Apple news has been fast and furious the last two weeks, but this week things seem to have gone into neutral. There is no shortage of WWDC Keynote predictions, and there are the obligatory “Apple is Doomed!!!!” articles, as usual this time of year. I will have none of that here, so I will keep it brief this week and stick to actual news.
Apple Updates Swift Playgrounds to Control Lego Robots and More
I have to hand it to Apple, because this is a smart move. If their goal is to get kids coding using Swift Playgrounds, then making the process pay off with some real-world fun is brilliant. Apple has partnered with Lego, Sphero, Parrot, Ubtech, Wonder Workshop, and others to bring robots, drones, and other objects under users’ control with code. Apple has designed lessons to go along with these new capabilities, and some of the partners have chipped in, as well. Lego has evidently designed 10 hours of lessons teaching how to use their gear in Swift Playgrounds.
Apple needed to make a move like this. They have been under assault in the education space lately, with Google’s inexpensive Chromebooks gaining a big foothold, and Microsoft getting more serious with Windows 10 S. This update to Swift Playgrounds looks like it is a direct response to Microsoft’s educations initiatives that leverage the ever-popular Minecraft to teach coding.
Nintendo is Having a Tough Time Getting Enough Parts for its Switch Thanks to Apple
I think the design of Nintendo’s Switch was just about perfect. After such a promising start, gaming on iOS and Android has devolved to touch-based fremium affairs over the last two to three years, leaving room for a more powerful mobile gaming experience once again. I think Nintendo was very smart to basically merge their home and mobile businesses into one versatile console that players can use wherever they go.
Unfortunately, this move has brought Nintendo into direct competition with Apple, Samsung, and other phone manufacturers for parts and components. The older Nintendo DS designs all had resistive screens for use with a stylus and lesser internal components. By going to a large capacitive screen and more modern internals, manufacturing at scale has become an issue. That is unfortunate, because the Switch is selling more like the Wii than the Wii U, with units selling out when and wherever they become available. With a Samsung Note and Apple’s much-hyped next iPhone still on the way, this situation isn’t going to get better for Nintendo anytime soon. However…
Nintendo’s New Online Service for the Switch Includes In-Game Chat via iPhone App
Nintendo doesn’t seem to be taking the Switch component shortages too personally. Rather than developing a voice-chat solution from the ground up that is built into their coming online service, Nintendo is making another smart decision here. They will develop smartphone phone apps, including one for iOS, that connect to the Switch and handle the in-game chat using your cellular data plan. Considering that the Switch doesn’t have a built-in cellular connection and is meant to be a mobile gaming platform, this was shrewd move that insures gamers will have chat available anytime they want to use it.
Apple is Using Freelance Labor to Help Improve Apple Maps
Apple has reportedly been using subcontractors to hire paid freelancers in France to improve the information in Apple Maps there. Using a web interface, workers check the information generated by search queries, and Apple aggregates their answers to make changes to its mapping information. The freelancers are paid $.54 per task, and can perform up to 600 tasks per week. No one will make a living doing this, but this seems like a great way for both Apple to gather local data and for workers to make a little extra side money.
I love that Apple is doing some different things to improve Maps, This strikes me as a smart, out of the box solution to bring in more data, check existing data, and improve the service, overall. If an opportunity to do this ever became available in my local area, my son (who is now 16 and can drive) an I would be ALL OVER IT.
Supposed Foxconn Leaker is Spilling the Beans All Over Reddit
Take this one with a grain of salt, but it was still an interesting read. There is a self-professed leaker from Foxconn with direct knowledge of Apple recent prototypes and upcoming products for the next one to two years who did an AMA on Reddit. This leaker has supposedly been vetted by the mods of the Apple sub-Reddit, so take that for whatever it’s worth. It should be noted that some legitimate leaks have made their way to this board before, including the original Apple Watch design 24 hours before its first announcement.
If you are interested, take a look at the thread here. The basic rundown is that the iPhone 8 will be similar to the 7 with thinner bezels. He makes it sound like underscreen fingerprint sensing had very poor yields, but also said that the TouchID sensor on the back was deliberate misinformation. What that all means for the final shipping product is anyone’s guest. The Siri Speaker is supposed to have the Mac Pro-like trash can design that has been previously rumored. He also believes that the release has been pushed to later in the year.
More interesting are the tidbits that this leaker drops about a couple of products that are a little further out. He claims that the vitural keyboard Mac designs that have popped up here and there in patent filings are real, and may be coming as soon as next year. He also has a lot to say about a pair of AR Glasses that Apple is developing. These glasses would be compatible with perscription lenses, have bone conduction modules, multiple mics, a capacitive panel on the side for control, and a prism to reflect information onto the lenses. He claims that these are in testing, that the specs and details are still in flux, and that they likely wouldn’t be released until 2019. He also drops a target price of $600 based on the current bill of material vs Apple’s usual markup. Considering what Google Glass cost for prototype-level hardware a few years ago, this would be a actually be a great price for such a device.
Time will tell whether any of this is legitimate or not. No matter what, it’s definitely interesting to read.
Apple Has Work to do With Siri. Killed by Google Assistant and Cortana, Barely Beats Out Alexa in Recent Research Study
Philip Elmer DeWitt at Apple 3.0 has a great article on recent study on Smart Assistants by Stone Temple. The results of this survey sound a lot like what I was predicting and expecting in my article on Siri earlier this week. Google and Microsoft both have a huge edge in providing direct answers because of their ownership of the world’s two biggest search engines, and Apple and Amazon will always be at a disadvantage if they can’t find a way to help balance the scales a bit. While Siri did manage to edge out Alexa, it also lead the four digital assistants in answers that were “simply wrong.”
Ouch. Siri may understand what I am saying a lot better and dictate more accurately when I use my Apple AirPods, but understanding a question doesn’t really matter if the service isn’t capable of delivering a reasonable answer. I don’t envy Apple’s position, as I don’t know how they can make up the data gap between them and Google and Microsoft. However, they don’t have the option of retreating at this point, so it will be interesting to see what they try to improve on these results. If a Siri Speaker is forthcoming, this gap needs to be closed in a meaningful way, or such a product could do more harm than good.
Apple Hires VP of Engineering Away From Qualcomm
The battle between Apple and Qualcomm may end up uglier than their battle with Samsung when all is said and done. The shots back and forth have been plentiful, Apple is making moves away from using their cellular radios in upcoming devices, which will be a blow to Qualcomm’s bottom line, and now this. According to Cult of Mac, the hiring of Esin Terzioglu is a strong indicator that Apple will be looking produce its own cellular radios in the future, as it now does with the A line of processors and likely will do soon with its graphics and power management chips. The more Apple can integrate its custom chips with iOS, the more advantages it gains on the rest of the field in terms of both power and battery efficiency.
So now all of Appledom moves on to a total focus on the upcoming WWDC Keynote. Considering we have made it this far without any realistic-sounding leaks of major iOS 11 features, we are likely in for some actual surprises this year. It’s been a while since we knew this little about the coming updates this close to the keynote, which makes things a little more exciting this time around. Look for a special post-WWDC Apple Slices next week with a brief rundown of all the major features and announcements that Apple covers. Until then, have a great rest of the weekend!