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The week in tech

Dispatches from the Web Summit in Lisbon, a new science podcast and ways to make your phone look fresher: a roundup of the week in tech 

Swedish singer Zara Larsson speaks at the main stage of the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 3, 2021.  (AFP)

Metaverse: ideas from the Web Summit

There was no bigger buzzword at this year's Web Summit in Lisbon than the "metaverse", a virtual reality version of the internet that Facebook, among others, is keen to build. Some key ideas emerged from this week's conference about how the metaverse could evolve. 

The workplace: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes the workplace could be transformed by virtual reality (VR). In August Facebook unveiled Workrooms, a platform where employees can use VR headsets to attend virtual meetings, appearing as cartoonish avatars. Facebook's product manager Chris Cox responded to the idea that employees might not want to discuss serious matters while depicted as cartoons. "The reason that it's better for us than a video conference is that you get to see body language," he said. Facebook is not the only company trying to update the conference calls that have caused mass fatigue during the pandemic. Augmented reality company Magic Leap is working with software firm Cisco to create 3D meetings using augmented reality headsets.

Gaming and entertainment: Gaming platform Roblox is widely seen as a rudimentary metaverse, where millions have attended virtual concerts from pop stars like Zara Larsson. The Swedish singer told Web Summit that Roblox allowed her to perform for much bigger audiences than at a physical venue -- including for people "in a small town in a country where I have never toured". Electronic music legend Jean-Michel Jarre is meanwhile set to create soundscapes and virtual shows for Sensorium Galaxy, an entertainment-focused metaverse.

Less screen time: Several Web Summit panellists enthused that the metaverse could do away with the more dispiriting aspects of the internet, like our addiction to staring at screens. The metaverse could also provide more social experiences than lonely phone-scrolling, hopes Ivan Nikitin, product director at Sensorium Galaxy.

Creative outlet: Metaverse evangelists want the new virtual world to be an outlet for creative expression. You might give yourself a pair of wings, or hair made of flames -- similar to in Second Life, another early metaverse-like website. "I'm excited about the opportunity that we have to redesign our lives," said Amy Peck, CEO of virtual reality consultancy EndeavorXR.

All things unexplainable

The Unexplainable podcast from Vox Media
The Unexplainable podcast from Vox Media

Vox Media has always been known for explainers that untangle the many threads of events in a world filled with too much information and too little context. But with this new science podcast, launched earlier this year, Vox takes on concepts that are timeless in their inexplicability—from why placebos work to whether the field of psychology, which went through a massive overhaul of basic principles about a decade ago, is essentially flawed. Host Noam Hassenfeld is joined by an array of experts and Vox reporters every week as he looks at the most fascinating unanswered questions in science and the often remarkable ways in which scientists are trying to answer them.

Visit www.vox.com/unexplainable

Analogue does it 

Morphee
Morphee

There are sleep and meditation apps galore but they all involve looking at a screen, and screens are inherently distracting. You may set out to listen to calming ocean sounds but before you know it you are scrolling through Twitter. The French company Morphée has a solution: a gadget that works without a screen, internet or Bluetooth, and is not connected to a mobile or computer app. Think of it as a music box that contains pre-recorded modules for sleep and meditation—over 200 of them—based on eight relaxation and sleep techniques: body scan, breathing, movement, visualisation, cardiac coherence, napping, relaxing music and nature sounds. The gadget comes with a book that lists the sessions, and has three keys to help you choose different sounds, sessions and modules. A completely analogue device in a digital world might be exactly what we need to sleep better.

Visit www.morphee.co

Clippy is back 

Clippy sticker pack
Clippy sticker pack

Remember Clippy, the annoying and unpopular “personal assistant” on Microsoft Office that died an ignominious death two decades ago? Well, Clippy is back on Microsoft Teams as a sticker pack. “Yes, it’s true—Clippy has agreed to come out of retirement! Whether you loved him or hated him, Clippy is back with a Retro Sticker Pack in Teams,” said Microsoft, confirming the return of Clippy. Clippy started life in Office 97, offering “useful” hints for using Microsoft’s Office software, but died unloved and uncared for in 2001 with the introduction of Office XP. It is kind of genius to resurrect it as a sticker pack, riding on Clippy’s posthumous fame as the subject of a thousand memes. On the internet, as we know, no attention is bad attention.

Clubhouse goes multilingual

Clubhouse is now multilingual
Clubhouse is now multilingual

Earlier this week, audio social app Clubhouse rolled out app support for Android users in 13 languages, including five Indian ones. So users will now be able to access the app in Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, apart from French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian) and Spanish. The language support works for features like prompts, notifications and descriptions as well as on-boarding, the process when a user joins the app.

A new world of wallpapers

SwirlWalls on Google Play
SwirlWalls on Google Play

Spinning wallpapers, anyone? SwirlWalls, a new wallpaper app for Android, lets you choose one for the screen, animating the wallpaper as you interact with your phone. The app makes every home screen page change, gesture navigation swipe and lock screen interaction feel more responsive and interactive.

You can choose from among 200 custom wallpapers, each with its own style and colour combination. Each style is available in 10 or more “remixes”. You get to pick not just a wallpaper you like, but also the colour scheme or effect. The app also supports dark themes and matches your phone’s display refresh rate. More importantly, SwirlWalls works with a variety of launchers, be it a stock launcher like the Pixel Launcher or Samsung One UI Home, or a third-party launcher. If you want something new and different every day on the phone screen, give SwirlWalls a try. 

—Nitin Sreedhar and Shrabonti Bagchi

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