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Why the fuss about USB-C?

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USB-C cables are thrown into the spotlight once again. These beloved reversible cables aren’t new to tech, but members of the European Parliament have called for the mandatory introduction of common chargers for all mobile devices with a near-unanimous vote of 582-40 on the resolution. One cable to rule them all. The iPhone’s current Lightning cable is Apple’s own proprietary tech. This means that the USB-C naturally finds itself the standard that all phone companies, including Apple, are going to abide to.

EU vs Apple

One of the EU’s arguments is to reduce electronic waste. The lawmakers’ resolution said the Commission should adopt new rules by July, calling for “an urgent need for EU regulatory action to reduce electronic waste, empower consumers to make sustainable choices, and allow them to fully participate in an efficient and well-functioning internal market.”

It sounds oddly specific, but the logic seems to be the more unique ports you have, the more wires you will need – and throw eventually. In fact, old chargers are estimated to account for a shocking 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste per year.

A lot of today’s cables deliver very similar charges, but the variety of plugs means that over 1 million tonnes of power adapters are produced annually. Instead of hoarding a whole bunch of cables, the EU envisions a world where one cable is enough.

That leads us to the EU’s second argument: interoperability. Uniting all devices with a single cable would mean you only need to bring one for all your devices. Most of the latest laptops charge with USB-C – even the MacBook, ironically – making it even more convenient for consumers.

Apple is obviously not pleased. Contrary to what EU are saying, Apple says forcing this change would lead to “an unprecedented volume of electronic waste.” It would render over the cables of over 1 billion Apple devices obsolete. These cables would be thrown out over the years as users move on to new phones.

Why USB-C cables?

The EU did not explicitly say USB-C will be the standard but given how Micro-USB is being phased out and Lightning cables are Apple’s, we seem to have a clear winner.

The USB-C brought to the rest of the world what Lightning cables brought for iPhones – flippable wires. Crucially, it has more than 700 companies in its membership, such as Microsoft, Samsung and even Apple. If there were to be one cable to rule them all, it would be this.

There are many variations of USB-C cables, which presents a huge flaw that we will address later. But in short, the variety has led to greater wattage and transfer rates of 5GBps for normal cables and up to 40GBps in high-end cables like the Thunderbolt 3.0. The higher transfer rate also means it can simultaneously send video signals and power streams, moving toward a future where chunky HDMI cables are redundant.

Limitations of USB-C

While it may be the future, USB-C cables are not without its flaws. Not every cable is created equal – users are getting wildly varied performances with every cable they buy. The one attached to your MacBook is greatly different from the one powering your phone.

Here is why we’re all confused: the USB-C name refers to the physical shape of the connector, not the protocol. The specs within the cable vary – this is what determines how much it can transfer and how fast it can send it. Better cables like the USB 3.0 or 3.1 may have the capacity to transfer big video game files in seconds, while ones with an ancient USB 2.0 spec may take minutes. Other cables can send video into a USB-C compatible desktop while other USB-C cables can’t, presenting another potential for wasted cables.

This is even more problematic when it comes to power. Cable ratings that do not match the ports they are plugged to can overload a device. Most USB-C cables have safeguards in place to prevent this, say, if it’s used on a device that does not support their maximum draw. But problems arise when manufacturers cut corners and these cables start to damage your tech – or cause overheating.

More needs to be done to ensure a clear-cut implementation of USB-C cables, which could lead to just as much waste, or worse, injuries.

What’s next for Apple?

Apple’s not a fan of the new resolution, but this change will likely force it to standardize all its new products by 2021. But the business will surely seek new ways to generate revenue, now that the infamous fraying charging cables are out of favor.

Its endgame is likely to obliterate cables entirely. Apple has killed the headphone jack for phones and charging ports will likely be its next target. Reports by Cult of Mac suggest Apple are working on a port-less iPhone for 2021, relying entirely on wireless connectivity.

There are concerns that Apple may not follow the Qi wireless charging standard that makes it compatible with the rest of the industry, but the EU saw that play early. Parliament is also requesting the Commission to ensure wireless chargers are standardized across the board too, ensuring it is not restricted to one brand or device type.

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Ring Car Cam leaks: This could be Amazon’s Alexa dash-cam

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Details and what appears to be an image of Ring’s upcoming Car Cam have leaked, with the connected dash cam expected to add security both when the vehicle is parked and while it’s on the move. The newest addition to Ring’s line-up was actually announced in September 2020 as part of Amazon’s big device launch, though at the time no pictures of the Car Cam hardware itself were shared.

Still, Ring’s description painted a fairly comprehensive picture of what it was intended to do. As well as tracking bumps and attempted break-ins, and notifying owners via the Ring smartphone app, it can also be used to record journeys and summon emergency services in the case of an accident being detected.

If you’re being pulled over by the police, meanwhile, saying “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” will automatically begin video and audio recording. At the same time as that’s being uploaded to the cloud, the system will send a notification to pre-selected family members to let them know the stop has taken place. Ring said there would be a physical privacy shutter, too, and a choice of WiFi or LTE connectivity. The whole thing would be $199.99, though cellular plans would be on top of that.

Since then, we’ve not heard anything more about the new dash camera. A leak on The Tape Drive, though, has revealed what it could look like, and it’s certainly an unusual design.

The camera assembly looks to be mounted on some sort of bracket, either to be positioned above the dashboard or potentially hung from above the rearview mirror. There’s presumably a fish-eye camera on both sides – only visible from one side in the render – to capture footage both inside and outside of the car.

As for functionality, ZatzNotFunny spotted a seemingly prematurely-published Ring Car Cam information document on the company’s support site. It reconfirms some of the details which Ring told us late last year, but also adds a few extra tidbits.

For example, the camera will connect via the vehicle’s data port, not just hook up to a USB or 12V outlet for power. “Ring Car Cam easily installs directly to the OBD-II port in your vehicle, located behind your steering wheel in most cars,” Ring explains. “It securely attaches to the windshield and dashboard of the car, and the cable can be neatly tucked away and out of sight.”

It’s unclear what extra data Ring might be gathering by using that approach. The OBD-II port typically grants access to various driving metrics, and though originally intended as a way for vehicle technicians to diagnose faults and issues in increasingly computerized models, has also gained traction as a way for third-party devices to tap that same stream of information. Amazon had also announced Ring Car Alarm, a cellularly-connected dongle that plugs into the ODB-II port.

The Ring Car Cam itself won’t require a subscription, though you won’t get all of the features in that case. “You can access video stored locally on the device via the Ring app when the car is within range of wifi,” the company explains. “With an optional Ring connectivity plan, you can access video from anywhere via LTE as well as advanced features like Emergency Crash Assist.”

The connectivity plan for Ring Car Cam will also unlock features like real-time tracking, to help locate a stolen vehicle.

What remains to be seen is how Ring Car Cam will fit into Ring’s existing sharing policies with police departments. The Amazon-owned company has found itself mired in controversy in recent years, after inking deals with law enforcement that saw many requests for footage from connected security cameras and video doorbells. Ring had been accused of fueling privacy infringement and supporting racial profiling.

Earlier this month, the company announced a new policy around sharing with public safety and law enforcement agencies. Moving forward, such agencies will ahem to request information or video from communities through a publicly-viewable category on Ring’s Neighbors app. This new section, “Request for Assistance,” will allow communities to see just what sort of data is being shared, Ring says.

“All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile,” Ring explains. “This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

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YouTube on iOS PiP makes it much easier to watch videos while multitasking

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YouTube is now rolling out the ability for all users to watch videos with picture-in-picture mode, which reduces the video players to a small floating screen on one’s phone or tablet. This feature won’t be limited to only premium customers as some had previously speculated, though those premium customers will get access to the PiP support first.

Android users have had access to YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode for a while; it has become increasingly useful as devices get larger, higher-resolution displays, leaving ample room for using more than one app at a time. With PiP, someone can watch a video in a small corner of their device’s display while doing something else, such as browsing social media, messaging, or playing games.

There have been concerns over recent months that YouTube wouldn’t only make its picture-in-picture mode available to paying Premium subscribers on iOS, but that’s not the case, according to confirmation given to MacRumors.

The feature is now rolling out to all iOS users in the United States, with Premium customers getting it first followed by free users ‘soon.’ Some iOS users have already had access to the YouTube picture-in-picture feature, though its availability has been touch and go with it working only sometimes.

The official support will eliminate the need to deal with difficult workarounds and buggy Safari streaming, though you may need to remain patient if you’re not a Premium user. The feature will be most useful on larger iPhone models where there’s enough screen space to watch a video in the mini player and engage in a second activity.

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Researchers say they’ve found the ideal strategy to pay off student loans

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When many people near college graduation, they begin to contemplate how they’ll deal with the student loans they’ve racked up over the past few years. The burden — which grows more substantial with every generation — can result in stress and, if not managed properly, may throw one’s life plans off track for several years. Mathematicians with the University of Colorado at Boulder may have a solution, explaining that they developed a mathematical model to explore the ideal repayment strategy.

Generally speaking, college graduates get a brief grace period after graduation during which time they aren’t required to make payments on their loans. Two different options are available once payments start: an income-based repayment strategy that involves paying a certain amount monthly based on one’s salary or simply throwing as much money at the loan as possible to pay it off in a shorter period of time.

In many cases, graduates are often advised to pay the loans off as quickly as possible if the funding amount is on the smaller side. On the flip side, graduates are typically told to take the income-based repayment option if they’ve taken out a substantial amount of funds in the form of student loans. The new study suggests a hybrid approach may be more ideal.

The mathematical model takes into account things like compounding interest rates, the income tax that may need to be paid, and more. The findings indicate that some graduates may benefit from a hybrid-style repayment approach that involves paying off as much as possible for the first several years, then switching over to an income-based repayment plan for the remainder of the balance.

The team of researchers hasn’t made their work available as a calculator for the public, but they do plan to improve it and potentially make it available to existing repayment calculators that may integrate the model. The ideal repayment method will ultimately depend on personal factors that must be accounted for, including things like anticipated salary and more.

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