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The Void plans 25 new VR entertainment centers in U.S. and Europe

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Between horror shows, interactive versions of 3D animated movies, and group Star Wars adventures, The Void has established itself as a premier provider of location-based VR entertainment experiences — if you can find one of its 14 existing locations, most of which are in the United States and Canada. Today, the company announced that it’s working with major mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield to open 25 new locations over the next two and a half years, notably including a large number of major cities across the U.S. and Europe.

Under the plan, The Void’s current collection of three California entertainment centers (Anaheim, Glendale, and Santa Monica) will be joined by new pop-ups in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco during August and September, along with the company’s first outpost in New York City. All of these pop-ups will evolve into permanent locations in Westfield malls. Later, the company will add U.S. locations in Chicago and San Jose, along with European venues in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Oberhausen, Paris, Stockholm, and Vienna.

The tie-up makes sense for both companies given The Void’s increasingly appealing collection of VR entertainment properties and the declining state of traditional malls. Working with Disney, The Void has leveraged hit properties such as Wreck-It Ralph and Star Wars to draw customers from the “Downtown” areas outside Disney’s theme parks; a Ghostbusters attraction is now one of two light horror experiences in the venues, further expanding their potential audiences.

As Void representatives told GamesBeat earlier this year, the Ralph Breaks VR experience alone required a year of development time, so the more widely the software can be deployed, the more return the company will see on that investment. The challenge is that the software is custom-built to be deployed on high-end VR hardware and used by multiple people in big spaces, radically reducing the likelihood that most VR owners could enjoy the experiences in the same ways at home.

That’s where shopping malls come in. The Void’s multi-person, large room-scale VR experiences can help use up some of their increasingly vacant spaces, which have recently been accommodating escape rooms and other non-retail tenants as brick-and-mortar stores have closed.

“Over the past years, our industry has evolved dramatically,” explained Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield CEO Christophe Cuvillier. “In a connected world, shopping is not enough anymore. Today, our customers expect to be entertained and brought together to share memorable, engaging sensory experiences. We are very happy to partner with The Void in an industry-first, to bring cutting edge immersive experiences like these to our visitors.”

Participants must be at least 10 years old and no shorter than four feet in height for each experience, which will cost upwards of $30 per person for around 20 minutes of VR — the total time including check-in and a pre-experience video requires between 30 minutes and an hour. The partners tease that there are “several new experiences still to be released” for Void guests, so if Star Wars and Ghostbusters aren’t enough for you, stay tuned. An unnamed Marvel experience is expected to launch later this year.

Source: https://venturebeat.com/2019/07/25/the-void-plans-25-new-vr-entertainment-centers-in-u-s-and-europe/

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The Apple Card is now available, at least for those with an invitation

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Eager to get an Apple Card? Invites are now rolling out, at least to some select few.

After CEO Tim Cook announced the card would arrive in August, Apple on Tuesday began the initial deployment of its new branded credit card, sending out email invites to some of those who signed up to be “notified” that the card was indeed now available. A larger public launch is due for later this month.

Created in partnership with Goldman Sachs and Mastercard, the Apple Card sees Apple expand into the world of finance. Promising no annual fees, late fees or over-the-limit fees. Sign-up and management of the card are handled through the iPhone’s Wallet app on iOS 12.4, which is also where interested users can apply for the card. If approved, the digital card can be added to the app immediately to begin using it right away.

In addition to removing a number of fees, Apple’s cashback card will offer up to 3% back on purchases made directly from Apple (including digital purchases and subscriptions), 2% cashback on any purchase made using Apple Pay and 1% cashback on purchases made with the physical, titanium card.

Cashback is put back into your account every day through a feature the company calls “Daily Cash,” and can be used to pay down your bill or send to friends through Apple Cash. You can also transfer Apple Cash to your bank account.

The app is also where you will be able to find card information including the 16-digit credit card number. The Apple Card actually has two card numbers, one for the physical card and one for the digital, but users will only be able to see the digital number, which can be entered onto websites or given over the phone to a local pizza shop.

The physical titanium card itself is designed to be used in places where Apple Pay isn’t accepted. It follows Apple’s traditional minimalist design, with the front displaying your name, an Apple logo and the standard EMV chip and the back showing the Goldman and Mastercard logos. Tapping your iPhone against the NFC sleeve the titanium card comes with displays a pop-up on the iPhone that allows for quick activation of the card.

Support for the card is handled through the Wallet app, which can guide you to Apple support for any technical questions or Goldman Sachs support for any questions that might involve financial or personal data. In addition to phone support, you can also get help through iMessage.

If the card is lost or your iPhone is stolen, logging into iCloud will give you access to freeze or remove the payment method, though you will need to call Goldman Sachs to order a new physical card or get a new digital credit card number. There is no fee for getting a new titanium card.

Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/the-apple-card-is-now-available-at-least-for-those-with-an-invitation/

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Apple isn’t the most cash-rich company in the world anymore, but it doesn’t matter

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You’ve probably heard it before: Apple has more money in the bank than any other corporation on Earth, thanks to huge profit margins on its products and a run over nearly two decades leading in the consumer technology industry. It has been called the richest, most successful company in the history of the world. But one part of that narrative isn’t true anymore: Apple no longer has the biggest financial reserves of any company on Earth.

According to a report in Financial Times, that label may now be applied to a different tech giant: Alphabet, Google’s parent company. As of this year’s second financial quarter, Alphabet now has $117 billion in reserve, compared to $102 billion for Apple. However, Apple had $163 billion in 2017, so this is just as much a story of Apple reducing its reserves as it is one of Google growing its own.

Since then, Apple has worked to reduce its liquidity in response to criticisms from investors that the company was hoarding cash. While there is some room for nuance, investors generally want to discourage companies from hoarding cash. Instead, they prefer that the money either be returned to investors in some way or invested in something that may produce a return later.

Apple spent $122 billion on stock buybacks since the beginning of 2018. It also took advantage of a one-time tax incentive to bring overseas cash back into the United States at a reduced tax rate a little over a year ago.

All of this is to say that, while platform-loyal tech enthusiasts might see this as evidence that Google is winning and Apple is losing, the reality is more nuanced. Finance professionals, in many cases, actually see holding excessively large cash reserves as a negative.

Apple continues to face the challenge of reinventing itself in a world that has been more or less fully saturated with smartphones. The company’s most recent earnings report showed another quarter of decline in year-over-year iPhone sales. But the losses in that quarter were made up by growth in services, wearables, and other areas.

Meanwhile, Google had a record-breaking quarter, with a reported quarterly profit for $9.9 billion and 19% greater revenue than the same quarter the previous year. While Apple’s risk for investors comes from a stagnating smartphone market, Google’s comes from threat of increased regulation and other government action. And, of course, Alphabet’s umbrella covers more than just Google.

Both companies’ financials are relatively healthy for now, though. And news about which tech company has the most cash in the bank doesn’t carry much relevance for most consumers; it’s primarily an investor concern. But how tech giants will navigate shifting market demand for certain products, consumer outrage over privacy matters, the impact of US/China trade disputes on supply lines, and threats of regulation or even monopoly-busting breakups by politicians and political candidates might. So those are the stories to watch most closely.

Source: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2019/08/google-parent-company-alphabet-passes-apple-as-worlds-most-cash-rich-company/

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Facebook, Instagram down (again). WhatsApp also affected. What’s new?

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It was another day, another Instagram outage on Sunday as users reported the social network being down across the globe.

People also had problems accessing Facebook and WhatsApp.

According to outage tracker Down Detector, outages surged for all three apps just before 10 a.m. EDT or 11 a.m EDT.

Instagram outages ranged from California, New Jersey and New York to Brazil, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, India, Malaysia and China.
Facebook outage reports were concentrated on the East and West coasts, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Israel, Nepal, India, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Just a month ago, on July 3, an identical outage affected the three apps. But if complaints are any indication, people have experienced interruptions in Instagram service for short periods of time since then.

This time, neither Facebook nor Instagram (they are part of the same company) tweeted any explanation to allay user concerns.

In June, a Google Cloud outage caused YouTube, Snapchat and Gmail to go down.
The tweeting public used the hashtag #Instagramdown to report, confirm and commiserate after trying to refresh their apps and see if their internet connection was on the fritz.
In fact, these outages have become such a regular affair that outage memes are pretty much a fixture on Twitter.

Here is our documentation of this important cultural phenomenon. These memes serve as a reminder that our voyeuristic lives depend on sweet sustenance from Instagram and the celebrities who post their entire lives there. (What, your life doesn’t? Teach us the ways. But only if you don’t use Facebook to learn about the world, naturally.)

Source: https://www.nj.com/entertainment/2019/08/instagram-goes-down-again-across-globe-facebook-whatsapp-also-affected-whats-new.html

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