TIME Video Games

Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking: Sony’s Vision of the Future

Sony envisions a future where virtual reality is king

After Nintendo’s “smash hit” Wii, Sony realized that raw horsepower wasn’t necessarily the be all, end all for a video game console. Jump to the beginning of 2013, when Playstation formed Magic Lab: a special R&D arm at PlayStation tasked with dreaming up the next generation of gaming experiences.

“We had the concept in 2012 for this group which would use technology to really explore new experiences,” said Richard Marks, Director of PlayStation’s Magic Lab. “We really focused a lot on technology in the past, and [now] we really want to focus more on the new experiences that technology enables. One of the things that we believe strongly in is actually prototyping things; we call it: experiencing engineering.”

Since joining Sony, Richard Marks has been responsible for the development of Sony’s PlayStation Eye, PlayStation Move controllers and now Sony’s foray into virtual reality: Project Morpheus, a wraparound headset designed to work with the company’s PlayStation 4 games console. The headset’s revelation came in tandem with Facebook’s high-stakes maneuver to put virtual reality on the map for non-gamers per its recent $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift.

So far, Sony’s touted Morpheus to game designers at shows like the Game Developers Conference and E3 to drum up development interest (though the technology’s still far from a commercial product — it currently has no release date). Morpheus’ display still has a few issues, too: there’s a stutter effect on some demonstrations caused by high latency, and Morpheus’ Field of View (FOV) doesn’t cover everyone’s vision completely. The technology also has various critics predicting that it lacks a mass market appeal. But then again Morpheus is only a prototype, as are the various Oculus Rift iterations.

“There’s a trade-off. There’s a fixed amount of resolution. So you can either give that to a really wide field of view or you can make [the resolution] feel higher, but the [field of view] narrower. We’re trying to get a good balance of that. Right now we’re still working on the issue of the display. Right now we have a great prototype system for our developers … [but] for the commercial system, we’re still working on that.”

And as a prototype, Project Morpheus is an amazing portal into what VR could look like for the future. The technology is so electrifying that creators and entrepreneurs outside the games industry are seeing VR’s potential, which is why Facebook put up the cash in the first place. For instance, currently Sir David Attenborough is creating a VR nature documentary, companies are looking into how VR can impact education and Hollywood is looking into virtual reality movies.

Whether VR will succeed as a mass market product or not remains to be seen; in the meantime, PlayStation’s Magic Lab is tinkering with its notion of what the future of gaming might look like.

During the launch of the PlayStation 4 in November 2013, Marks and fellow Magic Lab researcher Eric Larsen were demoing their eye tracking or “gaze tracking” technology. “A lot of different people are looking at how to track your eyes. Our focus is more on, if you can track your eyes, what do you do with it?” Marks said.

The technology has a lot of potential applications, like as a targeting assistant for shooter games, as Marks and Larsen demonstrated with the game Infamous: Second Son. One of the more interesting applications Marks noted is the ability to pick up on subtle, non-verbal communication cues. “Where someone is looking conveys a lot of information about what the person is interested in, what they intend to do, and it’s a very unconscious thing that people do,” Larsen said.

In the demonstration, the player interacts with a computer store merchant who’s trying to sell the player different products. The eye gazing technology detects what products the player is looking at and uses that information to decide what products to pitch the player. “You can make the characters smarter because they kind of react in a way that is more intelligent because they know what you’re looking at,” Marks adds.

On top of that, Magic Lab is also looking into biometrics, partnering with UC San Francisco to research brain waves as a feedback mechanism for how a game affects players.

Magic Lab, like Google X — responsible for the creation of Google Glass and Google’s Driverless Car — seems to be Sony’s take on “experiencing engineering” without the red-tape. Whether Magic Lab will create products with the same hype factor as Google X’s ideas is anyone’s guess, but if Morpheus is any indication, Marks and his team are off to a promising start.

MORE: What Gaming Industry Professionals Think of Virtual Reality:

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

PlayStation Owners Can Hop Into Bungie’s Destiny Beta on July 17

Xbox owners have to wait until the following week, and the everyone has until July to 27 to blast each others' faces off.

Bungie’s official Destiny beta has a date: July 17 at 10:00am PT. That’s a Thursday, so you might as well take Friday off and make a long weekend of it. Just pretend it’s Labor Day come early, or the Fourth of July come late.

The catch is that it’s only available on the PlayStations 3 and 4 on July 17. If you want to mess with it on the Xbox One or Xbox 360, you’ll have to wait slightly less than a week longer for those versions to drop: July 23 at 10:00am PT.

To be fair, PlayStation owners won’t have it for a full week. According to Bungie, the beta will be offline on July 21 and 22 for “scheduled maintenance.” And then it’ll only run through July 27 at 11:59pm PT. When I spoke with Bungie at E3, my understanding was that they were planning multiple beta phases, so this probably won’t be the last chance you’ll have to play Destiny before it launches on September 9.

Activision’s using the beta announcement to highlight its collectible tiers, which I won’t bother detailing here (I dislike collectibles, mostly because companies often send them my way unasked for, stuffed with generally forgettable junk). Suffice to say, you can pay $60 for the base game, $90 for the “Guardian Edition,” $100 for the “Limited Edition” or $150 for the “Ghost Edition,” each with various physical or digital download additives — the full details are here.

TIME privacy

How to Delete Yourself from the Internet

Americans love the Internet, with 87% of us active online. We have accounts everywhere, letting us kill time at work on Facebook, check Twitter for the latest news, cruise Pinterest for inspirational moodboards and hit Amazon for great shopping deals. On top of that, most of us also have a pile of inactive accounts created for discounts or one-off purchases.

With our digital footprints expanding, we are relaying more personal data than ever to trackers, hackers and marketers with and without our consent. Are we sharing too much? Do we have the right not to be tracked? Is withdrawing from the Internet entirely to preserve your privacy even possible? Let’s go over each of these issues.

Data dangers

Creating profiles at sites you use regularly has many benefits, such as ease of log-in and better suggestions for links or products you might like. But with growing concern over privacy terms that change at the drop of a hat, the sale of personal data by less scrupulous websites and the challenges of keeping stalker-y exes at bay, more and more Americans are deciding to reclaim and delete their personal data.

If you’re among the roughly 23% of Americans who use a single password for a handful of accounts, deleting inactive accounts is an important security measure. If a hacker cracked that password, you could suffer a domino-effect hacking of your other accounts too, especially if they are linked via a common email address.

Aside from the accounts and profiles we willingly create, our data is also exposed as hundreds of people search websites that comb police records, courthouse records and other public records such as real estate transactions, making our personal data publicly available to anyone who looks for it. Deleting this data isn’t as easy as you might expect — and many companies won’t remove your personal details fully.

Deleting your online presence

Tracking down all your data won’t be easy. There is no one service that will trawl the Internet for pieces of you, so start by tearing down your social profiles.

Start with JustDelete.me

A site called JustDelete.me provides an incredibly comprehensive list of email, social media, shopping and entertainment sites, along with notes on how difficult it is to completely erase your account and links to actually get it done. This is a great resource to help you remember and find unused profiles as well as gauging how much effort you’ll have to expend to shut it down.

Find other open accounts

Next, review your email accounts, looking for marketing updates and newsletters to get wind of other accounts you may still hold or companies that have bought your email address. Then go through your phone and check for apps that have required you to create accounts.

Once you’ve created a list of accounts, you then should sort them according to how often you use them, if at all. Delete any you don’t use. “Data is an asset to these companies,” says Jacqui Taylor, CEO of web science company Flying Binary. “Not only are these companies able to monetize you as their product, you aren’t even receiving a service in exchange.”

Working off your list of accounts, head back to JustDelete.me and use it as a springboard to start deleting accounts.

Downloading and removing your content

If there’s data you’d like to keep — say, photos or contact lists — you may be able to download them before deleting your account. Facebook and Twitter data can be downloaded in the respective Settings tabs, while LinkedIn contacts can be exported via Contact Settings.

At many sites such as Evernote and Pinterest, you won’t be able to delete your account. You can only deactivate it and then manually remove personal data. At sites such as Apple, this process includes a call to customer service.

Don’t forget background checking sites

To find out which background check websites have posted information about you, check out the list of popular sites on this Reddit thread. Then go to each and try searching for your name. See if you pop up in the first few pages of search results. If you do, the same Reddit thread has information on opting out, but get ready for a hassle: usually calling, faxing and sending in physical proof that you are who you say you are. After that, expect to wait anywhere from 10 working days to six weeks for information to disappear.

Sites that don’t allow complete withdrawal

A large number of companies make it impossible to delete all traces of your accounts. According to JustDelete.me, this list includes Etsy, the online marketplace for home crafters, which retains your email address no matter what; Gawker Media, which retains the rights to all posts you made; and Netflix, which keeps your watch history and recommendations “just in case you want to come back.”

Then there’s Twitter, which signed a deal with the Library of Congress in 2013 giving it the right to archive all public tweets from 2006 on. This means that anything you’ve posted publicly since then is owned by the government and will stay archived even if you delete your account.

To prevent future tweets from being saved, convert your settings to private so that only approved followers can read your tweets. (Go to the settings in the security and privacy section.)

Shut down your Facebook account by going to Settings, Security and then click “Deactivate my account.” You can download all of your posts and images first by going to Settings, General and then click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

However, you’ve already agreed to the social media giant’s terms and conditions, which state that Facebook has the right to keep traces of you in its monolithic servers. Basically any information about you held by another Facebook user (such as conversations still in the other person’s inbox or your email address if it’s in a friend’s contact list) will be preserved.

The divide between companies that make it easy to delete your data and the companies that make it difficult is clear. “If you’re the product (on such free services as the social platforms), the company tends to make it difficult,” Taylor says. Monetizing your data is the basis of the business model for such companies.

For services like eBay and Paypal, Taylor adds, you aren’t the product (both collect fees from sellers), making it easier to delete your account and associated data.

The right to be forgotten

Being able to erase social and other online data is linked to a larger issue: the right to be forgotten online. In the European Union, a recent Court of Justice ruling gave EU residents the right to request that irrelevant, defamatory information be removed from search engine databases. However, no such service is available to the residents of United States.

“You should be able to say to any service provider that you want your data to be deleted,” Taylor says. “If someone leaves this earth, how can their data still be usable by all these companies?”

When erasure isn’t an option

Much of our personal data online is hosted on social platforms that regularly update their terms of service to change how our data can be used. A privacy policy that you were comfortable with when you signed on could evolve to become something you don’t agree with at all.

“Your digital footprint is not under your control if you’re using these free services,” Taylor says.

But in an increasingly connected, virtual age, it can seem inconceivable not to have a footprint at all. Most of us use a social account to log in to dozens of other sites. Some sites require that you do so: for example, Huffington Post requires a Facebook log-in, while YouTube commenters need a Google+ log-in.

Employers frequently perform background checks through Google or dedicated third-party social media checkers. In many professions, an online portfolio of work on the likes of WordPress or Tumblr is a necessity. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to communicate socially without the aid of a Facebook or Twitter account.

Given the realities of our connected world today, not being online can be seen as a negative. The key, Taylor says, is to take ownership of your data. Control how much of your personal data is available online by pruning inactive accounts. Create new accounts selectively, and post with the understanding that within a single update to the terms of service, your data could become publicly shared or further monetized.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Japan

Japanese City Urges ‘Smartphone Curfew’ on Teens

Teenagers in Kasuga are facing lonely nights after education authorities advised a nightly ban on smartphones between 10pm and 6am

The education board of a Japanese city has said junior high school pupils should stop using their phones after 10pm, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In the city of Kasuga, education authorities have encouraged students to surrender their phones to adults between 10pm and 6am Though the board has support from local schools, there are no penalties in place for those who disobey.

A survey conducted by the Japanese cabinet office in November and December of last year found that over half of students aged 13-15 owned a cell phone.

Of the 52% that did, nearly half owned a smartphone. This is a staggering leap from 2010 when only 2.6% of those with cell phones had smartphones.

The Japanese government has voiced concerns about excessive internet use amongst children. Their website warns of the risks of such use, citing cyberbullying, leaks of private information and use of pay sites as possible examples.

This latest campaign by authorities in Kasuga came after discussions with parent-teacher associations concerned about smartphone use amongst teens.

Posters and leaflets have been sent to the city’s six junior high schools asking them to observe the ban.

Kasuga’s campaign follows the city of Kariya who started a similar campaign, with a curfew of 9 p.m., in April.

[WSJ]

TIME Smartphones

50 Best Android Apps for 2014

From high-end Android handsets to low-cost prepaid phones, you’re not getting the full value unless you load up on great apps. We’re here to help, with recommendations for news, weather, productivity, task management and more.

  • Agent

    If you’ve ever envied the “Assist” feature on Motorola’s latest handset, Agent is a worthy substitute that works with any Android phone. When you’re driving, Agent can read text messages aloud and let you dictate responses by voice, and it can automatically leave a marker where you parked. It can also silence your phone during meetings, and it lets you set nighttime hours when only a specific list of contacts can get through. It’s like having a silent personal assistant, and all it takes is a few minutes of set-up.

    Link: Agent (Free)

  • BitTorrent Sync

    Cloud storage is great for accessing files from anywhere, but sometimes you want something more secure that isn’t subject to recurring subscription costs. BitTorrent Sync fulfills that need by automatically syncing any folder from your phone to your tablet or PC–or vice versa–over your local Wi-Fi network. Set it up for your phone’s photo folder, and your precious memories will always be backed up on your computer’s hard drive.

    Link: BitTorrent Sync (Free)

  • CBS Sports

    CBS does a mighty fine job with brackets and fantasy sports leagues, but its Android app is no slouch either. You’ll get real-time stats for most major sports, including live game trackers and push notifications. There’s also on-demand video highlights, live fantasy football and fantasy baseball shows, and personalized news feeds based on your favorite teams.

    Link: CBS Sports (Free)

  • Chrome Remote Desktop

    While there are plenty of remote desktop apps for Android, Chrome Remote Desktop has the advantage of being simple, free and unlimited, and it doesn’t need any additional client software if you already use the Chrome browser on your computer. Just add the Remote Desktop app in Chrome, set up a PIN for remote access, and you can quickly get to your entire desktop. It’s handy if you need to send yourself a file or check on a desktop program.

    Link: Chrome Remote Desktop (Free)

  • Circa News

    With an almost unlimited number of news sources nowadays, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on without a little help. Circa rounds up the most important news events and breaks each one down into a stream of bite-sized snippets, letting you see the latest updates first before flicking your way downward to get more of the back-story.

    Link: Circa News (Free)

  • CloudMagic

    One of the frustrating things about Android is that it comes with two e-mail apps–one for Gmail, and another for everything else. CloudMagic is a fine alternative if you’d rather combine them into a single app. It supports lots of services including Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo and IMAP, and it has a slick interface that easily rivals Android’s native Gmail experience. It also has some helpful integration with other apps such as OneNote, MailChimp and Pocket.

    Link: CloudMagic (Free)

  • ConvertPad

    ConvertPad isn’t the prettiest unit-conversion app around, but it’s free, and it’s loaded with pretty much everything, from weight and distance to energy flux and radiation absorbed dose. It does currency conversions as well and keeps itself up to date on exchange rates. You can also customize which categories you want to see, just in case viscosity and capacitance aren’t things you’ll be converting anytime soon.

    Link: ConvertPad (Free)

  • Current Caller ID

    Although your smartphone can recognize calls from your contact list, for some reason full caller ID never made the leap from the landline era. Current Caller ID compensates by drawing on WhitePages to tell you who’s calling, and letting you block telemarketers. And for people you do know, the app can show that contact’s recent social network updates and local weather conditions as the call comes in.

    Link: Current Caller ID (Free)

  • EndlessTV

    Need to kill a few minutes? EndlessTV lets you pick from well-known video sources such as Comedy Central and ESPN, and gives you a steady stream of clips with no ads. And if you don’t like what you see, you can swipe to the next video. It’s sort of like channel surfing, but on your phone, and it’s free.

    Link: EndlessTV (Free)

  • ES File Explorer

    ES File Explorer is a free file browser with a slick interface and lots of features, including integration with cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. You can certainly get by without a file browser on Android, but it’s nice to have one in case you ever want to sort photos into folders or send multiple files as a ZIP file.

    Link: ES File Explorer (Free)

  • Fandango Movies

    Fandango is one of a few apps for movie listings, trailers and ticket purchases, but its simple interface and clean design leave it a cut above the rest. From the top of the page, you can easily see what’s playing near you, and there’s a lot of editorial video below the fold if you just want to see what’s happening in Hollywood.

    Link: Fandango Movies (Free)

  • Flipboard

    Flipboard is like a personalized miniature magazine for Internet content. It takes stories from around the web and reformats them into little pages of text and images, so you can flip through by swiping up and down. You can also plug in your Twitter or Facebook profiles, and Flipboard will pull the links that people share into the mix — along with the occasional tweet or timeline post.

    Link: Flipboard (Free)

  • Gas Guru

    Here’s a easy way to save up money for some of the other apps on this list: Install Gas Guru, and use it to find the cheapest gas in your area. Nearby stations are displayed on a map, along with color indicators that show how good the pricing is. You can also compare prices in multiple locations, such as home and work, to figure out the best place to fill up. You’ll have app money in no time.

    Link: Gas Guru (Free)

  • Get Sh*t Done!

    This unashamedly vulgar app isn’t so much a task manager as it is a task motivator. Assign yourself a job, set the timer and–this is the important part–add a reward for success and a punishment for failure. Get Sh*t Done will try to amp you up along the way. It’s a clever tool to keep yourself from procrastinating, even if it’s a little heavy on the bro-speak.

    Link: Get Sh*t Done! (Free)

  • Google Docs and Sheets

    Although Google Drive is still around, Google recently split off its document and spreadsheet editors into separate apps. They’re basically unchanged from before, which means that they’re still a great pair of tools for creating and editing documents from a mobile device. But they do have one new trick: You can now edit and save Microsoft Word and Excel files without any cumbersome conversion process.

    Link: Google Docs and Google Sheets (Free)

  • Google Keep

    Keep is definitely worth checking out if you need a quick way to get your thoughts down. You can create notes with text, by voice (with automatic transcription), with photos or as a list, and they’ll show up in chronological order. Notes are automatically saved online, so you can access them on your computer’s web browser at drive.google.com/keep.

    Link: Google Keep (Free)

  • Google Translate

    When you need to translate text or spoken words, Google’s translation app still has no equal, especially with this year’s addition of offline translation. Google Translate now supports text and speech translation in 80 languages.

    Link: Google Translate (Free)

  • Google Wallet

    Google’s Wallet app comes with a bunch of finance-related features, but the most useful one is the ability to store loyalty cards in a central location. You can load any loyalty card into Wallet by scanning the bar code or entering the card number, and you can sign up for a handful of programs directly through the app. It beats carrying around a dozen cards on your keychain.

    Link: Google Wallet (Free)

  • Holo Bulb

    Nothing fancy here, just a slick little flashlight app with a focus on battery efficiency and simple, ad-free design. Tap the big bulb to turn on your phone’s LED flash bulb, or use Holo Bulb’s widget to turn the light on directly from your home screen.

    Link: Holo Bulb (Free)

  • Hotel Tonight

    Hotel Tonight might just be one of the most aptly-named apps on this list. If you’re in a pinch and need to book a hotel room, Hotel Tonight will show you which ones are available nearby and help you book all the way up until 2am. The company says it personally vets all of the hotels it lists, too, and you can book for up to five nights if the hotel you’re considering has enough space available.

    Link: Hotel Tonight (Free)

  • IFTTT

    With so many web-based services to take advantage of nowadays, a little automation goes a long way. Think of IFTTT (If This, Then That) as a middleman that sits between all of them, letting them interact with each other. You can get an e-mail when it’s raining, save your photos to a cloud-based storage service, or get a text message when your stocks go up or down.

    Link: IFTTT (Free)

  • iSyncr for iTunes

    If you want to listen to your iTunes music collection on your phone, but aren’t ready to go fully online with Google Play, iSyncr can help. Install the companion desktop app, and then use the Android app to transfer your library, either over USB or Wi-Fi. The desktop software is fairly light–it’s just a syncing tool, not a full-blown iTunes replacement–and supports some advanced features such as album art, syncing of multiple iTunes libraries and the ability to transfer playlists created on the phone back to the computer.

    Link: iSyncr for iTunes ($4.99)

  • Life Time Alarm Clock

    While almost every Android phone comes with a clock app, Life Time Alarm Clock aims to be better at breaking the wake-snooze cycle. You can set a “pre-alarm” to gently stir you with calmer tones, set hard limits on snooze time and give yourself simple puzzles to help shake your grogginess. And although the app doesn’t have a huge set of sounds to choose from, it does support MP3 playback.

    Link: Life Time Alarm Clock (Free)

  • Link Bubble

    Instead of replacing your phone’s default browser, Link Bubble acts as a supplement, opening links in the background while you use apps like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. The idea is that you can keep scrolling through your feed without interruption, then open the fully-loaded page whenever you’re ready. It’s free to use with a single app and one bubble at a time, and you can remove those limits with the $5 “Pro” version.

    Link: Link Bubble (Free)

  • Mailbox

    Mailbox looks to tame your Gmail and iCloud inboxes by letting you quickly archive e-mails with a swipe or turn them into task-like entities to deal with later. The app’s design emphasizes speed and simplicity, helping you to slice through your mountain of messages in a matter of minutes. Yes, you’re basically engaging in digital procrastination, but at least it’ll help you feel somewhat organized. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching inbox zero, if only for a short while.

    Link: Mailbox (Free)

  • Microsoft Office Mobile

    Microsoft’s productivity suite used to cost $99 per year with an Office 365 subscription, but not anymore. The Android phone version is now free, so you can view Office documents in full fidelity and make light edits. And if you use OneDrive cloud storage, all those documents will be waiting for you when you get back to your computer.

    Link: Microsoft Office Mobile (Free)

  • Mint.com Personal Finance

    Managing your finances may not be the most exciting activity, but at least Mint.com makes it look good. The Android app provides a crisp, clean interface for keeping track of your expenses and accounts. You can also get e-mail and text alerts when it’s time to pay the bills.

    Link: Mint.com Personal Finance (Free)

  • Notification Toggle

    Notification Toggle is a crucial app if your phone doesn’t come with its own quick settings menu, or if you’re not satisfied with the one you’ve got. This highly customizable menu resides in the notification bar, and lets you adjust things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, rotation lock, airplane mode, mobile data, NFC and audio. It can also include shortcuts to your favorite apps.

    Link: Notification Toggle (Free)

  • OpenTable

    OpenTable helps you skip all the nonsense of trying to make a restaurant reservation over the phone and get right to the point: what’s nearby, which times are available, and how are the reviews? Potential eateries can be filtered by cuisine, distance, price and more. Once you find a restaurant that looks good and has an available table, tap to reserve it. Done and done.

    Link: Open Table (Free)

  • Photo Editor by Aviary

    Aviary’s mobile photo editor is loaded with effects, filters and enhancement tools. But most importantly, it has a “meme” button that superimposes the black-outlined Impact font on top of your photos, so you can hang on Reddit with the best of them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just relax and enjoy all the other editing tools that Aviary has to offer.

    Link: Photo Editor by Aviary (Free)

  • Pocket

    Let’s say you find a long article on the web — something you need at least 10 minutes to read — but you’re at work or otherwise too busy to read it all right away. Just install the Pocket extension or bookmarklet in your browser, and you can save the story for your lunch break. Pocket’s Android app formats web pages in a clean, booklike view, and it stores content off-line so you can still catch up even while in a dead zone.

    Link: Pocket (Free)

  • Pocket Casts

    Android doesn’t have a built-in podcast app, but Pocket Casts is the best stand-in you’ll find. It’s a beautifully designed app on both phones and tablets, with plenty of features including auto-downloads, variable speed playback and cross-device syncing.

    Link: Pocket Casts ($3.99)

  • Power Bubble – Spirit Level

    The Google Play Store is lousy with bubble level apps, but this one by Boy-Coy has just the right amount of skeuomorphism. An “LED” meter reads the angle of the level, and the app will beep as the angle approaches zero. And while the app shows advertisements, you can choose to hide them if you wish (in exchange for a minor guilt trip for not supporting the developers).

    Link: Power Bubble – Spirit Level (Free)

  • Remember the Umbrella

    Even if you have a favorite weather app already, Remember the Umbrella serves an important purpose: If the forecast at the start of your day shows a high chance of precipitation, the app sends a notification telling you to take an umbrella. All you do is specify the notification time and whether you want alerts by noise or by voice. Ideally, you’ll often forget that the app is even installed.

    Link: Remember the Umbrella (Free)

  • RoadNinja

    Imagine you’re on a road trip and you see a highway sign advertising a McDonald’s two miles ahead. You’re getting hungry, but you don’t particularly like McDonald’s, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you pull off and there’s a Carl’s Jr. at the very next exit. RoadNinja can save you from this dilemma by giving you a list of services near each exit. You can also customize which services you want to see, and look up Foursquare reviews for some of the more obscure roadside stops.

    Link: RoadNinja (Free)

  • Secret

    One of several apps that lets people anonymously air their dirty laundry, Secret digs through your contact list and builds a network of people you may or may not know. You’re then given an endless feed of secrets to read through, revealing people’s innermost fears, desires and impulses. It’s sort of addictive, but don’t believe everything you read.

    Link: Secret (Free)

  • Shazam

    You hear a song you like. You don’t know who plays it. You open Shazam and press the big button, and a few seconds later, the app tells you the title, the artist, the album and even the lyrics. It’s basically the embodiment of what mobile apps are all about.

    Link: Shazam (Free)

  • ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner

    ShopSavvy is the slickest barcode scanner you’ll find, and unlike some others, it’s not biased in favor of any particular retailer. Using your phone’s camera to scan barcodes, ShopSavvy serves up product information and reviews, and can tell you if there’s a better deal to be found online or in another nearby store. The app also shows the latest deals, coupons and promos, so you can be prepared before the shopping spree begins.

    Link: ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner (Free)

  • Songkick Concerts

    Songkick helps you find concerts with minimal effort. The first time you open the app, it scans your music library, Google Play Music account and Last.fm account (if you have one), and then lists nearby shows for the bands in your catalog. You can also get alerts for new concerts and add a widget to the home screen to keep an eye on upcoming shows. It’s perfect for people who aspire to see more music but always forget to look things up.

    Link: Songkick Concerts (Free)

  • Spotify

    If you haven’t checked out Spotify on smartphones lately, it’s worth another look. The recently-overhauled free version lets you listen to any artist, album or playlist on shuffle if you’re using an Android phone–that’s more generous than most other free streaming music service–while Android tablet owners have access to single songs. A $10 per month subscription gives you on-demand listening, offline playback, no ads and higher sound quality.

    Link: Spotify (Free)

  • Stitcher Radio

    Why settle for one talk-radio source when you can choose from thousands? Stitcher brings together live stations, recorded talk-radio shows and podcasts from around the web into a single app and lets you create custom stations based on your favorites. Plus, it doesn’t get all weird around power lines the way AM radio does.

    Link: Stitcher Radio (Free)

  • Sunrise Calendar

    Android’s built-in Calendar app is fine for people who keep really good calendars on their own, but sometimes you need a little help. Sunrise Calendar can connect to lots of other online services, including Facebook (for events and birthdays) and TripIt (for flights and reservations). It’s a handy way to automate your calendar, and it helps that the design is easy on the eyes.

    Link: Sunrise Calendar (Free)

  • Swype Keyboard

    While Swype has plenty of competitors, its years of experience still make for the most accurate gesture keyboard available. Instead of tapping on each letter, you simply drag a finger across all the letters in a word, and Swype uses prediction to figure out what you meant to write. Take a week or two to get used to it, and suddenly regular typing will seem impossibly sluggish.

    Link: Swype ($3.99)

  • TripIt

    With a little extra effort up front, TripIt spares you from digging for your travel details later. Just forward your flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations to plans@tripit.com, and the app pulls them into separate itineraries. And if you use Gmail, Tripit gathers those details automatically.

    Link: TripIt (Free)

  • Triposo

    Although Triposo’s design is a bit dated, it’s hard to complain about the app’s wealth of worldwide travel data. Each locale is loaded with intel on things to do, sights to see, places to eat and special events–to the point that it’s even useful for where you live. You can also download individual guides for offline access, which is helpful for overseas trips.

    Link: Triposo (Free)

  • Umano

    When talk radio and podcasts won’t do, Umano will read the news straight from your favorite websites, kind of like an audiobook for current events. You can download articles for listening offline, make playlists and personalize the kinds of stories you’re interested in.

    Link: Umano (Free)

  • Valet

    Valet won’t park your car for you, but it’ll tell you where you left it, and remind you when the meter’s about to expire. For those who live in the city, Valet can even remember street sweeping schedules. If you have Bluetooth or a car dock, the app will mark your spot automatically, so you won’t have to remember anything. Isn’t that what technology’s all about?

    Link: Valet (Free)

  • Weather Underground

    To begin with, Weather Underground has an excellent layout, starting with the basic forecast flowing into ever-more detailed data as you scroll down the page. But what really helps this weather app stand out is its “hyper-local” data from enthusiast weather stations around the world. This way, you can find out whether the area you’re headed to is a little bit warmer or colder, or is due for a shower.

    Link: Weather Underground (Free)

  • Yelp

    There’s still nothing better than Yelp when you want to find a nearby restaurant, barber shop, auto mechanic, dry cleaner and so on. Peruse the user reviews or swipe to the bottom of each listing for helpful information about ambiance, suggested attire and the parking situation. You can even use filters to see only what’s open right now.

    Link: Yelp (Free)

  • Zedge

    Wallpaper and ringtone apps are somewhat notorious for adware, but Zedge is a safe choice with no shady advertising tactics. It has plenty of ringtones and wallpapers to choose from, and getting them onto your phone can be done with the press of a button.

    Link: Zedge (Free)

TIME Big Picture

The Death of Phones

StarTAC
Getty Images

I remember my first cell phone. It was a hand-me-down Motorola StarTAC from my father.

As many who had cell phones during this time will remember, there was a liberating feeling in being able to talk to any one, any time, any place.

Smartphones didn’t exist at this point in time, and as the cellular industry grew, it went on a run where the central value of the device was telephony. Those days are gone. The phone as an app is the popular way to think about the role of telephony on a mobile device today.

While telephony still exists via an app on mobile devices, it’s not the central reason for buying a smartphone in today’s world. What are consumers buying? This is where the taxonomy breaks down. They aren’t buying a phone. While we call it a “smart phone,” those words are just labels.

When you sit down and really watch people use their smartphones, what are they doing? They take pictures, watch movies, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, play games and more. So what if instead of buying a smartphone, consumers are buying cameras, mobile gaming consoles, portable TVs, newspapers, and whatever else the smartphone can turn into thanks to software?

While this may seem obvious, I’m not sure it’s obvious to consumers: Rather, it’s very subconscious. They may not realize cognitively they are shopping for a pocketable camera, game console, or TV, but they know they want those features and they want them to be great.

I think Benedict Evans summed up my thinking on this in this very poignant tweet:

Mobile is eating consumer electronics. The most personal device paired with diverse software allows it to eat as many use cases as the hardware and the software will allow. The death of the phone as the primary use case is the rise of the mobile camera plus connected sharing apps like Facebook, or the rise of the mass market mobile gaming console, or the rise of the portable TV.

This same thinking applies to tablets. What tasks the tablet absorbs are still being fleshed out, but we are seeing it absorb the load from the PC, the TV, magazines, books and more. The use cases the tablet can take on are only limited by its hardware and software evolution.

What makes all this interesting is that prior to smartphones, we bought a telephony device and that was it. Now consumers are buying this AND that, AND that, AND that, AND that all wrapped up into one product. As we look to how the landscape may evolve, we simply need to figure out what the next AND will be.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry-analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week.

TIME Video Games

Kinect v2.0 for Windows Will Cost Half an Xbox One on July 15

Microsoft

Microsoft's revised motion-sensing peripheral will run you $200 -- half the price of a $400 Xbox One -- when it goes on sale later this month.

Wisdom was Microsoft removing Kinect from its Xbox One, but for all our ennui with the peripheral as a home theater interface, we’re quick to forget where the real Kinect story played out: Microsoft’s motion and voice recognition sensor bar was a boon for armchair tinkerers who figured out how to use the peripheral to control real-world robots, play Heart and Soul like Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia, open toilet bowls without touching the lids or play World of Warcraft without a controller.

You hear about that stuff less the last year or so, in part because the Kinect v1.0 is now three-and-a-half years old, and Kinect v2.0 hasn’t been available apart from the Xbox One. That’ll change on July 15, when Microsoft begins selling its “Kinect for Windows v2 Sensor” as a standalone part for $200.

That’s right, $200, making it roughly twice the presumptive price of the part based on Microsoft’s subtractive Xbox One pricing. The Xbox One dropped from $500 to $400 on June 9, and the only difference in the SKU was the removal of the Kinect sensor.

To be clear, there’s no official Kinect for Xbox One standalone SKU. You can’t go out to Amazon or GameStop or Microsoft’s own product store and purchase Kinect for Xbox One separately (Microsoft’s said such a part is coming, but not how much it’ll cost). Assuming Kinect v2.0 for Windows was going to be $100, therefore, was simply that: an assumption.

But $200 does seem a little spendy, even if it’s $50 less than what we initially paid the first time around for Kinect v1.0 for Windows (back in 2012). For $200, you get Kinect v2.0, that’s it — no software, nada. If you want to develop anything for it, you’ll have to hook up with the Kinect for Windows SDK 2.0, which Microsoft notes is licensed separately.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME Companies

Meet the Company That Wants You to Bring Shampoo on the Plane

For the hygienically minded who miss brushing their teeth during flights

A small company in the English countryside helping to end the carry-on liquid ban at airports has been recognized for its efforts with a prestigious engineering award.

Cobalt Light Systems makes a laser-based technology that identifies the chemical composition of a substance sealed within containers or other barriers, like skin, even when the container is opaque and the liquid cannot be directly viewed. The company’s technology is being used in 60 airports across Europe to scan passengers’ luggage.

It’s basically a godsend for people sick of throwing out their toothpaste at airport security checks — the idea is to eventually phase out the blanket ban on carrying liquids in handbags, which was instituted in 2006 after a failed terrorist bomb plot.

This week, Cobalt Light Systems won the 2014 MacRobert Award, one of the most prestigious engineering prizes in the U.K.

TIME Israel

In the Wake of Apparent Revenge Killing, New Israeli ‘Kidnap App’ Adapted for Palestinians

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-KIDNAPPING-FUNERAL
Relatives and friends of Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, carry his body to a mosque during his funeral in Shuafat, in Israeli annexed East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014. Ahmad Gharabli—AFP/Getty Images

Lifesaving potential adds to digital interface already figuring in fatal kidnappings of 3 Israeli teens and a Palestinian

In the first two weeks after three Israeli teenagers were abducted on the West Bank, over 60,000 Israelis downloaded a new smartphone app designed to alert police to your abduction and guide them to the place you are being held. Then a Palestinian teen earlier this week was forced into a car and killed in what police suspect was a revenge killing, hastening development of an Arabic version of the same free software.

The SOS app was developed by the volunteer rescue service United Hatzalah, by adapting software originally designed for its state-of-the-art emergency medical response network. After the June 12 abduction of Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, the software was quickly stripped down to a simple kidnap alert, offered for free online in Apple, Android and Blackberry versions.

But the app is currently offered only in English and Hebrew, the language of Israel’s Jewish majority—and until this week, the population that felt most threatened by abduction. In the 18 months before the June 12 abduction of the three teens, authorities detected more than 80 kidnap plots by Palestinian militants to snatch Israelis, driven largely by the lopsided rate of exchange an Israeli captive brings in ransom bargaining: in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one captive soldier, Gilad Shalit.

But now Palestinians also feel vulnerable, after the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Local residents said an attempt had been made a day earlier to carry away a child of nine on the same street.

“The app is currently being developed in Arabic,” says a spokesperson for the nonprofit rescue service. “United Hatzalah’s main aim is to save lives—they don’t discriminate on whose lives these are.” Though the technology was funded by Irving Moskowitz, a retired American physician who has funded some of the most controversial Jewish settlements in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the service has a major operations center in East Jerusalem as well as in the Jewish west side of the city, and more than 300 Israeli Arab volunteers nationwide.

Digital media already have figured prominently in the drama of the last three weeks. Tensions over the deaths may be playing out in the streets—which in East Jerusalem erupted in riots again on Friday, when Abu Khdeir was laid to rest—but the details driving emotions have arrived from the increasingly intimate interface of devices with everyday life. Shortly after the hitchhiking yeshiva student Gilad Shaer climbed into a car that turned out to be driven by kidnappers, he discreetly opened his phone and dialed 100, Israel’s version of 911 and whispered, “I’ve been kidnapped.”

The digital recording of his call was released after the discovery of his body, and those of Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, and fueled not only rage at the police—who took the call for a prank—but also at the killers: The recording appears to have captured the murder. The kidnappers are heard shouting for their captive to get down, then gunshots are heard, followed by the sound one of the killers announcing in Arabic, “God bless your hands, we have brought three,” followed by singing.

Released on the day the three were buried together, the audio redoubled demands for vengeance, which appeared mostly online. The Facebook group “The People of Israel Demand Revenge” recorded 35,000 likes in two days. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Jewish extremists rampaged in the streets chanting “Death to the Arabs” and confronting people with dark skin. Abu Khadeir was forced into a car in front of his house a few hours later. Police reportedly located his charred body, barely an hour later, by tracking the signal from his cell phone to a forest on the western edge of Jerusalem.

That hour would be the amount of time it often takes police in Israel to get the court order required to track a cell signal—a major advantage of the so-called kidnap app, says Eli Beer, the founder and president of United Hatzalah, who spoke to TIME before the Palestinian youth was killed.

Beer noted that Israeli law requires a judge’s specific permission to track a cell signal, a fact that might not have changed the outcome for the Jewish Israeli teens even if the police had taken Gilad Shaer’s call seriously. But the SOS app broadcasts GPS coordinates automatically to the rescue service’s 24-hour dispatch center, from which it is shared with police. “Police need to go to judge to ask the phone company the location of [the] phone,” says Beer. “We solved that problem for the police.”

The application is simple enough: “You open the app and swipe it,” Beer explains, “and three seconds later, it sends a signal.” The lag was installed in case the alert was activated by mistake. But it can only be cancelled after entering a code, a precaution added to prevent someone else (say, the kidnapper) from canceling the alert.

The SOS app was designed by NowForce, an Israeli software company catering to first responders. It amounts to a stripped-down version of an application developed seven years ago, which located the United Hatzalah trained volunteer nearest an emergency, and dispatched the volunteer to the scene– often on a motorcycle ambulance dubbed an “ambucycle,” another of the organization’s innovations.

The system did much to trim the average response time for calls inside Israel to just three minutes, claims Beer—which he says is already the fastest response time in the world. The goal is 90 seconds, and the GPS technology in smartphones should help close the gap. “We deal with 211,000 emergencies every year in Israel,” Beer says, “so we know how long it takes to get the location correct. It’s a big part of the call.”

No calls are ignored, he says. “We don’t’ take any call non-seriously,” says Beer. “Even it sounds crank, we make 100 percent sure.”

TIME Google

Google Starts Scrubbing News Articles From Search After Court Ruling

'The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression,' one British editor wrote

Raising concerns about censorship and the freedom of the press, articles from major British news outlets are beginning to be removed from some Google search results after a European court ruling began allowing citizens to request their personal histories to be scrubbed from search engines.

The Guardian and the BBC have both received takedown notices from Google, informing them that articles they have written about certain public figures will no longer appear in search results when users search for certain names because of the so-called “right to be forgotten.”

According to The Guardian, Google removed three articles about Dougie McDonald, a retired soccer referee who was forced to resign after a controversial penalty call in 2010. The articles can still be found through some Google searches, but they don’t appear when searching for McDonald’s name. Another article about French workers making art with post-it notes is being affected, as is another about a solicitor facing a fraud trial. It’s also become harder to search for a BBC blog post critical of former Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O’Neal and his actions before the 2008 global financial crisis.

It’s not clear who requested the removals, but it’s likely to have been someone either mentioned in the articles or whose names appeared in the articles’ comments sections. Generally, the results are only censored in search results for the name of the person who requested the takedown. That can make it possible to identify the name involved in the request, if not the identity of the requester.

The search changes that have already taken place illustrate the difficult balance Google and European regulators must strike to enforce the Right To Be Forgotten, which enshrines individual privacy online while sacrificing some elements of free speech. Several British journalists, including Guardian editor James Ball, have spoken out against what they view as a form of censorship.

“The Guardian, like the rest of the media, regularly writes about things people have done which might not be illegal but raise serious political, moral or ethical questions,” Guardian editor James Ball wrote in a post discussing the removals. “The ruling has created a stopwatch on free expression – our journalism can be found only until someone asks for it to be hidden.”

Google has already received more than 70,000 requests to scrub web pages from its search results since the ruling came down in May. That ruling says individuals can request search engines to remove information about them that’s no longer relevant or timely. The definition of “relevant” is, of course, subjective. That ambiguity has made Google an arbiter for what does and doesn’t deserve to remain readily accessible on the Internet — if Google refuses to comply with a takedown request, individuals have the right to litigate the issue in court, a process that could rack up huge legal fees for Google.

Google hasn’t disclosed how many requests it has approved or the guidelines it’s using to make approval decisions. “This is a new and evolving process for us,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”

For now, the removals only seem to affect the European versions of Google’s website. Searches on Google.com, the U.S.-based version of Google, still display the articles in question for all queries.

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