TikTok wants you to build your own AR – if you own a Mac

TikTok is opening its Effect House tool as a public beta for all creators and developers to try out and create their own filters. 

The service was originally launched back in Fall 2021 as a closed beta with around 450 TikTok creators adopting it. That relatively small group published their own created effects, which have gone on to be used in 1.5 billion videos garnering over 600 billion views.

Learning as you create

Creating AR filters does require a certain level of technical knowledge. TikTok has provided a series of guides that people can follow to learn how to create a filter. There’s a guide on creating a Face Mask, Segmentation effects, and 3D Face textures.

And there’s even a guide on how to do effective lighting and shadows. It’s all pretty comprehensive, and the best part is that it’s all free.

When you’re done, you can submit the filter for the Trust and Safety team to look it over and approve it. TikTok has implemented a set of Effect Guidelines that everyone must follow when creating a filter.

The company doesn’t want any negative or controversial content. Examples include no threats of violence, drugs, sexual content, or hateful behavior.

Hardware requirements

You can download Effect House right now to begin creating, but there’s a catch: the app is currently only available for Mac computers. Downloading on your PC will not work and if you try to get Effect House on your Android phone, the website will tell you to use your Mac.

At least the Mac hardware minimum requirements aren't too high. To give an example, you’ll need a Mac that has an Intel Core i3 2.5Ghz processor and Nvidia GeForce 710 graphics cards. That's a relatively low-powered CPU, which leads us to believe that the discrete graphics is doing most of the heavy lifting here.

Some of the hardware listed by TikTok has been out for almost a decade, so as long as you have a relatively recent Mac computer, you’re good to go and ready to start creating.

There’s a good chance that Effect House will release outside on at least one mobile platform. In the Effect guidelines page, it mentions the technical requirements for the Android version. However, TikTok didn’t say when other versions will release.

And because Effect House is in beta, TikTok is asking its community to offer feedback if there are any bugs or problems.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

TikTok wants you to build your own AR – if you own a Mac

TikTok is opening its Effect House tool as a public beta for all creators and developers to try out and create their own filters. 

The service was originally launched back in Fall 2021 as a closed beta with around 450 TikTok creators adopting it. That relatively small group published their own created effects, which have gone on to be used in 1.5 billion videos garnering over 600 billion views.

Learning as you create

Creating AR filters does require a certain level of technical knowledge. TikTok has provided a series of guides that people can follow to learn how to create a filter. There’s a guide on creating a Face Mask, Segmentation effects, and 3D Face textures.

And there’s even a guide on how to do effective lighting and shadows. It’s all pretty comprehensive, and the best part is that it’s all free.

When you’re done, you can submit the filter for the Trust and Safety team to look it over and approve it. TikTok has implemented a set of Effect Guidelines that everyone must follow when creating a filter.

The company doesn’t want any negative or controversial content. Examples include no threats of violence, drugs, sexual content, or hateful behavior.

Hardware requirements

You can download Effect House right now to begin creating, but there’s a catch: the app is currently only available for Mac computers. Downloading on your PC will not work and if you try to get Effect House on your Android phone, the website will tell you to use your Mac.

At least the Mac hardware minimum requirements aren't too high. To give an example, you’ll need a Mac that has an Intel Core i3 2.5Ghz processor and Nvidia GeForce 710 graphics cards. That's a relatively low-powered CPU, which leads us to believe that the discrete graphics is doing most of the heavy lifting here.

Some of the hardware listed by TikTok has been out for almost a decade, so as long as you have a relatively recent Mac computer, you’re good to go and ready to start creating.

There’s a good chance that Effect House will release outside on at least one mobile platform. In the Effect guidelines page, it mentions the technical requirements for the Android version. However, TikTok didn’t say when other versions will release.

And because Effect House is in beta, TikTok is asking its community to offer feedback if there are any bugs or problems.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

A new iOS to-do app wants to get rid of the stress of completing tasks

There are countless to-do apps on both Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store, but there's never been apps in this category that have focused on the basics – the jobs that are most important for the day ahead.

This is where Bento comes in, an app available for iOS for $ 5.99 / £4.99 / AU$ 6.99, and its creators want you to have this either as a companion to popular apps Things 3 and OmniFocus, or as a quick go-to app for the tasks you have for the next few hours.

The app focuses on the Bento methodology – three steps of Pack, Flow, and Focus to help you complete what you need to do. These are then compartmentalized into Bento Boxes, which can help lay out the time needed to achieve the tasks.

Created by the team at Keep Productive, a well-informative YouTube channel for advising you in improving your workflow, the group clearly wants to make sure that it makes an impact in its looks and how it follows the Bento methodology.

With this in mind, we tried it out this week to see how it acted as a companion app for the day.

Doing less in style

Bento app for iOS

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Once you launch the app, you're greeted with a helpful introduction to what the Bento method is, followed by a helpful article by the team on using the app further.

The app has a colorful layout that makes it a prime candidate to be both an iPad app, and a screensaver for an Apple TV. Some of the backgrounds you can choose from are animated, adding some extra personality to help make those three tasks more appealing to achieve.

Using Bento over the course of a day, we used it to do a job that we would have otherwise used Things 3, Reminders, or Notes for. It can be confusing to set a timer on some tasks, as when we tried to, we more often than not arrived at the screen where we would change our Bento, when trying to activate it. If a toggle was here, it could help make the timer more obvious that you can tap something to count down.

But otherwise, it does what it says on the tin, or the Bento box. While there's an Android version on its way, it would be great to see widgets in a future iOS or iPadOS update to better see your Bento boxes.

The design and its color scheme would look great on an iPad Pro, and with its simplicity, a Bento box contained in a widget feels like the natural next step for the team.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Microsoft Viva wants to make work training less painful at last

Microsoft is looking to take some of the strain out of learning on the job with a new expansion to its Viva platform.

In a new entry on the Microsoft 365 roadmap, the company revealed that users will soon be able to discover Viva learning content directly through SharePoint, Office.com and Bing.

Previously, users had only been able to access such content through the video conferencing platform Microsoft Teams, with the move now opening up a whole new range of opportunities.

Microsoft Viva expansion

Microsoft says that the new update is an integration between Viva Learning and Microsoft Search, meaning actually being able to find the right content that is applicable to your workers should also be a lot quicker and easier now.

The roadmap entry notes that the feature is still in development for the moment, but Microsoft has said it hopes to issue a release in March 2022. When complete, the feature will be available for all Microsoft Viva web users around the world.

Launched in February 2021, Microsoft Viva integrates with Teams and other Windows software tools to operate as a kind of intranet that brings together knowledge, learning, and communication services.

The platform was launched with remote working policies in mind, and is made up of four main pillars, one of which is Viva Learning. Microsoft says the offering is geared towards employee development and allows members of staff to share, assign, and learn from an organization’s training material, helping speed up onboarding and training processes.

Asides from learning and training, Viva also looks to support employee wellbeing and combat issues such as loneliness and burnout.

Microsoft also revealed a series of guided meditations and mindful exercises for the platform which users will be able to access via Microsoft Teams as it looks to help workers de-stress and become more productive.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

The Web Foundation wants to kill malicious websites for good

While the web is a wonderful thing, there are those who want to take advantage of users through deceptive design choices or “dark patters”. 

The Web Foundation's Tech Policy Design Lab is working on some ideas to help reduce these practices, including by producing a portfolio of UX and UI website builder tools that can be used in place of deceptive practices. 

“Everything we do online is influenced by how the tools we use are built,” the project states. “Deceptive design are practices built into user interfaces that obscure or impair consumer autonomy or choice and can alter decision-making or trick users into taking actions they might not otherwise take. This harmful design phenomenon is unfortunately widespread today.” 

Dark patterns

“In the coming months, we’ll gather evidence of the harms of dark patterns, including who these practices impact the most, and how they affect the most marginalised communities in particular,” says the project. 

TechCrunch spoke to some of those behind the initiative, including Kaushalya Gupta, who leads the programme at the Policy Design Lab, who said the goal was to bring “human-centered design” to the web. 

The project will bring together various different organisations and groups to help work out some ideas. The end result should – hopefully – be some more user-focused decisions. The initiative was launched after polling thousands of organisations, whittling down 200 topics to “deceptive designs”. 

Analysis: Beware! Deception is everywhere

Deceptive designs, or dark patterns, are everywhere on the web. They occur so often that there's even a Twitter account, @darkpatterns, dedicated to documenting them. 

Newspapers such as The New York Times, for example, require users to actually call up to cancel a subscription that was started online. Amazon often pushes users towards signing up for Prime. Indian company Byju's offers subscriptions that look free but aren't. Adobe charges users huge fees to cancel subscriptions. 

The list goes on and on and the end result is that users lose – often monetarily. 

There is a long way to go, and perhaps this project will turn into nothing, but the increasing recognition of the problem, coupled with actual solutions, is definitely a step in the right direction. 

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

The Web Foundation wants to kill malicious websites for good

While the web is a wonderful thing, there are those who want to take advantage of users through deceptive design choices or “dark patters”. 

The Web Foundation's Tech Policy Design Lab is working on some ideas to help reduce these practices, including by producing a portfolio of UX and UI website builder tools that can be used in place of deceptive practices. 

“Everything we do online is influenced by how the tools we use are built,” the project states. “Deceptive design are practices built into user interfaces that obscure or impair consumer autonomy or choice and can alter decision-making or trick users into taking actions they might not otherwise take. This harmful design phenomenon is unfortunately widespread today.” 

Dark patterns

“In the coming months, we’ll gather evidence of the harms of dark patterns, including who these practices impact the most, and how they affect the most marginalised communities in particular,” says the project. 

TechCrunch spoke to some of those behind the initiative, including Kaushalya Gupta, who leads the programme at the Policy Design Lab, who said the goal was to bring “human-centered design” to the web. 

The project will bring together various different organisations and groups to help work out some ideas. The end result should – hopefully – be some more user-focused decisions. The initiative was launched after polling thousands of organisations, whittling down 200 topics to “deceptive designs”. 

Analysis: Beware! Deception is everywhere

Deceptive designs, or dark patterns, are everywhere on the web. They occur so often that there's even a Twitter account, @darkpatterns, dedicated to documenting them. 

Newspapers such as The New York Times, for example, require users to actually call up to cancel a subscription that was started online. Amazon often pushes users towards signing up for Prime. Indian company Byju's offers subscriptions that look free but aren't. Adobe charges users huge fees to cancel subscriptions. 

The list goes on and on and the end result is that users lose – often monetarily. 

There is a long way to go, and perhaps this project will turn into nothing, but the increasing recognition of the problem, coupled with actual solutions, is definitely a step in the right direction. 

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Microsoft Edge wants to make the web more accessible for everyone

The revolutionary power of the internet is hard to quantify but for some, accessing even the basic aspects is difficult. Blind and low-vision people often interact with the web using screen readers, tools that read the contents of a page out loud. 

Unfortunately, msot screen readers rely on alternative text (or alt text) and other behind-the-scenes information to do their job properly, and developers can sometimes overlook these significant but small details.

In order to help out, Microsoft has announced new features for its Edge browser that automatically add alt text to images that do not have it already, something the company hopes will make the web more accessible.

“When a screen reader finds an image without a label, that image can be automatically processed by machine learning (ML) algorithms to describe the image in words and capture any text it contains,” says Microsoft’s Travis Leithead. “The algorithms are not perfect, and the quality of the descriptions will vary, but for users of screen readers, having some description for an image is often better than no context at all.” 

The update hopefully solves the problem of screen readers reading out “unlabelled graphic” whenever an image doesn’t have alt text. 

Microsoft Edge accessibility

Powering the technology is, of course, the company's Azure cloud platform. Any unlabelled image will be sent by Microsoft Edge to Azure’s computer vision systems, which then auto-generates alt text in English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, or Chinese Simplified. 

Some images – like those that are smaller than 50×50 pixels, contain pornographic, gory, or sexually suggestive content, or are very large – unfortunately won’t be sent for analysis.  

Microsoft is rolling out the changes to Edge on Windows, macOS, and Linux right now and expects to add them to iOS and Android at a later date.

“This feature is still new, and we know that we are not done,” says Leithead. “We’ve already found some ways to make this feature even better, such as when images do have a label, but that label is not very helpful (e.g., a label of “image” or “picture” or similar synonym that is redundant with the obvious). Continuous image recognition and algorithm improvements will also refine the quality of the service.”

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Meta wants to make Instagram users suffer with NFT features soon – but why?

It's been confirmed that Instagram will be featuring the ability to buy and mine an NFT soon, in Meta's further attempt to stifle innovation and force crypto-currency to unsuspecting users.

According to Engadget, the head of Meta, Mark Zuckerburg, confirmed during a talk at SXSW that the company was looking into features that would enable you to mine NFTs on Instagram, completely missing the point of what the social platform is for.

While I could fill this article with nothing but the word 'Why' repeated across four paragraphs, I wanted to express my distaste of NFTs (Non-Fungible Token) and how they have no place on social media platforms.

We've already seen bizarre decisions from Twitter in previous weeks, and it looks as though Meta is also drinking the same water if it thinks that NFTs are a good idea for Instagram. We're so early in this technology, here's why I think that it shouldn't be considered as a feature for at least five years, giving tokens the time to mature to a point that they can help, rather than hinder.

Non-fungible sense

If you've seen the term NFT be bandied around, they are non-fungible tokens that take an image that will have a unique code of numbers attached to it. This code will be exclusive to you, and this means that you'll be able to sell or trade that unique code as you wish.

This is what Meta is planning for Instagram, as a way of extending the shopping experience that you can already do on the app. But already it feels lazy.

At the event, Zuckerberg spoke of Instagram and NFTs but wasn't prepared to give a date of when the feature would land. “I'm not ready to kind of announce exactly what that's going to be today,” Zuckerberg clarified. “But over the next several months, the ability to bring some of your NFTs in, hopefully over time be able to mint things within that environment.”

The environment is an ironic word to use here, due to the fact that mining NFTs have already proven to be a detriment to the electrical grid that we use every day.

According to Investopedia, minting one NFT is the equivalent of using the same amount of electricity as an average American household for around nine days. We've already seen the pushback from so many users to companies that have been advertising NFTs for their brands and products, only to quickly roll back their commitment. Team17 was an unfortunate example of this in the gaming industry, and already we're seeing a dip in NFT popularity amongst mainstream users.

But deciding to attach NFT to Instagram feels half-baked already. Just because it's a social platform that deals in photos, automatically means that NFTs are a natural fit for Instagram.

Banjo Kazooie

(Image credit: Rare / Nintendo)

But these tokens are already expanding to other avenues. Seeing the term 'play to earn' with NFT has been making me uncomfortable. I've started to see it on ads in between YouTube videos I'd watch at the weekend, and instantly go to the 'report ad' button.

Looking beyond the behemoth that the gaming industry has become, games are there to be enjoyed, to be used as a form of escape. It's spawned careers and dreams for so many people, but not once have you played a level of Banjo Kazooie and thought, 'Maybe Gruntilda can pay for my phone bill this month through an NFT?'

The same applies to social media apps. During the early days of MSN Messenger, MySpace and Bebo, you would keep in touch with friends and family, perhaps even carrying on any conversations you've had with them from earlier that day.

Having NFTs in social media apps is a distraction and gets away from why you use these platforms in the first place. Let's also consider the users who only reach for Instagram and other apps occasionally, and who wouldn't be interested in NFTs at all. It feels pointless and unnecessary in the long term, not just for users, but for Meta as well.

But for me, NFTs are bad for everyone in 2022. There may be a time where the fourth or fifth generation of this technology will be a benefit. Perhaps these next- next-next-generation of NFTs toward the end of the decade will also help the environment instead of damage it.

But as it stands, they're a wasteful use of time and resources. In an era where Meta is trying to save face while enduring a multitude of controversies, from Cambridge Analytica to dealing with hate speech across its platforms of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, perhaps the company should focus on those issues first, rather than trying to chase an innovation that's already looking like a fool's errand.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Meta wants to make Instagram users suffer with NFT features soon – but why?

It's been confirmed that Instagram will be featuring the ability to buy and mine an NFT soon, in Meta's further attempt to stifle innovation and force crypto-currency to unsuspecting users.

According to Engadget, the head of Meta, Mark Zuckerburg, confirmed during a talk at SXSW that the company was looking into features that would enable you to mine NFTs on Instagram, completely missing the point of what the social platform is for.

While I could fill this article with nothing but the word 'Why' repeated across four paragraphs, I wanted to express my distaste of NFTs (Non-Fungible Token) and how they have no place on social media platforms.

We've already seen bizarre decisions from Twitter in previous weeks, and it looks as though Meta is also drinking the same water if it thinks that NFTs are a good idea for Instagram. We're so early in this technology, here's why I think that it shouldn't be considered as a feature for at least five years, giving tokens the time to mature to a point that they can help, rather than hinder.

Non-fungible sense

If you've seen the term NFT be bandied around, they are non-fungible tokens that take an image that will have a unique code of numbers attached to it. This code will be exclusive to you, and this means that you'll be able to sell or trade that unique code as you wish.

This is what Meta is planning for Instagram, as a way of extending the shopping experience that you can already do on the app. But already it feels lazy.

At the event, Zuckerberg spoke of Instagram and NFTs but wasn't prepared to give a date of when the feature would land. “I'm not ready to kind of announce exactly what that's going to be today,” Zuckerberg clarified. “But over the next several months, the ability to bring some of your NFTs in, hopefully over time be able to mint things within that environment.”

The environment is an ironic word to use here, due to the fact that mining NFTs have already proven to be a detriment to the electrical grid that we use every day.

According to Investopedia, minting one NFT is the equivalent of using the same amount of electricity as an average American household for around nine days. We've already seen the pushback from so many users to companies that have been advertising NFTs for their brands and products, only to quickly roll back their commitment. Team17 was an unfortunate example of this in the gaming industry, and already we're seeing a dip in NFT popularity amongst mainstream users.

But deciding to attach NFT to Instagram feels half-baked already. Just because it's a social platform that deals in photos, automatically means that NFTs are a natural fit for Instagram.

Banjo Kazooie

(Image credit: Rare / Nintendo)

But these tokens are already expanding to other avenues. Seeing the term 'play to earn' with NFT has been making me uncomfortable. I've started to see it on ads in between YouTube videos I'd watch at the weekend, and instantly go to the 'report ad' button.

Looking beyond the behemoth that the gaming industry has become, games are there to be enjoyed, to be used as a form of escape. It's spawned careers and dreams for so many people, but not once have you played a level of Banjo Kazooie and thought, 'Maybe Gruntilda can pay for my phone bill this month through an NFT?'

The same applies to social media apps. During the early days of MSN Messenger, MySpace and Bebo, you would keep in touch with friends and family, perhaps even carrying on any conversations you've had with them from earlier that day.

Having NFTs in social media apps is a distraction and gets away from why you use these platforms in the first place. Let's also consider the users who only reach for Instagram and other apps occasionally, and who wouldn't be interested in NFTs at all. It feels pointless and unnecessary in the long term, not just for users, but for Meta as well.

But for me, NFTs are bad for everyone in 2022. There may be a time where the fourth or fifth generation of this technology will be a benefit. Perhaps these next- next-next-generation of NFTs toward the end of the decade will also help the environment instead of damage it.

But as it stands, they're a wasteful use of time and resources. In an era where Meta is trying to save face while enduring a multitude of controversies, from Cambridge Analytica to dealing with hate speech across its platforms of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, perhaps the company should focus on those issues first, rather than trying to chase an innovation that's already looking like a fool's errand.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Microsoft wants to make a potentially huge change to JavaScript

Microsoft has backed a proposal to bring optional and erasable type syntax to JavaScript in an effort to make its TypeScript language both faster and easier to use.

In a new blog post, the software giant provided further insight on the proposal and what it aims to do. Essentially, the proposal is calling for type annotations to be added to JavaScript code that can be checked by external type checkers and treated as comments by a JavaScript engine at runtime.

A set of syntax for types that engines would ignore but TypeScript, Flow and other tools could use would also need to be created as part of the proposal.

If the proposal is approved, developers would be able to run programs in TypeScript, Flow and other static typing supersets of JavaScript without the need for transpilation according to InfoWorld.

Type syntax in JavaScript

The new Stage 0 proposal was written and put forth by Gil Tayar, Microsoft's Daniel Rosenwasser, Igalia's Romulo Cintra and Bloomberg's Rob Palmer and is available to read in its entirety on GitHub.

The reason behind the proposal is that over the past decade, static type checking has proven to be fairly successful. In addition to Microsoft's TypeScript, Google created its Closure Compiler while Facebook built Flow to provide syntax for declaring and using types in JavaScript.

At the same time, 69 percent of respondents in the 2021 State of JavaScript survey said that they use TypeScript to compile JavaScript and static typing was voted as the number one feature missing from the programming language.

It's worth noting that Microsoft isn't calling for TypeScript's type checking to be added to every browser and JavaScript runtime. Instead, the company has proposed a JavaScript syntax compatible with TypeScript that could be used by any type checker while being ignored by JavaScript engines.

Via InfoWorld

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More