Explosive claims of illegal spying and hacking rock the Uber vs. Waymo trial

The newest twist in the Uber vs. Waymo trial over allegedly stolen self-driving technology sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. A letter from a former Uber employee has been made public for the first time, claiming that some of the practices that Uber engaged in included covert hacking, illegal surveillance, and bribery of foreign officials.

Known as the “Jacobs letter,” it was written by former Uber security team member Richard Jacobs and sent to Uber executives last May. The trial was delayed in November when this new document came to light, after it was forwarded to Judge William Alsup by a US attorney also investigating Uber for a different matter. The judge blasted Uber’s lawyers in court, and questioned whether they had something to hide.

Although several of these allegations have been previously raised in the trial, the full document was released last week. Many details are redacted, but you can read the full 37-page document here.

“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology,” said an Uber spokesman in a statement, according to Buzzfeed.

The letter claims that Uber “fraudulently impersonates riders and drivers on competitor platforms, hacks into competitor networks, and conducts unlawful wiretapping.” They used these tactics to evaluate vulnerabilities in their competitors’ security, using anonymous servers to “make millions of data calls against competitor and government servers without causing a signature that would alert competitors to the theft.”

The letter goes on to implicate former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and details some of the procedures used to illegally wiretap meeting of their competitors’ executives. “In at least one instance, the LAT operatives deployed against these targets were able to record and observe private conversations among the executives including their real time reactions to a press story that Uber would receive $3.4 billion dollars in funding from the Saudi government. Importantly, these collection tactics were tasked directly by Sullivan on behalf of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick. Upon information and belief, these two Uber executives, along with other members of Uber’s executive team, received live intelligence updates (including photographs and video) from Gicinto while they were present in the ‘War Room.’”

For its part, Uber says that Jacobs was attempting to extort money from the company with his letter, according to CNET. He received at least $4.5 million from Uber in a settlement reached in August. “From where I sat, my team acted ethically, with integrity and in the best interests of our drivers and riders,” former chief security officer Joe Sullivan told CNET.

If the court finds that Uber stole the files, as alleged in the lawsuit, it may be forced to pay $2 billion to Waymo and halt its autonomous-vehicle program. Stay tuned.

Editors’ Recommendations

Apple Maps is now helping you navigate the confusing terminals of an airport

If there’s anything harder than navigating a foreign city, it’s navigating a new airport. Seemingly bigger than many small towns, the interior of one of these bustling structures often seems to be something of a city within itself. And while Apple Maps has long been in the business of helping us navigate unknown streets and avenues, it hasn’t always been the most helpful when it comes to helping us navigate terminals and gates. But that’s all beginning to change.

You can now check out the layouts of 30 airports around the world thanks to Maps. As it stands, most of the covered airports are in the United States, with the majority of major city hubs included in the new rollout. That said, a number of busy international airports have also been mapped, like Hong Kong International, as well as airports in Amsterdam, Geneva, two in London and Berlin, as well as a number of Canadian structures.

Completing an interior map is no small task — after all, you can’t just drive a vehicle an airport and take photos. Instead, both airlines and airports have to cooperate and collaborate with Apple Maps, and a number of in-person surveys were also conducted in order to provide accurate information. In fact, much of the data was collected by individuals roaming the terminals (a much safer alternative to cars).

In order to check out an airport, you’ll have to look for the “Look Inside” option within Maps. If that feature is available, tapping on it will give you an overview of a terminal’s layout. Everything is done in bird’s eye view — after all, most airports look pretty similar, so having the equivalent to Street View wouldn’t be all that helpful.

That said, you can see each gate highlighted in yellow, as well as key areas like check-in kiosks, baggage claims, and airport lounges. You can also look into restaurants (Maps also provides its location, floor number, phone number, hours, and reviews), as well as the location of the all-important bathrooms.

In order to accurately locate where its users are, thereby providing the most accurate information about their surroundings, Apple uses Wi-Fi points, which can triangulate your positioning. Apparently, this is accurate regardless of whether or not you’re actually connected to the airport Wi-Fi, which is pretty nifty.

You can check out all currently supported airports on Apple’s website

Editors’ Recommendations

Five companies, other than Shazam, that Apple should acquire

It’s no secret Apple purchases small companies with promising technology. With nearly 100 acquisitions thus far, Apple uses these companies to create better user experiences for both iOS and Mac. With Apple’s recent purchase of Shazam, there’s lot of speculation about the next company in Apple’s sights. Here are the top five companies we believe could drastically improve user experience on Apple devices.

Transit

apple should acquire these five companies transit app screens

Apple Maps has been the butt of many jokes since its release. When it first replaced Google Maps way back in 2012, it wasn’t uncommon to see Apple Maps recommending a quick detour through a lake or off the side of a cliff to get to your destination. Even though the app has improved dramatically since iOS 6, it’s still no match for Google Maps.

So what could Apple do to give Apple Maps more value? Acquiring Transit would be a great start. Transit provides real-time updates for public transit systems across the country. While you may be saying “Apple Maps does the same thing” (depending on where you live), the truth is that Transit does it a lot better.

Let’s use the MTA, New York City’s public transit system, as an example. Since it’s one of the only transit systems in the world that runs 24 hours a day, maintenance is often performed on nights and weekends. Each week, the MTA publishes a report called The Weekender to alert users of station closures and detours. Even though your train may not be running, Apple still recommends an out of service train and simply adds an alert that the train is not running. Transit, on the other hand, uses crowd sourcing (and a guy named Leo) to update its app to reflect the closures and offer detours.

While Apple Maps looks nice, that’s where the appeal ends. We would love to see Apple integrate data from Transit into future releases of iOS and OS X to create a more robust mapping app that competes with Google Maps.

Dish

apple dish network

At first glance, Dish seems like an odd target for Apple. Known primarily for providing satellite television for millions of Americans, Dish would be a huge acquisition for the world’s largest tech company. Valued at over $30 billion dollars, it would also be the largest acquisition ever for Apple. However, Dish would give Apple an advantage on two fronts.

It’s no secret that Apple has attempted to launch live television service for the last several years.  In 2015, The Wall Street Journal announced that Apple would launch a live TV service, offering a “slimmed down bundle of TV networks.” Licensing issues appear to have all but stopped the process.

Using Sling TV, Dish Network’s live streaming TV service, to catapult its own Apple branded product would not only allow the company to quickly get the service up and running, but would position it as one of the top players in the market. With a current subscriber base of more than 13 million, Dish would allow Apple to start its service with a consistent revenue stream that would allow it to further develop its lineup for multiple devices and platforms. Users would be able to easily update their channels in the App Store using Face ID or Touch ID and be able to transfer their services easily using Apple TV.

While Dish would be an attractive acquisition target for its live TV service alone, it has another trick up its sleeve. Over the past decade, Dish has aggressively purchased wireless spectrum from the FCC. A significant portion of this spectrum could be used to create an IoT network, something Dish is exploring. Apple could leverage this spectrum to make it a leader in connected home technology, offering a secure, private network that works with HomePod and other devices.

Pinterest

apple companies pinterest

Hear us out on this one. Pinterest would be an excellent acquisition target for Apple, not just for its social media platform, but for its fledgling AI technology.

It’s long been rumored that Apple is interested in creating a social media network. Earlier this year, Apple Insider reported that Apple may be building an ad-free premium social network. Acquiring Pinterest’s platform of more than 150 million, largely active millennial users, would allow the company to kick its plans into high gear at a relatively low entry cost (last year Motley Fool estimated Pinterest was worth approximately $11 billion dollars).

Apple already uses artificial intelligence and machine learning throughout iOS, but Google made a significant leap in computer vision and object recognition this year when it introduced Google Lens. Google Lens combines the power of AI with your smartphone camera to identify objects and provide contextual recommendations and actions based upon the object.

Right now, Apple has no comparable feature. Pinterest Lens could allow Apple to quickly create a similar experience for iPhone users, while pairing it with a social media platform. Pinterest Lens works much like Google Lens but provides more personalized recommendations based on your own pins and likes. Apple could easily bake this technology into future versions of iOS and OS X, not only creating a Google Lens-like feature, but also integrating it into Photos and other apps to allow easy cataloging and sharing on its social media platform.

Yelp

apple yelp

Yelp seems like a somewhat obvious acquisition target for Apple. Its reviews are featured in Apple Maps and it’s already integrated into the iMessage app drawer. Developing and refining these features into future version of iOS and OS X, however, could allow users to use this information in a variety of different ways across multiple apps.

Yelp can be a little annoying. On mobile, you need to download the app and create a login to get the most out of it. For the casual user, it seems like a lot of trouble. If Apple purchased Yelp, the features could be baked into iOS and OS X and allow users to link reviews to their iCloud accounts. The service could also be further built into iMessage and Calendar to to provide location-based suggestions when texting or scheduling appointments. Users could also pin reviewed locations and corresponding photos to the Apple Maps app.

Dark Sky

apple should acquire these five companies dark sky screenshots

The Weather app is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The design hasn’t changed much over the years, and it gathers information from The Weather Channel. While it gets the job done, it’s pretty basic and can sometimes be not very accurate.

Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps in the App Store. While no one at Dark Sky is a meteorologist, they manage to provide extremely accurate, up-to-the-minute forecasts. How do they do it? Well, the company uses machine learning and neural nets to discern good data from NOAA and other weather services from noise.

Both elegant and informative, Dark Sky seems like the perfect target for Apple. The app could easily be rebranded for iOS 12. It could also provide added value to other Mac and iOS services. For example, Apple Maps could automatically recommend routes with less walking and fewer transfers for commuters during inclement weather.

Editors’ Recommendations

New trailers: Ready Player One, Annihilation, and more

I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet (I’m going Saturday night!), but I’m excited to catch it this weekend. That’s not something I would have expected two years ago: I’ve never been a big Star Wars fan, but The Force Awakens is such a perfect start to the new trilogy that it was able to change that.

What I love about The Force Awakens (and what I suspect longtime Star Wars fans dislike about it) is that it treats Star Wars as myth in order to usher a new generation into that world. The movie is built on the idea that you’ve heard about but never bought into Star Wars, and it sweeps you along with a surprising amount of humor and some wonderfully earnest characters. The very first scene in The Force Awakens even goes out of its way to make you laugh.

The real goal of the movie is to make you believe that you can get swept away into a magical universe, and I think it nails that feeling — letting you at least briefly experience those feelings of wonder and awe along with the characters. I’m sure The Last Jedi will have to move beyond these themes, but now that I care about the world, I’m ready to see what’s next.

Check out seven trailers from this week below.

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Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg has turned Ernest Cline’s much-hyped novel into a big and shiny adventure film, and while no one’s actually seen it yet, pretty much all I’ve heard so far is pushback against its apparent overindulgence in nostalgia — though, from what I’ve heard, that’s kind of the point of the book. The thing that I think makes me most uncomfortable here is how on the nose the dystopian world seems to be, relying on some maybe slightly too exaggerated parallels to current technology. It comes out March 30th.

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Annihilation

After wowing everyone with Ex Machina, Alex Garland is back with a new sci-fi film — an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel Annihilation. While Garland’s last film was heavy on the technology side of sci-fi, this one is all about the science end of things, exploring the kind of beauties and monsters that strange twists of evolution might cook up. It looks really creepy. The film comes out February 23rd.

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David Bowie: The Last Five Years

HBO has a documentary coming up looking at the very end of David Bowie’s life and career. This teaser doesn’t get all that detailed, but it seems like it could be a fun watch for fans of Bowie’s excellent final albums (and, you know, everything else he made). The film comes out January 8th.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse

Peter Park may be the one who made it into the Avengers films, but Sony is still giving Miles Morales a Spider-Man movie of his own. And the animation looks really cool. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are producers on the film, which means it’ll probably be pretty funny, too. Unfortunately, the movie is still a year away — it’s slated for Christmas 2018.

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Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones seemed to get the most acclaim out of all Netflix’s Marvel series, and now the show’s coming back for season two. Netflix put out a brief first look at it, showing Jones back at work, back to the bar, and back to smashing people into panes of glass. The new season comes out March 8th.

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The 15:17 to Paris

So this is pretty unusual. Clint Eastwood’s new film is about the three Americans who stopped a shooting on a train in France in 2015 — and it stars those three Americans reenacting what went down. There’s a whole lot to unpack right there, but I’ll leave that to people who actually see this film. As for me, I am kind of skeptical about how it’ll turn out: I thought Eastwood proved with Sully that a minute-long event really shouldn’t be extended into a feature film, and I’m not convinced the situation is any different here. The movie comes out February 9th.

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The Polka King

Six years ago, Jack Black played a nice guy with a weird accent who committed a crime based on a real life story in (the very excellent film) Bernie, and next year, he’s going to do the same thing again in The Polka King. Except instead of murder, the crime this time is a Ponzi scheme. Also, there’s polka. The film debuted at Sundance this year and it’s supposed to be pretty funny. It comes out on January 12th.

Mozilla faces blowback after slipping Mr Robot plugin into Firefox

Yesterday, Firefox users noticed a strange new plug-in popping up in their browsers. A new plug-in called Looking Glass found its way into each instance of the new Firefox Quantum browser. It was disabled by default, but users were still alarmed to see a plugin they hadn’t installed. When they checked to see what Looking Glass did, they found a vague and ominous description — “MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS” — which did little to quiet suspicions.

“I did not remember installing this add-on, [and] I would not knowingly install it,” one user wrote in the support forum. “Any explanations welcome because I can’t find any reference online.”

As it turned out, Looking Glass was part of Mr. Robot’s long-running alternative reality game, a trail of clues left by writers for fans to discover. According to Mozilla’s documentation, the plug-in was designed as a “shared experience to further your immersion into the Mr Robot universe,” developed as a collaboration between Mozilla and the Mr. Robot team at USA. The description of the app itself confirms that, listing both Mozilla developers and USA executives as authors of the plug-in.

Once enabled, the plugin seems to have made only minor changes to specific websites, likely leaving more clues for players of the Mr. Robot ARG. But seeing the plugin pop-up unannounced on their computers has left many Firefox users more than a little alarmed. As one user noted on Hacker news:

There are several scary things about this:

– Unknown Mozilla developers can distribute addons to users without their permission

– Mozilla developers can distribute addons to users without their knowledge

– Mozilla developers themselves don’t realise the consequences of doing this

– Experiments are not explicitly enabled by users

– Opening the addons window reverts configuration changes which disable experiments

– The only way to properly disable this requires fairly arcane knowledge Firefox preferences (lockpref(), which I’d never heard of until today)

Mozilla responded to the concerns by moving the Looking Glass plug-in to Firefox’s public add-on store, and making its code available in a public repository.

“Our goal with the custom experience we created with Mr. Robot was to engage our users in a fun and unique way,” a Mozilla representative said in a statement. “Real engagement also means listening to feedback. And so while the web extension/add-on that was sent out to Firefox users never collected any data, and had to be explicitly enabled by users playing the game before it would affect any web content, we heard from some of our users that the experience we created caused confusion.”

Disclosure: NBC Universal, owner of USA Network, is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company. Additionally, we are an independent editorial partner in the Mr. Robot Digital After Show, hosted by The Verge.

Update 4:42PM ET: Updated with new Mozilla statement and public repository link.

Netflix will look for a repeat play in 2018 after a strong year


Netflix had a pretty good year by very Netflix-y standards: it added a ton of subscribers; its international growth plans seem to be playing out as hoped; it cleaned up in the Golden Globe nominations, and users are watching a ton of Netflix.

While the company has continued to show growth with its existing strategy — investing a ton in its original content strategy in the hope that it’ll convert Emmy and Grammy awards into subscribers — it’s going to get more expensive. Netflix has basically acknowledged that as it says it’s going to ramp up its original content and marketing spend, and in October said it would raise up to $1.6 billion in debt. In short, its strategy that worked this year will, in theory, play out next year as it looks to continue putting out strong original shows.

The company has said it expects to spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on original content, a clear sign that it’s going to double down on that strategy that seems to have given it a pretty successful strategy in 2017. It had to raise prices, which could create a bigger barrier to consumers. But if all goes well, a successful repeat of that strategy — which means it has to continue to come out with great shows — will help it continue to grow where it needs.

The company’s performance as a whole has made it look quite good for Wall Street. Netflix’s share price has risen more than 50% in the past year. That carries with it a whole batch of benefits: it looks great as a public barometer for the company, it means the company can woo talent with good compensation packages, and it keeps away activist investors that are looking to agitate change in the company. The whole time this is happening, Netflix’s content costs are ballooning, but that seems to have yet to faze investors.

And that’s a group that, for better or worse, Netflix needs to keep happy. Netflix is going to have to grapple with an increasingly competitive group including Hulu and Amazon, which are now churning out shows that are getting similar accolades to Netflix’s best series. Hulu came out with The Handmaid’s Tale, which received high praise, showing that there’s an opportunity to go after Netflix’s sweet spot with its own original content.

If Netflix is going to have a repeat of 2017, it’s going to have to figure out how to both keep picking up users (with a strategy that seems to be working in place) and keep them from flipping to other services. Each service offers some unique original content, but they also have huge backlogs of content that serve as the backbone of a video streaming service. With rising prices, Netflix has to ensure that it makes good shows, but also ensure that it creates an experience that keeps people coming back to watch — whether that’s through improvements in its recommendation engine or a robust backlog of content that it can keep signing on.

Netflix passed a pretty significant milestone when it comes to its international expansion plans: (slightly) more than half of its subscribers now come from outside the U.S. Its users are watching around 1 billion hours of content per week (that’s billion-with-a-B). Its spending on original content appears to be working there, too, with internationally-oriented shows like 3%. Its user base appears to be growing, though it’s not clear when it’ll hit that absolute saturation point where it has to start figuring out what the next generation of products looks like.

That may be something along the lines of allowing offline viewing of some shows, which it began in November this year, or it may be improved recommendation engines to help a user discover that they like Twin Peaks as much as they’d like American Vandal. Either way, it still seems like there’s an overhead that Netflix hasn’t quite hit yet as it continues to beat Wall Street’s — and its own — expectations for subscriber growth.

So we’ll see if the company is not only able to continue to churn out that content but also actually have the capital to stick to that aggressive spending plan it set for itself. That, and it probably needs to stop creeping on its members.

Featured Image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Are you still using an RSS reader?

It’s been close to five years since Google decided to shut down Reader, the ubiquitous and beloved RSS news client. At one point, I used to do almost all my internet reading through RSS. I kept my feeds meticulously clean, poring over personal blog entries and tabbing quickly down the news, opening stories that piqued my interest. The loss of my favorite platform felt like a personal betrayal.

After Reader died, I switched to Feedly, which I’m still using today. But my relationship with it is very different. If Reader was a neat lawn, my Feedly is now an overgrown lot. I’ve got nearly 30,000 unread articles across 186 feeds, including several for websites that no longer exist — I leave some of them on the list because I’m lazy, and some because I want to keep their memory alive. (RIP Gothamist, forever preserved in my “NYC” folder.)

What happened? For one thing, covering a long list of topics at The Verge turned me into a news hoarder. I loathe to delete even a site that I almost never read, because someday I might need those five posts from the US Intelligence Community’s Tumblr blog, or those dozens of news announcements about small drones, a topic I have not covered in-depth for years. So new stories come in so quickly that even scrolling through all the headlines would require huge amounts of time.

Also, RSS is now competing for my time with Twitter, Reddit, internal Verge chats, and other news sources. It’s still an important place to check in on specific sites, but it’s not where I see the pieces everyone else in my field has been reading and sharing. 2017 has highlighted the downsides of this sort of curated news, though. I’m not talking about the much-discussed ideological “filter bubble;” I probably encounter more ideas I disagree with on Twitter than in Feedly. But social curation (as well as automated algorithmic shuffling) tends to let a few big stories take up more space than I’d like. I need niche, non-important-seeming raw material in my media diet, and RSS is perfect for that.

Even after all these years, I love Feedly. But it no longer feels like a space that I organize. It feels like just another feed.

I also know that my situation is fairly unusual, though. Most people aren’t scanning Twitter like a Bloomberg terminal for several hours a day, looking for news. As my colleague Dieter Bohn wrote all the way back in 2013, RSS is far more important for users who want to take in the equivalent of a digital newspaper at the end of the day, something that’s difficult or impossible to do with a service like Twitter. So I’m curious — how many people are still fully invested in the format, and how many have stopped tending their feed gardens?

Poll

Are you using an RSS reader?

  • 74%
    Yes, religiously

    (5131 votes)

  • 9%
    I check in sometimes

    (664 votes)

  • 8%
    Not anymore

    (610 votes)

  • 6%
    Nope, never

    (438 votes)

6843 votes total Vote Now

Sennheiser holiday sale, Amazon devices discounts, and more of the best tech deals

Christmas is nine days away, which makes this weekend the perfect time for last minute holiday shopping, either for yourself or loved ones. There’s a lot of great tech on sale that make excellent gifts including the Google Home Mini and Kindle Paperwhite. For more gift ideas, check out The Verge’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide.

Highlights include discounts on Amazon devices, matching most Black Friday and Cyber Monday pricing, and Sennheiser’s holiday sale offering $100 off the HD1 over ear, HD1 wireless, and the PXC 550 wireless headphones.

Amazon devices

Note that the Echo Plus, Tap, Kindle devices and Cloud Cam deals end today, Saturday, December 16th; Fire TV devices end on Monday, December 18th; Key Kit ends on December 21st; Echo Show and Fire Tablet devices end on December 24th, and Echo Dot and Echo Plus end on December 31st.

Audio

TVs

Gaming

Miscellaneous

Looking for more gaming deals? Check out Polygon’s gaming deals roundup here.

Good Deals is a weekly roundup of the best deals on the internet, curated by Vox Media’s commerce editor, Chloe Reznikov, in collaboration with The Verge’s editorial team. You can submit deals to deals@theverge.com and find more Good Deals here.

Google kills augmented reality project Tango to focus on ARCore

Google has chosen to end support for its Tango augmented reality (AR) project Tango, deciding to focus on the development of ARCore instead. Support for Tango will come to an end on March 31, 2018.

The move comes mere months after Google increased support for ARCore, its AR development platform that’s allowed for cool AR stickers on the Pixel 2 camera, among other fun apps for Android phones. It’s still in its infancy, but Google clearly sees ARCore as a more viable platform than Tango.

Speculation is rife that Google’s hand was forced by the emergence of Apple’s ARKit, which brought augmented reality to iOS11 apps. Despite launching way back in 2014, Tango never really got off the ground, thanks to restrictions that forced developers into very high-end equipment. Perhaps because of those restraints, Tango AR has only ever really been seen on two devices: the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and the more recent Asus ZenFone AR.

What made Project Tango so special? Much like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Tango used a smartphone’s camera to map out a 3D approximation of an area to create a game world based around your real confines. Conventional AR, such as that seen in Pokemon Go, simply transposes images over the phone camera.

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Tango was always an ambitious project, with big plans for the medical world or as an interactive tour guide in museums. Recently, HoloLens and Tango were used to create a life-like tank experience for guests of the World of Tanks TankFest 2017 event.

Unfortunately for those few who did adopt Tango, it seems the extreme high-end nature of the platform was its stumbling block. Hopefully Google will look to import much of what made Tango great into ARCore.

“Our goal with Tango was really to prove out the core technology and show the world that it’s possible,” Google AR/VR boss Clay Bavor told TechCrunch. “Obviously others have started to invest in smartphone AR; our goal with Tango has always been to drive that capability into as many devices as possible.”

While it’s an unfortunate move for anyone who bought the Asus ZenFone AR, hopefully Tango’s retirement will mean extra movement on ARCore development — and an increase in AR content as a whole. But support ending doesn’t mean you need to stop having fun with your Tango-enabled device, should you have one. Have fun with some of the our favorite Tango AR apps.

Editors’ Recommendations

A century after Arthur C. Clarke’s birth, science fiction is still following his lead

At some point, most science fiction readers come across the “Big Three” authors from its so-called Golden Age: Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Over the course of his lifetime, Clarke witnessed the birth of the space age, and helped push science fiction from a nascent literary movement into a modern vision for humanity’s future with grounded, realistic stories that drew on science and technology—themes that are more relevant than ever today, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

When Clarke began writing science fiction in the late 1930s, the genre was on the cusp of a major transformation. Up to that point, science fiction stories appeared in cheap pulp magazines, and were often sensational tales featuring murderous robots, outlandish planets, and swashbuckling adventure. As Clarke entered the field, the trend of scientific realism was on the rise, pushed along by editors like John W. Campbell, who ran the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Clarke, whose writing was grounded in a firm sense reality, found himself at home in this burgeoning movement. His vision for the future set the mold for his many literary heirs, including Alastair Reynolds, James S.A. Corey, and Allen M. Steele.

Born in Minehead, Somerset on December 16th, 1917, Clarke discovered science fiction at a young age, which began his lifelong obsession with space and humanity’s place in it. He built his own telescopes, served as a radar officer during World War II, and in the late 1930s, began writing stories of his own. Clarke funneled his interests in physics and mathematics into his fiction, creating characters who embarked on missions that readers could easily imagine taking place just years away.

Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge

His longer works, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, Fountains of Paradise, and Childhood’s End, begin with simple, straightforward events—like the discovery of an alien monolith, the arrival of an extrasolar object, or the arrival of an alien spacecraft—and lead characters on remarkable, transformative journeys.

Clarke infused those journeys with plausible technology and recognizable settings, but also explored profound, transcendental notions about our place in the universe. He coined the frequently-quoted saying “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” His work often suggested that humanity is just one minuscule part of the cosmos—that there’s so much we still don’t know that could change the way we perceive the world forever.

In his 1951 short story The Sentinel, the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon leads to the realization that humans aren’t alone in the universe. In his 1953 story The Nine Billion Names of God, a group of monks use a supercomputer to fulfill their mission to list all of God’s names, believing that something incredible will happen when they do. Its conclusion leads to one of the genre’s most awe-inspiring closing lines: “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

While Clarke was often profound, he could also be witty. In 1958’s Who’s There?, he sets up a thrilling, claustrophobic tale where an astronaut is sent into space to retrieve a wayward satellite, only to feel something moving around in his suit. After accidentally knocking himself unconscious, he awakens back onboard the space station to discover that the station’s resident cat had been using his space suit as a home for her kittens.

A century after his birth, our understanding of the universe around us has continually and drastically changed; we’ve discovered vast numbers of planets and solar systems throughout the cosmos, as well as new discoveries and surprises closer to home. Through his hundreds of short stories and novels, Clarke paved the way for his successors to process the vast size and utter strangeness of this new terrain and explore one of science fiction’s most defining questions: what is humanity’s place in the universe?