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The Morning After: 2021’s winners in tech

Happy almost new year! We’re wrapping up 2021 with some of the big winners of the last twelve months, whether that was NFTs (ugh), the metaverse (double ugh), Apple’s change of direction on device repair or the boom in home workout tech.

We also mention Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3, which makes the most compelling case for foldables so far. Samsung has noticed the same. It said the Flip 3 motivated more people to switch than its flagships, leading to four times more foldable devices sold in 2021 compared to 2020. The argument for buying your first folding smartphone strengthens year by year.

-Mat Smith

BlackBerry OS devices are pretty much dead after January 4th

Data, phone calls, and texting will no longer work.

BlackBerry has announced that from January 4th, devices running BlackBerry OS 7.1 or earlier, as well as OS 10, will lose key services. And by key, we mean it. It’ll include losing the ability to make phone calls, texting, data and even emergency 911 access. You can also expect to have issues with WiFi and apps like BlackBerry World and Desktop manager.

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Yukai Engineering's cute stuffed animal robot will nibble on your finger

The face of robotics I want to see

Yukai Engineering, the maker of the Qoobo robotic cat tail pillow, has revealed a soft robot that nibbles on a user’s fingertip. Amagami Ham Ham has an algorithm called a “Hamgorithm” that selects one of two dozen nibbling patterns, designed to replicate the feeling of a baby or pet nibbling on one’s finger. Pricing hasn't been determined, but there are plans to run a crowdfunding campaign in the spring.

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Sega left one of its European servers wide open

A malicious attacker could have accessed 250,000 users' personal data.

According to a report by security firm VPN Overview, a major breach in one of Sega's servers appears to have been closed. The misconfigured Amazon Web Services S3 bucket contained sensitive information which allowed researchers to arbitrarily upload files to a huge swath of Sega-owned domains, as well credentials to abuse a 250,000-user email list.

The domains impacted included the official landing pages for major franchises, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Bayonetta and Total War, as well as the Sega.com site itself.

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The best apps to download on your new smartphone

A few apps we think every iPhone or Android user should try.

Did you just pick up a new phone? Did you stick with iOS and Android or make the transition to the rival? Are you in need of some new productivity apps or time killers? We’ve got you covered.

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Samsung says the Galaxy Flip 3 motivated more people to switch than its flagships

The company sold four times more foldable devices in 2021.

Samsung says it shipped four times more foldables in 2021 than it did in 2020. Further, it took only one month after they were released for the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to exceed the total accumulative sales of their predecessors last year. The company also said that it saw a "massive increase" in consumers who jumped brands specifically for its foldable phones — in fact, more people switched to Samsung for the Flip 3 than for its flagship Galaxy S devices.

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The 'Tomb Raider' reboot trilogy is free on the Epic Games Store

You can't beat that price.

Free game promos are easy to find, but Epic is going one step further by offering an entire game trilogy for no charge. The Epic Games Store is offering all three Tomb Raider reboot titles (Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider) for free between now and January 6th at 11AM.

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The biggest news stories you might have missed

JLab's latest $20 earbuds are designed to complement your skin tone

Tesla recalls nearly half a million cars over camera and trunk defects

New York City orders 184 Mustang Mach-E cars for police and government use

Apple's 2021 iPad is back to $299 at Amazon

Unfinished 'Halo Infinite' cutscene hints at a future storyline

Tumblr blocks tags for 'sensitive content' in order to stay on the App Store

Telegram adds iMessage-style reactions and hidden text for spoilers

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-2021-s-winners-in-tech-122038974.html?src=rss

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Engadget Podcast: Quantum Dot OLED and other tech we’re expecting at CES 2022

We’re back from the holidays and gearing up to (virtually) cover CES 2022. Cherlynn and Devindra chat about some of the most interesting new tech we expect to see, like Quantum Dot OLED displays and new CPUs. And they discuss what the global chip shortage could mean for CES and the rest of 2022. (Prepare to wait a lot longer for all your near gear!)

Listen below, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you've got suggestions or topics you'd like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcasts, the Morning After and Engadget News!



  • Our second pandemic CES is going to be a little weird – 1:41

  • What is Quantum Dot OLED? – 14:23

  • What we expect from new PC CPUs and GPUs – 24:37

  • What will wearables look like at CES? – 28:05

  • Cars and CES – 31:18

  • Pop Culture Picks – 39:07

Hosts: Cherlynn Low, Devindra Hardawar
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O'Brien

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/engadget-podcast-ces-2022-quantum-dot-oled-133024275.html?src=rss

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And the biggest losers in tech in 2021 are…

It feels like forever since we all were able to look back on the last 12 months and not say “good riddance, you garbage fire hellscape of a year.” 2021 kicked off with riots at the Capitol and though things seemed to quiet down a little after, all was not well in tech.

There are companies that are obvious additions to this list, like Meta (formerly Facebook) with its repeated transgressions this year. Activision Blizzard faces multiple lawsuits and investigations over allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, revealing that despite all the growth we hoped we’d made in the last few years, the gaming industry remains toxic.

But there are other businesses that made the lives of workers and consumers miserable on a daily basis, too. And all major companies in Big Tech have to share in the blame. When we put together this roundup of the worst players in tech this year, it’s clear that we’re overdue a reckoning. Let’s hope that in the years to come, the people with the most influence learn how to treat people better.

Meta / Facebook

For the company now known as Meta, 2021 went sideways from the very beginning.

For all its talk about safeguarding the 2020 presidential election, Facebook was ill-prepared for the insurrection that followed on January 6th. The company failed to recognize the danger posed by the “Stop the Steal” movement until after a violent mob stormed the Capitol. Then COO Sheryl Sandberg downplayed the role Facebook had played in the insurrection, only to be promptly proven wrong. In the end, the events of January 6th ultimately forced the platform to do something it had studiously avoided for most of the Trump presidency: Enforce its rules for his account. (Sort of. Trump’s Facebook ban isn’t permanent.)

Elsewhere, the arrival of coronavirus vaccines only highlighted Facebook’s poor track record at combating vaccine misinformation, which surged throughout the pandemic. After years of dragging its feet, the company finally banned misleading or inaccurate vaccine content. But enough damage had already been done. The US Surgeon General said viral health misinformation was an “urgent threat” to public health. President Joe Biden went a step further: saying that Facebook was “killing people.”

This year was also the first time the Oversight Board, created so Facebook could outsource its thorny content moderation decisions, was operational. The body has pushed the social network to change some policies and has repeatedly criticized the company for a lack of transparency and ability to enforce its rules evenly.

Then came Frances Haugen, the former employee turned whistleblower who left the company with thousands of pages of internal research and other documents that have since become known as the “Facebook Papers.” Her disclosures paint a picture of a company that is unwilling or unable to adequately tackle some of its biggest problems, particularly outside the United States and Europe. She also revealed internal research about the effect of Instagram on teens, which was immediately seized on by lawmakers in Congress.

Amid all that, Zuckerberg announced not an overhaul of the company’s policies, nor a review of its internal research, but… a new name: Meta. It’s meant to symbolize the company’s newfound commitment to a metaverse that no one can fully explain. Will the company change its content moderation policies when it comes to the metaverse? Will it invest more in safety for non-western countries? How will it address hate speech in the metaverse? Facebook, er Meta, has yet to meaningfully address any of those questions. But if recent history is a guide, we all have a lot to worry about.

Karissa Bell

Truth Social

You’d be forgiven if, amidst the news of actual importance in 2021, you forgot about TRUTH Social — the upcoming site built by disgraced former president Donald J. Trump. Trump spent most of his presidency fear-mongering and spouting lies on Twitter and other social platforms, which finally resulted in him being banned from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and most other services of note. While Trump is wrongfully convinced that this is an unlawful witch hunt, he’s also decided to say “who needs ‘em?” and launch his own.

TRUTH was announced in October, with a limited beta planned for November before a full public launch in 2022. Immediately, dedicated internet pranksters found a test version of the site in the open and signed up for a slew of high-profile accounts (including, naturally, donaldjtrump and mikepence). (The donaldjtrump account had a profile picture of a defecating pig, for good measure.)

The test was quickly shut down, but not before it was revealed to be basically a Twitter clone running on the open-source software Mastodon. But since TRUTH Social didn’t properly cite its usage and didn’t share the source code with users, the site was in violation of Mastadon’s open-source license agreement.

TRUTH’S terms of service were also revealed, and we learned that it was essentially hoping to be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently states that services like Twitter and even TRUTH aren’t responsible for what their users post. This shields companies from liability for the awful things those users might share.

We blissfully haven’t heard much about TRUTH Social since its disastrous first few days in the public spotlight; the company missed the November beta launch date and there’s no update on when the promised full launch might happen. Based on these early struggles, it’s easy to call TRUTH Social a loser of 2021 – but the citizens of the internet who didn’t have to deal with the ugly reality of a Trump-backed social network are all undoubtedly winners.

Nathan Ingraham

Global chip supply

The rise in demand for PCs, gadgets and cars couldn't keep up with the slowing production in global chip supply. That's why it's still tough to find a PlayStation 5 a year after its launch, and why used car prices have gone absolutely bonkers. This is our new reality for the next few years, at least until chip suppliers can ramp up production and start spinning up new fabrication plants. Basically, be prepared to use all of your gear for a bit longer without upgrading.

Devindra Hardawar

Activision Blizzard

There are far too many stories of sexual harassment and discrimination in the video game industry. Over the past few years, reports of systemic misogyny and abuse have poured out of Riot Games, Ubisoft and many other studios large and small, and the problems date back decades.

Among all this trash, Activision Blizzard stands out as one of the worst.

Activision Blizzard was accused of fostering a culture of sexual harassment by California’s fair-employment agency in July, and multiple organizations have since launched investigations into the studio, uncovering years of mismanagement in the process. According to the California lawsuit, leaders at the studio cultivated a frat house-style environment where sexual harassment was commonplace and gender discrimination was systemic. The fair employment agency found that all of Activision Blizzard’s top leadership positions were held by white men, just 20 percent of all employees identified as women and reports of harassment were routinely ignored.

In December, an employee named Christine went public with her experience at Blizzard, saying she was inappropriately touched by male coworkers, propositioned for sex by her superiors and subjected to crude comments about her body. After reporting the abuse to management, she said she was demoted and told to “get over it.”

Activision Blizzard’s response to these accusations has been tragic. Back in July, CEO Bobby Kotick sent an email to employees dismissing the California lawsuit, but he signed a female employee’s name to it. The response was roundly and loudly criticized, with employees calling it “insulting” and “abhorrent.” Kotick let Frances Townsend, one of the few women executives at Activision Blizzard, take the heat for that letter for months, losing her spot on the studio’s women’s network in the process. Publicly, Kotick called the email “tone-deaf.”

Blizzard head J. Allen Brack lost his job shortly after the lawsuit was filed, and Kotick offered a co-leadership role to Mike Ybarra and Jennifer Oneal, who became the first woman to hold a president title since the studio’s founding in 1979. Oneal left the company shortly after this promotion, reportedly because she was being paid less than Ybarra, and she felt “tokenized, marginalized and discriminated against” at the studio.

Activision Blizzard employees have walked out multiple times this year, calling for a culture shift. Major business partners, including PlayStation and Xbox, have said they’re reevaluating their relationships with the studio. Shareholders and media outlets alike are calling for Kotick to resign.

At this point, investors, employees, analysts, major gaming companies and multiple government agencies agree that Activision Blizzard is a hotbed of discrimination and sexual harassment, and it’s in urgent need of restructuring. In his 30 years as CEO of Activision Blizzard, this is the closest Kotick has come to actually being ousted from his position of power.

From that angle, it almost feels like a good year for the company. Almost.

Jessica Conditt


I’m so disappointed with 5G. If, like me, you’ve watched the networking standard since at least 2014, you’ll likely agree. The promises about downloading feature films in seconds were really mostly advantages of mmWave technology, which as of today still hasn’t broadly rolled out. The sub-6 network that’s more widely available today on carriers like T-Mobile and ATT offer a barely noticeable speed boost, and the reported latency improvements it was supposed to bring haven’t been delivered in the real world.

Yes, the telecom industry did meet its target launch date of 2020 for an initial rollout of the new standard. But 5G is still too confusing for the average consumer. Any time a company says in a briefing that a new product is 5G-ready, a guaranteed follow-up question is “Does that mean sub-6 or mmWave?” And with the recent addition of mid-band spectrum to the mix, the layers of compatibility are only going to make things more tedious.

I’ve been more than forgiving in the last couple of years, but it’s been difficult to ignore the complete mess that is the state of 5G in the US today. Sure, we’ve had more pressing issues to deal with, but if consumers are going to embrace the new standards (and be convinced to spend money for the privilege of 5G on their devices), the industry needs to get its act together and either commit to a more coherent message or more consistent rollout.

Cherlynn Low

Workers and big tech 

For a long time, working at a tech giant like Google or Apple was an enviable position. But 2021 pulled back the curtain a bit on some of these companies, exposing deep-rooted issues with how employees are treated. While not everyone at these massive organizations may be dealing with sexual harassment or poor working conditions (to name just a few issues), the many employees speaking out across the industry are indicative of an underlying trend that need to be confronted by tech’s most powerful leaders.

Amazon’s poor treatment of its warehouse workers is well-known, and reports persisted in 2021. At the same time, the company pushed back hard against unionization efforts in Alabama. While the union drive was defeated in a vote, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board recently ordered a new election, effectively invalidating the results of the earlier one. The union had filed a formal objection right after the election, and while there’s no word on when a new election will take place, it’s clear that Amazon will be under intense scrutiny when it does. The same should hold if New York City Amazon workers hold a union vote; reports have indicated that could happen soon.

Apple workers also exposed issues within the company this year. In late August, a call went out for current and former employees to share stories of discrimination, harassment and retaliation that they had experienced. This led to the start of the #AppleToo website, where these stories are regularly published.

As Jess already explained in detail above, employees at Activision Blizzard spoke up about a misogynistic culture rife with sexual harassment, as well. Reports indicated male executives groped female colleagues while other employees joked about rape or ignored women for promotions. The revelations have been so damning a lawsuit was filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment, though somehow Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick still has his job.

Google isn’t free from sin, either – employees led a massive walkout back in 2018 around how it dealt with sexual harassment (among other concerns). It hasn’t dealt with things on the same scale as other companies this year, but Google’s recent decision that it wasn’t raising pay to match inflation has certainly rankled workers. These are just a few high-profile examples, but together they paint a dark picture of the environment at some of tech’s biggest corporations. Perhaps the only upside here is that these hopefully put pressure on those in charge to clean house and improve things as quickly as possible.



Meta didn't even give Oculus a proper funeral. Instead of a celebratory news announcement, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth pushed out a quick post to announce that the Oculus brand was being retired. What a sad fate for a company directly tied to the rise of consumer VR. (But perhaps this was the best way for Meta to separate itself from the legacy of Oculus's controversial founder Palmer Luckey.)


Blue Origin

2021 was a massive year for the burgeoning private spacelift industry. Firsts were made, records were achieved and billions of dollars worth of government contracts were awarded. It should have been a surefire win for all three of the industry’s leading companies — SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin — but then one of them managed to repeatedly shoot itself in the proverbial landing strut more than the other two combined.

Now, that’s not to say Blue Origin didn’t enjoy its share of success this year. CEO Jeff Bezos put his money where his oversized stetson is and made a historic trip out to the Karman line along with both the oldest (at least at that point) and youngest people to ever venture into space. This past November, the company even won financial backing from NASA to help build out its bonkers Orbital Reef commercial space station design.

However, those achievements were often overshadowed by the company’s public pettiness and truculence. For example, ahead of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic making its own historic first successful flight into space this past July, Blue Origin took to Twitter to talk a little trash. This is a little rich from the company that has reportedly become a toxic workplace.

More embarrassing still was Bezos’ repeated, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to secure Blue Origin a lucrative NASA contract. See, back in April, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion (yes, with a B) Artemis lunar lander contract.

Blue Origin immediately protested to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) over NASA’s “fundamentally unfair” decision against it, bringing work on the lunar program to a standstill until July, when the GAO kindly told Blue Origin to take its $2 billion and get out. Blue Origin did not.

Instead, the space lift company doubled down, suing NASA in open federal court, "in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA's Human Landing System," per a Blue Origin representative in August. The court was not at all convinced and ruled against the plaintiffs, proving SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s jab true. Blue Origin really can’t sue its way to the Moon.

Andrew Tarantola

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft finally managed to make its Edge web browser a solid competitor to Chrome, Safari and Firefox by integrating the Chromium open source framework. And then, inexplicably, it began to pile on bloat, like a predatory "buy now pay later" feature and cringey anti-Chrome warnings. All of a sudden, Edge seems more like a way to trap and commodify its users, instead of delivering a solid web experience. It's as if Microsoft made it harder to change your default browser in Windows 11 on purpose (thankfully, it's testing out a simpler method, following plenty of industry criticism).


Article source: https://www.engadget.com/worst-products-and-companies-in-2021-153034006.html?src=rss

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This is a shiatsu hand massager for gamers

Many of us know at least one person who plays games for hours on end, perhaps tiring their hands out in the process. To help soothe their weary mitts, Japanese company Bauhutte has created a hand massager for gamers.

The MSG-01H-BK hand massager, which works on either hand, has a 15-layer airbag for each finger and a shiatsu plate for the palm. There are two main options: a Shiatsu mode for the entire hand, and one that focuses on stretching fingers.

There are a few intensity settings, as well as an optional hand warmer that's said to improve circulation. You'll need to slide in your hand sideways to massage your thumb. The hand massager automatically shuts off after 10 minutes. Bauhutte suggests using the device before gaming sessions to warm up your hands, when taking breaks and afterward to cool down.

While some might scoff at a hand massager for gamers, it's not too ridiculous of an idea. Many esports competitors use hand warmers between rounds to absorb moisture, keep their fingers toasty and improve circulation. Some esports organizations employ a masseuse to keep players in top condition.

Other companies have made hand massagers, though it makes sense that Bauhutte is marketing its version to gamers. It caught attention last year for its gaming bed, and the company sells a wide range of furniture and accessories with gamers in mind, such as a portable foot massager.

Bauhutte's hand massager is only available in Japan for now and it costs around $150. As Kotaku notes, the company has an English-language site, so it might offer the device elsewhere too.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/bauhutte-hand-massager-gamers-160006506.html?src=rss

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Premier League games will stay on Peacock as NBC Sports Network shuts down

When the clock strikes midnight to ring in 2022 on the east coast, NBC Sports Network will shut down. NBCUniversal will shift much of its sports coverage, including Premier League matches, over to the USA Network.

Assuming more games aren't suspended due to teams having too many COVID-19 cases, Premier League coverage will get off to a flying start on USA Network with three matches on New Year's Day. Arsenal will square off against league leaders Manchester City at 7:30AM ET before Watford host Tottenham and Crystal Palace take on West Ham. Sunday brings a match between Everton and Brighton, before Chelsea host Liverpool in a clash between title contenders.

The shift to USA Network shouldn't change much for Peacock users, though. Overflow games and streaming-only matches will remain on that platform, including three matches that are scheduled to stream on Peacock Premium on Sunday. Some of the bigger games will still air on the main NBC network, and NBCU will continue to broadcast every Premier League match across its multitude of platforms.

It's not clear as yet whether there are plans to broadcast overflow games on other NBCU networks. On the last day of the 2020-21 season, when all 10 matches kicked off at the same time, USA Network, CNBC and the Golf Channel each aired one game.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/nbc-sports-network-premier-league-peacock-usa-network-streaming-193007469.html?src=rss

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CES 2022 will end one day early amid COVID-19 surge

After several companies cancelled on-site plans entirely for CES next week, the organization that runs the show announced today that the event will close one day early. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) said CES 2022 will now run January 5th-7th "as an additional safety measure to the current health protocols that have been put in place." January 3rd and 4th are media-only days when press conferences and keynotes take place. 

Protocols include masks and proof of vaccination to attend in-person events. The CTA also recently announced that it would provide Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests at badge pickup. The association has asked attendees to complete a rapid test 24 hours before entering a CES venue. If someone experiences symptoms while in a CES venue, the CTA has advised them to report to a first aid station for testing. The organization says it will also provide PCR tests for any attendees who are required to have one by their destination prior to departure from Las Vegas. 

In the last week, high-profile exhibitors like Amazon, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Meta and more have cancelled in-person plans for CES 2022. As part of today's announcement, the CTA explained that over 2,200 companies will still show off their goods on the ground in Vegas, noting that it has added 143 more in the last two weeks. 

CTA CEO Gary Shapiro has defended the decision to keep the show an in-person event as the omicron variant causes COVID-19 case numbers to surge in several parts of the world. “As the world’s most influential technology event, CES is steadfast in its pledge to be the gathering place to showcase products and discuss ideas that will ultimately make our lives better,” said Shapiro. “We are shortening the show to three days and have put in place comprehensive health measures for the safety of all attendees and participants.” Shapiro has pointed to the smaller companies that rely on the event as a potential springboard for products as a key reason for not cancelling the event. CES 2021 was entirely virtual.

"We will all be taking risks," he said in a recent op-ed for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "But without risk there is no innovation."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/ces-2022-closing-early-203017318.html?src=rss

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The tech industry’s accessibility report card for 2021

Meta / Facebook

Amid all the drama surrounding Facebook, its whistleblower and its rebrand this year, it’s easy to overlook the company’s accessibility-related updates. At the start of 2021, the company updated its Automatic Alt Text (AAT) system to recognize over 1,200 objects and concepts in photos on Instagram and Facebook. According to Meta, this represented a 10x increase since AAT’s debut in 2016. It also rolled out additional features to Facebook on iOS that provided more detailed descriptions like positions of objects in a picture and their relative sizes.

Unfortunately, as it pushed out these updates, Facebook may have broken some accessibility features along the way. Rachfal said that when the company turned off its facial recognition system this year, it led to less-informative descriptions for users who are blind or have low-vision. Rachfal said this change “was done due to privacy concerns,” and he believes these decisions were made without considering accessibility and the disability community. “Nor were they given the same weight and consideration as privacy concerns,” Rachfal added.

Facebook published a post addressing this issue in November. In it, the company’s vice president of artificial intelligence Jerome Pesenti wrote, “We need to weigh the positive use cases for facial recognition against growing societal concerns, especially as regulators have yet to provide clear rules.”

In the post, Pesenti acknowledges the critical role face recognition plays in AAT to help blind and low-vision users identify their friends in pictures. But while some facial recognition tools, like identity verification, will remain, for the most part features like alerting users to photos potentially including them or automatically labeling their friends are going away. That’s for both sighted and visually impaired users.

“We know the approach we’ve chosen involves some difficult tradeoffs,” Pesenti wrote, adding that “we will continue engaging in that conversation and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion.”

Elsewhere in Meta’s family of products, the company added an Accessibility tab to the Oculus Settings menu to make assistive features easier to find. It also brought Color Correction and Raise View tools to offer more legible palettes and enable a standing perspective for seated users respectively. Meta said it’s still iterating on Raise View, working with the Oculus community to improve the feature and will permanently add it to the Accessibility menu when ready.

Meta also collaborated with ZP Better Together, a company that makes technology for deaf and hard-of-hearing users, to bring sign language interpreters into video calls on Portal devices. As of December, people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can also apply on ZP’s website to get free Portals which will come with the ZP apps.

Facebook launched Clubhouse-like audio rooms in the US this year and, notably, did so with live captioning included from the start. It also included a visual cue to indicate who’s speaking, and offers captions for other audio products like Soundbites and Podcasts on iOS and Android.

Let’s not forget the company’s renaming to Meta this year and its new focus on the metaverse. According to head of accessibility Mike Shebanek, “we're already working to bring the metaverse to life and are excited to explore the breakthrough possibilities it presents to make the digital world even more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.”

We’ll have to wait and see if and how that comes true, but in the meantime, Meta must continue to engage with the accessibility community to make sure that its expansion of the metaverse is inclusive from the start.


Twitter only set up its two accessibility teams last year, after an embarrassing launch of Voice Tweets that excluded its deaf and hard of hearing users due to a lack of captions. Since then, though, the company has shown noteworthy improvement. In 2021, Twitter introduced captions for voice tweets, added captions and accessibility labels in Spaces and brought automatic video captions. That last one is “available globally in most languages,” according to the company and supported on Android, iOS and the web.

Though this may seem like a small set of updates compared to the rest of the companies in this roundup, Twitter also has a smaller portfolio of products. Still, it has managed to make significant changes. Rachfal praised Twitter as being “the first social media platform to conspicuously prompt users to include alt text with images,” though he did note that filling out the field is still optional.

Other noteworthy developments in tech this year

Alt text and captioning continue to be tricky accessibility features for the industry. They’re labor-intensive processes that companies tend to delegate to AI, which can result in garbled, inaccurate results. This was especially evident at this year’s virtual E3 gaming convention, where illegible closed captions sometimes made the show incomprehensible for those who relied on subtitles to understand the announcements.

There are also large parts of the online world that are in dire need of accessibility-related upgrades. According to a February 2021 study by WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), for example, a whopping 97.4 percent of websites had mistakes that failed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2). The most common errors included missing alt text, low contrast text, missing form input labels and more.

It’s not just websites that need work: Other media formats also need to be more inclusively designed. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), for example, filed a lawsuit with Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) this year against three major podcast providers: SiriusXM, Stitcher and Pandora.

According to the NAD, because the three defendants “do not make transcripts or captions available for any of the podcasts offered on their platforms, more than 48 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans are denied full and equal enjoyment of the content they offer their hearing users.” Meanwhile, Spotify announced this year that it will start offering automatically generated transcripts for podcasts, and Amazon Music launched synchronized transcripts in November.

Then there are entire industries that could use accessibility improvements. Rachfal notes that healthcare is a continually problematic area for people who are blind or have visual impairments. “This is still an entire sector that we hear about far too often from our members,” he said. Given that we are currently in the mires of the third wave of COVID-19, it’s inexcusable to continue excluding people with disabilities when it comes to things like scheduling vaccination or testing appointments.

In November this year, the Justice Department announced it had reached a settlement with Rite Aid to make COVID-19 testing and vaccination websites accessible. Rite Aid’s vaccine registration portal was not compatible with some screen readers and was not accessible to “those who have a hard time using a mouse.” The calendar on its website, for example, “did not show screen reader users any available appointment times,” while people relying on keyboard-based navigation instead of a mouse could not use the tab key to complete a consent form required to schedule an appointment.

The ACB also worked with CVS to offer accessible prescription information in all locations in the country. This includes a Spoken RX feature that would read out prescription labels via the CVS Pharmacy app.

Though there have been many transgressions in the past year, we also saw many promising developments in ensuring technology is inclusive. The FCC, for example, proposed rules in December to make emergency alerts more useful and informative for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Meanwhile, HBO Max launched 1,500 hours of audio-described content starting in March 2021 and committed to including the descriptions to all newly produced original content as well as adding more to its back catalog. Also, in collaboration with the Coalition for Inclusive Fitness, Planet Fitness said it will buy and install accessible exercise equipment in its stores across the country.

I’ve only scratched the surface in this roundup of updates. What’s most encouraging, though, is the increasing willingness of companies to work with disability rights groups and advocates at the earliest stages of product design. Lizzie Sorkin, director of engagement for the NAD, said it’s “seeing more and more companies reach out to us in the beginning phases for input rather than late in the process.” Rachfal also noted a “growing commitment to accessible media and content” that’s “born out of the advocacy work of ACB and the Audio description Project through collaborative discussions with industry.”

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/accessibility-in-tech-2021-report-card-apple-google-microsoft-amazon-facebook-meta-twitter-210034415.html?src=rss

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Tumblr blocks tags for ‘sensitive content’ in order to stay on the App Store

Tumblr has restricted what its users can see on its iOS app in an effort to make sure it doesn't get kicked out of Apple's App Store again. One of the steps it has taken to comply with Apple's guidelines is to limit the results for certain tags or search terms that Tumblr says "may fall under the expanded definition of sensitive content." The website will even completely block some of them — make that more than some, based on this pretty lengthy list of banned and limited terms collected by Tumblr users that TechCrunch posted. 

While the inclusion of specific words in the list is self explanatory, it also has some curious entries, such as "Eugene Levy" and "Tony the Tiger." The restriction will also make it harder to search for content related to mental health, such as PTSD, depression and anxiety, as well as issues like racism and transphobia. Those searching for a blocked tag will get a screen that says "This content has been hidden" instead of a page with results. They'll see the same notification if they try to access a blog that's been flagged as "explicit" on the app. Users may also see fewer suggestions under the "stuff for you" and "following" sections due to the new restrictions. 

Tumblr has implemented these changes three years after it started completely blocking adult content on its platform. If you'll recall, Tumblr prohibited adult content in 2018 after Apple pulled its app from iTunes in response to finding child exploitation photos on the website. The social network said these changes only apply to its iOS app and that they won't affect anyone browsing Tumblr on the web or on Android. A spokesperson also told TechCrunch that the company is "working on more thoughtful solutions which will be rolled out in the near future."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/tumblr-ios-tags-restriction-115024668.html?src=rss

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The Morning After: 30 percent brighter OLED TVs are coming

While I didn’t get it in time for our best buys of 2021, I am now the proud owner of an LG C1 OLED TV. It is beautiful, does 4K, HDR, variable refresh rates and more. Everything looks amazing on it.

As I bought it, I thought about how I’ve never been at the vanguard of TV tech, and how it would only last a couple of weeks until LG ruins it all with even newer TV models.

And like clockwork, here it comes. LG Display’s next generation of OLED tech, called "OLED EX," that's supposed to "enhance brightness up to 30 percent compared to conventional OLED displays," The company also upgraded the TV’s designs too, reducing bezel thickness by up to 30 percent on its 65-inch OLED displays.

In defense of my new 55-inch OLED, this is LG Display, not LG, the part of the multinational company that brings this new TV tech to stores, so that doesn’t mean it’s landing in a new TV immediately. It’s just, sigh, already on the horizon.

-Mat Smith

‘Fortnite’ went briefly offline yesterday

It’s back now.

If you had tried to play Fortnite yesterday, you may have had issues. Many players were unable to log in to their accounts and play games. At 1:13PM ET, Epic Games said it was investigating "an issue," and roughly six hours later, the battle royale hit was back online.

Epic Games said that it would have “more details next week on what we’re doing to help you make up for lost time."

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China says its space station dodged Starlink satellites twice this year

SpaceX's constellation might pose a safety risk.

China has filed a complaint with the United Nations over two reported near-collisions between the in-progress Tiangong space station and Starlink vehicles. According to Chinese officials, the station had to perform evasive maneuvers on July 1st and October 21st this year to minimize the chance of a collision. In its complaint, the country asked the UN Secretary-General to remind countries (read: the US) that parties in the Outer Space Treaty are responsible for incidents beyond Earth, even if they involve private companies.

The accusations line up with astronomer Jonathan McDowell's conjunction observations for both days. China further argued that SpaceX's satellites weren't always predictable. During the October incident, the Starlink craft was "continuously" maneuvering in a way that made it difficult to predict the orbital path.

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Rivian’s R1T electric truck brings adventure to the EV crowd

Not just an impressive EV, but an impressive truck.

Announcing a vehicle is one thing, actually following through and building that vehicle at a factory and then selling it, that’s an almost impossible feat for a new company. But like Tesla before it, Rivian has pulled it off and in doing so has built one of the best trucks on the road today, EV or otherwise. Roberto Baldwin gives it a test drive.

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Jabra's Elite 4 Active earbuds add ANC and better sweat resistance

They're only available in some countries right now.

Jabra only just launched its Elite 3 wireless earbuds, but here’s their sequel. The Elite 4 Active is a step-up model that adds active noise cancellation and improved IP57 water resistance (up from IP55).

Expect to get a claimed seven hours of battery life from the buds themselves and 28 hours when you include the charging case. The Elite 4 Active is available now in the UK for £120 (about $161), but they haven't been announced for the US just yet.

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Roku expands its TV Ready program

More audio devices will be able to automatically pair with Roku TVs.

Roku TVs will be able to pair quickly with even more audio products in the future. The company has expanded its TV Ready Certification Program, adding Element, JVC, Pheanoo and Philips this year, with Polk Audio and Westinghouse joining the list in 2022. Roku also opened the program internationally, and partners like Bose are expected to launch TV Ready devices in the United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico soon.

The TV Ready initiative makes it easy to connect soundbars and speakers to Roku TVs — so long as the audio device supports the feature, it will automatically be detected as soon as you plug it in.

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The biggest news stories you might have missed

Samsung says the Galaxy Flip 3 motivated more people to switch than its flagships

'Let's Play! Oink Games' is no Jackbox, but it's a worthy party game collection

Researchers used CT scans to virtually unwrap a pristine mummy

The best accessories for your new PlayStation 5

January's PS Plus games include 'Persona 5 Strikers' and 'Dirt 5'

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-30-percent-brighter-oled-t-vs-are-coming-122031193.html?src=rss

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BlackBerry OS devices are pretty much dead after January 4th

Pour one out for the BlackBerry, the former king of mobile. The company has announced that as of January 4th, classic devices running BlackBerry OS 7.1 or earlier, as well as OS 10, will lose key services. And by key, we mean absolutely crucial capabilities, like phone calls, texting, data and even emergency 9-1-1 access. You can also expect to have issues with Wi-Fi and apps like BlackBerry World and Desktop manager, Liliputing reports. January 4th will also mark the end for the PlayBook, the company's ill-fated tablet.

Of course, none of this comes as a surprise. BlackBerry shut down its app store and its popular Messenger (BBM) service in 2019. There really was no coming back from that. If you'll recall, the company was way too late to respond to the threat of the iPhone, and failed to find much success by adopting Android. At least it still has QNX, BlackBerry's modern operating system that powers infotainment systems from Toyota, Audi, Honda, and plenty of other popular car makers.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/blackberry-os-devices-january-4th-service-shutdown-220421328.html?src=rss

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