TIME Apple

It’s Time to Seriously Start Expecting an Apple TV Again

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Images by Fabio—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Everything finally looks like it is falling into place

Apple’s Oct. 16 “It’s been way too long” event was supposed to be all about updating products that hadn’t been refreshed in a while. And it was. The Cupertino, Calif. company unveiled svelte new iPads, an ultra-high-resolution version of the iMac, an updated Mac mini, and a slew of software and service updates. CEO Tim Cook also said that a software development kit to help programmers make applications for the company’s upcoming smartwatch would be available in November, ahead of the much-anticipated device’s 2015 debut.

About ten minutes into his opening remarks, Cook put up an evolution of man-style slide showing Apple’s line of products, from the Watch through iPhone and iPad, laptops and desktops. (Scrub to 10:00 here to see it.) One could easily imagine the same slide with an additional product on the far right: a television. That is a rumor that has been around for so long, that it’s frankly grown tedious to think or talk about. Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson before he died that he’d long wanted to make a TV and had “finally cracked” the difficulty of creating a simple user interface. And, earlier this year, Cook told Charlie Rose that television “is one of those things that if we’re really honest is stuck back in the 70s…this is an area we continue to look at.” (It’s also a product Apple already made, sort of, in the early 1990s.)

What’s changed is that television is more ripe for disruption as the ecosystem of companies around it—cable providers, content creators—try to position themselves for the future. And, arguably, Apple’s clout and ability to disrupt TV is greater than ever. A number of developments in the last couple of weeks have given the idea of an Apple television set renewed luster. Consider that:

Apple has the display. The television-making business is no picnic; just ask Sony, which has lost nearly $8 billion in the last decade on TV’s alone. But the new iMac’s display—which has an extremely high resolution—is the kind of game-changer that consumers might be willing to spend more for.

Apple is calling the display a Retina 5K screen. The high-end 27‑inch iMac has four times as many pixels as the regular 27‑inch iMac display, some 14.7 million pixels. The company created its own timing controller to drive all those pixels and is using a new type of screen technology, an oxide TFT-based panel, to deliver extra brightness.

Cable companies are starting to unravel. Two back-to-back announcements this week suggest the television content business is starting to change. This had been Apple’s biggest obstacle to creating a television device with a radically better way of watching stuff. As my colleague Victor Luckerson put it earlier this week:

By making these channels available for purchase individually, CBS and HBO are embracing the “a la carte” TV model, in which viewers would be able to select the individual channels they want to pay for and ignore the rest. It’s a concept that makes intuitive sense in a world where songs, movies, books and news can be consumed individually, on the go and at little cost. But the model poses a huge threat to cable operators, network owners and even subscribers. If every network did what CBS and HBO are doing, cable and satellite operators would have the core part of their businesses wiped out.

HomeKit is the new “digital hub.” In 2001, Jobs organized the then-struggling company around a new strategy. The computer would become the hub for consumers’ various devices, cameras, music players, video recorders, et cetera. It worked. Today, Apple is working on HomeKit, a framework that lets the company’s devices control smart gadgets around your house. (For more on the smart home, read all of this special TIME issue.) One of a future Apple television’s killer features could be acting as a central nervous system for all the wired lightbulbs, thermostats and so on in your house.

Consumers want it. The current product called Apple TV, a $99 set-top box that can pipe in streaming content from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and other digital service providers, was denigrated as a “hobby” product by Steve Jobs in 2007. Last month, Cook said the device had gone far beyond that status and has some 20 million users.

And finally, Tim Cook’s Apple is ready. The company has shown it is willing to sign the death warrant for technologies it no longer finds useful. Not to mention place big bets in brand new areas where its success is far from guaranteed. Cook said this was “the strongest lineup of products Apple has ever had and soon you can wear that technology right on your wrist.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that amended to add the center of the living room.

TIME apps

Ads Are Coming to Snapchat for the First Time

Viewing the ads will be optional

Snapchat users will see ads on the messaging app starting this weekend, the social media company announced Friday.

“Understandably, a lot of folks want to know why we’re introducing advertisements to our service. The answer is probably unsurprising—we need to make money,” the company said in a blog post. “Advertising allows us to support our service while delivering neat content to Snapchatters.”

The company promised the ads wouldn’t display in people’s messages. “That would be totally rude,” Snapchat said. Instead, users will be able to choose whether to view the ads.

TIME Companies

Apple Doesn’t Sell Bose Headphones Anymore

Apple Posts Record Quarterly Earnings
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Six-year-old Emma Cordell listens to a new iPod on display at the Apple Store July 14, 2005 in San Francisco, California.

In the competition between headphone makers Beats and Bose, actions may speaker louder than words

Apple has stopped selling Bose headphones and speakers at its Apple Stores, nearly five months after agreeing to buy one of the company’s main competitors, Beats Electronics.

Bose merchandise is now unavailable at the Apple Online Store, and 9to5Mac reported that Apple Retail stores no longer have Bose inventory available.

Bose and Beats, the latter of which was founded by rapper Dr. Dre and acquired this year by Apple for $3 billion, sell similar technology in a comparable price range. The two companies have had an often acrimonious relationship — Beats settled a patent dispute with Bose out of court last week. The NFL is sponsored by Bose, and several players have been fined for wearing Beats at NFL games and other league-related events.

Apple still sells competing headphone brands like Sennheiser and Urbanears, so its exclusion of Bose’s merchandise may be a pointed jab.

TIME Retail

Amazon Will Start Delivering Fresh Groceries in New York Today

Amazon Expands Grocery Delivery Service To Los Angeles Area
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images An Amazon Fresh truck arrives at a warehouse on June 27, 2013 in Inglewood, California.

Park Slope, Brooklyn residents now have another option for getting fresh groceries delivered to their door

Amazon publishes books, builds smartphones, distributes videos, and produces television shows, not to mention its core business: it sells almost everything. Now, the company is launching its grocery delivery business on the East Coast for the first time on Friday, when it begins delivering food to customers in New York City in an effort to break into the grocery delivery market.

Amazon’s service, called AmazonFresh, promises same-day grocery delivery to customers in New York as long as orders are placed before 10 am, Re/code reports. AmazonFresh will currently deliver only to Park Slope residents, targeting upper middle class families in the Brooklyn neighborhood where there’s sure to be a high concentration of avid Amazon acolytes.

For now, the program is only available to New Yorkers who are members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime program, which allows customers to buy pretty much anything from Amazon for free on a two-day delivery. The service has already been operating in Seattle and a few metro areas in California.

How successful will AmazonFresh be? The company is competing against a local online grocer in New York, FreshDirect — which already has a well-established foothold in the city — as well as startups like Instacart. And the grocery business often operates at low profit margins. But if AmazonFresh gets customers to start ordering, it could boost its same-day delivery business to include higher-margin goods.

Read next: 3 Reasons Google’s Same-Day Shipping Looks Like a Game Changer

TIME Gadgets

Android 5.0 Lollipop: What’s New and When Can You Get It?

Android 5.0 Lollipop started rolling out Monday

The next sweeping overhaul of Android — Android 5.0 Lollipop — is rolling out starting Monday, Nov. 3. Here’s a look at some of its most notable additions, along with some insight as to when you might be able to get your hands on it.

What’s New?

Android 5 Lollipop
Google

The most noticeable difference is the overall look and feel of the operating system. Google’s using what it calls “Material Design,” making extensive use of animations and layered elements to deliver what the company promises is a more intuitive experience.

In layman’s terms, let’s just say there’s more swooping and sliding. And you’ll notice a more uniform design across Android devices in general — phones, tablets, watches, TV gadgets, car audio systems and more. If you have multiple Android gadgets, they’ll work together more harmoniously than before.

You can see a bit of how Material Design looks up until about the 30-second mark of this video:

Battery life should be an improvement. Developers will be able to better fine-tune their apps so they don’t use as much juice, and there’s a new power-saving mode that lets you squeeze up to 90 extra minutes out of your phone if you can’t find an outlet. When you get around to charging your phone, it’ll tell you how long it’ll be until it’s at 100%.

Security gets beefed up as well, with encryption turned on by default to prevent data from being accessed on lost or stolen devices. (Authorities aren’t too happy about this.) Note that you can turn encryption on yourself if you’re running an earlier version of Android. Here’s how (follow up until the part about resetting your phone). For an extra layer of security, you’ll be able to unlock your phone or tablet only when it’s in proximity to your Android smartwatch.

There are also some cool new multi-user features, like being able to use a friend’s phone in guest mode. And if you log in with your Google credentials, you’ll be able to make calls and access your messages, photos and other data as though you were using your own phone.

Notifications also get a much-needed overhaul. They’ll now be ranked and presented based on priority. Ideally, messages from people you want to hear from will be most prominent, while some obscure app telling you it’s been updated won’t get as much screen time. You’ll be able to finesse how often you’re notified with a new “priority” mode that’ll only let certain people contact you or will let you turn off notifications altogether between certain hours.

On newer phones, you’ll enjoy fewer button presses. If the hardware supports it, you’ll be able to say “Okay, Google” to wake the phone up to help you search for something or set reminders without touching it. Some phones will simply wake up when you pick them up or double-tap the screen.

You can see a more complete list of features here; scroll down to the bottom and click the “See All Features” link.

When Can I Get It?

Google said Monday that Android 5.0 Lollipop has just started rolling out, but the exact time you’ll get it depends on your device and your carrier. Google’s “Nexus”-branded devices (Nexus 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10) will have access to Android 5.0 sometime in November. Certain “Google Play edition” devices (the HTC One M8 and the Moto G, almost certainly) should see the update around the same time. The new Nexus 9 tablet is the only device with a firm date — November 3; the big-screen Nexus 6 smartphone is due “in stores in November,” says Google.

The official word is as follows:

Android 5.0 Lollipop, which comes on Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player, will also be available on Nexus 4, 5, 7, 10 and Google Play edition devices in the coming weeks.

After that, things get even murkier. Dan Graziano over at CNET has a roundup of moving-targets HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony, so keep an eye on that post as it’s to be updated as things progress.

As for whether or not your device is eligible to get Android 5.0, there’s a loose 18-month window for certain Android devices. Google’s official word: “Devices may not receive the latest version of Android if they fall outside of the update window, traditionally around 18 months after a device release.” And that’s only for Nexus and Google Play devices; check with your carrier to see if they can shed any light on your situation. If you’ve had your phone for more than a year, you might be on the fence depending when the phone was initially released.

TIME

Here’s What’s Coming in PlayStation 4 System Software Version 2.0

Sony

Sony lays out a slew of new features in its upcoming overhaul of the PlayStation 4's dashboard.

Companies usually save their big guns for major number turnovers, because that’s what we’ve come to expect after a lot of this-point-that integer creep (unless you’re Apple, anyway, at which point you shift from subsets of the number 10 to big cats to surfer hangouts to national parks).

Sony has a name for its upcoming major PlayStation 4 operating system overhaul. It’s called “Masamune,” after a widely acclaimed Japanese late 13th/early 14th century swordsmith. And yes, that is a little audacious, but then the update sounds fairly ambitious.

Version 2.0 will bring Themes, a dedicated YouTube app and something Sony calls “Share Play”: a way to play local co-op with friends on other systems, which sounds just like ordinary co-op, and is, except that you need only a single copy of the game between the two of you. The idea seems less about saving people money than creating quick-help scenarios, say you’re stuck and need a hand, or want someone to actually take over your controller and drive. Call it “Help Play.”

But we’ve known about that stuff since August. Yesterday, Sony announced a bunch of additional features, one of which involves rejiggering the way your console handles content in the menu, another that shows you “players you may know,” the option to listen to your music while playing a game (off a USB device, with support for MP3, MP4, M4A and 3GP formats), new voice commands, some new live broadcasting channels and filters, and the option to change the dash’s background color (weirdly absent at launch, so more of a catching-up thing ).

Of them all, I’m most intrigued by the content area change. Here’s Sony’s bulleted breakout:

PS4’s Content Area, which shows the latest games and apps a PS4 owner has used, has been redesigned to help make it easier to quickly find and access content. It now shows 15 of a player’s most used apps or games, and additional items will be added to a player’s Library. The Library on PS4 has improved filter and sort functions to help organize contented by type (game / app / TV & video), name (a – z or z – a), recently used, or install date.

That’s the one I’m most excited about, if I’m parsing what Sony’s saying correctly and it’s going to shorten the left-right scroll sprawl. I don’t mind the way content stacks now in one super-long line that grows with each new game you play, but I’d say I’ve visited the tail end of that line maybe a handful of times since the system launched. Not seeing stuff you’re not sure you need, or only rarely use, is roughly analogous to it not being there.

We’re still in the dark on Masamune’s release date, but it’s supposed to drop “later this fall,” technically giving Sony until December 21.

TIME Gadgets

5 Gadgets That Will Help You Sleep Better

If you wish you could get a better night’s sleep, you’re not alone. Sleep experts say adults should try to get seven to eight hours per night.

Of course, not all of us do – according to Gallup, 26% of us get six hours of sleep a night and another 14% get five hours or less. And it affects how well we can concentrate during the day, how well we can remember things and puts us at greater risk for automobile accidents. Is it any wonder that the U.S. Center for Disease Control has called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic?

Serious sleep problems still require the services of a trained doctor. But for smaller issues – off-sync sleep schedules, difficulty waking up and challenges falling asleep – modern technology may be able to help. Here are five of Techlicious’s picks for the best sleep gadgets available.

Misfit Beddit

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Misfit

The Misfit Beddit is one of the easiest ways to turn your existing bed into a “smart” bed. It’s a thin sensor pad that lays flat under your sheets to measure your movement throughout the night. It tracks the stages of sleep, sleep duration, wake times, heartrate and snoring (by monitoring ambient sound), sending this data to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The included app can play soothing sounds to help you sleep at night, and can be programmed to wake you up when you’re in your lightest stage of sleep in the morning. This helps make sure you’re refreshed when you get out of bed, not groggy.

The Misfit Beddit is available in your choice of black and white color. The accompanying app is currently Apple iOS only, though Misfit promises Android support is coming soon. You can currently pick one up through Amazon.com for $149.99.

Withings Aura

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Withings

Like the Misfit Beddit, the Withings Aura includes a small in-bed sensor pad that tracks sleep stages, duration, number of wake ups and more, and can be programmed to wake you up during a cycle of light sleep. But the Aura also includes a bedside device that’s designed to give off a gentle glow of light that helps you wake up and get to sleep by promoting healthy levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. It also measures sound and light pollution in your room so you can see how these factors are impacting your sleep. And because it’s likely to take up a lot of space on your bedside table, the light also doubles as a clock with speakers and a USB port for charging your phone.

These added features don’t come cheap, however. The Withings Aura will set you back $299.95 on Amazon, more than twice the price of the Beddit. The accompanying app is currently only for Apple iOS; an Android version is “coming soon.”

LifeTrak Brite R450

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LifeTrak

Between the Fitbit, Misfit Flash, Jawbone UP and Basis, there’s no shortage of wearables out there that can track sleep. But the new LifeTrak Brite R450 stands out in the crowd. It includes the expected sleep tracking features (including smart wake-up based on real-time data) and adds a light sensor. That way, you can know whether your body needs more (or less) natural light to promote sound sleep. You get a ton of exercise monitoring features too, including step counting, calories burned, heart rate and distance. The Brite R450 can even get incoming SMS and call notifications from your phone via a Bluetooth connection.

The LifeTrak Brite is currently available for pre-order for $129.99 through lifetrakusa.com and is expected to ship in two to three weeks. The device is available in your choice of three color schemes including white/orchid, black/freesia (yellow) and black/platinum. The included tracking app is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

ResMed S+

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ResMed

The ResMed S+ is a contactless sleep sensor. Rather than slipping under your sheets, it instead measures in-bed movement at your bedside. The S+ also keeps tabs on your breathing, ambient light and noise, and temperature to make recommendations that might improve your sleep (e.g., “sleep on your left side”). Data about sleep cycles, duration and wake-ups are synced to your iOS or Android device by Bluetooth; the included app will then score your sleep on a 0 to 100 scale so you can see how you compare to others. Another cool feature: The ResMed S+ can also play soothing sounds that are synchronized to your breathing to help you get to sleep quicker.

The S+ by ResMed is currently available for sale through the company’s mysplus.com website. It’s currently being sold for “3 monthly payments of $49.95” ($149.85 in total) with a 30-day money back guarantee. The S+ app is compatible with any Apple device running iOS 8 and with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4.

SleepRate

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SleepRate

SleepRate itself isn’t a gadget: It’s billed as a sleep improvement kit. The system requires you to wear a chest-mounted Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor (uncomfortable, but included), as it uses heart-rate data to track sleep stages, duration, wake times and quality. This information is then used to create a custom-tailored four- to eight-week treatment plan licensed from Stanford University to adjust your sleep times, calibrate your biological clock and find the right conditions for the perfect night’s sleep.

The SleepRate Sleep Improvement Kit is currently available on Amazon.com for $99.95. The included app is currently iOS only.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Video Games

8 Takeaways From the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One September Sales

Some of the more interesting points plucked from NPD's September video game sales figures.

Continuing a long upward-downward trend that’s defined much of 2014, combined sales of video game hardware like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were up significantly year-on-year for September, while physical software sales were down, reports NPD.

Let’s step through the pullouts.

The Xbox One didn’t outsell the PlayStation 4 after all

Did anyone think it would? They did: Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicted earlier this week that the Xbox One would outsell the PlayStation 4 in September.

“We expect Xbox One sales to exceed those of the PS4 for only the second month since launch,” Pachter said, according to VentureBeat.

And yet Sony claims the PS4 “won the month of September, nearly tripling August sales” (it credits the limited-edition white Destiny PS4 bundle as a major factor).

Remember that we don’t know by how much the PS4 outsold the Xbox One (perhaps it was photo finish), and to be fair, analyst predictions are never guarantees.

New physical software sales are plummeting…

New physical software sales took another dive in September, dropping 36%, says NPD.

Save for May, which was basically “Mario Kart 8 month,” new physical software sales have been slightly to dramatically down every month through September. Bear in mind that NPD’s figures don’t take into account used retail game sales or digital software sales, and focus strictly on classic video game demographics (that is, not smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices or microconsoles and so forth).

…but new hardware sales have skyrocketed

Hardware sales were up 136% for September, year-on-year, says NPD. The lowest year-on-year month for hardware was January, just 17%, which makes sense because January 2013 was a five-week reporting period (whereas this year was just four), plus January’s the sales hangover after the holiday splurge.

Generally speaking, year-on-year hardware sales percent increases have been in the high double and occasionally low triple figures. Considered against the declining new physical software figure, and given that you can buy just about anything on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One digitally, well, let’s hope someone reputable’s conducting insightful surveys, so we can get a better sense for what the correlations are, and whether software sales are in fact up.

Destiny broke at least one record

Destiny was the top-selling video game for September, whether considered as a standalone SKU or against other multi-SKU competitors. NPD calls it “the most successful launch of the year so far,” then adds that “an even more prestigious feat was the fact that Destiny had the best launch month of all-time for any new IP in video game software.”

Traditional sports games ruled the roost

While Destiny took the top sales slot, Madden NFL 15, FIFA 15 and NHL 15 (all thee with cross-generation versions) each placed in the top 10. On current-gen consoles, Sony says those three game sold the most on the PS4.

Super Smash Bros. can still do big business for Nintendo

September was all about the 3DS, from Nintendo’s vantage anyway. Even if the game was only available for the last two days of the month, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS easily placed in the top 10, competing with multi-platform SKUs to snatch the fourth slot, beating Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, NHL 15, Minecraft, The Sims 4, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Diablo III.

Nintendo’s pocket-brawler sold 705,000 units in all, with over 135,000 of those as digital downloads. The game bolstered 3DS sales, too, helping Nintendo to 140,000 units, a 55% increase over August sales.

Where’s the Wii U in all of this?

Up 50% in unit sales over August, says Nintendo, helped along by sales of it Zelda brawler Hyrule Warriors (190,000 units), and sustained sales of racer Mario Kart 8 (60,000 units, for a lifetime total of nearly 1.2 million units).

Pay no attention to the noise

Sony’s September sales breakdown has a bunch of stuff in it that you might call “infometrics,” not to be confused with the science of informetrics (note the “r”). Infometrics is a buzzword I used to hear a decade or so ago from “data intelligence” companies trying to up-sell their analysis services. It’s basically a fancy neologistic way of saying “look, some numbers!”

So we have Sony’s claim, for instance, about “social sharing” amounting to 450,000 hours of live gameplay. Trouble is, we have no idea what that number actually means or what to stack it against in the press release. It sounds impressive–nearly half a million hours of stream sharing!–but consider that game streamer Twitch alone does something like 15 billion minutes a month, or 250 million hours, total.

On the other hand, this is interesting and tangible: Sony says Destiny is the most-played PS4 game, with “total gameplay hours” five times higher than the next-most-played game.

TIME Video Games

The 5 iPhone Games You Should Play This Week

Give these games a shot

Looking for a new iPhone game for your commute to work or lunch break at school? TIME rounded up some recent favorites that are worth a try.

  • War of Ages

    App Store

    It’s hardly a surprise that War of Ages is in the top 100 apps in the App Store. For those of us who played games like Age of Empires in the late 90s and early 2000’s, everything from the similar title, to building a nation, to developing a reliable army makes War of Ages feel like a throwback to these original strategy games. But War of Ages allows you to play online against millions of players, which adds a fascinating dimension to the classic medieval strategy genre.

    War of Ages is available free in the App Store.

  • Goat Simulator

    App Store

    When Goat Simulator was announced earlier this year, it was given web-wide attention due to its premise: a surreal Grand Theft Auto-type game involving a goat. Some believed it was an absurdist work of art; others called it a glitch-ridden disaster. Either way, Goat Simulator allows players to control a third person goat and explore the animal’s world, slingshotting the goat from object to object using its extremely elastic tongue while destroying everything in its path.

    Goat Simulator is available for $4.99 in the App Store.

     

  • Banner Saga

    App Store

    While many game developers have started using the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus’ larger screen sizes as a way to explore three dimensions, Banner Saga still delivers a stunning 2D landscape. Players choose their own characters and can follow any number of paths in this role-playing game that feels more like a Norse epic than a game one might plan on a phone. The art itself looks a lot like a detailed cartoon, which seems all the more appropriate when you take your Vikings into battle or sneak through a dark forest to avoid being seen by an enemy patrol.

    Banner Saga is available for $9.99 in the App Store

  • Daddy Long Legs

    App Store

    Daddy Long Legs is as hypnotic as it is simple. The premise sounds almost like a bad joke: successfully tap your screen to guide a hairy black cube with two gigantic legs down a track. Every time the cube falls, it splatters on the ground and the player starts over. For the cube, the road is endless. The only limit is how many hours a player is willing to spend trying to beat a shamefully low high score.

    But Daddy Long Legs also inadvertently delivers a disturbingly poignant message to its players: sometimes baby steps and persistence and a little luck yield greater results than big strides.

    Daddy Long Legs is available free in the App Store.

  • Jack B. Nimble

    App Store

    The first thing one notices about Jack B. Nimble is that it looks almost exactly like an original Game Boy game. With hints of Mario and Sonic and obvious traces of Indiana Jones, Jack B. Nimble is an endearingly old-fashioned monochrome game that lends a dash of eeriness to this hand-held style game. But Jack B. Nimble moves at a decidedly faster pace than its predecessors, and developers didn’t forget that players would be using a tool far more powerful than an old-school Game Boy. Somehow it’s as much at home on the iPhone than it would have been on a Christmas wish list in 1992.

    Jack B. Nimble is available for $1.99 in the App Store.

TIME Gadgets

The Revolutionary New iPad Feature Apple Didn’t Talk About

Apple Inc. Announces The New iPad Air 2 And iPad Mini 3
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A member of the media displays an Apple Inc. iPad Mini 3, left, and iPad Air 2 for a photograph after a product announcement in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.

It could foretell a future where consumers have unprecedented choice over their mobile carrier

Apple unveiled a pair of new iPads during a somewhat subdued event Thursday at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. At first, it seemed there was nothing groundbreaking about the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 — these were somewhat boring, iterative improvements like thinner bodies, faster processors and the inclusion of Touch ID. But one feature of the iPad Air 2 that Apple didn’t even talk about on stage represents a change that could foretell a future where consumers have unprecedented choice over their mobile carrier.

The WiFi + Cellular models of the iPad Air 2, as revealed only on Apple’s website after Thursday’s event, comes with something called an “Apple SIM.” SIM cards are small, rectangular devices used by many mobile carriers to identify customers on their networks. If your mobile carrier uses SIM cards, you can switch your service to another device simply by popping the card out of your old device and putting it in your new one. It’s also possible in many cases to bring your old device to a new mobile carrier by getting rid of your old SIM and replacing it with a card supplied by your new carrier — a common practice among travelers, who have to hop from carrier to carrier as they cross from one company’s territory into another’s.

What the new Apple SIM changes is that iPad Air 2 owners who want to bring their device from their current mobile carrier to a new one no longer have to get a SIM card from their new carrier. Instead, switching carriers is as simple as selecting the new company from a menu option on their iPad, provided the carrier is one that currently supports Apple SIM — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and European carrier EE, for starters.

“The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and U.K. right on your iPad,” Apple wrote on its website for the iPad Air 2. “So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments.”

That sounds pretty nice for iPad owners, but what about iPhones? For now, Apple SIM is only found in iPads with wireless data capabilities, which serve a much different function than phones. But it’s not hard to imagine a future where Apple puts its Apple SIM in every iPhone on the market, making it that much easier to change your wireless carrier on the fly. As Quartz noted Friday:

A more compelling, user-friendly scenario might see your phone number and crucial services—messaging, voicemail, etc.—tied to your Apple SIM, and a vibrant marketplace where carriers compete for your business. This is already sort of what Apple is about to offer for the iPad.

Imagine booting up your iPhone for the first time and seeing four competing offers for your business from different operators—with short or no contract duration.

That sounds really nice, but it’s still far from reality. Some mobile carriers may be happy to experiment with the Apple SIM for tablets like the iPad, but their contractual chokeholds on cellphone owners are far too lucrative for them to loosen up easily — and, notably, America’s biggest mobile carrier, Verizon Wireless, is absent from the Apple SIM iPad plan (though, for historical and technical reasons, Verizon was slow to embrace SIM cards at all). Apple did not immediately respond to a question regarding whether it will put the Apple SIM in iPhones.

The future of how you pick and choose from mobile carriers will ultimately depend on how far Apple is willing to go to break up the status quo. If the tech giant truly does want to rid the world of the two-year contract, it’ll need the carriers’ cooperation, even if reluctantly given, to do so. Apple has power here: It could conceivably threaten to pull the iPhone from any carriers that don’t play ball with Apple-SIMs-in-iPhones, using its devices’ popularity with consumers as a means of squashing dissent. But Apple’s theoretical plan here can also be beaten: If the carriers band together in refusing the idea, it would go nowhere fast.

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