Windows 11’s Copilot AI just took its first step towards being an indispensable assistant for Android – but Google Gemini hasn’t got anything to worry about yet

Microsoft’s Copilot AI could soon help Windows 11 users deal with texting on their Android smartphone (and much more besides in the future).

Windows Latest noticed that there’s a new plug-in for Copilot (the recently introduced add-ons that bring extra functionality to the AI assistant), which is reportedly rolling out to more people this week. It’s called the ‘Phone’ plug-in – which is succinct and very much to the point.

As you might guess, the plug-in works by leveraging the Phone Link app that connects your mobile to your Windows 11 PC and offers all sorts of nifty features therein.

So, you need to have Phone Link app up and running before you can install the Copilot Phone plug-in. Once that’s done, Windows Latest explains that the abilities you’ll gain include being able to use Copilot to read and send text messages on your Android device (via the PC, of course), or look up contact information.

Right now, the plug-in doesn’t work properly, mind you, but doubtless Microsoft will be ironing out any problems. When Windows Latest tried to initiate a phone call, the plug-in didn’t facilitate this, but did provide the correct contact info, so they could dial themselves.

The fact that this functionality is very basic looking right now means Google will hardly be losing any sleep – and moreover, this isn’t a direct rival for the Gemini AI app anyway, as it works to facilitate managing your Android device on your PC desktop.

Expect far greater powers to come in the future

Microsoft has previously teased the kind of powers Copilot will eventually have when it comes to hooking up your Windows 11 PC and Android phone together. For example, the AI will be able to sift through texts on your phone and extract relevant information (like the time of a dinner reservation, if you’ve made arrangements via text).

Eventually, this plug-in could be really handy, but right now, it’s still in a very early working state as noted.

While it’s for Android only for the time being, the Phone plug-in for Copilot should be coming to iOS as well, as Microsoft caters for iPhones with Phone Link (albeit in a more limited fashion). Still, this isn’t confirmed, but we can’t imagine Microsoft will leave iPhone owners completely out in the cold when it comes to AI features such as this.

You might also like…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

The Apple Notes app could seriously step up its game in iOS 18 with these two upgrades

The Apple Notes app is a cultural fixture as well as an essential tool, and it looks like Apple is going to supercharge the iconic app in iOS 18, the next major update for Apple’s flagship mobile operating system. iOS 18 is expected to be previewed alongside the latest versions of its other platform operating systems at WWDC 2024, Apple’s software-centric conference primarily aimed at developers, which kicks off on June 8.

Reports from AppleInsider are that two impressive features are expected to be revealed. First is support for audio recordings directly within the app –  akin to the Voice Memos app, but better integrated. This feature is currently being developed for iOS 18 and macOS 15, and a version for the newest iteration of iPadOS can be expected soon after. 

The feature will give users basic playback features for audio recordings, letting them record, play, and save entries right in the Notes app. The recordings will be embedded into specific notes that users choose, which can also include text and images along with the recording. Creatives will no doubt find this useful for making multimedia entries, and more casual users might find it a great way to make digital scrapbooks. It will also let users make more complex entries to detail the audio they save, being able to add lengthy descriptions or context entries. 

The user interface of the app will be visually similar to the existing Voice Memos app, with the new audio recording feature being presented with similar graphical representations of the captured audio. These new in-app audio notes recordings will be available on all devices connected to iCloud and running at least iOS 18 or macOS 15.

Pre-release versions of the operating systems to be presented at WWDC 2024 also apparently reference a new ‘Math Notes’ feature which will enable the Notes app to interact with the Calculator app. Presumably, this will allow the Notes app to enlist the Calculator app to make calculations as users are entering them in Notes, though there’s no indication of how complex these calculations might be. 

More features of this sort are expected to follow the Math Notes feature, and the introduction of the Math Notes feature is slated to coincide with Apple’s debut of a redesigned macOS Calculator app. Users will likely be able to prompt the Math Notes feature from the Calculator app using a designated button or option, but we will have to wait a little while longer to see the exact plans Apple has in store for Math Notes.

Man taking a picture of the presentation at the conference hall using smartphone

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Matveev Aleksandr)

Apple steals a note from Microsoft

These features have both been a part of OneNote, Microsoft’s proprietary note-taking app, a favorite among many who use educational curricula and materials, and those who work in mathematical notation. It also happens to rank highly in terms of popularity in both the iOS App Store and the macOS App Store, the former being highly regarded in user reviews and the latter having been awarded Apple's Editors' Choice award. It’s the cohort of people who find OneNote so useful and crucial to their work that Apple might hope to entice them with its Math Notes feature.

The Notes app may have begun as a humble confidant for shopping lists and late-night thoughts, but it looks like it’s growing up and becoming a more capable app to assist users in more ways. It’s still very popular as the native notetaking app for Apple products, and Apple is understandably making moves to hold on to its staple status. 

Again, it’s expected that both the embedded audio recording feature and the Math Notes feature will be premiered at WWDC 2024, but Apple has canceled or delayed features that have been rumored to be in the pipeline before. We won’t know for sure until we hear about it on stage at WWDC in June.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

ChatGPT just took a big step towards becoming the next Google with its new account-free version

The most widely available (and free) version of ChatGPT, ChatGPT-3.5, is being made available to use without having to create and log into a personal account. That means you can have conversations with the AI chatbot without it being tied to personal details like your email. However, OpenAI, the tech organization behind ChatGPT, limits what users can do without registering for an account. For example, unregistered users will be limited in the kinds of questions they can ask and in their access to advanced features. 

This means there are still some benefits to making and using a ChatGPT account, especially if you’re a regular user. OpenAI writes in an official blog post that this change is intended to make it easy for people to try out ChatGPT and get a taste of what modern AI can do, without going through the sign-up process. 

In its announcement post on April 1, 2024, OpenAI explained that it’s rolling out the change gradually, so if you want to try it for yourself and can’t yet, don’t panic. When speaking to PCMag, an OpenAI spokesperson explained that this change is in the spirit of OpenAI’s overall mission to make it easier for people “to experience ChatGPT and the benefits of AI.”

Woman sitting by window, legs outstretched, with laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock/number-one)

To create an OpenAI account or not to create an OpenAI account

If you don’t want your entries into the AI chatbot to be tied to the details you would have to disclose when setting up an account, such as your birthday, phone number, and email address, then this is a great development. That said, lots of people create dummy accounts to be able to use apps and web services, so I don’t think it’s that hard to circumvent, but you’d have to have multiple emails and phone numbers to ‘burn’ for this purpose. 

OpenAI does have a disclaimer that states that it is storing your inputs to potentially use to improve ChatGPT by default whether you’re signed in or not, which I suspected was the case. It also states that you can turn this off via ChatGPT’s settings, and this can be done whether you have an account or not.

If you do choose to make an account, you get some useful benefits, including being able to see your previous conversations with the chatbot, link others to specific conversations you’ve had, make use of the newly-introduced voice conversational features, custom instructions, and the ability to upgrade to ChatGPT Plus, the premium subscription tier of ChatGPT which allows users to use GPT-4 (its latest large language learning (LLM) model). 

If you decide not to create an account and forgo these features, you can expect to see the same chat interface that users with accounts use. OpenAI will also be putting in additional content safeguards for users who aren’t logged in, detailing that it’s put in measures to block prompts and generated responses in more categories and topics. Its announcement post didn’t include any examples of the types of topics or categories that will get this treatment, however.

Man holding a phone which is displaying ChatGPT is, prototype artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI

(Image credit: Shutterstock/R Photography Background)

An invitation to users, a power play to rivals?

I think this is an interesting change that will possibly tempt more people to try ChatGPT, and when they try it for the first time, it can seem pretty impressive. It allows OpenAI to give users a glimpse of its capabilities, which I imagine will convince some people to make accounts and access its additional features. 

This will continue expanding ChatGPT’s user pool that may choose to go on and become ChatGPT Plus paid subscribers. Perhaps this is a strategy that will pay off for OpenAI, and it might institute a sort of pass-it-down approach through the tiers as it introduces new generations of its models.

This easier user accessibility could mean the type of user growth that could see OpenAI become as commonplace as Google products in the near future. One of Google Search’s appeals, for example, is that you could just fire up your browser and make a query in an instant. It’s a user-centric way of doing things, and if OpenAI can do something similar by making it that easy to use ChatGPT, then things could get seriously interesting.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Copilot AI’s mission to infiltrate the Windows 11 desktop appears to have advanced another step

Copilot is creeping into another corner of the Windows 11 interface, it seems, with the AI assistant seen in the context menu of File Explorer.

This is still in test builds of Windows 11, mind, and not officially either. Windows Latest flagged up the change, which was first noticed by PhantomOfEarth, a well-known leaker on X (formerly Twitter) who previously picked up on clues that File Explorer integration was inbound for Copilot back in January 2024.

See more

Now we can see how the context menu option will work, enabling you to right click on a file, and choose to send it to Copilot – open the AI’s panel with the file active, as if you’d dragged it in there – or to elect to ‘summarize’ the file. The latter choice being the standard option for Copilot to summarize a document or PDF for example.

Even though we’ve caught a glimpse of the menu now, it still doesn’t work (which is why it isn’t officially running in Windows 11 previews – yet). As Windows Latest makes clear, if you click to summarize, a summary isn’t provided.

Other options may be added down the line, too. In fact, it’s very likely we’ll see a ‘rewrite’ choice for example, allowing for rewriting a document, another task Copilot is currently capable of.


Analysis: Copilot’s future flight path

We can expect to see Copilot’s tendrils snaking into all parts of the Windows 11 interface eventually, which may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Those who don’t want to use the AI, or even see it in Windows at all, can ignore it, or turn off the functionality for the time being (one way or another) – but there will come a point where Copilot will be the beating heart of Microsoft’s OS, and you’ll have to use AI, like it or not. Although the functionality provided will probably be pretty advanced and undeniably useful (or indeed indispensable) at that stage.

This particular move is not a big intrusion into the desktop, though. We’re talking about an extra line in the right-click menu, and perhaps Microsoft will be incorporating an option to turn it off as well. In the same way you can remove the Copilot icon from the taskbar if you wish – maybe there’ll be a way to switch all the AI’s functions off with an easy flick of a toggle. (Or an instruction, perhaps: “Copilot, remove yourself from all parts of my Windows 11 interface” – we wouldn’t bank on it, mind).

As long as users have a choice, that’s a good thing, but as we’ve already said, in the future we feel there likely won’t be a choice as such because Copilot will pretty much become Windows, or the central pillar of the OS. Windows 2030 might just be called Copilot 2030.

You might also like…

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Google Gemini’s new Calendar capabilities take it one step closer to being your ultimate personal assistant

Google’s new family of artificial intelligence (AI) generative models, Gemini, will soon be able to access events scheduled in Google Calendar on Android phones.

According to 9to5Google, Calendar events were on Gemini Experiences Senior Director of Product Management at Google Jack Krawczyk’s “things to fix ASAP” list for what Google would be working to add to Gemini to make it a better-equipped digital assistant. 

Users who have the Gemini app on an Android device can now expect Gemini to respond to voice or text prompts like “Show me my calendar” and “Do I have any upcoming calendar events?” When 9to5Google tried this the week before, Gemini responded that it couldn’t fulfill those types of requests and queries – which was particularly noticeable as those kinds of requests are pretty commonplace with rival (non-AI) digital assistants such as Siri or Google Assistant. However, when those same prompts were attempted this week, Gemini opened the Google Calendar app and fulfilled the requests. It seems that if users would like to enter a new event using Gemini, you need to tell it something like “Add an event to my calendar,” to which it should then prompt the user to fill out the details manually by using voice commands. 

Google Calendar

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Going all in on Gemini

Google is clearly making progress to set up Gemini as its proprietary all-in-one AI offering (including as a digital assistant, replacing Google Assistant in the future). It’s got quite a few steps before it manages that, with users asking for features like the ability to play music or edit their shopping lists via Gemini. Another significant hurdle for Gemini to clear if it wants to become popular is that it’s only available in the United States for now. 

The race to become the best AI assistant has gotten a little bit more intense recently between Microsoft with Copilot, Google with Gemini, and Amazon with Alexa. Google did recently make some pretty big strides in its ability to compress the larger Gemini models so it could run on mobile devices. The capabilities of these more complex models sound like they can give Gemini’s capabilities a major boost. Google Assistant is pretty widely recognized and this is another feather in Google’s cap. I feel hesitant about placing a bet on any single one of these digital AI assistants, but if Google continues at this pace with Gemini, I think its chances are pretty good.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

ChatGPT is getting human-like memory and this might be the first big step toward General AI

ChatGPT is becoming more like your most trusted assistant, remembering not just what you've told it about yourself, your interests, and preferences, but applying those memories in future chats. It's a seemingly small change that may make the generative AI appear more human and, perhaps, pave the way for General AI, which is where an AI brain can operate more like the gray matter in your head.

OpenAI announced the limited test in a blog post on Tuesday, explaining that it's testing the ability of ChatGPT (in both the free version and ChatGPT Plus) to remember what you tell it across all chats. 

ChatGPT can with this update remember casually, just picking up interesting bits along the way, like my preference for peanut butter on cinnamon raisin bagels, or what you explicitly tell it to remember. 

The benefit of ChatGPT having a memory is that new conversations with ChatGPT no longer start from scratch. A fresh prompt could have, for the AI, implied context. A ChatGPT with memory becomes more like a useful assistant who knows how you like your coffee in the morning or that you never want to schedule meetings before 10 AM.

In practice, OpenAI says that the memory will be applied to future prompts. If you tell ChatGPT that you have a three-year-old who loves giraffes, subsequent birthday card ideation chats might result in card ideas featuring a giraffe.

ChatGPT won't simply parrot back its recollections of your likes and interests, but will instead use that information to work more efficiently for you.

It can remember

Some might find an AI that can remember multiple conversations and use that information to help you a bit off-putting. That's probably why OpenAI is letting people easily opt out of the memories by using the “Temporary Chat” mode, which will seem like you're introducing a bit of amnesia to ChatGPT.

Similar to how you can remove Internet history from your browser, ChatGPT will let you go into settings to remove memories (I like to think of this as targeted brain surgery) or you can conversationally tell ChatGPT to forget something.

For now, this is a test among some free and ChatGPT Plus users but OpenAI offered no timeline for when it will roll out ChatGPT memories to all users. I didn't find the feature live in either my free ChatGPT or Plus subscription.

OpenAI is also adding Memory capabilities to its new app-like GPTs, which means developers can build the capability into bespoke chatty AIs. Those developers will not be able to access memories stored within the GPT.

Too human?

An AI with long-term memory is a dicier proposition than one that has a transient, at best, recall of previous conversations. There are, naturally, privacy implications. If ChatGPT is randomly memorizing what it considers interesting or relevant bits about you, do you have to worry about your details appearing in someone else's ChatGPT conversations? Probably not. OpenAI promises that memories will be excluded from ChatGPT's training data.

OpenAI adds in its blog, “We're taking steps to assess and mitigate biases, and steer ChatGPT away from proactively remembering sensitive information, like your health details – unless you explicitly ask it to.” That might help but ChatGPT must understand the difference between useful and sensitive info, a line that might not always be clear.

This update could ultimately have significant implications. ChatGPT can in prompt-driven conversations already seem somewhat human, but its hallucinations and fuzzy memories about, sometimes, even how the conversation started make it clear that more than a few billion neurons still separate us.

Memories, especially information delivered casually back to you throughout ChatGPT conversations, could change that perception. Our relationships with other people are driven in large part by our shared experiences and memories of them. We use them to craft our interactions and discussions. It's how we connect. Surely, we'll end up feeling more connected to a ChatGPT that can remember our distaste of spicy food and our love of all things Rocky Balboa.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Elon Musk’s Neuralink has performed its first human brain implant, and we’re a step closer to having phones inside our heads

Neuralink, Elon Musk's brain interface company, achieved a significant milestone this week, with Musk declaring on X (formerly Twitter), “The first human received an implant from yesterday and is recovering well.”

Driven by concerns that AI might soon outpace (or outthink) humans, Musk first proposed the idea of a brain-to-computer interface, then called Neural Lace, back in 2016. envisioning an implant that could overcome limitations inherent in human-to-computer interactions. Musk claimed that an interface that could read brain signals and deliver them directly to digital systems would massively outpace our typical keyboard and mouse interactions.

Four years later, Musk demonstrated early clinical trials with an uncooperative pig, and in 2021 the company installed the device in a monkey that used the interface to control a game of Pong.

It was, in a sense, all fun and games – until this week, and Musk's claim of a human trial and the introduction of some new branding.

Neuralink's first product is now called 'Telepathy' which, according to another Musk tweet, “Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking.”

As expected, these brain implants are not, at least for now, intended for everyone. Back in 2020, Musk explained that the intention is “to solve important spine and brain problems with a seamlessly implanted device.” Musk noted this week that “Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”

Neural link devices like Telepathy are bio-safe implants comprising small disk-like devices (roughly the thickness of four coins stuck together) with ultra-fine wires trailing out of them that connect to various parts of the brain. The filaments read neural spikes, and a computer interface interprets them to understand the subject's intentions and translate them into action on, say, a phone, or a desktop computer. In this first trial, Musk noted that “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” but he didn't elaborate on whether the patient was able to control anything with his mind.

Musk didn't describe the surgical implantation process. Back in 2020, though, Neuralink introduced its Link surgery robot, which it promised would implant the Neuralink devices with minimal pain, blood, and, we're guessing, trauma. Considering that the implant is under the skin and skull, and sits on the brain, we're not sure how that's possible. It's also unclear if Neuralink used Link to install 'Telepathy.'

The new branding is not that far-fetched. While most people think of telepathy as people transmitting thoughts to one another, the definition is “the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses.”

A phone in your head

Still, Musk has a habit of using hyperbole when describing Neuralink. During one early demonstration, he only half-jokingly said “It’s sort of like if your phone went in your brain.” He also later added that, “In the future, you will be able to save and replay memories.”

With the first Neuralink Telepathy device successfully installed, however, Musk appears to be somewhat more circumspect. There was no press conference, or parading of the patient before the reporters. All we have are these few tweets, and scant details about a brain implant that Musk hopes will help humans stay ahead of rapidly advancing AIs.

It's worth noting that for all of Musk's bluster and sometimes objectionable rhetoric, he was more right than he knew about where the state of AI would be by 2024. Back in 2016, there was no ChatGPT, Google Bard, or Microsoft CoPilot. We didn't have AI in Windows and Photoshop's Firefly, realistic AI images and videos, or realistic AI deepfakes. Concerns about AIs taking jobs are now real, and the idea of humans falling behind artificial intelligence sounds less like a sci-fi fantasy and more like our future.

Do those fears mean we're now more likely to sign up for our brain implants? Musk is betting on it.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Google Search adds Notes tab and takes a small step toward social search

Google is updating its search engine with new tools to help you personalize the experience by making it tailored specifically to you.

Among the three reveals, the most impressive, in our opinion, has to be the upcoming Notes feature. This tool will pull together different “tips and advice” on a topic from across the internet if a search result isn't particularly helpful. In a demonstration shown to us, a Google rep played the role of someone looking up instructions on how to make frosting for a birthday cake. Let's say the first search result wasn't what you were looking for. 

Selecting the Notes button below that result connects you to content uploaded by other people offering unique insight to your query. By giving users the opportunity to learn from other people's experiences, Google explained, you might find information better suited to your needs that an official source may fail to address. On the surface, it feels like the tech giant is launching a mini-social media platform on Search since the feature allows for a free-flowing exchange of information.

Google Search Notes

(Image credit: Google)

Be aware that Notes is a type of short-form content. There doesn’t appear to be enough room for long pieces of text. You won't be able to write, for instance, a 500-word recipe for frosting. These Notes need to be short and sweet. It's all about having people provide bite-sized tips on how to make something better such as suggesting adding a bit of lemon zest to a batch of frosting.

Guardrails and limitations

Google is aware that implementing such an update could expose Google Search to a bunch of bad actors coming in and uploading a bunch of inappropriate content. To combat this, it’s adding several guardrails. First, Google will be “using a combination of algorithmic protections and human review” to double-check what is uploaded. Second, the content in “each Note is ranked” according to a search result. The more relevant it is, the higher it’ll place. Finally, “anyone can report a note… for human review” if they run into any inappropriate content.

There are several limitations you need to be aware of. The search feature launches today, however, it will only be made available to users living in the US or India, plus they must be a part of the Search Labs program. Additionally, it will be exclusive to the mobile web version of Google Search as well as the official Google app. 

If you want to try this out, we have a guide teaching people how to try out Google software betas. The guide describes gaining access to the Search Engine Experience, but it's the same process.

Notes will start as an “experiment”. The company wants to see how well this feature will work on a grand scale. It’s unknown how long the trial will last or if it'll see an official release.

Follow your favs

The rest of the update isn’t as dynamic, but it’s still interesting. Over the coming weeks, Google will introduce a Follow tool to American users on mobile. It’ll help you stay up to date on topics you frequently look up by providing “new-to-you” information. Follow can deliver news articles on the latest events of your favorite sports team or specific fashion trends. 

In the image below, you'll see how Follow changes. The left screenshot displays a fairly generic feed with a few pictures, but over time, Google will deliver videos from content creators specializing in your interest once it learns what you like.

Google's new Follow tool

(Image credit: Google)

Finally, the Perspectives tab will roll out to Google Search on desktop to, as you can probably guess, people living in the United States. This tool lets you find content from various online communities like forums or social media platforms. Prior to this, it was exclusive to mobile devices.

As you can see, the US is getting the lion's share of this update. We asked a Google rep if there are plans for an international launch. All we were told is that they working on bringing the “features to locations”, but have nothing more to share at the moment.

We can see these tools becoming really useful helping you track great deals for tech during the holiday season. If you want our advice, check out TechRadar's list of the nine Black Friday deals we recommend buying now.

You might also like

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Step into the future of AR and VR technology

As the world embraces rapid technological advancements, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have emerged as transformative tools with the potential to revolutionize industries and enhance human experiences. 

Whether for art, education, healthcare, entertainment or engineering, AR and VR will play a foundational role in the next phase of technology. That’s why across the world, initiatives are launching that aim to incubate and nurture innovative ideas in transformative technology.

One such program is the Creative Solutions program by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Saudi Arabia. From this, two innovative projects – MemoARable and Virtually There – have arisen, aiming to leverage AR and VR to add value to Saudi Arabia’s cultural and creative industries (CCI).

New horizons

MemoARable, spearheaded by Maryam Alfadhli and Lina Alismail, seeks to reimagine the customer-store relationship through an AR-powered app. 

By transforming memories into personalized gifts incorporating images, messages, and voice notes, MemoARable transcends traditional marketing strategies, opening doors for immersive ticketing and gift card possibilities, and expanding its application beyond initial expectations.

On the other hand, Maram Alghamdi and Ali AlEid's Virtually There aims to revolutionise the tourism industry by offering users a full 3D, 360-degree access to Saudi Arabia's top destinations. Kicking off with AlUla, this immersive experience takes audiences on a journey through iconic tourist attractions. 

The roadmap also includes virtual visits to Riyadh, Jeddah, and a pilgrimage-focused tour of Makkah and Madinah, creating an exciting blend of culture and technology.

The prototypes of these projects were presented to a team of international tech experts, including inventor and tech consultant Simon Benson, as part of the Creative Solutions program. 

This program empowers digital content creation in immersive technologies and grants each of the five selected projects financial support of up to $ 20,000 to bring their ideas to fruition.

Room to grow

This year marks the third edition of the Creative Solutions showcase, welcoming participants to pitch their ideas once again. Successful applicants will develop their prototypes from September to December before presenting them to investors and the public in Q4.

The Creative Solutions program goes beyond mere financial support, as participants embark on a transformative journey featuring technical, creative, and entrepreneurial training and mentorship. 

Their prototypes are showcased in events attended by potential collaborators, incubators, accelerators, and other stakeholders, further promoting innovation and collaboration in the immersive tech space.

As the world embraces immersive technologies, projects like these will pave the way to unleashing the limitless potential of AR and VR. With MemoARable and Virtually There leading the way, the future is indeed bright for the intersection of creativity, technology, and human innovation.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Apple’s test of a new iOS subscription payment system is a huge step back

Apple is testing out a new subscription payment system for iOS devices that would let developers automatically charge a higher subscription-renewal price rather than ask for explicit acceptance, so long as the user is notified ahead of the renewal price increase and given the chance to cancel their subscription.

While this is a fairly common practice with subscription services, this isn't the way this is supposed to work on iOS. From Apple's developer documentation:

When you increase the price of a subscription, Apple informs affected subscribers via email and push notification and asks them to agree to the new price. On iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4 and later, affected subscribers are also notified through a price consent sheet that automatically displays in your app… If they don’t agree, their subscription expires at the end of their current billing cycle.

The new payment system was first flagged by developer Max Seelemann on Twitter and later confirmed by TechCrunch.

See more

The issue appears to be limited to the Disney+ app for now and only seems to affect a limited number of users as part of a pilot test of a new iOS payment system.

Apple told TechRadar that the company is “piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon. The pilot includes developers across various app categories, organization sizes, and regions to help test an upcoming enhancement that we believe will be great for both developers and users, and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.”

It's not clear whether this system, if implemented, would be open to all developers on the iOS platform, or whether only a selection of developers would be granted the ability to auto-charge for a price increase.


Analysis: while it could be worse, this is still a terrible idea

One of the worst things about subscription-based models is that they require a lot of management and juggling on the part of the user. Who among us hasn't completely forgotten that some subscription charge was due on a certain date and only realized it once we suddenly had a lot less money in the bank than we thought we had?

This is especially problematic when you're dealing with an annual subscription, which is a large chunk of money and is much more likely to be forgotten by the user (making it more unlikely that it will be cancelled ahead of the renewal charge). Subscription services are a very appealing model for businesses for that reason, and a major headache for users.

Apple's current system is about as good as you can expect, all things considered. It can't save you from forgetting about a looming renewal and over-drafting your bank account as a result, but at least it requires you to explicitly accept a higher price after an 'introductory' rate expires and automatically cancels the subscription if you don't do anything. 

We would much rather see Apple stick with that system than let a company automatically bill users a higher rate if they don't take action on it. On the plus side, it appears that the renewal-price increase notification is very obvious and there is at least a link for users to review the subscription and cancel it if they so choose.  

There's no getting around the fact, though, that this could open the door for ne'er-do-well developers to take advantage of users by starting off at a very low price and then jacking it up considerably for the renewal. While most users would immediately move to cancel if they saw that kind of scammy behavior, even with the new notification system, there's going to be some small subset of users who misread, misunderstand, or just miss the notification and find themselves getting hit with a higher-than-expected charge out of the blue.

Given that potential nightmare scenario, it's likely that only certain large developers would be allowed to automatically charge you an increased price in this way, which raises a different problem. This would give bigger players in the industry special treatment that puts smaller, legitimate developers at a disadvantage, with no obvious benefit to the user.

Given Apple's generally good track record on user protections, this feels like a big step back and is disappointing to see. If the big fish in the App Store pond do get special privileges, we should stop pretending that Apple's platform is as fair as the company claims it is. 

Since this appears to be a small pilot test, we hope Apple comes to see how valuable its current subscription payment model is for its users and doesn't break what is already working well. 

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More