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Tim Cook Interviewed For Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Early last year, James Rath, a young filmmaker who was born legally blind, created a video about the impact Apple products have had on his life. That video caught the attention of Apple:

In the ensuing months, Rath’s YouTube career has taken off and he’s become a strong advocate for the blind.

To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Tim Cook spoke with Rath and two other YouTubers, Rikki Poynter and Tatiana Lee about accessibility. Cook and Poynter, who is deaf, discussed closed captioning and how accessibility is a core value at Apple. Lee talked to Cook about the Apple Watch and its ability to track wheelchair use. Rath and Cook explored the history of Apple’s commitment to accessibility and the democratization of technology. The interviews follow the release of a series of videos made by Apple spotlighting the accessibility features of its products.

The interviews, which were filmed in the courtyard at Apple’s Infinite Loop campus are available after the break.

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Google I/O Roundup: Assistant Comes to iPhone, Photos and Gmail Receive Improvements

Today Google kicked off its I/O event with a keynote that covered a wide array of announcements, several of which were particularly relevant for Apple users.

Google Assistant Coming to iOS: Google Assistant is coming to the iPhone in the form of a dedicated app, launching today. Assistant is the company's Siri competitor, and until now it has been largely restricted to Android and Google-made devices like Google Home. The messaging app, Allo, has had some form of Assistant since its launch last September, but the full Assistant has not been available on iOS until now. Like every other third-party digital assistant on iOS, Google Assistant will be more restricted in its system access than Apple's own Siri, and less convenient to activate as well. To engage the Assistant, you'll have to open the app or interact with the app's widget. (Source)

Sharing Features and Photo Books with Google Photos: In the coming weeks, Google will be adding new sharing features to its Photos iOS app. Similar to the smart sharing features in Apple's Clips app, Google Photos will identify the subjects in your photos and suggest sharing the images with those people. Separately, a new Shared Libraries feature allows easy sharing of all images that fit the parameters you set. One option that's especially interesting is the ability to automatically share only the photos that contain a certain person in them. The last of the Photos announcements was that starting next week, U.S. users will be able to order Photo Books consisting of selections from their libraries. (Source)

Smart Reply Comes to the Gmail App: Google previously added a Smart Reply feature to its Inbox and Allo apps, but today it is expanding the feature to Gmail for iOS and Android. The feature offers three suggested responses that you can quickly tap on to send. Google says the feature has already driven 12 percent of replies in the Inbox app, so it is likely to receive a lot more use as it expands to more users. (Source)

Today's Apple-related announcements are on the lighter side when compared to some past I/O keynotes, but they're still nice to have for iPhone users who rely on Google services.

Today at Apple Launches and Angela Ahrendts Talks About the Future of Retail with LinkedIn

Apple has opened registration for its Today at Apple classes that were announced last month as part of the redesign of its retail stores. The presentations and hands-on sessions, which feature topics like photography, programming, design, art, and music, are available in hundreds Apple retail stores.

Apple has created a new website called ‘Today at Apple’ to spotlight special sessions and let users search for topics that interest them. If you have locations services turned on, Today at Apple uses your location to find nearby events. Users can also filter sessions by topic and date.

Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail, was interviewed by Daniel Roth of LinkedIn about the future of retail and the new Today at Apple concept. Retailers have been failing at an increasing rate in the US, in part due to competition from online stores. According to Ahrendts, retailers need to adapt by focusing more on shoppers’ experiences. Ahrendts also detailed some of the store changes being rolled out to support Today at Apple, including additional seating, audio equipment modifications, and the installation of 50,000 beacons in 30 countries.

You can watch LinkedIn’s interview with Angela Ahrendts after the break.

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Apple Pay Debuts in Italy

Apple Pay continued its global expansion today adding three Italian banks, Carrefour Banca, Unicredit, and Boon. Each financial institution’s credit and debit cards can be added to Apple Pay and used in a variety of retail shops and with online retailers. The addition of Italy to the list of countries with Apple Pay support had been widely anticipated since March when the payment service was first listed as ‘Coming Soon’ to Italy. In total, Apple Pay is now available in 16 countries worldwide.

Later this year, more financial institutions will be added to Apple Pay in Italy. According to Apple’s Italian Apple Pay website, American Express, CartaBCC, ExpendiaSmart, Fineco Bank, Hype, Mediolanum Bank, N26, and Widiba will be adding Apple Pay support. The site also lists some of the major retailers that have signed up to accept Apple Pay in Italy, including H&M, Eataly, Auchan, Carrefour, Simply Market, OVS, Limoni, Sephora, Esselunga, and others.

Instagram Launches Snapchat-Style Face Filters and More

Instagram has announced several new features rolling out today, chief of which is another major borrow from Snapchat:

Today, we’re introducing face filters in the camera, an easy way to turn an ordinary selfie into something fun and entertaining. Whether you’re sitting on the couch at home or you’re out and about, you can use face filters to express yourself and have playful conversations with friends.

From math equations swirling around your head to furry koala ears that move and twitch, you can transform into a variety of characters that make you smile or laugh. To see our initial set of eight face filters, simply open the camera and tap the new face icon in the bottom right corner.

The initial batch of eight filters is smaller than what's available on Snapchat, and it remains to be seen how often new filters will be added, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot more growth in this area. Snapchat's advantage is not only in the number of filters, but also in its recent expansion of filtering technology in the form of World Lenses – and Instagram has made clear its commitment to beating Snapchat at its own game.

Also launching today is a new "Rewind" camera format to play videos in reverse, a hashtag sticker that can be used when crafting Instagram Stories, and a new eraser brush to complement the set of existing drawing tools.

Philips Hue Line Expands with Ambiance Lamps, Fixtures, and New Bulbs

Philips Hue has long been one of the premier lines of smart lights on the market, and today that line is expanding with several new products. Philips announced through Business Wire a range of Ambiance offerings, including table lamps, fixtures, and bulbs.

The Ambiance lamps, named Wellner and Wellness, along with the Flushmount fixture, are available for pre-order today with mid-June ship dates. Each of the lamps is listed for $99.99, while the ceiling fixture is $199.99. At a glance, these products appear well designed, and a great fit for placement in anyone's home. The new Ambiance bulbs will be available for pre-order in June, with July ship dates.

As with other Hue devices, each of these upcoming products feature support for an array of smart home platforms, including Apple's HomeKit, Amazon's Alexa, and more. So no matter which platform you may be committed to, you shouldn't have to worry about compatibility issues here.

Shazam Launches Redesigned, Simplified iOS App

Shazam for iOS has introduced an update that makes app navigation more simple and streamlined. Gone are the traditional navigation tabs at the bottom of the screen; they have been replaced by a paginated layout where a swipe left or right is used to switch screens.

Launching Shazam lands you on the Home page, which is devoted almost entirely to the Shazam button. Tapping it will cause the app to start listening to what's playing; one change to the Home page is that you now activate Auto Shazam with a long-press on the Shazam button. Auto Shazam allows the app to continue listening to what's playing even after the app closes.

The top of the Home page indicates that there are three pages in total to navigate through. To the left of Home is My Shazam, to the right is Discover1, and swiping back and forth is the primary way to get where you want to go. This type of layout resembles that of apps like Snapchat, only Shazam pulls it off in a less confusing manner. Not only do you always see three navigation dots at the top of the screen to indicate your current place within the app, but the Home page also contains icons that show which pages are placed on the left and right – Snapchat could benefit from similar aids, for new users at least.

My Shazam hasn't changed much from before, but in an effort to consolidate the total number of pages in the app, Discover now includes the contents formerly found in Trending as well. A Chart Update card is included with your daily mix, plus you'll find a button at the top and bottom of your 10 daily updates that takes you straight to Trending.

I appreciate what Shazam has done to try simplifying its app, both in the number of pages to navigate through, and in adopting the swiping gesture to handle that navigation with ease. Not every app would benefit from such a streamlined interface, but it works well here.

  1. Unfortunately Discover has not yet made it to the iPad, so Trending stands in its place on that device. ↩︎

Apple Releases How-To Videos on iPhone 7 Photography

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus include Apple's most sophisticated cameras. Most of the time you see people out and about snapping quick shots that don’t necessarily take advantage of all the camera hardware and app have to offer. A series of 30-40 second videos released by Apple provide mini how-to tutorials on how to take iPhone 7 photography to the next level.

The videos are available on a new Apple website called ‘How to Shoot on iPhone 7’ and include videos on taking:

  • Portraits with the Portrait feature that’s exclusive to the iPhone 7 Plus;
  • Closeups using tap to focus and slide to adjust exposure;
  • Vertical panoramic photos;
  • Shots without using the flash;
  • Action photos with burst mode;
  • Selfies using the timer;
  • Photos framed with a unique angle;
  • Stills while filming video; and
  • Night time photos using street light.

Five of the videos are also on YouTube, and you can watch them after the break.

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Snapchat Adds Magic Eraser, Emoji Brush, Limitless Snaps, and More

In an update released today, Snapchat has added a slew of new tools to enhance the creation and sharing of Snaps.

The Magic Eraser is a tool for removing unwanted objects from a picture. You can use it by tapping the scissors icon, then the stars icon. The tool works very much like the Repair Tool found in Pixelmator, the powerful photo editing app. Simply tap and drag on the part of the image you'd like to 'erase,' and after a couple seconds of work Snapchat will remove the object. When it works properly, what's left in the absent object's place will blend in nicely with the rest of the photo. As with all tools like this, the reliability can vary depending on the particular photo and object.

A second new tool is the Emoji Brush, which lets you draw with emoji on an image like you might draw with a standard colored brush. Tap the brush icon, then the heart emoji, to pull up the emoji picker. Currently only a select few emoji are available to choose from, including the heart, fire, star, flower, and a few others. If you tap and hold on the bottom of the emoji lineup, it will expand to temporarily reveal a variety of colored heart options.

Additional changes in the app include the new Loop tool, which lets you set a Snap to loop until your friend taps forward to the next Snap. This pairs nicely with the new option to remove a time limit from your Snap, so friends can view it as long as they'd like before moving on. Once the Snap is closed though, it will still delete as usual.