Following yesterday’s report that a hacker group has been threatening to wipe hundreds of millions of iPhones if Apple does not pay them a ransom, Apple has unequivocally stated that there has been no breach of its systems. Although Apple neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the data the hackers claim to have, the company told Fortune that, if the list is legitimate, it was not obtained through any security breach at Apple, suggesting that the “alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services.”
Hackers identifying themselves as the “Turkish Crime Family” claim to have access to millions of iCloud accounts and are threatening to remotely wipe victims’ devices unless Apple pays them a ransom, Motherboard reports. The hackers have demanded either $100,000 worth of iTunes gift cards or $75,000 in Bitcoin or Ethereum to delete the data they claim to have stolen. One hacker provided unverified screenshots of email exchanges with Apple security and access to an email account used to communicate directly with Apple. In one email, a member of Apple’s security team asked, “Are you willing to share a sample of the data set?” The hackers then uploaded a YouTube video of them accessing an elderly woman’s iCloud, prompting Apple to allegedly request that the video be taken down and inform the hackers the company was contacting authorities.
Marriott is holding tryouts for Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa digital assistants to see which would be best to provide voice controls for their rooms, Bloomberg reports. Marriott is testing devices from both companies at its Aloft hotel in Boston, putting them through their paces with tasks like turning the lights on, changing room temperature, closing the curtains and changing TV channels. The Wynn resort in Las Vegas added Alexa-equipped Echo devices to its rooms last December, and Apple is trying to get its own foothold in what could be a valuable showcase for customers in the emerging smarthome business. Apple has also partnered with home builders to begin including HomeKit-enabled devices in new upscale houses in a bid to boost the visibility of its platform. Toni Stoeckl, who oversees Marriott’s lifestyle brands, said the digital assistant they choose will eventually be required to provide more “concierge-like services,” including syncing with a user’s device to provide functions like setting an “automatic wake-up temperature or have the drapes open at a certain time.” Marriott expects to make a decision by this summer.
Apple has released iTunes 12.6 with minor bug fixes and one big new feature: The ability to rent movies in iTunes and watch them on other devices running iOS 10.3 or tvOS 10.2. The wording in the release notes isn’t specific, but hints at the ability to simply stream a rented movie on any device linked to the Apple ID that rented it. Previously users have always had to actually transfer the rented file from one device to another and could only view it on one device at a time. And while the Apple TV has been able to stream a downloaded movie rental from a user’s computer, it wouldn’t appear in the “Movies” app (like it would if it had been rented on the Apple TV directly), but as a movie in the “Computers” app that is used to access the computer’s regular iTunes library. The iTunes update—combined with the imminent release of a new iPad this Friday—has led to speculation that Apple will release iOS 10.3 and tvOS 10.2 in the next few days to enable this new feature.
Among all its product roll outs and updates today, Apple also revealed Clips, a new app that lets users create videos using photos, music and video clips. The app includes a Live Titles feature that lets users make animated captions over their videos simply by using their voice, providing a simple option for adding subtitles to videos that are perfectly timed to the subject’s words. The app also provides several Snapchat-like options, such as filters, stickers, speech bubbles, shapes and more. The app can even identify the people in videos to make it easier to send them a copy through Messages, and allows the videos to be posted on other sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. The app is set to be released on the App Store sometime in April.
Apple has rolled out a special edition (PRODUCT)RED version of its iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models. The phones are identical to Apple’s existing devices, but feature a bright red aluminum finish. The red iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are the same price as the rest of Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models, but aren’t available in a 32GB size. The iPhone SE also got a storage boost today, doubling the capacities of both models to 32GB and 128GB while retaining the same prices of $399 and $499, respectively. Apple also added new color options for its silicone and leather cases, with the leather now coming in berry, taupe, and sapphire and silicone now coming in azure, camellia, and pebble.
Apple has dropped the 32GB iPad mini 4 from its store and reduced the price of the 128GB model to $399. This is the second change to the device’s storage since its initial launch in 2015. Last year Apple did away with the 16GB and 64GB versions of the device and adjusted the pricing. Now the 128GB model is the only version available, but it now costs what the 16GB version did when the device first launched a year and a half ago. In addition to the changes to the iPad mini 4, Apple also dropped the iPad mini 2 from its website entirely.
Apple revealed its new iPad this morning, a 9.7” model that replaces the iPad Air 2 as the company’s entry-level iPad option. Simply called “iPad,” the new device features some minor improvements over the iPad Air 2, including a brighter Retina display, an A9 chip instead of the older model’s A8 and a slightly larger battery. The front and back cameras are the same, but the new iPad is a bit thicker — 7.5mm to the iPad Air 2’s 6.1 mm — and seems to lose the older model’s dual microphones. The new iPad is currently available in 32 GB and 128GB capacities and starts at $329 — $70 cheaper than the iPad Air 2, which is no longer available on Apple’s website.
Apple’s system status page is now showing that the company’s web site will be down tomorrow morning for maintanance. While the company has made no official mention of a product release tomorrow, Apple usually takes down its web site ahead of rolling out new devices, and the 8:30 a.m. EST end time for the maintenance correspondes with when Apple typically issues its press releases. The move also fits into the time frame reported by MacRumors last week, citing “reputable supply chain analysts” who said Apple would be releasing new products this week. While those sources provided no information about which products would be released, analysts have been predicting for months that new iPads would be released early this year, including a new “bezel-free” 10.5” version. [via MacRumors]
Despite making $4.2 billion in sales in New Zealand since 2007, Apple pays no taxes in that country, the New Zealand Herald reports. Apple has paid $37 million on that income, but the money went to the Australian Tax Office instead of staying in New Zealand. On that same sum, taxes in New Zealand would have totaled $357 million, but since Apple’s New Zealand operations are run out of Australia, the company is able to take advantage of a tax treaty that “sees dual claims on income tax default to where the company is controlled.” Several New Zealand politicians confirmed the deal was legal, but Deborah Russell, a recently selected Labour Party candidate, said Apple is taking advantage of “that age-old distinction between legality and morality.” Revenue Minister Judith Collins recently released tax reforms aimed at netting more income from international businesses operating in New Zealand, but it’s unclear how those changes will affect Apple. An Apple spokesperson said the company follows all international tax laws, adding that “Because our products and services are created, designed and engineered in the US, that’s where the vast majority of our tax is paid.” But the company is no stranger to tax feuds, and is currently embroiled in a battle with the EU over its Irish tax bill.
Fabricate has announced an upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Nearbuds for AirPods, a new product the company is developing on the heels of its earlier Nearpods for EarPods accessory for managing Apple’s wired earphones. Nearbuds for AirPods is a magnetic clip system with an adjustable strap that will help users protect and secure their AirPods. Each clip includes a neodymium magnet, allowing AirPods to be held together or attached to any metallic surface for easy access, including the AirPods case, while an adjustable strap between the clips helps to prevent AirPods from falling out or allows them to be hung around the user’s neck when not in use. The company is planning to launch its Kickstarter campaign in the near future, with hopes to be able to produce and delivery the new product by November.
WebMB has partnered with Scripps Translational Science Institute to conduct a study on pregnancy using Apple’s ResearchKit. WebMD’s existing pregnancy app for iOS has been redesigned to allow for data collection from women opting into the study, which the company hopes will provide new insights on what contributes to healthy pregnancies and positive outcomes. Participants will be able to share biometric data from their iPhone and other connected devices in addition to providing answers to questions about their medication use, vaccination history, pre-existing conditions and changes during pregnancy. A recent study on asthma proved that data collected in ResearchKit is as reliable as that collected by other methods, and Dr. Eric Topol, director of STSI, said the WebMD pregnancy study aims to capture more information about “one of the least studied populations in medical research.” “The results of our Healthy Pregnancy Study—on the foundation of an exceptionally popular smartphone app—will ultimately provide expectant mothers, researchers, and health care professionals with new medical insights to avoid complications during pregnancy,” Topol said.
Apple has combined veterans from its hardware and software operations with a group of talented new hires to build a team focused on creating ambitious augmented reality breakthroughs, Bloomberg reports. The team, run by former Dolby Laboratories executive Mike Rockwell, includes researchers who were previously working on Oculus virtual reality headsets, Amazon’s Lumberyard virtual reality platform and Meta’s augmented reality glasses project. Hundreds of engineers are now working on the project, which includes plans for wearable glasses and big improvements to the iPhone’s camera. Apple is reportedly working on making the iPhone able to “take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later,” using algorithms acquired in 2013 from PrimeSense. Other improvements would allow users to manipulate specific elements within the image — like rotating a person’s head 180 degrees while leaving the rest of the frame as-is — or place visual effects on top of a person much in the way Snapchat’s filters operate. The report didn’t shed any light on when 3D sensors or augmented reality applications would land on the iPhone, but recent rumors have hinted Apple may be testing its AR capabilities as early this year.
Apple has extended the amount of time that customers can purchase AppleCare+ after buying a new iPhone to one year, according to a new report by MacRumors. Previously, customers purchasing a new iPhone had up to 60 days to decide whether or not to purchase Apple’s AppleCare+ protection plan, which increases the covered iPhone’s warranty coverage and telephone support to two years from the date of the device’s purchase and provides coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage during the coverage period.
Apple has formally announced plans to expand its research and development centres in China, bringing the company’s total investment in R&D in the country to more than 3.5 billion yuan (~$500m). The two new centres announced today in Shanghai and Suzhou will join the centres in Beijing and Shenzhen that Apple announced last summer and last fall, respectively.
Apple has released another new beta of iOS 10.3, only three days after the the sixth beta was released to developers. The seventh beta, featuring a build number of 14E5277a, is available today to both registered developers and members of Apple’s Public Beta program, and the rapid release of new betas suggests that iOS 10.3 is drawing closer to a public release, possibly corresponding with the rumoured release of new iPad models that could arrive as soon as next week.
Following the unusual re-launch of the iPhone 6 in a 32GB model in China earlier this month, Apple now appears to have expanded sales of the “new” 2017 iPhone 6 model to Belarus, AppleInsider reports. Belarusian Apple reseller i-Store is currently taking orders for the device, which is priced at 999 rubles (~$520) and only available in Space Gray. Much like its launch in Asia, the device is identified as “iPhone 6 (2017)” and is in a previously-unavailable 32GB capacity, making it clear that Apple has begun manufacturing limited quantities of the older model in a new capacity, likely targeted for sale as an entry-level model in emerging markets. The 2017 iPhone 6 otherwise has the same specs as the 2014 model, but will run iOS 10 out of the box.
Despite its vocal opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration earlier this year, Apple has not joined other tech companies in signing on to a new lawsuit looking to block a second version of the Trump’s executive order, Reuters reports. Apple is reportedly among 60 technology companies, including Google and Facebook, that appear to have decided against putting their weight behind this new lawsuit. A legal brief was filed in federal court in Hawaii earlier this week representing 58 technology companies in opposition to the second version of Trump’s executive order banning immigration, but this accounts for less than half of the 127 companies that signed on to a similar brief opposing the first executive order last month. Airbnb, Dropbox, and Kickstarter are reportedly among the companies that did sign the new brief, while other companies that are conspicuously absent the second time around include Microsoft, eBay, Intel, Netflix, and Twitter.
A warning dialog discovered by developers working with the iOS 10.3 beta stating that apps that have not been updated to include 64-bit support “will not work with future versions of iOS” has led Sensor Tower to determine that the new restriction could affect about 8 percent of apps on the App Store, effectively rendering them obsolete. While there’s no solid evidence that iOS 11 will be the final cutoff for apps that are 32-bit-only, Apple has only been accepting 64-bit new app submissions since Feb. 1, 2015, and forcing app updates to follow the same requirements since June 1, 2015. That means the apps that would be rendered obsolete wouldn’t have been updated since early-2015 anyway, making it unlikely that they’re terribly popular and entirely possible that many have already been abandoned by their creators.
After an investigation that started last August, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service has found Apple guilty of price fixing, The Financial Times reports. The FAS claims Apple told 16 Russian retailers to set prices at a specific level and threatened to terminate sales agreements with those who refused to comply. In its statement, the FAS said Apple’s Russian subsidiary has been monitoring resellers’ pricing since the release of the iPhone 5s and when it found “unsuitable” prices, Apple “sent emails to resellers with a request to change them.” Apple hasn’t released a statement on the current ruling, but previously denied any wrongdoing. The company now has 3 months to file an appeal if it so desires. If the ruling stands, Apple could be fined as much as 15 percent of its sales in Russia. [via 9to5Mac]