All posts in “games”

In-car infotainment and driving blur with Honda’s ‘Dream Drive’

Honda wants to turn time spent in the car into an opportunity to shop, play, and get things done —even if you’re in the driver’s seat. Honda calls this in-car experience the “Dream Drive.”

In a Honda Odyssey minivan, John Moon, managing director of strategic partnerships at Honda Innovations, showed off the new concept platform in the car’s infotainment system for drivers and passengers. 

First on the driver side is a custom-made Honda app for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Moon said 2 million Honda cars already have the phone-connected infotainment systems in them. So this is a way to offer a customized “Honda” experience on those screens.

The app is mostly focused on voice search that helps users find parking, gas stations, make reservations, or order food. Partnerships with Grubhub, Atom Tickets, Chevron, iHeartRadio, Parkopedia, Phillips 66, and Yelp feed into the app.

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It’s a very similar interface to Apple’s CarPlay, focusing on a combination of touch and voice. “Voice is perfect mode for the car, but we think a merge of both works much better,” Moon said as he asked the system to “Find parking in Las Vegas.” Parking garages came up and he pushed a “Reserve” button on the first listing. That pulled up a payment screen where credit card info was plugged in and once he reserved a spot a digital pass was then available on his phone.

The Honda-made system was not initially supposed to be redundant with apps and services already available on your phone and infotainment system, but since it is, Honda is integrating a rewards program to encourage more use of the platform. For every game you play or food delivery you order from Dream Drive, you earn Honda points or coins, which are then redeemable for real-life rewards at places like AMC movie theaters, Airbnb rentals, or CVS drug stores.

The console screen displays the app.

The console screen displays the app.

Image: bridget bennett / mashable

Parking pass acquired.

Parking pass acquired.

Image: Bridget bennett / mashable

“Brought-in tech” (aka tablets and smartphones) are an expected part of the passenger experience at this point — especially with kids, so Moon’s team developed a complementary service that works with the built-in tech hardwired into the car. You can even control the car’s climate settings from the Honda app.

A connected tablet brings outside tech into the car experience.

A connected tablet brings outside tech into the car experience.

Image: BRIDGET BENNETT / MASHABLE

Mixed-reality games from Octonauts and Lego have an AR feel and know you’re in the car. You move along with the car ride as part of the game. Moon says eventually a building like the Stratosphere could “become” a giant palm tree or an underwater coral reef.

Honda has animated comics, movies, and other media options on the app from partnerships with DC, Entercom/Radio.com, the LEGO Group, Silvergate Media and the Octonauts team, and Univision Music. It’s working to make the games and videos optimized for a car experience, but Honda’s not getting into film or video game production any time soon, Moon assured.

Playing with a Lego game on the go.

Playing with a Lego game on the go.

Image: BRIDGET BENNETT / MASHABLE

All of this is building up for an inevitable autonomous car experience. “This might be the only way you interact with the car because the car is autonomous,” Moon said about the connected app. The  Dream Drive in-car platform isn’t here yet, but it’s coming together as more media and business partners get involved.

Until then, the Grubhub app on your smartphone will need to be your method to order food delivery. Darn.

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In defense of cheating at crossword puzzles

Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.


My name is Rachel, and I am a cheater.

No, not that kind of cheater. I cheat at games. Uno, mostly, on family vacations. There was a very sticky incident with a game of Mille Bornes once. And getting caught in the act during a round of Hi-Ho Cherry-O when I was a young kid still shamefully burns in my memory.

Lately, I’ve been engaging in a different sort of cheating. And while I know that my typical illicit game play is wrong, I feel — mostly — no shame about this new kind. Because, for now, it’s justified.

My new game is the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, friends. My cheat: the check button. 

Allow me to introduce you to this invaluable hack, and justify its morally questionable use. For without it, I would have languished in crossword puzzle purgatory forever, never learning, never getting any better, and quitting before I even finished a Monday. 

Crossword cheaters of the world unite.

I began playing the New York Times crossword in the app some time during 2016, when, as a new New Yorker, I figured out that it was a good way to distract me from the stench and misery of my subway commute. Access to all the Times puzzles already came with my subscription — all I needed to do was download the crosswords specific app.

The problem was that I was instantly horrible. Most crossword puzzlers will tell you that being good at crosswords isn’t so much about knowing things as it is about knowing the things that crosswords want you to know. You can only get so far without knowing that “emo” is the Times’ chosen musical subgenre; that lassos are apparently also known as “lariats”; that if the clue is anything related to opera, the answer is probably “aria.”

Acquiring that knowledge takes nothing but practice and paying attention. So, what’s a crossword puzzle beginner to do?

Cheat.

The Times puzzle checker button has been absolutely essential to my crosswords education. The third icon from the right in the upper right hand corner is a two-colored circle; aptly, it appears to look like a life raft. When you click on it, a menu with four options pops up in the bottom of the screen; “Check Square,” “Check Word,” “Check Puzzle,” and “Reveal/Clear…” The latter button gives further options for what you want to show or delete.

Cheat your way to victory, friends.

Cheat your way to victory, friends.

Image: rachel kraus/mashable

The top two buttons have been my crossword saviors. When your cursor remains on a word and you use the life raft, the word or letter will turn blue if it’s right, or red with a black slash through it if it’s wrong. I view this kind of … help… as a kind of half measure of cheating: They’re not giving me an answer, they’re just telling me if my answer is right or wrong.

The most basic way I use it is to check whether a word is correct while I’m going along. It gives me permission to type answers that might be right, but that I might not write down if I were to do crosswords in indelible ink (like the newspaper pros). In this way, what the tool has given me most of all is confidence, and a better understanding of and trust in my crossword instincts.

My most dastardly use of the tool is to check letter by letter. In a half-filled puzzle, it’s usually easy to tell whether a square contains a vowel or a consonant. If you run through the vowels, using the “check letter” feature, you’ll eventually find the right one.

Because I make liberal use of the tool, I’ve gotten better. I used to use the “check” tool in every puzzle. Now, I complete Mondays and Tuesdays without it. (Crossword puzzles advance in difficulty throughout the days of the week.) I try to solve as much as I can without the “check” later in the week, trying to put my new-found confidence into action. I can even finish the jumbo-sized Sunday puzzles now, only starting to use the “check” feature about half-way through. It’s satisfying and fun.

The Shame

As I write this, I imagine academic purists clutching their pearls. Crosswords aren’t just a game like 2048 or Ballz (heh). Crosswords are supposed to be a more worthy way of passing the time, simultaneously exercising your mind and improving your knowledge. Sure, other puzzle games like Candy Crush or Sudoku still exercise your mind. But the crossword is the tweed-wearing grandpappy of passive time well spent.

Moreover, crosswords are a status symbol of mental superiority and education. If you play crosswords, it says that you care about not wasting time, that you’re smart enough and with a large enough vocabulary to play word games. You’re bookish and witty. Crosswording is perhaps one of the only endearing manifestations of elitism.

Refined parental figures I know do crosswords in the actual newspaper. New Yorker tote-toting subway riders do crosswords in the app. Writers and journalists talk about their crossword wins and frustrations on Twitter. The crossword play I observe in the real world even mirrors the puzzle’s portrayal in film and TV, where crosswords are reserved for learned, lovably anxious characters. Brooklyn 99‘s Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) teases, then reveres, and ultimately loves, his romantic interest Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) for her detail-oriented intelligence — which the show frequently signifies through her love of crosswords.

So, part of the point of doing crosswords is to show off to yourself, and anyone who happens to learn that you crossword, how much you know, and what kind of a person you are.

If I’m honest, it’s this perception that caused me to pick up (or, actually, download) crosswords in the first place. Playing mindless games felt somehow beneath me, a New York City graduate student, at the time. It was about bolstering the writerly persona I was adopting; helping to convince myself that I belonged.

Which is why it feels so sacrilege to divulge my cheating ways in digital print. Cheating at crosswords seems wrong because it sullies the integrity of the vaunted game; the app itself shames you when you cheat, with a patronizing pop-up that informs you “checking” will disqualify you from counting this puzzle towards a “streak.”

Admitting that I cheat goes a step beyond the ignobleness of the act. Acknowledging my crossword smarts inferiority is particularly shameful because I risk exposing the fraudulentness that I always feel is lurking at the center of my intellectual worth. I can’t do crosswords without help. There is a lot I don’t know. Who am I to play the crossword? 

But without cheating, I never would have gotten anywhere with the game. What I imagined as the pastime of the educated urbanite would have been closed to me, just as sure as friendship with a Prospect Heights bar patron would be if I’d entered in my Southern California athleisure and Uggs.

Cheating does not confirm the fears of impostor syndrome that nag when I press that life boat. Conversely, playing crosswords does not make me a type, just like those subway riders or TV characters. Playing crosswords, and cheating at crosswords, neither confirms nor negates the idea that I am educated or sophisticated or clever. It means that I like word games, and I’m still learning this one. 

Which is why I implore you to cheat. Crosswords actually are a better use of time than bouncing a ball around a screen. Winning them, and building my knowledge and skills, is an accomplishment that I haven’t gotten from any other iPhone game. Don’t let any sense of purist elitism, or perhaps your own feelings of inferiority and embarrassment, keep you away. 

Crosswords can be for anyone, I promise. Use that “check” button with abandon, for as long as you need it. But don’t let it become a crutch forever. Notice when it’s time to rely on yourself, and not the little life raft. Soon you’ll be able to swim on your own. 

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App Stores to pass $122B in 2019, with gaming and subscriptions driving growth

Mobile intelligence and data firm App Annie is today releasing its 2019 predictions for the worldwide app economy, including its forecast around consumer spending, gaming, the subscription market, and other highlights. Most notably, it expects the worldwide gross consumer spend in apps – meaning before the app stores take their own cut – to surpass $122 billion next year, which is double the size of the global box office market, for comparison’s sake.

According to the new forecast, the worldwide app store consumer spend will grow 5 times as fast as the overall global economy next year.

But the forecast also notes that “consumer spend” – which refers to the money consumers spend on apps and through in-app purchases – is only one metric to track the apps stores’ growth and revenue potential.

Mobile spending is also expected to continue growing for both in-app advertising and commerce – that is, the transactions that take place outside of the app stores in app like Uber, Amazon, and Starbucks, for example.

Specifically, mobile will account for 62 percent of global digital ad spend in 2019, representing $155 billion, up from 50 percent in 2017. In addition, 60 percent more mobile apps will monetize through in-app ads in 2019.

Mobile gaming to reach 60% market share

As in previous years, mobile gaming is contributing to the bulk of the growth in consumer spending, the report says.

Mobile gaming, which continues to be the fastest growing form of gaming, matured further this year with apps like Fortnite and PUBG, says App Annie . These games “drove multiplayer game mechanics that put them on par with real-time strategy and shooter games on PC/Mac and Consoles in a way that hadn’t been done before,” the firm said.

They also helped push forward a trend towards cross-platform gaming, and App Annie expects that to continue in 2019 with more games becoming less siloed.

However, the gaming market won’t just be growing because of experiences like PUBG and Fortnite. “Hyper-casual” games – that is, those with very simple gameplay – will also drive download growth in 2019.

Over the course of the next year, consumer spend in mobile gaming will reach 60 percent market share across all major platforms, including PC, Mac, console, handheld, and mobile.

China will remain a major contributor to overall app store consumer spend, including mobile gaming, but there may be a slight deceleration of their impact next year due to the game licensing freeze. In August, Bloomberg reported China’s regulators froze approval of game licenses amid a government shake-up. The freeze impacted the entire sector, from large players like internet giant Tencent to smaller developers.

If the freeze continues in 2019, App Annie believes Chinese firms will push towards international expansion and M&A activity could result.

App Annie is also predicting one breakout gaming hit for 2019: Niantic’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which it believes will exceed $100 million in consumer spend in its first 30 days. Niantic’s Pokémon Go, by comparison, cleared $100 million in its first two weeks and became the fastest game to reach $1 billion in consumer spend.

But App Annie isn’t going so far as to predict Harry Potter will do better than Pokémon Go, which tapped into consumer nostalgia and was a first-to-market mainstream AR gaming title.

Mobile Video Streaming

Another significant trend ahead for the new year is the growth in video streaming apps, fueled by in-app subscriptions.

Today, the average person consumers over 7.5 hours of media per day, including watching, listening, reading or posting. Next year, 10 minutes of every hour will be spent consuming media across TV and internet will come from streaming video on mobile, the forecast says.

The total time in video streaming apps will increase 110 percent from 2016 to 2019, with consumer spend in entertainment apps up by 520 percent over that same period. Most of those revenues will come from the growth in in-app subscriptions.

Much of the time consumer spend streaming will come from short-form video apps like YouTube, TikTok and social apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

YouTube alone accounts for 4 out of every 5 minutes spent in the top 10 video streaming apps, today. But 2019 will see many changes, including the launch of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, for example.

App Annie’s full report, which details ad creatives and strategies as well, is available on its blog.

Roblox makes first acquisition with purchase of app performance startup PacketZoom

Fresh off a $150 million round of funding, kids’ gaming platform Roblox is making its first acquisition. The company says it’s acquiring the small startup PacketZoom, bringing its team and technology in-house to help it improve mobile application performance as its platform expands further into worldwide markets.

Founded in 2013, and based in San Mateo, California, PacketZoom had raised a $5 million Series A late last year. The company combines a content delivery network (CDN) to speed up performance with an application performance management tool to identify issues in a single package, TechCrunch had explained at the time.

The company’s products allow developers access to analytics about the app and network-performance related issues, as well as optimize app delivery and content downloads – up to 2 to 3 times faster.

The system in particular is designed to overcome the limitations of slow and unreliable networks, like those found in emerging markets. It also helps to ensure faster and lower latency data transfers worldwide.

It’s clear how this acquisition makes sense for Roblox, which offers a platform where kids create and play in 3D worlds and games and has global expansion in mind. With PacketZoom integrated into its gaming platform, users will be able to join games faster and have a better experience when playing on mobile devices.

Roblox had said earlier this year it was cash-flow positive and continues to be profitable. It raised funds in order to stock its war chest and have a buffer, while focused on its international expansion efforts. It also said it would use the funds to make acquisitions and open offices outside the U.S. in some regions, like China.

PacketZoom had raised $11.2 million to date from investors including Founder Collective, Tandem Capital, First Round Capital, Baseline Ventures, Arafura Ventures, and others.

According to PacketZoom’s website, it was working with customers like Glu Mobile, Sephora, Photofy, Inshorts, Upwork, News Republic, Wave, Belcorp, GOTA, Netmeds, Houzify, Wooplr, Fluik Entertainment, Wondermall, and others. These relationships will be wound down, as Roblox plans to only use the IP internally, not to support other customers.

Roblox declined to speak to the acquisition price, but notes it was an all-cash deal. It includes all of PacketZoom’s IP and code. PacketZoom’s founder and CTO, Chetan Ahuja, along with the PacketZoom’s four-person engineering team will join Roblox.

YouTube to shut down standalone Gaming app, as gaming gets a new home on YouTube

YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site.

Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been a place where YouTube experimented with features catering to game creators and viewers who like to watch live and recorded esports. Here, it tested things like Game Pages to make games more discoverable, Super Chat, and Channel Memberships – features which the Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch had also popularized among the game community.

Some of YouTube Gaming’s features became so well-received that the company brought them to YouTube. For example, this June YouTube introduced channel memberships to its main site. And before that, it had brought Super Chat – a way for creators to make money from live streams – to its broader community, as well.

But while gaming remains one of YouTube’s top verticals, no one was really using the standalone YouTube Gaming app, the company says.

“We have 200 million people that are logged in, watching gaming content every single day,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s Director of Gaming Content and Partnerships, tells TechCrunch. “And the majority of them, quite frankly, are just not using the YouTube Gaming app for their gaming experiences,” he says.

However, data from Sensor Tower shows the app had over 11 million installs across iOS and Android, and those installs have remained consistent over time. That indicates a large number of people were at least willing to try the app. But the firm also found that its daily users were a “tiny fraction” of Twitch’s on iOS, which confirms Wyatt’s point about lack of usage.

Instead, gamers are logging into YouTube to watch gaming, Wyatt explains.

They watch a lot of gaming, too – over the last twelve months, fans streamed more than 50 billion hours of gaming content, and YouTube has over 500,000 quarterly active live gaming streamers.

In other words, YouTube’s decision to sunset the standalone app should not be seen as an admission that it’s ceding this space to Twitch – rather, that it’s now deciding to use the power of YouTube’s flagship app to better compete.

On that front, the company is today launching a new YouTube Gaming destination at youtube.com/gaming. The destination is first available in the U.S., and will roll out globally in the months ahead.

A link to the new vertical will appear in the left-side navigation bar, where you find other top-level sections like Trending and Subscriptions.

The Gaming destination will feature personalized content at the top of the page, based on what you like to watch, along with top live games, the latest gaming videos from your subscriptions, and dedicated shelves for live streams and trending videos.

Another feature, “gaming creator on the rise,” will highlight up-and-coming gaming creators who are still trying to build an audience. That’s something that many say is still an issue on Amazon-owned Twitch – often, their early days are spent streaming to no one. They soon find that they need the blessing of an existing influencer to bring more viewers to their channel.

Wyatt points out, too, that YouTube Gaming won’t be all about live streams.

“The other thing that we learned through this process was that the gaming app, and the narrative around it, was very heavily live-focused. Everybody always talked about all the live streaming and live gaming,” he says. “But what that did was underserve the vast gaming

business. So by moving it over to YouTube main, you have this beautiful combination of both the living gaming streams that are continuing to grow massively on YouTube, as well as all the other VOD content on the platform.”

There are several things that YouTube’s new Gaming destination still lacks, however. Most notably, the ability to live stream gameplay right from your phone.

That’s why the YouTube Gaming app won’t immediately disappear. Instead, it will stick around until March or maybe even April 2019, while YouTube works on porting the experience over to its main site and app.

“We’re still working through that,” Wyatt admits, when asked how the live streaming component will come to YouTube proper. “We haven’t made a decision on if [live game streaming] will be in there by March, but we do need to have a solution for easy mobile capture from the phone,” he says.

The YouTube Gaming app was never a global release, as it was only live in select markets, we should note. YouTube’s Gaming vertical will eventually be launched worldwide. That could make it more of a challenge to Twitch, as it taps into the eyeballs of YouTube’s 1.8 billion users, while also expanding to take advantage of other new YouTube features like Premieres or Merchandise.

“It’s a great opportunity to use those features,” Wyatt notes, regarding the shift from YouTube Gaming to YouTube proper. “And we’re going to keep creating more features that will that will really lend themselves to live, but ultimately we’ll be thinking about really unique ways to apply them to VOD as well,” he says.