Hello again, friends. The Processor newsletter is back after a not-so-brief hiatus caused by the absolutely frenetic pace of hardware reviews this fall and a special run of Vergecast podcast episodes about those reviews. I’m really proud of those podcasts and if you haven’t caught them, I think it’s worth going back to give them a listen.
The big consumer tech news this week is Apple’s announcement that it will hold a ‘One More Thing’ event for November 10th. The going assumption — which I share — is that Apple will unveil the promised first Arm-based Apple silicon-powered Mac, mostly likely a laptop. In this very newsletter I’ve opined a few times on why this transition could be tricky and how Microsoft’s rougher ride in a similar transition could provide some lessons for Apple. Since the newsletter’s back, I’ll have more to say next week.
For today, I think I’d like to provide the service of just pointing out a few neat little things I’ve seen happen this fall hardware season. Specifically, I love it when products offer some kind of clever, subtle feature using technology that has been around for years and years. There are plenty of innovations based on hyper-advanced chips or sophisticated machine learning algorithms, but the features that make me smile are the ones that just required somebody to come up with new ways to use the parts we’ve already got.
First, it’s not new but it’s exemplary: there’s a new accessibility feature for the iPhone in iOS 14 that lets you double or triple tap the back of the phone to do stuff, like a virtual button. Chaim Gartenberg wrote about it last week. Apple may not have come up with this first, but its implementation is superb. Not only can you map those taps to standard features, but you can also use them to launch Shortcuts — so in effect you can make virtual buttons that can do anything. And of course, it’s an accessibility win to offer a different way to achieve common iPhone tasks.
I love this because so far as I can tell, all it really does is measure the accelerometer that’s been sitting in smartphones since forever. We’ve just been using them to detect switching from landscape to portrait, but there’s plenty of other things they could be used for if you just sat and thought about the possibilities (and, of course, if you can code them up). Google, for example, is using accelerometers to build out a global earthquake detection system with Android phones.
Here’s another little feature I love: the Pixel 5 automatically turns on reverse wireless charging for a brief time after you plug in a USB-C charger. On Samsung phones, you have to manually turn it on before flipping the phone over. I like the Pixel’s solution because it neatly solves the problem of charging your wireless earbuds without requiring any extra effort. It makes one cable charge two devices without any extra fuss.
One aside though: it’s kind of dumb that software tricks are required to activate reverse wireless charging in the first place. The basic wireless standard that won is Qi, but I feel like it’s stagnated — and in its place we are getting a bunch of different…