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Twitter Shakes Off the Cobwebs With New Product Plans

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For years, Twitter remained pretty much the same. One of its most memorable product updates was in 2017 when it doubled the number of characters that could fit into a tweet.

But in recent months, the company has signaled an itch for change, with plans for an audio chat service, a platform for newsletter writers, ephemeral content and new moderation tools that give people more control over their conversations.

On Thursday, Twitter went a step further, announcing ambitious plans to expand with new options to pay for exclusive content from certain users, and to launch communities for specific interests.

“The notion of Twitter even changing feels like a novel concept,” said Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of consumer product, in a recent interview. “It’s still so far from achieving its potential, despite how much influence and value it does have in the world.”

The heart of Twitter, launched in 2006, is still tweets. But the company urgently wants to attract more users — a lot more users — and impress skeptical investors while not weighing down its service with bulky features that come across as afterthoughts.

Though Twitter was at the center of last year’s tumultuous presidential election and continues to carry an outsized influence in political and media circles, younger social media peers like TikTok, Snapchat and Clubhouse have grown far more quickly.

Snapchat now has 265 million daily active users, more than Twitter’s 192 million. TikTok, which became widely used in the United States in 2018 and does not regularly publish usage figures, said last fall that it had about 50 million daily active U.S. users. And 11-month-old Clubhouse has 10 million users.

Over the next three years, Twitter wants to increase its number of daily active users by at least 64 percent, to 315 million; increase the speed at which it debuts new features to the public; and at least double its annual revenue, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said on Thursday at an event for industry analysts and investors.

The shift, Twitter executives and employees say, is overdue. “It comes down to three critiques: we’re slow, we’re not innovative and we’re not trusted,” Mr. Dorsey said.

Mr. Dorsey has pushed in recent years for the company to expand its mandate beyond 280-character conversations and host broader discussions.

But Twitter has long resisted change. Leadership of the company’s product development team regularly changed, and the small tweaks that Twitter did manage to make were routinely mocked by its users. After he took over product development in 2018, Mr. Beykpour often joked that he, like product leaders before him, could end up on the chopping block.

Last year, Elliott Management, a hedge fund, quietly amassed a 4 percent stake in the company and then attempted to oust Mr. Dorsey, arguing that he was not focused enough on creating innovative new products at Twitter because he also oversees the financial company Square.

Twitter made an agreement with Elliott Management to retain Mr. Dorsey. But the episode jolted the company into an acquisition spree. It snapped up a mobile advertising company, a social video app, a podcasting company, a design firm and a newsletter provider.

“We’ve bought almost 20 companies for hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years,” said Ned Segal, Twitter’s chief financial officer, in an interview earlier this month. “I think our pace of M&A is consistent with the pace of innovation inside the company. We are moving faster.”

Twitter also added a bevy of features, including ephemeral stories that are nicknamed “fleets,” moderation tools that help users limit who can reply to their tweets and live audio chats called Spaces.

It also revamped its network, which had largely been built during Twitter’s early days, before modern cloud-computing services were widely available. The company is also experimenting with subscription products, like newsletters, that would help creators earn money on Twitter.

“That’s the shift Twitter is in right now: There are a lot of different things that Twitter is willing to try,” said Esther Crawford, a senior product manager at Twitter. Ms. Crawford co-founded the social video app Squad, which Twitter acquired in December. “People are actually in this moment of excitement around the experimentation that we’re doing.”

On Thursday, Twitter teased new features, like community groups and “Super Follows” that would allow users to subscribe to exclusive content from other tweeters. The subscription option could attract more influencers, who have become accustomed to earning revenue from their content on other platforms. Users who “Super Follow” an account could get a badge on their profile indicating their support and access to newsletters and other content behind a pay wall, Twitter said.

The new community groups, which Twitter expects to debut later in the year, would allow users to connect with others who share their interests. Communities could also set their own moderation rules, the company said. Twitter also said it would hire engineering teams in regions it plans to grow, like India and Africa.

Some of Twitter’s latest features are not available to all users, so it is hard to quantify their impact. But the company’s audience is growing. Twitter said it added more daily active users in January than it had on average for the previous four Januarys. And Twitter’s stock is higher than it’s been in years, and is up more than 100 percent from a year ago.

Last week, several Twitter designers held a Space to debate how the app should look. About 30 users listened in to what, before the pandemic, might have been a brainstorming session in a conference room at Twitter’s headquarters. On Wednesday, a group of Twitter engineers responsible for building the company’s Android app held another open meeting.

“When you work in public, you work faster because you’re held accountable to the people you’re interacting with,” Ms. Crawford said.

But some analysts remain skeptical that all of Twitter’s experimentation will amount to reeling in the competition.

“They try all of this experimentation and it feels like a lot of small pieces that don’t necessarily cumulate into a bigger cohesive app experience or social media experience,” Jessica Liu, a senior analyst at Forrester, said in an interview earlier this month. “I just want to understand from their senior leadership, what is the long-term vision for Twitter?”



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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries with palm scan

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Whole Foods will soon let customers pay for groceries using its parent company’s palm-scanning technology.

Amazon said Wednesday its palm-scanning system — currently used in about a dozen of its brick and mortar stores — will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the first of many planned rollouts at other locations.

The system uses Amazon One technology, which employs high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a “unique palm signature” based on the ridges, lines and veins in each person’s hand.

Its high-tech sensors don’t require users to touch the scanning surface, like Apple’s fingerprint technology does.

Instead, palm-reading tech uses computer vision and depth geometry to process and identify the shape and size of each hand they scan before charging a credit card on file.

Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Amazon One will debut at a Whole Foods in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, with many rollouts at other locations planned for the future.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The company said that the palm-scanning tech will be offered as just one of many payment options at participating Whole Foods Stores and that it won’t impact store employees’ job responsibilities.

“At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers,” said Arun Rajan, senior vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Whole Foods Market.

Palm images used by Amazon One are encrypted and stored in a “highly secure” cloud, and customers can request to have their palm data deleted.

The company claims palm-scanning tech is more private than other biometric alternatives, such as facial recognition.

Amazon One builds on the “Just Walk Out” technology that Amazon uses in its Go stores, which detects the items shoppers pick up and charges them once they leave — without the need for a checkout line

Amazon is also planning to expand the cashier-less technology to Whole Foods, as reported by The Post.

Meanwhile, the tech could be good for its bottom line. The online behemoth aims to sell its palm-scanning tech to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings.

Amazon One scanner
The scanner uses high-tech imaging and algorithms to create and detect a unique palm signature which is then encrypted and stored in a secured cloud.
Amazon

Last September, it said it was in “active discussions with several potential customers.” But it is unclear if it has progressed on any of those fronts.

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Apple’s new iPad Pros and TV remote don’t have U1 locators to help find them in your couch

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Apple has been quietly sticking special locator beacon chips into some of its new iPhones that’ll let you unlock your car and find lost items through walls — the latter thanks to the $29 AirTags announced today — but sadly, you won’t find that chip in the new M1-based iPad Pros or the long-awaited new Siri remote for the Apple TV.

Apple confirmed to us that the U1 locator chip, which uses pulses of ultra-wideband (UWB) radio to broadcast its precise location, won’t appear in the Siri remote. We’re waiting on final bulletproof confirmation about the iPad Pros, but it also doesn’t appear in their product page, spec sheet, or press release. Last year’s iP ad Pros didn’t include a U1 chip, either.

Is Apple expecting us to stick AirTags to our iPads and TV remotes to escape the jaws of the ever-ravenous couch? Unlikely, but the company has been pretty choosey about which devices get the chip so far. You can find it in the iPhone 11 and newer (but not the iPhone SE) and the Apple Watch Series 6 (but not the Apple Watch SE), but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t made its way to any iPads or MacBooks that have been announced since the chip’s introduction in September 2019.

Theoretically, Apple could build an ecosystem where any Apple device can easily find any other Apple device (not to mention UWB devices from Samsung, which is also deeply invested in the tech and has its own AirTag-like device as well). But for now, you’ll primarily just be using your phone to find AirTags, not other gadgets, except perhaps your future car.

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Your iPhone has a completely hidden app. Here’s how to find and use it

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Apple’s iPhone is full of hidden features and tricks we’re constantly discovering. For instance, did you know the Notes app has a hidden document scanner? Yeah, pretty cool. The latest hidden feature that’s been popping up on Twitter and blogs is another type of scanner, dedicated to QR codes, and it’s better than the one built into the camera app.

Indeed, you would already be able to filter QR codes utilizing the easy route in Control Center, or simply open the camera application and it will check a QR code. Also, you’re correct. Both of those strategies turn out great. However, the committed Code Scanner application accepts the position above and beyond by introducing a greater amount of the data I need to see about an examined code.

For instance, the camera application utilizes a little notice at the highest point of the screen to open a connection or show you data, though the devoted Code Scanner application makes it exceptionally clear what’s inside the QR code you just checked. Yet, here’s the rub: The Code Scanner application isn’t found on your home screen, nor is it found in iOS 14’s new App Library.

As should be obvious, the best way to discover the Code Scanner application is to utilize the iPhone’s Spotlight search include. Go to your iPhone’s home screen and swipe down in the center of the screen. An inquiry bar will show up at the highest point of your screen, alongside application and alternate route ideas underneath. Type either code or scanner. As you type, you’ll see the Code Scanner application symbol appear as an application idea. Tap to open it.

The flashlight icon at the bottom of the screen acts as a flash to illuminate a code if your phone is struggling to read it.

If you don’t have the QR scanner shortcut added to Control Center yet, here’s a post showing you how to customize Control Center to your liking. For more hidden features, check out our list for iOS 14. We also cover more general, but useful features in iOS 14.

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