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.

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.

Algoriddim’s djay iOS app uses Shazam to recognize and sync with live music

Algoriddim has been working closely with Apple for years on its djay apps and regularly appears in the company's keynotes. Now, it's integrating another Apple product, Shazam, into its latest iOS djay app with the release of iOS 15. The new feature lets you can scan your surroundings and identify any song playing, whether at an event, listening to the radio or playing sets with other DJs. Once it picks out the song, djay will instantly load it onto the virtual decks and play it in sync with the external music source. 

Once loaded, you can create a mix with similar tracks, remix the song, apply effects and deconstruct it into components using the company's Neural Mix tech. It can also save songs into iOS 15's music recognition history in the control center, "providing users with streamlined access to all of their song discoveries," the company said. 

While this sounds like cool technology in search of an application, Algoriddim has a few use cases in mind. The main one is that you can identify a track you might hear and get it into your library with the tap of a button, or create an automated mix based on the recognized song. "djay can instantly provide you with similar tracks to the one you just heard, allowing you to quickly immerse yourself in a particular style," Algoriddim told Engadget. 

Another, more marginal use case is with back-to-back DJing. If you're playing in tandem with another DJ or in a lineup, you can pick up where the last DJ left off by identifying and syncing with their song before phasing into your own set. This goes a step beyond beat matching, letting you match the last DJ's song exactly. Mind you, many DJs may not care to replay the last DJ’s song or work with a playlist inspired by it, especially if they weren’t familiar with the tracks

The Shazam-enhanced version of iOS djay lets you save recognized music to your Tidal (music and video), SoundCloud, Beatport and Beatsource libraries (not Spotify or Apple Music). Other new features include the ability to add effects to the master audio output, enabled by new Audio Unit (extensions) features in iOS 15. That will let you better tailor the sound for broadcast or to match a PA system. Algoriddim's iOS djay update for iOS is now available for free, or you can get the Pro version for $6.99 per month or $49.99 per year. 

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 might include a 120Hz screen and Thunderbolt ports

Microsoft's September 22nd event might include one of the largest Surface Pro updates in years. According to The Verge, Twitter user Shadow_Leak has shared what looks like a store listing for the Surface Pro 8 tablet. The Windows 11 machine will reportedly resemble a souped-up, Intel-powered counterpart to the Surface Pro X with a 13-inch, narrow-bezel 120Hz display. It may also be more useful to creatives with dual Thunderbolt ports — you'd finally have the headroom for an external GPU, among other very high-speed peripherals.

The leaked Surface Pro 8 would also make the expected leap to an 11th-generation Core processor. Like the Surface Laptop 4, though, you could replace the SSD if the included storage breaks or proves too limiting.

The upcoming event could be one of Microsoft's most packed presentations to date, with a Surface Duo 2 also on deck alongside possible Surface Book, Surface Go and Surface Pro X upgrades. If the leak is accurate, however, the Surface Pro 8 might be the star attraction. The Pro has been one of Microsoft's most enduring Surface devices, but also one of its most conservative with relatively few changes — the 2019 revision still had a USB-A port. The 8 could revitalize the Pro series, not to mention help it compete with a newer wave of detachables and two-in-one laptops.

OpenSea product lead resigns over use of insider NFT info for purchases

OpenSea isn't wasting much time after its head of product was accused of exploiting insider information to turn a profit on non-fungible tokens. The marketplace has asked for and accepted Nate Chastain's resignation following claims he used secret Ethereum wallets to buy front-page NFT releases before they were available to the public. Chastain's reported actions broke a promise to foster the NFT market "responsibly and diligently," OpenSea said.

The company also tapped an unnamed third party to review its approach to unethical behavior and recommend changes. OpenSea promised to "quickly" implement any recommendations. It had already launched policies barring both the use of confidential info for NFT trading and for buying or selling from promoted creators and collections.

Chastain might not face further repercussions. As the law firm McMillan noted in a recent analysis, there aren't any laws in North America regulating NFT sales. This incident and the response do set expectations for other NFT marketplaces, though, and they might invite more regulation from governments that otherwise left NFTs untouched.

OpenSea product lead resigns over use of insider NFT info for purchases

OpenSea isn't wasting much time after its head of product was accused of exploiting insider information to turn a profit on non-fungible tokens. The marketplace has asked for and accepted Nate Chastain's resignation following claims he used secret Ethereum wallets to buy front-page NFT releases before they were available to the public. Chastain's reported actions broke a promise to foster the NFT market "responsibly and diligently," OpenSea said.

The company also tapped an unnamed third party to review its approach to unethical behavior and recommend changes. OpenSea promised to "quickly" implement any recommendations. It had already launched policies barring both the use of confidential info for NFT trading and for buying or selling from promoted creators and collections.

Chastain might not face further repercussions. As the law firm McMillan noted in a recent analysis, there aren't any laws in North America regulating NFT sales. This incident and the response do set expectations for other NFT marketplaces, though, and they might invite more regulation from governments that otherwise left NFTs untouched.

Microsoft Office 2021 will be available on October 5th

Microsoft will release Office 2021, the next consumer version of its productivity suite, on October 5th. That’s the same day the company will launch Windows 11. Much like Office 2019 before it, Office 2021 is a one-time purchase that will be available on both Windows and macOS. It’s for people who don’t want to subscribe to the company’s Microsoft 365 subscription.

Microsoft promised to share more details on Office 2021 soon, but we know from reporting by The Verge’s Tom Warren that the release will feature many of the same improvements found in Office LTSC, a variant of the software the company released today for enterprise customers who can’t access the Cloud. Among other improvements, it adds accessibility features and dark mode support. We also know from a previous announcement Microsoft plans to support the software for at least five years, and that the software will work with both 32- and 64-bit systems out of the box.

Microsoft Office 2021 will be available on October 5th

Microsoft will release Office 2021, the next consumer version of its productivity suite, on October 5th. That’s the same day the company will launch Windows 11. Much like Office 2019 before it, Office 2021 is a one-time purchase that will be available on both Windows and macOS. It’s for people who don’t want to subscribe to the company’s Microsoft 365 subscription.

Microsoft promised to share more details on Office 2021 soon, but we know from reporting by The Verge’s Tom Warren that the release will feature many of the same improvements found in Office LTSC, a variant of the software the company released today for enterprise customers who can’t access the Cloud. Among other improvements, it adds accessibility features and dark mode support. We also know from a previous announcement Microsoft plans to support the software for at least five years, and that the software will work with both 32- and 64-bit systems out of the box.

Firefox offers its own take on suggested web links

You no longer need to use the likes of Chrome or Safari if you want the occasional suggestions for web searches. Mozilla is rolling out a Firefox Suggest feature that, as the name implies, offers relevant links when you're typing in a search, whether from the general web or from Pocket. Look for Costa Rica, for instance, and you'll get a Wikipedia link to help you learn more about the country.

The company is also working on contextual suggestion that rely on sending typed searches, click info and "city-level" location info. That may raise concerns given Firefox's historical focus on privacy, but Mozilla stressed the handful of early US users would have to opt-in.

The larger concern may be the objectivity of some Suggest links. Mozilla also plans to recommend content from "sponsored, vetted partners," such as an eBay link when you look for Vans shoes. While Mozilla is promising "credible" material, these won't necessarily be the most logical, organic suggestions possible. You can simply launch a standard web search to ignore these de facto ads, but this does mean you'll want to look carefully at some links before you click them.

Microsoft accounts no longer need a password

Microsoft says everyone can remove the password from their Microsoft account and use other methods to sign in starting today. The company rolled out the option to enterprise users earlier this year, and it plans to remove passwords from enterprise accounts completely.

Rather than having to remember a password or using a password manager, you'll be able to use the Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows Hello, a security key or SMS or emailed codes. You'll be able to sign in to services such as Outlook, OneDrive, Microsoft Family Safety, and even Xbox Series X/S without a password. Microsoft is rolling out the option to everyone over the next few weeks as it gears up for the launch of Windows 11 on October 5th

Once you have installed the Authenticator app and linked it to your account, you can switch off your password. Go to your Microsoft account settings, then Advanced Security Options and Additional Security. From there, you can switch your account to a passwordless one. Then, follow the prompts and approve a notification on the Authenticator app to seal the deal.

You can re-activate your password at any time, but other login methods may be far more convenient and secure. Not only are passwords a cybersecurity minefield, they're time-consuming to enter and, at best, annoying to deal with.

It'd be welcome to see other services ditch passwords if they can offer users alternative, secure methods of logging in. Until then, turn on two-factor authentication wherever possible, and get a password manager and use unique passwords for all of your accounts.