Temple Run 2 Released for iTunes

The addictive Temple Run 2 was #1 on Apple’s App Store charts just a few hours after its launch. This free game has been released for the iPhone and iPad only so far. The Android version is expected to release on January 24.

Its improved graphics have taken advantage of the retina display available. The new scenery, at some temple in the sky, appears more vivid and spectacular. There is no doubt that this game’s improved visual itself makes the upgrade to version 2 well worth it. Though the background music could do with an improvement.

There are a couple of new touches as well. Users can still pick an avatar, the same ones as in version 1, but now you have to buy most of them. You can move to the next level only on meeting your achievements in a particular order in the game (this is time consuming). The monkeys have disappeared and are replaced by one monster ape. Also, you can stretch your run after you make a slip. This is done by finding or purchasing gems through the game, which no doubt will make it more addictive than ever. Personally, I advise all you fellow Temple Run addicts to watch your app store credit. By encouraging you to buy a lifeline in the middle of a game, it is like the capitalists are catching your wallet at your most vulnerable moment.

The best thing about this version of temple run is that it still stays true to its original game. You don’t have to learn anything new. Just keep running and navigate the obstacle course. It is easy enough to learn, but once you get the hang of it, this game is very hard to give up. The popular social angle is that you can compare your score with your friends.

Twitter has been awash with angry Android fans over the delayed release. The developers at Imangi Studio is a small team though, and seem keen to keep it that way. Their focus seems to be on their blockbuster game and taking advantage of hardware upgrades by mobile device manufacturers. Overall, this game is more challenging than its previous version.

“How far can you run?!,”

Images from theverge.com

End of the PC Era: Dell Buyout, Problems for Microsoft and Intel

After Apple launched the iPad in 2010, the technology market was disrupted. The PC gave way to touchscreen tablets. Many Goliath’s at the time, like Dell, Microsoft, and Intel saw the tablet market as being complimentary instead of as a substitute to their PC and laptop market.

“Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by cannibalizing PC sales, but by causing user shift to tablets,” says Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst of Gartner.

The end of the PC era seemed all too clear with the dismal earnings shown by HP and Dell last quarter. Today it seems that Dell, which is the master of custom-delivered computers, is in talks for a buyout. Sources have said that Silver Lake Partners was in discussions with Dell for a leveraged buyout at around $13 to $14 per share. This will be one of the largest deals since the global recession.

This is seen as a desperate attempt by Dell to focus on new areas away from its core PC business. Its decline has been the worst in its sectors after its shipments fell by 21% to 9.2 million. This news resulted in a surge of its stock price to $12.29.  Dell has declined to comments on these developments.

Consumers are flocking towards tablets. A recent study has already claimed that at the current rate, tablets will outsell notebooks this year. This may be due to the booming tablet market in China and the recession. The report explains that tablet shipments will reach more than 240 million units worldwide this year, with notebooks forecast to reach 207 million units.

After Microsoft launched Windows 8 in October last year, the expected boost to their sales would have come from users who upgrade their operating systems, in addition to users who buy new PCs or laptops. However, the declining PC sales (down 6.4% in the last year) will give them cause for concern.

The rise of mobile systems is not helping Intel either. Its era of extraordinary profits and market invincibility seems to have come to an end. Intel’s shares have fallen by over 7% last year. Its competitors are chip manufacturers for tablets and smartphones who have to work with smaller profit margins. Having said that, Intel’s server chip market is still growing very fast. This is mainly due to the rise of cloud services. Also, Intel is fighting back with a strong focus on Ultrabook laptops that have touch screens.

(Source: Gartner and Reuters)

Microsoft’s New ‘holodeck’ Turns Your Room into a Giant Screen

Microsoft shows off its “Holodeck” system to recreate your room into a more intense cinematic experience. Microsoft has refused to revel details on how this works until it is presented in Paris at the CHI conference on human-computer interaction this April.

Imagine your game spilling off from your screen onto your entire room wall. That should make things more interesting for sure. It will move gaming to a whole new level. Microsoft has submitted a patent application in the US Patent Office. Patent application ‘Immersive Display Experience‘ was filed by Gritsko Perez on behalf of Microsoft on 2 March 2011.

The idea has been sketched out shows that the foal point of the game will be seen on the screen, but the surrounding area will fill your room walls.

Microsoft has described the Holodeck as,

It augments the area surrounding a television screen with projected visualizations to enhance the traditional living room entertainment experience.

User enjoyment of video games and related media experiences can be increased by making the gaming experience more realistic. Previous attempts to make the experience more realistic have included switching from two-dimensional to three-dimensional animation techniques, increasing the resolution of game graphics, producing improved sound effects, and creating more natural game controllers.

Again, this seems to be a counter to Apple’s iGlasses, except that this is more multi-viewer than single viewer. The peripheral image would be created by a 360-degree projector and would adjust as the gamer moved around in the game, and in the room. Eye-tracking tech would ensure that the scene shifts as the user looks around it. A special built in mechanism would avoid shining light into the user’s eyes.

Perez’s application also suggests that the image could be adjusted to the shape and even color of the room to optimize the experience.

(Source: theregister.co.uk)

Facebook Launches New Graph Search

After a teaser from Facebook to “Come see what we’re building”, the web was awash with speculation. Ideas on what it could be ranged from a smartphone to redesign of a popular component. In addition to its existing two pillars of Timeline and the Social Graph, Facebook has announced its third pillar named “Graph Search.”

 

This event was met with great excitement and hope. Stocks were trading at $31.25 before the event, up by 1%. Zuckerberg began by extolling the virtues of Facebook’s “live” database, which led to the development of the Graph Search. As Google has its search engine and Apple has Siri, this is a natural progression for Facebook to rein in some of their competition too.

The Graph Search is still under development. It is being rolled out in its Beta version. You can sign up for a wait list at www.facebook.com/graphsearch

Graph Search is supposedly filling a gap that Google search can’t fill yet. It allows you to search through photos, people, interests, and places. For example, Graph Search can be used for dating if you look up “friends of friends who are single.” This search can also extend to searching for professional colleagues as well.

Another example that was quoted by Zuckerberg,

A few months ago, he and his wife Priscilla were trying to determine which photos to use on their holiday cards. He looked up photos of him and Priscilla, and Graph Search pulled up a grid of photos. The photos with the most “likes,” engagements were pushed to the top. “It’s such a warm and engaging experience,” he says.

(Source: WSJ)

The Graph Search will pull results from Microsoft’s Bing for queries that it cannot answer. There are plans to integrate this search engine with Instagram at a later stage. Speaking of photographs, you cannot opt out of the Graph Search, though you can untag pictures of yourself (that you do not want to be discovered). For those concerned about their privacy, this search can only look through content that you have authorized to share.

As Facebook’s has a strong ex-Google brigade led by Sheryl Sandberg, this move escalates the competition between these two companies for advertisers. Monetization is a key issue for Facebook. Google has been able to handle this more successfully. The success of the Graph Search will depend on the level of engagement of its users. The more its users post within Facebook, the less will be the need for a Google search.

You can watch a promo video about it on https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch.

Now Sleep Comfortably with your Headphones

Remember how annoying it is to have your headphones or earphones fall out or become too bulky while you are trying to sleep. SleepPhones is your answer to those problems. They are lightweight, washable, and removable from their fleece headband. They even come with a sleep CD for those of you who prefer to fall asleep to relaxing sounds instead of music.

The SleepPhone has just won a prestigious awards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It’s wireless version is set go on sale in April 2013. It comprises a fleece headband that has earphones embedded in it. The manufacturers claim that it will not cause your partner to wake up next to you. Its website also claims that it is safe to use while working out in an external environment as it allows you to hear traffic sounds along with your music.

This device can use either a wire or a bluetooth connection to connect to your phone or music device. Currently the wired device is available for $40, but the wireless version is expected to release in April retailing for $80.

Its creators are Wei-Shin Lai, MD and Jason Wolfe. 

The firm began selling the product in 2007. Dr. Lai has claimed that inspiration came as follows,

“In 2007, I had trouble falling back to sleep after patient phone calls late at night as a family doctor. ‘My husband suggested that I listen to something to take my mind off of patient concerns. Since I didn’t want to disturb my husband while he slept, I needed headphones or ear buds I could wear in bed. But there was nothing comfortable on the market so I came up with stuffing speakers inside a headband.”

The device can be used for sports, for sleep, and so on. They definitely need to come out as a stronger style statement though.

(Source: Reddit)

IBM Supercomputer Starts Swearing

The IBM-developed artificial intelligence computer system named Watson is capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It was specifically developed to answer questions on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! In 2011, the supercomputer competed on the sitcom against two former winners and won the $1 million prize.

Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM, is responsible for the creation and tutoring of Watson. Its purpose was, as an artificial intelligence, to beat the Turing test. This means that if Watson were to chat with a human and that person could not tell whether the correspondent was man or machine, then Watson would pass the test.

It caused havoc after making obscene outbursts after memorizing the contents of the Urban Dictionary. The website contains slang that is part of informal conversation today, but is not considered appropriate for polite conversation. So great was the damage that Watson’s programmers had to wipe out its memory after they could find no way of stopping the supercomputer from swearing profusely.

As Watson formulates replies based on the working of several supercomputers together, it had put together some words and started responding to many of the questions posed with bulls***.

The original article has reported it as follows,

Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity – which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bulls***” in an answer to a researcher’s query.

Ultimately, Brown’s 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally. Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals. No knowledge of OMG required.

For the IBM programmers working on Watson, that was certainly a very interesting day at work.

Kill Time with Class

Here is a pick of some entertaining websites that allow us to kill time and relax. Considering that we are spoilt for choice, I looked at websites on the following criteria: interactivity, enjoyment, and revisiting the website. I am not going to count Facebook, YouTube, news websites, and the rest.

Twitter

This is my first recommendation as a source of entertaining comments from people across the world. Unlike Facebook where we decide on what updates matter to our near and dear ones, I find that Twitter provides a far more intimate portrait of any person. It is very easy to understand the mental makeup of a person based on their comments and the people they follow.

Ted

These are records of some of the most brightest and successful minds today. The inspiration that these talks provide is phenomenal. This is something that we should all set some time aside regularly to go through. There will always be a talk that will leave you close to tears, and another that will make your mouth drop at the levels of ingenuity.

UComics

A collection of all your favorite comics in one place. I think that this is the largest collated collection that I have found online so far. From Peanuts to Calvin and Hobbes, there is everything you can imagine here.

StumbleUpon

I was mentally wrestling for quite a while on either Pinterest or StumbleUpon, as they do bring the same thing to your plate (despite their different approaches). I made my choice after I spent an hour on both sites trying to determine which one engaged me more in terms of increasing my energy levels. Plus, StumbleUpon offers a better appeal to members of both genders.

Wikipedia

The never failing Wikipedia has come to our rescue more than a zillion times. It is not a certified source of information by educational institutes, but it has always been that first step we take when we come across something new. I have always considered this website the best example of how free and public web institutions can truly showcase the power of the internet.

Snesbox

If you are allowed to run Flash, playing games here will be quite entertaining. My current favorite is Mortal Combat.

Balldroppings

This interesting JavaScript page is called Ball Droppings. You are supposed to draw lines to make sure that the balls are retained by bouncing back instead of falling out.

iwastesomuchtime

If you are in need of some laughs, this web site will leave you chuckling at some of its funny and insane takes on life. Lots of Facebook rage here.

Neave

The various available items on this website have never left me bored, be it the Planetarium, Webcam Toy, or play with Simon.

Enjoy these time wasters, you know what they say about all work :)

Best Travel Apps

Here is a list of vacation apps that allow you make the best use of your smart phone from boarding the flight, to finding your way around town. These apps will help you on almost every leg of your journey. This comes after you plan your trip of course.

Know your phone costs

If you plan to make a fair number of calls, it is best to purchase a local sim from the airport. A data plan should ideally be avoided if you can locate free or cheap WiFi spots with the Free Wi-Fi Finder.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

Another option is to rent from XComGlobal.com for a flat rate of $15 per day. Do check with your carrier for international roaming plans and compare rates.

 

Book your flight

Use  Matrix Airfare Search to find the best flight deal.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

Find your best seat on the flight using Seat-Guru.

Note: Available for Apple for free

 

Know your flight

In case of flight delays, use FlightTrack Pro to provide you with quick updates.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for $9.99

If you are in the US, you can check what the carrier legally owes you for any inconvenience using FlyersRights.

Note: Available for Apple for $0.99

 

Know the airport

Use GateGuru to identify eateries, services, and stores near your terminal and how travelers rate them. It also provides airport maps and airport security wait times.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

If you are unavoidably late and miss your connecting flight, use Next Flight to list of all available flights up till the next two days. If there really are no suitable options, it allows you to look for cabs, hotels and car rentals.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for $2.99

To keep up with changing rules on baggage and identification, use My TSA to check what items you can carry and more.

Note: Available for Apple for free

 

Know your time killers

If you have an extremely long layover, use Priority Pass to find and check prices of airport lounges.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, Blackberry for free

The first thing I normally do when I have some time to kill is open Kindle.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone for free

You can also use the Pocket app to save articles, videos, or web pages to read offline at your leisure.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone for free

If reading is not your thing, then the next fascinating thing is to play games, there are plenty of games to choose from the Techie-Buzz archives (Techie-Buzz:Top 8 Pub Game iPhone Apps).

Know your itinerary

Instead of having multiple print outs, use TripIt to organize all your trip reservations like you would in your own pocket diary.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone  for free

Know your weather

Plan for any weather contingency using the reliable Weather Channel.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry,Windows Phone for free

Know your budget

The most stressful thing about trips is keeping track of where your money has gone. Keep track of bills and your current cash reserve using Virtual Wallet.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

 

Know your transport

The best way to explore a city is by foot or using public transportation. The MetrO app has details on public transportation systems in more than 400 cities across the world.

Note: Available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone  for free

If you are on a road trip in the US, use RoadNinja to find stops for the local attractions in addition to food, medicine, gas, and lodging along the way.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

 

Know your city

Plan your local sightseeing tours with Viator that sells tours in many major destinations around the world.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

In addition to the much loved Google Maps, use Yelp to get the local’s recommendation for the best places to be at, no matter what time it is.

Note: Both available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Palm  for free

The local newspapers often have details on activities and discounts available for the day. Use City Papers to find where the local’s are heading. It has access to 3,000 English-language ­newspapers worldwide.

Note: Available for Apple for $0.99

Get the details of the sights and sounds in the city using Wikihood that pulls details from Wikipedia entries.

Note: Available for Apple  for free

If you are in a city where you do not speak the language, use Google Translate for easier communication.

Note: Available for Apple, Android for free

Top Tips to Plan Your Vacation

As the holiday season nears its peak, we take a look at some of the most important travel-planning tips. Also, check some of our tricks to help you get the best deal for airline and accommodation booking with minimal effort.

Step 1: Fix the Location

This should be one of the easiest things to do. I am sure as you read this, you already have quite a few options in your mind on where your next trip will be.

Step 2: Time It

Plan the timing of your visit with care. For example, if you plan a trip to Goa ( a tropical get-away in India), you will be faced with exorbitant rates around Christmas time up till new year. However, if you check the prices during the monsoons, you will find that you can arrange steals from some of the best hotels there.

Check for free days for your trip too. For example, many cities have free museum visits on certain days of the year.

Step 3: Look for Flight Fares

Social media is a beautiful thing when it comes to arranging fares. With Twitter and Facebook, you can find many deals if you spend some time looking. 

Flight booking tip: There is no point making your booking extremely early on. Ideally, you will plan your trip, but only book your flight around 3 to 6 weeks in advance for local trips, and about 3 to 4 months in advance for international tips. At this stage use Bing.com/travel, it is one of the best fare predictors that I have come across.

Confirm that you are getting the best deal for your flight by comparing prices with global aggregators like MobissimoSkyscanner or Momondo.

Currency conversion tip: It is good to remember the importance of currency conversion for international trips. For example, as the US Dollar is far stronger than the Indian Rupee it makes sense to look for tickets on kayak.co.in rather than kayak.com. However, if you plan a trip to the UK, because of the Pound’s higher value, stick to looking at the US site.

Alternate travel means tip: When you are travelling locally to multiple destinations, look for alternative transport means, if you have the time. For example, in some countries exchanging your two-hour flight for an overnight trip by bus or train will save you a lot more money.

Step 4: Look for Accommodation

If you are not averse to couch surfing or doing the odd home-sitting job, check some sites like House CarersCouchSurfing, Mind My House and  Home Exchange. There are plenty of interesting options other than the hotel+flight deals you may get on sites like Kayak (that searches through Orbitz, Priceline, and many more), Makemytrip, ChepoairGoogle and Travelocity to name a few. Accommodation at hostels and Bed-and-Breakfasts in many locations is far less expensive than hotels.

If you plan to travel during the non-peak season though, checking hotel prices is a good option.

 Step 5: Book your Fares

I recommend doing the actual booking of the flight on the airline site itself. You may find that the prices are slightly lower, plus in case of any last-minute changes it is easier to deal with an airline if you say that you booked from their website itself. Remember to use the currency conversion tip here as well.

Based on reports, it is best to make your booking on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, as that is when tickets are supposedly priced at their lowest for the week. Remember the flight booking tip here as well.

According to the WSJ,

Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com, studied three years worth of airline prices and concluded that 3 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday was the best time to buy.

If you are a student, you may have special concessions. This varies from airline-to-airline. Also, there is a lot said about airline miles. Though I am a novice, I can still say that it works. You have to remember that there are multiple ways of collecting miles in addition to actually travelling.

If you are staying at a hotel, don’t forget to check if you can avail a free upgrade. At worst they will say no, so there is no loss. This applies to anything, You Don’t Know Until You Ask.

Countdown for the iPhone 5

With Apple’s iPhone 5 (if that is what it will be called) release just hours away, I am so excited that it is almost like my birthday and Christmas coming together. After Steve Jobs passed away last year, many people anticipated the new iPhone to be Apple’s 5th generation phone. As we know, it was not to be. The iPhone 4S, though innovative and exciting, lacked the punch that many anticipated. The iPhone 5 however has the makings of a hit product.

According to sources on the web, the next iPhone “was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design.”

As the web is awash with rumors and counter rumors, Apple stocks (AAPL) were at an amazing high of $683.29 on Monday. This high stock price might also have been contributed by its win over Samsung on the patent case. As the iPhone 4S sales have been slack of late, it clearly points to a large anticipated demand for the iPhone 5. Its release date on the 21st of September may break sales demand. Its competitors will find such demand difficult to beat in the market. Analysts are predicting that the new iPhone 5 might sell up to 10 million units in the first weeks after its launch, breaking the record 4 million iPhone 4S units sold in the first week.

Amazing things are being said about the iPhone 5, including it being responsible for the economy recovery. I just love the optimism a new gizmo brings, but who is complaining.

The iPhone 5 is expected to come in a 16 GB and 64 GB model. Some rumored features include NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows you to pay with your smart phone, a smaller dock (a problem for current iPhone owners),  a bigger battery (possibly to support the retina display and faster processor), and the inclusion of fingerprint security too. A longer end-to-end screen is expected as well. This is keeping pace with the current trend of bigger, better, sharper displays from other smart phones too.

The part that I find most interesting, is the new headphones that are supposed to be launched as well. After years of the same old look, it will be interesting to see how futuristic Apple will get with these. Another interesting rumor that I have heard is that the iPhone 5 will be able to capture 3D images.

The new iPhone 5 is supposed to include support for 4G networks as well. Think about a virtual world where there is no more buffering required. You can watch high-definition movies in minutes and no need to buffer all those amazing TV programs.

Apple fans are already on a high looking for signs about the new iPhone. Apple has not been far behind leaving little clues for their fans as well.

For example, consider the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco that has been given an Apple makeover for the release.

On the website MacRumours, cryptologists spotted how the banner took the form of Apple icons – in particular Game Centre, iTunes, and the Music and App Store – when you shrunk the image down (source: dailymail).


While most of the icons are familiar, there is an unknown entity that has been spotted. It may be the new streaming service that Apple was rumored to be developing to counter Pandora and a host of other music streaming services.

In other news, the so-called mini iPad is also thought to be showcased at the event.