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Main article: IPad

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Adobe celebrates Photoshop’s 30th anniversary with new desktop and mobile features

17:00 | 19 February

Adobe’s Photoshop celebrates its 30th birthday today. Over that time, the app has pretty much become synonymous with photo editing and there will surely be plenty of retrospectives. But to look ahead, Adobe also today announced a number of updates to both the desktop and mobile Photoshop experiences.

The marquee feature here is probably the addition of the Object Selection tool in Photoshop on the iPad. It’s no secret that the original iPad app wasn’t exactly a hit with users as it lacked a number of features Photoshop users wanted to see on mobile. Since then, the company made a few changes to the app and explained some of its decisions in greater detail. Today,  Adobe notes, 50 percent of reviews give the app five stars and the app has been downloaded more than 1 million times since November.

With the Object Selection tool, which it first announced for the desktop version three months ago, Adobe is now bringing a new selection tool to Photoshop that is specifically meant to allow creatives to select and manipulate one or multiple objects in complex scenes. Using the company’s Sensei AI technology and machine learning, it gives users a lot of control over the selection process, even if you only draw a crude outline around the area you are trying to select.

Also new on the iPad are additional controls for typesetting. For now, this means tracking, leading and scaling, as well as formatting options like all caps, small caps, superscript and subscript.

On the desktop, Adobe is bringing improvements to the content-aware fil workspace to the app, as well as a much-improved lens blur feature that mimics the bokeh effect of taking an image with a shallow depth of field. Previously, the lens blur feature ran on the CPU and looked somewhat unrealistic, with sharp edges around out-of-focus foreground objects. Now, the algorithm runs on the GPU, making it far softer and foreground objects have a far more realistic look.

As for the improved content-aware fill workspace, Adobe notes that you can now make multiple selections and apply multiple fills at the same time. This isn’t exactly a revolutionary new feature, but it’s a nice workflow improvement for those who often use this tool.

 


0

Photoshop for iPad gains ‘Select Subject’ feature

17:32 | 16 December

Adobe’s Photoshop on the iPad got off to a rocky start that doesn’t seem to have left fans of the desktop version very happy, but the company looks intent on incorporating user feedback and releasing meaningful feature updates on a timely basis. Like today, for instance, it’s adding ‘Select Subject’ to the iPad version of Photoshop, which is a feature that should make working with photos and compositions on the Apple tablet much, much easier and more flexible.

Select Subject is a new feature that Adobe introduced last year to the desktop version, and offers one-tap selection of the subject of your image, as determined by Adobe’s Sensei AI engine to take all the manual work out of the process. This is one of the Photoshop tasks that people are used to doing manually using either pen input and freehand selection, or a combination of the Magic Wand, lasso and polygonal selection tools, all of which involve considerably more work.

Adobe says the 2019 version of Select Subject on iPad and on desktop provides better selection edges and works almost instantly, even on iOS. Behind the scenes, the feature is actually a bunch of different machine learning algorithms working together to make the selection, refine the selection, de-artifact the edge and more. The end result is that you can get a very usable subject cut out that allows you to easily recompose, or independently edit subject and background very quickly and with very little, if any, manual refinement required.

You’ll still get better, cleaner results with defined, continuous edges and high-contrast backgrounds, but Adobe says it’s working on improving Select Subject performance around things like hair and fur.

Meanwhile, Adobe also started rolling out improvements for its cloud documents feature, which was introduced alongside the public release of Photoshop for iPad and lets you work with PSDs across platforms via shared cloud-based storage. They’ve also tweaked the user interface with improvements to things like text entry and layer management.

Adobe still has a lot to do to make a convincing argument that it regards Photoshop for iPad as a flagship product on par with the desktop version, but these are steps in the right direction, and it looks like 2020 should bring a host of additional refinements and improvements, along with and iPad version of Illustrator and more.

 


0

An iOS bug in AirDrop let anyone temporarily lock-up nearby iPhones

21:31 | 10 December

Apple has fixed a bug in iOS 13.3, out today, which let anyone temporarily lock users out of their iPhones and iPads by forcing their devices into an inescapable loop.

Kishan Bagaria found a bug in AirDrop, which lets users share files from one iOS device to another. He found the bug let him repeatedly sent files to all devices able to accept files within wireless range of an attacker.

When a file is received, iOS blocks the display until the file is accepted or rejected. But because iOS didn’t limit the number of file requests a device can accept, an attacker can simply keep sending files again and again, repeatedly displaying the file accept box, causing the device to get stuck in a loop.

Using an open source tool, Bagaria could repeatedly send files again and again to not only a specific target in range, but every device set to accept files in wireless range. 

A demonstration of an ‘AirDoS’ attack. (Image: Kishan Bagaria/supplied)

Bagaria calls the bug “AirDoS,” the latter part is short for “denial-of-service,” which effectively denies a user access to their device.

Devices that had their AirDrop setting set to receive files from “Everyone” were mostly at risk. Turning off Bluetooth would effectively prevent the attack. But Bararia said that the file accept box is so persistent it’s near-impossible to turn off Bluetooth when an attack is under way.

The only other way to stop an attack? “Simply run away,” he said. Once a user is out of wireless range of the attacker, they can turn off Bluetooth.

“I’m not sure how well this’d work in an airplane,” he joked.

Apple fixed the bug by adding a rate-limit, preventing a barrage of requests over a short period of time. Because the bug wasn’t strictly a security vulnerability, Apple said it would not issue a common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) score, typically associated with security-related issues, but would “publicly acknowledge” his findings in the security advisory.

 


0

Adobe details feature roadmap for Photoshop on the iPad, subject selection coming in 2019

19:00 | 21 November

Adobe has taken quite a bit of heat for its release of Photoshop on the iPad, mostly because it’s not as feature-complete as a lot of users were hoping, given that this is meant to be a full version of Photoshop on par with the desktop edition on Apple’s tablet OS for the first time. Adobe has long cautioned that it would essentially be releasing an in-development version of Photoshop for iPad, and adding features as it goes, but now it’s adding some more clarity and specificity to its product roadmap, which might help allay customer criticism.

In the time remaining in 2019, which is not much, Adobe is planning to ship a couple of features that should improve the everyday experience of working with Photoshop on iPad. First, it’s going to offer ‘Select Subject,’ which will hopefully go a long way to address the omission of the so-called ‘Magic Wand’ selection tool. Demoed at Adobe MAX just a few weeks ago, the ‘Select Subject’ feature works with Adobe’s Sensei AI tech to automatically pick out the subject from a selection box. It’s live now in the desktop version of Photoshop and works surprisingly well, and allows you to quickly pick out objects and mask them or move them for manipulation in creating compositions. This single feature, provided it works well on iPad, would go a long way to making it a much more effective tool for creative pros.

The other feature that the team is aiming to ship this year is intruding a speedier, optimized version of the cloud documents system it introduced for Adobe Creative Cloud alongside Photoshop for iPad. These improvements will make upload and download fast for all PSD flies stored as cloud documents, which should make working on the across platforms even better.

Looking ahead to 2020, the list of features coming to the iPad grows longer, and includes key elements like the ‘Refine Edge’ brush that Han help improve selection of fine detailed textural elements like hair or fur. That’s another key feature for anyone looking to do the same kind of creative composition work on the iPad that they currently do on desktop. Also coming in 2020 are Curves for making tonal adjustments, as well as more features for layer-based, non-destructive adjustment tools. Photoshop on iPad will also gain brush sensitivity and canvas rotation, both currently on offer form the company on its Fresco digital painting app.

Another feature that is planned for 2020 that will bring better parity with Adobe’s desktop software is Lightroom integration for Photoshop. That will allow you to edit RAW files in Lightroom and then directly switch over to Photoshop to do further edits within the same workflow.

This probably isn’t an exhaustive list of everything Adobe plans to do with Photoshop on the iPad in the next year, and in fact the company is calling for users to provide feedback about feature additions and improvements via its official user feedback tool.

 


0

The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro

22:02 | 14 November

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address – and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today – and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro – but the latest noise cancelling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travellers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the ‘Pro’ designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only access auxiliary audio-in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: Audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it’s been rock solid, with easy pairing and set up, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode – but you get up to 4 more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still also offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less at $49.99 each.

 


0

GitHub launches a mobile app, smarter notifications and improved code search

21:00 | 13 November

At its annual Universe conference today, Microsoft -owned GitHub announced a couple of new products, as well as the general availability of a number of tools that developers have been able to test for the last few months. The two announcements that developers will likely be most interested in are the launch of GitHub’s first native mobile app and an improved notifications experience. But in addition to that, it is also taking GitHub Actions, the company’s workflow automation and CI/CD solution, as well as GitHub Packages, out of beta. GitHub is also improving its code search, adding scheduled reminders and it’s launching a pre-release program that will allow users to try out new features before they are ready for a wider rollout.

GitHub is also extending its sponsor program, which until now allowed you to tip individual open source contributors for their work, to the project level. With GitHub Sponsors, anybody can help fund a project and the members of that project then get to choose how to use the money. These projects have to be open source and have a corporate or non-profit entity attached to it (and a bank account).

“Developers are what’s driving us and we’re building the tools and the experiences to help them come together to create the world’s most important technologies and to do it on an open platform and ecosystem,” GitHub SVP of Product Shanku Niyogi told me. Today’s announcements, he said, are driven by the company’s mission to improve the developer experience. Over the course of the last year, the company launched well over 150 new features and enhancements, Niyogi stressed. For its Universe show, the company decided to highlight the new mobile app and notification enhancements, though.

The new mobile app, which is now out in beta for iOS, with Android support coming soon, offers all of the basic features you’d want from a mobile app like this. The team decided to focus squarely on the kind of mobile use cases that would make the most sense for a developer on the go, so you’ll be able to share feedback on discussions, review a few lines of code and merge changes, but this isn’t meant to be a tool that replicated the full GitHub experience, though at least on the iPad, you do get a bit more screen real estate to work with.

“When you start to look at the tablet experience, that then extends out because you now got more space,” explained Niyogi. “You can look at the code, you can navigate some of that, we support some of the key same keyboard shortcuts that github.com does to be able to look at a larger amount of content and a larger amount of code. So, the idea is the experience scales with the mobile devices you have, and but it’s also designed for the things you’re likely to do when you’re not using your computer.”

Others have built mobile apps for GitHub before, of course, and it turns out that the developers of GitHawk, which was launched by a group of engineers from Instagram, recently joined GitHub to help the company in its efforts to get this new app off the ground.

The second major new feature is the improved notifications experience. As every GitHub user on even a medium-sized team knows, GitHub’s current set of notifications can quickly become overwhelming. That’s something the GitHub team was also keenly aware of, so the company decided to build a vastly improved system that includes filters, as well as an inbox for all of your notifications right inside of GitHub.

“The experience for developers today can result in an inbox in Gmail or whatever email client you use with tons and tons of notifications — and it can end up being kind of hard to know what matters and what’s just noise,” Kelly Stirman, GitHub’ VP of Strategy and Product Management, said. “We’ve done a bunch of things over the last year to make notifications better, but what we’ve done is a big step. We’ve reimagined what notifications should be.”

Using filters and rules, developers can zero in on the notifications that matter to them, all without flooding your inbox with unnecessary noise. Developers can customize these filters to their hearts’ content. That’s also where the new mobile experience fits in well. “Many times, the notification will be sent to you when you’re not at your computer when you’re not at your desktop,” noted Stirman. “And that notification might be somebody asking for your help to unblock something. And so it’s natural we think that we need to extend the GitHub experience beyond the desktop to a mobile experience.”

Talking about notifications: GitHub also today announced a new feature in a limited preview that adds a few more notifications to your inbox. You can now set up scheduled reminders for pending code reviews.

Among the rest of today’s announcements, the improved code search stands out because that’s definitely an area where some improvements were necessary. This new code search is currently in limited beta, but should roll out to all users over the next few months. It’ll introduce a completely new search experience, the company says, that can match special characters and casing, among other things.

Also new are code review assignments, now in public beta, and a new way to navigate code on GitHub.

 


0

MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

16:30 | 13 November

In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage. 

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling. 

The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable tradeoffs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard.

I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time. 

This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model. 

Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count.

Let’s run down some of the most important new things. 

Performance and thermals

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. 

The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. 

Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week.

The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic handoff system that trades power for battery life on the fly.  


The i9 model will run $2,699 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage – which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever – and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey.

The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned, there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model. 

The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy. 

There’s also a new power brick which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it. 

Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config Apple says it can usually handle as many as 4, perhaps 5 un-rendered Pro Res streams.

A bigger display, a thicker body

The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness. 

The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model.

The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro.

This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far. 

But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please.

Speakers and microphone

One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good. 

The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever.

The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop. 

Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before.

The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends. 

That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now though, Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here.

I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti. 

The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it. 

I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a ‘pro level’ device finally come with a pro level mic on board is super choice. 

I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh right, the Keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (

) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know that there has been a problem.

The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers. 

But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble. 

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key.

Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure. 

Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says ‘hey you pressed that key.’ This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying ‘stroke completed’ message to the brain.

There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else. 

Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard 1 year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient. 

But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best feeling keyboards they’ve made in years and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing. 

Pro, or Pro

In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience. 

Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of ‘the best’ rather than ‘for professionals’. This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before. 

But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.

 


0

Microsoft has big plans for its new Edge browser

21:30 | 6 November

Microsoft is setting itself some high goals for its new Chromium-based Edge browser. As Chuck Friedman, the corporate vice president for Edge told me, he wants Edge to hit one billion users — a number that would start to rival Chrome’s numbers. First, though, Friedman’s team has to get version 1.0 of Edge out to users in January.

It’s no secret that Microsoft went to Chromium out of a bit of desperation. Indeed, Friedman, who joined the team about two years ago, called it an “existential crisis,” brought about by questions about why users would even want to use the old Edge. “When I got brought in, we almost had this existential crisis of, okay, what do we want to do? There was sort of this moment of like, why Edge? Why would users choose that? Were we delivering on meaningful problems?” At the time, he didn’t really have an answer to those questions, so the team went back to the basics to figure out what value Microsoft specifically could deliver in the browser space — and whether there was even a role for Edge going forward.

Microsoft's new Edge logoThe fact that Friedman ran the program management team for the Windows 10 user experience — trying to overcome the missteps of Windows 8 — before running the Edge product team also clearly shows how important a product this is for Microsoft.

Friedman argues that there’s plenty of work left to do in the browser space. “There’s an emerging new set of problems that felt like they had legs,” he told me. “And then it wasn’t about solving the problems of the last five years, it was about solving the problems of the next five.” To do so, the team had to move past the original Edge’s issues with compatibility — while still acknowledging that at least in the work environment, the browser still had to be compatible with the legacy web.

Clearly, privacy is top of mind for anybody in the web browser business, Microsoft included. Friedman noted that while people were generally aware of the privacy issues that come with surfing the web, they didn’t have the tools to protect themselves. “We sort of reached this point where we recognize the promise of the web, open access to all the world’s information, feels great, but the price of all of your information as part of that body wasn’t OK,” Friedman said. And so that, too, became a focus for the team, but looking at all of these issues together — combined with an additional focus on security — the Edge team then looked at how all of this fits in with the entire Microsoft suite. “It’s not just about the operating system. It’s not just about search. But it’s actually about the full M365, the combination of the operating system, plus security, plus the productivity tools.”

But Friedman also echoed something I’ve heard from Google’s Chrome team, and that is that the web today heavily depends on an advertising model that, at least for the time being, is the main income source for most of the companies that are publishing on the web. That can be a hard balance to strike. The way Microsoft is approaching this is by focusing on transparency. “The user should know where their data is and they don’t know what the data is and how it’s being used,” he explained. So users should have the ability to know how their data is being used and have control over it.

“There are those in our industry that think we absolutely should go to a point of extreme privacy and control. And I think there is a small set of users who prefer that. I also think that there’s a certain element of that that breaks the web. And I think that it has the potential to undermine the ability for publications to be able to monetize in a way that is reasonable.” He also argues that for users, about half prefer targeted ads versus non-targeted ads — but what makes them uncomfortable is to not have control over it.

In its browser, Microsoft defaults to blocking third-party cookies. To do so, it uses the same whitelist as Mozilla, but it also regularly updates this list when a site can demonstrate that it gives users the ability to delete their data — and with that, it hopes to encourage a wider range of players in the advertising industry to offer users these controls.

Edge, however is also very much a tool for business users, and so the team also started looking at how it could improve overall productivity in the browser for these users as well as consumers. That, for example, is where the idea of Collections came from, Microsoft’s take on what’s something of a hybrid between bookmarks, scratch pads and reading lists, which aren’t yet ready for a wider roll-out, but which are available behind a flag in the more experimental canary builds of Edge.

But the team also found that users often copy and paste content from Edge to Office products — so expect the company to do more in this area going forward. “We do a better job of integrating around collaboration with Microsoft Office properties who all have great web experiences. But, frankly, we need to meet them partway and help them do more. I’m excited for an opportunity of almost a relaunch of the Office web properties with the browser. There’s more innovative work we can do there.”

Another area the team is looking at is tab management. “Tab chaos is an interesting problem. It still exists. I don’t think anybody’s done a great job at solving it,” Friedman said. What exactly that will look like, though, remains to be seen.

One thing we won’t see right away, though, is an integration with Cortana. That’s part of the current pre-Chromium version of Edge, but it’s something Friedman doesn’t seem quite ready to bring to the new version yet. To be useful in the browser, he argues, a personal assistant has to be right most of the time. But what that will look like in the new Edge remains to be seen. He thinks there’s potential there, but what a real-world implementation would look like isn’t clear yet.

Once version 1.0 ships, the team plans to launch about two or three major new features in the browser every year, with Collections likely being the first.

Friedman also acknowledged that there are still lots of users who use Edge currently. There are about 150 million of those. And they use Edge because it’s the browser that comes with Windows. These “low-confidence users,” as Friedman described them, aren’t all that likely to download a different browser if the new Edge is too radical a departure. Instead, they’ll go out and buy a different device, like an iPad, that they view as a simpler experience.

But for more experienced users, Microsoft is obviously setting up Edge as an alternative to Chrome. The team is trying to provide them a relatively friction-less pathway to switch. Finding that balance is tricky, but Friedman thinks it’s possible, in part thanks to his work on Windows.

“My last gig was working on Win 10. I ran the product team for the core user experience for Windows 10. Sort of inherited the Windows 7 and 8 code base and said: Okay, how do we bring those users together in a way that ends up making both of them feel good about the product. It was a similarly interesting challenge, where you have […] to have true empathy for users that come from a lot of different spaces.”

 


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The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller

18:37 | 5 November

Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step-up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available, and make it that much better.

USB-C

This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charging your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch at nine feet. Of course, you can also use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, since it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity vs. resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair trigger locks, which mean you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a d-pad you can use to place the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you can also tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a ‘Shift’ key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can also seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, since all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there’s actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

[gallery ids="1908338,1908336,1908334,1908333"]

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.

 


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Adobe is bringing Illustrator to the iPad in 2020

17:33 | 4 November

Adobe will be bringing another of its desktop-class imaging and graphics apps to the iPad: Illustrator, which is set for a launch win 2020, the company announced today at its annual MAX conference. Last year, Adobe announced a similar plan to deliver Photoshop for iPad, and that app launched on the App Store early on Monday.

Illustrator for iPad is still in “early” development, the company said, so we don’t know exactly what it’ll look like relative to the desktop version. But it will focus on making the most of touch and Apple Pencil-based input, which are uniquely available to the iPad. As with Photoshop, documents created on one platform will be available in full fidelity to edit on any others via Creative Cloud storage.

The app will be available in a limited private beta beginning immediately, but the group of those with access will remain very tight until Adobe has managed to get further along in the development process. You can sign up now to register interest, however, and maybe you’ll gain access sometime earlier than official launch to help with the beta and building process.

Adobe says it’s already been in touch with “thousands of designers” to understand how best to build them a version of Illustrator that works best for how they use tablets in their work. If the Photoshop for iPad release process is any measure, at launch next year Illustrator won’t offer feature parity, but it’s a starting point for turning the iPad into a true one-stop shop for creative pros who favor an Adobe working environment.

 


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