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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quest headset owners can capture VR gameplay using their phones

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

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

Reality Labs

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

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

Reality Labs

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

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

Twitch now works with SharePlay on the iPhone and iPad

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

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

Want to watch Twitch with all your friends? Now you can on iPhone and iPad devices through SharePlay! 📱

Learn more about how to watch streams together in a FaceTime call here: https://t.co/PIWwZ3OkpO

— Twitch Support (@TwitchSupport) November 30, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meta’s crypto chief is leaving the company

David Marcus, the longtime Facebook executive who has overseen the company’s embattled cryptocurrency plans, is leaving the company. Marcus plans to leave the company at the end of 2021, he wrote in a Facebook post.

The former PayPal executive first joined Facebook in 2014; he ran Messenger for four years before leaving the post to kickstart Facebook’s blockchain division. Since then, he’s overseen Meta’s long-troubled cryptocurrency plans, as well as other payments products like Facebook Pay.

“While there’s still so much to do right on the heels of hitting an important milestone with Novi launching — and I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems — my entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it,” Marcus said.

Developing...

'Fall Guys' for Switch and Xbox delayed until 2022

The latest season of Fall Guys is underway and although there's a party vibe this time around, those on Nintendo Switch and Xbox are unfortunately unable to join the festivities. Developer Mediatonic has once again delayed the adorable battle royale on those platforms. The Switch and Xbox versions were initially supposed to arrive last summer, but they were pushed back until later this year. Now, according to an updated Xbox Wire post, Fall Guys will land on those platforms in 2022.

"We know everyone’s excited about Fall Guys coming to Nintendo Switch and Xbox, with good reason," Mediatonic wrote in a blog post. "There's been a lot of speculation on social media connecting these new console releases to the Season 6 launch and we want to clarify that that's not the case so no one’s left confused looking for the game on these platforms. Thank you for being patient with us, it's one of our top priorities in active development and we can't wait to share more details with you in 2022."

This is a haiku
It’s clear I am no poet
Jin and Ghost are here pic.twitter.com/qQRAIFy0lD

— Fall Guys - Season 6 Out Now! 👑 (@FallGuysGame) November 30, 2021

Although the news will come as a disappointment for would-be Switch and Xbox players, Fall Guys fans on PlayStation and PC have a lot more to check out after season six started today. Along with new levels, obstacles and cross-platform progression, there are a couple of fantastic costumes based on Jin Sakai from Ghost of Tsushima to unlock. There will be more limited-time events too, such as one starting tomorrow in which players can earn a super-cute Sackboy costume.

Cell-based living robots can reproduce themselves

It might soon be easy to build living robots — because they'll build themselves. New Scientistreports Harvard University, Tufts University and University of Vermont researchers have learned that their frog cell-based Xenobots can self-reproduce. The custom organisms can collect "hundreds" of individual cells in their dishes to spontaneously assemble baby bots that grow up within a few days. As this happens over and over, you could use the reproduction to amass however robots you need to deliver drugs, remove microplastics from rivers or otherwise complete small-scale tasks.

The replication method is as notable as the bots themselves. The cells would normally develop into tadpole skin, but the computer-designed cell mix instead uses the "kinematic" (motion-based) replication normally seen only with molecules. No known animal or plant reproduces this way, according to study lead Sam Kriegman — the robots effectively broke the 'rules' of biology.

Yes, the researchers are aware of the technical and ethical problems with robots that copy themselves without prompting. The team's goal is to understand the self-reproduction and learn how to "control it, direct it, douse it, exaggerate it," according to project co-leader Joshua Bongard. Honing this development in a tightly-controlled lab could lead to carefully managed growth. That, in turn, could lead to regenerative medicine and anti-pollution tools that simply weren't possible before.

Russia may press criminal charges in 2018 ISS pressure leak incident

In 2018, astronauts aboard the International Space Station plugged a 2mm "hole" in a Soyuz MS-09 vehicle that had docked with the station in June of that year. While the pressure leak never posed an immediate threat to those aboard, it set off a bizarre turn of events that saw Russia open an investigation to find out if the incident was the result of sabotage.

Per an RIA Novosti article spotted by Ars Technica, the country's Roscosmos space agency recently completed its probe of the event and sent the results to Russian law enforcement officials, opening the door for them to announce criminal charges. Roscosmos didn't' say anything official about the cause of the pressure leak, but that hasn't stopped Russian media from spreading misinformation.

The RIA Novosti article references Russian media reports that allege the hole may have been drilled by NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a crew member of the ISS at the time of the incident. Specifically, per Russia's TASS news agency, the country's Izvestia newspaper claimed Aunon-Chancellor may have drilled the hole out of a "desire to return to Earth because of a blood clot or a fight with her onboard the International Space Station." Citing its own source, TASS claims "the hole had been drilled in weightlessness by a person not acquainted with the spaceship's design."

According to NASA, the possibility that its astronauts were involved in creating the pressure leak is non-existent. As Ars Technica notes, NASA knew the location of all of its astronauts before the leak started and the moment it began. None of the US astronauts aboard the ISS at the time of the incident were near the Russian compartment where the Soyuz was docked when it started leaking air. The US shared this information with Russia when Roscosmos began its investigation in 2018.

"These attacks are false and lack any credibility," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the outlet. "I fully support Serena and stand behind all of our astronauts." We've reached out to NASA for additional information.

The accusations come at a time when the relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is already fraught. On November 15th, Russia conducted an anti-satellite missile test that created a debris field that forced astronauts on the ISS to seek shelter aboard their spacecraft. The US condemned the trial, accusing the country of putting everyone aboard the ISS, including Russian cosmonauts, in danger.

Bethesda shows off more 'Starfield' in a seven-minute featurette

Starfield is just under a year away from landing on PC and Xbox Series X/S, and Bethesda has offered another peek at what's in store with a mini documentary. The seven-minute "Into the Starfield: The Endless Pursuit" featurette shows a lot of concept art and brief shots of things like robots, alien worlds and a spaceport.

The video is centered around the evolution of Bethesda Game Studios and the worlds it has built over the years. Given that many of the studio's games are about exploration (such as those in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series), progressing to space exploration with Starfield is a logical next step. Art director Matt Carofano noted the upcoming game has a "more realistic, science-based backing to it" than, say, the fantasy world of Skyrim.

Game director Todd Howard also offered a "cryptic" tease. He said Starfield has "two step-out moments." Many other games typically only have one of those, in which the player sees the expanse of an open-world environment for the first time.

There isn't a ton of detail about what Starfield is in this video, but it gives folks who are excited about the game a little more insight. There will be more episodes of "Into the Starfield" in the coming months as the release date edges closer. Starfield will arrive on November 11th, 2022.

Jack Dorsey took on Twitter’s biggest problems, but leaves plenty of challenges for his successor

After a six-year stint as CEO (again), Jack Dorsey is leaving Twitter in a very different place than when he took it over in 2015. Back then, not everyone was excited about the return of the company’s cofounder. Even though he initially came back temporarily, employees and investors were concerned that dual CEO roles — he was, and still is, the CEO of Square — would keep him from being able to tackle the company’s many problems.

“The general feeling among Twitter employees now is trepidation,” The New York Times wrote in 2015 of Dorsey’s surprise return. “Many are concerned at the prospect of Mr. Dorsey’s interim title becoming permanent, given his divisive and sometimes erratic management style and the fact that he had been dismissed and returned to the company before.”

At the time, the company was often described as being “in turmoil.” Twitter was churning through executives, and investors were concerned about lackluster user growth. Journalists and other pundits often noted that Twitter never knew how to explain what it was or why it mattered. The actual service had barely changed in years. Harassment was rampant, and relatively unchecked.

Much has changed since then. Hand-wringing over Dorsey’s two jobs never really abated, but turnover at the top of the company eventually slowed, and Twitter started growing again. The platform still struggles with harassment, but has made a concerted effort at encouraging “healthy conversations” and has significantly ramped up its policies against hate speech and harassment.

More recently, the company has undertaken a number of ambitious initiatives to change its core features and create new sources of revenue. In the last year alone, Twitter has introduced new features for live audio, groups, and payments. It rolled out creator-focused features like Super Follows, and acquired a newsletter platform for longform content. Last month, it introduced Twitter Blue, a subscription service aimed at power users. The company is also in the early stages of BlueSky, a plan to create a decentralized standard for social media platforms.

But incoming CEO Parag Agrawal will still be inheriting significant challenges alongside all the shiny new projects. Though the company has made strides in increasing conversational “health,” it’s also grappled with where to draw the line between free speech and toxicity, particularly when political figures are involved. And, like other platforms, the company struggled to rein in misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 presidential election.

“Dorsey leaves behind a mixed legacy: a platform that's useful and potent for quick communication but one that's been exploited by a range of bad actors, including former President Donald Trump, who did his best on Twitter to undermine democracy—until Dorsey's people finally had enough and shut him down,” says Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, who has researched social media polarization.

That Twitter under Dorsey did eventually permanently ban Trump has only made the company more of a target for politicians. And that’s unlikely to change just because Twitter’s new CEO has been one of the company’s lowest profile executives.

Agrawal is taking over as social media platforms face a bigger reckoning about their role in society. As lawmakers eye regulating algorithms and other reforms, Twitter has started to research algorithmic amplification and potential “unintentional harms” caused by its ranking systems. It will now be up to the company’s former CTO to steer that work while navigating scrutiny from lawmakers.

Agrawal will also inherit ambitious goals Twitter set earlier this year: To double its revenue and grow its user base to 315 million monetizable daily active users (mDAU) by the end of 2023 (the company reported 211 million mDAU in its most recent earnings report). And there are some signs he may be well positioned to make that happen. While Twitter under Dorsey has been slow to make decisions and release updates, Agrawal has been a proponent of new features like Bitcoin tipping. He also over saw Bluesky, the decentralization project.

The company has been betting that moving away from advertising and leaning into subscription services and other new features will help it get there. But Twitter is hardly alone in pursuing creators and subscriptions, and it’s not clear the company will be able to easily persuade large swaths of users to start paying for extra content or premium features.

Twitter’s new CEO seems to be well aware of the challenges ahead. “We recently updated our strategy to hit ambitious goals, and I believe that strategy to be bold and right,” Agrawal wrote in an email to employees he shared on Twitter. “But our critical challenge is how we work to execute against it and deliver results.”