The Tech News Blog

January 31, 2015

Apple iTunes 12.1 Adds Notification Center Widget

iTunes Tips

Apple has rolled out an update for iTunes, which brings a Notifications Center widget in OS X Yosemite and some other improvements for the music software.

The widget lets you see whatever is currently playing on iTunes or iTunes Radio, as well as skip ahead, and star specific tracks to mark them as favorites. In addition, when you're listening to iTunes Radio, you'll have the option to purchase the song that's being played right from the widget, which should save you a few clicks if you really like a tune.

But as Tidbits points out, "clicking the displayed price button in the Notification Center widget automatically buys the song and downloads it to your library — you aren't brought to an iTunes Store page to ponder your purchase." So be sure you actually want the song before you click to buy it.

Meanwhile, the update also includes some bug fixes and performance improvements when syncing an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iTunes, though Apple did not go into detail about what is better. This is the first major update to iTunes 12, which was released alongside OS X Yosemite this past fall.

Apple has been on a bit of an update spree this week, releasing OS X Yosemite 10.10.2, which fixes Wi-Fi and Web browser issues, and iOS 8.1.3 to squash a number of bugs. The iOS update also offers some stability and performance improvements, but reportedly does not fix the slow Wi-Fi and battery-drain issues that have been plaguing older iPhone and iPads since the release of iOS 8 back in September.

January 29, 2015

What Is Broadband? 25 Mbps, FCC Says

Net Neutrality

The FCC today moved to increase the definition of broadband from 4 to 25 Mbps.

In 2010, the commission ruled that speeds of 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload constitute broadband. But that benchmark "is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way," the FCC said today.

Instead, broadband-quality speeds should sit closer to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, according to the FCC.

The move came alongside the release of the FCC's 2015 Broadband Progress Report, an assessment of the U.S. broadband market it is required to release each year. For this year's report, the FCC used the 25 Mbps standard to examine the U.S. market, and found that 55 million Americans – 17 percent of the population – lack access to advanced broadband. That's an improvement of about 3 percentage points from last year, the FCC said.

About 53 percent of rural Americans (22 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to 8 percent of those in urban areas. About 20 percent of those in rural regions don't even have 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds.

On tribal lands, two-thirds of residents lack broadband, while 35 percent of schools don't have fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support high-tech learning tools.

"While significant progress in broadband deployment has been made...these advances are not occurring broadly enough or quickly enough," the FCC concluded.

The agency first floated the idea of upping its broadband standards last year. Today, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which represents the nation's top cable providers, said the move to 25 Mbps was cause for concern.

"We are troubled that the Commission majority has arbitrarily chosen a definition of broadband...that ignores how millions of consumers currently access the Internet," NCTA said.

"The cable industry has consistently delivered faster Internet speeds to American consumers with networks that offer 50 Mbps to 85 percent of U.S. homes, widely available tiers that exceed 100 Mbps and Gigabit speeds in some communities," NCTA continued. "Instead of an accurate assessment of America's broadband marketplace and the needs and uses of consumers, the FCC action is industrial policy that is not faithful to Congress's [mandate] but a clear effort to justify and expand the bounds of the FCC's own authority."

Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly echoed that sentiment, calling the move a "charade."

O'Rielly said he supports faster broadband for the whole country, "but selecting an artificially high standard and applying it in a way that is impossible to achieve in order to reach all Americans, certainly in the near term, makes a mockery of a process that was supposed to provide an honest assessment of broadband deployment in the United States," he said in a statement.

CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, said it "believes that advanced communications capability is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion and that mobile broadband is an important component of the broadband marketplace," and pledged to "review carefully the details of this report."

Consumer group Public Knowledge, however, praised the move as "long overdue."

"The National Broadband Plan set a goal stating that, by 2020, 'at least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second.' Today's report is an important finding of fact that can help the FCC more accurately assess our progress toward that goal, and one that is relevant to a number of other FCC proceedings," said Edyael Casaperalta, an Internet Rights Fellow at Public Knowledge.

Casaperalta urged the FCC to "gradually improve its standards in the future" rather than making huge jumps after a number of years.

January 29, 2015

Apple Close to Beating Samsung in the Smartphone Race

iPhone 6 Plus vs Galaxy Note 4

Forget the Patriots and the Seahawks: Apple and Samsung take the crown for biggest rivalry of 2015.

According to Strategy Analytics, the electronics giants tied as the world's No. 1 smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter.

IDC released similar data, but crowned Samsung the victor, with a mere 600,000 units over Apple: 75.1 million vs. 74.5 million.

Together, the American and South Korean companies helped smartphone shipments grow 31 percent, reaching a record 380.1 million at the end of 2014, Strategy Analytics reported. A total 1.3 billion smartphones were delivered worldwide between October and December; emerging markets like India, Africa, and China proved to be popular destinations last quarter.

Samsung did take a 10 percent dive from the same time in 2013 amidst intense competition from newcomers Huawei and Xiaomi. It may take the acquisition of rivals like BlackBerry to help revitalize the company's growth, Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston suggested (though BlackBerry has denied such plans).

"That the worldwide smartphone market grew by 27.6 percent in 2014 is noteworthy, but it also represents a significant slowdown compared to 2013," Ramon Llamas, IDC research manager, said in a statement.

Mature markets, Llamas said, are more reliant on replacement purchases than first-time buyers, who continue to flood emerging outlets selling low-cost gadgets.

"What remains to be seen is how the vendors beyond Samsung and Apple will assert themselves," Llamas said. "With Lenovo acquiring Motorola, and Xiaomi having greater aspirations beyond China, the competitive pressure will come more from below and less from above. This will make the smartphone race continuously competitive as 2015 shapes up."

Though Apple just missed topping Samsung during the quarter, according to IDC's numbers, Cupertino gained a bit of market share over the last year and saw shipments rise from 51 million units to that staggering 74.5 million. Samsung slipped on both points.

"Most of the industry expected an extremely strong holiday quarter from Apple, especially with regards to the iPhone," said Ryan Reith, program director of IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report. "However, worldwide shipments of 74.5 million units beat everyone's expectations."

Lenovo's official integration helped Motorola sell 24.7 million devices and capture 6 percent share, barely beating Huawei, which managed about 24 million shipments, according to IDC and Strategy Analytics.

On the operating system front, Android shipped an impressive 1 billion smartphones worldwide last year, accounting for more than 80 percent of 2014's sales, Strategy Analytics found. That's up from 800 million last year. But Google's popular OS runs on what seems like a limitless supply of handsets—from Samsung to HTC to Motorola and more—allowing it to saturate more of the globe than, say, Microsoft.

Redmond shipped just 38.8 million smartphones in 2014, capturing a relatively niche 3 percent market share. While the company's Windows platform dominates PCs, it continues to struggle in the handset business.

January 28, 2015

Apple Goes Bug Hunting With iOS 8.1.3

iOS 8.1.3 Heads up, iPhone and iPad users. Apple has rolled out an iOS update, which squashes a number of bugs affecting the mobile operating system.

Launched Tuesday evening, iOS 8.1.3 also offers some stability and performance improvements, including a better updating experience. On a sour note, however, the update does not fix the slow Wi-Fi and battery-drain issues that have been plaguing older iPhone and iPads since the release of iOS 8 back in September.

As Forbes notes, iPhone and iPad users have taken to the Apple Support Communities forum to complain that Cupertino has chosen to ignore these issues, along with other problems affecting the calendar and Bluetooth. One user on the iOS Wi-Fi Problems thread wrote that they installed iOS 8.1.3, but it "made no difference on the WiFi issue. I still loose [sic] connection."

There's no word as to whether Apple plans to address these issues in the future.

For now, iOS 8.1.3 most notably reduces the amount of storage required to perform a software update. This should be music to the ears of anyone who has ever been forced to go on a deleting spree just to clear enough space to upgrade in the past.

According to Apple's release notes, the update also fixes an issue that prevented some users from entering their Apple ID password for Messages and FaceTime. Besides that, it corrects issues that caused Spotlight to stop displaying app results and that prevented multitasking gestures from working on iPads.

Finally, the update adds some new configuration options for standardized education testing, though Apple did not elaborate on this.

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January 27, 2015

Newest Google Fiber Cities Revealed

Gigabit Internet

Google today confirmed that it will roll out its super-fast gigabit Internet service in 18 cities across four metro areas: Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh-Durham.

The cities are among the 34 that have been working with Google over the past year to see if it made sense to deploy Google Fiber. The search giant was scheduled to pick its new Google Fiber cities by the end of 2014, but delayed that decision because it had "a bit more work to wrap up."

Google Fiber ExpansionGoogle, however, said today that "now the really hard work begins."

"Our next step is to work with cities to create a detailed map of where we can put our thousands of miles of fiber, using existing infrastructure such as utility poles and underground conduit, and making sure to avoid things like gas and water lines," Dennis Kish, vice president of Google Fiber, wrote in a blog post. "Then a team of surveyors and engineers will hit the streets to fill in missing details. Once we're done designing the network (which we expect to wrap up in a few months), we'll start construction."

Google isn't stopping with the southeast, though. It is still thinking about bringing Fiber to Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and San Jose. "[Expect] updates on these potential Fiber cities later this year," Kish wrote.

Last year, the San Antonio City Council signed an agreement with Google that would allow the company to deploy "network huts" on city property in order to facilitate the rollout of gigabit Internet. It does not mean that Google Fiber (or AT&T U-verse with GigaPower for that matter) is a done deal in San Antonio, but allows for a faster rollout if Google gives the rollout the OK down the line.

Google Fiber is already deployed in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, Utah.

Kish noted that President Obama called for faster Internet in his State of the Union, and argued that "communities across America are demanding more speed for their own homes and businesses, and we're going to keep doing our part to help."

Google Fiber costs about $70 per month, or $120 bundled with TV service. There's also the option for free 5 Mbps Internet if you pay the $300 installation fee.

January 27, 2015

Apple Watch Starts Shipping in April

Apple Watch Edition

The long-awaited Apple Watch will begin shipping in April, Apple confirmed today.

CEO Tim Cook made the announcement during a Tuesday earnings call with investors. He did not provide an exact shipping date, or provide details on pricing. Cupertino has said that the Apple Watch will start at $349, but it comes in three versions, and the high-end luxury "Edition" watch will likely retail for much more.

Cook did say that he is "using it every day...and can't live without it." Apple is "making great progress on the development" of Apple Watch, and "the number of developers that are writing apps for it are impressive."

Not surprisingly, meanwhile, Apple fans were very eager to get their hands on larger iPhones. Cupertino announced today that it sold a record 74.5 million iPhones during the fourth quarter.

That's almost double the 39.3 million iPhones the company sold in the third quarter, though buyers were undoubltedly waiting for the fall launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple's latest large-screen smartphones.

Cook said the iPhone 6 was the most popular iPhone, though he declined to break out exact numbers. Popularity varied by location, with some regions preferring the iPhone 6 Plus, for example, "so it's something that's not consistent," he said.

"We'd like to thank our customers for an incredible quarter, which saw demand for Apple products soar to an all-time high," Cook said in a statement. "Our revenue grew 30 percent over last year to $74.6 billion, and the execution by our teams to achieve these results was simply phenomenal."

After a bit of a slump in 2014, Apple sold 21.5 million iPads over the holiday quarter, up from 12.3 million in the previous quarter, though that was still lower than the 26 million it sold in the year-ago quarter.

Cook reiterated what he said last year about iPad sales, namely that buyers appear to be holding on their tablets longer than iPhones. He estimated, however, that upgrade cycles are probably somewhere between iPhone and Mac, though "we haven't been in the business long enough to say that with certainty, " he said.

There's also probably a bit of cannibalization with people opting for the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPad.

First-time iPad buyer rates are "very high," Cook said. In developed markets like the U.S., Japan, and the U.K., 50 percent of people are buying an iPad for the first time. That jumps to 70 percent in China, "so you don't have a saturated market, he said.

Mac sales were relatively unchanged from the third quarter at 5.5 million, though that's up from the 4.8 million it sold during the same time period last year.

January 26, 2015

Report: iPhone Sales in China Top U.S.

Tim Cook Foxconn China

China's Apple fanboys turned up the heat in the third quarter, pushing iPhone sales in the country past those recorded in the U.S.

Cupertino is expected to announce this week that, for the first time, it moved more smartphones overseas than at home, according to the Financial Times.

Analysts pointed to the California-based tech giant's deal with China Mobile—the country's largest network operator—as the tipping point for Apple. In fact, China reportedly accounted for 36 percent of iPhone shipments in the most recent quarter; the U.S. made up only 24 percent, UBS estimates said.

Creative Strategies' Ben Bajarin suggested to the Times that 2 million more iPhones were sold in China than North America in the three months ending in December. Expect more details on Tuesday, when Apple announces its fourth-quarter earnings.

January 26, 2015

Report: Samsung to Serve as Main Chip Supplier for Next iPhone

Samsung logo It's only January, and we're already hearing rumors about the next-gen iPhone.

The latest reports, however, focus on the upcoming phone's internal components—namely, which company will be making the chips for Apple's next iPhone. According to South Korea's Maeil Business Newspaper, Samsung will be producing the bulk of the new chips.

As noted by Reuters, Samsung will be responsible for about 75 percent of iPhone chip production, which will be made in the company's Austin, Texas factory.

Neither Samsung nor Apple immediately responded to a request for comment.

Rumors about new chip partners for Apple have circulated for years. Following the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Chipworks said the Apple A8 in the smartphones was manufactured on TSMC's 20nm process instead of the 28nm Samsung process used by the A7.

While Apple might want to ditch Samsung for competitive reasons, it's tricky because Samsung is such a powerhouse in the space and has the means to produce the components Apple needs for its gadgets.

The news comes after reports that Samsung would exclusively use its own chips in the next version of its best-selling Galaxy S smartphone, rather than those from Qualcomm. But some industry watchers cast doubt on the reports, pointing out that Samsung has never used Qualcomm exclusively in its Galaxy S line of phones.

November rumors suggested Samsung is starting from scratch with its Galaxy S6, codenamed "Project Zero." Some possible specs include a Quad HD display with a 2,560-by-1,440 resolution and the same IMX240 camera sensor used on the Note 4. It may also come with Google's new Android 5.0 Lollipop mobile OS, 3GB of RAM, and a new LTE modem designed by Samsung. Expect more at February's Mobile World Congress.

January 23, 2015

Report: Don’t Expect an Amazing Apple Watch Battery Life

Apple Watch

Even Apple hasn't cracked the smartwatch battery code: A new report suggests the upcoming Apple Watch will provide up to 3.5 hours of app use between charges.

That number drops to 2.5 hours if you're constantly checking social media, stock prices, or sports scores.

The Apple S1 chip and Retina-class display might result in hefty battery loss, according to 9to5Mac, which cited people with knowledge of the Apple Watch's development.

Leave the wearable in standby or low-power mode, and you may be able to squeeze two to three days out of it. Or, oddly enough, switch on the fitness-tracking software for nearly four hours of exercise tracking on a single charge, 9to5 Mac said.

Still, the Apple Watch is likely not intended for near-constant use. "That's why the Watch will be able to last the average user roughly a day on a single charge," 9to5Mac said. "We're told that Apple has been shooting for roughly 19 hours of mixed usage each day, but that the company may not hit that number in the first-generation version."

Early last year, Cupertino was rumored to be experimenting with wireless and solar charging efforts for its smartwatch—a far cry from the circular magnetic connector expected to ship this year.

Apple fans may get their wrists on the new wearable as early as March: Recent reports tip "extensive testing programs" at Apple retail stores next month, ahead of a March rollout.

Cupertino unveiled its long-awaited device is early September, showing off three variant with different bands: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition.

Available in a 38mm or 42mm watch face, the wearable requires an iPhone connection (everything from the 5 to 6 Plus), and provides easy access to Siri, apps, photos, directions, and communication services.

January 23, 2015

Office 2016 Expected Later This Year

Though news of the HoloLens dominated Microsoft headlines this week, Redmond also had information about Office: the next-gen Office 2016 will arrive in 2015.

"We are hard at work on the next release of the Office desktop suite that will be called Office 2016. (Unexpected, I know!)," Microsoft wrote in a blog post. "We expect to make Office 2016 generally available in the second half of 2015."

The company had few other details to share about the new Office suite, but promised that it "will remain the comprehensive Office experience you're long familiar with, best suited for a PC with keyboard and mouse, [as well as] compelling new experiences coming as part of this Office suite."

The arrival of Windows 10, for example, will include Office "universal apps" that work on a variety of display sizes (from Lumia phones to the 84-inch Surface Hub), particularly those with touch screens. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote will be pre-installed for free on Windows 10-based phones and small tablets; those with other gadgets can download the software from the Windows Store.