iOS 11 could use the iPhone’s NFC chip for more than Apple Pay

Apple may have an awkward history of avoiding and then embracing NFC in the past, but new developments at this week’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference indicate those days are long gone. Apple already announced new NFC functions coming to the Apple Watch with watchOS 4, but according to documents for the upcoming iOS 11 release, the iPhone’s NFC chip might also be handling much more than just Apple Pay transactions and Passbook check-ins.

Although the feature didn’t get any airtime onstage Monday, iOS 11 Beta adds support for Core NFC to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. (And presumably future hardware as well.) In release docs, Core NFC is described as “a new framework for reading Near Field Communications (NFC) tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format.” At the moment, the iPhone’s NFC chip is useless for anything other than Apple’s in-house payment system, but the new framework appears to let the chip in the latest iPhones read any tags — not just Apple Pay tags — and take action on them based on the phone’s location. NFC could open up more ways for iOS apps to communicate with connected devices and iPhones could also replace NFC-based keycards or transit passes like London’s Oyster card and the Bay Area’s Clipper card. In theory, Core NFC could also enable functions like tap-to-pair Bluetooth speakers — something Android users have been enjoying for awhile now — but it’s possible Apple could block such features to keep the “magic” pairing experience limited to AirPods and other devices with its proprietary W1 chip.

On the other hand, opening NFC could also invite potential privacy issues onto iOS. Like Bluetooth Beacons, NFC tags allow for seamless, location-based interactions for better or worse. While the ability to tap your phone to a movie poster and instantly bring up the trailer might seem magical, even anonymous data gathered from those sorts of interactions can paint a startling clear picture of a consumer.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2017 here!

Via: WCCFTech

Source: Apple Developer

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Google adds voice typing, Doodles and more emoji to Gboard on iOS

Google’s powerful Gboard app might now be on Android, but it’s the iPhone version that is receiving most of the updates. As part of its most recent overhaul, the search giant has extended support to 15 new countries*, and also added a number of new features that make it easier to say what you have to say.

As of now, users have access to all of the latest emoji in iOS 10. If you don’t remember, one of the most useful Gboard features is the ability to search and find the perfect emoji, allowing you to decorate texts and emails without scrolling through endless lists of icons.

By incorporating search into its keyboard, you don’t need to visit Google.com to find what you’re after and share it. Keeping with this theme, the app now also hosts Google Doodles, notifying you of new additions via the animated “G” button. If it’s moving, hit the icon and Gboard will display more information about the Doodle on that particular day.

Perhaps the most useful feature is voice support. Like the native keyboard, all you need to do is press the microphone and talk. If you’ve used Google’s voice services before, you’ll know that they are pretty reliable, so it might come in handy when you have your hands full or need your eyes fixed on something more important.


*Supported languages include: Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Catalan, Hungarian, Malay, Russian, Latin American Spanish and Turkish. They can be selected by opening the Gboard app and choosing “Languages”, then “Add Language.”

Via: Google Blog

Source: gBoard (App Store)

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Apple’s next custom Mac chip could do a lot more

Intel processors have powered Apple’s Mac computers for over a decade now, but Apple has also found success designing its own A-series ARM-based chips for the iPhone and iPad. While the company isn’t going to dump Intel chips in the Mac any time soon, a report from Bloomberg indicates that Apple at least intends to put its foot in the water and test out designing its own silicon for the Mac.

According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Ian King, Apple is building an ARM-based chip that’ll offload the Mac’s “Power Nap” features from the standard Intel processor as a way to save batter life. Power Nap currently lets the Mac run software updates, download email and calendar updates, sync to iCloud, back up to Time Machine drives and a number of other features while the computer is asleep. Some of these features only work when plugged in, though — perhaps with a chip that consumers less energy, Power Nap’s capabilities could be expanded.

This could also be a first step towards a move away from Intel processors entirely, although Bloomberg says such a move would not happen in the immediate future. But Apple has invested a lot of money in its own series of chips since 2010 and could have more freedom to update the Mac without having to rely on Intel’s schedule.

It’s worth noting that this rumored Power Nap chip wouldn’t be the first Apple-designed chip to make it into a Mac. That honor would go to the T1, an ARM-based chip that showed up in the new MacBook Pro last fall. That chip controls the laptop’s Touch Bar and the Touch ID sensor but otherwise doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting. Apple has been pretty quiet about the chip, but it seems that the next MacBook Pro could have another ARM chip — maybe the T2? — that takes more tasks away from the main Intel processor. If that’s the case, we probably won’t know for a while, as Apple probably won’t update the MacBook Pro lineup again until this fall.

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GarageBand on iOS is now a more capable music production suite

Apple’s GarageBand is a good place to get started with recording, but it’s useful for more advanced skill levels as well. The company just revealed an update to the iOS version of the app that gives the software a few more tools for tracking on the go. First, the powerful Alchemy synthesizer from Apple’s pro-grade Logic software is now available as an instrument in the mobile version of GarageBand. It includes over 150 patches capable of producing sounds for a range of genres.

Inside the app, Apple has tweaked the sound browser to make it easier to find the so-called Touch Instruments you want to use on a project. The company made the recording process easier as well, thanks to a new Multi-Take feature. Just like in a studio, you can use the tool to capture multiple takes before auditioning and switching between them to see which one works best.

There’s also an updated audio recorder that allows you to employ vocal effects with a single tap. A few of the widely used options are available here, including pitch correction, distortion and delay. More advanced users can expect some new audio processing tools as well. Those include a graphic EQ that handles sound adjustments with the swipe of a finger and the ability to use third-party Audio Unit plug-ins for even more options.

GarageBand for iOS version 2.2 is a free update for anyone with a new iOS device. If you’re still rocking an older iPhone or iPad, you can download the app from the App Store for $ 5.

GaragBand Video iPad (30 sec) Pro Res 422

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Xiaomi aims to be more than king of the budget smartphones

The day after the Mi Note 2 and Mi MIX launch last week, the flagship Mi Home store next to Xiaomi’s headquarters was packed with visitors. Nope, they weren’t there to spend their yuan, but to simply wait for their turn to play with the new phones. But the real star was clearly the Mi MIX “concept phone.” People were drawn to its near-bezel-less display and fancy ceramic body. Despite this being Xiaomi’s most expensive smartphone ever, I heard many visitors ask if they could buy one immediately, only to be let down when told they have to wait until November 4th. Xiaomi must be doing something right

The Mi MIX didn’t just happen over night, of course; it was a two-year project with contributions from French designer, Philippe Starck. This man is no stranger to the tech world, he’s helped design headphones, hard drives, a smart radiator valve, electric bicycles and, even, the late Steve Jobs’ yacht. Barra described Starck’s role in the Mi MIX project as setting high-level priorities, especially when it came to convincing the Xiaomi team to keep things clean and simple.

Xiaomi’s aim with the Mi MIX is to showcase some of the breakthrough mobile technologies that will eventually trickle down to its mainstream devices. In this case, we have Sharp’s near-bezel-less display which we knew was arriving sooner or later. Hidden underneath that is Elliptic Labs’ ultrasound-based proximity sensor, which replaces the ugly infrared dot and turns the screen off when the phone is placed next to your ear. Last but not least, the full ceramic body is a nice alternative to the aluminum we’re accustomed to. The company hopes these experiments will lead consumers to see Xiaomi as home to serious innovation, rather than a budget brand.

Some would argue that it should be giants like Apple and Google bringing out devices like the Mi MIX. While Barra declined to comment on the iPhone 7, he was happy to praise his previous company’s efforts with the Pixel and even went as far as saying the series “sets a bar for the whole world.” He described Google’s latest phones as being “all-around optimized,” “very responsive” with “great battery life” plus an “awesome camera,” though he did say that they don’t necessarily have the best industrial design — especially with their “very tall chins.”

Could Google have done a phone like the Mi MIX? Barra defended his former colleagues by saying it would have been difficult for them to justify the risk of delivering a phone like this, as it wouldn’t sell in large quantities. The Pixel, on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem. “I think they’re gonna sell a lot of Pixels. Every Android enthusiast is going to try what they can to get their hands on one.” Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if Barra is still working for Google.

Save for the Mi Home’s strong resemblance to any Apple store, the Mi MIX could have almost peeled the copycat label off Xiaomi for good. Alas, people were quick to compare the Mi Note 2’s 3D curved body to Samsung’s S7 Edge and its discontinued Note 7. Barra was keen to point out that Xiaomi was actually the first company to release a smartphone with a 3D curved glass back — the original Mi Note. The same industrial design was applied to the smaller but more powerful Mi 5.

“I’m not worried about what people are going to say.”

Samsung then combined the 3D curved screen and the 3D curved glass back for the S7 Edge, to which Barra said, “Well, no one is going to give us credit for a curved back, right? They just care about the front.” It wasn’t until the Mi Note 2 when Xiaomi followed Samsung’s suit, courtesy of the flexible OLED display allegedly supplied by LG.

“In how many ways do you think you can design a curved display? Exactly one way,” Barra argued. “I don’t think that anyone can outright claim ownership of that as an invention because it’s kind of like a logical thing. They can claim that they were the first ones to do it, but certainly not the ones responsible for the most incredible idea in the world because it’s just a very straightforward engineering thing: As soon as you can come up with a flexible OLED display, you can design a screen like this.

“I’m not worried about what people are going to say, because we’re pretty confident in our design capability. I think [the Mi MIX unveiling] was a pretty clear demonstration of that.”

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Pebble’s latest update adds quick views and more shortcuts

When Pebble announced its latest Pebble 2 and Time 2 watches earlier this year, it also revealed several software improvements that would roll out not just to the new models, but to most other existing Pebble hardware. Today, the company is finally releasing that update. Now even old-school Pebble users can get Quick View peeks, shortcut buttons, a revamped Health app plus more email features for iOS users.

Available only to the latest Time edition devices, you can now press down on the watchface to check out upcoming events thanks to a new Quick View peek that takes up just a small sliver of the display. Tap it for more info or hit the Back button to dismiss it. There’s also a new Launcher menu — press Select to see it — plus an App Glances feature that gives you a preview of info without having to open the app.

The update also adds 4-button Quick Launch, which essentially lets you map the side buttons to specific shortcuts — you trigger them by long-pressing each key. You could do this before the Up and Down buttons but now you can do so with the Back and Select keys as well.

Seeing as Pebble is a lot more fitness-focused these days, it also took the opportunity to redesign its Health app. Now you’re able to quickly glance at weekly charts to get a better idea of your progress toward your step or sleep goals. You can also just press the up button on the watchface to access the Health app that much quicker. Pebble Health settings are also now in the main settings area instead of the Apps tab.

Last but not least, Pebble is also giving iOS users a bit more email functionality for those with Google accounts. At long last, iPhone fans can reply, delete and archive email directly from Pebble notifications, be it from Inbox, Gmail or the Mail app.

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Walmart Pay arrives in 14 more states

When Walmart talked about a wide national release of its mobile payment service before the start of July, it wasn’t kidding around. Walmart Pay has launched in 14 more states on top of a slew of rollouts earlier in the month — it’s not quite ubiquitous (we count 33 states plus Washington, DC), but it’s close. This latest deployment includes heavily populated states like California, New York and Washington, so you’re far more likely to use your Android phone or iPhone to shop at the big-box retail chain.

As a reminder, Walmart Pay isn’t strictly a competitor for tap-to-pay options like Android Pay or Apple Pay. It’s more intended to streamline the checkout process using QR codes. With that said, it’s far too soon to tell how well it works in practice. Walmart’s service has only been available for about a month and a half in any state, and there just isn’t enough data to know whether or not customers will embrace it in earnest.

Source: Enhanced Online Newa

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Amazon’s Echo Dot is a great way to bring Alexa to more rooms

I haven’t been shy about my love for the Amazon Echo. I wake up with it, and aside from my phone, computers and TV, it’s one of the gadgets I rely most on most throughout the day. So when Amazon announced the $ 90 Echo Dot, which brings all of its larger sibling’s features to any speaker, I was onboard before you could say “Alexa, what’s the weather?” I couldn’t wait to bring Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, which is the heart of soul of the Echo, into my bedroom (ahem) and office. It took a long while for the Echo Dot to finally reach me (Amazon, once again, refused to make it available early for reviewers), but after a week of living with it on my nightstand, I’m finding it just as useful as the original.

Let’s make this clear up front: You still can’t buy an Echo Dot on its own. The only way to order one is to ask Alexa on an Echo or Fire TV to order it for you and wait several weeks. Amazon is clearly positioning it as a secondary device, which makes sense for most people, but also seems like a bafflingly restrictive choice in this day and age. Perhaps the company just wanted to limit its first available units to Echo users, especially since it’s had trouble producing enough devices in the past.

The actual process of buying the Echo Dot was smooth and easy — almost worryingly so. It’s strange to just say a few words and then have a $ 90 gadget headed towards your home. You’ve been able to buy things via the Echo with voice commands for a while now, but that’s something I’ve never done before the Dot. At most, I would ask Alexa to add a few items to my shopping cart or wish list. It reminds me of when, in 2009, I bought my 50-inch plasma TV via Amazon’s iPhone app — a moment of ludicrously convenient big-ticket consumerism that I remember to this day. Now, you don’t even need to look at a screen before you fork over money to Amazon.

Setting up the Echo Dot is only slightly more involved than with its larger sibling, mainly because you have to plug in an auxiliary cable, in addition to a power cord. You’ll have to use Amazon’s Alexa iOS or Android app to get the Echo Dot connected to WiFi, which typically only takes a few minutes. The Alexa app is also where you can manage the Echo Dot’s settings, as well as its “skills,” or connections to third-party services. You can also go through voice training with the app to help your Echo Dot understand you better.

The Dot feels like a large hockey puck: It’s basically the top part of the original Echo sitting on its own. There are two buttons on top for disabling the microphone and enabling Bluetooth pairing. To control the volume, you just need to turn the top portion of the device, which also lights up with LEDs to show you the sound levels. While it has a small built-in speaker, the entire appeal of the Echo Dot is its ability to connect to a beefier system. Once it’s plugged in, it’ll turn anything, even a decades-old amplifier setup, into a smart speaker. It’s also a useful accessory if you’ve already invested in modern speaker systems like Sonos. The Echo Dot has the same beam-forming seven microphone array that sits atop the original Echo, so it’s just as accurate when it comes to hearing your commands, even in moderately noisy rooms.

Currently, I have a large Echo set up in my living room and the Echo Dot about 30 feet away in my bedroom. When standing between them, they’re equally as fast at determining my voice commands and bringing back responses. (It’s truly weird occasionally hearing a symphony of Alexa responses in my apartment.) Since they’re plugged into power continuously, the Echo devices are better about listening for potential voice commands than phone virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. Alexa doesn’t have to worry about conserving battery life, after all.

With the Echo Dot connected to an older Logitech speaker on my nightstand, it worked like a charm. Audio quality was solid, and being able to shout Alexa commands from under the comfort of my duvet felt downright luxurious. The only potential issue? Your speakers, naturally, need to be turned on for the Echo Dot to work. In the interest of energy conservation, that’s not something I’m willing to do 24/7. So I’ve taken to disconnecting the Echo Dot from my bedroom speaker most of the day, and instead relying on its embedded speaker for simple commands. When I want to listen to music or online radio, I just plug the speaker in. It would be nice if future versions of the Echo Dot gave you an easy way to automatically switch between its speaker options (or better yet, do it automatically).

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Echo Dot sounded great when connected to my elaborate home theater setup, which consists of a Denon S910W receiver and Pioneer Elite tower front and center speakers (I don’t use my rear speakers for music). Just like with the original, you can ask the Echo Dot to play your playlists from Amazon Music, as well as other services including Pandora and Spotify (after connecting to them with the Alexa app). While actual music performance will depend on the service you’re listening to, I didn’t hear many hints of compression with Pandora streams, which is among the lower-quality options. True audiophiles will still prefer using something like the new Chromecast Audio on big speaker setups, though, since that gives you the option of using an optical cable to let your amplifier handle audio processing. Your only option with the Echo Dot is a standard 3.5mm cable.

If you live in a smaller apartment, there’s a good chance you don’t actually need two separate Alexa devices. If I shout loudly enough from my bedroom, the Echo in my kitchen usually hears me. Still, it’s nice being able to have a closer device for voice commands, especially if you’re trying to set an alarm late at night. If you’re looking for a secondary Echo device and don’t have any extra speakers, Amazon’s $ 130 Tap speaker might be a better option for you. And if you just want to jump into Amazon’s ecosystem, the original Echo is still a great product at $ 180.

The Echo Dot is the very definition of a niche device. It’s meant to be connected to expensive gear that many people don’t have, and the future of voice-powered digital assistants is still uncertain. But for Alexa addicts who have decent sound systems, it’s the perfect virtual companion.

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