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Over a quarter of US adults now own a smart speaker, typically an Amazon Echo – TechCrunch

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U.S. smart speaker owners grew 40 percent over 2018 to now reach 66.4 million — or 26.2 percent of the U.S. adult population — according to a new report from Voicebot.ai and Voicify released this week, which detailed adoption patterns and device market share. The report also reconfirmed Amazon Echo’s lead, noting the Alexa-powered smart speaker grew to a 61 percent market share by the end of last year — well above Google Home’s 24 percent share.

These findings fall roughly in line with other analysts’ reports on smart speaker market share in the U.S. However, because of varying methodology, they don’t all come back with the exact same numbers.

For example, in December 2018, eMarketer reported the Echo had accounted for nearly 67 percent of all U.S. smart speaker sales in 2018. Meanwhile, CIRP last month put Echo further ahead, with a 70 percent share of the installed base in the U.S.

Though the percentages differ, the overall trend is that Amazon Echo remains the smart speaker to beat.

While on the face of things this appears to be great news for Amazon, Voicebot’s report did note that Google Home has been closing the gap with Echo in recent months.

Amazon Echo’s share dropped nearly 11 percent over 2018, while Google Home made up for just over half that decline with a 5.5 percent gain, and “other” devices making up the rest. This latter category, which includes devices like Apple’s HomePod and Sonos One, grew last year to now account for 15 percent of the market.

That said, the Sonos One has Alexa built-in, so it may not be as bad for Amazon as the numbers alone seem to indicate. After all, Amazon is selling its Echo devices at cost or even a loss to snag more market share. The real value over time will be in controlling the ecosystem.

The growth in smart speakers is part of a larger trend toward voice computing and smart voice assistants — like Siri, Bixby and Google Assistant — which are often accessed on smartphones.

A related report from Juniper Research last month estimated there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023, up from the 2.5 billion in use at the end of 2018. This is due to the increased use of smartphone assistants as well as the smart speaker trend, the firm said.

Voicebot’s report also saw how being able to access voice assistance on multiple platforms was helping to boost usage numbers.

It found that smart speaker owners used their smartphone’s voice assistant more than those who didn’t have a smart speaker in their home. It seems consumers get used to being able to access their voice assistants across platforms — now that Siri has made the jump to speakers and Alexa to phones, for instance.

The full report is available on Voicebot.ai’s website here.

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PSA: You don’t have to upgrade to iOS 15

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Enlarge / It’s OK to hit the pause button on iOS 15, if you want.

Andrew Cunningham

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 15 to the public today, following the announcement at WWDC earlier this year and the customary public beta period. The new software will run on every single iPhone and iPad that could run iOS or iPadOS 14, going all the way back to 2014’s iPad Air 2 and 2015’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Normally, this would mean the end of iOS 14. If Apple patched a major zero-day security vulnerability in iOS next week, in past years you’d have to move to iOS 15 to get the fix whether you wanted the rest of its features or not. But starting this year, that’s not the case. For the first time ever, if you want to put off the iOS 15 update for a few weeks or months, you can do that without missing out on important security updates. This is because Apple is planning to continue updates for iOS 14—not just for old devices, but for any phone or tablet that runs iOS 14 or iPadOS 14.

This update policy change brings iOS and iPadOS more closely in line with macOS. Apple provides feature updates for the newest macOS release and important security updates for the two previous macOS versions, for a total of three macOS releases at a time. Apple isn’t committing to that same policy with iOS (and the macOS policy isn’t actually spelled out anywhere, as Microsoft does for its software releases), but security updates for even one other version of iOS is an improvement.

Apple will continue to release security updates for iOS 14, at least for now.
Enlarge / Apple will continue to release security updates for iOS 14, at least for now.

Apple

There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to install an x.0 version of a new operating system the day it comes out. Apple’s major software updates are usually tied to the set-in-stone September launch window for new iPhones, and the initial versions can include major bugs that Apple couldn’t fix before it was time to ship the software. You might be concerned about the performance of new software on your old device (though it’s been years since a new version of iOS made older devices feel intolerably slow, which is one reason we aren’t testing iOS 15 on old devices like we usually do). Or, maybe you want to wait for the apps that you rely on to be updated for the new OS, just in case any of Apple’s changes break important functionality.

This policy change will also extend the life of devices that can’t be upgraded to the newest version of iOS or iPadOS. You may not have realized it, but for the last two years Apple has been quietly releasing security-only iOS 12 updates for 2013’s iPhone 5S, iPad Air, and iPad mini 2, as well as 2014’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. None of these devices made the cutoff for iOS 13, but people who didn’t need to or couldn’t afford to buy a new device could continue to use them without worrying about core functionality breaking or about putting their data at additional risk. It’s a responsible move from a company that already provides years more software support than the best Android phone makers.

We will see whether this affects the adoption rate of new iOS versions and how aggressively Apple tries to get people to upgrade from iOS 14 to iOS 15 as time goes on. On the Mac, the first update you’re offered on old versions of macOS is the upgrade to the next version, provided your Mac supports it—you have to click an “other updates” button to see the security updates available for Mojave or Catalina.

Eventually, if you can install iOS 15, you’ll probably want to. There are always a couple of features that are worth upgrading for, whether it’s FaceTime screen sharing, iPad home screen widgets, or even new emoji. And you won’t be able to run iOS 14 forever; Apple will stop updating it eventually, and third-party apps may also stop supporting it as their developers’ attention shifts to iOS 15 and newer releases. It’s just nice to have the option to wait for a while if you want to skip the bugs and teething issues that come with most brand-new operating systems.

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Apple releases iOS 15 with Focus mode and more

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Enlarge / iOS 15’s Focus feature.

Apple

As announced previously, Apple today released iOS 15 for the iPhone, iPadOS 15 for the iPad, watchOS 8 for the Apple Watch, and tvOS 15 for the Apple TV.

Apple has also announced a major annual update to the Mac operating system called macOS Monterey, but that is not one of today’s releases.

iOS 15’s major new feature addition is Focus, whereby a user can set profiles like “work,” “sleep,” or “home” that display different apps and notifications depending on what the user is doing. It also redesigns notifications and adds numerous new features to Messages and FaceTime, among other things.

iPadOS 15 includes those same features, and it also brings iOS 14’s application library view and anywhere-widgets to the tablet.

watchOS 8 and tvOS 15 are smaller updates by comparison. The bigger of the two—the one for the Apple Watch—puts some emphasis on photos, adding photos-related watch face options and new ways to share photos via the Watch. It also supports the aforementioned Focus mode and improves the Messages experience.

tvOS serves up improved HomePod mini integration, a slightly updated TV app, and spatial audio capabilities with supported headphones.

All of these updates are already available globally on supported devices. Apple usually times its major version number OS releases with new hardware launches, and this was no exception. Two new iPads and four new iPhones begin shipping next week. However, the new Apple Watch still has no firm release date.

Find Apple’s release notes for iOS 15 below.

FaceTime

  • Spatial audio makes people’s voices sound like they’re coming from the direction in which they’re positioned on the screen on Group FaceTime calls (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Voice Isolation blocks background noises so your voice is crystal clear (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Wide Spectrum brings all background noises into your call (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Portrait mode blurs your background and puts the focus on you (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Grid view displays up to six people at a time in Group FaceTime calls in the same-size tiles and highlights the current speaker
  • FaceTime links allow you to invite your friends into a FaceTime call, even friends on Android or Windows devices can join from their browser

Messages and Memoji

  • Shared with You shows content sent to you by friends in Messages conversations in a new section in Photos, Safari, Apple News, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, or the Apple TV app
  • Pinned content elevates the shared content you choose and makes it more prominent in Shared with You, Messages search, and the Details view of the conversation
  • Multiple photos sent in Messages are displayed as a glanceable collage or a swipeable stack
  • Over 40 Memoji outfit choices and up to three different colors to customize your Memoji stickers’s clothing and headwear

Focus

  • Focus lets you automatically filter notifications based on what you’re currently doing, such as fitness, sleep, gaming, reading, driving, work, or personal time
  • Focus uses on-device intelligence during set up to suggest apps and people you want to allow notifications from in a Focus
  • Home Screen pages can be customized to match your apps and widgets to a specific Focus
  • Contextual suggestions intelligently suggest a Focus based on your context, using signals like location or time of day
  • Status appears to your contacts in Messages conversations, indicating your notifications are silenced with Focus

Notifications

  • A new look displays contact photos for people and larger icons for apps
  • Notification summary delivers a helpful collection of your notifications daily, based on a schedule you set
  • Notifications can be muted from any app or messaging thread for the next hour or for the day

Maps

  • Detailed city maps display elevation, trees, buildings, landmarks, crosswalks and turn lanes, and 3D views to navigate complex interchanges, and more in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, and London, with more cities coming in the future (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • New driving features include a new map that highlights details like traffic and incidents, and a route planner that lets you view your upcoming journey by choosing a future departure or arrival time
  • Immersive walking directions show step-by-step directions in augmented reality (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Updated transit experience provides one-tap access to departures near you, makes it easy to see and interact with your route using one hand, and notifies you when approaching your stop
  • Interactive 3D globe shows enhanced details for mountain ranges, deserts, forests, oceans, and more (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Redesigned place cards make it easy to learn about and interact with places, and a new home for Guides editorially curates the best recommendations for places you’ll love

Safari

  • Bottom tab bar is easier to reach and helps you move between tabs by swiping left or right
  • Tab Groups help you save and organize your tabs and easily access them across devices
  • Tab overview grid view displays your open tabs
  • Start page can be customized with a background image and new sections like Privacy Report, Siri Suggestions, and Shared With You
  • Web extensions on iOS help you personalize your browsing and can be downloaded through the App Store
  • Voice search lets you search the web using your voice

Wallet

  • Home keys let you tap to unlock a supported home or apartment door lock (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Hotel keys allow you to tap to unlock your room at participating hotels
  • Office keys allow you to tap to unlock your office doors for participating corporate offices
  • Car keys with Ultra Wideband help you unlock, lock, and start your supported car without having to take your iPhone out of your bag or pocket (iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models)
  • Remote keyless entry functions on your car keys allow you to lock, unlock, honk your horn, preheat your car, or open your trunk on your supported vehicle

Live Text

  • Live Text makes text interactive in your photos so you can copy and paste, look up, and translate in Photos, Screenshot, Quick Look, Safari, and live previews with Camera (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Data detectors for Live Text recognize phone numbers, emails, dates, street addresses, and more in photos so you can take action on them
  • Live Text is available from the keyboard letting you insert text directly from the camera viewfinder into any text field

Spotlight

  • Rich results brings together all the information you’re looking for on contacts, actors, musicians, movies, and TV shows
  • Photos can be searched from your photo library by locations, people, scenes, text in the photos or other things in the photos, like a dog or a car
  • Web image search allows you to search for images of people, animals, monuments, and more

Photos

  • New look for Memories with a new interactive interface, animated cards with smart, adaptive titles, new animation and transition styles, and multiple image collages
  • Apple Music can be added to your Memories for Apple Music subscribers, and personalized song suggestions combine expert recommendations with your music tastes and what’s in your photos and videos
  • Memory mixes let you set the mood by selecting from different songs and a Memory look to match
  • New memory types include additional international holidays, child-focused memories, trends over time, and improved pet memories
  • Info pane now displays rich information about the photo like which camera and lens, shutter speed, file size, and more
  • Visual Look Up recognizes art, landmarks around the world, plants and flowers, books, and dog and cat breeds in your photos so you can learn more about them

Health

  • Sharing lets you choose health data, alerts, and trends to share with people important to you or those who are caring for you, including your healthcare provider
  • Trends lets you see how a given health metric is progressing over time and can notify you when a new trend has been detected
  • Walking Steadiness is a new metric that can assess your risk of falling and notify you if your walking steadiness is low (iPhone 8 and later)
  • Verifiable health records enable you to download and store verifiable versions of COVID-19 vaccines and lab results
  • Lab results can now be pinned for quick access and include highlights that show how your labs have changed over time

Weather

  • A new design shows the most important weather information for that location and includes new maps modules
  • Weather maps can be viewed in full-screen and show precipitation, temperature and air quality in supported countries
  • Next-hour precipitation notifications alert you when rain or snow is about to start or stop in Ireland, U.K., and US
  • New animated backgrounds more accurately represent the sun position, clouds, and precipitation (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)

Siri

  • On-device processing means audio of your requests does not leave your device by default, and means Siri is able to process many requests while offline (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)
  • Share items with Siri lets you send on screen items like photos, web pages and Maps locations to any of your contacts
  • Onscreen context can be used by Siri to refer to contacts on screen to send them a message or place a call
  • On-device personalization allows Siri speech recognition and understanding to improve privately (iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and later)

Privacy

  • Mail Privacy Protection protects your privacy by preventing email senders from learning about your Mail activity, your IP address or whether you’ve opened their email
  • Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention now also prevents known trackers from profiling you using your IP address

iCloud+

  • iCloud+ is a cloud subscription service that gives you premium features and additional iCloud storage
  • iCloud Private Relay (beta) sends your requests through two separate internet relays and encrypts the internet traffic leaving your device so you can browse Safari in a more secure and private way
  • Hide My Email lets you create unique, random email addresses that forward to your personal inbox so you can send and receive email without having to share your real email address
  • HomeKit Secure Video supports connecting more security cameras without using your iCloud storage quota
  • Custom email domain personalizes your iCloud Mail address and allows you to invite family members to use the same domain

Accessibility

  • Image exploration with VoiceOver allows you to get even more details about people and objects, and learn about text and table data in photos
  • VoiceOver image descriptions in Markup let you add your own image descriptions that can be read by VoiceOver
  • Per-app settings allow you to customize display and text size settings only for the apps you want
  • Background sounds play balanced, bright, or dark noise, ocean, rain, and stream sounds continuously in the background to mask unwanted environmental or external noise
  • Sound actions for Switch Control enable you to control your iPhone with simple mouth sounds
  • Audiograms can be imported in Settings so you can customize Headphone Accommodations based on your hearing test results
  • New Voice Control languages include Mandarin Chinese (China mainland), Cantonese (Hong Kong), French (France), and German (Germany)
  • Memoji options including a cochlear implant, oxygen tubes, or a soft helmet

This release also includes other features and improvements:

  • Tags in Notes and Reminders help you quickly categorize your items to make them easy to find, and you can use custom Smart Folders and Smart Lists to automatically collect your notes and reminders based on rules you can define
  • Mentions in Notes enable you to notify others of important updates in shared notes, and an all-new Activity view displays all the recent changes in a note in a single list
  • Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking in Apple Music brings an even more immersive experience to Dolby Atmos music with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max
  • System-wide translation lets you select text throughout the system and translate it with a tap, even in photos
  • New widgets include Find My, Contacts, App Store, Sleep, Game Center, and Mail
  • Cross-app drag and drop function lets you pick up images, documents, and files from one app to another
  • Keyboard magnification loupe magnifies the text when moving the cursor
  • Apple ID Account Recovery Contacts lets you to choose one or more people you trust to help you reset your password and regain access to your account
  • Temporary iCloud storage grants you as much iCloud storage as you need to create a temporary backup of your data, free of charge, for up to three weeks when you buy a new device
  • Find My separation alerts notify you if you leave a supported device or item behind and Find My will give you directions to your item
  • Game highlights of up to the last 15 seconds of gameplay can be saved using game controllers like the Xbox Series X|S Wireless Controller or Sony PS5 DualSense™ Wireless Controller
  • App Store in-app events help you discover timely events within apps and games such as a game competition, a new movie premiere, or a livestreamed experience

This release includes even more features and improvements. For more information, please visit this website: https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-15/features/

For information on the security content of Apple software updates, please visit this website: https://support.apple.com/kb/HT201222

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Leaked Surface Pro 8 specs include Thunderbolt ports and a 120Hz screen

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Alleged Surface Pro 8 leak shows a device with a larger screen, Thunderbolt ports, and a 120Hz screen.

Just days ahead of Microsoft’s next Surface hardware event, Twitter user @Shadlow_Leak has posted what appears to be a leaked retail listing showing some key specs of a new Surface Pro device (via The Verge). According to the listing, the new convertible tablet appears to ditch USB-C and USB-A ports in favor of a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, and it also adds 11th-gen Intel Core processors, a 13″ screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, and a user-replaceable SSD like the ones in some other current Surface devices.

The renders show a Surface with a design similar to the current Surface Pro 7, just with a notably larger screen and smaller bezels than the current Surface Pro 7. Take this with a larger grain of salt—the “screens” in these press renders are often superimposed on the devices after the fact, and they’ve been known to get the screen size wrong. Still, a larger screen with smaller bezels lines up with other Surface Pro 8 rumors that have been circulating, as well as general design trends in the PC industry.

A larger screen for the Surface Pro 8 would make this the biggest overhaul of the hardware since 2014’s Surface Pro 3. Microsoft has been intentionally conservative about updating the device’s design over the years in order to maintain compatibility with existing chargers, keyboard covers, and accessories. 2019’s Surface Pro X introduced a refined design, but that tablet is only available with ARM processors rather than x86 chips from Intel or AMD, limiting compatibility and performance for many existing Windows apps.

We’re hoping to see a new Surface Pro and all kinds of other Surface hardware at Microsoft’s hardware event on September 22. Current rumors also point to a redesigned Surface Book, and a new iteration of the dual-screened Surface Duo Android phone has just been cleared by the FCC.

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