All posts in “apple inc”

Apple said to debut voice-activated Siri AirPods in 2018, water-resistant model in 2019


Apple is preparing a couple of updating models of AirPods, according to Bloomberg. The popular fully wireless earbud-style headphones that Apple introduced last year are currently on track for a refresh in 2018 with the addition of a new version of the “W” line of chips that Apple created specifically to manage and improve Bluetooth-based connections between gadgets.

The 2018 hardware refresh would include not only an improved W chip (possibly the W2 added to the Apple Watch last year, or perhaps even a W3) but also the ability to activate Siri just by voice, rather than by physically tapping the AirPod in your ear, as is the case currently.

Like with Amazon’s Echo devices or the iPhone, a user would be able to trigger the virtual assistant simply by saying the wake word aloud – “Hey Siri,” in this case. That would indeed to a step-up in terms of shifting AirPods to a voice-first interface device.

As for the successor currently planned for 2019 (though Bloomberg notes those plans could easily change between now and then), it will add a new level of water-resistance, which Bloomberg reports will be designed to protect against “splashes of water and rain,” rather than full submersion like the current Apple Watch.

AirPods are doing well by all accounts, so putting them on an update cycle similar to the iPhone and other of Apple’s high-demand products seems fairly logical. It’ll be interesting to see if customers choose to upgrade in the same way they do with Apple’s other high selling devices, and what other updates might be in store (please made variable fit tip design, Apple, so that I can finally wear these things without requiring a little foam sleeve).

Apple and Android are destroying the Swiss Watch industry


In Q4 2017 – essentially during the last holiday season – market research firm Canalys found that more people bought Apple watches than Swiss watches. Two million more, to be exact. Brian Heater has more data but this news is quite problematic for the folks eating Coquilles St-Jacques on the slopes of the Jura mountains.

The numbers are estimates based on market data but they still point to a trend. In Q1 2016 Apple shipped 1.5 million watches to Switzerland’s 5.9 million. The intervening quarters were about the same until the launch of the Apple Watch 3 in September 2017, just in time for holiday shopping. The boost of a new phone and a new watch at the same time meant a perfect storm for upgraders, driving the total number of Apple Watches sold past the Swiss watch sales numbers.


This switch does not mean Apple will maintain that lead – they have one product while Switzerland has thousands – but comparing a single company’s output to an entire industry’s in this case is telling.

Wearing watches is, as we all remind each other, is passé.

“I check the time on my phone,” we said for almost a decade as phones became more ubiquitous. Meanwhile watch manufacturers abandoned the low end and began selling to the high end consumer, the connoisseur.

Take a look at this chart:

Sales of low- to mid-tier watches – and a mid-tier watch can range in price between $500 and $3,000 (and I would even lump many $10,000 watches in the mid-tier category) – were stagnant while the true cash cows, the expensive watches for the ultra-rich, fell slowly from a high in 2014. This coincides with falling purchases in China as what amounted to sumptuary laws reduced the number of expensive gifts given to corrupt officials. Sales are up as December 2017 but don’t expect much of a bump past the current slide.

As a lover of all things mechanical – I did ruin a few years of my life writing a book about a watch – I look at these trends with dismay and a bit of Schadenfreude. As I’ve said again and again the Swiss Watch industry brought this on itself. While they claim great numbers and great success year after year the small manufacturers are eating each other up while nearly every major watch brand is snooping around for outside buyers. There is no money in churning out mechanical timepieces to an increasingly disinterested public.

As time ticks ever forward things will change. The once mighty Swiss houses will sink under the weight of their accreted laurel-resting and Apple will move on to embedded brain implants and leave watches behind. The result, after a battle that raged for more than four decades, will be a dead Swiss industry catering to a world that has moved on.

Azio’s Retro Classic typewriter-inspired Bluetooth keyboard is a luxurious treat


Maybe you’re sitting at a MacBook or other modern PC right now, typing away in near silence on a keyboard that provides no real satisfying response to your human fingers. Maybe, once in the distant past, you remember when keyboards offered something in return: A “click clack” that stood as an auditory proof of productivity.

If you miss that and want it back, the new Azio Luxury Retro Classic keyboard with Bluetooth is a fantastic option, and one that’s relatively affordable compared to some of the more extravagant typewriter-inspired keyboards out there – but with all of the same charm, and a mechanical typing action that you’ll love if you’re a fan of really pounding those keys.

The $219.99 ($189.99 if you don’t need wireless connectivity) accessory comes with a lot in the box you won’t get from comparably priced premium keyboards, including replaceable keycaps for both Mac and PC, as well as backlighting, and genuine metal, wood and leather finished surfaces. The wireless version works in both wired and Bluetooth configurations, and the 6,000 mAh battery on board can last for up to two months between charges.

The keyboard uses USB-C for charging, with a cable included (braided, no less) and it just works out of the box with both macOS and Windows thanks to the convenient mode switch at the back and the aforementioned interchangeable key caps (no tools required, either – just pull them off and push on the replacements.

In addition to the lovely material accents, and the Azio mechanical switches, which are indeed clicky and offer just the right amount of resistance for me, the Retro Classic also has typing angle adjustability thanks to screw down feet that can add a fair amount of lift if you find that more comfortable as a typist.

The keyboards also feel like they’re built to withstand a lot of typing – or a nuclear apocalypse, whichever comes first. They’re heavy, and that plus the rubberized anti-slip pads will keep them firmly rooted on your desk. This isn’t the keyboard you’ll want to take with you when you travel, however.

If you want something that’s as much desk decoration as it is functional tool, and you’re a big fan of mechanical keyboards (as I am, savoring each clack of this review on the Azio), then this is a prime option. Retro keyboards are getting easier to find, but Azio’s model has the best balance of price, versatility and quality of the ones I’ve come across thus far.

Foxconn to plug at least $340M into AI R&D over five years


Manufacturing giant Foxconn has said it will make a major investment in artificial intelligence-based R&D as it looks for new business growth opportunities in a cooling global smartphone market, Nikkei reports.

“We will at least invest some 10 billion New Taiwan dollars ($342M) over five years to recruit top talent and deploy artificial intelligence applications in all the manufacturing sites,” said chairman Terry Gou.

“It’s likely that we could even pour in some $10BN or more if we find the deployments are very successful or can really generate results.”

Gou added that the ambition is to become “a global innovative AI platform rather than just a manufacturing company”.

Data put out this week by Strategy Analytics records a 9 per cent fall in global smartphone shipments in Q4 2017 — the biggest such drop in smartphone history — which the analyst blames on the floor falling out of the smartphone market in China.

“The shrinkage in global smartphone shipments was caused by a collapse in the huge China market, where demand fell 16 percent annually due to longer replacement rates, fewer operator subsidies and a general lack of wow models,” noted Strategy Analytics’ Linda Sui in a statement.

On a full-year basis, the analysts records global smartphone shipments growing 1 percent — topping 1.5 billion units for the first time.

But there’s little doubt the smartphone growth engine that’s fed manufacturing giants like Foxconn for so long is winding down.

This week, for example, Apple — Foxconn’s largest customer — reported a dip in iPhone sales for the holiday quarter. Though Cupertino still managed to carve out more revenue (thanks to that $1k iPhone X price-tag). But those kind of creative pricing opportunities aren’t on the table for electronics assemblers. So it’s all about utilizing technology to do more for less.

According to Nikkei, Foxconn intends to recruit up to 100 top AI experts globally. It also said it will recruit thousands of less experienced developers to work on building applications that use machine learning and deep learning technologies.

Embedding sensors into production line equipment to capture data to feed AI-fueled automation development is a key part of the AI R&D plan, with Foxconn saying earlier that it wants to offer advanced manufacturing experiences and services — eyeing competing with the likes of General Electric and Cisco.

The company has also been working with Andrew Ng’s new AI startup Landing.ai — which is itself focused on plugging AI into industries that haven’t yet tapping into the tech’s transformative benefits, with a first focus on manufacturing — since July.

And Gou confirmed the startup will be a key partner as Foxconn works towards its own AI-fueled transformation — using tech brought in via Landing.ai to help transform the manufacturing process, and identify and predict defects.

Quite what such AI-powered transformation might mean for the jobs of hundreds of thousands of humans currently employed by Foxconn on assembly line tasks is less clear. But it looks like those workers will be helping to train AI models that could end up replacing their labor via automation.

Featured Image: Matt Wakeman/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

Two Sonos One speakers now cost $349 – the same as one Apple HomePod


Sonos is offering a special limited deal for its new Sonos One smart speaker, which works with Amazon’s Alexa right now, and is gaining support for Google Assistant in a future update: You can buy two for $349, which is the same price as one of Apple’s HomePod Siri-enabled speakers. This is likely not a coincidence.

Individually, the Sonos One retails for $199, so you get a $50 discount when you buy two. Sonos has offered similar pricing on the Sonos Play:1 in the past, but the discount on the new One means you get a newer model, with ambient microphone and smart assistant capabilities thrown into the mix.

Reviews thus far have praised the Sonos One highly for both its sound quality and its Alexa integration. Many have called it the best smart speaker currently available. Apple may give Sonos a run for its money when it comes to sound quality with the HomePod, which goes up for pre-sale this Friday and begins shipping on February 9, but Sonos has more flexibility when it comes to working with various music services, and supporting different intelligent voice agents (with arguably more smarts than Siri, too).

Two Sonos One speakers for the price of one HomePod also has other advantages: You can put the smart speakers in different rooms, of course, but you can also set them up as a stereo pair, and achieve true stereo sound separation which will make for better overall quality vs. having multiple tweeters packed into the same single unit spaced not very far apart.

Kudos to Sonos for spotting an opportunity left open by a competitor and capitalizing quickly. The Sonos One will also get AirPlay 2 compatibility in 2018, Sonos announced previously, so your well-served even if you’re an Apple device and service user generally.