TIME facebook

A Subtle Change Gave Facebook’s Icons More Gender Equality

US-FACEBOOK-MENLO PARK
Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images A thumbs up or "Like" icon at the Facebook main campus in Menlo Park, California, May 15, 2012.

Have you noticed the new "friends" icon?

An image may be worth a thousand words, but a Facebook icon represents literally millions of people.

The magnitude of the symbolism of Facebook’s seemingly innocuous icons is something designer Caitlin Winner realized not too long after she started working at the company. On Tuesday, Winner outlined in a blog post why and how Facebook’s icons gained a bit more gender equality.

If you take a look at the “friends” icon on Facebook, you may notice that the female silhouette is now in front of the male, and both of their hairstyles look a bit more updated. Same goes for the “groups” icon, which now also features a more unisex third silhouette instead of two men a one woman (in the background). Those changes came after Winner noticed the old, more male-centric versions and took it upon herself to come up with alternatives. After countless iterations, she eventually included her updates in the company’s official kit of icons.

“Timidly, I saved out a new version of the glyph file, not sure if I was breaking any rules and half expecting a bunch of angry designers to message me asking why I was messing up Facebook’s glyph kit,” Winner wrote. “Instead, and somewhat magically, the new icons began to appear in new products across the company and our many platforms.”

As Winner notes, this wasn’t the first time Facebook has rethought the inclusiveness of its icons. Last year, designer Julyanne Liang and engineer Brian Jew cooked up alternative globe icons for users not in the American half of the world.

Though these changes may seem small, they speak to Facebook’s increasing awareness of gender issues. Still, the company added additional gender options for user profiles only last year, and while Winner’s icons are a great step in acknowledging the female gender, it’s still doing poorly when it comes to the gender diversity of its own employees.

TIME Netflix

Netflix Announces Release Dates For its First Original Movies

2013 Winter TCA Tour - Day 6
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images

This is a new frontier for the video streaming service

Netflix has finally announced the release dates for its initial wave of original films, and the first — “Beasts of No Nation” by acclaimed director Cary Fukunaga — will be available as soon as October this year.

The other films — Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous Six,” “Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday,” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” — will be released in December, March, and sometime in the first quarter of 2016, respectively, the company said.

The films will all be made available on Netflix, but some will also be released in cinemas. “Beasts of No Nation” will be released concurrently on the streaming service and in select theaters, and the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel will be shown in Chinese theaters and in IMAX.

The original films represent a new frontier for the video streaming service, which enjoyed huge membership gains after the introduction of original TV series such as “Orange is the New Black,” and “House of Cards.” Creating original films takes that success one step further.

Netflix’s foray into original films also promises to shake up the film’s industry’s business model, in which movies (or at least the good ones) are only released to streaming services and DVD a few months after they are shown in theaters.

TIME Tinder

Now You’ll Know If That Celebrity On Tinder Is Real

Tinder App
Cyberstock—Alamy

It could prevent you from being "Catfished"

Celebrities are just like us — they swipe on Tinder.

So to make sure its users don’t get fooled by fake accounts, Tinder unveiled Verified Accounts on Tuesday as a way to show that a celebrity really is that singer or athlete you’ll never be lucky enough to match with.

Just like on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, Tinder will add a small blue checkmark in the corner of the celebrity’s profile photo so users know it’s a verified account.

It’s not clear if the company has been dealing with incidents of folks impersonating public figures, much to the eventual disappointment of some of its users, but it’s not hard to see why a dating app like Tinder, which has enough users to generate 26 million matches every day, would need this. We only need to turn to MTV show Catfish to see why. In almost every episode of the show, the hosts help a poor regular joe find out that the seemingly wonderful person they’ve been dating online has fabricated their identity, sometimes parading as a small-time celebrity.

And since Tinder requires users to use their Facebook identity in the app, it wouldn’t be surprising to see celebrity impersonators every now and then.

TIME

NBA Player Blames Elbow Injury on iPhone 6 Plus

Matt Bonner San Antonio Spurs
Jim Mone—AP San Antonio Spurs' Matt Bonner is shown in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 12, 2013, in Minneapolis.

"You have to stretch further to hit the buttons"

The iPhone 6 Plus boasts a bigger touchscreen, but those extra inches might be to blame for an NBA player’s recent tennis elbow injury.

San Antonio Spurs’ forward Matt Bonner told the Concord Monitor that the phone’s large screen was to blame for a cringe inducing ache in his elbow, admitting that “everybody is going to find this hilarious.”

“When the new iPhone came out it was way bigger than the last one, and I think because I got that new phone it was a strain to use it,” he said. “You have to stretch further to hit the buttons, and I honestly think that’s how I ended up developing it.”

Bonner stands by his theory, saying that he spoke to a Spurs’ conditioning coach who also allegedly suffered a similar injury from playing games on his iPhone. His injury reduced his statistics significantly for two-and-a-half months, where the pain was so sharp that Bonner would “be cringing before I even caught the ball like, ‘Oh, this is going to kill.'”

No word on whether Bonner is familiar with iOS 8’s Reachability feature.

TIME Media

These Are the People Picking Your Next Internet Radio Song

Z100's Jingle Ball 2014 Presented By Goldfish Puffs - Show
Jamie McCarthy—2014 Getty Images Taylor Swift performs onstage during iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2014, hosted by Z100 New York and presented by Goldfish Puffs at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2014 in New York City.

When it comes to tunes, human curation is back in a big way

It’s never been easier to listen to music–and never harder to decide what to listen to. First, Apple let us digitize our music libraries and put them in our pocket with the iPod. Then streaming services like Spotify made the idea of a “library” obsolete, promising unfettered access to tens of millions of songs at all times. Now, tech companies are trying to make sense of this massive sea of songs with an idea ripped straight from the analog era: getting actual human beings to offer up curated selections of music.

“No one on the Internet is like, ‘But where do I get more songs?’” says Elias Roman, product manager for Google Play Music. Roman was a co-founder of Songza, a music service focusing on curated, contextual playlists that was acquired by Google in July 2014. Since acquiring Songza, Google Play Music has placed context front and center in its streaming interface. When booting up the service on mobile or desktop, Google Play Music provides a list of potential activities you may be doing based on timing. On the 4th of July, for instance, the service offered different sets of playlists for hosting a barbecue, watching fireworks or celebrating with patriotic tunes.

“What I’m most excited about is having people feel like they’re paying to make their workouts and commute better,” says Roman. “The value prop is around lifestyle enhancement.”

Though Google calls these playlists “radio stations,” they’re built differently from the way Internet radio services such as Pandora operate. While Pandora uses listeners’ past preferences and song metadata to algorithmically build stations based on artists or genres on the fly, every track in Google’s contextual playlists are hand-selected by teams of music curators and editors (Play Music has a separate, Pandora-like radio feature with algorithmically driven stations). That human touch helps give the stations a quirky specificity that’s hard for computers to match—there are playlists for Ron Burgundy’s bachelor pad, Kanye West’s soul-sampling “Pink Polo” era and sipping tea with Drake.

Google pays musicians, DJs, music journalists and other experts to build these unusual playlists. A small team of editors permanently employed at Google (and previously Songza) are in charge of managing the curators, tweaking their playlists and framing each collection of music with the right headline and description. They also analyze the way users are interacting with individual lists, swapping out songs that are being skipped too frequently for ones that might be more appealing.

While the curators often have highly specific taste—Google has worked with an expert in Spanish-language children’s music, for instance—the editors have to be generalists who understand the appeal of many different styles of music. As part of the hiring process, some editors had to make a playlist for Susan Boyle fans to prove they could pick songs that don’t necessarily align with their own taste.

“Even if it’s done by a super expert, it’s still for a general audience,” says Jessica Suarez, a product marketing manager at Google who serves as one of Play Music’s editors. “We’re trying to reach as many people as possible.”

Only Google knows exactly how well this focus on human-curated content is paying off. The company declined to disclose the number of Google Play Music subscribers, though it said the figure has doubled since it acquired Songza. A recently launched free, ad-supported tier centered around these playlists indicates that Google believes in their appeal. Newly launched Apple Music, meanwhile, has a similar emphasis on human expertise, with numerous playlists made by Apple editors and a live radio station geared toward highlighting lesser-known gems. Spotify also pays curators to make popular playlists on its service (curators across the services can expect to make a couple of hundred dollars per list, according to The Wall Street Journal).

For online music services, the increased importance of these human experts may be proof the algorithm’s role as the final arbiter in all digital decisions may be fading. “At this point, it’s not cool if you’re listening to Green Day radio,” says Roman. “Like, what does that even say about you? But if you’re listening to ’90s Aggro Anthems’ at the gym, you’re feel like you’re listening to something that’s thoughtful and representative of you and your aspirations and it’s not just pure, lowest-common-denominator background music.”

TIME Retail

6 Futuristic Retail Displays That Will Change Your Idea of ‘E-Commerce’

These digital displays merge online and offline shopping experiences

The death of the physical store has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, despite the growth of online-only giants, retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence still control between 94% and 97% of the market, according to Harvard Business Review. Half of the e-commerce pie is still squarely on their plates, and many are finding new ways to blend on and offline shopping, deploying technologies that mix and match experiences from both worlds. Below are six innovative displays that hint at how they might start slicing up the other half.

  • Bloomingdale’s Clothing To-Go WIndow

    Bloomingdale's Ralph Lauren
    Matthew Carasella—Bloomingdale's Processed with VSCOcam with e5 preset

    Bloomingdale’s Manhattan flagship store sought to convert passersby into paying customers this Father’s Day with six interactive window displays of Ralph Lauren clothing. Shoppers on-the-go could tap color swatches on a touchscreen facing the sidewalk. That same colored shirt, tie or pants would materialize behind the window. If they liked what they saw, they could text “POLO” for a link to a checkout page.

    “We wanted to create an interactive experience that would literally make you stop in your tracks with something theatrical and mesmerizing,” said David Lauren, Ralph Lauren’s Executive Vice President of global advertising, marketing and corporate communications.

    The experience also aimed to avoid slowing shoppers down — they could opt to have the clothing hand-delivered to the sidewalk, completing the entire impulse buy without ever setting foot in the store.

  • Rebecca Minkoff’s Interactive Dressing Room

    Rebecca Minkoff eBay Enterprise
    eBay

    The mirror in the fitting room of Rebecca Minkoff’s SoHo store doubles as a personal shopping assistant, inviting shoppers to reflect (in every sense of the word) on which designer handbag suits their taste. A touchscreen display suggests alternative designs and colors. Shoppers can flip through their options, make a purchase or even adjust the mood lighting.

    “You can come in here and be completely anonymous, or you can get VIP treatment,” Minkoff told TIME in an in-depth profile of the futuristic touchscreens. The mirrors are powered by inventory management software from eBay. Users can see precisely what the store has in stock, rather than ask an assistant to go rifling through inventory “in back.”

  • Samsung’s Virtual Fitting Room

    SAMSUNG CSC
    Samsung SAMSUNG CSC

    Korean electronics giant Samsung unveiled a 55-inch LED display earlier this month that can drape a virtual necklace over the user’s reflection, among other interactive tricks.

    Retailers can then situate a “virtual fitting room” anywhere within a shopping center and lure customers into “trying on” jewelry and clothing without lifting a finger — well, maybe one finger to tap an item of interest. Three-dimensional cameras do the rest, mapping a floating image to the contours of shoppers’ bodies. Depth perception software developed by Intel helps secure the virtual item in place, “in order to deliver highly differentiated, exquisitely personalized customer experiences,” said Jose Avalos, worldwide visual retail director for Intel Corporation’s Internet of Things group.

    Retail is just the staging ground for the technology. Samsung envisions its smart mirror as a potential replacement to the typical silvered-glass mirror at home, which got its last technological overhaul circa 1835.

  • EBay’s Uncanny Personal Assistants

    eBay

    EBay has created an app called the Retail Associate Platform, which tracks a customer’s online shopping habits and arms retailers with an arsenal of personal information as soon as that customer walks through the door. As a result, sales assistants can have an uncannily personal conversation with shoppers, knowing, for instance, that they might be interested in a pink satchel that would perfectly match those new pink suede shoes.

    “If a customer walks in and doesn’t buy, the retailer has no idea they even exist,” said David Geisinger, head of retail business strategy at eBay Enterprise. “With this new technology, retailers will be able to gather more detail that can help them understand the customer and compete in a crowded commerce landscape.”

  • Microsoft’s Immersive Screens

    Microsoft

    Microsoft has a natural edge when it comes to deploying high tech displays in its retail stores, but it set a particularly high bar with a strip of wall-mounted LCD displays that wrap around the space, end-to-end, and can display a runner zipping from screen to screen in a continuous loop around the store.

    The display requires a specialized server that synchronizes the images as they play across the screens so the handoff appears seamless. The result is an eye-catching flow of information that’s as unmissable as a news ticker in Times Square.

    “Not only does the digital wall display beautiful images and provide an inviting and immersive experience, it is used to communicate ideas about how technology can be used to accomplish tasks, announce new trainings and entertain customers and includes localized information such as weather and events” Florin Gale, creative director of Microsoft stores, told TIME. “We even invite customers to play Xbox One on video walls in store, which are surrounded in directional sound that immerses the players in the gaming experience.”

  • Angry Birds Shopping Experience

    Dallis Willard—Orange Photography/Westfield

    Westfield Corporation unveiled a real-world version of the smartphone game Angry Birds at its San Francisco shopping center last month, proving that as much as retailers long to go digital, companies locked in the digital world may also want a room of their own.

    Game maker Rovio installed a gaming booth where shoppers could strap on Samsung Gear VR goggles and start slinging birds in three-dimensions. The booth was only an experimental display, one of many displays that Westfield Corporation set up for a showcase of innovative retail space uses. But it is perhaps the surest sign yet that the line between online and offline shopping could be relegated to a thing of the past.

TIME Gadgets

6 Action Cameras For Capturing Your Summer Fun

GoPro HERO4 Session
GoPro GoPro HERO4 Session

Adventures are fleeting, but memories can last a lifetime

Every summer has the potential to be an unforgettable one, but it’s up to us to get off our butts and make that a reality. Whether it’s in the mountains or underwater, there are adventures to be had all over the map.

But to look back on these days fondly — and clearly — you best be equipped with an action camera. Small, rugged, and always at the ready, these easy-to-use shooters can capture everything from breathtaking shipwreck dives to heart-stopping downhill runs, all without fiddling with your smartphone’s delicate touchscreen.

With plenty of action cameras on the market, there are good choices for every activity. Here are our picks for recording your favorite pursuits.

Made to Move:

Practically synonymous with “action camera,” GoPro is the first choice of extreme athletes and amateur thrill-seekers alike. And the company’s newest first-person-shooter, the GoPro HERO 4 Session, is sure to be a must-wear among these show-offs, too. 50% smaller and 40% lighter than the previous HERO 4 models (which were already impossibly tiny), this $399 cube-shaped camera has a 170-degree lens to gobble down all your death-defying feats in 60-frame-per-second, 1080p, high-definition style. Or, if you’re into slow motion shots, the 720p, 100-frames-per-second mode will reveal every wide-eyed, panic inducting detail.

With built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the Session’s clips will be ready to share via your smartphone in no time. And it’s even waterproof up to 10 meters — but if you’re taking it to the beach, you better invest in the floating case, because a camera this action-packed surely doesn’t float.

Read more: Hands-On With the Smallest GoPro Ever Made

Liked for Hikes

Able to withstand more cold (14°F) and bigger drops (6.5 feet) than you’re likely to face this summer (we hope), the $199 Pentax WG-M1 is one tough cookie. Dominated by an array of large, easy-to-press buttons, the camera’s dust-proof casing is great for a dirty day on the trails. Easy to clip onto the shoulder straps of a backpack, it’s ideal for hanging around until you’ve found something worth recording. Then its 14 megapixel CMOS sensor can gobble up all that amazing imagery.

With a 160-degree lens, it can capture widescreen 1080p video, and its rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will shoot for 150 minutes before throwing in the towel. And the WG-M1’s 1.5-inch LCD display can give you a peek at what you’re recording, so you know if you’ve got a dazzling vista or a solar flare until you reposition your shot.

Speed Freak Favorite

Adrenaline junkies and data wonks have one shocking thing in common: numbers. And to make the most of their highlight reels, daredevils can use the information and video recorded by the Garmin Virb cameras to amass their own collection of personal records. Able to calculate how fast, how far, and how heart-pounding the memories they’re recording are, the GPS-enabled $299 Virb X and $399 Verb XE action cameras are great for mounting on your body, board, or bike to create a true first person adventure flick.

With Ant+ connectivity, the camera can connect to a heart rate monitor, and with an onboard accelerometer it can keep track of how quickly you’re hurtling down a hill, through the air, or anywhere in between. Then, once the clips are collected, with Wi-Fi capabilities, the cameras can stream your media over to your smartphone for instant playback. So what’s the difference between the two? Speed versus more speed — the X shoots in 1080p at 30 frames per second, while the XE doubles the density at 60 frames per second.

Big for Stump Jumpers

Life moves pretty fast when you’re on a bike. To make sure you’re taking it all in, you’ll need a camera as quick as the Tom Tom Bandit. Like the Garmin Virb, this action cam comes from a GPS lineage, and because of that it’s loaded with built-in sensors able to detect speed, G-force, Altitude, Rotation, and even heartbeats (with the help of a third-party, Bluetooth chest strap).

But the canister-style camera is begging to be strapped onto some handlebars, making it an excellent choice for mountain bikers. Able to film up to three hours of video up to 4K quality, the Bandit has a pair of ingenious features that are sure to keep riders on their toes. First, the camera’s cable-free charging solution involves plugging the device’s “batt-stick” directly into a USB port (great if you happen to be toting an iPhone charger around). And second, the accompanying app’s shake-to-edit option lets users simply jiggle their phone to automatically create a montage of your best highlights of the day, all ready for posting online. Available soon in the U.S., the Bandit currently retails for £299 in the U.K.

Scuba Divers Buddy

When you’re under water, “keep it simple, stupid” is a good motto to live by, especially because when you’re battling nitrogen narcosis. The $199 Contour Roam3, with its straightforward controls, makes for an excellent diving buddy — especially because it’s waterproof to 33 feet without any extra protection or casing. Great for mounting on a dive mask (or other places), the Roam3’s lens rotates 270 degrees to make sure the camera is always even. And though the action cam lacks a screen (part of what makes it waterproof), it has a laser level to make sure your shots are on the up-and-up.

With a 3.5-hour battery, it will last in the drink longer than you will, but with no Wi-Fi-connectivity, you have to plug it into a laptop to liberate your 1080p videos. But the controls are what might save your life — or at least not scramble your brain. Just press the button to take a five megapixel photo, or hold it down to begin shooting video. That’s it!

Capturing on the Cheap

Having the latest and greatest specs is good and all, but why spend $400 when you can collect the same memories for a fraction of the price? The entry-level GoPro HERO is an excellent starter action camera, especially at its $129 price. For this cost, you not only get a small, 3.9-ounce, sturdy camera that can record in 30-frame-per-second 1080p high definition video, but it’s also compatible with the company’s line of mounts and cases. And since it won’t make as big a dent in your wallet, you’ll have more cash for other adventure gear, from water skis to scuba gear.

TIME technology

Photographing the Presidential Campaign With an iPhone 6

Brooks Kraft shares his tips to capture candid shots this election season

Photographer Brooks Kraft usually carries two camera bodies and four lenses with him when he covers a presidential campaign. This year, however, as six presidential candidates from parties descended on New Hampshire to campaign on Independence Day, Kraft left his cameras in his hotel room.

Instead, he went out with just an iPhone 6 Plus. “There are instances when I have to run or move quickly, and it was so much easier without the added weight,” he tells TIME, “not to mention trying to protect the gear swinging off my shoulders as I move quickly through crowds.”

It’s not the first time that Kraft has chosen to rely on an iPhone in his work. Last year, he photographed the Christmas decorations at the White House, where the subtler equipment meant he was able to capture more candid shots within the presidential residence.

This past weekend, his reliance on the iPhone proved useful when candidate Jeb Bush start running to keep up with a parade. “I was easily able to keep up with Bush,” says Kraft. “I became more aware of the impact constantly carrying the gear has on my mobility.”

Not only that, but Kraft says he was also able to capture images he wouldn’t otherwise. “With a DSLR, you are instantly recognized as a professional photographer, and sometimes people react quickly to your presence and either smile at the camera or turn away,” he says. “With the iPhone I found it was easier to move inconspicuously through crowds and capture moments, even up close, without impacting what I saw with my presence.”

Even the Secret Service had trouble identifying Kraft as a photographer. “At one point during the Clinton event, a Secret Service agent asked me if I was ‘media’ and asked me to display my credentials,” he says. “Campaign staff and security like to monitor (and control) the movement of media. There is frequently a lot more restriction put on the media then members of the general public in early primary events.”

This means that members of the public, sporting the same camera-equipped phones, have more opportunities to get photos of their favorite candidates. Kraft shares his tips on what to do and what not to do with an iPhone at such events:

  • Sometimes the most interesting photos do not include a candidate. Early primary scenes are full of colorful characters and iconic visual symbols of democracy in action. Because iPhones are so common, it is sometimes easier to capture natural moments with them than with professional looking cameras.
  • Shoot outdoors or in well-lit interior environments where the iPhone works best. Do not use the flash if possible.
  • Set your camera to shoot in the square format. This provides a nice contrast to the 2×3 DSLR format, and works well in some of the formal political environments. It also displays well on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.
  • Shoot wide views that show the setting, looking for angles that place a clean background behind the candidate. Signs and crowds right behind the candidate are distracting. For the same reason, avoid placing large objects or the backs of heads in the foreground.
  • Shoot close-ups. The iPhone is able to focus in very close to produce macro views.
  • Do not use the zoom. Because the iPhone does not have an optical zoom (yet), the image quality is poor when the lens is zoomed, and the aperture is also decreased.
  • When there is action or a lot of movement, use the burst mode to get as many frames as possible. The iPhone does not always freeze movement unless it is extremely bright, and it’s best to have multiple frames to choose from.

Brooks Kraft is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Washington D.C. and a regular contributor to TIME. Follow him on Instagram @bkraft.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Follow TIME LightBox on Instagram @timelightbox.

TIME Google Doodle

New Google Doodle Honors Monster-Movie Aficionado Eiji Tsubaraya

Google

Tsubaraya passed away in 1970, but his distinctive influence on special effects lives on

Want to know the man behind Japanese monster flicks Godzilla and Ultraman? Tuesday’s Google Doodle celebrates iconic film director Eiji Tsubaraya’s 114th birthday by allowing you to make your own short live action film through an interactive game.

Tsubaraya was one of Japan’s best known special effects directors. Through his monster movies, he coined a style called Tokusatsu, a Japanese form of live action film.

Tsubaraya passed away in 1970, but his distinctive influence on special effects lives on in films like Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and even the Power Rangers.

Through a series of ten steps, the Google Doodle helps you create a series of scenes for a short Tokusatsu monster film of your own. It includes giant stomping godzillas and even a superhero to fly in and save the day.

TIME the big picture

This Is Apple and Google’s Next Big Battleground

Inside The Google I/O Developers Conference
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Aparna Chennapragada, director of Google Now for Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Annual Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2015.

The war for better artificial intelligence is only just beginning

For most of my 35-year technology career, fights over operating systems have dominated the landscape. First, it was MS-DOS againt the original Apple II OS. Then it shifted to Microsoft’s Windows vs. the Mac OS. Today it’s between Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Google’s Android and Chrome OS. These wars have become ideological, with fanboys and devout followers in each camp.

But there’s another fight brewing, too — the battle over artificial intelligence, or AI.

At Google’s I/O event this year, the company announced Now On Tap. It’s a new version of Google Now, which uses context to make your smartphone more useful. The idea here is that if you get a text from a friend asking to meet at a certain place, Now On Tap is smart enough to put that event on your calendar, give you directions to the rendezvous and serve you up a menu. It might even show the best nearby parking areas as well as stores that could be of interest.

A few weeks later at WWDC 2015, Apple announced a new version of Siri, giving the company’s digital assistant better contextual AI and search. And in May, Microsoft used its developers’ conference to launch an updated version of Cortana, another AI-based personal assistant that can take questions and put them into context to deliver better answers.

The consumerization of AI is set to be the next major battle in mobile as Google, Apple, Microsoft and more duke it out to offer shoppers the smartest smartphones. This fight will drive differentiation between devices, especially in mobile, where hands-free use is often critical. In an excellent piece in Fast Company, author John Brownlee asks whether user interfaces or artificial intelligence will win the day:

The thing is, Google knew something we didn’t. It knew that Apple’s taste was a temporary advantage. It knew that designing a host of functional, universally integrated services was harder than designing pixels. And in the protracted thermonuclear war between Apple and Google, which first started when the search giant launched Android in 2008, Google knew that ultimately, it would be AI, not UI, that would win the war.

On a personal level, the AI-assisted mobile future can’t come fast enough. My days have become packed with meetings, research and writing, and I admit that I tend to miss the little things. For example, I often head to an offsite meeting thinking I know where I’m going, only to get halfway there before realizing I’m lost. Too many times I’ve had to pull over, check my email and ask Google Maps for the way to go.

You might think I’m just unorganized. While that may be partially true, the reality is that I simply have information overload, and that deeply impacts my overall efficiency. And I have to admit my memory banks are overloaded, too. An AI-based personal assistant that anticipates my needs is something I would certainly pay for, and I suspect others would as well. For many of us, this could be our killer app.

Smartphone vendors can still differentiate around operating systems, design, and user interfaces. But I agree with Brownlee in that contextual, AI-based services will be where the biggest players in mobile — Google, Apple and others — make their biggest investments over the next few years. Users will start demanding more context-based services within the next two years. If done right, they could be a game changer for mobile devices, and will make life easier to boot.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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