iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

You’ll also see a big focus on big text: It’s meant to be clear and visually punchy, but if you didn’t like the Apple Music redesign, you’re probably not going to like this either. That bold approach is used everywhere to some extent, from the Messages app to your list of albums in Photos. The best new example, however, is the revamped App Store. It’s not just a place with lists of apps (though those still exist) — it’s more curated, and there’s a strong editorial bent. Featured apps get miniature articles (crafted with help from the developers), lots of big imagery, and more video to help explain what makes them so special. It kind of feels like Apple squeezed a teensy blog into the App Store.

And for the first time, games and apps are kept separate from each other. Sifting through these distinct lists is definitely more convenient than before, but it mostly benefits developers. With these lists now separate, apps won’t get pushed down in the Top Paid and Free lists by whatever the buzzy game of the moment is.

Intelligence everywhere

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

Apple’s pushing the concept of “intelligence” really hard with this release. With Core ML, developers will be able to weave machine learning features into their apps, and hopefully, make them more responsive to our desires and behaviors. Too bad none of those apps are ready yet. There’s still one concrete example of Apple’s pronounced focus on intelligence here, though: Siri.

For one, it sounds profoundly more natural than before. There are still small tells that you’re talking to a collection of algorithms, but the line between listening to Siri and listening to an actual person is growing strangely thin. (You’ll notice the improved voice in other places too, like when Apple Maps is giving you directions.) Hell, Siri even sounds good when you ask it to translate something you’ve just said in English into Spanish, French, German or Chinese.

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

It’s also able to act on more unorthodox requests like “play me something sad,” which happens to launch a playlist called “Tearjerkers.” And if you’re tired of hearing Siri altogether, can you now type queries and commands to it instead. Unfortunately, you’ll have to disable the ability to talk to Siri in the process. Ideally, Apple wouldn’t be so binary about this, but there’s at least one workaround. Worst case scenario, you can enable dictation for the keyboard, tap the button and start chatting with it.

If some of this sounds familiar, that’s because Siri actually has a lot in common with Google Assistant. While the feature gap between the two assistants is closing, Google is still better for answering general-purpose questions. Apple’s working on it, though. The company says Siri now pulls more answers from Wikipedia, which may be true, but you’ll still just get search results most of the time.

More importantly, the underlying intelligence that makes Siri work has been woven into other apps. Siri can help suggest stories you might be interested in inside the News app, and if you register for an event within Safari, Siri will add it to your calendar.

Getting social

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

Sometimes I wonder why Apple doesn’t just go all out and create its own social media service. Then I remember it did. It was called Ping and it flopped hard. So it’s a little worrying to see Apple bake a stronger social element into Apple Music could. At least the company’s approach this time is based on delivering features people actually use. In addition to creating a profile (which only partially mattered before), you can now share your playlists and follow other users. Sound familiar? Well, it would if you were a Spotify user. Apple’s attempts to stack up more favorably against major social services doesn’t end here, either.

With the addition of new features, iMessage has become an even more competent competitor to apps like Line and Facebook Messenger. You want stickers and stuff? Apple made it easier to skim through all of your installed iMessage apps, so you can send bizarro visuals to your friends quickly. You’ll get a handful of new, full-screen iMessage effects for good measure, and it’s not hard to see how the newfound ability to send money through iMessage itself could put a dent in Venmo’s fortunes. (Again, this feature doesn’t work in this build, so don’t bother trying to pay your friends back via text.)

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

And then there’s the most social tool of all: the camera app. The all-too-popular Portrait mode has apparently been improved, though I’ve been hard-pressed to tell the difference. (It’ll officially graduate from beta when iOS 11 launches later this year.) You’ll also find some new filters, but the most fun additions are some Live photo modes. You can make the tiny video clip associated with a live photo loop, or reverse itself, or even blur to imitate a long exposure. Just know this: If you try to send these new live photos to anyone not on iOS 11, they just get a standard live photo.

The iPad experience

iOS 11 preview: Full of promise, especially on bigger screens

The new update brings welcome changes to iPhones, but it completely overhauls the way iPads work. This is a very good thing. Thanks in large part to the dock, which acts similar to the one in macOS, they’re much better multitaskers. You can pull up the dock while using any other app to either switch what you’re doing, or get two apps running next to each other.

Just drag an app from the dock into the main part of the screen and it’ll start running in a thin, phone-like window. Most apps I’ve tested work just fine in this smaller configuration since they’re meant to scale across different-sized displays. And you can move these windows apps around as needed. To get them running truly side by side, just swipe down — that locks them into the Split View we’ve had since iOS 9.

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Nintendo swears the SNES Classic won’t sell out so quickly

The company adds that it’s currently planning to ship the SNES Classic only between its September 29th launch and the end of 2017 — there’s “nothing to announce” about shipments in 2018. This doesn’t rule out further production runs, but it risks creating a frenzy as people buy either out of panic or to flip systems on eBay for a tidy profit.

And while it’s understandable that Nintendo wouldn’t provide shipping numbers, the lack of concrete info isn’t very reassuring. Will Nintendo accurately forecast demand, or will this just delay shortages for a hot minute? Based on early buzz, the SNES Classic is already poised to sell like hotcakes — unless there’s a truly huge increase in production, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get one just by waltzing into a store on release day.

At least the machine itself will tackle some problems from last year. Nintendo says the SNES Classic’s controllers will use 5-foot cables, or a full 2 feet longer than what you saw with its NES predecessor. You might not have to buy extenders (or sit right in front of your TV) to indulge your nostalgic side.

We aren’t providing specific numbers, but we will produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.

“Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year.”

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DHS has a video game-like trainer for active shooter incidents

The platform was built on Epic Games’ Unreal engine, which has also been used to create training programs for NASA astronauts and the US Army. The scenario that’s available now is set in a 26-story hotel in Sacramento, California and every part of the hotel is accessible to the trainee. First responders from different disciplines can train side by side and different setups can be created depending on what training lesson instructors want to focus on.

“In this day and age, it is essential that responders have every tool at their disposal to prepare for and respond to critical incidents,” William N. Bryan, Acting DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology, said in a statement, “When decisions must be made in a matter of seconds, every bit of training helps to save civilian and responder lives. EDGE harnesses the power of cutting-edge gaming and defense technology to make training accessible, engaging, and affordable to all responders — from rural volunteers to those serving our major metropolitan areas.”

A second training scenario is scheduled to be released this fall and it’s a school shooting scene — fitting in the most horrifying of ways. A video on the DHS website is available for more information on EDGE.

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Rockstar Games, Take Two seem to back off of PC game modders

Now, after revolt by players including a campaign of bad ratings for the GTA games on Steam and a petition with over 77,000 signatures, Rockstar Games may have worked out a solution. A post on its support forum today said that Take Two has agreed that it will “generally” not take legal action against third party projects as long as they meet certain guidelines.

After discussions with Take-Two, Take-Two has agreed that it generally will not take legal action against third-party projects involving Rockstar’s PC games that are single-player, non-commercial, and respect the intellectual property (IP) rights of third parties. This does not apply to (i) multiplayer or online services; (ii) tools, files, libraries, or functions that could be used to impact multiplayer or online services, or (iii) use or importation of other IP (including other Rockstar IP) in the project.

While it went out of its way to say that this is not a waiver, and “is not a license, and it does not constitute endorsement, approval, or authorization,” it may be enough for modders to breathe easy. Rockstar representatives have told PC Gamer and Motherboard that it is in contact with the makers of OpenIV, apparently to try to prevent people from using it to affect the GTA Online multiplayer. There’s no word from the team yet, but today the tool received an updated build.

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Tesla is laying the groundwork to build cars in Shanghai

It’s a move that the company has been planning for a long time. Musk mentioned building a factory in China as far back as October of 2015, outlining the plan as a way to significantly reduce costs for Chinese buyers. According to Bloomberg, the company has already signed a deal with the city to build facilities in the Lingang development area — but it would need to cut a deal with a local company before it could begin. As a foreign company, Telsa would only be allowed to own 50-percent of any joint venture built in China.

Tesla hasn’t hinted at who it might partner with, or when it could start producing vehicles in China — but it seems like a smart and inevitable move for the company. According to Musk, a local factory could cut costs to consumers by as much as a third. That would be a big deal for Chinese customers.

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The Morning After: Wednesday, June 21st 2017

A powerhouse with a modest price tag.
Review: OnePlus 5

The Morning After: Wednesday, June 21st 2017

Building a great phone is hard enough, so building a great phone on a budget should be infinitely more difficult. With its fifth flagship, OnePlus makes it look easy. The OnePlus 5 is blazingly fast, with a surprisingly good dual camera and solid battery life. OxygenOS is a refreshingly light take on Android, too, and the phone’s build quality seems top-notch. It’s too bad that OnePlus’ designs seem to be getting more generic as time goes on, and that the phone’s screen doesn’t pack the same punch as its competitors. Ultimately, despite some compromises, the OnePlus is both an excellent phone and an excellent value.

This month: a 1997 sim and an indie rogue-lite.
IRL: What we’re playing in June

E3 might be done and dusted for another year, but every year there are dozens of great games released, all of which are available right now. Fittingly, our picks this month range from a 1997 sim all the way up to a game that was released just today.

Just ask for “jobs near me.”

Google Search will help you find your next job

Say hello to your new recruiter. An update to Google Search on desktop and mobile means you can search for new employment with conversational queries like “jobs near me” and “teaching jobs.” You’ll then see a list of results from across the web, each of which includes the company’s name, the role, the hours and when the job was posted. It’s also got some AI smarts built-in to hopefully ensure a better hiring fit.

179 days to go.Travis Kalanick resigns from his post as Uber CEO

The Morning After: Wednesday, June 21st 2017

The same day Uber rolled out a way for riders to tip their drivers and promised 180 days of improvements, CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick succumbed to investor pressure and stepped down. After years of scandals, a letter from a group of prominent investors helped force the executive out, though he still owns a large part of the company and will continue to be a board member. Is that enough to turn the company’s year around? Who knows, but with the company missing a CEO, COO and CFO there aren’t many execs left to take the blame.

Prime Wardrobe is like Stitch Fix but without the stylist or the fee.
Amazon is the latest to offer clothes-by-mail to try on at home

The Morning After: Wednesday, June 21st 2017

Amazon’s latest service, Prime Wardrobe, is trying to make online clothes shopping a commitment-free experience — one of the few advantages brick-and-mortar stores still had on online retailers. With Prime Wardrobe, you pick out a number of items, including clothes, shoes, and accessories. Then, if you have at least three, Amazon will send them to you and you’ll have a week to try them on and decide what you like. Whatever you don’t want can be sent back for free and you’re only charged for what you keep. If you keep at least three things, you’ll get 10 percent off; and you’ll get 20 percent off if you keep at least five. Buy in bulk: that’s what Amazon is hoping.

Apple’s anti-leaking efforts gets leaked.
Apple tries to clamp down on leaks with mixed success

The Morning After: Wednesday, June 21st 2017

For the longest time, Apple product leaks tended to come from the supply chain: a factory worker would send parts or a design file to accessory makers eager to get a head start on their next iPhone cases. You might want to rethink that assumption. In a leaked secrecy briefing (!), Apple’s David Rice revealed that leaks from the company’s campuses were more common in 2016 than those from suppliers.

But wait, there’s more…

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What we’re playing in June

‘Nex Machina’

What we're playing in June

Aaron Souppouris
Features Editor

Nex Machina is Housemarque’s latest twin-stick shooter. For some, that’s enough to warrant an instant purchase — for the rest of you, here’s why you should care. The Finnish developer, best known for Resogun and Dead Nation, set out to create a spiritual sequel to Robotron: 2084, and it’s nailed that brief. The controls are tight, the action is as frantic as you’d hope, and the difficulty scales to insane highs without ever feeling unfair.

I am neither a perfectionist nor a completist, but something about arcade games flips a switch in my brain that makes me need to chase that high score. As such, Housemarque’s Resogun is the only game I have ever “100-percented” across my Steam and PlayStation libraries.

In my time with the game, I learned wave patterns, uncovered secret exits, and generally lost myself to the leaderboards. The search for perfection is aided massively by a replay function that lets you view other people’s playthroughs via the leaderboards to see what they’re doing differently than you. At one point in the closed beta, I (or, thanks to the Steam account I was playing on, “Engadget”) was in the top ten of virtually every stage and challenge. Once I get the time, I’ll be headed back to reclaim that spot.

Twenty-five hours in and I’m convinced Nex Machina is the best twin-stick shooter ever made. Out today at $20 (£15), I can’t recommend it enough.

‘Old Man’s Journey’

What we're playing in June

Nicole Lee
Senior Editor

Can a puzzle game make you cry? I didn’t think that was possible, until I played Old Man’s Journey. I was initially drawn to it because I’m generally a fan of pretty puzzle games like Two Dots and Monument Valley, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Just like the latter, the puzzles in Old Man’s Journey are weaved into a larger overall story. But while Monument Valley is set in an abstract fantasyland of optical illusions, Old Man’s Journey is set in our world (albeit with a slight suspension of disbelief). And it is this aspect that makes Old Man’s Journey unusually emotional, touching me in a way that I didn’t expect.

The game starts with a house on a sea cliff, waves crashing the shore beneath. Sitting by the house’s stoop is an old man. A mailman comes by and gives a letter to him. He opens it and his eyes widen. He then goes into the house, rummages around, and emerges with a backpack and a walking stick. The old man is off on a journey, and it is your mission to guide him through all manner of obstacles to his mysterious destination.

As I hinted above, the physics in the game don’t really make sense. To get the old man on his way, you have to elevate and lower mountains by dragging their horizon lines up and down like some kind of an omnipotent god. Get them in alignment and voilà, the old man can just hop across them. From there you can guide him through the next scene. The scenes get more complicated as he goes on; it starts with rolling hills, but you soon have to guide him through waterfalls, train tracks and even the dark ocean floor.

After each successful stage, the man sits down, either on a bench or a rock, and reminisces. This kicks into beautiful flashback cutscenes that often consist of nothing more than a slightly animated drawing, like hair blowing in the wind. It is these cutscenes that tell the story of the old man. As he continues on his journey into unfamiliar territory, his flashbacks get more intimate, more personal. At the very end of the game, as I fully learned the story of the old man, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. This old man’s story moved me, and I cried.

Old Man’s Journey is more than just a game. It’s a story, a deeply compelling one, that just happens to be told through a finger-dragging, finger-tapping puzzle game.

‘Theme Hospital’

What we're playing in June

What we're playing in June

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

Theme Hospital was $1.49 on last week, so of course I bought it. I intended just to play “a little bit,” but found my entire evening gone in the blink of an eye. Good simulation games have a way of sucking you in, even when they’re as ostensibly silly as a medical game where your patients suffer from comically inflated heads and extended tongues. However, returning to Theme Hospital was a different experience for me than when I played it as a teenager 20 years ago. Not just because the menu and loading-screen graphics are very much a product of their time — trending toward roundness and silver everywhere, with visual references to the CD-ROMs the game was originally stored on. But also because I am now an adult in charge of her own medical care, and the choices I made as a hospital director were absolutely horrifying to someone who’s spent time in doctor’s offices and clinics.

Simulation titles like Theme Hospital focus on the things they can quantify: the number of patients who arrive at the hospital, how many doctors are available to see them, the number of seconds each virtual patient spends waiting and whether you have the proper treatment facility. There’s a simple chain of programming logic there. What the game isn’t as concerned about is whether this hallway is too cramped, or you’ve blocked the windows or if that room is too far a walk.

The game actually incentivizes placing treatment rooms far apart, as the long trip gives the virtual doctors time to finish up with the previous patient. It doesn’t penalize you for the time patients spend traveling; that’s their problem. Same with how you lay out the hallways or the bathroom. Larger offices and adequate break areas will keep your doctors happy, but Theme Hospital is not really concerned with how the patients feel, so long as they’re not waiting too long and there are enough benches in the building. It also doesn’t care about how anything looks. You can turn your hospital into a warren of twisty corridors and the only penalty is to your personal sense of aesthetics.

I’d say that Theme Hospital boils health care down to a game of numbers, but let’s face it, that’s a lot like how it works in the real world too. That’s what makes it so scary, but also what drives me to keep playing, to prove that things can be better.

‘The Flame in the Flood’

What we're playing in June

David Lumb
Contributing Editor

There’s something serendipitously synchronous between video games and the great outdoors. You’d expect one to be anathema to the other, but both share elements of undaunted adventure — of potential wonder unraveled by discovery. The Flame in the Flood was released back in January, a Don’t Starve–esque wilderness survival indie game that ditches the supernatural to focus on the thrilling wonder of eking out life in the dangerous wilds. I picked the game up on sale and delayed playing until I needed it, which is something the game’s scrappy survivalist bent would respect.

A little banjo, some folksy crooning and a loyal dog are all that accompany your heroine, Scout, as she rafts down a river filthy with mankind’s detritus. In other words, it captures the lonely thrill I remember from camping as a kid, overwhelmed by a natural world indifferent to humanity. There’s all manner of craft recipes and environmental metrics to wet any outdoorsperson’s whistle, but it’s the rush of skirting past dangerous rapids or sliding around a boar on a bone-breaking charge that best convey the game’s conceit of self-reliance in the wild.

Other games have tighter crafting mechanics or a less constricted play area, but The Flame in the Flood is a gorgeous little vision, a Huck Finn journey forcing you to make do with the clothes on your back and the raw elements you find along the way. Even the pause menu is tonally spartan, listing the game’s version of a Scout survival motto: Travel by raft, rest when possible, kindle fires to keep warm, keep your inventory stocked … and survive, survive, survive. Sure, there are a million questions to answer about how the world got to be such an abandoned mess … but I’m sure I’ll find another scrap of revealing lore, and some supplies, on the next midriver stop.


What we're playing in June

Rob LeFebvre
Contributing Writer

I’ve been playing Minecraft since it first hit alpha status on the Mac back in 2010. For me it was an instant hit, with an open world that I could explore and extract resources from. Figuring out recipes on various internet forums was also part of the charm, and once Creative mode came out, I was building massive castles in the blocky mountains and re-creating huge battleships with friends on the high seas. There’s something incredibly Zen about digging down deeper and deeper, or crafting bizarre architectural creations, that keeps my mind in a flow state like nothing else. My interest definitely waned in the intervening years, but I still dip a toe in now and again, inviting my younger cousins to play on my Realms server or trying out the PS4 version with the Skyrim texture pack.

It wasn’t until the release of the Switch version of Minecraft, however, that I again became a full-on Minecraft addict. Suddenly I found myself grabbing Nintendo’s new portable hardware to dig and build long into the evening. Minecraft, not Zelda, continues to hold my attention, both on the go and on my big TV. The extra set of Joy-Cons I bought helps more of my family play Mario Kart, sure, but I really just wanted to do some couch co-op in the worlds installed on my Switch. With the news of cross-platform play, I can’t wait to drop into worlds my friends have created on Xbox One, PC and mobile — it’s like the first true unified gaming platform, enabled for this most wondrous of digital experiences.

‘Dots & Co’

What we're playing in June

Nathan Ingraham
Deputy Managing Editor

The past few months of my life have been spent moving — that means lots of packing, unpacking and general disorganization. A consequence of that is that my consoles were largely packed away for a good two months (not like I would have had much time to play them anyway).

To fill the void, I’ve been spending plenty of time playing mobile games instead, and one in particular has sucked up much of the little free time I’ve had: Dots & Co. I’ve tried all three of the Dots games, and for some reason I find this one the most entertaining. Part of it is the aesthetic — it’s a bit brighter and cheerier than Two Dots. Part of that is the addition of “companions” that boost your powers and help you get through various levels.

Those powers add enough variety to the gameplay that I’ve plowed through dozens of levels and not gotten tired of it. For the most part, the puzzles are challenging enough that they feel satisfying to complete but don’t usually make me want to tear my hair out. The separate weekly “expeditions” provide a nice change of pace — you have to beat five levels without losing to complete them.

Across the board, Dots & Co is simply a well-balanced free-to-play game. It has great music and design, offers fun gameplay and puzzles and doesn’t bug you too much to spend real money. At some point, I’ll probably put it aside and not play for weeks or months (as I do with most mobile games), but it’s good to know it’ll be there waiting when I’m in the mood for it again.

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.

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HBO adapting Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic ‘Fahrenheit 451’

The book portrays a future where books are outlawed and “Firemen” like Guy Montag (Jordan) and his boss Captain Beatty (Shannon) are charged with setting them ablaze — the title refers to the temperature at which paper supposedly catches fire. However, when Montag meets a free-thinking new neighbor, Clarisse, he starts to question the course of his life.

Bradbury published the novel back in 1953, during a time when book burning was actually a thing in the US. It became an instant classic as a meditation on censorship and freedom of expression, much as Orwell’s 1984 is synonymous with pervasive government surveillance. The only adaptation is French director François Truffaut’s 1966 adaption, a film that did become a cult hit but isn’t exactly widely known.

It’s a bit surprising that Fahrenheit 451, one of the best-known and liveliest tales of a potentially bleak future, has yet to be adapted since then. With HBO and Jordan behind it (as star and executive producer), there’s a solid chance we’ll finally see it come to life again and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

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Amazon opens up the voice control technology behind Alexa

Lex, after all, lives in the cloud instead of within the actual apps and software. That means Amazon can make it better and better by continuously feeding it data from people’s interactions with Alexa. While the company’s Echo sales will likely never match Apple’s iPhone sales, Vogels said people use Alexa for various tasks around the house, but they tend to interact with their phones’ voice assistants only when they’re inside their vehicles.

Still, the company needs more sources of data, so it will also feed Lex people’s interactions with third-party developers’ apps that use the service. We’re guessing that data includes whatever it collects from its call center clients. If you’ll recall, Amazon started prepping a software package that includes Lex and another one of its developer services called Polly earlier this year. The package can field questions from customers’ phone calls and texts, giving the retail giant’s software more samples to learn from.

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Politiwoops uploads its 1.1 million-tweet collection to the Internet Archive

This move follows the publication earlier this month of an open letter penned by 17 international rights groups — including the EFF, Sunlight Foundation and Human Rights Watch — urging Twitter to reverse its decision. That letter has since been endorsed by more than 50 more rights groups from across the globe. “Social networks should take into account international norms about transparency and the right to information,” Arjan El Fassed, director of Open State Foundation, said in a statement. “When politicians turn to social networks to amplify their views, they are inviting greater scrutiny of their expression.” However, to date, Twitter has refused to review the decision.

[Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images]

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