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HTC’S CHINA-EXCLUSIVE VIVE FOCUS VR HEADSET IS NOW LAUNCHING WORLDWIDE

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HTC will start selling its standalone Vive Focus virtual reality headset worldwide today, after an initial launch in China earlier this year. The headset, which will cost $599 in the US, is aimed at business customers in 37 countries. It’s part of a larger attempt to make HTC VR headsets appealing to companies, including a newly announced collaboration app called Vive Sync, which lets employees in different offices meet and work together in VR.

The Vive Focus is a self-contained mobile headset that tracks a user’s motion with outward-facing cameras — similar to the upcoming $399 Oculus Quest headset. HTC announced itafter canceling a similar headset based on Google’s Daydream VR platform, and it was initially unclear whether the Vive Focus would launch outside China. However, HTC confirmed an international release this spring, making a development kit available to US buyers.

We were impressed by the Vive Focus’ tracking quality, and since its launch, HTC has developed fully tracked motion controllers to supplement its original remote-like pointing device. But don’t expect a direct Oculus Quest competitor. HTC isn’t pitching this as a consumer device — it’s more likely to show up in training simulators, industrial design facilities, or arcades. Buyers can add one of two “Advantage” premium service and repair packages, bringing the cost up to either $749 or $799.

The Vive Focus will sit alongside HTC’s older $499 Vive and $799 Vive Pro headsets, which are tethered to a computer. HTC touts the Vive Focus as a headset for “businesses that want a truly mobile VR experience.” Unlike the original Vive, it doesn’t require any external sensor boxes, and it features the same high-end 2880 x 1600 resolution as the Vive Pro; it’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset and has a battery life of up to three hours.

HTC highlighted another upcoming all-in-one headset by Chinese company Shadow Creator, which is using HTC’s Vive Wave mobile VR platform to launch a headset called the Shadow VR. It will launch worldwide on November 11th, and has a similar feature set to the Vive Focus, albeit with a slightly lower-resolution screen.

HTC has set its sights on business customers for a while now, but it’s emphasizing that aim more than ever with the Vive Focus. That’s a contrast with competitors Oculus and Sony, which have portrayed their VR headsets as mass-market entertainment devices — although Oculus also provides headsets to companies like Walmart for training and other uses. HTC is likely making the safer move here, since businesses have consistently used VR systems for decades, while it’s only recently carved out a niche in the consumer market. But for anyone looking to buy an HTC-built VR headset for personal gaming or VR movies, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

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APPLE’S PHIL SCHILLER CONFIRMS THE IPHONE XR NAME DOESN’T STAND FOR ANYTHING

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It is one of the enduring mysteries of our time: in a lineup full of otherwise neatly named products, Apple’s alternative hardware cycle iPhones have always seen an -S appended to their names, going back to the iPhone 3GS in 2009. But the question remains: what does the S actually stand for?

Turns out, mostly nothing — according to Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller, who told Engadget in an interview that the letters the company picks for its products don’t actually stand for anything at all. That includes this year’s iPhone XS and XS Max, and of course, the puzzlingly named iPhone XR. (The X does stand for 10, though.)

Schiller did go on to explain what the letters meant to him, commenting that “I love cars and things that go fast, and R and S are both letters used to denote sport cars that are really extra special.” (Porsche is fond of appending the letters on its models, and Mercedes Benz has both its R- and S-Class vehicles, for example.)

It hasn’t always been this way. Back when Apple first announced the iPhone 3GS, Schiller himself proudly explained the name as “the S simply stands for speed, because this is the most powerful, fastest iPhone we’ve ever made.”

And when the iPhone 4S rolled around two years later, CEO Tim Cook explained in an interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D10 conference that the product’s “S” designation there stood for Siri, Apple’s then newly introduced digital assistant.

By the time that the iPhone 5S and 5C came out in 2013, though, Apple had stopped offering explanations for its names, a trend that continued to the iPhone 6S. Interestingly, the iPhone SE did get a name explanation, again by Schiller, who confirmed that it stands for “Special Edition” to journalist Jason Cipriani.

But now, with the XS, XS Max, and XR, we’re back to the alphabetically nihilistic approach where none of these letters actually stand for anything. It’s a curious choice for Apple, a company that usually prides itself on hidden details, as well as for luxury products in general, which often go out of their way to manufacture elaborate stories behind tiny aspects of their brands to further the air of value and history.

But sometimes, it seems an R is just an R. (Or at least, a car)

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Hardwares

THE NEW PIXEL 3’S CAMERA WILL LET AI PICK OUT THE BEST PHOTOS FOR YOU

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Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones were just unveiled this morning at an event in New York City. As expected, both phones are coming with a near-identical set of front-facing and rear-facing cameras that are powered by artificial intelligence. That allows them to do all sorts of algorithmic work behind the scenes, all powered by what Google calls its new Pixel Visual Core chip.

Among the new AI features built into the Pixel 3 camera are two new shooting modes called Top Shot and Photobooth. Top Shot uses Google’s work in image and object recognition and computer vision to analyze photos and pick the best shots in a given batch. With Top Shot, you’ll be able to capture a number of photos before and after the moment you press the virtual shutter button, while the software will pick out the best shot.

Image: Google

It’s similar to Google’s Motion Photos feature that creates GIFs from short snippets of video. You can still browse through the alternates to pick out others, Google says. Photobooth, on the other hand, takes a bunch of photos of you or your friends using the front-facing camera, but only when it recognizes that the subjects of the photo are making a funny face or smiling. You don’t need to even press the shutter.

Google also announced a feature called Super Res Zoom, which uses a burst of photos to amp resolution when you zoom into a subject, and Night Sight, which uses machine learning to artificially brighten dark spots in photos. For Pixel 3 XL owners, you’ll be able to access a wide-angle lens for a feature Google is calling Group Selfie Cam.

Some of the AI-powered software here, specifically a feature like Photobooth, was built initially for Google Clips, the company’s square-shaped photo and video capturing device that automatically operates on its own to let parents capture moments of their kids. Now, it appears that Google has taken a lot of the knowledge there and integrated it into its Pixel devices to help ease the pain of picking a photo or tinkering with all the settings to capture the perfect shot.

Since the original Pixel, the defining feature of the device line has not been its design or the relatively spartan stock Android it runs, but the camera. Using its advancements in artificial intelligence, Google was able to achieve a staggeringly capable camera that has only improved with last year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. So it makes sense that Google has put more resources toward improving the Pixel 3 camera and positioning it as one of, if not the most important, reason why you’d pick its device over an iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy S9 / Note 9.

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Tech Stories

FLYING TRAINS COULD BE COMING YOUR WAY

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It sounds like something Q, the tech guy in James Bond movies, would create: A plane that lands on a runway, shrugs its wings off, turns into a train and rolls on to rails to drop you off at your local station.

That’s what a French entrepreneur, who’s made millions by connecting engineers with industrial groups, is pitching to Boeing Co. and others. “Link & Fly” is Akka Technologies’s new flagship aircraft design, with wings that come off to hasten turnover at airports and make boarding easier and closer to passengers’ homes.

“After cars go electric and autonomous, the next big disruption will be in airplanes,” Akka’s Chief Executive Officer Maurice Ricci said in an interview in Paris. Boeing is among prime customer targets for Akka, as it seeks to limit its dependence on the likes of Airbus SE and Renault SA in Europe.

With Akka’s futuristic concept, passengers would board a train-like tube at a neighborhood station and have their retinas scanned for security during the ride to the airport. Wings would then be attached to the pod for take-off. The company has showcased the idea in a 3D mock-up video, gathering interest from potential customers in Asia, Ricci said, without naming any company.

Disruptive Flights

Plane makers have begun to react as technology companies come up with disruptive ideas — from Uber’s investments in flying taxis to Kitty Hawk, a startup backed by Google’s co-founder Larry Page that’s creating a battery-powered single-person plane. Airbus took the offensive with a new division to oversee transport of the future, while Boeing has made a noisy foray into jetpacks.

While Akka’s not banking on convincing a plane maker to necessarily build the entire “Link & Fly” concept, it’s betting on the design to be an attention grabber and a showcase, parts of which are likely to end up in customers’ commercial aircrafts down the line.

For planemakers and the companies gravitating around them Asia, and especially China, offer opportunities for new business. Chinese plane builder Comac is developing its own fleet, and could turn to the European aeronautics ecosystem for technology partners.

Akka, which has a market value of 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) and whose biggest shareholder is Ricci, employs engineers that customers can hire on a project basis as consultants. The company developed an autonomous car concept in 2008 and in 2014 partnered with Dassault Systemes to offer services to carmakers.

The stock has risen about 23 percent this year, multiple times the 1.8 percent increase in the benchmark CAC 40 Index and a matching jump in the broader SBF120 Index.

U.S. Market

Similar to Airbus’ A320 jet in size and target usage, the Akka Link & Fly carriage for short-range flights carries 162 passengers and the seats can be taken out to move freight instead. With the wings clipped on, and the engines fixed on top, the design has wingspan of about 49 meters, is 34 meters long and 8 meters high.

Akka generates 75 percent of its sales in France and Germany and became more dependent on auto manufacturing with the takeover of a Daimler engineering unit about seven years ago. The Paris-based company hopes its new concept will woo new aeronautics customers in the U.S. The purchase of Texas-based engineering firm PDS Tech in June is a first step. Ricci expects the acquisition to close in three to six months.

“Planes need to become more efficient, less polluting and less noisy,” said Ricci. “Our role is to point our customers to technologies of the future.”

 

 

 

 

Source: Bloomberg

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