Google announces starred messages, emoji mashup suggestions, and more for Android

Google has announced six new features for Android that it says will help improve accessibility and make Assistant Shortcuts more useful, among other things. The new features announced today are:

Google says its phone-based earthquake detection and alert system will be coming to Turkey, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The system, which uses Android phones to create an earthquake detection network that will warn people if they’re in a potentially affected area, originally launched in California, but it was made available in Greece and New Zealand in April.

Google says it hopes to bring the feature to more regions over the next year, but that it’s focusing on first making it available to countries that have a high risk of earthquakes.

If you get sent a text with important info and want to be able to quickly find it, you’ll be able to “star” it, which will place it in the starred category so you won’t have to scroll back through a conversation to find it. Google says the feature will be rolling out to the Messages app “over the coming weeks.”

Gboard will suggest your custom emoji creations based on your message.
Image: Google

Starting this summer, Gboard will contextually suggest stickers created in Emoji Kitchen, Google’s tool that lets users create mashups of two different emoji. The suggestions will show up in the Emoji menu for those writing a message in English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

Google uses Strava as an example for the widget view that will be available in Assistant.
Image: Google

Google’s Assistant Shortcuts let users jump to a specific part of an app, but developers will now be able to show users information in widget form right in Assistant.

You can tell Voice Input to ignore you if you’re not looking at your phone.
Image: Google

Google’s Voice Access app, which allows people to navigate their phones using their voice, is getting gaze detection so it can tell whether someone is talking to their phone or talking to other people. The feature, which is in beta, will stop taking commands if it detects that you’re not looking at your phone.

Voice Access is also getting improvements when it comes to entering passwords: users will be able to say words like “dollar sign,” and they’ll be translated into the symbol, instead of being written out literally.

Android Auto users will be able to use their phone to personalize the app launcher and manually manage dark mode. Google’s also adding the ability to quickly scroll to the top of a list, and the scroll bar is getting an A to Z button.

Google also says the messaging experience for apps like Messages and WhatsApp has been improved, making it easier to send and read messages.


Apple is trying to dominate watch parties, but it needs more help

Apple is bringing one of streaming’s trendiest features to iPhone users with the debut of SharePlay in iOS 15 later this year, allowing FaceTime users to stream music, online videos, and movies together with friends. The move positions FaceTime to compete more directly with platforms like Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Houseparty, which all offer ways to video chat while watching things as a group. It offers Apple a chance to hook a new generation of users on FaceTime — but the service is still missing some key integrations to make that happen, particularly for the teens most likely to use it.

SharePlay, announced earlier this week and likely arriving in the fall, will allow FaceTime users to share and stream media in real time from an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. It’s a neat tool for the pandemic era, and it takes inspiration from the watch party modes that many major streaming platforms — including Disney Plus, Hulu, and Prime Video, among others — added themselves in the last year. For services where it’s not supported, like Netflix, there are popular extensions that enable simultaneous streaming and chatting as well.

The goal isn’t to compete with those native platforms, though. After all, you’re still watching Hulu, just in a different space. Instead, the update puts FaceTime square against services like Facebook Messenger that dominate messaging and have already been trying to build out co-watching experiences, but without as robust of a service list as Apple has the ability to line up.

SharePlay particularly makes sense for the next generation of iPhone users, as teens are more inclined to watch videos on their phones. Video-based social media apps like Instagram and TikTok are immensely popular among teens, and an overwhelming majority of teens have access to these apps on their own personal smartphones. Video chatting is hugely popular, too, with a 2015 survey from Pew Research finding that 59 percent of US teens video chatted with their friends.

The introduction of SharePlay also jibes with Apple’s reported plans to make iMessage compete more directly with Facebook-owned WhatsApp by becoming more of a social network. It makes a lot of sense that the company would similarly invest in developments for its video-calling product as well, which is just a couple of taps away.

But if Apple wants SharePlay to be a success among the demographic of consumers most likely to use it, it’ll need to expand the number of apps that support it.

Apple said that at launch, Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch will be supported on SharePlay, which is a somewhat limited grab bag of streaming options. Granted, there’s plenty of time for that list to get longer before iOS 15 officially rolls out to users in the fall. And Apple told The Verge that SharePlay will be available to any streaming app that wants to support it, so we’re likely to see wider adoption down the road.

Some of the best applications of this feature failed to make their way into Apple’s initial slide of supported services, though. Netflix is perhaps the most obvious of these simply on the basis that virtually everyone has a Netflix login, whether they’re actually paying for it or not (at least until the inevitable password crackdown). But YouTube was not mentioned either, and neither company had comment to share about potential support down the line when contacted by The Verge this week. A spokesperson for Peacock, however, told The Verge that SharePlay support was on its “roadmap.”

YouTube, in particular, seems like a huge miss for Apple, especially where teens are concerned. YouTube hosts just about every digital media format imaginable — music, movies, news, personalities, tutorials, live feeds, etc. — but most importantly, it’s free. As video callers tend to skew younger already, apps with highly shareable content like livestreams seem like the best use case for SharePlay outside of live sporting events. That’s particularly true given that for paid services, each participant in a SharePlay streaming session will need a login for the app. After all, if the tool didn’t require credentials and allowed just anyone to drop in a FaceTime stream of content from a paid service, SharePlay would be a piracy nightmare.

But that’s part of what makes the practical application of SharePlay a bit of a puzzler. Streaming the game or a movie premiere could get expensive fast. If your friends are watching NFL coverage on Sling TV, you’ll need a $35 subscription to join in (assuming the content is included in one of the service’s base plans). If you wanted to watch a Premier Access release like Cruella on Disney Plus, you’d need to pay the $8 monthly subscription cost on top of an additional $30 early access ticket fee. (A spokesperson for Disney Plus confirmed to The Verge that SharePlay users still need to pay for access to watch.)

It’s hard to imagine that most users would pay for a service just to be able to FaceTime while they’re watching a title. Then again, based on recent media consumption trends among teens, maybe SharePlay is part of the future of how entertainment is consumed, at least for the younger subset of Apple users.

It makes sense that a company investing heavily in its services offerings would jump on the watch party trend, if not a little late, and it does feel like a natural way for Apple to not only stay relevant but also sell subscriptions and hardware — even if right now, SharePlay alone seems unlikely to balloon numbers for streaming services. Free, social-leaning services and streaming titans are most likely to see success with this feature, and livestreaming apps seem likely to perform best. But they’ll actually have to be on SharePlay for that to work. As it currently stands, many are not.


India reportedly warns Twitter of ‘unintended consequences’ if it fails to follow new rules

India’s government has told Twitter it could face “unintended consequences” if it fails to comply with the country’s new social media rules, Reuters reported. India’s technology minister wrote in a June 5th letter to Twitter that the company’s responses to previous government letters about the new rules did not confirm whether Twitter was in full compliance, according to Reuters.

Under India’s Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which took effect in May, social media companies could be subject to legal action if they fail to follow the code’s provisions, which are aimed at regulating the platforms’ content. The new rules call for platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order.

The rules also require the companies to have a grievance officer who acknowledges users’ complaints within 24 hours, a chief compliance officer, and a contact person who would be available to law enforcement agencies 24 hours a day.

The June 5th letter to Twitter said the company had not yet met the requirements for the new roles, Reuters reported, and could results in India holding Twitter legally liable for content on its platform. But the letter stated that “as gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the Rules.”

Twitter has tangled with the Indian government on several fronts in recent months. In April, the social platform removed tweets critical of the Indian government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and did so at the government’s request. And late last month, police in the Indian cities of Delhi and Guragon raided Twitter offices there as part of an investigation into why some tweets by government officials were labeled as “manipulated media” under Twitter’s policy. There were no employees in the offices at the time, as Twitter employees in India were working remotely.

Twitter declined to comment Saturday.


Apple WWDC 2021: iOS 15, new MacBook Pros, and what else to expect

Apple’s annual developer extravaganza, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), is coming up fast, kicking off with the keynote presentation on June 7th at 1PM ET. Like last year, WWDC will be an entirely digital and online-only event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for the keynote, that means we can likely expect another tightly produced video highlighting everything Apple has in store.

While we aren’t expecting any announcements on the level of Apple’s shift to custom silicon in its computers, which was WWDC 2020’s big news, Apple presumably has some notable changes in the works for iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and its other operating systems. And if the current rumors pan out, we could also see brand-new MacBook Pros with the return of some long-missed features, such as MagSafe charging.

Read on to learn everything we expect from the big show. And don’t be surprised if Apple has a few surprises in store, too.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

iOS 15 may bring improvements to notifications and iMessage

We haven’t heard much about what may be coming to Apple’s next version of its mobile operating system, which will presumably be called iOS 15, but we could see big changes to notifications and possibly iMessage, according to Bloomberg.

For notifications, you may be able to have different notification settings for situations like driving, working, sleeping, or even a custom category, and you’ll be able to flip those on as you need to. You might also be able to set automatic replies based on which notification setting you’re currently using, like what you can do now with Do Not Disturb while driving mode. Personally, I’m hoping iOS 15 will let me allow notifications from a select few people while silencing just about everything else.

As for iMessages, Apple is apparently working on features to make it act like “more of a social network” to compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp, Bloomberg said, but those features are still “early in development” and could be announced at a later date.

Apple also plans to add a feature that shows you apps that are silently collecting data about you, continuing the company’s trend of adding privacy-focused updates to its operating systems.

For iPadOS 15, you can apparently expect a major update to the homescreen, including the ability to put widgets anywhere you want. And with Apple just introducing the new M1-powered iPad Pros, here’s hoping we see some new upgrades to take advantage of the new chip.

In May, Apple also announced a lot of new accessibility features coming to Apple’s operating systems, such as improvements in iOS to VoiceOver, support for bidirectional hearing aids, a built-in background sounds player, and new Memoji customizations like cochlear implants. Apple said these features would arrive “later this year,” which suggests they’ll be included in iOS 15.

We don’t know much about macOS, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 — but we could see a new “homeOS”

We haven’t heard all that much about upcoming software updates for the Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Apple is cooking up. One tidbit: macOS could be a “more minor” update, Bloomberg says. That wouldn’t be too much of a surprise, given that the macOS operating system got a big overhaul with Big Sur last year.

However, we could see the introduction of a brand-new operating system called “homeOS,” which was recently mentioned in and later removed from an Apple job listing. While it’s unclear exactly which devices this OS is for, perhaps it will work on Apple’s home-focused products like the Apple TV and HomePod Mini.

Photo by Alexander Kramer for The Verge

New, redesigned MacBook Pros and a new Apple CPU could be announced

Apple doesn’t always introduce new hardware at WWDC, but this year, new MacBook Pros seem like a possibility. In a May 18th report, Bloomberg said that new MacBook Pros might arrive “as soon as early this summer,” which could indicate an announcement at WWDC.

These new laptops would have new Apple-designed processors that would “greatly outpace the performance and capabilities of the current M1 chips,” according to Bloomberg. The M1 is already pretty dang good, so it sounds like these new chips could be even more impressive.

Apple is apparently planning on releasing two chips for the new Pros. Both should have eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient cores, while leaving you with the option of either 16 or 32 graphics cores. (By comparison, the M1’s CPU has four high-performance and four energy-efficient cores, while its GPU is offered with either seven or eight cores.) You’ll probably also be able to spec the laptops with as much as 64GB of memory, up from a max of 16GB on M1-equipped computers.

The new laptops should be offered with either 14-inch or 16-inch screens and those screens could have “brighter, higher contrast” displays, according to a Bloomberg report from January. The laptops may also have a new design with flat edges as in the iPhone 12, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in January. I’m curious to see what that design might look like in practice — I worry that the hard edges could be uncomfortable if you have the laptop on your lap.

The best rumor is that the new design may also mark the return of some of the ports and features that were taken away with the now-infamous 2016 MacBook Pro redesign, including a MagSafe charger, an HDMI port, and an SD card slot, Bloomberg said in its May report. And, according to Kuo, the OLED Touch Bar currently found on Intel-based MacBook Pros will apparently be removed in favor of physical function keys.

We could see at least one other new Mac

While it seems like MacBook Pros are the only new hardware we’ll be seeing at WWDC this year, that hasn’t stopped some other Mac rumors from swirling lately, and there’s always the chance Apple could announce more at its big event. According to Bloomberg, Apple also has “a revamped MacBook Air, a new low-end MacBook Pro, and an all-new Mac Pro workstation” in the works as well as a “higher-end Mac Mini desktop and larger iMac,” all of which would be powered by Apple’s custom silicon.

The new Mac Mini may have the same chip as the new MacBook Pros. The new Mac Pro could be a beast, with processors that are “either twice or four times as powerful as the new high-end MacBook Pro chip.”

And the redesigned “higher-end” MacBook Air could arrive as early as the end of this year. Frankly, I hope that refreshed Air arrives even later. I just bought the M1-equipped Air and it’s one of the best computers I’ve ever used, but I have a bad feeling I’ll be first in line to buy a redesigned and more capable Air anyway. (Especially if it gets the MagSafe charger that’s rumored for the new Pros.)

Apple might have dropped a hint about its AR / VR headset

Apple has long been rumored to have a mixed reality headset in the works, and recently, we’ve learned a few more potential details about it. The headset might be very expensive — approximately $3,000, according to one report — though it could be packed with 8K displays, more than a dozen cameras to track hand movements and capture footage, and might weigh less than an iPhone, too.

While the headset could be a ways out, as it’s not expected to ship until 2022 at the earliest, a few suspicious details in Apple’s WWDC promotional images may be hinting toward some kind of reveal of Apple’s upcoming headset or the software on which it runs.

Check out this image below (that I also used at the top of this post), which Apple released alongside the announcement of WWDC in March. Notice the way the app icons are reflected in the glasses — I could imagine some sort of mixed reality headset showing icons in front of your eyes in a similar way.

Those icons sure are reflected in an interesting spot.
Image: Apple

Apple continued that reflections motif with new images released in May — you can see things from the laptop screens reflected in all of the eyes of the Memojis.

Look at those reflections.
Image: Apple

Now, these reflections may just be Apple’s artists flexing their design chops. And if I had to guess, given how far out a rumored mixed reality headset is, I don’t think we’re going to see anything about it at WWDC this year.

But Apple has surprised us in the past, and maybe these images are an indication of one more thing Apple has in store for WWDC.


WhatsApp says accounts will soon be usable across up to four devices

WhatsApp has confirmed that its long-rumored multi-device support will be entering public beta in the coming months, allowing users to access their accounts from up to four linked devices. New “view once” and “disappearing mode” features were also officially announced. The news came in an interview between WABetaInfo and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp head Will Cathcart.

Cathcart stopped short of confirming reports that WhatsApp has an iPad app in development, but said that multi-device support will make WhatsApp on iPad a possibility.

As well as multi-device support, Zuckerberg also confirmed that WhatsApp is adding a new “view once” feature, which will allow users to send content that disappears after it’s been viewed. The service is also expanding its disappearing messages feature, which currently allows messages to be deleted after a set period of time. In the future, a new “disappearing mode” will let you turn on disappearing messages across all chat threads.

Facebook’s CEO confirmed that the multi-device feature will not compromise the end-to-end encryption that WhatsApp offers for messages sent between individuals. “It’ll still be end-to-end encrypted,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s been a big technical challenge to get all your messages and content to sync properly across devices even when your phone battery dies, but we’ve solved this and we’re looking forward to getting it out soon!”

WhatsApp did not confirm when the “view once” and “disappearing mode” features are expected to launch, but Cathcart said that multi-device support will be entering public beta “in the next month or two.”

Alongside multi-device support, WABetaInfo has also reported that WhatsApp is working on a new password-protected encrypted chat backups feature which could finally allow users to transfer their chat histories between iOS and Android devices. WABetaInfo has previously discovered numerous features before their official release, including adding contacts via QR codes and WhatsApp’s disappearing messages feature.


Huawei’s HarmonyOS arrives on tablets with the new MatePad Pro

Huawei has announced a trio of new MatePad tablets; a new 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, a smaller 10.8-inch MatePad Pro, and a new MatePad 11. Not only are they the company’s first tablets running its own HarmonyOS operating system, but the smaller MatePad Pro and MatePad 11 use Snapdragon chips produced by Qualcomm rather than the Huawei-designed Kirin processors found in its previous devices.

Between these hardware and software changes, the tablets highlight the challenges that the Chinese technology giant is going through. It’s simultaneously trying to break free of Android, which outside of China is dominated by the Google apps and services that Huawei is unable to preinstall on its phones. But they also speak to the problems US sanctions are causing for Huawei’s Kirin processor production, forcing it to source chips from competitor Qualcomm.

The 10.8-inch MatePad Pro is equipped with a Snapdragon 870, while the 10.95-inch MatePad 11 is powered by a Snapdragon 865. The flagship 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, meanwhile, is still running Huawei’s own Kirin 9000E processor, and it’s the device Huawei has shared the most information about.

But more interesting than the chips inside is the software these new tablets are running.

From an end user point of view, the “switch” to HarmonyOS fundamentally doesn’t bring back the missing Google apps and services that have made Huawei’s recent devices so difficult to recommend outside of China. Huawei’s AppGallery store offers an increasing array of native apps, and workarounds for some others, but it’s still a far cry from having Google’s suite of apps and services pre-installed on a device.

There have been big questions surrounding HarmonyOS ever since an Ars Technica investigation alleged that it’s a glorified open-source Android fork. I can’t speak to its underlying code, but I was able to download WhatsApp’s official Android APK and install it on the new MatePad Pro as though I was using an Android device, which suggests Ars is correct. Huawei did not respond to my questions about shared code between HarmonyOS and Android.

The 12.6-inch MatePad Pro’s webcam is in the bezel on the tablet’s long side, the right place for video calls.

With its keyboard cover and M-Pencil stylus, last year’s MatePad Pro invited obvious comparisons to Apple’s iPad Pro, and this year’s HarmonyOS model packs in a few more features that are eerily reminiscent of Apple’s tablets. There’s a new FreeNote feature that lets you use the M-Pencil to write into dialog boxes and see your handwriting automatically turned into typed text (a feature which Apple introduced last year) and the tablet’s homescreen now includes a dock with your most used apps (ahem).

But with the 12.6-inch MatePad Pro, Huawei deserves some credit for not imitating some of Apple’s less popular design decisions. Its webcam, for example, is built into the bezel on the long edge of the screen, so it’s in the right place for conference calls made in landscape mode, unlike the iPad Pro’s. It’s also got a vibrant 1600 x 2560 OLED screen with excellent black levels, while Apple’s lineup is still using variations of LCD panels.

Also announced today is a new M-Pencil stylus.

Huawei’s screen-mirroring technology also returns with the new MatePad Pro. While this previously let you mirror a smartphone’s screen onto the tablet, now you can mirror and interact with the tablet’s screen on compatible Huawei laptops.

The 12.6-inch MatePad Pro has a 10,050mAh battery which Huawei claims can playback video for 14 hours on a single charge. It can be fast-charged at up to 40W with a cable, 27W wirelessly, and also offers reverse wireless charging at 10W. Rounding out the specs, there are three rear cameras on the tablet, four mics, eight speakers, and Wi-Fi 6 compatibility. Huawei is yet to detail any 4G or 5G support for its new tablets.

Alongside the new tablets, Huawei is also announcing a second-generation of its M-Pencil stylus. The company says the new stylus is more precise, has lower 9ms latency, and also has a platinum-coated transparent nib.

Huawei is yet to confirm pricing or release details for its new tablets, but said it would be releasing more information soon.


Huawei’s Watch 3 is its first HarmonyOS smartwatch

Huawei has announced its first smartwatches running its own HarmonyOS operating system, the Huawei Watch 3 and Huawei Watch 3 Pro. In theory it’s the third separate operating system Huawei has used for its smartwatches, which originally ran Google’s Android Wear (now Wear OS) before introducing its own LiteOS software with more recent devices.

Despite the new OS, the Watch 3 offers a similar set of features to Huawei’s previous wearables. New additions includes a redesigned home screen that now consists of a watchOS-style grid of apps rather than a list, and there’s also support for video calling through Huawei’s own MeeTime service.

Although it’s branded as a HarmonyOS device, the Watch 3’s long battery life suggests its operating system is significantly different from the version of HarmonyOS Huawei is using on its new tablets, and may have more in common with LiteOS on its previous watches. Huawei did not respond to questions about any similarities between HarmonyOS and its existing operating systems.

The Watch 3’s design doesn’t deviate much from Huawei’s previous smart watches. It’s got a circular 1.43-inch OLED display with a 60Hz refresh rate and a peak brightness of 1000 nits. The display is edge-to-edge, so there’s no rotating bezel on this smartwatch. Instead you control it via a rotating crown, similar to an Apple Watch. The watch is available in a couple of different styles including an “active” model with a rubber strap, a “classic” model with leather, and an “elite” version with a metal bracelet.

For activity tracking, the watch features many of the same sensors as previous models, including heart rate tracking, an Sp02 sensor, and sleep tracking. But new for this version is a temperature sensor, similar to Fitbit’s Sense smartwatch from last year. Huawei says this sensor can continuously track the temperature of your skin throughout the course of the day. Huawei says the watch supports a hundred different workout modes, ranging from running to climbing, cycling, and swimming.

eSIM support returns from the Watch 2 Pro, which means the Watch 3 can also be operated independently from a phone with its own 4G LTE connection. The watch supports making voice calls directly, and there’s also support for video calls via Huawei’s MeeTime service (though there wasn’t any confirmation about whether the watch will work with other video calling services like WhatsApp).

With 4G turned on, Huawei says you should get around three days of battery life from the Watch 3, but that extends to 14 days if you’re willing to turn off 4G and use the phone in “ultra long lasting mode.” Even in this low-power mode, Huawei says you should still be able to track your activity and workouts, and its watch faces will still be animated.

As well as the Watch 3, Huawei is also announcing the Watch 3 Pro today, which offers up to 5 days of battery life with 4G turned on, and up to 21 days in its long battery life mode. Other improvements include a more premium titanium construction, and more accurate GPS tracking.

Third-party app support is still a big question mark hanging over Huawei’s first HarmonyOS watches. As always, Huawei promises it’s working with developers on bringing their apps to its devices, and showed off a range of app logos including one for the Emirates airline. But beyond that, there weren’t any app logos for services I recognized, and Huawei hasn’t confirmed support from any of the major music streaming services.

Huawei is yet to confirm pricing or release details for the Huawei Watch 3 and Watch 3 Pro, but said an announcement should be made soon.


WhatsApp reverses course, now won’t limit functionality if you don’t accept its new privacy policy

Earlier this month, Facebook-owned WhatsApp said that users would lose functionality over time if they didn’t accept its new privacy policy by May 15th. In a reversal, Facebook now says that plan has changed, and users who don’t accept the updated policy actually won’t see limited functionality (via TNW).

“Given recent discussions with various authorities and privacy experts, we want to make clear that we will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works for those who have not yet accepted the update,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. WhatsApp tells The Verge that this is the plan moving forward indefinitely.

The rollout of the policy has been a confusing mess, and raised concerns that WhatsApp would begin sharing more of users’ personal data with Facebook. (Some WhatsApp user data, such as users’ phone numbers, is already shared with Facebook, a policy that went into place in 2016.) WhatsApp has stressed this is not the case, though — the policy update is regarding messages sent to businesses via WhatsApp, which may be stored on Facebook’s servers.

The majority of users who have seen the new policy have accepted, the company says in a support article. This article also notes that you’ll get reminded about the new policy if you haven’t accepted it, and that’s still the case now, WhatsApp said in its statement.

“We will continue to remind users from time to time and let them accept the update, including when they choose to use relevant optional features like communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook,” WhatsApp said. “We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business.”


Elizabeth Holmes’ lawyers want to know how often jurors blog

The lawyers of Elizabeth Holmes, ex-CEO of disgraced blood testing startup Theranos, have 112 questions for prospective jurors at Holmes’ fraud trial — including how often they check social media and whether they subscribe to Netflix.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, Holmes’ attorneys have just filed a proposed jury questionnaire for her upcoming fraud trial. The extremely detailed 45-page document outlines every possible way Holmes fears a jury could be biased, and part of that apparently involves gauging exactly how online each juror is. Among other questions, jurors are asked:

  • “Do you have an account on any social media platforms? If yes, please identify the platform(s).”
  • “How frequently do you use the platform(s) listed above?” (Answers range from “multiple times per day” to “almost never.”)
  • “How do you use social media? (for example, communicate with friends; express opinions; follow current events; etc.)”
  • “Do you belong to any groups on social media (ex. Facebook or WhatsApp groups)?”
  • “Have you ever posted messages, comments, or opinions on websites/social media, or blogged? If yes, please describe the websites or social media platforms that you have used; the types of things you have posted or blogged; and how often you have done it.”

The questionnaire underscores the sheer breadth of media coverage around Theranos, with numerous questions gauging how (and how much) jurors engage with media. On the more general side, that includes:

  • “Have you ever written a letter to the editor or called into a radio show?”
  • “How much in the news media do you believe is fair and accurate?”

Then it asks whether potential jurors read, watch, or listen to any of 46 text news outlets, 15 individual media figures, and 19 video or audio outlets — mostly news stations, but also Hulu, Netflix, and HBO. (The Verge is not named on the questionnaire, although fellow Vox Media outlets Vox and New York Magazine are.) That’s on top of questions about whether the jurors have consumed media about Holmes and Theranos.

By contrast, US prosecutors — who filed their own 51-question proposal yesterday — asked participants to list their “main sources of news” and if they follow “financial news” specifically.

Prosecutors called Holmes’ form “far too long, deeply intrusive in unnecessary ways, argumentative, and repetitive” in a court filing. Beyond the social media questions, the form asks jurors to specify things like whether any family members or close acquaintances have experience with 26 different professional fields and government agencies. But Holmes’ lawyers claimed the entrepreneur was “routinely referred to in derisive and inflammatory terms,” making the questions pertinent.

That’s not an unfair description of Holmes’ media portrayal, although getting rich off a medical device that doesn’t work is arguably worthy of derision. It’s also a little ironic, because news outlets were once criticized for hyping Theranos without sufficient fact-checking. As Holmes’ filing notes, however, Theranos’ fall is now chronicled in a well-known book (Bad Blood by John Carreyrou), documentary (HBO’s The Inventor), and multiple podcasts (Tyler Shultz’s Thicker Than Water and Rebecca Jarvis’ The Dropout), plus an upcoming Hulu miniseries starring Amanda Seyfried.

Holmes was indicted for fraud in 2018 alongside former Theranos president and COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. Her trial is scheduled to begin in August.


Social media companies, here are some free theme park ideas to comply with Florida’s deplatforming law

The Verge is deeply invested in doing service journalism; we report on companies’ misdeeds, we review expensive products to tell you whether they’re worth your hard-earned money, and speak to industry leaders to get their insights on the issues affecting their companies and their customers.

It is in that vein that we brainstormed some ideas for social media theme parks in Florida.

See, the Sunshine State passed a law this week that blocks social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter from “knowingly” deplatforming politicians and even algorithmically ranking content, with fine ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 per day (The law, which is a mish-mash of broad speech regulations, has already been challenged in court by the tech companies’ trade organizations, which called it “a frontal assault on the First Amendment.”)

But there’s an easier way. The law has a hilariously corrupt exemption for any company that owns or operates a theme park or large entertainment complex in the state of Florida. Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said that exemption was included so that the Disney Plus streaming service “isn’t caught up in this.” The Disney World park in Orlando brings in significant tax revenue for Florida, of course, a state which relies heavily on tourism dollars.

So all Twitter, Facebook, TikTok et al have to do to comply with the law and avoid the knotty First Amendment issue of government speech regulations is build their own Floridian theme parks.

Here are our suggestions for the parks including some ideas for appropriately themed rides that the venues might offer:


  • Has a secret nightclub called Slides
  • Sells drinks called Canoes
  • The Ratio is a dunk tank where you get dropped into water for your bad takes
  • Whac-A-Mole is instead Block-A-Troll
  • A water-themed ride where you’re sailing along and random guys try to pull you into the water: Reply Guys, the ride
  • Rollercoaster goes sideways

The only problem with Twitterland is that it keeps opening amazing rides and then letting them completely fall apart.

Facebook World

  • All the rides suddenly pivot to video without warning
  • A haunted house attraction called Facebook Moderation
  • Instagram and WhatsApp once had separate parks, but they have been annexed into the main Facebook park and turned into shopping malls
  • The water park has a slide into radicalism
  • If you get detained by security, they put you in the Racist Uncle Time Out Room
  • An Instagram hall of mirrors that features mirrors that give you an Insta-ready body with lighting made for photos and then leaves you feeling terrible when you come to the last mirror, which has heavy shadows for lighting and no body editing whatsoever


  • A hall of mirrors that shunts you through random rides with absolutely no information or warning, gradually tuning your experience using the sophisticated biometric monitor in your admission wristband
  • Alternately, the whole park is just the set from the Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime show where a Backyardigans song plays on a loop

Pinterest Park

It’s just a bunch of themed photo booths that produce those little photo strips, but you have to wait in line and read 200 words before you can ride the Recipe Rollercoaster.

The GooglePlusPlex

  • A giant haunted house which closed eight years ago but high school kids still break into at night
  • The entire park littered with discontinued Google products

Clubhouse Clubhouse

It’s just one big infinity room where you enter and hear men talking at you and over each other about Bitcoin.

Reddit Faire

A Renaissance fair that ended up sharing its property lease with a prison, thanks to an awkward misunderstanding in the C-suite. Many guests are incredibly devoted cosplayers in delightful historically accurate costumes. Many are petty criminals. A few are serial killers. Try to guess which ones!


  • Has a ride where you appear to climb higher and higher forever, but then perilously fall to Earth after a botched apology
  • To enter the park you have to smash the like button
  • The Thumbnail Ride promises nonstop conflict but is really just a pretty chill afternoon
  • Every ride is at least 10 minutes long so it can include a midroll break
  • If you make a wrong turn at the bathrooms, you’ll occasionally run into an off-brand superhero ride that ends in a spike pit. No one knows who paid for or designed these rides, but children find them inexplicably compelling
  • You can’t leave unless you ring a bell, and then you will be sent notifications reminding you to return to YouTubeLand for the rest of your life
  • Really big and expensive and in many ways the gold standard for all the other parks, but no one appears to be in charge at all?

Snapchat Studios

  • Rides disappear after you go on them once
  • All the vending machines sell Spectacles, but no one buys them
  • Unfortunately the park’s been kind of struggling because all its best rides get cloned by Facebook World within six months
  • Temporarily closed because it accidentally opened another racist ride

ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G review: Seriously good value

(Pocket-lint) – When ZTE told us the Axon 30 Ultra 5G was en route for review, we got that fuzzy feeling inside. That’s because the older Axon 20 5G was the first device we’d ever seen with an under-display selfie camera – so surely the Axon 30 Ultra would take this technology to the next level?

Um, nope. Instead the Axon 30 Ultra instead has a more traditional punch-hole selfie camera front and centre, so that fuzzy feeling quickly dissipated. Without such a ‘magic camera’ on board what then is the appeal of this flagship?

The Axon 30 Ultra is all about power and affordability. It crams a top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor into a slender body with a 6.67-inch AMOLED display that can push its refresh rate to a class-leading 144Hz. All for just £649 in the UK and $749 in the USA. So is that as exceptional value as it sounds or are there hidden compromises?

Design & Display

  • 6.67-inch AMOLED, 1080 x 2400 resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, 144Hz refresh rate
  • Dimensions: 162 x 73 x 8mm / Weight: 188g
  • Finishes: Black, White, Blue, Light Brown
  • Under display fingerprint scanner
  • No 3.5mm port

Having moved out of the gigantic Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, the ZTE’s more slender frame and trim 20:9 aspect ratio felt like a revelation by comparison. It’s not that the Axon 30 Ultra is small, per se, but it’s a well balanced scale.


The model we have in review is apparently black – that’s what the box says anyway – but the phone’s rear has a much softer metallic appearance about it, with some degree of blue to its colour balance. Really we’d call it a metallic grey. It looks pleasant, while fingerprint smears aren’t a massive problem thanks to the soft-touch material.

The camera unit on the rear is a fairly chunky protrusion, but that’s because there’s a 5x zoom periscope housed within that frame. It’s a relatively elegant block of cameras, though, and even with the phone flat against a desk it doesn’t rock about unwantedly.

The screen is the big selling point though. It’s a 6.67-inch AMOLED panel, the kind we’ve seen in the Redmi Note 10 Pro, for example, except the ZTE goes all-out when it comes to refresh rate by offering up to 144Hz. You can pick from 60Hz/90Hz/120Hz too, with the option to display the refresh rate in the upper left corner.


Having a faster refresh rate means smoother visuals, especially when it comes to moving content. You’re more likely to notice it when scrolling through emails than much else, though, so we’ve found our preference for balancing rate to battery life has meant settling on 90Hz. A more dynamic software approach would be better, or the option to designate specific apps to function at specific frame rates – especially games.

Are you really going to tell the difference between 144Hz and 120Hz? No. But the simple fact the Axon 30 Ultra can do this is to show its worth; to show that it’s got more power credentials than many less adept phones at this price point.

Otherwise the screen hits all the right notes. It’s got ample resolution. Colours pop. Blacks are rich thanks to the AMOLED technology. It’s slightly curved to the edges too, but only subtly to help hide away the edge bezel from direct view – and we haven’t found this to adversely affect use due to accidental touches and such like.


There’s also an under-display fingerprint scanner tucked beneath the screen’s surface, which we’ve found to be suitably responsive for sign-ins. Or you can sign-up to face unlock instead to make things even easier.

Having that scanner in such a position, rather than over the power button, leaves the Axon 30 Ultra’s edges to be rather neat. Other than the on/off and volume up/down rocker to the one side, and USB-C port, single speaker and SIM tray to the bottom edge, there’s nothing to disrupt the phone’s form. That keeps it looking neat and tidy. It also means no 3.5mm headphone jack, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Performance & Battery

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, 8GB/12GB RAM
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB/1TB, no microSD card slot
  • Battery: 4600mAh, 66W fast-charging
  • Software: ZTE MyOS 11 (Android 11)

Elegant looks complement an elegant operation, too, largely down to the power that’s available on tap. With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor on board, couple with 8GB RAM, there’s little else more powerful that you can buy. Indeed, the Axon 30 Ultra is knocking on the door of gaming phone territory given that 144Hz refresh rate screen.


Navigating around the interface is super smooth and speedy, apps open quickly, and there’s no downturn in performance if you happen to open a whole bunch. Games are a breeze, too, as you’d expect from this kind of hardware – although we’d like a game centre to prevent over-screen notifications and such like.

But it’s not perfectly smooth sailing on account of ZTE’s own software, which here is MyOS 11 over the top of Google’s Android 11 operating system. It’s a common problem among Chinese makers, so we probably sound like a broken record, but there are definitely issues with notifications. WhatsApp might take a couple of hours to notify you of a message, for example, but there’s never a fixed period of time – and other times it’s immediate. The mail app Outlook rarely to never notified of new mails in the inbox either. 

A lot of this is down to software management. Because there’s rather a lot of it in MyOS. Under battery settings is an ‘Apps AI-control’, which is said to intelligently manage apps to save power. Except, as we’ve highlighted above, this can stifle some apps inappropriately. It can be turned off for manual control, where individual apps can have their auto-start and background running characteristics specified.

All of this is an attempt to aid the overall battery life. Because, as you can imagine, cranking out gaming sessions using the 144Hz and top-end engine from Qualcomm’s SD888 definitely eats away at the supply pretty rapidly. The 4,600mAh cell on board isn’t as capacious as some competitors we’ve seen and that, as a result, can see a heavy use day only just about scrape through a 15 hours day. It’ll manage, but only just.


Another oddity we’ve experienced with the Axon 30 Ultra is Wi-Fi connectivity seems to be a little up and down. With less strong signal our Zwift Companion app was very choppy in its updating of data – something that hasn’t been an issue with other phones we’ve compared in the same environment. We suspect that’s because the ‘a/b/g/n/ac/6e’ designation is catering for higher frequencies (‘ac’ is 5GHz only, for example, whereas ‘ax’ caters for both 2.6GHz and 5GHz, while the newly adopted ‘6e’, i.e. 6GHz, isn’t widely supported yet).


  • Quad rear camera array:
    • Main (25mm): 64-megapixel, f/1.6 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size, optical stabilisation (OIS)
    • Portrait (35mm): 64MP, f/1.9, 0.7µm
    • Wide (13mm): 64MP, f/2.2, 0.7µm
    • Zoom (123mm): 8MP, f/3.4, OIS
  • Front-facing selfie camera: 16MP

On the rear the Axon 30 Ultra houses an apparent four lenses: a 64-megapixel main; a 0.5x ultra-wide (also 64MP); a 5x periscope zoom lens (just 8MP); and what we would call a ‘portrait lens’ with 2x zoom (also 64MP).

It’s a bit of a mish-mash when it comes to results though. The main camera, at its best, is really great. It snaps into focus quickly, reveals heaps of detail – as you can see from the main flower shot below – but isn’t the most subtle when you look in detail, as images are over-sharpened.

The ability to zoom in the camera app is actioned on a slider to the side, but you don’t really ever know which lens you’re using – until there’s a clear ‘jump’ between one visualisation and the next, because, for example, the 5x periscope zoom is far poorer in its delivery. It’s only 8-megapixels, for starters, so there’s not nearly the same clarity revealed in its images. Plus the colour balance looks far out of sync with the main lens. Really this periscope is overoptimistic.

The 2x portrait zoom lens we also can’t really work out. Sometimes zoom shots are great, sometimes they’re quite the opposite – all mushy and, again, over-sharpened. It seems to depend which sensor/lens the camera is using at that particular moment – because the image of a horse in a field that we captured (within gallery above) looks fine, whereas the sheep in a field (shown in our wide-to-main-to-zoom-to-periscope gallery, below) is miles off the mark.

Motorola’s new Moto G9 Plus is a stunner of a phone – find out why, right here

By Pocket-lint Promotion


: Ultra-wide lensUltra-wide lens

There’s potential here overall. The specifications read rather well, but somehow the Axon 30 Ultra gets away from itself a little. It needs to rein in the offering really, simplify things, and deliver a more detailed app that explains specifically what kit you’re shooting with. That said, the main lens will please plenty, while close-up macro work – with the artificial intelligence ‘AI’ activated – snaps into focus really well.


To answer our opening question: what compromises do you have to accept if looking to buy the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra 5G? Relatively few at this price point. There are some irks, though, such as the software causing notification problems (by which we mean absences), the battery being a little stretched, and the cameras get away from their potential somewhat – despite the main lens being perfectly decent.

Otherwise ZTE has crammed one heck of a lot into the Axon 30 Ultra. Its screen is commendable and having that headline-grabbing 144Hz refresh rate is sure to bring attention. The subtlety of the design is elegant, too, delivering a well-balanced scale that’s comfortable to hold and fairly fingerprint-resistant on the rear. And there’s bundles of power from the top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform, ensuring apps and games run a treat.

There might be less ‘wow factor’ than if there was an under-display front-facing camera to captivate prospective customers (like there was in the Axon 20), but given the Axon 30 Ultra 5G’s price point undercuts the big-dog Samsung, that’ll be enough of a lure to many.

Also consider


Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

The ‘Fan Edition’ Galaxy might be a year older than the ZTE, but it’s a similar price, has more stable software in our experience – and that makes all the difference to everyday use.

  • Read our review


Writing by Mike Lowe.


WhatsApp sues Indian government over new rules it says break encryption

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp is suing India’s government over new internet rules it claims are unconstitutional and will “severely undermine the privacy” of its users, The New York Times reports. The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which was introduced in February and comes into effect today, contains a requirement that messaging apps identify the “first originator of information” when asked. But WhatsApp, which boasts nearly 400 million users in its largest market of India, argues that doing so would require it to trace every message sent on its service, violating users’ right to privacy.

“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to “trace” private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse,” a spokesperson for the service said in a statement. “WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so.”

WhatsApp’s warnings about “traceability” are backed of many of the world’s biggest technology firms and digital rights groups including Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Center for Democracy and Technology. In a statement about a similar plan to mandate traceability in Brazil, the EFF said that implementing traceability “will break users’ expectations of privacy and security, and would be hard to implement to match current security and privacy standards.”

Responding to efforts by India and other countries to force it to trace messages, WhatsApp has published an FAQ on its website. It argues that this traceability requirement would force it to break the end-to-end encryption for everyone on its service, because there’s no way for it to proactively know what message a government might want to investigate ahead of time. “A government that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance,” WhatsApp’s FAQ says.

However the Indian government argues the rules are required to track the origins of misinformation. In comments reported by Reuters, a government official argued that WhatsApp isn’t being asked to break its encryption, just to track where messages originate from.

But WhatsApp says tracing messages like this “would be ineffective and highly susceptible to abuse,” and risks punishing people for being the “originator” of content just for re-sharing information they found elsewhere. According to Reuters, WhatsApp argues that the new rules fail the tests established by a 2017 Supreme Court ruling. Namely, that privacy must be preserved except when legality, necessity, and proportionality require its infringement. WhatsApp argues that the new law lacks explicit parliamentary backing.

The lawsuit is the latest heightening of tensions between the Indian government and big tech companies. In recent months officials have ordered social media networks including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to remove posts critical of their handling of the pandemic. The NYT notes that social media companies have complied with many of these requests by blocking posts within the country, but keeping them visible elsewhere. While the government argues these posts could incite panic, critics say it’s using the new rules to silence detractors.

In another incident, police in India raided Twitter’s offices over a “manipulated media” label applied to a tweet from a government official.

While WhatsApp has been accused of facilitating the spread of misinformation around the world, the problem has been particularly acute in India. Since 2017, the service has been linked to a series of lynchings in the country after users on the service spread misinformation about child abductions. WhatsApp responded by placing new limits on message forwarding in an attempt to stop such accusations from going viral.


Microsoft Teams launches for friends and family with free all-day video calling

Microsoft is launching the personal version of Microsoft Teams today. After previewing the service nearly a year ago, Microsoft Teams is now available for free personal use amongst friends and families. The service itself is almost identical to the Microsoft Teams that businesses use, and it will allow people to chat, video call, and share calendars, locations, and files easily.

Microsoft is also continuing to offer everyone free 24-hour video calls that it introduced in the preview version in November. You’ll be able to meet up with up to 300 people in video calls that can last for 24 hours. Microsoft will eventually enforce limits of 60 minutes for group calls of up to 100 people after the pandemic, but keep 24 hours for 1:1 calls.

Microsoft Teams’ Together mode feature.
Image: Microsoft

While the preview initially launched on iOS and Android, Microsoft Teams for personal use now works across the web, mobile, and desktop apps. Microsoft is also allowing Teams personal users to enable its Together mode — a feature that uses AI to segment your face and shoulders and place you together with other people in a virtual space. Skype got this same feature back in December.

Speaking of Skype, Microsoft hasn’t announced any plans to replace Skype with Microsoft Teams on the consumer side yet. Microsoft said it was “fully committed to Skype” last year when it launched the preview of this personal version of Microsoft Teams, but the rise of Zoom during the pandemic certainly highlighted Skype’s irrelevance amongst consumers.

As we noted last year, the personal version of Microsoft Teams is part of a broader effort by Microsoft to remain relevant with consumers after a series of exits from consumer-friendly services. Microsoft isn’t looking to compete with iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or other chat apps, but it’s clear Zoom is in the company’s sights after its huge rise with consumers during the pandemic.

If you’re interested in trying out Microsoft Teams for personal use, you can download the iOS, Android, or desktop apps, or simply head to Teams on the web and avoid downloading anything at all.


Nokia’s nostalgia-invoking 2720 Flip is coming to the US on Verizon

Have you been dreaming of consciously uncoupling from your smartphone? Ready to embrace a digital detox lifestyle but want to stay connected to your friends? Are you nostalgic for the days of tapping out messages in T9?

Dream no more — HMD’s Nokia-branded 2720 Flip is arriving in the US soon. It’s an updated take on the classic flip phone, offering 4G connectivity and compatibility with modern apps like WhatsApp, Google Maps, and Facebook. Two years after its launch in 2019, it’s coming to the US on Verizon on May 20th for $80.

While in concept the 2720 Flip sounds appealing if you’d like to spend less time staring at your smartphone, in practice we found it to be more frustration than it’s worth. Keeping up with WhatsApp conversations via T9 is difficult, and lack of compatibility with password managers and banking apps make it challenging to live with the Flip as your primary phone in 2021. Still, HMD and Verizon have reason to think that there are US customers for this phone, so nostalgia lives on for now.


WhatsApp relaxes deadline for accepting its new privacy policy

In a new statement posted on its website, WhatsApp says users won’t lose any functionality if they fail to accept its new privacy policy by May 15th. “No one will have their accounts deleted or lose functionality of WhatsApp on May 15th because of this update,” the FAQ now reads.

That’s different from what the page originally said when it was posted in February, when it warned that failing to accept the new terms by the May deadline would mean users would lose functionality. “We’ve extended the effective date to May 15th,” the page said at the time. “If you haven’t accepted by then, WhatsApp will not delete your account. However, you won’t have full functionality of WhatsApp until you accept. For a short time, you’ll be able to receive calls and notifications, but won’t be able to read or send messages from the app [emphasis added].”

Although WhatsApp has relaxed the deadline for accepting the new policy, it’s still coming into force, sources with knowledge of WhatsApp’s plans confirmed to The Verge. It’ll still be effective from May 15th for new users and for people who’ve already accepted the policy. The difference is that anyone who doesn’t accept the policy now won’t lose full functionality immediately. Instead, they’ll be shown a reminder to accept the new policy.

That’ll change after a period of several weeks when this reminder will become what WhatsApp is referring to as a “persistent reminder.” It’s at this point that the app’s functionality will become limited. Although users will still be able to answer incoming calls and respond to messages by tapping on notifications, they won’t be able to access the standard chat list from within the app. Finally, after a few additional weeks, users will lose this “limited functionality” entirely. WhatsApp says it generally deletes inactive accounts after 120 days.

WhatsApp’s explanation of what “limited functionality” will mean for users.
Image: WhatsApp

“We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. “In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted the update and WhatsApp continues to grow. However, for those that have not yet had a chance to do so, their accounts will not be deleted or lose functionality on May 15. We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come.”

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy has faced fierce backlash over worries that it weakens the chat service’s encryption or allows it to share more of users’ personal data with parent company Facebook. However, the policy doesn’t change the fact that personal messages between users are end-to-end encrypted, meaning only each recipient can read them. Instead, it relates to messages sent to businesses on WhatsApp. These may be stored on Facebook’s servers, and their data may be used for advertising. WhatsApp already shares some user data with Facebook, like phone numbers, and has done so since 2016.

This information hasn’t done much to calm the controversy, which resulted in rival messaging apps Telegram and Signal reporting surges in new users. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk got involved, tweeting “Use Signal” to his millions of followers at the beginning of January. In response to the outcry, WhatsApp said it would delay the introduction of its new privacy policy by three months from February to May.