Oceanic+, developed by Huish Outdoors, made a splash at this year’s Apple Fall Event in September, when Apple pulled a surprise new watch out of its proverbial hat, the Apple Watch Ultra. One of the surprises was that the $800 watch is rated for recreational scuba diving, enabling owners to take it underwater to 40 meters or 130-ish feet.
Pre-installed on the watch is a Depth app, which shows depth, water temperature and a few other things. As a scuba diver, however, you need more than that. To avoid decompression sickness (the bends), you need a dive computer that logs how long you stay at certain depths. The precise instruments measuring and logging depth and time, paired with an algorithm, makes up a dive computer. This is pretty specialized stuff, and it makes sense that Apple decided to partner with an external supplier — in this case the scuba veterans at Huish Outdoors.
I reviewed the app and watch combo, but I wanted to talk about the pricing model and how it, in itself, is a game changer for scuba divers.
You can rent a dive computer from most dive shops, of course, but this comes with some (very slight) risk: If the computer was used by another diver the day before, their dive profile might influence yours. The worst that can happen is that the computer believes that you have less no decompression time than you really do. In other words: You may have to do shorter, shallower dives.
Because of this, and a few other reasons, serious divers usually have their own dive computers. The issue is that these often lay around for long stretches of time. Turning up to go diving, only to discover that the battery in my dive computer is low, is frighteningly common both for many of my fellow divers and for myself. When that happens, you end up scrambling to get a replacement battery (not trivial, as the dive computer needs to be re-sealed properly afterwards, and not everyone has the right tools to do that), or rent a dive computer and bring that with you as a backup.
The Oceanic+ app has a number of features available for free:
- Depth meter
- Max depth tracking
- Last dive time
- Maximum elapsed time
- Total activity time
- GPS location for an actiity
- Cumulative lifetime dive time
- Total number of dives
- Deepest dive
- Longest dive
- Dive ratings (you can rate your dive and specifics about the dive)
- Sharing activities to social networks
- Storing pictures
To get its advanced features, however, you have to pony up for a subscription. This is where things get clever. Renting a dive computer from a dive shop can cost anywhere from $5-$30 per day, and very few divers would choose to go without these days.
This is where the Oceanic+ makers did something clever. Instead of only having very long-term subscription plans (such as $80 per year, for example), the app makers devised shorter plans that suit divers extremely well:
- $4.99 per day
- $9.99 per month
- $79.99 per year
- $129 per year for “family share” up to five people.
Assuming you already have an Apple Watch Ultra, the above becomes a no-brainer. For the same price as the cheapest dive computer rental I could find, you can use your existing Apple Watch as a dive computer. Most dive trips last less than a month, so for $10, you’re covered for as much diving as you can stomach. And if you’re planning more than one dive trip in a year, you can shell out a bit extra.
The cool thing about the features that are added when you subscribe is that they are only strictly needed when you are actively diving. If you just want to refer back to your past dives once you’re safely back at home, that’s made possible by the free app.
The paid app adds the following features:
- Tissue loading – the bit you need to avoid decompression sickness
- Decompression info – that’s the part you need to stay safe as you are in the water, and calculates the surface intervals, and the time it takes before you can safely fly in an airplane after you’ve been diving
- Community dive conditions – water temperature, visibility, and currents, etc.
- Local 3-day weather forecast for your dive sites
- Local 3-day temperature forecast for your dive sites
- UV index
Of course, not everybody will be falling over themselves to spend $800 on the Apple Watch Ultra, but for those who did for the diving feature, the days of having to use a rented dive computer may be counted. If you can afford to buy the watch, the pricing plans mean that you’d be crazy to spend more than you have to in order to go meet some fish.
Why Live Casinos are Taking the Canadian Gaming Community by Storm
Were you aware that there are currently more than 2,100 online casinos which solely cater to Canadian players? Ever since the dawn of high-speed Internet, a growing number of fans have become attracted to these platforms thanks to their flexibility and decidedly user-friendly nature. Whether referring to slots, poker or a quick game of bingo, there are numerous options to explore.
However, it is also wise to take a look at some of the latest trends. Perhaps the most interesting involves the notion of live casinos. What do these portals offer, what makes them different than traditional platforms and why might live dealer games represent the next digital wave of the future?
The Basic Concept of Live Online Casinos
The main principle associated with any live casino involves the ability to interact with a human. This normally comes in the form of a dealer. As opposed to playing games that rely solely upon random number generation (RNG), a human dealer will be present via a live streaming portal. This helps to provide what some have called a rather “organic” nature to the games themselves.
For instance, a live casino ontario may offer players the ability to take part in a game of virtual poker. They will be competing against other members of the same table while taking careful note of which cards are dealt. In many ways, this level of interaction closely mirrors the experiences associated with a physical gaming establishment.
What Games Can be Accessed?
Now that we have taken a quick look at the fundamental principles of live casinos, what types of games can users play? Answering this question will partially depend on the portal itself as well as the software technology that is present. However, live dealer games can nonetheless be segmented into a handful of general categories including:
- Table games such as blackjack and poker
- “Combination” games such as poker that leads into a final round of jackpot slots
Those who wish to learn more should navigate to the site in question and peruse the types of live games that are offered. It could also be wise to contact a representative to address any additional questions.
Are There Any Possible Downsides?
Live casinos are certainly set to make their presence known throughout the nation. Still, it is wise to point out a few potential obstacles that may need to be overcome. One possible issue involves the relatively limited number of games when compared to standard online platforms. It could also be difficult to access certain competitions due to a sudden influx of players. Finally, live online streaming requires a relatively fast and extremely stable high-speed Internet connection. This may present a problem for those who live within the more remote regions of Canada.
Having said this, live casinos are already enjoyed by countless Canadian players. It is a foregone conclusion that they will become even more popular in the near future.
Apple HomePod (2nd gen) review: A smarter smart speaker
When Apple debuted the HomePod in 2018, it was already late to the smart speaker game. Sure, the company has never been worried about tardiness, choosing instead to focus on being the best. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with its first attempt. The HomePod sounded good, but lacked a lot of the basic functionality and voice assistant smarts the likes of Amazon and Google offered. Apple has spent the last five years improving both HomePod and HomePod mini, adding features like multi-room audio, multi-user support and an intercom tool.
In 2021, Apple discontinued the original model in favor of the $99 HomePod mini. But now, the larger version is back with a familiar look, but lots of changes on the inside. Like the first, the new HomePod ($299) is best suited for those who’ve committed to Apple’s ecosystem. So if that’s not you, I understand if you don’t want to go any further. If it is, just know that the company has given its speaker a lot more tools than it had at launch five years ago, including more capable assistance from Siri and more smart home abilities. Plus, the second-generation HomePod is $50 cheaper than the original was at launch.
A familiar design updated on the inside
If you were hoping for a wholesale redesign with the new HomePod, Apple undoubtedly disappointed you. However, there are some noticeable changes upon close inspection. First, the speaker’s touch panel is now slightly recessed like the HomePod mini. On the original version, that panel sits flush with the top rim. When you trigger Siri, lighting for that panel now goes all the way to the edge too. Next, the power cord is now detachable. This means if you have an issue with that very necessary component, it should be easier to get a replacement (via Apple Care). If you have excellent vision, you might also be able to discern the 2023 model is 0.2-inches shorter at 6.6-inches tall (vs. 6.8 inches) if they’re sitting side by side.
On the inside though, Apple made a host of changes. Both versions have an upward facing woofer with a group of tweeters around the bottom. For the second-generation, Apple reduced the number of tweeters from seven to five, angling them slightly upward where previously they were almost perfectly side-firing. The company also cut the number of voice microphones from six down to four. And perhaps the most important change internally, Apple swapped the iPhone 6’s A8 chip for the much more modern S7 – the silicon that powers the Apple Watch series 7.
Software and setup
Despite the lack of changes on the outside, the second-gen HomePod is a better speaker because Apple has been improving it and the HomePod mini over time. The company added stereo pairing and multi-room audio alongside AirPlay 2 a few months after launch of the first generation model. Multi-user support and audio handoffs were added in 2019 and the intercom feature arrived ahead of the HomePod mini in 2020. And in 2021, HomePod gained the ability to play any TV audio via an Apple TV 4K over eARC and both spatial audio and Apple Music lossless streaming. So many of the key features Apple is chatting up on the new HomePod are things it has been slowly adding since 2018. And many of which, I’d argue, should’ve been there from there from the start.
Everything you need to set up and control the HomePod is found in Apple’s Home app. First, you’ll need to add a new speaker like you would any other smart home device with this software, including assigning it a room or location in your home. The app allows you to set up Automations and Scenes along with configuring how you’d like to interact with Siri.
You have the ability to disable voice cues or the long press on the HomePod’s touch panel in order to activate the assistant (both are enabled by default). You can also have the speaker light up and play a sound when using Siri – or do one or neither. The Home app will let you use Siri for Personal Requests too, where the speaker can recognize your voice for things like messages, calls and reminders so long as your iPhone is close by. The software allows you to disable the HomePod’s intercom feature as well, should you prefer not to use that tool.
Like the first HomePod, the 2023 model is equipped with room calibration. This detects reflections off of walls and other surfaces to configure the sound for the best performance. The HomePod does this the first time you play music, but it isn’t constant monitoring. Instead, like it did on the previous generation, the setup leverages an accelerometer to determine when it has been moved. If it has, the speaker will then reinitiate the room sensing process when music is played.
A smart home with Siri
When we reviewed the original HomePod in 2018, one of our biggest gripes was with Siri’s limited abilities. Sure the speaker sounded good, but the lack of polish with the voice assistant made it seem like a work in progress. Apple has done a lot to improve Siri over the last five years, so a lot of those issues with the original have been fixed.
First, the HomePod, like Siri on your iPhone, is capable of recognizing multiple users. Personal Requests can allow it to peek at your Calendar, Notes, Reminders, Messages, Find My and more when you ask. Plus, HomePod can give each member of your family (up to six people) their unique responses from certain iPhone apps. What’s more, Siri can create recurring home automations without you having to pick up your phone and swipe over to the appropriate app.
Even with fewer microphones to pick up your voice, the new HomePod doesn’t suffer any performance setbacks. It’s just as capable as ever at picking out your voice even in a noisy room. And, while playing music with voice commands used to be limited to Apple Music, services like Pandora, Deezer and several others can now be controlled via Siri.
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HomePod is also a smart home hub, easily pairing with HomeKit and Matter accessories. The new model is equipped with temperature and humidity sensing, and that info is displayed prominently in the Home app. Of course, you can use that data to create automations with other smart home devices. I don’t have a compatible smart thermostat, but I was able to successfully trigger a smart plug once the HomePod detected a certain temperature in my living room.
Sound Recognition is arguably the most notable new feature that Apple is debuting with the new HomePod, but it’s not ready yet. It can listen for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and send a notification to an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. What’s more, you’ll be able to “check in” on what’s happening via an audio feed or camera. Sound Recognition won’t arrive until later this spring, so we’ll have to wait to test it.
Audio quality wasn’t an issue with the first-gen HomePod and it’s still great here. But like the first version, Apple’s choice for tuning won’t appease everyone. There’s a continued emphasis on voice, so things like vocals in music or dialog on a TV show or movie take center stage. At times it’s fine though, with some genres and content, it leads to a rather subpar experience.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part HomePod sounds outstanding, especially when you put it up against other smart speakers. The fact is many of those don’t sound very good at all, so Apple continues its track record for making a device that has serious audio chops and smart features. RTJ4 has ample bass for its bombastic hip-hop beats while Sylvan Esso’s No Rules Sandy gets enough low-end for its synth-heavy rhythms. Thanks to the HomePod’s excellent clarity, detailed styles like bluegrass and jazz shine. Sometimes the bass is a little too subdued for metal (Underoath’s Voyuerist) or full-band country (Zach Bryan’s 2022 live album), and the vocals too forward, but overall, it sets the standard for smart speaker sound. And the HomePod only shines brighter as a stereo pair.
When you add the second HomePod in the Home app, the software asks you if you want to use them together. Once you tell it which side the additional unit is on (left or right), the app completes the setup for you, assigning the appropriate channel to each speaker. Now everywhere you previously saw a single HomePod icon, you’ll see two, constantly reminding you of the stereo arrangement. The double speaker option is great for music. On Béla Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart, the two-speaker arrangement adds a lot of dimensionality to each track. There was already a spatial element to the tunes, but dual HomePods heightens the sensation, making it seem like you’re in the middle of the musicians while they record each song.
When you select a HomePod for use with the Apple TV you still need to deselect your TV speakers. Those aren’t disabled just because you’ve asked the streaming box to also send audio to a HomePod or two. TV audio with stereo pair is fine, but I can’t see using a single unit for the same purpose. In a multi-room setup you might want to send the sound from a live event like the Super Bowl to a solo speaker, but having just one as your lone living room audio from a TV isn’t a great experience. While the HomePod beams sound in all directions, with a single speaker it’s clear the sound is coming from a fixed location – something that’s a lot less noticeable with a pair or with a soundbar.
As is the case with vocals, dialog takes prominence with a HomePod and Apple TV. At times it can seem slightly muffled when watching things like live sports. Otherwise, there’s good clarity, nice bass and great dimensional audio when streaming Formula 1: Drive to Survive or Slow Horses. But, honestly, if you’re looking to improve your living room audio, a soundbar and sub is a better option. The driver arrangement in those speakers does a better job of filling a room completely and evenly. Plus, most companies give you the ability to use adjustments or presets to dial in how much you want those speakers to focus on dialog so you can fine-tune things to your liking.
Because the HomePod is best suited to people who have married themselves to Apple’s ecosystem, the best alternative to the second-gen HomePod is the cheaper HomePod mini. If all you’re after is some Siri assistance with your smart home and a speaker that’s good enough for casual listening and podcasts, the $99 option will work well for you. Plus, Apple just unlocked the smaller speaker’s inactive temperature and humidity sensor and it’s due to get Sound Recognition.
Apple has been preparing for a new HomePod for five years, constantly improving both the original version and the HomePod mini. And the fact that the company has made Siri a more capable companion certainly helps. Plus, there’s more smart home abilities than before. Apple hasn’t strayed from its emphasis on the spoken (or sung) word for HomePod’s sound profile, but that’s okay. It’s clear that the company is focused on expanding the toolbox for its smart speakers after their debut, so I’d expect that much like the original HomePod, this is just the beginning for the second generation.
Canadian discovery could help batteries last longer
A chance discovery in a Canadian laboratory could help extend the life of laptop, phone and electric car batteries.
According to scientists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, common adhesive tape in batteries may be the reason many devices lose some of their power while off or not being used, which is a phenomenon known as self-discharge.
“In our laboratory we do many highly complex experiments to improve batteries, but this time we discovered a very simple thing,” Michael Metzger, an assistant professor in Dalhousie University’s physics and atmospheric science department, said in a news release. “In commercial battery cells there is tape—like Scotch tape—that holds the electrodes together and there is a chemical decomposition of this tape, which creates a molecule that leads to the self-discharge.”
The solution is simple, too, Metzger says: replace the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, plastic tape commonly used inside batteries with something more durable and stable.
“It’s a commercially relevant discovery,” Metzger said. “It’s a small thing but it can definitely help improve battery cells.”
Metzger and his team have been trying to understand why lithium-ion battery cells in inactive devices tend to lose some of their power and self-discharge, something that has long frustrated consumers and manufacturers alike.
“Every manufacturer of lithium-ion cells in the world wants to make self-discharge as small as possible,” Metzger told CTVNews.ca in a joint statement with graduate student Anu Adamson. “In every battery there is a small rate of self-discharge that slowly drains the battery. This is very inconvenient for users and a big headache for industry.”
The electrodes that power batteries are separated by an electrolyte solution that is usually a form of lithium. After exposing several battery cells to different temperatures, researchers were surprised to see that electrolyte solution had turned bright red when it normally should be clear, which was something they had never encountered. The discovery was made by Adamson and two other students.
Chemical analysis of the red electrolyte solution revealed that at higher temperatures, a new molecule had been created inside the battery through the decomposition of common PET adhesive tape, which is often used to hold components together inside batteries. Strong and lightweight, PET is also frequently used for plastic packaging, drink bottles, clothing fibres and more.
Researchers realized that the red molecule, dimethyl terephthalate, was acting as a redox shuttle, meaning that it can transport electrons between a battery’s positive and negative electrodes, creating self-discharge and depleting power even when a battery is not in use. Ideally, the shuttling of electrons within a battery should only happen when a device is on.
“It’s a very simple thing—it is in every plastic bottle and no one would have thought that this has such a huge impact on how the lithium-ion cells degrade,” Metzger said in the news release. “It’s something we never expected because no one looks at these inactive components, these tapes and plastic foils in the battery cell, but it really needs to be considered if you want to limit side-reactions in the battery cell.”
“Since the PET in the tape is the culprit that creates the redox shuttle, we need to replace it with a polymer that is more stable and does not decompose in the harsh chemistry of a lithium-ion battery,” Metzger and Adamson told CTVNews.ca. “So far, the results look very promising, and we plan to publish a new research paper on improved polymers for lithium-ion battery tapes soon.”
According to the researchers, their work has been attracting interest from “some of the world’s largest computer hardware companies and electric vehicle manufacturers,” which are eager to reduce self-discharge and improve battery performance.
“We visited some of these companies and they are planning to implement more stable polymers in their battery cells,” Metzger said.
In the release, Metzger noted: “One of the engineers said, ‘I heard you guys found out something is wrong with PET tape.’ So, I explained to him that it’s causing this self-discharge and asked him, ‘What are you using in your cells?’ He said, ‘PET tape.'”
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