Meta’s Smart Glasses will get a sci-fi upgrade soon, but they’re still not smart enough

There's a certain allure to smart glasses that bulky mixed-reality headsets lack. Meta's Ray-Ban Smart Glasses (formerly Stories), for instance, are a perfect illustration of how you can build smarts into a wearable without making the wearer look ridiculous. The question is, can you still end up being ridiculous while wearing them?

Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses' big upcoming Meta AI update will let you talk to your stylish frames, querying them about the food you're consuming, the buildings you're facing, and the animals you encounter. The update is set to transform the wearable from just another pair of voice-enabled glasses into an always-on-your-face assistant.

The update isn't public and will only apply to Ray-Ban Smart Glasses and not the Ray-Ban Meta Stories predecessors that do not feature Qualcomm's new AR1 Gen 1 chip. This week, however, Meta gave a couple of tech reporters at The New York Times early access to the Meta AI integration and they came away somewhat impressed.

I must admit, I found the walkthrough more intriguing than I expected.

Even though they didn't tear the glasses apart, or get into the nitty gritty tech details I crave, the real-world experience depicts Meta AI as a fascinating and possibly useful work in progress.

Answers and questions

In the story, the authors use the Ray Ban smart glasses to ask Meta AI to identify a variety of animals, objects, and landmarks with varying success. In the confines of their homes, they spoke full voice and asked Meta AI. “What am I looking at?” They also enabled transcription so we could see what they asked and the responses Meta AI provided.

It was, in their experience, quite good at identifying their dogs' breed. However, when they took the smart glasses to the zoo, Meta AI struggled to identify far-away animals. In fact, Meta AI got a lot wrong. To be fair, this is beta and I wouldn't expect the large language model (Llama 2) to get everything right. At least it's not hallucinating (“that's a unicorn!”), just getting it wrong.

The story features a lot of photos taken with the Ray-Ban Meta Smart Glasses, along with the queries and Meta AI's responses. Of course, that's not really what was happening. As the authors note, they were speaking to Meta AI wherever they went and then heard the responses spoken back to them. This is all well and good when you're at home, but just weird when you're alone at a zoo talking to yourself.

The creep factor

This, for me, remains the fundamental flaw in many of these wearables. Whether you wear Ray-Ban Smart Glasses or Amazon Echo Frames, you'll still look as if you're talking to yourself. For a decent experience, you may engage in a lengthy “conversation” with Meta AI to get the information you need. Again, if you're doing this at home, letting Meta AI help you through a detailed recipe, that's fine. Using Meta AI as a tour guide when you're in the middle of, say, your local Whole Foods might label you as a bit of an oddball.

We do talk to our best phones and even our best smartwatches, but I think that when people see you holding your phone or smartwatch near your face, they understand what's going on.

The New York Times' authors noted how they found themselves whispering to their smart glasses, but they still got looks.

I don't know a way around this issue and wonder if this will be the primary reason people swear off what is arguably a very good-looking pair of glasses (or sunglasses) even if they could offer the passive smart technology we need.

So, I'm of two minds. I don't want to be seen as a weirdo talking to my glasses, but I can appreciate having intelligence there and ready to go; no need to pull my phone out, raise my wrist, or even tap a smart lapel pin. I just say, “Hey Meta” and the smart glasses wake up, ready to help.

Perhaps the tipping point here will be when Meta can integrate very subtle AR screens into the frames that add some much-needed visual guidance. Plus, the access to visuals might cut down on the conversation, and I would appreciate that.

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Windows 11’s new features won’t be for everyone – but they’re seriously cool for those who’ll use them

Windows 11 is close to getting some smart additions for those who use a stylus, and other improvements besides, as seen in a new preview build.

This is preview build 22635.2776 (also known as KB5032292) which has been pushed out to the Beta channel, the last avenue of testing before Release Preview (the final step before new features come to the finished version of Windows 11).

The big step forward here is for Windows Ink, with the ability to write directly in some text boxes in Windows 11 coming to a lot more people. In other words, rather than typing in text for a search, for example, you can directly scribble your search terms into the box.

This ability was available for the US, but is now coming with support for a bunch of new regions – that includes English (Australia), English and French (Canada), English (India), and English (United Kingdom), plus many more (check out the blog post for the full list).

Windows 11 stylus writing in menus

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows Ink is being further bolstered by a greater level of accuracy for its recognition technology, as well as some new gesture controls. There are now gestures to select, join, or split words, to delete a word, and to insert a new line.

The Task Manager has also been tinkered with in this beta release, with Microsoft noting that it has improved process grouping in the panel that lists your running processes.

Also rolling out in this preview are notifications for Microsoft accounts on the home page of the Settings app. We’ve seen these in the past, and they’re prompts to remind you about the status of your account, and tasks you might want to finish off (though we should note we’ve not been keen on the way this has been handled in the Start menu).

Analysis: Supercharging that stylus

This is an important update for those who use a stylus, then, outside of the US, as a lot more territories across the globe are now being covered with support for writing directly in menus. This is an excellent time-saving feature for those using their convertible laptop as a tablet, for example, and it’s something Microsoft is set to develop more going forward.

Indeed, we’ve been told in the past that the eventual aim is that you’ll be able to use your stylus to write anywhere in Windows 11, which is a very cool concept.

Improved process grouping in Task Manager should be a useful little change, too, if you’re one of the Windows users who takes an interest in diving into this area of the interface. Task Manager can be a useful tool for troubleshooting what’s slowing down your PC, for example, if it seems to have hit a sticky patch.

We don’t know how the change will work yet, but more intelligent grouping of related processes should enable better visibility into what’s happening under the hood at any given time with your Windows 11 system.

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Instagram and Facebook get ad-free subscriptions in the EU, but they’re pricey

Starting in November, Meta will offer Facebook and Instagram users in the EU, EEA, (European Economic Area,) and Switzerland the opportunity to remove all advertisements from the platforms via a new subscription plan.

There will be two different prices available at launch depending on where you purchase a plan. People will be charged €9.99 a month on desktop, while on mobile, the price tag is bumped up to €12.99 a month. The higher cost on smartphones supposedly takes into account all “the fees that Apple and Google charge” developers through their respective app stores, according to the announcement. The company goes on to say it will not collect or use information from a subscribed account for targeted ads. There is one small catch: users must be at least 18 years old. Otherwise, they can't pay for a plan.

One subscription will cover all linked profiles in a person’s Account Center until March 1, 2024. After that date, Meta will begin charging “for each additional account”. Desktop plans will see a €6 increase whereas mobile plans will jump up €8. If you do the math, you're looking at an annual cost of roughly €240 a year for an ad-free experience on a single profile.

Astronomically high price tag

The pricing deeply concerns us, because if we did our math correctly, the final cost will be astronomically high. Think about it.

Let's say you have a Facebook and Instagram account and you want an ad-free experience on both desktop and mobile. To our understanding, you'll need to buy four separate subscriptions to cover all your bases on the two devices. A subscription after March 1 is about €20. So yearly, a European user may have to pay nearly €1,000 to remove all ads across desktop and mobile – assuming they only have one of each. Remember: costs increase for every extra profile. Keep in mind these numbers aren’t exact. We are rounding up, but we’re not too far off from the actual prices.

We reached out to Meta for clarification on the pricing. The announcement's wording was a little confusing. We also asked if there are plans to extend the subscription service to other countries, namely the US and UK. This story will be updated at a later time.

Forced to comply

The company explains it's launching the service as a way “to comply with evolving European regulations”. For the past couple of years, Meta has faced a lot of scrutiny from the EU over how the conglomerate handles user data. It’s gotten to the point where the Union passed the Digital Services Act “outlawing certain manipulative advertising practices” as well as slapping Meta with a $ 1.3 billion fine

Apparently, government regulators have ordered the company to give people a way to opt out of being bombarded with online ads. Meta claims the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) recognizes the subscription model as a “valid form of consent”. It is good to see the company provide a way to skip the ads permanently.
Unfortunately, it's making the whole process painful to people’s wallets.

If you are looking for a free way to surf the internet unperturbed, check out TechRadar’s list of the best ad blockers for 2023

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Instagram will finally help creators understand why they’re failing

Instagram is updating its Account Status feature to better inform business and creator accounts why some of their posts get suppressed as it aims for more transparency with users.

These accounts will now know which of their posts is “eligible to be recommended” by Instagram’s algorithm to non-followers on other sections of the platform. This includes places like the Explore page, Reels, and In-Feed recommendations. On the flip side, Instagram will also inform accounts why their content isn’t being recommended by explaining how, for instance, it violates Community Guidelines, according to the announcement. This information can also be found on Instagram’s Creators page; it’s just more front and center than before.

And once informed, creators are given an opportunity to either edit or delete the offending post or appeal if they think Instagram was a little overzealous in flagging that content. The review team will take a close look at the said post before getting back with a new decision. If that sounds familiar, that’s because regular accounts have been able to appeal flagged content since the launch of Account Status back in October 2021. 

For a future update, there are hints at expanding Account Status to other features like the Search function plus educating creators on how to better reach non-followers. 

It’s unknown when the Account Status update will release and to where. The implication is the new features are currently rolling out. We asked Instagram if it could clarify the launch window and if it can tell us more about future Account Status additions. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

Clarifying the algorithm

In the announcement, Instagram states it understands how frustrating it can be for accounts to understand why they’re not getting the engagement they once had. That's really the goal of this update: to clear up confusion. Social media algorithms are a frequent source of frustration for many content creators. How these algorithms work is a closely guarded secret. If you spend enough time on YouTube, for example, you’ll eventually run into a creator complaining about how difficult it is to understand what gets recommended or suppressed.

There have been third-party moves this past year to rectify this problem. The most notable one was when the European Union passed the Digital Service Act, which will force tech giants like Meta to reveal how their recommendation algorithms work. However, that law won’t go into effect until 2024, so first-party tools will remain limited.

But there are third-party tools out there. Check out TechRadar's recently updated best social media management tools of 2022. They’re a good way to time posting content so you can maintain high audience engagement. 

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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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