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Unity Dives Into The Rift With Virtual Reality Tools For Games

ReadWriteWeb - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 5:03pm

As the virtual reality boom draws near, developers have to adjust to a new software-making reality. Fortunately, game companies joining the ranks are bringing new tools with them specifically for creators of games and apps. The latest: Unity Technologies. 

See also: Google Jump Will Revolutionize Making Virtual-Reality Experiences

Tuesday, Unity Technologies, maker of the Unity game engine—the software powering many of today's most popular game applications, including Assassin's Creed, Temple Run, Wasteland 2 and many others—announced new development tools that cover VR and augmented reality apps for some of the most talked-about headsets, starting with the Oculus Rift. 

According to the company's blog post, Unity Engine 5.1 will bring native support for the Facebook-owned VR goggles, along with other VR-oriented updates. 

Unity For You And Me

Unity developers will able work with the Oculus Rift for testing without needing to do any extra coding. The update also features a bevy of VR-specific features from the get-go—including head tracking, appropriate field of view, tweaks to optimize frame rates, and stereoscopic rendering, to create the dual-display views necessary to create VR environments. 

Rift won't be the only connected facegear. Before long, future updates will also cover Microsoft's Hololens AR headset and Samsung Gear VR headsets. The latter's not exactly a shock, though, considering the smartphone-powered goggles runs Oculus' technology and already offers an immersive VR version of Temple Run (though the easily nauseated may find the fast action to be a bit much). Now that Unity is baking virtual reality tools into this release, we're likely to see many more titles coming to our faces. 

The company also previously joined forces with Google, which introduced Cardboard software development kits for both Android and Unity at the Google I/O developers conference last month. Altogether then, there may be few, if any, VR or AR headsets that won’t enjoy Unity support. 

See also: Once A Virtual-Reality Joke, Google Cardboard Is Unfolding Into Something Real

Content Is King

Right now, Google Cardboard and Gear VR are leading the charge in the form of mobile virtual reality devices. Meanwhile, PC and game console headsets are set to debut in late 2015 and early 2016, with the Steam OS-powered Vive from HTC and Valve, the Oculus Rift, and Sony’s Project Morpheus for the PlayStation 4. 

With so many devices slated to hit in such a short amount of time, the onus is on developers to figure out how to create exciting and engaging games and apps as quickly as possible, and at high quality to boot. One of the greatest dangers facing the nascent VR industry is the possibility that these headsets might land on store shelves with a resounding ‘thud’ if there aren't compelling apps. 

Lead image of The Gallery courtesy of Cloudhead Games; Oculus Rift image courtesy of Oculus

Categories: Technology

Microsoft's Massive Surface Hub Opens For Orders July 1

ReadWriteWeb - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 2:18pm

Start making space in your conference rooms, IT managers: Microsoft will open its monster Surface Hub for orders on July 1, with shipping in September. 

See also: Holograms! Also, What Else Microsoft Announced At Its Windows 10 Event

Essentially an oversized, touch-friendly tablet, the device will come with huge prices to match, at $7,000 (55-inch model) and $19,000 (84-inch model). The device is targeted at companies in need of massive digital whiteboards for sharing presentations and documents, allowing team-based annotation, and piping video conferences. 

Microsoft insists that its Surface Hub prices are affordable, and for some companies, maybe they are. Its blog post reads: "Surface Hub replaces a number of disparate tools and technologies, including the audio-video conferencing system, display, projector, wireless receiver, and the analog or digital whiteboard at a lower upfront cost.” 

While a large workplace display or tablet isn't a new concept, it's still a decidedly different approach than, say, Google’s Chromebox. A glorified Chrome browser stuffed into a square casing, the unit offers limited features and no peripherals at all—you bring your own keyboard, mouse and monitor. However, its sub-$200 pricing will likely draw much more interest from bootstrapping small businesses.

That may suit Microsoft just fine. It’s clearly catering to a higher echelon of business customer that would consider $7,000 to $19,000 reasonable.

So-called “enterprise” technologies can be major potential profit centers for technology companies. Samsung and Apple, for instance, seem to view companies as saviors that can buoy other areas, like slumping mobile business. (Adding productivity features seems to be Apple’s ethos for turning around waning iPad sales.) 

Corporate use has always been Microsoft’s sweet spot, however. While its mobile division works on its best attempts yet to catch up in the phone and tablet race, it has been and remains a behemoth when it comes to the desktop. Various versions of its computer operating system collectively still own the OS market, largely thanks to company adoption. 

Microsoft took the wraps off Surface Hub earlier last January, at its Windows 10 event, where CEO Satya Nadella called it “enterprise TV.” 

Photos courtesy of Microsoft

Categories: Technology

Apple's Mapping Battle With Google Hits The Streets

ReadWriteWeb - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 1:13pm

Apple's street fight with Google just became official: The iPhone maker confirmed that it's building its own mapping database, complete with Street View-style imagery, through a new page on its website

"Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps," the site reads. "Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates." 

See also: Here's What's New In iOS 9

The revelation solves the mystery of the unmarked Apple minivans spotted around the Bay Area in February. Rumors were rife that the Cupertino, Calif. company was working on either self-driving or electric cars. But 9to5Mac nailed it, when the site revealed that the camera-equipped vehicles were, in fact, collecting data for Apple's homegrown maps database—though it's not clear yet whether the company will pursue a variation of Street View that blends it with the existing 3D "flyover" view, as the blog asserted. 

Either way, Apple apparently wants to reduce its heavy reliance on third-party services and data collected from external sources. The Maps app's notorious inaccuracies have often stemmed from problems aggregating all this data. 

Now the tech giant wants to take more control over Maps as it ratchets up the stakes in its rivalry with Google.

Mapping WarsChanges are coming to Maps in iOS 9.

Since launching its native Maps app in 2012, replacing Google Maps as the default mapping application on iPhones and iPads, Apple has been busy acquiring smaller companies to bolster its database of local businesses and transportation links. Meanwhile, it has relied on data from TomTom to flesh out its mapping and navigation information. 

Yet, after working steadily to banish the infamous errors and glitches that riddled the app in its premiere year, the general perception is that it still lags behind Google. Three years in, and public transit information is only just arriving with iOS 9. Apple Maps also has no Web interface and, of course, no presence on Android. 

In ComScore figures released last year, Google Maps had a 46.2 percent reach among iOS and Android users in the US, with Apple Maps down on 27.5 percent. With maps so central to the mobile platform, Apple knows it has to do better. 

Right now we don't know much about the data Apple is collecting, but it promises to "blur faces and license plates on collected images," which sounds like a Street View-style feature will be in the mix. The likelihood is that end users won't notice much difference in the actual app. 

The company doesn't seem in much of a rush, though: It lists just 14 locations in the United States, plus a handful of spots in England and Ireland, where its vans will be visiting through June. 

It might want to get a few more vans out on the road—and on the ski slopes—if it's serious about catching up to Google. 

Screenshots by ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

How (And Why) Apple's Obsessed With Our Health

ReadWriteWeb - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 9:00am

This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

If you want an idea of how the phone in your pocket and watch on your wrist are trying to change you, Apple's announcements Monday are a great place to start. 

The company will offer new metrics for its expansive health-data monitoring system, Healthkit. Apple will begin tracking behaviors essential for a happy mood and focused mind, including hydration and ultra-violet light exposure. Of all the medical measurements that the world’s richest tech company could have announced at its much-hyped developers conference, it chose to a make a big deal out of little behaviors that the most health-obsessed people among us already do. 

See also: Here's What's New In iOS 9

Apple seems to be inching forward in its pursuit of the perfect human: It apparently wants to make people smarter, faster, and stronger, prodding them along with little Apple buzzes throughout the day. Exactly 10 minutes before every hour, the Apple Watch vibrates on countless wrists across the country to prompt users to “stand up!” 

Now reminding users to drink water or get some sun will become the next iteration of Apple nudges. Consider it the latest step toward the company's ultimate goal: keeping its users strong and healthy. 

Hydration and Sunlight Matter

There’s a reason why health coaches constantly bark about keeping hydrated during the day: Dehydration can alter our mood and mind. 

“Even mild dehydration that can occur during the course of our ordinary daily activities can degrade how we are feeling,” Harris Lieberman, a research psychologist at the US Army’s Military Nutrition Division Research, explained to UConn Today. It has been associated with “degraded mood, increased perception of task difficulty, lower concentration, and headache symptoms,” he added, especially for women. 

See also: App Makers Now Have More Access To The Guts Of The Apple Watch

Ironically, to date, the best known consumer wearable technology for measuring hydration is not the sophisticated Apple Watch, but the more limited Jawbone Up3 activity tracker. Its metal contacts line the inside of the Jawbone’s black wrist band, meeting skin so it can monitor the body's H2O levels. 

Ultra-violet (UV) light exposure can influence our well-being too. Though we typically associate UV with evil cancer-causing rays, the body is designed to soak up the sun like a nutritional sponge. Along with Vitamin D, exposure to very bright sunlight boosts the vital neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help reduce the risk of depression and even carb cravings. Research also shows that light therapy (or adequate sun exposure, say, in the winter) can help thwart fatigue. Personally, I like to go outside and answer emails on my phone in the morning, which helps give me a coffee-like mental stimulation from the sun’s rays. 

The iPhone's built-in ambient light sensor can help determine if users are getting too little (or too much) sun in a given outing. The Apple Watch also features an ambient light sensor, primarily to adjust the screen's brightness to suit dark or light settings. While it's no ultraviolet sensor, as early rumors suggested, it could still prove similarly useful to broadly keep track of time spent in well-lit environments. 

Developing Healthy Apple Users

When it comes to tracking the sun, the current Apple Watch may be somewhat helpful, but it will still have a tough time measuring up to rivals. These competitors include a new crop of ultraviolet-sensing devices, like Tzoa, and smartwatches like Samsung's Gear S. The latter sports a UV sensor and an API (application programming interface), so developers can build apps that hook into it. (See ReadWrite's API explainer.) 

That may be true for now, but Apple has only just begun. The company is constantly working on its HealthKit framework, the latest updates for which also include reproductive health features for women. 

On the hardware front, Apple may not have produced the super health-monitoring gadget of its dreams just yet. According to The Wall Street Journal, the iPhone maker reportedly wanted to pack its Apple Watch with loads more sensors, but those plans were stymied by a range of issues—from glitchy, inconsistent hardware to overly complicated systems, to say nothing of facing approvals from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They may be typical challenges for dedicated health devices, but for companies entering this arena for the first time, they can be overwhelming. Even for tech giants as large as Apple. 

Not that it has given up. The company's ongoing development on HealthKit and the debut of its medical research project, ResearchKit, suggest Apple's not ready to abandon its high-minded health aspirations. It's still early days for the device, as well as those initiatives. For the foreseeable future, the company will certainly continue inching its way toward its ultimate goal: turning us all into optimally healthy humans, with many more years of Apple usage ahead of us. 

Photos courtesy of Apple. 

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Categories: Technology