Apple responds to Sen. Al Franken’s Face ID concerns in letter

Apple has responded to Senator Al Franken’s concerns over the privacy implications of its Face ID feature, which is set to debut on the iPhone X next month. In his letter to Tim Cook, Franken asked about customer security, third-party access to data (including requests by law enforcement), and whether the tech could recognize a diverse set of faces.

In its response, Apple indicates that it’s already detailed the tech in a white paper and Knowledge Base article — which provides answers to “all of the questions you raise”. But, it also offers a recap of the feature regardless (a TL:DR, if you will). Apple reiterates that the chance of a random person unlocking your phone is one in a million (in comparison to one in 500,000 for Touch ID). And, it claims that after five unsuccessful scans, a passcode is required to access your iPhone.

More significantly, Apple provides a summary on how it stores Face ID biometrics, which gets to the heart of the privacy concerns. “Face ID data, including mathematical representations of your face, is encrypted and only available to the Secure Enclave. This data never leaves the device. It is not sent to Apple, nor is it included in device backups. Face images captured during normal unlock operations aren’t saved, but are instead immediately discarded once the mathematical representation is calculated for comparison to the enrolled Face ID data.”

On the topic of data-sharing, it writes: “Third-party apps can use system provided APIs to ask the user to authenticate using Face ID or a passcode, and apps that support Touch ID automatically support Face ID without any changes.” It continues: “When using Face ID, the app is notified only as to whether the authentication was successful; it cannot access Face ID or the data associated with the enrolled face.”

Interestingly, the company dodges the Senator’s question about data requests from law enforcement. But, by indicating that data lives inside a “secure enclave” that it can’t access, it’s suggesting that it won’t be able to handover info that it doesn’t possess. It could also be holding back in light of its scrap with the Department of Justice last year, which saw it refuse to unlock an iPhone 5C owned by the San Bernardino shooters.

As Sen. Franken noted in his letter, Apple trained its Face ID neural network on a billion images. But, that’s not to say the photographs were of a billion different faces. For its part, Apple claims it looked at a “representative group of people” — although it’s still silent about exact numbers. It adds: “We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors. We augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users.” Of course, we’ll get to see how accurate Apple’s tech is when the new iPhone makes its way into more hands next month.

For now, it seems the Senator is satisfied with the company’s initial response, which he plans to extend into a conversation about data protection. You can read his full statement below:

“As the top Democrat on the Privacy Subcommittee, I strongly believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy. All the time, we learn about and actually experience new technologies and innovations that, just a few years back, were difficult to even imagine. While these developments are often great for families, businesses, and our economy, they also raise important questions about how we protect what I believe are among the most pressing issues facing consumers: privacy and security. I appreciate Apple’s willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I’m glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns. I plan to follow up with the Apple to find out more about how it plans to protect the data of customers who decide to use the latest generation of iPhone’s facial recognition technology.”

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Apple reportedly taps Spielberg for new ‘Amazing Stories’

Looks like Apple found someone to spend some of that billion dollars it earmarked for original TV and movies on: Steven Spielberg. Each episode of the revived Amazing Stories anthology series will cost about $ 5 million, according to Wall Street Journal‘s sources, and Spielberg will serve as executive producer for the show. Bryan Fuller (American Gods, Hannibal) is set to write according to Deadline, and the show has apparently been on ice for a few years. It’s a partnership between the filmmaker’s Amblin Television company, NBCUniversal and the iPhone maker.

Amazing Stories isn’t new. It ran on NBC during the ’80s, but given how popular anthology series are now, the Black Mirror effect, if you will, everyone seems to be getting in on the action. HBO has the excellent Room 104, Amazon Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams — it makes sense that Apple would want one to call its own as well. Cupertino’s just so happens to have one of the most revered filmmakers on the planet involved.

If you need more Spielberg in your life, HBO just debuted its documentary on the director and it’s streaming on HBO Go and Now.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Deadline

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Apple adds wizard, dinosaur and mermaid emoji in iOS 11.1

Hundreds more emoji are coming to your iPhone soon. Apple says it’s adding “more emotive smiley faces” as well as gender-neutral icons, more food and (importantly) mythical creatures — in time for Halloween, we hope. The series is coming to iPhone and iPad with iOS 11.1, which will launch next week, early, for developers and public beta testers. If the emoji additions sound familiar, that’s because Apple had teased these back in July. It appears the company is going beyond the 56 Unicode consortium-approved emoji, but that’s likely explained by skin color and hair variants — we haven’t glimpsed the entire set yet. But now that there’s a gyoza emoji, all is well.

Of course, for those waiting around for those animated emoji, you’ve still got some time on your hands: the iPhone X isn’t out until November.

Source: Apple

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Apple releases kernel source code tuned for mobile chips

Ever since the first version of OS X, Apple has regularly released the kernel source code for Macs. In theory, you could learn from it or even build your own projects from it. For iOS, though? Not so simple. Even if you had source code, it wouldn’t matter much unless it was optimized for the ARM-based chips that you see in most phones and mobile tablets. However, Apple is shaking things up a bit. The company has quietly posted ARM-friendly source code for the XNU kernels used in iOS and macOS. That’s particularly relevant if you’re interested in iOS, since you now have code that would theoretically run on an iPhone or iPad. However, it’s not quite the breakthrough move it seems at first blush.

To start: this is just the kernel, the low-level code that governs the most critical functions. It doesn’t cover the interface, developer frameworks or apps… that is, the parts that truly define iOS or macOS. Those elements are still closed off, so you would have to build most of the platform from scratch. You won’t see iOS on a Galaxy S8 any time soon. Apple also offers a relatively limited source code license that isn’t as flexible as, say, the GPL license used for Linux.

Moreover, while the presence of ARM-based Mac code is bound to raise eyebrows, this doesn’t mean that you’re about to see a MacBook with an A11 Bionic chip inside. Apple has a long history of writing code for other architectures “just in case” (the PowerPC-to-Intel transition happened quickly because Apple already had code waiting in the wings), so it might never make the switch. You certainly aren’t about to install macOS on your ARM-based Chromebook. And besides, there are rumors of Apple developing ARM-based companion chips for Macs. It may need ARM code even if it has no intention of ditching Intel for CPUs.

All the same, it’s a welcome move. This gives app and OS developers a better sense of how Apple tackles basic system tasks, particularly on iOS. And yes, anyone ambitious enough to write a full operating system could use XNU as a starting point. It’s just not going to change the status quo for Apple.

Via: Reddit

Source: GitHub, Apple Open Source

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Apple Watch Series 3 review: A good watch, a so-so phone replacement

With each generation, the Apple Watch’s purpose has seemed to shift. The first one demonstrated what Apple thought a wearable should be, and the second tried to be the perfect workout companion. When it came time to build the Series 3, though, Apple took everything it got right with the fitness-friendly Series 2, polished it up, and threw an LTE radio inside.

And lo, the $ 399 Apple Watch Series 3 became the first of a new breed of Apple devices — it straddles the line between smartwatch and phone, with a dash of iPod thrown in for good measure. For those who’d rather play it safe, Apple also built a $ 329 Series 3 with just GPS and no cellular connection. In fact, that safe bet will probably pay off for most people — the cellular Series 3 is a little too inconsistent for my taste.

Hardware and design

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Despite what some redesign rumors suggested ahead of the big event, this year’s Apple Watch looks… just like an Apple Watch. Shocking, I know. As ever, the Series 3 comes in 38mm and 42mm sizes, so earlier bands will continue to fit just fine. And, as with the Series 2, all versions feature a built-in GPS radio and 50-meter water resistance. Don’t let that classification fool you, though — you can take the Watch for a swim, but you almost certainly shouldn’t take it 50 meters underwater. (Why the watch industry continues to use such counterintuitive terminology is beyond me.)

Not much has changed with the display either — we’re still working with a tiny OLED screen running at 390 x 312, covered by a plate of Ion-X glass. (The stainless-steel and ceramic models instead use tougher sapphire crystal, but this Watch’s glass face was very good at resisting nicks as I accidentally banged my hands into walls and fixtures.) Max brightness still tops out at 1,000 nits, which is more than enough to keep notifications and apps readable under bright sunlight. More interesting is the way the screen doubles as the Watch’s wireless antenna; it’s a nifty feat of engineering that seems to get the job done well.

In any case, I’ve been wearing a 42mm Apple Watch on and off since the first version launched in 2015, and the fit and finish of my 42mm cellular review unit is first-rate, as always. It’s impossible to tell that the Series 3 is slightly thicker than the models that came before it, and thankfully, it’s just as hard to feel the difference when it’s strapped to your wrist. That’s because the Watch’s aluminum squircle of a body hasn’t changed — the ceramic hump around back housing the heart rate sensor is, according to Apple, two sheets of paper thicker than it was before. The 42mm body’s weight hasn’t changed either, which is pretty impressive considering the extra stuff needed to turn this wearable into a tiny, functional phone. Throw in an improved, dual-core S3 chipset and a slightly bigger battery, and we’ve got a remarkably snappy little package.

Until you start talking into your wrist, there’s only one way to tell if a Watch is LTE-enabled or not: You need to spot the red dot. This red highlight serves no technical purpose; it’s purely for looks, and if you’re the type who likes visual metaphors, you’ll notice a certain symmetry with the Watch’s red notification dot. I get the need for some sort of visual signifier, but fashionistas, beware: That red flourish clashes with a lot of Apple Watch bands out there.

As a traditional smartwatch

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The original Apple Watch gave shape to the company’s vision for wearable computing, but, man, it was frustratingly slow sometimes. Fast-forward two years, and we finally have an Apple Watch that feels as fast as it should. Swiping between watch faces is smoother than before, and launching apps seems to take considerably less time, all thanks to Apple’s updated S3 chipset. Series 1 and 2 owners might not find the difference that pronounced, since both devices have dual-core processors of their own, but the fractions of a second I’m saving every time an action works more smoothly becomes time I get to spend doing something else that matters to me.

One of the best ways to see all this power in action is by talking to Siri — and, for once, the experience won’t make you want to tear your hair out. Siri can finally speak to you on the Series 3, and it uses the same natural-sounding voice you’d hear it use on an iOS device running iOS 11. I never really used Siri on the Series 2, because it required me to glance down at my wrist all the time. This year, Siri’s audible responses and generally spot-on voice transcription meant I could ask it to send a message or email for me and not worry too much about what happened next. Yes, this eventually bit me in the ass, but never too badly. Beyond handling messages and tasks, Siri has also been helpful for navigating to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and answering various random questions.

As useful as Siri is now, it still has its limits. For one, you need to be careful with how you ask for things — “open News” does what you’d expect it to, but “show me the news” kicked me out to external search results. Oh, and don’t forget that the Watch’s screen has to be on to get Siri’s attention with a voice command. A version of Siri that constantly listens for commands would be ideal, but that’d probably wreak as much havoc on battery life as, well, a cellular radio would.

The Series 3’s new watch faces sure are… interesting.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Beyond just Siri, Apple’s new watchOS 4 offers a few other new features as well. There are new customizable kaleidoscope watch faces, along with a handful of faces starring characters from Toy Story. The music app has been updated with a new look and slightly more seamless syncing — some playlists, like “New Music” and “Favorites,” are transferred over by default while the Watch charges for the first time. Individual tracks and playlists can be moved over easily enough too, but literally any support for podcasts would’ve been nice. To make the most of the Watch’s music player, though, you need to be an Apple Music subscriber; the Watch still offers media controls for whatever audio is playing on the iPhone, but you’re out of luck if you’d prefer to interact with Spotify’s superior playlists.

The Series 3 technically works as a standalone device, but let’s be real: We’re so attached to our phones that the Watch will spend most of its time connected to an iPhone anyway. I’m not complaining either, mostly because the Watch has very good battery life as a result. I usually pull my Watch off its charger at around 8AM, and I’ve routinely seen it chug along until midafternoon the next day if I didn’t make many voice calls on it. Over the weekend, when my phone was gloriously quiet, I got nearly two full days of screen-on time before needing to charge the Watch again. Apple bumped up the Series 3’s battery capacity to maximize cellular usage time, so while I’m pleased that tethered battery life has improved, I’m not surprised.

As a standalone device

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The connection between the Apple Watch and an iPhone is the core of Apple’s wearable experience, and for the first time, the company gave the Watch the tools to function independently. Seeing the Watch hop onto an LTE network and use your same phone number is undeniably neat, but honestly, it’s not something I’d want to do very often.

First off, yes, you’re going to have to pay your carrier $ 10 a month for the privilege, not to mention an activation fee once this first wave of promotions dies down. Setting up the Watch with my AT&T phone plan was mostly a breeze, but some reviewers have experienced issues getting everything squared away, especially when older rate plans were involved. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect most of you won’t need to worry much.

Actually using the phone is easier than expected — you can either punch in a number or select one of your contacts — and call quality was generally very good. In a majority of conversations I had, the people on the other end couldn’t even tell I was talking into a watch. That can change suddenly, though. Earlier this week, I parked myself outside the office to take a few phone calls, and the signal indicator bounced between two and four dots of coverage while I was just sitting there.

As a result, call quality got really strange — I could hear the other party just fine, but I sounded like a mess to them. This happened only one other time, in a completely different location, and I’m at a loss as to why. In any case, if you’re interested in taking calls on a Series 3, a Bluetooth headset is a must. It’ll also help in situations where the Watch’s speaker just isn’t loud enough, which is most of the time, frankly.

Messages rolled in quickly too, but here’s the thing: Not all messages are treated equally. As long as you have some kind of wireless signal, iMessages will be delivered just fine. Text messages are usually subject to a delay, since they’re routed through your iPhone, but this also means that SMSes won’t come through at all if your iPhone is dead. Emails running through Apple’s Mail app worked fine but took longer than usual to pop up on my wrist, so I wouldn’t advise going watch-only when urgent business is in the offing. And most of the Watch apps I installed worked normally, though a few — like Slack and Twitter — either did nothing or force-quit when I tried to use them.

Early review models also seemed prone to connectivity issues stemming from a Wi-Fi bug — in a bid to conserve battery life, the Series 3 tries to latch onto wireless networks your other Apple devices have flagged as being suitable for use. The problem was, not every network was flagged correctly, so captive portals (like those used at, say, Starbucks) would get the OK and the Watch would try to connect, with no way of getting past whatever interstitial screen popped up. It’s not that the Watch was going out of its way to jump onto unfamiliar networks — it’s that some of the networks it thinks are kosher actually aren’t.

This is a major goof, but I can see why it might have escaped detection — I have had precisely zero issues with my Series 3 attempting to latch onto bum networks. Then again, I’m one person, and I find it hard to believe that not a single engineer testing the Series 3 prior to launch ran into this. I’m fairly sure you won’t run into this very specific kind of trouble, but it remains a risk; Apple promised a fix after catching some well-deserved flak, but it still hadn’t materialized when we published this review.

Really, my biggest concern is much more mundane: Going completely iPhone-free means the Watch’s battery life will take a huge hit. After an early-morning run while listening to music and using the GPS, followed by a couple of test calls, the Series 3 was on its last legs by early afternoon. Apple has always been clear that the Series 3 is more of a temporary phone substitute than an actual replacement, so this probably won’t seem shocking to you. Still, if this morning routine sounds like your idea of a good time, remember to have a charger handy.

I don’t mean to make the Series 3 sound terrible at this stuff — when everything works properly, it makes for an adequate untethered companion. It’s just too bad that those moments weren’t as common as I expected.

As a fitness tracker

Chris Velazco/Engadget

With the Series 2, Apple decided the Watch should be a serious fitness wearable, and its focus on getting people out of their chairs clearly isn’t going away. Thankfully, the Series 3’s blend of capable hardware and thoughtful software make it a great choice for people who take their workouts seriously, but not that seriously.

The Series 3’s step counts were in line with other wearables I tested it against, though accuracy is a weird thing to look for in cases like these. Every fitness tracker I’ve ever worn seemed to interpret my steps a little differently, but the Series 3 was consistently within +/- 10 steps of my own counts (in my head, up to 250). Strangely, I guess I define “a flight of stairs” differently from how the Watch’s new barometer does, since it consistently underestimated me on days when I decided to avoid the office’s elevators. Meanwhile, the updated Workout app packs support for new workout types (perfect for you crazy high-intensity interval people) and easier controls for setting time or calorie burn goals for your swim, walk or run.

Speaking of running, I’ve had no issue with GPS accuracy either — I run the same route a few times a week, and the distance was basically bang-on every time. Granted, I don’t precisely know how long that makeshift course is, so hardcore runners (like Engadget marathoner-in-residence Dana Wollman) may be better served by more purpose-built wearables that can more accurately measure one’s pace. Now, once I get moving, I don’t have too much trouble powering through to the end; the real trouble comes in getting off my ass to start with. For better or worse, Apple’s three-ringed activity app now offers more proactive notifications, the most effective of which tells me roughly how much longer I’d need to walk to hit my goals at the end of the day. It’s just enough of a push to get me where I want to be, and I’m surprised Apple didn’t implement this sooner.

Your author really needs to chill out.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Even though I’m not the exercise nut I used to be, I appreciated Apple’s enhanced focus on your heart. The Watch tries to get more accurate readings of your resting heart rate by checking it when it knows you haven’t been moving, and it plots your heart rate readings on handy graphs to show you changes over time.

It’s especially helpful for tracking your recovery after intense exercises, but that’s one of the few areas where the Watch offers a little more data than casual users are probably interested in. All told, this a wearable best suited for generalists. Good thing for Apple, then, that there are a lot of them out there. Hardcore athletes may get more mileage out of a wearable that measures even more, like blood oxygenation. (Curiously, the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor works in such a way that it could also function as a pulse oximeter, but the feature has never been activated.) What’s more unfortunate is that two features that should be great for exercise buffs — Apple Music streaming over LTE and integration with gym equipment through GymKit — won’t be ready for a few more weeks.

The competition

Chris Velazco/Engadget

There haven’t been too many Android Wear 2.0 watches released this year, which leaves the LG Watch Sport at the top of the proverbial pack. Chatting with Google Assistant is mostly a pleasure, and it uses a rotating crown button for navigation, just like the Series 3. One of Android Wear’s biggest assets has always been its visual flexibility, and I’ve spent more time than I care to admit sifting through watch faces in the Play Store in hopes of finding the perfect look for my wrist. The Sport can also jump onto cellular networks, but LG’s approach is problematic: There’s an actual SIM card inside, so the watch’s body is huge, and the antennas extend into the watch’s unremovable bands. It’s a solid option if you’re a smartwatch shopper who doesn’t care for Apple, but beware of its compromises.

Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier comes to mind too, since it also packs an eSIM and an LTE radio for truly phone-free use. It’s a bigger, more masculine-looking watch than the Series 3, and it’s a little less comfortable, but its rotating bezel remains one of the most inspired interaction methods I’ve ever used on a smartwatch. It’s effing excellent, and so is its Spotify streaming support. The Frontier can also tell when you’ve started to work out and will track your movements accordingly, an intelligent touch that (sadly) doesn’t always work as well as it should. The biggest knock against the S3 Frontier, however, is its Tizen OS. Who cares if you can install apps in the woods if they’re mostly apps no one cares about?

Wrap-up

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The Apple Watch Series 3 often feels like two devices in one. When it’s connected to a phone, it’s an improvement over its predecessors in just about every way that matters. More important, the tight integration of improved hardware and more thoughtful software give the Series 3 a very notable edge over its smartwatch competition. It’s that good. As a standalone device, though, the Series 3 can be maddeningly limited. Over time, I’m sure apps will grow to take advantage of persistent data connections, and still other kinks will be worked out entirely. For now, though, the kinks remain and the overall experience suffers as a result. Apple’s vision of a wearable that remains forever connected to the things that matter to you is an enticing one, and the Series 3 is an important first step down that path. Here’s hoping Apple’s next step is as consistently good on its own as it is when connected to a phone.

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FCC Chairman wants Apple to enable FM in iPhones for emergencies (update)

You might think of radio as an archaic form of listening to music, but it’s still one of the more effective ways to get information to people, especially when cell networks go down. Most smartphones already have an FM chip baked right into the chipset, but they tend to be inaccessible, especially in the US. Now FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is asking Apple to activate these FM chips already in iPhones. “Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted (activating the chips),” said Pai in a statement. “But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.”

This isn’t a new push by Pai to get FM enabled in smartphones, either. “In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States,” he said. “And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so.” In his first public speech as FCC chairman, Pai notes, he said that “you could make a case for activating chips on public safety grounds alone.”

As The Verge notes, many companies, including Motorola, LG and Samsung (among others), have allowed for FM access in their smartphones. Many are on the list of supported devices provided by NextRadio, a smartphone app that provides FM broadcasts to smartphones. AT&T already asks manufacturers of Android phones to enable the FM systems, too. “I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones,” said Pai.

Update: Apple has responded to Pai’s request with the statement below, claiming that its most recent models don’t actually have FM capability which exec Phil Schiller also noted in a tweet. The company didn’t mention older models, but according to John Gruber of Daring Fireball, he’s heard that while they may contain an FM radio chip it isn’t connected or available to be enabled by a software update.

Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products. Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.


Source: FCC

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Apple TV 4K review: Almost perfect

The Apple TV 4K is the streaming box we’ve been waiting for. It brings together the excellent interface from the 2015 model, along with the long-awaited ability to watch movies and TV shows in 4K and HDR. And perhaps most importantly, it seriously drives down the cost of digital 4K releases. Sure, competitors like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV have had 4K/HDR capabilities for years, but Apple’s pricing model makes the format more accessible to consumers. While it’s not quite perfect, the Apple TV 4K is a solid step beyond HD video.

Hardware

At first glance, it’s tough to tell the new Apple TV apart from its predecessor. They both have the same boxy plastic design, with glossy sides and a matte top. There are a few small differences, though. The new model is raised up slightly to expose air vents, which helps to keep its faster processor cool. It also doesn’t have a diagnostic USB-C port on the back — instead it features an HDMI port, an upgraded gigabit Ethernet jack, and a power connection. Consumers likely won’t notice the omitted USB-C port, since it’s mainly used for IT administration.

Not much has changed on the remote either. A small ring around the menu button is the only noticeable tweak. That helps you hit the button easily in the dark, and it’s also a tactile way to let you know you’re holding the remote correctly. The buttons for heading back to the home screen, Siri voice control, play/pause and volume controls haven’t changed at all. Its motion control capabilities are still intact, as well, but you’ll mainly be using that for games.

This new model won’t win over haters of the original remote, who criticized its fragile design and touchpad controls. But as someone who actually liked the last model, I found it just as easy to use. It still doesn’t make much sense to throw glass on a slim remote that’ll inevitably get crushed in your couch, though.

Under the hood, the Apple TV 4K is powered by the A10X Fusion processor, the same chip inside of the newest iPad Pro models. That additional power is certainly helpful for dealing with huge video files, but it’s also something that games and apps will be able to take advantage of. The last Apple TV often had trouble running complex apps — like Sling TV and Hulu (with its redesigned interface) — without any slowdowns.

Software and setup

Setting up the Apple TV 4K was pretty simple: Just plug in your WiFi credentials, enter your iCloud account, and you’re good to go. If you have an iOS device nearby, you can also hold it near the Apple TV during setup to transfer all of your settings. The entire process took just a few minutes when I used my iPhone 6S.

Apple’s tvOS platform hasn’t changed much, but the company did add a new feature called “One Home Screen,” which lets you sync up your apps and their layout across multiple Apple TVs. It worked flawlessly as I transitioned away from my previous-gen Apple TV (though I did have to manually enable it before I unplugged that model). You’ll still have to log into all of your streaming services, but One Home Screen at least saves you the trouble of finding all of your apps and organizing them.

For the most part, tvOS still looks like a slightly blown up version of the iOS homescreen. It’s an interface that’s beginning to show its age, but it’s still more attractive than Roku’s and the Fire TV’s. The entire UI is also rendered in 4K/HDR, something that no other set-top box is doing yet.

In use

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

As you can tell by the name, the big difference with this new box is 4K support, which offers four times as many pixels as 1080p HD. That makes it ideal for bringing out very fine detail, like individual strands of hair and blades of grass. Most people won’t be able to see much of a difference with the jump to 4K from their normal viewing distance — you need to be sitting really close to a TV set 55-inches or larger to truly notice it.

Even if you have a massive TV, though, you’ll notice the addition of HDR, or high-dynamic range video, more than 4K on its own. On compatible sets, HDR lets you see more intense whitesbrightness, deeper blacks and a wider range of colors in between. On newer films, the difference can feel like night and day.

Apple wisely chose to support both HDR standards: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. But, in typical Apple fashion, it’s offering these new formats in a slightly different way. Unlike most devices, which enable HDR when you’re watching video that supports it, the Apple TV 4K always has HDR enabled. Apple says this helps to avoid annoying flickering that occurs on some TVs when they switch in and out of HDR modes. It might seem like a strange choice, but as Apple sees it, forcing HDR solves a fairly common usability issue. Some TVs take several seconds to jump into HDR mode — something that feels unconscionable in 2017.

By default, Apple says it forces the best HDR setting for your TV set. The definition of “best,” is up for debate, though. On my LG OLED B6, it automatically enables HDR10 at 60Hz. But I’d prefer to be viewing in Dolby Vision, since it can adjust to changes in lighting dynamically, something HDR10 can’t do. Since I had no trouble watching Dolby Vision titles, it appears as if the Apple TV is doing some sort of automatic translation between HDR modes. You can force the Apple TV to display specific resolutions and refresh rates, but at this point you can’t choose which HDR mode to output. We’ve asked Apple for more details about how it’s handling HDR, and will update if we hear back.

For now, the only 4K/HDR enabled content Apple is offering is in the iTunes Movies app. There’s a section dedicated to the higher resolution films, with a slim offering of more than 120 titles. That’s on-par with Vudu’s 4K library, Apple’s biggest competitor. Surprisingly, There aren’t any 4K/HDR TV shows on iTunes yet.

While adding 4K/HDR support is nice, it’s nothing revolutionary. What is transformative is that Apple isn’t charging a premium for 4K films. You’ll be able to buy them between $ 15 and $ 20, and rent them for $ 6, just like the company’s current HD library. And just as the company promised, your existing iTunes purchases will be upgraded to the new format for free. In my library of 50 films, my copies of Star Trek Beyond, Arrival, The Lego Movie, Kingsman, and La La Land were all instantly bumped up.

We’re already seeing the impact of Apple’s pricing on the rest of the streaming market: Google and Vudu have both started discounting 4K titles. Vudu used to charge $ 30 for 4K purchases and $ 10 for rentals. While the competition isn’t offering free 4K upgrades yet, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until they follow suit since they were so quick to match Apple’s prices. So even if you’re not even interested in the Apple TV 4K, you’ve got Apple to thank for pushing everyone towards sensible pricing. Given that most consumers are used to watching media via subscription services, it seems wiser to lower the cost so they don’t get turned off of digital purchases and rentals completely.

Brian Oh/Engadget

So how do the souped-up movies look on the new Apple TV? In a word, fantastic. Kong: Skull Island ended up being the ideal 4K HDR demo on my LG OLED TV set. It features scenes with plenty of bright elements, as well as detailed dark portions. At times, both extreme brightness and darkness show up at the same time, thanks to the versatility of HDR. I had to shield my eyes a bit when Kong stands in front of the bright tropical sun, but I could still make out details in his dark fur. The film’s many explosions, not to mention other giant monsters, also looked incredible thanks to all of the new video technology.

Quality-wise, Kong looked on-par with what I’ve seen from Vudu’s 4K streaming, but there was still the occasional compression artifact. That’s simply the reality of streaming video, though — if you want to be rid of blocky compression completely, you’d have to upgrade to 4K Blu-ray discs. When comparing the ITunes 4K version of Arrival to my 4K Blu copy, I didn’t notice any significant differences, aside from the occasional artifact on the streaming side.

Baby Driver is a much brighter film than Kong, but its colorful palette almost pops off the screen with 4K/HDR. The formats also help with the film’s many action sequences — there was a bit more oomph as every gun fired, and I could make out even more detail during the long chase sequences. In many ways, the film looked more impressive than it did in an actual theater.

The Apple TV also surprised me by how quickly it loaded up 4K films. Typically they’d launch in less than a second, and most of the time they also loaded up in 4K from the start. With Vudu, it would typically take a second or two before things got started. That’s not a huge difference, but it makes for a practically seamless viewing experience. Apple recommends that you have at least a 25 Mbps internet connection to stream 4K, which should technically be doable for many consumers in the US. I’d also recommend using a modern 802.11ac router to push all of that data — things could easily get stuttery on older gear.

On Netflix, I ran through my usual 4K/HDR demos and came away impressed. Daredevil, a show that tends to be very dark, looked just as good as it did on my TV’s built-in app. The new formats come in especially handy for the show’s night-time fight scenes — on my old 1080p plasma set, it was sometimes difficult to make out the intricacies of its incredible choreography. And I could almost taste the gorgeous meals on Chef’s Table.

Unfortunately, the Apple TV 4K is still way behind when it comes to third-party support. Netflix is the only app with 4K/HDR enabled today. There’s an Amazon Prime Video app coming, which will likely include that service’s UHD titles . There’s no 4K YouTube support either, because Apple hasn’t adopted Google’s open VP9 codec. Given that YouTube is home to plenty of 4K video, it’s something both companies will want to fix soon. Hulu also offers 4K streaming on game consoles, and Apple says it’s in talks with enabling that on the TV. And of course, there’s the recently launched Vudu app, which is also stuck with HD titles.

There weren’t any new games to show off, but Transistor did run a bit more smoothly than on the last model. In the future, you can look forward to Sky, the next game from Journey creator Jenova Chen, as well as an adaptation of the creepy indie game Inside. Apple TV’s gaming ecosystem has floundered the past few years, but the added horsepower here might help it recover. It could give developers just the push they need to port their games over without compromises.

Of course, there’s still plenty of room for Apple to improve. Its 4K library is missing major films from studios like Disney and franchises like The Fast and the Furious, and the company clearly needs to get more 4K-enabled services aboard. I also noticed some weird quirks with the Apple TV’s video processing — for some HD shows on Sling and HBO Now, it tended to over-emphasize sharpened edges and some lighting elements. It’d be nice to be able to turn off that image correction completely.

Perhaps strangest of all, the Apple TV 4K doesn’t support next-generation audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X yet. That’s something plenty of devices, including the Xbox One S and lower-end Roku boxes, have offered for a while now. Netflix is also offering it with some newer releases, like the film Okja. Apple says Atmos is coming eventually, according to The Verge, but it’s unclear when we should expect it. I’m currently running a 5.1.2 (5.1 with two upward firing speakers) Atmos configuration, and it’s simply disappointing that such a high-end device can’t take advantage of it properly.

Pricing and the competition

The Apple TV 4K starts at $ 179 for the 32GB model, up from $ 149 for the last version. There’s also a 64GB model for $ 199, but that’s mainly meant for people who plan to download plenty of games. In comparison, you’d have access to more 4K HDR content with a $ 100 Roku box or Amazon Fire TV.

The very idea of using a set-top box is beginning to seem anachronistic, now that more TVs are including most of the popular streaming apps. But the Apple TV’s ease of use, together with iTunes’ inexpensive 4K offerings and free upgrades, makes the case for investing in a separate device.

Wrap-up

The Apple TV 4K does everything you’d expect it to do — what’s surprising is how Apple is undercutting the competition in 4K pricing. In a world where people are buying fewer films, and the current best physical media format might not be sticking around for long, it serves an important role by making 4K and HDR films more accessible. It’s just a shame that we still have to wait for Apple to score more licensing deals, get more third-party support and fix curious omissions, like its lack of Atmos support.

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Apple Watch Series 3 first look: So far, no LTE problems

The Apple Watch Series 3 started shipping today, and our definitive review is still in the works. In the meantime, we wanted to give you a taste of what life is like with the company’s first LTE-connected watch, so when we got it in for review, we said eff it: let’s use nothing but the Watch all day. I was going to respond to every text, email and Slack message from my wrist, use it for listening to music on the subway and talk into it as much as I would with my usual iPhone. To be fair, Apple doesn’t seem like a huge advocate of this idea — it treats the Series 3 as an occasional substitute for an iPhone rather than a day-to-day replacement. That said, this is the first Apple Watch with cellular connectivity. How could we not try this?

Ditching the phone takes a little time, though; you’ll need an iPhone to completely the initial setup, which thankfully seemed much faster than on previous models. Well, until it came time to set up the cellular connection, anyway. I’m an AT&T customer, so this meant the Watch app kicked me into a browser window where I had to enable the carrier’s $ 10-a-month NumberSync feature. For whatever reason, the process seemed to fail the first time, but a subsequent attempt let me pick up where I left off after logging in again. At last, with NumberSync ready and LTE ostensibly ready to go, I took a moment to behold the Watch itself.

At its launch event, Apple said the crystal housing for the heart rate sensor is just “two sheets of paper” thicker than last year’s Series 2. The difference is subtle — the crystal pressed into my wrist a little more noticeably than before, but not enough to get worked up over. The weight hasn’t changed much, which is pretty impressive considering the stuff Apple had to squeeze inside to make the cellular connections work.

The more I thought about it, the less sense the cellular Series 3’s red dot makes. I’m told it serves no technical purpose; it’s just there to add a fun little splash of color, and serve as a reminder that this watch can indeed make phone calls. Whether or not Apple intended it, the visual metaphor is apt: The dot looks like the red notification indicator that pops up on-screen, a subtle, persistent suggestion that the Series 3 is always connected to the rest of your world. That said, the dot straight-up clashes with certain Watch bands. Yeesh.

After that, it was time to actually use the thing. I killed Bluetooth on the iPhone and waited for about 10 seconds until the Watch transitioned to… Wi-Fi. Oops. I’d need to be outside for the rest of this process. It took about 35 seconds for the Watch to acquire an LTE signal, and when messages started rolling in, I was honestly a little surprised how easily I could manage them all. Unlike other reviewers, I haven’t noticed any hiccups in network performance so far, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

The constant throbbing of notifications rolling in gets old quickly, but so far, the excellent voice recognition was tremendous in helping me get back to everyone. I’ve always liked the idea of “scribbling” out letters with my finger to respond to incoming messages, but it the process of figuring out what letter you’ve drawn takes just a tick more time. Voice recognition is the way to go, even if I looked like sort of a doofus using it.

Ditto for talking into the Watch, but at least it sounded pretty good, or so said the people I was chatting with. Of the four friends I called using the Watch, three of them had no idea I was talking into my wrist. Still, as far as the built-in speaker goes, you’re going to want a decent set of Bluetooth earbuds to get the best audio quality on your end. I should also mention that I didn’t notice the widely-reported issue where the Series 3 tries to latch onto open WiFi networks it shouldn’t. That’s probably because I’m kind of anal about what WiFi network settings I actually keep saved on MacBook and iPhone; I generally clear out everything but my home and work configurations. I’m going to be a little more lax about this, though, and see what happens from there. Moving on.

Using Siri was also a pleasant surprise — it typically gets a bad rap, but my experience so far has been great. It very quickly got to the point where I could ditch the precise pronunciation I reserve for virtual assistants and just talk like myself. There was one moment when I was walking around downtown Manhattan and Siri failed to connect, but she’s otherwise turning out to be the Series 3’s MVP. The other contender for that title is the updated chipset inside; it makes the Series 3 much more capable. Switching between apps (accessible using the flat side button) was the smoothest experience as I’ve had yet on an Apple Watch.

I kept up with work for about four hours, and while my co-workers could probably tell I wasn’t quite as responsive as usual, I was still managing to get things done. It was getting pretty late at this point, so I decided to wind down my night with a leisurely run along the East River, using the GPS to track my route. The Watch seemed to do a fine job here, except it basically obliterated what was left of my battery life. After six hours, the Watch was down to 10 percent and dipped into Power Reserve mode.

So far, the Series 3 has been a mixed bag. The big performance gains mean it’s much more pleasant to actually use, but most people don’t need what amounts to a second, more limited phone lashed to their wrists. I’m going to keep testing the Series 3 for a few more days, so stay tuned for our full review.

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Apple slowly lets its ‘TV’ streaming app expand beyond the US

Apple’s ‘TV’ app has begun showing up outside the US, signaling the start of the rollout it promised during its latest iPhone event. According to MacRumors and 9to5Mac, the app has already appeared for some users in Australia and Canada ahead of tvOS 11’s official release later today, September 19th. Apple launched the TV app in 2016 to serve as a browsable hub for all the shows from your other apps, such as Hulu and HBO Now. It was designed to give you a way to easily find movies and series to watch without having to switch streaming services.

Based on some social media posts, the app still isn’t working properly and is stuck loading for a lot of people. Apple might have merely released it to prepare for its streaming device’s OS update, so it will likely start working once tvOS 11 arrives. While the ongoing rollout seems to be for Canada and Australia only, Apple also promised to bring the app to the UK, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden before the year ends.

Source: 9to5Mac

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The Engadget Podcast Ep 42: Everything Apple

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Apple held a keynote at its glass-empaneled new “spaceship” campus this week, during which it announced a boatload of stuff. So much stuff, in fact, that my colleague Chris Velazco and I devoted an entire episode of the Engadget Podcast to it. Join us as we talk about the new iPhones (all three of them), plus the Apple TV 4K and LTE-enabled Apple Watch Series 3.

Relevant links:

  • Live from Apple’s iPhone X event!
  • Our first look at Apple’s new ‘spaceship’ campus
  • iPhone X hands-on
  • The iPhone X vs. the competition
  • iPhone 8 and 8 Plus hands-on
  • Apple TV’s 4K movie pricing is exactly what the 4K world needs
  • Apple Watch Series 3 hands-on
  • The iPhone 8 won’t get lost in the shadow of the iPhone X
  • When there’s the iPhone X, why bother with the iPhone 8?
  • The iPhone X leaves a home-button-shaped hole in my heart

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