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The Mate 30 is a moment of truth for Huawei

20 September, by Brian Heater[ —]

We’ve known this day would come for a long time now. Over the past several months, however, it feels like it has arrived in slow motion. Seemingly legitimate concerns over security and sanction violations have been muddled by chest-puffing and braggadocio and large-headed leaders promising to do deals. Executives were arrested in Canada and the company was added to a trade blacklist, only to be given a temporary reprieve.

This morning, in spite of it all, Huawei unveiled its latest flagship. The Mate 30 Pro is a beast of a smartphone, as we’ve come to expect from the Chinese electronics powerhouse. It has a quartet of cameras aligned in a ring up top. On the flip side, a 6.53-inch flexible OLED hugs the corners of the handset, boasting an always-on functionality — the long-awaited new feature that served as the central selling point for Apple’s latest wearable.

From a 100-foot view, however, it seems inevitable that no one will remember the handset for its screen or cameras or beefy 4,500mAh. It’s what’s missing that’s the most notable. The Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro don’t use full Android, but rather an open-source version of the operating system based on it. More importantly, they are missing Google’s fundamental apps like Gmail, Maps and Chrome, a central part of the Android experience. Worse yet, there’s no Google Play Store to download them.

The solutions for now are mostly stop-gap. There’s a Huawei-branded browser that lets you download apps through a Huawei-branded channel. There are 45,000 or so. Not bad, but nowhere near the 2.7 million you’ll find via Google Play. There will be better solutions to these, but they take a lot of time and money. Huawei’s got plenty of the latter, though the former has been the cause for some debate amongst those following the company.


iOS 13 pushes the envelope across the board

19 September, by Romain Dillet[ —]

Apple released iOS 13, the new major version of iOS. This isn’t a groundbreaking release that is going to change the way you use your phone. But Apple has done some tremendous work across the board to improve some low-level features, as well as most Apple apps.

In many ways, iOS 13 feels like a quality-of-life update. In developer lingo, quality-of-life updates are all about refining things that already work. It helps you save a second here, do something more easily there.

I’m going to talk about many of those small refinements, but I want to focus on two things that are going to matter more than the rest — Dark Mode and Apple’s focus on privacy.

Dark Mode is here

At some point, smartphone manufacturers started making bigger phones. And if you don’t want to become blind at night, Dark Mode is a must. It took a while, but it is finally here and it looks great.

Dark Mode on iOS 13 is a system-wide trigger. You can activate it from the Settings app or by opening the Control Center panel and long-pressing on the brightness indicator. And it completely transforms the look and feel of your iPhone.

While some third-party apps have been updated, many developers still have to release updates to make their apps work with this new setting. I hope in six months, you’ll be able to turn on Dark Mode and jump from one app to another without any white interface.

I recommend turning on the automated mode in the settings. iOS uses your current location to time the change with sunset and sunrise — your iPhone goes dark at night and lights up in the morning.

Dark Mode doesn’t just affect apps. Widgets, notifications and other buttons in the user interface become dark. Apple uses pure black, which looks great on OLED displays. And you can optionally dim your custom wallpapers at night.

The privacy hammer

Many geeks have tried iOS 13 over the summer. But it’s going to be a completely different story when tens of millions of people download it this fall. As iOS 13 brings some much-needed changes on the privacy front, it’s going to be nasty for some companies.

Apple is adding more ways to control your personal information. If an app needs your location for something, you can now grant access to your location just once. The app will have to ask for your permission the next time.

Similarly, iOS 13 can tell you when an app has been silently tracking your location in the background with a map of those data points.

Apple is shaming app developers directly by saying “This app has used 40 locations in the background in the past 2 days” and showing you a map. You can turn off location tracking directly in the popup. Facebook is already freaking out and wrote a blog post last week to tell you that it cares about your privacy.

Also, iOS 13 blocks Bluetooth scanning by default in all apps. Many apps scan for nearby Bluetooth accessories and compare that with a database of Bluetooth devices around the world. In other words, it’s a way to get your location even if you’re not sharing your location with this app.

You now get a standard permission popup for apps that actually need to scan for Bluetooth devices. Some apps actually need Bluetooth to communicate with connected devices, initiate peer-to-peer payments with nearby users, etc.

But the vast majority of them have been abusing Bluetooth scanning. To be clear, you can disable Bluetooth scanning and still use Bluetooth headphones. Audio will still be routed to your headphones just fine.

I hope many app developers will review the third-party SDKs that they use. Many ad-supported apps embed code from adtech companies. But they don’t always note that those SDKs are hostile to your privacy.

Finally, Apple is adding “Sign in with Apple.” It is an alternative to “Sign in with Google” or “Sign in with Facebook.” Customers can choose whether or not to share their email address and developers get little personal data. It’s going to be interesting to see if it takes off.

Low-level improvements

There are a few changes at the operating system level. First, in addition to optimizations, animations have been slightly sped up. Swiping, opening and closing apps feels faster.

Second, the keyboard now supports swipe-to-type. If you’ve used Android phones or third-party keyboards in the past, you already know how it works. You can move your finger across the display from one letter to another without lifting it. It feels like magic.

Third, the share sheet has been updated. It is now separated in three areas: a top row with suggested contacts to send photos, links and more depending on your most important contacts.

Under that row of contacts, you get the usual row of app icons to open something in another app. If you scroll down, you access a long list of actions that vary from one app to another.

When it comes to automation, Shortcuts is installed by default with iOS 13. Many people are going to discover Shortcuts for the first time by opening the app. Voice-activated Siri Shortcuts are now available in the Shortcuts app, as well.

More interestingly, you can now create automated triggers to launch a shortcut. For instance, you can create scenarios related to CarPlay, a location or even a cheap NFC tag. Here are some examples:

  • Launch a music playlist when I connect my phone to CarPlay or to my car using Bluetooth.
  • Dim my screen and turn on low-power mode when I activate airplane mode.
  • Turn off my Philips Hue lights when I put my phone on an NFC sticker on my nightstand.

New app features

I’m going to go through some of the major changes in Apple’s apps.

Apple Arcade is here. You have to download iOS 13 to access it. I’ll let you read our first impressions in our separate article.

iOS 13 5

Photos has received some of the biggest improvements. The main tab has been completely redesigned. You now get four sub-tabs that let you see a curated photo library.

In addition to ‘All Photos,’ you can tap on ‘Years’ to jump straight to a specific year, and ‘Months’ to see some smart albums based on dates and locations. You can then open those events. It’ll jump to the ‘Days’ tab and show you the best photos.

I’m not sure I like the wording of those sub-tabs, but it’s definitely a lot more efficient if you’re looking for an old photo from a few years back.

Photo editing is also much better on iOS 13. It feels like you can do pretty much all the basic editing you’d do with a third-party app.

Maps is an interesting app. While Apple has been working on improved mapping data, it’s going to be hard to notice if you don’t live in California. But Look Around, a feature that works pretty much like Google Street View, is quite impressive. This isn’t just 360 photo shots — those are 3D representations of streets with foregrounds and backgrounds. I’d recommend finding a street in San Francisco and opening Look Around.

Messages now works a bit more like WhatsApp. By that I mean you can pick a profile name and picture and share those with your friends and family. Apple also tells you to use Memoji, but you can pick any photo. Search in Messages is also much better.

Health has been slightly redesigned. But the big addition is that you can track your menstrual cycles in the Health app. You don’t need to install any third-party app.

Reminders has gained some new features. There’s a quick toolbar to add times, dates, locations and more. You can indent items, create smart lists and more. To-do apps are highly personal, but I’m sure some people will like it.

Find My is the new name for Find My Phone and Find My Friends. Maybe you’ll be able to find your objects soon when Apple launches Tile-like trackers?

Mail, Notes and Safari received small improvements, such as rich-text editing in Mail, a gallery view in Notes and a new site settings popup in Safari to request the desktop site, disable a content blocker or enable reader view.

Files works with Samba file servers and you can zip/unzip files directly in the app — no shortcut needed. You can also install custom fonts.

As you can see, there are a lot of big and tiny improvements across the board with iOS 13. Sure, this version feels buggy at times. It’s an ambitious update, with Apple telling everyone that they’re not ready to slow down the pace of iOS releases. And Apple is making some welcome progress on the privacy front.


iOS 13 is now available to download

19 September, by Romain Dillet[ —]

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 13. This update brings many much needed quality-of-life improvements — and there are also a bunch of new features. The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device into iTunes for a wired update.

Many people try to download these major updates at the same time. Apple usually implements a queue system to ensure speedy downloads once you’re at the front of the queue.

iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, the iPhone SE or the 7th-generation iPod touch. If you have an iPad and you are looking for iPadOS 13, it’ll be available on September 30 (Update: September 24) with the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.1.

But first, backup your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device into your computer to do a manual backup in iTunes (or do both, really).

Don’t forget to encrypt your backup in iTunes. It is much safer if somebody hacks your computer. And encrypted backups include saved passwords and health data. This way, you don’t have to reconnect to all your online accounts.

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app as soon as possible to get in the queue. Navigate to ‘Settings,’ then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ Then you should see ‘Update Requested…’ It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 13. This year, in addition to dark mode, it feels like every single app has been improved with some quality-of-life updates. The Photos app features a brand new gallery view with autoplaying live photos and videos, smart curation and a more immersive design.

This version has a big emphasis on privacy as well, thanks to a new signup option called “Sign in with Apple” and a bunch of privacy popups for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi consent, and background location tracking. Apple Maps now features an impressive Google Street View-like feature called Look Around. It’s only available in a handful of cities, but I recommend… looking around, as everything is in 3D.

Many apps have been updated, such as Reminders with a brand new version, Messages with the ability to set a profile picture shared with your contacts, Mail with better text formatting options, Health with menstrual cycle tracking, Files with desktop-like features, Safari with a new website settings menu, etc.

While you download the update, why don’t you head over to my review and read about all the new features in iOS 13.


Facebook expands its playable and AR ad formats

19 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Ahead of Advertising Week, Facebook is announcing the expansion of three interactive ad formats.

First, it says that poll ads (which you may already have seen in Instagram Stories) are moving to the main feed of the Facebook mobile app. Second, the augmented reality ads that Facebook has already been testing are moving into open beta this fall. Third, Facebook is making playable ads available to all advertisers, not just gaming companies.

The company showed off each format at a press event yesterday in New York City.

E!, for example, says it ran ads with interactive polls to promote one of its TV shows, leading to a 1.6x increase in brand awareness. Meanwhile, Vans created a playable ad where players could guide skateboarder Steve Van Doren down a mountain, resulting in a 4.4% lift in ad recall. And WeMakeUp ran an AR ad campaign allowing users to virtually try on new shades of makeup, leading to a 27.6% lift in purchases.

Mark D’Arcy, Facebook’s chief creative officer and vice president of global business marketing, said that while the initial playable ad examples had “very literal gaming mechanics, doing brands in a game,” there could be “a whole range” of different interactions over time.

D’Arcy also acknowledged that including polls, games and AR in ads aren’t exactly new ideas, but he suggested that in the past, they’ve generally been “heavy” experiences, requiring things like a separate microsite. By bringing them front-and-center on Facebook, the company is making them “super lightweight, fun and super scalable.”

As result, he suggested that each of these formats will evolve as more advertisers get to experiment with them: “In 12 months, even six months, we’re going to look at these examples and they’ll be fundamentally different.”

And if you’re wondering how these new formats will handle user data, the Facebook team said that only the aggregate results of polls — not individual user data — will be shared with advertisers. Similarly, any images created by users through an AR ad can be saved to their camera roll, but won’t be shared with advertisers.


Google’s parental control software Family Link gains much-needed features

18 September, by Sarah Perez[ —]

Google’s parental control software, Family Link, is getting a noteworthy update today with the addition of new features that will allow parents to limit screen time per app, instead of the device as a whole, as well as let them more easily extend screen time as needed. The features were first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, and help to make Family Link a more complete parental control and screen-time solution.

While the simplest way to manage screen time is to just not give kids a device in the first place, it’s not the most realistic. As parents, we need to teach our kids to navigate the world — and that means we have to show them how to establish a healthy, non-addictive relationship with technology, too. Certain apps make that more difficult, as they’ve been intentionally designed to steal our focus for long periods of time. Even as adults, many of us struggle with this same problem.

For years, platform makers like Apple and Google were complicit with regard to users’ app addictions. They were thrilled about the success of the third-party developers and the money they brought in. Only more recently have these companies realized that their popular devices are starting to be seen as the digital equivalent of junk food — sure, it fuels you. But it’s bad for your health and should be limited. And that, of course, is bad for business. Hence, the arrival of screen-time and digital well-being features.

Family Link is not a perfect system, but it now comes built-in to Android devices with Android 10 and up, and can be downloaded as a standalone app from Google Play if you don’t have it available. It’s to Google’s credit that it has integrated it now into the core mobile OS, where it’s easier to find and use.

family link

Already, it’s able to do things like set device “bedtimes,” track activity per app, set daily limits, view the device’s location on the map and ring it (you’ll need Family Link for this feature alone) and more.

But what was sorely lacking was the ability to more narrowly define how a child’s screen time should be used.

Today, there are plenty of educational apps — from flashcards to study guides to Kindle books — that kids don’t deserve to be locked out from just because they’ve used their phone over a certain number of hours per day. And as a parent myself, I was hesitant to enforce daily limits in Family Link because it locked my child out of her phone entirely, except for the ability to make calls. She just as often uses texting to reach me, so I didn’t want to cut her off from that ability.

With the new per-app limits, you’ll be able to limit how long each individual app on the device can be used.

That means I can drastically trim the number of hours per week she spends on TikTok and YouTube (sorry, not sorry, Google!), or in mobile games. It also now means that chores around the house aren’t tied to “screen time” as a whole, but time in a favorite app, like Roblox. (Oh, the motivation!)

However, per-app limits will require a lot of manual labor on parents’ part. I don’t mind the extra work, because I appreciate the granular control, but a lot of parents would be better-served by category-based limits. (e.g. “mobile gaming.”) This could be something Google addresses in a future update.

bonus time

The other update rolling out today is Bonus Time, which lets you up the amount of screen time in sort of a one-off situation.

For example, if the child is in the middle of something and just needs a few more minutes, you can now grant this extra time without having to disable the screen-time setting. You’ll know screen time is running out because the child gets warnings at 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. And they’ll be sure to tell you about this.

These updates are rolling out today to the cross-platform Family Link service. Parents can control Family Link settings from their Android or iOS device, and the child can use an Android or Chrome device.


Podcast app Pocket Casts is now available for free, with an optional $0.99 subscription

18 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Anyone who wants to download the podcast app Pocket Casts can now do so for free.

Previously, you had to pay a one-time fee of $3.99 to access the Android or iOS apps, but CEO Owen Grover said this approach seemed increasingly at odds with Pocket Casts’ goals, and with the vision of the public radio organizations (NPR, WNYC Studios and WBEZ Chicago) that acquired it last year.

“We understood pretty clearly that we were limiting our reach and limiting the number of users that could enjoy the quality and power of the app and the platform,” Grover said. “It felt penny wise and pound foolish to continue to collect a few dollars at the top … We have the benefit of these owners who are supporting us in a way that allows us to grow our audience, habituate new listeners and deliver a pretty terrific user experience.”

So moving forward, he said the core features of the Pocket Casts app — including audio effects and cross-platform sync — will be available for free.

At the same time, Pocket Casts is launching a monthly subscription called Pocket Casts Plus, where he said “power users and super users” can pay 99 cents a month or $10 a year for access to the desktop apps, cloud storage of their own audio and video files and exclusive app icons and themes.

Shifting from a one-time fee to a subscription model might seem like a move to make more money, but Grover said the company is really just charging a fee to cover the costs of the Plus features, particularly cloud storage.

“In the short term, we will make less money. It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s not about maximizing app revenue for us, it’s about maximizing the unique quality of the partnership [with] our wonderful public media partners.”

That doesn’t mean Pocket Casts isn’t interested in making money. In fact, Grover said the team will have “more to share about how we think about sensible, sane, scalable business models moving forward.” (He also assured me that the model won’t focus on advertising.)

He painted this change as part of a broader strategy after last year’s acquisition, which was followed by upgrades to Pocket Casts’ back end and front end.

“This is really the third pillar — now we’re off to the races,” Grover said.


DxOMark’s night and wide-angle camera tests push today’s smartphones to their limits

18 September, by Devin Coldewey[ —]

Sure, you could take Apple’s word for it that the new iPhone’s cameras are amazing — or you could let some obsessive pixel-peepers perform some (mostly) objective tests and really get into the nitty-gritty. Pixel peepers in extraordinary DxOMark are here to help, with new tests focused on evaluating the latest gadgets’ night modes and ultra-wide-angle lenses.

The site’s already extensive image quality tests cover the usual aspects of a smartphone camera — color representation, exposure, noise, all that. But the latest devices are making advances in new directions that aren’t adequately covered by those tests; namely, the emergence of “night mode” shooting and multi-lens setups like the iPhone 11 Pro and its hulking rear-camera assembly.

Therefore, the tests must change! And DxOMark has begun including extremely nitpicky breakdowns of camera performance in the particularly difficult circumstances of extreme low light and extreme wide-angle photography.

nightshots

Night shots are graded on detail, noise, color reproduction — the kinds of things that tend to be lost in low light. Wide-angle shots are graded on distortion, detail throughout the frame and chromatic aberration — all difficult to correct for.

Some devices may be great in one area but poor in another, for example trading too much detail for lower noise in a night shot but getting great color. A higher score may indicate a better overall camera, but if you care about your phone photography you should look into what goes into that score as well. I for one never plan to use these ultra-wide cameras, so I can ignore that category altogether!

Now, this is an interesting area to grade such cameras in, and difficult one, because so much of the work is being done in software. As I’ve noted, the future (and of course the present) of photography is code, and without code there would be no night mode or ultra-wide-angle shots.

The image stacking and denoising that allow low-light photography, and the speed of things like perspective correction and other tricks that allow a nearly fisheye lens to look relatively normal, are consequences of massive improvements in image processing efficiency and huge jumps in processing power. And they’ll only get better, even for a given camera-sensor-processor combo.

So DxOMark may find itself revising these scores — which are themselves being mapped retroactively onto reviews already posted: Low-light performance is replacing the flash performance category, and wide angle is a new score.

The first phones to get the new treatment are the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Note 10+, the Huawei P30 Pro, a handful of others and, of course, the new iPhones. No doubt the upcoming Pixel 4 will be a contender as well, especially in the night mode category.

It’s good to know someone is systematically testing these aspects of phones with a critical eye. Watch for the updated tests and listings on DxOMark starting today.


Amazon’s Alexa now speaks Hindi

18 September, by Manish Singh[ —]

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, that is the only language Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa, which was launched in India two years ago, understands in the nation. That is changing today.

At a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, the e-commerce giant said Alexa now supports Hindi, a language spoken by roughly half a billion people in India, as the company looks to expand its reach in the nation. Bringing support for Hindi to Alexa was in the works for more than a year, company executives said, noting the unique contextual, cultural and content-related challenges that Hindi implementation posed.

Users can now ask Alexa their questions in Hindi, and the digital assistant will be able to respond in the same language. The feature, which will begin rolling out through a software update to Alexa devices starting today, currently only supports one voice type for Hindi. (For English, Alexa offers multiple voice types.) In the months to come, Amazon said it plans to add support for multilingual households, which will enable members of the family to interact with Alexa in the language they each prefer.

Support for local languages has proven immensely beneficial to customers in the past, Manish Tiwari, head of devices category business for Amazon India, said at the event. Amazon last year introduced support for Hindi language on its apps and website. It has seen Hindi usage grow on the site and app by six times in recent months, he said.

Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist of Alexa AI at Amazon, said the adoption of Alexa in India has been phenomenal, though he did not share any figures. Prior to today’s update, Alexa supported some Hinglish words, a combination of English and Hindi, but the company said it wanted to bring full-fledged support.

“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those in the United States. For instance, in India, people often search the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when they are looking for a particular song,” he added. Alexa supports variants of about 15 languages, executives said.

alexa hindi

Amazon exec Prasad onstage at an event in New Delhi

Today’s announcement comes months after Amazon added a Hindi voice model to its Alexa Skills Kit, enabling developers to update their skills in India to support the more popular local language. More than 500 skills on the store already support Hindi, Prasad said today. Google smart speakers gained support for the Hindi language late last year.

Amazon says it offers Alexa customers in India more than 30,000 skills across various categories, including cricket, education and Bollywood. The company’s voice assistant is available to users through its smart speakers — Echo Dot, Echo Plus and more — and over three-dozen devices from other manufacturers, including Sony, iBall and LG, the company said.

Hindi should also help Amazon’s smart speakers maintain their lead over Google’s in India. Amazon commanded the local smart speakers market with a 59% market share in 2018, according to research firm IDC. (Google launched its smart speakers in India months after Amazon. IDC has not updated its findings since March this year.)

Indian language internet users are expected to account for nearly 75% of India’s internet user base by 2021, according to a report by KPMG and Google. By same year, nine out of every 10 new internet users in the country will likely be an Indian language speaker, the report said.

Both companies are locked in a global battle to win users through their digital voice assistants. And they should be: In many markets, including India, first-time internet users are increasingly showing that they are more comfortable engaging with their phones through voice instead of typing. Search through voice queries is growing by 270% year-over-year.


Daily Crunch: The iPhone 11 goes to Disneyland

17 September, by Anthony Ha[ —]

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Review: The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 do Disneyland after dark

Matthew Panzarino continues his tradition of testing out the latest iPhones at Disneyland. This time, he was particularly interested in how well the iPhone 11’s Night Mode works. His verdict: It compares extremely well to other low-light cameras, with exposure and color rendition that’s best-in-class.

But if you’re planning to upgrade, should you get the Pro, or the regular ol’ iPhone 11? Apparently the Pro is really there to address edge cases — the best video and photo options, a better dark mode experience, a brighter screen.

2. Under pressure, The We Company now only says it expects to go public ‘by the end of the year’

A new note from WeWork’s parent company all but confirms that it is indeed delaying its IPO roadshow, which had been expected to commence this week.

3. Amazon launches Amazon Music HD with lossless audio streaming

Amazon has a new, high-quality streaming tier of its music service called Amazon Music HD. It’s priced at $12.99 per month for Prime members, and you can add it to your existing Amazon Music subscription for an additional $5 each month.

disrupt will smith ang lee

4. Will Smith and Ang Lee are coming to Disrupt SF

They’ll be joining us to discuss their upcoming film “Gemini Man,” which features “jaw-dropping effects” from Weta Digital. The effects allow Smith to play both an assassin named Henry Brogan and a younger clone who’s been sent to kill his older counterpart.

5. Computer scientist Richard Stallman, who defended Jeffrey Epstein, resigns from MIT CSAIL and the Free Software Foundation

Stallman said he has resigned from his position as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab after describing a victim of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as “entirely willing” in emails sent to a department list.

6. I hope Apple Arcade makes room for weird, cool shit

Apple Arcade seems purpose-built to make room in the market for beautiful, sad, weird, moving, slow, clever and heartfelt.

7. What startup CSOs can learn from three enterprise security experts

How do you keep your startup secure? That’s one of the big questions we explored at TC Sessions: Enterprise earlier this month — and if you weren’t there, we’ve got a write-up of the main takeaways. (Extra Crunch membership required.)


Natural lighting is the key to Apple’s remodeled Fifth Ave. store

17 September, by Brian Heater[ —]

When it opened in 2006, Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship quickly became a top destination for New York City residents and tourists, alike. The big, glass cube was a radical departure from prior electronics stores, serving as the entrance to a 24-hour subterranean retail location. Location didn’t hurt either, with the company planting its flag across from the Plaza Hotel and Central Park and sharing a block with the iconic high-end toy store, FAO Schwarz.

Since early 2017, however, the store has been closed for renovations. Earlier this month, the company took the wraps off the outside of the cube (albeit with some multi-color reflective wrap still occupying the outside of the familiar retail landmark). Last week, the company offered more insight into the plan as retail SVP Deirdre O’Brien took to the stage during the iPhone 11 event to discuss the company’s plans for the reinvented space.

Fifth Ave 1

During a discussion with TechCrunch, Apple shed even more light on the underground store, which will occupy the full area of the Fifth Avenue plaza. As is the case with all of Apple’s flagships, light is the thing here — though that’s easier said than done when dealing with an underground space. Illuminating the store is done through a combination of natural lights and LEDs.

When the store reopens, a series of skylights flush on the ground of the plaza will be doing much of the heavy lifting for the lighting during the day. Each of those round portholes will be frosted to let the light in, while protecting the privacy of people walking above, with supplemental lighting from silver LED rings. That, in turn, is augmented by 18 (nine on each side of the cube) “sky lenses.” Oriented in two 3×3 configurations, the “sculptural furniture” will also provide seating in the outdoor plaza.

Of course, the natural lighting isn’t able to do all of the work for a 24-hour store. That’s complemented by a ceiling system that uses a similar stretched fabric-based lighting system as other Apple Stores. Here, however, the fabric will take on a more cloud-like structure with a more complicated geometrical shape than other Apple stores. The fabric houses tunable LED lights that react to the external environment. If it’s sunny outside, it will be brighter downstairs. When it’s cloudy, the lights will dim.

In all, there are five modes tuned to a 24-hour cycle, including:

  • Sunrise: 3,000K
  • Day: 4,500K-5,250K (depending on how bright it is outside)
  • Sunset: 3,000K
  • Evening: 3,250K
  • Night: 3,500K

Screen Shot 2019 09 17 at 12.21.48 PM

Sunrise and sunset are apparently the best time to check it out, as the lights glow warmly for about an hour or so. There are 80 ring lights in all, and around 500,000 LEDs, with about 2,500 LED spotlights used to illuminate tables and products inside the store. The natural lighting also will be used to keep alive eight trees and a green wall in the underground space. 

The newly remodeled store opens at 8AM on September 20, just in time to line up for the new iPhone.


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