Apple’s iOS and iPadOS 13 support multiple PS4 or Xbox One controllers, which could be huge for Arcade – TechCrunch

Apple’s iOS 13 update (and the newly renamed iPadOS for iPad hardware) both support multiple simultaneous Bluetooth game controller connections. Apple added Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controller support in the updates, and after doing some digging, I can confirm that you can use multiple of either type of controller on one iOS device running the update, with each controlling a different player character.

That’s the good news: The bad news is that not many games take advantage of this right now. I wasn’t able to find a game in Apple’s new Arcade subscription service to try this out, for instance — and even finding a non-Arcade iOS game took a bit of digging. I finally was able to try local multi-controller multiplayer with “Horde,” a free-to-play two-player co-op brawler, and found that it worked exactly as you’d expect.

With Arcade, Apple has done more to re-invigorate the App Store, and gaming on iOS in particular, than it has since the original launch of the iPhone. The all-you-can-game subscription offering, which delivers extremely high-quality gaming experiences without ads or in-app purchases, has already impressed me immensely with the breadth and depth of its launch slate, which includes fantastic titles like “Where Cards Fall,” “Skate,” “Sayonara: Wild Hearts” and “What the Golf,” to name just a few.

Combine the quality and value of the library with cross-play on iOS, iPadOS, Apple TV and eventually Mac devices, and you have a killer combo that’s well-positioned to eat up a lot of the gaming market currently owned by Nintendo’s Switch and other home consoles.

Local multiplayer, especially on iPads, is another potential killer feature here. Already, iPad owners are likely to be using their tablets both at home and on the road, and providing quality local gaming experiences on that big display, with just the added requirement that you pack a couple of PS4 or Xbox controllers in your suitcase or carry-on, opens up a lot of potential value for device owners.

As I said above, there’s not much in the way of games that support this right now, but it’s refreshing to know that the features are there for when game developers want to take advantage.

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With $15M round and 100K tablets sold, reMarkable CEO wants to make tech ‘more human’ – TechCrunch

The reMarkable tablet is a strange device in this era of ultra-smart gadgets: A black and white screen meant for reading, writing, and sketching — and nothing more. Yet the company has sold 100,000 of the devices and now has attracted $15 million in series A funding from Spark Capital.

It’s an unusual trajectory for a hardware startup exploring a nearly unoccupied market, but CEO Magnus Wanberg is confident that’s because this category of device is destined to grow in response to increasingly invasive tech. Sometimes an anti-technology trend is the tech opportunity of a lifetime.

I reviewed the reMarkable last year and compared it with its only real competition, the Sony Digital Paper Tablet. It was launched not on Kickstarter or Indiegogo but with its own independent crowdfunding campaign — and considering we’ve seen devices like this attempt such a thing and either let down or rip off their backers, that alone was a significant risk.

The device has been a runaway success, though, selling over 100,000 units — and attracting investment in the process. When I talked with Wanberg and co-founder Gerst about their new A round, the conversation was so interesting that I decided to publish it in full (or at least slightly edited).

How did they get here? What would they have done differently? Is the threat of the “smart” world really a thing? Why fight tech with more tech?

Devin: So you guys raised some money, that’s great! But it’s been a while since we talked. I think it’s important to hear about the progress of unique companies that are doing interesting things. So first can you tell me a little about what the company’s been busy with?

Magnus: Well, we’ve created this wonderful product, the reMarkable paper tablet. We’ve been very focused on that effort, based on a love for paper and a love for technology, to see if we can find some ways to join these two together to help people think better. That’s sort of the the whole ethos of the company.

So for the last six years, we’ve just been grinding away… you know, we’re a small player up against the big guys on this. So we’ve been sort of fighting guerrilla warfare trying to trying to establish ourselves.

And we were successful, fortunately, when we did our pre-order campaign, because as we found out, we weren’t the only ones who who love this notion of thinking better with the paper tablet, seeing paper as a powerful tool for thinking and for creating.

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100,000 miles and one week with an iPad Pro – TechCrunch

For the past eighteen months, the iPad Pro has been my only machine away from home, and until recently, I was away from home a lot, traveling domestically and internationally to event locations around the world or our offices in San Francisco, New York and London. Every moment of every day that I wasn’t at my home desk, the iPad Pro was my main portable machine.

I made the switch on a trip to Brazil for our conference and Startup Battlefield competition (which was rad, by the way, a computer vision cattle scale won the top prize) on somewhat of a whim. I thought I’d take this one-week trip to make sure I got a good handle on how the iPad Pro would perform as a work device and then move back to my trusty 13” MacBook Pro.

The trip changed my mind completely about whether I could run TechCrunch wholly from a tablet. It turns out that it was lighter, smoother and more willing than my MacBook at nearly every turn. I never went back.

iPad Pro, 2018, Brazil

The early days were absolutely full of growing pains for both the iPad and myself. Rebuilding workflows by patching together the share sheet and automation tools and the newly introduced Shortcuts was a big part of making it a viable working machine at that point. And the changes that came with iPadOS that boosted slipover, split and the home screen were welcome in that they made the whole device feel more flexible.

The past year and a half has taught me a lot about what the absolute killer features of the iPad Pro are, while also forcing me to learn about the harsher trade-offs I would have to make for carrying a lighter, faster machine than a laptop.

All of which is to set the context for my past week with the new version of that machine.

For the greater part, this new 2020 iPad Pro still looks much the same as the one released in 2019. Aside from the square camera array, it’s a near twin. The good news on that front is that you can tell Apple nailed the ID the first time because it still feels super crisp and futuristic almost two years later. The idealized expression of a computer. Light, handheld, powerful and functional.

The 12.9” iPad Pro that I tested contains the new A12Z chip which performs at a near identical level to the same model I’ve been using. At over 5015 single-core and over 18,000 multi-core scores in Geekbench 4, it remains one of the more powerful portable computers you can own, regardless of class. The 1TB model appears to still have 6GB of RAM, though I don’t know if that’s still stepped down for the lower models to 4GB.

This version adds an additional GPU core and “enhanced thermal architecture” — presumably better heat distribution under load but that was not especially evident given that the iPad Pro has rarely run hot for me. I’m interested to see what teardowns turn up here. New venting, piping or component distribution perhaps. Or something on-die.

It’s interesting, of course, that this processor is so close in performance (at least at a CPU level) to the A12X Bionic chip. Even at a GPU level Apple says nothing more than that it is faster than the A12X with none of the normal multipliers it typically touts.

The clearest answer for this appears to be that this is a true “refresh” of the iPad Pro. There are new features, which I’ll talk about next, but on the whole this is “the new one” in a way that is rarely but sometimes true of Apple devices. Whatever they’ve learned and are able to execute currently on hardware without a massive overhaul of the design or implementation of hardware is what we see here.

I suppose my one note on this is that the A12X still feels fast as hell and I’ve never wanted for power so, fine? I’ve been arguing against speed bumps at the cost of usability forever, so now is the time I make good on those arguments and don’t really find a reason to complain about something that works so well.

CamARa

The most evident physical difference on the new iPad Pro is, of course, the large camera array which contains a 10MP ultra wide and 12MP wide camera. These work to spec but it’s the addition of the new lidar scanner that is the most intriguing addition.

It is inevitable that we will eventually experience the world on several layers at once. The physical layer we know will be augmented by additional rings of data like the growth rings of a redwood.

In fact, that future has already come for most of us, whether we realize it or not. Right now, we experience these layers mostly in an asynchronous fashion by requesting their presence. Need a data overlay to tell you where to go? Call up a map with turn-by-turn. Want to know the definition of a word or the weather? Ask a voice assistant.

The next era beyond this one, though, is passive, contextually driven info layers that are presented to us proactively visually and audibly.

We’ve been calling this either augmented reality or mixed reality, though I think that neither one of those is ultimately very descriptive of what will eventually come. The augmented human experience has started with the smartphone, but will slowly work its way closer to our cerebellum as we progress down the chain from screens to transparent displays to lenses to ocular implants to brain-stem integration.

If you’re rolling your un-enhanced eyes right now, I don’t blame you. But that doesn’t mean I’m not right. Bookmark this and let’s discuss in 2030.

In the near term, though, the advancement of AR technology is being driven primarily by smartphone experiences. And those are being advanced most quickly by Google and Apple with the frameworks they are offering to developers to integrate AR into their apps and the hardware that they’re willing to fit onboard their devices.

One of the biggest hurdles to AR experiences being incredibly realistic has been occlusion. This is effect that allows one object to intersect with another realistically — to obscure or hide it in a way that tells our brain that “this is behind that.” Occlusion leads to a bunch of interesting things like shared experiences, interaction of physical and digital worlds and just general believability.

This is where the iPad Pro’s lidar scanner comes in. With lidar, two major steps forward are possible for AR applications.

  1. Initialization time is nearly instantaneous. Because lidar works at the speed of light, reading pulses of light it sends out and measuring their “flight” times to determine the shape of objects or environments, it is very fast. That typical “fire it up, wave it around and pray” AR awkwardness should theoretically be eliminated with lidar.
  2. Occlusion becomes an automatic. It no longer requires calculations be done using the camera, small hand movements and computer vision to “guess” at the shape of objects and their relationship to one another. Developers essentially get all of this for “free” computationally and at blazing speed.

There’s a reason lidar is used in many autonomous free roaming vehicle systems and semi-autonomous driving systems. It’s fast, relatively reliable and a powerful mapping tool.

ARKit 3.5 now supplies the ability to create a full topological 3D mesh of an environment with plane and surface detection. It also comes with greater precision than was possible with a simple camera-first approach.

Unfortunately, I was unable to test this system; applications that take advantage of it are not yet available, though Apple says many are on their way from games like Hot Lava to home furnishing apps like Ikea. I’m interested to see how effective this addition is to iPad as it is highly likely that it will also come to the iPhone this year or next at the latest.

One thing I am surprised but not totally shocked by is that the iPad Pro rear-facing camera does not do Portrait photos. Only the front-facing True Depth camera does Portrait mode here.

My guess is that there is a far more accurate Portrait mode coming to iPad Pro that utilizes the lidar array as well as the camera, and it is just not ready yet. There is no reason that Apple should not be able to execute a Portrait style image with an even better understanding of the relationships of subjects to backgrounds.

lidar is a technology with a ton of promise and a slew of potential applications. Having this much more accurate way to bring the outside world into your device is going to open a lot of doors for Apple and developers over time, but my guess is that we’ll see those doors open over the next couple of years rather than all at once.

One disappointment for me is that the True Depth camera placement remains unchanged. In a sea of fantastic choices that Apple made about the iPad Pro’s design, the placement of the camera in a location most likely to be covered by your hand when it is in landscape mode is a standout poor one.

Over the time I’ve been using iPad Pro as my portable machine I have turned it to portrait mode a small handful of times, and most of those were likely because an app just purely did not support landscape.

This is a device that was born to be landscape, and the camera should reflect that. My one consideration here is that the new “floating” design of the Magic Keyboard that ships in May will raise the camera up and away from your hands and may, in fact, work a hell of a lot better because of it.

Keyboard and trackpad support

At this point, enough people have seen the mouse and trackpad support to have formed some opinions on it. In general, the response has been extremely positive, and I agree with that assessment. There are minor quibbles about how much snap Apple is applying to the cursor as it attaches itself to buttons or actions, but overall the effect is incredibly pleasant and useful.

Re-imagining the cursor as a malleable object rather than a hard-edged arrow or hand icon makes a ton of sense in a touch environment. We’re used to our finger becoming whatever tool we need it to be — a pencil or a scrubber or a button pusher. It only makes sense that the cursor on iPad would also be contextually aware as well.

I was only able to use the Magic Trackpad so far, of course, but I have high hopes that it should fall right into the normal flow of work when the Magic Keyboard drops.

And, given the design of the keyboard, I think that it will be nice to be able to keep your hands on the keyboard and away from poking at a screen that is now much higher than it was before.

Surface Comparisons

I think that with the addition of the trackpad to the iPad Pro there has been an instinct to say, “Hey, the Surface was the right thing after all.” I’ve been thinking about this at one point or another for a couple of years now as I’ve been daily driving the iPad.

I made an assessment back in 2018 about this whole philosophical argument, and I think it’s easiest to just quote it here:

One basic summary of the arena is that Microsoft has been working at making laptops into tablets, Apple has been working on making tablets into laptops and everyone else has been doing who knows what.

Microsoft still hasn’t been able (come at me) to ever get it through their heads that they needed to start by cutting the head off of their OS and building a tablet first, then walking backwards. I think now Microsoft is probably much more capable than then Microsoft, but that’s probably another whole discussion.

Apple went and cut the head off of OS X at the very beginning, and has been very slowly walking in the other direction ever since. But the fact remains that no Surface Pro has ever offered a tablet experience anywhere near as satisfying as an iPad’s.

Yes, it may offer more flexibility, but it comes at the cost of unity and reliably functionality. Just refrigerator toasters all the way down.

Still holds, in my opinion, even now.

Essentially, I find the thinking that the iPad has arrived at the doorstep of the Surface because the iPad’s approach was not correct to be so narrow because it focuses on hardware, when the reality is Windows has never been properly adjusted for touch. Apple is coming at this touch first, even as it adds cursor support.

To reiterate what I said above, I am not saying that “the Surface approach is bad” here so go ahead and take a leap on that one. I think the Surface team deserves a ton of credit for putting maximum effort into a convertible computer at the time that nearly the entire industry was headed in another direction. But I absolutely disagree that the iPad is “becoming the Surface” because the touch experience on the Surface is one of the worst of any tablet and the iPad is (for all of the interface’s foibles) indisputably the best.

It is one of the clearer examples of attempting to solve a similar problem from different ends in recent computing design.

That doesn’t mean, however, that several years of using the iPad Pro is without a flaw.

iPad Promise

Back in January, Apple writer and critic John Gruber laid out his case for why the iPad has yet to meet its full potential. The conclusions, basically, were that Apple had missed the mark on the multi-tasking portion of its software.

At the time, I believed a lot of really good points had been made by John and others who followed on and though I had thoughts I wasn’t really ready to crystalize them. I think I’m ready now, though. Here’s the nut of it:

The focus of the iPad Pro, its North Star, must be speed and capability, not ease of use.

Think about the last time that you, say, left your MacBook or laptop sitting for a day or two or ten. What happened when you opened it? Were you greeted with a flurry of alerts and notifications and updates and messages? Were you able to, no matter how long or short a time you had been away from it, open it and start working immediately?

With iPad Pro, no matter where I have been or what I have been doing, I was able to flip it open, swipe up and be issuing my first directive within seconds. As fast as my industry moves and as wild as our business gets, that kind of surety is literally priceless.

Never once, however, did I wish that it was easier to use.

Do you wish that a hammer is easier? No, you learn to hold it correctly and swing it accurately. The iPad could use a bit more of that.

Currently, iPadOS is still too closely tethered to the sacred cow of simplicity. In a strange bout of irony, the efforts on behalf of the iPad software team to keep things simple (same icons, same grid, same app switching paradigms) and true to their original intent have instead caused a sort of complexity to creep into the arrangement.

I feel that much of the issues surrounding the iPad Pro’s multi-tasking system could be corrected by giving professional users a way to immutably pin apps or workspaces in place — offering themselves the ability to “break” the multitasking methodology that has served the iPad for years in service of making their workspaces feel like their own. Ditch the dock entirely and make that a list of pinned spaces that can be picked from at a tap. Lose the protected status of app icons and have them reflect what is happening in those spaces live.

The above may all be terrible ideas, but the core of my argument is sound. Touch interfaces first appeared in the 70’s and have been massively popular for at least a dozen years by now.

The iPad Pro user of today is not new to a touch-based interface and is increasingly likely to have never known a computing life without touch interfaces.

If you doubt me, watch a kid bounce between six different apps putting together a simple meme or message to send to a friend. It’s a virtuoso performance that they give dozens of times a day. These users are touch native. They deserve to eat meat, not milk.

This device is still massively compelling, regardless, for all of the reasons I outlined in 2018 and still feel strongly about today. But I must note that there is little reason so far to upgrade to this from the 2018 iPad Pro. And given that the Magic Keyboard is backward compatible, it won’t change that.

If you don’t currently own an iPad Pro, however, and you’re wondering whether you can work on it or not, well, I can and I did and I do. Talking to 30 employees on multiple continents and time zones while managing the editorial side of a complex, multi-faceted editorial, events and subscription business.

I put 100,000 (airline) miles on the iPad Pro and never once did it fail me. Battery always ample; speed always constant; keyboard not exactly incredible but also spill sealed and bulletproof. I can’t say that of any laptop I’ve ever owned, Apple included.

I do think that the promise of the integrated trackpad and a leveling up of the iPad’s reason to be makes the Magic Keyboard and new iPad Pro one of the more compelling packages currently on the market.

I loved the MacBook Air and have used several models of it to death over the years. There is no way, today, that I would choose to go back to a laptop given my style of work. It’s just too fast, too reliable and too powerful.

It’s insane to have a multi-modal machine that can take typing, swiping and sketching as inputs and has robust support for every major piece of business software on the planet — and that always works, is always fast and is built like an Italian racing car.

Who can argue with that?

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Apple rolls out new Siri audio clip grading opt-in and request history deletion feature in beta – TechCrunch

Apple is rolling out a new opt-in notice for Siri audio sample review with the beta of iOS 13.2. This new opt-in feature was promised back in August after reports that audio from Siri requests were being reviewed by contractors and that the audio could contain sensitive or personal information.

Apple had previously halted the grading process entirely while it updated the process by which it used the audio clips to “improve Siri.”

The new process will include an explicit opt-in for those users who want to have clips of commands transmitted to Apple to help improve how well Siri understands commands.

The update is out in beta for iPadOS 13.2, iOS 13.2, Apple tvOS 13.2, WatchOS 6.1 and MacOS 10.15.1.

Some particulars of the new policy include:

  • An explicit opt-in.
  • Only Apple employees will be reviewing audio clips, not contractors.
  • Computer-generated transcripts are continuing to be used for all Siri users. These are in text form with no audio. They have been disassociated from identifying information by use of a random identifier.
  • These text transcripts, which Apple says include a small subset of requests, may be reviewed by employees or contractors.
  • Any user can opt-out at any time at Settings > Privacy > Analytics and Improvements, turn off “Improve Siri and Dictation.”

Apple also is launching a new Delete Siri and Dictation History feature. Users can go to Settings>Siri and Search>Siri History to delete all data Apple has on their Siri requests. If Siri data is deleted within 24 hours of making a request, the audio and transcripts will not be made available to grading.

The new policies can be found at Settings>Privacy>Analytics and Improvements>About Siri in the iOS 13.2 beta. A key section details how these segments are used:

If one of your Siri or Dictation interactions is selected for review, the request, as well as the response Siri provided, will be analyzed to determine accuracy and to generally improve Siri, Dictation, and natural language processing functionality in Apple products and services. Depending on the context of your request, Apple employees may review Siri Data directly relevant to the request, in order to grade the effectiveness of Siri’s response. Only Apple employees, subject to strict confidentiality obligations, are able to access audio interactions with Siri and Dictation.

There seems to be a solid set of updates here for Siri protections and user concerns. The continued use of text transcripts that may be reviewed by contractors is one sticky point — but the fact that they are text, anonymized and separated from any background audio may appease some critics.

These were logical and necessary steps to make this process more clear to users — and to get an explicit opt-in for people who are fine with it happening.

The next logical update, in my opinion, would be a way for users to be able to see and hear the text and audio that Apple captures from their Siri requests. If you could see, say, your last 100 requests in text or by clip — the same information that may be reviewed by Apple employees or contractors, I think it would go a long way to dispelling the concerns that people have about this process.

This would fit with Apple’s stated policy of transparency when it comes to user privacy on their platforms. Being able to see the same things other people are seeing about your personal data — even if they are anonymized — just seems fair.

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Adobe Photoshop arrives on the iPad – TechCrunch

Adobe has released Photoshop for the iPad, after announcing last October that it would be bringing its popular professional photo-editing software to Apple’s tablets. Adobe said that it would be launching the app in 2019, and it has made good on that schedule with the release today. Photoshop for iPad is a free download, and includes a 30-day free trial — after that it’s $9.99 per month via in-app purchase for use of just the app, or included as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

As Adobe said right from the start, this initial version of Photoshop for the iPad isn’t at feature-parity with its desktop editing software. It does, however, support Apple Pencil for iPad Pro and more recent iPad models, and it allows editing of PSD files. Adobe says it has focused on features that will benefit from touch and Apple Pencil input on this first release, including “core compositing and retouching tools,” with other improvements, including added support of brushes and masks, as well as things like smart selection, to come later.

For what it’s worth (I haven’t spent any meaningful amount of time with the software), there are features like spot healing and clone stamp that can be highly useful for refining edits on the go available right now. A workflow that incorporates Lightroom on iPad can probably serve pros looking to maximize portability decently well, even if it can’t match the sheer range of things you can do on the desktop just yet. Plus, PSDs you store in Creative Cloud will be available to edit right where you left off everywhere.

Regardless of its current state, it’s good to see Adobe sticking to their schedule for developing and releasing Photoshop on the iPad, even if there’s still work to be done to ensure that it gets to a place where the iPad doesn’t feel like a backup option for when you’re unable to fire up a desktop or notebook computer.

Adobe is hosting its Adobe MAX 2019 conference this week, and there should be plenty of news coming out of that event, so stay tuned to TechCrunch for more from that show.

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Adobe’s Fresco drawing app is now available on Windows – TechCrunch

In September, Adobe launched Fresco, its next-gen drawing and painting app, for the iPad. Today, Fresco is also coming to Windows, starting with Microsoft’s Surface line (starting with the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Go and all Surface Studio and Book devices) and Wacom Mobile Studio devices. Like its iPad brethren, Fresco for Windows features Adobe’s vector and raster tools for painting, drawing and sketching.

The company says it built Fresco for Windows from the ground up. “It wasn’t an easy build but we worked closely with Microsoft and Intel to get the brushes right, and to squeeze from the hardware and software as much performance as possible,” the company notes in today’s announcement. Like on the iPad, the Windows version will also feature deep integrations with Adobe’s cloud storage to allow you to move seamlessly between machines and take your drawings to Photoshop and Illustrator.

Fresco for Windows, however, currently has fewer features than the iPad version. Adobe says it’s working to bring those into the app soon. “Because Fresco’s features matter, and we want them to be available no matter the platform, we’re working to get those remaining features in the app — quickly.”

There will be a free version for Windows, as well. It’s slightly limited, but will give you a good idea of the app’s capabilities.

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Adobe is bringing Illustrator to the iPad in 2020 – TechCrunch

Adobe will be bringing another of its desktop-class imaging and graphics apps to the iPad: Illustrator, which is set for a launch in 2020, the company announced today at its annual MAX conference. Last year, Adobe announced a similar plan to deliver Photoshop for iPad, and that app launched on the App Store early on Monday.

Illustrator for iPad is still in “early” development, the company said, so we don’t know exactly what it’ll look like relative to the desktop version. But it will focus on making the most of touch and Apple Pencil-based input, which are uniquely available to the iPad. As with Photoshop, documents created on one platform will be available in full fidelity to edit on any others via Creative Cloud storage.

The app will be available in a limited private beta beginning immediately, but the group of those with access will remain very tight until Adobe has managed to get further along in the development process. You can sign up now to register interest; maybe you’ll gain access sometime earlier than official launch to help with the beta and building process.

Adobe says it has already been in touch with “thousands of designers” to understand how best to build them a version of Illustrator that works best for how they use tablets in their work. If the Photoshop for iPad release process is any measure, at launch next year Illustrator won’t offer feature parity, but it’s a starting point for turning the iPad into a true one-stop shop for creative pros who favor an Adobe working environment.

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The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller – TechCrunch

Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available and make it that much better.

USB-C

This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charge your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which at nine feet is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch. Of course, you also can use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, as it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity versus resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair-trigger locks, which means you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a D-pad you can use to replace the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you also can tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a “Shift” key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, as all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there are actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.

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Microsoft has big plans for its new Edge browser – TechCrunch

Microsoft is setting itself some high goals for its new Chromium-based Edge browser. As Chuck Friedman, the corporate vice president for Edge told me, he wants Edge to hit one billion users — a number that would start to rival Chrome’s numbers. First, though, Friedman’s team has to get version 1.0 of Edge out to users in January.

It’s no secret that Microsoft went to Chromium out of a bit of desperation. Indeed, Friedman, who joined the team about two years ago, called it an “existential crisis,” brought about by questions about why users would even want to use the old Edge. “When I got brought in, we almost had this existential crisis of, okay, what do we want to do? There was sort of this moment of like, why Edge? Why would users choose that? Were we delivering on meaningful problems?” At the time, he didn’t really have an answer to those questions, so the team went back to the basics to figure out what value Microsoft specifically could deliver in the browser space — and whether there was even a role for Edge going forward.

Microsoft's new Edge logoThe fact that Friedman ran the program management team for the Windows 10 user experience — trying to overcome the missteps of Windows 8 — before running the Edge product team also clearly shows how important a product this is for Microsoft.

Friedman argues that there’s plenty of work left to do in the browser space. “There’s an emerging new set of problems that felt like they had legs,” he told me. “And then it wasn’t about solving the problems of the last five years, it was about solving the problems of the next five.” To do so, the team had to move past the original Edge’s issues with compatibility — while still acknowledging that at least in the work environment, the browser still had to be compatible with the legacy web.

Clearly, privacy is top of mind for anybody in the web browser business, Microsoft included. Friedman noted that while people were generally aware of the privacy issues that come with surfing the web, they didn’t have the tools to protect themselves. “We sort of reached this point where we recognize the promise of the web, open access to all the world’s information, feels great, but the price of all of your information as part of that body wasn’t OK,” Friedman said. And so that, too, became a focus for the team, but looking at all of these issues together — combined with an additional focus on security — the Edge team then looked at how all of this fits in with the entire Microsoft suite. “It’s not just about the operating system. It’s not just about search. But it’s actually about the full M365, the combination of the operating system, plus security, plus the productivity tools.”

But Friedman also echoed something I’ve heard from Google’s Chrome team, and that is that the web today heavily depends on an advertising model that, at least for the time being, is the main income source for most of the companies that are publishing on the web. That can be a hard balance to strike. The way Microsoft is approaching this is by focusing on transparency. “The user should know where their data is and they don’t know what the data is and how it’s being used,” he explained. So users should have the ability to know how their data is being used and have control over it.

“There are those in our industry that think we absolutely should go to a point of extreme privacy and control. And I think there is a small set of users who prefer that. I also think that there’s a certain element of that that breaks the web. And I think that it has the potential to undermine the ability for publications to be able to monetize in a way that is reasonable.” He also argues that for users, about half prefer targeted ads versus non-targeted ads — but what makes them uncomfortable is to not have control over it.

In its browser, Microsoft defaults to blocking third-party cookies. To do so, it uses the same whitelist as Mozilla, but it also regularly updates this list when a site can demonstrate that it gives users the ability to delete their data — and with that, it hopes to encourage a wider range of players in the advertising industry to offer users these controls.

Edge, however is also very much a tool for business users, and so the team also started looking at how it could improve overall productivity in the browser for these users as well as consumers. That, for example, is where the idea of Collections came from, Microsoft’s take on what’s something of a hybrid between bookmarks, scratch pads and reading lists, which aren’t yet ready for a wider roll-out, but which are available behind a flag in the more experimental canary builds of Edge.

But the team also found that users often copy and paste content from Edge to Office products — so expect the company to do more in this area going forward. “We do a better job of integrating around collaboration with Microsoft Office properties who all have great web experiences. But, frankly, we need to meet them partway and help them do more. I’m excited for an opportunity of almost a relaunch of the Office web properties with the browser. There’s more innovative work we can do there.”

Another area the team is looking at is tab management. “Tab chaos is an interesting problem. It still exists. I don’t think anybody’s done a great job at solving it,” Friedman said. What exactly that will look like, though, remains to be seen.

One thing we won’t see right away, though, is an integration with Cortana. That’s part of the current pre-Chromium version of Edge, but it’s something Friedman doesn’t seem quite ready to bring to the new version yet. To be useful in the browser, he argues, a personal assistant has to be right most of the time. But what that will look like in the new Edge remains to be seen. He thinks there’s potential there, but what a real-world implementation would look like isn’t clear yet.

Once version 1.0 ships, the team plans to launch about two or three major new features in the browser every year, with Collections likely being the first.

Friedman also acknowledged that there are still lots of users who use Edge currently. There are about 150 million of those. And they use Edge because it’s the browser that comes with Windows. These “low-confidence users,” as Friedman described them, aren’t all that likely to download a different browser if the new Edge is too radical a departure. Instead, they’ll go out and buy a different device, like an iPad, that they view as a simpler experience.

But for more experienced users, Microsoft is obviously setting up Edge as an alternative to Chrome. The team is trying to provide them a relatively friction-less pathway to switch. Finding that balance is tricky, but Friedman thinks it’s possible, in part thanks to his work on Windows.

“My last gig was working on Win 10. I ran the product team for the core user experience for Windows 10. Sort of inherited the Windows 7 and 8 code base and said: Okay, how do we bring those users together in a way that ends up making both of them feel good about the product. It was a similarly interesting challenge, where you have […] to have true empathy for users that come from a lot of different spaces.”

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Return of the Mack – TechCrunch

In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage. 

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling. 

The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable trade-offs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard.

I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first-look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time. 

This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model. 

Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count.

Let’s run down some of the most important new things. 

Performance and thermals

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. 

The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. 

Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week.

The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic hand-off system that trades power for battery life on the fly.  


The i9 model will run $2,799 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage — which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever — and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM, but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey.

The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned; there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model. 

The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy. 

There’s also a new power brick, which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it. 

Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests, I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config, Apple says it can usually handle as many as four, perhaps five un-rendered Pro Res streams.

A bigger display, a thicker body

The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness. 

The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model.

The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro.

This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far. 

But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please.

Speakers and microphone

One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good. 

The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever.

The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop. 

Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before.

The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends. 

That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now, though; Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here.

I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself, but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti. 

The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups, the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it. 

I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a “pro-level” device finally come with a pro-level mic on board is super choice. 

I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh right, the keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (yours truly included) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know there has been a problem.

The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers. 

But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble. 

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key.

Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure. 

Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says “hey, you pressed that key.” This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying “stroke completed” message to the brain.

There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else. 

Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard one-year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient. 

But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low-profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best-feeling keyboards they’ve made in years, and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing. 

Pro, or Pro

In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro, and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience. 

Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of “the best” rather than “for professionals.” This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer-centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before. 

But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.



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