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Epic has filed lawsuits against Apple and Google after its Fortnite app was jettisoned from the App Store and Google Play. The issue: The 30% fee that Apple and Google get on each purchase.

Image: Epic Games

Epic Games is probably best known for the virtual battles players have in its hit game Fortnite, but the company is gearing up for a real-life battle against two of the tech industry’s biggest guns.

This week, Epic filed lawsuits against both Apple and Google after its Fortnite app was booted from their respective app stores for violating specific guidelines. A multi-player, shoot-em-up, survival game, Fortnite is free but offers in-app purchases. And therein lies the issue.

Apple and Google each get a 30% cut of every purchase in their app stores, whether apps or in-app features. Arguing that this cut results in higher costs for users, Epic tried to circumvent the app stores by selling V-Bucks for in-app purchases for Fortnite directly to customers.

Apple said that move was a violation of the App Store guidelines, so it removed Fortnite from the store, prompting a lawsuit from Epic. Google also pulled the game from Google Play for similar reasons, triggering a suit against the Android giant.

So now Epic finds itself in a legal battle with two of the most powerful players in the tech world.

SEE: Five skills you need to become a video game tester (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Revealing its initial intention on its website before the app store removals and lawsuits, Epic said it was introducing a new way to pay for V-Bucks for the latest Fortnite update via iOS and Android: Epic direct payment. Touting the direct payment route as a cost savings, Epic said that customers would save 20% going this route, pricing the V-Bucks at $9.99 through Apple and at $7.99 through direct payment.

“Currently, when using Apple and Google payment options, Apple and Google collect a 30% fee, and the up to 20% price drop does not apply,” Epic said. “If Apple or Google lower their fees on payments in the future, Epic will pass along the savings to you.”

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Image: Epic Games

But this move to offer direct payment is what got Epic into trouble first with Apple, which on Thursday removed Fortnite from its App Store.

“Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users,” Apple said in a statement shared on TechRepublic sister site ZDNet. “As a result their Fortnite app has been removed from the store. Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.”

In response, Epic quickly filed a lawsuit against Apple. In its suit, Epic said it’s not looking for monetary compensation or special treatment for itself but rather is seeking relief to allow fair competition in key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands of third-party app developers.

“Apple imposes unreasonable and unlawful restraints to completely monopolize both markets and prevent software developers from reaching the over one billion users of its mobile devices (e.g., iPhone and iPad) unless they go through a single store controlled by Apple, the App Store, where Apple exacts an oppressive 30% tax on the sale of every app,” Epic charged in its suit.

Shortly afterwards, Google stepped in to remove Fortnite from its Google Play store, also for violating its guidelines after Epic offered Android users a direct payment option for its V-Bucks.

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Image: Epic Games

“The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores,” Google said in a statement shared with TechRepublic. “For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users. While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.”

And just as quickly, Epic filed its suit against Google, arguing that the company is engaging in monopolistic and anti-competitive actions through its Google Play store restrictions. In its suit against Google, Epic again said it was not looking for financial compensation or a special side deal or favorable treatment from the company. Instead, Epic said that it wants an open and competitive Android ecosystem for users and industry participants.

“Google has eliminated competition in the distribution of Android apps using myriad contractual and technical barriers,” Epic charged in its suit. “Google’s actions force app developers and consumers into Google’s own monopolized app store—the Google Play Store. Google uses this monopoly power to impose a tax that siphons monopoly profits for itself every time an app developer transacts with a consumer for the sale of an app or in-app digital content.”

In its battle, Epic has also tried to rally the troops in the form of customers and users who now have no way of downloading Fortnite on their iOS and Android devices unless they had downloaded it previously. On its website, the game maker has created a page with the hashtag #FreeFortnite and an FAQ criticizing Apple for its actions. Epic has also cooked up a quick video called Nineteen-Eighty Fortnite, a parody of Apple’s famous 1984 commercial, but this time with the iPhone maker as the bad guy.

Though Fortnite’s efforts seem like a case of one David against two Goliaths, this is far from the first time Apple and Google have been accused of monopolizing their markets.

In late July 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook was called before Congress to answer questions about the company’s alleged monopoly with smartphones and mobile apps. Claiming that Apple doesn’t have a dominant share in any market, Cook defended the fees charged by Apple for App Store purchases, calling them lower than those from most of its competitors.

Apple also has always promoted its App Store as a safe and secure place where apps are vetted before becoming available to users. And it has continually pointed to the profits that app developers earn, even after the 30% commission.

But other app developers have criticized Apple for its commission costs and store policies, complaining that the App Store is the only viable method for the distribution of iPhone and iPad apps. And many of those developers will be more than happy to join Epic’s fight, at least in spirit.

Google’s app store isn’t as strict. Google allows other app stores on Android devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Store and Amazon’s Appstore. But developers who go through the official Google Play store are subject to the fees and policies handed down by Google, which many consider restrictive.

Some type of compromise would be in the best interests of all parties, placating app developers and making Apple and Google look kinder, especially to regulators eager to clamp down on the companies. But the two companies have deep pockets and high-priced lawyers and are used to combat in the legal arena. Changing their store policies and commissions could set a dangerous precedent, so Apple and Google are likely to fight this one out if necessary.

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Opera for Android, Desktop Browsers Get Redesigned Sync Capabilities

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Opera has launched updated versions of its browsers for Android and desktop. Opera for Android version 60 and Opera for Desktop version 71 come with completely redesigned sync capabilities between them, the company says. The new feature uses a QR code scan to establish a connection between Opera on an Android device and the Opera desktop browser on Windows, macOS, or Linux. The Opera browser for Android also comes with the popular Flow feature as well as Suggested Sites feature on the homepage. In meanwhile, the Opera desktop browser now comes with the Easy Files feature.

Opera for Android 60

With Opera browser for Android, users can navigate to opera.com/connect on their PCs or tablets and scan the QR code displayed there with the QR code reader located in the search bar of the browser. As soon as this is done, the new Sync feature will start synchronising all their passwords, bookmarks, speed dials, typed browsing history and open tabs, as well as the newly-integrated Flow feature across devices.

The new Sync feature of Opera for Android does do not require any login credentials to sync data across devices.
Photo Credit: Opera

Stefan Stjernelund, Product Manager of Opera for Android, says that people don’t sync their phones with their PCs “because they hate the hassle of having to type in their logins and lengthy passwords.” He notes that the QR code scan feature can help users to quickly sync data across devices that do not require any login credentials. “Opera was the first browser to offer sync between mobile and desktop browsers 13 years ago. Today we’re taking a big step forward by making it easier than ever,” added Stjernelund.

Apart from the new syncing feature, Opera for Android 60 also gets the Flow feature from the Opera Touch browser. This feature allows users to share files, links, YouTube videos, photos, and personal notes with themselves, between their Opera mobile and desktop browsers. So, if you’re searching something on Opera on your Android smartphones, you can quickly share it on the desktop version. According to the brand, Flow is end-to-end encrypted so anything stored will only be known to the user. In Opera for Android, Flow can be accessed from the O-menu.

 

Opera for Android 60 now also comes with Suggested Sites feature that allows for “speed dials” in the browser. According to the brand, the speed dial section is now smarter and more dynamic as it identifies the user’s most frequently visited websites. It displays them just below the traditional speed dial section. “Suggested Sites gives us a quicker way to engage with relevant content without the need to manually add pages to the speed dial or bookmarks,” Stjernelund noted. Users have a choice to easily disable this feature.

Additionally, Opera for Android offers a built-in free unlimited browser VPN, a QR code scanner, a crypto wallet, and a cookie dialog blocker. You can download Opera for Android 60 via Google Play.

Opera for android desktop sync feature intext Opera for Android

Flow feature allows users to share files, links, videos and photos between their Opera mobile and desktop browsers
Photo Credit: Opera

Opera for Desktop 71

The Opera for Desktop version 71 browser comes with the Easy Files feature that offers most recently downloaded files that essentially makes attaching files in the Opera browser easy. It is also claimed to feature a high level of privacy and security. It features a built-in browser VPN, ad blocker, as well as built-in messengers, including WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram and Facebook.


How are we staying sane during this Coronavirus lockdown? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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The best hidden features in iOS 14

ios14 hidden features

Apple’s iOS 14 is full of new features, but some of the best gems are the ones in obscure places. Learn about the best hidden features in iOS 14 and how to use them on your iPhone and iPad.

Image: CNET

When Apple’s iOS 14 was released last week, many users and developers were surprised by the next-day availability. iOS 14 includes big changes that will forever change the way we use our iOS devices: From the widgets on the Home Screen, to the App Library, to the new automations in Shortcuts, iOS is clearly moving at a fast pace and bringing many new headlining features. Read about the best iOS 14 hidden features that many users skip over. 

SEE: Apple iPadOS: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Listen for sounds

One accessibility feature that Apple added to iOS 14 was the ability for your iPhone to listen for particular sounds and then alert you whenever it encounters them. This feature is fantastic for hard of hearing or deaf users who need assistance in identifying when the door bell rings, an animal makes a noise, etc.

To enable this feature, perform the following steps: 

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to Accessibility | Sound Recognition.
  3. Select the toggle to ON.
  4. Select Sounds.
  5. Toggle on the sounds that you’d like your device to recognize and alert you to (Figure A).

Figure A

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Your iPhone can recognize multiple sounds on-device and alert you to them. This list of recognizable sounds will grow over time.

As of iOS 14, your phone can do on-device sound recognition of four different categories of sounds: Alarms, Animals, Household, and People. This set of sounds will grow over time based on advances in machine learning and device microphones. You can enable or disable the particular individual sounds you’re concerned with.

Apple notes that, with this feature enabled, your iPhone will continuously listen for sounds using on-device intelligence and notify you when the sounds are recognized. Because of this your battery life may take a slight hit, and this will also utilize on-device storage to process the sounds.

In addition, Apple notes that this shouldn’t be relied upon for emergency situations or navigation.

SEE: How to use widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 (TechRepublic)

New color picker

There’s a new color picker that you will encounter in both Apple and third-party apps that brings about a new way on iOS to select colors that we’re excited about. If you’ve spent any time in macOS, you’ve undoubtedly encounter the macOS Digital Color Meter that’s available systemwide. Apple now has a new color picker on iOS 14 that brings a few new ways of selecting colors, and saving them.

We’ll show how to do this in Notes, but the feature is also available in other apps. In Notes, select the drawing tool, then select the color picker icon. When you do this, the new color picker will appear (Figure B). 

Figure B

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The new iOS 14 color picker brings the same tools from macOS to iOS for picking colors.

The first section you’ll encounter is a standard color grid which shows a few hues to let you quickly pick a color. The next tab is the Spectrum, which lets you get more fine-grained control over every color available to pick on the device and it’s opacity. The last tab is Sliders, which we’re very excited about. This view lets you pick or enter RGB values, or a hex value to set the color—a feature that hasn’t been available on iOS except in speciality apps before.

SEE: iOS 14 App Library: How to use it on your iPhone (TechRepublic)

Lastly, you’ll notice the custom palette organizer at the bottom of the color picker. In this section, you can save your favorite colors by tapping the + button, or tap and hold on any of them to delete them. You can save up to 10 colors in this section for easily switching between apps, or projects.

Hide the Hidden Photos album

The Hidden photo album has been available in the Photos app for years, but it has been far from hidden on iOS devices. Rather, it was a folder called Hidden that just stored photos you didn’t want visible in your main Photo library. Now you can also hide this folder so that the hidden photos are truly hidden.

To do this, perform these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to Photos.
  3. Scroll near the bottom, and disable the toggle for Hidden Album.

With this option deselected, the Hidden album will no longer appear in the Albums tab of Photos. To show it again, re-enable the toggle. 

Dictation shortcut

On iPadOS 14, there’s a new way to assign a keyboard shortcut for text dictation. This lets you easily still use dictation even when an external keyboard is attached without the need to use the on-screen controls for dictation.

To enable this feature, perform these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to General | Keyboard | Dictation Shortcut.
  3. Select an available Shortcut (Figure C).

Figure C

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Selecting a dictation shortcut will let you easily double-tap the selected button on a hardware keyboard to start the dictation process without needing to use the on-screen controls.

The available shortcuts are either Control or Command. Select one or the other, then activate by quickly double-pressing the selected shortcut when your cursor is in a text field.

Hide Home Screens

Apple introduced the App Library for iPhone, and it allows a lot of customization and cleanup for iOS Home Screens for the first time in the history of the iPhone. You can still have multiple Home Screens in iOS 14, but sometimes you may want to disable messy Home Screens or Home Screens of apps that you don’t access frequently.

To disable a Home Screen on your iPhone:

  1. Tap and hold on the Home Screen to enter jiggle mode.
  2. Tap the dots denoting page numbers. 
  3. Tap the checkmark under the Home Screen to remove it, tap again to add it back (Figure D).

Figure D 

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Hiding Home Screens allows users to clean up their icons and hide pages of apps that aren’t always needed.

Select Done when finished and your changes will be saved. Any hidden pages will be skipped over when swiping left or right between Home Screens.

Back tap gesture

If you have an iPhone 8 or newer, then we saved the best feature for last in this tip lineup. That’s because the back tap feature is one of those hidden gems that will change your digital life once you’ve implemented it.

SEE: Apple releases iOS 14 without this privacy feature: What iPhone users and developers need to know (TechRepublic)

With this feature, you can assign a double- or triple-tap gesture to the back of your iPhone. When you tap the back of the device with your finger twice or three times, it can perform an action that you assign. Yes, you read that right, you can perform an action by just tapping the back of your iPhone with your finger, and it even works with a case.

To set up this feature:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Navigate to Accessibility | Touch | Back Tap.
  3. Select Double Tap or Triple Tap to set up actions for one or both.
  4. Select an action (Figure E).

Figure E

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Myriad shortcuts are available to the back tap feature. You can even launch an app through a Shortcuts workflow.

There are many system, accessibility, scroll, and even app shortcuts available–you can even create your own Shortcut workflows and assign them to a double- or triple-tap gesture. The possibilities are limitless when it comes to assigning actions for this feature. 

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NIST Scientists Get Soft on 3D Printing

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New method could jump-start creation of tiny medical devices for the body.

NIST Scientists Get Soft on 3D Printing

Illustration of a prospective biocompatible interface shows that hydrogels (green tubing), which can be generated by an electron or X-ray beam 3D printing process, act as artificial synapses or junctions, connecting neurons (brown) to electrodes (yellow). Image credit: A. Strelcov/NIST

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new method of 3D-printing gels and other soft materials. Published in a new paper, it has the potential to create complex structures with nanometer-scale precision. Because many gels are compatible with living cells, the new method could jump-start the production of soft tiny medical devices such as drug delivery systems or flexible electrodes that can be inserted into the human body.

A standard 3D printer makes solid structures by creating sheets of material — typically plastic or rubber — and building them up layer by layer, like a lasagna, until the entire object is created.

Using a 3D printer to fabricate an object made of gel is a “bit more of a delicate cooking process,” said NIST researcher Andrei Kolmakov. In the standard method, the 3D printer chamber is filled with a soup of long-chain polymers — long groups of molecules bonded together — dissolved in water. Then “spices” are added — special molecules that are sensitive to light. When light from the 3D printer activates those special molecules, they stitch together the chains of polymers so that they form a fluffy weblike structure. This scaffolding, still surrounded by liquid water, is the gel.

Typically, modern 3D gel printers have used ultraviolet or visible laser light to initiate formation of the gel scaffolding. However, Kolmakov and his colleagues have focused their attention on a different 3D-printing technique to fabricate gels, using beams of electrons or X-rays. Because these types of radiation have a higher energy, or shorter wavelength, than ultraviolet and visible light, these beams can be more tightly focused and therefore produce gels with finer structural detail. Such detail is exactly what is needed for tissue engineering and many other medical and biological applications. Electrons and X-rays offer a second advantage: They do not require a special set of molecules to initiate the formation of gels.

But at present, the sources of this tightly focused, short-wavelength radiation — scanning electron microscopes and X-ray microscopes — can only operate in a vacuum. That’s a problem because in a vacuum the liquid in each chamber evaporates instead of forming a gel.

Kolmakov and his colleagues at NIST and at the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste in Italy, solved the issue and demonstrated 3D gel printing in liquids by placing an ultrathin barrier — a thin sheet of silicon nitride — between the vacuum and the liquid chamber. The thin sheet protects the liquid from evaporating (as it would ordinarily do in vacuum) but allows X-rays and electrons to penetrate into the liquid. The method enabled the team to use the 3D-printing approach to create gels with structures as small as 100 nanometers (nm) — about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. By refining their method, the researchers expect to imprint structures on the gels as small as 50 nm, the size of a small virus.

Some future structures made with this approach could include flexible injectable electrodes to monitor brain activity, biosensors for virus detection, soft micro-robots, and structures that can emulate and interact with living cells and provide a medium for their growth.

“We’re bringing new tools — electron beams and X-rays operating in liquids — into 3D printing of soft materials,” said Kolmakov. He and his collaborators described their work in an article posted online Sept. 16 in ACS Nano.

Reference:

T. Gupta, et al. “Electron and X-ray Focus Beam Induced Crosslinking in Liquids: Toward Rapid Continuous 3D Nanoprinting of Soft Materials.“. ACS Nano (2020)

Source: NIST




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