Google stores ‘transient’ Allo messages until you delete them

Back when Google first announced its brand-new chat app Allo, the company told The Verge it would only store messages “transiently,” not indefinitely. But since May, when the app was first announced at Google I/O, things have changed a bit in that regard. A Google spokesperson confirmed that messages are now stored on Google’s end as long as that chat history is available on your personal device. But once you choose to delete the history, it’s also deleted on Google’s end — so users do have control over just how long their messages persist for.

Google told me that it made this change after the company pushed the app out to wide testing around the company; it found that the experience was better when it saved chat history for longer. That history helps Google with things like the app’s auto-reply features, which work better the more data is available for Google to analyze.

For the end user, this means that your messages are stored on Google’s servers, in the same fashion that Hangouts messages and emails from your Gmail account are. The messages are still encrypted between your phone and Google’s servers, and they’re stored using encryption that Google can open up so it’s accessible to their machine learning processes.

If both you and the other participant in your conversation choose to delete a conversation, though, the messages will be removed from Google’s servers. And if you want extra privacy, you can use Allo’s incognito mode, though you won’t get the benefit of the Google Assistant that sets the app apart from other options. Deleting the app itself from my iPhone also deleted all the content of the conversations I was having — but again, if my friends didn’t delete those chats, they’re still out there on Google’s servers.

For most users, this probably won’t be a deal-breaker — it’s not really any different than how most of Google’s many other communication products behave. But there’s also no doubt that there’s been increased attention given to the privacy and security of your online communications. If that’s a concern to you, Allo might not be the best option for you.

Via: The Verge

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Allo brings Google’s ‘Assistant’ to your phone today

If you’re going to unveil a new messaging app, it had better do something unique. At this point, finding a place amongst entrenched options like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage is not an easy task. Google didn’t quite pull it off with Hangouts when it launched in 2013. Sure, it’s installed on basically every Android phone out there and anyone with a Gmail account has probably tried it, but Google’s messaging strategy never quite came together in a compelling or clear way.

So Google is rebooting yet again with Allo, a mobile-only messaging app that leverages the company’s biggest strengths in an effort to stand out from the pack. That strength is the vast amount of knowledge Google has about you and the world around you. It shows up in the app via the Google Assistant, a conversational chatbot that provides you and your friends with contextual info based on your chat history. The bot will show up across multiple Google products, including Google Home, but this is our first look at it in action.

It’s an outgrowth of what Google’s been doing for a long time with the Knowledge Graph and the info it serves you in things like Google Now, and that really is something no other app can do. I’ve been playing with Allo for about a week to see just how much the app can do — and where it still falls flat.

Getting set up is a simple affair: Once the app is installed, you create a profile linked to your phone number and Google account. From there, you’ll be able to see who in your phone’s contact list is using Allo to initiate a chat; you can also invite friends who don’t have the app to give it a shot. Then you can start a one-on-one chat, a group chat, an encrypted “incognito chat” or talk directly to the Google Assistant.

The Assistant is what really sets Allo apart from other chat apps, and it can provide you with a host of info depending on whether you’re in a private chat with it or bringing it into a conversation with other human beings. Probably the best way to sum up the Assistant is that it lets you bring info from around the internet right into your conversations without having to jump back and forth between apps.

If you’re planning dinner, for example, you can ask it to show you nearby Indian restaurants, and then tap on a specific result to get more details. Results from the Google Assistant typically have “chips” below them to prompt you to continue getting more info; you can pull up a map, call the location, see pictures inside and more with one tap. And because it understands natural language, you can follow up your query about Indian restaurants by saying “What about Chinese?” and it’ll know you’re interested in food, not the language.

This can be genuinely useful — it’s easy to share things like flight status, local weather and nearby points of interest with groups of people just by asking Google. And there’s lots of silly fun to be had as well. Google built in some games like “emoji movies,” where you have to guess the name of a film based on a series of emojis. You can also have it pull up pictures and GIFs from Google images, so it’s pretty easy to drop cute cat pictures to your group on the fly.

The downside to the Google Assistant is that it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of letting you do everything in the app, through the bot. Many times, tapping on various items will bounce you out to your browser, and while I can look up a bunch of restaurants with my friends, I can’t actually book one through OpenTable right in the app, for example. The Assistant doesn’t yet work with third-party services, so I can’t say “get us a table for four at 8PM.” That’ll come down the line, though.

When it can’t complete a task itself, you get bounced out to the web. Sometimes that makes sense — seeing a restaurant’s full menu is better in a browser than in a chat app, and getting directions to a location is a lot better in the proper Google Maps app. But the experience occasionally felt a bit more disjointed than I’d like. Google says the Assistant is considered only a “preview” right now, so it should become smarter and better integrated in time.

Chatting directly with the Google Assistant (rather than interacting with it in a chat with other humans) opens up more functionality. For the sake of privacy, it can do certain things only in private chat — you can ask it to get you directions to work, show you emails from yesterday, pull up your calendar agenda and more things based on your personal Google account. You can even have it pull images from Google Photos using natural language like “show me my pictures of dogs.”

The app also lets you set reminders and alarms as well as sign up for recurring “subscriptions.” You can search for a particular news item (I tried “Red Sox news”) and it’ll pop up every day at the time you specify. This is all well and good, but I don’t think a chatbot is the best place for a lot of these interactions. In fact, in a lot of cases, it’s easier to just say “OK Google” and ask your Android phone for this sort of help or info. Siri also does a lot of this on the iPhone at this point, as does the Google iOS app. Don’t get me wrong, the Google Assistant can be quite knowledgeable and useful, but in a lot of ways it’s just replicating things you can already do in Google search.

Beyond the Assistant, Allo has the messaging basics covered, but there are few surprises here. You can tap and hold the “send” button and then scroll up and down to increase or decrease the size of text — Google calls this “yelling” or “whispering.” It’s quite similar to the “loud” and “gentle” settings Apple added to iMessage in iOS 10, if you’ve checked that out. Google has also added in the “smart reply” feature that originated in Inbox. It’ll analyze the content of your chats or photos and offer suggestions. I found it to be pretty hit-or-miss; it’s handy to have it offer up a quick yes or no reply, but deeper replies don’t usually work out terribly well.

Naturally, Allo also has stickers; there are 29 different sets you can download, for starters, some of which are animated. They’re nice, and Google notes the name of the artist who created each set, but they’re not wildly different from what’s out there already. And as of yet, there isn’t a way to add more third-party options.

You can share your location or photos in Allo, but I ran into one surprising omission during my testing: On Android, you can’t see content from Google Photos and add them to a chat — you can access only images you’ve shot directly on your phone or downloaded to storage. There are work-arounds — you can go to Google Photos directly and share a photo to Allo from there — but it still seems like a strange omission. On Android, you can add text to photos and draw on top of them (a la Snapchat), a feature that’ll be coming to iOS down the line.

Allo also offers end-to-end encryption in “incognito” chats. The Google Assistant isn’t allowed here, and the participants in the chat can decide how long they want the messages to stick around for. You can set the chat expiration time as long as a week or as short as five seconds (you can also make it so messages don’t disappear). Most users probably won’t bother with this feature, but apps like Telegram made highly secure chat a feature of note, so it makes sense to see it pop up here.

Overall, there’s not a lot to make Allo stand out from the competition beyond the Google Assistant. And unfortunately, the Assistant feels a bit like it’s under construction, still. The breadth of information that Google has access to, both about a user as well as the world around him, is stunning, and it’s great to tap into. But Google has already given us a plethora of ways to do that; Allo is just another. The difference is that Allo makes it easy to bring that data into a conversation with other humans.

That’s the killer feature. But it’s not a simple one to explain, and it’s not something that becomes immediately useful. Some co-workers and I goofed around with Allo for several days, but the Assistant never elevated itself to a must-have feature. It was fun to show off and experiment with, but it didn’t feel like enough to keep any of us conversing in the app over the many other options we already have available to us. I’d like to keep giving it a shot, because it feels like it could be useful under the right circumstances. The trick is getting your friends to use it long enough for those situations to arise.

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macOS Sierra review: Mac users get a modest update this year

This is almost like part two of my macOS Sierra review. I had a chance to test Apple’s newest desktop operating system at the beginning of the summer, just before it was released in a public beta. The software hasn’t changed much since, but a few of the headline features were missing from that earlier build; Apple said they wouldn’t be available until the final version shipped in the fall. As it happens, Sierra arrives today as a free upgrade, so I’m picking up right where I left off. What follows is my full review of Sierra, though if you read my earlier preview, or have been using the software yourself, you won’t find many big surprises here.

Getting started

Sierra will work on Macs up to seven years old. (If your computer is older than that, it’s probably time to replace it anyway.) To be precise, it’ll run on MacBooks and iMacs from as far back as late 2009. If it’s any other kind of Mac — an Air, Pro, Mini or Pro desktop — your machine needs to be from 2010 or later. As you’ll see too, there are some features that simply won’t work without an iOS device. Think: an Apple Pay device for Apple Pay, a Touch ID–enabled device for Auto Unlock, and an iOS 10 device to use Universal Clipboard, Memories or the new Messages on the go.

As for setup times, downloading Sierra onto a recent iMac over my office’s usually fast WiFi network took about 20 minutes, while installing it took a little more than half an hour. As always, your mileage may vary. Suffice to say, though, if this is the only computer available to you, I suggest not upgrading in the middle of a workday — you’re going to be without a desktop for a while.

Features that are finally ready to use

Auto Unlock

Until now, iPhones and iPads have had Touch ID; Macs have had passwords. Which is fine, but certainly not as convenient. There’s still no fingerprint sensor on the MacBook or Magic Trackpad, but a new feature promises to be similarly convenient: using your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac when you’re in close proximity. To turn on Auto Unlock, as the feature is called, go into your Mac’s Security & Privacy settings and check off the box that says “Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac.” It’d be pretty troubling if this feature were enabled by default.

So it’s easy to set up — or so you’d think. When I first tried to use this feature, I would wake my sleeping Mac and see the message “Unlocking with Apple Watch,” only to be forced to enter my password anyway. Apple says you need two-factor authorization enabled on your iCloud account in order for Auto Unlock to work. But I already had that in place. What could be the problem, then? I still am not sure. What I do know is that after I signed into appleid.apple.com and reset my iCloud password, I was able to log into my machine using Auto Unlock.

Apple Pay on the web

If you already use Apple Pay on your iPhone or Apple Watch, now you can do it from your Mac too. Starting today, some 300,000 websites are expected to add an Apple Pay button, according to a company spokesperson. To actually use it, you’ll need to have the site open in Safari specifically (because of course), and you’ll also need a mobile device that supports Apple Pay — either an Apple Watch or a recent iPhone. The reason for this is that although you’ll hit “pay” from the Safari page, you’ll need to either use Touch ID or a passcode on your iPhone or double-click your (authenticated) Apple Watch to complete the transaction.

Aside from being convenient, this has security benefits, according to Apple. For starters, not having to type in your address or credit card number could feel like a blessing should the retailer ever suffer a data breach. Additionally, all transactions are encrypted, and your credit or debit card number won’t be stored on your device or Apple’s servers, or be shared with retailers. Instead, you’re assigned a unique Device Account Number that’s stored on the so-called Secure Element of your device. Lastly, Apple Pay doesn’t keep a history of your transactions, though you can choose to keep your most recent purchase details in Wallet if you prefer.

During my pre-launch testing, five sites had already added the Apple Pay button: Indiegogo, Lululemon, Spring, Warby Parker and Instacart. To test it out, I found the least expensive thing in Lululemon’s (very expensive) lineup, added it to my cart, and then had my choice of two buttons: “Add to Bag” or “Apple Pay.” Because Apple Pay already had my credit card and address stored, clicking that button meant I jumped straight to a summary box, where all I would have had to do was click another button to confirm the purchase on my watch. It was super-easy, but it also scares me how quickly I could have purchased a $ 12 headband I didn’t need. In real life, you’d have but one chance to reconsider that impulse purchase before pulling the trigger.

All the stuff we covered earlier

Siri

Among all the new features in Sierra, this ranks as one of the most notable: Siri finally has a home on the desktop. And it’s hard to miss: There’s a Siri button both in the system tray in the upper-right corner and in the app dock at the bottom of the screen. Additionally, there’s a keyboard shortcut you can use: command-space-hold. As it happens, this is actually one of the few things that’s changed since I tested that pre-beta build. The command used to be Fn-spacebar. Now it’s command-spacebar and hold, which is similar to the existing Spotlight search shortcut (command-spacebar). That’s good, I think; may as well tap into Mac users’ muscle memory.

Just like on iOS, you can use Apple’s virtual assistant to search the web, draft emails and texts, create calendar events, set reminders, search the web and check things like the weather, stocks and sports scores. Siri has some Mac-specific tricks too, including searching your files, adjusting your system settings and giving you information about your computer, like how much local storage you have available. Throughout, you can pin Siri’s search results, as well as copy or drag and drop them into other parts of the OS.

Ultimately, Siri on the Mac is no smarter than it is on mobile. Which is to say, Siri can handle a diverse range of requests, and understands natural language, to a point (e.g., “Show me Snowden movie times”). Over time, though, Siri’s limitations become more obvious, and you learn not to bother asking it certain things. Siri might be able to show me local Snowden showtimes, for instance, but forget about narrowing the results to evening shows, or locations in a particular neighborhood.

Universal Clipboard

Apple already has a lot of so-called Continuity features that allow you to jump between apps on iOS and macOS, picking up on one platform where you left off on the other. Now, in addition to, say, having your notes and web history synced across devices, you can copy and paste between them too. So if you spot something on your Sierra Mac, you can copy and paste into iOS 10, and vice versa. (This also works from Mac to Mac, and from one iOS device to another.)

It’s really, really easy to use too. You just have to be signed into the same iCloud account on both devices, which need to be running Sierra and/or iOS 10 specifically. Then, just copy something and it’ll appear on the clipboard across all your connected devices. To use an oft-repeated Appleism: It just works.

So far I haven’t needed this feature often, but when I do, it’s handy. In one case, for instance, I had a lengthy App Store download code waiting for me in my email, which I had access to on my iPhone but not on my test machine. (I was logged out at the time.) Obviously, without Universal Clipboard I would have had other options, including logging into my email on the laptop or dropping the code into the Notes app, which I use on both platforms. But being able to copy and paste directly is far more efficient.

Picture in Picture

New to both iTunes and Safari is a Picture in Picture view that lets you pop out video into a floating stay-on-top window, which you can then resize and drag around the screen. Apple has a developer API for this, so over time you should see the little pop-out icon appear on more websites. For now, it works on iTunes and a select few sites, including Vimeo. (I successfully tried Picture in Picture on ESPN during my earlier round of testing, but didn’t see the pop-out button there while testing the final build.)

When the pop-out button is available, the feature works well, and I particularly like that the floating window closes automatically once the video is finished. Still, it’s a shame that when viewing in Picture in Picture mode, you can’t jump forward or a back to a different point in the video.

Apple Music makeover

Speaking of iTunes, Apple Music has received a major redesign on both mobile and desktop. In the case of desktop (that would be the iTunes app), you’ll see three major sections: “For You,” “Browse” and “Radio.” Those last two need no explanation, but in the case of “For You,” it includes a mix of personalized recommendations and playlists, as well as updates from whatever artists you might be following. Throughout, the look is much cleaner, with large headers and oversize album art. Make no mistake: iTunes itself still feels like a bloated mess, but at least Apple Music now feels streamlined.

iCloud Desktop and Documents

If you like, you can now have your entire Desktop and your Documents folder sync directly to iCloud so that you don’t have to cherry-pick specific files for upload. Basically, then, Sierra works a lot more like Dropbox (or OneDrive, Google Drive or any other cloud storage service that allows you to automatically back up folders wholesale). As ever, you’ll find Desktop and Documents in Finder’s left-hand pane; now, though, they’re listed under “iCloud.”

Obviously, it’s up to you whether you want to take advantage of this feature (it’s not turned on by default), but personally I’ve found it very useful. Because I have an iMac on my office desk and a MacBook that I take home and into conference rooms, it’s nice to be able to quickly retrieve things like TextEdit files and know my progress was saved across devices.

Optimized Storage

While we’re on the subject of iCloud, Sierra does a bunch of things to help you better manage your large iCloud library. If you head into iCloud settings, you’ll see an option for “Optimize Mac Storage” that enables not just one feature, but a whole series of background processes that help free up space on your local drive.

By default, your whole iCloud library will be available on your machine if you have the space, but if you don’t, older files will automatically be uploaded to the cloud. Optimized Storage also moves seldom-used files and already watched iTunes videos off your local disk. You can also store Mail attachments on the server until you choose to download them. Ditto for things like dictionaries, instructional videos and special fonts, which are now available on demand instead of on the system itself.

Other low-hanging fruit include items that have been in the trash 30 days — Sierra can automatically erase that, as well as clear your cache and logs. Additionally, it flags duplicate downloads in Safari and reminds you of used application installers. Lastly, the macOS installer itself is smaller than in years past, meaning you have slightly more free space after upgrading than you might have had otherwise.

Photos

If you’re an iPhone or iPad owner, you’ve presumably updated to iOS 10, which, among other things, brings a redesigned Photos app. The new Photos makes an appearance here on Sierra too, albeit with a more sprawling, desktop-friendly design. As on iOS, Photos now uses artificial intelligence to analyze your pictures, identifying places, faces and various objects, like dogs and beaches. The app then takes all that information and puts together so-called Memories — automatically generated albums showcasing what Apple’s AI thinks are the highlights.

Though you might not always agree with the particulars (surely there was a better version of a shot Apple could have chosen?), this is a convenient way to look back on good times without having to go take on the chore of sorting and curating your photos. Scroll down and you’ll see that Apple includes “Related Memories” below the Memory you’re looking at. Be warned: This can be addictive.

Aside from Memories, you’ll also find dedicated People and Places albums. When it comes to people, Apple’s AI gets smarter over time as you tag more and more faces. To make this easier, Photos surfaces faces with a prompt to fill in that person’s name. Once you get a good backlog, you’ll notice that the People album sorts faces in descending order according to how frequently they appear in photos. That said, if you add someone as a favorite, they’ll always float to the top regardless of their ranking.

There are some UI changes here as well. There’s a search bar that can bring up pictures based on keywords — say, “cats,” “snow” or whatever else might be in the shot. As mentioned, Siri can find your photos too (try asking for photos from a certain year, or with a certain person taken at a certain place). The Albums view looks a little different as well, with rounded tiles and a view counter on videos. Also, if you’re viewing one big photo on the screen, you’ll notice that the scrubber on the bottom looks a lot like the one on iOS. (Pick “Show Thumbnails” from the View menu to make the scrubber appear in the 1-up layout.)

Lastly, Photos on Sierra ushers in some new editing tools. Among them: “Brilliance,” which applies region-specific adjustments to brighten dark areas, and “Markup” for adding text, shapes and signatures to images. You can also edit Live Photos (both stills and video), and Apple has released an API allowing third-party developers to incorporate this feature into their own image-editing apps.

Messages

Messages is yet another app that received updates on both Sierra and iOS 10. New features include larger emoji (three times bigger than before), inline previews of videos and websites, and so-called Tapbacks, which let you respond to a message by adding a thumbs-up, heart or other pictorial reaction by tapping rather than hit ‘reply.’ The fact that your reaction appears on top of the message bubble means less clutter as you scroll through a message thread.

Unfortunately, some of the most addictive new features in Messages for iOS didn’t make it into the desktop version. On mobile, for instance, you can send messages with stickers, handwriting, flashy screen backgrounds and animated text effects (think: “slam” for emphasis). Not on Sierra, though. If it’s any comfort, you can at least view these effects on the desktop when your friends send wacky messages from their iOS 10 devices. You just won’t be able to respond in kind.

Tabs

It’s not just Safari anymore — many Mac apps, including Mail, TextEdit, Maps and the iWork suite also now support tabs. So if you open a new window in Maps, you’ll see not a new window, exactly, but a neat little tab. This will automatically work across many third-party document-based apps too, without any tweaks required on the part of developers. The only apps where this won’t work are ones that didn’t already have a multi-window option. That’s why you’ll see tabs in Maps, for instance, but not FaceTime.

If you really love this feature, you can choose to always turn new windows in these apps into tabs. (That’s what I opted to do.) There are other options, though. You can elect instead to have this happen in full-screen mode only.

Odds and ends

And finally, some other miscellaneous changes that might (or might not) be of interest:

  • The ability to share notes from the Notes app.
  • You can now find Safari browser extensions in the Mac App Store.
  • Safari automatically plays HTML5 video if the website you’re looking at supports it. If a plug-in is required to view video, you can opt to enable it just once or on an ongoing basis.
  • A filter button in Mail allows you to see just unread or flagged emails, messages that are addressed to you or ones you’re copied on, or messages sent with attachments. It’s also possible to apply more than one of these criteria at a time.
  • Push email support and calendar updates for Exchange accounts.
  • Send read receipts for individual conversations in Messages.
  • “Coordinated alerts” mean that notifications make a sound only on the device you happen to be using.
  • Spotlight Search now finds files you’ve created, printed, shared, emailed, messaged and sent via AirDrop, or posted to Twitter or Facebook.
  • The keyboard settings menu now has an “auto-capitalization” option.
  • A new keyboard shortcut (not enabled by default) allows you to add a period by hitting the spacebar twice.
  • Apple says Sierra’s autocorrect algorithm is generally smarter than it was in last year’s OS.
  • Sierra adds a few new dictionaries, including Traditional Chinese and Danish. There are also two new bilingual dictionaries: Italian-English and Dutch-English.
  • Japanese users are getting transit directions in Apple Maps. This includes major train, subway, ferry and national and local bus lines in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
  • Right-to-left support for Arabic and Hebrew.
  • Time Machine now supports the SMB protocol, making it compatible with third-party network-attached storage devices.

Wrap-up

There’s little reason to ever skip a macOS update (in fact, there are lots of reasons that’s a bad idea). But as far as annual releases go, Sierra is a fairly minor one. You probably won’t appreciate Siri on the desktop unless you already use it on mobile, and even then, Apple’s virtual assistant isn’t always as smart as we’d like. Auto Unlock is useful, but difficult to set up, and you need an Apple Watch, which many folks don’t have. Apple Pay is convenient but also conducive to impulse purchases, which is probably better news for retailers than shoppers.

Take all that away and some of the most useful features are actually the least showy. Think: Optimized Storage and the ability to automatically back up your Desktop and Documents folder to iCloud. Many people will use these features, myself included. Are these updates exciting, though? I think even the most loyal of Mac users would have to say no.

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Engadget UK giveaway: Win an iPhone 7 courtesy of Mobilefun.co.uk

It’s that time of year again. Do you upgrade to a new iPhone or hold out for next year’s models? Or, do you just let us make that decision for you? Thanks to our friends at Mobilefun.co.uk, we’ve got a silver iPhone 7 (32GB) to give away this week, complete with one of the accessory specialist’s cases “for life.” Even if you don’t win, you can take advantage of this promotion and get a free, clear shell for your 7 or 7 Plus by signing up to the retailer’s newsletter. Once you’ve received your cover, you can always unsubscribe if you’re not interested in the tips and offers, and you’ll still be able to claim another free iPhone case every time you upgrade (hence the “for life” clarifier). As always, you can enter the competition up to three times via the widget below — after you’ve read the rules, that is.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the UK, 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) iPhone 7 and case for life.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email or Facebook login. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Apple, Mobilefun.co.uk and Engadget / AOL are not held liable to honour warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until September 23rd at 11:59PM BST. Good luck!

Source: Mobilefun.co.uk

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The bottom line: Engadget on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus ditch the headphone jack. And if you’re like some of the readers who’ve been reaching out to us, you might be nervous about upgrading. Take it from us, since we’ve had a chance a to test both devices: Aside from the no-headphone-jack thing, these new phones are less radical than you think. In fact, we’d say Apple made some safe choices here, playing catch-up with other phone makers. These are the first waterproof iPhones, for instance, though Samsung and others have been offering this feature for some time now. Ditto for the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-lens camera: It’s cool, but hardly the first we’ve seen.

That said, these features will feel new to Apple fans, and also, it’s hard to argue with everything these phones have to offer, including fine build quality, fast performance, long battery life and strong image quality. If you own a recent iPhone like the 6s or 6s Plus, you might not feel compelled to upgrade, but if you have an older model, this is as good a time as any to trade in. As for the headphone jack, you’ll either use the included adapter or switch to the pack-in Lightning EarPods. Just avoid the AirPods for now.

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Some iPhone 7 owners report hissing sounds

Some early iPhone 7 adopters are getting considerably more than they bargained for. Reports are surfacing of both the regular iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus producing hissing sounds when they’re subjected to a heavy processor workload, such as a game. They continue to function, thankfully, but it’s a bit disconcerting when most phones are virtually silent. It’s not clear what the cause is — some suspect coil whine or similar electromagnetic effects, but there’s no guarantee that this is the case.

The issue doesn’t appear for everyone. I tested an iPhone 7 using 3DMark “Ice Storm Extreme,” a performance benchmark that puts the processor under serious strain, and heard no hissing at all. That suggests that the noise may stem from a manufacturing issue instead of an inherent design quirk. Not that this will make you feel any better if you’re affected, of course.

We’ve asked Apple for its take on the reports and will let you know if it has something to say. It won’t be pretty if you run into this issue and want a replacement iPhone, though. Supplies are already extremely tight, so you may end up waiting days to get a blissfully quiet device.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Stephen Hackett (Twitter), Darrell Etherington (Twitter)

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The Pokémon Go Plus bracelet is great for grinding

My Pokémon Go survival kit keeps growing. It started simply enough, with just my iPhone 6 Plus happily running Pokémon Go, but it quickly became apparent that I would need backup battery power in order to comfortably catch digital monsters for extended periods of time. After all, this is a game that takes players away from their outlets and into the great wilds of the real world, so I shoved a portable power pack and cable into my purse. I happen to live in Arizona, so I soon added an icy water bottle to the mix. Now, with the launch of Pokémon Go Plus, my kit also includes a lanyard bracelet, a plastic vibrating teardrop painted like a Poké Ball and a tiny screwdriver.

I’m starting to suspect Ash Ketchum was hiding more than hair under his iconic hat.

Pokémon Go Plus is a $ 35 accessory that connects to iOS or Android versions of Pokémon Go via Bluetooth. The main gadget is a teardrop-shaped hunk of plastic with an opaque button in the center that glows different colors depending on the feedback it receives from the actual game. The whole device vibrates and lights up when Pokémon or PokéStops are nearby.

The teardrop comes with a clip on the back so you can wear it on a belt, collar or backpack strap, or you can pop it into the included lanyard bracelet. It’s more complicated than just shoving it into the plastic holder, though (as anyone who watched my live unboxing video can attest). You have to unscrew the back of the teardrop with a teensy screwdriver, removing the clip and exposing the battery, and then re-screw it into the bracelet case. The bracelet screw is found under a length of lanyard running under the back of the plastic holder, so you have to move the bracelet itself out of the way before tightening the teardrop into position. It’s not necessarily difficult, but it is delicate work.

With the tools and screws involved in moving the Plus from bracelet to clip, I imagine folks will pick one way of wearing the device and stick with it. Both options are viable, though I personally prefer the bracelet option. However, I’m not wearing a watch today; if I decide to put one on, it’s possible the clip option will be more attractive. Apple did just unveil Pokémon Go support for the Apple Watch, after all. In daily life, it may simply depend on whether I can find my tiny screwdriver.

The bracelet option is my favorite because it’s the most convenient. The teardrop vibrates powerfully enough to feel even if the lanyard isn’t digging into your skin and it’s natural to flick up your wrist to check the notification colors. The button pulses green when you’re near a Pokémon you’ve previously caught, it flashes yellow for new Pokémon and it glows blue for PokéStops.

This is where Pokémon Go Plus is most useful: PokéStops. Once the teardrop flashes blue and vibrates, press the button and viola, a bounty of Poké Balls, potions and miscellany are added to your inventory. That is, unless your inventory is full or you leave the PokéStop’s range before collecting the goodies. The bracelet lets you know if you’re successful by flashing in a rainbow of colors; if it doesn’t work, the device flashes red.

The same goes for catching Pokémon, though there are a few caveats here. The teardrop vibrates and lights up when a Pokémon is near, but there’s no way to tell what kind or what level that Pokémon is. Nor is there a way to change which type of Poké Ball you throw — if you want to use an Ultra Ball or raspberries, you’ll have to pull out your phone. With Pokémon Go Plus, you could unwittingly walk by a 2000 CP Charizard and attempt to catch it with a single standard Poké Ball, which is highly unlikely to work.

It’s crucial to note that with Pokémon Go Plus, you get just one chance to catch each creature; they always run away if you’re not successful on the first throw.

I walked around my neighborhood, which is thankfully littered with PokéStops, and tried the Pokémon Go Plus on my wrist and clipped onto the top of my jeans. Both options worked well, though I happened to be wearing high-waisted jeans and whenever the device activated there, it felt like a fat worm attempting to wriggle across my stomach. Its vibrations are definitely powerful enough get your attention — and maybe the attention of anyone nearby. I entered my building’s elevator with four other people and felt just a little ridiculous as the Plus vibrated and lit up at the top of my jeans. At least on my wrist I can fool strangers into thinking it’s a new kind of fitness tracker, rather than an accessory for a mobile game about trapping exotic fictional monsters in palm-sized prison balls.

Pokémon Go Plus is not a replacement for the game on your phone, but it’s good for the simple stuff, like hitting PokéStops and catching stray Rattatas, Pidgeys and Spearows. It’s a grinding machine. And, in a game where grinding is crucial for anyone who wants to dominate a gym or two, that’s not a terrible thing. Just be prepared to pack a few more items in your Pokémon Go survival bag.

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Japanese tax investigation ends with Apple paying $118 million

After an in-depth investigation, one of Apple’s Japanese subsidiaries paid ¥12 billion ($ 118 million) in back taxes, according to a report from the Yomiuri Shimbun. Japanese tax authorities ordered the payment after determining the company hadn’t correctly paid taxes on funds it had quietly funneled out of the country. This whole thing might sound a little dry, but hey — what better way to spend a Friday than to dig into some corporate cloak-and-dagger dealings? Let’s take a closer look.

First, here’s a little background. If you live in Japan and you buy an iPhone from Apple, that money goes to (who else?) Apple Japan. If you buy apps, movies or music from iTunes in Japan, however, that money goes to a different subsidiary: iTunes K.K. Ah, but there’s more: much of Apple’s intellectual property is owned by two subsidiaries in Ireland, and other Apple business units around the world pay those entities royalties to use that IP. iTunes K.K. had one such arrangement set up — when people used the iTunes service to listen to music or watch videos, the subsidiary owed part of its profits to an Apple-owned holding company in Ireland as royalties.

And why Ireland? Well, Apple had a lucrative structure in place that allowed the company to pay hardly anything in corporate taxes on that cash. (Tim Cook, by the way, strongly asserts this isn’t true.) Moreover, Apple has never and will never talk about how much those licensing fees are, so they’re widely seen as a tool to help keep Apple’s money away from the governments who want to collect their share. So, iTunes generates profits in Japan, and Apple ultimately wants it to go to Ireland where it’ll barely get taxed. The problem is, Japanese income tax law holds that a Japanese company (like iTunes K.K.) has to pay a roughly 20 percent withholding tax on royalties paid to foreign companies… like Apple’s Irish operation. That’s no chump change, so the parties involved had to get a little crafty.

iTunes K.K. didn’t make royalty payments to Apple’s Irish subsidiaries — it paid them to Apple Japan, the company’s other, separate half. Then, Apple’s Irish subsidiary sold iPhones to Apple Japan by way of an affiliated company in Singapore. Tokyo’s Taxation Bureau alleged that Apple Japan bundled those royalties into the price of the iPhones it was buying so the holding company in Ireland ultimately wound up with the amount the iPhones actually cost plus software profits that never got taxed. Apple kept this up between 2012 and 2014 and moved around ¥60 billion (or about $ 586.5 million) in the process. Japanese tax authorities wanted — and reportedly received — the back taxes on that shifted money, and now the case is closed.

If all of this sounds a little familiar, well, you’re onto something. Apple had to pay Italy’s tax bureau €318 million (or $ 348 million) after it was alleged the company underpaid its corporate taxes for six years. Oh, and then there’s the whole “having to pay back $ 14.5 billion to Ireland” thing for creating a tax structure EU regulators have called “illegal.” Playing by the rules won’t make anyone as obscenely rich as if they hadn’t, but man — Apple is probably getting a little tired of being batted around.

[Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images]

Source: The Japan News

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iOS 10 review: Apple evolves

With iOS 10, Apple is basically polishing a pearl. iOS 8 introduced a vibrant and “flat” new aesthetic. iOS 9 was focused on refinement. So by this point, we should get something completely fresh and new, right? Well, not quite. Just like the iPhone 7, Apple’s latest mobile OS doesn’t look that much different on the surface. Instead, the company once again chose to focus on improving the overall experience. In particular, this year’s refinements collectively make the OS a lot more convenient (and help Apple play a little catch-up). If you’ve longed for some of the features you’ve seen on your friends’ Android phones, iOS 10 is more than enough to keep you under Apple’s spell for another year.

Getting started

iOS 10: review

At this point, moving to a new version of iOS probably feels routine. While there were widespread reports of the update “bricking” devices during its launch day, it looks like most of those issues have been ironed out. As always, though, be sure to back up your device before doing any sort of major upgrade. Even if you have your current iOS device set to automatically back up on iCloud, it’s still worth making a local copy through iTunes in case all hell breaks loose. (Also, restoring your phone from the cloud is much slower than with a local copy.)

There’s a good chance you’ve already been prompted to upgrade, but if you’ve procrastinated, head to the “General” section in the Settings app to manually initiate the update. Then just wait for the installation file to download (it’s over 1GB, so it takes a few minutes), and proceed with the installation. You’ll want to have your phone connected to a charger while you’re going through this process, unless your battery is almost full.

A revamped lock screen

Assuming all goes well, you’ll be presented with the all-too-familiar lock screen. This time around, though, it brings some new tricks. Swiping left bring you to the Today screen, which is now far more customizable than before. It’s basically a quick way to access widgets, which can do things like show you the weather, the latest news and your upcoming appointments. Naturally, there’s a bunch of built-in Apple widgets, but plenty of third-party developers are building them as well, including The New York Times, The Weather Channel and yes, even Google.

Swiping right from the lock screen brings up the camera, something that happens almost instantly on my iPhone 6S. Previously, you had to drag up from the bottom right of the screen to open the camera, which was a bit more difficult. I often missed the touch target completely, which left me swiping up a few times in futility. And, come to think of it, I’ve missed out on a few great photo opportunities because of that. Swiping right (get your jokes in now) has turned out to be a much more accurate gesture.

You can also do a lot more with the notifications that appear on the lock screen. If you have a 3D Touch-capable phone like the iPhone 6S or 7, you can interact with things like text messages without even leaving the lock screen. Some notifications will require you to unlock the phone to use 3D Touch features, but that’s just good security. Swipe down from the top of the lock screen to get your full list of notifications, all of which are also interactive using 3D Touch.

A more useful Control Center

If you swipe up from the lock screen, and indeed anywhere else in iOS 10, you’ll bring up the ever-useful Control Center. Instead of cramming all of its functionality in a single screen, it now spans two separate pages. The first houses all of the quick settings you’re familiar with — toggling on and off Airplane mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb and screen rotation lock — along with buttons for managing AirPlay Mirroring, AirDrop and Night Shift. And of course, those handy quick tools like the flashlight and timer are still at the bottom.

But, you might be wondering, what happened to the media controls? All of that is handled in the second page of the Control Center, which has room for more options. In addition to merely playing and pausing songs and skipping tracks, you can jog through your location in a track without leaving the Control Center. That’s particularly useful for longer files like podcasts and audiobooks. The bottom of the screen lets you easily switch between all available AirPlay devices on your current WiFi network.

The redesigned Control Center has ended up being one of the highlights of iOS 10 over my past few months of testing. I don’t have to jump into my iPhone’s settings or music/podcast apps nearly as much anymore. What’s the word for that? Oh right: convenience.

3D Touch (and Taptic Engine) finally feels useful

Apple introduced 3D Touch in last year’s iPhone 6S as a new method of smartphone interaction. Sure, it basically just replicated the “right-click” from PCs, but there was a lot to like in theory: What if you could just quickly access the most popular features of your favorite apps? Who wouldn’t want that? Even I was sold on Apple’s pitch back at the time, and over the past year I’ve grown to rely on it for apps like Swarm and Evernote.

The problem, though, is that Apple didn’t pay nearly enough attention to 3D Touch and the Taptic Engine in the 6S. While a handful of built-in apps and some third-parties adopted it, Apple almost seemed to distance itself from the feature after the 6S launch. Perhaps it was focusing its energy on the more powerful Taptic Engine that would be coming in the iPhone 7, but whatever the reason, many iPhone 6S owners felt like there was a lost opportunity to tap into 3D Touch (heh).

That’s less the case in iOS 7, where 3D Touch works in almost every part of the OS. There’s the notification integration I mentioned earlier, but I also learned to love the smaller additions, like using 3D Touch to change the brightness of my iPhone’s flashlight. Thanks to its more powerful Taptic Engine, the iPhone 7 also brings haptic feedback to simple things, like scrolling through the time in the Clock app, or scrolling through your library in the Music app. It gets to a point where you almost feel like you’re scrolling through a physical book, or a pile of CDs.

The Messages app takes on Snapchat

Apple really focused on improving its core apps in iOS 10, and the Messages app got the bulk of the upgrades. You can now change the intensity of iMessages (the chats labeled in blue that you’re having with other iMessage users), from a huge “Slam” effect that almost takes up the whole screen, to an obscured “Invisible Ink” message that has to be swiped to be read. The latter is particularly useful if you’re in a public place with lots of prying eyes. There are also screen effects that can accompany your notes, including a bunch of balloons, falling confetti, laser lights, fireworks and a shooting star. They’re fun at first, but they’ll be particularly useful for annoying your friends endlessly.

Just like the Apple Watch, you can send hearts (but of course, not your actual heart rate) and other symbols from within Messages using Digital Touch. You can also react to things people send you with “tapback” responses by double-tapping on them. You can also send a handwritten message by turning your iPhone into landscape mode (of course, you can also bring up the keyboard if you prefer typing this way). In the iOS 10 beta, you had to manually enable the handwriting mode, but it was also a bit hard to find.

The biggest change in Messages is that it now has an ecosystem of its own apps and sticker packs. By default, it includes apps for image and video searching (hooray easy-to-find animated GIFs!), as well as for sharing your most recently played Apple Music tracks. But you can easily add even more apps by hitting the icon of four dots at the lower left of the screen. (If that sounds confusing, you’re not alone. Apple’s interface around the entire Messages App experience needs some work, especially once you start piling in more software. It’s one area where I seriously began to feel the limits of the iPhone’s 4.7-inch screen, though it doesn’t seem much better on the 7 Plus either.)

Once you’ve made your way to the Messages App store, you’ll see a plethora of stickers, games and software that will appear right within your chats. It works just like the normal app store, except this time whatever you download shows up in the Messages app section. There’s also a good chance you’ve already installed apps that have brought along their own Messages apps, like Yelp, Evernote and Venmo.

Messages apps are similar to Apple Watch apps: They’re typically focused on a few functions that will work well within a chat. Yelp, for example, lets you share restaurants that you’ve recently viewed. Similarly, you can share specific movie times and locations with Fandango. One of the more interesting app implementations comes from OpenTable, which allows you to pick five restaurants and vote on them with your friends. Once you decide on a restaurant, you can complete the reservation process right from within Messages. (Eater has a good overview of how the whole process works.)

The games selection in the Messages app store isn’t huge, mostly consisting of simplistic board games at the moment. But it’s still cool to be able to play a quick game of chess with friends right from a text conversation. I suspect we’ll see plenty of multi-game entries like GamePigeon, which currently packs in pool, poker, sea battle, Go and a Scrabble-esque anagram title.

The Message app’s Stickers are merely that: Images that get sent to anyone, even friends on other platforms. Much like ringtones, they’ll likely end up being an easy way for Apple to get a few bucks from its users more often. But I’ll admit, the stickers are a lot of fun to use. I dropped $ 2 on the first collection of Pokémon pixel art. No regrets.

Apple’s intent with all of Message’s upgrades is pretty clear: It wants you to leave the app as seldom as possible, even if that means working even closer with third-party companies. Given the fast rise of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, it’s not surprising that Apple is actually trying to cultivate its one successful “social network.”

Smarter Photos

So, about those other core iOS app upgrades: The Photos app now uses computer vision technology to make some sense of your piles of pics. For example, searching for “cats” brings up a healthy dose of my obsessive feline photography. It’ll also automatically detect the most common faces in your photos. While it’s up to you to actually name those faces, it’s still a big help if you hate organizing photos as much as I do.

Photos also creates “Memories,” or auto-generated slideshows of pictures from your library. It’s similar to the way Google Photos slideshows work in that they’ll typically focus on a single person or photos taken around a specific event. The Memories themselves are a combination of stills, Live Photos and video in your library. You can also set the music mood and length of each Memory, which will likely be useful if you’re throwing them over to an Apple TV to watch with a group.

Memories usually turned out well, though they’re still clearly a work in progress. Sometimes the software would choose photos with fingers blocking them, or pictures that I know for a fact have a better duplicate in my library. Still, it’s useful if you don’t want to build a slideshow on your own.

Refined Music

The new Music app actually looks very different from what came before, which isn’t the case for the rest of iOS 10’s updates. The new interface is all about large fonts, bold colors and disc art wherever possible. Those of you who were annoyed by Apple focusing more on its streaming music service than your own collection of tunes will likely be pleased, as your local library is the first thing to pop up. The “For You” section also does a better job of recommending tunes (as well as explaining why you might want to listen to them).

I’ve seen both praise and criticism of the Music app’s redesign, but personally I dig the clean aesthetic. But really, anything is better than the last iteration. One nifty addition: You can quickly access lyrics of songs on Apple Music from within the Now Playing screen. It’s not there for every song, but it’s an easy way to get prepped for karaoke.

Siri gets smarter, again

After launching to much fanfare, it’s almost as if iOS users have grown to hate Siri. She had a penchant for not hearing you properly, and her actual capabilities were fairly limited. That’s changing with iOS 10, as Apple has — you guessed it — opened up Siri to other developers. I was able to book Uber and Lyft cars, as well as send cash to a friend using Venmo, with only voice commands. You’ll still have to deal with some accuracy issues, but at least now Siri is actually starting to get useful.

Siri also powers contextual awareness in iOS 10’s predictive keyboard. So, on top of just trying to guess what word you’re typing next, it can do things like fill out contact information if you start chatting about someone’s phone number. And if you’re trying to schedule something, it can also tell you when you’re available by looking at your calendar. This feature still seems to be in its early stages, but it’s a fascinating way of implementing predictive intelligence.

Odds and ends

  • I didn’t talk much about iOS 10’s design because, honestly, nothing really changed. The home screen still looks like the same old wall of icons you’ve seen before.
  • Yes, I know we’ve seen plenty of these features in Android already. But at this point, everyone in the mobile industry is shamelessly getting “inspired” by the competition.
  • While iOS 9 offered up some big changes for iPad multitasking, iOS 10 doesn’t add much. The Control Center has a bit more room to breathe, but that’s about it.
  • You can finally remove built-in Apple software, like the much-maligned Stock app. But, to be clear, the app basically just disappears, it doesn’t actually get uninstalled.
  • It really feels like iOS 10 breathed new life into my iPhone 6S, and I’m hearing similarly good stories from people installing it on the iPhone 5. It also runs well on my first-gen iPad Air.
  • I didn’t have any HomeKit-equipped hardware to test out the Home app, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple tries to unify the messy IoT space.

Ultimately, iOS 10 is a collection of small, but important, changes to an already solid mobile OS. I would have liked to see a whole new design too, but what matters more is that actually using the OS is a significantly better experience. The combination of the new Today screen and Control Center has already saved me plenty of time.

We’ll probably end up seeing a major facelift next year, but for now, iOS 10 is an upgrade that Apple users should look forward to.

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T-Mobile tells iPhone owners not to install iOS 10 just yet (Updated)

T-Mobile issued a stern warning to its customers against downloading and installing the new iOS 10 update to their existing 6, 6 Plus and SE iPhone models. According to the T-Mobile website, doing so will, cause the handset to “lose connectivity [to the T-Mobile network] in certain circumstances.” Once that happens, the user can only re-establish their network connection by fully powering down the phone and restarting it. That said, the company does expect Apple to push a corrective patch live within the next 48 hours. Update: On Thursday night, T-Mobile announced that Apple had released its patch for the connectivity issue. If you had already downloaded iOS 10 (and were therefore at risk for this issue), go to Settings > General > About, to install the fix. If you hadn’t yet installed the new OS, feel free to do so without fear of having your cell service randomly drop.

Via: Verge

Source: T-Mobile

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