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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.

apple-ipad-pro-2018-4.jpg

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

apple-ipad-pro-2018-2.jpg

(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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Yahoo has built a new calendar app called Day, and it’s recruited the co-founder of Sunrise to design it – TechCrunch

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When it comes to online calendars and calendar apps, services like Google Calendar and Outlook from Microsoft rule the roost with hundreds of millions of users globally. Now another company is hoping to ruffle some feathers with its own move into the space. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Yahoo is working on called Day, a new standalone calendar app. Sources tell us the company has recruited Jeremy Le Van — who had co-founded another calendaring app, Sunrise, and eventually sold it to Microsoft for over $100 million to make it the backbone of Microsoft’s own very popular calendar platform in Outlook — to help design it.

Many lamented the sunset of Sunrise; now it looks like they might now have a shot at getting Sunrise 2.0, so to speak.

(Disclaimer: Yahoo happens to be owned by the same company as TechCrunch.)

“We are exploring different ways to better serve consumers and that includes new ideas around mobile-first time management, calendar and events,” a Yahoo spokesperson said in response to our question.

The service is currently in an invite-only closed alpha as it gears up for a bigger launch (you can also sign up on the site).

Calendars serve as the backbone for how many of us organize our days, whether it’s for work or leisure. And arguably, the more our activities, and the planning of them, move to digital platforms, the more powerful calendars can become, too.

This means that for platforms, having a calendar feature or app as part of a bigger service is a good way of keeping users engaged on the wider platform, and it’s a way for the platform to glean more knowledge about user behavior. Google’s Calendar, for example, is very tightly, and often automatically, integrated with its wider suite of productivity and information services, giving the company one more spoke in its wheel to keep users sticking around.

And it’s not only Yahoo that might be interested in doing more here. Facebook acquired Redkix in 2018 allegedly to bring more calendar and other productivity tools to Workplace. In the end, Workplace integrates with existing offerings from third parties, and so it doesn’t have its own standalone calendar app. Facebook also doesn’t have a standalone calendar feature in the main consumer app, either. But with people planning so much else on Facebook’s properties (not just through Events on Facebook, but across Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger), it seems that it’s an area it could feasibly still expand into at some point.

Yahoo itself, in fact, already has a pared-down calendar widget that you can access through Yahoo Mail. It’s not clear how popular it is, especially since it’s very easy these days to integrate one’s email to most other calendar apps.

The question, then, will be how Day might hope to differentiate itself, and how it will hope to compete.

From what we understand, in contrast to how Google, Microsoft or even Yahoo itself currently integrate calendar features into their wider productivity suites, this isn’t the approach that Yahoo is taking with Day.

The app is being built by people in its Mail team, but it’s being treated “like a startup” in the operation, we’ve heard, and has been given license to develop it independently: it has no special Yahoo branding, nor with any Yahoo integrations whatsoever. The plan is to keep it separate, not unlike the many calendar apps — like Sunrise once was — that exist in app stores, and make it something that can integrate with whatever other email or other tools that a person users. Over time there also may be efforts to use Mail — which still has around 200 million users — to help market Day.

The move underscores how Yahoo — which has effectively lost out to Google in areas like search, email, video and advertising — believes that with the right approach, there is still room for more innovation in this crowded market, even as it has a number of misses in its history of trying to do just that in other areas, like messaging.

But as we noted in a recent story about Calendly — a $3 billion startup that’s proven to be a big hit with people who need to schedule meetings — calendar apps can be challenging for another reason. They are well-used, yes, but also somewhat under the radar: calendars are never the destination for a person, just a place to mark when, how, and with whom you will get there. Can there be more ways of enhancing that basic functionality?

Yahoo seems to believe there are, and that people will want to use an app that does so.

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Twitter accelerates again with Bitcoin tips, NFTs, recorded Spaces, creator fund and more – TechCrunch

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Twitter’s slate of new product announcements is not slowing down. The company today introduced a number of new initiatives aimed at better serving the conversations and community using its platform, including support for tipping with crypto, NFT authentication, and plans for other experiments designed to provide more context about a conversation to those just joining in. The company also said it’s preparing to launch its own creator fund in a few weeks to provide audio creators with access to financial, technical, and marketing support.

While Twitter was not yet ready to details specifics like the fund size or expected reach, in terms of creator participants, it’s a clear shot across the bow of a top competitor in social audio, Clubhouse, whose own creator “accelerator” offered to connect its participants with brand deals or $5,000 per month during their participation in its program.

Similarly, Twitter views its creator fund as one not aimed at rewarding creators for the content they produce — like some rival funds running across Facebook, Instagram, Snap, and elsewhere — but rather at helping creators get started with audio productions on Twitter Spaces.

“The goal of it really is to provide that technical and marketing expertise,” noted Twitter Product Lead for Creator Monetization, Esther Crawford. “We think of it as kind of a stopgap solution. We want to onboard these folks into other long-term monetization features. But we want to give them an initial boost,” she said.

Spaces hosts will also be able to record and replay their programs — a move likely meant to counteract the threat of competitive platforms which tout recording as a key differentiator. This will launch in a “few months,” the company said.

Twitter also today announced a few new products and expansions to recently launched features.

One of these is a new feature that would allow its app to better serve creators working with NFTs, or non-fungible tokens — a way to certify digital assets, stored on the blockchain. Artists are now creating NFTs of their work which are sold across NFT marketplaces like OpenSea, Rarible, Foundation, SuperRare, and others.

Twitter says it’s planning to “soon” explore support for NFT authentication. This would allow NFT creators to connect their crypto wallets to Twitter, in order to track and showcase their NFTs on the platform. This particular plan is still in the early stages as Twitter couldn’t yet articulate how this would work. The company said it was testing different ideas for making creators with authenticated collections stand out more visually somehow — perhaps with something like a profile badge or differently-shaped avatar.

When pressed for further details on its broader NFT roadmap, Twitter declined to comment.

Another new feature in the crypto space is support for Bitcoin tipping. Twitter first introduced its “Tip Jar” feature in May as a beta product, allowing users to send and receive one-time payments via third-party services like PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App, Bandcamp, and others. Now the feature will expand to global audiences on iOS with Android coming soon, and will add support for tipping with Bitcoin.

There will be a couple of ways Bitcoin tips can work. Users will be able to add a Bitcoin Lightning wallet or their Bitcoin address in order to start receiving Bitcoin tips. Lightning wallets are popular among users in the crypto community due to their lower transaction fees, the company said. Twitter’s implementation of this uses Strike, a payments application built on the Bitcoin Lightning Network that allows people to send and receive Bitcoin free and instantly, it said.

In fact, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey this summer tweeted that it was “only a matter of time” before Twitter built in support for the Lightning Network, a layer atop the Bitcoin blockchain, into its platform. At the time, there was some speculation that users would first see this sort of support in a micropayments product, which has now been proven correct.

The Tip Jar will also add a few other services as well, including GoFundMe.

Another new experiment called “Heads Up,” is the first that will help to give users a sense of a conversation’s vibe before they wade in.

One of Twitter’s thorniest issues is its inability to help people feel safe sharing their thoughts and opinions on its network, which has served as a breeding ground for cancel culture, and where armies of trolls can descend on marginalized voices or others they disagree with at any time — like activists, women in tech (as was made famous with the Gamergate scandal), or female journalists.

In this area, Twitter has worked to create new features like those that enable users to limit who can reply to their tweets, which it says has contributed to a decline in abuse reports over the past four weeks.

It’s also launched Safety Mode into beta, which offers a sort of automated level of protection against harassment during a time of heightened abuse. It created a way for people to quietly remove followers as an alternative blocking. And today, Twitter says it will soon launch a new feature that will allow users to remove themselves from a conversation they’re mentioned in and is experimenting with a new feature called “word filters” that would let users stop abusive tweets that don’t cross the line into being against Twitter policy.

Twitter didn’t fully explain how it will measure a conversation’s vibe in the coming “Heads Up” feature, in order to warn newcomers about the nature of the discussion. But said it was considering leveraging data from its emoji reactions (which are only now in testing) and reply prompts, which warn users when they’re about to post something potentially offensive.

The company has been launching new products at an incredibly fast clip in recent months, with additions that have included a rapidly improved Twitter Spaces audio chat platform, the launch of interest-based “Communities,” creator platform Super Follows, newsletters via its acquisition of Revue, tipping, a premium subscription service called Twitter Blue, crowdsourced fact-checking with Birdwatch, new e-commerce features, new profiles and labels, a reopened account verification system, conversation controls, Direct Message improvements, and more.

Today, it offered a few updates on a handful of these products.

It said it’s working on more Spaces discovery tools that would make it easier to find Spaces at the top of the timeline, and elsewhere in the app — a likely reference to the dedicated Spaces tab on mobile. It’s also expanding access to Ticketed Spaces, improving the discovery of newsletters, launching a new creator earnings dashboard, and working on more account labels — like those brands and those that would help memorialize the accounts of the deceased — among other things.

 

More broadly, Twitter attempted to explain its strategy, which is increasingly looking like “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” In fact, it admitted — to some extent —  it may be doing just that.

“You’ll keep seeing us push towards this vision through experimentation and iteration,” explained Twitter Head of Consumer Product, Kayvon Beykpour. “You’ll see us share our progress publicly along the way, as we have over the last few years. And you won’t see us stay tied to the things that aren’t working. We’ve done that with Fleets and you’ll continue to see that with other explorations we test out. We believe that if we’re not winding things down every once in a while, then we’re not taking big enough bets,” he said.

Image credits: Twitter 

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Facebook stock drops after company warns Apple’s privacy changes to have bigger Q3 impact – TechCrunch

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Facebook today provided an update on how Apple’s privacy changes have impacted its ad business. The company had already warned investors during its second quarter earnings that it expected to feel an even more significant impact in its ad targeting business by Q3. This morning, it reiterated that point, but also noted that it had been underreporting iOS web conversions by approximately 15%, which had led advertisers to believe the impact was even worse than they had expected.

According to Facebook’s announcement published to its business blog, this exact percentage could vary broadly among individual advertisers. But it said the real-world conversions, including things like sales and app installs, are likely higher than what advertisers are seeing when using Facebook’s analytics.

Facebook’s stock has dropped by nearly 4% on this news, as of the time of writing.

This is not the first time Facebook has shared misleading metrics. In the past, however, it had inflated its video ad metrics and didn’t quickly act to correct the problem, leading to a class-action lawsuit. In this case, however, the issue with the metrics isn’t making Facebook look better than it is, but worse. The company noted it’s been hearing from its advertising community that they are seeing a larger-than-planned impact to their ad investments on the network, raising concerns.

Facebook offered advertisers a few tips to help them better understand a campaign’s impact and performance in this new era. It suggested waiting a minimum of 72 hours or the full length of the optimization window before evaluating performance rather than making assessments on a daily basis, as before. It also said advertisers should analyze reporting at the campaign level, when possible, as some estimated conversations are reported with a delay. And it suggested advertisers choose web events (like a purchase or sign-up) that are most aligned with their core business, among other things.

To address the issues with improving its measurements, Facebook said it’s working to improve its conversion modeling, accelerating its investments to address reporting gaps, launching new capabilities to track web conversions, and extending its ability to measure in-app conversions in apps that have already been installed. The company said it would work quickly to fix bugs, including one that recently had led to underreporting of approximately 10%, which was previously shared with advertisers.

The company in August explained how it’s been working to adapt its personalized ads business in light of both Apple and Google’s privacy changes and the new regulatory landscape, but those efforts will take time, it said.

Outside of the ad tech updates themselves, Facebook has also been working on new products that would allow advertisers to better position themselves in front of consumers browsing Facebook’s apps. Just last week, for instance, it revamped its business tool lineup with the introduction of new features and expansions of smaller tests that would offer businesses more ways to be discovered. One such test in the U.S. would direct consumers to other businesses and topics directly underneath news feed posts. It also now allows businesses to add WhatsApp buttons to their Instagram profiles and create ads that send Instagram users to WhatsApp business chats.

Facebook has been warning advertisers for some time that Apple’s new privacy features, which allow mobile users to opt out of being tracked across their iOS apps, would cause issues for the way its ad targeting business typically operated. And it repeatedly argued that Apple’s changes would impact small businesses that relied on Facebook ads to reach their customers. When the changes went into effect, Facebook’s concerns were validated as studies found very few consumers are opting into tracking on iOS.

 

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