Apple emoji will soon include people with curly hair, white hair and superpowers

In honor of World Emoji Day (yes, that’s a thing), Apple is previewing some of its upcoming emoji. Later this year, Apple’s emoji set will feature people with a variety of hairstyles and colors, including curly hair, red hair and white hair. What you’re about to see are simply Apple’s take on emoji that were previously approved by the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee.

Folks with curly hair, rejoice!

Let’s hear it for the redheads

 

Like white on rice

 

No hair? No problem

Other fun emoji include a freezing face, peacock, mango, lobster, nazar amulet, superheroes and kangaroo.

Back in March, Apple proposed new emojis to represent people with disabilities in Unicode’s next batch of emoji. Then in May, Unicode announced some of the draft candidates for its next emoji release in Q1 2019 to include some of Apple’s proposed emoji, which featured a guide dog, an ear with a hearing aid and more. If you want to hear more about what goes into emoji approval, be sure to check out this interview with Jeremy Burge, vice-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee.

 

iFixit finds dust covers in latest MacBook Pro keyboard

Apple released a refreshed MacBook Pro this week and top among the new features is a tweaked keyboard. Apple says its quieter than the last version and in our tests, we agree. But iFixit found something else: thin, silicone barriers that could improve the keyboard’s reliability.

This is big news. Users have long reported the butterfly switch keyboard found in MacBook Pros were less reliable than past models. There are countless reports of dust and lint and crumbs causing keys to stick or fail. Personally, I have not had any issues, but many at TechCrunch have. To date Apple has yet to issue a recall for the keyboard..

iFixit found a thin layer of rubberized material covering the new butterfly mechanism. The repair outlet also points to an Apple patent for this exact technology that’s designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

According to Apple, which held a big media unveiling for new models, the changes to the keyboard were designed to address the loud clickity-clack and not the keyboard’s tendency to get mucked up by dust. And that makes sense, too. If Apple held an event and said “We fixed the keyboards” it would mean Apple was admitting something was wrong with the keyboards. Instead Apple held an event and said “We made the keyboards quieter” admitting the past keyboards were loud, and not faulty.

We just got our review unit and will report back on the keyboard’s reliability after a day or two at the beach. Because science.

Apple partnered with Blackmagic Design on an external GPU for MacBooks

Apple announced external GPU support at last year’s WWDC, finally rolling out support for the feature back in March. Since then, a handful of manufacturers have brought Thunderbolt 3 functionality to their units, including, notably, Razer back in March.

Alongside the release of new MacBook Pros, the company has taken an extra step toward embracing the tech by giving its seal of approval to a new system from Blackmagic —  the simply named Blackmagic eGPU. The company does these kinds of partnerships from time to time — the LG UltraFine 5K Display being perhaps the most notable example.

The $699 accessory features an AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics card and 8GB of DDR5 RAM in a fairly small footprint. There’s an HDMI port, four USB 3.1s and three Thunderbolt 3s, the latter of which makes it unique among these peripherals. The company says the on-board cooling system operates pretty quietly, which should fit nicely alongside those new, quieter MacBook keyboards. 

Many developers will no doubt prefer to configure their own, but for those who want an easier solution for playing resource-intensive games or graphics rendering on with a MacBook, this is a fairly simple solution. The eGPU is available now through Apple’s retail channels. 

Apple releases new iPad, FaceID ads

Apple has released a handful of new ads promoting the iPad’s portability and convenience over both laptops and traditional paper solutions. The 15-second ads focus on how the iPad can make even the most tedious things — travel, notes, paperwork, and ‘stuff’ — just a bit easier.

Three out of the four spots show the sixth-generation iPad, which was revealed at Apple’s education event in March, and which offers a lower-cost ($329 in the U.S.) option with Pencil support.

The ads were released on Apple’s international YouTube channels (UAE, Singapore, and United Kingdom).

This follows another 90-second ad released yesterday, focusing on FaceID. The commercial shows a man in a gameshow-type setting asked to remember the banking password he created earlier that morning. He struggles for an excruciating amount of time before realizing he can access the banking app via FaceID.

There has been some speculation that FaceID may be incorporated into some upcoming models of the iPad, though we’ll have to wait until Apple’s next event (likely in September) to find out for sure.

Belkin’s new Lightning-enabled power bank comes with Apple certification

Sure, there are plenty of power banks out there that can charge your iPhone. The ability to charge up via Lightning cable, on the other hand, is a pretty rare thing — and from the looks of it, the Boost Charge Power Bank is the first to do so with Apple’s blessing.

Belkin’s new portable charger sports a Lightning port in between two standard USBs, so it can be charged up with the same cable you use for your iPhone/iPad. As someone who’s had some issues with Apple’s proprietary cables in the past, it’s something of mixed bag — though as someone who also just came back from a weeklong trip with a carryon bag full of cables, there’s something to be said for only having to pack one.

(I also recently discovered the hard way that Chinese airports will throw out battery packs exceeding a certain size, but that’s a different discussion.)

The battery pack sports a 10,000mAh battery — which is nearly four times the size of what you get on the iPhone X/8 Plus. At $60, however, it ain’t cheap. As a quick pop over to Amazon demonstrates, you can get a lot more battery for a lot less. If Apple MFI certification and cable consolidation mean something to you, however, this is probably your best bet.

It’s up for pre-order now from Belkin’s site.

AI spots legal problems with tech T&Cs in GDPR research project

Technology is the proverbial double-edged sword. And an experimental European research project is ensuring this axiom cuts very close to the industry’s bone indeed by applying machine learning technology to critically sift big tech’s privacy policies — to see whether AI can automatically identify violations of data protection law.

The still-in-training privacy policy and contract parsing tool — which is called ‘Claudette‘: Aka (automated) clause detector — is being developed by researchers at the European University Institute in Florence.

They’ve also now got support from European consumer organization BEUC — for a ‘Claudette meets GDPR‘ project — which specifically applies the tool to evaluate compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Early results from this project have been released today, with BEUC saying the AI was able to automatically flag a range of problems with the language being used in tech T&Cs.

The researchers set Claudette to work analyzing the privacy policies of 14 companies in all — namely: Google, Facebook (and Instagram), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Twitter, Uber, AirBnB, Booking, Skyscanner, Netflix, Steam and Epic Games — saying this group was selected to cover a range of online services and sectors.

And also because they are among the biggest online players and — I quote — “should be setting a good example for the market to follow”. Ehem, should.

The AI analysis of the policies was carried out in June, after the update to the EU’s data protection rules had come into force. The regulation tightens requirements on obtaining consent for processing citizens’ personal data by, for example, increasing transparency requirements — basically requiring that privacy policies be written in clear and intelligible language, explaining exactly how the data will be used, in order that people can make a genuine, informed choice to consent (or not consent).

In theory, all 15 parsed privacy policies should have been compliant with GDPR by June, as it came into force on May 25. However some tech giants are already facing legal challenges to their interpretation of ‘consent’. And it’s fair to say the law has not vanquished the tech industry’s fuzzy language and logic overnight. Where user privacy is concerned, old, ugly habits die hard, clearly.

But that’s where BEUC is hoping AI technology can help.

It says that out of a combined 3,659 sentences (80,398 words) Claudette marked 401 sentences (11.0%) as containing unclear language, and 1,240 (33.9%) containing “potentially problematic” clauses or clauses providing “insufficient” information.

BEUC says identified problems include:

  • Not providing all the information which is required under the GDPR’s transparency obligations. “For example companies do not always inform users properly regarding the third parties with whom they share or get data from”
  • Processing of personal data not happening according to GDPR requirements. “For instance, a clause stating that the user agrees to the company’s privacy policy by simply using its website”
  • Policies are formulated using vague and unclear language (i.e. using language qualifiers that really bring the fuzz — such as “may”, “might”, “some”, “often”, and “possible”) — “which makes it very hard for consumers to understand the actual content of the policy and how their data is used in practice”

The bolstering of the EU’s privacy rules, with GDPR tightening the consent screw and supersizing penalties for violations, was exactly intended to prevent this kind of stuff. So it’s pretty depressing — though hardly surprising — to see the same, ugly T&C tricks continuing to be used to try to sneak consent by keeping users in the dark.

We reached out to two of the largest tech giants whose policies Claudette parsed — Google and Facebook — to ask if they want to comment on the project or its findings.

A Google spokesperson said: “We have updated our Privacy Policy in line with the requirements of the GDPR, providing more detail on our practices and describing the information that we collect and use, and the controls that users have, in clear and plain language. We’ve also added new graphics and video explanations, structured the Policy so that users can explore it more easily, and embedded controls to allow users to access relevant privacy settings directly.”

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to our request for comment.

Commenting in a statement, Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general, said: “A little over a month after the GDPR became applicable, many privacy policies may not meet the standard of the law. This is very concerning. It is key that enforcement authorities take a close look at this.”

The group says it will be sharing the research with EU data protection authorities, including the European Data Protection Board. And is not itself ruling out bringing legal actions against law benders.

But it’s also hopeful that automation will — over the longer term — help civil society keep big tech in legal check.

Although, where this project is concerned, it also notes that the training data-set was small — conceding that Claudette’s results were not 100% accurate — and says more privacy policies would need to be manually analyzed before policy analysis can be fully conducted by machines alone.

So file this one under ‘promising research’.

“This innovative research demonstrates that just as Artificial Intelligence and automated decision-making will be the future for companies from all kinds of sectors, AI can also be used to keep companies in check and ensure people’s rights are respected,” adds Goyens. “We are confident AI will be an asset for consumer groups to monitor the market and ensure infringements do not go unnoticed.

“We expect companies to respect consumers’ privacy and the new data protection rights. In the future, Artificial Intelligence will help identify infringements quickly and on a massive scale, making it easier to start legal actions as a result.”

For more on the AI-fueled future of legal tech, check out our recent interview with Mireille Hildebrandt.

Jury rules Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine owe $25M to early Beats collaborator

Beats Studio 3 wireless headphones

A Los Angeles jury has ruled that Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the founders of Apple-owned Beats Electronic, owe $25.25 million in royalties to an early collaborator who helped create the first model of Beats Studio headphones. Founded in 2008, Beats was acquired by Apple in 2014.

The plaintiff, Steven Lamar, claims that he first proposed the concept behind the headphones to Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (real name Andre Young) in early 2006 and continued working with the Beats founders until falling out with them later that year. This led to a settlement that Lamar claims stipulated he would receive royalties on all future releases in the Beats Studio line. Dre and Iovine argued, however, that they had fulfilled their end of the agreement by paying Lamar royalties for the original headphone model, which was released in 2008.

The jury decided that under the 2007 settlement, Lamar is indeed entitled to a percentage of the sales on all models of Studio headphones.

TechCrunch has sent requests for comment to Apple, Beats and Roam, the headphone company founded by Lamar.

Apple launches its free Schoolwork app for teachers

Apple this morning launched Schoolwork, a free app for teachers that was first introduced at Apple’s education event in Chicago back in March. The cloud-based app allows teachers using iPads in the classroom to create and distribute handouts and other assignments, collaborate individually with students, track students’ progress, and – perhaps most notably – allows teachers to assign specific activities within educational apps.

That means instead of pointing students to download an app and then give them instructions on how to access the individual task, teachers can instead guide students directly to a specific lesson with an app.

This lets schools tap into the power of Apple’s App Store ecosystem, which has benefitted from being a more curated, trusted experience, where many kids’ app publishers launch their new and updated apps first and/or keep larger catalogs.

Select educational apps already work with Schoolwork, including Explain Everything, Tynker, GeoGebra, and Kahoot!.

With this ability to assign in-app tasks, teachers can see how well the student is doing with the given assignment, not just their usage of the app overall. And they can also see how well the whole classroom is doing from their own dashboard, too.

Apple additionally emphasized the privacy elements to Schoolwork when it was first announced, and it reiterates them today.

Schools get to “create, own and control” the accounts used by students, says the company, and they get to determine when student progress information is shared.

Apple cannot see the student activity, either, as it stays within the system.

Privacy is a key selling point these days for Apple products. It could spur more adoption of its hardware and software devices in the classroom, even though its new $299 iPads for schools are higher priced than some of the low-end Chromebook options from Google that can range $100 to $150, for example.

The new iPads, along with software for digital book creation, Classroom for Mac, an updated Swift Playgrounds app, and other educational tools were also shown off at the Chicago event earlier this year.

Schoolwork is designed to work with the Classroom app, which now runs on both iPad and Mac.

The Classroom app lets teachers view students’ screen in class, share documents with students, assign shared iPads, and reset student passwords. Students, meanwhile, use Schoolwork to view the content teachers’ share – like announcements, handouts, documents, PDFs, and web links –  and track which of their assignments are due.

Apple’s efforts in education come at a time when Google is winning the market with its Chromebooks, which have a reported nearly 60 percent share in the classroom, according to estimates.

But Apple’s devices may appeal for other activities beyond word processing and web research – its iPads for the classroom, for example, support Apple Pencil, including within iWork, as well as Logitech’s $49 “crayon.” Teachers can create lightweight iPad-based texts using iPad Author, and kids can learn to create AR apps in Swift Playgrounds.

Teachers can learn more about Apple’s educational tools on its dedicated site here.

Tim Cook speaks out at Fortune’s CEO Initiative on hot-button issues like immigration

Tim Cook at an Apple event in 2016.

At Fortune’s CEO Initiative event today, Tim Cook shared his opinion on a number of contentious issues, including immigration, political news and smartphone addiction. Here are some highlights from his conversation with Fortune executive editor Adam Lashinsky.

On companies taking a stance on public policy and other politically charged issues, including the Trump administration’s separations of migrant families at United States-Mexico border, which Cook recently condemned as “inhumane”:

Apple is about changing the world. It became clear to me some number of years ago that you don’t do that by staying quiet on things that matter. For us, that’s the driving issue,” he said.

Although there’s “no formula” dictating what Apple addresses publicly, Cook said the company considers “do we have a standing, do we have a right to talk about this issue?” For Apple, he said this means they “typically speak about education, privacy, about human rights, about immigration and the environment.”

When asked by Lashinsky why Apple has standing to speak about immigration and human rights, Cook replied that many immigrants work at Apple, including more than 300 people protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and “several thousand” employees on H1B visas.

“To me, too often in the case of immigration, people quickly get to numbers, but there are real people behind this, who have real feelings and they’re a core part of the United States, so we have significant standing there,” he added.

Cook also claimed that Apple doesn’t address politics directly as a company. “We stick to policy, how people are treated, what is immigration policy. We work with people from both parties or no party. Sometimes one party doesn’t like what we do, or the other one doesn’t, or both don’t.”

On Apple’s announcement this week that it will launch human curation in Apple News, starting with coverage of the U.S. mid-term elections. In addition to editors picking stories, the section will also feature articles exclusive to Apple News.

Cook said that “news was kind of going a little crazy” and drew parallels between its approach to Apple News and the App Store, which has had relatively stringent rules about what is allowed since its inception. “Apple has always stood for curation,” he said. “We’ve always believed quality, not quantity, is the most important thing.“

“We felt top stories should be selected by humans, not to be political at all and not to check the views of these, but to make sure you’re not keeping content that just strictly has the goal of enraging people,” he added. “We hope to bring this same kind of view to different subjects over a period of time and will pick from outlets from conservative to liberal to in-between, if there is such a thing anymore.”

On the recent announcement of more parental controls and “digital wellness” features for iOS 12 that are meant to help users manage their screen time.

Despite increasing media coverage about the overuse of devices and potential links to depression and a recent activist shareholder letter calling on Apple to research the impact of smartphones on children, Cook said the company’s actions weren’t “in response to a specific point that was made.”

“But I think it’s become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices, and we’ve tried to think through pretty deeply about how we can help that,” he added. “Honestly, we’ve never wanted people to overuse our products. We want people to be empowered from them and do things they couldn’t do otherwise, but if you spend all your time on your phone, then you are spending too much time.”

On how much longer he plans to be CEO of Apple. Cook has been in the position for nearly seven years, taking over in 2011 shortly before the death of Steve Jobs.

“it’s a privilege to be CEO. Hopefully I’ve got some good time left,” he said.

Apple reportedly working on next-gen, water-resistant AirPods

Apple is reportedly working on a new, likely more expensive, set of AirPods with noise-cancellation, according to Bloomberg.

The report cites people familiar with the matter, who said that Apple is exploring making the AirPods water resistant. That said, you still don’t want to go swimming with these things, as the rumored water resistant AirPods would be more likely to only stand up against perspiration and rain rather than being submerged.

Bloomberg said that one source suggested Apple could add biometric sensors to the next-gen AirPods, furthering the company’s health tracking efforts. Sources also say that the updated AirPods would come with a new case that is compatible with the Apple’s new wireless charging pad.

As it stands now, AirPods cost $159 in the U.S. The new, rumored pair of in-ear wireless headphones will likely cost more, allowing Apple to price AirPods the same way it prices iPhones, offering a more expensive high-end model and a low-end model like the iPhone SE.

This news comes in the middle of a big year for Apple’s auditory efforts.

On the one hand, Apple’s Amazon Echo competitor, the HomePod, was delayed quite a bit following its announcement. Bloomberg says Cupertino is already hard at work developing a new model.

Apple is also reportedly working on over-the-ear headphones. The headphones would be Apple-branded, and would be on the higher-end of the spectrum with Boze and Sennheiser. The company already sells over-the-ear headphones via Beats, which Apple acquired in 2014 for $3 billion.