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Main article: IPhone

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 270

LA warns of ‘juice-jacking’ malware, but admits it has no cases

17:33 | 15 November

Los Angeles’ district attorney is warning travelers to avoid public USB charging points because “they may contain dangerous malware.”

Reading the advisory, you might be forgiven for thinking that every USB outlet you see is just waiting for you to plug in your phone so it can steal your data. This so-called “juice-jacking” attack involves criminals loading malware “on charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations so they may infect the phones and other electronic devices of unsuspecting users,” it reads. “The malware may lock the device or export data and passwords directly to the scammer.”

But the county’s chief prosecutor’s office told TechCrunch said that it has “no cases” of juice-jacking on its books, though it said there are known cases on the east coast.When asked where those cases were, the spokesperson did not know. And when asked what prompted the alert to begin with, the spokesperson said it was part of “an ongoing fraud education campaign.”

Which begs the question — why?

Security researcher Kevin Beaumont

that he hasn’t seen “any evidence of malware being used in the wild on these things.” In fact, ask around and you’ll find very little out there. Several security researchers have dropped me messages saying they’ve seen proof-of-concepts, but nothing actively malicious.

Juice-jacking is a real threat, but it’s an incredibly complicated and imperfect way to attack someone when there are far easier ways.

The idea, though — that you can plug in your phone and have your secrets stolen — is not entirely farfetched. Over the years there have been numerous efforts to demonstrate that it’s possible. As ZDNet points out in its coverage of the juice-jacking warning, the FBI sent out a nationwide alert about the threat after security researcher Samy Kamkar developed an Ardunio-based implant designed to look like a USB charger to wirelessly sniff the air for leaky key strokes. And just earlier this year, a security researcher developed an iPhone charger cable clone that let a nearby hacker run commands on the vulnerable computer.

LA recommend using an AC power outlet and not a charging station, and to take your cables with you. That’s sound advice, but it’s just one of many things you need to do to keep your devices and data safe.

 


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

Facebook says government demands for user data are at a record high

20:15 | 13 November

Facebook’s latest transparency report is out.

The social media giant said the number of government demands for user data increased by 16% to 128,617 demands during the first-half of this year compared to the second-half of last year.

That’s the highest number of government demands its received in any reporting period since it published its first transparency report in 2013.

The U.S. government led the way with the most number of requests — 50,741 demands for user data resulting in some account or user data given to authorities in 88% of cases. Facebook said two-thirds of all of the U.S. government’s requests came with a gag order, preventing the company from telling the user about the request for their data.

But Facebook said it was able to release details of 11 so-called national security letters (NSLs) for the first time after their gag provisions were lifted during the period. National security letters can compel companies to turn over non-content data at the request of the FBI. These letters are not approved by a judge, and often come with a gag order preventing their disclosure. But since the Freedom Act passed in 2015, companies have been allowed to request the lifting of those gag orders.

The report also said the social media giant had detected 67 disruptions of its services in 15 countries, compared to 53 disruptions in nine countries during the second-half of last year.

And, the report said Facebook also pulled 11.6 million pieces of content, up from 5.8 million in the same period a year earlier, which Facebook said violated its policies on child nudity and sexual exploitation of children.

Read more:

 


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

Nomad’s new Base Station Pro offers a taste of what Apple’s AirPower had promised

17:00 | 11 October

Accessory maker Nomad already offers a couple of excellent wireless chargers that work great with Apple and other Qi-compatible devices, but they’re introducing a new one that could be their most versatile yet. Using technology provided by partner Aira called ‘FreePower,’ the new Nomad Base Station Pro will be able to charge up to three devices at once placed in any orientation on its surface – cool both because of the three device simultaneous support, and the fact that you don’t have to make sure the gadget you’re charging is lined up exactly right on the charger, as is typically the case.

This is pretty similar to what Apple’s AirPower promised, before its unfortunate demise. The hardware similarly makes use of a matrix of multiple charging coils, which interlink to offer charging capabilities across the surface of the Base Station Pro. Perhaps intentionally, Aira’s website URL is ‘airapower.com,’ one letter off from Apple’s shelved first-party accessory.

Nomad’s charger inherits the same aesthetics of the company’s existing chargers, which means you get a black soft leather surface for putting your devices on top of, and the surrounding frame is made of slate gray aluminum. The charger should look and feel very premium, if Nomad’s other Base Stations are any indication.

The Base Station Pro supports charging speeds of up to 5W each, which is not the max supported by the iPhone or other devices, but which will still work just fine for a top up or for overnight. And since it supports up to three devices at that speed, you could use it to charge say, two iPhones and AirPods with Apple’s wireless charging case all at once.

Nomad also includes a 27W USB-C charger with Power Delivery in the box with the Base Station Pro, and a USB-C cable to connect to the charger. This probably will be a fairly premium priced piece of hardware, but we’ll find out for sure when pre-ordes begin in November.

The one significant way this differs from what Apple was building, at least for Apple fans, is that it doesn’t provide charging for the Apple Watch. Nomad has a Base Station model that offers an integrated Apple Watch charger, but of course with that you’re not getting the ‘place anywhere’ overlapping coil design built for this new model.

 


0

China attacks Apple for allowing Hong Kong crowdsourced police activity app

13:41 | 9 October

Apple’s decision to greenlight an app called HKmaps, which is being used by pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong to crowdsource information about street closures and police presence, is attracting the ire of the Chinese government.

An article in Chinese state mouthpiece, China Daily, attacks the iPhone maker for reversing an earlier decision not to allow the app to be listed on the iOS App Store — claiming the app is “allowing the rioters in Hong Kong to go on violent acts” (via The Guardian).

HKmaps uses emoji to denote live police and protest activity around Hong Kong, as reported by users.

The former British colony is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China that’s been able to maintain certain economic and and political freedoms since reunification with China — under the one country, two systems principle. But earlier this year pro-democracy protests broke out after the Hong Kong government sought to pass legislation that would allow for extradition to mainland China. It’s policing around those on-going protests that’s being made visible on HKmaps.

The app’s developer denies the map enables illegal activity,

its function is “for info” purposes only — to allow residents to move freely around the city by being able to avoid protest flash-points. But the Chinese government is branding it “toxic”.

“Business is business, and politics is politics. Nobody wants to drag Apple into the lingering unrest in Hong Kong. But people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts. Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision,” the China Daily writer warns in a not-so-veiled threat about continued access to the Chinese market.

“Providing a gateway for ‘toxic apps’ is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, twisting the facts of Hong Kong affairs, and against the views and principles of the Chinese people,” it goes on. “Apple and other corporations should be able to discern right from wrong. They also need to know that only the prosperity of China and China’s Hong Kong will bring them a broader and more sustainable market.”

The article takes further aim at Apple — claiming it reinstated a song which advocates for independence for Hong Kong and had previously been removed from its music store.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.

A few days ago the company was getting flak from the other direction as Western commentators

to express incredulity over its decision, at the app review stage, not to allow HKmaps on its store. The app’s developer said Apple App Store reviewers had rejected it citing the reasoning as “the app allowed users to evade law enforcement”.

Yet, as many

at the time, the Google-owned Waze app literally describes its function as “avoid police” if you take the trouble to read its iOS listing. So it looked like a crystal-clear case of double standards by Cupertino. And, most awkwardly for Apple, as if the US tech giant was siding with the Chinese state against Hong Kong as concerned residents fight for their autonomy and call for democracy.

We asked Apple about its decision to reject the app at the App Store review stage last week. It did not provide any comment but a couple of days afterwards a spokesman pointed us to an “update” — where the developer tweeted that the iOS version was “Approved, comming soon!” [sic].

At the time of writing the iOS app remains available on the App Store but the episode highlights the tricky trade-offs Apple is facing by operating in the Chinese market — a choice that risks denting its reputation for highly polished corporate values.

The size of the China market is such that just “economical deceleration” can — and has — put a serious dent in Apple’s bottom line. If the company were to exit — or be ejected — from the market entirely there would be no way for it to cushion the blow for shareholders. Yet with a premium brand so bound up with ethical claims to champion and defend fundamental human rights like privacy Apple risks being pinned between a rock and a hard place as an increasingly powerful China flexes more political and economic muscle.

Wider trade tensions between the US and China are also creating further instability, causing major operating headaches for Chinese tech giant Huawei — with the Trump administration pressuring allies to freeze it out of 5G networks and leaning on US companies not to provide services to Chinese firms (leading to question marks over whether Huawei’s smartphones can continue using Google’s Android OS, and suggestions it might seek to deploy its own OS).

The going is certainly getting tougher for tech businesses working from East to West. But it also remains to be seen how sustainable Apple’s West-to-East democratic balancing act can be given heightened and escalating geopolitical tensions.

 


0

The time is right for Apple to buy Sonos

19:20 | 26 September

It’s been a busy couple of months for smart speakers – Amazon released a bunch just this week, including updated versions of its existing Echo hardware and a new Echo Studio with premium sound. Sonos also introduced its first portable speaker with Bluetooth support, the Sonos Move, and in August launched its collaboration collection with Ikea. Meanwhile, Apple didn’t say anything about the HomePod at its latest big product event – an omission that makes it all the more obvious the smart move would be for Apple to acquire someone who knows what they’re doing in this category: Sonos.

Highly aligned

From an outsider perspective, it’s hard to find two companies who seem more philosophically aligned than Sonos and Apple when it comes to product design and business model. Both are clearly focused on delivering premium hardware (at a price point that’s generally at the higher end of the mass market) and both use services to augment and complement the appeal of their hardware, even if Apple’s been shifting that mix a bit with a fast-growing services business.

Sonos, like Apple, clearly has a strong focus and deep investment in industrial design, and puts a lot of effort into truly distinctive product look and feel that stands out from the crowd and is instantly identifiable once you know what to look for. Even the company’s preference for a mostly black and white palette feels distinctly Apple – at least Apple leading up to the prior renaissance of multicolour palettes for some of its more popular devices, including the iPhone.

airplay2 headerThen from a technical perspective, Apple and Sonos seem keen to work together – and the results of their collaboration has been great for consumers who use both ecosystems. AirPlay 2 support is effectively standard on all modern Sonos hardware, and really Sonos is essentially the default choice already for anyone looking to do AirPlay 2-based multiform audio, thanks to the wide range of options available in different form factors and at different price points. Sonos and Apple also offer an Apple Music integration for Sonos’ controller app, and now you can use voice control via Alexa to play Apple Music, too.

Competitive moves

The main issue that an Apple-owned Sonos hasn’t made much sense before now, at least from Sonos’ perspective, is that the speaker maker has reaped the benefits of being a platform that plays nice with all the major streaming service providers and virtual assistants. Recent Sonos speakers offer both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support, for instance, and Sonos’ software has connections with virtually every major music and audio streaming service available.

What’s changed, especially in light of Amazon’s slew of announcements this week, is that competitors like Amazon are looking more like they want to own more of the business that currently falls within Sonos’ domain. Amazon’s Echo Studio is a new premium speaker that directly competes with Sonos in a way that previous Echos really haven’t, and the company has consistently been releasing better-sounding versions of its other, more affordable Echos. It’s also been rolling out more feature-rich multi-room audio features, including wireless surround support for home theater use – all things squarely in the Sonos wheelhouse.

alexa echo amazon 9250064

For now, Sonos and Amazon seem to be comfortably in ‘frenemy’ territory, but increasingly, it doesn’t seem like Amazon is content to leave them their higher-end market segment when it comes to the speaker hardware category. Amazon still probably will do whatever it can to maximize use of Alexa, on both its own and third-party devices, but it also seems to be intent on strengthening and expanding its own first-party device lineup, with speakers as low-hanging fruit.

Other competitors, including Google and Apple, don’t seem to have had as much success with their products that line up as direct competitors to Sonos, but the speaker-maker also faces perennial challenges from hi-fi and audio industry stalwarts, and also seems likely to go up against newer device makers with audio ambitions and clear cost advantages like Anker, too.

Missing ingredients/work to be done

Of course, there are some big challenges and potential red flags that stand in the way of Apple ever buying Sonos, or of that resulting union working out well for consumers. Sonos works so well because it’s service-agnostic, for instance, and they key to its success with recent products seems to also be integration with the smart home assistants that people seem to actually want to use most – namely Alexa and Google Assistant.

Under Apple ownership, it’s highly possible that Apple Music would at least get preferential treatment, if not become the lone streaming service on offer. It’s probable that Siri would replace Alexa and Assistant as the only virtual voice service available, and almost unthinkable that Apple would continue to support competing services if it did make this buy.

That said, there’s probably significant overlap between Apple and Sonos customers already, and as long as there was some service flexibility (in the same way there is for streaming competitors on iOS devices, including Spotify) then being locked into Siri probably wouldn’t sting as much. And it would serve to give Siri the foothold at home that the HomePod hasn’t managed to provide. Apple would also be better incentivized to work on improving Siri’s performance as a general home-based assistant, which would ultimately be good for Apple ecosystem customers.

Another smart adjacency

Apple’s bigger acquisitions are few and for between, but the ones it does make are typically obviously adjacent to its core business. A Sonos acquisition has a pretty strong precedent in the Beats purchase Apple made in 2014, albeit without the strong motivator of providing the underlying product and relationship basis for launching a streaming service.

What Sonos is, however, is an inversion of the historical Apple model of using great services to sell hardware. The Sonos ecosystem is a great, easy to use, premium-feel means of making the most of Apple’s music and video streaming services (and brand new games subscription offering), all of which are more important than ever to the company as it diversifies from its monolithic iPhone business.

I’m hardly the first to suggest an Apple-Sonos deal makes sense: J.P. Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee suggested it earlier this year, in fact. From my perspective, however, the timing has never been better for this acquisition to take place, and the motivations never stronger for either party involved.

Disclosure: I worked briefly for Apple in its communications department in 2015-2016, but the above analysis is based entirely on publicly available information, and I hold no stock in either company.

 


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North now offers Focals smart glasses fittings and purchases via app

17:36 | 18 September

North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, and then return once they’re ready for a pick-up and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment.

This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later – essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks.

The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right.

Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well.

Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result.

Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

 


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Daily Crunch: The iPhone 11 goes to Disneyland

21:12 | 17 September

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Review: The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 do Disneyland after dark

Matthew Panzarino continues his tradition of testing out the latest iPhones at Disneyland. This time, he was particularly interested in how well the iPhone 11’s Night Mode works. His verdict: It compares extremely well to other low-light cameras, with exposure and color rendition that’s best-in-class.

But if you’re planning to upgrade, should you get the Pro, or the regular ol’ iPhone 11? Apparently the Pro is really there to address edge cases — the best video and photo options, a better dark mode experience, a brighter screen.

2. Under pressure, The We Company now only says it expects to go public ‘by the end of the year’

A new note from WeWork’s parent company all but confirms that it is indeed delaying its IPO roadshow, which had been expected to commence this week.

3. Amazon launches Amazon Music HD with lossless audio streaming

Amazon has a new, high-quality streaming tier of its music service called Amazon Music HD. It’s priced at $12.99 per month for Prime members, and you can add it to your existing Amazon Music subscription for an additional $5 each month.

disrupt will smith ang lee

4. Will Smith and Ang Lee are coming to Disrupt SF

They’ll be joining us to discuss their upcoming film “Gemini Man,” which features “jaw-dropping effects” from Weta Digital. The effects allow Smith to play both an assassin named Henry Brogan and a younger clone who’s been sent to kill his older counterpart.

5. Computer scientist Richard Stallman, who defended Jeffrey Epstein, resigns from MIT CSAIL and the Free Software Foundation

Stallman said he has resigned from his position as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab after describing a victim of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as “entirely willing” in emails sent to a department list.

6. I hope Apple Arcade makes room for weird, cool shit

Apple Arcade seems purpose-built to make room in the market for beautiful, sad, weird, moving, slow, clever and heartfelt.

7. What startup CSOs can learn from three enterprise security experts

How do you keep your startup secure? That’s one of the big questions we explored at TC Sessions: Enterprise earlier this month — and if you weren’t there, we’ve got a write-up of the main takeaways. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

 


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The Sony RX100 VII is the best compact camera you can buy

15:57 | 17 September

Sony’s latest advanced compact camera is the highly pocketable RX100 VII, the seventh iteration of the RX100. Since its debut, this line of cameras has proven a very popular option among enthusiasts looking for a great travel camera, vloggers, and even pros who want a compact backup option just in case. The RX100 VII should suit all those needs very well, provided you’re okay with coughing up the $1,200 asking price.

Not that $1,200 is too expensive for what you’re getting, since Sony has packed tremendous value in the Mark VII, including an extremely versatile 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range, 20fps continuous burst mode shooting, a flip-up touch screen, built-in images stabilization and the same powerful autofocus technologies you’ll find on its flagship full-frame interchangeable lens pro cameras.

Sony RX100 VII 2

Pocket power

The Sony RX100 VII satisfies a specific need, but it’s one that a lot of people probably have: Striking a balance between image quality, range and portability. One the convenience end of the spectrum, the ultimate device is probably your smartphone, since you have that with you always. On the IQ and range side, you’re looking at a top-end DSLR with a high-quality, low aperture zoom lens that can weigh more than a large dog. The RX100 VII manages to be so impressive because it can delivery near the portability of a smartphone, with some of the photography chops of a setup that typically requires its own suitcase.

Inside the RX100 VII you’ll find a 1-inch sensor, which is very big relative to smartphone imaging sensors. This is important because it means there’s no contest between which will capture a better image, with lower noise, greater depth-of-field and better color rendering. For all the software magic that companies like Apple and Google can bring to the photography table, nothing yet can totally compensate for simply having a larger sensor.

Sony RX100 VII 4

The RX100 VII’s compactness isn’t just impressive because of the large sensor it packs inside, however; you also get an EVF, an integrated flash, an external microphone jack and an articulating LCD display. To get all of this into a package this small is astounding – the EVF in particular is a great feature for anyone who wants to be a bit more direct and particular with their shot composition, while the flip-up LCD means you can also have a great selfie screen and monitor for use when vlogging.

Sony RX100 VII 5

Last but not least in terms of its portability benefits, you can charge the RX100 VII via USB directly so that you can leave any additional charging hardware at home. The camera has a micro USB port for both data and power, and while it would’ve been nice to see this upgraded to USB-C on this camera to keep up with the latest in terms of computer and smartphone charging, it’s still better than requiring an external charger.

Zoom zoom

Sony decided on a very long zoom range for the RX100 VII, which sports a 24-200mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 powered retracting zoom lens. That’s the same range and aperture as the RX100 VI, which opts for more range over the brighter 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens found on the V and earlier.

While you’ll lose some ability to separate your subject from the background vs. a brighter lens, you get a lot more reach for shooting action or wildlife. The added range definitely makes it a better all-around travel camera, too, and makes it possible to get some shots you otherwise just wouldn’t be able to get at all with a shorter lens.

The long end of the zoom range also offers stunningly sharp images, especially in bright, daylight conditions. In the examples below, you can see some of the 200mm samples shot on the RX100 VII next to the 24mm wide versions of the same scenes to get a sense of just how close you can get with this lens, and the quality of the images possible even at those extreme zoom lengths.

[gallery ids="1881962,1881963,1881944,1881943,1881946,1881947,1881889,1881888"]

At the wide end, you have plenty of real estate to capture great sweeping architectural or landscape shots, and the sharpness is also fantastic in great light. There’s some distortion, but it’s mostly corrected by Sony’s software on JPG output. That 24mm wide angle is also the right width for arm-length selfies, though you’re probably going to want at least a short selfie stick for vlogging applications to give yourself a little more in the way of framing options.

DSC03049

Sticky AF

Leaving aside the fact that this is one of the better sensors available on the market for a camera this size, there’s another very compelling reason to pick up this camera, and one that likely gives it the edge over competitors from other companies. I’m talking about Sony’s autofocus system, and the RX100 VII gets the latest and greatest that Sony has developed, which is found only in much more expensive cameras from the company like the A9 and the new A7R IV.

You get face and eye tracking, for both human and animal subjects, and these are both best-in-class when compared with other camera makers’ systems. The animal one in particular is a Sony speciality, and worked amazingly well on my real dog – and on Sony’s Aibo robot dog, captured at the Sony Ginza experience center in Tokyo.

[gallery ids="1881912,1881911"]

The face and eye detection settings are available in both still shooting and movies, and you can set eye preference (left or right), too. The newest AF feature, however, is object tracking, which allows you to point your AF point at a specific object and have the camera automatically track that object as you zoom or move, or as the object moves within frame. You can choose from a range of options regarding how large of a focal area to track, and this works in tandem with human face detection so that the camera will automatically focus on the subject’s face when it’s visible, and on them more generally when it’s not, which is amazing for sports or action photography.

In practice, this works extremely well. Sony’s claims about how well this sticks, and how good it is at picking a subject back up after it moves behind an object, for instance, are spot on. This is really the best AF system available on a camera in the pocketable category, at any price point, and it’s truly amazing to experience. In the shots below, you can see how it allowed me to capture a very clear picture of a soaring hawk at the 200mm tele zoom, how it tracked a bike in motion and got a clear image of the rider’s face, and how it froze a motor bike in motion during a burst series (all the shots were in focus, by the way).

[gallery ids="1881884,1881883,1881881,1881887,1881936"]

Low light

Another area where Sony’s RX100 VII and its 1-inch sensor are going to have a leg up on your smartphone is in sub-optimal lighting conditions. Bigger sensors mean bigger pixels and less noise, with better blacks and shadows. Sony is also using a backside illuminated stacked sensor, and there’s built-in optical image stabilization which means you can take sharper photos at lower shutter speeds, letting in more light for clearer images.

In practice, what you get are pretty good low light photos, especially outdoors with ambient light present, or in decently well-lit indoor settings. In poorer lighting conditions or when you’re trying to freeze action in low light, you’re going to get fairly noisy results, especially when compared to an APS-C or full-frame camera. Sony’s tech can do a lot to make the most of less than ideal photographic conditions, but at some point, it runs up against the limits of what’s possible.

Sony also doesn’t get quite as aggressive with computational photographic techniques for digitally compensating for lower available light, as do the Pixel phones and the latest iPhone 11. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – the images from the RX100 VII present more accurate night and indoor photos, by comparison, and you can still get much better indoor images with the RX100 VII than you can with any smartphone.

[gallery ids="1881909,1881908,1881907,1881906,1881905,1881904,1881903,1881902,1881901,1881900,1881899,1881898,1881897,1881896,1881895,1881894,1881878,1881877"]

As you can see in the gallery above, the camera does extremely well as long as there’s one well-lit subject or element in frame. It’s less effective when the image overall is uniformly dim, but if you’re looking for great photos in those conditions, you should probably consider upgrading to a larger camera with a larger sensor anyways.

Movie maker

The RX100 VII’s greatest strength might just be how good it is at shooting video for a device this size. Video out of the camera with very minimal adjustment from the default shooting settings produces highly usable results, for both home video enthusiasts and for YouTubers or vloggers looking to produce great looking content without lugging an entire film production studio along with them on their travels.

Once again, the versatile zoom range really shines here, and the you can even shoot at the tele end of the zoom handheld and get totally usable footage provided you’re a bit careful about movement, as you can see in the third clip in the sequence below, which was shot at the 200mm range. Low-light footage looks great, as is evident from the second clip in sequence, and at the wide end you can capture sweeping landscape vistas or flip up the screen and turn the camera around for selfie-style video.

The added microphone port makes it an even more powerful filmmaking tool, and if you pick up their optional VCT-SGR1 shooting grip, combined with a small shotgun mic or something like the Rode Wireless Go, you’ve got everything you need to create very compelling travel diaries in an incredibly lightweight package that will be able to produce quality and get zoom and wide shots that are impossible on a smartphone.

Bottom line

The RX100 VII is a delight of a camera and an easy recommendation to make. There’s nothing that compares in this size category in terms of the range of features, autofocus capabilities, video prowess and performance as a general all-rounder. This is the do-everything travel camera that you could really only dream of five years ago, and it’s become more ideal for this use with every generation that Sony introduces.

Whether you’re looking to step up your photographic possibilities from your smartphone, or you want to supplement your professional or advanced enthusiast equipment with a pocket camera that’s available as a b-camera for video or to grab a few choice stills, the RX100 VII is hard to top. It’s only downside is that $1,200 asking price, which is definitely above average for a compact camera – but on a value basis, $1,200 isn’t at all expensive for everything this camera has to offer.

Full sample gallery

[gallery ids="1881963,1881962,1881961,1881960,1881959,1881958,1881957,1881956,1881955,1881954,1881953,1881952,1881951,1881950,1881949,1881948,1881947,1881946,1881944,1881943,1881942,1881941,1881940,1881939,1881938,1881937,1881936,1881935,1881933,1881932,1881931,1881930,1881929,1881928,1881927,1881926,1881925,1881924,1881923,1881922,1881921,1881920,1881919,1881918,1881917,1881916,1881915,1881914,1881913,1881912,1881911,1881910,1881909,1881908,1881907,1881906,1881905,1881904,1881903,1881902,1881901,1881900,1881899,1881898,1881897,1881896,1881895,1881894,1881893,1881892,1881891,1881890,1881889,1881888,1881887,1881886,1881885,1881884,1881883,1881882,1881881,1881880,1881879,1881878,1881877,1881876,1881875,1881874"]

 


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