Apple has announced the Apple Watch Series 6, the latest in its line of popular smartwatches. The Series 6 model maintains the same overall design introduced with the Apple Watch Series 4 and continued with the Series 5, but it adds a variety of new sensors to allow for things like blood oxygen monitoring and better sleep tracking.
Apple says the Series 6 can measure blood oxygen levels in about 15 seconds, using both red and infrared light. The company says it’s partnering with health networks to start large-scale studies using the new blood oxygen measurement feature, including testing to see if it can detect if a person is infected with COVID-19.
The Series 6 also comes with the new S6 processor, which promises up to 20 percent faster performance. It’s based on Apple’s in-house A13 chip and brings the first major update to the Apple Watch’s performance since the Series 4, given that last year’s Series 5 model used the same S4 CPU (rebranded as the S5 with other additions like a compass and a new display controller).
You’ll be able to get the Series 6 in gold, graphite, blue, or a new Product (RED) version that has a striking red finish on it. In addition, Apple is announcing a new strap called the “Solo Loop” that is made from one piece of silicone, without any buckles or adjustments. It is available in a range of styles and seven different colors. There is also a braided Solo Loop made from yarn that’s available in five colors. Finally, Apple is releasing a new leather link strap.
The Series 6 will run watchOS 7, which Apple revealed at WWDC earlier this year. The software update — available for all models dating back to the Series 3 — adds native sleep tracking support, but the Series 6 will take that feature even further thanks to dedicated sensors. Other major updates coming in watchOS 7 include a rebranded Fitness app with new workouts, a hand-washing feature tailored for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, richer complications, and the ability to share watchfaces with others.
In addition, Apple is debuting a new feature called Family Setup, which allows parents to set up managed Apple Watches for their kids who don’t have iPhones of their own. Parents will be able to manage who the child can message or call from the watch, set up location alerts, add do not disturb modes for school time, and a new watch face will inform teachers that the watch is in DND mode from a glance. Family Setup requires a cellular Apple Watch model and will be available through a handful of carriers at launch.
The Apple Watch Series 6 will be available starting at $399 for a 40mm model, the same price as the outgoing Series 5. It is available starting today, September 15th, and will start shipping on Friday, September 18th.
Developing… we’re adding more to this post, but you can follow along with our Apple “Time Flies” live blog to get the news even faster.
The coronavirus pandemic by the numbers
I’m dwelling on numbers because this week, the US officially counted 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. Words like “grim milestone” just don’t seem adequate in the face of that toll.
Numbers are valuable. Case counts help scientists track the infection’s spread. Death tolls help policy makers figure out where things are going right — or horribly wrong. They’re utilitarian.
They can also hit like a derailed train.
Since I started this column two months ago, more than 345,470 people have died of COVID-19 around the world. 57,993 of those deaths were in the US.
That’s 345,470 people, each with families and friends and coworkers and enemies and cats and dogs and people who just saw them on the street while walking to the bus. They’re gone. Their desks and armchairs and beds are empty. The people who loved them are red-eyed and sorting through the stuff they left behind. Each human lost cuts deep into communities, and the US has etched a wound into itself that is deeper than any other covid-wound on Earth.
I’ve stopped looking at the numbers every hour, like I was doing this spring. But every Friday, when I look at the numbers on Johns Hopkins’ dashboard, it’s still a shock. I know I’m not alone.
“Shocked — that would be the word that I would say captures my response to our current death numbers from the vantage point of February,” David Celentano, the head of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s epidemiology department, told Vox this week.
In February, the first US death was alarming. Now, around 800 people in the country are dying of the disease every day, and the sirens and alarm bells have blurred into the background of a horrible year.
When it comes to death, numbers like 200,000 are no more tragic than numbers like 145,763, or 12 or one. But the roundness of the number does help to turn up the volume on that incomprehensible din. Visuals that compare the national death toll to our neighborhoods and cities, like The Washington Post’s brutal new interactive map, can help us understand the volume of death — body by body and block by block. Comparisons to other death tolls can help us reckon with just how unprecedented this is.
“The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama,” Carla K. Johnson wrote for The Associated Press.
Thinking beyond the US’s borders — more than 985,748 people have died of this disease. There are 74 different countries and territories around the world with populations smaller than that number.
Wrestling with the loss of a nation’s worth of people is not something that any one of us thought we’d be dealing with this year. Every single death, every single case, ever since the pandemic roared into public consciousness in January, is one too many.
These numbers are the subject of all the science we talk about every week — they provide the data that researchers use to study this disease. But the climb of these numbers is also an urgent motivation behind this research. Whether researchers are trying to find a vaccine, or a treatment, or figure out how the virus moves between us, or how it wrecks our bodies — the goal is the same. No one can make those numbers go down — but it is still possible to keep them from going up.
Here’s what else happened this week.
Child deaths tied to covid-19 remain remarkably low, months into U.S. pandemic
While the COVID-19 death toll in the United States remained the highest in the world, the fatality rate for people under 20 remained extraordinarily low. Experts are still trying to understand how the disease affects younger people.
(Lenny Bernstein/The Washington Post)
The Core Lesson of the COVID-19 Heart Debate
There has been a lot of effort put into understanding some of the damage that COVID-19 can do to the heart. Many studies have poured out of labs, as a flood of data has rushed into them — but many conclusions in the heart debate remain out of reach. Over at The Atlantic, Ed Yong discusses why, and finds that “as pandemics get wider, they feel weirder.”
(Ed Yong/The Atlantic)
What Do Two New Studies Really Tell Us About Coronavirus Transmission on Planes?
This is a good breakdown of some of the limitations behind two case studies that looked at coronavirus transmission on planes.
(Jane C. Hu/Slate)
Johnson & Johnson Starts Phase 3 Trial for Single-Dose Coronavirus Vaccine
This week, Johnson & Johnson started its large-scale trials for it’s vaccine in the US. Unlike many of the other candidates, this one is designed to only require a single dose — potentially making is easier to distribute. A different company, Novavax, also entered phase three trials this week in the UK.
Here come the tortoises: In the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, slow starters could still win out
At STAT there’s a good update on some of the other vaccine candidates. Pharma companies Merck and Sanofi are both moving more slowly and methodically, but are still very much making progress towards a vaccine.
A Covid-19 Vaccine for Children May Not Arrive Before Fall 2021
As vaccine development pushes ahead, one group is noticeably not represented in any of the vaccine trials underway in the US — kids. “Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults.” Carl Zimmer writes in The New York Times. Creating a vaccine that is safe and effective for children will likely take a lot more work, and a lot more time.
(Carl Zimmer/The New York Times)
156 countries are teaming up for a Covid-19 vaccine. But not the US or China.
How will a vaccine get distributed when we finally have a good candidate? Manufacturing and shipping issues aside, it’s going to be a massive political undertaking too. For a look at the international relations side of vaccine distribution, read up on Covax, an initiative that aims to distribute billions of doses worldwide by the end of next year.
Averting a COVID-19 vaccination crisis will take careful communication
In order for a vaccine to work, people have to be willing to take it. The Sports Grind Entertainment’s Nicole Wetsman talked with a vaccine hesitancy researcher about this vaccine, and what concerns public health experts will have to overcome. (For more expert opinions on a similar topic, check out Maggie Koerth’s `How To Know When You Can Trust A COVID-19 Vaccine` at Five Thirty Eight.)
(Nicole Wetsman/The Sports Grind Entertainment)
The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak
This is a great feature that dives deep into how researchers uncovered a single outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.
(Sarah Kaplan, Desmond Butler, Juliet Eilperin, Chris Mooney and Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)
More than Numbers
To the more than 32,397,479 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 985,748 people who have died worldwide — 203,549 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.
13 best movies leaving Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon in October 2020
If you’ve been loading up your Netflix queue with scary movies, waiting for the first of October to begin the spooky season, you might want to rethink that strategy. Several of our favorite horror movies are leaving Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max on Sept. 30.
In the current cutthroat streaming landscape, when a movie leaves one streaming service it’s often just heading to another, but that sometimes leaves weeks or months when a movie is unavailable before moving to a different streaming library. Below, we’re rounding up our favorite movies leaving their current streaming service at the end of September. Like we said above, that includes lots of horror favorites like Blade, The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, as well as some less spooky offerings like Alita: Battle Angel, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the majority of Christopher Guest’s filmography.
Alita: Battle Angel
Robert Rodriguez’s live-action adaptation of the manga and anime was notorious for the titular cyborg’s giant eyes that come straight out of uncanny valley. But the film itself is actually a lot of fun. From our review:
Absolutely everything about Alita: Battle Angel is unapologetically outsized — there is interplanetary war, there is a sport called “motorball” that’s basically jai alai with robots, there are slo-mo shots of objects of varying degrees of deadliness flying out of the screen — and it’s delightful.
Alita: Battle Angel leaves HBO on Sept. 30.
Best in Show/A Mighty Wind/Waiting for Guffman/For Your Consideration
A Christopher Guest quadruple feature is sadly leaving Hulu this month. All four improvisational mockumentaries showcase Guest’s signature silly, deadpan humor (though for my money, Best in Show, about the cutthroat world of competitive dog shows, is his best work.) Before they swept the 2020 Emmys with Schitt’s Creek, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara were frequent Guest collaborators, and appear in all four films. (Levy also co-wrote them.) Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr., and the late, great Fred Willard round out the informal troupe.
Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Gufffman, and For Your Consideration leave Hulu on Sept. 30.
With Blade set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s worth remembering why Wesley Snipes iconic performance as the half-human vampire hunter is such a high bar to clear. From a Sports Grind Entertainment essay on the subject:
In his performances as Blade, Snipes projects a mentality and guarded interior life as only a nuanced actor could. As the “Daywalker,” a legendary half-human vampire on a crusade to eradicate his fellow bloodsuckers, he creates the contradictory impression of an antisocial weirdo with the comic timing of a funny, charismatic dude. With all that, he brings the attention to physicality of a screen martial artist. Though almost universally beloved in his performances as Blade, Snipes rarely gets enough credit for bringing all of those facets together.
Blade leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.
William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own supernatural horror novel is, simply put, a classic. Everything from director William Friedkin’s use of light and shadow to stellar performances from Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Ellen Burstyn works together to create a sense of dread that’s punctuated by some truly gnarly special effects. Sure, revisiting it in 2020 probably won’t cause you to vomit or pass out like audiences notoriously did when it was released (though that was definitely played up as a marketing stunt.) but the slow burn terror is still disorienting and spooky. The Exorcist is a product of its time but it totally holds up.
The Exorcist leaves HBO Max on Sept. 30.
Yep, Jurassic Park is leaving Netflix quicker than a Velociraptor escaping its pen. Just two months after Steven Spielberg’s classic creature feature hit Netflix and immediately made the streamer’s top 10 list, Jurassic Park is headed to another, undisclosed streaming network. It stuck around just long enough to coincide with Netflix’s animated kid’s series set in the Jurassic Cinematic Universe, Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.
Jurassic Park leaves Netflix on Sept. 30.
Much Ado About Nothing
Adapted and directed by known Shakespeare master Kenneth Branagh, Much Ado About Nothing is simple fun in the sun. The film stars Branagh and Emma Thompson as the argumentative and electric Benedick and Beatrice, who must work together in order to clear Hero’s (Kate Beckinsale) name so she may marry Count Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard). Keanu Reeves stars as Don John, who aims to keep Hero and Claudio apart, with Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, the requisite straight man, and none other than Michael Keaton as Dogberry, the local constable and comic relief. —Karen Han
Much Ado About Nothing leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
My Cousin Vinny
Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci turn in two career best performances in My Cousin Vinny, Jonathan Lynn’s courtroom comedy about two Brooklyn boys put on trial in Alabama for murders they didn’t commit. One of them has a cousin, Vinny (Pesci), who recently passed the bar exam (on his sixth attempt), who agrees to take the case. Not only is My Cousin Vinny famously one of the most accurate depictions of courtroom procedure in film history, it’s also freakin’ hilarious. The twists are satisfying, Lynn takes equal opportunity to make fun of the southerners and the New Yorkers, and Marisa Tomei wears a lot of leather. What’s not to love?
My Cousin Vinny leaves Hulu on Sept. 30.
The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor with only 16 minutes of screen time. His performance as Hannibal Lecter remains one of the greatest ever committed to film, and is matched beat for beat by Jodie Foster’s turn as Clarice Starling, the FBI trainee who comes into his orbit as she pursues the serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the late director Jonathan Demme’s best (and most well-known) films, and rightfully so, as he balances the incomprehensibly horrific with startlingly tangible, human emotions. —Karen Han
The Silence of the Lambs leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
The Coen brothers’ remake of the classic western stars Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld as gruff U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and a teenager, Mattie Ross, who hires him to track down her father’s murderer, outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). True Grit was Steinfeld’s feature debut, and her portrayal of the tough young woman earned her both critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination at just 14.
True Grit leaves Amazon Prime Video on Sept. 30.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
A send-up of horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as Tucker and Dale, two hillbillies who become embroiled in trouble when they cross paths with a group of camping college students. A series of misunderstandings leads the students to believe that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill them, while Tucker and Dale come to suspect that the students are enacting a suicide pact. As they dance around each other, Eli Craig pulls out all the slapstick stops. —Karen Han
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil leaves Netflix on Sept. 28.
How Duolingo designed the new characters for its Project World
Language app Duolingo is unveiling a new cast of characters that it hopes will help users better learn new languages, even during the toughest lessons. The characters will act as guides within the app, cheering you on if you get an answer correct, or reacting in a disappointed (or sassy) way if you get one wrong. The nine characters of Duolingo Project World all have unique personalities, and serve as guides to make a new language feel more familiar.
“Obviously Duolingo is a very gamified language learning app,” says Duolingo art director Greg Hartman. “We took a lot of cues from other games, and I think you realize how motivating characters can be; when you remove the main character you have an emotional attachment to you’ll probably play that game less. We wanted to establish some emotional connection, and have characters that encourage users, by giving them positive reinforcement.”
Learning a language can be a challenging journey that takes a lot of mental energy, Hartman notes; you’re learning things like how to order food in Spanish, phrases that would be useful to communicate with other speakers, but maybe not the most scintillating conversation material. “So the question was: How you make these everyday scenarios fun?”
Keeping the Duo Design
In designing the characters that inhabit Duolingo World, Hartman says the team wanted to keep the same design elements of their mascot owl Duo, with his large eyes, simple body shape, and detached feet. With most cartoon characters, the design is informed by the character’s personality— triangles are dynamic, squares are solid, and circles are fun, for example. But the characters in Duolingo don’t really have story arcs, they’re only there to support the user. Hartman says they decided to let the design drive the characters’ personalities. So a girl with purple hair and lots of sharp angles became an emo
character named Lily; a round fellow with a beard is kind-hearted Vikram; and a blocky child character with a flourish of red hair became energetic Junior. They went through many shapes and iterations before arriving at their final nine designs, Hartman adds.
They also decided that in order for the experience to feel authentically immersive, they’d have to add voices, rather than relying on their default male or female voices. They hired a voice actor for each character, and worked with Microsoft to create custom text-to-speech fonts. “It brings more personality to the app, and if you’re not hearing the same voice all the time, it helps train our learners’ ears,” Hartman said.
Duolingo will be releasing the individual characters’ voices in the coming months.
Finding universal names
Choosing the names proved a bigger challenge than Hartman was expecting. They needed names that sounded the same across languages, so that ruled out some early ideas, including “Jun” for one character because in Spanish it would be pronounced “Hoon.” And they renamed one character when they realized that in French “Pete” can sound like the word for “fart.”
Hartman also says the team wanted to make sure they weren’t choosing names that might translate into something offensive in another language: “We checked each name in every language we teach,” he says. “That was a huge part of the development of the characters.” He adds that having a diverse workforce proved valuable: “All I had to do was go to a member of our team, and say ‘tell me where we’ve gotten it wrong’ and people were kind enough to help guide us.”
The last big redesign at Duolingo happened in 2018, when the company changed Duo’s look and gave him more expressions (if you’re not guilted into finishing your French lesson by a weepy green owl, I can’t help you), and redesigned the rest of the app to reflect his newer look.
There are no plans to get rid of Duo, Hartman says; Duolingo is Duo’s world and these other characters live in it. But, he adds, they decided not to design the new characters as other animals, because it didn’t quite feel right for what they were trying to accomplish. “Language is so deeply rooted in human culture, and it seemed weird to add a cast of characters not from our world,” he said.
Fan Art Fridays
Duolingo started rolling out the new characters to appear in lessons in the app earlier this year, and have since been adding them to other features within the app as well. For instance, they began appearing in Duolingo Stories in July, and earlier this month, showed up in mid-lesson animations to cheer learners on.
Then a funny thing happened: Fan art versions of the characters started showing up on social media. So the company started a Fan Art Friday contest to encourage people to send in their art to be featured in Duolingo social posts.
The characters will officially roll out today at Duolingo’s annual Duocon conference. They’ll be available in Duolingo courses in which both languages are one of Spanish, French, German, English, or Portuguese, with plans to eventually add them to other language courses in the app.
Hartman says Duolingo thinks of gamifying language learning as a way to make a sometimes difficult —but ultimately rewarding— process more enjoyable, much in the way sports can make physical exercise seem like less of a grind. “It’s sometimes hard to get up and just run around your yard, but once you introduce a ball and healthy competition, you think less about how physically hard it is and more about the ball and the goal,” he said. “Duolingo wants to introduce a ‘mental ball’ to keep learners motivated.”
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