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How Arturia made its music-making software more accessible

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When visually impaired music producer Jason Dasent decided to buy a collection of instrument plugins from Arturia about four years ago, he did so despite his suspicion that the company’s tools wouldn’t be accessible. He was right. “At that point I couldn’t browse and use the software,” he said. “I pretty much couldn’t do anything.” He had spent some $500 on Arturia’s V Collection 5, a set of virtual instruments that included recreations of some vintage synths he wanted to use. It was cheaper than spending hundreds of thousands on actual synths, he told himself.

But because Arturia’s preset manager Analog Lab wasn’t built to accommodate the visually impaired at the time, Dasent had to drop even more cash. “I would have to hire someone to come in for maybe three days to save these presets,” he said. For between $500 and $1,000, this person would export the presets to a format that would work in Avid’s Pro Tools, which had the accessibility features Dasent needed. It was a tedious and expensive process, he said, but even after that he could only choose presets. He couldn’t tweak cutoffs, envelopes, parameters or adjust the brightness. “I had no choice but to just stick with the presets,” he added.

In 2019, Dasent presented at the Audio Developers Conference (ADC) in London, where he was approached by Arturia’s then director of software development, Kevin Molcard. Moldcard wanted to make Analog Lab accessible, and asked for Dasent’s help. After the company set him up with the V Collection 7 and one of its Keylab controllers, Dasent started playing around. Eventually, Dasent was introduced to Arturia product manager Pierre Pfister, who wanted to learn more about what Analog Lab was missing.

Two months later, Dasent said, he got a call from Pfister. “I have something to show you.” What Pfister then shared with Dasent was an early version of a new accessibility toolset in Analog Lab V. “It’s as if my eyes are now open,” Dasent gushed. That kicked off a months-long back-and-forth between Dasent, Pfister and the Arturia team as they worked on the prototype, culminating in the launch of a new update today. The company is announcing a new accessibility mode to Analog Lab V, which will enable all users to turn on auditory feedback and screen reading. It also brings various “ergonomic improvements and bug fixes.”

With this new accessibility mode, the company’s Keylab controllers now communicate with the Analog Lab software and a computer’s text-to-speech engine. “Basically, as I press a button on Keylab, or I turn a dial or change a value, it sends notifications out to the system voice, allowing me to know exactly what’s on the keyboard,” Dasent said in a video describing the update. Now, when he tweaks faders and encoders on the keyboard, “I can know exactly what the values are as I tweak the parameters.” As he turns a knob on the controller to scroll through a list of instruments, a voice reads out the name of each item he lands on. 

Since Dasent is familiar with Arturia’s devices, he has the layout of buttons and dials memorized. But he added that “the layout of the keyboard is very well thought out, so it makes learning where everything is very easy.” 

The most challenging part of getting the software accessible for visually impaired users, according to Pfister, wasn’t necessarily implementation or programming — it was figuring out how best to communicate with the system’s text-to-speech. Since a lot of music software (and many creative products in general) aren’t designed with accessibility in mind, there aren’t many best practices to pull from. Arturia almost had to start from scratch. “The hardest part was knowing what we should do and how we should make a product accessible,” Pfister said.

Once they figured it out and showed Dasent the first prototype though, the results were gratifying. “His reaction made everything worth it.”

A screenshot of Arturia's Analog Lab V, with a navigation column on the left, three rows in the middle for Instruments, Types and Sound Banks. At the bottom is a keyboard with nine dials on top of it for controlling brightness, timbre, time, movement, effects, delay, reverb and master.

Arturia

Pfister and his team know there’s more work that needs to be done. He acknowledged that Arturia is a small company and there’s “a lot of things we don’t know.” The plan for now is to continue listening to and soliciting feedback to “identify what most of our users would like to be able to do.” Whether that means getting all of the Analog Lab program fully accessible or to make all its individual instruments accessible, Pfister said the goal is to continue improving what it’s done with Analog Lab.

Like most of the tech industry, music software developers have, until now, largely overlooked the needs of people with disabilities. In a 2019 blog post for competing music company Native Instruments, UK technologist Chris Ankin said: “Historically, music software offered poor accessibility with existing screen readers.”

Even the leading digital audio workstation (DAW) Pro Tools struggled with keeping its software accessible through years of updates in the 2000s. At the time, in an effort to keep up with the latest versions of Apple’s desktop software, Avid offered newer plug-ins and features in its OS X version that those using older editions of Pro Tools did not get. The problem is, while the pre-existing Pro Tools HD (which launched in 2002) was “almost entirely accessible,” according to audio engineer Slau Hatlyn in an article on Avid’s website, the software for OS X wasn’t usable even after Apple introduced its VoiceOver screen reader in 10.4 Tiger in 2005. The only thing Hatlyn could access was the menu bar. “No other windows were readable.”

It took until Pro Tools version 8’s launch in 2008 for the software to regain accessibility, a long time considering “the previous accessible version was 5.3,” according to Hatlyn. Even so, the conversation continued, with Hatlyn calling out changes that broke accessibility between versions 10 and 11.

Arturia's KeyLab mk2 keyboards

Arturia

And this is one of the industry’s most widely used DAWs. While Apple’s Logic is lauded as accessible, other music software companies that build assistive technology into their products are a rarity. Brands like Ableton and Image Line don’t appear to have comprehensive tools for the visually impaired in their products Ableton Live and FL Studios, at least based on the comments on their forums. A spokesperson for Ableton highlighted a Zoom Display feature, as well as recent updates to improve contrast, reduce automatic colors and adjust grid intensity as tools in Live for visually impaired users. The spokesperson added “We’re aware that there is much more to be done here.” Image Line has yet to respond to our request for comment.

Will Butler, the vice president of company whose app, Be My Eyes, connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers, wrote a LinkedIn post about the accessibility of music software. In it, Butler asked blind music producer Byron Harden to anecdotally rank the accessibility of popular music software. While Harden placed GarageBand, Pro Tools, Audacity and Logic in the top four, awarding them passing scores out of ten, Ableton Live and FL Studio came in near the bottom with one point each.

Butler also highlighted Native Instruments for its efforts. In 2019, the company expanded support for Mac’s VoiceOver, as well as Narrator and the Speech API in Windows. Prior to that, Native Instruments had made keyboards with touch-sensitive rotary encoders and buttons with auditory feedback. With those, its software “can detect when the user’s fingers are resting on them, then give auditory feedback – synthesized speech – of the current value, and do so continuously as it’s adjusted.”

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/arturia-analog-lab-v-accessibility-mode-story-music-software-lack-assistive-160013048.html?src=rss

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Louis Vuitton is making a mobile game with embedded NFTs

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The worlds of fashion and gaming are cozying up to one another. From Gucci selling digital items in Roblox to Vogue‘s virtual fashion spread starring Gigi Hadid, the two industries are increasingly overlapping to capture a young, tech-savvy audience. Now, Louis Vuitton is jumping on the bandwagon by releasing a mobile video game to celebrate its founder’s 200th birthday. Louis: The Game stars the fashion house’s mascot Vivienne, a wooden doll embellished with the company’s flower insignia, on a journey through the brand’s history, reports Austrian newspaper Kurier.

The iOS and Android game reportedly tasks players with exploring a colorful world by completing various quests — all pretty generic so far. Whether it turns out to be more than just an unashamed bit of promotional fluff remains to be seen. The game drops on August 4th. If LV goes all-out psychedelic like it did with its recent UFO-style speaker, then it could be worth a look.

According to WWD, the game will also feature “embedded NFTs.” Though, that hardly sounds promising. The one-of-a-kind digital collectibles have gone from multi-million dollar auctions to freebies designed to promote throwaway pop culture, like Warner Bros. recent Space Jam reboot.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/louis-vuitton-mobile-game-nft-105507072.html?src=rss

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Rocket Lab launches US Space Force satellite after its failed mission in May

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Rocket Lab has successfully launched a US military satellite in its first mission since its 20th Electron launch ended up in failure back in May. The company’s Electron rocket made its way to space from its New Zealand launch site, carrying a small demonstration satellite from the US Space Force called the Monolith. Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, tweeted shortly after the event that the payload was deployed and praised the team for a “flawless” launch.

Monolith’s target location is in low-Earth orbit around 370 miles above our planet. The satellite will demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, “where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control,” Rocket Lab explained in the official mission webpage. The results from the demonstration will help companies build more affordable satellites within shorter timeframes.

Rocket Lab’s 20th mission failed in May when it suffered an “anomaly” after the second stage ignition. The company lost both its Electron rocket and BlackSky’s Earth observation satellite payloads as a result of its second launch failure within the span of a year. After investigating the issue, Rocket Lab determined that the root cause was a problem with the second stage engine igniter system that “induced a corruption of signals within the engine computer.” The company says it has since implemented fixes “to prevent any future reoccurrence.”

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/rocket-lab-launches-us-space-force-satellite-103541725.html?src=rss

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Facebook’s next product will be its long-awaited Ray-Ban smart glasses

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Facebook’s booming business is dominated by digital ads, but it also has hardware ambitions beyond VR. During the company’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said its next product release would be a pair of smart glasses from Ray-Ban. 

“The glasses have their iconic form factor, and they let you do some pretty neat things,” the Facebook co-founder said. “So I’m excited to get those into people’s hands and to continue to make progress on the journey toward full augmented reality glasses in the future.” 

Facebook’s sunglasses have been the subject of rumors since 2019. Back then, sources told CNBC that Facebook was working with Ray-Ban owner EssilorLuxottica on AR eyewear nicknamed “Orion.” The glasses were billed as a full-fledged phone replacement on which you could take calls, see information and even broadcast livestreams. That inevitably drew comparisons to Google Glass (another Luxottica collab) instead of the phone-tethered Spectacles from Snap. Last year, Hugo Barra, then VP VR at Facebook Reality Labs, confirmed that the glasses would land in 2021. But, we haven’t heard much since.

For Facebook, the glasses hold the key to its future. Alongside virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) is integral to building the “metaverse,” Zuckerberg said. In the future, Facebook will morph into a shared, liveable platform that lets you “teleport” between different social experiences using VR and AR, Zuckerberg explained. 

The term metaverse is the latest buzzword seized upon by Silicon Valley and futurists. While the concept has been around for well over a decade, it gained traction after the breakout success of multiplayer game creation platforms like Fortnite and Roblox. Earlier this week, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella mentioned an “enterprise metaverse” on his company’s earnings call.

For Facebook, the metaverse is more than just a fad. The company is spending billions in order to build its shared universe, which will be populated with Facebook users and digital ads, according to Zuckerberg. In order for it to become a reality, the company needs more people to buy its computing hardware. Therefore, the plan is to make those devices more affordable.

“Our business model isn’t going to primarily be around trying to sell devices at a large premium or anything like that because our mission is around serving as many people as possible,” Zuckerberg noted. “So we want to make everything that we do as affordable as possible, so as many people as possible can get into it and then compounds the size of the digital economy inside it. So that’s kind of at a high level how I’m thinking about this.”

Sunglasses aren’t the only hardware Facebook is reportedly working on. Multiple reports have claimed Facebook is developing a smartwatch with a built-in cellular connection and a detachable display. Initially, it was believed that the watch would be first out the gate, but it seems Zuckerberg had other plans.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/facebook-ray-ban-smart-glasses-100518155.html?src=rss

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Old Amazon Kindle devices will soon lose 3G access

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If you have an older Amazon Kindle with 3G internet, take note that you may not be able to wirelessly access and download new content anymore starting in December. As The Verge reports, Amazon has sent out emails to owners with old Kindles, telling them that previous-generation devices will lose internet access after mobile operators transition from 2G and 3G networks to 4G and 5G.

The e-commerce giant listed the particular devices that will be affected by the switch in its FAQ page. It noted that the first- and second-generation Kindles, as well as the Kindle DX, won’t be able to connect to the internet at all since they don’t have WiFi connectivity to fall back on. The other devices in the list are the Kindle Keyboard (3rd Generation), Kindle Touch (4th Generation), Kindle Paperwhite (5th, 6th and 7th Generation), Kindle Voyage (7th Generation) and Kindle Oasis (8th Generation), all of which have WiFi connection.

You’ll still be able to access your books on an older device and can do wired transfers if you want, though. And if you have a newer 4G or WiFi-only Kindle, you won’t be affected at all. In its email, Amazon included a code customers can use to get $50 off a new Kindle Paperwhite or Oasis, along with $15 in eBook credits. You may want to check your inbox to see if you got the company’s notice in case you’ve been looking to upgrade anyway.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/old-amazon-kindle-lose-3g-access-093056232.html?src=rss

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