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Never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow

Never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow


If you get an iPad Pro, get it for the right reasons

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Photo by Brennan King / The Verge

The headline on this story — never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow — doesn’t really apply to the new iPad Pro, which I reviewed yesterday. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since I hit the publish button.

The phrase is a mantra we repeat over and over here at The Verge when there’s a promise that a future software update will fix a bug on a device we’re reviewing. It’s the default advice we give out when such a promise has been made, borne out of years of experience with these things.

These “bugfixes and improvements” rarely eliminate the original problem entirely, but sometimes you get surprised. We’re about to find out if Samsung can buck that trend with the focus hunting issues on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is getting an update globally right now.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found definitive evidence it does, but signs seem to look good based on some early user reports. Even more unfortunately, I have to admit that my review unit is locked up tight at my office where I absolutely can’t get it — so I may not be able to test the update myself for some time.

Anyway, the advice is on my mind after reviewing the iPad Pro even though — again — it only really tangentially relates. It’s because so much of the iPad is about its potential, which for years was always just one update away. First it was waiting for better multitasking, then a better web browser and USB device support, and now we’re waiting to see if that Magic Keyboard with its trackpad can unlock more capabilities on this thing.

I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to try out the new Magic Keyboard yet, though I did do some trackpad testing. Stay tuned for more on the trackpad next week — or just go on and try it yourself, as iOS and iPadOS 13.4 are out now with mouse and keyboard support for iPads, iCloud Drive folder sharing, and more. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, shoot me an email.

The standout new hardware feature this year, LIDAR, simply doesn’t have direct support from AR apps to justify itself yet. It makes you wonder if the next flagship iPhone will have LIDAR too. Its inclusion on the iPad Pro seems like a signal that Apple thinks truly good AR requires LIDAR, as Nilay Patel pointed out in the Vergecast last week.

Despite some recent travails with Catalyst apps on the Mac, Apple is generally really good at getting developers on board with its new capabilities, so I have a high level of faith that those LIDAR-enhanced AR apps will come. (Disclosure: my wife works for Oculus, which works on VR.)

There are fun things to do in AR today, but in the popular imagination it’s definitely one of the many “in five years it’ll be huge” technologies — alongside self-driving cars and robot butlers. Perhaps the timeline to widespread AR is considerably shorter, but it’s certainly not imminent.

I think Apple deserves more credit than it usually gets for taking big bets on its products. Usually, it has a reputation for being more conservative than other companies — it was late to 3G and wireless charging. But just as often, Apple risks unproven tech on important products.

Not all of them pan out, of course (looking at you MacBook keyboard and Touch Bar), but just as often they do: truly wireless headphones were kind of meh before the AirPods, consumers didn’t rise up and reject headphone jack-less phones, and even the iPad Pro itself was a risk. When it was first introduced, there was no guarantee that it could turn into what it’s become today.

Sometimes Apple’s bets are about pushing the entire market forward, intentionally seeding ideas that aren’t quite ready now in order to force the future it believes should come. That’s absolutely the story with USB originally and with the Great Port Cull on phones and laptops over the past few years. I think it’s likely a similar story with LIDAR and AR.

I have no idea if LIDAR and the idea of pervasive AR that people access by holding up big tablets will become bets that pan out or not. Unlike some of Apple’s other bets, though, the only hassle the LIDAR causes is the size of the camera bump and the cost of the part.

Which means that while I don’t think Apple’s big AR push is a reason for anybody to go buy the new iPad Pro (unless you’re an AR developer, I guess), I also don’t think it’s a reason to avoid it.

So: buy the iPad Pro for the screen, the speed, the microphones, or because you really do think it can replace your laptop. Those are all good reasons. Just don’t buy it for the LIDAR — never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow.

Product news

┏ The Redmi K30 Pro is Xiaomi’s new price-performance champion. If you wanted proof that what you’re paying for on a Galaxy S20 flagship isn’t the specs, the K30 Pro makes a very solid case for that.

┏ Wyze’s new Band wearable and smart scale are available today. Both of these seem much nicer than I would have guessed — though of course we’ll need to try them out directly to say for sure. I still think it’s a little odd to get these categories of devices from Wyze, but maybe you don’t.

┏ Impossible CEO says it can make a meat ‘unlike anything that you’ve had before’. I love this idea. Trying to make something that mimics beef means you’ll get judged by that standard — and there are some very good burgers out there, you know? But if the company can just lean into the strengths of its plants and not try to aim to mimic something, that could turn into something really special.

┏ Spotify is revoking support for all third-party DJ apps. You know, Spotify, not every company needs to make every single product. Sometimes being the base for an ecosystem of third party apps lets you become this little thing that people call a “platform,” and it helps you become the standard. Just a thought!

Web news

┏ Apple updates Safari’s anti-tracking tech with full third-party cookie blocking. Far ahead of Chrome, and honestly, much less breaks than you might expect.

┏ Firefox is launching a new test pilot with Scroll to pay web publishers. The Verge is part of the Scroll network. I still have some reservations about how much data Scroll is collecting (though I understand why it’s necessary, given how the web works) — but the CEO promises that options for deleting and anonymizing are on the way. I’m a subscriber, for what it’s worth.

And it may be self-serving to point this out, but paying directly for journalism is likely to become more important in the coming months as the ad market contracts.

Space news

┏ Europe turns off instruments on some of its deep-space probes during coronavirus pandemic. You can’t get much further away from the coronavirus than this, yet it still has a big effect.

┏ The true impact of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation on astronomy is coming into focus. Loren Grush gets deep into all the issues, but I found this part in particular particularly alarming: 

As for what that means for these astronomy fields, one obvious concern is that a potentially hazardous asteroid could go unnoticed until it’s too late to act appropriately. It’s also possible observers will have to take expensive countermeasures to get the kinds of images they want. “It may mean you have to observe twice as long, if you have to throw away half your data,” says McDowell. “So that’s expensive. Or you may need to make changes to your telescope design, to stop reflections from a satellite.”

Alone, together

Two trends to keep an eye on. The first is continued reduction in bandwidth usage for video to help balance the internet’s overall load. The second sort of runs counter to that: more ways to be social with video or chat while consuming content.

┏ YouTube is reducing its default video quality to standard definition for the next month. I don’t know how much it will help, but I think I’m going to just let this default stand rather than manually switch it up to the higher resolution, just in case it’s a help to my neighbors. 

By default, videos will start playing in standard definition (480p) quality, according to Bloomberg. People who want to watch videos in high definition can still do so, but they must manually select that option.

┏ Sony will slow down PlayStation downloads in Europe, but says multiplayer will remain ‘robust’.

┏ Instagram will let you browse posts with friends over video chat to promote social distancing. This is honestly very clever: 

Part of this new effort includes a new feature Instagram is calling Co-Watching, which will let you browse posts with your friends over in-app video chat. The feature can be accessed by starting a video chat through the Instagram Direct messaging tab and tapping the photo icon in the bottom left of the video chat screen. It lets you look at saved, liked, and recommended posts together as a group.

┏ How to use Netflix Party to stream movies with your friends.

┏ How Half-Life: Alyx’s designers built an escapist dystopia with a spot of hope. There are a lot of contradictions in this game, and especially in this moment — Adi Robertson gracefully navigates them in this piece.