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<div>‘Ice cream packed with bacon’: McDonald’s scraps AI ordering after glitches</div>

American customers at the fast food giant's drive-throughs reported some hilarious mix-ups when they ordered meals using the emerging technology.

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Britons Curb Spending Despite Drop in Grocery Inflation, Reports Kantar
Britons Curb Spending Despite Drop in Grocery Inflation, Reports Kantar

Kantar's latest report reveals Britons are cutting back on supermarket and summer purchases despite a slowdown in grocery inflation, influenced by poor weather and ongoing financial pressures.

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Britons Curb Spending Despite Drop in Grocery Inflation, Reports Kantar

Rail Season Ticket Usage Hits Record Low Amid Shift to Hybrid Working
Rail Season Ticket Usage Hits Record Low Amid Shift to Hybrid Working

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Rail Season Ticket Usage Hits Record Low Amid Shift to Hybrid Working

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Shipments of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets dropped 67.4% year over year in the first quarter of 2024 as a result of an evolution in the market, new data from International Data Corp. (IDC) reveals.

“The decline in shipments was expected as the market transitions to include new categories such as Mixed Reality (MR) and Extended Reality (ER),” IDC noted Tuesday. “Despite the decline, the average selling price (ASP) rose to over $1,000 as Apple entered the market and incumbents such as Meta focused on premium headsets such as the Quest 3.”

The future of such products in the enterprise is in flux, with Microsoft pulling back and laying off workers from its HoloLens division last year, while Apple is clearly targeting the enterprise market with its Apple Vision Pro.

The research firm said that it recently revised its taxonomy of headsets to incorporate two new categories: “Mixed Reality which occludes the user’s vision but provides a view of the real world with outward facing cameras, and Extended Reality, which employs a see-though display but mirrors content from another device or offers a simplistic heads-up display.”

Headset market in flux

Meta again led the market in the first quarter in terms of share, while Apple’s recent entry into the market enabled it to capture the second position. ByteDance, Xreal, and HTC rounded out the top five, IDC said.

When online pre-sales of Apple’s Vision Pro AR/VR headsets began on Jan. 19 they sold out quickly, but as Computerworldnoted soon after, stable delivery dates could indicate limited demand for the $3,500 device.

Fast forward to April, and Apple said that it had cut Vision Pro production due to low demand, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, an Apple analyst at TF International Securities.

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for worldwide mobile device trackers at IDC, said that with mixed reality on the rise, “expect strictly virtual reality headsets to fade in the coming years as brands and developers devise new hardware and experiences to help users eventually transition to augmented reality further down the line. Meanwhile, extended reality displays are set to garner consumer attention as they offer a big screen experience today while incorporating AI and heads-up displays in the near future.”

Meanwhile, Ramon T. Llamas, research director with IDC’s augmented and virtual reality team, said that although ASPs for the overall market crested above the $1,000 mark, this is not representative of all products.

“ASPs for augmented reality (AR) headsets have almost always been above this price point, but ASPs for VR, MR, and ER headsets have typically been lower,” he said. “Apple’s Vision Pro drove ASPs higher for MR headsets, but the addition of lower-cost devices from Meta and HTC have kept those ASPs from going much higher. Meanwhile, there were many devices for VR and ER priced below $500.”

Return to growth

Looking ahead, Llamas said that IDC is anticipating ASP erosion across all products: “Because the overall market is still in its early stages with more expensive first- and second-generation devices, prices will be high even as early adopters buy them. In order to reach scale in the mass market, vendors will need to reduce prices on later and upcoming devices.”

IDC is forecasting that “headset shipments will return to growth later this year with volume growing 7.5% over 2023. Newer headsets and lower price points will help with the turnaround expected later this year. Beyond that, headset shipment volume is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 43.9% from 2024–2028.”

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(Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on Computerworld Sweden on June 14, 2024.)

Just as everyone expected, and almost demanded, Apple finally started talking about artificial intelligence — in its own way, of course. The big keynote at WWDC on Monday might not have been the AI ​​event many had thought was coming. For example, the deal with Open AI, where Chat GPT will be used as an extension of Apple devices’ own AI capabilities, was negotiated in a matter of minutes.

Apple appears to be approaching AI with caution. Cautious, you might call it, but I actually think this strategy is the right one, and it aligns with what I called for earlier: AI that integrates seamlessly and easily into solutions we already know and use.

Apple Intelligence (of course Apple’s AI has been trademarked) is not a special app, or a special assistant or a “Copilot.” These are small, clever features, built on small, specialized models, sprinkled throughout the software. In Siri, in the photo app, as a writing aid, and so on, all in a seemingly non-intrusive way — an extra function, or help, that is there, if you want it.

The latter is important because it bothers me enormously is when AI is shoved down one’s throat. Just because an AI feature exists, maybe I don’t want to use it? No one but I knows what tasks I’m better at than AI, and it obviously varies from person to person.

For example, I am very good at writing and processing text. I definitely don’t want any AI getting in there (I even turn off the spell check in Word). On the other hand, sitting with transcriptions and translations is boring as hell, so I’m happy to take help there.

I’m a decent hobby photographer and don’t need an AI to make my photos “better” unsolicited. However, it can be fun or effective to take AI help to remove some ugly detail, play with the depth of field, or expose subjects.

I’m also a frequent user of chat, both privately and at work, but I think it feels a bit dirty to click on the suggested answers in Microsoft Teams chat (“Great”, “That sounds good.”) because it feels quite disrespectful to the person I’m communicating with.

BAbove all, I am seriously uninterested in Google’s new “AI Overviews,” which have now been rolled out, starting in the US. The AI ​​function in Google’s search engine takes the liberty of using AI to try to guess what you are looking for — and answer it.

I’m extremely good at Googling; it’s a skill I’ve developed over many years. And when I do research with the help of Google, it’s not one answer I’m looking for, but a balanced assessment that I make based on the information I google, thank you very much. Even if Google’s AI in the future gives “correct” answers instead of suggesting to glue the cheese on pizza, that’s just not what I want to use a search engine for.

So that’s why I think Apple is right here. It is through these kinds of simple, friendly and optional functions that do not require advanced “prompt engineering” that the masses will be introduced to and actually use AI tools. Because even though it might sound like it sometimes, most people don’t use Chat GPT at all.

Now Apple has the luxury, if you call it that, of not having to position itself as an “AI company” as a number of other tech giants want to do, although there has been pressure from investors to start delivering in this area. Apple sells mobile phones (and other hardware, but mainly phones). Therefore, it can be worthwhile to focus more on data protection and privacy, and on introducing features at a pace and in a way that makes mobile phone buyers see value in their presence.

Moreover, Apple isn’t charging extra for it, as most others do. Of course, Apple Intelligence is so far only available on the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max (and Mac computers with M-chip). And, presumably, that sprinkling of AI isn’t so sparkling yet as to warrant an immediate upgrade for most people.

But even if this particular iteration of Apple Intelligence will not become everyone’s everyday AI — anymore than the first iPhone became everyone’s smartphone — I believe, this is the way development will go. AI is fundamentally a commodity, a general-purpose technology.

It’s a feature, not a product.

This column is taken from CS Veckobrev, a personal newsletter with reading tips, link tips and analysis sent directly from Computerworld Sweden‘s editor-in-chief, Marcus Jerräng. Do you also want the newsletter on Fridays? Sign up for a free subscription here.

Varjo has unveiled an app that lets users scan physical spaces with their smartphone to create photorealistic 3D “scenes” for virtual reality (VR) devices. 

The VR headset maker on Tuesday announced the preview of its Teleport app, which it said will lower the barrier for 3D content creation — a time-consuming and costly process that typically involves high-endequipment and know-how. “One thing holding back VR and 3D applications is just how hard is to create content,” said Patrick Wyatt, chief product officer at Varjo. 

He described the Teleport app as “a self-serve way that anyone with a smartphone can start creating their own 3D scenes,” allowing them to share their surroundings with others. 

To create a 3D scene, users scan a physical space with their smartphone camera (an iPhone Pro 12 is the minimum requirement for Teleport) — a process that takes several minutes. It’s possible to film indoor or outdoor scenes  (anything up to the size of a small town square will work), though more dynamic environments with crowds of people or lots cars could result in blurred footage. 

The footage is uploaded to Varjo’s cloud servers to build a high-resolution 3D scene.  When accessed via a VR headset, users can then move around the virtual space and view a reproduction of the environment that was recorded. 

Given Varjo’s focus on enterprise mixed reality and VR, Wyatt said Teleport can be used for training, planning, and remote assistance. But he sees Teleport as “foundational tech” that could have broad applications. “We’re not too prescriptive on use cases,” he said. “We want to see all the cool things people will do with it.”

While VR environments are often created with computer graphics, photorealism is preferred for certain enterprise purposes. “Much of what businesses want and need has to be as close to the real thing as possible to use those assets for engineering, sales and marketing purposes,” said Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. “Without photorealism, it becomes a lot less valuable and powerful.”

Until recently, photorealistic 3D content has been produced either with expensive Lidar scanners that can cost several thousand dollars, or photogrammetry techniques that are more accessible, but still require specialist skills. In both cases, there are limitations on quality, too, said Wyatt.

A key advantage of Teleport is the use of a machine learning technique called Gaussian splatting. This enables full 3D scenes to be produced from a set of photos, with more realistic lighting, textures, and reflections – ideal for immersive applications such as Teleport, said Wyatt.

Gaussian splatting simplifies the creation of photorealistic 3D environments, though the technology has its own limitations, said Sag. “The biggest challenge for creating 3D content has primarily been the cost and time it takes to generate the assets,” said Sag. “Gaussian splatting is a way to take some shortcuts in the creation of content to make it cheaper and faster with minimal tradeoffs in terms of quality.

“That said, it isn’t without its problems, as the Gaussian splats don’t always come out right or need very specific capture techniques to work right.”

Varjo isn’t the only company to use Gaussian splatting for 3D content creation. Others include Luma and Polycam. Wyatt said Teleport differs in its focus on the creation of 3D environments rather than smaller objects, as well as a need for a higher image resolution so that content can be viewed effectively on a VR headsets. 

Varjo plans to make Teleport commercially available towards the end of 2024. A waitlist for early access is available here.

Apple’s artificial/machine/generative AI research team seems to be opening up as it explores new frontiers in this research, publishing more than 20 new Core ML models for on-device AI through the popular AI community site Hugging Face.

It’s a real change in the company’s customary rectitude in being open about what it’s doing, and it seems likely the move comes in response to demands from its research teams to be a bit more transparent. 

Cutting-edge AI capabilities

As first reported by VentureBeat, Apple has released dozens of Core ML models, complementing them with extensive datasets. The company seems to be posting new collections at a rapid clip — the latest item appeared in the collection within the last 24 hours. The collection is extensive and highlights two of the main aims of Apple’s teams: to build models that will eventually run on the device, and to ensure these also preserve user privacy.

Some of the AI functions promised by all this code includs tools for image classification, depth segmentation, text analysis, translation, and more. 

What, who, why?

They cover a wide range of applications, including FastViT for image classification, DepthAnything for monocular depth estimation, and DETR for semantic segmentation. 

The models are not intended for mass market use and are aimed at developers, who can download them, convert them to CoreML format, and then deploy them in their own code. The process for this was explained at WWDC 2024 in a presentation that details how the models can be deployed once converted. It is also worth noting CoreML is much, much faster in iOS 18, as Apple said.

The models available on Hugging Face are also ready to run at the edge. In addition to better privacy and security, on-device LLM models should also run far more swiftly than cloud-based code.

Apple is also working with Hugging Face on other AI-related tasks, including via the MLX Community. All in all, the company seems to have become more visibly open to open-source contributions as it seeks to build Apple Intelligence.

Not the first time Apple’s been open

Except, that’s not exactly the case. Apple is an active player in open-source development, and while this isn’t always fully understood, a cursory glance through company history shows support for the FreeBSD project, a GitHub repository that offers up source code for operating systems, developer tools and more. It also plays an active part across multiple standards bodies, such as Bluetooth SIG.

In other words, some degree of openness already does exist, though it seems to have opened up more for AI.

There’s a reason for this, of course. AI researchers like to collaborate as they explore these new frontiers, and it’s thought Apple’s customary corporate secrecy might have frustrated attempts to put its own work in artificial intelligence on the fast track. This certainly seems to have changed in the last year, as multiple research notes and AI tools have emerged from the company. This latest batch then is completely in keeping with Apple’s new approach, at least, its new tactics related to this part of tech.

Apple is, therefore, learning from the wider industry. 

And the industry is learning from it

Apple’s stance on privacy leads the industry, and as the potential pitfalls of AI systems become more widely understood it seems probable that more companies will follow its lead. 

That means an eventual multitude of small models capable of being run on edge devices to perform a variety of tasks. While the capabilities of such models will be limited by a ceiling comprised of processor speed, computational power, and on-device memory bandwidth, Apple’s approach also includes strategic use of highly secured private cloud services, itself a signal to others in the space to follow its example – particularly as increasingly authoritarian and ill-conceived legislation threatens to undermine the security of networked intelligence itself.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Generative AI Set to Disrupt Jobs and Widen Inequality, IMF Warns
Generative AI Set to Disrupt Jobs and Widen Inequality, IMF Warns

The IMF warns of significant labour disruptions and widening inequality due to generative AI. Governments are urged to enhance economic protections and invest in reskilling programs to safeguard economies and support affected workers.

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Generative AI Set to Disrupt Jobs and Widen Inequality, IMF Warns

Earn outs explained

Earn outs explained
Earn outs explained

An earn out is a purchase price adjustment mechanism commonly used on the sale and purchase of a company where the buyer wishes to make a part of the purchase price contingent on the post-completion performance of the company during a period of between 1 and 3 years.

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Earn outs explained

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