Don’t expect OnePlus to act like all the other phone companies, because it won’t

Why it matters to you

When it comes to OnePlus, we should expect the unexpected, as it doesn’t intend to follow a strict release pattern for its phones.

We’re all used to smartphone manufacturers bringing out an updated version of their top device every year. The Galaxy S8 will surely be replaced by the Galaxy S9, and the LG G6 will almost certainly pave the way for the LG G7. OnePlus ignored the unwritten rule last year with the OnePlus 3T, a slightly updated version of the OnePlus 3, which arrived six months into the OnePlus 3’s life.

Does that mean we’ll now see a new OnePlus phone every six months? The answer is no, and it’s actually a good thing.

“We know the upgrade to the OnePlus 3T was not a conventional move, but we’re not a conventional company,” OnePlus’s head of European Marketing, David Sanmartin, told Digital Trends. “We wanted to bring some key hardware upgrades to our users faster than the typical product lifecycle would have allowed, and it’s been a well-received decision overall. But we can’t say whether we will take this same approach in the future.”

Timing

The reason why is an interesting look at how OnePlus is able to react to the changing smartphone market in a different way to its competitors. Describing the company as, “small and nimble,” Sanmartin said it launched the OnePlus 3T because the new hardware became available to use, and it was deemed important enough to integrate into the phone rather than waiting until a OnePlus 4 (or OnePlus 5, as rumor has it). By that time, the Snapdragon 821 chip used in the 3T would be old news anyway.

The OnePlus 3T gave us the chance to enjoy more power, a better camera, and a little larger battery, straight away. Timing played a big part in this, and will likely do so in the future. If better components come along, OnePlus has shown it’s in the position to quickly bring them to us in a revised version of its current phone.

OnePlus 3

While other companies, perhaps most notably Apple, release software updates throughout the lifetime of a phone to introduce new features; OnePlus doesn’t think this is enough. The 3T was its idea of what a feature-packed update should be.

“We implemented these hardware updates to create a much better user experience, that software updates cannot do alone,” the company told us.

Hardware and software updates

OnePlus is pleased with the response to the 3T, but the company isn’t sticking to a single strategy — don’t expect a six monthly update plan from the company just because it did it in the past. However, we should expect a new OnePlus phone — maybe the rumored OnePlus 5 — soon, surely?

“We are always thinking about our next products, but at this point we are still focused on the OnePlus 3T,” Sanmartin continued, adding, “We can’t share any information about future products at this time.”

Whatever happens with the next phone, OnePlus says it will take inspiration from its community during the development process. Sanmartin explained, “That is how we developed the OnePlus 3T, and it seems to have paid off.” It’s not just hardware the community behind OnePlus influences. Changes in the software team mean faster software updates in the future too — a pain-point for OnePlus owners since the beginning. The OnePlus 3T has just received an update to Android 7.1.1, and the March 2017 Android security patch, for example.

It’s fairly straightforward to place an accurate bet on when the next Galaxy, next iPhone, or most other major manufacturer’s new device will arrive. OnePlus is unorthodox, and considerably more unpredictable.

“OnePlus has always been a product company first and aims to create the best product for our community of users,” Sanmartin concluded.

We’ll just have to wait and see if this means we get one phone a year, two phones, or possibly even more than that; regardless of whether any fit in with a preset, annual launch schedule or not.

Tumblr just added a switch in the iOS Settings that lets you turn the porn back on


Here’s an interesting change: Tumblr’s iOS application just received an update which now lets you turn on or off adult-oriented, NSFW search results just by toggling a switch in iOS’s Settings. That’s right: you can now switch on or off the Tumblr porn with ease. Weirder still, Tumblr’s note about the change in the App Store update text says this was implemented “per Apple’s content guidelines.”

Why is that weird?

Because Apple’s developer guidelines – at least today – explicitly tell app developers not to do this sort of thing.

Above: Tumblr’s iOS app update text 

While Apple has never permitted explicit apps whose sole purpose is to serve pornography, it long ago carved out an exception for social networks hosting user-generated content, provided they agreed to filter and hide the NSFW content by default.

This is an issue that greatly impacts Tumblr, given that its blogging network is actually composed of a lot of porn. In fact, according to website analytics service SimilarWeb, “adult” content is the top category that drives direct clicks to Tumblr’s desktop site, accounting for 20.53% of clicks, compared with the next-largest referring category, “books and literature,” which drove just 7.61% of clicks.

Above: Tumblr’s new porn toggle

Tumblr has always had NSFW content, saying that its policy about this sort of material is a “live-and-let-live” kind of thing, but it draws the line at actually hosting sexually explicit videos. (Embed them, it says.)

To be allowed into the iTunes App Store, Tumblr has had to filter out and hide this content in its iOS app by default. There’s a loophole, though – as I’m sure many of you know.

According to Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, apps like Tumblr are allowed to show the NSFW content if the user turns the setting on via the service’s website.

Here’s the full text, per Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, about how this system is supposed to work, emphasis ours:

Apps with user-generated content or services that end up being used primarily for pornographic content, objectification of real people (e.g. “hot-or-not” voting), making physical threats, or bullying do not belong on the App Store and may be removed without notice. If your app includes user-generated content from a web-based service, it may display incidental mature “NSFW” content, provided that the content is hidden by default and only displayed when the user turns it on via your website.

Tumblr clearly fits in that latter category of apps that display “incidental mature NSFW content,” but it’s now being told to put a toggle right in iOS’s Settings?

Hmmm. 

The most logical explanation for this sort of change is that Apple will allow this setting to be locked down via its parental controls at some point. That’s not the case right now, though.

Under “Settings” –> “General” –> “Restrictions,” you can block the kids from using Apple’s built-in apps, block app downloads, and can block apps based on their current rating. (Tumblr is rated 17+, for example). However, there is not a way to force something like a Safe Search toggle switch to remain on.

Above: iOS 10’s Restrictions screen

It’s possible that Apple will roll out improved parental controls in the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 11, which is expected to be announced at WWDC this summer. Perhaps it directed Tumblr to implement this setting in preparation of that change. (And maybe Apple didn’t expect Tumblr to code the fix so quickly…or call it out in the app’s update text!)

Other apps where adult content could be a concern – like Google, Twitter, Reddit, Flickr, 500px, and Pinterest – don’t currently offer this sort of toggle switch in the iOS Settings, even though they may offer content filtering mechanisms of their own in their apps or on their websites.

Of course, another explanation is that Apple is just chilling out about NSFW content in general, but that seems far less likely given the company’s historical position on a being a family-friendly App Store.

“Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone,” Steve Jobs famously said.

Apple has not responded to requests for comment about the matter. Tumblr declined to comment.

Disclosure: Yahoo owns Tumblr, and is in the process of being acquired by Verizon; Verizon owns TechCrunch parent company AOL. 

Even with Switch, Nintendo is still focused on the 3DS — for now

With the launch of Switch — a device that combines a home console with a portable tablet — you might think that Nintendo would be moving on from the 3DS line of handhelds. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Just last night, Nintendo announced the New 2DS XL, a $149.99 device that sits between the budget-focused 2DS and the more robust New 3DS XL. And according to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé, the company will continue to focus on the platform for the foreseeable future. “We believe this is a key addition to the line,” he says of the 2DS XL, calling the handheld line “a very important platform. It’s something that we’re going to continue to drive this year [and] next year.”

The reasons are fairly obvious. Over its lifetime the Nintendo 3DS line has sold more than 66 million units, including 7 million last year. Nintendo predicts it will sell another 6 million in 2017, compared to 10 million for the much newer Switch. One important question, though, is whether or not the 3DS line will continue to receive big new games in the wake of the Switch launch. When you can play a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go with Switch, is there still an incentive to create portable-exclusive experiences like A Link Between Worlds? Currently, the 3DS has a handful of new titles coming, including Hey! Pikmin and Miitopia, which launch alongside the New Nintendo 2DS XL in July. But no big-name titles — like a new Mario Kart or Super Mario — have been announced.

“We’re going to continue to have great games leveraging all of our great franchises,” Fils-Aimé says of the 3DS’s future. “Just like Nintendo Switch is going to have its own development pace and its own set of experiences. Clearly there’s a processing power difference between the different systems. You couldn’t have an experience like Breath of the Wild on the 3DS family. But on the other hand, with the two screens, with the 3D capability, there are experiences that we will create for the 3DS family that you can’t have on Nintendo Switch. By continuing to do that, we’ll drive the install base of both systems, and continue to drive the overall Nintendo business. That’s our thinking.”

On the hardware side, the 3DS line — along with most Nintendo handhelds — has been home to multiple refreshes and refinements over the years. The New 3DS XL added more power and a bigger screen, while the original 2DS slashed the price and introduced a new wedge design while removing the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D feature. It’s unclear, however, if the latest iteration of the handheld will be the last. “Our focus is on making sure this launch goes well,” says Fils-Aimé, “and what the future holds, we’ll see.”

Exploring Virtualities, a Utah VR arcade and theater startup taking over a dying mall

Virtualities founder Ryan Burningham has a new idea for abandoned retail spaces — VR.

VR theaters and arcades like Virtualities are starting to pop up in warehouses and other empty spaces around the U.S., including Burningham’s startup, located in what used to be a Hot Topic on the second floor of the Gateway Mall on Salt Lake City’s west side.

The mall was built specifically to show off the fine dining and retail offerings of Utah as the world came to visit during the 2002 Winter Olympics. I can remember fighting the crowds to watch Sheryl Crow belt it out for the gold medal winners. But what was once a bustling outdoor mall has become eerily empty. One sad fountain on the edge of the Gateway still trumpets the Olympic theme tune every hour on the hour to mostly no one.

The first Virtualities space took over an old Hot Topic in Salt Lake City’s Gateway mall.

Part of the ghost town effect is due to the rapid decline in shopping malls throughout the country. Anchor stores have pulled out of some suburban areas as retail mainstays like Bebe and RadioShack successor General Wireless Operations Inc. file for bankruptcy. While the mall still seems to be the preferred method of shopping among teens, nearly a third of U.S. shopping malls are in danger of shutting down, according to analysts.

But the Gateway’s decline also comes out of a mixed-use shopping and retail development project meant to revive the heart of downtown Salt Lake. Five years ago the Mormon church — the predominant religion in the area — updated two large city blocks worth of downtown retail space right across from the famous Salt Lake Temple. The project benefitted both city and church by pulling tourists closer to the city’s main attraction but it also encouraged retailers and shoppers to jump ship in favor of the new City Creek mall, leaving Gateway’s 2.26 million-square-feet of retail space nearly deserted — and ripe for striking bargain basement deals. That gave Burningham the idea to use the space (and save some overhead in the deal).

Ryan Burningham, Virtualities founder

Virtualities so far has two locations; the first one in the Gateway Mall and a second location Burningham just opened about a month ago in a fading strip mall 30 minutes north of Salt Lake in Ogden, Utah.

The Void, famous for its Ghostbusters VR installation in New York and Dubai, also calls Utah home, 30 minutes to the south of Virtualities in the town of Lindon. That one is more of a VR park, combining a physical set with VR film experiences whereas Virtualities uses a large, open space for separate sections including gaming and its theater area, which is basically two rows of swivel chairs customers can use to sit in while strapping a VR device to their heads and watching a short film.

Both Utah-based businesses are part of only a handful of little VR upstarts in the country right now. However, IMAX has been testing out a standalone location with Samsung VR in LA and plans to install five VR movie theaters in the U.S., China and the U.K. in the coming months. The company, valued at $2.36 billion, has the means to make much more of an impact — and on a global scale. If the five test sites prove successful, the company says it will roll out VR cinema spaces in select multiplexes throughout the globe, posing a worrisome problem for these littler companies with fewer resources.

Headgear hangs up on the wall inside Virtualities, waiting for customers.

But nevermind all that for now. VR is new and, despite the growing trend towards nearly every tech company involving themselves in the industry somehow, not many folks can afford the best devices in the market on their own at the moment. Some forward thinkers, like Burningham, are capitalizing on that by providing the equipment and space so everyday people can experience the tech for themselves.

Each monthly membership costs a one-time $30 fee plus $58.50 for the first person plus an extra $40 for up to four other people you want to add to your group. And it’s a recipe that seems to be working for Burningham. He says he’s usually pretty busy. There were plenty of folks eager to try VR for the first time when we paid Virtualities a visit recently.

You can check out our recent visit to Virtualities and learn more about Burningham’s idea to convert old retail into VR theaters in the video above.

*This article is part of a larger series focusing on the Utah tech scene. We’re going to be sprinkling several of these articles and videos throughout the TechCrunch newsfeed for the next couple of weeks, so strap on your ski boots and stay tuned as we guide you through the “Silicon Slopes”!

Some Airbnb hosts will face racial discrimination tests in California

California regulators will soon be able to test select Airbnb hosts to determine whether they’re discriminating against users of the app based on race, according to The Guardian. The state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced a first-of-its-kind agreement with Airbnb yesterday, which will apply fair housing testing — something that traditional housing providers (landlords) have long faced — to the home-sharing service.

Airbnb has for years grappled with claims of racial discrimination from users who’ve had bookings cancelled or worse. In late 2015, Harvard University researchers found that guests with African American-sounding names had a more difficult time renting rooms through the popular app.

Last September, Airbnb published a report outlining steps it would take to combat bias on the platform. “We have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry,” CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a message that accompanied the 32-page document. Among the measures was a new “Community Commitment” (instituted in November) that requires hosts to certify that they won’t discriminate against renters. Airbnb’s terms of service effectively prevent major litigation against the company over these issues.

But a good-faith pledge wasn’t enough for California officials. Now, the state will be permitted to conduct fair housings tests on hosts with three ore more listings who have received discrimination complaints. Testers will be able to create accounts posing as potential renters “in order to gather information about whether a host is complying with fair housing laws.”

However, most of California’s Airbnb hosts will never be tested; approximately 6,000 of Airbnb’s 76,000 hosts in California meet the “three or more listings” requirement, The Guardian’s report says. Airbnb has also pledged to continue ongoing efforts to train employees, hosts, and guests on identifying and combatting bias and discrimination across the platform, and it will make it easier for users to file discrimination complaints — both with the company and with the DFEH.

Elon Musk’s futuristic tunnel system looks both amazing and impossible

Elon Musk wants to build intricate underground roadway systems beneath the country’s biggest and most sprawling urban centers. It may not be his most ambitious idea; let us not forget the plan to colonize Mars and turn humans into cyborgs. But The Boring Company, as the tunnel idea is called, is still pretty outrageous. For evidence, look no further than this brief concept video posted to YouTube today.

It shows a near-gridlocked, red Telsa-looking automobile weaving its way to the side of a busy street, only to wheel itself onto a futuristic metal platform that works like an elevator:

Down the car goes into what is presumably an underground Los Angeles — the Boring Company is currently working to solve that city’s infamous traffic epidemic:

There we see a network interweaving highways that move cars around on what look like magnetic rails, at speeds of up to 124 mph:

At the tail end of this conceptual demonstration, the video even hints at some public transport options, shaped like big class rectangles, that could ferry numerous people, and even bicycles, through the underground tunnel network:

This whole concept is, of course, years away from reality. But Musk is indeed working on it. He even has his hands on a 400-foot-long, 1,200-ton boring machine nicknamed “Nannie,” and his recently formed tunneling unit is working on building a test track underneath the parking lot of SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters.

  @davesvanlife, via Business Insider

It’s unclear how Musk would proceed from this to the kind of tunnel network we see in the video. But hey, if anyone can do it, it’s the billionaire at the helm of both a space transport outfit with reusable rockets and a company with electric and semi-autonomous cars.

Is Twitter’s growth all thanks to Donald Trump?

Image: mashable composite

Twitter’s public earnings call on Wednesday revealed the unthinkable: growth.

The company added 9 million monthly active users in the most recent quarter, shattering Wall Street expectations. What caused the uptick and can the company, under CEO Jack Dorsey, continue the momentum?

Tech Editor Pete Pachal, Chief Correspondent Lance Ulanoff, Senior Tech Correspondent Raymond Wong, and Assistant Tech Editor Louise Matsakis discuss on this week’s MashTalk podcast.

Joining us to talk Twitter is Business Reporter Kerry Flynn. One big theory as to why Twitter saw a surge in active users might be none other than Donald Trump. More than any other U.S. president, Trump is vocal on Twitter and what he tweets is instant news fodder, regardless of the subject matter. Did Trump single-handedly give Twitter the boost it’s needed? It’s highly possible.

Next, the crew dives into Amazon’s new Echo Look, an Alexa-powered camera designed to help you take photos of your outfits. Is this the end to mirror #OOTD selfies as we know it? 

More interesting (and concerning) is the Echo Look’s AI-driven “Style Check” which lets you submit two outfit photos and the Alexa app will tell you which one is more stylish. It seems like a innocent enough idea, but how is Amazon judging you through the Look’s 5-megapixel camera and exactly what does it look at to analyze (body? weight? height?) your style? 

Furthermore, is this Amazon dipping its toes into augmented reality? It’s not hard to imagine an Echo Look that lets you try on digital clothes, and lets you see it in 360, then purchase it from Amazon.

Lastly, Apps Reporter Karissa Bell phones in from San Francisco to talk about the ominous-sounding Kairos Society, which held three-day summit bringing together promising young entrepreneurs, executives, government leaders, and investors with the intention of finding “world-changers.” Just as mysterious as its name sounds, members can only be 26 years old or under, making it quite exclusive.

And, as always, don’t forget to leave your questions and comments by tweeting @Mash_Talk with the #MashTalk hashtag. We welcome all feedback.

Tech titans Facebook, Google identified as victims of $100M phishing scam

Why it matters to you

It appears that no one is truly safe from phishing attacks, as tech titans Facebook and Google apparently just fell prey to one.

The two high-tech victims of a $100 million phishing attack have been revealed, and they are no other than two of the biggest tech titans in the U.S. That’s right. Even the most technologically advanced among us can’t fully protect themselves from malicious intentions, as Google and Facebook have apparently fallen prey to an elaborate scam involving email phishing and fake suppliers.

According to an investigation and subsequent report from Fortune, the two Silicon Valley, California-based firms were swindled into paying a 48-year-old Lithuanian man more than $100 million.

So what happened? That man, Evaldas Rimasauskas, allegedly planned and executed an elaborate scheme that involved posing as Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer whose clients include, you guessed it, Google and Facebook. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Rimasauskas carried out his crime over the course of two years, forging email addresses, invoices, and corporate stamps.

And it worked.

Rimasauskas successfully defrauded accounting departments at both Google and Facebook, convincing them to transfer tens of millions of dollars to what they thought was Quanta Computer. And by the time either company realized what was going on, the thief had stored over $100 million in bank accounts all across Eastern Europe.

In a statement, Facebook noted, “We recovered the bulk of the funds shortly after the incident and have been cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation.” Google echoed these sentiments, saying ia had “detected this fraud against our vendor management team and promptly alerted the authorities. We recouped the funds and we’re pleased this matter is resolved.”

As for Rimasauskas,  the Lithuanian national denies any charge of wrongdoing. “Mr. Rimasauskas cannot expect a fair and impartial trial in the USA. The uncertainty is further increased taking into account the behavior of FBI agents during the interrogations of Mr. Rimašaukas, frightening him with long years in U.S. prisons, and the transfer of computers to U.S. law enforcement officials, which was made without the presence of the owner,” his lawyer, Linas Kuprusevičius, wrote in an email to Fortune.

Amazon’s Alexa can now whisper, bleep out swear words, and change its pitch

Amazon is trying to make its Alexa voice assistant sound more humanlike. Up until now, the female-sounding voice maintained an even, monotone cadence whenever speaking, but with Amazon’s new Speech Synthesis Markup Language that the company introduced this week, Alexa can whisper, vary its speaking speed, and bleep out words. Developers can also add pauses, change the pronunciation of a word, spell a word out, add audio snippets, and insert special words and phrases into their skill.

Amazon says this will allow Alexa to provide a “more natural voice experience.” Honestly, I never thought about why Alexa can’t whisper, but I can definitely see how it’ll make its vaguely robotic voice sound more believable and human. Unfortunately, we don’t have a preview of what Alexa will sound like when it whispers or emphasizes a word; we just have the code developers can include. Amazon says it’s hosting a webinar on May 18th on the new code, so maybe we’ll get a better idea then. The language markups are available to developers in the US, UK, and Germany.

Twitter’s search just got a very important update

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter, then you know there are two things that are incredibly important: liberal emoji use and knowing how to put Twitter’s search tool to good use. Now, the service’s latest update brings those two things together.

Twitter now lets you use emoji characters in search. The update, first spotted by Emojipedia, is supported both on Twitter’s website and apps.

With the change, you can search for specific emoji either in usernames or within the text of a tweet itself. 

That may sound like a minor change but it’s an important one for power users who can now make emoji-specific searches extra precise. (Previously, searching for say, the black heart emoji, required you to search for “black heart emoji” instead of just  ♥ .) It will also improve searches for specific accounts that use emoji in their usernames. 

It’s probably not a feature you’ll need to use very often, but it’s definitely an improvement for all emoji-related searches. And, as The Next Web points out, searching for a lot of random emoji, is also an excellent way to discover a lot of bizarre and sometimes wonderful tweets you otherwise never would have seen. 

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