A new, much more convenient way to join Wi-Fi networks may be coming to Windows 11 and I can’t wait

Microsoft could be releasing a new feature for Windows 11 that would make connecting to Wi-Fi networks so much quicker and easier. Users may soon be able to join new networks by scanning a QR code with the camera app, eliminating the need to muck about searching for (or remembering) complicated passwords and keeping track of which password belongs to each network. 

According to MSPoweruser the feature is part of the latest Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 26052. The Windows Insider program is a community that allows Windows enthusiasts and developers to get early access to potential new features and give feedback before they make these features available to regular Windows 11 users. 

The build was made available to the Dev Channels in Preview Build in early February, which demonstrated how users can point their phone camera at a QR code displayed on a laptop or PC already connected to the Wi-Fi, and a pop-up will appear on their phones that will let them connect to the Wi-Fi network without having to enter in any passwords.

This also works with the Camera app in Windows 11, allowing you to connect new Windows 11 devices to the wireless network (either via a QR code displayed on a connected device, or be scanning the QR code that is sometimes included with new routers and printed in their manuals). Of course, those devices will need a camera, which won't be too hard for Windows 11 tablets and laptops, though maybe a bit cumbersome. Desktop PCs will be harder, but you can add a camera to your computer – check out our best webcams guide for our top picks.

Sharing is caring

The feature should also work for mobile hotspots, so you’ll be able to share your connection a lot quicker when you’re working on the go with other team members, or collaborating on group projects for school outside of the classroom. One of my least favorite parts of setting up a new device or working outside is fiddling with the Wi-Fi, so I’m pretty hyped about this feature.

We do have to keep in mind that often some of the features that are put in the Dev Channels don’t actually make it to the public. 

That being said, we do hope the feature does come to regular Windows 11 soon, because it’s an incredibly convenient way to make Wi-Fi sharing much easier and make sure other people can connect to your network without actually having to be given the password, which means this method is more convenient as well. And, if you want to give your wireless network an upgrade, check out our picks for the best Wi-Fi routers.

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Repairing Apple’s Vision Pro headset will cost almost as much as a new unit – unless you do this

Pre-orders for Apple’s Vision Pro have officially opened, and with it, the company has released information on how much it’ll cost to repair the headset. 

Be prepared to shell a ton out of pocket because prices are astronomical if you don’t have an AppleCare Plus insurance plan. According to the official support page, repairs fall under two categories: “Cracked Cover Glass” and “Other Damage”. The former will have an estimated cost of $ 799 while the latter will run you a whopping $ 2,399. As AppleInsider points out, that’s about “70 percent of the price of a new [unit].” Keep in mind that the price tags listed here don’t include shipping or taxes so expect them to be even higher. Additionally, Apple will not fix the cover glass even if the damage was done accidentally. It appears the only damage they'll repair for uninsured owners is manufacturing defects.

Batteries can be serviced too but Apple doesn’t say how much it’ll cost. The only thing they say is that a technician will fix it “for a fee”. Also, it won’t replace a battery worn down from normal use as that type of degradation is not covered by the warranty.

Hope you have insurance

If you have AppleCare Plus for the Vision Pro, costs go down considerably, hardware coverage expands, and you’ll be given access to company experts.

Instead of paying $ 800 for glass repair, insured users will only have to pay $ 300. This covers accidental damage, as well. The same goes for other types of damages. Rather than paying a $ 2,400 bill, the price will drop down to $ 300. Battery service is considerably better under AppleCare Plus. Replacing the power supply will be free, but the battery must hold “less than 80 percent of its original capacity” otherwise the company will refuse.

As for the expanded hardware coverage, authorized technicians will repair accidental damage done to the headset an unlimited number of times, however, it will cost you $ 300 each time. What’s more, technicians will fix damaged accessories like the charging cable for an extra $ 30.

When it comes to the aforementioned experts, they will help you address any issues with the device's software. They’ll answer questions you may have on navigating visionOS, how to connect to Wi-Fi, and help you resolve issues relating to first-party apps. 

Expensive endeavor

AppleCare Plus for the Vision Pro is available as two separate plans: monthly and fixed term. The monthly plan costs you $ 24.99 while the fixed option will run you $ 499 for two whole years. If you plan on getting insurance, you can buy it with the headset at checkout or within 60 days after purchasing it online. So, there is a weird time limit to getting AppleCare Plus, but considering you may be looking at a $ 2,400 bill without insurance, you may be better off opting for it.

The Vision Pro is proving itself to be an expensive endeavor; not just because of repairs, but also due to the multitude of accessories. Extra batteries cost $ 200, travel cases are another $ 200, Zeiss Optical lens inserts start at $ 99, and the list goes on. A holder for the battery made entirely out of plastic is $ 50. Interested customers will need to make sure their wallets can handle such an investment or buckle under it.

If you’re looking for a cheaper VR headset, check out TechRadar’s list of the best VR headset deals for January 2024

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Google Photos just made it much easier to tidy up your library – here’s how

Google Photos is introducing a pair of AI-powered features to help you organize all the family pictures and screenshots in your messy profile.

Moving forward, the service will be able to identify photographs “that were taken close together” and then group them together into what Google calls Photo Stacks. It appears the AI operates by selecting images that have visual similarities to each other. The software is not going to pick out pictures with a different composition or subjects in them. Once the selections have been made, Google Photos will choose one of them to be the lead image. Of course, you do have the option to manually pick the lead, “modify the stacks, or turn off” the feature entirely. 

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Tidying-up screenshots

Google Photos will be doing something similar for “screenshots and documents in your gallery” by automatically categorizing them “into more helpful albums”. There will be an album for images of your ID card, and receipts, plus one for “event information” like an upcoming concert or festival. The goal here is to make it easier to locate “what you need when you need it without having” to dig through a mess of photographs. 

The AI will also allow you to set reminders on your phone calendar using the information from a screenshot of a ticket or “flyer for an upcoming event.” As an example, let’s say you took a screenshot of a ticket for a concert scheduled for December 2. You will see a “Set Reminder” option at the bottom of the picture in Google Photos. Tapping it causes a calendar entry to show up where you can enter more information or edit it. The company explains you can choose to “automatically archive your screenshots… after 30 days” which will hide them from the main gallery. They can still, however, be found in their respective albums.

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The announcement states the Google Photos update is currently rolling out to Android and iOS. Be sure to keep an eye out for the patch when it arrives. No word if there will be a desktop version, although we did ask Google for more information. This story will be updated if we hear back.

While we have you, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best photo storage and sharing sites in 2023.

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Bing AI could soon be much more versatile and powerful thanks to plug-ins

Microsoft’s Bing AI may be close to finally getting plug-ins, a feature that has been experimented with before, and will make the chatbot considerably more versatile and powerful (in theory, anyway).

Windows Latest reports that the update to add plug-ins has rolled out to a ‘small’ number of Bing Chat users over the weekend, and the tech site was one of those to get access.

Note that it appears the rollout is only happening for those using the Canary version of Microsoft’s Edge browser (and Windows Latest only got the feature in that preview release, not in the finished version of Edge).

We’re told that the AI currently offers five plug-ins to testers and you can pick any three of those to use in a session. If you want to change plug-ins, you’ll need to start a new Bing Chat session.

Windows Latest carried out some testing with a couple of those plug-ins, and the results seemed useful, with the OpenTable add-on providing some restaurant recommendations in a query.

Other plug-ins available in testing include Kayak, Klarna, and a shopping add-on for buying suggestions – we’ve already got you covered there, of course, especially for the imminent Black Friday sale – but it may be the case that different plug-ins appear for different users.

Analysis: Faster and better

Eventually, of course, there will be a whole load of plug-ins for the Bing AI, or that’s certainly Microsoft’s plan, although they’ll doubtless be rolled out in stages over time. One of those will be the much-awaited ‘no search’ function that was switched to be implemented via a plug-in not so long ago. (This allows the user to specify that the AI can’t use search content scraped from the web in its responses).

We’ve seen plug-ins in a limited test rollout before (in August), but they were pulled, so this is effectively a return of the feature – hinting it might arrive sooner rather than later.

Fingers crossed, and the good news is that Windows Latest observes that these new plug-ins seem to be more responsive and work better than the old efforts (performance-related concerns are likely one of the reasons that the test plug-ins got pulled earlier this year).

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Microsoft reins in Bing AI’s Image Creator – and the results don’t make much sense

You may have noticed that Bing AI got a big upgrade for its image creation tool last week (among other recent improvements), but it appears that after having taken this sizeable step forward, Microsoft has now taken a step back.

In case you missed it, Bing’s image creation system was upgraded to a whole new version – Dall-E 3 – which is much more powerful. So much so that Microsoft noted the supercharged Dall-E 3 was generating a lot of interest and traffic, and so might be sluggish initially.

There’s another issue with Dall-E 3 though, because as Windows Central observed, Microsoft has considerably reined in the tool since its recent revamp.

Now, we were already made aware that the image creation tool would employ a ‘content moderation system’ to stop inappropriate pics being generated, but it seems the censorship imposed is harsher than expected. This might be a reaction to the kind of content Bing AI users have been trying to get the system to create.

As Windows Central points out, there has been a lot of controversy about an image created of Mickey Mouse carrying out the 9/11 attack (unsurprisingly).

The problem, though, is that beyond those kinds of extreme asks, as the article makes clear, some users are finding innocuous image creation requests being denied. Windows Central tried to get the chatbot to make an image of a man breaking a server rack with a sledgehammer, but was told this violated Microsoft’s terms of using Bing AI.

Whereas last week, the article author noted that they could create violent zombie apocalypse scenarios featuring popular characters (that are copyrighted) with Bing AI not raising a complaint.

Analysis: Random censorship

The point is about censorship being an overreaction here, or this seemingly being the case going by reports, we should add. Microsoft left the rules too slack in the initial implementation, it appears, but has gone ahead and tightened things too much now.

What really illustrates this is that Bing AI is even censoring itself, as highlighted by someone on Reddit. Bing Image Creator has a ‘surprise me’ button that generates a random image (the equivalent of Google’s ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button, if you will, that produces a random search). But here’s the kicker – the AI is going ahead, creating an image, and then censoring it immediately.

Well, we suppose that is a surprise, to be fair – and one that would seem to aptly demonstrate that Microsoft’s censorship of the Image Creator has maybe gone too far, limiting its usefulness at least to some extent. As we said at the outset, it’s a case of a step forward, then a quick step back.

Windows Central observes that it was able to replicate this scenario of Bing’s self-censorship, and that it’s not even a rare occurrence – it reportedly happens around a third of the time. It sounds like it’s time for Microsoft to do some more fine-tuning around this area, although in fairness, when new capabilities are rolled out, there are likely to be adjustments applied for some time – so perhaps that work could already be underway.

The danger of Microsoft erring too strongly on the ‘rather safe than sorry’ side of the equation is that this will limit the usefulness of a tool that, after all, is supposed to be about exploring creativity.

We’ve reached out to Microsoft to check what’s going on with Bing AI in this respect, and will update this story if we hear back.

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Google just made life much easier for Windows 11 users with Android phones

Windows 11 (and 10) users can now easily share files between their Android devices and Windows PC, thanks to Google’s Nearby Share app which has been officially released for Microsoft’s desktop operating systems.

You may recall that Nearby Share was brought to Windows 11 as a beta app in March – before that, it was a tool for Chromebooks – so this represents the full release of the now-finished software.

For the unfamiliar, Nearby Share lets you share files (or indeed website links) just by selecting the option and tapping on the destination PC. You’ll then receive a notification of the file arriving on your computer.

Or working the other way round, from a Windows desktop, you can simply drag a file to the Nearby Share app, and it’ll be whizzed over to the Android smartphone.

Google has made a couple of nifty additions for this final incarnation of Nearby Share, too.

Firstly, an image preview is shown in the device notification to allow you to see that the correct file is being shared. And secondly, the file transfer is now furnished with an estimated time to complete, which for larger files that might take a while, is pretty handy.

Windows 11 Nearby Share

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: Faster and more reliable – just plain better

Those are some useful improvements, and overall Nearby Share is a smart feature to get on Windows 11 and Windows 10, particularly now any rough edges should have been smoothed out in beta testing.

On top of those additional features mentioned, Google also notes that it has made the file transfer process speedier since the beta app, and ensured better stability with fewer crashes encountered.

It’ll be no surprise to hear that the Nearby Share app was already popular. Even as a beta, Google tells us that 1.7 million people across the globe installed the app, so we can expect those ranks to swell considerably now we have the finished version.

For those keen to take the Nearby Share plunge, bear in mind that the transfer process is all the more seamless if you’re signed into your Google account on both your PC and phone.

Via Betanews

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Microsoft just made its Bing AI chatbot much better for iPhone owners

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot is now more readily accessible for iOS users thanks to a new widget, plus the AI has been bolstered to perform more responsively when using voice input on an iPhone.

Windows Central spotted that Microsoft has implemented a Bing Chat widget that can be added to the Home screen, allowing you to initiate a session with the chatbot with a simple tap. That’s a handy ability indeed for regular users of Bing AI on iOS devices.

For instructions on how to add a widget to the iPhone Home screen, check here.

In the Bing blog post announcing this new feature for iOS, Microsoft also tells us that it has made progress on another front for iPhone owners – namely better performance for the voice input button on the Bing mobile app (for iOS, and Android as well). When you tap the button it should now indicate that it’s listening instantly.

Analysis: Catching up with Android

The widget is a very useful touch in terms of convenience for regular users on the iPhone, and it brings the Bing Chat experience up to parity with the Android version (which already had this feature).

Overall, Microsoft’s setting a pretty fast pace of development with its Bing AI, as considerable progress is being made on a weekly basis, with both the mobile and desktop incarnations of the chatbot.

Regarding the latter, we’ve just seen that Microsoft has brought voice input to desktop PCs (previously this had been a mobile-only feature). The idea is to make for a more natural chatting experience with the Bing chatbot, allowing you to speak to the AI, and have it reply via spoken words, too.

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Microsoft is finally making Edge a much more secure place to surf the web

Keeping safe online is about to get a lot easier for Edge users thanks to a major security update from Microsoft.

The software giant has revealed it is working on an upgrade for its web browser that will bring “enhanced security” as a default for users everywhere.

This includes adding additional operating system and hardware protections for Edge that the company says, when combined, will help provide “defense in depth”, making it more difficult than ever before for a malicious site to use an unpatched vulnerability to write to executable memory and attack an end user.

Edge enhanced security

Going forward, users will now see an additional banner with the words “added security” in the URL navigation bar in Edge, instantly letting you know you have extra protection for that specific site.

“Microsoft Edge is adding enhanced security protections to provide an extra layer of protection when browsing the web and visiting unfamiliar sites,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the news.

“The web platform is designed to give you a rich browsing experience using powerful technologies like JavaScript. On the other hand, that power can translate to more exposure when you visit a malicious site. With enhanced security mode, Microsoft Edge helps reduce the risk of an attack by automatically applying more conservative security settings on unfamiliar sites and adapts over time as you continue to browse.”

More security for Edge

Users will be able to create exceptions for certain trusted websites, where enhanced security can either be disabled or enabled permanently. Enterprise admins can also configure for certain websites to be blocked or allowed, 

In its entry on the official Microsoft 365 roadmap, the company noted enhanced security mode is being turned on by default to “Balanced” mode for x64 Windows, x64 macOS, x64 Linux, and ARM64 systems.

The update is still listed as being “in development” for the time being, but has a scheduled rollout start date of July 2023, when users across the globe will be able to access it.

Recent Statcounter figures show that Microsoft's ongoing efforts to push users towards Edge may not be having the desired effect. Its most recent report found that Edge had lost its second place in the global browser market to Apple's Safari offering, which now claims 11.87% of users, compared to Edge's 11% – although both trail far behind runaway leader Google Chrome (66.13%).

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Microsoft makes it much easier to use ChatGPT-powered Bing – with a catch

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot is now available to use without signing into a Microsoft account, you’ll doubtless be pleased to hear.

This means that anyone can now jump on and start quizzing the ChatGPT-powered AI on whatever topic is on their mind, but there’s a caveat.

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Windows Central spotted the tweet from Michael Schechter, VP of Search Growth and Distribution (Bing) at Microsoft, announcing that the Bing AI now offers unauthenticated chat access.

However, while you won’t have to sign in to use the AI, you’ll be limited to pretty short conversations – just five queries in a session. Those signed in get 20 queries per conversation.

In other Bing AI news, a further step forward for the chatbot is the addition of a share button and more export options, as well as an improved copy and paste experience, useful little touches (as Neowin flagged up).

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Analysis: Bringing Bing to everyone faster

Remember when Bing AI was first launched? The chatbot got caught up in all sorts of controversial weirdness as a result of going off the rails in long chat sessions, leading Microsoft to impose strict limits on session length to tackle that particular problem.

That limit was five queries per session – exactly what unauthenticated users are getting now. In other words, it’s the bare minimum. (Well, clearly it’s the bare minimum – any lower than five would leave little or no opportunity to explore any topic further).

Still, the absolute minimum is very much better than nothing, so we’re glad to see Microsoft take this route. It makes for a convenient way for those who haven’t tried out the Bing AI yet to do so, and of course, that should mean extra traffic for Microsoft, too.

Doubtless Microsoft hopes that by giving folks a taster of Bing, it’ll impress them enough to sign in for the full lengthier chat experience.

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Microsoft’s CEO calls Alexa and Siri ‘dumb’ – but ChatGPT isn’t much smarter

In an interview with the Financial Times a few weeks ago, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella dismissed voice assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, as “dumb as a rock”.

This might seem a little rich coming from the CEO of a company that launched (and then abandoned) the unloved Cortana voice assistant, but I actually agree. However, unlike Nadella, I'm not so sure that the new wave of AI chatbots are where the future really lies – or at least not yet. 

Sure, they appear to be smarter than the first bunch of voice assistants, including Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's (less charmingly named) Assistant, but that's not saying a lot. I was initially really impressed with these assistants, particularly Alexa, to the extent that I put aside my misgivings about how much information Amazon already collected about me, and filled my home with Echo devices of all shapes and sizes.

That all seems a long time ago now, though. Despite all the promise those voice-activated digital assistants had when they launched, I can't help but feel they’ve turned into little more than hands-free light switches and timers for when I’m cooking. They even made me temporarily forget how to use a real light switch. Seriously.

That’s it. I don’t even use Alexa to play music any more. Partly because none of the Echo devices I have come with remotely decent speakers, and also because Alexa seems to have developed a strange habit where when I ask for a song to be played, it more often than not chooses a random alternative take or live version, rather than the studio version I was after. All very frustrating, especially if you're a Bob Dylan fan.

Even as a light switch, I’ve found it increasingly unreliable. I now often have to repeat myself several times before Alexa understands my request and complies. That’s if I’m lucky. Sometimes it listens, then just does nothing.

It’s become more of an inconvenience and annoyance – the exact opposite of what these virtual assistants were supposed to be. To be fair to Nadella, he told the Financial Times that “Whether it’s Cortana or Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri, all these just don’t work. We had a product that was supposed to be the new front-end to a lot of [information] that didn’t work.”

We’re not alone in getting disillusioned with voice assistants. As the Financial Times reports, Adam Cheyer, co-creator of Apple's Siri, says that “the previous capabilities have just been too awkward… No one knows what they can do or can’t do. They don’t know what they can say or can’t say.”

It also seems like the companies behind the voice assistants are losing interest. Not only did Microsoft unceremoniously dump Cortana after years of trying to get Windows 10 and Windows 11 users to embrace (or at least tolerate) it, Amazon has cut a large number of jobs recently, and there are reports that the teams involved with Alexa and Echo devices have been particularly hard hit.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

It may be easy to suggest that Nadella’s dismissal of voice assistants is down to sour grapes, as Microsoft’s Cortana was the least popular out of the ‘big four’ – which also includes Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri (sorry, Samsung, but no one likes Bixby either) – but I certainly agree with him. The shine has worn off.

However, it’s increasingly looking like Microsoft thinks that artificial intelligence chatbots, most noticeably ChatGPT, could solve these problems – and it’s here where I’m going to have to disagree, at least for now.

Microsoft is a big investor in ChatGPT and OpenAI, the company behind it, but when it announced it was bringing the power of ChatGPT to its Bing search engine, it managed something rare: it got people excited about Bing.

Suddenly, people were keen to try out a browser which had for so long been neglected in favor of Google. This surge in interest, plus widespread coverage in the press, has deepened Microsoft’s love affair with ChatGPT.

Having an AI bot that can converse with humans in a life-like way, and use huge amounts of stored data in its own libraries and on the internet to answer questions, seems like the natural evolution of voice assistants.

And, one day it might be. However, the technology has so far not lived up to expectations. People using ChatGPT or the version included in Bing have found the chatbot can give incorrect information, and it can also behave strangely, especially if you challenge it when it replies with the wrong answer. A similar issue emerged with Google’s rival Bard AI, which returned an incorrect answer to a question during the launch event. This quickly became quite embarrassing for Microsoft and Google, and it proved to a lot of us that AI bots are not quite ready for the limelight.

Can’t live up to the hype, sometimes unreliable and even a bit frustrating? That certainly sounds familiar, so if Microsoft and other companies don’t want history repeating, they’d do well to think twice before rushing to implement AI bots in voice assistants.

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