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Google Builds VR Into Android OS

Posted In: . By Kirhat

Google Cardboard
Critics were saying several times in the past that Google's virtual reality initiative is too big for the company to just be working on Google Cardboard.

Now, the Financial Times has published a report detailing what seems to be the next phase of Google's VR push. The report says that Google is working on "a successor to Cardboard," creating a higher-quality headset and building VR software directly into Android.

The device sounds like a Google version of Samsung's Gear VR. Like Cardboard, the headset will be powered by existing smartphone, with a "more solid plastic casing" along with better lenses and sensors. Also like Cardboard, this won't be limited to just a handful of devices, with the report saying that the headset "will be compatible with a much broader range of Android devices than Gear VR."

Such a device sounds like it would occupy a compelling spot in the market. The Gear VR is a great device — the US$ 100 headset is a powerful entry-level VR experience — but it only works with Samsung phones. Cardboard has much wider phone compatibility, but it comes with a huge list of compromises that lead to a subpar experience. Taking the Gear VR model and expanding it to accept most popular smartphones sounds like a solid idea.

One of the Gear VR's biggest strengths — and Cardboard's biggest weaknesses — is the mounting solution. Gear VR is custom-made for Samsung's flagships, so it keeps the phone in a perfect position relative to the lenses.

Cardboard's universal mounting solution is rather finicky, relying on the user to align the phone correctly in the headset. Even if the user get it right, Cardboard only uses friction from a rubber band to keep the phone in place, so it will often move slightly. An important feature of Google's VR headset will be how it deals with securely mounting phones of various shapes and sizes.

On the software side of things, the report says that Google will embed new software "directly into its Android smartphone operating system rather than relying only on a traditional app." This sounds a lot like the Android VR OS in the past from sources like The Wall Street Journal.

The report says the headset will be out "later this year," so there's a good chance everyone will hear about it at Google I/O.


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Google
Google recently announced that it has begun to support physical beacons in its Chrome browser for Android.

The new feature, which has been tested in the iOS app since last summer, is heading to Chrome 49 for Android anytime now. It enables users to opt in to interact with and receive content from nearby Bluetooth-enabled beacons in public places like shops, sports stadiums, schools, etc.

Support is initially coming to the beta version of Chrome for Android, so it will just hit a selection of the app's total user base at first, but it will roll out to the stable version over time.

Physical beacons offer a different marketing approach for companies that's only just being realized today. Google’s blog post highlights a number of examples already, including how a school uses beacons to distribute class notes, how beacons were deployed at CES to replace marketing brochures, and how the Golden State Warriors pass highlight videos to fans over the air.

Experts says that is really just the surface being scratched right now, and enabling beacon interaction in Chrome for both iOS and Android is a major step toward opening future opportunities.

Beacons are likely to be a hot topic in 2016, and there are a number of tech companies pioneering the concept with hardware and software. Estimote, the company rumored to be working with retail giant Target, recently closed a US$ 10.7 million Series A round, while there’s SoftBank-backed Swirl Networks, which raised an US$ 18 million Series C last year, and Gimbal, a beacon company that was spun out of tech giant Qualcomm in 2014, in the mix, too.

Furthering its push into connecting the physical and online worlds, Google has created an Internet of Things Technology Research Award Pilot.

Citing difficulties around interoperability, user privacy, and managing interaction, Google said it is inviting university researchers to participate in the pilot via four to eight week experiments. Would-be takers have until the end of February to submit their proposals for inspection.


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Smaller Xbox One in the Works?

Posted In: . By Kirhat

Smaller Xbox One
Tech giant Microsoft is once again considering a slimmed-down, lower-cost version of the Xbox One video game console designed to take on the Apple TV, reports Brad Sams at Petri IT Knowledgebase.

Microsoft had considered a similar smaller Xbox back in 2013 when the Xbox One first launched, but scrapped it.

Sams, a long-time Microsoft reporter and blogger, says that he's heard that this smaller Xbox One console would be designed to only run games and apps from the Windows Store app market — so no disc-based blockbusters like "Call of Duty" or "Halo 5: Guardians."

If it happens, Microsoft is thinking about a late-2016 launch window, per the report. It would be sold alongside existing models of the Xbox One, not replace it.

In a lot of ways, this plan makes sense: The current iteration of the Apple TV is making waves by providing access to a huge variety of apps and games on the big-screen TV, via the existing Apple App Store.

It's basically the same thing Microsoft has been doing since 2005's Xbox 360 video game console, which both played games and let users watch videos from services like Netflix and Hulu. The 2013 Xbox One console accelerated that concept with split-screen viewing modes and the ability to plug in a TV tuner to watch while you play.

But this go-around, Apple has the price and size advantage. The smaller Apple TV, priced at US$ 149, is cheaper and less obtrusive on a shelf than the US$ 349 Xbox One, which looks and feels like a giant black brick.

So by shrinking the Xbox One and giving it a "much lower" price point than the current incarnation, it would hypothetically open the market up.

Combine that with the fact that the Xbox One now runs a modified version of Windows 10 at the core, paving the way for Windows apps to run natively on the console, and you start to see where Microsoft might be going with this.

Microsoft tried making a device that could only run Windows Store apps once before, in the form of the original Microsoft Surface tablet and its limited Windows RT operating system. That time, it didn't work out so well.

"We do not comment on rumor or speculation," a Microsoft spokesperson says.


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Susan Sarandon
Before anybody will criticize Susan Sarandon's ample bosom, they might want to prepare themselves for a social media onslaught because Twitter might #freethecleavage at you.

When the actress wore a cleavage-boosting black bra under a white jacket to introduce the memorial tribute at this year's SAG awards, some deemed the look inappropriate for the occasion. One of those critical was Piers Morgan, who said Sarandon's plunging neckline was "very tacky" given the setting. He stood his ground as others accused him of "body-shaming." Would she wear the same outfit to a funeral? "No," he posited.

He was far from the only person to express the view, setting off debate over who gets to decide standards of appropriateness for Sarandon, or any other woman, for that matter. Some observers noted that younger stars baring similar boobage at the SAG Awards were not subjected to the same scrutiny.

"Not that they should have, of course, but it's strikingly awful that Sarandon alone was the target of the social media bigots. Sarandon is 69 and therefore it's apparently not OK for her to remind us all that she's still a living, breathing, sexual being," Harriet Hall wrote in Stylist.co.uk.

"This kind of rampant sexist reaction to a woman over 50 exposing a bit of cleavage is just another example of the endemic sexism and ageism that we see, not only in Hollywood, but all over the world and it needs to end, now."

Sarandon, however, stood her ground. For throwback Thursday, she tweeted a picture of herself in a bra from 1975's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and dedicated it to Morgan.

The tweet kickstarted a movement to #freethecleavage. Soon enough, Morgan was inundated with busty images from women - and a few men - declaring #cleaveagesolidarity with Sarandon.

As one person said, "I'm tired of being told I have too much cleavage, like it's an option."

Another photo was captioned, "Dedicated to @SusanSarandon and remember that we are in 2016 and women can dress as you see fit."

"Showing cleavage solidarity with Susan Sarandon," another person said. "Proud to #freethecleavage -- that's how we are made, Piers Morgan."

Morgan said he was not asking for the images though he did see fit to retweet some and respond to others.

"Thanks for all the consoling words, he said. "I'm taking my 'punishment' like a man."


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Free Basics in India
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) effectively banned Facebook's "Free Basics" program from the country, ruling that the system and others like it violate the principles of net neutrality. The move effectively prevents "zero-rating" schemes in which certain Web services count against data caps while others do not.

Facebook is partnering with mobile operators in various countries to offer Free Basics, saying that the app provides "access to basic websites for free — like news, job postings, health and education information, and communication tools like Facebook."

Any developer can try to get a website included, but Facebook imposes restrictions, including one that prevents high-bandwidth services like VoIP, video, and file transfers. In addition to Facebook, Free Basics includes AccuWeather, BBC News, Dictionary.com, ESPN, and other sites.

Critics say Free Basics violates net neutrality principles by prioritizing certain content, making it less likely that people will use websites not included in the app. India had temporarily banned Free Basics and followed up with a new rule that prevents service providers from charging "discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content." A discriminatory tariff under this rule includes free data applied only to certain websites.

The rule applies to telecom operators rather than Facebook, but it would prevent Facebook from partnering with mobile operators to offer apps that don't count against mobile data caps. Operators who violate the rule can be fined. One exception to the rule allows free access to emergency services.

Because most residents of India are not yet connected to the Internet, mobile operators should not be allowed to "shape the users' Internet experience," TRAI wrote. As more people gain Internet access, their usage should be "shaped only by the information made available through those select offerings," the agency said.

It's a big setback for Facebook's Internet.org program, which looks to provide basic connectivity to poor nations — but in a recent post, Mark Zuckerberg said the ruling would not push Internet.org out of India entirely. "Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," Zuckerberg wrote. "That mission continues, and so does our commitment to India."


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