App Release Notes Are Getting Stupid

“Bug fixes.”

“Jam packed full of Super Amazing Things.”

“Every 3 weeks, we polish up the Pinterest app to make it faster and better than ever.”

“To make our app better for you, we bring updates to the App Store every 2 weeks…Every update of our Facebook app includes improvements for speed and reliability. As other new features become available, we’ll highlight those for you in the app.”

Mobile app publishers have begun to play fast and loose with their release notes, which is the area where they’re supposed to communicate the changes shipping with the most recent app update to the end users. This inattention to detail is a disservice to users, who no longer have the benefit of understanding what the updated app will now do — or not do — as the case may be.

Without details, users can’t make an informed decision about whether they want to install that update at all.

They don’t know what functionality has changed or how the user experience is being affected. They don’t know if the changes are even bad or good. For example, users wouldn’t know if a favorite feature is being pulled, or if the app has made improvements that now lets it work better with certain devices…including perhaps, theirs.

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Many people today automatically update apps when new versions become available. That shift in user behavior, made possible by mobile OS enhancements, could have encouraged developers to start skimping on writing detailed release notes, as they knew the notes weren’t being read as often as before. Plus, they didn’t have to use this section to make the case as to why an update should be installed.

However, even in the case of automatic updates, it seems users should have the right to know, at the very least, whether the update includes only minor tweaks or security improvements; whether the app is adding or removing features; whether the update means the app is changing its business model (e.g. rolling out advertisements); and so on.

Will most users still download the update, knowing what’s changed? Probably. But does that mean they didn’t deserve an explanation?

Facebook’s Argument Against Detailed Release Notes

The growing trend to not disclose what’s included in an app’s update could date back to Facebook’s decision last year to roll out its updates at a quicker pace. The company said at the time that it would begin to push out new releases monthly, and its modified update textimplied that users would no longer need to read these release notes as any new features would instead be flagged within the app itself.

Not everyone agreed with this strategy, though. Amid some backlash, a Facebook engineer even took the comments on a blog post to explain why Facebook made this move.

They noted that many changes are under-the-hood improvements and bug fixes; many are trivial; and that, when Facebook launches new features, they don’t release to everyone at once. In other words, if the Facebook app update text said that it was rolling out new feature X, it could actually confuse users when they didn’t see it in their own app following the update.

That being said, the “all-or-nothing” approach to writing release notes may not be the correct solution. After all, at some point, that slow-to-roll-out feature will eventually hit Facebook’s entire mobile user base – and couldn’t it be disclosed then?

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Of course, writing release notes can be one of the more tedious tasks engineers face. Maybe they seem pointless, or a waste of time. Maybe when the update is really just a collection of tiny tweaks, it would take too long to detail them. Maybe those tweaks are over the heads of the app’s non-technical user base.

But to opt-out of writing relevant release notes altogether? Shame on you, app makers.

Many Big Companies Now Gloss Over Their App’s Update Text

Facebook may have kicked off this trend, but it’s hardly the only company fudging its release notes these days.

Pinterest, too, has followed suit. And that above quote about “super amazing things” comes from Tinder, which is probably one of the more egregious recent examples.

 

Plus, it’s more common than ever to see notes that simply state: “Bug fixes and performance improvements,” like Yahoo, Hulu, Google, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and several others have done over the course of the past month alone.

It seems that once you’re a certified “big company,” having to actually detail which bugs just got squashed is no longer your job.

More importantly, the lack of detail in release notes makes a statement about what a company thinks of its user base – that their users don’t care about minor changes, so why bother? It’s that same old elitist behavior – common in the I.T. industry, in particular – which elevates technical staff above the plebeian, unimportant users.

Move!, demands a modern-day Nick Burns by way of the vague release notes. I’ll just update that app for you, don’t concern yourself with the details. 

Release Notes As Performance Art

Some developers have even started using the release notes as a place to write stories or draw pictures.

Sometimes this works, as it calls attention to a new feature or series of fixes in a clever way. For example, blogging app Medium actually pasted in the developers’ Slack conversation in the July release notes. The latest version describes a fictional phone conversation with Grandma to talk about changes to the app’s home feed.

But other times, the silliness can go awry – such as when Medium’s August 4th release included only an ASCII picture of a bug along with the comment, “FIXES.”

Meanwhile, Tumblr users applauded the humorous short story embedded in the August 17th release notes, as the best ever. But while the story, reminiscent of some of the bad fan fiction that populates Tumblr’s website, was fun to read, the release notes forgot to include a footnote about what actually changed in version 4.3.1.

 

Balancing Fun And Useful Information

That’s not to say that anyone having “fun” with the release notes is worthy of condemnation.

For example, the developer of star-gazing app Pocket Universe often includes a short story in the update text, too. But alongside that story, he lists informative bullet points of the changes, noting things like “supplementary star names displayed if larger star catalog activated” or“improved 3D rendering,” .

Meanwhile, team communication app Slack has mastered the balance between having fun and providing users with the information they need – which is not surprising, given how well the app itself mashes up the joy found in using consumer apps with the needs of the corporate crowd.

In Slack’s release notes, each line item is explained with a touch of humor, e.g. —

Fixed: trying to add a reaction while reactions were still loading was a chain of events simply too exciting for the app, which would crash in a tizzy. So much calmer now.

Fixed: the “Switch Teams” button will now always be at the bottom of the flexpane instead of occasionally, confusingly, maddeningly trading places with the “Invite” button. Sorry about that.”

At the end of the day, if a developer wants to have fun with the release notes, that’s up to them. But no matter what, they should still feel a responsibility to their customers to communicate what’s being installed on end users’ devices.

After all, mobile phones and tablets are often users’ primary computers these days, and the most personal technology people own. Users may still install your app when asked, but everyone has a right to know what that software update includes.

Google Play Store, Android Wear close to launching in China

google play icon
A report from The Information says the Internet giant is close to a deal with the Chinese government that would finally give Google more equal footing with Apple in the battle over mobile devices and content.

Why this matters: In the absence of a centralized app storefront, Android is tremendously fragmented in China as phone manufacturers have crafted their own Android variants and application storefronts. That kind of disjointed experience makes an iPhone all the more appealing for Chinese consumers. It’s also bad news for Android developers, who are shut out of a major market for selling their apps.

Bursting through the Great Firewall

To win over Chinese officials, Google is pledging to block apps the government deems objectionable and to follow all local laws. It’s a reversal of when the company left China in 2009 and set up shop in Hong Kong over its belief the government was too restrictive and hacked into its computers.

But six years later, Google needs China more than ever. Android is a critical part of Google’s future, as there are millions of devices running the open source version of the operating system without any access to certain Google service, apps, or the Play Store. That’s a lot of app sales, ad clicks, and paid services that Google is losing out on.

The path will be tough. Along with the popularity of Apple’s devices, Qihoo 360, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu are the key content and application distributors. Also the rollout will be slow, as the article says the Play Store will only launch on devices running Android Marshmallow that have been approved for sale in China.

The other key piece of Google’s re-entry to China is Android Wear. The Huawei Watchlooks impressive, and getting it sold in China could be a good boost. The report indicates Google is working on voice-assistant capabilities in Mandarin to give the watches, whichnow work with the iPhone, more appeal.

Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade revisited: seven more of your questions answered

Windows10 Start menu

Download the upgrade?

Can I download the upgrade, store the files, and install it about a week later?Ernst

Yes, you can download it from the Download Windows 10 page. Microsoft provides a media creation tool so that you can install the download on a blank USB memory stick or burn it to DVD. This means you can download the file on one PC to upgrade a different PC.

Windows 10 is being continuously updated, so don’t download it a long time before you plan to use it: it will be out of date. You have until next July to install the free upgrade.

Third-party upgraders?

Is there any reason to let a Microsoft store install the Windows 10 update, as opposed to an independent PC/desktop specialist? Luther

Not many of us have access to a Microsoft store, but in either case, ask your store – or your independent operator – to describe what they are going to do. This should include backing up your data and programs, and restoring/reinstalling anything that goes missing. (Obviously, you should have your data backed up already.) They should also guarantee that Windows 10 will be activated. You can check this by running the Settings app from the Start menu, going to Update & security, and selecting Activation.

Good installers will make sure your PC already has the latest Windows updates installed, and double-check that they can get all the right drivers. They may also uninstall any non-Microsoft anti-malware software that might cause problems with the upgrade.

However, 75 million people have now upgraded, and most used the Windows Update service. It’s not hard.

Where’s my product key?

Where is the new product key when upgrading? Alan

It’s online. You can search your PC for a Windows 10 product key using a utilitysuch as Belarc Adviser, Jellybean Keyfinder, or whatever. However, if you took the free upgrade via Windows Update, then your product key will probably be YTMG3-N6DKC-DKB77-7M9GH-8HVX7 for the Home version or VK7JG-NPHTM-C97JM-9MPGT-3V66T for Pro. There are a few other generic keys, but don’t bother trying to use them.

You won’t have a unique key stored on your PC’s motherboard unless you upgraded from a retail version of Windows, or bought a digital version from the Windows Store.

When Microsoft installs Windows 10, it creates a hash number based on your hardware and stores it against your Microsoft Account (MSA). Once you have done that, you can do a re-installation, and your PC will authenticate automatically. If you are asked for a product key, click “Skip” and it should authenticate itself, perhaps after a day or two, depending on the load on Microsoft’s servers.

This is a different approach from Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 where a unique product key was printed on a Certificate of Authenticity stuck to the bottom of the PC. (Tip: take a photo of yours because the CoA can get worn and hard to read.)

Note that you must upgrade (and get your hash key recorded) before attempting to do a clean installation from a DVD or USB stick.

Of course, if you change parts of your PC then this will change the hash number. Microsoft ignores small changes – replacing a hard drive, video card or whatever. You’re only likely to have a problem if you upgrade the motherboard. If authentication fails, then traditionally you had to do a phone activation, which was rarely a problem. Now you can sign in with your MSA, type “supp” into Windows 10, run the Contact Support app, select Services & apps and then Windows. Click “Setting up” to request an activation.

Bear in mind that cheap pre-installed copies of Windows are tied to the device on which they are first installed, and the licence does not give you the right to move it to another PC. So, make your changes gradually. If you change all the parts at once, it will, in effect, be a new PC, even if it’s in the same case.

If you want a copy of Windows that you can move between as many PCs as you like, then you can pay a bit more for the retail version, which also includes Microsoft support.

Where’s my upgrade?

I reserved my copy of Windows 10 a while ago. When I click on “Check your PC,” it says “Good to go”. So why isn’t it upgrading to Windows 10? Is there a way I can find out what the problem is? Jeanne Marie

Microsoft is doing a staged roll-out that is expected to take several months. I assume Microsoft started with the easiest machines, to debug the installation process, before tackling the ones it thinks might cause problems. Your PC may have fallen into that category, though there’s no way to tell.

It seems that brand new Windows 8.1 machines go straight to the front of the queue. I just set up a new laptop and got an unrequested Windows 10 offer within seconds of signing on. It was fully installed about an hour later.

You could, of course, jump the queue by downloading Windows 10 directly. But if my theory is correct – that Microsoft is starting with the “low hanging fruit” – it’s probably better to wait.

Will my files survive?

Will the files, movies and programs on the Windows 7 disk drive be deleted or lost during the update? Hossam

If you do an “in place” upgrade via Windows Update, everything should stay safely in place, and any missing files should be stored on your hard drive in a folder called windows.old.

However, it’s a fact of computer life that things sometimes go wrong, so you should have a backup or two. I like to take a compressed backup and then useFreeFileSync to make a mirror image copy of all my files on an external hard drive, so I absolutely know they are there. You and you alone are responsible for preserving your own data.

Can I downgrade?

I have just upgraded from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 on my PC, but want to go back to Windows 8.1 as I have some problems. Can I later – within a year – again install Windows 10 free of cost on the same PC? B. Nielsen

Yes, you can upgrade and downgrade as often as you like. To downgrade, run the Settings app, go to Update & security (as mentioned above), and click on Recovery. The middle option should be: “Go back to Windows 8.1”.

Note that you only have 30 days to do this. The Windows 10 upgrade rolls up your previous operating system into a folder called “windows.old”, but will delete this to save space (12.5GB on my laptop). You can also, of course, make your own restoration media. See Recovery options in Windows 10.

I’m not upgrading!

How can I cancel my reservation? Terry

Microsoft’s instructions were not as precise as they might have been. Happily, the SuperSite for Windows has published a brief guide to Successfully Cancelling Your Windows 10 Upgrade Reservation. It has an illustration for every single step.

* Ask Jack has had more than 650 questions about Windows 10, which is too many to answer personally. If yours isn’t answered here, see Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: five questions answered, Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: 10 more of your questions answered, Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: seven more questions answered, and Microsoft Windows 10 free upgrade: the last roundup.

What Apple needs to get right with its new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

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Apple is expected to launch a pair of new iPhones at its 9 September eventin San Francisco, and along with it a renewed push for its Siri and HomeKit features.

But if Apple intends its devices to become the central hubs of people’s connected homes, or even just to persuade customers to upgrade, what does the company need to get right with its iPhone 6s and 6s Plus?

Apple’s iPhone update cycle traditionally rotates in a “tick-tock” alternating pattern. One year, the major upgrade will be a refresh of the hardware design, and the next, the emphasis will be on improving the insides and adding new services.

The iPhone 5, released in 2012, represented the “tick” with its larger 4in screen, new body design and upgraded camera. In 2013, iPhone 5s was the “tock” with its Touch ID fingerprint-sensor and faster processor.

Last year brought another tick with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and 5.5-inch iPhone 6Plus, which means we can expect the 9 September announcement to introduce “tock” versions of those devices, with specification and feature improvements.

A faster iPhone will always find plenty of buyers, particularly among people who, due to their mobile contract, last upgraded two years ago, and are locked in to Apple’s ecosystem.

But to address the “floating voter” of smartphones – the 20% of the smartphone-buying population that actually switches between platforms – Apple needs to get a few things right.

Batteries

The biggest pain point for almost every iPhone user is battery life. Apple chose to shrink its devices in thickness and weight, which left less space for a larger battery.

The number of people I see every day searching for a Lightning cable to charge their dying phone, which they had on charge overnight, speaks volumes both to the number of iPhones out there and the daily fight for power.

Solid two-day battery life is possible. Sony has proved that a high-performance, slim phone with a 1080p screen similar to that fitted to the iPhone 6 Plus can last two days. Apple should be able to do it too.

Cameras

Apple has always touted the iPhone’s camera as the best in the business, going as far as to launching a marketing campaign simply displaying photos taken by iPhones.

But competitors have arguably bettered it and not just by increasing the number of megapixels. Apple’s next camera should include improved autofocus, optical image stabilisation within the iPhone 6S, not just the larger Plus, and a better selfie camera.

Users seem to love taking selfies. Many of Apple’s competitors have responded with better front-facing cameras, with improved low-light performance and wider angle lenses. Apple’s FaceTime camera could do with an upgrade.

Siri

Apple’s Siri is one of the most personable voice assistants – users can talk to it and have a conversation with it – but beyond simple things such as setting timers and alarms, Siri often falls flat.

Siri is likely to take a central role in Apple’s efforts to conquer the home with its HomeKit automation system. But to do that, Apple has to convince users to talk more to Siri, to make accessing features and systems through voice more of the normal than the exception.

The situation is likely better outside of Britain, where talking out loud to an inanimate object makes us feel terribly awkward, but it’s a barrier which Apple must try to break.

New Force Touch display?

Analysts and rumour mongers have speculated that Apple will bring its pressure-sensitive screen technology from the Apple Watch and its MacBook touchpads to the iPhone.

Force Touch, as it is known on the Apple Watch, can detect a more forceful touch gesture and is used as a right click-like analogue. If brought to the iPhone, Apple needs to learn from its smartwatch and make it much more obvious when a heavier touch gesture can bear fruit.

Too often on the Apple Watch it’s unclear when to Force Touch and when not to, leading to never ending trial and error and frustration.

Convincing users to upgrade from two or three-year-old iPhones to the latest model is not going to be a challenge for Apple, but to justify its high price and premium status, the next generation iPhone must at least bring some real-world benefits over last year’s larger screens.

Windows 10 Home patch lets you turn off automatic app updates

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As originally released, the option to disable automatic app updates in Windows 10 Home was, for whatever reason, grayed out. But as of the newly released Windows 10 Cumulative Update 5, WInSuperSite notes, you can now toggle this setting and install updates manually.

Cumulative Update 5 (KB3081448) is one of three updates Microsoft released on Thursday: The other two address specific issues involving Windows 10’s “out-of-box experience” and  the Windows 10 upgrading process.

As for Windows 10 Cumulative Update 5, we don’t yet really know what else is new because Microsoft won’t say—the release notes simply state that it “includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows 10.” OK then.

If you don’t yet have Cumulative Update 5, go take a quick peek at Windows Update (Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update) to make sure you’ve got the latest Windows patches.

Once you’ve got Cumulative Update 5 installed, open the Store app, click the Profilebutton in the toolbar (the abstract figure of a person’s head and shoulders located to the left of the search box), then select Settings from the menu appears. From there, you should be able to toggle the switch for automatic app updates. You’ll still probably want to install app updates as soon as possible after they come out, of course.

WinSuperSite’s Richard Hay speculates that the grayed-out option to disable automatic app updates was the result of a bug as opposed to an intentional limitation on Microsoft’s part. But Hay also suggests that if the grayed-out toggle was intentional, Microsoft’s reversal is a good sign.

“If this change was made due to the feedback Microsoft received about it,” Hay writes, “then that is encouraging and hopefully spills over into some other areas like detailed cumulative updates.” Here’s hoping.

HTC A9 (Aero) Smartphone Poses For The Camera

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We have been hearing rumors about the new HTC Aero smartphone for a while and now it looks like we have a photo of the handset, which will apparently launch as the HTC A9.

The HTC Aero or HTC A9 can be seen in the photo below, the handset is picture next to Apple’s iPhone and as we can see the two devices have quite a similar design.

HTC A9

The HTC A9 is rumored to come with a 5.2 inch display with a Quad HD resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, the handset will apparently comes with a2.5D glass display that will come with Gorilla Glass 4.

The device is rumored to be powered by MediaTek Helio X20 processor and will come with 4GB of RAM.

HTC are expected to launch their new flagship smartphone before the end of the year, as soon as we get some more details on the handset, we will let you guys know.

Google Ditches Bloatware For New Android Devices

Galaxy S6 Edge Plus

Manufacturers are not the only ones who are guilty of installing bloatware on their devices, in the past all Android devices have had to come with certain Google apps.

Now it would appear that Google has decided to reduced the bloatware from Google apps on new Android devices.

Previously when smartphone manufacturers wanted to release and Android device they all had to ship with the same apps from Google, these included Google+, Google Maps, Newsstand, Play Music and more.

From now on, Android smartphone makers will no longer have to install certain Google apps on their devices, this will include apps like Google+, Google Play Book, Newsstand and Google Play Games.

These apps will still be available for users of new devices, but rather than coming pre-installed on your device they will need to be downloaded from the Google Play Store.

Firefox makes extension porting easier as security crackdown looms

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Mozilla is pushing ahead with a plan to block unsigned Firefox browser extensions, though it’s offering better developer tools as consolation.

As Mozilla has previously indicated, it will soon require a security check for all third-party Firefox extensions. Starting with Firefox 41, which launches on September 22, Mozilla will block all unsigned extensions, though users will be able to override this protection if they want. However, that override won’t be available for all beta and release versions of Firefox 42 and higher, as they’re released. (Nightly and Developer additions will still allow unsigned extensions with the user’s override permission, ostensibly for testing.)

Mozilla has said that the new signing procedure is necessary to stop ad injections and malicious scripts. Add-on guidelines and a blocklist are no longer enough, Mozilla argues, as it’s become too difficult to track and discover malware before the damage is done. The move is not without controversy, as some users rely on extensions that are no longer officially supported by their developers.

To help mitigate these concerns, Mozilla is introducing a WebExtensions API, which it says will allow for low-effort porting of extensions from other browsers, such as Chrome, Opera, and eventually Microsoft Edge . Mozilla says it can review these extensions faster, and they also support a new multi-process version of Firefox that will go stable in December. Multi-process effectively separates rendering and UI chrome from page content, preventing full browser crashes if just one page experiences problems.

As part of these changes, Mozilla also plans to deprecate Firefox add-ons that use XPCOM, XUL, and XBL, possibly in the next 12 to 18 months. While these add-ons allow Firefox to be deeply customizable, they’re also prone to breaking when Mozilla rolls out browser updates, and the switch to multi-process will only exacerbate those problems. The challenge, then, is for Mozilla to build out its WebExtensions and other tools so that developers can offer suitable replacements for existing add-ons.

The impact on you: Make no mistake, these changes will cause some ugliness for Firefox users who rely on add-ons—especially those that don’t exist in other browsers. Even Mozilla is admitting that without considerable development, Firefox-only add-ons will not survive the transition. It’s a huge trade-off as Mozilla pursues a more secure and stable browser, and while it may pay off in the long run, for some users it could diminish what makes Firefox unique in the first place.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Full Specifications

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 was made official last week and we now have the full specifications on Samsung’s latest flagship device.

The Galaxy Note 5 is equipped with a 5.7 inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels and the display has 518 pixels per inch.

The handset measures 153.2 mm by 76.1 mm by 7.6mm and it weighs in at 171g, the device is powered by an octa core Samsung Exynos 7420 processor which combines 2.1GHz quad core and 1.5GHz quad core processors.

samsung galaxy note 5

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and the device comes with a choice of either 32GB or 64GB of storage, there is also a 3,000 mAh battery which feature fast charging. The fast charging feature is available on both wired and wireless charging on the handset.

Connectivity on the Galaxy Note 5 comes in the form of LTE Cat.9 or LTE Cat.6 depending on the country and there is also 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, MIMO(2×2), Bluetooth 4.2 LE, ANT+, USB 2.0 and NFC.

samsung galaxy note 5

The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 comes with a range of built in sensors, which include a fingerprint sensor, plus accelerometer, proximity, RGB Light, Geo-magnetic, gyro,
barometer, Hall, HRM sensors.

The handset features dual cameras, there is a 5 megapixel camera on the front and a 16 megapixel camera on the back and the device comes with Android 5.1 Lollipop. The handset will also feature Samsung’s new mobile payment system, Samsung Pay.

The new Galaxy Note 5 will go on sale later this month and the device will be available in a range of colors which include White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum and Silver Titanium as yet there are no details on pricing.

iPhone 6S With 2GB Of Ram Appears In Benchmarks

iPhone 6S

A prototype of Apple’s iPhone 6S smartphone has appeared in the Geekbench benchmarks and it looks like the handset will come with 2GB of RAM.

The handset is also listed with a tri core CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, the Apple A9, the current Apple A8 processor is a dual core processor.

The benchmarks for the new iPhone 6S, which were spotted by MyDrivers can be seen below and are said to be from a prototype of Apple’s new iPhone.

We have heard a number of rumors about the new iPhone 6S and 6S plus handsets, the 6S is rumored to feature a 4.7 inch Full HD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and the 6S plus is said to come with a Quad HD display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, both handsets are said to feature Force Touch.

iPhone 6S Benchmarks

As well as updated display, a new processor and more RAM, Apple will also introduce new cameras with this years iPhone models, the front camera is said to be a Full HD capable Apple FaceTime camera and the rear camera is said to be a 12 megapixel Apple iSight camera which can record Ultra HD 4K video.

Apple are expected to announced their new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus smartphones at a press event on the 9th of September, we are also expecting to see a new Apple TV and some new iPads, which will include the iPad Pro at Apple’s event next month.