Архив рубрики: Augmented Reality

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HTC looks to the metaverse for answers

LG officially pulled the plug on its smartphone division in April of last year. It was another signpost in a dramatically changing mobile market that had left the electronics giant behind. HTC tends to be lumped into that conversation, though the Taiwanese manufacture has — in spite of everything — continued to press on, even after Google acquired around half of the company’s phone talent and IP in 2017.
HTC’s mobile division has spent the last several years searching for the right angle to recapture some of that magic. In 2018, it was the HTC Exodus, which was undoubtedly ahead of the curve as a blockchain/crypto-focused handset. That device, predictably, failed to make a dent. Now the company’s back with another trend-surfing handset, the HTC Desire 22 Pro, a “metaverse” focused device it’s been teasing for a few weeks now.
This time, at least, the company’s got a leg up in that department, as one of the primary manufacturers of VR headsets through its Vive line. HTC is positing the Desire 22 Pro as “the phone to carry you into the future” and “the perfect companion with Vive Flow VR glasses.” On the face of it, however, it’s a fairly middling mid-range device with limited claims to actual metaversiness.
The product sports a 6.6-inch 1,080 x 2,412 display with a 120 Hz refresh rate. Inside you’ve got Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695 5G, coupled with 8GB or RAM and 128GB of storage. Any actual metaverse functionality appears to be little more than marketing from a company struggling to rediscover its footing in the cruel and unforgiving world of mobile phones.
Image Credits: HTC
It does, however, apparently sport a digital wallet and an NFT, as evidenced by the above images of cats posing as classical artwork. Though, as noted, such functionality appears to be limited to select markets.
If all of that sounds good for some reason, the handset is up for preorder now and set to start shipping August 1.
HTC looks to the metaverse for answers

Game studio HiDef partners with Snap to develop a Bitmoji dance social mobile game

A game studio, HiDef, announced today that it is teaming up with camera company Snap Inc. to develop an off-platform Bitmoji-based dance and music social game. The game will leverage Snap’s augmented reality tech as well as Bitmoji, the personalized cartoon avatar maker. Bitmoji joined the Snap family over five years ago, and today over a billion avatars have been created.
The Bitmoji-based dance expression game will be a standalone title and is expected to launch in 2023. Snap will also support HiDef’s upcoming flagship dance party game IP, which aims to host a dance party for billions across the globe.
Pany Haritatos, head of Snap Games, said in a statement:
We’re working with HiDef as a marquee partner because of their leadership in the gaming and entertainment space, as well as our shared goal of engaging audiences through creative expression. Games have already captured the interest of 320 million Snapchatters and we are excited to team up with HiDef on this exciting new music and dance game.
“There are over 1 billion Bitmoji avatars just waiting to dance! We’re honored Snap chose HiDef to bring their community onto the virtual dance floor. Our game will offer a new place for Snapchat’s audience to express themselves creatively through music and dance,” said Chip Lange, CEO at HiDef, Inc.
HiDef was co-founded in 2019 by Jace Hall, Anthony Castoro and Rick Fox, as well as Chief Impact Officer David Washington, to build new gaming experiences via a proprietary technology platform.
Game studio HiDef partners with Snap to develop a Bitmoji dance social mobile game

Accessibility’s nextgen breakthroughs will be literally in your head

Jim Fruchterman

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Jim Fruchterman is the founder of Tech Matters and Benetech, nonprofit developers of technology for social good.

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A $6 trillion wake up call for the tech industry

Predicting the future of technology for people with visual impairments is easier than you might think. In 2003, I wrote an article entitled “In the Palm of Your Hand” for the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness from the American Foundation for the Blind. The arrival of the iPhone was still four years away, but I was able to confidently predict the center of assistive technology shifting from the desktop PC to the smart phone. 
“A cell phone costing less than $100,” I wrote, “will be able to see for the person who can’t see, read for the person who can’t read, speak for the person who can’t speak, remember for the person who can’t remember, and guide the person who is lost.” Looking at the tech trends at the time, that transition was as inevitable as it might have seemed far-fetched.
We are at a similar point now, which is why I am excited to play a part of Sight Tech Global, a virtual event Dec. 2-3 that is convening the top technologists to discuss how AI and related technologies will usher in a new era of remarkable advances for accessibility and assistive tech, in particular for people who are blind or visually impaired.
To get to the future, let me turn to the past. I was walking around the German city of Speyer in the 1990s with pioneering blind assistive tech entrepreneur Joachim Frank. Joachim took me on a flight of fancy about what he really wanted from assistive technology, as opposed to what was then possible. He quickly highlighted three stories of how advanced tech could help him as he was walking down the street with me. 

As I walk down the street, and walk by a supermarket, I do not want it to read all of the signs in the window. However, if one of the signs notes that kasseler kipchen (smoked porkchops, his favorite) are on sale, and the price is particularly good, I would like that whispered in my ear.
And then, as a young woman approaches me walking in the opposite direction, I’d like to know if she’s wearing a wedding ring.
Finally, I would like to know that someone has been following me for the last two blocks, that he is a known mugger, and that if I quicken my walking speed, go fifty meters ahead, turn right, and go another seventy meters, I will arrive at a police substation! 

Joachim blew my mind. In one short walk, he outlined a far bolder vision of what tech could do for him, without bogging down in the details. He wanted help with saving money, meeting new friends and keeping himself safe. He wanted abilities which not only equaled what people with normal vision had, but exceeded them. Above all, he wanted tools which knew him and his desires and needs. 
We are nearing the point where we can build Joachim’s dreams.  It won’t matter if the assistant whispers in your ear, or uses a direct neural implant to communicate. We will probably see both. But, the nexus of tech will move inside your head, and become a powerful instrument for equality of access. A new tech stack with perception as a service. Counter-measures to outsmart algorithmic discrimination. Tech personalization. Affordability. 
That experience will be built on an ever more application rich and readily available technology stack in the cloud. As all that gets cheaper and cheaper to access, product designers can create and experiment faster than ever. At first, it will be expensive, but not for long as adoption – probably by far more than simply disabled people – drives down price. I started my career in tech for the blind by introducing a reading machine that was a big deal because it halved the price of that technology to $5,000. Today even better OCR is a free app on any smartphone.
We could dive into more details of how we build Joachim’s dreams and meet the needs of millions of others of individuals with vision disabilities. But it will be far more interesting to explore with the world’s top experts at Sight Tech Global on Dec. 2-3 how those tech tools will become enabled In Your Head!
Registration is free and open to all. 

Accessibility’s nextgen breakthroughs will be literally in your head

Microsoft’s Seeing AI founder Saqib Shaikh is speaking at Sight Tech Global

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced Saqib Shaikh on stage at BUILD in 2016, he was obviously moved by the engineer’s “passion and empathy,” which Nadella said, “is going to change the world.”
That assessment was on the mark because Shaikh went on to co-found the mobile app Seeing AI, which is a showcase for the power of AI applied to the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. Using the camera on a phone, the Seeing AI app can describe a physical scene, identify persons and their demeanor, read documents (including handwritten ones), read currency values and tell colors. The latest version uses haptic technology to help the user discover the position of objects and people in an image. The app has been used 20 million times since launch nearly three years ago, and today it works in eight languages.
It’s exciting to announce that Shaikh will be speaking at Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event that addresses how rapid advances in technology, many of them AI-related, will influence the development of accessibility and assistive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. The show, which is a project for the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Silicon Valley, launched recently on TechCrunch. The virtual event is Dec. 2-3 and free to the public. Pre-register here. 
Shaikh lost his vision at the age of 7, and attended a school for blind students, where he was intrigued by computers that could “talk” to students. He went on to study computer science at the U.K.’s University of Sussex. “One of the things I had always dreamt of since university,” he says, “was something that could tell you at any moment who and what’s going on around you.”  That dream turned into his destiny.
After he joined Microsoft in 2006, Shaikh participated in Microsoft’s annual, week-long hackathons in 2014 and 2015 to develop the idea of applying AI in ways that could help people who are blind or visually impaired. Not long after, Seeing AI became an official project and Shaikh’s full-time job at Microsoft. The company’s Cognitive Services APIs have been critical to his work, and he now leads a team of engineers who are leveraging emerging technology to empower people who are blind.
“When it comes to AI,” says Shaikh, “I consider disabled people to be really good early adopters. We can point to history where  blind people have been using talking books for decades and so on, all the way through to OCR text-to-speech, which is early AI. Today, this idea that a computer can look at an image and turn it into a sentence has many use-cases but probably the most compelling is to describe that image to a blind person. For blind people this is incredibly empowering.” Below is a video Microsoft released in 2016 about Shaikh and the Seeing AI project. 

The Seeing AI project is an early example of a tool that taps various AI technologies in ways that produce an almost “intelligent” experience. Seeing AI doesn’t just read the text, for example, it also tells the user how to move the phone so the document is in the viewfinder. It doesn’t just tell you there are people in front of you, it tells you something about them, including who they are (if you have named them in the past) and their general appearance.
At Sight Tech Global, Shaikh will speak about the future of Seeing AI and his views on how accessibility will unfold in a world more richly enabled by cloud compute, low latency networks and ever more sophisticated AI algorithms and data sets. 
To pre-register for a free pass, please visit Sight Tech Global.
Please follow the event on Twitter @Globalsight.
Sponsors are welcome, and there are opportunities available ranging from branding support to content integration. Please email sponsor@sighttechglobal.com for more information.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI founder Saqib Shaikh is speaking at Sight Tech Global

Snapchat hits 218M users but big Q4 losses sink share price

Snapchat still isn’t profitable nearly two years after its IPO. In Q4 2019, Snap lost $241 million on 560.8 million in revenue that’s up 44% year-over-year and an EPS of $0.03. That comes from adding 8 million daily users to reach a total of 218, up 3.8% this quarter from 210 million and 17% year-over-year.
The big problem was a one-time $100 million legal settlement that pushed it to lose $49 million more in Q4 2019 than Q4 2018. That comes from a shareholders lawsuit claiming Snap didn’t adequately disclose the impact of competition from Facebook on its business. The IPO was soured by weak user growth as people shifted from Snapchat Stories to Instagram Stories.

A rough Q4
Snapchat had a mixed quarter compared to estimates, exceeding the EPS predicitions but falling short on revenue. FactSet’s consensus predicted $563 million in revenue and a loss of $0.12 EPS. Estimize’s consensus came in at $568 million in revenue and an EPS gain of $0.02.
Snapchat shares plunged over 10% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Shares had closed up 4.17% at $18.99 today. That’s up from a low of $4.99 in December 2018 when its user count was shrinking under competition from Instagram Stories. It’s now hovering around its $17 IPO price but it’s still under its post-IPO pop to $27.09.
Snap gave stronger than expected revenue guidance for Q1 2020 of $450 million to $470 million, and 224 million to 225 million users. The company’s CFO Derek Anderson says that “Q4 marked our first quarter of Adjusted EBITDA profitability at $42 million for the quarter, an improvement of $93 million over the prior year.” Still, he predicts an Adjusted EBITDA in Q1 of negative $90 million to negative $70 million. That’s manageable for Snap without raising more money, since it now has $2.1 billion in cash and marketable securities, down $148 million quarter-after-quarter.

Snapchat 2020
“Throughout the course of 2019, we added 31 million daily active users, largely driven by investments in our core product and improvements to our Android application “said Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel . “We’ve recently completed our 2020 strategic planning process and have aligned our teams and resources around our goals of supporting real friendships on Snapchat, expanding our service to a broader global community, investing in our AR and content platforms, and scaling revenue while achieving profitability in order to self-fund our investments in the future.”
Some other highlights:
1.3 trillion Snaps were created in 2019
The average Snapchat user engages for 30 minutes per day,
Snapchat reaches 90% of US 13 to 24 year-olds and over 75% of 13 to 34 year-olds
Total daily time spent by Snapchatters watching Discover increased by 35% year-over-year, and its up 60% for users over the age of 25
Over 50 Snapchat shows reached a monthly audience of 10 million viewers or more
75% of users engage with augmented reality per day
20% of Snaps sent with an AR lens were made with commununity-developed lenses
5X more users open the Lens Explorer now versus a year ago, and 10% of users open it every day
Snapchat’s user growth has been on tear thanks to international penetration, especially in India, after it re-engineered its Android app for developing markets. It gained users in all markets. Crucially, it raised its average revenue per user 23% from $2.09 in Q4 2018 to $2.58, though only from $1.24 to $1.35 in the Rest Of World region where it’s growing user count the fastest. Snap will need to figure out how to squeeze more cash out of the international market to offset the costs of streaming tons of video to these users.

Q4 saw Snapchat readying several new products that could help boost engagement and therefore ad views. Cameos, first reported by TechCrunch, lets users graft their face onto an actor in an animated GIF like a lightweight Deepfake. Bitmoji TV, which won’t run ads initially but could drive attention to Snapchat Discover, offers zany four-minute cartoons that star your Bitmoji avatar. We could see a bump to engagement from these starting in Q1 2020.
To retain its augmented reality filter creators, Snapchat has pledged $750,000 in payouts in 2020. It’s also expanded the use of product catalog ads, and now lets advertisers buy longer skippable ads.
Outside of the legal settlement, Snapchat is inching closer to profitability but still has a ways to go. It’s managed to develop a strong synergy between its popular chat feature that’s tougher to monetize, and the Stories and Discover content where it can inject ads. The big question is whether Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp will get more serious about ephemeral messaging that’s at the core of Snapchat. If it can hold onto the market and maintain its place as where teens talk, it could ride out its costs and build revenue until it’s sustainable for the long-term.

Snapchat launches Bitmoji TV: zany 4-min cartoons of your avatar

Snapchat hits 218M users but big Q4 losses sink share price