In 2017 cars are at the frontier of technology

The thing that keeps me coming back to cars is how they creep into most every aspect of our lives. The obvious reason is that we spend a good portion of our time inside of them. An overwhelming 91 percent of Americans use their personal vehicles to get to work, the average American spends 55 minutes behind the wheel a day, and Americans make 1.1 billion trips everyday, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Car companies have been right in our face for a long time, but now tech companies are getting involved. The biggest shift in the perception of the automobile in America, is that in 2016 cars became part of the tech industry’s mission.

Only a year ago, if you read the comments on our car reviews, it seemed like Verge readers were divided in two camps — those who thirsted for car coverage and those who thought car companies— excluding a rare bird like Tesla — had no place among our focus on gadgetry, big ideas about security and data, and the promise of progress. It felt like the auto industry had crashed CES as the uncouth guest flashing around marketing dollars.

But 2016 was the year of surprising realignments, in virtually every aspect of society, and suddenly it became hard to find a tech company purveyor that didn’t express an interest in some aspect of autonomous car technology or wasn’t in talks with a major automaker. Car culture, which up until recently was infused with 20th century nostalgia, has piqued the imagination as transportation concepts are called into question. Artificial intelligence, LIDAR, and data security are now part of everyday car speak.

As we head into 2017 and CES abuzz with car news, we can make predictions about what’s ahead, but in reality none of us has a clear idea of what comes next. And that’s where I struggle to make forecasts. In my wildest vision, I imagine an autonomous trucking service will quietly set up shop in a remote western state to make weekly deliveries, a car company will launch a subscriber service as experiment, or a US city that will announce plans for a self-driving only zone. I imagine rideables that have wicked new designs, Uber flying to a pickup destination near you, or a new electric car company going belly up. I imagine a coalition of government and industry players that push some more practical version of hyperloop plans forward. I imagine a company, in a gutsy move, taking the steering wheel out of its car to brag about reaching level 5 autonomy in public testing, in the same way car company engineers used to street race in the 1960s, after dark when no one was watching.

But in 2017, I could also see progress hampered. A major car company could spiral into bankruptcy if its business model for manufacturing or overseas sales is challenged by political forces. I could see engineering and technician shortages increase, as not enough Americans pursue training in their fields and the diversity in the auto industry’s highest ranks continue to be abysmal. If the government dials back on emissions standards, car companies may abandon plans to make efficient cars. I could see a patchwork of self-driving laws causing heated legislative battles when the next fatal accident happens.

These are uncertain times in the world, and in a time of such flux, the automotive industry is subject to the unpredictability that looms large. Technology we have learned, can catch us by surprise, create logical solutions, but in 2016 we were reminded that it can also let us down. And so can humans.

Chevy Bolt drive galleryChevy Bolt drive gallery

A decade ago, we were told that electric cars were the future. Yet even in an ev-friendly state like California, for every electric car consumer, there are 97 drivers who will still buy gasoline powered engines, especially when gas prices go low. Thousands of car companies and big ideas have come and gone. The history of automotive industry is made up of more failure than progress.The jury is still out on who will win in this era. Will Tesla go the route of Tucker or Ford? Will the Chevy Bolt and Model 3 ever capture more business than the Ford F150?

While none of us know what’s ahead, here’s what I hope will happen in the world of transportation. I hope that new ideas and innovations will delight us, surprise us, and keep us safer and cleaner. I hope that motorsports like Formula E will become a growing, fertile ground for understanding how to make cars fast, clean, and fun. I hope that the industry will be conscious on the impact it will have on the planet instead of focusing on short-term profits. I hope that our investment infrastructure will not only mean patching up roads, but also mean rethinking how public transportation plays into getting people from all walks of life around town. We have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and continue to race toward a future where transportation keeps us connected, and human.

How to be human: how to handle fear

Leah Reich was one of the first internet advice columnists. Her column “Ask Leah” ran on IGN, where she gave advice to gamers for two and a half years. During the day, Leah is Slack’s user researcher, but her views here do not represent her employer. How to be Human runs every other Sunday. You can write to her at askleah@theverge.com and read more How to be Human here.

Hey Leah,

What’s the best way to handle fear?

B

Hey B,

There is no “best” way to handle fear. I mean, maybe there’s a best way for you, or a best way for me, but there’s no single across-the-board best way. That’s not always what people want to hear, but being human isn’t a simple, straightforward process. It’s also a competition or a series of optimization exercises, so I don’t want anyone thinking if they aren’t good at the “best” way to handle fear they’re somehow failing.

But obviously there are better ways to handle fear.

Fear is an innate feeling, one of the most fundamental feelings we’re born with. It is natural, almost everyone has it, it’s a very human thing. More than that! It’s a very animal thing. Fear is partly emotional, partly physical, and it’s a response that helps us survive. This is why I don’t like it when someone says “Don’t be afraid!” in response to someone else’s fear. I know the intention is good — it’s a way of saying “this thing isn’t actually bad or scary, you’re okay” — but it’s a little like saying “don’t be sleepy!” and “don’t be angry!” So the first part of dealing with fear is to remind yourself that being afraid is totally okay and normal.

It’s also necessary to remember that fears come in a wide range of flavors. Fears exist along a sort of spectrum, with “rational” at one end and “irrational” at the other. Technically, fears fall into one bucket or another, but to me (admittedly a sociologist and not a psychologist), it can seem a little more complicated than that when you’re thinking through your fears. Rational fears are of the “I am afraid because I am in danger and something or someone threatens my well-being” variety, like living in an active war zone or with an abuser, or being approached in the dark by someone you immediately know is going to hurt you. Irrational fears, also known as phobias, are of the “I am afraid of a situation or a thing that is not present or is intangible” variety, like fear of public speaking or spiders, of death or of the unknown. To call them irrational is not to say they aren’t real but to acknowledge the “rationality” of an intense emotional and physiological fight-or-flight response to something that does not currently pose a danger or isn’t even dangerous at all.

My guess is you want to focus on the more irrational side of fear, which is what I want to do too. This is “how to be human” not “how to react when someone is threatening you with bodily harm.” So when I say “fear” from now on, I’m talking about that whole side of the spectrum, the one without a clear and present danger.

As humans, we gather all manner of fears throughout our lives. Sometimes we learn to be afraid of something, because we’re taught or conditioned to fear them, or because we experience something very traumatic. We’re also influenced by culture, society, religion, and so on. You can see how fears shift and change over time. For example, the fear of disease and germs meant most people in medieval Europe rarely bathed — the idea was that dirt in your pores helped you block disease — whereas the modern fear of disease and germs is so anti-dirt there’s a massive industry dedicated to anti-bacterial cleaning products. As it turns out, some dirt is good but so is some hygiene, but you try telling that to our entire clean = good culture at this moment in history.

At the heart of a lot of our irrational fears are stories. And I mean that very literally: They are stories in the deepest sense of the word, narratives we tell ourselves over and over again about a thing that happened and what it means, why we’ve a situation or a type of person, why we are the way we are and there’s no changing it. A lot of these stories are like a pair of sweatpants I’ve had for, I don’t know, about 15 years. To call them sweatpants is generous, since right now they’re a waistband barely attached to a pair of conjoined fabric legs. Why haven’t I thrown them away, you ask? It’s not because they’ve got sentimental value. I’ve bought new sweatpants in recent years, ones I like a lot better. The truth is I keep them out of habit, because they’re there and they’ve seemingly always been there and why question it?

A lot of my fears feel like these sweatpants. I’ll march right over to the dresser, pull them out, and throw them on, not for a second stopping to ask “hey, why am I still wearing these terrible things? What if I just threw them away, right now?” Those are the two key questions at the heart of my approach to fear: WHY and WHAT IF.

Here is a tiny little example, one that not surprisingly involves yoga. When I was 15, I got a pair of rollerblades (feel free to laugh, it was 1990 and I was probably also wearing striped Girbaud shorts that looked like this). I used them exactly once because within a few minutes of gliding gracefully down my street, I fell really hard and partially dislocated my shoulder (it’s okay, you can still laugh, this is a ridiculous way to hurt yourself). My shoulder has never been the same since. It’s popped out many times, and I’ll spare you the stories of one time when I had to pop it back in myself.

Now, you’re probably thinking this caused me to develop a fear of rollerblades, which is a delightful phobia to consider. But no! Many years later, I became afraid of inversions and arm balances in yoga. Sure, my fear is partly rational, because I could pop my shoulder out again and have to deal with yet another strengthening and healing process. Except the kind of yoga I do has made me stronger than I’ve ever been and has showed me that most poses require you to be strong not just in your arms and legs but in your core. Like, in your abs but also in the center of yourself! And I started to recognize that my fear wasn’t just about my shoulder. It was about not being strong enough, about falling down, about doing it wrong, about how you even get into that pose and I would never be able to do it. About failing. But addressing all of those things was so much worse than saying “My shoulder might come out! I can’t do this.” I never asked why I was afraid, I just kept saying “I can’t do this” in response to the thing that scared me. So my fears had hardened into a THING. An obstacle.

One day my teacher told us to go to the wall and do an inversion, a forearm balance, and my brain immediately went “well, I can’t do that.” Like, my brain pulled on its shitty torn-up sweatpants, the ones that say YOU’RE AFRAID right on the butt. In that moment I stopped and asked myself, “Why not? Why am I afraid? What if I can do it?” I remember it very distinctly, because I could feel a physical shift in my body when I said “I dunno, maybe I can do it.” Did I succeed right away? No, but I did eventually, and now I can do a variety of forearm balances at the wall. After a while I even started practicing handstand on my own — I still can’t kick up all the way without an assist, but I try. I’m still a little afraid of it, so I keep saying WHY and WHAT IF. Sometimes I say “what if instead of the scariest thing you treat it as the most fun thing?” It might sound corny but the other day I did the first part of an arm balance called astavakrasana (this is what the full pose looks like, but I’m not there yet) and when it happened I involuntarily shouted out “Oh shit!” in class out of sheer surprise and delight.

I don’t think every fear is one that will be resolved with a joyful “Oh shit!” I have a lot of fears that make me so sad and angry, especially when I think about how long I’ve had them and how many things they’ve kept me from doing in my life. Many of those fears do not have fun upside down resolutions. But I can still ask WHY and WHAT IF. I can still throw those horrid sweatpants away, one pair at a time.

Many years ago my dad said something that I’ve always treasured. He said that talking about the thing that scares you the most helps it becomes less terrifying. It’s no longer something you can’t voice or name, no longer something you have to deal with alone. Fear loves to be a secret. It loves to hide and be a disembodied voice that rises up from the darkest corners, telling you the same story over and over.

One more thing: Fear is not yours alone. Learning to more effectively handle fear requires being able to acknowledge other people’s fears too. I’m not telling you to say “well, this person’s about to punch me, I bet it’s because they’re scared of something too.” This is not about having compassion for an abuser or oppressor. Some people definitely choose fight over flight in response to fear. But we’re all afraid and vulnerable, sometimes rationally and sometimes not. We’ve learned many fears over the course of our lives. We all act out of fear in ways that can be very harmful to ourselves and others, but a better way is to ask WHY and WHAT IF before we act. Imagine if people were able to do more of that together. Imagine what would change.

Happy New Year.

Lx

The definitive ranking of celeb merch in 2016

Merch took over 2016.

While fast fashion companies, like Zara and H&M, failed us with predictable designs and a tired ‘70s aesthetic, celebrity merch had a moment. In fact, merch inspired fast fashion companies. Kanye Wests puts calligraphy on a couple shirts, and suddenly everybody is covering their lines in loopy “O”s and curly “G”s.

Celebrity merch in 2016 is paradoxically more accessible and fashionably limited. No longer do fans have to prove their love to an artist by going to a concert and buying a shirt with tour dates. Drake, Kanye, Kylie Jenner, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd all launched temporary physical and virtual pop-up shops this year. Much of the outfits were limited to small retail batches and prohibitively high prices. Kanye West claims he made at least a million dollars on The Life of Pablo merch alone.

Pop-up shops generated and took advantage of the very 2016 trend of false scarcity. They also harnessed social media and its communities to build hype. Like we learned from Snap’s Spectacles launch, which involved temporary pop-up shops and vending machines, by making a product limited in its availability, fans are enticed to flock to temporary stores, form a line, generate more hype, and spend more money.

And so merch is more popular, more fashionable, more available, and yet more exclusionary than ever. Which is to say, merch and fashion have all but melded into one.

With 2016 going down as the Year of Merch, I figured I should create a highly scientific and definitive ranking, from best to worst, of this year’s top merch. Yes, The Verge’s merch is included on this list, too. Duh.

Kanye’s Life of Pablo merch and general merch

#PabloMerch #TheLifeOfPablo #LosAngeles #HypeAf

A photo posted by ∆ MENDIVIL (@a_mendivil) on Aug 20, 2016 at 7:28pm PDT

I know Kanye’s the fashion designer of the bunch, so maybe putting him first is unfair. But you have to admit, the man understands how to launch a trend. Pablo merch is inescapable on New York City sidewalks, and wherever else hypebeasts live.

I’m separately obsessed with this Kim Kardashian-centric shirt that Kanye released while on tour this fall. It’s a beyond good shirt. Don’t @ me.

  Gardiner Anderson/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Kylie Jenner’s self-promotional merch

Yes, Kylie Jenner is famous for being a member of the Kardashian fam, but she’s legitimately more well-known for profiting off her own face and lewk. She’s a lipstick mogul because she has good lips and people want to emulate them. Now she’s selling shirts with her face on them for the exact same reason. Life must be nice when you’re famous enough to sell your face.

Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour merch

@nomadtoronto for #purposetour #6

A video posted by jerrylorenzo (@jerrylorenzo) on May 18, 2016 at 9:48am PDT

Our sister publication Racked detailed Bieber’s merch releases over this year. At first, only the most dedicated could get their hands on an exclusive shirt, but by the end of the year, even H&M was carrying his line of clothing. I hear people went crazy for Bieber’s line, but I stopped paying attention to him after I heard “Sorry” for the thousandth time. Sorry. The merch looks nice, though, and Bieber successfully got both cool bloggers and normal folk to rep his brand. That’s success.

The Weeknd’s StarBoy merch

  GQ

Moody about sums up The Weeknd and his merch. I dig it. Plus, jackets are always a desired merch item, as is a black and red color palette, so for that, The Weeknd gets a high ranking.

Frank Ocean Black Friday merch

  Highsnobiety

Frank Ocean came out of hiding this year with two new albums. The latter of the two, Blonde, was initially previewed through a temporary pop-up shop. On Black Friday, he launched a “Boys Don’t Cry” 24-hour online store. The simple merch design and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it retail approach worked for an artist who keeps a low profile. Bonus points go to Frank for the air freshener.

  Highsnobiety

John Mayer’s “Love On The Weekend” merch

  GQ

Yes, even John Mayer got into merch this year. It’s not even bad? It’s a fine shirt? John Mayer is very good at recognizing what a John Mayer fan would wear.

The Verge merch

The Verge released merch this year! Check out those thin lines and that gradient. Plus the cotton on these shirts — wow it’s soft. Anyway, good job with the merch launch, team.

Drake’s Views merch

I’m sorry, Drake, but your Views merch was boring. Granted, these shirts were given out for free so who can complain. Well, I guess I can because I never received a free shirt. Thanks a lot, Drake. For that, and your boring shirts, you get last place in the definitive merch ranking.

Views

A photo posted by Stay Fresh NL ™ (@stayfreshnl) on Apr 18, 2016 at 1:33pm PDT

16 science fiction and fantasy novels you don’t want to miss in January

It’s a new year, and just in case you wanted more to read after all the great books that 2016 gave us, prepare yourself. 2017 is going to have a ton of new books to dive into.

I always like January for this reason: it’s a good time to take a look at the rest of the year, to see just what’s coming up that we should be getting excited for. We’ll have a broad 2017 book forecast in a couple of days, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t start off the new year by taking a look at what’s coming out this month. So clear out your bookshelves or your bedside table, because there’s a lot to make room for.

January 3rd

Defiant by Dave Bara

This is the third installment of Dave Bara’s Lightship Chronicles (Following Impulse and Starbound), and the novel picks up the story of Peter Cochrane and his new wife as they embark on a diplomatic mission. Predictably, things go south. This series has been a solid space opera in the vein of some of the genre’s classics, such as Clarke and Heinlein.

Boss Fight: Heartache; Thicker Than Blood; Magic to the Bone by Annie Bellet

This volume contains three of Annie Bellet’s novels — Heartache, Thicker than Blood, and Magic to the Boneand is the second collection of books in her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. In the last omnibus, Level Grind, a geeky sorceress named Jade Crow confronted her ex-boyfriend and was defeated. Now, she’s leveled up and is ready to take him on.

The Heart of What Was Lost: A Novel of Osten Ard by Tad Williams

Tad Williams has written some of fantasy’s best-known novels. He has a new short novel, The Heart of What Was Lost, set in his world of Osten Ard. At the end of previous book Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, the Storm King Ineluki was defeated, and the Norn, his loyal followers, are pursued to the far north. Now, two soldiers must contend with their commitment to their duty, while one of the Norn discovers some disturbing secrets about his people.

January 10th

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In Russia, Vasilisa loves hearing fairy tales during the depths of the cold winters. When her mother dies, her father remarries, and forbids her new family from honoring the traditional spirits that Vasilisa loves. The prohibition might have larger consequences, and Vasilisa will need to draw on a gift that she possesses to protect her family, even if it means defying those she loves.

The Cold Eye (The Devil’s West) by Laura Anne Gilman

In her followup to last year’s Silver on the Road, Laura Anne Gilman brings us back to her weird Western world. Isobel and her mentor Gabriel are agents of the devil, working to help carry out his dealings in person. When a natural disaster strikes, she discovers that something is killing livestock and weakening magic in the Territory, and it’s up to them to stop the people behind it.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Dayby Seanan McGuire

In Seanan McGuire’s (she’s also known as Mira Grant) new novella, when protagonist Jenna dies prematurely, it turns out that she’s owed some additional time, and she helps by volunteering at a suicide prevention hotline. There, she discovers that something unknowable is binding her fellow ghosts to mirrors and forcing them to do terrible things, and it’s up to her to stop it.

January 17th

Galactic Empiresby Neil Clarke

Space operas like Star Wars or Dune are always fun to pick up, and this new anthology will be loaded down with stories taking on the idea of Galactic Empires. Neil Clarke is the editor for Clarkesworld Magazine, one of the absolute best short-fiction magazines on the internet, which makes this particular volume a must buy. The other reason to pick this up? The heavy-hitters on the table of contents, which contains stories from the likes of Greg Egan, Neal Asher, Yoon Ha Lee, Ann Leckie, Ian McDonald, and a whole bunch of others.

The Fortress at the End of Timeby Joe M. McDermott

A military officer who committed a terrible crime is now stationed in the furthest reaches of the galaxy: the Citadel, a remote listening station. One clone among many sent out to the colonies, he’s forced to come to terms with his past if he has any hope of escaping from his posting.

Empire Gamesby Charles Stross

A new entry in Charles Stross’ parallel universe Merchant Princes series, Empire Games is the start of a new trilogy. (Dark State and Invisible Sun are due out in 2018 and 2019, respectively.) It’s set in 2020 in an alternate world where the US has settled into a security state following the death of the president, while an alternate Commonwealth has advanced rapidly, and both worlds are quickly set on a collision course with one another.

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn is best known for her urban fantasy thrillers, but with her next novel, she’s going full science fiction. Polly Newton wants nothing more than to be a starship pilot, only to have those dreams dashed when she’s herded off to school on Earth. While there, her fellow classmates begin to suffer from a series of dangerous coincidences, and along with her twin brother, she works to get to the bottom of it.

January 24th

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Set in 1940 six women find their lives and fates intertwined in the magical cities within San Francisco. Ellen Klages earned Nebula Award for her 2005 story Basement Magic and a Hugo Award for her 2013 story Wakulla Springs (co-authored by Andy Duncan).

The Prometheus Man by Scott Reardon

CIA agent Tom Blake stumbles on a major case when a pile of bodies is discovered in Paris: tracking down the subject of a secret government program. There’s another complication: Tom Blake isn’t a member of the CIA. His real name is Tom Reese, and he’s bluffed his way into the agency to track down his brother’s killer. As the subject he’s tracking comes looking for him and the agency begins to wise up, time is running out for Reese, who has secrets of his own.

January 31st

Crossroads of Canopyby Thoraiya Dyer

In the fantasy city of Canopy, gods and goddesses rule in reincarnated bodies. A young woman named Unar escaped from her parents’ plans to sell her into slavery, and winds up serving Audblayin, the goddess ruler of growth and fertility. When Audblayin dies, she descends into the Understorey Realm to look for her, and discovers that there’s turmoil and discontent from the city’s lower realms.

(Disclaimer: I’ve published Dyer’s short fiction in my own anthology, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction.)

Bookburners by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery

Serial Box is a new publisher that’s been experimenting with serialized fiction, in a similar fashion to television shows. One of their breakout hits last year was Bookburners, created by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery. The series follows a team of agents who track down dangerous, magical books. While the first “season” of this story is now out on Serial Box, it’ll be collected into a single volume.

Six Wakesby Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty’s latest adventure takes her far into space. The crew of a starship wakes up to discover that they’ve all been murdered. The newly resurrected clones of the crew must work to figure out who killed them, before their killers strike again.

Binti: Homeby Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti had a good year in 2016, taking home the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella. Okorafor is releasing a sequel, Home. Following the events of the first novella, Binti and her friend Okwu have become unlikely friends. Humanity and Meduse have forged peace because of the pair, and now, they’re headed home to Earth. There, Binti will have to face her family and elders, while Okwu will be the first Meduse to land on Earth in over a century.

What do you see that you’re looking forward to the most?

Will 2017 be the year we hail a flying Uber?

Picture this: a well-dressed man enters the elevator of his high-rise condo, but instead of going down, he heads up to the roof. There, he hops inside his autonomous Uber aircraft and whizzes across town to the rooftop of his office building. The charge? $179, give-or-take surge pricing.

This vision of urban, aerial transport is probably still many years in the future, but I’m optimistic we could start seeing flying car prototypes this year. After all, who could guess that we’d start seeing self-driving cars picking up and dropping off passengers in large American cities in 2016? (Even if it just lasted a week.)

Uber started the year by slashing its fares to the bone in a concerted effort to kill off competitors like Lyft, and ended the year in a quixotic battle with the California DMV over its refusal to obtain a $150 permit for its fleet of self-driving cars. So what’s in store for the ride-sharing giant in 2017?

Uber will likely expand its self-driving pilots to a few new states, like Arizona (where it just moved its fleet from ungrateful San Francisco) or Michigan. Hoping to avoid further bad PR, it will probably pick these next cities based on local government’s willingness to bend the knee to the company. It will also continue running its autonomous trucks under its Otto brand. The first delivery in Colorado shipped thousands of cans of Budweiser. The next delivery will need to be even more American, so probably prescription opioids or Trump steaks.

  Otto

But maybe Uber won’t want to be bound by the laws of gravity anymore. We know the company had its Hyperloop moment this year, releasing an extensive white paper on the possibilities of “vertical take-off and landing” (VTOL) aircraft — colloquially known as flying cars. The goal, according to Uber, was to inspire other aeronautic startups to take this idea and run with it. And there are a number of startups already working on their own prototypes. But as it did with self-driving cars, Uber likes to be first out of the gate. Does anyone really believe it would let some other company launch the first ride-sharing service via flying car and hog all the glory?

So what about Uber’s terrestrial services, the ones you and me and most people we know use the most? In 2016, Uber completely redesigned its logo and app to emphasize convenience, celebrate the cities in which it is now engrained, and even take a stab at new social sharing tools. Expect to see more of this in the new year: Uber integrating with Instagram or messaging apps.

In 2017, Uber will look to sink its tentacles further into cities by partnering with cash-strapped local governments to supplement — or even replace — public transit like trains and buses. Paratransit services could become Uber branded minivans. Kiss-and-ride commuter lots could be replaced by Uber-style taxi stands.

Uber will probably just say “Fuck it” and do buses. The company is convinced that carpooling is the answer to bulk deleting cars from the road. But minivans can only carry so many Google engineers between San Francisco and Mountain View. So why not Uber minibuses? Public transportation is overcrowded and unreliable in many communities. And Silicon Valley technologists speak of the abolition of fixed route transit. Transit officials are begging Uber to take over their car-choked towns.

Public transportation evangelists are convinced Uber won’t kill those transit systems that carry tens of thousands, or even millions, of commuters every day. To be sure, the fates of Uber and public transportation are intertwined. Uber aims to address the “last mile challenge,” helping people connect from their homes to transit hubs. Uber has started dabbling in filling this important transit gap; 2017 could see an explosion of these experiments.

Those won’t sit well with everyone. The privatization of public transportation will continue to creep across America in the new year, and most people won’t notice or care. That should worry us all. Because when local priorities shift away from providing transit to everyone on an equitable basis and towards just those privileged few with Uber accounts, then public transportation ceases to become public anymore.

AAA Predicts The Busiest Thanksgiving Travel Period In Nine YearsAAA Predicts The Busiest Thanksgiving Travel Period In Nine YearsPhoto by Scott Olson/Getty Images

5 things you should know about the champagne you’ll drink tonight

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, sales of sparkling wines spike, as humans celebrate the holidays — especially the New Year — with champagne toasts. Since it’s about time to pop open that bottle of bubbly, here are a few things you should know:

The bubbles are basically yeast farts

We have yeast to thank for alcohol, and we should thank it twice for alcohol with bubbles. These microscopic fungi extract energy from sugar using a process called fermentation, and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as waste.

To generate enough carbon dioxide to make bubbles, winemakers actually need to ferment champagne twice. That’s because the grapes in champagne aren’t very sweet, so there isn’t a lot of sugar for the yeast to eat. After the first round of fermentation, the wine is only about nine percent alcohol, which is pretty low — your average glass of champagne is usually closer to 12 percent. And the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape, so no bubbles form.

In the second round of fermentation, winemakers add a little bit of extra sugar — either cane or beet — and, more yeast. Then, they cap the bottle, sealing everything inside. The yeast ferment the sugars and produce more carbon dioxide and alcohol. They also die, and digest themselves, producing the molecules responsible for the more toasty, yeasty flavors in aged champagne.

There are a couple of ways to remove the yeast when the wine is ready. In the traditional method used for champagne, the winemaker turns the bottles on their heads to collect the yeast near the bottle’s mouth, and dips the neck of the bottle in an ice bath — creating a plug of frozen yeast and sediment. Then, the winemaker opens the bottles, and the pressure that’s been building inside during fermentation pushes out the frozen yeast plug. The winemaker replaces the lost volume with wine, sugar, or a mix — and corks the bottle. For other sparkling wines, this second fermentation step sometimes occurs in a big tank rather than in the bottles themselves.

There’s more pressure inside champagne bottles than inside tires

Because the bottles are sealed during fermentation, the carbon dioxide molecules can’t escape as a gas, so they dissolve in the wine. Sealed inside the bottle, this creates a massive amount of pressure — about three times the air pressure inside your car’s tires, according to the chemistry website Compound Interest.

Bye bye bubbles.
By ori2uru via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

If the carbon dioxide were allowed to expand as a gas, it could probably fill six bottles of champagne, according to a 2012 review paper by champagne expert Gérard Liger-Belair. Liger-Belair is a professor on the ‘effervescence team’ at the Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France. He called champagne bubbles a fantastic playground for fluid physicists in an email to The Verge. “It is simply amazing to discover such a subtle science hidden right under your nose each time you enjoy a glass of [bubbly],” he said.

Uncorking the bottle and pouring the wine into a glass upsets the delicate balance that kept the carbon dioxide dissolved in the champagne. There’s a chemistry law that basically says the concentration of a gas dissolved in a liquid is proportional to the pressure of that gas in the atmosphere above the liquid, according to Chemical & Engineering News. When the cork is on the bottle, there’s a ton of carbon dioxide trapped in the little headspace between the wine and the cork — so a lot of carbon dioxide stays dissolved in the liquid. When you take that cork off, the headspace becomes the entire room where there’s a much lower concentration of carbon dioxide. So the carbon dioxide rushes out of the wine to try and restore that balance. That’s where the bubbles come in.

There are about 1 million bubbles in a champagne flute

When you pour a glass of champagne, about 80 percent of the carbon dioxide escapes invisibly through the liquid’s surface through a process called diffusion. The rest forms the bubbles so characteristic of bubbly.

The bubbles are actually born inside the champagne flute — forming on little imperfections and impurities that let the carbon dioxide molecules collect together to make a bubble. When scientists filmed champagne using high speed video and a microscope, they realized that most bubbles start on pieces of lint that had probably floated into the glass as dust, or were left behind by a towel.

Gerard Liger-Belair using a high speed camera to watch champagne bubbles form on a piece of cellulose.Gerard Liger-Belair using a high speed camera to watch champagne bubbles form on a piece of cellulose.
Gerard Liger-Belair using a high speed camera to watch champagne bubbles form on a piece of lint.
Photograph courtesy of Hubert Raguet

That’s why we shouldn’t thoroughly clean our champagne flutes — and shouldn’t let them near the dishwasher, says Ronald Jackson, a wine expert, former botany professor, and author of Wine Science:Principles and Applications. For optimal bubbling, he recommends wiping out the glasses with a dry rag before using them.

When a bubble becomes too buoyant, it detaches from the little piece of lint where it was born, and floats up to the surface — leaving room for another bubble to start forming in its place. That’s why you get those nice lines of bubbles rising to the surface in a champagne flute, growing in size as they collect more carbon dioxide during their ascent.

There’s some controversy over exactly how many bubbles leave your champagne flute, but according to Liger-Belair’s calculations, the best estimate is around 1 million if you pour straight down the middle.

Use a flute, not a coupe for extra bubbliness

Some wine aficionados enjoy drinking flat champagne (“It’s interesting, but it’s flat,” Jackson says.) But most people buy it for the bubbles. And the best way to preserve those bubbles is to chill the wine, which slows down the gas molecules, pour at an angle, and use a champagne flute.

In fact, while champagne may form about 1 million bubbles if you just dump the bubbly into your glass, you could probably get tens of thousands more to effervesce if you pour more gently down the side of the glass to better preserve the carbon dioxide, Liger-Belair adds.

Carbon dioxide escapes from a champagne flute (A) and a champagne coupe (B) in this false colored, infrared image.
Gerard Liger-Belair, via PLOS One (CC BY 4.0)

He also used an infrared carbon dioxide imaging technique to watch how much carbon dioxide floats off the champagne’s surface, and he discovered that much less leaks invisibly through the surface of a small-mouthed champagne flute. It practically gushes out of champagne in a wider mouthed coupe glass, because there’s much more champagne exposed to the air. The more carbon dioxide that’s lost to diffusion means less carbon dioxide left to make bubbles.

And, for the love of champagne, don’t make one of those Gatsby-esque champagne towers. You’ll lose the vast majority of bubbles, Jackson says. “It may be good for show, but not for appreciation from the point of view of the wine.” Oh, also, don’t wait too long to drink it — because the cork doesn’t perfectly seal the bottle. The longer champagne ages in the bottle, the lower the bubble count.

The jury’s out on whether it makes you drunker

Champagne hangovers are notorious — but the jury’s out on exactly why. There have been two very small studies studies that compared the blood alcohol content of people drinking bubbly versus flat champagne, and carbonated versus still cocktails.

When people drank the carbonated drinks, they did get an earlier spike in their blood alcohol concentrations than when drinking the still drinks. In the champagne study, people drinking bubbly showed an early spike in alcohol levels after about five minutes. When they drank the flat champagne, it took about 15 minutes to be similarly drunk, but after that the effects of the drink were about the same. So, the bubbly hit the participants harder, faster. But in the end they didn’t get any drunker from a single glass.

Damaris J. Rohsenow, who studies alcohol but did not participate in this research, thought it was a well designed study. “The cross-over design controlling for simply the carbon dioxide is excellent and shows that the bubbles themselves do affect intoxication,” she said in an email to The Verge. Still, it’s small, there was a ton of individual variation in the results, and it’s far from conclusive.

In the cocktail study, 14 out of 21 participants absorbed the alcohol in the carbonated drink faster than from the still drink. The rest either didn’t show a change or absorbed the carbonated booze more slowly. A couple of mechanisms have been floated, including that the carbonation helps the booze move faster out of the stomach and into the small intestine, where most of the alcohol is absorbed. Another possible explanation is that the bubbles shoot alcohol into the airspace above the drink, where it’s inhaled. But, we really don’t know — and given the scientific funding climate, we might not find out for awhile.

As for why champagne hangovers are so brain-poundingly miserable? There’s a pretty straightforward answer: you probably drank too much of it.

“I don’t know any science behind it,” says Richard Olsen, a neuroscientist who studies the effect of alcohol on the brain. “I can only say that people have said that, and a lot of those are people who don’t usually drink as much as they did that time they had the champagne for some birthday, or New Year’s, or whatever — and so that’s why they had the hangover.”

Unfortunately, we can’t blame tomorrow’s champagne hangovers on anyone but ourselves.

2017 will be an important year for personal electric vehicles of all sizes

Longer range. Smaller batteries. Sleeker, more integrated designs. These are things you can expect to hear touted in 2017 by the companies that make what we at The Verge call electric rideables — an imperfect catch-all term that covers everything from electric skateboards to hoverboards to whatever the hell this is.

Some of those features are starting to hit the streets, and smart connectivity is making these things more than just boards with wheels and motors. That brings us to a point where we’re likely to see some radical innovation, maybe in the form of new shapes and sizes — personal vehicles that will blur the line between something like an electric skateboard, a bike, and a car. And, in fact, that line’s already getting pretty fuzzy.

But I really hope 2017 will be the year that the startups and major automakers start to mix in a little purpose. Electric skateboards are fun, don’t get me wrong, but the rise of electric motors has opened up great potential in this area of small, personal vehicles. That potential can be tapped if and when these companies solve a few of these concrete problems, all of which could happen in the coming year.

Let’s start with range, which is the biggest hangup for any kind of electrically-powered vehicle. Current electric skateboards offer anywhere from around 5 or 6 miles of range at the low end to around 15 at the high end, with a few outliers offering upwards of 20 miles of range. Electric bikes — which typically use electric motors to assist your pedaling, as opposed to driving the bike completely — tend to have 20 or more miles of range.

Those numbers vary thanks to factors like like the person’s weight, how many hills they try to tackle, and how aggressively they ride. But they’re also dependent on the size of the battery being used. And if we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s that all kinds of companies are pushing existing battery tech to its limits.

The same is true with electric rideables. A company called Metroboard sells a board with a 40 mile range — the tradeoff being that the battery, and therefore the board, is massive. The most popular electric skateboard maker, Boosted, unveiled a second generation board in 2016 with an extended range battery that promised up to 14 miles.

But Boosted had to delay the shipment of those batteries because the company needed “further engineering time in additional safety features to match the exceptional safety performance of our standard battery.” Problem was, issues started cropping up with the standard battery, too — two riders reported smoke from the battery compartments, so Boosted had to suspend shipments and is still currently investigating what went wrong.

If these companies can push past battery issues, we’re likely to see sleeker, more efficient designs. That means no belts hanging exposed from outboard motors, and cleverly integrated batteries — like on VanMoof’s sharp electric bikes.

Mahindra’s electric scooter is a cloud-connected joy ride

Mahindra’s GenZe 2.0 is a perfect example of how a big company can use electric technology to create a small and relatively cheap vehicle with some futuristic ideas. The scooter is cloud-connected, allowing you to run diagnostics and change settings from your phone, as well as find the scooter if it’s lost. The GenZe 2.0 is also an example of the gray area many of these vehicles operate in — it’s technically a moped, meaning you don’t need a motorcycle license to operate it.

Clearing this hurdle would help free up room for further innovation. Boosted, for example, already built accessory ports into the newest board — though it didn’t make them very easy to access. Some hoverboards have bluetooth speakers and flashing LED lights. And a number of companies are already using the smarts inside these vehicles to talk to and display data on your phone. Right now that data is mostly things like total miles traveled, which is good for diagnostics and social posts but not much else. But what happens with that connectivity going forward will be interesting to watch. Might your board and phone do something like show you the best times to charge based on your riding patterns, similar to what we see in electric cars?

I’ve used that word “vehicles” purposefully though. Right now the status of these rideables is sort of a gray area depending on where you ride them. (For example, in California, they’re legal to ride anywhere you can ride a bike. In New York, they’re still technically illegal.) Companies are even limiting the speeds in order to keep them from being subjected to further regulations. Yes, some rideables can already go much faster, but the people who make them are hiding those top speeds behind dams of software.

The Arcimoto SRK is a wild three-wheeled electric vehicle that costs around $11,000. We got to drive it at CES 2016.

Beyond that it’s hard to say what the next evolution of all this will look like, though we’ve seen plenty wild ideas already. Single-person self-balancing vehicles, smart electric scooters, the three-wheeled Arcimoto SRK. Hell, there’s even a couple different true-to-life hoverboards, and a few prototype self-balancing motorcycles (something Apple even reportedly has interest in). There’s a good chance we see more of these come to fruition in 2017, or at the very least, start seeing acquisitions along these lines. The real question will be whether they’ll come from big companies, startups, or both. For now — save for a few exceptions like the Nissan Mobility Concept — it’s mostly startups.

And then there’s social acceptance. The US may have mostly turned its back on hoverboards (even before they started going up in flames), but electric skateboards and longboards can be more than a novelty “last mile” vehicle, much like scooters are in other countries — especially when the prices start to drop.

If problems like range are solved, and smart features that make sense are added, will that be enough to convince people to ride an electric skateboard to work? Or even something like the Ford Carr-E, which is like a glorified Roomba? And how about a more concerted focus on accessibility? Companies have shown they’re ready and willing to generate novel ideas in this space, but as they expand on that impulse they’ll need to do a better job showing us why we need them in the first place. 2017 would be a good time to start.

Inuit may have a genetic advantage when it comes to dealing with cold

I go to California for the holidays, and when it comes time to return to the Northeast always ask myself how I’m going to make it through the upcoming winter months. I’ve wondered this of others, too — friends from Chicago, friends who live in Norway, Inuit who live in Greenland. A new study might have an answer: Inuit, at least, seem to have a gene variation passed down from our ancestors that helps them produce more heat.

In a study published this week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, researchers analyzed the part of Inuit genome that affects body fat distribution. (They looked at the genome of nearly 200 Inuit.) They compared this portion of Inuit genome with the same portion of other populations, as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans, which are another one of our ancestors that interbred with modern humans about 50,000 years ago.

All Inuit had a gene variation that helps them build more brown fat. Unlike white fat, which just contains calories, brown fat burns energy and produces heat. It’s helpful for adapting to the cold, and is especially common in babies. Most interesting, though, this specific pattern of gene variation matched very closely with the same genome portion of the Denisovans, suggesting that Denisovan ancestors are the source of this evolutionary advantage.

The results should be taken with a grain of salt, since only one Denisovan genome has been sequenced, so there’s not that much to compare. Still, it’s an interesting finding and one that makes me feel slightly better about my personal weaknesses when it comes to dealing with cold.

New trailers: Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Covenant, and more

I go to the movies pretty regularly, which means I end up watching a lot of trailers over and over again (even more so since I write this roundup each week). Most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but one trailer really started to get on my nerves this year: the one for Zootopia.

The entire trailer is just one long, slow — very, very, very slow — joke. Based on the reaction it got in theaters every time, I get the sense that I’m the only person who didn’t find it hilarious. But after seeing it again and again, I had no intention of watching the movie.

Until I did, and loved it. Zootopia is a must-watch if you subscribe to Netflix (where it’s currently streaming) — a hilarious, smart, and really impressive film. And I guess for me, it’s a good lesson about not judging a film entirely off of its trailer.

With that said, let’s go do exactly that. It was a slow week for new trailers, but we didn’t run this column last week, so here are 11 trailers worth checking out from the last two weeks.

Alien: Covenant

Aside from Prometheus — a generally fine movie that everyone seems to have decided to hate in retrospect — Alien: Covenant will be the first time that Ridley Scott has returned to the Alien universe and the first proper Alien sequel he’s made. This is our first look at the film, and my initial reaction is to be pretty skeptical. It seems like Scott is sticking with the same gritty sci-fi and horror vibes that he likes to use (good!), but he also seems to expand things in a bigger, shinier, and much more explosive way that I’m not immediately convinced is what the series needs. Covenant comes out May 19th.

Blade Runner 2049

A new Blade Runner could be so, so, so bad. But it really looks like it won’t be. A first look at Blade Runner 2049 was released last week, and every gorgeous shot in it looks like it could have been pulled from a frame of the original film. It’s eerie, mysterious, and hey, Harrison Ford is looking kind of old but Ryan Gosling seems like a great replacement. The film is planned for late next year, on October 6th.

Twin Peaks

It’s the Twin Peaks trailer everyone’s been waiting for… well… not quite, but it’s something. The series returns sometime next year.

The Good Fight

I never watched The Good Wife, but I heard more and more about it over the past few years as the series seemed to pick up more awards and more vocal fans. That’s probably a big part of why CBS is spinning off a new series, The Good Fight, for its streaming service. The new series has a similar focus — on a woman working at a law firm whose reputation has been tarnished by outside forces — and CBS doesn’t seem to be cutting corners just because this is going online. It starts February 19th.

A Cure for Wellness

15 years after The Ring, Gore Verbinski is returning to horror with A Cure for Wellness, a super-creepy, super-stylish thriller that starts out in a dreary, depressing office and seems to end in the middle of some wild, Dan Brown-style ancient evil cult stuff. There’s reason to be skeptical of how this’ll turn out after The Lone Ranger, but so far, it’s looking good. It’ll be out February 17th.

The Emoji Movie

Oh geez, I have never seen such a failure of sardonic humor, because the sarcasm expressed throughout this entire trailer is basically the perfect representation of how we all feel about it. The Emoji Movie comes out August 4th, so only eight more months of hearing about it.

The Expanse

There’s a very good chance you missed The Expanse this year (I did) during the debut of its first season, but it sounds like that was a mistake for any sci-fi fan. Over the summer, we called it “the best science fiction show since Battlestar Galactica,”and now the series is teasing season two with a short trailer that touches on what people have been finding so compelling. If the above catches your interest, then you’ve got a little over a month to catch up. Season two starts February 8th.

Taboo

I 50 percent think this could be really good and 50 percent think I could just be posting this because Tom Hardy is in it. Either way, I’m interested. Taboo is an eight-episode miniseries headed to BBC One and FX in January. It’s about a shipping company in 1814 London, which sounds boring, but there’s like murder and stuff, too. It starts January 7th in the UK and January 10th in the US.

Isle of Dogs

So I very much thought it was a joke when I heard that Wes Anderson is making an animated movie called Isle of Dogs with a voice cast ranging from Bob Balaban to Yoko Ono, but… apparently it’s not? Here’s the first, um, look, I guess? (Also, can you believe that even here, Anderson has perfect framing?) The movie is happening and will be out eventually?

John Wick: Chapter 2

If this doesn’t set the record for most people killed in a trailer I will be surprised and also deeply concerned about the respect for humanity in whatever other movie beats it. The new John Wick comes out February 10th.

Prevenge

This is without question the most insane-looking movie of the week and in a really good way. I can’t really describe this film’s premise without making it sound goofy, so I’m just going to say you should probably click play and watch at least the first 30 seconds. The movie comes out in the UK on February 10th but doesn’t have a US release planned yet.

The Verge 2016 tech report cards: Virtual reality, TV, and apps

Consumer VR has yet to establish itself as a viable commercial product or mass-market artistic medium, and it’s still possible that it never will. But there’s no denying that 2016 was a huge turning point, both socially and technologically. VR didn’t exactly soar this year — but it didn’t crash and burn, either.

At the beginning of 2016, virtual reality was almost purely the province of developers, artists, and the lucky few who got to see their work. Concepts were usually more important than execution, and VR experiences didn’t have to be good, just novel. The only real options for most people to try it were the Samsung Gear VR, an interesting product with a lot of flaws, and the simple Google Cardboard.

The year didn’t get off to an auspicious start. The first high-end VR system launch, the Oculus Rift in March, was a bit of a mess. The headset had some great features but cost far more than people expected. It felt incomplete without motion controllers, and a component shortage made it almost impossible to find. The HTC Vive — which came soon after — felt more powerful, but it was barely a consumer device, and selling it as one laid bare how sparse experiences still were. At the same time, it proved that VR could stay entertaining for weeks or months instead of minutes.

Daydream ViewDaydream View

Outside the big commercial headset launches, super-ambitious VR entertainment company The Void launched its first experience in Times Square, to mixed reviews. The Chinese VR market got bigger and more interesting, focusing on compact, self-contained designs and special features. The Sundance and Tribeca film festivals made VR a big part of their lineup, and The Verge co-hosted a pop-up exhibit with the Toronto International Film Festival.

Late fall saw a few highlights. Sony’s PlayStation VR showed how VR could fit with the typical console gaming experience, with uniquely trippy games like Thumper and Rez. Daydream, a mobile VR platform built into Android, put Google’s weight behind virtual reality. Then Oculus made up for its past stumbles by releasing the best VR controllers ever made, alongside clever games like Superhot and I Expect You To Die. These still don’t feel as full-featured as non-VR games, but they’re a far cry from anything we saw in 2015.

Inside virtual reality, we’ve started figuring out its weak points — the potential for harassment,problems with embodiment, and confusion about how to fit it into the existing worlds of gaming and film. Also, nobody can make money developing for it.

These could be signs that VR is still too flawed to succeed, or they could be the growing pains that let it flourish down the road. It’s frustrating to have yet another year of uncertainty ahead of us, but it’s also a good sign that VR has at least squeaked through one of its biggest transitions. — Adi Robertson

Verge 2016 Report Card: VR

B+

2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Lots of creative, genuinely good experiments
  • Hardware that (eventually) lived up the hype
  • Widespread interest in film and gaming

Needs Improvement:

  • Still inaccessible and expensive for most of the year
  • Economic future is uncertain
  • Interest hasn’t translated into full-featured experiences
4k4k

TV makers kept up the “4K!” cheerleading throughout 2016, and as we wrap up December, the years-long slog to Ultra HD still isn’t over — not even close. But we’re entering 2017 in a much better place. You can walk into a Best Buy or Walmart, or log onto Amazon and buy a nice 4K TV for under $700. Most of those will look pretty great when streaming Netflix or Amazon Video in 4K — some even include HDR, which adds brighter and more vivid picture for a more theater-like experience.

So the price barrier to entering the world of UHD is pretty much gone. Will a $2,000 TV still look better than a bargain set? Most always, but it’s (probably) easier than ever to find something affordable that looks great to your own eyes.

The software experience on those TVs hasn’t radically changed since we last left CES. It’s a mix of Tizen (Samsung), Android TV (Sony, etc.), webOS (LG), a very minimal Chromecast UI (Vizio), and Roku TV. Most sets ship with the must-have popular streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube built in, giving you an instant source of 4K video. Not everything’s great, but you can mostly navigate menus on your TV without pulling your hair out. Progress!

Depending on your TV, a set-top box like an Apple TV or Roku might not be the automatic purchase it was a year ago. But if you still want one, they’ve made improvements this year too. Pretty much all the big ones except Apple’s now support 4K resolution. Most of them can also serve as a cable box replacement thanks to services like DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue.

But there are still annoying problems and potential frustrations lingering. You’ve got competing standards for HDR: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. (The former has seen wider support across TV brands.) And when it comes to 4K content, you’ve got to pay attention to the HDMI ports when buying a new set. On many TVs, only one or two of several HDMI inputs might support HDMI 2.0, which is critical for streaming Ultra HD.

The year ahead will likely be one of iteration. LG will keep leading the class in picture quality with its OLED TVs — though it’s rumored that Sony might be releasing some of its own. Samsung will put out some fantastic high-end sets, and yep, some will be curved. Vizio, a favorite of home theater nerds, is in the process of being acquired by LeEco, which may result in interesting changes. But yet again, 2017 is going to be all about 4K, 4K, 4K. — Chris Welch

Verge 2016 Report Card: TVs

B+2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • 4K is more affordable than ever
  • HDR makes your living room closer to a movie theater
  • Several set-top boxes now do 4K

Needs Improvement:

  • A winning HDR format between HDR10 and Dolby Vision
  • All TV makers need to keep current with HDMI and HDCP standards
  • OLED, the TVs with best picture quality, are still expensive
Google AlloGoogle Allo

Remember Peach? It was the biggest new thing in social networks in January, but chances are you’ve probably forgotten it existed.

That seems to be the general consensus around 2016 in apps. Occasionally, there are standouts, but most become temporarily popular only to get overshadowed or bought out by the big companies — mainly Facebook and Google.

The biggest promise of the year was also the biggest disappointment: bots. Despite Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all committing to bots as the future of technology, 2016 was definitively not the year of the AI chatbot. Facebook added bots to its Messenger in the form of apps — yep, apps within apps — but rather than wave of new interactions within our smartphones, we got a bunch of text-based versions of things like weather and food ordering. Microsoft went big on bots as a platform, but none of those experiments have really broken through. And Allo, Google’s big bet to bring AI bots to messaging apps, landed with more of a whimper than a bang.

The other takeaway from apps this year is that everyone seems to be hastily looking across the aisle to see what they can take from others. Apple updated iMessage to have Snapchat’s self-destructing photos and LINE-style stickers. Snapchat’s Memories is basically cloud photo storage like that of Google Photos’ and GroupMe’s. Instagram flat out copied Snapchat’s stories down to its feature name. Finally, Facebook Messenger ripped off Snapchat’s live filters and vanishing messages. Instead of any real innovation, we just saw the same features in more places.

sunrise ios 7 2sunrise ios 7 2

Meanwhile, beloved apps like Vine and Sunrise left our phones for good. Despite the backing of major companies like Microsoft and Twitter, it seems that having a small but dedicated community that use your app is no longer enough.

It’s also been a bad year to be an up and coming iOS game developer. There were some interesting new titles this year, but the F2P market has long since taken over the platform. Suffice to say, we haven’t seen something like Monument Valley take the mobile gaming space by storm. The biggest gaming apps of the year came in the form of Nintendo’s blockbuster franchises making their way to mobile platforms, but Pokemon Go has had little staying power since its summer success, and Super Mario Run faces an uncertain future while clinging to an app store pricing scheme that hasn’t succeeded since 2008.

That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the future of apps. We did have some fun new players this year: Prisma is a genuinely brilliant and fun photo editing app that feels like a throwback to apps of years past. And Google’s Motion Stills app took Apple’s Live Photos and elevated them to an entirely new level of brilliant entertainment by turning them into GIFs.

In the end, apps are still the way we interact with almost all of our technological devices, and probably will be for some time. People still buy apps, and despite the promise of bots to make individual applications unnecessary, that future is still ways to go. If that promise extends to next year — perhaps, with some new, more nimble competition to the entrenched players — 2017 could be quite exciting. At the very least, we have more ways than ever to get robots to order us pizza. — Chaim Gartenberg

Verge 2016 Report Card: Apps

C+2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Some new, creative apps that remixed old smartphone features in new ways
  • Email apps are back

Needs Improvement:

  • Bots need big improvements
  • Messaging apps are unnecessarily complicated
  • It’s tough for new, smaller developers to be found and make money