LG’s latest ridiculous OLED screen is transparent, flexible, and taller than Tom Cruise

How’s this for an incredibly specific record: LG announced today that it’s created the world’s first flexible, transparent 77-inch OLED display. That’s one huge display. Taller, in fact, than Tom Cruise. According to Google, Cruise is 5ft 7 or 170 centimeters tall, and as this display is 77-inches on the diagonal with an aspect ratio of 16:9, that means its longest side measures 170.5 centimeters. It’s taller than Cruise, but not if Cruise wears shoes.

Some more stats: the screen has a UHD resolution of 3840 x 2160, offers up to 40 percent transparency, and can be fixed with a curvature of up to 80 degrees. You can see what this all translates to in real terms with the picture above — it means you’ve got a massive, curved screen with a transparency similar to that of lightly-tinted glass.

Don’t expect LG to be making curved, transparent TVs or monitors anytime soon. This sort of display tech will be used for signage and the like initially. However, it’s another illustration of how far OLED screens have come in recent years. Panasonic has been showing off its own transparent OLED displays recently, and Samsung’s most recent prototypes can also stretch and bend. Step by step, we’re getting closer to a world of consumer electronics with flexible screens.

Another look at LG’s flexible, transparent OLED display.
Image: LG

First look at Samsung’s Bixby Voice preview for Galaxy S8

The Bixby button on the side of Samsung’s fantastic Galaxy S8 is finally getting its most important feature: voice support. The company has started rolling out an update to enable Bixby Voice for Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners in the United States who signed up to test Samsung’s rival to Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana. It’s in very early beta — this is day one — and Samsung will be putting more work into the feature before Bixby Voice is widely released. That’s a very good thing, because the outlook is pretty rough at launch. If you’re going to actually start pushing that Bixby button several times a day, Samsung’s got real work to do.

First things first. If you registered to be a beta tester, make sure you’re running the current version of Bixby by going to its “about” screen. Download any updates that appear there. I also had to clear the data and cache for Bixby apps in my S8+’s settings screen before Bixby Voice appeared. Once it does, you’ll get a tutorial that involves teaching you how to trigger the voice feature and then teaching it to recognize your voice.

You can activate Bixby Voice either by saying “Hi Bixby” (“hey” also seems to work) or just holding down the Bixby button while you talk, walkie-talkie style. From there, you can ask it the basics like the weather or the time in London or to set an alarm. And right there — the core fundamentals — is where Bixby starts to stumble out of the gate. It can definitely tell you the weather without issue. No problem. But things go downhill from there.

For one, it’s often slow and noticeably sluggish compared to Google Assistant. Ask Bixby what time it is somewhere and it’ll launch the whole clock app and then read off the answer. Identifying the president of the United States, a simple ask of Siri or Google Assistant, seems to be a confounding challenge for Bixby. The best it will do is punt you to a Google search. Often times, it completely fails to answer the question altogether. There doesn’t seem to be any knowledge base that it’s pulling answers from. If you’re not asking it to do something on your device, Bixby needs help.

Even the essential task of text messaging someone is surprisingly hard to pull off. For one, you’ve got to use Samsung’s Messages app as your default SMS app. And if you don’t word things exactly right, it won’t happen. “Text mom and ask ‘how are you’” sent me to a Google search. “Send a text to mom and ask ‘how are you’” worked — but still necessitated a few taps to fire off the message. What’s the point of voice, then? Google Assistant nailed it with a single attempt.

Those local tasks are still the best thing about Bixby in these early days. If you’re using it to change settings on your phone — or just do something on your phone — Samsung’s assistant is often helpful since it can toggle fairly obscure settings with a simple command. Samsung says there are over 3,000 commands it can perform. It can change between the S8’s display modes, for example, or open an app in split-screen view immediately. Google Assistant and the iPhone’s Siri can do some of this stuff (turning off Wi-Fi, taking a selfie, turning on your flashlight, etc.) but they don’t get quite as granular or specific.

Samsung’s own apps work best with Bixby Voice, but there’s also a Labs area that shows which third-party apps Bixby is capable of controlling. Right now, those include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Uber, Gmail, Google Maps, and others. Spotify isn’t there, so while Bixby Voice can open the app, it can’t yet actually start playing anything unless you’re using Google Play Music. There’s a preferred structure of speaking to Bixby Voice, as I mentioned early. Almost always, it’s “open (app) and [do this task].”

Samsung has touted the promise of multi-step commands as a unique Bixby Voice strength. For example, you can say “Open Uber and rate my driver 5 stars” or “Open Instagram and post my most recent photo” and Bixby will do that. You’ll see the app open and progress through the necessary screens all on its own. Neat. A phone reacting to your voice commands and controlling apps entirely on its own is certainly a neat trick. Also, a new “shortcuts” feature in Bixby Home lets you say a simple command to string together multiple actions. I could see that being helpful as Samsung improves Bixby’s reliability and speed. Fixing Bixby’s actual voice recognition will be critical, as right now it’s nowhere near good enough to trust for an accurate tweet or Facebook post.

To help get there, Bixby Voice has a somewhat strange XP system that awards you points the more you use it, which is an attempt from Samsung to pull in more and more user data. You can “level up” and unlock things like new background colors for the Bixby interface.

Gamifying the experience makes sense because Samsung definitely needs all the feedback it can get. I’m guessing the response to this beta, at least initially, will be very mixed. It’s worrying to see the rough shape that Bixby Voice is in two months after the Galaxy S8 shipped.

Compared directly against Google Assistant, Bixby Voice is in for some embarrassing showdowns. Until things get better, a lot of people will be asking “What’s the point?” I’m not really sure Bixby Voice saves you much in the way of time since it often runs through the same menus and screens you would with your finger when performing tasks.

Samsung will say that Bixby is intended to help users in ways that are much different than Assistant, and you’ve always got the option of using Google’s product simply by holding down the home button. Some of what Bixby can do is definitely cool, but that functionality alone isn’t something Bixby can rely on while fumbling the common questions or requests from people accustomed to Siri and Google Assistant. We’ll see where it goes from here.

I broke my iPhone 7 screen

Hey, just wanted to let everyone know: I dropped my phone the other day and the screen broke. I was out on the back patio, and when I sat down the phone slipped out of my windbreaker pocket. A two-foot fall onto concrete is all it took.

When I picked up the phone, I could immediately tell it was cracked. “This is my life now” was the first thought in my head. That thought is still all I have to work with.

Last year I did the Emotional Tech Support hotline with my friend and colleague Ashley. At least half of the calls we received were from sad people who had broken their phone screens. This, I believe, is the third iPhone screen I’ve broken. And it probably won’t be my last.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

It’s not like my phone is dead. I can get a screen replacement for $129 if I want visit an Apple Store. And my phone is still usable as long as I don’t do any aggressive swiping along the left third of the display. So I’ll probably just live with it for a while. I’d say about 20 percent of my friends have cracked phone screens at any one time. The rest of them have cases, usually. I think about getting a case, but I won’t.

So, that’s my story. How are you doing?

Todoist’s Slack competitor is for people who hate constant notifications

A new team communication app called Twist has a way for people to get more done at work: fewer notifications.

Created by Doist, the team behind productivity app Todoist, Twist’s biggest differentiator is that it’s based on asynchronous communication. With an interface that feels more like a message board, Twist has channels, which then contain threaded conversations underneath. The threads are meant to encourage in-depth conversations versus one-line interactions, and every response in a thread can be set to notify the entire group, or only certain people. All notifications are centralized, and appear in the Inbox, located in the top left.

Twist communication toolTwist communication toolImage: Doist

Twist, which launched in beta in January and opened to public today, also does away with an online presence indicator altogether. Online presence indicators, says Doist, become an expectation tool — when you see a teammate online, an immediate response is anticipated. Likewise, if a teammate is not online, a person is more likely to postpone sending non-imperative information.

The company believes that without an online presence indicator, the act of messaging functions rather differently. While it admits that conversations happen over a slower period of time, Doist wants Twist to encourage more “real work” by not distracting people with scattered pings and real-time messaging.

The company says it drew inspiration from initiatives like Time Well Spent, “a non-profit movement to reclaim our minds from the race for attention,” and best-seller Deep Work, which says that people are “spending their days instead in a frantic blur of email and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.” In other words, Twist has devised a way for people to mindfully disconnect, which Doist says allows for deeper work and more meaningful interactions when teammates check in.

With everyone trying to one-up Slack (which now boasts about 5 million daily users) by focusing on real-timeaccessibility, Twist’s approach is certainly nonconforming, but could be useful for large-scale projects or remote teams.

If you’re interested, the platform is free, with a couple caveats, like only one month of archived and searchable messages. The Unlimited tier costs $6 per user per month if paid monthly, or $5 per user per month if paid annually, and includes unlimited archives, file storage, and app or service integrations.

Riva Audio’s multi-room Sonos competitor launches in the US

Riva Audio is best known for its Bluetooth speakers, but earlier this month, the company released its new multi-space wireless speakers much later than originally planned. The WAND series is comprised of two speakers: the Arena and the Festival. Both include multiple ways to play music, including Wi-Fi, DDMS, Spotify Connect, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth, and Chromecast. The more expensive Festival has an optical input, too. You can also distribute analog inputs over Wi-Fi to other speakers. For comparison, Sonos only works over Wi-Fi.

The larger Festival costs $499 while the Arena costs $249. Because it’s smaller, the Arena is portable and can be bought with an optional battery pack that Riva says should last for up to 20 hours. (That figure likely changes at different volumes, but we have yet to test it out.) It’s splash-resistant, too. A companion iOS / Android app is available for controlling the speakers and customizing EQ settings.

So Riva made some intriguing speakers that we’re definitely going to want to test, but what it says powers them is a patented technology called “Trillium.” This apparently creates stereo sound that fills a room. They achieve this through custom drivers on the front and side of the speakers. Again, this technology is impossible to vouch for when we haven’t actually tested the speakers, but the promise of better audio always sounds like a great thing.

Apple is asking music labels to take a smaller cut of revenue from streaming

Apple is asking music labels for a reduction in the revenue rate it pays out from its music streaming service, according to sources close to the situation. Apple is renegotiating its licensing deals for Apple Music and iTunes with the three major music labels, which expire at the end of the month. The negotiations were first reported by Bloomberg.

According to sources, the negotiations with Apple are not as contentious as past and ongoing negotiations with Spotify have been. While the deal is more complex due to the inclusion of iTunes, the rapid growth of Apple Music and the slowed decline of digital downloads on iTunes has pleased both sides.

While Apple is chasing a discount, its new deal likely won’t match Spotify’s as the two services are notably different under the hood. (Apple has no free tier and Spotify has no digital store, for example.) Spotify negotiated a lower revenue rate after it hits performance metrics with Universal Music Group — in return for allowing artists to window albums — and is expected to sign similar deals with Sony Music and Warner Music.

Despite the music industry’s issues with Spotify and YouTube, it has maintained a cordial relationship with Apple for years, rarely getting into a public spat with the company, save for issues surrounding Taylor Swift and Frank Ocean.

If negotiations continue into July, don’t expect the music to stop. Both sides routinely agree to extensions in these situations to keep a stop in service — and more importantly revenue — from happening.

Apple declined to comment.

Fact-checking Owl City’s description of being hugged by 10,000 fireflies

Come with me, if you will, back to 2009: the ninth year of the third millennium and the year Owl City released its hit song “Fireflies.” “Fireflies” eventually reached the No. 1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, in part because it presented the world with a new scientific conundrum: can fireflies hug?

Here’s the lyric that started it: “Cause I’d get a thousand hugs / From ten thousand lightning bugs / As they tried to teach me how to dance.” Yesterday, Owl City’s Adam Young attempted to explain his lyrics, in response to a fan who asked on Twitter, “Does each firefly hug you 1,000 times or do only 1/10th of the bugs give you a hug?”

.@pryce_d since you asked…. pic.twitter.com/z4LFlisYfQ

— Owl City (@owlcity) June 21, 2017

Young gives us a lot to unpack here, so in the words of Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees, “Let’s just take it one fucking line at a time.”

“I was the recipient of 1,000 hugs from 10,000 lightning bugs for a grand total of 10,000,000 hugs.”

So what you’re saying is that each firefly hugged you 1,000 times. Got it.

“As the lyrics of the song clearly state, the average layperson would not believe their eyes if 10,000,000 fireflies were to illuminate planet Earth, nor would the average person conclude by natural instinct that 10,000 lightning bugs, acting as a collective group, are capable of embracing a human being 1,000 times without difficulty.”

First off, there are around 2,000 species of firefly, according to National Geographic, and some adult fireflies do not light up at all, according to Scientific American. The Photinus pyralis is the most common species in North America, and since West is from Minnesota, let’s assume we’re talking about that.

In a 1928 study titled “The Brightness of the Light of the West Indian Elaterid Beetle, Pyrophorus,researchers E. Newton Harvey and Kenneth P. Stevens conclude that although the brightness of these “headlight bugs” varied greatly among individuals, the average brightness of a single beetle was around 0.0006 lumens of light.

From there, we can assume that 10 million fireflies, if producing a similar amount of light as the West Indian elaterid beetle, would produce around 6,000 lumens of light. According to the FTC, a standard 60-watt incandescent lightbulb produces around 800 lumens, which means that 10 million fireflies might produce the same amount of light as 7.5 lightbulbs.

Adam my boy, we’ve already gone off the rails here, and YET, in the second half of this thought you move even deeper into nonsense territory when you say that the lightning bugs act as a “collective group.” This throws into dispute your earlier insistence that you received 10 million hugs. Instead, a collective hug suggests you were hugged 1,000 times by a single firefly group, and not individually by each firefly.

“By the same token, a gathering of lightning bugs in such vast numbers form a sort of “swarm,” and a swarm can collectively surround a human and deliver a “hug” that a single firefly, acting according to the dictates of his own conscience, simply cannot.”

Again, if the swarm is delivering the hug, and a single firefly cannot act alone, then Adam Young did not receive 10 million hugs, he received 1,000.

Young probably wasn’t hugged at all, says Douglas Yanega, the senior museum scientist of the Entomology Research Museum at the University of California, Riverside. “You can be surrounded by fireflies if you are in a habitat that is full of snails, but they will not make physical contact with you in great numbers,” Yanega wrote in an email to The Verge. “Any ‘mass hugs’ are therefore purely metaphorical, like being hugged or kissed by a cloud of butterflies. It’s a poetic metaphor, yes, but not a literal reality.”

In this section Young also makes the interesting decision to enter a debate about the nature of consciousness. In 2016, two professors at Macquarie University in Australia theorized that insects have “midbrain-like structures,” where it is thought that human consciousness also exists. One of the professors, Colin Klein, said that insects “plan, but don’t imagine,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.

What Young seems to be arguing is that a firefly is incapable of planning as an individual being, or perhaps experiences fear when confronted the possibility of performing a hug on its own. He does not back up his theories.

“This may seem inconceivable due to the firefly’s soft-shelled body, which is common among all winged beetles within the Lampyridae insect family.”


“Members of the scientific community may be tempted to cast doubt upon the possibility of this exchange due to the immobility of the prothorax and pterothorax, in addition to the elytra protruding outward while a firefly is engaged in mid-flight. However, I can testify to the accuracy of this exchange.”

It seems strange to me that the man arguing in favor of firefly hugs would point out that their bodies may not be equipped for hugging. It serves no purpose in his overall argument, and instead appears to be an attempt to divert readers’ attention.

“I can furthermore add that while each individual hug took place, each firefly participated in the chemical reaction commonly known as bioluminescence in which the enzymes within the firefly, in the presence of oxygen, magnesium ions, and ATP, emitted a chemically produced light or “glow” because they were happy to be hugging me.”

“The only species of fireflies known to synchronize flashing usually do it while resting on vegetation,” says Yanega, our new entomologist friend. Only one species that he knows of does this in the US, in the Great Smoky Mountains, which are not in Minnesota. Even this species doesn’t synchronize very accurately — and they definitely don’t do it while airborne. “Think of ‘The Wave’ being done in a sports arena, using cigarette lighters,” Yanega says. Even then, they still flash on and off, rather than remaining permanently on.

Additionally, we seem to have once again found ourselves circling the issue of insect consciousness. Here, Young asks us to further suspend our disbelief and accept that not only can fireflies experience happiness, but they can experience happiness from hugging him.

“Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any further questions! Stream “Fireflies” on Apple Music and Spotify!”

I’ve reached out to Owl City’s management company and will update if I hear back. And I did listen to “Fireflies” on Spotify, in preparation for this evaluation. The song still makes no sense.

DJI drones can get past no-fly zones thanks to this Russian software company

A Russian software company, ironically named Coptersafe, is selling modifications to help consumers get past government- and military-enforced no-fly zones.

In recent years, the US government has cracked down on unauthorized drone flights. As a response to the warnings and fines imposed by the law, drone maker DJI has put a number of safety measures in place, including geofencing and setting limits on speed. A statement on the Federal Aviation Administration website encourages people to report drone sightings around planes and other aircraft.

Coptersafe’s mods are made specifically for DJI drones, according to a report by Motherboard. Coptersafe offers modifications to those limits. You can confuse your drone’s GPS into thinking it’s okay to fly in no-fly zones and in absolutely restricted areas, and you can remove the 500-foot height limit, among other customizations. Each mod goes for an average price of $350, and the company offers both physical modification circuits and software mods that can be downloaded.

Some of these actually get to be quite humorous, despite the dangerous implications. “Mod greatly improves Phantom 4 Pro sport mode. It becomes mad racing drone,” reads one product description on Coptersafe. “Don’t overload it with mad flying.” The company recommends flying DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro in mountainous terrain with strong winds following modification.

Just a few days ago, I saw a small crowd gather outside my house, attracted by a loud buzzing sound. As I walked closer to the source of the noise, I observed a small drone flying a few dozen feet from the ground. Had it traveled any further from my home in deep Queens, it would have reached LaGuardia Airport’s no-fly zone. With these hacks easily available to consumers, it remains to be seen how the government will react to more unmanned aerial vehicles illegally taking to the skies.

This adorable driverless bus will soon be making stops at the University of Michigan

Starting this fall, students at the University of Michigan will have access to an entirely new form of transportation in the form of this adorable, completely autonomous shuttle bus.

The university plans to deploy two of the shuttles, manufactured by French startup Navya, to service a two-mile route between the Lurie Engineering Center and the North Campus Research Complex on Plymouth Road. The shuttle can carry a maximum of 15 passengers, and lacks a steering wheel or pedals. The vehicles are being deployed in partnership with Mcity, the university’s 32-acre testing facility automakers and tech startups often test their self-driving cars.

“This first-ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it,” said Huei Peng, director of Mcity and a professor of mechanical engineering, in a statement.

Anne Arbor won’t be the first city to feature Navya’s driverless shuttles. The French company has autonomous vehicles on the roads in London and Las Vegas. In both cases, Navya offered trips in its driverless pods for free; trips in Michigan will likewise be free.

Experts predict that in the future, most people will encounter their first self-driving vehicle in a geofenced setting much like at the University of Michigan. This allows for more accurate mapping, which in turn leads to more accurate driving. As the technology improves, self-driving cars will be able to drive confidently in wider geographic areas. But the need to start small underpins the skepticism that many people still have toward self-driving vehicles.

Michigan has been a leader in the automotive industry, and now it wants to be a leader in the autonomous driving industry as well. Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a law allowing fully driverless cars on the roads as soon as they’re ready.

This coffee table-sized NES controller looks great, but plays poorly

The retro gaming market is having a bit of a Renaissance lately, thanks to Nintendo’s NES Classic console and the ever-expanding industry dedicated to re-creating, refurbishing, and resurrecting nostalgia-fueled products of the past. Hardware maker Retro-Bit is a big part of this community — the company makes classic console controllers, adapters, consoles, and USB emulators. It even revealed an all-in-one Game Boy cartridge-compatible gadget called the Super Retro Boy earlier this year.

Now, Retro-Bit has a new product that is more outlandish than any old-school gaming hardware you might have seen before. It’s called the Mega Table, and it’s a full-blown coffee table-sized NES controller that can actually be used to play classic games. The company brought the device to the E3 show floor last week, and we got a chance to try it out ourselves.

It’s not practical, nor is really an ideal way to play any game. Retro-Bit set the device up with one of its custom Generations emulators running Banishing Racer, a cult Japanese platformer released in 1991 for the original Game Boy that never made its way to the US. I got the hang of playing it after 5 to 10 minutes of using my outstretched hands in unison and some serious trial-and-error practice, but it’s definitely not the best way to play. It only really works for games that require simple movements and perhaps one or two different input controls, making Banishing Racer a solid showcase in fact.

Of course, playing games isn’t really the point. This is more for the enthusiast who wants a piece of furniture that just happens to have a kitschy dual-purpose as a game controller. You won’t need a Retro-Bit emulator to use the table as an input device — it will plug into any original NES console, as well as any PlayStaton 4, Xbox One, or Mac via USB. Although, the company’s Generations emulator certainly makes more sense, as the company licenses games from classic publishers to preload on its emulators. That way, you don’t have to wade into the legally questionable world of online emulation and ROM hacks.

Retro-Bit plans on launching a Kickstarter campaign in the next month or two, with an estimated price of $500 for the Mega Table and an October ship date if all goes well with production. That’s an aggressive time table, so prospective buyers should put money down with standard crowdfunding expectations that something could go wrong.