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Lytro’s ‘living pictures’ cease to live


As part of its move away from consumer gear towards professional cinema hardware, Lytro has killed off the site that once hosted its “living pictures,” still photos taken with its cameras that could be refocused after the fact. This will turn a handful of those pictures, where they had been embedded on the web over the past few years, into empty frames. If you want to see light field images now, you’ll need to see them in the desktop app.

In 2012, when I reviewed the original Lytro camera, I wrote:

“The Lytro software is limited to browsing your photos and grouping them into ‘stories,’ and you can upload them directly to (and only to) Lytro, which will serve them for… eternity, you hope. Not much of a choice there.”

As I half expected would be the case at the time, eternity turned out to be on the short side — until it became inconvenient for the company to host it. Of course, it’s unlikely there were many active users of the service now; Lytro left the consumer camera market two years ago when there proved to be little demand for its technically amazing but ultimately gimmicky cameras.

Non-living picture

One never should trust services that offer so little flexibility in how you access and serve your own data, but Lytro’s tech was unique in that it essentially required a special plug-in to view properly. These plug-ins you would embed wherever you wanted to share a “living picture,” a rather clumsy clumsy solution that contributed to the usability problems endemic to the whole Lytro proposition.

The living picture format is done forever unless the company releases some way to self-host them, but it seems unlikely. Any remaining users will have to export to ordinary stills or movie files in the desktop app.

I’m happy to see Lytro evolving and applying its very cool tech to a new market, but the bumpy road it has traveled is littered with lessons for young hardware startups.
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One of Nest’s cameras can now double as a Google Assistant

After Google announced earlier this month that it was going to wrap Nest back into Google’s hardware operation, everyone figured we’d see a bit more overlap between the two. Sure enough, just two weeks later: the Nest Cam IQ Indoor is getting support for Google Assistant.

Nest says the app update that lets users toggle Google Assistant functionality should hit sometime today. The Nest Cam IQ already has a microphone and speaker built-in for two-way communications, so this just repurposes that existing hardware.

Once you’ve turned on the functionality, Google Assistant on the Cam IQ should work the same as it does on any Google Home device (minus a few things that would generally require a bigger speaker, like playing music, making phone calls, or listening to the news) — just say “OK Google” followed by your question.

It sounds like this functionality is only coming to the Cam IQ Indoor for now — so don’t try barking commands at the outdoor Cam or your old Dropcams just yet.
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Nest rolls out a $5 cloud recording plan for its cameras

Just a quick bit of news for those with Nest cams around the house: a new, cheaper Nest Aware (read: the cloud recording service that also gives the camera a bit more smarts) plan is on the way.

Nest has long offered two plans: a $10/month plan that lets you store the last 10 days of video history, and a $30/month plan that gives you 30 days of video history. This new plan will cost $5 per month and, as you’ve probably deduced, will give you five days of video history.

This is something folks have been asking for for a while now. Most people don’t really need 10 days or more of their video logs; in most cases, the bit of security footage you’re most interested in is from the last day or two. It’s also nice news for those with multiple Nest cams — each one needs its own Nest Aware subscription, so that $10 per month minimum added up fast.

In addition to the cloud video recording, a Nest Aware subscription also taps the cloud to teach the Nest Cam a few new tricks: it lets you set “Activity Zones” (letting you set up alerts when there’s motion in certain areas like, say, a door way), create timelapses and it can try to tell whether that thing moving around your living room is a person or just your dog.
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Apple could be buying cobalt from mining companies directly


Cobalt is the new oil. Car companies and battery manufacturers are all rushing to secure multiyear contracts with mining companies for their lithium-ion batteries. According to a Bloomberg report, Apple is also participating in this game as the company wants to secure its long-term supplies.

The company has never done this before with cobalt. Apple relies on a ton of suppliers for all the components in its devices — including for batteries. And yet, cobalt prices have tripled over the past 18 months. Chances are Apple will secure a contract much more easily than a battery supplier.

While an Apple Watch battery is an order of magnitude smaller than a car battery, Apple sells hundreds of millions of devices every year. All those iPhone and Mac batteries represent quite a bit of cobalt.

But the issue is that car manufacturers are putting a ton of pressure on cobalt suppliers. BMW and Volkswagen are also looking at signing multiyear contracts to secure their supply chains. And other car manufacturers are probably also paying attention to cobalt prices.

As a side effect, buying cobalt straight from the mines makes it easier to control the supply chain. It’s hard to know where you cobalt is coming from when you buy batteries from third-party suppliers. And in that case, it can be a big issue.

Amnesty International published a report in January 2016 about cobalt mines, saying that tech companies and car manufacturers aren’t doing enough to prevent child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the country is responsible for 50 percent of global cobalt production.

A couple of months ago, Amnesty International published an update, saying that Apple is more transparent than others. The iPhone maker now publishes a list of its cobalt suppliers. But there’s still a long way to go in order to make sure that mining companies respect basic human rights.

But let’s be honest. In today’s case, Apple mostly wants to be able to buy enough cobalt at a fair price for its upcoming gadgets. And the company has deep enough pockets to sign this kind of deals.
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