Apple just released the third version of the iOS 12 beta as part of the public beta program. It means that everyone can now install a development build of iOS 12, the next major version of the operating system for iPhone and iPad.
Don’t forget this is still a beta version. Things will crash, things won’t work. Don’t be surprised if you lose data in your Photos, Notes or Messages apps for instance.
But if you have an iPhone or iPad that you don’t use every day, you can get a glimpse of the future of iOS right now. While the final version of iOS 12 should be released near the end of September, Apple is going to release beta versions every few weeks over the summer.
The profile is just a tiny file that tells your iPhone to check for public betas. After restarting your device, you can open the Settings app and install the iOS update just like any normal software update. If you already installed a previous beta, it’s time to update.
In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 12 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 12. The main feature of iOS 12 is a performance improvement, especially for older devices. If you have an iPhone 6 or an iPad Air for instance, you should see a big improvement when it comes to launching apps, triggering the camera and entering text.
The other big theme of the year is new features to help you spend less time using your phone. There’s a new Screen Time feature to see and control how much time you spend using each app. Notifications are now grouped and you can silence them from the lock screen. You also can turn on Do Not Disturb when you’re in a meeting, for a few hours or for longer.
Apple didn’t stop there, and added new power features as well. Developers will be able to take advantage of a new file format for augmented reality and new features in ARKit 2.0. Apple is releasing the Workflow app as a new Siri Shortcuts app. Developers will be able to add information to Siri, as well, so that you can add a boarding pass or a music playlist to Siri.
The Photos, News and Stocks apps have been improved, as well as Apple Books (the app formerly known as iBooks). Apple is introducing Memoji on the iPhone X. It’s a customized avatar that you can use in iMessage and FaceTime to represent you.
If you want to learn more, read my iOS 12 preview to get my thoughts on this update.
Sharecuts is creating a community for sharing Siri Shortcuts
With the upcoming release of iOS 12, Apple is introducing a new app called Shortcuts that will allow users to build custom voice commands for Siri that can be used to kick off a variety of actions in apps. While some apps will directly prompt users to add a Shortcut to Siri, the new Shortcuts app will offer more shortcut suggestions to try, plus the ability to create your own shortcuts and workflows. Now, there’s a new resource for shortcut fans, too – Sharecuts, a directory of shortcuts created and shared by the community.
The site is still very much in the early stages.
Plus, iOS 12 is still in beta testing itself, and the Shortcuts app can only be installed by developers who request access via an invite.
But by the time iOS 12 releases to the public later this fall, Sharecuts’ directory will be filled out and a lot more functional.
The premise, explains Sharecuts’ creator Guilherme Rambo, was to make an easily accessible place where people could share their shortcuts with one another, discover those others have shared, and suggest improvements to existing shortcuts.
“I was talking to a friend [Patrick Balestra] about how cool shortcuts are, and how it should be easier for people to share and discover shortcuts,” says Guilherme. “He mentioned he wanted to build a website for that – he even had the idea for the name Sharecuts – but he was on vacation without a good internet connection so I decided to just build it myself in one day,” he says.
The site is currently a bare bones, black-and-white page with cards for each shortcut, but an update will bring a more colorful style (see below) and features that will allow users to filter the shortcuts by tags, vote on favorites, among other things.
Above: current site
Guilherme says while the backend is being built to support a larger number of users, only a few people have been invited to upload for the time being. But in the upcoming release, the site will offer a “featured” selection of shortcuts chosen by some well-known members of the Apple community who will serve as curators.
The uploads to the site will also be moderated in the future, to prevent malicious shortcuts and spam from being included in the directory.
The site itself isn’t a new business or startup, Guilherme says, just a side project for now.
It remains to be seen how popular Siri Shortcuts will be with the mainstream iPhone user base.
With iOS 12, Apple is turning its iPhone into an “A.I. phone,” but I believe the Shortcuts app and workflows will remain a power user feature for some time. Mainstream users will gradually warm up to the idea of customizing their Siri interactions by getting prompted to create voice commands by their favorite apps. (E.g. Your coffee shop’s mobile ordering app may push you to add a “Coffee time!” shortcut to Siri.)
Over time, that may lead them to iOS 12’s Shortcuts app to do even more.
But in the near-term, power users will be busy taking advantage of the new Shortcuts app and Siri features to test the powers of Shortcuts. And with Sharecuts, all the other shortcuts enthusiasts can benefit from their enthusiasm and activity, too.
If you already have the beta Shortcuts app installed, you can try out some of the shortcuts featured on Sharecuts today. A couple of the interesting picks include the Siri News Reader which will read you headlines from an RSS feed, the Bitcoin Price checkers, and an always useful tip calculator.
Turn Siri into a personalized news reader with Shortcuts – here’s how I can listen to headlines from @macstoriesnet and @9to5mac via Siri
Apple’s App Store revenue nearly double that of Google Play in first half of 2018
Apple’s App Store continues to outpace Google Play on revenue. In the first half of the year, the App Store generated nearly double the revenue of Google Play on half the downloads, according to a new report from Sensor Tower out today. In terms of dollars and cents, that’s $22.6 billion in worldwide gross app revenue on the App Store versus $11.8 billion for Google Play – or, 1.9 times more spent on the App Store compared with what was spent on Google Play.
This trend is not new. Apple’s iOS store has consistently generated more revenue than its Android counterpart for years due to a number of factors – including the fact that Android users historically have spent less on apps than iOS users, as well as the fact that there are other Android app stores consumer can shop – like the Amazon Appstore or Samsung Store, for example. In addition, Google Play is not available in China, but Apple’s App Store is.
Last year, consumer spending on the App Store reached $38.5 billion, again nearly double that of Google Play’s $20.1 billion.
As the new figures for the first half of 2018 indicate, consumer spending is up this year.
Sensor Tower estimates it has increased by 26.8 percent on iOS compared with the same period in 2017, and it’s up by 29.7 percent on Google Play.
The growth in spending can be partly attributed to subscription apps like Netflix, Tencent Video, and even Tinder, as has been previously reported.
Many of the other all-time top apps following Netflix were also subscription-based, including Spotify (#2), Pandora (#3), Tencent Video (#4), Tinder (#5), and HBO NOW (#8), for example.
And Netflix is again the top non-game app by consumer spending in the first half of 2018, notes Sensor Tower.
Game spending, however, continues to account for a huge chunk of revenue.
Consumer spending on games grew 19.1 percent in the first half of 2018 to $26.6 billion across both stores, representing roughly 78 percent of the total spent ($16.3 billion on the App Store and $10.3 billion on Google Play). Honor of Kings from Tencent, Monster Strike from Mixi, and Fate/Grand Order from Sony Aniplex were the top grossing games across both stores.
App downloads were also up in the first half of the year, if by a smaller percentage.
Worldwide first-time app installs grew to 51 billion in 1H18, or up 11.3 percent compared with the same time last year, when downloads were then 45.8 billion across the two app stores.
Facebook led the way on this front with WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram as the top four apps across both the App Store and Google Play combined. The most downloaded games were PUBG Mobile from Tencent, Helix Jump from Voodoo, and Subway Surfers from Kiloo.
Google Play app downloads were up a bit more (13.1 percent vs iOS’s 10.6 percent) year-over-year due to Android’s reach in developing markets, reaching 36 billion. That’s around 2.4 times the App Store’s 15 billion.
Despite this, Apple’s platform still earned more than double the revenue with fewer than half the downloads, which is remarkable. And it can’t all be chalked up to China. (The country contributed about 31.7 percent of the App Store revenue last quarter, or $7.1 billion, to give you an idea.)
Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that even if China was removed from the picture, the App Store would have generated $15.4 billion gross revenue for first half of 2018, which is still about 30 percent higher than Google Play’s $11.8 billion.
Apple emoji will soon include people with curly hair, white hair and superpowers
In honor of World Emoji Day (yes, that’s a thing), Apple is previewing some of its upcoming emoji. Later this year, Apple’s emoji set will feature people with a variety of hairstyles and colors, including curly hair, red hair and white hair. What you’re about to see are simply Apple’s take on emoji that were previously approved by the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee.
Folks with curly hair, rejoice!
Let’s hear it for the redheads
Like white on rice
No hair? No problem
Other fun emoji include a freezing face, peacock, mango, lobster, nazar amulet, superheroes and kangaroo.
Living with the new 15-inch MacBook Pro
When reviewing hardware, it’s important to integrate it into your life as much as possible. If you can, swap it in for your existing devices for a few days or a week, to really get an idea of what it’s like to use it day to day.
There are certain nuances you can only discover through this approach. Of course, that’s easier said than done in most cases. Switching between phones and computers every week isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, especially when juggling multiple operating systems.
As a MacBook Pro owner, however, this one was a fair bit easier. In fact, there’s very little changed here from an aesthetic standpoint, and beyond the quieter keyboard and Siri integration, there’s not a lot that’s immediately apparent in the 2018 MacBook Pro refresh for me. That’s because I’m not the target demographic for the update. I write words for a living. There are large portions of my job that I could tackle pretty easily on an Apple IIe (please, no one tell the IT department).
This upgrade is for a different class of user entirely: the creative professional. These are the people long assumed to be the core user base for the Mac ecosystem. Sure, they only account for around 15 percent of Mac users, according to the company’s estimates, but they’re the people who use the machines to make art. And as such, it’s precisely the group of influencers the company needs to court.
In recent years, however, some vocal critics have accused the company of taking that key demo for granted. Apple has seemed more focused on a populist approach to its technology. The simplification of pro software like Final Cut X and the seeming abandonment of the Mac Pro have been regarded as exhibits A and B.
For the first time in recent memory, the company has serious competition for the hearts and minds of creative pros, including Microsoft, which has made the category a focus with its high-end Surface line.
But the last two years have seen Apple fighting back. The company was uncharacteristically open about the status of the Mac Pro line, which has been undergoing a fundamental rethink. In the meantime, it released the iMac Pro and added a bunch of new features to macOS aimed firmly at that category.
The new MacBook Pro continues that trend; the form factor remains the same, and the changes are largely under the hood. But these are in fact extremely powerful machines built around the premise that, in 2018, one shouldn’t have to compromise power in order to go portable. Well, maybe a little — but in those cases where you need some intense graphical processing, there’s always an external GPU, which makes the machine capable of VR and other process-intensive tasks.
The new Pros top out at a bank-breaking $6,699, presenting a healthy jump over the highest-end models money could buy last year. For the rest of us, however, the starting price remains the same, at $1,799 for the 13-inch and $2,399 for the 15.
Keys to quiet
There’s a lot going on here. First, as many pointed out in the initial announcement, Apple didn’t alter the fundamentals here — they just made the loud typing a bit quieter. That was a surprise to many, given everything that’s happened on that front over the last several months. After all, if the company was going to go out of its way to update the technology, wasn’t a fundamental rethink in order here?
A couple of things. First, things (and lawsuits) didn’t really start getting hot and heavy on that front until recently. The first major class-action suit was filed back in May. Hardware iteration happens slowly, especially with a massive company that supports so many users. After all, you want to get things right — especially when correcting a known issue. A couple of months is hardly sufficient lead time.
Second, Apple says the actual instances of real keyboard failure are a small minority. I’m inclined to believe that’s the case, though the internet certainly has the tendency to amplify these kinds of things. But still, there seems a reasonable possibility that some bigger fix is in the works.
The company will also point out that, in spite of pushback, many users like the new keyboards. Based on the multiple threads of discussion we had after the news was announced, I can tell you that this is anecdotally true among the TechCrunch staff.
Things got better with gen two, and I’ve certainly become more used to typing on it. I still didn’t love it at first, but I’d say I’m pretty much keyboard-agnostic at this point.
Along with the mechanics, the key travel is the same. So if you had issues with the typing being too shallow for your liking, sorry, you’re out of luck here. An early teardown points to a thin, silicone membrane sitting on top of the keyboard switch that serves to help protect the undercarriage from spills, food particles and the like. I once got a small piece of something stuck under there and it hampered movement entirely.
In my case, it was nothing that a blast of canned air couldn’t fix (we don’t all have one lying around, but we really should), but clearly not everyone has been so lucky on that front. It seems as though the muffling of the sound and the extra sense of tactile pushback was a happy accident of a kind here, but hey, we’ll take it.
Here’s a longish thing we wrote after getting our hands on the system. We enlisted Anthony Ha, TechCrunch’s Loud Typing World Champion five years running (they tried to recruit him out of college, but the allure of writing about VCs was too strong) to try it out. Even with Anthony downright punishing the keys, the result was noticeable.
The new keys aren’t silent, but they’re a lot less likely to get you kicked out of the library. There’s not a huge difference between the actual decibel levels between the two, but the older model’s more staccato typewriter clacking sound has become more dull and less harsh on the ears, which likely makes it sound that much quieter.
Another tidbit here for people who focused on such things: The keys’ cap color is ever-so-slightly lighter than the last. I thought I was going crazy at first, but there you go. I mean, I still think I’m losing my mind, but for non-keyboard-related reasons.
About those specs
Apple didn’t hold back on the specs with the review unit it sent along. The model sports:
2.9 GHz Intel Core i9
32 GB of DDR4 memory
Radeon Pro 560X
4TB of storage
Configured on Apple’s site, that will run you a cool $6,669 — about the same as the monthly rent on a studio apartment in San Francisco, from what I understand. It’s worth noting here that it’s the SSD storage that really pushes the cost into the stratosphere. That’s an additional $3,200 over the default 512GB.
Again, 4TB is probably overkill for the vast majority of users. All of the above configurations are, really, but they’re there if you want/need them. Apple was able to push memory up to 32GB courtesy of finally introducing DDR4 to the MacBook. That move does come with a hit to the battery life, however, so the company went ahead and increased the battery size to offset that hit.
The company says the laptop gets around 10 hours of use in its testing. I admittedly put it through something a bit more rigorous than standardized testing when incorporating it into my daily usage — recording a podcast on Skype, listening to music while working/browsing the web (it’s part of my job, I swear) — and got a few hours less than that.
As for performance, Apple’s not messing around here. Running Geekbench 4 (a popular PC benchmark), I got an impressive 5540 on the single core and 23345 with the multi-core test. Geekbench got similar — if slightly lower — results in its own tests on the high end. Here’s founder John Poole on the findings:
For the 15-inch models, single-core performance is up 12-15%, and multi-core performance is up 39-46%. Since the underlying processor architecture hasn’t significantly changed between the 2017 and 2018 models, the increases in performance are due to higher Turbo Boost frequencies, more cores, and DDR4 memory.
The 2018 MacBook Pro is the most substantial upgrade (at least regarding performance) since the introduction of quad-core processors in the 2011 MacBook Pro.
Taken together, that represents a significant upgrade from last year’s model. Individual performance will vary depending on a lot of different topics, but there’s no doubt these are powerful machines.
The addition of hands-free Siri functionality didn’t get a lot of play here, but it’s an important one — if not for the computer itself, then for Apple’s broader ambitions. Like Google’s play, Siri was mobile first.
But Apple’s assistant has always been about building a broader ecosystem of contextual search that can help the company tailor its offerings to individual user needs. We saw this manifest itself last year with the addition of HomePod, a typically Apple high-end approach to the insanely popular world of smart speakers.
The assistant has actually been available on macOS since Sierra (10.12) rolled out back in late 2016. This, however, marks the first time hands-free voice interaction has been available on the desktop. Apple says it was the T2, introduced on the iMac Pro, which allowed for the capability — just one of an extremely long list of features the company has offloaded on the proprietary chip.
Like other key features, Siri is enabled during setup. If you’re the sort who sticks masking tape over your webcam, you can also simply opt out of having the MacBook’s microphones listening in for the wake word. And you can always untick the “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’” box in Settings.
Setup is more or less the same as on iOS. You’ll be prompted to speak a couple of phrases to train the AI on your voice. Device interaction functions similarly as other assistant hardware ecosystems. The moment you say, “Hey, Siri,” your iPhone/Mac/HomePod, et al. communicate with one another, prioritizing either the device that heard the query the best (likely the closest) or was most recently used.
I ended up disabling the feature on my phone in order to test it on the desktop, because there were too many instances of the phone picking it up or having Siri pop up on both at once and then disappearing on the one that was de-prioritized. When the feature was switched off the phone, however, its desktop counterpart was plenty responsive.
All of this leads to a key question: Is a desktop smart assistant ultimately very useful? The primary driver of voice functionality is the ability to free up your hands from having to type. Presumably, however, you’ve already got your hands at or near the keyboard if you’re close enough for Siri to hear you.
Multitasking seems to be the primary use-case here. Say you’re typing and want to know the weather or find movie times, you can definitely do that. Ditto for sports scores — it took a query or two, but “did the A’s win yesterday?” got me the answer I wanted, with a conversational reply, “the Athletics eked out a win over the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series by a score of 4 to 3 yesterday.”
Hey Siri, a win is a win, okay?
Multimedia functionality, which seems like one of the most logical applications, is still limited here. Siri will find and play things in Apple Music, but ask her to play something on Spotify and that’s a no-go — you’ll get an Apple Music link and Wikipedia entry instead. Siri knows which side her bread is buttered on. Ask her to play a movie and she’ll confess that she can’t do that.
More functionality is surely on the way. For now, however, Siri on the desktop is more a nice addition than necessary feature.
Toning it down
Like Siri, True Tone is opt-in during the setup process. You can toggle it on and off at the beginning, which I suggest, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. And, like Siri, you can always go back into settings later to adjust if it’s not to your liking. Clicking Option and the Touch Bar bright icon will get you there, as well.
The effect, which debuted on the iPad Pro (and rolled out to other new iOS devices) utilizes a light sensor (new for the Mac) to determine the ambient color and brightness of its surroundings. It’s a sort of more sophisticated version of the brightness detection Apple computers have had on board for some time now.
If you’ve ever fiddled with a camera (even the one on your phone in most cases), you recognize the importance of white balance. That’s the thing that turns objects weird colors when you step into different lighting settings. It’s a key to perceiving contrast getting lifelike reproductions of images. I have two 15-inch MacBooks in front of me right now (that’s just how I roll), and it’s like night and day. You’ve got no idea how blue the screen you’ve been staring at is until you see it up against another True Tone-enabled display.
For a majority of us, it’s a nice feature, but for photographers, video producers and designers who rely on a MacBook for their work, it’s a much bigger deal. As recently published support documents point out, the feature will also work with a handful of secondary displays, including Apple’s own, and LG’s Ultrafine 4K and 5K.
I’m staring at my now 2017 MacBook Pro as I type this. It’s always tough to compete with the latest and greatest, especially when it’s been specced out like crazy. I’m going to miss the quieter keyboard and True Tone display, for sure. Hands-free Siri, I can really take or leave at the moment, based on current functionality.
But I’m not ready for an upgrade just yet. For a majority of users, the upgrades on the high end will mostly amount to overkill. Thankfully, however, the low-end price points remain the same at $1,799 and $2,399 for the 13- and 15-inch, respectively.
Those who expect a lot more from their machines will no doubt be excited to see what these laptops can do. The new MacBooks aren’t a fundamental rethink by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re a welcome acknowledgment that the company still considers creative pros a key part of its DNA.
iFixit finds dust covers in latest MacBook Pro keyboard
Apple released a refreshed MacBook Pro this week and top among the new features is a tweaked keyboard. Apple says its quieter than the last version and in our tests, we agree. But iFixit found something else: thin, silicone barriers that could improve the keyboard’s reliability.
This is big news. Users have long reported the butterfly switch keyboard found in MacBook Pros were less reliable than past models. There are countless reports of dust and lint and crumbs causing keys to stick or fail. Personally, I have not had any issues, but many at TechCrunch have. To date Apple has yet to issue a recall for the keyboard..
iFixit found a thin layer of rubberized material covering the new butterfly mechanism. The repair outlet also points to an Apple patent for this exact technology that’s designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”
According to Apple, which held a big media unveiling for new models, the changes to the keyboard were designed to address the loud clickity-clack and not the keyboard’s tendency to get mucked up by dust. And that makes sense, too. If Apple held an event and said “We fixed the keyboards” it would mean Apple was admitting something was wrong with the keyboards. Instead Apple held an event and said “We made the keyboards quieter” admitting the past keyboards were loud, and not faulty.
We just got our review unit and will report back on the keyboard’s reliability after a day or two at the beach. Because science.
Apple announces clean energy fund in China
Apple has announced a new investment fund to foster clean energy usage in China. The company isn’t just trying to switch its own offices and facilities. Apple is also working with its suppliers to expand the use of clean energy across the board.
For this fund in particular, Apple and 10 suppliers will invest $300 million over the next four years. Overall, the company expects to finance multiple clean energy projects to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy in China.
Apple isn’t going to manage the fund itself. The company is partnering with DWS Group, a division of Deutsche Bank. DWS will also participate in the fund.
The company started working on renewable energy projects a few years ago. Earlier this year, Apple claimed that 100 percent of its offices, retail stores, data centers and Apple-owned facilities are now powered by renewable energy.
Apple is not there yet when it comes to suppliers. The company has launched the Supplier Clean Energy Program back in 2015 with 23 manufacturing partners, and regularly shares updates — Foxconn seems to be missing so far.
By 2020, Apple and its suppliers hope to generate 4 gigawatts of clean energy. And let’s be honest, this is great news for the planet.
Sales of PCs just grew for the first time in six years
Don’t look now, but the PC might not be dead. According to Gartner, collector of marketshare and industry metrics, worldwide shipments of personal computers just experienced the first year-over-year growth since 2012. Shipments totaled 62.1 million units, which is a 1.4 percent increase from the same time period in 2017. The report states “experienced some growth compared with a year ago” but goes on to caution declaring the PC industry as in recovery just yet.
The top five PC vendors all experienced growth with Lenovo seeing the largest gains of 10.5% — though that could be from Lenovo completing a joint venture with Fujitsu. HP grew 6.1%, Dell 9.5%, Apple 3% and Acer 3.1%. All good signs for an industry long thought stagnate. This report excludes Chromebooks from its data. PC vendors experienced growth without the help of Chromebooks, which are the latest challenger to the notebook computer.
Gartner points to the business market as the source of the increased demand. The consumer market, it states, is still decreasing as consumers increasing use mobile devices. Yet growth in the business sector will not last, it says.
“In the business segment, PC momentum will weaken in two years when the replacement peak for Windows 10 passes.” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner said in the report. “PC vendors should look for ways to maintain growth in the business market as the Windows 10 upgrade cycle tails off.”
Consumers will likely continue, for the most part, to keep a computer around but since the web is the new desktop, the upgrade cycle for a causal user will keep getting longer. As long as a home has a computer that can run Chrome, that’s likely good enough for most people.
Some iOS users report that 11.4 update triggers excessive battery drain
iOS users have been reporting problems with excessive battery drain after updating to iOS 11.4.
On Sunday, 9to5Mac reported on a raft of posts on Apple forums complaining about excessive battery drain since updating. ZDNet also flagged complaints around the issue early last month.
The update to Apple’s mobile operating system was released at the end of May, adding support for Messages in iCloud, plus some media and entertainment features, such as AirPlay 2 and support for two HomePod speakers to work as a stereo pair.
Safe to say, radically reduced battery life was not among the listed additions.
This TC writer also noticed an alarming depreciation in battery performance after updating to iOS 11.4 at the end of last month — with the battery level dropping precipitously even when the handset was left untouched doing nothing.
Looks like updating to iOS 11.4 has decimated iPhone battery life
We reached out to Apple immediately after noticing the problem — but the company has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Judging by forum complaints, other iOS users have also found that updating to iOS 11.4 impacts the standby battery life of their device.
In my case checking the (beta) battery health feature in the iPhone settings threw no light on the abnormal performance, with maximum capacity reported as a (healthy sounding) 91%, as well a claim that “normal” peak performance was supported.
The ‘battery usage’ report that’s built into iOS also seemed unable to shed any light on what was causing the battery to drain so fast — listing an app that had been used prior to the previous charge as responsible for the largest chunk of usage. So evidently not identifying the real culprit.
In the end, rebooting my affected iPhone seemed to improve the battery drain issue. Though I can’t be sure whether or not the device has taken a small hit to battery performance as a consequence of the iOS update.
In the middle of writing this report, an additional update — iOS 11.4.1 — has been pushed out by Apple, though it’s not clear whether this explicitly fixes the battery drain issue or not. Battery drain is not listed among the bugs iOS 11.4.1 addresses. But, either way, it’s worth updating in case it helps.
Battery and performance issues have been something of a recurring problem for Apple’s iOS devices in recent years. Again in my case, my affected iPhone 6S only had its battery replaced under an Apple free battery replacement program last year — ironically as a result of a battery fault that caused unexpected shutdowns — so really the battery should have a decent amount of life left in it still.
And as (bad) luck would have it, the iPhone 5 I owned prior to this was also affected by an earlier Apple battery fault. So this is the third battery-related problem to strike the two iPhones I’ve owned over the past five years. Which is certainly unfortunate.
That said, two handsets lasting five years is a testament to Apple’s otherwise lasting build quality. (Albeit, this Samsung-branded portable battery pack has been the unsung workhorse hero stepping in when the batteries conked out, as TC colleagues can also testify…)
Meanwhile after more user complaints last year Apple was forced to apologize for not being more transparent with customers about how it handles performance on iOS devices with older batteries — clarifying that its software in fact slows down the maximum performance of iPhones with older batteries as a power management technique to avoid unexpected shutdowns.
Although it also quickly offered discounted $29 battery replacements to iPhone owners with an iPhone 6 (or later) whose battery “needs to be replaced” — as well as promising to add controls to iOS to enable users to switch off the feature if they choose.
For its forthcoming iOS 12 update — which was trailed at WWDC, and is due out this fall — Apple says the release will “double down” on performance, slating a slew of refinements, bug fixes and optimizations incoming. So, hopefully, any lurking battery and performance gremlins will soon be kicked into touch.
Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths
In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.
The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.
“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.
The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.
Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.
Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.
Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.
Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.
On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.
Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.
Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.