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Fortnite: Save the World for Mac is shutting down because of Epic’s battle with Apple


Epic Games says Fortnite: Save the World will no longer be playable on macOS beginning on September 23rd because Apple is preventing the game from receiving new updates. The co-op action shooter was initially released as a paid early access title in 2017. Epic’s far more popular free-to-play battle royale will still be playable on Mac, the company says.

Epic says Apple is blocking new updates and patches for the macOS version of Save the World, and an upcoming update going out to other platforms will cause bugs and “a very poor experience” for players stuck on the current version. In late August, Apple terminated Epic’s developer account, meaning users cannot download or reinstall games developed by Epic, including Fortnite, and Epic can no longer validate updates for distribution.

The studio said that it will issue refunds to “all players who purchased any Save the World Founder’s or Starter Packs (including Upgrades) and played Save the World on macOS between September 17, 2019, and September 17, 2020.” Epic Games says it may take until October 2nd for players to receive refunds.

Apple and Epic are currently in an ongoing legal battle over App Store policies after Apple removed Fortnite, saying the game violated its digital storefront’s guidelines by adding an in-app payment mechanism.



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Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and S7 Plus review: hardware can’t carry it all


If you want to buy a tablet that can possibly replace your laptop, there are two options most people go for: Apple’s iPad Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Pro.

Samsung has been trying to elbow its way into the productivity tablet conversation for years, but it’s never quite reached the level of Apple or Microsoft in terms of functionality, quality, or popularity. A lot of that comes down to the software: last year’s Galaxy Tab S6 was beset with bugs, confusing software, and unfinished features that just ruined the experience, despite the S6’s impressive hardware.

This year, Samsung is giving it another go. It’s sticking with its Android-based approach, but it’s now offering two different sizes — the 11-inch Tab S7 and the 12.4-inch Tab S7 Plus — to more squarely compete with Apple’s two iPad Pro models. The Tab S7 starts at $649.99, while the Tab S7 Plus commands $849.99. Both come with Samsung’s S Pen stylus in the box, and either size can be paired with an optional keyboard case for $199.99 or $229.99, respectively, which brings the total up to $1,079.98 for a Tab S7 Plus and a keyboard.

For those prices, the Tab S7 stacks the specs, including high-end processors, high refresh rate displays, quad-speaker systems, and even optional 5G connectivity. I’ve spent the last week using both sizes for everything from casual reading and video watching to getting my daily work done as an editor of a high-output online publication.

To get right to the point, I will tell you that the Tab S7 pair represent a marked improvement over the Tab S6, including in both hardware and software. They have incredible displays, fast performance, and far fewer bugs and issues than last year’s model. The Tab S7 Plus, in particular, provides the best movie watching experience you can hold in your hands.

But great hardware isn’t enough, and there are just too many places where the software is more frustrating to use than Apple or Microsoft’s tablets to justify the Tab S7’s asking price.

The Tab S7 Plus has a tremendous 120Hz OLED display with an in-screen fingerprint scanner.

Hardware and Design

In terms of hardware, there’s very little to complain about with either model. The absolute best thing by far about either Tab S7 the display. The S7 Plus has a 12.4-inch OLED panel that is bright, vibrant, and pixel-dense. Colors practically jump off the screen, and the blacks are as inky and deep as they are on the LG OLED TV hanging in my living room. Topping it off is the 120Hz refresh rate, which makes every interaction buttery smooth. The 11-inch Tab S7 swaps out the OLED for LCD but maintains the 120Hz refresh rate. It’s also an excellent screen that is bright enough to use outdoors and has almost as punchy colors and contrast as the S7 Plus. It really only looks worse when you do a side-by-side comparison, so just don’t do that if you’re leaning toward the 11-inch model.

My only gripe with either display is that they have 16:10 aspect ratios and therefore a much smaller surface area than their iPad Pro counterparts. This isn’t a problem when you’re watching movies or YouTube, but when it comes time to get work done, the Tab S7 models feel cramped. That more rectangular aspect ratio makes them awkward to use in portrait mode, as well — I can manage to hold the Tab S7 in portrait mode for a short while to read a book, but the Tab S7 Plus is really cumbersome in this orientation.

The rest of the Tab S7 design is taken right from the iPad Pro’s playbook: an even border around the screen with rounded corners, matte finish aluminum on the back, and sharp-edged, squared-off sides. Unoriginal as it is, the fit and finish are appropriate for this price level, and nobody can deny the Tab S7 is a nice-looking device.

The Tab S7 has a fingerprint scanner built into its sleep / wake button.

Samsung added an LED flash to the dual-camera system, which helps when using the camera for document scanning.

Aside from the obvious size difference and the type of displays used, the Tab S7 and S7 Plus differ in their biometric unlocking systems. The Tab S7 integrates a fingerprint scanner into the power button, which works quickly and reliably. The S7 Plus has an in-screen fingerprint scanner, like Samsung’s high-end smartphones. Sometimes in-screen scanners can be finicky, but I had no issues using it in my tests.

Samsung put four speakers into both Tab S7 models and dolloped a bit of Dolby Atmos and AKG tuning on top. The result is a loud, full experience that sounds great whether I’m watching a YouTube video, listening to some Spotify, or dialing into a Zoom call. They are almost good enough for me to forgive Samsung for not including a headphone jack.

Sadly, the microphones aren’t quite up to the same level. Those on the other end of Zoom calls said I sounded muffled and distant, despite my ability to hear them perfectly fine. Samsung was smart enough to put the front-facing camera on the long edge of the screen, so when you’re using it in the keyboard case the camera is on the top, not the side, just like a laptop. It’s not the best camera I’ve ever seen, but it does run laps around most laptop webcams at this point and is much less awkward to use than the iPad Pro’s front-facing camera.

Both tablets have excellent quad speaker systems, but no headphone jack.

On the back is a dual-camera system with a standard and ultrawide lens. They are fine, but what I’m glad to see is an LED flash, which is useful when scanning documents and was missing from the Tab S6.

The other half of the Tab S7 hardware discussion is Samsung’s optional (and expensive) keyboard cases, which allow you to use the S7 or S7 Plus in lieu of a laptop.

There are some good ideas here. For example, I like how the keyboard can be separated from the tablet and there’s still a part of the case protecting the back and providing a kickstand for watching video or drawing. It’s way more flexible than Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which basically forces you into having all or nothing. The back cover also keeps the S Pen in place when I toss the tablet in a bag and instead of the weird adhesive that was part of the Tab S6’s case, Samsung is using magnets to attach it to the tablet, so it’s much easier to take on and off.

But that flexibility comes at a price when I try to use the Tab S7 on my lap, where it’s all kinds of wobbly and unstable. I can make it work, but it’s way less comfortable than an iPad Pro, Surface Pro, or traditional clamshell laptop on my actual lap.

The Tab S7 Plus’ optional keyboard and included S Pen.

The Tab S7’s keyboard lacks a function row.

The keyboard and trackpad have good feel and action. I particularly like the new multifinger gestures that let me navigate the software with swipes on the trackpad. But there are annoyances here, too, such as the function row that can’t be set to media controls by default. I have to press the Fn key every time I want to pause music or adjust the volume. The 11-inch version of the keyboard omits the function row entirely, making it even more difficult to work on.

The trackpad also has terrible palm rejection, which sends my cursor flying across the screen erratically all day long, and you can’t disable the inverted (or “natural”) scrolling on it, which frustrates me.

I do not pretend to be an artist, but Samsung’s included S Pen stylus is easier to write with than the Apple Pencil, thanks to its softer tip, and I don’t need a matte screen protector to stop the stylus from skidding across the screen like I do with the iPad. It’s also nice to hold and doesn’t cost an additional $129 like Apple’s.

Samsung’s DeX mode tries to replicate macOS or Windows but mostly falls short.

Software

It’s not a controversial statement to say that the weakest part of Samsung’s tablet offerings is that they run Android, which hasn’t worked well on tablets in, well, ever. That’s still the case with the S7, though if all you’re doing is browsing the web, checking Facebook, and streaming Netflix, the software is fine. It’s when you try to do some more demanding things or branch outside the most popular apps where you run into some problems.

To try to overcome some of Android’s large-screen shortcomings in a productivity context, Samsung developed DeX a few years ago. It attempts to provide a more traditional desktop-like experience, complete with overlapping windows and a taskbar at the bottom.

To get to the DeX mode, you use a keyboard shortcut or have the system switch automatically when the keyboard is attached. The system will do a soft reboot and bring you out of the traditional Android home screen and launch something that doesn’t look hugely different from current versions of macOS. Apps are available through a launcher, you can see all of your notifications and settings in the lower-right corner, and when new apps open in a windowed box, they don’t take up the whole screen.

This is all a good idea, in theory. The thing that enables productivity on a desktop or laptop computer is the ability to have more than one window open at a time, whether that’s a second browser or document to reference while writing or a chatbox while you compose an email. It’s also a familiar interface that the vast majority of people are comfortable with, unlike the iPad’s unique approach to multitasking.

The problem is that even though Samsung has been working on it for years, DeX still feels like an unfinished project and it’s not something the base Android system supports well. DeX’s rudimentary window management has no window snapping or virtual desktops and is jarring to use when coming from a modern desktop OS. I can’t use the trackpad to select text in a webpage or app for some reason.

Then there are the bigger issues, like when crucial apps refuse to open in DeX mode (hello, LastPass) or don’t want to cooperate with Samsung’s hacky window resizing controls (looking at you, Pocket). Apps frequently just crash when I’m in the DeX environment, and if I close up the tablet and open it up later, I can expect that all of the apps I was working in will be gone. It’s just not something I’d want to rely on for work every day.

(Also, this is exceedingly pedantic, but the mouse pointer is rotated counter-clockwise a few degrees more than the once in Windows or macOS, and it looks odd and off-putting to me.)

Samsung has done a good job of making sure its own apps, such as the browser and calendar, work well, and Microsoft’s Office suite and Google’s apps stretch across the screen more elegantly. If you bail on DeX and use it in the standard Android mode, you can use Samsung’s multiwindow feature that lets you run three apps at the same time (much like you can on the Galaxy Fold).

But the reality is that the vast majority of Android apps just kind of look stupid on such a big screen. Apps I use every day, such as Feedly, don’t offer multiple columns, and Twitter is just a stretched-out version of the phone app. Even if they do format themselves well for the bigger display, few Android apps offer any kind of support for keyboard shortcuts, a particular pain point when I’m managing my inbox in Outlook.

All of that adds up to a frustrating experience when you’re trying to do anything more productive than send off a few emails or research a new vacuum to buy.

The best experience with the Tab S7 is when you’re watching movies or TV shows.

Performance

Both Tab S7 models have Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 865 Plus processor inside, plus 6GB of RAM in the S7 and 8GB of RAM in the S7 Plus. In my testing, neither showed any slowdown or chug, even when bouncing between multiple apps and running a handful of tabs in the browser. I was able to chat with my colleagues in Slack, compose articles in our CMS, browse Twitter, watch Doug DeMuro videos on YouTube, and keep up with my RSS feed just like I do on a laptop every day of the week. Technically, Apple’s processor is faster than the Qualcomm in a benchmark test, but in the real world, the Tab S7 Plus feels no slower than the iPad Pro, at least for the tasks I ask of it.

Battery life, though, is a mixed bag. For typical “tablet stuff” — reading books or articles, browsing the web, watching video, playing games, etc. — the Tab S7 and S7 Plus have no trouble lasting 10 hours or more between charges. But when I use them as workstations in place of a laptop, that stamina plummets to less than four or five hours. That’s not out of line with my experience on the iPad Pro under the same use cases, but it does mean that I’m charging the tablet at least once or twice a day when I’m working. Fortunately, there’s support for 45-watt fast charging, though the included charger is a measly 15 watts.


At the end of my testing period, I mostly became frustrated because Samsung made some forward progress compared to last year’s Tab S6, and there are things I like or even love about the Tab S7. The hardware is top-notch, the display is perhaps the best you can get on any mobile device, and the audio experience is excellent. These really are the best media consumption tablets I’ve ever used, and I’d rather pick up the S7 Plus to watch the latest episode of Lovecraft Country than an iPad Pro.

But when you’re spending over a thousand dollars on a tablet and keyboard, it’s reasonable to expect more than just an excellent movie watching experience, and that’s once again where Samsung’s tablets fall short.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge



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Trump to ban US TikTok and WeChat app store downloads on September 20th


The US Commerce Department intends to issue a new order on Friday that will ban people in the US from downloading the popular video-sharing app TikTok from app stores as early as Sunday, September 20th, Reuters first reported Friday.

Over the last few weeks, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has been engaged in talks with US companies like Microsoft and Oracle to create a new company, TikTok Global, that would meet the Trump administration’s concerns over user data security. Earlier this month, President Trump sparked negotiations after calling for US TikTok operations to be shut down unless sold to a US company by September 15th. Microsoft has dropped out of the bidding, leaving Oracle and Walmart as the leading candidates to hold stake in the new TikTok company. Still, the administration has yet to strike a deal that meets all of its requirements.

Officials told Reuters that a Commerce Department rule banning US downloads of TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps like the messaging platform WeChat could be issued as early as Friday. That rule would reportedly go into effect Sunday, September 20th, banning new downloads of both WeChat and TikTok.

Reuters said that the administration’s ban would bar Apple and Google from offering any of these Chinese-owned apps in their app stores for US users. The tech companies would still be allowed to offer TikTok to users outside of the US. US-based companies would not be barred from conducting business with the Chinese-owned apps, like how Walmart and Starbucks allow users to make transactions through WeChat.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters Friday, “We have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

The order is scheduled to be published at 8:45AM ET on Friday, according to Reuters.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge.



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We’re delighted to say you can pet the dogs in this video game bundle


There are a couple of questions I ask myself before I spend money on a game. How long is it? Can my PC run it? And if there’s a dog in it, can I pet it? In the case of Humble Bundle’s latest collection of games the answer to the last question is a resounding “Yes!” The store has partnered with the Twitter account “Can You Pet the Dog?” for its latest bundle, which includes a total of eight games which are guaranteed to include a least one virtual dog, ripe for the petting.

By now you almost certainly know what the deal is with Humble Bundles, but the standard pay-what-you-want rules apply. You can pay a minimum price of $1 to unlock four of the bundle’s games (Scribblenauts Unlimited, Beyond Eyes, Dog Sled Saga, and Bulb Boy), pay more than the average price (currently $4.75) to add Shenmue I & II, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, and Death’s Gambit. Finally, paying $12 also gets you Blair Witch.

Also, in typical Humble Bundle fashion, the store is splitting the proceeds with a small handful of charities: Sweet Farm, The Humane Society of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society. Click the “Choose where your money goes” tab to select exactly how your money gets split between the games’ publishers, the charities, and the store itself.

Humble Bundle’s latest deal is live now, and runs for the next couple of weeks. For information on more games where you can pet the dog, we recommend you follow @CanYouPetTheDog on Twitter.





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Here’s what Apple’s new rules actually mean for Microsoft xCloud, Google Stadia, and cloud gaming


Apple has changed the rules.

One month after suggesting its iOS App Store guidelines would bar cloud gaming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud from appearing on an iPhone or iPad, the company has now overhauled those rules, telling journalists last Friday that Google and Microsoft’s streaming games are actually welcome after all.

But if you know how cloud game services operate, and then look at Apple’s actual written rules, you’ll see that’s only technically true. If I understand correctly, the reality is one of two things:

Either 1) Apple is asking Microsoft, Google and others to turn their streaming game services into an entirely new category of standalone app which guarantees Apple a profit — a kind of app that’s rarely existed on iOS before, and one that Apple itself called “not appropriate” just last year.

Or 2) Apple’s new guidelines aren’t designed to be anything but an attempt to confuse — a way to get the world to think Apple’s not actually rejecting the future of gaming, while simultaneously erecting so many roadblocks that companies like Google and Microsoft would never dream of taking Apple up on the offer.

It occurs to me, though, that you might not know how cloud gaming services operate. Most of them are pretty recent additions to the gaming landscape, even if I’ve been covering them for years. So let’s break down those new rules, and I’ll tell you how today’s cloud gaming services don’t actually fit.

The rule that didn’t exist

On August 6th, Apple told Business Insider and The Verge something it also suggested to Bloomberg months before: the primary reason why it wouldn’t allow Stadia, xCloud, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now into the App Store. That reason: Apple claimed its App Store rules require developers to submit each and every game individually so they can be reviewed and listed as apps in Apple’s App Store. Since Stadia and xCloud weren’t exactly planning to do that, they were out.

There were two gaping holes in that logic, though:

  1. Apple already allows giant subscription services chock-full of content onto the iPhone that don’t have to be individually submitted. Ever heard of Netflix? YouTube? Spotify? Twitch?
  2. Apple’s App Store Guidelines didn’t actually include an explicit rule that required submitting each game as its own app. We checked.

Arguing over whether Apple’s guidelines did or didn’t include a thing is kind of pointless, though, because Apple has ultimate authority. The company can interpret the guidelines however it chooses, enforce them when it wants, and change them at will — as we saw last week.

Last Friday, Apple added the rule that didn’t previously exist. It’s right here:

4.9.1: Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the user’s device, etc.

“What’s so wrong with listing cloud games on the App Store,” you might wonder? Well, it’s an awful lot of work with little benefit for Microsoft and Google, to start. They have to individually submit every single game, create App Store pages for each one, and hand the customer relationship to Apple — instead of just beaming their ready-made platform into the iPhone the same way they beam it into an Android phone right now.

Oh, but it gets worse (bolding mine):

4.9.2 Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

You see, we’re not even talking about a cloud gaming service anymore, like the visions Google and Microsoft have shared of a portal to instantly hop into any game. Instead, Apple is offering to allow a catalog that merely links to games that live in the App Store, with no ability to launch them any other way.

Apple is effectively saying these companies cannot build a “Netflix of games” on the iPhone. That holy grail of cloud gaming is outlawed. They have to squeeze the entire idea, one game at a time, into a App Store-shaped hole. And of course, in-app purchase ensures Apple gets its cut of the profits as well.

Hacking away at the business model

But I think rule 3.1.2(a) is really the most telling piece of the whole puzzle:

3.1.2(a): Games offered in a streaming game service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment by a subscriber, and should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with “downloaded directly from the App Store,” because we had to get some clarification on that from Apple itself. Apple tells us it doesn’t mean that games have to run locally on the iPhone — they can still be thin-client cloud games harnessing the power of remote servers to produce AAA graphics.

But I still have to agree with the way Microsoft put it last Friday afternoon:

“Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud.”

You should also really take a look at the phrase “should not disadvantage non-subscriber customers,” because that implies that there would need to be a category of non-subscriber customers for these games: Google and Microsoft would need to sell cloud games a la carte.

And this is where — for big cloud gaming services — Apple’s proposal starts looking a lot more like a ban.

It’s not yet clear that cloud gaming can even sustain an a la carte business model, where games are sold one by one. Companies like Google and Microsoft have to pay to maintain expensive cloud gaming servers and infrastructure, and they spin that hardware up based on how many paying subscribers they have and how many will actually be playing games at peak. Some also hope gamers will play less graphically intensive titles some of the time, instead of dedicating the entire power of a server to each person.

But if gamers can just choose a title or two they want instead of subsidizing the whole service, is it even feasible?

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

There’s also the little matter of whether Google and Microsoft could even legally do what Apple wants. Do Google and Microsoft actually have the rights to submit any of their cloud gaming service’s games to the App Store as standalone titles?

I’d wager they don’t — in the games industry, that usually falls to the publishers that bankroll these games, and their lawyers have a tendency to make distribution rights exceedingly specific by both region and platform. There’s already precedent in the cloud: Nvidia’s GeForce Now got in massive trouble by assuming the service could keep dishing up games Nvidia already had agreements for, and which gamers already owned, because these developers had technically only agreed during the beta period. Valve is getting partners to sign additional paperwork if they want their games to appear in the cloud, which implies the company didn’t have it from the start.

Did I mention Apple’s asking these companies to submit each and every update to their game for approval as well?

Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.

Perhaps the funniest bit is that for the past 15 months, Apple has explicitly said this exact kind of app is forbidden on the iPhone. In June 2019, the company added this phrase to the section of its App Store Guidelines that it previously applied to streaming games: “Thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store”.

In case you don’t know, a “thin client” is what you call a local app that relies on the processing power of a remote server — exactly how Stadia, xCloud, and every other cloud gaming service operates today.

The rule actually still exists, but Apple tells us it no longer applies to streaming games. Apparently that philosophy wasn’t important enough to keep now there’s money on the table.

To be fair, Apple’s under a lot of pressure now to find that money so it can continue to show growth. As iPhone sales have slowed, the company has decided to intensely focus on growing its services business, has seen phenomenal success, and it’s become increasingly clear that the App Store is a huge part of that. The result is that we’re seeing the company make calculated choices like this around the App Store time and again: Stratechery’s Ben Thompson reported that 21 different app developers contacted him about how they’d been pushed to retroactively add in-app purchases in the wake of the Hey and WordPress controversies.

Where this leaves the cloud

What Apple is asking for would create a new category of app on the App Store, a type of thin-client game with better graphics than anything you can currently play on an iPhone or iPad — but one that’s almost entirely under Apple’s control.

A generous interpretation might be that Apple’s hoping one of Google and Microsoft’s rivals will build a new cloud gaming service around that idea — they’d need the server and network infrastructure, which is which is why companies like Microsoft and Google are currently seen as front-runners in the space, but they’re not the only ones capable of fielding the tech.

At one point or another, Nintendo, Amazon, Walmart, Verizon, Comcast, and Electronic Arts were all testing cloud gaming — we’ve already seen a service called G-cluster do this with Square Enix and Koei Tecmo games in Japan, putting individually wrapped cloud games like Final Fantasy XIII on the App Store. It’s not hard to imagine a major ISP becoming a cloud gaming giant with Apple’s blessing, too.

But to Google and Microsoft, the new rules probably sound an awful lot like this: “Yes, you can offer a cloud gaming subscription service if you also individually submit every single game and future game update to the App Store for review, make downloadable thin clients for each one, let people buy them individually so we get a cut of revenue, give us a cut of your subscription revenue too, set up their App Store pages, and give us the customer relationship as well.”

Regardless of how you feel about whether Apple deserves 30 percent of anything that appears on an iPhone or iPad — Epic is taking that entire idea to court with its Fortnite fight — this is a tremendous number of hoops to jump through, when no other category of streaming content on the App Store requires every piece of content to be individually submitted to Apple for review. Not Netflix, not Spotify, not Twitch, and definitely not YouTube.

When I asked Apple why games are being held to a different standard than film and music, the justification was thin indeed: Apple’s customers expect to find their games in the App Store, so that’s where Apple wants each and every one of these games to individually go as well.

So unless Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and others can manage to stream their games through an Apple-approved web browser, we’re right back where we started: Apple has effectively banned xCloud and Stadia from iOS, it’s still in the middle of a feud with the gaming industry, and a huge swath of the potential audience for services like these can’t use them on iPhone.

If you want to play cloud games, you need to be on Android.



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Kevin Systrom probably won’t take over TikTok, but it’s fun to dream


This week was the deadline for ByteDance to divorce itself of TikTok over security concerns, but at press time no deal has been struck. Instead, we have the strangest of corporate entities now taking shape. And, thanks to journalists at the New York Times, we have perhaps the most delicious morsel of reporting to ever emerge from TikTok deal talks.

Let’s take a look at the latest.

The first thing to say is that we may see action from President Trump within days — and that, if he approves the deal, we could soon see a TikTok IPO. Here are Alex Sherman and Lauren Feiner at CNBC:

President Donald Trump is expect to decide on TikTok’s fate in the U.S. in the next 24-36 hours, sources told CNBC’s David Faber.

To address ownership concerns, ByteDance plans to do an initial public offering of global TikTok on a U.S. stock exchange, according to people familiar with the matter. Oracle will also own a minority stake that will be less than 20% of the new global TikTok, two of the people said. Walmart will also take a stake, though its size is still unknown, according to two of the people.

On the other hand, Trump told reporters Wednesday night that he was “not happy about what he was hearing about the bid.” (He was expected to be briefed on Thursday morning.) In the meantime, for reasons we covered here Monday, Trump is facing increasing pushback from Republican members on the deal as it is currently proposed. Here are Saleha Mohsin, Nick Wadhams, and Jennifer Jacobs at Bloomberg:

The Oracle agreement is facing sharp pushback in Congress, where some lawmakers have argued that its terms don’t go nearly far enough to address the reason why Trump demanded the sale in the first place. A letter sent to Trump on Wednesday by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and five other Republicans said the deal in its current reported form “leaves significant unresolved national security issues.”

In a separate letter to Mnuchin, Texas Senator Ted Cruz also said the deal fell far short. Like other opponents, Cruz called for an “outright sale” of Tiktok if necessary. Some have also demanded TikTok turn over the algorithm that helps determine the content seen by users.

Elsewhere at Bloomberg, Wadhams and Shelly Banjo report that ByteDance is prepared to give its “trusted technology partner” full access to the code base. The idea, they write, is “to make sure there are no back doors used by the company’s Chinese parent to gather data on the video-sharing app’s 100 million American users.” The sides are said to have agreed in principle on these changes. But it’s still hard to imagine those concessions swaying Rubio, Cruz, and possibly the president.

All of which leaves us more or less where we were when the week began — waiting for the most erratic president in living memory to decide what he wants to do with this thing. But if you are the sort of person who likes to imagine what could be — to dream of a richer, more vibrant world, where each day brings stories that would fill up this column until it overflowed with Shakespearean drama and intrigue — well, here are David McCabe, Erin Griffith, Ana Swanson and Mike Isaac:

While rushing to secure a deal, TikTok is also hunting for a permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Mayer, who resigned in late August, citing the changing political pressures of the role. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, took over in the interim.

Among those whom TikTok has talked to about the job is Kevin Systrom, a founder and former chief executive of Instagram, people briefed on the matter said. Talks are preliminary, and no final decisions have been made, they said.

Reader, I screamed. There are few stories about Facebook’s leadership team that I have followed with more interest over the years than that of Instagram’s co-founders and their abrupt 2018 departure from the company. I got some closure on that mystery earlier this year, when Sarah Frier wrote the most comprehensive account to date of Instagram’s story. Frier’s book No Filter reveals how Systrom and his co-founder, Mike Krieger, were gently managed out of the company once their vaunted independence came to be seen as a liability.

Systrom has been nothing but polite about Facebook in his public statements since leaving the company. In 2019 he told Josh Constine he wanted to find “the next wave,” in a comment I took to mean that he had no plans to start another social network. He and Krieger have spent the past couple years kicking around new ideas together, and earlier this year they produced RT.live, a beautiful and useful real-time tracker for understanding the spread of COVID-19 in each state.

And yet, if Systrom harbored some desire to get back in the game — and start on third base — it’s hard to imagine a more intriguing perch than TikTok. The app is dominant among the younger generation, and yet it still feels as if the company is just scratching the surface of what it could become. It seems possible that TikTok could be the canvas Systrom had once hoped Instagram could be for him over the long term — a quasi-independent company that would allow him to nurture a community, invent new creative tools, and win in business.

On the other hand, Kevin Mayer probably thought that way about TikTok, too — and he only lasted in the job for three months. Even if the geopolitical concerns around TikTok are somewhat resolved, they won’t go totally away. And it’s unclear that Systrom would have any more freedom working for the unholy combination of Larry Ellison and Walmart than he had working at Facebook. The new boss, in other words, might look a lot like the old one. I have a much easier time picturing Systrom and Krieger starting a new company than trying to fit themselves into whatever strange beast may be birthed out of ByteDance.

That said, I have no doubt Systrom at least had a conversation or two. Who wouldn’t? The best case scenario is you find a fantastic new role for yourself. And if you don’t like what you hear, there’s still a good chance the news will leak and you can send a shiver up the spine of every person you used to work with in Menlo Park.

Ultimately, I don’t think Systrom would take the job at TikTok. But I sure am glad he took the call.

The Ratio

Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.

Trending up: Facebook announced new policies to limit the spread of groups that promote violence and share health advice. It will no longer recommend these groups to users. It’s also restricting groups that promote violence from search and reducing how often their content shows up on people’s News Feeds. You can read the full policy change here. (Salvador Rodriguez / CNBC)

Governing

Facebook critics say Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to his company’s growth has led to an alliance of convenience between the world’s largest social network and the White House. I actually have a very different view of the facts presented here — let’s talk about it again next week. Here are Sarah Frier and Kurt Wagner at Bloomberg:

As employees started to worry about Facebook’s proximity to the Right, Facebook’s M-Team—“M” for management—seemed intent on pushing the company even closer to it. At one point, the group flew to New York for a leadership off-site at the headquarters of News Corp., which like Fox News is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family. One executive, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom (who left the company in 2018), refused to attend, citing Fox’s polarizing influence, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company says it regularly meets with media outlets. Systrom didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Eventually, Trump pushed the limits. In the early morning hours of May 29, he posted a message to his 29.5 million Facebook followers, warning protesters in Minneapolis that they were risking violent retribution. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president wrote. It was a formulation that’s long been associated with police brutality. A similar threat was used by the segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace.

Mark Zuckerberg outlined a new set of principles to guide employee debates within Workplace, Facebook’s internal social network. The company is getting more specific about which parts of Workplace can be used to discuss social and political issues. Illustrating once again that there is no easy way to do content moderation. (Salvador Rodriguez / CNBC)

Big Tech companies shared the latest from their work with the US government on election integrity. In a joint statement, tech companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter said they are looking at ways to counter targeted attempts to undermine the election conversation, including “hack and leak” operations which use social platforms to “amplify unauthorized information drops.”

Twitter will prompt high-profile political accounts to take heightened security measures ahead of the 2020 US election. Over the next few days, Twitter will automatically turn on password reset protection for some accounts while recommending they also turn on two-factor authentication. (Makena Kelly / The Verge)

QAnon has upended California politics with a campaign targeting Senator Scott Wiener. As the conspiracy theories grows, hate campaigns against local laws and politicians could become more commonplace. (Julia Carrie Wong / The Guardian)

President Trump’s executive order on WeChat won’t target users who download the app for personal or business communications. The government has yet to clarify which transactions will be prohibited. (Edvard Pettersson / Bloomberg)

Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden are demanding Amazon stop spying on workers’ social media posts. The move comes in response to an article about the company’s Advocacy Operations Social Listening Team, a group inside Amazon that monitored the closed Facebook groups of Amazon Flex Drivers. (Joseph Cox / Vice)

Industry

TikTok is helping people build massive subscriber bases on OnlyFans, and making them rich as a result. The two unrelated platforms have developed a symbiotic relationship, as fame on one platform leads to more followers on another. Ashley Carman at The Verge has the story:

The tricky part about advertising an OnlyFans on TikTok, though, is that the app would seemingly prefer these users disappear. Its team often deletes their accounts and videos, and the app bans porn, most nudity, and any content that “commits, promotes, or glorifies sexual solicitation or sexual objectification.” In fact, direct links to OnlyFans are banned, TikTok confirmed to The Verge.

Yet, their videos perform well, mainly because TikTok’s own algorithm takes over and surfaces their videos to millions of people around the world. TikTok can’t prevent OnlyFans users from joining, but these women have to find a balance between creating sexy enough content to bring people over to OnlyFans while still operating under the TikTok’s team’s radar.

Facebook is preempting privacy concerns with new rules governing AR and VR. For Project Aria, a headset that will gather data for the development of Facebook’s AR glasses, the company is quarantining data for three days, which it will use to blur faces and license plates. (Janko Roettgers / Protocol)

Facebook launched a new app to let small businesses manage their pages and profiles across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger from a single interface. It’s called Facebook Business Suite. (Sara Fischer / Axios)

Mozilla is introducing a new browser extension, RegretsReporter, to help users better understand how YouTube’s recommendation algorithm works. The extension will send data to Mozilla about how often you use YouTube, and what videos you watch (if you offer that kind of data). (Kim Lyons / The Verge)

Creators are moving into collab houses amid the pandemic. It’s essentially a modern commune. But it pays better! (Calvin Kasulke / Vice)

And finally…

Talk to us

Send us tips, comments, questions, and Kevin Systrom theories: [email protected] and [email protected]





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Here are the browsers iOS 14 now lets you set as default


With iOS 14, Apple finally lets you choose which browser you want to use as your default, letting you switch away from Safari if you’d rather use a third-party alternative like Chrome or Edge. Apple is also letting iPhone users change their default email app in the updated OS.

To be a candidate for the default browser, developers have had to update their apps. All browsers are still required to use WebKit as their underlying browsing engine, meaning that the main differences between them will come down to their user interfaces and how they sync with other platforms, rather than how they fundamentally render web pages. At the moment there’s only a limited selection of browsers that can be set as the default on iPhone.

Here’s a list of alternative default browsers we can confirm:

  • Chrome
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Edge
  • Firefox

Notably absent from this list are the iOS version of Brave (although the company has confirmed that the latest version of its browser is currently going through Apple’s review process) and Opera Touch (the iOS version of Opera). We also downloaded a variety of other iOS browsers that are frequently recommended in “best iOS browsers” lists including Dolphin, Ghostery, UC Browser, and Aloha, and found that they did not appear in the default browser selection menu.

As of this writing, there appears to be a bug in iOS 14 which resets your default browser to Safari whenever your device reboots. Apple is yet to respond to our request for comment on the bug, but we’d expect it to be fixed with an upcoming patch for iOS.

In order to change your default browser, head into the Settings app, then scroll down to the browser you want to be your default. Click it and you’ll see a “Default Browser App” option if it’s default eligible.



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Google corrects unfortunate ‘Stalkerware’ typo allowing partner-tracking apps


Google is correcting a “typo” in its Play Store “stalkerware” policy that currently suggests that apps can be used to track spouses. Stalkerware and other tracking software is dangerous, campaigners say, because it can facilitate domestic abuse and harassment of partners. As it’s written, the policy also mistakenly says parents cannot track their children.

The updated developer policy, which comes into effect on October 1st, now explicitly says that Play Store apps which allow parents to track their children are acceptable, but that they cannot be used to track adults (like a spouse) without their knowledge or permission.

Here’s the relevant section from the current developer policy which is due to be corrected (emphasis added):

Legitimate forms of these apps cannot be used by parents to track their children. However, these apps can be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent notification is displayed while the data is being transmitted.

Here’s that same section in the new policy, which comes into effect on October 1st (again, emphasis added). Google has changed the wording from “legitimate” to “acceptable,” but more importantly it’s switched around which apps are allowed and which are forbidden.

Acceptable forms of these apps can be used by parents to track their children. However, these apps cannot be used to track a person (a spouse, for example) without their knowledge or permission unless a persistent notification is displayed while the data is being transmitted.

Outside of a couple of other minor wording changes, the rest of the Stalkerware policy appears to be more or less unchanged from August. Google’s rules state that apps cannot mislead users about their tracking functionality. Apps must “present users with a persistent notification and unique icon that clearly identifies the app” and they’re not allowed to hide tracking behavior. They also have to be explicitly designed and marketed as parental monitoring or enterprise management apps, rather than a “spying or secret surveillance solution.” Google has confirmed to The Verge that this persistent tracking notification must be displayed, even when an app is designed to allow parents to track their children.

Google’s rule clarification comes amidst a wider campaign to crack down on stalkerware. These apps that are frequently marketed as a way for jealous or suspicious partners to keep tabs on another, and are designed to trick users into believing they’re not being monitored, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The Coalition Against Stalkerware, which the EFF helped found last year, says that surveillance like this can facilitate “gender-based and domestic violence, harassment and sexual abuse.”

Back in July, Google announced a ban on advertising spyware or surveillance technology with a new ads policy which came into force on August 11th, although a TechCrunch report subsequently found ads for these apps after the ban came into effect.

Alongside yesterday’s typo correction, Google also updated its policies around misrepresentation and gambling apps. It has clarified that “coordinated activity that misrepresents or conceals the origin of an app or content” is a violation of its policies, and that a government-published gambling app is now allowed in Brazil. These policies will come into effect on October 21st.



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Nvidia’s RTX Voice app was great, and its Broadcast successor is now available


Earlier this year, Nvidia released RTX Voice, a beta software to process audio and suppress almost all background noise, and it worked amazingly well. My colleague Jon Porter made the sound of his clacking mechanical keyboard completely disappear. Today, Nvidia has released a successor app called Broadcast, and it’s available to download now.

Nvidia Broadcast is a follow-up to the RTX Voice beta and introduces two new AI-powered features: Virtual Background and Auto Frame. Nvidia says that the noise removal feature also now has a reduced performance cost and supports triple the number of noise profiles.

The new Virtual Background allows you to remove the background of your webcam feed and replace it either with game footage or an image saved on your hard drive, but you can also blur out your background entirely. It looks extremely nice, and the background blur reminds me a lot of the Portrait Mode shots you can take with newer phones.

I hope the quality is this good when I try it

Auto Frame serves as the cameraman to your own reality TV show. Your webcam zooms in on you, and the graphic card’s AI keeps you in frame by following your head movements even if you’re not directly in front of your computer.

And of course, noise removal will attempt to suppress any background noise from your microphone feed, such as my twin brother’s pomeranian, who barks every time someone rings the doorbell. Or that one friend who doesn’t know how to enable push-to-talk while we are playing CS:GO.

To use Nvidia Broadcast, you’ll need an RTX GPU — the RTX 2060, 2070, 2080, 2080 Ti and their Super variants, the TITAN or Quadro RTX, as well as the new RTX 3080 (if you were lucky enough to buy one). However, if you want to see what the fuss is all about, you can download a patched version of RTX Voice that now supports older GeForce graphics cards. Just note Nvidia says “your mileage may vary” with older GPUs.



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PSA: Walmart is trying PS5 preorders again at 6PM PT / 9PM ET right here


The PS5 pre-order situation has so far been a bit of a mess, but you might just have your next shot to snag a console very soon — Walmart will be offering PS5 pre-orders at 6PM PT / 9PM ET tonight, September 17th. If you want the $499.99 version that comes with a disc drive, click here. If you want the $399.99 Digital Edition, click here.

You should be prepared to act extremely quickly, as PS5 preorders at many retailers seem to have sold out within minutes of going live. If possible, be logged in and make sure your payment info and address are up to date in Walmart’s systems, as the seconds spent typing those in once preorders are live could make the difference between you securing your preorder or not. It’s not unusual for a console to be snagged right out of your digital shopping cart.

And given that Walmart is sharing advance warning of when the preorders will go live, you can expect that many people will be parked on Walmart’s website waiting for the clock to strike the hour. The competition for a console might be fierce.

Good luck out there.

Here’s our collection of links to other retailers stocking the PS5, in case they follow Walmart’s lead. And here’s Microsoft’s full, worldwide guidance on when Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S preorders will begin.



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