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New report details Apple’s plan for iPhones (and other gadgets) this year

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A new report from Bloomberg’s Debby Wu and Mark Gurman says that Apple tasked its suppliers with building “at least 75 million” 5G iPhones. That’s in the ballpark of what was produced last year, so Apple is expecting strong sales despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More interesting for our purposes here, though, are tidbits about what those iPhones—and other Apple products planned for release this year—look like.

Citing people familiar with the situation, the Bloomberg story claims that Apple has a busy holiday season ahead of it. The sources say that Apple plans to launch four 5G iPhone models, a new iPad Air, two new Apple Watch models, over-ear headphones, and a new HomePod speaker. They also allude to a modestly updated Apple TV 4K and the long-rumored AirTags product, but the story did not claim that those are coming this year.

Let’s start with the iPhones. Bloomberg’s sources say there will be two entry-level models (up front one last year, the iPhone 11) and two high-end successors to the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. While the main split between the cheaper iPhone and its pricier siblings has been the choice between an LCD and an OLED screen these past couple of years, the sources claim that all four new iPhone models will have OLED screens.

Those screens will also come in new sizes. The cheaper iPhones will come in 5.4- and 6.1-inch variants, while the premium alternatives will come in 6.1 and 6.7 inches. All four devices will also have 5G, though the sources say that some testers have reported that this feature hasn’t improved their wireless data speeds much on current, nascent 5G networks.

In any case, the phones would all feature Apple’s new A14 system-on-a-chip and see a significant redesign—the first major one since the introduction of the iPhone X in 2017. All four phones will have squared edges, resembling the iPad Pro or in some respects the iPhone 4 and 5 from years past. The two cheaper models will have aluminum edges, while the more expensive ones will have stainless steel—the same split we see between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro today.

Also, Apple plans to axe the Midnight Green color it introduced for high-end iPhones last year and replace it with a new dark blue scheme.

Apple already signaled to investors that the new iPhones will ship a few weeks after last year’s models did. That said, iOS 14 is still expected to launch in September. (Previously, its release has been closely tied to that of the first new iPhone of the year.)

As for the other products mentioned in the report, the new iPad Air is expected to have an edge-to-edge screen similar in design to that of recent iPad Pro models. The two new Apple Watches include a successor to the Series 5, as well as a replacement for the Series 3 at a lower price. Apple also plans to introduce over-ear headphones that will carry the Apple brand name instead of Beats, and a smaller HomePod speaker that trades fewer speakers for a lower price.

All these products are planned for release by the end of this year—meaning Apple has a very busy season ahead. However, specific launch dates are not known for any of them, apart from the aforementioned plan to launch new iPhones a few weeks later than last year.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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New USB-C dock triples M1 Mac external monitor support, Anker says

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If you have an M1-based Mac, Apple says you’re limited to just one external monitor. But Anker, which makes power banks, chargers, docks, and other accessories, this week released a dock that it says will boost your M1 Mac’s max monitor count to three.

The 4250 Anker 563 USB-C docking station, spotted by MacRumors, connects to a USB-C port on your computer (which doesn’t have to be a Mac) and can also charge a laptop at up to 100 W. Of course, you’ll also need to plug in the dock’s 180 W power adapter. Once connected, the dock adds the following ports to your setup:

  • 2x HDMI (version not specified)
  • 1x USB-C (3.1 Gen 1): charges devices at up to 30 W
  • 1x USB-A (3.1 Gen 1): charges devices at up to 7.5 W
  • 2x USB-A (2.0)
  • 1x 3.5 mm headphone jack
  • 1x Ethernet
Port selection.
Enlarge / Port selection.

You’ll need the two HDMI ports and DisplayPort to add three monitors to an M1 MacBook. There are some notable limitations, though.

If you were hoping to use a trio of 4K displays, you’re out of luck. The dock can only support one 4K monitor at a time, and the output will be limited to a 30 Hz refresh rate. Most general-use monitors and TVs run at 60 Hz, and monitors can reach up to 360 Hz. 4K monitors will even hit 240 Hz this year. Running 4K at 30 Hz may be fine for watching movies, but for fast-paced action, things may not appear as smooth to keen eyes used to 60 Hz and beyond.

If you add a second external monitor via the Anker 563, a 4K screen will still run at 30 Hz via HDMI, while the DisplayPort will support up to 2560×1440 resolution at 60 Hz.

There are more disappointing caveats when looking at a tri-monitor setup. The 4K monitor will run at 30 Hz, but you can no longer use another monitor at 2560×1440. Instead, the additional two monitors are limited to 2048×1152 resolution and 60 Hz refresh rates. If the display doesn’t support 2048×1152, Anker says the monitor will default to 1920×1080.

You also have to download DisplayLink software, and you must be running macOS10.14 or Windows 7 or later.

Apple says that “using docks or daisy-chaining devices doesn’t increase the number of displays you can connect” to an M1 Mac, so don’t be surprised if there are hiccups during operation.

Anker isn’t alone in trying to do what Apple says can’t be done, as noted by The Verge. Hyper, for example, offers options for adding two 4K monitors to an M1 MacBook, one at 30 Hz and one at 60 Hz. That list includes a $200 hub with a similar port selection to the Anker 563 and a two-year limited warranty (the Anker dock gives 18 months). It works via DisplayPort Alt Mode, so you don’t need a DisplayLink driver, but it still requires the pesky Hyper app.

Plugable offers docking solutions that claim to work with M1 Macs for a similar price to the Anker dock, and they also limit 4K to 30 Hz.

Some docks have even more limitations when it comes to the M1, though. CalDigit notes that for its dock, “users cannot extend their desktop over two displays and will be limited to either dual ‘Mirrored’ displays or 1 external display depending on the dock.”

Alternatively, and for several hundred dollars more, you could buy a new MacBook and upgrade to an M1 Pro, M1 Max, or M1 Ultra processor. Depending on the device, those chips can support from two to five external displays, Apple says.

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Qualcomm’s Snapdragon “8+ Gen 1” salvage operation moves the chip to TSMC

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Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s mid-cycle “plus” chip refresh—the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1—has been announced. As usual, Qualcomm is promising some modest improvements over the existing 8 Gen 1 chip. The company said the chip will provide “10 percent faster CPU performance,” thanks to a 200 MHz peak CPU boost (up to 3.2 GHz now) and a 10 percent faster GPU. The real shocker is a “30 percent improved power efficiency” claim for the CPU and GPU.

For the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Plus, Qualcomm is moving the chip from Samsung Foundry to TSMC, which is apparently where the power improvements are coming from. That’s a serious slam against Samsung’s 4 nm process versus TSMC’s 4 nm process, but it lines up with earlier reports of troubles at Samsung Foundry.

Swapping foundries as part of a mid-cycle upgrade is not normal, and it seems that Qualcomm has a bit of a salvage operation on its hands with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The chip has not fared very well in the real world, with the CPU regularly turning in lower benchmark scores than 2021’s flagship Snapdragon 888.

Qualcomm doesn’t do all that much for phones year over year to begin with, and it is regularly years behind Apple’s SoC team. Usually, the one reliable upgrade Qualcomm can deliver is some measurable percentage of benchmark improvements. The GPU managed to improve for 2022, but to see the CPU horsepower decrease after Qualcomm claimed it would be 20 percent faster is a major disappointment. After a foundry change and a CPU MHz boost, Qualcomm’s 2022 CPU might finally be faster than its 2021 counterpart.

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The same phone for 25 years? iFixit on right to repair’s remaining obstacles, hope

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The fight for the right to repair remains an active battle as various companies and lawmakers claim worries around safety, cybersecurity, and design innovation. But with concerns about e-waste, device quality, and the health of independent repair shops mounting, advocates like iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens are keeping their gloves up. In the lead up to Ars Technica’s first annual Ars Frontiers event in Washington, DC, last week, we held a livestream with Wiens exploring this critical tech issue.

Making a federal case of it

Tech repairs got complicated in 1998 when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [PDF]. Section 1201 of the copyright law essentially made it illegal to distribute tools for, or to break encryption on, manufactured products. Created with DVD piracy in mind, it made fixing things like computers and tractors significantly harder, if not illegal, without manufacturer permission. It also represented “a total sea change from what historic property rights have been,” Wiens said.

This makes Washington, DC, the primary battleground for the fight for the right to repair.

“Because this law was passed at the federal level, the states can’t preempt. Congress at the federal level reset copyright policy. This fix has to happen at the US federal level,” Wiens told Ars Technica during the Road to Frontiers talk.

The good news is that every three years, the US Copyright Office holds hearings to discuss potential exemptions. Right to repair advocates are hoping Congress will schedule this year’s hearing soon.

Wiens also highlighted the passing of the Freedom to Repair Act [PDF] introduced earlier this year as critical for addressing Section 1201 and creating a permanent exemption for repairing tech products.

Apple’s promising, imperfect progress

Apple’s self-service repair program launched last month marked a huge step forward for the right to repair initiated by a company that has shown long-standing resistance.

Wiens applauded the program, which provides repair manuals for the iPhone 12, 13, and newest SE and will eventually extend to computers. He emphasized how hard it is for iFixit to reverse-engineer such products to determine important repair details, like whether a specific screw is 1 or 1.1 mm.

Apple’s program also offers repair tools, particularly benefiting independent repair shops, Wiens noted. But that doesn’t mean Apple can’t be more repair-friendly.

“What Apple is doing wrong in this case is they continue to embark on this strategy where they have paired specific parts to the phone,” Wiens explained.

“If you take two brand-new iPhone 13s and you swap the screens, you’re not necessarily going to get all the functionality that you would expect, which is strange because if you take two cars and you swap the engines, they work just fine. … You take two Samsungs, and you swap the screens, they work just fine.”

The exec worries that despite Apple claiming it wants to provide a detailed service history, this tactic can result in the banning of aftermarket parts.

“The repair economy, the circular economy around iPhones, is significant. … It creates a lot of jobs,” Wiens said. “Apple could easily short-circuit that economy by employing these cryptographic locks to tie parts to phones. Then this would tie into Section 1201 because it might potentially be illegal to circumvent those locks to make an aftermarket part work again.”

A repairable future

Wiens envisioned a world where gadgets not only last longer but where you may also build relationships with local businesses to keep your products functioning. He lamented the loss of businesses like local camera and TV repair shops extinguished by vendors no longer supplying parts and tools.

“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to say, what kind of economy do we want? Do we want a main street where we have local people that know how to fix and maintain our things? Or do we want a factory assembly line where we manufacture stuff in Asia, we dump it here, use it for however long it works, and then there’s no maintenance plan for it,” Wiens said.

He also discussed the idea of giving gadgets second and even third lives: An aged smartphone could become a baby monitor or a smart thermostat.

“I think we should be talking about lifespans of smartphones in terms of 20, 25 years,” Wiens said.

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