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When a high-ranked Apple executive says Apple won’t do something, expect quite the opposite. So when Apple’s worldwide marketing chief Phil Schiller told the Wall Street Journal that Passbook, a new app in iOS 6, won’t be a direct payment product, there was more to his words than met the eye.
We’ve also heard countless rumors involving an Near Field Communication NFC chip coming to the next iPhone to provide a hardware basis for secure contactless payments on the go. Apparently, recent code dumps that broke the taller iPhone news also indicate that NFC controllers are directly connected to the power management unit of the next iPhone…
Folks like SITA’s CTO Jim Peters are convinced that Apple will make NFC happen with this year’s iPhone revision, said to be slated for launch in October. He expects 2012 iPhones with NFC to dominate e-tickets.
Noting that carriers, handset makers and Google are all trying to upend one another in order to take a cut of NFC transactions, he observed Apple’s focus on the end user will help the company mainstream mobile payments:
Who is thinking of the user? Apple. They don’t argue about it with anybody. They came out with Passbook last week, which is an electronic wallet that they are going to start putting stuff on.
He then dropped the bomb:
They are going to get people using it (the Passbook application) and then all of a sudden they will allow credit cards to be used in there, on the next iPhone, which will include NFC.
Speaking at the annual Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Peters summed it up:
You need to get ready, this is coming. This is going to happen. By the end of the year the majority of smartphones that you go and buy will have NFC on them. If in October the next iPhone comes out and it has NFC on it, it’s game over.
MasterCard’s Ed McLaughlin is also adamant that Apple is working on a wireless mobile payment system that involves NFC and iTunes, recently dropping the following hint:
I don’t know of a handset manufacturer that isn’t in process of making sure their stuff is PayPass ready.
Seth Weintraub, who runs 9to5Mac, notes the possible implications of NFC hardware in the next iPhone:
The implications here are obviously monstrous. With the recently announced PassBook application (which we detailed prior to its announcement while speculating about an NFC tie-in), Apple will be set to compete with Google Wallet and the similar service Microsoft unveiled last week.
And provided Cupertino partners with payment processors, it could process real-world transactions via iTunes:
Apple could tie in with a payment processor like Citibank’s PayPass system for credit card transactions or it could become a payment processor of sorts with its hundreds of millions of credit cards already on file at iTunes.
NFC would also allow iPhone users a quick and easy way to share files from one iOS device to another.
I think it’s inevitable that NFC is coming to iPhones now that Google and Microsoft have made some moves in this space. The market for mobile payments is on the verge of exploding and Apple needs a solution to compete.
Not everyone agrees with Weintraub, though.
One of Apple’s many patents involving NFC technology.
One of Apple’s many patents involving NFC technology.
Mike Elgan speculated in his Cult of Mac article titled Inside Apple’s Secret Plan to Kill the Cash Register that Apple could instead tap Bluetooth 4.0 technology for iWallet.
“It’s already in your pocket”, John Brownlee explained in another post at Cult of Mac, apprehending the fact that Bluetooth 4.0 is already found on latest iOS devices.
So. theoretically speaking, all Apple needs to do to make iWallet a reality is ship an app (it just did that with Passbook), cut some partnerships and make iTunes backend changes.
What do you think, will Apple implement NFC hardware inside the next iPhone or find a better solution?
Would you be willing to pay for your groceries using your iPhone and your iTunes credit card on file?
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Across Europe, COVID cases are rising once again. Much of the western part of the continent, including Germany, France, the UK, and Italy, are experiencing sustained increases in outbreaks over the last two weeks. Switzerland and Austria are both reporting per-capita case rates that exceed those during the Omicron surge in the US. In Scotland, one in every 14 residents had COVID in the last week. So far, however, deaths haven’t increased across the region.
There are signs that the US could be headed in the same direction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 25 percent of the wastewater surveillance sites it tracks across the country, COVID readings have at least doubled in a week. As the Pandemic Prevention Institute pointed out on Twitter, those counts could just be noisy data—when COVID rates are low, as they are now, doubling isn’t necessarily a significant change.
So why would cases be increasing just as a global wave subsides? In both Europe and the US, a more infectious lineage of Omicron, called BA.2 (sometimes described as “stealth Omicron”)” is spreading rapidly. At the same time, public health officials on both continents have relaxed mitigation efforts, although European protocols were much more stringent than America’s to begin with. Denmark and Switzerland no longer require vaccine verification to enter restaurants. Hawaii is now the only US state with an indoor mask mandate.
Those two forces combined are probably driving the COVID wave in Europe, infectious disease researchers told Popular Science. And because Europe resembles the US in terms of vaccinations, prior outbreaks, and COVID policies, it’s probably a model for another surge here—if not for the human toll an outbreak would take.
[Related: ‘Deltacron’ could exist after all]
Early reports showed that the antibodies a person produces in response to other types of Omicron do recognize BA.2, and should protect them from infection, at least for a while. But more recent research has suggested that the Omicron lineages vary enough to require different levels—and probably types—of antibodies. “‘Protective’ isn’t a binary switch,” Kristian Andersen, who studies the evolution of viruses at Scripps Research, writes in an email to PopSci. “BA.1-induced immunity will provide protection against BA.2 infection, but … I expect that effect will wane faster.”
Research on previous waves found that people are extremely unlikely to be reinfected with the same COVID strain within nine months of recovering. But BA.2 might cut that period down significantly.
“With infinitely more cases, yes, it wasn’t the same ratio of hospitalizations. But it’s still absolutely high. A death is a death.”
Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University
Because the first Omicron wave peaked in the US about two months ago, immunity from those infections may have waned enough to give BA.2 a larger population of susceptible hosts. (With an extremely infectious virus, it doesn’t take many susceptible individuals to fuel an outbreak.) In Europe, the initial wave of Omicron came earlier, and BA.2 became dominant in February, so the continent could be a preview of what might happen next in the US.
That, coupled with the increased infectiousness of the subvariant, might explain rising case numbers on both sides of the Atlantic. According to an analysis by Financial Times data scientist John Burn-Murdoch, overall case counts in Europe have grown in tandem with rising BA.2 rates. Right now, BA.2 causes about a quarter of all COVID cases in the US, according to CDC estimates, but that number has grown steadily since January. The Northeast seems to be on the leading edge of that curve. Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at Yale University who uses viral genetics to investigate disease transmission, tells PopSci that the variant might cause all new COVID cases in Connecticut by mid-April.
But that’s probably only the first part of the equation. “A lot of European countries were seeing an increase in cases right after they released indoor mask mandates,” says Boston University’s Hamer. The faster-spreading variant might have taken off at the exact same time as people began to gather indoors unmasked. The US saw a similar surge after it lowered its defenses in the summer of 2023.
“The timing of this with masks coming off isn’t great,” says Grubaugh, “and I just hope that our leaders and we as a society are willing to put them back on if the cases do indeed start rising.”
Sorting out the exact role of indoor mask requirements or social distancing policies is extremely challenging. “The bottom line is, masking will still slow transmission, no matter which variant it is,” says Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University. “But it’s hard to know how much impact the mask mandates were having before they were dropped. We’ve never really been able to measure that effectively.” People don’t always follow COVID policies when they are in place—and plenty of individuals, especially those at personal risk, will continue wearing a face covering without a mandate, or just stop going into public altogether.
Right now, the CDC’s new guidance only recommends wearing a mask indoors when cases in a US county skyrocket to above 200 per 100,000 residents in a week. Rising hospitalization rates can also trigger mitigation policies. As public health researchers Julia Raifman and Eleanor Murray wrote in the Washington Post earlier in March, those guidelines encourage mask use only after a new surge is well underway. What’s more, the CDC’s updated recommendations don’t explicitly instruct local governments to implement distancing or masking policies, which “has basically given jurisdictions a free pass not to do anything,” says Hassig.
[Related: Masks can work—even if you’re the only one wearing them]
While the experts who spoke to Popular Science agreed that some kind of BA.2 outbreak is likely in the US, their opinion on the consequences are more mixed.
When asked if Europe’s growing outbreak would be followed by a surge of hospitalizations and deaths, Hamer says, “I would be willing to bet no.” Even if BA.2 is able to spread among people who already had another strain of Omicron, they should have built up enough antibodies to avoid severe symptoms. People who are both vaccinated and previously caught Omicron should be even safer.
But Europe has a much more heavily vaccinated population than the US. Roughly two-thirds of adults in the EU have received a booster dose. More critically, 90 percent of everyone over the age of 50 in the UK has had a booster, and the picture is similar across western Europe. Many of the people most vulnerable in an outbreak are also highly protected. In the US, only 66 percent of those over the age of 65 have been boosted, so the consequences of a surge could be more dire.
Hassig calls the idea that cases and hospitalizations have “decoupled” during recent waves deceptive. Denmark, which has been especially quick to end restrictions at bars, end vaccine requirements, and lift mask policies on that logic, had a per-capita death rate that approached America’s during the Omicron outbreaks. “We had nearly as many people hospitalized in Omicron as we did in other surges,” Hassig says. “With infinitely more cases, so yes, it wasn’t the same ratio. But it’s still absolutely high. A death is a death.”
It’s hard to know whether that means the US will see a wave of hospitalizations like it did when Omicron peaked. Europe is only a week or two into its new wave, which means it’s still too early to use data from there to draw predictions for the states. What’s clear is this: The pandemic isn’t over, even if governments are putting away the tools to fight it.
ESR is a well-known manufacturer of accessories for mobile devices, with more than 100 million customers around the world. And with its new HaloLock system, ESR expands the capabilities of MagSafe for iPhone to an even wider variety of accessories, from cases to external batteries that function as a stand.
Apple introduced MagSafe to the iPhone in 2023 with iPhone 12. By combining the Qi standard for wireless charging with strong magnets, MagSafe has enabled a new range of accessories that align perfectly with the phone. This is especially important for charging accessories, as the perfect alignment makes charging more efficient.HaloLock Power Bank Wallet
ESR HaloLock Power Bank Wallet is a very clever solution for those who have always wanted to combine a MagSafe Wallet with the MagSafe Battery Pack. The accessory works just like any other power bank, but it has a storage space for up to two cards. But more than that, you can use it as a stand if you prefer, since the accessory is foldable.
Thanks to the strong MagSafe magnets, users can attach their iPhones to the ESR HaloLock Power Bank Wallet in landscape orientation. Choose from portrait or landscape and any angle between 20° and 70° to find the perfect position to watch videos, use FaceTime, or browse the web.
And with an internal 5,000 mAh battery, you can fully recharge any iPhone model with the HaloLock Power Bank Wallet. Of course, the accessory can also recharge other MagSafe-compatible devices, such as the AirPods charging case. The HaloLock Power Bank Wallet can be easily recharged via a USB-C port.HaloLock Geo Wallet
The HaloLock Geo Wallet also offers an elegant wallet solution that can be attached magnetically to your iPhone. However, this accessory is fully compatible with Apple’s Find My network, which means you can track it anywhere.
Enjoy a magnetic lock on your phone more than double the strength of the official MagSafe Wallet via powerful built-in magnets with 1,500 g of holding force. Go about your day with peace of mind, knowing your most important items are locked on for the ride.
To ensure that you will be able to track your wallet, the HaloLock Geo Wallet comes with a built-in battery that lasts for three months on a single charge. And when the battery dies, you can easily recharge it using a special magnetic to USB-C cable.
The HaloLock Geo Wallet also has a secure-grip finger loop, so you can hold your iPhone more firmly. The finger loop can be folded flat if you don’t want to use it.
It’s worth noting that the ESR HaloLock Geo Wallet is currently available on Kickstarter. Sales on Amazon will begin in May.HaloLock Charger with CryoBoost
Wireless recharging can be challenging. Even with perfect alignment, thanks to the magnets, these chargers heat up the device more than conventional wired chargers. This is why ESR created CryoBoost technology, which adds a cooling fan to the charger that helps dissipate the heat.
As a result, the iPhone stays cooled, which enables faster charging speeds and also helps preserve battery health. According to ESR, the CryoBoost system is capable of recharging the iPhone in less than 3 hours, while the official MagSafe Charger can take up to more than 4 hours.
And the best part is that the HaloLock Wireless Charger is available in two different versions: a 3-in-1 base and a car mount.
The HaloLock 3-in-1 Wireless Charger is the perfect solution for AirPods and Apple Watch users, as it can charge these two devices simultaneously with your iPhone. There’s even a Sleep mode that turns off the status lights at night.
Meanwhile, the HaloLock Wireless Car Charger conveniently lets you keep your iPhone attached to your car dashboard while it recharges wirelessly.ESR HaloLock cases and more
ESR also offers a variety of cases for iPhone, iPad, and other devices. The CLASSIC Kickstand Case with HaloLock is a simple but elegant transparent case made of acrylic that protects your iPhone without hiding its original design. The case comes with a kickstand in the camera area so that you can sit your iPhone on a flat surface.
And AirPods Pro owners can get the CYBER ARMOR Tough Case with HaloLock, which strongly protects their earbuds with a ruggedized design and is MagSafe compatible.
All HaloLock products can be found at special prices on Amazon or the ESR Gear online store.
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The day I entered public school, I was classified as visually impaired. I have a rare genetic syndrome known as achromatopsia. I’m color blind and light sensitive, and my distance vision is flat-out awful. Even corrected, it’s closer to 20/100 than 20/20. I can’t see street signs until I’m a yard away from them and I don’t even bother trying to read most posters, plaques or museum cards.
I’m not alone: About 21.5 million Americans have low vision, and analysts expect that number to double over the next 30 years as baby boomers age. But new uses for near field communication (NFC), a short-range device-to-device transmission protocol, could help break down the frustrating barrier between the visually impaired and the text around them.
Smartphones are already capable of helping low-vision users work with small screens. Apple, for example, programmed iOS with settings that allow the user to enlarge the point size of its font up to 56. iOS also features VoiceOver, an app that dictates whatever is on the screen; tap the mail icon, for example, and the app will say, “Mail. Two new items.” An app called Mobile Accessibility provides similar features for Android phones.
Several third-party apps can also help users better interact with the world around them. LookTel Recognizer (iOS) uses object-recognition software and the phone’s camera to identify items such as soda cans in a vending machine or DVDs on a shelf. But there are drawbacks. For LookTel to work, users have to first save images into the app’s library, and similar apps need an Internet connection to work.
NFC could enable users to pull information about anything they encounter directly to their phone. When a user waves an NFC-enabled phone within two inches of an NFC tag (a sticker containing a radio and a small memory chip that holds content like text and URLs), the devices “see” one another’s electromagnetic signatures, connect, and pass data across the 13.56-megahertz frequency.
NFC is only now reaching the U.S. Last fall, Google released Wallet, an app that uses NFC to transmit credit-card information, and Android 4.0, an operating system that natively supports NFC. Since then, manufacturers including LG and Samsung have announced NFC-equipped phones. Meanwhile, semiconductor makers are selling NFC tags for only a few cents each, and the NFC Forum, a consortium responsible for developing NFC specifications, has issued NFC licenses to more than 1,100 companies.
A couple of licenses belong to companies running pilot programs to help the visually impaired read fine print. VTT Technical Research Center of Finland placed tags on pill bottles; when tapped, the tags send voice memos with dosage instructions and drug indications. Last year a group of grocers in France tested a similar system from a company called Think&Go to transmit large-text nutrition information.
As NFC adoption grows, so, too, will the number of applications that cater to those with low vision. Users can download tasting notes for a bottle of wine over NFC; why not an audio version of a menu in a dimly lit restaurant? Curators at the Museum of London have replaced printed brochures with digital ones visitors download from NFC tags. Could instantly downloadable—and easy-to-read—museum cards be so far behind?
While iOS 17 speculation is already in full swing, there is still a few software features that Apple has announced, but not yet released for iPhone and iPad users. Head below as we round up all of the previously announced features still coming for iPhone and iPad…Apple Card Savings Account
Continuing with the focus on financial services, Apple has also announced it will integrate a high-yield savings account directly into the Wallet application for Apple Card users. This feature was announced in October, with Apple saying it would be available sometime “soon.” Given that Apple Card is only available in the United States, the new savings account will also be limited to the US.
Apple Card Savings Account will allow you to automatically deposit your Daily Cash rewards into the account. It will fully integrate with the Apple Wallet applications, allowing you to track the balance and growth of the account over time and even make additional deposits via a linked bank account.
Apple Card Savings Account will be operated in partnership with Goldman Sachs, which is also Apple’s partner for the Apple Card itself. There’s no word on what exact percentage rate the account will pay out in interest, but Goldman’s existing online savings account offers an annual percentage yield of 3.30%.Next-generation CarPlay
At WWDC, Apple unveiled what it described as the “next generation of CarPlay.” This is a feature, however, that even Apple acknowledged would not be available for quite a while, despite the initial announcement at WWDC 2023.
The new CarPlay interface is a dramatic overhaul compared to what is currently offered. It will offer support for multiple screens within your car and be able to deeply integrate with your car’s hardware. Essentially, this new CarPlay design can completely replace the manufacturer’s own digital interfaces:
Speed, fuel level, temperature, and more on the instrument cluster
Control the radio or change the climate directly through CarPlay
Personalize the driving experience by choosing different gauge cluster designs
With widgets, users will have at-a-glance information from Weather and Music right on their car’s dashboard
This is a big undertaking by Apple, and it will require close cooperation with automakers looking to adopt the new CarPlay interface. Apple says that more information will be “shared in the future” and that we can expect the first vehicles with support for the new CarPlay design sometime late this year.
Finally, there’s one security and privacy-focused feature that Apple has already announced is coming sometime this year. iMessage Contact Key Verification is designed for “users who face extraordinary digital threats,” including journalists, human rights activists, and members of government.
The feature works by giving those users a way to further verify that they are messaging with the people they intend. Apple explains:
iMessage Contact Key Verification will be available “globally” sometime in 2023, Apple says.Apple Pay Later [Now available]
Update March 29, 2023: Apple Pay Later has officially started rolling out to users, but it won’t be available to all users for several months, Apple says.
Apple is ramping up its initiatives in the personal finance sector, and one of its most anticipated new features in this category is something called Apple Pay Later. Announced at WWDC 2023, Apple Pay Later will allow you to split Apple Pay purchases into four equal payments with zero percent interest, spread across six weeks.
The Apple Pay Later feature is similar to competitors like Affirm and Klarna, two of the companies leading a modern wave of “buy now, pay later” platforms. Apple, however, touts that its platform will be “seamless and secure,” with integration into the Apple Wallet application and zero fees.
When Apple Pay Later was announced at WWDC 2023, there was no clear timeline for when it would be available to customers. The feature was not included in the initial release of iOS 16 and hasn’t been added with any of the subsequent software updates. Bloomberg reported that the feature faced “fairly significant technical and engineering challenges.”
Once it launches, Apple Pay Later will be “available everywhere Apple Pay is accepted online or in-app” to “qualifying applicants in the United States.”Apple Music Classical [Now available]
Update March 29, 2023: Apple Music Classical is now available to all Apple Music users. Learn more in our complete guide.
Ah, yes, Apple Music Classical. This isn’t necessarily a feature specific to iOS 16, but it’s something that Apple said would be available in 2023… and wasn’t. Apple acquired the classical music service Primephonic in 2023, immediately removing the app from the App Store and integrating the content into its own Music app.
Apple also promised, however, that it would release a “dedicated classical music app” sometime in 2023, “combining Primephonic’s classical user interface with more added features.” This didn’t come to fruition in 2023, and Apple is silent on when the app will launch.
At this point, we’re starting to question whether Apple Music Classical has been scrapped (or significantly scaled back in scope), given Apple’s silence on the matter. The good news is that references to the service have been spotted in iOS code. Hopefully, we’ll get an update soon.Web push notifications [Now available]
Here’s something that has largely flown under the radar since it was officially announced: support for web push notifications for Safari on iOS and iPadOS. This was announced at WWDC last year, with Apple saying that Safari on iPad and iPhone would support push notifications from websites for the first time.
Support for web notifications in Safari has been available on the Mac for several years but has remained notably absent on iPhone and iPhone. What jogged our memory on this feature was a post on Mastodon from Jen Simmons, who works as an Apple Evangelist on the company’s Web Developer Experience team.
In the post, Simmons asked users to share their “favorite web apps” that they’ve added to the Home Screen of their iPhone. This could signal Apple’s continued work on web push notifications for iPhone and iPad, as well as maybe some other improvements to how progressive web apps work on Apple’s platforms.
Apple says that support for web notifications on iPhone and iPadOS will be available sometime in 2023. The feature hasn’t yet materialized in betas of iOS 16.New Home architecture [Now available]
Update March 29, 2023: With the launch of iOS 16.4, the revamped Home architecture is now available to users once again.
With iOS 16.2 in October, Apple introduced a new opt-in architecture for HomeKit that it said offered “improved performance and reliability of the accessories in your home.” As it turned out, that wasn’t the case, and the new architecture had the opposite impact for many users who opted into the change.
In response to the backlash and complaints, Apple ended up pulling the new architecture altogether last month. The company said in a statement:
We are aware of an issue that may impact the ability for users to share the Home within the Home app. A fix will be available soon. In the meantime, we’ve temporarily removed the option to upgrade to the new Home architecture. Users who have already upgraded will not be impacted.
There’s no official word on when Apple plans to re-implement this new HomeKit architecture. Evidence within recent iOS beta releases, however, shows the company is continuing to work on the platform.iOS 16.5 likely coming soon…
iOS 16.4 was released to everyone this past week with a handful of features and changes. Now that this update has been released, Apple has started beta testing iOS 16.5. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this update contains any of the features we’re still waiting for Apple to release.
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Inquiring Minds: The Next Internet A five-part series of notable Q&As
Abraham Matta, a CAS associate professor of computer science, led a discussion of “urban mesh networks.” Photo courtesy of Abraham Matta
These “urban mesh networks” of wirelessly connected “nodes” atop light poles and buildings could bring affordable Internet access to all communities, rich and poor. And the same networks will serve public safety coordination and disaster response efforts, enhanced city services, environmental monitoring, and network-based research and entrepreneurs.
Urban mesh networks were one topic of discussion at a two-day national symposium on computing research infrastructure, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and held last month at Boston University’s Photonics Center, hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences computer science department. Among the presenters was Abraham Matta, an associate professor of computer sciences. BU Today spoke with Matta to learn more about the wireless access that may soon be coming to a computer near you.
And the city itself might provide services or use these urban mesh networks to improve its services. City workers wouldn’t have to travel all around the city to do their jobs. They would have all these sensors around the city, and these sensors would communicate to this wireless mesh network to report any kind of events that you might be interested in.
You can also get revenue from access fees. Usually, the city will negotiate discounted access rates for underserved communities. It’s called digital inclusion, and that’s something that’s a major driver for most cities. For instance, here in Boston, Roxbury is a target area to provide access.
There are all sorts of possibilities for applications, but there is also potential for improving the protocols that support these applications, or network software infrastructure that improves the functioning of the network. You would like people to be able to improve the performance of the network and use the wireless mesh more efficiently, which is not possible in other kinds of urban networks where you have a single company that installs it and does what the city wants. In Boston, at least it’s my hope, they will allow people to play with the underlying network software itself, the infrastructure, to improve it, and then you can commercialize these access nodes using this new network software.
There is also the challenge of figuring out the transport of network traffic. You might have areas that get very low connection speeds just because they are farther away from the gateway, for instance. Everybody’s going toward the gateway, which is kind of the central place where everything meets and then gets redistributed from there. So there are issues like that that require adapting the network software itself, and that’s why allowing people to do research and actually improve the network software is a possible benefit for an open infrastructure.
Part of the internetworking work, which is going on now, is creating what we have now in cellular telephone service, where you deal with roaming through your home service provider. You have a home service provider and you go to another service provider when you roam around to other cities, and it works out because they always can charge your home.
Chris Berdik can be reached at [email protected].
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