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You’ll know Apple blew it when it makes a fingerprint dongle

By now you’ve probably read that Apple’s next flagship iPhone might be running a bit behind the company’s usual release schedule. The culprit seems to be a fingerprint sensor of Apple’s own design, that’s meant to sit behind the full edge-to-edge OLED display on the front of the new premium iPhone. Apple’s said to be struggling to perfect the technology such that it can be mass produced at iPhone scale — a non-trivial task, to be sure. Samsung reportedly tried and failed to integrate a Synaptics sensor into the OLED display of the Galaxy S8, forcing it to move the sensor to an awkward position on the rear of the phone. There was a time when Apple could be expected to overcome these kinds of challenges to the surprise of the industry and the delight of its customers. Now, I’m not so sure. Personally, I’m treating the fingerprint sensor as a litmus test for Apple’s ability to innovate in a meaningful way.

I’m reminded of a chat I had with an HTC product manager the day after Apple announced the original iPhone in January of 2007. He doubted Apple’s ability to mass produce a phone with a 3.5-inch capacitive multitouch display. In fact, he was so certain that he bet me Apple would fail to ship at scale (just 1 million devices at the time). History shows he was wrong — dramatically so. Apple even upgraded the display to glass a few months before the first iPhone shipped, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Apple’s a company that’s historically led from behind, often through the use of innovative new technologies applied to both the device and, importantly, to the manufacturing and assembly of the device. Remember, Apple didn’t invent the mouse and graphical user interface, it refined what it saw at Xerox and gave it a home on a personal computer. Apple didn’t invent the all-in-one desktop, it made it lickable. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, it found a Toshiba hard drive that was simultaneously big enough and small enough to carry your entire music library, and then built a click-wheel controller to navigate it. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, it made it easy to use with a finger; just like it didn’t invent the tablet, it stripped away the excess and turned Bill Gates’ vision into a consumer hit.

I’ve been a fan of Apple product design since I purchased a “Graphite” Power Mac G4 back in 1999. I’ve since owned several generations of MacBooks, iMacs, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs, and lots and lots of Apple accessories. But something’s changed. As a result I haven’t upgraded my iPhone in three years, and I haven’t felt compelled to buy an Apple Watch, new MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, or AirPods, despite my profession and a long cultivated habit of “needing” to own the latest and greatest. Lately I’ve been nagged by the knowledge that the latest Apple devices aren’t the greatest available.

What kind of fool wants to charge and use their Magic Mouse at the same time?

Just look at this list of what I consider to be Apple hardware missteps or outright failures over the last few years:

  • The can’t-innovate-my-ass Mac Pro debacle which won’t be fixed until next year at the earliest.
  • Removal of the iPhone’s headphone jack, a move that was user-hostile and stupid, and hasn’t exactly sparked an industry trend.
  • A TouchBar of questionable value, that few apps support, on MacBooks with dubious “Pro” branding.
  • The iPhone 7 broke Apple’s “tick tock” pattern of thoroughly refreshing its hardware every two years, allowing Samsung to set the new benchmark for smartphone design.
  • Apple’s failed effort to bring sapphire glass to the iPhone, putting its supplier out of business in the process.
  • It quit making monitors, partnering with LG instead to create a beautiful display (in an ugly plastic stand) that could be defeated by a router.
  • It abandoned routers at a time when a new breed of mesh routers and smart homes were making the category interesting again.
  • After leading in voice, it’s now conceding the smart home to Google and Amazon with the lack of a Siri-based voice appliance, two-and-half years after the launch of Echo.
  • HomeKit devices are still few-and-far between (and therefore expensive) despite having launched three years ago.
  • The company killed off MagSafe instead of adapting it for the USB-C era.
  • A litany of bizarre and / or awkward design decisions that have resulted in the lumpy iPhone battery case, unrefined iPad Pro Smart Keyboard cover, ridiculous Pencil and Magic Mouse charging positions, iPhone camera bulges, and a forced need for dongles everywhere.

Note that I didn’t include the Apple Watch in this list. The wearable has been a slow burner but it’s certainly not a failure. However, I can’t overlook the fact that the current WatchOS was completely redesigned — which is in itself a tacit admission that its original vision for the product was flawed.

One bright spot for Apple innovation comes in the form of its AirPods, despite their toothbrush-in-the-ear aesthetic. People who own them seem to love them, and they approach wireless audio in new and sometimes surprising ways. But they’re still on six-week backorder some six months after going on sale. That means either Apple is seeing outrageous demand, or it’s suffering manufacturing troubles. In the past, I’d have assumed the former, but my gut now tells me it’s the latter.

Needless to say, I have my doubts that Apple will find an elegant fingerprint solution in time. Some analysts even speculate that Apple could remove the fingerprint sensor completely from the premium iPhone, relying upon advanced face or iris scanning instead. In that case, Apple’s new iPhone might not be able to support Touch ID-based Apple Pay transactions without a little help. And believe me, if you see a fingerprint dongle, you’ll know that Apple blew it.

What’s missing from Facebook’s vision of a VR future

On Tuesday, Facebook doubled down on its commitment to pushing social media into virtual reality (“doubling down” is literally the language they used). 

Stalking the stage at F8, Mark Zuckerberg, and later the company’s head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, laid out the next phase of Facebook’s vision for getting you to take your Likes, emoji reactions, and personal connections into VR using tools like the Oculus Rift.   

That enhanced commitment took the form of Facebook Spaces, an app the company demonstrated on stage and released to Oculus Rift users right after the event ended. To introduce us to the app, a video shows people interacting from their home Rift set-ups to communicate via Facebook Spaces avatars in VR. 

It’s the realization of a vision Zuckerberg teased just last year, giving friends and family located many miles apart the ability to jointly experience virtual places (apartments, landscapes, etc.) while using the Rift’s built-in microphone to communicate via audio. 

Image: facebook

For those already invested in the Rift hardware and its associated software ecosystem, Facebook Spaces comes off as a strong signal that the Rift is truly out of experimental territory and is now a full-fledged part of Facebook’s overall front-facing, consumer-ready product arsenal. 

It’s an exciting development, especially when you see how Facebook Spaces allows people who aren’t in VR to communicate with people who are. This could be the software breadcrumb app needed to push some Facebook users into using VR regularly. And Facebook should be credited with rolling this out to its most passionate VR users (Rift owners) first, instead of the usual tactic of prioritizing the cheaper, mobile-focused Samsung Gear VR when it comes to new VR software.  

But while Facebook excels in its execution of the social VR features and avatar visualizations, there was a bigger part of the VR equation it missed: Actually getting more people (read: non-geeks) to try and buy the Oculus Rift headsets necessary to use Facebook Spaces in VR. 

It’s time to show us he can convince the general public to take a chance on VR. 

Usually, when Facebook announces something as cool as Facebook Spaces, you can almost feel the excitement ripple throughout social media. But that overall muted response to Facebook Spaces is rooted in the fact that many people still haven’t even tried the Oculus Rift, much less think it’s a totally normal thing to strap one on and sit alone for hours chatting in VR with the avatars of your friends. 

Over the years, Zuckerberg has proven that he can grow in many significant ways. First, as a public speaker and even as an ambassador for the company who no longer develops flop sweat under pressure. But the one thing he has yet to prove to us is whether or not he can sell the mainstream public on a totally new and unfamiliar platform like VR hardware and software. 

We know he can sell us on updates to Facebook and Instagram apps that we know and love, but it’s time for him to show us he can do what tech icons like Steve Jobs could: Convince the general public to take a chance on something new and sort of weird. 

Within the Rift-loving community, there are already concerns being whispered that Facebook is slowly consuming Oculus, and that soon you’ll need a Facebook account to even use the device (something the company’s now departed founder, Palmer Luckey, promised would never happen). 

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But there’s a far greater potential problem for Rift users beyond their ambivalence toward Facebook — the survival of VR itself. Whatever Zuckerberg decides to do with Oculus, his acquisition of the company and passionate advocacy of the platform is the best thing that could have ever happened to VR. Remember, he has the ears and eyes of over a billion users worldwide. 

But despite Zuckerberg’s commitment to VR in general and Oculus specifically, to the tune of several billion dollars, it will all be for naught if Facebook simply “assumes” that everyone will just “figure out” that VR is so cool and useful. Trotting out social media VR studies and engaging already devoted VR users simply won’t be enough. 

Image: facebook 

If social VR is really going to be a major foundation of Facebook’s future, Zuckerberg needs to hit pause on the software updates and focus a lot more on presenting a compelling and easy-to-understand narrative as to why mainstream users should carve out some of their smartphone and desktop computing time for an extended dip in VR. 

Until he pulls that trick off, Facebook’s VR future will be one primarily of interest to the small community already drinking the virtual Kool-Aid. What Zuckerberg has to start selling is the VR Coca-Cola, and fast — before Facebook loyalists start questioning his taste and stop paying attention to his predictions of a social VR future.  

WATCH: HoloLens IRL: What it’s like in Microsoft’s version of augmented reality

Lynk & Co’s sedan concept boasts free internet

Lynk & Co — Geely’s new car brand that tries to completely redefine the way we buy and use cars — gave us a glimpse of how all this newness actually looks on the road in October 2016, with its 01 SUV concept car

Now, the company (which is perhaps best known globally as the owner of Volvo) has followed up with a sedan concept, called Lynk & Co 03. 

Launched Wednesday, during the Shanghai International Auto Show, the new car is once again quite modern-looking, though perhaps a bit tamer than the 01. This is especially on the inside, where despite the large touchscreen on the dashboard, the overall look is comparable to any modern car. Even though Lynk & Co calls the car a concept, it actually looks like a lot like a finished product, ready for the road. 

Image: Lynk & Co

The car’s most important features aren’t visible, though. Just like its predecessor, the Lynk & Co 03 will always be connected to the internet (with free data traffic) and the car’s own cloud. It will have an open API as well as its own app store. 

Image: Lynk & Co

Also, Lynk & Co plans for all its cars to be ready for sharing with other people, so the 03 will also have a dedicated in-car share button. Another important feature for all Lynk & Co cars will be lifetime warranty, though we don’t know all the details of what, exactly, that means. 

Lynk & Co claims its first car, the 01, will hit China’s market this autumn, followed by a launch in U.S. and Europe in 2019. There’s no word on when the freshly introduced sedan will become available. Lynk & Co says it plans to follow up with several more models over the next 1-2 years. 

WATCH: Have your suitcase follow you through the airport

Pro gamers can win gold medals in e-sports at the 2022 Asian Games

Some of the world’s best pro gamers will soon be able to win gold medals for playing video games. That’s after the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced that e-sports will be officially included as a medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, China.

Their official inclusion will come after demonstration events to be held at this September’s Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, as well as the upcoming Asian Games, taking place in Indonesia, in 2018. The OCA didn’t provide a full list of the games that would feature at the tournaments, but said that players would be competing in FIFA 2017, as well as “MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and RTA (Real Time Attack)” games. Expect that to translate to titles similar to League of Legends and StarCraft II — assuming, of course, that the OCA can hammer out deals with developers like Riot and Blizzard.

While the Asian Games might not offer the prize money of some of the bigger existing pro gaming tournaments, the inclusion indicates that in the eyes of the general public, e-sports could be coming closer to parity with traditional sports. The Asian Games are recognized by the International Olympic Committee, and the event is reportedly the second-biggest sporting competition in the world, behind only the Olympics in the number of athletes involved.

The OCA will market pro gaming around the Asian Games alongside Alisports — the e-sports arm of Chinese retail giant Alibaba. Alisports invested $150 million in South Korea’s International eSports Federation last year, after the body pushed for e-sports’ inclusion in the regular Olympics. If things go well at the 2022 Asian Games, we could eventually see pro gamers from across the world standing on medal podiums, keyboards in hand.