Apple

Daily Crunch: Apple unveils new iPhones

Posted by | Apple, Daily Crunch, hardware, Mobile | No Comments

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. Here’s everything Apple announced today at the iPhone 11 event

The biggest announcement was a new lineup of iPhones, including the iPhone 11, with a new dual-camera system, as well as two iPhone Pro models with three cameras each. Cameras galore!

In addition, the company announced new iPads and Apple Watches, as well as pricing and launch dates for Apple Arcade (launching September 19) and Apple TV+ (November 1).

2. California passes landmark bill that requires Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees

The bill says that if a contractor’s work is part of a company’s regular business, then they must be designated as employees. And thus, these workers will get access to more protections such as minimum wage, the right to unionize and overtime.

3. Peloton plots $1.2B Nasdaq IPO

In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its public offering.

4. Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams

Speaking of Uber, the company laid off about 8% of the workforce, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

5. Mozilla launches a VPN, brings back the Firefox Test Pilot program

The Test Pilot program allows users to try out new features before they are ready for mainstream usage.

6. Aerospace Corp CEO Steve Isakowitz to talk how to raise non-dilutive capital at Disrupt SF

Aerospace Corp is not that widely known outside space circles, but its 59-year-old R&D legacy is remarkable. The nonprofit works with the U.S. Air Force and other government space programs to identify emerging technologies from the commercial sector that could apply to future space programs.

7. What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

Let’s wrap this up with some thoughts on what yesterday’s announcements mean for Apple’s strategy — particularly the company’s growing focus on content and services, and its new thinking on how to position the iPhone. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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iFixit gives Fairphone 3 a perfect 10 for repairability

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Europe, Fairphone, GreenTech, hardware, ifixit, iPhone, Mobile, phil schiller, repairability, smartphone, smartphones, sustainability | No Comments

Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.

Smartphone startup and social enterprise Fairphone’s latest repairable-by-design smartphone has done just that, getting 10/10 in an iFixit Teardown vs scores of just 6/10 for recent iPhone models.

The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.

iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score

Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.

Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.

To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)

The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.

So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.

It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.

But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.

Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)

At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.

Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.

Apple 2019 event

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.

Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)

“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.

If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.

As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.

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What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2019, hardware, iPhone, iphone 11, Mobile | No Comments

No matter how much polish and Apple magic the company put on today’s big event, there was one unshakable truth that colored the goings-on: phones just aren’t selling like they used to. And unlike other industry-wide trends, Apple isn’t immune. The large-scale slowdown of smartphone sales has had an undeniable impact on the company’s bottom line.

Casual observers may not have noticed, but that harsh truth impacted nearly every mobile announcement onstage today at the Steve Jobs theater. Two elements in particular really stood out, however:

  1. Content and services taking center stage.
  2. Apple rethinking how the iPhone is positioned.

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iPhone 11 Pro hands-on

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2019, Health, iPhone, iphone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, Mobile | No Comments

More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company.

The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly.

The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively.

Apple iPhone 11

The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection.

That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true.

Apple iPhone 11 8245 4CCE AEA3 A3CC65F5E188

Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in.

The three cameras on the Pros are as follows:

12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS.

They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion.

iPhone 11 Apple

It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise.

The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story.

Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 

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Why does the new iPhone 11 Pro have 3 cameras?

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2019, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iPhone 11 Pro, Photography, TC | No Comments

On the back of the iPhone 11 Pro can be found three cameras. Why? Because the more light you collect, the better your picture can be. And we pretty much reached the limit of what one camera can do a little while back. Two, three, even a dozen cameras can be put to work creating a single photo — the only limitation is the code that makes them work.

Earlier in today’s announcements, Apple showed the base-level iPhone 11 with two cameras, but it ditched the telephoto for an ultra-wide lens. But the iPhone Pro has the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto, its optical options covering an approximate 35mm equivalent of 13mm, 52mm and 26mm.

threecams

“With these three cameras you have incredible creative control,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller during the stage presentation. “It is so pro, you’re going to love using it.”

Previously the telephoto lens worked with the wide-angle camera to produce portrait mode effects or take over when the user zooms in a lot. By combining the info from both those cameras, which have a slightly different perspective, the device can determine depth data, allowing it to blur the background past a certain point, among other things.

The ultra-wide lens provides even more information, which should improve the accuracy of portrait mode and other features. One nice thing about a wide angle on a dedicated sensor and camera system is the creators can build in lots of corrections so you don’t get crazy distortion at the corners or center. Fundamentally you’ll still want to back off a bit, because using an ultra-wide lens on a face gives it a weird look.

While we’re all used to the pinch-to-zoom-in gesture, what you’re usually doing when you do that is a digital zoom, just looking closer at the pixels you already have. With an optical zoom, however, you’re switching between different pieces of glass and, in this case, different sensors, getting you closer to the action without degrading the image.

One nice thing about these three lenses is that they’ve been carefully chosen to work together well. You may have noticed that the ultra-wide is 13mm, the wide is twice that at 26mm and the telephoto is twice that at 52mm.

wide1

The simple 2x factor makes it easy for users to understand, sure, but it also makes the image-processing math of switching between these lenses easier. And as Schiller mentioned onstage, “we actually pair the three cameras right at the factory, calibrating for focus and color.”

Not only that, but when you’re shooting with the wide camera, it’s sharing information with the other two cameras, so when you switch to them, they’re already focused on the same point, shooting at the same speed and exposure, white balance and so on. That makes switching between them mostly seamless, even while shooting video (just be aware that you will shake the device when you tap it).

Apple’s improvements to the iPhone camera system this year are nowhere near as crazy as the switch from one to two cameras made by much of the industry a couple years back. But a wide, tele and ultra-wide setup is a common one for photographers, and no doubt will prove a useful one for everyone who buys into this rather expensive single-device solution.

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iOS 13 will be available on September 19

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event, Apple Hardware Event 2019, Gadgets, iOS, iOS 13, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

Apple announced in a press release that iOS 13 will be available on September 19. Even if you don’t plan to buy a new iPhone, you’ll be able to get a bunch of new features.

But that’s not all. iOS 13.1 will be available on September 30. Apple had to remove some features of iOS 13.0 at the last minute as they weren’t stable enough, such as Shortcuts automations and the ability to share your ETA in Apple Maps. That’s why iOS 13.1 will be released shortly after iOS 13.

As always, iOS 13 will be available as a free download. If you have an iPhone 6s or later, an iPhone SE or a 7th-generation iPod touch, your device supports iOS 13.

In addition, watchOS 6 will be released on September 19. Unfortunately, Apple will release iPadOS 13 on September 30. And it looks like tvOS 13 will also be released on September 30, according to a separate press release.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 13. This year, in addition to dark mode, it feels like every single app has been improved with some quality-of-life updates. The Photos app features a brand new gallery view with autoplaying live photos and videos, smart curation and a more immersive design.

This version has a big emphasis on privacy, as well, thanks to a new signup option called “Sign in with Apple” and a bunch of privacy popups for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi consent. Apple Maps now features an impressive Google Street View-like feature called Look Around. It’s only available in a handful of cities, but I recommend… looking around, as everything is in 3D.

Many apps have been updated, such as Reminders with a brand new version, Messages with the ability to set a profile picture shared with your contacts, Mail with better text formatting options, Health with menstrual cycle tracking, Files with desktop-like features, Safari with a new website settings menu, etc. Read more on iOS 13 in my separate preview.

On the iPad front, for the first time Apple is calling iOS for the iPad under a new name — iPadOS. Multitasking has been improved, the Apple Pencil should feel snappier, Safari is now as powerful as Safari on macOS and more.

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Watch Apple unveil the new iPhone live right here

Posted by | Apple, Apple Arcade, Apple Hardware Event, Apple Hardware Event 2019, apple tv, Apple Watch, Apps, Gadgets, iOS, iOS 13, iPad, iPad Pro, iPados, iPadOS 13, iPhone, iphone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, macos, macOS Catalina, Mobile, watchOS, watchOS 6 | No Comments

Apple is set to announce new iPhone models today. The company is holding a keynote on its campus at 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris). And you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

Update: And it’s over. The video of the event isn’t up just yet (Update 2: the video is up), but head over to our coverage of the event:


Rumor has it that the company plans to unveil three new smartphones. The iPhone 11 should replace the iPhone XR in the lineup, while the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max should replace the iPhone XS and XS Max respectively.

Apple could also update the Apple Watch with a new titanium version. You can also expect to get the release date of iOS 13, iPadOS 13, tvOS 13, macOS Catalina and watchOS 6. Let’s see if Apple announces the launch dates of Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade as well.

When it comes to less likely announcements that could still happen, Apple has been working on new MacBooks, a new Apple TV with a more powerful system-on-a-chip and new iPads. All eyes are on the new iPhone, but Apple could use today’s conference to announce those other products.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page. For the first time, Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones. The app icon was updated a few days ago for the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live-stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you’re stuck at work and really need our entertaining commentary track to help you get through your day. We have a team in the room.

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Europe’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, set for expanded role in next Commission

Posted by | Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, digital economy, e-commerce, Europe, european commission, european parliament, european union, Facebook, financial services, France, Google, Margrethe Vestager, Mariya Gabriel, online disinformation, Policy, TC, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States, Vera Jourova | No Comments

As the antitrust investigations stack up on US tech giants’ home turf there’s no sign of pressure letting up across the pond.

European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen today unveiled her picks for the next team of commissioners who will take up their mandates on November 1 — giving an expanded role to competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. The pick suggests the next Commission is preparing to dial up its scrutiny of big tech’s data monopolies.

Under the draft list of commissioners-designate, which still needs to be approved in full by the European Parliament, Vestager has been named executive VP overseeing a new portfolio called ‘Europe fit for the digital age’.

But, crucially, she will also retain the competition portfolio — which implies attention on growing Europe’s digital economy will go hand in glove with scrutiny of fairness in ecommerce and ensuring a level playing field vs US platform giants.

“Executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager will lead our work on a Europe fit for the digital age,” said von der Leyen at a press conference to announce her picks. “Digitalization has a huge impact on the way we live, we work, we communicate. In some fields Europe has to catch up — for example in the field of business to consumer but in other fields we’re excellent. Europe is the frontrunner, for example in business to business, when we talk about digital twins of products and procedures.

“We have to make more out of the field of artificial intelligence. We have to make our single market a digital single market. We have to use way more the big data that is out there but we don’t make enough out of it. What innovation and startups are concerned. It’s not only need to know but it’s need to share big data. We have to improve on cyber security. We have to work hard on our technological sovereignty just to name a few issues in these broad topics.

“Margrethe Vestager will co-ordinate the whole agenda. And be the commissioner for competition. She will work together with the commissioner for internal market, innovation and youth, transport, energy, jobs, health and justice.”

If tech giants were hoping for Europe’s next Commission to pay a little less attention to question marks hanging over the fairness of their practices they’re likely to be disappointed as Vestager is set to gain expanded powers and a broader canvas to paint on. The new role clearly positions her to act on the review of competition policy she instigated towards the end of her current mandate — which focused on the challenges posed by digital markets.

Since taking over as Europe’s competition chief back in 2014, Vestager has made a name for herself by blowing the dust off the brief and driving forward on a series of regulatory interventions targeting tech giants including Amazon, Apple and Google . In the latter case this has included opening a series of fresh probes as well as nailing the very long running Google Shopping saga inherited from her predecessor.

The activity of the department under her mandate has clearly catalyzed complainants — creating a pipeline of cases for her to tackle. And just last month Reuters reported she had been preparing an “intensive” handover of work looking into complaints against Google’s job search product to her successor — a handover that won’t now be necessary, assuming the EU parliament gives its backing to von der Leyen’s team.

While the competition commissioner has thus far generated the biggest headlines for the size of antitrust fines she’s handed down — including a record-breaking $5BN fine for Google last year for illegal restrictions attached to Android — her attention on big data holdings as a competition risk is most likely to worry tech giants going forward.

See, for example, the formal investigation of Amazon’s use of merchant data announced this summer for a sign of the direction of travel.

Vestager has also talked publicly about regulating data flows as being a more savvy route to control big tech versus swinging a break up hammer. And while — on the surface — regulating data might sound less radical a remedy than breaking giants like Google and Facebook up, placing hard limits on how data can be used has the potential to effect structural separation via a sort of regulatory keyhole surgery that’s likely to be quicker and implies a precision that may also make it more politically palatable.

That’s important given the ongoing EU-US trade friction kicked up by the Trump administration which is never shy of lashing out, especially at European interventions that seek to address some of the inequalities generated by tech giants — most recently Trump gave France’s digital tax plans a tongue-lashing.

von der Leyen was asked during the press conference whether Vestager might not been seen as a controversial choice given Trump’s views of her activity to date (Europe’s “tax lady” is one of the nicer things he’s said about Vestager). The EU president-elect dismissed the point saying the only thing that matters in assigning Commission portfolios is “quality and excellence”, adding that competition and digital is the perfect combination to make the most of Vestager’s talents.

“Vestager has done an outstanding job as a commissioner for competition,” she went on. “At competition and the issues she’s tackling there are closely linked to the digital sector too. So having her as an executive vice-president for the digital in Europe is absolutely a perfect combination.

“She’ll have this topic as a cross-cutting topic. She’ll have to work on the Digital Single Market. She will work on the fact that we want to use in a better way big data that is out there, that we collect every day — non-personalized data. That we should use way better, in the need for example to share with others for innovation, for startups, for new ideas.

“She will work on the whole topic of cyber security. Which is the more we’re digitalized, the more we’re vulnerable. So there’s a huge field in front of her. And as she’s shown excellence in the Commission portfolio she’ll keep that — the executive vice-presidents have with the DGs muscles to deal with their vast portfolios’ subject they have to deal with.”

In other choices announced today, the current commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, will be taking up a new portfolio called ‘Innovation and Youth’. And Sylvie Goulard was named as ‘Internal Market’ commissioner, leading on industrial policy and promoting the Digital Single Market, as well as getting responsibility for Defence Industry and Space.

Another executive VP choice, Valdis Dombrovskis, looks likely to be tackling thorny digital taxation issues — with responsibility for co-ordinating the Commission’s work on what’s been dubbed an “Economy that Works for People”, as well as also being commissioner for financial services. 

In prepared remarks on that role, von der Leyen said: We have a unique social market economy. It is the source of our prosperity and social fairness. This is all the more important when we face a twin transition: climate and digital. Valdis Dombrovskis will lead our work to bring together the social and the market in our economy.”

Frans Timmermans, who was previously in the running as a possible candidate for Commission president but lost out to von der Leyen, is another exec VP pick. He’s set to be focused on delivering a European Green Deal and managing climate action policy.

Another familiar face — current justice, consumer and gender affairs commissioner, Věra Jourová — has also been named as an exec VP, gaining responsibility for “Values and Transparency”, a portfolio title which suggests she’ll continue to be involved in EU efforts to combat online disinformation on platforms.

The rest of the Commission portfolio appointments can be found here.

There are 26 picks in all — 27 counting von der Leyen who has already been confirmed as president; one per EU country. The UK has no representation in the next Commission given it is due to leave the bloc on October 31, the day before the new Commission takes up its mandate.

von der Leyen touted the team she presented today as balanced and diverse, including on gender lines as well as geographically to take account of the full span of European Union members.

“It draws on all the strength and talents, men and women, experienced and young, east and west, south and north, a team that is well balanced, a team that brings together diversity of experience and competence,” she said. “I want a Commission that is led with determination, that is clearly focused on the issues at hand — and that provides answers.”

Commissioners elect

“There’s one fundamental that connects this team: We want to bring new impetus to Europe’s democracy,” she added. “This is our joint responsibility. And democracy is more than voting in elections in every five years; it is about having your voice heard. It’s about having been able to participate in the way our society’s built. We gave to address some of the deeper issues in our society that have led to a loss of faith in democracy.”

In a signal of her intention that the new Commission should “walk the talk” on making Europe fit for the digital age she announced that college meetings will be paperless and digital.

On lawmaking, she added that there will be a one-in, one-out policy — with any new laws and regulation supplanting an existing rule in a bid to cut red tape.

The shape of the next Commission remains in draft pending approval by the European Parliament to all the picks. The parliament must vote to accept the entire college of commissioners — a process that’s preceded by hearings of the commissioners-designate in relevant parliamentary committees.

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Apple tweaks its App Store algorithm as antitrust investigations loom

Posted by | anticompetitive, antitrust, app-store, Apple, apple inc, apple store, apple tv, Apps, iOS, iTunes, Mobile, online marketplaces | No Comments

That Apple has used its App Store to offer itself a competitive advantage is nothing new. TechCrunch and others have been reporting on this problem for years, including those times when Apple chose to display its apps in the No. 1 position on the Top Charts, for example, or when it stole some of the App Store’s best ideas for its own, banned apps that competed with iOS features or positioned its apps higher than competitors in search. Now, in the wake of antitrust investigations in the U.S. and abroad, as well as various anti-competitive lawsuits, Apple has adjusted the App Store’s algorithm so fewer of its own apps would appear at the top of the search results.

The change was reported by The New York Times on Monday, which presented Apple with a lengthy analysis of app rankings.

It even found that some searches for various terms would display as many as 14 Apple-owned apps before showing any results from rivals. Competitors could only rank higher if they paid for an App Store search ad, the report noted.

That’s a bad look for Apple, which has recently been trying to distance itself and its App Store from any anti-competitive accusations.

In May, for example, Apple launched a new App Store website designed to demonstrate how it welcomes competition from third-party apps. The site showed that for every Apple built-in app, there were competitors available throughout the App Store.

But availability in the store and discoverability by consumers are two different things.

Apple admitted to the NYT that for over a year many common searches on the App Store would return Apple’s own apps, even when the Apple apps were less popular or relevant at times. The company explained the algorithm wasn’t manipulated to do so. For the most part, Apple said its own apps ranked higher because they’re more popular and because they come up in search results for many common terms. The company additionally said that one feature of the app’s algorithm would sometimes group apps by their maker, which gave Apple’s own apps better rankings than expected.

Screen Shot 2019 09 09 at 11.29.20 AM

Above: via the NYT, the average number of Apple apps that returned at the top of the search results by month

Apple said it adjusted the algorithm in July to make it seem like Apple’s own apps weren’t receiving special treatment. According to the NYT, both Apple VP Philip Schiller, who oversees the App Store, and SVP Eddy Cue, who oversees many of Apple’s apps, confirmed that these changes have not fully fixed the problem.

The issue, as Apple explains it, is that its own apps are so popular that it had to tweak its algorithm to pretend they are not. Whether or not this is true can’t be independently verified, however, as Apple doesn’t allow any visibility into metrics like searches, downloads or active users.

Maybe it’s time for Apple’s apps to exit the App Store?

The report, along with the supposed ineffectiveness of the algorithm’s changes, begs the question as to whether Apple’s apps should show up in the App Store’s charts and search results at all, and if so, how.

To be fair, this is a question that’s not limited to Apple. Google today is facing the same problem. Recently, the CEO of a popular software program, Basecamp, called Google’s paid search ads a “shakedown,” arguing that the only way his otherwise No. 1 search result can rank at the top of the search results page is to buy an ad. Meanwhile, his competitors can do so — even using his brand name as the keyword to bid against.

The same holds true for the App Store, but on a smaller scale than the entirety of the web. That also makes Apple’s problem easier to solve.

For example, Apple could simply choose to offer a dedicated section for its own software downloads, and leave the App Store as the home for third-party software alone.

This sort of change could help to eliminate concerns over Apple’s anti-competitive behavior in the search results and chart rankings. Apple might balk against this solution, saying that users should have an easy way to locate and download its own apps, and the App Store is the place to do that. But the actual marketplace itself could be left to the third-party software while the larger App Store app — which today includes a variety of app-related content, including app reviews, interviews with developers, app tips and a subscription gaming service, Apple Arcade — could still be used to showcase Apple-produced software.

It could just do so outside the actual marketplace.

Here’s how this could work. If users wanted to re-install an Apple app they had deleted or download one that didn’t come pre-installed on their device, they could be directed to a special Apple software download page. Pointers to this page could be in the App Store app itself as well as in the iOS Settings.

An ideal spot for this section could even be on the existing Search page of the App Store.

With a redesign, Apple could offer a modified search screen where users could optionally check a box to return a list of apps results that would come only from Apple. This would indicate intentional behavior on the consumer’s part. That is, they are directly seeking an Apple software download — as opposed to the current situation where a user searches for “Music” and sees Apple’s own music app appear above all the others from rivals like Spotify and Pandora.

Alternately, Apple could just list its own apps on this page or offer a link to this dedicated page from the search screen.

And these are just a few variations on a single idea. There are plenty of other ways the App Store could be adjusted to be less anti-competitive, too.

As another example, Apple could also include the “You Might Also Like” section in its own apps’ App Store listings, as it does for all third-party apps.

Image from iOS 1Above: Apple Music’s App Store Listing

This section directs users to other apps that match the same search query right within the app’s detail page. Apple’s own apps, however, only include a “More by Apple” section. That means it’s keeping all the search traffic and consumer interest for itself.

Image from iOS

Above: Spotify’s App Store Listing

Or it could reduce the screen space dedicated to its own apps in the search results — even if they rank higher — in order to give more attention to apps from competitors while still being able to cater to users who were truly in search of Apple’s software.

But ultimately, how Apple will have to behave with regard to its App Store may be left to the regulators to decide, given Apple’s failure to bake this sort of anti-competitive thinking into its App Store design.

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What to expect from Apple’s September 10 iPhone event

Posted by | Apple, Apple Hardware Event 2019, Apple Watch, Apps, hardware, iOS 13, iPhone, macos, Mobile, Wearables | No Comments

Here’s what we know for sure: Apple’s holding a big event on its campus at 10AM PT on September 10.

Here’s what we almost certainly know for sure: The iPhone 11 will launch with a new camera configuration. There will be probably be three different models.

From there, things get a bit more complicated.

iPhone rumor OnLeaks Digit

There’s some speculation around whether the company will continue to offer the budget-minded iPhone R as an alternative to the flagship devices. Some rumors thus far have suggested that this year’s models will present a kind of paradigm shift for the line. Rather than introducing an iPhone 11R, the cheaper model could become the base level iPhone 11, with two pricier models taking up the Pro moniker, with a Pro and Pro Max model distinguishing the different screen sizes.

The shift would make some sense from the standpoint of the broader smartphone market. Pricing is one of the key reasons smartphone adoption has slowed considerably. Premium devices like the iPhone and Samsung’s S series routinely top $1,000. If Apple can reposition the price point, that could go a ways toward justifying a faster upgrade cycle.

One of the key distinguishing factors between the iPhone 11 and the Pro models is likely to be the camera. The base model will retain the XS’s two-camera setup, while the Pros will move to a three-camera array in a square configuration. The third lens will bring an additional wide angle to the device, similar to a number of Android handsets.

Using on-board AI and software, the cameras are said to create a composite image that can correct certain shooting errors, offer higher-resolution shots and get better images in low light. The video software on the Pro models is said to be significantly improved, as well, letting users correct color balances and apply effects on-device. The front-facing camera, meanwhile, is said to have a wider field of view, which should help face unlock work from more angles, including while lying down on a table — one of the biggest complaints with the current Face ID configuration.

The device build is largely expected to stay the same, including the top notch, which has remained unchanged since the introduction of the iPhone X. Some have suggested that the invitation hints at additional colors for the handset, which would be in keeping with other entry-level devices, like the iPhone R. The Lightning port, for better and worse, is expected to remain, in spite of the addition of USB-C on the iPad Pro.

Jeff Williams, chief operating officer of Apple Inc., speaks during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Apple will kick off a blitz of new products this week, ending a year of minor updates and setting the technology giant up for a potentially strong holiday quarter. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A couple of rumors have been floating around hinting at the arrival of a new Apple Watch. The Series 4 device is reportedly getting a new (likely very pricey) Titanium version. The line is also set to finally add some solid sleep tracking into the mix.

The event may well see some new MacBooks, the first to include new switch mechanisms for the keyboard. That will hopefully alleviate longstanding complaints against several generations of keyboard switches.

Expect some firm dates on the software and content front, as well, including availability for the public launch of MacOS Catalina, iPadOS and iOS 13. There’s a pretty good chance that the company will also firm up launch dates for long-awaited content plays like Apple TV+ and Arcade.

All (or some) of this and more (or less) will be revealed on Tuesday September 10. TechCrunch will, as always, be on hand, bringing it to you live.

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