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Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta to developers

In an unusual move, Apple has released a new beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers, alongside the fifth beta of iOS 8.2 seeded last week. This latest beta features a build number of 12F5027d, and includes extremely sparse release notes noting some minor issues with CarPlay and WatchKit. The parallel release of this newer iOS beta suggests that iOS 8.2 has likely reached a freeze point and will be released soon, while Apple wants to allow developers to get an early start on working with the new iOS 8.3 development environment as soon as possible. Notably, this latest version is also accompanied by an Xcode 6.3 beta that incorporates version 1.2 of the new Swift development language, noting “a number of noteworthy changes to the language” as well as a migrator for moving existing code to Swift 1.2 and “enhancements that ease interoperability between Swift and Objective-C code.”

Report: iOS 9 to focus on stability and optimization

Apple’s next major iOS update will be primarily focused on delivering stability, optimization, and performance improvements, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. While most major iOS updates have released at least a few landmark features, the rapid development pace has reportedly taken a toll on the operating system’s overall performance as engineering teams have been more focused on delivering new features than polishing existing ones. With iOS 9, Apple is apparently going to focus primarily on delivering under-the-hood improvements; fixing bugs and improving stability and performance, while also striving to keep the size of the OS manageable to accommodate users with lower-capacity devices.

The report speculates that it’s possible Apple may even limit iOS 9 support to newer 64-bit devices, essentially discontinuing support for the iPhone 5c, iPod touch, and first-generation iPad mini. This approach would be similar to the one Apple took with OS X Snow Leopard a few years ago, but it’s expected that Apple may still debut some new iOS features, such as Transit and Indoor mapping modes for its Maps app. However, features like these would be more dependent on back-end services than forming key new iOS components.

Corning developing new sapphire-like Gorilla Glass

Corning, best known in the electronics industry for its extremely tough Gorilla Glass used on the iPhone, is working on a new type of glass that will include sapphire-like scratch resistance, CNET reports. Dubbed Project Phire, the new material is a composite glass similar to Gorilla Glass which includes a formulation to dramatically improve scratch resistance. Corning’s traditional Gorilla Glass, now in its fourth iteration, is famous for being extremely durable against damage from impacts and drops, but doesn’t provide the same degree of scratch resistance that sapphire does.

Conversely, while sapphire glass protects against scratches, it does not stand up well to impact damage. Project Phire is Corning’s effort to produce a glass composite that provides the best of both worlds — the damage protection of Gorilla Glass with a level of scratch resistance that ‘approaches sapphire.’ Amidst concerns that Apple has been moving toward using sapphire in its displays, as last year’s investments into the now-defunct GT Advanced Technologies demonstrated, Corning was likely concerned about losing one of its most important customers, and moved to develop a form of glass that could provide a level of scratch protection that would hopefully satisfy Apple.

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The latest edition of iLounge Weekly, our weekly newsletter covering all things iLounge, will be arriving in subscribers’ inboxes early next week. iLounge Weekly is a summary of the week’s best news, reviews, and feature articles we’ve published, and it also features giveaways and accessory discount offers from various companies. There’s still plenty of time to sign up and receive this week’s edition — just use the simple form below to submit your email address, if you haven’t done so already.

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Tesla taking top talent from Apple

Automotive maker Tesla has actually hired more of its employees from Apple than from any other company including other car manufacturers, a new report from Bloomberg Business reveals. The company has hired at least 150 former Apple employees for roles ranging from engineering to law, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes that Apple’s design philosophy is “closely aligned” with Tesla’s. Based in Silicon Valley, the car maker is striving to produce a futuristic generation of vehicles with a much stronger focus on design and user experience than most traditional cars have adopted to date, and to that end, recruiting talent from companies like Apple is key. Tesla employees who came from Apple describe their motivations as being based partially on a desire to work on the cars, but they also appear to be attracted to Musk himself, who has been compared to Steve Jobs. According to Musk, Apple has offered $250,000 signing bonuses and 60 percent salary increases to Tesla employees, but few have jumped ship.

Typo fined $860,000 for violating BlackBerry injunction

Typo Products LLC has been fined for violating the injunction barring it from selling its keyboard case, Reuters reports. Typo has been ordered to pay BlackBerry $860,600 in sanctions, in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs related to the violation of the injunction. Last year, BlackBerry won a preliminary injunction against Typo, banning the keyboard case from being sold in the U.S. due to a ‘likelihood” of patent infringement. Court documents revealed that Typo had sold approximately 19,000 of the original Typo keyboards after the preliminary injunction was issued, and while the company tried to make a case that BlackBerry could not demonstrate any lost sales as a result of Typo’s keyboards continuing to be sold, the judge noted that the company’s “not so clever attempts to evade the court’s preliminary injunction” were quite transparent. BlackBerry had asked the court for a fine of $2.64 million, refusing to comment further on the matter beyond a statement that the court order “speaks for itself.” In the order, the judge noted, “The amount of sanctions awarded is only a third of what BlackBerry sought and is directly tied to additional revenue that Typo could have expected from its illegal conduct.”

Typo released Typo 2 last fall, an updated version of the keyboard, redesigned to hopefully avoid further patent infringements claims while also adding additional features. The current case involved the original Typo keyboard, and according to a spokesperson for Typo, it has “no impact on the Typo 2 product currently in the marketplace,” or any other products the company is working on.

Apple planning its own Web TV service?

Apple may be planning to provide its own pay TV service, according to a new report by Re/code. The company is reportedly in talks with TV programmers in an effort to negotiate deals that would allow them to provide an enhanced paid television service similar to initiatives by Dish and Sony. Although it has been rumored for years that Apple was trying to reinvent the way television service was delivered, it seems this new tactic is for the company to essentially offer its own version of a TV service in order to properly control the interface and user experience. Talks are said to be in the early stages, so there is no information on pricing or timing, neither of which have likely even been decided yet. Apple declined to comment.

Apple returning to Samsung for next-gen A9 chip

Apple is reportedly going back to Samsung as the primary fabricator of its next-generation A9 CPU, Re/code reports. While the company previously used Samsung for numerous components, in recent years it has been attempting to distance itself from its chief rival by looking elsewhere for chip suppliers. In the case of the iPhone 6, for example, Apple had relied on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. for the majority of its A8 CPUs. However, according to people familiar with the situation, Samsung holds a technological advantage over TSMC in its ability to shrink the size of transistors on its chips, thereby allowing for a smaller chip that consumes less power. While Apple designs its own CPUs and other chips used in its mobile devices, the company relies on partners such as Samsung to actually produce the chips in the quantities required. Neither Samsung nor Apple have commented on the situation.

Report: Details on Apple’s upcoming Beats-based streaming service

More detailed plans for Apple’s new Beats-based music service show an integrated song catalog combining streaming services and a user’s own music collection, according to 9to5Mac. Citing multiple sources from Apple and the music industry, this latest report indicates that the new, yet-to-be-named service will be designed entirely by Apple in terms of the user experience, but will leverage technology and music deals that Apple acquired from Beats. As previously reported, Apple will integrate the music service into iOS and the Apple TV, likely in much the same way that iTunes Radio was tied into the iOS Music app, rather than delivered as a standalone app. An updated iTunes application is also said to be in the works that will “deeply integrate” the streaming service. The new service will likely be a hybrid of a cloud-based streaming service and Apple’s existing iTunes Match service for mixing the user’s own catalog with the available streaming content, making it more akin to the services that Google’s Play Music provides, rather than the streaming-focused services like Spotify and Rdio. The service will also leverage Beats Music’s existing Playlists, Activities, and Mixes features to allow users to choose from a wide variety of pre-made playlists for various activities.

Despite the introduction of the new service, Apple apparently plans to continue providing its iTunes Match, iTunes Radio, and iTunes Store services in their current form for users who may prefer these options to the higher-priced streaming service alternative. Sources indicate that Apple is also working to provide pricing below competing services, having initially discussed a $5/month price point with record labels — however, the company will likely end up being forced to price the service closer to $8/month.

Last fall, news surfaced that Apple was planning to re-brand and likely re-release the Beats Music service as something more tightly integrated into the iOS ecosystem. It was also reported that the company was asking the music labels for price concessions to hopefully be able to offer a streaming music service at a lower price point than existing services such as Spotify and Rdio.

Mysterious Apple camera van seen around San Francisco area

A new report from CBS affiliate KPIX reveals multiple sightings of a mysterious van registered to Apple roaming the streets of Concord, Ca., in the San Francisco Bay Area. The van in question has what appears to be a camera apparatus on top similar to those used by Google for both their mapping and self-driving car initiatives, leading to speculation that Apple may be pursuing similar projects. The most likely explanation would seem that Apple is working to improve data for its Maps service, possibly increasing resolution for its 3D Flyover service or building its own “street view” solution, although some analysts have speculated that the camera apparatus is not suitable for mapping purposes and suggests that Apple may in fact be building a self-driving car to compete with companies such as Google and Uber. Notably, however, Apple does not have a permit to test self-driving cars. Apple declined comment.

iOS 8 adoption rate reaches 72 percent

According to Apple’s developer website, approximately 72 percent of devices are now running iOS 8 as of February 2, 2015. While this number is up dramatically from estimates made in late September, it’s still lower than the 80 percent adoption rate of iOS 7 reported around this time last year. These latest statistics report that the majority of the remaining devices are still running iOS 7, and approximately 3 percent of iOS devices operate on some prior version. As not all devices are upgradeable to the latest iOS versions, this also includes users who may be unable to upgrade without purchasing a newer device. It’s also worth noting that these numbers are intended for developers and only include devices that actively connect to the App Store, suggesting that they may not be generalizable to the entire iOS user base.

GT sapphire plant to become Apple global command center

Apple has announced plans to build a $2 billion global command center in Mesa, Arizona, according to a new report from CNBC. The initiative is part of a plan to repurpose the GT Advanced manufacturing facility after the sapphire supplier filed for bankruptcy last fall. Approximately 150 full-time Apple staff will be employed at the new facility, along with 300 to 500 construction trade jobs, according to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. Apple also indicated that the facility will be fully powered with renewable energy based on solar projects, and the company described the new facility as “one of the largest investments we’ve ever made.”

Apple releases iOS 8.2 beta 5 to developers

Apple has released the fifth beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, featuring a build number of 12D5480a. As with other recent betas, this latest one appears to be primarily focused on continuing to refine the development environment for preparing apps for the upcoming debut of the Apple Watch. This latest beta is also accompanied by a beta version of updated software for the third-generation Apple TV.

iLounge Weekly comes out Monday, subscribe now

The latest edition of iLounge Weekly, our weekly newsletter covering all things iLounge, will be arriving in subscribers’ inboxes early next week. iLounge Weekly is a summary of the week’s best news, reviews, and feature articles we’ve published, and it also features giveaways and accessory discount offers from various companies. There’s still plenty of time to sign up and receive this week’s edition — just use the simple form below to submit your email address, if you haven’t done so already.

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Verizon to allow users to opt out of web tracking ‘supercookies’

Verizon has apparently decided to implement an option in its mobile ad-targeting program that will provide Verizon customers with the ability to opt out of targeted ad tracking, according to a New York Times report. It came to light last fall that both Verizon and AT&T had implemented unique identifier headers (UIDH) on their respective mobile networks to allow for the tracking of web activity from mobile devices. “Users who do not want to be tracked with an identifier that Verizon uses for ad-targeting purposes will soon be able to completely opt out,” the company said on Friday.

As the earlier report noted, although Verizon had provided a means for customers to opt out of being actively tracked by the company’s Relevant Mobile Advertising program, there was no way to turn off the UIDH completely, meaning that other third-party ad networks could easily leverage this data, regardless of what Verizon chose to do with it. This latest announcement confirms that Verizon is changing course and will allow users to opt out from having the UIDH attached to their web traffic entirely. Users will need to actively choose to opt out, however, and critics of the tracking program — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation — have suggested that Verizon needs to go further, making the ad tracking an “opt in” program, as most consumers are unlikely to fully appreciate the privacy implications of this kind of tracking.

Apple releases iTunes 12.1 update, adds Notification Center widget

Apple has released iTunes 12.1, a relatively minor update that adds a new widget for the OS X Yosemite Notification Center and improves iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch syncing performance. The new widget allows users to control iTunes from the Notification Center, providing a “What’s Playing” view with controls to skip to the next track or even purchase songs while listening to iTunes Radio. iTunes 12.1 is available through the standard software update mechanism, or for direct download at iTunes.com.

Chinese Government may require Apple to build ‘back door’ into iPhones

A new report from The New York Times reveals that the Chinese Government is implementing new regulations that will require technology companies to comply with a stringent set of security disclosures and procedures in order to sell equipment to Chinese banks. The new rules are laid out in a 22-page document and are only the first in a new set of policies from the Chinese government which intend to strengthen cybersecurity in key Chinese industries. Requirements under the new terms would include turning over proprietary source code for operating systems and firmware, submitting to invasive audits, and including back doors in hardware and software that would allow the Chinese government to gain access to data stored on or transmitted from electronic devices. Apple, for example, would be required to redesign the encryption system used on the iPhone to protect user data in order to provide keys that would allow the Chinese government to decrypt such data. It was revealed last week that Apple agreed to allow the Chinese government to conduct “security inspections” on its products, although it is unclear if this is directly related to the new regulations.

Critics of the new policies, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, suggest that cybersecurity claims are really just covering for protectionism, and that the new rules are simply a means of bolstering the Chinese tech industry by requiring companies to use only domestically produced products and services. The new measures notably go far beyond those taken by most other countries, however they are also not atypical of the sort of technology policies seen in China – a country in which the government has routinely monitored and censored Internet traffic and services for decades. While the new policies only apply to companies doing business with Chinese banks, it’s generally anticipated that they will be expanded in the coming year to other industries which the Chinese government considers critical.

Notes from Apple’s Q1 2015 earnings call

During Apple’s conference call announcing its record-breaking numbers from Q1 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked it off by saying that “demand for iPhone has been staggering, shattering our high expectations,” referring to the 74.5 million iPhones sold in the first quarter. “This volume is hard to comprehend.” He said the company sold 34,000 iPhones every hour of every day of the entire quarter.

Cook also briefly mentioned that he expects Apple Watch to ship in April. It’s the first official acknowledgment of a specific month for the release of Apple’s upcoming wearable. “My expectations are very high on it, I’m using it every day, and love it, and can’t live without it,” Cook said.

Questioned about the iPad’s future, Cook mentioned that first-time buyer rates for iPads are very high, and later mentioned that Apple’s enterprise partnership with IBM is “profound.”

Cook: Apple Watch shipping in April

CEO Tim Cook said the company is expecting to ship the upcoming Apple Watch in April. Cook briefly mentioned the tidbit during today’s conference call announcing Apple’s record-breaking Q1 2015 results. It’s the first time Apple has narrowed down the release date of its upcoming smartwatch to a specific month, but no particular date was mentioned.

Apple Q1 2015: Record $74.6B revenue, 74.5M iPhones, 24.4M iPads

Apple reported its first quarter 2015 financial results today, selling 74.5 million iPhones and 24.4 million iPads. The company posted quarterly revenue of $74.6 billion and quarterly net profit of $18 billion, or $3.06 per diluted share. In Q1 2014, Apple had revenue of $57.6 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or 2.07 per diluted share. Gross margin was 39.9 percent compared to 37.9 percent a year ago. International sales contributed to 65 percent of this quarter’s revenue.

For Q2 2015, Apple is providing guidance of revenue between $52 billion and $55 billion, and gross margin between 38.5 percent and 39.5 percent. Apple’s earnings call will begin at 5 p.m. EST, and can be heard live on the company’s investor website.

“We’d like to thank our customers for an incredible quarter, which saw demand for Apple products soar to an all-time high,” Apple CEO Tim 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.”

“Our exceptional results produced EPS growth of 48 percent over last year, and $33.7 billion in operating cash flow during the quarter, an all-time record,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO. “We spent over $8 billion on our capital return program, bringing total returns to investors to almost $103 billion, over $57 billion of which occurred in just the last 12 months.”

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