Apple sneaks in a ‘Severance’ Season 2 teaser during its iPhone 14 event

So you’re sitting there watching all of the new gadget news from Apple this afternoon — a new Apple Watch Series 8, SE, Ultra, new AirPods Pro…and then, wait — is that Helly R.? If you’re a fan of the Apple TV+ series “Severance,” you might have caught a little easter egg or two during Apple’s iPhone 14 this afternoon. The Cupertino company teased viewers about the much-anticipated season two of the popular Apple TV+ show amid the deluge of hardware news by offering a couple of brief scenes that featured the show’s lead actress riding the subway — something we’ve never seen her do.

The scenes could possibly indicate we’ll get to follow Helly’s character further outside the office in the upcoming episodes.

If you haven’t caught on yet to “Severance,” the Emmy-nominated Outstanding Drama Series features a dark take on work/life balance. Instead of employees engaged in “quiet quitting,” the workers in this sci-fi series opt for a high-tech medical procedure — “severance” — that surgically divides your memories of work life from those of your real life — and vice versa.

But whatever is really going on at Lumon, the cult-like company they work for in the macrodata refinement division, remains a mystery for the time being.

At the end of season one, the employees had teamed up on a plan to try to figure things out, leading to some big reveals about who these people were outside their work personas. The newer employee Helly Riggs, played by actress Britt Lower, will certainly be a focus in the forthcoming episodes given what we learned about her in the season one finale. (No spoilers here, just go watch!)

Thanks to her distinctive red hair, Helly’s character was easy to identify in a couple of scenes during the iPhone event presentation today.

She first appears in a video following the introduction of the new AirPods Pro.

You can catch a glimpse of Helly shortly after Apple presenter and Senior Engineer Mary-Ann Rau touts the new device’s better noise cancellation capabilities while standing in a noisy subway car — double that of the original AirPods Pro, she says. As the clip ends, Rau steps out of the train car and onto the platform. And that’s when we spot Helly waiting to step on.

Image Credits: Apple

Later, Apple pulls a Marvel-like end credits tease. After Tim Cook bids us farewell, the camera pans up to the stars above Apple Park — in an Apple logo, of course. The scene fades and Helly appears again.

This time, she’s again about to board the subway, still dressed in her work attire and carrying a large brown tote. The image flickers a little here — could this mean someone is pulling the levers back at corporate to swap her brain from work mode to another? (As we learned later in the season, the medical procedure Helly underwent to become a so-called severed worker can do a few other things too!)

Apple hasn’t yet said when viewers will get more of “Severance,” only that it’s been picked up for a second season.

The workplace thriller hails from executive producer Ben Stiller and creator Dan Erickson, and features an ensemble cast including Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Patricia Arquette, Adam Scott, Emmy Award winner John Turturro, Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, Dichen Lachman, Jen Tullock, Tramell Tillman, Michael Chernus and Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. Its first season can be streamed from Apple TV+.

read more about Apple's fall event, September 7, 2022

Apple sneaks in a ‘Severance’ Season 2 teaser during its iPhone 14 event by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Spotify becomes first music streamer to launch on Roblox

Spotify announced today it will become the first music streaming brand to have an official presence within Roblox, with the launch of “Spotify Island,” a place where artists and fans will gather to play interactive quests, unlock exclusive content, and buy artist merchandise.

The new Spotify Island destination in Roblox will actually consist of a central mainland surrounded by a collection of themed islands, which players can explore and interact with by walking, running, and jumping, and touching and picking up various objects. The worlds themselves feature a color palette centered around Spotify’s shades of greens, with oranges and purples mixed in.

There’s also a musical play box in the top right corner of the world, which will feature a soundtrack powered by Soundtrap, one of Spotify’s audio creation tools. The music here can be played or paused, or players can skip tracks, the company says.

Image Credits: Spotify

An in-game merch store, meanwhile, will feature a variety of exclusive Spotify merchandise that can be taken into other parts of Roblox, as well as special artist merchandise which will serve as an additional revenue stream for creators. Spotify says artists will be able to keep Spotify’s portion of those merch sales (less Roblox’s cut) and Spotify can help with the merch design, if need be.

Initially, four free items can be unlocked by completing missions around Spotify Island, by doing things like playing sounds within the world’s crystal cave and on a trampoline, or collecting the musical notes sprinkled throughout the island.

Image Credits: Spotify

There are also little hearts around Spotify Island that can be collected to unlock hidden easter eggs. For instance, one easter egg will change the island from daytime mode to nighttime for the individual player. They can then pick up the glow sticks on the ground to leave light trails behind them as they run around. A leaderboard will track the hearts collected by various island visitors.

Spotify’s vision for the island is to turn Roblox players into creators themselves, the company says. At launch, it’s doing this by having players create sounds at its virtual beat-maker stations powered by Soundtrap, and by moving around a “stage” area where they can interact with items like a confetti cannon and bubbles, effectively becoming performers themselves. But in time, the company plans to expand on this experience it said without going into specific detail.

Image Credits: Spotify

“The stage isn’t the typical artist broadcast to fan experience. We’re flipping the script and empowering players to be the creators and truly feel like they’re the artist performing,” noted Abby Stewart, Director of Business Development at Spotify.

Spotify also says the island will continue to evolve with new worlds to explore focused on music and fandoms. The first of these will be K-Park, a custom-built experience designed as an homage to Kpop culture. The first two artists to activate in this space are Stray Kids and Sunmi. The latter will have Roblox merchandise available starting today, while Stray Kids’ merch will arrive in the weeks ahead.

The launch of the Roblox world comes at a time when music has become an important competitive advantage for online gaming platforms as they position themselves as a future entry point to engage with the “metaverse.”  

Fortnite helped kick off the trend with its in-game Travis Scott concert in 2020, followed by its Ariana Grande concert last year, and its more recent collection of Coachella-themed items and music aimed to celebrate the festival on its platform. Roblox, meanwhile, also held its first virtual concert in 2020 when it hosted Lil Nas X in an online event space custom-designed with multiple stages inspired by the artist’s music. And last year, Roblox solidified its intentions to bring more artists into its online gaming worlds with the announcement of a partnership with Sony Music, aimed at helping artists reach fans within Roblox and make money.

Spotify, which already hosts over 2.2 million gaming-related playlists, said it saw the potential to reach a younger generation of music fans with the launch of its game experience on Roblox. According to a Deloitte survey, it cited, more than 80% of people in the U.S. played games, and Gen Z gamers were averaging 11 to 13 hours per week engaging with their favorite titles.

Image Credits: Spotify

“We want to meet this next generation of gamers where they are, while opening up new opportunities for fans and artists to engage in play,” said Alia Calhoun, Global Head of Partner Marketing, in a demo of the Roblox world to select press on Monday.

While Spotify Island may be able to attract various fan bases who follow their favorite artist to the world to pick up some Roblox swag, the lack of any virtual concert news alongside the announcement is a bit of a letdown. That said, Spotify seems to have planned for concerts to arrive at some point given it’s built a stage with a big screen behind it. But when asked directly about its plans the company declined to share more than this. It only said Roblox users should “stay tuned” for special programming in the future.

The new Spotify Island experience is live now in Roblox at On Spotify itself, there’s also a new playlist called Spotify Island on Roblox to stream.

Google has a Wordle easter egg and it’s cute, okay

I know, I know, you’re tired of Wordle. Just mute the word “wordle” on Twitter and don’t be like the guy who made a Wordle-spoiling bot and got banned from Twitter today for being a party pooper (actually, it’s because it’s against Twitter guidelines to make a bot that is designed to bother people, but that’s some definitively party-pooping behavior).

Okay, now that we’re alone — all the curmudgeons have closed out of the article — let’s talk about Wordle. Today’s puzzle was particularly challenging, but when you typed “wordle” into the Google search bar to find that strange website, you might have noticed a fun easter egg. The Google icon in the upper right corner looks like Wordle! The animation even enacts someone guessing words like “column” and “goalie” before arriving at “Google.” It’s cute, okay! (And in other news, Google is being sued by Washington DC and three states over a user privacy issue.)

As the cultural significance of a Google easter egg proves, Wordle is still very popular, and it’s not just on your Twitter feed. When TechCrunch spoke to the game’s creator Josh Wardle two weeks ago, he said that two million people were playing the game each day. If you’re decidedly not a curmudgeon and still think Wordle is fun (It is! If you don’t like it, just don’t play!), check out our conversation with Wardle (yep, that’s his name) about the game’s sudden virality, venture capital interest and why he doesn’t want to monetize the game.

Wardle told TechCrunch:

It’s not like I think that everyone needs to give away the things they create online for free, it was just that because that’s how I started this, it’s made it easier for me to continue it this way. I made something that felt really authentic to me, and now when people are asking like, “Do you want to monetize it? Why aren’t you doing X, Y and Z?”

It’s really easy for me to say… No, I was really happy with it when it was just my partner and me playing together. It’s really easy to get seduced by all that stuff, but I try and instead be like… I was happy then, and I think I’ll be happy in the future if that’s where it ends. If at the end of the day with Wordle, it’s just her and me playing again, I think I’ll be totally happy for that to be the outcome.

White House extends social distancing guidelines to April 30

Only a few days after saying that he would like to see the country “opened up and raring to go by Easter” and maybe relax rules for at least some parts of the U.S. sooner than later, President Trump today announced that he is extending the government’s social distancing guidelines through April 30.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all,” he said. “Therefore, the next two weeks and during this period it’s very important that everyone strongly follows the guidelines — have to follow the guidelines that our great vice president holds up a lot. He’s holding that up a lot. He believes in it so strongly. The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end. Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread.”

He also noted that we can expect more data and information about the federal government’s strategy on Tuesday. “We’ll be having a very important statement made on Tuesday.”

Earlier today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that we should expect between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. “The reason the president made the announcement today about going to the end of April, is because we want to make sure that we don’t prematurely think we’re doing so great. We may be, but we want to push it to the extreme,” Fauci, who called the decision “wise and prudent,” said in today’s press conference.

And while Trump has said that he wants to open up the country as fast as possible and get the economy back on track, it now looks that — at least for the time being — that timeline has been pushed back as he listened to Fauci and task force head Deborah Birx’s advice.

The new date he mentioned today is June 1st.

“We can expect that by June 1st we will be well on our way to recovery,” he said today. “We think by June 1st a lot of great things will be happening. I want every citizen in our country to take heart and confidence in the fact that we have the best medical minds in the world tackling this disease.”

Currently, Trump said, death rates are expected to peak in two weeks. The original “15 days to slow the spread” campaign launched just under two weeks ago, on March 15.

Tesla starts rolling out Chess to ‘Tesla Arcade’ in-car gaming app

Tesla is making a new game available to its vehicle owners, with a roll-out starting today. The company started pushing out a new ‘Arcade’ app for its in-car infotainment system back in June at the annual E3 gaming conference, and now it’s adding the most thrilling game around to the mix: Chess.

This isn’t the first time games have been on Tesla’s infotainment screens; its had them available as ‘Easter eggs,’ or hidden software features. Tesla began demoing Arcade in its showrooms back in June, too, so that visitors to their showrooms could come in and give it a try through June 30.

Tesla’s teaser for the release of the Chess game includes a western-themed Tesla driver playing in a field, which is an interesting narrative choice. The promo also notably has the person using this while parked, which is the only way you can actually play the games for obvious reasons.

In addition to the update going out broadly, Tesla also announced that ‘Beach Buggy Racing’, a kart racing game you can control with the Tesla’s steering wheel, gets an update which will let you use two game controllers as once to do local multiplayer with a passenger. Again, not while driving.

Bethesda also revealed at E3 that mobile game Fallout Shelter being played on the in-car display, and Musk has discussed opening up the platform more broadly to developers, so we’ll see if that’s the next step after this rollout of the Arcade app to users.

Sri Lanka blocks social media sites after deadly explosions

The government of Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked access to several social media services following deadly explosions that ripped through the country, killing at least 207 people and injuring hundreds more.

Eight bombings were reported, including during Easter services at three churches, on the holiest weekend of the Christian calendar.

In a brief statement, the Sri Lankan president’s secretary Udaya Seneviratne said the government has “decided to temporarily block social media sites including Facebook and Instagram,” in an effort to curb “false news reports.”

The government said the services will be restored once the investigations into the attacks had concluded.

Nalaka Gunawardene, a science writer and Sri Lankan native, confirmed in a tweet that Facebook-owned WhatsApp was also blocked in the country. Others reported that YouTube was inaccessible. But some said they were able to still use WhatsApp .

Spokespeople for Facebook and Google did not immediately comment.

It’s a rare but not unprecedented step for a government to block access to widely used sites and services. Although Sri Lanka’s move is ostensibly aimed at preventing the spread of false news, it’s likely to have an inhibiting effect on freedom of speech and efforts to communicate with loved ones.

Sri Lanka, like other emerging nations, has previously battled with misinformation. The government has complained that false news shared on Facebook has helped spread hatred and violence against the country’s Muslim minority. Other countries like India say encrypted messaging app WhatsApp has contributed to the spread of misinformation, prompting the social media company to add limits to how many groups a message can be sent to.

Iran and Turkey have also blocked access to social media sites in recent years amid protests and political unrest.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has described the explosions as a terrorist incident.