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This new wireless charger from Zens nearly fulfills the promise of Apple’s AirPower – TechCrunch

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Apple’s cancellation of its AirPower wireless charging mat was one of the company’s few big public flubs, but the concept behind the cancelled product remains attractive: A wireless charging pad that supports multiple devices, and that isn’t picky about how you set down your device in order to make a connection. Wireless charging accessory maker Zens has actually created such a device with the Liberty Wireless Charger, and while it doesn’t offer everything that AirPower claimed to be able to do, it’s a big step up from current wireless chargers and a a great companion for iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch.

Coils, coils coils

The Zens Liberty is special because of how it uses the wireless charging coils that are responsible for the charging ability of any wireless chargers – wound circular loops of copper cable that provide the induction power received by devices like the latest iPhones and AirPods charging case. Zens has stacked 16 such coils in an overlapping array – which, conveniently, you can see in pretty much full detail in the transparent glass edition charger that’s available today alongside the fabric-covered version.

These overlapping coils are the key to the unique abilities of the Zens Liberty: Specifically, their arrangement means you can place your devices down in basically any orientation and they’ll begin charging right away. Most charging pads, by comparison, have one, two or sometimes three coils placed in specific locations, meaning you have to make sure your device is properly situated above one to actually get it to start charging. If you’ve been using wireless chargers for any length of time, you’ve probably had the unfortunate opportunity to get this orientation match-up wrong, resulting in a phone that didn’t charge at all when you wake up the next morning.

Zens’ Liberty does indeed solve this annoyance, and I found I was able to put devices down basically however I wanted them and have them charge up.

Flexible seating for two

Up to two Qi-compatible devices can be charged at once, and they’ll each work with up to 15w of power, which is at the top end of what any current devices support. I tested it out with Android phones, iPhones and AirPods (plus AirPods Pro) and found that all worked without issue and basically however I wanted to lay them across the surface. The caveats here are that you should think of the areas around the edges of the charger as basically non-active, so stay around an inch in from the outer surface and you should be fine.

This flexibility may not seem like much (why not just pay attention when you’re putting your devices on a more traditional charger?) but it actually is a very nice convenience. Just that small assurance that you can easily put your device down on the Liberty’s generous surface and not worry too much about checking whether a connection was actually made is a big relief, when you charge a device as much as you do your iPhone or your AirPods.

Apple Watch, too

The Zens Liberty can’t charge the Apple Watch on the pad, the way that Apple had advertised the cancelled AirPower would’ve been able to. But with an accessory, the pad can become a truly all-in one charging station for your mobile Apple kit, Watch included. An officially supported Apple Watch charger with a USB A connector on one end is an add-on option that Zens offers, and it conveniently slots right into a USB port present on the Zens Liberty (and protected/hidden by a rubber flap when not in use).

This port actually supports any kind of USB powered device, so you can also use it with a cable to charge another gadget, like an iPad for instance. But it’s perfectly designed for the new Zens Apple Watch charger accessory, which comes with a little plastic shelf that snaps in to support your Watch when it’s charging. It provides just the right angle for Apple Watch’s Nightstand mode, and is a necessary addition for anyone looking for an all-in one solution.

Bottom line

The Zens Liberty is the best all-around charging option available currently, based on my testing so far. It’s also powered by an included 60w USB-C charger, which comes with two international plug adapters that makes it a great travel brick for other devices, too. That means you can also use standard USB-C power bricks with it, too, rather than requiring some kind of proprietary power adapter.

There are some downsides to keep in mind, however: You should realize that this is a big charger, for instance. That’s good in that it supports multiple devices easily, but it’s also going to take up more space than your average wireless charger. It’s also thick, which allows for the stacked coils and cooling system (this is the only wireless charger I’ve used that has clear and obvious vents, for instance).

That said, the Zens Liberty makes good on the true promise of wireless charging, which is convenience and flexibility. And it’s well-designed and aesthetically attractive, in both the fabric-covered and striking transparent glass designs. Zens is now accepting pre-orders for these, with shipping starting sometime this month, and the standard fabric version retails for 139.99 ($155 USD) while the glass edition is €179.99 ($199 USD), and the Apple Watch USB stick sells for €39.99 ($44.50 USD).



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Google enables end-to-end encryption for Android’s default SMS/RCS app

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Enlarge / If you and your chatting partner are both on Google Messages and both have RCS enabled, you’ll see these lock icons to show that encryption is on.

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Google has announced that end-to-end encryption is rolling out to users of Google Messages, Android’s default SMS and RCS app. The feature has been in testing for months, and now it’s coming to everyone.

Encryption in Google Messages works only if both users are on the service. Both users must also be in a 1:1 chat (no group chats allowed), and they both must have RCS turned on. RCS was supposed to be a replacement for SMS—an on-by-default, carrier-driven text messaging standard. RCS was cooked up in 2008, and it adds 2008-level features to carrier messaging, like user presence, typing status, read receipts, and location sharing.

Text messaging used to be a cash cow for carriers, but with the advent of unlimited texting and the commoditization of carrier messaging, there’s no clear revenue motivation for carriers to release RCS. The result is that the RCS rollout has amounted to nothing but false promises and delays. The carriers nixed a joint venture called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” in April, pretty much killing any hopes that RCS will ever hit SMS-like ubiquity. Apple executives have also indicated internally that they view easy messaging with Android as a threat to iOS ecosystem lock-in, so it would take a significant change of heart for Apple to support RCS.

The result is that Google is the biggest player that cares about RCS, and in 2019, the company started pushing its own carrier-independent RCS system. Users can dig into the Google Messages app settings and turn on “Chat features,” which refers to Google’s version of RCS. It works if both users have turned on the checkbox, but again, the original goal of a ubiquitous SMS replacement seems to have been lost. This makes Google RCS a bit like any other over-the-top messaging service—but tied to the slow and out-of-date RCS protocol. For instance, end-to-end encryption isn’t part of the RCS spec. Since it’s something Google is adding on top of RCS and it’s done in software, both users need to be on Google Messages. Other clients aren’t supported.

Google released a whitepaper detailing the feature’s implementation, and there aren’t too many surprises. The company uses the Signal protocol for encryption, just like Signal, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger. The Google Messages web app works fine since it still relies on an (encrypted) local connection to your phone to send messages. Encrypted messages on Wear OS are not supported yet but will be at some point (hopefully in time for that big revamp). Even though the message text is encrypted, third parties can still see metadata like sent and received phone numbers, timestamps, and approximate message sizes.

If you and your messaging partner have all the settings right, you’ll see lock icons next to the send button and the “message sent” status.

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Apple’s podcast subscriptions went live today—with a 30 percent cut

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As previously announced in April, Apple has today launched its new Podcasts Subscriptions feature on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. The system allows users to subscribe to podcasts (or groups of podcasts called Channels) for extra perks.

Perks can include early access to episodes, as well as ad-free listening. Some shows may offer bonus content for subscribers as well. You can subscribe to a podcast with just one button using Apple’s payment system.

Podcast creators can charge whatever they please, with the minimum subscription fee being $0.49 per month. Apple takes 30 percent of that amount for the first year, but if a subscriber remains active beyond 12 months, Apple switches to taking just 15 percent of that subscription fee.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t have any rules against additional ways to monetize podcasts that offer these subscriptions, such as asking listeners to also back a Patreon.

When you subscribe to a podcast, its show page will have a “Subscriber Edition” label on it. You can also trial subscriptions to participating podcasts to see if they’re worth actually paying for. The length of time these trial subscriptions last varies, but it seems to usually be a few days or as long as a week.

Channels are basically podcast bundles curated by someone. Channels aren’t limited to podcasts using Apple’s new subscriptions offerings, though. When you follow more than one channel, a new “My Channels” section will appear in the Listen Now tab of the Podcasts app. Initiating a paid subscription to a channel gives you subscriber status with all its member podcasts.

Podcasts Subscriptions will be available in 170 countries and regions on devices running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, and macOS 11.4 or later.

Listing image by Apple

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Make way for Windows 11? Windows 10 end-of-life is October 2025

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Enlarge / Please show your retired operating system the respect it deserves, with a proper Viking funeral.

A new Windows visual refresh, code-named Sun Valley. is on the way this summer. Until recently, we’ve assumed that this update would simply bring a new look for Windows 10 21H2—the major release of Windows 10 in the second half of 2021—but new information in the form of posted end-of-life (EOL) dates for Windows 10 and a leaked screenshot of something purporting to be “Windows 11 Pro” heavily imply that serious changes are on the way.

Windows 10 EOL in 2025

Rumors of Sun Valley being “Windows 11” have been circulating for months—but until recently, we didn’t put much stock in them. Windows 10 was intended to be Windows as a Service—a radical departure from the prior era of new, major Windows releases every three years or so. It seemed likely that Sun Valley’s “sweeping visual rejuvenation” would result in Windows 10 21H2 looking very different from Windows 10 21H1. Why fix what’s not broken?

The first strong indication that bigger things may be coming landed last week from a Microsoft-published EOL notice for Windows 10. “Windows 10 Home and Pro”—no codenames, no minor version numbers—is now listed as retiring on October 14, 2025. “Retiring” is a part of the Modern Lifecycle Policy and means that the retired product leaves support entirely; this does not follow the old Fixed Lifecycle Policy with “mainstream” and “extended” support. Retired is retired—hit the pasture.

As Windows Central points out, the retirement date isn’t entirely a new phenomenon—Microsoft initially launched the operating system with “mainstream support” through October 2020 and “extended support” through October 2025, the same five-/10-year-support period it provides for server and enterprise operating systems. What has changed is the way Microsoft talks about that end of support—there was no retirement date for Windows 10 as a whole shown on the home-and-pro life cycle page until recently.

There isn’t any real question about the end of life at this point—Microsoft has published it, and we have no reason to think it won’t happen. The interesting questions revolve around what comes next and when it will happen.

Windows 11 in 2021?

We’ve been seeing rumors about Sun Valley being a new Windows 11 for a few months—and until Microsoft posted a fresh EOL for Windows 10, we were skeptical. Windows 10 has been touted as “Windows as a Service” with no real expiration date for some time now, and there was no real reason to expect anything different.

The end-of-life date for Windows 10 as an entire operating system changes that—and it’s backed up by leaked screenshots of a Windows build claiming to be “Windows 11 Pro” which showed up today on Baidu. The new build is visually similar to the canceled Windows 10X, and its screenshots appear legitimate. (The Verge says it can “confirm they are genuine,” with no details as to how.)

What does a new version of Windows mean for me?

For now, it’s unclear what a new “Windows 11” means for end users—there are no guarantees that existing Windows 10 licenses will allow the use of Windows 11, let alone an in-place upgrade. We also have no concrete idea about when new releases of Windows 10 will cease, when the first Windows 11 will be available, or what costs will be.

We do have an educated guess or two, though—Microsoft’s generous upgrade policies from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (you can still upgrade for free today!) strongly imply a similar policy for 11, which Microsoft will presumably be keen to get users on. We also don’t expect under-the-hood changes as sweeping as the ones which took place between 7 and 10. In all likelihood, in-place upgrades will be available.

We’d also like to point out that the consumer support cycle for Windows 10 is short. For example, Windows 10 21H1—the most current build—is only supported through December 2022. That’s a roughly 18-month lifecycle, and there are no extended support policies for consumer Windows anymore. When it leaves support, you’re expected to upgrade to the next version if you want to continue getting support and bugfixes.

We may or may not see a Windows 10 21H2 or even a Windows 10 22H1. But we don’t expect to see a new Windows 10 build past 2023 at the latest since that would imply the need to support 10 past its October 2025 retirement date.

More details are on the way

If you find the lack of concrete detail here frustrating, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long—Microsoft’s What’s Next for Windows digital event is coming June 24, and we expect plenty of screenshots, news, and more detailed upgrade guidance at that time.

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