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Facebook Aims To Take A Bite Out Of Apple’s iPhone

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Facebook aims to take a bite out of Apple’s iPhone

In 2017, Andrew Bosworth found himself in a new job. After over a decade at Facebook and stints in charge of key areas such as the news feed and advertising, the company veteran was shuttled off to manage the company’s nascent hardware business.

Bosworth – known internally as “Boz” – had become one of Facebook’s most outspoken defenders as it found itself increasingly on the back foot. A year earlier he had written a controversial internal memo titled “The Ugly” appearing to argue that Facebook should pursue growth at all costs, even when it is used to carry out a terrorist attack. He had challenged critics of the company head-on in unscripted Twitter exchanges.

So putting Bosworth in charge of what was at the time a relatively small venture – Facebook’s sole gadget was its Oculus virtual reality headset, sales of which were meagre – might have been seen as a reshuffle to get ahead of a rapidly escalating PR crisis.

The company’s problems tackling fake news, mental health issues and violence were becoming more apparent, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal was around the corner. Facebook wanted political operatives like Sir Nick Clegg to tell its story, not engineers. But four years later, Bosworth – who has said that his explosive memo was merely to encourage debate – is at the forefront of the social networking giant’s efforts to reinvent himself.

Andrew Bosworth argued in a 2016 memo that using Facebook to connect more people was the right thing to do even if “someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools”. CREDIT: GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP via Getty Images
Today, Facebook sells millions of Oculus virtual reality headsets and Portal video calling screens, with sales boosted by the pandemic. It is developing augmented reality goggles that project holographic images into the wearer’s field of vision, and wristbands that read nerve signals from the brain. This month it unveiled sunglasses that record video.

Last week, Bosworth was promoted to Facebook’s chief technology officer. The move was seen as a signal that the company is now done making amends for its mistakes, and is focusing on its next act: replacing the iPhone.

“We’re running into the limits of what these devices are,” Bosworth tells The Telegraph, brandishing his mobile phone. “In the last decade, if you want to connect people in new and exciting ways, the phone was the way to do it. [Today] the phone that you have in your pocket is similar to the one you had three or four years ago. There isn’t a new way that you’re connecting with people.”

Bosworth’s point is reinforced by the timing of the conversation: a few hours after Apple has unveiled a new line of iPhones filled with marginal upgrades.

Facebook Reality Labs – the official name of the company’s efforts in hardware and virtual reality – are dwarfed in revenue terms by the company’s giant advertising division. But it employs around 10,000 people, a fifth of its workforce, and is increasingly the subject of Zuckerberg’s attention.

It is easy to see why. Facebook has faced a seemingly never ending string of scandals, most recently a leak showing the company knew about the harmful effects on young users (Bosworth declined to comment on the reports, insisting it was not his area of expertise). But it is a rising force in hardware.

Its Portal video calling device was widely mocked when released in 2018, but sold out at the start of the pandemic. Sales of VR headsets tripled early this year, with Facebook’s Oculus taking three quarters of the market.

“We’re past the inflection point of VR,” Bosworth insists. “People who have critiques probably haven’t spent much time in the modern ecosystem.”

The 39-year-old says phones, like computers before them, will continue to be widely used, but that their limitations are being exposed.

“The phone will continue to be a tremendously useful device. But because it’s a general purpose device, it can’t do some things better without being worse than other things.

“In VR, in augmented reality, we’re talking about the idea that you can have people that you’re co-present with, who are not physically with you, but you’re all having a shared experience. Those things aren’t possible with a phone.”

Not surprisingly, usurping the iPhone would not be popular among Facebook’s Silicon Valley neighbour. Apple and Facebook have become mortal enemies in recent years. Tim Cook has used Facebook’s privacy scandals as a way to reinforce his company’s credentials, and introduced software updates that have hit the social network’s advertising revenues. Zuckerberg said this year the company was now its biggest competitor.

But Facebook’s push into hardware is not merely an effort to hit the iPhone maker where it hurts. Zuckerberg sees it as crucial to owning the “metaverse”, a term that has become increasingly fashionable among the Silicon Valley cognoscenti to refer to virtual worlds.

Bosworth is one of Zuckerberg’s key lieutenants in delivering that mission. Two years ahead of the Facebook founder when both were at Harvard, he helped teach an artificial intelligence class that Zuckerberg attended. He joined in 2006, two years after Facebook was founded.

But why should Facebook be entrusted with creating the next big thing after the smartphone? Many regulators consider it to be too powerful as it is, and it suffers from a trust deficit in some quarters.

“We are relatively unique among the tech set, in that our focus is connecting people,” Bosworth says. “We’re one of the most popular products in the history of the world. I don’t think it’s entirely surprising that we’re eager to find more and better ways to help those billions of people connect.”

To that end, Bosworth is committed to the company’s devices being mass market, in contrast to Apple’s efforts to target the most lucrative consumers. “Every time you increase price, you decrease reach, and it becomes inaccessible to people,” he says.

Facebook will want to see an eventual return somewhere, however. Bosworth was the architect of the company’s emergency mission to make money from mobile adverts after its stumbling stock market debut in 2012. He cancelled a six-month sabbatical to help bring investors back on side.

Does that mean a dystopic metaverse stuffed with unskippable commercials beamed into users’ eyeballs? Bosworth bristles at the suggestion.

“No one’s proposed that, and I’m a little annoyed you would suggest that anyone had,” he counters. “Facebook’s business advertising is something I’m very proud of. The ads on Facebook are tremendously high quality … certainly relative to ads I get any place else on the internet.”

Andrew Bosworth, often known as “Boz”, speak at a trade show in Hamburg, Germany in 2017
Andrew Bosworth, often known as “Boz”, speak at a trade show in Hamburg, Germany in 2017 CREDIT: Christian Charisius/dpa/Alamy Live News
Advertising, it seems, will be at least one way to monetise the metaverse. “It certainly plays a role. I don’t know what role it’s going to play. It’s way too early to say that.”

Facebook’s journey to displace the iPhone faces perhaps its sternest test yet with the recent release of its camera-equipped £300 sunglasses. As well as a potential stepping stone to more advanced shades, its purpose, at least partly, is to move the Overton window; to make hi-tech glasses a little closer to acceptable attire. “I don’t know of a better way to learn about what society wants than to give it a product and have [people] use it or not use it,” Bosworth says.

The device did not get off to a perfect start, when reviewers observed its dim warning light meant subjects were often unaware they were being filmed. Bosworth says the company welcomes the feedback, adding: “We feel good about our answers. That’s where the scrutiny should be.”

The critics, however, much like the next smartphone-sized revolution, are not yet under Facebook’s control.

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News

Supreme Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Adeleke’s Candidacy

The Supreme Court has affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the just concluded Osun State Governorship Election.

This has laid to rest the suit filed by Dotun Babayemi, a governorship aspirant of the party who sought the invalidation of Adeleke’s victory.

In a judgement delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the five-member panel held that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit after counsel for the appellant, Adebayo Adelodun, withdrew the earlier notice of appeal that was filed within time.

At the resumed hearing, Adelodun, who represented the appellant and Babayemi informed the court that he sought to withdraw the earlier notice of appeal to replace it with the fresh application he filed.

But the panel held that Section 285(11) of the constitution stipulated that an appeal on a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the day of the decision, and that having filed the second appeal out of time, the apex court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Justice Augie, therefore, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Babayemi had asked the court to invalidate the primary election that produced the governor-elect, citing non-compliance with a court order.

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News

400 Staff To Lose Jobs As BBC Goes Digital

The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC world service has on Thursday disclosed that about 400 of its staff will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme and move to digital platforms,

The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.

In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.

BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.

But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.

BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.

“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.

 

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Environment

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian made landfall at around 15:10 local time (19:10 GMT) on Wednesday, smashing into the coast with wind speeds of up to 241km/h (150mph).

Dramatic scenes saw a hospital roof blown off, cars submerged and trees ripped out of the ground.

The category four hurricane was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

However, Floridians were warned that the most dangerous 24 hours lay ahead and the mayor of Tampa urged people to shelter in place through the night into Thursday morning.

“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 20:00, and they are going to last throughout the night,” Jane Castor said during a Wednesday evening briefing.

In a message posted on Facebook, the Weather Prediction Center told residents in the Central Florida Peninsula to expect “widespread life-threatening, catastrophic flash and urban flooding” continuing into Friday morning, with potentially up to 76cm (30ins) of rain falling locally.

Residents were ordered to leave their homes, but many have decided to remain and seek shelter indoors.

Mark Pritchett, who lives in the city of Venice, some 95km (60 miles) south of Tampa, described the “terrifying” moment he stepped outside his home as the hurricane made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

“Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press news agency.

In Lee County – the south-west region where Ian made landfall – police were prevented from responding to reports of looting at a petrol station because of the storm damage.

As a result, a curfew has been declared “until further notice”.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that the Fort Myers community had “been – to some extent – decimated”. According to news agency AFP, some neighbourhoods in the city of 80,000 had been left resembling lakes.

State Governor Ron DeSantis described Ian as the “biggest flood event” south-west Florida had ever seen, and announced that 7,000 National Guard troops are ready to lead rescue operations in flood zones.

President Joe Biden will receive a briefing on Thursday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ian is now continuing to move north through Florida. Jacksonville International Airport, based in north-east Florida, cancelled all flights scheduled for Thursday.

The storm is forecast to emerge into the Atlantic by Thursday morning.

It is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina on Friday. Virginia has also joined Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida by declaring a state of emergency.

Cuba’s western coast was hit by Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. Power has now been restored in some areas after the island was plunged into a total blackout. Two people are understood to have been killed in Cuba and more than 20 Cuban migrants are believed to be missing at sea.

Predicted path of Hurricane Ian. Updated 27 September

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