Mattel and Google teamed up to make VR kid-friendly. They got pretty darn close

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Mattel thinks it’s cracked the code to making virtual reality kid-friendly.

The 70-year-old toy company, under the guidance of Google, released its Cardboard-powered View-Master on Friday. After going hands-on with the nostalgic headset this week, we’ve reached a verdict.

For tech-savvy parents, kid gamers, and iPad wielding seven-year-olds, the revamped View-Master is worth its $30+ price.

Just don’t expect an easy set-up. Or a mind-blowing immersive experience. If that’s what you want, there’s no such VR kid’s toy for you. It’ll be a few years before that happens. So get outta here. Go on, scoot.


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If you’re intrigued, we’ve summarized the gadget’s upsides and shortcomings below. So far we’ve spent three days with Mattel’s toy, in addition to weeks of fiddling with Google’s Cardboard viewer and underlying software. Let’s start with the hardware.

The View-Master

This is not an Oculus Rift. I repeat: This is not an Oculus Rift.

This is a toy. It’s powered by Google’s imperfect Cardboard platform and requires a smartphone. It retails at stores like Toys-R-Us and Walmart for $30.

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The gadget, a classic View-Master shell housing bi-convex lenses and a grip for your smartphone, is pretty sturdy, but not entirely bulletproof. And the accompanying reels, which trigger augmented and virtual reality experiences, cost a fair $15 for a pack of three.

For geeky, smartphone-owning parents looking to try Google’s VR platform, this is a great deal — considering how flimsy Cardboard units can be.

Plus, Mattel’s headset works with any app made for the Cardboard platform. That’s a nice perk.

The software

If you’ve used Google Cardboard before, you’ll know what to expect from Mattel.

The View-Master’s three experience packs (sold separately) are entirely limited by the quality of Cardboard. The visuals are sort of blurry and aren’t designed for prolonged use — that’s why there’s no way to strap the unit to your kid’s head like a pair of goggles.

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Mattel’s work on top of Google’s platform, in partnership with third-parties like NASA and Discovery, is limited but still entertaining. The company is kicking things off with a firm focus on education, with experiences centered around nature, historical sites, and space exploration. Over time, Mattel will probably take advantage of its diverse IP; a Hot Wheels or Dora The Explorer VR experience could win over hordes of additional customers.

Is it kid-friendly? Yes. And no.

Setting up the View-Master isn’t easy. The instructions aren’t super clear. Each experience pack requires you to download a new app.

From there, you have to unlock the experience with an included NFC-powered “passport.” Then you have to point your headset at a plastic reel, wait for the AR experience to pop up, and select it. Once you’re in VR land, it’s sort of easy to navigate.

For parents with young kids, that’s when you’ll want to hand over the unit. Older kids will probably move through the process with only a little delay. I struggled at first, but can now breeze through it.

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To properly review the View-Master, I had to find a kid.

Living in Hipsterville, Brooklyn, the only child I found was two-and-a-half. Remarkably, after I set everything up, she held the headset to her face, looked around, and quickly realized what was going on.

She half-shouted “elephant!” I was shocked.

Mattel’s toy was designed for kids aged seven and up, and the box explicitly advises against giving it to kids under the age of four. And yet, the experience was somewhat accessible to a two-year-old.

A minute later, she lost interest. But she’s two. As far as I can tell, Mattel should consider that a major success.

If Mattel’s goal is to make quick, snackable VR fun for kids, this is a strong start. VR is still new enough for us to forgive the View-Master’s flaws. If you’re okay with feeling like an early adopter, the View-Master is worth the $30 price — even if the three experience packs can drive the cost up as high as $75.

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The Rise Of Entrepreneurial Communities

capitol hill This summer, as Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I had the opportunity to honor an innovative business accelerator called First Batch. This isn’t your typical business accelerator. First Batch is a product accelerator in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, that focuses on helping entrepreneurs and makers bring physical products to market. It’s a great resource… Read More

The Rise Of Entrepreneurial Communities

capitol hill This summer, as Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I had the opportunity to honor an innovative business accelerator called First Batch. This isn’t your typical business accelerator. First Batch is a product accelerator in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, that focuses on helping entrepreneurs and makers bring physical products to market. It’s a great resource… Read More

College Application Platform ZeeMee Raises $5.8M Series A Round

ZeeMee ZeeMee, a platform that wants to help students bring their college applications to life, told TechCrunch exclusively Thursday it had raised a Series A round of $5.8 million led by BlueRun Ventures. Prospective college students today have been on social media for most of their adolescence. ZeeMee wants to help those students use the medium they know so well to showcase talents and interests… Read More

Localization at scale: Being relevant to your customers wherever they are (webinar)

flags localization

Join us for this live webinar on Tuesday, September 29 at 9 a.m. Pacific, 12 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free.

While technology has paved the road to localization, it’s the expectations of today’s users that are pushing companies to location-based relevance at a faster pace — particularly with a generation that’s come of age with the technology.

“Millennials and GenY’s are expecting to have things that are local,” says Dave Fish, SVP, Expert Services of the customer experience company MaritzCX and one of our upcoming panelists tomorrow. “They prefer to buy groceries that are sourced locally and they prefer to know the people they’re dealing with rather than dealing with a big anonymous corporate entity.”

It’s this kind of thinking that is creating a challenge for companies providing localized experiences and communication — at scale. That gets even more complicated when you’re in the context of going global, where cross-cultural considerations can spell mammoth success or embarrasing failure.

“If you’re not communicating using local language or idioms, you can be very off-putting,” says Fish. “What can be a good engagement can turn into something that’s very, very negative. So it’s a requirement nowadays rather than a nicety.”

It’s why for Fish, the experience is what it all comes down to. Whether you’re one of the 3,000 micro-breweries across the U.S. trying to express that unique pride of place, or a global brand appealing to a vast market, you need to be able to cross the great divide with ease.

“You have a brand that stands for something — and that should be translatable across cultures and langauges and local markets,” says Fish. It can come down to specific channels and what works and doesn’t in different countries.

“In some countries, you can do email, in some countries, you can’t,” he explains. “In some you can do telephone, in some you can’t and in some you can do mail, some you can’t — so just picking the right modality to communicate is important.”

And while Fish believes that the role of Chief Customer Experience Officer is now essential to organizations — and many are rolling that out in various ways — localization can be boiled down to something rather simple.

“It’s really just a subset of segmentation,” he says. “Just a different way of looking at people.”

Join us tomorrow as Fish will join Stewart Rogers, VB Insight’s Director of Marketing Technology for an important discussion on what’s needed to get localization right, whether it’s the next state, or the next continent.
They’ll be sharing tips not just on the process, but on how to deliver better metrics to senior leadership to communicate the true story of your brand’s globalization.


Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.


In this webinar, you’ll learn how to:

  • Re-think campaign creation at the regional level — and the global one
  • Effectively use in-market experts to drive better impact
  • Make your branding as world-ready as possible.
  • Use metrics to show the truest picture of your campaign’s effectiveness
  • Enhance the customer experience through added local flavor

Speakers:

Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, VB Insight

Dave Fish, SVP, Expert Services, MaritzCX


This webinar is sponsored by Lionbridge.

 

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Microsoft launches Office 2016 for Windows: Home & Student is $149, Home & Business is $229

Office 2016 Logo

Following the release of Office 2016 for Mac in July, Microsoft launched Office 2016 for Windows today.

Microsoft announced Office 2016 in January and released the first preview for Windows back in March. While the test version of the productivity suite was free, this isn’t true for the final release: You either have to pay upfront or purchase an Office 365 subscription. That said, Microsoft is promising that subscribers can expect “more frequent updates with new features and improvements.”

Your options are as follows. You can purchase an Office 365 subscription, starting at $6.99 per month (Office 365 Personal) or $9.99 per month (Office 365 Home), and get new features as they come. Alternatively, you can get Office 2016 via a one-time purchase: Office Home & Student will set you back $149 while Office Home & Business costs $229.

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As promised, Microsoft today also released a standalone Office 2016 for Mac one-time purchase option (the above prices apply to OS X users as well). Unlike the Mac version of Office, the Windows release requires that you uninstall any previous version of Office.

Here are the Office 2016 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, Outlook, and OneNote) system requirements for Windows users:

  • Computer and processor: 1 GHz or faster x86 or x64 with SSE2 instruction set
  • Memory: 2GB Ram
  • Hard disk: 3.0GB available
  • Display: 1280×800
  • Graphics: Hardware acceleration requires DirectX 10
  • Operating system: Windows 7 Service Pack 1, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, or Windows 10 Server
  • Browser: Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox 35 or higher, Chrome 40 or higher, Internet Explorer 9 or higher
  • .Net version: .NET 3.5 required, some features may require .NET 4.0 or 4.5 CLR to also be installed
  • Microsoft account

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The new Office 2016 apps are available in 40 languages.

Features

Office 2016 supports multi-touch input on touch-enabled devices, though all features and functionality are still available by using a keyboard and mouse. While you can see above that Windows 7 is technically supported, touch features are optimized for use with Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.

In fact, Microsoft says that while Office is increasingly becoming more and more cross-platform, the team still considers Windows as the “home” for Office. As such, the company highlighted Windows Hello support, which lets you log into your PC and Office 365 with your finger, iris, or face. Typing a password is no longer required, assuming you have the proper hardware.

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Windows 10 aside, there are a slew of features that are new for all Windows users. Microsoft didn’t provide us with a full list, but it did underline a few big highlights.

Office web apps have offered real-time co-authoring, which lets you see what others are writing and editing in the same document, since November 2013. Now the company is finally building the functionality directly into its native Office apps. We say “building” because not all the apps are getting the feature at launch: Word has real-time co-authoring, but the rest will see it show up “over time.”

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Excel 2016 includes integrated publishing to Power BI and new modern chart types. More new charts, formulas, connectors, and other capabilities are coming throughout the year.

Next up, Skype for Business is now available directly in the Office apps, and will be coming to Office Online later this fall. The integration means you can instant message, screen share, talk, or video chat right in your documents, plus start a real-time co-authoring session right from Skype.

office_skype_integration

Microsoft is also releasing Office 365 Groups today, a feature included as part of Outlook 2016 and as an app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. In short, Office 365 Groups allows individuals to easily create public or private teams that share an inbox, calendar, notebook, and cloud storage for group files.

Last but not least, enterprise users will be happy to know Microsoft has added multiple new security features. Data Loss Prevention should reduce the risk of leaking sensitive data by letting IT admins create, manage, and enforce policies for content authoring and document sharing. Multi-factor authentication enforces secure access to content when employees are away from the corporate network.

More

In its various Office 2016 communications, Microsoft promises again and again to add new Office 2016 desktop functionality on a regular basis (automatic updates will begin rolling out to consumer and small business subscribers next month, and to commercial customers early next year). In fact, the company is already sharing specifics in many cases.

Microsoft plans to enable Enterprise Data Protection (EDP) in Windows 10, starting with support in Office Mobile later this year and following with desktop app support in early 2016. EDP means more secure content sharing across corporate managed apps and network/cloud locations.

OneDrive for Business will also be getting an update later this month, including a new sync client for Windows and Mac. Microsoft is promising enhanced sync reliability, increased file size and volume limits per user, a new user interface in the browser, mobile enhancements, and new IT and developer features.

In November, Cortana will be able to gather intelligence on your calendar and emails via Outlook 2016 support. This should work across both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile.

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Speaking of which, once Windows 10 Mobile arrives, the Continuum feature will mean Windows phones can act as desktops. The Office team is promising you’ll be able to project, create, or edit PowerPoint presentations from your phone to a monitor while using the same phone to take notes with OneNote.

Originally unveiled in July, productivity app GigJam is now available in private preview. Microsoft expects GigJam will become part of Office 365 next year, describing it as “an unprecedented new way for teams to accomplish tasks and transform business processes by breaking down the barriers between devices, apps, and people.”

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Office 365 Planner, another service coming soon, aims to help teams organize their work. Available in preview next quarter, Planner will let members create new plans, organize and assign tasks, set due dates, update their statuses, and track all progress via visual dashboards as well as email notifications.

The last major piece of Microsoft’s Office push this year has finally fallen into place. While this is a big launch, the company is already promising a lot for the next few months. The execution will be critical to ensuring the software giant’s Windows and Office platforms continue to bring in that massive productivity revenue.

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How to turn data overload into real and meaningful action (webinar)

data overload

Join us for this live webinar on Tuesday, September 22 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free. 

As most marketers know, today’s challenge isn’t pulling enough data — there’s more available than most can use. The challenge is making sense of it all. For Scott Beck, coordinator of Xavier University’s new Master of Science in Customer Analytics program starting this fall, it comes down to storytelling.

“What we’re seeing is that we have plenty of data; it’s a matter of figuring out how to bring the data together to tell the right story,” says Beck. “It’s really hard to let go of those things that have gotten you to where you are today, and instead embrace the technology to help you get that crisper view of what the customer is really trying to tell you just by their behaviour.”

Xavier’s new program will be starting with a group of 25 students who will be working with real-world data provided by a partnership of eight companies located in the Cinncinati area — including Macy’s, Procter and Gamble, Kroger, and 84.51°. With access to this kind of data from Fortune500 companies, Beck’s goal is to produce thought-leaders rather than data-pullers, those that can interpret data to convey actionable insights to business leaders.

“When we think about people and data, there tend to be groups that are really good at mining the data and generating a lot of charts, tables, and graphs,” Beck explains. “And then there are people that are more client-leadership or client-service people who can go through some general highlights of it. But to be able to bring the two together, is really tough.”

Certainly, that’s a frustration shared by many organizations as demonstrated in VB Insight’s recent report, The State of Marketing Analytics.  In this essential webinar for marketers, VB Insight analyst Jon Cifuentes will be taking attendees through the most important take-aways of the report, and will be joined by Beck and others to share their experiences and advice on leveraging data in the real world.

Certainly, determining the best tech platforms is important – and Cifuentes will be sharing VB’s findings on the most successful ones. However, for Beck, the specific technology isn’t as important as the talent using it.

“Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that in a lot of respects the technology is moot,” he says. “It’s more a question of, do you really want us to train and deliver people that are adept at levering FAS? Or do you want us to deliver thought leaders and people who can actually tell you what all the data means?”

Join Beck and the rest for an hour that will speed by as fast as tech changes — and boost your understanding of how data can tell you what you really need to know, and how to action it.


Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.


In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • The primary objectives for marketing analytics organizations today
  • An overview of the massively complex marketing data ecosystem. We counted 800+ vendors in use across 10 key marketing use cases
  • The top vendors available for every use case, who’s meeting expectations and who’s lagging
  • The types of advanced analysis your marketing organization needs to be investing in now to compete for customer relevance

Speakers:

Jon Cifuentes, VB Insight Analyst

Scott Beck, Master of Science in Customer Analytics, Xavier University
Dmitri Williams, CEO, Ninja Metrics

 










Udacity Expands Services And Announces Scholarships In India

India launch photo 1 Online computer programming educator Udacity announced on Monday it would expand on the ground in India, the country where the service is growing the fastest. Udacity’s free and nanodegree services are available worldwide, but with Monday’s announcement, the company will begin offering the service in rupees and expanding its staff in the country. Nanodegrees are credentials… Read More

Baidu translates education resources into China’s minority languages for millions of learners

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China’s Internet search giant Baidu was earlier this year accused by Chinese writers of copyright infringement, but that hasn’t stopped it pushing ahead with new ideas for its Baidu Library service.

The company announced Monday that it plans to build “Chinas’s largest online education resource platform for minority nationality languages,” including Uyghur, Tibetan, Kazakh, Mongolian, and even Korean, with more than 4,000 volunteer translators already lending a hand.

“Education materials for primary and middle schools, including homework exercises, teachers’ class preparation notes, and teachers’ presentation decks, will be made freely available” in the languages, Baidu said.


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“The program will reach an estimated five million students, and 270,000 primary and secondary school teachers,” it added.

The new initiative, which is being positioned under Baidu Library, is seen by the company as important due to its potential impact on educational resources, many of which are still only available in Chinese.

The prevalence of Chinese educational material is not really surprising given the size of the country and the Chinese government’s historical efforts to unify it under a single language and writing system.

But the fact remains that there are still large minority populations in some parts of the country, such as in the northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang, which has a population of about 22 million as of 2010 numbers.

china-map

In Xinjiang, Uyghur remains an official language alongside Chinese. Inner Mongolia (with about 25 million people, as of 2010) and Tibet (with three million people, as of 2014) are, of course, two other prime examples of where the language is dominated by local variants.

“Teaching materials available online in digital formats in standard Chinese are abundant,” Baidu said, “with over 54 million education-related documents on Baidu Library — compared to almost none for the [minority] languages the plan will cover.”

“This has resulted in a significant gap in education equality between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities. Ethnic minority students have not traditionally had access to the massive amount of educational materials and references available to their counterparts in other parts of China,” it added.

More than 10,000 documents have been translated since May, and minority-language users will now be able to search the Baidu Library database without having to use Chinese.

On a side note, Baidu also says it has raised over $1.7 million in a campaign to support the initiative launched on September 10 — the company is donating about $0.15 each time the campaign page is shared on social media, it said.

As someone who’s spent years in mainland China and seen the struggles of minorities first hand there — not just in education — this new project from Baidu is one that I welcome and commend.

Here’s some brief background on Baidu Library from the company itself:

Since November 2009, Baidu Library has been an invaluable resource where people can upload and share documents with other Baidu users. Over 130 million documents are available on Baidu Library, and the site gets approximately 50 million unique daily visitors generating 500 million daily page views.

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