Apple just had the biggest holiday quarter in its history

A blue smartphone with two cameras.

Enlarge / The back of the iPhone 13. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Neither a global pandemic nor a supply chain crunch can stop Apple, based on the company’s Q1 2022 earnings report. Released today, the report showed Apple smashing many of its sales records once again, with $123.9 billion in overall revenue and $34.6 billion in profit.

A lot of that money was driven by the iPhone 13, as this was the first full quarter since that product line’s launch. When we reviewed the iPhone 13 lineup, we wrote that it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with flashy new features, but it does give the people what they say they want: better cameras and more battery life.

Cameras and battery life seemed to resonate with buyers. iPhone revenue for the quarter was $71.63 billion, up 9 percent year-over-year. Also, Apple achieved a new record for smartphone market share in the critical China market: 23 percent. That made the company the top-selling smartphone brand in the country for the first time in years.

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Apple’s third-generation AirPods arrive next week with a new design, spatial audio

The third-generation Apple AirPods.

Enlarge / The third-generation Apple AirPods. (credit: Apple)

Today, Apple announced an update to its popular AirPods true wireless earbuds. The new third-generation model features a slightly revamped design that veers closer to the higher-end AirPods Pro, with shorter stems and a similar touch-based “force sensor” control scheme built-in. Their charging case takes after the shorter and wider design of the Pro model as well.

The new AirPods retain their usual hard plastic finish and do not have in-ear tips like the AirPods Pro, though Apple says they are now officially IPX4-rated for sweat and water resistance. Apple says the battery life of the earbuds will be six hours and up to 30 hours when including the charging case. (That’s compared to five and 24 hours, respectively, on the second-gen model.) They support MagSafe and wireless charging, though they do not feature active noise cancellation or a transparency mode like their pricier siblings.

Though the second-gen AirPods were more renowned for their ease of use than their audio quality, Apple says it has updated this latest pair with a redesigned driver and an adaptive EQ feature that automatically tunes your music based on the AirPods’ fit in your ear. The earbuds will also use Apple’s spatial audio tech, which makes audio sound like it is coming from around the user’s head. To help with that, the new AirPods support dynamic head tracking like the AirPods Pro and the over-ear AirPods Max. We’ll have to get our hands on the new model to see how they perform.

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#airpods, #apple, #tech, #wireless-headphones

Firmware update brings new Conversation Boost feature to AirPods Pro

Wireless white earbuds on a marble surface.

Enlarge / Apple’s AirPods Pro. (credit: Jeff Dunn / Ars Technica)

On Wednesday, Apple began updating all AirPods models (AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max) to firmware 4A400. While the normal, non-Pro, non-Max AirPods don’t appear to have gotten much from this update, AirPods Pro and AirPods Max received new “Find My” features, and AirPods Pro now support a feature called “Conversation Boost.”

In the previous firmware, it was possible to ping your AirPods with Find My to locate them among couch cushions or to see where your AirPods were when they were last synced with your iPhone.

But now, AirPods Pro and Max can also use the same Find My network of hundreds of millions of iOS devices that are used to locate lost AirTags. If you lose your headphones, other people’s iOS devices may find them nearby and update your Find My app with their location. (The owner of the other iOS device has no visibility into this process.)

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#airpods, #airpods-max, #airpods-pro, #apple, #find-my, #firmware, #tech

Liveblog: All the news from Apple’s “California Streaming” event

The splash image and header copy on the event invitation Apple emailed to the press.

Enlarge / The splash image and header copy on the event invitation Apple emailed to the press. (credit: Apple)

Liveblog starts in:

View Liveblog

At 1 pm EDT on September 14, 2021, Apple will begin streaming its first product launch event since WWDC this June. Apple executives and product managers are expected to take the virtual stage to reveal new products and talk about what consumers should expect from the company in the coming weeks.

As usual, we’ll be liveblogging the event and all the announcements as they unfold.

As we noted in our roundup shortly after the date was announced, the focus will almost certainly be on a new lineup of iPhones to follow up last year’s iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. We’re expecting phones with overall similar designs and with the same screen sizes: 5.4- and 6.1-inch versions of the standard flagship iPhone, and 6.1- and 6.7-inch version of the Pro.

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#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #ipad, #iphone, #tech

What we expect from next week’s Apple event

We’ve been scouring the latest rumors and leaks and playing all of The Mamas and The Papas songs forward and backward to get the best possible picture of what we’re in store for with next Tuesday’s “California Streaming’” event.

The invites, which went out a week in advance, don’t appear to give the game away here. There was some extremely cool AR trickery, accessible through Safari on mobile, which could point to some fancy camera upgrades, though augmented reality has become a bit of a staple on these invites.

The California Streaming title, meanwhile, seems likely to be more of a nod to the all-virtual nature of the event, rather than anything to do with, say, Apple TV (of course, we’ve been one-more-thinged in the past). And as for that lovely shot of the Sierras — that could well be a nod to macOS, though the company has moved onto Monterey. It seems just as likely to be a reference to the aforementioned title.

The biggest, simplest and most important answer to the question of what to expect is a new iPhone. Last year’s models saw a notable delay due to COVID-19-related supply chain bottlenecking. Supply chain problems have persisted, of course, but by all accounts, the company appears to be back on track with its pre-pandemic release cycle.

The iPhone 12’s biggest upgrade was, of course, the long-awaited addition of 5G. That, coupled with the delay, led Apple to some pretty massive sales quarters amid a broader stalling of the overall mobile market. While other manufacturers have skipped the number out of superstitious concerns, Apple seems firmly on board with iPhone 13 (even as renders of its successor, the iPhone 14 have reportedly already leaked).

Image Credits: Getty Images / Qi Heng/VCG

Recent reports suggest that the iPhone 13 will arrive in four different configurations — much like its predecessor. So: the iPhone 13, 13 Mini, 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max. The screen sizes should remain the same: 5.4, 6.1 (x2) and 6.7 inches. A separate report, meanwhile, suggests that we’ll see additional colors, with the full lineup being black, white, blue, purple, pink (rather than green) and Product (Red). But, keep in mind that offering different color availabilities in different markets isn’t entirely out of the question.

Unsurprisingly, camera upgrades appear to be the biggest news here. Word from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is that last year’s Pro Max model specs will graduate to the rest of the line (including, potentially, lidar). A ProRes video mode is said to be following the addition of ProRAW to further advance the handset’s bonafides as a semi-pro video shooting rig. Cinematic Video, meanwhile, is said to bring a Portrait-mode-style effect to video. Kuo has also suggested that the devices will be getting a feature based on the Qualcomm X60 that allows for emergency satellite calls — reportedly only available in select markets.

Of course, the phone will also be getting Apple’s latest chip, the A15, said to be coupled with 120 Hz ProMotion display. Apple could also be bringing an always-on feature to the screen, hopefully with minimal impact on battery life. Looks-wise we anticipate it will be more or less the same as its predecessor, albeit with a somewhat smaller camera notch up front — though not to the point of the fake Ted Lasso iPhone. The camera bump around back, meanwhile, is said to be getting larger, perhaps offering an improved telephoto lens.

Oh, and apparently they’ll be more expensive than the iPhone 12 — clearly not one of the new features Apple is going to be actively promoting.

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Watch 7 seems destined to be the other big news of the event. Apple’s massively popular wearable is reportedly set to get more massive, with a larger display, resulting in a slightly larger case size, from 40 mm and 44 mm to 41 mm and 45 mm. The overall size won’t be too large a change, however, as the company is said to be reducing its bezels this go-round.

Perhaps the most exciting rumor around the Watch is the addition of significant battery life. That’s long felt like a blind spot for the product, compared to competing smartwatches — particularly after Apple significantly improved sleep tracking. Most aren’t anticipating major new health features for the Watch this outing, which is a bit of a surprise here, given that health and fitness have been a major cornerstone for Apple.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

AirPods 3 seem like a reasonably good bet. The latest version of the company’s entry-level earbuds (and their case) are said to be getting a more Pro-style redesign, along with a new chip that’s designed to improve battery life. Active noise cancelation and replaceable tips are apparently not going to make an appearance to maintain the distinction between the two models.

With the company’s rangewide upgrade to its own silicon chugging along, don’t be surprised if we see a number of new Macs. Rumors suggest a new MacBook Pro, Mac Mini and a larger, 27-inch version of its ARM-powered iMac.

The event kicks off Tuesday, September 14 at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT. We’ll be here, bringing you the news as it arrives.
Read more about Apple's Fall 2021 Event on TechCrunch

#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #hardware, #health, #iphone, #iphone-13, #macbook, #mobile, #wearables

What to expect from Apple’s September 14 “California Streaming” event

Futuristic glass-walled building permits views of surrounding forest.

Enlarge / The waiting area of the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s Cupertino campus. (credit: Samuel Axon)

On September 14 at 10 am PDT (1 pm EDT), Apple will host its first product-launch event in several months. Once again, it will be an online-only event. But as with other recent online events from Apple, we expect it to be as jam-packed with announcements as ever.

It’s likely to focus on the iPhone, but revelations about the Apple Watch, AirPods, and maybe the iPad are likely, too. We’ll be liveblogging the event as it happens on Tuesday, of course, but until then, consider what you’re about to read our best attempt at setting expectations and making predictions about what’s coming.

In so many ways, Apple has gotten easier to read and predict in recent years—certainly compared to the years during Steve Jobs’ second tenure as CEO. Apple has settled into something of a cadence with its main product lines, making it a bit easier to see what may be coming. The company’s products are still disruptive, but now they do it in a subtle, iterative ways and often in areas that aren’t as flashy as what we saw in the 2000s—like health care, for example.

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#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #ipad, #ipad-mini, #iphone, #iphone-13, #tech

California streaming: Apple’s next big event is September 14

The splash image and header copy on the event invitation Apple emailed to press.

Enlarge / The splash image and header copy on the event invitation Apple emailed to press. (credit: Apple)

Apple will stream a new product-unveiling event this coming Tuesday, September 14, at 10 am PDT, the company announced today. Invitations went out to press this morning, and marketing SVP Greg Joswiak tweeted a short video teasing the event as well.

You can see the image and copy that accompanied the invitation above. As usual, it doesn’t reveal much about what to expect. The invitation does note that it will be an online video stream, though, not an in-person event.

That said, we do know more or less what to expect. Apple has held an event like this during the same week every year for a while now, and it has always focused primarily on two products: the iPhone and the Apple Watch. This year, rumors abound of an updated version of Apple’s AirPods wireless earbuds, too.

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Spatial audio is coming to Netflix on iPhone and iPad

If you use AirPods Pro or AirPods Max, your mobile Netflix-watching is about to get a bit more immersive. Yesterday, Netflix confirmed that it has begun rolling out spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14 after the feature was spotted by a Reddit user.

Netflix joins streaming competitors like HBO Max, Disney+, and Peacock in enabling this feature, while other popular apps like Amazon Prime Video and YouTube still don’t have this functionality. Still, Netflix said the rollout won’t be immediate — users who have the update should be able to toggle it on or off in the Control Center.

Recently, Apple has been emphasizing its spatial audio features. The company first announced that it would bring spatial audio to AirPods Pro during the WWDC conference in 2020 — during this year’s conference, Apple added that Apple Music subscribers would gain access to spatial audio and lossless audio streaming at no extra charge. This even supports dynamic head tracking, which adjusts the sound when you move your head.  The Android version of the Apple Music app also supports spatial and lossless audio. In February, Spotify said it would rollout a high-end subscription service, Spotify HiFi, which would enable lossless audio, though there’s been no news since.

Last month, Netflix revealed that it start looking toward mobile gaming in addition to its original movies and television series. The company has already experimented with interactive entertainment with projects like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and its Stranger Things games.

“We view gaming as another new content category for us, similar to our expansion into original films, animation and unscripted TV,” the company said in its quarterly earnings report.

Spatial audio is popular among video game players — so while this update will enhance the streaming video experience on iPhone and iPad, perhaps we’ll see this feature at play in eventual Netflix mobile games, too.

#airpods, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #audio-streaming, #control-center, #entertainment, #headphones, #ios, #ios-14, #ipad, #iphone, #netflix, #streaming-video

Nothing Ear (1) review

Carl Pei says he looked around and saw a lot of the same. He’s not alone in that respect. Apple didn’t invent the fully wireless earbud with the first AirPods, but it did provide a kind of inflection point that sent many of its competitors hurtling toward a sort of homogeneity. You’d be hard-pressed to cite another consumer electronics category that matured and coalesced as quickly as Bluetooth earbuds, but finding something unique among the hordes is another question entirely.

These days, a pair of perfectly serviceable wireless earbuds are one click and $50 away. Spend $200, and you can get something truly excellent. But variety? That’s a different question entirely. Beyond choosing between a long-stemmed AirPods-style design and something a bit rounder, there’s really not a lot of diversification. Up until recently, features like active noise canceling and wireless charging bifurcated the category into premium and non-premium tiers, but they’ve both become increasingly ubiquitous.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

So, let’s say you’re launching a new consumer hardware company in 2021. And let’s say you decided your first product is going to be a pair of earbuds. Where does that leave you? How are you going to not only differentiate yourself in a crowded market but compete alongside giants like Samsung, Google and Apple?

Price is certainly a factor, and $99 is aggressive. Pei seemed to regret pricing the Ear (1) at less than $100 in our first conversation. It’s probably safe to say Nothing’s not exactly going to be cleaning up on every unit sold. And much like his prior company — OnePlus — he seems reluctant to position cost as a defining characteristic.

In a conversation prior to the Ear (1) launch, Pei’s take on the state of the industry was a kind of “feature glut.” Certainly, there’s been a never-ending spec race across different categories over the last several years. And it’s true that it’s getting more difficult to differentiate based on features — look at what smartphone makers have been dealing with the last several years. Wireless headphones, meanwhile, jumped from the “exciting early-stage mess” stage to “the actually pretty good” stage in record time.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

I do think there’s still room for feature differentiation. Take the recently launched NuraTrue headphones. That company has taken an opposite approach to arrive at earbuds, beginning with a specialized audio technology that it’s built three different headphone models around.

Pei noted in the Ear (1) launch presser that the company determined its aesthetic ideals prior to deciding what its first product would be. And true to form, its partnership with the design firm Teenage Engineering was announced well before a single image of the product appeared (the best we got in the early days was an early concept inspired by Pei’s grandmother’s tobacco pipe).

There are other ideals, as well — concepts about ecosystems, but those are the sorts of things that can only come after the release of multiple products. In the meantime, we’ve seen the product from all angles. I’m wearing the product in the ears and holding it in my hand (though I’m putting it down now; too hard to type).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The form factor certainly borrows from the AirPods, from the long stems to the white buds from which they protrude. You can’t say that they’re entirely their own thing in that respect. But perhaps a case can be made that the nature of fully wireless earbuds is, in and of itself, limiting in the manner of form factors it can accommodate. I’m certainly not a product designer, but they need to sit comfortably in your ears, and they can’t be too big or too heavy or protrude too much.

According to Pei, part of the product’s delayed launch was due to the company going back to the drawing board to rethink designs. What they ultimately arrived at was something recognizable as a pair of earbuds, while offering some unique flourishes. Transparency is the primary differentiator from an aesthetic standpoint. It comes into play in a big way with the case, which is unique, as these things go. With the buds themselves, most of the transparency happens on the stems.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

In a vacuum, the buds look a fair bit like an Apple product. The glossy white finish and white silicone tips are a big part of that. The reason the entire buds aren’t transparent, as early renderings showed, is a simple and pragmatic one: the components in the buds are too unsightly. That brings us to another element in the product’s eventual delay: making a gadget clear requires putting thought into how things like components and glue look. It’s the same reason why there’s a big white strip in the middle of an otherwise clear case: charging components are ugly (sorry/not sorry).

It’s a potential recipe for overly busy design, but I think the team landed on something solid — and certainly distinctive. That alone should account for something in the homogeneous world of gadget design. And the company’s partnership with StockX should be a pretty clear indication of precisely the sorts of early adopters/influencers Nothing is going after here.

The Ear (1) buds are a lot more welcoming than any of the style-first experiments Will.i.am made in the category. And while they’re distinct, they don’t really stand out in the wild — which is to say, no one’s going to scream and point or stop you in the street to figure what’s going on with your ears (sorry, Will).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Ultimately, I dig the look. There are nice touches, as well. A red and white dot indicate the right and left buds, respectively, a nod to RCA and other audio cables. A subtle Nothing logo is etched in dotted text, bringing to mind circuit board printing. The letter extends to most of Nothing’s branding. It’s clear the design was masterminded by people who have spent a lot of time negotiating with supply-chain vendors. Notably, the times I spoke to Pei, he was often in and around Shenzhen rather than the company’s native London, hammering out last-minute supply issues.

The buds feel really great, too. I’ve noted my tendency to suffer from ear pain wearing various earbud designs for extended periods. On Monday, I took a four hour intra-borough walk and didn’t notice a thing. They also stayed in place like champs on visits to the gym. And not for nothing, but there’s an extremely satisfying magnetic snap when you place them back in the charging case (the red and white dots still apply).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The case is flat and square with rounded edges (a squircle, if you please). If it wasn’t clear, it might closely resemble a tin of mints. It also offers a pretty satisfying snap when shutting. Will be curious to see how well that stands up after several hundred — or thousand — openings and closings.

Though the company says it put the product through all of the standard drop and stress tests, it warns that even the strongest transparent plastic is still prone to scratching, particularly with a set of keys in the same pocket. Pei says that kind of battle scarring will ultimately be part of its charm, but the jury’s still out on that one. After a few days and no keys in close proximity, I have one long scratch across the bottom. I don’t feel any cooler, but you tell me.

A large concave circle on the top helps keep the lid from slamming into the earbuds when closing. It’s also a nice spot to put your thumb when fiddling around with the thing. I suspect it doubles to relieve some of that fidgeting we (I) usually release by absentmindedly flipping a case lid up and down. It’s a small, but thoughtful touch. Round back, you’ll find the USB-C charging port and Bluetooth sync button.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

On iOS, you’ll need to connect the buds both through the app and in the Bluetooth settings the first time. There are disadvantages when you don’t make your own operating system, chips and phones in addition to earbuds. That’s a minor (probably one-time) nuisance, though.

The Ear (1) are a decent sounding pair of $99 headphones. I won’t say I was blown away, but I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed that they don’t really go head-to-head with, say, the Sony WF-1000xM4 or even the new NuraTrue. These aren’t audiophile headphones, but they’re very much suitable for walking around the city, listening to music and podcasts.

The app offers a built-in equalizer tuned by Teenage Engineering with three settings: balanced, more treble/more bass, and voice (for podcasts, et al.). The differences are detectable, but pretty subtle, as far as these things go. As far as equalizer customizations go, it’s more point-and-shoot than DSLR, as Nothing doesn’t want you straying too far from the intended balance. After experimenting with all of the settings, I mostly stuck with the balanced setting. Feel free to judge me accordingly.

There are three ANC settings, as well: noise cancellation, transparency and off. You can also titrate the noise cancellation between light and heavy. On the whole, the ANC did a fine job erasing a fair bit of street noise on my New York City walks, though even at heavy, it’s not going to, say, block out the sound of a car altogether. For my sake, that’s maybe for the best.

There’s also a built-in “find my earbud” setting that sends out a kind of piercing chirp so you can find the one that is inevitably trapped beneath your couch cushion.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

My big complaint day today is one I encountered with the NuraTrue. I ran into a number of Bluetooth connection dropouts. It’s a bit annoying when you’re really engrossed in a song or podcast. And again, it’s something you’re a lot less likely to encounter for those companies that build their own buds, phone, chips and operating systems. It’s a pretty tough thing to compete with for a brand-new startup.

I have quibbles, and in spite of months of excited teases, the Ear (1) buds aren’t going to turn the overcrowded category upside down. But it’s always exciting to see a new company enter the consumer hardware space — and deliver a solid first product out of the game. It’s an idiosyncratic take on the category at a nice price from a company worth keeping an eye on.

#airpods, #bluetooth, #carl-pei, #ear-1, #earbuds, #hardware, #nothing, #reviews, #teenage-engineering, #wireless-earbuds

Nothing founder Carl Pei on Ear 1 and building a hardware startup from scratch

On July 27, hardware maker Nothing will debut its first product, wireless earbuds dubbed Ear 1. Despite releasing almost no tangible information about the product, the company has managed to generate substantial buzz around the launch — especially for an entry into the already-crowded wireless earbud market.

The hype, however, is real — and somewhat understandable. Nothing founder Carl Pei has a good track record in the industry — he was just 24 when he co-founded OnePlus in 2013. The company has done a canny job capitalizing on heightened expectations, meting out information about the product like pieces in a puzzle.

We spoke to Pei ahead of the upcoming launch to get some insight into Ear 1 and the story behind Nothing.

TC: I know there was a timing delay with the launch. Was that related to COVID-19 and supply chain issues?

CP: Actually, it was due to our design. Maybe you’ve seen the concept image of this transparent design. It turns out there’s a reason why there aren’t many transparent consumer tech products out there. It’s really, really hard to make it high quality. You need to ensure that everything inside looks just as good as the outside. So that’s where the team has been iterating, [but] you probably wouldn’t notice the differences between each iteration.

It could be getting the right magnets — as magnets are usually designed to go inside of a product and not be seen by the consumer — to figuring out the best type of gluing. You never have to solve that problem if you have a non-transparent product, but what kind of glue will keep the industrial design intact? I think the main issue has been getting the design ready. And we’re super, super close. Hopefully, it will be a product that people are really excited about when we launch.

So, there were no major supply chain issues?

Not for this product category. With true wireless earbuds, I think we’re pretty fine. No major issues. I mean, we had the issue that we started from zero — so no team and no partners. But step by step, we finally got here.

That seems to imply that you’re at least thinking ahead towards the other products. Have you already started developing them?

We have a lot of products in the pipeline. Earlier this year, we did a community crowdfunding round where we allocated $1.5 million to our community. That got bought up really quickly. But as part of that funding round, we had a deck with some of the products in development. Our products are code-named as Pokemon, so there are a lot of Pokemon on that slide [Editor’s note: The Ear 1 was “Aipom.”]. We have multiple categories that we’re looking at, but we haven’t really announced what those are.

Why were earbuds the right first step?

I think this market is really screaming for differentiation. If you look at true wireless today, I think after Apple came out with the AirPods, the entire market kind of followed. Everybody wears different clothes. This is something we wear for a large part of the day. Why wouldn’t people want different designs?

We’re working with Teenage Engineering — they’re super, super strong designers. I think true wireless is a place where we can really leverage that strength. Also, from a more rational business perspective, wireless earbuds is a super-fast growing product category. I think we’re going to reach 300 million units shipped worldwide this year for this category. And your first product category should be one with good business potential.

“Screaming for differentiation” is an interesting way to put it. When you look at AirPods and the rest of the industry, are aesthetics what the market primarily lacks? Is it features or is it purely stylistic?

If we take a take a step back and think about it from a consumer perspective, we feel like, as a whole, consumer tech is quite, quite boring. Kids used to want to become engineers and astronauts and all that. But if you look at what kids want to become today, they want to be TikTokers or YouTubers. Maybe it’s because technology isn’t as inspiring as before. We talked to consumers, and they don’t care as much as a couple of years ago either. If you look at what what brands are doing in their communication, it’s all about features and specs.

#airpods, #apple, #carl-pei, #casey-neistat, #consumer-hardware, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-hardware, #gadgets, #google, #hardware, #huawei, #nothing, #oneplus, #wearables, #wireless-earbuds, #wireless-headphones

First findings with Apple’s new AirTag location devices

I’ve been playing around with Apple’s new AirTag location devices for a few hours now and they seem to work pretty much as advertised. The setup flow is simple and clean, taking clear inspiration from the one Apple developed for AirPods. The precision finding feature enabled by the U1 chip works as a solid example of utility-driven augmented reality, popping up a virtual arrow and other visual identifiers on the screen to make finding a tag quicker.

The basic way that AirTags work, if you’re not familiar, is that they use Bluetooth beaconing technology to announce their presence to any nearby devices running iOS 14.5 and above. These quiet pings are encrypted and invisible (usually) to any passer by, especially if they are with their owners. This means that no one ever knows what device actually ‘located’ your AirTag, not even Apple.

With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40 foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce. 

In my very limited testing so far, AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. Which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. It often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room, for instance. Once the location was received, however, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.

The AirTags run for a year on a standard CR2032 battery that’s user replaceable. They offer some water resistance including submersion for some time. There are a host of accessories that seem nicely designed like leather straps for bags, luggage tags and key rings.

So far so good. More testing to come. 

Some protections

As with anything to do with location, security and privacy are a top of mind situation for AirTags, and Apple has some protections in place.

You cannot share AirTags — they are meant to be owned by one person. The only special privileges offered by people in your iCloud Family Sharing Group is that they can silence the ‘unknown AirTag nearby’ alerts indefinitely. This makes AirTags useful for things like shared sets of keys or maybe even a family pet. This means that AirTags will not show up on your family Find My section like other iOS devices might. There is now a discrete section within the app just for ‘Items’ including those with Find My functionality built in. 

The other privacy features include a ‘warning’ that will trigger after some time that a tag is in your proximity and NOT in the proximity of its owner (aka, traveling with you perhaps in a bag or car). Your choices are then to make the tag play a sound to locate it — look at its information including serial number and to disable it by removing its battery. 

Any AirTag that has been away from its owner for a while — this time is variable and Apple will tweak it over time as it observes how AirTags work — will start playing a sound whenever it is moved. This will alert people to its presence. 

You can, of course, also place an AirTag into Lost Mode, offering a choice to share personal information with anyone who locates it as it plays an alert sound. Anyone with any smart device with NFC, Android included, can tap the device to see a webpage with information that you choose to share. Or just a serial number if you do not choose to do so. 

This scenario addresses what happens if you don’t have an iOS device to alert you to a foreign AirTag in your presence, as it will eventually play a sound even if it is not in lost mode and the owner has no control over that.

It’s clear that Apple has thought through many of the edge cases, but some could still crop up as it rolls out, we’ll have to see.

Apple has some distinct market advantages here:

  • Nearly a billion devices out in the world that can help to locate an AirTag.
  • A built-in U1 wideband chip that communicates with a similar U1 chip in iPhones to enable super precise (down to inches) location.
  • A bunch of privacy features that don’t appear on competing tags.

Important to note that Apple has announced the development of a specification for chipset makers that lets third-party devices with Ultra Wideband radios access the U1 chip onboard iPhones ‘later this Spring’. This should approximate the Precision Finding feature’s utility in accessories that don’t have the advantage of having a U1 built in like the AirTags do. And, of course, Apple has opened up the entire Find My mesh network to third party devices from Belkin, Chipolo and VanMoof that want to offer a similar basic finding function as offered by AirTags. Tile has announced plans to offer a UWB version of its tracker as well, even as it testified in Congress yesterday that Apple’s advantages made its entry into this market unfair. 

It will be interesting to see these play out once AirTags are out getting lost in the wild. I have had them for under 12 hours so I’ve not been able to test edge cases, general utility in public spaces or anything like that. 

The devices go on sale on April 23rd.

#airpods, #airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #belkin, #bluetooth, #congress, #find-my, #icloud, #ios, #ios-14, #iphone, #mesh-network, #smart-device, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #u1, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband

Apple discontinues original HomePod, will focus on mini

After 4 years on the market, Apple has discontinued its original HomePod. It says that it will continue to produce and focus on the HomePod mini, introduced last year. The larger HomePod offered a beefier sound space but the mini has been very well received and clearly accomplishes many of the duties that the larger version was tasked with. The sound is super solid (especially for the size) and it offers access to Siri, Apple’s assistant feature.

The original HomePod was a feat of audio engineering that Apple spent over 5 years developing. In order to accomplish its development, the team at Apple built out a full development center near its headquarters in Cupertino, with a world-class development environment with a dozen anechoic chambers, including one of the bigger anechoic chambers outside of academic use in the US. I visited the center before its release, noting that Apple took it the extra mile to get the incredibly complex series of tweeters and woofer that built its soundspace:

But slathered on top of that is a bunch of typically Apple extra-mile jelly. Apple says that its largest test chamber is one of the biggest in the US, on a pad, suspended from the outside world with nothing to pollute its tests of audio purity. Beyond testing for the acoustic qualities of the speaker, these chambers allowed Apple to burrow down to account for and mitigate the issues that typically arise from having a high excursion subwoofer in such a small cabinet. Going even further, there are smaller chambers that allow them to isolate the hum from electronic components (there is a computer on board after all) and make attempts to insulate and control that noise so it doesn’t show up in the final output.

I found it to be one of the best speakers ever made for the home when I reviewed it in 2018. From the booming base and well-shaped nature of the tweeter assembly inside; the cloth cover that was specially shaped to avoid interfering with sound quality in any way; the way that it sensed the way that audio was being shaped by walls and other obstructions and adjusted its output to compensate. It was the definition of ‘no effort spared’ in the speaker department.

The major gripe for the speaker at the time was the $349 price, which was at the top end of the home speaker market, especially those with embedded home assistants. A price drop to $299 mitigated that somewhat, but still put it at the top of the pricing umbrella for the class. Apple’s HomePod mini, launched last year, has been well received. Our Brian Heater said that it had ‘remarkably big sound’ for the $99 price.

Apple gave TechCrunch a statement about the discontinuation:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

Existing HomePods will continue to be sold but Apple’s website is already out of Space Gray. It will continue to provide support for existing HomePods. Apple seems to be betting on the mini going forward, which could point to their desire to fill every room with ‘good enough’ sound rather than to focus on the living room with ‘truly unbelievable’ sound. The HomePod itself never quite got to the level where it could act as a full home theater replacement, though paired in their multi-speaker configurations.

The HomePod research and production efforts will live on in some ways through Apple’s advanced audio rendering systems that led to things like Spatial Audio in AirPods. I quite enjoy the ones in my home and have yet to add any minis to the mix. Maybe a last minute hunt is in order.

#airpods, #apple, #apple-inc, #applecare, #assistant, #computing, #cupertino, #homekit, #homepod, #intelligent-assistant, #siri, #smart-speakers, #speaker, #tc, #united-states

iFixit tears down Apple’s $550 AirPods Max headphones

As is a custom at this point, online repair kit and tool vendor iFixit tore down one of the latest Apple products and assessed its repairability. In this case, the product is the ultra-expensive ($550) AirPods Max over-ear noise-canceling headphones.

Most of the interior components are about what you’d expect in a high-end pair of wireless headphones, but the machinery is highly intricate, and there are many, many screws.

iFixit found that the Lightning port is particularly difficult—though not impossible—to reach, which is unfortunate, given that this is one of the parts most likely to fail. The part is also critical to the device’s ability to function, since it’s the charging port.

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#airpods, #airpods-max, #apple, #headphones, #ifixit, #tech

This is not a review of Apple’s new AirPod Max headphones

I’ve had Apple’s AirPod Max headphones for less than 24 hours, so there is no way I would attempt to write a review of any sort. But I do have some of those oh so popular these days “first impressions” to share. Mostly on build quality, but I’ll throw a few first listen thoughts at you too.

These are thoughts that I have now that may change or get reinforced as I continue to evaluate them over the next week or so. So consider the below a sort of draft review that I’m publishing my early notes on. A ‘proto review’.

First, they’re gorgeous. The earcups are beautiful. The band is incredibly sturdy. The netting feels like a high-end piece of furniture. The stems are insane, with a precision pull out mechanism that acts like a hand-crafted car piston. 

The netting, the ear pads, the clever (though now somewhat common) magnetic centering and clasp. The tuck and roll of the earcup covers providing an invisible seam as they attach to the body. The single piece of aluminum each of the ear cups is made of. How high quality is the build here? Like, this shouldn’t ship for $550 high. Judging from execution alone, the AirPod Max feels like it should be more expensive if anything. 

There is a tradeoff here that I feel I must mention even in this early review, though: These things are heavy. If you do not like heavy headphones, do not buy the AirPod Max. They are intense, definitely demand being listened to while sitting essentially straight up or leaning back (if you’re actively walking around the house picking up kid’s clothes and toys from the floor, for instance, they tend to want to shift forward from their own weight). These clock in at 386g — over 100g heavier than a pair of Beats over ears. If you have very high end headphones, you may be expecting this kind of weight, most people I think will not be. More on this as I keep using them and trying out adjustments.

There is also a distinct dearth of articulation present here. The piston-style extruding earcups are clever and have wow factor, but there is a limited spring back style articulation of the cup itself which means no folding them inward on themselves like the Bose QCII or Sony MX headphones are capable of. Hence that case I guess.

The controls are fine so far, the crown feels almost exactly like an Apple Watch crown, with maybe slightly more tension. The Siri functions work totally fine, either with a long press of the crown or a ‘Hey Siri’. The earcups have precision detection of position so you can pause by simply lifting one cup.

Taking the headphones off and setting them down turns them off, there is no power button. This feels super natural and nicely Apple-ey. Just put them on to use and take them off to stop.

They charge from any power brick though none is included. Apple says that you’ll get 1.5 hours for 5 minutes of charging but there is no overall fast charge. It’s basically two hours with any USB brick no matter the wattage.

The lack of an included 3.5mm cable means that you have to add $35 to the price to get to a place where you’re comparing these with a Bose or Sony option for seat-back systems on planes and general capability. Speaking of travel…

The lack of real folding options on these, the material in the netting and the pretty definitive ‘one way’ these are meant to articulate means that I do not see these being a regular travel companion for me, on initial pass. Oh, and the case is just as ridiculous as it looks. Sorry. The construction here is just as dodgy as the MagSafe Duo. It feels cheap, and like it will dirty easily, not exactly what you want from a ‘travel case’. And it looks like a butt.

The sound is impressive. Don’t worry about this being in the Beats region of a bass-heavy crowd pleaser. Though there is plenty of low end, this is a more nuanced affair, with crisp delivery across the spectrum. I’ve watched movies, listened to music and had phone conversations, all sounded great. The spatial audio feature, for one, is greatly improved by the larger drivers and enclosed environment. Audio panning and positioning from Atmos content is very cleverly done and if you’re watching from an iOS device it really does feel like you’re in a large sound environment with a strong center positioning at the screen. They feel like you’re listening in a room with no headphones on at all, it is really beyond impressive.

Ok, that’s it for now, more as I continue to check them out. Shortly: super high quality, very heavy, sound solid so far.

For those of you interested, I will test latency with a corded setup but I haven’t been able to yet.

#airpods, #audio-engineering, #disc-jockey, #headphones, #mass-media, #tc

Apple’s new AirPods Max over-ear headphones cost $549

This morning, Apple made a surprise announcement: it has started taking orders today for its long-rumored over-ear headphones bearing the AirPods brand. Called AirPods Max, they take design cues from existing Apple products and use several internal sensors and microphones to deliver “computational audio” features.

Priced at $549, AirPods Max are fully wireless headphones, and they use Bluetooth aided by Apple’s custom tech to connect to audio sources like an iPhone or a computer. They come with a “Smart Case” that protects the headphones for storage and puts the headphones in a low-power sleep mode. Additionally, the case has a Lightning port, allowing users to charge the headphones with an included Lightning to USB-C cable.

The above-mentioned sensors include an optical sensor, a position sensor, a case-detect sensor, and an accelerometer in each ear cup, and a gyroscope in just the left ear cup. There are also nine microphones. One is devoted exclusively to voice pickup, while the other eight are used for active noise cancellation; two of the mics perform double duty.

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#airpods, #airpods-max, #airpods-studio, #apple, #apple-h1, #headphones, #tech

Apple announces $549 over-hear headphones, the AirPods Max

The AirPods Max are joining the AirPods and AirPods Pro in Apple’s audio accessory lineup. As you can see on the photo, Apple is releasing its first over-ear headphones under the AirPods brand.

The wireless headphones feature active noise cancellation and cost $549. With this product, Apple competes directly with Sony’s and Bose’s wireless headphones — the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose 700. Pre-orders start today and they’ll ship on December 15.

This isn’t the company’s first over-ear headphones as Apple acquired Beats back in 2014. Apple has released new Beats headphones over the past few years. For instance, last year, Apple released the Beats Solo Pro, wireless headphones that feature Apple’s H1 chip and cost $300. They also have active noise cancellation.

The AirPods Max come in multiple colors — silver, space gray, sky blue, pink and green. They are foldable and can be stored in a case — or, as Apple calls it, a Smart Case.

Powered by Apple’s H1 chip, they bring many of the features that you can find in the AirPods Pro — active noise cancellation, transparency mode, spatial audio and adaptive EQ. The headband is made of stainless steel, which probably explains the pricing strategy. The ear cushions try to create a seal thanks to memory foam.

In addition to a noise control button, there’s an Apple Watch digital crown, which lets you adjust the volume, skip tracks, etc. Inside the device, you’ll find 40-mm dynamic drivers. Combined with computational audio, Apple promises very little distorsion and high quality sound.

If you’re not familiar with Adaptive EQ, the feature was originally introduced with the AirPods Pro. The device uses microphones to adjust the sound based on the fit and seal of the headphones or earbuds.

This is a developing story…

Image Credits: Apple

#airpods, #airpods-studio, #apple, #gadgets

AirBuddy’s AirPod integration for the Mac gets updated with more iOS-style features

The AirBuddy app is celebrating another successful Apple week by opening up preorders on v2.0. The original, which arrived in early 2019, brought a pop-up to the Mac when a pair of AirPods were brought near — bringing simple ecosystem integration to the desktop before Apple did.

The update, which is set to arrive arrive on November 11, brings even deeper integration. At the top of the list is a quick status menu featuring all connected Apple and Beats devices. That includes the iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch, along with other Macs that have the latest version of the $10 software installed. The devices are group together based on how they’re paired with one another — so, a set of AirPods connected to an iPhone will appear near that device in the menu.

The update also brings device usage over the past 12 or 24 hours including listening time, call time and whether one of the buds in an AirPods pair is losing charge more quickly than the other. Users can also switch between AirPods Pro’s normal, noise canceling and transparency modes directly from the desktop.

Those who purchased the original version of the app will get the upgrade for free if they purchased it this year. If you bought it last year, you can get the new one for half-off.

#airbuddy, #airpods, #apple, #apps, #mac

What to expect from Apple’s ‘Hi Speed’ iPhone event

For starters, iPhones, of course. That one was easy. The company skipped out on new mobile devices during its recent Apple Watch event, owing to COVID-19-related delays. And, of course, the fact that the events are all pre-taped and virtual now means companies can more easily split them up in ways that were harder to justify when people were expected to fly in from all over the world.

That doesn’t mean we won’t be getting more than just a phone (or, more like multiple phones). While Apple’s been more inclined to host more, smaller events, there’s a decent chance this is going to be the last major event the company hosts before the holidays. That means it’s going to want to get a lot of bang for its buck this time out.

The iPhone 12 is expected to be the centerpiece, of course. The headline feature will almost certainly be 5G. Apple’s been a little behind the curve on that front versus its Android competitors (Samsung, for instance, has several devices with next-gen wireless), though another knock-on effect from the pandemic has been a slower than expected adoption of the tech. So in some ways, Apple’s really right on time here. In the U.S., the company is said to offer both the mmWave and sub-6Ghz 5G technologies. Availability may vary depending on the needs of a given market.

Rumors point to a bunch of different models. After all, gone are the days a company like Apple could just offer up a big premium device and be done with it. Sales for high-end devices were already drying up well before the virus came along to bring smartphone sales to a screeching halt there for a bit. People were already tired of paying in excess of $1,000 for new phones when the ones they already had still did the job perfectly fine.

There are supposedly four sizes arriving. There will be higher-end devices at 6.1 and 6.7 inches, and more budget-minded devices at 6.1 and 5.4 inches. It’s a pretty broad price range, from $699 for the “mini” to $1,099 and up for the Pro Max (sandwiched between are the $799 iPhone 12 and $999 Pro). Along with its recently expanded Watch line, Apple’s all about choice this time out.

Reportedly, however, the company will be bringing OLED tech to all of the models, marking a pretty big change from the days of LCD-sporting budget models. The new models are expected to get a welcome redesign, reportedly returning to something more in line with the iPhone 5. The rounded edges are expected to be dropped in favor of a flatter design, akin to what you get on the iPad Pro.

Other interesting potential additions include the return of the company’s dearly departed MagSafe life for a pair of wireless charging pads that will hopefully finally lay to rest any memory of the failed AirPower experiment. Available for one or two devices, the new pads will reportedly leverage magnets built into the phones to snap them in place.

Music has always been a cornerstone for the company, and it’s long overdue for some updates to audio products. This time out, we may finally get the long-awaited AirPods Studio, an over-ear addition to its line of headphones. The models are set to come in two variations, the largest variation being build materials. A smaller version of its smart speaker could be on the way, as well. The HomePod has long been cost-prohibitive for many, so a mini version could finally make it a bit more accessible.

Another long-rumored addition — AirTags — could finally arrive, as well. Apple’s product-tracking Tile competitor has been in the cards for some time now, but has repeatedly been delayed. That may still be the case — and same goes for a refresh to Apple TV. With the company’s subscription service about to celebrate its year anniversary, it could really use some updated hardware. New Macs with Apple-built chips could be on the table, as well, though the company is reportedly planning one more 2020 event for that big launch.

The event kicks off tomorrow at 10AM PT/1PM ET. We’ll be watching along with you, bringing you the news as it breaks.

#airpods, #airpods-studio, #airtags, #apple, #events, #hardware, #homepod, #iphone, #iphone-12, #mobile, #smartphones

What to expect from Apple’s October 13 “Hi, Speed” event

An Apple logo is surrounded by colorful concentric circles.

Enlarge / The promotional key art graphic Apple sent out with its announcement about its October 13, 2020, product launch event. (credit: Apple)

Here we are again, less than one month after Apple’s September 15 event. Next Tuesday, October 13, Apple representatives will take to the streaming stage to announce new products in an event the company has monikered “Hi, Speed.” But what can we expect from the event?

Normally, Apple launches iPhones at a September event, but it didn’t this year, possibly because of COVID-related delays in its testing of the new devices. Rather, the September event was primarily about the Apple Watch (there was also a new, redesigned iPad Air, along with some services announcements and a slightly modified non-Air, non-Pro, non-mini iPad).

All that is to say that iPhones are very likely to be the stars of Apple’s October show. Let’s get into what to expect from them—and what else we might see at the event.

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#airpods, #airpods-studio, #apple, #apple-one, #apple-silicon, #arm, #homepod, #homepod-mini, #ipad-air, #iphone-12, #iphone-12-pro, #macbook-pro, #tech

‪CBP seized a shipment of OnePlus Buds thinking they were “counterfeit” Apple AirPods‬

U.S. Customs and Border Protection proudly announced in a press release on Friday a seizure of 2,000 boxes of “counterfeit” Apple AirPods, said to be worth about $400,000, from a shipment at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

But the photos in the press release appear to show boxes of OnePlus Buds, the wireless earphones made by smartphone maker OnePlus, and not Apple AirPods as CBP had claimed.

Here’s CBP’s photo of the allegedly counterfeit goods:

And this is what a box of OnePlus Buds looks like:

A photo of a box of OnePlus Buds that CBP mistook for Apple AirPods.

(Image: @yschugh/Twitter)

The resemblance is uncanny. We reached out to a CBP spokesperson for comment but did not hear back.

According to the press release: “The interception of these counterfeit earbuds is a direct reflection of the vigilance and commitment to mission success by our CBP Officers daily,” said Troy Miller, director of CBP’s New York Field Operations.

If only it was.

#airpods, #counterfeit, #headphones, #oneplus, #security

Liveblog: All the news from Apple’s “Time Flies” event—Tuesday, 9/15, at 1pm ET

The key image that goes with this month's event.

Enlarge / The key image that goes with this month’s event. (credit: Apple)

Liveblog starts in:

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At 10:00am Pacific time (1pm Eastern) on Tuesday, September 15, Apple reps will take the stage—likely in an otherwise empty Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s headquarters—to announce new products. Typically at this time of year, these products are new iPhones and Apple Watch models, but in the time of COVID-19, nothing is certain.

In any case, Ars Technica will be liveblogging the proceedings and sharing all the news from the event in real time, just like we always do.

Reports and rumors have pointed to a broad range of new Apple products expected by the end of the year, including four new iPhones with new designs, 5G, and (at least in some models) new 3D sensors, and one or even two new Apple Watches—one successor to the Series 5, and one cheaper alternative meant to compete with Fitbit.

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#airpods, #apple, #apple-silicon, #apple-watch, #homepod, #ipad, #iphone, #mac, #tech

Apple’s September 15 “Time Flies” event: What to expect

Interior of Google HQ.

Enlarge / Two identical stairwells at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s Cupertino campus, where the company now hosts many of its product reveals. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Every September, Apple unveils its new lineup of iPhone and Apple Watch devices in a live event with press, influencers, and industry figures present—or does it? This year, we’re not quite certain.

Last week, the northern California tech giant put out invitations to a video stream from the Steve Jobs Theater (the location on the company’s new campus where it normally hosts people in person) to announce some new products. The tagline was “Time Flies”—and we’ll get into some interpretations of that in a moment—but time sure isn’t flying for most onlookers, as we move into the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And because of that pandemic’s effect on Apple’s operations, there have been a few scattered reports that the company may not manage to ship its new iPhones in the September window it usually targets, even as there are other conflicting rumors indicating that yes, iPhones are indeed coming this month.

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#airpods, #airpods-studio, #airtags, #apple, #apple-silicon, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-6, #homepod, #homepod-mini, #ipad, #ipad-air, #iphone, #iphone-12, #iphone-12-max, #iphone-12-plus, #iphone-12-pro, #iphone-12-pro-max, #mac, #tech

New report details Apple’s plan for iPhones (and other gadgets) this year

A new report from Bloomberg’s Debby Wu and Mark Gurman says that Apple tasked its suppliers with building “at least 75 million” 5G iPhones. That’s in the ballpark of what was produced last year, so Apple is expecting strong sales despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More interesting for our purposes here, though, are tidbits about what those iPhones—and other Apple products planned for release this year—look like.

Citing people familiar with the situation, the Bloomberg story claims that Apple has a busy holiday season ahead of it. The sources say that Apple plans to launch four 5G iPhone models, a new iPad Air, two new Apple Watch models, over-ear headphones, and a new HomePod speaker. They also allude to a modestly updated Apple TV 4K and the long-rumored AirTags product, but the story did not claim that those are coming this year.

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#5g, #airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-6, #homepod, #ipad-air, #iphone, #iphone-12, #iphone-12-pro, #iphone-12-pro-max, #tech

Apple is bringing spatial audio to AirPods Pro

It’s no AirPods Studio, but Apple’s got a pretty exciting update to last year’s AirPods Pro. The bluetooth headphones are getting spatial audio (or 3D audio, depending on who you ask). The addition of the feature gives audio a sense of locational awareness, with sound originating from different points.

It’s a nice addition that should be good for movies where sound location is part of the narrative story telling. More importantly to Apple’s future, however, it will play an interesting role in the company’s push into augmented reality. Apple has been exploring the category through its ARKit for developers and is rumored to be working on an AR headset which would no doubt play nicely with head tracking earbuds.

Also of note on the AirPods front is the addition of automatic switching between devices. That’s a big bonus for people who use one set of headphones with different connected product (like most people — we’re not made of money here). With the new feature, both AirPods and AirPods Pro will automatically shift between your iPhone and MacBook, as you perform different tasks.

The updates will be available through a firmware update.

#airpods, #apple, #hardware, #wwdc-2020

Bang & Olufsen’s latest Beoplay E8 fully wireless earbuds offer top sound and comfort

Bang & Olufsen has an excellent reputation in home audio, and its original Beoplay E8 fully wireless headphones were a category leader when there was barely a category to lead. The company recently launched the third version of the E8, a new generation of hardware that comes with a number of improvements for better audio quality and convenience, including wireless charging, up to seven hours of continuous use on a single charge, and the latest Bluetooth standards for improved audio quality, operating distance and latency.

B&O’s latest wireless headset is a must-have for sound quality enthusiasts as a result, providing all-day comfort and wearability, excellent passive sound isolation and rich, sophisticated audio performance that does a good job of rendering the low end but without sacrificing any detail at higher frequencies, either.

Design

The design of the actual Beoplay E8 buds hasn’t changed much since the original version – but in this case, that’s a very good thing, because the original design has remained one of my all-time favorites for fully wireless in-ear buds. You get a small, sleek bud with a rounded face and touch-sensitive surfaces for manual control.

B&O have made some updates to the design, including getting rid of a irregular nub that stuck out somewhat from the otherwise circular sides of the original, and on the black version I tested, what was once an inner silver-colored metallic accent band on the face now has a shiny black finish. The overall effect is to make them even more understated and attractive.

While the originals also offered great fit, in my use it seems like B&O have improved the physical design on that scale, too. Whereas before I would occasionally have to reseat one or the other of the buds to get a proper noise isolating seal, the E8 3rd generation seems to just fit properly one they’re in, no matter how long you wear them.

The last thing to mention regarding design is the case. It’s somehow both smaller and more pocketable than the case for the original, but also includes wireless charging so that you can set it down on any Qi-based wireless charging pad (the same kind that works with modern iPhones and Android devices) and have it charge both the case, which contains additional battery capacity for the buds (bringing total play time to up to 35 hours, per B&O), and the buds themselves. The case is wrapped in a pebbled leather finish that feels fantastic, and a magnetic clasp ensures it stays closed while in transit. Magnets also help you make sure your buds are properly seated in the case to charge.

Performance

The first point to make about the 3rd generation Beoplay E8 is that they sound fantastic. By just about every measure, they are the best-sounding wireless earbuds I’ve used, including the AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000MX3, both popular options. The E8 manage sound separation and clarity that is sure to please even hardcore audiophiles, and they sound great regardless of what kind of music you’re listening to, but they excel with high-quality, lossless recording formats.

In terms of sound isolation, the Beoplay E8 are also outstanding performers. They don’t have active noise cancellation, but their passive blocking is extremely good at keeping out ambient noise. So much so that it’s good B&O included a transparency feature (accessible by tapping the left earbud) to pipe in ambient sound, which is great for when you want to be more aware of your surroundings. Sound isolation and comfort both get even better when you make use of the included Comply memory foam eartips that ship with the Beoplay E8, which is an excellent bonus since generally speaking, Comply tips require an additional purchase for just about every other set of earbuds.

The E8 is also a great headset for making calls, thanks to onboard mics that provide clear vocals mostly free of background noise. And because they feature both aptX and use Bluetooth 5.1, they’re also excellent for watching video and taking video calls on both mobile devices and computers, without any real noticeable lag.

Bottom line

Bang & Olufsen make premium products, and they come with premium price tags – at $350, the Beoplay E8 3rd Generation is no exception. But for that money, you’re getting premium build quality, great aesthetics and class-leading sound. For those who want the best audio possible in fully wireless buds, these are the ones to get. They’re fantastic for all-day wear for a work-at-home lifestyle, and offer great portability and sound transparency for taking with you on the go, too.

#airpods, #android, #bang-olufsen, #bluetooth, #electronics, #gadgets, #hardware, #headphones, #headset, #iphone, #mobile-devices, #qi, #reviews, #smartphones, #sony, #tc, #wireless, #wireless-earbuds, #wireless-headphones

Report: Apple’s over-ear headphones have no left- or right-ear assignments

Among other things, Apple’s AirPods are known for the ability to detect when an individual earbud is or isn’t in your ear and start or stop playback accordingly. A new report from 9to5Mac claims that a similar feature will be offered in Apple’s upcoming over-ear headphones, but the headphones will instead detect whether they are placed on our head or lowered around your neck.

The publication cites “people familiar with the matter” who have detailed some of Apple’s plans. The report also refers to the headphones as “AirPods Studio.”

This product was previously described in some detail in a report in Bloomberg. That story said Apple is testing two versions of its over-ear headphones: one intended for sports and fitness use, and the other with a more “premium” feel with leather-like fabrics. Further, Bloomberg’s sources said that Apple will make some components of the headphones modular—so, for example, wearers could replace the ear pads as they wear over time.

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#9to5mac, #active-noise-cancellation, #airpods, #airpods-studio, #apple, #bloomberg, #headphones, #tech

Apple plans to introduce over-the-ear headphones with replaceable parts this year

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Debby Wu have penned yet another report revealing inside information on Apple’s product plans, citing people familiar with the matter. Today’s report is all about headphones: Apple is developing over-ear headphones and plans to introduce them later this year.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, Apple is developing two versions of the headphones. One would be fitness-oriented, with breathable materials and perforations, similar in some respects to fitness-focused Apple Watch bands and accessories. The other would aim for a premium feel, with “leather-like fabrics.” Interestingly, the sources claim that Apple will make some components of these headphones modular. The headband padding and ear pads are attached to the headphones with magnets and are replaceable.

That’s obviously important because earpads are sometimes the first part of high-end headphones to go and need replacing, but also because it opens up opportunities for users to buy and install aesthetic customizations. It also means users could switch between the premium and fitness configurations as needed, provided they have purchased the attachments for both configurations.

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#airpods, #apple, #beats, #bloomberg, #headphones, #tech

Apple said to be working on modular, high-end, noise-cancelling over-ear headphones

Apple is said to be developing its own competitors to popular over-ear noise-cancelling headphones like those made by Bose and Sony, Bloomberg reports, but with similar technology on board to that used in the AirPod and AirPod Pro lines. These headphones would also include a design with interchangeable parts that would allow some modification with customizable accessories for specific uses like workouts and long-term wear, for instance.

The prototype designs of the new headphones, which are set to potentially be released some time later this year (though timing is clearly up in the air as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and Apple’s general tendency to move things around depending on other factors), are said to feature a “retro look” by Bloomberg, and include oval ear cups which connect directly to thin arms that extend to the headband. The swappable parts include the ear pads and headband cushion, both of which are said to attach to the headphone frame using magnetic connectors.

These will support Siri on board, along with active noise cancellation and touch controls, but most importantly for iOS and Mac users, they’ll also feature the simple connection across multiple devices that are featured on AirPods and some of Apple’s Beats line of headphones.

Apple has already released Beats over- and on-ear headphone models with AirPod-like features, including cross-connectivity, and that feature onboard noise cancellation. The Bloomberg report doesn’t seem to indicate these new models would be Beats-branded, however, and their customization features would also be new in terms of Apple’s available existing options.

Bloomberg also previously reported that Apple was working on a smaller HomePod speaker as part of its forthcoming product lineup, and a new FCC filing made public this week could indicate the impending release of a success to its PowerBeats Pro fully wireless in-ear sport headphones.

#airpods, #apple, #apple-inc, #audio-engineering, #beats-electronics, #electrical-engineering, #federal-communications-commission, #gadgets, #hardware, #headphones, #iphone-accessories, #noise-cancelling, #noise-cancelling-headphones, #powerbeats-pro, #siri, #sony, #tc

Avoid cables entirely with Satechi’s new AirPods dock

At their best, Satechi’s products sit somewhere between the silly and the sublime (practicality is nice, too, if you can manage). In spite of a profoundly uninspiring name, the USB-C Wireless Charging Dock for Apple AirPods fit the bill pretty nicely. There’s nothing about the product that specifically fits the company’s opportunistic pitch of “easy and convenient charging while working from home,” but for a select cross section of Apple enthusiasts, the strange little dock likely hits a perfect sweet spot.

The accessory follows in the footsteps of a similarly designed Apple Watch charging dock, essentially letting you plug a pair of AirPods directly into a USB-C port — be it a MacBook, iPad Pro or what have you. It’s a fun solution if you’re aesthetically skeeved out by wires, or are just constantly let down by Lightning cables, as many of us are.

The dock serves as a wireless charger and cradle, probably best used when your laptop is sitting on a desk rather than your actual lap. The product’s width also looks as though it will monopolize both ports on one side of your MacBook.

It’s compatible with both standard and Pro AirPods (assuming you’ve got a wireless charging case) and sports a matching little charging light to indicate that it’s working. The dock is available as a pre-order now. It’s set to start shipping in May, priced at $30 (or $25 during a limited time pre-order discount).

#airpods, #apple, #hardware, #satechi