Friday Five: smart cities and AR typography

Each week Zone's Letty Key handpicks the five best stories on new trends and technologies...

Granary Square

1) Getting creative with words

This experimental AR typography app is actually a lot more fun than the label sounds. If you've ever felt the burning desire to turn your surroundings into an AR environment in which words hang in the air in convoluted corkscrews, or explode into fragments as you march through them, Weird Type is the app for you.

Though it’s partly intended as a serious platform for professional experimentation, it’s also very much there for regular folk to play around with and acts as a great way to bring AR tech to life. Just don’t mind the funny looks you’ll get as you swoop (technical term) around the office like a hi-tech ballerina.   


2) Shop while you snap

Instagram has finally expanded its shoppable content feature to the UK and a handful of other countries. When you scroll to relevant posts, white dots appear along with an icon letting you know you can tap to view the products featured. Give your desired item a tap and you'll be taken to a description with the option to buy. 

Shoppable content is useful to consumers and hugely beneficial for brands, but there's a danger it could overshadow the content on the most artistic of the big social platforms. Users are able to dismiss all shopping details and view the 'clean' image with the tap of a finger, and hopefully this will be enough to retain the emotional and visual resonance Instagram is renowned for.


3) Driving a finely tuned machine

Spotify has made a native app for Cadillacs, meaning drivers can cruise to their tunes without the need for additional devices or a platform like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Seamless integration with the car's interface means this feels less like an app on a piece of hardware and more like a built-in feature. 

Data shows that users who listen on more than one device have much lower rates of churn, which prompted Spotify chief R&D officer Gustav Söderström to point out that as operating systems of smart devices, homes and cars become more diverse, "rather than relying on a single platform... We are solving the user’s problems by being everywhere.”


4) Smart cities face data dilemma

Toronto took a step towards becoming a truly smart city this week, with a 12-acre plot lined up for rubbish disposal robots, snow-melting sidewalks and more in a heavily tech-flavoured revitalisation scheme

A collaboration between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto, the project held its first open roundtable this week and generated huge interest. The meeting ran a bit like user experience research and the main concern was how an unprecedented amount of citizen data would be stored and used. In the current climate, a satisfactory answer to this question is likely to be critical to success.


5) Learning to treat tech with TLC 

Are you worried about your children growing up lacking in social etiquette as a result of bossy interactions with smart assistants? Well you're not alone. Enter Shelly the tortoise, part of a project that is all about teaching children not to hurt robots. 

Acting as a 21st century update to the old 'don't pull the cat's tail' lesson, empathy education is an area that is experiencing exponential growth as the internet and technology become increasingly central to our lives. If Shelly is actively able to counter any negative impulses kids may have towards tech, perhaps this will permeate how they interact with everything, machine or otherwise. 

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