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Raspberry Pi Foundation launches $4 microcontroller with custom chip

Meet the Raspberry Pi Pico, a tiny little microcontroller that lets you build hardware projects with some code running on the microcontroller. Even more interesting, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is using its own RP2040 chip, which means that the foundation is now making its own silicon.

If you’re not familiar with microcontrollers, those devices let you control other parts or other devices. You might think that you can already do this kind of stuff with a regular Raspberry Pi. But microcontrollers are specifically designed to interact with other things.

They’re cheap, they’re small and they draw very little power. You can start developing your project with a breadboard to avoid soldering. You can pair it with a small battery and it can run for weeks or even months. Unlike computers, microcontrollers don’t run traditional operating systems. Your code runs directly on the chip.

Like other microcontrollers, the Raspberry Pi Pico has dozens of input and output pins on the sides of the device. Those pins are important as they act as the interface with other components. For instance, you can make your microcontroller interact with an LED light, get data from various sensors, show some information on a display, etc.

The Raspberry Pi Pico uses the RP2040 chip. It has a dual-core Arm processor (running at 133MHz), 264KB of RAM, 26 GPIO pins including 3 analog inputs, a micro-USB port and a temperature sensor. It doesn’t come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. And it costs $4.

If you want to run something on the Raspberry Pi Pico, it’s quite easy. You plug your device to your computer using the micro-USB port. You boot up the Raspberry Pi Pico while pressing the button. The device will appear on your computer as an external drive.

In addition to C, you can use MicroPython as your development language. It’s a Python-inspired language for microcontrollers. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has written a ton of documentation and a datasheet for the Pico.

Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Foundation wants to let others benefit from its own chip design. It has reached out to Adafruit, Arduino, Pimoroni and Sparkfun so that they can build their own boards using the RP2040 chip. There will be an entire ecosystem of RP2040-powered devices.

This is an interesting move for the Raspberry Pi Foundation as it can go down this path and iterate on its own chip design with more powerful variants. It provides two main advantages — the ability to control exactly what to put on board, and price.

Image Credits: Raspberry Pi Foundation


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This tiny drone uses an actual moth antenna to sniff out target chemicals

Sometimes it’s just not worth it to try to top Mother Nature. Such seems to have been the judgment by engineers at the University of Washington, who, deploring the absence of chemical sensors as fine as a moth’s antennas, opted to repurpose moth biology rather than invent new human technology. Behold the “Smellicopter.”

Mounted on a tiny drone platform with collision avoidance and other logic built in, the device is a prototype of what could be a very promising fusion of artificial and natural ingenuity.

“Nature really blows our human-made odor sensors out of the water,” admits UW grad student Melanie Anderson, lead author of the paper describing the Smellicopter, in a university news release. And in many industrial applications, sensitivity is of paramount importance.

If, for instance, you had one sensor that could detect toxic particles at a fraction of the concentration of that detectable by another, it would be a no-brainer to use the more sensitive of the two.

On the other hand, it’s no cake walk training moths to fly toward toxic plumes of gas and report back their findings. So the team (carefully) removed a common hawk moth’s antenna and mounted it on board. By passing a light current through it the platform can monitor the antenna’s general status, which changes when it is exposed to certain chemicals — such as those a moth might want to follow, a flower’s scent perhaps.

See it in action below:

In tests, the cybernetic moth-machine construct performed better than a traditional sensor of comparable size and power. The cells of the antenna, excited by the particles wafting over them, created a fast, reliable, and accurate signal for those chemicals they are built to detect. “Reprogramming” those sensitivities would be non-trivial, but far from impossible.

The little drone itself has a clever bit of engineering to keep the antenna pointed upwind. While perhaps pressure sensors and gyros might have worked to keep the craft pointing in the right direction, the team used the simple approach of a pair of large, light fins mounted on the back that have the effect of automatically turning the drone upwind, like a weather vane. If something smells good that way, off it goes.

It’s very much a prototype, but this sort of simplicity and sensitivity are no doubt attractive enough to potential customers like heavy industry and the military that the team will have offers coming in soon. You can read the paper describing the design of the Smellicopter in the journal IOP Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.


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Review: Sony’s PlayStation 5 is here, but next-generation gaming is still on its way

The new generation of consoles is both a hard and an easy sell. With a big bump to specs and broad backwards compatibility, both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are certainly the consoles anyone should buy going forward. But with nearly no launch content or must-have features, they also fail to make a compelling case for themselves beyond “the same, but better.” What we’re left with is something more like a new iPhone: You’ll have to upgrade eventually, and it’ll be fine. Just don’t believe the hype for the new consoles… yet.

Disclosure: TechCrunch was provided consoles from both Microsoft and Sony ahead of release, as well as a handful of titles from first and third-party publishers.

In accordance with an elaborate (and ongoing!) series of embargoes for different features and games, impressions have been trickling out about the new platforms for a month now. For a launch that’s already lacking impact, this may have further blunted excitement: Few gamers will get excited when all anyone can write about is the exterior of the console itself, or the first level of the pack-in game. Some features wouldn’t even be available before launch, or are prohibited from coverage until long afterwards, leaving reviewers wondering whether day-one changes would make obsolete any impressions they had. (I’ll update this review when new information comes to light, or link to future coverage.)

But whatever the case, the shackles are finally removed and now we can talk about most (but not all) the new consoles have to offer. Unfortunately it’s… not that much. Despite the companies’ attempts to hype the next generation as a huge leap, there’s simply no evidence of that at launch and probably won’t be for many months.

That doesn’t mean the new platforms are a flop — or even that they aren’t great. But the new generation is a lot like the old one, and compatibility with it is actually the biggest thing the PS5 and Series X have going for them for the opening stretch. Here’s what I can tell you honestly about my time with the PS5.

The hardware: Conversation piece

A PS5 console with a PS4 on top

As you can see, the PS5 is CONSIDERABLY larger than the PS4 Slim. Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The PS5 is a strange-looking beast, but I’ll give it this: No one is going to mistake it for any other gaming console. Though they may think it’s an air purifier.

The large, curvy device likely won’t fit with anyone’s decor, so it may be best to just bite the bullet and display it prominently (fortunately it sits comfortably vertically or on a stand horizontally). I look forward to getting custom shields for the side to make this thing a little less prominent.

The console is fairly quiet while playing games, but you’ll probably want it at least a few feet away from you, especially if you’re going to play with a disc, which is much louder than normal operation.

As for performance, it’s really impossible to say. The only “next-gen” (really cross-gen) game I got to play much of was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and while it looked great (more impressions below), it’s incredibly hard to make any substantive comment on the machine’s computing and rendering chops.

Close up of the Sony logo on the PS5 and tiny characters making a pattern.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The prospect of gaming in 4K and HDR, and of advanced techniques like ray tracing changing how games look, is an exciting one. But in the first place you need a TV setup that’s capable of taking advantage of these features, and in the second — to be perfectly honest, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. A high-quality 1080p TV from the last couple years will look very nearly as good despite not supporting Dolby Vision or what have you. (I know because I got a new TV during the review period. They both looked great.)

Load times — a factor of the much-lauded custom SSD in this thing — are similarly hard to evaluate, though certainly going from menu to game in Miles Morales was fast, fast-traveling faster, and the previous game was faster to load than on my regular PS4. This benefit will of course vary from game to game, however — some developers are announcing their performance gains publicly, while others with less impressive ones may just let sleeping dogs lie. Without more titles to get a feel for the console’s performance improvements, right now you’ll have to take Sony’s word on things.

The controller: DualSense makes sense

Close up image of a Sony DualSense controller

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey/TechCrunch

One place where Sony is attempting to advance the ball is in the new DualSense controller.

Not in the shape and color and slick, transparent buttons — those are not so hot. It feels like a DualShock that’s let itself go a bit, and I’m definitely not a fan of the “PS” shaped PlayStation button. This thing feels like a grime magnet.

And not in the built-in speaker and microphone, either; I struggle to think of any application for these that wouldn’t be better served by a headset or avoided altogether.

What’s actually a clear and impressive upgrade is the triggers, which feature incredibly precise mechanical resistance that serves all kinds of gameplay functions and sets the imagination running.

A Playstation 5 and 4 controller next to each other.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The new triggers are connected to a set of gears that impart actual pressure against your fingers, from a very light tap to, presumably (though I haven’t experienced it), actually pushing your fingers back.

The range is wide and it can impart the pressure anywhere along the trigger’s range, giving interesting effects like (the obvious one in violent games) resistance while you pull a gun’s trigger, which then clicks and releases when it fires. In Miles Morales, the triggers act as a very sensitive rumble, but also give you tactile feedback when you’re swinging, telling you when you’ve made contact and so on.

Honestly, I love it. I want to play games that use it well. I don’t want to play games that don’t have it! Hopefully developers will embrace the variable-resistance triggers, because it genuinely adds something to the experience and, if I’m not mistaken, even has the potential to make games more accessible.

The UI: More is more

The PS4’s interface had the illusion of simplicity, and the PS5 continues that with two steps forward and one step back.

For one thing, separating out the “games” and “media” portions of the machine is a smart move. As OTT apps and streaming services proliferate, they take up more and more space and it makes perfect sense to isolate them.

Screenshot of the PS5 menu.

As for the games side, it’s similar to the PS4 in that it’s a horizontal line that you click through, and when a game is highlighted it “takes over” the screen with a background, the latest news, achievements and so on. As before it works perfectly well.

Previously, when you pressed the PlayStation button, you’d return to the main menu and pause whatever you were playing. If you held down the button, it opened an in-game side menu where you could invite friends, turn off the console and other common tasks.

The PS5 reverses that: The long press now returns you to the home screen, while a short press brings up the in-game menu (now a row of tiny icons on the bottom of the screen — not a fan of this change).

The in-game menu now sports an in-depth “card” system that, while cool in theory, seems like one of those things that will not actually be used to great effect. The giant cards show recent screenshots and achievements, friend activity and, if the developer has enabled it, info about your current mission or game progress.

For instance, in Miles Morales, hitting pause told me I was 22% of the way through a side mission to rescue a bodega cat named Spider-Man, with an image of the bodega where I accepted it. Nice, but it’s redundant with the info presented in-game if I pause in the ordinary way. There’s more to it, though — the cards can also be used as “deep links” to game features like multiplayer, quests in progress, quick travel locations, even hints.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Sony showed off these advanced possibilities in a video of Sackboy: The Big Adventure, but since that game isn’t yet available I can’t yet speak to how well it works. More importantly, I can’t make any promises on behalf of developers, who may or may not integrate the system well. At the very least it could be nice, but I’m afraid it will be relegated to first-party games (of which Sony promises many), and be optional at that.

It’s hard to call the new UI an improvement over the old one — it’s different, in some ways more busy and in some ways streamlined. Where it may improve things is in reducing friction in things like organizing voice chat and joining friends’ games. But that capability wasn’t ready for launch.

A couple nice things I want to note: Setting up the PS5 to your own preferences is super easy. I downloaded my cloud saves in a minute or two, and there’s a great new settings page for things people often change in games: difficulty, language, inverting the camera and some other things. There are also accessibility options built-in: a screen reader, chat transcription and other goodies I wasn’t able to test but am glad to see.

The games: Well… the PS5 is the best PS4 you can buy

The chief reason for buying a new console is to play the new games on it. When the Switch came out, half the reason anyone bought it was to play the fabulous new Zelda. Sadly, the selection at this launch is laughably thin for both Sony and Microsoft fanboys.

As I noted above, the only game I was provided in time to get any real impressions (that I’m permitted to write about) was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Having recently completed its predecessor on PS4, I can say that the new game looks and plays better, with shorter load times, improved lighting, more detailed buildings and so on. But the 2018 Spider-Man still looks and plays very well — this is the difference you’d expect in a sequel, not from one generation to the next. (To be clear, the PS5 version does look considerably better, it’s just not the night and day we’ve been led to expect.)

A screenshot of Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5As far as a review goes, I’ll just say that if you liked the first, you’ll like the second, and if you didn’t play the original, play it first because it’s great. I also want to hand it to the new game for its commitment to diversity.

But that will also be coming out on the PS4… and Xbox One and Series X… In fact, almost all the big games of the next year will be.

They will, of course, play and look better on the PS5 than the PS4. But it’s a hard sell to tell someone to pay $500 so they can play the next Assassin’s Creed or Horizon: Zero Dawn in 4K HDR rather than 1080p.

Meanwhile, the few games you can only play on PS5 are for niche players. Sackboy looks to be a fun platformer but hardly a blockbuster; Demon’s Souls is my most anticipated title of the season, but a remake of a legendary but little-played and controller-bitingly difficult PS3 game isn’t going to break sales records; and Destruction All-Stars, an online-only racing battle royale game, got delayed until February, which suggests it’s not playing well.

Adding them all up there really isn’t much reason in terms of exclusives to pick the PS5 over the Xbox Series X or, at least for 2021, a PS4 Pro.

The good news is that the PS5 is now without question the best way to play the huge catalog of amazing PS4 games out there. Nearly all of them will look better, play better and load faster. Sony as much as admitted this when they bundled a dozen of the best games from the last generation with the PS5. Honestly, I’m looking forward to finally playing God of War (I know… don’t hassle me!) on this thing more than I am Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

Unfortunately I can’t speak to whether these PS4 games have much to speak of in terms of real improvements yet. As mentioned above, a lot of that depends on support from the developers. But as a simple test, loading the Central Yharnam area in Bloodborne took about 33 seconds on the PS4, and 16 on the PS5 (as you can see in the shots above, the game looks identical). I didn’t time them, but anecdotally other games showed improvements as well.

The verdict: The must-have console for the 2021 holidays

A PS5 console

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

No, that isn’t a typo. The PS5 (and I am joined in this opinion by our review of its rival, the Xbox Series X) simply isn’t a console anyone should rush out and purchase for any reason. Not least of which because it will be near-impossible to get one in the next month or so, making the possibility of unwrapping a PS5 a remote one for eager youths.

Review: Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is ahead of its time

The power of the next generation is not much on display in any of the titles I have been able to play, and while a handful of upcoming games may show off its advantages, those games will likely play just as well on the other platforms they’re being released on.

Nor are there any compelling new features that make the PS5 feel truly next-gen, with the possible exception of the variable resistance triggers (the Series X has multi-game suspension at least, and I’d be jealous if there were any games to switch between). For the next 6-8 months, the PS5 will merely be the best way to play the same games everyone else is playing, or has been playing for years, but in 4K. That’s it!

The rush by Sony and Microsoft to get these consoles out by the holidays this year simply didn’t have the support of the publishers and developers that make the games that make consoles worth having. That will change late next year as the actual next-gen titles and meaningful exclusives start to appear. And a year from now the PS5 and Series X will truly be must-haves, because there will be things that are only available for them.

I’m not saying buy your kid a PS4 Pro for Christmas. And I’m not saying the PS5 isn’t a great way to play games. I’m just saying that outside some slight differences that many gamers don’t even have the setup to notice, there’s no reason to run out and buy a PS5 right now. Relax and enjoy the latest, greatest games on your old PS4 in confidence, knowing that you’ll save $50 when a Cyberpunk 2077 bundle goes on sale in the summer.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t lay your hands on a PS5 to keep you entertained this winter — a PS4 will do you just fine for the present while the next generation makes its lazy way toward the consoles it will eventually grace.


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Japanese startup Nature launches Remo 3, its home appliance smart remote, in the U.S. and Canada

Nature, a Japanese hardware startup that focuses on IoT home devices, announced the launch Remo 3, its home appliance smart remote, in the United States and Canada today. Priced at $129, the Bluetooth-enabled Remo 3 allows people to control multiple appliances that uses an infrared remote, including air conditioners, TVs, robot vacuum cleaners and fans, with their smartphones or smart speakers.

Nature claims that its Remo series is Japan’s top smart remote, with over 200,000 units sold so far. The Remo 3, designed to be mounted on a wall, also has sensors for temperature, humidity, lighting and movement, allowing users to create customized settings for when they want devices to turn on or shut off. Remo 3’s app also has a GPS location feature, so appliances can turn on automatically as users get closer to their homes.

As COVID-19 forces people to spend more time at home than usual, many are embarking on home improvement projects.

Even though people may be reluctant to purchase new appliances because of the economic downturn, relatively inexpensive products like the Remo 3 may still attract buyers because it can help reduce energy consumed by devices they already own. The Remo 3 also adds another layer of functionality to smart speakers and before the pandemic, global smart speaker sales hit a record high last year with 146.9 million units shipped. The Remo 3 is compatible with Amazon smart speakers like the Echo Dot, as well as Google Home and Apple HomePod speakers.

Nature founder and chief executive Haruumi Shiode told TechCrunch that Nature conducted a pilot with Kansai Electric, one of the largest utility providers in Japan, to prove that it can lower the amount of electricity used by air conditioners. He added that the pandemic actually accelerated sales of Nature Remo devices in Japan and prompted the company’s decision to launch in the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic made mass-producing the Remo 3 more challenging because Nature’s team was no longer able to make monthly trips to Shenzhen, Shiode said. But the Remo 3 is the sixth product Nature has launched so far, so it was able to figure out how to work with factories remotely on production and quality assurance.

“I read that since the pandemic started, 70% of Americans are tackling home improvement projects,” Shiode added. “Similarly, people around the world have been looking for ways to make their shelter-in-place less mundane and more convenient. With the Nature Remo 3, we hope to offer the same convenience and efficiencies to the American market as we have in Japan.”


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Qualcomm-powered Chinese XR startup Nreal raises $40 million

Nreal, one of the most-watched mixed reality startups in China, just secured $40 million from a group of high-profile investors in a Series B round that could potentially bring more adoption to its portable augmented headsets.

Kuaishou, the archrival to TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin, led the round, marking yet another video platform to establish links with Nreal, following existing investor iQiyi, China’s own Netflix. Like other major video streaming sites around the world, Kuaishou and iQiyi have dabbled in making augmented reality content, and securing a hardware partner will no doubt be instrumental to their early experiments.

Other backers in the round with plentiful industry resources include GP Capital, which counts state-owned financial holding group Shanghai International Group and major Chinese movie studio Hengdian Group as investors; CCEIF Fund, set up by state-owned telecom equipment maker China Electronics Corporation and state-backed investment bank China International Capital Corporation; GL Ventures, the early-stage fund set up by prominent private equity firm Hillhouse Capital; and Sequoia Capital China.

In early 2019, Nreal brought onboard Xiaomi founder’s venture fund Shunwei Capital for its $15 million Series A funding. As I wrote at the time, AR, VR, MR, XR — whichever marketing coinage you prefer — will certainly be a key piece in Xiaomi’s Internet of Things empire. It’s not hard to see the phone titan sourcing smart glasses from Nreal down the road.

The other key partner of Nreal, a three-year-old company, is Qualcomm . The chipmaker has played an active part in China’s 5G rollout, powering major Chinese phone makers’ next-gen handsets. It supplies Nreal with its Snapdragon processors, allowing the startup’s lightweight mixed reality glasses to easily plug into an Android phone.

“Its closer partnership with Qualcomm will allow it to access Qualcomm’s network of customers, including telecoms companies,” Seewan Toong, an industry consultant on AR and VR, told TechCrunch.

Indeed, the mixed reality developer has already signed a deal with Japanese telco KDDI and in Korea, it’s working with LG’s cellular carrier LG Uplus Corp.

The latest round brings Nreal’s total raise to more than $70 million and will accelerate mass adoption of its mixed reality technology in the 5G era, the company said.

It remains to be seen how Nreal will live up to its promise, secure users at scale and move beyond being a mere poster child for tech giants’ mixed reality ambitions. So far its deals with big telcos are in a way reminiscent of that of Magic Leap, which has been in a legal spat with Nreal, though the Chinese company appears to burn through less cash so far. The troubled American company is currently pivoting to relying on enterprise customers after failing to crack the consumer market.

“Nreal is patient and not in a rush to show they can start selling high volume. It’s trying to prove that there’s a user scenario for its technology,” said Toong.


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Peloton said to be launching new, cheaper treadmill and higher-end stationary smart bike

Peloton is reportedly getting ready to add to its product lineup with two new products at either end of its pricing spectrum, according to Bloomberg. The workout tech company is planning both a cheaper, entry-level smart treadmill, and a higher-end version of its stationary exercise bike, with an announcement set to take place as early as sometime next week, in time for its quarterly financial earnings.

The new products would come alongside a price drop for its existing exercise bike, to a price point under $1,900, according to the report. While the new “Bike+” will retail for more than the current price of the existing model, the price drop will help Peloton stoke the high demand for its products resulting from the closure of gyms and social distancing measures instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peloton’s new “Tread” treadmill will retail for less than $3,000, according to Bloomberg’s sources, which is a considerable discount versus the $4,295 asking price for the existing model. That one will remain on sale as a premium offering, and the new version will reportedly more closely resemble a traditional home treadmill in terms of materials and construction, allowing for the cheaper asking price.

The new, upscale Bike+ model will also reportedly feature a repositionable smart display, which will help it serve as the centerpiece of a more comprehensive home gym that includes strength training and other kinds of guided workouts. Peloton’s hardware products are what helped distinguish it in the exercise market, but it has built another strong business on subscription plans and app-guided workouts, which are available with or without its home gym equipment.

The new treadmill will likely go to market before the upgraded smart bike, in terms of availability, according to the report. Peloton’s main blocker for customer base expansion is probably its relatively high point of entry, in terms of its in-house hardware, so that makes a lot of sense if the company is looking to capitalize on general consumer appetite for at-home fitness solutions during the COVID-19 crisis.


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VCs and startups consider HaaS model for consumer devices

I’ve been following consumer audio electronics company Nura with great interest for a few years now — the Melbourne-based startup was one of the first companies I met with after starting with TechCrunch. At the time, its first prototype was a big mess of circuits and wires — the sort of thing you could never imagine shrunk down into a reasonably sized consumer device.

Nura managed, of course. And the final product looked and sounded great; hell, even the box was nice. If I’m lucky, I see a consumer hardware product once or twice a year that seems reasonably capable of disrupting an industry, and Nura’s custom sound profiles fit that bill. But the company was unique for another reason. A graduate of the HAX accelerator, the startup announced NuraNow roughly this time last year.

Hardware as a service (HaaS) has been a popular concept in the IT/enterprise space for some time, but it’s still fairly uncommon in the consumer category. For one thing: A hardware subscription presents a new paradigm for thinking about purchases. That is a big lift in a country like the U.S., which spent years weaning consumers off contract-based smartphones.

That Nura jumped at the chance shouldn’t be a big surprise. Backers HAX/SOSV have been proponents of the model for some time now. I’ve visited their Shenzhen offices a few times, and the topic of HaaS always seems to come up.

In a recent email exchange, General Partner Duncan Turner described HaaS as “a great way to keep in contact with your customers and up-sell them on new features. Most importantly, for startups, recurring revenue is critical for scaling a business with venture capital (and will help appeal to a broad set of investors). HaaS often has a low churn (as easier to put onto long-term contracts).”

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Watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live right here

Apple is holding a keynote today on the first day of its developer conference, and the company is expected to talk about a ton of software updates. WWDC is a virtual event this year, but you can expect the same amount of news, in a different format. At 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event as the company is streaming it live.

Rumor has it that the company plans to unveil new versions of its operating systems. Get ready for iOS 14 and its sibling iPadOS 14, a new version of macOS, some updates for watchOS and tvOS as well.

But the most interesting rumor of the year is that Apple could announce a major change for the Mac. The company could start using its own in-house ARM systems on a chip instead of Intel’s processors. It would have a ton of consequences for third-party apps running on your Mac as well as Mac hardware in general. Imagine a MacBook with a battery that lasts as long as what you get from an iPad. There could be some more hardware news, such as a new design for the iMac or some Tile-style hardware trackers.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you can download the Apple Events app in the App Store. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones. The app icon was updated a few days ago for the event.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live-stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Of course, you also can read TechCrunch’s live blog if you don’t want to stop everything and watch a video.


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You can now install the first beta of Android 11

After a series of developer previews, Google today released the first beta of Android 11 and with that, it is also making these pre-release versions available for over-the-air updates. This time around, the list of supported devices only includes the Pixel 2, 3, 3a and 4.

If you’re brave enough to try this early version (and I wouldn’t do so on your daily driver until a few more people have tested it), you can now enroll here. Like always, Google is also making OS images available for download and an updated emulator is available, too.

Google says the beta focuses on three key themes: people, controls and privacy.

Like in previous updates, Google once again worked on improving notifications — in this case, conversation notifications, which now appear in a dedicated section at the top of the pull-down shade. From there, you will be able to take actions right from inside the notification or ask the OS to remind you of this conversation at a later time. Also new is built-in support in the notification system for what are essentially chat bubbles, which messaging apps can now use to notify you even as you are working (or playing) in another app.

Another new feature is consolidated keyboard suggestions. With these, Autofill apps and Input Method Editors (think password managers and third-party keyboards), can now securely offer context-specific entries in the suggestion strip. Until now, enabling autofill for a password manager, for example, often involved delving into multiple settings and the whole experienced often felt like a bit of a hack.

For those users who rely on voice to control their phones, Android now uses a new on-device system that aims to understand what is on the screen and then automatically generates labels and access points for voice commands.

As for controls, Google is now letting you long-press the power button to bring up controls for your smart home devices (though companies that want to appear in this new menu need to make use of Google’s new API for this). In one of the next beta releases, Google will also enable media controls that will make it easier to switch the output device for their audio and video content.

In terms of privacy, Google is adding one-time permissions so that an app only gets access to your microphone, camera or location once, as well as auto-resets for permissions when you haven’t used an app for a while.

A few months ago, Google said that developers would need to get a user’s approval to access background location. That caused a bit of a stir among developers and now Google will keep its current policies in place until 2021 to give developers more time to update their apps.

In addition to these user-facing features, Google is also launching a series of updates aimed at Android developers. You can read more about them here.


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Fitbit’s Chinese rival Amazfit mulls a transparent, self-disinfecting mask

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of Chinese companies with manufacturing operations to produce virus-fighting equipment: Shenzhen-based electric vehicle giant BYD quickly moved to launch what it claims to be the world’s largest mask plant; Hangzhou-based voice intelligence startup Rokid is making thermal imaging glasses targeted at the US market; and many more.

The latest of such efforts comes from Huami, the NASDAQ-listed wearables startup that makes Xiaomi’s Mi Bands and sells its own fitness tracking watches under the Amazfit brand in more than 70 countries. In a phone interview with TechCrunch, the firm said it is developing a see-through plastic mask with built-in ultraviolet lights that can disinfect filters within 10 minutes when connected to a power supply through a USB port. The caveat is that the lights only sanitize the inside of the mask and users still have to clean the outer surface themselves.

The Aeri concept comes with built-in ultraviolet lights that can disinfect filters within 10 minutes when connected to a power supply through a USB port.

Called Aeri, the mask uses removable filters that are on par with N95 filtration capacity. If the concept materializes, each filter could last up to a month and a half, significantly longer than the average life of surgical masks and N95 respirators. The modular design allows for customized accessories such as a fan for breathable comfort, hence the mask’s name Aeri, a homophone of “airy”.

Aeri started from the premise that wearing masks could thwart the increasingly common adoption of facial recognition. That said, imaging companies have been working on biometric upgrades to allow analyses of other facial features such as irises or the tip of noses.

Aeri might still have a market appeal though, argued Pengtao Yu, vice president of industrial design at Huami. “Whether people need to unlock their phones or not, they want to see each other’s faces at social occasions,” said Yu, the California-based Chinese designer who had served clients including Nest Labs, Roku, GoPro and Huawei prior to joining Huami.

Huami’s U.S. operation, which focuses on research and development, opened in 2014 and now counts a dozen of employees.

Many companies turning to pandemic-fighting manufacturing have taken a hit from their core business, but Huami has managed to stay afloat. Its Q1 revenue was up 36% year-over-year to hit $154 million, although net income decreased to $2.7 million from $10.6 million. Its stocks have been declining, however, sliding from a high point of $16 in January to around $10 in mid-May.

Huami is in the process of prototyping the Aeri masks. In Shenzhen, which houses the wearables company’s headquarters, the development cycle for hardware products — from ideation to market rollout — takes as short as 6-12 months thanks to the city’s rich supply chain resources, said Yu.

Huami hasn’t priced Aeri at this early stage, but Yu admitted that the masks are targeting the “mass consumer market” around the world, not only for protection against viruses but also everyday air pollution, rather than appealing to medical workers. Given Huami’s history of making wearables at thin margins, it won’t be surprising that Aeri will be competitively priced.

The Aeri project is part of Huami’s pivot to enter the general health sector beyond pure fitness monitoring. The company has recently teamed up with a laboratory led by Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the public face of China’s fight against COVID-19, to track respiratory diseases using wearables. It’s also in talks with the German public health authority to collaborate on a smartwatch-powered virus monitoring app, the company told TechCrunch.


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