Tag Archives: wireless

Apple unveils iPhone with high-res cameras, no headphone jack

airpods

Apple Inc. unveiled an iPhone 7 with high-resolution cameras and no headphone jack at its annual launch this week, though the biggest surprise was the debut of a three-decade-old Nintendo game franchise, Super Mario Bros, on the smartphone.

While shares of Apple barely budged, Nintendo’s U.S.-listed shares jumped 29 pct on investors’ hopes that Super Mario would be another mobile gaming hit for the Japanese company akin to the wildly popular Pokemon Go.

Much of the presentation headed by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook was devoted to technical details of photography, wireless earphones, games from Nintendo, and a new version of Apple watch – with fitness features.

The biggest iPhone technical improvements all had leaked, and Apple itself spoiled the surprise by sending out tweets of some details before Cook spoke. The company then deleted the messages.

Apple has reported declines in iPhone sales for the last two quarters, which raised the stakes for the iPhone 7. Some consumers and analysts are considering waiting until 2017.

“Just gonna wait on iPhone 8 cuz it’s the 10th anniversary of iPhone,” Tweeted @LewBruh near the end of the event. “Ya know they gonna do something big.”

But Mike Binger, senior portfolio manager at Gradient Investments LLC in Minneapolis, said the new phone encouraged him that Apple was in good shape for a new sales cycle.

“I think the iPhone 7, just from a replacement basis, will be a successful launch,” he said.

The world’s best-known technology company said the iPhone 7 would have one, zooming 12-megapixel camera. Starting at $649, it is the same price as the 6S predecessor. The larger 7 ‘Plus’ edition, starting at $769, would feature two cameras, including a telephoto lens.

Apple also removed the analog headphone jack from both new models, as was widely expected. The new headphones supplied by Apple with the phone will plug into the same port as the recharging cord, making it incompatible with most wired headphones without an adaptor. Apple includes the adapter.

The phones will also work with Apple’s new wireless headphones, called Air Pods, available in late October at a price of $159.

The disappearance of the headphone jack “will probably annoy a certain amount of people” but they would likely get over it, Binger said.

Apple described dropping the jack as an act of courage as it moved toward a wireless future with the optional Air Pods. Getting rid of the jack also increased room for stereo speakers, and Apple sharpened the technology on most features, from the camera to a pressure-sensitive home button to a boost in memory.

The new phone will start shipping in major markets, including the United States and China, on Sept. 16.

Bob O’Donnell of research firm TECHnalysis said Apple’s new glossy black finish could be more popular than any tech feature, reflecting the slowdown in major tech innovations for smartphones.

“While the camera improvements for the iPhone 7 Plus are nice, they are incremental for most and the lack of headphone jacks could offset that for others,” he said.

Apple typically gives its main product, which accounts for more than half of its revenue, a big makeover every other year and the last major redesign was the iPhone 6 in 2014. Many are expecting a three-year cycle this time, culminating in a major redesign for 2017 to be called iPhone 8.

Apple said its Apple Watch Series 2, with a swim-proof casing, will be available in more than 25 countries starting on Sept. 16.

“I predict Watch sales will improve dramatically,” said Tech analyst Patrick Moorhead. “Most of the current Watch owners are early adopters and the next wave could be 10 times the size of that market.”

Apple also launched a new version of the device called the Apple Watch Nike+, in partnership with the athletic goods manufacturer Nike Inc., featuring GPS so athletes can track their runs.

Shares of Fitbit Inc., which makes activity-tracking bands, closed down 2 percent on the emergence of such a high-profile competitor.

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Net neutrality: A look at the debate, the possibilities

Whose Internet is it anyway?

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, says he’s keeping that question in mind as he pitches the biggest regulatory shake-up to the telecommunications industry since 1996, when people still used noisy modems and referred to the “information superhighway” as a fun way to buy books or check the weather.

Wheeler has not publicly released his plan yet, and might not for a few weeks. But he has suggested that Internet service has become as critical to people in the United States as water, electricity or phone service and should be regulated like any other public utility.

Wheeler told reporters this past week that he wants “yardsticks in place to determine what is in the best interest of consumers as opposed to what is in the best interest of the gatekeepers.”

That has the industry sounding the alarms, warning consumers of an inevitable $72 annual tax increase on each U.S. wireless account. But advocates of the approach say that is not likely to happen and that your Internet experience probably will carry on as usual.

A look at what “net neutrality” means and what is likely to happen:

THE ISSUE

Net neutrality is the idea that Internet providers should not move some content faster than others or enter into paid agreements with companies such as Netflix to prioritize their data.

Broadband providers have questioned the fairness of this approach. They have invested heavily in a sophisticated infrastructure and question whether the government should be telling them how to run their networks and package services.

But what if the major cable companies that provide much of the nation’s broadband had free rein to load some files faster than others? It is easy to imagine scenarios where these providers might favor content produced by their affiliates or start charging “tolls” to move data. Consumers naturally would gravitate toward faster sites and services that pay those fees, while smaller startups or nonprofits get shut out.

THE OPTIONS

The FCC had used the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was intended to encourage competition in the telephone and cable industry, to enforce “open Internet” rules, until recently, when a federal appeals court knocked down that approach.

President Barack Obama and consumer advocates say a better tack would be to apply Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. That law, written with radio, telegraph and phone service in mind, prohibits companies from charging unreasonable rates or threatening access to services that are critical to society.

Industry likens that approach to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.

THE FCC

Wheeler says he will circulate his proposal among the other FCC commissioners before Thursday. He has suggested it probably will apply Title II regulation to all Internet service, including wireless, but with some caveats.

Industry experts expect that Wheeler will say many rules should not apply to broadband, invoking what’s called “forbearance.”

The commissioners will vote Feb. 26. Wheeler is expected to have the support of the other two Democratic commissioners. The two Republican commissioners have made clear that they do not support applying Title II.

Next stop will be the courts. Industry lobbyists and FCC officials say there’s no doubt one of the big providers will sue and probably ask the court to suspend enforcement of the new regulation pending appeal. It’s possible the issue won’t be resolved for several more years, even well into the next president’s first term.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers could try to resolve the uncertainty, but Congress rarely is that pragmatic. Lawmakers tend to take on issues that fire up their base or bring their states money, and an in-the-weeds compromise on telecommunications law would be a lot of work with little immediate payoff.

So far, Republicans have pitched an idea that would enforce basic open Internet rules but could strip the FCC of its ability to help local municipalities build their own broadband. It’s a nonstarter for Obama and congressional Democrats who say poor and rural areas have been left behind in the deployment of high-speed Internet.

Assuming Wheeler’s proposal satisfies consumer advocacy groups, Democrats would have little incentive to revisit the issue. While Republicans have the votes to push though their own anti-regulation legislation without Democratic support, Obama would veto it.

CONSUMERS

Most Internet providers, except Sprint, have warned the legal uncertainty will chill future investments. FCC officials point to a recent wireless spectrum auction that has attracted some $44 billion as proof that the telecommunications industry is thriving even amid the current uncertainty.

As for taxes, the Progressive Policy Institute estimated that treating the Internet like phone service would trigger taxes and fees up to $15 billion a year, including $67 for each wired service and $72 for wireless in state and local taxes.

But that report, widely quoted by industry lobbyists, did not take into account the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which prohibits state and local governments from imposing new taxes on Internet access, or the FCC’s ability to shield consumers against some state and local taxes by claiming the Internet is an “interstate” service.

Techgaze: Wireless audio gizmos under $500

If “unplugged” acoustic music was a hallmark of the ‘90s, surely “wireless” listening is the big trend of the ‘10s.

Sure, we’ve been essentially wireless since the radio came out a century ago. But today’s Internet-connected mobile devices often require cords to hook up to accessories like speakers and headphones. And these cords can result in a knotty nightmare in your bag.

Several wireless gadgets I tried out recently should keep music lovers a bit more tangle-free this holiday season.

Beats Studio Wireless ($380):

This plush set of over-ear headphones almost mirrors Beats’ popular Studio line, but comes with wireless ability for an $80 increase in price. Like the wired-only model, this puts you in a cocoon with its noise-canceling technology, which works even if you just want padded silence. The sound is crisp, and the bass is deep.

A button on the outside of the left ear cup operates like the button on standard iPhone earbuds: one click to pause, two to skip forward and so on. A disc-shaped button turns the volume up and down.

The headphones promise 12 hours of wireless listening and 20 hours if you connect the cord, which is included.

Nearly $400 for headphones is pricey, but whoever gets this as a holiday gift will be mightily pleased. It’s an outstanding way to bliss out during a noisy commute. It works as a headset for phone calls, too.

Monster iSport Freedom ($250):

Meant for a workout, these on-ear headphones are made of sweat-resistant plastic and rubbery material and will give you a tight-fitting hug.

Although the headphones didn’t jostle while jogging, there’s something about completely covering your ears that creates a kind of bone-conducing sound. Every foot strike resulted in a thud inside my head, something that doesn’t happen with $29 iPhone EarPods. In addition, on-ear headphones squish your ears against your frames if you are wearing glasses.

Separate buttons for volume up, down and skipping forward and back were difficult to use, partly because I often hit a much larger button for pause and play instead.

That said, the sound is excellent, and I appreciate not having to worry about yanking my headphones off accidentally by snagging the cord.

With 10 hours of playback time per charge, these should outlast all but the most enduring athletes.

Sonos Play:1 ($200 each):

The little brother to the company’s Play:3 and Play:5 speakers packs a big, immersive sound in a package the size of a pickle jar.

Unlike Bluetooth speakers, Sonos speakers run over Wi-Fi and need to be plugged into a power outlet. Through the end of the year, the company is throwing in, for no extra charge, a $50 Bridge adapter to attach to your router, so you can free yourself from having to plug an Ethernet cable into at least one speaker.

You can play digital tunes that you own or use streaming services such as Pandora and Rdio. I found Sonos’ Wi-Fi connection to be far more consistent than using other speakers with Bluetooth, which can cause skips now and then.

The speakers are designed to disperse sound in a wide radius and fill a room. When two little Play:1s are paired for stereo sound, they deliver big time.

Beats Pill 2.0 ($200):

This Tylenol-shaped beat box puts out a decent sound, but to me, it’s remarkably tinny for the Beats brand.

This year’s model, however, adds some cool features. A near-field communications chip lets you pair two Pills together for stereo sound. If you are on the road, you can lift a tab to reveal a full USB port, which you can use to charge your mobile phone if you don’t mind giving up some of its seven-hour playback time. On a full charge, it can replace two-thirds of an iPhone 5S battery.

But the Pill is indeed round and will roll. One rolled off a shelf on me and dropped three feet onto the floor. It didn’t miss a beat or get dented, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home.

Marley Get Together ($200):

This is what you want when you go on a picnic with your hippie friends. It’s even made of hemp.

No kidding: The cloth enclosure is made of recycled hemp, organic cotton and recycled plastic. Its natural bamboo front gives this an Earth-loving, yet luxurious polish. Two big woofers and two tweeters on the front will reassure you that you’re not compromising on sound.

Playing Bob Marley over Bluetooth on this modern-day boom box just seems right. It has eight hours of battery life. And I’m sure if the Rasta master were alive today, even he would appreciate the USB port on the back that can be used for charging mobile devices.

Soundcast Melody ($450):

This Bluetooth speaker flips the idea of surround sound on its head. A speaker grill encircles a body that is shaped like a rice cooker. You can surround it from any direction and still feel the sound coming your way.

This chunky, 9-pound speaker is for people who want mobility from a speaker system, but for whom weight is no issue. With a full charge, it’ll play up to 20 hours at low volume or two hours if you’re blasting it.

At this price, it’s pushing the upper end of wireless speakers. But it’s an attractive travel companion with its four speaker sets pointing in all directions, quality sound, lengthy battery life and car-lighter charger attachment.

HMDX Jam Plus ($60 each):

These stubby speakers the size of a tumbler glass are perfect companions to a laptop or tablet.

Pairing two of them for stereo sound was a snap thanks to a switch on the bottom that designates which one is right and left. The speakers have comically short USB cables for charging, no longer than a foot. Provided you have USB ports on both sides of a laptop, insert one on either side for stereo sound.

Mind you, the USB port doesn’t act as an audio connection if your device isn’t Bluetooth-ready. Unplugged, they should give you six hours of listening.

The fact that the speakers point straight up isn’t a deal breaker somehow, as the sound is dispersed well.

For the price, a pair of these would make a nice stocking stuffer for any gadget lover.

On the Web …

Beats Studio Wireless: http://bit.ly/17wrpQY

Monster iSport Freedom: http://bit.ly/1881vBx

Sonos Play:1: http://bit.ly/1a8OqIr

Beats Pill 2.0: http://bit.ly/HT69JJ

Marley Get Together: http://bit.ly/18wIepV

Soundcast Melody: http://bit.ly/17yQ6Mx

HMDX Jam Plus: http://bit.ly/1eR3b6s