Here’s your first look at Google’s new AI Assistant with Bard, but you’ll have to wait longer for a release date

2024 is set to see AI playing an increasingly prominent role in all kinds of tech devices and services, and Google is getting the ball rolling by enhancing Google Assistant with Google Bard features, having launched its AI chatbot last year. 

During its Made by Google event in October, Google announced that the new Assistant by Bard would blend elements of both tools to create a generative AI search powerhouse. Its Google Assistant search tool has been integrated across the company’s products since its launch in 2016.  

Google’s developments in AI are transforming the way users experience and interact with its repertoire of apps and services, with AI tools available in Gmail, YouTube, and Google Docs, among others. The merging of Google Bard and Google Assistant features marks the next big step in the company’s plan to integrate AI across all its products and services. 

While Assistant with Bard doesn’t have a confirmed release date just yet, images and video shared by 9to5Google give us an idea of how it will look and function. 

9to5Google suggests that Assistant with Bard will replace Google Assistant altogether across Google and Android devices. If this is true, it’s likely that you’ll access the new AI the same way as you would access Google Assistant; either by commanding “Hey Google”, or long-pressing the power button. 

Looking at the images, the Discover page in the Google search app appears to have received a Bard integration in the form of a slider toggle that enables you to easily switch between a standard Google search and the AI chatbot

Assistant with Bard first look

(Image credit: 9to5Google )

Other images show the pop-up that appears when Assistant by Bard is enabled, allowing you to ask questions by talking, typing, or sharing photos using the three options at the bottom of the screen. Google previewed this design during its October event, at which it launched the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.  

Assistant with Bard first look

(Image credit: 9to5Google )

Assistant with Bard isn’t yet available to use, but going by the images shared by 9to5Google it appears that the rollout of Google’s next AI development is imminent.  

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Instagram and Facebook users will soon no longer be able to chat in new update

Three years after it first launched, Meta has decided to disable Facebook's and Instagram's cross-messaging feature.

The company introduced cross-app chats back in 2020, letting users from the two platforms talk to each other with ease. There were even plans to extend the interoperability with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying at one point he wanted to have all of Meta’s messaging apps working together. But those dreams have been squashed as a recently updated Instagram Help Center page states communication is ending sometime in “mid-December 2023”. An exact date was not given.

The support website lays out what’ll happen after deactivation. In addition to being unable to “start new conversations or calls”, all pre-existing chats made with a Facebook account will now become read-only. Facebook users, in turn, will not be able to see an Instagram profile’s Activity Status or view any read receipts. Plus, Meta will not be moving any conversations to Messenger. If you want to begin a new chat, you’ll have to start from scratch on the respective platform. 

Prepping for the future

Currently, we have no idea why this is happening. Meta has yet to make an official announcement explaining the move. However, 9To5Google theorizes it may have something to do with Europe's Digital Market Act (DMA). 

To give you a crash course, the European Union passed the DMA in 2022 as a way to prevent major tech corporations (or “gatekeepers” as the bill calls them) from gaining a monopoly over the tech industry. One of the provisions within the law is that these large companies must “offer interoperability between messaging platforms” and fall under the EU's purview. It’s important to point out that Meta has been scaling back its Messenger service for some time now, including ending support for the SMS standard and shutting down Messenger Lite.

The company might instead prop up WhatsApp as its main, DMA-compliant messaging service. WABetaInfo found evidence of this last September, with Meta working on allowing WhatsApp users to send texts to third-party apps. No word on when this support will officially be released, but it could be soon. Every corporation designated as a gatekeeper by the DMA must comply with the law by March 6, 2024.

We reached out to Meta asking if they could give an exact date on when the cross-chat feature will go offline and explain why they’re doing this. The story will be updated at a later time.

While you wait, check out TechRadar's list of the best encrypted messaging apps for Android in 2023.

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Windows 11 no longer has Cortana as Microsoft pulls the plug on digital assistant

It’s official – Microsoft has made the move to scrap Cortana in Windows 11, as promised a while back.

If you recall, back in June, Microsoft let us know that Cortana was going to be killed off later in 2023. We then heard a firm date for that to happen, namely August, and the first sightings of some folks seeing Cortana dumped were reported just over a week ago.

And now it seems Microsoft is fully pulling support for the digital assistant.

Windows Central reports that the deprecation of Cortana is fully underway, and you’ll be notified the assistant is no longer available if you try to access it in Windows 11. Along with that notification, a link is provided to a support page where you can learn more about what’s going on here.

The change seems to be rolling out for everyone on Windows 11 now, though some folks may still have access to Cortana – but not for much longer.

Cortana will also be getting the elbow from Microsoft Teams later this year, we’re told, and will only remain in Outlook mobile by the time the end of 2023 rolls around.

Analysis: Curtains for Cortana across the board

Waving goodbye to Cortana won’t be a difficult task for most users. After all, certainly for the general computing population using Windows 11, Cortana wasn’t used much anyway. Microsoft had already angled the digital assistant more towards business use because of this – but Cortana will also be dumped from Microsoft Teams, as well, soon enough.

The reason for getting rid of Cortana pretty much everywhere (except Outlook mobile, for some reason) is obvious, and that’s the incoming Windows Copilot AI, a much more ambitious desktop assistant.

This will basically be the Bing AI integrated into a side panel in Windows 11, but with a lot of extra abilities to customize Windows settings in various ways, to save you the trouble of having to hunt for these (options that might be buried deep in submenus somewhere).

Microsoft’s Copilot is already in test builds of Windows 11, but right now, it’s still a barebones incarnation of what the software giant has promised. Meaning it’s pretty much just a built-in Bing chatbot with a few very limited powers to manipulate the Windows 11 environment, though Microsoft is going to build out the latter facets considerably going forward.

Rumor has it Copilot could debut in Windows 11 23H2, and clearing out Cortana before then would make sense in that light. We still have our doubts that Copilot will be impressive enough to launch in just a few short months though (mind you, Bing AI itself not being ready didn’t stop Microsoft launching the chatbot, either).

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YouTube Premium’s best video feature might no longer be iPhone-exclusive

It looks like YouTube’s 1080p Premium video quality is finally rolling out to Android devices for paying subscribers, after a brief period of iOS exclusivity.

If you're an active YouTube Premium member – it costs $ 11.99 / £11.99 / AU$ 14.99 per month – and use an iOS device like an iPhone 14, you can currently watch videos in ‘1080p Premium’ quality. These are like regular HD videos, but are streamed using a higher bitrate, which means the video is less compressed, and so should look crisper and more detailed.

It looks like this upgrade won’t be exclusive to the best iPhones for much longer, as Android phone and Google TV users who pay for YouTube Premium are reporting that they can see the 1080p Premium video option (via 9to5Google). Right now the feature doesn’t appear to be widespread, and reportedly the users don’t see the option all the time, but this seemingly inadvertent rollout suggests that 1080p Premium will soon be available for more YouTube users.

Google has yet to say when 1080p Premium will officially roll out for Android, but be on the lookout for an update to the app in the coming days and weeks. If you want to take advantage of the upgrade, remember that you’ll also have to sign up for YouTube Premium.

As for those of you who want to keep using YouTube for free, you’ll still have access to the same 1080p HD-quality videos you had before – just without the added benefits of the higher bitrate.

Should you subscribe to YouTube Premium?

Poeple watching a YouTube video together while in a Google Meet video call.

(Image credit: YouTube)

If you use YouTube a lot then you've probably thought about signing up for Premium, especially as the company has steadily introduced more reasons for you to subscribe.

Higher-bitrate videos, the ability to download videos for offline viewing, and Google Meet group watch-alongs are a few of the upgrades to the YouTube service that await Premium members. You’ll also be able to watch YouTube ad-free (ignoring any ads that the creator bakes into the video).

The ad-free feature is getting better too – although for the wrong reasons. Earlier this year YouTube announced that unskippable ads will be getting longer (they can now be up to 30s) on your Google TV, and it’s playing around with “pause experiences” – adverts that appear around the video whenever you pause it. As ads become more annoying, the ability to switch them off becomes more appealing.

That said, YouTube Premium is pretty darn pricey; $ 11.99 / £11.99 / AU$ 14.99 is more than you’d pay for a number of the best streaming services, so it’ll only be worth it if you use YouTube a lot.

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Gmail will no longer harass you with notifications outside working hours

Gmail is easily among the best email services; it offers safe, reliable, and secure email from one of the internet's largest companies.

But anyone who uses Gmail for work, through Google Workspace, knows the pain of out-of-hours emails from your boss that flash up on the screen and ruin your zen. 

Google is listening, though, and recently announced an update for Gmail that works with Apple's new Focus mode for iOS, one of the best features for getting digital peace and quiet. 

The idea is kind of like notification profiles on Android; you can set specific notifications, apps, and services to be silent in different times of the day, such as when you're at home. 

Gmail can now work with these profiles – either automatically generated by Apple or customized by the user – to make sure that you get the exact notifications you want. Aimless emails? Gone. Important, critical updates? Those get through. 

“You can now specify which Google Chat and Gmail contacts you still want notifications from when your iOS device is in Focus mode,” explained Google. “This is useful in situations where you need to limit screen time, but don’t want to miss an important message when other notifications are silenced.” 

The importance of digital peace 

After the pandemic forced everyone to work from home, or at least partially work from home, getting some digital peace became very important. 

When there is no obvious boundary between the office and home environment, making sure that notifications don't get through during “you” time is vital. 

Managing notifications, especially on iOS before the latest update, was a bit of a pain. You either had to silence them all or dive into Settings every single time. 

Apple made the process a lot easier with iOS 15 and we really recommend setting up some different Focus profiles to get the ball rolling, especially if you don't have a work phone that can just be switched off. 

The set-up can be a bit of a faff, but once you get past that it's really simple – and perfect for keeping digital peace of mind without missing important updates. 

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iPhone 6 users can no longer access Twitter, and they’re not happy

The latest update to the Twitter app has killed off support for iOS 12, with the latest version of the app now requiring iOS 14 or later in order to function – and that means users of the iPhone 6, which can’t be updated beyond iOS 12, can no longer access all of Twitter’s features. 

While we can’t get hold of an iPhone 6 to see for ourselves, users across Twitter have been complaining about losing access to many features on their phones, following the update.

Without the option to upgrade beyond iOS 12, it’s plain to see why iPhone 6 users, along with owners of the iPad Air and 6th-generation iPod Touch, are a bit miffed about the Twitter app's latest requirement.

Users stuck on iOS 12 report that while they can still see tweets on their timeline, the rest of the app no longer functions correctly. 

Thankfully for users who are still clinging to their iPhone 6, it is not a completely lost cause, as it is still possible to use Twitter on the device, as the web client still functions without issue, but it’s hardly a perfect solution/it’s no substitute for the full app experience.

Analysis: a shocking twist that was a long time coming

Although the loss of full app functionality has come as a shock to many iPhone 6 users, the demise of Twitter on iOS 12 has been a long time coming, as the social media giant officially dropped support for the nearly four-year-old operating system in early 2021. 

Even after official support for the app stopped on iOS 12, iPhone 6 users were still able to enjoy the core functionality of the app, albeit without the new features of the latest versions. 

Looking at the numbers though, it’s no surprise that Twitter will have wanted to scuttle the older version of the app. According to Apple, only 2% of iPhone users are still using a version of iOS that’s older than iOS 14, which makes maintaining an aging version of the Twitter app a largely worthless but nonetheless costly endeavor. 

Regardless of the fact that this decision only affects 2% of Apple’s users who have stuck with their seven-year-old devices, it’s nevertheless a reminder that planned obsolescence is very much an issue that will come for all our devices eventually. 

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Firefox will no longer be so slow to boot up

Mozilla has released the latest version of its browser and Firefox 97 includes several new features and fixes across Windows, Mac, and Android.

The first fix will likely be a welcome addition to all Firefox for Android users as Mozilla has improved the performance of its browser when cold starting it. This means that the browser will now load up even faster when being launched after restarting your Android smartphone.

Another big fix is the fact that desktop users can now set a default app to open specific file types. By heading to Firefox's settings, users can choose the application they want to use when opening files such as images, documents and more.

In Firefox 97's release notes, Mozilla also revealed that 18 colorways were recently removed from its browser. For those unfamiliar, colorways allow Firefox users to personalize their browsing experience with a number of themes that were created in partnership with an industry color specialist. It's also worth noting that each new Firefox release will include its own set of colorways that are available within the browser's add-ons menu.

Firefox 97

Mozilla has also updated its browser to work better with Windows 11 and Firefox now supports and displays the new style of scrollbars in the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. 

Meanwhile, on macOS, the company has made improvements to system font loading which makes opening and switching to new tabs faster in certain situations. On the Linux front, Mozilla has removed support for directly generating PostScript for printing. However, printing to PostScript printers still remains a supported option.

In addition to improved performance when launching Firefox from a cold start on Android, the browser now displays a prompt when users attempt to leave private browsing with active downloads so they don't lose any important information.

At the same time, Firefox Focus for Android now has a setting for HTTPS-Only Mode and Mozilla has added the option to give your shortcuts a name.

If you haven't used Mozilla's browser in a while, there's never been a better time to give Firefox another shot especially with its new redesign that launched last summer.

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Microsoft Teams will no longer suck up so much of your battery life

Using Microsoft Teams may no longer be such a drain on your laptop battery life thanks to a series of updates to the platform.

The video conferencing software will now require up to 50% less power to run during “energy-intensive” scenarios such as multi-person meetings than it did 18 months ago, Microsoft has revealed.

This is thanks to a series of changes and optimizations that should mean an end to battery-sapping video calls that can leave remote workers scrambling for their charger, or being forced to go on mute as their work laptop fans kick into overdrive.

Microsoft Teams battery life

“One of the challenges brought on by the ubiquity of Teams is the need to create equitable experiences across an incredibly diverse Windows device ecosystem,” Microsoft's Robert Aichner wrote in a blog post outlining a series of improvements made since June 2020.

Aichner noted that the moves should also allow users on low-end devices to have a much better experience running Microsoft Teams, meaning no one should suddenly drop out on calls, and ensure Teams meetings are as energy-efficient as possible, regardless of setup.

This has been a long process, with Microsoft continuing to optimize Teams as user numbers boomed during the pandemic amid work from home orders.

This has included camera optimization tools to reduce the demands on using video in meetings, with tweaks such as improving configurations, reducing code complexity for auto-exposure, auto-white balance, auto-aliasing, resulting in power draw reduction from the onboard camera and stability enhancements, and face detection processes.

Microsoft has also consolidated and improved video rendering, particularly in multi-person video meetings where different participants may join with wildly different video streams due to variations in hardware. This initially meant that a nine-person call using a 3×3 video grid required nine distinct rendering operations, but Microsoft combined the streams and composed them into a single video, significantly reducing the power requirements for each device used.

More recently, Microsoft Teams has also been allowed to tap into a device’s GPU to support improved rendering performance, which has recently been expanded to the user's video preview as well.

Aichner adds that this is not the end for Teams optimization, and the company hopes to continue to release new features and improvements for some time to come.

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Here’s a technology that could make laptops and smartphones last longer

When you think about the parts of our electronic devices that consume the most power, the screen and processor usually spring to mind. However, data transfer – either within the device or over the waves (i.e. to cloud storage providers) – is consuming more and more power.

Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have come up with an innovative technique that promises to reduce the amount of energy consumed during memory-intensive processes by up to 80%. In other words, a fivefold improvement in efficiency over current solutions when bits travel on silicon.

They came up with a new type of network-on-chip that decreases quality a little bit, but also reduces power consumption significantly. This is achieved by adjusting the amplitude of the transmitted signal dynamically; using conventional values for mission-critical tasks to ensure maximum accuracy and lower values for greater power reductions.

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Smarter than usual

The example provided by the team was that of imperceptible video quality degradation when full quality is unnecessary, for example when the user looks away from the screen, when ambient light is low or when battery life is short.

Similar scenarios are also applicable to more powerful (and power hungry) platforms such as desktop PCs, NAS boxes, laptops or even servers, but the key opportunity is to enable a full computer vision system – one that can replicate the human vision system while being viable from a power perspective.

The stated goal of the research is to build “a new breed of low-power smart cameras that could operate almost perpetually under the tight power budget extracted from the environment such as via a centimeter-sized solar cell”.

It's unclear when the technology will be rolled out for more practical use cases, but given TSMC – which manufactures chips for AMD, Nvidia and Qualcomm – supports the project for chip fabrication, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was sooner rather than later.

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