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Amazon Echo speaker

You can tell Amazon's Echo speaker to directly control certain apps and services, but what if you want it to send information to other apps that you use more often? That's where IFTTT's new Alexa channel might save the day. Give the Echo a command and IFTTT will relay certain tasks to key apps. You can deliver your to-do list to Gmail when you ask the speaker about your itinerary, for example, or add your grocery items to Evernote without touching your phone. Frankly, this makes the Echo a lot more useful in daily life -- you no longer have to change some of your app habits to make the most out of Amazon's audio cylinder.

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Flower cells in 3D

Plants are delicate things, which makes them a pain to study under an electron microscope -- you'll probably damage the very cells you're trying to look at. You'll get a much better look if the University of Florida's new imaging technique catches on, though. Their approach leans on both a compound fluorescence light microscope and a camera to capture several layers of cells, creating a detailed 3D snapshot of the cellular structure of something as fragile as a flower petal. The resulting pictures may not be shocking (surprise: there are lots of globs), but they should be a big deal for biologists. Researchers would have a better sense of how animal and plant tissues work when they're untouched by humans, which could go a long way toward fighting diseases and learning about new species.

[Image credit: Jacob B. Landis]

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Hot Hook-Up

For three years between 2011 and 2014, the unmanned Kamen K-Max 1200 helicopter delivered more than 4.5 million tons of supplies to the most dangerous and far-flung US Forward Operating Bases throughout Afghanistan. It followed that feat up in 2014 by demonstrating its ability to coordinate with other UAVs in forest fire suppression operations. And in March of this year, the semi-autonomous helicopter once again proved that it can integrate operations with land-based drones to locate, identify and evacuate people stranded in desolate areas -- all without putting more lives at risk.

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Lenovo LaVie Z HZ550

If you've been jonesing for a featherweight laptop but feel that Apple's MacBook rubs you the wrong way, you're in luck: as promised, Lenovo is now selling the LaVie Z and LaVie Z 360 in the US. Both 13-inch systems largely resemble what you saw in January, and strike a careful balance between brisk performance and a light design that won't strain your shoulder when it's in your bag. They share Quad HD screens, fifth-generation Core i7 processors, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. The only big difference is the 360's namesake convertible touchscreen, which turns your PC into a makeshift tablet.

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Since it launched in February I've been a pretty big fan of the Saturday Night Live app, and the latest update should make it quite a bit better. Now there's native iPad support (hooray!) in addition to it being available on Android devices. NBC's also gone back and remastered some of the old sketches, added around 400 more (including some of the late Phil Hartman's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" bits) and tossed AirPlay support in so you can watch the clips via an Apple TV. Curiously, Chromecast beaming is still missing in action, but at least now you can text the new Church Lady emoji to let a pal know they're speeeecial.

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Microsoft RoomAlive

Got a Kinect, a projector and a knack for code? If so, you can create a Star Trek-like holodeck in your living room. Microsoft has released the RoomAlive Toolkit, a software framework that lets you string together Kinect motion trackers to create interactive projection maps. You can use it to build anything from extra-immersive games through to art displays. This isn't exactly a trivial undertaking (Microsoft is promising lots of tutorials), but it means that you won't have to wait for someone else to bring your augmented reality dreams to life.

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Emojis are starting to flood Instagram, and the website's engineers are on a quest to sort out how people are using the yellow-faced emoticons. Apparently, their popularity skyrocketed after Apple released the iOS emoji keyboard and Android got native support. In just a single month after the iOS emojis came out, their usage on the website increased by 10 percent. Now, nearly 50 percent of all captions and comments have an emoji or two. Instagram's research has also revealed that folks in Finland insert emojis most frequently, with 63 percent of all text posted from the country containing at least one graphic. The US (38 percent) takes the ninth place in that list, after France (50 percent), UK (48 percent), Germany (47 percent), Italy (45 percent), Russia (45 percent), Spain (40 percent) and Japan (39 percent).

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Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Demonstrates Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005

Rumors Microsoft would dump its Media Center feature have plagued the project for years -- in 2007 we worried if it still had a future, after it was largely pushed aside in Windows Vista -- and the company confirmed to ZDNet this week that with the launch of Windows 10, it's actually happening. While Media Center came to Windows 8 as an add-on and unchanged from previous versions, apparently "infinitesimal" usage statistics are the reason Microsoft is finally pulling the plug. Nearly ten years ago, the launch of the Xbox 360 suggested Media Center Edition had a bright future and a place in the living room. While the console went on to sell millions, HTPCs became an ignored and restricted niche for Microsoft, a missed opportunity after its hyped 2004 launch with Bill Gates and Queen Latifah.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft's annual "Build" conference in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. While Microsoft has already previewed some aspects of the new Windows 10, a parade of top executives will use the conference to demonstrate more software features and app-building tools, with an emphasis on mobile devices as well as PCs. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Referencing former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's infamous "developers!" chant is practically a cliché nowadays, but it felt like the silent refrain throughout the company's entire Build conference this week. In the run-up to Windows 10, Microsoft wants developers. It needs developers. And it will do whatever it takes to get them -- even going so far as to allow devs to recompile their Android and iOS apps without much fuss. None of this seemed possible from Microsoft years ago, when simply owning the dominant desktop platform was enough. But now with mobile devices and the cloud in play, Microsoft needs to evolve. And by doing so, it's also making Windows 10 a far more exciting upgrade than Windows 8 ever hoped to be.

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Our ability to drive innovation through creative visualization has helped us explore the reaches of space, put powerful computers into our pockets and design some bad-ass car concepts. There's always been a seed of futurism in automobiles: Manufacturers and hobbyists alike have been crafting unique vehicles for decades, sometimes to test out fresh, new tech and other times to indulge in space-age fantasies. Below, we explore some of the more notable concept cars that have been created over the years, from the utilitarian to the fantastic.

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