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The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller – TechCrunch

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Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available and make it that much better.

USB-C

This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charge your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which at nine feet is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch. Of course, you also can use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, as it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity versus resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair-trigger locks, which means you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a D-pad you can use to replace the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you also can tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a “Shift” key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, as all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there are actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.



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Google claims it will stop tracking individual users for ads

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As Google’s plan to kill third-party tracking cookies ramps up, the company is answering questions about what will replace it. Many people have wondered: if Google kills cookies, won’t the company just cook up some other method for individually tracking users?

Today, Google answered that concern in a post on its “Ads & Commerce” blog, pledging it won’t come up with “any technology used for tracking individual people.” The company wrote:

We continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.

You might look at that statement and think that Google is sacrificing something or turning over a new leaf when it comes to privacy, but really, the fact is Google doesn’t need to track individuals for advertisements. Google’s cookie-tracking replacement technology, the Chrome “Privacy Sandbox,” uses group tracking, which is more in line with how advertisers think anyway.

As Google puts it in its blog post, “advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising. Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.” If you’re an advertiser with a phone ad, you would only ever want to show your ad to “people who care about phones.” As an advertiser, you wouldn’t really care about individuals or exact browsing history, as long as you knew they were open to being manipulated by your ad.

Chrome’s “Privacy Sandbox” interest tracker

The plan to kill cookies is still a bit fuzzy since none of this exists yet. But generally, Google wants to build a machine-learning-powered tracking system into Chrome that groups people into various interest groups like “classical music lovers” rather than building individual profiles of people. Then, when it’s time to serve ads, Chrome can serve up a list of your interests and pull in relevant ads. It’s all the same ad relevance but without any personally identifying info going up to the cloud.

I think a good way of explaining this was that, before, through cookies, you would end up sending personal information and detailed browser history to various web ad servers, which could then build an ad interest file on you in the cloud. Now, the goal is that Chrome will keep that detailed information locally and build that ad interest profile locally, and only the interest profile would be shipped to the advertisers for relevant ads through an open API. Again, this is all very early and only in the experimental stage right now, so there’s not an abundance of concrete detail to go into.

Google thinks this solution will be good enough to continue to make almost $150 billion in ad money per year, even if it stops tracking individuals. The new setup is also a valuable weapon in the war against government regulators, who did get a shout-out in Google’s blog post. The company wrote that, while other ad agencies might build new individual user-tracking technologies, “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long-term investment. Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”

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All US Apple stores are open for the first time in almost a year

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Enlarge / NEW YORK, June 17, 2020 – Staff workers serve customers outside an Apple store on Fifth Avenue.

For the first time in just a few days shy of a year, all Apple Store retail locations in the United States are open this week, reports 9to5Mac.

Apple first closed all retail locations outside of China on March 13, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company originally planned to reopen its stores by the end of that month, but history had other plans.

Apple has periodically reopened and reclosed certain locations in the United States and elsewhere based on local case levels and government guidance—for example, a major push was attempted to reopen on May 31 as the virus’s spread slowed as a result of lockdown measures. But that was before COVID cases began rising sharply again. The last locations to reopen in the US this week were located in Texas.

That said, not all Apple Stores offer the same mid-pandemic experience. In previous reopening pushes, Apple opened some stores with strict rules like temperature screenings, appointment-only shopping, and curbside-style pickup options.

Depending on location and other factors, each Apple Store retains some or all of the above restrictions. Apple still operates a website where would-be customers can go to check what the process is for a specific location.

Beyond the US, 14 Apple Stores remain closed globally due to the pandemic, according to CNBC, including two in Brazil and 12 in France.

Apple has long seen the retail experience as part of the Apple product experience; executives have talked not just of integrating software and hardware but of including retail and services in that integration as well. But the past year has been tumultuous for Apple Stores, to say the least.

The pandemic was not the only factor that negatively affected the stores. Rioting amid the protests for racial justice last year resulted in damage and theft at some stores around the country, and natural disasters like California wildfires and the winter storm in Texas further battered specific locations.

Despite all that, Apple’s sales have been strong over the last year. It may be impossible to say just how much retail closures affected those numbers, though; CEO Tim Cook recently suggested that Apple’s blockbuster holiday could have been even bigger if physical retail had been a bigger part of the story.

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Google’s VR dreams are dead: Google Cardboard is no longer for sale

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Google’s last surviving VR product is dead. Today the company stopped selling the Google Cardboard VR viewer on the Google Store, the last move in a long wind-down of Google’s once-ambitious VR efforts. The message on the Google Store, which was first spotted by Android Police, reads, “We are no longer selling Google Cardboard on the Google Store.”

Google Cardboard was a surprise hit at Google I/O 2015 and moved the entry point for VR lower than anyone had imagined previously. The device was a literal piece of cardboard, shaped like a VR headset, with special plastic lenses. Google built a Cardboard app for Android and iOS, which would let any suitably high-end phone power the headset. The landscape display split into left and right views for your eyes, the phone hardware rendered a VR game, and the accelerometers did 3-DoF (degrees of freedom) head tracking. There was even a cardboard action button on the handset that would boop the touchscreen with a capacitive pad, so you could aim with your head and select options in a VR environment. Since the product was just cardboard and plastic lenses with no electronics whatsoever, Google sold the headset for just $20.

After cardboard, Google started to scale up its VR ambitions. In 2016, Google also launched an upscaled version of Google Cardboard, the Google Daydream VR headset. This was a plastic and cloth version of a phone-powered VR headset, with the key improvements of a head strap and a small controller, for $80.

Next, Google started to pile on software support. VR support also was built into Android 7 Nougat in 2016, allowing Google to make latency-reducing graphics pipeline improvements in the core OS. Google started certifying devices for enhanced “Daydream” support, laying out best hardware and software practices for VR. Android got a VR home screen and added a special notification style so apps could still alert you in the 3D VR interface. A VR version of the Play Store let users download the latest VR experiences in 3D. VR support came to YouTube and Google Street View, and together with Mozilla, the Chrome team launched WebVR. Google’s best app was Tilt Brush, a killer piece of VR painting software.

In 2018, Google even roped OEMs into making standalone Daydream VR hardware, so instead of being powered by a phone, Android and all the usual phone bits were integrated into a standalone VR headset. The first one announced was the Lenovo Mirage Solo.

Google’s VR legacy

As in many other areas, Google was very enthusiastic about VR for a few years, and then the company quickly lost interest when it didn’t see immediate success. The VR shutdown started in 2019, when Google omitted Daydream support from the Pixel 4 and killed the Daydream VR headset line. Google put out a VR post-mortem statement saying there was resistance to using a phone for VR, which cut off access to all your apps, and that the company hadn’t seen “the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped.” It was also around this time that Google open-sourced the Cardboard project. VR support in Android was stripped out of consumer phones with 2020’s release of Android 11, and Google quit Tilt Brush development in January 2021, choosing to open-source the app under Apache 2.0.

Google might have quit VR, but Cardboard and Android’s VR legacy live on. Android should still stick around for a long while in VR, even if it’s not officially sanctioned by Google. Oculus and Samsung originally teamed up on the Gear VR, a fancy, plastic VR viewer that was powered by Samsung’s Android phone line. While Samsung has quit phone VR, too, all of Oculus’ standalone “Quest” VR headsets still run Android. Standalone VR headsets are always powered by ARM chips and other off-the-shelf smartphone parts, so Android—however, forked or stripped-down you want to make it—will be a top pick to power this smartphone-adjacent hardware. It already has all the hardware support and APIs you could want, so why re-invent the wheel?

Three years after Cardboard, Nintendo took Google’s “cheap cardboard accessory” idea and ran with it, creating the Nintendo Labo products. Labo packaged Nintendo Switch software with a boatload of pre-cut, printed cardboard sheets, which could be assembled into all sorts of cheap peripherals like a cardboard piano, or a robot suit. The Labo VR kit was an exact Google Cardboard copy: A cardboard VR headset used the Nintendo Switch as the display, letting you view Nintendo’s worlds in 3D.

Google’s VR division has turned its attention (at least for a while) to AR instead of VR. Google’s ARCore framework lets developers make augmented reality apps for Android and iOS, and the company regularly ships AR improvements on Android phones. With Apple reportedly working on a VR headset, though, you’ve got to wonder how long Google’s fickle product direction will be able to stay away from VR.

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