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📰 BTN: Microsoft muddles the metaverse

📰 BTN: Microsoft muddles the metaverse
By Emil Protalinski • Issue #37 • View online
Hey there, I’m Emil Protalinski. Big Tech News (BTN) is where I recap the week in Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, and other tech news.
BTN this week covers the following topics, which you can find below using the emojis as your guide.
  • Microsoft: 🥽 Metaverse malarkey 📜 Windows certificate
  • Meta: 😲 Facial recognition “deleted” 🧰 Creator tools
  • Alphabet: 💳 Alternative billing 💊 Isomorphic Laboratories
  • Amazon: 📺 TikTok for Fire TV 🧺 Twitch laundering
  • Apple: 🍪 Chip supply crunch 💻 macOS Monterey breakage
  • Overflow: 🎮 Netflix mobile games 🔌 Roblox outage
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Ready? Let’s dive in.

🥽 At its Ignite event this week, Microsoft generated its usual handful of headlines. The company announced Loop, an app that combines a “flexible canvas” with collaborative components that sync across Microsoft 365 services (the internet couldn’t decide if Loop was a Notion clone or a Google Wave ripoff), launched new Dynamics 365 offerings, promised to integrate its recently-acquired video editing web app Clipchamp into Office and add an audio “recording studio” to PowerPoint, invited select businesses to use GPT-3 as an Azure tool, and released Edge for Linux to all users.
Most importantly though, Microsoft shared plans to bring its mixed reality platform Mesh to Teams in the first half of 2022, with 3D avatars and VR support to boot. The company said Mesh for Teams would “evolve over time as sensor technology improves across devices from phones to virtual reality headsets, from laptops with a single microphone to a HoloLens with six microphones and 16 cameras.” While we saw plenty of 3D avatar and VR examples, Microsoft didn’t show off HoloLens working with Teams. That’s a bummer; AR is exactly the technology that could break through the physical limitations of video calls.
Using HoloLens so your meeting happens in your home office or the factory floor presumably isn’t ready yet, so Microsoft left that part to the imagination. It would have worked, too, had the company stopped there.
Instead, Microsoft started mumbling about the metaverse:
Let’s start by defining the term, and no, it is not the metaverse first imagined by Neal Stephenson in 1992’s “Snow Crash.” Instead, it is a persistent, digital world that is connected to many aspects of the physical world, including people, places and things. The metaverse enables shared experiences across both the physical and digital worlds. As enterprises accelerate their digital transformation, the metaverse can help people meet up in a digital environment, make meetings more comfortable with the use of avatars and facilitate creative collaboration from all around the world.
The Microsoft Cloud provides a comprehensive set of resources designed to power metaverses – there will be more than one! – IoT capabilities that enable customers to create “digital twins” of physical objects in the cloud; utilizing Microsoft Mesh to build a shared sense of presence on devices; and using AI-powered resources to create natural interactions through speech and vision machine learning models.
Right in the first sentence, Microsoft made clear that it is not talking about the metaverse as science fiction fans know the term. A bunch of PR mumbo jumbo followed, and then Microsoft admitted it expects there to be multiple metaverses, which of course defeats the whole purpose.
In March, Microsoft announced Mesh as a mixed reality platform hosted on Azure. At the time, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella expertly pitched Mesh:
Think about what Xbox Live did for gaming — we went from single player to multiplayer, creating communities that helped people connect and achieve together. Now just imagine if the same thing happened with mixed reality.
But that was before the tech world became obsessed with the metaverse as an all-encompassing synonym for “futuristic.” This week, Nadella implied that any game is also a metaverse:
If you take Halo as a game, it is a metaverse. Minecraft is a metaverse, and so is Flight Sim. In some sense, they’re 2D today, and the question is can you now take that to a full 3D world, and we absolutely plan to do so.
Halo is a multiplayer game. Minecraft has metaverse elements to be sure, but Flight Sim is a flight simulator game.
The metaverse is not a generic descriptor for any 3D world that you can think of. The metaverse describes what could be the next iteration of the internet in which you can navigate a 3D avatar of yourself between different experiences, from games to work to anything else you may want to do virtually. Because the metaverse currently only exists in science fiction, the biggest challenge is building a foundation so that everyone can build on top.
Instead, we have Microsoft slapping metaverse onto every property it owns and Meta happily bringing along its brand baggage, long before we have anything that resembles a metaverse.
Maybe Big Tech screwing up so early in the game will make room for the little guys to really build something that could succeed the internet as we know it.
📜 Microsoft warned Windows 11 users that features including the Snipping Tool, touch keyboard, voice typing, emoji panel, and the getting started and tips sections, weren’t loading due to an expired certificate. While Microsoft eventually fixed the problem, there is no excuse for this. An expired certificate should not disable features in an operating system. Microsoft needs to rework Windows 11 to ensure this can’t technically happen again.
😲 Meta announced plans to shut down the facial recognition system that Facebook introduced in December 2010. The company promises to delete the facial recognition templates of more than 1 billion users later this month. Even if Meta deletes all of Facebook’s face scan data, it will still retain its facial recognition systems, including DeepFace, the algorithm that is trained on all those faces and powers its photo face-tagging feature. Oh, and Meta has not ruled out incorporating biometrics into its metaverse products, so this story is far from over.
🧰 Meta announced new Facebook creator tools, including custom subscription links that use its native payments system to bypass Apple’s and Google’s in-app cuts. Big Tech’s battle over creators could very well end up lowering app store taxes. The company also announced new Facebook Group admin tools, including paid subgroups, the ability to create community fundraisers, real-time chat for moderators, community awards, and personalization features. All of those tidbits were overshadowed by Instagram bringing back Twitter Card previews after removing the feature in 2012.
💳 Google announced it will let Android app developers use alternative billing systems in the Google Play store in South Korea. This isn’t because Google suddenly decided it wanted to be a good corporate citizen: The company is complying with a new law that South Korea passed in September, requiring Apple and Google to let apps use alternative payment systems in their respective app stores. If app developers choose to use other payment systems, Google doesn’t get its 15-30% cut of every transaction (Apple has yet to share if it plans to comply with the law). But Google still wants its cut: The company is simply reducing it by 4% for alternate billing systems, meaning Android app developers will still pay 11%-26%.
💊 Alphabet launched Isomorphic Laboratories, a company that uses AI for drug discovery. DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis will also serve as the CEO of the new company. I’m not sure this requires a new company, given that DeepMind has done plenty of biochemistry work already, and the fact Hassabis will be CEO of both signals as much. All the Big Tech companies are obsessed with doing something in health care, however, so another moonshot in the space is on brand, especially from the king of moonshots.
📺 Amazon announced TikTok’s app is now available on all Fire TV devices in the U.S. and Canada. If watching vertical videos on a horizontal screen is your thing, you can now skip the whole casting-from-your-phone process. Amazon also said TikTok was coming soon to Echo Show devices. TikTok apps already exist for Google TV, Android TV, and Samsung smart TVs, so this is more of a win for Amazon than it is for TikTok.
🧺 Turkish live streamers exposed a fraud ring that used Twitch’s Bit platform to launder nearly $10 million. Users with almost no followings were earning thousands of dollars according to the leaked data from Twitch’s enormous breach last month. The scam consisted of hackers allegedly stealing or obtaining the credit card information of random individuals, negotiating deals with Twitch streamers to send them large payments through Bit, and the streamers refunding 80% of the funds to different bank accounts belonging to the hackers, effectively laundering the money. Twitch said it “took action” against more than 150 users.
🍪 Apple reportedly cut iPad production by 50% for the past two months in order to allocate more chips to the iPhone 13. Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said “larger than expected supply constraintscost the company around $6 billion in the past quarter. The global chip supply crunch is shaping up to be brutal for the current quarter, which is Apple’s most important as it includes the holiday shopping season. Apple will be just fine, of course, but you can expect more news like this before things get better.
💻 Some Mac owners reported that upgrading to macOS Monterey killed their computers. If you can’t turn on your device after an operating system upgrade, many things have gone wrong in the process. Apple says it has since identified and fixed a firmware issue with its T2 security chip, which it believes is responsible, but you may still want to delay upgrading for a while longer if you haven’t pulled the trigger yet. macOS Monterey only started rolling out on October 25, so maybe hit upgrade in 2022.
🎮 Netflix released its exclusive mobile games globally to the Google Play store, after testing them in Poland since the summer. The company started featuring the games in its Android app this week. While the games require a Netflix subscription, they are otherwise free and don’t contain ads nor in-app payments. Netflix is starting with casual mobile games but its gaming ambitions don’t stop there.
🔌 Roblox suffered a three-day outage over the weekend, including Halloween. If you have kids, you were likely made aware that they are still learning the meaning of patience. Still, I can’t remember the last time an online service was down for more than a handful of hours. Roblox also didn’t share much information during the downtime, and afterward CEO David Baszucki explained it was due to “a combination of several factors” including a core infrastructure system becoming “overwhelmed” and “a subtle bug in our backend service communications while under heavy load.”
Big Quote
As we build for the metaverse, we’re focused on unlocking opportunities for creators to make money from their work,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The 30% fees that Apple takes on transactions make it harder to do that, so we’re updating our Subscriptions product so now creators can earn more.” (Notice that Zuckerberg referenced Apple’s tax but not Google’s.)
Big Tweet
Big Numbers
  • Google invested $1 billion in CME and struck a cloud deal with the futures exchange.
  • Meta uprooted a troll farm run by the Nicaraguan government since 2018, removing 937 Facebook accounts, 363 Instagram accounts, 140 Facebook Pages, and 24 Facebook Groups.
Big Acquisitions
Big Stories
Here are this week’s features and scoops that don’t always have news but you’ll surely find interesting:
Did you enjoy this issue?
Emil Protalinski

Every Friday, I recap the week in Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, and other tech news. Readers say BTN saves them hours every week by summarizing the tech news that matters.

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