Apple wants to shrink MacBook Pro by removing speaker grills

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Apple has been researching how to embed a speaker underneath a MacBook Pro keyboard, which would meaning being able to reduce the device’s footprint.

First they came for the bezels – and Apple isn’t done reducing those – and now it wants to cut back on the speaker grill. Apple’s ideal for the MacBook Pro appears to be one where the device is no wider than the keyboard, and no taller than the screen.

Apple’s ideal for the MacBook Pro is apparently the beloved 12-inch PowerBook. But that model wasn’t known for having great audio, not even with its hidden subwoofer inside the chassis.

So the newly-revealed “Speaker Assembly for Electronic Device” patent application proposes a new speaker system. Audio quality is important, but this patent application is equally concerned with “design, heft, ease of portability, and overall aesthetic appearance.”

“One design challenge associated with the manufacture of electronic devices is the assembly of parts that provide different functions into a compact form factor,” says the patent application. “This design challenge generally arises from a number of conflicting design goals that include the performance of separate components and the user experience while interacting with the electronic device.”

Apple wants the MacBook Pro to sound great, but also to not in any way impair a user’s working on one.

“During operation, a speaker mounted within an electronic device may move in a manner that generates vibrations,” continues Apple. “At the same time, a user may operate a keyboard or another component of the electronic device by physically contacting such a component.”

“The vibrations generated by speaker motion can tend to be transmitted throughout the electronic device,” says the patent application. “It can be desirable to reduce or eliminate transmission of such vibrations so that they are not perceptible by a user while in contact with the electronic device.”

Apple also wants to “achieve such results with an arrangement that minimizes cost in terms of components and time for assembly.”

The proposed solution is a speaker system that would reside underneath a MacBook Pro’s keyboard. The system would be a speaker assembly that included the speaker itself, and also be “coupled to the chassis via a spring element.”

This spring element could be “configured to reduce transmission of vibrations generated by the speaker into other components.”

Detail from the patent application showing a speaker assembly underneath a keyboard

“For example, the spring element can include an arm that extends within an opening of the main body to connect the main body to a fastener secured to the chassis,” says Apple. “With such an arrangement, the speaker assembly can operate from within the laptop (e.g., beneath the keyboard) to generate sound without propagating excessive vibrations throughout the laptop.”

So you could type while listening to loud music and neither your striking the keys, nor the tune moving the speaker, should affect each other.

The majority of the patent application’s almost 7,000 words concentrates on the possible mechanisms for the spring element. Consequently, although the patent application only broadly refers to it, such a speaker system could be embedded in other devices.

“Such an electronic device can be or include a desktop electronic device,” it says, “[or] a display, a television, a portable device, a phone, a tablet electronic device, a mobile electronic device, a wearable device, a watch, and/or a digital media player.”

This patent application is credited to eight inventors, including Stuart M. Nevill. His previous related work includes research that led to the redesigned speakers on the 24-inch iMac.

Sophisticated Mac attack targeted pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

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Security researchers have analyzed a now-patched malware attack that was used to compromise Mac devices belonging to Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in November.

The attacks took place in 2021 and relied on a “watering-hole” technique, which involves compromising websites that potential targets might be interested in. Google identified the threat in November 2021, after Apple had patched it in September of that year.

According to security researchers at ESET, the attack used several chains of iOS and macOS exploits to pull off the campaign, which granted root access to the attackers and allowed them to collect information on a victim’s device.

The attack was deployed on pro-democracy websites, including a fake site possibly created by the attackers and a compromised website belonging legitimate Hong Kong radio station.

Analysis of the attack indicates that the websites would run checks to see if a Mac was running a vulnerable version of macOS Catalina. If it was, it would run a JavaScript snippet that launched exploit code.

From there, the attack involves a complex WebKit exploit to gain code execution privileges in the browser. ESET notes that the exploit had more than 1,000 lines of code. Some of the code, which was commented out, suggests that the attack could have been deployable on both iOS and on newer iPhone models with Pointer Authentication Code security protections.

Once code execution was granted, the next stage of the attack leveraged an executable file object that exploited another vulnerability to get privilege escalation. This vulnerability granted the attackers root access to a device.

When the attackers gained root access, the next stage involved deploying DazzeSpy, a full-featured backdoor that allowed them to steal files from a computer, perform screen captures, execute commands in the terminal, and log keystrokes. It also gained persistence by adding a plist file to the LaunchAgents folder.

The DazzleSpy malware was also hardcoded to communicate to a single command and control server.

Given the complexity of the attack and the exploits used, ESET theorizes that the group behind it likely has “strong technical capabilities.” Some of the internal error messaging and other artifacts were in Chinese, suggesting an origin in that country.

Apple Maps applies reality distortion field to hide Tim Cook's house

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Both Apple Maps and Google Maps have entirely blurred out Apple CEO Tim Cook’s home, presumably following recent reports of him being stalked.

To protect the location where Tim Cook lives, Apple Maps has blurred out his entire property in Palo Alto. Consequently, it draws more attention to the house, making it an inadvertent example of the Barbara Streisand Effect.

The change to the Apple Map Look Around feature, and Street View on Google Maps, comes after Apple was granted a restraining order on behalf of Cook. The CEO’s stalker reportedly broke into his home at some point, and is now prohibited from approaching any Apple employees.

As part of Apple’s request for a restraining order, however, the court filings were required to include Cook’s full postal address. So while Cook has made no secret that he lives in Palo Alto, the exact street name and number were less publicly known until now.

Overhead view on Apple Maps

Overhead view on Apple Maps

At present, his house can still be seen from above on Google Earth and Google Maps. However, zooming in to Street View in either service, presents the area with the same blurring across the entire property.

Apple Maps has blurred it out from the overhead satellite view of the area, as well as the Look Around close-up street photography.

Apple News is the most-viewed news app in the UK, but BBC is used for more time

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In figures for December 2021, Apple News saw 13.2 million users, or over a quarter of UK internet users, beating BBC News for overall user base, but not time viewed.

New figures from the UK’s Press Gazette says that 27% of all internet users aged over 15, used the Apple News app in December 2021. On average, each person spent 93 minutes using it across the month, or 1.2 billion minutes in total.

In comparison, the second most used one was the BBC News app. That accounted for 25.2% of all internet users over the age of 15, but it also had a total of 2.2 billion minutes read.

The rest of the chart includes news aggregators NewsTag at number 3, and Upday at number five.

More recognizable names, in the UK, include Sky News which came in fourth with 3.3 million users. The Guardian was sixth on 2.1 million, while controversial tabloid The Sun app was 15th on 0.3 million.

Top 20 UK news apps

Press Gazette says its figures are partly taken from a survey of 10,000 users who have agreed to “have meters installed across 25,000 personal devices” to measure website and app usage.

Despite that mention of website usage, the Press Gazette figures appear to be specifically about the use of news apps. It does not, then, seem to count users who access such services via the browsers on their phones or tablets.

BBC News has a full news website, while Apple News’s site is solely a promotion for the app and the Apple News+ subscription.

Microsoft Start is the new name for what was Microsoft News. In 2018, AppleInsider compared the then Microsoft News with Apple News and Google News, to determine which suited most users best.

'Joe Danger' crashing back into App Store after appeal from parent of autistic child

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The creators of ‘Joe Danger’ have relaunched the game on the App Store, making it again playable on the latest iOS — because an autistic boy’s parent asked them to.

One such app was “Joe Danger,” a successful racing game that began life on the PlayStation. Now its developer has brought it back to the App Store. “remastered with improved visuals, high frame rate, ProMotion and Gamepad support.”

The developer, Hello Games, revealed on Twitter that the company’s “secret shame” was that it had let “Joe Danger” lapse while concentrating on its blockbuster “No Man’s Sky.” But then the company got a letter that “broke our hearts.”

The full letter from a parent of 8-year-old Jack, who has autism, says that “Joe Danger” has allowed him “to interact and have fun with friends and family alike.” It has “allowed Jack to experience ‘normal kid stuff’.”

Jack’s parent says that losing it in an iOS update, and not having a new version, is a problem.

“As children with autism have difficulty with change, any other version just won’t do,” continues the letter. “The App Store, rather casually I must admit, suggests ‘contacting the developer’ to update the app to get it to work, as if that were something that was done every day.”

“But Jack asked me to do it for him, so here I am.”

Jack’s parent, whose name has not been revealed, recognized in the letter that it may not be possible for the developer to bring it back. “But it would mean the world to at least one little boy,” concludes the letter.

Future AirPods may ID wearer and tailor features to protect owner's privacy

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If future AirPods do not recognize who is wearing them, they could automatically block personal information such as Siri relaying text messages.

Maybe you’re not very likely to casually hand over your AirPods Pro and say “listen to this.” But you can do it, they can listen to the music playing through them from your iPhone. And of course your AirPods can be stolen.

Whatever the reason, there can be times when the AirPods – or any other future Apple headphones – are being used by someone other than their owner. And Apple sees that as a problem, since it also believes that headphones can be used for much more than playing music.

“User Identification using Headphones” is a newly-revealed patent application that briefly sets out what else headphones can do, then concentrates on making sure they only do it for the owner.

“Headphones… can provide a useful interface between human users and electronic devices,” says the patent application. “For example, a user may provide a speech input containing a user request to a digital assistant operating on an electronic device such as a mobile device.”

“Various outputs can also be provided to the user through the headphones,” continues Apple. “For example, upon receipt of a message at the mobile device, such as an instant message, an audible representation of the message may be provided to the user via the headphones.”

Sirialready does this with short messages, fading out whatever you’re listening to and speaking the text into your ears, before asking if you want to reply.

“However, conventional systems do not address whether the user wearing the headphones is authorized to interact with personal features of the device, such as receiving messages from the device,” says Apple.

And it’s true. Anyone listening on your AirPods when a message comes through will hear it.

There’s no aural equivalent of a retina scan, even if Apple could fit more hardware into AirPods. So Apple’s proposal is that the headphones plus iPhone and Apple Watch that you wear can work together to establish how likely it is that you are the owner.

The idea is that all three devices do at least some motion and movement tracking, then compare the results. Call the headphones the “first device,” then iPhone could be the second, and the Watch a third.

“For example, first movement information corresponding to movement of a second electronic device is detected,” says Apple. “Second movement information corresponding to movement of a third electronic device is detected.”

“A similarity score is determined based on the first movement information and the second movement information,” it continues. “In accordance with a determination that the similarity score is above a threshold similarity score, a user is identified as an authorized user [of the headphones.]”

AirPods, Apple Watch, and iPhone could all be used together to detect motion

Adding an ultrasonic twist

So the headphones can detect that you’re bopping your head to the track, and at the same time your Watch detects that you’re clicking your fingers. Then if the iPhone’s ultrasonic sound is picked up by the AirPods, it’s pretty sure that it’s you who has the interesting musical tastes.

But to be just that bit more sure, Apple has another part to the proposal.

“In some examples, the first audio output includes an ultrasonic signal transmitted from the second electronic device,” says the patent application. “In some examples, the received response comprises an echo of an ultrasonic signal included in the first audio output.”

Your iPhone could play an ultrasonic sound when you put the headphones on, and if those headphones hear it, you again know the devices are close together. So if the three devices — AirPods, Apple Watch, iPhone — are not far apart, it’s again likely that it’s the owner who is using them.

Apple’s proposal is all about the likelihood of an owner being the one wearing the headphones, and most of the time that is exactly who is.

But once it’s possible to at least spot that the AirPods have been loaned to a friend in the next office, or are currently in the hands of a thief running up Fifth Avenue, then Apple can trigger changes.

As ever, Apple’s patent application is focused on the processes rather than of specifically how the results could be acted upon. At the very least, though, the iPhone can stop having Siri read out text messages over those headphones.

So if you happen to get a sarcastic text from a colleague about how your boss is always stealing your AirPods, your annual performance review will still be safe.

This patent application is credited to two inventors, Jun Gong, and Gierad Laput. Prior to working for Apple, Laput was at Carnegie Mellon University and is credited with a patent on acoustic activity recognition.

Apple TV+ buys 'Cha Cha Real Smooth' for $15 million at Sundance

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Apple TV+ has turned again to the Sundance Film Festival, making this year’s biggest deal for writer/director Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth” movie.

In 2021, Apple paid $25 million to outbid rivals vying for that year’s Virtual Sundance Film Festival hit, “CODA.” Now while it’s paid $10 million less for “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the sum was still the highest paid for any movie bought by streamers or distributors at the festival.

According to Deadline, Raiff wrote and directed the film, and also stars in it as a New Jersey college graduate. Apple is said to have been the front runner to buy the film since the Festival premiered it on January 23.

Unlike many recent film deals for Apple, this is an acquisition of a completed movie, rather than a production or development deal. Consequently Apple TV+ could choose to air it at any time, although it’s not known if the deal includes any theatrical release prior to streaming.

“CODA” was bought in January 2021 and streamed by Apple from August 2021. That had a specified short theatrical window, and was notable for being the first movie in theaters to have subtitles burned into the film print.

Apple working on tech to allow iPhones to directly process credit cards

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Small businesses may soon be able to accept credit and debit card payments directly through the iPhone’s onboard NFC chip without the need for external hardware.

In August 2020, it was reported that Apple purchased Mobeewave, a payments technology startup that developed a method allowing smartphones to be used as mobile payments terminals.

Now it appears that the Cupertino-based tech giant has plans for the technology — allowing small businesses to accept payments directly on their iPhones without any extra hardware, according to Bloomberg.

The move would eliminate the need for third-party hardware, such as Block Inc.’s Square payment systems, which currently dominate the market.

Instead, small business owners would be able to tap any tap-to-pay credit or debit card onto their iPhone, allowing customers to pay them directly. This system would rely on the iPhone’s near-field communications (NFC) chip and work similarly to tap-to-pay terminals at gas stations and retail locations.

As Bloomberg points out, its not clear whether or not the NFC payment option would be branded as part of Apple Pay, or as an entirely separate service.

Apple has a number of projects involving payment options. For example, Apple Pay, launched in 2013, gives customers the ability to tap their iPhone to pay at any point-of-service that accepts NFC payments.

Additionally, in 2019, Apple introduced its own credit card, the Apple Card, launched in partnership with Goldman Sachs.

International drama 'Pachinko' premieres on Apple TV+ on March 25

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“Pachinko,” an adaptation of a New York Times best-seller of the same name, will make its way to Apple TV+ this spring.

The upcoming series tells a story of love that takes place on journeys between Korea, Japan, and America. Apple describes the series as “an unforgettable story of war and peace, love and loss, triumph and reckoning.”

“Pachinko” will premiere three episodes on March 25, with episodes to release each Friday until the eight-episode season concludes on April 29.

Apple courted the series way back in 2018, with the Cupertino-bases tech giant signing a series order in April 2019. Due to COVID-19, the series had hit some unexpected delays.

Apple finalized the cast and crew for the series in October of 2020 and began filming the same month, with crews filming simultaneously on multiple continents.

“Pachinko” joins Apple’s growing catalog of international dramas, such as “Tehran,” “Losing Alice,” and the upcoming French-English series “Liaison.”

New iOS, iPadOS and macOS updates fix many security issues, including Safari bug

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Apple’s latest batch of software updates patch a number of vulnerabilities, including a Safari flaw that could have leaked browsing data and another bug that may have been used in the wild.

The Cupertino tech giant on Wednesday released iOS 15.3, iPadOS 15.3, macOS Monterey 12.2, and other software updates to the public. Most of the updates had few to no new features and were focused on bug fixes.

That wasn’t the only issue that the new updates fix. For example, the updates also address an IOMobileFrameBugger problem that could have allowed a malicious application to executive code with kernel privileges. Apple says it’s aware of a report that this vulnerability may have been actively exploited.

Other bugs that were patched include a Crash Reporter issue that could have allowed bad actors to gain root privileges, a ColorSync flaw that could allow arbitrary code execution via maliciously crafted file, and an iCloud bug that may have allowed an application to access a user’s files.

Although some of the vulnerability fixes applied to Apple’s underlying technology across iOS and macOS, some were operating system-specific. macOS 12.2, for example, fixes a PackageKit flaw that may have allowed an application to access restricted files.

Many of the Mac-specific bugs were also fixed in a Security Update to macOS Catalina and a new macOS Big Sur 11.6.3 update that Apple released Wednesday.

Notably, the security updates are now only included in iOS 15 point releases. Earlier in 2021, Apple stopped issuing iOS 14 bug fixes after promising to keep the older operating system up-to-date for a period of time.