been designing any architecture it has built over the last few years to ultimately be compatible with AR glasses — now they’re committing to compatibility with a specific chip, making things a bit more real. Once the tech is ready, says Keslin, it’ll all be rolled into the Real World Platform and made available to anyone in the Niantic Creator Program (which the company says should launch sometime in 2020).

Qualcomm is a pretty solid company to partner with; they’re by no means strangers to the world of AR. They’ve been working on chips purpose-built for AR/VR for well over a year now, beginning with the introduction of the XR1 platform back in May of last year. They were amongst the first to really go deep on building a development platform for augmented reality with the launch of the Vuforia SDK… though they sold that project in 2015 to focus on chips like these.

Gift Guide: Black Friday tech deals that are actually worth considering

Ah, Black Friday. The day of a zillion “deals” — some good, many bad, most just meant to clear the shelves for next year’s models.

Hidden amidst ten thousand “LOWEST PRICE EVER! ONE DAY ONLY!” e-mails, though, are a handful of solid sales on legitimately good stuff.

Whether you’re trying to save some coin heading into Christmas or you just want to beef up your own gear collection, we’ve picked a few things that seemed worthwhile while trying to sift out most of the junk. We’ll add new deals throughout the day as we hear about them.

(Pro tip: Want to check if something on Amazon is actually on sale, or if a seller just tinkered with the price ahead of time to make it look like you’re getting a discount? Check a historical price checker like camelcamelcamel to see the price over time.)

Amazon Devices

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Amazon generally slashes prices on its own devices to get the Black Friday train moving, and this year is no different.

  • The 4K Fire TV Stick, usually $50, is down to $25
  • The non-4K Fire TV Stick, usually $40, is down to $20. For the $5 difference, though, I’d go with the 4K model above. Future-proofing!
  • The incredibly good Kindle Oasis is about 30% off this week — $175 for the 8GB model (usually $249), or $199 for the 32GB model (usually $279)
  • If you’ve got Alexa devices around your house and are looking to expand, the current generation Echo Dot is down to $22 (usually $49) while the bigger, badder Echo Plus is down to $99 (usually $150)

Google Devices

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  • Google’s latest flagship Android phone, the very, very good Pixel 4, is $200 off at $599 (usually $799) for an unlocked model. The heftier Pixel 4 XL, meanwhile, is down to $699 from $899.
  • The less current but still solid Pixel 3a is down to $299 (usually $399).
  • The Nest Mini (formerly known as Google Home Mini) is down to $30 from its usual price of $49.
  • The Nest Protect smoke alarm (both the wired and battery versions) are down to $99 (usually $119)
  • The 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra is down to $49(usually $69), while the non-4K Chromecast is currently $25 (usually $35.)

Roku

With both Amazon and Google slashing at the prices for their streaming devices, Roku isn’t looking to be left out. The company’s 4K-friendly Roku Ultra is down to $48 (usually $100), complete with a pair of JBL headphones you can plug into the remote for almost-wireless listening.

Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch

If you’ve yet to pick up any of this generation’s consoles, now honestly isn’t a terrible time (as long as you can do it at a discount.) Both Microsoft and Sony are prepping to launch new consoles in 2020, but that means you’ve got years and years of really great games from this generation to pluck through — and it’ll probably be a few months before there’s much worthwhile/exclusive on the new consoles, anyway. Nintendo, meanwhile, just revised the Switch to significantly improve its battery life in August.

Microsoft has dumped the price on the 1 terabyte Xbox One X down to $349 (usually $499), including your choice of Gears of War 5, NBA 2K20, or the pretty much brand new Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The Xbox One S meanwhile, is down to $149 (usually $249) with copies of Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and about $20 worth of Fortnite Vbucks. (Be aware that the One S has no disc drive, so anything you play on that one must be a digital/downloaded copy. That’s not a huge issue! But be aware of it, particularly if you’ve got a slower internet connection or limited monthly bandwidth.)

Likewise, Sony has a killer deal on the Playstation 4 — $199 gets you a 1TB PS4 and copies of God of War, The Last Of Us (Remastered), and Horizon Zero Dawn. The deal is available at most of the big box retailers (Best Buy/Walmart/GameStop/Target/etc), though it seems to be going in-and-out of stock everywhere so you might have to poke around a bit.

Deals on the Switch console itself are few and far between so far (and many of the deals are for the older model with the weaker battery), but you can pick up a pair of Joy-Con controllers for $60 versus the usual $80.

Apple

Airpods Pro

Apple deals don’t tend to get too wild on Black Friday — especially not on the latest generation hardware. This year, though, there’s some surprisingly worthwhile stuff.

Sonos

Looking to expand your Sonos setup? Many things in the company’s line-up are on sale right now, including:

  • The Sonos Beam (the smaller of the company’s two sound bars), usually $399, is down to $299.
  • The bigger soundbar, the Sonos Playbar, is down from $699 to $529
  • The massive Playbase (like a soundbar, except you sit your entire TV on it) is down from $699 to $559.
  • A two-pack of Play:1 speakers is going for $230 on Costco.com (usually $170-200 each), though you’ll need to be a Costco member to access it.

Ridiculously cheap microSD cards

The cost of microSD cards has plummeted over the last year, seemingly bottoming out for Black Friday. SanDisk’s 512GB microSD card was going for $100-$150 just a few months ago; today it’s down to $64. Need a faster model? The 512GB Extreme MicroSDXC was $200 earlier this year, and now it’s down to $80.

Steam games

Valve’s annual Autumn Steam sale is underway, slashing prices on a bunch of top notch games — like Grand Theft Auto 5 for $15 (usually $30), Portal 2 for a buck, The Witness for $20 (usually $40), Return of Obra Dinn for $16 (usually $20), Soul Calibur 6 for $18 (usually $60), or the just released (and absurdly fun) Jackbox Party Pack 6 for $23 (usually $30).

Oh! And Valve’s Steam controller is down to $5 (from $50)… with the caveat that it’s because they’re discontinuing it and honestly for most games it’s just an okay controller.

Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger are down for many around the world (Update: Back up!)

If you’re having issues with various Facebook -owned services this morning, you’re very much not alone.

There appears to be a major outage impacting Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook itself.

Update: As of about 9:30 AM Pacific the services appear to be coming back online.

Many users are reporting that the apps appear to work but aren’t actually pulling anything new, instead just showing whatever they’ve got cached from before the servers went down. Others can’t even get the page to load.

Messenger messages, meanwhile, just sit indefinitely in a not-quite-sent state — so if you’re using Messenger to figure out who’s bringing what to Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to switch platforms for a bit.

A sudden influx of Down Detector user reports suggest that the outage started at roughly 6 AM Pacific.

Instagram confirmed the outage on their end via Twitter:

 

 

Elon Musk says sledgehammering Cybertruck led to the onstage window failure

After pounding the side of his new Cybertruck with a sledgehammer with not a mark left behind, Elon Musk turned his focus to the “Tesla Armor Glass”.

As we all saw, the glass did not fare so well. A toss of a steel ball into the window caused it to splinter, catching everyone on stage off guard. “Oh my [bleeping] God,” said Musk.

A repeat attempt on the rear window had the same results, leaving the truck with cracks awkwardly sprawled across its glass for the remainder of the presentation.

In hindsight, Elon says they probably should’ve done the window demo before they smacked the truck with a big ol’ hammer.

Elon tweets:

Would the window have cracked regardless of order? At least on stage, they only pounded on the front door panel; were these hits enough to crack the base of the glass on the rear door, too? It’s probably impossible for anyone outside of Tesla to say with certainty, but that seems pretty wild.

The night after the announcement, Elon tweeted out a video of their tests “right before launch”, in which the window seemingly had no problems:

Some commenters postulated (assuming that the truck in the video was the same one on stage) that these earlier tests could’ve primed the window for failure — that the test hits weakened the glass, even if they didn’t visibly damage them.

Whatever the cause, the glass cracked — twice. The (literal) damage is done. But while the broken windows have become something of a meme, it’s not as if the failed demo wiped out interest; Musk says that, as of Sunday night, over 200,000 people had put down refundable $100 deposits (so over $20M in deposits in all) on the truck. And with the Cybertruck not expected to go into production until late 2021, I’d be surprised if Tesla doesn’t make some tweaks and find some over-the-top way to demonstrate V2 of the truck’s glass before these things actually start rolling out.

Tesla’s Cybertruck will have a solar charging option, says Musk

 

Tesla revealed its Cybertruck pickup last night, a SciFi-tastic wedge built from the same steel alloy that SpaceX is using for its Starship spaceship.

Elon Musk spent about 20 minutes showing off the truck, with demos ranging from a game of tug-of-war against an F-150, to racing a Porsche, to a window strength test that didn’t go quite as planned.

This morning, Elon is trickling out other details he didn’t get around to mentioning onstage — like that they’re planning to offer a solar charging option.

While it sounds like Tesla is still working out the exact details, Elon shed some light on the solar option via tweet:

The Cybertruck’s long, angled sides seem like they’d lend themselves well to doubling as solar panels — the whole cover of the “Vault” truck bed is effectively one big flat surface, after all. Even so, don’t go expecting a solar charging Cybertruck to get all of its power from the sun; solar panels just aren’t that efficient. Musk suggests that their current design could generate about 15 miles of charge per day, while conceptual “fold out solar wings” could potentially pull in 30-40 miles per day. Enough to get you around town, but you’ll still probably need to juice up the standard way for long hauls. But hey, that’s 15+ miles pulled from the sun!

(It also totally lends itself to the wildly post-apocalyptic look/feel of the Cybertruck. No grid? No problem. SEEYA LATER, ROBOCOP.)

There are still plenty of things to be worked out — how much the option could cost, what those “solar wings” might look like, whether it’ll be ready at launch, etc. With Cybertruck not expected to go into production until late 2021, though, they’ve got time to figure all that out.

Tesla accidentally busted two windows on the Cybertruck while demonstrating how tough they are

 

Well, I don’t think that was supposed to happen.

In what was one of the more surreal product launches I’ve seen, Tesla debuted its $39,900 Cybertruck pickup tonight. After running through some specs and hitting the truck’s door with a sledge hammer, Elon asked an on-stage companion to demonstrate the strength of the Tesla “Armor Glass” by throwing a solid metal, baseball-sized ball at the driver side window.

It… did not go well.

While the glass didn’t completely shatter, it did appear to crack from edge to edge. So they tried it again on the rear passenger window… and it cracked too.

Was this a gag? A “Hah hah! Just kidding, here’s a test on the real glass!” sort of thing? Nope. Elon stood in front of the truck, two broken windows and all, and completed the presentation.

While no one would expect most standard windows to stand up to a test like this, even Elon seemed surprised by the results. “We threw wrenches, we threw everything.” he said on stage. “We even literally threw a kitchen sink at the glass, and it didn’t break. For a little weird reason it broke now, I don’t know why.”

“We’ll fix it in post,” he followed up with a laugh. The video went private on Tesla’s YouTube channel about 30 seconds after the live stream was over.

And with that, the undeniable truth that is “live demos never work” lives on.

tesla cybertruck

 

Twitter will finally let you turn on two-factor authentication without giving it a phone number

Two-factor authentication is good! SMS-based two-factor authentication? Not the best option. After countless tales of people having their phone numbers and inbound SMS hijacked by way of SIM swapping, its clear that SMS just isn’t the right solution for sending people secondary login codes.

And yet, for many years, it’s been the mandatory go-to on Twitter . You could switch to another option later (like Google Authenticator, or a physical Yubikey) — but to turn it on in the first place, you were locked into giving Twitter a phone number and using SMS.

Twitter is getting around to fixing this, at long last. The Twitter Safety team announced that you’ll be able to enable two-factor without the need for a phone number, starting sometime today.

This news comes just a few months after Jack Dorsey’s own Twitter account was hacked (seemingly by way of a SIM swap) and a few weeks after Twitter had to admit it was using phone numbers provided during the two-factor setup process for serving targeted ads.

Some users are reporting that the setup process still requests a phone number, so it seems like this change is being rolled out rather than launching for everyone immediately.

Is this Niantic’s next game?

First came Ingress. Then came Pokemon GO, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Then came… Catan?

It’s starting to look like the next property to get Niantic’s “real world game” treatment will be Catan — the namesake island from the popular Settlers Of Catan board game series.

Late last month, the company behind Catan said during a board games conference in Germany that it was working on a “upcoming massively multiplayer location based game” (albeit with no mention of Niantic). Called Catan: World Explorers, they noted that it “transforms the entire Earth into one giant game of CATAN”.

A website for the game has since gone up, and folks over at the Ingress subreddit (the unofficial homebase for fans of Niantic’s very first title) managed to uncover a few curious breadcrumbs hiding in the source code. The official Terms of Service and Privacy Policy links both point to Niantic’s servers, for example, and the page pulls in some Javascript with “Niantic” in the filename. So if Niantic wasn’t involved here, someone made a bunch of super weird mistakes.

Sure enough, I’ve confirmed with folks at Niantic that the company is indeed involved. They won’t say much about it, but confirmed to me that the game is being built on Niantic’s Real World Platform.

Not sure what that means? After the launch of Pokémon GO, Niantic started focusing on taking the tools they’ve already built (their massive database of real world locations, the game engine, and the server architecture that makes the whole ‘real world game’ experience work) and opening them up for third parties to build upon. Whereas Pokémon GO was largely built within Niantic with some oversight from The Pokémon Company, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite shifted more of the workload over to their partners at WB Games. As I wrote in my profile of Niantic and its goal of becoming a platform company back in April:

There’s a ton of overlap when it comes to which of the two companies is building what aspect of the game, but from what I’m told it sounds like Niantic is mostly focusing on the stuff behind the curtain — everything on the platform side, like the map engine, the networking, and the AR tech — while WB Games’ main focus is the stuff you’ll see in game, like the story, the content, and the art and animation.

Meanwhile, we know a little about this Catan game from the aforementioned promo site:

  • The main gameplay screen, at least at this early stage, seems to look a whole lot like Pokémon GO and Harry Potter Wizards Unite. Same top-down map view, avatar in the bottom left, etc.
  • You’ll “construct roads, expand settlements, and race for Victory Points”, and trade resources with other players and NPCs
  • The landmarks that serve as Pokéstops/Gyms in Pokémon Go or Inns/Fortresses in Potter will act as locations to “collect resources and build settlements” here.

Beyond that, I’m told that more details should trickle out sometime in early 2020.

One of the very first things Niantic did, back when it was a tiny team inside of Google that didn’t really know what it was going to build, was tear apart a massive collection of board games to find mechanics that might work as a mobile game. This led them to build a prototype called BattleSF… which led to Ingress… which led to Pokémon GO, and beyond. It’s sort of fun, then, that the company has ended up back in the realm of board games.

Valve confirms it’s making a ‘flagship’ Half-Life VR game

After what feels like years of rumors, it’s official: Valve is making a virtual reality Half-Life game.

Official word of the new title comes via Valve’s (brand new, but verified) Twitter account, where the company is promising more details later this week:

While it’s a bit curious to drop news like this as the first tweet from a brand new account, Valve’s long-established official Steam twitter account retweeted it — so signs are pointing toward it being legit.

Alas, we know next to nothing besides the name — Half-Life: Alyx — until 10 am on Thursday. Will we finally get a proper conclusion for Alyx Vance, whose storyline ended so abruptly when Valve dropped the Half-Life storyline mid-sentence 12 years ago ?

Ubiquity6’s Display.land is part 3D scanner, part social network

The world is being mapped in 3D — one brick, one bench, one building at a time. For things like hyper-accurate augmented reality, autonomous robots, and self-driving cars, 2D maps and GPS only get you so far.

Apple is building its map with lasers strapped to the top of cars. Niantic has talked about building 3D maps of parks and public spaces by way of user-submitted imagery. The Army is making 3D maps with drones.

Ubiquity6, a startup that’s spent much of the last two years quietly chipping away at the challenges of building shared augmented reality experiences, is trying something different: a social network, of sorts, for scanning and sharing 3D spaces.

The company’s first publicly launched app, Display.land, started rolling out on iOS and Android over the weekend. Part 3D scanner and part social network, it lets you scan a location or object, edit it (cropping it to just the bits you’re interested in, or adding pre-built digital objects), and share it with the world. Want everyone to see it? You can pin a scan to a map, allowing anyone panning by to explore your scan. Want to keep it private? Flip the privacy toggle accordingly.

The idea: quick and simple 3D scans of real world spaces, shareable at large or just with the people you choose. Exploring a new city and found some neat art in an alleyway? Scan it and post it for everyone to “walk” around. Renting an apartment and want to give potential tenants some idea of what the space is like? Scan it, put the link in the listing, and it’ll open right up in their browser without any downloads.

Starting a new scan is simple: hit the “new” button, find some particularly interesting bit of geometry to focus on, and hit “begin”. As you radiate away from the initial focal point, you’ll see your camera view filling with countless colored spheres. Each sphere represents a geometric feature that the camera has captured, helping to highlight the areas that have been sufficiently covered.

As you roam, a bar starts to stretch across the bottom of your screen. Once it seems like you’ve captured enough geometry for a complete mesh , the app will let you know — but if you want your scan to be more true to life, you’re free to continue scanning until the bar is completely full.

Between the point cloud data and all of the photographic textures being captured, these scans can get pretty big. My test scans were coming in at a few hundred megabytes. That’ll eat your data up quick if you’re uploading over a cell network, so you’ve got the option to hold off on uploading until you’re back on WiFi. Once uploaded, Ubiquity6 will take a few minutes to process everything, crunching all of the raw data into a model you can fly around and explore.

While the scans it makes are rarely perfectly true to life, it’s… really damned wild what they’re pulling off with just your phone’s RGB camera and its assorted built-in sensors. With a bit of practice and sufficient lighting, the scans it can pull off are rather incredible. Check out this scan of Ron Mueck’s Mask II sculpture from the SFMOMA, for example — or this pool from a skatepark in SF’s mission district. (And note that it’s all rendering live in the browser; you can scroll to zoom, orbit around, etc.)

Scanning/editing/sharing is free. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even open up your scan in a browser and download it in a file format (OBJ, PLY, or GLTF) that’s ready to be fiddled with in your desktop 3D modeling software of choice. As for how they’ll make money? The company plans to charge companies that need a bit more than the base offering — if a company wants to 3D scan a space at the highest possible fidelity, for example, they can pay extra for the added processing time.

Meanwhile, they’re laying the ground work for what seems to be the company’s actual interest: shared, multiplayer augmented reality experiences. For now these scans are mostly static — you can add cutesy 3D models like treasure chests and floating butterflies to mix it up a bit, but they’re mostly there just to be pretty. In time, though, they’re looking to add gaming elements; think games that automatically unlock when you walk into a certain physical space, with physics and functionality determined by the real-world geometry around you.

Ubiquity6 has raised a little over $37M to date. It’s backed by KPCB, First Round, Index Ventures, Benchmark, and Gradient, and was part of Disney’s 5th accelerator class.