Chicago’s new Apple store has a giant MacBook for a roof

Construction is underway at the new Apple store in downtown Chicago, and today, as reported by DNA Chicago, a new design element was added — a giant Apple logo. A construction crew laid out the logo on the store’s silver, rectangular roof, making it look like a giant MacBook. It stayed for less than an hour before crews rolled up the logo and removed it.

Designed by London-based Foster+Partners, the store is a relocation of Apple’s original Chicago flagship and is a 20,000-square-foot space which, upon completion, will have all-glass walls and a thin, carbon fiber roof… that looks like a MacBook.

The first renderings were originally unveiled in 2015, and touted the project’s “echo” to Prairie Style homes. As the Chicago Tribune details, the all-glass walls range between 14 to 32 feet in height, made out of four layers of half-inch thick glass that are joined with layers of stronger, thicker laminated glass.

Though the Apple logo on top wasn’t in original plans, outlets like the Chicago Tribune and NBC Chicago made mention of the logo’s inclusion on the roof of the building as early as March 28th. “The roof is made from a lightweight material used in yacht hulls to keep it thin,” writes the Chicago Tribune, “four feet thick at its widest point and four inches at its narrowest, with an Apple logo on top.” Between these clues, the original renderings, and all the overhead photos people have taken along the way, it’s astounding the MacBook roof stayed a mystery until now.

When it is finished, the store will include many of the new elements that were introduced at a San Francisco store last year, including an outdoor plaza and a video wall with gathering space called “The Forum.” Apple has not indicated when the new Chicago store will open, but you can watch the construction crew fuss with its oversized logo above.

Airbnb reportedly launching a premium tier to compete with hotels

Airbnb is getting ready to launch a new premium service meant to attract higher-paying travelers, according to Bloomberg. This tier will try to lure new customers who have yet to try the platform because they prefer the amenities that come with upscale hotels.

This is the first time upscale properties will be segmented into their own category, and Bloomberg’s sources say the included listings will be officially inspected by Airbnb to make sure the homes meet designated standards and will offer incentives for participants — like a consultation with an Airbnb-provided interior decorator. Requirements for the program include new and matching bedding, single-use toiletries, available bottled water, tea, and coffee, and other amenities generally found at hotels. It is unofficially being referred to as “Select,” but a formal name has not been chosen.

Select could help Airbnb gain customers who believe home-sharing is inferior to booking a hotel room. The company is pursuing “older and wealthier travelers” with the new effort, Bloomberg claims. The news comes on the heels of Airbnb streamlining their check-in process and confirming it is testing split payments.

The pilot for Select is expected to launch this week, and the full rollout could come by end of 2017.

Asus’ new Vivobook S has slim bezels, a 7th-generation processor, and only costs $700

Asus launched a new VivoBook S, the S510, today that features a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, runs Windows 10, and is designed to look nearly identical to the MacBook Air. The laptop weighs only 3.3 pounds and has 7.8mm-thick bezel.

Here are the specs:

  • 15.6-inch Full HD, 1920 x 1280 display
  • Either Intel Core i7-7500U or i7-7200U processor (depending on model)
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Ports: USB-C, USB Type-A, USB 2.0, HDMI, headphone jack
  • Up to 1TB of storage (depending on model)
  • Windows 10 Home
  • Included SD card reader

It starts at $699 and goes up to $799 for a better processor and more storage. It’s available through Asus’ online store, ABT, B&H, Computer Upgrade King, and Newegg.

Asus debuted its VivoBook S line at Computex this year. We had some hands-on time with one model and found that the screen didn’t look great, but for the price, it seemed okay. More than anything else, the weight and price will probably be what gets people interested, so maybe a less-than-stellar display is fine.

Google is launching a new line of cameras for 180-degree VR video

Google is launching a new, more limited cinematic VR format that it hopes will be almost as accessible as regular YouTube videos. It’s called VR180, a collaboration between YouTube and Google’s Daydream VR division. And it’ll be produced with a new line of cameras from Yi, Lenovo, and LG, as well as other partners who meet VR180 certification standards.

As the name suggests, VR180 videos don’t stretch all the way around a viewer in VR. They’re supposed to be immersive if you’re facing forward, but you can’t turn and glance behind you. Outside VR, they’ll appear as traditional flat videos, but you can watch them in 3D virtual reality through the YouTube app with a Google Cardboard, Daydream, or PlayStation VR headset.

Creators can shoot the videos using any camera with a VR180 certification. Google’s Daydream team is working with the three companies above, and the first of their VR180 products are supposed to launch this winter, at roughly the same price as a point-and-shoot camera. So far, the only image we’ve seen is the one above, a line drawing of Lenovo’s design. It appears to have two wide-angle lenses that can shoot stereoscopic video, and it’s a far cry from the expensive alien orbs that we often see in VR film shoots.

YouTube videographers are supposed to be able to shoot the way they would with any other camera, and will “soon” be able to edit the videos with Adobe Premiere Pro and other standard software. Based on the timeline above, it’ll be some time before you can buy a camera, but Google says creators can apply to loan one from one of its YouTube Spaces, which are found in nine major cities worldwide.

Moving toward 180-degree instead of full 360-degree video has a few big advantages. It doesn’t need the same time-consuming (and often expensive) stitching as videos made with, say, Google’s 360-degree Jump system. You can put a person behind the camera without them appearing in the shot — in full 360-degree videos, filmmakers often literally hide behind objects during a scene. And it could push down file sizes, so viewers are less likely to get annoying buffering gaps while they’re streaming.

A decent amount of VR film is already being shot with a 180-degree field of view — including sports videos from NextVR, which reasoned that viewers would be fine watching action on the field without looking back at the crowd. In practice, we’ve had a mixed experience with this, but it could be a worthwhile sacrifice if it lowers the bar for YouTube videographers.

At the same time, VR180 is further from the goal of full VR “immersion” than 360-degree video, and it lets filmmakers hedge their bets with something that’s easier to translate onto a flat screen. This doesn’t mean VR is in trouble — but at the very least, Google is taking a step back and hoping more filmmakers can catch up.

YouTube Red originals have racked up nearly 250 million views

The eighth annual VidCon starts today, and all eyes are on YouTube, the world’s biggest platform for online video. It’s been almost two years since the company announced Red, its subscription service, and began creating ad-free original content that would exist behind a paywall. While the company hasn’t shared any hard subscriber numbers yet, it’s made clear that its bet on original programming is only going to grow. The audience is massive enough. The company announced today that more than 1.5 billion users log in every month, with each person consuming an average of one hour of mobile video per day.

For its first season, YouTube Red produced 24 films and series. This year, the company plans to produce more than 40 originals, and will reportedly commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the effort. While expanding its efforts around originals, YouTube is also making one major strategic change. The first slate of original programming was built exclusively around homegrown talent like PewDiePie and Lily Singh, but the next phase of YouTube-produced shows will also feature shows built around celebrities including Katy Perry, Kevin Hart, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“We think we can have both,” said Susanne Daniels, a veteran of MTV who joined YouTube to lead its original programming efforts. The first season of YouTube Red originals have so far garnered just under 250 million views, but the audience was heavily concentrated among kids under the age of 18. By bringing on well-known celebrities and franchises, Daniels is hoping to expand that demographic. “The future will be more like 50 percent homegrown YouTube stars and 50 percent programming that isn’t endemic to the platform.”

YouTube isn’t aiming to make highbrow drama like House of Cards or Transparent — at least not yet. It’s hoping to extend its reach with series like Step Up, a popular film franchise with proven global appeal that resonates with one of the key genres on YouTube: dance videos. And while Lionsgate will produce the series, plenty of native YouTube talent will be featured. Daniels is also betting her audience will move beyond the 10- and 20-minute videos shown during Red’s first season. For Step Up, episodes over 40 minutes are in the works. The original programming also gets prime real estate on YouTube TV, which announced today that it’s expanding from five to 15 markets.

The Brandcast event in New York last month was a chance to show off the big celebrity partnerships. VidCon is a chance to return the spotlight to the native talent. The company announced six new Red originals starring YouTube talent at the event; they are also picking up six originals for a second season. And this afternoon YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki delivered the opening keynote with Rhett and Link, co-stars of the Buddy System series, a homegrown success story for Red.

The pair have been dreaming for decades about making a narrative series. “We were writing screenplays together back in middle school,” says Rhett in a phone interview. But while they made a living off Good Mythical Morning, the traditional business of YouTube didn’t allow them to venture beyond their daily diet of stunts, challenges, and conversational vlogs. “The financial model of ad-supported shows, you have to find something easy to make, make a lot of it, make it cheaply, and recoup your investment through ads.”

With the advent of YouTube Red, the dynamic changed. Rhett and Link got the chance to create a scripted original, Buddy System, with the production financed by YouTube, and the episodes only available to Red Subscribers paying $9.99 a month. But whether or not the Buddy System audience would follow the pair to Red was unknown. “If you’re a successful vlogger, does that translate into being able to make narrative content people want?” asked Rhett.

The answer after season 1 has been a definitive yes. According to Variety’s “In Demand” ratings, excitement from fans exceeded the chatter around productions from Netflix and Amazon with much bigger budgets. An audience accustomed to videos between five and seven minutes in length were sitting down for 10- to 12-minute episodes. YouTube renewed Buddy System for a second season, and the duo is planning to push things even further, with episodes that run 22 minutes or more, which is the length of a traditional TV sitcom.

But even as they move into season 2, the pair stresses that, for them at least, this still feels like a transitionary period. “It is still an exercise in converting our Good Mythical Morning audience to being Red subscribers,” says Link. “The challenge is getting that audience to think about content in a different way, how do they consume it, are they willing to pay for it? That’s the big hurdle. They have gotten this free their entire life,” says Rhett.

If shows like Rhett and Link’s are working, why is YouTube spending big bucks to court established celebrities? Well, many of those originals will be available to non-Red subscribers too. Joshua Cohen, who covers the online video industry as editor-in-chief of TubeFilter, says the extra expense is justified as YouTube goes after marketing money that was once spent on traditional broadcast television. “A lot of the people who control the purse strings at these advertising agencies and brands, they know who Katy Perry is, they know who Demi Lovato is, it’s an easier yes than having to educate them about a personality they have never heard about before.”

Daniels is quick to point out, however, that while they are working with more mainstream stars like Perry, they are still leveraging YouTube’s unique platform. Perry’s three-day live stream, “Witness World Wide,” was filmed by 41 robotic cameras throughout the space. While watching from Katy’s YouTube channel, fans could view from one of five camera angles at any given moment. Broadcast television doesn’t typically devote airtime to celebrities sleeping in bed, but a massive audience tuned in to watch Perry catch some winks live on YouTube, with over 49 million views clocked during the event.

Of course, pumping hundreds of millions into the production and marketing of originals for big YouTube stars and Hollywood celebrities puts YouTube into competition with smaller-scale creators. “The odds are more against [those creators] than they were 10 years ago, when just a handful of people thought this was worth getting into,” says Rhett. Cohen agrees that the increase in originals makes it harder for new megastars to emerge organically. That being said, “There are way more people making a living on YouTube than ever before.”

For all the talk of taking a bite out of television, investing in more ambitious projects is also a defensive strategy for YouTube. As Facebook, Snapchat, and others begin spending heavily on their own originals, Red is “definitely an internal marketing tactic that allows YouTube to strengthen relationships with its top talent,” says Cohen. YouTube stars are paying close attention. Swoozie, a vlogger with just shy of 5 million subscribers, announced at VidCon today that he’ll be hosting a Red original called Laced Up. It’s a sneaker-design competition produced by Ken Mok, the brains behind countless seasons of America’s Next Top Model.

In an interview with The Verge, Swoozie talked about how excited he was for the opportunity to host an original, and how impressed he was by the quality of the production. But he also kept his eye on how the company treated its stars off set. “I was watching very carefully. They guy who picked me up for the airport came in a $100,000 Mercedes. They did not skimp on the smallest little detail.”

FCC proposes a national ‘Blue Alert’ system to warn public of threats to law enforcement

The FCC today proposed to add the “Blue Alert” to the US Emergency Alert System which will notify the public of nearby suspects or threats to their communities’ law enforcement officials. The Blue Alert was introduced in 2015 after two New York City police officers were ambushed and killed while on duty.

The proposal seeks to make the Blue Alert, currently active in 27 states, a consistent, nationwide system that each state and local agency can adopt. The alerts can be sent through a television broadcast (cable or satellite), radio stations, and wireline video outlets. The format is modeled after the Amber Alert for missing children; Blue Alerts can warn the public if a violent suspect is nearby, the type of vehicle (if any) they’re last seen in, and what civilians should do if they spot the suspect. The alerts can only be made when a law enforcement officer in the line of duty has been killed, seriously injured, or is missing — though threats of serious injury that seem “credible” will also be accepted.

“This network provides the means of quickly identifying, pursuing and capturing violent offenders who have hurt, killed or pose an imminent danger to law enforcement,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in May when the Justice Department launched the National Blue Alert Network that would support the system if the proposal is approved.

The FCC is currently accepting public comments on the Blue Alert proposal for three months.

Some Uber employees are circulating a petition to get Travis Kalanick reinstated

Some Uber employees — including a few managers — are circulating a petition that calls for the reinstatement of Travis Kalanick, who was forced to resign as CEO earlier this week. The petition, which was first reported by Recodeand BuzzFeed, speaks in glowing terms about Kalanick and calls for supportive employees to “revolt this!”

Also making the rounds is a letter to the company’s board that includes the signatures of over 1,000 employees asking for the return of Kalanick “to an operational role,” according to Axios. Both the letter and the petition are a reflection of a growing disgruntlement among some of Uber’s 15,000 employees about the manner in which the company’s founder and chief executive was fired.

The email, which includes a link to a petition that directs to an internal Uber website, calls on all those who disapprove of “TK’s resignation,” using Kalanick’s nickname among employees. “TK, no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have ever seen,” it reads. “He worked day and night in creating this company to what it is today.”

“Uber is TK,” it adds, “and TK is Uber.”

The letter to Uber’s board has a more formal writing style, but conveys the same message. “Yes, Travis is flawed, as we all are,” it reads. “But his passion, vision, and dedication to Uber are simply unmatched. We would not be here today without him, and believe he can evolve into the leader we need. He is critical to our future success.”

Kalanick was ousted late Tuesday after an extended barrage of scandals and controversy. According to TheNew York Times, a coalition of Uber investors, led by two venture capitalists, confronted Kalanick in a hotel room in Chicago with a letter demanding his resignation. After hours of intense talks, Kalanick finally acquiesced and agreed to step down.

But not all of Uber’s investors were on board with the power move. Mood Rowghani, a partner in a venture capital firm invested in Uber, told Axios in a statement that he agreed with those clamoring for Kalanick to remain involved at Uber. “Founders may not always play the role of CEO but several great companies—most notably Apple and Twitter—that severed all ties to their founders eventually came to regret it.”

Unmentioned in any of these letters and statements is any reference to the avalanche of questionable behavior that led Uber’s board to demand Kalanick’s resignation. One such incident, the mishandling of the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in 2014, has prompted yet another internal investigation at the ride-hail company.

Reuters reported today that Uber retained a law firm to probe how one of its top executives obtained the records. Meanwhile, the victim recently filed a lawsuit against Uber, Kalanick, and two other top executives — both of whom were also recently fired.

China bans video and audio streaming on Sina Weibo and two other websites

China is tightening its control over internet content. Yesterday, the government reportedly told three websites — Sina Weibo, iFeng, and ACFUN — to stop streaming video and audio content that apparently were “not in line with national audiovisual regulations and propagating negative speech,” according to the Financial Times.

All three sites lack a license to stream content, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) says. The agency previously fined Tencent, which owns WeChat, for broadcasting political and social news without a proper license. Now, individual users have to apple for a license to stream.

The Financial Times points out that Sina Weibo invested in a video streaming site last November and counts on live stream advertisements to make money. Still, it faces government scrutiny, just like other platforms operating in China. Earlier this month, at least 60 social media accounts were shut down for spreading “vulgar content” and “negatively impacting society.”

Airbnb is testing split payments so you won’t have to nag your friends

Airbnb is testing a feature that should have existed ages ago: split payments.

Currently, if you book an Airbnb for a group of people, one person has to charge the entire expense, and if there’s a need to collect payments from other parties, well, that’s on you. Now, as reported by The Next Web, Airbnb is testing a function with a small group of listings that allows payments to be split up to 16 ways beforehand.

Airbnb has been rolling out several updates this year to make the service more streamlined and easier to use — like standardizing the check-in process with host-supplied photos and text instructions. Adding split payments is a welcome, but long-overdue update that comes with plenty of benefits (no more nagging your friends for their portion of the trip afterward, for one).

For now, use of split payments is limited. As Tim Rathschmidt, an Airbnb spokesperson tells The Next Web, “This is a small, initial pilot — our goal is to make it even easier to use Airbnb to travel with friends and family.”

Uber for jets accused of not paying its employees

JetSmarter, a Florida startup that offers a subscription service for air travel on private planes, is being sued by former employees who alleges the company failed to pay thousands of hours of overtime. The lead plaintiff, Grace Lamey, worked as a shuttle experience manager, dealing with things like reservations, boarding, and handing out food and drinks.

Lamey’s lawsuit alleges that during the three years she worked for JetSmarter, she and other employees regularly worked more than 65 hours a week and sometimes as many as six or seven days a week. The lawsuit alleges that she and other employees were never paid for those hours, much less paid time and half. This failure, the lawsuit contends, is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Lamey left JetSmarter in March of this year.

In addition, in May of this year The Verge received an email from an anonymous tipster alleging that JetSmarter was unable to make payroll and had failed to deliver paychecks on time. An email forwarded from senior human resources manager Andrea Wolniewitz, independently confirmed by another employee, explained that a change in payroll would result in a three-week gap in paychecks and that future paychecks would be slightly smaller, as more would be issued each year.

The Verge subsequently spoke with seven current and former employees. All confirmed that there had been episodes where paychecks were not delivered on time. Those in sales said that there had been issues around commissions, with the company arbitrarily changing the percentage of payouts on sales or delaying the delivery of commission checks.

Several employees said they believed the payroll issues were driven by financial difficulties at JetSmarter. The company recently stopped offering subsidized helicopter transfers in New York City, a move that several employees say was driven by JetSmarter’s inability to pay the companies it contracted for these flights.

In March of this year, The Vergedetailed customer complaints about ever-changing rules and benefits at JetSmarter. At the time, industry competitors had alleged that JetSmarter was an unsustainable Ponzi scheme. The costs cited by JetSmarter’s suppliers also contradicted the picture painted by JetSmarter executives.

Wolniewitz, who, according to company insiders, is serving as the de facto head of HR, has little experience in human resources. According to her LinkedIn, she worked for a year and a half as the executive assistant to Gennady Barsky, the former president of JetSmarter, who left the company earlier this year after being arrested on charges of embezzlement.

A former employee who spoke with The Verge anonymously, said that JetSmarter’s erratic approach to payroll contrasted sharply with its lavish operations. “You would be there late working a fancy party for customers, handing out food, champagne, that sort of thing. And then you would wake up the next day to find your paycheck was late.”

Ronn Torossian, a spokesperson for JetSmarter sent the following response by email:

JetSmarter values its employees and appreciates their hard work. The company offers a top notch benefit package, cover all employee and their dependents healthcare premiums at 100%, provide a generous 401K match, stock options, and other perks.

The lawsuit was filed by a former shuttle experience manager. While her work schedule required her to work some evening and weekends, similar to other customer service professionals, she was paid for the hours that she worked.

To improve internal processes, JetSmarter recently transitioned to an industry standard payroll practices of one-week in arrears – employees are paid one week after the pay period ends (not 3). This payment schedule ensures that employees receive 2 more paychecks a year in comparison to the old system.