Security camera

Travel Tech News, October 2018: The “Scanning Your Face” Edition

By Dave Dean News4 Comments

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Apple’s latest devices are out, while Google’s travel services get a bunch of updates. Facial recognition at US airports hits a stumbling block, and Swiftkey adds real-time translation to its popular keyboard app.

It’s Travel Tech News time again, for October 2018!

Apple Releases Updated iPhone and Apple Watch Models

Apple iPhones Sep 2018

Apple announced its latest set of devices last month, although there weren’t many surprises given the leaks we’d already seen. The 5.8″ iPhone XS and horribly-named 6.5″ XS Max take their places at the top of the phone range, with a cheaper XR version due out later this month.

Notable features of the XS series include a beautiful screen, faster processor, better waterproofing, and slightly-longer battery life. The rear cameras have also been improved, both by minor hardware tweaks, and artificial intelligence that stitches multiple shots together to create the best photo, and lets you change the focus point after taking a photo.

There’s also dual-SIM support, of a sort. While the Chinese model of the iPhone has two physical SIM slots, versions sold in the rest of the world use an embedded SIM (eSIM) alongside a physical slot. That’s not as useful as the two-slot aproach, given the current state of eSIM adoption around the world, but it’s still something new for Apple.

The 6.1″ XR model has a less-impressive LCD screen, an aluminium body, IP67 waterproofing, and just a single rear camera sensor. It’s otherwise pretty similar to the premium versions, but ships in a wider range of colors.

Prices start at $749 for the base XR model with 64GB of storage, $999 for the XS, and $1099 for the XS Max. You can configure the XR with up to 256GB of storage, and the XS versions with up to 512GB.

The Apple Watch also got an update, with a larger screen, faster processor, and health-related features like fall detection and better heart-rate monitoring. New versions of watchOS, iOS, and macOS all shipped in the last couple of weeks.

I’ve been playing with the iPhone XS for the last week, and first impressions have been good. The OLED screen is gorgeous and the camera is noticeably better, with the new AI-powered tech behind it making photos roughly on par with those from the class-leading Pixel 2.

Google Trips Remembers Your Travel Research So You Don’t Have To

Google hotel location score

Starting this month, Google’s added new features to its existing travel offerings. For those who spend far too long researching upcoming travel only to forget it all a day later (hi, that’s me), the additions to the company’s “Your Trips” service will likely be the most interesting.

Without needing to manually do anything, the service will now pull together things like flights you’re tracking, saved places, and destination-specific hotel searches into a “Potential Trips” section.

As plans firm up (you receive flight and hotel booking confirmations, for instance), you’ll start seeing things like weather and events for your chosen dates, restaurant recommendations for the neighbourhood you’re staying in, and more.

You can opt out of all of this if you find it creepy, but I suspect that as with most such Google initiatives, many people will find it useful enough to keep it on.

Other new features include seeing whether flight prices over the Christmas period are likely to fall (the company already does this when searching for flights over Thanksgiving), and adding a location score for hotels in major destinations to indicate good areas to stay.

Face Scanning In US Airports Isn’t Going So Well

Airport scene

Face-scanning systems are starting to make an appearance in airports around the world, and the United States is no exception.

Over the concerns of privacy advocates, Customs and Border Control have trialed the technology in several airports in recent years. Plans to roll it out to the top 20 airports nationwide by 2021, however, are starting to look increasingly optimistic.

A report from Homeland Security’s inspector general says that only 85% of passengers were processed via the system due to “poor network availability, lack of […] staff, and compressed boarding times,” along with a failure to “consistently match individuals of certain age groups or nationalities.”

The project also assumes that airlines and airports will buy the hardware required to operate the biometric systems. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the airlines and airports themselves haven’t been quite so keen on the idea.

None of this, however, has stopped Delta from proudly planning to introduce the first “biometric terminal” in the country, at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

From check-in to bag drop, security to boarding, passengers flying directly to an international destination on Delta or a partner airline will be able to use facial scanning instead of presenting their passport.

The same approach will also be used at passport control when entering the country via Atlanta airport, although no word on whether it applies to those without US passports.

Swiftkey Android Keyboard Now Translates As You Type

Swiftkey languages

If you regularly find yourself writing or conversing in a foreign language, you’re going to like the latest update to Swiftkey. Purchased by Microsoft a couple of years ago, the company’s just added support for real-time translation into the Android version of the app.

After enabling the feature, a small text entry box appears at the top of the keyboard, along with dropdowns for the language pair you’d like to use. Enter some text in one language, and the translation appears in whatever app you’re typing into — chat, email, or anything else. Easy.

It saves a surprising amount of time versus going backward and forward between Google Translate, and is something I can see myself using. There’s no need to install Microsoft’s Translator app as well, but if you do, you’ll also get offline translations in Swiftkey. Very nice.

There’s no word on when or if translation will be added to the iOS version of Swiftkey, but most new features do end up there eventually.

Images via 3dman_eu, Apple, GoogleMichaelGaida, and Swiftkey

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.


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    To be honest, I’m not exactly excited or convinced about eSIM. I still find it a lot easier and more convenient to pull the physical SIM out of an old (or broken) phone, insert it in a new one and use it right away, than waste my time waiting in a carrier store just to have the info flashed on the eSIM in the new phone before I could use it.

    As for Apple joining the dual-SIM game this late… well, I’ll just let the internet dish out its own brand of merciless ridicule on that.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Funny you say that — I’m currently editing a piece on eSIMs, which will go up later this week. The way eSIMs are *supposed* to work is that you don’t need to go into a physical store or do anything other than pick a carrier and call/text/data package from your device.

      Apple had a kinda half-baked “Apple SIM” in some of its iPad range in recent years, which was basically the same thing, but somehow allowed carriers (AT&T being the worst example) to lock it to their network once you activated it. If you wanted to change to a different carrier, you had to do what you’re talking about — get it flashed or replaced. So, so bad.

      And yeah, with the amount of noise being made about it, you’d think these were the first dual-SIM smartphones on the planet! 😉

      1. Avatar

        Yeah, and I’m also wondering about how these things would work on eSIMs:

        1. Transferring your current mobile number to a new device and ensuring that it was you who did that and not someone else should something go wrong with your old device; and

        2. Preventing networks from locking the eSIM (and the phone itself) to their networks, especially when you bought your phone directly from the manufacturer’s store, given what AT&T had done to screw up the Apple SIM.

        And to make it a bit closer to the truth, Apple should say that they are the first commercially available dual-SIM phones in the US and Canada – oh, wait…

        Sorry, I still can’t get over my T-Mobile store experience in the US with my (now) 3-year-old dual-SIM Samsung. 😛

      2. Dave Dean Author

        1 – If you’re on a postpaid account, I guess switching eSIMs to a new device should be handled via something similar to the existing security process for changes to the account. Shockingly enough, the few companies that do offer eSIM support don’t seem very excited about offering prepaid service with it so far, at least in the US. That’s bad news in itself for travelers, but to your question, I don’t know how they’d handle switching it to a new device. Maybe the same way as they do with a lost/broken prepaid SIM, whatever that looks like.

        2 – I saw articles talking about how AT&T and Verizon were being investigated for collusion regarding trying to come up with ways to lock eSIMs to their networks, so I guess that answers that question. 😛

        I really should take my dual-SIM phone to the US with me next time I go there, for the comedy value alone…

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