Epic has made acquisitions and otherwise signalled plans for a Fortnitemetaverse, but its latest move is one of the most obvious yet. The developer has introducedFortnite Party Worlds, or maps that are solely intended as social spaces to meet friends and play mini games. Unlike Hubs, these environments don't link to other islands think of them as final destinations.The company has collaborated with creators fivewalnut and TreyJTH to offer a pair of example Party Worlds (a theme park and a lounge). However, the company is encouraging anyone to create and submit their own so long as they focus on the same goal of peaceful socialization.This doesn't strictly represent a metaverse when Party Worlds live in isolation. At the same time, this shows how far Fortnite has shifted away from its original focuses on battle royale and co-op gaming there are now islands devoted solely to making friends, not to mention other non-combat experiences like virtual museums and trial courses. We wouldn't expect brawls to disappear any time soon, but they're quickly becoming just one part of a much larger experience.
Niantic has acquired another company to help build out its augmented reality platforms. The company has announced that it's acquiring the team behind Lowkey, an app you can use to easily capture and share gameplay moments. While you can use any screen capture application or even your phone's built-in feature to record your games, Lowkey was designed with casual gamers or those who don't want to spend time editing their videos in mind. The app can capture videos on your computer, for instance, and sync them with your phone where you can use its simple editing tools to create short clips optimized for mobile viewing. You're also able to share those clips with friends within the app Snapchat-style or publish it for public viewing like TikTok. Niantic didn't reveal what the Lowkey team will be doing for its AR games and experiences exactly, but it said the team's "leadership in this space will accelerate the social experiences [it's] building in [its] products." The company added: "We share a common vision for building community around shared experiences, and enabling new ways to connect and play for our explorers."The Pokémon Go creator purchased other companies in the past in its quest to build more tools and features for its augmented reality products. In 2017, it purchased social animation startup Evertoon to build a social network for its games. Last year, it bought 3D mapping startup 6D.ai to develop "planet-scale" augmented reality, and just this August, it acquired LiDAR scanning app Scaniverse to create a 3D map of the world.
The electrification of the bicycle has historically meant just that: A bike, but with an electric motor. You might find some other smart conveniences on higher-end models, but "less is more" has usually been the way. Urtopia, the latest e-bike brand from China, has other ideas. Its debut ride is, on paper, one of the most tech-heavy bikes weve seen. The spec sheet reads more like a phones than a next-gen fixie.For example, beyond the 250W hub motor with three levels of riding assist (and an estimated 30-80 mile range), theres an integrated dot-matrix display, a fingerprint reader, GPS, 4G (via eSIM), mmWave sensors for vehicle detection, an integrated alarm and, well the list goes on.The bike itself has a striking aesthetic that doesnt bother to hide the fact that this is possibly the most technologically advanced model youll see this year. The frame was designed by Mathis Heller who has experience with BMW and IKEA among others, and its pure curves and racing lines. The stealth bomber look is further enhanced with all the cables hidden from view inside the frame. The Urtopia is pitched as a city bike and while the (removable) battery isnt overly obvious, theres no doubt to even the most casual of glances that youre not wielding a regular analog pedaller.When this thing arrived, I was dreading putting it together. Previous experience has taught me that while not complex, youll want to set aside some time (and space) to get things set up. Turns out, the prototype model I tested only really needed the front wheel inserted and the tires pumped and I was good to go.James Trew / EngadgetThe obvious draw here for gadget fans will be the smartbar an onboard computer built right into the handlebars. The dot matrix display is the centerpiece of the bike and only dials up that bike from the future vibe. On the right-hand side where the bell would usually be is the fingerprint reader which interacts with the computer in a few ways (its also a digital bell). The left-hand side houses the four-way D-pad which is where you change modes and settings along with powering the bike on (but not off, more on that later).Despite that long list of smart features, not all of them were available to test on the prototype I was sent. The hardware for the mmWave sensors is there, but theres no way to activate it. The GPS and eSIM require the companion app to work and thats not ready yet also. Sadly, those are some very interesting features well have to wait and see on, but most everything else was present and correct.Before the fun stuff, the basic e-bike functionality (power/speeds/range etc.) appears to be on par with other hub-motor bikes Ive tried. For example, I recently tested the Tenways city bike, which has a 250W battery and motor compared to the Urtopias 360Wh cell. But both have 250W torque-based brushless hub motors and the same Gates carbon belt.Things get more exciting once you turn the bike on. Youll be greeted with a wooshing sound from the speaker in the smartbar and the company logo appearing on the display before defaulting back to the speedometer. I am informed that some of the sounds will be user-configurable and I hope that includes the option to turn them off. Before you ride, youll want to familiarize yourself with the controls. Up and down on the D-pad will cycle through the assistance levels: Pedal mode, Eco, Comfort and Sport (theres also a Turbo mode which is akin to a throttle mode).Urtopia e-bike projects turn signals onto the ground.James Trew / EngadgetTap left or right, and youll be presented with turn signals projected on the ground (these also remain on when the lights are on but flash when you initiate a turn). To switch the actual lights on, however, involves speaking to the bike theres no manual control, only voice.This is where things get a little goofy. Urtopia warns in its press materials that the voice recognition system hasnt been fully trained. Yet, for me, it worked perfectly. Perhaps they only trained it on dull-voiced Britons? Anyway, to turn the lights on youll need to place a digit on the fingerprint reader and wait for the face icon to appear on the screen letting you know you can issue your command like some sort of Belgian Michael Knight. Its cool but Id still like a physical switch so that I dont have to talk to my bike in public, not least because when youre riding, its harder for the smartbar to hear your voice thanks to the rustling wind, etc. The result is you either have to stop for a second or lean into the handlebars as you go, neither is very elegant.The list of things you can currently control with your voice includes: Change speed mode, lock the bike, indicate a turn and change the smartbars volume. All of those, bar the volume (and lights) have physical controls too. Its a cute idea and presents a hands-free option, but in practice, I do wonder how useful it is over a nice button you can mash.Another feature that feels like technology doesnt necessarily improve is the bell. On this bike its built into the fingerprint reader. A long press activates voice recognition, a short press will emit a digital ring ring. It works fine, but its not as responsive as a physical bell would be. I had times where I was approaching someone from behind and wanted to alert them to my presence, only for the bell to sound half a second after I passed them. Other times it took two or three tries for it to even trigger.James Trew / EngadgetThe experience with the alarm also needs a little smoothing out. I love the idea that I can leave the bike locked and if anyone moves it, itll issue an audible alarm. The problem is, the Urtopia will do this any time its locked. This might seem fine until you learn that locked is basically standby and the bike will be in this mode as soon as you connect the battery. So if you put the battery in and then start wheeling the bike out the front door, the alarm will sound.Theres an easy fix for this, but also not entirely helpful. Simply turn the bike on and that will disable the alarm. In fairness, this is a quirk of it being a prototype. Production models will allow you to disable the alarm with the fingerprint sensor or the companion app, but this isnt something I could test. Its worth mentioning that, right now, theres no actual way to turn the bike off other than by removing the battery, so fingers crossed these are some kinks that can be ironed out by launch. I asked a company representative if this was the plan and he confirmed that it was.So, tech aside, what does this thing ride like? The sitting position puts you leaning forward in more of a racer pose than a typical town bike where you might be more upright. Its comfortable though, even after mid to long rides (the longest I managed was 11 miles but I was up for more) although the Velo saddle could be a little easier on the butt its fairly hard and doesnt appear to be gel-lined.In pedal mode, theres no noticeable resistance from the motor as expected with a hub of this type. At 13Kg/30pounds, its pretty light for an e-bike mostly thanks to the carbon fiber body. This means if you dont want to use the battery its still a functional regular bike. Tap up on the D-pad though and things get fun real quick. Like most e-bikes, the Urtopia is limited on its power assistance based on territories. The US version tops out at 20 MPH before youre on your own and the EU version will cap out at 16 MPH of electric assistance.James Trew / EngadgetThe three power modes all feel pretty fast. Thats to say, even eco mode will help you along nicely. Step up to Comfort mode and you probably have nearly all the power you need to get where youre going and have a good balance of exercise and assistance. In Sport mode, this thing feels really quite fast despite the standard limitations. I often found myself dropping back down to Comfort mode when other humans were near as it can feel quite lively in a good way.If you really are feeling like chilling out and letting the bike do all the work, theres also that Turbo mode. Long press Up on the D-pad and even the lightest of pedaling will soon get you to 20mph. Given the racey aesthetic and the forward seating position, this is a lot of fun for not a lot of effort.With that in mind, I should mention the range. Urtopia claims you should be good for anything between 30 and 80 assisted miles. This will obviously depend on the terrain and which power mode youre in, and its quite a wide estimate. I havent run the battery down yet, but the indicator on the smartbar did seem to get quite low even on a 10-mile ride. Its hard to know if this is a prototype quirk or just that the battery is draining fast (which, again, could be something that changes in final hardware with final firmware? Hard to know).This is why I saved the section on GPS and the 4G connectivity until now. One of the more interesting selling points here for me is that you will be able to track and locate the bike on a map at almost any time. The company tells me it plans to offer data bundles for the 4G connectivity for about $30 a year which seems pretty reasonable for the peace of mind of being able to locate your bike anywhere if it were to go missing. My question is what impact might this have on the battery if its pinging GPS and running 4G while idle? Alas, a question I cant answer until we get to try the final model.The same question goes for the mmWave sensors. Another thing I am currently unable to test.James Trew / EngadgetWhat I do know is that as the bike is right now, its incredibly fun to ride and thanks to the weight, fairly easy to handle (I live in a fifth-floor apartment, so wrangling it into the small elevator is thankfully more manageable). The techno styling might not be to everyones taste, but Im quite fond of it. And most importantly, its nice to see something so tech-forward, even if some of the headline features werent ready. I am eager to try them once they are and after speaking with the company I got the sense there is more to come. I jokingly suggested they should allow music through the smartbar speaker (the bike has Bluetooth) and they suggested that was possible as are the required OTA updates to deliver such new features.Right now, the Urtopia is available for pre-order via Indiegogo. As such, the standard caveats apply, but given how close to final the prototype I have is, it doesnt seem like theres any more development to be done, just some fine-tuning on those remaining features. If you do pre-order youll be able to pick one up for $2,000 which is a really competitive price even for the bike without those extra features enabled. According to the campaign, that price will almost double once it goes to retail, so if youre taken by what you see, theres a decent incentive to get on board sooner rather than later.
In early December, Spotify rolls out its Wrapped year-in-review so that users can relive their go-to artists, songs and podcasts from the last several months. Today, the service is debuting the 2021 installment with some familiar features and a number of new additions, both of which are personalized to each listener's streaming habits. Like before, you'll get all the info on your top artists, genres, songs, podcasts and total minutes listened with the ability to share those details on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, for the first time ever, TikTok. With Wrapped 2021, Spotify is once again using the stories-style format it revealed last year. The company is continuing to make this personalized retrospective exclusive to its mobile apps on iOS and Android. Here, you'll get all of your stats along with a number of playlists the service will build based on your months of listening. Those include Your Top Songs 2021 and Your Artists Revealed, appearing alongside service-wide lists for the Top Tracks and Top Artists of the year. Spotify has also compiled playlists for its library of podcasts, including Best Episodes of 2021 and Best New Podcasts of 2021, to help you discover what was popular in the world of episodic content. SpotifyIn terms of new features, Spotify has added a "2021: The Movie" section to the Wrapped story carousel. This assigns songs from your activity to opening credits, a training montage and dance-off of a theoretical film for your 2021 music habits. Spotify also added "Your Audio Aura" that displays colors based on your go-to music moods like "confident" and "bold." The story section includes a Two Truths game as well, where you are presented with three potential facts about what you listened to most with the goal of trying to pick out the lie. Lastly, the company is leveraging its Blend feature that compares your music with a friend's listening activity. For Wrapped, Blend will analyze your year of streaming with someone you know to mind commonalities. Alongside Wrapped, Spotify has also announced the most popular artists on the platform for 2021. For the second straight year, Bad Bunny took the top spot globally, amassing over 9.1 billion streams this year. Olivia Rodrigo's "drivers license" and SOUR were the global top song and top album, respectively. And a revelation that shouldn't be too shocking: The Joe Rogan Experience, a Spotify exclusive, was the top podcast both globally and in the US. For the full breakdown of what was popular in 2021, check out Spotify's full lists here. The 2021 edition of Wrapped is rolling out to all users today in Spotify's iOS and Android apps.
Lenovo found success in the Google smart display space with its tiny smart clocks thanks to the devices' simplicity and affordable prices. The company introduced the modestly updated Smart Clock 2 this year and now Walmart has one of the best deals we've seen on it since its debut. You can pick up the Lenovo Smart Clock 2 plus one of the company's smart light bulbs for only $25, which is about $45 off its normal price. This bundle doesn't come with the wireless charging base that Lenovo introduced with the Smart Clock 2, but consider the display itself is $50 today at Best Buy, this deal would be a great one even if the light bulb wasn't in the picture.Buy Lenovo Smart Clock 2 bundle at Walmart - $25The design of the Smart Clock 2 is a bit different from the original in that it has a wider base, but the four-inch screen size remains the same. Lenovo also moved the speakers to the front of the device, resulting in a larger chin underneath the display. It doesn't hinder the minimalist look of the smart clock, and since it also means the speakers now fire outwards, it should actually help the blaring noise of your alarm reach your ears regardless of the position of the clock in relation to your bed.The biggest new feature on the Smart Clock 2 is that the screen can now double as a night light and you can swipe down on the display to enable it. You can still ask the Google Assistant to activate the night light, but the extra gesture makes it so you don't have to speak to get some extra light in the middle of the night. Otherwise, the Smart Clock 2 can do everything the original device can, including show weather forecasts, enable alarms, play music and control smart home devices. Lenovo also kept a camera out of the equation yet again, which will make the Smart Clock 2 a more appealing option for those who have no desire to video chat using the alarm on their bedside table.We can't speak for the quality of the Lenovo smart light bulb that's included in the bundle, but we can say that it supports white and color options with adjustable temperature and brightness. In addition to the companion mobile app, you can control the bulb using the Google Assistant or Alexa and we expect you may do so using the former quite a bit if you pick up this bundle. If you have a small room in your home that you want to make a bit smarter, this Lenovo bundle is a solid, inexpensive way to do that.Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.
First Lady Jill Biden unveiled the official White House Christmas display with this year's theme being "Gifts From The Heart," with her Yuletide style described by the Washington Post as "a warmer, simpler vibe."