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iPhone 12 MagSafe is the sleeper feature that could outshine 5G

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The MagSafe is one of the quietly coolest features on the new iPhone 12. 


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Apple’s MagSafe, which allows you to magnetically snap on attachments, may be the new feature in the iPhone 12 family that provides you with the most immediate impact. And that’s knowing that the company — and the entire wireless industry — has spent a huge amount of time shining a spotlight on 5G.

It’s almost sacrilege for me to write this. After all, I’ve been covering the potentially game-changing nature of 5G since 2015, when I first wrote about Verizon’s intention to field-test the super-fast cellular technology. But the truth is that initial deployments don’t represent huge boosts in speed, and your first experience with 5G may elicit a shrug

MagSafe, on the other hand, offers some tangible benefits regardless of where you live or whether you’re near the right cell tower. A MagSafe connection charges faster than previous iPhones, bringing it on par with the quick charge that Android phones have long enjoyed. And, as dumb as this sounds, there’s something cool about watching your phone snap into place, visual confirmation that you didn’t fumble the placement of your device. 

“There’s no more guessing where the sweet spot is,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC. 

Read more: MagSafe on iPhone 12: I was wrong to doubt Apple’s magnetic charger

MagSafe has its own long-term potential that’s exciting. The magnetic pins on the back of the phone harken back to other attempts to push an ecosystem of attachments, from Motorola’s Moto Mods to the Essential Phone PH-1’s modular camera. Neither of those companies moved enough phones — the Essential, in particular, was an outright flop — to really interest many accessory makers to take risks on bold ideas. Most of the time, we got extra battery packs. 

Apple’s scale changes everything. 

Paving the way 

Apple’s enormous reach — Strategy Analytics estimates it will sell 180 million units next year — means a potentially huge market for anyone looking to build MagSafe accessories. The opportunity is particularly rich for anyone looking at attachments beyond the basic wireless charging stand. Think game controllers, camera grips, selfie sticks and, yes, wireless charging battery packs that could change the way we hold or interact with an iPhone. 

“We can’t wait to see the innovative way that others will use MagSafe, creating a robust and ever expanding ecosystem,” Deniz Teoman, vice president of hardware systems engineering at Apple, said in Apple’s virtual presentation this month.

That isn’t hyperbole. Apple has a way of popularizing and legitimizing tech trends, from mobile payments to wireless charging. Where Motorola and Essential fell short, Apple could popularize the notion of magnetic attachments. 

Apple itself filed a patent for a folio case with additional power supply and the ability to charge AirPods, according to Patently Apple. While those patents don’t always yield products in the real world, they’re an indication of where the company may go in the future. 

Others are pumped for the opportunity.

“We are very excited to offer new ‘Made for MagSafe’ cases,” OtterBox CEO Jim Parke said in an e-mailed statement. “Apple has the innovative prowess and expansive reach to herald in an accessory ecosystem that can have a lasting impact on how we use our smartphones.”

Phone accessory maker Belkin , meanwhile, has already unveiled two MagSafe accessories, a charging stand that can handle an iPhone 12, Apple Watch and Apple Airpods, along with a more conventional car mount. Steve Malony, senior vice president of Belkin, said the initial products were more “bread and butter” when compared to future accessories on the roadmap. 

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“Some of the ideas that we see come across our desk are pretty wild,” he teased. “It’s going to be fun to take those ideas and put them in play.” 

Modular dreams

MagSafe feels like a spiritual successor to Google’s Project Ara, a modular phone that used magnets to attach smaller components to the handset, allowing you to build it up like you were assembling something out of Legos. 

Modular was hyped as a potential breakthrough innovation in smartphones. LG tried its hand with its G5 phone, which allowed you to swap out the bottom of the device for different attachments like grips and hi-fi speakers. The trend died off as quickly as it rose, with Google putting the project on hold, then quietly scrapping it. The G5 was such a flop that LG followed up with a far more conventional phone the next year.   

moto-z3-5g-mod-1

The 5G Moto Mod that gave the Moto Z3 5G capabilities before any other device. 


Derek Poore/CNET

“The bigger issue is that fully modular designs are more appealing to engineers than to consumers,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. “Smartphones are highly evolved products, and people buy the best phone they can afford that meets their needs now, not a platform to tinker with later.”

Moto Mods represented a streamlined version of the modular concept, offering a full phone with different backs you can swap in and out. That concept allowed Motorola’s Moto Z3 to be the first 5G phone on Verizon’s network, thanks to a 5G Mod that slapped into the back of the device. But even then, a Mod-less phone felt like half of a device, and the gimmick was core to the phone. 

Apple has refined it further, offering a complete handset in the iPhone 12, but with the option to magnetically attach accessories.

“MagSafe is brilliant in its simplicity,” Greengart said. 

Malony called the advent of MagSafe a “transformational time” for the accessories market, and he expects a wave of different attachments to come from the industry. 

“Things like this change the game,” he said.

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LightStrike’s virus-killing robot zaps airport viruses amid pandemic travel

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As air travel gains some steam and coronavirus-related shutdowns return in pockets of the country, one of the latest iterations of virus-fighting tech at the airport is a germ-zapping robot at San Antonio International Airport in Texas. It’s called LightStrike, and other airports are considering whether to invest in the $125,000 device that has been shown to be effective against the coronavirus. Some airports are watching to see whether travel improves over the coming weeks, according to officials at Xenex, the company behind the device.

“When you bring something like SARS-CoV-2 into focus, institutions like hotels, airlines, professional sports teams, they’re looking for what’s best-in-class to kill it,” said Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

Xenex says that its robot business has increased 600 percent amid the pandemic. Most of the increase is related to the health-care industry, but the robot also has entered new markets such as hotels, professional sports facilities and police stations.

Initially developed for use in hospitals and recently picked up by a local school district in Texas, LightStrike is 43 inches tall, about the size of a wheelchair, and has to be pushed along by an operator to reach targeted areas.

The high-tech plug-in pushcart uses powerful bursts of UV light to combat viruses on surfaces within a seven-foot radius in each direction, according to Mark Stibich, an infectious-diseases epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at Xenex.

It’s been known for decades that UV radiation can destroy viruses by chemically altering their genetic material. However, different pathogens are susceptible to UV light at varying wavelengths. Many traditional UV devices use low-intensity mercury bulbs, which means they may take longer to kill organic material such as viruses. By contrast, LightStrike robots have a powerful xenon UV-C light source capable of damaging the DNA and RNA of viruses in a matter of minutes.

When plugged in, the machine stores up a charge and releases the UV light in quick, pulsating bursts that also happen to be gentler on surfaces than continuous UV rays generated by mercury, according to Xenex. The device is not safe for use on humans, and the company built in a motion sensor, so the robot automatically turns off if a person comes within a certain range.

In a test run at San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the robot destroyed the coronavirus in two minutes. It has also been effective at obliterating some superbugs such as C. diff, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and is resistant to many disinfectants.

To combat the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, Xenex encourages operators to leave the UV-C light in reach of highly touched surfaces for at least two minutes to maximize efficiency. The surfaces are immediately safe to use and touch after the disinfecting cycle is complete. The number of cycles required to disinfect a room depends on the size of the space, the company says.

While robot cleaners can provide an additional layer of protection against spreading the virus, their value is questionable at airports, according to some epidemiologists. Sure, the technology represents a way of disinfecting surfaces such as handrails, kiosks, water fountains and bathrooms, but that’s not the primary way for the virus to travel. Also, disinfecting points of physical contact has little effect on circulating air that might transport respiratory illnesses, experts say.

Still, the devices may help the struggling travel industry motivate some people to start moving again.

“Surface transmission is one of the least likely ways that an individual would catch coronavirus,” said Mercedes Carnethon, professor of epidemiology at Northwestern University. “Perhaps robots are a measure that’s reassuring to individuals, but it’s not really going to have a large-scale impact.”

Hand-washing is still encouraged if you come in contact with highly touched or unclean surfaces, which may pose a small risk if you touch your face.

Despite innovative tech and the latest talk of possible vaccines, the U.S. air travel industry still has a long way to go to reach pre-coronavirus levels. In the seven days ending Nov. 17, air travel was down 63 percent compared to the same period last year. That represented a modest improvement over a 66 percent drop tallied a week earlier.

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Rolls-Royce’s Black Badge cars get lit with Neon Nights series

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YouTube, under pressure over election falsehoods, suspends OAN for Covid-19 misinformation.

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YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.

But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.

The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.

In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.

YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.

In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.

OAN representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.

“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”

YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.

“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.

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