Spotify driving mode, Teleporting is here, Oculus for the masses, AI learns to walk, Remote working, Product Director heuristics, WTF is Ethereum & more
This was one of those weeks when you realize that the future is now.
Cool things that happened include a gif uploaded to an E. coli bacteria, the first object ‘teleported’ to space (spoiler: it’s not teleportation as you may expect it, but it’s a great step forward in quantum computing and communications; here’s a simple explanation), the first full scale Hyperloop test or an AI App for the blind and vision impaired by Microsoft.
On the VR space, Facebook aims to bring Oculus to the masses: will be drastically reducing prices and bringing a standalone $200 version in 2018. They have also added streaming capabilities to their VR Spaces, so you can meet your friends’ avatars in a virtual world (if you have any reason to…). You will also soon be able to watch live ESPN’s X-Games on VR.
📰 Seen on the news
Twitter launches new filtering options, enabling users to mute new accounts, accounts not following the subject, accounts without profile pictures, those without confirmed emails, etc; filters are ignored for accounts the user is following; can also mute all accounts they don’t follow.
Spotify tests driving mode; provides larger buttons, announces songs, and could include voice controls; whether it will become a product is unknown.
Google updates Calendar app for iOS with Today View widget; shows upcoming events in control panel; Apple’s own calendar app has had a similar feature for some time. Google News also updates for iOS: includes a new design with tabs for local and personalized news, dark mode, and more; also works with Apple Watch.
Google launches Backup and Sync for Mac and PC; lets users automatically save their documents, photos, videos, and other files to Google Drive; G Suite users are advised to continue using the Google Drive desktop app until Drive File Stream launches later this year.
Amazon’s Alexa gains ability to notify users when their Amazon packages have been shipped; uses new visual notifications feature, which requires that users opt-in, and does not yet seem available for other skills. Also, Amazon may give Alexa developers access to audio transcripts of users engaging with Skills.
Amazon updates its Fire TV devices with support for Alexa control via other devices, such as Echo; voice commands include pause, play, next episode, etc; Fire TV and Fire TV Stick products previously supported Alexa control via a button on the remote control.
Amazon says 2017 Prime Day sales were up 60 percent YoY, and that the third annual sale was the company’s best sales day ever; an undisclosed record number of Prime subscribers shopped during the 30-hour July 11 event; the Echo Dot was the most purchased item.
Study indicates that Amazon Prime is on track to become more popular than cable or satellite TV; the service claims 79M US subscribers, while 90M Americans pay for TV subscriptions; 80% of the country’s wealthiest households are currently Prime users.
Microsoft launches Seeing AI for iOS; free app for the blind and vision impaired; uses computer vision to recognize and interpret objects, text, barcodes, images from other apps, more; speaks what it sees; can remember people’s faces and recognize facial expressions; can also provide descriptions of scenes.
Microsoft launches Powerpoint add-on Presentation Translator in general availability; uses machine learning to provide real-time language translations of Powerpoint content and of the presenter’s spoken words. Also launches updated Outlook apps for iOS and Android; adds quick account switching, the ability to browse folders, and a redesigned conversation view; plans to rollout intelligent search powered by Microsoft Graph soon.
Microsoft announces the Mixed Reality Partner Program; the company’s existing HoloLens Agency Readiness Partners gave creative agencies resources to develop content; that program now folds into the Mixed Reality Partner Program, which also works with systems integrators to help companies with relevant infrastructure.
Oculus offers the Oculus Rift and Touch motion controller for $400 over the next six weeks; represents a price drop of $200; Oculus VP Jason Rubin says the firm is moving toward mass-market pricing. And Facebook also plans to launch a $200 standalone Oculus VR headset in 2018; codenamed Pacific, will focus on gaming, video, and social engagement.
Facebook updates its social VR app, Spaces, with Live stream; enables Oculus Rift users to live broadcast group hangouts, with each participant represented by a 3D avatar.
Apple is developing a rear-facing 3D laser system for AR and improved autofocus; the VCSEL laser system calculates distance by emitting light and measuring how long it takes to return; it’s unclear whether the technology will be included in the next iPhone.
China-based umbrella rental company E Umbrella has reportedly lost most of its 300k umbrellas since the April launch; the company has racks at bus stops, train stations, etc; customers pay with an app that provides codes to unlock umbrellas; the company plans to add 30M more umbrellas by the end of the year.
Payments processing service Stripe adds global support for WeChat Pay and Alipay; Stripe previously supported Alipay in the US only; WeChat Pay is initially available to merchants as a private beta.
Bluesmart launches Indiegogo campaign for second smart luggage system, Series 2; features GPS/3G global tracking system, charging ports strong enough for laptops, remote digital locking and weight sensor; has raised $1.2M on $50K goal, ends July 27.
ESPN partners with Samsung to live stream X Games on Gear VR headset; to splice feature segments between coverage of Skateboard Vert and Street Amateurs, and BMX Street; will be available in 48 countries; Samsung also planned on broadcasting UFC fights.
Google’s DeepMind developed an AI that taught itself to walk, run, and jump; researchers created three body models: a humanoid, a humanoid with no arms or head, and a four-legged spider-like model; they incentivized the AI to navigate obstacles to reach a goal destination
Uber and Yandex to merge ride-hailing services in Russia, with Yandex taking a controlling stake (59.3 percent, vs 36.6% Uber); the new $3.7B entity is yet to be named.
Tesla announces completion of Model 3 initial production unit; is expected ship 30 units to customers by the end of July, and is slated to increase to 20K per month by December; there are hundred of thousands of pre-orders; CEO Elon Musk will get the first car.
Hyperloop One reveals it successfully completed its first full-scale test in a vacuum environment in May; the low-speed test (70 mph) was conducted at the company’s DevLoop test track in NV.
📚 Good reads
How travelling for a year changed a remote worker’s life (and improved his performance). Ever thought about becoming a digital nomad? Read the story of Sean Tierney participating in Remote Year program.
The Why before the Why. Jason Fried at Basecamp tells us how focusing at the fundamental reasons customers look for them can help informing and ultimately steering product development. Jobs To Be Done is a good way to get started.
Cheat Sheets for AI, Neural Networks, Machine Learning, Deep Learning & Big Data. All things AI, ML in one-pagers. Bliss!
Most common UX design methods and techniques. Nick Babich has collected what the title says :), resources included. A great summary / overview for those starting in this world or looking for a refresher.
WTF is Ethereum. More than the content or the topic (which btw is fascinating), I love this site’s way of targeting its message to specific audiences, no matter you are a 5-year old, a DJ or both.
🎯Quote of the week
“You should always have the goal of making yourself redundant” (on Building and developing your team into leaders is your highest leverage activity) - Brandon Chu.