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Apple AirTags UNBOXED Different

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Take a look at unboxing and setup of Apple’s new AirTags, but a little different. Unboxing like you’ve never seen it before.

If you want to know what AirTags are, check out our Apple ‘Spring Loaded’ Event in 13 Minutes video and Everything Apple Announced at its ‘Spring Loaded’ Event.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Science and Technology Editor at The Analyst.
Has a passion for technology and what makes things tick.

Tech

James Webb Space Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion project set to launch in October after 25 years in development

Although development of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began in 1996 and was initially planned to launch in 2007 with a $500 million price tag, the project had experienced many challenges over the coming years both delaying the launch and inflating the price

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Although development of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began in 1996 and was initially planned to launch in 2007 with a $500 million price tag, the project had experienced many challenges over the coming years both delaying the launch and inflating the price. Now, 25 years later with nearly $10 billion spent, this international space project featuring NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) passed its final performance testing in February and is set to launch on 31st October 2021. However, in order to fully grasp the impact that the JWST will have on our understanding of the Universe, we must first look at its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. 

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was one of the largest and most advanced space-based telescopes sent into orbit. Hubble enjoys a clear view of the Universe free from Earth’s atmospheric interference and ; as a result, it was able to detect and examine distant stars, galaxies and other cosmic objects that were invisible to us. A total of five service missions from 1993 to 2009 upgraded the telescope which further advanced its capabilities. For 30 years Hubble has greatly assisted astronomers from around the world uncover the mysteries of the Universe. However, even a telescope of Hubble’s stature has its limitations. The primary mirror of a telescope determines how much light it can gather. The larger the mirror, the more light it can gather making even the most faint objects visible. Hubble’s primary mirror has a diameter of eight feet while the JWST has a mirror measuring at 21 feet. Furthermore, Hubble’s instrument quality and type of light wavelengths it can observe are also limited as there is only so much that can be replaced and upgraded. To summarise, Hubble has cemented itself as one of the most remarkable technological inventions created by humans and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future, but it has reached its limitations in terms of what it can observe and its successor – the JWST- is ready to embark on its mission. 

The JWST will seek to bridge the gap between what is known and unknown in the Universe. Its capabilities go beyond that of Hubble’s as its larger primary mirror will allow it to look further in the past and inside stellar dust clouds where new stars and galaxies form. Moreover, the JWST will be able to observe more closely the moments right after the Big Bang and hunt for the first galaxies formed that were otherwise invisible to us. Additionally, one of the most prominent features of the JWST is its tennis court-sized sunshield which will reduce the sun’s heat by a million times. The purpose of the sunshield is to keep the mirror and the instruments as cold as possible, since if the Sun were to heat them up, they would emit their own infrared radiation. This becomes problematic as it would drown out the faint infrared radiation from distant galaxies the telescope was built to detect. 

Once in orbit, the JWST will be utilised by thousands of astronomers to extend and complement the discoveries of its predecessors. It will seek to unlock the remaining mysteries of the Universe and answer questions that have puzzled astronomers for centuries. It will search the deepest voids of space and time – to answer questions about the origins of galaxies, stars and their planets. Additionally, it will provide astronomers with a clearer sense of the fate of the Universe and everything within it. Therefore, not only is the JWST a device to study the past, but consequently the future as well.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Tech

Is Working from Home the New Normal? – In Focus

As lockdowns begin to lift, will people go back to the office or is working from home really the new normal for many? Our brand new series, In Focus, looks at angles to provide a better understanding of the issues.

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All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Business

Why is Apple being Investigated?

Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. People have begun to question the wisdom of allowing just two companies to control access to billions of devices globally.

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From the moment Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone, forever changing the way we interact with people and information, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. We use them in every aspect of our lives, from communication and entertainment to health and fitness. It is of little wonder then, that people have begun to question the wisdom of allowing just two companies to control access to billions of devices globally, with the European Commission (EC) today announcing charges against Apple over concerns of its App store rules, just a week after a hearing before Congress on similar concerns.

While Apple’s iOS only has a 27% share of the global mobile devices market, compared to the dominant 72% that Google’s Android commands, the media, app developers, competitors and even governments tend to focus on the Apple App Store when it comes to Anti-Trust, sometimes also mentioning Google’s Play Store. You might think this is because Google allows Android users to download apps from other stores or even directly, known as side-loading, but actually there is a bigger reason – money. In 2020, iOS App Store revenue was almost double that of the Google Play Store, making it much more lucrative. So, lawsuits and Anti-Trust investigations have all the more reason to go after Apple.

Epic Battle

For those of you wondering about Epic’s battle with Apple over the ban of Fortnite, that particular case is a bit more clear cut, as Epic deliberately broke App Store rules by adding its own in-app payment system, specifically to prompt Apple and Google to ban the game, thereby enabling them to go to court. Epic doesn’t want to pay Apple the 30% commission and perhaps also wants more access to customer data. Interestingly, Epic happily pays Sony and Microsoft the same 30% commission for the same games on Playstation and Xbox consoles, but argues that the relationship is different.

A better example is Spotify who are mostly pushing for an equal footing with Apple Music. They filed a complaint with the European Commission in 2019, arguing that Apple “purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience”. But more on them later.

Changing Landscape

The contentious 30% commission was welcomed by many developers and the industry in general back in 2008 when the App Store was launched, given that it better reflected the cost of providing the digital service rather than the 55%+ taken by brick-and-mortar stores at the time. But since then, the model and dynamic of apps has changed significantly, with users less accepting of apps that charge an upfront price to purchase. In-App purchases are now the norm, as developers, particularly game publishers, have cottoned onto the fact that consumers, while reluctant to pay for an app, will happily keep paying for benefits and perks within it, once they are hooked.

When Apple introduced its own In-App Purchase system in 2009 and subscriptions in 2011, it brought that same 30% commission for them, although the latter goes down to 15% after the first year now. This poses several complicated problems. The first problem is that commission for services that are themselves commission-based, effectively compound the percentage the actual content-creator is paying. One example is the super-chats feature on YouTube, which itself takes a 30% cut, meaning the actual YouTuber is paying a total commission of 49%, so they only see half the money the user paid. But for apps that aren’t owned by large corporations, 30% off the top of the net sale price can be a genuine blocker, especially for businesses that are themselves a middleman. If your margins are less than 30% in the first place, the App Store simply isn’t an option and therefore, you effectively cannot address one of the most important consumer markets on the planet.

Questionable Terms

There are many terms and conditions every App developer must adhere to, but one of the most questionable ones prohibit them from even acknowledging the ability to pay or subscribe somewhere else, such as their own website. It is for this reason that the Netflix app only has an option for sign-in and no registration or clue as to how a user can gain access to the service. When Apple states time and time again that its own In-App purchase system is the best and most convenient way for customers to pay, it seems indefensible and to many, anti-competitive, that apps cannot so much as direct users to their own websites. This is one area that is difficult for Apple to argue on, but it continues to try, as allowing this would see many of the larger, more lucrative companies to do just that.

Which brings us to an important point. Most of the revenue from the App Store comes from In-App purchases and subscriptions from a relatively small number of large companies. A quick look at the highest grossing apps shows apps like YouTube, Disney+, Call of Duty and other such apps from big corporations consistently featuring in the top 20 and this is why Apple was able to introduce a lower 15% rate last year for App Store developers that make less than $1 million per year from app sales.

Why Not Just Open Up the Platform?

For those unfamiliar with how the internet and digital goods are actually delivered, it might seem like Apple, with its hundreds of billions of dollars from expensive phones and computers, could just provide the App Store as an open platform. After all, the App Store accounts for less than a fifth of Apple’s revenue. However, the reality is that, while it certainly doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as it makes from the App Store to run it, there are still significant expenses. Apple runs its own data centres, which are incredibly costly to build and run and even if it didn’t, it would likely pay even more to someone like Amazon to use theirs. Then there are the people, from the submission teams delivering a 2-day turnaround on what Apple says are over 100,000 submissions a week, to the developers that build and maintain the Apps and tools such as Xcode, Apple Store Connect and of course, the App Store apps themselves, as well as the curators, security teams, etc. Opening up the platform or even allowing apps to be side-loaded would open up a maelstrom of malware. Hence, Providing this platform is not a small task.

Clearly, these platforms do provide an invaluable service that could not realistically be replicated by smaller (but still big) companies with the same level of convenience. The same can be said of features Apple includes in its products that have been called out as anti-competitive. Tile for example, has been arguing that Apple’s new AirTags, announced last week, have an unfair advantage with the use of the Ultra Wide-Band (UWB) chip that enables tracking with incredible accuracy, as well as tight integration with the built-in FindMy app. Apple says it cannot completely open up the UWB chip due to privacy concerns, which sounds plausible, given the accuracy with which it can track devices. 

The iPhone maker does have a program for third-parties to use the UWB chip with FindMy integration, but of course, with conditions attached, to certify that products meet privacy and other standards. It’s worth noting that AirTags were actually ready over a year ago, but Apple waited until the partner program and functionality was ready before releasing them. Tile hasn’t signed up to the program, as it has built its own ecosystem around its products and its own app. But the fact is, the UWB features wouldn’t exist if Apple hadn’t developed them around a product, as not only would they have no reason to spend the substantial amount of money required for R&D, it wouldn’t be as good without AirTags to focus development of the technology.

Home Advantage

On any platform, the holder will always have an advantage, but it is the extent of that advantage that is the real issue. The biggest issue Apple faces is the perception of many users that any performance or usability issues are down to the device maker or platform holder, some even think Apple makes all the apps in the App Store. Apple not offering default apps for things like web browsing, email, music and maps simply isn’t a viable option, as it would cause confusion for a large proportion of its billion active users. Providing a selection for each category during setup would not only make the already long setup process significantly longer, it will also beg the question of which apps would be included in the selection and who would decide?

Apple has been slowly adding support for changing default apps, enabling app developers to include themselves as an option for the default in a given category once the user has downloaded it. Which brings us back to Spotify, who have long argued that Apple’s default Music app puts them at a huge disadvantage. But simply having the choice to make Spotify the default music app on a user’s device doesn’t take away that home advantage. The Music app is still the default app when you buy the device. Perhaps Spotify’s biggest issue though, is how the Apple Music streaming service, a direct competitor to Spotify, is pushed heavily in the default Music app, with the app now more focussed on the streaming service than a user’s own library. Spotify has also alleged that Apple tried to get Spotify to shut down their free, ad-supported tier. Having a default Music app makes sense, but does using it to push Apple Music so heavily abuse its home advantage? The European Commission believes it does.

Government Intervention

The EC has just announced it is issuing ‘charges against Apple over concerns that the rules it sets for developers on its App store break EU law’. Last week, Apple and Google, along with competitors Spotify, Tile and Match.com owners IAC, testified at an anti-trust hearing before a US Congress committee. In addition to the issues we’ve already touched on, there was also discussion around ‘exclusionary conduct’, with Apple particularly accused of refusing to negotiate with Tile, as well as the platform holders’ tendency to incorporate features from other companies into its own products or ‘Copy and Kill’ as one US Senator put it. 

Google’s representative said they value relationships with all their App Store ‘partners’ including the ‘small, but vocal set of primarily large companies’, referring to those testifying at the hearing and others like them. This is actually an interesting point, as the effect on consumers may well be negative depending on the actions these government bodies eventually take. Apple’s do-it-all ecosystem is one of the primary reasons many users buy Apple products and making any part of that disjointed could have severe implications for the platform, potentially making it even more difficult for actual small and independent app developers to reach users. There are so many issues and questions we just don’t have an answer to and Governments must decide how far they are willing to go. Should companies be judged differently once they reach a certain size? What is that size and how should it be measured?

Not Black and White

Even less clear cut is the issue of user data and access to it, as clearly it is a huge issue for many businesses which are unable to identify key attributes they need, but conversely many users would prefer to keep that data in as few places as possible. A middle-ground might be to give users more specific controls around which apps can see which data, but this starts to get very messy and the majority of users wouldn’t have a clear understanding of what they are allowing.

Capitalism is a game that is rarely won, but when it is, governments grapple with conflicting principles, a free-market economy or the appearance of open competition and a “level playing field”. Apple and Google’s App Stores can only exist in their present, convenient form because of the whole package, a synergy resulting from different areas of their respective businesses working together. But that convenience comes at a price and the holder of any given platform will always have some sort of advantage. The question for governments and society as a whole, is what is more important – accessibility of features and services to all, or the freedom of large companies to compete on an even keel?

But in the lawsuits, investigations and hearings, the consumer is forgotten in all but name. The real question is, would addressing some or all of these problems with the App Stores that Apple and Google provide, result in a better or worse experience for users? Having a single storefront for all apps available for a device is undoubtedly more convenient and few would argue that should change. But conditions such as those preventing app developers from enabling users to pay or subscribe on their own websites need to be looked at by governments, as only they can mandate change in this area and the financial incentives mean that companies won’t do it on their own. Governments must focus on the consumer perspective and not fall into the trap of seeing large corporations with hundreds of millions of users as their primary responsibility. This is only the beginning of a process that will literally shape the everyday lives of billions. Make no mistake, this is one of the biggest issues of our time.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Science and Technology Editor at The Analyst.
Has a passion for technology and what makes things tick.

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On the Radar

Our Throw-Away Society Cannot Last – Right to Repair

These days, you’re lucky if a device lasts you 3 years. Gone are the days when things lasted decades and device manufacturers often don’t even allow repairs outside their own network of authorised service providers. But Right to Repair laws are coming, providing some hope of a longer lasting future…

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These days, you’re lucky if a device lasts you 3 years. Gone are the days when things lasted decades and device manufacturers often don’t even allow repairs outside their own network of authorised service providers. But Right to Repair laws are coming, providing some hope of a longer lasting future…

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Tech

Artificial Intelligence – friend or foe?

Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to mimic the learning, perception, and problem-solving skills portrayed by the human mind.

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What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to mimic the learning, perception, and problem-solving skills portrayed by the human mind. 

It works by learning from examples and experience, understanding and responding to language, recognising objects, and combining these as well as other capabilities to perform functions that are similar to what a human could perform. 

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science and an endeavour that aims to replicate human intelligence in machines. Its use has sparked many debates and led to many unanswered questions, to the extent that there is not a singular definition of artificial intelligence that is universally accepted. To put it simply, it has been defined by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig in their book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach as “the study of agents that receive precepts from the environment and perform actions.” 

Background of Artificial Intelligence 

Alan Turing, a British mathematician explored the mathematical possibility of artificial intelligence. He suggested that if humans use information that is available to them and use it along with reason to solve problems and make decisions, why can’t machines do the same. This concept was discussed in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, where he discussed how to build and test the intelligence of intelligent machines. 

What initially stood in Turing’s way was the lack of key prerequisites for intelligence in computers. Before 1949, they could execute commands, but couldn’t store and remember them. On top of that, the cost of leasing a computer was also very high, and advocacy of high-profile people as well as proof of concept was required to receive funding. 

The first artificial intelligence programme is believed to be The Logic Theorist programme. It was funded by Research and Development (RAND) and was designed to imitate the problem-solving skills of humans. This event was very important in catalysing the next 20 years of AI research

Despite what we might think, artificial intelligence programs are everywhere around us. They generally fall under two categories: Narrow AI and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). 

Narrow AI works within a limited context and usually performs single tasks very well. Although these seem very intelligent, they work under constraints and are far      more limited than even the most basic human intelligence. Narrow AI is the most common and has been very successful throughout the last decade and has yielded great societal benefits. Some examples of Narrow AI include search engines such as Google, personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, and image recognition software. 

The other broad category of AI is AGI, which is a machine that has general intelligence which it can apply to solve problems, like humans. We tend to see this kind of AI in movies like the robots from Westworld or Terminator from The Terminator.   

It’s important to note however, that AGI does not exist and the quest for AGI in reality has been met with a lot of difficulty. A “universal algorithm for learning and acting in any environment” is extremely difficult, and creating a machine or a program that contains a complete set of cognitive abilities is a nearly impossible task. 

Are there risks to Artificial Intelligence?

There is no doubt that AI has been revolutionary and world-changing, however this isn’t without risks and drawbacks. 

“Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.” This was a comment made by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin, Texas. “I am really quite close… to the cutting edge in AI, and it scares the hell out of me,” he told his SXSW audience. “It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential.” Although these ideas may seem extreme and far-fetched to some people, he isn’t alone in holding these views. The late physicist Stephen Hawking told an audience in Portugal that the impact of AI could be catastrophic if its rapid development isn’t controlled ethically and strictly. “Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks,” he explained, “AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization.”

How would AI get to this point exactly? Cognitive scientist and author Gary Marcus shed some light on this in a 2013 New Yorker essay, Why we should think about the threat of artificial intelligence. He stated that as machines become smarter, their goals could potentially change. “Once computers can effectively reprogram themselves, and successively improve themselves, leading to a so-called ‘technological singularity’ or ‘intelligence explosion,’ the risks of machines outwitting humans in battles for resources and self-preservation cannot simply be dismissed”. 

It should be noted that these risks are associated with AGI, which is something that hasn’t yet come to fruition and so the risk at the moment is no more than a hypothetical threat. Although AI has been at the centre of dystopian science fiction, experts agree that it isn’t something that we need to worry about anytime soon. The benefits of AI technology as of now far outweigh drawbacks as it has improved the quality of lives of many. It has helped reduce the amount of time required to spend on a task and has enabled multi-tasking. Due to decisions taken from previously gathered information, errors are reduced significantly. 

There are advantages and disadvantages of AI, as with most technological inventions. As humans, it is important to consider all of the issue with care. Ultimately we must utilise the benefits that AI provides for the betterment of society.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

The problem with pornography

It has been described as a ‘public health crisis’ as the levels of accessibility have increased the viewership amongst children and young people in particular who are not of the legal age to watch it, leading to a warped sense of reality when it comes to sexual health, expectations and relationships amongst this demographic

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It is said that a once taboo topic and hidden secret has now become a mainstream and accepted practice; watching pornography. As figures suggest a rise in people watching and accessing porn predominantly due to an increased access to the internet, a shift in social norms and lack of genuine regulated age verification, we need to look at how this effecting society on a whole. Some may argue that it is harmless, however the research tells us otherwise. 

It has been described as a ‘public health crisis’ as the levels of accessibility have increased the viewership amongst children and young people in particular who are not of the legal age to watch it, leading to a warped sense of reality when it comes to sexual health, expectations and relationships amongst this demographic. A plethora of studies suggest this has led to a direct correlation to sexual objectification and violence against women in particular. A number of these case studies have highlighted the growing and systemic problem of unrealistic sexual expectations and depleting levels of respect and perceptions of women linked to those who view this explicit material. 

So as more people watch porn, what direct impacts does this have on violence committed against women? Dandy Doherty, A victim of sexual abuse and rape when she was a child recently wavered her right to anonymity to speak out against the easy access to porn. She stated access to porn was partially why she abused as a child and that later in life, it is a lead cause in boys and men’s diminishing levels of respect for the opposite sex. So as more people have easy access to porn, how will relationships in society worsen? 

Firstly, a lot of online pornographic material is very aggressive in nature, and so could lead to hostile sexual behaviour in real life. One particular study found that 88% of all violent acts shown in pornographic films are committed against women. More worryingly, women are shown to be happier in scenes where they are treated worse. As a result, surely someone who watches a lot of this content will think it’s more satisfying to treat a woman in such a way.

Moreover, in a study done by Middlesex University, over half of the boys who admitted to watching explicit films online believed that their depiction of sex was “realistic”. Of course this is dangerous as these boys could develop inappropriate expectations of how a partner should act and, thus, it is likely it will be more difficult for them to have a healthy, stable relationships in the future.

Perhaps most worrying of all, despite it being illegal to hold and distribute child pornography in many countries, it is becoming one of the fastest-growing online businesses. The statistics with this dark corner of the web are clear. A study at Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina found that 85% of people who owned material containing child pornography had gone on to abuse young victims. Furthermore, between 2017 and 2018, there was a 35% increase in the number of confirmed reports of people owning child pornography. 

Swift action is needed and governments have been slow to respond. Only now, has Germany proposed increasing the maximum sentence for distributing child pornography to 15 years. In Australia, the Online Safety Bill is currently being passed, which would finally give the government the power to take down harmful material. The bill was introduced as a result of the government feeling it took too long to remove violent pornography and so-called ‘revenge porn’ from the Internet. 

On the other side of the globe in the UK during a recent interview, former British Home Secretary Sajid Javid suggested having a strict age-verification process for viewing porn online, as the younger someone starts viewing this kind of material, the more likely it will have a damaging effect on them. In fact, in 2015, the Conservative government started working on developing methods – such as checking credit cards – to stop underage users watching porn. However, independent tests showed that these measures could be sidestepped all too easily, and the plans were dropped in 2019. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been addressed since. Some may say that it is due to the more pressing concerns of the pandemic but it is this really an excuse to not have safe measures to protect our youth? 
It is clear that viewing child pornography or violent, misogynistic depictions of sex will cause some to behave inappropriately or worse towards both women and children. Yet despite the increasing scale of viewership and overall consequences of this social problem, it has received little to no public attention. Until we acknowledge that this is a growing problem that is harming society on the whole, we are failing our future generations because at its current rate, their exposure to pornography will be the highest it has ever been. Are we going to continue to ignore the elephant in the room?

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

I'm currently an undergraduate at Oxford University. When I'm not dealing with essays and deadlines, I enjoy playing sports, seeing mates and scrolling through Twitter!

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