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Internet connectivity projects unite as Alphabet spinout Loon grabs $125M from SoftBank’s HAPSMobile – TechCrunch

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Two futuristic projects are coming together to help increase global internet access after Loon, the Google spinout that uses a collection of floating balloons to bring connectivity to remote areas, announced it has raised money from a SoftBank initiative.

HAPSMobile, a SoftBank project that is also focused on increasing global connectivity, is investing $125 million into Loon, according to an announcement from SoftBank made this morning. The agreement includes an option for Loon to make a reciprocal $125 million investment in HAPSMobile and it includes co-operation plans, details of which are below.

HAPSMobile is a one-year-old joint venture between SoftBank and U.S. company AeroVironment . The company has developed a solar-powered drone that’s designed to deliver 5G connectivity in the same way Facebook has tried in the past. The social network canceled its Aquila drone last year, although it is reported to have teamed up with Airbus for new trials in Australia.

Where Facebook has stumbled, HAPSMobile has made promising progress. The company said that its HAWK 30 drone — pictured below in an impression — has completed its initial development and the first trials are reportedly set to begin this year.

Loon, meanwhile, was one of the first projects to go after the idea of air-based connectivity with a launch in 2013. The business was spun out of X, the ‘moonshot’ division of Alphabet, last year and, though it is still a work in progress, it has certainly developed from an initial crazy idea conceived within Google.

Loon played a role in connecting those affected by flooding in Peru in 2017 and it assisted those devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. Loon claims its balloons have flown more than 30 million kms and provided internet access for “hundreds of thousands” of people across the world.

In addition to the capital investment, the two companies have announced a set of initiatives that will help them leverage their collective work and technology.

For starters, they say they will make their crafts/balloons open to use for the other — so HAPSMobile can tap Loon balloons for connectivity and vice-versa — while, connected to that, they will jointly develop a communication payload across both services. They also plan to develop a common ground station that could work with each side’s tech and develop shared connectivity that their airborne hardware can tap.

Loon has already developed fleet management technology because of the nature of its service, which is delivered by a collection of balloons, and that will be optimized for HAPSMobile.

The premise of HAPSMobile is very much like Loon

Outside of tech, the duo said they will create an alliance “to promote the use of high altitude communications solution with regulators and officials worldwide.”

The investment is another signal that shows SoftBank’s appetite in tech investing is not limited to up-and-coming startups via its Vision Fund, more established ventures are indeed also in play. Just yesterday, the Vision Fund announced plans to invest $1 billion in German payment firm Wirecard and its past investments include ARM and Nvidia, although SoftBank has sold its stake in the latter.

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Instagram Stories links are now available for all accounts

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Instagram has confirmed that it’s bringing the ability to and links to Stories for all user accounts. When Stories links were first revealed, they were only available for verified accounts or accounts with a certain number of followers. However, Instagram says over the years it has seen that the ability to share links to stories is helpful, so it’s expanding access to everyone.

The Instagram community has been asking for Stories links for everyone to make sharing content with friends and family easier. Links are now available for sharing for everyone with no stipulation on account size. To add links to Stories, users can use the Link sticker.

When people click the sticker, they will be redirected. Adding a Link sticker is easy and starts with capturing or uploading content to the story. Users then select the sticker tool from the navigation bar and tap the Link sticker to add the desired link. Once that is complete, users can place the sticker on their story, and there are variations of the sticker available.

Instagram also says it’s working on customizing the sticker to make it clear what users will see when they tap it. Instagram is also talking about its ongoing effort to keep its community of users safe. To facilitate safety, new accounts and accounts that repeatedly share content, including hate speech or misinformation, as well as anything that violates community guidelines, won’t have access to the Link sticker.

The Link sticker isn’t the only change Instagram has made this month. Previously, Instagram announced that its desktop app was getting photo upload capability. Before adding the capability to upload content from the desktop app, all uploading had to be done from the mobile app. The change was implemented on October 21.

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2021 MacBook Pro teardown tease shows what’s on the inside

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It’s very common for manufacturers like Apple to release new products, and fans always want to know what they look like on the inside. However, the last thing most of us want to do is tear apart our brand-new and expensive gadgets to look. Thankfully, IFIXIT has been gutting new devices for a long time, giving us a look at what’s on the inside without having to trash our own hardware.

Right now, a teardown for the 2021 MacBook Pro is being teased with a few pictures ahead of the full reveal. As you would expect, everything is packed very tightly into the thin and lightweight MacBook Pro notebooks. While there are no real details offered at this time about the hardware inside, we already know what to expect from Apple’s official event.

Apple has fitted its 2021 model notebooks with additional ports. An improved keyboard is integrated that hopefully won’t break if you eat lunch and work at the same time. MagSafe charging is integrated, and Apple ditched the Touch Bar for traditional function keys. The real changes come in new Apple silicon running the show. One interesting tidbit that has been shared from the full teardown is that the battery cells have pull tabs to make them easier to remove and aren’t crammed under a logic board.

We hope that means should your battery go bad down the road; you don’t have to completely disassemble the notebook to install a new one. The four outer cells of the battery have pull tabs similar to those used in the iPhone and MacBook Air. However, we will have to wait for the full teardown to know everything about these batteries and just how easy they are to remove and replace.

The prospect of more DIY friendly component placements should have Mac fans excited. The gang also got their hands on that $20 official Apple polishing cloth, simply called the “Polishing Cloth.” A price of $19 is pretty steep for cloth used to shine the screen of your iPhone, but it has an Apple logo, and that’s enough for some. The cloth feels like Alcantara and appears to be the same material used inside the iPad Smart Cover.

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Android apps on Chrome OS will soon behave better with Compatibility mode

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Although it isn’t exactly the one Google OS to rule them all, Chrome OS has long been able to run both of Google’s preferred platforms and then some. It did take a while before it could properly handle Android apps and, even then, there are still a lot of rough edges thanks to the wide variety and quality of those apps. Years after there have been tablets, many Android apps still live in a phone-only world, but that’s, fortunately, changing with Google’s latest push for big-screen Android devices and, of course, Chromebooks.

Android apps that have been made only with phones in mind behave unpredictably or undesirably on large screens. On tablets, they often force a portrait orientation, which can be awkward and unusable for tablets 10 inches or greater in size. On Chromebooks, the app’s UI gets stretched, delivering a very suboptimal experience.

Some Android apps let windows be resized on Chrome OS, allowing users to select what best works for them. Not all apps support this, however, and it’s often a guessing game that people shouldn’t have to play. With the upcoming Android 12L changes, they won’t have to.

As spotted by Chrome Unboxed last month, Google has been working on a compatibility mode for Android apps on Chrome OS and, apparently, on Android tablets, too. This will add a very conspicuous button in the middle of an Android app’s window title bar, indicating that a certain app’s UI is optimized for a certain form factor. More importantly, this feature automatically resizes an app’s window to make it look and behave better on Chromebooks and even lets users switch between different form options.

This is part of Google’s newly-announced push to support large-screen Android devices, what it calls Android 12L. Ideally, developers would design their apps to support different screen sizes and form factors, including foldables, but this Compatibility Mode at least offers a stop-gap measure for apps that don’t.

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