Apple AirPods finally go on sale after delays

Were you worried that Apple’s delay in shipping AirPods would deprive you of a holiday gift? You can (probably) relax. Apple has quietly started selling its first self-branded Bluetooth earphones through at least its online store. If you order now, the $159 earpiece set should reach your door by December 22nd. You can always spring for Beats headphones if you need to get something Apple-made right now, of course, but Cupertino is counting on the AirPods’ smarts winning you over — they’re easy to set up, make Siri just a double-tap away and can detect when they’re in your ears. We didn’t think the audio quality was spectacular, but these are as much about convenience and phone calls as anything else.

Update: We hope you pulled the trigger quickly. New online orders are already slipping to December 29th, so that won’t be a gift option. On the upside: Apple notes that its own retail stores, resellers and “select carriers” will have stock next week.

Instagram now lets you bookmark photos and videos

For some, Instagram is a place to see what your friends and family have been up to. For others, it’s an app for marvelling at beautiful food, furniture and places captured by skilled photographers. Like Pinterest, these photos can serve as inspiration for users’ own dreams and personal projects. With this in mind, Instagram is adding a bookmark icon underneath each post in your feed. Tap it and the relevant photo or video will be added to a private page accessible from your profile. There are no folders or “boards,” so everything is lumped together, but it’s certainly simpler than keeping a text document full of random Instagram links.

Apple’s iOS support app is now live in the US

After quietly launching in the Netherlands last month, Apple’s standalone support app is now finally available in the US. Serving as iOS users’ one-stop-shop for Apple product problem solving, the app offers a wealth of product information and advice on how to resolve common issues. If you find yourself with a more serious problem, the app can also be used to contact support technicians and even to schedule repair appointments with the Apple Store or an approved third party.

While the Support app will appear as a welcome surprise to US Apple users, those in other territories will have to wait a little longer. Without specifying exact dates or regions, the tech giant states that the app will be available in other countries “in the coming weeks.”

Microsoft will give Skype chatbots a voice next year

Not content with just stuffing Cortana into your home appliances, Microsoft now wants you to have real conversations with needy Skype bots. In a bid to make those awkward chatbot encounters feel more natural, next year will see the company granting third parties access to its Skype calling API. With this, Microsoft partners like StubHub and Expedia will be able to give their bots a voice, offering users an alternative to text chat.

Aside from being more engaging conversationalists, these talking bots will also be able to use video, audio and GIFs in Skype chat windows.

While Microsoft’s push to make scripted interactions less painful is certainly admirable, and makes sense given the trend towards more natural voice controls, these Skype chatbots will have something to prove. In an age where all we want is to achieve our daily tasks as quickly as possible, the last thing we want to do is actually talk to anyone — and for many, that still includes relatively helpful robots.

Apple pulls down Watch update that bricked Series 2 devices

You can no longer download the latest update for Apple Watch, and that could be a good thing if you have a Series 2 device. Cupertino has pulled down watchOS 3.1.1 after it bricked several Series 2 watches, displaying a red exclamation mark on their screens along with a URL to the company’s support page for the wearable. The website doesn’t address the current issue, but it does have instructions on what to do in case your watch freezes.

The first course of action is to force restart the device by pressing and holding the side button and the Digital Crown at the same time. If you don’t see the Apple logo replace the exclamation mark after 10 seconds or so, then the next step is going to an Apple Store and having the device looked at. According to AppleInsider, force restarting didn’t work for a lot of affected users — they had to leave their devices with Geniuses, who had to send them in for servicing since they don’t have access to the Watch’s diagnostics port. Other people opted to ask for a device exchange when it became clear that force restarting wouldn’t work.

Cupertino has yet to reveal why watchOS 3.1.1 bricked some devices. But since the update was supposed to fix a bevy of bugs that affected notifications, messages and other features, Apple will most likely release a patched version that doesn’t freeze Watches in the near future.

Apple TV universal search now supports Apple Music, TBS and more

As Apple continues to improve the one-stop streaming experience of Apple TV and its standalone TV app, the much-hyped universal search has finally added enough partners to make it a robust and useful feature. With a few updates this week, universal search on the fourth generation Apple TV now supports over 50 different streaming apps and services in the US — meaning you can search for shows and content across Netflix, Apple Music, Animal Planet, TNT, TBS and dozens more right from Siri or the Search app.

Universal search also just added support for Apple Music, but that appears to be the limit of the music streaming options at the moment. Apple has a full list of supported services, but if you’re outside the United States, you might find the options are still pretty limited. Either way, the new additions should be enough save you a few clicks before you settle into your next binge-watching session.

Amazon completes its first drone-powered delivery

The first delivery was made in Cambridge, UK and took 13 minutes from purchase to drop-off.

 

It’s already been three years since Amazon first revealed its somewhat audacious plan to make deliveries by drone. But the company is quite serious about this, and today it is announcing that it complete the first Amazon Prime Air drone-powered delivery. The company recently launched a trial in Cambridge, England — and on December 7th, Amazon completed its first drone-powered delivery. It took 13 minutes from order to delivery, with the drone departing a custom-built fulfillment center nearby.

Amazon’s video about the project says that it’s only servicing a few customers in the area right now, but will soon be open to dozens more who live within a few miles of the Cambridge fulfillment center. Naturally, this center is custom-built to handle these types of orders — once an order is placed and packaged up, the drone is loaded up and sent out from the facility on a motorized track. From takeoff, it flies at heights up to 400 feet to make the delivery and then return to the facility.

This Cambridge beta program has been in the works for a long time now; recently it was revealed that Amazon has been operating a secret lab in the area to get ready for the launch of Prime Air. Amazon’s page detailing this first delivery notes that the company also has Prime Air labs in the US, Austria and Israel as well as the United Kingdom, so we may hear news about test deliveries in those areas sooner or later as well.

Amazon’s FAQ page answers a few other questions about its drone delivery system. For starters, drones are only allowed to fly during daylight hours when its sunny — rain, snow or icy conditions will ground them. As for how Amazon’s drones will work in airspaces with other vehicles, the company says it believes drones should operate in a separate airspace where only small unmanned vehicles can operate. Amazon says airspace access should be “determined by capability” — the company envisions the low altitude space it is operating in should be reserved exclusively for drones similar to what it plans to deploy.

With only a couple customers able to receive drone deliveries, we’re still a long way out from this becoming a reality. But just a few years ago some thought CEO Jeff Bezos’ plan was just a joke — but it now appears to be a very real part of Amazon’s plans. The company says that “one day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” It’s a big goal, but it’s going to be a lot harder to manage drone deliveries in London than it is in the peaceful pastures of Cambridge.