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ExtraBITS for 17 October 2016

In ExtraBITS this week, Apple’s automotive plans hit bumps in the road, the iPhone 7 offers a backup Home button, Tim Cook praises augmented reality, and Amazon gives free Kindle books to Amazon Prime members.

Behind Apple’s Scaled-back Car Plans -- Mark Gurman and Alex Webb at Bloomberg Technology report on how Apple has scaled back its automotive ambitions from becoming an outright competitor to Tesla Motors to developing an underlying self-driving car platform for now. The Project Titan team has suffered from hundreds of layoffs, reassignments, and engineers leaving on their own, and the refocused team reportedly has a year to determine the feasibility of the platform and decide on whether to design its own vehicle or partner with existing carmakers. It’s possible that Apple waded into the murky automotive waters with an overinflated view of its ability to reinvent a complex and entrenched industry, but we can hope that Apple’s continued presence will at least spur carmakers to improve the software aspects of their automobiles.

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iPhone 7 Offers a Virtual Home Button When the Real One Fails -- Ever wondered what happens if the solid-state Home button on the iPhone 7 fails? 9to5Mac reports that iOS 10 puts a virtual Home button on the screen so you can keep using your iPhone (presumably in conjunction with your passcode, if the Home button’s Touch ID sensor is also broken). This virtual Home button is similar to the on-screen Home button provided by Assistive Touch (in Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch), except it’s affixed to the bottom-center of the screen. With rumors swirling that Apple may be planning to ditch the physical Home button entirely, this could be a first glimpse at the future of the iPhone.

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Tim Cook Bullish on Augmented Reality -- Two of the hottest technologies at the moment are virtual reality (VR), which isolates users in an entirely virtual world, and augmented reality (AR), which overlays virtual elements on top of the real world. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed a clear preference for AR, saying, “VR has some interesting applications, but I don’t think it’s a broad-based technology like AR. Augmented reality will take some time to get right, but I do think that it’s profound.” Why? Cook said, “There’s no substitute for human contact, and so you want the technology to encourage that.”

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Amazon Prime Reading Provides Kindle Books for Free -- Voracious readers take note: Amazon has added another perk to its $99-per-year Amazon Prime program. Prime members can now download over 1000 books, comics, and Kindle Singles to their Kindles or Kindle apps for free. This benefit comes on top of Amazon Prime’s free 2-day shipping, free video streaming for thousands of movies and TV shows, free streaming of over one million songs, and more. The book selection is unsurprisingly random, with a few best-sellers like “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Hobbit” mixed in with titles and authors looking for an audience. On its own, Prime Reading isn’t a good reason to subscribe to Amazon Prime, but if you’re already a subscriber, it might be a good way to get something to read when you’re out of books. (The link goes to the list of Prime Reading books, something that’s otherwise hard to find.)

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