Instagram’s ephemeral Stories feature has been around for less than a year, but it’s already beaten Snapchat at its own game. Today, the social network is taking yet another swing at its rival with a new feature that lets you reply to Stories with a photo or video. That’s right, in addition to writing a message reply, you can now also respond with an image of your very own.
Basically, now when you’re watching a Story, there’s a new camera button at the bottom of the screen. Tap that, and you can either snap a pic of yourself, record a video or take a Boomerang. You can even move and resize the Story image that you’re replying to and insert that in your photo. Apply a variety of filters or stickers, and hit Send to ship your creation over to your friend. At the other end, your buddy will get your photo/video response in their Direct message inbox, along with the thumbnail of the original Story.
Instagram Stories continues to be one of Instagram’s hottest features. It now has 250 million daily users, which far surpasses the numbers on Snapchat, and it also has Live video, which its rival lacks. It’s not too surprising once you consider how hard Instagram has been pushing the Stories feature, plus Instagram’s existing userbase probably helped propel its popularity too.
If you’re interested in checking the new photo / video reply feature in Stories, you can try it out with the new update starting today.
If you’ve ever thought that your Overwatch plays were a fine art worthy of college recognition, then it looks like your dreams may have just been answered. After introducing a League Of Legends scholarship last year, The University of California Irvine (UCI) is now adding an Overwatch scholarship to its program. Starting later this year, those awarded a scholarship will be given $2500 a year towards their tuition fees. In return they are expected to spend between 15 and 20 hours a week split between practicing their plays, attending team meetings, entering competitions and even doing a bit of community service.
If that wasn’t cool enough, UCI has promised to provide participants in the program with a “professional-grade infrastructure” to help coach and improve their performance.
While there’s been a bit of doom and gloom surrounding Overwatch’s position as an eSport, it appears that the game was chosen as the next scholarship candidate thanks to the university’s recent competitive success. With its Overwatch team winning the Tespa Summer Series last year, it seems as though California Irvine wants to double down on its winning streak.
This scholarship program comes at a good time, with Blizzard currently gearing up for the impending launch of its official Overwatch League. With older tournaments resulting in spiraling costs and disgruntled eSports teams, this new league promises to foster a less pricey and more inviting competitive scene around the hugely popular shooter.
While the new League is still a bit of an unknown quantity, let’s just hope that UCI’s coaches can use their expertise to come online and teach Competitive players how to actually move the payload.
Splatoon for the Wii U made a strong argument for competitive multiplayer gaming on Nintendo consoles, but in a lot of ways, it was half baked. It had great characters, fun maps, ranked modes and tournaments — but failed to integrate any kind of official voice chat. It also had a companion web portal, but it offered only the barest of functionality. The game’s Nintendo Switch sequel is trying to fix both of those problems with SplatNet 2: a smartphone app that lets players view match and player stats, buy in-game gear and organize voice chat with teammates.
Technically, SplatNet 2 isn’t its own app, it’s a service built into the company’s upcoming Nintendo Switch Online app. That sounds minor, but it’s a huge improvement — Nintendo’s original SplatNet experience was built into a clunky web experience. It translated poorly to smartphones and offered only the barest amount of information: what maps were in rotation, what rank the player had and what gear they were wearing. The new app takes all of those features to logical conclusions: players will be able to view their past 50 matches in detail, including player loadouts, names and an overview of the score. Gear integration has been taken up a notch too — not only can you view gear, but you can use in-game currency to buy it in the smartphone app, making it available next time you pick up the game on the Switch.
The app has a few fun tools, like a meter that shows the total amount of ground you’ve covered with ink in-game and compares it to real-life landmarks — but the app’s killer feature is probably voice chat. The app will automatically drop you into chat with players on your team, but it can also be used to invite friends to join you in-game and in-chat. That’s a huge step forward for Nintendo in terms of online communication, but it’s still a little weird. Because the entire voice chat system is handled through the smartphone app, players who want to hear the in-game audio and participate in voice chat will have to buy cumbersome, wire-laden accessories to physically link their phone to their console.
Right now, the app only promises to allow voice chat between players in-game, and it’s not clear if the Nintendo Switch Online app will let friends chat cross-game, but integrating SplatNet 2 into the official app, at least, seems like a step in the right direction — integrating the shooter’s web-portal into a real app experience. So far, Nintendo has only announced Splatoon 2 for the online app, but it seems like it will be the online hub for all of the company’s multiplayer games moving forward. Want to try it out? You won’t have to wait long — the Nintendo Switch Online app launches on July 21st with support for Splatoon 2. Hopefully, the logistics of voice chat accessories won’t ruin the experience.
“Alexa, get me some wine and make it the good stuff!” Amazon has revealed a new brand of wine called Next, from the King Estate Winery, that’s “the first wine ever developed from conception to release with Amazon Wine,” the company said. If you’re expecting some bargain hooch, think again: The three wines, a white, red blend and red, cost an impressive $20, $30 and $40, respectively.
King Estate Winery launched a whole new division called King Vintners that created Next. It will eventually produce four more brands alongside Next, though it didn’t say whether those will also launch on Amazon Wine. The company specializes in organic, limited production wines and calls itself “the kings of Pinot since 1991.”
Amazon Wine’s Nick Loeffler said “We’re thrilled to connect wineries, like King Estate, with millions of customers and give them an innovative format to launch new brands.” The Next brand will also be offered on Amazon and King’s own website, but no one has said if or when it will also be available in wine stores or elsewhere.
Amazon is pretty serious about wine, probably because about $38 billion worth of the fermented grapes were sold in the US in 2015, outstripping sales even in France (to be fair, America does have nearly five times the population). In Japan, another wine-mad country, it even has free sommeliers on call to let you know whether your wine has hints of tobacco or cherries, and which foods to pair with your purchase.
“When people lived in the same village [as the winemaker], the wines and cuisine developed together,” King Estates’ Ed King III says. “We’re launching Next on Amazon to re-establish the connection between winemaker and wine lover in today’s ‘digital village.’ ” That sounds great and it should give the estate a serious boost in profile, as long as they bear in mind that working with Amazon isn’t always easy.”
Update: Despite the press release stating “NEXT is the first wine ever developed from conception to release with Amazon Wine,” Amazon tells Engadget this isn’t exactly the case. NEXT was developed solely by King Estate and Amazon Wine is the launch partner. The only two places you can buy these three wines is through the winery or from Amazon right now. We’ve updated this post to reflect the clarification.
Source: King Estate Winery
Google has released a new app that will make it much easier to create that VR experience you’ve whipped up in your head — and it won’t cost you a single cent. The big G’s “Blocks,” now out for the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, will give you a way to draw 3D objects directly in virtual reality. It’s like Oculus Story Studio’s Quill and Google’s own Tilt Brush in that respect, except it leads to blocky, Lego-esque final products instead of painterly illustrations.
The company says Blocks is simple enough that you can use it even if you have no prior 3D modeling experience. “It’s designed to feel more like playing with children’s blocks than working with traditional 3D modeling software,” Mountain View’s announcement reads. The app even gives you various shapes and color palettes to work with, so you won’t have to start from scratch.
You can let your imagination run wild and create anything you want, though if you’re stuck, you can always check out other people’s creations on Google’s dedicated page for the project. When you’re done, you can export the object you created, whether it’s a simple watermelon or a complex mecha model, to be part of your VR or AR game/experience. You can also just create an image or a GIF out of it to keep as a remembrance of your efforts or to share with friends on the web. If Blocks sounds like a fun app to play with, even if you have no intention of creating a full VR experience, you can download it now from the Oculus Store or from Steam.
Hulu is trying to become your one-stop shop for streaming TV, and they’ve taken another step in that direction. Today, the streaming service announced they’ve added HBO and Cinemax to their lineup.
In 2015, Hulu made Showtime available to its subscribers for $9/month ($2 less than other platforms). It’s worth noting, though, that there’s no such discount with this current deal. Subscribers will pay $14.99/month for HBO and $9.99 per month for Cinemax, like they will anywhere else. Any Hulu subscriber, regardless of tier, will have the option to subscribe to these channels.
Another caveat: The subscriptions are only available on devices with the updated Hulu experience, which include the fourth generation Apple TV, Xbox One, iOS and Android. The subscriptions will include access to on-demand content, and viewers will have access to both east and west coast live feeds of HBO and Cinemax in coming weeks. HBO subscribers will also be able to watch the network’s broad range of channels, from HBO 2 to ActionMAX HD, live.
It may appear that there’s no advantage to signing up for HBO or Cinemax through Hulu, as there’s no price reduction. But if their Live TV service (currently in Beta for $39.99 per month) takes off, it becomes a much more attractive proposition. As the fight to win cable cord cutters escalates, Hulu just made itself a little more attractive with its range of offerings.
As expected, Microsoft has announced a radical reorganization of its sales business, with thousands of people expected to lose their jobs. The process will cut up to 3,000 jobs, mainly in the sales department — that’s less than 10 percent of Microsoft’s total sales force, and roughly 75 percent of the cuts will be outside of the United States, CNBC reports. The reorganization effort is meant to help Microsoft focus on building up Azure, its cloud platform.
Microsoft is a titan of the software sales industry, with an army of people all working to get Windows and Office into businesses. But, with the advent of cloud services, people are looking twice at those pricey Microsoft licenses and wondering if Google or Amazon couldn’t do a better job.
As Bloomberg pointed out before the announcement, both Google and Amazon offer online services for commerce, and boast about their prowess in AI. In addition, neither company has an enormous legacy software-sales business that they have to maintain at great expense, reducing costs for consumers.
If you put together Azure and Office365, then the company’s web-based offerings are a similar size to Amazon Web Services. But, as The Economist notes, Azure continues to be a money loser, which is a problem for a company that wants to make billions from the cloud by 2020.
Jessica Conditt contributed to this report.
Spotify’s foray into original content began in 2016, with a documentary about the young days of legendary rock band Metallica, followed by a video series on Green Day earlier this year. Now the streaming service is getting ready to launch “I’m with the banned,” an in-house initiative that will feature music, videos and a documentary inspired by issues like immigration and LBGTQ equality. The original series brings together artists such as Desiigner, Pusha T, K.Flay and X Ambassadors on six new pieces of music, all created with help from singers, songwriters and producers who are affected by Trump’s controversial travel ban.
You can check out tracks and watch videos from “I’m with the banned” starting today on Spotify. The company says listeners and viewers will be directed to the I Am An Immigrant site, a campaign that focuses on celebrating the contributions of immigrants who live in the US.
It’s been two months since Google Docs was hit by a major phishing scam targeting Gmail users. The company reacted by ramping up protections for those apps. And now, Google is adding security controls to G Suite that let admins block employees from accessing untrustworthy apps.
The company previously revealed that the attack on Google Docs in May was caused by a bogus app using a Google sign-in. As a result, it began closely monitoring external apps that ask for your Google data. Leading to today’s announcement of the OAuth apps whitelisting feature.
With the new security controls set up, admins can vet third-party apps that tap into G Suite data. They can then grant employees access to trusted third-party products, and block them from installing unauthorized apps. Google claims the controls will also limit any issues caused by workers using apps that haven’t been approved.
Google says that the new security features will be rolling out to administrators of G Suite apps over the next few days.
SoundCloud has been having a rough go of it lately and today it told staff that 173 jobs would be cut, which amounts to nearly 40 percent of its employees. In a blog post, SoundCloud’s co-founder Alex Ljung said that the company has doubled its revenue in the last year but that it needed to do more to remain independent. “And in order to do this, it requires cost cutting, continued growth of our existing advertising and subscription revenue streams, and a relentless focus on our unique competitive advantage — artists and creators,” said Ljung.
Earlier this year, SoundCloud was forced to borrow $70 million in order to stay afloat — a move that came after a potential acquisition by Spotify fell through. In 2014, Twitter also considered purchasing the company. It backed out because “the numbers didn’t add up,” but later invested $70 million into SoundCloud, though that influx of cash clearly wasn’t enough. In an attempt to boost revenue, SoundCloud began offering a subscription service last year but as we reported, the song library was extremely limited and the service wasn’t very user-friendly.
Along with the layoffs, SoundCloud is also consolidating its operations to its Berlin and New York offices. Its San Francisco and London offices will be closed down. “We are extremely grateful for the contributions of each and every staff member who will be leaving SoundCloud, and we wish all of them the best. Without them, we would not be where we are today,” said Ljung.