TIME Gadgets

Top 10 Gadgets of 2014

From GoPro to Jawbone UP3, these are the best gadgets of the year

  • 10. The Ring Video Doorbell

    Doorbot
    Ring

    Imagine the perfect front door. Like a human security guard, it would tell you who was outside and allow you to talk with them before you let them in. The $200 Ring Video Doorbell system does just that: it’s a small ringer with a camera that communicates with your phone, allowing you to see who is outside before you let them in. You can then talk to them as you politely deny them entry, or call out a more civilized “coming!”

  • 9. iPad Air 2

    iPad mini
    Bloomberg/Getty Images

    Apple is continuing its run of putting cutting edge technology into the smallest space possible, like stuffing fresh toppings into a tiny burrito. The iPad Air 2 is the thinnest iPad ever and it’s also the most powerful, containing an A8X chip, an 8 megapixel camera and at least 16GB in a 6.1mm-thin frame. The Air 2 runs 40% faster and starts at $499.

  • 8. Jawbone UP3

    Jawbone's Up3 wristband
    Jawbone's UP3 wristband Jawbone

    Depending on your view, Jawbone is on the road to making us all super fit athletes or brutally efficient cyborgs who operate by data alone. How many minutes of REM sleep did I get last night? What’s the difference between my heart rate while resting and during a workout? How hydrated am I? How many calories did I burn on my last run? Jawbone UP3 answers all those questions better than any other Jawbone did before. The $179 wearable fits on your wrist and comes in black and silver.

  • 7. Mophie Space Pack

    Mophie Space Pack
    Mophie

    The two biggest problems with your iPhone: it runs out of battery too quickly, and it doesn’t store enough music and photos. The Mophie space pack solves both of those issues, adding up to 64GB of extra data and 8 hours talk time to the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. It starts at $149 and is a simple solution to two simple problems.

  • 6. HERO4 GoPro

    GoPro Hero4
    GoPro Hero4 Carter Dow Photography/GoPro

    When GoPro went public this year, it proved that a company that perfected the art of recording high-flying exploits could thrive. The HERO4 GoPro builds on the company’s existing technology with improved resolution, upgraded audio systems, and time lapse capabilities for ultra low-light scenes at night. The HERO4 comes in silver and black editions at $399 and $499, respectively, and promises to make videos from the extreme (base jumping, surfing) to the pleasantly mundane (what the world looks like to your dog) even better.

  • 5. iPhone 6 Plus

    iPhone 6
    Apple

    Bigger is better, or so the critics cried, calling for Apple to make a supersized phone. That was before Apple quieted them with the release of the iPhone 6 Plus in September, the company’s largest iPhone ever. With an alluring 5.5-inch display that makes it feel something like a portable iPad, the phone is is a challenge to Samsung’s larger models. Along with a powerful 8-megapixel camera and longer battery life, the phone is more a statement than an answer.

  • 4. Oculus Rift Development Kit 2

    Oculus Rift headset
    Courtesy of Oculus VR

    In a matter of months—exactly how many months, we don’t know—consumers will be able to buy Oculus Rift. That’s the promise of the company’s 35-year-old CEO, Brendan Iribe, who is riding high after Facebook purchased his company for $2 billion this year. Rift offers a fully immersive, virtual reality headset, the most promising of its kind, and its second development kit (first available this year) greatly improves the technology to help eliminate simulator sickness and increase resolution.

  • 3. DJI Phantom Vision+

    DJI Phantom 2 Vision +
    DJI

    Smartphones, hi-tech cameras, and security videos are making the world eminently recordable, allowing us to monitor and revisit our every move. But nothing is pushing the video boundaries as much as camera-wielding drones, and few camera-wielding drones are doing it like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. The roughly $1,200 device is expensive, but it’s known for its exceptional flight capabilities and powerful camera—and it’s cheaper than other high-end drones. It allows joyriders to gain a birds-eye view of nearly any terrain.

  • 2. SmartThings Starter Kit

    SmartThings

    From alerting you when your kids get home from school to brewing your coffee before you wake up, the connected home promises to be the invisible aide we’ve always wanted. Few smart home companies are doing it as well as SmartThings, which offers a $200 kit that connects inanimate objects in your house to your phone. Use it to attach sensors to your home and program smart objects from locks to crockpots and soon you’ll be living like the Jetsons. This year, the company was bought by Samsung and announced a new phone app interface.

  • 1. Apple Watch

    Apple Watch
    Apple

    The Apple Watch wants to do to your wrist what the iPhone did to your pocket: stick a computer there. For at least $349, watchwearers will access apps, weather, photos, texts, emails, payments and, through Apple’s HomeKit software, control thermostats, door locks, televisions and lights. The watch’s sleek interface is mounted on a customizable strap, and it actually doesn’t make you look like a geek. First revealed this year but not on store shelves for a few more months, it’s a daring foray into the wearable market: Apple could be the first company to make wearable computers ubiquitous.

    Read next: The 25 Best Inventions of 2014

MONEY stocks

Virtual Reality Makes Investing — Yes, Investing — Dangerously Fun

StockCity
StockCity from FidelityLabs

A new virtual reality tool from Fidelity makes navigating the stock market feel like a game—for better or worse.

There’s no question: Strapping on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and exploring StockCity, Fidelity’s new tool for investors, is oddly thrilling.

Admittedly, the fun may have more to do with the immersive experience of this 3D technology—with goggles that seamlessly shift your perspective as you tilt your head—than with the subject matter.

But I found it surprisingly easy to buy into the metaphor: As you glide through the virtual city that you’ve designed, buildings represent the stocks or ETFs in your portfolio, the weather represents the day’s market performance, and red and green rooftops tell you whether a stock is down or up for the day. Who wants to be a measly portfolio owner when you can instead be the ruler of a dynamic metropolis—a living, breathing personal economy?

Of course, there are serious limits to the tool in its current form. The height of a building represents its closing price on the previous day and the width the trading volume, which tell you nothing about, say, the stock’s historical performance or valuation—let alone whether it’s actually a good investment.

And, unless you’re a reporter like me or one of the 50,000 developers currently in possession of an Oculus Rift, you’re limited to playing with the less exciting 2D version of the program on your monitor (see a video preview below)—at least until a consumer version of the headset comes out in a few months, priced between $200 and $400.

Those flaws notwithstanding, if this technology makes the “gamification” of investing genuinely fun and appealing, that could be big deal. It could be used to better educate the public about the stock market and investing in general.

But it also raises a big question: Should investing be turned into a game, like fantasy sports?

There are dangers inherent in ostensibly educational games like Fidelity’s existing Beat the Benchmark tool, which teaches investing terms and demonstrates how different asset allocations have performed over various time periods. If you beat your benchmark, after all, what have you learned? A lot of research suggests that winning at investing tends to teach people the wrong lesson.

“Investors think that good returns originate from their investment skills, while for bad returns they blame the market,” writes Thomas Post, a finance professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and author of one recent study on the subject.

In reality, great performance in the stock market tends to depend more on luck than skill, even for the most expert investors. That’s why most people are best off putting their money into passive index funds and seldom trading. It also means there’s not a lot of value in watching the real-time performance of your stocks—in any number of dimensions.

TIME Gadgets

You’ll Be Able to Buy Oculus Rift in ‘Months, Not Years,’ CEO Says

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
An attendee wears an Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset to play a video game during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Coming soon to a forehead near you

Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset, will be coming to consumers’ foreheads in the very foreseeable future,the company’s CEO Brendan Iribe said at Web Summit 2014 in Ireland on Tuesday.

“We’re all hungry for it to happen,” Iribe said, The Next Web reports. “We’re getting very close. It’s months, not years away, but many months.”

Tech Crunch predicts Iribe is most likely expecting a commercial release “next fall or into 2016, since anything under two years would technically match with his statement.”

The company has gone through significant changes since being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion in March, expanding from 75 to 200 employees and opening a separate R&D division.

[The Next Web]

TIME Innovation

Oculix, Netflix’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Demo, Looks Pretty Boring

Virtual reality interfaces should be more than clumsy-looking design transplants.

It’s a little discouraging watching Netflix’s Oculus Rift demo (a so-called hack it’s calling “Oculix”), the one where the screen pans through a black void in which the observer finds her- or himself circled by show portals.

Imagine iOS wrapped around your head like a towel: a vortex of lights, or a sheath of video boxes. (For some reason, it made me think of the Senate chamber in the Star Wars prequels with its movable hover-platforms.)

Pick a channel by waving your hands in the air (using LeapMotion’s gesture sensor) and you can stream movies or TV shows through Oculus’s head-mounted contraption direct to your eyeballs.

This isn’t what’s interesting about virtual reality to me. We’ve placed movies up close to our faces for decades, be that on giant screens or via glasses with special LCD displays designed to confound our sense of scale. But what’s so different about sitting in a comfortable movie theater (or for that matter, an Omnimax wraparound dome) looking at screens dozens of feet tall and wide, compared with watching video at home through a glorified, full-motion View Master?

Home convenience, there’s that, though I’d argue there’s little convenient about clapping hardware as unwieldy as World War I gas masks on our heads, then leashing ourselves to stationary servers with clumsy cables.

I’m less put off by the ungainliness of Oculus Rift (and Project Morpheus, and every other attempt to revive the buzz-concept “virtual reality” lately) than I am by the lack of imagination in these hacked-together interfaces, whereby a company takes the most obvious and mundane approach toward exhibiting the potential VR lays at its doorstep. Strap on Oculus Rift and you can watch Netflix videos up close to your face! Wave your hands in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report and take two or three times as long to do what takes everyone else microseconds with a remote or on a touch-based tablet!

To be fair, it is just a hack, and in a statement Netflix noted that it “may never become part of the Netflix product, internal infrastructure, or otherwise be used beyond [Netflix] Hack Day.” In other words, it’s just for fun, not even rising to the level “proof of concept.” This isn’t Netflix trying to sell you on either its stake in VR or the Oculus Rift headset itself.

I’m just surprised by its obviousness. If you’re going to hack Netflix into VR, why not do something no one’s seen before? Imagine, for instance, summoning a movie like The Matrix, only going into the extras and bringing up the making-of clips, then having the option to pan around virtual versions of the “bullet time” sets to see for yourself how that went down. You could be Keanu Reeves (or see what he’d be seeing) as he falls back limbo-like, his arms splaying, or you could be the circle of cameras themselves, wheeling around the actor’s frame at different velocities and elevations. Imagine reassembling a scene to create your own version of events, playing the role of virtual director with godlike visual command of the landscape.

Netflix is a viewing environment, an interface to conjure videos on demand, a kind of “visual carrier.” If we’re about to experience the visual paradigm shift everyone keeps telling us VR amounts to, it has a much bigger role to play in shaping what it means to stream a video in a virtual environment. To me, it at least means more than forklifting a bunch of screens into a wraparound environment, just because enveloping yourself in a cone of colors looks cool.

My hat’s off to the programmers who took the time to build the Oculix demo. I certainly couldn’t have done it. But next time, why not show us VR that feels like a compelling reason to use VR, and not just lights in a box on your face.

TIME Google

Google Just Released Its Most Low-Tech Product Ever

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard Google

Google ended its annual I/O developer conference keynote with the peculiar announcement that it would be giving all attendees a piece of cardboard. It’s in support of a new virtual reality app for Android phones, appropriately called Cardboard, that Google says will allow people to “experience virtual reality in a simple, fun and inexpensive way.”

What that means is you boot up this app on your phone, stick your phone in a piece of actual cardboard, cut out some eye sockets in said cardboard, then stick your face in the low-tech device. You may recall this application from the time your parents let you play with a refrigerator box when you were five.

The app, which seems to be a real thing, includes the ability to look at popular Google services such as YouTube and Google Earth in a VR environment. Google has even offered some handy instructions for how to engineer your own cardboard mask. While the competing Oculus Rift virtual reality device costs $350, Google says a Cardboard headset is absolutely free if you happen to have an extra large pizza box lying around.

If this seems to ridiculous to be real, remember that an app that does nothing except send people the word “Yo” was recently one of the top programs in Apple’s App Store. One man’s trash is another man’s next billion-dollar project.

TIME Oculus Rift

Oculus VR Company Sued By Game Maker Over Copyright Claims

Oculus VR

Game publisher goes to court for its chunk of change after Oculus gets bought by Facebook.

ZeniMax Media and id Software have sued Oculus VR and its founder Palmer Luckey for allegedly stealing trade secrets and infringing on copyright, among other claims.

The rift began outside of court earlier this month when ZeniMax said that it’d been wronged by former employee and game development legend John Carmack. ZeniMax said Carmack, who became Oculus’ CTO in August of last year, did “extensive VR research and development” while still working at id Software, which is owned by ZeniMax.

Because of Carmack’s work, and a non-disclosure agreement signed by Luckey, ZeniMax felt it was entitled to a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus, which would be worth a lot now that Facebook is buying it for $2 billion. Oculus previously disputed ZeniMax’s claims and pointed out that Carmack left Zenimax after it stopped investing in virtual reality games.

The lawsuit, as published by The Verge, claims that Carmack worked extensively on Oculus technology at id Software’s offices and even demonstrated the technology to the press there. ZeniMax also claims that it has been researching virtual reality since the 1990s and came up with a VR prototype for some of its major games, including The Elder Scrolls.

“As a result of their years of research, and months of hard work modifying the prototype Rift to incorporate ZeniMax’s VR Technology, Carmack and others at ZeniMax transformed the Rift from $500 worth of optics into a powerful, immersive virtual reality experience,” the lawsuit says.

Oculus has not yet responded, but with millions of dollars on the line, it’s safe to assume this is going to get messy.

Update: Oculus has responded with the following statement: “The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax has no merit whatsoever. As we have previously said, ZeniMax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Virtual Reality

Chuck E. Cheese Tests Oculus Rift VR Game

72nd Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade - Red Carpet
Chuck E. Cheese Mark Sullivan—Getty Images

Virtual reality headset Oculus Rift will get a six-week trial fun in three markets for the birthday party haven known for its motto 'where a kid can be a kid'

When Facebook announced it would buy virtual reality headset Oculus Rift for $2 billion back in March, it was only a matter of time before America’s most high-tech organizations took note.

But one unlikely candidate is leading the charge: Singing animatronics purveyor Chuck E. Cheese. You know: “Where a kid can be a kid.” Home of the other famous mouse not associated with Disney.

Chuck E. Cheese announced Tuesday that they’ll roll out Oculus Rift at locations in Dallas, and then expand to San Diego and Orlando.

“Kids today have unprecedented access to game consoles and tablets,” CEC Entertainment President Roger Cardinale said in a statement. (CEC owns Chuck E. Cheese. We can guess at what “CEC” stand for.)

“Our challenge is to deliver an experience not available at home, and there is no doubt virtual reality does just that,” Cardinale continued. “Oculus Rift technology is the next frontier in the gaming industry, and we’re thrilled to be able to say it’s part of the Chuck E. Cheese’s lineup.”

This lineup.

The headset will be available at kid parties so that “birthday stars” can play a virtual version of Ticket Blaster.

Here how it will look:

TIME Innovation

Fly like an Eagle with Oculus Rift and This Funky Contraption

'Birdy' bills itself as an attempt to fly using virtual reality and a weird-looking table

Want to play a virtual reality version of Flappy Bird? This bizarre-looking Oculus Rift meets massage table meets Rube Goldberg mashup won’t do that yet, but it probably could — and while you’re waiting, it’ll let you fly like an actual bird by flapping your arms and sticking your face in front of a fan.

The table thing is something called Birdly, which describes itself as “an attempt to fly.” Like a bird, that is, not Superman: specifically the Red Kite, a bird of prey in the same class as eagles and hawks. The folks behind Birdly devised a platform on which you lay flat, stomach down, your arms resting on movable panel sections and your hands slipped beneath straps that let you raise and lower the panels like a pair of wings, rolling, nicking or heaving as you go.

Strap on Oculus VR’s Rift virtual reality headset and you’re transported to a virtual landscape (or rather, suspended above it), enjoying a bird’s perspective on the world. And in addition to the fan (which provides wind feedback that changes based on your speed in the simulation), Birdly provides smells and sounds, so if you’re flapping through a forest, you’ll also be able to smell the trees, or the dirt.

[Engadget]

TIME legal

Oculus Calls ZeniMax’s Allegations of Theft False, Disappointing and Not Surprising

Oculus VR just sent across an email outlining in seven points what it views as ZeniMax's specious claims about Doom-creator John Carmack and Oculus' virtual reality technology.

Last week, ZeniMax accused Oculus VR Chief Technology Officer (and former id Software Doom mastermind) John Carmack of taking “proprietary technology and know-how” with him when he departed the Rockville, Maryland-based Elder Scrolls and Dishonored publisher for a job with Oculus.

Oculus’ response at the time was terse and absolute: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Wall Street Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

Here’s a bit more of that defense, breaking this morning, with Oculus writing in an email to the media that it’s “disappointed but not surprised by Zenimax’s actions” and promising to “prove that all of its claims are false.”

The following list of points was also provided by Oculus in the email:

  • There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.
  • John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax.
  • Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.
  • A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.
  • Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
  • Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers.
  • Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), Zenimax has never identified any ‘stolen’ code or technology.

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME legal

Doom Creator Accused of Stealing Virtual Reality Tech, Taking It to Oculus

Oculus VR

ZeniMax claims id Software co-founder John Carmack pilfered virtual reality tech when he quit to join Oculus VR last year, though both Carmack and Oculus are flatly denying the charges.

Well this sounds ugly, and bound to get uglier: John Carmack, the fellow gamers know best for helping birth Doom, and who left id Software last year to take a job as chief technology officer with Oculus Rift headset designer Oculus VR (who were in turn recently snatched up by Facebook for a cool $2 billion), has been accused by his former employer, ZeniMax, of purloining virtual reality secrets the games publisher claims belong to it, not Oculus VR.

ZeniMax Media, which also owns Bethesda Game Studios (The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3) and Arkane Studios (Dishonored) claims that Carmack was involved in “extensive VR research and development” during his tenure at ZeniMax, according to the Wall Street Journal. That, says ZeniMax, gives it dibs on “key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift,” and thus the right to seek compensation.

According to the Journal, ZeniMax is staking its case on allegations that Carmack was in touch with Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey before leaving ZeniMax, that Carmack received a prototype headset from Luckey, and that he made innovations to the headset, which he then demoed during a convention.

“ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others,” writes ZeniMax in a press statement (via Engadget). “ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings.”

The statement continues:

The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.

Oculus’s response? Balderdash: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

And Carmack himself has weighed in on Twitter:

That’s all we know so far, which is to say that it’s best to stay off the playing field just now in terms rallying for one side or another, since the only folks who know who’s telling (or twisting) the truth are John Carmack, ZeniMax and Oculus VR.

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