iPhone

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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MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

Posted by | airport, amd, Apple, apple inc, computers, computing, Gadgets, hardware, Intel, iPad, iPhone, Laptop, macbook, macbook air, macbook pro, macintosh, new york city, RAM, retina display, Speaker, TC, writer | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance and thermals

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

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

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

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


The i9 model will run $2,799 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

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

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

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

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

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

A bigger display, a thicker body

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

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

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

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

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

Speakers and microphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh right, the keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (yours truly included) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know there has been a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro, or Pro

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

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

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

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Apple Card users can now finance iPhone purchases for 24 months, interest-free

Posted by | Apple, Apple Card, iPhone, Mobile, subscription | No Comments

It’s not quite an “Apple Prime” subscription, but it’s compelling. Apple on Wednesday introduced a new program that will allow Apple Card users to finance their iPhone purchases for 24 months, without paying interest. The program aims to appeal to consumers who frequently upgrade their iPhone to the latest model, but often turn to their carrier to finance those purchases.

With the Goldman Sachs Apple Card, those iPhone users will have another option — and one without the associated interest and fees of a traditional credit card purchase, Apple says. In addition, the Apple Card offers 3% back on purchases from Apple, which further sweetens the deal.

The program helps to lay the groundwork for what some believe may eventually become a larger subscription product for Apple, or a so-called “Apple Prime” — a name that references the Amazon Prime membership program that includes a variety of perks alongside its fast, free shipping.

An Apple hardware subscription could see users instead paying for the privilege of using the latest Apple hardware, while also bundling in other services, like AppleCare, similar to its existing iPhone Upgrade Program today, which similarly offers 0% APR but can charge fees. But a true “Apple Prime” would include other Apple subscriptions under the same roof, like iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+ and/or Apple Arcade, in some sort of bundle deal. 

Already, Apple has begun to experiment with subscription bundles. This week, for example, it announced a bundle for students that includes Apple Music and Apple TV+ for the same price as a student Apple Music subscription alone ($5/mo). And in a sense, Apple is already bundling its new Apple TV+ streaming service with its hardware, as it’s giving the service away for free with a new device purchase in its first year.

Apple has been steadily moving toward a more robust iPhone subscription program for some time.

In recent years, it has promoted iPhone trade-ins as something of a no-brainer for bringing down the cost of a new iPhone purchase. At the company’s iPhone 11 event in September, for example, Apple put up a slide that emphasized the new iPhone 11’s low price, when viewed under this model. Instead of a starting price of $699, the iPhone 11 could be as little as $399 — or $17 per month, Apple said — when you traded in your iPhone 8. The iPhone 11 Pro was $25 per month with an X trade-in, and the Pro Max would be $29 per month with an X trade-in, Apple also said.

These sorts of promotions seem to be working, as more Apple customers are turning to trade-ins than in the past.

“We…continue to see great results from our trade-in program with more than five times the iPhone trade-in volume we had a year ago,” noted Apple CFO Luca Maestri on Apple’s earnings call.

The larger idea is to encourage Apple’s customer base to viewing the iPhone not as a big, expensive one-time purchase, but as just another monthly bill you have to pay. Tack on a few extras, like a warranty and some media and entertainment options, and Apple has the meat for a real iPhone-led subscription — its very own “Apple Prime,” so to speak. And thanks to the Goldman Sachs Apple Card, it has a way to incentive users to buy from Apple directly.

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Google aims to change the definition of good photography with Pixel 4’s software-defined camera

Posted by | Gadgets, Google, google hardware event 2019, hardware, iOS, iPhone, learning, mobile phones, PIXEL, Pixel 2, pixel 3, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Google’s new Pixel 4 camera offers a ton of new tricks to improve its photographic chops, and to emphasize the point, it had Professor Mark Levoy, who leads camera technology development at Google Research, up onstage to talk about the Pixel 4’s many improvements, including its new telephoto lens, updated Super Res Zoom technology and Live HDR+ preview.

Subject, lighting, lens, software

Levoy started by addressing the oft-cited saying among photographers that what’s most important to a good photo is first subject, then lighting and followed after that by your hardware: i.e. your lens and camera body. He said that he and his team believe that there’s a different equation at play now, which replaces that camera body component with something else: software.

Screen Shot 2019 10 15 at 10.59.55 AM

Lens is still important in the equation, he said, and the Pixel 4 represents that with the addition of a telephoto lens to the existing wide-angle hardware lens it offers. Levoy also offered the opinion that a telephoto is more useful generally than a wide angle, clearly a dig at Apple’s addition of an ultra-wide-angle hardware lens to its latest iPhone 11 Pro models.

Google Pixel 4 Camera

In this context, that means Google’s celebrated “computational photography” approach to its Pixel camera tech, which handles a lot of the heavy lifting involved when it takes a photo from a small sensor, which tend to be bad, and turns that into something pretty amazing.

Levoy said that he calls their approach a “software-defined camera,” which most of the time just means capturing multiple photos, and combining data from each in order to produce a better, single, final picture.

Screen Shot 2019 10 15 at 11.07.56 AM

What’s new for Pixel 4

There are four new features for the Pixel 4 phone powered by computational photography, which include Live HDR with dual-exposure controls, which shows you a real-time image of what the final photo will look like with the HDR treatment applied, instead of just giving you a very different-looking final shot. It also bakes in exposure controls that allow you to adjust the highlights and shadows in the image on the fly, which is useful if you want bolder highlights or silhouettes from shadows, for instance.

Also new is “learning-based white balance,” which addresses the tricky issue of getting your white balance correct. Levoy said that Google has been using this approach in white-balancing night-sight photos since the introduction of that feature with Pixel 3, but now it’s bringing it to all photo modes. The result is cooler colors, and particularly in tricky lighting situations when whites tend to be incorrectly exposed as orange or yellow.

The new wide-range portrait mode makes use of info from both the dual-pixel imaging sensors that Pixel 4 uses, as well as the new second lens to derive more depth data and provide an expanded, more accurate portrait mode to separate the subject from the background. It now works on large objects and portraits where the person in focus is standing farther back, and it provides better bokeh shape (the shape of the defocused elements in the background) and better definition of strands of hair and fur, which has always been tricky for software background blur.

Lastly, Night Sight mode gets overall improvements, as well as a new astral photography mode specifically for capturing the night sky and star fields. The astral mode provides great-looking night sky images with exposure times that run multiple minutes, but all with automatic settings and computational algorithms that sort out issues like stars moving during that time.

Still more to come

Google wanted to emphasize the point that this is a camera that can overcome a lot of the problems faced typically by small sensors, and it brought out heavyweight photography legend Annie Lebowitz to do just that. She showed some of the photos she’s been capturing both with Pixel 3 and Pixel 4, and they did indeed look great, although the view from the feed doesn’t say quite as much as would print versions of the final photos.

Levoy also said that they plan to improve the camera over time via software updates, so this is just the start for Pixel 4. Based on what we saw onstage, it definitely looks like a step-up from the already excellent Pixel 3, but we’ll need more time hands-on to see what it does compared to Apple’s much-improved iPhone 11 camera.

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

Posted by | Aira, AirPods, AirPower, Apple, apple inc, energy, Gadgets, hardware, inductive charging, iPhone, Nomad, qi, TC, usb, wireless, wireless chargers | No Comments

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

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

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

The Base Station Pro supports charging speeds of up to 5W each, which is not the max supported by the iPhone or other devices — but according to Aira co-founder Jake Slatnick, that’s not actually much of a limitation at all.

“An interesting detail that we’ve learned through benchmarking is that our 5W output charge time is comparable to other 10W advertised chargers,” Slatnick explained via email. “It turns out, as soon as the phone starts to heat up, the charge speed slows down significantly, usually below 5W. The 7.5W+ chargers seem to only last at those speeds for a few minutes. We think the performance right now is on par with everything else and that it shouldn’t be noticeable to most users.”

The Nomad Base Station Pro supports up to three devices, all at 5W; you could use it to charge say, two iPhones and AirPods with Apple’s wireless charging case all at once.

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

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

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The time is right for Apple to buy Sonos

Posted by | AirPlay, Amazon, amazon alexa, Apple, apple inc, apple music, controller, echo, Gadgets, Google, hardware, HomePod, ios devices, iPhone, siri, smart speakers, Sonos, Spotify, TC, video streaming services, virtual assistant | No Comments

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

Highly aligned

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

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

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

Competitive moves

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

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

alexa echo amazon 9250064

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

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

Missing ingredients/work to be done

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

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

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

Another smart adjacency

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

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

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

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

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Apple’s iOS and iPadOS 13 support multiple PS4 or Xbox One controllers, which could be huge for Arcade

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apple Arcade, apple tv, Bluetooth, Gadgets, Gaming, iOS, iPad, ipad air, iPads, iPhone, Nintendo, tablet computers, TC, Touchscreens, Xbox One | No Comments

Apple’s iOS 13 update (and the newly renamed iPadOS for iPad hardware) both support multiple simultaneous Bluetooth game controller connections. Apple added Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controller support in the updates, and after doing some digging, I can confirm that you can use multiple of either type of controller on one iOS device running the update, with each controlling a different player character.

That’s the good news: The bad news is that not many games take advantage of this right now. I wasn’t able to find a game in Apple’s new Arcade subscription service to try this out, for instance — and even finding a non-Arcade iOS game took a bit of digging. I finally was able to try local multi-controller multiplayer with “Horde,” a free-to-play two-player co-op brawler, and found that it worked exactly as you’d expect.

With Arcade, Apple has done more to re-invigorate the App Store, and gaming on iOS in particular, than it has since the original launch of the iPhone. The all-you-can-game subscription offering, which delivers extremely high-quality gaming experiences without ads or in-app purchases, has already impressed me immensely with the breadth and depth of its launch slate, which includes fantastic titles like “Where Cards Fall,” “Skate,” “Sayonara: Wild Hearts” and “What the Golf,” to name just a few.

Combine the quality and value of the library with cross-play on iOS, iPadOS, Apple TV and eventually Mac devices, and you have a killer combo that’s well-positioned to eat up a lot of the gaming market currently owned by Nintendo’s Switch and other home consoles.

Local multiplayer, especially on iPads, is another potential killer feature here. Already, iPad owners are likely to be using their tablets both at home and on the road, and providing quality local gaming experiences on that big display, with just the added requirement that you pack a couple of PS4 or Xbox controllers in your suitcase or carry-on, opens up a lot of potential value for device owners.

As I said above, there’s not much in the way of games that support this right now, but it’s refreshing to know that the features are there for when game developers want to take advantage.

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Nintendo’s ‘Mario Kart Tour’ is out now for iPhone, iPad and Android

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Gaming, iPad, iPhone, Mario, mario kart, Mobile, Nintendo, super mario kart, TC, video gaming | No Comments

Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo’s latest mobile game, is now available on iOS for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as on Android devices. The game, like Nintendo’s other mobile releases, is free to play, with in-app purchases (in-game currency called “rubies”) that you use for upgrades and unlocks.

Players immediately unlock one rider and get a tutorial to start, which introduces them to the Mario Kart Tour driving mechanics, which are slightly different than the ones you’re probably used to if you’ve played Mario Kart games for Nintendo’s various consoles. Specifically, your kart will always be moving forward, so there’s no acceleration to press; instead, you slide your finger side to side on the screen to steer left and right, with a tap firing off any items or weapons you might pick up.

High scores earn you points that can be redeemed for in-game unlocks, and the game also features other new mechanics, like “frenzy mode,” which gives you a timed period of unlimited item use whenever you pick up three of the same. Special challenges are also new in this mobile iteration, which introduce new ways to win instead of just placing first in a race with other kart drivers. Mario Kart Tour also features online ranking with other mobile players worldwide.

The “Tour” component of the game is also a new twist: Nintendo is mixing courses inspired by real-world cities in with levels that are taken from classic Mario Kart games, and these will be cycling every two weeks for a fresh global tour on a regular basis. In-game characters will also get costume variants that are inspired by these globe-trotting destinations.

Based on Nintendo’s track record, Mario Kart Tour should be perfectly playable without any in-game purchases, but players may feel that they hit a progression wall pretty quickly without picking up some currency. It’ll be interesting to see how this one fares, given that Apple has just introduced its own Arcade subscription service focused on games that eschew in-app purchase mechanics — including cart racer Sonic Racing, which looks very much like it was once intended to offer similar in-app mechanics before Arcade came along.

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Amazon might reveal fitness-tracking Alexa wireless earbuds, Echo with better sound this week

Posted by | AirPods, Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Android, Apple, apple inc, Assistant, Berkshire Hathaway, CNBC, Companies, fitbit, Gadgets, hardware, hearables, industries, iPhone, Samsung, Seattle, TC, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Amazon is building wireless earbuds that offer Alexa voice assistant access, and fitness tracking for use during activities, according to a new report from CNBC. These earbuds, combined with a new, larger Echo designed to provide more premium sound, could feature into Amazon’s hardware event taking place this Wednesday in Seattle, though the outlet is unclear on the release timeline for this gear based on its source.

These earbuds would be a major new product for Amazon, and would be the company’s first foray into personal health and fitness devices. While Amazon has either built or bought products in a wide range of connected gadget categories, including smart home and smart speakers in particular, so far it hasn’t seemed all that aggressive in personal health, even as Apple, Samsung and others have invested heavily in these areas.

CNBC’s report says that these new Alexa buds will have an accelerometer on board for measuring motion, and will be able to also provide distance tracking, calories burned and pace – in other words, all the things that you’d expect to track with a fitness wearable like the Apple Watch or a Fitbit.

Leaving aside their fitness features, earbuds would provide Amazon a way to deliver a more portable Alexa for people to take with them outside of the house. The company has partnered with other headphone makers on similar third-party Alexa integrations, and they’ve also experimented with bringing Alexa to the car, for instance, but it’s largely still a home-based assistant, successful as its been.

Helping the appeal of these reported new products, the buds are said to be retailing for under $100, which will put them at a big price advantage when compared to similar offerings from either dedicated audio companies and headphone makes, and to potential rivals like Apple’s AirPods. Though the report indicates that they’ll still rely on being connected to an iPhone or Android device for connectivity, as they won’t have their own data connection.

Amazon is also readying a bigger echo that has a built-in woofer and overall better sound than its existing lineup, according to CNBC . That mirrors a report from July from Bloomberg that also said Amazon was readying a high-end echo, with a planned launch for next year.

Some or all of these new hardware devices could make their debut at Wednesday’s event, but it seems likely a lot of what we’ll see will be a surprise.

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iPhone 11 Pro teardown reveals smaller logic board, larger battery

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, hardware, iPhone, iphone 11, iPhone 11 Pro | No Comments

iFixit has disassembled Apple’s new iPhone models, which tells us more about the differences with last year’s phones. iFixit shot a live-stream video of the iPhone 11 Pro teardown and wrote a guide for the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

The first major difference is that the batteries in the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are much larger than the batteries in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

On the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the device is .4 mm thicker and the screen is .25 mm thinner. As John Gruber expected, dropping 3D Touch from the iPhone lineup makes the screen slightly slimmer. 3D Touch required an additional layer under the display to register pressure on the screen.

That might feel like a tiny difference, but it frees up some space for the battery. The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone XS have the same single-cell L-shaped design. But the Max version has been updated to use the came single-cell design instead of two cells.

The result is that the iPhone 11 Pro Max now has a 3,969 mAh battery compared to a 3,179 mAh battery in the iPhone XS Max. It represents a nearly 25% year-over-year improvement for the Max battery.

Those hardware refinements combined with a more efficient A13 system-on-a-chip create some significant battery life improvements for the user. Apple claims that the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max last up to 4 hours and 5 hours longer respectively compared to the previous generation.

iphone 11 livestream featured 1350x900

(Photo credit: iFixit)

In other news, the camera module is much bigger in this year’s new device (as expected). Apple managed to put a third camera by reducing the size of the logic board.

The logic board has the same dual-layer design that was first introduced with the iPhone X. It’s like a club sandwich of chips. Even though Apple and Qualcomm has settled its multi-billion-dollar lawsuits, the modem in the iPhones 11 Pro is still manufactured by Intel.

When it comes to things that we don’t know yet, iFixit couldn’t figure out how much RAM there is — Steve Troughton-Smith believes there might be 2GB of RAM dedicated to the camera that you wouldn’t notice on benchmarks.

Similarly, there are now two battery connectors instead of one. It’s hard to say for sure that the second connector has been added for bilateral wireless charging — it could be there for many different reasons. Rumor has it that Apple wanted to add reverse wireless charging but canned the feature at the last minute.

Overall, iFixit gives a repairability score of 6 out 10. The iPhone XS models also got a 6 out of 10 rating.

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