‘Pokémon Go’ creator buys hybrid board game company Sensible Object

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Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

Niantic, the company behind Pokémon Go, is up to something — but exactly what is yet to be revealed. Following a number of AR and game company acquisitions over the last 18 months, Niantic has now purchased London-based Sensible Object, a games developer probably best known for blurring the lines between digital and table-top gaming.

Sensible Object’s debut offering, Beasts of Balance, saw players immersed in a fantasy world where their physical, stackable creations translated to digital points-scoring. The company’s follow-up series, Voice Originals, cast Alexa in the role of games master, guiding players through adventures such as When In Rome, another hybrid board game.

So what does Niantic want with Sensible Object? Its highly-anticipated AR Harry Potter mobile game is expected this year and is already being tested, so the company’s interest in Sensible Object is based on something else. Sensible Object’s NFC-driven Beasts of Balance animals are pretty cute — could similar physical Pokémon be on the way? Watch this space.

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Facebook's Calibra cryptocurrency wallet launches in 2020

After months of rumors and speculation, Facebook is finally making its cryptocurrency efforts official. This is Calibra, a digital wallet that will use a new cryptocurrency called Libra. Calibra, which is now a subsidiary of Facebook, is designed to “provide financial services that will enable people to access and participate in the Libra network,” a blockchain technology developed by Facebook that’s getting support from MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, eBay, Uber, Lyft and Spotify, among others. Facebook says it plans to launch Calibra in 2020, and the service will be available in Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as in a standalone app.

In an announcement post, Facebook said its hope with Calibra is to address a challenge that many people around the world face today: having access to basic financial services. “Almost half of the adults in the world don’t have an active bank account, and those numbers are worse in developing countries and even worse for women,” Facebook said. “The cost of that exclusion is high — for example, approximately 70 percent of small businesses in developing countries lack access to credit, and $25 billion is lost by migrants every year through remittance fees.”

Libra Facebook : Illustration

When it arrives, Calibra will let people send and receive Libra cryptocurrency by simply using a smartphone. Eventually, Facebook said, it wants to offer more services for people and businesses, including the ability to easily pay bills, buy a cup of coffee with the scan of a code and use it to ride public transit without the need for cash or a physical pass. The latter could work similarly to the tap-to-pay features Apple and Google have made available in New York City’s subway system.

As for how you can get funds on your Calibra account, Facebook says there will be a sign-up process that will allow you to select from a list of partner payment providers, such as MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Stripe. Additionally, people will be able to go to a local or online currency exchanges, where they can, say, turn US dollars into Libra for their Calibra digital wallet. Facebook says that, while Calibra won’t act as a cryptocurrency exchange, the service “may” integrate with some of them in the future — though it didn’t specify which that could be.

Of course, it’s no secret that Facebook doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to protecting people’s privacy, but the company says that’s why it helped create the Libra Association. This organization is intended to oversee the Libra digital currency, independently of Facebook. And while Facebook will get to vote on matters surrounding Libra, it won’t have any more power than other members. The Libra Association, which will be based in Geneva, Switzerland, is made up of 28 companies right now, but Facebook says it expects to have over 100 members backing Calibra and Libra by the time they launch in 2020.

Calibra

Aside from limited cases, Facebook said, Calibra won’t share data with it. That means that Calibra customers’ account information, including financials, won’t be used to improve targeted ads on Facebook or its family of apps. “The limited cases where this data may be shared reflect our need to keep people safe, comply with the law, and provide basic functionality to the people who use Calibra,” according to Facebook. “Calibra will use Facebook data to comply with the law, secure customers’ accounts, mitigate risk, and prevent criminal activity.”

What’s more, Calibra is set to “have strong protections in place” to keep people’s money and private information safe. Facebook says it will rely on the same verification and anti-fraud processes as banks and credit cards, noting that it will have automated systems designed to proactively monitor activity and prevent fraudulent behavior on people’s Calibra account. If someone does gain access to your account and your Libra balance is affected, the company said Calibra will offer you a refund. Meanwhile, a dedicated live support team will be there to help people if they lose their phone or the password to their account.

“If you want to build a protocol for money and value on the Internet, you can’t have that be controlled by one company,” David Marcus, Head of Calibra, told Engadget in an interview. “So Facebook can’t control it. No other company should control it. It should really be built and governed like a public good.” He added that it was important for Calibra to be a subsidiary of Facebook because he knows people don’t want their financial and social data to be commingled, which would obviously be a concern given the state of Facebook’s reputation around data privacy.


Facebook’s family of apps.
Chesnot via Getty Images

Marcus said Calibra is a natural expansion of Facebook’s master plan to keep connecting people around the world. “You now have the ability for everyone on the platform, and across all of our apps, to transact with one another in a frictionless way,” he said, emphasizing that this is going to unlock new opportunities for small businesses, as it will be easier for people to move money around on the Facebook network. But first, Marcus knows it’ll have to earn people’s trust in order for Calibra to be their digital wallet of choice, otherwise they’ll have other options from Libra partners.

“The nice thing [with Libra] is, you don’t have to trust us. Even if you really don’t want to trust Facebook, you can use any of the other wallets,” said Marcus. “Even if you don’t trust us with the governance of this thing, by the time we launch, we’ll only have 1 percent of the vote, so it’s not like we can mess things up, even if we wanted to at that point.”

Images: Chesnot via Getty Images (Facebook logo)

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US recommends Windows users patch against worm vulnerability

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Matt Anderson Photography via Getty Images

Microsoft Windows users who haven’t patched their OS (or are using an unsupported version) are at risk of attackers exploiting a vulnerability known as BlueKeep. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Homeland Security’s lead cybersecurity agency, said it successfully tested a working exploit for the BlueKeep vulnerability. Specifically, the agency was able to remotely run code on a Windows 2000 computer using BlueKeep, it stated in an advisory. The bug effects computers that are running Windows 7 or earlier (as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008), and gives potential attackers access through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services.

The BlueKeep vulnerability is “wormable”, meaning an attacker only has to gain access to one computer in order to gain control of all the other devices on its network. Microsoft already issued patches for the bug last month, but private security firm Errata estimated that millions of devices still remain vulnerable. While an attacker has yet to take advantage of the bug, doing so could easily lead to a repeat of 2017’s WannaCry malware outbreak that impacted systems worldwide, including Britain’s NHS, Honda and FedEx.

CISA is asking users of older Microsoft systems to install the available security updates. Microsoft has even released patches for operating systems that are no longer officially supported, including Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. If you’re a regular end-user running Windows 7 or older, you’re likely better off upgrading to a newer version of Microsoft for added security.

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Microsoft's To-Do app is now available for Mac

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Microsoft has released To-Do for Mac, finally giving Apple users access to the task management tool on their desktops. The Mac app will allow users to work offline, view their upcoming tasks under “My Day,” share to-do lists with friends and colleagues and see flagged emails. The app isn’t fully integrated with Microsoft Planner yet, but you can expect it soon. If you already use Microsoft To-Do on iOS, Android, Windows or the web, you’ll be able to sign-in to your account and access your tasks right on the Mac app.

A Mac option for Microsoft To-Do will be good news for any former devotees of Wunderlist, which the software giant purchased back in 2017 and (to no one’s surprise) discontinued in order to replace it with its own productivity tool. While some found the early version of Microsoft To-Do lacking, later updates added subtasks and list-sharing. To-Do also syncs with Outlook, an added perk for anyone who relies on the email app for work. If you want to give it a shot, you can download To-Do for Mac from the Mac App Store today.

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This week in tech history: Microsoft shows us the Surface

At Engadget, we spend every day looking at how technology will shape the future. But it’s also important to look back at how far we’ve come. That’s what This Week in Tech History does. Join us every weekend for a recap of historical tech news, anniversaries and advances from the recent and not-so-recent past. This week, we’re looking back at Microsoft’s first Surface devices.

There have always been big differences between Microsoft and Apple, but perhaps the most stark was that Apple made its own computers. Microsoft didn’t. You could buy a Windows PC from dozens of companies, but not Microsoft — something that led Apple to tout its tight system of hardware and software designed to work together. For years, though, it seemed inevitable that Microsoft would make its own Windows hardware, and on June 18th, 2012 the company showed off the original Surface line.

The Surface and Surface Pro both clearly took inspiration from the iPad, which was booming in popularity at the time, but Microsoft put its own spin on tablets. First and foremost, both devices were announced alongside keyboard cover accessories, making them far more suited than the iPad for getting “real work” done. iPads had keyboard support from day one, but the Surface and Windows were far more suited to keyboard-and-mouse control than touch back in 2012.

But the Surface was one of the first times we saw a tablet made alongside a detachable keyboard accessory. The concept was simple: Use this with the keyboard to blast through Excel sheets and Powerpoint presentations, and then take off the keyboard for a touch-centric tablet appearance. But as is so often the case, the devil was in the details — and the first Surface devices didn’t exactly get those details right.

US-IT-MICROSOFT-WINDOWS 8 LAUNCH

The first Surface went on sale in October, and there were some immediately obvious issues. From a hardware perspective, the first Surface’s non-adjustable kickstand, relatively low-resolution screen and its awkward 16:9 aspect ratio (which made it all but unusable as a tablet in portrait mode) were hard to overcome. But perhaps more damning was the device’s Windows RT software, which only let you install apps from the Windows Store. Sure, it ran full versions of Microsoft Office, but beyond that the software ecosystem was severely limited. This all made the Surface a bit of a tough sell: It wasn’t better as a tablet than an iPad, and it was more limited than other Windows-powered laptops.

The Surface Pro, which didn’t arrive until February of 2013, came with its own set of issues. On the plus side, it had a far nicer screen than the standard surface, and supported the new Surface Pen accessory. It was also more powerful and ran a full version of Windows 8, which supported the vast array of software that was available for Microsoft’s main OS, even if it wasn’t optimized for touch. But the Surface Pro was simply too big and heavy to be useful as a tablet; battery life was a lot worse than the standard Surface; and it wasn’t the most convenient device to use in your lap because of that kickstand. As such, it was hard to recommend over traditional laptops, particularly when it cost more than $1,000 with a keyboard case.

While Microsoft didn’t get the details all right on its first try, the company did do a good job at relentless iteration and improvement in the following years. It wasn’t long before Microsoft gave up on having a lower-power, limited capability Surface model and put all its efforts behind the Pro, a move that paid off big by 2014. The Surface Pro 3 stepped up to a larger screen but managed to cut down the thickness and weight, while an improved multi-stage kickstand made it more comfortable to use. The Surface Pen got more and more capable, battery life improved, Microsoft ditched the awkward 16:9 display ratio, and by 2015, when the Surface Pro 4 launched, Microsoft was finally delivering on the vision it first presented years earlier.


Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

It didn’t hurt that Windows 10, which came with the Surface Pro 4, has been far better received than Windows 8 ever was. And subsequent revisions of the Surface Pro in 2017 and 2018 have only strengthened Microsoft’s lead in the 2-in-1 tablet / laptop hybrid space.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to the Surface lineup comes from Microsoft’s competitors. In 2015, Apple released the iPad Pro, with its own keyboard folio accessory and stylus, making it a machine that could more closely compete with the Surface Pro. Google made a convertible tablet of its own, the Pixel C, but Android wasn’t enough to really compete with the Surface Pro. But last year, the Pixel Slate and its matching Pixel Pen and keyboard case would give Google an option to compete with both Microsoft and Apple. And that’s not to mention the many PC hardware makers that have offered their own spins on the Surface Pro. As of right now, the Surface is probably the best laptop / tablet hybrid out there. That’s not something we necessarily expected seven years ago, but Microsoft’s slow and steady improvements over the years have yielded a unique product that’s been copied, but never bested.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Nathan is the deputy managing editor at Engadget, keeping track of the site’s daily news operations and covering Google, Apple, gaming, apps and weird internet culture. He now lives in Philadelphia after stints in Boston and San Francisco.

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