Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 9, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, hurray! I’m so happy you’re here, and also, you can catch up on all the old editions at the Installer homepage.)
This week, I’ve been reading Zeke Faux’s excellent crypto book and the story of the viral cookies that suddenly disappeared, trying desperately to figure out what the heck the Humane AI Pin actually does, pouring all my notes and tasks into NotePlan, watching the new-to-Netflix season of The Great British Baking Show and anything at all I can find about The Sphere in Vegas, and am on like my fourth week of being totally obsessed with the history of the AltaVista search engine.
This week, I also have for you a new smartwatch, a great new Spotify feature, several new games to dive into, a recipe app, and some new book recommendations.
I also have a specific question for you: What do you use to track all the stuff you want to watch, read, and listen to? Do you have a bunch of apps? Some lists? A wild Excel spreadsheet? Your own memory? Nothing at all? I want to know all your media-tracking tips, and I’ll share a bunch in next week’s Installer. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, text me at (203) 570-8663, or find me on all the socials.
In general, of course, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What are you into right now? What app should everyone know about? What show / podcast / game is everyone missing out on? Tell me everything: email@example.com. And if you want to get every issue a day early in your inbox, you can subscribe here.
Okay, we have a lot to get to this week. Let’s go.
- Google Pixel Watch 2. Google launched the Pixel 8 phone lineup this week and some cool updates to the Pixel Buds Pro headphones, but I think the new $349.99 watch is the best new thing of the bunch. More battery, more processor, more sensors, more Fitbit software under the hood — this sounds like the Apple Watch competitor the Android world really needed.
- Assassin’s Creed Mirage. I haven’t played this one yet, but I hear great things, and I love me some Assassin’s Creed. For years, it’s been basically the same game, only relentlessly bigger and more confusing, but this Egypt-set installment appears to be a return to its relentless form. This is my long-weekend project — one of them, anyway.
- Forza Motorsport. My other long-weekend project. An ultra-realistic, ultra-detailed game with endless side quests and upgrade tasks is pretty much everything I can ask for in a racing game. Now I just have to figure out how to sneak a full simulator rig into my house without anyone noticing…
- Spotify audiobooks. I don’t love the way audiobooks are integrated within Spotify, but I do love getting 15 hours of audiobook listening a month with a Premium subscription. That’s not a ton, but it’s roughly 1.5 Harry Potter books, almost exactly one listen through Ready Player One, or, you know, 1 percent of a Song of Ice and Fire book. Without any upcharge! That’s something! Audiobooks are too expensive, and this is a nice change.
- The Rewind Pendant. This is straight out of sci-fi: a device you wear around your neck that records everything you say and hear, summarizes it, and tells you what matters later. Awesome? Horrifying? Who knows. But Rewind is definitely one of the most interesting companies in AI.
- Loki season 2. Loki and Wandavision are easily my two favorite Marvel shows from the last few years, so I was psyched to see Tom Hiddleston back as the universe’s favorite long-haired trickster. And unlike so many Marvel things recently, Loki’s second season is pretty good! I might even rewatch season 1 just to be fully ready.
- The new Microsoft Lists. Microsoft is quietly building a really great set of simple productivity tools — between the also-new OneDrive, the always-great To Do, and the new Lists app that’s great for everything from shopping lists to to-watch lists, the ecosystem here is looking pretty great.
- “This is financial advice.” Someday, I won’t reflexively tell everyone to watch everything Folding Ideas publishes. Today is not that day: this is a 2.5-hour video about GameStop, WallStreetBets, Bed Bath & Beyond, the modern economy, and much more. Watch it. Watch it twice. Take notes. It’s wonderful.
- The Pixel 8’s generative wallpapers. I’ve become a big fan of frequently changing my wallpaper ever since Canoopsy recommended it in Installer a few weeks ago. Google’s new tool, which uses generative AI to create a wallpaper based on your prompts, is a super fun way to quickly make a wallpaper to match any mood of the day. It’s Pixel-only for now but should come to more devices soon.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in Installer that a new app called Orion had come out. It turns your iPad into a display for pretty much anything that uses a display, from a game console to a Windows 98 computer. It’s a simple concept, but Orion is a really fun and clever app.
I heard from a lot of folks (a lot of folks) that you were into Orion. So I asked Sebastiaan de With, the co-creator of Orion and Halide and other apps, to share a few unexpected tips and tricks on how to make the most of Orion. Here’s what he said:
- Tether it to your camera. “As a photographer, I use Orion with my camera when I am doing a small video production. We built a Halide update for the iPhone 15 Pro Action Button, and while recording a video tutorial, I set up my large 12.9-inch iPad Pro as a monitor so I can verify my manual focus is sharp and exposure looks great.”
- Daisy-chain your screens. “An extra tip with that: I actually sometimes AirPlay my iPad screen to my MacBook Pro or TV if I want to check Orion’s video monitor on an even bigger or closer screen. It works super well, and it’s pretty awesome. I’ve even shared my screen before so a friend could see what I was up to!”
- Screen-record all the things. “With Screen Recording on, I tap to hide the Orion chrome and record a full-fledged bit of video from my camera or gameplay for easy sharing. I really dig this feature.”
- Bring retro gear back. “It’s a little thing, but I only waited until this week (since it has been iPhone season, a busy time for us) to play some old classics, and the CRT effects included in Orion Pro are a treat on larger iPads.”
- Make it a status checker. ”An unexpected use case I saw from people was that lots of folks use it to check on and keep their headless servers / setups running. A monitor that you can just plug in in a pinch is super useful.”
Taylor Lorenz is the most online person I know, which makes her extremely qualified to write a book called Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet. It also makes it totally unsurprising that the book is excellent. She charts the whole history of the social web and the rise of influencers alongside it. I’ve been following this space closely for a long time, and I still learned a huge amount from the book. It’s out now; you should read it! And if you missed Taylor chatting with us on The Vergecast a few weeks ago, check that out, too.
I asked Taylor to share her homescreen with us, figuring she probably had an app or three I’d never even heard of. I was exactly right.
Here’s Taylor’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps she uses and why:
The phone: iPhone 13
The apps: Photos, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Calculator, Weather, Google Docs (I write a lot of stories on my phone), Apple Notes (I write things that I wanna remember and never check again), Messages, Instagram, Settings, Signal, Erewhon (after two years in LA, I finally caved and got the membership), Bluesky (I’m still searching for a good Twitter alternative), TikTok, Mastodon, Discord (one of my favorite social media apps), YouTube, Threads, Spotify, Voice Memos, Hype Machine (I think Spotify is too algorithmic, and I like that Hype Machine gives me music that I would never find elsewhere), Slack, YouTube, Substack, Phone, Camera, Gmail, Safari.
The wallpaper: the internet’s favorite meme
As always, I also asked Taylor to share a few things she’s into right now. Here’s what she said:
- The Brian Jordan Alvarez extended universe. This man has created an entire cast of characters on his TikTok.
- Blood in the Machine, Brian Merchant’s new book about the Luddite movement, is phenomenal. I can’t put it down! The Luddites have been so unfairly maligned.
- The Otherworld podcast, which is basically a This American Life of supernatural stories. The host of it is a phenomenal interviewer, and it’s fantastic storytelling whether or not you believe in ghosts / aliens / unexplained phenomena. It’s the perfect podcast to listen to for spooky season!
Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week.
“Discover Quickly lets you fall into a rabbit hole of your Spotify library by letting you traverse through music quickly and visually. It displays album covers of all songs and playlists in your library (including the all-important Discover Weekly) and allows you to hear a short clip of each track just by hovering over the album cover of your choice. It’s more like a scavenger hunt than poring over pages of lists.” — Karan
“Currently watching the remake of Rurouni Kenshin anime in Crunchyroll.” — Christian
“I just have to let you know that for whatever reason, Pi is the most slept-on conversational AI there is, by far. It is capable of handling complex searches in the background and formatting the information it’s scanned to present it in a highly digestible and highly human way. My main critique of ChatGPT is that it can bombard the user with information, and most of the time, all I want is the gist.” — Jacob
“Fallout Shelter. Highly engaging strategy game, to just survive against all odds. Played two consecutive nights without dropping the tablet. Once you figure out the overall survival plan, maybe it’s easy. Yet to be determined.” — Prabhat
“Paprika. An app that lets you save recipes from anywhere, Raindrop-style, but it also extracts the ingredients and steps from even the most seo-text-laden of webpages. It’s so good.” — Luke
“I’ve been using and recommending RunPee to people for like over 10 years now. I know the UI / UX leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s an amazing app. When you’re watching a movie and need to pee, you open the app, and it tells you good times you can run to the bathroom. It tells you the cue in the film (whether it’s a visual or audio cue) and the amount of time you have to use the bathroom. It will also tell you a summary of everything you miss while you’re gone. It’s a family that runs it, and they keep it up to date with movies in movie theaters.” — Ryan
“If you’re into challenging puzzle games that also look positively gorgeous and sound absolutely mesmerizing, you cannot miss Cocoon. I just finished it (takes a couple of hours) but was consistently amazed at the art (both visual and audio) and the puzzle design. Not a single word is spoken in the entire game, and there are zero tutorials. You just drop to a planet and start playing. It’s brilliant and the best game I’ve played in a long time.” — Ismar
“For reasons I don’t fully understand, everyone I know seems to be rewatching The Good Wife. Myself included.” — Peter
I got an Ember Tumbler this week, the new $200 mug from the company that specializes in temperature-regulating drinkware. The company sent it to me to test, and I’ll end up writing something about it, but using it the last few days has reminded me of why tech is so much fun. So much of “tech” now is stuff we do on screens, specifically our PCs and our phones. Stuff like the Tumbler makes me miss the era of a million different weird gadgets, the single-purpose stuff that makes one tiny sliver of your life better through a huge amount of engineering. The Tumbler makes me think about, like, my very first portable CD player or the first time I brought a Kindle on vacation. Maybe we need more gadgets and fewer apps!
This mug is so expensive it’s ridiculous, but I love it so much already. My coffee, y’all. It’s so warm.
See you next week!