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Sony’s new noise-canceling headphones are great traveling companions – TechCrunch

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I’ll admit that I’ve been caught up in the Bose hype. I’ve worn Bose headphones for years, going through set after set just to get some of their excellent noise canceling magic. Now, however, I’ve found the Sony WH-1000XM3, a pair of wireless/wired cans that truly give everything else I’ve tried a bad name.

These $349 headphones come with a USB cable, audio cable, two-pronged airline adapter, and a compact case that holds the whole thing in a tight package. The headphones also support Bluetooth and will automatically swap to wired mode when you insert the headphone cable. The WH-1000XM3s support full noise cancellation that turns even the noisiest situation into a blissful escape. An ambient audio feature lets you listen to external sounds at the touch of a button and there is even a “Quick Attention” feature that turns the headphones down instantly when you need to speak to someone. Sony touts 30 hours battery life on one charge, a claim that I won’t refute as I haven’t recharged these things after multiple flights and they’re still going strong.

In short, these things are great.

Sony likes to brand all of its features and these headphones are no exception. The cans contain a “HD Noise-Canceling Processor QN1″ that run two 1.57 ” drivers that can handle up to 40 kHz. Something called a SENSE ENGINE notices what you are doing – walking, sitting, talking – and automatically changes the audio and noise reduction. Finally, the headphones offer multiple styles including stages, clubs, and outdoor stages. I doubt many will use or notice these features but they’re nice to have.

How do they sound? First, understand that these are not audiophile headphones. You get nice separation, great sound stage, and high quality audio out of these things but mostly you’ll be listening wirelessly to music on your phone or listening to awful audio being blasted out of your seatback entertainment system. Put garbage in, as they say, and you get garbage out. That said, I found these headphones superior to nearly every other model I’ve tested recently, including my Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. The Sony models were bright and crisp and sounded great with noise canceling on or off. I also tested the headphones in loud environments including cafes and at home with lots of ambient audio playing. The ambient audio immediately disappeared when I turned on noise canceling, leaving only great sound.

They charge via USB and easily pair with any Bluetooth device instantly.

Now for some quibbles. The WH-1000XM3 has no physical power switch, a feature that lets you ensure your headphones are completely off. This single feature could mean the difference between a good flight and a bad flight. Further, the power button is right next to and the same size as the noise cancelation button. This makes it hard to tap this button if you’re wearing the headphones.

Thankfully, the headphones work when turned off, a feature that many lower-end noise canceling models lack. This means you can still listen to headphones if the battery is dead. I also noticed a bit of a bass heaviness in the WH-1000XM3s, but that could be a relic of using the fairly flat Bose headphones for so long.

The headphones also have some fairly cryptic touch features on the right cup including a call and music pause feature that works when you tap the sensitive surface. You can swipe through songs and turn the audio up and down and change the soundstage with a little button next to the power button.

Sony produces excellent audio products and these are no exception. I fly nearly every week these days and find myself reaching for these headphones over anything else I have in my extensive test collection. Time will tell if these cans survive the rigors of travel but given the price and the build quality I wouldn’t be surprised if these headphones are nestled in my backpack for years to come. Now I just have to break up with my Bose and I just know there will be drama.

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Apple won’t have to allow iPhone apps to use third-party payments tomorrow after all

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Enlarge / A Fortnite loading screen displayed on an iPhone in 2018, when Apple and Epic weren’t at each other’s throats.

Apple has won a last-minute stay on an injunction that would have required it to imminently begin allowing iPhone and iPad app developers to direct users to alternative payment options.

The requirement to allow in-app linking to third-party payment systems was ordered in a September 10 ruling by the judge in the ongoing Epic Games v. Apple lawsuit. This was one of the few wins for Epic, while Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled in favor of Apple on most points.

The judge gave Apple until December 9 to make the necessary changes to allow outside payment systems, so this stay comes at the last possible moment. When Judge Gonzalez Rogers rejected Apple’s initial request to stay the ruling, the company went on to appeal to the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is that appeal that has led to this new development.

Apple can now maintain the status quo on this particular point until the appeal is settled, likely many months from now.

Here are the key parts of the filing, as shared by 9to5Mac:

Apple, Inc. (“Apple”) has moved to stay, in part, the district court’s September 10, 2021, permanent injunction pending appeal. Apple’s motion (Dkt. Entry No. 19) is granted.

Apple has demonstrated, at minimum, that its appeal raises serious questions on the merits of the district court’s determination that Epic Games, Inc. failed to show Apple’s conduct violated any antitrust laws but did show that the same conduct violated California’s Unfair Competition Law…

Apple has also made a sufficient showing of irreparable harm… and that the remaining factors weigh in favor of staying part (i) of the injunction and maintaining the status quo pending appeal…

Therefore, we grant Apple’s motion to stay part (i) of paragraph (1) of the permanent injunction. The stay will remain in effect until the mandate issues this appeal. The existing briefing schedule remains in place.

In its appeal, Apple among other things argued that the December 9 date was not realistic because it would “take months to figure out the engineering, economic, business, and other issues” involved in the change.

This delay does not mean that Apple will not ultimately have to make the change; it simply means that the debate will continue. Epic Games has also appealed other aspects of Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ ruling, so this legal battle may continue for a long time yet.

It also does not affect the court’s prior order that Apple allow communication with users about alternative payment systems outside of apps using user contact info acquired from within the app.

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Amazon deal discounts top noise-canceling headphones under $100 from Anker

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Enlarge / Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 noise-canceling headphones.

Jeff Dunn

It’s tough to find quality noise-canceling headphones for less than $100, but Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 are one of the few budget-friendly sets we’ve tested that are worth your while. We named them a top budget-friendly pick in a recent guide to wireless noise-canceling headphones at their normal going rate of $80, but today the Q30 is down to $60 as part of an Amazon “Deal of the Day” promotion.

This is technically $10 higher than the lowest price the headphones have had, but that cut lasted less than a day, and this price matches the best price we’ve seen outside of that. Because this is a Deal of the Day promo, it’s also worth noting that the offer will likely only be available through Wednesday.

As for the headphones themselves, the Soundcore Life Q30 isn’t as effective at neutralizing outside sounds as our top picks like Sony’s WH-1000XM4 or Apple’s AirPods Max, but that’s to be expected. For significantly less cash, we found it to be effective enough at tuning out low-end rumbles, like plane and train engines, and capable of providing at least some resistance to higher-pitched sounds as well. It’s not world-beating, but it’s solid, which is more than we can say for most over-ear pairs we’ve used in this price range.

More than that, we found the Q30 to be lightweight on the head and comfortable to wear for extended listening, even if they could stand to stuff a little more padding on the headband. They aren’t the most premium-feeling headphones in the world, unsurprisingly, but they don’t come off as flimsy, and a useful carrying case for travel is included. There are physical control buttons on the earcups, and you can use the headphones passively over an included cable (though you can’t use their microphone in that situation). The integrated mic isn’t anything special for phone calls, but it’s usable. Best of all, the Q30 headphones get tremendous battery life, lasting more than 40 continuous hours with active noise cancellation (ANC) on and music streaming at moderate volume in our testing. They also charge over USB-C.

By default, the Q30’s “V-shaped” sound signature won’t be for everyone. Anker prioritizes the high and (especially) low frequencies out of the box, which gives the Q30 an excited sound and massive bass but takes away from mid-range detail and clarity. Some may enjoy this lively (if not particularly accurate) profile, but if you don’t, there is a tweakable EQ tool within Anker’s companion app that lets you choose from several other presets and adjust the audio profile a bit more to your liking.

Like many other modern pairs, the Q30 headphones also have a “transparency” mode that layers outside noise over the top of your music for those times when you want to be more aware of your surroundings but not pause your playlist or podcast completely. Its implementation isn’t as smooth as it is on pricier competitors, however, and it does have more of a negative effect on audio quality by comparison. But it works, and it’s at least there in a pinch.

While the Q30 is our top pick for over-the-ear ANC headphones under $100, Anker has released a Soundcore Life Q35 model since the Q30 launched. It’s mostly the same as this pair, though, with its main addition being a slightly improved mic and support for Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth codec for high-res audio. We think most people don’t need to pay extra for those, though. If you’re willing to pay more for a better headphone, it may be worth considering the other picks in our ANC headphone guide, but if you’ve been hoping to grab a good pair on the cheap for the holidays, the Q30 are a great value at this deal price.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Apple reaches quiet truce over iPhone privacy changes

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Enlarge / A privacy notice appears on an iPhone 12 under the new iOS 14.5.1 operating system. Developers of an application have to ask for the user’s permission to allow cross-app tracking.

Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Apple has allowed app developers to collect data from its 1 billion iPhone users for targeted advertising, in an unacknowledged shift that lets companies follow a much looser interpretation of its controversial privacy policy.

In May Apple communicated its privacy changes to the wider public, launching an advert that featured a harassed man whose daily activities were closely monitored by an ever-growing group of strangers. When his iPhone prompted him to “Ask App Not to Track,” he clicked it and they vanished. Apple’s message to potential customers was clear—if you choose an iPhone, you are choosing privacy.

But seven months later, companies including Snap and Facebook have been allowed to keep sharing user-level signals from iPhones, as long as that data is anonymised and aggregated rather than tied to specific user profiles.

For instance Snap has told investors that it plans to share data from its 306 million users—including those who ask Snap “not to track”—so advertisers can gain “a more complete, real-time view” on how ad campaigns are working. Any personally identifiable data will first be obfuscated and aggregated.

Similarly, Facebook operations chief Sheryl Sandberg said the social media group was engaged in a “multiyear effort” to rebuild ad infrastructure “using more aggregate or anonymized data”.

These companies point out that Apple has told developers they “may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it.” This means they can observe “signals” from an iPhone at a group level, enabling ads that can still be tailored to “cohorts” aligning with certain behavior but not associated with unique IDs.

This type of tracking is becoming the norm. Oren Kaniel, the chief executive of AppsFlyer, a mobile attribution platform that works with app developers, said that when his company introduced such a “privacy-centric” tool based on aggregated measurement in July 2020, “the level of pushback that we received from the entire ecosystem was huge.”

But now such aggregated solutions are the default for 95 percent of his clients. “The market changed their minds in a radical way,” he said.

It is not clear whether Apple has actually blessed these solutions. Apple declined to answer specific questions for this article but described privacy as its North Star, implying it was setting a general destination rather than defining a narrow pathway for developers.

Cory Munchbach, chief operating officer at customer data platform BlueConic, said Apple had to stand back from a strict reading of its rules because the disruption to the mobile ads ecosystem would be too great.

“Apple can’t put themselves in a situation where they are basically gutting their top-performing apps from a user-consumption perspective,” she said. “That would ultimately hurt iOS.”

For anyone interpreting Apple’s rules strictly, these solutions break the privacy rules set out to iOS users.

Lockdown Privacy, an app that blocks ad trackers, has called Apple’s policy “functionally useless in stopping third-party tracking.” It performed a variety of tests on top apps and observed that personal data and device information is still “being sent to trackers in almost all cases.”

But the companies aggregating user-level data said the reason apps continue to “leak” information such as a user’s IP address and location was simply because some require such information to function. Advertisers must know certain things such as the user’s language or the device screen size, otherwise the app experience would be awful.

The risk is that by allowing user-level data to be used by opaque third parties so long as they promise not to abuse it, Apple is in effect trusting the very same groups that chief executive Tim Cook has lambasted as “hucksters just looking to make a quick buck.”

Companies will pledge that they only look at user-level data once it has been anonymized, but without access to the data or algorithms working behind the scenes, users won’t really know if their data privacy has been preserved, said Munchbach.

“If historical precedent in adtech holds, those black boxes hide a lot of sins,” she said. “It’s not unreasonable to assume it leaves a lot to be desired.”

© 2021 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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