Tech round-up for October 31: Treats – new MacBook Air and iPad Pros – and scares – Twitter likes, time on your smartphone, hackers control U.S. weapon systems, robots get closer to being killer

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Happy Halloween. Want to be scared? Take a look at how much time you’re spending on your smartphone. Also: Twitter might be dropping the “like” button, hackers pwned DOD weapon systems, and the latest robots prove to be more agile than most humans. But first, some treats: a new MacBook Air and new iPads will make you scream.

New MacBook Air is the best computer, new iPad Pros raise the tablet bar again

At a New York City event this week, Apple showed off new computers and iPads.

After a couple of years of very minor updates, the MacBook Air has been fully refreshed, and the new features and specs instantly put the computer at the top of my “best laptops available” list.

With a 13.3-inch Retina display and Touch ID, the new laptop gets a crisp screen and the ability to unlock the computer with a fingerprint, which has been the best feature of the Touch Bar found on the MacBook Pros.

It also gets the new “butterfly” keyboard and a larger, Force Touch trackpad.

Add to that a new camera, microphones, and speakers, an improved battery, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the “all-new” MacBook Air is the most versatile system available now. It’s available to preorder now starting at Cdn$1,499 for release on November 7.

The newly iterated iPad Pros, meanwhile, have been given the edge-to-edge screen of the new iPhones. That means the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models are equipped with Face ID.

But they’ve lost the headphone jack, and instead of a Lightning port for charging, iPad Pros will now use a USB-C connector.

Also getting a refresh are the Apple Pencil, which attaches to the iPad Pro with magnets and will charge when it’s attached, and the Smart Keyboard, which is a full-size keyboard and protective case.

The new iPad Pros are available to order now and are priced starting at $999 and $1,249. They’ll ship on November 7.

Jack Dorsey said Twitter might get rid of likes, but that’s not going to happen

At the Wired25 event in San Francisco last week, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey revealed he isn’t sure that the “like” button and follower counts associated with Twitter accounts are particularly helpful.

“Right now we have a big Like button with a heart on it and we’re incentivizing people to want it to go up,” he said while on stage with Nick Thompson, Wired’s editor in chief. “Is that the right thing? Versus contributing to the public conversation or a healthy conversation? How do we incentive healthy conversation?”

Some media outlets took that to mean that Twitter was going to remove the like functionality, but that was a huge extrapolation of what Dorsey actually said.

And earlier this week, the company responded to the reports by saying that this was nothing new, that Dorsey had mentioned “in front of the US Congress” that the company had been thinking for a while about how to incentivize “healthy conversation” but that there was nothing happening “soon”.

It may be that removing the retweet functionality would do more to change the social conversation.

How much time are you spending on your smartphone and tablet?

The easiest scares this Halloween may come from the recognition you are spending way too much time on your mobile.

With Screen Time, the new feature available on iPhones as part of iOS 12, you can see exactly how much time you’re spending, and you can dive down into what apps you’re using the most, too.

In the last week, for example, I spent, on average, one hour and thirty-five minutes per day on the iPhone XS Max I’ve been using (more on that experience soon). Two and a half hours of that was on social networking (Facebook, Twitter), two and a half hours was using “productivity” apps like email, Slack, and calendars.

The cool thing about Screen Time is that you can dispel the dread that came when you first looked at your usage.

You can schedule times when your device will effectively shut down, permitting phone calls only. Or you can set time limits for specific apps (if you’re burning through your days playing Angry Birds, for example).

You can also control the usage of family members you monitor, so if your kids keep texting with their friends late into the night under the covers, you can put a stop to that right quick.

Hackers easily take control of U.S. weapon systems

Given that Trump seems hell bent on reintroducing the Cold War, don’t you feel good to know that the U.S. military can’t even keep control of its own weapon systems?

That’s the disturbing finding of a “cybersecurity” test that the Pentagon staged and the U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzed

The GAO found that Department of Defense officials “believed their systems were secure and discounted some test results as unrealistic.”

This was after they realized that, “Using relatively simple tools and techniques, testers were able to take control of systems and largely operate undetected, due in part to basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications.”

“In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals. They could see, in real time, what the operators were seeing on their screens and could manipulate the system.”

Sleep well tonight.

Boston Dynamics robots more agile, mobile than ever

We’ve been tracking the progress of the robots being designed at Boston Dynamics for a couple of years. At first they were interesting and curious.

Now they are genuinely frightening in their abilities.

Just watch this “humanoid” Atlas running and navigating around ground obstacles and climbing up some offset stairs.

And there’s also Spot, the “dog”, proving that robots can even dance better than some of us. Okay, I’ll admit it: Spot dances better than me.


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