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Apple extends its discounts on USB-C gear through March 31st

Apple has tacitly acknowledged that prospective MacBook Pro buyers remain skittish about having to buy dongles just to keep using their favorite peripherals. The company is extending its sale on USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 peripherals through March 31st, giving you another three months to pick up adapters and cables at a discount. As before, some of the bargains are better than others — the USB-C to USB-A adapter is down from $19 to $9, for instance, while SanDisk’s USB-C SD card reader is down from $49 to $29. This still won’t be completely satisfying if you absolutely need dongles to attach your devices (a USB-A adapter in MacBook boxes would be great, Apple), but there’s a bit less pressure to buy them before you’re ready.

There’s also good news if you want one of Apple’s ultimate peripherals. It just started selling LG’s 27-inch UltraFine 5K display, making it under the wire for that promised December release window. The $974 display (normally $1,300) won’t ship for another 2 to 4 weeks if you didn’t order one right away, but the first customers should be getting theirs before 2016 is over. As with its smaller 4K sibling, the allure is routing everything through a single Thunderbolt 3 cable — you can charge your MacBook Pro and connect three USB-C devices without plugging in a rat’s nest of wires. It’s not quite as general-purpose as other 5K displays (it’s primarily intended for the Mac crowd), but its relatively low price makes it a deal compared to alternatives from the likes of Dell and HP.

Via: 9to5Mac (1), (2)

Source: Apple (LG), (accessories)


‘Dawn of Titans’ shrinks an epic strategy game onto your phone

This year alone, 1.4 billion smartphones will be sold, giving more people have access to gaming devices than ever before. But with more than 1,000 new apps flooding the App Store every day, it’s increasingly difficult for new titles to make an impact. Every so often, a game like Pokémon Go comes along, proving that if you have the right “hook,” you can find a massive audience.

NaturalMotion believes technology is its hook. The British gaming studio started life creating animation engines, with its software used for everything from The Lord of the Rings movies to Grand Theft Auto V. It then packed that tech into mobile games like Clumsy Ninja that, thanks to their visual edge, quickly topped the App Store. That success led to the studio being bought for $527 million by casual-gaming giant Zynga. It’s been nearly three years since the acquisition, though, and the pressure is on for NaturalMotion to deliver a fresh hit.

The studio is hoping that pushing the processing power of modern smartphones is enough to get players downloading again. Moving away from the simple titles that built them an empire, NaturalMotion’s latest title, Dawn of Titans, is the developer’s first foray into action-strategy gaming.

For a mobile game, Dawn of Titans offers an unusual sense of scale. Upon opening the app, you find yourself looking over an intricately detailed floating kingdom, fully rendered 3D castles and buildings sitting before you as tiny villagers wander around them in real time. It’s a level of detail you’d expect to see in a console game, not on an app’s home screen.

Although not quite as detailed, the battles themselves are also pretty spectacular. With the studio clearly taking cues from Creative Assembly’s Total War series, Dawn of Titans sees you leading thousands of soldiers into battle against either real-life or AI-controlled foes. Combat is simple: Skirmishes last around a minute, and you command each type of unit to attack with the flick of a finger. Most of the real strategizing takes place long before any swords clash. Offline missions and online fights reward you with in-game currency, and between matches you train your units and equip your most prized warriors.

NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil explains that simplicity is the key to success. “Those epic battles that you see in the likes of The Lord of the Rings, they don’t exist on mobile. We felt like we could do that and make them pass the Starbucks test.” Reil pauses, gesturing at the opposing army lying defeated on the screen. “For it to work on mobile, you need to be able to win a battle in the time it takes you to buy a coffee.”

“..Successful games create an environment that you want to spend time in, where you make friends. Then, eventually, some people will want to pay.”

Sensibly, this time NaturalMotion is choosing to avoid heavy-handed micro transactions. “[Dawn of Titans] doesn’t nickel-and-dime you because when we tried that in the past, players just dropped out of the game,” he explains. “In this new generation of free-to-play, I think all the successful games create an environment that you want to spend time in, where you make friends. Then, eventually, some people will want to pay.”

As enjoyable as Dawn of Titans is, it needs to do more than impress gamers like me. Facebook gaming has fallen by the wayside and NaturalMotion’s parent company Zynga’s relevance and profits have declined with it. The Farmville creator has bet big on NaturalMotion, and despite performing well initially, the company’s first game since the acquisition, CSR Racing 2, has since dropped out of the top 50 on the App Store charts. A lot is riding on Dawn of Titans‘ success.

NaturalMotion’s CEO seems less worried. “If we wow people, it spreads word of mouth.” Reil says. “It’s actually a very specific focus that we have with all of our games. Our business model is if we invest more in the product, then we invest less in user acquisition.”

But its competitors reportedly spend almost $1 million a day on star-studded ad campaigns, and NaturalMotion is going to need more than just word of mouth to succeed. Reil argued that Zynga has the resources to compete. “If we want to compete with Clash of Clans — with any of these companies– we can,” he says. I’m not so sure. That may have been true in 2012 when Zynga was valued at $11.5 billion, but now the company is worth just $2.4 billion, less than a quarter of Clash of Clans maker Supercell (which also has the financial clout of Tencent, a $250 billion company, behind it).

Since my discussion with Reil, Dawn of Titans was released on both Android and iOS. As of December 19th, it ranked 64th in the App Store’s “Top Grossing” list and 50th in the corresponding Google Play chart. It’s off to a decent start, for sure, but with Zynga unable to match its rivals’ marketing budgets, Dawn of Titans will have to hook a lot more players if it’s to succeed in this cutthroat market.


Apple is reportedly putting Mac development on the back burner

Apple only released one substantial update to its entire lineup of Mac computers in 2016, and what a controversial update it was. To many outsider observers, the last year made it feel like the Mac is far from a priority at Apple — and a report from the reliable Mark Gurman of Bloomberg backs that up. According to Gurman’s anonymous sources, the Mac team just isn’t a priority with Jony Ive’s design team, the company’s software team or senior management at large. Additionally, both technical challenges and the departures of key members of the Mac team have also slowed things down.

Perhaps the most notable example Gurman gives comes from the new MacBook Pro. Originally, Apple engineers wanted to use the “tiered” battery system found in the 12-inch MacBook to get more capacity into the new MacBook Pro lineup. But the new battery failed some key tests prior to launch, so Apple had to revert to an older, more standard battery design that resulted in worse battery life as well as disorganization and scrambling as the company pulled in engineers from other teams to get everything squared away. Gurman says this affected development on other parts of the Mac lineup.

It’s a pretty big black eye for Apple, as many reports and reviews have noted how the MacBook Pro’s battery life is just not up to par with its competition and doesn’t represent what most expect when spending so much money. In fact, since the computer launched, Apple pushed out a software update that removed “time remaining” estimates from macOS (the company claims the MacBook Pro’s battery functions as expected, but that the OS is just not showing proper battery life estimates).

Speaking of macOS, Gurman reports that there’s no longer a dedicated team for developing the Mac’s software. There’s just one big software team that works across iOS and the Mac. That makes a lot of sense given the close ties between the systems that have developed in recent years — but it also means that iOS gets the lion’s share of resources. That’s reasonable given the iPhone’s massive importance to Apple’s bottom line, but it’s still bad news for those of us who like seeing continued Mac innovation.

It’s not just on the software side — Jony Ive and his design team are also visiting with the Mac team much less and not reviewing nearly as many concepts as they used to. This might explain why the spec bump that the 12-inch MacBook received earlier this year was so minor. Originally, Apple had planned to add a second USB-C port and Touch ID, two additions that would have been most welcome. But instead Apple added a rose gold color option and a slightly faster processor.

Of course, Apple maintains that it’s business as usual for the Mac. “We have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that,” CEO Tim Cook said recently in a company Q&A session that Bloomberg reported on. But the fact that Apple’s own employees are questioning the company’s dedication to it’s former flagship product has to say something about what’s going on in Cupertino.

Source: Bloomberg


Apple still has ‘great desktops’ on the way

If you’ve been following the Mac lineup in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Apple had largely given up on desktops. The current-generation iMac is over a year old, the Mac mini hasn’t been updated since 2014 and the Mac Pro hasn’t been touched since it was redesigned in 2013. Does the company care about people who need more power than a laptop? Yes, if you ask Tim Cook. In an internal forum post, the CEO explains that desktops remain “really important” and that there are “great desktops in our roadmap.”

The reasons why won’t shock you. Simply put, you can “pack a lot more performance” in a computer that isn’t constrained by portability — bigger displays, extra ports and just more raw power. Sometimes that difference is “critical” to users, Cook adds.

There weren’t signs that Apple was about to axe desktops, and to some extent it’s at the mercy of Intel. Remember, Intel’s 7th-generation Core processors won’t be available in desktop form until January at the earliest — Apple can’t really update the iMac’s processors until then. It doesn’t have as much justification for the Mac mini or Mac Pro, but customers might not be happy if it slapped older chips into those systems at this point.

Cook’s statement still leaves a lot of uncertainty, though. Just which desktops still have a life left at Apple? And more importantly, will future revisions address criticisms? Mac Pro customers, for example, have complained both about neglect (a modern 5K iMac is more powerful in some respects) and a design that’s at once overkill and doesn’t go far enough. Pros don’t always want dual processors and dual graphics cards, but they sometimes want more expansion than the current Mac Pro can offer. Although Apple may still care about desktops, there’s a lingering concern it either treats them as a low priority or doesn’t understand what desktop buyers really want.

Source: TechCrunch


Apple Offering Free Next Day Shipping for the Holidays

Apple today updated its online website to announce free next-day shipping for all orders placed by 2:00 p.m. by Friday, December 23, giving last minute shoppers a chance to place orders before Christmas.

Orders placed before the December 23 cut off date will arrive in time for Christmas in most cases, but customers will need to confirm delivery times at checkout.

Apple normally limits free next-day delivery to iPhones, with free two-day shipping on most other products, but during the holidays, Apple often offers upgraded shipping. Apple also has an online gift guide for customers who need gift ideas, recommending iPhones, iPads, Macs, and related accessories.

Customers who live near an Apple Store who are looking for last minute gifts can also get items using in-store pickup. Today’s new shipping policy comes just as AirPods have begun shipping out to customers, but in-store sales are the only way to get Apple’s newest accessory as online sales are sold out through January.
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This was the year of VR, until AR stole it

This was supposed to be the year of virtual reality, but barely had 2016 started when Microsoft threw a spanner in the works with the announcement of HoloLens. Rather than taking us to a virtual world, Microsoft’s headset pulls virtual objects into our own. Microsoft calls these objects Holograms, much to the chagrin of hologram enthusiasts, but most people know them as tenets of mixed, or augmented, reality. It’s already being touted as the next next big thing.

Of course, 2016 was full of VR. With spring came the retail launch of the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Valve-endorsed Vive. Both require two things: a lot of cash and a lot of power. The Rift costs $599 while the Vive is $799 (including controllers and tracking accoutrements). But then you need to factor in the price of a PC that can support the high-fidelity, high-speed visuals VR requires. A typical all-in price started from $1,500, putting it out of the range of all but the most ardent of gamers. That price has dropped and will continue to drop as cheaper, better graphics cards are released.

There are no firm figures for how many VR kits have been sold. Steam statistics suggest that just 0.34 percent of its users in November had a headset. Even counting gamers who don’t use Steam, that would likely put the total figure sold across both Vive and Oculus at well under a million. That estimation is in line with VR analytics group SuperData Research, which projected around 450,000 HTC Vive sales and 355,000 Oculus Rift sales for 2016.

Just as Oculus and HTC should’ve been dominating the news cycle, Magic Leap, the secretive Google-backed mixed reality (MR) startup, finally broke cover with a Wired feature. Magic Leap is basically promising to do the same things as HoloLens, but better.

Details are scant, but rather than projecting images onto a portion of a giant helmet (like Microsoft’s headset), Magic Leap will beam light into your eyes, using a system called Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal to give these objects depth and solidity. The company has yet to show off any hardware or software or even suggest a year when its tech will be ready, but it’s nonetheless one of the best-funded startups around. Wired’s Magic Leap feature came in April, within weeks of the Vive and Rift launches. The timing was obvious, and the message was clear: There’s something better around the corner.

In the meantime, an ex-Google startup with a couple dozen employees was preparing to steal everyone’s attention with a mobile game. I’m talking about Niantic, of course, and Pokémon Go, which was undoubtedly the hit game of the summer, if not the year.

Somewhat erroneously referred to as an augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go is better described as a location-based game, like geocaching, with a pervasive layer on top. Definitions aside, there can be no doubt that AR has been a big part of its huge success. When catching Pokémon, players are shown a live feed from their device’s camera with a monster overlaid. Hundreds of thousands of people shared these images on social media, helping spread intrigue about the game.


Before long, packs of Pokémon hunters were roaming New York, London, Paris and other locations around the world, searching for new monsters and using an AR system to help catch them. Unlike Niantic’s last game, Ingress, this wasn’t just geeks and gamers. I can count on one hand the number of Ingress players I know. With Pokémon Go, I can count on one hand the people I know who didn’t play it. My 64-year-old mom played. My 10-year-old son played. It felt like, at one point, almost everyone gave it a shot. By the time Niantic announced an Apple Watch app for Pokémon Go, the game had already been downloaded 500 million times. That’s a ridiculous number.

Of course, crazes rise and fall, and it’s safe to say that Pokémon Go is, if not gone, seemingly on its way out of the public’s imagination. But its impact remains. My colleague Kris Naudus referred to Pokémon Go as AR’s aha moment, and I agree. For a fleeting minute, the game brought a little Pokémon magic into our world. It’s one of the most basic implementations of AR around, but we found it compelling. That should be encouraging for Microsoft, Magic Leap and any other company that’s planning a mixed or augmented reality product.

So where does that leave virtual reality? Well, there are still plenty of headsets out there, and VR is not going away anytime soon. Sony launched the PlayStation VR just a month ago, and it’s expected to equal Vive and Rift sales combined by the year’s end. It’s not that PSVR offers a better experience than its PC-based cousins. It’s just a lot cheaper — $399 to $499, depending on your needs — and has a way bigger reach. Steam stats suggest little over 10 percent of PC gamers have a VR-ready computer. Every PlayStation 4 owner can plug in a PSVR and get started. That gives Sony somewhere between two and four times the potential audience.

And even PSVR’s prospective audience is dwarfed by the potential market for smartphone VR. Google has sold cheap Cardboard viewers for a couple of years, but this year the company announced Daydream, a new initiative to bring a more premium VR experience to mobile users. Daydream View is a $79, comfortable headset sold with a bundled motion controller. At present, only Google’s Pixel and the updated Moto Z are Daydream-certified — a side effect of the high standard of experience that Google is hoping to maintain — but you can bet that many Android phones will support the standard in 2017.

VR, AR, MR and every other “R” need to coexist for a while. For now virtual reality is the easiest to pull off — software and hardware makers have the fewest things to keep track of and complete control of the virtual environment — and also the most developed. It’s fairly easy for a developer to build a VR app or for a manufacturer to make a VR-ready phone. Mixed reality is clearly harder.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is effectively a wearable computer, making thousands of calculations every second just to understand its environment. And its limitations, such as field of view, are way more apparent than those of a VR headset. The virtual objects of HoloLens have to be small enough — or faraway enough — to fit into a small square in the middle of the headset. You simply can’t see the whole illusion. Perhaps Magic Leap already has the answer to that problem, but given how many years it’s been in development — and how little it’s shown so far — it’s likely not a simple thing to figure out.

In 2017, Microsoft’s partners will release a handful of $300 VR headsets for Windows. Rather than competing with existing VR products, these headsets are more like a diet HoloLens. You’ll get the same experience, interface and apps as HoloLens, but your entire environment will be virtual. Think of it like a gateway drug for mixed reality. In one swoop, it’s getting both developers and users ready for MR, without the tribulations of dealing with first-generation, hyper-expensive headsets.

At the same time, Google is currently working on a device that uses cameras and algorithms to display mixed reality inside a virtual reality headset. It’s essentially going to be a combination of VR and Google’s Tango computer vision efforts, with a lot of extra smarts added on top. Again, the project seems almost like a stepping-stone toward a more complete mixed reality experience. The device has yet to be announced, but sources familiar with the matter say it’s of great importance to the company.

The dark horse in all of this is Apple. As is tradition, there’s been a lot of speculation and questions asked about the company’s plans for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. CEO Tim Cook has said that AR is more interesting than VR, as it’s less closed off and more social. The company has already acquired an AR company, and it has experts in the field within its ranks. Its iPhones clearly have the power and sensors to pull off a Daydream-like VR experience immediately, but it’s obviously waiting to offer something more compelling to its users.


There can be no doubt that ‘virtual reality’ headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stopgap until mixed reality is ready.

There can be no doubt that “virtual reality” headsets like the Vive, Rift and Daydream View are just a stop-gap until mixed reality is ready. That probably sounds like a bold statement, but it’s easy to justify. Mixed reality headsets will, at some point make virtual objects appear solid. HoloLens isn’t there yet, sure, but Magic Leap claims to be, and you can be sure Microsoft is working on it.

Once these headsets are able to display opaque objects and cover our entire field of view, developers and creatives will have total control over what we see. They can decide to mix or augment our surroundings, like we’ve already seen with Magic Leap and HoloLens, or completely scrap that environment and put us in a virtual space, like with a VR headset. It should only take a few taps to send us to an augmented reality, a virtual one and back to our own.

This year showed millions of people how fun it can be to see a digital creation entering their world. And maybe 2017 won’t be the year, but as technology catches up to its aspirations, we might soon be able to see how fun it is to have millions of digital creations do the same.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.


‘Minecraft’ for Apple TV arrives today

A big part of Mincraft’s success is how the game is available on basically every platform you can think of. Today, that list got one longer: Minecraft is now available on the Apple TV. As usual, it’s the Minecraft experience you know and perhaps love, but with a few things missing. Namely, the multiplayer Minecraft Realms and Xbox Live support, though the developers say those features will be added in the “near future.” The $19.99 entry price gets you the game as well as seven DLC packs: the Holiday 2015, Town Folk and City Folk skin packs as well as the Plastic, Natural, Cartoon, and Festive 2016 “mash-ups.”

Minecraft was first announced for Apple TV by Tim Cook at Apple’s October MacBook Pro refresh event, though details on how the game would play were slim. But the game sounds like it’ll be pretty up-to-date, aside from those missing multiplayer features. The Apple TV edition will include the just-announced “Ender update,” which brings a whole bunch of new single-player content to the experience. If you want to check it all out, you can go grab the app on Apple TV now.

Source: Minecraft


Ireland says EU overstepped authority over Apple tax bill

Ireland says the European Union overstepped its authority and misinterpreted the country’s laws when it ordered the country to claim 13 billion euros ($13.59 billion) in allegedly unpaid taxes from Apple. The company will also reportedly dispute this figure later this week. It’s by far the highest tax bill chased by the EU, and is one of multiple cases it’s pursuing against corporate tax deals granted by EU countries. The commission says that lower tax bills create illegal “state aid”, giving firms advantages over rivals.

Ireland’s appeal to overturn the decision by the European Commission centers on the fact that rulings “did not depart from ‘normal’ taxation”. It says it followed a portion of the Irish tax code that said nonresident companies should not pay income tax on profit that isn’t generated in Ireland.

Apple says that the majority of profits from the two Irish-registered businesses at the center of the case were based on intellectual property developed in the US, meaning it shouldn’t be taxable in Ireland Apple will have to pay its tax bill in the next few weeks. However, the money will be held until a final ruling from the EU courts — which could take years.

Ireland adds that the Commission is “attempt(ing to) rewrite the Irish corporation tax rules.” The country has pretty good motives to continue offering tax incentives. Dublin houses (or has housed) European HQs for Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, PayPal, AirBnB, Uber and many more. If the EU gets its way, it could well affect Ireland’s status as European tech hub.

Source: WSJ


Apple formally challenges the EU’s tax demands

Apple is about to fight the European Commission’s claims that it must pay the €13 billion in back taxes ($13.6 billion) it allegedly owes from its deal with Ireland. The American firm tells Reuters that it’s planning to appeal the ruling this week on the grounds that it not only can’t abide by the decision, but that the figures don’t make sense. To start, Apple argues that the EC falsely determined that two of its business units existed solely on paper, and thus didn’t justify their untaxed profits. They were real, actively managed companies, the company claims. Also, Apple reportedly can’t comply with the decision without making Ireland violate past tax laws that had different rules for residents and non-residents.

As for the numbers? Apple says that European officials ignored advice from Ireland-chosen tax experts when deciding on the penalty, allegedly to maximize the financial damage. The models they suggested for a payout were more realistic, but also led to “much lower numbers” than what the EU ultimately decided on, Apple’s Bruce Sewell argues. He goes on to portray Apple as a “convenient target,” since attacking its practices attracts media attention, and asserts that the Commission itself is exploiting a loophole based on the differences between Europe’s localized tax approach and the US’ global method.

The Commission is likely to fight hard to keep its ruling in place. It believes that Ireland violated EU rules by giving Apple a special tax break, providing an unfair advantage over other companies. However, it’s not going to face Apple alone. Ireland denies that it helped Apple skirt the law, and it still has a strong motivation to offer tax incentives — its reputation as a tech hub was largely built by convincing companies that it was worth setting up shop (and storing money) on the Emerald Isle. It’s concerned that letting the EU collect would scare companies away and hurt its long-term fortunes.

Source: Reuters


After Math: Come undone

It’s been a hell of a week, folks. American intelligence confirmed that Russia conspired to hack of our election, Uber unleashed a pack of poorly trained autonomous automobiles upon the streets of San Francisco, Snapchat’s Spectacles went all medicinal and Super Mario Run debuted on iOS. Numbers, because how else are you going to know how many fingers are feeding you magic?

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