With the iPhone XR, Apple broadens its 'best'

The iPhone XR might be the most interesting phone Apple has made in years.

Think about it: Apple just released its flagship XS and XS Max to a chorus of positive reviews, and now here it is, a month later, preparing to launch another smartphone that packs many of the same features found in those really expensive ones. For Apple, this is all a little unheard of.

To add to the curiosity of it all, the R doesn’t mean much either. Phil Schiller, gingerly gripping a cup of coffee across from me, said the letters Apple uses never stand for something specific. But then his voice softened a little as he started to tell me about what the letters mean to him.

“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,” he said with a smile. That’s not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but I’m not sure what I should’ve expected from a) Apple’s SVP of global marketing and b) a longtime fan of Porsches and Audis.

Of course, Schiller’s is just one interpretation, and the iPhone XR lends itself to many. It’s the cheap iPhone. It’s the depressing iPhone. It’s, in my case, the fascinating iPhone. That’s all right though: Apple was intent on building the right iPhone for as many people as possible, no matter their outlook. These years of work have led Apple to build one of its best smartphones ever, even if it’s a little misunderstood.



To understand just why the XR seems like such a curious change of pace, we need to look at Apple’s track record. Since 2014, Apple has generally focused on the clockwork cadence of two phones per year. When the company deviated from that pattern, it was for a device like the iPhone SE in 2016, a cutesy phone that packed the guts of an iPhone 6S into the body of a 5S. It was a shift from the norm, sure, but it was built on top of plenty of familiar technology. Last year, Apple shook things up by releasing three iPhones: The 8 and 8 Plus were the natural sequels to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. A few months later, the iPhone X was released, and it changed what it meant for an iPhone to be an iPhone.

Apple knew well before then that it needed to bring the X’s advances in software and performance to people who didn’t want to shell out $1,000 on a smartphone. That’s an especially tall order when you consider the amount of work it took to complete the iPhone X on schedule in the first place.

“We had this technology we were working on for many years to be the future of the iPhone,” Schiller said of the X. “It was a huge ask of the engineering team to get it to market last year, and they did. … We knew that if we could bring that to market and it was successful very quickly after that, we needed to grow the line and make it available to more people.”

You can probably imagine, then, how big an ask it was of Apple’s engineering team to release the iPhone XS Max and XR — two completely new smartphones — just one year after redefining the iPhone’s future. The thing is, building the best smartphone you can when you know it’s going to be an unabashedly high-end product is one thing; trying to do the same with the iPhone XR, a device meant to blend some of Apple’s most sophisticated technology with a certain level of fiscal accessibility, seems even trickier by comparison.


“If we’re going to push the upper boundaries with XS and XS Max to make something the best, how do we make something that’s more affordable for a larger audience? To make the overall iPhone audience even larger? What choices can we make and still make it a phone that people can hold and say, ‘I have the best too’?”

Those were the questions Apple grappled with while developing the XR, according to Schiller. The company’s answers came in many parts, some more straightforward than others.

The XR was meant to provide the best performance possible, so the company packed one of its new A12 Bionic chipsets inside. This is the same sliver of silicon that powers the iPhone XS and XS Max, and when I reviewed those earlier this year, I said the level of power the chipset provided made those phones all but future proof. To offer the same kind of performance for significantly less money than its flagship phones is a new — and surprising — move for Apple, but one that makes the XR a tantalizing option for upgraders and newcomers alike.

iPhones are among the most widely used cameras in the world, so Apple transplanted the iPhone XS’ excellent 12-megapixel wide-angle camera into the XR’s body and augmented it with a dose of machine learning for better dynamic range and portrait shots. Since there’s no room for a fingerprint sensor up front anymore, there’s a Face ID sensor array at the top of the device. And you guessed it: That’s the same Face ID setup as on the XS and XS Max, another way the lines among all of these phones gets a bit fuzzy. In fact, it might be easier to run through some of the notable features the XR doesn’t share with its siblings: There’s no second telephoto camera and no pressure-sensitive 3D Touch technology in the screen.

Before any of that, though, you’ll notice the iPhone XR’s new body. It’s a little bigger in dimension than the iPhone XS, and you won’t find any stainless steel here — just glass, aerospace-grade aluminum and a lot of color. The colors on offer — black, white, blue, yellow, coral and red — are beautiful, but the XR’s physical dimensions themselves are a little unusual. Plenty of people have told me the 5.8-inch screen on the XS can feel a little small, and the XS Max’s 6.5-inch whopper of a display is overkill for people with smaller hands. With the XR, though, Schiller said the team hit the sweet spot and made “the one size of iPhone XR that can appeal to the widest number of people.” It seems a little odd, then, that Apple wouldn’t try to produce a premium smartphone this size; alas, maybe next year.


The iPhone’s screen is perhaps the single most important component to get right. It acts as the window into your chosen corners of the web and the world, after all. Apple’s decision to use an LCD display was largely a practical one since those screens typically cost less to produce, but — credit where it’s due — this isn’t your average LCD. It stretches almost entirely over the iPhone XR’s face, and the panel can sense and track your touch at a rate of 120Hz; in other words, it’s really responsive. (Some out there have reported that the XR’s screen has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is totally inaccurate.)

This screen has thrown some particularly geeky corners of the internet into a tizzy. Devices like the iPhone X, iPhone XS and basically every nice Android phone this year have screens that run at resolutions at or much higher than 1080p. (If you’re not much of a phone person, this basically means they’re very crisp.) The iPhone XR’s screen isn’t as high-res as those screens, and some people are upset about that. A handful of reports also suggested that the complexities of building these specific kinds of LCD displays on a large scale are why Apple is releasing the iPhone XR a month after its two more-premium XS models.

At least with respect to the first point, Schiller believes this is a case of what’s on paper not doing justice to reality. “I think the only way to judge a display is to look at it,” he told me, adding that Apple calls these screens “retina displays” because your eye can’t discern individual pixels unless you press your face up right against the glass. “If you can’t see the pixels, at some point the numbers don’t mean anything. They’re fairly arbitrary.” And when asked if the screen was to blame for the XR’s staggered release, he simply said, “This is when it’s ready.”

“If you can’t see the pixels, at some point the numbers don’t mean anything.”

I didn’t expect Schiller to tackle those supply-chain reports, but he has a point about the quality of the screen. After using an iPhone XR in the packed demo room outside the Steve Jobs Theater earlier this year, I honestly couldn’t find much to complain about. If I took my glasses off and really got in close, I could make out individual pixels, but then again, my job is to be sort of a snob about these things. Here’s the thing: The XR’s screen packs as many pixels into each linear inch as every non-Plus iPhone from the 4 through the 8. Apple’s displays have gotten more impressive since those days, certainly, but we’re still working with a great display here. For the vast majority of people out there, it’s far more than merely “good enough.”

And really, “far more than good enough” feels like the XR’s unofficial credo. From its processor to its camera to even that contentious screen, this is a device that can feel remarkably premium without the requisite price tag. The thing to remember, though, is that the iPhone XR doesn’t exist in a vacuum.


There are countless smartphone makers out there, innovating and iterating and grinding in hopes that you’ll validate their work with your money. And over the past few years, we’ve seen major players like Huawei and Xiaomi, plus upstarts like OnePlus, offer high-end performance and features at highly competitive prices. You could open a new browser tab right now and buy a smartphone that, on paper at least, rivals the best of what Android has to offer for around $500 — notably less than the iPhone XR’s $749 starting price.

The push to offer more for less isn’t unique to Apple, and it can be hard not to look at the XR as part of that larger trend. Thanks in part to the work those companies have done, there’s no better time to buy a smartphone on a budget. Even so, Schiller said he doesn’t “think too much” about the competition and was quick to insist that Apple doesn’t stress about building products for specific demographics.

“We don’t think about categories,” he said. “We think the iPhone X technology and experience is something really wonderful, and we want to get it to as many people as possible, and we want to do it in a way that still makes it the best phone.”

The jury is still out on whether the iPhone XR is “the best phone” Schiller describes, but it’s easy to see how valuable a device like this can be. You just need to go outside: The streets of New York City are full of people from all walks of life clinging to their iPhone 6s and 7s and SEs: They’re well-worn and many have cracked screens, but they’re in use nonetheless. On the half-hour subway ride to our meeting place, I counted no less than 10 iPhones that appeared to be more than a year old, still being used to read, to text or to drown out the din of the Q train. Those devices won’t last forever, and with the XR, Apple is giving them a valuable next step: a highly polished taste of modern performance and design that doesn’t start at $999.

Images: Evan Rodgers

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Google Home Hub review: A more personal smart display

Google debuted its take on the smart display earlier this year with a slew of Echo Show rivals. This is, after all, the Google way. As it did with Android, Google created the ecosystem and then partnered with third-party companies like Lenovo and JBL to make the actual products. However, as with the Pixel and the first run of Google Home products, Google likes to dabble in hardware, too.

That’s why it wasn’t much of a surprise when Google announced the Home Hub — its very own spin on the smart display. What was surprising, was how different it was from all the other Google-powered smart displays so far. The Home Hub is small, clad in a fabric finish, and (perhaps its most intriguing “feature”) doesn’t have a camera. It all adds up to a refreshing take on the smart display that makes it a good fit for nearly every room in your home.

Gallery: Google Home Hub review | 37 Photos

Engadget Score


Poor


Uninspiring


Good


Excellent

Key

from $149.00

87

Pros
  • No camera
  • Beautiful display
  • Simple minimalist design
  • Affordable compared to the competition
Cons
  • Might be too small for some
  • Sound quality is just OK

Summary

Google’s Home Hub is unlike most other smart displays on the market. With its small size and soft fabric exterior, the Home Hub is well-suited for nearly every room in your house. The notable absence of a camera helps alleviate privacy concerns, which makes it ideal for personal spaces like the bedroom. The display is colorful, sharp and there’s an intelligent light sensor that’ll dim and adjust it appropriately depending on the surroundings. Combine that with Google Assistant smarts and an affordable price point, and the Home Hub is a highly compelling choice for a smart display.

There’s no getting around it: The Home Hub is small. Compared with the 10-inch Google-powered displays that came before it, the 7-inch screen looks positively tiny. The Home Hub looks like a phablet on a stand, so much so that a colleague wondered if the display could be detached and used like a tablet (it can’t).

At first, I was disappointed by how small it was. For a screen-centric device like a smart display, this seemed wrong. Why wouldn’t you want a big, beautiful display to watch your favorite YouTube clips or view photos of friends and family on? A huge selling point of a smart display is its visual interface, so you can look at album art while the song is playing or check out directions on Google Maps. Surely a bigger display makes more sense?

I soon realized, however, that the smaller display wasn’t necessarily a negative. I tend to test smart displays in the kitchen, where I use them almost like a second TV. I yell out commands from across the room and can see the results from several feet away. For larger screens like the Lenovo Smart Display or Amazon’s Echo Show, that makes sense.

Google Home Hub

Not for the Home Hub. Due to its size, I’m forced to be a lot closer if I want to interact with it. This reminded me of Amazon’s Echo Spot, a device primarily for the bedroom or office. It was then that it clicked: The Home Hub is designed to be a more personal smart display. It should be used up close.

The Echo Spot struck this note because it looked like a cute alarm clock; the Home Hub looks more like a digital photo frame. Both are devices you’d normally keep on a nightstand or a side table. The Home Hub’s rectangular screen actually means it’s versatile enough to fit in the living room, the office and the kitchen. It looks at home on both a large desk or a skinny dresser.

Then there’s Home Hub’s no-frills design. On the back, you’ll find a microphone-mute toggle and a volume rocker. Like Google’s Home and Home Mini, the Home Hub is clad in soft fabric, available in four colors: chalk (light gray), charcoal (dark gray), sand (pink) and aqua (minty blue). These colors give it a minimal, friendly look rather than a generic, boxy gadget feel. Unlike other Google-powered smart displays, the Home Hub doesn’t stand out, and that’s because it’s designed not to. It’s all part of the Google Home design philosophy, where the devices are made to blend into your existing furniture.

Google Home Hub

What really makes the Home Hub feel more personal is that it doesn’t have a camera. One of the most common criticisms of Amazon’s Echo Spot is that even though it looks and feels like an alarm clock, having a camera by your bedside feels intrusive. That’s how my husband felt when I was testing the Echo Spot last year, and we ended up kicking it out of the room after just a week.

Sure, I can toggle the camera off with a physical switch, but that mutes the device’s microphone too, which negates its purpose. I could say, “Alexa, turn the camera off” which disables only the camera, but it’s pain having to say that each time. Additionally, that lens is still technically exposed even if the camera is off, which is still unsettling if you’re paranoid or privacy-conscious.

Of course, you could put tape over the camera, but then why not opt for a device that doesn’t have a camera at all? That’s exactly why Google decided not to include one in the Home Hub, and for me (and my husband), that made us more comfortable having one in the bedroom. If we had kids, we’d probably feel better about having one in their room, too. I’d even consider putting the Home Hub in the bathroom, though that’s probably not wise since it’s not water-resistant.

Google Home Hub

So, what is that at the top of the display if it isn’t a camera? Well, that’s a light sensor that works with a feature called Ambient EQ, which automatically detects the lighting and color condition of the room and adjusts the screen to match. This was especially helpful when I used the Home Hub next to my bed, as the display dims when the light is out. I should note that Ambient EQ applies only when the Home Hub is in Ambient mode (i.e. when it’s on standby). When I watched videos on YouTube, for example, it reverted to normal brightness.

When the lights are on, however, it doesn’t hurt that the Home Hub’s display is easy on the eyes. Photos look crisp and colorful at almost any angle. Plus, this little display made my highly unprofessional iPhone photos look good. Seeing as one of the Home Hub’s main functions is to double as a digital photo frame, this is a real bonus.

Just as with other Google-powered smart displays, you can have your personal snaps show up on the Home Hub if you store them on Google Photos. I could say things like “Show me all the photos from Hawaii” to see a gallery of shots I took from a recent vacation. What I really liked, however, was a new feature called Live Albums, which automatically compiles photos of your friends and family.

Google Home Hub

To use Live Albums, I just picked my favorite people and pets, and Google’s machine-learning algorithms pulled all the photos of them into a single album. Since it’s a “live” album, any new photos I take of them automatically show up on the Home Hub, too.

According to Google, the algorithm is smart enough to weed out embarrassing shots and duplicate photos, so you’re almost guaranteed to have the best selfies and group pics show up. Live Albums will even put certain photos in a side-by-side mode, especially if they are vertical shots of the same subject. The feature isn’t exclusive to the Home Hub, but it is the first Google smart display to get it.

There are a couple of other new smart-display features here, too. One is Home View, which displays all your different smart devices room-by-room or device-by-device; just swipe down from the Hub’s screen and you’ll see a dashboard with all of your smart home gadgets that you can then sort by room. With just a couple of taps, I could turn off all my Philips Hue lights, broadcast to other Google Home speakers in the house or control what’s playing on the Chromecast. Again, Home View isn’t exclusive to the Home Hub, it’s just making its debut here.

Google Home Hub

Naturally, like other Google-powered smart displays, the Home Hub works seamlessly with Nest products. Commands like “Show me the front door” will show who rang my Nest Hello, for example. This worked for the most part, but I did encounter some quirks.

Because I’ve had other Google smart displays in the house before, the Home Hub initially responded to my query with something like “I’m sorry, but I don’t know which display to show the front door on.” Occasionally, I’d even just get the aforementioned Home View screen instead of the Nest camera. I fixed the issue by unlinking the other devices and factory-resetting the Home Hub (which you can do by holding down the volume buttons on the back). Google tells me I was the only person to have reported this so far, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The rest of the Home Hub’s features are the same as we’ve seen on other Google-powered smart displays. It works well with all Google’s apps and services, so once I synced my Google account, the Home Hub pulled in all my calendar appointments. Because I also have my work and home address entered in Google Maps, it can even tell me the most efficient route to get to the office each morning. Plus, whenever I ask for directions, they’re automatically sent to my phone.

Google Home Hub

One of my favorite features on Google smart displays is YouTube and YouTube TV, and that’s no different here. I love watching my favorite YouTube channels as I get ready in the morning or to catch up on the latest sports news via ESPN when I’m upstairs. In the evenings, I’ve used YouTube Music to play me relaxing tunes to help me sleep, which has been surprisingly effective. Sure, the display is small and the sound isn’t mind-blowing (I’ll get to that later), but for short videos, the Home Hub works fine.

Still, as with the other Google-powered smart displays, don’t expect the full YouTube experience — you still can’t access subscriptions and playlists. Instead, I had to be very specific with my commands, like “Play Engadget on YouTube.” Similarly, I couldn’t look up a YouTube TV channel listing on the Home Hub; I have to request a specific channel like ESPN or BBC America. Seeing as YouTube is a Google property, I expected more functionality here.

Ah, but there is a workaround. I found I could actually cast whatever’s on my phone or computer to the Home Hub using Google Cast. Of course, it’s a little redundant — if I already have my phone or computer on me, why would I then cast that video to the Home Hub? — but it’s an option if you want it.

Google Home Hub

Another Google smart display favorite of mine are step-by-step cooking guides, which I fell in love with on the Lenovo Smart Display. The Home Hub has this feature too, but I’ll admit that I mostly used the Home Hub in the bedroom, not the kitchen. I actually prefer the Lenovo Smart Display for kitchen use, simply due to the larger screen. But if you have limited counter space, then the smaller Home Hub might make more sense.

As for audio quality? The Home Hub is decent for its size. Don’t expect thumpy bass or a full, smooth sound, but overall, the audio is punchy. At max volume, the Home Hub is positively deafening, and you’ll have no problems hearing it from across the room. I found that while the Home Hub isn’t great for listening to music, it’s excellent for podcasts and audiobooks, thanks to loud, crisp vocals.

On the whole, Google’s Home Hub was a bit of a revelation. Due to its size, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. But its unassuming form factor worked its way into my heart. It’s also priced affordably at $150, which is nearly $100 less than other Google-powered smart displays and about $80 or so less than Amazon’s Echo Show. It is a bit pricier than the $130 Echo Spot, but the Home Hub offers a bigger, better screen, has built-in YouTube and, let’s remember, doesn’t have a camera — which is a bigger deal than you might think.

If you want a larger screen for a communal space, go for the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display. If you want one with deep bass and great sound, opt for the JBL Link View. But if you want a Google-powered smart display that can fit in nearly anywhere, especially in private spaces, the Home Hub is a perfect choice.

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Watch the 'Forza' esports championship starting at 1PM Eastern


Microsoft

If you enjoy watching top-tier virtual motorsports, you’re about to get your fill. Microsoft and Turn 10 are streaming the season-ending Forza Racing World Championship this weekend, starting with an initial pack of 24 racers on October 20th at 1PM Eastern and whittling down to the top 12 on October 21st (also at 1PM Eastern). And you might want to tune in even if you’re only mildly interested in upper echelon play — the companies are promising some giveaways for Forza Motorsport 7 fans.

Just watching the stream on Mixer while signed in will offer quests and unlock certain in-game FM7 gear, including the ForzaRWC driver suit and matching car livery, the five liveries from the Driving the Design artist series and (what else?) a Unicorn livery. If you’d rather watch on Twitch instead of Microsoft’s Mixer, there’s a special extension that can provide game rewards.

Microsoft and Turn 10 started the Forza series in 2016 when digital motorsports were starting to take off, but the 2018 season is coming to a close in a fundamentally different landscape. Now, it’s not unheard of to see pro F1 drivers and car manufacturers with official esports teams. They see this as a big opportunity to promote both themselves and motorsports in general, and high-profile events like this might just reinforce their opinion.

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Still waiting for a video game developer to win a Genius Grant

Every year since 1981, the MacArthur Foundation has handed out the “Genius Grant,” awarding a handful of individuals $625,000 each in recognition of their creative skills and success in their chosen field. The money is no-strings-attached, designed to act as an open investment in that person and their work. The chosen Fellows come from an extensive range of industries, from philosophers and filmmakers to journalists and jazz performers. There’s even a basket weaver on the list.

There are absolutely no video game developers.

“The grant program has basically been concurrent with the entire history of video games,” Mohawk Games CEO Soren Johnson said. “It just seems really weird that they basically pretend that video games don’t exist.”

MacArthur Fellows 2018

Johnson, who designed and wrote the AI systems for Civilization 3 and 4, has called out the lack of recognition two years in a row on Twitter, noting the MacArthur Foundation has awarded 1,014 Fellowships over the past 37 years.

“Somehow, a program dedicated to supporting originality, innovation, and CONTEMPORARY WORK has completely excluded the art form that has grown the most — by orders of magnitude — during the program’s existence,” he tweeted in early October. “If the MacArthur Foundation wanted to look for a place where their money would support art with the greatest potential impact on the next generation, they could find no better place than video games.”

However, it’s not that the MacArthur Foundation isn’t looking.

The foundation keeps the Genius Grant nomination process fairly opaque, with a “constantly changing pool of invited external nominators chosen from as broad a range of fields and areas of interest as possible.” The nominees are evaluated by an Independent Selection Committee of 12 leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities, non-profit and commercial industries. This committee then makes its final recommendations to the MacArthur Foundation president and board of directors, who hand out the prizes.

MacArthur Fellows 2018

Game developer and Carnegie Mellon professor Paolo Pedercini was part of this process in 2014. In response to an article about the Genius Grant that year, Pedercini tweeted, “Without further disclosures I can tell you that game designers are being considered for MacArthur fellowships.” He was backed up by John Sharp, an associate professor of games and learning at Parsons, who added, “And have been for about the last 5 years.”

“I’m not part of the fellowship program; I was just asked out of the blue to provide a letter of support for a nominee, which I did,” Pedercini told Engadget this week. “The nominee was a game developer, among other things.”

The MacArthur Foundation declined an interview for this story, though a spokesperson offered the following statement: “Many Fellows work across multiple fields or change fields over time. We are continually striving to cultivate a broad, deep, and diverse pool of nominators and evaluators in order to explore the full breadth of creativity.”

MacArthur Fellows 2018

The MacArthur Foundation isn’t alone in turning a blind eye, at least on a public level, to the video game industry. The Guggenheim Fellowship has been active since 1925, offering grants to people “who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” Recipients come from a broad range of fields, including film, literature, history, physics, drama and dance. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation offers an average of $43,000 to each Fellow and it picks roughly 200 winners each year.

There is no “video game” category in the Guggenheim Fellowship search bar (though there is German and Scandinavian Literature, Medieval History, Sound Art, and Constitutional Studies, to name a few categories), and typing in “video game” doesn’t yield any relevant results. In contrast, a search for “film” finds 20 pages of results.

It seems that there’s been just one Guggenheim Fellow who identifies as a video game developer, and she was named this year — Elizabeth LaPensée, creator of eco-focused game Thunderbird Strike and a writer on Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. That’s one out of more than 18,000 Guggenheim Fellows.

Other, less academic, award programs are also reluctant to include video games. For instance, the Grammys have nominated a video game soundtrack or song just twice in 60 years. This is despite a restructuring in 2011 that officially opened the door for video games to be nominated in the Visual Media award category.

“There are so many people in our industry that contribute to pushing the boundaries of art and fun and technology — it’s crazy to me that game development doesn’t get more recognition in regards to its impact on the world,” said Meggan Scavio, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. That’s the non-profit organization behind the annual DICE Awards — essentially the video game Oscars. Founded in 1996, the AIAS is dedicated to supporting video game developers and legitimizing the industry in the mainstream.

“I think the problem is that in some institutions, video games are still seen as entertainment for kids,” Scavio said. “You just sit in front of a TV and shoot stuff, right? But for those paying attention, that’s just not the case. I’m a 48-year-old woman who plays video games every day and I can’t remember the last time I shot anything.” She called out games like Papers Please, This War of Mine and That Dragon, Cancer as examples of the medium’s emotional power.

“While you can certainly read or watch these stories, only video games force you to participate, allowing you to truly feel these hardships,” she said.

That Dragon, Cancer

There’s hope, according to Scavio. A handful of organizations have added video games to their repertoires and the list is growing. GLADD will include video games in its media awards for the first time this year; the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center recently launched a program to recognize video game pioneers and preserve industry history; the Museum of Modern Art has 14 video games in its permanent collection.

Video games are obviously an art form, imbued with creativity and latent talent. The question, then, is why this popular, massively influential, highly technical, bigger-than-Hollywood creative field isn’t recognized as art, or as something important, by high-profile organizations.

Sure, there are thousands of other industries ignored by the MacArthur and Guggenheim grant programs, though none that are as popular and culturally relevant as video games. In terms of revenue alone, video games outstrip the film industry three-to-one: Games brought in $122 billion worldwide last year, while box office sales generated roughly $43 billion. There are an estimated 2.3 billion gaming fans around the globe. Fortnite, Minecraft and Overwatch are household names.

Oculus Quest hands-on

Video games are a hotbed of innovation. Developers and players are excited to try new ideas and push the boundaries of immersion and storytelling, and the industry itself is a proving ground for new technologies. Just look at virtual reality. The VR industry established its roots in gaming; it found hungry test subjects in players and enthusiastic tinkerers in developers. From video games, VR has expanded to film, TV, education and advertisement. A similar story is playing out in the world of augmented reality, with experiences like Pokemon Go introducing its basic concepts to the broader market.

Video games themselves are demonstrably powerful, emotional, perspective-shifting experiences covering an infinite range of subjects from just as many varied perspectives. The MacArthur Foundation itself recognizes this truth, offering grants for educational video game projects through efforts including the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

But in 37 years, the MacArthur Fellowship has never recognized the accomplishments of video game developers. This fact isn’t an indictment on the Foundation itself or a devaluation of the people who have received genius grants. It’s simply strange.

MacArthur Fellows 2018

“They even have 3D visual art, which is obviously a very core part of video games,” Johnson said. “So if you look at the sum total of everything they recognize, it’s just super weird that video games are completely missing.”

It’s possible that video games have simply fallen through the cracks built into the MacArthur and Guggenheim nomination systems, with nominators unable to fully convince their peers or the board that developers deserve a nod.

“I can only speculate, but it seems like the Genius fellowships are increasingly awarded to people who are trying to make the world a better place and/or to people from marginalized backgrounds,” Carnegie Mellon professor Pedercini said. “Neither of these characteristics are very common among established game developers. Moreover, I think that the few ‘geniuses’ in our field — people like, say, Stephen Lavelle, Porpentine or Michael Brough — are underappreciated even within the gaming circles. It may just take some time.”

The MacArthur Foundation has had nearly 40 years to find value in the video game industry and it hasn’t happened yet. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t — or that it never will.

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Apple patent troll strikes again with FaceTime lawsuit

For such a genial component of Apple’s ecosystem, FaceTime certainly attracts a lot of lawsuits from interested bodies. The latest is from Uniloc, a company with a collection of patents, a hotline to its lawyers and very little else. AppleInsider is reporting that the patent troll has filed a request for a jury trial, accusing Apple of infringing its intellectual property.

The patent in question was filed in 2003 and covers how a pair of devices can communicate with one another on a packet-based network. It was granted in 2013, and bounced between 3Com, HP and Hewlett Packard Development before getting picked up by Uniloc.

It’s the third legal broadside that Uniloc, which has a record of flinging lawsuits at everyone in the tech industry, has fired at Apple in the last month. The previous two, filed earlier in October, covered network provisioning technology and the company’s AirDrop file sharing service.

Uniloc is pushing for a jury trial to determine an unspecified quantity of damages, as well as getting its costs covered and general additional compensation. Which is legalese for whatever it can screw out of the California giant.

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MIT finds a smarter way to fight Spectre-style CPU attacks


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Many companies have developed patches to mitigate Meltdown- and Spectre-like speculative memory attacks. However, they can come with compromises: they can leave major gaps and still slow down your system. MIT researchers may have a better way. They’ve developed a new method, Dynamically Allocated Way Guard (yes, DAWG is on purpose), that promises tight security without dragging performance through the dirt.

It boils down to isolating memory caches on processors in a way that prevents them from seeing anything they don’t need to know. MIT likens it to putting walls in a kitchen that prevent chefs from seeing each other’s ingredients and tools. There are multiple separate cache ways with their own domain identities, each of which is validated. New policies, meanwhile, deal with cache “misses” that could signal an attack. You can’t try cache hits across those domains in a bid to

The result is an approach that protects against much more than Intel’s pre-Spectre Cache Allocation Technology (CAT), but offers “comparable” performance. While it won’t work against every possible speculative attack, it’s still better — and it protects against non-speculative attacks that CAT could never address. There’s work underway to help DAWG tackle more speculative attacks, too, and it would require “very minimal” changes to operating systems.

The challenge is getting companies to use the feature. MIT’s team is hopeful that companies like Intel will pick up on the idea, but that’s not guaranteed. As it is, the typical development times for processors could mean a long wait even if the industry adopted the concept right away. Still, this raises hope that there’s a true solution to Meltdown and Spectre that doesn’t involve a significant speed hit.

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IBM finally proves that quantum systems are faster than classicals


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In 1994, MIT professor of applied mathematics, Peter Shor, developed a groundbreaking quantum computing algorithm capable of factoring numbers (that is, finding the prime numbers for any integer N) using quantum computer technology. For the next decade, this algorithm provided a tantalizing glimpse at the potential prowess of quantum computing versus classical systems. However researchers could never definitively prove that quantum would always be faster in this application or whether classical systems could overtake quantum if given a sufficiently robust algorithm of its own. That is, until now.

In a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, Dr. Sergey Bravyi and his team reveal that they’ve developed a mathematical proof which, in specific cases, illustrates the quantum algorithm’s inherent computational advantages over classical.

“It’s good to know, because results like this become parts of algorithms,” Bob Sutor, vice president of IBM Q Strategy and Ecosystem, told Engadget. “They become part of decisions about how people will start to attack problems. Where will they try classical techniques? Where will they try quantum techniques? How will those interplay? How will they work back and forth together?”

What’s more, the proof shows that, in these cases, the quantum algorithm can solve the problem in a fixed number of steps, regardless of how many inputs are added. With a classical computer, the more inputs you add, the more steps it needs to take in order to solve. Such are the advantages of parallel processing.

“The main point of this paper is not that somehow we discover some incredibly important quantum algorithm, or some practical, interesting problem,” Bravyi told Engadget. “We ask if we can separate a constant depth [between] quantum and classical algorithms. As we increase the problem size, the runtime of the quantum algorithm remains constant, but the total number of operations grows.”

As Bravyi points out, this new proof doesn’t, in and of itself, solve any existing computational issues.

Instead, “it gives us insight into what makes a quantum computers more powerful,” he continued. “And hopefully in the future it will lead to more practical, useful algorithms.”

Those yet-to-be-developed algorithms won’t even necessarily be designed for quantum systems, the research could lead to improvements in hybrid classical-quantum systems as well. “We can start discussing things to a much greater depth than we had to, or were able to, before. We can start to really kind of separate out for people, what goes in to all the decisions about creating quantum computers, and creating the software stack on them, and algorithms.”

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Microsoft executive allegedly attempted to embezzle $1.5 million


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Jeff Tran, Microsoft’s former director of sports marketing and alliances, was charged with five counts of wire fraud this week for allegedly trying to embezzle $1.5 million from his former employer. He’s also accused of stealing and selling more than 60 Super Bowl tickets belonging to Microsoft, pocketing over $200,000 in the process.

While at Microsoft, Tran played a big role in the company’s deal with the NFL that brought its Surface tablets to the league. And as part of its relationship with the NFL, which Tran managed, Microsoft purchased a block of Super Bowl tickets last year, which were to be distributed among the company’s employees. But according to the Department of Justice, Tran stole more than 60 of them and sold them through a ticket broker.

Additionally, Tran is accused of sending two fraudulent invoices to Microsoft through other vendors. One of them, an invoice for $775,000, was allegedly routed to Tran’s bank account. The other, which sought $670,000 from the company, triggered suspicion among the Microsoft vendors Tran was trying to route the money through, and they alerted Microsoft to what was going on. Federal prosecutors say Tran then destroyed electronic communications related to the fraudulent invoices and asked the vendors involved to lie to Microsoft before ultimately returning the $775,000 to his employer.

A Microsoft spokesperson told SeattlePI that when they were alerted to Tran’s actions, they investigated, fired him and contacted law enforcement.

Tran is scheduled to be arraigned in the coming days. Wire fraud carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

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Google introduces Gmail integrations for Dropbox, Box and more


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Today, Google announced new Gmail integrations for G Suite, which is its enterprise offering for business. Now G Suite users will be able to perform actions for popular apps directly from Gmail.

A handy Dropbox integration really enhanced the personal Gmail experience; now it’s arrived for G Suite users. The add-on allows users to send Dropbox links and download files to Dropbox directly from the Gmail screen. The Box add-on also makes working with attachments easier; you can send files directly using your Box account.

When Gmail detects a Jira or BitBucket link in your email, the Atlassian Cloud Add-On will allow you to perform various tasks directly from Gmail. And finally, if you’re an Egnyte user, you can take advantage of the add-on to save attachments to Egnyte and link files and folders without leaving Gmail’s window.

More and more business are using Google’s enterprise platform for their employees. Integrating features from popular third-party apps is only going to make it a more attractive alternative to the other choices out there.

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