’Tis the season for AI apps and AI gadgets

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Plus, in this week’s Installer: True Detective is back, the new Ballie is here, Hey has a new calendar, and much more.

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Image: William Joel / The Verge

Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 21, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, welcome, sorry for all the bad jokes, and also you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) 

I’ve been in Vegas all week for CES, the annual extravaganza of gadgets and gizmos aplenty, whozits and whatsits galore. Most of what’s here isn’t yet available for purchase (and a lot of it never will be), but I love getting a peek into what the tech industry is dreaming about, so I figured I should share some of the best new stuff here. I’ve also been reading about how Cyberpunk 2077 turned into a hit, learning some new tech minimalism ideas, watching Patriotand rewatching Archer, and trying out a new homescreen layout after discovering the Blank Spaces app for iOS.

I also have for you some awesome updates to old apps, a couple of movies worth streaming this weekend, all the AI silliness you could imagine, an Android launcher worth trying, and much more. Big week, lots of gadgets! Let’s go.

(As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What are you into right now? What should everyone else be into right now? Tell me everything: installer@theverge.com. And if you want to get Installer in your inbox a day early, subscribe here.)

  • The GPT Store. I still hate that we’ve allowed “GPT” to become the standard name for AI tools. But alas. OpenAI’s app store is already full of GPTs to help you with research, brainstorming, tattoo design for some reason, and lots more. Lots of fun stuff to play with.
  • Clear 2. The original Clear launched more than a decade ago, and there’s still no to-do list app as fun to use. I’m digging the new version (which is iPhone and iPad-only), too, with all its customizable colors and icons and sounds. 
  • True Detective Season 4. Some of True Detective has been near-perfect television. Some of it has been, uh, bad. But I have high hopes for this season, both because Jodie Foster and Kali Reis are starring and because “mysterious disappearance in an Alaska research station” is a premise you just can’t ruin. 
  • BBEdit 15. The 30-year-old text editor keeps chugging along, and it keeps being great. The new version has some power-user organizational tools, a really neat ChatGPT interface, and my favorite new thing: a mini map that makes it way easier to find stuff in a huge document.
  • Ayaneo Next Lite. I’m convinced 2024 is going to be The Year of The Gaming Handheld, as the whole tech world tries to copy and one-up the Switch and Steam Deck. Ayaneo had been good at this for a while, and there’s some weirdness around the SteamOS-ness of this one, but it looks like it might be a winner.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon. It’s finally streaming! I look forward to watching this movie 25 minutes at a time on Apple TV Plus, hopefully finishing it right before it wins a bunch of Oscars. 
  • Hey Calendar. I churned out of Hey’s email app after a while because while it has lots of good ideas, it was just too much change in my email setup. Calendar strikes a better balance: it’ll import your other events, but then has a ton of smart UI and features (like habit tracking! I love habit tracking!) on top. App Store shenanigans aside, this is just a really nice app.
  • Dunkey’s Guide to Streaming Services. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that the streaming TV landscape really is as stupid as it seems. We live in a golden era of content, except nothing makes sense, it’s all too expensive and complicated, and god help you if you just want to watch a Spider-Man movie.
  • Self Reliance. This movie was basically made for me in a lab: I love Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick, I’m a sucker for the silly premise about a dark-web reality TV show, and I love a good comedy slash thriller slash meta commentary on the modern world. This is top of my Hulu watch list for the weekend.

As I mentioned above, it’s CES time! Usually I spend this week wandering around Las Vegas checking out neat new gadgets, devising strategies for convincing my wife that we totally need a 98-inch TV that costs as much as a house, and trying to figure out what fun trends we’re going to see over the next 12 months.

This year, it was both obvious and not at all surprising what everyone’s thinking about. It’s AI. It’s cars. It’s cars with AI. It’s headphones and smart rings and robot bartenders and projectors and AI inside of all those things, too.

The Verge has a lot of great coverage of all things CES, and you should definitely spend some time poking through our stories and streams. Here are just a few of what I think are the most interesting, Installer-y things in Vegas this year:

  • The Rabbit R1. The most intriguing gadget of the year so far, at least for me. This is a great-looking, Teenage Engineering-designed, surprisingly inexpensive AI device. Can it be more than just a smartphone app? Is its Large Action Model a total privacy disaster? I don’t know! But I find this much more compelling than certain other AI gadgets. 
  • The Honda Zero Series. This car concept straight up looks like the Batmobile, and I can’t decide whether I love or hate it for that. But I love that Honda’s looking for ways to make cars lighter and sleeker instead of bigger and truck-ier, and you know? I do want to drive the Batmobile. I love it.
  • Ballie. Projectors were one of the stories of the year this CES, and Samsung’s Ballie — a rolling AI assistant / projector / robot companion — kinda stole my heart. I’m still not sure anyone has made a good case for why you need a robot in your home, but Ballie’s one of the best so far.
  • Xreal Air 2 Ultra. Apple wasn’t at CES, and the Vision Pro was still one of the most-discussed things in Vegas. But I continue to think Xreal is on a cool path: it’s building displays into glasses and giving those displays more and more power. The $699 Air 2 Ultras are heavy on technology and light on cool apps, but that might change fast.
  • Movano’s Evie Ring. I agree with Victoria Song: this is the year of the smart ring. The Evie Ring, which has some impressive health-focused features and is designed specifically for women, is a pretty impressive device — but I suspect we’re going to see a lot more like it this year. 
  • The Aqara Hub M3. We’re inching slowly closer to the interoperable smart home we need and deserve, but we’re not there yet. For now, we get super-versatile hubs like this one. Aqara is a rising star in the smart home world, and the hub makes it a serious player.

I’d bet heavily that at least one of these things will never ever actually hit the market. (Ballie and Honda are probably the favorites to never appear.) But the trends here are really interesting: cars are being rethought from the ground up, the screens are starting to follow us around, and everyone is pushing hard to find a new kind of device that isn’t a smartphone or a watch. It’s going to be really fun to see if any of it actually takes off.

The Verge’s Mia Sato warned me when I asked her to share her screen that it was going to be super boring. To which I said, Mia, there are no boring homescreens, only boring people. Wait, no, not that. Only boring app icons? I don’t know. We’ll come back to it.

Mia covers a lot of things for The Verge, and this week wrote a spectacular story about how SEO culture and optimization has changed the way websites work. Everyone’s trying to be seen by Google, and so the whole web looks the way Google wants. It’s a great story, with some amazing illustrations and interactives. 

Here’s Mia’s (decidedly not super boring) homescreen, plus some info on the apps she uses and why:

The phone: iPhone 11 Pro.

The wallpaper: I’ve had this wallpaper for almost a decade and across several phones. I have to keep finding a resized version when I upgrade my device. It’s a quote from William Blake, and the design is by artist Tessa Forrest.

The apps: Messages, Photos, Camera, Settings, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, Gmail, Clock, Bose Connect, Messenger, Transit, Compass, Notion, Mail, Safari, Phone, Apple Music.

I try to keep my homescreen a neutral space, so it’s heavy on the practical things: camera, photos, calendar, my public transit app, my Bose app for my headphones, Gmail for work. I have messaging apps that I need to keep an eye on: Slack for my job, Messenger for family. Most social media is buried deep on other pages, because otherwise I would be unwell — I don’t know why Instagram is there, to be honest. 

I’m obsessed with the Compass app and am a Compass app power user, probably. When you get off the subway, Google Maps is always directionally confused, but the compass app will tell you which way to start walking. Putting Notion on the homescreen is my delusional stretch goal for the year: I’m trying to make a habit of organizing my thoughts instead of writing them on random scraps of paper that are then lost. I leave the bottom row empty so I can swipe without accidentally opening apps.

I also asked Mia to tell us a few things she’s into right now. Here’s what she shared:

  • The Japanese post-harcore / pop-punky band Mass of the Fermenting Dregs. They never tour in the US, and I recently saw them in Brooklyn. The concert vibe was like someone opened several mosh pits at a K-pop concert. Everyone was doing coordinated hand motions. It was perfect. Maybe start here.
  • I have been poring over a set of craft books from the ‘60s and ‘70s called Creative Hands. They have instructions for sewing, knitting, crochet, needlework, beading, literally any kind of home craft project you can think of. I’ve been gatekeeping these because I’m still missing a few editions.
  • My mom got me a subscription to a monthly mystery tinned seafood box. Last month’s included sardine pate, which I forced my friends to try with me, and it was surprisingly incredible spread thin on crackers.
  • I recently hosted a viewing party of Cher’s 1999 Do You Believe? Tour concert movie. It was an HBO special but is unstreamable online, so I ordered a DVD on eBay for $6. I watched this on VHS every single day from the ages of like five to eight, and it formed probably 60 percent of my personality. Put Cher in the Las Vegas Sphere! Then send me to write about it!

Crowdsourced

Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email installer@theverge.com or message +1 (203) 570-8663 with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week. 

Thermomix is the next level of kitchen gadgets! It’s been popular in Europe for decades, and they recently launched in the US. We’ve used it almost every day for years, it’s the best appliance! That said, pretty much the only things it doesn’t do are frying and pressure cooking, so your instant pot is still a great companion!” — Christophe

Tamagotchi Adventure Kingdom. The best new game on Apple Arcade! a mix of Hello Kitty Island Adventure, Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley.” — Gabriel

“I recently stumbled across a website called Longreads. It’s a website that curates longer-form articles from different publications in a wide range of subjects. I think we could probably all benefit from going a little slower on the internet in this hyper-consumerism age, and this website is perfect for that. It’s like a really good restaurant in a town full of fast food joints.” — Tommy

“The new season of Dimension 20 came out on Dropout this week — it’s the third season of their very popular ‘Fantasy High’ storyline!” — Zach

Niagara Launcher on my Pixel Fold! I usually shy away from third-party launchers on Pixel phones but I’ve been having a blast with Niagara. It’s super clean, has nice features and has a dev team that communicates!”  — Nation

“The book Material World and a refurb Surface Duo as a sort of at-home tablet / widget to futz with.” — Matt

“Watching The Brothers Sun on Netflix. It’s better than expected, a fun action show about the Taiwanese triads. Most of the locations are based in LA.”  — Andy

“After leaving Apple Music and Spotify for Plex, one thing I was going to miss was my Wrapped at the end of the year. But I hooked Plex up to ListenBrainz to track my listens, and got an awesome year in review page at the end of the year.” — Michael

Dune. Reading it again in preparation for the second movie later this year.” — Manuel

Signing off

On Thursday this week, I woke up and found out my iPhone had updated overnight. And suddenly it was totally unresponsive. I could wake up the screen, but touch didn’t work, swipes didn’t work, nothing worked. And over the course of a bunch of hours trying to fix it — which I eventually did, by semi-miraculously managing to just factory reset the thing — I realized I’m way too reliant on my phone. I had no other way to log into some apps without my phone for two-factor and QR scanning. I had no good way to reach my wife, because we talk on SMS. It was a bad setup.

So my new 2024 resolution is to make sure I’m not reliant on a single device for anything. I have to rethink my messaging setup, move my passwords and codes to a cross-platform app, and add some redundancy and backup plans to everything. It’s going to be a pain, but I am not eager to relive the feeling I had that morning of just being completely out of luck and out of touch for way too long. It’s the year we go device agnostic, my friends!

See you next week!

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