Apple accidentally confirms the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags

Whoops! Apple inadvertently revealed the existence of an unreleased product, AirTags, in a support video uploaded to its YouTube account today. The video, “How to erase your iPhone,” offers a tutorial about resetting an iPhone to factory settings. Around the 1:43 mark, it instructs users to turn off “Find my iPhone” as part of the process. On the Settings page that then appears, another option for “Enable Offline Finding” is shown, and beneath that, the text references AirTags by name.

Specifically, it says: “Offline finding enables this device and AirTags to be found when not connected to Wi-Fi or cellular.”

The discovery was first spotted by the eagle-eyed blog Appleosophy.

Apple has since pulled the video. (A copy of the video is embedded below.)

AirTags, essentially Apple’s Tile competitor, were already known to be in the works. Based on details and assets found in Apple’s iOS code, AirTags are believed to be small tracking tiles with Bluetooth connectivity that can be used to find lost items — just like Tile.

The difference is that Apple’s AirTags will benefit from deeper integration with iOS, including within its “Find My” app. There, the tags will show up in a new “Items” tab allowing you to keep track of items that tend to get lost or stolen — like your keys, wallet or even your bike.

According to reports from MacRumors, the tags will feature a removable CR2032 coin cell battery, also similar to Tile.

Apple’s intention to copy Tile’s concept has not gone unnoticed by Tile.

The company on Wednesday told a congressional panel that Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has “gotten worse, not better.”

During the hearing, Tile referenced Apple’s plans to integrate its own product into the “Find My” app. Tile and other Bluetooth trackers won’t be able to do the same. They also have to ask for background location access repeatedly, while Apple’s AirTags, presumably, will not. That gives Apple’s own product an advantage as it owns the platform.

Apple has been asked for comment.

Image credits: Apple, via YouTube; MacRumors 

Estimote launches wearables for workplace-level contact tracing for COVID-19

Bluetooth location beacon startup Estimote has adapted its technological expertise to develop a new product designed specifically at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The company created a new range of wearable devices that co-founder Steve Cheney believes can enhance workplace safety for those who have to be colocated at a physical workplace even while social distancing and physical isolation measures are in place.

The devices, called simply the “Proof of Health” wearables, aim to provide contact tracing – in other words, monitoring the potential spread of the coronavirus from person-to-person – at the level of a local workplace facility. The intention is to give employers a way to hopefully maintain a pulse on any possible transmission among their workforces and provide them with the ability to hopefully curtail any local spread before it becomes an outsized risk.

The hardware includes passive GPS location-tracking, as well as proximity sensors powered by Bluetooth and ultra-wide band radio connectivity, a rechargeable battery, and built-in LTE. It also includes a manual control to change a wearer’s health status, recording states like certified health, symptomatic, and verified infected. When a user updates their state to indicate possible or verified infection, that updates others they’ve been in contact with based on proximity and location-data history. This information is also stored in a health dashboard that provides detailed logs of possible contacts for centralized management. That’s designed for internal use within an organization for now, but Cheney tells me he’s working now to see if there might be a way to collaborate with WHO or other external health organizations to potentially leverage the information for tracing across enterprises and populations, too.

These are intended to come in a number of different form factors: the pebble-like version that exists today, which can be clipped to a lanyard for wearing and displaying around a person’s neck; a wrist-worn version with an integrated adjustable strap; and a card format that’s more compact for carrying and could work alongside traditional security badges often used for facility access control. The pebble-like design is already in production and 2,000 will be deployed now, with a plan to ramp production for as many as 10,000 more in the near future using the company’s Poland-based manufacturing resources.

Estimote has been building programmable sensor tech for enterprises for nearly a decade and has worked with large global companies, including Apple and Amazon . Cheney tells me that he quickly recognized the need for the application of this technology to the unique problems presented by the pandemic, but Estimote was already 18 months into developing it for other uses, including in hospitality industries for employee safety/panic button deployment.

“This stack has been in full production for 18 months,” he said via message. “We can program all wearables remotely (they’re LTE connected). Say a factory deploys this – we write an app to the wearable remotely. This is programmable IoT.

“Who knew the virus would require proof of health vis-a-vis location diagnostics tech,” he added.

Many have proposed technology-based solutions for contact tracing, including leveraging existing data gathered by smartphones and consumer applications to chart transmission. But those efforts also have considerable privacy implications, and require use of a smartphone – something that Cheney says isn’t really viable for accurate workplace tracking in high-traffic environments. By creating a dedicated wearable, Cheney says that Estimote can help employers avoid doing something “invasive” with their workforce, since it’s instead tied to a fit-for-purpose device with data shared only with their employers, and it’s in a form factor they can remove and have some control over. Mobile devices also can’t do nearly as fine-grained tracking with indoor environments as dedicated hardware can manage, he says.

And contact tracing at this hyperlocal level won’t necessarily just provide employers with early warning signs for curbing the spread earlier and more thoroughly than they would otherwise. In fact, larger-scale contact tracing fed by sensor data could inform new and improved strategies for COVID-19 response.

“Typically, contact tracing relies on the memory of individuals, or some high-level assumptions (for example, the shift someone worked),” said Brianna Vechhio-Pagán of John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab via a statement. “New technologies can now track interactions within a transmissible, or ~6-foot range, thus reducing the error introduced by other methods. By combining very dense contact tracing data from Bluetooth and UWB signals with information about infection status and symptoms, we may discover new and improved ways to keep patients and staff safe.”

With the ultimate duration of measures like physical distancing essentially up-in-the-air, and some predictions indicating they’ll continue for many months, even if they vary in terms of severity, solutions like Estimote’s could become essential to keeping essential services and businesses operating while also doing the utmost to protect the health and safety of the workers incurring those risks. More far-reaching measures might be needed, too, including general-public-connected, contact-tracing programs, and efforts like this one should help inform the design and development of those.

In a significant change, Apple customers can now buy or rent titles directly in the Prime Video app

A recent update from Amazon has made it easier for Apple customers to buy or rent movies from its Prime Video app. Before, customers using the Prime Video app from an iOS device or Apple TV would have to first purchase or rent the movie elsewhere — like through the Amazon website or a Prime Video app on another device, such as the Fire TV, Roku or an Android device. Now, Prime Video users can make the purchase directly through the app instead.

The changes weren’t formally announced, but quickly spotted once live.

Amazon declined to comment, but confirmed to TechCrunch the feature is live now for customers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

The change makes it possible for Prime Video users to rent or buy hundreds of thousands of titles from Amazon’s video catalog. This includes new release movies, TV shows, classic movies, award-winning series, Oscar-nominated films and more.

This is supported on a majority of Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch running iOS/iPadOS 12.2 or higher, as well as Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K.

Amazon for years has prevented users from directly purchasing movies and TV shows from the Prime Video app on Apple devices. That’s because Apple requires a 30% cut of all in-app purchases taking place on its platform. To avoid fees, many apps — including not only Amazon, but also Netflix, Tinder, Spotify and others — have bypassed the major app platforms’ fees at times by redirecting users to a website.

Since the news broke, many have questioned if Amazon had some sort of deal with Apple that was making the change possible — especially because it didn’t raise the cost of rentals or subscriptions to cover a 30% cut.

As it turns out, it sort of does.

Apple tells TechCrunch it offers a program aimed at supporting subscription video entertainment providers.

“Apple has an established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers to offer a variety of customer benefits — including integration with the Apple TV app, AirPlay 2 support, tvOS apps, universal search, Siri support and, where applicable, single or zero sign-on,” an Apple spokesperson said. “On qualifying premium video entertainment apps such as Prime Video, Altice One and Canal+, customers have the option to buy or rent movies and TV shows using the payment method tied to their existing video subscription,” the spokesperson noted.

It remains to be seen if Amazon will extend Apple the same courtesy on its Fire TV platform, by allowing Apple customers to rent or buy movies directly in the Apple TV app there.

Amazon’s adoption of this program is notable, as it comes at a time when Apple is under increased scrutiny for alleged anti-competitive behaviors — particularly those against companies with a rival product or service — like Prime Video is to Apple TV+, or Fire TV is to Apple TV, for example.

Amazon called attention to the new feature in its Prime Video app, which now alerts you upon first launch that “Movie night just got better” in a full-screen pop-up. It also advertises the easier option for direct purchases through a home screen banner.

Stocks shoot upward as ‘Phase Three’ stimulus passes Senate and unemployment skyrockets

Stocks soared on Thursday even as the U.S. reported its worst unemployment numbers in 50 years of tracking data.

The pain felt on Main Street was offset for investors by the federal government opening its wallet to Wall Street, businesses and (at some point) workers in the form of the $2 trillion stimulus package designed as a response to business closures as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Details of the plan and its implications for startup companies are still being assessed, but the spigot is now on for businesses large and small to avail themselves of low-interest stimulus loans and financing that should keep them afloat even as prolonged shutdowns look to continue in the nation’s most populous cities.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: jumped 6.38%, or 1,351.62, to close at 22,552.17
  • S&P 500: popped 6.24%, or 154.51, to close at 2,630.07
  • Nasdaq Composite: bounced 5.60%, or 413.24, to close at 7,797.54

Tech stocks followed the broader markets and posted gains on the day. Facebook was up nearly 4.5% and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) was up 5.5%. Shares of Apple were up over 5% as well, and Amazon rose 3% on the day.

Apple Card gets updated privacy policy on new data sharing and more transaction detail

Apple is updating its privacy policy for Apple Card to enable sharing more anonymized data with Goldman Sachs, its financial partner. Apple’s reasoning here is that this will make it able to do a better job of assigning credit to new customers.

The data is aggregate and anonymized, and there is an opt-out for new customers.

Three things are happening here:

  • Apple is changing the privacy policy for Apple Card with iOS to share a richer, but still anonymized credit assignment model with Goldman Sachs in order to expand the kind of user that might be able to secure credit.
  • There is also a beefed up fallback method to share more personal data on an opt-in basis with Goldman Sachs if you do not at first get approved. Things like purchase history of Apple products, when you created your Apple ID and how much you spend with Apple. This has always existed and you may have seen it if the default modeling rejected your Apple Card application — it has a few more data points now but it is still very clearly opt-in with a large share button.
  • Apple is also finally adding detail to its internal transactions. You no longer have to wonder what that random charge labeled Apple Services is for, you’ll get detail on the Hillary Duff box set or Gambino album you purchased right in the list inside Wallet.

As a side effect of the Apple Card policy evolving here it’s also being split off from the Apple Pay privacy policy. Much of the language is either identical or nearly so, but this allows Apple to make changes like the ones above to Apple Card without having to interleave that with the Apple Pay policy — as not all Apple Pay customers are Apple Card customers.

The new policy appears in iOS 13.4 updates but the opt-in sharing of data points will not immediately roll out for new Apple Card users and will begin appearing later.

Here is the additional language that is appearing in the Apple Card privacy notice related to data sharing, with some sections highlighted by us:

“You may be eligible for certain Apple Card programs provided by Goldman Sachs based on the information provided as part of your application. Apple may know whether you receive the invitation to participate and whether you accept or decline the invitation, and may share that information with Goldman Sachs to effectuate the program. Apple will not know additional details about your participation in the program.

Apple may use information about your account with Apple, such as the fact that you have Apple Card, for internal research and analytics purposes, such as financial forecasting. Apple may also use information about your relationship with Apple, such as what Apple products you have purchased, how long you have had your Apple ID, and how often you transact with Apple, to improve Apple Card by helping to identify Apple metrics that may assist Goldman Sachs in improving credit decisioning. No personally identifiable information about your relationship with Apple will be shared with Goldman Sachs to identify the relevant Apple metrics. You can opt out of this use or your Apple relationship information by emailing our privacy team at [email protected] with the subject line “Apple Relationship Data and Apple Card.” Applicants and cardholders may be able to choose to share the identified metrics with Goldman Sachs for re-evaluation of their offer of credit or to increase their credit line. Apple may share information about your relationship with Apple with our service providers, who are obligated to handle the information consistent with this notice and Apple instructions, are required to use reasonable security measures to protect any personal information received, and must delete the personal information as soon as they have completed the services.”

Some thoughts on all of this.

The fact that Apple is sharing a new anonymized, non-personally identifiable information (PII), customer model with Goldman likely engenders two valid responses.

First, there is more data being shared here than there was before, which is always something that should be examined closely, and all of us should be as cognizant as possible about how much information gets traded around about us. That said, your average co-branded card offer (say an airline card or retailer card) is controlled nearly entirely by the financial services side of that equation (basically the credit card companies decide what data they get and how).

Apple’s deal with Goldman Sachs is unique in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that Apple has controlled the flow of data from customers to Goldman very tightly from the beginning. Evidenced by affordances it continues to offer like skipping your March payment to Apple Card without incurring interest. This new arrangement outlined in the privacy policy does not share any PII unless there is an opt-in, and even allows an opt-out of the anonymized model share.

I cannot stress enough how rare that is in financial products, especially credit cards. Most cards take all of the above information and much more in their approval process, and they don’t do any work beyond what is required by regulatory law to inform you of that. Apple is doing more than most.

THAT SAID. I do wish that the opt-out of the anonymized data model was presented in the flow of normal signup, rather than existing as an email address in the privacy policy. I know why this is, because the model is likely far more effective and a lot more people will likely get approved for an Apple Card using it.

But in keeping with the stated Apple goals of protecting user privacy and making the policy as transparent as possible I would prefer that they find a long-term solution that communicates all of those factors to the user clearly and then offers them the ability to risk non-approval but limiting data share.

The idea behind the new model sharing and the secondary opt-in disclosure of 9 key bits of actually personal information about your purchase history and other things is that Apple will be able to offer credit to people who may be automatically rejected under the old way of doing things. And, out beyond that, it will be able to build tools that help customers to manage debt and credit more accurately and transparently. Especially those new to credit.

Any time an agreement changes to enable more data to flow my eyebrows arch. But there is a pretty straight line to be drawn here between the way that Apple transparently and aggressively helps users to not pay interest on Apple Card and the potential for more useful financial product enhancements to Apple Card down the line.

If you’ve ever looked at a credit card statement you know that it can often be difficult to ascertain exactly how much you need to pay at any given time to avoid interest. In the Apple Card interface it’s insanely clear exactly how and when to pay so that you don’t get charged. Most of the industry follows practices that prey on behavioral norms — people will pay the minimum payment by default because that’s what seems logical, rather than paying what is most healthy for them to pay.

My hope here is that the additional modeling makes room for more of these kinds of product decisions for Apple Card down the line. But, my eyes are up and yours should be too. Check the policy, opt-out if it makes sense to you and always be aware of the data you’re sharing, who with and what they plan to use it for.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Fiat Chrysler to start producing 1 million face masks a month

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Monday it will start manufacturing face masks in the coming weeks and donate the critical medical equipment to first responders and healthcare workers — the latest automaker to direct its manufacturing expertise toward the COVID-19 pandemic.

The automaker confirmed to TechCrunch that production capacity is being installed this week at one of its factories in China. Manufacturing will start in the coming weeks and distribution will be focused on the U.S., Canada and Mexico. FCA said it plans to produce 1 million face masks a month. All masks will be donated to police, EMTs and firefighters and workers in hospitals and healthcare clinics.

“Protecting our first responders and healthcare workers has never been more important,” FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. “In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”

The FCA announcement follows a plea last week from Vice President Mike Pence for construction companies to donate their stocks of N95 respirator masks to hospitals. Construction companies have responded, Pence said in a subsequent press conference. Other companies have started donating their caches of face masks as well, including Apple, Facebook, IBM and Tesla.

COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus, has led to a shortage of protective equipment such as N95 respirator masks, gloves and gowns.

Vice President Pence asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. This call comes in the middle of a major shortage of these kinds of masks, which get their name from being able to block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles.

Other manufacturers such as GM, Ford, VW and Tesla have started to work on the complex task of producing ventilators, another critical piece of medical equipment for patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The disease attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.

GM said Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last week that he had a discussion with Medtronic about ventilators. Medtronic later confirmed those talks in a tweet. Musk had previously tweeted that SpaceX and Tesla will work on ventilators, without providing specifics.

Amazon, Apple and Microsoft CEOs detail their companies’ efforts to combat coronavirus pandemic

The tech industry is mobilizing its considerable resources to attempt to support efforts against the growing global coronavirus pandemic. Over the weekend, the CEOs of Amazon, Apple and Microsoft all shared updates regarding some aspects of their company’s ongoing contributions, which range from donations of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers, to software projects that help track and analyze the global spread of infection.

Apple CEO Tim Cook shared on Twitter that the company has been attempting to source necessary supplies that are needed for healthcare workers both in the U.S. and Europe, and that the company is joining “millions of masks” for this use. Apple also detailed some of its other updates via earlier releases, including a $15 million donation, along with two-to-one corporate matching for all employee donations that go towards COVID-19 response.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos provided an update on Saturday on the company’s official blog that included details about the change in Amazon’s prioritization for its warehousing and logistics operations, which now focus on essential items including daily household staples, baby and medical supplies. Bezos also reiterated Amazon’s commitment to hiring 100,000 new roles, along with raising hourly wages for fulfilment workers.

Bezos notes that while the company has “placed purchase orders for millions of face masks” that it intends to distribute to its full-time and contract workers who are not able to work from home, “very few of those orders have been filled” to to the global supply shortage. He further notes that these resources are likely to go to frontline healthcare workers first, and that the company will focus on getting them to their staff in order of priority once they become available.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provided a lengthy update about his company’s various efforts in a LinkedIn post on Saturday, publishing an email he sent to all Microsoft employees for external consumption. Nadella describes some of its telehealth platform software work, as well as a number of collaborative data projects, including the John Hopkins University global COVID-19 confirmed case tracker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a chatbot assessment tool for COVID-19 that uses Microsoft’s health chatbot tech as its underlying framework.

Microsoft is also seeing Teams and Minecraft being used globally for remote learning iniativies designed to supplement in-perosn school closures, and it’s working on machine learning and big data projects to support global research efforts. Earlier this week, Microsoft’s Chief Scientific Officer Eric Horvitz announced that it would be providing an open research data set in partnership with colleagues at academic institutions around the world, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chan Zuckerberg initiative. The data set, called the COVID-19 Open Research Data Set, includes more than 29,000 scholarly articles about the virus, and will grow as more are published.

Original Content podcast: Apple’s ‘Amazing Stories’ is thoroughly unamazing

It’s been two-and-a-half years since the news first broke that Steven Spielberg would be rebooting his ’80s anthology series “Amazing Stories” for Apple’s then-unnamed streaming service.

Now, after some behind-the-scenes drama, “Amazing Stories” has launched on Apple TV+, with the first two segments currently available. The first, “The Cellar,” is a time travel romance, while “The Heat” is a combination ghost story/murder mystery/sports drama.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, it’s hard to tell exactly who this show was made for. Both of the episodes aired so far get pretty goofy, as if the show was made for kids — but they also move into surprisingly dark territory. Both start with familiar setups, then take some surprising twists and turns, but the results aren’t very satisfying.

In the end, it was hard for any of us to muster any enthusiasm for watching the show’s remaining three episodes.

You can listen to our full review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple . You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:44 “Amazing Stories” review
25:50 “Amazing Stories” spoiler discussion

Apple MacBook Air review

Let’s address the elephant in the room. There’s an undeniable irony reviewing an ultraportable laptop when you’re not allowed to leave your house. Of course, Apple didn’t see this coming. None of us did, with the possible exception of Bill Gates, I suppose.

I bring this up not as a reminder of everything that’s wrong with the world at the present moment — you certainly didn’t need a reminder of that. Instead, I just figured it was important to note here that the testing situation is less than ideal for the MacBook Air. I haven’t left my one-bedroom New York City apartment with the thing since it arrived this morning.

In fact, I’ve mostly been working with the laptop sitting directly in front of a larger computer. One that’s big and not designed to be moved. I was feeling adventurous, however, so now I’m sitting on my bed, writing this with the Air on my lap. Damn, it feels good to live again.

There’s not a lot I can tell you about the MacBook Air that you don’t already know. One of the mainstays of the MacBook line, the Air turned 12 in January. It’s a testament to the original that the design still feels fresh well over a decade into its existence. There have been important updates to the device over the years, of course, but the laptop that hit the market nearly a year to the day before Barack Obama’s first inauguration still very much forms the foundation of the device.

“Thin” and “light” are still very much the qualities that define the Air. It’s a product that trades the processing power of the rest of the MacBook family in favor of a design that slips comfortably into the seat-back pocket in front of you on the plane. Indeed, the device has never been the one you want for heavy video processing or other resource-intensive applications. And while the 2020 model gets some important internal updates, that remains the case here.

If, however, you’re worried about lower-back pain, this is probably the MacBook for you.

The familiar wedge shape is in tact, of course. A few generations ago, that design was married with the prevailing aesthetic of the rest of the MacBook line, with a unibody design and reflective Apple logo up top.

There are still just the two Firewire 3/USB C ports onboard. Once again, they’re both on the same side. This has always been one of the bigger complaints since the redesign. Two on either side would be the best-case scenario, but until then, I’d settle for one on either, so as to avoid blocking the other one and to make it easier to plug the power cable into either side, depending on where you’re sitting relative to the outlet.

The biggest design change to the 2020 is much more subtle, however. After a rough couple of years for MacBook keyboards that culminated with a couple of consumer suits and countless jammed keys, Apple introduced a new design on last year’s 16-inch MacBook Pro. Mercifully, that upgrade has also come to the Air.

The system has returned to a scissor-switch design, which, among other things, results in more key travel, meaning the keys actually retract as you type, like a traditional keyboard. It’s like night and day, honestly. The butterfly mechanisms were a clear misstep for the company. In addition to lacking the tactile feedback, the fact that they were more or less flush with the laptop meant that if any debris got stuck in there, the key might just stop working. I had at least one instance of requiring some emergency compressed air at an event after the S key jammed. That’s an important key, mind.

Unlike other iterative attempts to update the butterfly mechanism, the move back to a scissor switch is a marked improvement. The keys are still relatively soft compared to other systems, but the feel is much improved — not to mention not as loud while typing. The feeling here is pretty similar to what you get with Apple’s Bluetooth Magic Keyboard peripheral. Honestly, that makes it a valuable upgrade in and of itself. There’s no Touchbar up top, instead opting for the standard function keys. The best part of the Touchbar setup — TouchID — is present, however. 

A lot about the Air remains unchanged from the big 2018 overhaul. That was, of course, the first major update in some time, bringing, most notably, the Retina display to the model for the first time ever. That’s a 2560 x 1600 IPS. It’s higher res and much better viewing angles than previous models — a big update for a model that many thought had been largely abandoned by Apple.

That’s still here. What is new, however, are some key upgrades to the inside. The default configuration ships with a tenth-generation 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3. While the device has evolved over last year’s eighth-generation chip, that model shipped with the Core i5 standard. Apple’s clearly made some calculations to drop the base price of the system from $1,099 to $999. Apple likely wants to further differentiate the device from the rest of the line.

For even basic users, however, I’d recommend adding $100 back onto the system price in order to upgrade to an i5. That’s the chip ours came with. The system scored 5244 and 14672 on Geekbench 4’s single and multi-core tests, respectively, presenting a marked upgrade over the last model we tested, back in 2018.

The other meaningful update to the silicon is the switch from Intel UHD 617 to Iris Plus graphics. Among other things, that will help with the ability to support external monitors. The Air is capable of supporting up to a 6K external monitor, with help from display compression. RAM is once again 8GB by default (as in our configuration), upgradable to 16GB. Much bigger news on the storage side, however, as that’s been upgraded to 256GB on the base model (up from 128GB), and can be configured all the way up to a generous 2TB (from 1TB).

Interestingly, the stated battery life has actually contracted, from 12 down to 11 hours. That, of course, largely depends on usage. After several hours, I’m down to 35% left. I’ve had the brightness and everything else at default levels and have mostly been typing, using Chrome and Slack and listening to music on headphones via Spotify (along with the occasional benchmark).

All-day battery life seems like a fair enough description, when you’re multitasking; 11 hours is probably a stretch. It’s worth noting that this can vary quite a bit based on a number of factors. I’ve only really had a full day with the laptop, so I’ll update retroactively.

There are some nice upgrades here. Between the keyboard, processor and the overhaul the model got back in 2018, it’s nice to see Apple keeping the beloved line fresh a dozen years after it was first introduced.

I suspect that, for many, the fact that the laptop was introduced alongside the new iPad Pro (and its new keyboard) drove home how much the lines between the products are continuing to blur. The question comes up a lot when critics talk about Apple, as the company has traditionally taken a relatively minimalistic approach to product lines, versus, say, Samsung’s tendency to provide a wide range of different products.

But as personal computing has become more complex, so have our needs. And so, in turn, has Apple’s lineup. For a while there, it seemed like the MacBook Air was going to fade away, in favor of the standard MacBook. Ultimately, however, the Air won out, and understandably so. The focus on portability is a strong selling point, when coupled with the workflow versatility of MacOS (versus iPadOS). The Air looks like it’s going to be sticking around for a bit, and that’s something for Apple users to be thankful for.