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An Epic showdown: 'Fortnite' publisher's suits vs. Apple, Google and what it means for you – USA TODAY

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The Fortnite competition is going way beyond the game.

First, Epic Games, the publisher of the popular online video game, introduced a direct payment option for mobile players – sidestepping the Apple App store and Google Play store payment methods, which nets each of those tech giants a cut of the revenue.

Apple and Google, subsequently, pulled the mobile game from their stores. Epic Games’ answer? Suits filed against both companies describing each one’s app store as anti-competitive and monopolistic.

How the confrontation plays out has massive implications for how – and who – consumers pay for apps such as games and streaming entertainment. “This is a big deal,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, in a note to investors. “Epic is challenging Apple’s (and Google’s) pricing within their stores and offering an alternative for users to get the same thing at a lower price.”

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What is the argument?

Founded in 1991, Epic Games is well-known as the publisher of games such as Unreal, Gears of War and Infinity Blade, as well as the Unreal Engine, which powers countless video games from Batman Arkham Asylum to Sea of Thieves.

Its free-to-play game Fortnite, released in September 2017, has become a hit with 350 million players across multiple gaming platforms including video game consoles, PCs, and Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. The game generated an estimated $2.4 billion in revenue in 2018 and $1.8 billion in 2019, according to SuperData, a Nielsen company.

Fortnite is free to play, but you can buy in-game currency called V-Bucks which is used to purchase new weapons, customized outfits and dances, or emotes, for their in-game personas. When players on Apple and Android devices spend, Apple and Google get a 30% cut of those sales. 

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney has argued that the online marketplaces that sell games – Apple’s App Store, the Google Play store and Valve’s PC game store Steam –take an unfair cut from game sales and in-game transactions.

Its new mobile payment system for Fortnite players on Android and iOS devices gives players a discount compared to buying through the Apple and Google apps. As of Thursday, players could choose to purchase 1,000 V-Bucks directly from Epic Games for $7.99 – the same price as on PCs or home video game consoles. Through Apple’s App Store and Google Play, the same purchase costs $9.99.

It’s not Epic’s first move against what it considers higher-than-suitable charges. In December 2018, Epic opened its own online PC game download store, charging game makers 12% for sales, to compete with Steam, which also charges a 30% cut on sales. 

“It’s about economic efficiency when you have these stores sucking out a huge fraction of the profits from games,” Sweeney told The Verge in April 2019. “Valve, Apple, and Google make more profit through there storefront fees than the devs make off their own games.”

Are app stores anti-competitive?

Not inherently. App stores serve as one-stop shopping for consumers for all kinds of applications including games. And the device you use allows you to make a choice on which marketplace to support.

Within the app stores, companies such as Apple and Google curate content and help connect game makers with consumers. “There is value to that,” Pachter says. “Epic doesn’t dispute the value, but thinks it’s closer to 12% than to 30%.”

Dan Niles, founding partner of AlphaOne Capital Partners, told CNBC that Apple deserves payment for access to its App Store. “I mean, I have a lot of issues with Apple, but the charges they put on the App Store is not one of them,” he said. “I mean, at the end of the day, Epic Games chose to be on the platform; those were the terms. If they didn’t want to do it, they didn’t have to, and they get a lot of benefit from being able to access Apple’s 1.5 billion devices globally.”

Does this mean higher or lower prices?

That depends. If you are currently a Fortnite player on Android or iOS through Epic’s payment method, you are getting lower prices with that 20% discount. And Epic’s prices on consoles and PCs apparently seem reasonable to the millions who pay for V-bucks on those platforms.

Developers such as Epic, the company argues in its suit against Apple, are forced to charge higher prices “in order to pay Apple’s app tax.” 

Breaking Apple’s hold on distribution – and giving developers access to iPhones directly – would lead to to lower prices, says Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director of Open Markets Institute. Tying arrangements, such as software for devices, require consumers to pay for a product that could be priced higher simply because the party – in this case, Apple – has certain power and leverage in the market, he says.

“When firms such as Apple dominate a market, they decide who participates and on what terms,” he said in a statement. “Epic’s lawsuit is an important move against Apple’s monopoly in the sale of iPhone apps. The federal judiciary must enforce existing antitrust prohibitions, including the categorical ban on tying by firms with power, and open the app market for iPhone owners and app developers.“

But an open market could lead to consumers paying another way – with less secure and less reliable apps – argues tech consultant and business advisor Shelly Palmer in a blog post. Apple and Google created online malls and they “rent space to 3rd parties. The price is 30% of your sales. For that ‘fee,’ you are given access to millions of potential customers. There is no version of a mobile Fortnite without the app stores,” he said. “The app store guidelines basically ensure a level of quality control for end users.”

Alex Kantrowitz, founder of the newsletter Big Technology, told CNBC that Apple should back down, and lower Epic’s fee. “Rent collecting is bad for its business long term. So you have to decide as a business, do you want to make your money milking your asset or do you want to make your money innovating into the future?”

In the end, whether prices go down or up will depend on how this standoff is resolved. When Fortnite gets an update and current players don’t receive the new content, will their anger be directed at Apple and Google or Epic? And then, what will the response be?

When will this be resolved?

If the disputes play out in the courts, they could take a long time. The parties could come to a settlement.

And the threat of Congressional regulation on big tech – the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee two weeks ago – could be enough for Apple to submit.

Apple, in the past, has made deals. It reduced how its cut from 30% to 15% after Spotify subscribers’ first year. But Spotify still filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the European Union last year, charging the “Apple tax” and other App Store measures hamper its growth.

During the April-June quarter, Apple – now valued at nearly $2 trillion – reported revenue from Services, which includes the App Store, Apple Music, iTunes movie rentals and iCloud online storage, of $13.1 billion, up from $11.4 billion a year ago.

Epic, which is private, is braced for battle. Earlier this month, it got $1.78 billion in investments, including $250 million from Sony to acquire a minority interest in Epic, boosting the company’s valuation to $17.3 billion.

The influx, Sweeney said in an announcement of the funding, “accelerates Epic’s efforts to build a new kind of digital ecosystem using real-time 3D technology, services that connect hundreds of millions of people, and a digital storefront that offers a fair business model.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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Apple Watch Series 3 vs Apple Watch SE: Which should you buy? – 9to5Mac

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For the first time ever, Apple has a new mid-range Apple Watch consideration for potential buyers. The Apple Watch SE sits between the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 6 in Apple’s lineup, and it provides an interesting hybrid of features. Here’s how the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE stack up.

Design and Display

One of the most striking differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the design. The Apple Watch Series 3 features a boxier design with a smaller display and larger bezels. It’s the same design that the very first Apple Watch model used and it’s available in 38mm and 42mm sizing.

On the flip side, the Apple Watch SE features the same physical design as the Series 4, Series 5, and Series 6. This means you get slimmer bezels with rounded display corners. In practice, this difference makes for a notable increase in display area with the Apple Watch SE compared to the last-generation design of the Apple Watch Series 3:

  • 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 563 sq mm
  • 40mm Apple Watch SE display area: 759 sq mm
  • 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 740 sq mm
  • 44mm Apple Watch SE display area: 977 sq mm

If you’re looking for the always-on display, you’re out of luck with both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE; instead, this feature is only available on the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6.

The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both feature Retina OLED displays with 1000 nits max brightness, though the Apple Watch SE also includes the power-preserving LTPO display technology that could help battery life.

Performance and battery life

Another major difference between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is performance. The Apple Watch Series 3 is powered by Apple’s dual-core S3 processor, while the Apple Watch SE features Apple’s S5 processor. In terms of real-world performance, Apple says the Apple Watch SE is up to two times faster than the Series 3.

This means you can expect performance of apps, Siri, Maps, and other features to run notably faster with the Apple Watch SE than with the Apple Watch Series 3. The Apple Watch SE is also more likely to receive additional software features in the future, while the Series 3 could be excluded because of performance concerns.

As for battery life, Apple says that the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE can both run for up to 18 hours on a single charge. Actual battery life will always vary, but this 18-hour benchmark is a good way to shape your expectations.

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Health features

apple watch fall detection

Both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE miss out on Apple’s newest health features, including electrocardiogram support and blood oxygen level detection. If you’re looking for the best Apple Watch in terms of overall health features, the Apple Watch Series 6 is your best choice.

But with that having been said, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both support high and low heart rate notifications as well as irregular heart rhythm notifications. Both models also feature Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, but only Apple Watch SE features international emergency calling support, noise monitoring, and fall detection.

The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3 both feature support for Apple’s Fitness app and looming Fitness+ service, ensuring you’ll be able to close your rings, track fitness progress, compete with friends, and more.

Cellular vs GPS

One of the key differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the available connectivity options. The Apple Watch SE is available in two configurations: GPS and GPS + Cellular. The latter configuration allows your Apple Watch to connect to cellular networks and work independently of your iPhone.

This also has implications for the new Family Setup feature in watchOS 7, which allows you to set up an Apple Watch for a family member without an iPhone, such as a kid or elderly relative. Because the Apple Watch operates completely on its own in this arrangement, however, a cellular connection is required. The Apple Watch Series 3 is not available with cellular connectivity and therefore is not supported by Family Setup.

Note: Even if you have a cellular Apple Watch Series 3, which Apple used to sell, it does not work with the Family Setup feature.

Apple Watch Series 3 vs Apple Watch SE: Pricing

The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in Apple’s lineup in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The former will cost you $199, while the latter will cost you $229. These are the only two configuration options available, aside from your choice of silver or space gray casing.

The Apple Watch SE is available in 40mm and 44mm configurations, with the former going for $279 and the latter going for $309. If you opt for cellular, you’re looking at $329 for the 40mm size and $359 for the 44mm size.

Something to consider here is that if you plan on choosing the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 for $229, you could consider the 40mm Apple Watch SE. There’s a $50 price difference, but the 40mm Apple Watch SE actually gives you more display area (759 sq mm) than the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 (740 sq mm).

Comparison chart

Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE: The verdict

apple watch SE

For someone looking to enter the Apple Watch ecosystem at the most affordable price point possible, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great option. Even though it’s several years old, it’s one of the best smartwatches on the market and one of the best fitness trackers on the market.

If you can justify the additional price jump to the Apple Watch SE, however, that is the best choice for most people. You’ll get significantly better performance, a more modern design, quadruple the internal storage, Family Setup integration, and much more.

What do you think of the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. the Apple Watch SE? Which are you planning to buy? Let us know down in the comments!

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Apple Watch Series 6 review – TechCrunch

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When it comes to smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of other products to choose from — it’s more that the company has just utterly dominated the space to such a point that any other device is relegated to the realm of “Apple Watch alternatives.”

The company has been successful in the space for the usual Apple reasons: premium hardware with deeply integrated software, third-party support, a large cross-device ecosystem play and, of, course, simplicity. Taken as a whole, the Watch just works, right out of the box.

Five years after launch, the line is fairly mature. As such, it’s no surprise, really, that recent updates have largely amounted to refinements. As with most updates, the watch has gotten a processor boost up to the A14 processor, which the company claims is 20% faster than the last version. Perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade, however, is the addition of a blood oxygen sensor, an important piece in the company’s quest to offer as complete an image of wearer health as is possible from the wrist.

I wrote a pretty lengthy piece about the watch last week after wearing it for a few days. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd kind of writeup, somewhere between hands-on and review. A week or so later, however, I’m more comfortable calling this a review — even if not too many of my initial impressions have changed much in the past several days. After all, a mature product largely means most of the foundations remain unchanged.

The Series 6 certainly looks the part. The Watch is tough to distinguish from other recent models — and for that matter, the new and significantly cheaper SE. The biggest visual change is the addition of new colors. In addition to the standard Gray and Gold, Apple’s added new Blue and (Product)Red cases. The latter seems to be the more ostentatious of the pair. The company sent me a blue model, and honestly, it’s a lot more subtle than I expected. It’s more of a deep blue hue, really, that reads more as black a lot of the time.

It’s tough to imagine the product undergoing any sort of radical rethink of the device’s design language at this point. We may see slight tweaks, including larger screen area going forward, but on the whole, Apple is very much committed to a form factor that has worked very well for it. I will probably always prefer Samsung’s spinning bezel as a quick way to interface with the operating system, but the crown does the job well and scrolling through menus even feels a bit zippier this time, perhaps owing to that faster silicon.

The new Solo Loop bands hit a bit of a hiccup out of the gate. I’ve detailed that a bit more here, but I suspect that much of the problem came down to the difficulty of selling a specifically sized product during a strange period in history where in-person try-ons aren’t really an option. In other words, just really bad timing on that front.

Personally, I quite like the braided model. I’ve been using it as my day to day band. It’s nice and blends in a lot better than the silicone model (I’ve frankly never been much of a fan of Apple’s silicone bands). But I do need to mention that Apple sent me a couple different sizes, which made it much easier to find the right fit. I recognize that. Especially when the braided Solo Loop costs a fairly exorbitant $99. The silicone version is significantly cheaper at $49, but either way, you’re not getting off cheap there. So you definitely want to make sure you get the right fit.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This is doubly important given the fact that the Series 6’s biggest new feature — blood oxygen monitoring — is highly dependent on you getting a good fit. The sensor utilizes a series of LEDs on the bottom of the watch to shine infrared and red light through the wearer’s skin and into their blood vessels. The color of light that reflects back gives the watch a picture of the oxygen levels in the blood. The whole thing takes about 15 seconds, but only works if your fit is right. Even with the right Solo Loop on, I found myself having to retake it a few times when I first started wearing the watch.

Beyond the on-demand measurements, the watch will also take readings throughout the day and night, mapping these trends over time and incorporating them into sleep readings. The overall readings will give you a good picture of your numbers over time. Honestly though, I get the sense that this is really just the tip of the iceberg of future functionality.

For now, there’s really no specific guidance — or context — given as far as what the numbers mean. Mine are generally between 90-100%. The Mayo Clinic tells me that’s good, but obviously there are a lot of different factors and variations that can’t properly be contextualized in a single paragraph — or on a watch. And Apple certainly doesn’t want to be accused of attempting to diagnose a condition or offer specific medical guidance. That’s going to be an increasingly difficult line for the company to walk as it gets more serious about these sorts of health tools.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the combination of sleep tracking in watchOS 7 and the on-board oximeter opens the door pretty nicely for something like sleep apnea tracking (again, more focused on alerts of irregularity versus diagnosis). We’ve seen a small handful of companies like Withings tackle this, so it seems like a no-brainer for Apple, pending all of the regulatory requirements, et al. There are all sorts of other conditions that blood oxygen levels could potentially alert the wearer to, if not actually diagnose.

Sleep was probably the biggest addition with the latest version of watchOS. This was probably the biggest blind spot for the line, compared to the competition. At the moment, the sleep tracking is, admittedly, still pretty basic. Like much of the rest of the on-board tracking, it’s mostly compared with changes over time. The metrics include time in bed versus time asleep, as well as incorporating heart rate figures from the sensor’s regular check-ins. More specific breakdowns, including deep versus light versus REM sleep haven’t arrived yet, but will no doubt be coming sooner than later.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The door is also wide open for Apple to really get mindfulness right. The company has incorporated a mindfulness reminder for a while now, but it’s easy to imagine how the addition of various sensors like heart rate could really improve the picture and find the company going all-in on meditation, et al. The company could partner with a big meditation name — or, more likely, disrupt things with its own offering. The forthcoming Fitness+ offering could play an important role in the growth of that category, as well.

The other issue that sleep brings to the front is battery life. I was banking on the company making big strides in the battery department — after all, a big part of sleep tracking is ensuring that you’ve got enough charge to get through the night. Apple really only briefly touched on battery — though a recent teardown has revealed some smallish improvements on battery capacity (perhaps owing, in part, to space freed up by the dropping of Force Touch).

The company has also made some improvements to energy efficiency, courtesy of the new silicon. Official literature puts it at a “full-day” of  battery life, up to 18 hours. I found I was able to get through a full day with juice to spare. That’s good, but the company’s still got some ground to make up on that front, compared to, say, the Fitbit Sense, which is capable of getting nearly a week on a charge. I think at this point, it’s fair to hold wearables to higher standards of battery life than, say, handsets. More than once, I’ve found myself intermittently charging the device — 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there — in order to have enough juice left by bedtime.

If you can spare more time than that, you should be able to get up to 80% in an hour or 100% in an hour and a half, courtesy of faster wireless charging. All told, the company has been able to shave significant time off of charging — a definite plus now that you’re not just leaving it overnight to charge. The latest version of watchOS will also handily let you know before if you don’t have enough charge to make it through a full night.

Other updates include the addition of the always-on Altimeter, which, along with the brighter screen doesn’t appear to have had a major impact on the battery. I’ll be honest, being stuck in the city for these last several months hasn’t given me much reason to need real-time elevation stats. Though the feature is a nice step toward taking the Watch a bit more seriously as an outdoor accessory in a realm that has largely been dominated by the likes of Garmin.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, the company now has three watches on the market — including the Series 3, which just keeps on ticking, and the lower-cost SE. The latter retains the design of the Series 6, but drops a number of the key sensors, which honestly should be perfectly sufficient for many users — and $170 cheaper than the 6’s $399 starting price ($499 with cellular).

Taken as a whole, the Series 6 isn’t a huge leap forward over the Series 5 — and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own that recent vintage. But there are nice improvements throughout, augmented by good upgrades to watchOS that make the best-selling smartwatch that much better, while clearly laying the groundwork for Apple Watches of the future.

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Alexa is more vital than ever during coronavirus, and Amazon knows it – CNET

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Amazon event 2020 scho speaker

The new orbicular fourth-generation Echo smart speaker.


Amazon

Amazon’s Alexa is more relevant than it’s ever been because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The giant retailer’s hardware execs hammered that point over and over Thursday during Amazon’s fall product launch event, emphasizing the value of smart home features for those of us who are stuck at home. And they doubled down on gear and services to entertain us, help us connect and keep an eye on our homes.

“Nobody anticipated the pandemic, and we certainly didn’t plan for it,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s hardware chief, said in an interview after the event. “But I think our homes are now our offices, they’re our schools, they’re our movie theaters. A lot of our products became even more applicable in this environment.”

Obviously, Amazon is OK with this development because it keeps people hooked to its portfolio of services and products. Limp said video streams are way up and billions of hours are watched each month through Amazon’s Fire TV devices. The same goes for book reading on Kindle gadgets and listening to music on Echo speakers. Toss in all the stuff people are buying online on Amazon.com, and quarantine has worked out fairly well for the company.


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Some might say Alexa’s growing influence is a bad thing. It’s troubling that one of the biggest and wealthiest corporations on the planet has so many connections to our home life, giving it even more ability to collect plenty of data about us. There are a lot of security problems — such as an Amazon-brand Ring camera being hijacked by a hacker — to give consumers pause.

But there are reasons to be grateful too. These types of products won’t replace visiting loved ones in person, but they sure are helpful for communicating when we have to be remote.

Ultimately, consumers will decide how much or how little Alexa they want in their lives. If history provides any clues, they will want a lot more, especially as the pandemic prompts interest in videoconferencing, security systems and streaming services.

“The pandemic brought everything to Amazon’s business model,” Bret Kinsella, founder of voice tech site Voicebot.ai, said of Amazon’s new devices. “If you look at our times and you look at just responding to customer needs and interest, which is what Amazon focuses on first and foremost, I’d say they really nailed it.”

Life-from-home features

Amazon is banking on that happening. At its event, the company introduced plenty of new ideas that could work well during the altered reality the pandemic has caused. 

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The Echo Show 10.


Amazon

The company unveiled a new program called Care Hub, an Alexa feature that lets people watch over their family members from afar. After you and a family member agree to set up a Care Hub connection, you’ll be able to monitor that person’s activity feed with Echo devices. If your family member doesn’t make any Alexa queries by a certain time of day, you can get an alert. The family member can also set you up as an emergency contact and reach you by saying, “Alexa, call for help.”

“We can all relate to the idea that there’s a lot of family that we can’t see right now. Even if they were nearby, we wouldn’t be able to see them. I’m in that situation,” said Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president of smart home. He mentioned that he’s testing out the service now with his mom.

Alexa hardware executive Miriam Daniel said her team wanted to help with remote learning, so it created Reading Sidekick. The feature, which works with hundreds of books, allows Alexa to read along with children, encouraging them if they are doing well or offering support if they are struggling.

Amazon also worked to make its devices useful for video conferencing and communication, allowing video calling on your TV through a Fire TV Cube device and a Logitech webcam. The $250 Echo Show 10 smart display provides a 10-inch screen for video calls and is equipped with Skype and group calling. It’ll get Zoom later this fall.

A new set of Eero router devices should also help people get more reliable connections at home.

Surveillance tech

Because the pandemic has us spending more time at home, Amazon’s Ring unit was sure to get a prominent spot at the hardware event. Ring’s surveillance equipment and police partnerships are already a worry for privacy advocates. Their concerns are likely to get directed at the $250 Ring Always Home Cam, an autonomous drone that flies around inside your home to keep an eye on many rooms on a set flight path. The device, which is coming out next year, will even automatically fly somewhere in the home if it’s triggered by a suspicious motion.

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The Ring Always Home Cam.


Amazon

That concept may be too much for plenty of customers. But the $200 Ring Car Cam probably won’t be. The Car Cam flips the script on Ring’s relationships with the police. The dash-mounted camera will record your traffic stop if you say, “Alexa, I’m being pulled over.” That device could provide a valuable layer of transparency at a time when police brutality and excessive force have become a leading social concern. In June, Apple introduced a similar feature on its iPhone.

Privacy advocates have called out Amazon for creating a bevy of devices with cameras and microphones built into them. When asked about these concerns, Limp noted his team has done a lot to make its products more secure, including adding two-factor authentication and stronger passwords for Ring.

“We’re going to have to continue to invent in the privacy front and the security front,” he said. “You’re never done.”

With the holiday season and Prime Day coming up, Amazon will find out soon enough if customers agree with Limp’s sentiment. And they’ll decide how many of these new devices they want to bring into their quarantined lives.

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