Category Archives: Phones

Hands-on: Apple’s all-new Music app in iOS 8.4

With the release of the first developer beta of iOS 8.4 this evening, Apple gave us the first look at the oft-rumored redesign of the Music app. With the expected announcement of Apple’s streaming music service happening in June, the Music app redesign has been expected for several months now. The newly introduced Music app offers a handful of new features in the first beta of iOS 8.4, as well as a redesigned interface that’s similar to iTunes on the Mac. Let’s take a brief look…

When you first open the new Music app you’ll quickly notice that the standard tabbed interface has been changed dramatically. Along the bottom of the app are now three tabs for “My Music,” “Playlists,” and “Radio.” You can swipe left and right to navigate between the interfaces. The “My Music” interface shows your recently added music along the top, similar to the recently added section in iTunes on the Mac. Unfortunately, however, you only see the three most recent items added. The interface makes it look like you should be able to scroll horizontally to view more, but you can’t as of beta 1. Although, there is a “more” button that allows to view additional recently added content in the upper right corner.

Below the “Recently Added” section is all of your music, whether it is stored locally on your device or in the cloud. By default, the music is broken up by artist, although there is an arrow you can tap to choose to sort by artists, albums, songs, music videos, genres, composers, or complications. If you click the three dots next to a selection, you have the ability to play it next, add it to Up Next, make it available offline, and delete it. Gone is the ability to swipe left to delete a song and gone is the cloud icon that used to allow you to download a song. You now have to click the three dots to perform either of those tasks.

One of my favorite features in the iOS 8.4 Music app is the ability to manage your queue of songs. Apple has offered this in iTunes on the Mac for a while now, but never on iOS. With iOS 8.4, however, you can now choose to play a song next, or add it to your full queue. Spotify and other music apps offer features similar to this, so it’s nice to see Apple finally catching on.

Tapping on an artist from the artists page will bring you to all of the content you own by that specific musician. With a hero image at the top that fades to be the color the top menu bar as you scroll down, it’s a really pleasing interface. It can get a bit overwhelming if you have a lot of content by a single artist, but no more so than the original iOS 8 music player did.

No matter where you go in the new Music app, you’ll always see a playback bar at the bottom the interface with the ability to play or pause a song. Swiping up on the menu bar will pull up the newly designed player user interface.

The player interface itself in iOS 8.4 has been dramatically overhauled. The album artwork takes up roughly half of the interface, while the controls take up the other portion. Along the bottom of the interface are options for shuffling, repeating, viewing your queue, deleting the track, and downloading the track. The bottom portion of the interface is somewhat translucent with the shade adjusting depending on the color of the album to which you’re listening. To get out of the player interface, you can either click the down air in the upper right corner or swipe down on the album artwork.  Overall, I like the new player interface and how spread out it is compared to the original iOS 8 Music app.

Moving to the Playlists interface you’ll see another recently added section at the top for your recently modified or created playlists. Below that is a list of all your playlists with the ability to edit and delete them, as well as create new ones. The Playlists interface is somewhat bland at this point, with there being no options to sort or order them. Although it’s important to keep in mind that this is the first beta of the app, so Apple can and will adjust things as time progresses.

Finally, the Radio tab shows your recently three most recently played stations along the top. Below your recently played stations are the featured stations from Apple, with more featured stations broken down my genre visible below that. As of beta 1, there doesn’t appear to be any way to view your saved iTunes Radio stations. Instead, you rely solely on your recently played stations and search to find content other than what is featured by Apple.

The iTunes Radio interface almost feels cramped with the iOS 8.4 Music app. The album artwork for stations is so large and pushed together that it’s somewhat cluttered. Also, Apple needs to add back the ability to save iTunes Radio stations. It’s a pain to have to search every time you want to find a station to listen to. Also gone is the “info” screen that allowed you to tune stations and choose between clean and explicit versions of tracks. Again, this is a beta so things can and will change.

Overall, the Music interface Apple has previewed with the first developer beta of iOS 8.4 is promising. Its similarity to iTunes on the Mac will make it familiar to many users. There are still some areas in which Apple needs to improve it, however, and that’s to be expected with a beta. Some of the buttons are awkwardly small, while the iTunes Radio interface is cluttered and unintuitive. Nevertheless, I’m a fan of the overall design direction Apple has taken the Music app and I think, especially when coupled with a streaming music service, it will be unmatched by its rivals. More images below:

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Here’s the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

Though the new iPhone is called the iPhone 6, we’re actually on the 8th generation of iPhone that has existed. But who cares about that. Let’s just see how much the camera—maybe the most important feature on the iPhone after messaging—has improved over those 8 generations. Hint: a lot.

Lisa Bettany compared the new iPhone 6 camera to those of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G and original iPhone by taking the same shot on each. The particular shot above shows the camera’s performance when backlit. You can definitely see the difference when you zoom up close.

Here’s a portrait comparison:

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

And a very impressive lowlight:

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

You can see the comparison in much more detail here. In short: it gets better. Duh. But it’s impressive to see by how much. Things might look good from afar on all of them but the cameras of the early iPhones were pathetic shooters. Things that used to be unusable can actually be considered stunning now and what worked in perfect conditions, works even better now.

Bendable aluminum battery recharges in a minute, won’t burst into flames

stanford_aluminum_battery_01
Everyone is waiting for that revolutionary new battery tech that will replace lithium-ion, drastically increase battery life, and not burst into flames when something goes wrong. A team of scientists have just created such a battery, and they believe it is set to replace both alkaline and lithium-ion batteries.

The team is led by Stanford chemistry professor Honglie Dai. What they have developed is an aluminum and graphite battery and it ticks almost all of the boxes of a desirable battery design. It’s very cheap to make, it won’t burst into flames even if you drill a hole in it, recharge cycles without degradation are in the thousands, and in the form of a typical smartphone battery it will recharge in about a minute. One final revolutionary feature of this battery is the fact it can be bent and shaped without impacting performance.

Aluminum batteries have been attempted before, but this is the first viable one in terms of being a lithium-ion battery replacement. Dai’s battery consists of an aluminum anode, graphite cathode, ionic liquid electrolyte, and a flexible polymer acting as a casing. The reason the battery won’t burst into flames is the fact the electrolyte is just a salt that is liquid at room temperature.

Voltage and energy density is currently about half that of existing lithium-ion batteries, but the team is confident that can be greatly improved by doing further work on the graphite cathode. Where as lithium-ion batteries can be reliably charged around 1,000 times, the prototype aluminum battery already reaches 7,500 cycles. The fact it can be bent and shaped will allow manufacturers to have more flexibility with the design of gadgets such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches in the future.

stanford_aluminum_battery_02

It seems all the ingredients are there for a battery that will quickly replace lithium-ion, and the only problem they need to overcome is that of energy density. If they can solve that, which the team is confident it can, we could finally have that revolutionary battery we’ve all been waiting for.

The Waterproof iPhone Plan

The Waterproof iPhone Plan, and Everything Else You Missed Yesterday

We’ve heard it all before—waterproof iPhones. It’s a patent rumor that goes back years. But a new patent, posted yesterday, is Apple’s second water-phobic patent in as many months. Whereas the patent last month tackled nano-coating and silicon seals, this one focuses on making sure that no pesky H2O molecules sneak past your hardware buttons. But patents are just that—patents. But if Apple could make a smartphone completely waterproof without sacrificing design (which Jony Ive would never allow), well… that would certainly be something. [Patently Apple]

Selfiebot? Is it really a selfie if a flying robot takes your picture?

You got to be kidding….. are we really gonna walk around with robots following us around just to take selfies?

[googlemaps https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZaR4X2iJo6M?wmode=transparent&rel=0&autohide=1&showinfo=0&enablejsapi=1″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen” data-chomp-id=”ZaR4X2iJo6M”>

Introducing #SelfieBot

– See more at: http://www.gosphero.com/introducing-selfiebot/#sthash.t84VVWbL.dpuf

A New Movie Puts the Inner Lives of Smartphones in Sad, Sharp Relief

This is the trailer for Men, Women, and Children, the new movie from Juno director Jason Reitman. It’s all about how the internet has irrevocably changed a group of people’s interpersonal relationships—and though melodramatic, it doesn’t seem terribly far from the truth in its portrayal of gadgets and sadness.

 

Screens are everywhere—they’re sort of our second brains—but movies have only begun to show them in a not dumb way. Just watching someone text doesn’t work, but have the text pop up on the screen? That makes tons of sense. Look at House of Cards, for example. In the first look atMen, Women, and Children, it seems as though Reitman has had to take that idea a little bit further.

It’s not a movie where you have people texting and you just need to know what the texts say—it’s a film that features the internet as a central character that needs to be developed and styled just like a human character. And at least in the first look at this film, it seems to be the only character with whom other characters have a committed relationship with. The trailer is all we’ve seen of the movie, but you can judge for yourself when it hits theaters later this year.

A New Movie Puts the Inner Lives of Smartphones in Sad, Sharp Relief

A New Movie Puts the Inner Lives of Smartphones in Sad, Sharp Relief

The Police Can’t Order You To Stop Filming Them In Public, Or Force You To Delete Pics From Phone

An Al Jazeera TV crew being tear-gassed by authorities in Ferguson (via BoingBoing)

A good deal of the footage coming out Ferguson, Missouri, this week has been provided by non-journalists, using their phones to record and photograph events. At the same time, reports claim that police are attempting to block both ordinary citizens and journalists from documenting the situation. What these officers either don’t know or aren’t saying is that you have the legal right to photograph the police, even when they tell you not to.

GigaOm’s Jeff John Roberts has a concise piece on the topic that anyone interested should read.

In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [PDF] in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe that private citizens have the right to record public officials, including police, in a public place.

The court held that the First Amendment’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press… encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information.”

The ruling cites an earlier Supreme Court pronouncement that people have the right to gather news “from any source by means within the law.”

“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles,” wrote the Appeals Court. “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.’”

The Supremes had previously stated that “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’”

And the First Circuit said this applies even more so to law enforcement officials, as they “are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties.”

“Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally,” wrote the court.

The Glik ruling also acknowledged limitations to citizens’ rights to record public officials.

“It may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions,” the First Circuit explained. And though it did not specifically prescribe what those limitations might be, the court noted that “peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation.”

The court explained that, much like police are expected to withstand verbal challenges from citizens without threatening arrest, this “same restraint demanded of law enforcement officers in the face of ‘provocative and challenging’ speech must be expected when they are merely the subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their work in public spaces.”

Regarding the question of whether or not police can tell you to delete photos from your phone, the recent Supreme Court rulings in Riley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie make it rather clear that they can not force you to do so.

In those cases, SCOTUS held that a warrant is needed to search a citizen’s phone, even if that citizen has been arrested. And since there is no way to tell if a photo has been taken — or what the content of a photo might be, or if it’s been deleted — without searching that phone, this tells us that an officer barking at you to “delete those photos!” can ask all that he or she wants, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to erase the images.

A Sneaky Mom App Locks Smartphones and Is an Angsty Teen’s Nightmare

A Sneaky Mom App Locks Smartphones and Is an Angsty Teen's Nightmare

What can only be described as the “end of days” for angsty teens eager to escape the yoke of overbearing parents, a new $2 Android app called Ignore No More turns any misbehaving miscreants’ smartphone into a really, really dumb phone. In fact once locked, it can only do two things—call 911 or call mom.

In an interview with CBS, the app’s creator Sharon Standifird came up with the idea after several frustrating bouts of ignored calls from her own children. Here’s how this devilish app operates. A concerned parent opens up Ignore No More, selects their victim’s unsuspecting smartphone from the list, creates a password only they know, and boom. Total smartphone lockdown. After that, these unfortunate users can only call 911 (for safety reasons) or a select few contacts handpicked by their parents.

Although the app insists it’s not easy to uninstall or remove, Phandroid points out a somewhat easy workaround by unchecking Ignore No More under Device Administrators in Settings. And if you’re lucky/your parents are lax with updating passwords, you might be able to ditch the app. Other than that it’s a pretty pesky bit of software that’s not easy to give the slip.

Ignore No More obviously gives greater parental peace of mind at the cost of frustrated teens everywhere. At the segment’s conclusion, CBS asked Standifird’s son what he thought of his mother’s smartphone app exploits. He only returned a void look of defeat.[CBS]

iPhone 6 : September 9th!

Report: Apple’s Next iPhone Coming September 9

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

 

Re/code’s John Paczkowski is reporting that Apple will hold an iPhone event on September 9. This is presumably when the company will announce the iPhone 6. The event also falls almost exactly one year after the last iPhone event.

Although Paczkowski is one of the most reliable sources of Apple news, we’ve seen all kinds of conflicting reports about the iPhone 6 launch. So you’ll just have to wait and see, like always. And it’s also unclear how long we’ll have to wait and see before you can actually buy the new device. Nevertheless! Now is a great time to catch up on iPhone rumors.

iPhone 6

In case you’ve been living in a cave the past six months or so, you should know that Apple isalmost definitely going to be releasing a new iPhone with a bigger screen. It’s very possible it will be called the iPhone 6, and some think that Apple will offer the new phone in different sizes, perhaps a 5.5-inch and a 4.7-inch, which would be a slight bump to the current iPhone 5S’s a 4-inch screen size. The jury is still out, however, on whether the new iPhone will feature a curved screen, though reliable sources have tweeted images that show just that.

 

It also remains a mystery whether the new screen will be made of sapphire. Why is that important? A sapphire iPhone would be a tougher iPhone.

 

 

Since Apple’s last iPhone, the 5S, mostly included under-the-hood upgrades, though, you can definitely expect the iPhone 6 to feature a pretty significant design update. Leaksagain, reliable leaks and lots of them—show a new case that actually looks a lot like the original iPhone with a sleek silver back and curved edges. Most of the leaks show a case with a 5.5-inch screen size.

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

Image via Sonny Dickson

 

However, there will be more to the iPhone 6 than a new case and bigger screen. Details on the improvements to the device’s guts are a little blurry, though. Though some of the leaks show a logic board that looks roughly the same as those in the current iPhone line, the new phone will almost certainly be upgraded to an more robust A8 processor. Recent reports also say the iPhone 6 will come with near field communication (NFC) technology as well as an upgraded Wi-Fi chip. Some people even think the LTE radio will get an upgrade, and wireless charging will become a reality.

A lot of speculation on the hardware is pure speculation. However, improvements in iOS 8 suggest that the camera technology will see upgrades at the very least. Other iOS 8 improvements hint at the possible addition of new hardware to support HealthKit and the suite of fitness tracking features that come with it. Meanwhile, the new Metal game development tool has some people thinking that the iPhone 6 will come with a console-level graphics engine. Apple, at least, says it’s ten times better than the existing graphics engine.

 

iOS 8

 

Speaking of iOS 8, now is the perfect opportunity to remind you of all the fun new features the new operating system will bring to all iPhones—except iPhone 4 and older, boo hoo.

Whereas the iPhone 6 will feature a lot of design upgrades, iOS 8 is all about the backend. One thing people seem super excited about, again, is the HealthKit API and the corresponding Health app. Together, these two things will bring all of your fitness and health tracking to one place, and maybe even make that data useful.

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

Speaking of making things more useful, a very exciting new feature called Extensions will finally let apps talk to each other. That means that developers can build apps with specific toolkits for other apps to use, say a Bing translate tool that you can use for any foreign language content. All apps will also be able to use Touch ID, now, which could eliminate the need for usernames and passwords for good on iOS.

The rest of the iOS 8 updates are mostly incremental but inevitably relevant. HandOff will make switching between iOS and OS X devices completely seamless, meaning you can start writing an email on your iPhone and instantly finish on your MacBook Pro. You will also be able to make phone calls and send texts from your Mac.

Meanwhile, notifications will see some improvements, as will Spotlight. Siri will evidently get better, and so will iCloud with the introduction of iCloud Drive. The keyboard will also improve thanks to some Android-inspired features, and you’ll finally have the ability to add third party keyboards. Read more about iOS 8 here.

iWatch

Who knows! Apple’s definitely thinking about making a smartwatch, and it’s been reported that such a device is already in production. Don’t expect to see anything at the September event, though.

 

What’s Sapphire Glass, and Why Would Apple Want It In Your iPhone?

 

What's Sapphire Glass, and Why Would Apple Want It In Your iPhone?

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Internet’s ever-whirring rumor mill, you might be under the impression that Gorilla Glass—what most flagship smartphones use for their displays—is about to receive some stiff competition. But what is sapphire glass, and why does it offer so much promise?

Reports earlier this year claimed that Apple had purchased enough sapphire crystal furnaces to make 200 million five-inch iPhone displays, and we’re now starting to see signs that there may have been some truth in that speculation. We’ve already seen, for instance, videos of a purported iPhone 6 display, claimed to be made of sapphire glass, being subjected to all kinds of torture and surviving. Material scientists reckon that even if the display in the video isn’t an iPhone screen, it “could well be” sapphire glass that’s withstanding such torture.

While that video may seem miraculous— how does it survive all that?—it’s less so to anyone familiar with sapphire glass. While the name may make you think of expensive jewelry, sapphire is actually a wonder material that would be a welcome addition to our phones.

Beyond Bling

Sapphire isn’t just a gemstone. It’s simply a transparent crystal that happens to take on some attractive hues—yellow, purple, orange, green or red—when it forms naturally. A red sapphire is known as ruby, but more typically you’ll see blue sapphires on rings, earrings, or crowns (if you’re into the royalty thing). Beyond all the bright and shiny fluff, though, sapphire is an optically transparent crystal in the same mould as the likes of diamond or glass.

If you’re concerned about those aforementioned hues and how they could cloud something like a phone screen with unwanted color, don’t worry. It’s impurities within the crystals—iron, titanium, chromium, copper or magnesium, say—that provide the coloration. If you can find sapphire without those impurities you’re left with a clear crystal, just like the glass in your windows.

 

Pure sapphire can be hard to find, though, and it’s impractical to remove the impurities retroactively. Sapphire gemstones are usually mined like other precious gems, in small quantities, and they’re almost impossible to process. That’s why synthetic sapphire, first created in 1902 by a French chemist called Auguste Verneuil, is typically used for more practical applications—like the glass that covers the face of your watch.

Synthetic sapphire is generally made by applying incredibly high heat and pressure to aluminum oxide powder (sapphire is, after all, just a compound of aluminum and oxygen). Heat-treated to remove its internal stresses—which can cause weakness—and processed into sheets, this synthetic sapphire is referred to as sapphire glass. And that’s what would end up on your phone.

A Glass Act

But what’s so great about a sheet of sapphire glass that it should feature on the front of your phone? Well, first, to completely put your worries of blue tinges at bay, it’s highly transparent to wavelengths of light between 150 nanometers and 5500 nanometers. For context, the human eye can only discern wavelengths from about 380 nanometers to 750 nanometers. So it passes the first and most and important screen test: you can see through it.

But the real charm of sapphire glass is its hardness. It’s nearly twice as hard as standard glass, and nearly as hard as diamond. In practical terms, that means it’s almost impossible to scratch, unless you happen to carry a bunch of diamonds in your pocket. It’s not just hard, though, but strong, too: sapphire crystals have a compressive strength of 2,000 Mega Pascals, about ten times that of stainless steel.

No surprise, then, that the stuff is used increasingly frequently for applications where optical transparency, high strength, and scratch-resistance are required. Think shatter-resistant windows in armored vehicles, bullet-proof glass, or screens and visors in military body armor suits. But there are more mundane applications too: it’s used in scientific experiments that need an optical window into a harsh environments, and even at checkouts. Yep, those little glass windows that cover barcode readers are often made of the sapphire glass, to ensure the optics of the device aren’t rendered useless by heavy scratching of normal glass.

Sapphire vs. Gorilla

Harder than Gorilla Glass, stronger than steel, and perfectly transparent? That all sounds like very compelling evidence to slather the screen of your phone in sapphire glass right now. So why isn’t it everywhere? It’s expensive as hell.

The cost comes largely a result of the manufacturing process, which produces big block of sapphire, called a boule, which has to be sliced into thin sections using a diamond saw or laser(!). Corning estimates that it costs about ten times as much to manufacture as its Gorilla Glass, and while that’s probably an aggressive estimate, even if it’s five times that’s still a big chunk of change.

It also weighs in at 67 percent heavier than Gorilla Glass—with a density of 3.98 grams/cm3compared to the 2.54 g/cm3. That means that to match it gram-for-gram, a screen made of sapphire would need to be rather thinner. That’s great for our pockets, but just because it’s hard and strong doesn’t mean that it’s unbreakable, and making it thinner makes it more vulnerable. While the fracture toughness of sapphire is theoretically around four times greater than Gorilla Glass, tests by Corning—again, not an unbiased source—suggests that it could be more brittle when used at the same thickness as its screens. In other words, while sapphire glass may be more scratch-resistant, it’s not necessarily any more shatter-resistant.

So what would sapphire glass mean? A phone in our hands withstands scuffs and scratches way better than before, possibly at the cost of a little impact resistance. But most of all, a little competition on the part of the phone you use the most.

Image by Wetsun under Creative Commons license.

 

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