Tile secures $40 million to take on Apple AirTag with new products

Tile, the maker of Bluetooth-powered lost item finder beacons and, more recently, a staunch Apple critic, announced today it has raised $40 million in non-dilutive debt financing from Capital IP. The funding will be put towards investment in Tile’s finding technologies, ahead of the company’s plan to unveil a new slate of products and features that the company believes will help it to better compete with Apple’s AirTags and further expand its market.

The company has been a longtime leader in the lost item finder space, offering consumers small devices they can attach to items — like handbags, luggage, bikes, wallets, keys, and more — which can then be tracked using the Tile smartphone app for iOS or Android. When items go missing, the Tile app leverages Bluetooth to find the items and can make them play a sound. If the items are further afield, Tile taps into its broader finding network consisting of everyone who has the app installed on their phone and other access points. Through this network, Tile is able to automatically and anonymously communicate the lost item’s location back to its owner through their own Tile app.

Image Credits: Tile

Tile has also formed partnerships focused on integrating its finding network into over 40 different third-party devices, including those across audio, travel, wearables, and PC categories. Notable brand partners include HP, Dell, Fitbit, Skullcandy, Away, Xfinity, Plantronics, Sennheiser, Bose, Intel, and others. Tile says it’s seen 200% year-over-year growth on activations of these devices with its service embedded.

To date, Tile has sold over 40 million devices and has over 425,000 paying customers — a metric it’s revealing for the first time. It doesn’t disclose its total number of users, both free and paid combined, however. During the first half of 2021, Tile says revenues increased by over 50%, but didn’t provide hard numbers.

While Tile admits that the Covid-19 pandemic had some impacts on international expansions, as some markets have been slower to rebound, it has still seen strong performance outside the U.S., and considers that a continued focus.

The pandemic, however, hasn’t been Tile’s only speed bump.

When Apple announced its plans to compete with the launch of AirTags, Tile went on record to call it unfair competition. Unlike Tile devices, Apple’s products could tap into the iPhone’s U1 chip to allow for more accurate finding through the use of ultra-wideband technologies available on newer iPhone models. Tile, meanwhile, has plans for its own ultra-wideband powered device, but hadn’t been provided the same access. In other words, Apple gave its own lost item finder early, exclusive access to a feature that would allow it to differentiate itself from the competition. (Apple has since announced it’s making ultra-wideband APIs available to third-party developers, but this access wasn’t available from day one of AirTag’s arrival.)

Image Credits: Tile internal concept art

Tile has been vocal on the matter of Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, having testified in multiple Congressional hearings alongside other Apple critics, like Spotify and Match. As a result of increased regulatory pressure, Apple later opened up its Find My network to third-party devices, in an effort to placate Tile and the other rivals its AirTags would disadvantage.

But Tile doesn’t want to route its customers to Apple’s first-party app — it intends to use its own app in order to compete based on its proprietary features and services. Among other things, this includes Tile’s subscriptions. A base plan is $29.99 per year, offering features like free battery replacement, smart alerts, and location history. A $99.99 per year plan also adds insurance of sorts — it pays up to $1,000 per year for items it can’t find. (AirTag doesn’t do that.)

Despite its many differentiators, Tile faces steep competition from the ultra-wideband capable AirTags, which have the advantage of tapping into Apple’s own finding network of potentially hundreds of millions of iPhone owners.

However, Tile CEO CJ Prober — who joined the company in 2018 — claims AirTag hasn’t impacted the company’s revenue or device sales.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re making things harder for us,” he says of Apple. “We’re a growing business. We’re winning the hearts and minds of consumers… and they’re competing unfairly.”

“When you own the platform, you shouldn’t be able to identify a category that you want to enter, disadvantage the incumbents in that category, and then advantage yourself — like they did in our case,” he adds.

Tile is preparing to announce an upcoming product refresh that may allow it to better take on the AirTag. Presumably, this will include the pre-announced ultra-wideband version of Tile, but the company says full details will be shared next week. Tile may also expand its lineup in other ways that will allow it to better compete based on look and feel, size and shape, and functionality.

Tile’s last round of funding was $45 million in growth equity in 2019. Now it’s shifted to debt. In addition to new debt financing, Tile is also refinancing some of its existing debt with this fundraise, it says.

“My philosophy is it’s always good to have a mix of debt and equity. So some amount of debt on the balance sheet is good. And it doesn’t incur dilution to our shareholders,” Prober says. “We felt this was the right mix of capital choice for us.”

The company chose to work with Capital IP, a group it’s had a relationship with over the last three years, and who Tile had considered bringing on as an investor. The group has remained interested in Tile and excited about its trajectory, Prober notes.

“We are excited to partner with the Tile team as they continue to define and lead the finding category through hardware and software-based innovations,” said Capital IP’s Managing Partner Riyad Shahjahan, in a statement. “The impressive revenue growth and fast-climbing subscriber trends underline the value proposition that Tile delivers in a platform-agnostic manner, and were a critical driver in our decision to invest. The Tile team has an ambitious roadmap ahead and we look forward to supporting their entry into new markets and applications to further cement their market leadership,” he added.

#airtag, #airtags, #android, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #bluetooth, #ceo, #computing, #dell, #find-my, #fitbit, #funding, #gadgets, #hardware, #intel, #iphone, #mobile, #plantronics, #recent-funding, #sennheiser, #skullcandy, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #technology, #tile, #u1-chip, #ultra-wideband, #united-states

Nintendo Switch finally supports Bluetooth audio—but beware the lag

Bluetooth on Switch, presented as an overly literal image translation of the concept.

Enlarge / Bluetooth on Switch, presented as an overly literal image translation of the concept. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

In an out-of-nowhere Tuesday evening update, Nintendo reversed course on one of the portable Switch console’s biggest limitations: Bluetooth audio support. This functionality is now live on the system’s 13.0 firmware, available for download across all Switch regions.

Up until this update, Switch consoles had a portable-audio capability that was the exact opposite of smartphones like the iPhone, in that the Switch only worked with wired headphones via the console’s built-in 3.5mm headphone jack. In handheld mode, that limitation might be more bearable because the system is in your hands, so a corded headset makes a little more sense.

When Nintendo Switch is docked to a TV, on the other hand, headset options become more limited. Without Bluetooth audio support, Switch users would either need to run a 3.5mm extension cord to their entertainment center or use a pair of wireless headphones that came with a Switch-compatible USB dongle, which would have to plug into one of the Switch dock’s open ports. This runs counter to modern Xbox and PlayStation consoles, which offer more options for both 3.5mm jacks in their gamepads and built-in wireless functions in the consoles themselves.

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#bluetooth, #gaming-culture, #nintendo-switch

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

Opioid addiction treatment apps found sharing sensitive data with third parties

Several widely used opioid treatment recovery apps are accessing and sharing sensitive user data with third parties, a new investigation has found.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to reduce transmission in the U.S, telehealth services and apps offering opioid addiction treatment have surged in popularity. This rise of app-based services comes as addiction treatment facilities face budget cuts and closures, which has seen both investor and government interest turn to telehealth as a tool to combat the growing addiction crisis.

While people accessing these services may have a reasonable expectation of privacy of their healthcare data, a new report from ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab, compiled in conjunction with the Opioid Policy Institute and the Defensive Lab Agency, found that some of these apps collect and share sensitive information with third parties, raising questions about their privacy and security practices.

The report studied 10 opioid treatment apps available on Android: Bicycle Health, Boulder Care, Confidant Health. DynamiCare Health, Kaden Health, Loosid, Pear Reset-O, PursueCare, Sober Grid, and Workit Health. These apps have been installed at least 180,000 times, and have received more than $300 million in funding from investment groups and the federal government.

Despite the vast reach and sensitive nature of these services, the research found that the majority of the apps accessed unique identifiers about the user’s device and, in some cases, shared that data with third parties.

Of the 10 apps studied, seven access the Android Advertising ID (AAID), a user-generated identifier that can be linked to other information to provide insights into identifiable individuals. Five of the apps also access the devices’ phone number; three access the device’s unique IMEI and IMSI numbers, which can also be used to uniquely identify a person’s device; and two access a users’ list of installed apps, which the researchers say can be used to build a “fingerprint” of a user to track their activities.

Many of the apps examined are also obtaining location information in some form, which when correlated with these unique identifiers, strengthens the capability for surveilling an individual person, as well as their daily habits, behaviors, and who they interact with. One of the methods the apps are doing this is through Bluetooth; seven of the apps request permission to make Bluetooth connections, which the researchers say is particularly worrying due to the fact this can be used to track users in real-world locations.

“Bluetooth can do what I call proximity tracking, so if you’re in the grocery store, it knows how long you’re in a certain aisle, or how close you are to someone else,” Sean O’Brien, principal researcher at ExpressVPN’s Digital Security Lab who led the investigation, told TechCrunch. “Bluetooth is an area that I’m pretty concerned about.”

Another major area of concern is the use of tracker SDKs in these apps, which O’Brien previously warned about in a recent investigation that revealed that hundreds of Android apps were sending granular user location data to X-Mode, a data broker known to sell location data to U.S. military contractors, and now banned from both Apple and Google’s app stores. SDKs, or software development kits, are bundles of code that are included with apps to make them work properly, such as collecting location data. Often, SDKs are provided for free in exchange for sending back the data that the apps collect.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment… existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.” Jacqueline Seitz, Legal Action Center

While the researchers keen to point out that it does not categorize all usage of trackers as malicious, particularly as many developers may not even be aware of their existence within their apps, they discovered a high prevalence of tracker SDKs in seven out of the 10 apps that revealed potential data-sharing activity. Some SDKs are designed specifically to collect and aggregate user data; this is true even where the SDK’s core functionality is concerned.

But the researchers explain that an app, which provides navigation to a recovery center, for example, may also be tracking a user’s movements throughout the day and sending that data back to the app’s developers and third parties.

In the case of Kaden Health, Stripe — which is used for payment services within the app — can read the list of installed apps on a user’s phone, their location, phone number, and carrier name, as well as their AAID, IP address, IMEI, IMSI, and SIM serial number.

“An entity as large as Stripe having an app share that information directly is pretty alarming. It’s worrisome to me because I know that information could be very useful for law enforcement,” O’Brien tells TechCrunch. “I also worry that people having information about who has been in treatment will eventually make its way into decisions about health insurance and people getting jobs.”

The data-sharing practices of these apps are likely a consequence of these services being developed in an environment of unclear U.S. federal guidance regarding the handling and disclosure of patient information, the researchers say, though O’Brien tells TechCrunch that the actions could be in breach of 42 CFR Part 2, a law that outlines strong controls over disclosure of patient information related to treatment for addiction.

Jacqueline Seitz, a senior staff attorney for health privacy at Legal Action Center, however, said this 40-year-old law hasn’t yet been updated to recognize apps.

“Confidentiality continues to be one of the major concerns that people cite for not entering treatment,” Seitz told TechCrunch. “While 42 CFR Part 2 recognizes the very sensitive nature of substance use disorder treatment, it doesn’t mention apps at all. Existing privacy laws are totally not up to speed.

“It would be great to see some leadership from the tech community to establish some basic standards and recognize that they’re collecting super-sensitive information so that patients aren’t left in the middle of a health crisis trying to navigate privacy policies,” said Seitz.

Another likely reason for these practices is a lack of security and data privacy staff, according to Jonathan Stoltman, director at Opioid Policy Institute, which contributed to the research. “If you look at a hospital’s website, you’ll see a chief information officer, a chief privacy officer, or a chief security officer that’s in charge of physical security and data security,” he tells TechCrunch. “None of these startups have that.”

“There’s no way you’re thinking about privacy if you’re collecting the AAID, and almost all of these apps are doing that from the get-go,” Stoltman added.

Google is aware of ExpressVPN’s findings but has yet to comment. However, the report has been released as the tech giant prepares to start limiting developer access to the Android Advertising ID, mirroring Apple’s recent efforts to enable users to opt out of ad tracking.

While ExpressVPN is keen to make patients aware that these apps may violate expectations of privacy, it also stresses the central role that addiction treatment and recovery apps may play in the lives of those with opioid addiction. It recommends that if you or a family member used one of these services and find the disclosure of this data to be problematic, contact the Office of Civil Rights through Health and Human Services to file a formal complaint.

“The bottom line is this is a general problem with the app economy, and we’re watching telehealth become part of that, so we need to be very careful and cautious,” said O’Brien. “There needs to be disclosure, users need to be aware, and they need to demand better.”

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.

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#android, #app-developers, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #bluetooth, #broker, #computing, #director, #federal-government, #google, #google-play, #governor, #health, #health-insurance, #healthcare-data, #imessage, #law-enforcement, #mobile-app, #operating-systems, #privacy, #read, #security, #software, #stripe, #terms-of-service, #united-states

Huawei officially launches Android alternative HarmonyOS for smartphones

Think you’re living in a hyper-connected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS wants to eliminate delays and gaps in user experience when you move from one device onto another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system that powers them.

Two years after Huawei was added to the U.S. entity list that banned the Chinese telecom giant from accessing U.S. technologies, including core chipsets and Android developer services from Google, Huawei’s alternative smartphone operating system was unveiled.

On Wednesday, Huawei officially launched its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones. The firm began building the operating system in 2016 and made it open-source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as Mate 40 could upgrade to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out on lower-end models in the coming quarters.

HarmonyOS is not meant to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is more far-reaching, powering not just phones and tablets but an increasing number of smart devices. To that end, Huawei has been trying to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to join its ecosystem.

To date, more than 500,000 developers are building applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear whether Google, Facebook and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.

Some Chinese tech firms have answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo account that its smart devices might adopt HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, who are much larger players than Meizu, are probably more reluctant to embrace a rival’s operating system.

Huawei’s goal is to collapse all HarmonyOS-powered devices into one single control panel, which can, say, remotely pair the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a TV. A game that is played on a phone can be continued seamlessly on a tablet. A smart soymilk blender can customize a drink based on the health data gleaned from a user’s smartwatch.

Devices that aren’t already on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly onto a Huawei phone if the computer has the HarmonyOS plug-in installed. That raises the question of whether Android, or even iOS, could, one day, talk to HarmonyOS through a common language.

The HarmonyOS launch arrived days before Apple’s annual developer event scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.

Huawei denied speculations that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no single line of code is identical to that of Android. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.

Several tech giants have tried to introduce their own mobile operating systems to no avail. Alibaba built AliOS based on Linux but has long stopped updating it. Samsung flirted with its own Tizen but the operating system is limited to powering a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.

Huawei may have a better shot at drumming up developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands despite losing a chunk of its market after the U.S. government cut it off critical chip suppliers, which could hamper its ability to make cutting-edge phones. HarmonyOS also has a chance to create an alternative for developers who are disgruntled with Android, if Huawei is able to capture their needs.

The U.S. sanctions do not block Huawei from using Android’s open-source software, which major Chinese smartphone makers use to build their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s consumer markets overseas as its phones abroad lost access to Google Play services.

#alibaba, #android, #apple, #asia, #bluetooth, #china, #facebook, #gadgets, #harmonyos, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #linux, #meizu, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-linux, #mobile-operating-system, #mobile-phones, #open-source-software, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #xiaomi

AirTag review: They work great—maybe a little too great

Apple’s AirTag is not a revolutionary new product. Rather, it’s a significant refinement of an idea that, up until now, has been fairly niche. It works very, very well, but it works so well it seems to undermine Apple’s attempts to focus its products on privacy and security.

We spent several days testing AirTags in different situations, and we found that they work stunningly well—at least in a dense urban environment with iPhones all around.

I can’t imagine recommending any of the preceding attempts at this concept over AirTags if you have an iPhone. (Sadly, Android users are quite literally left to their own devices—in more ways than usual, as you’ll see later in this review.)

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#airtag, #apple, #bluetooth, #privacy, #tech, #tracking, #u1

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 takes on Tile with AR-ready AirTags tracking devices

Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, engineering program manager at Apple, presents AirTags (with one visible in her right hand).

Enlarge / Carolyn Wolfman-Estrada, engineering program manager at Apple, presents AirTags (with one visible in her right hand). (credit: Apple)

In a now-rare announcement of a completely new product category, Apple today introduced AirTags, a Tile-like personal location device.

AirTags can be placed in or on personal possessions to be tracked with the Find My app (formerly Find My iPhone) on iPhones, iPads, or Macs. Users can then find those devices, including those detected by any other Apple devices nearby.

The new devices play off Apple’s work in bringing augmented reality features to its devices. Users will be able to lift their phone cameras and see the locations of their AirTags positioned accurately in real physical space on the screen. Like some other similar products, AirTags will also be able to emit a noise to make them easier to find.

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#airtags, #apple, #ar, #bluetooth, #gps, #tech, #u1, #ultra-wideband, #uwb

A ‘more honest’ stock market

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review!

Last week, I talked about Clubhouse’s slowing user growth. Well, this week news broke that they had been in talks with Twitter for a $4 billion acquisition, so it looks like they’re still pretty desirable. This week, I’m talking about a story I published a couple days ago that highlights pretty much everything that’s wild about the alternative asset world right now.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


The big thing

If you successfully avoided all mentions of NFTs until now, I congratulate you, because it certainly does seem like the broader NFT market is seeing some major pullback after a very frothy February and March. You’ll still be seeing plenty of late-to-the-game C-list celebrities debuting NFT art in the coming weeks, but a more sober pullback in prices will probably give some of the NFT platforms that are serious about longevity a better chance to focus on the future and find out how they truly matter.

I spent the last couple weeks, chatting with a bunch of people in one particular community — one of the oldest active NFT communities on the web called CryptoPunks. It’s a platform with 10,000 unique 24×24 pixel portraits and they trade at truly wild prices.

This picture sold for a $1.05 million.

I talked to a dozen or so people (including the guy who sold that one ^^) that had spent between tens of thousands and millions of dollars on these pixelated portraits, my goal being to tap into the psyche of what the hell is happening here. The takeaway is that these folks don’t see these assets as any more non-sensical than what’s going on in more traditional “old world” markets like public stock exchanges.

A telling quote from my reporting:

“Obviously this is a very speculative market… but it’s almost more honest than the stock market,” user Max Orgeldinger tells TechCrunch. “Kudos to Elon Musk — and I’m a big Tesla fan — but there are no fundamentals that support that stock price. It’s the same when you look at GameStop. With the whole NFT community, it’s almost more honest because nobody’s getting tricked into thinking there’s some very complicated math that no one can figure out. This is just people making up prices and if you want to pay it, that’s the price and if you don’t want to pay it, that’s not the price.”

Shortly after I published my piece, Christie’s announced that they were auctioning off nine of the CryptoPunks in an auction likely to fetch at least $10 million at current prices. The market surged in the aftermath and many millions worth of volume quickly moved through the marketplace minting more NFT millionaires.

Is this all just absolutely nuts? Sure.

Is it also a poignant picture of where alternative asset investing is at in 2021? You bet.

Read the full thing.


an illustration of a cardboard ballot box with an Amazon smile on the front

Other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

Amazon workers vote down union organization attempt
Amazon is breathing a sigh of relief after workers at their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse opted out of joining a union, lending a crushing defeat to labor activists who hoped that the high-profile moment would lead more Amazon workers to organize. The vote has been challenged, but the margin of victory seems fairly decisive.

Supreme court sides with Google in Oracle case
If any singular event impacted the web the most this week, it was the Supreme Court siding with Google in a very controversial lawsuit by Oracle that could’ve fundamentally shifted the future of software development.

Coinbase is making waves
The Coinbase direct listing is just around the corner and they’re showing off some of their financials. Turns out crypto has been kind of hot lately and they’re raking in the dough, with revenue of $1.8 billion this past quarter.

Apple share more about the future of user tracking
Apple is about to upend the ad-tracking market and they published some more details on what exactly their App Tracking Transparency feature is going to look like. Hint: more user control.

Consumers are spending lots of time in apps
A new report from mobile analytics firm App Annie suggests that we’re dumping more of our time into smartphone apps, with the average users spending 4.2 hours a day doing so, a 30 percent increase over two years.

Sonos perfects the bluetooth speaker
I’m a bit of an audio lover, which made my colleague Darrell’s review of the new Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker a must-read for me. He’s pretty psyched about it, even though it comes in at the higher-end of pricing for these devices, still I’m looking forward to hearing one with my own ears.


 

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
The StockX EC-1
“StockX is a unique company at the nexus of two radical transitions that isn’t just redefining markets, but our culture as well. E-commerce upended markets, diminishing the physical experience by intermediating and aggregating buyers and sellers through digital platforms. At the same time, the internet created rapid new communication channels, allowing euphoria and desire to ricochet across society in a matter of seconds. In a world of plenty, some things are rare, and the hype around that rarity has never been greater. Together, these two trends demanded a stock market of hype, an opportunity that StockX has aggressively pursued.”

Building the right team for a billion-dollar startup
“I would really encourage you to take some time to think about what kind of company you want to make first before you go out and start interviewing people. So that really is going to be about understanding and defining your culture. And then the second thing I’d be thinking about when you’re scaling from, you know, five people up to, you know, 50 and beyond is that managers really are the key to your success as a company. It’s hard to overstate how important managers, great managers, are to the success of your company.

So you want to raise a Series A
“More companies will raise seed rounds than Series A rounds, simply due to the fact that many startups fail, and venture only makes sense for a small fraction of businesses out there. Every check is a new cycle of convincing and proving that you, as a startup, will have venture-scale returns. Moore explained that startups looking to move to their next round need to explain to investors why now is their moment.”

Until next week,
Lucas M.

And again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.

#alabama, #amazon, #app-annie, #apple, #bessemer, #blockchain, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #christies, #coinbase, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #extra-crunch, #gamestop, #google, #operating-systems, #oracle, #real-time-web, #smartphone, #software, #software-development, #sonos, #stockx, #supreme-court, #tc, #techcrunch, #text-messaging, #twitter, #week-in-review

Sonos delivers a near-perfect portable speaker with the new Sonos Roam

Sonos has a new speaker that starts shipping later this month, and it’s a significant departure from the company’s usual offerings in a number of ways. The all-new Sonos Roam is a compact, portable speaker with a built-in battery and Bluetooth connectivity — but still very much a Sonos system team player, with wifi streaming, multi-room feature, voice assistant support and surprisingly great sound quality.

The basics

Priced at $179, the Sonos Roam is truly diminutive, at just over 6 inches, by roughly 2.5 inches for both height and depth. It weighs under a pound, and is available in either a matte white or black finish, which is par for the course for Sonos in terms of colorways. Roam is also IP67-rated, meaning it’s effectively waterproof, with a resistance rating of up to 30 minutes at depths of up to 1 meter (3.3 feet).

Sonos has placed the speaker’s control surface at one end of the device, including a microphone button, volume controls and a play/pause button. These are actual, tactile buttons, rather than touch-sensitive surfaces like you’d find on other Sonos speakers, which makes sense for a speaker designed to be used on the go, and in conditions where touch controls might get flummoxed by things like rain and water.

The Roam also has a power button on the back, next to a USB-C port for charging. It also offers wireless charging, via a receiver found in the base of the speaker, which can be used with Sonos’ own forthcoming magnetic charging adapter (sold separately), or with any standard Qi-powered wireless charger you want.

In addition to wifi streaming, Sonos Roam can also connect to any device via Bluetooth 5.0. It also features AirPlay 2 for connecting to Apple devices when on wifi, and it works out of the box with Spotify Connect. The built-in battery is rated for up to 10 hours of playback on a full charge, according to Sonos, and can also provide up to 10 days of its sleep-like standby mode.

Design and performance

This is the smallest speaker yet released by Sonos, and that’s definitely a big plus when it comes to this category of device. The dimensions make it feel like a slightly taller can of Red Bull, which should give you some sense of just how portable it is. Unlike Sonos’ first portable speaker with a built-in battery, the Sonos Move, the Roam truly feels like something designed to be thrown in a bag and brought with you wherever you happen to need it.

Despite its small size, the Sonos Roam offers impressive sound — likely the best I’ve yet encountered for a portable speaker in this size class. Inside, it manages to pack in dual amplifiers, one tweeter and a separate custom racetrack mid-woofer, which Sonos developed to help deliver both lows and mids with a faithfulness that normally escapes smaller speakers. The Roam also gets a lot louder than you’d probably expect it could, while keeping audio quality clear and free of distortion at the same time.

One of the keys to the Roam’s great sound quality is Sonos’ Automatic Trueplay tech, which tunes the audio to best suit its surroundings actively and continually. This feature requires that the mic be enabled to work, but it’s well worth having on in most settings, and makes a big difference while streaming in both Bluetooth and wifi modes. This also helps the speaker adjust when it’s switched from horizontal to vertical orientation, and it’s one of the main reasons that the Roam punches above its weight relative to other speakers in this size and price category.

The Roam would be a winner based on audio quality alone for the price, but the extra Sonos system-specific features it boasts really elevate it to a true category leader. These include a standby mode that preserves battery while keeping the Roam available to your system for wifi streaming via the Sonos app (handy, and also optional since you can hold the power button down for five seconds to truly power off and preserve your charge for even longer, which is great for travel).

One of Roam’s truly amazing abilities is a hand-off feature that passes playback of whatever you’re using it to listen to on to the nearest Sonos speaker in your system when you long press the play/pause button. This works almost like magic, and is a great speaker superpower for if you’re wandering around the house and the yard doing chores with the Roam in your pocket.

Bottom line

Sonos waited a long time to release their first travel-friendly portable speaker, but they obviously used that time wisely. The Sonos Roam is the most thoughtfully-designed, feature-rich and best-sounding portable speaker you can get for under $200 (and better than many more expensive options, at that). Even if you don’t already have a Sonos system to use it with, it’s an easy choice if you’re in the market for a portable, rugged Bluetooth speaker — and if you’re already a Sonos convert, the decision gets that much easier.

#airplay, #assistant, #bluetooth, #computing, #gadgets, #hardware, #play3, #reviews, #smart-speakers, #sonos, #speaker, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #wireless-charger, #wireless-speaker

Sonos goes full portable Bluetooth speaker with the $169 Roam

Introduced in late-2019, the Move was a very Sonos approach to the Bluetooth speaker. It was an attempt to bring the company’s long-standing premium approach to a more portable form factor. Accordingly, the press photos feature a lot of shots of the product on porches and around pools.

Today’s arrival of the Roam, however, takes an even bigger step to full portability, with a smaller, lighter, more ruggedized and waterproof design that puts it more in line with popular offerings from companies like JBL. It’s also priced at a much more palatable $169, more than half the Move’s starting price.

Image Credits: Sonos

Of course, you can still get plenty of cheaper (and quite good) portable Bluetooth speakers. JBL’s Flip 5, for instance, retails for about $40 less. But what you’re paying for, in part, is the Sonos ecosystem. As such, I suspect the clearest play from the outset here is Sonos’ base. And thankfully, for the company, there are no doubt a lot of Sonos users who have been waiting for a long time for a compatible speaker they can toss in their suitcase — or, rather, will be able to toss into their suitcases when they use suitcases again.

In addition to the standard Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, the system utilizes Sonos’ new Sound Swap feature, which switches the music to the next closest speaker when the play/pause button is held down. The speaker works with more than 100 streaming services, per the company’s count, including, of course Sonos Radio. It also can be controlled with Alexa and Google Assistant or via AirPlay 2.

Image Credits: Sonos

I got all of this information by way of a virtual briefing, as is how business is done these days, so I can’t speak specifically to the sound. That said, I’d imagine it’s a step down from the very good and quite expensive Move. But again, this is a speaker you’re buying specifically with flexibility in mind. On that note, the speaker gets about 10 hours of playback on a charge and can go 10 days when not in use.

The speaker arrives on April 20th.

#bluetooth, #hardware, #sonos, #speaker

Headphones without headphones—we test Lucyd Lyte Bluetooth sunglasses

Lucyd Lyte is a pair of $150 sunglasses which includes speakers and mic suitable for use in making phone calls or listening to podcasts. This isn’t a category of device I was aware of at all before a PR rep reached out to offer a review unit—but once I knew it was a thing, I very much wanted to test it.

The Wayfarer style that I tested is a neutral, unremarkable style unlikely to get much attention whether negative or positive. They look nicer than gas station sunglasses but without any particular style cue to lead a viewer into thinking they’re an expensive designer brand. There’s no visual cue to the onboard audio, either—the frames are a touch on the thick side, but unlike Bose Frames there’s no telltale shape to give the extra functionality away.

Lucyd Lyte paired with my Pixel 2XL phone quickly and easily. The instructions recommend a two-hour initial charging period; when factory-new and after the initial charging period, the phones are both on and in pairing mode—all you need to do is open the pairing menu in your phone and select “Lucyd Lyte.”

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#bluetooth, #bluetooth-headphones, #exercise-headphones, #headphones, #sunglasses, #tech

Treadly’s next-gen compact treadmill is ideal for small spaces and features app-based social workouts

As the global pandemic continues, having options for keeping active at home is increasingly top-of-mind. Treadly is a startup focused on building a home treadmill that’s compact and convenient, with smart connected features that boost engagement. The company recently released its second-generation product, and it’s super compact, with hardware improvements that boost the weight limit for users and add cooling benefits that extend workout times.

Basics

Treadly’s design is probably a lot smaller than you’re expecting – it’s just 3.7-inches tall for the base, and it weights just 77 lbs. The whole deck is just 56-inches long by 25-inches wide, and there’s a flip-down handle that you extend when you want to jog at a faster pace, while folding it away for strictly walking workouts.

There’s a display built into the deck itself, offering a simple but easy to read black and white readout of key stats, including speed, total steps, time and distance. The handrail features manual controls, and the Treadly 2 can also be controlled either via a dedicated remote control for the basic model, or through the Treadly app (iOS only now, but Android coming soon) via Bluetooth for the upgraded Treadly 2 Pro version.

The Treadly 2 also features a built-in Bluetooth speaker, which allows you to connect your smartphone and play music via whatever app you want. The Treadly iOS app also offers community iterative training, and live video integration. Treadly is also introducing new groups features to the app to allow users form their own communities, and also new challenges that users can issue to one another, like step count records and more.

Design and features

Treadly’s design is very compact, as mentioned, and it’s the perfect size for small spaces. It’ll slide easily under most couches thanks to its low height, and it can also be stored vertically if you want to put it against the wall or in a larger closet. The design is also attractive and minimal, which make it more unobtrusive than most exercise equipment even if left out in plain view.

The built-in display in the deck itself is a nice accommodation for keeping the dimensions compact, while also providing all the feedback you’d expect from a piece of home gym equipment. It’d be easier to check periodically if it was mounted into the fold-down handlebar, but that would definitely lead to increased bulk. Plus, having the stats slightly difficult to access is probably actually better for many people, since zeroing in on those can make a workout more arduous than it needs to be.

For the basic model, the remote is effective and compact, with a wriststrap included so that you can keep track of it easily while using the treadmill. The built-in Bluetooth speaker isn’t amazing, as you might expect, but it’s more than good enough to provide a soundtrack if you don’t have other speakers or earbuds on hand to use.

Image Credits: Treadly

As for the experience of actually using Treadly 2 to run or walk, it definitely delivers, with a few caveats: First, don’t expect this to provide a true indoor running experience. While it definitely offers impressive weight capacity for a treadmill of this size, the max speed is 5 mph, which is a low-intensity jog for most people. With the handrail down, that drops to just 3.7 mph, which is a brisk walk.

For something this compact, that’s actually still very impressive – especially since there’s no time limit on how long you can use the treadmill at 5 mph thanks to Treadly 2’s new and improved cooling system. For avoiding a sedentary lifestyle while remaining mostly indoors, the Treadly 2’s speed settings more than deliver, and that’s probably enough for most users, advanced fitness buffs excluded.

Bottom line

The Treadly 2 is a connected treadmill that provides a great blend of convenience, social features, guided usage, connected control and space-saving design into a reasonably-priced package starting at $749 for the Basic and $849 for the Pro with special New Year Sale pricing. It’s like the Peloton that most people are actually more likely to use long-term, and it’s a great way to stay active during the long winter months in our unprecedented times.

#app-store, #bluetooth, #bluetooth-speaker, #computing, #fitness, #gadgets, #hardware, #health, #ios, #itunes, #reviews, #science-and-technology, #smartphone, #tc, #technology, #treadmill

Samsung unveils its newest Tile competitor, the Galaxy SmartTag

Alongside its other announcements at Samsung’s event today, the company introduced its new Galaxy SmartTag Bluetooth locator, a lost item beacon for Samsung owners and a competitor with Tile. Like Tile and Apple’s forthcoming AirTags, the beacon can be attached to keys, a bag, a pet’s collar or anything else you want to track. Initially, these SmartTags will use Bluetooth to communicate with a nearby Samsung device, however, the company confirmed a ultra-wideband (UWB) powered version called the SmartTag+ will arrive later this year.

The latter would allow the SmartTag to better compete with Apple’s AirTags, which are also expected to take advantage of newer iPhones’ UWB capabilities. Tile, in anticipation of this news, has already developed a UWB tracker arriving later this year, as well.

The SmartTag announced today, the Galaxy SmartTag11, will use Bluetooth and there is only one main SKU — not a range of products in different sizes or configurations. However, the tracker will be sold in two color variations: Black and Oatmeal.

The tracker works with any Galaxy device, a Samsung rep told us, as long as the device runs Android 10 or later.

Device owners can then locate the missing item with the SmartTag attached using the SmartThings Find app.

This works similar to Tile and other BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) trackers. When the SmartTag is offline — meaning, disconnected from the Galaxy S21 or other device — it sends a BLE signal that can be detected by nearby Galaxy devices. When detected, the device will send the nearby location information to the SmartThings Fine app so you can locate the item. Samsung says the SmartThings Find user data is encrypted and securely protected, so your location and personal information is safe when you lose your device and use the app to search for it.

The app will also offer a variety of locating tools, including a “Notify me when it’s found” option, as well as “Search Nearby,” “Search,” and “Ring” tools. Like Tile, you can also use a SmartTag to locate a missing phone. In this case, you push the Galaxy SmartTag button twice to receive an alert to help locate the missing phone.

The tag can also be customized to do other things when pushed once, so you could easily turn on your lights or TV when you return home, for example.

Ahead of the announcement, regulatory documents showed the tracker as a slightly chunkier version of Tile’s trackers, powered by a CR2032 cell battery, with Bluetooth connectivity. (We’ve confirmed the battery is, in fact, a user-replaceable CR2032.)

A Samsung rep could not provide us with the official and detailed tech specs for the device ahead of its announcement today, but we’ll update if the company figures it out. Unfortunately, without the confirmed details like whether the battery is user-replaceable, for example, or what the range is, it’s difficult to make a proper comparison to the existing trackers on the market. (You can’t always go off leaks alone here, either, as they aren’t always an indication of the final product. But the regulatory filings are likely a good starting point.)

To promote adoption, Samsung is giving away the new trackers pre-orders. From Jan. 14 to Jan. 28, 2021, consumers who pre-order the Galaxy S21 Ultra will get a $200 Samsung Credit plus a free Galaxy SmartTag. That could help the devices gain a little more traction, as Samsung’s previous investments in tracking gadgets, including its 2018 LTE-based SmartThings tracking fobs, never really caught on.

Outside the pre-order promotion, the SmartTags will cost $29.99 individually and will be sold starting Jan. 29th.

This is slightly steeper than Tile’s entry-level Bluetooth tracker, the Tile Mate, which retails for $24.99.

#airtags, #android, #bluetooth, #ces-2021, #gadgets, #samsung, #samsung-electronics, #smartphones, #smartthings, #tile, #ultra-wideband

Qualcomm’s new chipset for wireless earbuds promises improved noise cancellation, all-day battery life

There are now so many wireless earbuds, it’s hard to keep track, but one of the reasons why we’ve seen this explosion in new and existing manufacturers entering this business is the availability of Bluetooth Audio SoCs from Qualcomm, including the QCC5100 and QCC30xx series. Today, the company is launching the latest chipset in its wireless portfolio, the QCC305x.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a more powerful chip, with four more powerful cores compared to the three cores of its 304x predecessor. But the real promise here is that this additional processing power will now enable earbud makers to offer features like adaptive active noise cancellation and support for using wake words to active Alexa or the Google Assistant.

The new chipset now also supports Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive with an audio resolution of up to 96kHz and aptX Voice for 3-microphone echo canceling and noise suppression for clearer calls while you are on the go (or on a Zoom call, which is more likely these days). And despite the increased power, Qualcomm promises all-day battery life, too, though, at the end of the day, it’s up to the individual manufacturer to tune their gadgets accordingly.

Image Credits: Qualcomm

The new chipset has also been designed to support the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard. This new standard hasn’t been finalized just yet, but it promises features like multi-stream for multiple synchronized audio streams from a single device — useful for wireless earbuds — and support for personal audio sharing, so that you can share your music from your smartphones with our people around you. There’s also location-based sharing to allow public venues like airports and gyms to share Bluetooth audio with their visitors.

It’s still early days for Bluetooth LE Audio, but during a press conference ahead of today’s announcement, Qualcomm continuously stressed that its new chips will be ready for it once the standard is ratified.

“Not only do our QCC305x SoCs bring many of our latest-and-greatest audio features to our mid-range truly wireless earbud portfolio, they are also designed to be developer-ready for the upcoming Bluetooth LE Audio standard,” James Chapman, vice president, and general manager, Voice, Music, and Wearables at Qualcomm, said in the announcement. “We believe this combination gives our customers great flexibility to innovate at a range of price points and helps them meet the needs of today’s audio consumers, many of whom now rely on their truly wireless earbuds for all sorts of entertainment and productivity activities.”

Image Credits: Qualcomm

#alexa, #aptx, #assistant, #bluetooth, #google, #hardware, #qualcomm, #smartphones, #telecommunications, #voice, #wireless, #wireless-earbuds

The mikme pocket is a fantastic mobile audio solution for podcasters, reporters and creators

Portable audio recording solutions abound, and many recently released devices have done a lot to improve the convenience and quality of sound recording devices you can carry in your pocket – spurred in part by smartphones and their constant improvement in video recording capabilities. A new device from Austria’s mikme, the mikme pocket (€369.00 or just under $450 USD), offers a tremendous amount of flexibility and quality in a very portable package, delivering what might just be the ultimate pocket sound solution for reporters, podcasters, video creators and more.

The basics

mikme pocket is small – about half the size of a smartphone, but square and probably twice as thick. It’s not as compact as something like the Rode Wireless GO, but it contains onboard memory and a Bluetooth antenna, making it possible to both record locally and transmit audio directly to a connected smartphone from up to three mikme pockets at once.

The mikme pocket features a single button for control, as well as dedicated volume buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring audio, a micro-USB port for charging and for offloading files via physical connection, and Bluetooth pairing and power buttons. It has an integrated belt clip, as well as a 3/8″ thread mount for mic stands, with an adapter included for mounting to 1/4″ standard camera tripod connections.

In the box, mikme has also included a lavalier microphone with a mini XLR connector (which is the interface the pocket uses) and a clip and two windscreens for the mic. They also offer a ‘pro’ lavalier mic as a separate, add-on purchase (€149.00 or around $180 USD), which offers improved performance vs. the included lav in terms of audio quality and dynamic range.

Image Credits: mikme

The internal battery for the mikme pocket lasts up to 3.5 hours of recording time, and it can last for more than six months in standby mode between recordings, too.

Design and performance

The mikme pocket is a pretty unadorned black block, but its unassuming design is one of its strengths. It has a textured matte feel which helps with grittiness, and it’s easy to hide in dark clothing, plus the integrated belt clip works exactly as desired ensuring the pack is easy secured to anyone you’re trying to wire for sound. It features a single large button for simplified control, which also easily shows you its connectivity status using an LED backlight.

Controls for more advanced functions like Bluetooth connectivity, as well as the micro-USB port, are located on the bottom where they’re unlikely to be pressed accidentally by anyone during recording. The mini XLR interface for microphones means that once a mic is plugged it, it’s also securely locked in place and won’t be jostled out during sessions.

You can use the mikme pocket on its own, thanks to its 16GB of built-in local storage, but it really shines when used in tandem with the smartphone app. The app allows you to connect up to three pockets simultaneously, and provides a built-in video recorder so you can take full advantage of the recording capabilities of modern devices like the iPhone 12 to capture real-time synced audio while you film effortlessly. The mikme pocket and app also have a failsafe built in for filling in any gaps that might arise from any connection dropouts thanks to the local recording backup.

In terms of audio quality, the sound without adjusting any settings is excellent. Like all lavalier mics, you’ll get better results the closer you can place the actually mic capsule itself to a speaker’s mouth, but the mikme pocket produced exceptional clean-sounding, high-quality audio right out of the box – in environments that weren’t particularly sound isolated or devoid of background noise.

The included mini XLR lav mic is probably good enough for the needs of most amateur and enthusiast users, while the lavalier pro is a great upgrade option for anyone looking to make the absolute most of their recordings, especially with post-processing via desktop audio editing software. The mikme app has built-in audio tweaking controls with a great visual interface that allows you to hear the effects of processing tweaks in real-time, which is great for maximizing sound quality on the go before sharing clips and videos directly from your device to social networks or publishing platforms.

Bottom line

From on-phone shotgun mics, to handheld recorders and much more, there are plenty of options out there for capturing audio on-the-go, but the mikme pocket is the one that offers the best balance of very high-quality sound that’s essentially immediately ready to publish, in a package that’s both extremely easy to carry anywhere with you, and that offers durability and user-friendliness to suit newcomers and experts alike.

#austria, #bluetooth, #computing, #darrell-etherington, #gadgets, #hardware, #iphone, #microphone, #microphones, #review, #reviews, #smartphone, #smartphones, #speaker, #tc, #technology

California’s CA Notify app to offer statewide exposure notification using Apple and Google’s framework

The state of California has now expanded access of its CA Notify app to all in the state, after originally deploying the app in a pilot program at UC Berkeley in November, which later expanded to other UC campuses. The statewide launch of the app, announced by California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, means that the tool based on Apple and Google’s exposure notification API will be available for download and opt-in use to anyone with a compatible iPhone or Android device as of this Thursday, December 10.

Apple and Google’s jointly-developed exposure notification API uses Bluetooth to determine contact between confirmed COVID-positive individuals and others, alerting users to potential exposure without storing or transmitting any data related to their identity or location. The system uses a randomized, rolling identifier to communicate possible exposure to other devices, and individual state health authorities can customize specific details like how close, and for how long individuals need to be in contact in order to quality as an exposure risk.

In the case of California, the state has set contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive individual of within 6 feet, for a period of 15 minutes or more as meriting an exposure notification. Users who receive a positive COVID-19 test will get a text message from the Department of Public Health for the state that contains a code they input in the CA Notify app in order to trigger an alert broadcast to any phones that met the criteria above during the prior 14 days (the period during which the virus is transmissible).

As mentioned, there’s no personal information transmitted from a user’s device via the notification system, and it’s a fully opt-in arrangement. Other states have already deployed exposure notification apps based on the Apple/Google API, as have many other countries around the world. It’s not a replacement for a contact tracing system, in which healthcare professionals attempt to determine who a COVID-19 patient came in contact with to find out how they might have contracted the virus, and to whom they may spread it, but it is a valuable component of a comprehensive tracing program that can improve its efficacy and success.

#android, #api, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #biotech, #bluetooth, #california, #contact-tracing, #exposure-notification, #gavin-newsom, #google, #governor, #health, #iphone, #mass-surveillance, #messages, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #pilot-program, #software, #tc, #uc-berkeley

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

#amazon-web-services, #apple, #apple-inc, #asia-pacific, #aws-reinvent, #bluetooth, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #david-brown, #developer, #europe, #ipad, #iphone, #ireland, #mac-mini, #macintosh, #ohio, #oregon, #singapore, #steve-jobs, #tc, #web-hosting

Australia’s spy agencies caught collecting COVID-19 app data

Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found.

The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.”

But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.”

Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.”

The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date.

For some, fears that a government spy agency could access COVID-19 contact tracing data was the worst possible outcome.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries — and states in places like the U.S. — have rushed to build contact tracing apps to help prevent the spread of the virus. But these apps vary wildly in terms of functionality and privacy.

Most have adopted the more privacy-friendly approach of using Bluetooth to trace people with the virus that you may have come into contact with. Many have chosen to implement the Apple-Google system, which hundreds of academics have backed. But others, like Israel and Pakistan, are using more privacy invasive techniques, like tracking location data, which governments can also use to monitor a person’s whereabouts. In Israel’s case, the tracking was so controversial that the courts shut it down.

Australia’s intelligence watchdog did not say specifically what data was collected by the spy agencies. The app uses Bluetooth and not location data, but the app requires the user to upload some personal information — like their name, age, postal code, and phone number — to allow the government’s health department to contact those who may have come into contact with an infected person.

Australia has seen more than 27,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

#articles, #australia, #bluetooth, #contact-tracing, #exposure-notification, #fiber-optic, #government, #israel, #mass-surveillance, #pakistan, #policy, #privacy, #security, #software, #spokesperson, #united-states

Aveine’s Smart Wine Aerator is a huge upgrade for wine lovers – and could create some new ones, too

You might have very good reason to be on a wine kick right now – along with plenty of the rest of the country – so it’s perhaps timely to take a look at the Aveine Smart Aerator, a gadget from a French startup that offers variable, instant aeration and a connected app platform for determining just the right amount of aeration that any particular wine you happen to be drinking requires. The Aveine Smart Wine Aerator is premium-priced, but you might be surprised at just how much of a difference it can make.

The basics

The Aveine Smart Wine Aerator began life as did many other startup devices – as a crowdfunding project. The France-based team ended their campaign in 2018, having surpassed their funding goal, and spend the next couple of years working on finalizing, producing and shipping their design. The Aveine is now available to order, in both the original, full-performance version at $449, and an ‘Essential’ edition introduced this year that offers half the maximum aeration time (12 hours vs. 24) for $299 (reviewed here).

Both work the same way: You place them on top of the bottle you want to aerate once it’s opened, and they connect via Bluetooth to your phone and the Aveine app, which is available for iOS and Android . Through the app, you can take a photo of your wine’s label and it will try to match it from its growing database to automatically set the Aveine to the optimal aeration time.

Image Credits: Aveine

In practice, I found that most of the wines I was testing with weren’t in the database – which Aveine expects, and that’s why it provides a simple survey that you can fill out to get an approximate best aeration time, by supplying information like vintage, grapes used, region and whether the wine is organic or biodynamic. You can also manually set the aeration, and taste test small amounts to find your preferred amount.

Aveine includes a soft carrying case for the Smart Aerator in the box, as well as a charging base that connects to any standard USB wall plug for via micro USB. The built-in battery is rated for around 12-hours of standby, with occasional aeration use while pouring, when it’s actively injecting air into the flow using a built-in motor.

Design and performance

The Aveine feels quite heavy, and it’s clear that a lot of care went into ensuring that all of its smart internals fit comfortably inside the relatively small device. It fits easily over the vast majority of wine bottle tops, and grips while pouring without any special attachment process required. The touchscreen activates when you swipe it, showing you the adjustable aeration screen in simple black and white.

Getting started with the Aveine is simple, and doesn’t require the app at all in fact. Just adjust the scale to your desired aeration level, and pour. The aeration automatically begins when you tip the bottle, and you can hear it working as the motor works to inject air while the wine flows through. If you do use the app, it’ll ask you to connect the Aerator (if you’ve woken up the device by activating the display, it should instantly show up in the app’s device list when it’s within Bluetooth range of your phone).

If you have a wine that’s in Aveine’s database, taking a picture of the label will return a recommended aeration time, and if you’re connected to the aerator, it’ll also automatically set the aerator’s aeration time to that level. As mentioned, you can also answer a few questions about the wine if it’s not in the database to return an estimated aeration time, which will also be automatically set if you’re connected to the device.

Image Credits: Aveine

Now let’s talk performance: Let me say that I understand sticker shock when you see the asking price of the Aveine – I had the same thing. But actually using the Smart Aerator goes a long way to proving its worth. The effect is immediate and non-ambiguous: It makes just about any bottle of wine taste a whole lot better, without you having to decant it and let it sit for hours in advance.

My testing is admittedly non-scientific, but I did poll a wide swath of friends and families who enjoyed bottles aerated via the Aveine during socially distanced visits, and to a one they all noted a vast improvement between before and after aeration tastings. At least one even went out and immediately purchased an Aveine of their own based on the experience.

Sometimes you have to do a bit of experimentation to get the aeration right, adjusting the levels and doing contrasting taste tests – but that’s actually also part of the fun.

Bottom line

Aerator gadgets are plentiful, and often cheaply acquired in the checkout line at the local wine shop for well under $100. But the Aveine is the first one I’ve tried that makes such a clear and demonstrable difference it can convince novices and pros alike about its efficacy. It’s a high price to pay, yes, but what you get in return is a device that consistently makes life better for wine lovers – and that make some new wine lovers out of skeptics, too.

#aeration, #android, #bluetooth, #computing, #gadgets, #hardware, #reviews, #software, #tc, #wine

Bridgefy launches end-to-end encrypted messaging for the app used during protests and disasters

Offline-messaging app Bridgefy — which innovatively uses Bluetooth and Wi-fi — became known as the go-to app by thousands of protesters around the world to keep communications going even when oppressive regimes blocked or shut down the Internet. Recently, activists in Nigeria and Thailand have urged supporters to download the app, as last year, when protesters in Hong Kong downloaded Bridgefy to face the government’s censorship of phone services or data connections. In the last 12 months, the startup says it’s reached 2 million downloads. And since the events of the weekend, when Turkey and Greece were hit by an earthquake, the app is now trending on app stores for those regions.

Bridgefy is now publishing a major new update, with a new, crucial feature for activists: end-to-end encrypted messages. This will allow people to securely send and receive messages when they don’t have access to data and will use the same encryption protocol used by Signal, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger .

Bridgefy launched in 2014 (and appeared on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage in 2017) when the founders identified the problem of not being able to communicate during the earthquakes in Mexico City. It started as a mobile app, and an SDK was added a few years later so other apps could also work without the Internet. The Bridgefy SDK is now licensed to companies on an annual subscription model, based on user volume and is integrated by more than 40 companies across payments, messaging, gaming, social media, dating, and natural disaster apps. Technically-speaking, its competitors include GoTenna and the moth-ball gathering Firechat, although Bridgefy has become better known in the activist space.

The startup is now raising a Seed round and has already raised $800,000 USD, with investors including Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, Alchemist Accelerator and GAN Ventures.

#biz-stone, #bluetooth, #bridgefy, #cofounder, #computing, #europe, #facebook, #firechat, #mesh-networking, #messenger, #mexico-city, #nigeria, #operating-systems, #phone-services, #social-media, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #thailand, #whatsapp, #wi-fi

Shure’s Aonic 50 wireless noise cancelling headphones offer best-in-class audio quality

The noise-cancelling over-ear headphone category is an increasingly competitive one, and consumers have never been more spoiled for choice. Shure entered the market this year with the Aonic 50, a premium-priced headset ($399) that offers active noise cancelling, Bluetooth connectivity and USB-C charging. Shure’s reputation for delivering top-quality sound is definitely part of the package, and there’s a lot more to recommend the Aonic 50 as well.

Basics

Shure offers the Aonic 50 in either black or brown finishes, and they have physical controls on the right ear cup for volume, turning noise cancellation on and off, power, activating voice assistances and skipping tracks. There’s a USB-C port for charging, and a 2.5mm stereo connector on the left ear cup for using the included cable to connect via wire, which allows you to use them even while the internal battery is depleted or the headset is powered down (albeit without active noise cancelling obviously).

The Aonic 50 also comes with a round, flat carrying case – the ear cups swivel to fit in the zippered storage compartment. This takes up more of a footprint than the typical folding design of these kind of ANC headphones, but it’s less bulky, too, so it depends on how you’re packing them whether this is good or bad.

Shure offers a mobile app for iOS and Android called ShurePlus Play that can provide EQ controls, as well as more specific tuning of both the active noise cancelling, and the environmental mode that pipes in outside sound. This allows for a lot of customization, but with one major caveat – EQ settings only apply when playing music via the app itself, which is an unusual and disappointing choice.

Design and performance

Shure’s Aonic 50 excel in a couple of areas where the company has a proven track record: Sound quality and comfort/wearability. The ample faux leather-wrapped padding on both the headband and the ear cups make them very comfortable to wear, even for longer sessions, which is great for work for home practicality. I often forgot I had them on while moving around the house, which gives you an idea of how well they fit.

As for sound, Shure has aimed for a relatively neutral, flat tone that provides an accurate recreation of what the original producer intended for any track, and the results are great. Music detail is clear, and they’re neither too heavy on bass or overemphatic on treble. This is a sound profile that audiophiles will appreciate, though it might not be the best for anyone who’s looking for a bass-heavy soundstage. That said, bass-favoring headphones are easy to find in this category, so Shure’s offering, with its clear highs, stands apart from the field in the ANC arena. To be clear, the bass is excellent, but overall the market has moved towards muddy, artificially enhanced bass vs. true rendering, which the Aonic 50 delivers.

The button controls on the Aonic 50 are well-placed and cover the spectrum in terms of what you’d want to be able to control right from the headset. USB-C charging is much-appreciated in an era where that’s far and away the standard for most of the mobile devices in your life, as well as many computers. The included stereo cable is a great addition for when the battery runs out – but Shure’s advertised 20-hour or so battery life estimate is accurate, so it’ll be quite a while before you have to resort to that as long as you remember to charge once in a while.

If there’s one place where Shure’s performance falls a bit short, it’s in noise cancellation. The ANC does a decent job of blocking out unwanted environmental sound, but it’s not quite up to the standard of the like of Bose or Sony’s top-end ANC headphones. It still gets the job done most of the time, and the trade-off is better sound.

Bottom line

As I said above, people looking for active noise cancelling headphones are spoiled for choice these days. But the Shure Aonic 50 offers something that discerning audio pros won’t be able to find from alternatives including those from Bose or Sony, and that’s an excellent soundstage and sound quality that just can’t be beat. Wearability is also tops, which makes these a great options for audiophiles who want a wire-free, sound-blocking solution for a home office.

#android, #audio-engineering, #audiophile, #bluetooth, #gadgets, #hardware, #headphones, #headset, #mobile-devices, #noise-cancelling, #noise-cancelling-headphones, #noise-reduction, #reviews, #shure, #sony, #sound, #tc, #work-from-home-gear

Google and Intel warn of high-severity Bluetooth security bug in Linux

Stylized image of a floating padlock.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Google and Intel are warning of a high-severity Bluetooth flaw in all but the most recent version of the Linux Kernel. While a Google researcher said the bug allows seamless code execution by attackers within Bluetooth range, Intel is characterizing the flaw as providing an escalation of privileges or the disclosure of information.

The flaw resides in BlueZ, the software stack that by default implements all Bluetooth core protocols and layers for Linux. Besides Linux laptops, it’s used in many consumer or industrial Internet-of-things devices. It works with Linux versions 2.4.6 and later.

In search of details

So far, little is known about BleedingTooth, the name given by Google engineer Andy Nguyen, who said that a blog post will be published “soon.” A Twitter thread and a YouTube video provide the most detail and give the impression that the bug provides a reliable way for nearby attackers to execute malicious code of their choice on vulnerable Linux devices that use BlueZ for Bluetooth.

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#biz-it, #bluetooth, #bluez, #exploits, #linux, #tech, #vulnerabilities

Menlo Micro, a startup bringing semiconductor tech to the humble switch, is ready for its closeup

Sixteen years ago a group of material scientists and engineers at General Electric banded together to reinvent the circuit breaker. Now, Menlo Microsystems, the spinoff commercializing that technology, is ready to bring its revolutionary new switches to market, with huge implications for everything from 5G technologies to quantum computing.

Based in Irvine, Calif., Menlo Micro takes its name from the Menlo Park, NJ research lab where Thomas Edison patented the first light switch back in 1893 and the company’s ties to GE run deep.

Researchers at GE spent more than a decade working internally on Menlo Micro’s core technology, a novel process that applies semiconductor manufacturing techniques to the production of micro electro-mechanical systems, before spinning it out into a new business five years ago.

Using a novel alloy, Menlo Micro is able to reduce the size of the switches it makes to 50 microns by 50 microns, or roughly the width of a human hair. This miniaturization can enable hardware manufacturers to come up with completely new designs for a host of products that used to require much larger components.

“The micro electro-mechanical system that we use to make this… that’s not new,” said Russ Garcia, the company’s chief executive. “The problem was — the first level innovation is how do you take a mechanical switch like the light switch or a relay and scale that down to a wafer.”

Many companies have tried to make MEMs contact switches, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, but Garcia said that the reliability and durability of the switches was always an issue. The material science behind Menlo’s switches solves the problem, he said.

Menlo’s switches pack lots and lots of MEMS relays onto a single chip that can function like a massive mechanical relay, reducing something that was the size of a fist to something the size of a microchip.

The company’s founders think the potential uses are pretty limitless, thanks to the massive size reduction and increased durability that its switches offer.

Close up of a Menlo Micro switch. Image Credit: Menlo Micro

Initial markets for commercialization

“One way to look at this is in edge and IOT applications,” said company co-founder Chris Giovanniello, a former vice president of business development at GE Ventures and Menlo Micro’s current senior vice president of worldwide marketing.  “What we tend to think about and what most of the industry thinks about is low energy bluetooth and wifi and low power processing for decision making. Once you’ve sensed it, communicated it, and made a decision, you have to do something about it.”

Initially Menlo Micro spun out from GE with Giovanniello and co-founders including chief technology officer, Chris Keimel, and Jeff Baloun, the senior vice president of operations. Garcia, who saw the company’s initial pitch at a semiconductor conference where GE was touting the technology, was brought on board by one of Menlo Micro’s early investors Paladin Capital Group. 

Paul Conley of Paladin Capital sent me this deck and said ‘Wow there might be something there.’ We met Chris and then met up with the other Chris they wanted me to help out with strategy,” Garcia said. He wound up coming on board as a founding executive. 

Current solid state technologies tasked with making something happen based on the data currently use more power than the rest of the systems that they’re tied to. Menlo Micro’s chips would substantially reduce energy loss and improve the efficiency of entire systems, he said. 

“If you think of the light switch in your house, it’s two metal contacts that come together. If that contact is really good and clean the electricity flows through very efficiently and when you turn it off… no electricity can flow through and [nothing] happens at all,” said Garcia, a longtime executive in the MEMS industry. “In a semiconductor, there’s loss in that contact. When you run a transistor on it allows the energy to flow through but loses some of that energy in heat and when you turn it off it allows some of that energy to flow through. When you take the billions of switches… all of that incremental energy is completely lost.”

The benefits of the technology mean demand from the defense industry, which wants to put the new switches in radar, radio, and satellite networks. Commercial applications include wi-fi connectivity, 5G cell networks, for radio frequency and microwave switching. Consumers could see the switches in cell phones meaning fewer dropped calls, higher speeds and capacity for data, and longer battery life.

Menlo has already sent samples from its production line to 30 lead customers in aerospace and defense, telecommunications and testa and measurement. And the company has raised $44 million in new funding from investors including Nest founder Tony Fadell’s Future Shape Group to boost its production capacity to meet potential demand.

“The concept of an ‘ideal switch’ was theoretical – something companies have been working to  achieve for decades – until Menlo Micro,” said Marianne Wu, the former head of GE Ventures and current Managing Director of 40 North Ventures, which led Menlo Micro’s latest round. “We are incredibly excited to work with such a dynamic, experienced team on a core  technology that is disrupting nearly every industry.” 

Series of Menlo Micro switches on a circuit board. Image Credit: Menlo Micro

Thinking beyond 5G, defense and industrial IOT

Over the last 30 months, Menlo Micro said it has completed the transfer and qualification of its manufacturing process, moving from a 4-inch research fab to a new 8-inch high volume manufacturing line.

That means the company is able to increase production for its initial products and boost its capacity. With the qualification in hand, the company expects to bring production up to over 100,000 units per month by the end of 2020 and reach production capacity for millions of switches per month in 2021.

So beyond telecommunications and defense, there are target markets in energy storage, automotive, aerospace because of the miniaturization — while quantum computing companies are interested in the technology because of its durability.

“The relay is a large mechanical devices that you can hold in yourhand and used in many applications for turning on and off the power that goes to an industrial piece of equipment to your car to motors that need to be driven,” said Giovanniello. “They’re very hard to integrate because they’re so big. We can take the electrical characteristics of having a true metal to metal on low loss connection and then, when it’s open there’s an air gap that no current can flow through.. We can integrate [the switches] into completely different architectures.” 

Ultimately, Giovanniello said the go-to-market strategy is to focus on the “rule of 99”.

“We’re able to reduce the size, the weight, and the power fo the box that [the switch] is going into by up to 99%. That’s a huge improvement in infrastructure and cost,” he said.

For companies developing quantum computers, the value proposition is not just about the size of the MEMS, but the durability of the alloy that Menlo Micro has developed. “For quantum, you have to have devices that operate at close to absolute zero… Semiconductors don’t work down to those temperatures so they use old-fashioned mechanical relays [which] can take hours to get back to temperature,” Giovanniello said. “Our materials are so robust they work [at temperatures] down to a few milikelvins.”

It’s this flexibility and the potential redesign of old industrial technologies that haven’t been updated for nearly a century that has enabled the company to bring in $78 million in funding from investors including Piva, Paladin Capital Group, Vertical Venture Partners, Future Shape and strategic investors like Corning and Microsemi.

“For 40+ years, the industry has been searching for a switch that has the perfect combination of  the electromechanical relay and the silicon transistor,” said Tony Fadell, in a statement. “[This technology] is a tiny,  efficient, reliable micro-mechanical switch with unmatched RF-performance and, counterintuitively, high-power handling of 1,000s of Watts. As our world moves to the  electrification and wireless of everything, Menlo Micro’s deep innovation is already triggering  massive cross-industry upheaval.”

#bluetooth, #corning, #ge-ventures, #general-electric, #mems, #paladin-capital-group, #quantum-computing, #tc, #vertical-venture-partners

Security flaw left ‘smart’ chastity sex toy users at risk of permanent lock-in

Just because almost every gadget or appliance can be connected to the internet, doesn’t mean they should be. Outages can render these “smart” devices useless, and many use weak security that can make them easily hackable.

And as security researchers recently found out, the consequences of having a major security flaw in one popular sex toy could have been catastrophic for tens of thousands of users.

U.K.-based security firm Pen Test Partners said the flaw in the Qiui Cellmate internet-connected chastity lock, billed as the “world’s first app controlled chastity device,” could have allowed anyone to remotely and permanently lock in the user’s penis.

The Cellmate chastity lock works by allowing a trusted partner to remotely lock and unlock the chamber over Bluetooth using a mobile app. That app communicates with the lock using an API. But that API was left open and without a password, allowing anyone to take complete control of any user’s device.

Because the chamber was designed to lock with a metal ring underneath the user’s penis, the researchers said it may require the intervention of a heavy-duty bolt cutter or an angle grinder to free the user.

Alex Lomas, a researcher at Pen Test Partners, said in a blog post that an attacker could lock “everyone in or out” very quickly. “There is no emergency override function either, so if you’re locked in there’s no way out,” he wrote.

The unsecured API also allowed access to the private messages and the precise location from the user’s app.

A vulnerability in the Qiui’s Cellmate app allowed anyone unauthenticated access to the private messages and location of any user. The lock on the chastity device can also be remotely controlled, researchers said. (Image: Qiui)

TechCrunch first learned of the vulnerability in June. The researchers contacted Qiui, based in China, about the flawed API. Taking the vulnerable API offline would have locked in anyone using the device. The developer pushed out a new API for new users, but left the unsecured API up for existing users.

Qiui chief executive Jake Guo told TechCrunch that a fix would arrive in August, but that deadline came and went. “We are a basement team,” he said. In a follow-up email explaining the risks to users, Guo said: “When we fix it, it creates more problems.”

In the end, Qiui missed the three self-imposed deadlines to fix the vulnerable API, said Lomas.

The decision to go public was made after Pen Test Partners learned of a separate security issue from another researcher, who also found it difficult to get a response from Qiui. “This reinforced our decision to publish: clearly others were likely to find these issues independent of us, so the public interest case was made in our minds,” wrote Lomas.

It’s not known if anyone maliciously exploited the vulnerable API. Several user reviews of the app complained that the app had bugs that would cause the device to stay locked.

“The app stopped working completely after three days and I am stuck!” said one user. Another said they “got already stuck twice when wearing it due to the unreliable app.”

“It worked for about a month until I almost got stuck in it. Thankfully it unlocked itself randomly and I was able to get out of it. The device left a bad scar that took nearly a month of recovery,” said another review.

Qiui joins a long list of sex toys with security problems that inherently don’t exist in non-internet-connected devices. In 2016, researchers say a bug in a Bluetooth-powered “panty buster” let anyone remotely control the sex toy over the internet. In 2017, a smart sex toy maker settled a lawsuit after it was accused of collecting and recording “highly intimate and sensitive data” of its users.

Practice safe sex; don’t use a smart device.

Related stories:

#bluetooth, #china, #driver, #gadgets, #mobile-app, #pen-test-partners, #security, #united-kingdom

Amazon details its low-bandwidth Sidewalk neighborhood network, coming to Echo and Tile devices soon

Last year, Amazon announced its Sidewalk network, a new low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol it developed to help connect smart devices inside and — maybe even more importantly — outside of your home. Sidewalk, which is somewhat akin to a mesh network that, with the right amount of access points, could easily cover a whole neighborhood, is now getting closer to launch.

As Amazon announced today, compatible Echo devices will become Bluetooth bridges for the Sidewalk network later this year and select Ring Floodlight and Spotlight Cams will also be part of the network. Since these are low-bandwidth connections, Amazon expects that users won’t mind sharing a small fraction of their bandwidth with their neighbors.

In addition, the company also announced that Tile will be the first third-party Sidewalk device to use the network when it launches its compatible tracker in the near future.

When Amazon first announced Sidewalk, it didn’t quite detail how the network would work. That’s also changing today, as the company published a whitepaper about how it will ensure privacy and security on this shared network. To talk about all of that — and Amazon’s overall vision for Sidewalk — I sat down with the general manager of Sidewalk, Manolo Arana.

sidewalk app on/off toggle

Image Credits: Amazon

Arana stressed that we shouldn’t look at Sidewalk as a competitor to Thread or other mesh networking protocols. “I want to make sure that you see that Sidewalk is actually not competing with Thread or any of the other mesh networks available,” he said. “And indeed, when you think about applications like ZigBee and Z-Wave, you can connect to Sidewalk the same way.” He noted that the team isn’t trying to replace existing protocols but just wants to create another transport mechanism — and a way to manage the radios that connect the devices.

And to kickstart the network and create enough of a presence to allow homeowners to connect their smart lights at the edge of their properties, for example, what better way for Amazon than to use the Echo family of devices.

“Echos are going to serve as bridges, that’s going to be a big thing for us,” Arana said. “You can imagine the number of customers that will benefit from that feature. And for us to be able to have that kind of service, that’s super important. And Tile is going to be the first edge device, the first Sidewalk-enabled device, and they’ll be able to track your valuables, your wallet, whatever it is that you love.”

And in many ways, that’s the promise of Sidewalk. You share a bit of bandwidth with your neighbors and in return, you get the ability to connect to a smart light in your garden that would otherwise be outside of your own network, for example, or get motion sensor alerts even when your home WiFi is out, or to track your lost dog who is wearing a smart pet finder (something Amazon showed off when it first announced Sidewalk).

Image Credits: Amazon

In today’s whitepaper, the team notes that Amazon will make sure that shared bandwidth is capped and provide a simple on/off control for compatible devices to give users the choice to participate. The maximum bandwidth a device can use is capped at 500MB and the bandwidth between a bridge and the Sidewalk server in the cloud won’t exceed 80Kbps.

The overall architecture of the Sidewalk service is pretty straightforward. The endpoint, say a connected garden light, talks to the bridge (or gateway, as Amazon also calls it in its documentation). Those gateways will use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) and LoRa in the 900 MHz band connect to the devices on one side — and then talk to the Sidewalk Network server in the cloud on the other.

That network server — which is operated by Amazon — manages incoming packets and ensure that they come from authorized devices and services. The server then talks to the application server, which is either operated by Amazon or a third-party vendor.

Image Credits: Amazon

All these communications are encrypted multiple times and even Amazon won’t be able to know the commands or messages that are being passed through the network. There are three layers of encryption here. First, there’s the application layer that enables the communication between the application server and the endpoint. Then, there’s Sidewalk’s network layer, which protects the packets over the air and in addition, there’s the so-called Flex layer which is added by the gateway and which provides the network server with what Amazon calls “a trusted reference of message-received time and adds an additional layer of packet confidentiality.”

In addition, whatever routing information Amazon receives is purged ever 24 hours and device IDs are regularly rotated to ensure data can’t be tied to individual customers, in addition to using one-way hashing keys and other cryptographic techniques.

Arana stressed that the team decided not to go public with this project until it had gone through extensive penetration tests, for example, and added kill switches and advanced security features. The team also developed novel techniques to provision devices inside the network securely.

He also noted that the silicon vendors who want to enable their products for Sidewalk have to go through an extensive testing procedure.

“When you look at the level of security requirements for the silicon to be part of Sidewalk, many of our silicon [vendors] haven’t been qualified, just because it needs to be the new version, it needs to have certain secure boot features and things. That has been quite an eye-opener for everyone, to see that IoT is definitely improving — and it is going to get to a super level — but there’s a lot of work to do and this is part of it. We took it on and embraced that security level to the maximum and the vendors have been extremely positive and forthcoming working with us.”

Among those vendors the