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Apple’s new AR platform looks a lot like a gateway to VR

(TECH NEWS) Apple unveiled their new augmented reality ARKit at the WWDC and it seems like a stepping stone on the way to virtual reality.

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From WWDC

Apple’s new augmented reality platform ARKit is pretty cool itself, but even cooler is what its launch implies: Apple has unleashed some truly cutting edge tech.

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That cutting edge tech, with a little more development, could open the door for virtual reality.

What’s ARKit?

ARKit lets app makers map digital objects into 3D space by drawing on detailed camera and sensor data. The platform does what Apple calls “world tracking”: it finds points in your surrounding environment, then tracks them while you move your phone.

Rather than building a 3D model of a given space, ARKit can pin objects to a certain point of reference so as to accurately adjust scale and perspective.

ARKit can locate flat surfaces, allowing users to set up digital props on tables, floors or chairs — something Wayfair has been doing for a while now. With ARKit, developers won’t have to build their own tracking and imaging systems since they’ll have access to the tracking capabilities of the iPhone and iPad.

Word on the street is that ARKit is a step in Apple’s plan to develop augmented reality glasses.

That’s all fine and good, but let’s dive a little deeper into what else could be unfolding.

Paving the way to virtual reality

So the phone can track someone walking around a virtual object. Now, what if you put that phone into a VR headset? One could assume this would allow a user to walk around in a virtual environment. It’s not far-fetched at all; Google’s all-in-one VR headset was wired around Tango technology. Here’s another curious thing: Apple is rumored to be switching to VR-friendly OLED screens. Hmm.

Could there be an iPhone-based headset in the near future?

Rumors have been swirling around the topic for years now. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook has openly stated his preference for AR over VR, this new platform could counter his own arguments. The way Cook sees it, “VR isn’t going to be that big compared to AR. How long will it take? AR is going take a little while, because there’s some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen. It will happen in a big way. And we will wonder, when it does [happen], how we lived without it. Kind of how we wonder how we lived without our [smartphones] today.” Cook doubts VR’s success because he thinks people don’t want to be cut off from reality.

AR is different, he says, because it simply enhances the world we already live in.

Let’s use Cook’s smartphone analogy. Like the smartphone, as AR becomes more sophisticated, it will become the new normal. People will start wanting more. When we become accustomed to our flashy augmented details accessorizing our daily lives, virtual reality won’t seem like such a big leap.

Apple has also recently made several interesting hires, including several former Microsoft employees with backgrounds in 3D user interfaces and machine learning for human activity recognition.

We don’t know exactly what’s cooking, but it certainly smells like VR.

Now let’s step back and focus on what we know. Apple’s got a new augmented reality platform. But is ARKit any more out of this world than other big names in the AR space? Yes and no.

Not exactly an underdog

Google and Facebook have also been hard at work on their own augmented reality platforms, but Apple’s has several advantages.

First, ARKit will be available on a vast array of devices, as opposed to Google’s Tango, which requires special hardware to be built into each Android device.

As for Facebook’s AR platform, despite boasting some impressive machine learning and adorable cartoon characters, developers are confined to Facebook’s Camera app. Apple, on the other hand, will allow developers to play around with adding augmented reality to independent iOS apps. For this reason, Apple claims to have “the largest AR platform in the world.”

So what will it mean when developers can build AR-first apps?

Even the much hyped-about Pokemon Go only use AR as a fun little bonus feature, not its main selling point. Snapchat and Facebook added AR into their platforms, but the popularity of these features comes from both companies’ large user bases, not from AR itself.

With ARKit, augmented reality will be way more accessible since developers can put their apps in front of large audiences for cheap.

This could eventually mean AR features become integrated into everyday apps we already use, like video chats, games and maps — henceforth beginning the gradual transformation of what we view as normal.

ARKit sounds promising, but it’s not hands down the best of the best.

It can definitely benefit from some of its competitors’ features, such as extra cameras built to capture depth data and wide-angle images, which would give ARKit the ability to construct 3D models of entire rooms — something Tango can already do relatively easily.

Failing to launch

Virtual reality, despite many attempts from major tech companies, has yet to really compel consumers enough to take off in a big way. It’s a fascinating concept that just needs to be executed correctly.

If Apple can fine-tune various elements of the AR apps already out there and then transcend into virtual, we might finally have a VR platform with that “wow” factor we’ve been waiting for.

#ARKit

Helen Irias is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a degree in English Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara. She works in marketing in Silicon Valley and hopes to one day publish a comically self-deprecating memoir that people bring up at dinner parties to make themselves sound interesting.

Tech News

Google begins evolving Hangouts into Google Chat

(TECH NEWS) Google is transitioning from Hangouts, and Meet to Chat to offer what they think consumers want. No more competing with themselves.

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Google chat

What is your favorite instantaneous way to communicate with your team these days? Phone call, text, video call, group text message, email, or instant message?

It might depend on the team members and their preferences, but organizations and business owners run the gamut on IM (Instant Messaging) software: Slack, Skype for Business, MS Teams, and Google Chat to name a few. There have also been several that worked well for smaller companies and startups like HipChat by Atlassian. These are often used in addition to still meetings, conference calls, and emails but depending on the culture of the organization, they may love IM, and require it to have a wider range of capabilities that just copy (i.e. photo and file attachments, groupings, privacy settings, focused team, or group channels)

To be fair, there are varying degrees of interest by employees in instant messaging. Some love the idea that you can quickly reach out to a coworker and ask a question, and some find it bothersome and would prefer an email so they can file and sort topics easily (or if it’s really that quick, a phone call or stopping by to ask – if they are in the same space – not COVID-19 alternative working).

This begs the question, does IM allow for more remote working capabilities, and does that mean Google is on to something that they may have just hit the right time and need? The truth of email is that we are becoming less and less interested in reading long forms of copy, and want the information quickly.

Google consolidated their people working on communications tool to one team and is moving Hangouts to Google Chat as well as quickly integrating Google Meet for everyone (you can start a video meeting from within your Gmail, so think Zoom but not having to leave your email – assuming you’re on the G-suite).

If timing is everything, this could be a really smart move for them. Do you even remember Google Hangouts? This was a product launched originally as a feature of Google+, and then became a stand-alone product in 2013. It incorporated video and voice call capabilities for individuals or groups. The thing is, in 2013, I think many people were still using IM through their work email (which was dominated by Microsoft Outlook and PCs). For whatever reason, people just weren’t really using it that way. Most likely people could use it with their internal teams, but would have to use Chat for external users.

The history of Instant Messaging is kind of fun to review – starting with AOL in 1997 when they launched AIM. Now pretty much every platform has a version of the instant message, and people are extremely accustomed to short exchanges and ways to reach out quickly. People frequently use text, Twitter, iMessage, GroupMe, and Facebook Messenger among other ways to quickly reach out, break through the clutter, and hopefully hear a response back pretty quickly.

It appears that Google hopes to offer the capabilities that their users need – when they realized it seemed that business users were using Chat within their organizations, but having to use Hangouts to speak to those outside of that company. Right now, this is only for business users, but they are likely to see how to roll it out to all customers now that they’ve added the Meet capabilities.

According to Android Police, “Furthermore, it’ll soon be possible for G Suite users to message other G Suite users from outside their organization starting May 26. Anyone not in your company will have an ‘External’ label next to their name in the Google Chat UI so there’s no confusion. You’ll also be able to add any contacts to group chats so long as you designate them as ‘External.’ This will only apply to new rooms, though — any you’ve already created will have to remain internal-only rooms.”

It looks like Google is working on getting rid of Hangouts for good, and broadening Google Chat, but there could be some other products in the meantime. Will this change how you use your G-suite?

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Tech News

A look into why AI couldn’t save the world from COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, but we just don’t have the data yet. So perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet.

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COVID-19 AI

Even in the best of times, the human race can hardly be defined by our patience in the face of uncertainty. COVID-19 has rocked our feelings of safety and security. Hospitals have struggled to keep up with demand for care, and researchers are working tirelessly to create a vaccine. Early on in the fight against this virus, some looked to artificial intelligence technology to lead the pack in finding a solution to the global health crisis, but science takes time and AI is no different.

Over two months ago, when COVID-19 was still most prevalent in China, researchers were already attempting to use AI to fight the virus’ spread. As Wired reports, researchers in Wuhan, China attempted to screen for COVID-19 by programming an AI to analyze chest CTs of patients with pneumonia.

The AI would then decipher if the patient’s pneumonia stemmed from COVID-19 or something less insidious. This plan failed for the same reason many pursuits do – a lack of time and data to pull it off.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization examined the lung CT tool, but it was deemed unfit for widespread use. The lung CT tool, and all other AI driven projects, are limited by the humans designing and operating them.

We have struggled to collect and synthesize data in relation to COVID-19, and as a result tools, like the lung CT scans, cannot hope to succeed. AI is only as powerful and intelligent as the teams building it, so perhaps, we just aren’t there quite yet. Our tenacity and optimism continue to drive AI forward, but progress can only be sped up so much.

Like all science, AI has its limitations, and we cannot expect it to be a miracle cure for all our problems. It requires data, experimentation, and testing just like any other scientific pursuit. There are many problems to unlock before AI can be a leader in the driving force for positive change, but its shortcomings do not outweigh its potential. AI couldn’t save us from COVID-19, but as researchers continue to learn from this global event, AI may still save us in the future.

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Tech News

Chrome can now group and color code your open tabs

(TECH NEWS) Do you have too many tabs, and can’t tell what’s what? Google has tab groups that make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

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Are you a tab collector? That’s Google’s name for people who have tabs upon tabs upon tabs open on their Google Chrome browser. And while third party apps are already available to help collectors manage tabs, Google is now stepping in with Tab Groups.

Tab Groups, try it here, allows users to color-code, group and add text or emoji labels to separate clusters of tabs in their browser.

Right-click on any tab and choose Add to New Group. A gray dot will appear to the left of the tab and outline it in the same color. Clicking on the dot lets users update the color, label and name the group. Once grouped together, the tab groups can be moved and reordered. They’re also saved when Chrome is closed and reopened.

Google said after testing Tab Groups for months, they noticed people usually arranged their tabs by topic and that appeared most common when people shopped or were working on a project.
“Others have been grouping their tabs by how urgent they are, “ASAP,” “this week” and “later.” Similarly, tab groups can help keep track of your progress on certain tasks: “haven’t started,” “in progress,” “need to follow up” and “completed.”

Of course, this new feature does nothing to dissuade users from opening too many tabs, despite research that says multitasking may change the structure of your brain and Chrome is notorious for using too much RAM. So now you can’t concentrate, and your computer is running hot and slowing down.

A solution? Use Chrome extensions such as The Great Suspender, which suspends tabs that have been inactive for a specific amount of time. Don’t worry, you can whitelist specific websites so if you always need a tab for Twitter open, it won’t be suspended.

Another tip is to focus on one task at a time using the Pomodoro Technique, breaking tasks and your workday into 25-minute bursts of productivity with five-minute breaks in between. FocusMe uses a timer and website blocker to reduce the risk of getting distracted. You’re on the internet, after all.

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