iPad Pro’s USB-C port

The iPad Pro’s USB-C port is great. It should be on my iPhone, too

Commentary: Who wants incompatible cables, chargers and earbuds? USB-C fixes that, and gives the iPad laptop power.



When Apple announced Tuesday that its iPad Pro had ditched the proprietary Lightning port in favor of USB-C, my eyes lit up.

Lightning has had a good run, but I’d be happy to toss my collection of Lightning cables into my junk drawer alongside the ones for Firewire hard drives, VGA video and printers that perversely used those weird squarish USB connectors.

Why? USB-C is better than Lightning, letting you connect Apple products to more devices. It’s the new standard for charging Android phones and many laptops, including Apple’s own. In Apple’s insular world, where Cupertino engineers mostly don’t have to trouble themselves about the existence of Windows laptops and Android smartphones, USB-C solves real problems.

Our world has too many incompatible cables and dongles to bridge the gap between old and new devices. USB-C offers a path to a simpler, saner future.

USB-C in my life

Standardizing on USB-C makes my gadget-heavy life simpler. All three of the following situations happened to me in the last month:

  • At a conference, I was scurrying from room to room and trying to keep my MacBook Pro and two phones charged. Several times I unplugged the USB-C charging cable from my Mac and into my Google Pixel 3 XL phone to top off its battery. My iPhone was stranded because I didn’t bring a Lightning cable.
  • I needed earbuds for a Skype call in the office using my Mac. The Pixel 3’s USB-C earbuds worked just fine with my Mac.
  • At night, I use my iPad to watch video but my 2-year-old Pixel phone to listen to music and podcasts. Both work with my old earbuds with a 3.5mm audio jack, but those earbuds just started dying. I could buy another set, but why bother when 3.5mm jacks are disappearing?

My examples involve a Pixel 3, but USB-C is the norm for flagship Android phones including the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Note 9, OnePlus 6T and LG V40. Multiply the number of places you need to charge your phone — home, office, car, friend’s house — by the number of phones around, and you’ll see why USB-C charging would be great for the iPhone as well.

Although my work means I have more gadgets than the average person, my situation isn’t that far removed from the mainstream. My tech hassles often are a preview of what a more mainstream population will have to endure over a longer period of time, while working from a hotel or borrowing devices from friends or co-workers.

And my hassles would be greatly reduced if I didn’t have that Lightning port in my life. Even if I only had Apple hardware, USB-C is the one port that best spans tablets, PCs and phones.

What USB-C does that Lightning can’t

Another big reason I’m a fan of USB-C is that it’s got a better hardware ecosystem than Lightning — or at least it will as the connection technology matures and spreads.

USB-C already pays me dividends with chargers and earbuds, but other devices will come. On the iPad Pro, it can work to offload photos and videos from cameras, as well as connect to electronic instruments, docking stations and external monitors.

That’s a big step toward making the iPad Pro into a full-fledged laptop, even if it’s running iOS and not traditional personal computer operating systems, whether Windows or MacOS. I appreciate the fact that the iPad Pro can use USB-C to charge iPhones, too.

Apple’s long-term plans aren’t clear here, but the company has gone out of its way to show off the iPad Pro as a capable laptop replacement and the company clearly sees iPads as productivity devices. Apple’s new iPad keyboard, though it costs $179 and $199 for the two 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPads and lacks a trackpad, features prominently in Apple’s iPad Pro promotional photos. Apple let Adobe Systems take the stage during the launch event to show off a full-fledged version of Photoshop for the iPad. USB-C really helps the iPad PC ambition.

Well, except for one thing. You can’t plug storage devices into the iPad’s USB-C port. That means no external drives with lots of video to edit or thumb drives so you can transfer that file from your friend. If you’re planning on using your iPad to edit your SLR’s high-resolution photos while you’re on vacation, consider getting the more expensive models with more storage, because you won’t be able to just copy the ones that don’t fit onto an external USB drive.

Now USB-C iPhones too, please

You’re not as likely to connect cameras or thumb drives to your iPhone, but there are good reasons for USB-C there, too.

First, you’d be able to charge in more places, including from your MacBook or iPad Pro charger. That means less junk on your desk or in your suitcase and less of a problem if you forget something. Maybe it’ll even mean some price pressure on Apple’s expensive chargers, too. (We can dream, right?)

Second, USB-C is the best way out of the industry’s abandonment of 3.5mm audio jacks. Because face it, they’re not coming back. With USB-C iPhones, you’d be able to use one set of earbuds or headphones with your laptops, phones and whatever devices you buy in the future.

Third, Apple’s choices send an important message to any other tech company. A USB-C iPhone would help car manufacturers, speaker makers and others embrace USB-C and deliver on its all-purpose promise. That may never happen — Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment — but today’s iPad Pro already sends a message to electronics makers that Lightning’s future is uncertain and that Apple appreciates what USB-C has to offer.

New value for the iPad Pro

The USB-C advantages may not be worth it for you today. Especially if you don’t have a newer Mac, don’t want to spend $9 for an Apple USB-C adapter for your favorite old headphones with a 3.5mm jack, or have accessories like speaker dock reliant on a Lightning port.

But it’s worth it to me, for charging and earbuds today and for digital photography on my next laptop-free vacation.

I still have concerns about the iPad Pro as a full-on laptop replacement. There’s no trackpad, the keyboard lacks a forward-delete key, and some things as routine as copy and paste I do hundreds of times a day are slower than on a “real” laptop. But I use the iPad enough that I’m confident it’s worth it for me.

USB-C on the iPad — and on iPhones, too, if we’re lucky — will help make your life better, too.

Tesla Autopilot chip will be ready in about 6 months

Elon Musk says new Tesla Autopilot chip will be ready in about 6 months

If you paid for that mysterious “Full Self-Driving” package, you’ll be eligible for a retrofit.


A promised upgrade for Tesla’s Autopilot semi-automated driving system should bring some big performance benefits to both new and old cars, and it shouldn’t be too much longer before it’s available.

Elon Musk said on Twitter a major upgrade for Autopilot will be available within approximately six months. This will boost Autopilot’s processing capability in a big way, with Musk promising somewhere between a 500 and 2,000-percent boost in operations per second. This is the computer responsible for crunching all the data its sensors and cameras take in. It’s the brain of the Autopilot system, so to speak.

Elon Musk


~6 months before it is in all new production cars. No change to sensors. This is simple replacement of the Autopilot computer. Will be done free of charge for those who ordered full self-driving.

In addition to offering the Autopilot upgrade in new cars built after its release, it will also be available as an upgrade for older cars sporting the latest versions of its Autopilot hardware (versions 2.0. and 2.5). Buyers who purchased the mysteriously named “Full Self-Driving Capability” option will be eligible for this upgrade, which is a straightforward removal and replacement of the old chipset. That option was available to buyers who also purchased the “Enhanced Autopilot” package, both of which cost multiple thousands of dollars.

Buyers with eligible cars who haven’t yet paid for the required option will be able to do so and receive the upgrade. It bears noting that this computing-power upgrade doesn’t yet enable any kind of self-driving. It merely enhances the power of the car’s neural net, improving Autopilot performance and paving the way for additional features in the future.

This is in addition to Tesla’s version 9.0 software upgrade, which was recently pushed to Tesla vehicles via an over-the-air update. This upgrade included an improved version of Tesla’s neural net, and according to another Musk tweet, its performance improved by approximately 400 percent over the pre-9.0 neural net.


Tesla deploys massive new Autopilot neural net in v9, impressive new capabilities, report says https://electrek.co/2018/10/15/tesla-new-autopilot-neural-net-v9/  by @fredericlambert pic.twitter.com/fBL9aDOudc

View image on Twitter

Elon Musk


To be clear, actual NN improvement is significantly overestimated in this article. V9.0 vs V8.1 is more like a ~400% increase in useful ops/sec due to enabling integrated GPU & better use of discrete GPU.

Tesla may have named its computer-upgrade option “Full Self-Driving Capability,” but Autopilot remains a driver-assist system. Classified as SAE Level 2, the system is capable of controlling the vehicle in its lane for short periods of time, and it requires the driver to maintain full attention to the road at all times. It’s not a “hands-off” system like Cadillac Super Cruise, which Consumer Reports recently ranked above driver-assist systems from NissanVolvo and — you guessed it — Tesla.

Boston Dynamics robot dog can shake its booty

See Spot twerk: Boston Dynamics robot dog can shake its booty

SpotMini is definitely an Uptown Funk fan.


I’m no longer afraid of the robot apocalypse. Boston Dynamics has now convinced me it will be an outstandingly funky affair full of twerking robots and good times.

Boston Dynamics, famous for its increasingly agile humanoid robot Atlas, released a video Tuesday showing off the dance skills of its robo-dog SpotMini.

Bruno Mars himself would be impressed with the robot’s ability to get down. It displays fine motor control as it tackles a mechanized version of the Running Man dance. There’s also a whole lot of robo-booty shaking.

The SpotMini dance video comes just days after the company posted footage of its Atlas robot performed some athletic parkour moves.

I can’t help but feel Boston Dynamics is trying to lull us into a sweet sense of security by showing how fun its robots can be. Just forget about Atlas running you down as you flee. SpotMini is here to disco for you, you silly human.

The four-legged SpotMini is designed to operate for 90 minutes on a charge. It can pick up objects and open doors. It’s also set to go on sale in 2019 in case you’re looking for a dance partner who won’t judge you.

Facebook’s follow-up to Portal will sit on your TV

Facebook’s follow-up to Portal will sit on your TV, says report

It’s reportedly another project coming out of Facebook’s futuristic Building 8 lab.


Facebook’s Portal Plus.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook is reportedly planning another video chat device, but this one could be for your TV.

The world’s largest social network is building a camera-equipped device that sits on top of a TV and allows video calling along with entertainment services, according to Cheddar. The device is reportedly code-named “Ripley” and uses the same technology as Facebook’s Portal video chat device.

Earlier this month, the tech giant launched Portal and Portal Plus, two video chat devices designed to make you feel like you and your friends are hanging out in the same room even though you may be far away. The devices were built on Facebook Messenger and Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, which enable them to use an artificial intelligence-powered camera to pan, zoom and reframe the picture, allowing you to move freely and naturally around, Facebook says.

The company plans to announce Ripley in the spring of 2019, according to Cheddar.

In addition, Ripley is reportedly a moonshot product coming out of Building 8, Facebook’s lab in Menlo Park, California, that focuses on long-term futuristic products. The lab has reportedly been developing an augmented reality project, code-named Sequoia, that uses a projector to create a virtual AR experience, which projects virtual objects and moves them around in a real place, according to Cheddar.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Palm’s crazy comeback rides on a teeny phone that isn’t a phone

Palm’s crazy comeback rides on a teeny phone that isn’t a phone

One of the oldest names in the mobile industry just got a massive reboot.


Palm is best known as a pioneer in the worlds of personal digital assistants and smartphones. Even though the company has been dead for years, the brand still boasts a cult following among techies who stared at screens before staring at screens was a thing.

So it’s surprising that Palm’s resurrection comes in the form of a device designed to take you away from one of those screens — to stare at an even tinier one.

Now playing: Palm is back! But this 3.3-inch device isn’t a phone…

The new Palm isn’t a phone but a companion mobile device that looks like a baby iPhone. It’s designed to act as a lightweight substitute when you’re at the gym, at a club or spending time with your family. The $349 device, sold exclusively in the US by Verizon Wireless, will pair up with your existing phone but has its own cellular radio that requires an additional $10 charge on your monthly wireless bill.

That’s right, our phones have gotten so big they now need their own phones.

Palm is a new San Francisco-based startup licensing one of the most venerable names in the smartphone industry, all to create a device meant to free us from the constant bombardment of email notifications, Slack messages and Instagram posts plaguing our lives.

If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because tech heavyweights Apple and Googlehave already embraced the idea of reducing your dependence on their products, largely through apps that track your usage and, in some cases, block access to key features. These additions emerged following a rise in consumer concern that everyone, and children in particular, is spending too much time on a phone.

This thing is tiny.

Sarah Tew/CNET

“We think technology should recede,” Palm co-founder Dennis Miloseski said in an interview last week. “The product should be a supporting character in our lives.”

Palm is also the latest to try its hand at resurrecting a classic brand in the mobile world at a time when Apple, Huawei and Samsung dominate the market. Other companies have tried to breathe new life into the Nokia and BlackBerry names, once stalwarts in the mobile world, but they’ve had mixed success.

Palm, for its part, isn’t just slapping an established logo on a new phone. The startup is trying for something different.

Co-founder Howard Nuk compares the new direction of Palm to the reinvention of the Mini Cooper brand by BMW, noting that a new generation of fans learned to appreciate the compact vehicle.

But whether the new Palm is a clunker or sleeper depends on how many people buy into this bizarre concept.

Another mobile companion

Nuk describes a weekend in Napa using only the Palm. The smaller screen elicits a different mindset, he said, noting that he was prone to use it less than the typical larger phone. He mainly uses the Palm’s 12-megapixel rear camera and 8MP front-facing shooter for photos to post on Instagram.

It’s something he describes as “life mode,” the company’s shorthand for focusing on the real world around you rather than those pesky notifications. Nuk and Miloseski spend a lot of time talking about the philosophy behind the product, with the specs seemingly an afterthought.

Getting you off your screen is an idea larger companies have already endorsed.

“We’ve developed new tools to let you control those devices, instead of those devices controlling you,” Rick Osterloh, head of Google’s devices business, said last week at the launch of the new Pixel. He cited features like parental controls and the ability to track how much time you spend on apps. Apple’s newest version of iOS boasts similar features.

When we finally got to the Palm product, you can’t help but to think of it as a toy. The front display, which is only 3.3-inches long, and the back are slabs of Gorilla Glass 3 that sandwich a titanium or gold-colored aluminum frame.

The screen boasts a resolution of 720p and 445 pixels per inch, while the rear camera looks like the iPhone X’s vertical dual-camera setup, only the spot for the second lens is a flash. It has a single USB-C port for charging or for headphones, and a single button used to wake the device or, with a double tap, call up a quick action like Google Assistant or the camera.

It employs a facial recognition sensor for unlocking, which Nuk and Miloseski said would be useful in gym settings or other times your hands aren’t necessarily free.

While Palm runs Android 8.1, known as Oreo, the startup tweaked the interface so you see a larger carousel of apps on the home page.

The Palm device will come with loads of accessories — that you have to buy separately.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The device pairs to the phone via Verizon NumberShare, so if someone calls your main phone, the Palm rings too. Because of its platform, Android users will have an easier time syncing the same apps on their phone to this device since it has full Play Store compatibility.

The idea is that you grab this device when you don’t necessarily need a full-fledged phone, but you don’t have as many trade-offs as a smartwatch.

“It’s a portable but full-phone experience,” said Brian Higgins, vice president of device and consumer product marketing for Verizon.

Palm says the device also pairs with iPhones, but many apps, including ones you pay for, will be missing. You won’t have access to iOS apps like Facetime. Nuk says if you want messaging to work, you’ll have to disable iMessage and rely on Verizon’s proprietary messaging app.

Good luck with that.

So is it a phone?

One of the challenges Palm faces is explaining what the device actually is. While tiny, it’s shaped like a phone and works like a phone. It has its own cellular radio, even if it’s paired to your main phone’s number.

Yet Verizon and Palm insist it’s a companion device, and won’t sell it as a standalone product.

“I understand why they are saying it’s not a phone, but that may sow confusion,” said Ross Rubin, an analyst for Reticle Research. He calls the idea of a second “lifestyle” phone a tough pitch.

Higgins said Verizon plans to train its sales force to properly push the device in stores. He hinted at promotional bundles with bigger smartphones for the holidays.

Heavy hitters

Miloseski’s and Nuk’s resumes mean you can’t completely write off this concept. Miloseski spent time working on the user interface for Gmail and Google Docs, and also helped with the development of the Chromecast streaming device. Nuk worked at Frog Design, a firm best known for working with Steve Jobs on early Apple products. He helped with the design for Beats headphones.

The two met at Samsung, where they were responsible for the Gear Fit fitness tracker and helped push the Gear smartwatch franchise toward its round face.

The unique-looking Gear Fit wearable was designed by Miloseski and Nuk while at Samsung.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The two broke away from Samsung in late 2016 to start the on the mobile companion project. While meeting with TCL, a Chinese company best known for making cheap televisions and Alcatel-branded phones, they began discussing the use of the Palm brand. TCL purchased the rights to the name in 2015, but hadn’t done anything with it.

By March of the next year, the two had signed a deal to license the Palm name. After the success of selling connected watches, Verizon jumped in last year.

Rather than the usual home screen, the new Palm uses larger app icons that you can more easily tap.

Sarah Tew/CNET

“Verizon has embraced us,” Miloseski said. “We’re not a giant company, and they’ve been able to recognize that and tailor the way they work to a startup like us.”

What stood out to Higgins was the fact that Miloseski and Nuk didn’t just shrink down the device but thought about the user experience with the tiny screen.

The other notable figure behind Palm is NBA superstar Steph Curry, who serves as an investor and creative strategy director. Anyone who remembers Alicia Keys’ “work” with BlackBerry, or Lady Gaga and Polaroid, will snicker at the title, but Nuk insists Curry is an active member of the company, offering input on the Palm device’s effectiveness as a workout device.

Curry wasn’t available for an interview because of his other job.

Nostalgia play

BlackBerry plays a tangential role in this unlikely story.

TCL, which licenses the Palm brand to Miloseski and Nuk, has itself paid for the rights to use the BlackBerry name in its own phones.

BlackBerry, under TCL, has been trying to make keyboards on phones a thing again.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

TCL, alongside HMD Global, a startup licensing the use of the Nokia name in phones, and Palm make up a trio of companies trying to restore the luster to faded brands.

So far, the results have been mixed.

HMD Global, for instance, got the biggest buzz by rereleasing classic Nokia candy-bar phones. While the Nokia name isn’t terribly strong in the US, around the world HMD saw its market share jump to 1.1 percent in the second quarter, compared with 0.01 percent a year earlier, according to Counterpoint Research. The US is still a challenge, with the Nokia 7.1 unlikely to get very far without carrier support.

“Nokia brand driven by HMD global has been a good comeback story,” said Counterpoint analyst Neil Shah.

Yep, the Palm device takes photos too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

TCL insists its BlackBerry lineup has exceeded expectations, even if the numbers are small. The company hopes to capture 3 percent to 5 percent of the premium phone market, though Shah notes that its share remains tiny due to limited distribution. Despite a few splashy launches, the phones, which are some of the few that retain a physical keyboard, consistently get lost in the shuffle.

Palm hopes it’ll stand out by eschewing the legacy of the Palm Treo, WebOS-powered Pre or PDA.

“We’ve taken a brand that has a love and following and reinvented it,” Nuk said.

Originally published Oct. 15 at 5:00 a.m. PT. 
Updated Oct. 16 at 5:30 a.m. PT: Added analyst and executive quotes, as well as more background.

Watch Out For Fake Apps.

Beware! Scammers are now creating fake apps. They trick you into downloading them to your smartphone or tablet, and ask you to load your credit card information in these apps. You can guess what happens next.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind about this Scam of The Week:

  1. Be very judicious in deciding what app to download. Better safe than sorry.
  2. If you *do* decide to download an app, check the reviews first; apps with few reviews or bad reviews are a big Red Flag.
  3. If you receive an email with a link to download a new app, don’t click it. Always go directly to the website of the retailer to download software, or use the AppStore or Google Play.
  4. Don’t link your credit card or give out any personal information to a program unless you are certain you’re dealing with a verified vendor.