IBM Adds 2 New Processors to Quantum Computing Ecosystem

IBM on Friday announced 20-qubit and 50-qubit quantum processors for its IBM Q early-access commercial systems.

The 20-qubit processor — featuring improvements in superconducting qubit design, connectivity and packaging — has coherence times of 90 microseconds, which allows high-fidelity quantum operations, IBM said.

The 50-qubit processor is an operational prototype. It expands upon the 20-qubit architecture and has similar performance metrics.

IBM 50Q System

IBM 50Q System

IBM will offer these quantum processors as a service.

Clients will have online access to the first IBM Q systems with the 20-qubit processor by the end of this year.

The company declined to specify when the 50-qubit processor will be available as a service, IBM Research spokesperson Christine Vu told the E-Commerce Times.

During 2018, IBM plans to improve the quality of qubits in the 20-qubit processor, as well as circuit connectivity and operation error rates.

A 20-qubit processor “would enable very large computing problems [such as] cryptography protein interactions, chemical interactions and flow simulations,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Essentially, it would enable the solution of many systems of nonlinear differential equations,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Why Quantum Computing as a Service

IBM launched a working Quantum Computer as a Service in May of 2016, and since then has brought online 5- and 16-qubit systems for public access through the IBM Q experience.

IBM is offering quantum computing as a service because it’s still pretty much an experimental solution, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

This “lets IBM learn about the challenges as they crop up,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Quantum computing is nonpersistent computing, Frost’s Jude noted. “The process of computing kills the computer. Once you’ve used a qubit, you can never use it again in the same computation.”

Also, quantum computers have strict cooling requirements.

“You have to use them in a data center, because they have to be used at temperatures close to zero Kelvin,” Tirias’ McGregor pointed out.

Big Blue’s Quantum Computing Ecosystem

Open source software tools, applications for near-term systems, and educational and enablement materials for the quantum community all are part of IBM’s quantum computing ecosystem.

Earlier this year, IBM rolled out QISKit — its open source quantum information software kit to program and run quantum computers. QISKit lets users create quantum computing programs and execute them on one of IBM’s quantum processors, or on quantum simulators available online.

QISKit is now integrated with the IBM Data Science Experience, a compiler that maps desired experiments onto available hardware and provides worked examples of quantum applications, such as a new way to study chemistry problems using quantum hardware.

IBM has industrial partners exploring practical quantum applications through the IBM Research Frontiers Institute consortium.

The Impact of Quantum Computing

Quantum computing “is going to change everything,” McGregor noted.

“It’s the type of solution we need for AI because it’s an exponential leap in processing performance,” he said, “and we need that for AI solutions, especially for on-premises solutions.”

IBM Research “is working on two distinct paths linking AI and quantum computing,” company spokesperson Vu told the E-Commerce Times. “We don’t know yet the practical application of quantum to AI, but we expect this interplay to yield new and fruitful avenues of research in both fields.”

IBM is “laying a potential foundation to have the kind of industry presence in quantum computing they once held in computing,” observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Google and HPE have been active in quantum computing, but “Google doesn’t seem to have the attention span for long-term projects like this,” he told the E-Commerce Times, and “HPE has already been sacrificed to a tactical strategy that’s killing the company.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV series aims to take us back to Middle Earth

Last week, we reported that Amazon was in a bidding war for the rights to properties related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit series, with CEO Jeff Bezos personally involved in negotiations. According to Variety, Amazon had designs on producing a multi-season television series based on the books.

Bezos wants the “next Game of Thrones” (in terms of ubiquity), and now he just might have it. Amazon issued a press release today confirming acquisition of global television rights for Lord of The Rings and its intent to produce a series with a multi-season commitment. It’s rare for a CEO to engage in such matters directly, but Tolkien’s work is a particularly valuable property.

The show will be produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate & Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema. Apparently, the series will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” and the deal also includes rights for a potential spin-off series. This could turn out to be a major coup for Amazon, which has had success with original series like Transparent and The Man in The High Castle, but has yet to produce a “must-see” series a la Game of Thrones or Netflix’s Stranger Things. The yet-to-be-named series will be an Amazon Prime Exclusive, and we don’t yet know when it will see the light of day.

This news comes on the heels of a shakeup at the executive level of Amazon’s original programming division, with president Roy Price departing under the cloud of a sexual harassment scandal. Executives Joe Riggs and Conrad Price departed soon afterward, and executive Morgan Wendell jumped ship for Apple, which is looking to bolster its own original series efforts.

The Hollywood Reporter adds that there are some eye-popping numbers involved in this deal. The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200-$250 million range. According to the report, that payment had to be made sight unseen before a single line had been written or actor had been cast. The yearly budget for a LOTR series would purportedly be in the $100-$150 million range.

Update: It’s official! Despite prior claims from Middle-earth Enterprises, it appears Amazon is in the clear (from a licensing standpoint) to produce a ‘Lord of The Rings’ series.

Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV series deal aims to take us back to Middle Earth

Earlier this month, we reported that Amazon was in a bidding war for the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings book series, with CEO Jeff Bezos personally involved in negotiations. According to Variety, Amazon had designs on producing a multi-season television series based on the books.

Bezos wants the “next Game of Thrones” (in terms of ubiquity), and now he just might have it. Amazon issued a press release today confirming acquisition of global television rights for Lord of The Rings and its intent to produce a series with a multi-season commitment. It’s rare for a CEO to engage in such matters directly, but Tolkien’s work is a particularly valuable IP.

The show will be produced by Amazon Studios in collaboration with the Tolkien Estate & Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema. Apparently, the series will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” and the deal also includes rights for a potential spin-off series. This could turn out to be a major coup for Amazon, which has had success with original series like Transparent and The Man in The High Castle, but has yet to produce a “must-see” series a la Thrones or Netflix’s Stranger Things. The yet-to-be-named series will be an Amazon Prime Exclusive, and we don’t yet know when it’ll see the light of day.

This news comes on the heels of a shakeup at the executive level of Amazon’s original programming division, with president Roy Price departing under the cloud of a sexual harassment scandal. Executives Joe Riggs and Conrad Price departed soon afterward, and executive Morgan Wendell jumped ship for Apple, which is looking to bolster its own original series efforts.

The Hollywood Reporter adds that there are some eye-popping numbers involved in this deal. The rights payments alone for the property are reportedly in the $200-$250 million range. According to the report, that payment had to be made sight unseen before a single line had been written or actor had been cast. The yearly budget for a LOTR series would purportedly be in the $100-$150 million range.

Update: It’s official! Despite prior claims from Middle Earth Enterprises, it appears Amazon is in the clear (from a licensing standpoint) to produce a ‘Lord of The Rings’ series.

SoftBank could still walk away from Uber


Uber said Sunday that it agreed to move forward on a proposed investment from SoftBank Group. But SoftBank Investment Advisors sent a statement to reporters on Monday on behalf of CEO Rajeev Misra, emphasizing that it could still walk away.

“After a long and arduous process of several months it looks like Uber and its shareholders have agreed to commence with a tender process and engage with SoftBank. By no means is our investment decided. We are interested in Uber but the final deal will depend on the tender price and a minimum percentage shareholding for SoftBank.” 

In other words, the price has not been determined for the tender offer and SoftBank wants to make it clear that it’s still negotiating. The company would potentially buy $9 billion worth of shares from existing shareholders at this price and it would include both common and preferred shares.

SoftBank would also be investing $1 billion directly in Uber as an extension of the last Series G round, at its last private valuation of nearly $70 billion. SoftBank is said to want to own 14% of the company.

SoftBank’s Monday statement was in response to Uber’s Sunday statement about moving forward on an agreement with SoftBank. This is what we were provided with.

“We’ve entered into an agreement with a consortium led by SoftBank and Dragoneer on a potential investment. We believe this agreement is a strong vote of confidence in Uber’s long-term potential. Upon closing, it will help fuel our investments in technology and our continued expansion at home and abroad, while strengthening our corporate governance.”

Uber and SoftBank have been discussing this potential deal for months. Part of the delay has related to determining former CEO Travis Kalanick’s board role. Sources tell us that investor Benchmark Capital has agreed to drop the lawsuit against Kalanick if the SoftBank deal goes through.

The lawsuit related to his power to appoint three board seats, including Kalanick’s. Ursula Burns and John Thain were recently appointed to the seats, without board consensus. Should one of them give up their spot, Kalanick will now require a board vote to approve the replacement

Kalanick was pressured to step down in June after concerns were raised about its company culture. Uber has also had a lot of legal battles, including a patent lawsuit with Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car division.

The new funding would help Uber accelerate growth ahead of an IPO, which recently named CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said is expected to happen in 2019.

Featured Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Turns out Twitter with 280 characters is at least good for one thing: Playing ‘Tetris’

Thanks to Twitter’s decision to give every user the ability to tweet with up to 280 characters, we now have twice the amount of bullshit to parse through as we scroll through our feeds.

But it’s not all bad; 280 Twitter gave us one thing worth celebrating: Tetris.

There’s a new Twitter account called Play Tetris that utilizes the expanded character limit to allow people to play a very slow, crowd-sourced version of Tetris right on Twitter. The account takes all the suggestions for actions tweeted at it and performs the most requested action after three minutes.

You can scroll through the account’s replies to see the game’s progress. Here’s what it looks like sped up:

People can request that Play Tetris move the current block left or right, rotate it, or drop it down, all while the block is constantly moving down toward the bottom of the screen. It’s similar to other crowd-sourced gaming projects like Twitch Plays Pokémon and Twitch Plays Dark Souls, which used more rapid updates to advance games at the wishes of the masses.

The Twitter/Tetris version, dubbed Twitter Plays Tetris, was created by Salvatore Aiello, who uploaded the project to GitHub over the weekend. 

In order to get the iconic Tetris blocks to materialize, Aiello uses Braille unicode to create the block-ish shapes. 

At the moment, there appears to be an issue with the application program interface, so the current game is on pause while that’s being fixed.

People have taken advantage of Twitter’s new 280-character limit to play other games as well, including Connect Four and chess.

That’s a much better use of the new limit than some of the dumb, horrible, racist, sexist, and generally terrible tirades people have been spewing out in the past week. And, you know, the jokes about the new 280 character limit.

H/T Gizmodo

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As FAA considers electronics ban, battery explosion sparks chaos at airport

A loud explosion caused panic and delayed flights at the Orlando International Airport on Friday, November 10 — but officials later confirmed that what many travelers thought was a gunshot was actually a lithium-ion battery exploding inside of a passenger’s bag.

According to a statement from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Phil Brown, a passenger in the main terminal had a camera inside of their carry-on, which caught fire and began to smoke inside of the bag.

“Realizing this, the passenger of course immediately dropped the bag and those around them moved away from it,” Brown wrote. “Emergency services arrived quickly and moved the bag farther away from passengers queued for security. Unfortunately, with all of the events occurring around the world some witnesses panicked and self-evacuated the area dropping their carry-on luggage and knocking over the stanchions queueing the checkpoint. Others hearing the luggage being dropped, stanchions falling, and rapid movement mistook the sounds as gunfire and within seconds a spontaneous evacuation of the main terminal occurred.”

Because of the incident, the TSA opted to rescreen everyone at the airport, Brown said, including passengers that had already boarded waiting flights. The rescreen process caused a 2.5-hour delay through most of the airport, with the gate where the explosion occurred not resuming normal activity for about four hours. Along with a number of delayed flights, the change caused 24 flights to be canceled, according to local news outlets.

While the bag with the camera began to smolder, no injuries were reported.

The incident comes after the TSA revised security measures regarding electronics, requiring travelers to remove any electronics from their bags and send them through a separate screening process. Just last month, the FAA released a report recommending any electronic device larger than a smartphone be banned from checked bags.

According to the report, batteries packed near items like hairspray, even under the eight-ounce limit, could cause a fire. In an FAA test, packing a laptop next to dry shampoo, nail polish remover, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol all resulted in fires, with the dry shampoo creating a fire that couldn’t be contained by fire prevention systems already installed in aircrafts. If the proposal is approved, electronics would be required to be taken in carry-on luggage. The Orlando incident could bring that proposal back into the spotlight.

The FAA already has a ban on uninstalled lithium-ion batteries inside of checked baggage. According to the FAA, if a battery comes in contact with something metal like a pair or keys, coins or the contact point on another battery, the battery can create an unprotected circuit, generating extreme heat. Earlier this year, a passenger’s headphones caught fire during a flight; a flight attendant put that fire out with a bucket of water.

Why Are Tech Companies Trying to Kill Us?

This is the question that keeps me up at night after seeing the news of Russian influence through social media, and the rapid rise of road deaths due to smartphone use. I wonder if the executives in these firms understand not only that dead customers don’t generate revenue, but also that some of the victims could end up being their own kids, spouses or parents.

I’m also convinced that they haven’t grasped the fact that hostile foreign influence or distracted drivers could shorten their own life expectancies dramatically. The likelihood that these problems soon could pose an existential risk to humanity is what I’d like to explore this week.

I’ll close with my product of the week: the just released Xbox One X, the game console to rule them all.

The Problem

When I first saw the iPhone, I was appalled and, frankly, frightened. Until then, screen phones hadn’t been popular at all. They were more difficult to type on than phones with keyboards, and that had kept most users from picking them up.

My concern was that many kids (and I should have included, but didn’t, many adults) have ADD. In fact, I’m not sure ADD is even an exception with kids any more. This attention problem means they are very easily distracted, and a device that constantly tries to engage them and entrap them in that engagement could subject them to life-threatening dangers any time they are in motion.

Some of the early videos illustrating this were funny — folks doing things like walking into fountains, for example. However, the humor was short-lived. There has been a massive increase in cellphone-caused traffic accidents, often when people looking at their phones have walked into traffic.

On the social media side, there has been a massive increase in false news that has inflamed people, sometimes inciting them to violence. The proliferation of terrorist recruitment propaganda is troubling, but the rise of foreign-funded bots designed to create discord where it didn’t exist eventually could create divisions that could lead to civil war — or even trigger a war directly.

It isn’t just the everyday citizen who is misinformed. Our current president — and apparently much of Congress — believes a great deal of this fake news. Decisions that could make the difference between our life and death are being made on it.

Despite assurances to the contrary, it is clear the last election was influenced significantly by this activity, which means we have even less control over our government than we likely thought we had.

A partial fix wouldn’t even be that expensive. A small group from Berkeley (otherwise now known as the school that has gone to war with free speech) has created a tool that will alert you if a bot generating fake news is in your feed. However, it isn’t automatic, which is problematic given that we tend not to challenge things we want to believe.

Why Some Tech Companies Are Homicidal

I think it comes down to an excessive focus on quarterly results, which increasingly blinds these firms to the massive risks they are taking when it comes to our — and their own — long-term survival. You see, over the last decade ownership of companies largely has moved from individual investors to hedge funds, and hedge funds are focused like nuclear-powered lasers on quarterly profits.

What we now have is too much focus on short-term revenues and almost no focus on the long-term survival or success of the firm. This is why you don’t see anything very innovative out of firms like Apple. It’s also why you don’t see any concerted efforts to keep their customers from accidentally using their iPhones in a suicidal fashion, unless they are mandated by government.

Worse, with social media companies like Facebook, any revenue is beneficial, making them very reluctant to put in place a process that would reduce that revenue, even if it should come from Russia. To Facebook’s credit, Mark Zuckerberg personally has stepped in to begin to fight this trend (though
I still think he may be in denial). However, he did so only after it became clear the problem was a national crisis that likely would result in legislation that could cripple firms like Facebook.

What These Firms Should Be Doing

Companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have a massive amount of information on us, which they monetize. They can determine where we are, they can determine when we are vulnerable to a pitch, and they can manipulate us into spending money on things we otherwise wouldn’t have bought. This means they also are able to keep us safe.

An armed attack often is preceded by threats by an attacker or searches on weapons or bombs, or for terrorist organizations. These can be flagged and reported. People who are texting while moving more than 5 mph likely are driving. At the very least, the phone could remind them to put it down, much as auto navigation systems ask whether we are driving before allowing use.

As we move to using our smartphones like keys, the smartphone platform owner should be able to tell that we are driving, and block texts and email until that behavior is over — particularly for kids, who have the greatest ADD problems.

If a couple of kids from Berkeley can develop an app that will identify bots, social media companies can as well. They can alert us that the “news” we are reading might need to be vetted, and they have the capability to do real-time vetting. Granted, some minor progress in being made, but these firms could do far more.

Let’s be clear — every cellphone tracks you. If someone with violent tendencies shows up at an event attended by lots of people, that person could both be flagged and identified as a potential attacker.

Realize that these firms know what affiliation they are and what pisses them off. Current-generation AI technology could flag them with a high degree of confidence when they were likely to do violence.

Rather than a decades-long fight over pointlessly trying to eliminate gun rights in an era when attackers in states that have gun restrictions are using cars instead, we should focus on identifying the attacker and proactively preventing the attack in real time, instead.

This isn’t a privacy issue — they already have the data. Rather than use it to mine us for money, they should use it to keep us safe. If they can’t see their way clear to do this for humanitarian reasons, they should do it to ensure future profits. Dead customers don’t spend money, and eventually these firms likely will be held accountable for the attacks they could have prevented.

Wrapping Up

As a race, we seem to suck at dealing with emerging problems proactively. For instance, in the recent church shooting, the focus is again on gun control when instead it should be on making sure other violent offenders who have been convicted in the military haven’t dropped through the cracks.

The success of 9/11 was due largely to government systems that didn’t talk to each other. The fact this is still an issue that causes U.S. citizens to die — almost two decades later — should make connecting these things a far higher priority than it clearly is, so I’m not just pounding on the tech firms.

Rather than foolish partisan fighting over pointless issues, we desperately need to step back, look at the mistakes that are causing our friends and family to die, prioritize and fix them. The tech firms need to get not only that dead people don’t buy their products or consume their ads, but also that governments eventually have a tendency to focus on the tools that contributed to the deaths. As GM found with the Corvair, that rarely ends well.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I was like a little kid when my Xbox One X showed up last week. This is truly an amazing console with performance that, on paper, rivals a decent PC game machine — but at a fraction of the price.


Xbox One X

Xbox One X


Able to drive 4K HDR TVs, the picture that results (thanks to upscaling) is amazing. Granted, unless you have a 4K HDR large-screen TV, this isn’t very important — but this is one of the few products that can make the expensive TV you convinced your spouse you absolutely needed look like it should.

There still is a significant shortage of good 4K HDR content to stream (which tends to have our spouses challenging, sadly for good reason, our supposedly superior tech superpowers).

At US$499, this isn’t a cheap date — but given it came out very close to the holidays, if you want something for the Thanksgiving and Christmas break that is both relatively rare and stunning to play with, this is the best choice. I have often wondered about the logic of getting something that has more kids coming over to your house, though (this is what drove color TV sales after all).

Sadly, the console doesn’t do virtual reality yet — for that you would be better off with the PlayStation Pro. For many people VR so far has turned out to be more of a disappointment than a must have, though. Still, Sony’s solution remains one of the best — I just can’t yet point to a VR game that is a must-have.

In the end, the Xbox One X is simply the most powerful and exclusive console in the market, and that is good enough to make it my product of the week.


Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has undergrad degrees in merchandising and manpower management, and an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

Facebook launches collaborative Stories for Groups and Events


Facebook is combining its Snapchat Stories clone with features Snapchat can’t match in a bid to boost usage. Starting today, users of Facebook Groups and Events will be able to contribute to a Facebook Story visible to the rest of the members and moderated by the admins. This could be fun for parties, weddings, meetups, and more. In essence, these collaborative Stories will work like a private hashtag so multiple people can add content but only those involved can see it.

Facebook product manager Connor Hayes tells me the features “Give multiple people the opportunity to tell a Story from multiple different angles.” People will see Stories on their Event and Group pages, as well as atop their News Feed. They’ll be able to post while inside Events and Groups, or get the option to share there on the Facebook Stories share sheet.

Snapchat has its own private groups feature, but this is more akin to a group chat thread you can send Stories to. Facebook is enabling Groups around hobbies, professions, ideologies, and locations to create niche Stories content that might not appeal to friends but is appealing to fellow members with a particular interest.

You can see how collaborative Event Stories work in the video below:

[embedded content]

Meanwhile, Facebook is also launching Facebook Stories for its stripped app for the developing world, Facebook Lite. For now, users on the low-data-usage version of Facebook’s main app can only view Stories, but the company tells me posting is coming soon.

The announcements come alongside a big overhaul of Facebook’s Stories products. It’s replacing Messenger Day with Facebook Stories, and syncing both cross-posting and viewing. It’s also killing off the Facebook Direct ephemeral messaging feature in favor of handling Stories replies and messages via Messenger.

Facebook Stories posts will follow rules set by admins for the standard wall posts. So admins can either allow posts from everyone and delete ones they don’t like, or they can require approvals of posts. And to encourage people to kick off a Story, Facebook will show an open bubble atop the News Feed for you to add to if you’re RSVP’d for an event happening right now.

By integrating Stories with Events and Groups, Facebook has gone beyond copying Snapchat. And it’s proving that it’s serious about Stories for the long-run. Rather than just bolting on Stories, its intermingling the feature across the Facebook app. That could create sharing opportunities Snapchat lacks, spur usage by different demographics, and encourage original content sharing rather than generic link sharing.

Facebook Stories replaces Messenger Day with synced cross-posting


Facebook is cleaning up the redundancy in its Snapchat Stories clones. Today Facebook is killing off the Messenger Day brand and merging the chat app’s stories feature with Facebook Stories . Now, just called “Stories”, 24-hour ephemeral posts in either Facebook or Messenger will appear in both apps, and viewing will be synced too so you won’t see a Story as unviewed in one app if you already watched it in the other.

To be clear, Messenger will still have Stories, they’re just called Stories instead of Day.

“We needed to make it easier for people to share Stories across different apps” Facebook product manager Connor Hayes tells me. “Some people actually thought these experiences were already connected. We feel like it would make sense.”

However, the cameras in Facebook and Messenger will remain distinct, with Facebook’s focused on augmented reality masks and effects, while Messenger focuses on adding captions and stylized text inviting friends to hang out. But Hayes says “now that we’re connecting the two experiences, it makes sense for them to have the same name.”

Simplifying the Stories offering and giving posts more exposure across the apps without manual cross-posting could boost usage of Facebook Stories, which hasn’t exploded with popularity like Instagram Stories. As we first reported last month, Instagram has been rolling out a “cross-post to Facebook Stories” feature that will now populate to Messenger too, though there’s no current plan to allow Facebook Stories to be pushed to Instagram.

Facebook hasn’t given guidance on the popularity of Facebook Stories but it said Messenger Day had 70 million daily active users in September, versus 300 million on Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status, and 178 million on Snapchat’s whole app. But looking forward, with all the new launches, Hayes says “we’re very optimistic.”

Ditching Facebook Direct Ephemeral Messaging

Meanwhile, Facebook is also getting rid of its Facebook Direct feature for private ephemeral messaging, and instead will route all Stories replies and Facebook Camera messages through Messenger. For now, that means there’s no longer a disappearing messaging option on Facebook, as Direct used to delete photos and videos after they were watched and the conversation around them had died out.

Facebook is making the change after doing research on users. “They prefer Story replies to land inside Messenger” says Messenger product manager Paulina Bozek.

At face value, the end of Facebook Direct could appear to be a win for Snapchat, which sees ephemeral messaging as its primary use case and differentiator after all of Facebook’s apps cloned its Stories feature.

But it could foreshadow Facebook launching a more legitimate ephemeral messaging feature inside Messenger, which already has 1.3 billion monthly users. Direct was building a user base from scratch and never seemed to catch on, so putting disappearing messages in Messenger could be a much bigger threat to Snapchat. For now though, Facebook tells me ephemeral messaging is not an option in Messenger and it doesn’t have anything to share on future plans here.

Also announced today, Facebook is launching collaborative Facebook Stories for Groups and Events where members can contribute posts that the rest can see, which could be great for parties, weddings, and meetups.

Plus, looking to boost usage of Facebook Stories in the developing world which Snapchat hasn’t prioritized until now, Facebook is allowing users of its stripped-down low-data-usage Facebook Lite app to view Stories. The ability to post will come to Facebook Lite soon. You can read our full write-up about Facebook Stories for Groups, Events, and Lite here.

Beyond cross-posting and synced viewing, Facebook is also implementing new privacy controls for Stories that run across both its main app and Messenger. You’ll be able to make Stories visible to the public, friends only, friends and connections (which includes non-friends you’ve ‘added’ on Messenger), or a custom list of specific friends.

If there was any doubt that Facebook is in it to win it in the Stories war against Snapchat, that should be laid to rest now. Facebook isn’t retreating from Stories, even as it cleans up the product line. Though usage may be slim to date, the company is betting that it’s not just US teens that want to share ephemeral slideshows of photos and videos. Even if it takes years, the prominent placement across its apps could slowly lure in late adopters to share their daily lives, not just the big highlights.

People are vain. They crave attention. Show their selfies atop another billion-plus user app with no additional chore, and they’ll feel more compelled to share.

The next generation of HomePods could have Face ID

The first generation of HomePods, Apple’s intelligent speaker, isn’t shipping until December, but according to a report by Nikkei, Apple supplier Inventec Appliances is already making projections that future models might have facial and image recognition.

David Ho, the president of the Taiwanese company, recently told reporters, “We see trends that engineers are designing smart speakers that will not only come with voice recognition but also incorporate features such as facial and image recognition,” and that “such AI-related features are set to make people’s lives more convenient and to make the product easier to use.”

Although the HomePod was not specifically mentioned in Ho’s comments, it’s obvious that was the product he was referencing. When rumors about the HomePod started circulating last year, facial recognition was among one of the features Apple was supposedly considering. If integrated into HomePod, the unit could theoretically perform automatic adjustments to a room, depending on who it senses is present.

It’s not completely unlikely that future versions of the HomePod will have Face ID, given that Apple is rolling out the tech to iPads in 2018. The system, introduced on the iPhone X, uses a dot projector that maps a face using up to 30,000 points, allowing users to unlock their phones, make payments, and yes, send Animoji.