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Review: AAXA’s ST200 LED Pico Projector beams bright, color-accurate HD video from an Apple TV-sized box

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Even though I’ve had a fair bit of experience with video projectors, I took Celluon’s PicoPro somewhat for granted when I reviewed it this January. I praised the pocket-sized projector, which squeezed a 720p laser video display and speaker into the footprint of an iPhone 6 Plus, but I didn’t triple-underscore how much easier it was to use than most of its rivals. PicoPro worked so well and so quietly with such little effort that I hardly thought about it.

AAXA’s ST200 Short Throw LED Pico Projector ($299) is the newest of the traditional projectors PicoPro is challenging. It has roughly the same footprint and 1280×720 resolution as PicoPro, but it’s around 2.5 times thicker, since it uses a lightbulb-illuminated LED projection engine — just like almost every other projector on the market. There’s an audible fan inside, and because ST200 needs to power that fan and the lightbulb, it can’t match PicoPro in battery life. It also requires more manual user adjustment when you’re setting it up.

But ST200 is a markedly better video projector and audio device when judged on raw output quality, and less expensive, besides. If you’re looking for a compact way to display 720p video from an Apple TV, Mac, or iOS device at up to a 100″ diagonal size, ST200 delivers brighter, more color-accurate video output than PicoPro, more powerful speaker output, and — if you appreciate this — many more settings to play with. Read on for the details…

Key Details:

  • 1280×720, 150-Lumens output for 10″ to 100″ video displays (the latter only in dim light)
  • Macs/Apple TVs need HDMI cable, Digital AV Adapter for iOS
  • Very good video quality, acceptable audio quality, weak battery life given size
  • A little larger than an Apple TV; similar to iPhone 6 Plus footprint
  • Promises 15,000hrs of light life

 

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ST200 is a lot fancier than AAXA’s old iPhone 3G-sized P1 Pico projector, but it starts with the same basic components: a projector, a wall power adapter, and a composite video cable — assuming anyone still needs one of those. The projector’s larger, measuring 5.6″ by 3.1″ by 1.4″, and coated in white soft touch rubber rather than black glossy plastic; it consumes a bit more volume than an Apple TV, but they’re not terribly dissimilar in size. ST200’s wall adapter will require another roughly 3″ by 1.75″ by 2″ (maximum) space in your bag or briefcase.

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AAXA also includes a VGA cable, a remote control, and a tripod, leaving Apple users to self supply at least an HDMI cable (for both Macs and iOS devices), if not also the Lightning Digital AV Adapter needed by iOS users. Unlike PicoPro, which has the ability to wirelessly stream from non-iOS devices, ST200 requires cables for almost everything, and the cables it includes aren’t very useful.

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The included VGA cable connects on one of ST200’s sides to the compact VGA port, which sits between a micro-SD card slot and a DC port for wall power. ST200 can run off of the included adapter, or a battery that’s inside; a small on-off switch on the edge manages all power for the unit. If you have a micro-SD card, you can store content on it and play it back directly through ST200 without assistance.

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A USB port on the back can be used with flash drives for the same purpose, while an AV port connects to the old composite video cable if you still have pre-HD video devices with red, yellow, and white RCA-style connectors. A 3.5mm audio port provides pass-through audio output if you’d like to use headphones or speakers, and a full-sized HDMI port connects to high-definition A/V sources — everything from Apple TVs and computers to iOS devices and game consoles. Vents on ST200’s back and sides are for fan and speaker output.

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The most obvious differences between ST200 and PicoPro are in AAXA’s comparatively huge array of controls. In addition to the on/off switch, ST200 has a focus adjustment knob, a sleep mode-like power button, navigation controls, and buttons with OK, four-box, and back arrow labels. Confusingly, pressing the four-box button lets you select the video input, while the back arrow button takes you to the media selection and settings menu below. You can display videos, photos, music or documents directly from this screen, or select a video output.

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Some of ST200’s settings are in the gear menu shown here, while others are built into the remote control: that’s where you’ll find keystoning buttons, volume and mute buttons, play/pause and scrubbing controls for the on-board media, and a video input select button. As it’s an Infrared remote, you’re limited to line-of-sight control of the ST200.

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Diving into the on-screen menus lets you manually adjust the contrast, brightness, color, sharpness, and tint, change red/green/blue levels individually, toggle between multiple aspect ratios, and set up ST200 in front/behind/inverted front/inverted behind projection modes. PicoPro has virtually none of these controls, since Celluon has eliminated them in favor of “it just works” execution. But there are obviously benefits and consequences to having granular user settings.

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After using PicoPro, as well as some small projectors with automatic keystone adjustment capabilities, one of the first things I noticed when setting up ST200 was that it actually requires use of both its manual front focus dial and remote control keystoning buttons. When it arrived, the picture was so profoundly trapezoidal that I thought the unit was broken, but I found that it had been set to +40 (versus 0 or -40) on its angle-adjusting projection scale. Zeroing it out made things much better.

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ST200’s video quality is really quite good. The image shown above is an approximately 22″ diagonal screen size, using a challenging black background in dim lighting. Using the manual focus knob, it’s possible to see the pixel-level detail in videos, photos, and even Mac, Apple TV, or iOS UIs. And unlike some devices, where the “settings” are just there to let you diminish the default, ideally-tuned parameters, playing with the brightness or colors on ST200 actually does optimize them for your current lighting and distance conditions. AAXA promises that ST200’s LED lights will last for 15,000 hours of use, better than many small projectors.

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On the other hand, I found AAXA’s included tripod to be incapable of perfectly level use — almost not worth even having in the box — and the unit’s inability to even slightly auto-adjust to its orientation or distance from a wall meant that manual tweaking was always necessary. If you plan to use ST200 as a “set it and forget it” projector, just choosing one stationary place to always use it, the setup process will be a modest one-time nuisance. But if you plan to take it on the road, expect to do some fidgeting to make everything look great.

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The good news: if you take that extra time, ST200 will indeed look better than PicoPro — probably much better. Not only does it project a much larger image at the same distance as PicoPro, ST200’s image is also visibly more color accurate even before you start playing with its settings. I noted in PicoPro’s review that the laser-based projection system had a slightly greenish-blue tint and tendency to sparkle on whatever surface it was projected upon; both issues are absent on ST200. ST200 also has a markedly louder built-in speaker that’s better able to audibly render the audio content in movies, though it’s susceptible to distortion at higher volumes, not well-suited to music, and needs to compete with the projector’s audible built-in fan.

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Due to their differing projection systems, it’s not fair to rely upon the numbers to compare PicoPro’s 30-Lumens, 80,000:1 contrast output to ST200’s 150-Lumens, 2,000:1 contrast output. You can see ST200 on the left in the image below, with PicoPro on the right. The real-world differences in contrast are not pronounced, and similarly, the Lumens (brightness level of brightest light) isn’t as strongly in ST200’s favor as the numbers might seem. In short, they offer virtually indistinguishable clarity, with very similar brightness and contrast at similar distances, but ST200 puts out a much larger and more color-accurate image. If I was only picking one on image quality, it would certainly be ST200.

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Battery life is another story: the smaller PicoPro absolutely destroys ST200 when they’re both running off of their internal batteries. Celluon promised 3.5 hours of run time and actually delivered 3, which is not bad for a projector that’s only twice as thick as current iPhones. AAXA promises 1 hour of run time and actually delivers a meager 36 minutes — at least, on medium brightness settings — even though there should be more room in the thicker enclosure for a higher-capacity cell. For this reason, I would be hesitant to even describe ST200 as capable of operating as a fully portable unit; you should really carry the wall adapter around except for brief untethered use.

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Every pico projector requires compromises, and ST200’s are obvious: you get the benefits of a relatively large, bright picture with 720p resolution and good audio, assuming that you’re willing to make manual adjustments to optimize the video, live with a bit of fan noise, and typically carry around a wall adapter. In short, ST200 isn’t as portable or versatile as PicoPro, but it’s better at its core tasks. As PicoPro’s $50 more expensive, the pick that’s right for your needs will depend on the specific features you value.

Manufacturer:
AAXA
Price:
$299
Compatibility:
All iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, Apple TVs, HDMI/VGA Macs

Filed under: iOS Devices, Mac, Reviews Tagged: AAXA, Apple TV, HDMI, iPhone 6, iphone 6 plus, Mac, MacBook, pico projector, ST200

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Review: Vinsic’s 20,000mAh ultra slim Power Bank can power your 12-inch MacBook anywhere

Vinsic ultra slim power bank

The new USB-C port on Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook (review) is both a gift and a curse. If you frequently connect legacy USB peripherals to your notebook, then you’ll have to deal with using an adapter between your old gear and your new laptop each time (and should possibly consider another machine for now). The move from Apple’s proprietary MagSafe 2 connection to the new industry standard USB Type C port for charging, however, opens up the door to third-party power adapters and portable battery packs.

During my initial MacBook evaluation, I verified this possibility with a 13,000mAh portable battery pack I had on hand. Vinsic’s 20,000mAh ultra slim power bank is a giant battery that offers even more juice for your iPhone, iPad, or 12-inch MacBook with a sleek design and an LED status indicator…

Key Details:

  • Ultra slim and portable design
  • 20,000mAh capacity battery
  • 2.1A and 1.0A USB ports
  • Durable metal casing
  • LED battery level indicator
  • Powers or charges 12″ MacBook
  • 2 USB ports charge iPhone/iPad
  • Priced affordably (plus coupon)

 

 

 

 

 

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As its name suggests, Vinsic’s ultra slim Power Bank manages to pull off a thin profile similar to Apple notebooks and iOS devices. Even with its slim package, Power Bank is still a very big battery — its dimensions similar to that of an iPad mini — measuring in at 173mm x 120mm x 12mm. The photo above compares the Power Bank footprint relative to the iPhone 6, iPad Air, and 12-inch MacBook.

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Power Bank is also a rather heavy battery pack weighing in at about a pound. Its metal casing feels premium and doesn’t attract fingerprints, but a plastic shell could achieve a lighter product. Packing in almost four times the capacity as the new MacBook’s built-in battery, though, Power Bank is going to be somewhat heavy regardless of the build materials, and its ultra slim profile makes it feel dense.

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Power Bank is subtle on presenting any branding: a faint ‘VINSIC’ logo tops the upper side of the battery pack while informational markings appear on the lower side. You’ll also find markings noting Power Bank’s 20,000mAh capacity and VSPB202 model number as well as input and output specifications for charging.

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Markings beneath the Power Bank indicate the LED power display location, the Micro USB port location for charging the battery pack, its 2.1A power USB port out location, and 1.0A power USB port out location — the higher power port intended for charging tablets and larger phones with the lower powered port for use with smaller phones and iPods.

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A 2.1A USB port is enough to charge any iPhone, iPad, or iPod even during heavy use, but as I mentioned during a recent episode of 9to5Mac’s Happy Hour podcast, Power Bank-category chargers are not optimized for charging something as power thirsty as even the low-power 12-inch MacBook during use. Power Bank’s ability to charge the MacBook will depend on how much energy the notebook is consuming.

  • Under very heavy use, Power Bank will juice your MacBook but expect to see battery continue to drop, just slower than usual
  • Under light to moderate use, Power Bank will maintain battery percentage or slowly raise battery percentage over several hours
  • Power Bank will charge an inactive/sleeping or powered off MacBook

Also important to note: Power Bank is not quick to charge itself. The portable battery ships with a short Micro USB cable for charging; you supply the power brick. When paired with a 2.1Amp power adapter, Power Bank required an estimated hour for each 10% increment of charge, spanning roughly 10 hours to complete a 100% charge after being fully depleted. The bottom line here is you’ll want to charge it the night before you venture away from home with a couple additional hours to spare.

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You will likely need to pick up a new cable to connect Power Bank to MacBook’s USB-C port. Using a USB-C to USB-A cable is the easiest (and most direct) solution. Apple does not yet offer this cable, but Google’s online store sells a black USB Type-C to USB Standard-A Plug Cable ($12.99); similarly priced options are available on Amazon. Alternatively, you can use Apple’s USB-C to USB Adapter ($19) paired with a USB-A to USB-A cable for connecting Power Bank with the 12-inch MacBook — a more costly and inconvenient option unless you already have the supplies laying around for other purposes.

Vinsic Power Bank

Similar to Power Bank’s 10 hours needed to be completely refilled from empty, the battery pack in my evaluation of actual use can offer roughly 9-10 additional hours of MacBook use in addition to the 4-5 hours of use I achieved on a single charge with the built-in battery. While the MacBook’s own battery isn’t nearly enough to get through a single work day on one charge, I could reliably work for 8 hours on the MacBook’s charge plus Power Bank and still have a small portion of battery to spare for leisure.

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As an iPhone and iPad portable charger, Power Bank is a large but high capacity option with standout features like its LED indicator and strong build quality. As a solution for powering the 12-inch MacBook, Power Bank can charge a resting notebook or help keep your very active machine alive in a pinch. A higher powered solution like the recently reviewed ChargeAll Portable Power Outlet may be more appropriate for frequent heavy usage on even a 12-inch MacBook away from a real power supply for now.

Still, Power Bank does provide several hours of extra MacBook usage without being tethered to a wall outlet and proves a competitive option at its $49.90 Amazon price. Vinsic Ultra Slim Power Bank can be had for even less at $45 for 9to5Mac readers using the code 5KMRPQYR at checkout when purchasing one or more Power Banks on Amazon through Friday.

Manufacturer:
Vinsic
MSRP / Sale Prices:
$89.95 / $49.90 (Amazon)
Compatibility:
iPhone, iPad, iPod, MacBook (Early 2015)

Filed under: iOS Devices, Mac, Reviews Tagged: 000mAh ultra slim power bank, 12-inch, 12-inch MacBook, early 2015, Lightning, MacBook, MacBook Retina, portable battery, power bank, Ultra Slim, USB-C, Vinsic, Vinsic 20

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First 12″ MacBook 1.3GHz benchmarks: top model rivals 1.4GHz iMac, 2014 MacBook Air

Following Apple’s shipments of the first 1.3GHz versions of the 12″ MacBook this week, benchmarks have started to appear online for the new Intel Core M-5Y71 machine. Geekbench 3 shows the following results for each model, which vary based on the testing mode (32/64-bit) and number of processor cores used (single or multiple cores).

MacBook 1.1GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core Average 2212, Multi-Core Average 4070
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2428, Multi-Core Average 4592

MacBook 1.2GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core Average 2348, Multi-Core Average 4603
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2579, Multi-Core Average 5185

MacBook 1.3GHz

  • 32-Bit: Single-Core* 2271, Multi-Core* 4841
  • 64-Bit: Single-Core Average 2816, Multi-Core Average 5596

The 1.3GHz MacBook’s 64-bit scores represent 16%-22% improvements over the 1.1GHz model, and 8%-9% gains over the 1.2GHz model. Note that only one test result has been published so far for the 1.3GHz MacBook in 32-bit mode, which is why its single-core numbers look lower than expected compared with the other models’ averages. More details are below…

Combing through Geekbench 3 results, the 1.3GHz MacBook’s scores compare most directly to Apple’s 1.4GHz Macs, such as the entry-level 21.5″ iMac and early 2014 entry-level MacBook Air. The latter model achieved Single- and Multi-Core scores in the 2400/4700 range for 32-Bit tests, and 2700/5300 for 64-Bit tests.

Geekbench 3’s Single-Core scores reflect the machines’ relative speeds when performing non-demanding tasks such as basic web browsing and word processing. Multi-Core scores demonstrate the machine’s ability to perform more complex tasks demanding additional processing power, such as video rendering.

The 1.3GHz MacBook is available only as a custom build-to-order model, but authorized resellers are now offering it at discounted prices.


Filed under: AAPL Company, General, Mac Tagged: 12" MacBook, benchmarks, MacBook, Retina MacBook

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Review: ChargeTech’s ChargeAll Portable Power Outlet lets any MacBook (or other Apple device) refuel on the road

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The first time I found an AC wall outlet under my seat on an airplane, I realized that I could use my MacBook Pro with its wall charger for hours, even if I’d partially discharged the battery before boarding. Later, when I rode a bus with an AC outlet onboard, the freedom to enjoy my laptop for hours made the long trip feel brief. But I’ve had far more trips without AC outlets than with them, and there have been plenty of times when my MacBook could really have used a recharge mid-trip.

That’s why I’m genuinely excited about ChargeTech’s ChargeAll Portable Power Outlet ($150-$200), which primarily exists to give you access to an AC outlet literally anywhere you might be — something that I can’t believe has taken so long to become available. There are two versions, one with 12,000mAh of power, and the other with 18,000mAh of power, either with enough energy to keep your MacBook going for hours on the road. Both units have the overcharge and short circuit protection you’d expect from a surge board — the difference is that you can toss them into a bag or a car…

Key Details:

  • Portable MacBook charger with ability to add nearly 50%-70% additional run time, depending on capacity chosen
  • Has full three-prong AC outlet built-in, works with MacBook chargers
  • Includes twin 2.4-Amp USB ports for use with iPads, iPhones, iPods
  • International AC plug converter and carrying case in package
  • Recharges very quickly

 

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Sold in white or black, the ChargeAll units aren’t small: the 18,000mAh version I tested is 7.3″ wide by 5.1″ by 1.1″ at its largest points, slightly smaller in footprint than an iPad mini, but roughly four times as thick. There’s a power button on the top, alongside a small four-light remaining power indicator. It’s shipped with a drawstring carrying bag, a wall adapter of its own, and a converter that adapts a variety of foreign plugs to its three-prong input. International users should bear in mind that it outputs 110-120V 60Hz power from the AC port, which means that it’s fine for use with all of Apple’s laptops and pretty much anything with a switching power adapter.

One of the biggest surprises during my ChargeAll testing was the speed that the portable outlet itself is recharged from wall power using the included 40-Watt/2-Amp adapter. I’ve become so accustomed to sluggish charging that I was thrilled to see it go from empty to full in around two and a half hours, similar to the speed of fully recharging my Retina MacBook Pro. Another way to look at this: three hours before a trip, you plug your ChargeAll and MacBook in to separate wall outlets, pack them both with the MacBook’s wall adapter, and you’re ready to roll.

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There are different ways to use ChargeAll: you could conceivably connect it to a MacBook while it’s being used, or leave it charging when the MacBook’s closed and sleeping. Doing the latter — which provides the most linear way of measuring the power it adds — I found in one test that the 18,000mAh cell took a completely discharged 13″ Retina MacBook Pro to 72% power. Oddly, in another test with the same machine in partially charged condition, it restored 66%, for an average of 69% (or roughly 7 hours of additional run time) across the tests. ChargeAll’s smaller 12,000mAh version should add a bit under 5 hours of life to a 13″ Pro; Apple’s 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs have smaller batteries, and would expect to get even longer added run times.

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ChargeAll also has twin 2.4-Amp USB ports capable of recharging other Apple devices at full speeds. The ports glow blue while they’re in use, a surprise given that most other batteries I’ve tested try to conserve as much energy as possible. Using the 18,000mAh model, I was able to more than fully recharge a dead iPad Air 2, achieving one dead-to-full recharge and then adding 64% to a partially discharged unit in a second test, for a total of 164%. The 12,000mAh version should have enough power for nearly a 110% recharge of the same iPad, or about 100% for the original iPad Air. Since there are dozens of good iPad batteries out there at aggressive prices, ChargeAll’s not likely to be the first pick for that purpose, but as a Mac charging station with iPad and iPhone support as a backup, it makes a lot of sense.

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It’s worth mentioning that ChargeAll’s solution has several practicality advantages and one disadvantage relative to Gbatteries Energy’s BatteryBox. You get to use MagSafe rather than a somewhat awkward plastic clamp, get similar extra power at a lower price, and have a battery that’s not as boxy to carry in a bag. ChargeAll can also be used either as a live power source or as a recharger for the battery; BatteryBox only works as a live power source for the MacBook. That said, BatteryBox consumes less space overall than carrying both ChargeAll and Apple’s wall adapter; it also includes one 2.1-Amp USB port for iPad charging.

Given all that ChargeAll does right, my only concern is one that’s common to virtually all external charging solutions: longevity. While the accessory feels solidly made and promises a very standard 500 uses before battery issues may develop — enough to last for a couple of years of normal, near-daily use, which is appropriate to both asking prices — BatteryBox’s more restrictive “live power only” use of its battery promises twice the normal number of recharge cycles. You’ll have to choose between a longer-lasting but more restrictive solution, or one that will likely work well for a couple of years — perhaps longer — with a wider variety of MacBooks and devices.

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From my perspective, ChargeAll’s the easier pick. I absolutely love the fact that I can now carry an AC outlet anywhere I go, and the price points strike me as reasonable given the functionality being offered here. Overall, there’s no better option I’ve found for on-the-go MacBook recharging, and the iPad recharging is a nice bonus.

Manufacturer:
ChargeTech
MSRP / Sale Prices:
$150 (12,000mAh) / $200 (18,000mAh)
Compatibility:
All MacBooks, iPads, iPhones

Filed under: AAPL Company, General, Mac, Reviews Tagged: AC Power, ChargeAll, ChargeTech, MacBook, Portable Power Outlet

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Apple patent application shows how Force Touch could in future simulate more than just clicks

Apple's existing Force Touch mechanism

Apple’s existing Force Touch mechanism

An Apple patent application published today shows that the Force Touch trackpad used in the 12-inch MacBook and latest 13-inch MacBook Pro could get more sophisticated in future versions. The patent describes how a mix of vibration and temperature could fool your finger into ‘feeling’ different surfaces, such as metal and wood.

For example, a glass surface may be controlled to have the temperature of a relatively cooler metal material and/or a relatively warmer wood material […]

In some cases, the temperature may be varied over time, such as in response to one or more touches detected using one or more touch sensors. For example, a metal material may increase in temperature while touched in response to heat from a user’s finger.

The patent describes how vibrations could be used to simulate a textured surface, such as the grain of a wooden surface … 

From the description in the patent, the vibration would appear to use a similar taptic engine to the existing Force Touch trackpad, but allowing horizontal as well as vertical movement. A Peltier device or similar would be used to create temperature differences. A Peltier device is a solid-state heat pump that can transfer heat from one side of the device to the other depending on the direction of the current, allowing both heating and cooling effects.

patent

The extremely realistic feel of the existing Force Touch trackpad’s fake click makes it easier to imagine how Apple might be able to pull off this more sophisticated tactile illusion. It would, though, be a little ironic for Apple to work so hard to remove visual skeuomorphism, such as fake leather surfaces, only to potentially reintroduce it in tactile form!

KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo recently claimed that while the next-generation iPhones will feature pressure-sensitive Force Touch technology, it will work differently to the systems seen in the MacBook and Apple Watch. The illustrations in this patent application show only a MacBook trackpad.

Via AI


Filed under: AAPL Company, Mac Tagged: 12-inch MacBook, Apple Inc, force touch, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Magic Trackpad, Patent, Patent application, Trackpad

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Happy Hour Podcast 011 | Living with the new 12-inch MacBook

happy-hour

What exactly is it like to live (and work) with Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook? We’ve been using it for the last week or so and have some initial impressions to share. Along with that, it looks like Scott Forstall has surfaced, but you’ll never guess what he’s doing now. We also get into new Apple Watch availability details. The Happy Hour podcast is available for download on iTunes and through our dedicated RSS feed…

Thanks to Audible.com for sponsoring this week’s episode. If you’d like to get your ears on a free audiobook from Audible, visit this link and choose from over 180,000 titles including the new iBooks best seller Becoming Steve Jobs. It’s a risk-free trial and if you’re not into the free book you’ve selected, exchange it at any time during the trial. No questions asked. Thanks again to Audible.com for sponsoring this week’s episode.

New episodes of Happy Hour are available every Wednesday. As mentioned, you can download this podcast via iTunes or plug in our RSS feed link into your favorite podcasting app. In the future, we’ll be starting a new listener mail segment if you’d like to send in your questions or comments. Send an email to listenermail@9to5mac.com (or click here) and your question/comment may be featured in an upcoming episode of Happy Hour.

Note: iTunes (web interface and app) may still be propagating the new episode which could take up to 24 hours. Subscribing to the podcast feed will guarantee the latest episode is downloaded.

Hosts:

Here’s what we discussed in this episode:

If you missed our 10th episode last week, you can subscribe and find every episode or start off from the previous episode here.

Remember: Subscribe on iTunes to catch all of the episodes as they go live and send in your questions/comments to listenermail@9to5mac.com.


Filed under: Happy Hour Tagged: Apple watch, Happy Hour, MacBook, Podcast, Scott Forstall

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