Google announces Allo messenger with AI-based Google Assistant

Dieter Bohn, The Verge:

Google thinks the secret weapon it has in the battle for your thumbs is… Google. More specifically, it’s the Google assistant, the new conversational interface you can use to get information from Google. You can set up a conversation with @google and ask it all sorts of questions. It’ll respond with the stuff you’ve come to expect from typing into a Google search box — but it’ll also engage in a bit of a conversation with you. It’ll suggest further searches, and give you ways to do things that Google can do — like book a table with OpenTable.

I don’t enjoy using Google Hangouts everyday, but I’m forced to because certain friends prefer it. You’d think that would leave me feeling less-than-optimistic about Allo, but I’m actually curious to try it. Allo has all the features of Hangouts (text messaging, stickers, emoji, etc.) plus a cute text size feature called WhisperShout (also a contender for worst brand name ever) and the power of Google’s new, smarter Assistant. Unfortunately Allo is also more limited than Hangouts: it’s Android and iOS only and tied directly to your phone number, so no messaging from your computer or on the web. An odd choice for Google the web company. It’s also unclear if the reliance on your phone number limits Allo to running on one device, or if there will be a tablet version, for example.

Of course everyone’s complaining that Google’s launching yet another messaging app, following Talk, Hangouts, and the Android-exclusive Messenger. Google claims that Hangouts will continue to be maintained and that Allo is its own thing, but I don’t see how that can be true for long. My biggest complaint, silly as it may seem, is that Google still haven’t picked a name that can be used as a verb. As in, “I’ll Facebook you.” “I’ll iMessage you.” “I’ll BBM you.” “I’ll Tweet you.” Even “I’ll WhatsApp you” kinda works. “I’ll Allo you” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, though it’s less stupid than “I’ll Hangouts you.”

Apple Music redesign coming at WWDC

Mark Gurman, 9to5Mac:

The new version of Apple Music, which Apple recently announced has 13 million users so far, focuses on a redesigned user-interface, a few new functions, and reorganization as well as simplification of existing features. The new user-interface ditches the current colorful and translucent look in favor of a simpler design that emphasizes black and white backgrounds and text.

I’m worried that a black-on-white design would lead Apple Music back into boring design territory, even with a continued emphasis on large, colourful album artwork. However I’d definitely be interested in a white-on-black UI for Apple Music; think dark mode, or something more like Beats Music. Whichever direction Apple goes, I hope they put more emphasis on the user’s music collection, and condense the multiple confusing discovery tabs (For You, New, Radio, and Connect).

Improvements to Apple Music’s somewhat confusing UI are welcomed, but they’re hardly the biggest problem. As I mentioned in my Streaming Music-al Chairs piece, iCloud Music Library needs back-end improvements so it stops turning itself off randomly, sporadically deleting offline downloads, and misidentifying songs and albums. I’d also like to see more of an integration between Apple Music and the iTunes Music Store, so you could purchase or stream music from one app. Those are the biggest issues Apple needs to address, and I’m hopeful we’ll see improvements to all of that in iOS 10 at WWDC.

Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 & 2 will get new titles

Joe Russo, in an interview with Uproxx about Avengers: Infinity War:

The intention is we will change it, we just haven’t come up with the titles yet. But, yes, we will change it. And, yes, that is a scoop: we will retitle them.

Might I suggest Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War?

In all seriousness, I’m happy with this news! The 2-part craze in Hollywood screams “cash grab” to me, and Marvel doesn’t want to give off that impression. It’s sounding more and more like the next two Avengers movies will be connected while each containing a standalone story, so giving each its own title is a great move.

Vulture profile’s Joe and Anthony Russo

Adam Sternbergh:

The directors of The Winter Soldier are the Russo brothers, who were previously best known, if you knew them at all, as the crackerjack sitcom directors responsible for beloved episodes of Arrested Development and Community. Which, naturally, is exactly the kind of professional background that prepares you to direct $170 million superhero-centric, CGI-heavy summer-tentpole blockbusters.

A wonderful piece. So excited to see these two talented directors at the helm of Marvel’s biggest movies over the next 3 years.

Nintendo: NX launching March 2017, Zelda Wii U also coming to NX

As part of their Fiscal Year 2015 earnings release early this morning, Nintendo dropped some major news bombs about upcoming games and hardware.

The mysterious NX console will launch worldwide in March 2017, Nintendo announced. Earlier reports had pegged the new system to launch later this year, which always seemed implausible to me seeing as we still know nothing about the NX aside from its codename. That may not change until much later this year, as Polygon reports Nintendo will not detail NX at E3 this year. A spring launch is unusual for a home console, as Nintendo will miss out on lucrative Holiday 2016 sales, though it aligns with previous spring handheld launches from the company.

The long delayed The Legend of Zelda game for Wii U has been pushed back again to 2017, and Nintendo have finally confirmed that the game will be released on both the Wii U and the NX. Fans have speculated for some time that “Zelda U” would be ported to the NX, mirroring the release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the GameCube and Wii back in 2006. Personally, I’m hoping this has been the plan for some time and that Nintendo’s development team have chosen to focus development on the NX version of Zelda, essentially leaving the Wii U version as a “back-port”. Originally announced as a Wii U exclusive Zelda game, Nintendo have to keep that promise, but the NX will need the game more to give it a big launch boost in the market. Polygon also reports that The Legend of Zelda will be the only playable game at Nintendo’s E3 booth this year. Does that mean they don’t have much else launching in 2016? Curious. The Legend of Zelda for NX and Wii U will launch simultaneously in 2017.

Continuing their move into smartphone gaming, Nintendo have revealed that Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games will be released for smart devices this year. Both franchises make perfect sense for smartphones, as their simple “point-and-click” control schemes will translate well to touchscreen devices. Animal Crossing, with its time-based events and “daily life” gameplay, is a particularly perfect fit for a device that’s always with you so you can play whenever, wherever.

As a longtime Nintendo fan, I’ve been quite upset with the company as of late. But they’ll always own a little piece of my heart, and on big Nintendo news days like this, I still find myself excited for their future.

Apple’s Q2 2016 results

Jason Snell, Six Colors:

It was a tough quarter for Apple, at least as tough as a quarter can be for a company that made $10.5 billion in profit on $50.6 billion in revenue.

I’m so over Apple financials and the quarterly brouhaha that follows. But if you want a simple breakdown of Apple’s Q2 earnings, Jason has some fun charts.

Bottom line for me is that the company continues to make good products and shit tons of money. Obviously I want them to succeed in the market, and I’ll always keep a close eye on how their products are doing. Particularly the iPad, as Apple pushes harder to position it as a computer replacement. As for their stock price, I just can’t be bothered to care anymore.

I’m not the only one who doesn’t “get” Beyoncé

Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, VICE:

I don’t think I can do it anymore, guys. I have been living a lie. As a gay man with a lot of gay friends, I’d estimate that roughly 30 percent of my conversations are related to Beyoncé in some way. I went to Christmas parties where the only album played was 8 Days of Christmas, I made “poor Michelle” jokes, I even spent a month referring to the Superbowl as “the Beyoncé concert.” But I think I’m finally ready to admit it: I really, really, really just don’t give even the slightest of shits about Beyoncé. 

Yas. Queen. Nothing against any Beyoncé fans, this article just speaks to me.

Streaming Music-al Chairs

streamingmusic_errorsSince music streaming services are in the news again (for some reason) I figured now would be a good time to write about where I’m at with streaming music.

First, a little background. I jumped on the streaming music bandwagon with Rdio (R.I.P.) back in June 2013, long before Spotify came to Canada and way before Apple Music was born. I loved Rdio; it had a great catalogue with almost everything I cared about, and their app was gorgeous on iOS. From that point I knew I was hooked on streaming. Syncing MP3s to my iPhone through iTunes suddenly felt archaic, and I knew I’d never go back to that full-time.

When Spotify finally came to Canada in August 2014, initially in beta, I signed up out of curiosity. Many of my American nerd friends had been using Spotify for years, so I’d been hearing how good it was for a while. I liked Spotify, particularly the ability to sync local files to fill in the gaps in their library, but I wasn’t a fan of their app’s UI, which was pretty bad at the time. In June 2015, I switched again – ditching Spotify for the exciting newness of Apple Music, which I’ve been using ever since. There was a brief stint with Tidal’s free trial in there too, which lasted about a week.

Now, about my switching problem…

You see, I love apps, so much so that I sometimes have a hard time committing to one over another. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve switched between Pocket and Instapaper, Tweetbot and Twitter, or Spotify and Rdio and Apple Music. When it comes to music, I have a very emotional reaction to certain songs, but less of an emotional connection to my library as a whole. I find a song or album I like, listen to it until I find something new, and move on. So for me, switching music streaming apps isn’t a huge deal as I’m not particularly worried about losing anything.

Looking back through old email receipts, my timeline of switching music services looks something like this:

June 3, 2013: Subscribed to Rdio
August 12, 2014: Subscribed to Spotify
September 4, 2014: Cancelled Rdio
November 7, 2014: Cancelled Spotify, switched back to Rdio
December 13, 2014: Cancelled Rdio, switched back to Spotify
June 25, 2015: Cancelled Spotify, switched to Tidal
June 30, 2015: Cancelled Tidal, switched to Apple Music
November 28, 2015: Subscribed to Spofity…
…45 minutes later: Cancelled Spotify
April 10, 2016: Cancelled Apple Music, switched back to Spotify

Yeah. I’m a little crazy.

Since last June I’ve been using and (mostly) enjoying Apple Music. Apple Music’s greatest benefit is the ability to have streaming songs plus purchased music from iTunes and downloaded MP3s seamlessly together in one library, all with proper metadata and album artwork attached (which is very important to me). Yet, with its 1st birthday quickly approaching, Apple Music is still plagued with technical issues, and while the company has made improvements there are still some killer bugs to be squashed. On more than one occassion, iCloud Music Library has decided to turn itself off on my iPhone, wiping out my downloaded music in the process. Other users have had huge issues with incorrect metadata and song-matching. The last straw for me came a few weeks ago: I was on the subway heading home from work, without cellular or WiFi access, when Apple Music decided all of my downloaded songs were suddenly “not authorized” and refused to play anything. Force quitting the app didn’t fix the problem, nor did connecting to WiFi which I thought might force the app to “authorize” everything again. Nope. There I was, mid-way through my evening commute unable to listen to any music. This wasn’t the first time I had this issue either, but I decided it would be the last time. At least for now.

So I switched back to Spotify, and it’s fine. It plays music and their library has all the music I want – save for Adele’s 25. I have fallen in love with Discover Weekly, Spotify’s tailored, algorithm-driven playlist feature that updates every Monday with new music recommendations. It’s eerie how well Discover Weekly knows my taste, consitently delivering new songs that I love from artists I’ve never heard of. Still I’m not fully satisfied with Spotify; their app regularly takes 15 to 20 seconds to realize that my iPhone has a network connection, and I’m not sure why. I’m told it could be a network handoff issue, but the same happens on my iPad and MacBook – neither of which have cellular access. My home network isn’t the problem either, as Spotify takes its time connecting over LTE as well when I’m out and about. It’s annoying that I have to wait at all before I can listen to music in the app I use for listening to music. As for getting my Adele fix, Spotify does support local files so I can listen to my purchased copy of 25… without album artwork, which Spotify inexplicably doesn’t support for local files. That drives me mad.

Each service has other benefits as well. Apple Music works on my Apple Watch, so I can start playback and browse my library from my wrist. Spotify works with the Amazon Echo, which I don’t yet own but am intrigued by, and it’s nice to know that option exists should I ever cave and welcome Alexa into my home. Spotify also has a web player so I can access and stream music on my work computer, while Apple Music is stuck inside iTunes on the desktop.

I’m sure I’ll end up back on Apple Music following WWDC, where it’s likely the service will see some updates as part of iOS 10. For now I remain torn between two good music streaming services, neither of which is perfect in my eyes. My ongoing game of streaming music-al chairs continues.

Marvel’s Inhumans movie loses its release date

Nicole Sobon, MCUExchange:

In an interesting turn of events, it has just been announced that, as of now, Inhumans does not have a release date.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has previously stated that Inhumans has been delayed, but not cancelled. I’m sure Marvel still has every intention of bringing the Inhumans to the big screen, but perhaps they’ve decided they need more time to figure out how. My guess is they want to see where the Inhumans storyline ends up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and whether that may impact future movie plans.

Personally I hope Black Bolt and the rest of the Royal Family make their way to the MCU in time for Infinity War.

(P.S. MCUExchange is one of my favourite blogs right now. They cover all the news and rumours about the MCU, and I can’t get enough!)

Pearl Mackie is the Twelfth Doctor’s new companion

The BBC announced yesterday that Pearl Mackie will join the Doctor as his new companion, Bill, for Series 10 of Doctor Who in Spring 2017.

Along with the announcement came a short scene showing Bill and the Doctor in action. I have to say she makes a great first impression! Clearly adventurous, inquisitive, and humorous. I think Bill will be a fun new companion for Twelve and quite different than Clara before her. Bill actually reminds me of Rose a little bit. Can’t wait to see more next year!