There was lots of talk about virtual reality this year, but most of it was looking forward to trends that might come true in a few years. The real action, however, was in another form of reality, the augmented kind.
AR, or augmented reality, tops our annual list of tech innovations for 2016, highlighted, of course, by the Pokémon Go app, and all those crazy filters we added to our Snapchat photos.
Snapchat, the app originally beloved for sending photos that could disappear within 10 seconds, has expanded into a service about 150 million people visit daily, fuelled by the selfie lens, where you can add cat ears and rainbow tongues to your photos and videos.
This month, it went one step further with the introduction of “World Lenses”, which put smiles onto ordinary clouds in the background of your photo, or add falling rain or snow to an image.
The red-hot Spectacles video glasses, released at the end of the year, don’t have AR — you shoot regular 10-second video clips that can be viewed on Snapchat. But it’s not hard to imagine what the product could morph into eventually with AR.
This, for all its silliness, is augmented reality, a far cry from costly, immersive virtual-reality headsets produced by Facebook’s Oculus, Samsung, HTC and Google. While these all won praise for their quality, they’ve lacked the “killer app” that’s made everyone — from nephews to grandmothers — want to try it.
Not so with augmented reality, as the raging popularity of Pokémon Go attested.
1. Pokémon Go
This northern summer, the Pokémon Go phenomenon hit seemingly overnight. Millions of people ditched work and other commitments to pour into the streets in search of characters to catch via their smartphone app.
The game, which boasts more than 500 million downloads, was real, while the simulated characters were super-imposed into real-life situations on our smartphone cameras like theme parks, carnivals and ocean-front boardwalks.
The fun was short-lived, though. The app currently isn’t even in the top 50 on Apple’s app chart, and clocks in at no. 40 on Google’s Play chart.
But do we expect big things in AR next year? Absolutely.
2. Smartphone steadicam
I fell hard this year for the Osmo Mobile Gimbal, the drone-camera-technology on a stick from DJI, the market leader in drone sales. Long seen in movies, with crane shots that appear to be flying, you can now achieve similar results for just a few hundred dollars.
Last year, DJI introduced the Osmo as a unit with a dedicated camera for $US550 ($740). This year it went mass market with the Mobile, which uses your smartphone camera to record the fluid, smooth images, using the motors of the gimbal, a feature on many drones, to steady your shots.
Use it, and your fans might think you hired a helicopter to come along with you for the shoot.
Over the weekend, DJI had a Black Friday deal with a free extra battery (worth $US35), which you will need. The original battery lasts only about 30-45 minutes.
Runner-up goes to the GoPro Karma Grip, a similar steadicam on a stick for your GoPro, which initially was included with the price of the $US1100 Karma drone. But then the drone started falling from the skies, and GoPro recalled the product. The action-cam maker has yet to put the Grip for sale as an accessory, but says it’s coming soon. I tested it and loved the super-wide shots you could get on the GoPro camera, now steady for the first time.
3. New way to scan
Last year, Google gave us Google Photos, an app that organised your huge, growing photo collection with facial recognition and no storage limits. Now the same division just unleashed ScanPhoto as an alternative to all of us who take photos of old photos with our smartphone. The images are decent, but sometimes there’s glare, and the orientation is a little off.
The app’s genius is that it takes four photos of each image, and uses software to eliminate glare — very well, as it has tools to adjust the crop, and then inserts them directly into Google Photos, so you can find them.
Your alternative is using a paid service like Scanmyphotos.com or iMemories, with which the quality will be better and it will be less taxing than having you do a shoebox’s worth of photos one by one.
But as a free addition to the app portfolio that’s always by our side, it can’t be beat.
4. Bluetooth lifesaver
In my house, we can’t live without Tile, the little bluetooth gizmo that attaches to key ring chains and the inside of my wallet to help me find lost stuff. Can’t find something? Just open the Tile app, and wait for the ring tone to locate the missing item. New for this year was the Tile Slim, a $US30 thinner version (as thin as two credit cards, the company says). The Slim is made to more easily live in tight spaces, like a passport or bottom of a camera, which means we can use it in more places.
5. Better home Wi-Fi
Finally, consistent internet throughout the house with the Eero, a gadget that works alongside your router to stream your signal through walls, doors and other former obstacles in the home. The founder of the company, Nick Weaver, told USA TODAY this year how his parents’ Wi-Fi woes inspired him to start Eero.
“Our networks run our homes,” he said. “Without the Internet, it’s hard to get any work done, hard to relax. I really wanted to fix this problem.”
He put enterprise-style networking tech into small white boxes.
“You think you can just have a router run our expanding collections of devices, but that’s not so.”
Instead, you place Eero units throughout the home to spread the internet signal. It’s pricey — a three-pack starts at $US499, but Eero was offering Black Friday pricing at $US100 off. (Google has a similar product, Google Wifi, that’s expected to be released by next month for $US129.)
6. Acoustics that sound electric
I love playing acoustic guitars because I can grab them and start playing immediately, without having to plug in. I love the sound of acoustic, but electric doesn’t sound too shabby, either. So call me a huge fan of Yamaha’s innovation here — Yamaha TransAcoustic guitar, which can sound electrified through technology.
Yamaha pulls this off by installing what’s called an “actuator” into the inner surface of the Transacoustic guitar back (street price, about $US1000), which vibrates in “response to the vibrations of the strings”, according to the company. Turn it on, and you get “Reverb” and “Chorus” sounds, which add presence to your music. Many guitar players crank up the reverb on their amps or pedals. I just adjust the volume on the TransAcoustic, and do it naturally, without any cords.
7. The drone that fits in a (large) pocket
Finally, how about a small, light drone that can slip into a really tight space? In the DJIMavic Pro drone, DJI brought down the size of the flying machine into one that could easily join you for hikes, cycling expeditions and the like. For a $US999 drone that was so popular, production is backed up at least two months, according to the website.
(Rival GoPro had a similar idea with the Karma drone, priced at $US1099 and said to be small and portable — but in truth, it was rather large and heavy, and had this little problem of falling from the skies during flight. The unit has since been recalled; it did produce beautiful images, though.)
By: Jefferson Graham
Posted On: http://www.afr.com/technology/the-7-top-tech-innovations-of-2016-20161127-gsyqka
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