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Facebook introduces cross-app communication between Messenger and Instagram, plus other features – TechCrunch

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Facebook announced today it will begin rolling out new functionality that will allow Instagram and Messenger users to communicate across apps, in addition to bringing a host of Messenger -inspired features to the Instagram inbox. On Instagram, users will be presented with an option to update to a new messaging experience that offers the ability to change your chat color, react with any emoji, watch videos together, set messages to disappear and more. As a part of this update, they’ll also have the option to chat with friends who use Facebook, the app will inform them.

Image Credits: Facebook

The broad set of more “fun” additions to the Instagram inbox will serve as a way to entice users to agree to the upgrade. This decision, in turn, locks users further inside the Facebook universe. With cross-platform messaging interoperability, users may see fewer reasons to try a different chat app as one messaging app can reach friends and family across two of the world’s largest social networks.

Facebook says the new interoperability will also work even if the Instagram users don’t have a Facebook account, and vice versa.

In time, Facebook plans to fold WhatsApp into the experience, too, in a further consolidation of its market power.

Though many users may choose to update for the fun enhancements, Facebook notes they can then opt out of being reachable across platforms using new privacy controls, after the fact.

Through an expanded set of privacy tools, users can specify who can reach their main Chats list, who is sent to the Message Request folder and who can’t reach them at all. If an Instagram user doesn’t want to hear from anyone on Facebook, they can turn this feature off.

Image Credits: Facebook

These controls can also be managed in the new Accounts Center, which Facebook launched yesterday. The tool allows users to manage a growing set of cross-app features, like Single Sign On and Facebook Pay.

As before, users on both Instagram and Messenger apps will be able to block and report suspicious and unwanted messages and calls on an as-needed basis. But blocking and reporting will be expanded to allow users to report full conversations in addition to single messages on Instagram. The “Safety Notices” feature in Messenger, which helps users spot and respond to suspicious activity, will also come to Instagram — initially to minors’ accounts.

Image Credits: Facebook

Even if you agree to being reachable across platforms, Facebook clarifies that it’s not actually merging your inboxes.

In other words, you won’t see all your Instagram chats in Messenger or vice versa. Instagram users’ messages and calls from friends and family will remain in the Instagram app, but these may now include messages initiated by a Facebook user, if permitted.

If these changes seem a bit confusing, that could be by design. Facebook and Instagram users have to navigate a labyrinth of privacy and security settings that grow more complicated every year as the functionality offered by Facebook’s networks also expands. Though Facebook offers a range of nuanced controls, many users no longer bother to try to figure them out, as they’re constantly changing, relocated or made more complex.

Consumers may only view the messaging interoperability as a handy way to reach their friends on other services. But for industry observers, it’s another example of how Facebook appears to be leveraging its market dominance to possibly stifle new competition. For a company already under multiple antitrust investigations, it’s a move that seems to thumb its nose at government regulators.

The project to make Facebook’s chat platforms interoperate has been a significant technical undertaking from an infrastructure perspective. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed the company’s plans for messaging interoperability as part of his larger vision for a more private social networking experience.

Earlier this summer, Facebook began testing the changes with a small percentage of users.

In terms of the larger update beyond interoperability, Instagram users will also be able to watch videos together, including those from Facebook Watch and soon Reels.

Image Credits: Facebook

They’ll also be able to make their messages disappear, like Snapchat, with a “Vanish Mode” option. Other new features include Boomerang-like “Selfie Stickers,” the ability to personalize the chat’s colors, use custom emoji reactions, forward messages with up to five friends or groups, reply directly to a specific message in a group chat for clarity’s sake and add visual flair to messages with animated effects.

Facebook says the features will begin rolling out to the general public, initially with a handful of countries around the world before expanding globally.

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Apple search engine efforts ‘stepping up’ as Google deal under threat – FT – 9to5Mac

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Speculation about plans for an Apple search engine to compete with Google has been around for many years now, ever since the company was first seen to be using its own web crawler back in 2014. Apple confirmed the existence of the Applebot crawler in 2015.

A report in the Financial Times claims that Apple is now ‘stepping up’ efforts to create its own search engine as its lucrative deal with Google comes under threat …

Google currently pays Apple an estimated $8-12 billion per year to be the default search engine on iOS devices. In 2018, for example, the sum was estimated at a little under $10 billion – around 20% of the company’s Services income for the year. However, antitrust regulators are now putting this deal in the spotlight, and arguing that it may be anticompetitive.

This raises the question of what Apple would do if it was banned from renewing the deal, and lost that income. One suggestion that has been that the iPhone maker could create an Apple search engine.

The FT report cites circumstantial evidence and industry commentary, rather than inside sources, and not much of it is new. It opens, for example, with a change seen in iOS 14 to the swipe-down search box.

Apple is stepping up efforts to develop its own search technology as US antitrust authorities threaten multibillion-dollar payments that Google makes to secure prime placement of its engine on the iPhone.

In a little-noticed change to the latest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 14, Apple has begun to show its own search results and link directly to websites when users type queries from its home screen.

That web search capability marks an important advance in Apple’s in-house development and could form the foundation of a fuller attack on Google, according to several people in the industry.

It also points to the two-and-a-half year old news of Apple poaching Google’s John Giannandrea, putting its own spin on the hire.

Apple poached Google’s head of search, John Giannandrea. The hire was ostensibly to boost its artificial intelligence capabilities and its Siri virtual assistant, but also brought eight years of experience running the world’s most popular search engine.

It includes commentary from former senior Google execs, but this too is purely speculative.

“They [Apple] have a credible team that I think has the experience and the depth, if they wanted to, to build a more general search engine,” said Bill Coughran, Google’s former engineering chief, who is now a partner at Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital […]

“Apple’s position is very unique because it has the iPhone and iOS. It controls the default browser,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Neeva’s co-founder and Google’s former head of advertising. Expanding in search “feels natural” for Apple, he said, as it has the ability to gather data and learn from user behaviour at large scale. 

Applebot’s crawl rate – the number of times it visits websites in order to update its database – is said to have increased substantially. Others note that Apple is one of the few companies in the world with the resources to create a search engine to compete with Google.

But all of the known facts would be consistent with Apple simply working on making Siri smarter.

The single biggest argument against Apple creating a search engine is the company’s strong privacy stance, and its less-than-flattering commentary on ad-funded services like Google.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you.

Walking that back would be problematic to say the least.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

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Astro’s Playroom is the perfect showcase for the PS5’s wild DualSense controller – The Verge

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As far as pack-in games go, Astro’s Playroom may not seem all that exciting at first. It’s not an instant classic like a bundled Super Mario., nor something with the obvious appeal of Wii Sports. But Sony made a smart decision in giving Astro away to every PS5 owner: it might just be the ideal showcase for the console’s new DualSense controller.

The game itself is a fairly simple 3D platformer, but one that exudes charm. Everything is bright and colorful, and there are lots of fun little animations. If you leave Astro alone for too long, he’ll pull out a PSVR and start playing games on his own. (If the adorable robotic character looks familiar, it’s because it also starred in the PSVR title Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, another game designed to showcase new hardware.)

Everything takes place in a retrofuturistic world divided into several levels, though for this preview I’ll only be discussing the first, called “Cooling Springs.”

Cute as everything is, initially it seems generic. You start out at a beach collecting coins, jumping around, and smacking enemies with your little robot fists. It’s all very peaceful and charming; mechanical dolphins swim through the water, and you can knock around beach balls. Later, you’ll move on to other themed areas like a robot hotel and a frozen arctic region. It’s not particularly hard, but there’s a really playful tone. You’ll spend time sliding down icy ramps, jumping off of diving boards, and figure skating around enemies. Littered around the level are all kinds of classic PlayStation Easter eggs (which I won’t spoil for you right now).

But the most interesting thing about Astro’s Playroom isn’t how it plays — it’s how it feels. Sony’s new DualSense controller is its biggest gamepad redesign since it introduced twin sticks midway through the original PlayStation’s life. And two of the showcase features are all about feel: there are triggers on the back with haptic feedback and variable tension, and the controller has much more subtle vibrations. Both are on display in Astro’s first stage.

The vibrations are noticeable almost immediately, and the variety is pretty incredible. You can feel bits of sand crunching when Astro is walking on a beach, there’s a heavy plop when you jump into the water, and a satisfying tension when you pull on an elastic band. I especially loved the colder region where you can actually feel Astro shiver. What’s remarkable is how distinct they all feel. Each sensation is accompanied by a sound effect from the DualSense’s built-in speaker, and when you combine the physical and audio sensations, the experience becomes that much more immersive.

Astro’s Playroom

The same goes for the new haptic triggers. Normally, the R2 and L2 buttons perform like regular buttons, but during certain sequences, they offer feedback in the form of tension. Essentially, there are two states to the button press; you can easily press down halfway, but a full press requires a bit more force. As an example, in the opening level of Astro, there are side-scrolling sequences where the bot jumps around in a spring-powered mech suit. (Don’t ask.) In order to do a short jump, you pull the trigger halfway, but to launch across the screen, you need to pull it all the way down. It makes big leaps that much more satisfying since you have to add the extra force.

The level also makes use of other controller features. You can blow into the mic to spin a fan, use the touchpad to move a zipper, and there are the prerequisite motion controls. None of these are new like the vibration and haptic triggers, but it’s actually pretty impressive how many things Sony crammed into this gamepad.

Of course, it’s impossible to know how things will play out for the DualSense. Astro’s Playroom is an adorable little game made all the more charming thanks to these new features. But it was also designed explicitly to take advantage of them. Wii Sports was amazing, but only a few Wii games made motion controls anywhere near as compelling.

Right now, it’s not clear whether other games and developers will take advantage of the DualSense in the same way. Like HD Rumble on the Nintendo Switch, they could end up being a forgotten gimmick. But in the case of Astro’s Playroom, it’s at least an incredibly fun gimmick — and one that should make new PS5 owners plenty happy when the console launches on November 12th.

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iPhone 12 Pro has killer hidden performance — what you need to know – Tom's Guide

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Thanks to its new A14 Bionic chip, the iPhone 12 is much faster than any Android phone based on the iPhone 12 benchmarks we’ve run, but in real-world use it’s a multitasking powerhouse and wipes the floor with older iPhones. 

In a video by EverythingApplePro, the Apple-centric YouTuber compared the iPhone 12 Pro against the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone Xs, carrying out a variety of tasks. The 12 Pro blew the older models away — and it’s not just because of the A14.

EverythingApplePro showed how the iPhone 12 Pro could bounce between a whole load of apps open at the same time. And even after carrying out a video rendering tasks, the YouTuber was able to open up a load of apps in mere seconds. 

That’s thanks to the extra 2GB of RAM the iPhone 12 Pro has over its predecessor, allowing for a lot of apps to be stored ‘in-memory.” That means the apps are loaded from the iPhone 12’s RAM rather than its pool of storage. 

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This allows for much faster multitasking, something iPhones have struggled with in the past, unlike some Android phones with large amounts of RAM. 

Apple never revealed how much RAM its iPhones have, but it’s believed the iPhone 12 Pro has 6GB. Comparatively, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has 12GB. But EverythingApplePro noted that the IPhone 12 Pro shows how a well-optimized chip means there’s no need to have vast amounts of RAM in a smartphone. Given Apple designs its chips in-house, it has greater control over how the silicon plays with iOS and the rest of the IPhone. 

In short, the iPhone 12 Pro is not only a powerhouse on the benchmark sheets, but also a multitasking machine in the streets. That alone arguably makes it a compelling upgrade over the iPhone 11 Pro, before you even consider the new design and upgraded cameras. 

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