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Next Apple Watch could include new ceramic and titanium models

Next Apple Watch could include new ceramic and titanium models

August 17, 2019

Apple’s next Apple Watch revision could include new materials for the case, including titanium and ceramic. That’s according to new assets pulled form the latest watchOS beta release, as uncovered by Brazilian site iHelp.br (via 9to5Mac). The new screens discovered in the beta show graphics used to pair the Apple Watch during setup, and list “Titanium Case” and “Ceramic Case” alongside model size identification info.

Apple has previously offered a ceramic Apple Watch, alongside its Series 2 and Series 3 models, with a premium price and white and black case options. The company hasn’t previously used titanium, but the lightweight, durable metal is popular among traditional watchmakers because it can really significantly reduce the heft of a watch case, while still providing a premium look and feel.

Last year’s Apple Watch Series 4 was the first significant change in body design for the wearable since its introduction in 2015, so it seems unlikely that Apple will change that this year again. The new physical design includes larger case sizes (40mm and 44mm, respectively, vs. 38mm and 42mm for previous generations), a thinner profile and a display with rounded corners and slimmer bezels.

Offering new materials is a way for Apple to deliver new hardware that is observably new on the outside, in addition to whatever processor and component improvements they make on the inside. Apple will likely also offer these alongside their stainless steel and aluminum models, should they actually be released this fall, and would probably charge a premium for these material options, too.

The Series 4 Apple Watch proved a serious improvement in terms of performance, and added features like the onboard ECG. Splashy new looks likely won’t be the extent of what Apple has planned for Series 5, however, especially since the company is revamping watchOS …

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Apple brings contactless student IDs to a dozen more universities

Apple brings contactless student IDs to a dozen more universities

August 13, 2019

Ahead of the upcoming school year, Apple this morning announced it’s bringing contactless student IDs in Apple Wallet to several more U.S. universities. The expansion will allow more than 100,000 additional college students to carry their student ID on their iPhone or Apple Watch, where it can be used for a variety of tasks, including paying for their meals and snacks and entry into buildings, like the student’s dorm and other campus facilities.

The expanded list of universities includes: Clemson University, Georgetown University, University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky, University of San Francisco, University of Vermont, Arkansas State University, South Dakota State University, Norfolk State University, Louisburg College, University of North Alabama and Chowan University.

These join the previously supported schools: Duke University, University of Oklahoma, University of Alabama, Temple University, Johns Hopkins University, Marshall University and Mercer University.

Apple first announced its plans for contactless student IDs at WWDC 2018, then rolled out to its debut schools last October.

The contactless IDs not only serve as a means of student identification, but also work as a payment mechanism for on-campus transactions — like meals at the cafeteria or textbooks and supplies at the college’s bookstore, for example. Contactless entry into buildings is also now common on college campuses, and these digital IDs can work to open doors, too, as an alternative to swiping an entry card.

Apple brings student IDs to iPhone and Apple Watch university of san francisco student ID screen 081319

Support for college student IDs is only one way that Apple is trying to replace the physical wallet. The company also supports the ability to add your debit and credit cards, transit and loyalty cards, tickets and even paper money through Apple Pay Cash. And now it’s launching its own credit card, too, which rewards you with cashback for shopping Apple and using Apple Pay.

“We’re happy to add to the growing …

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Week in Review: Netflix’s big problem and Apple’s thinnest product yet

Week in Review: Netflix’s big problem and Apple’s thinnest product yet

August 11, 2019

Hey. 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 Capital One breach and how Equifax taught us that irresponsible actions only affect companies in the PR department.


Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The big story

Disney is going to eat Netflix’s lunch.

The content giant announced this week that when Disney+ launches, it will be shipping a $12.99 bundle that brings its Disney+ streaming service, ESPN+ and ad-supported Hulu together into a single-pay package. That price brings those three services together for the same cost as Netflix and is $5 cheaper that what you would spend on each of the services individually.

This announcement from Disney comes after Netflix stuttered in its most recent earnings, missing big on its subscriber add while actually losing subscribers in the U.S.

Netflix isn’t the aggregator it once was; its library is consistently shifting, with original series taking the dominant position. As much as Netflix is spending on content, there’s simply no way that it can operate on the same plane as Disney, which has been making massive content buys and is circling around to snap up the market by acquiring its way into consumers’ homes.

Disney has slowly amassed control of Hulu through buying out various stakeholders, but now that it shifts the platform’s weight, it’s pretty clear that it will use it as a selling point for its time-honed in-house content, which it is still expanding.

The streaming wars have been raging for years, but as the services seem to …

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Amazon’s lead EU data regulator is asking questions about Alexa privacy

Amazon’s lead EU data regulator is asking questions about Alexa privacy

August 9, 2019

Amazon’s lead data regulator in Europe, Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection, has raised privacy concerns about its use of manual human reviews of Alexa AI voice assistant recordings.

A spokesman for the regulator confirmed in an email to TechCrunch it is discussing the matter with Amazon, adding: “At this stage, we cannot comment further about this case as we are bound by the obligation of professional secrecy.” The development was reported earlier by Reuters.

We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment.

Amazon’s Alexa voice AI, which is embedded in a wide array of hardware — from the company’s own brand Echo smart speaker line to an assortment of third-party devices (such as this talkative refrigerator or this oddball table lamp) — listens pervasively for a trigger word which activates a recording function, enabling it to stream audio data to the cloud for processing and storage.

However, trigger-word activated voice AIs have been shown to be prone to accidental activation. A device may be being used in a multi-person household, so there’s always a risk of these devices recording any audio in their vicinity, not just intentional voice queries…

In a nutshell, the AI’s inability to distinguish between intentional interactions and stuff they overhear means they are natively prone to eavesdropping — hence the major privacy concerns.

These concerns have been dialed up by recent revelations that tech giants — including Amazon, Apple and Google — use human workers to manually review a proportion of audio snippets captured by their voice AIs, typically for quality purposes — such as to try to improve the performance of voice recognition across different accents or environments. But that means actual humans are listening to what might be highly sensitive personal …

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Daily Crunch: Apple responds to Siri privacy concerns

Apple is under formal antitrust probe in Russia

August 8, 2019

Make way for another antitrust investigation into big tech. Step forward Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), which has opened an official probe of Apple — following a complaint lodged in March by security company Kaspersky Labs.

Kaspersky’s complaint to FAS followed a change in Apple’s policy towards a parental control app it offers, called Kaspersky Safe Kids. Discussing the complaint in a blog post the security firm says Apple contacted it in 2017 to inform it that the use of configuration profiles is against App Store policy, even though the app had been on Apple’s store for nearly three years without it raising any objections. 

Apple told Kaspersky to remove configuration profiles from the app — which it says would require it to remove two key features that makes it useful to parents: Namely, app control and Safari browser blocking.

It also points out that the timing of Apple’s objection followed Apple announcing its Screen Time feature, in iOS 12 — which allows iOS users to monitor the amount of time they spend using certain apps or on certain websites and set time restrictions. Kaspersky argues Screen Time is “essentially Apple’s own app for parental control” — hence raising concerns about the potential for Apple to exert unfair market power over the store it also operates by restricting competition.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the FAS investigation. The company referred Reuters to a statement it made in April about its policy towards parental control apps, following other complaints.

In the statement Apple says it removed several such apps from the App Store because they “put users’ privacy and security at risk” — calling out the use of what it described as “a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management” (MDM).

But Kaspersky claims its app does not, …

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Tech stocks walloped as China retaliates in the latest salvo of its trade war with the US

Tech stocks walloped as China retaliates in the latest salvo of its trade war with the US 5 (1)

August 5, 2019

All U.S. stock markets were down severely today, and tech stocks were hit especially hard, as China retaliated to increasing U.S. tariffs by halting imports on U.S. agricultural goods and finally acceded to market pressures by letting the yuan slide in value against the dollar.

At one point, the Dow was down nearly 900 points before staging a late afternoon rally to close off by roughly 760 points. The Nasdaq, the marketplace which is home to a number of technology stocks, saw its value drop by 3.4%, or 277.10 points.

Shares of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Twitter were all down for the day. Indeed, as CNBC reported, the biggest tech stocks — Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet — lost a combined $162 billion in market value.

Declines came as China allowed its currency to fall below what was once considered to be a red-line in the country’s currency peg against the dollar. That means that Chinese goods start to look more attractive globally as their prices decline in relation to the dollar. It could also trigger a wave of currency devaluations and protectionist measures across the globe — further putting downward pressure on global economic growth.

Stocks also continued to feel the pinch from the threat that President Donald Trump would make good on his threat to impose new tariffs on goods from China beginning September 1, 2019. Those tariffs are expected to take a bite out of every-day consumer goods and clothing, which adversely affects tech companies.

The big concern for these tech companies is the looming threat of that tariff expansion from the U.S. If those tariffs go into effect it would have significant consequences in these companies’ home market. 

“Assuming smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and computer systems …

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Apple suspends Siri response grading in response to privacy concerns

Apple suspends Siri response grading in response to privacy concerns

August 2, 2019

In response to concerns raised by a Guardian story last week over how recordings of Siri queries are used for quality control, Apple is suspending the program world wide. Apple says it will review the process that it uses, called grading, to determine whether Siri is hearing queries correctly, or being invoked by mistake.

In addition, it will be issuing a software update in the future that will let Siri users choose whether they participate in the grading process or not. 

The Guardian story from Alex Hern quoted extensively from a contractor at a firm hired by Apple to perform part of a Siri quality control process it calls grading. This takes snippets of audio, which are not connected to names or IDs of individuals, and has contractors listen to them to judge whether Siri is accurately hearing them — and whether Siri may have been invoked by mistake.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy,” Apple said in a statement to TechCrunch. “While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

The contractor claimed that the audio snippets could contain personal information, audio of people having sex and other details like finances that could be identifiable, regardless of the process Apple uses to anonymize the records. 

They also questioned how clear it was to users that their raw audio snippets may be sent to contractors to evaluate in order to help make Siri work better. When this story broke, I dipped into Apple’s terms of service myself and, though there are mentions of quality control for Siri and data being shared, I found that it did fall short of explicitly and

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Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo

Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo

July 28, 2019

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 how services like Instagram had moved beyond letting their algorithms take over the curation process as they tested minimizing key user metrics such as “like” counts on the platform.


John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The big story

The big news stories this week intimately involved the government poking its head into the tech industry. What was clear between the two biggest stories, the DoJ approving the Sprint/T -Mobile merger and the FTC giving Facebook a $5 billion slap on the wrist, is that big tech has little to worry about its inertia being contained.

It seems the argument from Spring and T-Mobile that it was better to have three big telecom companies in the U.S. rather than two contenders and two pretenders, seems to have stuck. Similarly, Facebook seems to have done a worthy job of indicating that it will handle the complicated privacy stuff but that they’ll let the government orgs see what they’re up to.

Fundamentally, none of these orgs seem to want to harm the growth of these American tech companies and I have a tough time believing that perspective is going to magically get more toothy in some of these early antitrust investigations. The government might be making a more concerted effort to understand how these businesses are structured, but even focusing solely on something like the cloud businesses of Microsoft, Google and Amazon, I have little doubt that the government is going to spend an awfully long time in …

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

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

July 11, 2019

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 that 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 …

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

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

July 4, 2019

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 …

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