Oppo’s latest under-screen camera may finally be capable of good photos

Until recently, there was only one smartphone on the market equipped with an under-screen camera: last year's ZTE Axon 20 5G. Other players such as Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi had also been testing this futuristic tech, but given the subpar image quality back then, it's no wonder that phone makers largely stuck with punch-hole cameras for selfies.

Despite much criticism of its first under-screen camera, ZTE worked what it claims to be an improved version into its new Axon 30 5G, which launched in China last week. Coincidentally, today Oppo unveiled its third-gen under-screen camera which, based on a sample shot it provided, appears to be surprisingly promising — no noticeable haziness nor glare. But that was just one photo, of course, so I'll obviously reserve my final judgement until I get to play with one. Even so, the AI tricks and display circuitry that made this possible are intriguing.

Oppo's next-gen under-screen camera
Oppo

In a nutshell, nothing has changed in terms of how the under-screen camera sees through the screen. Its performance is limited by how much light can travel through the gaps between each OLED pixel. Therefore, AI compensation is still a must. For its latest under-screen camera, Oppo says it trained its own AI engine "using tens of thousands of photos" in order to achieve more accurate corrections on diffraction, white balance and HDR. Hence the surprisingly natural-looking sample shot.

Oppo's next-gen under-screen camera
Oppo

Another noteworthy improvement here lies within the display panel's consistency. The earlier designs chose to lower the pixel density in the area above the camera, in order to let sufficient light into the sensor. This resulted in a noticeable patch above the camera, which would have been a major turn-off when you watched videos or read fine text on that screen.

But now, Oppo — or the display panel maker, which could be Samsung — figured out a way to boost light transmittance by slightly shrinking each pixel's geometry above the camera. In order words, we get to keep the same 400-ppi pixel density as the rest of the screen, thus creating a more consistent look.

Oppo's next-gen under-screen camera
Oppo

Oppo added that this is further enhanced by a transparent wiring material, as well as a one-to-one pixel-circuit-to-pixel architecture (instead of two-to-one like before) in the screen area above the camera. The latter promises more precise image control and greater sharpness, with the bonus being a 50-percent longer panel lifespan due to better burn-in prevention.

Oppo didn't say when or if consumers will get to use its next-gen under-screen camera, but given the timing, I wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be the same solution on the ZTE Axon 30 5G. In any case, it would be nice if the industry eventually agreed to dump punch-hole cameras in favor of invisible ones.

‘Diablo Immortal’ has been postponed until 2022

Diablo Immortal may be a game for tiny screens, but that doesn't mean it's a small feat of development. For precisely this reason, Activision Blizzard has delayed the release of Diablo Immortal to early 2022. 

The action RPG was originally supposed to hit iOS and Android devices this year, but developers need more time to fine-tune PvP content, improve PvE experiences and implement additional accessibility options, according to Blizzard. Here's how developers put it in their blog post:

Following feedback provided by test participants of the Closed Alpha, our team has been tuning core and endgame features. For example, we’re iterating on PvP content like the Cycle of Strife to make it more accessible, alongside late-game PvE content like the Helliquary to make it more engaging. We’re also working to provide controller support for those who want to play our game in a different way. However, these changes and additional opportunities to improve our gameplay experience will not be realized in the 2021 timeframe we had previously communicated. So, the game is now planned for release in the first half of 2022, which will allow us to add substantial improvements to the whole game.

Blizzard goes on to describe specific features it'll focus on, such as adding PvE Raids, adjusting Bounties and making Challenge Rifts more exciting. In terms of PvP adjustments, Blizzard will work on improving matchmaking, earning rankings, class balance, time to kill and other elements of the Battleground system, plus it'll spit-shine the Cycle of Strife endgame content. All of this joins a raft of changes to progression and XP caps.

It seems developers are still in the early stages when it comes to getting Diablo Immortal to play nice with gamepads.

"We're still working through the challenges of adapting the touch screen controls to a controller seamlessly," the blog reads. "Making our game more accessible is top of mind, and we’ll share more progress on this front as we approach the beta in the future."

Blizzard has other things on its plate right now, too. Activision Blizzard is facing a sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit from the state of California, and Blizzard president J. Allen Brack left the company today amid allegations that he overlooked abuse in the workplace for years. Blizzard's head of HR, Jesse Meschuk, also left the studio this week. A second lawsuit was filed by shareholders today, claiming Activision Blizzard failed to disclose potential regulatory issues related to the company's discriminatory, frat-house-style culture.

WhatsApp adds disappearing ‘view once’ photos to its app

WhatsApp is adding disappearing photo messages to its app. Called “view once” photos, the new feature allows users to send photos and videos in chats that can only be viewed a single time before disappearing.

The Snapchat-like feature is similar to Instagram and Messenger’s disappearing photo features. When snapping a picture in WhatsApp, users can select the timer icon to set the photo to “view once.” Unlike regular photo or video messages, the “view once” images won’t preview in the chat and can’t be downloaded to your device.

Facebook is billing the feature as one for “private moments” or for sending potentially sensitive information like Wi-Fi passwords. As always, people should be wary of just how “private” these kinds of messages really are. In a help article, the company notes that the recipient can still take a screenshot or record their screen while opening a “view once” photo and, unlike Snapchat, WhatsApp won’t let the sender know when a screenshot has been taken. The company also points out that “view once” photos that are reported will be made visible to WhatsApp.

Activision Blizzard faces an investor lawsuit stemming from its discrimination case

A harassment and discrimination lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) isn’t the only legal battle Activision Blizzard has to worry about anymore. Ahead of the company’s Q2 earnings call on Tuesday, a firm called Rosen Law filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of investors who traded in Activision Blizzard securities between August 4th, 2016 and July 27th, 2021.

The firm, the same one that’s behind a similar lawsuit against CD Projekt RED over the disastrous launch of Cyberpunk 2077, accuses Activision Blizzard of intentionally failing to disclose its ongoing problems with sexual harassment and discrimination. In doing so, Rosen Law alleges the company put itself at greater risk of regulatory legal scrutiny and enforcement. The suit names Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, as well as several other executives, as defendants and seeks to recover damages for investors under federal securities laws.

The suit comes on the same day the company announced J. Allen Brack was “stepping down” from his role as president of Blizzard Entertainment. In its lawsuit, the State of California accuses Brack of taking “no effective remedial measures” to curb the “bro culture” that enabled individuals like Alex Afrasiabi to harass the company’s female employees. Taking his place are Jen Oneal and former Xbox executive Mike Ybarra, who will oversee the studio as co-leaders.

Apple’s digital student IDs are coming to Canada and more US schools

With the start of a new school year quickly approaching, Apple is once again expanding the availability of its contactless student IDs. Following an initial rollout in 2018 and subsequent expansions since, the software is making its way to Canada for the first time.

In 2021, the University of New Brunswick and Sheridan College outside of Toronto will allow students to add their ID cards to Apple Wallet and use their iPhones and Apple Watches to access facilities and pay for food and other items and services across campus. In the US, “many more” schools, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine and New Mexico State University, will adopt the software this fall.

It will likely take many more years before every school offers digital student ID cards, but the technology is clearly becoming more ubiquitous. In April, Apple said it saw more students use their mobile IDs to make purchases and access campus facilities than their plastic counterparts for the first time since it launched the software. In the fall, the University of Alabama, one of the early adopters of the tech, will exclusively issue mobile IDs to students with the necessary hardware, marking a first for the platform.

Facebook will host a paid movie premiere this month

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many film festivals have shifted to online-only or hybrid formats. Later this month, another movie will premiere as a paid online event. This time around, you'll be able to watch it on Facebook.

Users in any country where Facebook's paid online events are available (which now number more than 100) can watch the premiere of The Outsider, a behind-the-scenes documentary about the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. A virtual ticket costs $4, and the film will debut on August 19th at 8PM ET. It'll be available for 12 hours.

As Axios reports, a Facebook Live panel discussion will follow the premiere of The Outsider. The doc will hit select theaters and other streaming platforms in September.

Facebook will run some promos for the event, which is being run by distributor Abramorama, but it won't take a cut of ticket sales. The company is waiving commissions on creators' revenue through 2022.

The film has already caused controversy. Officials at the museum asked the filmmakers to cut 18 "defamatory" scenes from The Outsider, but directors Pamela Yoder and Steven Rosenbaum said they wouldn't back down. Michael Shulan, the museum's former creative director and a central figure in the film, reportedly claims in the movie that the museum represents the “Disneyfication” of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Film distribution is a tough nut to crack for indie studios and filmmakers, especially when they try to release movies in a number of markets. Much like others have had success in hosting online classes or livestreaming gameplay on Facebook, they could harness the platform's enormous reach to find an audience.

It remains to be seen whether other filmmakers and distributors premiere their movies on Facebook. Still, with the company having its fingers in an ever-increasing number of pies, it's not hard to imagine Facebook being interested in hosting similar events in the future.

Netflix is making a documentary about SpaceX’s upcoming Inspiration4 civilian flight

When Inspiration4, SpaceX’s first all-civilian flight, takes off next month, Netflix will chronicle the historic mission with a documentary series. Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space will stream in five parts, with the first two episodes debuting on September 6th. In that way, it will be the first docuseries from the streaming giant to chronicle an event in near real-time.

Early episodes will detail, among other things, the astronaut training Inspiration4 commander Jared Isaacman and his crewmates had to undertake ahead of the flight. Meanwhile, the final feature-length episode will recount the mission’s flight to space and eventual return to Earth and include footage from inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The finale doesn’t have a release date yet, but Netflix expects to start streaming it sometime in late September.

The production involves parts of the team behind ESPN’s The Last Dance Michael Jordan documentary, including director Jason Hehir. Alongside the series, Netflix will release A StoryBots Space Adventure, a hybrid live-action and animation special that will feature the Inspiration4 crew answering questions from kids about their flight. The special will debut on September 14th, one day before the Inspiration4 mission is scheduled to lift off.

Facebook is reportedly trying to analyze encrypted data without deciphering it

Facebook is reportedly looking into analyzing the content of encrypted data without having to decrypt it. The company is recruiting artificial intelligence researchers to study the matter, according to The Information. Their research could pave the way for Facebook to target ads based on encrypted WhatsApp messages. Facebook could also use the findings to encrypt user data without affecting its ad targeting approaches.

This area of research is called "homomorphic encryption," which relies heavily on mathematics. Microsoft, Amazon and Google are also working on the approach. The aim of homomorphic encryption is to allow companies to read and analyze data while keeping it encrypted to protect information from cybersecurity dangers and to maintain privacy.

Facebook told The Information it's "too early for us to consider homomorphic encryption for WhatsApp at this time." Facebook could benefit from the tech in a number of ways. Protecting data without impacting the effectiveness of ad targeting could allow Facebook to both meet its business goals and satisfy regulators who have expressed concern about how the company handles user information. Facebook could be years away from harnessing homomorphic encryption, however.

In 2019, Facebook revealed plans to roll out end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging services: Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Later that year, the US, UK and Australia sent a joint letter to Facebook, urging it not to push forward with the project "without ensuring there will be no reduction in the safety of Facebook users and others, and without providing law enforcement court-authorized access to the content of communications to protect the public, particularly child users." However you slice it, encryption is a thorny issue for Facebook, whether or not it's able to analyze the data.

Bipartisan infrastructure bill could require cars to include anti-drunk driving technology

Nestled in President Biden’s sprawling 2,702-page Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a provision that could one day require vehicles sold in the US to come with a feature that detects when someone gets behind the wheel of their car drunk. First spotted by Reuters, the clause orders the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study the feasibility of various alcohol-detection systems and establish a final set of rules within three years. After that period, automakers would have 24 months to comply with the new regulation.

The provision doesn’t lay out the exact technologies NHTSA should explore other than to say the final product should “passively monitor” a driver to “accurately identify” whether they can drive their car safely. If the agency doesn’t finalize a set of rules within 10 years, it will have to detail the hurdles it encountered in a report to Congress.

An anti-drunk driving technology isn’t the only new safety feature the bill could require automakers to implement in their vehicles. Per Bloomberg, other parts of the legislation would mandate automatic emergency braking, the inclusion of crash avoidance systems in new cars and alerts that would remind drivers to check the back seats of their vehicle after exiting it. That last feature would ideally help prevent parents from leaving their kids in a car on a hot day.

The push to use technology to address drunk driving isn’t surprising. According to a 2020 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cars with built-in alcohol-detection systems could save as many as 9,000 lives in the US every year. Over the past decade, drunk driving played a part in 30 percent of all roadway deaths.

Boeing and NASA delay Starliner launch due to unexpected valve problem

Boeing will have to wait yet again to prove the worth of its Starliner spacecraft. The company and NASA had planned to launch the capsule on Tuesday on top of an Atlas V rocket at 1:20PM ET, but that's not happening anymore. 

"We're standing down from today's #Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 launch," Boeing said on Twitter. The company attributed the delay to "unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system" engineers spotted during pre-launch preparations. It's currently unclear if the issue is related to Starliner or the Atlas V rocket that was supposed to carry the vessel to space. Boeing and NASA said they will provide an update on the situation on Wednesday, August 4th.     

We're standing down from today's #Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 launch.

During pre-launch preparations, our engineers detected unexpected valve position indications in the propulsion system.

Read the full statement: https://t.co/uQBjvq8ObUpic.twitter.com/4X2INbZj7Q

— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) August 3, 2021

“We’re disappointed with today’s outcome and the need to reschedule our Starliner launch,” John Vollmer, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, said. “Human spaceflight is a complex, precise and unforgiving endeavor, and Boeing and NASA teams will take the time they need to ensure the safety and integrity of the spacecraft and the achievement of our mission objectives.”

After its first test flight went awry, Starliner was supposed to return to space on July 30th. However, NASA delayed the flight after the new Russian ISS Nauka module unexpectedly fired its thrusters, tiling the station outside of its typical orientation.

Crime alert app Citizen will connect users to safety agents for $20 a month

Controversial crime alert app Citizen has opened up its $20-a-month subscription service to everyone in the US. The Protect plan, which almost 100,000 users have beta tested, offers around-the-clock access to "Citizen’s team of highly trained Protect Agents," CEO Andrew Frame wrote in a blog post.

Those agents can call 911 for you if you're in a situation in which contacting emergency services directly might not be safe. "If you share your location with Citizen Protect, Agents can live monitor your location, provide first responders, and help them arrive more quickly by guiding them to your exact location," Frame wrote. "Protect Agents will always continue to monitor you while you wait for help to arrive."

The agents can notify your emergency contacts and keep them updated if you're in trouble. Frame said they can also guide you to a safe place or help nearby when needed, or chat with you for peace of mind. The service can also alert other Citizen users in the area if your scenario warrants doing so. "Harnessing the power of Citizen’s safety network through Protect-generated alerts has helped dozens of families reunite with their missing loved ones and pets," Frame wrote.

Users can connect to a Protect agent and chat via video, audio or text after tapping a button on the Citizen app's home screen. The iOS version of the app includes an optional Protect Mode, which offers other ways to link up with an agent (Citizen plans to bring "additional functionality" to Android soon). You can switch on a feature that displays a prompt to connect to an agent when you shake your device a couple of times.

If you opt to use the Distress Detection feature, Citizen will monitor your device's audio with "AI-powered technology which identifies sounds that indicate trouble, like a scream for example." If the app picks up an audible distress signal, it'll ask if you'd like to be connected to an agent. If 10 seconds pass without you responding to the prompt, Citizen will connect you to an agent automatically.

Citizen started out in 2016 as an app called Vigilante that aimed to alert users about crimes and emergencies. Apple swiftly kicked it from the App Store over vigilantism concerns. Vigilante was rebranded a few months later with a deeper focus on safety.

The app hit headlines again in May, when Citizen offered a $30,000 reward for information that led to the arrest of a person who it claimed started a wildfire. Citizen identified the wrong person, and police arrested someone else in connection with the alleged crime.

The same month, a Citizen-branded security vehicle was spotted in Los Angeles amid reports that the company was testing an on-demand private security force. The company later said it wouldn't start its own such service, but it didn't rule out partnerships with private security companies.

Having swift access to support agents isn't inherently a bad idea, but Citizen's history might dissuade some from taking out a Protect subscription. It's worth noting there are other ways to discreetly call 911 and send a message with location updates to your emergency contacts, such as the iPhone's Emergency SOS function. 

I tried the Krispy Kreme Xbox doughnut

I’m ambivalent about cross-brand synergy — typically hollow business deals borne from some misguided belief that yes, these two things work together and will sell more… something. Microsoft — more specifically, Xbox — loves to tie its onyx consoles to food companies, soft drinks and the rest. While promoting the Xbox One X in the US alone, there were collaborations with Taco Bell, Doritos, Mountain Dew and, er, Totino’s pizza rolls.

On the other hand, I also like doughnuts.

Krispy Kreme's Xbox doughnut
Engadget, Mat Smith

In the UK, American doughnut company Krispy Kreme is celebrating the Xbox’s 20th anniversary with an iced donut decorated to look like the console’s nexus symbol. If you’re willing to buy a box of 12, you’ll also get a code with a chance to win a Series X. However, I live alone and have poor self-control, so I bought a box of three — for the photos, of course.

I don’t think green is a particularly appetizing color for pastry treats, but it sells Xbox the brand — sort of? The color seems closer to Krispy Kreme’s shade of green, and not quite as vivid as the almost-lime Xbox logo. The thin layer of green icing doesn’t have a flavor, and there’s a dusting of powdered sugar to indicate the collaboration. Otherwise, yes, it’s a filled Krispy Kreme, puffy delicious yeast-raised donut. I’m not here to debate cake versus yeast donuts — please take it out on me over on Twitter.

Then I bit in deeper. Maybe it’s the Mountain Dew tie-ins with video gaming's past, but I feared some sort of aggressive citrus jam/jelly or neon fondant nonsense. Thankfully, instead: thick, rich chocolate brownie fondant that’s pretty delicious but not excessively cloying. 

The limited-edition doughnuts are on sale in the UK until August 22nd.

YouTube starts paying Shorts creators from its $100 million fund

In the last few years, many of the biggest social media companies have been throwing money at creators, trying to get them to embrace their platforms and bring loyal audiences to their apps. Earlier this year, YouTube announced a $100 million fund specifically to pay creators who use the platform's new Shorts format, which just came out of beta and rolled out to 100 countries last month. That fund is now live as of today, so the company is dropping more details on how you can get paid.

As YouTube announced earlier this year, the company plans to invite "thousands of eligible creators" to claim a payment from the program from now through 2022; YouTube is offering from $100 to $10,000, depending on how many people watch the Short as well as some other engagement metrics. Anyone posting shorts is theoretically eligible to get picked for a payment, not just creators who participate in the YouTube Partner Program (that's the program YouTube launched 14 years ago so that users could get paid for their content).

Naturally, there are a number of standards that these Shorts need to meet to be eligible. Most of them are pretty straightforward, like abiding by YouTube's community guidelines and copyright policies. YouTube also doesn't want people just re-uploading content they created for Snapchat or TikTok, so any Shorts with watermarks or logos from other social networks won't qualify. YouTube says it'll be awarding payments on a monthly basis so interested creators will be incentivized to keep making new Shorts.

While YouTube Shorts is a relatively new platform, TikTok has had a similar fund for its creators since 2020. It was announced as a $200 million fund, double what YouTube currently has budgeted for its Shorts fund, and those interested would have to submit their best work. But while TikTok's fund may be larger than this Shorts program, YouTube notes that it has nine other ways for its creators to monetize their content.

While YouTube Shorts is a relatively new platform, TikTok has had a similar fund for its creators since 2020. It was announced as a $200 million fund, double what YouTube currently has budgeted for its Shorts fund, and those interested would have to submit their best work. But while TikTok's fund may be larger than this Shorts program, YouTube notes that it has nine other ways for its creators to monetize their content.

Not to be outdone, Facebook recently launched its own $1 billion program to lure creators to Instagram as well as its main service. Perhaps more significantly than the sheer dollar value is the fact that Facebook isn't going to collect a cut of creators' revenue through 2022, making a focus on the platform even more potentially lucrative. The size of this move is an admission from Facebook that it's a little behind the curve here; Instagram didn't offer any kind of revenue share until last year, in fact. 

Between TikTok's massive influence and Facebook's massive war chest aimed at creators, YouTube is going to need to keep offering its users more ways to make cash — and the company knows it. Indeed, it said in today's news that the $100 million fund is the "first step" in its plans to monetize Shorts.

Google Maps for iOS gets dark mode and new location sharing features

In the past year, Google Maps has received tons of new features to help you get around, pay for parking and keep abreast of new services in your vicinity. With its latest iOS update, Google is breaking out more of its most-used functions to help you access them faster. It's also adding a dark mode to lower the strain on your eyes and a new live location option for iMessage that can help you track friends and loved ones. 

The latter lets you share your real-time location while texting by tapping the Google Maps button. Though the feature is active for one hour by default, you can choose to extend it to up to three days or disable it by pressing the stop button. Live location recalls the safety features built into ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft.

If you frequently use Google Maps to check traffic conditions, you can now put that info directly on your home screen with a new widget. The same goes for the search bar, which lets you look up places to visit or find frequent destinations with a tap. Of course, the quick access features are made possible thanks to Apple's introduction of iPhone widgets with iOS 14 last fall.

Dark mode is self-explanatory and you can turn it on via settings. It's just odd that it took so long for the otherwise ubiquitous feature to reach Maps on iOS.

Apple’s new Mac Pro GPUs promise a huge performance boost

Apple might be focused on Macs with in-house silicon, but that doesn't mean it's completely neglecting the Intel-based models. The tech firm has updated the Mac Pro with new high-end GPU options that promise big strides forward for graphics- and compute-intensive apps. AMD's Radeon Pro W6800X, W6800X Duo (shown here) and W6900X cards tout 50 percent improved performance per watt over their Vega II predecessors, Apple claimed, and that translates to significant speed boosts in relevant apps.

You can expect up to 84 percent better performance in the Octane X rendering app, Apple said. The 26 percent and 23 percent claimed jumps in Cinema 4D and DaVinci Resolve aren't quite so impressive-sounding, but they're still meaningful if you're either buying a new Mac Pro or upgrading from one of the more modest GPUs.

Apple isn't shy about the origins — these are workstation-oriented parallels to the Radeon RX 6800 and 6900 series consumer boards. The biggest differences, as you might guess, are tweaks to cater to the pro market. All of them include four Thunderbolt 3 ports and an HDMI 2 connector, and they support an Infinity Fabric Link that lets up to four GPUs (such as two W6800X Duo modules) talk to each other five times faster than PCIe. Both individual GPUs include 32GB of GDDR6 memory, while the W6800X Duo unsurprisingly includes 64GB.

These GPUs are replacing the Vega II and Vega II Duo cards in the lineup, and they're priced accordingly. It will cost you $2,400 extra to configure a new Mac Pro with the W6800X inside, $4,600 for the W6800X Duo, and $5,600 for the W6900X. Go all-out and you can spend $9,600 on two W6800X Duos or a staggering $11,600 on two W6900X modules.

The Mac Pro has otherwise gone untouched with this update, and it won't be surprising if this is the only hardware refresh for Apple's pro tower in 2021. There are rumors of Apple giving the Intel-based Mac Pro one last hurrah with an Ice Lake Xeon update, but that wouldn't happen until 2022. It might not happen at all when there's also talk of a 40-core Apple Silicon model that same year. It's safe to say that you'll want to strongly consider a W6000-equipped Mac Pro if you absolutely depend on high-end x86 apps or just need the kind of macOS performance that only the Pro can currently deliver.