This article is part of a series about season four of Black Mirror, in which Futurism considers the technology pivotal to each episode and evaluates how close we are to having it. Please note that this article contains mild spoilers. Season four of Black Mirror is now available on Netflix.
A Short Leash
Sarah is a reasonably happy four-year-old. She’s blond and gap-toothed with a cherubic smile. She can be a picky eater and is frightened by the neighbor’s dog that barks loudly as her mother takes her to the park. But she’s curious and trusting.
Then, every parent’s nightmare. Sarah wanders off from the playground, and her mother is gripped with panic. The neighbors find her a few hours later, but Sarah’s mother is shaken. She brings Sarah to Arkangel, a company that creates neural implants to set Sarah’s mom’s mind at ease. A technician places the implant into Sarah’s temple quickly and painlessly.
With this device, the mother can monitor her daughter’s location, track her vitals, and even see through her daughter’s eyes. Sarah’s mom tracks it all with the system’s “parental hub,” a tablet device that’s remarkably similar those we use today. She can limit what Sarah sees. Anything that causes stress — a growling dog, a violent movie scene — the device can “filter” from the child’s view.
Would you want the ability to always know your child’s location and what they were seeing? This is the question explored in this episode of Black Mirror. And because it’s Black Mirror, it’s safe to assume that not everything goes according to plan.
So, how far are we from being able to take helicopter parenting to this new, high-tech level?
According to L. Syd M. Johnson, a neuroethicist/bioethicist at Michigan Technological University, we’re not far from digitally-enhanced parenting at all. As Johnson told Futurism, we already have the technology for the basis for such a system. Today’s smartphones track our whereabouts and can make them visible to others if we so choose; tech such as Google Glass lets others see what we are seeing.
The bionic eyes and retinal implants currently in development could take the system to the next level. Once perfected, the data and images from those implants could plausibly be transmitted to another device, such as the parental hub used in the Black Mirror episode. Researchers are already working to develop brain implants that detect stress, and future iterations could integrate features that block whatever sounds and sights might be causing the stress.
Manufacturers behind the most cutting-edge implants in use today, such as pacemakers and electrode systems for deep brain stimulation, are wirelessly integrating those devices with user-friendly portals that patients can access via an app on a smartphone or tablet, Johnson noted. In some cases, patients can even control the functionality of their devices through those apps. The same sort of mobile control for an Arkangel-like system wouldn’t be much different.
Peace of Mind, At a Cost
So, an implant like Arkangel’s is plausible, possibly even in the next few decades. The question then becomes not could parents give their children the implant, but should they?
First, the case in favor of the implant. Perhaps most obviously, it could reduce the number of cases of missing children — as of December 2016, there were 33,706 active reports of missing persons under the age of 18 in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database (almost all children reported missing in the U.S. make it home alive). And it could decrease the number of cases filed as the result of simple miscommunications or misunderstandings, of which tens of thousands are filed each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That would free up investigators to look into the real cases, and it would save parents and children alike undue emotional trauma.
An implant like this one could also help keep children healthy. In the Black Mirror episode, an alert on the parental hub let the mother know her picky daughter wasn’t getting enough iron. Such a system could also tell a parent immediately if a child was falling ill or needed more serious medical attention, or notify authorities if a child is being neglected.
But the problems an Arkangel-type implant causes may outweigh its benefits.
The simplicity of the Arkangel system invites abuse and excessive control, Johnson said. Instead of tracking kids’ locations only when they’re missing, parents could use it to keep track of their children at all times. This constant surveillance could stunt those children, preventing them from developing into self-sufficient adults capable of navigating the world without a parent’s interjection. “While parents are expected to protect and help shape and guide their children as they grow up, everyone at some point wants and needs their parents to loosen the reins,” Johnson said.
Over-involved parents aren’t the only ones who could be listening in to an Arkangel-type implant — governments could eventually take advantage of the devices to maintain control over citizens. That is extremely problematic, as many dictators around the world already keep a tight leash on their populations.
Hackers, too, could gain access to the devices, granting them control over a person’s emotions or actions, Johnson said. Today, the digital security of implantable medical devices leaves much to be desired— just this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled half a million pacemakers because they were vulnerable to hacking. Other implantable medical devices, such as insulin pumps, have also demonstrated such vulnerabilities. Manipulating a person via their brain implant would be difficult and crude at first, but it would likely become more sophisticated over time. Another person taking control over your feeling or actions, no matter how imprecise, would feel distressing, to say the least.
Americans are already worried about their cybersecurity, and rightly so. Internet browsers track our viewing habits and smartphones track our location. Hacking systems small and large is easier than ever. As we become more connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), we know intuitively that our privacy will continue to erode. But so far, most people seem comfortable with the trade off of privacy for convenience.
“Is there a threshold beyond which we’ll stop being so comfortable [with the diminishment of our privacy]? Possibly,” Johnson said. “Possibly that threshold will be in the vicinity of our skulls.”
If (or when) parents do have the option to implant their children with an Arkangel-type device, they’ll need to weigh these pros and cons very carefully. The peace of mind that comes with always knowing your child’s location could come at a cost far beyond the monthly subscription fee.
But buried within the big headline-grabbing stories of the year weremicrotrends that sprang up almost by surprise. And one of those relates to the humble podcast.
Though the podcast is far from a new medium, 2017 saw a surge of activity related to the audio broadcast format.
A couple of weeks back, Apple finally launched its podcast analytics feature so creators can garner more data about how their listeners consume podcasts on iOS devices and can gain potentially valuable insights into their listening habits.
This could be a game-changer not only in terms of how podcasters use data to inform their handiwork but in their ability to attract revenue by giving advertisers more information about listeners.
When the feature was quietly announced at WWDC back in June, some of those in the know suggested that Apple’s podcast analytics tool was the biggest thing to have happened to podcasting in quite some time, given that Apple’s mobile platforms still play a pivotal role in the podcast industry.
It may look obscure, but this is the biggest thing to happen to the podcast business since Serial first went nuclear https://t.co/4tWfvckKM9
Fast-forward to September, and Google investment arm GV led a $10 million investment in Anchor, a New York-based mobile-focused platform that makes it easy for anyone to record audio on the move and transform that audio into a podcast. This came a week after Stockholm-based podcasting platform Acast raised $19.5 million from a group of Swedish investors.
Podcasting platforms haven’t traditionally garnered significant sums of cash, yet over a two-month period five podcasting companies announced more than $70 million in raises. And that’s not including CastBox, a podcasting startup founded by a former Googler last year, which announced $16 million in funding in October — this was a delayed announcement and constituted a series of investments from early 2016 to June 2017.
The upshot of all this is that podcasting has emerged as a hot industry for investment. But why?
Consumers, it seems, are hungry for audio-based entertainment. The proliferation of smartphones is leading to an explosion in digital audio content, and companies such as Amazon and Google are pushing their voice-enabled smart speakers out to the masses — which bodes well for continued growth. “With some of the biggest companies in the world investing in smart speakers, microphones, and content, audio and voice will only become more popular in the coming years,” Anchor cofounder and CEO Mike Mignano told VentureBeat in an interview earlier this year.
Though the major tech firms have increasingly invested in video, audio holds a number of advantages — you can drive to work, cook dinner, or wire your house while listening to podcasts. “Audio is great because it saves you time,” added Mignano. “You can consume it no matter what you’re doing.”
This multitasking is something people would once do while listening to broadcast radio, but on-demand audio could be changing the landscape. Why listen to your local radio news bulletins when you can turn to podcasts to soak up all things boxing or baseball as you decorate your house?
“The content environment is shifting quickly, and as radio becomes less and less relevant, audio-on-demand will take its place,” said Acast cofounder and chief strategy officer Karl Rosander.
A report by Edison Research and Triton Digital earlier this year delved into digital media consumption trends, with audio and podcasting featuring prominently. The report found that 67 million Americans, or 24 percent of the population, listen to podcasts each month, which represents a rise of 3 percentage points on the previous year’s 57 million figure.
Additionally, the report found that 60 percent of Americans are now familiar with the term “podcasting,” an increase of 22 percent in two years.
The Apple factor
There is no shortage of channels through which to consume podcasts. Countless cross-platform distribution platforms and apps are available, from SoundCloud and Pocket Casts to Stitcher and beyond, making it easy to subscribe to your favorites. However, reports generally indicate that more than 55 percent of podcast listening takes place through Apple’s native iOS Podcast app or iTunes. This is why Apple’s move to open up data to creators (beyond the number of downloads) could prove crucial for the industry’s continued growth — advertisers love data.
U.S. podcast ad revenues are expected to have grown by around 85 percent for 2017, compared to last year’s $119 million, according to recent data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). And this is something that the ad agencies are noticing, too.
“Our clients’ media spend has increased 300 percent vs. 2016, and I’d say we have 2 to 5 potential clients cold-calling us every week, interested in learning more about podcast advertising,” said Kurt Kaufer, partner and CMO at audio-focused advertising agency Ad Results Media, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Advertisers are really seeing success, which in return is fueling the ecosystem — raising talent, raising content, and raising ad dollars.”
Apple’s analytics service, which is available in beta now, should allow podcasters to track unique devices and playback metrics, including when the audience drops off during a show. Advertisers will surely be more inclined to spend on podcasts if they know exactly how many people are listening to their ads, rather than paying a fee based on a show’s overall number of downloads, for example.
“We’re optimistic about the idea that creators will have access to more data, as we feel it will create more efficiency in the marketplace,” explained Steve Shanks, partner and CRO at Ad Results Media. “This, in turn, will help the entire industry, both on the advertising and content sides. With increased data and insights, we’ll have the ability to better predict the potential winners and losers for our campaigns, which should create even better results for our clients.”
Of course, the data revealed by the analytics may have the opposite effect — if it turns out that one million people download a podcast but only 5 percent bother listening to the ads, this could deter potential advertisers. But the data arms everyone with the right tools to tackle whatever needs tackling — even if it means rethinking how advertising is delivered through podcasts.
“While some might see this as a complete game-changer for podcast advertising, we still have a ‘wait and see’ mindset,” added Shanks. “While results are everything for us, and we’re excited to see Apple’s interest in developing its analytics platform, it’s still anyone’s guess what exact data will be provided and how this may shift the perceived performance of each individual podcast.”
It’s been a great year for Firefox. After falling behind its rivals in terms of speed and market share, Mozilla launched itself back into the game in 2017 with Firefox Quantum – the browser’s biggest update since its first release in 2004.
“We fell behind for five years, so it feels good to come out swinging,” Mark Mayo, vice president of Firefox, told TechRadar just before the launch of Quantum in November. We’re just going to go straight at them!”
Quantum is a huge step up for Firefox, with speeds that challenge Chrome and a new interface designed to make browsing a smooth, more pleasant experience, but it was just one part of Mozilla’s 2017 success story.
Focus on privacy
Along with speed, privacy was one of Mozilla’s biggest focal points for 2017. We spoke to Mayo at Mozilla’s Glass Room exhibition in London – a pop-up art exhibition exploring the way our personal data is harvested, used and sold when we use online services – often without us fully realizing.
Exhibits including an eight-hour video of a man reading the full Kindle terms and conditions, printed books of leaked LinkedIn logins that visitors could check for their own details, and a vast web of pins and string showing the hundreds of connections between Google and other online service providers.
The show pulled no punches, and followed the release of the privacy-focused Firefox Focus for Android. The mobile browser, which was released for iOS in 2016, automatically deletes users’ browsing history at the end of each session. It also disables ads that track browsing activity, which has a knock-on effect of speeding up page load times.
“The focus is on simplicity, so you don’t have to go into private mode in your usual browser – you’re there straight away,” Barbara Bermes, senior product manager of Firefox Mobile Browsers, told us after the launch.
There’s no desktop version of Focus in the works yet, but Chromebook users can download it from the Google Play Store like any other app.
Firefox on phones
Mobile will continue to be a particular focus for Firefox in 2018, as the team aim to bring some of the improvements from Quantum to the small screen. There’s already been a halo effect, with installs of the mobile browser picking up pace since November.
It’s a challenge Mayo is looking forward to. “There’s more need for big leaps in performance on mobile than on desktop,” he told us just before Christmas, when we caught up to discuss 2017’s highlights, and what we can expect to see in the new year.
“The big [achievement] I’m super happy about is that we were able to release a new Firefox,” he said. “That’s been especially great for the team after a pretty intense 18 months.”
He sees Quantum’s speed as great news for all internet users, forcing Microsoft and Google to focus on delivering quicker, smoother performance as well.
“Other browsers should get faster as well,” he told us. “It’s just going to be great for all users because everyone is going to compete on speed again, which hasn’t happened for a while. Chrome will get faster, Edge will get faster.”
Mozilla is far from done, though. The Quantum project as a whole is only halfway done, so we’re expecting plenty more developments in the new year – on all platforms. That’s good for everyone; as Mayo says: “When the web gets better, everyone wins”.
Most VPN services come with pre-installed settings and protocols, making them extremely accessible. There are dozens of reasons why you should use a VPN, but here are our top five.
With the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) stripping away current net neutrality provisions, there’s never been a better time to arm yourself with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a trustworthy VPN service is a great way to encrypt your online traffic and avoid government censorship, not to mention bypass certain ISP (Internet Service Provider) restrictions.
When you connect to a secure VPN, you’re able to browse the web with complete anonymity. That’s because a good VPN service will hide your actual location, letting you browse without ever leaving a ‘physical’ trace.
More than that, VPNs also block your ISP from tracking your every move on the internet. Whereas incognito mode simply hides your browsing history from your browser, a VPN lets you hide your traffic from your ISP. Connecting to a VPN server essentially ‘masks’ your location, connecting you to a location in another area, making it difficult for your ISP to see – and therefore block – the sites you’re accessing.
This is especially important if you’re concerned about your internet browsing history. In 2017, the US government gave ISPs the power to package and sell user data. That means everything you do online could become fodder for marketers or insurance companies. If that sounds spooky to you, then using a VPN is a great way to keep your digital life private.
2. Encrypt your network
2017 wasn’t a good year for cybersecurity, and the forecast for 2018 isn’t looking any better. Using a VPN to encrypt your internet connection lets you browse without worrying about exposing your network. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling and find yourself browsing via public Wi-Fi hotspots (in hotels for example).
ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, VyprVPN and other top-tier VPN providers use AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption. That means your network is fully encrypted, making it near impossible for anyone to see what you’re doing online, whether you’re browsing on a secure network or an open one.
Better yet, if you set up a VPN on your router, you can encrypt the traffic of all the devices in your house. That way you never have to remember to turn on the VPN each time you boot up your computer or switch on your phone.
This is one of the defining differences between VPNs and proxy services: whereas a proxy only covers a single device’s web traffic, you can hook up your VPN to a router to cover every device in your network. Many small- and medium-sized businesses have begun installing VPNs on their office networks. It’s an upward trend that’s only expected to gain momentum as cybercrime becomes more prevalent.
Connecting to a VPN automatically changes your IP address. Sites that may be blocked in your region become readily available, making it possible to access any site and service from virtually anywhere in the world.
You can also use a VPN to download and torrent without having to worry about your ISP zeroing in on your online activity. Most VPNs come with unlimited bandwidth and server switches, which means there are no data caps restricting the amount of content you’re able to access. It also means you can endlessly hop from location to location, which is useful when content is only available in certain areas.
Furthermore, this is a big deal when you’re logging on from censorship-heavy countries like China or Egypt. A VPN provides an important lifeline that keeps you connected with key sites like Facebook, YouTube and Google. Think of a VPN as the ultimate travel tool in this respect.
4. Avoid network throttling
With the net neutrality repeal, ISPs in the US now have more power over how they market their services, which means users can soon expect some sites to load faster – while others may load much, much slower.
In the UK, traffic throttling (or shaping) is an accepted fact that is detailed and documented by most of the country’s big ISPs (Virgin Media, BT, Plusnet).
Fortunately, a VPN service can help reset your online network to its original settings and allow you to browse, stream, and download without having to worry about slow-loading sites.
More than that, it’s a simple and effective way to fight back against the status quo. Privacy advocates say using a VPN to slip through the cracks and browse normally isn’t only recommended, it’s encouraged.
And while it’s entirely possible that Comcast, AT&T and other internet providers could one day ban VPNs, the staggering amount of both business and everyday VPN usage makes this a very unlikely scenario.
5. Find better deals online
This lesser-known VPN trick is a great way to save on flights and hotels. By connecting to a VPN server outside your home region and comparing prices online, you may be able to save a significant amount of money on rentals and airfares.
That’s because most sites (including Kayak and Priceline) actually charge different amounts based on a user’s IP address. Start by checking prices in and around your location.
Then try comparing prices between different cities and, if possible, nearby states. After that, try switching your VPN location to a few different countries and check the same prices. It’s a fairly simple trick, though it’s worth taking the time to do a more wide-ranging search – that way you’ll cast a more expansive net for trying to find the best deals.
Next time you’re looking for cheap flights, try using a VPN to check prices from different countries – just remember to browse in incognito mode and clear your cookies after each visit.
Drop Software Inc. wants to change the way people access information in virtual reality. Its flagship VR title, Drop, provides a 360-degree environment that folks can use to browse the internet. It raised a seed round of an undisclosed amount in August, drawing investments from HTC as well as firms such as Macro Ventures, Autochrome Ventures, and Backstage Capital. Drop is available on the HTC Vive headset.
“If I told you to open your MacBook right now the first thing you’d do is open Safari or Google Chrome or something along those lines,” said Drop Software’s CEO and co-founder Russell Ladson in a phone call with GamesBeat. “We’ve done it on desktops. We’ve done it on mobile phones. For our team, we asked ourselves, ‘What does this look like in VR?’”
Ladson says that users spend an average of 26 minutes inside Drop, typically performing actions such as sending emails, watching videos, and reading articles. Its audience is primarily folks who use their VR headsets six to eight hours every week. Some of its users have called it a “virtual Pinterest board,” referring to how they can visually organize content around them in a 3D space.
Drop has had to tackle a few issues in the course of developing its user interface, a few of which it’s still working out. Ladson says that input is a big challenge, particularly because the team doesn’t believe keyboards are the best way to interact with a virtual environment.
“We built an initial version of Drop using hand gesture technology and a keyboard, and we found that—the idea of using hand gestures in the environment makes sense when it’s a one-off action, but it can’t be the primary part of the interface, because of arm fatigue,” said Ladson.
Other issues include readability of websites and figuring out how to optimally use the 360-degree environment. In Drop, users can point at a window and pull it toward them, enlarging it so it’s easier to read. When they’re done, they can toss it away and it will poof out of existence.
“The tutorial is the first thing you have to use before it even allows you to search in the environment. It’s almost mandatory,” said Ladson. “The reason we did that was because people wouldn’t necessarily know, once they did a query, that all they had to do was point the laser pointer at that web link, and that panel will fly out to you.”
“That’s what we’re seeing right now in this idea that VR does have this amazing use case, to be a productivity suite, a place where I go and I lock in for the first two hours of my work day,” said Ladson. “That’s where I get everything done. That’s going to change the way that people work. I think we’ll move from this idea of how open floor plans became so popular to everyone having some type of VR station. Especially as more standalone headsets become available on the market.”
It’s not just VR, either. Drop is talking to some companies that specialize in augmented reality and exploring how it could create a similar browsing environment for AR. It’s also interested in incorporating other technologies, such as AI assistants that use voice, such as Amazon’s Alexa.
The main challenge it has to solve is distribution, which Ladson says it’s approaching by talking to more hardware providers. Not only will that get Drop in front of more users, but it may help with monetization down the line. Most browsers bring in cash by signing deals with search engines, as Mozilla did with Google in the early 2000s. By the end of 2018, Drop is planning to roll out to the Rift as well as Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets.
“We want to create that first piece of hardware that replaces the smartphone and becomes as ubiquitous as the smartphone,” said Ladson. “But we know that for us, that’s a 7-10 year vision type of thing. We just felt that it made sense to start here today with the early adopters, the early enthusiasts, and start understanding the space from there.”
For Apple-focused writers, no subject is as thankless as a “what should Apple do” article. Why should any mere journalist presume to offer guidance to a company that has weathered decades of second-guessing, only to emerge at the very top of the heap? Some of Apple’s more… devoted fans treat even light criticism of the company as heresy.
I believe that even wildly successful companies can get better, and that for all of its financial acumen, Apple could clearly benefit from some outside perspective to improve in 2018. In that spirit, here are 10 topics for consideration and discussion; I hope they inspire Apple to “think different” next year.
10. Let iOS devices automatically adjust to cars, offices, and homes
Two years ago, Apple introduced a new feature called Proactive that was supposed to use time or location information to help surface apps and information — a narrower version of Google Now. iOS devices need to be smarter and more capable than that.
Between location services, Bluetooth pairing, and Wi-Fi/cellular connections, your iPhone should know when it’s in your car and be able to follow predefined “car rules,” like “don’t start randomly playing a song from my music library just because you connected to my car stereo.” (Seriously, why does it still do that?) Similarly, a “home” profile might tell an iPad to automatically connect to a favorite speaker system or a bedroom TV, while an “office” profile could route all audio to AirPods and automatically open a specific work app. You could create profiles for the specific scenarios that fit your life, triggered by location, time, or pairing with certain accessories, and your iOS device would behave accordingly.
9. Make iPods relevant again
Apple killed the iPod Shuffle, Nano, and Classic, but the iPod Touch is still alive. The iPod name is still a solid brand, and in the hands of the right dedicated marketing and third-party software team, the Touch could easily be refocused and pitched as a viable competitor to Nintendo’s Switch — which has been deemed a mega hit on the strength of selling 10 million units in a year. Heck, if Apple doesn’t know what to do with the iPad Mini (kids still love it), the smaller tablet could fall into the iPod family, too.
Alternatively, Apple could simply repurpose the iPod Touch in a new housing as a $150 desktop-tethered competitor to Amazon’s video-capable Echo models. The OS, apps, and chips are all there — all that’s needed is a new screen and housing. Again, using the iPod name for a product that’s not meant for computing would be fitting.
8. Streamline the iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch families
Thanks to competing 9.7-inch and 10.5-inch devices in the middle of the iPad family, as well as Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular versions of every iPad at every capacity, the iPad lineup has become too big. Similarly, the iPhone family now includes eight different devices, six of which (iPhone 6s, 7, and 8) don’t all need to exist — they stand out like a repetitive sore thumb in the image above. And there are too many versions of the Apple Watch to count, thanks to multiple series, sizes, materials, straps, and branded strap bundles. These product lines are a mess, just like Apple’s 1990s Mac lineup was before Steve Jobs took an axe to it.
Solution: Streamline every product line. Keep three iPads (say, 9-inch/11-inch/13-inch without Home Buttons) in regular and Pro versions, the latter with higher capacities and integrated cellular as an option. Launch two iPhones — iPhone 11 and iPhone 9 — each in three screen sizes (S/M/L), with the 11 a year ahead of the 9 in processor speed, camera performance, and materials.
And sell two Apple Watches — Series 4 and Series 3 — each in two sizes, in aluminum/steel/ceramic materials, always with an Apple sport band included. Since Apple Watches are supposed to be personal and customizable, users should be able to download new Faces from a Watch-specific store, and customize any Watch to look the way they prefer. Buy a Nike or Hermès band separately and get a download code for a special watch face.
7. Get real already with the Apple TV
It’s unfortunate but not surprising that the Apple TV business remains disappointing for Apple — every generation, it somehow finds ways to lag behind smaller competitors in everything from pricing to apps. It currently sells 3 Apple TV models at $149-$199 prices that don’t make much sense, given that Roku’s most powerful 4K device sells for under $100, and the market has largely shifted to sub-$70 streaming sticks.
Apple blew its chance to get people to buy Apple TV apps and games (the latter over a stupid joystick policy), so a $99 Apple TV 4K with 16GB would be fine for most people; unless something huge is going to change with developers this year, the Apple TV only exists to stream videos and music. Support for 4K or better-than-720p streaming from iOS devices with 4K video cameras is overdue, too.
6. Improve MacBook Pro battery performance
Owners of the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros know that the machines radically underperform Apple’s marketed longevity estimates under most conditions. A Bloomberg report late last year suggested that Apple knew as much when it shipped the 2016 Pros, as a more capacious battery solution flunked testing at the last minute, leaving the Macs underequipped.
These machines simply cannot be used for “Pro” purposes as long as users would expect, and Apple should provide a solution, perhaps a working version of the tiered battery originally planned for the machines. If iPhone 6-like class action suits are necessary to make MacBook Pro buyers whole on this, so be it.
5. Whip Siri into shape and release affordable Siri Speakers
I discussed this topic in a separate article yesterday — to sum it up, Apple needs to improve and expand Siri’s capabilities to match its best AI assistant rivals, as well as to offer Siri devices that can be placed all throughout a home. Amazon (Echo Dot) and Google (Google Home Mini) have figured this out, and are being rewarded for it with record hardware sales and chart-topping app downloads.
There is no way Apple’s upcoming $349 HomePod is going to have the same impact. It’s time to adjust course, now.
4. Reinvigorate the Apple accessory market
Apple’s pitch to accessory developers for the past 13 years has been “pay us fees, follow our rules, make exclusive accessories for us, and gather money from our customers.” For users, Apple’s pitch has been “Apple-approved accessories cost more because they’re tested to be safe and device-compatible.”
But as Apple’s recent HomeKit security debacle, prior failures with AirPlay speakers, and botched transition to Lightning connectors demonstrated, the company’s “do it our way” approach isn’t working so well for consumers or developers. Over the past decade, Apple has reduced a once thriving accessory market to rubble, and turned millions of customers towards more reasonably priced alternatives from no-name brands and cloners. As AR, VR, AI, and other disruptive technologies gain steam, it’s time for Apple to overhaul its accessory licensing business and start working with the next generation of hardware developers rather than trying to control them.
3. Merge Mac and iOS apps with a cross-platform focus on touch input
Step one: Let any iPad and iPhone app run in a window just like Xcode’s iOS development tool Simulator, with the trackpad or mouse handling as much interaction as possible, and enable developers to choose alternate Mac UIs if they want. That will pave the way for Apple to…
2. Release touchscreen Macs, already
Apple has been embarrassingly, completely wrong on this one; people want touchscreen Macs, and it’s crazy that you can walk into a Microsoft Store today and find many Mac-like laptops and desktops that allow seamless touch and stylus input… at lower-than-Mac prices.
The MacBook “Touch Bar” has turned out to be an expensive distraction for Apple; few developers care about it, and users don’t seem to be using it. So it’s time to embrace touchscreens across as many Macs as possible — combined with trackpads and styluses, they’ll make a lot of users happy. Happier than the Touch Bar does, for sure.
1. Fix your PR department
If Apple outwardly cares about its customers, you’d never know it from its public relations department. Readers generally don’t realize that Apple commonly ignores requests from writers who are covering Apple’s products and events. They also might not know that Apple commonly seeds information to specific “friendly” writers who reprint the company’s statements verbatim, or that Apple limits access to its events and new devices to people who won’t be particularly critical.
In 2018, if Apple is going to claim to be a virtuous company, it needs to clean up its main interface with its customers: its public relations department. Rather than using fanboys and shills to disseminate information, Apple needs a properly functioning PR department that reaches out and responds to a wide array of people. It similarly needs a fair system of extending access to events and new products to journalists with different viewpoints. A more open and responsive Apple will lead to more reasonable coverage from the press, and quite possibly fewer lawsuits from angry, arguably misled customers.
Like 2017, 2018 promises to be a major year for Apple, with many new products on the horizon. We’ll get Apple’s first smart speaker — the HomePod — this year, along with a second-generation version of the iPhone X accompanied by a larger-screened version for those who want to go even bigger.
A new iPad Pro with Face ID is said to be in the works, and this is also the year when Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat will debut. Beyond that, we can expect Mac refreshes, new software, a new Apple Watch, and maybe that new modular Mac Pro.
Below, we’ve rounded up all of the products we’re expecting to see from Apple in 2018 based on both current rumors that we’ve heard so far and past release information.
HomePod – Early 2018
HomePod is Apple’s first Wi-Fi connected smart speaker, designed to compete with existing smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. It was originally meant to debut in December, but Apple delayed its launch to an unspecified date in “early 2018.”
With HomePod, Apple focused on sound quality, with a 7 tweeter array, each with its own driver, and a 4-inch upward-facing woofer for crisp, distortion free sound. An A8 chip powers spatial awareness features, allowing the HomePod to analyze a room and then adjust the sound accordingly.
Siri is built into HomePod, and there’s integration with Apple Music for Apple Music subscribers. Using a six-microphone array, HomePod can detect Siri commands from anywhere in a room, so Siri can be used to play music, answer queries, and more.
We don’t know exactly when HomePod will be released, but it should come out in the first few months of 2018. Apple plans to charge $349 for the speaker.
Apple introduced three iPhones in 2017 — the iPhone X, the iPhone 8, and the iPhone 8 Plus — and current rumors suggest we’ll also see three new models in 2018.
The first iPhone we’re expecting will be a followup to the iPhone X with the same 5.8-inch OLED display. Rumors suggest it will be accompanied by a second OLED iPhone, this one measuring in at 6.5 inches, which means it can be thought of as an “iPhone X Plus.”
Alongside these two OLED iPhones, Apple is also said to be planning to introduce a 6.1-inch iPhone with an LCD display, positioned as a more affordable device targeting the low-end and midrange markets with a starting price of $649 to $749 in the United States.
Apple’s planned 2018 iPhone lineup, via Ming-Chi Kuo
According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, all three of these iPhones will feature edge-to-edge displays, Face ID, and TrueDepth camera systems, which means the end of both the Home button and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in new iPhone models for the time being.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor is one of the most highly anticipated bits of tech for next year, and it’s possible that a leak from the Chinese social media site Weibo has just given us a peek at which 2018 flagship smartphones will support it.
Before jumping in, keep in mind that there’s no evidence that the list is real, and even if it is, it’s always possible some hardware changes will be made before the phones make it to shelves. Delays could also happen, throwing off the planned release dates listed. But with that in mind, let’s take a look.
The list is notable for including both the names of the phones the processor will likely be in as well as their dates of release. First on the list are the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, which are expected to debut in February, followed by the LG G7 and G7 Plus.
March is quiet, but April could see a Snapdragon 845 in the Xiaomi Mi7. May will seemingly bring the HTC U12, and June will see the OnePlus 6, the ZTE Nubia Z18, and the Sony Xperia XZ Pro all drop at once.
The list gets a little dubious in August, as it claims the Nokia 10 will launch even though we’re still dealing with rumors about the Nokia 9.
In September, we’ll possibly see the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 and the LG V40. October will apparently bring the Google Pixel 3 and the Pixel 3 XL, the ZTE Nubia Z18S, the Sony Xperia XZ2 and the HTC U12 Plus.
After the busy early autumn, the launches appear to slow down, with only a new Moto Z launching in November and the OnePlus 6T and a Samsung-made “W2019” dropping at some point in December.
Snap to it
All in all, it looks about what you’d expect to see from a list of flagship smartphones for next year, although it comes with a couple of mystery choices such as the Nokia 10 and the relatively unknown HTC U12 and LG V40.
In fact, as we reported yesterday, HTC may be largely getting out of the flagship smartphone business next year, even though the HTC U12 is supposedly still a thing. With those kinds of circumstances on the table, it’ll be interesting to see how accurate this list turns out to be in the months to come.
CES 2018 is almost here, with the first CES-affiliated events taking place shortly after January 1. That means you’ll want to ring in 2018 (Happy New Year, by the way!), then quickly turn your attention to host city Las Vegas and our coverage of the biggest tech show on Earth.
The official CES 2018 datesare January 9 though January 12, though, as was the case this year, these are preceded by two days of press-only events. January 7 and January 8 are jam-packed with press conferences and previews, meaning there will be a veritable ton of new-tech news washing over you well before the CES show floor even opens.
[Update: Smart speakers are already an early theme of CES 2018 as LG has announced the ThinQ Speaker ahead of the conference. It’s basically a Google Home made by LG, but it may be even better than Google’s own offering. With premium sound touted as a key feature, we’ll get a listen of the ThinQ in when we hit the CES 2018 show floor. Look for pricing and availability details to be revealed then as well.]
CES 2018 will see tech companies from around the world, large and small, flock to the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as other locations around Sin City. On stages and in booths so bright they hurt your eyes, the likes of Google, Samsung, LG and Sony will show off their latest innovations and tease new tech to come. That’s not to mention the likes of Lenovo, Toyota and Dell, which also have plans for the show.
CES, which stands for the Consumer Electronics Show, has lost a bit of its luster in recent years as manufacturers have opted to hold individual press events staggered throughout the year (à la Apple) as opposed to elbowing for exposure at an international trade show.
But the hustle and bustle is all part of the excitement, and CES 2018 will surely feature must-see gadgets, futuristic self-driving cars and sneak peeks at innovations that could change the tech world as we know it. If you can dream it, chances are there is someone at CES 2018 who has turned it into a reality.
Unfortunately CES isn’t open to the public, but don’t worry. The TechRadar team will be on the ground in Las Vegas to bring you all the latest news and first-look hands on reviews, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out (we promise!)
Read on for the latest CES 2018 news and rumors, as well as our top predictions for what some of the biggest companies will bring to Las Vegas in the New Year.
Cut to the chase
What is it? The biggest consumer technology show on the planet
When is it? Jan 9 – Jan 12, with press-only events happening Jan 7 and Jan 8
What’s on show? Everything from 8K televisions and connected fridges to laptops and self-driving cars
Google at CES 2018
Google is apparently planning quite the presence at CES 2018 with a large booth and eight hospitality suites to showcase … well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
As spotted by Chrome Unboxed, Google Inc. will have a big, standalone booth prominently placed in the outdoor Central Plaza of the Las Vegas Convention Center. This is in addition to the eight suites Google Hardware has reserved at the Aria hotel.
While Google is typically present at CES tangentially via its third-party hardware partners, the company is stepping out from behind the curtain during next year’s show in a big way.
This could mean a couple of things. One, it seems highly likely that Google wants to give conference-goers an up-close look at its products, including the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones, Google Home Mini smart speaker and the new Daydream View VR headset. The whole Made by Google family is gearing up for a Vegas vacay, if you ask us.
But it’s also possible that Google will showoff something new considering it’s going all out for the show. As Chrome Unboxed speculates, we could be in for new Chromebooks to follow up the well-received Google PixelBook. We could even see Chromebooks that take on a whole new form factor, such as ones that transform into tablets with detachable screens.
Whatever Google has planned, this is an exciting addition to the CES 2018 lineup. When the major players come to Las Vegas, there’s usually pay off in the form of exciting news.
Samsung at CES 2018
Samsung is always a big focus at CES, and for good reason. The tech giant typically unveils a number of devices (not counting its updated line of smart washing machines, refrigerators and dishwashers), and sometimes shows off hardware that’s a little bit out there.
Two years ago, it was a bendable TV. At CES 2018, it could be a bendable phone.
Whispers are circulating that the Galaxy X, Samsung’s rumored foldable smartphone, could debut at CES 2018.
As Forbes notes, the timing would be a bit odd since, unlike MWC in February, CES isn’t a major phone show. However, it would also be a prime opportunity to show off a completely new device to an international audience. Samsung did unveil the Galaxy A3 phone at CES 2017, so there’s some precedent.
What’s more, Samsung originally debuted its bendable display tech at CES 2013, so it’d be fitting to unveil the culmination of five years’ development in a consumer-ready bendable phone at CES 2018.
Samsung’s mobile boss has said the company is targeting a bendable phone launch in the New Year. Unveiling the Galaxy X in early January could be the first step towards a full-blown release later in 2018.
The waters were muddied a bit when a leaked model number seemingly belonging to the Galaxy X turned out to be for a different phone. This could mean the Galaxy X won’t launch as soon as we’d hoped.
Something it will be showing off at CES though is its recently announced Samsung Galaxy A8, which appears to be a more affordable Galaxy S8.
Samsung’s potential CES mobile plans don’t end there. We could be in for an early look at the Samsung Galaxy S9 during the show – or not. Let us explain.
Notable leaker Evan Blass reported that the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus could make a cameo at CES 2018. That would obviously be big news … even if the design of the new phones is iterative and not innovative.
However, on December 6, a report surfaced quoting a Samsung representative saying “it is unlikely” the company will bring the Galaxy S9 to CES. The wording is a bit vague, and perhaps intentionally so. This could mean we won’t see the Galaxy S9 until a potential launch in March, or perhaps Samsung will decide to bring the next-gen phone after all. Or bet? Samsung will hold off launching the Galaxy S9 until after CES 2018.
In addition to the potential new Galaxy phone unveilings, Samsung could also show off a gigantic 150-inch TV. This would be no ordinary TV, as TweakTown reports, because it would feature MicroLED tech.
This screen tech essentially has the LED elements engraved into the silicon substrate, according to the site. The substrate is so small that it acts as individual pixels. MicroLED is said to allow for greater pixel density, less power draw and the elimination of image burn-in. All good things for TV owners.
We also expect Samsung to announce new wearables, either on its own or in partnership with others, new Galaxy Tab tablets, new laptops, and, of course, new TVs. There’s a good chance Samsung will update its QLED TV tech to the next generation (and maybe go for a new name, like QLED+).
As for other home entertainment tech, Samsung has already shown off one device in the form of the NW7000 Sound+ soundbar, a 53.5mm-deep speaker that comes close to matching the thinness of modern televisions.
Sony at CES 2018
In recent years Sony has used CES to focus on its audio and office lines, unveiling devices like new headphones and cheaper 4K projectors along with its latest Bravia TVs.
The Bravia range always dazzles to go along with Sony’s other top-notch goods. So far, there’s nothing to indicate Sony will deviate from this script very much. We expect the next line of Bravias to feature OLED screens, which the Japanese firm only this year started producing again.
Plus, listen up, audiophiles: there’s a good chance we’ll see a new high-res turntable from Sony at CES 2018. Because Sony is all about turning old-school audio tech into something amazing.
We’ll find out all during Sony’s CES press conference, which takes place at 5pm PT on Monday, January 8 at the Sony booth.
LG unveiled what might possibly have been the thinnest OLED TV ever at CES 2017. If you don’t remember the OLED W7 Signature Series TV, take a minute to watch the video above.
At CES 2018, look for LG to go for broke once again with its TV tech, which we’ll almost certainly see unveiled during its January 8 press conference at 8am PT. Though these screens are flat out expensive, you can’t deny how visually stunning they are. To put some numbers on it, CES 2018 should play host to LG’s next-gen 8-series OLED screens (B8, C8, G8 and W8).
LG also came to CES 2017 with some low- to mid-range phones, including the LG K10 2017 and LG Stylus 3, so we could be in for a few LG mobile surprises.
What would be even more surprising (but even better for flagship phone fans), is if a recent rumor that the LG G7 could launch in January comes true. The most obvious place for this to take place is CES 2018, and it could set up an interesting dynamic in the (unlikely) event rival Samsung shows off the Galaxy S9 as well.
As is its wont, LG has already spilled some of its CES 2018 news early. It’s unveiled a new smart speaker called the ThinQ, which is basically a Google Home manufactured by LG. One feature that could trump Google’s offering, however, is sound, though we’ll be the judge once we get a listen. Look for pricing and availability details of the Google Assistant-supporting speaker to be revealed during the show proper.
LG also announced additional audio products, including a new soundbar, Bluetooth speakers and “all-in-one party machines,” which sound perfect for Las Vegas.
Rounding out LG’s CES offerings are likely updates to its home appliances (no brainer), 4K Blu-ray player, gram laptops and even its smart helper robots. In fact, LG has already unveiled its latest gram laptop update in the form of three new laptops.
Dell at CES 2018
Dell gave TechRadar an early preview of its next XPS 13 laptop ahead of CES 2018, showing off the 13-inch Ultrabook’s incredibly thin design and pleasing aesthetics.
The laptop now features three USB-C ports, a Micro SD card slot, an Infinity Edge display and two colors – Alpine White and Rose Gold.
Since a new laptop is typically Dell’s big reveal at the the show, the news we should expect at CES 2018 involves the 2017 Dell XPS 13’s full spec sheet, release date and price.
That’s the tag line for Lenovo’s CES 2018 event, taking place on Tuesday, January 9 at 11am PT. The company has sent around save the date invites to the gathering, which it’s billing as a launch event. Interestingly, Lenovo says it plans to “announce our latest innovations with Google, Qualcomm and Microsoft.”
Our best guess is that Lenovo plans to launch its Google Daydream headset during CES 2018. Now that HTC has dropped out of making one, Lenovo is the only partner Google has lined up to release a standalone VR headset that runs the Daydream platform.
Lenovo’s invite says we’ll “see and experience the world in new ways,” which also jibes with the launch of a VR headset that lets you move around unrestricted and doesn’t require a smartphone to run.
All in all, we’re intrigued to see whatever Lenovo has planned, and we’ll be at the event live to bring you all the latest.
Cars at CES 2018
Observers are already keenly aware that CES has transformed more or less into a car show in recent years, and CES 2018 will only continue the trend.
Fisker, for one, confirmed to The Street that it will reveal its newest electric car at next year’s show. Called EMotion, the car will cost $129,000 (about £98,000 / AU$165,000) and ships in 2019. Despite its high price, it’s expected to put Tesla on notice, especially since the EMotion has a reported range of over 400 miles.
Though its fortunes have turned for the worse, Faraday Future could look to recapture some of its early buzz with a big announcement at CES 2018. Toyota also impressed with its Concept-i self-driving car at the 2017 show, and the likes of Ford, Kia and Hyundai are sure to show up with news.
But it won’t necessarily be cars we see unveiled. Rather, deeper integration with smart speakers, like the Google Home and Amazon Echo, as well as the digital assistants in our mobile phones, could be what car makers have up their sleeves.
This is just a taste of the hundreds of companies that will travel from near and far to CES 2018.
Other firms we expect to make a splash include Asus, Baidu, Dolby, HP, HTC, Huawei, Intel, Nikon, Nvidia, Panasonic, Razer, and many more.
Who knows? We could see the next generation of HTC Vive, a gorgeous snapper from Nikon and new phones from Huawei all at CES 2018.
Speaking of Huawei, the company’s Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu is scheduled to deliver a keynote address on Tuesday, January 9 at 2pm PT. Huawei is a company on the rise, and Yu will discuss Huawei’s strategies around connectivity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and smart devices. Chances are, we’re in for a product reveal or two.
Prior to this, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich will deliver the opening keynote address on Monday, January 8 beginning at 6:30pm PT at Monte Carlo’s Park Theater. From the sounds of it, Krzanich’s keynote will focus on next-gen tech, including AI, 5G connectivity, self-driving cars and VR.
Nvidia has sent out invites for its CES 2018 press conference, scheduled for Sunday, January 7 from 8pm – 9:30pm PT at the MGM Grand. Nvidia always kicks off CES with an action-packed keynote, and we expect next year’s edition will be no exception as it dives into AI, self-driving cars and high-powered GPUs.
And a new addition to the upcoming show is the CES Sports Zone. Here, game-day tech will take center stage, from gadgets that boost athlete performance to the latest in fan-experience innovations, including AR and VR. If you’re into sports and tech, or just fitness in general, the Sports Zone will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.
The possibilities are endless, and we’ll keep this page updated as more news and rumors about CES 2018 roll in.
Building a startup in Silicon Valley has its advantages: close proximity to investors, availability of talent, and an appetite for — and history of — innovation.
However, not every successful startup begins in Silicon Valley. It can be expensive to sustain company growth there, or the startup might solve a pain point that exists outside the Valley. Even more simply, you just might have been somewhere else when you started the business. For these and other reasons, there are an increasing number of startup hubs in cities like Austin, Seattle, Toronto, and more recently Phoenix that produce innovative technology companies.
My own business, Varsity Tutors, stemmed from an immediate need I saw in my hometown of St. Louis. As a student at Washington University in St. Louis, I struggled to find high-quality tutoring for one of my courses. I quickly realized that most people don’t have convenient access to great one-on-one tutors, and Varsity Tutors was thus born.
Like any startup, we’ve experienced our challenges. Some were influenced by our location outside Silicon Valley. But over the past 10 years, we’ve also benefited from our decision to build a business elsewhere. Through that process, I’ve learned several things that can help other founders who are weighing a similar decision.
Silicon Valley has a lot of distractions
Maintaining focus is critical to business success, and there are a lot of distractions in Silicon Valley. As a founder, it can be tempting to want to spend your days networking, taking coffee meetings and attending cocktail events in hopes that you’ll meet the “right” people. But all of those meetings take up precious time. Another distraction comes from trying to outdo the startup that shares your coworking space or that’s located just down the road.
Beyond competing to be the market leader, in Silicon Valley technology companies fight to hire top talent with extravagant or unusual perks and lavish parties. Facebook and Google have even started to offer housing accommodations to employees. Outside of the Valley, you encounter fewer distractions, and you can focus on building a strong and successful company.
It’s easier to cultivate civic pride outside Silicon Valley
In St. Louis and other similar cities, the number of startups is much lower. We’ve found that the local community rallies behind us for most announcements or initiatives we launch. In the early days, local TV stations and newspapers covered our news, no matter how small. Local civic leaders continue to recognize our business and include us in conversations about St. Louis as a growing tech hub. I still have deep ties to Washington University, my alma mater, where Varsity Tutors is touted as a local entrepreneurial success story.
Cultivating the same civic pride isn’t easy in the Valley, and we rarely see it with early-stage startups. It’s not until companies in the Valley are in the later stages of their lifecycle, often market leaders, that they’re able to garner the same enthusiasm and support around the product, mission, or leadership.
People outside the Valley may not understand your vision
Individuals in Silicon Valley are, in many ways, more accustomed and receptive to concepts that dramatically alter the face of an industry. Consider Airbnb — its founders spent their early days selling collectible cereal to pay their bills, all while trying to convince investors that people would welcome the opportunity to sleep in a stranger’s home. The idea sounded improbable, but Silicon Valley understood that sometimes you have to take risks. The risk worked out, and Airbnb is now valued at $31 billion.
In the Midwest and in other parts of the country, people are more risk-averse, and they may be more skeptical of radical ideas. When I founded Varsity Tutors, many people thought it would fail — in part because it was an unfamiliar concept to build a digital marketplace around what had been an offline service. It was challenging to convince people in our community that technology would fundamentally change how live instruction was accessed and consumed. Ultimately, it took more time than it might have in Silicon Valley to get people on board with our mission and our value proposition.
Cost of living provides a real operating advantage
When starting a company, saving money should be top of mind from day one. The costs of operating a business are significantly affected by the cost of living in a city. Take San Francisco, for instance. There’s no question that rent in San Francisco is astronomical compared to other parts of the country. The average one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco costs $2,800 per month, while in St. Louis, you can get a similar apartment for $720. And studies have shown you don’t need to make as much money in other areas of the country to reach peak happiness (because it costs less to meet your basic needs).
From leasing an office space to paying employees, the cost of living in a city affects a company’s bottom line. Operating a business outside of Silicon Valley can enable you to save money early on and be more strategic about how you spend that money to grow your business.
No matter your location, growing a startup isn’t easy. Silicon Valley offers a convincing case for startups to succeed, with easy access to investors and an environment that encourages innovative thinking. But it’s not the only path, and it isn’t free of challenges — it can be difficult to continually compete with others and to distinguish yourself there. Meanwhile, companies like CrossChx in Columbus, Ohio; Fanatics in Jacksonville, Florida; and my own Varsity Tutors are thriving in environments that haven’t traditionally been associated with startups. With the right leadership, team, mindset, and customer focus, no location is an obstacle to success.
Chuck Cohn is the founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, a platform that connects students and professionals with personalized instruction to achieve any goal. Experts on the platform have delivered over two million hours of live, personalized instruction to students online, on mobile devices, and in person.