North now offers Focals smart glasses fittings and purchases via app

North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, and then return once they’re ready for a pick-up and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment.

This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later – essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks.

The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right.

Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well.

Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result.

Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

Natural lighting is the key to Apple’s remodeled Fifth Ave. store

When it opened in 2006, Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship quickly became a top destination for New York City residents and tourists, alike. The big, glass cube was a radical departure from prior electronics stores, serving as the entrance to a 24-hour subterranean retail location. Location didn’t hurt either, with the company planting its flag across from the Plaza Hotel and Central Park and sharing a block with the iconic high-end toy store, FAO Schwarz.

Since early 2017, however, the store has been closed for renovations. Earlier this month, the company took the wraps off the outside of the cube (albeit with some multi-color reflective wrap still occupying the outside of the familiar retail landmark). Last week, the company offered more insight into the plan as retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien took to the stage during the iPhone 11 event to discuss the company’s plans for the reinvented space.

Fifth Ave 1

During a discussion with TechCrunch, Apple shed even more light on the underground store, which will occupy the full area of the Fifth Avenue plaza. As is the case with all of Apple’s flagships, light is the thing here — though that’s easier said than done when dealing with an underground space. Illuminating the store is done through a combination of natural lights and LEDs.

When the store reopens, a series of skylights flush on the ground of the plaza will be doing much of the heavy lifting for the lighting during the day. Each of those round portholes will be frosted to let the light in, while protecting the privacy of people walking above, with supplemental lighting from silver LED rings. That, in turn, is augmented by 18 (nine on each side of the cube) “sky lenses.” Oriented in two 3×3 configurations, the “sculptural furniture” will also provide seating in the outdoor plaza.

Of course, the natural lighting isn’t able to do all of the work for a 24-hour store. That’s complemented by a ceiling system that uses a similar stretched fabric-based lighting system as other Apple Stores. Here, however, the fabric will take on a more cloud-like structure with a more complicated geometrical shape than other Apple stores. The fabric houses tunable LED lights that react to the external environment. If it’s sunny outside, it will be brighter downstairs. When it’s cloudy, the lights will dim.

In all, there are five modes tuned to a 24-hour cycle, including:

  • Sunrise: 3,000K
  • Day: 4,500K-5,250K (depending on how bright it is outside)
  • Sunset: 3,000K
  • Evening: 3,250K
  • Night: 3,500K

Screen Shot 2019 09 17 at 12.21.48 PM

Sunrise and sunset are apparently the best time to check it out, as the lights glow warmly for about an hour or so. There are 80 ring lights in all, and around 500,000 LEDs, with about 2,500 LED spotlights used to illuminate tables and products inside the store. The natural lighting also will be used to keep alive eight trees and a green wall in the underground space. 

The newly remodeled store opens at 8AM on September 20, just in time to line up for the new iPhone.

I hope Apple Arcade makes room for weird cool shit

Apple Arcade seems purpose built to make room in the market for beautiful, sad, weird, moving, slow, clever and heartfelt. All things that the action, shooter and MOBA driven major market of games has done nothing to foster over the last decade.

I had a chance to play a bunch of the titles coming to Apple Arcade, which launched today in a surprise move for some early testers of iOS 13. Nearly every game I played was fun, all were gorgeous and some were really really great.

A few I really enjoyed, in no particular order:

20190524 WCF GameplayScreenshot wcf screenShot mcFishShakeJump 1080

Where Cards Fall — A Snowman game from Sam Rosenthal. A beautiful game with a clever card-based mechanic that allows room for story moments and a ramping difficulty level that should be fantastic for short play sessions. Shades of Monument Valley, of course, in its puzzle + story interleave and it its willingness to get super emotional about things right away. More of this in gaming! Super satisfying gameplay and crisp animations abound.

20190729 Overland GameplayScreenshot 09 Basin

Overland — Finji — Overland is one of my most anticipated games from the bunch, I’ve been following the development of this game from the Night in the Woods and Canabalt creators for a long time. It does not disappoint, with a stylized but somehow hyper-realized post apocalyptic turn-based system that transmits urgency through economy of movement. Every act you take counts. Given that it’s a rogue like, the story is told through the world rather than through an individual character’s narrative and the world does a great job of it.

20190517 Oceanhorn2 Oceanhorn2 Screenshot 7

Oceanhorn 2 — Cornfox & Brothers — The closest to a native Zelda you’ll get on iOS — this plays great on a controller. Do yourself a favor and try it that way.

20190712 Spek GameplayScreenshot Spek Screen C 3

Spek — RAC7 — One of those puzzle games people will plow through, it makes the mechanics simple to understand then begins to really push and prod at your mastery of them over time. The AR component of the app seems like it will be a better party game than solo experience, but the effects used here are great and it really plays with distance and perspective in a way that an AR game should. A good totem for the genre going forward.

I was able to play several of the games across all three platforms including Apple TV with an Xbox controller, iPhone and iPad. While some favored controller (Skate City) and others touch controls (Super Impossible Road), all felt like I could play them either way without much difficulty.

There are also some surprises in the initial batch of games like Lego Brawls — a Smash Brothers clone that will be a big hit for car rides and get togethers I think.

My hope is that the Apple Arcade advantage, an agressive $4.99 price and prime placement in the App Store, may help to create an umbrella of sorts for games that don’t fit the ‘big opening weekend’ revenue mold and I hope Apple leans into that. I know that there may be action-oriented and big name titles in the package now and in the future, and that’s fine. But there are many kinds of games out there that are fantastic but “minor” in the grand scheme of things and having a place that could create sustainability in the market for these gems is a great thing.

The financial terms were not disclosed by Apple but many of the developers appear to have gotten up front money to make games for the platform and, doubtless, there is a rev share on some sort of basis, probably usage or installs. Whatever it is, I hope the focus is on sustainability, but the people responsible for Arcade inside Apple are making all the right noises about that so I have hopes.

I am especially glad that Apple is being aggressive with the pricing and with the restrictions it has set for the store, including no in-app purchases or ads. This creates an environment where a parent (ratings permitting) can be confident that a kid playing games from the Arcade tab will not be besieged with casino ads in the middle of their puzzle game.

There is, however, a general irony in the fact that Apple had to create Apple Arcade because of the proliferation of loot box/currency/in-app purchase revenue models. An economy driven by the App Store’s overall depressive effect on the price of games and the decade long acclimation people have had to spending less and less, down to free, for games and apps on the store.

By bundling them into a subscription, Apple sidesteps the individual purchase barrier that it has had a big hand in creating in the first place. While I don’t think it is fully to blame — plenty of other platforms aggressively promote loot box mechanics — a big chunk of the responsibility to fix this distortion does rest on Apple. Apple Arcade is a great stab at that and I hope that the early titles are an indicator of the overall variety and quality that we can expect.

Apple hid a secret message in its latest YouTube video

Shortly after Apple’s iPhone 11 event yesterday, the company posted a drastically condensed “supercut” of everything they announced. Taking the two hour event and boiling it down to a little over two minutes, they still manage to cover just about everything — from new iPads, to new Watches, to new iPhones. And they tucked a little Easter egg in there, while they were at it!

Here’s the video:

First spotted by Gcarsk on the r/apple subreddit, it’s very much a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kinda thing. Hell, you might miss it even if you don’t blink, as it’s only on screen for a few tenths of a second. I had to rapid-fire hammer the space bar to pause the video long enough to grab the screenshot below. The frames flash on screen riiiight after the narrator says “the best-selling PC” at around the 1:23 mark.

The frames jab at the classic Blue Screen of Death that you might see when something goes real wrong on a Windows computer, announcing that “Error 09102019” (a nod to the event’s September 10th, 2019 date) has occurred:

apple message

See all the numbers at the bottom? If you recognize that as binary, you probably see where this is going. A hidden message within the hidden message!

Pop those into a binary-to-ascii converter, and a new bit of text is revealed. Don’t feel like typing out all those ones and zeroes? Here’s the full text of the message:

Error 09102019

This is just a thought. But it might be nice to have some sort of easter egg message in here for the hard core Apple fans that will stop the video.

01010011 01101111 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01110100 01101111 01101111 01101011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101001 01101101 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110100 01110010 01100001 01101110 01110011 01101100 01100001 01110100 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00111111 00100000

01010111 01100101 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00101110″

And — spoiler alert — the translated/decrypted text:

“So you took the time to translate this? We love you.”

iFixit gives Fairphone 3 a perfect 10 for repairability

Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.

Smartphone startup and social enterprise Fairphone’s latest repairable-by-design smartphone has done just that, getting 10/10 in an iFixit Teardown vs scores of just 6/10 for recent iPhone models.

The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.

iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score

Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.

Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.

To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)

The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.

So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.

It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.

But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.

Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)

At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.

Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.

Apple 2019 event

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.

Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)

“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.

If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.

As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.

Razer made a case for cooling iPhones while gaming

Razer’s efforts to build a game-centric smartphone haven’t exactly caught the world on fire just yet. Still, mobile gaming is a huge business poised to get even bigger, with services from big names like Apple and Google waiting in the wings.

Seeing as how accessories have long been the company’s bread and button, products like Arctech are probably an easier way for the company to ensure it’s got a horse in that race. The product is a phone case specifically designed to help stop phones from overheating during resource-intensive activities like gaming.

Thermaphene

The product uses Razer’s proprietary Thermaphene technology sandwiched between microfiber lining and an outer casing with perforations to help let the heat out. Per Razer,

Thermaphene is a thermally – conductive material that dissipates heat. In independent testing against similar style cases, the Razer Arctech case maintained temperatures up to 6° Celsius (42.8 Fahrenheit) lower than the comparison case.

There are two versions of the case, Slim and Pro, the latter of which offers added protection for up to a 10 foot drop. As for why the company’s launching today, in addition to the Razer Phone 2, the Arctech will be available for all of Apple’s new iPhones. The Slim runs $30 and the Pro is $40. They’re both available starting today.

What the iPhone 11 says about Apple’s present — and future

No matter how much polish and Apple magic the company put on today’s big event, there was one unshakable truth that colored the event: phones just aren’t selling like they used to. And unlike other industry-wide trends, Apple isn’t immune. The large scale slowdown of smartphone sales has had an undeniable impact on the company’s bottom line.

Casual observers may not have noticed, but that harsh truth impacted nearly every mobile announcement on stage today at the Steve Jobs theater. Two elements in particular really stood out, however:

  1. Content and services taking center stage
  2. Apple rethinking how the iPhone is positioned.

iPhone 11 Pro hands-on

More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company.

The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly.

The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively.

Apple iPhone 11

The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection.

That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true.

Apple iPhone 11 8245 4CCE AEA3 A3CC65F5E188

Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in.

The three cameras on the Pros are as follows:

12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS.

They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion.

iPhone 11 Apple

It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise.

The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story.

[gallery ids="1880064,1880063,1880061,1880060,1880006,1880000,1880005,1879991,1879992"]

Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 

Why does the new iPhone 11 Pro have 3 cameras?

On the back of the iPhone 11 Pro can be found three cameras. Why? Because the more light you collect, the better your picture can be. And we pretty much reached the limit of what one camera can do a little while back. Two, three, even a dozen cameras can be put to work creating a single photo — the only limitation is the code that makes them work.

Earlier in today’s announcements, Apple showed the base-level iPhone 11 with two cameras, but it ditched the telephoto for an ultrawide lens. But the iPhone Pro has the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto, its optical options covering an approximate 35mm equivalents of 13mm to 52mm, and 26mm.

threecams

“With these three cameras you have incredible creative control,” said Apple’s Phil Schiller during the stage presentation. “It is so pro, you’re going to love using it.”

Previously the telephoto lens worked with the wide-angle camera to produce portrait mode effects or take over when the user zooms in a lot. By combining the info from both those cameras, which have a slightly different perspective, the device can determine depth data, allowing it to blur the background past a certain point, among other things.

The ultra-wide lens provides even more information, which should improve the accuracy of portrait mode and other features. One nice thing about a wide angle on a dedicated sensor and camera system is the creators can build in lots of corrections so you don’t get crazy distortion at the corners or center. Fundamentally you’ll still want to back off a bit, because using an ultrawide lens on a face gives it a weird look.

While we’re all used to the pinch-to-zoom-in gesture, what you’re usually doing when you do that is a digital zoom, just looking closer at the pixels you already have. With an optical zoom, however, you’re switching between different pieces of glass and, in this case, different sensors, getting you closer to the action without degrading the image.

One nice thing about these three lenses is that they’ve been carefully chosen to work together well. You may have noticed that the ultra-wide is 13mm, the wide is twice that at 26mm, and the telephoto is twice that at 52mm.

wide1

The simple 2x factor makes it easy for users to understand, sure, but it also makes the image-processing math of switching between these lenses easier. And as Schiller mentioned on stage, “we actually pair the three cameras right at the factory calibrating for focus and color.”

Not only that, but when you’re shooting with the wide camera, it’s sharing information with the other two cameras, so when you switch to them, they’re already focused on the same point, shooting at the same speed and exposure, white balance, and so on. That makes switching between them mostly seamless even while shooting video (just be aware that you will shake the device when you tap it).

Apple’s improvements to the iPhone camera system this year are nowhere near as crazy as the switch from one to two cameras made by much of the industry a couple years back. But a wide, tele, and ultra-wide setup is a common one for photographers and no doubt will prove a useful one for everyone who buys into this rather expensive single-device solution.

iOS 13 will be available on September 19

Apple announced in a press release that iOS 13 will be available on September 19. Even if you don’t plan to buy a new iPhone, you’ll be able to get a bunch of new features.

But that’s not all. iOS 13.1 will be available on September 30. Apple had to remove some features of iOS 13.0 at the last minute as they weren’t stable enough, such as Shortcuts automations and the ability to share your ETA in Apple Maps. That’s why iOS 13.1 will be released shortly after iOS 13.

As always, iOS 13 will be available as a free download. If you have an iPhone 6s or later, an iPhone SE or a 7th-generation iPod touch, your device supports iOS 13.

In addition, watchOS 6 will be released on September 19. Unfortunately, Apple will release iPadOS 13 on September 30. And it looks like tvOS 13 will also be released on September 30, according to a separate press release.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 13. This year, in addition to dark mode, it feels like every single app has been improved with some quality-of-life updates. The Photos app features a brand new gallery view with autoplaying live photos and videos, smart curation and a more immersive design.

This version has a big emphasis on privacy, as well, thanks to a new signup option called “Sign in with Apple” and a bunch of privacy popups for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi consent. Apple Maps now features an impressive Google Street View-like feature called Look Around. It’s only available in a handful of cities, but I recommend… looking around, as everything is in 3D.

Many apps have been updated, such as Reminders with a brand new version, Messages with the ability to set a profile picture shared with your contacts, Mail with better text formatting options, Health with menstrual cycle tracking, Files with desktop-like features, Safari with a new website settings menu, etc. Read more on iOS 13 in my separate preview.

On the iPad front, for the first time Apple is calling iOS for the iPad under a new name — iPadOS. Multitasking has been improved, the Apple Pencil should feel snappier, Safari is now as powerful as Safari on macOS and more.