iOS 11.3 Beta 2 Released with Battery Health, Power Management Tools

Apple on Tuesday seeded the second beta version of iOS 11.3 to developers, about two weeks after releasing the first iOS 11.3 beta.

Unlike iOS 11.2.5, which was released two weeks ago, iOS 11.3 is a fairly major update with a host of new features and additions — including several promised capabilities related to iPhone battery health and throttling.

Notably, those features have apparently been added to iOS 11.3 beta 2. The recently seeded testing software has a new Battery Health feature in Settings. Put simply, the feature will let users know what the maximum capacity of their battery is, and whether or not it is operating at that capacity.

iOS 11.3 will also add the ability to toggle iPhone power management on or off. But Apple notes that all devices running an iOS 11.3 beta will have the power management feature disabled by default unless an iPhone experiences an unexpected shutdown. In that case, throttling will be toggled on automatically.

Similarly, iPhones running at peak battery capacity won’t have the toggle available. In the case of a random shutdown, the toggle will appear and users will be able to prioritize performance over shutdown protection. Of course, Apple doesn’t recommend that users do so.

Other New Features and Improvements

iOS 11.3 will also introduce a number of smaller changes to the mobile operating system, including the following

  • Four new Animoji characters, including a dragon, lion, skull and bear.
  • The ability to store iMessages in iCloud.
  • Upgrades to ARKit, including more accurate environment mapping and the ability to place 3D objects on vertical surfaces.
  • Some aspects of AirPlay 2, with support for multi-room audio for Apple TV devices.
  • Business Chat, which will let users communicate with companies and businesses via Messages.
  • A new Health Records menu that lets users view their medical records in one place.
  • A new Privacy icon that will fight iCloud and Apple ID phishing.
  • Small tweaks to native apps like News, Books and the App Store.

iOS 11.3 beta 2 is now available to download as an over-the-air update for registered developers, provided that an appropriate configuration profile is installed on a device. It’s also available via the developer’s portal.

iOS 11.3 will be released to the public as a free download in the spring.

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HomePod Reviews – Final Conclusions and Key Takeaways

In just a few days, users who have pre-ordered HomePod will get their hands on the device for the first time.

HomePod has been available to pre-order since Jan. 26, and it’ll begin shipping to consumers on Feb. 9.

But if you haven’t ordered HomePod yet, should you?

Luckily, there are quite a few early reviews of the device and they paint a clear picture of HomePod’s key advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the takeaways you should know.

HomePod Pros

Aesthetic

This probably isn’t going to be a primary selling point for anyone, but it is worth mentioning: HomePod looks really nice.

The build quality and materials used are all excellent, and it sports the company’s typical minimalist design. Apple has also ensured that its looks don’t interfere with its audio quality. (Its springy mesh covering is sound-neutral, for example.)

Report Claims Apple's HomePod Is a 'Side Project' 3 Years Behind Echo

Of course, aesthetics only take a device so far. But HomePod manages to combine good looks with simplicity and a suite of powerful audio-based technology and speakers.

Ease of Use & Seamless Integration

Apple has an “it just works” philosophy with its products, and HomePod really embodies that design MO. For one, the device takes about 30 seconds to set up.

The device automatically grabs important information like your Apple ID and iCloud data. It also automatically syncs with all of the HomeKit-compatible devices in your home. Once it is, it’s very easy to access and control the various features that it sports. That means, after the 30-second setup, you can ask Siri via HomePod to open your shades.

And on that note, HomePod can pick up “Hey, Siri” voice commands extremely well with its onboard suite of microphones.

Privacy

We’ve previously written that Apple’s best product is its commitment to privacy, and that’s no less true in regards to HomePod. And its approach to voice commands should distinguish it from competitors for the privacy-minded.

While HomePod lacks an analog microphone mute button, any voice information is only transferred to Apple after a user says “Hey, Siri.” That data is then encrypted and labeled as an “anonymous Siri identifier.”

Compare that to Apple’s rivals. Amazon doesn’t anonymize data collected through Alexa voice commands. And Google keeps basically all of your information, from voice commands to search history and your physical location.

Audio Tuning

Rather than being marketed as just another smart home speaker, Apple is specifically touting the HomePod as the next generation of home music playback hardware. It does this with its excellent speakers, but we’ll get to that in a second.

HomePod also sports some advanced audio tech (the combination of about 200 patents, Apple says). When you place HomePod somewhere, it begins detecting and analyzing the space it’s in, and tuning its audio playback settings accordingly with its onboard A8 chip. HomePod knows where it is in a room, and can even detect when you move it so it can start the process over again.

7 Important New HomePod Details You Should Know

This “beam-forming” technology allows it to intelligently tweak audio playback. It assigns specific elements of a music track to different beams, and even works to ensure that its bass doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the music. Put simply, there’s a lot of technology at work ensuring that you get excellent sound quality — even before you hit play.

Sound Quality

But its smart analysis and audio tuning is just one part of HomePod’s audio. Amazing sound quality is how Apple hopes to set HomePod apart. And from basically every early review that we could find, Apple succeeded in this regard.

HomePod just sounds better than basically any other smart speaker on the market. That’s largely because HomePod isn’t one speaker, it’s eight: a seven tweeter array and a powerful four-inch woofer.

That fact, combined with Apple’s proprietary room-analysis and audio processing technology, gives what is perhaps the cleanest and highest-quality sound on the (smart speaker) market. That includes cheaper speakers and even speakers that are more expensive. But, of course, that superb audio quality comes with a few caveats.


HomePod Cons

Price

There’s no getting around the fact that HomePod is fairly expensive for a smart home speaker. It’s $ 349 in the U.S., whereas the cheapest Echo product retails for about $ 50.

On the other hand, that cost is offset by HomePod’s feature set and quality of audio playback. That’s especially true since HomePod sounds better than similar yet more expensive speakers.

It all comes down to how much a user is willing to pay for the device, particularly with its other faults. Devoted Apple fans with spare cash will likely find the speaker more appealing than a Spotify user on a budget.

Important Features Aren’t Available (Yet)

This fact will only hamper HomePod’s release temporarily, but it is worth noting for those who have pre-ordered and early adopters.

Initially, HomePod will lack two relatively important features: stereo sound for multiple HomePod playback, and multi-room audio via AirPlay 2. HomePod will also only work in English at launch.

Multi-room audio and stereo playback will arrive in a free software update later this year. Apple will also add additional supported languages in the future — presumably when it’s launched in other countries.

It’s Locked Into the Apple Ecosystem

HomePod is a closed system, and it really only plays nice with Apple’s proprietary services. This, perhaps more so than anything else, will be the dealbreaker for many. To play music on HomePod, users will need to subscribe to Apple Music or iTunes Match. Music played from an iTunes library must also be officially purchased from iTunes.

Apple Confirms HomePod's Supported Audio Sources

To HomePod, services like Spotify basically don’t exist. Users can stream Spotify audio via AirPlay, but third-party platforms won’t work with Siri’s voice commands. Similarly, if your primary smartphone is an Android, you’re also out of luck. HomePod will only sync with iOS devices. And it can’t play audio from an Android over Bluetooth, either.

Apple Music may be growing in popularity, but the fact that it’s one of a few streaming options for HomePod is still a limitation.

Siri Is Lacking Polish

First-party limitations of HomePod could be a minor concern for those already locked into the Apple ecosystem. But, sadly, there’s another fault for any HomePod user: Siri on HomePod is just not as polished or feature-rich as competitors like Alexa or Google Assistant currently.

You can’t ask Siri to play something on your Apple TV. And even though HomePod is a speakerphone, you won’t be able to ask Siri to make calls. Siri won’t be able to look up recipes, and it won’t have the vast array of knowledge that Google implemented for its Assistant.

Weirdly enough, Siri on HomePod also can’t be trained to recognize different voices. That might be okay for a household of various users, but it also means that anyone in the household can access a user’s private text messages. And these are just a few examples. In other words, Siri just isn’t as capable as its rivals — at least, not yet.


Final Conclusions

If you take all of this information and boil it down, the key takeaway is pretty simple.

  • HomePod sounds amazing. It likely sounds better than any other smart speaker on the market.
  • It also looks great, is simple to use, and incorporates many of the reasons why users love Apple.
  • But it’s also expensive and only plays nice with Apple services. Spotify or Tidal subscribers will be inconvenienced, and Android users need not apply. That might be okay if Siri was a bit more functional (which it still could be in the future).

All in all, HomePod will make sense for some, while others should probably stick to other platforms.

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Apple May Replace 16GB iPhone 5c Devices with 32GB Models

If you own a 16-gigabyte iPhone 5c that’s on its last leg, you might be due for a (slight) upgrade if you take the device to an Apple Store or another official service provider.

Reportedly, Apple Store repair technicians and Authorized Service Providers will be able to offer users a 32GB iPhone 5c if their current 16GB model needs to be replaced, according to a note distributed to Apple Authorized Service Providers this week.

“Orders for whole unit service inventory of iPhone 5c (16GB) models may be substituted to iPhone 5c (32GB) models until further notice,” the note reads.

It’s worth noting that the actual text states that 16GB models may be substituted for 32GB models, so not all 16GB models will be upgraded. But some customers who bring their 16GB iPhone 5c in for repairs due to a manufacturing or other issue could have their handsets swapped for a device with a larger storage capacity. That’s if their old devices warrant replacement, of course.

As far as the timeline, “until further notice” seems to imply that the new directive will remain in effect for the near future, at least.

The company didn’t give any reason why it’s implemented the change. But it’s likely related to dwindling supply availability of 16GB iPhone 5c models, particularly since Apple has killed the device off.

Apple first debuted the iPhone 5c in September 2013 as a lower-cost device. The plastic casings of the lineup came in a range of bright and colorful options, unlike other 4-inch Apple handsets.

The company began phasing out the device beginning in 2014, however. It’s been sold as recently as 2016 in markets like India, but since then, Apple has officially discontinued the model.

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Apple Says HomePod’s Immersive Sound Technology Is Coming Soon

Apple has officially put a name to the face of its proprietary HomePod technology which will enable two of the Siri-enabled smart speakers to automatically detect, connect, and work in synergy to produce an optimal balance of stereo-like sound.

The technology, dubbed FullRoom, is reliant on what Apple describes as “advanced beamforming capabilities” which will allow two HomePod speakers, when placed within close proximity of one another, to pair, and “create a wider, more immersive soundstage” than a traditional pair of stereo speakers would be able to, Apple said.

Early reviews which began circulating on Tuesday appear to agree that while HomePod is an impressive device in terms of its audio playback capabilities, its Siri functionality is hit-or-miss, according to multiple reviewers including The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern.

Stern noted, for instance, that HomePod “nails the speaker,” but Siri struggles in the same way on Apple’s standalone speaker as she does on the company’s iPhone and iPad.

Apple confirmed these FullRoom audio capabilities will be coming in a future HomePod software update, while according to TechCrunch, Apple will enable another, highly-anticipated HomePod feature — dubbed ‘MultiRoom’ — at a later time.

Technically similar to FullRoom, multi-room will reportedly enable multi-channel audio playback support via multiple, distally positioned HomePod speakers utilizing Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol.

Multi-room support will reportedly come via an update separate from that which will enable FullRoom support — though both features are currently listed as “Coming Soon” on Apple’s website.

Announced back in June of last year, Apple’s $ 349 HomePod speaker is at long last available to order online for customers in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia in either White or Black. It officially launches in Apple Stores and begins shipping this Friday, February 9.

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