Here’s an expensive titanium case for your expensive iPhone XS

Ultra-premium case manufacturer Gray has turned its attention to the recently announced iPhone XS with a new lineup of titanium phone cases that cost significantly more than the handset itself. The cases range from the grey Alter Ego Titanium which you can get for $1,460, and stretch right through to the pearlescent Alter Ego Aurora which retails for $2,768 — almost double the price of the most expensive 512GB iPhone XS Max.

Although Gray advertises that the case “turns your phone into an object of mystery and power,” in more practical terms the case has an X-shaped design that straps on to the rear of the device, and mainly protects the phone’s four corners with its titanium construction.

For an extra $36, Gray will even engrave your name into the case, which will one day serve to memorialize your questionable life choices.

The iPhone protector even comes with an accessory all its own: a fancy box that you can use to exhibit the Alter Ego when it’s not in use. Sadly the box is “only” made out of aluminum, says its maker, although it’s apparently “aerospace grade” if you’re into that sort of thing.

Gray hasn’t announced whether its ultra-expensive iPhone XS case will be receiving a protective sheath of its own, but after spending this much money you wouldn’t want to risk dropping it.

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How white supremacists are thriving on YouTube

What role do major institutions play in the promotion of extremism? Two days into this week, we’ve already gotten two important looks at the issue.

On Monday I told you about a report from danah boyd about the media’s role in amplifying “digital martyrs” like Alex Jones. (I pasted the wrong link into the newsletter yesterday — come on, Newton! — and so if you haven’t read it yet, there you go.)

Today comes a report from Rebecca Lewis looking at another kind of amplification: the closely linked network of conservative YouTube personalities who collaborate in videos and advance an extremist ideology. (Both reports, incidentally, come from the New York-based nonprofit Data and Society.)

Lewis set out to understand how YouTube in particular has become a thriving hub of far-right content. Starting with a handful of well-known conservative personalities, she began tracking their appearances on one another’s channels. When another personality popped up on one of these channels, she began charting that person’s path through YouTube as well. Eventually, she had watched hundreds of hours of video from 65 influencers across more than 80 channels.

After mapping the network, Lewis makes three findings.

  • These influencers built an alternative media network by emphasizing their relatability, “authenticity,” and accessibility to their fans. They portray themselves as social underdogs, outcasts, and victims, giving them a countercultural ethos that can be attractive to younger viewers.
  • The influencers have effectively promoted themselves using tactics including “ideological testimonials,” in which they recount their conversion from wayward leftists into right-thinking conservatives; search engine optimization, in which they use keywords common in more neutral and liberal-oriented videos to attract viewers; and “strategic controversy,” which is to say stunts.
  • The influencers encourage people to adopt a more radical set of views over time by first encouraging them to reject all non-ideological media, and then introducing them to extremist figures who offer alternative worldviews.

Lewis notes that she is not the first scholar to examine radicalization on YouTube; she cites Zeynep Tufekci’s New York Times piece and ex-YouTube employee Guillaume Chaslot’s work on the subject. Where she differs from her predecessors is in moving away from the now-standard critique that YouTube’s core problem is technological in nature. Previous work has focused on how quickly recommendation algorithms push viewers to extremist content; Lewis says the problem lies in the content itself. She writes:

While these articles identify a real problem, they treat radicalization as a fundamentally technical problem. What the section below showcases is that radicalization on YouTube is also a fundamentally social problem. Thus, even if YouTube altered or fully removed its content recommendation algorithms, the AIN would still provide a pathway for radicalization.

Lewis’s proposed solution is that YouTube should develop a strict value-based code of behavior, actively monitor the content of influencers’ videos, and discipline violators accordingly:

There is an undercurrent to this report that is worth making explicit: in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivize the behavior of these political influencers. YouTube monetizes influence for everyone, regardless of how harmful their belief systems are.The platform, and its parent company, have allowed racist, misogynist, and harassing content to remain online – and in many cases, to generate advertising revenue – as long as it does not explicitly include slurs. YouTube also profits directly from features like Super Chat which often incentivizes “shocking” content. In other words, the type of content and engagement created by the AIN fits neatly into YouTube’s business model.

The website similarly seeks policies that offer it protection for hosting user-generated content while simultaneously facing minimal liability for what those users say. This report has shown how these attempts at objectivity are being exploited by users who fundamentally reject objectivity as a valid stance. As a result, platforms like YouTube have an imperative to govern content and behavior for explicit values, such as the rejection of content that promotes white supremacy, regardless of whether it includes slurs.

It seems fair to assume that YouTube would reject this notion out of hand. (The criticism would start with “it doesn’t scale” and go from there.) But there are certainly smaller steps YouTube could take in the meantime. Lewis notes the glee with which one conservative provocateur received his plaque for attracting 1 million subscribers; surely, she writs, the company could choose to withhold trophies from people arguing against equality or targeting harassment at others.

In the meantime, I hope YouTube employees will at least read this report, if only to understand how some of its most influential users are exploiting its viral mechanics to promote white supremacy and other noxious views.


Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe

If, like me, you spend a lot of time looking around America and wonder what is going on, exactly, you’ll want to read Anne Applebaum’s long, discursive essay on how “the illiberal state” has made similar inroads in Poland, where she lives, and in Hungary. The essay’s overall effect is to remind you that people everywhere are basically the same, and in ways that threaten democracy. She concludes:

In truth, the argument about who gets to rule is never over, particularly in an era when people have rejected aristocracy, and no longer believe that leadership is inherited at birth or that the ruling class is endorsed by God. Some of us, in Europe and North America, have settled on the idea that various forms of democratic and economic competition are the fairest alternative to inherited or ordained power.

But we should not have been surprised—I should not have been surprised—when the principles of meritocracy and competition were challenged. Democracy and free markets can produce unsatisfying outcomes, after all, especially when badly regulated, or when nobody trusts the regulators, or when people are entering the contest from very different starting points. Sooner or later, the losers of the competition were always going to challenge the value of the competition itself.

Bertelsmann to Merge Unit That Moderates for Facebook With a Competitor

With moderation very much in the news, Bertelsmann has agreed to merge the part of its business that offers content moderation services for Facebook and other companies with a competitor, Sara Germano reports:

Bertelsmann’s Arvato customer relations management division runs moderation centers in Germany and elsewhere, where workers pore over content on Facebook that has been flagged as objectionable. The task has taken on a higher profile as governments increasingly demand moderation of online content.

But the unit hasn’t been growing as quickly as Bertelsmann had hoped, and the company said in January it was considering options for the business. On Tuesday, it announced a merger between the unit and the customer relations business of Morocco-based Saham Group to form a new company in which both firms will retain a 50% stake.

Instagram will use ads to help users register to vote

Now here’s way that social networks can benefit democracy. As Chaim Gartenberg reports, Instagram will put ads in users’ feeds and in Stories with links to help users register to vote.

To provide accurate voting information, Instagram is partnering with TurboVote, which promises “up-to-date information on how to register, how to update their registration, how to look up their state’s voting rules and more.”

Additionally, Instagram is planning to offer “I Voted” story stickers on Election Day. In addition to letting you brag to all your friends about how good you are at doing your civic duty, it will also link to Get to the Polls to help others find their polling location.

Mark Zuckerberg on Why We Should Support the Dreamers

Wired turned 25 — happy birthday, Wired! — and talked to tech-world luminaries about whatever said luminaries would agree to make time for. Mark Zuckerberg chose to talk about immigration. Honestly the photo caption is more interesting than the immigration stuff, which we have heard from Zuckerberg before:

“During the photo shoot, Mark’s dog, Beast, stayed by photographer Michelle Groskopf’s side the entire time … until she asked Mark to sit in a chair in his sunroom. At that point, Beast leapt across the room onto Mark’s lap. He responded with an ‘oof!’ and we all laughed.”


ACLU says Facebook allowed discriminatory job ads that didn’t appear to women – The Verge

Here’s a big new lawsuit against Facebook from the ACLU and the Communication Workers of America alleging that Facebook’s ad platform enables gender-based discrimination. My colleague Jake Kastrenakes:

The American Civil Liberties Union is filing charges against Facebook for allegedly running discriminatory job ads that appeared only to men, something that is illegal under the Civil Rights Act. The ACLU says that Facebook’s platform allowed 10 employers, including a software developer and a police department, to run ads that excluded women and non-binary users, and it says the social network should be held liable for creating the tools to offer these allegedly discriminatory ads.

The complaint is being filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that oversees charges of workplace discrimination. It’s filed on behalf of three women who say they were discriminated against, but the complaint also hopes to cover “millions” of women who were excluded from seeing job ads by Facebook and various employers.

Facebook and Financial Firms Tussled for Years Over Access to User Data

My read of this Journal story is basically that Facebook wanted access to financial data for use in building chatbots, which no one wound up using. I don’t think there’s much more to it than that.

Facebook Seeks Engineers for Custom AR Chips ($)

Aaron Tilley and Sarah Kuranda report that Facebook wants to build its own augmented-reality chips, likely to kickstart its inevitable (and probably already in development?) AR headset:

It isn’t clear whether Facebook will eventually release its own AR headset using the custom chips it is developing. If such a product emerges, it could be years away from being released since Facebook Reality Labs—previously known as Oculus Research—is typically focused on long-term projects. Facebook is also investing in chip development for artificial intelligence and data center purposes, as Bloomberg has reported.

Instagram could still develop a new shopping app — but here’s how it’s trying to woo window-shoppers in its current one

On stage at Code Commerce, Kurt Wagner asked Instagram business lead Vishal Shah if he was building a shopping app, as I reported earlier this month. He didn’t say no! (The answer is yes.)

Why PayPal’s crackdown on ASMR creators should worry you

Some people make videos where they whisper, crinkle up paper, and make other tiny, stimulating noises for enthusiastic audiences. Amid some sort of sex panic, PayPal is banning these creators for life, Violet Blue reports:

This past week, nonsexual ASMR video creators Sharon DuBois (ASMR Glow), Scottish Murmurs, Creative Cal, and Rose ASMR have been permanently banned from PayPal and had their funds frozen for 180 days. Like with YouTube’s July censorship sweep, the women create videos of sound effects and have been expelled from the payment utility under alleged violations of the company’s sexual content policy prohibitions. ASMR community websites are now warning all creators to avoid PayPal. Engadget reached out to PayPal regarding the banning of ASMR video creators, the 8chan sex-harassment campaign and how PayPal plans to protect users from this type of abuse — but we did not hear back before publication time.

A Viral Tweet Stole Fetish Model’s Photos, Told Fake Domestic Abuse Story to Sell Skinny Tea

Here’s a good reminder that the bulk of misinformation is still financially motivated. (Also, like, wow to all of this.)

Ashley’s thread went viral over the weekend, with more than 330,000 likes and 77,000 retweets. But none of these images are actually of her. They belong to a cam model who actually specializes in feederism, according to the model’s blog, which Motherboard reviewed.

The “Ashley” account was suspended less than two hours after I contacted Twitter to ask whether this account violates the platform’s rules impersonation rules.

Palmer Luckey Is Just Getting Started

Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey tells Wired that he once tried to build, um, this:

A bypass for my peripheral nervous system. Rather than waiting a few hundred milliseconds for a signal to travel from my brain to my extremities, I tried to capture it closer to the source and relay it electronically. If you could do this with all of your limbs, not just one finger or one arm, you could potentially have superhuman reflexes without doing a bunch of crazy work on, let’s say, exoskeletons or predictive analytics.

Jack Dorsey on ProPublica’s Experimental Journalism

Jack Dorsey tells Lauren Goode how much he likes ProPublica, and it is very charming. (ProPublica is fantastic.)


Twitter will soon let you switch between chronological and ranked feeds

Here’s a surprise from late Monday: Twitter is working on a way to let you switch back easily from a ranked to an unranked feed. Both have their uses — ranked is great for catching up; unranked is great for living in the moment — and so I’m delighted to see Twitter accommodating both as first-class citizens in the app.

If You See Disinformation Ahead of the Midterms, We Want to Hear From You

If you see misinformation online and decide you would like to report it to The New York Times instead of me, here’s how. (Please at least CC me, though.)

HQ Trivia looks to expand with HQ Words, a new Wheel of Fortune-style game

HQ has a new game coming in October. Also: it has a new CEO! Also, it has generated more than $10 million advertising revenue, which I found pretty impressive! Maybe there’s some life in the old viral phenomenon yet.

YouTube is offering its membership benefits to smaller creators

Creators with more than 50,000 subscribers will be able to sell viewers a $4.99 monthly membership fee in exchange for exclusive perks, Megan Farrokhmanesh reports. Previously, the feature required at least 100,000 subs.

Pinterest launches API that lets brands find and track influencers

Finally, an API to let you hunt down influencers and — we can only hope — subdue them.

iPhone XS review: the XS and XS Max are solid updates to a winning formula

Did you know that social platforms are most often used on phones? Well, there are a couple of new ones!



Charlie Warzel reflects on the danah boyd report and encourages reporters to employ “defensive journalism” when writing about extremists:

What I take from her is not that we journalists completely lost the plot (though we could do without being so sensitive!), but that there’s room for so much more sophistication in our work and what happens after we hit publish.

This notion reminds me a bit of defensive driving. Though the term ‘defensive journalism’ sounds ridiculous, I think this a helpful way to think of reporting in the era of the platforms and the information war. Like defensive driving, defensive journalism isn’t about aggression, it’s about staying vigilant and anticipating how others might ignoring or break the rules. It’s a heightened sense of awareness and skepticism (that should be very familiar to journalists) that doesn’t just keep you safe, but everyone else on the road, too.

A New Twitter Feature: Smart Accounts

Hot on the heels of news about the Twitter timeline, Jason Kottke suggests that Twitter create “smart accounts” — personalized collections of tweets that you can follow or unfollow. So you could follow a smart account that includes “likes from friends,” for example, “trends,” or “popular threads.” I love this idea.


Media Manipulation, Strategic Amplification, and Responsible Journalism

As noted above, in an incredible self-own, I mis-pasted the link to yesterday’s lead item! Incredibly, only one of you told me about this. Anyway, thank you Roger McNamee! And the rest of you, really do read danah boyd’s talk.

Facebook Says This Post About A Firing Squad For A Philippine Senator Doesn’t Violate Its Rules

In Friday’s newsletter I included an item about Facebook declining to remove a post that seemingly called for violence against a politician in the Philippines. A spokeswoman wrote me to say that it later decided to remove the post.

And finally …

Elon Musk recruits Dogecoin creator to fight cryptocurrency scambots

Say you are Elon Musk. You’re having a terrible week for lots of reasons, including a possible criminal probe of your tweets. But you also have this other Twitter problem, which is that people impersonate your Twitter account to try to scam people into buying them cryptocurrency. And so he reached out to the creator of joke-cryptocurrency Dogecoin to get some sort of script that … prevents this from happening? Somehow? Details are scarce. But as David Canellis notes:

The scambots are so prevalent that Twitter was forced to add a new rule: changing your name to Elon Musk will get you banned from the platform.

Ironically, just a few months ago, Musk joked about the prevalence of scambots on Twitter – and how impressed he is by the people behind them. It seems they no longer amuse him.

I would venture to say there are a number of things from Elon Musk’s recent past that no longer amuse him!

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Xiaomi admits to putting ads in the settings menu of its phones

Xiaomi, the world’s fourth biggest smartphone vendor, has attracted some unwanted attention for its use of advertising throughout its Android software experience, called MIUI. A Reddit user recently posted about their disappointment with the increasing frequency of ads showing up in Xiaomi’s MIUI apps, including the music app and even the settings menu.

When The Verge reached out to Xiaomi for confirmation on this matter, the company responded with the following statement, while also clarifying that it only applies to its devices running MIUI and not its Android One phones:

“Advertising has been and will continue to be an integral part of Xiaomi’s Internet services, a key component of the company’s business model. At the same time, we will uphold user experience by offering options to turn off the ads and by constantly improving our approach towards advertising, including adjusting where and when ads appear. Our philosophy is that ads should be unobtrusive, and users always have the option of receiving fewer recommendations.”

Most people familiar with Xiaomi already know that the company’s business plan isn’t built around making a profit from hardware sales. Xiaomi sells phones at breakthrough prices, such as the new Pocophone F1, primarily as a means to get people using its services and to steer them toward its other online and retail ventures. In that context, the company’s attitude of treating advertising as an essential part of its operations makes sense. But Xiaomi runs the risk of alienating users if it fails to live up to its goal of “unobtrusive” ads. The Reddit user in question noted that they disabled the so-called recommendations option that pumps out these ads, however that didn’t stop them from appearing.

Xiaomi is far from the only advertising offender on the Android platform. Samsung, which is much better off and charges much higher prices, has also been guilty of spamming its users, and there’s a plethora of notification-pushing bloatware out there that might not technically be advertising but is just as disruptive and repellant. Amazon might be the only company that has the right approach about this: it sells phones at an ad-subsidized price and gives users the option to pay more to ditch the ads.

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Apple Watch Series 4 review: the best gets better

The greatest Apple product comeback story of the past few years has, without a doubt, been the Apple Watch. Launched with great fanfare four years ago, the initial version tried to do way too much with way too little, and it had confusing software to boot. Worst of all, it was unclear what the original Apple Watch was even for. No single thing stood out.

Then Apple did what Apple often does: iterated, refined, and fixed. But as much as there were software and hardware improvements to the Series 2 and Series 3, the most important refinements were to the Apple Watch’s purpose. It gained clarity. It was for fitness and notifications. Eventually, when it was ready, Apple added better connectivity.

Now, with the Series 4, Apple is iterating again. And, importantly, it’s learned how to iterate the product’s hardware and its purpose at the same time. The Series 4 has finally achieved something like the original goal of the Apple Watch. It’s not quite a do-anything computer on your wrist, but it can be different things to different people now.

With apologies to the new iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 4 was the most impressive thing Apple announced last week. After using it for the past week or so, I think it lives up to the hype.


Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Great battery life
  • Huge, beautiful screen
  • Health-tracking features, not just fitness

Bad Stuff

  • Siri is still unreliable
  • No always-on screen option
  • Complication options can be confusing

For the first time since the original Apple Watch, the hardware has been fully redesigned, with a new body and new sizes. But it’s not a major overhaul. These still look like the Apple Watches you’re used to: they have the same rounded-corner lozenge shape, the same glass that curves around to match the body, and the same digital crown and single-button layout.

Before we get too far, we should talk pricing. This Watch is not especially cheap. The smallest, least expensive model comes with GPS and Wi-Fi and costs $399. But if you start piling on the upgrades, you can quickly jack up the price to something that feels exorbitant, especially if you’re upgrading from a Series 2 or Series 3. It’s $29 more for the larger size, $100 for LTE compatibility (plus $10 per month or so from your carrier), and the stainless steel models are $200 more (and only come with LTE). Add in Apple Care, and you can end up spending a lot — though it’s nothing like the wild “Edition” prices of yore. (Don’t even get me started on the Hermès model.)

The two new sizes are 40mm and 44mm, but they really don’t feel that much bigger on your wrist than the old sizes. I was using the 42mm Series 3 and the 44mm size is only subtly bigger, but it’s also subtly thinner. To me, it feels about the same, but I think the trade-off of size for thinness is worth it. I suspect the same will be true for people who prefer the smaller size, but my recommendation is to go to a store and try one on before buying.

I’m really happy — and impressed — that Apple managed to make existing Watch bands fully compatible with the new sizes. Even my old third-party bands fit seamlessly into the new Watch body.

Things look different when the screen turns on. The screen on the Series 4 is just incredibly good. Apple says it’s 30 percent bigger, which is one of those specs that’s easy to just sort of pass over when you read it. But 30 percent is a lot, and you absolutely notice it right away.

It’s still OLED so the blacks are truly black and blend into the watchface glass. But if you pick a full-screen watchface, you’ll see that the screen also goes closer to the edges of the Watch than before, including the rounded corners.

The overall effect makes the square display on my Series 3 look dumpy and cramped by comparison — even though, until last week, it was arguably the best smartwatch screen on the market. As John Gruber writes, “The Series 4 displays take up so much more of the face of the watches that the new 40mm watch’s display is larger than the display on the old 42mm models — the new small watch has a larger display than the old large watch.”

Beyond the size and the screen, there are a few other subtle exterior differences to note about the hardware. The rear of the Watch is now ceramic instead of metal to allow for a better wireless signal. If you spring for the LTE model, the garish red dot on the digital crown has been replaced with a much more subtle red ring.

The microphone has been moved between the two buttons so that it’s further away from the speaker to help reduce echo in calls. The speaker has been boosted to provide more volume. It really is way louder, and I haven’t heard any distortion during phone calls.

Last year’s Apple Watch had some issues with LTE at launch, though Apple fixed it up fairly quickly. This year, I haven’t had any major problems with LTE. In fact, several people I called with the Watch simply didn’t believe I wasn’t on a phone. It sounds good, and the louder speaker means you can hear it without holding the thing next to your ear.

But it does take the Watch a minute (sometimes two) to switch on LTE and get connected. That’s not radically worse than what happens when you pull your phone out of airplane mode, but on the Watch, it’s always a little less clear what’s happening and why when data is not coming in.

On the inside, there’s a faster S4 processor, a W3 chip (which is just Apple’s W2 chip with Bluetooth 5.0 support), and an accelerometer and gyroscope that are able to take samples of your movements more often (which is how Apple was able to add the new fall detection feature). Apple’s also tied haptics to the digital crown, so when you spin it, you feel little ticks that precisely correlate to what’s happening on the screen. It’s completely unnecessary but pretty neat.

Last but certainly not least: the battery size is about the same. Battery life on the Series 4 is as good or better than on the Series 3 Watch. Apple claims 18 hours of regular use or six hours of outdoor workouts. I haven’t done a six-hour outdoor workout (and I don’t plan to), but my testing shows the battery life far exceeds Apple’s own claims.

I took the Watch off the charger on Saturday morning and wandered around Oakland for four hours while disconnected from my phone. I used LTE for maps, a couple calls, and GPS for tracking my outdoor walk “workout.” I was still at 50 percent at the end of that day, and I didn’t get below 20 percent by the end of my lazy Sunday (which also involved an hour or so of GPS tracking and some LTE data).

The battery life is so good that I wish Apple gave me an option for an always-on ambient screen, maybe by turning off some radios. Alas, you still have to turn your wrist to see the time.

watchOS 5 is kind of a grab bag of new features, which sounds dismissive, but I don’t mean it to be. It’s a good sign that watchOS is ready to be laden with features instead of rethought from the ground up, as it was in years past. There’s support for podcasts, Walkie Talkie mode, slightly improved (and grouped!) notifications, and a bunch of fitness and health options.

But the thing people will probably pay the most attention to are the new watchfaces that are available on the Series 4 Watches. They’re designed to show off the new rounded-corner screen. Some are just sort of flashy animations, while others are chock-full of new complications in phantasmagoric colors.

Of the new watchfaces, I am most fond of the animated ones. Apple says that the fire, water, and vapor animations were all created with practical effects. As in: literal fire, vapor, and water were filmed with high-speed cameras as they flowed on custom-welded rigs. They look great; the animations naturally flow right up to the rounded corners.

The watchface that you’ll probably see the most in ads is called “infograph.” It takes the bigger screen of the Series 4 and fills it up with as many as eight complications. There’s a “modular” version as well that shows the digital time and six complications. Like many parts of watchOS 5, they use new, more rounded fonts, too.

The infograph watchface is polarizing. I don’t like it at all, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “design crime.” There are just too many colors doing too many different kinds of work splashed all over the screen in a garish and show-offy way. Too many of Apple’s watchface options are like that. Call me boring, but I prefer a Watch look that’s a little more staid. It makes me a little sad that Apple still doesn’t allow third-party watchfaces.

Even if you like the new watchfaces, you probably won’t like what happens when you try to select a new complication. There are now “old”- and “new”-style complications, which are completely different and incompatible. The newer watchfaces need the new complications, so third-party developers will have to update their apps (and so will Apple). You can’t add the Home app to the new watchfaces, only the old ones. The most annoying part is that there’s no way to know what complications are available on any given watchface without scrolling through and looking for the one you want.

On the fitness front, the best new feature is automatic workout detection, which can tell if you’ve started or stopped a workout and ask you if that’s the case and if you want to log it. There are now options for yoga, hiking, setting a target pace, and tracking your pace. You can also see your cadence as you run and challenge somebody to a week-long exercise competition. (I didn’t extensively test these features; I’m still at the “fill your damn rings” stage of my exercise goals.)

Maybe the most interesting change, though, is how Apple is more clearly separating out health features from the fitness stuff. There are a few new features in watchOS 5 and the Series 4 that are designed to help you detect health problems, not just encourage you to close those activity rings or run a marathon.

That’s interesting because it more explicitly positions the Apple Watch as a device that can help detect health problems, making it something that people who can’t exercise that much might be more interested in. Apple, as always, is very careful to not cross the line into making actual health claims about its new features. It’s careful to say that the Watch can detect things like irregular heartbeats, not that it will.

watchOS 5 is able to detect low heart rate now, in addition to high heart rate. Later this year, Apple will add detection for irregular rhythms and provide notifications for them. The big new feature on the Series 4 is that it can take an electrocardiogram (EKG) using electrodes built into the back of the Watch and the digital crown. It can then send a PDF of your results to your doctor. I wasn’t able to test that as it is coming later this year. Both irregular heartbeat detection and the EKG features have been granted “de novo” classification by the FDA, and that distinction is important, as Angela Chen explains:

It’s important to understand that the FDA has “cleared” both apps, but that’s not the same as “approving” them. There are usually three ways to get the FDA involved in a new project, according to Jon Speer, co-founder of Greenlight Guru, a company that makes quality management software for medical device companies. The most advanced is FDA approval, which is done only for Class III products, or technologies that might have higher risk but also a higher benefit. (Think: implantable pacemakers.) Approval is the gold standard, and companies need to do a lot of testing to receive this designation.

The Apple Watch is in Class II. For Class II and Class I, the FDA doesn’t give “approval,” it just gives clearance.

Another new feature exclusive to the Series 4 is hard fall detection, thanks to a new 800Hz accelerometer and gyroscope that can that can measure up to 32 G-forces. The Watch should be able to tell if you’ve had a spill and ask if you’d like to call emergency services. If you don’t move for a full minute after falling, it can do that automatically and also send a message to your emergency contact. Apple is turning it on automatically for users who tell the Watch they’re over age 65, and it’s making it an option for younger users as well.

I’ve tried to trigger it without hurting myself and I haven’t been able to, which I suppose is a point in the Watch’s favor. (My tests were far from scientific; I was just hurling myself at the couch.) Apple says that to build its fall detection algorithms, it used data from a study involving 2,500 participants over several years, and it also worked with assisted living facilities and movement disorder clinics.

So throwing yourself into bed after a long day shouldn’t trigger it, but a fall from a ladder or tripping over a curb and flailing your arms as you hit the ground might. Again, Apple’s health claims are not that the Watch will detect these falls, but simply that it could.

A lot of people were really excited about Walkie Talkie mode, but after testing it, I don’t think it’s especially compelling. Unlike those classic Nextel Push-to-Talk phones, Walkie Talkie mode on the Apple Watch is essentially just a FaceTime Audio call with a button you press to talk and little beeps and visual indicators to tell you if it’s your turn.

When you send the first message, you have to wait for a connection to be made, and then it’s just tapping the screen and talking. The connection stays active until a few minutes after the last person finishes speaking. It’s neat, but it doesn’t feel as instant as a true PTT system. I also had connectivity problems with it, but that may have just been OS launch-day overloading.

That said, it’s silly fun to push the big yellow button with your nose when it’s your turn to talk. I strongly recommended it. (If it becomes a thing, I want to make sure I get full credit for coining the term “nose calls.”)

Siri on watchOS 5 is still Siri. There’s a new feature that lets you simply lift your wrist and start taking instead of pushing a button or saying “Hey Siri,” and it works really well. The Siri shortcuts you set up on your iPhone should also work from your Watch, too. Siri still feels super unreliable, though.

Siri gets especially fussy when you have a spotty connection. Too often, when I wanted to ask a question, I’d be met with a “hang on…” message, followed by a “I’ll tap you when I’m ready” message, followed by an interminable wait during which I’d forget whatever it was I needed Siri for.

One last little watchOS 5 thing I must mention: you can open links to webpages now, too, which is kind of fun. Articles you click on get put into readability mode, so you don’t have to worry too much about ads or bad layouts on your Watch. Hooray for the web!

This year’s Apple Watch is incredibly good. If you use it just for notifications and step counting, it’s probably overkill, but it’s able to handle more advanced features better than any other smartwatch I’ve tested. Mapping, music, workouts, calls, texting, podcasts… most of the stuff I could imagine wanting from a smartwatch works better than ever before. The only real bummer is that I still don’t feel like I can trust Siri to do everything I’d like reliably, and that’s more of an intermittent hassle than a real killer.

If you’re looking at this Watch with an eye toward the health features, I have to admit that they’re difficult to test: the new features could be very compelling to a lot of people. Passive monitoring for heart problems and falls could literally be lifesavers, but they aren’t all available yet, and we’d need to see third-party lab testing to really make a call there.

For people who are looking to upgrade an existing Apple Watch, that’s a harder question to answer than usual. Spending four to six hundred bucks for a bigger screen is a luxury I wouldn’t casually recommend to anybody, even though the screen is wonderful. Many of watchOS 5’s best features will work fine on more recent Apple Watches, too. Yes, there are exclusive watchfaces on the Series 4, but that’s also a silly thing to drop so much money for.

What I can tell you is this: the Apple Watch has earned its place as the best-selling watch. It’s at least an order of magnitude better than other smartwatches and fitness trackers. Nearly everything it is designed to do, it does very well. It’s not yet a general purpose computer for your wrist, but, thankfully, Apple isn’t aiming for that anymore. The Watch is for doing little bite-sized versions of phone things like texting and listening to music, it’s for fitness, and it’s for health monitoring.

Now that Apple has figured out what the Apple Watch is for, the Series 4 just makes it better.

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iPad Pro with Face ID rumors bolstered by iOS 12.1 beta

Apple’s recently released iOS 12.1 beta contains code that suggests a new iPad is coming this fall. The string “iPad2018fall” was discovered by Guilherme Rambo, reporting for 9to5Mac. This, along with the numerous other leaks, suggests that we should expect a new iPad to be announced before the end of the year, possibly a new iPad Pro with Face ID and an edge-to-edge notched display.

Although we’ve already seen a new model of the standard iPad released in 2018 (which mostly delivered iterative improvements outside of Apple Pencil support), rumors suggest this upcoming iPad Pro will be a much bigger step forward.

For one thing, we’re potentially looking at the first iPad equipped with Face ID. iOS 12.1 beta brings support for the face-unlocking technology while your device is in landscape mode, a useful tweak for tablets when used with keyboard accessories.

The software also allows Memoji’s to be synced between devices. Although this could be included to serve the small number of people who use two iPhones, it’s much more likely that this is meant for people with both a phone and a tablet, implying Memoji’s imminent arrival on the iPad.

There have been other developments that also suggest Face ID is coming to this next iPad. Developers have noticed the feature cropping up in previous iPad iOS 12 betas, along with support for AvatarKit. Apple also moved the iPad’s clock from the center to the left of the status bar at the top of the device, potentially making way for an iPhone X-style notch.

Outside of Face ID, the only other significant iPad rumor comes from analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, who’s said that the upcoming iPad Pro will make the switch from Lightning to USB-C. This potentially opens the tablet up to using a world of USB-C peripherals and docks, further cementing the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

iOS 12.1 beta also sees a return of the group FaceTime calling feature, which was originally supposed to arrive in version 12 of the software but was later delayed.

It’s unclear when exactly we might see the new tablet. Previous iPad Pros have been released in November, March, and June over the last three years, making the lineup one of Apple’s most irregular. Although the appearance of “fall” in the 12.1 beta certainly hints at an announcement during one of Apple’s special October events.

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Sony is launching a PlayStation Classic console this December loaded with 20 games

Sony is following in Nintendo’s footsteps and bringing back its original PlayStation console nearly 25 years after its initial release as a miniature gaming device called the PlayStation Classic, the company announced today. The device will cost $99.99 ( €99.99 / 9,980 yen / £89.99) and, similar to Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic consoles, will come pre-loaded with 20 “genre-defining” titles, including Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. The device will launch globally on December 3rd.

In addition to a standard mini-PlayStation, buyers will also get two classic PS1 controllers for games that support local multiplayer when they purchase the bundle. We don’t yet have a full list of games, but Sony’s press release confirms two other titles: Jumping Flash and Wild Arms.

Considering Sony seems to be a bit better than Nintendo when it comes to hardware supply, it doesn’t seem likely this will be quite as hard to get your hands on as the NES or SNES Classic have been. That’s good news fort those longing for retro PlayStation feels and some good old fashioned Square role-playing games. (Granted, you can already play a lot of classic PlayStation games as it is on iOS, PC, and, soon, the Nintendo Switch too.)

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Senate passes Music Modernization Act

The US Senate has approved the Music Modernization Act of 2018, S.2334, with unanimous consent, bringing the first reform for music licensing in 20 years on the cusp of becoming law. The companion version in the House previously passed in April, also with unanimous consent. The bill now must be reconsidered by the House and then ultimately signed by President Trump. Both of those are likely to happen, so the Senate was the last major hurdle.

Although the Music Modernization Act was overwhelmingly supported by artists, songwriters, and every other corner of the music industry (and many government officials), it met opposition this summer. Blackstone Group, whose mechanical licensing company Harry Fox Agency stands to be greatly impacted by the MMA, as well as Sirius XM and Music Choice pushed back against the bill. While issues with the Blackstone Group found resolution, the dispute with Sirius XM and Music Choice was still very much at the forefront. Sirius XM objected to a portion of the bill called the CLASSICS Act, which makes them legally responsible to pay songwriters and artists royalties on pre-1972 recordings.

Now that it has passed the Senate, the bill has been renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act after Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a songwriter himself who was a strong advocate for the MMA and called it “crucially important.”

The bill revamps Section 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act, combining three major pieces of legislation:

  • The Music Modernization Act, which streamlines the music licensing process to make it easier for rights holders to get paid when their music is streamed online.
  • The CLASSICS Act (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society Act) for pre-1972 recordings.
  • The AMP Act (or Allocation for Music Producers Act), which improves royalty payouts for producers and engineers from SoundExchange when their recordings are used on satellite and online radio. Notably, this is the first time producers have ever been mentioned in copyright law.

Mitch Glazier, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said in a statement: “As legendary band the Grateful Dead once said in an iconic pre-1972 song, ‘what a long strange trip it’s been.’ It’s been an epic odyssey, and we’re thrilled to almost be at our destination.

“For the modern U.S. Senate to unanimously pass a 185-page bill is a herculean feat, only achievable because of the grit, determination and mobilization of thousands of music creators across the nation. The result is a bill that moves us toward a modern music licensing landscape better founded on fair market rates and fair pay for all. At long last, a brighter tomorrow for both past and future generations of music creators is nearly upon us. We are indebted to the leadership of Senators Hatch, Grassley, Feinstein, Alexander, Coons, Kennedy and Whitehouse for helping get us there.”

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You thought Dieselgate was over? It’s not.

It’s been an electrifying month for the German auto industry. Mercedes-Benz presented its first all-electric SUV. BMW offered a glimpse of its upcoming EV strategy by unveiling a concept car. And Audi is going electric, as well. On Monday, the company celebrated the premiere of its first completely battery-powered car, the E-tron. Audi’s release party in San Francisco was especially unlikely when you consider what happened just three years ago.

As a part of Volkswagen Group, Audi played a central role in developing and installing illegal software in 11 million diesel cars in order to trick emissions tests. On September 18th, 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency informed the public about VW’s and Audi’s violation of the Clean Air Act, causing government agencies around the world to launch investigations. Dieselgate became the biggest scandal to rock the car industry in decades, and within three years, Volkswagen Group was forced to pay around $30 billion to settle the case. The sum is likely to rise by several billion dollars.

While they are busy emphasizing their commitment to electric vehicles, German carmakers are still scrambling to contain the fallout of Dieselgate: executives are held in prison; investors are suing for billions; the EU Commission is investigating VW, Daimler, and BMW for collusion; and the once cozy relationship with Angela Merkel’s government has cracked severely.

Guess, who didn’t attend Audi’s release event on Monday? It was Rupert Stadler, the CEO of Audi. Hours before the party started, Volkswagen’s board met in Wolfsburg, Germany to discuss Stadler’s future within the company. He’s expected to be removed from his position next week. After all, he’s been held in custody in a Bavarian prison for three months and can’t very well run a car company from there. Not only is he suspected of having made false statements to authorities, prosecutors think that he also tried to manipulate important witnesses.

Stadler is the sixth Volkswagen Group executive to be imprisoned for Dieselgate-related alleged crimes. The list of suspects from VW, Audi, and Porsche has grown to as many as 70 names, which translates into a lot of work for Volkswagen’s lawyers. But they’re facing another problem.

On September 10th, investors filed a $10 billion lawsuit in Braunschweig, Germany against the company, seeking compensation for the up to 37 percent hit to Volkswagen’s share price following the revelations by the EPA. They argue that VW failed to meet its duty to warn shareholders about the scandal’s financial impact. “I expect the lawsuit to be successful,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor of Automotive Economics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told The Verge. “Including this case and all other pending lawsuits, I assume that Volkswagen will have to pay another $15 billion in fines.”

Volkswagen isn’t the only automaker in chaos. Daimler is having some serious diesel-related trouble, too. In Europe, the company recently had to recall 700,000 Mercedes-Benz diesel cars over irregularities with their emissions control software. While the German government threatened the company with a $4 billion fine, it is still unclear if Daimler will actually have to pay.

By comparison, BMW has little to worry about. Although dozens of prosecutors and police officers raided the company’s headquarters in Munich this spring (something that happened to Daimler and VW much earlier), they didn’t find evidence of any major crimes. According to a recent report by daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that cited numbers of Germany’s Ministry of Transport, about 8,000 BMW diesel cars were equipped with inadmissible systems to shut down emission controls. The company says this was caused by “human error.” In the end, BMW might only have to pay a $12 million fine.

In addition to these individual cases, there is a broader set of problems that encompasses the entire German auto industry. Just in time for Dieselgate’s third anniversary, the European Commission announced that it is intensifying its investigation into whether VW, Audi, Daimler, BMW, and Porsche colluded on diesel emissions starting as far back as in the early 1990s. They are accused of having formed an illegal “cartel” which laid the foundation for Dieselgate. The Commission carried out inspections at the premises of BMW, Daimler, VW, and Audi in October 2017. “If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition.

Dieselgate has led to an upheaval in Germany’s politics as well. For decades, car executives cultivated friendly relationships with German lawmakers. Things were downright cozy. Before Dieselgate, Germany’s most powerful car lobbyist started his letters to the chancellor with “Dear Angela.” If other EU member states, the EU Commission, or the European Parliament were pushing for stricter regulations, car manufacturers could always rely on German officials to water down new European rules. Experts conclude that politicians are partly to blame for Dieselgate. “German politicians always thought they were helping the car industry by being soft on regulations and keeping their eyes shut”, Dudenhöffer told The Verge.

Now, politicians and manufacturers will pay the price for their close relationship. Most German voters now think the government was too lenient on Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. Thanks to industry lobbying and German interventions, European rules for the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are full of so many loopholes that virtually all diesel cars emit more pollutants into the environment while on the street than they do at testing facilities. While not illegal, these super-polluting vehicles have made the air in many German cities much dirtier than allowed under EU standards.

“For years, the German government has been reprimanded by the EU Commission,” Dudenhöffer said, “but it has never done anything about it.” To improve air quality, courts have banned older diesel cars from several German cities or parts of them. Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart were the first to announce these restrictions. “In the end, we will probably get diesel bans in 20 German cities,” Dudenhöffer said.

Needless to say that this won’t go down well with many German voters as millions of them own diesel cars. To prevent driving bans, the government is finally thinking about obligatory hardware updates at the manufacturers’ expense to reduce NOx emissions in older diesel cars. Environmentalists have been calling for this for months, but the government didn’t want to impose it on the car industry. It only demanded software updates that are less effective, but much cheaper.

The threat of driving bans is already causing the market share of diesel vehicles to collapse. In the first half of 2017, over 41 percent of new cars in Germany were diesel. This year the number went down to 32 percent, according to new research by the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The era of diesel cars, which are particularly important for German manufacturers, is coming to an end much faster than Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW probably wished for. However, as consumers in China and the United States have quickly forgotten the affair, German automakers are still making more money than ever. The move into electric vehicles, then, is both image rehab and financial necessity — because it turns out Germans have fallen out of love with diesel cars.

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AMD’s new Ryzen 45W laptop chips will take on Intel’s Coffee Lake H series processors

AMD has made two new processors to counter Intel’s Coffee Lake H series chips, which are often found in gaming notebooks and mobile workstations. While these are largely just laptop versions of the desktop-class four-core processors that AMD already launched this year, the new chips could mark AMD’s expansion into more notebooks and mobile workstations.

The new AMD Ryzen 5 2600H and Ryzen 7 2800H are 45-watt processors with four CPU cores, eight processor threads, and Radeon Vega graphics. The new chips support DDR4 RAM up to 3200 MHz, which is decent compared to others on the market. Both 14nm chips can be configured to 35 watts of thermal design power or up to 54 watts, so laptop makers can choose a higher setting for better performance or a lower setting for less heat and extended battery.

Both chips are fairly similar, but the Ryzen 7 2800H is slightly higher-specced than the Ryzen 5 2600H, with a 3.3GHz baseline speed and 3.8GHz boost speeds if needed, along with integrated 1.3GHz Radeon Vega 11 graphics. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 5 2600H chip is more entry level, with a 3.2GHz base, 3.6-GHz boost speeds, and 1.1GHz Radeon Veg 8 graphics.

The new models are the first 45W laptop chips that AMD has come out with; AMD has a 15W Ryzen line for lighter laptops, but these beefier chips can handle more. While Intel’s 45W line has recently focused on high-end chips and additional cores, AMD’s new Ryzen options go for higher base speeds, which could help them stand apart.

Although some laptops use AMD chips today, the market is largely ruled by Intel. With these new chips, AMD isn’t going after the common consumer PC, but the higher-end models that could help build its reputation as a true rival to Intel. Pricing and availability have yet to be announced, but if the new chips catch on with manufacturers, they could translate into more laptop options for consumers later down the line.

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Amazon Kindle e-reader and Fire tablets are discounted for Prime members

Amazon has discounted the cost of its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets for subscribers of Amazon Prime. We’re seeing prices for most of these products match what was offered during Prime Day 2018, which is to say that you can expect a discount between $30-40 depending on which model you’re interested in.

Keep in mind, the lowest prices are for the Kindle and Fire models with special offers, meaning Amazon ads will be baked into the sleep and lock screens. However, the same discounts apply should you rather buy the model without ads.

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