Microsoft announced the expansion of its Office suite for iOS, adding iPhone and iPod touch support to its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps. Users can now view, create, and edit documents for free within all three universal apps — a free Microsoft account is all that’s needed. Documents can also be opened, edited, and saved from Dropbox in the updated apps.
- November 5, 2014
- iPhone Accessories,
Jawbone has announced two new fitness trackers, UP3 ($180) and UP Move ($50). UP3 is being billed as “the world’s most advanced tracker.” The wristband tracker boasts advanced sleep tracking and uses a bioimpedance sensor to automatically measure resting heart rate. Other sensors on the tracker include an accelerometer, a skin temperature sensor, and an ambient temperature sensor. UP3 is water-resistant up to 10 meters (about 33 feet), and Jawbone claims the tracker can go a full week without a recharge.
UP Move is a less advanced tracker — it’s comparable to Misfit’s Flash. It counts steps and tracks sleep, and can be clipped to an article of clothing. UP Move can also be worn as a watch by adding a separately purchased strap for $15. Both UP3 and Up Move will be available this year.
- November 5, 2014
- Apple Watch,
A new report from French site iGen.fr (translated link) claims to reveal some additional details about pricing on the various Apple Watch models planned for release. While Apple has only announced that the Apple Watch would start at $349, that’s the price for the entry-level anodized aluminum Sport model, and the report from iGen.fr, citing a reliable source, notes that the Stainless Steel version will likely sell for $500, and the Edition model in yellow or pink gold would be priced between $4,000 and $5,000. Notably, the post goes on to say that other than the strap, no part of the Apple Watch can be opened to replace the battery or other components, and that the device “might as well be closed [as] an iPad.”
The report also cites its source as saying that the Valentine’s Day release date suggested earlier this fall is “still valid” in spite of comments made by Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts earlier this week suggesting a spring launch, and that resellers and distributors are still ramping up for mid-February. Although such a move would be unprecedented, with multiple editions being released, it is conceivably possible that Apple may stagger the launch of the Apple Watch. The more exclusive Edition models would be available in February, followed by a more general release for other models later in the year. It is also notable that only Apple’s U.S. page for the Apple Watch specifies “Early 2015” availability; pages for other countries, including Canada, the U.K., France, and Japan all simply say “Available in 2015.”
Verizon Wireless and AT&T have announced that they are working on enabling Voice over LTE (VoLTE) connections between the Verizon Wireless and AT&T networks. VoLTE provides enhanced calling features and call quality for users of compatible handsets such as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, but traditionally such enhanced features have been limited to users on each carrier’s own network, effectively dropping down to the more basic standard cellular call connectivity when calling users on another carrier. The proposed interoperability, due sometime in 2015, will allow AT&T and Verizon customers to make VoLTE HD Voice calls between networks, while also laying the foundation for Rich Communications Services (RCS) such as video calls and expanded text messaging features. Both Verizon and AT&T introduced an initial rollout of VoLTE services earlier this year, and customers in select markets with compatible hardware should already be able to take advantage of some of the VoLTE features within each carriers’ own network. T-Mobile has also reportedly already been testing interoperability across carriers, although that company has not announced a specific timeline as to when interoperability would be available. [via Engadget]
- November 3, 2014
Financial news site Benzinga has provided a summary of a new report from Sanjay Sakhrani of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods that provides some insight into Apple’s contractual relationship with card issuers for Apple Pay. The report naturally provides some details on the percentage that Apple takes from transactions, but also highlights Apple’s requirements for card issuers to participate in Apple Pay. Card issuers must apparently “allow at least 95 percent of the cards in their portfolio to participate in Apple Pay,” the report notes, and also adds that Visa and MasterCard are playing a “large operational role” in the new payment system. Apple also receives “15 basis points per credit card transaction” and 0.5 cents per debit transaction; issuers are required to supply Apple with “various data statistics in nearly three dozen categories.” [via 9to5Mac]
- November 3, 2014
Apple has posted a new job listing for an Apple Watch Evangelist, a position expected to help promote third-party app development for the company’s forthcoming wearable device. The job description indicates that Apple is seeking a “motivated iOS app development expert” to work with third-party developers to build new iOS apps “with a primary focus on Apple Watch apps.” This new role will also involve working with Apple’s engineering and marketing teams, plus helping to define technical sessions for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and other “developer facing workshops and events.” Last month, Apple announced a November release for its WatchKit SDK to give developers the ability to build apps for the new Apple Watch in advance of the device’s release, and it’s expected that Apple will be encouraging third-party WatchKit app development in advance of the device’s release to ensure that a strong collection of apps are available for the new device on day one. [via 9to5Mac]
- November 3, 2014
A new report from Macotakara has revealed some more information on Apple’s rumored larger iPad. According to Macotakara’s sources, the iPad Pro will be similar in size to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, with a 12.2-inch LCD instead of the previously-reported 12.9-inch spec. The front form factor is supposed to be similar to the Surface Pro 3, with thickness somewhere in between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The design is said to be based on the iPad Air 2, but with a pair of speakers and microphones added on top, suggesting the new tablet will offer enhanced stereo audio. Macotakara suggests that the iSight camera, Lightning Connector, and Touch ID sensor will also apparently all be flush with the surface, rather than recessed or jutting out with diamond-cut metal. The source claims that the iPad Pro is now expected to be released around the third quarter of 2015.
- November 3, 2014
A new report from 9to5Mac reveals that the Apple Watch may be launching later than originally anticipated. In a video message to retail employees, Apple’s Senior VP of Retail and Online Stores Angela Ahrendts stated that “we’re going into the holidays, we’ll go into Chinese New Year, and then we’ve got a new watch launch coming in the spring.” Although Apple only publicly specified “early 2015” as a timeframe for the Apple Watch launch, some sources had earlier suggested that the company was aiming for a Valentine’s Day release. However, with Chinese New Year occurring on February 19th, it appears as though Apple will in the very least miss Valentine’s Day, and Ahrendts’ “coming in the spring” statement suggests that the release is more likely to be even later than that—the end of March at the earliest.
While it’s unclear whether this actually represents a delay from Apple’s original target date, sources have told 9to5Mac that Apple is “still working out kinks” in relation to battery performance, in an effort to boost recharging times. Reports last year had also suggested that Apple originally planned to ship the Watch this fall, but that it was delayed due to engineering problems. For its part, Apple’s official Apple Watch page still says “Coming Early 2015,” although there’s obviously room for debate as to what timeframe “early 2015” actually represents.
- October 31, 2014
- Apps + Games,
SimCity BuildIt (free) — The venerable city-building simulation returns as a freemium game that adds a whole new dimension in the form of managing supply chains and new economic trade interactions. SimCity BuildIt takes a more resource-focused approach to building your city, starting out by constructing residential zones, factories, and stores that are used to produce raw materials and manufactured goods that are needed to construct and upgrade residential buildings that range from trailer parks to sprawling condos. The game is presented in a nice and very detailed 360-degree 3D view that allows users to zoom in and out, tilt up and down, and pan around their city.
Players earn gold by trading resources, upgrading residential zones, collecting taxes and completing challenges, which are used to provide necessary city services including water, power, sewage, waste management, fire, police, health, transit, education, and more. As in the original SimCity, new buildings and challenges are unlocked as players grow their city, leveling up and increasing population, although the game adds a new twist in the form of civic awards that you receive for keeping your population happy, which are required to expand your land area. While a freemium model allows users to speed through the game, the gameplay moves at a reasonable enough pace that only the most impatient will be tempted to do so. For everybody else, SimCity BuildIt actually makes a nice casual game that you can pop into and out of throughout the day to gradually build up your city, and with the number of resource and building options available, progressing slowly through the game is definitely a much better approach to gradually become accustomed to all of the myriad options available.
Run Sackboy! Run! (free) — LittleBigPlanet’s knitted hero, Sackboy, comes to your iOS device in this new endless platformer, featuring a world that fans will find familiar and endearing. Players run Sackboy through an ever-changing handcrafted world and must dash to escape the goo and the grumpy Negativitron. Players and customize Sackboy with exclusive costumes, collect stickers and unlock prizes, power-ups, and upgrades, and challenge and compete with friends.
Star Wars: Galactic Defense (free) — Star Wars excitement returns in this new tower defense game. Players choose their allegiance to the Light or Dark sides of The Force and then deploy an arsenal of specialized towers and Star Wars characters to defend key locations. The game features diverse locations from the Star Wars universe across all eras of the series, with more than 100 different battle scenarios. As players level up, they must tailor their upgrades to match their preferred approach to the game, and a plethora of different unit styles allow for a wide variety of gameplay strategies. A collection of Champions are available for each side: Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Light side, and Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Darth Sidious on the Dark side of the Force, each with special powers and abilities, and players can call the big guns with things like orbital bombardments if things get really bad. An immersive Star Wars soundtrack adds a great extra dimension to the game that fans of the saga will appreciate.
- October 31, 2014
Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor — who is also chief creative officer of Beats Music — is working on a secret music project with Apple, according to a recent interview in Billboard. When asked if the project was about music delivery, Reznor said, “It’s in that world.” He also noted that Apple “expressed direct interest” in Reznor designing products for the company when Beats was bought by Apple. Apple’s interest was “flattering, as a life-long Apple consumer and fan and advocate,” Reznor said.
Reznor also said, “I am on the side of streaming music, and I think the right streaming service could solve everybody’s problems.” Apple has reportedly asked labels to cut prices for a revamped the Beats Music service. It’s unclear if Reznor is involved in this, or if his project is related to the “secret project” U2 is working on for Apple, involving “a new digital music format.”
- October 31, 2014
A new essay by Glenn Fleishman discusses the reasons for the winding down of his iPad-only digital publication, The Magazine, including an in-depth look at Apple’s continued treatment of Newsstand as a failed experiment. Launched around two years ago as a digital-only periodical, The Magazine focused on reaching iPad users via Apple’s then-fledgling Newsstand app and online store. At its height, The Magazine had nearly 35,000 monthly subscribers paying $2/month, however Fleishman notes that it peaked in February 2013, and has since diminished to 2,000 yearly and 4,000 monthly subscribers.
While Fleishman doesn’t completely blame Apple, he spotlights how Newsstand’s implementation failed to live up to expectations and publisher requirements, noting that Apple’s well-intentioned focus on privacy and customer experience weren’t always compatible with the publishing industry’s needs. Difficulty communicating with subscribers, nagging monthly billing reminder e-mails, required continuous app re-developmen, and the “brushing aside” of Newsstand in iOS 7’s design were all key issues that eroded and dissatisfied readership. Fleishman notes that iOS 7 alone triggered hundreds of emails from readers who forgot to read new issues, received bills, then cancelled subscriptions after realizing that they hadn’t read a single article in recent memory. The 30% cut taken by Apple for each subscription was also a factor, and Fleishman notes that it would have been more reasonable for Apple to find a way to reduce the amount to 15% in subsequent years, as most publications expect front-loaded expenses for acquiring new subscribers, but expect costs to be reduced for subscriber retention.
Fleishman describes Apple’s Newsstand today as “a wasteland for publications that only use it as an adjunct,” but offers salient points on what Apple could do to improve the experience for both users and publishers. Options include releasing publications from Newsstand to essentially turn them into standalone apps, providing an optional path for publishers to reach their readers directly, and stop sending monthly billing notifications to subscribers. Fleishman acknowledges that Newsstand clearly didn’t turn into a success for Apple, and compares it to the iBookstore, which he notes “never quite took off either.” While Apple continues to run both systems, he said, it hasn’t been improving the tools on either side. He concludes by saying that “If Newsstand is to persist, it needs its own app for users to find publications, download sample issues (currently not available; only free trials), and manage subscriptions,” describing the integration and dependency on the App Store and iTunes as “maddening and confusing.”
A new report in The Wall Street Journal highlights comments by Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive, on the challenges of designing the Apple Watch. Speaking at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Thursday, Ive explained that although he believes with “every bone in his body” that the Apple Watch will break new ground in computing devices, actually designing it was more challenging than the iPhone due to the “social expectations around a wristwatch.” Ive noted that the wrist is an ideal place for “lightweight interactions” and “casual glancing” but not for heavy reading. He went on to explain that there are “cultural, historical implications and expectations” around designing a watch, and described it as a “humbling” experience, stating that creating a wearable device raises new consumer expectations that had to be addressed, such as a wider selection of cosmetic options as people don’t generally all wear the same thing—except in prison. Ive also stated that his focus is entirely on creating great products, rather than paying attention to Apple’s finances, and revealed that he doesn’t even know sales and revenue numbers, other than that “they are high.”
Following Wednesday reports that Apple would be removing apps from the App Store that make improper use of the new iOS 8 Today screen extensions, TechCrunch reports that the company appears to have softened the policy somewhat, at least concerning calculator widgets. James Thomson, developer of the popular iOS calculator app PCalc, had been one of the first to add new extension features when iOS 8 was released. However, despite his app being approved in time for the initial iOS 8 launch — and featured as an Editors Choice in the App Store — Thomson was advised by Apple earlier this week that PCalc would be pulled from the App Store as “widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations.”
Now, however, an Apple spokesperson has confirmed to TechCrunch that it is reversing course, allowing the PCalc app to remain in the App Store, with the widget intact, and permitting calculator-type widgets in other apps in the future. The calculator use case was supposedly not one that Apple had anticipated—despite including its own calculator widget in the OS X Yosemite Today screen—and the restriction was originally intended to prohibit developers from creating more complex widgets with functionality that should be placed in a standalone app. Apple’s developer documentation specifically notes that Today widgets are designed to “give users quick updates or enable very simple tasks.”
This is all news to me! Trying to get confirmation from Apple…— James Thomson (@jamesthomson) October 30, 2014
Thomson tweeted that the policy reversal actually came as a surprise to him, and that he is now trying to get confirmation from Apple that this is indeed the case. But it appears that PCalc will remain in the App Store in its current form, allowing iOS 8 users to continue to take advantage of the handy calculator widget that it provides. While calculator widgets have now received a green light, it remains unclear what this means for other apps making more advanced use of Today widgets; it seems that with any major new iOS 8 feature, Apple still has to sort out a few blurred lines within its App Store Review Guidelines.
- October 30, 2014
Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an essay on equality in Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he publicly acknowledges that he is gay in an effort to help others who may be struggling with issues of inequality or coming to terms with their own sexual orientation. Cook notes that while he has been open about his sexuality to many of his colleagues, and has never denied his sexuality, he has yet to acknowledge it publicly until now. Cook states outright, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” While Cook describes himself in the essay as a private person, he notes that he has come to the realization that what he can do to help others is more important than his own desire for privacy:
“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”
Cook goes on to emphasize that Apple has been a long advocate of human rights and equality, and has taken stands in support of workplace equality, marriage equality, and against gender discrimination. He writes that Apple will continue to fight for these values, and that he himself will “personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.”
New reports reveal that both AT&T and Verizon have been using unique identifying information to track web activity for their respective mobile customers. According to Wired, Verizon has been “subtly altering” web traffic from its wireless customers for the past two years in order to insert a unique identifier header, or UIDH, that allows the company to identify users on the web and target its Internet advertising. This “perma-cookie” — as termed by Jacob Hoffman-Andrews of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — allows any web server to build a profile of a user’s Internet habits. Since Verizon is able to take advantage of its unique position as the Internet Service Provider to actually modify traffic midstream, this method also has the potential to circumvent existing privacy tools such as private browsing sessions and “do not track” restrictions. At this time, there is no way to turn off this UIDH feature, according to a Verizon spokesperson. The company notes that it does not use the feature to create customer profiles, but only targeted ads for those users who have not opted out of the company’s Relevant Mobile Advertising program. Verizon customers can choose to opt out by visiting https://www.vzw.com/myprivacy, however Hoffman-Andrews points out that because the UIDH is broadcast to every web site that a Verizon user visits, other ad networks could begin leveraging the identifier themselves to profile Verizon users’ web activity even without the company’s involvement.
AT&T also appears to have begun testing its own unique mobile tracking solution, according to another report from Forbes. While AT&T claims to only be “testing” the system for now, the company claims to be building in its own privacy measures by rotating the unique identifier every 24 hours. However, the security researcher who discovered the tracking, Kenneth White, states that this is “categorically untrue,” noting that he has found three identifying codes sent by AT&T that were persistent. An AT&T spokesperson declined to reveal how long the test had been running, saying only that it has been a “little while” and claims that customers will be able to opt out of any future AT&T programs that might use this code, noting that unlike Verizon, AT&T will not include the code at all for customers who have chosen to opt out. Users can see if they’re affected by visiting http://188.8.131.52/mobileoptout/ using a cellular data connection from their AT&T mobile device.
In either case, users can check to see if their devices are broadcasting a mobile identifier by visiting http://lessonslearned.org/sniff, a site setup by Kenneth White, the security researcher who discovered the tracking. [via MacRumors]
- October 29, 2014
- iPhone Accessories,
A number of users of the Mophie Juice Pack Air have reported problems with the battery case not being recognized or properly charging iPhone 5 devices following iOS updates. While the specific reasons are unclear, there have been reports since iOS 7.0 and iOS 7.1 of iPhones suddenly showing a message that the accessory may not be supported, usually following an iOS update; similar issues have been reported following the recent release of iOS 8.1. Some users have reported temporary success with workarounds such as using an iPad 10W power adapter or charging the iPhone and battery case separately a few times. Notably, Mophie has recommended the latter procedure when users have reported compatibility errors, although not all users have had success with that particular method, even when using Mophie-supplied cables and recommended power adapters. Mophie’s cases are notably carried in Apple Stores, and were amongst the very first to receive Apple’s Made For iPhone Lightning certification after the iPhone 5 was released.
The Mophie Juice Pack Air charges the iPhone and the battery case in sequence, and accessory-related error messages occasionally appear when the accessory transitions between charging the iPhone and charging its own battery, suggesting that there may be a handshaking issue with Apple’s authentication chips. However, it appears that authentication chip-related components in the case may be failing entirely over a longer time period, ultimately resulting in the case not being recognized by iOS, and the connected iPhone refusing to accept a charge. Reports have varied regarding problems with pass-through charging and charging directly from the case’s battery, but there appears to be a correlation between new iOS version updates and problems with the Mophie cases. It’s possible that changes to Lightning authentication in later iOS versions may be affecting compatibility with previously certified “Made For iPhone” accessories, an issue that would be Apple’s responsibility to resolve.
- October 28, 2014
- Apple Watch,
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it has filed a federal court complaint against AT&T, alleging that the company has misled millions of customers by charging them for “unlimited” data plans while reducing their data speeds. The complaint alleges that the company failed to properly disclose to unlimited data plan customers that their speeds would be throttled after reaching a certain amount of data use. In some cases, data speeds were allegedly throttled by up to 90%, “to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – become difficult or nearly impossible to use.” While AT&T’s marketing promoted “unlimited” data, customers were not meaningfully informed of the throttling policy, even when renewing their contracts, and customers who cancelled contracts after being throttled were charged early termination fees. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stated in the announcement that “AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise. The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.” The FTC alleges that AT&T has throttled 3.5 million customers on more than 25 million occasions, thereby violating the FTC Act.
For its part, AT&T responded to MacRumors’ story on the complaint claiming that the FTC’s allegations are “baseless” and that the company has been “completely transparent with customers since the very beginning,” informing all unlimited data-plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that was widely published prior to the program being implemented. AT&T also noted that customers are notified by text message “before any customer is affected,” although the text message notably is a warning that speeds will be reduced after reaching a certain data threshold.
- October 28, 2014
Apple’s Vice President of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing Greg Joswiak was interviewed at the Code/Mobile conference today, where he discussed a number of new Apple products and initiatives, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay, the Apple Watch, and the ill-fated iOS 8.0.1 release last month. While Apple had previously announced first weekend sales of 10 million iPhones, Joswiak wouldn’t disclose the breakdown between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, although he did mention that most iPhones are sold at carrier stores, rather than directly by Apple. When asked about Apple SIM for phones, Joswiak said he wouldn’t discuss the subject. Asked about the iOS 8.0.1 release that caused carrier and Touch ID problems on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Joswiak also apologized, but noted that the problem wasn’t the software itself, but rather how it was distributed, and said that less than 40,000 users were affected. When asked more pointedly about QA issues recently plaguing iPhones, Joswiak responded that, “[t]he reality is we don’t make many mistakes,” but that Apple quickly acknowledges the mistakes and works to resolve them.
In discussing the decision by some U.S. retailers to shut out Apple Pay, Joswiak responded that retailers who want to be successful will accept the way customers want to pay. Regarding the Apple Watch, Joswiak defended the form factor, saying “things tend to read better when they’re square,” and when asked by Walt Mossberg who the Apple Watch was for, based on the high price points, Joswiak simply responded with ‘Who is it not for?” Joswiak responded more evasively to questions regarding falling iPad sales and experiences with Siri; Joswiak stated that “Siri has gotten really good,” and when asked by Walt Mossberg whether everyone has had a perfect experience with Siri, Joswiak responded by saying, “You can’t ask that. Has everyone had a perfect experience with Walt?” Joswiak noted that Apple’s priority is on staying focused on making the best products and user experience, rather than chasing market share, and that Apple is often not the first to do something, but rather aims to be the first to do it well.
Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed at the Wall Street Journal’s inaugural WSJD Live conference in California last night where he talked about Apple’s latest initiatives and directions, including Apple Pay and Apple Watch. Cook described last week’s Apple Pay launch as very successful; more than one million credit cards were activated in the first 72 hours, and Visa noted that more credit cards have been activated in Apple Pay than in all other contactless payments combined. Cook also noted that he’d be talking with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba about a possible Apple Pay partnership “later this week.”
Regarding Apple Watch, Cook was a bit evasive on the battery life question, reiterating a previous claim that Apple “think[s] people are going to use it so much you will end up charging it daily,” and that the key to Apple Watch was that it needs “to look really cool” as opposed to being “geeky.” Cook also touched on Apple’s involvement in the TV marketplace, stating that “We are living in the 1970s” when it comes to the television paradigm, and suggesting that Apple is working on something in this area, although he once again declined to go into specifics beyond saying “that there can be something great done in the space.” Asked about the discontinuation of the iPod classic, Cook noted that Apple could no longer get the parts for the existing 2009 model, and huge engineering would have been required to update it, which wasn’t worth it in light of small consumer demand. Cook also said that Apple would continue to go as low as it could on iPhone prices while “maintaining the customer experience.”
- October 28, 2014
- Apple TV,
Apple has added quietly added two more new content channels to the Apple TV: Hallmark Cards’ Feeln network and A&E’s FYI network. Feeln provides access to “family-friendly movies, documentaries, and short films” while FYI “features lifestyle programming, with a mix of reality, culinary, home renovation and makeover series.” The new channels appear to be available only to Apple TV users in the U.S. [via 9to5Mac]