Take a peek at the new iOS emoji arriving later this year

If you’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for the 56 emoji approved by the Unicode Consortium last month to hit your iPhone . . . well, you have to wait a bit longer. But for World Emoji Day, Apple has hit us with a preview of what these emoji will look like when they finally arrive.

The emoji include new smiley faces, more diversity options and new animals. There’s the addition of a sandwich emoji (FINALLY) as well as mythical creatures, such as a zombie, and a tiny-armed T-Rex. You can also find emoji for a woman with a headscarf, a bearded man and a woman breastfeeding.

You’ll likely have to wait until the release of iOS 11 to enjoy these emoji on your device. With the release of the Android emoji preview, however, it’s nice that Apple followed suit.

Source: Apple

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Apple TV will reportedly get Amazon’s Video app this summer

The squabbling between Amazon and Apple might soon be over — at least, on the TV front. Amazon’s Video app might finally be heading to the Apple TV this summer, giving consumers an easy way to watch Amazon’s streaming content on the set-top box, Recode reports. Up until now, you were forced to use AirPlay to send Amazon’s streaming video titles to the Apple TV. That’s been one of the Apple TV’s biggest downsides since it debuted in 2015, together with a lack of 4K support.

The deal between Apple and Amazon might also lead to other changes. Amazon, for example, stopped selling the Apple TV in 2015 because it didn’t support its Prime Video service. That likely made a big dent in sales for Apple, especially as newer devices from Roku hit the market with 4K support. If Apple actually plans to release a newer 4K Apple TV this year, as rumors suggest, then landing back on Amazon would be essential.

At this point, it’s unclear if anything will change for Amazon’s Video apps on iOS. You can currently use them to watch Amazon Prime videos, as well as things you’ve already rented or purchased, but you can’t actually make those transactions within the app. That’s similar to how Amazon handles digital purchases on its Kindle and Comixology iOS apps. By forgoing in-app purchases on Apple’s ecosystem, Amazon avoids having to give the iPhone maker a cut of the revenue.

Source: Recode

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This iPhone case is basically an Android phone

iPhones have a reputation for being user friendly, but ultimately, Android can do a lot of things iOS can’t. Aspects of Android could be useful to all phone users, but straying from the Apple ecosystem can be intimidating. Now, there’s a new way for iPhone users to easily access Android features like expandable storage and multiple SIM cards. Entrepreneur Joseph Savion and his company ESTI Inc. decided to (almost literally) strap an Android phone to the back of an iPhone. That sounds like a strange idea, but that’s basically what ESTI’s Eye phone case does.

The case, which is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, adds a 5-inch AMOLED display, a 2.3GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU, a 2800mAh battery, up to 256GB of microSD storage, dual SIM slots, a headphone jack and wireless charging, among other features. There are two versions of the case: one with cellular connectivity and one without. A comment from Savion on the Kickstarter page says that the Android device can make use of the iPhone’s internet connection. While there is some other integration between the devices — they share the iPhone’s speaker, microphone and cameras — they pretty much function as their own machines.

The case runs Android 7.1 Nougat, and if Eye is starting to sound more like a standalone phone than an iPhone case, well, it’s priced like one too. It’s expected to retail for $ 189 (or $ 229 for the 4G version), although early Kickstarter backers can get theirs for $ 95 ($ 129 for 4G). That said, $ 95 for a phone is pretty cheap.

The main question is, who this product is even for? Most iPhone users seem happy with their devices, and probably don’t need a product like this to “improve” it. Even for users wanting to test the Android waters, there are plenty of non-Apple devices available for under $ 100 that could satisfy their curiosity without adding bulk to their current phone.

Ultimately, Eye seems a lot more interesting than it does practical. As of this writing, the case has raised over $ 84,000 of its $ 95,000 goal with 32 days to go. So, it might not be necessary, but it will probably come to market anyway.

Via: The Verge, 9to5Google

Source: Kickstarter

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Use this app to find your keys like you find your Pokémon

We’ve seen Bluetooth item trackers before, like Tile and Protag’s Duet, but they’re usually pretty dull. Pixie, on the other hand, will curb the anxiety of losing something by turning it into a game. Like other trackers, Pixie uses Bluetooth, but it also adds augmented reality into the mix, so your phone will actually show you where the general area where your device is. Once you get in real close, it’ll start pointing you left and right like a good old-fashioned game of hot and cold. You could also use it to cheat at hide and seek with your kids.

Pixie has another trick up its sleeve. If you have multiple devices, they communicate with each other which helps the app know where they are with greater accuracy. The makers of Pixie claim it’s a similar principle to how GPS works, but in fact there’s no GPS going on here, so you’ll still need to be within general Bluetooth distance from the item you’re trying to find (around 40 feet).

One thing I thought clever was that Pixie has made an iPhone case that has one of the trackers baked right into it. The trackers, called “Pixie points,” look like a large, thick, guitar plectrum, and have approximately 12-month battery life. They’re also solid little critters, with IP67 dust-and waterproofing. Ideal if you lose an item outside in the rain — your phone might not fare so well, but at least you’ll find it.

Pixie comes in packs of two (including a phone case) for $ 49, or packs of four (again, with a phone case) for $ 99, and will be available starting January 25th. Just don’t lose your wallet in the meantime.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

Source: Pixie

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Why didn’t Google make Chromebooks a priority this holiday season?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. As such, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all revealed their latest and greatest to get shoppers opening their wallets. Microsoft has the Surface Studio and refreshed Surface Book, not to mention the Xbox holiday lineup, while Apple goes into holiday battle with the new MacBook Pro and the iPhone 7.

Google is trying something different this year. The company has a full ecosystem of products made in-house for the first time: the Pixel smartphone, Google Home assistant and Daydream VR headset. All three products are important to Google’s strategy, but it feels to me like something’s missing: the humble Chromebook. Google’s more traditional computing platform has gone neglected this fall, and it’s especially surprising in light of a few big developments this year.

The first was a report from IDC claiming that Chromebooks outsold Macs in the first quarter of the year. Yes, that’s just one isolated data point, but it shows that there’s a market for Chromebooks, and that market is growing. The second development was Google’s announcement that Android apps would come to Chromebooks this year. That would solve two of the platform’s big weaknesses: the lack of traditional applications and the Chromebook’s limited offline capabilities.

But the rollout of Google Play on Chromebooks has been stilted at best. Only three models have full support as of today, more than six months after Google first announced the feature. There are a few more that can run Android apps if you use the developer version of Chrome OS, but ultimately this isn’t a selling point Google can use to drive interest in the platform. Indeed, the company doesn’t mention the feature at all on its Chromebook website or in its online store. Based on my experiences using Android on Chromebooks, that’s because the experience isn’t quite yet ready for prime time. There’s no sense in launching a half-baked feature, but I had assumed it would be ready to go by the end of this year.

It’s hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity. Android is the most popular mobile OS by a wide margin, and being able to use the same apps on both your mobile phone and Chromebook would bring a nice layer of integration to the two platforms. But this non-launch means that consumers aren’t aware of this potentially important feature and developers have zero incentive to consider Chromebooks when building apps.

Google is dropping the ball from a hardware perspective as well. The Chromebook Pixel 2 was discontinued at the end of August with no replacement in site. Sure, that computer was never a practical buy, but similar to what the Nexus program did for phones, it provided manufacturers and developers inspiration when building their own Chromebooks. Other manufacturers have picked up the slack to some extent, but I’m surprised Google appears to have given up making its own Chrome OS hardware.

The hardware gulf shows up in Google’s online store too. Right now, you can only buy three different Chromebooks — all from Acer, two with 11-inch screens and large boat anchor with a 14-inch screen. It seems extremely strange that you cannot visit Google’s store and buy a Chromebook with the ever-popular 13-inch screen size.

One possible explanation for the apparent de-prioritization of Chromebooks at Google could be that the company is fully merging Chrome OS with Android, as various rumors have suggested over the years. The most recent rumor claims a merged Android / Chrome OS will power the next Pixel laptop planned to arrive sometime next year. That would certainly explain the silence, and an announcement of that magnitude would likely wait for the next I/O event in late spring. But that’s still another six months from now, not that the timeframe really matters if Google is moving on from Chrome OS.

It’s too soon to know what Google’s plan is, but a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company “remains committed to Chrome OS and Chromebooks.” The spokesperson also said that Google is seeing great momentum for the platform, particularly in the education market. And given that nearly all Chromebooks are made by OEM partners, there’s logic to keeping this fall’s big launch event focused on the “Made by Google” products. But if the company isn’t giving up on Chromebooks, that makes the lack of new hardware this fall all the more strange.

That’s particularly true given that Google has been closing the gap with Apple, a company whose laptop situation is a bit out of whack right now. A Chromebook is clearly a different class of device than a MacBook Pro, but that’s beside the point. If Google isn’t giving customers good devices to buy and making big advances like Android apps a priority, Chromebooks will continue to have a hard time shaking the old “it’s only a browser” stigma.

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

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

Getting started

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

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

Features that are finally ready to use

Auto Unlock

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

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

Apple Pay on the web

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

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

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

All the stuff we covered earlier

Siri

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

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

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

Universal Clipboard

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

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

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

Picture in Picture

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

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

Apple Music makeover

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

iCloud Desktop and Documents

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

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

Optimized Storage

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

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

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

Photos

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

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

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

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

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

Messages

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

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

Tabs

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

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

Odds and ends

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

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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This phone-powered vision test can replace your eye doctor

There are dozens of inexpensive ways to buy glasses online today, but getting a new eyeglass prescription is as old-school as ever: Book an appointment with your eye doctor, spend more time than you expect in the waiting room and go through a full exam. Even if you’re lucky enough to book through Zocdoc, it’s still a long process. Smart Vision Labs hopes to make it easier to get a new glasses prescription with the SVOne Enterprise, a smartphone-powered self-guided vision test that’s launching in some New York City glasses stores today.

It may not have the catchiest name, but the SVOne Enterprise could be a huge boon for the vision impaired. It’s based on the same autorefraction technology as the company’s first product, the handheld SVOne Pro, which lets doctors perform eye exams just about anywhere. In a nutshell, the tech involves bouncing a laser off of your retina, which is then measured by the device. The new product adds a telemedicine element: After going through the vision test, the results are sent to a remote eye doctor who approves the final prescription. You can then download the prescription at any time and take it to the glasses retailer of your choice.

The SVOne Enterprise looks like an iPhone with a specialized eyepiece on top of a tripod. It’s more functional than attractive, the sort of thing an optical store can leave in a corner until it needs to test a customer. Since only a few stores can afford to have actual doctors on staff, most are left pointing customers elsewhere to get new prescriptions. Smart Vision Labs’ device allows stores to keep those customers in-house, so they’ll be more likely to buy a pair of glasses. The company chargers its partners $ 40 a test, but it’s up to the individual stores to determine pricing for shoppers.

Founder Yaopeng Zhou says he was inspired to create the SVOne Enterprise after realizing there are almost 200 million people in America who need glasses, but only 106 million eye exams take place every year. He also points out there’s only one eye doctor for every 5,000 people in the US. There’s a definite need for a faster way to perform vision tests.

To be clear, the SVOne Enterprise isn’t a completely self-service product. You’ll still need a bit of help to step through the exam, though it’s still far less involved than going to the doctor. To start, I answered a few questions on the SVOne Enterprise’s iPhone screen about my age and pre-existing eye conditions. If I had any major eye problems, the app would direct me to take a full exam from a doctor.

After that, Yaopeng had me read from a fairly standard vision chart on the SVOne Enterprise’s iPhone screen using my glasses. I then placed my right eye in the device’s eyepiece and stared at a red laser as it took three photos. I repeated the same process with my left eye, but it took a few tries and a move to a darkened room for it to make a successful measurement. (Yaopeng noted that my pupils were smaller than most, so we had to dilate them a bit by moving to a dark environment.)

A day after the exam, I received a link to an official prescription from one of the company’s contracted doctors. Surprisingly, they didn’t make any changes to my current prescription, which is hopefully a sign that my terrible vision is stabilizing a bit. I can now take that prescription to an online eyeglass outfit like Warby Parker, or a local store in my neighborhood, to get a new pair of frames. (If you’ve only ever gotten new glasses directly from your doctor, it’s definitely worth exploring the wealth of new options out there.)

Smart Vision Labs isn’t the first company to pursue phone-powered eye exams. Blink claimed it would send someone to your home for an exam (it hasn’t launched yet). And Peek has been trying to bring vision tests to the developing world for years. But the SVOne Enterprise is the first product I’ve seen that delivers a valid prescription just as accurate as my current one.

Looking ahead, Yaopeng says the company is attempting to bring the SVOne Enterprise to more markets in the US. Smart Vision Labs’ handheld product is already available in 23 countries. Though it’s only sold around 500 units of that device, they’ve already completed more than 40,000 refraction eye tests over the past few years.

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WSJ: This year’s iPhone won’t feature big changes

If you’re eagerly awaiting a load of new features for this year’s iPhone, you might be a bit disappointed come fall. The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming models will offer only modest changes from the current iPhone 6S and 6S Plus rather than a more robust redesign. Apple has been trotting out new designs every two years with the “S” models offering mostly internal tweaks in between. According to WSJ’s sources though, that won’t be the case this year.

WSJ reports that both the 4.7- and 5.5-inch models will return, and they’ll do so without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Rumors have gone back and forth on whether or not Apple will ditch the port entirely, and we’ve even caught a glimpse of alleged iPhone 7 parts that indicate the jack is staying. The rumblings about the company’s preference for Lightning connectivity for headphones began late last year and has been the most discussed tweak for the new models. Nixing the 3.5mm port is said to not only improve the phone’s water resistance, but also allow for a thinner handset.

Apple is planning a massive overhaul for 2017’s 10th anniversary of the iPhone, according to WSJ. Those updates are said to include an edge-to-edge OLED display while nixing the iconic home button entirely. Sources say that the Touch ID security features would be part of the display itself. Of course, that release is well over a year away, so things could change significantly between now and then.

What’s the reason for not having a major update this year? Apple’s coming off its first quarter of sales decline in the iPhone’s history, but WSJ reports that the reason for subtle changes is due to tech that’s currently in the works taking more time to finish. While the iPhone 5S featured the addition of Touch ID, last year’s 6S and 6S Plus focused largely on internals with 3D Touch and improved cameras. Both kept the same overall design as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 the year before. Nixing the headphone jack wouldn’t be a small change though, especially if you’ve already invested in a set of wired headphones.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Android Wear is getting a massive overhaul this fall

It’s been over two years since Android Wear was introduced, but smartwatches are still very much an unproven commodity. But Google has been making plenty of tweaks and refinements to its watch-based OS to hone the features owners find most useful. Today at its annual I/O developer conference, Google is announcing what Android Wear VP David Singleton is calling its “biggest platform update yet”: Android Wear 2.0. It’s a visual and functional overhaul organized around the three things Google has found to be most important for Android Wear users.

The core uses for Wear so far are glanceable information, messaging and fitness. Each of those parts of the OS have been improved, but the changes actually reach far beyond just that. “For the very first time, we’ve been able to take a holistic pass across the design of the entire system and UI to really hone and tune the interactions around key things that people want to do,” Singleton says.

Some of the most profound changes to Wear come under messaging, so let’s start there. Many of the changes Singleton outlined go far beyond messaging apps, most notably notifications in general. Gone are the white cards that you’d swipe through to see what info Android Wear is pushing to your watch. Now each card has a dark but colored background as a visual cue to what app wants your attention. Hangouts is dark green, Gmail is red, and so forth.

The bigger change is that notifications no longer take up the bottom 10 percent of your watch face. Instead, if you receive a notification, the next time you raise your watch to your eyeline, you’ll see the card slide up into the display as a visual cue. It then recedes and gives you a clean view of the watch face. “It’s an obvious but also quite subtle cue that there’s something to take action on in the stream of cards, but then it goes away again,” Singleton explains.

Of course, you can still swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to go through your various notifications and cards — and there’s a host of new features if you want to reply to a message. You can already reply by voice or with the emoji-sketching feature introduced last year, but now Google’s gone mad and added a full keyboard, handwriting recognition and smart replies to Wear. All are available to third-party apps, as well.

All three of these new reply features are powered in large part by Google’s machine learning. Smart reply works like the same feature in Inbox: After reading your message, the app will suggest salient possible replies that you can just tap to send. If those smart replies don’t say what you want, you can sketch letters on the watch screen or use a tiny keyboard to swipe out a message. You can hunt and peck if you want, but swipe seems like a much better experience on such a small screen.

“We’ve worked really hard to make this work well for small screen devices,” Singleton says about handwriting recognition. “Our machine learning techniques recognize both the strokes that I draw, but also if I draw multiple strokes it can actually adapt the word that’s being recognized based on the context of what went before.” And once you type or swipe a single word with the on-screen keyboard, Wear will start suggesting words to follow it, again based on machine learning. In a lot of cases, you should be able to type or swipe out a couple words and then tap the suggested options to complete your message. I was extremely skeptical of a watch-sized keyboard, but in the brief demo I saw, it worked far better than I would have expected.

There are a few other UI changes, as well. Across the entire system, Google is using swipe-up-and-down gestures to hide navigation and actions. If you pull from the top of the screen, you’ll get the “wearable navigation drawer,” which lets you move through the various screens in an app. Pulling from the bottom brings up the “action drawer,” which is where you’ll find buttons to perform specific functions. “Having to give over a lot of real estate to moving between screens or taking actions means that the user has to do more scrolling,” Singleton says. “It’s harder for apps to just show at a glance the information that you care about.”

The next major change to Android Wear was introduced as a fitness feature — but the implications go far beyond fitness. Any app for Wear can now operate in a “stand-alone” mode, running on the watch itself with unfettered network access. Whether pulling data from your phone’s connection, a WiFi network or a built-in LTE connection, these apps can now operate fully untethered from your phone. If you want to go running with just your watch, for example, this means you can stream music from Spotify without having to sync songs in offline mode first.

Furthermore, stand-alone apps mean you’ll be able to find and install apps directly from your watch. Previously you had to go through your phone to add new apps. Perhaps the most notable thing about this change is that iPhone users with an Android Wear watch will have access to far more apps. Right now Wear is extremely limited if you’re pairing it with an iPhone. But with 2.0, you’ll be able to browse and install stand-alone apps straight to your watch, regardless of what phone you pair it with. So far it’s been hard to recommend Wear devices to iPhone users, but that may change when Wear 2.0 arrives.

The big fitness-focused change here is a new API called the activity recognition API. As you might expect, this lets the watch better identify what your body is doing at any given moment and launch the appropriate app to track your activity. “If I just start running, within about 10 seconds [fitness app] Strava can launch and show my time, my distance and my pace for my run,” Singleton says. “It just launched itself, in the right context.” Unfortunately, it sounds like the API only recognizes walking, running and biking, at least for now.

As for glanceable information, Google has built a new complications API that’ll let any third-party app display whatever it wants on any watch face. The watch face has to support complications, but once it does, any app can plug into it and share information there. The app developer decides what (if any) data it wants to make available. But if you’re building a watch face, as long as it’s designed to support complications, any app will work with it.

That’s a big change from how things have worked: Developers needed to design and build their own custom faces to share data from their app. And there was no way to have a variety of complications from different apps. Now end users will have a lot more options for customizing their watch to show the info they want to see.

Ultimately, Android Wear 2.0 doesn’t radically change the OS: It’s still based primarily on your notifications and Google Now cards, with richer app experiences becoming more common. That said, Google is definitely improving what it sees as Wear’s most important features. That should benefit all users. The updated UI, notifications and complications will be useful to everyone with a Wear device, and compatibility with the iPhone should take a big step forward. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait a bit to get your hands on version 2.0. Google is seeding it to developers today, but consumers won’t get to try it until later this year.

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