The Tech News Blog

February 27, 2015

Apple to Hold ‘Special Event’ on March 9

Apple March 9, 2015 event invite Heads up, Apple Fans. The Cupertino tech giant has some news to share in less than two weeks.

A new, larger iPad Pro? More details about the upcoming Apple Watch? Details are scant, but Apple today sent invitations to members of the media for a "special event" on March 9 in San Francisco. "Spring forward," the invite reads.

Tim Cook and Co. may be using this event to share final details and pricing for the long-awaited Apple Watch, which is slated to start shipping in April. Apple has yet to offer up an exact launch date for its upcoming timepiece — or details as to how much the various models will cost — so we may find that out on March 9.

It's also possible that Apple could unveil something new — like the larger "iPad Pro" we've been hearing about since last fall. Japanese news site Macotakara recently reported that Cupertino is prepping the iPad Pro to go up against business devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, and that the tablet will feature a 12.2-inch display — smaller than the previously rumored 12.9-inch size.

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February 26, 2015

Apple Ordered to Pay $533M in iTunes Patent Case

iTunes Tips

Apple this week lost a patent infringement case related to iTunes software and was ordered to pay $532.9 million in fines.

As reported by Bloomberg, Apple argued that it never used the patents in question, and had asked the court to invalidate those patents, held by Texas-based Smartflash.

In a statement, Cupertino said Smartflash is nothing but a patent troll.

"Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has not U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented," an Apple spokeswoman said in an email. "We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system."

Smartflash, meanwhile, said the jury "worked hard" through the trial, paying close attention to facts.

"Ultimately, the jury saw through Apple's arguments and reached the right result," a lawyer with Caldwell Cassady & Curry, which is representing Smartflash, told PCMag in a statement. "The jury's verdict provides well-deserved and long-overdue recognition."

The firm won't get the $852 million in damages it sought, but the final ruling still throws a heavy financial punch at Apple, which claimed the three patents were worth no more than $4.5 million, Bloomberg said.

According to the original suit, filed in May 2013, Apple's iTunes infringed on copyrights regarding access to and storage of downloaded songs, videos, and games. Smartflash specifically pointed to infringements in iOS apps developed by Game Circus and KingsIsle Entertainment. Those companies served as defendants, but were dismissed from the case last year, Bloomberg reported.

Launched at the turn of the century by inventor Patrick Racz, Smartflash's only business is licensing seven patents issued between 2008 and 2012, Bloomberg said.

Smartflash has also sued Google, Amazon, HTC, and Samsung for patent infringement regarding data storage and access systems.

February 24, 2015

Report: Apple Upgrading Genius Bar Appointment System

Apple Store Genius Bar/Creative Commons

If it ain't broke… fix it? Apple may be adopting that motto when it comes to its Genius Bar.

The Cupertino tech giant is reportedly planning to overhaul its in-store repair service. According to a new report from 9to5Mac, citing several sources familiar with the company's plans, Apple is gearing up to launch a new initiative dubbed "the new concierge," which will replace the current walk-in appointment system.

As anyone who has been to the Genius Bar knows, you can either make an appointment by phone or online ahead of time, or just walk into an Apple Store, find someone in a blue shirt, explain your problem, and set up an appointment. This new system — the brainchild of Apple's Senior Vice Preside of Retail Angela Ahrendts — would prioritize appointments based on how pressing the issue is.

Under the new model, "a customer describes the issue to an Apple Store employee, who inputs the issue into an updated iPad application," 9to5Mac reports. "Using a special algorithm, the application provides the customer a wait time based on issue priorities. For example, a customer seeking an iPhone screen replacement will automatically be placed higher in the queue than a customer seeking help with a minor iCloud issue."

Customers will need to provide a phone number, and Apple will then send a text message with the wait time. If you don't feel like waiting in the store, Apple can send a follow-up text when it's time for you to start heading back, and a third message when the technician is ready, letting you know where you can find them in the store.

Several Apple employees told 9to5Mac that this is "one of the most significant changes" to Cupertino's retail operations in several years.

"This will likely reduce crowding in the Apple Store and possibly fatigue from waiting customers," the report notes. "Apple Stores will operate essentially like restaurants that provide diners with pagers and wait times instead of holding empty tables while people are waiting."

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February 24, 2015

Apple Adds Diverse Emojis to OS X, iOS Betas

Apple Diverse Emoji Apple developers are getting a sneak peek at the new lineup of racially diverse emojis.

The new OS X and iOS betas sent to developers this week (OS X 10.10.3. and iOS 8.3 beta 2) reportedly include a broader range of skin tones for human characters.

Based on screenshots published by The Next Web, the new emoji palette should please many more users, who've been pushing for better representation of the actual human race among the animated stickers used to communicate online.

In the next version of Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems, users will reportedly be able to click and hold an icon to choose one of six color options, from yellow to dark brown.

Other more subtle changes include a new set of family emojis that cover gay parents and various pairings of children, as well as more country flags. And in a self-serving move, Cupertino's timepiece icon now reflects its upcoming Apple Watch, and a redesigned phone emoji that matches the iPhone 6 and new iOS style.

When contacted for comment, an Apple spokeswoman said only that "Apple supports and cares deeply about diversity, and is working with The Unicode Consortium to update the standard so that it better represents diversity for all of us."

This move comes after emoji maker Unicode in November released a proposal to broaden the range of skin tones for human emoji. Characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a standard for dermatology; exact shades may vary on different platforms. The actual rollout of new emoji is controlled by app and mobile OS makers like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

Apple will reportedly run its first public beta program for iOS starting next month. Limited to 100,000 people, the main goal of the program will be what 9to5Mac reported as "a more reliable and widely tested operating system by the time of the wider consumer launch."

A similar experiment was conducted last year with Mac OS X Yosemite.

The mobile beta is also expected to include an update to the Siri personal assistant, who will be able to understand and act upon voice commands in Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Thai, Swedish, and Turkish.

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February 19, 2015

Apple Watch Is Ready for Its Close-Up

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has been making headlines for months. But the March issue of Self marks its first U.S. magazine cover appearance, on the arm of supermodel Candice Swanepoel.

Despite reports that Apple Watch will lack advanced health-tracking features, Self talked up the fitness components of Cupertino's device.

"Aside from all the overall productivity the device offers, we're zeroing in on the health aspects: Using an accelerometer, a built-in heart rate sensor, GPS, and Wi-Fi from your iPhone to provide a comprehensive picture of your daily activity," the magazine said.

Still, according to a recent report, the device, due in April, does not include the ability to measure blood pressure or stress levels, among other popular features.

The watch's Activity app, however, does provide a graphic of your daily activity: how many calories you've burned, how many minutes of brisk activity you've done, and how often you've stood up from sitting. It also serves as a personal trainer, with customizable coaching options.

Apple Watch in Self magazineApple Watch will start at $349, available in three models; the high-end luxury "Edition" watch will likely retail for much more.And despite CEO Tim Cook's claims that he uses the watch "every day" and "can't live without it," customers shouldn't expect a full 24 hours' worth of wrist-based enjoyment. The device will likely provide up to 3.5 hours of app use between charges. That number falls to 2.5 hours with constant use.

Still, Cupertino appears to be positive about sales: Apple reportedly ordered 5 to 6 million units from suppliers in the first quarter. Half of those will be entry-level Sport models (like the one Swanepoel is wearing), while one-third is earmarked for the mid-tier version.

The rest will presumably be fitted into an 18-karat-gold casing for the Edition watch.

The Apple Watch made its international debut on the cover of Vogue China last year.

February 15, 2015

Report: Apple Prepping Electric Car

5 Things to Know About Apple CarPlay

Earlier this month, Patently Apple discovered a patent issued to "Apple Electric Car, Inc." It was intriguing, but the patent was given to a duo out of Miami, and the tech described in the patent wasn't exactly something Apple would release.

But while that patent didn't come from Cupertino, a team at Apple is apparently interested in electric cars. Sources have told Reuters and The Wall Street Journal that Apple has "several hundred" employees working on an electric car, known internally as Titan.

This comes amidst reports that Apple is prepping a Street View rival after minivans leased to Apple, equipped LiDAR sensors and cameras, were spotted driving in Claycord, Calif. Others speculated the vehicles were self-driving car prototypes.

Whatever it's testing, it remains to be seen if we'll ever actually see an electric car roll into an Apple press event. Apple, like most tech companies, often experiments with technologies it never brings to market.

Still, according to the Journal, "the size of the project team and the senior people involved indicate that the company is serious."

The paper pointed to talks with high-end car makers and Apple's work with designer Marc Newsom, who has experience with car design.

Though Apple has billions in the bank, its last big "revolutionary" product was the iPad in 2010, and even that has taken a hit in the last year. The Apple Watch is coming up in April, but many Apple watchers are waiting for Cupertino to come up with something truly surprising and dazzling.

Could an electric car be the ticket? The Journal said the car project has enticed many an Apple employee to remain with the company. Apple might be on to something there; a recent report suggested that Elon Musk and Tesla Motors have poached upwards of 150 Apple employees in recent years.

Tesla, of course, is currently one of the biggest names in electric cars. And it's not opposed to a little competition. Last year, Tesla announced that it will not file any lawsuits against companies that want to use its patented technology for electric vehicles. Tesla and Apple are not strangers, either. In 2014, Musk confirmed that he had informal talks with execs at Apple, but he denied any acquisition plans.

February 9, 2015

Report: iOS 9 to Focus More on Stability Than New Features

Apple logoHoping for a whole slew of revolutionary features in iOS 9? You might be let down.

According to a new report from 9to5Mac, Apple is focusing more on improving the stability of its mobile operating system rather than adding a bunch of new features in the next big release. What you'll likely get is a mobile operating system with fewer glitches.

Kind of boring, yes, but the news should be music to the ears of anyone dealing with slow Wi-Fi and battery-drain issues that have been plaguing older iPhone and iPads since the release of iOS 8 in September. While there's no word that Apple plans to fix these specific problems, Cupertino is reportedly going on a major bug hunt for iOS 9.

"For 2015, iOS 9 is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements," 9to5 Mac said. "Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a 'huge' focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions."

With iOS 9, Apple is also reportedly planning to further reduce the amount of storage required to perform a software update. This is good news for those with 16GB devices, or anyone who has ever been forced to go on a deleting spree just to clear enough space to upgrade.

The blog suggested that Apple might limit iOS 9 support to newer devices. "If the iPhone 5c, original iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch are discontinued by the end of 2015, all of Apple's 'currently available' iOS devices would be using 64-bit A7, A8, and A9 processors," 9to5Mac noted. "This could simplify iOS development for both Apple and third-party app developers."

The report comes after Apple late last month squashed a number of bugs with its latest iOS update, but ignored the major Wi-Fi, battery drain, calendar, and Bluetooth problems some users on older devices are experiencing.

February 5, 2015

Swatch Smartwatch to Battle Apple

As reported by Bloomberg, Swatch has already developed long-lasting batteries so thin they're bendable. And its Tissot brand has been making touch-screen watches since 1999; it now offers an altimeter, a compass, and sensors to record a diver's descent.

The nameless smartwatch will operate via near-field communication (NFC) technology, and let users make mobile payments and sync with Android and Windows software.

Perhaps most notable: Swatch's device will not need to be charged, Bloomberg reported, citing CEO Nick Hayek. It remains unclear just how long the battery will last, or how it will remain juiced up for so long. But Hayek tipped a recently awarded patent for batteries based on new materials that can double their performance.

"We'll implement all of those into new products," Hayek told Bloomberg. "Some of them, such as the battery, will take a few years though, and are also destined for other industries, like the automotive industry."

A more immediate feature: mobile payments, about which the company chief remained mum, saying only that Swatch is in talks with retailers. He also declined to specify when the smartwatch will arrive, suggesting "two to three months."

Demand for and production of smartwatches continues to rise, and Hayek is finally feeling the pressure to produce a product he previously dismissed. Concerned about small screens and charging requirements, Hayek once called Swatch's luxury brands smartwatches because "they make you look smart," Bloomberg said.

Swatch did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple, meanwhile, is set to launch its highly anticipated Apple Watch in April to the tune of $349 or more, depending on which version you pick.

February 5, 2015

iOS Tops Android in U.S. for First Time Since 2012

iPhone 6 Review

For the first time since 2012, Apple is once again the king of the U.S. smartphone market.

Apple's iOS overtook Android during the fourth quarter of 2014, taking back the lead it lost two years earlier by "the slimmest 0.1 percent margin," according to new smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

The iPhone 6 was the best-selling smartphone in the U.S. throughout the holiday quarter, and was also the most popular phone to give as a gift. Samsung retained its No. 2 spot, largely thanks to its Galaxy S5, which was the second best-selling smartphone.

"While the success of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is unprecedented, this quarter's performance also points to Apple having its strongest portfolio ever," Kantar's Chief of Research, Carolina Milanesi, said in a statement. "With a range of devices available at different price points in both contract and pre-pay Apple was able to take advantage of a weaker Android offering at the premium end of the market."

Apple's iOS was found on 47.7 percent of all smartphones sold in the U.S. during the fourth quarter, narrowly beating out Android's 47.6 percent share of the market. Microsoft's Windows, which is soon to be Windows 10, nabbed a modest 3.8 percent share.

Meanwhile, Apple's share of smartphone sales also grew in the big five European markets — Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain — as well as China during that all-important holiday period, Kantar found. Across Europe, Android's share dropped 3.8 percentage points year over year to 66.1 percent, while iOS rose by 6.2 percentage points.

The new smartphone sales data comes after Apple last week revealed 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.

February 2, 2015

iPhone Growth Puts Dent in Android Shipments

Top 10 Smartphones (update) Demand for Apple's large-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus put a major dent on Android shipments last quarter.

While Android is still the king of the smartphone market — by far — shipments of phones running Google's mobile OS fell during the crucial holiday quarter for the first time ever, mainly due to phenomenal growth of Apple's iOS, according to new data from market tracker ABI Research.

In what is usually a "shipment spike quarter," Android shipments actually fell 5 percent, dropping to 205.56 million units in Q4 from 217 million during the previous three months. Shipments of so-called "forked" or modified Android phones also dropped, falling 1 percent to 85 million units.

Apple, on the other hand, saw huge shipment growth. The Cupertino tech giant shipped 74.5 million iPhones, an impressive 90 percent increase from the previous quarter, ABI said.

"Google's Android is being attacked by Apple's iOS at the high end," Nick Spencer, senior practice director of mobile devices for ABI Research, said in a statement. On the low end, Android shipments took a hit thanks to cheaper "forked" devices from companies like Xioami, especially in "high-growth markets" like China.

Meanwhile, shipments of Windows Phone-based devices rose 19 percent to 10.70 million units. In total, smartphone shipments increased by 7 percent compared to the previous quarter, with manufacturers collectively shipping 378 million units.

"4Q 2014 has been a seismic quarter in the smartphone industry and many premium tier Android vendors may once again review their operating system and therefore content and service strategies in light of Apple and forked Android vendor Xiaomi's success," Spencer predicted. "Worrying times for Google's mobile services and Android, but it presents opportunity for other service providers and even operating systems."

For more, check out the chart below.

ABI Research Q4 14 smarpthone shipments