E3 slouches towards irrelevance again as Sony announces it’s skipping the show

I like E3 . I really do. But it’s also monumentally dumb: game companies spending millions to show off essentially faked content to an increasingly jaded audience. And it’s increasingly out of step with how the gaming industry works. So it should come as no surprise that Sony will be skipping the show more or less altogether this year, joining Nintendo in taking a step back from spectacle.

Sony has been a part of CES for 20 years and this will be the first one it’s ever missed. I’ve gone to their events every time I’ve attended; I was there for their historic putdown of Microsoft after the latter announced some hugely unpopular restrictions on used games. I think you can actually see me near the front in the broadcast of that one. (You can! I’m at 1:29.)

And E3 has been a part of Sony’s yearly cadence as well. Like other companies, for years Sony hoarded information to debut at E3, TGS, and Gamescom, but E3 was generally where you saw new consoles and flagship titles debut. But as even E3’s organizers have admitted over and over again, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Too often we have seen half-finished games on stage at E3 that end up cancelled before the year is out, or commitments made to dates the companies can’t possibly keep. Assigning a complex, creative industry to a yearly schedule of major announcements is a great way to burn them out, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Variety first noticed Sony’s absence from ESA communications. In a statement issued to multiple outlets, Sony said:

As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.

They won’t be alone. Nintendo hasn’t had a real proper E3 press conference in years. Instead, they host a live stream around the event and have a big booth where people mainly just play games. Their Nintendo Direct videos come out throughout the year, when the titles and developers are good and ready.

Microsoft is still there, and still puts on quite a show. I remember the original announcement of the Kinect, probably one of the weirdest and dumbest things I’ve ever taken part in. It was memorable, at least.

But Microsoft is also doing its own thing, announcing throughout the year and on its own terms. The Xbox One X was only hinted at during E3, and announced in full much later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft also announced they were taking it easy this year at E3 — though this might also be a good opportunity for them to double down. With the schedules these huge shows go on, they might already be committed to one course or another.

Sony actually has its own PlayStation Experience event where it announces things and lets gamers and press play the latest, but even that was cancelled ahead of its expected December date. Is Sony just getting shy?

More likely they are leveraging their dominance in the console market to be a market leader and “decider,” as they say. They have no shortage of amazing games coming out, including lots of hot-looking exclusives. What have they got to prove? Although Sony itself is not participating in E3, the developers it backs will almost certainly be there. What better way to school the competition than to not show up and still have everyone talking about you?

With the PS4 Pro out there and a solid line-up already confirmed, Sony is sitting pretty for 2019, and the company probably feels this is a safe time to experiment with “inventive opportunities to engage the community,” as the statement put it. E3 will still be big, and it will still be fun. But the trend is clear: it just won’t be necessary.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Comparing Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2 vs Facebook Portal

The war for the countertop has begun. Google, Amazon, and Facebook all revealed their new smart displays this month. Each hopes to become the center of your internet of things-equipped home and a window to your loved ones. The $ 149 Google Home Hub is  cheap and privacy-safe smart home controller. The $ 229 Amazon Echo Show 2 gives Alexa a visual complement. And the $ 199 Facebook Portal and $ 349 Portal+ offer a Smart Lens that automatically zooms in and out to keep you in frame while you video chat.

For consumers, the biggest questions to consider are how much you care about privacy, whether you really video chat, which smart home ecosystem you’re building around, and how much you want to spend.

  • For the privacy obsessed, Google’s Home Hub is the only one without a camera and it’s dirt cheap at $ 149.
  • For the privacy agnostic, Facebook’s Portal+ offers the best screen and video chat functionality
  • For the chatty, Amazon Echo Show 2 can do message and video chat over Alexa, call phone numbers, and is adding Skype

If you want to go off-brand, there’s also the Lenovo Smart Display with stylish hardware in a $ 249 10-inch 1080p version and a $ 199 8-inch 720p version. And for the audiophile, there’s the $ 199 JBL Link View. While those hit the market earlier than the platform-owned versions we’re reviewing here, they’re not likely to benefit from the constant iteration Google, Amazon, and Facebook are working on for their tabletop screens.

Here’s a comparison of the top smart displays, including their hardware specs, unique software, killer features, and pros and cons:

Gadgets – TechCrunch

An Intel drone fell on my head during a light show

It didn’t hurt. I thought someone dropped a small cardboard box on my head. It felt sharp and light. I was sitting on the floor, along the back of the crowd and then an Intel Shooting Star Mini drone dropped on my head.

Audi put on a massive show to reveal its first EV, the e-tron. The automaker went all out, put journalists, executives and car dealers on a three-story paddle boat and sent us on a two-hour journey across San Francisco Bay. I had a beer and two dumplings. We were headed to a long-vacated Ford manufacturing plant in Richmond, CA.

By the time we reached our destination, the sun had set and Audi was ready to begin. Suddenly, in front of the boat, Intel’s Shooting Star drones put on a show that ended with Audi’s trademark four ring logo. The show continued as music pounded inside the warehouse, and just before the reveal of the e-tron, Intel’s Shooting Star Minis celebrated the occasion with a light show a couple of feet above attendees’ heads.

That’s when one hit me.

Natalie Cheung, GM of Intel Drone Light Shows, told me they knew when one drone failed to land on its zone that one went rogue. According to Cheung, the Shooting Star Mini drones were designed with safety in mind.

“The drone frame is made of flexible plastics, has prop guards, and is very small,” she said. “The drone itself can fit in the palm of your hand. In addition to safety being built into the drone, we have systems and procedures in place to promote safety. For example, we have visual observers around the space watching the drones in flight and communicating with the pilot in real-time. We have built-in software to regulate the flight paths of the drones.”

After the crash, I assumed someone from Audi or Intel would be around to collect the lost drone, but no one did, and at the end of the show, I was unable to find someone who knew where I could find the Intel staff. I notified my Intel contacts first thing the following morning and provided a local address where they could get the drone. As of publication, the drone is still on my desk.

I have covered Intel’s Shooting Star program since its first public show at Disney World in 2016. It’s a fascinating program and one of the most impressive uses of drones I’ve seen. The outdoor shows, which have been used at The Super Bowl and Olympics, are breathtaking. Hundreds of drones take to the sky and perform a seemingly impossible dance and then return home. A sophisticated program designates the route of each drone and GPS ensures each is where it’s supposed to be and it’s controlled by just one person.

Intel launched an indoor version of the Shooting Star program at CES in 2018. The concept is the same, but these drones do not use GPS to determine their location. The result is something even more magical than the outside version because with the Shooting Star Minis, the drones are often directly above the viewers. It’s an incredible experience to watch drones dance several feet overhead. It feels slightly dangerous. That’s the draw.

And that poses a safety concern.

The drone that hit me is light and mostly plastic. It weighs very little and is about 6-inches by 4-inches. A cage surrounds the bottom of the rotors though not the top. If there’s a power button, I can’t find it. The full-size drones are made out of plastic and Styrofoam.

Safety has always been baked into the Shooting Star programs but I’m not sure the current protocols are enough.

I was seated on the floor along the back of the venue. Most of the attendees where standing, taking selfies with the performing drones. It was a lovely show.

When the drone came down on my head, it tumbled onto the floor and the rotors continued to spin. A member of the catering staff was walking behind the barrier I was sitting against, reached out and touched the spinning rotors. I’m sure she’s fine, but when her finger touched the spinning rotor, she jumped in surprise. At this point, seconds after it crashed, the drone was upside down, and like an upturned beetle, continued to operate for a few seconds until the rotors shut off.

To be clear, I was not hurt. And that’s not the point. Drone swarm technology is fascinating and could lead to incredible use cases. Swarms of drones could quickly and efficiently inspect industrial equipment and survey crops. And they make for great shows in outside venues. But are they ready to be used inside, above people’s heads? I’m already going bald. I don’t need help.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Amazon taps Getty to provide images for visual searches on the Echo Show and Echo Spot

On the heels of the Getty family regaining control of Getty Images, reportedly for about $ 3 billion, the company is announcing a move to expand use of its images to a wider set of eyeballs. It will now work with Amazon to provide images from its catalog of 200 million digital images to populate searches on its screen-based Echo Show and Echo Spot devices.

The deal also comes amid rumors of a supposed launch of a screen-based Google Home device (made by the king of search, Google) to compete with the Echo Show, ahead of the holiday season.

It’s not clear if the Getty deal will mean that those building skills for the Echo devices will also be able to tap the Getty catalog, or if this is just for Amazon’s basic search feature — or something in between. We have contacted Amazon and Getty to ask and will update this post as we learn more.

As Getty describes it, the images will appear to enhance how Alexa — Amazon’s AI-based assistant — responds to users’ queries “to shape the visual style of Alexa.”

“Our premier collection of editorial, creative and archival content is a natural fit for Amazon’s Echo products, bringing best-in-class visuals to Echo users,” said Peter Orlowsky, SVP of strategic development, Getty Images, in a statement. “We are honored to unite with Echo’s screen-based products and to use our deep library of content to give Alexa her best look yet.”

Searches will include both current affairs as well as general knowledge. (Some examples Getty gives: pictures of the winners from the Academy Awards as an answer to “who won”; pictures of cities in answer to “What’s the capital of this or that country”; pictures of a recent touchdown or football goal; and so on.)

The deal is an interesting move for a few reasons. For Amazon, it will give the company a wide catalog of images to compel people to use (and buy!) the Echo Show and Echo Spot either in addition to or even instead of the lower-priced audio-only echo devices.

Last year after the Echo Show launched, there was some early criticism that there weren’t enough compelling Skills (Echo apps) being built for the screen-based device. While there are more of these Skills now, the voice-based Echo speakers continue to be the company’s mainstay product — even if it appears that Google Home sales have more recently outpaced those of the Echo — and so this could potentially help Amazon find its feet and sales groove with the screen-based products.

There is also an interesting play here in terms of how Amazon hopes to get an early advance on visual search and establishing a stronger basic app for it for its devices. A year ago, we reported that Google was working on a screen-based Home competitor to the Echo Show, and now reports say that this is likely to make an appearance before the holidays this year.

That means there is a very strong case for Amazon to get its own product in order and looking a little more impressive before Google — a search giant first and foremost — steals a march.

On the side of Getty, the company has for years been trying out different ideas to generate revenues from its vast image catalog. Many of these haven’t really panned out — as evidenced by the fact that the Getty family picked up an asset for $ 3 billion from an owner that had paid $ 3.3 billion for it — but the sheer numbers associated with the business — over 300 million images, 200 million digitised — also indicate that there is an inherent value as well.

This, in effect, gives Getty a shot (sorry for the pun) at providing another way of making its assets relevant and valuable, as a lever to help Amazon compete against the mighty Google.

It’s notable to me that the press release had no statement directly from Amazon in it. I’ve asked Amazon for a comment, but as you can see from other integrations — such as last week’s news from Mapillary — sometimes Amazon prefers to remain a silent partner in its collaborations in order to keep its feature and product cards close to its collective chest.

Gadgets – TechCrunch