The gradual introduction of Facebook’s fast-loading Instant Articles format is about to speed up. The company said today that beginning April 12th, all publishers will be able to create articles using the format. The move, which coincides with the upcoming F8 developer conference, is likely to increase pressure on publishers to offer their stories in the format lest they lose an advantage over their peers.
The format loads articles inside the Facebook app more quickly than traditional links by stripping out most of the code and pre-fetching stories when you approach them in the News Feed. Publishers make money by selling ads inside the stories, which they can either do themselves or let Facebook handle (in exchange for a 30 percent cut of the revenue.) When Facebook introduced the format last year, it triggered an arms race of sorts among other big tech platforms, with Google and Apple both following suit with fast-loading formats of their own.
Top Gear has gone from a triumvirate of presenters to a full house, with the show confirming its final lineup of seven presenters today. Last week, it was announced that actor Matt LeBlanc would be Top Gear’s new co-host alongside British presenter Chris Evans, adding, in the words of one anonymous BBC source, “a boost when selling [the show] internationally, particularly in the US where it is due to air on BBC America.”
The “magnificent seven from motoring heaven” as Evans has dubbed the new presenters, are designed to broaden Top Gear’s appeal to new audiences. “The new team will cover the entire automotive spectrum and bring with them their own unique and very individual love of cars that will resonate with every type of Top Gear viewer,” said the BBC in a press release. “From the family who enjoy the entertainment values of the show, to aspirational car lovers and fanatical petrolheads.”
Brussels entered the third day of a city-wide lockdown today, as Belgian police continue to search for suspected terrorists accused of planning an “imminent” attack. Authorities announced that 16 suspects had been detained in a counterterrorism raid last night, though Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to have been involved in last week’s Paris attacks, was not one of them.
Prior to last night’s raid, Belgian police asked that internet users not tweet anything about the operation, for fear that the information would tip off their targets. Apparently, it worked. Instead of posting details about the raid, Belgians flooded the #BrusselsLockdown hashtag with photos of their cats.
Google’s search results have included information from inside of apps for a couple years now, but Google has only ever been able to show those results if you have the app installed or if the app has a website, too. But now Google has another way: stream the entire app to your phone.
Google announced today that it’s beginning to test a feature that will stream apps to Android phones when someone finds a result from them through Search. If you’re searching for hotel bookings, for instance, a search result from HotelTonight might appear. Because HotelTonight doesn’t let you book through its website, Google will stream the HotelTonight app, allowing you to tap through it to explore listings and make a booking. Streaming HotelTonight went smoothly in a brief test, although it responded a bit slower than a native app.
Streaming only works with nine apps for now, according to TechCrunch: Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope, and New York Subway. It also only works on phones in the US that are connected to Wi-Fi and running Android Lollipop or higher. Google says it’s planning to expand the program; it’s an important initiative — Google Search is a critical tool for the web, but apps, which increasingly hold information that isn’t available elsewhere, haven’t been as visible to Google. This feature moves toward solving that and keeping Google Search as important as ever
Surprising things happen to people’s faces when a film really entrances them. They stop focusing on all the personality presentation we take for granted when we talk to each other: the polite eye contact, the alert expression that says “I’m listening and reacting to what you’re saying.” When people watch movies, their faces go a little slack, and their emotions come through clear and raw. I had a particularly great experience observing this back in 2007, when I had friends over to watch J.A. Bayona’s excellent horror film The Orphanage. Having already seen the film, I decided that instead of watching it, I’d watch my friends watching it. Watching other people gasp or shrivel in nervous anticipation let me see the movie freshly through their eyes.
That sense of voyeurism, that ability to see people in a vulnerable state and re-appreciate a piece of art at the same time, is at least some of the appeal behind #AllMyMovies, the social-media-ready art installation that 29-year-old actor Shia LaBeouf staged last week. For the piece, LaBeouf watched all his feature films back-to-back at New York’s Angelika Film Center over three days, while a fixed camera transmitted his reactions to the internet via live stream. #AllMyMovies is the latest in a series of LaBeouf-centered performance art pieces, and the second to widely solicit public interaction: in this case, admission to the film series was free, and anyone over 18 who was willing to submit to a weapons check could join LaBeouf in the theater, space permitting. The line to enter the screening room built steadily over the course of the event, with the wait time eventually stretching to several hours as word-of-mouth grew.
The phablet was a monstrosity until everyone had one — can the phablet of the smartwatch world pull off the same transformation? The short answer is “No, not right now,” but that doesn’t mean people aren’t trying. The latest company to have a go at reinventing the Pip-Boy is Rufus Labs, which has produced a gargantuan smartwatch that is essentially a low-end smartphone strapped sideways to your wrist. It has a 3.2-inch touchscreen display, up to 64GB of internal storage, runs Android KitKat, and also functions as a fitness tracker. “This will replace the need for smartphones, wallets, watches, fitness trackers, everything,” Rufus Labs’ CEO Gabe Grifoni told USA Today.
Except it won’t. For a start, the Rufus Cuff doesn’t have a SIM card, meaning it doesn’t have access to any cellular data. It’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, yes, but if you’re on the move, you’ll need to connect to the internet via your smartphone for tasks like browsing the internet, checking social media, or messaging your friends. All things you have your smartphone for in the first place. You can use the Cuff for offline tasks like watching videos, reading, or listening to music, but it’s not clear why you’d want to, especially as you’d have to hold your wrist in front your face to do so.
Despite these disadvantages, people are still drawn to devices like the Rufus Cuff. When the company launched an Indiegogo campaign early last year it raised more than $450,000 — 180 percent of its original funding goal — and says it’s now shipping the device in early 2016 (you can buy one yourself from $249). Last year also saw the launch of the Neptune Pine, a similar gizmo with a 2.4-inch screen that received widespread coverage. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been exposed to wrist communicators in various forms on shows like Futurama and Power Rangers that we’re so comfortable with devices like these. However, familiarity isn’t a substitute for functionality, and the phablet-on-your-wrist is still a bad idea, for now.
This month Twitter unveiled Moments, the simplified way of browsing tweets that the company hopes will return it to rapid growth. It’s an increasingly pressing concern: today the company announced it added just 4 million new monthly users in its most recent quarter, news that sent the stock tumbling. Before releasing Moments, Twitter said its release would be accompanied by a large-scale marketing campaign designed to reach people who had never used Twitter before, or who had tried and abandoned it years ago. Today, that marketing campaign arrives, led by a series of television advertisements that will debut tonight during the World Series.
“Post-Season,” which you can see above, is a 30-second spot aimed at sports enthusiasts. In a fast-moving series of clips, the ad showcases highlights of the Major League Baseball playoffs as they appeared in real tweets. There’s the viral bat flip of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista, a GIF representing the billy goat that cursed the Chicago Cubs, and a spectacular catch from the Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar. The ad is animated, but the text from fans’ tweets is preserved in each moment. The ad is set to upbeat music and moves a little faster than you can really read anything — the young people who are the ad’s target audience prefer it that way, Twitter says, and the rest of us will still be noticing new things when we see it for the 14th time.
Steve Jobs is an intelligent and engaging movie loosely based on the legendary Apple co-founder’s life, boasting an Oscar-worthy turn from Michael Fassbender, an Oscar-winning director in Danny Boyle, and an Aaron Sorkin script that Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal previously compared to a modern-day Citizen Kane. But such praise and overwhelmingly positive reviews haven’t resulted in big box office numbers — Steve Jobs only pulled in $7.3 million on its opening weekend.
That’s less than a third of the movie’s $30 million cost, Variety says, and that total pricetag doubles when you include the cost of marketing the feature. Steve Jobs would reportedly need to make around $120 million to break even — an unlikely figure when you consider that it’s $7.3 million opening weekend is scarcely half a million more than Ashton Kutcher’s critically panned Jobs scored on its debut. These early numbers vindicate Sony analysts who, as shown by the emails leaked when the studio was hacked last year, said Steve Jobs might only make back some $30 million across its entire lifespan in North America.
The dismal general opening is a stark contrast to a record-breaking limited release opening weekend. The movie earned more than half a million dollars in its first weekend at just four theaters, finally pulling in $2.6 million for the two-week period it was playing in only a few locations. But as the movie expanded to play in 2,493 theaters nationwide, that success has not endured.
Last night tickets for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens went on sale, and the onslaught of fandom promptly brought down nearly every ticketing website in existence — but that wasn’t enough to stop the movie from breaking some serious sales records. In a statement, Fandango announced that it saw its website traffic surge to seven times its normal peak levels (that would explain the downtime), with The Force Awakens ultimately pulling in eight times the ticket sales as Fandango’s previous first-day pre-sales record holder.
As a point of comparison, the record was set back in 2012 when tickets for the first Hunger Games went on sale. That movie went on to rake in over $152.5 million in its domestic opening weekend, but with many Force Awakens screenings already sold out throughout the weekend (and more showtimes being added) that number starts looking pretty small. The number that Disney no doubt wants to beat is the $208.8 million that Jurassic World raked in during its opening weekend this year, and judging from the early interest, that record looks like it’s easily in sight.
AMC Theaters saw its previous single-day sales record shattered more than 10 times over, with the chain selling out over 1,000 shows in just 12 hours, with IMAX the clear winner: according to AMC, 38 percent of its ticket sales gross came from IMAX screenings. In fact, according to IMAX itself the movie has broken “every IMAX record,” generating $6.5 million in sales across 390 screens in the US. (Rounding things out, MovieTickets.com also had its biggest first day of sales in the service’s history, with 95 percent of the tickets sold in the last 24 hours going towards Star Wars — even though the movie hasn’t even been on sale yet for a full day.)
Pre-sale numbers like this are certainly fascinating, but they’re not necessarily a reflection of long-term box office performance. What they do indicate is pent-up demand, and in the case of Star Wars it’s largely been due to a carefully crafted and orchestrated promotional and release strategy that has let longtime fans feel that the film is speaking to them (versus that cognitive dissonance that seemed to take place with the prequels), while also giving away very little about the movie itself. It’s been a mix of exuberant hype and secrecy that is paying off, and while movies usually have to worry about box-office drop off in the second week, the way this movie is going, it won’t be surprising to see screenings sold out in advance weeks after the film opens.
For the first time, a virtual reality movie has won an Emmy award, as hardware such as the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive comes closer to the commercial market. Sleepy Hollow, a short virtual reality experience based on the TV show of the same name, won the Emmy for user experience and visual design — not one of the more well-known of the awards offered by the Television Academy, but an indication that VR is moving closer to the mainstream.
Sleepy Hollow was created by Canadian studio Secret Location, in partnership with Fox, and was first shown off at Comic-Con this year. Attendees were asked to put the Oculus Rift DK2 headset on, before the show’s decapitated antagonist appeared in front of their eyes, raising its axe to lop their heads off. The video closes with the viewer’s “head” lifted from its resting place on the floor by the hair. Videos show the appropriately terrified reactions of people who braved the experience, clutching at their necks, double-checking that the visual feedback their eyes were seeing wasn’t translating to the real world.