Apple today launched a public beta version of iOS 15. Adventurous users can test drive the software by signing up at the Apple Beta Software Program web site. Apple announced iOS 15 a month ago. Notifications, FaceTime, Maps, and Siri all get major upgrades in iOS 15, and it introduces SharePlay, Focus Modes, and Live Text. iOS 15 is compatible with the iPhone 6s and newer. Until today, beta versions were officially only available to developers. Making a beta version available to the public is a milestone that typically means the software is more stable and any major bugs have been fixed. However the software is not final; users are still strongly encouraged to make backups before installing, and not use the software on their primary phone. Apple will release a final version of iOS 15 this fall.
Beats has finally launched its first fully in-ear true wireless earbuds: the Beats Studio Buds. These $150 Bluetooth earbuds feature active noise cancelling (ANC) as well as transparency mode to let you hear limited background noise. And even though Apple owns Beats, the Studio Buds are designed to be fully "native" compatible with both Android and Apple devices, including one-touch pairing on Android and a companion Android app. They're are also compatible with the Find My services of both iOS and Android. The buds are rated IPX4 for sweat- and water-resistance. Class 1 Bluetooth offers extended range. Beam-forming mics ensure clear voice calls free of wind and background noise. Each bud houses a proprietary 8.2mm, dual-element diaphragm driver, that's optimized for better ANC performance. The buds also support Spatial Audio / Dolby Atmos when used with Apple Music. Each bud connects directly to the source device, meaning either bud can be used by itself. The buds themselves provide up to 8 hours of listening time, or 5 hours with ANC enabled. The included USB-C charging case boosts total playback time to 24 hours. Beats Studio Buds are available to order today, and come in black, white, and red.
Mophie today announced the Snap+ line of iPhone- and Qi-compatible wireless chargers. They feature magnetic mounting, compatible with Apple's new MagSafe system on iPhone 12. However they also include an adaptor ring that adds the same magnet-mount functionality to any phone with wireless charging using the ubiquitous Qi standard. Available today are the basic snap+ wireless charger, a small disc that can provide up to 7.5W wireless charging to an iPhone, or 15W to other Qi phones. It runs $35. Also available starting today, for $50 each, are a car vent mount model, and the snap+ juice pack mini, a 5,000 mAh battery pack with wireless charging. Also available for $30 is the snap vent mount, which enables magnetic mount to a car vent, without the wireless charging. Later this summer/fall, Mophie will also offer angled stand versions of the desktop charger and battery back. The snap+ wireless stand (shown) is just like the snap+ wireless charger but with an angled stand, for $60. The snap+ powerstation stand will offer a huge 10,000 mAh battery for $70, with a built-in adjustable stand. In addition to wireless charging, it can charge another device via USB-C PD at up to 20W. The new products will be available at mophie.com, as well as AT&T, Best Buy, Staples, and Verizon.
Apple today announced iOS 15, the next version of its core software that powers iPhones. Version 15 is not a major overhaul, but does add a long list of new features. An early beta version is available to developers starting today, with a more-polished public beta coming "next month". The final version will launch in the fall, likely alongside new iPhone models. New features include:
- Revamped FaceTime with SharePlay: FaceTime will now support scheduled calls and web links for Android and Windows users to join calls. New features make it easier to share your screen or streaming media with everyone on a group call.
- Live Text: System-wide recognition of text and objects within images.
- Updated Wallet: Will support digital home keys, driver's licenses, corporate badges, hotel keys, and more.
- Updated Maps: Adds AR mode for walking directions, 3D highway interchanges while driving, and greatly enhanced 3D views in select major cities.
- Focus modes: The new Focus feature will let you create Work, Personal, Sleep, Do Not Disturb, and custom Focus modes. Each mode can have its own notification settings and filters, and even its own home screen with specific apps and widgets. iOS can intelligently suggest personalized settings for each Focus mode, but they can also be customized. The current Focus mode is automatically synced across Apple devices.
- Notifications Summary: Can collapse all "non-time-critical" notifications into a morning summary and an afternoon summary, for example. Messages with contacts are still surfaced as received. iOS prioritizes information in notification summaries using on-device intelligence. Outside of Summaries, notifications will also have a more visual design with large icons.
- On-Device Siri: Siri will now process voice recognition directly on-device by default, instead of sending your voice to the cloud. This change enhances privacy, make Siri much faster, and allows Siri to process certain simple commands without an Internet connection.
A revamped Maps app in iOS 15 will offer a number of new and improved features to better compete with Google Maps. While giving real-time driving directions, the app will now show complex highway interchanges in an accurate 3D view. In certain cities, a new AR mode provides walking directions visually overlaid on your surroundings, similar to a feature Google has offered since 2019. Certain areas will also show enhanced 3D views, including stylized 3D landmarks, illuminated night mode, and accurate elevations. New transit features let you set certain transit lines as favorites, and alert you when approaching your stop. The more advanced city features will be available first in LA, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington DC, and London.
Apple today announced Live Text, a new feature of iOS that provides intelligent text and object recognition for images. In iOS 15, photos (new and existing), screenshots, and images on the wen have a new icon that runs text recognition on that image. All text — including handwritten notes — can easily be copied and pasted to other apps. Text in recognized formats, such as phone numbers, are presented as tappable links. The feature also recognizes certain kinds of objects — including animals, plants, and landmarks — and offers links to more information about that object.
Apple today announced a major expansion of its Wallet app to support many new kinds of keys and cards, getting closer to the goal of fully replacing all of your physical wallet and keys. In addition to the previously-announced digital car key feature, Wallet will now support smart home front door locks, government ID cards — include US state driver's licenses — corporate ID cards, hotel keys, and theme park passes. Hyatt will soon support the feature at over 1,000 hotels. Schlage, Assa Abloy, and HID will support the feature for home and campus access. A number of US states will support digital driver's license in Wallet, and Apple is working with the TSA to accept these digital IDs at US airports. Finally, Walt Disney World will also support access cards in Wallet.
Apple today announced a huge revamp of its FaceTime video-call service, expanding its compatibility to Android phones and PCs via the web, and expanding its features to compete with leading videoconferencing apps like Zoom. Users can now schedule a FaceTime call in advance and invite other people to join with a link, which will work on any web platform, including Android and Windows devices. A grid view facilitates group video calls. Spatial Audio places each user in a 3D audio space, for a more realistic experience. New screen-sharing features let everyone in the group call see whatever is on your screen, with more tailored experiences for video and music. A new SharePlay API lets developers integrate their streaming apps with this new feature. The first apps to support it include Disney+, Hulu, HBOmax, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, NBA, ESPN+, and Paramount+. While watching shared media, a new feature also lets you easily take the conversation to a Messages chat.
Spotify has started rolling out a major update for its Apple Watch app. The new version has the ability to download playlists, albums, or podcasts to the watch itself, allowing them to be played back when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available, or when using your Wi-Fi-only Apple Watch out and about without your phone. The feature requires a Spotify Premium subscription. Downloads are initiated from the phone app, but a new Downloads section of the watch app lets you see what's available for offline listening.
Apple is updating its Apple Music subscription service next month to support both Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio. The Spatial Audio feature supports Dolby Atmos and reproduces sound so it seems to come "from all around and from above". The Lossless Audio uses the proprietary Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) to encode audio with much greater fidelity, including higher bitrates, higher sampling rates, and no compression artifacts. Several quality levels are available, starting at "CD quality", on up to "Hi-Resolution Lossless" offering 24 bits and 192 kHz. Lossless audio will be available for "Apple Music's catalog of more than 75 million songs". Spatial Audio will be available for "thousands of tracks, ... with more added regularly". Both new features will be available at no extra cost starting next month.
Apple has released iOS 14.5, a relatively large update that brings several notable new features to the company's operating system for iPhones. The update brings a new mask-friendly version of Face ID for users with an Apple Watch. Most controversial in industry circles is App Tracking Transparency, which requires apps to get the user's permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising. Many users are expected to opt out of the tracking, which companies like Facebook consider a threat to their business model. The update also includes new Siri voices, new emoji, a revamped Podcasts app, support for AirTags, and more. iPhone users can download and install the free update starting today by going to Settings, then General, then Software Update.
Apple today announced that its Apple TV video streaming device can now leverage the sensors in an iPhone to calibrate video output for your specific television. "Apple TV uses the light sensor in iPhone to compare the color balance to the industry-standard specifications used by cinematographers worldwide." The tuning enables more accurate colors and improved contrast without adjusting television settings.
Apple today announced AirTag, the company's widely-expected competitor to Tile. The small circular device comes with several keychain-style holder options, including an Hermes luxury option. AirTag uses Apple's global Find My network to find lost items, and UWB (available in the iPhone 12 series) to help users home in on an exact location. UWB allows the Find My app to show you the exact direction and distance to a nearby AirTag. The devices can be ordered with custom engraving, including emoji. A single AirTag runs $29, or you can get a four-pack for $99. They ship April 30th, with orders opening this Friday.
Apple today announced a purple color option for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini. It can be pre-ordered starting this Friday, with availability on April 30th. Purple joins the existing white, black, green, red, and blue color options. Color options for the iPhone 12 Pro models remain unchanged.
Apple has officially opened up the technology behind "Find My iPhone" to non-Apple devices. The first devices using the new program ship next week, including bicycles from VanMoof, true wireless earbuds from Belkin, and a keychain-style tracking tag from Chipolo. If lost, these items can be located using Apple's Find My app. The Find My network uses iPhones and other Apple devices worldwide to find items reported missing. When an iPhone (etc.) comes within Bluetooth range of a device reported missing, the approximate location can be reported back to the owner, and the owner can send a command for the missing device to play a sound. The entire process is end-to-end encrypted and anonymous, so no one else, not even Apple or the third-party manufacturer, can view a device’s location or information.
Apple has introduced changes to the voice options of its Siri voice assistant in the newest beta of iOS 14.5. For US English, there are now two additional voices to choose from. Further, the OS no longer defaults to a female voice, instead presenting users with a choice during setup. In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple says "This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in." The new voices take advantage of Apple's Neural speech engine, for more natural-sounding contextual phrasing.
Google and Apple have teamed with VaccineFinder.org — a project of Boston Children's Hospital — to add COVID-19 vaccine location information to both the Google Maps and Apple Maps apps. iPhone users can find nearby vaccination locations from the Search bar in Apple Maps by selecting COVID-19 Vaccines in the Find Nearby menu, or by asking Siri, "Where can I get a COVID vaccination?" On Android, users can search for "vaccines near me" or "covid vaccine (city name)" in Google Maps. The data includes over 20,000 vaccine locations in the US.
Following the launch of Apple's "App Store Small Business Program" a few months ago, Google today followed suit by also halving its app store commission from 30 to 15 percent for smaller developers. Starting July 1, 2021, Google will only take 15% for all digital goods or services sold on the Google Play platform for the first $1 million. Revenues above $1 million for any given developer will continue to see a 30% commission. Apple's program differs in that businesses must apply to a special program to receive the 15% rate, and are only eligible if they earn $1 million or less in annual proceeds. Google's 15% rate applies to the first $1 million in revenue automatically, regardless of company size.
Apple has taken the unusual step of making it easier to switch from an iPhone to Android by launching a new web tool that helps you copy photos and videos stored in iCloud Photos to Google Photos. Available at privacy.apple.com, the service supports photos, videos, and basic albums, including a variety of file formats and "some" RAW files. The service does not support Smart Albums, Live Photos, and certain RAW files. Also unsupported are shared albums, photo stream content, and certain metadata. The process takes three to seven days, and Apple renames albums and videos to start with "Copy of ".
Qualcomm has introduced a new initiative called Snapdragon Sound that aims to improve sound quality, battery life, and latency of Bluetooth earbuds powered by new Qualcomm chips when used with phones that are also powered by new Qualcomm chips. Snapdragon Sound also promises to improve the robustness of the Bluetooth connection and make pairing easier. Snapdragon Sound is a suite of many tweaks and optimizations made at nearly every level of hardware and software, from end to end of the phone+earbuds system. Snapdragon Sound seems to be Qualcomm's answer to the improved Bluetooth performance that Apple has been able achieve with its custom Bluetooth chips in AirPods and iPhones. Qualcomm says Snapdragon sound will offer better sound quality in the form of double the sampling rate compared to Apple for both music (96 kHz instead of 48) and voice calls (32 kHz instead of 16). Qualcomm also claims 45% lower latency compared to Apple. Devices bearing the Snapdragon Sound branding must pass a series of quality, performance, and interoperability tests in a new facility Qualcomm has established in Taiwan. The first Snapdragon Sound devices should hit the market "before summer".
Clipper Card — the universal transit fare card for all 24 San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies — will be supported in Apple Pay and Google Pay digital wallets "this spring". Residents and visitors will be able to add a stored-value Clipper card to their digital wallet and tap their phones to ride transit, replacing a physical Clipper card. The system differs from those in cities (such as New York and Chicago) offering "open" fare payments made directly from a credit or debit card in Google Pay / Apple Pay. Apple has launched a page where people can sign up to be notified when Clipper is available for iPhone and Apple Watch. Separately, Google announced a new feature of Google Maps that lets users buy and present transit fare payments — including Clipper, when available — without leaving the Maps app, as part of turn-by-turn directions that include transit.
A beta version of iOS 14.5 introduces the ability for Face ID to unlock your phone even when wearing a lower-face mask, provided the user is also wearing an Apple watch. Face ID by itself offers reduced security in this new mask mode, but the presence of an authenticated, unlocked Apple Watch provides enough of an extra security signal to compensate. In the beta version currently available, the feature must be enabled manually in Settings. The beta software was first made available to developers on Feb. 1st, then to consumers on Friday, Feb. 5th. Apple has not announced when iOS 14.5 will exit beta testing.
Google and Apple have removed social media app Parler from their respective app stores. Both companies are insisting that Parler implement much stronger moderation of user-submitted content — including posts that encourage illegal behavior or incite violence — if it wants its app listed again. Google stated: "We're aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the U.S. ... In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app's listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues." Parler was created as a "free speech" safe haven for those on the political right that feel censored by more popular social media platforms such as Twitter. Wednesday's deadly storming of the US Capitol Building was planned in public forums and social media, including Parler. Apple initially gave Parler 24 hours to correct the issue, then on Saturday followed through on its threat to remove the app. Parler is facing an even larger threat from Amazon, which says it will remove the service from its AWS hosting platform, a move that will make it difficult for the company to keep the social network online in any form. Parler has pledged to rebuild, a process that its says will take at least one week, during which time the social network will be unavailable.
Apple is taking on its own iconic Beats over-ear headphones with AirPods Max, a new super-premium over-ear headphone set for $549. Features include Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. The design includes a stainless steel headband frame, breathable knit mesh canopy where it touches the top of the head, and acoustically engineered memory foam ear cups. The right side sports a rotating "digital crown" control — similar to that on the Apple Watch —and a button. The AirPods Max are powered by 10-core dual H1 chips offering advanced computational audio features, including Adaptive EQ "to adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time". The 40mm dynamic drivers are custom designed by Apple. The headphones include standard AirPods features such as a simplified setup process with iPhones and sensors so music is automatically paused when an ear cup is lifted or the headphones removed. AirPods Max feature up to 20 hours of battery life, even with Active Noise Cancellation and spatial audio enabled. AirPods Max will run $549 and come in space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink. They're available to order starting today, shipping December 15th.
Both Google and Nvidia today announced that they are bringing their respective cloud-based game-streaming services to Apple's iOS in the form of a Safari web app, following similar announcements from Microsoft and Amazon. Nvidia GeForce Now is available in beta form today. The beta version of Google Stadia for iOS will be available "in the coming weeks". Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming (formerly Project xCloud) will come to iOS next year. Amazon's Luna was the first game-streaming service to launch on iOS as a web app. Apple has made life difficult for game-streaming services by effectively banning each service from offering a native iOS app to access the whole service. Apple's App Store rules require that each game be approved and offered separately, which is generally not how game-streaming services work. Those rules do not apply to web apps that run within the browser, however.
Apple today announced the "App Store Small Business Program", which amounts to a major reduction of the company's controversial 30% commission from app developers. Starting January 1, 2021, businesses earning $1 million or less in annual proceeds can apply for the program and enjoy a reduced commission of 15% on paid apps and in-app purchases, instead of the usual 30%. Apple has faced increased pressure this year to change its rules and lower its commission rates. Epic Games and Spotify have been most vocal, and helped form the Coalition for App Fairness lobbying group. Google also charges a 30% commission for its app store. According to Apple, its App Store ecosystem facilitated $519 billion in commerce worldwide in 2019.
Roku's latest software update for Roku streaming devices includes support for Apple's AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. It will be available in the coming days for Roku TVs, and is available now for most standalone Roku devices.
Apple has revised its pricing for the iPhone 12 and 12 mini for T-Mobile, matching the $30 "instant discount" for AT&T and Verizon that puts the starting price at $799 and $699, respectively. That means iPhone 12 series pricing is now the same for all major US carriers. The iPhone 12 and 12 mini do not come with the instant discount when purchased "SIM-free". That means an effective $30 premium for purchasing an iPhone 12 or 12 mini SIM-free. The iPhone 12 Pro models have consistent pricing across carrier and SIM-free options.
Apple today announced the iPhone 12 series, the company's largest lineup of new iPhones to date. All four new models share same new design with flat metal sides and thinner bezels than previous iPhones. All four also include a bevy of high-end features, including:
- A14 Bionic chip, made with a bleeding-edge 5nm process that offers better performance and efficiency. It has 11.8 billion transistors and offers 50% faster graphics performance and 70% faster machine learning computations.
- 5G, including mmWave in US models.
- Super Retina XDR OLED displays, offering HDR and ~460 ppi sharpness.
- "Ceramic Shield" display glass from Corning that Apple claims is the toughest of any smartphone.
- MagSafe for iPhone, a new magnet system that aligns wireless charging coils, (which have been upgraded to support 15W fast wireless charging,) and supports snap-on magnetic cases and accessories.
- A new 12 megapixel main camera with a 7-element lens and f/1.6 aperture, for 27% better low-light performance.
- Advanced camera app features like Night Mode now work with all cameras, including wide-angle and selfie cameras. Also new is a Night mode Time-lapse feature.
- Water resistance.
- iPhone 12: The same 6.1-inch screen size as the iPhone 11, but upgraded to the same "Super Retina XDR" OLED technology as the Pro models. The new design fits a 6.1-inch display into a body that's lighter and 15% smaller. The secondary camera is a 12 megapixel "ultra wide" camera similar to that on the iPhone 11. Apple is offering five color options: black, white, Product Red, green, and blue. Available October 23rd for $799 with any major US carrier, or $829 unlocked.
- iPhone 12 mini: All the features of the standard iPhone 12 in a smaller body with a 5.4-inch display. Apple claims it's the smallest, thinnest, lightest 5G phone in the world. Available November 13th for $699 with any major US carrier, or $729 unlocked.
- iPhone 12 Pro: Similar in size to the standard iPhone 12 with a 6.1-inch display. As with last year's Pro models, the main step-ups are better materials (stainless steel and milled glass) and the addition of a telephoto camera. New is a LiDAR scanner, which aids low-light focusing and AR features. A new ProRAW photo format combines the best of Apple's Deep Fusion computational photography with the flexibility of a RAW format. It's also the first phone that can record and edit Dolby Vision HDR video at up to 60 fps and 4K resolution. Color options: silver, Deep Graphite, gold, and Pacific Blue. Available October 23rd starting at $999 with 128 GB of storage.
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: Steps up a 6.7-inch display, the largest Apple has put in a phone. The main camera has a 47% larger sensor area and sensor-shift OIS, for 87% better low-light performance. It also upgrades the telephoto lens from 2x to 2.5x, providing 5x optical zoom range across all three rear cameras. Shipping November 13th starting at $1099.
New York State has launched COVID Alert NY, its official app enabling the COVID-19 Exposure Notification system developed by Apple and Google. New York is the largest US state to date to launch an app using the system, and joins ten other states that have already launched similar apps: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming. New York's app supports the national key server that allows Exposure Notifications to work across state lines, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Exposure Notifications is an opt-in system that uses Bluetooth to track which phones come near which other phones, how closely, and for how long. When someone reports that they have tested positive for COVID-19, the service can alert other people that may have come into contact with that person, so they can get tested as well. The service does not track users' locations, and protects privacy by using randomly-generated, frequently-changed ID codes to keep everyone anonymous. The system is more effective the more people participate. New York's app is available now for Android and iOS. Several other states are working on similar apps they plan to launch soon, including California, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, DC. New York's app was developed by NearForm, which also developed Exposure Notification apps for New Jersey, Scotland, and Ireland.
A new alliance of app developers have come together to form the Coalition for App Fairness. The new organization will pressure Apple and Google to change their app-store policies and commission rates to be more favorable to developers. The group includes Epic Games (developers of Fortnite), Spotify, Basecamp, and the developers of Tinder and ProtonMail. The group claims that Apple and Google collect excessive commissions and give unfair advantages to their own products and services. One specific demand is the ability to use third-party payment services for certain transactions. The nonprofit group is registered in Washington, DC and plans to push for legal and regulatory changes governing how the companies operate app stores.
Apple today introduced Apple One, a new bundle of Apple services offering savings of $6 – $25 per month. The basic Individual plan includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage for $15/month. The Family plan ups the iCloud storage to 200 GB and can be shared among up to six family members. It runs $20/month, an $8/month savings compared to subscribing separately. Finally, the Premier plan adds Apple News+ and the new Apple Fitness+, as well as upping the storage to 2 TB. It will run $30/month, a $25/month savings. Apple Fitness+ offers a variety of trainer-led workouts and incorporates real-time data from Apple watch sensors. Apple Fitness+ is also available separately for $10/month or $80/year. A one-month free trial is available, and new Apple Watches now come with a free three-month trial of Fitness+.
Apple today announced a new, more affordable Apple Watch variant: Apple Watch SE. It will start at $279, a full $120 cheaper than the new Apple Watch Series 6, even though it has most of the same features. The cellular version is an even better deal at $329, $170 cheaper than the cellular Series 6. The features sacrificed for cost are the always-on display, blood oxygen sensor, and ECG function. It also uses last year's S5 processor instead of the new S6. However the design, functions, and specs are otherwise identical to the new Watch Series 6. That includes the large Retina display, waterproof aluminum body in two sizes, optical heart sensor, GPS, fall detection, compass, always-on altimeter, noise monitoring, and digital crown with haptic feedback. It's available to order today, and in stores this Friday, September 18th.
Apple has concluded the beta testing period for its latest OSes. The final version of iOS 14 will be available tomorrow, September 16th.
Apple has revealed Apple Watch Series 6, which adds a new blood oxygen saturation sensor. Blood oxygen is an important vital sign that can drop to dangerous levels in those with COVID-19. Apple has started three research studies that use the new sensor, including one focused on COVID-19 and the flu. The other studies are focused on asthma and heart failure. The Watch can measure blood oxygen periodically in the background, or on demand in 15 seconds. Series 6 also uses a new S6 processor, has a display that's 2.5 times brighter in always-on mode, and has an always-on altimeter. Apple also announced new family features designed to make Apple Watch better-suited for kids and seniors. Family Setup lets you use your iPhone to set up someone else's cellular Watch, such as your phone-free kid. It also lets you control the contacts your kid can communicate with, and set up location alerts. A School Time mode restricts functions to help kids focus during school hours. Series 6 is available in new color options, including a blue or red aluminum body. New band options include "Solo Loop", a single fixed band without a clasp, available in nine sizes. Solo Loop is available in a variety of colors, and either solid silicone or a woven design made with silicone yarn. To reduce electronic waste, Series 6 does not come with a USB power adapter. Apple Watch Series 6 is available to order today, and in stores this Friday, September 18th, starting at $399, or $499 with cellular (LTE).
Google and Apple are updating their COVID-19 Exposure Notification system to support US states that have yet to develop their own Exposure Notification app. While the initial release of Exposure Notifications required countries or states to release their own app supporting the system, the new Exposure Notifications Express removes that requirement. States must still opt in to the system, but once they do, most iOS and Android phones in that state will receive a push notification inviting them to opt in to the system. On iOS, opting in will activate the new Exposure Notifications Express feature built in to the just-released iOS 13.7. Android users opting in will be prompted to download an app from Google to enable the feature. As with all variants of Exposure Notifications, privacy is protected since personal-identifying and location data is neither collected nor sent to states. Instead, randomly-generated ID numbers are exchanged with nearby phones via short-range Bluetooth, to keep track of which phones are near which other phones, and for how long. When someone enrolled in the system self-reports that they have tested positive for COVID-19, others enrolled in the system that have been near that person are notified, so they can seek testing. Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. have already announced that they will participate, while six states have already released their own apps to enable Exposure Notifications.
In the ongoing legal drama between Epic Games and Apple over App Store rules and fees, a judge has granted Epic a temporary restraining order preventing Apple from cutting off Epic's access to Apple developer accounts and tools. Apple had tried to cut off Epic completely, which would have put Epic's Unreal Engine for Apple platforms in serious jeopardy. Unreal Engine is the foundation of many popular 3D games, including some that are part of Apple Arcade. Epic also requested an order to keep Fortnite in the App Store, but the court declined.
Epic Games, the maker of popular battle royale game Fortnite, has filed suit against Apple and Google for anti-competitive and monopolistic behavior related to their app store policies. Epic is challenging the companies' monopolies on both app purchases and in-app purchases on their respective mobile platforms, and their 30% cut of such purchases. Instead of monetary damages, Epic is asking the courts to force the companies to change their policies. In apparent preparation for the suit, this morning Epic started offering a discount for players who purchased in-app content directly from Epic, instead of via the standard in-app purchase systems provided on iOS and Android, in violation of Apple and Google's policies. Apple quickly responded by pulling Fortnite from the App Store. Google pulled Fortnite from its Play Store hours later. Epic initially resisted listing Fortnite in Google's Play Store in protest of these policies, before relenting this April. Fortnite can still be installed on Android phones by working around the Play Store, but it can no longer be installed on iOS devices. Existing installations on both platforms still function for now.
Apple has issued a statement explaining that it will not allow cloud-based game streaming apps like Google Stadia and Xbox Cloud Gaming on iOS unless each game available via the platform is individually submitted to Apple for review. That is not generally how game-streaming services work, and may be impractical for the providers of such services. Says Apple: "Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store."
Google today provided an update on the quickly-evolving Exposure Notifications System (ENS) they developed and launched in partnership with Apple to augment pandemic contact tracing efforts. The system now supports interoperability between countries and states, including a "national key server" run by the Association of Public Health Laboratories to allow the system to work across the 20 US states and territories using ENS with their own official public health apps. Also, "Bluetooth calibration values for hundreds of devices have been updated to improve the detection of nearby devices". As always, ENS is completely anonymous, does not track your location, and is opt-in. Google also explained the technical reasons users may be asked to turn on "location services" to use ENS, even though ENS does not us location data and ENS apps are prohibited from collecting location data. At a system level, in Android 10 and earlier, permission for an app to use Bluetooth is linked to "location services" because the app may connect to Bluetooth beacons, which are intended to mark locations. But ENS apps are prohibited from gathering this data. In Android 11, ENS apps will be given an exemption that allows the location services setting to remain off, since those apps cannot collect such data.