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Google acquires AR manufacturer, North, but what for?

(TECH GADGETS) Google has recently purchased North, an AR startup that boasts impressive 3-D holographic visual displays, but what they plan to do with this new merger is unclear.

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If you allowed pop culture to influence your beliefs about what the 21st century might look like, then you — like most of society — have probably not-so-secretly been hoping that today might vaguely resemble the marvels promised to us from the Back to the Future franchise. After all, we were all assured that we’d have hoverboards to shuttle around on, 3-D holographic advertisements to admire, and a Florida baseball team to root for.

Reality, however, has proven to be starkly different than this fantasy. Sadly, we only got one of these three incredible offerings, but the tech startup, North, is now trying to change all of that by providing us with a new, augmented reality alternative.

It’s fair to say that North, an AR smart lens manufacturer, has been met with both significant hype and equally significant challenges. While the enthusiasm about this company has been reasonably justified (a holographic real-time display in your field of vision is admittedly a pretty cool idea), they still somehow managed to repeatedly fall short on expectations. There have been numerous problems from the get-go that can be blamed for holding them back, too.

What issues, you might be asking? Well, for instance, the price of getting your hands on a sweet share of these sci-fi specs was an exorbitant $999. And if you wanted to get properly fitted in them, you had to not only shell out those beaucoup dollars, you also had to pop into one of two of their only brick-and-mortar retail shops. Even lowering the price of their AR glasses (dubbed “Focals”) down to a mere $600 per pop couldn’t save North from floundering.

Their struggles gradually became public in an assortment of actions performed by the company. First, they laid off something like 150 of their current staff. Then it was brought to light that North secured $40 million in bridge financing to help them stay afloat. Their next step was to cut out the middleman (the retail shops) and take their business entirely online. And if that wasn’t enough, they then finally pulled Focals from their inventory, with a vow to roll out an even better product (Focals 2.0) sometime in 2020.

If you were wondering where this new and improved product was, then wonder no longer: it was never made. Perhaps coronavirus squashed operations. Maybe North couldn’t drum up any more capital for their product. Either way, it was obvious that they needed another major bailout…and we now know that their much-needed helping hand has come from an unexpected place. In an announcement this week, Google has revealed that they have acquired this flailing AR tech company, and the two companies now plan to join heads to potentially (finally!) see this project through.

Google themselves are no stranger to AR, and many people may recall their attempts to get their own AR smart lenses (called “Google Glass”) up and running. Like Focals, though, the company simply couldn’t gain enough traction for Glass to become a popular product from the tech giant. While Google Glass is still available for purchase, it never became the mainstream tech revolution that Google had hoped it would be.

It’s exciting to see these two augmented reality greats come together with a unified goal in mind. After all, they already have a lot in common, with both companies serving as notable innovation masterminds, highly capable of designing and creating impressive AR technology. With that said, it’s still unclear what Google plans to do with its new purchase. Details of the acquisition are understandably hush-hush, and it’s been reported that all evidence of the first-gen of Focals will be scrubbed from the app store by the end of July 2020.

Perhaps this merger will finally allow us to see the much-anticipated Focals 2.0 come to life. Who knows? We eventually got to see the Miami Marlins not only become an actual baseball team, but also win the World Series (not once, but twice!). So is it that much more of a leap to also expect to see affordable holographic displays in our visual field? It’s an intriguing premise, and one that’s exciting to consider. Heck, we’re right there on the cusp of having real-deal hoverboards, too, so maybe this new version of augmented reality can finally become a true reality, as well.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Tech Gadgets

Samsung nudged out of the top smartphone seller spot by Huawei

(TECH GADGETS) Huawei beats Samsung as the top seller of smartphones for the first time ever — but can they keep it up? How will COVID change the smartphone market?

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When you think of a best-selling smartphone, pretty much anything from Samsung or Apple tends to come to mind. During the second quarter of 2020, though, Huawei–a Chinese company–takes that title.

This is a surprising disruption of what we’ve come to expect from smartphone sales, no less so because of the United States’ ban on technology products from China. Indeed, Engadget points out that 70 percent of Huawei smartphone sales occurred within China, something that plenty of manufacturers thought would spell a significant hit for the company.

Huawei themselves actually predicted a 20 percent drop in smartphone sales during 2020–a figure that both failed to come to fruition (the company’s sales only dipped by five percent during the second quarter of 2020) and was heavily influenced by the ban. Nevertheless, their sales topped even Samsung’s during this quarter.

The smartphone company’s success can be attributed, at least in part, to China’s swift response to the Coronavirus pandemic, thus capping the sharp decrease in smartphone sales seen worldwide during 2020. By selling largely internally, Huawei was able to best their own predictions of doom and propel their brand forward.

These sales don’t come without some drawbacks. One major aspect of the tech ban on China is that Huawei phones cannot ship with the Google Play Store app or proprietary apps installed–something that virtually every other Android phone can do with free reign. This is a situation that is unlikely to change under the current administration.

Additionally, Samsung is set to release new products in the third quarter of 2020, so they expect to top Huawei once again. Surely, Huawei’s success may very well be a fluke insofar as they were able to maintain sales in a market in which every other company saw dramatic changes to their numbers.

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from this situation is Huawei’s circumstantial timing. In a world where smartphone sales took a backseat to hand sanitizer panics and mask shortages, Huawei was in the right place at the right time by marketing to home-based buyers. As this pandemic progresses and the tech ban on China tightens, it will be interesting to see how–or if–China continues to innovate in this way.

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Tech Gadgets

Recording your smartphone’s screen is easier than you think

(TECH GADGETS) Screen recording your mobile device is a valuable trick, but not many people realize how easy it is. Here is how it’s done.

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Recording your smartphone’s screen may seem like a gimmick at best, but there are some pretty valid applications for a screen recording, be they demonstrations of technology, walkthroughs for your mom to watch at Christmas, or documentation of a particularly hilarious thread on Twitter. Here’s how you can record your phone’s screen if you have an iPhone or Android.

Firstly, keep in mind that not all phones have a screen-recording option. If you’re running an iPhone 4 from 2010, you’re out of luck. More pressingly, most Androids don’t allow you to record the screen without downloading a third-party app–something that, thankfully, will be fixed later this year when Android 11 drops. We’ll cover both an Android 11 and a prior versions method so you Android folks don’t get left out.

If you have an iPhone that’s running iOS 11 or later, though–that’d be anything from the iPhone 5 up–the process of recording your screen is exceptionally simple, if a little tricky to set up the first time.

From the Settings app, you’ll need to open the Control Center option, tap Customize Controls, and tap the plus icon next to Screen Recording. This adds the Screen Recording option to your Control Center.

Once you’ve done that, you can open the Control Center–by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen (iPhone X and up) or swiping up from the bottom of the screen (iPhone 8 and prior) and tap the circle-within-a-circle icon to begin recording your screen’s contents after a three-second countdown.

You can stop the screen recording by tapping the red icon at the top of your screen and then confirming the choice, after which point the recording gets saved to your Photos app.

Android 11 users have a similarly easy way to record their screens. To activate your screen recording widget, swipe down from the top of the screen to open notifications, then swipe down again to expand the menu into settings. Swipe right until you find the Screen record option, then tap it and follow the on-screen prompts. You can then tap Start to begin recording the screen; when you’re ready to stop, swipe down again and tap Tap to stop.

For Android users who aren’t using Android 11, there are a few free apps you can download from Google Play to record your screen. AZ Screen Recorder and Super Screen Recorder are both free to use for recordings with no watermarks and no time limits, and while both are ad-supported, you can avoid these ads by paying for the professional versions if you like.

Keep in mind that using any third-party app to record your screen can result in that app sharing your data. While it isn’t likely that your data will include the recording itself, it’s probably best to avoid recording any sensitive information if you aren’t using the Android 11 screen recording feature.

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Tech Gadgets

Get rid of mosquitos this summer with this non-toxic, killer light

(TECH GADGETS) Brace yourself, folks. There’s a new mosquito killer in town, and guess what? It doesn’t use toxic chemicals or citronella.

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They’re so ubiquitous that many states claim them as their official state bird. They’re recognized as being arguably the most deadly animal in the world. They spread disease, incite ire and wrath, and ruin summer picnics. Scientists call them “Culicidae,” but we know them by their street names. They’re the common mosquito, and suffice to say, we all hate them with every fiber of our being.

But here’s the problem. As much as we hate the little suckers, getting rid of them is an almost impossible feat. Sure, you can spray yourself from head to toe with toxic chemicals to ward them off. So what if you wind up growing an extra limb in the process? You can use that spare hand to slap the surviving bugs. Or here’s another idea: did you know that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide? And you know what makes you give off extra carbon dioxide? That’s right. Running. So skip the afternoon jog and you should be right as rain. What’s a little extra paunch when trying to stop the spread of malaria?

Then there’s citronella. Don’t even freakin’ get me started on citronella. Is it all natural and safe? Sure, of course it is…but you know what else is all natural? Cyanide. But nobody is over here advocating for using cyanide to end all of your mosquito woes. I mean, yeah, it’ll make you not care about them anymore. But it doesn’t exactly mean it’s good for you. (Author note: seriously, please don’t take cyanide. I really don’t have to elaborate on this, do I?) While citronella is a known mosquito repellant, its scent is nothing short of vile. If you have citronella candles burning at your next cookout, you can say goodbye to both the flying pests and myself. It’ll keep both of us away. Guaranteed.

Then there’s this new product, which is apparently a novel way of attacking the mosquito problem head-on. Combining a special type of ultraviolet LED light, which is evidently downright irresistible to mosquitoes, with something called “bionic temperatures” (which means literally nothing to me, and my mad Googling left me empty handed on the definition of this term), this device is evidently the miracle tool that we’ve all been waiting for. Evidently these bionic temperatures boost the range of this light, sending off a beacon that summons skeeters both far and wide.

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial — but wait, there’s more! Then this nifty little device literally sucks the nasty bugs into its body with a peripheral vortex (a fancypants way of saying it’s a spinny air trap) and get this: it desiccates the everliving heck out of them. Oh yeah. That would be the “physical air-drying” storage box at the base of the machine. So, in summary, this device hails mosquitoes like a dinner bell, goes all twisty sucky vortex, then mummifies the little suckers. Nice.

And yes, friends. It’s safe and all natural, but totally not in the cyanide-which-kills-you-dead kind of way. It’s also quiet, non-toxic, non-polluting (also very valid considerations!) and the best part? It doesn’t reek of citronella. Apparently this magical little mosquito killer can be had for a ridiculously low price on the vendor’s website (another author note: totally not a shill, just really hate both mosquitos and citronella) of just about $30. So if you were thinking about having a barbeque this summer and you wanted to socially distance yourself from the mosquitoes, why not give this product a try? After all, nothing says you’re living the plague-free life quite like a coronavirus-ridden summer full of dehydrated mosquitos, right? Right.

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