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iPhone XS Max first impressions: It’s big, but not too big

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Apple’s iPhone XS and XS Max have arrived. Customers have lined up across the world in anticipation of the launch day Apple Store experience, all the while delivery trucks with countless identical boxes are delivering new phones globally.

Also: Want a new iPhone or Android smartphone? Here’s how to sell or trade

My FedEx box arrived about an hour ago. Inside was a review sample of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. I plan on more thoroughly testing both devices in the coming days and weeks, but until then, I thought I’d offer some of my first impressions of the iPhone XS Max — the biggest iPhone Apple has ever made.

It’s not that big


(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Skimming through my Twitter timeline after the iPhone XS review embargo lifted earlier this week (I refuse to read reviews of a product until after I’ve reviewed it), I got the impression that the iPhone XS Max was too big for most reviewers.

And while, yes, it’s a big phone, it’s not earth-shattering big. It’s marginally smaller than the Samsung Note 9, despite having an ever-so-slightly larger display. If the iPhone XS Max is too big, then the Note 9 is also too big, and by extension, the iPhone 8 Plus is too (it’s taller and wider than the XS Max, but barely).

Also: Apple tries to wipe AirPower from the history books

I actually feel as if the iPhone XS Max is more comfortable to hold than the Note 9. There’s something about the way the two curved edges meet on each side of the Note 9 that, by itself isn’t noticeable, but when holding the iPhone XS Max at the same time, just feels weird.

I don’t have big hands and have resisted the trend of bigger phones as much as I possibly could over the past few years. The Note 9 was the first overly big phone I felt comfortable using, and I hope after some more time with the iPhone XS Max, I feel the same way.

Reachability makes a comeback

One of the complaints I saw this week was that reaching for the notification shade when using the XS Max with one hand was difficult and uncomfortable. I agree.

Also: Best smartphones for 2018 CNET

For me, it’s just not possible to reach the top of the phone and swipe down to reveal notifications or Control Center with one hand. As frustrating as that is, iOS does offer a workaround. It’s called Reachability.

reachabilityoniphonexsmax.jpgreachabilityoniphonexsmax.jpg

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Reachability lowers the top-half of the display, putting it within reach. The feature has been around since the iPhone 6, when Apple increased the size of its devices and screens. Users activated the feature with a double-tap on the home button. But with the iPhone X, and now the iPhone XS and iPhone XR ditching the home button, there’s also a new method to access the feature.

Also: Best smartphones of 2018 for tech experts TechRepublic

To use Reachability on modern iPhones, you need to place a finger at the bottom of the display and quickly swipe down. When done right, the screen will move down, putting whatever is at the top of the screen within thumb’s reach.

In my brief time with the iPhone XS Max this morning, it’s clear to me I once again need to get used to triggering Reachability and start using it more often.

More to come

Outside of the phone simply being bigger, it’s the same ol’ iPhone X form factor and design I’ve used for the past 11 months. The buttons, cameras, ports, and finish are all the same.

I haven’t had time to get a good feel for battery life or the camera, but I will say that the adjustable Portrait Mode photos is seamless to use, and I can’t wait to test it outside of my office, where it’s possible to take more than a couple photos of a HomePod or my dog.

Also: iPhone XS and XS Max reveals some battery surprises

I will have a full review of the iPhone XS Max in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Much more to come.

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Fortnite’s mystery ‘superstar’ virtual music tour kicks off next week – TechCrunch

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Epic Games is teasing the biggest in-game event since Travis Scott psychedelically stomped through Fortnite’s virtual meadows.

The mysterious new event, which Fortnite-maker Epic is calling the “Rift Tour,” will kick off on Friday, August 6 and run through Sunday, August 8. In the teaser announcement, Epic invites players to “take a musical journey into magical new realities where Fortnite and a record-breaking superstar collide.”

In-game events building up to the mystery show series will run from July 29 through August 8, so players can hop into Fortnite to check out new Rift Tour-themed quests and rewards now. The cotton-candy-colored event will offer a custom loading screen and a fluffy cloud kitty emoticon, among other digital prizes.

The Rift Tour isn’t a one-and-done event. Like the Travis Scott event, Fortnite will host five different show times across three days to make it easier for players to catch. Epic says they’ll have more details to share on Monday, August 2, so Fortnite players will have to wait for more hints or an official announcement about who’s performing.

So … who’s performing? So far, all signs point to Ariana Grande. Leakers have been saying as much for more than a week, and the documents revealed through Epic’s court battle with Apple also detailed plans for in-game events with both Grande and Lady Gaga.

Image Credits: Epic Games

At Forbes, Paul Tassi also connected the dots on how recent leaks point to Grande, including some visual themes from her music videos and a reference to her pet pig Piggy Smalls.

Since Epic is calling its latest virtual event a tour, that suggests Grande won’t be alone, if she is indeed the mystery superstar. A Lady Gaga appearance could also be in the cards, since Epic apparently had plans for Gaga to appear in a December 2020 concert that never materialized. Kanye West is also releasing his newest album on August 6, but it seems less likely that Epic would be willing to partner with West given his myriad recent controversies. And “Donda,” West’s latest album, was originally scheduled for a different date before being delayed.

Whoever it winds up being, we’ll likely know more on Monday. Even if you’re not a Grande fan or a regular gamer, Fortnite’s in-game concerts are some of the most creative and visually exciting virtual events to date.

Everyone should fall through the metaverse with their friends while a skyscraper-sized virtual rapper shoots neon lightning bolts at least once.

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Why companies and brands need to tune in – TechCrunch

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What comes to mind when you think of livestreaming? In the U.S., most people would name their favorite celebrity leading a Q&A on Instagram or a gamer doing a speedrun on Twitch.

In China, it’s shopping, streamed live.

Livestream e-commerce has taken off in China in the last few years and is expected to yield more than $60 billion this year. In 2019, 37% of online shoppers in China (a cool 265 million people) made purchases on livestreams — and that was well before quarantine. In 2020, it’s estimated to have reached around 560 million people.

During Taobao’s annual Single’s Day Global Shopping Festival in 2020 (China’s Black Friday), livestreams accounted for $6 billion in sales — nearly doubled from a year earlier.

Starting to see a trend? The big U.S. companies have noticed, and they’re jumping on the bandwagon faster than you can say, “Swipe up to buy now!”

Last December, Walmart livestreamed shopping events on TikTok. Amazon released a live platform where influencers promote items and chat with customers. Instagram launched a Shop feature that encourages users to browse and buy within the app. Facebook also kicked off Live Shopping Fridays for the beauty and fashion categories.

“It’s an entertaining way for shops to tell the story behind their products. It brings buyers closer than ever to their favorite creators and allows them to have a voice in the conversation.”

Startups are growing fast to keep up with the heavy hitters — PopShop.Live raised $20 million to let people buy everything from books and toys to jewelry from sellers who livestream their offerings, and Whatnot raised a $50 million Series B, largely to expand its livestream commerce infrastructure. There’s also a burgeoning category of SaaS tools such as Bambuser, which is working with brands like Klarna to test native livestream shopping directly within branded apps.

At this pace, retailers will all welcome livestream commerce teams like they have influencer partnerships in recent years. It’ll just be part of the digital equation to stay competitive and relevant in the future of marketplaces and e-commerce.

From B.C. to 5G: The evolution of shopping

What is old is new again. Your grandparents spent years watching QVC because it balanced the experience of speaking with an associate with the convenience of their retirement community’s TV room. Livestream is today’s version of “shoptainment,” where hosts showcase products dynamically, interact with their audiences and build urgency with short-term offers, giveaways and limited-edition items.

Now, with livestream commerce, hosts can form deeper customer connections and answer questions in real time. It’s a new standard of communication that holds a longstanding truth from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to smartphones: People shop to kill time and are more likely to buy when they feel connected with a salesperson.

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Twitter shuttering NY, SF offices in response to new CDC guidelines – TechCrunch

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Just two weeks after reopening its New York and San Francisco offices, social media giant Twitter said Wednesday that it will be closing those offices “immediately.”

The decision came “after careful consideration of the CDC’s updated guidelines, and in light of current conditions,” a spokesperson said.

“Twitter has made the decision to close our opened offices in New York and San Francisco as well as pause future office reopenings, effective immediately. We’re continuing to closely monitor local conditions and make necessary changes that prioritize the health and safety of our Tweeps,” the spokesperson added.

The company initially just reopened those offices on July 12. It declined to reveal headcount per office.

The CDC this week recommended that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high Covid transmission rates amid concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Earlier today, TechCrunch’s Brian Heater reported that Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will require employees to be vaccinated before returning to work on-site. It was part of a larger letter sent to Google/Alphabet staff that also noted the company will be extending its work-from-home policy through October 18, as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to sweep through the global population.

In a message to TechCrunch, Facebook’s VP of People, Lori Goler, confirmed a similar policy for the social media behemoth.

Amazon also responded to TechCrunch’s inquiry on the matter, noting, “We strongly encourage Amazon employees and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as COVID-19 vaccines are available to them.”

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