Pebble, the company behind one of the first successful smartwatches, may be facing financial troubles, TechCrunch reports. Citing sources close to the company, the report notes that the company has allegedly turned to a Silicon Valley bank for a $5 million loan and $5 million line of credit, as VC firms have refused requests for new capital infusions. At this point, Pebble has 150 employees and continues hiring. However, even with the $18 million crowdfunding infusion from its recent Kickstarter campaign for Pebble Time, the company apparently has needed to turn to a bank loan “in order to stay afloat.” The report goes on to indicate that many employees have been unhappy with the direction the company is taking in the face of both large and small competitors, ranging from the Apple Watch to the upcoming Olio Model One. While the hiring process — which is being run by former Apple executive Jeff Hyman — is apparently unpopular, many employees reportedly remain “cautiously optimistic” about the company in general.
Spotify may be planning to effectively eliminate its free, ad-supported streaming option, according to a new report by Digital Music News. The change would see the popular streaming music service limit free ad-supported access to a three month “trial” period, rather than the current open-ended and unlimited plan that many users currently enjoy. Spotify is said to be resisting this change, and has been trying to make the case that its “freemium-to-premium” migration path is working to effectively create new paying subscribers, however the service is under pressure from Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, who remain generally unconvinced and have reportedly disliked unpaid streaming options from the very beginning. While no mention is made of Apple’s attempts to sway the music industry to kill off licenses for free streaming for Spotify and YouTube, it seems likely that Apple’s new paid-only Apple Music service could factor into the labels’ decision-making process.
The three-month “proposal” would allow some artists and labels to extend availability of their content past three months through “emerging” or “up-and-coming” playlists, as well as continuing to allow for a non-interactive radio-style streaming feature. Both of these are similar to ideas likely to be included in Apple Music as well, further suggesting that the labels’ negotiations with Apple are having a backlash effect on existing services. It is not clear, however, whether specific artists would be able to limit free access entirely — an issue that has previously caused major artists such as Adele and Taylor Swift to leave services such as Spotify entirely. Further, not all labels are entirely on board with the new proposal, with some, such as Warner Music Group, suggesting that free streaming services are valuable at providing an alternative to outright piracy while still providing a small trickle of revenue.
As Nokia is looking to sell off its struggling maps business, Bloomberg reports that the company has been approaching Apple and several other big name technology firms on the matter. In addition to Apple, Nokia is said to have been in contact with Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, Sirius, Chinese search engine Baidu, a group of German carmakers, and some private-equity firms. Nokia is seeking more than 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) from a sale of the division, with first-round bids due at the end of next week. Nokia’s mapping assets, purchased in 2008 for $8.1 billion, have depreciated to about 2 billion euros according to last year’s financial reports from the company. Nokia’s highly-rated maps app, HERE, is again available on the App Store after being pulled in late 2013 due to changes in iOS 7.
Microsoft plans to bring Cortana, its Windows phone personal assistant technology, to both Apple and Android devices, Reuters reports. The company is reported to be developing an advanced version of its Siri competitor based on an artificial intelligence project it has dubbed “Einstein.” Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has been more aggressively opening up the company’s software to non-Windows platforms, eschewing Microsoft’s traditional approach of forcing customers into using its Windows operating system. Cortana debuted on Windows phones last year, and will be coming to the desktop with Windows 10 later this year. According to people familiar with the project, Microsoft also plans to release a standalone iOS app version of the technology. New technology in Cortana to be rolled out this fall is expected to incorporate more advanced features, such as the ability to read and understand e-mail and more accurately anticipate user needs, rather than simply responding to requests as Siri does.
iPhone thefts have been dropping dramatically in at least three major cities since Apple introduced its Activation Lock feature in 2013, Reuters reports. Specifically, the number of stolen iPhones in San Francisco has reportedly dropped by 40 percent, while the number of iPhone thefts in New York has dropped by 25 percent, and smartphone theft in general has dropped by half in London. The drop is believed to be a direct result of the anti-theft features that Apple added to iOS 7 in September 2013, which effectively “locked” an iOS device to its owner, preventing a stolen device from being used without entering the original user’s Apple ID and password. Supplementing the “Find My iPhone” feature introduced by Apple some time ago, the new Activation Lock feature essentially turns a stolen iPhone into a useless brick, reducing the motivation for theft. With smartphone theft now accounting for half of all crimes in cities like San Francisco, several U.S. states are considering laws mandating the use of similar “kill switches” in smartphones — California passed a smartphone “kill switch” law last year that has yet to go into effect. While Samsung and Google have added a similar feature, only Apple currently has it setup to be enabled by default.
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.
Google is restructuring its Google Glass project and appointing former Apple Executive Tony Fadell to head it up, according to the Wall Street Journal. Fadell, one of the inventors of the original iPod, left Apple to form Nest in 2010, which was later acquired by Google last year. Under the new plan, Glass will be moving from the Google X research lab to be a stand-alone unit directly led by Ivy Ross. Ms. Ross will report to Fadell, who will continue to run Nest while providing strategic guidance to the Glass team. The report notes that Google also plans to stop selling the initial version of Glass to consumers, planning a new version of Glass to be released sometime later this year. The new strategy is expected to follow the more Apple- and Nest-like approach of unveiling fully-finished products rather than deploying large, public tests of hardware prototypes as Google previously did under the Glass Explorer program.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has officially announced the adoption of Bluetooth 4.2. The new specification provides privacy, security, speed, and reliability improvements, with data transfer rates up to 2.5 times faster than previous versions, and reduced battery consumption. The new specification also includes an upcoming Internet Protocol Smart Profile (IPSP), expected to be ratified by year-end, which will extend Bluetooth to provide direct Internet access capabilities for smart devices via IPv6, allowing existing network infrastructure to be used to manage Bluetooth Smart devices rather than relying on proprietary protocols and gateway devices.
As part of its “Connection Day” promotion, Verizon is sponsoring a virtually ad-free iTunes Radio experience today. Featuring “limited interruptions,” instead of seeing normal ads on the service, iTunes Radio listeners will instead just see the message “Enjoy with limited interruptions courtesy of Verizon.” A banner ad will also occasionally appear, offering lucky listeners a $5 iTunes Store credit. The promotion is available today only and applies to all iTunes Radio listeners in the U.S., not just Verizon customers. iTunes Match users, who already have an ad-free listening experience, are not eligible to access the $5 iTunes credit promotion. [via 9to5Mac]
T-Mobile has agreed to provide more accurate information to help customers determine when their mobile data speeds are being throttled, according to a new FCC release. T-Mobile provides “capped” data plans, however unlike competing carriers, the company simply slows down data speeds when users exceed their plan thresholds, rather than billing for overages. Although T-Mobile makes no secret about this throttling process, it was discovered that the company was exempting certain speed testing services from the throttling, incorrectly reporting faster data speeds than customers were actually getting.
Under the new agreement with the FCC, T-Mobile will now send users a text message once they’ve hit their high-speed data allotment, providing a link to an accurate speed test that will show customers their actual reduced speeds. T-Mobile will also apparently provide a “button” on smartphones linking to an accurate speed test, as well as providing more disclosures both on its web site and its customer communications as to which speed tests will provide accurate results.
Following news last week that Sony Pictures had decided to drop Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, sources have told The Wrap that Universal Pictures will now be picking it up. Sony reportedly dropped the movie due to shooting scheduling issues around director Danny Boyle and newly attached star Michael Fassbender, however the picture now appears to be back on track with Universal’s involvement. The film is expected to highlight Jobs’ key role in three of Apple’s most high-profile product launches, including the first Macintosh, and the 2001 debut of the original iPod. Recent reports have suggested that Jobs’ oldest daughter Lisa will have a major role in the film, helping to tie the segments together. A script was written by Aaron Sorkin and based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs. [via MacRumors]
Google has come to an agreement with patent consortium Rockstar to settle all pending litigation, Reuters reports. Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, a Texas federal court filing made public on Monday indicated that the two companies have agreed to settle “all matters in controversy between the parties.” The Rockstar group, consisting of Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry (formerly RIM), among others, successfully outbid Google in 2011, paying $4.5 billion for over 6,000 patents from former telecom giant Nortel, covering a wide range of Internet and wireless communications technologies. Google subsequently penned an open letter accusing the group of waging “a hostile, organized campaign against Android” using “bogus” patents.
Last October, Rockstar filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company was infringing seven Nortel patents related to search engine technology. At that time, Rockstar also filed infringement lawsuits against several other Android handset manufacturers concerning other patents. However, Google intervened on behalf of the handset makers, successfully halting the Texas proceedings while it petitioned a California judge to rule that devices using the Android operating system did not infringe the cited patents. This week’s filing does not indicate whether Rockstar has also settled with the Android handset makers, or whether Google has taken any further action in that regard.
Corning has announced Gorilla Glass 4, the latest version of the chemically-strengthened glass that has been used in iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. Version 4 promises “dramatically improved performance” against drops on rough surface such as jagged streets, sidewalks, and parking lots, as screen breakage is “the #1 consumer complaint, according to Corning’s research.” Corning promises that the new version of Gorilla Glass withstands drops up to two times better than competing designs, while being just as thin and light as prior versions; it delivers marked anti-drop improvements at any thickness it’s manufactured to, and can withstand more pressure at a 0.4mm thickness than version 3 Glass at 0.7mm. While Apple sought to replace Gorilla Glass with manufactured sapphire screen covers from GT Advanced, that venture dramatically fell apart earlier this year, leaving Corning as the supplier for most of Apple’s device glass.
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]
While referencing both Apple’s iPad and MacBook Air as popular products people use—albeit with a need to alternate between using each for different purposes—Microsoft today introduced its new Surface Pro 3, billing it as “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Surface Pro 3 has a 12” display with a 3:2 aspect ratio and 2160 x 1440 resolution, a Core i3/i5/i7 processor, integrated USB 3 port, Mini DisplayPort, microSD card reader, and the ability to connect to magnetic accessories. The entry level model for the tablet is 64GB, starting at $799, notably including a wireless pen and integrated handwriting recognition software. It runs Windows 8.1, including support for full-screen and windowed interfaces, as well as a two-app side-by-side mode.
While Surface Pro 3 weighs 1.76 pounds — more than an iPad Air — and also costs $100 more than a 64GB iPad Air, Microsoft’s entry-level price point puts the new tablet in direct competition with both higher-capacity iPads and the $899 MacBook Air. Focusing on comparing the device to laptops, Microsoft’s press release notes Surface Pro 3 is “30 percent thinner than an 11-inch MacBook Air;” it’s also significantly lighter, at 1.76 pounds versus the 2.38 pound MacBook, remaining lower than Apple’s weight even when an optional $130 Surface Pro Type Cover with keyboard and trackpad is attached. Surface Pro 3 will be available for pre-order Wednesday.
According to a post on WPCentral.com, Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8.1 software allows Apple Passbook passes to be used natively. When a user chooses to download a Passbook pass, it will be downloaded to the Microsoft Wallet application, and can be used as if it were on an iPhone or iPod touch. It’s unclear what specific Passbook features are supported, or if Apple will put a stop to the process.
Apple will use stepped lithium-ion batteries in its upcoming iWatch, according to a report from The Korea Herald. The batteries will be supplied by LG Chem, Samsung SDI, and Tianjin Lishen Battery, sources said. As the report notes, a stepped battery uses layers of batteries to offer more energy efficiency in a footprint similar to a regular battery. The report also suggests the iWatch is “unlikely to sport a curved screen.” LG Chem announced production of stepped batteries and curved batteries last year. LG’s G2 phone uses a step design to increase capacity in a small space.
A recent report suggested Apple was experimenting with magnetic induction charging for the iWatch, as well as new battery technologies, including solar charging, and kinetic charging — though that report noted some of the methods were “years” from happening. An Apple patent application from July revealed a flexible battery pack, while an early iWatch report said Apple was hoping battery life for the device could reach four to five days.
Zynga announced that the company has acquired NaturalMotion, developer of the Clumsy Ninja app, for $527 million in cash and equity. Zynga also announced it would lay off 314 employees, or 15 percent of its workforce. Though Clumsy Ninja was first introduced during the Sept. 2012 media event for the iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod touch, its release was delayed until Nov. 2013. The game has proven to be very popular despite the delay — Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said during Apple’s recent earnings call that Clumsy Ninja was downloaded 10 million times during its first week of release.
Google will keep its newly acquired Nest group intact to work on hardware for the company, TechCrunch reports. Nest, founded by “father of the iPod” Tony Fadell, will “not necessarily” work on thermostats or smoke detectors, as Google reportedly “would like Fadell to work on gadgets that make more sense for the company.” It’s possible that phones or tablets could be part of that plan. Google’s recent acquisition of Nest cost $3.2 billion.
Lunatik, the design company headed by Nike watch designer Scott Wilson, and known for its iPod nano watchbands, has launched a preview of its Lynk smart watch collection. Four smartwatches are included: Lynk, Lynk Pulse, Lynk Vapor, and Lynk Extreme. Lynk Pulse appears to be a heart-sensing version of the Lynk smart watch.
Lynk Vapor is a more streamlined band-style watch, while Lynk Extreme is a more heavy-duty model. No pricing or release information has been announced yet.