Meta rolls out new parental controls for Instagram and Quest VR headsets

Meta announced today that it’s rolling out new tools on Instagram and Quest VR headsets that are designed to give parents additional supervision controls. On Instagram, parents and guardians can now send invitations to their teens to initiate supervision tools. Prior to this change, only teens could send invitations. Parents and guardians can now also set specific times during the day or week when they would like to limit their teen’s Instagram usage.

With this new update, parents and guardians will also be able to see more information when their teen reports an account or post, including who was reported and the type of report. Meta notes that if you already have supervision set up on Instagram in the United States, these updates are now available.

These tools will begin rolling out to other countries including the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Ireland, Canada, France and Germany starting this month. Meta plans to roll out the tools globally before the end of the year.

In addition to the new parental controls, Instagram is rolling out “nudges” that will encourage teens to switch to a different topic if they’re repeatedly looking at the same type of content on the Explore page. Meta says the new nudge is designed to encourage teens to discover something new and “excludes certain topics that may be associated with appearance comparison.”

Instagram's new nudge feature

Image Credits: Meta

“We designed this new feature because research suggests that nudges can be effective for helping people — especially teens — be more mindful of how they’re using social media in the moment,” Meta said in a blog post. “In an external study on the effects of nudges on social media use, 58.2% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that nudges made their social media experience better by helping them become more mindful of their time on-platform.”

The company notes that it’s own research, which was based on a one-week testing period, showed that one in five teens who saw the new nudges switched to a different topic.

Last year, Instagram introduced a “Take a Break” feature to remind users to take time off Instagram. Now, Instagram is going to launch new reminders for teens to turn on Take a Break when they’ve been scrolling in Reels, Instagram’s TikTok clone, for a period of time. These are being tested in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand now, and they’ll launch in those and additional countries later this summer.

Instagram break reminders

Image Credits: Meta

In addition, Meta says it is enabling young creators through funding and education to  share more content on Instagram that inspires teens and supports their well-being. These creators will receive guidance from experts who will show them ways to create responsible content online.

Today’s announcement comes as Meta launched a new set of tools on Instagram in March that are designed to protect young users. The company introduced something it calls “Family Center,” a centralized hub of safety tools that parents will be able to tap into to control what kids can see and do across the company’s apps.

As for Quest headsets, Meta announced today that it’s now allowing parents and guardians to approve their teen’s purchase of an app that is blocked by default based on its IARC-rating. Teens who are 13 years of age and above can submit an “Ask to Buy” request, which triggers a notification to their parent. The parent can then approve or deny the request from the Oculus mobile app.

Meta quest parental controls

Image Credits: Meta

Parents can now also block specific apps, which will prevent the teen from launching them. Apps that can be blocked include apps like web browsers and apps available on the Quest Store. In addition, parents can view all of the apps that their teen owns and receive “Purchase Notifications” when their teen has made a purchase. Parents now also have access to their teen’s list of Oculus friends along with information about how much time their teen is spending in VR. For parents to link to their teen’s account, the teen must initiate the process. From there, both the parent and teen have to agree.

Meta is also launching a new “Parent education hub” that will include a guide to the company’s parental supervision tools along with ways to help parents discuss virtual reality with their teens. Meta notes that this is just a starting point and that it will continue to grow and evolve its parents supervision controls over time.

The new Quest parental controls come a few months after Meta announced that it would add basic parental supervision tools to its VR headset. Parental controls are ultimately only effective if parents and teens use them well, but rolling out these features is the least Meta can do.

How Apple’s thoughtful, measured approach is building a revolution in health

Apple’s health business could now stand alone as one of the largest in the sector in terms of sheer reach — if it could ever be disentangled from the company’s other products, which, by design, it really can’t. At the company’s annual WWDC global developer conference last week, a variety of new health-related features were introduced that cover not only the wellness-oriented Apple Watch lineup, but also the company’s iPhone, iPad and beyond.

From product design, to participation in academic research, and to hiring, Apple has demonstrated a concerted effort to do more in health, and I spoke to Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, Vice President of Health Dr. Sumbul Desai and Vice President of Fitness Technologies Jay Blahnik following its WWDC announcements to learn more about just how important health and wellness are to the consumer technology giant’s ambitions.

Williams started off by reiterating something I’ve heard from Apple in the past on the subject: As a company, it never really set out with a strong intent to get into the health business in the beginning — at least not in the way it set out to develop a product like the iPod or the iPhone.

“It started when we were working on the watch,” he said. “And because the watch was such a personal device, and you’re wearing it, we thought that there is a huge opportunity to maybe give people information about their health, and the more we started pulling on threads, we decided that not only is there an opportunity — there’s a responsibility to do more in the health space.”

Williams said that the impact of that felt responsibility is what has resulted in the many health features Apple has introduced in the years since the Watch’s introduction, both on the Watch and across its platforms. Ultimately, Williams said, Apple has two “fundamental tenets” that undergird its approach to introducing new health-related products and services: that they be “deeply grounded in science,” and that “privacy is at the core of everything” Apple does.

Informed patients, augmented physicians

Those principles are at the heart of the new features Apple unveiled at the conference, according to Desai, who pointed to the scientific rigor behind their introduction of sleep stage tracking for the Apple Watch, and the fresh FDA clearance of their AFib history feature, which will roll out to Apple Watch users in the U.S. with the watchOS 9 update sometime this fall.

Apple Watch displaying AFib history

Image Credits: Apple

“As Jeff alluded to, everything we do in health is based on the science, and AFib history was validated in a clinical study, with participants wearing both Apple Watch and an FDA-cleared reference device,” Desai told me. “In that study, the average difference in weekly measurements between the two devices is actually less than 1%.”

That’s a remarkably thin margin for a piece of non-specialized consumer tech, which comes with the added benefit of being worn by owners consistently for the bulk of the day over a period that can span years — a claim no dedicated medical heart-rate monitor can match.

The significance of offering AFib history as something Apple Watch owners can share with their physicians, combined with all the other health data that they can export via PDF should they choose to share a more complete picture, might not be immediately apparent, but it represents a depth and breadth of individual patient data that healthcare professionals have never had access to before. I asked about how this kind of groundbreaking work will impact healthcare as a whole, and whether Apple is working with medical professionals on understanding those impacts.

Desai (a physician herself) pointed out that Apple spends “a lot of time talking to physicians,” both on studies like the one it’s conducting with Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) which we covered last year, and in other capacities as well.

“We don’t want to throw technology over the wall,” Desai explained. “We want to actually bring the physicians along so that they understand where how this can be used, because to your point, it’s going to change their practice, and it’s also going to change their interactions with their patients.”

“It’s clear to us that the future of healthcare still has the patient-physician relationship at the center of it,” Williams said. “We just want to enhance that. We don’t view that technology somehow replaces [that], we just view that it enhances that relationship and in the future, you’ll have a much more empowered patient, and a physician who is able to operate at the top of their license because they just have a better set of information with which to work.”

Williams acknowledged that features as detailed as AFib history “will take some time” to be “understood, used and adopted,” but he cited one powerful way it could have an immediate impact: Detecting a case in which a patient receives an ablation treatment to resolve chronic AFib, but in which that treatment doesn’t take the first time and the AFib (which would be otherwise asymptomatic) remains.

Apple is also introducing medication reminder features to Health, including the ability to scan labels to add your own medicines, and get reminders to hopefully improve adherence to their intended use. It’ll also provide users with info about potential negative interactions, and offer yet another way in which patients can have more informed conversations with their doctors with actual data to back them up.

Super sleep science

Apple’s approach to sleep tracking is likewise backed by science, and promises to contribute still more back to the research community through a new Apple sleep study that the company is adding to its ongoing heart study as an opt-in option for Apple Watch owners to join when the new update launches. Williams prefaced the feature by acknowledging that Apple is hardly the first to do sleep stage tracking (dedicated health-tracking companies including Oura and Whoop have been offering that for years, for instance), but again references a need to feel confident in the science behind the feature before bringing it to the public.

“The machine learning models that were trained, were validated against the clinical gold standard of polysomnography [a type of multi-parameter sleep study],” Desai added. “And this was actually one of the largest and most diverse populations ever studied for a wearable.”

 

Sleep Stages in Apple Health on iPhone

Image Credits: Apple

“Prior to sleep stages, we were really focused on helping people meet their sleep duration goals, since that’s really important — that consistency — but we wanted to go a little further and dig into the science, and provide users with more information around their sleep cycles,” Desai explained. “So using the signals from Apple Watch’s accelerometer and heart rate sensor, users will now be able to see their sleep stages while they’re in REM, core and deep sleep.”

Apple’s use of ‘core’ to define the type of sleep users spend the bulk of their nights engaged in, which is more commonly referred to by other sleep stage trackers as ‘light,’ is an interesting break from the field: The company found that ‘light’ wasn’t really the best descriptor, since it tended to strike the average user as something meriting concern, when in fact it’s a perfectly normal part of the overall sleep cycle.

It’s a good example of how Apple continually strives to balance a desire to add increasing power and sophistication to its health features, while maintaining their approachability and accessibility to a very broad audience. That’s also a key ingredient in their approach to the changes coming in their new Fitness features unveiled at WWDC.

Keeping fitness fun while serving fanatics

Blahnik has been with Apple since before the Apple Watch was introduced, and he’s overseen the company build its fitness features from fairly fundamental activity tracking, to a sophisticated suite of metric management and a variety of professional, guided workouts. At WWDC, Apple made a number of big announcements around Fitness, including bringing simple activity tracking directly to the iPhone for users who don’t have a Watch, as well as a bunch of new metrics, features and sport types for enthusiast and advanced athletes, and improvements to the Fitness+ subscription workout service.

“Over the years, we’ve continued to push further and further, because we know different things motivate different people,” Blahnik said. “And we want to make sure that we’re constantly providing variety for different personalities, and for the things that motivate people.”

The updates include three new metrics for runners that can help avoid injuries, including stride length, ground contact time and vertical oscillation. Blahnik pointed out that these are typically captured using a range of specialized equipment or direct observation by a professional, and that they’re “really difficult to do from the wrist.” Still, he says Apple was able to build algorithms that track them reliably, and then display them either directly during a workout session, or afterwards in the workout summary.

Considering Apple spent a lot of time talking about these, and other advanced features like custom workouts and automatic tri-sport workout detection for triathletes, I asked Blahnik how Apple determines when and where to address more advanced needs, vs. more general population features.

“Prior to Apple Watch, most most people wouldn’t know, unless they brought their phone, even how far they had run, and […] the more that this kind of information becomes available, you do find users want more,” he said. “Or they maybe get on a journey where they’re going to do their first 5k, and they start reading more about their health. And so while [the new metrics] do seem advanced, I’m always amazed at the fact that some of what we measured in the beginning seemed advanced as well.”

Apple Watch heart rate zone monitoring

Image Credits: Apple

Blahnik says that in the early Apple Watch days, even having access to the basic three rings that Apple still uses to categorize and present its health data in summary — Stand, Move and Exercise — was itself “advanced” compared to what was generally available. Still, even if users are seeking more granular feedback, he notes that the challenge is in introducing sophistication while still welcoming in those who might find the full scope of what Apple Health has become overwhelming.

“I think for us, it’s just a journey where we’re constantly wanting to offer more, trying to build the features in a way that are usable and inspiring to both beginners and advanced athletes, and then never burdening the person that just wants to come in and start the experiment,” he said, pointing out that the Workout app still looks and feels the same when first opened, and reveals its complexity as you choose to dive in.

Health is quotidian

Apple’s health efforts have evolved from a subset of one among many of a single ancillary device’s features, into something that spans the company’s entire product ecosystem, and that both informs and welcomes collaboration from healthcare practitioners and researchers globally. I asked Williams for a sense of how that shift has led Apple to think differently about its overall approach to product development.

“I think everyone has an appreciation for the fact that these devices are with you all the time,” he said. “We have this huge opportunity to help people with their health and so, broadly — with everything from Screen Time, which is ultimately a health thing, since there’s a huge mental health crisis, and we think something like Screen Time helps contribute to people’s wellbeing — all the way across the company, people think about ways in which our products and services can help people from a health standpoint.”

NexStride gadget that helps people with Parkinsons fight ‘freezing’ attracts $2.8M

One of the challenges faced by people with Parkinson’s disease is the possibility of “freezing” during normal movement, causing falls and lack of mobility. Surprisingly, small external cues can help them escape freezes or avoid them altogether — and De Oro has raised $2.8 million to commercialize its NexStride portable gadget, which provides those cues on demand.

The simplest way to understand freezing is that the normal pathway in the brain for your body turning the impulse “walk forward” into actual movement doesn’t activate correctly. This can lead to slow or stopped movement despite willing one’s limbs to move the way they normally do.

Studies have found a surprisingly effective technique for preventing this: cueing. When a person sees or hears an external cue associated with moving forwards, it activates a different pathway for walking forwards, breaking the person out of the frozen state.

De Oro’s device provides two such cues. One is a little metronome-like ding that makes the brain think about moving in time with it rather than going step by step. The second is a laser-projected line just ahead of the user’s feet that seems to activate the idea of stepping over or past something rather than just “forward.”

The NexStride attaches to a walker or cane using a little stretchy loop like a bike headlight’s, with a corded controller that can be put somewhere convenient for the user. Hardware dials on the main unit let them control the volume and tempo of the metronome, and the position of the laser line.

There’s plenty of studies about the efficacy of this approach in the lab, and the company has polled its customers, finding a large majority were able to get around more confidently and with less fear. Clinicians they’ve worked with recommend the device to clients as well as a convenient catch-all way to improve mobility.

Two men using the NexStride with their canes in different locations.

Walter and Richard both found the device very useful in getting around on their own terms.Image Credits: De Oro

There are a few items like this out there, like the U-Step laser and sound equipped walker. But the U-Step is built into the walker itself: a large and heavy item not particularly suited for use outside the home, and certainly not something a person with mobility issues could throw in the trunk. As is often the case with accessibility hardware, there’s a lot of legacy stuff from decades past.

The advantage of the NexStride is it’s self-contained and portable — people often have a favored cane or walker and the gadget can be attached to pretty much anything, and switched in a few minutes. “NexStride doesn’t make people compromise on choosing between their favorite mobility aid and having access to these effective visual and auditory cues,” said De Oro founder and CEO Sidney Collin.

Manual operation was a design choice prompted by feedback; users and clinicians recommended it over the automatic approach NexStride first attempted, which would presumably have turned on the laser or sound when the person stopped moving. Turns out people like to be in control — especially people for whom control is an everyday medical issue.

The only sticking point is the retail price: a somewhat eye-popping $500, not yet covered by insurance. While it’s not the most expensive medical or mobility device out there, it’s a little hard to reconcile the sticker price with the device itself, which although well designed doesn’t seem particularly exotic or expensive to build.

The company said that it priced the NexStride to be competitive with the other options out there, which it handily outperforms, while also keeping manufacturing in the U.S., which necessarily adds to the costs somewhat.

While full retail sounds like a lot, any veteran can get a NexStride for free from the VA, which is definitely a vote of confidence from an institution that serves a lot of people who need it. And the Parkinson’s Wellness Fund may cover from half to the full cost through grants.

With an aging population that’s healthy and mobile, devices like this may be escaping the likes of medical suppliers and becoming more of an ordinary consumer gadget. After all, Parkinson’s can affect people before even middle age, and you know that demographic will be doing a lot of comparison shopping.

The $2.8 million seed round, which will go towards scaling up De Oro’s operations and getting the device to more people, was led by True Wealth Ventures, with participation from AARP, StartUp Health, Capital Factory, Wai Mohala Ventures, Kachuwa Impact Fund, Barton Investments, HealthTech Capital, Wealthing VC Club, Rockies VC, and Mentors Fund. The company raised $1.5 million before this.

The funding and innovation here are a reminder that there are many frontiers on which to found a startup, and lots of less visible people and groups who stand to benefit from even ordinary-seeming advances in tech.

Review: Sonos Ray soundbar is an easy upgrade that will leave you wanting more

Sonos went a bit further downmarket recently with the Ray, a smaller and cheaper soundbar than the Beam, itself a smaller, cheaper soundbar than the Arc. But while the Ray performs well, it doesn’t quite earn its premium and leaves one feeling that they should have just gone for something bigger.

No one should have to suffer the sound that comes out of TVs these days, especially when you can get a soundbar for under a bill that will be wildly better. Get into the $150-$200 range and you can get a sub as well and some extra features like smart assistant, Airplay, and so on. But Sonos knows that its customers are willing to pay considerably more for its slick integration and advanced features.

At $279, the Ray is priced well above other essentially 2.0-channel systems except for the likes of Bose, another brand that generally gets a pass for inflated price tags. But the truth is it’s not really competing against standalone soundbars — it’s competing against other Sonos options.

If a buyer is considering a Sonos setup, and the Ray in particular, they’re not looking at Anker and Sony soundbars — they’re thinking about joining this exclusive smart speaker club, and wondering what the best way is to go about it without spending a fortune.

The Ray is certainly a cheap and practical way to make that happen, and if you are watching dialogue-heavy content in a smaller room, it’s going to be solid. But if you’re looking for a sound that is in any way big, you might as well open your wallet now and upgrade to the Beam.

An exploded view of a Ray.

You can see it tries to spread its sound out, but ultimately the soundstage isn’t large.

Setting up the Ray was very easy for me: it’s got an optical connection and my remote (I have a fairly recent Vizio TV) worked with its little training system to get the volume and mute buttons online in a minute or two. Not everyone has been so lucky, but that’s the trouble with “smart” speakers, they’re not always smart in the right ways. If you’re looking for HDMI, Bluetooth, or 3.5mm (let alone RCA or some such) you’ll have to move on, it’s optical or wi-fi only here.

My reference system is an older Yamaha (also optical) with a great warm sound and compelling virtual surround but, frankly, awful dialogue clarity even with the speech enhancement thing on. The Ray is the exact opposite of that: A bright, voice-forward sound with great clarity in a limited soundstage.

Sound and music from the Ray always seem to be coming from right in front of you, very clearly and with some stereo effect, but none of the remarkable room-filling ambience that I was able to achieve with the Yamaha less than half its price. On the other hand, I didn’t have to keep the remote in my hand to turn it up whenever someone talked and down again whenever a battle starts. (Gandalf is the king of speaking too softly and carrying a big stick.)

But as I said, the Ray’s real competition is the Beam, its big sibling and at $449, considerably more expensive. I didn’t consider a handful of Ones as being an alternative, though they’d probably sound good, because though it would be the same price for two, it’s really a different use case — this is about consumers who want to improve their TV and are Sonos-curious, not those who are ready to spend go in on a full-home music system.

A Ray soundbar tucked into an entertainment system.

The bar is definitely compact and cute. But the Beam is only two inches or so wider. And what’s with the turtle?

I alternated between the Ray and Beam on the same content and the Beam, unsurprisingly, was better in every respect (except one — dialogue syncing, since I believe I have a delay in the eARC channel, but I can’t pin that on Sonos). Dialogue sounded just as good, but richer, while ambient sounds and music spread out much more, and with a better low end. The Beam also worked better with music, seeming to emanate it into the room generally rather than direct it towards you.

I have a hard time believing that if someone wants to pay a premium to begin with, and they’re thinking hard about buying into a Sonos system, that they would for any reason but a complete lack of money choose the Ray. It’s unfortunate, but despite sounding pretty good, the Ray falls into a trough between cheaper and better (but not as smart) soundbars and the more expensive and much better (and not much larger) Beam.

It’s not that the Ray is be bad at all — it’s compact, attractive, easy to set up, and sounds good. But it’s in an awkward position: it doesn’t sound good enough to warrant the premium over “normal” soundbars half the price, and if you consider a system like this an investment, it’s absolutely worth stepping up to the Beam.

Where is the Ray a good option? I would say if you’re already in the Sonos ecosystem, and perhaps already have some One speakers in the TV room, the Ray essentially fills the role of an excellent center channel, its shortcomings more than made up for by the surround setup. (Sonos offers this as a package deal — $677.)

The Sonos Ray starts shipping next week.

Europe seals deal on USB Type-C common charger rules

European Union co-legislators have reached provisional agreement on a common charging solutions for smartphones, laptops, tablets and other small and medium sized electronics — some 15 different categories in all — agreeing that, by autumn 2024, USB Type C will be the common charging port for in scope devices.

Laptop makers have been given a little longer to implement the common charging solution on account of different power charging characteristics — with 40 months after the rules enter into force to adapt their kit.

Wireless charging interoperability is also being addressed by the EU — although not immediately; lawmakers have agreed for the Commission to ask standards authorities to come up with a standard to enable wireless charging interoperability. The Commission will then be empowered to adapt the directive via delegated acts to ensure that wireless charging kit does not sidestep the requirement for a common approach.

The provisional agreement between the European Parliament and Council paves the way for a formal vote later this summer to approve the amendment to the EU’s Radio Equipment Directive — but the bloc’s co-legislators reaching a compromise is usually the crux moment for EU lawmaking.

The new rules will enter into force 20 days after publication in the EU Official Journal — with the common charger provisions starting to apply 24 months after that (hence 2024).

The parliament has been pushing for common charger rules for over a decade, arguing it’s a key step to shrink the volume of e-waste generated by consumers in the bloc. Unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, per EU lawmakers.

The Commission finally came forward with a proposal last fall — and it’s notable that today’s compromise only took a matter of months to agree.

“The common charging solution will not only affect Apple. It will affect a lot of brands producing some of these 15 different types of products when it will come into force in two years time,” said the parliament’s lead negotiator on the file, Alex Agius Saliba, speaking during a press conference in which he dubbed the provisional agreement “historic” and a “great achievement”.

Under the incoming rules, EU consumers will have a choice to buy a new device with or without an external power supply — and must be provided with clear information on the charging characteristics of new devices so they can easily tell whether their existing chargers are compatible or not.

In-scope products placed on the market before the date of application will not be required to comply so it will be interesting to see whether or not there’s a flurry of device releases by manufacturers seeking to use up existing components ahead of the deadline.

Internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, who was also at the press conference to laud what he described as a “very important” agreement, said a common charging approach is in the interests of European consumers and the environment.

“It’s true we have been waiting for 10 years,” Breton went on. “It was not easy but we have been able to do it. Nine months — nine months only! It means we can move fast when there is a political will. When we are able to say to the lobbies sorry but here it is Europe; we are working for our own people not your interests.”

Electronics makers wanting to sell devices to EU consumers “will have to apply to our rules”, he warned — urging device makers to “be ready” and suggesting they shouldn’t wait the full two years to make the switch since “these will be the rules”.

Breton also reiterated that the Commission is working on ecodesign and energy labelling measures — which he said are intended to prevent premature obsolescence of smartphone and tablets, another issue he dubbed “very important”.

“These measures will include reliability, ease of dismantling, incentivizing repair, access to critical spare parts as well as boosting recycling,” Breton added, suggesting that proposed legislation will be ready after the summer break.

Apple’s Continuity Camera lets you use your iPhone as a webcam

Apple is improving its webcam on the shiny new M2 MacBooks, but for those of us still chugging along on our existing MacBooks, we’ll be able to use our iPhones as webcams ( … if we don’t want to sneak a look at our phone during a Zoom meeting).

Later this year, Apple will begin selling a Belkin mount that lets you clip your iPhone to the top of your MacBook. Then, while on FaceTime calls from your laptop, you’ll be able to use iPhone camera functions like portrait mode, center stage and studio light, a new feature that brightens your face and darkens the background behind you. You can also use your iPhone camera on other MacOS apps, like Zoom.

Without even adjusting your phone, your camera can also somehow provide a desk view (wide angle lenses, perhaps?). This may be useful for a math teacher, for example, who wants to write out the steps to solve an equation without hooking up a tablet. In practice, it probably won’t look as nice as it did at the keynote — whose desk is actually organized?

Image Credits: Apple

Continuity Camera is, as its name suggests, part of Apple’s continuity tools. The company will also introduce a handoff feature, which makes it easy to jump between devices while on a FaceTime call. So if you’re FaceTiming on your iPhone, for example, you can place your phone close to your MacBook and seamlessly transfer the call to your laptop, rather than hanging up and calling again.

These features are expected to be available later this year, along with the Belkin mount. While this is all fun and good, perhaps next time Apple can just put a better camera into the laptop itself.

Read more about WWDC 2022 on TechCrunch

Apple unveils iPadOS 16 with beefed up multitasking features

Today at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled a slew of upgrades headed to iPad devices in iPadOS 16, the latest version of the company’s tablet-focused operating system. A redesigned multitasking interface — dubbed Stage Manager — makes it simpler to see which apps are open and switch between tasks, while new tools offer ways for users to juggle up to eight apps and once and resize windows.

Previously, iPadOS could only run two, resizable apps side by side (Split View) and bring a minimized third app above them in a capability called Slide Over. Improvements arrived in iPadOS 15 last year, simplifying the process of dragging and dropping text, images, links, and files from one app to another. But the workflow remained somewhat clumsy — even with the addition of a multitasking toolbar.

Stage Manager automatically organizes apps and windows, allowing users to drag and drop windows from the side or open apps from the Dock to create groups of apps. The window of the app users are working on is displayed in the center, and other open apps and windows are arranged on the left-hand side in order of recency.

Apple iPadOS 16

Image Credits: Apple

Elsewhere, iPadOS 16 features the same redesigned app icons found in the upcoming iOS 16, which in turn take inspiration from the icons in macOS Monterey. Notifications have been revamped. And most of the highlights announced for iOS 16, including refreshed Messages and Health apps, are present and accounted for.

One rumor ahead of WWDC suggested that iPadOS 16 would introduce the ability to run Mac M1-native apps, including Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, on M1 iPads like the iPad Pro and iPad Air. Another hinted that iPadOS would gain a “floating app window” interface — also exclusive to M1 iPads — that would launch automatically when a keyboard and trackpad was detected. That turned out to be partially true: some multitasking features require the M1, according to Apple, like overlapping windows and full external display support (up to 6K).

Multiple sources reported that interactive widgets were coming to the iPad, which would expose shortcuts like media controls and the flashlight toggle on the lockscreen. This seemed like a shoe-in, given that iOS 16 — the operating system on which iPadOS is based — also introduced widgets. And indeed, bits and pieces materialized at WWDC during the keynote address.

Apple iPadOS 16

Image Credits: Apple

On the lockscreen, iPadOS 16 lets you change the clock font and wallpaper. There’s “live” widgets that show, for example, lightning strikes when it’s raining and music when it’s playing the background. (A new software development kit called WidgetKit allows developers to create custom widgets.) Notifications roll in from the bottom of the lockscreen as they arrive — there’s a new notification style called Live Activities for live events like workouts and sports scores. Lastly, Focus modes now extend to the lockscreen so that users can match the lockscreen wallpaper and widgets to their focus mode.

Other highlights in iPadOS 16 include:

  • Apps can address up to 16GB of memory, via Virtual Memory Swap.
  • Display Zoom on M1 iPads allows users to increase the pixel density of the display.
  • A new reference color mode is available for photo and video workflows, only on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
  • A Weather app, plus an API for weather data.
  • New features in Messages to manage shared content across Files, Keynote, Numbers, Pages, Notes, Reminders, and Safari as well as third-party apps.
  • Support for passkeys, Apple’s sign-in method designed to replace passwords on the web and in apps.
  • A more consistent undo and redo experience across the system, a redesigned find-and-replace experience, and customizable toolbars.
  • Hover Text, which helps users to more easily read input fields, menu items, and button labels.

From floating windows to bolstered multitasking, iPadOS is increasingly aligning in design with macOS. The reverse is true, as well — in 2020, macOS inherited Control Center from iOS and iPadOS, which contains toggles for system-level features . Universal Control landed last year, letting users share a single keyboard and mouse between Mac and iPad.

As in years past, Apple will release the latest version of iPadOS in public beta a few months ahead of widespread availability. The company said that builds will become available a few weeks from now, in July, alongside the third developer beta. The iPad (5th generation and later), iPad mini (5th generation and later), iPad Air (3rd generation and later), and all iPad Pro models are supported.

Read more about WWDC 2022 on TechCrunch

Apple unveils new redesigned MacBook Air

Apple surprised WWDC keynote watchers with the release of a new, fully redesigned MacBook Air. The MacBook Air, Apple’s most popular notebook computer, last got a significant physical overhaul in 2018. The new MacBook Air borrows design cues from both Apple’s latest iMac line, as well as the new MacBook Pros that were released in late 2021. It’s also powered by the first ever second-generation Apple Silicon processor — the M2 system-on-a-chip.

The new MacBook Air features thinner bezels surrounding the display (albeit with a notch), and drops the tapered case found on earlier models in favor of a base with consistent thickness more similar to the ones found on the new 2021 MacBook Pro. Despite the loss of the taper, the 13-inch laptop is thinner (at its thickest point) and lighter than the outgoing version. It’s 2.7 pounds in total, significantly lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro. It’s only 11.3mm thin (0.5 inches), and it now comes in a champagne-ish color as well as a very deep blue called “midnight”.

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With the M2 on board, the computer boasts significantly improved performance over the M1 generation, as well as increased power efficiency.

MagSafe is included for charging, like the standard found on the new MacBook Pros, and it’s 25% brighter than the last gen. The display is also slightly bigger overall at 13.6-inches diagonal. The front-facing webcam is a 1080p version, which should be on par with the new one introduced in the MacBook Pro. The speaker system is integrated into the case and offers support for Spatial Audio.

For image editing, Apple says it offers 20% improvement vs. the M1 version, and for video editing, people can expect a 40% bump. Battery life remains very high, rated at 18 hours for video consumption. There’s also a new dual-port USB-C charger available, and the MacBook Air now fast-charges, offering 50% charge from 30 minutes of plug-in time.

Developing…

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WatchOS 9 adds new modes and watch faces

During a keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the company debuted the latest version of WatchOS, the operating system that runs on the Apple Watch.

Apple claims that it has improved the Apple Watch’s ability to detect arterial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. With the arrival of WatchOS 9, supported Apple Watch device models can now detect “burden,” or how often a person experiences AFib over a certain amount of time.

Apple was granted 501(k) approval from the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration this morning. As opposed to full approval, 501(k) approval doesn’t require companies to provide effectiveness data from clinical trials.

With WatchOS 9, supported Apple Watch models now show heart zones to get a sense of your intensity level. You can set up distance and time intervals, and there’s haptic and voice feedback to tell you when to switch modes while working out.

New complications and watch faces (including astronomy and lunar faces) and exercise modes are a part of the WatchOS 9 release, as well as “form metrics” for runners. There’s also a new workout type for triathletes that can auto-switch between cycling, swimming, and running. And for users who own a Meta Quest VR headset, Apple Watch can now show stats from Move, Meta’s fitness tracker for the Quest, on the Fitness mobile and Watch app.

Joining these are a new sleep-tracking feature: Sleep Stage. WatchOS 9 can detect REM, core, and deep sleep stages. Plus, WatchOS can now track medications and notify wearers when they need to take them. Most of the management is done via iOS in the Apple Health app, where you can scan a medication label to identify it.

Lastly, apps can be pinned for quick access in WatchOS 9. And there’s a revamped, streamlined Siri UI.

It’s unclear as of yet whether all Apple Watch models are due for the upgrade to WatchOS 9. WatchOS 8 supported the Apple Watch Series 3 onward, but it’s not uncommon for Apple to exclude older models over time — owing to limitations in those models’ hardware. With a public beta of WatchOS 9 due out soon — possibly this week — it fortunately won’t be long before we know for sure.

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Ring announces new features, raises its basic subscription price for the first time since 2015

Ring announced new features for its Ring Protect Basic plan, such as more alert options, exclusive discounts (10%), up to 50 video downloads (up from 20), and 180 days of video (up from 60), plus a ton of “coming soon” features (smart alerts for cars, animals, alerts for breaking glass and open doors). However, with these new upgrades, the price of the Protect Basic plan is increasing starting in July to $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year in the U.S.

Ring shared the news in a surprising note this week, sharing that existing customers will see the new features on July 1, and will experience the price jump whenever their subscription renews.

Image Credits: Ring

Ring’s cheapest security camera subscription plan was introduced in 2015 and has stayed flat at $3 per month ever since (well, until this week). The 99-cent increase has some users understandably aggravated, especially those who don’t care for the new features.

 

Basic plan subscribers who own more than one device will also be annoyed since if you have the Basic plan and own two or three devices (doorbell, nursery camera, in-home drone, etc.), you will now be asked to pay another $20 or $30 a year. Some subscribers used to get around the second-tier cost by tripling subscriptions to cover each camera, which would only bring their monthly fees to about $9/month or $90/year for three separate cameras.

With the price increase, they will be forced to pay the full fee for all three or to save money and subscribe to Protect Plus. The Protect Plus plan covers all Ring devices and costs $10 a month or $100 a year. In the press release, the company stated, “The price change will not affect Ring Protect Plus and Pro plans, which include the same features as Basic and more.”

Many basic Ring features like two-way talk, motion-activated notifications, and the live real-time camera view don’t require a subscription to work. Therefore, it’s likely that users will opt out of these subscription plans that have unappealing features to some buyers and stick with fewer capabilities for no extra fee.

Ring is one of the top-selling security systems in the U.S., so it’s no surprise that people are angry about the price hike.

Updated Friday, June 3, 1:15 p.m ET, with correction of initial launch in 2015 instead of in 2017.