Over the weekend, lots of sites reported that Apple analyst Ming-chi Kuo is claiming that the iPhones due to be released later this year won’t have chargers or EarPods in the box. If you want to know what most tech bloggers thought of the rumor, you can head over here to see all the tweets, almost all of which amount to “that sounds like a bad, user-hostile thing to do.”
I say good: drop the in-box charger (but I have a couple requests).
The clearest piece I’ve seen about pulling the charger out of the box comes from venture capitalist MG Siegler. He points out that there are four reasons that Apple might have for doing this: increased margins, shipping costs, the transition to a future no-port iPhone, and the environment. That list, for Siegler, is in order of importance for Apple.
Maybe! It very well might be the case that Apple is making this move for purely selfish reasons, charging the same amount of money and giving a customer less. It also means people who don’t already have a charger will be made to buy one — and boy howdy Apple’s own chargers aren’t the cheapest.
To all of those issues and more I say: yep, but I don’t care. Let’s talk about the scale of e-waste. In 2018, my colleague Nilay Patel interviewed Steven Yang, the CEO of Anker. Anker is the company that makes the most well-regarded external batteries and chargers and Yang was there to talk about his vision for the future of chargers and USB-C. He said:
There’s one hope we really have, not only at Anker but others in the industry, that’s really to turn chargers from majority being in-box to majority being bring your own charger.
Of course that would be good for Anker, which sells chargers. But it would also be good for the environment. Yang’s napkin math for how many of those little wall warts are sold every year are eye-popping:
[Say] every smartphone has a charger with it. We had 1.5 billion smartphones that shipped last year. … That’s only for phones. When we have tablets, laptops, power drills, [and more], we estimate a total of four billion chargers (were shipped last year). We estimate about 300,000 tons of e-waste just from these in-box chargers.
The International Telecommunications Union estimates that “one million tons of external power supplies are manufactured each year.” Whatever the number that actually turns into waste ends up being, it’s unnecessarily high. Yang’s solution turns out to be very similar to the solution that the European Union has been pushing for: common, universal chargers.
To me, the scale of the e-waste problem outweighs the potential frustration that Apple is getting one over on consumers by making them buy a charger separately.
Which brings me to my requests, only one of which has a ghost of a chance.
First, Apple can solve a lot of that potential resentment by simply offering consumers a choice: a free charger with an iPhone or an Apple Store gift card for an equal value. Hell — for people that take the gift card, Apple gets to make some of that money back via its own subscription services or App Store cut anyway.
Second, I’d like Apple to finally do the right thing and switch the iPhone to USB-C. Apple switched its computers to USB-C, it switched the iPad Pro to USB-C, and nearly every other smartphone sold today is charged via USB-C. It would reduce e-waste. It would reduce the number of cables we’re all forced to carry around and keep track of. A major form factor change (as is rumored for the iPhone 12) presents a great opportunity for Apple to make the switch.
I am fully aware this is not going to happen, no need to tweet at me about it. I know.
Apple itself signed on to a pledge to support universal chargers along with other major consumer electronics companies, though there’s a big distinction between the plug on the charger end and the plug on the phone end. Apple is technically keeping its word by putting USB-C on one end.
By the way, one question that is still pending is whether the cable that (dear god, presumably) comes with the iPhone 12 will have USB-C on one end. Lots of people have drawers full of USB-A chargers, but I think those drawers may not have quite as many USB-C adapters.
If it pans out, Apple’s decision to yank the wall wart out of the box probably serves as more evidence that it’s sticking with Lightning. Existing iPhone users have chargers and cables sitting around to charge their new phones, but asking them to switch to USB-C and buy chargers is a bridge too far.
There have too many rumors about a forthcoming iPhone that only has wireless charging to ignore. So the idea is that Apple won’t switch to USB-C because it’s planning on moving directly to having no ports at all. Everybody seems to assume it’s coming, and I remain unconvinced it’s a good idea. Wireless chargers simply cost more, for one thing. For another, most wireless charging solutions are much too slow compared to what you can get with a good wired charger, so something faster needs to be developed. And, well, Apple doesn’t exactly have a strong track record with wireless charging innovation, does it?
That angst can wait, though. This year, the angst about charging will be whether or not Apple puts a power adapter in the box. I say pull it. We’ll deal and — maybe more importantly — we just might start thinking more about how our tech purchasing habits affect the planet.
Reviews and previews
┏ The best Chromebooks to buy in 2020. Monica Chin:
What most buyers want in the best Chromebook are likely the same things they want in any laptop: a good keyboard, solid build quality, long battery life, a nice screen, and enough power to do the things you want. More Chromebooks can meet those qualifications than ever before, but these are the ones that rise above the rest.
┏ Sony WF-SP800N review: noise cancellation for your workouts. Chris Welch:
The 800Ns don’t sound quite the same or as refined as the 1000XM3s, and they still lack wireless charging and simultaneous pairing with two devices. But they pack a bass wallop and offer plenty of EQ fine-tuning. Unlike Sony’s last gym-focused wireless earbuds, these have a more subdued design that clearly takes after the 1000XM3s.
┏ LG Velvet review: sleek, not smooth. Sam Byford:
The LG Velvet is an unusual phone that doesn’t really have any direct competitors; it’s an attractive mid-range device in a world of okay-looking ultra-powerful flagships. If you don’t care about screen refresh rates and camera performance as much as you do slick looks and a lightweight design (or a bulky dual-screen case), it could well be for you, particularly if 5G is also a priority. For everyone else, though, it might be a tough sell. We don’t have final US pricing announced yet, but I think it’ll be hard to recommend if it comes in at more than $600 with the Dual Screen.
┏ Level Lock review: smarts you can’t see. Dan Seifert:
The Level Lock is a new smart lock that bucks those trends: once it’s installed, it’s completely invisible and hides all of its electronics and mechanics inside your existing deadbolt lock.
┏ Cyberpunk 2077 hands-on: Night City overflows with choices. A preview from Nick Statt:
After playing a small slice of Cyberpunk 2077 — approximately four hours, including the opening character customization and the in-game combat tutorials — that’s my big takeaway: this game has an almost preposterous amount of freedom of choice and customization. You can look however you want, talk and act however you want, and pretty much handle any situation in a half-dozen different ways, to the point that making any one decision can feel very overwhelming.
And the ban played on
The entire internet was abuzz with bans yesterday, as social platforms rushed to finally enforce their rules against hate groups all in a rush. As of this writing, Reddit, Twitch, and YouTube had done so. In a perhaps related story, the three or four days previous saw major advertisers very publicly pulling their ad dollars from social media platforms over hate speech issues.
Were those companies looking to reduce their ad spend during the pandemic anyway? Sure. Were social media companies looking to protect their bottom line in addition to making genuinely moral stands? Maybe. Whatever the real motivations, I’ll take it. It’s the mirror of one of the most important rules of dealing with online trolls: you can’t actually know the genuine intention behind their posts, so you just have to focus on what’s literally said and what the effects are.
My colleagues Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer will cover all of that in The Interface newsletter later today in more depth than I can here. So, hey: subscribe!
┏ Twitch reckons with sexual assault as it begins permanently suspending streamers. Jake Kastrenakes:
Streamers don’t trust that Twitch is about to change. Shear has been CEO for nearly nine years — since before Twitch was Twitch. (He was a co-founder of the site’s predecessor, Justin.tv.) “Statements are cool, but when you’ve got a past history of doing the exact opposite, well I’m not gonna believe what you’re saying until I see action,” Katie Robinson, who streams as PikaChulita, told The Verge.
More from The Verge
┏ The human cost of Trump’s guest worker ban. Russell Brandom:
The Verge spoke to four people affected by the order — some caught outside the country and unable to return, others on US soil but unable to leave. All four requested anonymity out of the reasonable fear that immigration officials might retaliate if they spoke out publicly. Their statements have been edited for clarity, and in some cases, identifying information has been removed.
┏ Microsoft to permanently close all of its retail stores. I have shopped and gotten support in the San Francisco Microsoft score at least a dozen times and every single time without fail was impressed by the knowledge and helpfulness of the employees.
Not many stores like that left. I am Old Enough to remember being able to go to Radio Shack and have the people there know a lot about circuitry and such. A Radio Shack manager was the first person to show me a Motorola StarTAC.
I hope it’s true that the internet has filled this gap, but when I was a kid being able to go to the mall and hang out at a store where the employees Knew Their Shit is one of the things that got me interested in tech in the first place. The Microsoft Store felt like that.
Of course, the Radio Shack comparison is apt because …uh it was possible to hang out at the Microsoft Store and talk to the employees because, er, it was never that busy (unlike Apple Stores). So probably not a money maker for Microsoft.
Shopify, Canadian government launch initiative to help small businesses grow online amid COVID-19 – BetaKit
Shopify has partnered with the federal government to launch a new initiative called Go Digital Canada, aimed to bring more Canadian small businesses online and support them in the new era of digital transformation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to provide support to help bring these businesses online, and help future proof that backbone of the economy.”
The initiative is set to be announced Wednesday at Startupfest’s virtual fireside chat between Harley Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, and Mary Ng, Canada’s minister of small business, export promotion and international trade. Go Digital Canada will serve as what Shopify called a “central resource hub,” where entrepreneurs can receive support on growing their business online through tools offered by Shopify, as well as partners and experts.
“From our perspective, small businesses, they are the backbone of the Canadian economy. They make up 98 percent of Canadian companies,” Sylvia Ng, general manager of Shopify’s Start product line, told BetaKit. “The fact that they’re faced with these unprecedented challenges due to COVID right now [made us want] to provide support to help bring these businesses online, and help future proof that backbone of the Canadian economy.”
Go Digital Canada’s educational resources will include coursework, resources, and support from experts, all of which businesses can opt in to use. These resources will be provided by Shopify as well as organizations in Shopify’s partner network.
In addition to free courses, Go Digital Canada will offer a 90-day free trial of the Shopify platform for merchants that register before October 1, 24/7 support, a tap and chip reader (while supplies last), and free access to Shopify’s POS pro plan for brick and mortar merchants, until October 31. Other resources include step-by-step guidance from Shopify Compass and live webinars.
One of the partners on Shopify’s new program is Digital Main Street, through its national ShopHERE program.
Business owners using the hub are able to tailor their stores to suit their individual needs, including setting up online payments, gift cards, and local pickup or delivery options, and launching free email marketing campaigns.
The Government of Canada is not providing any financial backing to Shopify for Go Digital Canada, rather Sylvia Ng said the government partnership is aimed to “amplify and guide” Shopify’s work.
“Shopify is an incredible made-in-Canada success story, and their work to help Canadian entrepreneurs go digital, as we increasingly shift online in response to COVID-19, will help create even more Canadian success stories,” said Minister Ng.
One of the partners for Go Digital Canada is Digital Main Street through its ShopHERE program, which has a similar mission of helping small businesses move online. Sylvia Ng said Go Digital Canada’s online hub is mostly self-serve, but businesses that need more dedicated assistance in going online will be referred to the ShopHERE program, which will provide one-on-one support.
ShopHERE was initially a City of Toronto initiative focused on building online storefronts for local independent businesses and artists. Following a Google Canada commitment of $1 million, ShopHERE went national with a goal to set up 50,000 online stores across the country. Shopify is supporting ShopHERE by assisting businesses in getting their online store built and launched within 90 days.
Sylvia Ng said one unique component of the Go Digital Canada hub is that when businesses complete a learning module, Shopify will provide links for businesses to act on what they have learned directly on Shopify’s platform.
“The hub is going to be very rooted in community,” Sylvia Ng told BetaKit. “All the courses that we have there aren’t just by Shopify, but also by our ecosystem, and [by] bringing our partners like Digital Main Street on, we’ll be growing that community further and bringing the trust that these merchants and businesses need in order to understand how to grow their business.”
Image source Unsplash. Photo by Roberto Cortese.
Google officially shows off new Gmail with Chat, Rooms integration – MobileSyrup
Google has developed a pattern of announcing things immediately after they leak. The search giant did precisely that with the recently leaked Nest smart speaker, and now it’s done the same with today’s Gmail leak.
Ahead of next week’s Google Cloud conference, the company showed off its new Gmail app. It’s not really Gmail anymore, though. Instead, it’s a unified hub for all of Google’s communication platforms, and it integrates with Google’s productivity tools like Docs.
The Verge reports that the new Gmail will be available as an “early access preview” to G Suite customers this week. Later this year, it will roll out to all G Suite customers.
However, the consumer version of Gmail likely won’t see any significant change in the short term. Google told The Verge it plans to think through “how and when to bring [the] experience to the consumers who might want it.”
The new Gmail’s main goal is to put all of these tools into one “integrated workspace.” In the future, that means that, for example, the chatbox that shows up in a Google Doc or Meet window might integrate with users’ other chats and rooms. For now, however, the integration isn’t that deep.
Instead, the main difference is that all the tools happen to be in the same space. On your phone, that’s the Gmail app — your PC, the Gmail website. That hopefully means less bouncing around between tabs and apps to get things done.
Another benefit of packing all these communication tools into a single app is that setting something like ‘Do Not Disturb’ can apply app-wide instead of managing the setting across multiple tools. Along with that, Gmail’s search will get more powerful as it’ll work across email, chat and more.
The Verge likens Google’s strategy to that of Microsoft with Teams. The Redmond, Washington-based company leveraged its Office 365 — now Microsoft 365 — tools to push Teams. Google is doing the same with Gmail, its most popular platform, to promote these new collaboration tools.
Unfortunately, outside of G Suite customers who will actively use all these tools, the new Gmail may bring a host of functionality that people don’t want or need. As Google tightens the integration between these platforms, it may make it more difficult to avoid some features.
Hopefully this marks a turning point for Google. The company has developed a reputation for making competing apps and services. Although chat apps stand out as the most prominent example, other apps like Keep and Tasks seem to offer similar services with slight variations.
Javier Soltero, general manager and VP of G Suite, explained to The Verge how Google is moving in a different direction now.
“The history of these products is that they were all built individually and they all had a core set of opinions that were obvious to everyone: multi-user, user collaboration, etc. … They all had the same set of shared ideas but they were not necessarily driving toward a shared end goal,” Soltero said.
At least for G Suite’s communication platforms, the shared goal is a unified front with deep integration across Google’s services that can fend off Teams and Slack.
Source: The Verge
Google pledges not to use Fitbit health data to target ads – STAT
With the clock ticking on a European Commission probe into Google’s $2.1 billion bid for Fitbit, the tech giant offered regulators a concession late Monday, agreeing not to use Fitbit’s trove of health data to help target ads.
Google had been staring down the possibility of a sweeping antitrust investigation by European regulators that was the latest in a series of probes into its deal with Fitbit announced last November. But the tech giant had a potential way to avoid the full thrust of the investigation: A promise, in the form of a binding pledge, not to use Fitbit’s fitness data for ad-targeting. Regulators gave the company until Monday to offer such a statement. Google complied late that day, Reuters reported.
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