US officials can’t decide if Honor smartphones are a national security threat

Late last year, Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei sold its budget mobile brand Honor to “ensure” it would survive the sanctions the US had issued against its own business. The move allowed the brand to work with firms like Qualcomm and Intel to source chips and other critical components for its phones, laptops and wearables. But now Honor could be in trouble as well.

According to The Washington Post, officials at four federal agencies voted last week whether to place the company on the Commerce Department’s entity list. Landing there would prevent Honor from working with US companies. The Post reports the vote went evenly down the middle. Officials from the Pentagon and Energy Department were reportedly in favor of putting the company on the list, while their counterparts at the Commerce Department and State Department were not.

With the deadlock, it’s now up to the political appointees at those agencies to decide what to do. If they can’t make a decision, the issue could eventually make its way to the desk of President Joe Biden.

The Commerce Department declined to comment on the vote when The Post reached out to the agency about it. Instead, it spoke to the subject of the entity list more broadly, noting it continually reviews the risk of a nominated company illegally sharing US technology. “We remain committed to using a full range of tools, including . . . export controls, to deter efforts by the [People’s Republic of China] and other countries … that seek to leverage technology in ways that risk harming US national security and foreign policy interests,” Brittany Caplin, a spokesperson the agency, told the outlet.

Ultimately, those making the case that Honor should land on the entity list may have difficulty convincing their counterparts that the company is a national security threat to the US. Unlike its one-time parent, Honor doesn’t sell telecommunications equipment to carriers. That means it’s not involved in the 5G network buildouts that were ostensibly at the center of the decision to place Huawei there. What’s more, its products aren’t even available in the US.

Meet IKEA’s Sjömärke – a gadget that turns any desk/table into an invisible wireless charging surface!

Looking for a minimalist accessory that can turn your boring desk or side table into a wireless charging hub? A gadget that hides away from plain sight and charges gadgets just by placing them on the furniture surface?

It’s a fact, no one likes the mess of cluttered wires. Reason enough for wireless charging technology to gain traction in a very short period of time. IKEA also boarded the bandwagon with its earlier released furniture embedded with wireless charging coils. But won’t it be great if you could turn any piece of furniture like a desk, side table, bedside table, or shelf into a wireless charging station that’s hidden from plain sight?

This is Sjömärke wireless charger by IKEA – designed to be a niche product in its own rights. Why I say that is because it doesn’t sit on top of your furniture – rather it hides underneath. The cool accessory is fully capable of juicing up your gadgets by beaming electric charge through a wooden or plastic material furniture 8mm – 22mm thick. With a metal furniture top, it won’t work- that’s the only catch. It shouldn’t be much of a problem as most of us prefer wooden furniture for our homes.

According to IKEA, the accessory is perfect for interiors that are themed on a minimalist, clean look. Sjömärke is compatible with the latest Qi 1.2.4 baseline power profile – giving it comparable power to a 5W charger. The biggest advantage being, you simply put your phone, earbuds or any other wireless compatible gadget on the desk, and, voila, it charges seamlessly like magic. IKEA even provides a transparent ‘X’ sticker to stick on the sweet spot right above the seven-inch by three-inch charger.

As a standard safety feature, Sjömärke has LED lights indicating charging status along with temperature and power monitoring. The cool charger comes for a price tag of $40 and will be up for grabs in IKEA stores and online as well in the US and other regions in October.

Designer: IKEA

Amazon will hold a hardware event on September 28th

Amazon will host a hardware event on September 28th at 12PM ET, the company announced today. The retailer promised to share news about its latest “devices, features and services” in an invite it shared with Engadget. Beyond that, the company didn’t provide other details on what to expect from it next week. But if we had to take a guess, we should see many of the same types of products we saw last year. 

In 2020, Amazon announced new Echo speakers, its Luna gaming service, WiFi 6-enabled Eero mesh routers and Fire TV devices. Oh, it also showed off an indoor security drone from Ring that we haven't seen since that event. Amazon won’t livestream the proceedings, but we’ll have you covered with articles on all of the company’s most notable announcements from that day.

Balenciaga is now selling Fortnite-themed drip

Fortnite is taking a step closer to creating the broadest metaverse around with its latest crossover. Instead of a partnership with the likes of other games or Ariana Grande, Epic Games' freshest collab is with a high-fashion brand.

Balenciaga is now selling limited-edition Fortnite-themed clothes at typically high prices. A white Fortnite x Balenciaga hoodie costs $725 while a baseball cap will set you back $395. A t-shirt is $495 while a denim jacket will leave your wallet $1,290 lighter.

This crossover goes both ways. Four Balenciaga outfits (including a dog wearing the hoodie) are coming to the game. The Balenciaga Fit Set comprises the first high-fashion skins in Fortnite.

Starting at 8PM ET on Monday, you can unlock Balenciaga backpacks as your back bling, as well as a themed pickaxe shaped like a sneaker, a purse glider, wrap and emote. There are also a pair of free sprays to earn through quests that start on September 21st and run for a week. You can check out a Strange Times Featured Hub that includes a virtual Balenciaga store, as well as a themed photography campaign.

This could open the floodgates for all kinds of Fortnite fashion collaborations in the future. We might see Agent Jones wearing a pair of Air Jordan 1s or the Battle Bus decked out in Gucci logos. Meanwhile, Epic released a video showing how its team and Balenciaga used Unreal Engine to add the new looks.

Apple’s 2022 iPhones could feature notch-less designs, but not in-display Touch ID

Apple may have only announced its iPhone 13 lineup last week, but analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is already looking ahead to the company’s 2022 lineup. According to an investor note seen by MacRumors, Kuo claims Apple will release three new iPhones in the second half of the year. The two high-end models will reportedly feature punch-hole display cutouts and a 48-megapixel primary camera. In other words, the expectation is that Apple will start moving away from the notch design that has defined its phones since the release of the iPhone X in 2017.

Moving to a 48-megapixel camera would also represent a significant change for the company. Recent iPhones have exclusively shipped with 12-megapixel primary cameras. By moving to a denser sensor, the company could use pixel binning technology to allow people to take high-resolution shots during the day and less noisy ones when the sun starts to set.

Looking further ahead, Kuo said Apple plans to add an in-display fingerprint sensor to the iPhone in 2023. Previously, the analyst had predicted that would happen next year, but now notes a slower than expected development process has delayed Apple’s rollout of the feature. That’s a significant delay when you consider early reports on the iPhone 13 lineup had suggested those phones would include in-display fingerprint sensors. Similarly, he expects the company will release a foldable iPhone in 2024, where he had previously predicted we would see the device sometime in 2023. As always, take these reports with a grain of salt. Kuo has a decent but not flawless track record when predicting Apple releases. 

iOS 15 is now available

Apple is now rolling out iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and tvOS 15 to iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Apple TV devices. You might not see the updates right away, but when they're available, you'll have access to a bunch more features.

Facetime and Messages have been upgraded on both iPhone and iPad. Facetime supports spatial audio and reduces background noise, while people can join Facetime calls through shareable links on the web and Android. It'll be easier to keep track of things your friends and family share with you in Messages thanks to dedicated tabs in the News, Music, TV and Podcasts apps.

Notifications have also been overhauled. You'll have more control over push alerts and you can let only notifications from select apps and people through when you activate one of the new Focus modes. There are profiles for activities including sleeping and working, and the OS can automatically rearrange your home screen apps to bring the ones you're most likely to use at a certain time to the forefront.

A composite showing three screenshots of Apple's Live Text feature through the viewfinder in the Camera app in the iOS 15 beta. The left screenshot shows a small yellow frame focused on the middle of a bottle of green moisturizer, the middle screenshot shows the middle part of the bottle highlighted with options above it for
Screenshots of the iOS 15 beta

Also new in iOS 15 is the Live Text function, which works in a similar way to Google Lens. The feature can extract written text from photos, screenshots and the world around you. You can edit, translate and share the text. The feature can also identify things like art, landmarks, plants and pets.

Elsewhere, there are new features for the Maps, Photos and Weather apps on iOS. Spotlight searches will have richer results, including your own photos, with Apple using machine learning to figure out what's in each image.

On iPad, Quick Notes are now a system-wide feature — just swipe in from the lower right corner to jot down some thoughts using the keyboard or Apple Pencil. Expect some multitasking and Safari changes too.

iPadOS 15 Quick Notes
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

One thing that iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 don't have at launch is the SharePlay feature. It lets you enjoy movies, shows and music together with friends over Facetime, and you can share your screen with them. Apple will release the feature on those operating systems, tvOS 15 and macOS Monterey later. Apple also put the child safety features it planned to release as part of iOS 15 on the back burner while it makes improvements.

The watchOS 8 update perhaps isn't quite as extensive. There's a bigger focus on mindfulness and health, including some new workout categories. Apple Watch now has deeper integration with iPhone, with features including Focus mode support and a Contacts app. You can also expect portrait watch faces and multiple timers.

Apple TV now has spatial audio support, including for AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, following the tvOS 15 update. You can also connect multiple HomePod minis to an Apple TV 4K and use those as the default speakers.

If you have an iPhone 6s or later, iPhone SE (either generation) or seventh-gen iPod touch, you'll be able to install iOS 15. Those with Apple tablets can run iPadOS 15 on fifth-gen and later iPads, iPad mini 4 and later, iPad Air 2 and later and all iPad Pro devices. Meanwhile, watchOS 8 is supported by Apple Watch Series 3 and later devices.

As for macOS Monterey, Apple has yet to announce a firm release date for the next version of its Mac operating system. Monterey should be available sometime this fall.

Apple is rolling out the major annual firmware updates just a few days before the iPhone 13 lineup and new iPads arrive. Apple Watch Series 7 will be released later this fall.

OnePlus’ 2022 flagship will share a unified Android 13 system with Oppo

Following OnePlus' integration into Oppo in June, co-founder Pete Lau — who has been appointed Chief Product Officer for both brands since May 2020 — is ready to share more on what to expect from his expanded team, aka "OnePlus 2.0." 

We already knew about the upcoming unified OS, which will apparently bring the best of both worlds — the smoothness and lightness (no ads!) of OnePlus' OxygenOS, combined with the reliability and smartness of Oppo's ColorOS. In a recent group interview, Lau added that this yet-to-be-named system will be based on Google's upcoming Android 13, and it'll be featured on OnePlus' 2022 flagship device — likely dubbed "OnePlus 10" — due out first half of the year. Some existing devices will also receive this update, though no specific models were mentioned. (Lau said the Nord 2 already features an early version of the integrated codebase, so there's a good chance that it'll get the full upgrade.)

Given that the shared OS would reduce differentiation between Lau's two brands, one might wonder which would more likely produce the "perfect" flagship smartphone? Never one to give a direct answer, Lau implied that he doesn't believe such a device would ever exist. He referred to an internal demographic map featuring 20 user categories, each of which tied to a combination of different needs — down to the level of product size, specific photography features, charging modes, weight and more. 

Lau's basic definition of OnePlus users is "tech enthusiasts," but he added that based on this mapping, it's still impossible to satisfy everyone's needs with a single device. As such, the exec thinks the market is big enough for his two brands to avoid friendly fire. For the same reason, OnePlus' Nord line will continue to co-exist with the Oppo Reno series (and Realme, for that matter), though the similarity of their designs is still questionable. (Lau insisted that each brand has a dedicated design team, even after the merger.)

OnePlus founder Pete Lau

Another area which OnePlus may benefit from the integration is photography. Lau pointed out that what used to be a camera team of around 100 people is now some 700, which may allow OnePlus to take better advantage of its relationship with Hasselblad, especially with their ongoing work on color science this year. The exec added that he can't say OnePlus currently has the best camera performance, but he's certain that it's "definitely" among the top in the industry.

Lau admitted that with his expanded role, even if he had 48-hour days, it'd still be impossible for him to personally pick on every single detail on every product like he did before (let's just say it'd be unlikely that he'd throw a fit over a minor design issue on a logic board, as he once famously did back in his Oppo Blu-ray player days). Instead, Lau had been spending a lot of time teaching his "never settle" philosophy to his new Oppo teammates over the past year or so, in the hopes of changing what used to be a leader-driven mission to true team work. It'll be a while before we get a real taste of this fruition, but Lau is "confident that this new unified OS won't disappoint."

‘Finch’ trailer sees man, machine and dog try to flee climate change

Apple offered a brief glimpse of the Tom Hanks-led Finch at its recent iPhone 13 launch event, and now you can watch the first full trailer for the upcoming sci-fi film. The clip sets the stage for the story that follows. A solar flare knocked out most of the technology on Earth and left much of the US a desolate wasteland. Hanks’ character, the titular Finch, survives in an underground shelter with his only companion, a dog named Goodyear, until he builds a new Android companion. The three of them eventually leave their home when it becomes threatened by the sandstorms that dominate the world of the movie.

Like Greyhound, Apple acquired Finch for Apple TV+ when the film got lost in pandemic-related delays. It’s only one part of a strong fall lineup that is surprisingly heavy on sci-fi stories. Before Finch comes out on November 5th, genre fans can look forward to the company’s adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels on September 24th and then Invasion, which stars Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill, on October 22nd.

Google Meet will automatically adjust webcam brightness in your browser

Google Meet will soon make it easier for you to see all of your co-workers or friends properly on video calls. The web version of the app can detect when someone is underexposed due to bad lighting. Meet will then increase the brightness so it's easier to see your cohorts and perhaps make your feed clearer if you have a terrible webcam.

The low-light mode hit the Google Meet iOS and Android mobile apps last year. It uses AI to examine light levels and tweak the brightness. There's no admin control for the feature, though users will be able to switch it off — Google says having it enabled might slow down your device.

The feature is coming to all Workspace and G Suite basic and business users. Google is rolling it out to Rapid Release domains starting today and Scheduled Release domains on October 4th. The rollout will take up to 15 days in both cases, so by mid-October, bad webcam feeds could be a thing of the past on Meet calls.

This Origami-inspired lamp folds flat into a sheet while carrying, and opens into a nifty tabletop lamp when you need

Working almost like an iPad cover/stand would, the ORY lamp is a nifty little flat-packed number that you can slide right into your backpack and carry wherever you need. Upon arriving at a dark setting that requires tabletop illumination, the sheet cleverly folds into a two-way tabletop lamp that shines light downwards and forwards, letting you easily light up a space for work, reading, dining, etc.

The nifty little Ory lamp (named for its origami abilities) assumes the shape of a flat sheet of faux leather, making it ridiculously easy to slide into backpacks, briefcases, or folders. It uses two powerful COB (Chip on Board) LEDs that sit flat within the lamp’s design, and comes with crease-lines that allow the flat leatherette sheet to transform into a tubular structure with two offshoots (sort of like two banana peels) that sport the LED strips facing downward. Switch the lamp on and the LEDs cast a bright direct light onto a tabletop surface. Flaps on the sides of the LEDs act as lamp-shades, preventing the direct glare from the LEDs from hitting your eye, while focusing the light downwards towards an otherwise dark tabletop surface.

Designer: Il-Seop Yoon

As interesting as the lamp may look visually, its internals are just as awe-inspiring. The lamp’s folding/flexing design still manages to cleverly integrate all the necessary electronics in, while still remaining deceptively flat. The lamp runs on a mobile phone Li-ion battery, giving it a slim construction, and even sports a wireless Qi-charging coil on the side, allowing you to fold the lamp up and place it on a wireless charger to juice up its battery. The absence of a traditional charging port, according to designer Il-Seop Yoon, allows the Ory lamp to be water-resistant too, so a couple of drops of rain (or a knocked-over cup of coffee) won’t do anything to the lamp.

Metal plates inside the lamp’s design give it structure while also providing the creasing necessary for the lamp to flip and fold. Moreover, I wouldn’t be surprised if they acted as a heat sink too, dissipating any of the thermal energy generated by the LEDs.

There aren’t too many technical details (or pricing) on the Ory, given that it’s currently just a proof of concept. Although, I’d really like to see the lamp hit production soon!