Select Page
The One Part of Apple Vision Pro That Apple Doesn’t Want You to See

The One Part of Apple Vision Pro That Apple Doesn’t Want You to See

Person wearing the Apple Vision Pro headset

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal.

Courtesy of Joanna Stern

If Vision Pro is mostly meant to be used from a couch cushion or desk chair, the external battery pack may not factor in as much. As I pointed out last spring, it’s an unusual choice for a consumer tech company that has, over the past two decades, created products that we transport with us, literally everywhere we go.

Some industry experts are split on the external battery design. Bailenson, for one, believes that headset computing should be optimized for shorter durations. “After 30 minutes, it’s probably time to take off the headset and go about your day and touch some walls and drink some water,” he says. “So in this instance there really shouldn’t be a need for an external battery pack, in my opinion, because most experiences are short.”

Sam Cole, the cofounder and chief executive of FitXR, a fitness app popular on the Meta Quest, says that, “controversially,” he doesn’t believe the Vision Pro battery pack will be “as much of a factor for fitness apps as it will be for sitting and working for hours.”

The external battery for an Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset on display

By the way, here’s what it looks like.

Photograph: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images

“Even when headsets are bulkier, our users tend to forget about the cable, forget about the battery pack, because you’re so focused on punches being thrown at you,” Cole says. “The weight distribution and the accessories become much more topical when you’re thinking about working on a headset or sitting on calls for four hours.”

But Cole also says, battery pack aside, “all of the Vision Pro’s factors put together have led us to believe it’s a really high-quality experience. This is going to be as good as Meta Quest 3 if not better.”

Prior examples might not necessarily help read the battery tea leaves, either. Early versions of the Magic Leap AR goggles had an external “compute pack” that was designed for the wearer’s waistband. Microsoft’s HoloLens, on the other hand, packed what felt like an entire PC on your head. Neither product was successful; the placement of the battery pack was moot.

Apple did not respond to an inquiry as to why journalists and influencers were not able to take their own photos of Vision Pro or if the company plans to share more images of the battery.

Google’s App Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly, as a Jury Sides With Epic Games

Google’s App Store Ruled an Illegal Monopoly, as a Jury Sides With Epic Games

More bad news for Google could come in mid-2024 when US district judge Amit Mehta in Washington, DC, is expected to issue his ruling on whether Google has unlawfully maintained its monopoly over web search. Testimony in that case, which was brought by the US Department of Justice and attorneys general for nearly every US state and territory, concluded last month.

A similar case two years ago had not gone too well for Epic. In Epic v. Apple, a federal judge in Oakland, California, ordered that Apple make just one change to its App Store practices. The judge found that most of the other Apple practices that Epic viewed as anticompetitive were justified, because the iPhone maker needed to recoup its investment in developing the app marketplace. Apple still has not had to comply as it awaits the Supreme Court’s decision early next year about whether to review the case.

Google hasn’t said much about why it chose to have a jury rather than a judge decide its fate in the trial that concluded today, though it tried unsuccessfully to reverse course on the eve of jury selection.

Judge Donato also tried to prevent the case even going to trial, ordering several times for Epic and Google to attempt to settle instead. In a last-second push, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney met for an hour on December 7 but failed to reach a deal, according to a court filing.

Google previously agreed to settle with as many as 48,000 app developers but without making major changes to its business practices. It also settled with a group of consumers and attorneys general for all 50 US states. Details of the latter settlement had not been published, pending the verdict in the Epic trial.

‘Shut Rivals Off’

In closing arguments today, Gary Bornstein, an attorney for Epic, told jurors that Google’s Android operating system was the only choice for smartphone makers, because Apple keeps iOS to itself and there aren’t any viable alternatives. Google used that power with device makers and wireless carriers who sell phones to ensure they promoted the Play store, he said, often more than they encouraged the lesser-known alternatives.

Google binds app developers who sell digital items in the Play store to use its billing system and pockets up to 30 percent of sales. The search giant also paid developers millions of dollars not to pursue alternatives to Play, Epic alleged.

Britain Admits Defeat in Controversial Online Safety Bill

Britain Admits Defeat in Controversial Online Safety Bill

Tech companies and privacy activists are claiming victory after an eleventh-hour concession by the British government in a long-running battle over end-to-end encryption.

The so-called “spy clause” in the UK’s Online Safety Bill, which experts argued would have made end-to-end encryption all but impossible in the country, will no longer be enforced after the government admitted the technology to securely scan encrypted messages for signs of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM, without compromising users’ privacy, doesn’t yet exist. Secure messaging services, including WhatsApp and Signal, had threatened to pull out of the UK if the bill was passed.

“It’s absolutely a victory,” says Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation, which operates the Signal messaging service. Whittaker has been a staunch opponent of the bill, and has been meeting with activists and lobbying for the legislation to be changed. “It commits to not using broken tech or broken techniques to undermine end-to-end encryption.”

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport did not respond to a request for comment.

The UK government hadn’t specified the technology that platforms should use to identify CSAM being sent on encrypted services, but the most commonly-cited solution was something called client-side scanning. On services that use end-to-end encryption, only the sender and recipient of a message can see its content; even the service provider can’t access the unencrypted data.

Client-side scanning would mean examining the content of the message before it was sent—that is, on the user’s device—and comparing it to a database of CSAM held on a server somewhere else. That, according to Alan Woodward, a visiting professor in cybersecurity at the University of Surrey, amounts to “government-sanctioned spyware scanning your images and possibly your [texts].”

In December, Apple shelved its plans to build client-side scanning technology for iCloud, later saying that it couldn’t make the system work without infringing on its users’ privacy.

Opponents of the bill say that putting backdoors into people’s devices to search for CSAM images would almost certainly pave the way for wider surveillance by governments. “You make mass surveillance become almost an inevitability by putting [these tools] in their hands,” Woodward says. “There will always be some ‘exceptional circumstances’ that [security forces] think of that warrants them searching for something else.”

Although the UK government has said that it now won’t force unproven technology on tech companies, and that it essentially won’t use the powers under the bill, the controversial clauses remain within the legislation, which is still likely to pass into law. “It’s not gone away, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Woodward says.

James Baker, campaign manager for the Open Rights Group, a nonprofit that has campaigned against the law’s passage, says that the continued existence of the powers within the law means encryption-breaking surveillance could still be introduced in the future. “It would be better if these powers were completely removed from the bill,” he adds.

But some are less positive about the apparent volte-face. “Nothing has changed,” says Matthew Hodgson, CEO of UK-based Element, which supplies end-to-end encrypted messaging to militaries and governments. “It’s only what’s actually written in the bill that matters. Scanning is fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encrypted messaging apps. Scanning bypasses the encryption in order to scan, exposing your messages to attackers. So all ‘until it’s technically feasible’ means is opening the door to scanning in future rather than scanning today. It’s not a change, it’s kicking the can down the road.”

Whittaker acknowledges that “it’s not enough” that the law simply won’t be aggressively enforced. “But it’s major. We can recognize a win without claiming that this is the final victory,” she says.

The implications of the British government backing down, even partially, will reverberate far beyond the UK, Whittaker says. Security services around the world have been pushing for measures to weaken end-to-end encryption, and there is a similar battle going on in Europe over CSAM, where the European Union commissioner in charge of home affairs, Ylva Johannson, has been pushing similar, unproven technologies.

“It’s huge in terms of arresting the type of permissive international precedent that this would set,” Whittaker says. “The UK was the first jurisdiction to be pushing this kind of mass surveillance. It stops that momentum. And that’s huge for the world.”

The Chip Shortage Is Easing—but Only for Some

The Chip Shortage Is Easing—but Only for Some

But the turnaround is far from uniform. Everstream’s data shows that lead times for some advanced chips needed for medical devices, telecommunications, and cybersecurity systems is around 52 weeks, compared to a prior average of 27 weeks.

Automotive companies that were badly affected by the pandemic because they initially canceled orders for components were then blindsided by an uptick in demand and had no spare inventory and little negotiating leverage when it came to ramping back up. Modern cars can have thousands of chips, and future models are likely to pack even greater computing power, thanks to more advanced in-car software and autonomous driving functionality.

“Anything automotive—or competing with capacity for automotive—is still highly constrained,” says Jeff Caldwell, director of global supply management at MasterWorks Electronics, a manufacturer of printed circuit boards, cables, and other electronics products. Actify CEO Dave Opsahl, whose company sells operation management software to automotive companies, says the supply of chips has not improved for carmakers, and shortages of raw materials like resin and steel, as well as of labor, have also gotten worse.

Frank Cavallaro is CEO of A2 Global, a company that finds, procures, and tests electronic components for manufacturers. He says the current situation reflects the complexity of the chip market and supply chain. Many end products include numerous semiconductor components sourced from all over the world and require devices to be packaged by companies that are mostly in China. “It’s macro, it’s micro, it’s down to individual regions,” he says.

Everstream’s Gerdman says the appearance of the new BA5 Covid variant in China has raised fears of draconian lockdowns that could hamper the production of chips and other products. She adds that uncertainty around future capacity—as well as geopolitical restrictions on chip exports—makes it difficult to plan ahead.

The geopolitical picture may significantly increase global capacity to produce advanced chips. Legislation making its way through the US Senate would provide $52 billion in subsidies to increase domestic chip production. The US share of global chip production has fallen from 37 percent in the 1980s to 12 percent today. But while chip shortages have been cited by those boosting subsidies, much of the money would go to reshoring production of advanced chips. The country’s most advanced technology, from Intel, lags behind that of TSMC, presenting a potential weakness in US access to technology that promises to be vital for everything from AI to biotechnology to 5G.

The current downturn may only contribute to instability further along the semiconductor supply chain. “Unfortunately, a slowing economy brings with it the risk of some suppliers going into financial distress or liquidity crunch if they cannot access capital,” says Bindiya Vakil, CEO of Resilinc, a company that sells AI-based supply chain management tools. “This can introduce a lot of risk into the supply situation. Companies should really monitor supplier financial health and collaborate closely with suppliers to give them favorable payment terms, upfront payments, and so on, to help them with liquidity.”

The cyclical nature of the semiconductor industry even has some, including Syed Alam, who leads the global semiconductor practice at consulting firm Accenture, envisioning the shortage turning into a glut. “A rising concern for 2023 is the possibility of overcapacity for chip production,” he says. “Companies need to be focused on building an agile and resilient supply chain for the longer term, and be prepared to react.”

I Finally Reached Computing Nirvana. What Was It All For?

I Finally Reached Computing Nirvana. What Was It All For?

Like many nerds before me, I spent a goodly portion of my life searching for the perfect computing system. I wanted a single tool that would let me write prose or programs, that could search every email, tweet, or document in a few keystrokes, and that would work across all my devices. I yearned to summit the mythic Mt. Augment, to achieve the enlightenment of a properly orchestrated personal computer. Where the software industry offered notifications, little clicks and dings, messages jumping up and down on my screen like a dog begging for a treat, I wanted calm textuality. Seeking it, I tweaked. I configured.

The purpose of configuration is to make a thing work with some other thing—to make the to-do list work with the email client, say, or the calendar work with the other calendar. It’s an interdisciplinary study. Configuration can be as complex as programming or as simple as checking a box. Everyone talks about it, but it’s not taken that seriously, because there’s not much profit in it. And unfortunately, configuration is indistinguishable from procrastination. A little is fine but too much is embarrassing.

I spent almost three decades configuring my text editor, amassing 20 or so dotfiles that would make one acronym or nonsense word concordant with another. (For me: i3wm + emacs + org-mode + notmuch + tmux, bound together with ssh + git + Syncthing + Tailscale.) I’d start down a path, but then there’d be some blocker—some bug I didn’t understand, some page of errors I didn’t have time to deal with—and I’d give up.

A big problem I had was where to put my stuff. I tried different databases, folder structures, private websites, cloud drives, and desktop search tools. The key, finally, was to turn nearly everything in my life into emails. All my calendar entries, essay drafts, tweets—I wrote programs that turned them into gigs and gigs of emails. Emails are horrible, messy, swollen, decrepit forms of data, but they are understood by everything everywhere. You can lard them with attachments. You can tag them. You can add any amount of metadata to them and synchronize them with servers. They suck, but they work. No higher praise.

It took years to get all these emails into place, tag them, filter them just so. Little by little I could see more of the shape of my own data. And as I did this, software got better and computers got faster. Not only that, other people started sharing their config files on GitHub.

Then, one cold day—January 31, 2022—something bizarre happened. I was at home, writing a little glue function to make my emails searchable from anywhere inside my text editor. I evaluated that tiny program and ran it. It worked. Somewhere in my brain, I felt a distinct click. I was done. No longer configuring, but configured. The world had conspired to give me what I wanted. I stood up from the computer, suffused with a sort of European-classical-composer level of emotion, and went for a walk. Was this happiness? Freedom? Or would I find myself back tomorrow, with a whole new set of requirements?