AirTags early hands-on roundup: Smart, tiny and … scuffable?

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AirTags could become a big hit for Apple
AirTags could be a big hit for Apple.
Photo: Apple

The first AirTags reviews and unboxing videos paint a pretty positive picture of Apple’s new tracking tags. After a short time using AirTags, reviewers praise the tiny trackers’ design as “classic Apple” and their precise finding capabilities as “utility-driven augmented reality.”

However, they also point out some limitations — including surprising scuffability!

HomePod mini music handoffs just got better

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HomePod Software Version 14.4 debuted January 26.
The littlest HomePod isn’t being overlooked.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

The recently released HomePod mini got a raft of new features in a software update released Tuesday. The process of handing off songs from an iPhone to the smart speaker now comes with some visual, audio and haptic effects. And media controls automatically appear on the iPhone when it nears the diminutive HomePod.

Water-resistance, U1 chip, swappable bands are just a few things MIA from AirPods Max

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Internal components of AirPods Max spaced out horizontally.
AirPods Max pack in plenty of impressive tech, but some stuff didn't make it.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s U1 chip, allowing for devices to more accurately connect to others nearby using ultra-wideband technology, is MIA in Apple’s pricey new $549 AirPods Max headphones.

The chip, which Apple introduced in 2019 with the iPhone 11, was rumored to show up in the AirPods Max. But according to a tweet by Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman, Apple had to scrap a number of big features it planned to include in the high-end headphones it launched Tuesday.

With HomePod mini, Apple goes small, cheap and smart

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HomePod mini lives up to its name
HomePod mini offers a smaller and cheaper Apple smart speaker experience.
Photo: Apple

Apple took the wraps of the HomePod mini Tuesday, showcasing a pint-size smart speaker that promises high-end audio at a lower price than its big brother. But the most interesting parts might have nothing to do with music.

With Apple’s custom U1 ultra-wideband chip inside, the HomePod mini also can serve as an advanced hub for home automation. A new Intercom feature promises to connect family members wherever they are. And, in typical Cupertino fashion, the speaker will work closely with other Apple devices.

HomePod mini and next-gen Apple TV could double as ultra-wideband hubs

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HomePod market share
The new HomePod could offer a neat new feature.
Photo: Apple

Apple’s upcoming HomePod mini smart speaker and sixth-gen Apple TV will both function as ultra wideband base stations, according to Apple tipster Jon Prosser.

This means they will be able to track your location as you move inside your house, if you are carrying another device boasting an Apple U1 chip (like an iPhone 11 or Apple Watch Series 6).

What do you add to the smartwatch that has everything? An Apple Watch Series 6 wish list.

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Will Apple Watch Series 6 get a svelte new look?
Will Apple Watch Series 6 get a svelte new look?
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Apple Watch is almost due for its annual hardware update, which comes like clockwork every September. First came the addition of GPS, then cellular, a thinner case with a bigger screen, a compass, and even an ECG heart monitor.

With each new model, Cupertino’s wearable creeps closer to perfection, which presents a bit of a problem. What do you add to the smartwatch that has everything?

Here’s my top 10 wish list of features I’m hoping Apple has up its sleeve.

No, the 2020 iPad Pro doesn’t have Apple’s spatially aware U1 chip

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2020 iPad Pro with official wallpaper
A great iPad. But not a U1 chip in sight.
Photo: Apple

Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber said Monday that he has confirmed “with a little birdie” that there is indeed no U1 chip in the new iPad Pro.

The U1 Ultra Wideband chip debuted with the iPhone 11. It allows the iPhone to detect its exact position relative to other devices in the same room. That gives it a sense of spatial awareness for things like targeted AirDrop by pointing one iPhone at another to share a file.

How to stop your UWB-equipped iPhone 11 from tracking you

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This is not how Apple's UWB tracking works.
This is not how Apple's UWB tracking works.
Photo: Hadis Malekie/Unsplash

The latest generation of iPhones (the 11 and 11 Pro) contain the new U1 chip, which lets your iPhone locate other iPhones with pinpoint accuracy. Currently it is only used to show you the direction of other iPhones when you AirDrop a file. However, it will almost certainly soon be used to keep track of the rumored Apple Tags (or AirTags) tracking devices.

But what if you want to turn off UWB (ultra-wideband) tracking altogether? No problem.

iOS 13.3.1 is out with crucial fixes for Screen Time

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Screentime
Screen Time has become an important tool for parents.
Photo: Apple

Apple just dumped a truckload of new software updates on customers this morning, including the crucial iOS 13.3.1 update that brings an important fix to Screen Time.

Along with iOS 13.3.1, Apple also released macOS 10.15.3, tvOS 13.3.1, and watchOS 6.1.2. All four of the new updates are fairly minor and mostly focus on under-the-hood improvements.

What to expect at an Apple October event

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16-inch MacBook Pro concept
A 16-inch MacBook Pro, which might look something like this, could be arrive soon.
Concept Art: Viktor Kádár

An Apple October event hasn’t yet been announced, but there’s such an impressive list of products that are supposedly ready to launch that the company seems to need a big venue to show them all off.

There’s an epic new Mac, a big MacBook, fresh iPads and plenty more, all reportedly coming soon.