Tag: Apple

Apple’s Upgrade Program offers a ‘head start’ on iPhone X

While initial pre-orders for the iPhone X are still a week away from opening, some Apple die-hards will be able to get started early. Apple's installment-based Upgrade Program that lets customers get a new phone every year will, just like it did with the launch of the iPhone 8 / 8 Plus, allow members to get their loan paperwork in order starting on Monday. Combined with the recently added mail-in return option for their old iPhones, it should make staying up to date easier than ever, even if it doesn't guarantee that they'll be able to purchase the new OLED-screened device right away. For that, they'll have to stay up until 3 AM ET Friday morning just like everyone else.

Via: MacRumors, 9to5Mac

Source: Apple


Senators want to know if Apple fought back on China’s VPN ban

Apple CEO Tim Cook wasn't pleased about pulling VPN software from the company's App Store in China, but this July, it happened anyway. As a result, many users who once counted on such software to dodge the country's Great Firewall were left to their own devices (and we've explored the situation at length here). Now, senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have called on Cook in a letter to explain in detail how that process went down, out of concern that Apple is "enabling the Chinese government's censorship and surveillance of the internet."

The letter (which can be read in full here) poses 10 questions to the Apple CEO. It asks (among other things) whether Apple formally commented on the Chinese government's Cybersecurity Law when it was presented as a first draft, whether Chinese authorities requested Apple removed the VPN apps, whether Apple has made any attempt to reintroduce said apps, and how many apps were removed in total. (A report from the BBC when the apps first disappeared put the count at around 60.)

Apple hasn't issued an official statement on the matter yet, and our request for comment was met with a transcript of Cook's statement on the issue during the company's August 1st earnings call. The thrust of that statement can be summed up in one line: "We would obviously rather not remove the apps, but like we do in other countries, we follow the law wherever we do business."

In other words, Apple complied with the (arguably abhorrent) policy of another country because it makes a lot of money there. That's not likely to change anytime soon, either. The Greater China region (which also includes Hong Kong and Taiwan) has been known to make or break quarterly earnings reports, and mainland China's middle class is only continuing to grow in size and importance. According to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit last year, nearly 35 percent of the country is expected full under the "upper middle-income" and "high income" umbrellas by 2030 -- that works out to around 480 million people, essentially all of whom will need smartphones.

Cook hopes that these restrictions will be eased over time, but yeah, of course Apple aligned itself with Beijing on this one. The cash incentives here are no joke. The real ammunition that senators Cruz and Leahy have seized on is that Apple seems to embody two reputations that often seem antithetical to each other: that of a shrewd corporate tactician, and that of a principled company willing to take a stand on the important issues of the day. The former has stowed over $230 billion in what The Telegraph calls "offshore subsidiaries" in hopes that it'll one day be able to bring it back to the US without paying an obscene tax bill. The latter is centered around a CEO that won a Free Expression award earlier this year, who said in his acceptance that Apple "defends [the freedom of expression] by enabling people around the world to speak up."

We'll monitor the situation and update this story if Apple explicitly responds to the letter.


Fake iPhone X has a fake notch, obviously

We're only one week away from iPhone X pre-orders, but the counterfeit market is already offering a variety of similar-looking devices to a particular crowd. As I anticipated, I came across one such clone while wandering around Hong Kong's Global Sources electronics fair earlier today, courtesy of a Shenzhen company by the marvelous name of Hotwonder. Its Hotwav Symbol S3 (also not the best name) is essentially an entry-level 4G Android phone shamelessly packaged into an iPhone X-like body, except for one notable difference: the screen "bezel" is white instead of black.

You see, unlike the real deal, the Symbol S3 only uses a rectangular display (a 6-inch 1,440 x 720 IPS panel), so if you strip away the white paint around it, you'll end up with an ordinary-looking smartphone with a regular forehead and chin. In other words, the white contour and notch are for mimicking the specially-cut shape of the iPhone X's OLED display, but such illusion only works when the background is black. Not to mention that the Android interface here is a dead giveaway, anyway.

Of course, you can't expect this random Chinese factory to clone Apple's TrueDepth sensor, but it did fill the notch with a pair of cameras plus an LED flash, making it a total of four bokeh-enabled cameras on this device: 5 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the front, and 13 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the back. Hotwonder also took the liberty to add a fingerprint magnet mirror finish to the back side, which could be considered as a bonus feature for those who carry a pocket mirror around.

The Symbol S3's spec sheet lists Android 8.0 as its operating system, and it can be equipped with either MediaTek's new MT6739 chipset (1.3GHz, 4x Cortex-A53, dual-LTE or LTE + WCDMA) or its much older MT6592 (1.7GHz, 8x Cortex-A7, 3G only). The device also packs a 2,900 mAh fixed battery (no wireless charging here), 16GB of internal storage and a mere 2GB of RAM. Yikes.

It's unclear how much this cheeky device will retail for, but I wouldn't be surprised if you can buy seven or eight of these for the price of one genuine iPhone X. But seriously, don't.


Billboard’s charts will give more weight to paid music streams in 2018

Starting in 2018, Billboard will change the way it counts streaming music for its charts. Right now, the way it works for the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart is that there are two tiers for streaming music: on demand (where you can select what you listen to) and programmed (think Pandora). On demand listening is given a greater weight than programmed. But next year, the company will add another tier. Paid subscription services (such as Apple Music and the paid tiers of services like Spotify) will have more weight than purely ad-supported listening and unpaid tiers of subscription streaming services.

Billboard says of the switch, "The shift to a multi-level streaming approach to Billboard's chart methodology is a reflection of how music is now being consumed on streaming services, migrating from a pure on-demand experience to a more diverse selection of listening preferences (including playlists and radio), and the various options in which a consumer can access music based on their subscription commitment." It's admirable that the company is keeping its service responsive and reflexive, given how quickly the way we consume music has changed over the years.

The emphasis on paid streaming music, versus free or ad-supported streaming, is an interesting development. It gives music companies further incentive to pressure Spotify and other services that use this kind of tier system to convert more of their subscribers from ad-supported to paid. Spotify historically has shown reluctance to restrict content from its unpaid users, though tough negotiations with music labels have forced the streaming service to take action on that front. Now, it looks like the next round of negotiations might be even harder for services such as Spotify.

Via: The Verge

Source: Billboard


Verizon will fix your smartphone’s screen for $29

It happens to the best of us. You buy a new mobile phone, you get a case, you try to be extra careful, but you drop it. Cracked screens happen often enough that most major carriers and device manufacturers have a separate section in their mobile protection plans just for replacing a broken display. According to a report on Phandroid, Verizon has just added the repair type to it's own mobile insurance plans with an affordable $30 deductible, down $20 from the previous $50 amount.

Verizon's Total Mobile Protection Plan will run you $11 per month for a smartphone, $9 per month for a basic phone or tablet, and you can pay $33 per month to insure multiple devices. If you crack your screen, says Verizon, you may be able to get it repaired that same day, provided you live in "select markets" and have "certain devices." The company also says a technician can meet you at your home, office, school or wherever you are while traveling.

Verizon isn't the only carrier with this sort of plan. AT&T has three plans for $9, $12 or $35 a month each of which includes potential same-day cracked screen repair, though the deductible here is $90. Sprint's Total Equipment Protection plan has five tiers (starting at $9 per month), which also includes cracked screen repairs for a variable rate, $50 for Tier one customers and $100 for Tier two folks. Apple Care Plus gets you an iPhone screen repair for $30, which is now a $170 service if you didn't purchase Apple's extended warranty plan. Complicated? Yes. Useful? Probably.

Source: Phandroid


Facebook’s news subscription service will debut on Android, not iOS

Back in June, we reported that Facebook was working on a subscription deal with The Wall Street Journal. Then in July, we learned that the social platform was launching a news subscription service which would layer a paywall above Instant Articles. Now, TechCrunch reports that Facebook is, in fact, in testing mode for subscriptions for Instant Articles.

Facebook is offering publishers two options. The first is to allow a certain number of articles for free and restrict users once free articles have been used up. The other is to lock certain articles only. It's debuting with the following ten publishers: Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst (The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle), La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune) and The Washington Post. Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal is not on that list, though Facebook was reportedly in discussions with the publisher News Corp.

The most interesting part of this news is the subscription model. Facebook will allow users to sign up for subscriptions through their app, but they will be redirected to the publisher's site to actually pay for it. This means that Facebook won't be keeping a chunk of that revenue, a very attractive proposition for publishers. Users will be able to activate subscriptions on Facebook as well, granting them access to articles if they already subscribe.

However, the revenue model also the reason that this feature will be launching on Android devices only, and not Apple, according to Recode. Android has no restrictions on how subscriptions can be sold in apps, but Apple takes up to 30 percent of the price of all subscriptions sold within its apps. Facebook and Apple were unable to come to terms on this despite months of negotiations, so for now, this feature will roll out across Android devices only over the next few weeks.

Source: Recode, TechCrunch


Apple’s self-driving tech appears to be one fully-contained unit

Like so many companies, Apple has been working on its own version of self-driving technology. Last year, we learned that the company had moved away from designing its own vehicle, opting instead to develop a system that could be incorporated into existing vehicles. We've had glimpses of this system before -- it's codenamed Project Titan -- but thanks to Voyage cofounder MacCallister Higgins, we now have an up-close view of it.

Higgens posted a short video on Twitter of a Lexus SUV topped with Apple's sensor array, which he called "The Thing." He also said that the majority of the compute stack is likely contained within the roof unit itself, rather than stored elsewhere in the vehicle, and noted that it had six LiDAR units on the front and back. Such a self-contained unit would be pretty easy to pop onto any car really without requiring many additional modifications to the vehicle itself, which is probably why Apple has opted for such a design.

You can take a peek at Apple's roof array in Higgens' video above.

Via: TechCrunch


Apple responds to Sen. Al Franken’s Face ID concerns in letter

Apple has responded to Senator Al Franken's concerns over the privacy implications of its Face ID feature, which is set to debut on the iPhone X next month. In his letter to Tim Cook, Franken asked about customer security, third-party access to data (including requests by law enforcement), and whether the tech could recognize a diverse set of faces.

In its response, Apple indicates that it's already detailed the tech in a white paper and Knowledge Base article -- which provides answers to "all of the questions you raise". But, it also offers a recap of the feature regardless (a TL:DR, if you will). Apple reiterates that the chance of a random person unlocking your phone is one in a million (in comparison to one in 500,000 for Touch ID). And, it claims that after five unsuccessful scans, a passcode is required to access your iPhone.

More significantly, Apple provides a summary on how it stores Face ID biometrics, which gets to the heart of the privacy concerns. "Face ID data, including mathematical representations of your face, is encrypted and only available to the Secure Enclave. This data never leaves the device. It is not sent to Apple, nor is it included in device backups. Face images captured during normal unlock operations aren't saved, but are instead immediately discarded once the mathematical representation is calculated for comparison to the enrolled Face ID data."

On the topic of data-sharing, it writes: "Third-party apps can use system provided APIs to ask the user to authenticate using Face ID or a passcode, and apps that support Touch ID automatically support Face ID without any changes." It continues: "When using Face ID, the app is notified only as to whether the authentication was successful; it cannot access Face ID or the data associated with the enrolled face."

Interestingly, the company dodges the Senator's question about data requests from law enforcement. But, by indicating that data lives inside a "secure enclave" that it can't access, it's suggesting that it won't be able to handover info that it doesn't possess. It could also be holding back in light of its scrap with the Department of Justice last year, which saw it refuse to unlock an iPhone 5C owned by the San Bernardino shooters.

As Sen. Franken noted in his letter, Apple trained its Face ID neural network on a billion images. But, that's not to say the photographs were of a billion different faces. For its part, Apple claims it looked at a "representative group of people" -- although it's still silent about exact numbers. It adds: "We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors. We augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users." Of course, we'll get to see how accurate Apple's tech is when the new iPhone makes its way into more hands next month.

For now, it seems the Senator is satisfied with the company's initial response, which he plans to extend into a conversation about data protection. You can read his full statement below:

"As the top Democrat on the Privacy Subcommittee, I strongly believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy. All the time, we learn about and actually experience new technologies and innovations that, just a few years back, were difficult to even imagine. While these developments are often great for families, businesses, and our economy, they also raise important questions about how we protect what I believe are among the most pressing issues facing consumers: privacy and security. I appreciate Apple's willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I'm glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns. I plan to follow up with the Apple to find out more about how it plans to protect the data of customers who decide to use the latest generation of iPhone's facial recognition technology."


Greenpeace blasts Amazon over poor environmental practices

Greenpeace has made a tradition out of raking companies over the coals when their environmental practices fall short of its standards, and that's truer than ever in the activist group's latest electronics report card. The organization didn't list any major company whose environmental stances (including renewable energy, sustainable products and toxin-free materials) were good enough to merit an "A" grade, and four companies earned an unflattering "F" -- including internet giant Amazon. According to Greenpeace, Jeff Bezos' brainchild falls well short on most marks.

Most notably, Greenpeace accuses Amazon of being opaque when it comes to discussing its environmental practices. The company publishes virtually no data on its energy use, its materials or whether or not it limits the use of hazardous chemicals. It tends to offer only the info required by law. Outside of its adoption of solar powered data centers and support for eco-friendly government policies, it hasn't made public commitments to lessen the environmental impact of its products. This isn't to say that Amazon hasn't taken steps to help the planet -- it's just impossible to know without more transparency. We've asked Amazon for comment.

As it stands, Amazon isn't alone. Some Chinese phone makers are also less-than-kind to the Earth, including stablemates Oppo and Vivo as well as Xiaomi. Not surprisingly, it's again chalked up to a lack of transparency and public commitments. If they're doing anything to improve the environment, they're not talking about it.

Only two companies fare well in the guide. Apple gets a "B-" through its strong transparency and very open commitments to eco-friendly technology, and it's mainly hurt by its reliance on hard-to-fix devices as well as its opposition to Right to Repair laws. The top performer is Fairphone, whose emphasis on easily-repaired, sustainable tech got it a "B" marred only by some unclear commitments. Whatever you think of Greenpeace or its verdicts, the guide at least serves as a useful goalpost. If companies want to prove that they're taking care of Mother Nature, they have to demonstrate in everything they do.

Source: Greenpeace


BBC iPlayer Radio now plays nice with Carplay and Android Auto

For many, BBC radio is synonymous with driving. When you're stuck in a traffic jam, holiday road trip or boring post-work commute, sometimes the best company is a never-ending playlist punctuated with cheerful DJ chatter. For the longest time, that's meant FM airwaves, but now of course you can use the iPlayer Radio app too. Today, the BBC is going one step further with support for Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto platforms. If you have a compatible in-car entertainment system, or don't mind sticking your Android phone to the dashboard, you can now use these large, touch-friendly interfaces while you're out on the road.

Both the CarPlay and Android Auto versions of iPlayer Radio come with four main sections. "Stations" lists all of the national and local stations broadcasting live across the UK. Downloads, meanwhile, is an offline playlist filled with shows and performances that you've previously bookmarked online or through the app. Listen Later contains all the episodes you've added to, well, Listen Later (it's supposed to be like your very own station) and Following is a shortcut to shows you've subscribed to. Both platforms have simplified, touch-friendly layouts, and with Android Auto you can use your voice to move around the menus.

Via: Gizmodo UK