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Hands-on with Apple’s new iPad Pro and MacBook Air

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What’s old is new again. The MacBook Air has been modernized, and the iPad Pro brings back the iPhone 5’s edgy design. Oh, and the Mac Mini has also been revamped.

Must read: Apple’s new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini: Can features, specs retain business momentum?

Apple hosted an event in Brooklyn on Tuesday, where Apple CEO Tim Cook and friends announced three new products. The focus of the event is summed up by one word: Productivity.

Every product announced, at least as was positioned by Apple, is meant to help the worker, student, and average person be more productive.

After the event, I spent some time using the new iPad Pro and MacBook Air, both of which are available to order right now and begin shipping next week. Let’s start by looking at the new MacBook Air, which received its first major refresh in years.

MacBook Air


(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

The new MacBook Air is what many wanted from the MacBook Pro with TouchBar. It’s lightweight, portable, adds a Retina Display, and a fingerprint reader via Touch ID without the TouchBar that, at least on my MacBook Pro, stays untouched.

Apple is sticking with its butterfly keyboard design, using the third-generation design. The keys have been prone to letting dust collect under them, and with enough buildup, rendering a key useless. I can’t vouch for the MacBook Air’s keyboard’s ability to ward off being defeated by dust, but the keys on it felt stiffer than the keys on my MacBook Pro. Granted, I’m using an older MacBook Pro with an older generation of the butterfly keyboard, but the change was immediately apparent. Even as I type this on my MacBook Pro, the difference is notable.

Also: MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPad Pro 2018: Everything Apple just announced CNET

In the top right corner of the keyboard is a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which in the demo I was shown works just as fast as it does on iPhone and other MacBook’s.

Touch ID is used to unlock the Air, approve purchases via Apple Pay, and gain access to apps like 1Password.

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

On the left side of the Air, you’ll find you Thunderbolt 3 ports, or rather USB-C ports. On the right side is a headphone jack — yes, Apple kept the headphone jack on its latest laptop.

The Retina Display on the new Air measures 13.3-inches, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. And it’s every bit as impressive as any Retina Display on a MacBook. The standard MacBook Air, which by the way is still available from Apple, has a resolution of 1444 x 900. The difference between the two is stark.

Also: Apple sprinkles iPhone X magic on iPad Pro, MacBook Air, but challenges remain CNET

I’d need a lot more time than the handful of minutes I had with the MacBook Air to give a thumbs up or down, but my initial impression is that this is the MacBook users are going to buy. At $1,200, it’s pushing the envelope of affordable and powerful, but after the iPhone X’s release, Apple users are willing to pay a premium for a better product.

iPad Pro

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Remember the iPhone 5’s square edges? Picture those, but on an iPad, and with a display that goes nearly edge to edge. Oh, and forget the home button.

That’s the new iPad Pro. Actually, iPads Pro. There are two of them. There’s an 11-inch model that’s nearly the same overall size as the now older 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro that’s smaller than the previous 12.9-inch model.

In hand, both sizes felt very balanced and not unwieldy. There was a uniformness to them that I liked. The display, a Liquid Retina display, is as crisp and sharp as I’ve seen on an iPad. If that display name sounds new, it kind of is. The iPhone XR is the only other product in Apple’s lineup that uses an improved LCD display that Apple’s dubbed Liquid Retina.

Surrounding the display is a slim black bezel. Tucked into the top of the bezel is Apple’s True Depth camera system that’s used for Face ID.

Also: iPad Pro 2018: Cheat sheet TechRepublic

Face ID works regardless of the orientation, instead of only in portrait mode as is the case on the iPhone with Face ID. I watched as an Apple employee unlocked a demo iPad Pro with the True Depth camera system in all four orientations, and often times the lock was opened (indicating Face ID has successfully recognized him) before the display rotated to its new orientation. One can only hope that, whatever Apple did to make Face ID work regardless of orientation, it can bring that to the iPhone.

On the bottom of the iPad Pro is a USB-C port. Ditching Lightning for USB-C gives the iPad Pro the ability to connect to a 4K display. In the demo area, there were a few displays with an iPad Pro connected. The demos ran through various apps, like iMovie. The default behavior of an external display on the iPad Pro is too mirror the iPad’s display. However, developers can customize the behavior. For example, with the tap of a button in iMovie, a project’s footage is shown on the display, instead of the editing panel.

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The wireless charging pad for Apple Pencil.


(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

On the right side of the iPad Pro is a small, pill-shaped section. This spot is where the new Apple Pencil magnetically attaches to the iPad Pro. It also serves as a wireless charging spot for the Apple Pencil. Just place the flat edge of the Pencil near the edge of the iPad Pro, it snaps into place and begins charging.

Also new to the Apple Pencil is the ability to double-tap the Pencil — roughly the bottom fifth — to switch between tools. In the Notes app, a double-tap switches between the current tool and the eraser. Users can customize the action in settings. It’s up to each app developer to integrate the Pencil’s new double-tap feature and provide settings.

Also: Apple’s MacBook Air 2018 update: Cheat sheet TechRepublic

As someone who used to do 95 percent of my work on an iPad Pro, Apple’s latest tablets are intriguing and something I plan on testing in the very near future.

The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for 64GB of storage. The 12.9-inch model starts at $999 for the same storage, with both devices maxing out at 1TB of storage.

Software

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(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

What was largely missing from the event, especially concerning the iPad Pro line, is any updates to the software. Despite releasing iOS 12.1 just as the event ended, Apple appears to have made no notable changes to the iPad’s core experience. Safari is still a mobile browser. Using an external monitor is the same as using AirPlay to mirror your display to a TV. In fact, when watching a video in the Photos app, the iPad Pro shows an AirPlay icon, while the video plays on a connected monitor.

Surely there’s more in store for the iPad Pro. The hardware is extremely impressive and powerful but is held back by software. Yes, Adobe is releasing the “full” Photoshop experience in 2019, and that’s a good start, but iPad Pro users need more of that. And fast.

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After buying Bungie, Sony goes all in on live service games – TechCrunch

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After buying Bungie earlier this year, Sony is moving fast to integrate the company’s expertise into its broader vision.

In an investor presentation Thursday, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan outlined a near future for the company that focuses heavily on continually updated online games inspired by Destiny, Bungie’s long-running hit.

Sony expects to spend 49% of its PlayStation Studios development budget on live service games by the end of the year. By 2025, Sony plans to bump that to 55%, up from just 12% in 2019. By the end of 2025, Sony projects that it will have 12 different live service games of its own, up from just one now.

The company declined to answer questions from TechCrunch about which of its franchises might get the live service treatment, but the presentation cited God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, Spider-Man, The Last of Us and Uncharted in a list of its noteworthy single-player first-party titles. Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog has been hiring for a standalone multiplayer game, so a new game could indeed emerge out of The Last of Us or Uncharted’s virtual worlds.

Bungie is best known for creating the Halo franchise, though most recently the studio has become synonymous with Destiny, a fresh sci-fi series the company developed after leaving Halo with Microsoft. Like Halo, Destiny is a futuristic first-person shooter with precise, satisfying mechanics. But Destiny’s real appeal is Bungie’s impressively seamless online multiplayer experience that brings players into central hubs where they can explore and run missions together, making it more akin to World of Warcraft than a traditional FPS like Call of Duty.

Three years after splitting with Microsoft, Bungie signed onto a 10-year partnership with Activision. The company eventually split with Activision, too, paving the way for Sony to snap it up earlier this year for $3.6 billion. Bungie will remain a standalone game studio on the other side of the deal, à la Naughty Dog.

Just after the Bungie acquisition was made public, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki confirmed the company’s plan to weave Bungie’s live game service know-how into its broader gaming offerings.

“The strategic significance of this acquisition lies not only in obtaining the highly successful Destiny franchise, as well as major new IP Bungie is currently developing, but also incorporating into the Sony group the expertise and technologies Bungie has developed in the live game services space,” Totoki said.

In bringing Bungie under its wing, Sony is buying a lot of knowledge about how to build online multiplayer games that expand over time, keeping players coming back for more. This kind of experience, usually called a “live service game,” explains how Fortnite is still one of the world’s most popular games years after it first made headlines for luring casual gamers and hardcore streamers alike into its colorful, chaotic world.

It’s also an extremely lucrative business model. Live service games generally have an in-game storefront that invites dedicated players to buy digital goods like character skins and clothing. Those assets cycle in and out, creating scarcity and nudging players to spend real cash to collect them. In a given content season, players in games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite can pay to earn a special set of these cosmetic virtual goods with a “battle pass.”

Some live service games, like Final Fantasy XIV, require players to pay for a monthly subscription to access the most recent content, while others are free to play. Happily, these days, most free-to-play games no longer require a paid subscription through Microsoft or Sony’s own premium subscription services.

Live service games add expansion content over time, and players often pay to access the new stuff, even while the core game remains mostly the same. For game makers, the real allure is maintaining a game that can live and grow over time, raking in revenue for years rather than burning bright and fizzling out a few months postlaunch.

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Twitter investors sue Elon Musk over acquisition shenanigans – TechCrunch

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The world’s richest man isn’t above trying to get a discount, apparently.

In a new lawsuit, Twitter shareholders are suing Elon Musk, alleging that he manipulated the price of the company’s stock for his own benefit in the course of agreeing to buy the company. The lawsuit represents a group of Twitter investors but would allow any shareholders to receive financial compensation.

The suit was filed Wednesday in federal district court for Northern California and argues that Musk intentionally drove down the company’s stock to secure a better deal. “The fair market value of Twitter securities has been adversely affected by Musk’s false statements and wrongful conduct,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit cites Musk’s decision to waive due diligence as a condition of the acquisition and his subsequent suspiciously timed claim that Twitter had misrepresented the number of bots on its platform.

“At the time, Musk was well aware that Twitter had a certain amount of ‘fake accounts’ and accounts controlled by ‘bots’ and had in fact settled a lawsuit based on the fake accounts for millions of dollars,” the complaint states. “Musk had tweeted about that issue at Twitter several times in the past, prior to making his offer to acquire Twitter with full knowledge of the bots.”

The suit alleges, as many people observed at the time, that Musk was likely trying to secure a discount by casting doubt on his commitment and disparaging the company. Since Musk’s initial commitment to purchase the company was announced, tech stocks — including Tesla, which accounts for the vast majority of Musk’s wealth — took a dive.

Following Musk’s comments, Twitter shares also dipped significantly, a phenomenon that the suit alleges is “highly unusual” given the company’s agreed-upon buyout price.

While Musk claimed the deal was on hold, there was no formal mechanism in place that would back up that claim. Even within Twitter, company leaders encouraged employees to proceed as though nothing had changed, noting that there was “no such thing” as casually pausing a binding agreement to buy the company.

The suit also alleges that Musk deliberately delayed filing a disclosure form when his stake in the company exceeded 5%, allowing him to continue to buy shares at a discount. After the form was filed and Musk’s purchases became public knowledge, Twitter stock soared by nearly a third.

“Musk’s disregard for securities laws demonstrates how one can flaunt the law and the tax code to build their wealth at the expense of the other Americans,” the complaint states.

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Instagram is currently down for some users – TechCrunch

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If you’re having problems accessing Instagram today, you’re not alone. The social media giant is currently experiencing some problems, according to reports on third-party web monitoring service Downdetector. The website indicates that issues began at around 12:30 p.m. EDT. NetBlocks, which tracks global internet usage and disruptions, has also noted that Instagram is facing intermittent international service outages.

Reports indicate that users are experiencing various issues with the service, including not being able to log back in after being logged out. Some users also reporting seeing a “Welcome to Instagram” message when logging on as though they have a new account. Others are unable see past a few posts or only seeing posts that were uploaded weeks ago. Some users are also reporting that they’re unable to refresh their home screen and are seeing a “we’re sorry, but something went wrong” notice.

Instagram and its parent company Meta have yet to acknowledge the issues. TechCrunch has reached out to Meta to learn more about the issues and will update this article once we get a response.

This story is developing…

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