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The Verge
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The Verge
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Tesla Arcade hands-on: using a Model 3 steering wheel as a game controller
Tesla is pulling its secret video game features out of the shadows and bringing them front and center starting today as Tesla Arcade, a new game hub found across its line of electric vehicles. And earlier this afternoon, the company brought a Model 3 to downtown San Francisco to let The Verge try out Arcade and its newest title, developer Vector Unit’s Beach Buggy Racing 2. It’s an Android racing game you can play on a phone or tablet, but what makes it special on a Tesla car is its controller: the literal steering wheel of the Model 3. Tesla has always prided itself on treating its electric vehicles like computers, and it often touts the ability to send game-changing, over-the-air updates to its cars that add everything from improved self-driving capabilities to silly Easter eggs like “James Bond mode.” Now, Tesla is going one step further and turning its cars into full-blown video game consoles. With this new update, you’ll get Beach Buggy Racing 2 alongside some existing Atari classics. Tesla is also promising support for Studio MDHR’s cartoony platformer Cuphead in the coming months, which will work with gamepad support that Tesla already rolled out. The update also makes these gaming features easier to find. Previously, they were hidden inside a special menu accessible only by pressing the Tesla logo from the main hub of the infotainment center and finding a secret drawer of sorts for Easter eggs. Now, Tesla Arcade is found by pressing an arrow icon found at the bottom of the home screen’s main icons, which opens a dedicated menu bar. From there, you can tap the “Arcade” button and you’ll gain access to the full list of titles right away. Photo by Brennan King / The Verge Vector Unit worked alongside Tesla engineers to make sure its game could tap into the car’s physical steering and braking system. (Sorry, no gas: Tesla advises you not to press the accelerator while playing the game. Just in case you forget, the software disables the pedal until you exit Arcade and sends you a detailed “Warning” note.) In single-player, you can use the steering wheel or touch controls. I was able to even use both at the same time, steering with one hand and tapping the screen to use in-game power ups and attack items. There’s also two-player mode, in which a passenger can play split-screen alongside you, tapping the screen while you use the steering wheel. Steering was surprisingly responsive, mainly because Tesla’s software unlocks the steering wheel from its standard rigidness when in park and lets you freely move it as you would on a toy wheel attached to a racing arcade cabinet. You can also adjust the sensitivity of the steering. That doesn’t change how the wheel feels, but it does make movements of the wheel move your in-game character more dramatically. The Tesla steering controls are surprisingly responsive in Beach Buggy Racing 2 I found it much more fun to use the steering wheel than the touchscreen controls, and pressing the brake pedal (which, admittedly, I did not do too often) felt like it had a realistic slow-down effect on my car. One other neat touch is that your in-game vehicle is no longer a cartoony car, but the actual model and color of your real-life Tesla, pulled from the in-car software. Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased this integration back at the E3 video game expo last week, in conversation with Bethesda’s Todd Howard, who’s helping the game studio work with Tesla to port Fallout Shelter to its line of electric cars. But Musk didn’t give a release date for Arcade at the time. Now, the company says the update will be making its way to Tesla cars this week and next, but anyone can try it at a Tesla showroom through June 30th. Personally, I don’t see myself ever really wanting to play mobile games on the screen in my car. But as someone who commutes via bike and hasn’t owned a vehicle since they graduated college, I can say that having a car even remotely capable of playing video games like this is certainly an appealing dream. I can certainly empathize with those who do own Teslas and want to use Tesla Arcade, or are just plain excited about a future where the modern car has as robust an app ecosystem as our smartphones do now. A Tesla spokesperson tells The Verge that the idea is to do something fun and unique that can perhaps keep you busy while you’re waiting to pick someone up, or while you’re at a Supercharger station. It helps that the games are indeed fun to play, and that the Model 3 screen is a gorgeous display that rivals the iPad Pro. In that sense, Arcade is yet another feature Tesla owners can show off to their friends, like the litany of Easter eggs that have come before it and more visceral showoff features like the Model S’s Ludicrous Mode. For now, let’s just hope Tesla daredevils don’t try to get their gaming sessions in at stop lights.
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The Verge
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will launch on Friday
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the new AR game from Pokémon Go developers Niantic, will start rolling out around the world on Friday, according to an official tweet. The game previously launched in beta in Australia and New Zealand. It’s unclear how long it’ll take to reach a more global audience. The wording of Niantic’s tweet simply says the worldwide launch will begin on June 21st and says to watch for more information “as the game goes live in your region soon.” Pokémon Go took an unusually long time to launch in certain countries like Japan, for example, so you shouldn’t necessarily cancel your Friday plans just yet. From what we’ve seen, Wizards Unite is similar to Pokémon Go but with more mechanical complexity, which might not prove as broadly mainstream a hook as “catch all the pokémon” proved to be in that heady summer of 2016. It’s all but guaranteed to have a ton of players on day one, however, and will be a major competitor in a year that’s turning out to have more heavyweight AR games than ever — from Dragon Quest to Minecraft.
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The Verge
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 reportedly launching on August 7th
Google might be content to just tweet out photos of its upcoming phones, but Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 looks to be following a more traditional script. The latest: Shara Tibken at CNET is reporting that “people familiar” say it will launch on August 7th in New York City. The first week of August certainly is the right timeframe for a Note launch. The Note is traditionally Samsung’s premier platform for showing off new phone technology (setting aside the Galaxy Fold for a moment, anyway). This year, rumors point to the company creating two different sizes, one of which will be 5G, and neither of which will have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Most recently, we have the above-pictured, leaked render from @Onleaks and Pricebaba which shows Samsung getting closer to eliminating the top and bottom bezels altogether. It also moves Samsung’s hole punch selfie camera to the middle, instead of off to the side as it is on the Galaxy S10. Rumors point to the larger Note having a massive 6.75-inch screen while the smaller should be 6.3 inches diagonally. It appears there will be three cameras on the back, aligned vertically instead of horizontally. With Huawei on the rocks, can the Note 10 swoop in? CNET says that Samsung will once again use the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to host attendees, and that the Unpacked event will be “flashy.” Neither of those details are a surprise — though here’s the part where we stop setting aside the Galaxy Fold and just ask: what the heck is going on with Samsung’s foldable phone? Will Samsung announce a new release date? Will it cancel it altogether? Current rumors suggest it won’t ship until after the Note 10. Samsung certainly needs to do or say something before (or maybe even during) this “flashy” Note 10 unveiling. Otherwise the Fold will hang over the whole event like a cloud. One thing is for sure: expect more leaks in the run-up to the Note 10’s official announcement. The stakes are higher than usual, too, because Samsung needs to show that it can handily fill up the space that’s suddenly been made by the bans on Huawei’s phones. The Note 10 will be big — will it be big enough?
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The Verge
How to convert your Xbox Live subscription into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Microsoft recently announced Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a new subscription service that bundles Xbox Game Pass (for console and PC) and Xbox Live Gold for $14.99 per month, saving you $15 per month compared to paying for these services separately. If you want to try it out, there’s a promotion happening that gives you a one-month trial of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $1. But before you redeem it, you should know that it’s possible to use the trial as a way to save a lot of money on Game Pass Ultimate for the next three years. Activating the $1 trial can save you hundreds of dollars Microsoft allows Xbox players to order up to 36 months of prepaid Xbox Live Gold service. And for a limited time, activating the $1 trial will automatically convert future months of service to the more expensive Game Pass Ultimate, saving you hundreds of dollars. For some context on how much money you can save: it costs about $180 for three years of Xbox Live Gold. Add the $1 promotion, and you’re getting three years of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for about $181. Whereas if you paid the full $14.99 per month for Game Pass Ultimate, those three years would cost you almost $540. It’s worth noting that this is a one-time offer. if you’ve already used the offer to get a month for $1 (sadly raises hand), you’ve used up your opportunity to convert Xbox Live Gold to Game Pass Ultimate. However, if you haven’t used it yet, here’s how to get the biggest bang for your buck. How to convert your XBL service to Game Pass Ultimate To get in on this complimentary conversion, you’ll first need to buy a Xbox Live Gold subscription (assuming you don’t have one already). Microsoft is likely to end the sale of Xbox Live Gold at some point, as it funnels players into buying Game Pass Ultimate. But for now, you can still buy digital codes for the service from Amazon in three, six, or twelve-month increments. The next step is to activate the Xbox Live Gold codes on your account, either through Microsoft’s website, or directly through your Xbox One console. Microsoft states that the terms of this promotion are subject to change, so I’d do this sooner than later, as there’s no indication as to when it will stop converting Xbox Live Gold into Game Pass Ultimate. Once you buy the $1 Game Pass Ultimate trial, your prepaid months of Xbox Live Gold will automatically convert. It’s now safe to take advantage of the $1 Game Pass Ultimate trial. Once you redeem the offer, you’ll see something similar to the image above when you click the “Services & subscriptions” tab on Microsoft’s site. In my case, I wasn’t aware of the strategy above, so I paid more than I could have, but at least I now have a few months of Game Pass Ultimate. (I have commitment issues with subscription services that aren’t Spotify or Hulu, so I only redeemed three months worth of Xbox Live Gold.) Here’s hoping that you can squeeze even more value out of this promotion. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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The Verge
Magic Leap sues Nreal for allegedly stealing AR glasses design
Major augmented reality hardware startup Magic Leap has sued competitor Nreal — which was founded by a former Magic Leap employee — for allegedly ripping off its technology and design. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Magic Leap accuses Nreal founder Chi Xu of “blatant copying” and an attempt to “free ride on Magic Leap’s business, image, and confidential information” with its upcoming Nreal Light glasses. Xu worked at Magic Leap for roughly a year between the summers of 2015 and 2016. Magic Leap alleges that Xu used this time to snoop on confidential research and development while “neglect[ing] his work duties” at the company. After leaving, he returned to China and founded Nreal, which demonstrated its Nreal Light glasses at CES in early 2019 — and plans to start shipping them later this year. Magic Leap claims that the Nreal Light “bears a striking similarity to the confidential designs that Magic Leap had under development before and during the time that Mr. Xu worked at Magic Leap, but which were not ultimately commercialized or publicly released.” It also cites an April 2019 interview with Mixed Reality TV in which Xu described being exposed to spatial computing through Magic Leap and stated that he “learned a lot from the people, from the whole company, and their vision as well.” Magic Leap also decries Nreal’s ‘shameless use of whales’ Nreal didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations. Magic Leap does correctly note that Nreal has made a surprisingly strong product for a young company — the Light glasses thoroughly impressed us at CES. And Nreal’s glasses do share some major similarities with Magic Leap, including a power pack that offloads a lot of electronics from the glasses’ frames. (Nreal later announced that you could plug the glasses into a phone as well.) Obviously, that doesn’t prove Nreal lifted the design from Magic Leap. The Light glasses look very different from Magic Leap’s current product, and Magic Leap is likely to seal evidence that might let us directly compare Nreal’s glasses to its own unreleased hardware. Magic Leap is also making a broader argument that Nreal is copying its aesthetic. It points to both companies’ use of a very similar font in their names, although they use substantially different color schemes. It also notes Nreal’s “shameless use of whales” in its demos — which admittedly sounds a bit silly, but makes more sense if you remember Magic Leap’s extremely prominent early whale imagery. Magic Leap has been embroiled in a surprising number of lawsuits, including an extortion case, a sex discrimination case, and a different trade secrets fight. These haven’t had clear implications for a competing product, though. Nreal’s glasses have been promoted by Qualcomm, and they’re supposed to be on the cusp of a release. If Magic Leap demands substantial financial damages or an injunction on selling the headsets, that could throw a wrench in those plans. Magic Leap v. Nreal by Adi Robertson on Scribd
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The Verge
Top Democrat calls for Facebook to halt cryptocurrency plans until Congress investigates
Hours after Facebook announced its plans for a global cryptocurrency project, a top House Democrat is calling for Facebook to halt its plans until Congress and regulators have had a chance to investigate potential risks. “With the announcement that it plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users,” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said in a statement. “Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues and take action.” Waters’s comments came shortly after... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Google will cite where its song lyrics come from following Genius dispute
Google today responded to an ongoing controversy involving lyrics provider and annotator Genius Media, which has accused Google of copying its song lyrics and reposting them as part of a feature in its search engine. Now, Google is claiming it receives all of its song lyrics through third-party providers, and its asked the provider in question, LyricFind, to “investigate the issue to ensure that they’re following industry best practices in their approach.” Google says it will also now publicly cite the lyrics provider it’s using when it surfaces song lyrics in search results. The dispute stems from a practice Genius began around 2016 to find out which lyric providers may be copying its song lyrics without credit. Genius first establishes contracts with music publishers to repost song lyrics on its website, because song lyrics are copyrighted property and cannot be reposted without paying songwriters. The company then makes money by providing its lyrics and annotations of the lyrics — to explain backstories, context, and hidden meanings — to companies like Spotify. Google is caught in the middle of a song lyric dispute Genius theorized that other companies were copying its lyrics, so it began watermarking them by using a special formatting sequence for apostrophes. The company claims that Google, in posting lyrics of its own right in search results, is cutting into its ad business, and it came forward with proof it provided to The Wall Street Journal. “We noticed that Google’s lyrics matched our lyrics down to the character,” Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, told the WSJ. LyricFind, which Google entered into partnership with in 2016 to source lyrics for search results, claims it does not take lyrics from Genius, but instead pays music publishers for rights to use the lyrics and creates its own database that it checks against other lyrics sites. So LyricFind may have unknowingly used Genius lyrics, but it’s not saying it did so on purpose. Whatever the truth of the situation, Google is essentially saying it has nothing to do with the alleged theft. So if any lyric providers in the future take issue with song data providing in search results, Google is going to point them in the direction the company it sources those lyrics from.
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The Verge
T-Mobile and Sprint are reportedly nearing a deal with Dish to save their merger
Dish is negotiating a deal to buy wireless spectrum and Boost Mobile from T-Mobile and Sprint, as the latter two companies look to finally receive approval for their huge, industry-reshaping merger. According to Bloomberg, Dish has emerged as the company most likely to purchase the assets that T-Mobile and Sprint are currently trying to offload in a bid to assuage the Justice Department’s concerns with the merger. The satellite TV provider is reportedly willing to pay “at least” $6 billion for the spectrum and Boost Mobile, which is Sprint’s prepaid brand. An agreement could be announced as soon as this week. The Justice Department is coming very close to giving the T-Mobile / Sprint deal a thumbs up, per Bloomberg. That might also happen sometime this week. The DoJ’s antitrust division has pressured both carriers to sell enough assets to allow for a new, nationwide carrier to take Sprint’s place as the fourth major US player. Dish already possesses a large heap of valuable spectrum that it has not (yet) put to use. But the satellite TV provider must start building out an actual network if it wants to hit a March 2020 federal deadline that’s in place for those spectrum licenses. Adding assets from T-Mobile and Sprint to that stockpile would put Dish in a strong position. Dish already controls a lot of valuable spectrum it’s not using Charter and Altice USA were also “on a shortlist of bidders for T-Mobile and Sprint assets favored by the Justice Department,” according to Bloomberg, but Dish seems to be leading the fray. The DoJ’s likely approval of the $26.5 billion merger shows that T-Mobile and Sprint have managed quite a turnaround with Makan Delrahim, who oversees the antitrust division. As recently as late May, it was rumored that the Justice Department was leaning towards trying to block the deal — even after FCC chairman Ajit Pai publicly declared he would vote in favor of it. Last week, perhaps to get out ahead of a DoJ approval, several US attorneys general announced that they would sue to prevent the merger from going through. But the Justice Department giving T-Mobile and Sprint a thumbs up would likely complicate that court battle — especially if the two companies can say they’re shedding significant assets to get the deal done. From the very beginning last April, T-Mobile and Sprint have insisted that their coming together is necessary to build a more formidable competitor to Verizon and AT&T. The two companies also say the merger is critical for an accelerated 5G buildout across the United States; they agreed to 5G expansion targets in order to get the FCC’s blessing. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has repeatedly vowed that the combined company will not raise prices on customer data plans for at least three years.
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The Verge
Sex toy company sues MTA over rejected ads
Dame is suing New York’s public transit agency for refusing to run subway ads for its women-focused sex toys. The lawsuit, filed today, points out that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has regularly approved ads focused on sexuality in recent years, including erectile disfunction drug ads from Hims and Roman, posters for the Museum of Sex, promotion of PrEP and condoms from the New York City Health Department, and more. Dame says the rejection of its sex toy ads is rooted in sexism and is a result of the MTA’s “squeamishness about openly acknowledging female sexual pleasure.” Sex toy companies have continued to encounter promotional blockades that other companies in the sexual wellness field don’t face. They’re often limited in where they can run ads online (Facebook bans then, while other ad platforms restrict images), and payment processors may be unwilling to handle transactions, for fear that it’ll look bad for their brand. Women-focused sex toy companies often have it worse. Earlier this year, the largely women-run sex toy company Lora DiCarlo had an award stripped away by the Consumer Technology Association and was banned from presenting at the Consumer Electronics Show, even while a small number of other sex-focused companies made it onto the floor. Following widespread backlash, the CTA reinstated Lora DiCarlo’s award months later and said it would revisit policies around sex toys. A selection of rejected Dame ads. The company revised them to remove train references in an attempt to get approval. Due to their inability to promote themselves through traditional routes, Lora DiCarlo and Dame have turned their rejections into their own kind of promotional campaigns. Dame’s lawsuit even reads like a story meant to be shared and digested, rather than a terse legal document meant to rapidly resolve a pressing violation of law. Dame has experienced rejection for its products before. The company launched its first product with a crowdfunding campaign, but it couldn’t use Kickstarter because the platform banned sex toys at the time. It went to Indiegogo instead and raised more than $575,000. When Kickstarter eventually lifted its ban, Dame launched the platform’s first sex toy campaign, raising close to $400,000. Dame says the MTA’s rejection of its ads “reflects its Victorian view of sexuality and disproportionately harms women.” The lawsuit speaks to the distinction between approved ads, which might enable women’s sexuality through drugs that increase libido, and its own rejected ads, which emphasize achieving pleasure through sexual activity. Dame says the MTA’s action constitute censorship under the First Amendment, because the MTA is a public agency. The rejected ads included photos of sex toys along with a number of cheeky slogans, like “You come first,” “some riders need extra help getting off,” and “only 4 percent of female riders can get off trains that just stay in tunnels.” The MTA rejected the ads, saying that spots for sexually oriented businesses have “long been prohibited by the MTA’s advertising standards.” We’ve reached out to the MTA for comment. With 5.6 million riders every weekday, New York’s subway is a prime place for a company to introduce itself to potential customers. It frequently features ads from hip direct-to-consumer companies like Away, Quip, and Brooklinen, and it’s been sued many times before over its rejection of ads. The agency came under criticism a few years ago for rejecting ads from Thinx, which promoted underwear designed to be “period proof.” The rejection was widely covered, and the MTA later reversed course.
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The Verge
Super Mario makes for a shockingly good battle royale game
Battle royale has come for Mario. The winner-takes-all genre, popularized by the likes of Fortnite and PUBG, is now also a free web game starring Nintendo’s famous plumber. The aptly titled Mario Royale has a pretty simple premise: 75 people, all playing as Mario, try to make their way to the end of a classic Super Mario Bros. stage at the same time. It sounds easy, but since everyone looks identical, it’s incredibly chaotic, and you’ll likely find yourself dying because you mixed up which squat plumber you were controller. Still, as a proof of concept, it’s a clever idea, especially following the likes of Tetris 99. An important caveat, of course, is that this isn’t an official Nintendo game, so it’s unlikely to stay online for long. If you want to give it a play, do it now: the game is available right here. It might not last long, but it’s sure to give would-be game designers some great ideas for Super Mario Maker 2 on the Switch, which launches next week.
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The Verge
Top Democrat calls for strict oversight on Facebook’s new cryptocurrency
The top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee blasted Facebook’s Tuesday announcement that it would be launching a new cryptocurrency. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) warned the company that any new plans should be subject to strict oversight. “Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy,” Brown said. “We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight. I’m calling on our financial watchdogs to scrutinize this closely to ensure users are protected.” Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy. We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight. https://t.co/IjZOFNai3r— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) June 18, 2019 Brown’s comments follow a highly anticipated announcement from Facebook Tuesday morning that it would be releasing a global cryptocurrency next year called Libra. Libra is backed by a number of large corporate financial and technology companies from Mastercard and Visa to Uber, Lyft, and PayPal. Facebook’s Libra launch could force the federal government to think through how to regulate crypto and blockchain technologies. As of yet, Congress and the federal government have done little except hold educational hearings from experts on the topic. Last October, Chairman of the Banking Committee Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said at a hearing focused on the crypto ecosystem, “In order to move forward in a productive way and give these innovations the room to flourish and develop in a safe and sound way, we need to sort through the static and better understand what exactly are the opportunities and challenges facing this ecosystem.”
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The Verge
EA thinks gaming subscriptions will lead to weirder, more creative games
Nearly every video game publisher wanted to talk about subscription services last week at E3, but some top executives know some will inevitably fail. In an attempt to stand out, however, more game publishers may rely on developers to make innovative, experimental games designed for these services. Mike Blank, EA’s senior vice president of player networks and the man who oversees the game publisher’s subscription service, is one of those executives thinking about the industry’s pivot. EA’s premium subscription service, Origin Access Premier, is one of the more established platforms in the space. Akin to Netflix or Hulu, Origin Access Premier collects a bunch of games from EA and third-party developers the publisher works with, and offers them to players for $14.99 per month. At $15 a month, Origin Access Premier is more than a Netflix or Hulu subscription, but it’s on par with other subscription services entering the gaming sphere. Ubisoft’s new subscription games service, set to launch in September, will also cost $14.99 a month, as does Microsoft’s new Game Pass Ultimate. Then there are individual subscriptions for specific games, like World of Warcraft from Blizzard, that complicate the space further. It’s overwhelming — and while Blank thinks having a space that’s “ripe for innovation and experimentation” is a good thing, some of the offerings will inevitably fail. Most companies are only beginning to announce and launch their offerings. That buys publishers some time to try to figure out the space, but as the entire industry seems to pivot toward subscription offerings, it will eventually become oversaturated. “There aren’t 50 gaming subscriptions in the market right now,” Blank told The Verge. “If we do reach that point, I do think people will have to choose. That means some of us will succeed, and some of us will not.” “That means some of us will succeed, and some of us will not.” Blank isn’t the only one who feels that way; Xbox executive Phil Spencer told The Vergelast weekthat he doesn’t “think we’re going to end up with 100 successful subscriptions out there.” Publishers and platforms are fighting for a piece of consumers’ monthly entertainment budget. It’s a facet of the industry’s imminent future that both Spencer and Blank are astutely aware of, but consider themselves in good places. “When I first started at EA and tried to convince the company to take on subscription, there was trepidation, there was some anxiety,” Blank said, adding that there was an internal push within the company about five years ago to try to adopt a streaming strategy. “Our view of the world is that the migration happening toward subscription based services and this is happening everywhere. This has preceded us in every industry.” The gaming industry is still figuring out what makes the most sense for players. What Blank and his team at EA recognized about five years ago was the shift in relationship between people playing games and the companies supplying titles. It’s something that he refers to as a “mutual relationship.” People want to get the most value out of their dollar, and subscription services offer players with the option to play top-tier new releases, but also sort through an assortment of back catalogue titles they can try out for the first time or return to. EA’s big advantage in a quickly crowding space is being far ahead of the competition in collecting data about what players want and don’t want out of a subscription service. The company says it has learned that subscribers need access to new games that people are talking about, but that players will also try or revisit older games simply because they’re available. This allows EA and the company’s various development studios to take a chance on titles that otherwise may have been considered too experimental for a retail release. (EA already runs its own indie publishing label, EA Originals, which announced a trio of new titles last week.) “Those [services] that they do not engage with, they just won’t continue.” It’s the Netflix strategy — and that’s an aspect of gaming’s move into subscriptions that Blank is most excited about. People are “playing more games than ever before because those games are there to try and they’re there for free,” he says. Instead of having to create games that need to sell in large quantities — blockbusters like Red Dead Redemption 2 need to sell millions just to break even — having a constant, built-in revenue from subscription fees allows developers and publishers to take more creative risks. It’s why for every season of Stranger Things, Netflix has a couple of offbeat TV shows and movies. The same thing could eventually be true for games. “The value of a subscription is ultimately, from a business standpoint, how much do players engage with the subscription,” Blank said. “If you can provide them with new and different experiences they might stay for longer. I think we will build new and different games that will fit within the subscription itself.” Keeping players happy and engaged with the subscription itself will be what decides whether a platform succeeds or fails, according to Blank. Ubisoft, EA, Microsoft, and any other publishers looking to get into the space will have to figure that component out as they fight for customers’ limited time and budget. “Those [services] that they do not engage with, they just won’t continue,” Blank said. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. Consumers will have to be discerning about where they decided to spend their money. They’re going to have multiple subscriptions from multiple industries, and they’ll choose the ones that are most meaningful to their lives.” Blank is confident that Origin Access Premier is one of those services. But so is Spencer about Game Pass. As is Brenda Panagrossi, vice president of platform and product management at Ubisoft. Much like the streaming wars happening between traditional entertainment companies entering the fold, we’ll have to wait to see which subscription services come out on top.
The Verge
Commercial space companies have received $7.2 billion in government investment since 2000
Early investments from a government agency, like NASA or the Air Force, can be a crucial step in the evolution of commercial space companies from scrappy startups to successful businesses. That’s according to a new report from Space Angels, an investment firm focused on the space industry, which quantified how much money government agencies have invested in private aerospace firms over the last 18 years. The analysis reveals just how important a role the government still plays in the private space industry. It found that early public investment can sometimes be the difference between life and death for a company. “I think it’s really important for people to recognize that it isn’t just the private sector deciding to do something,” Chad Anderson, CEO of Space Angels, tells The Verge. “The government has played a key role in the development of entrepreneurial space companies.” “The government has played a key role in the development of entrepreneurial space companies.” Space Angels made the report at the request of NASA, as the agency wanted to know just how its investments over the last couple of decades have affected the private sector. Ultimately, Space Angels found that 67 space companies received a total of $7.2 billion in investments from the government between 2000 and 2018. And about 93 percent of that investment went into companies dedicated to launching rockets. “It’s no surprise,” says Anderson. “Government funding has been directed at reducing the barriers to entry, and the biggest barrier in the beginning is launch.” The report highlights SpaceX as a prime example of how early government investment contributed to the success of a company. During its first decade of operation, SpaceX operated off of $1 billion, and about half of that money came from government contracts from NASA, according to the Space Angels report. Musk notably thanked NASA for the agency’s support after SpaceX launched its very first Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station in 2012. “They didn’t do this alone,” says Anderson. “They couldn’t have done it without the help of NASA.” The total value of U.S. public funding received by entrepreneurial space companies from 2000 through 2018 was $7.2B across 67 companies. Check out our new report on government support on the space economy: https://t.co/Qz3nd1BSk4 @SpaceX @Vector @Astrobotic @MadeInSpace pic.twitter.com/D6Bbf038EV— Space Angels (@SpaceAngels) June 17, 2019 There are also many space companies that haven’t received public investment yet. Space Angels estimates there are 375 companies within the private space industry, which have received a combined $19 billion in private funding since 2009. And there are at least 123 companies that have registered for a DUNS number — a requirement for getting public funding — but have yet to get government investment. Anderson notes that there are downsides to working with the government, which is why some may not pursue such partnerships. Among other issues, DOD or NASA requirements might be too cumbersome for a small company, or the goals of government programs could take resources away from a startup’s focus. However, the report focuses on many of the government investment programs that have worked the best, such as NASA and the Department of Defense’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) initiatives. Both SBIR and STTR have given money to small entrepreneurial companies in their earliest stages and as a result, these businesses have attracted additional private investment. “This is helping us steer us towards program and funding mechanisms that really work,” says Anderson. “So let’s use this data to help influence policy and help influence funding decisions at NASA.” “This is helping us steer us towards program and funding mechanisms that really work.” Anderson argues that since most NASA and DOD investments have gone to launch-focused companies up until now, it may be time for these agencies to branch out more into other areas of space business. He notes that we are seeing some of that with NASA’s CLPS program, which just awarded contracts to three private space companies building robotic spacecraft that can take instruments to the surface of the Moon. Anderson argues that this is a prime example of how the government can jump-start new models of business that don’t have a very clear way of making money yet. “The government plays a larger role in new markets where there’s not as much economic incentive,” says Anderson. “And then once that economic incentive starts to develop, that’s when the private sector can come in and take over.” But ultimately, Space Angels makes the case that if you’re going to work in space, you’re going to cross paths with the public sector at some point. So getting investment from the government may be in a company’s best interest. “You can’t do business in space without the government,” says Anderson. “They’re involved in some way or another.”
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Pandora is being sued for showing Tom Petty song lyrics
Music publishing company Wixen has sued Pandora for displaying lyrics from Wixen artists — who include Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, and Weezer. Wixen’s suit claims that the internet radio service knowingly used the lyrics “without any valid license or authorization.” It’s the second major lawsuit that Wixen has recently filed against a streaming music company, following a now-settled $1.6 billion lawsuit against Spotify. As explained on its website, Pandora shows lyrics beneath some songs on both mobile and desktop. It’s done so since 2009, partnering with licensing companies like LyricFind for the rights. But Wixen says those rights didn’t include its clients’ work. It alleges that Pandora knew about this, in part because Wixen apparently notified the company in early 2018. While the complaint states that Pandora did take some of the lyrics down last month, it calls the delay a sign of “willful and deliberate” copyright infringement. Short Skirt / unauthorized lyrics reproduction Wixen previously sued Spotify over the complicated issue of “mechanical licenses,” based on a convoluted legal framework that’s since been changed. But lyrics licensing is a separate issue. The Pandora suit claims infringement over roughly 100 songs, including Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” and Tom Petty’s “It’s Good to be King” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” If Wixen prevails in this suit, the company could seek damages of up to $150,000 per song. Pandora’s parent company Sirius XM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. LyricFind, which is not a party to the lawsuit, also didn’t immediately confirm the songs’ licensing status. Lyric sites like Genius have skirmished with publishers over the past several years; Genius suggested that the reprints could be defended as fair use but ultimately struck deals with record labels. In turn, Genius recently accused Google of “stealing” its lyrics, based on a watermarking pattern that spelled out “red handed” in Morse code. It’s not clear that this actually matters legally, however, since both sites pay licensing fees and neither owns the song rights. By contrast, this allegation against Pandora — that it simply doesn’t have a licensing deal with Wixen — is a more straightforward copyright infringement question. Wixen v. Pandora by Adi Robertson on Scribd
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Bernie Sanders applauds the gaming industry’s push for unionization
For the past few years, game developers have increasingly sought to unionize amid growing concerns over layoffs and burnout in the industry — and, today, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders applauded their efforts. “The video game industry made $43 billion in revenue last year. The workers responsible for that profit deserve to collectively bargain as part of a union,” Sanders said in a tweet. “I’m glad to see unions like @IATSE and the broader @GameWorkers movement organizing such workers.” “The workers responsible for that profit deserve to collectively bargain as part of a union” The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which works to organize creatives, responded to Sanders saying, “Too often, workers in the entertainment industry are underpaid and overworked because they are so passionate about their crafts. By joining together and negotiating as a group, we can make our workplaces better.” It’s been a turbulent few years in the gaming industry with hundreds of employees being laid off from giant studios like Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard, despite some companies citing “record results” in their earnings reports. At Riot Games, which develops titles like League of Legends, more than 150 employees staged a walkout to protest policies on forced arbitration, something we’ve seen in other tech-related industries and companies like Google. On Monday, Take-Two chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick responded to the growing support in the industry for unionization in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz. “There are 220,000 or so people employed in the US video game business,” Zelnick said. “They make about $100,000 on average, maybe more. It’s hard to imagine what would motivate that crew to unionize.” Lawmakers often get heated over debunked claims that video games inspire children to become violent, but have yet to really cause a stir as it relates to labor policy in the industry. Over the past few weeks, Sanders has been occasionally praising other labor movements and unionization efforts on Twitter, making it a central theme of his 2020 presidential campaign. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have cited the industry’s record profits when criticizing other behaviors, including the use of loot boxes. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), along with two of his Democratic colleagues, introduced a bill last month called the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act that would ban the sale of loot boxes to children.
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European regulators are already pressing Facebook about its cryptocurrency
As Facebook unveiled its cryptocurrency project today, European officials quickly called for scrutiny of the plan, raising concerns over whether the project was sufficiently regulated. According to comments reported by Bloomberg, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Facebook’s cryptocurrency, called Libra, must not “become a sovereign currency.” Must not “become a sovereign currency” “It can’t and it must not happen,” he told Europe 1 radio. Le Maire reportedly called for G7 banking officials to issue a report on Facebook’s plan next month. A German member of the European Parliament expressed similar concerns, according to Bloomberg, saying Facebook was at risk of becoming a “shadow bank” and that companies “must not be allowed to operate in a regulatory nirvana when introducing virtual currencies.” Facebook is positioning Libra as a financial system closely tied to the company’s services, including WhatsApp and Messenger. A nonprofit has been set up to oversee Libra, which Facebook says will launch in 2020. Several big names in tech and banking have also signed on to the project, including Mastercard, Visa, Spotify, Uber, and Lyft. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The social network has faced intense scrutiny around the world over its privacy practices, especially in Europe, where regulators have taken a tough stance toward the tech industry. The creation of an alternative digital currency will likely raise new concerns for governments, as Facebook moves to convince its billions of users to adopt Libra.
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The Fujifilm X-T2 mirrorless camera body is cheaper than ever
Fujifilm’s X-T2 mirrorless camera body is $799 at B&H Photo and Amazon as the company (most likely) clears out its remaining stock of the 2016 model. The X-T2 regularly sold for $1,599 sans lens, though in months past, it briefly found its way down to around $900. Now that it’s selling for $799, and likely to remain at that price until stock runs out, this might be a good time to consider it. The Verge’s Chris Welch reviewed the X-T2 when it was first released, and though it has likely seen the last of its firmware updates and favor has shifted to Fujifilm’s newer X-T3, this is still a great camera that’s easy to use, featuring buttons and dials that ensure expert control over your images. Note: This price is for the body only. You’ll need to buy a lens, but with the money you save on this model, that should be a little easier to manage. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge The latest iPad Air tablet is $30 off at Amazon, bringing its cost down to $469. This is not a huge discount, though it’s the best that we’ve seen yet on the resurrected Air line-up. This is a good tablet to consider if you want some of the iPad Pro’s best features, like the Smart Connector and the True Tone display that lets you adjust the screen’s color temperature, without paying hundreds more. As long as you’re buying this specific iPad model, the Smart Keyboard is $79.50 at Amazon, about half off of its original $150 price. Originally made for the previous generation iPad Pro, the keyboard works perfectly with the new iPad Air, which also has a 10.5-inch screen and Smart Connector. Lastly, Best Buy is discounting SanDisk’s fast 128GB Extreme Plus microSD card to $29.99, beating Amazon’s $39.99 price. Compared to cheaper microSDs, the Extreme Plus is UHS Speed Class 3 and Application Performance Class 2; according to the SD Association, those factors put it above several other products on the market. However, the difference may not mean much unless you plan to use it to record or watch 4K video, or to play video games.
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PowerPoint will listen to rehearsals to help you stop swearing and stuttering
Microsoft is adding an artificial intelligence-powered assistant to PowerPoint, to help improve people’s presentations. The new feature, dubbed Presenter Coach, will appear during a rehearsal mode for PowerPoint slides and offer feedback on your presentation skills by listening to audio from your computer’s microphone. Presenter Coach will pop up with tips about pacing and filler words so you’re not muttering or stuttering through a presentation, and also help presenters be more inclusive with their language, with suggestions like police officer instead of policeman. If you swear during a presentation it will suggest that you don’t use profanity, and it will even highlight culturally insensitive phrases or alert you if you’re just lazily reading off the slides. PowerPoint will then generate a report with metrics about how well you’ve done in your rehearsal. Microsoft says it’s adding this feature because it has “received feedback from educators, students, and customers that people want an easy way to practice their presentations to improve their public speaking abilities.” Presentations are already nerve-wracking for many as it is, but this new Presenter Coach will only appear during a rehearsal mode. That means you won’t get any additional anxiety from pop-ups giving you tips on your public speaking skills during a real PowerPoint presentation. Microsoft is planning to add this new feature to PowerPoint on the web initially this summer, with it eventually making its way to PowerPoint on mobile and desktop at a later date. Alongside Presenter Coach, Microsoft is also improving its designer tool that makes your presentations way less boring. Designer will now suggest themes for blank PowerPoint presentations, and it will even integrate with a company’s existing branded templates. Microsoft is also leveraging a Perspective Engine from Microsoft Research that will detect large numbers in slides like 652,232 km² and break them down into “about equal to the size of Texas” to make them far more understandable.
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YouTuber Simone Giertz transformed a Tesla Model 3 into a pickup truck
Simone Giertz was tired of waiting for Elon Musk to unveil his new Tesla pickup truck, so she decided to make one herself. The popular YouTuber and self-described “queen of shitty robots” transformed a Model 3 into an honest-to-god pickup truck, which she dubs “Truckla” — and naturally you can watch all the cutting and welding (and cursing) on her YouTube channel. There’s even a fake truck commercial to go along with it. Giertz spent over a year planning and designing before launching into the arduous task of turning her Model 3 into a pickup truck. And she recruited a ragtag team of mechanics and DIY car modifiers to tackle the project: Marcos Ramirez, a Bay Area maker, mechanic and artist; Boston-based Richard Benoit, whose YouTube channel Rich Rebuilds is largely dedicated to the modification of pre-owned Tesla models; and German designer and YouTuber Laura Kampf. The final results are pretty impressive The final results are pretty impressive, and while it probably won’t look anything like the “futuristic-like cyberpunk, Blade Runner pickup truck” that Musk says he plans to release later this year, it really stands on its own as a dirt-kicking, rugged, all-electric pickup truck that still has that certain Tesla panache. “My goal is to never own a gas car,” Giertz said. “I’m a part of a new generation of drivers that will only drive electric. I feel like I should pad this a little bit, but I’m not going to. Fuck oil companies. Seriously, fuck them.” Musk has been hyping the Tesla pickup truck for several years now, calling it his favorite vehicle in Tesla’s lineup yet and promising it won’t look anything like other trucks on the market. “It’s going to be a truck that is more capable than other trucks,” Musk said in a recent podcast interview. “The goal is to be a better truck than a [Ford] F-150 in terms of truck-like functionality and be a better sports car than a standard [Porsche] 911. That’s the aspiration.” Giertz’s truck looks exactly like what it is: a Model 3 with the top part of the back half removed. As such, it blurs the line between sedan and pickup, which used to be a popular design style in the 1970s and 80s, until consumers decided that bigger is better. Think Chevy El Camino, or Ford Ranchero. But Giertz smartly added some standard truck accoutrements, like a lumber rack with Hella lights attached to the front, so that it wouldn’t look out of place among the Rams and Silverados of the world. Think Chevy El Camino or Ford Ranchero It wasn’t a project without its obstacles. After stripping the backseat and the trunk of its many parts, the Model 3 refused to start. Ramirez explained that the car was reporting “all of its many faults” to Tesla headquarters via cell connection, or essentially “snitching” on the YouTubers who were trying to modify it. They also ran into problems after cutting through the first beam when the metal started to buckle slightly. Luckily they were able to reinforce the steel and keep going. There have been a bunch of Tesla modifications over the years, and YouTube is brimming with a variety of DIY upgrades big and small. But Giertz’s Tesla pickup truck project certainly ranks among the most ambitious. Giertz, who has 1.6 million subscribers on YouTube, is mostly known for her lineup of incredibly dumb and often hilarious robots that spill milk, brush your teeth, and slap you in the face. With Truckla, she is entering a whole new world of DIY, Pimp My Ride-style car customization that has its own legion of fans. She is also stepping into a mine field by producing a Tesla pickup truck before the company itself. Musk’s company, and Musk himself, has an army of die-hard followers who have been known to leap to their idol’s defense at the slightest provocation. But Giertz makes it clear that she isn’t out to subvert Musk, but celebrate his products. Still, she describes Truckla as either “the smartest or the most stupid thing I’m ever going to do.” “I really hope that people don’t just think of this as an obnoxious YouTuber cutting up a brand new car” Giertz said. “This process has destructive steps but the end goal is constructive. And I’m doing it because I really, really want this car. This is truly my dream car.”
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The science behind those viral videos of freezing soap bubbles
It took a YouTube video, a walk-in freezer kept at negative 20 degrees Celsius, and some very cold-tolerant engineering students for researchers to finally figure out why freezing soap bubbles resemble glitter in a snow globe. The trick itself is a popular winter science experiment when temperatures dip below freezing: head outside, blow a soap bubble, gently plop it onto some snow or ice, and watch as crystals dance around on the film until the entire thing is a delicate ice ball. It’s visually stunning — but until very recently, people didn’t know exactly why bubbles freeze in this particular, mesmerizing way. Normally, when a drop of water or a puddle freezes, it starts solidifying into ice at the coldest spot, where it comes in contact with other snow or ice. Fresh ice freezes the neighboring water, creating a nice orderly progression across the puddle called a freeze front. But when you freeze a bubble in a frigid room, all that order quickly goes out the window. It starts growing normally, freezing from the bottom, where it touches the ice, up toward the top, but then, suddenly, hundreds of freeze fronts appear on the bubble’s surface. “It kind of looks like the swirling crystals you’d see in a toy snow globe. That’s why we call it a snow globe effect,” says Jonathan Boreyko, the co-author of a new article about the snow globe effect, just published in the journal Nature Communications. Farzad Ahmadi and Christian Kingett Boreyko, a mechanical engineer, leads a lab at Virginia Tech that focuses on how fluids behave — including how puddles and droplets freeze. When some of his grad students wanted to know if they could look into why bubbles in popular YouTube videos froze in those distinct patterns, he was excited. “I think this is the first time in my life I can say that my paper was inspired by YouTube” Boreyko says. For years, graduate student Farzad Ahmadi and undergraduate Christian Kingett would periodically bundle up in jackets and borrow a neighboring lab’s walk-in freezer — chilled to negative 20 degrees Celsius (negative four degrees Fahrenheit) — to carefully deposit soap bubbles onto ice using pipettes. As a result of all that cold labor, they found that the snow globe effect was driven by something called a Marangoni flow. “That’s just fancy talk for basically, fluids flow from hot to cold at an interface,” Boreyko says. As the bubbles froze in the freezer, the still-liquid part of the bubble kept moving, ripping ice crystals off the growing freeze front and tossing them around. Those ice crystals each created their own freeze front, making the bubble’s surface solidify faster. But in a freezer where everything is the same temperature, how were parts of the bubble heating up enough to create the flow? “It turns out the answer is in the freezing itself,” Boreyko says. “Its very counterintuitive to people not in the field, but when you freeze water it actually warms it up.” That tiny bit of heat (usually just a few degrees) is enough to start the soap moving up toward the top of the bubble, where the freezer is still keeping it cold. After the grad students thawed out a bit, they tried the same experiment at room temperature, again blowing bubbles onto a block of ice. The results were wildly different, as you can see in this video: Instead of freezing entirely, halfway up the bubble the freeze front just... stops. The warmer air in the room keeps the bubble in a weird purgatory until air starts slowly seeping out of tiny holes in the frozen half of the bubble. The holes are so small, that Boreyko says it took several minutes for some of the half-frozen bubbles to collapse fully. Both experiments have wild-looking results, and if you live in a cold climate, you might get the chance to try the experiments for yourself this winter. All you need is some soap solution, a cold surface (like snow), and a day where the air is below freezing. “It’s pretty easy for people to do and that’s part of why I wanted to do this,” Boreyko says. “Anybody can see the effects themselves, and this can inform the why behind the beauty they’re seeing, if they are interested in learning more about it.”
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Google Calendar is down in outage affecting users worldwide
Google Calendar is down for users around the world. Currently, trying to access the calendar generates a 404 error message through a browser. When contacted for comment, a spokesperson from Google pointed us toward the service’s dashboard, which contains a message from Google posted at 10:22AM ET confirming that users are unable to access Google Calendar. “We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Calendar,” the message reads. “We will provide more information shortly.” Google’s message categorizes the issue as a “Service disruption” rather than a “Service outage.” As of this writing, other Google services such as Gmail and Google Maps appear to be unaffected. Developing...
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Panasonic Lumix S1 review: the mirrorless heavyweight
Big on both price and performance I was at Photokina in Cologne last fall when Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma held a joint press conference to announce their L-Mount Alliance. Uniting around Leica’s existing lens mount, the trio made a commitment to rapidly flesh out a new ecosystem of lenses for full-frame mirrorless cameras. On that same day, Panasonic also announced its first cameras for the category, the Lumix S1 and the higher-resolution Lumix S1R, both of which stood to benefit from the lens-making muscle of the new alliance. Thus, instead of confronting doubts about its lateness to the full-frame mirrorless world relative to rivals like Sony and Nikon, Panasonic made its debut with the promise of having three times as many dedicated lens makers for its system. I’ve been testing the 24-megapixel Lumix S1, paired with Panasonic’s versatile 24-105mm F/4 L-Mount lens, for a few weeks. That kit costs an eye-watering $3,400, and has the weight and size of a classic DSLR pro shooter. So we can immediately dispense with the notion of it being a hobby camera for all but the burliest and wealthiest of photography enthusiasts. Some might even question why a mirrorless camera (a category which has always been about shrinking dimensions and heft) of such mighty stature would be appealing, and this review is going to serve as my answer to that reasonable query. After my time using the Lumix S1 to shoot the OnePlus 7 launch event in London, along with a couple of headphones, I’m professionally smitten with this unashamedly pro camera. Two big things justify the Lumix S1’s size for me. First is the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) that Panasonic provides. This physically shifts the sensor inside the camera in order to counteract unsteadiness from the photographer’s hands. The larger the sensor, the more powerful the motors required to move it, and at this full-frame size, IBIS is a non-trivial matter. Nikon’s Z6 and Z7 and Sony’s A7 III have it, for instance, while Canon’s EOS R does not. Panasonic is well known for having excellent IBIS in its Micro Four Thirds cameras, which are hugely popular for high-quality video, and that remains true in the Lumix S1. The 24-105mm lens also has optical image stabilization (OIS), which works in sync with the in-body sensor shifting to give me two different safety valves when shooting in suboptimal conditions. Panasonic's optical and in-body image stabilisation at work. All the gyrations are to offset hand shake from the photographer. pic.twitter.com/XMmjRFvehY— Vlad Savov (@vladsavov) June 18, 2019 You can get away with a smaller body and smaller lenses if you skipped IS, but I’ve done that with DSLRs in the past and find it a bad compromise. If you’re already carrying a dedicated camera with you, don’t you want to make the most of it? The increase in weight and size with the Lumix S1 is incremental, whereas the broader flexibility that its stabilization provides makes the difference between being able to capture an event while shooting handheld and not. At the OnePlus event, I was able to comfortably slow my shutter speed down to capture darker scenes without going overboard with the ISO. The other big plus for me with the S1’s design is the weather sealing and general ruggedness of its materials. Granted, this is not a feature unique to Panasonic, as most pro cameras are built to endure, but the Lumix S1 feels rigid, dense, and resilient in a way that really reassures me about its long-term durability. Every button, dial, and physical toggle seems made to last multiple lifetimes. I’d expect as much from a pricey piece of equipment, and Panasonic delivers. The company’s also initiated a Lumix Pro membership scheme, which leverages its global supply and repair network to get you priority turnaround times on servicing, loan gear when necessary, and maintenance wherever you are. This, in combination with the promise of Sigma and Leica’s aid in expanding the range of L-Mount lenses, should help nudge a lot of otherwise circumspect professionals toward giving Panasonic’s full-frame system a chance. My approach to pro photography is an unashamedly lazy one. If I can shoot an entire car show with just a Pixel, I definitely will, and most of my photography nowadays is done on smartphones, simply because they’ve become good enough. I feel acknowledged by Panasonic’s touchscreen inclusion on the S1, which functions exactly as the one on my smartphone. A very serious pro camera that’s nevertheless forgiving to neophyte users When composing a shot, I can tap on my desired focus point, and, when reviewing pics, I can swipe between them and double-tap or pinch to zoom in and out. At the same time, there’s still a joystick under my right thumb to adjust the focus point mechanically while using the electronic viewfinder. And, of course, I have programmable dials at the front and rear of the right-hand grip. It’s an embrace of the new while retaining what’s good about the old. Another friendly gesture toward the smartphone generation is Panasonic’s embrace of USB-C for both image transfer and charging. The S1 accepts SD and XQD memory cards (I really would’ve preferred two SD slots, as on competitors like Sony’s A7 III), though I rarely had to open its memory compartment, because it transfers data over USB-C. So yes, the 2019 solution to my MacBook’s dearth of input ports is using the camera itself as a card reader. I also had no reason to open the battery compartment, because the S1’s 3,050mAh battery accepts fast charging via USB-C Power Delivery. Panasonic does include a wall charger with the S1, which is to be expected with a camera of this level and price, but not always the case, as we’ve seen with the A7 III. Panasonic loves USB-C almost as much as I do The battery lasts a reassuringly long time. I wasn’t able to use up even half of it on any individual shoot, and I love being able to just top it up with my laptop’s charger. Extra batteries will still be part of the accessory entourage for photographers in more demanding circumstances, but this move toward USB-C really helps streamline things for people like me. On most occasions that I might want to use the Lumix S1, I could happily just throw the camera into my backpack and not worry about carrying its battery charger or some other proprietary bit of equipment. The word that keeps coming to my mind when thinking about the Lumix S1 is “forgiving.” Its IBIS plus OIS combo gives me leeway for sloppy handling or slower shutter speeds, while its fast, accurate, and readily legible touchscreen and EVF — augmented with a fluidly animated horizon line — also help ensure painless image capture. And its construction gives me confidence that it’ll survive the bustle of a busy trade show while slung around my neck (even if said neck might end up sore from the camera’s considerable weight). I can no longer justify the inconvenience of carrying a camera with just an APS-C-sized sensor inside it. Smartphone cameras have become good enough for almost all my personal and professional needs, especially over the past year with Google’s Night Sight and Huawei’s unbelievable P30 Pro low-light and zoom heroics. If I’m going to deal with the burden of a dedicated camera, I want the full-fat bokeh, infinite resolution, and extensive Lightroom pliability that only full-frame sensors can achieve. The Lumix S1 ticks these boxes. When I shoot with it, I’m reminded of Hasselblad’s extraordinary X1D rather than anything even close to a pocketable camera. In simple terms, it performs like the big and brawny shooter that it is. Let’s illustrate what I mean about this camera’s forgiveness by taking a poorly captured photo as an example. The ISO 6400 shot below is obviously overexposed, but a quick highlight recovery in Adobe’s Lightroom makes it instantly look usable. A closer crop of the same shot would suggest nothing of my misaligned camera settings. One subtlety that will be hard to perceive here, but is very much present: the Lumix S1 manages to capture the color temperature difference between the bluer black of the background screen and the redder black of OnePlus CEO Pete Lau’s hair. There are also a couple of stray strands of hair that you’ll be able to see if you zoom in really close. What follows is a selection of the dark scenes I was trying to capture with that ISO 6400 in the first place. Yes, there’s detectable graininess when you zoom in close (tap each image to expand it), but it’s well handled by the Lumix S1 and the lasting impression I get is of the fine detail this camera is able to pick up in areas that would otherwise appear to be black. This is the difference that full-frame cameras make, and since most companies are using more or less the same Sony sensors, you’ll find similar excellence across the board with the new breed of mirrorless full-frame shooters. You can start with the 24-105mm and go a very long way before you absolutely must have another lens I’m really impressed with the versatility and consistent sharpness of Panasonic’s 24-105mm lens. It’s supposed to be an all-purpose, do-everything piece of glass, and it really lives up to that. At the OnePlus event, I’d have been better served by Panasonic’s 70-200mm F/4 zoom lens, which also has OIS and carries Leica certification. And for high-end street photography, there’s an F/1.4 50mm prime, also certified by Leica but lacking OIS. Those are just the beginning of Panasonic’s portfolio of L-Mount lenses, but the overriding point is that you can start with the 24-105mm and go a very long way before you absolutely must have another lens. To wrap up, below are a few more examples shot with the Lumix S1. I pretty much never had to adjust or correct the camera’s white balance, and I also found its auto ISO setting, when I wanted the convenience, trustworthy. The speed of operation of this camera is hard to fault, as it can go from off to capturing a pin-sharp image about as fast as I can pull it up to my eyes to compose a shot. The autofocus is fast and reliable, and my only difficulties with the S1 arose from its bulk and unfamiliar ergonomics. If I have to nitpick (and, at this price, I do), I find Nikon and Sony’s placement of the power switch faster to access, and I might have appreciated chunkier buttons on the rear of the S1 for easier operation. You’ll notice that I haven’t addressed the Lumix S1’s video capabilities in this review, and that’s for two reasons. Firstly, it’s because I can’t do that task justice, as I’m not a video pro. But more importantly, Panasonic already commands the respect of most YouTubers and video producers with its smaller-sensor Lumix line, and its Lumix GH5 is widely rated among the best 4K shooters you can buy. The purpose of the full-frame Lumix S line is as simple as it is ambitious: Panasonic wants to assert itself a leader in professional still photography just as it is with prosumer video. On the evidence of the Lumix S1, I think the company has a good shot at earning the credibility it aspires to. And yet, for all the positives I’ve laid out in this review, Panasonic still faces a major hurdle when it comes to price. The Lumix S1 offers comparable strengths and advantages to Sony’s A7 III and Nikon’s Z6, however both of those cameras are hundreds of dollars cheaper, while benefiting, respectively, from Sony’s head start in this category and Nikon’s longstanding reputation as the maker of the most trusted pro cameras, alongside Canon. I’m genuinely tempted by the Lumix S1, and Panasonic has done everything it can to entice and reassure potential customers with its L-Mount Alliance and Lumix Pro support scheme. For its advances in making high-end photography less challenging, the Lumix S1 earns my admiration, though I might wait a while longer to see how the full-frame mirrorless contest shakes out before committing to a particular system. Sample images by Vlad Savov Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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John Wick Hex turns you into a cold, calculated killer
One night, game designer Mike Bithell and a friend went out to see a largely forgettable action movie, and afterwards the conversation shifted to what, exactly, made John Wick so engrossing. Bithell’s friend, Ben Andac, who previously worked as a producer at Sony, then asked Bithell an exciting question: what would he do with the John Wick license? After thinking about it, Bithell realized he’d want to create a strategy game as opposed to a first-person shooter, giving players a chance to occupy Wick’s fast-moving analytical brain. “I thought we were just bullshitting about cinema” says Bithell, whose previous work includes the charming platformer Thomas Was Alone and the stealth strategy game Volume. What the designer didn’t know was that his friend was working with Lionsgate and game publisher Good Shepherd to find an indie developer that would be a good fit for the John Wick license. “They were looking for a collaboration with someone who wouldn’t just give them the easy option,” Bithell explains. Fast forward to 2019, and Bithell and his team are working on exactly that game, now called John Wick Hex. As he had originally envisioned, it transforms the brutal, unrelenting action from the films into something more cerebral. Players control the suit-clad assassin as he makes his way through dark alleys and poorly-lit hotels, which are all filled with gun-toting enemies. It’s not a turn-based game, where you perform an action and then watch as the bad guy does the same. Instead, it’s a game based around time: you plan out your strategy in advance, and then watch as the action unfolds in real time. I had a chance to play through a pair of missions last week at E3, and while it takes a few minutes to understand, from what I played John Wick Hex feels surprisingly true to the movies. At the top of the screen is a timeline, not unlike what you’d see in a video editing program, which shows you not only when your actions will occur, but the enemies’ as well. This lets you see immediately if you’ll have enough time to get a shot off, or if you’ll have to resort to a melee action, which is quicker. The game is filled with these micro-decisions, each of which can be incredibly important; even figuring out which way to roll after you punch a bad guy can determine if you survive the encounter. “It’s built on systems.” Part of the reason that the game feels so authentic, according to Bithell, is that the developers had a lot of access to the John Wick movie team. That includes director Chad Stahelski, as well as the stunt co-ordinators. “A lot of the moves in the game come from being directly in a room with the stunt team,” he says. “You could make a game that was inspired by John Wick without the John Wick name, but having that access, that experience of working with people who actually know what they’re doing, that’s priceless.” In fact, the idea to add a fog of war — a common tool used in games to obscure enemies that aren’t in close range — came directly from Stahelski. Bithell says that it’s been a great help working closely with “people who have been thinking about a lot of the same problems for a long time.” Of course, there are some significant differences between a time-based strategy game and an all-out action movie, so Hex has to do some things differently. For one thing, all of the missions take place in very small, tightly contained areas, and they’re all very linear. Bithell says that this is so that players can focus on deciding what to do as opposed to where to go. “One thing we found while going through the process is John Wick doesn’t make choices based on geography, he makes them based on interactions,” Bithell explains. “He’s not choosing ‘I want to go down this path.’” You also won’t be able to improvise with your environment in the way that Wick does in the films; don’t expect to pick up a book and use it as a murder weapon. According to Bithell, these kinds of interactions tend to be one-use-only “switches” in games, which he wanted to avoid. Bithell believes that there’s a level of logic and thought in John Wick’s action scenes that makes them an ideal fit for this kind of translation. In the movies you can follow the flow of a fight scene from beginning to end, and understand why each decision was made, whether it’s reloading a gun or ducking behind a wall. Even if it’s not always realistic, it tends to make a certain kind of sense. “That’s what makes it really great for an adaptation to games, because it’s built on systems,” Bithell explains. The team isn’t talking much about story yet — Bithell wouldn’t even tell me if Keanu Reeves had played the game — but John Wick Hex will be a prequel, taking place before the movies and before John meets his wife. Fans of the Wick universe shouldn’t worry too much, though, as it sounds like the game will tread lightly when it comes to the films’ surprisingly deep lore and mythology. “I wanted to make something that was in that world,” says Bithell, “but provoked questions rather than answering them.” John Wick Hex doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’ll be available on PC.
The Verge
TikTok users are turning a top creator’s apology video into new TikTok creations
TikTok users have been dueting with an apology video from one of the platform’s biggest creators in response to allegations of sexually inappropriate interactions with underage fans. Sebastian Kretzmann, a member of the popular creator collective Strawberry Milk Gang who’s known by fans as “RadicalSeb,” was accused last week of sending graphic sexual messages to underage fans, including suggesting sexually explicit acts they wanted to perform. In response, fans have used TikTok has a way to voice their concern over the situation, many of whom are doing so with the platform’s duets feature, which lets them appear in split screen beside another person’s video to react, respond, or remix it. Kretzmann is one of the most prolific creators on TikTok. Best known for their comedic sketches, queer-focused content, and eKid persona, Kretzmann built up an impressive following of more than 330,000 followers and 16.1 million likes since joining the app. Their TikTok popularity has led to a line of merchandise available for fans to purchase and even rumors of a possible tour with other members of Strawberry Milk Gang. They may not be the most popular creator, but their fanbase is pretty big and dedicated. “I feel completely disgusted and feel bad.” TikTok has more than 500 million global users, and that makes moderation — especially for communications that happened off-platform — almost impossible to moderate. That’s why other massive communities, like fans and creators on YouTube, have learned to self-police within their own circles, using tools on and off their platforms to highlight troublesome behavior so that fans know to steer clear. Unlike Tumblr and YouTube, which have been around for more than a decade, TikTok communities haven’t had to deal with this before, and the actions around Kretzmann seem to be the first time we’ve seen self-policing play out on TikTok on a large scale. The duets have played alongside an apology video Kretzmann posted, addressing several of the accusations in-depth. Kretzmann was hanging out with friends in a group chat and on a video call when they made sexually explicit comments to an underage boy, according to Kretzmann’s video. Kretzmann acknowledged that one of the video chat participants was underage (referring to one boy as 15), but they continued to make lewd comments. Still, Kretzmann argued that they never asked for anyone in the group — underage or otherwise — to send sexually explicit photos. “I didn’t think that was going to make this person feel uncomfortable because I’m friends with them and I’m just being myself in the friend group,” Kretzmann said. “I feel completely disgusted and feel bad. I made people feel uncomfortable. What I said was wrong. And I feel bad about it. I am sorry.” We’ve reached out to Kretzmann for comment. Everything that has been alleged against Kretzmann occurred through apps other than TikTok, but Kretzmann’s status on TikTok meant the accusations traveled through the platform. To people inside of TikTok, the controversy dominated conversation — the story overtook the app, as users’ entire “For You” homepage recommendations became dominated by memes and responses to the situation. Response videos have garnered more than 435,000 views so far, made up of duets, memes, and straight-forward opinions, under the “#radicalseb” hashtag. There are several other hashtags, too. “What I said was wrong. And I feel bad about it. I am sorry,” Creator “drama” has become an industry unto itself on YouTube. There are entire channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers dedicated to examining the most recent developments in the community. On YouTube, it started as a way of providing information to confused viewers, but it also became a form of self-policing. If people weren’t paying attention to the stars of their own community, YouTube commentators and drama channels would. Now, TikTok is doing the same thing. Popular TikTok user and former Vine star, HawkHatesYou, used her platform on TikTok to accuse Kretzmann of additional lewd behavior with underage teenagers. In a followup, HawkHatesYou said she decided to comment on it as a way to protect children. “What about pressuring my friends to send dick pics,” HawkHatesYou said. “What about being on FaceTime with a 17-year-old and showing your balls? What about the 17-year-old boy you made explicit comments to in there? What about all of the other people that you hurt?” Kretzmann has made their TikTok account private and no longer allows comments on their Instagram posts. Other members of the Strawberry Milk Gang have disavowed Kretzmann’s actions and haven’t collaborated with them since. As TikTok continues to grow, creator controversies will happen more often — and TikTok users will continue to learn how to deal with controversies just as users on other major user-generated content platform have already.
The Verge
No Man’s Sky fans crowdfund a billboard message to thank developer for work
No Man’s Sky fans have raised over $4,800 to post a “thank you” message to Hello Games on a billboard outside the game developer’s office. The money was raised using a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe that was started by Reddit user Cameron G, and will also buy lunch and beer for the development team after it concludes on July 14th. After hitting its initial target of $1,750, to pay for the billboard itself, the goal was subsequently raised to $6,000, with the extra funds due to be donated to the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation. The campaign marks a remarkable turnaround for No Man’s Sky. At launch, the game was met with a hostile reception that the game’s director Sean Murray later said was “as bad as things can get.” Now,... Continue reading…
The Verge
The tiny Palm phone can now be bought unlocked and used on AT&T and T-Mobile
The diminutive Palm phone is now getting an unlocked version sold directly through the resurrected Palm, making it available to everyone — not just Verizon customers. The move marks the latest expansion for the shrunken down Android device, which launched first as a companion device meant to be used alongside your regular smartphone. Verizon would then go on to sell it as a standalone, $350 smartphone a few months later, and now, with an unlocked model, customers on AT&T, T-Mobile, and other carriers will be able to use it too simply by swapping their SIM. Unfortunately, as The Verge’s Dieter Bohn noted in his review the Palm phone isn’t a particularly good phone, either as a companion device or a full-fledged phone — and especially now when that $349.99 price tag could be put towards any number of better options, like a Pixel 3a or Moto G7. That being said, the idea of a smaller, less distracting smartphone isn’t inherently terrible, and if you don’t mind the comparatively pricey cost or poor battery life, it’s possible that the Palm phone would make a good secondary device for when you’d rather not have the endless digital temptations of modern smartphones. Preorders for the unlocked Palm phone begin today at Palm.com, with devices expected to ship in six to eight weeks.
The Verge
A light-up keyboard from Roli teaches you to play piano like it’s Guitar Hero
Many people try to learn an instrument at one point or another in their life, and for a lot of us that instrument is the piano. But when you give up learning there’s no easy way back — not without paying for expensive lessons at least. Music hardware startup Roli wants to change this with the launch of Lumi: a 24-key, light-up keyboard and companion app that teaches users how to play the piano from scratch, before transforming into a tool for jamming and even composition. The keyboard and companion app are available to preorder on Kickstarter today with a base price of $249 (€249) and early bird sales offering Lumi as cheap as $146. Shipping starts in October. Credit: Roli A companion app teaches you to play without sheet music. Roli founder Roland Lamb says the aim is to appeal to as wide a group of music-lovers as possible. With that in mind, he says, Lumi’s learning functions don’t start by teaching you the basics of sheet music. Instead, Lumi offers a Guitar Hero-style interface that coaxes you into playing your favorite songs by hitting the light-up keys in time with on-screen notes. “Music education frequently starts with reading music [but] no good language learning program starts by teaching you to read before you can speak,” Lamb tells The Verge. “Guitar Hero has a lot of value because it’s fun and easy to use — you just follow the lights.” “Guitar Hero has a lot of value because it’s fun and easy to use” By giving users an intuitive interface that lets them play before they can read, Lamb says Lumi creates an easy on-ramp for beginners. After users progress past the Guitar Hero stage, the app makes things trickier by adding in first the names of notes, then a left-to-right interface, then chords and keys, and finally offering up regular sheet music. This certainly seems like a good way to get beginners started, but an equally important part of the Lumi package is the library of songs. In a demo version of the app The Verge briefly tried out, the tracks available were nicely varied. They included music from pop titans like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, as well as jazz and classical standards from J.S. Bach to Herbie Hancock. Roli says the app will launch with a few hundred tracks, but that this library will be updated over time for no extra cost. Credit: Lumi The keyboard is minimalist, with just buttons for power and for changing the octave up and down. Lumi marks an interesting milestone for Roli. Since the company was founded in 2009, it’s made a series of products that have become progressively more mass market over time. Its signature technology has always been its squishy keyboards, which are touch-sensitive and allow musicians to bend notes on a piano or synthesizer like they would on a guitar, but as the years go by it’s repackaged this into more and more affordable products. It started with the 61-key, $2,999 Seaboard Grand in 2013, and then followed this with the 25-key, $799 Seaboard Rise in 2015. Then, in 2016 it released the modular beat-making Blocks hardware, and an even cheaper, smaller keyboard: the $299 Seaboard Block. Roli is trying to attract a new audience But Lumi feels like the first time the company has made a product that is supposed to appeal to people who aren’t already making music. Though Lamb hopes the music-making demographic will still get a kick out of Lumi. Multiple keyboards can be attached together to create larger playing spaces, and the device also works as a regular MIDI input which can be used with all the usual professional music software, such as Ableton Live and Cubase. “The concept of having a very low floor and a high ceiling was always very important,” says Lamb. “I’ve had some really nice moments where I’ve had the chance to show Lumi to some eminent musicians and have them replay their track. It’s been very entertaining to see how they respond to their own music … they see how easy it is, how direct it is to play.” Credit: Roli Lumi is lightweight and portable, no heavier than an iPad. But trying to appeal to as big a demographic as possible might also hinder Lumi. Even with its companion app and library of tracks, $249 is a big price for such a small keyboard. Using illuminated keys as a teaching device is also not a new concept. Casio sells a number of bigger, cheaper keyboards with light-up keys, for example (although they don’t have a companion app or popular songs). And you can even buy add-on LED strips for acoustic pianos that offer similar functionality. During our time with a prototype version of the Lumi hardware, we were also a bit underwhelmed by the hardware’s quality and responsiveness. Too many key presses went unregistered, and the keys themselves felt overly flimsy and cheap. We’re waiting to test out the final hardware Roli, though, says it’s still developing the final build for the keyboard, which we’ll try ourselves before the device’s launch. “The keyboard action is definitely something we’re tuning right now,” said Lamb. “It’s getting much better even as of a couple of weeks ago, and we’ll definitely be far and away the best of any portable keyboard of this size.” These caveats aside, Lumi certainly offers some unique experiences. One stand-out feature is a jam mode in which keys light up with the chords and scales of a song. The stronger the color of each note, the closer it is to the root of the song’s key. It’s a simple approach that allows even jazz novices like myself to feel like they’re improvising with a degree of skill. Lamb — an accomplished pianist himself — says it’s his favorite way to use the keyboard, especially when it comes to playing along with jazz standards from the likes of John Coltrane. “I love playing “Giant Steps“ in jam mode, because I can understand the chord changes in a different way,” he says. “It presents musical opportunities in a way I hadn’t seen before.”
The Verge
Latest iOS beta prompts you to unsubscribe when uninstalling apps with paid subs
Apple has added a warning in iOS 13 beta 2 that appears when you try to uninstall an app which still has an active subscription. “Do you want to keep the subscription for this app?” the message reads, before giving you a link to manage your Apple ID subscriptions. The feature was first spotted by MacStories editor Federico Viticci. It’s a sensible move from Apple, after its App Store was hit by a plague of “free” apps that used a variety of shady tactics to extract money from unwitting users. Often these tactics revolve around aggressively coercing users into signing up to expensive subscriptions with unclear terms, in the hope that people either won’t notice or will forget to unsubscribe. If a user is uninstalling an app, then there’s a good chance they’re no longer interested in the subscription. Giving people a link to manage their subscriptions is a convenient way of reminding them to cancel. Never seen this alert before – Apple now tells you if an app you're deleting has a subscription still active. Good move. (Taken on iOS 13 beta 2.) pic.twitter.com/WU57nS8Ziv— Federico Viticci (@viticci) June 18, 2019 The feature is the latest in a series of attempts made by Apple to make app payment terms clearer to its users. This year alone, Apple has changed its App Store guidelines to say that developers have to be more upfront with the true cost of subscriptions, it has added an extra confirmation step during signup, and it also reorganized its menus to make your active Apple ID subscriptions easier to see and manage.
The Verge
Facebook confirms it will launch a cryptocurrency called Libra in 2020
Facebook is finally ready to talk about its blockchain plans. Following numerous reports unraveling its upcoming announcement in detail, the company today said that its in-development global cryptocurrency, called Libra, will launch next year alongside the underlying blockchain-based network that will support it. The currency is designed not to be a speculative asset, like Bitcoin, but a form of digital money backed by a reserve of assets. You will one day be able to use Libra as payment for online and offline services, Facebook executives say. At the beginning, the company imagines Libra will be used mainly to transfer money between individuals in developing countries who lack access to traditional banks. Eventually, the goal is to create the first truly mainstream cryptocurrency: a decentralized global form of payment that is as stable as the dollar, can be used to buy almost anything, and can support an entire range of financial products — from banking to loans to credit. Although Facebook is building Libra, and plans to run the project through the end of this year, eventually it plans to cede the project to a larger community. The company has formed the nonprofit Libra Association with 27 other partners to oversee Libra and its development. The partnership includes venture capital firms, nonprofit organizations, crypto firms, and massive corporate financial, telecommunications, and technology service providers, including Coinbase, Mastercard, Visa, eBay, PayPal, Stripe, Spotify, Uber, Lyft, and Vodafone. Those organizations will also contribute to what is known as the Libra Reserve, the asset pool that will ensure every unit of Libra currency is backed by something of intrinsic value rather than by simple scarcity, as Bitcoin is. Image: Facebook If Libra succeeds, it could represent one of the most consequential products Facebook has ever released — both for the company and for the world. It could offer a compelling alternative to the existing banking system, particularly for people in developing nations. It could also make Facebook inextricable from its users’ lives — a high priority for the company amid calls from regulators in the United States and abroad that it should be broken up. According to Dante Disparte, the newly hired head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, “the goal really is to improve financial inclusion and do to the transfer of value and payments what the internet has done to the transfer of communication and information,” he told The Verge in an interview last week over video call from Washington, DC. While the Libra Association will have members based globally, it will be headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Of course, Facebook has a business incentive to build on top of the Libra blockchain, and it’s launching its own subsidiary to do just that called Calibra. The company, which employs former Twitter and Instagram product chief Kevin Weil as its vice president of product, is in charge of launching, maintaining, and building on top of Facebook’s own digital wallet, which will carry the same name. Weil tells The Verge that Calibra will live inside of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp at launch, but will also have a standalone iOS and Android app. Over time, Weil says Facebook will look to build new financial services, like credit lines, using Calibra. Because Facebook owns Calibra and also has a seat on the Libra Association, it will be the only entity on the currently 29-member board that will effectively have two votes. But the governing structure of the Libra Association is still evolving, and Facebook says it hopes to recruit dozens or even hundreds more members before Libra launches in 2020. “This was going to be a very involved endeavor that will not only require breaking new ground, but also coming up with a new decentralized form of government.” “This was going to be a very involved endeavor that will not only require breaking new ground, but also coming up with a new decentralized form of government,” Facebook’s blockchain chief David Marcus, a veteran of PayPal who ran Facebook Messenger for years, tells The Verge. “Because no one company can control it.” As such, Facebook says it’s open sourcing the Libra blockchain today under an Apache 2.0 license, meaning anyone can freely take the code and experiment with products built on top of it. “Imagine an open, interoperable ecosystem of financial services that developers and organizations will build to help people and businesses hold and transfer Libra for everyday use,” authors of the Libra white paper write. “To enable the Libra ecosystem to achieve this vision over time, the blockchain has been built from the ground up to prioritize scalability, security, efficiency in storage and throughput, and future adaptability.” Facebook and the other members of the Libra Association plan to recruit more partners to build out the network, and Marcus also says it will be raising money in the private sector to create incentives for people to quickly start using Libra and Libra-based technologies. “We will also continue engaging with regulators, policymakers, and experts to solicit feedback and ensure that this global financial infrastructure is governed in a way that is reflective of the people it serves,” reads a Facebook blog post on the Libra Association. “We believe this will be a significant undertaking — and responsibility — and we will continue to work openly and collaboratively as we move toward our goal of launching this new ecosystem in the first half of 2020.” Beyond the obvious financial incentives, Facebook is making an effort to tie Libra into its global mission of connecting the planet. The company says that 1.7 billion people, or 31 percent of the global population, currently have no bank, with no access to modern financial services. Offering those people free and lower-cost banking services could have immense benefits to their well-being, the company says. In this way, Facebook is presenting its cryptocurrency as a democratizing societal force in the same vein as its efforts to make free online communication accessible globally. Just as Facebook has launched efforts around the world to bring people online, through its controversial Internet.org initiative and its Free Basics internet service, it’s now launching an effort to bring people free and low-cost banking tools. It remains to be seen whether Facebook’s banking and commerce initiatives manage to avoid the charges of digital colonialism that dogged its earlier efforts around internet accessibility. “Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have a number of unique properties — they are decentralized, globally accessible, low cost, and safe. But the existing blockchain systems have yet to reach mainstream adoption,” reads Facebook’s blog post. “Mass-market usage of existing blockchains and cryptocurrencies has been hindered by their volatility and lack of scalability. Some projects have also aimed to disrupt the existing system and bypass regulation as opposed to innovating on compliance and regulatory fronts to improve the effectiveness of anti-money laundering.” “You’ll see banks on this between now and next year.” Facebook says it wants to work with the financial sector on this, and not compete directly against it. “You’ll see banks on this between now and next year, because if we bring on another billion people, they’ll need savings accounts, loans, and things banks are very good at,” Marcus says. Facebook also plans to drastically reduce money transfer fees and transaction fees through Calibra, a welcome move in an industry that has historically preyed on the financially vulnerable. Marcus says the willingness of Mastercard and Visa to be a part of the Libra Association offers evidence that even companies that reap massive profits from the status quo see the potential in Libra. “One of the values that Mastercard and Visa bring to this network is trying to help merchant acceptance, and getting their merchants to accept Libra. That will provide a lot of utility,” he says. “If this ecosystem is successful, you’ll see a whole lot of financial service innovations on top of it.”
The Verge
Facebook’s Calibra is a secret weapon for monetizing its new cryptocurrency
The newly formed subsidiary will build Facebook’s digital wallet Facebook’s announcement this morning of a new cryptocurrency, Libra, and the nonprofit association that will oversee it raises questions about the future of global banking and Facebook’s role in it. But behind Facebook’s ambitions to create a quasi-nation state ruled by mostly corporate interests is a secret weapon, one the company hopes it can use to create another platform used by billions of people — and generate enormous new revenue streams along the way. It’s called Calibra, and it’s a new subsidiary of Facebook the company is launching to build financial services and software on top of the Libra blockchain. At first blush, Calibra resembles a fairly standard payments company — but its tight integration with Facebook’s enormous user base could give it a significant advantage over any rivals. Thanks to its proximity to the technical development of Libra, and its ability to leverage WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, Calibra could very well become Facebook’s next big thing. Facebook’s digital wallet Calibra could be the company’s next big thing Calibra’s immediate goal is to develop and launch its own digital cryptocurrency wallet, and integrate that wallet into other Facebook products. The company will become a member of the nonprofit Libra Association and have equal voting power as Facebook and the other partners, which include Uber, Lyft, eBay, and PayPal, along with several other tech companies, financial service providers, venture capitalists, and fellow nonprofits. That way, Facebook can say it does not solely control the currency or the network by itself. It also gets the benefit of having twice the representation as other companies, at least for now. Calibra is how Facebook intends to make money off Libra, a digital currency it says it does not want to control, despite having created it. More generally, it’s a massive play for Facebook to get into financial services in a way that no other technology company may be able to compete with. Think of it as the Bank of Facebook — an arm of the social network that hopes to do for loans, credit, money transfer, and commerce what its suite of apps has done for online communication. Libra is the technology that underpins the network. But when it launches, Calibra will likely be how most people interact with the currency until competing wallets arise. In fact, it will likely be the first cryptocurrency wallet that hundreds of millions of people will have access to, by nature of being bundled with Facebook’s massive ecosystem. With billions of users potentially interacting with Calibra, it will instantaneously have many hundreds of times the user base of the world’s most popular existing wallets from Coinbase and others. Image: Facebook Kevin Weil, vice president of product at Calibra, says the digital wallet features will come to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But Calibra will also exist as a standalone iOS and Android app for those who don’t have Facebook accounts. He describes the core function of Calibra as two-fold: holding your money securely for free, and allowing you to transfer it to anyone else on the planet for a fee many magnitudes lower than current international money transfer rates. “For us, WhatsApp and Messenger are great homes for Libra. A couple billion people use them. But it’s not just that they use them, but how they use them,” Weil tells The Verge. “Messenger is to talk to close friends and family, and those are exactly the types of people you send money to. There’s a lot of overlap between the things you want out of a wallet for currency and the things you want out of a messaging app.” “We want to make sending money as easy as sending a text message.” Weil says Facebook gathered feedback about where its digital wallet should focus by monitoring how people used WhatsApp in developing countries, a prime market for Libra adoption. According to Weil, WhatsApp users would send photos of money transfer receipts to one another, and use those images to receive money across borders. But doing so is still cumbersome, time-intensive, and extraordinarily costly. “Why does it cost insane amounts of money to send money? That’s the goal,” Weil says. “We want to make sending money as easy as sending a text message.” Of course, many Facebook users can already send money using Venmo, PayPal, or even Facebook Messenger’s built-in peer-to-peer transfer feature. But for that you need a credit card or a bank account, a financial tool not accessible to roughly 1.7 billion people. Weil says Calibra will be available to anyone with a cheap Android smartphone. Underpinning all of this will be the security and transaction verification Facebook promises its blockchain-based Libra network will provide. There will also be a real identity component to mitigate the risks that Libra will be used to facilitate crimes. Another company could theoretically build an anonymous Libra wallet, though, so the mitigation here is primarily to Facebook’s reputation. Weil says Calibra will require you sign up with a government-issued ID, and Facebook’s digital wallet will also provide fraud protection and a public commitment to never share your financial details or transaction history with the social network’s advertising divisions. In other words, your Facebook account data will largely be kept separate from your Calibra account. Facebook says data from Calibra will never be used to target ads So if Facebook can’t make money off ads targeted using your purchase history and it doesn’t want to charge people for using the app, what about transaction or transfer fees? Weil says those aren’t the primary business model, either. “We want to reduce fees for everyone. We’re not planning to charge fees for peer-to-peer [payments]. There may be low fees for merchant payments, but that’s just to cover the cost of the risk and fraud and chargebacks,” he says. “We imagine that those fees will be an order of magnitude lower, like 10 times lower, than what they are today.” The real goal, Weil says, is to boost adoption to the point where Libra can have a vibrant financial services economy built on top of it, not just by Facebook but by any other company in the world. “You have financial services businesses like Visa and MasterCard who can drive merchant acceptance of Libra with millions of businesses around the world, and marketplaces like Uber and Lyft to make it possible to get rides and pay in Libra. And since their transaction fees are lower, maybe you even get a lower price,” Weil says. “People who might have only had cash before, you suddenly have access to a digital currency on their phone.” Weil says one day Calibra would like to offer financial services built on top of Libra, like credit, and he says there’s no chance the company would ever cut deals with vendors to secure exclusivity for its digital wallet. “I can’t imagine a scenario in which we would want that. Calibra can only be successful when the Libra ecosystem is successful,” he says, pointing to other founding members of the Libra Association, like PayPal, that already operate digital wallets that can be updated to support Libra. “They will be friendly competition on day one and that’s something we welcome. If a vast majority of people use the Calibra wallet, that defeats the goal of the Libra ecosystem.” Weil says any company will be able to build a Libra digital wallet, and you can even host your own on private servers. Weil says Libra becoming successful will have all sorts of positive ripple effects for all participants. “You suddenly have billions of new consumers for any online service. Businesses today that operate in cash only, if they have access to a digital currency they have access to advertising platforms, including Facebook,” he says. “There are meaningful side effects on Facebook’s business if Libra is successful.” Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch Facebook blockchain chief David Marcus previously ran Facebook Messenger. Prior to that, he helped PayPal acquire Venmo parent company Braintree. Leading the construction of that ecosystem is the former head of Facebook Messenger: David Marcus. As the head of Facebook’s blockchain chain division, Marcus is uniquely positioned to combine his career in digital payments with his more recent experience at the helm of a multi-billion-user communications platform that, over time, has become a do-everything app for Facebook. (Among the things it does is transfer money.) Marcus says the concept of decentralization, when combined with digital commerce and Facebook’s massive user base, creates a perfect foundation for a new currency to take off. “This is something I’ve been dreaming and thinking about for many, many years,” says Marcus, who got his start in tech in the 1990s when he founded an internet service provider in Geneva. He later founded a company that let you buy items online using a prepaid mobile phone plans, sold it to PayPal in 2011, and rose through the ranks until Facebook poached him to run Messenger in 2014. “This is something I’ve been dreaming and thinking about for many, many years.” Marcus says that five years ago, the technology and policy apparatus surrounding cryptocurrencies wasn’t yet mature. But he “felt the time was right back in late 2017, in December,” and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed. Zuckerberg tapped Marcus to run its new blockchain division in May 2018 as part of a substantial reorganization of his executive division. “We talked about the opportunity of doing this, and I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to try to achieve,” Marcus says. “At first, we really wanted to explore if there was a way of leveraging existing blockchain and network [technology]. My life would be a lot easier if there was such a thing. Sadly there wasn’t.” Marcus says Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will coexist with Libra. But he sees the value of Libra not in how many dollars or euros it’s worth, but in what it will be used for. “If you look at a stable, high-trust, low-volatility form of digital-native currency that would be available to anyone with a $40 smartphone and move around at very low cost,” he says, “that is going to the extremely valuable.”
The Verge