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Meta highlights NFT, blockchain hopes as it shutters its Novi crypto wallet

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Meta will shut down its pilot of the Novi digital wallet, one of the last remnants of the company’s beleaguered cryptocurrency push, in September, Bloomberg reported this week.

Novi users in parts of the US and Guatemala will no longer be able to log in starting on September 1.

And as of July 21, they won’t be able to add to the wallets. In fact, Novi’s website urges users to empty their accounts “as soon as possible.” Novi says it will “attempt to transfer your balance to the bank account or debit card you’ve added to Novi” if you still have money in your account after the pilot ends.

The pilot for Novia, originally known as Calibra, launched in October, but Meta was already turning from its crypto dreams, which, at their height, included the company’s own stablecoin, Diem, formerly known as Libra. Novia launched with Paxos Trust Co.’s USDP stablecoin instead. It also had some integration with WhatsApp.

But last year, the head of the project, David Marcus, departed Meta. And in January, we detailed the fall of Meta’s cryptocurrency aspirations, signaled by the company selling off its assets (mostly intellectual property) and refunding investors.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his crypto hopes in 2019, with dreams of using crypto for easy transactions in WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. But despite big-name investments, US regulators’ concerns about distribution, network policing, and fears of overly concentrated economic power going to member companies derailed Meta’s plans. Ultimately, it became unclear if the Federal Reserve would let the project’s bank issue the stablecoin.

Although Novi will soon be dead, Meta insists that the cryptocurrency wallet’s technologies aren’t. Despite skepticism around non-fungible tokens—pertaining to their necessity, reputation, and value (the largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, fell 85 percent in the first half of 2022, according to Financial Times)—Meta is leveraging Novi technology for other metaverse-y projects, including building Meta’s capabilities around blockchain and “digital collectibles,” a company representative told Bloomberg.

“You can expect to see more from us in the web3 space because we are very optimistic about the value these technologies can bring to people and businesses in the metaverse,” the representative reportedly said.

Meta is already testing NFTs on Instagram as a purported way for creators to make money. In late June, Zuckerberg said the company will bring that testing to Facebook “soon.”

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Fitbits will soon lose the ability to sync with computers

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Enlarge / The Fitbit Ionic currently lets you download music to the device.

Valentina Palladino

Fitbit owners who like to sync their fitness tracker with a computer to enable offline listening of downloaded music without a monthly fee will soon need to change their approach.

As spotted by 9to5Google on Saturday, Fitbit will no longer allow users to sync their devices over a computer starting in October.

“On October 13, 2022, we’re removing the option to sync your Fitbit device with the Fitbit Connect app on your computer,” a Fitbit support page reads. “Download and use the Fitbit app on your phone to sync your device.”

The Fitbit Connect desktop software lets you transfer music from your computer to the wearable if you have a supporting watch. Newer devices, like the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3, cannot store downloaded music.

After October, owners of older Fitbits, like the Fitbit Versa and Versa 2, will also have to rely on subscriptions to not-so-popular services for offline music. “After the Fitbit Connect app on your computer is deactivated, you can continue to transfer music to your watch through the Deezer app. Customers in the United States can also use the Pandora app,” Fitbit’s support page says.

Deezer and Pandora both require monthly subscriptions for music downloading and offline listening, with fees starting at $10 per month after any eligible trial periods.

Remember, Fitbits still don’t let you add music you’ve downloaded through streaming services, though you can control music on your smartphone with a Fitbit.

The new limitation shouldn’t last forever. When Google acquired Fitbit in 2021, the fitness tracker company confirmed that Fitbits running Google’s Wear OS are on the way. Wear OS has offline support for subscribers to Spotify Premium and YouTube Music.

The death of the Fitbit Connect desktop app will mean that Fitbit wearers who have managed to avoid the brand’s mobile app have fewer options. An increasingly subscription-focused marketplace has been coming for a long time now. Fitbit Connect is still downloadable on Windows 10 and Mac OS X, but the company says the Fitbit app for iPhone and Android provides the “best experience.”

For now, you can still download and listen to music from your Fitbit; you just won’t be able to add more songs after October.

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Google hits back at Sonos with voice command patent lawsuit

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Enlarge / Sonos Beam soundbar.

Sonos

Google and Sonos are headed back to court. After Google lost an earlier patent case over speaker volume controls, Google is now suing Sonos over voice control technology. Google confirmed the lawsuit to The Verge this morning, with the company saying it wants to “defend our technology and challenge Sonos’s clear, continued infringement of our patents.” Google alleges infringement of seven patents related to voice input, including hot-word detection and a system that determines which speaker in a group should respond to voice commands.

Sonos has typically supported the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for voice control, but Google and Amazon are also Sonos’s biggest speaker competitors. So Sonos launched its own voice assistant feature in May, opening it up to this new pile of Google patents. (For now, Sonos supports all three options.)

Google rarely uses patents offensively, but this is part of a multi-lawsuit battle that has sent the company’s smart speaker line reeling after Google lost a previous ruling in January. Rather than pay royalties to Sonos, Google decided to reach into customers’ homes and start breaking devices they had already bought. Google stripped Nest Audio and Google Home speakers of the ability to control volume for a speaker group, turning what was an effortless and common-sense task into an ordeal requiring a screen full of individual sliders. It’s hard to overstate how annoying this is for consumers, as volume control is a primary function of any speaker.

Sonos originated the connected speaker concept, but it has been facing competition from Big Tech giants in recent years. Sonos says it gave Google an inside look at its operations in 2013 while Sonos was asking for Google Play Music support and that Google used that access to “blatantly and knowingly copy” Sonos’s technology. Google’s first smart speaker launched three years later.

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Rumors, delays, and early testing suggest Intel’s Arc GPUs are on shaky ground

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Enlarge / Arc is Intel’s attempt to shake up the GPU market.

Almost a year ago, Intel made a big announcement about its push into the dedicated graphics business. Intel Arc would be the brand name for a new batch of gaming GPUs, pushing far beyond the company’s previous efforts and competing directly with Nvidia’s GeForce and AMD’s Radeon GPUs.

Arc is the culmination of years of work, going back to at least 2017, when Intel poached AMD GPU architect Raja Koduri to run its own graphics division. And while Intel would be trying to break into an established and fiercely competitive market, it would benefit from the experience and gigantic install base that the company had cultivated with its integrated GPUs.

Intel sought to prove its commitment to Arc by showing off a years-long road map, with four separate named GPU architectures already in the pipeline. Sure, the GPUs wouldn’t compete with top-tier GeForce and Radeon cards, but they would address the crucial mainstream GPU market, and high-end cards would follow once the brand was more established.

All of that makes Arc a lot more serious than Larrabee, Intel’s last effort to break into the dedicated graphics market. Larrabee was canceled late in its development because of delays and disappointing performance, and Arc GPUs are actual things that you can buy (if only in a limited way, for now). But the challenges of entering the GPU market haven’t changed since the late 2000s. Breaking into a mature market is difficult, and experience with integrated GPUs isn’t always applicable to dedicated GPUs with more complex hardware and their own pool of memory.

Regardless of the company’s plans for future architectures, Arc’s launch has been messy. And while the company is making some efforts to own those problems, a combination of performance issues, timing, and financial pressures could threaten Arc’s future.

Early turbulence

A year after its announcement, it seems that Arc is already on shaky ground. Intel has proven characteristically incapable of meeting its initial launch estimates, just barely managing to pull off a paper launch of two low-end laptop GPUs in Q1 (the original launch window) and failing to follow up with widely available desktop cards in Q2. The company has been very public about its driver struggles with drivers, which are hurting the cards’ performance in older but still widely played games. And the graphics division is losing money at a time when revenue is tumbling across the company.

And that’s just what is happening in public. A report from the German-language Igor’s Lab claims that Intel’s board partners (the ones who would be putting the Arc GPU dies on boards, packaging them, and shipping them out) and the OEMs who would be putting Arc GPUs into their prebuilt computers are getting frustrated with the delays and lack of communication.

A long, conspiratorial video from YouTuber Moore’s Law is Dead goes even farther, suggesting (using a combination of “internal sources” and speculation) that people in Intel’s graphics division are “lying” to consumers and others in the company about the state of the GPUs, that the first-generation Alchemist architecture has fundamental performance-limiting flaws, and that Intel is having internal discussions about discontinuing Arc GPUs after the second-generation “Battlemage” architecture.

We’ve contacted Intel and several GPU manufacturers to see if they had anything to share on the matter; the short version is no—Intel has no news on release dates. Asus says it “[doesn’t] currently have anything in the pipeline for Intel Arc on the North America side,” and other companies haven’t responded yet. For his part, Intel graphics VP Raja Koduri has said publicly that “we are very much committed to our roadmap” and that there will be “more updates from us this quarter” and “four new product lines by the end of the year.”

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