Weekend Roundup: Apple’s New iOS, Facebook Whacks VR Headset

What a week, huh? Before we all shut down for the weekend, let’s look at just a few of the big stories of the week, including some of Apple’s more colorful tweaks to iOS, Facebook’s big virtual-reality decision, and Amazon’s new crime-fighting unit.

Apple’s iOS 14: Goodbye, Minimalist Home Screen 

Amidst the deluge of reveals at Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), the wholesale revamp of the iOS home screen could prove one of the biggest deals for consumers. For the past 13 iOS iterations, Apple kept the home screen as a locked-down grid of app icons and folders. Now, users can place widgets (such as weather, or maps) on their screens.

That degree of customization would have been unthinkable under the design tenure of Jony Ive, who liked to keep Apple hardware and software nice and minimalist. It’s also going to change how developers approach the platform, because now, in addition to thinking about their “core” apps, they’ll also need to consider how a widget may operate on the home screen. 

In addition to iOS home screen widgets, Apple is rolling out an App Library (which lists all one’s apps) and App Clips (a stripped-down version of an app that you can use without having to actually download it from the App Store). These are meant to give users more options when it comes to discovering, using, and categorizing apps; but again, it will also mean a radically changed landscape for app developers. 

Combined with the huge announcement around the Mac’s use of ARM chips (branded “Apple Silicon”) and new features for iPadOS, it’s clear that Apple’s developer ecosystem will have a lot to play with over the next several months and years.  

Facebook Whacks Its ‘Cheap’ VR Headset

The Oculus Go is no more. Facebook decided to sunset its cheapest virtual-reality (VR) headset after a mere two years on the market, most likely because the next-most-expensive Oculus headset (the Oculus Quest) is a solid seller. Although VR hasn’t become the ubiquitous technology that Facebook was perhaps expecting when it paid $2 billion for Oculus back in 2014, there are signs that the Quest has been doing well (how much of that is driven by “Half-Life: Alyx,” a VR game in the ultra-popular “Half-Life” sci-fi franchise, is hard to tell).  

Facebook is also changing how VR developers can distribute apps via the Oculus platform, although the details are unclear at this time. “This will enable developers to share their apps to anyone with a Quest, without having to be accepted into the Oculus Store, and without the need for sideloading,” the company wrote in a note posted on TechCrunch

It’s easy to forget how, a few short years ago, some pundits predicted that VR and augmented reality (AR) would catch on quickly. That prediction now seems overly optimistic, especially with the implosion of well-funded and highly publicized startups such as Magic Leap. But Facebook, with its enormous resources, seems determined to keep Oculus going until millions of users adopt the platform.  

CSI: Online Shopping Cart

This week, Amazon announced the launch of a “Counterfeit Crimes Unit” that will hunt down and purge counterfeit products sold on the website (and ban the sellers of those products, presumably). From a tech perspective, this is notable because, in addition to hiring investigators and former prosecutors, Amazon is reportedly relying quite a bit on data analysts to discover where those counterfeits are lurking. 

Can data science alone rid Amazon of a persistent problem? It’s a similar conundrum to the one facing Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which are all relying on machine learning and A.I. tools to police their respective platforms and remove misinformation. All of these firms’ futures, to a certain extent, rest on how effectively they can evolve these platforms to identify and eliminate these issues.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Remember to keep those hands washed!