Canon announces EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera

Canon has announced its first full-frame mirrorless camera and lens system, both called EOS R. Coming shortly after rival Nikon announced its own full-frame mirrorless cameras, the announcement of the EOS R means both Japanese camera giants are now taking high-end mirrorless seriously after years of putting out half-hearted responses to the likes of Sony and Fujifilm.

As previously leaked, the EOS R camera is built around a 30.3-megapixel full-frame sensor with an ISO range of 100-40,000. The sensor uses dual-pixel autofocus and is paired with Canon’s DIGIC 8 image processor. There’s a fully articulated touchscreen as well as an OLED electronic viewfinder and an information panel on the top of the camera.


Image: Canon

While the camera basically looks like a slimmed-down DSLR, the EOS R system breaks away from Canon’s traditional control scheme in a few ways. Most notably, all the lenses have a dedicated control ring as well as the dials for zooming and manual focus; this lets you adjust settings like aperture from the lens itself. There’s also a sliding left-right control bar on the back of the camera that can be used for various other features.

The first EOS R lenses are a 24-105mm f/4 L, a 50mm f/1.2mm L, a 28-70mm f/2 L, and a 35mm f/1.8 macro. Canon is also releasing three lens mount adapters for EOS SLR lenses, including one with the EOS R control ring and another that can be used with drop-in filters. The camera will be available for $2,299 body-only or $3,399 with the 24-105mm lens in late October, with preorders starting September 12th.

We’re at Canon’s EOS R event in Tokyo and will bring you more news and impressions soon.

How autocratic governments use Facebook against their own citizens

Last month, Facebook discovered evidence of a coordinated influence campaign on its platform led by groups in Iran. On Tuesday, a pair of investigations cast new light on other ways that autocratic governments are using Facebook to terrible ends: creating brigades of influencers and paid troll armies to suppress dissent and deny the reality of human-rights atrocities within their own countries.

In The New York Times, Declan Walsh and Suliman Ali Zway examine how the “keyboard warriors” of Libya use Facebook to hunt and kill their enemies. “Armed groups use Facebook to find opponents and critics, some of whom have later been detained, killed or forced into exile, according to human rights groups and Libyan activists,” they write. “Swaggering commanders boast of their battlefield exploits and fancy vacations, or rally supporters by sowing division and ethnic hatred. Forged documents circulate widely, often with the goal of undermining Libya’s few surviving national institutions, notably its Central Bank.”

Of course, it’s easier to hunt and kill your enemies when you can buy your weapons using the same platform you’re hunting them on:

The New York Times found evidence of military-grade weapons being openly traded, despite the company’s policies forbidding such commerce. Human traffickers advertise their success in helping illegal migrants reach Europe by sea, and use their pages to drum up more business. Practically every armed group in Libya, and even some of their detention centers, have their own Facebook page. […]

“The most dangerous, dirty war is now being waged on social media and some other media platforms,” Mahmud Shammam, a former information minister, said last week as fighting ripped through the Tripoli suburbs. “Lying, falsifying, misleading and mixing facts. Electronic armies are owned by everyone, and used by everyone without exception. It is the most deadly war.”

Meanwhile in the Philippines, BuzzFeed’s Davey Alba finds that the autocrat Rodrigo Duterte has found Facebook highly effective for harassing critics and contributing to a general sense of unreality. That’s been helpful for covering up the country’s estimated 12,000 extrajudicial state-sponsored killings since Duterte took office.

The broad outlines of the story of Duterte and Facebook were laid out nine months ago in a beautifully reported piece by Lauren Etter in Bloomberg. Alba’s story advances it by focusing on how three influential Duterte fans, one of whom became a paid government spokeswoman, coordinate to spread misinformation and targeted harassment against the strongman’s political opponents:

Nieto does publish news as well, both to his blog and directly on Facebook, where he posts “10 to 20 times a day,” he told BuzzFeed News. That news is typically unverified; sometimes it’s demonstrably inaccurate. Beyond the conspiracies noted above, Nieto has misquoted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a way that made it appear Trudeau supported a massive garbage dump in the Philippines. He’s promoted a falsified 1979 psychiatric report on the former Philippine president Noynoy Aquino, which claimed that the reason Aquino wanted to become president was “to heap a measure of revenge” on those who imprisoned his father, Benigno Aquino Jr., the rival of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and a national hero who was assassinated in 1983. Nieto has also tried to artificially deflate the number of Filipinos murdered in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. He has used Facebook Live footage of child autopsies in a crusade to blame a health crisis on the former administration.

Nieto speaks to an audience of more than 2 million Facebook followers. Each of his posts gets thousands of likes and shares, consistently more than the political commentators he’d be most comparable to in the US. He touts all this as evidence that everything is just fine in the Philippines. “They’re saying that freedom of speech is under threat. No,” he said. “It’s never been more democratic.”

The focus at tomorrow’s hearings in Congress — more on those below — will be on how foreign countries can use tech platforms to create discord here in America. But reading these investigations, I’m left wondering what authority will ask companies about the ways in which countries use their platforms against their own citizens.

Hearings

The tech platforms return to Congress on Wednesday for two hearings. In the morning, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will talk to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and an empty chair meant to shame Alphabet for not sending CEO Larry Page. And in the afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will yell Jack Dorsey for an extended period of time.

A couple good previews are below, along with links to speakers’ testimony, all of which will sound familiar to anyone who reads this newsletter. The only interesting bit was this, from Dorsey’s testimony:

In preparation for this hearing and to better inform the members of the Committee, our data scientists analyzed Tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate that have Twitter accounts for a 30 day period spanning July 23, 2018 until August 13, 2018. We learned that, during that period, Democratic members sent 10,272 Tweets and Republican members sent 7,981. Democrats on average have more followers per account and have more active followers. As a result, Democratic members in the aggregate receive more impressions or views than Republicans.

Despite this greater number of impressions, after controlling for various factors such as the number of Tweets and the number of followers, and normalizing the followers’ activity, we observed that there is no statistically significant difference between the number of times a Tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Tweet by a Republican. In the aggregate, controlling for the same number of followers, a single Tweet by a Republican will be viewed as many times as a single Tweet by a Democrat, even after all filtering and algorithms have been applied by Twitter. Our quality filtering and ranking algorithm does not result in Tweets by Democrats or Tweets by Republicans being viewed any differently. Their performance is the same because the Twitter platform itself does not take sides.

Sheryl Sandberg’s New Job Is to Fix Facebook’s Reputation — and Her Own

Betsy Morris, Deepa Seetharaman and Robert McMillan look at how Facebook’s rough couple of years has chipped away at Sheryl Sandberg’s image as the consummate problem solver. It’s a good look at how her role has changed as she prepares to go before Congress:

Urged by his board to be more proactive, Mr. Zuckerberg quietly asked her to lead the company’s efforts to identify and prevent future blowups on the platform. The new job, insiders say, is at least as challenging as the company’s transition to mobile several years ago, which was late and rocky. Ms. Sandberg’s role is likely to be complex, expensive and thankless, people close to the company say, with any failures very public.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg testify in Washington: Preview

In his walk-up to tomorrow’s hearings, Peter Kafka worries for Jack Dorsey:

The best-case scenario for Dorsey is a very long day on Capitol Hill. But there are lots of ways for this to go badly for him. Part of this is a matter of seasoning and temperament: Dorsey does some public appearances, but he isn’t a professional talker. And when he does talk, he tends to approach questions with what can scan as a … detached affect. The bigger problem: While Dorsey and Twitter are well-versed in handling questions about election interference, the bias story is a new one, and Dorsey is going to spend an entire afternoon, by himself, handling it, at a session dedicated to “Twitter: Transparency and Accountability.”

Senator Mark Warner Is Not Happy With Google

Issie Lapowsky talks to the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He’s mad Google isn’t sending Larry Page to tomorrow’s hearings:

I was going to ask them why Google is building a search engine for China to allow Chinese censorship. Maybe they don’t want to answer some of those questions. But if Google thinks we’re just going to go away, they’re sadly mistaken. I’ve had a great working relationship with Google over the years, but I’ve been generally surprised that they might not want to be part of the conversation about how we fix this and get solutions.

Our testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Here’s Google’s testimony.

Read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s opening statement to Congress

Here’s Facebook’s testimony.

Testimony of Jack Dorsey

Here’s Dorsey’s testimony.

Democracy

Inside Twitter’s Long, Slow Struggle to Police Bad Actors

Georgia Wells and Kirsten Grind made waves over the weekend with a story that said Jack Dorsey personally weighs in on decisions like whether to ban Alex Jones. Twitter denied Dorsey does this, which was somehow even stranger. Like, the CEO just threw his hands up and said “y’all figure it out”? C’mon. Dorsey was more equivocal when Politico asked him about this on Tuesday: “I ask questions. I don’t think I’ve ever overruled anything,” he said.

Jon Kyl, Former Senator, Will Replace John McCain in Arizona

Jon Kyl, who is currently leading the “investigation” into complaints of conservative bias at Facebook, will have John McCain’s old Senate seat until 2020.

FCC chairman says Twitter, Facebook, Google may need transparency

Ajit Pai wrote a bad-faith Medium post calling on tech platforms to be more “transparent” about their decisions, which is really just a way of pressuring them to promote conservative voices, writes my colleague Jake Kastrenakes:

But Pai comes at it from the same approach as President Trump, cherry-picking examples to make it seem like these are liberal companies out to silence conservative voices, rather than platforms keeping their sites safe. One example he pulls out is YouTube demonetizing videos from PragerU, a nonprofit (which is not a university) that the Southern Poverty Law Center described as offering “dog whistles to the extreme right.” Among the videos pulled were several with Islamophobic titles like “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”

Fringe Figures Find Refuge in Facebook’s Private Groups

Kevin Roose looks at how Facebook Groups, lately positioned as a potential solution to some of the company’s problems, can enable more bad behavior than public posts:

When it comes to more private forms of communication through the company’s services — like Facebook groups, or the messaging apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger — the social network’s progress is less clear. Some experts worry that Facebook’s public cleanup may be pushing more toxic content into these private channels, where it is harder to monitor and moderate.

Misinformation is not against Facebook’s policies unless it leads to violence. But many of the private groups reviewed by The New York Times contained content and behavior that appeared to violate other Facebook rules, such as rules against targeted harassment and hate speech. In one large QAnon group, members planned a coordinated harassment campaign, known as Operation Mayflower, against public figures such as the actor Michael Ian Black, the late-night host Stephen Colbert and the CNN journalist Jim Acosta. In the Infowars group, posts about Muslims and immigrants have drawn threatening comments, including calls to deport, castrate and kill people.

This Group Posed As Russian Trolls And Bought Political Ads On Google. It Was Easy.

“Google says it’s securing its ad platform against foreign meddlers, but for just $35 researchers posing as Russian trolls were able to run political ads without any hurdles,” Charlie Warzel reports.

The Real Story Behind The Anti-Immigrant Riots Rocking Germany

J. Lester Feder and Pascal Anselmi examine the role that Facebook has played in recent racial violence in Germany:

One of the engines for pumping out false information about the Chemnitz killing was the Facebook page of a group called Pro-Chemnitz, which has three seats on the local city council and organized the protest on Monday that ended in mob violence. In calling for the protest, it claimed the victim in Sunday’s stabbing was “a brave helper who lost his life trying to protect a woman.” The post is still online.

The group knows just how important Facebook is to its political fortunes. “We are completely social-media based,” said Benjamin Jahn Zschocke, the group’s spokesperson. “If our Facebook page were to be deleted, we would disappear completely.”

Inside Facebook’s ‘arms race’ to protect users ahead of midterm elections

Jo Ling Kent and Michael Cappetta talk to Samidh Chakrabarti, who helps lead the effort in fighting against influence campaigns, and learn that Facebook is building a physical “war room” to monitor threats in real time. (There’s a picture of the current “war room,” and it looks like a standard Facebook conference room.) Elsewhere, CNN talks to Facebook’s “top troll hunter,” Nathaniel Gleicher, who makes similar noises.

With less than two months to go, Chakrabarti said Facebook is “much more effective than we used to be” and the entire company is “laser focused on getting it right.” He also revealed new details on Facebook’s plans to build a physical “war room” to coordinate a real-time response to nefarious activity during the midterms.

India Pushes Back Against Tech ‘Colonization’ by Internet Giants

India may follow the European Union in passing strict new laws against tech platforms, Vindu Goel reports:

The proposals include European-style limits on what big internet companies can do with users’ personal data, a requirement that tech firms store certain sensitive data about Indians only within the country, and restrictions on the ability of foreign-owned e-commerce companies to undercut local businesses on price.

The policy changes unfolding in India would be the latest to crimp the power — and profits — of American tech companies, and they may well contribute to the fracturing of the global internet.

Tech Giants Now Share Details on Political Ads. What Does That Mean For You?

Natasha Singer has a helpful explainer on how to use the tech giants’ new political ads databases:

None of the archives is currently designed to search for phrases. That means, for instance, if you search the Facebook archive for “don’t go to vote” — a phrase that a Kremlin-linked group employed in a Facebook ad discouraging users from going to the polls — you’ll end up with thousands of resulting ads that used the word “vote.”

On Facebook, you’ll need to search by the name of the candidate or political issue you’re looking for. On Google, search under the candidate’s or advertiser’s name. On Twitter, look for the name of the account the ad ran under. Once you get results, you can click an individual ad to learn more.

U.S. accuses China of ‘super aggressive’ spy campaign on LinkedIn

Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay report that there are people out there who actually enjoy using LinkedIn. They work for Chinese espionage agencies:

LinkedIn “is a very good site,” Evanina said. “But it makes for a great venue for foreign adversaries to target not only individuals in the government, formers, former CIA folks, but academics, scientists, engineers, anything they want. It’s the ultimate playground for collection.”

Elsewhere

Instagram is building a standalone app for shopping

It’s only the 94th most important Facebook story of the day, but this is still an interesting scoop from checks notes Casey Newton:

Instagram is working on a new standalone app dedicated to shopping, The Verge has learned. The app — which may be called IG Shopping — will let users browse collections of goods from merchants that they follow and purchase them directly within the app, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instagram declined to comment.

It could not be learned when the app might launch. Its development is still ongoing, and it could be canceled before it is released. But sources familiar with its development say Instagram believes it is well positioned to make a major expansion into e-commerce.

Alex Jones Said Bans Would Strengthen Him. He Was Wrong.

Deplatforming works, Jack Nicas reports:

In the three weeks before the Aug. 6 bans, Infowars had a daily average of nearly 1.4 million visits to its website and views of videos posted by its main YouTube and Facebook pages, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the web data firms Tubular Labs and SimilarWeb. In the three weeks afterward, its audience fell by roughly half, to about 715,000 site visits and video views, according to the analysis.

Can You Spot the Deceptive Facebook Post?

Keith Collins and Sheera Frankel put together a fun quiz in which you try to guess which posts are authentic and which posts come from influence campaigns. I got every single one correct, and if you read this newsletter I bet you will as well!

In India, Google races to parry the rise of Facebook

Google had a big head start as an advertising business in India, but Facebook is eating its lunch, Paresh Dave and Sankalp Phartiyal report:

Facebook’s success has shaken Alphabet Inc’s Google, led by an Indian-born CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has made developing markets a priority.

Google officials in India earlier this year were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018, according to one of the sources. Google’s India revenues reached $1 billion only last year.

An Army Director Hired To A Top Immigration Post Spewed Anti-Muslim Comments On Facebook — Then He Lost The Job

We hear so often about people who get fired over their tweets, and almost never about people who get fired for their Facebook posts. Well, here is someone who got fired for their Facebook posts:

Guy Sands-Pingot, who was at one point a brigadier general, was tapped to be deputy director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services and was slated to begin in mid-September. Sands-Pingot would have served under an administration that is seeking to significantly cut back on the number of legal and undocumented immigrants and has, with the travel ban, targeted Muslim-majority countries. He would have also helped oversee an agency that recently created a denaturalization unit.

In October 2015, Sands-Pingot posted a link to an article from GOPTheDailyDose.com on Facebook with the headline “If you wipe your butt with your bare hand but consider bacon to be unclean, you may be Muslim.” The link on the page was dead but the headline has been part of anti-Muslim jokes spread on the internet for years, such as “If you were amazed to discover that cell phones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs, you may be a Muslim.”

Unpaid and abused: Moderators speak out against Reddit

Reddit isn’t doing enough to insulate its moderators from the abuse they suffer, reports Benjamin Plackett:

In a joint investigation, Engadget and Point spoke to 10 Reddit moderators, and all of them complained that Reddit is systematically failing to tackle the abuse they suffer. Keeping the front page of the internet clean has become a thankless and abusive task, and yet Reddit’s administration has repeatedly neglected to respond to moderators who report offenses.

Facebook Is Bingeing on Bay Area Real Estate

Noah Buhayar and Sarah Frier write up Facebook’s rapid real Bay Area real estate expansion. It now spans six cities and will soon employ more people in the region — 35,000 — than its home base of Menlo Park even houses.

Jake Paul’s predatory marketing tactics point to bigger regulation concerns

Is controversial YouTuber Jake Paul doing a bunch of illegal things to push his merchandise? I mean, I would believe it!

In one especially painful example, Nerd City highlights Paul’s video “THE BEST SONG WE’VE MADE YET,” in which the YouTuber relentlessly plugs his merch, tour, music, and more in nearly half of a 14-minute video. “Jake understands and leans into heavy repetition as a principal of advertising … the words are artificially jammed into the sentences he says,” Nerd City says. For those who are too young to buy his products on their own, Paul encourages kids to ask their parents directly — a practice sometimes described as “pester power,” which is prohibited in the European Union via the Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP) Directive.

Launches

Twitter is testing threaded replies and status indicators

Twitter is testing threaded replies and presence indicators.

TikTok adds video reactions to its newly-merged app

The app formerly known as Musical.ly adds a video commenting feature:

Instead of text comments, these reactions will take the form of videos that are essentially superimposed on top of existing clips. The idea of a reaction video should be familiar to anyone who’s spent some time on YouTube, but TikTok is incorporating the concept in way that looks like a pretty seamless.

Takes

It’s time to break up Facebook

Tim Wu’s new book is called The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age. In it, he argues for a return to aggressive antitrust enforcement in the style of Teddy Roosevelt, saying that Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other huge tech companies represent a threat to democracy. He argues that Facebook should be required to sell off WhatsApp and Instagram:

“We live in America, which has a strong and proud tradition of breaking up companies that are too big for inefficient reasons,” Wu told me on this week’s Vergecast. “We need to reverse this idea that it’s not an American tradition. We’ve broken up dozens of companies.”

And finally …

@sweden signs off after seven years as Twitter voice of nation

In 2011 the people of Sweden had a crazy idea: what if it handed the keys to the national Twitter account to a different citizen each week? After 200,000 tweets from 365 different citizens, the account is now shutting down. But let us never remember the fun times we had:

The first curator was nicknamed “the masturbating Swede” after he detailed his preferred leisure activities. Others have fought with Denmark and Donald Trump, sparked outrage by asking why some people don’t like Jews, and admitted they’d rather be having sex.

Your move, @ireland!

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions, and Instagram Shopping prototypes: casey@theverge.com.

Vertepac XTR backpack review: carry heavier loads with less effort

Searching “backpack” on Amazon yields over 200,000 results, of which 199,998 are utter crap. Materials, pockets, and fasteners might differ, but they’re all iterations on the same theme.

That’s why the backpacks from Vertepac are so compelling. Instead of making yet another boring bag, the Dutch startup is trying to solve a problem as old as humanity: how can we carry more stuff with less effort?

And you know what? They’ve cracked it. But innovation ain’t cheap.

8.5

Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Makes heavy loads feel light
  • Good load stability for outdoor athletes
  • Modular carrying system works with other Vertepac bags

Bad Stuff

  • Bulky
  • Expensive
  • Untested startup

Vertepac builds its bags around a carrying unit composed of a lightweight frame and an extendable spine attached to a hip belt. The carrying unit is designed to be modular, whereby it can be inserted quickly into any Vertepac bag. When worn, the backpack rests on your hips like a regular internal-frame pack designed for camping. Vertepac says 95 percent of the load rests on the hip belt, with the rest on the shoulders in order to keep the load under control. That sounds about right. The so-called Parallel Spine is the star though, lifting the bag ever so slightly off of your back, while twisting, lengthening, and contracting in tune with the movements of your body, just like your own spine. The hip belt never moves, and the bag remains relatively still, giving you a greater sense of stability and balance as you walk, climb, ride, or paddle.

The improved weight distribution is felt as soon as you slip on the bag, with the three-pound (1.35 kg) weight of the carrying unit dissolving into your hips, not your shoulders. But it’s under heavier loads that the Vertepac’s carrying system really pays off.

My wife and I have been testing both the 35-liter XTR.35 and 18-liter XTR.18 bags over the last month, logging hundreds of hours and miles with the backpacks. The XTR.18 bag (minus the three-pound frame) weighs just 1.36 pounds (620 grams), while the XTR.35 weighs just a tad more at 1.65 pounds (750 grams). We’ve worn the bags fully loaded while slogging through the Scottish Highlands and pastoral Dutch dunes, bicycling through the streets of Amsterdam, and stand-up paddleboarding along its canals. The bags allowed us to carry heavier loads for longer, with a far greater degree of upper body mobility.

The Vertepac system requires a one-time setup whereby you extend the spine and lock it to match the belt with the top of your hips. You then put the Vertepac on like any other backpack, but you have to extend the spine and close the hip belt and chest strap to feel the benefits. I had to readjust the spine after my first hike because it wasn’t sitting correctly. It was too high on my hips which caused the hip belt to tilt forward and dig into my back. The hip belt can be closed with either a traditional buckle closure or an elastic-velcro closure, the latter offering a bit more comfort, I found. The spine can be retracted with a tug of a strap, causing it to retract up the channel.

The Vertepac system feels odd and cumbersome at first, but you quickly get used to the weight redistribution. The airflow through the gap created by the carrying system was certainly a nice-to-have feature on hot days. More importantly, not once did we feel any of the residual neck or shoulder pain that typically follows a long session with a heavy backpack. The bags also allowed for far greater freedom in the arms and shoulders than any backpack I’ve ever tried, something that was particularly beneficial when making the long deep strokes required for stand-up paddleboarding, or when grabbing onto rock faces while hiking steep terrain. I wasn’t able to test it, but I suspect these bags would perform very well when bombing down the slopes on a snowboard or skis. (Vertepac has testimonials on its homepage saying it does.)


Vertepac XTR.18 on the Amsterdam canals.

Let me be clear: the Vertepac XTR.35 and XTR.18 are not competing with high-end daypacks from the likes of Peak Design, Boundary, or Waterfield Design. There’s no padding or sleeve for your laptop, drone, or camera gear, and the few pockets available are too deep for fastidious organizers. I did regularly carry my DSLR, a few lenses, and my laptop, but they were in their own protective cases. Vertepac tells me that it’s actively working on a 42-liter camera bag with a hard cover for 2018, but they weren’t able to show me a prototype yet.

The Vertepac XTR bags are designed for outdoor use with a giant main compartment for your gear, a multi-function helmet carry, and a few outer pockets protected by waterproof zippers. The bags also feature a bag liner (for easy cleaning) in the cavernous main compartment along with accommodations for your favorite hydration bladder and hose (my three-liter Streamer bags from Deuter fit both bags nicely). Otherwise, the XTR.35 and XTR.18 are fairly typical top loaders, made of durable, lightweight material with tons of lash points, handles, and dangly straps to cinch everything down. Not that I’m complaining. We’ve been regularly stuffing the bags to their breaking points, typically carrying loads between five and 15 kilos (11 to 33 pounds) without a single tear, broken zipper, or other such malfunction.

The Vertepac system does have some minuses. First, it’s heavy and bulky, and the hip belt doesn’t allow the bag to stand upright even when the spine is contracted. The hip belt is also rather rigid, which is fine when you’re wearing it, but gets in the way when trying to store the bag in the footwell of a car or the overhead bin of an airplane. And sometimes the spine creaks a bit as you move. The fiddly carrying system also means that these aren’t bags you just toss over a shoulder when running out the door. None of those points are deal breakers, however. Although the price might be.


Vertepac Carrying Unit

Vertepac Carrying Unit.
Image: Vertepac

Vertepac’s bags are not cheap. The big XTR.35 bag and carrying unit costs $359, while the smaller XTR.18 bundle costs $339. Or you can spend $439 for a single carrying unit and the two bags. Most of the expense here is for the carrying system, and the R&D required to develop it.

Right now, the company only makes these two bags. But if things go as planned, Vertepac will be rolling out additional designs in the months ahead. Vertepac tells me that it’s actively developing a CAM.42 camera bag with a hard cover and a giant XTR.50 outdoor sports bag. And 2019 promises to be even bigger with five additional bags scheduled: a 100 percent waterproof AQ.25 roll top bag, a TAC.38 tactical bag, a TRV.42 travel bag, a URB.25 urban bag, and a QAP quick access add-on for your phone, wallet, and keys. The carrying unit (without a bag) is expected to be priced at $226, while the bags should cost between $103 and $289. On a long enough timeline, you can see how the Vertepac value proposition could pay off.

But this fledgling company, that only started shipping its backpacks in July, has to succeed with the products it has now, not on the promise of what might come. Fortunately for Vertepac, the XTR.18 and XTR.35 are outstanding backpacks for outdoor adventures. If that’s you and you can afford it, then these bags could be transformative.

And no, you can’t buy them on Amazon.

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The monopoly-busting case against Google, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook

Antitrust crusaders have built up serious momentum in Washington, but so far, it’s all been theory and talk. Groups like Open Markets have made a strong case that big companies (especially big tech companies) are distorting the market to drive out competitors. We need a new standard for monopolies, they argue, one that focuses less on consumer harm and more on the skewed incentives produced by a company the size of Facebook or Google.

Someday soon, those ideas will be put to the test, probably against one of a handful of companies. For anti-monopolists, it’s a chance to reshape tech into something more democratic and less destructive. It’s just a question of which company makes the best target.

To that end, here’s the case against four of the movement’s biggest targets, and what they might look like if they came out on the losing end. (Note: Apple was too much of a conventional retailer to make the list, but if you’re wondering what an antitrust lawsuit against Cupertino might look like, this is a pretty good place to start.)


Our best model for tech antitrust is the Department of Justice’s anti-bundling case against Microsoft in the ‘90s, which argued that Microsoft was using its control over the PC market to force out competing operating systems and browsers. If you’re looking for a contemporary equivalent, Google is probably the closest fit. On a good day, Google (or Alphabet, if you prefer) is the most valuable company in the world by market cap, with dozens of different products supported by an all-encompassing ad network. Google also has clear and committed enemies, with Microsoft, Oracle, Yelp, and even the Motion Picture Association of America calling for restrictions on the company’s power.

Some of those restrictions are already starting to take shape in Europe, as Google faces a $5 billion fine for alleged anti-competitive Android bundling and a separate $4 billion GDPR case that alleges stingy opt-out provisions. Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate anti-competitive effects from Google’s dominance in online ads and search, hinting that similar regulatory pressure may not be far off in the US.

But according to Open Markets’ Matthew Stoller, the best long-term remedy for Google’s dominance has more to do with Google’s acquisitions. “If you’re looking for a silver bullet, probably the best thing to do would be to block Google from being able to buy any companies,” says Stoller. “Suddenly, you have to compete with Google, you can’t just be bought out by Google.”

That might sound tame compared to Europe’s billion-dollar fines, but it cuts to the core of how Google is organized. The company has acquired more than 200 startups since it was founded, including central products like YouTube, Android, and DoubleClick. The company’s modular structure is arguably a direct result of that buying spree, and it’s hard to imagine what Google would look like without it. More recent buys like Nest have fallen under the broader Alphabet umbrella, but the core strategy hasn’t changed. Would Google still be an AI giant if it hadn’t bought DeepMind? Probably, but everyone involved would have had to work a lot harder.

Even better, anti-monopoly activists would have a bunch of different ways to block those acquisitions. The Department of Justice’s antitrust division hasn’t contested Google’s acquisitions so far, but it could always change its approach. The strongest fix would come from Congress, where Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced a bill that would place an outright ban on acquisitions by any company with a market cap higher than $100 billion. (As of press time, Google is worth roughly $840 billion.)

Of course, Klobuchar’s bill doesn’t focus on Google or even tech giants, but Stoller says that kind of blockade would have a unique effect on how big companies shape the startup world. “All of these companies, from Amazon to Facebook to Google, they proactively find their competitors and buy them out,” says Stoller. “This would push VCs and entrepreneurs to truly compete with Google. Right now, their strategy isn’t to do that because they want to get acquired.”


Amazon makes life hard for its competitors — and by now, the company is competing against nearly everyone. The most notorious example is the company’s wholesale pillaging of Diapers.com in 2010, which saw Amazon drop diaper prices by as much as 30 percent and matching Diapers.com’s pricing move for move until the smaller outfit agreed to be acquired. More recently, smaller retailers say they’re being targeted and priced out by generics from Amazon Basics, which benefits from Amazon’s wealth of data on who’s buying what. Since Amazon has the money to out-discount any competitors, there’s not much anyone can do about it. With a laser focus on consumer benefit (usually meaning lower prices), the company has become a major player in nearly every market it enters.

Since the modern antitrust standard is mostly focused on consumer harm, Amazon has largely avoided regulatory scrutiny, making it a prime target for the new generation of policy minds that are focused on how big companies can distort markets. Anti-monopoly lawyer Lina Khan laid out the case against the retail giant in a 2017 article called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” in which she argued that the Amazon store had become a utility infrastructure that the company was subverting for its own benefit. (The argument seems to have found favor with FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra, who hired Khan in July.)

In that view, the problem is that Amazon the store gives too much advantage to Amazon the manufacturer. And thanks to acquisitions such as Whole Foods and the power of Prime, Amazon the store keeps getting bigger.

But Stacy Mitchell, co-director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says that could be solved with a Microsoft-style antitrust suit, carving Amazon up into distinct parts and setting new rules for each part. “Amazon needs to be broken up so that the platform is separated from its retail and manufacturing operations,” says Mitchell. “The platform needs to be treated like a common carrier, so it’s required to serve all comers equally.”

In short, it would be court-mandated net neutrality for The Everything Store. That would take a pretty aggressive Department of Justice to get us there, but Khan’s analysis is gaining favor in surprising corners of Washington.


Uber might not seem as scary as it did during the Kalanick years, but it’s still the largest single crowd-labor platform and a vital piece of transportation infrastructure in 600 cities across the world. Sitting between one-off customers and independently contracted drivers, there are lots of ways for Uber to subtly manipulate the market for its own benefit. The most notorious method was surge pricing, which added a multiplier whenever the supply of nearby drivers was running low. More recently, Uber switched to upfront pricing, but the company still has near total control over how much a given ride costs, and how much of that money makes it back to drivers.

That would be fine for a normal business, but it might be a bigger problem for Uber. The company has long insisted that drivers are independent contractors, not employees. That means Uber can’t be a monopoly in the Standard Oil sense, but it could be a part of a price-fixing conspiracy, in which an entire industry colludes to raise prices at once. That usually looks like a bunch of companies secretly agreeing not to compete with each other, like when UK supermarkets all agreed to boost milk prices or Apple convinced publishers to sell ebooks at a single rate. In both cases, the companies were found to be in violation of the Sherman Act, and the conspiracy was broken up.

Marshall Steinbaum, research director at the Roosevelt Institute, says the “independent contractor” structure makes Uber uniquely vulnerable to a conventional antitrust case. “The nature of the business is fundamentally a conspiracy among hundreds of thousands of independent businesses,” Steinbaum says.

One customer has already tried to cast surge-pricing as a price fix in civil court, suing over the higher prices paid as a result of the conspiracy. The case was ultimately thrown out because of an arbitration clause in Uber’s Terms of Service (although not before Uber got in trouble for spying on the plaintiff). Still, the Justice Department isn’t bound by Terms of Service, and it could bring the same case any time it likes.

If the case were successful, Uber and other crowd-labor platforms would be faced with a tough choice. If it keeps drivers as independent contractors, it’d be forbidden from any kind of price control and forced into a flat Airbnb-style marketplace as it scraps it out with competing networks. It could escape those limits by recognizing drivers as employees, but that would subject the company to a battery of new requirements on minimum wage, benefits, and workers’ compensation, immediately becoming the largest employer in the country. Either way, Uber would face a lot more limits on how it treats drivers and passengers.

“It would force them to take away either the ability to charge whatever they want or the ability to treat drivers as independent contractors,” says Steinbaum. “Lose either one, and you’ve undermined the power of having a centralized transportation monopoly.”


In some ways, Facebook is the most urgent case. It’s inescapable, opaque, and it wields immense power over the fundamental functions of our society. More than any other tech giant, Facebook’s power feels like an immediate threat and the most plausible first target for congressional action. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has already laid out 20 different measures that would rein in Facebook and other tech giants, ranging from GDPR-style data portability requirements to more carveouts of Section 230.

But while Warner’s measures focus on nudging Facebook toward more responsible behavior, a growing number of critics see the problem as Facebook itself. It may be that a social network with more than 2 billion users is simply too big to be managed responsibly, and no amount of moderators or regulators will be able to meaningfully rein the company in. For those critics, social networks are a natural monopoly, and no amount of portability requirements will ever produce a meaningful competitor to Facebook or a meaningful check on its power.

If that’s true, a classical antitrust breakup (as some have suggested) would seem like the only option. The best example is the breakup of AT&T, which saw the telecom giant’s local phone business split into “baby bells,” each bound by serious geographical and regulatory restrictions. It’s the classic example of how to cut a giant company into smaller companies without disrupting service.

Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld has been thinking hard about how that model might apply to Facebook. Feld is best known as a telecom lawyer, but he’s become increasingly interested in how the telecom model fits into the new platform era. The obvious answer is to approach it like Google: blocking future acquisitions and breaking off side products like WhatsApp and Instagram.

But if the problem is the all-consuming size of the network, splitting off networks may lead to what Feld calls the “starfish problem.” “If you tear up a starfish, the pieces regrow and now instead of one starfish you have five starfish,” says Feld. “If you’re going to split up Facebook, what’s to prevent it from becoming three Facebooks, each one dominant in its particular market segment? That’s a hard problem for antitrust.”

Facebook would be less powerful without WhatsApp and Instagram, in Feld’s view, but it wouldn’t be entirely de-fanged. Facebook Messenger could pick up most of the slack from WhatsApp, while Facebook photo-sharing tools might start to resemble the severed Instagram in response. You could prohibit Facebook from making any products involving photo-sharing or mobile messaging, but even that wouldn’t touch the broader problem of how to govern a universal network.

“It’s not that we shouldn’t think about a breakup,” says Feld. “It’s that we should think about a breakup. You have to consider how you’re going to address these problems.”

For Feld, the only complete fix is a specific platform regulation bill akin to the Telecom Act that spells out a new set of requirements for privacy, moderation, and all the other issues that have dogged Facebook in recent years. That’s a lot for Congress to handle, but there may be no other way through. “We’re not going to solve it all at once,” says Feld. “We need a new and comprehensive law that will address these issues because they’ve come to have an enormous and out-sized impact on our lives.”

A mega-merger in the prison phone industry is in the FCC’s hands

Securus has had more than its share of negative headlines. In the past few years, the company, which provides technology services to prisons and jails, has been slammed by inmates’ families who say they’re charged outrageous prices to phone loved ones. The controversy has extended into video call and email services, two other places the company has staked a claim. In October, the company was hit with a $1.7 million fine for allegedly misleading the FCC during a regulatory maneuver. By May, attention shifted to another scandal, as the company took heat for enabling warrantless cellphone tracking around the country.

It’s against that backdrop that Securus is now moving ahead with a merger that could further consolidate a market already criticized as woefully consolidated. The company, which already claims to service more than 1.2 million inmates in North America, has announced its intention to acquire ICSolutions, a smaller competitor in the industry. While exact market figures are difficult to come by, and Securus has pointed to a handful of smaller businesses that offer similar services, inmate advocates argue that the merger will allow two companies to effectively dominate the market. The only thing standing in the way is the FCC.

The merger requires approval from the agency, and the battle has been playing out in dueling regulatory filings. The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization that has fought against onerous prison phone prices for years, has argued that scandal-plagued Securus lacks the requisite “character” requirements for approval, and should be blocked on those grounds. Among other issues, legal director Aleks Kajstura says, the company has been accused by advocates and FCC commissioners of changing the name of a fee to skirt a ban by the agency, and by the FCC of lying to the agency itself. “I feel like that’s a pretty low bar to cross that Securus has failed at,” Kajstura says. (A Securus spokesperson said the company “does not believe it committed any wrongdoing” and entered into the FCC agreement to “expedite” the approval without admitting liability.)

The organization has said consolidation could mean more than 70 or 80 percent of calling services will be operated by two companies, Securus and GTL, the latter of which has already grown by acquiring competitors. With that much market share, they argue, the companies will be able to further tighten their hold on the industry as facilities and customers are forced to agree to whatever costs and terms the companies might demand.

Securus has strongly contested the figures, and in filings, it questioned the organizations’ methodologies, which rely on sparse publicly available records. But Securus, the Prison Policy Initiative points out, has not released its own figures. “They didn’t really put out a number of their own, which makes me think however they calculate, it’s not any better,” Kajstura says.

“Securus is continually working to provide the highest-quality services as affordably as possible, connecting individuals and keeping communities safe,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Our industry is highly competitive, with over 40 operators vying for contracts — which has driven consumer call rates down by 37 percent over the last five years. Securus’ acquisition of another operator would not harm competition, but would instead allow us to reduce costs and pass on price reductions to consumers, while investing in public safety and security.”

Today, companies like Securus often bargain with prisons and jails for exclusive contracts, and they offer the facilities a cut of the revenue in exchange. Families, advocates say, bear the heaviest burden from those contracts, which can include price structures that benefit the facilities, as advocates say some calls can cost nearly $25 for 15 minutes. Under a new regime, the advocates argue, the companies will be able to dictate even more stringent terms that will further squeeze families of the incarcerated who already complain about the costs of keeping in touch with an incarcerated loved one. “Clearly, the market’s at the point where they’re doing pretty damn well what they please,” Kajstura says.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai has not left a track record that bodes well for advocates. As a commissioner at the agency, before assuming the top role, Pai voted against a proposal to regulate the cost of inmate phone calls. The measure was approved, but after taking over, he declined to let the agency defend it in court where parts were successfully challenged by the phone companies. The decision was a severe blow to advocates who worked for years on the rules, and there is no sign of progress toward curbing costs under the current Republican-controlled FCC, which could make a decision on whether to approve the merger soon.

Pai’s FCC did impose a $1.7 million fine against the company for allegedly misleading the agency during a transfer of control proceeding. In a statement at the time, Pai described the incident as “a very serious matter” — but he moved to let the transaction continue. Then-commissioner Mignon Clyburn, dissenting on the decision, described Securus as “a company that has shown it is willing to operate on the bleeding edge of legality when it comes to this agency’s rules.” She described the FCC’s action as “less a slap on the wrist” than “a pat on the back.”

But the advocates have some allies. Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey has also supported blocking the merger. In a filing with the FCC, Healey writes that “Securus is seeking to avoid any Massachusetts regulatory oversight of its rates and practices.” The merger would leave an effective duopoly in the state, she writes. Securus has argued against the ability of telecom authorities in the state to regulate prices. In an industry where competition is one of the few checks on the companies’ considerable leverage, the merger is causing anxiety.

“Following many years of exorbitant and unfair charges imposed on inmate calling services, it is abundantly clear that we need more competition and oversight from the FCC and the states, not less,” she writes.

Snap launches new styles of Spectacles that look more like traditional sunglasses

If the main hangup that’s kept you from purchasing Snap’s Spectacles has been their design, two new models that the company is introducing today might eliminate those hesitations. Snap has just announced the new Veronica and Nico styles of Spectacles 2. They contain all the same features and recording quality improvements as the model first introduced in April, but this time inside a more traditional look. It maybe won’t be quite so obvious that you’re wearing Spectacles anymore.


Snap

The new models of Spectacles are also different in a couple of other ways: they’ve got polarized lenses, and they come with a nondescript, black “semi-soft” case instead of the bright yellow hard case you get with the original Spectacles 2. Both the Veronica and Nico styles are available starting today for $199 in “limited quantities” at launch. This fall, they’ll also be sold at select Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus stores in the US and a variety of retailers in Europe. And like before, Snap’s partner Lensabl will let customers order prescription lenses for their glasses. Both models are only available in black for the time being.


Snap

Snap says that since the introduction of Spectacles 2, users have been posting, on average, 40 percent more photos and videos captured with the glasses. The company has also made it easier to share that content on other platforms outside Snapchat by adding automatic camera roll saves and by allowing users to export video in more conventional square and horizontal formats.

A new feature due later this fall will automatically curate a day’s best Spectacles captures into a Highlight Story. So if you wear them all day and take a plethora of stills and videos, this will prevent you from having to comb over everything yourself for the best moments.


Snap

How big is too big? The past and future of tech monopolies


There has always been a whiff of world domination to the aspirations of big tech companies: to become a platform for everyone on Earth, to be the “everything store,” to organize the world’s information. Yet as Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others reach unprecedented scale, regulators, activists, academics, and politicians are starting to wonder how big is too big. Lately, there are even signs of growing bipartisan recognition that something should be done, whether it’s Sen. Mark Warner’s detailed proposal for regulating social networks or Sen. Orrin Hatch’s request, following President Trump’s angry and confusing tweets, that the Federal Trade Commission investigate potential anti-competitive practices by Google.

Past antitrust cases provide clues about how lawmakers might proceed, but today’s tech giants pose some novel questions. Are laws made to rein in railroads effective regulatory tools for digital networks? What is the harm, exactly, when products are cheaper or even free? How does the ability of gigantic platforms to acquire or crush any rival affect the economy and society? How do you regulate a company that’s becoming something more akin to an infrastructure?

This week, The Verge is looking at different aspects of the monopoly debate, from the last big tech antitrust battles in the ‘90s to overlooked markets like prison phones to how the anti-monopoly cases against today’s giants might be built.

Drake lights up his live performances with a drone show

On a sticky late-August night in New York, Drake has chosen to share the stage with a non-human entity. As he bounces around the stage during “Elevate,” a cloud of drones illuminates the dark space above him.

Drake is an artist shaped by the internet, one whose latest meme-frenzy of a song, “In My Feelings,” defined the entire summer through dance challenges and memes. It’s not surprising that the artist would incorporate buzzy, high-tech entertainment into his tours. It is shocking that he’s still one of the few stage performers to do so, given the popularity of the aerial devices.

Drone company Verity Studios has been steadily building its live performance profile. Its drones have flown in performances by Cirque du Soleil and Metallica. But the Canadian rapper represents a new high point, says Verity founder Raffaello D’Andrea. “Drake is about as good as we can get.”

Flight conditions for drones are tricky and vary by venue. An outdoor concert has to contend with weather, while an indoor performance has space constraints. Flying over people is a tricky task; one malfunction could send the machine plummeting into a crowd, resulting in bodily injury or worse. In the case of Drake’s concert, they fly solely around the performer, Aubrey himself.

Verity’s job for Drake required 200 autonomous drones that were assembled and shipped in less than 30 days. The company doesn’t tour with the artist, but it provides equipment that his team’s own operators can start and stop during performances. According to D’Andrea, the team made over 40 changes with Drake’s people to finalize the performance.

“Drake wanted the freedom to move around on stage and not worry about being fenced in,” he says. The drones needed to be elevated above him, and they couldn’t land on the stage and block his path. “There isn’t much space between Drake and the audience,” D’Andrea adds. “So we had to land the drones in between Drake and the audience.”

Verity’s drones are only active for a handful of songs, not the entire performance. (Verity provided The Verge with a ticket in order to see the drones perform live alongside Drake.) Their presence is a quiet one, wherein they hover as a little light show around the singer. From a distance, they look a bit like fireflies on a summer night — or perhaps the light flashing from an eager fan’s phone. Close up, it’s hard to tell what formation they’ve taken around the singer. They exit as quietly as they appear, and the show moves on.

On Drake’s current tour, drones — no matter how technologically impressive — are far from the flashiest trick on display. During different parts of the show, the stage transforms into an iPhone scrolling through Drake’s Instagram account, as well as a laser-lit basketball court, and a flying yellow Ferrari briefly hovers above the crowd at one point.

D’Andrea declined to comment on the cost of the drones at Drake’s show, though it’s worth noting its Cirque del Soleil show (in which the drones donned lamps) was roughly half a million. He says Verity hopes to expand its abilities beyond simple light shows. That may include costumes, or even the ability to safely fly around the audience. “I don’t know if drones are the future of entertainment, but I do think robotics and AI has a huge potential in live events,” he says.

“There isn’t really a lot of high tech in live events. We feel there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

The biggest upgrade to the Nest thermostat in years is a disappointment

Earlier this year, Nest finally made it possible to balance the HVAC system for different areas of your home without using multiple thermostats. The Temperature Sensor, a small wireless puck you can place throughout your home, lets the Nest system set its programming to the temperature of a specific room instead of just where the thermostat is mounted. The Temperature Sensor works with the third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat and the Nest Thermostat E, and can be purchased for $39 or in packs of three for $99.

In many ways, the Temperature Sensor catches Nest up to its competitor Ecobee, which has included remote sensors with its smart thermostats for years. It also makes balancing hot and cold areas in your home much easier than using just a single Nest thermostat on the wall. If you are constantly adjusting the temperature setting of your thermostat throughout the day to compensate for where you are in your home at a given time, the remote sensors eliminate the need for that. But as I’ve found out testing the Temperature Sensor in my home this summer, the whole experience could be improved significantly.

Setting up the Temperature Sensor is as simple as pulling the battery tab on the back of the puck, and adding the device in the Nest app. The sensor uses Bluetooth to communicate with the main thermostat, and it has a replaceable lithium battery that lasts up to two years, according to Nest. There’s a peg hole on the back of the sensor so you can mount it to a wall, but you can also put it on a shelf and it will work just the same.


Within the Nest app, you can name the sensor for whatever room you’re putting it in and then tell the system what times you want it to set itself to the sensor’s readings. This is the first major limitation of the Temperature Sensor: the times that you can program the thermostat to a sensor are limited to four time blocks: morning (7AM to 11AM), midday (11AM to 4PM), evening (4PM to 9PM), and night (9PM to 7AM). Those blocks are inflexible, so if you wake up earlier than 7AM or retire to your bedroom before 9PM, you can’t adjust them. I’d have loved to program the morning block to later in the AM, as my kitchen, which is on the main floor, is much cooler than the top floor of my house, where my family spends half the morning getting ready for the day. As a result, I frequently have to go in to the Nest app and override the programmed setting for which sensor it should read off of.

Further, the Temperature Sensor settings are locked to those time blocks — Nest did not include any sort of presence detection on the device. Unlike Ecobee’s remote sensors, Nest’s cannot tell when someone is present in the room and automatically adjust the system based on where you actually are in the house. The Nest Protect smoke alarms do have presence detection, which help the thermostat set its home and away modes automatically, but they do not measure temperature nor can they be used to inform the remote Temperature Sensor’s programming. Also, they cost $99 each.


Nest Temperature Sensor options in the mobile app

The Nest will also only set itself based on a single reading at any given time. It cannot average the system based on all of the various sensors, which the Ecobee can do.

The Temperature Sensor is also limited to just measuring the temperature of the room. It cannot measure humidity or air quality, both of which are things that can vary greatly across a multi-story house. The Nest thermostats do measure humidity, but they cannot measure air quality, either.


Mostly, it feels like Nest did the bare minimum it could to satisfy customers asking for remote temperature sensors. Yes, the Temperature Sensor does improve the Nest Thermostat’s performance in my home, where temperatures can swing wildly from the bottom floor to the top floor. But the sensors aren’t cheap (unlike Nest, Ecobee includes a remote sensor with its thermostat), especially for how simple and limited they are, and the whole experience just gives me the impression it could be a whole lot smarter and easier to use with just a couple of tweaks.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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The 9 most plausible rumors about the new iPhones

It’s officially iPhone season — I’m told other people call it “September,” which seems odd — and that means we’re just days away from Apple unveiling new iPhones at its upcoming September 12th event.

The rumor mill has been spinning up lots of leaked photos and speculated names. We’ve rounded up the biggest ones here, along with our best guesses about the likelihood that they’ll actually show up.


Image: 9to5Mac

iPhone X gets an update

Last year’s iPhone X is rumored to get an “S” update, which would mark the first such update since the iPhone 6S in 2015. Expect the iPhone XS to be more of an enhancement of the X, not a dramatic redesign. That probably means the highlights will be things like a faster processor (rumored to be Apple’s new 7nm A12 chip), a boost to 4GB of RAM, and some camera improvements. There’s also a chance that Apple has some bigger marquee feature hidden away for the XS, similar to how the iPhone 3GS introduced voice control, Siri on the 4S, Touch ID on the 5S, and 3D Touch on the 6S.

How likely? Practically confirmed, thanks to the 9to5Mac leak.

iPhone XS Plus joins the party

In addition to the regular iPhone XS, which will reportedly be similar to the existing 5.8-inch iPhone X, Apple is also said to be working on a bigger 6.5-inch iPhone XS Plus, which would be the biggest display on an iPhone yet. If Apple follows its previous patterns, the XS Plus will probably be about the same as the XS in terms of specs and features with the benefit of an even bigger battery (and maybe some bonus camera functionality).

How likely? Again, basically confirmed, thanks to the leak.

6.1-inch LCD iPhone

The biggest mystery surrounding Apple’s upcoming event is about what we’ll get from the company’s rumored LCD iPhone, which is supposed to come in at a lower price. The as-yet-unnamed device (iPhone 9, perhaps?) is said to feature a bezel-less 6.1-inch LCD panel that’s similar in design to the iPhone X with support for Face ID. But whereas the X (and XS) will still be Apple’s most expensive phones, the LCD iPhone is said to bring some of the X’s more popular features down to a cheaper price point by sacrificing things like the stainless steel frame and OLED panel from the X for cheaper aluminum and LCD parts.

How likely? Lots of rumors are pointing to it, and it seems reasonable, but we haven’t seen any concrete hardware leaks yet.


Image: 9to5Mac

New colors

The long-rumored gold model for the iPhone X seems like it’ll become a reality for the iPhone XS and XS Plus this year, according to the seemingly legitimate leak obtained by 9to5Mac. The new LCD model is also said to be getting some colorful new choices: gray, white, blue, red, and orange options.

How likely? Practically confirmed for the XS / XS Plus. It’s a coin toss for the rumored LCD model.

3D Touch gets the axe

First introduced with the iPhone 6S, 3D Touch was heralded for offering a new depth to how we use our phones, but it never really took off. That’s why Apple may be cutting the feature — possibly in just the cheaper LCD iPhone this year to start and then maybe across the entire lineup for next year’s devices.

How likely? Apple hasn’t used 3D Touch much lately, and it could be a way to cut costs on its increasingly expensive phones.

All our USB-C dreams come true

There are two parts to this rumor. One is that Apple has finally seen the light and swapped its Lightning ports to the universal USB-C port standard that is increasingly used across the industry for everything from laptops and phones to headphones and tablets (including Apple’s own laptops). This is also exceedingly unlikely.

More possible, though, is that Apple is swapping the included charger and cable in the box with its new phones to a USB-C brick and a USB-C to Lightning cable (which are required to fast-charge new iPhones). This seems far more reasonable.

How likely? USB-C port on the phone? Not a chance. Charger in the box seems like it should happen.


In-display fingerprint sensor

Back when rumors were swirling for the iPhone X, there were two possible paths Apple was expected to take to replace the home button-based fingerprint sensor: a facial recognition system, which the company eventually used in the form of Face ID, and an in-display Touch ID replacement. Apple seems to be going all-in on Face ID this year, but it’s possible that the company could decide to bring back Touch ID with an in-display sensor for a second layer of security (requiring both a fingerprint scan and facial recognition would be dramatically more secure), although recent rumors seem to indicate that Apple will probably hold off for now.

How likely? It seems like Apple is holding off for the foreseeable future, but you never know.

Apple Pencil comes to the iPhone

Apple Pencil fans have been hoping that Apple will offer support for the smart stylus on its phones for a spiritual rebirth of the Palm Pilot for years. And with the iPhone XS Plus and its 6.5-inch screen that’s approaching tablet size, it’s not unreasonable to think Apple might do it.

How likely? Probably not happening, if Kuo is to be believed.


iPhone SE review

New iPhone SE

Apple doesn’t make small phones anymore (except for the iPhone SE, which was released in 2016 with the upgraded internals of the then-flagship iPhone 6S). Featuring the same svelte form factor as the iPhone 5 and a 3.5mm headphone jack, SE fans have been hoping that Apple will offer an upgraded version again with improved specs, or maybe even a more drastically redesigned model that could add features like a bezel-free display and wireless charging in the same small size.

How likely? There haven’t been any recent leaks. If Apple is updating the SE, it’s either kept it very quiet, or it’s not happening at next week’s event.