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Posts tagged with "bluetooth"

Testing the Operating Range of AirPods and Beats Solo3

Steffen Reich ran some tests to determine range differences between AirPods, W1-equipped Beats headphones, and older Beats models:

Much has been said about the virtues of the W1 chip Apple started baking into their latest wireless Beats line-up and of course the AirPods. By now we know for sure that W1 facilitates a much faster pairing process, as do we know that the chip significantly amplifies both battery life and conservation techniques. What’s less prominently talked about – at least from official sides – is the operating range of these wireless headphones and the presumed effect the W1 chip addition has had on that benchmark.

Obviously, walking a straight line in a park is no replacement for the kind of wireless interference you'd have on a train, in a crowded street, or in an office with walls and other Bluetooth devices nearby. Also, the AirPods are a new category altogether – I'm not sure how relevant a comparison to non-wireless Bluetooth buds can be.

However, these base results are in line with the excellent range I also experienced with the Beats Solo3, which makes me wonder how impressive (range-wise) future Studio Wireless headphones will be.

I keep wishing Apple would license the W1 chip to third-parties – especially on large headphones, it makes pairing and range performance so much better than regular Bluetooth.

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Apple Explains Why It Eliminated the Headphone Jack

Apple seems to get that eliminating the headphone jack will be a tough sell in some quarters. In a packed keynote, Phil Schiller spent a fair amount of time laying out Apple’s case for why switching to the lightning connector for wired headphones and moving to wireless AirPods is the right thing to do. But Apple also spoke to BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski to add context and the detail that couldn’t fit into the keynote.

Apple’s Dan Riccio explained the challenge this way:

”We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space,” he says.

Eliminating the headphone jack helped enable the iPhone 7’s new camera, waterproofing, and better battery life. As Paczkowski explains:

The 3.5-millimeter audio jack has been headed to its inevitable fate for some time now. If it wasn’t the iPhone 7, it might have been the iPhone 8 (or, for that matter, the iPhone 6). In the end, it was simple math that did the audio jack in, a cost-benefit analysis that sorely disfavored a single-purpose Very Old Port against a wireless audio future, some slick new cameras, and the kind of water resistance that anyone who has ever dropped an iPhone in the toilet has long wished for.

Anyone who has used Bluetooth headphones knows that they promise freedom, but at the price of friction – charging, spotty connectivity, and poor audio quality. Apple’s answer to those headaches comes in the form of its new W1 chip that adds a layer of ‘secret sauce’ to its newly announced wireless AirPods that promises to eliminate the pain points.

According to John Ternus, vice president of Mac, iPad, ecosystem, and audio engineering at Apple:

“As you can imagine, by developing our own Bluetooth chip and controlling both ends of the pairing process there’s a lot of magic we can do,”

I was sold on wireless headphones a long time ago despite their limitations. That said, I hope Apple’s secret sauce is every bit as magical as claimed because the issues with Bluetooth are real and fixing them is a challenge that no other headphone manufacturer has fully conquered.

You can also follow all of the MacStories coverage of today's Apple's keynote through our September 7 Keynote hub, or subscribe to the dedicated September 7 Keynote RSS feed.

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Bluetooth Headphone Revenue Overtook Non-Bluetooth for the First Time in June

Interesting data from NPD:

According to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, Bluetooth headphone revenue overtook non-Bluetooth for the first time in June accounting for 54 percent of headphone dollar sales and 17 percent of unit sales in the U.S.

And:

Beats and LG have led the Bluetooth headphone market throughout the first half of the year, accounting for approximately 65 percent of dollar sales.

Not necessarily a direct indication of decline in wired headphones, but a sign that, as average prices of Bluetooth headphones go down, consumers may prefer wireless.

Removing the headphone jack from the next iPhone will be annoying; at the same time, limitations notwithstanding, I can't deny how nice it is not to deal with wires anymore.

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Knock to Unlock, but Also to Keep Your Mac Moving

The only downside to Apple’s fabulous Touch ID is that, once you have it, you miss it everywhere it doesn’t exist. I miss it the most on the Mac. Yes, I know about MacID. No, that isn’t what I want.

For me, the closest thing to achieving the convenience of Touch ID on the Mac is Knock a/k/a “Knock To Unlock.” It’s not all the way there yet for example, it can’t unlock 1Password on my Mac), but let me explain why it has such a place in my heart.

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Chrome for iOS Gets ‘Physical Web’ Support for Beacon Discovery

Chrome for iOS has been updated today with support for Physical Web, an initiative aimed at interacting with beacons based on the new Eddystone protocol through webpages instead of apps. Now, Chrome's Today widget on iOS (previously used to open tabs and voice searches) can scan beacons broadcasting URLs nearby and offer to open them in Chrome directly.

From the blog post:

When users who have enabled the Physical Web open the Today view, the Chrome widget scans for broadcasted URLs and displays these results, using estimated proximity of the beacons to rank the content. You can learn more about the types of user experiences that the Physical Web enables by visiting our cookbook and joining the open source community on GitHub.

This is Google's attempt at improving upon one of the biggest shortcomings of Apple's iBeacon: app discoverability. iBeacons can achieve great utility if an associated/compatible app is already installed on a user's device and sends a notification, but iOS doesn't have a simple, consistent way to browse nearby beacons and start interacting with them right away. With Eddystone and Physical Web, Google is hoping that the transition from OS to discovered beacon and beacon functionality (for the smart device) can be smoother thanks to the web. Here's how they explain it:

The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device - a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car - and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.

Essentially, Google wants to give every smart device a web address that doesn't require an app store. This plays in favor of Google's strengths and, potentially, core business model, but it also sounds like a superior solution for some cases if the overhead of app discovery is out of the equation altogether (for more on the differences between iBeacon and Physical Web, see this). The Physical Web implementation in Chrome for iOS looks clever and well done, and I'm hoping that I'll get to play with it at some point. Seems crazy that all this is available in an iOS widget.


Estimote Announces Stickers

After introducing considerable improvements to their SDK last month, Estimote has announced Stickers – extensions for regular beacons to add context to everyday objects.

Estimote Stickers are complementary to Estimote Beacons. Whereas beacons add a layer of contextual intelligence to static locations such as stores, museums and airports, stickers extend that context to the objects within those venues. Stickers contain accelerometer and temperature sensors and an optimized ARM processor with flash memory and Bluetooth Smart controller, all inside a significantly smaller and thinner form factor. Stickers are truly designed to be placed on everyday objects. Simply attach a sticker to an item to turn it into a nearable - a smart, connected object that broadcasts data about its location, motion and temperature.

The video created by Estimote shows the potential of Stickers when applied, literally, to objects we interact with on a daily basis.

It's hard not to be impressed by the pace of rollouts by Estimote and, generally speaking, the entirely new dimension that beacons are opening up for third-party developers and apps.

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Finding Bluetooth Devices with an iPhone

I was sent this article by Jeff Gamet about finding a lost Fitbit using your iPhone by my friend Stephen, and, while I don't use a Fitbit, I thought it'd be interesting to try the recommended app for my Jawbone UP24. Jeff used BTLExplorer, a free app, to measure the signal strength of the Fitbit tracker and find it using his iPhone, but I didn't like the outdated UI shown in the screenshot, so I went looking for similar apps on the App Store.

As it turns out, there are a lot of free apps to find BLE devices on the App Store. I ended up installing three of them, but I'm fairly certain you'd be fine with just one.

Bluetooth Smart Scanner shows device names, RSSI, and it can play sounds as it scans for nearby Bluetooth devices. It's got a pretty basic iOS 7 design, it gets the job done, and I like the sound option.

LightBlue is similar to Bluetooth Smart Scanner, but it has a nicer interface with signal bars and lighter typography. It doesn't have sounds.

BLE Discovery shows the same stats, but it comes with the ability to display a real-time graph for RSSI dBm and a three-second rolling average. You can tell it's working by walking around a device you're tracking and seeing the lines rise to “Strong signal” as you get closer.

This quick experiment taught me that there's an abundance of BLE trackers on the App Store and that Jeff's method works. To test the apps, I asked my girlfriend to hide my Jawbone UP24 while I was in the kitchen; when I walked into our bedroom, I started looking at numbers on the screen, which kept getting higher as I got closer to our dog. She had hidden the UP24 under a cushion the dog was sleeping on; he wasn't pleased about my request to get up because I needed my fitness tracker back.

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Estimote Rolls Out Power Management Features for iBeacons

Estimote, makers of wireless beacons powered by Bluetooth and compatible with Apple's iBeacon technology, today rolled out a series of power management features available in their updated iOS app and developer SDK:

Our embedded and systems engineers have worked for thousands of hours optimizing every packet in the Bluetooth stack and have devised several new schemes to extend the life of an Estimote Beacon measurably. We abstract 100% of this from developers and expose this neatly in both our mobile app and SDK for you to manage. And this is simply the first release in a series of power management features due out from us. We believe that pretty soon a beacon will be able to last forever, powering millions of interactions as consumers move about their journey through the physical world, and we want to be the first company to get there.

Emphasis mine.

The more I read about them, the more I believe beacons and contextual awareness will profoundly change the way we interact with apps, letting our devices have a better understanding of our location, intention, and interaction with our surroundings. We're already seeing this in retail, museums, stadiums, and even personal home automation. Estimote is leading the way with their iBeacon implementation, and you can check out the app here.

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