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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, the App Store turns 10, Microsoft announces the Surface Go, and Segway announces the existence of “e-skates”. But first, getting ready for Prime Day 2018.

Prime Day 2018 is next week

The retail steamroller that is Amazon just keeps rolling along, and to prove the point the company has expanded Prime Day 2018 to be 36 hours long.

It all starts at noon Pacific time (3 p.m. Eastern) on Monday, July 16, and ending at midnight Tuesday, July 17.

If you don’t already know, Prime Day is when Amazon offers up all kinds of exclusive deals to members of its Prime service. Exactly what will be on sale is always a bit of a surprise, but you can always find something that you can justify needing. Maybe you want to join the Instant Pot bandwagon. Or add to your Blu-Ray collection. You can get clothes, electronics, and kitchenware. You can even get books, in digital and print formats.

New this year are 30% discounts on Whole Foods products sold at, and $10 off in-store purchases over $50 starting today and through next Tuesday. That’s what we get when Amazon buys companies.

You can spend your day staring at the Amazon storefront, or you can “Watch a Deal” and get notified when something you fancy goes on sale.

Only Prime members get to take advantage of this extravaganza. It costs $79 for a year and as a member you also get free two-day shipping on purchases, access to Prime Music, and Prime Video, which has exclusives like Goliath, The Man in the High Castle, and starting next season, The Expanse.

Apple’s App Store has been around for 10 years

For ten years, Apple has been making software for its mobile devices available through its exclusive App Store. What a decade it’s been.

One of the early iOS games that really proved what mobile gaming could be was Toy Bot Diaries, from Vancouver studio IUGO. More recently, the developer has become known for Knights & Dragons.

Other B.C. stalwarts include RAC7 (Splitter Critters) and Frosty Pop Corps (cranking out various apps and games at a rapid pace).

Hothead Games and Klei both got their start making console games but have pivoted to mobile titles with, respectively, Kill Shot and Don’t Starve, among others.

And that’s just on the west coast. Across Canada there are hundreds of other developers making games and productivity apps for iOS devices. Millions of people around the world are on those devices, using those apps.

We’re reading newspapers, magazines, and books, watching TV and movies, and listening to radio and podcasts all through software acquired through the App Store.

Critics might talk about the problem with the walled garden system, but it does benefit both developers, who have a consistent technology to work with, and consumers, who have a secure, curated space in which to shop.

As Apple’s mobile devices continue to advance, new experiences are becoming possible through the App Store. Augmented reality, in-real-life (IRL), and educational apps are the next wave.

Microsoft’s Surface Go starts at $529 in Canada

Microsoft’s Surface devices are hybrids, a little bit laptop and a little bit tablet.

Some of the models, like the Surface Book 2 ($1,599) and the Surface Pro ($1,049), are a little more laptop because they run the full version of Windows 10. The Surface Laptop ($949), weird given its name, is a little more like a tablet with a keyboard.

Surface Go is smaller, with a 10-inch screen, and has a lower end processing and graphics capability. The idea is to provide a cheaper and more portable Surface option.

While it’s priced at $529 (you get double the processing and hard drive space for $699), to get the laptop-like functionality with the Surface Go, you’ll be spending an extra $130 or so for a keyboard cover.

The Surface Go is available for preorder now and will be shipping on August 2. Microsoft says a model with LTE cellular functionality is coming later this year.

Forget rollerblades, Segway’s created electric skates

The Drift W1 e-Skates (what is with the product naming strategies these companies are using?) appear to be using the same self-balancing technology that the Segway scooter uses.

No word on pricing, but there’s a press conference in L.A. on July 24 when we should get more details on cost and release dates.

These seem to be made for Canadians, who already know how to skate.

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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, the rise of audiobooks continues the struggle between publishers and Amazon, a B.C. city installs solar panels in a parking lot, and studying the aerodynamics of Star Wars ships. But first, are Samsung phones texting your photos without your permission or knowledge?

Are Samsung phones texting photos independent of user action?

You may be wondering if this is another case that makes you think technology may have a mind of its own.

This week, stories from users of Samsung smartphones have surfaced in which they claim that their phones are texting photos to people in their contact lists seemingly at random, and without the users initiating it.

Samsung claims to be investigating the issue, but so far it’s very unclear whether this is a real issue or not because there is a very limited number of incidents that have been reported. And they may be related to a specific mobile carrier: T-Mobile in the U.S.

There don’t appear to be any such cases from Canada.

There was an update recently to the Samsung Messages app to move it from SMS (short message service) to RCS (rich communication services) protocol, which makes messaging more robust across different devices and carriers.

It’s entirely possible this is a non-issue. Until anything is clarified, though, if you’re a Samsung user and concerned you should simply use a different messaging app. Android Messages from Google is a good option that supports RCS.

Solar panels installed in Prince George City Hall parking lot

The City of Prince George in British Columbia has integrated photovoltaic (PV) panels in its parking lot.

The electricity generated by the panels will be used by city hall and the electric vehicle charging stations at the lot.

The panels, only millimetres thick and integrated with the asphalt, were designed by French company, Colas Group.

Vancouver’s Solar Earth is also working on PV-enabled roads and last year created the Solar Compass at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

Audio books have come a long way since books-on-tape

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Big Short, has left Vanity Fair and has become a magazine writer for Audible, the audio book company owned by Amazon.

Writing in the New York Times, Alexandra Alter details the shift in the book publishing landscape.

John Scalzi told Alter that his novel Lock In, published in 2014, sold nearly twice as many audiobook versions as hardcovers.

That’s why Amazon, through Audible, is being so aggressive about new and exclusive content, and why publishers are scrambling to keep in the game.

Star Wars spaceship designs aren’t very aerodynamic

EC Henry publishes on YouTube with commentary on all things science fiction, including lots of stuff about Star Trek and Star Wars.

Recently, he got his hands on a copy of Autodesk’s Flow Design software, which is a virtual wind tunnel, and because Mr Henry is all about sci-fi, he put Star Wars spaceships into the tunnel.

He concedes that the ships from Star Wars are mostly used to fly in space, where there is no atmosphere and no need to worry about aerodynamics.

But if you’re curious to know how the Imperial ships match up against the Rebel designs when they’re fighting above the surface of a planet, have a watch.

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Categories Consumer technology |

This week, getting perspective on things with some new maps, details on four clever ideas Canadian students came up with to solve problems in their communities, and why Apple wants Oprah. But first, why you might want to turn off the colour on your smartphone.

Going greyscale helps you keep your device time down

Facebook is going to show you how much time you’re spending there. Apple is introducing a new feature, “Screen Time”, to show you what apps you’re using on your iPhone and iPad.

Well, Tristan Harris, who spent three years with Google as the company’s “design ethicist”, wrote a long article in which he details all the ways that technology companies exploit us for their own ends.

He co-founded the Center for Humane Technology to help, and there’s a list of about ten things you can do to take control of your phone.

One is to get rid of the colour. According to Harris, the bright colours app icons are created in keep us coming back to the devices because our lizard brains get rewarded by shiny things.

On an iOS device, you can go grey in the Settings: Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Color Filters. By activating the color filters shortcut, you can triple-tap the home button to easily switch between greyscale and colour.

On Android devices enabling greyscale differs depending on which version you’re using, but the menu item is found through the Accessibility menu in the device settings.

Four schools get $20k in tech from Samsung Canada

Schools in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario were named winners of the 2018 Solve for Tomorrow Challenge.

The objective was to use science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to solve a problem being faced by the community students are living in. The four schools will receive $20,000 in Samsung technology as finalists.

  • Fort McMurray, Alberta’s Westwood Community High School shows the alternative energy solutions being used at the school and a plan to share their knowledge with younger students.
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Meadows West School collected traffic data and used virtual reality to educate parents on the problems and dangers faced by students during the busy drop-off and pick-up times at schools.
  • Moncton, New Brunswick’s Bernice MacNaughton High School designed an aquaponics system to grow food, with the intent to one day share the surplus with a local food depot.
  • Thornhill, Ontario’s Thornlea Secondary School developed an automatic pollination system to support the growing of plants in the absence of natural pollinators like bees.

Apple inks deal with Oprah

Apple’s push to build out its content library continues. This month, the company announced a “multi-year content partnership” with Oprah Winfrey to “create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

This does not conflict with Oprah’s cable network, OWN, which she created with Discovery Communications.

Apple has reportedly set aside US$1 billion for content, and already has other projects in the works. There’s a reboot of “Amazing Stories” from Steven Spielberg, a series from M. Night Shyamalan, and another that will star Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who will also executive produce.

Earth Timelapse uses maps to show what’s going on in the world

A collaboration between the think tank Igarapé Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, Earth Timelapse “tracks climactic and human-induced risks on a planetary scale over the past three decades.”

Using publicly available data, Earth Timelapse plots the information on a map over time to show trends and flows.

A number of the visualizations have been recorded and posted to YouTube and they are revealing.

In a video produced by the BBC and embedded below, Robert Muggah explains that Western anti-immigrant attitudes are unfounded, as the data shows clearly that most refugee movement is to neighbouring countries. And when terrorism data is layered on top of that, it’s also clear that refugees are not themselves terrorists, but are escaping violence.

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