Google is giving Android users hands-free navigation and a way to talk with emojis

Google is rolling out several new accessibility-focused features to platforms like Android and ChromeOS, timed to Global Accessibility Awareness Day, May 16. Leading the long list is the arrival of Project Gameface on Android

If you’re unfamiliar, Gameface is software that lets people use “head movement and facial gestures” to navigate a computer UI. Up until now, the software was used to help people with disabilities play video games among other things. But with its inclusion on Android, those same groups now have a new way to control their smartphone. 

The company states that Gameface supports 52 different facial gestures that can be mapped to specific functions. For example, looking to the left can be used to select items on the screen, while raising your eyebrows can send you back to the home screen. The individual controls depend on how people set up Gameface.

Project Gameface on Android

(Image credit: Google)

Also, it’ll be possible to adjust the sensitivity of a function to establish “how prominent your gesture has to be in order to” register an input. A slight open mouth can be attached to one action, while a wider open mouth can work for another. Over in the bottom corner will be a live camera feed of yourself. Google states their team added the view so users can make sure they’re making accurate facial gestures.

Project Gameface is open-sourced and available for download on Github complete with instructions on how to set it up. Do note it requires the Android Studio developer tool to configure it so you may need someone to help you out.

Notable features

The rest of the features in the update may not be as individually impactful as Gameface, but together, they become greater than the sum of its parts. Google’s Lookout app is receiving a new Find mode to help blind people locate real-world objects across seven different categories. It can tell where the tables are in a restaurant or where the door to the bathroom is. Users have to hold their smartphone in front of them, and through the rear camera, Lookout’s AI will tell you the “direction and distance” of an item or exit. Keep in mind, Find mode is in beta so it may be a little buggy.

Google Maps is seeing a similar upgrade, and it’ll soon provide more details about the area around you. The app will tell you the names of nearby places and how far you need to go to reach your destination.

Lookout app's new Find mode

(Image credit: Google)

Next, Android’s Look to Speak is adding a text-free mode. This mode lets you communicate with the app’s speech function by selecting emojis, symbols, and images. For example, a hand-waving emoji can be used to say “Hello.”

Chromebooks are set to receive their own accessibility patch, too. Google is giving owners a way to increase the size of the mouse cursor, and the screen magnifier tool will follow along with the words as you read them. 

Those are all the major updates coming to the Google platform; however, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other small upgrades include Google Maps on desktops, pointing out wheelchair-accessible entrances. Everything mentioned here is already live except for the Chromebook changes, which will roll out within the coming weeks.

Google isn't the tech giant celebrating Global Accessibility Day. Apple recently revealed multiple accessibility features including Eye Tracking, Vocal Shortcuts, and Vehicle Motion Cues for its hardware; however, they aren't arriving until later this year. It's unknown exactly when they'll come out, but they'll most likely be made available as a part of iOS 18, VisionOS 2, “and the next version of macOS.”

While we have you check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2024.

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OpenAI’s new Sora video is an FPV drone ride through the strangest TED Talk you’ve ever seen – and I need to lie down

OpenAI's new Sora text-to-video generation tool won't be publicly available until later this year, but in the meantime it's serving up some tantalizing glimpses of what it can do – including a mind-bending new video (below) showing what TED Talks might look like in 40 years.

To create the FPV drone-style video, TED Talks worked with OpenAI and the filmmaker Paul Trillo, who's been using Sora since February. The result is an impressive, if slightly bewildering, fly-through of futuristic conference talks, weird laboratories and underwater tunnels.

The video again shows both the incredible potential of OpenAI Sora and its limitations. The FPV drone-style effect has become a popular one for hard-hitting social media videos, but it traditionally requires advanced drone piloting skills and expensive kit that goes way beyond the new DJI Avata 2.

Sora's new video shows that these kind of effects could be opened up to new creators, potentially at a vastly lower cost – although that comes with the caveat that we don't yet know how much OpenAI's new tool itself will cost and who it'll be available to.

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But the video (above) also shows that Sora is still quite far short of being a reliable tool for full-blown movies. The people in the shots are on-screen for only a couple of seconds and there's plenty of uncanny valley nightmare fuel in the background.

The result is an experience that's exhilarating, while also leaving you feeling strangely off-kilter – like touching down again after a sky dive. Still, I'm definitely keen to see more samples as we hurtle towards Sora's public launch later in 2024.

How was the video made?

A video created by OpenAI Sora for TED Talks

(Image credit: OpenAI / TED Talks)

OpenAI and TED Talks didn't go into detail about how this specific video was made, but its creator Paul Trillo recently talked more broadly about his experiences of being one of Sora's alpha tester.

Trillo told Business Insider about the kinds of prompts he uses, including “a cocktail of words that I use to make sure that it feels less like a video game and something more filmic”. Apparently these include prompts like “35 millimeter”, “anamorphic lens”, and “depth of field lens vignette”, which are needed or else Sora will “kind of default to this very digital-looking output”.

Right now, every prompt has to go through OpenAI so it can be run through its strict safeguards around issues like copyright. One of Trillo's most interesting observations is that Sora is currently “like a slot machine where you ask for something, and it jumbles ideas together, and it doesn't have a real physics engine to it”.

This means that it's still a long way way off from being truly consistent with people and object states, something that OpenAI admitted in an earlier blog post. OpenAI said that Sora “currently exhibits numerous limitations as a simulator”, including the fact that “it does not accurately model the physics of many basic interactions, like glass shattering”.

These incoherencies will likely limit Sora to being a short-form video tool for some time, but it's still one I can't wait to try out.

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Beeper Mini gives Android users a way to talk to iMessage on iOS right now

In November, Apple announced it will finally support the RCS messaging standard allowing Android devices and iPhones to communicate on a potentially more level playing field. The update won’t arrive until early 2024, but luckily there is a third-party solution that you can download today called Beeper Mini.

The app gives Android users the ability to send end-to-end encrypted texts to an iPhone using Apple’s very own iMessage protocol. This means both parties will see all messages in blue bubbles instead of forcing Android hardware to green bubbles. You don’t need an Apple ID to use the service. Even if you had one, the developer Beeper says it doesn't have access to your Apple account. Users will, however, need to give Beeper Mini permission to access their phone’s SMS and Call Logs to verify the number as well as sync to pre-existing conversations to convert them into proper iMessage chats.

Beeper Mini on Android

(Image credit: Beeper Mini)

Looking at the official Google Play Store listing, you’ll find Beeper Mini has a multitude of iMessage features. You'll be able to send full-sized photographs and videos to others as well as react to their content with an emoji. The app also allows you to join previously inaccessible iPhone-only group chats. Plus, the software offers a way to sync iMessages across other “Android or iOS devices, including” iPads.

Other notable features include typing status, read receipts, unsending, and more. Beeper Mini is available for download now. You will need to pay $ 1.99 to use the service although the developer is offering a seven-day free trial to start.

How it works

You may be wondering how is this even possible. It’s complicated to say the least.

The way it works, according to an official blog post, is that an SMS text is sent from an Android number to Apple’s “Gateway service.” The gateway then responds with its own message and sends the initial text to Apple servers registering it as an iPhone. This process was made possible by security researcher and reported high school student JJTech who reportedly managed to “reverse engineer” iMessage’s protocol. Beeper took JJTech’s work (presumably with their permission) and then implemented it in their app.

The developer also created the Beeper Push Notification service, or BPNs for short, to maintain a constant connection to Apple servers and to tell you of any new texts.

That’s the gist of how it works. If you want more details, we highly recommend reading Beeper’s post along with JJTech’s iMessage breakdown to get the full picture. 

Analysis: Potential trouble

Now you may be wondering, is Apple okay with this? It's tough to say. Things are a little weird right now.

Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Beeper, told TechCrunch a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act states that “reverse engineering for the purposes of interoperability is protected”, implying that the law protects them from litigation. 

This hasn’t stopped Apple from suing other companies using their services. However, now we have the Digital Markets Act which forces tech corporations to support interoperability for their messaging platforms. What’s more, the US DOJ (Department of Justice) has been going after titans in the industry over alleged antitrust violations. Right now, it’s going after Google.

Apple might let Beeper Mini slide on by to stay in the good graces of the DOJ. But it’s hard to say for sure. We’re in uncharted territory here. Apple could, at any time, strike down the app with the force of a thousand suns. It’ll be interesting to see how this situation plays out.

Be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2023.

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You can now talk to ChatGPT like Siri for free, but it won’t reveal OpenAI’s secrets

ChatGPT has conveniently distracted us from OpenAI's boardroom drama, which has just seen Sam Altman return to the company as CEO, by making its Voice chat feature available to all free users.

The AI chatbot got its impressively conversational voice powers in September, but this feature was limited to the paid Plus and Enterprise tiers. But now OpenAI, which is looking for a shiny object to take eyes away from its recent meltdown, has made 'ChatGPT with voice' available to all users.

To use it, you just need the latest version of ChatGPT's iOS or Android app. Tap on the headphones icon at the bottom of the screen and you can start quizzing the chatbot about anything you like – as long as your question isn't about recent events, like OpenAI's CEO merry-go-round.

That's because the GPT-3.5 model that's available to free users has only been trained on data going up to January 2022. So when you ask it, for example, 'Why was Sam Altman fired from OpenAI?', it answers that there are “no public reports or indications” of this happening. How convenient.

Still, if you're looking for a voice assistant that's a bit chattier and more knowledgeable than the likes of Apple's Siri, then the ChatGPT voice function is a fun new tool (assuming the service hasn't gone down, like it did at around 2pm PT / 10pm GMT yesterday).

You can choose from five different voices and your chats (but not the audio clips) are saved just like your text-based conversations. It'll also auto-detect languages, though you can also choose this in the Settings menu.

 A Siri replacement?

A phone on a pink background showing ChatGPT's voice feature

(Image credit: Future)

Given it's now possible to use ChatGPT with Siri, the arrival of voice powers on the chatbot's free version is a potentially big deal. That's particularly the case for owners of the iPhone 15 Pro, who can map ChatGPT to the new Action button (by going to Settings > Action Button > Shortcut).

Siri and ChatGPT still have notable differences though. For example, Siri is deeply integrated with the iPhone, allowing it to perform actions like setting timers and controlling your phone's volume.

But ChatGPT's depth of knowledge and more conversational style is arguably better when it comes to general knowledge questions – as long as you're aware of its propensity to hallucinate.

It's certainly a fun, free feature to play with and will no doubt take some of the attention off OpenAI's Succession-like boardroom tussles, which could ultimately have a big impact on how the AI chatbot tussle plays out in 2024.

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Windows 11’s new passkey feature lets you talk to the hand (or face) and kiss those annoying passwords goodbye

Windows 11 is now introducing a new feature to the OS, which allows users to replace passwords with passkeys instead.

A recent Windows 11 Insider Preview Build (23486) lets you “use Windows Hello natively to create and sign in to supported applications and websites using passkeys, where you’ll be asked to prove your identity using a PIN, fingerprint, or face scan,” according to The Verge

Basically, this means that if you choose to log in using any of those three methods instead of using a password, two cryptographic keys are created instead. One is stored in your device and the other is stored in your choice of cloud storage service, which combine and grant you access to your device. These keys aren’t known to anyone, including yourself. You would simply use the login method of your choice and it does the rest.

Passkeys could truly be the future 

Though making a sound password with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols is usually an excellent way to safeguard accounts, in recent years identity thieves have gotten much better at cracking passwords. Not to mention that many people don’t apply best practices when it comes to creating passwords.

The concept of passkeys is a great one. Using either a PIN or biometric login method, you have two passkeys created, letting you access your device safely and without having to memorize a complicated string of characters or risk having them discovered by a bad actor. 

What’s also great about them is that you have a nice variety of choices involved in your login method. Some people feel more comfortable using biometric authentication, while others like myself prefer the classic method of using a PIN instead. Regardless, the passkey functions the same way, circumventing a password in the process.

Microsoft Edge, Apple, and Google Chrome have either already supported passkeys or will later in 2023, but this Windows Hello rollout means that people can manage logins on the OS level. However, according to Bleeping Computing, there are still plenty of kinks to work out with this system right now. But hopefully, as tech giants become more accustomed to working with Windows Hello, it will eventually become a seamless feature.

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Microsoft makes Bing’s AI chatbot easier to talk to in Windows 11

Microsoft’s Bing AI just got a smart new feature, namely the ability to accept voice input on desktop PCs.

Voice input was already supported on mobiles, but now you can engage with the Bing chatbot asking queries via a microphone attached to your desktop PC. What’s more, the chatbot can reply with its own voice response (as Windows Central reports).

There are only a limited number of languages supported for voice input, mind you, at this stage. Those are as follows: English, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin.

We can doubtless expect more languages to be covered in the future, as Microsoft builds out this feature.

To use voice input, simply click the microphone icon in the Bing Chat box, and say your piece, then wait for the AI’s digitized voice response. The experience remains the same otherwise, as you might guess.


Analysis: Voice of the future

This is an important feature for the Bing AI, as it means that sessions with the chatbot feel like a more natural exchange – you’re talking, and the AI is replying with its voice. In other words, it’s more like a conversation than a search engine-like experience, which is Microsoft’s overall goal.

With the facility being on mobile already, it was only a matter of time before it was ported over for desktop users. More broadly, voice has been an area Microsoft has focused on considerably – witness the swift progress with Voice Access in Windows 11 in recent times (and in-line dictation in Microsoft Word, for that matter).

When Copilot lands in Windows 11 (supposedly testing will begin later in June), it’s easy to envisage that this infusion of AI will come with more voice-based controls, too.

However, the next big move for the Bing chatbot will be its introduction to other browsers besides Edge (with official support for Chrome and other major browsers inbound, as opposed to third-party plug-ins which are the only option currently).

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We talk to Opera about why we should care about a new crypto browser

Cryptocurrency is a field that’s only grown since its inception, and Opera wants in. The company is making headway by developing another variant of its web browser: the Crypto Browser Project.

This app enables users to store their crypto wallets within the new browser. Users can also follow and manage different types of electronic coin, as well as the controversial NFT content that’s being offered by various companies. These capabilities are all grouped into what’s called Web3, a collection of activities that some predict will be heavily used across the web in the coming years.

Opera is breaking into new frontiers, creating specialized browsers like the gaming-focused GX. The Crypto Browser Project is Opera’s attempt to target users that have a crypto wallet.

TechRadar spoke with Jan Standal, VP of Product Marketing at Opera, to understand the need for a cryptocurrency-focused web browser.

The crypto-elephant in the room

If you’ve used an Opera product before, the Crypto browser will feel familiar to you. The layout is similar, but with a blue and green color scheme.

We asked Standal what Opera’s browser could offer to the crypto market:

“Browsers have always provided a trusted gateway through which consumers experience and engage with the internet – and all the new digital trends and technologies on it,” Standal explains. “With the Crypto Browser Project, we set out to build the first truly custom experience for people who want to experience blockchain and Web3 technologies, channeling almost three decades of experience we have in creating user-friendly browsers. 

“Our Crypto Browser lowers the barriers to entry to the Web3 world by providing our users with easy access to blockchain news and tutorials, seamless browsing of Web3 Services and apps, and our trusted non-custodial wallet built directly into the browser.”

Why go all-in with a browser, rather than a plugin?

We wondered why the aim was a browser from Opera focusing on cryptocurrency, rather than a browser extension.

“By controlling the browser, we are able to solve experiences that can’t be solved with just extensions. Take, for example, the secure clipboard feature in the Crypto Browser beta: it protects your wallet address from being manipulated by other apps. Solving such cases makes Opera the most secure option for cryptocurrency and Web3 enthusiasts – something that wouldn't be possible to do with traditional browsers.

“While the shift to Web3 is underway, most of the apps are being created by small software companies, and we hope they can benefit from our technologies, experience, and user base.”

Since cryptocurrency is still in its infancy, we asked Standal how the browser could cater to different types of crypto.

“Partnerships are a priority for Opera – we are pursuing an inclusive multi-chain strategy. By creating a solution respectful of all ecosystems, and encouraging the development of common standards and practices amongst developer communities, we hope to help this incredible and diverse new field of creators achieve the fullest potential for their technologies.”

Opera Crypto web browser

(Image credit: Future)

We pressed Standal on Opera’s decision to create a separate browser that focuses on cryptocurrency rather than incorporating crypto features into Opera or Opera GX.

“With the Crypto Browser Project, we are trying an all-in approach, providing people with a specific experience they need in order to interact with Web3,” Standal explains. “As the technologies of Web3 become more advanced, we will see a strong divergence in the way the browser will interact with the world – and it was important that we prepared for that.

“We believe that if you’re interested in cryptocurrencies, blockchain technologies, even funny coins, you should have a dedicated space for that. If you’re starting and simply want to understand the space better, the Crypto Browser Project will be the perfect starting point.”

Standal continued: “With Opera GX, we learned the power of community, and how we could craft a browser built just for the needs of our awesome gaming users. With the Crypto Browser project, we are showing the same care and attention to the crypto community focused on safe, easy, and intuitive access to crypto services and tools in a way even a novice can understand.”

Feeling safe with crypto

There’s still the ongoing issue of security and authenticity when it comes to bitcoins. There’s also this persistent idea that crypto goes hand in hand with gambling, especially considering Bitcoin’s rise and fall in value is always making news. We asked Standal what steps Opera has taken with this browser to keep users safe. 

“While it's true that crypto is not for everyone yet, we see that millions of our browser users are already onboarding to crypto and Web3 is happening. We strongly believe that it's better for serious companies to participate in the space, help the users and shape the industry rather than avoid it,” Standal explains. “Helping our users avoid scams is a natural part of this. The Crypto Browser provides you with the Crypto Corner, which is a source of tutorials, access to influential publications, and key information about the space. There’s also a whole set of security and privacy features such as the built-in VPN, ad blocker, the secure clipboard, and others.”

NFT

Another side to cryptocurrency is the NFT, or Non-fungible Token. These are digital assets, like images or videos, that are allegedly uniquely yours. Opera’s crypto browser will allow you to use your wallet to purchase these. We wanted to know where the company stood on this process.

“Those steps are outlined on NFT platforms,” Standal clarifies. “From our side, we make sure no one meddles with your wallet address by providing you with a built-in wallet and a secure clipboard to copy and paste your wallet address and other sensitive data.”

Opera Crypto browser showing NFT

(Image credit: Opera)

The company also announced in a blog post that the crypto browser is in development for Apple devices, and will be submitted to the App Store. But with features allowing users to manage their crypto wallet within a web browser, we asked Standal if Apple’s most likely response will be to reject the app, especially if there's explicit ways to buy and sell crypto.

“The Opera browser for iOS already comes with an array of crypto features. The Crypto Browser Project isn’t that different in terms of features; rather [it] builds them into a unified experience,” Standal continues. “It’s your entry point into Web3, with its apps and other solutions – as well as providing information about blockchain technologies. And [it’s] a safe and trusted source for where to explore next.”


Analysis: is this web browser a sign of things to come?

It was surprising to see Opera announce a web browser solely focused on cryptocurrency. Considering some of the negative connotations of the field, it’s currently a slippery slope for any company to include any features that involve crypto and NFT content.

But Opera has gone all-in with this venture by presenting an entirely new browser, as opposed to a feature or a browser extension. While Standal maintains that the Opera Crypto Browser can guide users in crypto wallet management, while helping them to keep track of any other trend within the world of electronic currencies, users might do well to use dedicated apps instead.

Companies like Coinbase offer apps that give you a direct overview of your wallet, and only your wallet. Having a web browser that lets you watch YouTube videos, while allowing you to keep track of Bitcoin, may be too much for most users.

Time will tell if other browsers, such as Firefox and Microsoft Edge among others, will introduce features focused on cryptocurrency. We’d be surprised if any other company went the extra mile and created a whole crypto-browser, in the same way that Opera has.

Crypto could still be a fad that ends, a story that’s remembered at the end of the decade in some Netflix documentary. But then again, if companies don’t push some boundaries, we’ll know how far technology can go – or how convenient new ideas might be for us.

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