Apple Watch gym partnerships give you perks for working out

Apple is launching a partnership program for gyms today called “Apple Watch Connected” that’s meant to highlight chains that integrate with its wearable and offer perks for owners. In some cases, perks include discounted membership fees and gift cards for people who regularly work out, according to CNBC.

For a gym to get the Apple Watch Connected branding, it’ll have to offer four things:

  1. An app for iPhones and Apple Watches that offers information like class times
  2. Support for Apple Pay to buy things at the gym
  3. Some kind of perk for wearers, like membership discounts
  4. Fitness equipment that supports GymKit, Apple’s system for syncing an Apple Watch with equipment like treadmills and ellipticals

(There’s a limited exception to that last one, for gyms focused on equipment that isn’t supported by GymKit. Generally, an unstated percentage of all equipment must support GymKit.)

The partnership is, in theory, a win for everyone involved. Apple Watch owners get a better experience at gyms (and potentially some discounts); Apple gets gyms that not only better support its product, but go out of their way to offer perks to its customers; and gyms get customers who may be more likely to stay with them due to the incentivized workouts.

It’s free for gyms to join the program, though I’m a little skeptical about how much benefit there really is to a program that mostly boils down to “give discounts to Apple customers.” If Apple, in turn, offers promotion for these gyms, then they could certainly see more people headed their way. But at least for now, there’s no word on these gyms being highlighted in, say, Apple Maps or Apple’s Health app.

At launch today, there are four Apple Watch Connected gym partners: YMCA, Crunch Fitness, Basecamp Fitness, and Orange Theory. It’ll also only be live at select locations for each. Crunch is the only gym offering membership discounts for people who work out regularly; Orange Theory is offering gift card perks; and the YMCA will donate classes to kids. Basecamp is advertising a program it already offers that can give subscribers an Apple Watch for free.

The tie-in with gyms is Apple’s latest attempt to associate wearing an Apple Watch and being fit with saving money. It’s also worked in the past with health insurers to offer discounts to people who wear the Watch. The integrations make sense given the focus on fitness, but they also mean that people who can’t afford a watch that starts at $200 that connects to a phone that starts at $449 miss out on these discounts.

Correction January 23rd, 11:50AM ET: Apple clarified that some amount of GymKit support is required, though there are exceptions. This story initially stated that GymKit support was not required at all gyms.

The iPad Pro can now run Fortnite at 120 frames per second

Epic Games has just released an update for the iOS version of Fortnite that unlocks a niche-but-cool feature if you have the hardware to support it: a 120 frames per second mode for the latest (2018) iPad Pro. This mode makes the most of the screen’s high refresh rate to deliver ultra-smooth performance. The update also adds support for controller thumbstick buttons.

I checked the 120 fps mode out for a few rounds, and while I’m not sure how many people play competitive Fortnite on an iPad, the difference is noticeable. The frame rate does occasionally drop down into the 100s or 90s, which I’m sure will happen more often if you’re playing for hours on end, but otherwise the game does indeed deliver the advertised 120 fps.

Enabling the mode automatically drops the resolution and fixes the visual settings at “medium,” just as you can only run at 60 fps with “high” settings and 30 fps with “epic”. It’s a pretty big visual downgrade, but then again I used to disable textures altogether to try to get an advantage in Quake III Arena back in the day, so I’m sure the tradeoff will be worth it for some.

Epic first added 60 fps support for Fortnite on iOS with the launch of the iPhone XS and XR in 2018. At the time, it was the only way to play the game at 60 fps on the go — the Nintendo Switch version is restricted to 30 fps, though many higher-end Android phones now support the faster frame rate as well. The game runs at 60 fps on the PS4 and Xbox One, and of course you can run the PC version at whatever frame rate your hardware is capable of.

Apple is gearing up to fight the EU over the lightning connector

Note: this story has been rewritten because a previous version contained substantially incorrect analysis. Please see the correction note below. We regret the error.

Since 2009, the European Commission has been trying to convince tech companies to adopt a single charging method for our gadgets, primarily smartphones, in a quest to reduce the waste that comes when every new gadget you buy includes yet another AC adapter in the box. Now, Apple’s Lightning connector may be at risk.

Back at the beginning of the decade, the commission was mostly successful in driving the voluntary adoption of the Micro-USB charging port, which became the standard on every non-Apple smartphone until the newer, more capable USB-C came along. That reduced the number of different cables and chargers a household needed to top up their devices. But in the view of Maroš Šefčovič, a vice president of the European Commission who is now proposing further regulation, voluntary agreements haven’t been enough.

In a statement before the European Parliament on January 13th, Šefčovič argued that voluntary agreements from the industry weren’t doing enough. Apple, Google, Lenovo, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony all voluntarily agreed in 2018 to standardize on some form of USB-C charging by 2021, but allowed for things like Lightning to USB-C cables and adapters instead of changing the port on the phone itself.

Šefčovič mentions that one of the outcomes might be to eliminate proprietary connectors( like Apple’s Lightning port, though he didn’t mention it by name). And he suggests that the EU might force manufacturers to stop shipping chargers with each new phone, which could be frustrating unless manufacturers know their customers would already have the right charger and cable for whatever smartphone they buy waiting for them at home.

Apple’s not particularly happy about the threat of regulation, of course, and argues that we might not have shifted from Micro-USB to the more durable, versatile, and bidirectional Lightning and USB-C to begin with if they’d been forced to adopt a single standard back in 2009. Here’s the full statement the company issued Thursday, mirroring a very similar one Apple issued a year ago:

Apple stands for innovation and deeply cares about the customer experience. We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole.

More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers. Legislation would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users.

We do not believe there is a case for regulation given the industry is already moving to the use of USB Type-C through a connector or cable assembly. This includes Apple’s USB-C power adapter which is compatible with all iPhone and iPad devices. This approach is more affordable and convenient for consumers, enables charging for a wide range of portable electronic products, encourages people to re-use their charger and allows for innovation.

Prior to 2009, the Commission considered mandating that all smartphones use only USB Micro-B connectors which would have restricted the advancement to Lightning and USB Type-C. Instead, the Commission established a voluntary, industry standards-based approach that saw the market shift from 30 chargers down to 3, soon to be two — Lightning and USB-C, showing this approach does work.

We hope the Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to customers.

And it’s worth noting there are already a couple of studies that conclude forcing a single connector standard could harm consumers more than it helps, and otherwise might not achieve the EC’s aims — though you should know one of those studies was commissioned by Apple, and the other by an association of tech companies that includes Apple. Among other arguments, they suggest that charger incompatibility isn’t generally a problem for EU households, more than half of which have standardized on one kind of cable anyhow; that households would prefer a new charger to come in the box instead of none; and that USB-C both costs more to produce and has a 20 percent higher carbon footprint, “due to the USB Type-C connector being larger and having a higher mass than the Lightning connector.”

But the EC plans to publish its own dueling study in the upcoming weeks, which will presumably suggest differently.

Correction, January 24th at 10:20 PM ET: This story originally appeared with the headline “No, the EU isn’t asking Apple to kill the Lightning cable.” That analysis was incorrect; this story has been rewritten to reflect the fact that EU regulation on common charging is still developing. It has also been updated with a recent statement from Apple made in response to the EU’s efforts. We apologize for the error.

AirPods Pro owners complain of worse noise cancellation after firmware updates

Some AirPods Pro owners have been complaining about degraded noise cancellation in recent weeks, claiming that Apple’s latest earbuds suddenly got less effective at silencing ambient noise after receiving a firmware update. Rtings.com retested the AirPods Pro and found their noise canceling capabilities to be worse after firmware update 2C54. But affected customers say the trouble began even earlier with firmware version 2B588, which rolled out in November. (Apple later pulled firmware 2C54 for unknown reasons.)

This phenomenon — the perception that a software update has “ruined” noise cancellation — has also been reported by owners of Bose and Sony headphones. Bose has faced a months-long controversy over its QuietComfort 35 II headphones, with some customers insisting that an update drastically worsened the level of noise cancellation from the cans compared to their original out-of-the-box performance. There are a lot of people who say they’ve experienced this issue, and it’s escalated to the point where Bose is now visiting customers at home to get a handle on whatever’s going on. Sony also dealt with similar complaints about its 1000XM3 headphones.

Are companies really screwing up this badly, or are customers imagining a problem where one doesn’t exist? The Rtings tests suggest something changed; the site found that Apple has also been slightly tweaking the sound profile of the AirPods Pro with these updates. A few editors at The Verge think they’ve noticed a difference, and others haven’t, but that’s by no means scientific.

Since the original AirPods, Apple has chosen to make the firmware update process completely invisible to customers. The entire process happens in the background without so much as a single notification. You can’t reject AirPods software updates, nor is there any direct way to force the update process on demand; you plug a charging cable into your AirPods case, put them near your iPhone, and wait. Once a firmware update is installed, you’ll notice the new version in settings.

(To check, open Settings, then pick General, then About. Whenever your AirPods are connected to your iPhone or iPad, you’ll see a section for them beneath the “EID” row.)

This everything-happens-in-the-background approach means there’s no way to downgrade or revert an AirPods Pro update back to a previous one if you encounter a problem. Some AirPods Pro owners are convinced noise cancellation took a downturn right after that first 2B588 update, and they were left without any method of going back.

Unlike other earbud makers including Sony and even Amazon, Apple doesn’t let you adjust the intensity of noise cancellation from the settings menu. The AirPods Pro are designed to dynamically adjust how much noise cancellation is applied on the fly based on your environment.

But to the end user, the feature is either on or off, and that’s not what I’d call ideal. Some people always want the maximum amount — especially on a plane or during a noisy commute — but others can feel a slight discomfort from the noise cancellation technology (or in some cases even get a little dizzy) when it’s fully cranked up.

It’s possible that Apple decided to turn the maximum noise canceling knob down ever so slightly without telling anyone to avoid any ill effects, but I really hope not. Letting customers choose from multiple levels of noise cancellation would make the AirPods Pro a hair more complicated to use, but might solve this situation for everyone. People who want their cocoon of silence (and have no issues when noise cancellation is dialed up to 11) can have it, and everyone else can find whatever level offers the best balance of comfort and NC.

The Verge has reached out to Apple for comment on the situation, and I’ll update this story should the company respond.

Here’s the zany internal Apple music video you’ve probably never seen

This morning, we introduced you to The Apple Archive, an unofficial collection of the Cupertino company’s official videos, print ads, marketing images, and even some eye-opening internal training videos — check out young Woz and his single earring at the beginning of this early video on the value of patents!

But at the time, we were blissfully unaware that the archive also included this delightful monstrosity: a four-minute music video masquerading as an “Easy Pay training video.”

We will now inflict it upon you:

It just keeps on going, doesn’t it?

I can guess what you’re thinking, but no, these employees were not fired — in fact, a LinkedIn profile suggests lead singer Brian Maslow spent five more years at the company and got promoted first to train his fellow Apple retail employees, later trained Whole Foods employees, and is now a manager of talent development at NBCUniversal.

There appear to be plenty more internal videos and unreleased videos in The Apple Archive’s collection too, and a handy search feature if you’re only interested in those. Ever seen the original iMac ad where Jeff Goldblum and some kids are hiding under a table because they’re scared of cables? Or the video where Apple demolishes one of its classic buildings in slow motion, set to the perfect tune? Check ‘em out while you can.

And if you now find yourself with a craving for more disastrous tech company music videos, just check out this catchy number that most definitely did not save BlackBerry from being scorned by app developers in 2012.

Apple TV Plus’ The Banker will hit theaters in March after being delayed following controversy

The Banker — the first film from Apple TV Plus planned to make a major theatrical release — will be hitting theaters on March 6th, after an initial delay while Apple investigated sexual misconduct allegations surrounding Bernard Garrett Jr., the movie’s producer. Garrett is also the real-life son of The Banker protagonist Bernard Garrett Sr. (played by Anthony Mackie), via Variety.

In a statement, an Apple spokesperson commented to Variety that “We created Apple TV Plus as a home for stories that matter and believe ‘The Banker,’ inspired by the brave actions of Bernard Garrett Sr. and Joe Morris, two African American businessmen who brought about positive social change, is one of those stories.”

“We wanted to take the time to understand the situation at hand — and after reviewing the information available to us, including documentation of the filmmakers’ research, we’ve decided to make this important and enlightening film available to viewers.”

The Banker was originally intended to premiere at AFI Fest in 2019, and was meant to serve as one of Apple’s first forays into making high-quality, Oscar-contending films. The delay from that initial release means that the film will have missed the 2019 awards season entirely, though.

Following the theatrical release on March 6th, Apple will also be releasing The Banker for Apple TV Plus subscribers on March 20th.

The Apple Archive is a compelling and completely unofficial trip down memory lane

A new and completely unofficial archive of all things Apple is attempting to make almost 44 years of the company’s official videos, ads, and imagery available to browse online. 9to5Mac reports that The Apple Archive currently contains just under 1TB of data, comprising over 15,000 files, and it includes everything from print ads, to TV spots, WWDC sessions, internal training videos, and even a collection of macOS and iOS wallpapers.

The whole collection is well worth browsing through, but there are a few particularly interesting inclusions. This unreleased social ad for the long-delayed-then-cancelled AirPower charging pad is fascinating. Not only does it show off how Apple might have marketed its wireless charger had it actually released, but also because the ad is so clearly in an unfinished state, offering the kind of work-in-progress insight that we so rarely get to see from a company like Apple.

Or how about this huge collection of internal videos which includes this particularly excellent video on Apple’s early patenting strategy (skip to the 4:15 mark if you don’t believe me) and this 1995 guide on how to photograph “VR” scenes. The archive includes a very 80s “I’m Different” TV ad that aired nine years before the well-known video of Steve Jobs introducing Apple’s iconic “Think Different” ad campaign.

The Apple Archive is the work of Sam Gold, who started putting it together after the EveryAppleVideo YouTube channel was unceremoniously taken down. After experimenting with starting his own YouTube channel, a Google Drive folder, and even attempting to work with the Internet Archive, Gold finally settled on using Vimeo to host the archive’s video content.

This collection is by no means finished. Gold is constantly on the lookout for higher resolution content, the videos are also having subtitles added where possible, and they’re also being transcoded to save on space.

The archive is an excellent dose of nostalgia for Apple fans. It might not have the same level of finish as Apple’s official coffee table book, but then again it doesn’t come with a $300 price tag.

Trump accuses Apple of refusing to unlock criminals’ iPhones, setting the stage for a fight

Trump just tweeted a tweet that might escalate a sticky situation into an outright showdown between Apple and the US Department of Justice — by effectively claiming that Apple is refusing to do its patriotic duty to unlock two iPhones connected to last month’s shooting at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida.

Here’s the tweet:

Yesterday, Attorney General William Barr accused Apple of much the same thing, saying that the tech company had provided no “substantive assistance” to the FBI in unlocking the shooter’s phones. But it’s a much more nuanced matter than that.

For starts, Apple claims that it has been continually assisting the FBI with the Pensacola phones, by providing data backed up from the phones to iCloud servers and account information, as we reported yesterday. Apple says it’s handed over gigabytes of data to investigators, and has been responding to each request within hours. Apple also suggested that the FBI seemed to be satisfied until just eight days ago, saying that “The FBI only notified us on January 6th that they needed additional assistance — a month after the attack occurred.”

But it’s also not an easy matter to simply “unlock” an iPhone for the feds — even if Apple has refused to do so in this case, which isn’t yet clear. We learned this in 2016 when Apple actually did publicly refuse to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters, leading to a protracted legal fight that ended embarrassingly for the federal government when it turned out the feds didn’t need Apple’s help after all — partly because it paid a third-party for a tool to break into that iPhone, and partly because investigators were able to find the password on their own.

I digress: what Apple claimed in 2016 was that it didn’t actually have the existing ability to unlock a customers’ iPhone for the feds, even if they were an alleged killer, and that Apple wasn’t willing to build a backdoor into every iPhone just to make that happen — because it could potentially create a dangerous loophole that hackers could take advantage of as well.

That said, a poll at the time suggested that most Americans believed Apple should comply with the FBI’s demands, even though a majority understood it might make their personal data less secure. Those are the sympathies that Trump is attempting to draw on now.

According to The New York Times, Apple is quietly preparing for a brand-new legal fight over the iPhone’s encryption standards and the government’s desire for a backdoor, but is also internally frustrated that the Justice Department hasn’t spent more time trying to unlock the shooter’s iPhone 5 and an iPhone 7 Plus — devices lacking Apple’s most sophisticated encryption — with third-party tools. According to security experts who spoke to both the NYT and Bloomberg, third-party cell phone unlocking tools should be able to break into the Pensacola phones as well. Both phones were damaged in apparent attempts to destroy them, but the FBI managed to get both devices to turn on.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a statement in support of Apple and the need for strong encryption on personal devices in the US and abroad.

”The government’s demand is dangerous and unconstitutional, and would weaken the security of millions of iPhones,” said the ACLU’s Surveillance and Cybersecurity Counsel Jennifer Granick. “Strong encryption enables religious minorities facing genocide, like the Uyghurs in China, and journalists investigating powerful drug cartels in Mexico, to communicate safely with each other, knowledgeable sources, and the outside world. There is simply no way for Apple, or any other company, to provide the FBI access to encrypted communications without also providing it to authoritarian foreign governments and weakening our defenses against criminals and hackers.”

Apple may have even more at stake now than it did in 2016: increasingly, Apple has repositioned itself as a “privacy” company, as if it’s the only tech company you can trust. You may have seen the ads. And while Apple has stumbled a few times already on privacy, that’s the image it wants to send.

It is true that Apple has benefited from a relationship with Trump, by the way, but not necessarily around trade — unless Trump’s saying that Apple is why his proposed tariffs on phones and laptops keep getting delayed.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s tweet.

Update January 15th, 2:15AM ET: Story updated with details of the shooter’s iPhones and a statement by the ACLU.

Apple’s rack-mounted Mac Pro variant is now available to order

Apple’s new Mac Pro has been available in a standard desktop tower configuration since December, but starting today, Apple is selling its promised rack model that’s designed to be mounted in server rack setups — starting at $6,499, an extra $500 over the regular model.

From a specification perspective, the new rack Mac Pro is virtually identically to the tower model. Apple offers the same configuration options at the same prices (down to the included mouse and keyboard, which are unusual to see for rack-mounted hardware) with three main differences.

The first is the different case, although both feature the same “cheese grater”-style vents and aluminum handles. The second is the $500 premium Apple charges for the rack model compared to the tower model — with all other specs being equal, the rack model will still cost more, with the maximum configuration being the most expensive computer Apple has ever sold at $53,899. And lastly, there’s no option to add Apple’s infamous $400 wheels, seeing as the rack Mac Pro obviously can’t take advantage of them.

The rack-mounted Mac Pro also includes a set of rack-mounting rails (which Apple notes ship in a separate box), which might explain the $500 premium that Apple’s charging here.

The new rack Mac Pro is available to order now from Apple’s website, with shipping starting in early February.

Apple gets regulatory approval for mystery MacBook

Apple appears to have a new laptop on the way, as the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) has approved a “portable personal computer” from Apple in a filing (via 9to5Mac). Perhaps that new laptop will have the good scissor-switch keyboard from Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pro, as every other laptop that Apple sells is still equipped with the company’s less reliable butterfly keys.

According to an image of the EEC approval shared by 9to5Mac, the upcoming “portable personal computer” has a model number of A2289, but those are the only concrete details we can see about it at this point.

Image: 9to5Mac

However, EEC filings have revealed the existence of new Apple products shortly before their release in the past, including the 10.5-inch iPad before it was announced at WWDC 2017, and the 9.7-inch iPad before it was announced in March 2018. And Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported in July that the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s scissor-switch keyboard (which was only a rumor at the time) would come to other Apple laptops in 2020.

So this EEC filing could be a hint that a second MacBook with a better keyboard might be on the way. Since the filing only reveals one MacBook, my guess is that it’s an update to the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro. That was last refreshed in May 2019, so it could be due for an update soon. There’s also a chance that the laptop approved by the EEC could be a new MacBook Air or entry-level MacBook Pro, but they were last refreshed a bit more recently in July 2019.