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OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit – TechCrunch



Update: Launch and deployment successful!

After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. You can watch it live at OneWeb’s site here.

OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus have all chipped in.

The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow.

Sound familiar? Of course, SpaceX’s side project, Starlink, has similar ambitions, with an even greater number of satellites planned, and Swarm is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and beam satellite connections directly to ordinary phones. And they’ve all launched satellites already!

The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC.

OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating — it has been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.”

At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel told the Financial times last month.

The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021.

Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward.

A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly.

Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

You can watch the launch at OneWeb’s site here.

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Report: This year’s iPhones may have in-screen Touch ID



Enlarge / The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. The next iPhones aren’t expected to change looks very much.

Samuel Axon

This weekend, business publication Bloomberg ran a plethora of articles sharing details about various upcoming Apple products. We previously covered what Bloomberg’s sources said about the Mac lineup, but another report details upcoming iPhones.

According to “a person familiar with” Apple’s work, the 2021 iPhone will be a small, iterative update and may carry the “S” label, which Apple has used to denote smaller upgrades to the iPhone in the past (for example, iPhone 6S or iPhone XS). This is in part because the iPhone 12 lineup introduced last fall was particularly loaded with new features and design changes, but it was also because COVID-19 restrictions have slowed Apple’s engineers down, according to the report.

While the iPhone 13 wouldn’t have a radically new design, the report does describe one potential change of note that Apple is testing internally: the addition of an in-screen fingerprint reader.

In 2017, Apple introduced Face ID, a facial recognition authentication alternative to the fingerprint reader tech (Touch ID) that it had used in prior iPhones. The first generation of Face ID was a little slower and less consistent than Touch ID, but subsequent updates brought it up to par, and most users came to accept or appreciate the new method.

However, some people still prefer unlocking their phones with a fingerprint, and the need to wear masks during the pandemic has made logging in via face recognition far less attractive, even though Apple released a small update for iPhones to make the process of circumventing Face ID when wearing a mask a little snappier. Some competing Android phones already offer in-screen fingerprint readers.

This change would herald the return of Touch ID to flagship iPhones. In the current lineup, it’s only present in the low-cost iPhone SE model. Touch ID itself was introduced in an “S” update: the iPhone 5S was the first to include the technology. And like Face ID, it took iteration to improve Touch ID’s efficiency after it was first introduced.

Staying true to TrueDepth

Apple has no plans to axe the TrueDepth sensor array that facilitates Face ID, however, even if it does introduce in-screen Touch ID. This is because the array also assists with key photography and augmented reality features.

Bloomberg’s sources also say that Apple is “discussing” the removal of the iPhone’s physical charging port, since last year’s iPhones introduced MagSafe wireless chargers. But just because the company is discussing that as a possibility doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.

Also to that effect, the report claims that Apple is actively testing folding iPhone designs, though these are not sure to come to market, and if they do, it will likely be a few years in the future. Don’t be surprised that Apple is at least testing foldables; the Android smartphone market has seen a few foldable phones, though we have generally found them to be compromised or poor user experiences. As with the removal of the charging port, the fact that Apple is testing this feature does not mean it will actually happen.

Finally, the report claims that Apple will finally release AirTags, its augmented reality Tile competitor. Bloomberg says that product was the only one Apple intended to ship by the end of 2020 that didn’t make it out the door.

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Samsung’s top executive gets 30 months in prison for bribery



Enlarge / Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung, seen here leaving a court hearing in January 2017.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

It’s back to jail for Samsung’s leader, Lee Jae-yong (aka Jay Y. Lee). Lee has been embroiled in a legal battle for his role in “Choigate,” a major 2016 South Korean political scandal that led to South Korean President Park Geun-hye being impeached and removed from office. The scandal is named for the president’s top aid, Choi Soon-sil, a member of a shamanistic cult that was found to be masterminding South Korean government policy via her influence over the president. It’s a long story, but Choi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for influence peddling, and Park was sentenced to 25 years.

Samsung’s part in this mess involves accusations that Lee bribed Choi for favorable rulings related to the merger of two Samsung affiliates. In 2017, Lee was sentenced to five years in jail after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement, capital flight, and perjury charges. Six months after his sentencing, an appeals court cut Lee’s sentence in half and suspended the charges for bribery and embezzlement. Lee was released from prison while the appeals process continued. The case wound its way all the way up to the South Korean Supreme Court, which, in 2019, ordered a retrial.

Today’s ruling sentences Lee to 30 months in prison, and after having already served one year, Samsung’s leader should be spending the next year and a half behind bars.

“Samsung is above the law”

Lee’s initial conviction and the constant whittling down of punishment has been par for the course for Samsung executives accused of crimes in South Korea. Samsung is so large that it makes up anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of South Korea’s GDP, depending on the year, so there is a fear of what damaging the company would do to South Korea’s economy. Lee’s recently deceased father and the chairman of Samsung Group, Lee Kun-hee, was convicted of bribery in 1996 and of tax evasion in 2009 but was never arrested nor served jail time. Later, presidential pardons wiped out his criminal record. As one National Assembly member put it when Lee’s sentence was reduced in 2018, “We confirmed once again that Samsung is above the law and the court.”

Bloomberg’s report on the sentencing gives us an idea of how the “Pro-Samsung” faction of South Korea feels about the court ruling. The report quotes Shin Se-don, an emeritus professor of economics at Sookmyung Women’s University: “Lee might be able to manage the company from the jail, but there will be some setback. The jailing of Lee will give an emotional shock to the people. Samsung is a backbone of our economy and people will be upset about the result.”

Samsung Group is currently undergoing a major transition after the death of Lee’s father, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, in October. Lee Jae-yong has been the de facto leader of Samsung for years now, following Lee Kun-hee’s hospitalization in 2014 after a heart attack. Now Lee Jae-yong will have to properly ascend from “vice-chairman” to official Samsung chairman and deal with the financial challenge of paying South Korea’s 50 percent estate tax on the Samsung empire. Bloomberg reports that the transition is “likely” to be delayed until Lee gets out of prison.

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Apple pulls the plug on user-found method to sideload iOS apps on Mac



Enlarge / The Mac App Store—the only place you can easily get iOS and iPadOS apps for Mac.

Apple has plugged a hole that allowed users to sideload iOS and iPad applications to M1 Macs that were never intended to run on desktop, 9to5Mac reports. The server-side change ensures that only applications that app developers have flagged as optimized for Mac will run.

Late last year, Apple launched its first Macs running on its own ARM-based custom CPU called the M1, as opposed to the Intel chips that have been used in Macs for several years. These new machines included the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air, and the low-end Mac mini.

Since those machines now share an architecture with iPhones and iPads, which also have closely related ARM-based chips, it became possible to run iOS and iPadOS apps natively on Macs that were equipped with the M1 chip. Apple supported this by listing iPhone and iPad apps that passed an automated test on the Mac App Store, provided developers did not opt out of having the app listed.

However, many developers did opt out for any number of reasons: because they did not feel the app provided a good user experience on laptops or desktops; because they offer preferred alternative ways to access services or content on Macs; because they don’t have the time to support an additional platform; or any number of other reasons.

In those cases, the apps did not appear on the Mac App Store. But a couple of months ago, a Reddit user shared a way of sideloading those apps on M1 Macs by fetching the app’s IPA file from a connected iOS or iPadOS device using third-party software, like iMazing, for Macs.

According to 9to5Mac, though, Apple has now “flipped the necessary server-side switch” to block this method. The change already affects Macs running macOS Big Sur 11.1, and it also applies to Macs running the 11.2 beta. In fact, it even offers an error message on the latter: “This application cannot be installed because the developer did not intend for it to run on this platform.”

There are a number of reasons Apple may have introduced this change. For one, an alternate version of the IPA file method described above could also be used to sideload pirated versions of apps rather than files from versions legitimately and legally installed on iOS or iPadOS devices. Further, Apple and developers may feel that these applications provide a poor user experience on macOS, and they could be a support or security headache.

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