Apple’s mixed reality headset might play ‘high-quality’ VR games

Apple’s rumored mixed reality headset may be a boon for VR gaming. In his most recent newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman claimed Apple is aiming for a headset that can handle “high-quality” VR games with both fast chips and high-res displays. While it’s not certain just what chips would be involved, a previous leak mentioned a possible 8K resolution per eye — Apple might not expect games to run at that resolution, but it would hint at serious processing power.The headset is still poised to arrive “as early as” 2022, Gurman said. He also suggested Apple would eventually follow up the mixed headset with an augmented-reality-only model, but that was “years down the road.”However accurate the claim might be, it’s doubtful the mixed reality headset would be meant primarily for gaming The price (rumored to be as high as $3,000) might relegate it to developers and other pros. It wouldn’t be a rival to the $299 Quest 2, then. Instead, the report suggests Apple might use this initial headset to pave the way for more affordable wearables where gaming is more realistic.It’s safe to presume Apple is committed to a headset, no matter the end result. Apple has acquired companies and reportedly shuffled executives with mixed reality in mind. This wouldn’t just be a side project for the company, even if the mixed reality tech could take years to reach the mainstream. Gaming might play a pivotal role if Apple intends to reach a wider audience.

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 will power the next generation of Android flagships

Every December for the last few years, Qualcomm has held an annual event in Hawaii to announce its latest flagship mobile chipset. This year was no different with the company taking the opportunity to unveil the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. That’s right, for the second year in a row, Qualcomm is moving away from the sequential numbering scheme that has defined its processors for years. Just as the Snapdragon 865 gave way to the 888, the company will now replace the 888 with the Gen 1. 

The system-on-a-chip includes Qualcomm’s own X65 5G modem. The company says it’s capable of theoretical download speeds of 10Gbps. That’s one of those specs that’s impressive on paper, but won’t mean much out in the real world since some of the fastest 5G networks can’t deliver speeds greater than 4Gbps in ideal conditions. If you have access to a WiFi 6 or 6E router, the Gen 1 can sustain download speeds of 3.6 Gbps over WiFi.

As with its past flagship chipsets, Qualcomm has put significant effort into improving the camera experience. The Gen 1 features an 18-bit image signal processor. That’s a first for the company, and something it says allows the component to process 4,000 times more data than the 14-bit Spectra ISP found on the Snapdragon 888. Additionally, phones with the Gen 1 will have the ability to capture photos at 3.2 gigapixels per second. In practice, that means the Gen 1 can process data from three 36-megapixel cameras simultaneously without any shutter lag, according to Qualcomm.

In another first for a mobile device, the company says the chipset can record 8K HDR footage at 30 frames per second. Again, that’s not the most practical feature for a phone in 2021 since 4K is the top end for most content. On that note, the Gen 1 supports UHD capture at 120 frames per second and can record slow motion footage at 960 frames per second at 720p. Separate from its Spectra ISP, the Gen 1 includes a always-on image signal processor that can power a camera while consuming very little battery power. It’s a feature that will allow Gen 1-equipped devices to offer always-on face detection for biometric authentication.

The Gen 1 won’t offer greatly improved CPU performance over what was already possible with the Snapdragon 888 Plus. What it does promise is faster performance when it comes to AI-related tasks. That’s thanks to Qualcomm’s new seventh-generation AI engine, which the company says is up to four times faster than its predecessor thanks to more shared memory and a faster tensor accelerator. Gaming performance is another highlight of the Gen 1. According to Qualcomm, its latest Adreno GPU offers 30 percent faster rendering performance while consuming 25 percent less power. Over on the audio front, the Gen 1 includes support for Qualcomm’s recently announced aptX Lossless Bluetooth codec. It can deliver up to CD-quality 16-bit 44.1kHz audio streaming over a wireless connection.

Rounding out the Gen 1’s feature list is a dedicated Trust Management Engine. The Gen 1 is the first mobile chipset to support Google’s Android Ready SE standard out of the box, which means it has the capability to store things like digital car keys and IDs.

With its mix of performance improvements and new features, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 offers an intriguing look at the next generation of Android flagships. Now we have to wait to see what capabilities manufacturers decide to enable in their latest devices. The first Gen 1-equipped phones will arrive later this year, with more expected to come in the first half of 2022.

Separately, Qualcomm announced it’s partnering with Google to bring the company’s Neural Architecture Search platform to its product portfolio. The technology, which will be available first on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, allows companies to create and optimize AI models automatically instead of manually. According to Google, NAS optimize AI models in weeks rather than months.

Twitch will use machine learning to catch ban-dodging trolls

Twitch is introducing a new machine learning feature to help streamers protect their channels from people attempting to avoid bans. Dubbed "Suspicious User Detection," the tool will automatically flag individuals it suspects may be "likely" or "possible" ban dodgers.

In cases involving the former, Twitch will prevent any messages they send from showing up in chat. It will also identify those individuals for streamers and any mods helping them with their channel. At that point, they can decide if they want to ban that person. By default, possible repeat trolls can send messages in chat, but they too will be flagged by the system. Additionally, Twitch says creators have the option to prevent them from sending any messages in the first place.

Twitch Suspicious User Detection
Twitch

"The tool is powered by a machine learning model that takes a number of signals into account — including, but not limited to, the user's behavior and account characteristics — and compares that data against accounts previously banned from a Creator's channel to assess the likelihood the account is evading a previous channel-level ban," a Twitch spokesperson told Engadget when we asked about the signals the system uses to detect potential offenders.

While Twitch plans to turn on Suspicious User Detection for everyone, the tool won't automatically ban users for streamers. That's by design because it's impossible to create a machine learning tool that is 100 percent accurate in every context. "You're the expert when it comes to your community, and you should make the final call on who can participate," the company said in a blog post. "The tool will learn from the actions you take and the accuracy of its predictions should improve over time as a result."

The introduction of the tool follows a summer in which Twitch struggled to contain a phenomenon called "hate raids." The attacks saw malicious individuals use thousands of bots to spam channels with hateful language. In many cases, they targeted creators from marginalized communities. Hate raids became such a frequent feature of the platform that some creators walked away from Twitch for a day in protest of the company's lack of action.

Quest headset owners can capture VR gameplay using their phones

Meta’s Reality Labs unit is rolling out one last major software update for the Quest and Quest 2 before the end of the year. And it’s one you’ll want to download as soon as you can because it adds some handy features.

One of them allows you to record yourself while inside a game or app. If you own a VR headset, you’ve probably seen videos like the one above where you can see how a game physically plays. Before today, you needed special equipment to capture footage from that mixed reality perspective. With the new update, you can use your phone instead.

Mobile mixed reality camera
Reality Labs

Naturally, the final result isn’t as polished as the above video, but you can still get an idea of how games like Beat Saber play out in the real world. You’ll need an iPhone XS or above with iOS 11 or higher to use the new mobile mixed reality camera. With today’s release, about a dozen games support the feature, including Superhot VR, Pistol Whip and Synth Riders.

The update also includes a number of features Meta said were coming “soon” at its Connect conference in late October. To start, you can now make voice calls through the Messenger app on Quest and Quest 2 headsets. The feature allows you to not only call other Quest users, but you can also dial up your Facebook friends.

Reality Labs app sharing
Reality Labs

Starting today, some games will also allow you to back up your save data to the cloud. The feature may not be immediately available on your headset after downloading the update. That’s because Reality Labs says it’s rolling it out at a slower pace to make sure it works correctly. Additionally, it’s an opt-in feature for developers, so not every game may support it even after it’s broadly available. While not new to the Quest platform, today’s update also removes the experimental tag that had been applied to the multi-user and app sharing features that were introduced at the start of the year.

Lastly, while not directly related to today’s update, in the “coming weeks” Reality Labs plans to introduce new customization options to Horizon Workrooms. To start, you’ll have the option to choose from multiple virtual office environments and the ability to decorate the space with custom posters and your company's logo.

Three Google workers sue over alleged violations of ‘don’t be evil’ motto

Google's classic "don't be evil" mantra may have been more of a philosophical statement than a practical guideline, but former staff members now want to hold the company accountable for it. NPR and The Verge say ex-engineers Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman have sued Google for allegedly violating the "don't be evil" segment of the company's code of conduct. They claim Google fired them for organizing worker opposition to controversial projects, like working with the Trump-era Customs and Border Protection. They were supposedly punished for pointing out evil like Google as instructed, in other words.

The one-time employees claimed Google rejected the famous phrase as it was both expensive and leading workers to organize. The internet firm supposedly decided it was better to fire people than admit its approach had changed and give up the "accompanying benefits" that came with its well-known motto.

There are concerns the lawsuit is too vague. What defines evil, exactly? However, plaintiff lawyer Laurie Burgess argued "don't be evil" was specific enough that it could be enforceable. The saying "must have meaning" if it was in the company code and thus binding, Burgess said.

We've asked Google for comment. It has previously accused all of the workers (plus Laurence Berland) of repeatedly violating data security policies by obtaining or sharing confidential data, but the workers and other critics have said this was just a cover for retaliatory action.

The lawsuit won't necessarily lead to stiff penalties. Google settled with Berland over his departure, for instance. There's a lot of pressure on Google to avoid a drawn-out legal battle when the National Labor Relations Board is still investigating the other firings. Still, this could be an important case — even if there is a settlement, it might open the door to other complaints about the company's ethical standards.

Twitch now works with SharePlay on the iPhone and iPad

Twitch has rolled out another feature designed to bring viewers closer together. The livestreaming service now supports SharePlay on iPhone and iPad, so up to 32 people can watch the same stream while they're on a FaceTime call.

Everyone on the call will need to log in to the Twitch app — the service confirmed to Engadget that each person will count as an individual viewer. The first time you open a stream while you're on FaceTime, Twitch will ask whether you want to play it for yourself or everyone on the call, and it will remember your choice. If you choose to share it with everyone, SharePlay will sync the stream on everyone's devices, so they're all watching the same moment simultaneously. Play and pause controls will sync across devices too.

Anyone on the call can move everyone over to another Twitch channel. Everyone will be able to interact with the streamer's chat, follow or subscribe to them and send Bits from their own account. You can watch the stream in either portrait or landscape orientation but, at least for now, you can't continue a SharePlay session on Twitch's Apple TV app.

A SharePlay session ends when the stream is closed, you leave the FaceTime call or end SharePlay. If you close the stream, you'll be asked if you want to end it for yourself or everyone. Choosing the latter won't actually close the stream on everyone else's devices, but playback won't be synced.

Twitch is one of the biggest streaming platforms around. It's a welcome addition to the growing lineup of services that support SharePlay, which Apple rolled out last month in iOS 15.1. Corralling a bunch of friends on a FaceTime call to watch some killer speedruns at Awesome Games Done Quick sounds like a fun way to spend time together, even when you're in your own homes.

Lenovo’s rumored 17-inch ThinkBook Plus has a second screen for drawing

Lenovo's next ThinkBook Plus might be more practical, at least if you'e a budding artist. Well-known leak purveyor Evan Blass has shared what he said is an image of a 17-inch ThinkBook Plus model. Unlike the current 13.3-inch system, though, you wouldn't have to flip your machine around to use an e-paper display on the back. Instead, you'd have a pen-capable color display next to the keyboard you could use to draw or take handwritten notes.

Blass didn't share other details, but the 17-inch ThinkBook Plus would seemingly have an extra-wide main display and fit in a full keyboard along with a large trackpad. We'd expect reasonably speedy internals to help drive the second display, much like the vaguely comparable ASUS ZenBook Duo.

It's not certain when this extra-large ThinkBook Plus would ship. Lenovo has historically reserved some of its largest laptop introductions for CES in January, but that doesn't preclude the company from a last-minute launch for the holidays. Either way, the image suggests Lenovo hasn't given up on the Plus concept — if anything, it's exploring new concepts that might prove appealing for creatives and others who shied away in the past.

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Twitch will use machine learning to catch ban-dodging trolls

Twitch is introducing a new machine learning feature to help streamers protect their channels from people attempting to avoid bans. Dubbed "Suspicious User Detection," the tool will automatically flag individuals it suspects may be "likely" or "possible" ban dodgers.

In cases involving the former, Twitch will prevent any messages they send from showing up in chat. It will also identify those individuals for streamers and any mods helping them with their channel. At that point, they can decide if they want to ban that person. By default, possible repeat trolls can send messages in chat, but they too will be flagged by the system. Additionally, Twitch says creators have the option to prevent them from sending any messages in the first place.

Twitch Suspicious User Detection
Twitch

"The tool is powered by a machine learning model that takes a number of signals into account — including, but not limited to, the user's behavior and account characteristics — and compares that data against accounts previously banned from a Creator's channel to assess the likelihood the account is evading a previous channel-level ban," a Twitch spokesperson told Engadget when we asked about the signals the system uses to detect potential offenders.

While Twitch plans to turn on Suspicious User Detection for everyone, the tool won't automatically ban users for streamers. That's by design because it's impossible to create a machine learning tool that is 100 percent accurate in every context. "You're the expert when it comes to your community, and you should make the final call on who can participate," the company said in a blog post. "The tool will learn from the actions you take and the accuracy of its predictions should improve over time as a result."

The introduction of the tool follows a summer in which Twitch struggled to contain a phenomenon called "hate raids." The attacks saw malicious individuals use thousands of bots to spam channels with hateful language. In many cases, they targeted creators from marginalized communities. Hate raids became such a frequent feature of the platform that some creators walked away from Twitch for a day in protest of the company's lack of action.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 will power the next generation of Android flagships

Every December for the last few years, Qualcomm has held an annual event in Hawaii to announce its latest flagship mobile chipset. This year was no different with the company taking the opportunity to unveil the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. That’s right, for the second year in a row, Qualcomm is moving away from the sequential numbering scheme that has defined its processors for years. Just as the Snapdragon 865 gave way to the 888, the company will now replace the 888 with the Gen 1. 

The system-on-a-chip includes Qualcomm’s own X65 5G modem. The company says it’s capable of theoretical download speeds of 10Gbps. That’s one of those specs that’s impressive on paper, but won’t mean much out in the real world since some of the fastest 5G networks can’t deliver speeds greater than 4Gbps in ideal conditions. If you have access to a WiFi 6 or 6E router, the Gen 1 can sustain download speeds of 3.6 Gbps over WiFi.

As with its past flagship chipsets, Qualcomm has put significant effort into improving the camera experience. The Gen 1 features an 18-bit image signal processor. That’s a first for the company, and something it says allows the component to process 4,000 times more data than the 14-bit Spectra ISP found on the Snapdragon 888. Additionally, phones with the Gen 1 will have the ability to capture photos at 3.2 gigapixels per second. In practice, that means the Gen 1 can process data from three 36-megapixel cameras simultaneously without any shutter lag, according to Qualcomm.

In another first for a mobile device, the company says the chipset can record 8K HDR footage at 30 frames per second. Again, that’s not the most practical feature for a phone in 2021 since 4K is the top end for most content. On that note, the Gen 1 supports UHD capture at 120 frames per second and can record slow motion footage at 960 frames per second at 720p. Separate from its Spectra ISP, the Gen 1 includes a always-on image signal processor that can power a camera while consuming very little battery power. It’s a feature that will allow Gen 1-equipped devices to offer always-on face detection for biometric authentication.

The Gen 1 won’t offer greatly improved CPU performance over what was already possible with the Snapdragon 888 Plus. What it does promise is faster performance when it comes to AI-related tasks. That’s thanks to Qualcomm’s new seventh-generation AI engine, which the company says is up to four times faster than its predecessor thanks to more shared memory and a faster tensor accelerator. Gaming performance is another highlight of the Gen 1. According to Qualcomm, its latest Adreno GPU offers 30 percent faster rendering performance while consuming 25 percent less power. Over on the audio front, the Gen 1 includes support for Qualcomm’s recently announced aptX Lossless Bluetooth codec. It can deliver up to CD-quality 16-bit 44.1kHz audio streaming over a wireless connection.

Rounding out the Gen 1’s feature list is a dedicated Trust Management Engine. The Gen 1 is the first mobile chipset to support Google’s Android Ready SE standard out of the box, which means it has the capability to store things like digital car keys and IDs.

With its mix of performance improvements and new features, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 offers an intriguing look at the next generation of Android flagships. Now we have to wait to see what capabilities manufacturers decide to enable in their latest devices. The first Gen 1-equipped phones will arrive later this year, with more expected to come in the first half of 2022.

Separately, Qualcomm announced it’s partnering with Google to bring the company’s Neural Architecture Search platform to its product portfolio. The technology, which will be available first on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, allows companies to create and optimize AI models automatically instead of manually. According to Google, NAS optimize AI models in weeks rather than months.

Quest headset owners can capture VR gameplay using their phones

Meta’s Reality Labs unit is rolling out one last major software update for the Quest and Quest 2 before the end of the year. And it’s one you’ll want to download as soon as you can because it adds some handy features.

One of them allows you to record yourself while inside a game or app. If you own a VR headset, you’ve probably seen videos like the one above where you can see how a game physically plays. Before today, you needed special equipment to capture footage from that mixed reality perspective. With the new update, you can use your phone instead.

Mobile mixed reality camera
Reality Labs

Naturally, the final result isn’t as polished as the above video, but you can still get an idea of how games like Beat Saber play out in the real world. You’ll need an iPhone XS or above with iOS 11 or higher to use the new mobile mixed reality camera. With today’s release, about a dozen games support the feature, including Superhot VR, Pistol Whip and Synth Riders.

The update also includes a number of features Meta said were coming “soon” at its Connect conference in late October. To start, you can now make voice calls through the Messenger app on Quest and Quest 2 headsets. The feature allows you to not only call other Quest users, but you can also dial up your Facebook friends.

Reality Labs app sharing
Reality Labs

Starting today, some games will also allow you to back up your save data to the cloud. The feature may not be immediately available on your headset after downloading the update. That’s because Reality Labs says it’s rolling it out at a slower pace to make sure it works correctly. Additionally, it’s an opt-in feature for developers, so not every game may support it even after it’s broadly available. While not new to the Quest platform, today’s update also removes the experimental tag that had been applied to the multi-user and app sharing features that were introduced at the start of the year.

Lastly, while not directly related to today’s update, in the “coming weeks” Reality Labs plans to introduce new customization options to Horizon Workrooms. To start, you’ll have the option to choose from multiple virtual office environments and the ability to decorate the space with custom posters and your company's logo.

Twitch now works with SharePlay on the iPhone and iPad

Twitch has rolled out another feature designed to bring viewers closer together. The livestreaming service now supports SharePlay on iPhone and iPad, so up to 32 people can watch the same stream while they're on a FaceTime call.

Everyone on the call will need to log in to the Twitch app — the service confirmed to Engadget that each person will count as an individual viewer. The first time you open a stream while you're on FaceTime, Twitch will ask whether you want to play it for yourself or everyone on the call, and it will remember your choice. If you choose to share it with everyone, SharePlay will sync the stream on everyone's devices, so they're all watching the same moment simultaneously. Play and pause controls will sync across devices too.

Anyone on the call can move everyone over to another Twitch channel. Everyone will be able to interact with the streamer's chat, follow or subscribe to them and send Bits from their own account. You can watch the stream in either portrait or landscape orientation but, at least for now, you can't continue a SharePlay session on Twitch's Apple TV app.

A SharePlay session ends when the stream is closed, you leave the FaceTime call or end SharePlay. If you close the stream, you'll be asked if you want to end it for yourself or everyone. Choosing the latter won't actually close the stream on everyone else's devices, but playback won't be synced.

Twitch is one of the biggest streaming platforms around. It's a welcome addition to the growing lineup of services that support SharePlay, which Apple rolled out last month in iOS 15.1. Corralling a bunch of friends on a FaceTime call to watch some killer speedruns at Awesome Games Done Quick sounds like a fun way to spend time together, even when you're in your own homes.

Three Google workers sue over alleged violations of ‘don’t be evil’ motto

Google's classic "don't be evil" mantra may have been more of a philosophical statement than a practical guideline, but former staff members now want to hold the company accountable for it. NPR and The Verge say ex-engineers Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman have sued Google for allegedly violating the "don't be evil" segment of the company's code of conduct. They claim Google fired them for organizing worker opposition to controversial projects, like working with the Trump-era Customs and Border Protection. They were supposedly punished for pointing out evil like Google as instructed, in other words.

The one-time employees claimed Google rejected the famous phrase as it was both expensive and leading workers to organize. The internet firm supposedly decided it was better to fire people than admit its approach had changed and give up the "accompanying benefits" that came with its well-known motto.

There are concerns the lawsuit is too vague. What defines evil, exactly? However, plaintiff lawyer Laurie Burgess argued "don't be evil" was specific enough that it could be enforceable. The saying "must have meaning" if it was in the company code and thus binding, Burgess said.

We've asked Google for comment. It has previously accused all of the workers (plus Laurence Berland) of repeatedly violating data security policies by obtaining or sharing confidential data, but the workers and other critics have said this was just a cover for retaliatory action.

The lawsuit won't necessarily lead to stiff penalties. Google settled with Berland over his departure, for instance. There's a lot of pressure on Google to avoid a drawn-out legal battle when the National Labor Relations Board is still investigating the other firings. Still, this could be an important case — even if there is a settlement, it might open the door to other complaints about the company's ethical standards.

Roblox comes back online after three-day outage

Roblox is finally returning to normal after a nearly three-day outage. The gaming platform's developer said it was "incrementally" bringing regions back to service after having pinpointed the cause roughly three hours earlier. The company had a possible candidate on October 30th, but didn't narrow it down until a day later.

The company didn't detail the cause, but had previously ruled out particular "experiences or partnerships." Some had blame the outage on a Chipotle promo that launched half an hour before the failure took place on the evening of October 28th.

Whatever the reason for the outage, it may have had a lasting effect. Roblox has over 40 million daily users, and has been home to major concerts in recent months. That could leave more than a few frustrated kids, not to mention parents and creators wondering about the long-term reliability of the platform.