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WhatsApp makes group calls easier, but calls still limited to four people – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is making group calls easier with a change to the way its mobile app works. Before, users would have to start a 1:1 video call, then add participants — there wasn’t an option to begin a group call at once, the company says. Now, the design has been updated so you can start group calls with just a couple of taps.

In the new design, you can go to the group whose members you want to call, then tap on the phone icon at the top-right corner of the screen to get started. From the next screen, you’ll tap the contacts within the group you want to call, then tap the voice or video button — depending on what type of call you want to make.

The company added a new way to make group calls from the Calls tab, as well.

With the update, you can tap the new Call icon on the top-right corner of the screen, pick the contacts you want to call and again pick either the voice or video icon.WhatsApp currently supports calling up to four people at one time.

That’s fewer than is supported on other top mobile messaging services — like Apple’s FaceTime, which was updated in October to support 32 people (up from only two people before); or Messenger, which can support up to 50 people in a call, for example. However, WhatsApp’s group call feature itself is still fairly new — it was officially rolled out at the end of July this year.

For a smaller group, it’s still a useful way to connect with friends and family without having to tap into your cellular plan’s voice minutes. Calls are also end-to-end encrypted, which makes it a good option for privacy seekers — that is, if you believe that any app owned by Facebook can fit that description.

WhatsApp warns that all members should have a good internet connection before using the group calling feature, as the quality of the call will depend on the contact with the weakest connection.

The update is available now to iPhone users and is rolling out “soon” on Android.

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Google launches a website version of its Read Along education app for children – TechCrunch

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Google has launched a website for its Read Along app for encouraging young children to practice reading. The website, which is introduced as a public beta, works with Chrome, Firefox, and Edge browsers on Desktop and Android, with support for iOS and more browsers such as Safari coming soon.

The concept of the website is similar to the app: children can learn to speak languages like English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, and Urdu by reading stories using Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech text. A virtual assistant named Diya helps the children pronounce words if it detects they are struggling. Children can also ask Diya for help in speaking unknown words.

The company claimed that just like the app, all the speech recognition process takes place on the browser locally and no data is sent to its servers to protect children’s privacy. Plus, the whole experience is ad-free.

While the app had the advantage of offline usage, the website can help people who have low storage on the phone or schools that have desktop computers. One of the other major differentiators between the website and the app is that the latter works without any sign-in. The new website mandates Google account sign-ins on the same device to keep track of the progress of different children.

Google first launched the app as Bolo in India in 2019 with support for Hindi and English and renamed it Read Along with additional language support for a wider audience in 2020. The search giant noted that since its launch the app has helped more than 30 million kids read over 120 million stories.

The company said it’s partnering with new content providers to add more stories to the platform.

“In addition to the website launch, we are also adding some brand-new stories. We have partnered with two well-known YouTube content creators, ChuChu TV, and USP Studios, to adapt some of their popular videos into a storybook format,” it said in a statement.

The firm is also working India-based Kutuki learning app to adopt their English and Hindi alphabet books and phonics books for kids as stories in the Read Along app, which will be available later this year.

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WhatsApp extends time limit to delete a message to 60 hours – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp now allows you to delete a message for up to two days and 12 hours (60 hours in total), so you can remove an accidentally sent chat even after hours. Previously, this limit was 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 16 seconds — yep, there were seconds involved.

The company’s tweet about this feature just mentioned “little over two days,” but didn’t specify the 12-hour part.

WhatsApp first introduced the unsend feature back in 2017 with a time limit of just seven minutes but later increased it to one hour and eight minutes. Last year, WABetaInfo noted that the company might consider introducing a seven-day limit, but with this new update, it has chosen a rather odd time frame of two and a half days.

In comparison, rival chat app Telegram has no limit on deleting a message, so you can remove a chat years after sending it. Apple is moving in the other direction; after introducing the unsend feature for iOS 16 at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, the company reduced the limit from 15 minutes to two minutes in the fourth version of the iOS 16 developer beta last month.

WhatsApp is also introducing new privacy features to its app including blocking screenshots for “view-once messages” and the ability to leave a group silently.

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HBO Max attempts to fix its notoriously buggy app with oft-requested features – TechCrunch

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For years, HBO Max has been under fire for its buggy app. Today, the streaming service’s re-platformed app completed its global rollout on desktop, iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire tablets. New features include a shuffle button on mobile, SharePlay support for iPhone and iPad users in the U.S., a dedicated home for downloaded content, and more.

With the shuffle button now on mobile devices in addition to desktop and connected TV apps, users can randomize which episode to play for select series on the streaming service. U.S. subscribers with an ad-free subscription can use SharePlay on their iPhone or iPad to watch HBO Max content in sync with friends or family while on FaceTime.

Other updates include:

  • A dedicated home for downloaded content
  • Tablet support for both landscape and portrait orientations
  • Chromecast stability improvements
  • An updated screen reader experience with better navigation elements and functionality
  • The ability to split screens with other apps on devices that allow that

The company also said that it upgraded the navigation and is giving users a “refined design and visual styling to let content shine.”

“The changes give our users more of the features they care most about, along with improved navigation and a more immersive canvas for storytelling, helping them click play on their favorite content faster and with less friction,” Kamyar Keshmiri, SVP, Product Design, Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming, said in an official statement.

The revamped mobile and desktop apps mean that the company has finished updating apps across all platforms.

The changes began last fall when the company replaced connected TV apps with a new, “more performant tech stack.” In April, HBO Max launched an updated app for Apple TV users that aimed to bring stability and improved performance to the app. Roku, PlayStation, Android, Samsung, LG, Vizio, and more smart TV apps also use the new tech stack.

With a loss of 300,000 domestic subscribers in Q2, the company has a lot of work to do. Especially since its new streaming service is coming next year, merging Discovery+ and HBO Max content. So, while the new HBO Max app will be gone in 2023, this could help the company create a better successor app and improved experience for its combined subscribers.

Also, the new app comes just in time for the “Game of Thrones” prequel “The House of the Dragon,” premiering on August 21.

 

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