Judge rules lawsuit claiming Apple broke FaceTime can proceed

Apple was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year that claims the company purposefully broke FaceTime on iOS 6 in order to push people to upgrade to iOS 7. And as of late last week, Apple failed to get the suit dismissed as District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that iPhone 4 and 4S users can pursue claims against Apple.

The whole situation is a result of Apple wanting to reduce the cost of using third-party servers to manage FaceTime calls. Doing so was costing the company millions of dollars per month in fees, so with iOS 7, Apple changed the way FaceTime functioned so that the third-party servers weren’t used as often. However, users of iPhone 4s and 4Ss were still using iOS 6 so, allegedly, Apple let a security certificate lapse in order to break FaceTime for iOS 6 and force customers to upgrade their operating systems.

In its attempt to get rid of the lawsuit, Apple claimed that users didn’t suffer economic loss because FaceTime is free. But in her decision, Koh said, “Plaintiffs paid for their iPhones, and FaceTime is a ‘feature’ of the iPhone and thus a component of the iPhone’s cost. Indeed, Apple advertised FaceTime as “one more thing that makes an iPhone an iPhone.”

Apple also tried to argue that iPhone users weren’t entitled to FaceTime service saying that the Plaintiffs “have no right to uninterrupted, continuous, or error-free” FaceTime. To which, Judge Koh responded, “Plaintiffs do not allege that FaceTime operation was interrupted, or that it contained errors. Rather Plaintiffs allege that Apple in effect made FaceTime unavailable to owners of iPhone 4 and 4S devices…The unavailability of FaceTime is different from ‘interruptions’ or ‘errors’ in FaceTime.”

The plaintiffs are seeking both loss and punitive damages in amounts that will be determined at trial.

Via: Reuters

Source: District Court Decision

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Firmware shows the next iPhone will use infrared face unlock

Ever since our close look at an alleged render of the next iPhone back in May, there have been rumors of 3D face scanning plus a large screen-to-body ratio flying about. Today, we finally bring you some solid evidence about these features, courtesy of — surprise, surprise — Apple itself. After digging up new details about the Apple HomePod in its leaked firmware, iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith came across some code that confirm the use of infrared face unlock in BiometricKit for the next iPhone. More interestingly, in the same firmware, fellow developer Guilherme Rambo found an icon that suggests a near-bezel-less design — one that matches rumored schematics going as far back as late May. For those in doubt, Troughton-Smith assured us that this icon is “specific to D22, the iPhone that has Pearl (Face ID).”

These discoveries are by far the best hints at what to expect from the “iPhone 8,” which is expected to launch later this year. Additionally, we also learnt from our exclusive render that the phone may feature a glass back along with wireless charging this time. That said, there’s still no confirmation on the fate of Touch ID: while the HomePod firmware code seems to suggest that it’s sticking around, there’s no indication as to whether it’s ditching the usual Home button execution in favor of an under-display fingerprint scanner (as shown off by Qualcomm and Vivo at MWC Shanghai). Given how poorly Apple has been guarding the secrets of its next smartphone this time round, chances are we’ll hear more very soon.

Source: Steve Troughton-Smith, Guilherme Rambo

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Apple’s HomePod firmware spills more details on the smart speaker

Apple unveiled its Siri-powered HomePod speaker hub at WWDC back in June, and despite a hefty $ 350 pricetag and the inevitable comparisons to Alexa devices, it actually sounds pretty good. In the lead up to its release this December, Apple pushed out the hub’s firmware, revealing that it runs on iOS — basically like a screenless iPhone or iPad. But in its current incarnation, the HomePod won’t support third-party apps and programs, according to developer Steve Troughton-Smith’s analysis.


Obviously, that’s not to say the device never will. Since it runs on a full iOS stack through a shell app called “Soundboard,” they could always patch in the ability for third parties to load up their software later. If things don’t change before launch, it’s an odd move to make, especially given how late the HomePod is to the voice-controlled assistant game. Both Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices allow and encourage companies to make apps that enable custom interactions (Alexa has 15,000 of these “skills” and counting). It would also be a huge surprise if the HomePod didn’t integrate at launch with the IoT HomeKit system Apple keeps trying to make happen.

Otherwise, the firmware reveals a few things about the HomePod’s interactions. In keeping with Apple tradition, the device will support accessibility features including VoiceOver. Troughton-Smith believes the top touch surface is an LED matrix that could display shapes and symbols, not just big LED lights. Onboard controls are limited to activating Siri, adjusting volume and alarms on the HomePod — the bulk of which we discovered during our hands-on back in June.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will report if we hear back.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Steve Troughton-Smith (Twitter)

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HTC U11 review: More than just gimmicks

Even die-hard fans have been ready to write off HTC for years now, and I can’t blame them. The company’s phones have fluctuated between greatness and mediocrity while its competitors have improved by leaps and bounds. So, what’s a company in a kind of existential peril supposed to do? Well, making a phone like the new U11, for starters. It’s shiny, laden with gimmicks, and — spoiler alert — the whole thing falls short of perfect for a few reasons. Even so, HTC has gotten enough right in this ostentatious package that you should definitely start (or re-start) paying attention.

Hardware and design

Chris Velazco/Engadget

With the U Ultra, HTC overhauled the design of its high-end smartphones. Forget those sturdy metal unibodies: from now on, it’s all about lots of sparkly, pretty glass.

The back of the U11, in particular, is sure to grab attention — HTC calls the finish “3D liquid glass” and it was crafted to catch light in unexpected ways. The Solar Red model is only really “red” sometimes. Under the right light, the phone turns bright gold and it’s pretty trippy. Even better, all of the edges just sort of melt into each other — no rough seams in sight. This shock of color is enough to make the phone’s face, with its 5.5-inch Super LCD5 screen and big black bezels a little underwhelming.

Phones swathed in glass can be tricky, though. I couldn’t put the U11 down on the arm of my couch without it skittering to the floor. You can forget about taking calls with your phone wedged between your neck and shoulder, too, unless you’ve got sandpaper shoulder pads. Glass also cracks more easily than metal. While we were shooting our review video, the U11 tipped over from its standing position and smacked into our glass studio table. Countless phones have done this over the years and they were never worse for it — the U11 is the first that cracked.

There’s a fast, accurate fingerprint sensor below the screen, wedged between two capacitive navigation keys. The headphone jack is over, so you’ll use the USB C port on the bottom for charging and audio playback. In the SIM tray, you’ll find a spot for a MicroSD card to supplement the 64GB of onboard storage.

You can’t see them, but the U11 also has multiple pressure sensors baked into its sides. We’ll dig into Edge Sense a little later, but you can squeeze the phone to trigger predefined actions like launching the camera. Plus the whole thing is IP67 water resistant, which means it’ll handle dips in up to 1 meter of water for around 30 minutes.

Display and sound

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The U11’s screen is good, but pretty standard. We’re working with a 5.5-inch Super LCD 5 at Quad HD. That works out to a density of about 534 pixels per inch. Colors aren’t quite as vivid as on an AMOLED display, but solid clarity and color reproduction put it in the same ballpark as its rivals. I only wish the screen was a little brighter. It’s a little dimmer than the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 Plus, making it tougher to read under harsh daylight.

The U11’s speakers, on the other hand, are very, very good. It’s been a long time since HTC’s BoomSound heyday, but the U11 is louder and clearer than any other smartphone I’ve tested recently. In fact, while I was testing the speakers at the office, I had to deal with more than the usual amount of stink-eye from non-Engadgeteers because of the volume. (To my knowledge, no HR claims have been filed.) You’ll need more oomph for, a party, but the U11’s built-in sound system is good enough for gathering people around a YouTube video.

Without a headphone jack, you’ll need to use Bluetooth cans or HTC’s pack-in USonic Type-C earbuds. They’re a little too heavy on the bass for me, but they’re comfortable and offer a more welcome surprise: active noise cancellation. Even better, they don’t need batteries since the earbuds draw power from the phone. While handy, these pack-ins are nowhere as good as isolating noise as, say, a pair of Bose QC35s. The U11 can also tailor the way the phone plays audio through those earbuds. Each audio profile is specifically tuned for your ears, and mine made my music sound noticeably crisper and brighter — good stuff.

Software

When the company launched the 10, it also revealed an approach to Android that felt cleaner and fresher than before — Sense UI’s visual noise was dialed down and extraneous apps were killed in favor of Google’s own. These were steps in a positive direction and led to a mostly uncluttered version of Android 7.1 Nougat for the U11. In general, it runs very, very well, but it feels a little stale when compared to updated interfaces from rivals like Samsung.

Rather than revamp the interface, HTC focused its efforts elsewhere. The U11 comes with support for three — three! — virtual assistants right out of the box, which is a little insane. Most of you are probably familiar with Google Assistant, and it works the way it always does: either long-press the Home button or get its attention with “OK, Google,” then fire off a request.

HTC’s Sense Companion is much less vocal, offering up notifications and reminders based on what it knows about you and your environment instead. Is it going to rain? It will suggest you pack an umbrella. Once it gets late in the day, it’ll tell you how many steps you’ve taken and even remind you to charge your phone when it knows you have plans later. Essentially, HTC’s assistant tries to stay subtle while being proactive — it’s meant to slide into your life when you need it and disappear when you don’t. In general Sense Companion plays it safe by only occasionally surfacing notifications. I would’ve preferred it to be a little more in-my-face and but there isn’t a way to make the Companion offer handy tips more regularly.

Then there’s the newcomer, Alexa. Amazon’s voice interface is available on a few smartphones right now, but the U11 is the first to give it a proper home. You just say “Alexa” and she’ll spring to life. The U11 lacks the Echo’s far-field voice recognition, so it occasionally takes a couple tries to rouse it. Other than that, it’s the same solid performer you expect. Alexa has access to all the skills I’ve enabled on my home Echo, and the U11’s great speakers mean audiobooks and music from Amazon come through loud and clear. In fact, Alexa’s only true failing is that when she can’t tell what you’re saying, the app window and screen stay active until you dismiss the app or try again. If you’re not paying close attention, a failed Alexa conversation could leave the U11’s display lit up, burning precious battery.

Edge Sense

Don’t forget that you can squeeze this phone to make it do things. For all the hype, Edge Sense is very simple. The best way to think of it is as an invisible convenience key with two settings: a squeeze performs one action, and a squeeze-and-hold performs another.

Getting Edge Sense up is simple: just clench your way through a demo. You’ll have to enable the advanced mode to get access to the squeeze-and-hold gesture, though, for reasons beyond comprehension. By default, the squeeze action is set to launch the camera, with a second squeeze snapping a photo once everything is in position. Thankfully, none of those actions are set in stone. Rather than launching the camera, you can set a squeeze to launch an app, take a screenshot, toggle the flashlight and even fire up the mobile hotspot.

Frankly, I kind of hated it at first because I couldn’t consistently get my squeeze pressure right. Things changed once I dialed down the amount of pressure needed — lighter grips meant less time wondering why things weren’t working properly. (This also means Edge Sense is easier to trigger by accident, but I don’t mind.) Now I instinctively squeeze the U11 every time I need to grab a quick photo and get a little frustrated when other phones don’t work the same way. Granted, Edge Sense doesn’t do anything that a dedicated button couldn’t, and it’s easily disabled for anyone who doesn’t want it. It’s handy, but it’s no game-changer.

Camera

Chris Velazco/Engadget

When I reviewed the U Ultra earlier this year, I was let down by its camera. Not because it was bad, mind you, but HTC’s cameras still hadn’t caught up to the competition. Well, this year is different: the U11’s 12-megapixel camera is a highly capable all-around shooter, with image quality in the same league as Samsung’s. My test shots consistently came through with lots of detail and accurate colors, save for a few cases where outdoor shots where the green looked a touch bluer than expected.

Other than the occasional color temperature issues, the U11 has been an excellent everyday shooter. It’s fast to focus thanks to an SLR-style dual-pixel system, and the near-instantaneous HDR Auto turned multiple shots into a single vibrant photo with ease. This kind of algorithmic enhancement helped Google’s Pixel capture excellent photos, and it’s doing great work here too. There’s a hint of shutter lag after you snap a photo though, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to capture subjects in motion.

The U11’s camera is also surprisingly good in low light thanks to its wide aperture (f/1.7) and improved 5-axis optical image stabilization. Before taking the camera through its paces, I was a little concerned because the pixels on the 12-megapixel sensor are smaller than in HTC’s other UltraPixel cameras. I shouldn’t have been: dark photos came through crisper than expected, though you’ll still find your share of grain. That said, I still think the S8s have a slight edge over the U11.

Videos shot with the U11’s main camera were similarly impressive, especially at 4K. There’s hardly any distortion and the level of clarity puts the U11 right up there with the best of them. Given the phone’s attention to sound quality, the inclusion of a 3D audio recording mode makes sense. It’s meant to make videos sounds more immersive, and it does to an extent — just make sure you’re wearing headphones or all nuance is lost.

Meanwhile, the front-facing camera actually shoots at a higher 16MP resolution, and with a wide-angle lens, it’s capable of some seriously nice selfies. The relatively wide f/2.0 aperture also means the sensor gets to suck up more light — I only needed the screen flash in near-pitch black situations.

Performance and battery

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The U11 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipsets paired with 4GB of RAM and the Adreno 540 GPU. You know, just like basically everyone else. Still, there’s no denying that the 835 delivers some serious horsepower The U11 feels fast whether you’re jumping between multiple apps or plowing through beautiful games like Afterpulse and Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Hardly anything I threw at the U11 over the course of a week gave it pause. There’s a rare stutter, but the U11 is one of the most consistently snappy smartphones I’ve tested this year.

Battery life, however, was just average. Like the U Ultra before it, the U11 packs a 3,000mAh battery. But, this time it’s paired with a more powerful processor and a smaller screen. This balancing act of components worked out better than expected. In our video rundown test, the U11 looped an HD clip for just north of 13 hours before it finally needed a recharge. That’s much better than the U Ultra’s 11-odd hours, and in line with the Galaxy S8. The S8 Plus and the OnePlus 5 are still the phones to beat, though: they both lasted for a little over 15 hours before giving up the ghost.

When it comes actual use, expect to get just over a day on a single charge, and closer to a day and a half if you actually put your phone down once in a while. Again, this is average for this year’s flagships. People’s charging habits seem to be changing though, so the inclusion of Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 3 tech is handy (if not quite as fast as the newer QuickCharge 4 stuff). Using the included power adapter and cable, the U11 went from bone-dry to 90 percent full in a little over an hour.

The competition

The U11 is a very strong option for smartphone shoppers, but don’t forget about all the other great devices released this year. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are arguably at the top of the pack — they both have gorgeous “Infinity” displays, not to mention excellent cameras and similarly impressive performance. The S8 Plus is the better choice thanks to its significantly bigger battery, and its larger size is mitigated by Samsung’s brilliant, bezel-less design. That said, you’ll have to deal with a highly customized software experience.

If you’re looking for pure horsepower on a budget, the OnePlus 5 is also worth looking at. It uses the same Snapdragon 835 chipset as other 2017 flagships, but pairs it with 6GB of RAM for truly stunning performance. Despite being slightly smaller and lighter than the U11, the OnePlus also contains a bigger, 3,300mAh battery which lasted noticeably longer in our rundown tests. Then again, the U11 has a much better camera and offers more in terms of software creature comforts than the mostly-stock OnePlus 5.

Wrap-up

HTC didn’t get everything right with the U11, but it nailed a whole lot more than I ever expected it to. That’s a big deal. After the mess that was the U Ultra, I was honestly unsure whether the company would ever drag itself out of its doldrums. The U11 is proof that, yes, there is still hope for this company. While gimmicks like Edge Sense and the stylishly fragile glass back make the U11 seem too eager to be different, underneath all that is a very good, very fast phone that’s worthy of your attention.

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Netflix’s ‘Castlevania’ showrunner Adi Shankar on nerddom and season two

It’s easy to draw a line from producer Adi Shankar’s scrappy Bootleg Universe — his slew of short indie films about the Punisher, Power Rangers and other pop culture heroes uploaded on YouTube — to his recent work as showrunner of Netflix’s recently released animated Castlevania series. His approach taps into what made beloved characters resonate with fans and gives those old favorites a mature, modern spin.

We caught Shankar on his way to Japan for a press tour promoting Castlevania to ask why he jumped at the chance to adapt the well-loved franchise. The first four-episode season dropped weeks ago, beginning a gothic horror saga of three adventurers fighting against Dracula’s army of demons. The series was planned around a script written a decade ago by comics icon Warren Ellis for Frederator Studios (of Adventure Time fame), but Shankar was brought on late in 2015 to make an animated version, which eventually landed on Netflix.

Fans loved the series, Shankar said, and apparently so did Netflix, which ordered a second season of Castlevania and doubled the episodes, though no release date has been announced. On top of returning to the show, Shankar will add another adaptation to his oeuvre, as he was announced showrunner of an Assassin’s Creed anime. While he can’t comment on that series, he had plenty to tell Engadget about bringing his adaptation experience to bear on a beloved video game franchise.

What about Castlevania appealed to you?

I’m a fan of Castlevania. I played most of the games — Symphony of the Night being really the game that brought me back into the franchise from the PlayStation 1 era. But I am genuinely and authentically a fan of it. That’s ultimately what brought me in. Being able to make it was a dream come true.

Your team chose to adopt a prequel, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, instead of the original game. Why?

The story of Castlevania is the story of this family known as the Belmonts. As the various generations of the family struggle with their own challenges, not only fighting monsters but dealing with the issues of the time, it made sense to start early in that family’s history.

What was the process to change it into your vision of the series?

The real issue in adapting Castlevania was the way in which we were gonna do it. We used 2D hand-drawn animation. This is effectively a dead art form. That’s something I was adamant about right from the get-go. It wasn’t so much the story we were gonna tell as much as how we were going to tell it, because we knew we were going to tell an early Belmont story from one of the earlier games. We were designing it for television, but, for instance, we didn’t want to do a ‘Monster of the Week’-style narrative structure. We also wanted each frame of it to look beautiful and use that 2D hand-drawn look.

The first season was only four episodes. Were you planning on more seasons?

I wouldn’t say we were planning on having a second or third season so much as that there was an overarching story we were hoping to tell. And there’s always been a plan for that story in place.

Was it more difficult to adapt a video game rather than characters from other mediums, like comics or television shows?

I wouldn’t say anything was more difficult. It was just that what we had to focus on was different: fleshing out emotions associated with these characters so that the audience connected with them on an emotional level.

Was that different because you were adapting video game characters?

Partially. When you’re developing a character for a video game, effectively — and I’m not saying one art form is more difficult than the other and they both have their own challenges — but when you’re developing for a video game, there are different parameters in place than if one were to develop a character for film or TV. In one version, you are the character in the game; in the narrative version, you are observing the character and have to relate to the character in a different way.

Is it constraining to adapt from source material that came out — in Castlevania III‘s case — almost 30 years ago?

There’s nothing about the games that feels constraining. There’s nothing we’re trying to work around. We’re embracing all the elements of the game and adding an emotional arc to them.

Is the process going to be any different for your next project — adapting Assassin’s Creed into an anime-style series?

Well, I can’t really talk about Assassin’s Creed other than to say that I’m a fan; I’ve played every game. I love the mythology, and I love the universe.

But as for Castlevania, season two will be expansive. Not only is it greenlit, Netflix doubled our episode order due to the fan response. Which has been amazing! I mean, we made a show targeted for the fans of the game, and now it has crossed over into the mainstream. It was an amazing thing to have had happen.

Does this feel like a fan-made project?

One-hundred percent. Although this is an official project, it feels in line with the mentality of the Bootleg Universe. It wasn’t trying to get an audience beyond the core fanbase. The fact that it did is wonderful. But we were, are and will continue to be loyal to our core demographic.

How’s the response been?

The fan response, the critical response, has been overwhelming; it’s been humbling. It makes all of us want to work even harder and deliver an even better season two. Season one has teed up season two perfectly.

The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that I was a little taken aback. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t necessarily expect the show to cross over the way it did, demographically, and into the mainstream.

The audience that grew up loving these games are now the core audience that marketers are going after. And on top of that, we have a whole generation under us — I’m 32 — that are all gamers. There’s no such thing as gamer versus non-gamer. Every single one of us is a gamer on some level, even if it’s just playing iPhone games.

Would you say those marketers appealing to our retro childhoods means nostalgia is a cottage niche inside the gaming industry?

I wouldn’t say it’s nostalgia at all. I would say it’s a language and an art form that has developed across the decades and has supplanted film as the preeminent art form of this millennium that we are living in right now. The innovations that are happening in storytelling are happening in VR, AR and gaming.

Are you interested in VR and AR, possibly in your future adaptations?

Hell, yeah.

Are you waiting for the tech to get better, or are any VR/AR projects on your horizon?

On the horizon. My schedule’s just packed at the moment, but it’s on the horizon.

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Now Windows 10’s ‘Continue on PC’ feature works from your iPhone

A couple of days ago Microsoft enabled a feature that lets Android users easily use the share button to push a web page from their cell phone to a Windows 10 PC. Now, it’s released an app to manage the same feature on iOS-powered devices. It’s available to users in the “Fast” ring of its Insiders preview program, who will need the latest build released for their PCs. Cross-device web browsing is one of the many features coming in the Fall Creators Update, and every new feature being beta tested means its release date keeps creeping closer.


Source: iTunes, Windows Experience Blog

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The iPod was my last physical connection to music

Apple has discontinued the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle. There wasn’t much fanfare; it was a pretty quiet ending, when you consider that these devices defined a generation and changed the way we listen to music.

It’s utterly unsurprising that Apple made this move — after all, they discontinued the iPod classic back in 2014. There’s just not a need for these devices anymore. With the dawn of the streaming music era, why would you need to carry a physical version of your music collection?

The Nano and the Shuffle were the smaller versions of their original big brother. The larger iPod (remember the days before it even had a click wheel?) was to carry your entire music library — the Nano and Shuffle were just for a taste, the amuse bouche of your tunes. Whether you were listening with those trademark white earbuds or through an unwieldy FM transmitter in your car, with your iPod snugly in its sock, for a bright moment the way we listened to music was at the center of our culture.

It’s almost funny, then, that Apple itself is responsible for making its own devices obsolete. When they first introduced the iPod, and later the iTunes Store, they triggered a sea change in the way my generation interacted with music. It wasn’t just something we listened to, it was something we experienced. But slowly, as our sights shifted from buying digitally to streaming, iPods became less important. Apple pivoted the music industry towards streaming. It’s the natural end to a shift that happened almost two decades ago, and it sowed the seeds for the obsolescence of the iPod.

And yet, for those of us who remember binders upon binders of CDs, this is a sad day. The end of the iPod as we know it is more than just the discontinuation a device. It’s an acceptance that the heady days of my youth, when I agonized over music selection, are over.

I used to painstakingly curate my library; it was something I shared with pride. There was a song for every occasion, whether to describe my current emotions or for a deeper peek into my very identity. Music spoke to me; it defined me. But as I came into adulthood, with all the responsibilities that went along with it, my interest in music slowly dwindled. I didn’t have time for all the passions of my youth, and frankly, it was much easier to listen to a pre-selected playlist on Spotify than to carefully curate my library and explore new artists. I always thought it was a temporary thing, though, that one day, music would return to its pedestal in my life. But now, I realize that day will never come.

The truth is, streaming music has made it so much easier to be a music fan. Virtually every song I could want to listen to is at my fingertips. But there’s something lacking about it. By granting me the ability to listen to everything I want, streaming music has taken something vital away: the hunt, the quest, the sense of triumph that comes with discovering that amazing new band that gets you.

C43363_1HDon’t misunderstand me: I’m not nostalgic about the days of screaming at my iPod as it laboriously synced with iTunes. I don’t miss hitting the bottom of the device against something every time it displayed the Apple screen of death (something to do with the hard drive connections being loose?) I don’t even miss the hours I used to spend looking through music websites to find new artists I might want to listen to. Technology and discovery are so much better these days.

What I miss is something much more personal, a reflection of myself rather than of a device. I miss wanting to do these things. I miss caring enough about music to spend time and energy on it. I miss it having a place at the center of my life, as the key to my identity. I miss valuing it because it made me work for it. The music is still there. It’s my relationship with it that I find wanting.

For many who still collect CDs and vinyl, there is still that physical connection to your music. But for the rest of us, the iPod was the last remnant of that era. It was the tangible embodiment of what our music meant to us, but it’s also the reason we no longer have that connection.

Yes, the iPod Touch is still around, and of course I can load up my iPhone if the mood strikes me. But it seems almost poetic that the device that was the first nail in the coffin for the standalone iPod, the iPhone, doesn’t even have a headphone jack anymore. Technology is changing and evolving, and that’s a good thing. Soon, I’ll forget about my iPod nostalgia and move onto other, better things. But just for this moment, I’m going to choose to remember a time when the iPod taught me that music was all I needed.

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Fender’s Mustang GT amps pack an overkill of digital options

Playing the electric guitar in a cover band can be complex. You need to be able to sound like a wide range of different guitar players, each with their own distinct sound — much of which is based on their unique amplifier and effects profile. The Fender Mustang GT series of amplifiers, consisting of 40-, 100- and 200-watt models, aims to squeeze a range of classic Fender sounds into a single digital cabinet.

Imagine being able to sound like Prince, AC/DC and Chic in quick succession onstage without having to change out any of your gear. That’s the Mustang GT promise, and — for the most part — Fender succeeds. With a full-featured set of pre- and post-effects modules, customizable presets and a deep catalog of amplifier emulation available, Fender has made it pretty easy to sound however you want, provided you’re OK with a solid-state sound rather than a tube-based one.

My normal guitar setup is pretty simple. I use a Mexican-made Telecaster that plugs into a couple of effects pedals (overdrive, delay, distortion, sustain), then a vocal harmony box. The guitar signal then connects to a Fender Super Champ amplifier, which is tiny but packs enough wallop for almost any gig I’ve ever played — from small two-person stages to large clubs.

The thing is, I spend a lot of time trying to approximate the sounds of the various artists we cover, from Michael Jackson to the Human League to Hot Chocolate. It’s never perfect, and I don’t want to manage a massive pedalboard full of all the expensive stomp boxes I’d need to fully recreate all the different guitar sounds. The Fender Mustang GT series of amps seemed like the perfect way to have more sounds at my disposal without having to do more research — or investment — than I’m willing to.

Physical setup

At its most basic, the Mustang GT is an amplifier with all you need built in. Your guitar can plug right into the input on top with no additional hardware; you add effects before and after the amplifier sound itself via the built-in software. That means you can drop a virtual overdrive into the first part of your effects chain, then a wah-wah pedal, then choose the specific Fender amplifier you want to sound like. Fender also added the option to chain effects after the amplifier model, which gives you a seemingly infinite combination of effects and amp profiles to work with.

The amp’s chassis is all black, a different look than the silver tweed I’ve been used to from Fender. It’s a bold, modern look that draws compliments from audiences and sound guys alike. All the functions can be controlled from the buttons along the top edge of the Mustang, with a multifunction scrolling knob that manages the presets and menu selections. There are four buttons to the right of this controller knob and three soft-key buttons to the left. Farther left are the knobs that control the individual sound of each preset, including knobs for gain, volume, treble, middle, bass and reverb, along with a master knob that manages the overall volume.

Fine-tuning your sound is a simple affair thanks to all the buttons and dials at your disposal. There’s one 1/4-inch jack for your instrument cable to the left of the analog control knobs, with 1/8-inch jacks to the far right for plugging in a set of headphones or wired sound source.

The Mustang GT amps also function like a big Bluetooth speaker. I was able to connect to the 200 and play some of the songs my band covers via Spotify, then play my guitar along with them to practice my solos and various parts. While I’d never recommend an $ 800 amp to just play music through, you might as well if you’ve already got one. The sound is relatively flat without any color, as it’s acting more like a studio monitor when you’re playing music through it. If you like your tunes with a bit more bass or treble, you’ll have to use your music player’s EQ settings, as the physical controls on the amplifier only affect the guitar sound, not that of any streaming audio.

The rear of both the 100 and 200 amps has a balanced set of left and right XLR line out jacks, a micro-USB port to connect to your computer for recording, and two sets of jacks for an effects loop (if you need to add even more guitar effects to the end your signal chain). The GT 200 comes with a four-button foot switch, also available separately for the GT 40 and 100 models. Being able to control the amp with a foot switch is all kinds of great, but it’s limited. Quick Access mode only gives you the ability to switch among three presets from your amp, though you can assign any three of the 100 included presets you like (plus any of your own creations).

Presets mode, as you might guess, lets you scroll through all the presets — but in groups of three only. In other words, you can have presets 1-3 enabled on three of the foot switches, but then you have to depress the right two pedal buttons to put the switch into scroll mode, then choose the next three presets, 4-7, or press two buttons again to cycle to 8-10. It’s overly complicated and much faster to just twist the big knob on the amp or use the app to switch presets (if Bluetooth is working).

Effects mode essentially assigns the three foot switch buttons to one single preset. So if you have an overdrive, a delay and a wah-wah sound in your effects chain, you can turn them off and on with the three buttons. Again, this is fine if you have a simple effect chain but kind of useless if you have more than three effects assigned to a preset.

With all of this choice, how does the Fender Mustang GT sound? Honestly, the GT100 sounds a little brittle, especially at higher volumes. Both sound guys mentioned it when I used the amp onstage. The GT200, with its dual-speaker setup, has a little more well-rounded, fuller sound, but it’s still a solid-state amp. That means those looking for a warmer, fuller sound could be somewhat disappointed.

The Fender Tone app

While the Mustang GT does all the above on its own, Fender also created a companion app so you can control it from a distance. Once connected via Bluetooth, you can choose and customize any of the presets via the app instead of the physical knobs on the cabinet. The problem here is getting your amp to stay connected, especially in a live-performance setting.

My iPhone locks its screen after a given time; that’s how it saves my battery. Most of the time that it locked, however, there seemed to be a disconnect with the Mustang amp. I ended up fiddling with my phone for far too long onstage, to the point where I just gave up and used the knobs on the amp itself. If it had been placed in the back line of the stage, it would have been impossible for me to get to it.

Having an app to mess with is fantastic at home, though, since it allows you to both change the settings and order of effects visually. In addition, the app is where you grab presets from Fender’s “community” section, which has groups of settings for various genres and artists ready for download. I grabbed a preset to sound like Slash on “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” an AC/DC set for “You Shook Me,” a “Sultans of Swing” preset and a sound that mimics the lead on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”

Not all of my downloads were winners, of course; many of these are created by amateurs at home, and the quality varies. Still, I was able to download 10 presets in a matter of seconds, each one ready to go on the amp with a tap on my iPhone or rotation of the dial on the amp itself. You can create set lists of presets, too, which would have been helpful onstage, if only the Bluetooth was reliable.

There are 110 preloaded effects presets on the amp already, with room for 90 more downloaded or created sets. The Mustang GT offers 21 different amp models, including popular models like Fender’s Champ, Twin Reverb or Deluxe. There are British amps in the list, too, with Hiwatt, Vox and Marshall models to add into your signal chain. There are 12 “stompbox” effects (which include distortion, compression and wah-wah sounds), 13 modulation effects (chorus, flanger, phasers and tremolos), nine delays and 12 reverb effects to choose from. It’s an overwhelming amount of choice, to be honest. Most guitarists look for their own unique sound that ends up coming from their own choice of amplifier and pedal effects. It almost feels like overkill to have so many options, but that’s the glory of digital.

While I’m no expert on the original sound of each modeled amp, I can say that the Super Champ model in the Mustang GT sounds very much like the actual Super Champ I use normally. All the 17 amp models have a unique sound profile to them, and I found myself gravitating to more-crunchy tones than I usually do, having access to them with the turn of a dial.

The built-in effects presets are a mixed bag, of course. The standouts include the auto wah-wah sound and a couple of fuzzbox effects, while the reverb settings tended to sound rather sterile. I had a ton of fun with the tremolo and tape delay effects, too, creating out-of-this-world, spacey guitar sounds in a matter of moments.

Having all of these sounds and effects available makes it much easier for me to play different songs. It’s a matter of a pedal press to move from the treble-heavy distorted sound for AC/DC’s “You Shook Me” directly to the chorus-laden tones of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” even if they’re one after the other in our set list for the night. Both sound much more authentic than the tones I was ever able to create with my few discrete guitar pedals.

Wrap-up

Ultimately, the Mustang GT amps are a solid choice for guitarists looking for a little help in finding and creating a diversity of guitar tones. Control via a mobile app sounds great on paper, and in a controlled setting like a rehearsal room or recording studio, it makes a ton of sense. If I were purchasing a new Mustang GT for myself, I’d opt for the larger, better-sounding 200 version. It also comes with the foot pedal, limited as it is, for a bit more control while playing.

If you’re looking for a real tube sound, though, no amount of digital modeling will get that elusive warm tone. It’s not that the GT amps sound bad; it’s more that they sound digital. That may be a good trade-off if you need a variety of sounds, like I do when playing a set list full of disparate tunes. If you don’t already have an array of pedals at your disposal, the Mustang GT amps can certainly keep you rocking, whether you want to play disco, punk, metal or blues.

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Motorcycle helmets finally get decent heads-up display navigation

I’m a huge proponent of reducing any and all distractions while riding a motorcycle, scooter, or moped. Helmets and padded gear are great, but when you get down to it, riders are still just squishy people zipping through traffic next to giant machines that could kill you if a driver sneezes or decides to text a friend. So the idea of a HUD (Heads Up Display) for a motorcycle is equal parts intriguing and terrifying.

Done right, it keeps your head up and eyes off your gauges and whatever navigation system you have strapped to your handlebars. Done wrong, and it’s a one-way ticket to the emergency room because you were spending too much time going through menus and trying to find relevant information instead of paying attention to the car in front of you that just slammed on its brakes. A fender bender in a car is a annoyance. A fender bender on a bike could land you in the ICU.

In comes the $ 700 Nuviz, a HUD for full-face helmets. The device’s purpose is to keep you informed while riding without adding too much distraction that could lead to hospitalization. And for the most part, it succeeds.

It shows your speed, navigation, maps, calls and your music via a tiny mirrored see-thru display that sits below the vision-line of your right eye. It’s there when you need it and you can almost ignore it when you don’t.

To see the information about your ride, you peer downward at the display which is focused about 13.5 feet in front of you. That means you’re refocusing your eyes, but the same thing happens when you look at your gauge cluster. Fortunately, the main screen is tailored for quick glances. Your speed and next turn are easily discernible by quickly peeking downward without moving your head which is Nuviz’s advantage over the dials that came with your bike.

Plus, the Nuviz supports audio and comes with the headset that can be installed in a helmet or it’ll sync to Bluetooth-enabled helmets. It’s a bit of a multimedia experience right on your noggin.

My apprehension about the potential for distraction intensified when I installed it on my helmet. From the outside, it’s huge. And while its 8.5 ounce weight didn’t bother me, for some folks with lightweight helmets, that might be a deal breaker. But when I actually put on my helmet all I saw was the tiny display which was a relief.

Riding with the Nuviz also reduced my anxiety. With the combination or visual and audio cues, I was finally able to navigate to a destination without pulling over and checking my phone or attaching it to the mount I bought a few years back and have only used twice because I’m sure my iPhone will fall out of it and break into a thousand pieces on US 101.

The display was bright enough to be legible in direct sunlight, although there were some tiny rainbow-colored dots that appeared in the glass. It wasn’t enough to block the information, but it’s there and while beautiful at times, it’s just another thing you’ll catch yourself looking at.

Navigating the menu system was simple enough with the supplied controller you attach near your left handlebar. An up and down lever scrolls through the main features and it’s surrounded by four action buttons. After a few hours riding using it becomes as second nature as activating my turn signals, high beams or horn.

The controller is also how you turn on the device’s 8 megapixel camera. With it you can take video and photos of your ride. The quality won’t replace a GoPro, but the photos were good enough to capture deer in the brush next to the road. The 1080p video quality is reminiscent of a smartphone from five years ago. It’s basically satisfactory and really the allure is that you don’t have to stop and pull out a camera to capture a moment.

It also might lead to gigantic slideshows, I took 100 photos during a ride around Mount Tamalpais. It’s very easy to just tap the photo button on the controller while riding.

Yet those are the kind of rides the Nuviz is built for. Long excursions on roads without heavy traffic. It was only during that type of jaunt that I felt comfortable turning on music (something I would never do while riding in San Francisco) and taking photos. The companion app makes creating a route with multiple stops that you send to the device a breeze and the actual navigation both on screen and in ear, was easy to follow without being overly distracting.

The device and controller are both easy to remove and reattach to your bike and helmet so you don’t have to check your bike every five minutes during lunch breaks. That also means you can ditch the whole system when doing short rides around town. In my experience, the Nuviz didn’t add much value to my daily commute. I know where I’m going and the roads are for too congested to even think about using it.

Plus, when it’s attached to your helmet, it’s never 100 percent gone. The tiny display, while helpful, is still in your peripheral. You sort of learn to ignore it, but when you’re lane splitting (only legal in California) and keeping an eye out for one of San Francisco’s many bike-swallowing potholes, you don’t need another (no matter how small) distraction.

But for weekend jaunts, the Nuviz is outstanding. It’s eight hour battery life should keep you on your route for the entire day and it’s on-board GPS and downloaded maps means even if you lose signal, you won’t get lost. For Kawasaki KLR and BMW GS riders, it’s a great little companion. But for daily riders in congested cities, it’s best to focus on the act of riding.

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‘Take On Me’ app turns your home into an ’80s music video

A-ha’s classic video for “Take On Me” was the result of painstaking effort — it took 16 weeks to rotoscope the frames, creating that signature blend between the real and hand-drawn worlds. Now, however, you only need an iPhone to recreate the look yourself. Trixi Studios has shown off an augmented reality iOS app that produces the “Take On Me” look in your own home. The proof-of-concept software makes do with virtual versions of A-ha’s Morten Harket and the pipe-wielding thugs, but its effect is more convincing than you might think.

In many ways, the app (which isn’t publicly available, alas) is a showcase of how easy it’s becoming to implemented augmented reality. Trixi wrote the software using Apple’s ARKit, a software toolbox that gives iOS developers a relatively easy way to weave AR content into their apps. They don’t have to make an engine from scratch. You certainly don’t need ARKit to create the “Take On Me” effect, but a framework like that makes it possible for even small outfits to produce slick results. That, in turn, could lead to developers treating AR less as a novelty and more as an important creative tool.

Via: Prosthetic Knowledge, Sploid

Source: Trixi Studios (YouTube)

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