Apple TV will reportedly get Amazon’s Video app this summer

The squabbling between Amazon and Apple might soon be over — at least, on the TV front. Amazon’s Video app might finally be heading to the Apple TV this summer, giving consumers an easy way to watch Amazon’s streaming content on the set-top box, Recode reports. Up until now, you were forced to use AirPlay to send Amazon’s streaming video titles to the Apple TV. That’s been one of the Apple TV’s biggest downsides since it debuted in 2015, together with a lack of 4K support.

The deal between Apple and Amazon might also lead to other changes. Amazon, for example, stopped selling the Apple TV in 2015 because it didn’t support its Prime Video service. That likely made a big dent in sales for Apple, especially as newer devices from Roku hit the market with 4K support. If Apple actually plans to release a newer 4K Apple TV this year, as rumors suggest, then landing back on Amazon would be essential.

At this point, it’s unclear if anything will change for Amazon’s Video apps on iOS. You can currently use them to watch Amazon Prime videos, as well as things you’ve already rented or purchased, but you can’t actually make those transactions within the app. That’s similar to how Amazon handles digital purchases on its Kindle and Comixology iOS apps. By forgoing in-app purchases on Apple’s ecosystem, Amazon avoids having to give the iPhone maker a cut of the revenue.

Source: Recode

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Murders, suicides and rapes: Facebook’s major video problem

A nationwide manhunt for Steve Stephens, the 37-year-old from Cleveland who uploaded a video to Facebook of himself shooting an elderly stranger in the head, came to an end today. Stephens committed suicide after a brief car chase with state police in Erie, Pennsylvania. His crime, which took place this past Sunday, sparked outrage not only because of the violence itself, but also the way Facebook handled the situation. It took the social network over two hours to take the video down, although it claims this was because it wasn’t flagged immediately by other users. Facebook says Stephens’ actions weren’t reported until he used the Live feature to stream his murder confession, about an hour and 45 minutes after the shooting video was uploaded. His account has since been suspended.

“This is a horrific crime and we do not allow this kind of content on Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “We work hard to keep a safe environment on Facebook, and are in touch with law enforcement in emergencies when there are direct threats to physical safety.” As it stands, Facebook relies heavily on people flagging graphic content (the same way it does sketchy ads), which means individuals have to actually see something dreadful before they can flag it. As Wired reported earlier this year, Facebook has opted not to use algorithms to censor videos like this before they’re posted, claiming that it doesn’t want to be accused of violating freedom-of-speech rights. But, as these types of cases mushroom, the company may be forced to change its stance sooner than later.

A photo of Steve Stephens.

It could be hard for the company to build an algorithm that can successfully tell the difference between a video of someone being murdered and a clip from, say, a Jason Bourne movie. But, according to Facebook VP of Operations Justin Osofsky, his team is constantly exploring new technologies that can help create a safer environment on the site. Osofsky pointed to artificial intelligence in particular, which he says is already helping prevent certain graphic videos from being reshared in their entirety. Facebook’s explanation of this is confusing, though: It says people “are still able to share portions of the videos in order to condemn them or for public awareness, as many news outlets are doing in reporting the story online and on television.”

The company didn’t clarify how the feature works when we reached out, but it’s clear a video like Stephens’ should be removed completely and immediately. And, as a result of this weekend’s events, Osofsky said Facebook is reviewing its reporting system to ensure that people can flag explicit videos and other content “as easily and as quickly as possible.”

Facebook has really jumped very quickly into the video space, which is exciting, but it’s taking a fail-fast approach to it.

Unfortunately for Facebook, Stephens’ case isn’t the first time it has faced scrutiny over people using its tools to promote violence. Back in March, Chicago police charged a 14-year-old boy after he used Facebook Live to broadcast the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl, which was just one of many gruesome clips that hit Facebook recently. Per The Wall Street Journal, more than 60 sensitive videos, including physical beatings, suicides and murders, have been streamed on Facebook Live since it launched to the public last year. This begs the question: Should the Federal Communications Commission regulate social networks the way it does TV? In 2015, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said there were no plans to do so, claiming he wasn’t sure the agency’s authority extended to “picking and choosing among websites.”

The FCC, now headed by Ajit Pai under President Donald Trump, did not respond to our request for comment on the matter. That said, a source inside a major video-streaming company thinks services such as Facebook Live, Periscope and YouTube Live would benefit from having a “delay” safeguard in place. This could be similar in practice to how TV networks handle live events, which always feature a seven-second delay in case something unexpected happens. Remember when Justin Timberlake uncovered Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Super Bowl 38 halftime show in 2004? This delay system is designed to prevent scenes like those from showing up on your TV.

“Facebook has really jumped very quickly into the video space, which is exciting, but it’s taking a fail-fast approach to it,” the source, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “In the desire to push Live out to as many people as possible, there were a lot of corners that were cut. And when you take a fail-fast approach to something like live-streaming video, it’s not surprising that you come across these scenarios in which you have these huge ethical dilemmas of streaming a murder, sexual violence or something else.”

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As for why individuals are using these platforms to broadcasts their heinous acts, Janis L. Whitlock, a research scientist at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, says it’s hard to pinpoint the reason because there’s no way you can do an experimental control. She says there’s a good chance Stephens was struggling with a mental illness and saw his victim, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., as an object in an ongoing fantasy. Whitlock says that while there’s a good side to these social networks, they also tend to bring out the worst in people, especially those who are craving attention: “They make the most ugly of us, the most ugly in us, visible.”

“The fact that you can have witnesses, like billions of people witness something in a tiny period of time, it has to have an enormous impact on the human psyche,” she says. “How does that interact with the things that people do, or choose not to do? We don’t know yet, but it does, absolutely. I have no doubt about that as a psychologist.” Whitlock says companies like Facebook must start taking some civic responsibility, adding that there needs to be a conversation between it and other internet giants about how their products “interact with who humans are” and how they can expose someone’s limitations and potentials.

“How is it that we can use and structure these things to really amplify all the ways in which we’re amazing,” Whitlock says, “and not the ways in which we’re disgusting?”

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Duo, Google’s supersimple video chat app, arrives today

Back in May at its I/O developer conference, Google introduced a pair of new communication apps: Allo for text-based communication and Duo for video calling. Allo is the more interesting of the two, with its deep usage of the intelligent Google Assistant bot — but Duo is the one we’ll get to try first. Google hopes it’ll stand out among a bevy of other communications apps thanks to a laser focus on providing a high-quality mobile experience. It’s available today for both the iPhone and Android phones.

“The genesis of Duo was we really saw a gap when it came to video calling,” Nick Fox, Google VP of communications products, said. “We heard lots of [user] frustration, which led to lack of use — but we also heard a lot of desire and interest as well.” That frustration came in the form of wondering who among your contacts you could have video calls with, wondering whether it would work over the wireless connection you had available and wondering if you needed to be calling people with the same type of phone or OS as yours.

To battle that, Google made Duo cross-platform and dead simple to use. You can only call one person at a time, and there’s barely any UI or features to speak of. But from a technology standpoint, it’s meant to work for anyone with a smartphone. “It shouldn’t just work on high-end devices,” said Fox. “It should work on high-end devices and on $ 50 Android phones in India.”

Google designed it to work across a variety of network connections as well. The app is built to provide HD video when on good networks and to gracefully and seamless adjust quality if things get worse. You can even drop down to a 2G connection and have video pause but have the audio continue. “We’re always prioritizing audio to make sure that you don’t drop communications entirely,” Fox said.

All of this is meant to work in the background, leaving the user with a clutter-free UI and basically no buttons or settings to mess with. Once you sign into the Duo app with your phone number (no Google login needed here), you’ll see what your front-facing camera sees. Below that are a handful of circles representing your most recent calls in the lower third of the screen. You can drag that icon list up and scroll through through your full list of contacts; if people in your phonebook don’t have the app, you can tap their number to send an SMS and invite them to Duo.

For those who do have Duo, tapping their number initiates a video call. Once you’re on the call, you just see the person you’re talking to, with your video feed in a small circle, not unlike Apple’s FaceTime. Tapping the screen reveals the only UI elements: a hang-up button, mute button and a way to flip between the front and back cameras.

Duo is even simpler than FaceTime, and far simpler than Google’s own Hangouts app, which the company says will now be more focused on business and enterprise users. In that focus on simplicity, Fox and his team left out a number of features you might find in other video-calling apps. Chief among them is that Duo can’t do group calls; it’s meant only for one-to-one calling. Google also decided against making desktop apps for Duo or Allo.

“We forced ourselves to think exclusively about the phone and design for the phone,” Fox says. “The desktop experience is something we may build over time. But if you look around the world at the billions of people that are connected to the internet, the vast majority have one device, and that device is a phone. So it was critical for us to really nail that use case.”

That’s part of the reason Google is tying Duo to a phone number rather than your Google account: Your phone already has your contacts built in, while many people might not curate or manage their Google contacts list. This way, you can see exactly who in your usual phone book is using Duo (and if they’re not, you can send them an SMS invite).

Perhaps the most clever feature Google included is Knock Knock. If you’re using an Android phone and someone calls, you’ll see a preview of their video feed on the lock screen. The person calling can wave or gesture or make a silly face to try and draw you into the conversation, and Fox says that makes the person on the receiving end a lot more likely to answer with a smile rather than a look of confusion as they wonder if they video is working properly. For the sake of privacy, you’ll only see a video feed from people in your contacts list, and you can turn the feature off entirely if you prefer.

It’s all part of Google’s goal to make the app not just simple but “human” as well. “It’s something that you don’t generally hear from Google when we talk about our apps,” Fox admits, “but video calling is a very human experience, so it’s very important that you feel that in the app as well.”

All of this adds up to a product that is refreshingly uncluttered and has a clear sense of purpose. It doesn’t fundamentally change the video-calling experience, but it is frictionless and very easy to use on a moment’s notice. Under the hood, the app does live up to its promise of updating the call based on changing network conditions — you can even flip between WiFi and cellular networks without dropping a call. There’s not a whole lot to say about the experience, and that’s probably for the best. You can make calls to people in your contacts list easily, not worry too much about dropping them, and then get on with your life.

That ease of use is what Google hopes will pull users into the app. It does indeed feel simpler than most other options out there. But given the huge variety of communication apps available and Google’s strange historical difficulty with the space, it’s not hard to imagine Duo being a niche app. That won’t be for lack of effort — Duo actually does make video chat easier than making a phone call.

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BBM Video for Android and iPhone is now out in Asia-Pacific

Most BBM users finally have access to the app’s video calling capability. BlackBerry has released the feature for Android and iOS in Asia-Pacific, which is apparently home to its biggest userbase. The company said it made cross-platform video calls available in the US and Canada first, because it wanted to be able to fix bugs before it reaches more people. Since video calling is now stable, the phonemaker can roll it out to the rest of world.

While BBM isn’t as popular as its newer, shinier rivals like Messenger or WhatsApp anymore, BlackBerry is still developing new features for it. In fact, this release is but a small part of a bigger rollout. Later this summer, the company will launch the capability to register for an account using a phone number, among other things. Android users will be able to share larger videos, as well, while those on iOS will be able to mute group notifications.

Source: BlackBerry

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