• Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023
Foundry releases Mari 6.0 
Mari 6.0

Foundry, a software developer for media and entertainment, has released Mari 6.0. Mari is Foundry’s cutting-edge 3D painting and texturing tool that combines power and performance to handle the most complex assets. This release focuses on enhancements to improve artists’ workflows and efficiency, with two new USD Exports, a new Roller Brush paint mode, Python snippets as Shelf items and a teleport node.

The two new USD improvements are designed to ensure that texturing pipelines are USD-ready. With the USD Look Exporter, artists can export a single USD Look file that contains all of the relevant shader information, reducing duplication of work in setting up USD Looks for use in Katana or other DCCs and bringing Look Development and Lighting together earlier on in the pipeline. Artists will also now have the ability to use Mari’s selection tools to assign materials to the correct USD face set-based location. 

Building on the already extensive painting toolset in Mari, the Roller Brush is a new painting mode that enables artists to paint a tileable image whilst following the curves and directions of a brush stroke. This allows artists to perfect the finer details without having to manually paint each individual stitch by hand, saving valuable time without losing creative control. This makes repetitive painting tasks such as creating seams and decals on characters’ clothing easier than ever.

Mari 6.0 also introduces a simpler way to execute Python Script actions using Python Snippets as Shelf items, so artists aren’t required to install Python Scripts into the Scripts path before launching Mari. This encourages collaboration between artists as they can more easily share scripts amongst themselves and across studios, meaning tasks can be completed more efficiently. 

Finally, the teleport node: a node of two parts—Broadcaster and Receiver—that creates hidden connections in the nodegraph lands in this release. Allowing artists to easily organize the nodegraph, clean up networks and reduce excess clicks, the teleport workflow saves valuable time and reduces the risk of strain from manual navigation. Artists can jump quickly between Broadcast and Receiver to quickly navigate the nodegraph without needing to manually find nodes.

  • Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022
HPA Tech Retreat unveils main conference program
Attendees at last year's HPA Tech Retreat

The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) has announced details for the main conference program of the upcoming 2023 HPA Tech Retreat, now in its 28th year. Taking place February 20-23, the event will return to the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Registration for the event is now open. 

A bellwether gathering of the most prominent creatives, technologists and executives leading the future of entertainment technology and content creation, the HPA Tech Retreat is composed of TR-X (Monday), the Supersession (Tuesday), and the main conference program (Wednesday and Thursday), which anchors the four-day conference with a curated series of presentations focused on the most exciting, pressing, and fascinating issues confronting the industry today. 

Mark Schubin, who has steered the Tech Retreat Conference program for two and a half decades, said, “We received a true abundance of riches this year.  Not only were there more proposals than ever, but they were of exceptionally high quality. Look for presentations from four major studios talking about some of the most important projects. You will see presentations on immersive entertainment like MSG Dome, as well as virtual production, security, and cloud technologies.” 

Sessions for the 2023 HPA Tech Retreat main conference sessions will include:
Wednesday, February 22:

Technology Year in Review
Mark Schubin

What CES 2023 Means for the Media Industry
Mark Harrison, DPP

The Future of Localization
Rowan de Pomerai, DPP

It Is Time We Had a Conversation About Security in Our Industry
Chuck Parker, Sohonet (Moderator); Terri Davies, Trusted Partner Network, Motion Picture Association; Ted Harrington, ISE

Why Being Green is Not Black and White
Mark Harrison, DPP (Moderator); Barbara Lange, Kibo121; Cedric Lejeune, Workflowers

Audience Preferences for the Style of Digital Twins
Marvel Studios

MovieLabs 2030 Vision Update

The Truth About Overhauling the DMSC
Dan Germain, Sony Pictures Entertainment (Moderator); Bill Baggelaar, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Greg Geier, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Hai Dao, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Adam Miller, Nomad; John Hurst, CineCert

Web3 Movie Experience
Michelle Munson, Eluvio

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Ron Ames, Producer; Jesse Kobayashi, visual effects

Remote, Mobile, and Live Workflow Innovation Updates
Mark Chiolis, Mobile TV Group (Moderator)

Transforming Broadcasters to Media Companies with Advanced Technologies
Hans Hoffman, European Broadcasting Union

SMPTE Update
David Grindle, Executive Director, SMPTE

Thursday, February 23:

MovieLabs Showcase

Does Everything Really Belong in the Cloud?
Chris Lennon, Ross Video (Moderator); Thomas Burns, Dell; Renard Jenkins, Warner Bros. Discovery; Jamie Duemo, Amazon Web Services

Considerations for Creative in the Cloud
Bastien Minniti, Amazon Studios

Real-World Production Tips for Implementing Virtual Production
Addy Ghani, disguise

MSG Sphere Studios: Capture, Edit, Deliver in 16K Resolution
Jeff Sengpiehl, Key Code Media

Restoration and Preservation
Anthony Magliocco, EMTM

Year in Review of New AI/ML Developments for Media Production with a Concentration on Semantic Search
Rob Gonsalves, Avid

What About Legacy SDR Content in the New HDR World?
Bill Feightner, Colorfront; Tom Graham, Dolby

LiDAR and Digital Twin Technologies
Ryan Metcalfe, Preevue

Textures feature of the Alexa 35
Tamara Seybold, ARRI

Post-Retreat Treat: The Origins of Subscription Home Entertainment
Mark Schubin

Changes to the program and speakers may occur and will be noted on the HPA website.

The Innovation Zone, a highlight of the Tech Retreat and an evolution of the famous HPA Tech Retreat demo room, has grown significantly and will include groundbreaking presentations and demos beyond the walls of the traditional Innovation Zone space.  Three of the four days of the Tech Retreat also feature dynamic breakfast roundtables with industry leading companies and experts speaking and leading discussions on a broad variety of topics of interest. 

Intentionally set in the desert, out of reach of the day-to-day demands of working life, the Tech Retreat fosters convivial and challenging conversations and desirable circumstances for professional networking. 

The Tech Retreat is a limited attendance event and is expected to sell out once again, as it does every year. Details for the Supersession and TR-X will be announced shortly. 

Seth Hallen, president of HPA, said, “There’s always great anticipation leading up to the reveal of each year’s main program lineup, and this year’s sessions deserve all the hype. I personally can’t wait to hear about these important topics, and meet the panelists and our attendees. Members of the HPA community constantly remind us how much they look forward to the Tech Retreat which many call the most informative and collaborative event in our industry.  February has become the heart of the technology calendar and I look forward to seeing our community in Palm Springs.” 

Registration is now open for the 2023 HPA Tech Retreat, which takes place thanks to the generosity of diamond title sponsor Adobe; platinum sponsors AMD, AWS, and Berkeley Communications; after party sponsor Ateliere; connectivity sponsor Sohonet; silver sponsors 6P Color, Epic Games, and Key Code Media; event sponsors Arri, Dell Technologies, Panavision, and Signiant; and star sponsor Avid.

  • Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022
FTC challenges Meta acquisition of VR company in court
Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on Oct. 28, 2021. Federal regulators open their campaign to block Facebook parent Meta’s acquisition of virtual-reality company Within Unlimited and its fitness app Supernatural, with opening arguments beginning Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in San Jose, California. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Federal regulators opened their campaign to block Facebook parent Meta's acquisition of a virtual-reality company Thursday in a San Jose, California, courtroom.

In a landmark legal challenge to a Big Tech merger, the Federal Trade Commission has sued to prevent Meta's acquisition of Within Unlimited and its fitness app Supernatural, asserting it would hurt competition and violate antitrust laws.

The FTC is arguing that, were it not for the Within acquisition, Meta would have developed its own dedicated VR fitness up, entering this nascent market with its own product as a new competitor — and Within would have remained in independent player in the market.

Regulators cite a 2015 email from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Facebook executives saying that his vision for "the next wave of computing" — namely virtual and augmented reality — was control of apps as well as the platform on which those apps are distributed. The email said that a key part of this strategy is for the company to be "completely ubiquitous in killer apps," which are apps that prove the value of the technology.

"Meta could have used "all its vast resources and capabilities" to build its own VR fitness app, said FTC lawyer Abby Dennis. Instead, she added, when Meta heard a rumor that Within was being pursued by Apple, it decided instead "to just acquire the market leader" in the space.

Meta lawyer Mark Hansen, disputed the FTC's claim that the company was going to build its own app.

"There will be no evidence that Meta was ready" do do anything, he said.

Meta Platforms Inc. has been unsuccessful in its bid to have the case dismissed after arguing that the U.S. failed to prove that the virtual reality market is concentrated with high barriers to entry.

After Meta argued that the lawsuit contained "nothing more than the FTC's speculation about what Meta might have done," the FTC revised its complaint in October to narrow the focus of its allegations.

Over the summer, FTC Chair Lina Khan and the other two Democratic commissioners voted to block the deal, with two Republicans going the other way.

The Within case is part of a more aggressive stance by the FTC following its 2020 antitrust lawsuit against Facebook seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of Instagram and WhatsApp, or a restructuring of the company.

Zuckerberg was dropped as a defendant in the case in August, but he is expected to testify next week.

Under Zuckerberg's leadership, Meta began a campaign to conquer virtual reality in 2014 with its acquisition of headset maker Oculus VR. Since then, Meta's VR headsets have become the cornerstone of its growth in the virtual reality space, the FTC noted in its suit. Fueled by the popularity of its top-selling Quest headsets, Meta's Quest Store has become a leading U.S. platform with more than 400 apps available to download, according to the agency.

Hansen said more than 99% of the apps available to Quest users were made by independent developers, not Meta.

Meta's strategy for growth, he added, "depends on getting third-party developers to build apps for Quest."

"Meta needs those third-party apps as much, if not more, than apps need Meta — there is no gatekeeping going on."

Barbara Ortutay is an AP technology writer

  • Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022
Amazon Studios debuts AWS-powered virtual production stage
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the virtual production stage are (l-r) are Tim Clawson, worldwide head of production & post, Amazon Studios; Ken Nakada, head of virtual production operations, Amazon Studios; Albert Cheng, VP, Prime Video U.S.; “Candy Cane Lane” director Reginald “Reggie” Hudlin; Dan Scharf, VP, head of business affairs, Amazon Studios; and Chris del Conte (“cdc”), worldwide head of visual effects, Amazon Studios.
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- 

Amazon Studios has announced the opening of Stage 15, its new virtual production stage, and formation of the new Amazon Studios Virtual Production (ASVP) department.  The stage on Amazon’s Culver City lot combines two former stages to accommodate an LED wall that is 80 feet in diameter and 26 feet tall. The first feature film to shoot on the new Stage 15 will be family holiday comedy Candy Cane Lane, directed by Reginald “Reggie” Hudlin and starring Eddie Murphy.

The ASVP department will shepherd each project on Stage 15, transferring institutional knowledge along with an optimized workflow developed in partnership with--and powered by--Amazon Web Services (AWS). The division has a full-time executive, engineering, and creative team of 20 that has been operating in stealth mode since 2020 on the design, pipeline, and build-out of Stage 15. Working with the volume wall, production creatives can interact with digital assets and processes in a manner that mirrors live-action to enable digital world capture, visualization, performance capture, simulcam, and in-camera visual effects.

Stage 15 is fully connected into the AWS cloud, and is an integrated part of the production-in-the-cloud ecosystem. The facility provides a camera-to-cloud workflow, with direct connection from Stage 15 to AWS S3 storage to make dailies instantly available to creative teams from any location. Every shot taken on Stage 15 ends up in the AWS cloud in real time, with the ability to safely and securely distribute assets around the globe.

The ASVP team is also developing a VFX and virtual production asset management system that lives on the AWS cloud, allowing production teams to catalogue, search, preview and repurpose production assets. This powerful backend system will reduce the lag time that productions typically experience when transferring files and assets from set to editorial, VFX, and postproduction vendors and facilities.

“With the combination of AWS and Amazon Studios innovation is inevitable,” said Chris del Conte, global head of VFX, Amazon Studios. “When you mix the worlds of entertainment and technology, it allows us to take everything to the next level.”

“The ASVP team are terrific collaborators and I am delighted to utilize this new technology for Candy Cane Lane. Advances in production and our industry continue to astound me and the volume wall is an impressive innovation for our business. For a production like this, with such a large scope, it’s an invaluable storytelling tool,” said Candy Cane Lane director Hudlin.

Here are some related specs, facts and features:

  • Stage 15 is a 34,000-square-foot structure including the LED volume, a “Sandbox” lab, and 17,000 square feet of space dedicated to set construction and production support.
  • The ASVP LED volume contains 130,700 cubic feet of interactive space.
  • Amazon filmmakers may access ASVP as a consultation resource for all phases of a production, from concept planning through post.
  • The ASVP volume wall is composed of over 3,000 LED panels and 100 motion capture cameras.
  • The volume includes a full LED ceiling with drop-out panels, so that productions can rig up to 350,000 pounds of lights and production gear to its truss.
  • Stage 15 was originally built in 1940 and was home to productions that included It’s a Wonderful Life, Star Trek (TV show), Batman (TV show), RoboCop, Airplane, The Three Amigos, and Armageddon.
  • In addition to the LED volume wall, the massive new stage will include a 2-story building within its walls, dubbed “The Sandbox at Stage 15.” This structure will include a virtual location-scouting volume, a performance-capture volume, a tech-scouting volume, a green screen simulcam stage, and a client-facing VIP viewing area for visiting executives, filmmakers, and guests. This space will also feature a second, smaller LED stage, with a completely mobile LED wall, camera-tracking system, and control cart, along with an engineering workshop, scanning, 3D-printing, production workspace, and equipment storage.
  • Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022
DaVinci Resolve for iPad to launch In Q4
DaVinci Resolve for iPad
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Blackmagic Design will bring DaVinci Resolve for iPad to the market so creators can extend video workflows in new ways and new places. Optimized for MultiTouch technology and Apple Pencil, DaVinci Resolve for iPad features support for cut and color pages providing access to DaVinci’s image technology, color finishing tools and latest HDR workflows. And Blackmagic Cloud support allows creators to collaborate with multiple users worldwide. DaVinci Resolve for iPad will be available in Q4 2022 from the Apple App Store as a free download, with an upgrade to DaVinci Resolve Studio for iPad also available as an in-app purchase.

With optimized performance for Apple Silicon, DaVinci Resolve delivers 4x faster Ultra HD ProRes render performance on the new iPad Pro with M2. HDR is also supported for customers using an 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the M1 chip. Creators can send a clean feed grading monitor output to an Apple Studio Display, Pro Display XDR or an AirPlay compatible display. This lets customers use the external display to quickly create grades on set or color correct clips in post production directly from their iPad.

The new DaVinci Resolve for iPad will open and create standard DaVinci Resolve project files which are compatible with the desktop version of DaVinci Resolve 18. Supported file formats include H.264, H.265, Apple ProRes and Blackmagic RAW, with clips able to be imported from the iPad Pro internal storage and Photos library, or externally connected iCloud and USB-C media disks.

  • Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022
Cooke Optics launches 2 facilities
Tim Pugh

Cooke Optics has made a major investment in two facilities. Crest Rise, a nearly 6,500 square foot production facility located near the existing factory in Leicester, U.K., was specifically commissioned to facilitate a fast introduction of the new S8/i FF T1.4 range, with the aim of achieving annual outputs significantly in excess of any previous Cooke product range. The S8/i FF spherical lenses, at T1.4, are among the fastest lenses available for full frame capture, providing cinematographers with excellent low light performance as well as great control over depth of field for full frame production. In response to customer feedback, they are also smaller and lighter than contemporary Cooke lenses, while producing optimal image quality and pleasing images that convey the sought-after Cooke Look.

This product range requires a different methodology to produce than other Cooke lenses, as it has been specially designed for the digital camera environment. The facility has adopted a three-tier level approach to environmental control, with all areas positively pressured to minimize contamination during the assembly processes. It features specific modulation transfer function, projection and camera tests, all employed to ensure that the lenses are finely tuned to exact parameters, but without losing hand-built craftsmanship. The facility has been designed with expansion in mind, ready for the implementation of the remaining focal lengths that will make up the complete S8/i FF range of 16 lenses, and Cooke has recruited an additional 12 staff into the assembly process, with a further six staff into the glass production group.

Cooke is also opening a new Creative Centre located at Chaowai SOHO, in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, headed by technical sales manager Anson Gil Mercado. It incorporates an in-house studio where customers can test a wide variety of Cooke lenses, as well as meeting rooms and a lounge area for events. This is the second regional Cooke facility to open in recent months, following the launch of the Burbank, Calif. facility in July.

Cooke Optics CEO Tim Pugh said, “Facilities that improve production and regional outreach are the cornerstone to better supporting our customers worldwide. The S8/i FF production facility will allow us to get premium lenses into the hands of our customers far quicker than has been achieved previously, while our new Creative Centre in Beijing allows local filmmakers to try out our different lens ranges in a relaxed environment, with experts on hand.”

  • Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022
Academy's Science and Technology Council adds members Paul Cameron, Paul Debevec, Tom Duffield and Marlon West 
Paul Cameron

Paul Cameron, Paul Debevec, Tom Duffield and Marlon West have accepted invitations to join the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Academy’s Science and Technology Council focuses on the science and technology of motion pictures--preserving its history, developing educational programs, driving industry standards, and providing forums for the exchange of information and ideas.

Cameron’s cinematography credits include “Reminiscence,” “21 Bridges,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Collateral,” “Man on Fire,” “Swordfish” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds.”  An Academy member since 2006, he currently serves as a Cinematographers Branch governor.

Debevec returns to the Council as co-chair after serving from 2012-2018, with three of those years as co-chair.  He is the director of research for production innovation at Netflix, where he oversees R&D in new technologies in computer vision, computer graphics and machine learning with applications in visual effects, virtual production and animation.  An Academy member since 2010, Debevec currently serves as a Visual Effects Branch governor.

Duffield’s production design credits include “Patriots Day,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lone Survivor” and “Ed Wood”; his credits as art director include “Men in Black,” “The Birdcage” and “Batman Returns.”  He has lectured at AFI, Chapman and Loyola universities and various other educational institutions around the United States.  Duffield, an Academy member since 1989, currently serves as a governor of the Production Design Branch. 

West is head of effects animation and a visual effects supervisor at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios.  He has worked on hand-drawn and computer-generated projects.  West’s credits include “Encanto,” “Frozen II,” “Moana,” “Frozen,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” “Fantasia 2000,” “Tarzan,” “Hercules,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Pocahontas” and “The Lion King.”  He is currently serving as VFX supervisor of “Iwájú” for Disney+.  An Academy member since 2015, West currently serves as a Short Films and Feature Animation Branch governor.

The Council co-chairs for 2022–2023 are Lois Burwell and Debevec. 

The Council’s other returning members are Bill Baggelaar, Linda Borgeson, Visual Effects Branch governor Brooke Breton, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch governor Bill Corso, Sound Branch governor Teri E. Dorman, Theo Gluck, Buzz Hays, Greg Hedgepath, Leslie Iwerks, Andrea Kalas, Colette Mullenhoff, Ujwal Nirgudkar, Helena Packer, David Pierce, David Schnuelle, Andy Serkis, Leon Silverman, Amy Vincent and Jeffrey White.

  • Friday, Oct. 28, 2022
Apple's revenue and profit edge up despite slowing economy
In this Jan. 3, 2019, file photo the Apple logo is displayed at the Apple store in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Apple Inc. reports quarterly financial results after the market close, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Apple managed to boost both its sales and profit during a summertime quarter that depressed the fortunes of most other major tech companies, but that doesn't necessarily mean the iPhone maker will be immune to a potential recession.

Even though Apple fared reasonably well, the July-September results released Thursday signaled that the world's most valuable company is facing some of the same economic headwinds that hammered the profits of Microsoft and the corporate parents of both Google and Facebook.

Apple's fiscal fourth quarter revenue rose 8% from the same time last year to $90.1 billion. That was an improvement from the scant 2% uptick in revenue during its April-June quarter when supply problems caused by pandemic-related factory shutdowns dinged its sales.

The Cupertino, California, company's profit for the most recent quarter totaled $20.72 billion, or $1.29 per share, up by less than 1% from the same time last year.

Both the revenue and earnings per share were slightly above analyst estimates. But on the downside, sales of Apple's most popular product, the iPhone, and another big moneymaker, and the services division, were both lower than analysts had been anticipating — a sign consumers may be cutting back amid the highest inflation in 40 years.

Apple is facing "increasingly difficult economic conditions," CEO Tim Cook acknowledged during a Thursday conference call with analysts. "A lot of people in a lot of places are struggling."

Those challenges are one of the reasons Apple expects its revenue growth to decelerate during the current October-December period, even though this year's quarter will include one more week than last year's, Apple's Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri warned during conference call. The strong U.S. dollar, which has lowered Apple's reported sales internationally, is also contributing to the anticipated slowdown.

Investors initially reacted negatively after Maestri's made that forecast, driving down Apple's shares by about 3% in extended trading, but seemed to be feeling more optimistic about the company's prospects by the time management concluded the conference call. Apple's shares were up by more than 1% late Thursday. Mirroring other once high-flying stocks in tech, Apple's stock still has dropped almost 20% so far in 2022.

The iPhone — still Apple's marquee product 15 years after its debut – accounted for most of its success during the past quarter, even though the company didn't sell quite as many of the devices as analysts had hoped. Boosted by the release of four new models in late September, iPhones sales climbed 10% from the same time last year to $42.63 billion.

But industry analysts are starting to fret over how much longer consumers will splurge on new phones as they feel the pinch of the past year's stubbornly high inflation rates. If those financial pressures persist, it could cause more households to curtail their spending during the holiday shopping season, especially on the kind of pricey gadgets that are Apple's cornerstone.

That's one of the primary reasons the research firm International Data Corp. is now expecting worldwide smartphone shipments this year to fall 6.5% from 2021, a downward revision of three full percentage points — translating into about 150 million fewer devices being sold — from an earlier forecast made in May.

Apple won't suffer as much as the makers of phones running on Google's Android operating system, IDC predicted, but it still will result in a significant slowdown. IDC projects iPhone shipments will edge up by less 0.5%, with the average selling price of the device hovering around $950. Through the first nine months of this year, iPhone sales are up 6% from last year.

"We knew Apple's iPhone business was slowing down, but we're also starting to see that trickle into their services segment which will be one cause for concern," said Investing.com analyst Jesse Cohen.

Maestri told analysts that weaker sales of advertising and gaming were the biggest drag on the services division during the most recent quarter.

Michael Liedtke is an AP technology writer

  • Monday, Oct. 17, 2022
Elon Musk has a "super app" plan for Twitter. It's super vague
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media award in Berlin on Dec. 1, 2020. For months, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO has expressed interest in creating his own version of China’s WeChat — a “super app” that does video chats, messaging, streaming and payments — for the rest of the world.. At least, that is, once he's done buying Twitter after months of legal infighting over the $44 billion purchase agreement he signed in April 2022. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Elon Musk has a penchant for the letter "X." He calls his son with the singer Grimes, whose actual name is a collection of letters and symbols, "X." He named the company he created to buy Twitter "X Holdings." His rocket company is, naturally, SpaceX.

Now he also apparently intends to morph Twitter into an "everything app" he calls X.

For months, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO has expressed interest in creating his own version of China's WeChat — a "super app" that does video chats, messaging, streaming and payments — for the rest of the world. At least, that is, once he's done buying Twitter after months of legal infighting over the $44 billion purchase agreement he signed in April.

There are just a few obstacles. First is that a Musk-owned Twitter wouldn't be the only global company in pursuit of this goal, and in fact would probably be playing catch-up with its rivals. Next is the question of whether anyone really wants a Twitter-based everything app— or any other super app — to begin with.

Start with the competition and consumer demand. Facebook parent Meta has spent years trying to make its flagship platform a destination for everything online, adding payments, games, shopping and even dating features to its social network. So far, it's had little success; nearly all of its revenue still comes from advertising.

Google, Snap, TikTok, Uber and others have also tried to jump on the super app bandwagon, expanding their offerings in an effort to become indispensable to people as they go about their day. None have set the world on fire so far, not least because people already have a number of apps at their disposal to handle shopping, communicating and payments.

"Old habits are hard to break, and people in the U.S. are used to using different apps for different activities," said Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. Enberg also notes that super apps would likely suck up more personal data at a time when trust in social platforms has deteriorated significantly.

Musk kicked off the latest round of speculation on Oct. 4, the day he reversed his attempts to get out of the deal and announced that he wanted to acquire Twitter after all. "Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app," he tweeted without further explanation.

But he's provided at least a little more detail in the past. During Tesla's annual shareholder meeting in August, Musk told the crowd at a factory near Austin, Texas, that he thinks he's "got a good sense of where to point the engineering team with Twitter to make it radically better."

And he's dropped some strong hints that handling payments for goods and services would be a key part of the app. Musk said he has a "grander vision" for what X.com, an online bank he started early in his career that eventually became part of PayPal, could have been.

"Obviously that could be started from scratch, but I think Twitter would help accelerate that by three to five years," Musk said in August. "So it's kind of something that I thought would be quite useful for a long time. I know what to do."

But it's not clear that WeChat's success in China means the same idea would translate for a U.S. or global audience. WeChat usage is almost universal in China, where most people never had a computer at home and skipped straight to going online by mobile phone.

Operated by tech giant Tencent Holding Ltd., the platform has made itself a one-stop shop for payments and other services and is starting to compete in entertainment. It is also a platform for health code apps the public is required to use prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

China has 1 billion internet users, and nearly all of them go online by mobile phone, according to the government-sanctioned China Internet Network Information Center. Only 33% use desktop computers at all — and mostly in addition to mobile phones. Tencent says WeChat had 1.3 billion users worldwide as of the end of June.

Tencent and its main Chinese competitor, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, aim to make apps that offer so many services that users can't easily switch to another app. They're not the only ones.

WeChat has added video calls and other message features as well as shopping, entertainment and other features. Government agencies use it to send out health, traffic and other announcements. WeChat's payment function, meanwhile, is so widely used that coffee shops, museums and some other businesses refuse cash and will take payment only through WeChat or the rival Ant app.

There is no comparable app in the U.S., despite tech companies' efforts.

It's worth remembering that Musk's grand visions don't always work out the way he appears to expect. Humans are nowhere near colonizing Mars and his promised fleet of robotaxis remains about as far from reality as the metaverse.

Twitter's user base is also tiny relative to those at its social-platform competitors. While Facebook, Instagram and TikTok all passed the 1 billion mark long ago, Twitter has about 240 million daily users.

"Musk would not only have to overcome the hurdle of convincing consumers to change how they behave online, but also that Twitter is the place to do it," Enberg said.

Barbara Ortutay is an AP technology writer. AP writer Joe McDonald contributed to this story.

  • Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022
Why Meta's virtual-reality avatars are finally getting legs
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg smiles as he shakes hands with European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. Zuckerberg, unveiled new new avatar legs at a virtual-reality event Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) -- 

Why is it so hard to build a metaverse avatar — a visual representation of ourselves in the digital world — that walks on two legs?

"I think everyone has been waiting for this," said a cartoonish digital version of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, unveiling his new avatar legs and jumping up and down at a virtual-reality event Tuesday. "But seriously, legs are hard. Which is why other virtual reality systems don't have them either."

Early avatar models introduced by Meta, as well as Microsoft, have been ridiculed for appearing as legless, waist-up bodies floating around their virtual worlds.

That's in part because tech companies have been eager to show off their progress in building out virtual-reality environments while still working on the technical challenges of making avatars more human-like and realistic. Meta renamed itself from Facebook last year in hopes of jumpstarting its corporate transformation into a provider of metaverse experiences for work and play.

Zuckerberg described legs as "probably the most requested feature on our roadmap" and said they will be available soon on Meta's Horizon virtual-reality platform. He said the challenge is perceptual, involving how the brain — taking in images seen though a virtual-reality headset — accepts a rendering based on how accurately it is positioned.

Legs are harder to render accurately because they're often hidden from view.

"If your legs are under a desk or if your arms block your view of them, then your headset can't see them directly," he said.

Zuckerberg said the company has been working to improve how its artificial intelligence systems track and predict where legs and other body parts should be moving.


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