iPhone

Do phones need to fold?

Posted by | Android, consumer electronics, foldables, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, Sony, TC | No Comments

As Samsung (re)unveiled its clamshell folding phone last week, I kept seeing the same question pop up amongst my social circles: why?

I was wondering the same thing myself, to be honest. I’m not sure even Samsung knows; they’d win me over by the end, but only somewhat. The halfway-folded, laptop-style “Flex Mode” allows you to place the phone on a table for hands-free video calling. That’s pretty neat, I guess. But… is that it?

The best answer to “why?” I’ve come up with so far isn’t a very satisfying one: Because they can (maybe). And because they sort of need to do something.

Let’s time-travel back to the early 2000s. Phones were weird, varied and no manufacturers really knew what was going to work. We had basic flip phones and Nokia’s indestructible bricks, but we also had phones that swiveled, slid and included chunky physical keyboards that seemed absolutely crucial. The Sidekick! LG Chocolate! BlackBerry Pearl! Most were pretty bad by today’s standards, but it was at least easy to tell one model from the next.

(Photo by Kim Kulish/Corbis via Getty Images)

Then came the iPhone in 2007; a rectangular glass slab defined less by physical buttons and switches and more by the software that powered it. The device itself, a silhouette. There was hesitation to this formula, initially; the first Android phones shipped with swiveling keyboards, trackballs and various sliding pads. As iPhone sales grew, everyone else’s buttons, sliders and keyboards were boiled away as designers emulated the iPhone’s form factor. The best answer, it seemed, was a simple one.

Twelve years later, everything has become the same. Phones have become… boring. When everyone is trying to build a better rectangle, the battle becomes one of hardware specs. Which one has the fastest CPU? The best camera?

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How companies are working around Apple’s ban on vaping apps

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, cannabis, davinci, electronic cigarettes, iPhone, juul, pax, smartphone, smoking, TC | No Comments

Apple banned vaping apps in November 2019. Since then, the company has said very little about its decision, leaving many companies upset and confused about its blanket prohibition.

Three months later, companies are working around Apple’s ban. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Apple’s wide-sweeping ban on vaping affected apps from Juul, Pax and many others, including apps that calculate electrical resistance because they can be used to build vape components. It appears to have hit the cannabis industry at a higher rate than tobacco, as few tobacco vapes have a companion application.

The removal was sudden but not unexpected, given the climate at the time. In 2019, the vaping industry suffered a crisis as the Centers for Disease Control stumbled through a health scare caused by illicit products. Industry experts quickly identified a filler additive as the source of the illnesses, but these reports were ignored for months, creating widespread panic. Consumer sentiment promptly settled on the conclusion that all vapes are harmful, even when clear data shows the opposite. Vapes sourced through legal means are proven to be safer alternatives than other consumption methods.

It’s important to note Apple didn’t disable the apps or force the removal from phones. Apps that had already been downloaded continued to work, though they could not be updated.

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Apple fined $27 million in France for throttling old iPhones without telling users

Posted by | Apple, Europe, Gadgets, iPhone | No Comments

France’s competition watchdog DGCCRF announced earlier today that Apple will pay a $27.4 million (€25 million) fine due to an iOS update that capped performance of aging devices. The company will also have to display a statement on its website for a month.

A couple of years ago, Apple released an iOS update (10.2.1 and 11.2) that introduced a new feature for older devices. If your battery is getting old, iOS would cap peak performances as your battery might not be able to handle quick peaks of power draw. The result of those peaks is that your iPhone might shut down abruptly.

While that feature is technically fine, Apple failed to inform users that it was capping performances on some devices. The company apologized and introduced a new software feature called “Battery Health,” which lets you check the maximum capacity of your battery and if your iPhone can reach peak performance.

And that’s the issue here. Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game, for instance. But they didn’t know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.

France’s DGCCRF also notes that iPhone users can’t downgrade to a previous version of iOS, which means that iPhone users had no way to lift the performance capping feature. “Failing to inform consumers represented a misleading business practice using omission,” the French authority writes.

Apple accepted to settle by paying a €25 million fine and recognizing its wrongdoing with a statement on its website.

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This new wireless charger from Zens nearly fulfills the promise of Apple’s AirPower

Posted by | AirPods, AirPower, Apple, apple inc, computing, Gadgets, hardware, inductive charging, iOS, iPhone, iphone accessories, Reviews, TC, Vaporware, wireless, wireless chargers, Zens | No Comments

Apple’s cancellation of its AirPower wireless charging mat was one of the company’s few big public flubs, but the concept behind the cancelled product remains attractive: A wireless charging pad that supports multiple devices, and that isn’t picky about how you set down your device in order to make a connection. Wireless charging accessory maker Zens has actually created such a device with the Liberty Wireless Charger, and while it doesn’t offer everything that AirPower claimed to be able to do, it’s a big step up from current wireless chargers, and a great companion for iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch.

Coils, coils coils

The Zens Liberty is special because of how it uses the wireless charging coils that are responsible for the charging ability of any wireless chargers — wound circular loops of copper cable that provide the induction power received by devices like the latest iPhones and AirPods charging case. Zens has stacked 16 such coils in an overlapping array — which, conveniently, you can see in pretty much full detail in the transparent glass edition charger that’s available today alongside the fabric-covered version.

These overlapping coils are the key to the unique abilities of the Zens Liberty: Specifically, their arrangement means you can place your devices down in basically any orientation and they’ll begin charging right away. Most charging pads, by comparison, have one, two or sometimes three coils placed in specific locations, meaning you have to make sure your device is properly situated above one to actually get it to start charging. If you’ve been using wireless chargers for any length of time, you’ve probably had the unfortunate opportunity to get this orientation match-up wrong, resulting in a phone that didn’t charge at all when you wake up the next morning.

Zens’ Liberty does indeed solve this annoyance, and I found I was able to put devices down basically however I wanted and have them charge up.

Flexible seating for two

Up to two Qi-compatible devices can be charged at once, and they’ll each work with up to 15w of power, which is at the top end of what any current devices support. I tested it out with Android phones, iPhones and AirPods (plus AirPods Pro) and found that all worked without issue and basically however I wanted to lay them across the surface. The caveats here are that you should think of the areas around the edges of the charger as basically non-active, so stay around an inch in from the outer surface and you should be fine.

This flexibility may not seem like much (why not just pay attention when you’re putting your devices on a more traditional charger?), but it actually is a very nice convenience. Just that small assurance that you can easily put your device down on the Liberty’s generous surface and not worry too much about checking whether a connection was actually made is a big relief when you charge a device as much as you do your iPhone or your AirPods.

Apple Watch, too

The Zens Liberty can’t charge the Apple Watch on the pad, the way that Apple had advertised the cancelled AirPower would’ve been able to. But with an accessory, the pad can become a truly all-in-one charging station for your mobile Apple kit, Watch included. An officially supported Apple Watch charger with a USB-A connector on one end is an add-on option that Zens offers, and it conveniently slots right into a USB port present on the Zens Liberty (and protected/hidden by a rubber flap when not in use).

This port actually supports any kind of USB-powered device, so you can also use it with a cable to charge another gadget, like an iPad for instance. But it’s perfectly designed for the new Zens Apple Watch charger accessory, which comes with a little plastic shelf that snaps in to support your Watch when it’s charging. It provides just the right angle for Apple Watch’s Nightstand mode, and is a necessary addition for anyone looking for an all-in-one solution.

Bottom line

The Zens Liberty is the best all-around charging option available currently, based on my testing so far. It’s also powered by an included 60w USB-C charger, which comes with two international plug adapters that makes it a great travel brick for other devices, too. That means you can also use standard USB-C power bricks with it, too, rather than requiring some kind of proprietary power adapter.

There are some downsides to keep in mind, however: You should realize that this is a big charger, for instance. That’s good in that it supports multiple devices easily, but it’s also going to take up more space than your average wireless charger. It’s also thick, which allows for the stacked coils and cooling system (this is the only wireless charger I’ve used that has clear and obvious vents, for instance).

That said, the Zens Liberty makes good on the true promise of wireless charging, which is convenience and flexibility. And it’s well-designed and aesthetically attractive, in both the fabric-covered and striking transparent glass designs. Zens is now accepting pre-orders for these, with shipping starting sometime this month; the standard fabric version retails for 139.99 ($155 USD), while the glass edition is €179.99 ($199 USD) and the Apple Watch USB stick sells for €39.99 ($44.50 USD).

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Apple reportedly working on satellite technology for direct wireless iPhone data transmission

Posted by | aerospace, Apple, apple inc, Gadgets, Google, hardware, imessage, iOS, iPhone, iTunes, location services, satellite, skybox imaging, smartphones, TC, technology, telecommunications, wireless networking | No Comments

Apple is said to be working on satellite technology, having hired a number of aerospace engineers to form a team along with satellite and antenna designers, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The report notes that this is an early-stage secret project that could still be scrapped, but that the purpose of the team and its work is to potentially develop communications satellite technology that can send and receive data directly to user devices, including the iPhone, in a bid to make it possible to connect Apple devices without the need of a third-party network.

Bloomberg says that Apple won’t necessarily be building its own satellite hardware — it could instead be developing just the transmission devices or ground-based equipment to make use of data transmissions for orbital communications equipment. The tech could be used for actually delivering data directly to Apple devices, or it could just connect them to each other independent of a cellphone carrier data network. It also could be used to provide more accurate location services for better maps and guidance, the report says.

Apple is said to have hired both executives and engineers from the aerospace and satellite industry, including Skybox Imaging alumni Michael Trela and John Fenwick, who are leading the team. These two formerly headed up Google’s satellite and spacecraft division. New hires include former Aerospace Corporation executive Ashley Moore Williams, as well as key personnel from the wireless networking and content-delivery network industries.

The idea of providing a data network from space direct to devices seems preposterous on its face — most data communications satellites require communication with ground stations that then relay information with end-point devices. But it’s not an unheard-of concept, and in fact we wrote earlier this year about Ubiquitilink (now Lynk), a company that’s focused on building a new kind of low Earth orbit communications satellite constellation that can communicate directly with phones.

Lynk’s initial goals spell out what a supplemental direct satellite communication network could provide on top of regular iPhone carrier service: The startup company hopes to essentially provide global roaming with a connection level that probably isn’t anywhere near as fast as you’d get from a ground-based network, but is usable for communication at least — and not dependent on local infrastructure. It also could act as a redundant fallback that ensures no matter what your main network status, you’ll always be able to do less data-intensive operations, like texting and calling.

While there’s obviously a lot of unknowns remaining in what Apple is working on or what it will eventually amount to, if anything, it’s very interesting to consider the possibility that it could offer a level of always-on connectivity that’s bundled with iPhones and available even when your primary network is not, that offers persistent access to features like iMessage, voice calls and navigation — leaving streaming and other data-intensive applications to your standard carrier rate plan.

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North ending production of current Focals smart glasses to focus on Focals 2.0

Posted by | augmented reality, brooklyn, Clothing, computing, eyewear, focals, Gadgets, glasses, hardware, interface devices, ios devices, iPhone, myo, North, north america, smartglasses, smartphone, smartphones, Stephen Lake, TC, technology, thalmic labs, toronto, Wearables | No Comments

Smart glasses maker North announced today that it will be ending production of its first-generation Focals glasses, which it brought to market for consumers last year. The company says it will instead shift its focus to Focals 2.0, a next-generation version of the product, which it says will ship starting in 2020.

Focals are North’s first product since rebranding the company from Thalmic Labs and pivoting from building smart gesture control hardware to glasses with a built-in heads-up display and smartphone connectivity. CEO and founder Stephen Lake told me in a prior interview that the company realized in developing its Myo gesture control armband that it was actually more pressing to develop the next major shift in computing platform before tackling interface devices for said platforms, hence the switch.

Focals 2.0 will be “at a completely different level” and “the most advanced smart glasses ever made,” Lake said in a press release announcing the new generation device. In terms of how exactly it’ll improve on the original, North isn’t sharing much, but it has said that it has made the 2.0 version both lighter and “sleeker,” and that it’ll offer a much sharper, “10x improved” built-in display.

North began selling its Focals smart glasses via physical showrooms that it opened first in Brooklyn and Toronto. These, in addition to a number of pop-up showroom locations that toured across North America, provided in-person try-ons and fittings for the smart glasses, which must be tailor-fit for individual users in order to properly display content from their supported applications. More recently, North also added a Showroom app for iOS devices, that included custom sizing powered by more recent iPhone front-facing depth sensing camera hardware.

North’s first-generation Focals smart glasses

To date, North hasn’t revealed any sales figures for its initial Focals device, but the company did reduce the price of the glasses form $999 to just under $600 (without prescription) relatively soon after launch. Their cost, combined with the requirement for an in-person fitting prior to purchase (until the introduction of the Showroom app) and certain gaps in the product feature set, like an inability to support iMessage on iOS natively, all point to initial sales being relatively low volume, however.

To North’s credit, Focals are the first smart glasses hardware that manage to have a relatively inconspicuous look. Despite somewhat thicker than average arms on either side where the battery, projection and computing components are housed, Focals resemble thick acrylic plastic frames of the kind popularized by Warby Parker and other standard glasses makers.

With version 2.0, it sounds like Focals will be making even more progress in developing a design that hews closely to standard glasses. One of the issues also cited by some users with the first-generation product was a relatively fuzzy image produced by the built-in projector, which required specific calibration to remain in focus, and it sounds like they’re addressing that, too.

The Focals successor will still have an uphill battle when it comes to achieving mass appeal, however. It’s unlikely that cost will be significantly reduced, though any progress it can make on that front will definitely help. And it still either requires non-glasses wearers to opt for regularly donning specs, or for standard glasses wearers to be within the acceptable prescription range supported by the hardware, and to be willing to spend a bit more for connected glasses features.

The company says the reason it’s ending Focals 1.0 production is to focus on the 2.0 rollout, but it’s not a great sign that there will be a pause in between the two generations in terms of availability. Through its two iterations as a company, Thalmic Labs and now North have not had the best track record in terms of developing hardware that has been a success with potential customers — Focals 2.0, whenever they do arrive, will have a lot to prove in terms of iterating enough to drive significant demand.

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Future iPhones could drop charging ports altogether

Posted by | Apple, hardware, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

Here’s a little early Christmas present for you. Apple analyst extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo is out with his latest Apple opus. Per usual, it’s got a lot of fascinating nuggets, this time projecting as far as 2021 in its look at iPhones to come.

Let’s skip right to that bit, shall we? It seems that 2021 may be the year Apple finally drops the Lightning cable. That would, of course, be good news, given that the port is…how to put this nicely…pretty objectively terrible. Apple, of course, already swapped it out on the iPad Pro for the far-more-ubiquitous-and-generally-better-in-every-way USB C.

What’s even more interesting here, however, is the suggestion that it won’t be USB C there to pick up the pace. 9to5Mac notes that the report suggests a 2021 iPhone would “provide the completely wireless experience.” The implication here being that the charging port drops altogether on the high-end device (like the iPad, it would be more of a gradual sunsetting across the line, starting with the premium model). 

Meizu, notably, tried something similar this year with the very gimmicky (and pricey) Zero. The handset completely dropped ports, speakers and buttons from the equation, as a sort of logical conclusion of broader smartphone trends. For a majority of users, however, I suspect wireless charging is going to have to get some serious speed gains before they’re ready to ditch wired charging altogether.

Interesting tidbits for 2020 include the arrival of several iPhones, arriving in 5.4, 6.1 (x2) and 6.7-inch varieties. All of the above will reportedly sport 5G, with cameras and size being the primary differentiation. The OLED devices will reportedly adopt a similar form factor as the now-ancient iPhone 4, per the report.

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European smartphone shipments grew in Q3, driven by Samsung

Posted by | Apple, canalys, hardware, huawei, iPhone, Mobile, Samsung, Xiaomi | No Comments

Europe bucked global smartphone stagnation in the third quarter, marking an 8% year over year growth in device shipments. That number, provided by Canalys, puts the region at the top of smartphone growth figures, beating out Asia/Pacific’s six percent.

Once again, Samsung was the biggest winner here. The Korean manufacturer saw a healthy 26%, year over year growth. As noted back in Q2, Samsung’s growth comes as the company floods the market with a variety of different devices. Its mid-tier A Series accounted for all four of its top spots during that time period.

Huawei held steady in second place, as the company refocuses on Europe amid US/China trade tensions. Huawei accounted for 22.2 % of units shipped, versus Samsung’s 35.7%. Fellow Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi saw an extremely healthy boost for the quarter, jumping 73 percent for the year, to nab fourth place behind Apple.

While the numbers are positive in the face of larger negative trends, politics are still having a marked impact on figures.

“On the negative side, Brexit has already had an impact,” analyst Ben Stanton said in a release. “In the UK, shipments of premium devices from Samsung and Apple accelerated before each Brexit deadline this year, in March and recently October, followed by a large dip, as distributors were forced to stockpile product and hedge against impending tariff risk. This shot-term artificial boost distorts the market and the accompanying risk, costs and uncertainty, is a drain on the industry.”

Like much of the rest of the world, the European market is looking forward to a 5G rollout to help further juice shipments moving forward.

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Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro battery case sports a new camera button

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, iPhone | No Comments

Apple just released the iPhone 11 Pro’s battery case and it comes with a surprise: a button for the camera. This is a minor, but welcomed, addition to an otherwise standard battery case.

The button is clever. It’s located on the bottom half of the case and is not a soft button that presses something on the phone. This button is exclusive to this case and when pressed, launches the iPhone’s Camera app even if the iPhone is locked. A quick press takes a photo and a longer press takes a QuickTake video.

The $129.00 case is available for both iPhone Pro 11 and iPhone 11 and has other features too. It’s compatible with Qi-certified chargers and works with USB-PD-compatible chargers to pump power into the battery at a faster rate. Apple says when the case is fully charged, it will provide 50% longer battery life.

This is the first time Apple has added a shortcut of sorts to the camera app. On most Android phones, a double press of the power button launches the camera app. It’s handy, and while this button is exclusive to a case, it’s a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping that Apple figures out how to add this button to non-battery cases.

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

Posted by | AirPods, Apple, audio engineering, audio equipment, Bluetooth, electrical engineering, Gadgets, hardware, headphones, iPad, iPhone, Reviews, sound cards, TC, technology, TwelveSouth, usb, USB-C | No Comments

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-canceling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travelers 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 has 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 has been rock solid, with easy pairing and setup, 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 four 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 offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less, at $49.99 each.

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