Watch SpaceX launch its first dedicated rideshare mission live, carrying a record-breaking number of satellites

[UPDATE: Today’s attempt was scrubbed due to weather conditions. Another launch window is available tomorrow at 10 AM ET]

SpaceX is set to launch the very first of its dedicated rideshare missions – an offering it introduced in 2019 that allows small satellite operators to book a portion of a payload on a Falcon 9 launch. SpaceX’s rocket has a relatively high payload capacity compared to the size of many of the small satellites produced today, so a rideshare mission like this offers smaller companies and startups a chance to get their spacecraft in orbit without breaking the bank.

The cargo capsule atop the Falcon 9 flying today holds a total of 133 satellites according to SpaceX, which is a new record for the highest number of satellites being launched on a single rocket – beating out a payload of 104 spacecraft delivered by Indian Space Research Organization’s PSLV-C37 launch back in February 2017. It’ll be a key demonstration not only of SpaceX’s rideshare capabilities, but also of the complex coordination involved in a launch that includes deployment of multiple payloads into different target orbits in relatively quick succession.

This launch will be closely watched in particular for its handling of orbital traffic management, since it definitely heralds what the future of private space launches could look like in terms of volume of activity. Some of the satellites flying on this mission are not much larger than an iPad, so industry experts will be paying close attention to how they’re deployed and tracked to avoid any potential conflicts.

Some of the payloads being launched today include significant volumes of startup spacecraft, including 36 of Swarm’s tiny IoT network satellites, and eight of Kepler’s GEN-1 communications satellites. There are also 10 of SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites on board, and 48 of Planet Labs’ Earth-imaging spacecraft.

The launch stream above should begin around 15 minutes prior to the mission start, which is set for 9:40 AM EST (6:40 AM PST) today.

Apple Fitness+ launches on December 14

Apple is launching its subscription fitness service, which is built mainly to complement Apple Watch, on December 14. Apple Fitness+ was first announced at Apple’s iPhone event in September, and will offer guided workouts on iPhone iPad and Apple TV, with live personal metrics delivered by the Apple Watch’s health metrics monitoring.

The fitness offering will cover 10 workout types at launch, including Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, indoor walking and running, as well as rowing and cooldown. All cases are led by real trainers that Apple selected to record the interactive sessions, and they’re soundtracked from “today’s top artists” according to the company.

The interactive elements are fed mostly by Apple Watch stats, and will display heart rate metrics, countdown timers, and goal achievement ‘celebration’ graphics which display on the screen when a user fills up their Apple Watch Activity rings. This is a level of direct integration that’s similar to what Peloton achieves with its service, but without requiring a whole connected stationary bike or treadmill to work.

Other distinguishing features of the service include a recommendation engine that leverages data including previous Fitness+ courses taken by a user, as well as their Apple Watch Workout App data and other third-party health and fitness app integration information from Apple Health to recommend new workouts, trainers and exercise routines. Apple’s use of third-party integrations is particularly interesting here, since it’s using its platform advantage to inform its service personalization.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple is also committing to weekly updates of new content across all categories of workouts, with varying intensity and difficult levels. Anyone using Fitness+ can also share their workouts with friends and family, and compete with others directly in the app if they want.

There’s also an optional Apple Music integration, which allows users to favorite songs and playlists directly from workouts to add them to their library, but users won’t require Apple Music in order to access the music used for the training videos, which are divided into different selectable “styles” or genres.

Apple Fitness+ is available starting December 14, and will retail for $9.99 per month, or $79.99 when paid for a twelve month period up front. It’s also part of Apple’s new Apple One Premier service bundle alongside other services.

This is definitely a major competitive service launch to existing subscription fitness offerings, including Peloton. Apple’s bundle offering, along with its system’s flexibility and syncing across its devices, could make it an easier choice for beginners and those just getting started with more serious training, though the lack of live classes might be a downside for some.

Apple reportedly testing Intel-beating high core count Apple Silicon chips for high-end Macs

Apple is reportedly developing a number of Apple Silicon chip variants with significantly higher core counts relative to the M1 chips that it uses in today’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini computers based on its own ARM processor designs. According to Bloomberg, the new chips include designs that have 16 power cores and hour high-efficiency cores, intended for future iMacs and more powerful MacBook Pro models, as well as a 32-performance core top-end version that would eventually power the first Apple Silicon Mac Pro.

The current M1 Mac has four performance cores, along with four high-efficiency cores. It also uses either seven or eight dedicated graphics cores, depending on the Mac model. Apple’s next-gen chips could leap right to 16 performance cores, or Bloomberg says they could opt to use eight or 12-core versions of the same, depending primarily on what kinds of yields they see from manufacturing processes. Chipmaking, particularly in the early stages of new designs, often has error rates that render a number of the cores on each new chip unusable, so manufacturers often just ‘bin’ those chips, offering them to the market as lower max core count designs until manufacturing success rates improve.

Apple’s M1 system on a chip.

Regardless of whether next-gen Apple Silicon Macs use 16, 12 or eight-performance core designs, they should provide ample competition for their Intel equivalents. Apple’s debut M1 line has won the praise of critics and reviewers for significant performance benefits over not only their predecessors, but also much more expensive and powerful Mac powered by higher-end Intel chips.

The report also says that Apple is developing new graphics processors that include both 16- and 32-core designs for future iMacs and pro notebooks, and that it even has 64- and 128-core designs in development for use in high-end pro machines like the Mac Pro. These should offer performance that can rival even dedicated GPU designs from Nvidia and AMD for some applications, though they aren’t likely to appear in any shipping machines before either late 2021 or 2022 according to the report.

Apple has said from the start that it plans to transition its entire line to its own Apple Silicon processors by 2022. The M1 Macs now available are the first generation, and Apple has begun with its lowest-power dedicated Macs, with a chip design that hews closely to the design of the top-end A-series chips that power its iPhone and iPad line. Next-generation M-series chips look like they’ll be further differentiated from Apple’s mobile processors, with significant performance advantages to handle the needs of demanding professional workloads.

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

Apple eyes the TikTok generation with an updated version of Clips

Apple is today rolling out an update to its video creation app, Clips, which brings much-needed support for vertical videos, allowing for sharing to TikTok and the “Stories” feature in other social apps. The addition is one of several arriving with the release of Clips 3.0, which also introduces support for horizontal video, as well as HDR for iPhone 12 users, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters, for example.

Apple’s Clips was first launched in 2017 with an eye on being a first stop for video creation before publishing to Instagram. But the app’s support for only square-formatted video has since become outdated. Casual social videos today are often now published to newer video-centric social media networks, like TikTok and its short-form rivals, including Triller, Dubsmash, Instagram Reels and others.

Meanwhile, Stories — like those found on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and, soon, Twitter — have become a key way that today’s users publish content to social media.

Apple, in fact, says that support for vertical video had become its No. 1 request from users since Clips launched.

Clips 3.0 supports both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, in addition to the square format. When the app is opened on iPad, it will default to the landscape format, which can be particularly useful in educational scenarios where teachers are using the app in classrooms with students.

On iPad, Clips users can also interact with the app when their iPad is in a case, like Magic Keyboard for iPad and others. It also supports use with a mouse or trackpad, and allows users to write text in text fields using Apple Pencil.

Image Credits: Apple

The new app will also now support recording HDR video footage with the rear-facing camera on iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.

Clips’ overall user interface has been refreshed, too. You’ll notice a redesigned record screen that floats on top of the viewer when shooting vertically or horizontally, which could help to address some user complaints of the app feeling “slow.”

Users will also be able to more easily view and access the various Effects options, their Clips Projects and other media.

The tweaks to the user interface also feel a bit like a nod to TikTok. For example, you can now swipe up on the Effects to see a full-height card that shows you the available stickers and text labels to add to your videos. This format of a pop-up card filled with effects is similar to TikTok — though there it’s opened with a button tap and not a gesture.

Image Credits: Apple

The update also brings more content options, including eight new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and six new arrows and shapes. From the new Media browser in Clips, you can pull in your own photos and videos or toggle over to a Posters section to pick from 70 customizable, animated full-screen title cards that can be added to your video.

There are also updated filters, Live Titles and Selfie scenes available.

When your project is complete, you can easily share the resulting video to social networks from an updated sharing screen that includes quick access to destinations like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat, in addition to standard options like iMessage or saving the file locally.

Though Clips hasn’t had as much attention as some of Apple’s other apps — its last update was six months ago, for instance — it has gained a following. Apple says that users create “millions” of Clips projects per day, and it sees higher usage in the U.S., U.K. and China.

This year, Clips usage increased by 30%, Apple noted — a change that could have been brought about by the shift to virtual schooling which saw teachers in need of tools for creating digital content.

Image Credits: Apple

With its expanded focus on vertical video, Clips has the potential to reach a much broader audience.

Today, many users prep videos for Stories or TikTok on third-party apps, like InShot, Prequel, Splice, PicCollage, Canva, VSCO, Funimate, KineMaster, Magisto, CapCut and others topping the App Store charts. But Clips, until now, couldn’t compete because it didn’t include vertical video support at all.

The new version of Clips is rolling out today to users worldwide.

Microsoft Office gets mouse and trackpad support for the iPad

As promised, Microsoft announced that it has added full trackpad and mouse support for the iPadOS version of Microsoft 360. That includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, marking another important step in Apple’s longstanding push to blur the line between tablet and desktop, making iPads more well-rounded productivity machines.

Apple laid the foundation back in March, with the release of iPadOS 13.4. Announced alongside the latest iPad Pro, the technology introduced the ability to pair a trackpad or mouse with the tablet, bringing an on-screen cursor. Romain breaks it down more fully here. Along with the new tablet and operating system upgrade came a new (pricey) keyboard sporting a built-in trackpad.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Today’s upgrade from Microsoft builds on that, offering a more desktop-like experience when using its productivity tools on the latest iPad, iPad Pro and iPad Air. It can be used for standard Office things, like highlighting text, selecting range cells in Excel and resizing graphics. Stuff that was possible before, but will definitely benefit from an approach more familiar to anyone who’s used to doing these things on a laptop/desktop.

The update brings a handful of other additions, including a clearer interface and newly organized menus. All should be rolling out to users “within a couple of weeks,” per Microsoft.

This Week in Apps: Apple’s big event, lidar comes to iPhone, Android gets a new IDE

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

Top Story

Apple introduces four new iPhones (and more)

Apple hosted its iPhone event this week, where it introduced the new iPhone 12… and the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max — effectively plugging all the holes in the market. With the release of the four new iPhones, app developers will have a range of devices to build for, from small to very large — the 12 Pro Max, for example, introduces the iPhone’s biggest-ever screen and the highest resolution, at nearly 3.5M pixels.

It also, of course, includes serious camera improvements, from a redesign of the three-lens system to including a new deeper telephoto camera, now a 65 mm-equivalent instead of 52 mm, as on previous models. There’s also an improved wide-angle lens, larger sensor, the addition of sensor-level image stabilization and a revamped Night Mode. Photographers will appreciate the new Apple ProRAW format, as well. (More on that here).

The iPhone 12 mini, meanwhile, aims to serve the customer base that prefers a smaller phone, like the iPhone SE, but without sacrificing functionality.

All the devices share some key features, including 5G connectivity, the new MagSafe connector for wireless charging and snap-on magnetic accessories, OLED displays and the A14 chip. They also have a more classic look, with straight edges that allow for additional antennas, providing next-gen wireless connectivity.

One of the bigger differences, however, between the Pro models and the regular iPhone 12 is the addition of the LiDAR Scanner, which is also found in the latest iPad Pro. The scanner measures how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back. The new depth-sensing technology has big implications for AR, as it allows augmented reality objects to interact with objects in the real world. AR apps will be more user-friendly, too, as they won’t need to first scan the room to place the AR object in the real world. It can be placed instantly.

Apple is leveraging the sensor for the iPhone 12 Pro camera to offer up to 6x faster focus in low-light conditions. Developers, meanwhile, can leverage lidar for use cases like AR-enabled games that work in the real world, social media (like Snapchat’s new lidar-powered Lens), home design and improvement apps involving room scans, spatial layout planning (like JigSpace), better AR shopping experiences and more.

The company also announced an affordable version of its HomePod smart speaker, the $99 HomePod Mini. The item works best for those fully locked inside the Apple universe, as it will stream a handful of music services, but not one of the most popular — Spotify. However, Apple also introduced a nifty feature for the HomePod devices, Intercom, which lets you send announcements across the speakers. While Apple and Google have offered a similar feature for their smart speakers, Intercom also works across other Apple devices, including iPhone, iPod, AirPods and even CarPlay. (What, no Mac?)

If Apple isn’t too late to capture smart speaker market share, the new speaker could see more users adopting smart home devices they can voice control through the HomePod Mini.

During the event, Apple also subtly snubbed its nose at Epic’s Fortnite with the announcement that
League of Legends: Wild Rift would be coming to iPhone 12 to take advantage of its new 5G capabilities and A14 Bionic chip.

Weekly News Round-Up

Platforms

  • Lidar comes to iPhone 12 Pro. Developers can now build AR experiences that interact with real-world objects, and AR apps can now instantly place AR objects in the real world without scanning the room. The update will mean a huge increase in the usability of AR apps but is limited to the Pro model of iPhone for now. Snapchat is already using it.
  • Apple developers can now make their apps available for pre-order even earlier — up to 180 days before release on the App Store.
  • Android Studio 4.1 launches. The new, stable version of the IDE for building Android apps introduces better TensorFlow Lite support and a new database inspector. The team also fixed a whopping 2,370 bugs during this release cycle and closed 275 public issues.
  • Google introduces the Android for Cars library. The library, now in open beta, gives developers tools to design, develop and test new navigation, parking or charging apps for Android Auto. The Google Play Store will be enabled for publishing beta apps in the “coming months.”
  • Google stops selling music. The company no longer sells tracks and albums on its Play Store, shifting all its focus to YouTube Music. The latter also just launched on Apple Watch this week.

Trends

  • Shopping apps forecast. U.S. consumers were expected to spend 60M hours in Android shopping apps during Prime Day week, (which just wrapped) according to one forecast from App Annie.
  • Prime Day downloads grow. Sensor Tower estimates global installs of the Amazon app grew 23% year-over-year, to 684K, as Prime Day neared. Installs on Wednesday were up 33% to 750K. However, U.S. installs were down by 22% 10/13-10/14. Apptopia noted that app sessions, however, were up 27% year-over-year.
  • Shopping, Food & Drink app launches up more than 50% year-over-year. Shopping apps grew 52% while Food & Drink apps grew 60%, due to COVID-19 impacts, according to Sensor Tower.
  • Subscriptions. U.S. consumers spend $20.78 per month on app subscriptions, Adjust study says.
  • TikTok sale impact on ad industry. 73% of marketers said a TikTok sale in the U.S. would impact their 2021 advertising plans. 41% also believed the deal could allow Walmart to overtake Amazon in e-commerce.
  • Amazon expands AR experimentation to its boxes. The retailer launched a new AR application that works with QR codes on the company’s shipping boxes to create “interactive, shareable” AR experiences, like a pumpkin that comes to life.

Security

  • Robinhood said a “limited number” of its users’ accounts were hacked. The service itself was not hacked, but around 2,000 customers had accounts compromised by cybercriminals who first compromised users’ personal emails outside the trading app.

Other News

  • Zoom’s new events platform brings apps to video conferencing calls.
  • Messenger update brings new features, including cross-app communication with Instagram. The app gets fun features like chat themes, custom reactions and, soon, selfie stickers and vanish mode. But the bigger news is the (potentially anti-competitive) merging of Facebook’s chat platforms.
  • Life360 leverages TikTok teens’ complaints to start a dialogue and invent a new feature, “Bubbles,” which allows teens (or anyone) to share a generalized location instead of an exact one. The feature gives teens a bit more freedom to roam and make choices without so much parental oversight. Parents, meanwhile, can still be sure their teen is OK, as features like emergency SOS and crash alerts remain functional.
  • Must-read: The MacStories iOS and iPadOS 14 Review. Federico Viticci offers a 23-page deep dive into the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Funding and M&A

    • Future raises $24M Series B for its $150/mo workout coaching app amid at-home fitness boom. The app pairs users with real-life fitness coaching for personal training at home. The round was led by Trustbridge Partners with Caffeinated Capital and Series A investors Kleiner Perkins participating.
    • River raises $10.4M for its app offering news, events and other happenings from around the web, ranging from news stories from top publishers to sports to even notable tweets. The app presents the information in a real-time stream, browsed vertically. There’s also a “For You” page, similar to TikTok.
    • Roblox confidentially filed with the SEC to go public. This cross-platform gaming platform has boomed during coronavirus lockdowns. According to reports, the listing could double Robox’s $4B valuation.
    • Robo Adviser Wealthsimple raises $87M. The funding for the investing app with comparisons to Robinhood was led by Menlo Park-based Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV), valuing the business at $1B.
    • Fitness platform Playbook raises $9.3M. The company offers tools for personal trainers who want to make their own videos, which consumers then browse in Playbook’s mobile app. Backers include E.ventures, Michael Ovitz, Abstract, Algae Ventures, Porsche Ventures and FJ Labs.
    • Live streaming app Moment House raises $1.5M seed. The startup aims to recreate live events in a digital format. LA area investors invested, including Scooter Braun, Troy Carter, Kygo’s Palm Tree Crew and Jared Leto. Patreon chief executive Jack Conte and Sequoia Capital partner Jess Lee also participated.
    • Twilio acquires Segment for $3.2B to help developers build data-fueled apps.
    • E-learning platform Kahoot raises $215M from SoftBank. The Norwegian startup claims to have hosted 1.3 billion “participating players” in the last 12 months. The company’s gamified e-learning platform is used both in schools and in enterprise environments.

Downloads

Mycons

Mycons is a new app that makes it easier for users, including non-designers, to create and buy custom icons for their iOS home screen makeovers. In the app’s “Icon Studio,” users can create icons by swapping out the background, choosing a symbol and placing it on the icon accordingly. You can also create a whole set of icons in a batch export. If you don’t feel like designing your own, you can opt to purchase premade packs instead.

The app is a free download with a one-time, in-app purchase to unlock the fully functionality of the icon designer. The icon packs, which include different variations and matching wallpaper, range from $7.99-$9.99.

Spotify’s new iOS 14 widget

Image Credits: TechCrunch screenshot of Spotify widget

It’s here! The widget a number of people have waited for since the launch of the new version of iOS has arrived. 

The widget, which arrives in the latest version of the Spotify iOS app, comes in two sizes. The smaller widget will display just your most recently listened to item, while the medium-sized widget will instead show the five most recent items — four in a horizontal row and the most recent at the top. In that case, you can actually tap on the small thumbnail for which of the five you want to now stream to be taken directly to that page in the Spotify app. The widget also automatically updates its background color to match the thumbnail photo.

Apple’s new ‘Intercom’ feature will let you shout across your Apple devices

Apple today introduced a new feature designed for use with its HomePod speakers, including its just-introduced HomePod Mini: Intercom. Similar to Alexa’s “announce” feature, Intercom will allow HomePod owners to leverage their smart speakers — and other Apple devices — to communicate with all family members at once.

The feature will make the most sense for households that have already bought into the Apple ecosystem, as you’ll be able to use Intercom across iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac and even AirPods and CarPlay.

For example, as Apple demoed today, a parent could announce that it was time to go via an Apple device downstairs, and reach family throughout the home, who could then respond using the Apple device nearest them.

To use Intercom, users would say “Hey Siri, tell everyone…” followed by the message they want to send. Message receivers could then answer by saying “Hey Siri, reply…” with their response.

Technically speaking, you aren’t “shouting” across all your devices. Apple says Intercom messages will play on HomePod speakers in the home and on users’ AirPods, while notifications will appear on personal devices instead.

Apple’s ability to leverage its entire ecosystem to make a feature like Intercom more useful could prove to be a competitive advantage in the smart speaker space versus market leaders Amazon and Google — rivals that already offer Intercom-like features on their smart speakers and displays.

The $99 price point for the new HomePod Mini will make it more accessible to a wider audience. Consumers may also be swayed to buy from Apple because of its support for privacy when it comes to how it handles voice recordings.

Live from Apple’s virtual 2020 iPhone event

Apple’s big iPhone event is finally here – virtually, which is to be expected these days. This is already the second virtual event Apple has hosted this fall, following one in September at which it revealed the Apple Watch Series 6 and a new iPad Air. This time around, we’re going to see what the iPhone 12 looks like, as well as how many colors and sizes it comes in.

There’s also supposed to be plenty of other news, including a new smaller HomePod mini, maybe an updated Apple TV, possibly a number of different headphone products and more. Will we get our first glance at the first shipping ARM-based Mac to use Apple’s in-house processors? Probably not, but maybe!

We’re going to be following along live and offering commentary below, and you can also tune in live to the video stream right here. Everything gets underway at 10 AM PT/ 1 PM ET.

Following Apple’s Sidecar launch, Astropad announces Luna Display for Windows

In June, Luna Display creator Astropad wrote a blog post titled, “Why Getting Sherlocked by Apple Was a Blessing in Disguise.” It arrived on the one-year anniversary of Apple’s launch of Sidecar for macOS, which let Mac owners use an iPad as a second display — thus making Luna’s functionality redundant.

The rose-colored post detailed how the company planned to pivot by diversifying its portfolio — in the case of Luna, that specifically meant launching a Windows version. “Later this summer, we’ll open up Astropad Studio for a free public beta on Windows,” the company wrote. “Not long after, we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign for an HDMI version of Luna Display.”

Today the company launched a Kickstarter for its Windows version, two years after launching the original Mac dongle on the crowdfunding platform. Delivery is set for May 2021. Early-bird supporters can get on-board with the device for as low as $49 (down from a retail price of $80).

Image Credits: Astropad

The dongle turns an iPad into a second display for a Windows PC, either wirelessly or tethered. The model comes in either USB-C of HDMI models, depending on the ports available on your machine. The second tablet can be used as a touchscreen for the extended monitor, which should work well with Windows 10, given how much Microsoft has tailored it to a touch experience.

I was a fan of the original Luna for Mac — though, like many, had less interest in the product as soon as Apple announced native support for Sidecar. Following the launch of Windows support, owners of the original Mac version will be able to use their existing device with PCs, as well. The device will work for Mac to iPad, Windows to iPad, Mac to Mac (with one laptop serving as a second screen) and a “headless mode,” with uses the iPad as a display for the Mac Mini and Mac Pro.