Posts with «author_name|nathan ingraham» label

Both of Valve's classic Portal games arrive on the Switch today

A few months ago, Valve announced that both of its excellent Portal games were coming to the Nintendo Switch, but we didn't know when. Today's Nintendo Direct presentation cleared that up. Portal Companion Collection will arrive on the Switch later today for $19.99. The collection includes both the original Portal from 2007 as well as the more expansive, story-driven Portal 2 from 2011. Whether you missed these games the first time out or just want to replay a pair of classics, this collection sounds like a good way to return to one of the most intriguing worlds Valve ever created.

While the original Portal was strictly a single-player experience, Portal 2 has a split-screen co-op experience; you can also pay this mode with a friend online as well. And while these games originated on the PC, Valve also released Portal 2 for the PlayStation 3 — and if I recall, the game's controls mapped to a controller very well. Given that the Portal series is more puzzle-based than traditional first-person games, you shouldn't have any problems navigating the world with a pair of Joy-Con controllers. 

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge' is a glorious beat-'em-up revival

If you visited arcades in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, you surely remember the golden age of beat-em-up games. Cabinets like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men and more followed a fairly simple formula: take a popular franchise and have its characters cut through swaths of bad guys, throw in some environmental challenges to keep the levels from getting too repetitive, and top it off with a big boss battle at the end. But the real draw was multiplayer — these games let four or even six friends (or strangers) play simultaneously, a totally chaotic but thrilling shared experience.

Given the popularity of the TMNT franchise, it’s no surprise that both the original arcade game and its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time were both ported to the NES and SNES, respectively. As a pre-teen, my best friend and I spent untold hours playing these ports, as well as the arcade games on the too-rare occasions that we could get to the mall.

I clearly have a lot of nostalgia for these games, and I’m not alone. Last year, developer Tribute Games announced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, a brand-new beat-em-up title inspired by the arcade games of yesteryear. The game features retro pixel-art, two different game modes, online and local multiplayer (up to six players online), and seven playable characters, including the four turtles, Master Splinter, April O’Neil and Casey Jones. On the surface, it seems to have everything you could ask for in a modern version of an arcade classic, and Tribute’s comments prior to the game’s release showed a deep love for the source material.

After a week playing Shredder’s Revenge on the Xbox Series S, PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch, I can confirm that Tribute absolutely nailed its mission of bringing the classic TMNT experience into the modern era. It all starts with the art style and music, both of which are spot-on for this franchise; it feels like a natural evolution of the original two arcade games, both of which were largely based on the 1987 cartoon (rather than the comic books, live-action films, or more recent animated shows). The music immediately sets the tone – the score by Tee Lopes immediately brings to mind classic 16-bit tunes, Mike Patton performs the opening theme, and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah contribute as well. While the music isn’t quite as compelling as the soundtrack from Turtles in Time (which is an absolute banger), it evokes the essential mood of playing in an arcade with your friends in the early ‘90s.

The gameplay essentials from earlier games are all intact here — each playable character has different strengths and weaknesses like range and speed, but they’re not so different that you’ll feel thrown by switching players. The core gameplay is still mostly accomplished with two buttons: attack and jump.

Tribute

But, there are a lot more moves than in earlier games, including a variety of throws, slides, aerial attacks and dodges. Dashing lets you pull off different slide and charge attacks, you can grab enemies and throw them right towards the TV screen (just like you do in Turtles in Time), there’s a dodge button that lets you dance out of trouble and there are a host of different aerial moves. And unlike older games, Shredder’s Revenge has unique animations for every move each character in the game can pull off. Even though gameplay between each character isn’t radically different, the distinct visuals for all four turtles and their friends keeps things looking fresh.

As with any good beat-‘em-up, each character has their own special move, too. Unlike in old arcade games, where using a special would usually take a chunk out of your health, these moves are tied to a power bar that fills up as you string together longer and longer hit combos. When it’s full, you can unleash a special move or save it for later use. It’s a good way to make it so players can’t just use special attacks constantly and adds a bit of strategy to the otherwise chaotic melee.

Another way Tribute makes Shredder’s Revenge feel more modern is the game’s story mode. You’ll be able to level up your character over time, which unlocks more health, extra lives and new special attacks. You’ll also eventually get the ability to stack multiple special moves — when you fill up your bar and bank one move, you can keep filling it up and hold two and eventually three in reserve — or you can blow all three at once in a frenzied super-attack. Story mode also lets you re-enter levels to find hidden items or meet the achievement goals for each stage (things like take out 10 enemies with a special attack, or make it through without taking damage). And you can switch your character between levels, rather than stay locked to one turtle for the entire game.

Arcade mode, on the other hand, is for old-school fans who want a tougher challenge. The game is simple: pick a character, and fight through all of the game’s dozen-plus levels before you run out of lives and continues. You get the advantage of having your health bar extended to its max capacity and all your special moves are unlocked — but given the number of stages in this game, it won’t be easy, especially on the intense “gnarly” difficulty level.

Tribute

This all makes for a fun single-player experience, but — just like the arcade games from the ‘90s — Shredder’s Revenge really shines in multiplayer mode. You can have up to four player on local co-op, or an insane six-players online. It’s a glorious amount of chaos, but it’s managed surprisingly well. The game scales up in difficulty depending on how many people you’re playing with; that usually just amounts to more enemies and bosses that can take more damage.

Unfortunately, cross-play isn’t supported for now — Xbox and PC players can team up, but PlayStation and Switch players will need to play the same version as their friends if they want to work together. The good news is that it’s also not hard to get a game going with strangers. It’s not quite as much fun as playing with people you know, but the game definitely feels more alive when you have at least a pair taking on Shredder and the Foot clan.

This all adds up to a game that’s a lot more fun to play than even I expected. Nostalgia goes a long way, but Shredder’s Revenge manages to work as a love letter to games of the past while still feeling fresh. There’s just something incredibly satisfying about teaming up with a few friends and mowing down a never-ending swarm of enemies; that was true in the ‘90s, and it’s still true today.

Of course, it helps if you have some affection for the TMNT franchise, but even if you don’t, the tight gameplay, addictive soundtrack and great co-op features should be enough to enjoy Shredder’s Revenge. And if you grew up playing the arcade games or their home console counterparts, this new adventure is a must-play. That’s especially true if you have friends to play it with, either IRL or online.

iPadOS 16 will feature overlapping windows for the first time

If you're an iPad user who always wished your tablet could do more, Apple has you in mind this year. At WWDC, the company just unveiled iPadOS 16, the annual update to the company's iPad software. Naturally, many of the new iOS 16 features are coming here as well, including big updates to Mail, Safari, Messages and more. Oh, and 12 years after the first iPad was released, Apple is finally bringing the Weather app to iPadOS. 

For the first time, iPadOS will allow you to have overlapping windows for the first time, through a multitasking interface called Stage Manager that Apple is also bringing to the Mac this year. That said, some of these features will only be available on iPads with the M1 processor. When you use stage manager, you can resize windows, so you can easily tuck away other apps behind the main window. There's also a few on the left side of the display that shows all your most recent apps. Based on the demo we saw during the keynote, windows dynamically resize and adjust their content view based on how big you make them.

The iPad also supports external displays for the first time, as well. Instead of just mirroring your iPad display, it fully extends your iPad experience to the second screen. You can have up to four distinct apps open on each screen at once, so an external display would let you have windows for eight different apps open at once. This is a massive change for iPadOS multitasking, something that people have requested for literally years now. 

One big new feature is called Collaboration; when you share a document from an app like Pages, you can immediately make it sometime that everyone can work on simultaneously. Before, sharing would just send a copy, but now you can share a document through the Messages app and everyone you send it to can start editing it. You can also jump right into a FaceTime call directly from the document, as well. Naturally, this will work first with Apple apps, but Apple is releasing a third-party collaboration API as well. Other examples of Collaboration that Apple showed off is sharing a tab group from Safari, and it'll work in Notes as well.

Another collaboration-related feature that Apple has just announced is called Freeform. You can jump into a board from a FaceTime group call and it basically creates a shared notes document that you can type, draw or paste other content into. This feature will be coming to iOS and macOS, as well.

Game Center will also get some SharePlay features, but they're coming later this year. When they do come out, you'll be able to play multi-player games while keeping a FaceTime call going, for example.

This comes a year after iPadOS 15 added some major new multitasking features that made it a lot easier to access different apps in the iPad's traditional split-view setup. That update also included the handy Quick Notes feature, a controversial Safari rdesign that was eventually rolled back, major updates to the Home Screen experience through a new set of widgets and the expected handful of other smaller changes. 

Follow all of the news from WWDC right here!

Apple redesigns the MacBook Air with a bigger screen and M2 chip

Somehow, it's already been almost four years since Apple redesigned the MacBook Air with a Retina display. That laptop got a big performance upgrade in late 2020 as one of the first computers to ship with Apple's M1 silicon, but lately the device has started to feel long in the tooth. As expected, Apple is refreshing the MacBook Air today with the just-announced M2 chip inside and a larger, 13.6-inch display. It also includes MagSafe for the first time in years, just like the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro that Apple released last fall. It also has two Thunderbolt ports (now you don't have to give one up for charging) and a headphone jack.

The M2 chip comes with an 8-core CPU, up to a 10-core GPU and up to 24GB of RAM — though the base model will certainly come with less. The new Air has a little notch, just like the MacBook Pro, and that notch holds a 1080p webcam that Apple says has twice the resolution and twice the low-light performance of the previous MacBook Air camera.

Its design is also reminiscent of the new MacBook Pro, too, with a slightly more squared-off body — and for the first time, the MacBook Air isn't a tapered wedge design like all the previous models. It's still extremely thin and comes in a 2.7 pounds, just slightly less than the old model. Colors have been tweaked as well, although we're unfortunately not getting the bright, iMac-style colors that were rumored. Instead, we're looking at silver, space grey, "starlight" and "midnight." 

The MacBook Air is, unfortunately, more expensive than before. It starts at $1,199, $200 more than the old model. There's no word on exactly when it'll ship, though — they said it would ship next month. And the old M1-powered MacBook Air will stay in the lineup at $999.

Developing. Follow all of the news from WWDC right here!

Sonos' voice assistant is now available on select speakers

As promised, Sonos has launched its own voice assistant. Sonos Voice Control is now available on every speaker the company has released with a built-in mic. As with most new features, you set it up via the Sonos app on your iOS or Android device, and it's a super simple process. I just added the feature to my Sonos One (the second-generation model released in 2019) and it took a scant five minutes. 

Once it is set up, you can ask Sonos Voice Control to start music from a handful of services, including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, Deezer and Sonos Radio. Saying "Hey Sonos" activates the assistant, and from there you can ask it to play artists, albums, songs or playlists. From there, you can adjust volume, pause music, skip tracks and ask the assistant to tell you what song is playing. And as we saw in a demo last month, the assistant is voiced by actor Giancarlo Esposito — though he doesn't talk much. The assistant was designed to minimize responses and keep music playback at the forefront.

Sonos Voice Control also lets you control your entire Sonos system, whether or not the speakers have microphones. You can use it to add or remove speakers from a group, start music playback on all Sonos devices in your home, and combine these requests all in one command. (Example: Hey Sonos, start playing music in the bedroom and stop it in the living room.) Sonos made privacy a big part of its voice assistant, as well — the company says that all requests are processed locally on the speaker with nothing transmitted to the cloud or back to Sonos.

To celebrate this launch, Sonos is having a rare sale, too. The company's two portable speakers — the larger Move and the comparatively tiny Roam — will both be 20 percent off from Saturday, June 4th through Sunday, June 12th. It's not often that the company does direct discounts on its products, so it's not a bad time to check these speakers out if you're in the market for something you can take with you this summer.

Sonos Ray review: A soundbar that nails the basics

With the $279 Ray soundbar, Sonos is going after a new market. The company’s previous home theater products have all been $400 or more and have primarily been geared toward people intent on getting the best sound possible. The Ray, meanwhile, is more accessible for people who want better sound than their TV speakers can provide, but don’t necessarily care about things like Dolby Atmos support or room-shaking bass. The Ray isn’t exactly a budget speaker, though, so I set out to discover if Sonos made the right compromises here in its effort to make a more mainstream soundbar.

Hardware and setup

Physically, the Ray is smaller than the already-compact Beam, with a tapered design that’s wider in the front than it is in the back. Unlike other Sonos soundbars, though, the Ray’s speakers are all forward-facing; in this way, it reminds me a bit of a wider and flatter version of the Sonos Five speaker. This design means you can tuck the Ray into a media stand and not have to worry about the sound bouncing off of nearby surfaces. Since the Ray doesn’t have a mic for voice assistants, you don’t need to worry about whether it can hear you if you place it in a media stand, either.

As with just about every other Sonos product, the Ray has touch-sensitive buttons on top to start and pause music and adjust the volume. There’s also an LED status light on the front, rather than on the top as it is on most Sonos speakers. Again, this is in case you put it on a shelf that would otherwise hide the light if it was on the top. On the back, there’s a power jack, setup button, ethernet port and optical audio jack; Sonos left out HDMI support to cut costs, and since the Ray doesn’t support more advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos, the additional bandwidth HDMI allows wasn’t needed here.

The Sonos Beam (in black) pictured in front of the new Sonos Ray (in white).
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The setup process was simple: I just plugged the Ray into the wall and connected it to my TV with the included optical audio cable. From there, I finished setting it up in the Sonos app on my phone. The process will take a bit longer if you’ve never set up a Sonos speaker in your home before, because you’ll need to do things like authorize the various streaming music services you want to use. But I simply needed to wait for the app to recognize there was a new speaker to set up, tell it which room the Ray was in and then wait for it to get connected to my wireless network.

Once that’s done, you have the option of tuning the Ray using what Sonos calls Trueplay. This uses the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to balance the speaker’s audio based on how your room sounds. It’s a bit of a weird process, walking around your space slowly raising and lowering your phone, but I’ve found it always makes my Sonos speakers sound better, so it's worth the five minutes it takes to set it up if you have a compatible device on hand.

How do movies sound?

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I’ve spent the last week or so watching movies and shows with the Ray and it’s an obvious improvement over my TV’s built-in speakers. Sonos said it focused on dialogue quality, bass response and a wide soundstage, and it definitely succeeded on two of those fronts. Dialogue sounds extremely clear, whether I was watching a drama like HBO’s The Staircase or enjoying Galadriel’s narration at the beginning of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The latter also provided a great chance to hear how the Ray performed in more intense, action-filled sequences. As the prologue of Fellowship continued to its massive battle against the forces of Sauron, swordplay and arrows flying filled the space around the narration in a well-balanced mix. And the rumbling explosion and massive thud of Sauron’s helmet hitting the ground after his defeat were a good opportunity to hear the Ray flex its bass muscles.

Another favorite of mine for testing soundbars is the 15-minute intro of Pacific Rim. The beginning of this over-the-top movie has it all – huge battles between giant robots and monsters, cities being destroyed as panicked citizens flee and a solid heroic narration, all of which the Ray faithfully reproduced in a well-balanced mix.

The Ray pulls this off despite having much simpler acoustics than the Beam: it includes two center midwoofers, two tweeters with split waveguides to broaden the speaker’s soundstage, a bass reflex system that provides a surprising amount of low-end performance, and four Class-D amplifiers. It’s an effective system, but my main complaint is that the waveguides and computational audio can only do so much to widen the soundstage. While the Ray clearly has a solid stereo presence, it’s not nearly as immersive as the first-generation Sonos Beam that I usually use. Even though my older Beam doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, its larger size and more complex speaker array give it a big advantage over the Ray.

The Ray is also not the loudest speaker out there. Again, this isn’t a huge surprise, as Sonos is marketing this device for use in relatively smaller space. That doesn’t mean it was too quiet for me, but I did usually have its volume up over 50 percent for it to be loud enough. If I really wanted to kick things up while watching a big movie, I might get closer to 70 percent. If you’re the kind of person who really wants theater-style audio, you’ll be better off with a more powerful device.

The good news is that, as with all other Sonos home theater devices, you can pair the Ray with the Sonos Sub to improve bass performance. You can also use two Sonos One speakers as rear surrounds to make for a much more immersive experience. The Ray might be an ideal choice for a first soundbar to upgrade your TV’s audio and then use it to build out a more complex setup down the line. That said, the Sonos Sub costs a whopping $749; it’s hard to imagine someone buying a Ray and then spending three times as much on a subwoofer.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

What about music?

While the Ray is meant to be hooked up to your TV, it’s also a capable music speaker. Sonos says that when it builds its home theater products, music quality is just as important as how it works with movies and shows. In my testing, the Ray sounds great – songs like Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut to the Feeling” have plenty of low end and super-clear vocals. Meanwhile, the hard left- and right-panned guitars in Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam” were quite distinct. While it’s still not the loudest speaker, the Ray is more than capable of filling a medium-sized room with clear and lively music.

Naturally, the Ray has all the same multi-room audio features as other Sonos speakers. This means you can simultaneously stream the same music to multiple speakers on your WiFi network, or play something different on each one. You can set up custom speaker groups (just the speakers on your first floor, for example) and stream audio directly to the Ray using AirPlay 2. The only real feature it’s missing compared to most other Sonos speakers is voice control. There’s no mic, which means you can’t control the speaker directly with Alexa, Google Assistant or the upcoming Sonos Voice Control feature. That said, if you have other smart speakers, including any other Sonos speaker with a mic, you can use them to control the Ray.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap up

There’s no question in my mind that the Ray is a serious upgrade over a TV’s built-in speakers. What’s less clear is how much better it is compared to other small soundbars, like Roku’s $180 Streambar Pro. Sonos has a long history of delivering excellent sound, and the Ray continues that tradition. And just as the portable $179 Sonos Roam is a good gateway drug into the Sonos ecosystem, the Ray is a good first Sonos for someone who wants to improve their TV audio. Yes, you can find cheaper soundbars, but Sonos is betting its reputation for excellent sound quality will make the Ray a success. After spending some time with it, I’d have no problem recommending the Ray to anyone who wants an easy way to upgrade their TV’s audio but doesn't care about having the best speaker that supports the most formats. For a lot of people, particularly those with smaller living rooms, the Ray will be just the right soundbar for their space.

ProtonMail is rebranding and adding a lot more storage to all its plans

For the privacy-minded, ProtonMail has been one of the better options for secure email — you can get an (admittedly basic) account for free and enjoy end-to-end encryption for your communications when you're messaging other ProtonMail users. But the company's plans have gotten a little out of date. Free accounts only come with 500MB of storage, while the €4 / month plan bumps you to a modest 4GB of storage with some other limitations like a daily 1000-message sent cap.

Starting today, though, the company is making it easier to go all-in on ProtonMail and the other services it offers, including a VPN, cloud storage and an encrypted calendar. Going forward, ProtonMail is rebranding itself simply as Proton, pushing its whole suite of privacy-focused services and updating all of its plans. The company has a new website (proton.me), and both new and existing users can use the @proton.me address rather than the old @protonmail.com option if they're so inclined.

Proton

Going forward, Proton will offer three plans: Free, Mail Plus and Unlimited. The new free tier expands storage to 1GB and remains fairly constrained — you can only send 150 messages per day and have three labels and folders, for example. You can also access the basic Proton VPN tool and user Proton Calendar, though you're limited to only one calendar on this plan. Proton has long said that since it doesn't serve ads, it relies on subscriptions for revenue, so it's not too surprising the free plan is restricted. 

The Mail Plus plan will cost €5 / month, though you can get it for less if you sign up for a year or two years all in one shot. It's a big upgrade over the old plan, though. Users now get 15GB of storage shared between their email and Proton Drive cloud storage account. There's no restrictions on how many messages you can send or how many labels and folders you can create, and it also supports IMAP email clients via the Proton Bridge tool. There are also additional features like a new "short domain" email alias (@pm.me) that you can use to send and receive messages as well as 20 calendars that you can share with other users.

Finally, the Unlimited plan costs €12 / month; the company is positioning it as a way to get the top tier of all its services at once. That means 500GB of total storage, making Proton Drive a lot more viable for people to use as a backup service. You can use Proton Mail with up to three different custom domain addresses (up from one on the Mail Plus Plan) and with a total of 15 different email addresses (up from 10 on Mail Plus). 

Proton

But the big difference is that you get the full-fledged Proton VPN with the Unlimited plan, rather than the more basic option that comes with the other two Proton plans. This includes up to 10 VPN connections rather than one, a total of 1,700+ servers across 63 different countries (rather than 100-ish servers in three countries) and faster speeds. For the time being Proton will continue offering its VPN as a standalone product, too — you can get the details on that as well as the breakdown between the basic free VPN and what you get with the full version here.

If you're new to the Proton world, right now the company has iOS apps for mail and VPN services, and Android apps for mail, VPN and calendar. The Drive cloud storage option is still technically in beta, so there aren't any mobile apps for it just yet — they're slated for later this year.

And while Proton doesn't have any major updates to the mail service or its other apps aside from unifying them with its new design language, the company has made a few updates in recent months. Last month, the iOS Mail app got some design updates and a dark mode, as well as a "conversation" mode to make threads of messages easier to read. Back in February, Proton turned on encrypted search in the Mail web app, and in January it added a tracking pixel blocker.

Google is testing a smaller, modular Street View camera system

Street View for Google Maps launched 15 years ago this week, and Google is taking advantage of the anniversary to drop some updates, including a major update to the Street View mapping hardware. The one most people can immediately enjoy, though, is the ability to “go back in time” on Street View using Google Maps for Android or iOS. This feature has been available on the web for a while now, but it’s being added to the Maps app for the first time. Accessing this historical data is pretty straightforward: just get into Street View and tap anywhere on the image to pull up details about the location. After that, you’ll find a “see more dates” option that pulls in all other Street View captures for the location. 

Obviously, this will only work for locations where Google has a lot of historical Street View data, so what you’ll be able to find will vary widely by location. Google says that how often it scans areas for Street View depends on factors like how frequently the area changes, how popular it is and how difficult it is to get to. Street View first launched in San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver, so those places will have the oldest historical data for the curious.

For those interested in the hardware Google uses to get Street View data, the company is announcing a big update to its camera system. Google says that the new camera (pictured above) has all the resolution and processing capabilities that are in the full Street View car, but it’s a 15-pound device that is “roughly the size of a house cat.” The company hopes this will make it easier to get data from under-mapped areas of the world; one example of such a place Google gave was the Amazon jungle. 

A camera system this small, relatively speaking, will be a lot easier for Google to deploy in more areas — it can be shipped anywhere and mounted to any type of vehicle. As long as it has a roof rack, Google says it’ll be good to go. Google says that historically, it had to create totally new camera systems to fit whatever area they wanted to capture, but the new camera is modular and customizable.

 It’ll serve as the “base” system that can be added to should the circumstances require it. For example, Google notes that the new camera doesn’t have the lidar scanners typically found on Street View cars that operate in cities, but they can be added on when they’re needed. Google says that the new camera system is being tested now and expects it’ll fully roll out in 2023. 

Finally, Google is adding four new collections of Street View imagery from some pretty noteworthy locales. The Pyramids of Meroë in Sudan, The Duomo in Milan, Les Invalides in Paris and the Sydney Ferries in Australia (the last one is coming later this year). The Duomo in particular shows off the inside of the largest cathedral in Italy as well as the exterior, while there's a virtual tour available of Les Invalides in Paris. To check these new sites out, visit Google's blog for direct links.

Forget rideshares, Uber will rent you a party bus

Uber continues to show that it has grand ambitions that go far beyond the ride-sharing service that it first became known for. At the company's second annual, product-focused Go/Get event, Uber announced a host of new features focused primarily on expanding its offerings in both the travel and delivery categories. 

Travel may sound obvious, given Uber's background, but probably the most notable new offering is simply called Uber Travel; its focus is helping you get around when you're not in your home city. It's an integration with Gmail that can pull details out of your inbox like hotel, flight and restaurant reservations and group it together in the Uber app. The point, of course, is that you can then schedule rides for each of these events, and Uber will give 10 percent back in Uber Cash when you do. Uber Travel goes live today in the US and will be available in Canada within a few weeks.

Uber

Of course, you may be understandably wary about linking your Gmail account to Uber. I asked the company about what protections they have in place, and a spokesperson note that integrations with Gmail all have to undergo a security assessment and also get a letter of verification from a third party that Google chooses. Uber was verified through this process, and the company also has to follow the data privacy requirements found in Google’s API Services User Data Policy.

Another rather unconventional new service is called Uber Charter. This lets you reserve large vehicles directly through Uber — think things like party buses, coaches, passenger vans and so forth. It's not clear how far in advance you'll need to book these things, but the benefit is that you'll see up-front pricing for whatever sort of vehicle you need. Uber says this is coming to "select cities" starting this summer.

Uber

Uber definitely has larger gatherings on its mind with that new features, and Uber Vouchers could be similarly helpful for weddings and other events. Let's say you want to make it easier for your guests to get to an event. Uber Vouchers lets you fill in event details like the location, set a maximum amount that you will pay. Once that's set, you can share a code with your guests and their rides will be paid for out of the pool of money you put aside for those trips. Uber's been doing this for businesses already, but now anyone can use the voucher system.

A number of other announcements Uber is making focus on its delivery services. Earlier today, the company made an announcement that it was launching two different autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles, one with autonomous vehicle company Motional and the second with Serve, which will do deliveries with autonomous robots (the Serve robot is pictured above).

The other new delivery features aren't quite as big a deal, but they'll actually be available to people not in LA. For starters, Uber Eats will soon support voice ordering with the Google Assistant. As you might expect, you simply say "Hey Google" and then ask your phone to order by asking for specific items from specific merchants. This will only work on Android for starters, but hopefully Uber Eats users with iPhones will get this feature as well (or something similar with Siri). Google Assistant integration is rolling out this summer, at which point I imagine we'll get more specifics on exactly how it works. 

Uber Eats will also soon be available in a handful of sports arenas and stadiums, as well. Obviously, you won't have drivers bringing food to the venue — instead, you can place an order from the arena's eateries and go pick it up at your convenience. You can skip the line and go straight to pick-up once your order is ready, and Uber says it'll work with food, beer, merchandise and more. This new program is initially rolling out at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium in LA, Yankee Stadium in New York, the Capitol One Arena in Washington, DC, Minute Maid Park in Houston, PayPal Park in San Jose, and internationally at Roazhon Park in Rennes, France. 

Uber

Finally, Uber has a few new features specifically focused on electric vehicles. Uber Green has let you request a ride from a hybrid or electric vehicle for a while now, but the new "Comfort Electric" option specifically lets you request a ride in a "premium EV" (think a Tesla or Polestar). This is available for starters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Dubai.

Meanwhile, Uber drivers using EVs will get some new tools to help make their lives easier. There's a charging map built into the Uber app for drivers that shows the nearest EV chargers, their charging speeds and navigation to get there — this should make it easier for drivers to top up their cars during a shift. This is part of a new EV Hub in the app that gives drivers info and incentives on switching to an EV when the time comes. Among the details it includes is a cost of ownership estimate for an EV versus a gas-powered vehicle. The car-buying market is a bit wild right now, and it might take years before you start to see cost savings if you just buy a new EV to replace a functional gas vehicle, but drivers who might be thinking about a new vehicle may be able to find some useful tools here.

All this news comes shortly after Uber announced its quarterly earnings, a report that showed the company was bouncing back from the pandemic better than its rival Lyft. That's at least in some part thanks to the relative diversity of Uber's offerings — indeed, Uber Eats played a huge role in keeping business up as traditional rides tanked in 2020. While none of today's announcements on their own will likely make a huge impact on the company's business, it does help paint a picture for how Uber sees itself growing in the future.

The iPod created the two-headed monster that finally killed it

The iPod's death has been a long time coming. Somehow, it's already been eight years since Apple discontinued the iconic iPod classic. Nonetheless, the news this week that Apple is discontinuing its last iPod, the touch is significant: This officially marks the official end of a product that set up the company for two decades of success.

A lot has been written about how the iPod changed Apple's fortunes, transforming the company from an influential but niche computer maker into one of the biggest companies in the world. Similarly, the iPod's effect on the music industry almost speaks for itself at this point. The device slowly but surely ended the reign of the CD and moved people to a world in which they could just buy a handful of songs from an album instead of paying $15 for the whole thing on a plastic disc.

That's probably why the death of the iPod brand doesn't feel all that notable, despite the fact that I was an iPod early adopter who quickly went all-in on Apple's ecosystem. It was inevitable that Apple would eventually stop selling the iPod touch, just as the end of the iPod classic in 2014 felt overdue.

That's probably because both the consumer technology and the music industries have long since moved on from the iPod. It's not hyperbolic to say that the iPod reversed both Apple's fortunes and the record industry’s — but we've since seen another seismic shift that made the iPod feel almost as quaint as the CD.

The iPod was responsible for several major changes in the way music is consumed. In the 2000s, CD sales began to fall as more and more people started buying music through digital storefronts like the iTunes Music Store. There, you could get an album for $10 or a single song for $1, a significant discount over CDs at the time. And while many people still purchased full albums, uncoupling songs from the record propelled custom mix CDs and playlists to the forefront of how people listened to music. The iPod and iTunes Store killed the romance (and burden) of a physical music library while giving listeners more freedom in how they bought and listened to music.

But in 2022, the music industry has undergone a second sea change. For many, the concept of owning music at all is obsolete. Spotify, Apple Music, and the like have fully moved us to a place where we pay for access — to a catalog of some 90 million songs — not ownership. The idea of the album is even less important now than it was during the iPod's peak, as the streaming services curated playlists for us, based on our listening histories and what's popular. Apple, Spotify, and their competitors are the de facto DJs now, guiding listeners to new music the way radio DJs did for decades.

A big part of Steve Jobs' pitch for the iTunes Store was that it was a response to piracy and a way for music creators to get paid. The thinking was that the store would offer a vastly improved experience over dealing with sketchy piracy apps so that people wouldn't mind paying a few bucks here and there to download songs, thus putting money back in artists' pockets.

In the streaming era, however, the debate over the fairness of music streaming payments to artists and songwriters rages on. While the iTunes Store was the first place Apple introduced its controversial 30 percent take, there’s been increasing furor in recent years over how Spotify carves up payments for artists into fractions of a cent per stream. Musicians have often made more money from touring and merchandise sales than album sales, and now that most people are streaming rather than buying music, that gulf has widened even more. (That’s without mentioning how much of a hit artists have taken on touring revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.)

Just as the music industry has moved on since its iPod-fueled transformation in the 2000s, the consumer tech industry no longer resembles one in which the iPod was dominant. The iPod was conceived as a device that did one thing well: play back your music and podcast library. Sure, it picked up other features over the years (most notably displaying your photos and playing videos), but music was always its raison d’etre.

A number of other single-purpose devices flourished around the same time. Amazon introduced the first Kindle in 2007, digital cameras hit the mainstream in a big way throughout the decade and the Flip Video camera had a brief time in the spotlight, just to name a few. But the modern smartphone, which Apple itself ushered in with the iPhone, largely eliminated the need for a dedicated music player, not to mention most other purpose-built gadgets. We’re now 15 years into an era of convergence, where the smartphone is the most versatile and important device we carry.

It’s no coincidence that the last iPod Apple sold was the iPod touch, a device that is basically an iPhone without the phone. For years, it was a good option for kids or people who couldn’t afford an iPhone, but giving children a phone isn’t the taboo it once was, while monthly payment plans mean more people can afford them. It’s not clear who the iPod touch was for in 2022.

Apple may be pulling the plug on the iPod now, but the world moved on years ago. We’re past the point where those of us waxing nostalgic about the iPod can be considered youthful; if the rise of the iPad was a defining experience for you, you’re likely an elder millennial at best. I don’t say all this to downplay the iPod’s importance, though. On the contrary, looking back at how far we’ve come over the past 20 years reveals just how transformative the iPod was for music, and for tech.