Categories
AI

PyTorch has a new home: Meta announces independent foundation

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Meta announced today that its artificial intelligence (AI) research framework, PyTorch, has a new home. It is moving to an independent PyTorch Foundation, which will be part of the nonprofit Linux Foundation, a technology consortium with a core mission of collaborative development of open-source software. 

According to Aparna Ramani, VP of engineering at Meta, over the next year the focus will be on making a seamless transition from Meta to the foundation.

Long-term, “The mission is really to drive adoption of AI tooling,” she told VentureBeat. “We want to foster and sustain an ecosystem of vendor-neutral projects that are open source around PyTorch, so the goal for us is to democratize state-of-the-art tools, libraries and other components that make innovations accessible to everybody.” 

PyTorch has become leading AI platform

Since creating PyTorch six years ago, some 2,400 contributors have built more than 150,000 projects on the framework, according to Meta. As a result, PyTorch has become one of the leading platforms for AI research as well as for commercial production use — including as a technological underpinning to Amazon’s Web Services, Microsoft Azure and OpenAI.

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“The new PyTorch Foundation board will include many of the AI leaders who’ve helped get the community where it is today, including Meta and our partners at AMD, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Nvidia,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Meta, said in an emailed press comment. “I’m excited to keep building the PyTorch community and advancing AI research.” 

Ramani will sit on the board of the foundation as the Meta representative. She told VentureBeat the PyTorch move is a natural transition. 

“This isn’t anything sudden — it’s an evolution of how we’ve always been operating PyTorch as community-driven,” Ramani said. “It’s a natural transition for us to create a foundation that is neutral and egalitarian, including many partners across the industry who can govern the future growth of PyTorch and make sure it is beneficial to everybody across the industry.”

Despite being freed of direct oversight, Meta said it intends to continue using Pytorch as its primary AI research platform and will “financially support it accordingly.” Though, Zuckerberg did note that the company plans to maintain “a clear separation between the business and technical governance” of the foundation.

Ramani pointed out that when PyTorch got its start as a small project by a small group of Meta researchers, nobody expected or anticipated the kind of growth it has enjoyed. 

“It was really the researchers who were like, let’s go solve this problem,” she said. “But as soon as we started building it, clearly PyTorch was solving something absolutely core to what the industry needed at the time — so it resonated with where AI research is going given the speed of innovation and the flexibility that has become absolutely critical. That confluence helped PyTorch really take off.” 

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Categories
AI

Don’t lift a finger: AI-driven voice commands are the future of the smart home

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Among the fastest growing verticals in the smart home space is the smart appliance market. However, much of this growth hinges on adding voice control technology. Voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistants — where the consumer uses their voice to direct, control or engage with technology — are on trend to become the primary method for communicating with devices. 

Don’t lift a finger: AI-driven voice commands are the future of the smart home

Voice control: Give the people what they want 

Consumers, who are used to having answers at the tip of their fingers, have easily (and eagerly) adjusted to using their voice. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has made the transition seamless. Like web and mobile, voice is now transforming from just another interface into a distinct consumer channel. It is estimated that by 2024 the number of voice assistants will reach a staggering 8.4 billion, overtaking the world’s population. Further, the Voice Consumer Index 2021 surveyed technology users and found that one-third use voice technology daily. It is clear that voice technology is increasingly becoming an essential part of our day-to-day lives. The addition of voice user interfaces (VUIs) to appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, will only further accelerate the trend within the home.  

AI around the home

Homes and devices are becoming more sophisticated and thus more difficult to operate seamlessly. Many appliances have deep feature sets that most users never access, thanks to the difficulty of the interface. With voice control, users don’t have to struggle with the microwave’s touchpad; they can simply say what they’re cooking and even save presets for favorite dishes. Users can tell the washing machine to be careful with delicate items, tell the kitchen faucet to fill a glass with water, and even tell the trash can to open itself when their hands are full.

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While voice control is present today mainly on smart speakers and mobile devices, voice is prepared to go beyond that. Hardware and software advancements are making voice control practical for virtually any type of product. Industry efforts to increase voice service interoperability, or a device’s ability to support multiple voice assistants, can also be supported through design. Discreet or even invisible systems can be embedded into appliances, and new systems have immediate response times without cloud latency. 

The next iteration of voice control products will see increased integration of voice into standalone products that operate in different areas around the home. Some of these devices will utilize cloud technologies for their back-end intelligence, while others will keep interactions local at the edge. A new generation of sophisticated use cases awaits.  

Voice control for everyone

While every product is ready to host voice technology, there are still hurdles VUIs need to conquer before becoming equally useful for absolutely everyone.

One such hurdle is the need to accurately and consistently respond to people of different ages, with different dialects or speech disabilities. Thanks to machine learning, edge devices will become even more intelligent and useful over time. New systems will be able to better distinguish between different household voices, opening up new levels of personalization and security. Professional organizations like Black in AI, Women in Machine Learning and Women in Voice are working to increase the representation of diverse voices in AI, voice technology and machine learning. Organizations such as these will ultimately lead to greater innovation and inclusivity.

Users also need more support from brands in order to learn all that voice technology can do for them. Most users are simply stumbling upon voice experiences. Per the Voice Consumer Index 2021, many figure out how to have voice work for their household through basic trial-and-error, followed by tapping into relatives and friends, and then checking product packaging and websites. People want to do more with their voice assistants but are limited. Education is key to giving consumers what they already desire. 

AI-powered voice brings it all together 

Voice is the unified method of control that helps all of these various devices work “together.” Voice makes the smart home smarter and easier to manage. Artificial intelligence, combined with machine learning, empowers devices to make an entire home ready to answer a user’s every beck and call. All that’s needed is a simple wake word or detectable sound. 

Algorithms are often the “secret sauce” that differentiates one voice control product from another, but this also leads to lack of interoperability. Devices that fail to work well together make simple tasks more difficult and are a top reason for consumer frustration. As the market matures, consumers will choose devices that can offer an integrated experience. To answer this demand, manufacturers will need to choose components, dev kits and SDKs that support voice service interoperability to allow customers to seamlessly talk to the service of their choice.

The alignment of market groups to a single standard, such as Matter, will facilitate the deployment of smart devices in the home. Standards give users the confidence that their chosen smart devices will reliably work together while taking the guesswork out of the purchasing process. Ultimately, any consumer will have the option of a connected home that is secure and seamless. 

The future of voice control will bring the freedom to speak voice commands without needing a smart speaker nearby. With the right support, voice technology will easily become a primary method of communication.  

Brian Crannell is Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Audio Solutions for Knowles Corporation.

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Categories
Computing

Labor Day sales: Take home this HP gaming PC for just $600

With Labor Day sales in full swing, HP has decided to get in on some gaming PC deals, with the computer giant discounting its extremely popular Pavilion gaming desktop PC. Currently you can get the HP Pavilion gaming desktop for just $600, which is a savings of $100 from its regular price of $700. Free shipping is included with your purchase, and you can use some of the cash you save on the HP Pavilion gaming PC to grab some of the best games to show off your gaming PC.

Why you should buy the HP Pavilion gaming PC

Whether you’re new to PC gaming or a veteran looking to build a new setup, this HP Pavilion gaming PC has all of the power, speed, and customizability you’ll need to take on the most intense gaming adventures. It’s powered by a Ryzen 3 processor and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 graphics card. In addition to 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, this hardware is enough to power the latest games with smooth and responsive visuals. An enhanced thermal solution also plays its part, keeping the Pavilion gaming PC cool and quiet even when running demanding games for long stretches.

The HP Pavilion gaming PC is also a great buy because it’s something you can grow into as a gamer. The case is sleek and well-designed, and allows its internal components to be customized and expanded at any point in the future. Access to the PC’s internals is super simple, making things like upgrading RAM or swapping solid-state drives as easy as it gets. The Pavilion gaming PC also includes a robust power supply that’s made to handle beefier internal hardware, so you can purchase it now at this low price and load it up with even more powerful components should you gaming needs ever require it. It’s expandable on the outside as well, with the HP Pavilion gaming PC pairing well with any number of the best gaming monitors.

You can get the HP Pavilion gaming PC for just $600 at HP today. That’s a savings of $100 from its regular price of $700, and free shipping is included with your purchase.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Computing

Save 30% on a Microsoft Office Home and Student lifetime license

Microsoft Office deals are generally at their most attractive when they involve lifetime licenses of Microsoft Office. That’s why we’re highlighting Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 currently available at HP. Normally priced at $150, it’s down to $112 right now when you buy direct from HP. Best of all, it’s a lifetime license for one computer so you don’t have to worry about buying each year as with other deals. Here’s why Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 is so essential for many people.

Why you should buy Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 is a vital tool for students and workers alike. Appreciating how useful Microsoft Office is can help show what a good value this deal is. For the price, you get access to all the key Office apps. This includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. That way, you can easily type up documents, create spreadsheets, or design important presentations for work or school. It also works seamlessly with Microsoft Teams, which is great for remote workers.

In the case of this version of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021, you get access to use it on one computer at any one time. Luckily, it works on either Windows or Mac. Each app is fully installed so you don’t have to worry about being online at all times giving you the traditional flexibility of Microsoft Office from years gone by. While some users may prefer to subscribe and gain access to extra apps like Outlook, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 is a great option for anyone that wants to spend on a product just once, while still gaining the key essentials. The added bonus of not needing to be online at all times is a big help, too.

Normally priced at $150, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 is down to $112 right now at HP. A saving of $38, it’s great value for what it offers, while offering the peace of mind of not needing to resubscribe regularly. If you’re heading back to school or simply looking to upgrade your work tools, it’s an ideal software package to pair up with your existing laptop or desktop PC.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Security

1Password 8 arrives on Android and iOS with a big redesign and personalized home

1Password is launching a big update to its Android and iOS apps today. 1Password 8 overhauls the design of the mobile password management apps in many of the same ways the 1Password 8 apps for Windows and Mac were redesigned in recent months. The new mobile interface includes a personalized home tab, which should make it easier to find logins, pin favorites, and organize your passwords.

The new personalized homescreen also lets you easily see logins you’ve recently created and even pin individual fields from a login. You can also reorder sections and add quick actions to the home tab, and the navigation bar now provides quick access to search, home, and settings.

Search isn’t super obvious in the current 1Password mobile app, and the navigation bar is split into favorites, categories, tags, and settings instead. 1Pasword 8 greatly simplifies the entire interface and navigation bar, making it easier for 1Password users who aren’t familiar with the mobile app to find their logins more easily. The updated app also has new and improved icons, typography, and detailed views for logins and vaults.

New icons and customizable homescreen on 1Password 8 mobile.
Image: 1Password

1Password has also added an updated Watchtower UI inside the mobile app, including alerts about data breaches inside items. Collections are also available in the mobile app now, allowing 1Password users to create custom groups of vaults. Autofill is also faster and more precise, so 1Password on mobile should more accurately auto fill payment cards, addresses, and identities across apps.

“Over the last couple years we’ve been making a concerted effort to unify our design language,” explained Michael Fey, VP of engineering for client apps at 1Password, earlier this year. “The updated designs result in a modern take on 1Password that is both familiar and fresh.”

The improvements in usability across mobile and desktop are particularly important as 1Password attempts to capture even more subscribers. 1Password now has more than 100,000 paying business customers, and it saw subscriber growth during the pandemic that led to a $6.8 billion valuation for the company earlier this year.

1Password has also been making it easier to share files, documents, and passwords with just a link and even helping people remember which “sign in” service they used on websites. The service also added a hide my email feature last year, giving all users the option of hiding their email addresses from apps and services.

Update, August 9th 9:40AM ET: Article updated with more 1Password 8 feature additions.

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Categories
AI

Otter.ai adds AI-generated meeting summaries and new home feed

Otter.ai made its name as a slick, AI-powered transcription service. But as this type of automated transcription becomes more commonplace, the company is expanding its remit — adding a host of features, including AI-generated meeting summaries, with the aim of turning users’ Otter accounts into collaborative hubs for work.

The goal is to make Otter bigger than transcriptions and cater to the company’s growing number of enterprise customers. “A year ago, most of [our customers] were individuals, but more and more professionals are using it,” Otter.ai CEO Sam Liang told The Verge in an interview. “The new Otter makes it a one-stop for all your meeting contents and collaboration needs.”

When accessing accounts on the web, Otter users will now see a “home feed” that pulls together transcriptions and a calendar of upcoming meetings into a single overview. They’ll be able to jump into meetings directly from their calendar and use Otter integrations with services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet to record and transcribe the audio.

The transcriptions can then be added to in various ways. The big new feature is AI-generated meeting summaries, which are supposed to highlight the most important moments in recordings. There’s also something Otter is calling “meeting gems.” These are parts of the transcript that have been highlighted by users, who can then tag in co-workers and add comments or tasks. Users can also now add screenshots to transcripts with a single click, making it easier to reference visual material discussed during meetings.

The most intriguing feature, though, is AI-generated meeting summaries. We haven’t been able to test this for ourselves, though even Liang admitted the tool was “far from perfect, but it’s a great start.”

The company’s software looks at a lot of different factors to decide what are the most relevant points from a meeting, says Liang. “We look at the topic words people use. We look at the speaker dynamics — who is talking and what topics they discuss […] and when did they change topic. It’s never just based on one signal — it’s always a combination.”

In a preview of the software we were shown via Zoom, the tool seemed to pick out when new topics of conversation were introduced and the speaker changed. It could potentially be a useful way to skip through relevant parts of a meeting, but it’s very unlikely the machine learning could match the knowledge of a human, who would know far more about the background and context of a meeting and its participants.

In addition to the summaries, Otter also offers a breakdown of who spends the most time in a meeting talking — a tool that could be useful when trying to balance collaboration in teams. Liang says there’s much more analysis that could be done, too (like sentiment analysis on the language used) that would let Otter expand far beyond its current space. “This is why I say Otter, potentially, has a bigger total addressable market than Zoom or other conferencing systems,” he says. “The conferencing systems just provide a way for people to talk to each other; they don’t really understand what they’re discussing.”

Other startups are already moving fast in this space, though. One called Poised promises to coach users on their presentation skills by transcribing meetings and analyzing things like their use of filler words and speaking speed. Another called Sembly offers similar AI-generated meeting summaries.

For Otter, though, the bigger threat is from juggernauts like Google and Microsoft, whose AI expertise would allow them to quickly create such features themselves and offer them to a far larger audience. (Indeed, they’re already ahead. Examples include Microsoft’s PowerPoint, which offers its own speech analysis and tips for presenters, and Google Docs, which uses AI to generate summaries and content pages.) When asked about this threat, Liang says that Otter will succeed for the reason so many startups do: it’s focused on a single product while tech giants are distracted by their sprawling interests.

“The question is: how obsessed are you?” he says. “Eric Yuan, the Zoom CEO, is, I bet, way more obsessed with video quality than the Google CEO. The Google CEO makes 99 percent of their money from Search and YouTube, so nothing else matters.”

For Otter, he says, that obsession is turning meeting transcripts into action plans. Now, the company itself has to follow through.

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Categories
Computing

This desktop PC and monitor combo is perfect for a home office

It’s rare that one of the best desktop computer deals is also one of the best desktop monitor deals, but today that’s the case, as Best Buy has bundled the Dell Inspiron compact desktop computer with a Dell 24-inch LED monitor, and priced the package at just $700. That’s a combined savings of $240, with a savings of $150 coming from the computer and a $90 savings on the monitor. Any offer that lets you take home a desktop computer and an HD monitor home for just $700 is worth pouncing on, and you won’t be the only one trying to do so, so click over to Best Buy now to claim this awesome bundle.

Dell has been one of the biggest names in computing for a long time, and it’s with good reason. It brings great value to a computer purchase, and with its performance capabilities, cool modern design, and expandability options, the Dell Inspiron compact desktop easily fits the Dell mold. It has a six-core Intel i5 processor, 12GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive as it’s spec’d for this deal, but it has the option to add more RAM and even more internal storage should that ever appeal to you. It’s also expandable externally, as it is able to connect to many devices through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and able to connect to devices such as monitors and hard drives with its many connectivity ports. It also has a built-in media reader for easy photo and video transfer.

When it comes to putting the Dell Inspiron compact desktop computer to work, it pairs perfectly with the Dell S2421NX 24-inch LED monitor that’s bundled in this deal. This is a great monitor for creatives and anyone who just likes to spread out at their desk with a little screen real estate, but it’s also great for gamers, as it has an impressive 75Hz refresh rate and a 4-millisecond response time. It features AMD FreeSync technology, which synchronizes the frame rate output between your graphics card and monitor. This dynamic refresh rate eliminates tearing, stuttering, and jerkiness, making for smoother gameplay, or smoother playback of fast-paced action, whether that may be come in the form of watching movies or editing your own.

When it comes to the best desktop computers and the best monitors, it’s rare to find two great options bundled together at such a low price. But right now at Best Buy, the Dell Inspiron compact desktop computer comes with a 24-inch Dell LED monitor, and you can have them both for just $700. It’s a $240 combined savings, and it’s also good reason to click over to Best Buy now.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Game

Evercade VS is a home retro console for collectors.

Between 2016 and 2019, retro gaming had a moment. I mean another moment. A very specific one where gaming’s greatest all released “mini” versions of their most iconic consoles. NES? Yep. SNES? Sure. Genesis? You bet. And, of course, Sony, SNK, Konami and even Commodore (sorta) got in on the trend too.

Then there was Evercade in 2020 — a refreshingly different take on the new-but-old console idea. Instead of a “mini” version of vintage hardware, it was a new handheld that took cartridges. Each cartridge contained a collection of classic games from different developers. I enjoyed it when I reviewed it.

The idea of potentially unlimited games through actual cartridges was both clever and brave. (Retro gamers aren’t so known for paying for titles, especially the lesser-known “gems” that Evercade was able to license.) Either way, the idea must have caught on as the company soon revealed plans for a more traditional home console version. It’s finally here and it brings a few interesting perks over its handheld sibling.

The Evercade VS (as the $99 system is called) shares the same cartridge format as the handheld, so you won’t need to re-buy anything. In fact, you can play on one, save your game and pick it up on the other (just like you’d hope, to be fair). It’s worth mentioning that two titles (both Namco collections) are only compatible with the handheld due to licensing issues.

Evercade VS.

James Trew / Engadget

There are other perks to the home-based console, too. Most notably support for multiplayer (up to four players where games support it), WiFi for over-the-air updates and a jazzy new interface. Oh, and the VS can hold two cartridges at a time, meaning you can be working on one game and leave it there while you play another, or simply just have more games to choose from on your home screen at any one time — handy given that every single cartridge Evercade offers is a multicart. The carts are even hot-swappable so you don’t need to restart the system, just slot a new one right in and away you go.

As is tradition with this new wave of retro home consoles, the VS is small and light. So light, you’ll definitely want to make sure your HDMI cable has some slack in it, else it’ll lift the VS off the ground or pull it back behind your TV. The good news is that almost any USB port will power it. My not-very-good seven-year-old LG TV can easily power the VS through its USB ports, meaning I don’t have to occupy another outlet.

The VS looks like a direct relative of the original Evercade with the same vintage white and red decals and a dash of gray here and there for buttons. One nice little touch is the NES-style “flap” that covers the cartridge slots. This does mean you don’t get the old-school vibes of having a cartridge poking out the top, but at least your games are safely hidden from the elements. But homages to old consoles like that seem to matter to fans of the classics. It weirdly matters a lot. Even if that’s the laborious ritual of having to get off the couch to change the games or power it down. Nostalgia isn’t always about the good things.

Fire the VS up and you’ll be presented with a Netflix-like menu of all the titles on whatever cartridges are inserted. The handheld, with its limited screen size, had you flip through each title one by one. Here, they’re laid out in rows with full cover art. Click through and you’ll be presented a little more info about the game and its controls along with the option to play it (naturally) or pick up where you left off with your most recent save.

Evercade VS.

Blaze

Evercade has tried to strike a balance between modern features and retro authenticity. Save states are one modern concession but most other things — such as cheat codes or in-game recording — are absent. The same goes for the visual look and feel. Under the settings menu, you have three display options: Original Ratio, Pixel Perfect and Full Screen. It’s always nice to have options as modern TVs are very different to what you might have plugged the original hardware into.

You can, of course, add scanlines (if you must). There are also some options for different themes and backgrounds, etcetera. But all told, the menu is simple and clear and all the better for it.

When the handheld launched, the library of cartridges and games was decent but modest. There were collections from mainstays like Atari, Namco and Interplay. These held some classics like Pac-Man, Earthworm Jim and Crystal Castles. Then there were bundles from newer developers that have scooped up various IPs over the years. These tend to hold more “hidden gems” like Piko’s Dragon View (a solid RPG first published by Kemco). In fact, the VS comes bundled with two of these collections to get you going (one from Data East and one from Technos).

Along with these well- and lesser-known golden oldies are some collections of new 8- and 16-bit games. The net result is that the Evercade had the foundations to become something of an all-inclusive retro experience with new and old titles side by side. Now, with the Evercade VS, the company has added a new line of arcade-first collections denoted by their purple (rather than red) packaging. Here you’ll find button-mashers like Double Dragon 2 and Bad Dudes vs DragonNinja to further round out the library.

Evercade VS.

James Trew / Engadget

One intriguing option in the menu is “Secret.” Here you’ll be asked to enter a code. What the code/s is/are, well, a secret, but one can presume it unlocks some extra games or content. Along the same theme, there are hidden games on the console itself a-la Snail Maze on the Sega Master System.

And… there are more things to unlock, too. Evercade has hinted that certain cartridge combinations, when inserted together, will unlock hidden titles. I was able to find two such secret games with the cartridges I have here, and there are definitely more. I won’t spoil things by saying exactly how you find them, but the UI will let you know. It’s subtle, though.

Each cartridge says how many games are in the collection on the front, so if both have 10, the UI might say 21. Then you might have to check the back of the box to find which game that’s now in your list isn’t officially mentioned on either cartridge’s box. Thanks to the VS’s WiFi connection, this is theoretically something that can be expanded over time, too. A nice, fun touch nonetheless — especially for collectors.

Evercade VS.

James Trew / Engadget

One minor nitpick might be the controller: Your mileage may vary due to different physiology, but it isn’t my favorite. The general design is fine and comfortable, but it doesn’t feel quite as ergonomic as the handheld or other controllers to me. Also the in-game menu button doubles as the pause button, which can be a little confusing if, like me, you find yourself reaching for Start.

On the plus side, there are now four shoulder buttons instead of the handheld’s two and the cables are plenty long enough to reach across most living rooms. You can, of course, use the handheld as an extra controller, but it needs a specific cable — I tried the USB cable that came in the box and, no dice. That cable is about $10, while an additional controller is about $20, so it’s worth weighing up the benefit before deciding which way to go. The VS also supports basically any standard USB controller, so if you have one lying around that you like, you can use that at the expense of retro authenticity.

All in all, the Evercade VS is a pleasant surprise. The cartridge-based model will always be appealing to some and a deterrent to others. But for those who love rarities and a good dollop of nostalgia, the Evercade ecosystem is shaping up to be more than just a gimmick. With the recent wave of new indie games also making it to the platform it could find itself being a vibrant platform for new games, too. One where indie developers can not only enjoy seeing their games have a physical release, but find new audiences, and that’s never a bad thing.

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Categories
Game

Happy Home Paradise Fixes Animal Crossing’s Biggest Problem

It’s a huge week for Animal Crossing: New Horizons players. After a disappointing year devoid of meaningful updates, the cozy life simulator has gotten a massive update. That’s thanks to the game’s 2.0 build, which adds a sequel’s worth of features to the game. Perhaps more exciting is the game’s first and only paid DLC, Happy Home Paradise, which is included with a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription or available to buy for $25.

Happy Home Paradise is essentially a spiritual sequel to Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, a stand-alone spinoff title that was released for Nintendo 3DS after Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The game was more focused than its freeform mainline counterpart as it only asked players to design houses for villagers. It was essentially a little puzzle game about fulfilling home requests that was charming, though didn’t feel robust enough for a stand-alone title.

It was just one example of the way Nintendo has struggled to capitalize on Animal Crossing’s success. The company tried a few spinoff titles to turn it into a more varied franchise, but nothing stuck. But now, with Happy Home Paradise, Nintendo has found a perfect solution to the series’ fatal flaw: Attach the side games to the main game.

In-game spinoff

Happy Home Paradise quickly whisks players off to a new island that houses a self-contained game. Players are recruited by the Happy Home Academy to walk around the island, take requests from its inhabitants, and design their dream house. Villagers will offer a specific theme, like “sporty,” and ask that a few specific items be included in their home. Once players accept, they’ll be able to freely decorate both the interior and exterior of the house using a curated list of items (players don’t need to own the items to use them in designs).

During a demo, I watched a player create a spa-like dream house complete with starry wallpaper and aromatherapy furniture. A list of other requests showed that players will build anything from a perfect coffee room to a toilet palace (don’t ask me what that means).

It’s a simple little puzzle game that puts players’ decorating skills to good use. They’ll get to design a series of homes, customizing everything from the outer façade to the actual dimensions of the rooms within. They can even adjust the environment the house appears in, seamlessly changing the season or time of day. Any design can be saved and adjusted after the fact, so players can keep tweaking as much as they’d like.

Had this been a stand-alone title like Happy Home Designer, I don’t imagine many people would pick it up. At the end of the day, home designing is one piece of a larger game. Spinning it off into its own side title seems reductive. Nintendo has wised up to that fact this time around, realizing that home decorating works better as a minigame.

A player designs a disco room in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise.

Minigames have long been part of Animal Crossing’s DNA. One could argue that the main game is just a series of smaller games compiled into a life simulator. Fishing is its own little sport, holidays like Bunny Day feature contained side -objectives, and New Leaf’s Roost Cafe (which returns in the 2.0 update) explicitly featured a coffee-making minigame. Going even further back, the main appeal of the first entry was that it included playable NES games, putting games within a game.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf took that one step further with its Welcome Amiibo update, which brought a survival board game called Desert Island Escape and a match-three puzzler to the mix. But Nintendo wasn’t simply content with launching one core game and loading it with free content. Happy Home Designer aimed to expand the formula with mixed success, but the company flew too close to the sun with Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. The Wii U spinoff was a full board game that utilized amiibo, almost like a Mario Party for the series. It was a total flop, critically and financially. The game reportedly sold less than half a million copies in its lifetime. Ouch.

Happy Home Paradise sees Nintendo accepting the fact that players only care about the core Animal Crossing experience, not the IP as a vague concept. They’ll check out creative new content that expands their island life, but not necessarily shell out for a separate purchase. Part of me wonders if players would actually engage with an Amiibo Festival take two if it was piped into New Horizons. It doesn’t matter how good the content is; it would just be another way to pass the time.

A classroom full of students in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Paradise.

Unfortunately, Happy Home Paradise is said to be the game’s last paid DLC and it won’t get any major free updates either. Players have to hope that it’s enough to keep them going for years to come or that little updates here and there will be enough to keep it alive. That feels like a mistake. Happy Home Paradise is a smart new strategy for the series, solidifying the core Animal Crossing games as a sort of live service hub filled with activities. In a perfect world, New Horizons would continue to get support through the Switch lifespan, with spin-off ideas folded into the game. The game could turn significant updates into paid DLC, getting more money out of the series without the need for side-gambles.

Hopefully, Nintendo has learned its lessons from New Horizons’ whirlwind life cycle and uses it to build the ultimate installment down the line that keeps fans carrying out their cozy digital lives. Animal Crossing is the only metaverse I’d actually want to live in.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise is available to purchase today for $25. It’s also included with Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscriptions. New Horizons’ 2.0 update is free for all players.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
AI

Smart home services company Plume blooms with $300M boost from SoftBank

Plume — an AI-powered cloud platform that manages more than 1 billion unique devices globally — recently revealed a $300 million new capital injection from a new round of minority equity investment led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. SoftBank, which estimates that 1 trillion connected devices will create $11 trillion in value by 2025, is putting its money, via this funding, into expanding the broadband connectivity and IoT industry on an enormous scale.

This round increases Plume’s valuation by over $1 billion, bringing it to a total of $2.6 billion, with $697 million raised to date. In February of this year, the communications startup reached unicorn status with a $270 million funding at a $1.35 billion valuation.

In a recent interview with VentureBeat, Plume’s founder and CEO, Fahri Diner shared what this investment means for Plume as a broadband connectivity company. Diner noted that as a company with high growth margins and a focus on innovation, this funding will ensure the company invests more aggressively in R&D to help expand its product and service portfolio.

In-home connectivity services

Diner noted that the pandemic taught us that having reliable, secure connectivity and good overall experiences in our homes is a must-have. He said, “In the old days, people thought that in order to have the best connectivity and the best experiences on video, et cetera, you needed to be at work. That’s no longer the case, as you know.”

The company sees a “massive market opportunity” among the 20,000 communications service providers (CSPs) in existence. “While we have about 240 of them today and are growing fast, we are barely getting penetrated relative to the size of the market,” Diner said. “We have this phenomenal opportunity together with a partner like SoftBank to continue to push on all the dimensions for growth.”

“The game has moved into the living room, beyond simply providing connectivity to the home to the set of services you can offer to consumers in the home. These are things like managed Wi-Fi, parental controls, access controls, motion sensing, device security, and so on. So, I think both the CSPs and over-the-top service providers like big tech — whether it’s Amazon, Google, or others — are all eyeing in-home services. So, this is a key growth area for everyone.”

IoT device adoption in 2022

According to Diner, the company has taken the leadership position in smart home services — a core element of the overall connectivity experience in the home. After surpassing 1.2 billion connected devices on Plume’s cloud-controlled software-defined network, he believes there is still greater potential for adoption in 2022, for the next era of personalization.

“We believe that relative to what we’ve seen over the last twenty years, where the need of the consumer in the home was performance, driven by entertainment and social, moving forward into the next phase, the need of the consumer in the home is around personalization,” Diner said. “People want personalized cross-device experiences. And that’s driven by the number of devices we have in our homes now — what industries like to call the IoT ecosystem.”

“In that context, the technologies and enablers moving forward are no longer silicon and faster speeds but data, cloud, and AI,” he said. And data, cloud, and AI are the critical elements that the company says it is exploiting for the next era of personalization, to enable an “awesome” 360-degree experience for the consumer. Diner added that these elements — besides leveraging open source technology — will reduce cost and thus allow many more people to have access to the company’s products and services.

2021 Q4 expectations

Against the backdrop of this recent funding, Plume says it will make two fairly major product announcements this quarter. However, Diner noted that these initiatives have been on the roadmap for quite a while.

“What I can say is that we are making some product announcements and, because of this funding, partially, we are going to accelerate our innovation even more. So, you’ll see significant news and interesting product offerings from us in 2022 as well,” he added.

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