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Apple opens access to used iPhone components for repair | TechCrunch

On Thursday, Apple announced that it has opened its iPhone repair process to include used components. Starting this fall, customers and independent repair shops will be able to fix the handset using compatible components.

Components that don’t require configuration (such as volume buttons) were already capable of being harvested from used devices. Today’s news adds all components — including the battery, display and camera — which Apple requires to be configured for full functionality. Face ID will not be available when the feature first rolls out, but it is coming down the road.

At launch, the feature will be available solely for the iPhone 15 line on both the supply and receiving ends of the repair. That caveat is due, in part, to limited interoperability between the models. In many cases, parts from older phones simply won’t fit.  The broader limitation that prohibited the use of components from used models comes down to a process commonly known as “parts paring.”

Apple has defended the process, stating that using genuine components is an important aspect of maintaining user security and privacy. Historically, the company hasn’t used the term “parts pairing” to refer to its configuration process, but it acknowledges that phrase has been widely adopted externally. It’s also aware that the term is loaded in many circles.

“‘Parts pairing’ is used a lot outside and has this negative connotation,” Apple senior vice president of hardware engineering, John Ternus, tells TechCrunch. “I think it’s led people to believe that we somehow block third-party parts from working, which we don’t. The way we look at it is, we need to know what part is in the device, for a few reasons. One, we need to authenticate that it’s a real Apple biometric device and that it hasn’t been spoofed or something like that. … Calibration is the other one.”

Right-to-repair advocates have accused Apple of hiding behind parts pairing as an excuse to stifle user-repairability. In January, iFixit called the process the “biggest threat to repair.” The post paints a scenario wherein an iPhone user attempts to harvest a battery from a friend’s old device, only to be greeted with a pop-up notification stating, “Important Battery Message. Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery.”

It’s a real scenario and surely one that’s proven confusing for more than a few people. After all, a battery that was taken directly from another iPhone is clearly the real deal.

Today’s news is a step toward resolving the issue on newer iPhones, allowing the system to effectively verify that the battery being used is, in fact, genuine.

“Parts pairing, regardless of what you call it, is not evil,” says Ternus. “We’re basically saying, if we know what module’s in there, we can make sure that when you put our module in a new phone, you’re gonna get the best quality you can. Why’s that a bad thing?”

The practice took on added national notoriety when it was specifically targeted by Oregon’s recently passed right-to-repair bill. Apple, which has penned an open letter in support of a similar California bill, heavily criticized the bill’s parts pairing clause.

“Apple supports a consumer’s right to repair, and we’ve been vocal in our support for both state and federal legislation,” a spokesperson for the company noted in March. “We support the latest repair laws in California and New York because they increase consumer access to repair while keeping in place critical consumer protections. However, we’re concerned a small portion of the language in Oregon Senate Bill 1596 could seriously impact the critical and industry-leading privacy, safety and security protections that iPhone users around the world rely on every day.”

While aspects of today’s news will be viewed as a step in the right direction among some repair advocates, it seems unlikely that it will make the iPhone wholly compliant with the Oregon bill. Apple declined to offer further speculation on the matter.

Biometrics — including fingerprint and facial scans — continue to be a sticking point for the company.

“You think about Touch ID and Face ID and the criticality of their security because of how much of our information is on our phones,” says Ternus. “Our entire life is on our phones. We have no way of validating the performance of any third-party biometrics. That’s an area where we don’t enable the use of third-party modules for the key security functions. But in all other aspects, we do.”

It doesn’t seem coincidental that today’s news is being announced within weeks of the Oregon bill’s passage — particularly given that these changes are set to roll out in the fall. The move also appears to echo Apple’s decision to focus more on user-repairability with the iPhone 14, news that arrived amid a rising international call for right-to-repair laws.

Apple notes, however, that the processes behind this work were set in motion some time ago. Today’s announcement around device harvesting, for instance, has been in the works for two years.

For his part, Ternus suggests that his team has been focused on increasing user access to repairs independent of looming state and international legislation. “We want to make things more repairable, so we’re doing that work anyway,” he says. “To some extent, with my team, we block out the news of the world, because we know what we’re doing is right, and we focus on that.”

Overall, the executive preaches a kind of right tool for the right job philosophy to product design and self-repair.

“Repairability in isolation is not always the best answer,” Ternus says. “One of the things that I worry about is that people get very focused as if repairability is the goal. The reality is repairability is a means to an end. The goal is to build products that last, and if you focus too much on [making every part repairable], you end up creating some unintended consequences that are worse for the consumer and worse for the planet.”

Also announced this morning is an enhancement to Activation Lock, which is designed to deter thieves from harvesting stolen phones for parts. “If a device under repair detects that a supported part was obtained from another device with Activation Lock or Lost Mode enabled,” the company notes, “calibration capabilities for that part will be restricted.”

Ternus adds that, in addition to harvesting used iPhones for parts, Apple “fundamentally support[s] the right for people to use third-party parts as well.” Part of that, however, is enabling transparency.

“We have hundreds of millions of iPhones in use that are second- or third-hand devices,” he explains. “They’re a great way for people to get into the iPhone experience at a lower price point. We think it’s important for them to have the transparency of: was a repair done on this device? What part was used? That sort of thing.”

When iOS 15.2 arrived in November 2021, it introduced a new feature called “iPhone parts and service history.” If your phone is new and has never been repaired, you simply won’t see it. If one of those two qualifications does apply to your device, however, the company surfaces a list of switched parts and repairs in Settings.

Ternus cites a recent UL Solutions study as evidence that third-party battery modules, in particular, can present a hazard to users.

“We don’t block the use of third-party batteries,” he says. “But we think it’s important to be able to notify the customer that this is or isn’t an authentic Apple battery, and hopefully that will motivate some of these third parties to improve the quality.”

While the fall update will open harvesting up to a good number of components, Apple has no plans to sell refurbished parts for user repairs.

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Humane’s Ai Pin considers life beyond the smartphone | TechCrunch

Nothing lasts forever. Nowhere is the truism more apt than in consumer tech. This is a land inhabited by the eternally restless — always on the make for the next big thing. The smartphone has, by all accounts, had a good run. Seventeen years after the iPhone made its public debut, the devices continue to reign. Over the last several years, however, the cracks have begun to show.

The market plateaued, as sales slowed and ultimately contracted. Last year was punctuated by stories citing the worst demand in a decade, leaving an entire industry asking the same simple question: what’s next? If there was an easy answer, a lot more people would currently be a whole lot richer.

Smartwatches have had a moment, though these devices are largely regarded as accessories, augmenting the smartphone experience. As for AR/VR, the best you can really currently say is that — after a glacial start — the jury is still very much out on products like the Meta Quest and Apple Vision Pro.

When it began to tease its existence through short, mysterious videos in the summer of 2022, Humane promised a glimpse of the future. The company promised an approach every bit as human-centered as its name implied. It was, at the very least, well-funded, to the tune of $100 million+ (now $230 million), and featured an AI element.

The company’s first product, the Humane Ai Pin, arrives this week. It suggests a world where being plugged in doesn’t require having one’s eyes glued to a screen in every waking moment. It’s largely — but not wholly — hands-free. A tap to the front touch panel wakes up the system. Then it listens — and learns.

Beyond the smartphone

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington/TechCrunch

Humane couldn’t ask for better timing. While the startup has been operating largely in stealth for the past seven years, its market debut comes as the trough of smartphone excitement intersects with the crest of generative AI hype. The company’s bona fides contributed greatly to pre-launch excitement. Founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri were previously well-placed at Apple. OpenAI’s Sam Altman, meanwhile, was an early and enthusiastic backer.

Excitement around smart assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home began to ebb in the last few years, but generative AI platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini have flooded that vacuum. The world is enraptured with plugging a few prompts into a text field and watching as the black box spits out a shiny new image, song or video. It’s novel enough to feel like magic, and consumers are eager to see what role it will play in our daily lives.

That’s the Ai Pin’s promise. It’s a portal to ChatGPT and its ilk from the comfort of our lapels, and it does this with a meticulous attention to hardware design befitting its founders’ origins.

Press coverage around the startup has centered on the story of two Apple executives having grown weary of the company’s direction — or lack thereof. Sure, post-Steve Jobs Apple has had successes in the form of the Apple Watch and AirPods, but while Tim Cook is well equipped to create wealth, he’s never been painted as a generational creative genius like his predecessor.

If the world needs the next smartphone, perhaps it also needs the next Apple to deliver it. It’s a concept Humane’s founders are happy to play into. The story of the company’s founding, after all, originates inside the $2.6 trillion behemoth.

Start spreading the news

Image Credits: Alexander Spatari (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In late March, TechCrunch paid a visit to Humane’s New York office. The feeling was tangibly different than our trip to the company’s San Francisco headquarters in the waning months of 2023. The earlier event buzzed with the manic energy of an Apple Store. It was controlled and curated, beginning with a small presentation from Bongiorno and Chaudhri, and culminating in various stations staffed by Humane employees designed to give a crash course on the product’s feature set and origins.

Things in Manhattan were markedly subdued by comparison. The celebratory buzz that accompanies product launches has dissipated into something more formal, with employees focused on dotting I’s and crossing T’s in the final push before product launch. The intervening months provided plenty of confirmation that the Ai Pin wasn’t the only game in town.

January saw the Rabbit R1’s CES launch. The startup opted for a handheld take on generative AI devices. The following month, Samsung welcomed customers to “the era of Mobile AI.”  The “era of generative AI” would have been more appropriate, as the hardware giant leveraged a Google Gemini partnership aimed at relegating its bygone smart assistant Bixby to a distant memory. Intel similarly laid claim to the “AI PC,” while in March Apple confidently labeled the MacBook Air the “world’s best consumer laptop for AI.”

At the same time, Humane’s news standing stumbled through reports of a small layoff round and small delay in preorder fulfillment. Both can be written off as products of immense difficulties around launching a first-generation hardware product — especially under the intense scrutiny few startups see.

For the second meeting with Bongiorno and Chaudhri, we gathered around a conference table. The first goal was an orientation with the device, ahead of review. I’ve increasingly turned down these sorts of meeting requests post-pandemic, but the Ai Pin represents a novel enough paradigm to justify a sit-down orientation with the device. Humane also sent me home with a 30-minute intro video designed to familiarize users — not the sort of thing most folks require when, say, upgrading a phone.

More interesting to me, however, was the prospect of sitting down with the founders for the sort of wide-ranging interview we weren’t able to do during last year’s San Francisco event. Now that most of the mystery is gone, Chaudhri and Bongiorno were more open about discussing the product — and company — in-depth.

Origin story

Humane co-founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri.

One Infinite Loop is the only place one can reasonably open the Humane origin story. The startup’s founders met on Bongiorno’s first day at Apple in 2008, not long after the launch of the iPhone App Store. Chaudhri had been at the company for 13 years at that point, having joined at the depths of the company’s mid-90s struggles. Jobs would return to the company two years later, following its acquisition of NeXT.

Chaudhri’s 22 years with the company saw him working as director of Design on both the hardware and software sides of projects like the Mac and iPhone. Bongiorno worked as project manager for iOS, macOS and what would eventually become iPadOS. The pair married in 2016 and left Apple the same year.

“We began our new life,” says Bongiorno, “which involves thinking a lot about where the industry was going and what we were passionate about.” The pair started consulting work. However, Bongiorno describes a seemingly mundane encounter that would change their trajectory soon after.

Image Credits: Humane

“We had gone to this dinner, and there was a family sitting next to us,” she says. “There were three kids and a mom and dad, and they were on their phones the entire time. It really started a conversation about the incredible tool we built, but also some of the side effects.”

Bongiorno adds that she arrived home one day in 2017 to see Chaudhri pulling apart electronics. He had also typed out a one-page descriptive vision for the company that would formally be founded as Humane later the same year.

According to Bongiorno, Humane’s first hardware device never strayed too far from Chaudhri’s early mockups. “The vision is the same as what we were pitching in the early days,” she says. That’s down to Ai Pin’s most head-turning feature, a built-in projector that allows one to use the surface of their hand as a kind of makeshift display. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that, for all of the talk about the future of computing, screens are still the best method for accomplishing certain tasks.

Much of the next two years were spent exploring potential technologies and building early prototypes. In 2018, the company began discussing the concept with advisors and friends, before beginning work in earnest the following year.

Staring at the sun

In July 2022, Humane tweeted, “It’s time for change, not more of the same.” The message, which reads as much like a tagline as a mission statement, was accompanied by a minute-long video. It opens in dramatic fashion on a rendering of an eclipse. A choir sings in a bombastic — almost operatic — fashion, as the camera pans down to a crowd. As the moon obscures the sunlight, their faces are illuminated by their phone screens. The message is not subtle.

The crowd opens to reveal a young woman in a tank top. Her head lifts up. She is now staring directly into the eclipse (not advised). There are lyrics now, “If I had everything, I could change anything,” as she pushes forward to the source of the light. She holds her hand to the sky. A green light illuminates her palm in the shape of the eclipse. This last bit is, we’ll soon discover, a reference to the Ai Pin’s projector. The marketing team behind the video is keenly aware that, while it’s something of a secondary feature, it’s the most likely to grab public attention.

As a symbol, the eclipse has become deeply ingrained in the company’s identity. The green eclipse on the woman’s hand is also Humane’s logo. It’s built into the Ai Pin’s design language, as well. A metal version serves as the connection point between the pin and its battery packs.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The company is so invested in the motif that it held an event on October 14, 2023, to coincide with a solar eclipse. The device comes in three colors: Eclipse, Equinox and Lunar, and it’s almost certainly no coincidence that this current big news push is happening a mere days after another North American solar eclipse.

However, it was on the runway of a Paris fashion show in September that the Ai Pin truly broke cover. The world got its first good look at the product as it was magnetically secured to the lapels of models’ suit jackets. It was a statement, to be sure. Though its founders had left Apple a half-dozen years prior, they were still very much invested in industrial design, creating a product designed to be a fashion accessory (your mileage will vary).

The design had evolved somewhat since conception. For one thing, the top of the device, which houses the sensors and projector, is now angled downward, so the Pin’s vantage point is roughly the same as its wearer. An earlier version with a flatter service would unintentionally angle the pin upward when worn on certain chest types. Nailing down a more universal design required a lot of trial and error with a lot of different people in different shapes and sizes.

“There’s an aspect of this particular hardware design that has to be compassionate to who’s using it,” says Chaudhri. “It’s very different when you have a handheld aspect. It feels more like an instrument or a tool […] But when you start to have a more embodied experience, the design of the device has to be really understanding of who’s wearing it. That’s where the compassion comes from.”

Year of the Rabbit?

Image Credits: rabbit

Then came competition. When it was unveiled at CES on January 9, the Rabbit R1 stole the show.

“The phone is an entertainment device, but if you’re trying to get something done it’s not the highest efficiency machine,” CEO and founder Jesse Lyu noted at the time. “To arrange dinner with a colleague we needed four-five different apps to work together. Large language models are a universal solution for natural language, we want a universal solution for these services — they should just be able to understand you.”

While the R1’s product design is novel in its own right, it’s arguably a more traditional piece of consumer electronics than Ai Pin. It’s handheld and has buttons and a screen. At its heart, however, the functionality is similar. Both are designed to supplement smartphone usage and are built around a core of LLM-trained AI.

The device’s price point also contributed to its initial buzz. At $200, it’s a fraction of the Ai Pin’s $699 starting price. The more familiar form factor also likely comes with a smaller learning curve than Humane’s product.

Asked about the device, Bongiorno makes the case that another competitor only validates the space. “I think it’s exciting that we kind of sparked this new interest in hardware,” she says. “I think it’s awesome. Fellow builders. More of that, please.”

She adds, however, that the excitement wasn’t necessarily there at Humane from the outset. “We talked about it internally at the company. Of course people were nervous. They were like, ‘what does this mean?’ Imran and I got in front of the company and said, ‘guys, if there weren’t people who followed us, that means we’re not doing the right thing. Then something’s wrong.”

Bongiorno further suggests that Rabbit is focused on a different use case, as its product requires focus similar to that of a smartphone — though both Bongiorno and Chaudhri have yet to use the R1.

A day after Rabbit unveiled the product, Humane confirmed that it had laid off 10 employees — amounting to 4% of its workforce. It’s a small fraction of a company with a small headcount, but the timing wasn’t great, a few months ahead of the product’s official launch. The news also found its long-time CTO, Patrick Gates, exiting the C-suite role for an advisory job.

“The honest truth is we’re a company that is constantly going through evolution,” Bongiorno says of the layoffs. “If you think about where we were five years ago, we were in R&D. Now we are a company that’s about to ship to customers, that’s about to have to operate in a different way. Like every growing and evolving company, changes are going to happen. It’s actually really healthy and important to go through that process.”

The following month, the company announced that its pins would now be shipping in mid-April. It was a slight delay from the original March ship date, though Chaudhri offers something of a Bill Clinton-style “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” answer. The company, he suggests, defines “shipping” as leaving the factory, rather than the more industry-standard definition of shipping to customers.

“We said we were shipping in March and we are shipping in March,” he says. The devices leave the factory. The rest is on the U.S. government and how long they take when they hold things in place — tariffs and regulations and other stuff.”

Money moves

Image Credits: Brian Heater

No one invests $230 million in a startup out of the goodness of their heart. Sooner or later, backers will be looking for a return. Integral to Humane’s path to positive cashflow is a subscription service that’s required to use the thing. The $699 price tag comes with 90 days free, then after that, you’re on the hook for $24 a month.

That fee brings talk, text and data from T-Mobile, cloud storage and — most critically — access to the Ai Bus, which is foundational to the device’s operation. Humane describes it thusly, “An entirely new AI software framework, the Ai Bus, brings Ai Pin to life and removes the need to download, manage, or launch apps. Instead, it quickly understands what you need, connecting you to the right AI experience or service instantly.”

Investors, of course, love to hear about subscriptions. Hell, even Apple relies on service revenue for growth as hardware sales have slowed.

Bongiorno alludes to internal projections for revenue, but won’t go into specifics for the timeline. She adds that the company has also discussed an eventual path to IPO even at this early stage in the process.

“If we weren’t, that would not be responsible for any company,” she says. “These are things that we care deeply about. Our vision for Humane from the beginning was that we wanted to build a company where we could build a lot of things. This is our first product, and we have a large roadmap that Imran is really passionate about of where we want to go.”

Chaudhri adds that the company “graduated beyond sketches” for those early products. “We’ve got some early photos of things that we’re thinking about, some concept pieces and some stuff that’s a lot more refined than those sketches when it was a one-man team. We are pretty passionate about the AI space and what it actually means to productize AI.”

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Apple alerts users in 92 nations to mercenary spyware attacks | TechCrunch

Apple sent threat notifications to iPhone users in 92 countries on Wednesday, warning them that they may have been targeted by mercenary spyware attacks.

The company said it sent the alerts to individuals in 92 nations at 12 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday. The notification, which TechCrunch has seen, did not disclose the attackers’ identities or the countries where users received notifications.

“Apple detected that you are being targeted by a mercenary spyware attack that is trying to remotely compromise the iPhone associated with your Apple ID -xxx-,” it wrote in the warning to affected customers.

“This attack is likely targeting you specifically because of who you are or what you do. Although it’s never possible to achieve absolute certainty when detecting such attacks, Apple has high confidence in this warning — please take it seriously,” Apple added in the text.

The iPhone maker sends these kind of notifications multiple times a year and has notified users to such threats in over 150 countries since 2021, per an updated Apple support page.

Apple also sent an identical warning to a number of journalists and politicians in India in October last year. Later, nonprofit advocacy group Amnesty International reported that it had found Israeli spyware maker NSO Group’s invasive spyware Pegasus on the iPhones of prominent journalists in India. (Users in India are among those who have received Apple’s latest threat notifications, according to people familiar with the matter.)

The spyware alerts arrive at a time when many nations are preparing for elections. In recent months, many tech firms have cautioned about rising state-sponsored efforts to sway certain electoral outcomes. Apple’s alerts, however, did not remark on their timing.

“We are unable to provide more information about what caused us to send you this notification, as that may help mercenary spyware attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future,” Apple told affected customers.

Apple previously described the attackers as “state-sponsored” but has replaced all such references with “mercenary spyware attacks.”

The warning to customers adds: “Mercenary spyware attacks, such as those using Pegasus from the NSO Group, are exceptionally rare and vastly more sophisticated than regular cybercriminal activity or consumer malware.”

Apple said it relies solely on “internal threat-intelligence information and investigations to detect such attacks.”

“Although our investigations can never achieve absolute certainty, Apple threat notifications are high-confidence alerts that a user has been individually targeted by a mercenary spyware attack and should be taken very seriously,” it added.

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Apple pulls WhatsApp, Threads from China App Store following state order | TechCrunch

Apple has removed the Meta-owned end-to-end encrypted messaging app WhatsApp from its App Store in China following a government order citing national security concerns, the news agency Reuters reported Friday.

Meta’s newer, Twitter-esque text-based social networking app, Threads, has also been pulled from the App Store for the same reason, it said.

“The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” Apple said in a statement sent to the news agency.

Meta confirmed to TechCrunch that its two apps are no longer available on Apple’s App Store in China but declined to provide any more details about the takedowns. “We refer you to Apple for comment,” a Meta spokesperson told us.

We also contacted Apple with questions about the removals but at press time the iPhone maker had not responded.

According to Reuters, two other messaging apps have also been removed from Apple’s App Store in China — namely Signal and Telegram. It cites data from app tracking firms Qimai and AppMagic for this element of its report.

Apple has not confirmed these two additional removals. But the AppleCensorship site, which tracks App Store removals, records both Signal and Telegram as “disappeared” from Apple’s mainland China App Store.

We reached out to Telegram regarding the status of its iOS App but at press time it had not responded.

Asked about Reuters’ report, Signal’s president Meredith Whittaker told TechCrunch that Signal was already blocked in China by the country’s Great Firewall.

“While Signal may have been available to download in the past, Signal registrations and messages are apparently blocked,” she said, suggesting it makes little difference if its app no longer appears on the App Store since users accessing the app from China would be unable to register or send messages.

Signal does not always seem to have been blocked in this way, though. Back in 2021, TechCrunch’s Rita Liao reported that Signal worked perfectly in China, including without using a VPN. But, presumably, state censors have clamped down further on the end-to-end encrypted messaging app since then.

Earlier removals

It’s not the first time Apple has removed apps at the direction of China’s internet regulator. Last summer multiple generative AI apps were taken off Apple’s China App Store shortly before Chinese regulations targeted at generative AI were due to take effect.

Last year another Twitter alternative, Jack Dorsey-backed Damus, was also pulled from Apple’s China App Store shortly after it had been approved.

A few years ago the audio social networking app Clubhouse was also pulled from Apple’s store in China shortly after its global release. In recent years Apple has also removed popular censorship circumvention tools (and previously VPN apps); RSS apps; podcast apps; and even a Quran app, to name a few other examples.

Why WhatsApp and Threads have been targeted for removal from Apple’s Chinese App Store now isn’t clear.

One is an end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) messaging app, the other is a microblogging-style social media app. (Telegram has both private messaging and one-to-many broadcast style features, with (non-default) proprietary E2EE only available for so-called “secret chats”; Signal offers industry gold-standard E2EE across all aspects of its app.)

Threads launched in early July last year. The app itself has been blocked by China’s Great Firewall, meaning users in China wanting to download it have to use a VPN to circumvent the censorship. Quite a number evidently managed to do so, as Threads quickly landed in the top 5 on Apple’s China App Store last summer.

A popular app would be more likely to catch more attention from China’s state censors, potentially encouraging them to take additional action to clamp down on usage — such as ordering Apple to remove the software from its store.

At the same time, other popular, Meta-owned apps, Facebook and Instagram, are still available on Apple’s China App Store, per AppleCensorship. But as TC’s Liao pointed out, in a 2021 post about rising usage of Signal and Telegram, “China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent.”

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Apple News is testing a game that kind of looks like NYT Connections | TechCrunch

Apple News is testing a new game for iOS 17.5 called Quartiles, which requires players to organize a grid of 20 syllables into 5 four-syllable words. Spotted by Gadget Hacks, the interface for Quartiles looks a lot like the New York Times’ newest hit, Connections. Did Apple News sherlock the New York Times?

Okay, Quartiles isn’t exactly like Connections, where you organize 16 words into four cohesive categories of four. It’s maybe closer to something like Boggle, since you’re being tested on your ability to put words together from their components. But there is something about finding groups of four that we seem to find really alluring these days — Connections is now the Times’ second most popular game, after Wordle.

Last year, Apple added crossword puzzles and mini crossword puzzles for Apple News+ subscribers. While it may appear odd for a news aggregator to continue investing in games, that’s exactly what has been working for the New York Times. When the paper bought the game Wordle in 2022 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, the purchase brought in “tens of millions” of new users in just one quarter. Over the last few months, the Times’ data shows that users have spent more time playing its games than reading the news.

Apple is just beta testing Quartiles, which doesn’t mean it’s definitely going to appear in iOS 17.5. But given that the New York Times is low-key running a gaming studio now, it’s not a bad idea for Apple to churn out some new, preferably square-shaped games.

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How to play Pokémon and other Game Boy games on your iPhone | TechCrunch

Apple finally updated its App Store guidelines to allow global developers to host retro game emulators on iOS. Now, you don’t need to jailbreak your iPhone or download any sketchy software — you can get a sophisticated emulator right in the palm of your hand for free on the App Store.

No one is more vindicated by this shift in Apple’s policy than Riley Testut, the developer who made GBA4iOS about decade ago when he was in high school (when he released GBA4iOS, I showed half of my AP Statistics class how to play Pokémon on their phones during class — sorry, Mr. Cinelli). But back then, you had to sideload the app through a loophole, and eventually, Apple caught on and ruined our fun. By fall 2014, GBA4iOS was dead. RIP.

So why the change of heart now, almost ten years later? It’s probably a mixture of pressure from changing laws in the European Union, as well as increasing pressure for Apple to at least try to stop acting like a monopoly. Now, at long last, Testut has released a Game Boy emulator directly into the iOS App Store, where it’s already climbed to #1 on the entertainment charts. Delta, the emulator, even supports DS, N64, SNES and NES games, in addition to Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games.

If you want to finally play Pokémon on your iPhone, here’s what you need to do.

  • Download Delta. No jailbreaking! No sideloading! It’s finally just a normal app!
  • Now, how do you get games? This is where it gets tricky. If you’re a Paladin-esque rule follower, you can use a tool like Epilogue’s GB Operator, which can rip .ROM files directly from the Game Boy games that you already own.
  • But maybe you don’t have the Pokémon Emerald cartridge that your parents bought for you when you were nine years old. While downloading an emulator like Delta is not illegal, downloading .ROM files can be considered piracy, which is not a practice that we condone.
  • On a completely unrelated note: you know how sometimes when you have a question, you search for related communities on Reddit that might help you answer that question?
  • So, now that you have legally obtained your .ROM file, how do you get it onto your phone? You can put it on Google Drive and add it to your iPhone’s files folder, you can email it to yourself and download it… Basically you just want to do whatever is easiest for you to get that coveted .GBA file at your fingertips.
  • Note that only certain file types are supported by GBA4iOS. If you got your game in a .ZIP or .7Z file, you need to actually unzip it first. I used the iZip app — also free in the App Store — but this sort of thing is generally more straight-forward if you just download it on your computer.
  • Now, when you open up Delta, you’ll see a plus sign in the upper right corner. From there, you can import your games from iTunes or your files folder.
  • Time to party!

Maybe you just want to play a classic game from your youth. But don’t sleep on ROM hacking communities, which have been modding retro games for decades. These developers can create professional-quality patches for your .ROM files that transport you into completely new games (but you probably want to do the patching on an actual computer). If you’re bored of Pokémon Ruby, why not try Pokémon Emerald Rogue? Now that Delta is in the App Store, the world is your Cloyster.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

A crypto wallet maker's warning about an iMessage bug sounds like a false alarm | TechCrunch

A crypto wallet maker claimed this week that hackers may be targeting people with an iMessage “zero-day” exploit — but all signs point to an exaggerated threat, if not a downright scam.

Trust Wallet’s official X (previously Twitter) account wrote that “we have credible intel regarding a high-risk zero-day exploit targeting iMessage on the Dark Web. This can infiltrate your iPhone without clicking any link. High-value targets are likely. Each use raises detection risk.”

The wallet maker recommended iPhone users to turn off iMessage completely “until Apple patches this,” even though no evidence shows that “this” exists at all.

The tweet went viral, and has been viewed over 3.6 million times as of our publication. Because of the attention the post received, Trust Wallet hours later wrote a follow-up post. The wallet maker doubled down on its decision to go public, saying that it “actively communicates any potential threats and risks to the community.”

Trust Wallet, which is owned by crypto exchange Binance, did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment. Apple spokesperson Scott Radcliffe declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

As it turns out, according to Trust Wallet’s CEO Eowyn Chen, the “intel” is an advertisement on a dark web site called CodeBreach Lab, where someone is offering said alleged exploit for $2 million in bitcoin cryptocurrency. The advert titled “iMessage Exploit” claims the vulnerability is a remote code execution (or RCE) exploit that requires no interaction from the target — commonly known as “zero-click” exploit — and works on the latest version of iOS. Some bugs are called zero-days because the vendor has no time, or zero days, to fix the vulnerability. In this case, there is no evidence of an exploit to begin with.

A screenshot of the dark web ad claiming to sell an alleged iMessage exploit. Image Credits: TechCrunch

RCEs are some of the most powerful exploits because they allow hackers to remotely take control of their target devices over the internet. An exploit like an RCE coupled with a zero-click capability is incredibly valuable because those attacks can be conducted invisibly without the device owner knowing. In fact, a company that acquires and resells zero-days is currently offering between $3 to $5 million for that kind of zero-click zero-day, which is also a sign of how hard it is to find and develop these types of exploits.

Contact Us

Do you have any information about actual zero-days? Or about spyware providers? From a non-work device, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, or via Telegram, Keybase and Wire @lorenzofb, or email. You also can contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

Given the circumstances of how and where this zero-day is being sold, it’s very likely that it is all just a scam, and that Trust Wallet fell for it, spreading what people in the cybersecurity industry would call FUD, or “fear uncertainty and doubt.”

Zero-days do exist, and have been used by government hacking units for years. But in reality, you probably don’t need to turn off iMessage unless you are a high-risk user, such as a journalist or dissident under an oppressive government, for example.

It’s better advice to suggest people turn on Lockdown Mode, a special mode that disables certain Apple device features and functionalities with the goal of reducing the avenues hackers can use to attack iPhones and Macs.

According to Apple, there is no evidence anyone has successfully hacked someone’s Apple device while using Lockdown Mode. Several cybersecurity experts like Runa Sandvik and the researchers who work at Citizen Lab, who have investigated dozens of cases of iPhone hacks, recommend using Lockdown Mode.

For its part, CodeBreach Lab appears to be a new website with no track record. When we checked, a search on Google returned only seven results, one of which is a post on a well-known hacking forum asking if anyone had previously heard of CodeBreach Lab.

On its homepage — with typos — CodeBreach Lab claims to offer several types of exploits other than for iMessage, but provides no further evidence.

The owners describe CodeBreach Lab as “the nexus of cyber disruption.” But it would probably be more fitting to call it the nexus of braggadocio and naivety.

TechCrunch could not reach CodeBreach Lab for comment because there is no way to contact the alleged company. When we attempted to buy the alleged exploit — because why not — the website asked for the buyer’s name, email address, and then to send $2 million in bitcoin to a specific wallet address on the public blockchain. When we checked, nobody has so far.

In other words, if someone wants this alleged zero-day, they have to send $2 million to a wallet that, at this point, there is no way to know who it belongs to, nor — again — any way to contact.

And there is a very good chance that it will remain that way.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Apple opens web distribution option for iOS devs targeting EU | TechCrunch

Apple is opening up web distribution for iOS apps targeting users in the European Union starting Tuesday. Developers who opt in — and who meet Apple’s criteria, including app notarization requirements — will be able to offer iPhone apps for direct download to EU users from their own websites.

It’s a massive change for a mobile ecosystem that otherwise bars so-called “sideloading.” Apple’s walled garden stance has enabled it to funnel essentially all iOS developer revenue through its own App Store in the past. But, in the EU, that moat is being dismantled as a result of new regulations that apply to the App Store and which the iPhone maker has been expected to comply with since early last month.

In March, Apple announced that a web distribution entitlement would soon be coming to its mobile platform as part of changes aimed at complying with the bloc’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). The pan-EU regulation puts a set of obligations on in-scope tech giants that lawmakers hope will level the competitive playing field for platforms’ business users, as well as protecting consumers from Big Tech throwing its weight around.

Briefing journalists on the latest development to its EU app ecosystem Tuesday, ahead of the official announcement, an Apple representative said developers wanting to distribute iOS apps directly will be able to tap into the entitlement through beta 2 of iOS 17.5.

In order to do so developers will have to opt into Apple’s new EU business terms, which include a new “core technology fee” charged at €0.50 for each first annual install over 1 million in the past 12 months regardless of where apps are distributed. App makers wishing to avoid the fee currently have no choice but to remain on Apple’s old business terms, meaning they are unable to access any of the DMA entitlements.

In earlier DMA changes, App has opened up to allow marketplace apps in the EU where developers can run their own app stores on iOS, including marketplaces composed of only their own apps.

Additional DMA-driven reforms include more flexibility from Apple around in-app payments, as well as a ban on its usual anti-steering measures. This means that iOS developers opting into the new T&Cs can inform their users of cheaper offers available outside Apple’s own App Store.

Returning to the new option of web distribution for iOS apps, Apple’s criteria for developers wanting to distribute their software directly include that they be in good standing with its developer program; attest to handle things like IP disputes and government takedown requests; and commit to providing iOS users with customer service, as Apple will not offer that kind of support for iOS apps downloaded outside its App Store.

It also emphasizes that all apps distributed from the web must meet its notarizations requirements, which it says are intended to protect platform integrity.

An Apple rep described this as a baseline safety and security standard, which they said iOS users expect to help ensure their device is protected from external risks.

The company continues to argue that sideloading apps carries inherent security risks for mobile users, suggesting it’s trying to find a way to comply with the DMA while taking steps to limit risks the changes create for its users.

The first time an iOS user attempts to download an app from a developer’s website they will be required to authorize the developer to install apps directly on their device. Apple’s current design of the authorization flow involves multiple steps and requires users to verify that they wish to provide permission for developer via the iOS settings menu and by clicking “allow” on subsequent permission pop-ups (the other option, i.e. to deny permission, reads “ignore”).

After they have gone through this multi-step flow and approved a developer, any future direct downloads involve fewer steps, per Apple.

The design of the follow-on flow that Apple showed during the briefing includes a screen notifying users that “updates and purchases in this app will be managed by the developer,” combined with a suggestion they “verify the information below before installing,” which is displayed above a card showing some basic app info and screenshots, as well as a link to see “more” info.

Apple argues these steps and the information iOS surfaces to users during the authorization process for direct web downloads are reasonable security measures; the DMA permits gatekeepers to apply these steps in order to protect platform integrity.

However critics of Apple’s DMA approach have decried these sort of pop-ups as “scare screens,” arguing the flow it designs is intended to inject friction and dissuade iOS users from stepping outside Apple’s garden — such as by implying direct downloads are riskier than downloads through Apple’s own App Store.

Apple’s approach to a number of other elements of DMA compliance are under investigation by the European Commission, so at least some of these criticisms have spurred EU enforcers to take a closer look at its take on what the law demands.

Last month the Commission announced that it’s looking into Apple’s rules on steering in the App Store and the design of choice screens for alternatives to its Safari web browser, which is another regulated core platform service under the DMA. The EU also announced some “investigatory steps” in relation to Apple’s new iOS fee structure, but, for now, the new core tech fee stands.

Given Apple has only just started implementing web distribution for iOS apps, it remains to be seen whether the EU will step in for a closer look at this aspect of its DMA compliance, too.

It’s also unclear how much demand there will be among iOS developers for direct web distribution. Asked about this, Apple said it’s heard from some app makers they want to have the option but it also pointed out it’s a new capability, which is just starting to be made available, saying it’s unsure how many developers will actually want to take advantage of the option. The option sits alongside the existing (established) and still available option of App Store distribution.

In the EU, developers also now have a third route for reaching users: They can submit a marketplace app to Apple requesting to distribute their software through their own alternative store hosted on its platform.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

TechCrunch Mobility: Apple layoffs, an EV price reckoning and another Tesla robotaxi promise | TechCrunch

Welcome back tTechCrunch Mobility — your central hub for news and insights on the future of transportation. Sign up here — just click TechCrunch Mobility — to receive the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. Subscribe for free.

Automakers reported auto sales for Q1 and, welp, turns out that pricing sure does matter if you want to sell EVs. Who would have thought? A recent survey by Edmunds comes to a similar conclusion (at least for American buyers), finding a big gap between what consumers want and what is actually available on the market.

Here’s the crux. According to the Edmunds survey, 47% say they are seeking an EV purchase below $40,000, and 22% are interested in EVs priced below the $30,000 threshold. Today, there are no new EVs priced below $30,000 and only four below the $40,000 mark. The average price of an EV in 2023 was $61,702, while all other vehicles stood at $47,450.

This mismatch of realities is squeezing automakers as they try to move inventory by slashing prices. This downward pressure has forced automakers like Ford to delay future EV launches and put more resources toward hybrids. Even Tesla, a bellwether in the EV world, fell well below analysts’ expectations with deliveries down 20% from Q4 2023. Meanwhile, EV upstart Rivian posted tepid results.

What’s the answer? Well, over at Tesla, it seems the solution is twofold: slash prices again and try to capture revenue through sales of its Full Self-Driving software that costs $12,000 and is currently being offered in a free one-month trial to all customers.

OK, folks, let’s jump into the rest of the news!

A little bird

Founders, investors, engineers, policy wonks and others tell us things. And we’re here to pass along the verifiable information that those little birds have shared with us.

This week, a little bird tipped us on the closure of Ghost Autonomy, which had raised upward of $220 million and recently partnered with OpenAI. A couple of calls, emails and a fresh posting on the company’s website confirmed the tip. About 100 people were affected.

As I noted in my article, Ghost has pivoted a few times since it was founded in 2017. When I asked founder and CEO John Hayes what happened, he said the company had completed a highway driving product and was moving in urban environments through what he described as “last-mile delivery.”

“Ultimately, the years required to bring the product to market could not be financed,” he wrote to me in an email.

Got a tip for us? Email Kirsten Korosec at [email protected] or Sean O’Kane [email protected]. If you prefer to remain anonymousclick here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.

Deal of the week

Startup founders, listen up — a new fund just closed. Get your slide decks ready.

Maniv, the Israel and now NYC-based VC firm, raised a $140 million fund with plans to stick to its early-stage investment strategy of backing startups at the intersection between mobility, transportation and energy.

As I noted in my longer feature, the firm’s approach has evolved a bit by expanding geographically and diversifying its investor base. The firm has also largely stopped using the once trendy umbrella term “mobility” (often leaving it out of its original name Maniv Mobility) and has opted instead to talk about deep tech, decarbonization and digitization of the transportation sector.

Investors in the fund are no longer dominated by automakers and Tier 1 suppliers. Instead, Maniv has opened up to a broader swath of strategic and institutional financial investors, including BNP Paribas Personal Finance and the venture arms of Shell and Enterprise Mobility.

The Maniv III fund also includes return investors Valeo and Jaguar Land Rover venture arm InMotion Ventures. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Woven Capital, vehicle leasing company Arval, transportation infrastructure giant Ferrovial, the industrial manufacturing firm ITT Inc., fleet payments business WEX and an unnamed European insurance company also participated in the fund.

Other deals that got my attention …

Alsym Energy, a Massachusetts-based startup developing nonflammable battery chemistry, raised $78 million in a Series C round led by General Catalyst and Tata, the Indian conglomerate, with participation from Drads Capital, Thomvest and Thrive Capital.

BlaBlaCar, the French carpooling and bus ticketing company, secured a €100 million revolving credit facility ($108 million at today’s exchange rate).

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Waymo and Uber expanded on an ongoing partnership that will affect Uber Eats’ customers in the metro Phoenix area. Now when folks order a burrito or a pizza or some other treat through Uber Eats, they may have their meals delivered by a Waymo vehicle. The tie-up will begin with select merchants in Chandler, Tempe and Mesa, including restaurants like Princess Pita, Filiberto’s and BoSa Donuts.

Electric vehicles, charging & batteries

Apple is laying off 614 employees in California after abandoning its electric car project. According to the WARN notice posted by the California EDD, most of the affected employees were working at buildings related to its canceled car project, while others were working at a facility for its next-generation screen development, Bloomberg reported.

Canoo finally reported its Q4 and full-year earnings. Tucked inside the regulatory filing is a nugget regarding the use of CEO Tony Aquila’s private jet — just one of many expenses that illustrates the gap between spending and revenue at the EV startup. Tl;dr: Canoo spent double its annual revenue on the CEO’s private jet in 2023.

Faraday Future narrowly avoided an eviction from its Los Angeles headquarters. The company reached an agreement with the owner of the building, Rexford Industrial, to stay at the facility as long as it meets a few conditions. If Faraday violates any of the terms, Rexford has the right to trigger a 48-hour demand for payment and can boot the startup if it doesn’t pay up. If Faraday Future makes its payments, it can stay in the building until September 2025 when the lease expires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a third investigation into Fisker’s Ocean SUV, this time centered on problems getting the doors to open.

Tesla is reportedly abandoning its plan to build a lower-cost EV thought to cost around $25,000, according to Reuters, despite that vehicle’s status as a pivotal product for the company’s overall growth. Apparently, Tesla will instead focus on a planned robotaxi that is being built on the same small EV platform that was also supposed to power the lower-cost vehicle. This is where it gets a bit silly. Just hours after Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Reuters was lying, he posted on X that the Tesla robotaxi would be revealed August 8. Go figure.

This week’s wheels

This week’s wheels is taking a one-week hiatus while I enjoy a bit of vacation time. But don’t worry, it’s back next week and I have a few vehicles lined up, including the Mercedes-Benz EQE 350 4Matic sedan, a Lexus LC500 hybrid and a Mercedes eSprinter. Plus, some e-bikes will soon be in the mix.

What vehicles — including the two-wheeled variety — are you interested in reading about? I’ll put them on my list.

Software Development in Sri Lanka

Robotic Automations

Apple changes App Store rules to allow retro game emulators globally | TechCrunch

Apple updated its App Store rules Friday to allow emulators for retro console games globally with an option for downloading titles. However, the company warned that the developers are responsible for making sure that they follow copyright rules.

Android users can already access a ton of emulators to play old classics on their devices. Apple’s update will probably encourage some of those developers to bring their emulators to the App Store.

The company stated that these emulator apps must use an in-app purchase mechanism to offer digital items. With Apple having to tweak App Store rules because of regulations, these kinds of games would provide another revenue stream for the company.

In January, when Apple released the first set of rules in compliance with the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) rules, the company also announced that it would allow streaming game stores globally. Plus, it updated App Store rules at that time to support in-app purchases for mini-games and AI chatbots.

Apple also updated the clause on Friday for offering plug-ins to cover HTLM5-based mini-apps — possibly to include services offered by super apps like WeChat.

Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini-games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games,” the clause said. 

Last month, when the U.S. Department of Justice sued Apple, suppression of super apps was one of the five points in the lawsuit about the company’s monopolistic practices.

Another major upgrade to the rules will allow music streaming services — like Spotify — to display information about subscriptions and other digital buys along with including links to drive users to their website to complete the purchase.

Last month, Spotify submitted an update in the App Store to show pricing information to EU-based users.

The music streaming platform said that Apple still hasn’t approved its submission. Spotify said that it is still reviewing Apple’s updated rules.

“Following the law is not optional, but Apple continues to defy that decision. Effective April 6th, the Commission can start noncompliance proceedings and impose daily fines. It’s time for decisive action to once and for all give consumers real choice,” Spotify spokesperson Jeanne Moran told TechCrunch in a statement.

The story has been updated with Spotify’s statement. 

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