Instagram star user JiffPom appears during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California
Instagram star user JiffPom appears during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on May 1, 2018 in San Jose, California

Facebook F8: Mark Zuckerberg reveals latest updates to WhatsApp, Messenger, virtual reality and more

Notably, no new products were announced – but plenty of new features and major updates

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 01 May 2018 19:46
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Facebook has revealed new updates for WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and just about every other service it makes.

It also announced that it would release new products, including a special version of Facebook for dating and a portable virtual reality headset that will be the first of its kind.

But the F8 conference – at which the new products were launched – was overshadowed by continuing controversies at the company. They were addressed by Mr Zuckerberg on stage, but he offered no apology and little explanation of recent events.

Not only did the conference come amid a growing data abuse scandal at Facebook, it also came less than a day after it emerged that WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum would leave the company.

Reports had suggested that Mr Koum had left as the result of a dispute with Facebook management over how much of users' data it could harvest. But Mr Zuckerberg gave no indication of any fallout and thanked Mr Koum for working with him, referring to him as "a tireless advocate for privacy and encryption".

Mr Zuckerberg did also reference the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but only in passing. He offered no apology for its part in the data abuse scandal, referring only to an "intense week".

He did reiterate a series of commitments apparently intended to quell public anger about the dangers of Facebook. They included a commitment to securing data and new investments to ensure that the site didn't damage security or elections.

Mr Zuckerberg said in advance of the event that the challenge of the conference would be ensuring that the company could still use it to introduce new products, even while apologising for the damage that its old ones have done. "That's going to be what this whole conference is about," he told Wired.

Once the discussion of recent events was out of the way, the new product launches were plentiful.

The company revealed that it will add group video chat options to WhatsApp, for instance, allowing people to call numerous people at once. And it will continue its focus on allowing people to chat with businesses, too.

It also showed off a new version of Facebook Messenger, with a vastly slimmed down interface. It will now open to show a list of people that users could chat with – and add new options, including a dark mode.

Instagram also received new updates, including a group video chat feature that allows people to virtually meet up with friends and scroll through their timeline at the same time. The new feature will bring up a live video feed of a person or group of people, so that users can scroll through Instagram together, even if they are physically apart.

(That part of the conference also saw a brief cameo from Jiffpom, a small dog that has almost 9 million followers and which Instagram said is the most famous pet on its platform.)

Facebook itself got a major update intended to take on dating apps like Tinder. The new dating platform – which will live in the main Facebook app but will be separate from it – sent shares in rival companies spiralling.

And it introduced a new Oculus Go headset, too. Even that headset wil include its own video chat, coming with a new version of Oculus Rooms, which allows people to speak and interact together in a virtual space.

The Oculus Go was first announced in October and is the first high-end standalone virtual reality headset of its kind, with the display and computing power built directly into the headset.

Until now, virtual reality systems have required a wired connection to a PC or games console, or in the case of some more budget wireless devices use a smartphone slotted into the device to act as the screen.

The technology giant confirmed the launch of the much-anticipated headset at Facebook's annual developer conference, F8.

The £199 device includes a built-in LCD screen and integrated speakers on either side of the headset, and also comes with a wireless controller to help users navigate through the headset's interface.

But it was notable that no brand new hardware was announced at the event. It was strongly rumoured that Facebook could be introducing a home assistant at F8 – but that appeared to have been pulled given the increased wariness about giving Facebook access to personal data.

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