Apple

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

Posted by | Activision, Apple, Apps, Atlassian, Club-Penguin, Computer games, dave baszucki, David Sze, EC-1, engineering, Facebook, Friendster, funding, Fundings & Exits, fundraising tactics, Gaming, Google, Greylock Partners, Growth, growth tactics, Habbo-Hotel, IMVU, king.com, Kongregate, Mark Zuckerberg, Media, Metaplace, Mojang, MySpace, Roblox, Second-Life, Startups, TC, video games, Virtual reality, Windows | No Comments

There are successful companies that grow fast and garner tons of press. Then there’s Roblox, a company which took at least a decade to hit its stride and has, relative to its current level of success, barely gotten any recognition or attention.

Why has Roblox’s story gone mostly untold? One reason is that it emerged from a whole generation of gaming portals and platforms. Some, like King.com, got lucky or pivoted their business. Others by and large failed.

Once companies like Facebook, Apple and Google got to the gaming scene, it just looked like a bad idea to try to build your own platform — and thus not worth talking about. Added to that, founder and CEO Dave Baszucki seems uninterested in press.

But overall, the problem has been that Roblox just seemed like an insignificant story for many, many years. The company had millions of users, sure. So did any number of popular games. In its early days, Roblox even looked like Minecraft, a game that was released long after Roblox went live, but that grew much, much faster.

Yet here we are today: Roblox now claims that half of all American children aged 9-12 are on its platform. It has jumped to 90 million monthly unique users and is poised to go international, potentially multiplying that number. And it’s unique. Essentially all other distribution services offering games through a portal have eventually fizzled, aside from some distant cousins like Steam.

This is the story of how Roblox not only survived, but built a thriving platform.

Seeds of an idea

GettyImages 1027412388

(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Before Roblox, there was Knowledge Revolution, a company that made teaching software. While designed to allow students to simulate physics experiments, perhaps predictably, they also treated it like a game.

“The fun seemed to be in building your own experiment,” says Baszucki. “When people were playing it and we went into schools and labs, they were all making car crashes and buildings fall down, making really funny stuff.” Provided with a sandbox, kids didn’t just make dry experiments about mass or velocity — they made games, or experiences they could show off to friends for a laugh.

Knowledge Revolution was founded in 1989, by Dave Baszucki and his brother Greg (who didn’t later co-found Roblox, but is now on its board). Nearly a decade later, it was acquired for $20 million by MSC Software, which made professional simulation tools. Dave continued there for another four years before leaving to become an angel investor.

Baszucki put money into Friendster, a company that pre-dated Facebook and MySpace in the social networking category. That investment seeded another piece of the idea for Roblox. Taken together, the legacy of Knowledge Revolution and Friendster were the two key components undergirding Roblox: a physics sandbox with strong creation tools, and a social graph.

Baszucki himself is a third piece of the puzzle. Part of an older set of entrepreneurs, which might be called the Steve Jobs generation, Baszucki’s archetype seems closer to Mr. Rogers than Jobs himself: unfailingly polite and enthusiastic, never claiming superior insight, and preferring to pass credit for his accomplishments on to others. In conversation, he shows interests both central and tangential to Roblox, like virtual environments, games, education, digital identity and the future of tech. Somewhere in this heady mix, the idea of Roblox came about.

The first release

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Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple store, Apple Watch, Companies, FaceTime, iOS, iOS 10, iPhone, Mobile, privacy, Security, TC, technology, vulnerability | No Comments

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.  We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty. This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

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Apple stops selling the 12-inch MacBook, a computer you either loved or were confused by

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, apple keyboard, Boot Camp, computers, computing, energy, Gadgets, hardware, iPad, Laptop, macbook, macbook pro, macintosh, smartphone, Steve Jobs, TC | No Comments

Apple officially stopped selling the 12-inch MacBook today, a computer that hasn’t had an update since June 2017 and that is also maybe one of the most contentious Macs in Apple’s lineup. The 12-inch MacBook at one time seemed like Apple’s path forward (plenty of Apple fans and analysts saw it as a sign of things to come when it launched in 2015), but ultimately ended up representing some of Apple’s biggest challenges with its Macs in general.

The biggest indicator that Apple felt the MacBook was a showcase and crucial product was the name — it was just THE MacBook, without any additional epithets or qualifiers like “Air” or “Pro” (both of which predated its existence). And when it debuted, it brought a number of firsts for Apple’s laptop lineup, including USB-C for both data and power, a keyboard with butterfly mechanisms, a Force Touch trackpad and a new way of “terracing” batteries that allowed Apple to maximize the power available to the diminutive notebook without making any compromises on size.

For sheer portability and screen-to-size ratio, the MacBook was an absolute feat. But this computer was one of Apple’s boldest statements yet when it came to a separation from current standards and opinions about what users did and didn’t need in a laptop. It only came with a single USB-C port (“just one!” people gasped, and that’s for power, too!); the butterfly keyboard was strange and different. This last thing would later prove possibly Apple’s biggest technical gaffe in terms of fundamental component design, which has impact even today in that the company released brand new computers using butterfly keyboards and immediately added them to an extended keyboard replacement program.

The MacBook also always lagged significantly behind its Pro and Air companions in terms of processor power, thanks to the energy-sipping Intel chips required in its construction to minimize heat. As a former MacBook owner myself, it was enough that you noticed the chug when you were doing stuff that wasn’t necessarily heavy-duty, and painfully apparent if you used the little notebook simultaneously with a home desktop, for instance.

But the MacBook was also excellent in its own way. It was so portable as to be almost forgotten as an addition to a bag. It was maybe the ultimate pure writing notebook, because that’s not something that ever felt the lack of processor power under the hood. And as often maligned as it was for being a single-port machine (besides the headphone jack, which is now a luxury in the smartphone world), there was a certain amount of focus necessitated by this monk-like approach to I/O.

Ultimately, the MacBook resembles the original MacBook Air more than anything — an oddball that had both lovers and haters, but that didn’t meet the needs or expectations of the masses. Like the Air, the MacBook could rise from the ashes with a future incarnation, too — perhaps one made possible by the much-speculated future Apple transition to ARM processor architecture. Or maybe it’ll just make way for an ever-evolving iPad powered by the more sophisticated iPadOS coming this fall.

Regardless, the MacBook was an eccentric machine that I enjoyed using (and was potentially considering using again pending an update), so here’s hoping it’s not gone forever.

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Week-in-Review: Alexa’s indefinite memory and NASA’s otherworldly plans for GPS

Posted by | 4th of July, AI assistant, alex wong, Amazon, Andrew Kortina, Android, andy rubin, appeals court, Apple, apple inc, artificial intelligence, Assistant, China, enterprise software, Getty-Images, gps, here, iPhone, machine learning, Online Music Stores, operating systems, Sam Lessin, social media, Speech Recognition, TC, Tim Cook, Twitter, United States, Venmo, voice assistant | No Comments

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about the cult of Ive and the degradation of Apple design. On Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal published a report on how Ive had been moving away from the company, to the dismay of many on the design team. Tim Cook didn’t like the report very much. Our EIC gave a little breakdown on the whole saga in a nice piece.

Apple sans Ive


Amazon Buys Whole Foods For Over 13 Billion

The big story

This week was a tad restrained in its eventfulness; seems like the newsmakers went on 4th of July vacations a little early. Amazon made a bit of news this week when the company confirmed that Alexa request logs are kept indefinitely.

Last week, an Amazon public policy exec answered some questions about Alexa in a letter sent to U.S. Senator Coons. His office published the letter on its site a few days ago and most of the details aren’t all that surprising, but the first answer really sets the tone for how Amazon sees Alexa activity:

Q: How long does Amazon store the transcripts of user voice recordings?

A: We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.

What’s interesting about this isn’t that we’re only now getting this level of straightforward dialogue from Amazon on how long data is kept if not specifically deleted, but it makes one wonder why it is useful or feasible for them to keep it indefinitely. (This assumes that they actually are keeping it indefinitely; it seems likely that most of it isn’t, and that by saying this they’re protecting themselves legally, but I’m just going off the letter.)

After several years of “Hey Alexa,” the company doesn’t seem all that close to figuring out what it is.

Alexa seems to be a shit solution for commerce, so why does Amazon have 10,000 people working on it, according to a report this week in The Information? All signs are pointing to the voice assistant experiment being a short-term failure in terms of the short-term ambitions, though AI advances will push the utility.

Training data is a big deal across AI teams looking to educate models on data sets of relevant information. The company seems to say as much. “Our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems use machine learning to adapt to customers’ speech patterns and vocabulary, informed by the way customers use Alexa in the real world. To work well, machine learning systems need to be trained using real world data.”

The company says it doesn’t anonymize any of this data because it has to stay associated with a user’s account in order for them to delete it. I’d feel a lot better if Amazon just effectively anonymized the data in the first place and used on-device processing the build a profile on my voice. What I’m more afraid of is Amazon having such a detailed voiceprint of everyone who has ever used an Alexa device.

If effortless voice-based e-commerce isn’t really the product anymore, what is? The answer is always us, but I don’t like the idea of indefinitely leaving Amazon with my data until they figure out the answer.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • NASA’s GPS moonshot
    The U.S. government really did us a solid inventing GPS, but NASA has some bigger ideas on the table for the positioning platform, namely, taking it to the Moon. It might be a little complicated, but, unsurprisingly, scientists have some ideas here. Read more.
  • Apple has your eyes
    Most of the iOS beta updates are bug fixes, but the latest change to iOS 13 brought a very strange surprise: changing the way the eyes of users on iPhone XS or XS Max look to people on the other end of the call. Instead of appearing that you’re looking below the camera, some software wizardry will now make it look like you’re staring directly at the camera. Apple hasn’t detailed how this works, but here’s what we do know
  • Trump is having a Twitter party
    Donald Trump’s administration declared a couple of months ago that it was launching an exploratory survey to try to gain a sense of conservative voices that had been silenced on social media. Now @realdonaldtrump is having a get-together and inviting his friends to chat about the issue. It’s a real who’s who; check out some of the people attending here.
Amazon CEO And Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos Speaks At Air Force Association Air, Space And Cyber Conference

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Amazon is responsible for what it sells:
    [Appeals court rules Amazon can be held liable for third-party products]
  2. Android co-creator gets additional allegations filed:
    [Newly unsealed court documents reveal additional allegations against Andy Rubin]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch reporter Kate Clark did a great interview with the ex-Facebook, ex-Venmo founding team behind Fin and how they’re thinking about the consumerization of the enterprise.

Sam Lessin and Andrew Kortina on their voice assistant’s workplace pivot

“…The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked a bit about asking for money and the future of China’s favorite tech platform:

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UnitedMasters releases iPhone app for DIY cross-service music distribution

Posted by | 20th Century Fox, Apple, Apps, AT&T, cloud applications, cloud storage, computing, Dropbox, iCloud, iOS, iPhone, Media, Mobile, national basketball association, NBA, operating systems, PayPal, president, Software, Startups, steve stoute, TC, tidal, UnitedMasters | No Comments

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specific an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.

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Twelve South’s HiRise Wireless is a super versatile wireless smartphone charger

Posted by | AirPods, Apple, computers, Gadgets, inductive charging, iOS, iPhone, mobile phones, PIXEL, pixel 3, Reviews, smartphones, TC, technology, usb, wireless charger, wireless chargers, Wireless Charging | No Comments

Wireless charging has been a wonderful addition to mainstream flagship smartphones including the iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and Google’s Pixel phones. But there hasn’t been a really great option for bringing the benefits of wireless charging with you on the road, while keeping your desktop setup tidy until now, with TwelveSouth’s recently released HiRise Wireless.

The HiRise Wireless builds on the good reputation of the existing HiRise line from TwelveSouth, which includes the Duet, a great combo charger for both iPhone and Apple Watch. The Wireless version, as implied by the name, includes wireless charging of up to 10W, which means you get the fastest cable-free charging rate available for devices that support Qi charging, including the iPhone X, XR and XS, as well as the Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10.

The HiRise is unique in that it provides a charging puck that can both mount in the frame (which has a nice weighted base to stay rock solid on your desk) and pop out to either provide a lie-flat wireless charger (which will work with the new wireless AirPods charging case, for instance) or pack away in a bag.

The upright angle the wireless charger provides when mounted in the frame is perfect for registering Face ID unlocks when used with an iPhone X or later, and positioned on your desk. That’s a great way to give yourself access to phone notifications without distracting too much from your desktop work. And the puck itself is a lot smaller than most wireless chargers, which isn’t idea for typical at-home charging, but which is terrific for stowing it in a gadget pouch.

The puck also has a rubberized ring bordering the charging pad to prevent your device from slipping around, and it works with a detachable USB-C to USB-A cable that comes in the box which adds to the portability, and means you can easily use it with whatever USB-C charging cables you already have on-hand for your Mac or other devices.

If you’re in the market for a wireless charger and travel a decent amount, it’s hard to beat the value of the HiRise Wireless. It’s $79.99, which is more than you’ll pay for a lot of quality wireless chargers, but Twelve South’s unique design is worth the premium in this case for people looking for its unique flexibility.

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Apple reportedly shifting to new keyboard design in 2019/2020 MacBooks

Posted by | analyst, Apple, apple inc, apple keyboard, Boot Camp, computers, computing, Gadgets, hardware, macbook, macbook air, macbook pro, macintosh, ming-chi kuo, supply chain, TC | No Comments

Apple is set to replace the technology underlying the keyboards found in its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro computers, according to a new report from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac). Kuo is frequently accurate in his predictions, which are sourced from within Apple’s supply chain and tend to provide an early indication of forthcoming hardware changes.

In his latest report, Kuo says that the new keyboard designs coming in brand new MacBook Air models set to come out later this year, and new MacBook Pro models which he says won’t be available until 2020, will drop the so-called ‘butterfly’ mechanism design that is used in current-generation versions of both MacBooks. Instead, the new versions will employ ‘scissor switch’-based keyboards, which is what Apple used prior to introducing the ‘butterfly’ mechanism in 2015. Apple’s current standalone Magic Keyboard also still uses scissor switches.

The butterfly switch-based keyboards Apple has used in recent MacBooks have received consistent criticism from users, who report dropped keystrokes and repeated keystrokes, among other issues (I’ve experienced this myself personally on multiple MacBook Pro models since 2015). These can often be resolved using compressed air to blow away any debris under the keyboard, but sometime they require an actual replacement keyboard component from Apple itself.

Apple’s most recent MacBook Pro, introduced earlier this year, features a redesigned butterfly keyboard that employs “new materials” to help mitigate these issues, and it also recently introduced a free keyboard replacement program for MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro which extends to all MacBook models with butterfly-based keyboards. Still, if this report proves accurate, it looks like the company is implementing a more permanent hardware fix that would obviate the need for these other measures entirely.

As always, take any rumors about unreleased products from a third-party with a hefty dose of skepticism, but Kuo’s accuracy and the well-documented issues with this keyboard design do lend credence to this specific report.

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App revenue tops $39 billion in first half of 2019, up 15% from first half of last year

Posted by | analyst, android apps, app revenues, app stores, app-store, Apple, Apps, China, Google Play, instagram, iOS App Store, iOS apps, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile apps, mobile games, Netflix, online marketplaces, sensor tower, smartphones, streaming services, Tencent, tiktok, Tinder | No Comments

App store spending is continuing to grow, although not as quickly as in years past. According to a new report from Sensor Tower, the iOS App Store and Google Play combined brought in $39.7 billion in worldwide app revenue in the first half of 2019 — that’s up 15.4% over the $34.4 billion seen during the first half of last year. However, at that time, the $34.4 billion was a 27.8% increase from 2017’s numbers, then a combined $26.9 billion across both stores.

Apple’s App Store continues to massively outpace Google Play on consumer spending, the report also found.

In the first half of 2019, global consumers spent $25.5 billion on the iOS App Store, up 13.2% year-over-year from the $22.6 billion spent in the first half of 2018. Last year, the growth in consumer spending was 26.8%, for comparison’s sake.

Still, Apple’s estimated $25.5 billion in the first half of 2019 is 80% higher than Google Play’s estimated gross revenue of $14.2 billion — the latter a 19.6% increase from the first half of 2018.

The major factor in the slowing growth is iOS in China, which contributed to the slowdown in total growth. However, Sensor Tower expects to see China returning to positive growth over the next 12 months, we’re told.

To a smaller extent, the downturn could be attributed to changes with one of the top-earning apps across both app stores: Netflix.

Last year, Netflix dropped in-app subscription sign-ups for Android users. Then, at the end of December 2018, it did so for iOS users, too. That doesn’t immediately drop its revenue to zero, of course — it will continue to generate revenue from existing subscribers. But the number will decline, especially as Netflix expands globally without an in-app purchase option, and as lapsed subscribers return to renew online with Netflix directly.

In the first half of 2019, Netflix was the second highest earning non-game app with consumer spending of $339 million, Sensor Tower estimates, down from $459 million in the first half of 2018. (We should point out the firm bases its estimates on a 70/30 split between Netflix and Apple’s App Store that drops to 85/15 after the first year. To account for the mix of old and new subscribers, Sensor Tower factors in a 25% cut. But Daring Fireball’s John Gruber claims Netflix had a special relationship with Apple where it had an 85/15 cut from year one.)

In any event, Netflix’s contribution to the app stores’ revenue is on the decline.

In the first half of last year, Netflix had been the No. 1 non-game app for revenue. This year, that spot went to Tinder, which pulled in an estimated $497 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play, combined. That’s up 32% over the first half of 2018.

1h 2019 app revenue worldwide

But Tinder’s dominance could be a trend that doesn’t last.

According to recent data from eMarketer, dating app audiences have been growing slower than expected, causing the analyst firm to revise its user estimates downward. It now expects that 25.1 million U.S. adults will use a dating app monthly this year, down from its previous forecast of 25.4 million. It also expects that only 21% of U.S. single adults will use a dating app at all in 2019, and that will only grow to 23% by 2023.

That means Tinder’s time at the top could be overrun by newcomers in later months, especially as new streaming services get off the ground (assuming they offer in-app subscriptions); if TikTok starts taking monetization seriously; or if any other large apps from China find global audiences outside of China’s third-party app stores.

For example, Tencent Video grossed $278 million globally in the first half of 2019, outside of the third-party Chinese Android app stores. That made it the third-largest non-game app by revenue. And Chinese video platform iQIYI and YouTube were the No. 4 and No. 5 top-grossing apps, respectively.

Meanwhile, iOS app installs actually declined in the first half of the year, following the first quarter that saw a decline in downloads, Q1 2019, attributed to the downturn in China.

The App Store in the first half of 2019 accounted for 14.8 billion of the total 56.7 billion app installs.

Google Play installs in the first half of the year grew 16.4% to 41.9 billion, or about 2.8 times greater than the iOS volume.

1h 2019 app downloads worldwide

The most downloaded apps in the first half of 2019 were the same as before: WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook led the top charts. But TikTok inched ahead of Instagram for the No. 4 spot, and it saw its installs grow around 28% to nearly 344 million worldwide.

In terms of mobile gaming specifically, spending was up 11.3% year-over-year in the first half of 2019, reaching $29.6 billion across the iOS App Store and Google Play. Thanks to the fallout of the game licensing freeze in China, App Store revenue growth for games was at $17.6 billion, or 7.8% year-over-year growth. Google Play game spending grew by 16.8% to $12 billion.

The top-grossing games, in order, were Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Fate/Grand Order, Monster Strike, Candy Crush Saga and PUBG Mobile.

1h 2019 game revenue worldwide

Meanwhile, the most downloaded games were Color Bump 3D, Garena Free Fire and PUBG Mobile.

Image credits: Sensor Tower

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Apple’s iOS 13 update will make FaceTime eye contact way easier

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Apps, FaceTime, Gadgets, iOS, iOS 12, iPhone, iPhone XS, mobile phones, operating systems, TC | No Comments

Apple has added a feature called “FaceTime Attention Correction” to the latest iOS 13 Developer beta, and it looks like it could make a big difference when it comes to actually making FaceTime calls feel even more like talking to someone in person. The feature, spotted in the third beta of the new software update that went out this week, apparently does a terrific job of making it look like you’re looking directly into the camera even when you’re looking at the screen during a FaceTime call.

That’s actually a huge improvement, because when people FaceTime, most of the time they’re looking at the screen rather than the camera, since the whole point is to see the person or people you’re talking to, rather than the small black lens at the top of your device.

Guys – “FaceTime Attention Correction” in iOS 13 beta 3 is wild.

Here are some comparison photos featuring @flyosity: https://t.co/HxHhVONsi1 pic.twitter.com/jKK41L5ucI

— Will Sigmon (@WSig) July 2, 2019

The catch so far seems to be that this FaceTime feature is only available on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which could mean it only works with the latest camera tech available on Apple hardware. That could be because of the new image signal processor that Apple included in the A12 processor that powers the iPhone XS and XS Max, which also provide improvements over previous generation phones in terms of HDR and portrait lighting effects.

It’s also possible with any updates or features that arrive in iOS beta releases that they could expand to other devices and/or vanish prior to the actual public launch of iOS 13, which is set for this fall. But here’s hoping this one remains in place, because it really seems to make a huge difference in terms of providing a sense of “presence” for FaceTime calls, which is one of the core values of the Apple chat feature overall.

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Apple’s Sidecar just really *gets* me, you know?

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Apps, Dock, Gadgets, iPad, macintosh, macos, Portable Media Players, Sidecar, tablet computers, TC, Touchscreens | No Comments

With the rollout of Apple’s public beta software previews of macOS and the new iPadOS, I’ve finally been able to experience first-hand Sidecar, the feature that lets you use an iPad as an external display for your Mac. This is something I’ve been looking to make work since the day the iPad was released, and it’s finally here – and just about everything you could ask for.

These are beta software products, and I’ve definitely encountered a few bugs including my main Mac display blanking out and requiring a restart (that’s totally fine – betas by definition aren’t fully baked). But Sidecar is already a game-changer, and one that I will probably have a hard time living without in future – especially on the road.

Falling nicely into the ‘it just works’ Apple ethos, setting up Sidecar is incredibly simple. As long as your Mac is running macOS 10.15 Catalina, and your iPad is nearby, with Bluetooth and Wifi enabled, and running the iPadOS 13 beta, you just click on the AirPlay icon in your Mac’s Menu bar and it should show up as a display option.

Once you select your iPad, Sidecar just quickly displays an extended desktop from your Mac on the iOS device. It’s treated as a true external display in macOS System Preferences, so you can arrange it with other displays, mirror your Mac and more. The one thing you can’t do that you can do with traditional displays is change the resolution – Apple keeps things default here at 1366 x 1024, but it’s your iPad’s extremely useful native resolution (2732 x 2048, plus Retina pixel doubling for the first-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro I’m using for testing), and it means there’s nothing weird going on with pixelated graphics or funky text.

Apple also turns on, by default, both a virtual Touchbar and a new feature called ‘Sidebar’ (yes, it’s a Sidebar for your Sidecar) that provides a number of useful commands including the ability to call up the dock, summon a virtual keyboard, quickly access the command key and more. This is particularly useful if you’re using the iPad on its own without the attached Mac, which can really come in handy when you’re deep in a drawing application and just looking to do quick things like undo, and Apple has a dedicated button in Sidebar for that, too.

sidecar2

The Touchbar is identical to Apple’s hardware Touchbar, which it includes on MacBook Pros, dating back to its introduction in 2016. The Touchbar has always been kind of a ‘meh’ feature, and some critics vocally prefer the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro model that does away with it altogether in favor of an actual hardware Escape key. And on the iPad using Sidecar, you also don’t get what might be its best feature – TouchID. But, if you’re using Sidecar specifically for photo or video editing, it’s amazing to be able to have it called up and sitting there ready to do, as an app-specific dedicated quick action toolbar.

Best of all, Apple made it possible to easily turn off both these features, and to do so quickly right from your Mac’s menu bar. That way, you get the full benefit of your big beautiful iPad display. Sidecar will remember this preference too for next time you connect.

Also new to macOS Catalina is a hover-over menu for the default window controls (those three ‘stoplight’ circular buttons that appear at the top left of any Mac app). Apple now provides options to either go fullscreen, tile your app left or right to take up 50% of your display, or, if you’re using Sidecar, to quickly move the app to Sidecar display or back.

This quick shuffle action works great, and also respects your existing windows settings, so you can move an app window that you’ve resized manually to take up a quarter of your Mac’s display, and then when you send it back from the Sidecar iPad, it’ll return to where you had it originally in the same size and position. It’s definitely a nice step up in terms of native support for managing windows across multiple displays.

I’ve been using Sidecar wirelessly, though it also works wired and Apple has said there shouldn’t really be any performance disparity regardless of which way you go. So far, the wireless mode has exceeded all expectations, and any third-party competitors in terms of reliability and quality. It also works with the iPad Pro keyboard case, which makes for a fantastic input alternative if you happen to be closer to that one instead of the keyboard you’re using with your Mac.

Sidecar also really shines for digital artists, because it supports input via Apple Pencil immediately in apps that have already built in support for stylus input on Macs, including Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo. I’ve previously used a Wacom Cintiq 13HD with my Mac for this kind of thing, and I found Apple’s Sidecar to be an amazing alternative, not least of which because it’s wireless and even the 12.9 iPad Pro is such more portable than the Wacom device. Input seems to have very little response lag (like, it’s not even really perceivable), there’s no calibration required to make sure the Pencil lines up with the cursor on the screen, and as I mentioned above, combined with the Sidebar and dedicated ‘Undo’ button, it’s an artistic productivity machine.

The Pencil is the only means of touch input available with Sidecar, and that’s potentially going to be weird for users of other third-party display extender apps, most of which support full touch input for the extended Mac display they provide. Apple has intentionally left out finger-based touch input, because Mac just wasn’t designed for it, and in use that actually tracks with what my brain expects, so it probably won’t be too disorienting for most users.

When Apple introduced the 5K iMac, it left out one thing that had long been a mainstay of that all-in-on desktop – Target Display Mode. It was a sad day for people who like to maximize the life of their older devices. But they’ve more than made up for it with the introduction of Sidecar, which genuinely doubles the utility value of any modern iPad, provided you’re someone for whom additional screen real estate, with or without pressure-sensitive pen input, is something valuable. As someone who often works on the road and out of the office, Sidecar seems like something I personally designed in the room with Apple’s engineering team.

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