Posts with «author_name|steve dent» label

Apple hires a new HomePod software lead amid speaker market struggles

Amid struggles to make headway in the smart speaker market, Apple has hired a new HomePod software head, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The company has reportedly brought onboard Afrooz Family, who co-founded the high-end audio startup Syng with former Apple designer Christopher Stringer.

Apple's $349 HomePod arrived in 2018 to very mixed reviews, and was discontinued early this year. The company has noticeably failed to compete with smart speaker rivals, particularly Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo devices and Google's Assistant speaker family. 

Family worked for Apple between 2012 and 2016 and was on the original HomePod team before starting Syng. That company aimed to develop a "revolutionary" speaker to produce immersive audio, but eventually developed a rather niche, $1,800 speaker. The previous HomePod software head, Jason Harrison, left Apple for Airbnb last year. 

Apple's latest speaker product is the $99 HomePod mini, which we described in our Engadget review as an "acceptable Echo alternative." That device has reportedly helped sales a bit, but hasn't put much of a dent in a market dominated by Amazon and Google, according to Bloomberg.

The biggest problem with Apple's smart speakers may be Siri and HomeKit, which aren't as widely supported as Alexa and Google Assistant. The original HomePod was also pretty expensive at launch. To make inroads, Apple may need to change its approach and continue to improve integration — as it recently did with a HomePod mini update that made it work with Apple TV. Apple's primary goal is to merge its HomePod and Apple TV hardware, according to Gurman. 

Apple is holding its Unleashed event on Monday, where it's expected to launch new MacBooks and possibly AirPods, but there's no rumors of a new HomePod product coming any time soon. 

Rode's Wireless Go II can now be controlled via Android and iOS apps

Rode has unveiled the Central Mobile app for the $299 Wireless Go II lavalier-type microphone, allowing users to unlock advanced features, control settings and more. It also announced that the Wireless Go II is now compatible with its Rode Connect software designed for multi-host podcasting and streaming on a single PC. 

Rode Central initially arrived as a desktop app, but a mobile version will be a lot more convenient for location and field work. As with the PC version, it'll let users switch between "merged" and "split" recording modes when interviewing two subjects, adjust the gain settings, unlock fine gain control, activate safety channels and more. Users will also be able to update the Wireless Go II with the latest firmware updates. 

Rode originally launched the Connect PC app to simplify recording of multi-host podcasts, but it only supported desktop-style USB microphones to start with. Now, you can connect the Wireless Go II system as well, marking one of the first times "that a compact wireless microphone system has been fully integrated with podcasting or streaming software," Rode said. 

Rode Central for mobile is now available to download for free, and you can find Rode Connect here. 

'Genshin Impact' now supports 120fps on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPad Pro

The popular iOS game Genshin Impact is taking advantage of the iPhone 13 Pro's higher-refresh ProMotion display with a new 120fps mode, 9to5Mac has reported. On top of the higher framerates, developer miHoYo introduced new areas, events, missions, character banners and more. 

Apple previously wrote that all iOS developers must release updates to their apps or games to "unlock" the 120Hz mode by adding .plist file key. As with Android devices, use of the mode will drain your battery quicker, but allow for smoother gaming. 2nd-gen or higher iPad Pros don't necessarily need an update to support 120Hz refresh rates, but any game would likely require one anyway.

At the WWDC 2021 Apple Design Awards, Genshin Impact won the best game in the visual category, thanks to graphics and artwork that "push the frontier for mobile gaming," Apple wrote. While the game is also available on Android, PC and Playstation 5, iOS appears to be the first platform to support the higher framerates, according to the Brazilian site Technoblog

Clubhouse has a new high-quality audio option for musicians

Clubhouse has proven to be a big hit with musicians, helping them try out material on an audience and even create viral hits. Now, the site is becoming more useful to bands and singers with a new feature called music mode, the company announced in a blog post

The new mode appears in the three-dot menu under "audio quality," with a new selection called "music." Clubhouse didn't reveal any of the audio specs, but said it lets users broadcast with high quality in stereo. "You’ll also be able to use professional audio equipment for your performance, like external USB microphones or mixing boards," it wrote. Users will also be able to add the mode to pre-recorded Clips, "so any snippets you share from performers using music mode will also sound great," according to Clubhouse.

The new feature is the second boost to sound quality over the last couple of months. Late in August, Clubhouse added spatial audio to create more immersive audio chats, making speakers' voices come from different parts of the room.  

Along with the music mode, Clubhouse rolled out a couple of new tweaks, moving the search bar to the top of the feed and allowing users to wave at each other through the search bar, on iOS to start with. The new features will roll out to iOS first, "with Android as a fast follow," the company wrote. 

Google's Pocket Gallery art museum experiences come to the web

Google's Pocket Gallery came along in 2018, allowing users with AR-enabled smartphones to see artworks by the likes of Vermeer and Klimt, even pieces normally not accessible to the public. Now, Google is opening up the exhibitions to everyone on the web, letting you explore them on desktop or mobile devices with or without AR capabilities, it announced in a Keyword post

Up until today, Pocket Gallery was essentially an (overly complicated) AR experience inside Google's Arts & Culture app, placing an art gallery on your desktop or another flat surface and allowing you to explore different art pieces. Now, you just need to load up the Arts & Culture website, find the Pocket Gallery section, choose a relevant exhibition in your browser and use your mouse or finger to scroll around, zoom in, etc. 

Otherwise, it works much the same, allowing you to view, pan and zoom right in, down to brushstrokes and flecks of paint on certain pieces. It also provides a written description along with audio narratives for key pieces (complete with a museum-like echo), describing an artwork's history, meaning and more. It's a welcome and much overdue change, opening up the educational possibilities of Pocket Gallery to far more people.

Google Arts & Culture has other virtual experiences, including 360-degree videos and more. Along with the update, Google also unveiled a new exhibition in the collection done in collaboration with Réunion des musées nationaux - Grand Palais in France. It features 40 marine masterpieces from the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre and elsewhere. 

Planet orbiting a dead star previews our own solar system's fate

Scientists have spotted a Jupiter-like exoplanet orbiting a dead star that was once like our Sun, The New York Times has reported. According to a paper in the journal Nature, the white dwarf star and planet around 6,500 light years away provides a preview of what will happen to our own solar system in approximately 5 billion years. 

When a yellow dwarf star like our sun exhausts its helium supply, it expands into a red giant and incinerates its inner planets (bye-bye, Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury). It then contracts from its own gravity into a white dwarf, a dim Earth-sized star with about half its original mass. Though the fate of inner planets is sealed, scientists aren't exactly sure what happens to planets farther away, like Jupiter and Uranus.

Using the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck observatory in Hawai'i, a team of researchers spotted a planet around 1.4 times the size of Jupiter orbiting a dim white dwarf star (about 60 percent the size of the Sun) in a Jupiter-like orbit. They discovered it using a technique called gravitational microlensing (thanks, Einstein), possible when a target and a nearer star align with Earth. The nearer star bends the light from the subject, allowing scientists to observe it with a telescope.

The team tried to find the planet's associated star, but eventually concluded that it must be a white dwarf too faint to directly observe. Scientists previously discovered a different Jupiter-like planet around a white dwarf, but its orbit was much closer — so it wasn't a great analog to our own solar system. 

The finding indicates that planets with wide orbits are probably more common than inner planets. It also shows that some of our solar system's worlds may survive the Sun's death. "Earth’s future may not be so rosy because it is much closer to the Sun,” co-author David Bennett said in a statement. "If humankind wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth during its red supergiant phase, we’d still remain in orbit around the Sun, although we would not be able to rely on heat from the Sun as a white dwarf for very long."

Sony's lightweight 70-200mm zoom has features designed for video creators

Sony has unveiled the FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II zoom lens that looks to be an interesting option for hybrid video and photo shooters. Designed for the company's full-frame Alpha-series mirrorless cameras, it's the lightest 70-200mm F2.8 lens on the market at 1,045 grams, Sony said. It also offers a number of features aimed at movie creators not usually seen in a lens like this. 

While large zoom lenses tend to focus slowly, Sony said the new model uses four XD linear motors to deliver reliable focus that's up to three times faster than rival models, and four times faster than the previous model on Sony's Alpha 1 camera. Tracking with continuous autofocus while zooming has improved by 30 percent compared first-gen model, too. It also focuses quietly, so the motor sound is less likely to be picked up by a camera's microphone. 

Video shooters often need to pull focus between subjects, but lenses designed for photography usually exhibit "breathing," or zooming in or out while changing focus. Sony said it designed the FE 70-200 F2.8 GM OSS II to curtail that, while also reducing focus shift while zooming. Such features are usually only found in cinema lenses that cost considerably more.

The lens should deliver nice bokeh thanks to the wide, continuous F2.8 aperture, while offering good handling with dual lens elements that move internally. It also offers three separate rings for focus, aperture and zoom, making it easier to rig for cinema use. Other features include high resolution, extra-low dispersion, aspherical glass to suppress chromatic aberrations, Sony's Nano AR Coating II to reduce flares and ghosting and a new 11-blade aperture that produces softer, more circular bokeh. 

Sony also offers FE 1.4x and FE 2.0x teleconverters ($548 for both) that extend the lens's focal length up to 400mm at F5.6. The FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II zoom lens will go on sale in the near future for $2,800. 

Security flaws at NFT marketplace OpenSea left users' crypto wallets open to attack

After finding itself embroiled in a controversy over insider trading, NFT marketplace OpenSea is getting some more bad press. The site had a critical security vulnerability that could have allowed hackers to steal users' entire crypto wallets, according to security research firm Check Point Software.  

Check Point said it first noticed reports of stolen crypto wallets triggered by airdropped NFTs, prompting the firm to investigate OpenSea. That revealed critical security discoveries "that, if exploited, could have led hackers to hijack user accounts and steal entire crypto wallets of users, by sending malicious NFTs," the company said. 

The attack relied on user inattention and the fact that OpenSea already generates a lot of pop-ups. If the victim received and viewed a malicious NFT sent by a hacker, it triggered a pop-up from OpenSea's storage domain, requesting a connection to the victim's cryptocurrency wallet. Clicking on the popup gave the hacker access to the wallet and allowed them to generate another popup. If the user also clicked on that without noticing a note describing the transaction, the attacker could theoretically steal all their money.  

It seemed that a lot of things needed to go wrong for the attack to work, and it's not clear if it was actively exploited. Check Point said it disclosed the vulnerability as soon as it found it, and OpenSea said it implemented a fix "within an hour of it being brought to our attention." The company said it's "doubling down on community education around security," by adding a blog series and taking other measures. 

The security research firm said that given the rapid pace of innovation, "there is an inherent challenge in securely integrating software applications and crypto markets." Bad actors are also drawn to crypto like wasps to pain au chocolat, so it's likely we'll hear about similar attacks in the near future. 

Fujifilm launches its first wide-format Instax Link smartphone printer

Fujifilm has revealed a new Instax printer that supports its wider, more Polaroid-like film. The Instax Link Wide Smartphone printer is designed to connect to your smartphone over Bluetooth and print out camera roll photos that are twice as wide as the credit card-sized images from the original Instax mini Link printer. It also allows you to directly transfer and print images from Fujifilm's X-S10 mirrorless camera, with no need for a smartphone. 

As before, the new printer runs on batteries and can do about 100 Instax prints on a charge. You can choose from two printing modes, "Instax Rich, accentuating deep, warm colors, and Instax Natural, which emphasizes the inherent tones of the image," according to Fujifilm. You can also use the Instax Link app, which offers around 30 filters, collages, text, digital stickers and frame templates, while letting you import and add handwritten text and sketches to a photo. 

The Instax Link Wide Smartphone printer supports Fujifilm's wide-format film, which costs $20 for a pack of 10 — also used by its Instax 300 Wide camera. In addition, Fujifilm introduced a new black-bordered version of Instax Wide film, available at $22 for a ten-pack. The Instax Link Wide Smartphone Printer arrives later this month for $149.95

Withings' ScanWatch is finally coming to the US after FDA clearance

Withings' ScanWatch has received FDA clearance, paving the way for it to be sold in the US starting in November, the company announced. The watches, available in regular and diver-style Horizon versions, have simultaneously been cleared to take electrocardiogram (ECG) and SpO2 (oxygen saturation) readings, in health and medical settings.

The original ScanWatch has been available in Europe since it came out a year ago, but FDA clearance has taken much longer. Both models use ECG readings to check for atrial fibrillation (heartbeat irregularities), and you can even download the results and mail them to your doctor as a PDF. If it notices any irregular heartbeats, it will advise you to take an ECG test. 


We found the ScanWatch to be the best hybrid smartwatch out there, offering a traditional analog watch look and a small PMOLED display to display activities, heartrate, ECG, SpO2 and more. As with Withings' scales and other health devices, it works with the company's Health Mate app. 

Sales will commence in early November 2021, with prices starting at $279 for the original ScanWatch 38mm model. The Rose Gold and Horizon versions will will be available in early 2022 priced from $299 and $499 respectively.