‘Tis season for a Meta Quest update, with new features, and even a performance boost, coming to your Oculus Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, and Meta Quest Pro VR headsets via update v60. Unfortunately, the update also means the removal of a feature – so long, phone notifications.
Per the announcement on Meta's blog, which change is the most impactful is a toss-up depending on which headset you own. For Meta Quest Pro users it’s likely going to be the mixed-reality performance boost that’s coming exclusively to your headset. Meta is enabling higher clock speeds for the Pro’s CPU and GPU that it says will result in a 34% and 19% increase in performance for these components respectively.
This boost won’t improve the passthrough video quality, just the rendering and responsiveness of the virtual objects in your MR space though – so it might not be enough to convince you to try more MR apps if you haven't already.
If you don’t own a Quest Pro, the best upgrade coming in v60 is to the number of rooms your Quest device can remember. If you opt in to share your point cloud data, your VR headset will gain the ability to store information for more than one play space at a time – meaning you should be able to move your play space between rooms more easily, without having to redraw the boundaries every time.
As we mentioned above, however, users are losing access to one feature – phone notifications will no longer show on your headset.
It’s not clear exactly why this tool is being taken away – our guess is that it has something to do with the feature not being popular enough – but those who do rely on it will notice a downgrade. You’ll now need to remove your headset every time you want to check why your phone has pinged, unless you have a Meta Quest 3; as we noted in our Meta Quest 3 review, this headset’s mixed-reality passthrough is a major leap forward, and it’s good enough for you to be able to make out what’s on a real-world screen.
A new Horizon (Home)
A few other changes coming in v60 include new Meta Horizon Home environments – the Blue Hill Gold Mine, Storybook, and Lakeside Peak (which you can see in the GIF below). These visually distinct spaces will not only give you a nice space to load into when you boot up your headset, but a more personalized space that you can invite your VR friends to, to hang out and watch Meta Quest TV content together before jumping into a multiplayer experience.
Your profile is also getting a power-up. Now, unless you keep the info private by changing your account preferences, people who look at your profile can see more details about your shared VR interests, including the apps you both use and your mutual friends.
Neither is super-impactful right now, but as the metaverse becomes more social these sorts of minor tweaks will help to make the experience a lot more seamless, so they're certainly appreciated.
As with previous updates, v60 is gradually rolling out now, so if you don’t see the new features yet don’t panic – you shouldn’t have long to wait until the update installs and they unlock.
Strava already has a lot of social features built in, so you can share your cycles, runs and walks with friends and family, but it's now adding a major new feature to make contacting fellow users even easier: direct messaging.
As per the official blog post (via Velo), the Strava apps for Android and iOS are being updated now with messaging capabilities. Both one-to-one and group chats are supported, as well as options to share activities and routes in conversations, and you don't need to pay for a subscription to use the feature.
When it comes to group chats, you're able to set specific names for them, and message reactions, GIFs, and replies to individual messages are all supported. What doesn't seem to be live yet, according to 9to5Mac, is photo sharing – but that's due in early 2024.
Perhaps the easiest way to start messaging someone you're connected to on Strava is to head to their profile and then tap the new Message button. You can also find your conversation list by tapping the speech bubble on the Home or Groups tabs.
Safety and privacy
Strava says that it's adding direct messages after so long because “athletes perform better together”, while the press release talks about messaging “enabling seamless coordination, connectivity, and celebration of accomplishments and progress”.
In other words, you can cheer your friends on, brag about your accomplishments, and meet up for activities more easily without having to resort to another messaging app. That said, if you've already got a group chat established somewhere else, this new feature might not have enough about it to tempt you to switch over.
There is a safety and privacy aspect to this, too: you need to have entered your date of birth in the app to use messaging, so Strava can monitor for “suspicious, underage, or unsafe activity” through the new chatting mechanism.
And you can limit who is able to message you, if you're worried about people sliding into your DMs. Via messaging settings (the cog icon on the conversation list), you can choose from Following (people who follow you), Mutuals (people who follow you that you also follow back), and No one (no one can message you first, but you can still start chats).
Windows 11 users are getting the Paint app bolstered with a really smart addition on the AI front.
This is the introduction of Dall-E 3 support to Paint, or as it’s known in the app, Cocreator.
If you’ve seen the feature in Bing AI, it’s a top-notch image creation feature. Basically, you can tell Cocreator what you want and it’ll make an image based on your description (and specified art style).
As we’ve already seen with Bing AI, it’s easy to use and provides powerful results, so much so that when first rolled out with Bing Chat (now renamed as Copilot), there was a massive rush to use the image generation capability – and a whole lot of buzz around how good it is. (With a few wobbles along the way, mind, but that’s par for the course for AI in many respects).
There’s a short tutorial to introduce the feature to help beginners understand what it’s all about, too.
Analysis: Not got Cocreator yet? You will have it soon
Not everyone will see the Cocreator feature right now, as the rollout will take a little time. Also, you need to ensure that you’re running the latest version of Paint (so update the app), and if Microsoft asks you to sign up to the waiting list for the feature (in the app), make sure that you do this.
Paint has been fleshed out considerably this year, not just with the addition of this AI-based feature, but also with a transparency effect, and moreover, layers, a much-requested piece of functionality that was added recently. Not to mention background removal which does what it says on the tin, quickly and with no fuss (the Photos app also got this recently, as well as a background blur option to boot).
Windows 11 is slowly but surely getting more streamlined, with Microsoft cutting and pruning away some of the bloat in the OS.
The most recent move, as highlighted by Windows Latest, is that the Steps Recorder app is getting its marching orders.
What’s that? We wouldn’t blame you if that was your first thought, because it was ours, as we’d forgotten about the existence of this app, which was brought in with Windows 7.
Steps Recorder, as the name suggests, allows you to record something happening on your screen, and the steps you take when running into a problem – so you can send it to an expert (or support team) who can see exactly where you’re going wrong (hopefully).
As Microsoft notes, Steps Recorder won’t be updated any longer and will be “removed in a future release of Windows.”
The reason is that it’s pretty much redundant now with other options present in Windows 11 for screen recording duties. Microsoft points to the Snipping Tool, Xbox Game Bar, and Microsoft Clipchamp as alternatives, though some will miss the lightweight nature of Steps Recorder perhaps.
Analysis: Getting serious about streamlining
As mentioned, this is just the latest move to declutter Windows 11 somewhat, including getting rid of the Tips app as recently announced.
On top of that, we have other supplementary debloating moves afoot in Windows 11, such as the introduction of the RGB hub to avoid the need to install separate apps to control your peripherals with fancy RGB lighting. That feature is now live in Windows 11 and came in with the update at the end of September.
Considering there appears to be some momentum building around this cleaning up of the operating system, we can likely expect more pruning of Windows 11 from Microsoft going forwards, which can only be a good thing in our books.
Those who use the Photos application in Windows 11 will be pleased to learn that another useful new feature is inbound for the tool.
It’ll allow you to strip away, or replace, the background in a photo, and it comes in the latest version of the Photos app in testing.
Microsoft has made the process dead simple – if you want to remove the background, you just click on a button, and it’s gone. You can then copy the foreground object that you’ve preserved to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere, or you can opt to just save the pic as is.
Alternatively, you can hit the replace button to take out the background and put in a solid color for a background instead. The color you want can be selected via a simple palette.
As Microsoft tells us in a blog post, as well as this capability, the Photos app now lets you easily share a photo that’s backed up on OneDrive. Simply right-clicking on the photo facilitates sending a link via an email (or you can copy that link to the clipboard for pasting wherever necessary).
Microsoft also notes that it has applied “various performance and stability updates to improve the Slideshow feature, navigation between tabs, and opening images.”
All of these changes and a few other tweaks are wrapped up in version number 2023.11110.8002.0 (or better) of the Photos app, with the update currently rolling out to testers (that’s all channels, from Canary testers onwards).
Not everyone wants a fancy image editor, and some are quite happy using the (relatively) basic apps Microsoft provides with Windows 11, doubtless because they’re pretty straightforward. So, adding an easy-to-use way to remove or swap out backgrounds, in just a few clicks, is definitely a nifty touch for those kind of everyday users (as is the convenient background blur option, too).
I’ve had exactly two Apple Visio Pro experiences: one six months ago, on the day Apple announced its mixed reality headset, and the other just a few hours ago. And where with the first experience I felt like I was swimming across the surface of the headset’s capabilities, today I feel like I’m qualified as a Vision Pro diver. I mean, how else am I expected to feel after not only experiencing spatial video on the Vision Pro, but also shooting this form of video for the headset with a standard iPhone 15 Pro?
By now, you probably know that iOS 17.2, which Apple released today as a public beta, will be the first time most of us will gain experience with spatial video. Granted, initially it will only be half the experience. Your iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max will, with the iOS 17 update, add a new videography option that you can toggle under Camera Formats in Settings. Once the Vision Pro ships, sometime next year, the format will turn on automatically for Vision Pro owners who have connected the mixed reality device to their iCloud accounts.
I got a sneak peek at not only the new iPhone 15 Pro capabilities, but at what the life-like content looks like viewed on a $ 3,499 Apple Vision Pro headset – and I now realize that spatial video could be the Vision Pro’s killer app.
A critical iPhone design tweak
To understand how Apple has been playing the long game with its product development, you need only look at your iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max, where you’ll find a subtle design and functional change that you likely missed, but which is obviously all about the still unreleased Vision Pro. It turns out Apple designed the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max with the Vision Pro's spatial needs in mind, taking the 13mm ultrawide camera and moving it from its position (on the iPhone 14 Pro) diagonally opposite the 48MP main camera to the spot vertically below with the main camera, which on the 14 Pro was occupied by the telephoto camera; the telephoto camera moves to the ultrawide's old slot.
By repositioning these two lenses, Apple makes it possible to shoot stereoscopic or spatial video, but only when you hold the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max in landscape mode.
It is not, I learned, just a matter of recording video through both lenses at once and shooting slightly different angles of the same scene to create the virtual 3D effect. Since the 13mm ultrawide camera shoots a much larger frame, Apple’s computational photography must crop and scale the ultrawide video to match the frames coming from the main camera.
To simplify matters, Apple is only capturing two 1080p/30fps video streams in HEVC (high-efficiency video coding) format. Owing to the dual stream, the file size is a bit larger, creating a 130MB file for about one minute of video.
Even though these spatial files are ostensibly a new media format, they will appear like any other 2D video file on your iPhone or Mac. However, there will be limits. You can trim one of these videos, but you can’t apply any other edits, lest you break the perfect synchronization between the two streams.
For my test, I used a standard iPhone 15 Pro running the iOS 17 developer beta. We had already enabled Spatial Video for Apple Vision Pro under Settings in Camera/Formats. In the camera app's video capture mode, I could select a tiny icon that, naturally, looks just like the Vision Pro to shoot in Spatial Video mode.
When I selected that, the phone guided me to rotate the phone 90 degrees so it was in landscape orientation (the Vision Pro icon rotates as soon as you tap it). I also noticed that the image level tool, which is optional for all formats, is on by default when you use spatial video. This is because spatial videos are best when shot level. In fact, shooting them in situations where you know you might not be able to keep the phone level, like an action shot, could be a bad idea. Mostly this is about what it will feel like to watch the finished product in the Vision Pro headset – lots of movement in a 3D video a few centimeters from your face might induce discomfort.
Similarly, I found that it’s best to keep between three and eight feet from your subject, so they don’t end up appearing like giants in the final spatial video.
I shot a couple of short spatial videos of a woman preparing sushi. I tried to put the sushi in the foreground and her in the background to give the scene some depth. Nothing about shooting the video felt different from any others I’ve shot, though I probably overthought it a bit as I was trying to create a pair of interesting spatial videos.
Even though the iPhone is jumping through a bunch of computational hoops to create Spatial Video out of what you shoot, you should be able to play the video back instantly. We handed over our phones and then, a few minutes later, we were ready to view our videos in the Vision Pro.
Hello, my old friend
While I was worried that after all these months, I wouldn’t remember how to use the Vision Pro, it really only took me a moment or two to reorient myself to its collection of gaze, gesture, and Digital Crown-based controls. It remains a stunningly intuitive piece of bleeding-edge tech. I still needed to hand over my glasses for a prescription measurement so we could make sure Apple inserted the right Zeiss lenses (you don’t wear glasses when using the headset). It’s a reminder that, unlike an iPhone, the Vision Pro will be a somewhat bespoke experience.
For this second wear session, I did not have the optional over-the-head strap, which meant that, for the first time, I felt the full weight of the headgear. I did my best to adjust the headband using a control knob near the back of the headset while being careful not to over-tighten it, but I’m not sure I ever found that sweet spot (note to self: get the extra headband when you do finally get to review one of these headsets).
There were some new controls since I last tried the Vision Pro – for example, I could now resize windows by looking over at the edge of a window and then by virtually pinching and pulling the white curve that appears right below it. I got this on the second try, and then it became second nature.
I finally got a good look at the Vision Pro Photos app, which was easy to navigate using my gaze and finger taps – you pinch and pull with either hand to swipe through photos and galleries. I usually kept my hands in or near my lap when performing these gestures. I looked at photos shot with the iPhone 15 Pro at 24MP and 48 MP. It was fun to zoom into those photos, so they filled my field of view, and then pinch and drag to move around the images and see some of the exquisite detail in, for instance, the lace on a red dress.
I got a look at some incredible panorama shots, including one from Monument Valley in Arizona and another from Iceland, which featured a frozen waterfall, and which virtually wrapped all the way around me. As I noted in my original Vision Pro experience, there’s finally a reason to take panoramic photos with your iPhone.
Inside the Vision Pro Photos app is a new media category called Spatial. This is where I viewed some canned spatial videos and, finally, the pair of spatial videos I shot on the iPhone 15 Pro. There was the campfire scene I saw during my WWDC 2023 experience, a birthday celebration, an intimate scene of a family camping, another of a family cooking in a kitchen, and, my favorite, a mother and child playing with bubbles.
You can view these spatial videos in a window or full-screen, where the edges blend with either your passthrough view or your immersive environment (a new environment is Joshua Tree) that replaces your real world with a 360-degree wraparound image. In the bubble video, the bubbles appeared to be floating both in the scene and closer to my face; I had the impulse to reach out and touch them.
In the kitchen scene, where the family is sitting around a kitchen island eating and the father is in the background cooking, the 3D effect initially makes the father look like a tiny man. When he turned and moved closer to his family, the odd effect disappeared.
It’s not clear how spatial video shot on iPhone 15 Pro is handling focal points, and if it’s defaulting to a long depth of field or using something different for the 3D effect. You can, by tapping your iPhone's screen during a spatial video shoot, set the focus point but you can't change this in editing.
My two short videos were impressive, if I do say so myself. During the shoot, I did my best to put one piece of sushi the chef held up to me in the foreground, and in the final result, I got exactly the effect I was hoping for. The depth is interesting, and not overbearing or jarring. Instead, the scene looks exactly as I remember it, complete with that lifelike depth. That’s not possible with traditional videography.
What I did not do was stand up and move closer to the spatial videos. Equally, these are not videos you can step into and move around. You're still only grabbing two slightly different videos to create the illusion of depth.
In case you’re wondering, the audio is captured too, and this sounded perfectly normal. I didn't notice any sort of spatial effect, but these videos were not shot with audio sources that spanned the distance of a room.
Because you’ll have spatial video shooting capabilities when you install the iOS 17.2 public beta you could be shooting a lot of spatial video between now and when Apple finally starts selling the Vision Pro to consumers. These videos will look perfectly normal – but imagine having a library of spatial video to swipe through when you do finally buy the Vision Pro. That, and the fact that your panoramas will look stunning on the device, may finally be the reason you buy Apple's headset.
Naturally, the big stumbling factor here is price. Apple plans on charging $ 3,499 (around £2,800 / AU$ 5,300) for the Vision Pro, not including the head strap accessory, which as mentioned, you’ll probably need. That means that while millions may own iPhone 15 Pros and be able to shoot spatial video, a precious few will be able to watch them on a Vision Pro.
Perhaps Apple will make the Vision Pro part of one of its financing plans, so that people can pay it off with a monthly fee. There might also be discounts if you buy an iPhone 15 Pro. Maybe not. Whatever Apple does, spatial video may make the most compelling case yet for, if not owning a Vision Pro, then at least wishing you did.
Windows 11’s 23H2 update has recently been released, and while that annual upgrade obviously adds features, some have also been dropped by Microsoft.
PhantomOfEarth picked up on this, spotting that Microsoft just added the latest round of cutting to its list of deprecated features for Windows 11, and posting on X (formerly Twitter) to let us know.
The Windows Tips app has been deprecated and will eventually be removed. https://t.co/qK6s2icEHN pic.twitter.com/cJph6HBm0oNovember 7, 2023
The big move here – and the only one that’ll affect consumers (the others are business-related) – is the deprecation of the Tips app in Windows 11.
This means that Tips will remain in Windows 11 for now, but in stasis, with no further development – and it’s scheduled to be removed in a future update of the OS.
Microsoft does, however, observe that in this case the app will continue to get (small) updates with info about new Windows features.
The Tips app provides help for Windows 11 users regarding customizing the interface, as well as imparting useful keyboard shortcuts and other miscellaneous tips, and highlighting new features that have arrived in the operating system.
PhantomOfEarth also recently tweeted about another interesting change for Windows 11, namely the ability to make custom commands for the Voice Access feature. This is still a long way off, as it’s not even live in testing, but hidden in the background – even so, it’d be an excellent addition on the accessibility front.
Hidden in 23580: the ability to make your own custom commands for voice access! (feature VACCS)vivetool /enable /id:40501685 pic.twitter.com/JvgXV2mMFpNovember 1, 2023
In fairness, this app isn’t the greatest help resource anyway, but nonetheless, for those new to Windows, it could be useful. That said, we’re betting there’s a reason for it being ditched now – namely Copilot.
Remember that in a year’s time, a fully developed Copilot AI – which will doubtless have been considerably bolstered over the course of 2024 – will be able to handle all help duties ably. We’d imagine that’s the plan, anyway.
Microsoft is considering a change to Windows 11 that would declutter one part of the interface in the Start menu.
The tweak has only been applied in testing right now, in the recent build 23575 deployed to the Dev channel, and it pertains to the Recommended panel in the Start menu.
What Microsoft has done, as Windows Latest reports, is to introduce a grouping system for the recently added apps that appear in this Recommended section.
As it is, these apps show up as single entries, but in the new interface, they are all shoved into a ‘Recently added’ folder in the section, thereby decreasing clutter.
It’s certainly a useful touch to streamline this part of the Start menu, although note that the rollout of this to testers is a phased one, meaning only some of those in the Dev channel will see it to begin with.
Elsewhere in build 23575, Microsoft has fixed a bunch of bugs including crashes with File Explorer, problems with some PC games, and an issue where Copilot disappeared from the taskbar (an AWOL AI, if you will).
Analysis: More customization options please, Microsoft
Hopefully, we’ll see this move progress from Dev to Beta channels, and then eventually the release version of Windows 11, because it’s certainly a useful addition to the Recommended section. Eventually, it’s possible Microsoft may organize other parts of this panel using grouping in folders.
However, there are broader concerns about the Recommended section. In its article, Windows Latest also pointed out a post on Microsoft’s Feedback Hub called: “I would like to be able to turn off the Recommended section in the Start menu and have the whole area disappear in Windows 11.”
The idea of being able to ditch the feature entirely from the Start menu has now been upvoted nearly 10,000 times on the hub. Most folks would appreciate the ability to customize all parts of the Windows 11 UI further, wherever possible, and we’d agree wholly with that sentiment.
If Microsoft feels this is complicating things, any customization options could be hidden away somewhere, so only advanced users would bother to hunt them out.
All in all, the Recommended panel is one of the bits of Windows 11’s interface we feel could definitely use some work, although at least the potential change coming in with this new preview build does make things better.
WhatsApp is currently testing a View Once mode for voice messages as a “new layer of privacy” on the mobile app.
The feature functions similarly to the disappearing images and videos present on the platform. Meta is merely expanding it elsewhere. According to WABetaInfo, a new icon sporting the number one will appear in the chat bar while you record a voice note with the lock on. Tapping said icon enables the View Once mode (well it's more like Listen Once) preventing recipients from exporting, forwarding, saving, or recording messages. Once sent over, you, the sender, cannot listen to it nor can the other person play it again after the first time. It’s gone forever.
As WABetaInfo points out, this tool has the potential to effectively eliminate “the risk of your personal or sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.” Messages can’t be shared with people outside the initial chat room, greatly reducing the odds “of unauthorized access.”
This update is available for both Android and iOS. If you’re interested in trying out yourself, Android users can join the Google Play Beta Program and install version 2.23.78 of the WhatsApp beta. iPhone owners can try to join the TestFlight program for WhatsApp. However, at the time of this writing it’s no longer accepting any more entrants, although it is possible a slot could open soon.
I’ve been playing around with macOS Sonoma, Apple’s latest operating system update for Macs and MacBooks, and one of the more subtle changes included in the update may prove to have the biggest impact on how I use my MacBook – making it similar to Windows 11.
Now, the idea that Apple could learn anything from Microsoft’s operating system could be considered blasphemy in some quarters, but the truth is that while macOS Sonoma certainly does a lot of things better than Windows 11, the opposite is also true. Sorry, but there are things I prefer in Windows – and the management of open windows is one of them.
You see, I’m a rather unorganized man, so after a few hours of working on a PC or Mac, my screen is awash with apps, browsers, programs, and other random windows. It can get a bit overwhelming – especially when I’m trying to find something on my desktop.
In the past, on a Mac I would have to hold down the Option key, and then click on an empty space on the desktop, which would then minimize everything on the desktop except for the top window that I was using. A useful shortcut, but not the easiest.
Over on the Windows side of things, however, there was a much easier method. Introduced way back with Windows 7 (which many people feel was the pinnacle of Windows releases), ‘Aero Shake’ didn’t just prove that Microsoft is awful at naming things, it introduced a quick way of minimizing every app or window apart from the window I am working in. All I had to do was click and hold the top of the window I wanted to keep open, then shake it from side to side. It was a fast and intuitive way to declutter my desktop, and I didn’t have to use my keyboard.
Keeping your options open
However, as Apple Insider reports, Apple has brought in a new feature that simplifies this process and makes it just as easy – if not easier – than Windows 11’s way of doing things.
Basically, you no longer have to hold down the Option key along with clicking on an empty space on the desktop to minimize all background apps and windows – instead, you can just click on the desktop and all apps apart from the one you’re using will disappear. Clicking the desktop again will open them all back up.
This is much faster and more accessible than the previous way of doing things, and while it might not be the biggest change included in macOS Sonoma, it’ll likely have a big impact on the way I work. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, of course, and there will be people who are used to the Option-click method – which has been around for decades.
The first time I noticed this new feature was when I accidentally hit the desktop rather than a folder I meant to open. The sudden disappearance of all my windows was a surprise, and at first I wasn’t sure what I did. But, once I figured out how to use it, and what was happening, I quickly adapted to the new way of working.
In some ways, macOS Sonoma’s way of hiding background windows is easier to use than Windows 11’s method – as I sometimes find Windows doesn’t quite pick up when I am shaking an app, leaving everything open.
On the other hand, you still need to find the desktop to click on it in macOS Sonoma – which is often a problem when you have loads of apps open. Part of the reason for using this feature is because you can’t see your desktop, so having to close or move a few windows to click the desktop to hide everything you’re not working on can still be a bit of a chore.
Still, as a user of both Windows 11 and macOS Sonoma, I am always glad when good ideas from one operating system make their way to the other OS – long may it continue.