Monthly Archives: September 2015

TiVo Bolt review: watching TV faster

Skip commercials with one click, and speed up the rest of the show, too

Back in 1999, when I first reviewed the original TiVo DVR, I griped that “TiVo has no commercial-skipping button” and noted that its press literature denounced such a feature on grounds that, while it “may appeal to the pirate in all of us, it just doesn’t make good business sense.”

It’s taken 16 years, but TiVo has finally changed its mind. Its latest model, the radically redesigned Bolt, which goes on sale this week for a base price of $300, finally lets you ditch all the ads in a blink. By simply pressing a button once, you can skip an entire block of commercials in many recorded programs, a feature called SkipMode. No more fast-forwarding and hoping you land on the right spot, or repeatedly hitting a 30-second advance button.

And the company’s PR has changed as well. “SkipMode transports you past these annoying interruptions and back to your recorded show in an instant,” TiVo now boasts.

Of course, TiVo is a hybrid box that’s for people who want both cable and streaming shows, at a time when more people are shunning cable. But it’ll be a long time before cable is truly abandoned, and lots of people will be happy that the company is making it easier to watch.

In my tests, over the past week, SkipMode invariably made all the commercials disappear and returned me exactly to where programming resumed. The box even prompted me when it was time to skip the ads. But it doesn’t work on every recorded show.

And that’s not the only way the Bolt can save you time when watching TV.

The latest TiVo also boasts another new feature, called QuickMode. It speeds up any recorded show by 30 percent, without making the dialogue sound like it’s being delivered by chipmunks. It’s a timesaver, to be sure — perfect for, say, golf or baseball or talk shows. But you won’t want to watch every show this way. In my tests, QuickMode worked as promised, though shows looked more or less watchable at faster speeds, depending on their nature. For instance, I noticed no problems with “The Big Bang Theory,” where the characters talk fast anyway; but found I missed some nuances when watching “Sherlock”.

Still, you can save a lot of time with these QuickMode and SkipMode — even more if you combine them, which you can for those recorded shows compatible with both.

Is that thing really a TiVo?

The Bolt is an odd-looking, white box with an angled top and bottom, which replaces the current low-end, and most popular, model of TiVo’s current Roamio line, the Roamio-S. (The other Roamio models will remain on the market.) It’s much smaller than the Roamios, and the tapered top surface makes it much harder to stack things on top of it.

Like the Roamio-S, the Bolt has four tuners, which means you can record four shows at once. It also has the same 500 Gigabytes of storage as the Roamio-S, though you can double that for another $100.

But it improves on the older model by supporting 4K video, gigabit Ethernet, the faster AC version of Wi-Fi, and streaming of shows to mobile devices and computers on the same network. (It lacks the costlier Roamio’s out-of-home streaming feature, but the company says it plans to add that next year.)

Unlike some TiVos I’ve tested over the years, I found setting up the Bolt to be a breeze, including the transfer of the cable card from my personal, older TiVo.

TiVo has not only drastically overhauled the appearance of its product, it has taken steps to hide the monthly $15 fee it charges over and above what your cable service costs. The company has long justified this fee on grounds that cable companies also charge for boxes and DVR service, but it has always seemed excessive to me for what should be an all-inclusive tech device.

To make the price more palatable, TiVo has trimmed it some and bundled the first-year service fee with the hardware to arrive at a $300 base price, with no additional service charge for the first year. After the first year, you’ll be billed $149 a year for the service. By comparison, the older model it’s replacing sold for $200 and had a $15 monthly fee, or $180 a year.

Um, there are some limitations

So what are the limitations of the new commercial-skipping feature?

Well, for one thing it only works on recorded shows, even though after a day I was dying to use it on live TV as well. For another, it only works with shows where the start and end points of the commercial blocks have been tagged, a process TiVo says is done by actual people. So far, only 20 channels are included, but they include popular ones like the four major broadcast networks, USA, TNT and Comedy Central.

It also doesn’t work with sports or local programming — even when they are recorded. And it only works for other shows between 4pm and midnight, because TiVo figures that’s when most viewing occurs, and it wanted to put some limits on its manual tagging process to start with. Also, it can take a few minutes for a show to become commercial-skippable and gain a tag in its listing that says “Skip.”

Still, I loved using the feature.

One box to rule them all?

One of the most important features of the Bolt isn’t new, but it’s improved: it combines old-fashioned cable TV with popular online streaming services in one box. That means you can go from cable to Netflix without the common hassle of changing your TV’s input to switch from your cable box to, say, your Apple TV or Roku.

For years now, TiVo has been quietly (and clumsily) integrating services like Netflix and YouTube and Amazon Prime into its boxes, but it hasn’t boasted much about it.

Now, with the Bolt, TiVo is ready to proclaim itself the One Box To Rule Them All. Or, in the company’s words, a “Unified Entertainment System”.

Not only does the new Bolt call itself the only TV box you’ll need, it actually has new features to make that claim stronger. It switches between cable and streaming video more smoothly than past TiVos, and it has a faster version of its previous integrated search, which brings up results from both cable and internet video and lets you watch or record from the source of your choice.

In fact, the whole product is faster and smoother, due to a faster processor and triple the memory, when compared to the base Roamio. Also, the user interface is now almost entirely HD, except for two subsections of the settings menu. And the platform for apps like Netflix is now HTML5 only. The company junked Flash.

And, when you set up a season-long recording (called a OnePass), the Bolt fetches episodes from every available source, including streaming services and my cable company’s On Demand service. Even if a show is on hiatus, older episodes available on these services are offered up.

In my tests, Netflix and Amazon Prime and YouTube looked as good as they do on Apple TV and Roku. And, if I had a 4K TV, Netflix and YouTube could have looked even better, since the Bolt supports their 4K programming.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, the Bolt only offers a handful of the many, many online streaming services available from Roku or even the more-limited Apple TV: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Yahoo, and popular music services including Pandora and Spotify. It doesn’t include Hulu, which is on the Roamio, but TiVo says it expects Hulu to return once its app has been reconfigured for HTML5.

Also, there’s a bug in the Bolt’s Netflix app which can cause the service to freeze. TiVo says it’s infrequent and will be fixed soon, but I ran into it and had to reboot the unit.

While TiVo’s search is reasonably fast and cross-platform, it still requires you to peck out characters on an onscreen keyboard. Meanwhile, Amazon, Roku, Apple and even Comcast have gone to searching by voice. TiVo says it’s actively exploring doing the same.

Bottom line

I have owned a TiVo for years, and appreciate it. Despite the odd look of the Bolt, I found its new features attractive and reliable.

But the fusion of linear cable and streaming internet video in one box is a big deal, even if it’s been around — quietly — for awhile. TiVo has finally got this right.

Sure, a lot of what’s on cable is already available in streaming form on many devices. And, eventually, all of it will be. But that will take awhile. Meanwhile, unless you’ve cut the cord, you’re going to want some mix of cable and streaming services. And this product pulls that off, while making old-fashioned TV much better, with commercial skipping and the occasional speed-viewing.

I wouldn’t say that the Bolt should make non-cable users suddenly buy cable. But, if you already have it, this is a good solution.

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Tesla’s new Model X has a ‘bioweapon defense mode’ button

This is a real button,’ Musk says

If you want to survive a biological attack, you might want to look into buying a Tesla. The company just officially unveiled the Model X, and Elon Musk shared a rather unexpected feature during the unveiling: a “bioweapon defense mode” button.

“This is a real button,” said Musk, who was all too ready to have to defend the existence of the outrageous feature. He was in the middle of discussing how clean the Model X is when it comes to air quality both in and out of the car (the air cleanliness is “on the levels of a hospital room,” he said) when things got dark.

THE MODEL X IS 800 TIMES BETTER AT FILTERING VIRUSES THAN OTHER CARS

The button should come in handy “if there’s ever an apocalyptic scenario of some kind,” he said. All you apparently have to do is push the button and the Model X’s air filter — which is about 10 times larger than a normal car’s air filter— should be able to keep you safe. The company claims it’s 300 times better at filtering bacteria, 500 times better at filtering allergens, 700 times better at filtering smog, and 800 times better at filtering viruses.

“We’re trying to be a leader in apocalyptic defense scenarios,” Musk continued. Because what else do you want from a futuristic, semi-autonomous, all-electric car that’s as fast as a Porsche than the ability to survive biological warfare?

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Embrace the camera bump

Turn over both of Google’s new Nexus phones and you’ll notice something in common: no, not the fingerprint sensors — the big cameras sticking out above them. It’s easy to write these bulges off as compromises in the new Nexuses’ design — and, sure, to some degree they are. But camera bulges are also becoming the new norm, and today’s Nexuses are just the latest flagships to get on board.

The camera bump, of course, is nothing new — at least not for people who have been buying super-nerdy phones over the past decade. That’s especially true if you look at Nokia (RIP), which made such great bumps as those on the the 808 PureView and the Lumia 1020, which are basically two faces on the Mount Rushmore of camera bulges compared to the little nubs we see today.

But Nokia’s camera bumps came before their time. They were thick and unsightly bulges on already-chunky smartphones. In 2012, we didn’t need a phone pushed past the half-inch mark by a bulbous camera. We just needed a camera that worked.

The problem seems to be that getting a camera that works — and works really, really well — in 2015 may simply require pushing the boundaries of smartphone design. As in, literally pushing beyond the outer wall of the phone. In the battle for thinness, the camera remains the weak point. But instead of letting image quality go, the camera just stays the same.

It’s hard to say exactly where the camera bump began to take off since we’ve seen them here and there for years. But it hasn’t been until recently that thinness really seems to have begun forcing manufacturers’ hands. One of the first signs of this may not have been on a phone at all, but instead on the 2012 iPod touch. The device had a 6.1mm body — thin even today — out of which stuck a tiny camera bump. It was essentially the precursor to the iPhone 6’s little nub.

Apple seems to be pretty unhappy about its camera bumps, and for good reason: on the iPhone, they’re not a great look, and they keep the 6 and 6S from sitting flat on a table. That’s probably why Apple tried to hide that the bump even existed with the iPhone 6’s first marketing images. Even Jony Ive wasn’t willing to twist the camera bump into some elegant design solution, telling The New Yorker last year that it was “a really very pragmatic optimization.” He concludes: “And, yeah…”

THE BUMP HAS BECOME A MEANINGFUL PART OF A PHONE’S DESIGN

Samsung, on the other hand, has embraced the camera bump. Top Samsung phones have featured a prominent bump since 2013, with the introduction of the Note 3. The bump has persisted through the Note series and, in 2014, became equally noticeable on the flagship Galaxy line with the S5. Some of those camera bumps have been very, very ugly. But Samsung’s latest flagships, the S6 and Note 5, actually feature some of the most interesting camera bumps out there. They look rigid and stern on the back of its phones. These aren’t just bumps, they’re actually designed elements of the device. Bumps may not make for a perfectly sleek phone body, but they turn a necessary compromise into a style choice.

And that’s exactly what Google is doing today. Both of its new Nexus phones very much embrace the camera bump, albeit to different degrees. The Huawei-made Nexus 6P flares out ever so slightly up top in a way that’s almost reminiscent of an old calculator. What would otherwise be an extremely generic phone becomes distinct thanks to this single black strip. In fact, Google tells Wired that the 6P was in many ways built around its desire to include this large camera.

STARE INTO THE “SINGLE VOLCANO.”

The Nexus 5X’s camera bump is a little less compelling, but it still seems to be something that Google put real thought into. One of Google’s industrial designers even describes it to Wired as a “single volcano,” which is the kind of phrase you’d expect to hear in an Apple design video. Machining it, the designer adds, is not easy work.

There’s one other thing in common about both Nexuses’ camera bumps: while they’re a visual focus, they aren’t really an impediment to holding or using the phone. In our initial hands on with the Nexus 5X, The Verge‘s Dieter Bohn writes, “I was concerned going in that the camera bump on the back would be super annoying, but it’s actually relatively subtle and not too large.” Which speaks to how much has changed. There’s nothing subtle about this:

But there’s little to complain about with this:

“A lot of being a designer is about making tradeoffs, especially in the smartphone space because we have limited real estate that we can work with,” HTC’s industrial design chief,Claude Zellweger, told The Verge earlier this year while discussing protruding cameras. “As you go bigger with the sensors, you inevitably come up to certain limitations.” HTC’s latest flagship, the M9, includes a very slight bulge. That’s an acceptable compromise, Zellweger says, but “there’s sort of a limit to how much we would be willing to grow over the rest of the product.”

There are still ways to avoid the camera bump, as we’ve seen on recent flagships. Motorola and LG use curved backs, in part, to fit in a larger camera sensor. Others, like Sony, just avoid the issue altogether and manage to pack everything into a phone with a flat back.

But that option appears to be getting harder and harder. We don’t just want functional cameras on our phones — we want good ones. And good cameras need bigger sensors and bigger lenses. Fortunately, as phone manufacturers race to the bottom on thinness, they’re starting to figure out how to make the bulging compromise that is a good camera look good, too. The camera bump may not be ideal, but when done right, it’s character, not just compromise.

Correction: The Galaxy S line had a protruding camera before the Galaxy Note line, not after it, as this article initially stated.

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Plans for a massive ‘floating city’ begin to take shape

Back in the early nineties, there were several things a budding radical transhumanist might do to distinguish themselves. To keep abreast of the latest libertarian ideals, and the freethinking technologies that would be required to realize them, subscriptions to cutting edge publications like the Extropy: Journal of Tranhumanist Thought, and the Alcor Foundation’s Cryonics magazine would be essential. But what really separated the early doers from the wannabe futurists and dreamers was throwing some tangible support into ‘Operation Atlantis’ — the Floating City of Oceania — by purchasing and actually wearing their promotional T-shirt.

Oceania promised much more than just a neat place to live; it offered an entirely new way to live, and a new way to think. Unfortunately, like many other would-be Waterworlds proposed both prior and since, it just wasn’t to be. In hindsight, we now know that the primary reason for the failure of the Oceania concept was its shape. Specifically, its design was not modeled after that sleek and mysterious denizen of the deep — the manta.

Fortunately, French architect Jacques Rougerie has been able to spec out a massive floating city capable of housing some 7000 “ocean scientists,” and yet still hold the strict tolerances of the manta form factor. That, he says, provides the “best possible correlation between space and stability needs.” Practically speaking, that translates into the ability to resist turbulence and severe weather. Rougerie’s City of Mériens would be 900 meters long and 500 wide, while extending to 120 below the surface, and rising to 60 above.

The mantamorphic shape contains within itself another surprise, a large interior lagoon which provides shelter for yet another key Rougerian innovation — the SeaOrbiter. This nimble creation is more than just a properly dimensioned CAD file with a complete Bill of Materials (and we are giving the City of Mériens the benefit of the doubt on that here). In fact the SeaOrbiter is already a work in progress. Construction on the $50 million craft is apparently moving right along, with the first operational prototype expected to be operational next year.

As seen above, these comparatively modest sea-horse style boats will each have six floors below and six floors above the water’s surface. It is being billed as a research platform with exceptional stability and accessibility both above and below. Success with the SeaOrbiters, it would seem, is a critical stepping stone to securing the funds and general glam that success in the larger floating city project needs.

There is not much talk yet as far as actual power for the city — only that it will be sustainable. Presumably that would entail some form of renewable marine power using wave-pumped hydraulic pressure heads driving rotating turboelectric machinery. Some successes in this area have already been achieved elsewhere using a serpentine system of linked buoys that flex and wiggle with the motions of the sea. We might compare the general concept to a giant background energy harvester, which instead of rectifying radio waves or separating charge using ambient heat, channels the whims of the waves into electrical power.

One can only hope that their energy plan entails more than mere harvesting whatever they might find around around them, particularly during what might be expected to be an ongoing or even open-ended construction phase.

floatingCityTrimmed

There is certainly no shortage of like-minded efforts on different continents. Peter Theil, for example, put over $1 million into The Seasteading Institute a while back. Among their many proposals is one that could potentially house 300 people by 2020 using various assemblages of a basic concrete platform design.

The City of Mériens, on the other hand, might be looking at a timeline a little closer to 2050. While the actual location may not be known, the proposed system of governance would be based on United Nations standards. Undoubtedly the world will be a much different place by then, but it seems like the floating city is an idea whose time has come.

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Google to Expand India’s Internet Access With Free WiFi at Train Stations

Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Sunday announced a plan to provide high-speed public WiFi in 400 train stations across India. The announcement coincided with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Modi is expected to promote his Digital India initiative during his U.S. visit. One objective of the plan, which has a 2019 goal, is to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas of India.

Google will work closely with Indian Railways and with RailTel, which provides Internet service along the railway lines. The first stations are expected to come online in the next few months, and 100 stations will be connected by the end of next year, Pichai said.

The undertaking is India’s largest public WiFi project, he added. With 100 stations online, the project will make WiFi available to more than 10 million people who travel through the stations each day.

India: The Next Frontier

The Indian subcontinent has more Internet users than any nation in the world apart from China — but nearly 1 billion Indians aren’t online, Pichai said.

The WiFi program is meant to get them online — and it could mean more eyeballs for Google’s products.

“Google makes money on advertising. Anything that expands the total audience fits the model, including giving away things like Internet access,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

“Also, India is the next big frontier, now that China’s market is maturing,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Conclusion: Google is being rational.”

“Google’s free WiFi service will be a boon for the millions of Indians who travel by train daily, but it also should reinforce the company’s brand among those consumers and business users,” said Charles King, principal analyst atPund-IT.

Robust Railway

Google’s project could benefit from the density of India’s population centers and the robust railway infrastructure that connects them. Indian Railways, the state-owned and operated system, is one of the world’s largest railway networks and a primary travel method for Indian citizens.

“It’s an intriguing project, due to both India’s population density and the wide use of the country’s rail system,” King told TechNewsWorld.

If successful, the Indian Railways project could pave the way for other projects that aim to bring Internet connectivity to the unconnected world.

“Public transit is a major service in numerous countries worldwide, particularly in developing areas,” King added.

Challenges Ahead

However, this effort and others like it will have obstacles to overcome.

“The challenge of bringing Internet to developing countries is a unique one,” said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“There’s limited or no infrastructure,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Power can be a problem. Running new wires is difficult — and keeping those wires from being stolen even more so.”

That is why Google and rival Facebook have experimented with drones andballoons, added Krewell.

India Railways benefits from the fact that RailTel, which provides Internet services such as RailWire, already has a fiber optic network running along the railway lines.

Similar infrastructure may not be so readily available in other developing markets, and even in India it may not be enough to reach the 1 billion people that Pichai and Modi would like to see obtain Internet connectivity.

Bringing “broadband Internet using an existing piece of infrastructure is unique to India,” said Krewell. “It should be helpful, but it’s not life changing for rural Indian people.”

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Found on Mars: Cool, Clear Water?

Dark, narrow streaks going downhill at four locations on Mars are evidence of water flowing on the planet, NASA confirmed Monday.

Called “recurring slope lineae,” the streaks are approximately the length of a football field, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They are believed to have been formed by the seasonal flow of water.

Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology noticed these lineae as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona in 2010. He and seven coauthors wrote a report on the research, which was published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

All four locations, including the walls of the Garni and Hale craters, show evidence of hydrated salts, most likely magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate, Ojha wrote.

The findings strongly support the team’s hypothesis that recurring slope lineae form as a result of current water activity on Mars, he said.

“They’re likely 95 percent correct,” said William Newman, a professor of earth and space sciences at UCLA.

“We know there’s water in [Mars’] polar caps — that’s irrefutable — so the picture they paint is plausible,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Figuring Out the Proof

Ojha noticed back in 2010 that the lineae appeared during Mars’ warm seasons, when temperatures were above -23 degrees Celsius, and seemed to indicate the downhill flow of some liquid. They would fade in cooler seasons.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is equipped with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, made the initial observations. HiRISE observations have documented recurring slope lineae at dozens of sites on Mars, NASA said.

Ojha’s study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The researchers found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, Ojha said, suggesting that either the dark streaks themselves, or a process that formed them, were the source of the hydration.

Where’s the Water Coming From?

Mars’ atmosphere consists of about 95.3 percent carbon dioxide and 2.7 percent nitrogen. Water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, which raises the question of where the water could come from.

Perchlorate salts are powerful oxidizing agents, which would explain how the oxygen in the carbon dioxide might be freed to combine with hydrogen — but where’s the hydrogen?

Hydrogen “exists as a trace element, but it’s highly reactive and would likely bond to any free oxygen to form water,” said Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“Even Earth has a hard time retaining free hydrogen,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The major source of water in the inner solar system is comets, and Mars could have retained “a significant fraction” of that water, UCLA’s Newman speculated.

Daily temperature changes are severe on Mars and could cause liquids to freeze and crack the surface, creating more places for liquid to collect, as happens in alpine terrains on Earth, he said.

The Meaning of Water

The existence of water posits life on Mars, although other requirements would have to be fulfilled.

Still, a non-oxygen-breathing life form could well exist on Mars.

Here on Earth, scientists in 2010 discovered three anoxic life forms, meaning life forms that don’t need oxygen to live. They belong to the phylum Loricifera.

Further, just what passes for water on Mars has yet to be determined.

While explanations for the lineae revolve around water, “the nature of the water involved is subject to some debate,” Frost’s Jude said.

Whether that will impact any native life forms on Mars, and how, remains to be seen.

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OS X El Capitan: everything you need to know

Apple’s latest OS X release El Capitan will be available to download from Wednesday September 30. Read on for its major features and improvements

Apple’s latest Mac operating system OS X El Capitan is almost here, and with it, a whole host of new features. Here’s everything you need to know about the new software.

Following the release of several beta versions throughout the summer and hot on the heels of the recent iOS 9 rollout, customers can download the full El Capitan for free from Wednesday September 30 through the Mac App Store.

The company first announced the software update at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, where senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said OS X offered “unparalleled integration” between Mac hardware, iOS-running devices and Apple’s online services.

OS X El Capitan

What’s changed from Yosemite?

El Capitan brings a mix of entirely new features and functionality points alongside updates to familiar apps including Notes, Maps and Safari. Notes and Maps particularly have been of fairly limited use in the past, with rival products Google Docs and Google Maps gaining general favour for their ease of use and accessibility. Will the new updates be enough to convert you?

New features – window management

Mission Control

Mission Control has been given a spruce up to make it easier to locate the window you need among the multiple open apps and various windows. The main difference is that El Capitan’s Mission Control looks generally cleaner than before, with Apple claiming the windows are now spread in an even layer instead of being more randomly dispersed. This also translates into the apps being kept relative to their location on your desktop.

Mission Control juggles several tabs

You can open Mission Control by either swiping upwards on the keypad using three fingers, hitting the Mission Control app within the Launchpad or by pressing the F3 Mission Control key. In a more intuitive step, descriptive labels for each open window (title of the webpage you’re browsing, iTunes, App Store, et al) are now only displayed once you hover your mouse over them, instead of being overlaid on the open windows itself like in Yosemite.

Mission Control and Spaces

If you’re one of those people who prefer to switch between multiple desktops, dragging and dropping open apps into the Spaces bar at the top of the screen. Scroll between your spaces by swiping left or right with three fingers.

Split View

Under Split View, two apps can be adjusted to run side-by-side, removing the need to resize the windows yourself, a feature that will be familiar to Windows users under the name Snap. Clicking and pressing down on the green dot in the upper left hand corner of the first app you’d like to resize opens Split View. You then choose whether you’d like to position it on the left or right of the screen with the help of a blue veil.

Choose the windows you'd like to run next to each other using Split View

Afterwards you’re presented with the other open apps to choose for your second window, and once selected the two windows will be split down the centre of the screen. If no other Windows are open, you’ll be prompted to open a new app.

Resize the windows by clicking and dragging the thick black divisory line between the two to the left or right accordingly. Swiping to the left and right with three fingers on the trackpad allows you to flick between your fully-sized windows, and clicking the green button will return the windows to their previous size and position on your desktop. Switch the windows around by dragging the top bar of the app you’d like to relocate left or right.

Split View

Spotlight

Spotlight has been given a decent overhaul in El Capitan to return more relevant and accurate results than in the past, including natural language search recognition. Tapping in phrases such as ‘Find photos taken in Green Park last week’, or ‘Show me emails from Eddy Cue’ swiftly returns the contextualised searches, and generally worked well. It draws from a wide range of sources including your Mail, documents, Calendar, web history, Apps and Messages, and has been revamped to include weather forecasts, stocks and web video. The Spotlight window can also be resized and moved around the desktop. Typing colloquial commands was a pleasant departure from inputting more formulaic searches like ‘is: XXX’, ‘from: XXX’ or ‘filename:XXX’ within programs like Gmail, though it did struggle with slightly more complicated requests.

App updates

Mail

Apple’s Mail client has always been a bit clunky, but the new updates bring it on significantly. Swiping to the right using a two finger gesture on the trackpack can now mark a message as unread, whilst a leftward gesture consigns it to the trash, as iOS users will be familiar with. Extending the gesture even further fully deletes the message. Multiple emails can be composed and edited at the same time thanks to a new tab system.

When you receive an email from a friend with new contact information, you can add the details to their contact card from within the Mail app, and event details – like a flight number or dinner reservation times – can be immediately added to your Calendar by force clicking on the information and selecting Add to Calendar.

Mail search has also been updated to return results from contextual natural language commands, like ‘Show me emails from Rhiannon Williams with attachments’. Much like how a huge part of Google’s success is down to its ability to decipher key search terms within natural language entry, Apple’s new method is a largely useful method of narrowing down results simply, without having to input excessive terms or open multiple apps.

Photos

Editing pictures within the Photos app

Editing extensions can now be downloaded directly from the Mac App Store, which are basically a new range of filters and tools allowing you to choose extensions to edit pictures from directly within Photos. You can bundle them within your photo editor of choice, combine extensions, or customise your own menu under System Preferences. Drastic mistakes can be rectified by hitting Revert to Original.

Apple has also turned a spotlight on its methods of organising your pictures. Within El Capitan, Live Photos taken on the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will play from within your album, complete with its brief burst of sound, when you hover your cursor over your Live image. You can also now change the descriptions, titles and keywords for multiple pictures as you could their date, location or time in the past.

Editing pictures within the Photos app

Safari

Those of you who enjoy browsing with multiple tabs (and who doesn’t?) will welcome the new ability to permanently pin sites to your tab bar, marked with an icon. Right clicking the site’s tab opens the Pin Tab menu, allowing you to add it to your selection. Clicking on a link to another site from within a pinned site will now always open as a new tab – the pinned site tab will always display that site and that site only. These pins will remain in place every time you quit and relaunch Safari, and will continue to run in the background while you’re not using them.

Spotlight suggestions within Safari are more intuitive than in the past, and now include sports scores, weather results and the all-important stocks information. Much like Apple’s continued commitment to the iOS Stocks app, I have doubts about how often the average Mac user cares about this kind of financial information.

If you’ve ever innocently browsed the internet only to be confronted with a sneaky audio advert blaring out from behind some hidden tab, you can now directly audio from the Smart Search bar – meaning you don’t even need to be on the page itself to instantly mute it. Clicking and pressing on the audio icon in the Smart Search bar opens a list of the tabs currently playing sound, allowing you to mute them accordingly and spelling a potential end to Rickrolling.

You can also now play videos from a webpage directly on your Apple TV without revealing your other open desktop apps over AirPlay video by clicking the AirPlay icon on any compatible HTML5 video.

Notes

The Notes app has received one of the most dramatic overhauls of all, having acted as little more than a iOS/OS X cross-platform notepad in the past. Photos, PDFs, videos, map locations, audio files, pages documents, numbers spreadsheets, keynote presentations and map locations can now be embedded into into Notes. Simply dragging and dropping your file into the note will add to it, (though when done with a video, it will save it as an image. Dropping the file’s url will create a video link), or right clicking, selecting Share > Notes will also add your desired media.

Notes text is can now be formatted for bold headlines and a smaller font for the body text. You can quickly search for images dropped into Notes by clicking on the Attachments browser button, or create to-do lists using the Checklists button. Notes ported from numerous devices are stored on the left-hand side of the App, where new folders can be created to keep them filed accordingly.

Maps

Following in the footsteps of successful apps like Citymapper, Apple’s Maps app has been updated with public transport information – currently only fully operational within London. Once you’ve input your starting point and destination and selected your preferred route between two locations, you can send the directions straight to your iPhone through the Share button to the right of the Smart Search tab.

Transit directions between Regent Street and the National Gallery

Like Citymapper, you have the option to specify the time you’d like to arrive or leave by (now, in half an hour, one hour, two hours), and the modes of transport you’d like to take under the View tab > Transit Directions and select between Bus, Subway & Light Rail, Commuter Rail and Ferry. Whilst it’s nice to have the option to take the Ferry, I can’t imagine it’s one UK residents will be searching for very often.

Transit directions to the Tate Modern

Metal

Graphics technology Metal was first showcased at WWDC 2014 for iOS devices, and now reports to take full advantage of your Mac’s CPU and GPU to deliver a richer, more fluid experience when playing games or running intensive programs and apps. Apple claims it also boosts system-level rendering by up to 50 per cent, and efficiency by 40 per cent.

Find your cursor

If you’ve ever struggled to find your cursor on your crowded desktop, simply wiggling your finger can now retrieve it. ‘Calling our your cursor’ temporarily enlarges the cursor as you wiggle your finger on the trackpad, before shrinking to its normal dimensions once you stop moving. Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi was a big fan of this particular feature during the WWDC keynote, exclaiming: “El Capitan makes [finding your cursor] easier than ever. Just do that ‘shake’ that we all normally do, and it comes right out to greet you. It’s really handy!”

Verdict

El Capitan is a solid upgrade, with numerous small but useful updates designed to cut down on desktop clutter and streamline your browsing experience without compromising on speed or power. It slots nicely into the grooves laid down by last year’s Yosemite, and generally represents a strong improvements. Given that Maps’ transit remains limited to London, it’s not as comprehensive as it should be, and Windows users will (rightfully) argue that Split View is nothing new, but in a nutshell, El Capitan is a welcome upgrade worth your consideration.

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Twitter to extend 140-character limit?

According to sources, Twitter may be building a new product that will allow users to share tweets that are longer than the company’s 140-character limit

Twitter may release a new product which would allow users to share updates longer than the well-known 140-character limit that Twitter now imposes.

It’s not clear what the product would actually look like, but sources close to Twitter told Re/Code that it would enable Twitter users to publish long-form content to the service.

The 140-character limit has been a trademark of Twitter since its launch. But as the microblogging site’s global growth slows, it has been suggested that this character limit is holding the company back – partly because different international languages have different parameters in which to articulate a coherent thought.

The limit may also make it more intimidating for a mainstream audience to use.

The company has already experimented with pushing the character limit in the past. For instance, it removed the limit for direct messages last July. It also added a “retweet with comment” option in April to give people more words to comment on tweets they share.

According to Re/Code’s sources, the discussions began when interim CEO Jack Dorsey took over the reins in recent months.

Twitter and Square Founder Jack Dorsey speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 in San Francisco

Twitter’s President of revenue and partnerships, Adam Bain, hinted at thisin an interview with the Telegraph last week.

“[Jack Dorsey] also has been great in terms of challenging the teams on things that maybe we hold sacred and dear, he’s been asking really pointed product questions around things that he himself created nine and a half years ago, asking ‘Why are we still doing that?’, so it’s been great having someone focusing the team on continuing to innovate,” he said.

People are already reacting to the news on Twitter itself.

Twitter knows it needs to appeal to more people. While news junkies, politicians and marketers love the constant feed of real-time messages, millions of people have either tried it and given up, or signed up and never logged in at all.

This could be the much-needed shakeup that Twitter needs to keep Wall Street happy.

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Tim Cook: Apple’s push into business technology is not a hobby

Apple chief executive Tim Cook says there is room for his company to grow into supplying the business sector

Apple is accelerating its push into business technology as it seeks ways to continue its astonishing growth, according to chief executive Tim Cook.

Businesses accounted for $25bn of Apple’s $200bn sales in the year to the end of June, but Mr Cook said the company was aiming to play a bigger role in the corporate IT industry.

He said: “This is not a hobby. This is a real business.”

In a sign of the determination to serve more corporate customers, he delivered the message at a third-party event, BoxWorks, run by the online collaboration service Box. It was an unusual move for Apple, which as a consumer brand exercises famously tight control over its public face.

Mr Cook said he believed there was large scope for Apple to grow as the smartphone revolution unleashed by the iPhone begins to spark fundamental changes in how businesses operate.

“People aren’t going to gain productivity by working more hours,” he said. “We’re all working flat out. So you have to transform your business.”

“When you look at the penetration of mobile in enterprise, it’s shocking how low it is, and then when you look at what people are doing with it, it’s shocking how many people haven’t gone beyond emails and browsing and these kinds of things,” he said.

“I’m not sure anyone at this point that I’ve seen, including ourselves, deserves a really high grade compared to the opportunity that’s there.”

Under Mr Cook, Apple has latterly been seeking to bury the hatchet with old industry foes to help it crack the enterprise market. Last year it signed a major development and distribution partnership with IBM and at this month’slaunch of the new iPad Pro even invited Microsoft on stage to demonstrate its Office software.

Mr Cook said: “Just as in the consumer area, where we have built an ecosystem that has so many apps… we needed that expertise on the enterprise side, so we partnered with people to do that.”

The iPhone is increasingly emerging as the dominant smartphone for corporate IT departments, as the decline of BlackBerry continues. Manufacturers such as Samsung, which use Google’s popular Android operating system, have meanwhile struggled to gain a foothold in businesses, partly due to the array of versions of the software that are in use.

While Apple has built bridges with IBM and Microsoft, Google has emerged as its main rival in the technology industry.

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How to download OS X El Capitan

All you need to know about preparing your Mac to install Apple’s new OS X El Capitan

Apple’s newest operating system for Mac OS X El Capitan will be available as a free upgrade from Wednesday September 30, following several beta versions throughout the summer.

Historically, Apple tends to seed these releases around 18:00 BST, so keep an eye out for an update round about then, which we expect will require around 6GB of space to intstall.

Is my device eligible to run El Capitan?

The following Macs are able to run El Capitan:

  • MacBook: 13-inch aluminium: late 2008 – present, 13-inch plastic: 2009 – present
  • MacBook Air: Late 2008 – present
  • MacBook Pro: 13-inch: mid-2009 – present, 15-inch: 2007 – present, 17-inch: 2007 – present
  • iMac, 2007 – present
  • Mac mini: 2009 – present
  • Mac Pro: 2008 – present
  • Xserve: 2009 – present

How to download El Capitan

  1. Ensure you have at least 6GB of free space
  2. Back up your computer before going any further, using Time Machine or similar
  3. Make sure you are running OS X Snow Leopard or above, ideally Yosemite. Click the App Store logo in the Launchpad and then Updates to check if you need to make any changes. Click Update All to make sure all apps are also running smoothly.
  4. Once El Capitan is available, you’ll be able to download it from the Mac App Store. This is likely to take several hours.
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