Apple’s Q4: Mac, iPad, Apple Watch sales, services shine ahead of iPhone 12 sales

Apple’s fourth quarter sales were in line with expectations, but earnings came out ahead as Mac, iPads and Apple Watch delivered strong revenue growth.

The company reported fourth quarter earnings of 73 cents a share, on revenue of $64.7 billion.

Wall Street was expecting Apple to report fiscal fourth quarter revenue of $64.7 billion with non-GAAP earnings of 70 cents a share. Apple declined to provide an outlook for the first quarter due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

CEO Tim Cook said Apple is in the middle of its “most prolific product introduction period ever” with its 5G iPhone 12 lineup as well as products that align well with remote work and education. Apple said that international sales were 59% of the total revenue pie. Europe fared well in the quarter. 

While fourth quarter product sales were down a bit from a year ago, services revenue surged to $14.55 billion, up from $12.51 billion a year ago.

For the year, Apple delivered sales of $274.5 billion with net income of $57.41 billion.

By product line, iPhone sales for the fourth quarter were $26.44 billion, down from $33.36 billion a year ago. Some of that decline was due to the wait for the iPhone 12 launch.

Mac sales in the fourth quarter were $9.03 billion, up from $6.99 billion a year ago. iPad sales also surged with sales of $6.8 billion, up from $4.66 billion a year ago. Wearable sales also fared well with sales of $7.88 billion, up from $6.52 billion.

On a conference call with analysts, Cook added that the company has shown resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial performance aside, I don’t think this year will be a time that any of us look back on with great fondness or nostalgia. Those of us who wake up every day hoping for a return to normal can count ourselves fortunate. Others don’t have that luxury. There is the great pain of a lost loved one, the uncertainty and fear of a lost job, a deep well of concern for people we care about who we are not able to see. A sense of opportunities missed, of plans delayed, of time lost. Even though we’re apart, it’s been obvious this year that around the company, teams and colleagues have been leaning on and counting on each other more than in normal times. I think that instinct, that resilience has been an essential part of how we have navigated this year.

Apple CFO Luca Maestri touted the company’s ability to grow beyond the iPhone and cited strong growth across the portfolio. He said:

This is a very impressive level of performance when we consider that this year, we did not launch and ship any new iPhone models during the quarter. Outside of iPhone, we grew 25% in aggregate and had strong double-digit year-over-year revenue growth in each of our product categories.

As for the outlook, Maestri didn’t give direct revenue guidance but did give some insight to a few items in the first quarter. Maestri said:

These directional comments assume that COVID-related impacts to our business in November and December are similar to what we’ve seen in October. We just started shipping iPhone 12 and 12 Pro and we’re off to a great start. We are also excited to start preorders on iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max next Friday. Given the tremendously positive response, we expect iPhone revenue to grow during the December quarter despite shipping iPhone 12 and 12 Pro 4 weeks into the quarter and iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max 7 weeks into the quarter. We expect all other products in aggregate to grow double digits, and we also expect Services to continue to grow double digits. For gross margin, we expect it to be similar to our most recent quarters despite the costs associated with the launch of several new products. For OpEx, we expect to be between $10.7 billion and $10.8 billion.

Other key points:

  • Cook said that Apple has completed 5G iPhone 12 testing with more than 100 carriers in more than 30 regions.
  • The spread of iPhone 12 launches will hit the first quarter results at different times and make forecasting challenging.
  • Maestri said the 5G iPhone launch is “a once-in-a-decade opportunity.” Cook added that “we are very bullish on this cycle.”
  • Cook was asked about hardware bundles and he said there was nothing to announce, but hardware subscriptions would be akin to installment plans.
  • A second wave of COVID-19 also came up in relation to Apple stores. Cook said:

We’re doing everything we can do but we’re prioritizing safety first, obviously. And so with our stores as an example, we’ve come up with a new concept that puts an — essentially turns the store into an express storefront. And we’ve implemented that in a number of places where we believe it helps from the safety of our employee and the safety of the customer’s point of view but still allows for an interaction to take place. And so we’ve also put a lot more people on the phones because a lot of more people are reaching out to us in that way. And of course, the online store has stayed up and running through the whole of this. I think if you take some of those, the channel is doing some similar things and then some different things as well. And so I think everybody, to the best of their ability, is putting in contingency plans and finding a way to adapt to the environment. But it is difficult to call and there’s a level of uncertainty in it.

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The best iPad: Which iPad model should you buy?

Apple’s iPad lineup is arguably something that’s unmatched by any other platform or device maker. The tablets all consistently turn out top performance and have 10 hours of battery life, clear and crisp displays, and access to thousands of apps in the App Store. 

And with Apple’s announcement of
iPadOS last year

, followed by updates that have
added trackpad support

and more Mac-like features, the company has slowly and methodically released updates with features that differentiate it from the iPhone and push it closer to being more like a Mac. 

Below, you’ll find Apple’s iPad lineup and details about what differentiates each model.

10.2-inch display | A12 Bionic chip | Up to 128GB storage | Touch ID

apple-ipad-8th-gen-w-keyboard-09152020.jpg

Apple

Apple’s tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best value out of the group. You get all of the same features as the more expensive Pro and Air models, including a larger 10.2-inch display.

Inside is the Apple A12 Bionic processor, either 32GB or 128GB of storage, and either standalone Wi-Fi support or Wi-Fi and Cellular connectivity.

Apple hasn’t expanded its facial recognition hardware beyond the iPad Pro, so the iPad still has a home button with Touch ID. There is, however, a Smart Connector to add Apple’s Smart Keyboard, turning the iPad into more of a laptop than a tablet. And, of course, it supports the Apple Pencil.

Better yet? The iPad starts at $329. It’s incredibly powerful and even more affordable. 

$429 at Best Buy

10.9-inch | A14 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

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Image: Apple

Apple announced the completely redesigned the iPad Air in September, alongside new Apple Watch models. The fourth-generation Air features the same design as the iPad Pro lineup, as well as the new iPhone 12 models, bringing back the flat-edge design Apple first used in the iPhone 4. 

The Air sits confidently between the base iPad and the iPad Pro in terms of performance and price, with a 10.9-inch display, a Touch ID sensor that’s been moved to the power button (so long, home button), and it works with the Magic Keyboard for iPad and second-generation Apple Pencil. 

Starting at $599, the iPad Air comes with 64GB or 256GB of storage. You can add cellular to it for an extra $130.

For (almost) everyone, this is the iPad to get if you have the cash to spend. 

$599 at Best Buy

11- or 12.9-inch | A12Z | Up to 1TB of storage | Face ID

iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The iPad Pro is the most expensive, and the most capable tablet in the lineup. It boasts a completely different design when compared to the standard iPad or iPad Air. Instead of a Lightning port for charging, syncing and accessories, you’ll find a USB-C port.

The Home button is gone, replaced by Apple’s Face ID facial recognition tech. And, unlike on the iPhone, you can use Face ID with the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation.

There are two sizes: 11-inch or 12.9-inch, with storage ranging from 128GB all the way up to 1TB. Pricing also has a wide range, of $799 for the 11-inch 1218GB model, up to $1,499 for the 1TB 12.9-inch model. Add cellular connectivity to either model for $150 more. The Pro uses Apple’s A12Z processor, making it the most powerful iPad currently available.

The Pro also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, with a magnetic spot on the side to charge it. The Smart Connector is on the back of the iPad Pro, giving you the option to use it with the recently launched Magic Keyboard that includes backlit keys and trackpad, or Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

The iPad Pro, combined with iPadOS, is as close as you can get to a laptop without actually buying a laptop. 

$999 at Best Buy

7.9-inch | A12 Bionic | Up to 256GB of storage | Touch ID

ipad-mini.jpg

Image: Apple

If you want something smaller and more manageable, the iPad Mini fits the bill. Powered by the A12 Bionic processor, the 7.9-inch tablet comes with all the same bells and whistles as the rest of Apple’s tablet line thanks to a fairly recent update.

The Mini will work with the first-generation Apple Pencil, so you can draw or jot notes in supported apps. With the upcoming release of iPadOS 14, Apple Pencil support is expanding thanks to a new Scribbles feature that lets you write in text boxes, with the tablet converting your handwriting into actual text.

You have the option of 64GB or 256GB of storage, with the former priced at $399 and the latter $549 for the Wi-Fi-only models. If you want to add cellular connectivity, you’re looking at a $130 increase. 

$399 at Best Buy

9.7-inch | A10 Fusion | Up to 128GB | Touch ID | LTE

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Apple

For those who still have one of the original 9.7-inch iPad models, with cases and accessories aplenty, then check out Apple’s refurbished store, where you’ll find the sixth-generation iPad still on sale. It was first released in March 2018, but don’t let that fool you, it can still run the latest OS and do all you’d need a tablet to do.

Inventory in Apple’s Refurbished store fluctuates all the time, but as of right now, the 128GB model with Wi-Fi and Cellular is available in silver, space gray, and gold for $419, marked down from the standard prices of $529.

Apple will support the sixth-generation iPad with iPadOS 14, so you’ll be able to take advantage of all of its new features, and some of the more recently added features like mouse and trackpad support.

Some of the nerdier specs about the sixth-generation model is an Apple A10 Fusion processor, with 10-hour battery life, a Touch ID sensor, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a 2048×1536 resolution display. 

$329 at Walmart

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iPad Air (2020) review: A tablet designed for work and play Review

Early last year, it felt as if Apple had all but forgotten about the iPad Air. Then in March, Apple released the third-generation iPad Air, nearly five years after the iPad Air 2 was released. The update included a faster processor, slightly new design, support for Apple’s keyboard and stylus accessory, and a middle-of-the-road price point at $499. 

This year, Apple announced a completely redesigned iPad Air that looks and works more like the high-end iPad Pro models, and a new starting price of $599. Compare that to the $329 starting price of the entry-level iPad and the $799 cost of the 11-inch iPad Pro, and Apple’s tablet lineup now offers several options based on your needs.

I started my time with the iPad Air skeptical whether or not Apple’s tablet lineup needed three distinct models. I now have an answer, but it’s not what you’d expect. 

ipad-air-2020-1.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Design

What’s old is new again, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. And with the iPad Air, along with the launch of the iPhone 12, it certainly appears there’s some truth to the statement. Apple has fully returned to the flat-edge design we first saw with the iPhone 4, and had still been used with the iPad Pro over the last few years. 

The new iPad Air features the same design, complete with five different color options (gray, silver, rose gold, green and sky blue). The 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display spans almost the entire front of the tablet, with similar bezels to those found on the iPad Pro, only without a spot for Apple’s True Depth camera system that enables Apple’s Face ID facial recognition feature. There is a 7-megapixel FaceTime camera that’s found on the left side of the screen when the Air is docked into Apple’s Magic Keyboard. 

After using several different tablets over the last few months that have centered the front-facing camera over the display when in portrait mode, I do wish Apple had made the same change with the redesign. It’s a subtle change that makes video calls feel more personal, especially right now as we all find ourselves on more and more video calls. 

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In addition to the lack of the True Depth camera, the Air is also missing Apple’s iconic home button; the same button that’s still used on the base iPad.

However, instead of forgoing any sort of biometric authentication, Apple moved the Touch ID sensor into the power button. Well, Apple calls it the top button, but that’s confusing, because it’s not always in the top position. For example, if you’re using the iPad Air with the Magic Keyboard, it’s on the left side of the tablet, near the top corner. If you’re holding it in portrait mode, then it is on the top edge, but on the right side. 

It’s the first time Apple has moved the Touch ID sensor on a mobile device, and, well, it works exactly as you’d expect. When the iPad’s screen is off, you can press the button and leave a registered finger on the button for a split-second to wake, unlock and go straight to the homescreen. If the tablet is already awake, you don’t need to press the button at all — just rest your finger on it and the device will unlock, an app will open or the purchase will get approved. 

The second-generation Apple Pencil attaches to the side of the tablet, just below the volume up and down buttons, and wirelessly charges just like it does on the iPad Pro. 

Another big change to the iPad Air is that Apple’s Lightning connector has been replaced by a USB-C port. This is long overdue for all of Apple’s mobile products, iPhone 12 included, so it’s a welcome change on the Air. 

The USB-C port will drive up to a 4K display, directly transfer photos and videos from cameras, or connect external storage devices and take advantage of up to 5Gbps transfer speeds. 

On the back of the Air is a 12-megapixel camera and Apple’s Smart Connector that’s used to connect to the Magic Keyboard with a trackpad. In fact, Apple built the iPad Air so that it can use the same Magic Keyboard as the 11-inch iPad Pro. 

I’m glad to see this design start to trickle down to more Apple products. I’ve always thought the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 series of phones were some of the best designs, and I loved the design of the iPad Pro. 

ipad-air-2020-5.jpg

Left: 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Right: 10.9-inch iPad Air. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Performance

Apple announced the iPad Air last month, and with it, the A14 Bionic processor made its debut. We learned some about Apple’s latest mobile processor during that event, but it wasn’t until the iPhone 12 was announced (and now, reviews are out) that we learned just how powerful the new chip is. 

The A14 Bionic is a 5nm chip, with a 6-core CPU and a new 4-core GPU. There’s also a 16-core Neural Engine that’s used for machine learning. Apple touts a 40% increase in CPU performance and a 30% boost to graphics performance in the iPad Air, over last year’s A13 Bionic. You can order it with 64GB of storage for $599 or 256GB of storage for $749. Ideally, Apple would do away with 64GB base storage and bump that up to 128GB. It’s possible to live with a 64GB iPad, but you’ll find that you end up managing storage quiet often. 

To test the iPad Air I restored it from a backup of my iPad Pro (2018) and put my Pro on a shelf. For the last five days, I’ve worked on the Air, using it as I would the iPad Pro, writing stories, taking care of emails, working in Excel or Google Sheets, streaming music and videos and responding to Slack messages with my colleagues. 

The biggest change for me was going from the 12.9-inch display on the iPad Pro to the 10.9-inch screen of the iPad Air. Or at least, that’s what I expected the biggest change to be before the Air arrived. Maybe it’s because there’s no home button, or that the front of the iPad Air looks nearly identical to the iPad Pro, but not once during my testing did I feel like the screen was too small or cramped; something I’ve often felt when working on the iPad or even last year’s iPad Air. 

More so, I began to appreciate the decrease in size, taking it with me to work in my car while picking up my kids from school, or removing the keyboard and using it as a tablet to browse the web while watching TV. It’s small enough that I didn’t mind carrying it with me at all times, but big enough that I felt like I could still comfortably work. 

I do hope that Apple’s working on a bigger version of the iPad Air to complement the 10.9-inch model, but I have a feeling the 12.9-inch display is going to be reserved for Pro users. 

ipad-air-2020-3.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

I thought I’d miss Face ID, and for the first few hours, I did. I’m used to double-pressing the space bar on the keyboard to wake the iPad Pro, which then automatically scans my face and unlocks without me having to do anything else. I kept pressing the Magic Keyboard’s space bar, only to watch a small animation on the iPad Air’s display remind me where the Touch ID sensor was. Eventually, the gentle reminder was no longer needed and I was instinctively reaching for the button to wake and unlock the tablet by the second day of testing. 

While I haven’t had the iPad Air for very long, I’ve been going about two days between charges with moderate use. I have no doubt the iPad Air’s battery would last through a full workday of use, even when connected to the Magic Keyboard. However, if you plan on working all day, then playing games or streaming shows at night, you’ll likely need to connect it to power. And, yes, Apple is still including a power adapter (20W, to be exact) and a USB-C charging cable. 

As for Apple’s performance claims, while I can’t tout specific numbers, I can say that the Air did feel as if apps were loading faster. Specifically, opening iPadOS 14’s new Spotlight-like search bar happens almost instantly on the Air, while there’s a slight delay on the iPad Pro. 

I dabbled with a few games, like Among Us and War Robots, and the Air kept up without any issues. 

All-in-all, I never once felt as if my overall experience was impacted or that I had somehow downgraded tablets by switching to the iPad Air. Granted, I was directly comparing the experience to the 2018 iPad Pro with older internals, but I had just sent back the review sample of the 2020 iPad Pro, so that was still fresh in my mind as well. 

ipad-air-2020-2.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Who is the iPad Air for?

So, who is the revamped iPad Air for? It’s a significant upgrade over the base iPad, but not quite as capable as the iPad Pro — although it’s closer than ever. 

As I mentioned, I’ve struggled with answering this question over the last week or so, and I think where I landed is here: The new iPad Air is for (almost) everyone. 

The iPad Air sits between the base iPad and the iPad Pro in price, features and performance. It’s more powerful and more versatile than the base iPad, thanks to the addition of USB-C and compatibility with the Magic Keyboard. Both additions increase the Air’s flexibility, with full keyboard and trackpad support, as well as the ability to connect cameras, displays and other accessories. 

Honestly, I think we’ve been spoiled by the fact that Apple has kept the standard iPad at $329 for all these years. It’s tainted our view on nearly every other competing tablet, and even Apple’s own lineup, making it easy to discount or discredit more expensive tablets, even if they also have an Apple logo on the box. 

If you’ve never owned an iPad and are unsure how exactly it’d fit into your daily life or workflow, then the standard model makes the most sense. However, if you plan on using a tablet from Apple to triage your emails, work on school or business projects, draw or sketch out ideas, then the iPad Air is exactly what you want. 

I went into this review questioning why the iPad Air even exists in Apple’s tablet lineup, but the longer I’ve used it in place of my iPad Pro, I’m starting to wonder why the iPad Pro exists. 

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Apple iPhone 12 Pro hands-on: What’s old is new again Review

Apple’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are here. Well, almost here, with the official launch this Friday, Oct. 23. If you got up early and preordered fast enough, that’s when your new phone should arrive. (Unless you’re waiting for two other iPhone models Apple announced, the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, both of which go on sale Nov. 6 and start shipping Nov. 13.)

Apple sent me an iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro to check out. I plan on reviewing the iPhone 12 Pro, while ZDNet’s Matthew Miller will review the iPhone 12 in the coming weeks as well. 

Below are some of my first impressions after getting the iPhone 12 Pro all set up and started using it for the last 24 hours or so. 

What’s old is new again 

When rumors started to circulate about the iPhone 12 having flat edges, just like the iPad Pro or the iPhone 4 before it, I was excited. The flat design that allows you to stand the phone on its end has always been my favorite iPhone design, so I welcome its return. There’s a refined, premium feel to the (old) new design, and it feels great to hold in the hand. 

I’ve used the largest phone in Apple’s lineup for the last few years, but after using the iPhone 12 Pro for a little bit, I’m starting to think I might be ready to go back down to a more manageable phone. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s display is 6.7-inches, and I’m not sure I want to deal with an even bigger phone. 

iphone-12-pro-2.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

5G! What 5G? 

Right now, I only have an AT&T SIM card, and in southern Colorado, AT&T’s 5G network just doesn’t exist. As such, I haven’t been able to test the iPhone 12 Pro’s 5G connectivity. I have a Verizon Wireless demo SIM card on the way so I can test their new nationwide 5G network. A quick check of coverage maps, and it appears Verizon is the only carrier with 5G service where I live. 

Very subtle differences between the 12 Pro and the 12

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If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s going to be really hard to tell the difference between the two phones. They are identical in size, with both phones boasting the same exact dimensions and a 6.1-inch display size. 

There’s a shiny luster to the stainless steel frame of iPhone 12 Pro, with the standard 12’s aluminum edges having a more matte finish. That said, with a case on both phones, the only easily identifiable trait is that the iPhone 12 has two cameras on the back, while the iPhone 12 Pro has three. 

This is the first time that Apple has sold the base model, in this case, the iPhone 12, and a premium version, the iPhone 12 Pro, that are so close in form and function. And yet, there’s a $200 price difference between the two. 

This early in the review process, I haven’t used the standard iPhone 12 all that much. I plan on doing so after finishing the more in-depth iPhone 12 Pro review. Who knows, I may not even want to go back to the 12 Pro. Then again, I am a sucker for a better camera setup. 

iphone-12-pro-4.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

MagSafe isn’t the future of wireless charging, but it’s nice

Apple repurposed the MagSafe name, this time as a giant Apple Watch-like charging pad for the iPhone. In the same way that the Apple Watch charger uses magnets to hold the watch in place while it wirelessly chargers, the MagSafe charger for the iPhone 12 uses magnets to hold the Qi-compatible charger on the back of the phone. 

Doing so eliminates improper alignment, ensuring the phone is being charged when you think it is, and it does so at double the wireless charging rate of last year’s iPhone 11 lineup with a maximum of 15W. You can still use a standard Qi wireless pad with the iPhone, but you’ll be limited to 7.5W of charging. 

I used the MagSafe charger that came with my review devices last night, and it did indeed charge the phone. There’s a small animation that plays on the iPhone’s display when you first connect it, and if you have one of Apple’s MagSafe accessories like a case, there’s some NFC trickery that goes on that will show an animation that matches the match of the case you have on your phone. It’s neat, and Apple will no doubt sell a bunch of MagSafe chargers and accessories. Is it needed? That’s open to debate. 

The boxes are much thinner this year

Apple removed the headphones and the wall adapter from the iPhone 12’s box, citing environmental concerns and the abundance of wall adapters currently in all of our homes. So, inside the iPhone 12 box is a USB-C to Lightning cable, your iPhone 12, and a SIM eject tool. 

The inclusion of the cable was nice, indeed, however, Apple has never provided iPhone buyers with a USB-C wall adapter, so you’ll need to buy that separately if you want to use the new cable. It’s the same kind of adapter you’ll need to buy to get the full 15W charging speed of the MagSafe adapter (make sure you buy the 20W adapter), so I guess there’s some reasoning behind the company’s decision. 

A byproduct of not including those two accessories in the box, the iPhone 12 boxes are, well. Here, look:

iphone-12-pro-1.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The box in the middle is an iPhone 11 Pro box. As you can see, the new boxes are much smaller. The move certainly saves Apple money in a lot of ways, including shipping costs. 

More testing to come…

I still need to test the cameras, the battery, overall performance and so many other things. So far, I’m impressed with the iPhone 12 Pro, but the honeymoon period is about to end. 

I’ll have a full iPhone 12 Pro review in the coming weeks. If you’re waiting until the iPhone 12 Mini or iPhone 12 Pro Max launch before deciding which model to go with, what’s something you want to know about the iPhone 12 Pro? Leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it in my full review.



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Nvidia makes a clean sweep of MLPerf predictions benchmark for artificial intelligence

Graphics chip giant Nvidia mopped up the floor with its competition in a benchmark set of tests released Wednesday afternoon, demonstrating better performance on a host of artificial intelligence tasks. 

The benchmark, called MLPerf, announced by the MLPerf organization, an industry consortium that administers the tests, showed Nvidia getting better speed on a variety of tasks that use neural networks, from categorizing images to recommending which products a person might like. 

Predictions are the part of AI where a trained neural network produces output on real data, as opposed to the training phase when the neural network system is first being refined. Benchmark results on training tasks were announced by MLPerf back in July.

Nvidia’s results across the board trounced performance by Intel’s Xeon CPUs, and by field-programmable gate arrays from Xilinx. Many of the scores on the test results pertain to Nvidia’s T4 chip that has been in the market for some time, but even more impressive results were reported for its A100 chips unveiled in May. 

The MLPerf organization does not crown a winner, or make any statements about relative strength. As an industry body it remains neutral and merely reports test scores. 

nvidia-a100-press-graphic.jpg

Nvidia’s A100, which took many top spots in the MLPerf benchmarks, is the latest version of Nvidia’s flagship processor. It was introduced in May.


Nvidia

But Nvidia issued a statement trumpeting its victory, stating, “NVIDIA won every test across all six application areas for data center and edge computing systems in the second version of MLPerf Inference.” Nvidia also published a blog post in which it provided handy charts to show its superiority.

The full results can be viewed in a spreadsheet provided by MLPerf. The way the competition is organized, various vendors submit results on a standard test of machine learning tasks, using systems that those vendors put together. Vendors who participated ranged from very large traditional computer companies, such as Dell and Fujitsu, to Daviditi, a U.K. based technology research firm that performs evaluation of hardware for AI as a consulting service. 

The results include metrics such as the throughput and latency for a given task. For example, when measuring how Nvidia did on the classic ImageNet task, involving categorizing photos, MLPerf records the number of queries per second the system was able to handle. More queries per second is better. The computer systems contain multiple chips, and so the score is usually divided by the number of chips to obtain a per-chip score. 

The highest throughput recorded for ImageNet, using the ResNet neural net, for example, was for an Nvidia A100 system using 8 chips that was running in conjunction with an AMD Epyc processor. That system was submitted by Inspur, a Chinese white box server maker. The Nvidia chips achieved a total throughput of 262,305 queries per second. Dividing by eight chips, that results in a top score of 32,788 queries per chip per second. 

mlperf-2020-inference-benchmarks-snippet.png

MLPerf released a spreadsheet showing the scores by throughput and latency on numerous AI tasks for each competing system. This snippet shows some of the computer systems submitted with Intel or Nvidia processors


MLPerf

In contrast, systems using two, four, and eight Intel Xeons delivered far lower throughout, with the best result being 1,062 images per second. 

The report, which is released every year, contains a number of firsts this year. It is the first year that the MLPerf group is separating out the data center server tests from tests performed on so-called edge equipment. Edge equipment is infrastructure that is different from traditional data center servers. That includes autonomous vehicles and edge computing appliances. For example, some vendors submitted test results using Nvidia’s Xavier computing system, which is generally viewed as an autonomous vehicle technology. 

It was also the first year that the group had specific results reported for mobile computing. Measurements were recorded on tasks for three leading smartphone processors that have embedded AI circuitry, including MediaTek’s Dimensity chip, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865, and Samsung Electronics’s Exynos 990. Apple’s A series processor did not take part. 

There was also a suite of test results for laptop computers running Intel Core processors. While Intel’s numbers may not have stood up to Nvidia, the company successfully had its software system, OpenVino, represented on most of the benchmark tasks. That’s an important milestone for Intel’s software ambitions. 

This year’s set of tests is much broader than in past years, David Kanter, head of MLPerf, said in an interview with ZDNet.

“We added four new benchmarks, and they are very customer driven,” said Kanter. To get around the danger that the test takers would write the test, said Kanter, MLPerf consulted AI industry practitioners in machine learning on the best tests to construct. 

“We’re also specializing a bit, we have the separate edge and data center division,” he observed. The dedicated reports for mobile phones and notebooks are “a really big thing for the whole community, because there are no open, community-driven, transparent benchmarks for ML in notebooks or smartphones or tablets at all.”

“We think that’s a really big opportunity, to help shine some light on what’s going on there.” 

MLPerf is proceeding on several fronts to improve its benchmarks and extend their relevance. For example, it is working on its own data sets to supplement what is done with existing data sets such as ImageNet. 

“Building out data sets is, the analogy we like to use, is that the basis of the industrial revolution is like coal and steel and mass production, and the ability to measure things well, and we see some direct analogies there,” said Kanter. 

“What’s going to take machine learning from being a very black magic-y, boutique, rarified thing to being ordinary, part of it is going to be good metrics, good data sets,” he said. “Data sets are the raw ingredients.”

In addition, the group is developing a mobile application for Android and iOS that will allow an individual to benchmark the AI performance of their smartphone. That software should appear first on Android, in about a month or two, he said, followed by the iOS version shortly thereafter. 

“I would love to have it in the hands of everyone, and have them post their results online,” said Kanter of the mobile phone app. 

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iOS 14.1 rolling out to iPhones, but no sign of a battery fix

As expected, iOS 14.1 has begun to roll out to iPhones over the past 24 hours, paving the way for the iPhone 12 release.

But does it fix the bugs that are plaguing users?

Must read: Parallels brings Windows to Chromebooks

The official release notes mention a lot of bugs, some really weird (like that Calculator bug).

  • Addresses an issue where some widgets, folders, and icons were showing up in reduced size on the Home Screen
  • Addresses an issue where dragging widgets on the Home Screen could remove apps from folders
  • Fixes an issue where some emails in Mail were sent from an incorrect alias
  • Fixes an issue that could prevent incoming calls from displaying region information
  • Fixes an issue on some devices where selecting zoomed display mode and an alphanumeric passcode could result in the Lock Screen emergency call button overlapping with the text input box
  • Addresses an issue where some users were occasionally unable to download or add songs to their library while viewing an album or playlist
  • Fixes an issue that could prevent zeroes from appearing in Calculator
  • Resolves an issue where streaming video resolution could temporarily be reduced at the start of playback
  • Fixes an issue that prevented setting up a family member’s Apple Watch for some users
  • Resolves an issue where the Apple Watch case material was displayed incorrectly in the Apple Watch app
  • Addresses an issue in the Files app that could cause some MDM-managed cloud service providers to incorrectly display content as unavailable
  • Improves compatibility with Ubiquiti wireless access points

There’s also a new feature added that’s essentially support for an iPhone 12 feature:

  • Adds support for 10-bit HDR video playback and edit in Photos for iPhone 8 and later

But that leaves a lot of bugs totally untouched. Battery bugs. Connectivity bugs. User interface lags and such.

My initial testing — with the pre-release version and even pushing a few iPhones through a few recharge cycles over the past 24 hours — suggest that battery life is, sadly, still an issue on this release.

iOS 14 quickly revealed itself as Apple’s worse release to date. It’s weirdly buggy, and I’m still coming across new and odd bugs (for example, the other day I noticed that the Camera app sometimes just wants to display a black screen).

There’s also that annoying bug related to the Apple Watch and missing data and battery drain that requires users wipe their iPhones to fix. Sure, Apple’s released information on how to do this, but any time you need to get users to wipe a device, and risk losing data, it’s a massive fail.

Now that the iPhone 12 and iOS 14.1 release are out of the pipe, it’s likely that Apple will go start swatting more bugs.

Want to install iOS 14.1? Head over to Settings > General > Software Update and kick the process off from there. It’s quite a big update — anywhere up to 500MB — so make sure you have time on your hands to download and install it. 

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A little known feature of your iPhone is about to completely change how your doctor talks to you

Two NHS trusts have become the first in the UK to allow patients to access their hospital medical records on their iPhones, though Apple’s Health app. While it might seem like a small change, it could be the start of major changes to how we talk to our doctors – and how they talk to us.

Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) started offering patients access to their data via the feature earlier this month. Using the Health Records feature within Apple’s Health app, patients in the two trusts will be able to view their information including lab results, vitals, allergies, and medications.

For the hospitals, it’s a chance to help encourage patients to engage better with their healthcare by getting hold of their data.

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

“It is, in our view, not right that patients can’t routinely access their medical records in the same way that, if they choose, they can access their banking records or so much other information that they own online,” says Joe Harrison, chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

While the Health Records feature has only been live with the trusts’ systems for nearly two weeks, Milton Keynes reports over 300 users have connected their patient records with Apple’s Health app, while OUH says it has had a few dozen signups.

The Health Records feature in the Health app won’t give patients access to any more information than they can get through the trusts’ patient portals, but it does allow them to access those details in a new way, alongside the other health information – such as details on their sleep and exercise – that the Health app holds.

“We’re the custodians of information, it’s not our information,” David Walliker, chief digital and partnership officer at OUH, tells ZDNet. “If patients want to access the data and we can do that securely, we should be doing it.” 

While the Health Records feature will, in most cases, only show patients information they’ll be expecting, it is possible that in rare cases the app will also deliver details of a serious illness.

For Milton Keynes, the trust’s portal doesn’t connect to patients’ medical imaging and histopathology, so the results of scans and biopsies won’t be available through the Health Records feature. As such, investigations are typically used to determine serious diagnoses, patients are unlikely to discover they have conditions such as cancer through the Health app. 

However, blood tests that can suggest a recurrence or progression of a disease – raised levels of a marker called PSA in the case of prostate cancer, for example, or a raised HbA1c in the case of diabetes – may be viewable within the app.

Typically, doctors would normally deliver such information to patients in person, but because the Health app may pull in test results at the same time as hospital systems, patients may see that information at the same time or even before their doctor. For clinicians, that might mean taking extra care to make sure patients are aware of what the tests might show ahead of time.

“It’s beholden on me to prepare them for what those results might show,” says Debbie Philips, consultant surgeon and chief clinical information officer at Milton Keynes. “So it might slightly push us towards framing discussions with patients along the lines of ‘I’m doing these tests, this is what we’re looking for, this is what it might show’, and I would argue that should be part of what we already do, but it will now be even more important to do that.” That process might include pointing patients towards where they can get help if they see the results before their doctor has had a chance to discuss it with them.

OUH’s system can accommodate a short delay, such as 48 hours, in when sensitive results are made available to patients, to allow a clinician to break the news face to face and answer any questions immediately.

The Health app pulls the details from the trust’s own electronic health records using APIs based on the FIHR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standard, and patients use the OAuth authentication to verify the attempt to connect the app with the patient portal’s data is legitimate. Data stored on the device is encrypted, and where data is updated, the information is encrypted in transit.

According to Craig York, Milton Keynes’ CTO, the trust was contacted by Apple about offering the functionality at the start of the year, and the process of preparing the trust’s systems for the new connection took under 12 weeks. The most significant amounts of work involved installing and checking the prerequisite FIHR APIs, and then mapping patient record data to the APIs and testing the work, he says. The trusts also had to undertake data protection impact assessments around the work, and work with governance teams and local Caldicott guardians, whose job it is to safeguard the confidentiality of data within the NHS and ensure it’s used appropriately and ethically.

The rollout of the Health Records feature in the UK was initially supposed to happen earlier on this year, but was delayed by several months due to COVID-19, due to the need to update the Health Records feature to show positive results for the coronavirus more clearly.

In the UK, the Health Records feature will allow users to see records from multiple hospitals, clinics, and trusts in one place – something not traditionally seen in secondary care.

GPs, rather than hospitals, have led the way on enabling patients to access their records through apps and websites, after it became mandatory to offer access to current and historical records online from earlier this year, as part of the new GP contract. Secondary and tertiary healthcare organisations, such as hospitals and clinics, haven’t moved at the same pace, particularly as some institutions still make use of paper notes.

SEE: If we put computers in our brains, strange things might happen to our minds

Milton Keynes and OUH trusts have already been in discussions with other UK trusts who are considering rolling out the functionality locally. The functionality was also made available in Canada for the first time earlier this month. The Health Records feature debuted with the launch of iOS 11.3 in 2018, and in the US, over 500 healthcare providers across 11,000 locations now integrate their electronic patient records with the Apple Health app.

OUH’s Walliker said he expects those who will find the Health Records feature useful will be people with chronic conditions who need regular blood tests and other investigations. Ultimately, for hospital-connected health to be really beneficial for patients with long-term conditions, they’ll need to allow patients to input, as well as receive, data from hospital systems. If patients could share data with such apps, rather than being offered an appointment with their medical team on a regular 12-monthly schedule, say, they could request one when their home monitoring or symptoms worsen.

“I think that will then change the relationship between the patient and the doctor, because the patient will be more empowered to look after their condition,” he says. “As more functionality is added to the portal, or in the future there are other partnerships with other health app vendors, it means we’ll be able to consume information from patients, as well as provide it back out. I think that’s where we’ll see a big change in the way we deliver care.”

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Apple’s new iPad Air is available to order, deliveries start Oct. 23

Apple announced the
completely redesigned iPad Air

in September alongside a pair of new
Apple Watch models

 but didn’t provide a launch date for the new tablet other than it would be available in October. 

Apple even held the
iPhone 12 event

without announcing a release date for its newest tablet. However, on Friday morning, Apple posted the iPad Air on its store and started accepting preorders, with deliveries starting Oct. 23. 

The iPad Air was the first device to use Apple’s iPad Pro design aesthetic, with square edges and flat sides. Apple’s iPhone 12 models all use the same design, as well. 

The new Air is also the first tablet outside of the iPad Pro lineup to ditch the Lightning connector, using USB-C instead. Another first, the iPad Air has ditched the home button and Touch ID in favor of a fingerprint reader underneath the side button.

2020-10-16-at-12-34-01-pm.jpg

The iPad Air is available in 64GB or 256GB configurations, with pricing starting at $599 or $749, respectively, for the Wi-Fi model. You can add LTE connectivity to the tablet for an additional $130. 

View Now at Apple

It looks like orders are already pushed out into November for most models and colors, so if you’re wanting one on launch day, your best bet is to go to a store. 

Are you planning on getting the new iPad Air? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Apple unveils $99 HomePod Mini smart speaker launching next month

homepod-mini.jpg

Apple

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During Apple’s “Hi, Speed.” iPhone 12 event on Tuesday, the company announced a follow up smart speaker, the HomePod Mini. The smaller speaker is more affordable, with a $99 price tag, and smaller than the original HomePod. It goes on sale Nov. 6 and will start shipping Nov. 16. 

Apple still leverages Siri, along with several new software updates and improvements, including the ability to play music from third-party services like Spotify, instead of being limited to Apple Music as has been the case since its launch in 2018. 

The smaller speaker has the same mesh covering on the outside as the original HomePod, albeit smaller, but it’s more of a spherical shape than the column-like shape of the bigger HomePod. The top screen on the Mini is used to indicate when Siri is listening to your voice commands and accepts touch controls for controlling volume and music playback.

homepod-mini-2.jpg

Apple

The HomePod Mini has smart home controls, built-in assistant, and amazing sound while keeping security and privacy in mind.

The HomePod Mini provides 360-degree sound and is powered by the Apple S5 processor. It uses computational audio to adjust the audio that comes out of the speaker as it’s coming out, tuning it for ideal sound quality in real-time. 

The HomePod Mini has an Ultra Wide Band chip inside it, the same kind of chip that made its debut in the iPhone 11 but hasn’t been fully used yet. The UWB chip in the HomePod Mini will be activated later this year and will allow for a more seamless handoff experience when moving music playback or phone calls from the HomePod Mini to your iPhone or vice versa. 

Apple also announced several updates to Siri and HomePod, including CarPlay integration and a new intercom feature that will let you send a message to other HomePod’s in your house, along with sending messages to your family iPhones and AirPods. 

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Does Apple’s iOS 14 ‘nuclear’ battery fix work?

A few days ago, Apple published a support document outlining some drastic steps that people affected by a significant iPhone battery drain following the installation of iOS 14 can carry out to try to remedy the situation. It’s significant because any time you need to wipe a device, there’s a risk that you lose data.

But does the proposed fix work?

The answer is yes, but…

Must read: iPhone battery bad after installing iOS 14? Apple offers some help

Three people got in contact with me following the publication of the support document. They were all affected by the battery drain issue, and all had two or more of the symptoms highlighted by Apple in the support document.

Let me remind you of these symptoms:

  • Your workout route maps are missing in the Fitness app on iPhone for previous GPS-enabled workouts from your Apple Watch.
  • The Activity, Heart Rate, or other health-related apps fail to launch or load data on your Apple Watch.
  • The Fitness app or Health app fail to launch or load data on your iPhone.
  • The Health app or Fitness app is reporting an inaccurate amount of data storage on your iPhone.
  • The Activity app is reporting an inaccurate amount of data storage on your Apple Watch.
  • Your environmental sound levels data or headphone audio levels data from Apple Watch is missing in the Health app on iPhone.
  • Increased battery drain on your iPhone or Apple Watch.

The reason I need to remind you of this will become clear later.

The three who contacted me decided to go through the steps outlined in the support document — which essentially boils down to making sure you have a backup on iCloud, unpairing the Apple Watch, factory resetting the iPhone, and then reloading everything back on (a process that takes a few hours) — and, fortunately, all three saw significant battery improvement within a couple of days.

So, the fix works. 

But…

Another reader who got in touch also decided to go for it, but they were only experiencing battery drain issues, and none of the other issues. Also, they didn’t own an Apple Watch.

But they thought it was worth a shot.

They wiped their iPhone, reloaded everything, and were a little disappointed to note that the battery drain was just as bad.

At least they didn’t lose any data.

What this means is that if you are suffering two or more of the above — just as Apple said — this procedure is definitely worth giving a shot (make darn sure you’ve backed up your data). If the only symptom you have is battery drain, then this effort could be time wasted.

Personally, unless the battery drain was utterly abysmal, I think I’d wait for Apple to roll out iOS 14.1 and hope that solves the issue without all the hassle of wiping and restoring, setting up Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, and all that jazz.

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