Updated Apple System Takes on Smartphone Addiction

Apple’s polished iPhone line-up comes with tools to help users dial back their smartphone obsessions, amid growing concerns over “addiction” and harmful effects on children.

An iOS 12 mobile operating system that will power new iPhones unveiled on Wednesday, and be pushed out as an update to prior models, has new features to reduce how much they distract people from the real world.

Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said of iOS 12 at a developers conference earlier this year the new system offers “detailed information and tools” to help users and parents keep tabs on device use.

A new “Screen Time” tool generates activity reports showing how often people pick up their iPhones or iPads, how long they spend in apps or at websites, and numbers of notifications received.

Users will be able to set limits on time spent in apps. Parents will be able to get activity reports from their children’s iPhones or iPads, and impose time limits on apps from games and news to social media and messaging.

The operating system will also allow people to designate “down time” when iPhones or iPads can’t be used — perhaps a child’s bedtime or a grown-up’s meditation hour.

Activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), which both have stakes in Apple, early this year called on the company to give parents more tools to ensure children are using its devices in ways that aren’t hurting them.

The investors reasoned that doing so would pose no threat to Apple, because the company makes the bulk of its money selling devices, not from how much people use them.

Apple has been working to ramp up revenue from services and digital content such as music and movies, but most of the cash it takes in comes from iPhone sales.

The letter cited a growing body of evidence that excessive smartphone use may be having negative consequences on young people.

A study of teachers found the vast majority felt smartphones were a growing distraction at schools, eroding the ability of students to focus in class and a seeming cause of social and emotional difficulties.

Apple Unveils Larger iPhones, Health-Oriented Watches

Apple Inc unveiled larger iPhones and watches based on the design of current models on Wednesday, confirming Wall Street expectations that the company is making only minor changes to its lineup.

The world’s most valuable tech company wants users to upgrade to newer, more expensive devices as a way to boost revenue as global demand for smartphones levels off. The strategy has helped Apple become the first publicly-traded U.S. company to hit a market value of more than $1 trillion earlier this year.

Its shares were down 1.2 percent on Nasdaq. Apple uses the ‘S’ suffix when it upgrades components but leaves the exterior design of a phone the same. Last year’s iPhone X — pronounced “ten” — represented a major redesign.

The new phones are the XS, with a 5.8-inch (14.7-cm) screen, the larger XS Max, with a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) screen, and a 6.1-inch iPhone Xr made of aluminum, with an edge-to-edge liquid retina display.

Apple, which is looking for ways to lessen reliance on phones for revenue, opened its event by announcing the new Apple Watch Series 4 range with edge-to-edge displays, like its latest phones, which are more than 30 percent bigger than displays on current models.

It is positioning the new watch as a more comprehensive health device, able to detect an irregular heartbeat and start an emergency call automatically if it detects a user falling down, potentially appealing to older customers. It said it had approval for the device from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA said it worked with Apple to develop apps for the Apple Watch. The agency said it has been taking steps to ease the regulatory pathway for companies seeking to create digital healthcare products.

Shares of fitness device rival Fitbit Inc fell about 3.7 percent after the Series 4 announcement. Shares of Garmin Ltd lost some earlier gains and were flat in midday New York trade.

Executives made the announcement at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s new circular headquarters in Cupertino, California, named after the company’s co-founder who wowed the world with the first iPhone in 2007.

“There’s no real game-changer on the table,” said Hal Eddins, chief economist at Apple shareholder Capital Investment Counsel. “It’s a matter of getting people to keep moving up.”

The company is also expected to unveil a new version of its wireless AirPods earbuds with wireless charging and a wireless mat that will be able to charge several devices at once.

Internet Group Backs ‘National’ Data Privacy Approach

A group representing major internet companies including Facebook, Amazon.com and Alphabet said on Tuesday it backed modernizing U.S. data privacy rules but wants a national approach that would preempt California’s new regulations that take effect in 2020.

The Internet Association, a group representing more than 40 major internet and technology firms including Netflix, Microsoft and Twitter, said “internet companies support an economy-wide, national approach to regulation that protects the privacy of all Americans.”

The group said it backed principles that would ensure consumers should have “meaningful controls over how personal information they provide” is used and should be able to know who it is being shared with.

Consumers should also be able to seek deletion of data or request corrections or take personal information to another company that provides similar services and have reasonable access to the personal information they provide, it said.

The group also told policymakers they should give companies flexibility in notifying individuals, set a “performance standard” on privacy and data security protections that avoids a prescriptive approach and set national data breach notification rules.

Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, said in an interview the proposals were “very forward looking and very aggressive” and would push to ensure the new rules apply “economy wide.”

He said the group “would be very active working with both the administration and Congress on putting pen to paper.”

The Internet Association wants new rules to be technology and sector neutral, which would mean any new privacy protections would cover anything from how grocery stores or other physical retailers use consumer data to car rental, airlines or credit card firms as well as internet service providers.

The White House said in July it was working to develop consumer data privacy policies and officials had been meeting major firms as it looked to eventually seeing the policies enshrined in legislation.

Data privacy has become an increasingly important issue, fueled by massive breaches that have compromised the personal information of millions of U.S. internet and social media users.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed data privacy legislation in June aimed at giving consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information, although it was not as stringent as Europe’s new rules.

Beckerman said “we definitely want to get this in place prior to California because California got it wrong.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also unveiled privacy principles last week that aim to reverse California’s new rules.

Under the law, large companies would be required from 2020 to let consumers view the data they have collected on them, request deletion of data, and opt out of having the data sold to third parties.

Many privacy advocates have called for robust new U.S. data protections.

Laura Moy, deputy director at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, told Congress in July that lawmakers should not overturn new state privacy rules and federal agencies “must be given more powerful regulatory tools and stronger enforcement authority” and more resources.

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation took effect in May, replacing the bloc’s patchwork of rules dating back to 1995.

Study: US Teens Prefer Remote Chats to Face-to-Face Meetings

American teenagers are starting to prefer communicating via text instead of meeting face-to-face, according to a study published Monday by the independent organization Common Sense Media.

Some 35 percent of kids aged 13 to 17 years old said they would rather send a text than meet up with people, which received 32 percent.

The last time the media and technology-focused nonprofit conducted such a survey in 2012, meeting face-to-face hit 49 percent, far ahead of texting’s 33 percent.

More than two-thirds of American teens choose remote communication — including texting, social media, video conversation and phone conversation — when they can, according to the study. 

In 2012 less than half of them marked a similar preference.

Notably, in the six-year span between the two studies the proportion of 13- to 17-year-olds with their own smartphone increased from 41 to 89 percent.

As for social networks, 81 percent of respondents said online exchange is part of their lives, with 32 percent calling it “extremely” or “very” important.

The most-used platform for this age group is Snapchat (63 percent), followed by Instagram (61 percent) and Facebook (43 percent).

Some 54 percent of the teens who use social networks said it steals attention away from those in their physical presence.

Two-fifths of them said time spent on social media prevents them from spending more time with friends in person.

The study was conducted online with a sample of 1,141 young people ages 13 to 17, from March 22 to April 10.

Survey: Number of Americans Getting News on Social Media Slows

About two-thirds of American adults say they occasionally get their news from social media, according to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center.

The number is 1 percent more than last year, indicating a slowdown in the growth of news consumption on social media.

Despite the popularity of social media, 57 percent said they expected the news they received on these platforms to be inaccurate.

Republicans were far more negative than Democrats about social media news, with 72 percent saying they expect it to be inaccurate. Forty-six percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents reported feeling the same. Pew surveyor Katerina Eva Matsa said this falls in line with years of research on political attitudes toward news media in general.

“We’ve seen stark differences between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to the perception of fairness, the media’s watchdog role, trust toward the media,” Matsa said.

Despite the partisan breakdown, more people listed accuracy as their greatest concern with news on social media than political bias. Thirty-one percent were concerned with accuracy, while 11 percent worried about political bias.

Facebook remained the dominant platform for online news consumption, with 43 percent of respondents saying they get news there. YouTube came in second with 21 percent, and Twitter third with 12 percent. Other major social media platforms such as Instagram and Reddit scored in the single digits.

Reddit stood out as the site where the highest portion of its users were exposed to news, at 73 percent. Twitter and Facebook came in second and third respectively, with 71 percent and 67 percent.

Trump: Apple Can Avoid Tariffs by Shifting Production to US

President Donald Trump concedes that some Apple Inc. products may become more expensive if his administration imposes “massive” additional tariffs on Chinese-made goods, but he says the tech company can fix the problem by moving production to the U.S.

“Start building new plants now. Exciting!” Trump said Saturday in a tweet aimed at the Cupertino, California, company.

This week, Apple said that a proposed additional round of tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports would raise prices on some of its products, including the Apple Watch and the Mac mini.

The company is highly exposed to a trade war between the U.S. and China. It makes many of its products for the U.S. market in China, and it also sells gadgets including the iPhone in China, making them a potential target for Chinese retaliation against the Trump tariffs.

Trump tweeted Saturday that “Apple prices may increase because of the massive Tariffs we may be imposing on China — but there is an easy solution where there would be ZERO tax, and indeed a tax incentive,” if the company made its products in the U.S. instead of China.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has not announced plans to move manufacturing from China to the U.S.

‘Tax on U.S. consumers’

In its letter this week to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Apple said that “because all tariffs ultimately show up as a tax on U.S. consumers, they will increase the cost of Apple products that our customers have come to rely on in their daily lives.”

The company said tariffs would hit “a wide range of Apple products,” including computers, watches, adapters, chargers and tools used in its U.S. manufacturing, repair and data centers. Apple said the tariffs would raise the cost of its U.S. operations and put it at a disadvantage to foreign rivals.

The White House has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property and forcing American companies to share their technology with Chinese companies. The tariffs would pressure China to stop that behavior, the administration has said. Apple said “it is difficult to see” how tariffs would advance the government’s goal.

The presidential tweet was the latest salvo in a dispute between the Trump administration and companies that fear tariffs will hurt their business.

The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China, mostly equipment and material used by manufacturers. CEO Tim Cook said in July that those measures had no effect on Apple. The company is concerned, however, about the Trump administration’s proposal to add 25 percent duties on another $200 billion in Chinese goods, including a wider assortment of consumer-related items.

Converting Body Heat Into Electricity to Power Sensors

The number of wearable technologies that use sensors as medical tools to track a person’s well-being – is on the rise. All of them – need an electric charge or a battery source to operate, but a handful of researchers are trying to take batteries out of the equation. At the Texas A&M University in College Station, researchers are doing just that – looking at ways to use our own body heat to power all those sensors. Elizabeth Lee takes a look at the emerging new technology.

Body Heat Converted Into Electricity Powers Health Sensors

There has been an increasing number of wearable technologies that have health sensors as medical tools to track a person’s well-being. Many of these devices need to be charged or are battery-powered. 

A handful of researchers want to take batteries out of the equation and instead, use waste body heat and convert that into useful electricity to power sensors. 

“The average person is something like an 80-watt light bulb,” said Jamie Grunlan, Texas A&M University’s Linda & Ralph Schmidt ’68 Professor in Mechanical Engineering.

Grunlan and his team of researchers are working on using the waste heat the body gives off and converting that into useful electricity. The idea is to create printable, paintable thermoelectric technology that looks like ink and can coat a wearable fabric, similar to dyeing colors onto cloth. Once a person wears the fabric, devices such as health sensors can be powered.

“Our coating coats every fiber within that textile, and so what’s drawing it is simply that textile needs to just be touching the heat source or be close enough to the heat source to be feeling the heat source,” Grunlan said. 

Military and sporting goods companies have applications for this type of technology because there is not a large battery pack worn on the body that could be a cause of injury if the person would fall.

“They would love to power health sensors off of body heat and then wirelessly transmit that data to wherever,” Grunlan explained. “You’d like to know if somebody had a concussion or was dehydrated or something like that while it’s happening in real time.”

As a person generates heat, the temperature outside is colder than what’s against the body. The temperature differential generates a voltage. 

The goal is to design technology that can get one volt or up to 10 percent efficiency and beyond. So, for example, a researcher would try to get eight watts from a person who is generating 80 watts.

The ingredients in this thermoelectric recipe include carbon nanotubes, polymers and a carbon material called graphene, which is a nanoparticle. 

Researchers are trying to perfect the recipe of this ink-like material. 

“The one voltage is realistic, but how much material do we need to get that one voltage because we need as little as possible?” said Carolyn Long, a Ph.D. graduate student at Texas A&M. 

“So, different polymers, different amounts of the multi-walled or double-walled nanotubes, adding the graphene, which order it needs to go in exactly to create the best pathway for the electrons for the thermoelectric material,” said Long of the various experiments she and her lab mates have conducted.

The aim is to create a product that can be mass produced. 

“It will happen. It’s not will it happen. It’s when. Is it a year, or is it five years?” Grunlan said.

That will depend on how much funding and manpower is available to make this technology a reality.