3 reasons Apple joined the Alliance for Open Media

As first reported by CNET, Apple unexpectedly popped up on the Alliance for Open Media website today as a Founding Member. It would appear Apple has suddenly become serious about the Alliance’s effort to create AV1, an open, royalty-free alternative to the HEVC/H.265 video codec that’s currently all but necessary in order to send 4K video over the internet.

While “Founding Member” suggests Apple has been there since the Alliance formed in September 2015, the group only uses the term to denote “the highest level” of importance within its ranks; Facebook received the same title after joining in November 2017. In other words, Apple’s participation is probably quite recent.

But why would Apple care about supporting AV1 now, given that it only officially added H.265 support to Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs in September? Here are three likely possible explanations.

1. Apple wants AV1 for its own devices

If Apple wants to offer video downloads or streams, it can now encode all of its files in HEVC format and stream them to Apple products running its latest OSes, which were released in final form last September after betas. What use would it have for a competing format with similar compression efficiency?

Apple might be looking to support third-party developers who want to stream AV1 videos to Apple devices. While Apple probably wouldn’t need to join the Alliance to do so — particularly at its highest levels — it could be planning to give app makers some flexibility or to transition its devices away from the reportedly expensive HEVC/H.265 standard whenever that makes sense.

If that sounds crazy, note that Apple very briefly included H.265 support in the iPhone 6, specifically for making FaceTime calls to other iPhone 6 devices, only to quietly yank H.265 and replace it with H.264. It wasn’t clear at the time whether HEVC licensing or an ongoing lawsuit over FaceTime was to blame, but there’s precedent for Apple drifting in and out of support for video formats.

2. Apple needs AV1 to stream videos to non-Apple devices

This is a more interesting possibility. Since the rollouts of iOS 11, macOS 10.13, and tvOS 11, Apple can now guarantee that its HEVC video streams are playable on its own devices, but it can’t guarantee that they’re playable on non-Apple devices — not every manufacturer is willing to pay HEVC licensing fees or deal with the sort of messy licensing issues Microsoft encountered when adding HEVC to Windows 10. If Apple wanted its videos to enjoy the bandwidth-saving benefits of HEVC on non-HEVC devices, AV1 may be the only viable alternative.

As a competitor to H.265, AV1 is backed by everyone from Amazon to Google and Microsoft and includes work from Cisco’s Thor Project, Google’s VP9 and VP10 codecs, and Mozilla’s Daala. Chipmakers including ARM, Intel, and Nvidia are on board, as are Cisco, Facebook, and IBM. Due to that roster, it’s easy to imagine broad support for AV1 streaming across pretty much every platform with capable hardware when it hits the market.

Among the types of videos Apple distributes are downloads, which are already playable by iTunes — including iTunes on Windows. The other type? Streams. AV1 could enable Apple to stream videos to Android devices, which aren’t currently supported by iTunes but which do have access to Apple Music. If Apple’s going to launch a video subscription service, it’s likely going to want to reach Android users like it does with its music service. AV1 might be the smartest way to do so.

3. Apple doesn’t care (much) about AV1, but it wants to help steer AV2

This third explanation is not impossible, but it doesn’t seem likely. After over two years of development, AV1 is reportedly very close to being finished and is expected to be feature-complete this month. According to a report from StreamingMedia.com, that would place products with hardware AV1 decoding in the market by mid-to-late 2019. Encoding of AV1 is also apparently brutally processor-intensive, even compared with HEVC and VP9.

If Apple is truly only becoming involved with AV1 at this very late stage, it most likely isn’t doing so to steer AV1 development — though some technical contributions are possible. It may be looking ahead to helping an eventual AV2, which could be needed sooner rather than later to enable 8K video, 60Hz 4K video, and other bandwidth-demanding solutions that are now in the very foreseeable future.

What’s most likely?

My own belief is that Apple could be getting involved with the Alliance for Open Media for all three reasons. An Apple-branded Netflix-style video subscription service appears to be highly likely given the company’s recent content development deals, and its extended delay in adopting H.265 appeared to reflect a genuine lack of interest in paying HEVC licensing fees.

Getting on board with an open video codec makes sense both for 2019 products that could use the standard and for future products that will use its successors.

Apple – VentureBeat

There’s more than one way to open Mac archives

This post is presented by Trend Micro, maker of Dr. Unarchiver. Archives are a great way to compress and bundle all sorts of files. Whether massive applications or complex media projects, to get at the contents of an archive you typically must unarchive the whole thing. Depending on the type of archive, you might need […]

(via Cult of Mac – Tech and culture through an Apple lens)

Cult of Mac

OnePlus 5T open beta 2 adds new OnePlus Switch app for switching between devices

OnePlus has released OxygenOS Open Beta 2 for the OnePlus 5T based on Android Oreo that comes with a whole host of improvements and some new features. The most notable addition is a new OnePlus Switch app designed to make it easy to switch to a new OnePlus device from an existing one from any Android brand. Another addition is a new clipboard feature that’s activated whenever you mark and copy something across the device. The phone will then let you search, translate or share that text. In terms of improvements, there are some to the battery for managing high power consumption…

GSMArena.com – Latest articles

At CES 2018, Apple’s HomeKit partners open doors to Alexa and Google Assistant

After a holiday season that saw HomeKit outed as insecure while Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers grabbed more headlines, CES this year is hosting a number of Apple HomeKit smart home accessories with an unexpected new feature: support for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

Above: Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt

Image Credit: Schlage

One example: smart door locks. In October 2015, Schlage debuted its Sense Smart Deadbolt as an Apple HomeKit accessory. This year, the company came to CES with a different message — Sense gained support for Alexa ahead of the holidays, and will add Google Assistant integration in early Q1 2018. Another smart lock, Array from Brinks, will launch (after extended engineering delays) with Amazon Alexa support first, adding HomeKit and Assistant support later.

Lutron is another example. This established smart home accessory maker was one of the first to ship HomeKit accessories in June 2015, and even developed an Apple Watch app. At CES this year, however, Lutron has focused on touting its support for Amazon’s Echo, the Amazon Alexa-integrated Sonos One, and its “alliance with Nest” to integrate its Caséta Wireless system’s controls with Nest’s cameras and security products.

Above: An illustration shows Kohler’s new Verdera Alexa-enabled mirror.

Image Credit: Kohler

To whatever extent HomeKit looked like it might become the clear market leader, the shine’s off at this point, often in favor of integrating Alexa. Some companies, including Kohler, have decided to bring smart home accessories to market with Alexa built in as a major selling point, albeit with the promise of some support for HomeKit, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana.

Above: Eve Button, a wireless HomeKit remote control

Image Credit: Elgago

On the other hand, stalwart Apple accessory maker Elgato has opted to keep its Eve series of smart home accessories HomeKit-exclusive. Elgato is using CES to reveal new products including the second-generation Eve Room — a $ 100 air quality, temperature, and humidity monitor with an E Ink screen, planned for March — and a $ 50 HomeKit remote control called Eve Button, coming later this month. The latter accessory lets you toggle between three different HomeKit-powered room settings without the need for an iOS device as a controller, though an Apple-developed HomeKit hub is still required.

Above: Wemo Bridge

Image Credit: Belkin

And after waffling on supporting HomeKit, another longtime Apple partner — Belkin — is finally throwing a bone to HomeKit users. Belkin developed a lineup of Wemo smart home accessories, leaving out HomeKit support, and publicly said that it was canceling plans to make Wemo work with HomeKit. In a reversal, it later announced Wemo Bridge, a secure mini router that let HomeKit control Wemo products, but missed its fall 2017 ship date. The finished accessory showed up at CES Unveiled last night with a $ 40 price tag, and will ship later this week. Meanwhile, recent Wemo accessories such as the Wi-Fi Smart Dimmer and Insight Smart Plug were built with integrated Alexa and Assistant support, and only require Wemo Bridge for connecting to HomeKit.

In recent years, supporting Apple-exclusive accessory standards has proved dangerous for third-party developers. Apple debuted a wireless speaker standard called AirPlay that suffered from lag and connectivity issues, sinking the expensive third-party speakers that adopted it; it also unveiled Lightning connectors that required partners to secure Apple approvals, components, and specific manufacturing partners. At the same time, accessories based on the Bluetooth and USB standards took off in the marketplace, as they were less expensive and appealed to both Apple and non-Apple users.

If the above is any indication, Apple should be wary of HomeKit becoming another footnote.

Apple – VentureBeat