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Best streaming sticks and devices of 2021




CNN
—  

While current TVs come preloaded with a smart interface, many are clunky, don’t offer the latest streaming services, and can lag months behind on updates to the services they do offer. The solution? Streaming sticks and boxes. These plug-and-play devices can enhance even the smartest TV and provide up-to-date access to the services you’re looking for. To help you find the best ones, we’ve spent countless hours with the top streaming boxes and sticks on the market, from Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV, Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

Best overall streaming device

The Roku Ultra is fast, responsive, delivers the widest variety of streaming services through up-to-date apps and lets you find everything easily with universal search, for a reasonable price.

The upgrade pick

You pay more for Apple TV 4K, but Apple users will enjoy the ease of control and added ability to game and access the full App Store for that extra money. It’s the complete package with the best remote we’ve ever used.

Best budget buy

With a full operating system, a remote (yes, that’s worth a callout) and support for multiple video standards, the Chromecast with Google TV delivers a tremendous amount of value at $49.99.

Jason Cipriani/CNN

We previously named the 2019 version of the Roku Ultra CNN Underscored’s best overall streaming device. With the 2020 version of the Ultra, Roku took another winning approach and made it even more attractive. From the moment you switch it on, the Roku Ultra presents one of the most seamless experiences of any streaming device we tested.

It was easier and quicker to locate preferred apps and services and to move those used most to a higher spot for even quicker access compared to other devices we tested. We were able to open Netflix, select “Parks and Recreation” and be in the world of Pawnee, Indiana, in about 10 seconds flat.

That swiftness is thanks to its quad-core processor and improved Wi-Fi, which makes the Ultra noticeably faster than other streaming devices we tested. Comparatively, the Roku Premiere takes a handful of seconds to open up an app and a few more seconds to start a stream.

Roku Ultra automatically upscales content to the highest resolution your TV can handle, up to 4K, and calibrates it to make sure it’s optimized for your screen. So if you’re streaming 720p content on a 1080p TV, it will upscale to that resolution, or if you have a 4K TV, it will deliver it at a full 4K resolution.

Content looks great, and with the addition of Dolby Vision HDR, the 2020 Ultra makes it look even better. In action titles, such as “Fast & Furious” and “Star Wars,” we didn’t experience any skips in fast scenes, and colors were vibrant but not overexposed. We previously knocked the Ultra a few points due to the lack of Dolby Vision, but with Dolby Vision joining Dolby Atmos on the Ultra, we have no more complaints.

Roku has access to some of the most popular streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Sling TV, AT&T TV, Philo, Disney+, Apple TV+, Peacock, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video are all supported

The cherry on top is the included remote, which provides a simple layout with navigation buttons, voice functionality and volume controls. There’s a headphone jack built right in for personal listening (earbuds are even included in the box), and it has a speaker built in so you can ping the remote if it gets misplaced or lost in the couch cushions.

If you’re looking for a streaming box that’s fast, responsive and future-proofed with features, the latest Roku Ultra delivers at a reasonable price point of $99.99.

Apple TV 4K

Jacob Krol/CNN

Apple TV 4K

The Apple TV 4K kicks things up a notch compared to the Roku Ultra, adding gaming and countless additional apps to the menu. It’s ideal for anyone in the Apple ecosystem and who subscribes to their many services.

The upgraded 2021 model of the Apple TV 4K looks identical to its predecessor. It’s the same small block with a white LED indicator on the front and power, HDMI, optical and ethernet connectors on the back. The big change is a fast chip, inside is the Apple-made A12 Bionic in place of the A12; it proved faster during most everyday tasks in our testing, providing a fluid experience with near-instantaneous responsiveness — tvOS and the respective apps fly.

It can handle having multiple streaming services open all at once (much like how you can multitask between different apps on the iPad). You can quickly switch between Netflix and opt to open Disney+ without experiencing any slowdowns. At times, other devices we tested experienced delays when going back to the home screen, but happens instantly on the Apple TV 4K.

The big and welcomed change is the all-new Siri Remote. It’s a solid aluminum remote with a click wheel reminiscent of the iPod; you can click and hold or just touch it to control the interface. It’s much easier to navigate around the user interface. In supported apps you can even use the wheel to scroll back and forth through content. Quite handy. You also get dedicated buttons for back, play or pause, mute, the TV app, and volume. Apple’s also finally included a power button that can turn on or off your entire TV setup.

The Apple TV 4K works flawlessly for anyone within the Apple ecosystem, via an interface that will be familiar to anyone with an iPad or iPhone.. For instance, when you need to fill in a text field (like a password or search box), you’ll get a notification on your iPhone that allows you to use that keyboard to type on your TV screen. It’s leagues better than locating and selecting one letter at a time with a TV remote. It can also autofill an email field for you, and you can access your iCloud Keychain to auto-complete logins to services. It worked like a charm when we tried it on Netflix.

The Apple TV 4K supports all of the major streaming services. Via the App Store, you can find: Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Sling TV, HBO Max, Peacock, YouTube, AT&T TV, Philo and tons of others. Countless gaming titles available through Apple Arcade, while Fitness+ subscribers will be right at home with an app that displays workout metrics from the connected Apple Watch right on the big screen. You’ll also find other core apps, including Facebook’s Apple TV app, which focuses on Facebook Watch.

You can also cast content with AirPlay or AirPlay 2 from your iOS, iPadOS, macOS and watchOS devices — everything from viewing photos or videos from your iPhone to a YouTube video and even mirroring your display.

Like the Roku Ultra, Apple TV 4K will auto-scale content up to 4K Ultra High Definition, and it also supports HDR, HDR 10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. If you currently have a 1080p HD TV, the TV 4K will present content at that resolution and calibrate it for your TV panel. There are minute differences between the calibrations Apple takes versus Roku, but in the end you’re getting an accurate, clear and vibrant experience with Apple TV 4K. It goes a step further but future-proofing with support for high-frame-rate content. It makes a difference currently in the Red Bull app, but you’ll need a TV capable. Don’t upgrade just for this.

You pay more for Apple TV 4K, but Apple users will enjoy the ease of control and added ability to game and access the full App Store for that extra money. At $179.95, it’s not the cheapest streaming device option, but it is the complete package with the best remote we’ve ever used.

Jacob Krol/CNN

With a full operating system, a remote (yes, that’s worth a callout) and support for multiple video standards, the Chromecast with Google TV delivers a tremendous amount of value at $49.99. And on top of all that, you also have the ability to cast content straight from your phone.

Unlike the Fire TV Stick 4K (our previous budget pick), you don’t have a clunky software experience that pushes the content you want lower. With Google TV, the software running on Chromecast, it’s pretty clean and puts your preferred content upfront.

The interface features six main categories: For You, Live, Movies, Shows, Apps and Library. Many of these are self-explanatory, but the real kicker here is that Google serves up recommendations from a plethora of services all in one spot. That means under For You, you’ll see suggested content that’s live on YouTube TV, a classic from Netflix and even new titles on HBO Max or Peacock. So no clicking around to find content you want within different apps.

Under the Apps section is where you can find your streaming services and download the respective apps. All the big players and even smaller ones are here — like Netflix, Hulu, Plex, and countless others. The latest streaming services on the block, HBO Max and Peacock, both work out of the box on the Chromecast. That bests Amazon’s Fire TV platform and even Roku, which both only have one or the other. For some, that’s reason enough to opt for the Chromecast. The only big one missing here would be AppleTV+. YouTube is of course front and center, along with YouTube TV. The latter is Google’s cord-cutting solution and if you use the platform, this is the streamer for you. It’s integrated directly into all the categories and has a dedicated guide found under the Live section. It will even place your favorite shows, as they’re airing, in the respective content recommendation tabs. On a Roku or the Apple TV, it’s just another app and doesn’t offer deep integration throughout.

Choosing content is as simple as selecting the tile and the Chromecast starting the stream. It all happens very swiftly and the performance of this smaller dongle is on-par with that of the Roku Ultra.

And rounding out the Chromecast with Google TV is the Google Assistant. You can ask for any query or question your brain can think of — and that extends to TV content. You can ask for a specific show or movie, and it pulls up a page about the title, including multiple ways to stream it.

After countless hours of binging content –— ahem, we mean testing — we can safely declare the Chromecast with Google TV to be the best budget play at just $49.99. You’d be hard pressed to get more value from the Fire TV Stick 4K (which is the same price), and this performs better than cheaper options from Amazon or Roku.

While some of these are sticks and others are boxes, the core use case is to stream content to your TV. And we crafted categories that best reflect that core premise.

Under the Ease of Setup category, we focused on what came in the box and the process for getting the device working. In some cases, it was as simple as plugging it in and connecting to Wi-Fi; for others, we held a device nearby for fast pairing.

Performance tackled more areas, notably the ecosystem, quality across watching the content and available apps and services.

On the quality perspective, we calibrated each streaming device for the TV and then checked out the upscaling. Most importantly, we ensured that it reached 4K UHD or 4K Ultra High Definition as well as checked out the supported standards.

In terms of the build, we looked at the outside and the overall quality of the design. Did the materials live up to the price point? Was space wasted? And what did the controls and ergonomics of the remote mean for the user experience?

We tested all of these streamers with a range of TVs: a 55-inch TCL 6-Series, a 55-inch LG CX55, a 65-inch Sony A8H, a 65-inch TCL 8-Series, a 55-inch Vizio V-Series, a 65-inch Vizio M-Series and a 75-inch Vizio P-Series. Additionally, for the network, we tested hardwired and wirelessly with a FiOS Gigabit connection. We also tried 4G LTE and 5G hot spots from AT&T and T-Mobile for Wi-Fi streamers.

Apple TV ($144; amazon.com)

The standard Apple TV tested nearly as well as the upgraded Apple TV 4K. It has a slightly slower processor but still runs tvOS, offers deep integration to the Apple ecosystem and uses the Siri TV remote. But we think it makes more sense to opt for the Apple TV 4K, as it future-proofs you.

Fire TV Stick ($39.99; amazon.com)

The non-4K Fire TV Stick is nearly identical to the 4K Fire TV Stick. What’s the big difference? It only supports up to 1080p HD streaming and lacks Dolby Atmos audio. It has the same processor, and in our testing it performed nearly the same. But for $10 more, you’re better off opting for the 4K variant to truly future-proof your TV.

Google Chromecast ($29.99; target.com)

The Chromecast has come a long way, and the current one is quite nice. It still just plugs into the back of your TV and allows you to cast via the “Google Cast” standard to your TV. It doesn’t provide an interface, so you need to use an Android device, iPhone, iPad or laptop to control the experience. To some degree, it’s nice, since you don’t need to re-sign in and can open the Netflix app, hit the Cast icon and send it to the big screen. At $29.99, it’s cheap, and if you’re sold on Google Cast, it’s a good option, but it’s only 1080p HD.

Google Chromecast Ultra ($69; bhphotovideo.com)

As we said, the Achilles’ heel to a degree of a Chromecast was 1080p HD and that it doesn’t have an interface. For $69, the Chromecast Ultra solves part of that. The Ultra supports up to 4K UHD and more than 2,000 services. But for that price, you can score the Roku Ultra, which is a full-fledged streaming box that doesn’t simply rely on your connected phone.

Fire TV Cube ($119.99; amazon.com)

We really enjoyed our time with the Fire TV Cube, but to a degree, it feels like it’s trying to be too much. The premise? It combines an Alexa smart speaker with a Fire TV streaming device. It’s a square box that’s taller than most streaming devices and has the classic blue light strip on the front. You can ask Alexa to turn on the TV, but it doesn’t offer full voice control. Performance-wise, it’s fast and it meets the quality standards with 4K UHD and HDR support.

Roku Express ($24.99, originally $29.99; amazon.com)

This is Roku’s entry-level device, which is affordable at $30, but for $10 more, you can get the Streaming Stick+, which is faster, has a voice remote and features 4K UHD streaming. It’s just better by every stretch of the imagination. Although the Express comes with an HDMI cord, we think you’re better off with the Streaming Stick+.

Roku Premiere ($39.99; roku.com)

The Roku Premiere is kind of like an enhanced Roku Express that adds 4K support and keeps the non-voice remote. You also get an HDMI cable, but it’s not as fast as the Streaming Stick+.

Roku Streaming Stick+ ($39, originally $49.99; amazon.com)

Yes, Roku’s Streaming Stick+ is faster than our budget pick and gets a more feature-filled remote. We really like the built-in volume controls but found that voice control wasn’t critical to the core streaming experience. Especially when price was a key focus. If you don’t mind the unique design and a more basic remote, the Roku Premiere still delivers 4K support at an even cheaper price.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing:



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Reviews

Larry David sends up App Store review process in unaired WWDC14 video


Apple tapped actor, comedian and writer Larry David for what appears to be a promotional video created for a past Worldwide Developers Conference, though the short was never used.

Shared by Sam Henri-Ghoul in a tweet on Monday, the clip was reportedly set to air as Apple’s introduction to WWDC in 2014. The company typically pre-tapes a brief welcome video that is shown to conference participants, with the tradition morphing into a complete keynote experience as the conference transitioned online during the coronavirus pandemic.

While the entire video is not available, Henri-Ghoul posted a clip from the short film in which David plays the role of an “App Approval” specialist. His desk holds an iMac, a statue of the Empire State Building, and what looks to be green and red stamps for approving or denying apps.

David is seen talking to the developer of “Upset Pigeons,” chastising them for creating a “flagrant ripoff” of what is almost certainly “Angry Birds.” The comedian goes on a short rant about upset avians in apps.

Screenshots posted alongside the video reveal David starred in the short alongside JB Smoove, who appeared on David’s hit show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel.

Henri-Ghoul previously collected classic Apple advertisements, unseen videos and other miscellany in an online repository called the Unofficial Apple Archive. The website was shut down last year after Apple filed a series of DMCA takedown notices.

Apple has come under fire for its App Store practices in the intervening years since David’s intro film was shot. Among antitrust complaints and grousing from developers over App Store commissions, the company’s online app storefront is under scrutiny for issues related to the review process. Of note, developer Kosta Eleftheriou has over the past months identified a number of scam apps that slipped past App Store reviewers.

Keep up with everything Apple in the weekly AppleInsider Podcast — and get a fast news update from AppleInsider Daily. Just say, “Hey, Siri,” to your HomePod mini and ask for these podcasts, and our latest HomeKit Insider episode too.

If you want an ad-free main AppleInsider Podcast experience, you can support the AppleInsider podcast by subscribing for $5 per month through Apple’s Podcasts app, or via Patreon if you prefer any other podcast player.





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News

New ‘Private Relay’ feature will not be available in China


Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc/Handout via Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China — Apple’s new feature designed to give users more privacy when browsing the web will not be available in China, one of the iPhone maker’s most important markets.

Apple revealed a new service called iCloud+ at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. One of the features included in that is “Private Relay.”

When users browse the internet using Safari, their data will be sent through two separate servers in order to mask the user’s identity and what sites they are visiting. As a result, even Apple or the user’s network provider cannot see that data.

It’s a little like a virtual private network (VPN) where users can route their internet traffic through a server located somewhere else in the world to mask their browsing activity.

China so-called Great Firewall effectively allows authorities to block websites from being accessed within China including Google and Facebook. VPNs are often used to get around China’s strict internet controls.

An Apple spokesperson told CNBC that Private Relay will not work in China and some other countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Belarus and Uganda.

Apple said it could not offer the feature in these countries due to local laws.

Using unauthorized VPNs to access blocked websites is illegal in China. While Apple’s Private Relay is not technically a VPN, it acts in a similar way.

In 2017, the U.S. technology giant removed a number of VPN services from its China App Store to comply with local regulations.



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Hardware

No hardware debuts during WWDC 2021 keynote, says leaker


Apple may not use its WWDC 2021 keynote to make any hardware announcements, with a prominent leaker hinting that there won’t be any physical product launches.

While WWDC is known to be a software-centric event, concerned primarily with Apple’s operating systems and software changes, rumors always circulate about new hardware being revealed during the event. In the opinion of one well-known leaker, it seems that WWDC 2021 will be a software-only year.

Responding to a query on Twitter on whether there will be any hardware products shown at WWDC 2021 on Monday, leaker “@L0vetodream” responded in Chinese with the translated phrase “I feel no.”

While the Twitter account has amassed a following for high-accuracy leaks for Apple products, there is always a chance that the account is incorrect and Apple does show hardware. In a later tweet, they said “I was just talking about playing, I’m not reliable at all,” which immediately casts doubt on the initial “I feel no” tweet.

Apple has used the WWDC event to highlight hardware, but certainly not every event. On three occasions, for the “coke can” Mac Pro, the iMac Pro, and the 2019 Mac Pro, Apple teased the hardware, and shipped a profoundly limited quantity of the devices before the end of the year.

Rumors claimed that Apple could launch a 16-inch MacBook Pro refresh during the event, as well as the possibility of pushing forward with its Apple Silicon transition with a new chip. However, this is also during a time when the world is dealing with a chip shortage, which could cause problems for the production of new hardware.

Follow all the details of WWDC 2021 with the comprehensive AppleInsider coverage of the whole week-long event from June 7 through June 11, including details of all the new launches and updates.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, “Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider,” and you’ll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for “AppleInsider Daily” instead and you’ll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you’re interested in Apple-centric home automation, say “Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider,” and you’ll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.





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News

How to Use Every New Feature in iOS 14.6


Apple’s iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6 launched this week, adding several new features to iPhones and iPad devices including new voice controls, expanded tracking functions for AirTags, Family Sharing options for Apple card payments, and, of course, tons of bug fixes.

Here’s a round-up of all the new features in iOS/iPadOS 14.6 and how to use them—and don’t forget you can install the software update under Settings > General > Software Update. 

Unlock your screen with your voice

Users can unlock their iPhone’s screen with a voice command after restarting the device. The new accessibility feature is available for all users with voice commands enabled. To turn on voice controls:

  1. Go to Settings > Accessibility > Voice Control.
  2. Tap “Set up Voice Control.” iOS will download the necessary files in the background. When it’s done, you’ll see a mic icon on the screen indicating voice controls are turned on.
  3. You can also view voice commands and modify or create your own under Settings > Accessibility > Voice Control > Customize Commands.

Apple Card Family Group spending features

An Apple Card can now be shared with up to five other accounts in your Family Sharing group. Users must be 13 years or older to use Apple Card payments. Along with the family sharing option, users can track expenses and set spending limits and other restrictions.

You’ll find all the options in Settings > [username] > Family Sharing.

New AirTag tracking functions

Apple’s recently released AirTags have a couple of new features included in iOS/iPadOS 14.6, including:

  • Tapping an AirTag with an NFC-capable device (like your iPhone or iPad) shows a partial phone number of the AirTag’s owner.
  • “Lost mode” in the Find My app now lets you add an email instead of a phone number.

Other new features in iOS/iPadOS 14.6

  • Apple Music Losses Audio prep: Apple Music’s new Lossless Audio quality option won’t hit the app until sometime next month, but iOS 14.6 preemptively adds support for the audio format to all applicable iOS and iPadOS devices.
  • Paid content support for Apple Podcasts: Podcasts creators can now add optional paid content and subscriptions for their shows in the Apple Podcast app. This doesn’t affect free content.
  • Several security updates and bug fixes.

[iDrop News]



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News

Google and Apple scare us, app makers tell Congress


Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks at the 2019 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Some app makers who rely on mobile distribution from Apple and Google are scared of how much power the tech giants have over their businesses, according to congressional testimony delivered Wednesday.

“We’re all afraid,” Match Group Chief Legal Officer Jared Sine told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, at a hearing.

The hearing brought together representatives from Apple and Google and several of their most outspoken critics, including Match Group, which owns dating site Tinder; Tile, which makes devices that help users find lost objects and faces new competition from Apple’s AirTag technology, and streaming music service Spotify.

The hearing comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working on updates to the antitrust laws that could better account for the power a few tech giants hold over many digital markets. That includes the ability of platforms such as Apple and Google to manage the main distribution platform for apps while increasingly hawking their own competing products.

Throughout the hearing, the app makers expressed fear over how easily either company could undercut their businesses by making small changes to their app store rules. They also complained of high fees for in-app purchases and unclear enforcement of standards.

Allegations of threats

Multiple executives accused Apple and Google of threatening their businesses.

Sine said Google called Match Group on Tuesday night after his testimony became public to ask why his testimony differed from the company’s comments in their latest earnings call.

On the earnings call, Match executives had said they believed they were having productive conversations about Google’s 30% in-app payment fee through its Google Play store. But in testimony, Match complained that Google had made “false pretenses of an open platform” and complained about its “monopoly power.”

Wilson White, Google’s senior director of public policy and government relations, said it sounded like employees working in Google’s business development team reached out to ask an “honest question.” White said he didn’t view it as a threat “and we would never threaten our partners” because Google needs app developers to use its app store in order for it to be successful.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the call was “potentially actionable.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the January 6th insurrection, in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 2, 2021.

Graeme Jennings | Pool via Reuters

Klobuchar said she planned to look into the matter further.

Spotify Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez said he could think of “at least four clear examples of threats and retaliation” from Apple after Spotify decided to speak out about alleged anticompetitive behavior and Apple’s fees for developers on digital products purchased through its platform. That included threats of removing Spotify’s app, refusing to promote it, or waiting for months for minor app updates to be approved, he said.

“They’ve basically thrown the book at us in order to make it hard for us to continue to sustain our decision to speak up,” he said.

Fees and rival products

Many app makers have complained about the fees gatekeepers charge for in-app purchases for digital services.

Gutierrez complained of what he called Apple’s “gag order” over how Spotify can communicate with its own users about how to upgrade to its paid version.

For instance, Spotify allows customers to upgrade only outside of its iOS app in order to avoid Apple’s 15% to 30% commission fee on digital services purchased through its platform. But because Spotify doesn’t sell the paid service through its iOS app, Apple also doesn’t let the app maker talk about upgrades with customers through the app — instead, users have to upgrade through a web browser on a PC or another method.

At the same time, Apple operates a competing service, Apple Music, which has no such restrictions. Gutierrez said this gives Apple’s version an unfair advantage.

Representatives from Apple and Google both told lawmakers that their fees for developers are meant to cover the costs that go into distributing apps through their platforms and securing them appropriately. Apple Chief Compliance Officer Kyle Andeer compared the services offered on the App Store today to the cumbersome and expensive process app makers had to pursue to distribute their apps before the App Store existed.

White cast the group as a set of “small but vocal” representatives of “primarily large companies.” He said he worried that in trying to satisfy their complaints, “we damage the very foundation that has allowed the Android open source ecosystem to work so well for a much larger set of small and medium-sized businesses.”

In addition to complaints about fees, developers worried that Apple’s own rival products incentivized it to make unfavorable decisions toward them.

For example, Tile General Counsel Kirsten Daru said the company had asked Apple for permission to use ultra-wideband technology on iPhones to make its item-tracking technology more precise than it can be using only Bluetooth. She said Apple had refused the request, then reserved the technology for its own competitive AirTags, which it announced Tuesday.

While Apple is rolling out a way for third-party developers to build on the more precise location data, Daru said that in order to access that, “we have to give Apple unprecedented control over our business and direct customers to the Find My app to find their lost items.”

Apple’s Andeer argued AirTags is a separate product from Tile, which currently has the majority of the market share for the space, and that opening tools to more third-party developers will encourage competition.

Unclear standards

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the FBI investigation into links between Donald Trump associates and Russian officials during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Reuters

Lee asked Andeer to differentiate between why a paid service through Tinder might incur a commission while one for Uber would not. Andeer explained an Uber customer is paying for a non-digital service — a car to show up to their house — while they don’t expect the same return from Tinder, saying that would be a different service, in what appeared to be an insinuation of sex work.

The app makers emphasized their reliance on the app stores because of their unprecedented access to consumers. But, they argued, it’s not the symbiotic relationship that Apple and Google like to paint.

“We are not successful because of what Apple has done, we have been successful despite Apple’s interference,” Gutierrez said. “And we would have been much more successful but for their anticompetitive behavior.”

WATCH: Here’s why some experts are calling for a breakup of Big Tech after the House antitrust report



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Gadgets

Jamf provides user-friendly device management for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV devices


Whether you have a small business or need large-scale enterprise management, Jamf provides comprehensive tools for Apple devices.

As businesses increase the number of Apple devices across their teams and enact bring-your-own-device policies, using a scalable management solution that works seamlessly with iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV is an invaluable tool. Jamf offers multiple products that can help streamline the IT process for companies with just a few Apple devices, or those running hundreds of Apple devices across multiple locations.

For teams just entering the device management world or companies with no dedicated IT department, Jamf can make potentially frustrating tasks like connecting new employee devices to their email account a one-click process. Once a device is enrolled in Jamf management, administrators can add Wi-Fi networks, VPNs, security protocols, and push enterprise applications to employees without ever touching their device.

Manage iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV with Jamf

I have been personally using Jamf Now for five years and have managed over 100 Apple devices from a single account.

Administrators and IT professionals alike can utilize zero-touch deployment with any Apple device. This allows any business to ship a new Apple product to an employee and the moment it powers on, the device is enrolled in Jamf and the set-up process begins automatically. Users will have access to all the business tools they need right away, and any needed applications will install on first start-up.

Companies can also utilize Jamf’s open enrollment feature that allows anyone in the company to enroll their device into management just by visiting a URL and inputting a password.

Once a device has been added to the Jamf platform, administrators can view information about that iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV such as the operating system that device is running, its serial number, storage capacity, whether or not a passcode has been set, and even push changes to that device remotely.

Administrators using Jamf Now can create Blueprints that save all the applications, security provisions, restrictions, and even wallpaper settings and then apply that Blueprint to any new device that’s added to the management platform.

Settings can be as granular as requiring an alphanumeric passcode, how many failed passcode attempts result in erasing the device, and a maximum auto-lock time. Jamf also gives businesses access to restrict Siri usage, iCloud services, or delay OS updates for a specific amount of time.

Even with these powerful management features, the end-user experience of all Jamf products remains fast and fluid. I have never had complaints from any user with a device being managed by Jamf.

Companies looking for increased security and workflow options should consider Jamf’s Apple Enterprise Management solution which combines their Jamf Connect, Jamf Pro and Jamf Protect products. These advanced solutions when used together automate the entire lifecycle of Apple in the enterprise including the ability to sign on with one set of cloud-identity credentials, device deployment and management, compliance monitoring, security from threats, and much more.

Jamf for education is also available

For small schools to large districts, Jamf also has solutions for education with the Jamf School platform. Unique features for parents and teachers allow management of devices in a classroom or home setting, including advanced iPadOS and tvOS management, and can be used in 1-to-1 iPad initiatives, or complete Mac labs.

To learn more about all of Jamf’s management solutions, click here.



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Hardware

Supposed next-gen Apple TV remote turns out to be third-party hardware


Recent reports claimed Apple is developing a new Apple TV remote dubbed “B519,” though that particular device appears to be third-party hardware designed for use by cable companies.

Earlier this week, 9to5Mac reported that Apple is working on a new Apple TV remote expected to launch with a next-generation set-top box later this year. A follow-up on Wednesday, however, reveals the device is in fact a remote designed by Universal Electronics.

Announced in November, the Apple TV accessory was developed and designed to serve cable, satellite, and MVPD companies offering Apple TV 4K as an alternative to the traditional cable box.

Eschewing the Siri Remote’s — controversially — minimalist design, the Universal Electronics hardware is a typical candy bar style remote with a multitude of buttons that flank a central control “wheel.” Dedicated buttons invoke Siri voice control and a programming guide.

According to 9to5Mac, Apple had a hand in designing the remote, though the tech giant’s participation was left unmentioned in a Universal Electronics press release announcing the device last year. The remote is reportedly referred to internally at Apple as “B519,” though that information is also in question.

Reliable reports from Bloomberg have indicated that Apple is indeed preparing a new remote control for a so-called “Apple TV 6” and code discovered in recent tvOS beta version backs up those claims. Last week, for example, code strings in the fourth tvOS 14.5 beta release replaced “Siri Remote” with “Apple TV Remote,” while a fifth beta today points to a remote that includes a center button.

Previous rumblings suggest the new remote will feature fresh capabilities like a device location system similar to Find My on iOS.



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News

Encrypted messaging app Signal appears to be blocked in China


The Signal Messenger app is displayed on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China.

Roy Liu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Encrypted messaging app Signal has stopped working in China and is now only accessible via a virtual private network (VPN).

China blocks many foreign apps and services including those from Facebook and Google. But Signal had previously not been barred by the so-called Great Firewall.

Signal claims to be end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company itself nor any outsiders can view the contents of messages between a sender and the intended recipient. This also means authorities cannot snoop on messages.

CNBC tested Signal on three different devices and messages did not go through, suggesting it has been blocked by authorities. The app was still available for download via Apple’s China App Store.

Signal was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The messaging app, however, still worked when used with a VPN. A VPN or virtual private network allows users to protect privacy and circumvent internet restrictions by connecting to servers around the world.

Signal being blocked in China highlights the increasing internet censorship in the world’s second-largest economy.

Downloads of Signal surged earlier in the year after rival WhatsApp changed its terms of service to allow the sharing of some data with its parent company Facebook.

Signal is relatively small in China with 510,000 downloads to date from Apple’s App Store, according to Sensor Tower. But the app provided a rare avenue for sending encrypted messages through a foreign platform without a VPN.

Still, the dominant messaging app in China remains Tencent-owned WeChat with over a billion users.



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Future

Why Walmart is looking to beyond retail for future growth


A woman wearing a face mask walks past a sign informing customers that face coverings are required in front of a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Walmart wants to tap what it sees as its greatest asset: its reach.

Every month, 160 million customers visit its stores or its website. The company not only wants to sell groceries, clothes and other items. It wants to chase new business opportunities, from bulking up its ad sales to becoming a major health-care provider. With the strategy, Walmart is acknowledging a tough reality: Retail may not be enough to power its future.

On Thursday, the retail giant’s leaders spoke at a virtual investor day and detailed a plan to sustain momentum as some pandemic-related tailwinds fade and online sales swell.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the discounter will weave together diverse services that customers want, from issuing a credit or debit card to dropping off groceries to their doorstep. It will also increase investments to cater to customers’ changed shopping habits, such as automation that will help it keep up with the heavy volume of curbside pickup orders.

“We feel emboldened and are now moving with even more speed and aggressiveness,” he said. “We’re scaling new capabilities and businesses and designing them to work together in a mutually reinforcing way.”

A new playbook

With the move, the big-box retailer is taking a page from retailers like Apple and Amazon that have built an ecosystem of products and services to deepen loyalty and win more of customers’ wallets. Amazon Web Services has been the profit engine of its parent company, helping the e-commerce giant offset the challenging economics of selling items it must pick, pack and ship.

It’s riffing off another Amazon strategy, too. This fall, it launched Walmart+, a subscription-based service with perks like free shipping and unlimited grocery deliveries to the home. The service costs $98 a year or $12.95 for a month.

Walmart faces skepticism as it unveils the new playbook, however. It fell short of fourth-quarter earnings estimates, despite a robust holiday season and sales lift from stimulus checks. The results and its forecast for moderating sales in the year ahead prompted a sell-off. Shares were down more than 5% midday on Thursday. In the fiscal year, Walmart grew its revenue by $35 billion, but higher sales alone won’t get it to higher profits.

Remaining competitive will require big-ticket investments. Walmart plans to spend about $14 billion in the coming year, improving its supply chain and adding automation, the company’s CFO Brett Biggs said. That’s higher than its typical rate of $10 billion to $11 billion, he said. These improvements will likely make online sales more efficient and profitable.

Still, McMillon sees a way for Walmart to capitalize on its assets — including its more than 4,700 U.S. locations. For example, the company can turn TV and checkout screens in stores into ad opportunities, use its large parking lots to support health clinics that it is opening in parts of the country and promote online merchandise through TikTok livestreaming event.

“This is the right time to make these investments,” he said. “The strategy, team and capabilities are in place. We know where the customer is going. We have momentum and our balance sheet is strong.”

Staying a few steps ahead

Walmart recently renamed its ads business and told CNBC it wants to grow that division by more than ten times in the next five years. It has opened 20 health clinics with lower-priced medical services like annual physicals, dentist checkups and therapy appointments — with plans for more. It is launching a fintech start-up with investment firm Ribbit Capital to offer unique, affordable financial products for its customers and employees.

McMillon said the company must stay a few steps ahead, especially as it sees such rapid change in the retail industry. The pandemic has permanently changed how some customers shop by fast-forwarding many of the customer trends Walmart was preparing for, according to McMillion.

“In the future, people will still want to shop in compelling stores, but more and more there will be occasions when they prefer to pick up an order or have it delivered,” he said.

“Some customers will eventually allow us and pay us to keep them replenished in their homes on the items they routinely purchase,” he said. “For an increasing number of customers, Walmart will be seen more like a service. Customers will think of us as the merchant that serves their wants and needs, but in ways that take less time and effort.”

And that’s why it’s investing in turning its stores into mini warehouses that use robots and employees to quickly complete online orders for delivery or curbside pickup. That, in turn, will help attract more members to Walmart’s subscription service, Walmart+, since home deliveries are a key reason why customers sign up, he said.

But, McMillon added, Walmart is letting go of some areas as it invests in others. He said it will continue to divest from markets and businesses, which allow it to focus on areas with greater growth potential.



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