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12
Apr

Is Textra the best third-party SMS app in the Play Store? (Review)


One of the most important aspects of Android is customization. I love the fact that I can replace almost any app with an alternative from the Play Store that better meets my expectations. One of the first apps I install is Textra. Textra is an SMS and MMS app that replaces the stock messaging app, and while there are many apps out there that share the same basic function as Textra, I believe Textra takes the cake. Here’s why.

Developer: Delicious

Price: Free with ads. Premium removes ads forever.

Highlights:

  • Great customization
  • Reliable
  • Looks great
  • A ton of message options

Key Features

Textra, like many other messaging apps, is centered around a list of threaded conversations. Where Textra differs from others is the ability to swipe the conversations left or right for more actions. A swipe to the left will reveal a trash icon to delete the thread and a swipe to the right reveals a phone icon to enable you to make a call straight from the conversation list. The graphics look great and the integration is great.

Textra convo list

Inside your conversation is where Textra becomes very powerful.

Tapping the contact picture in the top right corner opens up their contact card with options to make a call or go into their contact entry in your phone book.

textra contact

Tapping the plus sign above the keyboard opens up a ton of options. Here you can select an emoji, take a picture directly from the app, browse through your gallery to pick a picture to send to your friend, time delay a message, share a contact card, or find a gif to send to a friend. That’s right, Textra supports the finding and sending of gifs through giphy.

Message scheduling

Message scheduling

Giphy support

Giphy support

The ability to schedule a text message to go out at a specific time is super convenient. Whether you want to be the first to wish a friend happy birthday at 12:01 on their special day, or you don’t want to risk waking someone up with an early morning text, message scheduling removes the human error involved in remembering to get back in your SMS app to send out important info. I use this feature a few times a week and it’s always reliable.

Quick Reply is baked into the functionality of Textra. When you have a new text notification, tapping the alert will open up a quick reply prompt that shows you a small snippet of your conversation and the full keyboard. I personally love this feature because it lets me stay within the app I’m in and reply to a message easily. We’ll have to see if this feature evolves in Android N as Google is introducing quick replies from within the notification shade.

textra quick reply with keyboard

Customization

Textra gives you pretty powerful customization tools for a texting app. In the customization window you’ll find options for background color (light, dark and black), a ton of theme colors that control the color of the top bar and accent color, bubble colors within the conversation window, and app icon color. I went with a pretty stock look since I really love how Textra looks out of the box. The dark background with blue and green accents really looks great on an AMOLED screen.

textra primary color

textra customization menu

Within the app, Textra by default substitutes its own font for the system font, but you have the ability to to change it to the system default. I’ve left it on the Textra font since I like how it looks, but those of you who are into selecting your own system font will want to check out that option. The app also lets you make the most of your space by giving you a sliding bar to determine how big you want your text. Even my mother, who refuses to admit she’s blind as a bat, could read text with as big as it gets in Textra.

textra text size

The customization doesn’t stop there. Message bubble style and Emoji style are also customizable. You have six bubble options to choose from that only differ a little bit from each other. Nothing crazy here. Emojis are a different story. You are given options here that cover the system default, Android style emojis, Twitter, Emoji one, and iOS. The iOS style seems to be a popular pick since Apple makes emojis a point of focus. Textra also updates emojis often so you don’t have to wait for a system update from Google to get the newest ones.

Textra bubbles

Textra Emoji

The customization goes beyond what you see within the app. Notification customization is a big aspect of Textra that lets you make the app your own. I previously mentioned the quick reply window, and it plays prominently in the notification customization.

You have three options when you tap a text message in the notification shade: Quick Reply with Keyboard, Quick Reply without Keyboard, and Full app. I mentioned that I prefer the Quick Reply because I can stay in the app I’m currently in. If you get long text messages or want more context in your conversation, you can choose the no keyboard option to make the thread appear a bit longer.

Other options include how long you want the notification to show up for when your phone is locked or unlocked, the icon you want to show up in your notification shade, LED blink color, the message sound, vibration options and whether you want the screen to light up when the message is received. As someone who used an app for years just to wake up the screen when I got a message, that’s one of my favorite features of Textra.

Textra notification options

Conclusion

Textra immediately replaces the stock messenger every time I set up a new phone. The combination of stability and options are a compelling mix that can meet the expectations of anyone who installs it. I’ve been using apps made by Delicious since back in my jailbroken iPhone 4 days and I’ve always been happy with its products and the effort it puts into them.

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12
Apr

Navigate off road with the Magellan eXplorist TRX7


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Navigation units are a dime a dozen now. With the introduction of GPS on our smartphones and technology like Android Auto, fewer and fewer people are using dedicated GPS units. One area where smartphone GPS has yet to conquer is with the off-road aficionados. Magellan looks to fill that void with the Magellan eXplorist TRX7.

Magellan eXplorist TRX7 overview

Essentially the Magellan eXplorist TRX7 is a 7-inch Android-based tablet with GPS. However, it is not designed to be used as a tablet, but as a dedicated off-road GPS navigation device. This becomes apparent when one notices that there is no application store and the included apps are very basic.TRX7 1

The hardware is low to mid range. It has a 7″ 720p screen, 1GB of Ram, 16GB of onboard memory and it also comes with a micro-SD card slot for expandable memory. It’s encased in a ruggedized IP67 waterproof casing and the whole thing is married together with Android 4.2.2.

There are four physical buttons located on the front of the TRX7, but one of them is for a camera that is not present on the device. The other three are the home, menu and back buttons. There are also volume controls and a power button located on the left side of the unit.

TRX7 7As it is designed for off-road navigation, it is available in three different configurations. Or better yet, it is available with three different mounts. The first is a windshield suction type mount. The second is a Genuine Ram Handlebar Rail Mount and the third is a Genuine Ram Windshield Suction Cup Mount. All three of the mounts are much sturdier than most other mounts on the market, but the Ram mounts take things to another level.

The Magellan eXplorist TRX7 is preloaded with over 44,000 routes from forest and public lands. While the TRX7 can be used right of the box, it is meant to be used with their crowdsourced web service. By visiting http://www.mytrxjournal.com you can save trails that you want to explore and drop pins on the map where you would like to visit. You can also rate trails that you have tried and even upload your own trails to the site from your TRX7 for other people to try.

Magellan eXplorist TRX7 setup

If you’re familiar with using a Phillips’ head screwdriver and can follow instructions then setting up your TRX7 isn’t too big of an ordeal. However, if you’re not, it’s best to get some help from someone who is.

The very first thing that you need to do is assemble your mount. It comes mostly put together, but there is a docking head that will need to be attached to the mount.

You will also need to setup your account on the device or www.mytrxjournal.com. Either way, you’ll still need to sign in on the device.

Finally, you’ll need to mount the dock on or in whichever vehicle you’ll be using.

Magellan eXplorist TRX7 usage

TRX7 6First off, let me tell you that I’m not a big off-roader. I enjoy the occasional trip to the mountains or in the desert, but mostly I keep to in-town roads. It’s here that I think Magellan missed a huge opportunity. Because the TRX7 is Android based, it would have been a simple proposition to add on-road navigation as well. In the very least, they could have installed their own app store and offered it as a paid download. To me, it doesn’t make much sense to purchase both an on-road and an off-road navigation device, when the one is perfectly capable of doing both.

Luckily it’s an easy enough proposition to download the Amazon app store and install a third party navigation app. You can even download Google Maps from an APK archival site and use that for your navigation. However, without Google Play Services installed on the device, you won’t be able to use the maps offline.

Another gripe that I have is the lack of an accelerometer. Because of that, you can’t change the devices orientation without the help of an app. Depending on the vehicle you’re using this could be the cause of an inconvenience.

TRX7 3Ok, my complaining is done. Let me tell you what’s great about this device. First of all, the screen can be viewed from any angle without any changes to the color or brightness of the screen. When the screen is clean it has pretty good visibility, but it it is prone to fingerprints and smudges. When the light hits it at the right angle it can be hard to see when the screen is not clean.

Another thing that I love about the TRX7 are the physical buttons. It comes with a home, back, and menu button as well as a camera button. The camera button doesn’t do anything at the moment. The TRX7 does not have a camera. In the manual, it says that the button is for a feature in a future release. Maybe a screenshot button?

TRX7 4All of the vehicle mounts available are very sturdy. The Ram mounts especially. The suction on the Ram windshield mount was so strong that I was able to use it to pull a dent out the bumper on my wife’s minivan.

A big part of the device is the TRX app that comes installed on the device. There are a ton of features and the best part is that you can try it out now on your current Android device. It is available for free on Google Play with a 4.2-star rating. In short the app is easy enough to use, but it could use a tutorial for those who are not as intuitive.

TRX7 2As an offroad navigation unit the TRX7 works extremely well, but the unit itself, in my opinion, at $649 is a little overpriced, especially when you consider that the TRX app is available for free on Google Play. So in reality, the $649 you pay is for the hardware and considering that, they should have stepped up and included Google Play integration, on-road navigation, Android 5.1 or newer, 1080p screen, and an accelerometer.

3.7 out of 5 stars

TRX7 5Overall the Magellan eXplorist TRX7 works for what it was meant to be and kind of works for what it wasn’t meant to be, a tablet. I think Magellan missed a huge opportunity with this device. They could have made it so much more and still could with a software update, but they haven’t yet expressed any intention to do so.

My recommendation would be to try out the app on Google Play before your plop down six and a half big ones for the device.

12
Apr

Elephone W2: a Quality (semi) smartwatch on a budget. [Review]


Elephone is steadily earning a reputation in tech circles as an inexpensive, reliable, quality manufacturer. This watch is my first experience with Elephone (and, indeed, with SmarterWatching) but from what I’ve seen in my couple weeks with the W2, I tend to agree with that analysis.

What it is: Elephone W2 Smartwatch

How much it costs: as of this review – $68.78 on GearBest.

Highlights:

  • Professional aesthetic.
  • Solid fitness tracker.
  • No display.
  • 6-month battery life.

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Hardware

Upon first glance at the Elephone W2,  two thoughts popped into my head: “Wow, that looks professional” and “Wow, that thing is huge.” The W2’s design is unique; it’s a smartwatch that features a traditional watch face rather than a touch display, as is popular right now in the smartwatch market. The result is an understated, dignified look that doesn’t immediately present itself as a smartwatch, and, by extension, providing a professional style absent in many smartwatches.

The band is standard size and genuine leather with an intriguing micro-fiber style design to it – the buckle and band guide are both steel, matching the aesthetic of the W2’s chassis. Spring clips, rather than traditional band pegs, enable easy removal and swapping of the watch band, which, if I’m being honest, I thought was the coolest thing in the world when I first figured it out.

The actual watch itself is hefty, but not heavy; it feels solid without feeling massive. The face is minimal – so much so, in fact, that immediately discerning which side is up was difficult at first glance. The W2 has two sets of LED lights; the first, along the bottom perimeter of the face, displays your progress toward your daily step goal while the second is a single LED above the “ELE” logo used to indicate which mode the watch is currently in (more on those features later). The internals of the watch are “Swiss,” but Elephone doesn’t go into any more detail than that as far as the actual manufacturer or any such thing.

Here's the carbon-fiber texture I mentioned.Here’s the carbon-fiber texture I mentioned.

In regards to durability, I found the W2 to be perfectly acceptable. It’ll never be confused for a rugged device – a glass face, aluminum body, and standard leather band are not a recipe for “indestructible” – but I found it to be scratch and shock resistant. It’s rated to be waterproof to 30 meters, and while I didn’t dive down into the depths to test this, it works  perfectly after a long shower. Please note, though, that the waterproofing applies to the watch itself, not the band; wet leather smells awful. I banged it against various objects while wearing it at work and only have a single scuff on the side of it as a result, so while it’s not the Superman of watches, you certainly don’t have to baby it.

On top of this, the battery life on the W2 lasts for 6 months, and the box includes two spare batteries. Where other watches struggle to get a day, Elephone manages half a year.

Features

The features list of the Elephone W2 is rather short – largely because there’s no screen –  but it does much of what many fitness trackers do these days along with a few other nifty tricks. The primary draw, in my opinion, is that its Bluetooth enabled with a pedometer built-in. This combination means that you have wireless sync with the companion app, something that many fitness trackers lack. The only issue I had with the Bluetooth sync is that the Bluetooth only turns on to sync when you open the app – and it only syncs the last week of activity. If you don’t open the app the check your steps for a week, you lose that week’s data.

1460066610624Note the gaps in sync.

I found the pedometer to be a bit picky in what it counted as a step – I walked around my house off and on for two hours and it registered zero steps, for instance – but when I walked around at work it detected flawlessly. In addition to Bluetooth syncing to the app, the W2 also gives you the option of being notified when you get a call or one of your alarms go off. The notification is simple and understated; a vibration and a notification light on the watch face.

Remote Shutter on the W2 is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you can take pictures remotely with a press of either button on the watch. On the other, you have to use the (extremely limited and feature deficient) camera within the Elephone App. If the W2 had the ability to Remote Screenshot from within the stock Google Camera app, I’d be thrilled with it. Unfortunately, after testing the feature I never used it again.

1460066725080I don’t walk as much as I should.

The last “feature” that I feel compelled to write about is the Mode feature. The W2 features two modes; “Sleep” and “Active.” In Active mode, the watch tracks steps. In Sleep mode, the watch uses its accelerometer to measure movement while you sleep. The watch can only be in one mode at a time, and it requires you to manually switch between modes with a long-press of the top button. The problem with this is, of course, human error. The second you forget to take your watch out of Sleep mode, you’ve lost an entire day’s worth of step counting. I haven’t used the Sleep feature since I started wearing it.

Conclusion

In all, the W2 has a very limited feature list; that being said, however, the price reflects that limitation, and the style of the watch is very professional – something that can’t be said for many smartwatches out there. At $68.78 on GearBest, it’s cheaper than most fitness trackers, with all the same features.

12
Apr

Some first-day Oculus Rift pre-orders won’t ship until May or June


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Pre-orders for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset began in early January. However, some people who made the leap to purchase the device on that day are now being told their headset won’t be shipped until May or even June.

Oculus hyped up the fact that the first pre-orders started shipping in late March, but later admitted that some customers would see delays, due to unexpected shortages on the components for the headset. Now, reports from customers on the Oculus Reddit thread (via The Verge) state that some Day 1 pre-orders have seen their ship days pushed back to as late as June.

Oculus offered free shipping for Rift pre-orders that were placed on or before April 1. Anyone who orders the Rift today will see an estimated ship date of August for the headset. There’s no word yet if these component delays will also affect pre-orders of Oculus Rift PC bundles, which began in mid-February.

Update: Oculus has provided a statement on the shipping delays:

The component shortage impacted our quantities more than we expected, and we’ve updated the shipment window to reflect these changes. We apologize for the delay.

We’re delivering Rifts to customers every day, and we’re focused on getting Rifts out the door as fast as we can. We’ve taken steps to address the component shortage, and we’ll continue shipping in higher volumes each week. We’ve also increased our manufacturing capacity to allow us to deliver in higher quantities, faster. Many Rifts will ship less than four weeks from original estimates, and we hope to beat the new estimates we’ve provided.

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12
Apr

Starbucks refreshes its app for its new Rewards program


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With the latest update to the Starbucks app, the company has paved the way for its revamped Starbucks Rewards program. The app now includes a new dashboard that gathers your stars, rewards, offers, and more.

The latest update to the Starbucks app features the following.

  • A brand new dashboard where you see your stars, rewards, offers, music and more, all in one place.
  • Star Balance – keep track of the number of Stars you’ve earned and how many you need until your next Star Reward.
  • Redeem offers – now you can redeem offers (like earned free drinks and food!) with your mobile order.
  • Improved mobile ordering experience for VoiceOver users.

You can grab the latest update for the Starbucks app from the Google Play Store now.

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12
Apr

The 2016 DC Code Kitchen in pictures


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Another fantastic environment for everyone to learn and have fun.

The folks behind IDEAA host a unique combination of developer and social events around the world, most commonly known for the annual Big Android BBQ in Texas. This past weekend was the East Coast version of their Code Kitchen events, held in Alexandria, Va. It’s a one day event aimed at creating an environment where anyone can learn Android developer basics, followed by a social event with BBQ and Beer.

Here’s what we saw this year.

Where all IDEAA events focus on making the first steps toward becoming an Android developer as easy and relaxed as possible, this year’s DC Code Kitchen had a distinct focus on getting high school kids involved. The auditorium of the United States Patent and Trademark Office was filled with an impressively diverse group of people from all over the Delmarva Peninsula eager to learn more about developing for Android. Rather than an intense Hackathon-style environment, IDEAA worked closely with Udacity and mentors from all over to ensure everyone who wanted it could have hands-on personal help with each of the challenges created by the event staff.

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Session challenges like building tools to transfer data via NFC were wrapped up in the afternoon with a panel called Cradle to Career – Pathways to Success in Tech, hosted by non-profit tech crusader Tshaka Armstrong. The panel, which included DC STEM Director Maya Garcia, Alexandria City School Board Vice-Chair Christopher Lewis, Lynxfit founder Noble Ackerson, Targeted Victory co-founder Michael Beach, and T.C Williams High School Student Day’Quon Henderson focused on paths to success no matter where you’re starting or what your current limitations are. Henderson, who started developing apps after attending the DC Code Kitchen last year, explained in detail how he looked for a problem in his community and found people around him willing to collaborate on an app to help disabled children in his school communicate more effectively.

As is always the case, the event ended with a small party filled with meat cooked on-site by Cyanogen’s Ray Walters. The DC Code Kitchen is a small event compared to the Big Android BBQ, but clearly no less important when you see how many people leave this event ready to do something new. Whether you’re around for the social aspects, a veteran developer, or someone eager to learn but not sure where to start, these events offer a little something for everyone.

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12
Apr

The HTC 10’s features get showcased in official videos


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Now that HTC has officially revealed its next smartphone, the [HTC 10(/./htc-10), it has wasted no time in posting a series of official videos showing off the phone’s various features.

As posted on HTC’s YouTube channel, the videos begin with a longer clip, showing Chialin Chang, the company’s President, Smartphone and Connected Devices Business demoing the HTC 10. There’s also a sizzle reel for the phone, and the rest of the videos show long time HTC fans checking out the new device and its various features, including its performance, sound, and more.

Check out our preview of the HTC 10

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HTC is currently taking pre-orders for the phone, which it is selling unlocked for $699, with shipments expected to begin in May

See at HTC

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12
Apr

In pictures: The HTC 10


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Like pretty pictures? Here’s a selection of photos of HTC’s new flagship smartphone!

The HTC 10 is upon us, and we’ve already brought you everything you need to know about the phone in our in-depth HTC 10 preview feature. And there’s a lot of great information in there. But sometimes you just want to look at pretty pictures of gadgets, and if that’s you, then we’ve got a huge photo gallery waiting for you down below. Enjoy!

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The HTC 10 in Topaz Gold

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The HTC 10 in Carbon Grey

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North America variant

The HTC 10 in Glacial Silver (Black)

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Rest of World variant

The HTC 10 in Glacial Silver (White)

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HTC Sense software

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HTC 10 Ice View case

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NOW READ: Our HTC 10 hands-on preview!

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12
Apr

How to use Direction lock on the Samsung Galaxy S7


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Direction lock is a more accessible way to unlock your phone.

Along with vision and hearing accessibility features, the Galaxy S7 comes with some features to help those with dexterity issues. If you’ve got vision and dexterity impairments and want to protect your phone, then the Direction lock is a great way to do it.

It allows you to unlock your phone using a series of directional swipes, rather than having to create a pattern or enter a passcode. You basically get to hadouken your phone.

For those with vision impairment, you may want to first enable voice assistant and then you’re on your way to accessibly protecting your phone (if that’s not an oxymoron).

How to enable Direction lock on the Galaxy S7

Launch the Settings app from your Home Screen, the app drawer, or the Notification Shade. Tap Accessibility. Tap Direction lock.

Tap the switch to turn it on.

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Swipe four to eight times in different directions. You can swipe up, down, left, or right, but not diagonally. Tap Continue.

Swipe the same directions to confirm.

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Tap Confirm. Select display options for notifications on your Lock screen.

  • Show content
  • Hide content
  • Do not show notifications

Tap Done.

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There are Direction lock settings that can help you depending on your preferences or accessibility requirements.

  • Vibration feedback– Your phone will vibrate when you swipe a direction on the lock screen.
  • Sound feedback– You’ll hear a click when your screen unlocks.
  • Show directions– Arrows will flash on your lock screen to let you know what direction you’ve just swiped.
  • Read out drawn directions– For those that are visually impaired, Voice Assistant will read out the directions you’ve swiped. You’ll probably want to use this feature with headphones or when alone.

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Should you upgrade to the Galaxy S7?
  • Learn about the Galaxy S7’s SD card slot
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

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12
Apr

Facebook Introduces Chatbots for Messenger, Pushes Further Into Live Video


As was rumored last week, Facebook today announced plans to bring chatbot support to its Messenger platform. At the Facebook F8 Developer Conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated a Messenger chatbot on stage, using the Messenger platform to order flowers from 1-800-Flowers through a text conversation.

“To order from 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again,” said Zuckerberg, explaining that Facebook chatbots are designed to allow users and businesses to connect together in new ways. “You don’t have to install an app or enter your credit card.”

Developers will be able to build chat programs to interface with users. These will range from product-based companies like 1-800-Flowers to news companies like CNN, another one of Facebook’s partners.

Facebook also plans to expand its Live Video feature, which has proven popular with users and public figures. According to Zuckerberg, Live Videos on Facebook garner 10 times more comments than standard videos, which is one of the reasons Facebook recently began rolling out a prominent video tab in the Facebook app to allow users to quickly access live videos from friends and other people.

Starting today, Facebook is opening up its Live Video API, allowing the feature to be built into any device. One of Facebook’s early launch partners is drone company DJI, and drone live streaming video was shown on stage.

Over the next five years, Zuckerberg says Messenger Platform and Live Video will be built up over the next five years, and over the next 10 years, Facebook will focus on connectivity, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality.

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Other features announced today include Facebook Accounts and a Save button for developers. Facebook Accounts will allow users to use Facebook’s sign in feature for apps and services with just a phone number, eliminating the need to remember a username and password. With Accounts, a sign in code is texted to a user, with the code replacing a password. The Save feature will let users save content on websites with a built-in Facebook Save button to their Facebook feeds for accessing it later.

Tag: Facebook
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