Category: Links

Jason Snell on Apple TV+

Jason Snell:

In the regular phone call with Wall Street analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook tried very hard to get investors excited about Apple’s opportunities to make lots of money while not making it seem like Apple’s lost its soul in the process.

[…]

The analysts wanted to understand why Apple, after spending billions of dollars on developing a bunch of new premium television content, was going to give it away to purchasers of Apple hardware for a year.

[…]

Yeah, it’s it’s a gift to our users, and from a business point of view, we’re really proud of the content, we’d like as many people as possible to to view it. And so this allows us to focus on maximizing subscribers, particularly in the early going.

Read Jason’s entire article, it’s great.

Google buys Fitbit for $2.1 billion

The Verge:

Google has just announced that it’s buying wearable company Fitbit for $2.1 billion. In a blog post announcing the news, Google SVP of devices and services Rick Osterloh said that the Fitbit purchase is “an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market.”

The news comes just days after a report from Reuters, which claimed that Google was in talks to buy the popular fitness tracker company.

Under the deal, Fitbit will be joining Google itself. (It’s similar to the current situation with Nest, which is wholly under Google now, compared to when Alphabet had originally acquired the smart home company but left it as a separate division under the corporate structure.)

According to a separate press release issued by Fitbit, the company will still take privacy for health and fitness data seriously, noting that “Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads.”

The acquisition makes a lot of sense: Google has spent years trying (and largely failing) to break into the wearables market with its Wear OS platform, but it’s struggled to make a real impact.

Fitbit’s hardware chops have always been great, giving Google a much stronger foundation to build on for future Android-integrated wearables devices. And the company’s strong focus on fitness tracking could naturally be integrated into Google’s existing Google Fit apps, too, offering Google a solid alternative to the Apple Watch’s deep fitness tracking integration with the iPhone.

On the flip side, Google’s software skills and wide developer support could help Fitbit’s smartwatches like the Versa get a little smarter, alongside the deeper software integration with Android that a closer relationship could offer.

John Gruber on the AirPods Pro

John Gruber:

Wearing noise-canceling earbuds on the subway and walking through the city is going to take some getting used to. It’s so good you really do lose sense of your surrounding aural environment.

[…]

The “Transparency” mode is interesting and a little mind-bending. It really does make it possible to conduct a conversation while still enjoying the benefits of noise cancellation.

[…]

Transparency lets you hear parts of the world around you. One obvious use case for this: jogging or running and maybe just plain walking on streets where you want to hear the sounds of traffic.

[…]

The force sensor — the flat section on the earbuds stem that faces forward when in your ear — is effectively a button. But it’s not a button. It doesn’t actually move, and it doesn’t provide haptic feedback. But it acts like a button and — most importantly — sounds like a button. When you press it, the AirPod Pro plays a click.

Foxconn finally admits its empty Wisconsin ‘innovation centers’ aren’t being developed

Nick Statt, for The Verge:

Electronics manufacturer Foxconn’s promised Wisconsin “innovation centers,” which are to employ hundreds of people in the state if they ever get built, are officially on hold after spending months empty and unused, as the company focuses on meeting revised deadlines on the LCD factory it promised would now open by next year. The news, reported earlier today by Wisconsin Public Radio, is another inexplicable twist in the nearly two-year train wreck that is Foxconn’s US manufacturing plans.

The company originally promised five so-called innovation centers throughout the state would that employ as many as 100 to 200 people each in high-skilled jobs, with the Milwaukee center promising as many as 500. Those jobs were to complement the more than 13,000 jobs Foxconn said its initial Wisconsin electronics manufacturing factory would bring to the US, in exchange for billions in tax breaks and incentives that Governor Scott Walker granted the company back in 2017.

Yet after purchasing a building in Milwaukee and announcing plans to build the centers in other Wisconsin cities, Foxconn has done virtually nothing with the plans. In April, The Verge reported that the buildings Foxconn had purchased were empty, a report that the company disputed without providing any specific corrections or evidence to the contrary — and the company still hasn’t provided any 194 days later. 

According to WPR, Foxconn has installed an HVAC system in one of two buildings it said it would purchase in Eau Claire, but no additional work has been completed. “That’s been about the extent of it, it’s pretty minimal,” Aaron White, Eau Claire’s economic development manager, told WPR. “We did get a visit from four Foxconn staffers and they reinforced their intent to move forward, but they gave no indication of a timeline.” 

In Racine, another planned innovation center destination, there does not appear to have been any work done whatsoever. “Foxconn is focusing on the (Mount) Pleasant campus,” Shannon Powell, a spokesman for Racine Mayor Cory Mason, told WPR. “Should an innovation center in the city get up and running there would certainly be a grand opening event.”

This isn’t really much of a surprise.

A month on, Apple Arcade is too cheap to quit

Engadget:

It’s been almost exactly a month since Apple Arcade launched. That means that a lot of free trials are about to expire, and it’s time to decide: Is it actually worth your $5 a month? Like you, a number of Engadget editors have been testing out Arcade’s various games in our spare time and, for us, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The subscription gaming service has won us over in a very short time, including those that were initially on the fence.

We all have our own reasons, whether it’s seeing Arcade as a potential solution to skeezy free-to-play mechanics, a tool to play titles across various devices or just a way to play some good games without paying a lot. Join four of us as we dig in a little deeper, and highlight some of our favorite games from the service along the way.

Is Phone-based VR officially over?

Adi Robertson, for The Verge:Mobile virtual reality headsets helped millions of people try out VR, but as of yesterday, they’re all but officially a thing of the past. Oculus CTO John Carmack offered a “eulogy” last month for the phone-powered Gear VR mobile headset, saying that the headset’s days were numbered. And Google just revealed that it’s discontinuing the similar Daydream View mobile headset, in addition to omitting Daydream support from the new Pixel 4 phone. The app will still work on older phones, but Google has now given up on a platform it once portrayed as an integral part of Android.

Daydream was announced in 2016, following up on Google’s simpler phone-powered Cardboard headset. At that point, Google projected having “hundreds of millions of users” on Daydream-compatible phones within a couple of years. In 2019, though, not a single current-generation phone supports it. There simply “hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset,” a spokesperson told The Verge.

The reasons aren’t surprising. Cardboard had made simple VR accessible. The New York Times shipped a million headsets to its subscribers for free. But it was a super cheap, disposable product meant for enjoying short experiences. Making the leap to a consumer headset proved difficult. “We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR — being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution,” said the spokesperson.

Google says that people didn’t like losing access to their phones since Daydream effectively required launching into a separate app ecosystem. That wasn’t the only problem with phone-based VR. Carmack noted that immersive 3D apps drained precious battery, and the Gear VR, in particular, was annoying to set up. “Far and away I think the biggest issue was just the friction of getting into it,” said Carmack.

[..]

Phone-based VR also couldn’t deliver the same intense physical experiences as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or PlayStation VR. As developers began learning what really worked in VR, the gap became increasingly obvious. Mobile headsets were great for playing virtual reality videos, but VR video was hard to make and monetize, and early cinematic VR companies like Jaunt and Within slowly switched their focus to augmented reality instead. Google acquired several well-known VR apps, including the beloved painting tool Tilt Brush, but most required high-end headsets.

Meanwhile, self-contained headsets got cheaper and more sophisticated, adding hand controllers and inside-out tracking. Oculus filled the Gear VR’s old spot with the Oculus Go mobile headset, and it’s now nudging users toward the Oculus Quest, a more expensive but also far more capable device. When you can pay $200 for the standalone Oculus Go or even $400 for the Quest, a $100 plastic shell doesn’t seem like such a good deal.

Google hasn’t really tried to catch the wave of standalone VR. It initially partnered with HTC and Lenovo on two self-contained Daydream headsets, but HTC backed out of the deal and Lenovo’s Mirage Solo was effectively a development kit. Before this year’s I/O conference, Google virtual and augmented reality head Clay Bavor said the team was in “deep R&D” for VR hardware, “building the Lego bricks that we’re going to need in order to snap together and make some really compelling experiences.” A Google spokesperson also emphasized the company’s work on AR features for mobile search and Maps.

I’ve been there with the original Oculus, the Gear VR, the Daydream, PSVR, the Oculus Go and now the Oculus Quest and the Quest is my favourite far above any other VR headset. I can see where the phone VR is dying.

Apple Revokes Panic’s Developer License

John Moltz for Crazy Apple Rumours Site:

Apple has quietly revoked the developer license of long-time Mac and iOS software maker Panic, known for award-winning applications such as Transmit and widely praised games like Firewatch.
Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser said “We are attempting to contact Apple for more information. For the time being, customers can still install our apps on the Mac by allowing them to be installed as unsigned. We apologize for any inconvenience and we hope to have this situation, which we assume to be a misunderstanding, sorted out soon.”

Sources within Apple, however, indicate Panic may have a larger problem than it realizes. Crazy Apple Rumors Site has learned that the company’s license was pulled at the behest of none other than the Chinese government. China has recently flexed its muscle with U.S. firms — from the NBA to other software developers — and apparently objects to one recent Panic app in particular.

“Untitled Goose Game represents a clear and present threat to Chinese sovereignty,” said Yang Cheung, a spokesperson for the Chinese government.

Gesturing to a video of Untitled Goose Game gameplay, Cheung explained. “The goose is a lawless force of rampant anti-nationalism. It encourages violence against the state and disrespects authority.”

[…]

“He even steals the bell, which is used to ring out the victory of the people over the enemies of the state. Assuming you can figure out how to get into the model town area, which I found to be unnecessarily difficult.”

“Also, we don’t like the name ‘Panic’. It seems intended to cause unrest within the citizenry.”
Apple has so far declined to comment on the license revocation, but it did pull at its collar with one finger and grimace uncomfortably.

via GIPHY

Blizzard Sets Off Backlash for Penalizing Hearthstone Gamer in Hong Kong

Daniel Victor, writing for the New York Times:

Activision Blizzard became the latest American company to find itself caught between its business interests in China and the values of its core customers after it suspended an e-sports player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests during a live broadcast.

The decision to suspend Chung Ng Wai, a professional Hearthstone player in Hong Kong, for a year, while forcing him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money, prompted a backlash in the United States similar to the public relations debacle the N.B.A. has faced this week. Gamers posted angrily on social media and in forums, while politicians saw it as another troubling sign of China’s chilling clampdown on speech worldwide.

“Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in China must either self censor or face dismissal and suspensions,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter. “China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, concurred, saying on Twitter that Activision Blizzard showed “it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party.”

Taiwan flag emoji disappears from latest Apple iPhone keyboard

Kris Cheng, writing for the Hong Kong Free Press:

The Republic of China flag emoji has disappeared from Apple iPhone’s keyboard for Hong Kong and Macau users. The change happened for users who updated their phones to the latest operating system.

Updating iPhones to iOS 13.1.1 or above caused the flag emoji to disappear from the emoji keyboard. The flag, commonly used by users to denote Taiwan, can still be displayed by typing “Taiwan” in English, and choosing the flag in prediction candidates.

How the heart became the centre of the Apple Watch

David Phelan, for The Independent:

Earlier this year, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook commented on the importance of health to the company. In a statement that has been widely quoted, he said, “I believe, if you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’, it will be about health.”
Although he only said it some months ago, it’s been a direction the company has been taking for years.

I’m meeting Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, along with Kevin Lynch, Vice President of Technology and Sumbul Desai, the company’s Vice President of Health.

The Apple Heart Study, conducted recently in conjunction with Stanford, was the largest study of its type. It examined atrial fibrillation in order to provide validation for the irregular rhythm notification, a feature available on most models of Apple Watch.