Internet access could be threatened by rising sea levels in as little as 15 years

You can now search the Apple Store app using your voice

voice search apple store app

Need to find something on the Apple Store app? Apple is making that a bit easier for you. The app has been updated to version 5.1, and finally, is beginning to look more like the App Store and iTunes Store. The new search interface displays trending searches if you’re not entirely sure of what you’re looking for, and also has a new microphone icon that, as you might suspect, lets you search via voice rather than text.

If you check out the Apple Store app — which you might use if you’re interested in seeing MacBooks, iPhones, or compatible accessories available for purchase — you can now tap on the microphone button and simply say your keyword. From there, voice search will take you to the correct results page, making for a much more streamlined search process.

Moreover, the actual app interface has been revamped. In addition to the popular searches display, Apple is also now presenting its results in card format, making them much easier to read and understand.

As Apple describes, “Search has been updated with an enhanced design. And it’s now powered with speech recognition technology for better search results.” The tech giant continues, “With a fresh look and the addition of speech recognition technology, it’s never been easier to find products, stores, sessions, and more.”

Moreover, Apple has also made updates to its Worldwide Developers Conference app for iOS, promising bug fixes and performance improvements. There are also new sorting options available on the Apple TV. Apple wrote in its update notes, “Thank you for your feedback. This update includes bug fixes and improvements in several areas, including accessibility, stability, and video downloads. In addition, videos can be viewed by collection and platform on tvOS.”

Of course, neither of these two apps are quite as popular as Apple’s App Store. Earlier this month, the App Store celebrated its 10th anniversary, and the Wall Street Journal published an interview with late Apple CEO Steve Jobs that was held following the App Store’s launch ain 2008. At the time, the executive noted that he was surprised by its success, saying that he had not expected the App Store to “be this big.”

Square is helping businesses develop contracts to prevent chargebacks from their customers

Back in mid-May, Square quietly launched a landing page for a feature that helps small business owners create contracts that protect them from buyer chargebacks and other credit card disputes. It hasn’t publicly announced them yet, but in an interview, Square told The Verge why it launched these contracts, which will be promoted to business owners starting in August.

Kay Feker, Square’s risk program manager, noticed earlier this year that customers were increasingly asking for money back after a successful transaction. Even if they were satisfied with several home repairs, for instance, they would protest the final transaction and the business owner would have no real choice but to return their money as a result.

“These days with the increase in online purchases, you lose that sense of human interaction, so you’re more willing to send chargebacks along for all these purchases,” says Feker, explaining the uptick in transaction disputes over the last few years.

Square says that business owners who are taken advantage of by customers charging back on goods and services could easily save money with a contract that details the terms of a transaction. The chances of winning a credit card dispute are nearly twice as high when contracts are used, according to Square. But the agreements aren’t supposed to help in the case of credit card fraud, when the affected customer generally holds no responsibility.

The landing page, which is also open to non-Square users, lets owners make custom contracts that follow specific state guidelines and a variety of templates depending on the service. Square says business owners can give customers contracts before the transaction is fully completed to ensure that if the item or service is delivered to satisfaction, the customer can’t just chargeback or insist the product never showed up.

“Now you can’t just say ‘I bought this T-shirt, paid them, but I don’t like the color. I want my money back, I expected something different,’” Feker says as an example. “The business owner will now prove it: here’s the color, it was indeed delivered as described.”

Square doesn’t make sellers pay it chargeback fees, which is standard practice for many payment platforms, including PayPal and Stripe. But it does offer sellers up to $250 of chargeback protection per month, so it’s likely that these contracts will help Square’s finances even indirectly. “We’re not looking to profit off this,” says Feker, “But we’re a business, too, so if the seller loses, Square loses as well. This insures we protect our relationship.”

Google wants to bring blockchain technology to its cloud services

Today, Google announced a partnership with the New York-based startup Digital Asset, which makes tools to build blockchain-based apps. The partnership adds to one Google already has with BlockApps, another startup that helps people make decentralized apps, which announced the collaboration last Wednesday on Twitter.

Google wrote in a blog post that its Cloud customers can “now explore ways they might use distributed ledger technology (DLT) frameworks” by using Digital Asset and BlockApps. It’s not clear exactly how that will work for customers and whether they will be getting access to proprietary software, but more details will be unveiled this week during the Google Next ‘18 event. The company added that it would introduce open-source integrations for apps built with the blockchain-based platforms Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum later this year in the Google Cloud Product marketplace.

Digital Asset’s CEO Blythe Masters stated in a blog post that the partnership would “provide developers with a full stack solution so they can unleash the potential for web-paced innovation in blockchain.” In exchange for early access to the software (which is set for a 2019 release), Digital Asset tells The Verge, “Google Cloud is helping Digital Asset reach a wider audience of developers across different industry segments that we couldn’t reach ourselves due to our size.” It confirmed that Google was not paying for early access.

The move signals that Google is looking into digital ledger technology to give its cloud services an edge over Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, which currently both hold more market share than Google Cloud. It also confirms a Bloomberg report from March, which said Google had been investing in and acquiring startups with digital ledger experience, although Google hasn’t particularly expressed specific interest in acquiring Digital Asset or BlockApps.

Digital Asset’s partnership gives Google developers access to a proprietary programming language for smart contracts. From there, Google developers can build blockchain apps, and later down the line, Google could potentially license those apps to other companies or give customers access to the apps.

Google has had an interest in blockchain for several years. The company was the second most active corporate investor in blockchain tech from the 2012 to 2017 period, according to CBInsights, just trailing after the Japan-based SBI Holdings. We’ve reached out to Google for more information.

Update July 23rd 2:40PM ET: This article has been corrected to reflect that Digital Asset is a startup based in New York, not Australia. We regret the error.

Knotel acquires 42Floors in order to build the blockchain of property

Another day, another blockchain. This time Knotel – a coworking space rental service in Manhattan – has acquired 42Floors, a commercial real estate search engine in order to, according to founder Amol Sarva, get “access to data and technology on over 10 billion square feet of office space, driving further liquidity to Knotel’s marketplace while also accelerating its plans for a blockchain platform.”

Knotel is building the Agile HQ platform, a way to rent office space for a few hours or a few months without getting stuck in a least. The company has 1 million square feet of space in New York, San Francisco, London, and Berlin and it raised $100 million in funding. The company has more has more buildings in NY than WeWork.

“42Floors built a powerful tool to organize a dark market that hasn’t changed in a hundred years,” said Amol Sarva, CEO of Knotel. “It’s still backroom and bilateral while the rest of the world is becoming digital and standardized. This is what leads to transactions that take months to close with a dozen middlemen – no reliable information. You can buy a house faster than you can rent a floor. Partnering together will help give owners and customers what they both want: truth.”

Knotel recently launched an ICO in April. Their Knotel Koin aims to speed up real estate transactions by allowing instant settlement and allow for charge-backs and shorter rental periods. The 42Floors purchase enables the company to bring new properties onto its platform and could let non-blockchain-based contracts move to the blockchain.

A ticket on Jeff Bezos’ space tourism rocket will cost at least $200,000

A Reuters report this morning has given us an advanced window on the price of entry for Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space tourism offering, with two sources suggesting a single ticket will cost between $200,000 and $300,000. Blue Origin is an independent company that Bezos founded to work on space travel, and its New Shepard vehicle is a rocket with a passenger capsule attached at the tip, intended primarily to facilitate the fancies of well-off tourists.

Offering six reclining seats accompanied by large windows to soak up the sights of going to the edge of space, the New Shepard will provide its riders with a few minutes’ worth of weightlessness and a view of the curvature of the Earth. Good both for Instagram addicts and flat Earth zealots.

Blue Origin New Shepard

Blue Origin’s testing has included eight test launches and returns of the New Shepard so far, including some with dummies inside, though no humans have yet been put on board any of the test flights. Having previously suggested that the first trips might happen in 2018, Bezos’ company is now more likely looking at next year for the start of its commercial offering.

The reported Blue Origin pricing falls right in line with Virgin Galactic’s $250,000 ticket price, which, according to Reuters, has already been accepted by 650 people keen to experience this wholly new and exclusive form of tourism.

Magic Leap is shipping its first headset this summer

Magic Leap’s first “spatial computing” mixed reality headset, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, is shipping this summer. The company announced the news in a live stream today, narrowing down a previous statement that it would ship this year. It’s following up on an announcement from this morning, when AT&T revealed that it would be the exclusive US carrier partner for Magic Leap. However, Magic Leap still hasn’t confirmed an exact date or a price, although the company has previously said it would cost at least as much as a high-end smartphone.

Magic Leap has been slowly pulling back the veil on its headset. On its stream today, it revealed a few specifications on the headset, like the fact that it will use an Nvidia Tegra X2 processor. The stream also showed an an actual experience: a tech demo known as Dodge, where users have to dodge or block shots from a rock-throwing golem.

Magic Leap Dodge Demo

The demo showcased how the Magic Leap One recognizes hand gestures, with users pinching and holding to place spawn points for the golem, or holding their hands up to deflect rocks. While it wasn’t shown here, you can also apparently have multiplayer experiences with Magic Leap headsets, sharing an illusion between people wearing headsets in the same space.

According to Magic Leap, the headset can pick up specific static gestures or identify points of the hand. As Robert McGregor noted on Twitter, however, the demo we saw didn’t seem to recognize when a user’s hand should logically be blocking parts of the image, lessening the “mixed reality” impact. We also didn’t get to see someone using the headset in real time, and it’s difficult to estimate the field of view from Magic Leap’s recording — an issue that has plagued Microsoft HoloLens videos. But with a shipping date that’s rapidly approaching, we should be seeing more of the headset soon.

Magic Leap Dodge Demo

Update 3:15PM ET: Updated to include details from an ongoing livestream.

How to Free Up Space on Your iPhone

So you’re running out of space on your iPhone. Perhaps you’ve been unable to download that new movie you purchased to your device because there’s no room. Maybe your iPhone has popped up the dreaded “Storage Almost Full” warning. However you were notified that you were running low on space is irrelevant: Your iPhone is filling up and you should probably look into that sooner, when it’s less-critical to do so, than at a later point when you really need to do something and can’t.

Check to see what’s eating up all of your space

Before you start adjusting this, moving that, or deleting files and apps, you should take a few moments to assess your iPhone’s storage situation. You might already have a good idea what the problem is: Maybe you know you like having a ton of offline movies to watch on your device; you keep seeing your “unplayed podcasts” counter tick up, and up, and up; or you finished shooting two thousand pictures at your favorite music festival.

Grab your almost-full iPhone, tap on Settings, tap General, and tap iPhone Storage. You’ll see what should be a familiar sight: the little graph that shows you how much space you have to work with and which kinds of data—apps, media, photos, or the mysterious “other”—are filling your up your iPhone. Right below that, you’ll see a list of your apps, ranked in order of how much space they and their data take up on your device.

You can tap on any app to see the split between how much space the app takes up and how much space its related documents & data take up. This is important, because if you use iOS’ “Offload App” feature, it’ll only remove the amount listed under “app size.” In the case of my podcast app, for example, that’s a mere 36.4MB—hardly worth it, when the unplayed podcasts (all 7.4 gigs of them) are the problem.

What I find more useful is the little line underneath each app’s name, in the main iPhone Storage screen, that tells you the last time you actually used it. I’m sure we all suffer the same problem: We find apps or games that sound super-interesting, and we drop them on our devices (and possibly even shuffle them into a “to try” folder). We then never use them. Or we try them once, forget about them, and swear to ourselves we’ll play that game when we have more free time.

So, this is a great time to go through your list of apps and Thanos away any that you’ve never touched, haven’t touched in more than a year, or use so infrequently that they’re probably not worth it—especially if they’re toward the top of the “taking up space” list.

What about your photos and videos?

I take a decent amount of photos on my iPhone 8 Plus, and they barely put a dent in my device’s 256GB of space. Still, maybe you do more than me—or you love shooting 4K videos or something. If the purple “Media” bar takes up a big chunk of your iPhone’s storage chart, it might be time to start cleaning up a bit.

First, head back to your main iPhone Settings app, scroll down a bit, and tap on Photos. Make sure that your device is set up to use iCloud Photos—assuming you have space to store your media there—and that the option to Optimize iPhone Storage is checked. That way, your original media will head to the cloud and your device will download smaller versions if, or when, you start to run out of space on your iPhone.

You might also want to go ahead and physically connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC, and then transfer your photos and videos off your device manually. A third option is to grab a third-party app like Google Photos, which will allow you to upload everything to the cloud—for free—subject to a few limitations. (If you shoot a lot of 4K video, you’ll want to offload that manually, as Google Photos will downscale them to 1080p if you’re not paying for storage.)

Once you’ve backed up all of your files elsewhere—either to a computer or the cloud—you can delete them off of your iPhone. Don’t forget to clear out your Recently Deleted album in Photos, too, or else your device won’t free your space for up to 40 days.

Once you’re done, head back to the Settings app and scroll down a bit until you can tap on Camera. Make sure your iPhone isn’t set to “Keep Normal Photo,” which means that it saves two images—a regular version and the blended-exposure version—whenever you use the camera’s HDR mode. (If you’re like most, you’re probably using Auto HDR anyway.)

While you’re here, tap on Formats and make sure you’re capturing photos and videos in apple’s “High Efficiency” format, or HEIF/HEVC, rather than JPEG/H.264.

Consider deleting (and downloading less) music

If you’re an Apple Music user, head back to your iPhone’s Settings app, scroll down a bit, and tap on Music. Look for the “Downloaded Music” option, which should list out how much space you’re spending on albums and songs you’ve grabbed from Apple’s streaming service.

You can tap on “Downloaded Music” to view all the downloaded music that’s taking up space on your device, by artist. To delete anything, tap on Edit in the upper-right corner and tap on any artists you no longer need for offline listening. (You can also tap into any artist listing—like Unknown Artist—to get a bit more specific about your removals.)

Also, finding and tapping the “Music” app within the iPhone Storage screen, which is where we started, is also a quick way to delete any music on your device. You’ll find the same screen there as you would if you tapped on “Downloaded Music.”

Don’t forget about all of those movies you downloaded

You can do the same process—finding the TV or Videos app under iPhone Storage and tapping it—to delete any episodes or films you’ve synchronized to your device.

I find it just as easy to pull up TV and look for the can’t-miss-it “Downloaded” section under Library. Tap that, tap on a movie or show you don’t want on your device anymore, and tap on the word “Downloaded” that’s next to the little checkmark. After that, tap on “Remove Download.”

Clean up your Messages

I’ve touched on this before, but in case you need a quick reminder about how to prune your messages in iOS, here goes. Head back to iPhone Storage—from Settings app, tap on “General”—and look for Messages. Tap on that, and your iPhone will probably ask if you want to review whether you need any “Large Attachments” your friends have sent you. Otherwise, you can tap on the various “Documents & Data” categories, including conversations, photos, and videos, to remove anything that might be eating up too much room on your iPhone.

You might also want to visit the Messages section of the iPhone’s main Settings app and pick a shorter message history, so your device automatically frees up space by automatically deleting older items. How many of us go back and look at text messages from more than a year ago, anyway? Don’t forget to adjust the same kinds of settings for audio messages, too, which you’ll find a little lower on the Messages settings screen.

Don’t download iTunes content automatically

Here’s one quick trick to help prevent your device from filling up without you noticing: Within the iTunes & App Store option in your device’s Settings app, make sure that you’ve unchecked all options for automatic downloads (save for Updates, which are important.) That way, if you purchase an app or buy a movie from another device that’s linked to the same Apple ID, it won’t automatically download to your iPhone, too.

Win cash and prizes in the Virtual Hackathon at Disrupt SF 2018

Our Startup Battlefield pitch competition may be legendary, but it’s not the only throw-down going on at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 on September 5-7. This year, in honor of the largest Disrupt event ever, we’ve launched the Virtual Hackathon. Thousands of the best developers, coders and hackers will compete — from anywhere in the world — to build tech products that address and solve a range of challenges.

And we have even more contests, cash and prizes to share with you — more on that in a minute. Right now, you better sign up and get moving, because the deadline to submit your hacks is August 2.

Our team of judges will review every eligible project and assign each submission a score between 1-5. Score criteria include the idea quality, technical implementation and potential market impact.

The 100 highest-scoring teams will receive up to five Innovator Passes to attend TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018. They can enjoy everything the show has to offer, including (for starters) Startup Alley, incredible speakers from four unique stages, Startup Battlefield, Q&A sessions and the TC After Party — the perfect place to network in a fun atmosphere.

The teams who make the top 30 will move on to compete in the semifinals at Disrupt SF, where they will demo their creation to a team of judges. Those judges will then select 10 teams to go on to the finals, where they will step onto The Next Stage and showcase their baby to an audience of thousands of Disrupt SF attendees.

Finally, one team will rise above the rest, win the $10,000 grand prize and become the first-ever TechCrunch Disrupt Virtual Hackathon champ.

OK, let’s get back to the bit about more contests, cash and prizes. You also can win some sweet cash from contests sponsored by BYTON, TomTom and Viond, plus Visa and HERE Mobility.

The Virtual Hackathon takes place at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 on September 5-7, but you have only until August 2 if you want your hack to be eligible. Don’t miss the fun and excitement. Sign up to participate in the Virtual Hackathon and start hacking today.