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An Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display is Microsoft’s latest gaming accessibility play – TechCrunch

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Microsoft has been leaning into accessibility in gaming lately, most visibly with its amazing Adaptive Controller, and a new patent suggests another way the company may be accommodating disabled gamers: an Xbox controller with a built-in Braille display.

As you might expect, it’s already quite hard for a visually impaired gamer to play some games, and although that difficulty can’t be entirely alleviated, there are definitely things worth doing. For instance: the text on screen that sighted people take for granted, documenting player status, items, onscreen dialog or directions — how could these be read by a low-vision gamer who might be able to otherwise navigate the game world?

In many circumstances a screen reader is what a visually impaired person would use to interact with this kind of data, but often that text is relayed to them in audio form, which is far less appealing an option when you’re in-game. Who wants to have a computer voice reading off your armor levels and inventory burden while you’re trying to take in the ambient environment?

There are already some Braille display accessories for this kind of thing, but there’s nothing like having support direct from your console’s designer, and that’s what Microsoft has demonstrated with its patent for a Braille-enabled controller.

The patent was filed last year and just recently became public, and was soon spotted by German tech site Let’s Go Digital; there have been no official announcements, though the timing is favorable for an E3 reveal. That said, patents don’t necessarily represent real products in development, though in this case I think it’s worth highlighting regardless.

The Braille Controller, as it’s referred to in the patent, is very much like an ordinary Xbox One gamepad, except on the back there appears to be a sort of robotic insect sticking out of it. This is the Braille display, consisting of both a dot matrix that mechanically reproduces the bumps which players can run their fingers over, and a set of swappable paddles allowing for both input and output.

The six paddles correspond to the six dot positions on a Braille-coded character, and a user may use them to chord or input text that way, or to receive text communications without moving their fingers off the paddles. Of course the mechanisms also could be used to send haptic feedback of other types, like directional indicators or environmental effects like screen shake. I wouldn’t mind having something like this on my controller, in fact.

Naturally this means games will need (and increasingly are including) a metadata layer for this kind of conversion of visual cue to auditory one, and vice versa, among many other considerations for gamers with disabilities. It’s on everyone’s minds, but Microsoft and Xbox seem to be taking more concrete steps than the rest, so kudos to them for that. Hopefully their leadership in this space will help convince other developers and manufacturers to join up.

We’ll be sure to ask the Xbox team about their plans for this controller design and other accessibility improvements when we talk with them at E3 in June.

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Facebook bans events near DC and state capitols over inauguration concerns

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In light of safety concerns surrounding the upcoming US presidential inauguration, Facebook has decided to ban events on its platform that would take place near the US Capitol building and White House. As well, the platform has also banned new events that would take place near state capitols until after Inauguration Day.

Soon after the events that took place at the US Capitol last week, social media posts began surfacing with indications that rioters are planning a second attack in DC, one that will aim to disrupt the Presidential Inauguration. As well, law enforcement has warned that some groups may be planning to target state capitol buildings.

Facebook has announced a number of changes on its platform in light of these concerns, one of which is banning the creation of new events near capitol buildings and the White House until after the inauguration. In addition to preventing these new events from being created, the company also says that its team is conducting a ‘secondary review’ of all events on the platform related to the inauguration.

Any events found to violate the company’s policies will be removed, Facebook said. As well, the platform is still preventing non-US based accounts and Pages from creating events in the US.

Beyond that, Facebook says that it will use various signals like repeated policy violations to prevent some US-based accounts from accessing certain features like creating events, live-streaming videos, and making new Groups or Pages. Earlier today, the company said that it is also banning advertisements for protective equipment and weapon accessories in the US through January 22, at minimum.

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Apple TV+ free trials extended again: What you should know

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If you were one of the people who signed up for Apple’s lengthy one-year free trial of Apple TV+, you’ll be glad to hear that the company has extended their lengths…again. With this extension, the users who were set to lose their free trial in the coming weeks will instead get several additional months of access without charges.

Apple TV+ is the company’s streaming service. When it first launched, Apple offered a huge one-year free trial for those who purchased an Apple device. Back in October 2020, it was announced that the free trials period would be extended through to February 2021, meaning the first wave of subscribers are now weeks away from having to pay to keep watching.

According to 9to5Mac, Apple is once again extending the free trial period, this time pushing it back to July 2021. The extension will apply to free trial users whose trials were set to expire at some point up through June. Assuming you didn’t already cancel in anticipation of the trial’s end, you’ll be able to watch for free until summer.

If you’re one of these free trial subscribers, you can expect to get details about the extension in an email from Apple soon, according to the report. Some subscribers who have started paying can expect to see credits for the extra months.

The move isn’t entirely surprising — Apple TV+ is still a neophyte in a market dominated by big alternatives, and though it is cheap at $4.99/month, many critics have pointed out that it doesn’t yet have the content to compete with companies like Netflix. The pandemic and its impact on movie and TV show production has made things trickier.

The free trial extension will likely keep many people watching, giving Apple more time to roll out new content that may encourage many free users to eventually become paying customers.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: The flagship battle

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The two heavyweights of flagship smartphones – Samsung and Apple – are in for another blockbuster bout as the Korean smartphone maker just announced the S21 series at the Galaxy Unpacked event. This comes after the release of the Apple iPhone 12 series a couple of months ago. While the iPhone’s latest and greatest iPhone 12 Pro Max has already proved its substance, Samsung is here to spoil the party and take the laurels away.

It’s still too early to make an in-depth analysis of the Galaxy S21 Ultra – the shining new star from the house of Samsung – yet things are now clear as to what the smartphone is capable of delivering. So, without further ado, let’s get straight into comparing some prominent features of the two premium flagship phones that money can buy. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Design aesthetics

The Samsung Galaxy S21 ultra gets a bit of a bump (from the S20 Ultra) in the way it looks – draped in new colors with matte finish for a classy look. The revamped camera module topped with a metal frame surely looks minimalistic and flows down into the aluminum body on the side. iPhone 12 Pro Max on the other hand adapts the sharper old-school aesthetics of the iPhone 5. The phone has a glass sandwich design housed in stainless steel frame with a frosted glass finish that makes it so desirable. The clear winner for pure design aesthetics is the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Display

Being the best flagships that you can buy, both the phones have a large display. The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with a curved 6.8-inch Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED display (3200×1440 resolution @ 515 ppi) with a center-aligned hole-punch camera. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display (2778×1284 resolution @ 458 ppi) with the notch housing the front-facing shooter.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate that can go as low as 10Hz for battery efficiency depending on the content being viewed. While the iPhone 12 Pro Max sticks to the contemporary 60Hz refresh rate that’s nothing much to talk of. Samsung’s flagship also takes the upper hand in peak brightness viewing with 1,500 nits while Apple’s phone has 1,200 nits value. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra takes the edge here promising to offer a wholesome viewing experience.

Processing power

Both the devices will come in 128GB/256GB/512GB internal storage configuration as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ditches the microSD card slot for good. The Galaxy S21 Ultra will offer a massive 12GB and 16GB RAM for the buyers while iPhone 12 Pro Max has 6GB RAM on-board.

To rival the Apple A14 Bionic chip on the latest iPhone series, the Samsung series (for the US) gets the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor that’s more than just a powerhouse, it’s AI-capable for taking things to the new level. While preliminary benchmarking tests show a comparable result for both the chipsets, Galaxy S21 Ultra could have a slight edge. The real-world processing capabilities will make things clearer, so we’ll reserve a verdict for now.

Rear camera capability

The camera setup on the two devices is pretty interesting. The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with a 108MP (24mm f/1.8) main sensor with OIS, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max gets the 12MP (26mm f/1.7) primary sensor with shift stabilization. Interestingly the Samsung phone has two 10MP telephoto zoom lenses with OIS – one having 3X zoom level lens (72mm, f/2.4) and the other with 10X zoom periscope lens (240mm, f/4.9).

The flagship iPhone however gets a 12MP 2.5X zoom telephoto shooter (65mm, f/2.2) with OIS. The ultra-wide shooter is where both of them coincide with a 12MP ultra-wide 13mm lenses with the Samsung device having f/2.2 value while the Apple monster dishing out f/2.4.

For capturing videos, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with 8K video recording capability at 30fps, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max can manage 4K videos with support for Dolby HDR standard for richer colors. So, Galaxy S21 Ultra can shoot much cleaner looking videos while the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a higher dynamic range.

iPhone 12 Pro Max with the LiDAR sensor (for supreme focusing in low-light conditions) has been touted as being one of the best camera setups out there but with the Galaxy S21 Ultra having an upper hand as far as specs go, things could get interesting if the camera software can leverage full potential. This could be possible with the advanced capabilities of the Snapdragon Camera AI.

Battery and charging speed

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a solid 5,000mAh battery compared to the 3,687mAh battery on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. On paper that might sound like a huge difference but Apple’s battery management is no joke, it has proven to be the best hardware-software ecosystem for years now.

Galaxy S21 Ultra with its massive battery already looks good. Additionally, with the Android 11 powering its guts and the power-efficient Snapdragon 888 promising huge leaps in battery management; things look promising for Samsung. Again Galaxy S21 Ultra gets our vote here and we are confident its battery will last longer than that of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, even if it is by a little.

The charging speed is another advantage here as Galaxy S21 Ultra gets the 25W charging speed support and the iPhone 12 Pro Max has 20W support. Both can however charge at 15W wirelessly. They ship without the charger, so that’s something you’ll have to sort for yourself, if you’re not a previous user of any of these ecosystems, or are making a shift to the other.

Added perks

Samsung Galaxy S21 comes with support for the S Pen, including for the old generation S Pen and the new Wacom-powered S Pen. It can also reverse wireless charge, so you can juice up your Galaxy Buds Pro on the go from your phone. On the other hand, Apple iPhone 12 series comes with the MagSafe to enjoy the perks of the unique compatible accessories that add another dimension to the use-case scenario. More innovative ways to leverage MagSafe’s capability is a surety, so depending on your priorities both have their advantages, and it’s going to be a subjective decision.

Pricing

This is where the buying decision can go one way or the other. Samsung has lowered the prices of its Galaxy S21 series lines-up to get more traction. The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes at a $1,200 for the 128GB model, $1,250 for the 256GB, and $1,380 for the 512GB variant.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max surprisingly is a good bargain here if you are looking at the price alone. The 128GB model comes at $1,100, 256GB model demands $1,200, and the top 512GB model can be yours for $1,400. As for the pricing, even though Galaxy S21 Ultra is cheaper than its predecessor, iPhone 12 Pro Max will make things difficult for Samsung.

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