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AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple’s OCD

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ZDNet

On Friday, a year and a half after AirPower was first announced in September of 2017 in conjunction with the rollout of iPhone X and iPhone 8, and after months of speculation about its absence at the most recent Apple hardware events, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio, confirmed that the company would cancel the product. In an e-mail letter sent to technology website TechCrunch, he wrote that AirPower would “not achieve our high standards.” 


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To recap, AirPower was the extremely ambitious high-speed wireless charging pad that was intended to juice up an iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch simultaneously using Apple’s own implementation of the Qi wireless charging standard. 

Unlike other charging pads on the market designed to handle multiple products at once, the AirPower distinguished itself by having the capability of charging the iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch all at the same time regardless of their orientation and positioning in relation to the charging coils. This would have made it the most user-friendly and desirable wireless charger on the market — had it actually been released. 

Allegedly, based on conceptual patent filings, the AirPower was able to achieve this flexible orientation wireless charging by having many 3D coils in extremely close proximity to each other — which also required extremely complex power management in order to prevent the coils from generating excessive heat and to mitigate the generation of overlapping harmonic frequencies between the coils.

As it is, Apple’s own Qi implementation runs at a lower 7.5W rather than the maximum 10W and 15W of its Android competitors, reportedly because the newer generation iPhones with wireless charging capability got way too hot at those increased power levels.

Ultimately, I believe Apple did the right thing. Can you imagine the potential “PowerGate” of cooked iPhones, Watches and AirPods? It’s far less egg on Apple’s face to cancel the product outright than to release a dangerous dud.

Apple very rarely cancels products outright after announcing them. The last time it did this was in August of 1996, when it decided to cancel its Copland OS, which proved too difficult a project for the company. It eventually ended up migrating to Mac OS X, which is heavily based on NeXT’s (and Steve Jobs’) BSD UNIX OpenStep object-oriented graphical OS instead.

The public cancellation of AirPower is a huge embarrassment for Apple. But given the company’s obsession with bleeding edge engineering and its compulsion for thinner, lighter, faster, more densely packed and difficult-to-repair products, such an embarrassment was inevitable.

It was only a matter of time before the technologically ambitious post-Steve Jobs Apple, like Icarus, would fly too close to the sun.

Indeed, Apple’s obsession with sleek industrial designs that outperform rivals is what attracts many customers to the company’s products in the first place.

But AirPower is not Apple’s only problem product: Over the last decade we’ve had Antennagate, Batterygate, Flexgate, Bendgate, iPhone WiFi connectivity issues and various system stability problems over multiple generations of iOS 11 and 12. Most recently, the engineering quality of the keyboards used in the 2015 and later versions of MacBook Pro are under intense scrutiny by even the company’s most loyal adherents.

Many of these problem products are the result of Apple pushing the envelope to release new features, rather than concentrating on product stability. However, we have to give the company credit where credit is due. Without Apple’s push towards innovation, without its capturing of the bulk of mind share in the luxury consumer electronics  market, we probably would not have seen competitors such as Microsoft, Google and Samsung release equally compelling products. 

Without the introduction of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, would we have even seen Microsoft Surface come to fruition and become the most desirable touchscreen Wintel PC laptop line in the technology industry? 

Would we have seen Samsung and Huawei release folding phones — with cutting-edge through-the-screen ultrasonic fingerprint readers and facial recognition — had Apple not upped the game with iPhone X? 

Would we have seen Google push the capabilities of smartphone cameras and image processing in the Pixel Phone had Apple not established the gold standard in mobile device camera performance in the iPhone 5 and later models? 

Would we have even seen an Alexa or a Google Assistant without the introduction of Siri? It’s hard to say.

But all of this thinness, lightness, sleekness and density of features comes at a price. Consumer electronics, not just Apple’s own products — have become virtually unserviceable. There are no batteries on smartphones that an end-user can swap out, there’s no memory or disk storage on most new laptops currently sold that can be field replaced or upgraded. 


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The thinning and sleeking of these devices has killed off the legacy expansion and built-in connectivity that we used to take for granted. We also now enjoy less business-friendliness and durability, and our devices now require thick, rubberized plastic cases — negating much of the sex appeal of the iPhone and iPad — in order to prevent severe damage in even shallow drop scenarios. 

Going case-less with an iPhone and with its Android rivals is now foolhardy at best, and will virtually ensure the device will be damaged with a single misstep or a sweep of the hand.

My recently corporate-issued MacBook Pro 2018 A1990 is a technical marvel of lightweight power. But to make it work on my desk at home, connected to a mouse, external keyboard, two 4K DisplayPort monitors, a HD webcam, a wireless headset and gigabit ethernet, I needed to buy a $300 Thunderbolt 3.1 hub because the thing only has 4 USB-C ports for connectivity. 

Arguably, most laptops requiring desktop peripheral connectivity have needed similar docking stations in the past. But even for basic connectivity in mobility scenarios, MacBook Pro customers complain about having to buy and carry multiple “dongles” to get the functionality they need because they are missing the necessary ports. The dongles on Apple products are so despised that they have become meme legend in recent years.

With the cancellation of AirPower, Apple has an opportunity to reflect on all of these things that have been the focus of customer ire and engineering embarrassment. The company needs to stop the ultra-thin, ultra-light train and focus more on product build quality and reliability. It needs to reconsider right-to-repair and overall ease of serviceability, and improving the customer experience with service requests at their retail stores.

Has Apple finally flown too close to the sun with its cancellation of AirPower? What does it need to do in order to get back on track with shipping reliable and well-engineered products that gave it such loyal fan base in the first place?Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash and integrating video tools into its own app – TechCrunch

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Reddit is shutting down Dubsmash, its short-form TikTok-like video platform, on February 22, 2022. The company says after February, Dubsmash will no longer be available for download in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Currently downloaded apps will stop functioning on the same date.

The company acquired Dubsmash in December 2020 and had said it would integrate its video creation tools into Reddit. Following the acquisition, Dubsmash’s leadership team joined Reddit. Now, nearly a year later, Reddit says the Dubsmash team has been accelerating the app’s video offerings and that parts of Reddit will feel familiar to Dubsmash users.

“Since joining, the Dubsmash team has been working to integrate their innovative video creation tools into Reddit — with a goal of empowering Reddit’s own creators to express themselves in original ways that are authentic to our communities,” Reddit said in a blog post. “Combining forces has been a perfect match. Reddit is where passionate communities come together for timely, interactive and authentic exchanges about topics that matter to them, and video is increasingly core to how people want to connect.”

As part of the integration, Reddit has announced that it’s rolling out new video creation tools. New camera features include the ability to change recording speeds and the option to set a timer. Users can now also upload videos in landscape, portrait mode and fill, as well as adjust and trim multiple clips. The company is also adding a new editing screen that includes text Stickers, a drawing tool and filters. And users have the option to add voiceovers or adjust the volume directly on the editing screen.

Image Credits: Reddit

In August, Reddit rolled out a video feed feature for iOS users, which shows a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award or share it. Similar to TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. The launch of the new video feed came as Instagram’s Reels feature and Snapchat’s Spotlight tool were gaining traction, as social media platforms were looking to compete with TikTok.

Reddit says video content is soaring on Reddit, as it has seen nearly 70% growth in overall hours watched. It notes that there has been a 30% increase in the growth of daily active video viewers. The app has also seen a 50% increase in quarter-over-quarter short video viewership, which it describes as less than than 2 seconds, in its new video player.

It’s worth noting that Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to selected subreddits.

Now that Reddit has completed its Dubsmash integration, it’s no surprise that it’s looking to garner more users with the launch of its new video creation tools as it aims to continue to compete with TikTok. However, apps like TikTok and Snapchat go beyond simple video creation, as they also leverage sounds and music on their platforms. It’s unknown if Reddit will take its video ambitions further by following suit in the future.

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World Mobile Group bringing Zanzibaris online through mobile network built on blockchain – TechCrunch

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As the world quickly transitions into a global village thanks to the rapid penetration of internet networks, it is easy for some people to be left behind owing to the remoteness of their locations. In most parts of Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, for example, services by terrestrial cable and satellite networks are deficient, leaving a big percentage of the population uncovered. But, if plans by the World Mobile Group — a global telecommunications operator — materialize, many Zanzibaris will be connecting to the internet for the first time in the next few months.

World Mobile is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity using spectrums like free-space optical communication and other radio transmitters, which do not require licensing, translating to less expensive internet access.

The spectrums connect to multiple air nodes to create a mesh network, providing internet coverage to far-flung villages.

“There’s a lot of fiber optics that have been laid throughout the continent, and we pick up on the last mile of fiber and use alternative spectrums like free-space optics, or other radio spectrums that do not require licensing,” World Mobile group CEO and founder Micky Watkins told TechCrunch.

Watkins said that because they do not require licenses for these alternative spectrums they get a massive tax saving, which translates to cheaper internet for users.

“We use these alternative spectrums to build the backhaul (connection between an access node and the core network) and then create a device (node) that people can use to pick up from that backhaul,” said Watkins.

For sustainability, the air nodes will be owned by private entities, through a one-off fee of about $7,000 that they will recoup over time by earning income or rewards in the form of World Mobile Token (WMT), the operator’s cryptocurrency, as people connect to the internet through their access points. The network operator is working with micro-lenders in financing entrepreneurs to buy the nodes.

Each air node provides reliable Wi-Fi internet to 500 to 700 people, and other ancillary utilities like public lighting through integrated solar-powered floodlights.

Watkins said the concept of a sharing economy reduces operational expenditures incurred in maintenance, security and leasing costs, while also powering a self-sustaining business model.

“And now the residents have a choice; do I own livestock or is it better for me to own part of a telecom infrastructure and run a telecommunications platform? This option was never there before; so, just like Uber or Airbnb, we are operating under the sharing economy model.”

World Mobile is currently serving about 3,000 customers on the five pilot sites, but has plans to expand to 30 sites by January — as it moves to fast-track the connectivity efforts.

Watkins said that current users spend about $4 a month on internet usage. The operator has a network of vendors where users onboard their fiat cash or buy WMT, the company’s digital currency, to connect to the internet.

World Mobile has a more ambitious plan of covering Zanzibar in five years, making internet available to the entire population of 1.5 million people, stepping up competition for traditional network companies like Zanlink and satellite internet companies like GlobalTT teleport and operator.

“We have a few deals that are coming through the pipeline that will allow us to have connectivity throughout the whole of Zanzibar, including the whole shoreline and in between mainland (Tanzania) and the borders of Zanzibar, allowing us to implement IoT, as well as connectivity for the people,” said Watkins.

The company is set to roll out the network in Kenya and Tanzania, where they already have operations, over the coming months.

“This is a movement, and this can be the biggest mobile network in the world that is run by the people. No one has ever done that before. So that’s what we’re actually going for,” said Watkins.

Zanzibar, an autonomous island in East Africa, is a popular tourist destination. World Mobile Group is building infrastructure for last-mile connectivity to bring the unconnected online. Image Credits: World Mobile Group

How Zanzibar is tapping connectivity to build a digital economy

As more citizens get connected, the Zanzibar government has started implementing its digital economy framework, a plan it had shelved for over a decade.

Among the many ideas it had laid out and is now on course for includes tapping connectivity to grow its blue economy and to develop solutions that protect Zanzibar’s blue economy from illegal fishing trawlers.

Zanzibar’s ocean-based activities provide employment to 33% of its labor force and contribute more than 29% of the island’s GDP, but could realize more from its ocean-based wealth with better technologies.

It will also help in building infrastructure that will help it automate all its administrative tasks and processes. This means building an e-government system that would allow the interaction of government with its citizens, businesses, employees and between its agencies. The investment will make the government more accessible to its citizens, who no longer need to physically visit offices for services or information.

“The new administration is really focusing on digital transformation. We need to get there. But first we’re going to ensure that everybody can access the internet at an affordable rate,” said Said Seif Said, director general of the E-Government Agency of Zanzibar (eGaz).

The agency was established to promote policies, standards and other practices to improve ICT uptake across the public institutions.

“We might have a different solution like an integrated blue economy management system — which means we’re including satellite automatic identification systems, vessel management systems and drones. So, all this is to solve the problem of illegal unreported and unregistered fishing. And all these technologies need the connectivity to be in place.”

The urgency to digitize has partly been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated Zanzibar’s plan for a digital government and economy. Zanzibar is now compensating for the time lost by quickening its pace toward that transition.

“The COVID pandemic has really changed how we do everything and we need to enable our citizens to do what they need to do from their homes. We have to ensure the sheer accessibility of government services countrywide in an affordable, effective and efficient manner through the appropriate use of ICT, and that’s where this collaboration with the World Mobile Group and Input Output Global (IOG) comes in,” he said.

In the partnership, IOG, a blockchain and digital identity firm behind Cardano blockchain, will automate Zanzibar’s systems by implementing blockchain technology in registry systems to provide “digital identifications with traceability”. It will also integrate back-end government systems to enable business-process automation and facilitate the flow of communication within government institutions.

World Mobile subscribers will access Atala PRISM, IOG’s digital identity solution for services such as education, banking and healthcare.

Meanwhile, Zanzibar is launching a blockchain academy that will, beginning early next year, hold conferences as the tourist destination positions itself as a blockchain center of the future.

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Twitter iOS update prevents tweets from disappearing while you’re reading them – TechCrunch

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Twitter is updating its iOS app to prevent tweets from disappearing while users are still reading them. The change comes as the social media giant recently updated its web platform to no longer automatically refresh timelines with new tweets. Twitter acknowledged that in the past, tweets would often disappear from view as users were reading them when their timeline would automatically refresh, creating a frustrating experience.

“We’ve made some updates on iOS to prevent Tweets from disappearing mid-read. Now when you pause your timeline scrolling to look at a Tweet, it should stay put!,” Twitter outlined in a tweet.

In September, the company noted it would be rolling out updates to the way it displays tweets so that they wouldn’t disappear mid-read. These updates have now rolled out to Twitter’s web and iOS platforms. Twitter notes that it’s working on making changes to the disappearing tweet experience on Android too, but it’s unknown when the updates will roll out.

Twitter also recently announced that it will no longer automatically crop image previews on the web, after rolling out full-size image previews on mobile earlier this year. On Twitter for the web, images will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline, images will look just like they did when you shot them. The social media giant first tested the change in March with a small subset of iOS and Android users.

These tweaks come as Twitter has been working to enhance its platform and make its services more accessible. The social media giant recently rolled out the ability for users to share direct links to their Spaces to let others tune into a live audio session via the web without being logged into the platform. The company also recently introduced its in-app tipping feature to all Android users above the age of 18.

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