Apple’s record service revenue couldn’t make up for falling hardware sales

As many Apple watchers have predicted, the company’s financial results this quarter are a break from the last few years of nonstop growth. The iPhone maker reported a revenue of $117.2 billion for its first fiscal quarter (ended December 2022), which is five percent down year over year, marking the first time Apple’s revenue is down since 2019. 

There are a couple of bright spots in the company’s performance, namely in its setting a revenue record of $20.8 billion in its Services business and hitting more than 2 billion active devices in its installed base. All-time revenue records were also set in markets like Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, Turkey and Vietnam.

In a statement, CEO Tim Cook said “As we all continue to navigate a challenging environment, we are proud to have our best lineup of products and services ever, and as always, we remain focused on the long term and are leading with our values in everything we do.”

On its earnings call, Cook said there were three main things that impacted revenue: the “challenging macroeconomic environment”, foreign exchange issues and COVID-related supply constraints that led to delays in the ship times of iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models. “Production is now back to where we want it to be,” he added.

Apple’s decline in revenue is in line with a general slump in the tech industry, with Meta having just reported revenues that are 4 percent down from the previous year. Alphabet is also seeing a slowdown in growth this quarter, and while Microsoft saw its revenue climb, its earnings missed expectations and profits fell by 12 percent. Amid the economic downturn, tech companies havebeenlaying off significant portions of their workforce, though Apple doesn’t appear to have made similar moves at the moment.

The company is holding a call to go into detail about its financial results at 5pm ET / 2pm PT today, and we will update this post with any additional news and insight.



Source: Engadget – Apple’s record service revenue couldn’t make up for falling hardware sales

Alphabet's revenues are still growing, but just barely

It’s no secret that the huge tech companies are still making money hand over fist, but there’s also a noticeable slowdown going on. Google’s parent company Alphabet is not immune — the company just reported its earnings results for Q4 of 2022, and just barely grew revenue year over year. The $76 billion the company pulled in during the quarter is up only one percent from Q4 of 2021. 

Google’s ad business is the backbone of the company, and revenue slipped there by about 3.5 percent compared to a year ago. But eight percent growth in the “other” category (which includes products like Google and Nest hardware and revenue from the Play Store) and 32 percent yearly growth in in Google Cloud made up for those ad losses. Overall profits, meanwhile, dropped significantly: Quarterly net income of $13.6 billion is down 34 percent year-over-year.

Of course, the backdrop for all this is that Google announced a few weeks ago that it is laying off about 12,000 employees; that makes up about six percent of the company’s overall workforce. At the time those layoffs were announced, we didn’t yet know what Google’s financials for last quarter looked like, but now we can see that things are slowing down. 

That’s all relatively speaking, though. Net income of $60 billion for 2022 as a whole was down significantly compared to the $76 billion in profit Alphabet made in 2021 — but it’s still far ahead of the $40 billion the company pulled in for 2020. It looks like the big numbers Alphabet posted in 2021 weren’t exactly sustainable, and obviously we don’t yet know what 2023 will bring. But we’ll be tuning into the company’s call with investors, which starts at 4:30PM ET, to see what additional details CEO Sundar Pichai can share about the state of Alphabet in the year to come.



Source: Engadget – Alphabet’s revenues are still growing, but just barely

Amazon's drones have reportedly delivered to fewer houses than there are words in this headline

Amazon’s drone delivery program doesn’t seem to be off to a great start. The Prime Air division was said to be hit hard by recent, widespread layoffs. Now, a new report indicates that Amazon’s drones have made just a handful of deliveries in their first few weeks of operation.

After nearly a decade of working on the program, Amazon said in December that it would start making deliveries by drone in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas. However, by the middle of January, as few as seven houses had received Amazon packages by drone, according to The Information: two in California and five in Texas.

The report suggests that Amazon has been hamstrung by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is said to be blocking drones from flying over roads or people unless the company gets permission on a case-by-case basis. Although Amazon had touted its FAA certification, the agency imposed a string of restrictions, which hadn’t been revealed until now. It has largely rejected Amazon’s requests to loosen the limitations.

One of the plans the FAA agreed to, according to the report, was for Amazon employees to check no cars were passing on surrounding roads before drones left its Lockeford delivery facility. That depot is on an industrial block, and the drones need to fly over at least one road before getting to any homes.

Amazon’s drones are far heavier than ones operated by Wing, as well as Walmart’s partners Flytrex and Zipline. Those weigh between 10 and 40 pounds. Amazon’s drone, on the other hand, weighs around 80 pounds and can only carry a five-pound payload. The report suggests the drone’s mass could be causing concern among FAA officials. The agency has given Wing, Flytrex and Zipline permission to fly over roadways — to date, Wing has carried out more than 300,000 deliveries.

One other aspect that doesn’t help Amazon’s prospects is that folks who want to receive deliveries by drone need a backyard where packages can be dropped off — so apartment dwellers need not apply. The drone can only carry a certain size of box and it dumps packages from 12 feet in the air, further limiting the types of products it can transport.

“We meet or exceed all safety standards and have obtained regulatory authorization to conduct commercial drone delivery operations,” Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told The Information. “We welcome the FAA’s rigorous evaluations of our operation, and we’ll continue to champion the significant role that regulators play to ensure all drone companies are achieving the right design, build and operating standards.” Boschetti added that the Prime Air layoffs, which have reportedly slashed the size of the delivery teams at both locations by more than half, have not affected Amazon’s plans for the test sites.



Source: Engadget – Amazon’s drones have reportedly delivered to fewer houses than there are words in this headline

Starbucks now lets you pay with Venmo

Starbucks Rewards members can now pay with Venmo. The payment service’s parent company, PayPal, announced the change today, saying customers can use Venmo accounts to load and auto-reload their Starbucks Card funds.

PayPal says you can add your Venmo account in the Starbucks app or the Starbucks Card section of the company’s website. Additionally, you can pay directly from Venmo after adding your account to the coffee chain’s app.

The companies are running a promotion to entice you to try it. Until February 10th, Starbucks Rewards members will get 100 bonus Stars (perks for spending money there) by adding at least $15 from Venmo to their Starbucks Card. Alternatively, spending $15 or more using Venmo as a direct payment in the Starbucks app will also get you the bonus.

This isn’t the coffee chain’s first new partnership as it deals with recent slowdowns. It announced last month it was working with DoorDash to offer 95 percent of its in-store menu items through the delivery service. Unfortunately, it also pounced on the NFT bandwagon, launching an alternative rewards system using digital collectibles.



Source: Engadget – Starbucks now lets you pay with Venmo

Columbia researchers bioprint seamless 3D skin grafts for burn patients

The science of grafting skin has come a long way from the days of scraping it off one part of a patient’s body and slapping it back on somewhere else to cover a nasty burn or injury. These days grafts are commonly bioprinted like living inkjets using the patient’s cultured cells to seed the growing process, down to the vascularization. The primary shortcoming of these printed grafts is that they can only be produced in flat sheets with open edges. This method “disregard[s] the fully enclosed geometry of human skin,” argue a team of researchers from Columbia University. Instead, they’ve devised a novel means of producing skin in virtually any complex 3D shape they need — from ears and elbows to entire hands printed like a pair of Buffalo Bill’s mittens. 

Creating a
Alberto Pappalardo and Hasan Erbil Abaci / Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

The team published their findings, “Engineering edgeless human skin with enhanced biomechanical properties,” in the January issue of Scientific Advances. They explained how they engineered, “the skin as a fully enclosed 3D tissue that can be shaped after a body part and seamlessly transplanted as a biological clothing.”

“Three-dimensional skin constructs that can be transplanted as ‘biological clothing’ would have many advantages,” Dr. Hasan Erbil Abaci, lead researcher and assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, said in a recent press release. “They would dramatically minimize the need for suturing, reduce the length of surgeries, and improve aesthetic outcomes.” 

What’s more, these uniform grafts have shown superior performance, both mechanically and functionally, than their patchwork alternatives. The Columbia team has dubbed the grafts “wearable edgeless skin constructs” (WESCs). Ok, but can you eat them?

The process of making these skin prosthetics isn’t that far off from the existing techniques which result in flat slabs of skin. The transplant site is first scanned with a 3D laser to create a digital facsimile of the structure. That data is worked through a CAD program to generate a hollow wireframe of the appendige and then printed. This serves as the scaffolding on which the patient’s cultured cells will grow. It’s coated with skin fibroblasts and collagen then covered by an outer layer of keratinocytes (which make up the epidermis) and growth medium to feed the cells as they mature. As with making flat sheets, the entire process requires around three weeks for the cells to fully set up and be ready for transplant.

Initial lab tests with mouse models were encouraging. “It was like putting a pair of shorts on the mice,” Abaci said. “The entire surgery took about 10 minutes.” Don’t get too excited, mouse skin is not people skin. It heals differently enough that additional animal studies will be required before we start trying it on humans. Such tests are likely still years away. 



Source: Engadget – Columbia researchers bioprint seamless 3D skin grafts for burn patients

Amazon told lawmakers it wouldn’t build warehouse storm shelters

Amazon told lawmakers it wouldn’t build storm shelters in its warehouses after a December 2021 tornado killed six employees at an Illinois location. Although the company changed its severe-weather response strategy after the incident, it essentially told the elected officials that since building storm shelters isn’t required by law, it won’t do that.

The company responded to lawmakers Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Cori Bush (D-MO), who sent a letter on December 15th, questioning the company’s lack of storm shelters or safe rooms at its warehouses. “Amazon’s apparent unwillingness to invest in a storm shelter or safe room at its Edwardsville facility is made even more concerning by the fact that installing one could be done by Amazon at relatively low cost,” the lawmakers wrote. “This cost is negligible for a company like Amazon, which brought in more than $500 billion in revenue over the 12-month period ending September 30, 2022 and clearly has the resources necessary to protect its workers should it have the will to do so.”

Company vice president of public policy Brian Huseman responded (via CNBC), “Amazon requires that its buildings follow all applicable laws and building codes. We have not identified any jurisdiction in the United States that requires storm shelters or safe rooms for these types of facilities.”

Amazon personnel gather for a meeting on the lot of the distribution center where the roof collapsed  in Edwardsville, Illinois, U.S. December 13, 2021.  REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant
Lawrence Bryant / reuters

Huseman added that Amazon follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Weather Service guidelines and will continue using a “severe weather assembly area” for sheltering in place instead of the requested storm shelters. The six employees and contractors who died at the warehouse tried to protect themselves in a bathroom; the surviving workers took refuge in an assembly area.

OSHA investigated the incident last April and ordered Amazon to review its severe weather policies, but it fell short of penalizing the company for its response. Additionally, Amazon hired a meteorologist, launched an internal center for monitoring severe weather and created emergency cards pointing out evacuation points and assembly areas.

Amazon reportedly began rebuilding the warehouse last June. The families of two of the employees killed there have sued the company for wrongful death.



Source: Engadget – Amazon told lawmakers it wouldn’t build warehouse storm shelters

Razer debuts its lightest gaming mouse ever, weighing in at 49 grams

Razer announced its lightest gaming mouse today, the Viper Mini Signature Edition. It only weighs 49g, making it 16 percent lighter than the company’s Viper V2 Pro and one of the most lightweight mice we’ve seen from a large company.

The mouse uses a magnesium alloy exoskeleton with a semi-hollow interior (bearing a slight resemblance to the SteelSeries Aerox 3 Wireless). “We wanted to push beyond the traditional honeycomb design, and this required a material with an outstanding strength-to-weight ratio,” said Razer’s Head of Industrial Design, Charlie Bolton. “After evaluating plastics, carbon fiber and even titanium, we ultimately chose magnesium alloy for its exceptional properties.”

Marketing render of a new Razer gaming mouse with a magnesium exoskeleton and partially hollow interior.
Razer

Razer says the mouse uses its fastest wireless tech and will be among its best-performing wireless mice. It includes the Razer Focus Pro 30K Optical Sensor, Optical Mouse Switches Gen-3 and HyperPolling Wireless with 4000Hz polling rates. Additionally, Razer says the mouse’s battery lasts up to 60 hours and can fully charge via USB-C in less than 90 minutes. It ships with a pre-paired USB dongle.

The $280 mouse will be available exclusively on Razer’s website starting February 11th.



Source: Engadget – Razer debuts its lightest gaming mouse ever, weighing in at 49 grams

Antartica’s only EV had to be redesigned because of climate change

Most electric vehicles get upgrades to boost performance or range, but Antarctica’s one and only EV has received a tune-up due to the realities of climate change. Venturi has revealed that it upgraded its Venturi Antarctica electric explorer early last year due to warmer conditions on the continent. The original machine was designed to operate in winter temperatures of -58F, but the southern polar region is now comparatively balmy at 14F — and that affected both crews and performance.

The company has added a ventilation system and air intakes to the front of the Antarctica to prevent overheating in the cockpit, while additional intakes keep the power electronics from cooking. Redesigned wheel sprockets were also necessary to maximize the tracked EV’s capabilities. The warmer snow was sticking to the sprockets, creating vibrations as it compacted and hardened. Future upgrades will help restore range lost to changing snow consistency. The Antarctica is built to cover 31 miles, but scientists have been limiting that to 25 miles.

Ars Technicanotes Venturi’s EV has been in use at Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station since December 2021. It has two modest 80HP motors and just a 52.6kWh battery (plus an optional second pack), but raw power isn’t the point. The design lets station residents perform research without contributing to emissions or polluting a relatively pristine region.

You might not see Venturi make similar climate-related upgrades for a while. However, the refresh shows how global warming can affect transportation in subtle ways. Venturi and other manufacturers may have to design their next explorers on the assumption that Antarctica won’t be as chilly as before.



Source: Engadget – Antartica’s only EV had to be redesigned because of climate change

Arlo video doorbells and security cameras are up to half off

Folks on the lookout for a new video doorbell or home security camera might be interested in checking out the latest sale on Arlo gear. You can snap up the devices for up to half off at the minute, with the Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell seeing the biggest drop from $200 to $100.

The doorbell, which you can plug in if you wish, offers a 180-degree wide field view and HD video with HDR. It captures video prior to motion-activated recordings, so you can see what caught the camera’s attention (such as what someone was doing right before ringing the doorbell). You can speak to whoever’s at your door from your phone thanks to two-way audio support. Alternatively, you can respond with quick reply prompts if you’re busy. Arlo says the device is durable too, so it should be able to withstand the elements.

The doorbell should play nicely with other smart home security devices, as it has Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung SmartThings support. Those who take out an Arlo Secure plan, meanwhile, will receive notifications when the doorbell detects people, vehicles, and packages.

The sale also includes a wired version of the doorbell, which is 47 percent off at $80. A two-pack of the spotlight camera, which offers 1080p video capture and color night vision without the need for a hub, will run you $160 (31 percent off). Meanwhile, an indoor camera with a privacy shield is $30 off at $70.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.



Source: Engadget – Arlo video doorbells and security cameras are up to half off

'Star Wars: Visions' Volume 2 debuts May 4th with an Aardman short

Star Wars: Visions is returning for a second ‘season,’ this time with a more international scope — including a studio you might not have expected. Disney has announced that Star Wars: Visions Volume 2 will premiere May 4th (aka Star Wars Day) with shorts from nine countries, including one from UK stop-motion legend Aardman. Details of the project (“I Am Your Mother”) aren’t available, but it’s directed by Wallace & Gromit veteran Magdalena Osinska.

Other titles come from 88 Pictures (India), Cartoon Saloon (Ireland), D’art Shtajio (Japan), El Guiri (Spain), Punkrobot (Chile), Studio La Cachette (France), Studio Mir (South Korea) and Triggerfish (South Africa). Some of the creators have illustrious credentials. El Guiri’s Rodrigo Blaas is a Pixar alumnus, for example, while Triggerfish has worked on BBC titles like The Highway Rat and Stick Man.

The first Visions focused on Japanese anime studios’ approach to the Star Wars universe, including well-known names like Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) and Trigger (Kill la Kill). Creators were given more creative freedom than those producing canonical movies and TV shows — they were free to not only pursue different art styles and themes, but to break continuity with the official storyline. That’s likely to continue with Volume 2, as series executive producer James Waugh says the anthology is about “celebratory expressions” of Star Wars that open “bold new ways” of telling stories in the space fantasy setting.

The Visions release date bolsters an increasingly packed Star Wars release schedule at Disney+. It starts with The Mandalorian season three on March 1st, but will also include Young Jedi Adventures (spring), Ahsoka and Skeleton Crew. You’ll have plenty to watch, then, even if the animated shorts aren’t to your liking.



Source: Engadget – ‘Star Wars: Visions’ Volume 2 debuts May 4th with an Aardman short

Microsoft rolls out Teams Premium with OpenAI-powered features

Fresh off the heels of news that Microsoft is making a multibillion-dollar investment into OpenAI, it’s integrating the company’s tech into more of its products and services. Microsoft has announced that Teams Premium is now broadly available. The service features large language models powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3.5, along with other tech geared toward making meetings “more intelligent, personalized and protected,” Microsoft says.

Teams Premium offers AI-generated chapters in PowerPoint Live and “personalized timeline markers for when you leave and join a meeting.” Live translations in captions are currently available too. In the coming months, Teams Premium will be able to automatically generate meeting notes with the help of GPT-3.5. Users will have access to AI-generated task and action item suggestions as well. Microsoft will likely expand the Teams Premium AI features over time.

The company previously introduced the Azure OpenAI Service for developers, along with a tool to help beginners build their own apps and a graphic design app that are both powered by OpenAI tech. Word on the street is that Microsoft is building ChatGPT, OpenAI’s astonishingly popular chatbot, into Bing (Google is said to be working on an AI chatbot for Search too.)



Source: Engadget – Microsoft rolls out Teams Premium with OpenAI-powered features

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections

After releasing two previous models, Hasselblad seems to have finally nailed the compact medium format camera with the X2D 100C. With a 100-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor that doubles the resolution of the last model, it promises incredible image quality and a stunning design. However, it also has limited autofocus abilities, no video and a large price tag. So is this just a luxury item, or is it good for serious photographers?

My pro photographer friend Nathanael Charpentier wanted to find out. He was interested in seeing if the X2D could help him take more creative photos compared to his current Sony A1 and A9 cameras. At the same time, he was looking to use it in select situations to complement, rather than replace his existing setup.

The X2D is obviously going to work well and take great shots in a controlled studio environment, but Nathanael wanted to test it in more challenging scenarios like live events. As such, he photographed a theatrical group, several professional scenarios, musicians and an evening out – with both the Hasselblad and his Sony A1 for comparison. I also took it myself to test in low light, for landscapes and more.

Body and handling

The X2D is bound to draw comparisons to Fujifilm’s 100-megapixel GFX 100S. On the one hand, Fuji’s model has more advanced technology like eye- and face-detect AI autofocus. However, the Hasselblad offers a better industrial design, handling and build quality.

Physically, they couldn’t be more different. Where the GFX 100S looks like other Fuji mirrorless cameras but larger, the X2D is sleeker and more modern. It has nearly the same design and controls as the X1D II and X1D first introduced in 2017, with a few refinements. That’s great, as the body is both beautiful and practical. There are a few usability quirks, though.

The control layout is sparse compared to the GFX 100S and most other modern mirrorless cameras. It has front and rear dials for primary settings, along with ISO/white balance, mode, power, exposure lock, display and menu buttons. They’re generally responsive and have a high quality feel.

It’s relatively light for its category at 895 grams but still quite heavy. Luckily the big, non-slip grip is nice to hold and makes the X2D comfortable for all-day sessions. Ergonomically, it’s generally easy to use, but I missed having a joystick to move the AF point. That has to be done using either the display or the dials, which can be awkward.

The menu system is equally simple. The main settings are available on one screen, and everything else has its own category, like focus, exposure and general settings. Again, it’s easy to use, but some extra manual controls would help if you need to make adjustments on the fly.

Where the X1D II had a fixed display, the 3.6-inch, has a 2.36-million dot touchscreen. It’s the only way to change many settings, so luckily it’s bright, sharp and reactive. It does tilt up, unlike past models, but only 70 degrees which is insufficient for very low shooting angles. It’s also blocked a bit by the large protruding viewfinder (EVF) when you’re looking straight down.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Steve Dent/Engadget

Speaking of, the OLED EVF is another strong point. It has a sharp 5.76 million dot resolution with a 60 fps refresh rate and a huge 100 percent magnification. It even offers an electronic diopter adjustment for folks who wear glasses, which proved to be effective and kind of cool. Setting it is like taking an eye test, as words come into focus.

On top of the CFexpress Type B slot, the X2D has a built-in 1TB SSD, enough to hold over 3,000 RAW and JPEG shots. It’s easily fast and spacious enough to hold and transfer the enormous images. I never even used the CFexpress slot, except as a backup – but it’s also nice to have a high-speed card slot for rapid transfers.

With 420 shots, battery life is better than on past models, but still on the low end, and that figure is reasonably accurate in our experience. Luckily, it supports PD 3.0 fast charging up to 30W, so you can get a full charge in about 2 hours and run it on AC power in a studio. Still, I’d recommend extra batteries and the optional dual-battery charger, which costs $155 extra.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Steve Dent/Engadget

If you are shooting in a studio, you can use Phocus’s app (on Windows or Mac) for remote triggering and photo organization. It does offer exposure bracketing, but doesn’t have a live view or any way to change settings.

Finally, while the X2D 100C is well made, Hasselblad doesn’t say if it’s weatherproof, So for landscape shooting in bad weather, the GFX 100S might be a better choice as it’s rated by Fujifilm for dust and splash protection.

Nathanael: My first impression was around the handling. I found the ergonomy to be very good. It’s quite heavy, but it has a great grip, so you always have a good hold on it. It was easy to change key settings like ISO, shutter speed and aperture, but moving the autofocus point could be a bit awkward. Once I got used to the controls I was able to shoot pretty quickly.

Performance

With a new processor, the X2D starts up much quicker than before (2 seconds compared to 4 seconds) and is considerably faster in general over the X1D II. Hasselblad also has three new series V lenses (the 38mm f/2.5, 55mm f/2.5 and 90mm f/2.5) that are designed to focus three times faster than past models when used with the X2D’s new hybrid AF system.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Steve Dent/Engadget

Speed isn’t what the camera was built for, but it can manage about 3.3 images per second (in 14-bit mode only), which isn’t bad considering the 215 MB RAW frame size. However, photographers won’t be buying this as a sports camera and most will likely only ever use it in single-shot mode in order to get full 16-bit images.

Where past models had contrast detect autofocus only, the X2D finally has superior hybrid phase detect AF. The implementation, though, isn’t ideal. The single small AF point often wasn’t precise enough for the extremely shallow depth of field. And other than a setting to make the focus point slightly larger, there are no other AF options like area, etc.

Eye and face detection isn’t available either, though Hasselblad has indicated that it’s coming in a future update. Engadget has reached out to the company to find out when that might be happening.

In any case, Nathanael wasn’t too fussed about perfect AF and often preferred manual focus, and that works very well. Like other mirrorless cameras, it has a magnification system that kicks in when you operate the focus ring manually. However, it’s the best implementation I’ve seen – the high sensor resolution allows for a large 100 percent zoom, and it’s very clear on the high-resolution display. At the same time, the improved focus clutch on the new V lenses makes fine focus adjustments quite easy.

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Steve Dent/Engadget

Hasselblad’s famous mechanical leaf shutter built into the lenses keeps noise and vibrations to a minimum and allows flash sync up to the maximum 1/2000th speed. As with Fuji’s GFX100s, the electronic shutter isn’t really usable for most moving subjects due to the extreme rolling shutter.

Finally, the X2D is equipped with a new stabilization system developed from scratch by Hasselblad for the large sensor. It allows for a claimed seven stops of blur reduction, compared to six for the GFX 100S. That allowed us to take sharp pictures at shutter speeds as low as a fifth of a second – no mean feat with such an exacting sensor.

Nathanael: I shot almost exclusively in manual focus to start with. It didn’t bother me because there are several tools to help a lot with that. When you turn the focus ring, it really zooms in, and you can clearly see the focus. Later on, I learned all the quirks of the autofocus and figured out how to make it work better, so I started using it more often. At the end, I was mostly taking sharp photos using a mix of manual and autofocus, depending on the situation.

Image Quality

The X2D’s greatest weapon is the new 100 megapixel, backside illuminated sensor – likely the same one used on Fujifilm’s GFX 100S and its own H6D-100C. For reference, the pixel size on the X2D is 3.76 micrometers, the same as Sony’s 61-megapixel A7R V. You can shoot JPEG, 10-bit HEIF or 16-bit RAW photos.

Hasselblad says that dynamic range exceeds 15 stops, which is more than any camera I’ve ever tested. The company also uses what it calls “Natural Color Science” to provide accurate and pleasing hues.

With all that, the X2D delivers the best images I’ve ever seen straight out of a camera. Color rendering is superb, and of course images have more sharpness and detail than nearly every other camera on the market. That’s aided by the new XCD V series lenses, which deliver incredible sharpness all the way to the edge of the frame.

Hasselblad X2D 100C sample image gallery

Low-light performance is formidable for such a high-resolution camera as well. Grain is well controlled up to ISO 6400, and while it’s far more noticeable at ISO 12800, picture quality is still excellent. Beyond that, though, grain starts to become noticeable and distracting.

The 16-bit RAW files provide incredible detail and nuance. They can be pulled and stretched in post by a large amount, making them great for pros who do a lot of post-processing. Lightroom worked well for the editing I did, though you’ll need a reasonably powerful computer to handle those enormous file sizes. All that being said, you often don’t need to do much to photos as they look amazing straight out of the camera.

Nathanael: The image quality is really impressive. As soon as I took the first photos and looked at them, I said “wow!” There’s almost no need for post processing. One thing I like is contrast. With the X2D I can take contrasty photos, but they still have tons of detail. And you get incredible dynamic range in low light.

Wrap-up

Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections
Steve Dent/Engadget

The X2D is Hasselblad’s best X System camera so far, thanks to improvements across the board but especially with image quality. It now reigns supreme in that area, besting Fujifilm’s rival GFX100S by a good margin.

Yes, the X2D is expensive at $8,200 and the lenses are also sky-high at $3,700 each for the two I tested. That said, it’s not a giant leap over the $6,000 GFX100S and is relatively cheap for a Hasselblad. Plus, it’s designed mostly for pro photographers who would see it as a working tool.

More importantly, how does Nathanael feel about it?

Nathanael: In a way, it’s a return to “real photography,” where you manually control every aspect, even the focus. At the same time, I found it could handle tricky non-studio work. I would only use it in certain situations, like during pre-wedding preparations of the bride: make up, hairstyle, dressing because those are aesthetic moments where you have more time. I’d also use it for photos of the nuptials. However, for critical live work, like the marriage itself, the A1 and A9 would remain my primary cameras.

It’s certainly an outstanding portrait camera, with gobsmacking resolution and image quality. And another thing, when you arrive to shoot with a Hasselblad, it’s noticed by astute clients. It seems like nothing, but it does give extra credibility that you don’t get with other cameras.

So that begs the question: Is it really worth it, or not? Because it’s quite the investment, $8,200 (8,700 euros) for the camera and another $8,000 or so for the lenses. But my feeling is, better equipment lets you take better photos, which helps attract a superior clientele. But that only applies if the camera truly brings something extra to the table, and the X2D really does that.



Source: Engadget – Hasselblad X2D 100C: Incredible resolution, beautiful imperfections

Documents show Meta paid for data scraping despite years of denouncing it

Meta has routinely fought data scrapers, but it also participated in that practice itself — if not necessarily for the same reasons. Bloomberg has obtained legal documents from a Meta lawsuit against a former contractor, Bright Data, indicating that the Facebook owner paid its partner to scrape other websites. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed the relationship in a discussion with Bloomberg, but said his company used Bright Data to build brand profiles, spot “harmful” sites and catch phishing campaigns, not to target competitors.

Stone added that data scraping could serve “legitimate integrity and commercial purposes” so long as it was done legally and honored sites’ terms of service. Meta terminated its arrangement with Bright Data after the contractor allegedly violated company terms when gathering and selling data from Facebook and Instagram.

Neither Bright Data nor Meta is saying which sites they scraped. Bright Data is countersuing Meta in a bid to keep scraping Facebook and Instagram, arguing that it only collects publicly available information and respects both European Union and US regulations.

Meta has spent years suing individuals and companies for scraping its platforms without permission. In some cases, it has accused companies of masking their activities and accessing sensitive details that require logins. Last year, for instance, Meta sued Octopus last year over a tool that reportedly collected sign-ins and took private information like dates of birth and phone numbers.

However, the Bright Data revelation isn’t a good look for a company that has faced numerous privacy violation accusations, including some related to scrapers. The EU fined Meta €265 million (about $277 million) last fall for allegedly failing to protect Facebook users against scraping that grabbed and exposed private information. This latest case isn’t guaranteed to create further trouble, but certainly won’t help Meta’s defense.



Source: Engadget – Documents show Meta paid for data scraping despite years of denouncing it

The best power banks for 2023

Whether you call them battery packs, power banks or portable chargers, these accessories do one thing well: charge your devices when you can’t find an open outlet. Small enough to fit in a day pack and sturdy enough to live at the bottom of your carry on, battery packs can charge your smartphone, tablet, laptop or even all three at once, depending on the size of the battery. What size you’ll need, and any extra features you may find useful, will largely depend on the devices you plan on charging up. With so many of these accessories on the market right now, we tested out a bunch to see which are worth your money.

What to look for in a portable battery pack

Battery type

Nearly every rechargeable power bank you can buy (and most portable devices) contain a lithium-ion battery. These beat other current battery types in terms of size-to-charge capacity, and have even increased in energy density by eight fold in the past 14 years. They also don’t suffer from a memory effect (where battery life deteriorates due to partial charges).

One drawback you may have heard is the possibility of lithium ion batteries catching fire. To limit the danger, battery packs require internal mechanisms to limit things like voltage and pressure. While you should still make sure a battery isn’t exposed to unnecessary stress like excessive heat, damage from drops or operating in freezing weather, battery packs are considered safe enough to bring on an airplane. According to the TSA, external batteries rated at 100Wh or less (which all of our recommendations are) can fly with you – just make sure you stash them in your carry on as they aren’t allowed in checked baggage.

Capacity

Power bank manufacturers almost always list a battery’s capacity in milliamp hours, or mAh. Smaller batteries, say those that can charge a smartphone to between 50 and 75 percent, tend to have a 5,000mAh capacity. Larger batteries that can recharge laptops and tablets, or give phones multiple charges, can exceed 25,000mAh. Unsurprisingly, the prices on most batteries goes up as capacity increases, and since batteries are physical storage units, size and weight go up with capacity as well. If you want more power, be prepared to spend more and carry around a heavier brick.

You might think that a 10,000mAh power bank could charge a 5,000mAh phone to 100 percent twice, but that’s not the case. In addition to simple energy loss through heat dissipation, factors like voltage conversion also bring down the amount of juice that makes it into your phone. Most manufacturers list how many charges a battery can give a certain smartphone. In our tests, 10,000mAh of battery pack capacity translated to roughly 5,800mAh of device charge. 20,000mAh chargers delivered around 11,250mAh to a device, and 25,000mAh banks translated to about 16,200mAh of charge. That’s an average efficiency rate of around 60 percent.

Ports

While the tech world is (thankfully) moving towards USB-C as the standard, it’s still a mixed bag in the power bank world. All of our picks have at least one USB-C port and a few also have a USB-A port or two. Newer Android smartphones charge via USB-C, iPhones still use the Lightning port, but the latest tablets (including current generation iPads) and newer laptops are typically powered up via USB-C.

When a battery pack has more than one port, they usually serve different functions. You’ll typically see at least one port labeled “in/out,” which means you can use it to both charge the bank and charge your device. While USB-A ports can power up smartphones and other small devices, they can’t charge larger devices. Plus, they aren’t as fast as USB-C ports overall. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re deciding which ports and cables to use to connect your phone to the pack.

There’s even more variation among USB-C ports themselves, with different ports on the same device supporting different power transfer rates. What that means in practical terms is an iPhone will charge just fine plugged into a power bank’s 18W port. But to properly charge, say, a MacBook or similar laptop, it’ll need the extra juice supplied by a 100W port (which larger power banks can offer). Power banks with more than one port can also charge multiple devices at the same time, but speeds and the overall charge delivered will be lower.

You’ll also want to consider your cable. For anything larger than a smartphone (and to access fast-charging capabilities) you’ll want to use USB-C ports and cables. But not all cables are created equal, even when they have the same USB-C plugs on the end. If you want power delivered from a 100W USB-C power bank port, you’ll need a 100W-rated USB-C cable. Luckily, power banks capable of delivering 100W tend to include a compatible cable. For any devices that don’t, we’ve tried and liked Anker’s 100W USB-C cable. For smaller devices, we used this 60W cable from Nimble and we don’t recommend bothering with cables under 60W. For around $20, higher-capacity cables will make sure you’re not wasting time with connections that limit your potential power transfer.

Design

For the most part, battery packs have a squared-off, brick-like design, though many nod towards aesthetics with attractive finishes and detailing. While that doesn’t affect how they perform, it’s a consideration for something you’ll interact with regularly. Some include extra features like MagSafe compatibility, a built-in wall plug or even a kickstand. Nearly all have some sort of indicator to let you know how much available charge your power bank has left, usually expressed with lighted pips near the power button. Some of the largest banks take that a step further with an LED display indicating a percentage for the remaining battery, which can be helpful if you’re relying on a pack in a mobile office setting or something similar.

How we tested

Overhead view of the devices used for battery testing arranged on a table, including an iPhone, Galaxy phone and iPad, all face down.
Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Before we even put our hands on a battery pack, we did extensive research. We considered brands Engadget reviewers and staff have tried over the years and we checked out customer ratings on retail sites like Amazon and Best Buy. In all, we acquired 14 battery packs, ranging from small wireless banks to large, multi-device batteries.

Here’s the full list:

MagSafe-compatible

Low capacity (≤10,000mAh)

Mid capacity (10,001 – 20,000mAh)

High capacity (20,001mAh+)

I tested each battery on an iPhone 14 Plus and a Galaxy S22 Ultra. For the mid- and high-capacity packs, I added an iPad Air (5th generation) to the mix. I only charged one device at a time, even though some are capable of multiple-device charging. I charged from fully depleted to 100 percent (or until the power bank was dead), and didn’t use the device while they charged other than to power them on and enter the unlock code.

The six winning power banks arranged on a wooden table with a houseplant in the background
Amy Skorheim / Engadget

For the most part, I used the cable included with each power bank to charge the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the iPad Air. For the iPhone 14 Plus, I used the USB-C to Lighting cable that came with Apple’s phone. In the case of the lower-capacity power banks that didn’t include a cable or included a USB-C to USB-A cable, I used a 60W-rated USB-C to USB-C cable.

For reference, here are the battery capacities of each device we used for testing:

I noted the times for each charge and the number of charges each bank provided. I also paid attention to things like ease of use and overall design. Here’s what made the cut:

Best MagSafe-compatible battery: Spigen ArcHybrid Mag

I went into this category expecting Apple’s own MagSafe battery pack to win. And while it performed admirably, charging a dead 14 Plus to about 43 percent in an hour and 45 minutes, Spigen’s ArcHybrid delivered a 56 percent charge in nearly the same amount of time. The ArcHybrid firmly attaches to the MagSafe ring and it’s flush enough that you can easily hold your phone and use it while charging up. Unlike the Apple battery, it includes four indicator lights to help you gauge how much juice the pack itself has left. Considering Spigen’s battery is $30 cheaper than Apple’s, it’s easy to recommend.

Alternatively, Anker’s 633 Magnetic battery delivered a larger charge thanks to its 10,000mAh capacity, boosting the iPhone to 100 percent in three hours with enough left over for an additional 29 percent charge. And while the kickstand feature felt mildly useful, the battery itself was bulky – but that’s understandable for a power bank that’s twice as large as Spigen’s. Ultimately, the ArcHybrid performed better as a quick and convenient way to give a partial charge to your iPhone on the go.

It’s important to note that wireless charging is less efficient than wired. Our tests showed wired battery banks deliver a device charge at around 60 percent efficiency. With the wireless chargers, that rate dropped to an average of 46 percent. Something to keep in mind when weighing the costs, both ecological and monetary, of wasted energy.

Specs: 5000mAh, 7.5W max
Ports: One USB-C in/out
Cable: USB-C to USB-C
Number of charges iPhone: 0.56
Charge time iPhone: 0 to 56% in 1h 43m

Best battery for a partial charge on an Android: Anker 511 Power Bank

Until Android phones get something like MagSafe, a wired connection makes the most sense for on-the-go charges. The Anker 511 Power Bank is a cleverly designed unit about the size and shape of a skinny stick of butter. The battery charged a depleted Galaxy S22 Ultra to 75 percent in a little over an hour, so you’ll be covered if you don’t have long between flights to give your phone a bit more juice. It also has a built-in plug and allows for pass-through charging, which means it can act as a wall adapter if you’re ever stuck with both a dead battery bank and phone, but happen to be near an outlet. It doesn’t come with a cable, though, so you’ll need to provide one that can go from the bank’s single USB-C port to your device.

Specs: 5,000 mAh, 10W max
Ports: One USB-C and wall outlet prongs
Cable: None
Number of charges Galaxy S22 Ultra: 0.75
Charge time Galaxy: 0 to 75% in 1h 7m

Best low capacity battery: BioLite Charge 40 PD

BioLite is probably better known in the outdoor community than the tech world, and it’s fair to say that the Charge 40 PD is geared more towards camping trips than urban commutes. But this battery simply outperformed the others in its category. The rugged, yellow-accented exterior is a refreshing change from the standard shiny black of many tech accessories. It also has a rubberized finish and feels solid enough to handle the bumps and jolts of riding around in a purse or messenger bag all day. It gave both the iPhone and the Galaxy one and a half charges, which means it’s plenty capable of reviving a dead phone a couple of times when you’re out and about.

The Nimble Champ gets an honorary mention here because it’ll also deliver a few reliable fill-ups and comes in a rugged package. It delivered a full charge to the iPhone in two hours plus a 22 percent charge in 16 minutes. It gave the Galaxy a full charge in an hour and 44 minutes, then got the phone from dead to 41 percent in 50 minutes. At the same $60 price point as the BioLite, Nimble gets extra points for being one of the few B-Corp-certified personal tech manufacturers out there, meaning they’ve committed themselves to higher environmental and social standards, and took the time to prove it through B Lab’s certification process.

Specs: 10,000mAh, 18W max
Ports: One in/out USB-C, two USB-A out only
Cable: USB-C to USB-A
Number of charges iPhone 14 Plus: 1.36
Charge time iPhone: 0 to 100% in 1h 50m, 0 to 50% in 36m
Number of charges Galaxy S22 Ultra: 1.33
Charge time Galaxy: 0 to 100% in 1h 33m, 0 to 50% in 45m

Best medium capacity battery: Otterbox Fast Charge

At the medium-capacity level, you can charge multiple devices at once or power up something larger than a phone. The Otterbox Fast Charge power bank only lists 15,000mAh of capacity, but it performed nearly as well as the 20,000mAh batteries while costing about $30 less. Over the month and a half I spent testing battery packs, this was the unit I grabbed the most when my own devices needed a charge. It has a stylish exterior with a gray faux leather finish and copper detailing. A little bigger than a deck of cards and weighing just over 11 ounces, it’s a nice looking accessory that feels solid.

It filled up both smartphones twice, then gave an additional third of a charge each. I introduced the iPad to the mix here and got a full charge plus an extra third. The Otterbox also lost very little charge while sitting dormant, which means if you carry it around on the off chance that you’ll need it, it should have plenty of power when the time comes.

This category may have been the closest to call, as Anker’s 535 Power Core performed slightly better than the Otterbox, but Anker’s price point is higher. That said, if you want a screaming fast charge for your Galaxy phone, grab the 535. It got the Galaxy up to 100 percent three times, taking about an hour each time. It had enough left over for a small nine-percent charge before it finally gave up. While the battery did get pretty warm, it never felt overly hot. That one-hour fill up is the fastest any power bank was able to deliver a charge to the Galaxy, other than Anker’s 737, which shaved off a few minutes, but costs $90 more. I also appreciated the 535’s cool iridescent finish.

Specs: 15,000mAh, 18W max
Ports: One in/out USB-C, one in/out USB-A
Cable: USB-C to USB-A
Number of charges iPhone 14 Plus: 2.33
Charge time iPhone: 0 to 100% in 2h 2m average, and 0% to 33% in 27m
Number of charges Galaxy S22 Ultra: 2.33
Charge time Galaxy: 0 to 100% in 1h 35m and 0 to 37% in 33m
Number of charges iPad Air: 1.31
Charge time iPad: 0 to 100% in 2h 23m and 0% to 31% in 38m

Best high capacity battery: Anker 737 Power Bank

If you want something with a lot of charge that transfers quickly, go for the Anker 737 Power Bank. It was for the most part the fastest bank we tried, capable of delivering the largest amount of charge in the shortest period of time for the iPad and Galaxy. (Anker’s 535 got the iPhone to 100 percent an average of two minutes faster, but didn’t give as many charges.) The 737 fully charged our S22 Ultra three times, with enough left over for another 93 percent charge – and those full charges completed in under an hour on average. That’s on par with outlet charging. The numbers for the iPhone were slightly less staggering, but still impressive, going from zero to full in about an hour and a half. The iPad charged completely twice, and did so in just over two hours, which is also close to that device’s wall-connected charge speeds.

While it’s great for multiple full charges on a given smartphone, I should point out that the 737 has three ports, but only one of those is USB-C. If you want to charge more than one device at a time, you’ll have to use the lower-efficiency USB-A ports for a couple of them. That said, this bank not only costs less than the other high capacity batteries we tried, it also includes a 65W PowerPort fast charger, which goes for $34 on its own.

The design is nothing groundbreaking, with a glossy black exterior and a metallic-looking finish on one side. It weighs a little over a pound and has the same general form as an old school TI-85 graphing calculator. Its single button has eight lighted pips to show you how much charge it has left.

Specs: 25,600mAh, 60W max
Ports: One in/out USB-C, two out only USB-A
Cable: USB-C to USB-C, includes 65W wall adapter
Number of charges iPhone 14 Plus: 3.67
Charge time iPhone: 0 to 100% in 1h 38m average and 0 to 67% in 40m
Number of charges Galaxy S22 Ultra: 3.93
Charge time Galaxy: 0 to 100% in 57m average 0 to 93% in 59m
Number of charges iPad Air: 2.14
Charge time iPad: 0 to 100% in 2h 7m average and 0 to 14% in 13m

Best mobile command center battery: Mophie Powerstation Pro XL

For those who take their work on the road, the Mophie Powerstation Pro XL, with its trio of USB-C ports, is a good pick. It’s capable of charging three devices at once, with a different wattage rating for each port: 100W, 45W and 20W. In practice, that means you could use the ports to charge a laptop, a tablet and a phone simultaneously. To keep the numbers comparable across our testing, I charged one device at a time. Both smartphones juiced up fully three times, with around a third of an additional charge left over. I got about two full charges from the battery on the iPad Air.

The Powerstation XL has the look and feel of a fancy pocketbook with a marled gray fabric exterior that feels nice in the hand and, incidentally, hides stains well. It weighs the same as the Anker 737 (one pound and three ounces) and also has lighted pips to indicate charge levels. There are only four lights, however, which doesn’t give you the most precise insight as to how much charge it’s carrying.

Another option, the Zendure Supertank Pro, almost won this category in part because it handles its charge indication with a lighted LED display that shows exactly how much charge remains, expressed as a percentage. With four variable-wattage USB-C ports, a tough exterior and included semi-hard case, it seems tailor made to act as a power source for mobile photoshoots or nomadic offices. The charge speeds were a little slower than the Mophie, but it did manage to give a few more percentage points of charge to the iPad and the Galaxy phone, filing the latter four times. In the end, it came down to price: for $50 more than the Mophie, the Supertank Pro’s speeds and capacity just didn’t edge it out. But if you happen to see the Supertank on sale, snap it up.

Specs: 25,000mAh, 120W max
Ports: One USB-C in/out, two USB-C out only
Cable: USB-C to USB-C
Number of charges iPhone 14 Plus: 3.23
Charge time iPhone: 0 to 100% in 1h 45m average and 23% in 18m
Number of charges Galaxy S22 Ultra: 3.85
Charge time Galaxy: 0 to 100% in 1h 36m and 85% in 1h 12m
Number of charges iPad Air: 2.02
Charge time iPad: 0 to 100% in 2h 16m and 2% in 7m



Source: Engadget – The best power banks for 2023

Lyft's next-generation scooters will offers a smoother ride

The next time you rent a Lyft scooter, you might find the company has a new model for you to ride. Starting today, Lyft is rolling out a “next-gen” electric scooter across its footprint. The device features a redesigned suspension system Lyft claims will result in smoother rides. The company says the new model can also travel to places its previous scooters could not, thanks to a more powerful motor and 11.5-inch airless tires.

Internally, Lyft has equipped the scooter with a swappable battery that provides up to 50 miles of range and that can be charged out in the field. Later this year, the company plans to roll out a variant of the scooter that can recharge at stations connected to local electrical grids. The scooter also features cameras and Lyft’s latest sidewalk detection and parking awareness software. When you need to park the scooter, that software will use visual cues to alert you of restrictions, including areas where you can’t leave the scooter. Last but not least, the scooter comes with a built-in phone mount to make navigating easier.

Lyft's new docking station on the corner of a street.
Lyft

At the same time, Lyft has begun rolling out new docking infrastructure. The company has redesigned its steel bollards to make them more resistant to corrosion and rust, and, thereby, easier to maintain. It has also added solar cells to the bollards and found a way to make them more power efficient. Those are changes Lyft says should make them go longer between battery swaps. As mentioned above, the bollards can also pull power from the local power grid, a feature Lyft claims will increase vehicle availability. If you’ve run into trouble docking a Lyft scooter or e-bike before, you’ll also be happy to learn the new bollards feature a redesigned locking mechanism Lyft says requires “significantly” less physical effort to use. Additionally, they feature flip dots and speakers to make using them more accessible to first-time users.

Lyft hasn’t said when people in specific cities could expect to see its new scooters and docking infrastructure arrive, but it sounds like the rollout will take place gradually throughout the year.



Source: Engadget – Lyft’s next-generation scooters will offers a smoother ride

TikTok rolls out its own strike system for creators who violate its rules

TikTok is trying to make it easier for creators and others to navigate its rules, and understand what’s happening to their accounts. The company is introducing a revamped “account enforcement system,” a series of changes that includes a new strike system, as well as features that allow creators to check if their content has been blocked from the app’s recommendations.

The changes come amid a broader push from TikTok to increase transparency around how it handles content moderation and algorithmic recommendations, both of which have been subject to intense scrutiny by lawmakers, regulators and other critics.

In a blog post, the company says the new strike system is meant to address “repeat offenders” who can have an outsized impact on the platform. “Under the new system, if someone posts content that violates one of our Community Guidelines, the content will be removed and their account will accrue a strike,” the company explains. “If an account meets the threshold of strikes within either a product feature (i.e. Comments, LIVE) or policy (i.e. Bullying and Harassment), it will be permanently banned.” The company added that users may also be banned after just one strike if the violation is considered “severe.”

The change makes TikTok’s policy more in line with that of its peers. YouTube and Meta also use a strike system against accounts that break their rules, though each platform has its own criteria for determining strikes, and the penalties associated with them.

Screenshots of TikTok's new features for tracking account strikes and user reports.
TikTok

In that vein, TikTok says it will also provide creators with new tools to view if their account has racked up any strikes over the previous 90 days. The feature will live in a new “account status” section of the app’s Safety Center. The company is also adding a “reports” section, where users can follow up on any content or accounts they’ve reported.

TikTok’s also starting to test two new features that deal with recommendations. The first is a feature that will notify creators if one of their videos has been blocked from the app’s For You page. The feature, which the company says “will be testing in select markets over the coming weeks,” will “let them know why, and give them the opportunity to appeal.”

The second test is a feature that will allow users to essentially reset the recommendations that appear in For You page. According to a TikTok spokesperson, those in the test will see a “refresh” option in their For You feed, which basically gives the app’s main feed a fresh start. After the feed is “refreshed,” videos will be surfaced purely from new interactions and activity rather than what a user has historically interacted with.

The updates come at a precarious moment for TikTok. The company has spent the last two years negotiating with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) over changes to its policies and practices so it can continue to operate in the US. At the same time, scrutiny of the company has only intensified, with numerousbans and proposed bans piling up. And while the latest changes could meaningfully increase transparency for TikTok’s creators and users — who have sometimes complained that the app’s policies are unclear or unevenly enforced — the updates alone are unlikely to satisfy the company’s staunchest critics.

But TikTok isn’t only relying on product changes. The company has also been physically showing off its stated commitment to transparency by opening up tours of its freshly opened “Transparency and Accountability Center,” a space at its Los Angeles office where participants can get a firsthand glimpse of how the company handles recommendations and content moderation.

This week, TikTok offered reporters a tour of the center as part of its shifting strategy to win over critics. We’ll have more to say soon about the transparency center, and TikTok’s sweeping plan to comply with US regulators, but both seem to be aimed at tackling one of the central criticisms of TikTok head on: that the app’s recommendations algorithm is opaque and ripe for abuse.

So while changes like the ones announced today don’t come close to addressing the full scope of critics’ concerns, it does help TikTok begin to chip away at the perception that the app is an impossible-to-understand black box.



Source: Engadget – TikTok rolls out its own strike system for creators who violate its rules

ChatGPT reportedly reached 100 million users in January

ChatGPT has been growing at a rate much, much faster than TikTok or any other popular app or service. According to a new study by analytics firm UBS (via Reuters and CBS), the OpenAI-developed chatbot was on pace to reach over 100 million monthly active users in January. The chatbot only became available to the public on November 30th last year, but its rise to fame has apparently been meteoric. Within its first month of availability, it already boasted 57 million monthly active users, the study said. By January, it was already being visited by around 13 million individual users a day. 

In comparison, it took TikTok nine months after its global debut to reach 100 million monthly users despite its popularity, especially among the younger generation. UBS analyst Lloyd Walmsley also pointed out that Meta’s Instagram had been around for two-and-a-half years before reaching that point. It remains to be seen, however, if the chatbot can maintain this level of interest in the coming months. “The next question is obviously what its staying power will be. There may be an element of people just coming to look,” Walmsley added.

ChatGPT provides users with natural-sounding human-like responses to queries, so much so that educators are concerned that it could be used by students to cheat. While it still has serious accuracy problems — “Models like ChatGPT have a notorious tendency to spew biased, harmful, and factually incorrect content,” MIT’s Tech Review wrote in a piece — there isn’t another public chatbot with comparable capabilities. It has reportedly rattled Google’s execs to the point that they decided to declare “code red” and accelerated the company’s AI development. The tech giant is working on a few potential ChatGPT competitors, including a chatbot for search, and is aiming to showcase 20 AI products this year. 

ChatGPT remains free to use at the moment, and OpenAI doesn’t seem to have any plans to completely lock access to it behind a paywall. However, the startup does intend to start charging for the service and has already started testing a paid ChatGPT plan for $20 per month, which offers faster response times and priority access to new features.



Source: Engadget – ChatGPT reportedly reached 100 million users in January

The Morning After: Everything Samsung revealed at its Unpacked event

Samsung’s first big tech event of 2023 unveiled three phones and three laptops. The showstoppers are, predictably, the company’s premium flagships, the Galaxy S series. The S23 Ultra ($1,199) has a huge 6.8-inch, an S-pen stylus and a 200-megapixel camera. That’s a lot of pixels.

It’s the company’s first Adaptive Pixel sensor, which means while you can still shoot at 200MP, by default, the system uses pixel-binning to deliver brighter, clearer pictures at 50MP or 12MP. Other upgrades include optical image stabilization that’s been effectively doubled for better-lit photos and less shaky video.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S23 (starting at $800) and S23+ ($1,000) are slightly more iterative but still premium smartphones. They pack reliable cameras and faster processors – the entire S23 series has a special overclocked version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. All the phones are available to pre-order now.

Samsung also revealed an ultra laptop. The 16-inch Galaxy Book 3 Ultra draws inspiration from the company’s best-selling Galaxy S phones, but combines it with heavy-hitting PC specs, like 13th-gen Intel Core i9 processors and NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 4070 graphics.

– Mat Smith

The Morning After isn’t just a newsletter – it’s also a daily podcast. Get our daily audio briefings, Monday through Friday, by subscribing right here.

The biggest stories you might have missed

AI-generated ‘Seinfeld’ is pretty awful

At least it’s inadvertently entertaining.

TMA
Nothing Forever

What if AI made never-ending Seinfeld? “Nothing, Forever” uses OpenAI’s GPT-3 natural language model to produce (occasionally coherent) dialog between pixelated characters Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. One creator posted to Reddit: “Aside from the artwork and the laugh track you’ll hear, everything else is generative, including dialogue, speech, direction (camera cuts, character focus, shot length, scene length, etc.), character movement, and music.” The stream has little human involvement and changes based on viewer feedback from the Twitch stream.

Continue reading.

Sony is killing its PlayStation Plus collection on May 9th

If you own a PS5, claim the games before then.

Since September 2020, Sony’s PlayStation Plus Collection has offered a bunch of PS4 greatest hits to PlayStation 5 owners with an active PS Plus membership. It included God of War, The Last of Us Remastered, Resident Evil 7 and more. Alas, come May 9th, Sony is shuttering the PlayStation Plus Collection, saying it plans to focus on bringing more games to its various tiers of PS Plus. Make sure you download any of the 19 titles now, while they’re still there.

Continue reading.

Facebook now has 2 billion users

The social network is still growing.

Almost 20 years in, Facebook is still growing. Meta reported alongside its fourth-quarter earnings it has now reached two billion daily users. While Facebook isn’t the first Meta-owned platform to reach that number – WhatsApp recently crossed two billion DAUs – it does show the company’s biggest source of ad revenue is still growing. During a call with analysts, Zuckerberg suggested Meta will continue to make cuts as it prioritizes efficiency. “We’re going to be more proactive about cutting projects that aren’t performing or may no longer be as crucial,” he said. The CEO also said generative AI would be a priority for Meta in the year ahead. He added: “One of my goals for Meta is to build on our research to become a leader in generative AI.”

Continue reading.



Source: Engadget – The Morning After: Everything Samsung revealed at its Unpacked event

PS5 beta update finally adds Discord voice chat

After lightly integrating Discord features on PlayStation 5 consoles in early 2022, voice chat has finally arrived in its latest beta update, Sony has announced. PS5 Testers in the US, Canada and Japan will be able to join Discord calls, some months after Microsoft introduced the feature on Xbox. The PS5 is also gaining Variable Refresh Rate support for 1440p, along with dashboard UX improvements and more. 

Discord integration is a bit clunky, much like it was on Xbox at first. Here’s how to set it up and use it, according to Discord’s blog. First, you need to link your PlayStation Network (PSN) account to Discord, then select Discord under “Linked Services.” After that, you can complete the integration using either a QR code or the PS5’s integrated browser. 

Each time you want to use Discord chat on console, though, you’ll need to use your mobile device to transfer your conversation, which isn’t ideal. Back in November, Microsoft made it possible to join Discord chats directly from the console, so hopefully Sony will eventually do the same. 

PS5's latest beta finally introduces Discord voice chat
Sony

Other new social features include a new way to share screens, party chats in the dashboard and “friends who play” that shows which of your friends are playing a game right now. Sony also introduced Variable Refresh Rate support for 1440p gaming, so HDMI 2.1 displays should exhibit smoother performance at that resolution with less tearing. Sony launched PS5 VRR in April last year and 1440p support shortly afterwards, but the two features have yet to work together. 

Gamers will also find new tools to access PS4 saved data on a PS5, along with the ability to move games from one PS5 console to another over WiFi or ethernet. The new beta is rolling out to certified testers today, and should be available to everyone else over the next few months.



Source: Engadget – PS5 beta update finally adds Discord voice chat

Twitter will charge developers to access its API starting February 9th

Developers will soon have to pay Twitter to be able to use its API. The website has announced through its Twitter Dev account that it will no longer support free access to its API, both versions 1.1 and 2, starting on February 9th. It will launch a “paid basic tier” instead, but the company has yet to reveal how much it would cost. Twitter has been experimenting with new ways to make more money ever since Elon Musk took the helm. The biggest change so far has been Twitter Blue, which evolved into a $8-to-$11-a-month subscription service that allows users to purchase the website’s previously elusive blue checkmark. 

A New York Times report from last year said Musk and his advisers also discussed the possibility of adding paid direct messages and videos behind a paywall. They even reportedly considered reviving Vine, its short-form video app that it shut down back in 2016. Musk has been exploring all possible sources of income to be able to pay the loans he took when he purchased Twitter for $44 billion. As The Information notes, he borrowed $13 billion from a group of banks to close the deal, and they weren’t able to sell the debt to investors as planned. The company now has to pay $1.5 billion every year in interests alone.

Twitter showed signs that it had plans to change the way developers accessed its APIs when third-party clients like Tweetbot suddenly stopped working in January. Later, the company confirmed that it deliberately cut off their access due to “long-standing API rules,” even though it previously removed the section in its developer policies that discouraged app-makers from creating something similar to its core service. A few days after third-party Twitter clients went down, the website updated its developer agreement to ban access to its “Licensed Materials to create or attempt to create a substitute or similar service or product to the Twitter Applications.”

“Twitter data are among the world’s most powerful data sets,” the company wrote in a follow-up tweet. “We’re committed to enabling fast & comprehensive access so you can continue to build with us.” While it’s pretty clear that Twitter intends to charge developers to use its API, it didn’t say if it would make exceptions for researchers. Twitter provides specialized access to its API for academic research, and people in academia have been using data from the website for their studies across various fields, including health and politics. 

The website promises to share more details about the new “paid basic tier” for its API next week.



Source: Engadget – Twitter will charge developers to access its API starting February 9th