Following an earlier public disclosure that it was looking to sell its Harmony remote control business, Logitech has announced that it will retain the well-known product line. In a release, Logitech said, “The company has determined that retaining ownership is in the best interest of its shareholders. The Harmony product line has gained momentum following the April introduction of the Hamony Ultimate product, which is available in major retail locations including select Apple stores in the U.S., and has exceeded the company’s expectations for customer connections.”
Logitech also announced that the Logitech Harmony Hub – a bundled component with Harmony Ultimate and Harmony Smart Control that turns iOS devices into universal remotes – will be available for purchase as a standalone $100 product this August. Harmony Hub is a universal remote control accessory for iOS devices, consisting of a wall-powered 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi receiver, Infrared blaster, and Bluetooth 3.0 chip. The glossy black accessory transforms Wi-Fi commands sent by an iOS device into Infrared or Bluetooth control signals for TVs, A/V components, and game consoles. It’s an upgraded version of the company’s prior Harmony Link, notably adding better software and Bluetooth support.
Volkswagen is set to unveil iBeetle — a special edition Beetle with iPhone integration — at next week’s 2013 Shanghai Auto Show. The car itself will feature color schemes and options similar to the iPhone interface. Inside, a dashboard-mounted dock holds the iPhone, and a new app will connect the car to the phone wirelessly or through the dock. Volkswagen’s press release doesn’t specify which iPhone models will be compatible with the dock.
The app will include features such as Spotify streaming, a social network reader, and in-car camera, and it will act as an additional on-board instrument, as well. The iBeetle will be available early next year. [via Autoblog]
Logitech has announced two new home control remotes — the Harmony Ultimate ($350) and Harmony Smart Control ($130) — that can both use an iOS app for control. Harmony Ultimate is a full remote with 2.4” color touchscreen that can control up to 15 devices through swipes and taps. It can also control the Philips Hue lighting system.
Harmony Smart Control works mainly through the Harmony smartphone app, though it also comes with a simple remote. It can consolidate up to eight remote controls into one app. Both remotes are compatible with 225,000 home theater devices, and both include the Harmony Hub, which turns RF signals from the remote into IR and Bluetooth commands for home theater device compatibility. The Harmony Hub also allows users to control devices through cabinets and walls. Harmony Ultimate is expected to launch this month, while Harmony Smart Control should be available in May.
Facebook has sent out invites for a media event to “Come See Our New Home on Android” next Thursday, which appears to be the announcement of a Facebook-based Android phone co-developed with HTC. Though it’s unclear if the event will focus on the phone, reports suggest that Facebook has created a version of the Android operating system with deeper Facebook integration than before. Past reports have noted that Facebook has hired former a number of iOS designers and engineers, and Facebook notably also purchased Push Pop Press, a company started by former Apple employees. For possibly competitive reasons that were only speculated on before, Apple was slow at incorporating Facebook features into iOS and OS X — now, presumably, Facebook will be directly competing against the iPhone, while maintaining a number of popular apps on the platform. [via 9to5 Google]
The Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher — “Jobs,” formerly titled “jOBS,”— has been delayed, with no new release date determined as of yet. “Jobs” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in late January, and was originally slated to hit theaters April 19.
Meanwhile, comedy website Funny or Die announced its own Steve Jobs movie, “iSteve,” will be released online April 15, before “Jobs.” A report describes “iSteve” as “a biopic poking fun at biopics. Starring Justin Long as Steve Jobs, the “very silly” movie is 60 to 75 minutes long. That leaves Aaron Sorkin’s Jobs movie, based on Walter Isaacson’s officially authorized biography and said to consist of three scenes, likely to arrive third. [via The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times]
Complete with quotes and previously confidential images provided by Monster, a new article at Gizmodo paints a surprisingly negative picture of Monster’s relationship with Beats Electronics, discussing how Monster lost virtually everything it had built when Beats left for HTC. Interviews with Monster CEO Noel Lee and his son Kevin Lee detail how Monster and Beats formed a shaky business arrangement, wherein the Beats side retained ownership of everything Monster developed. According to the report, Monster also footed the bills for manufacturing and distributing the products. While Beats contradicted Monster’s claims of handling industrial and audio designs for the headphones, Monster offered audio engineering and industrial mockups, and Noel Lee claimed Beats had nothing to do with engineering: “Absolutely not, they don’t have any engineers.”
The article also acknowledges that Beats’ success came from astute marketing — not from the sound — and that the products were both overpriced and hugely profitable. Kevin Lee suggested that Beats were marketed as “the hottest product to have, and sound will be a Trojan horse. And that’s what we did. Beats was in every single music video.” Notably, iLounge’s reviews never gave Beats products higher than a flat B rating, with most falling below that, often citing unimpressive performance to price ratios as a key issue.
When Beats Electronics left Monster for a partnership with HTC, Monster was paid only a small amount—“more severance payment than cash-out”—while Beats retained the audio, patents, designs, and the name. The article notes that Beats made $519 million in sales during its first year with HTC — up from $219 million in the previous year — taking control of 64 percent of the $100 and higher “premium” headphone market.
When Sega ported the latest version of its classic arcade jet shooter After Burner to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $10, we downloaded it immediately. Now After Burner Climax has arrived as a universal iOS app for only $3, and though it doesn’t quite live up to the arcade or console versions, it’s not bad. You still get most of the surprisingly detailed forced 3-D stages, complete with Retina resolution, music and sound effects from both Climax and After Burner II, and the unlockable bonus content found in the console version. On the other hand, the action intensity level has dropped markedly, the controls don’t feel quite right, and a variety of other little issues really need to be addressed in a post-release patch. Given the quality of the visuals alone, After Burner fans should consider a day one download, but everyone else should wait to see if Sega fixes the title. As quickly beaten as the game is, the price is right, and with a little work, this will be a thrilling game for short-burst playing.
With a half-dozen classic Grimm fairy tale apps already under its belt, StoryToys is expanding its lineup with a Hans Christian Andersen story that Disney previously all but claimed as its own: The Little Mermaid - 3D Interactive Pop-Up Book ($5). Parents familiar with this developer’s earlier book apps will find the interface extremely familiar: text pages are presented flat for easy reading, interrupted when the book shifts to a dynamic 3-D angle for charmingly illustrated interactive mini-games that move the story along. But StoryToys has done a better job here of balancing out text, still images, and interactive scenes, notably making the story portions easier for young children to enjoy, while preserving the colorful and light activity sections we liked in its prior books. The audio’s very good, too: gentle voice narration is accompanied by cheerful music and sound effects. Don’t expect references to Ariel, but the Little Mermaid story’s otherwise as expected, and a fun book for kids.
As huge fans of Sony’s futuristic Wipeout racing games, we nearly burst with excitement before playing former Wipeout co-creator Nick Burcombe’s just-released universal iOS game Table Top Racing ($3). Good news: the graphics are Retina sharp and fluid, the controls and audio are respectable, and there’s a four-player multiplayer mode. Bad news: it’s a toy car take on Mario Kart, with weak weapons and low intensity, set in levels that look like overpopulated tables and desks. Consider grabbing it to support indie developer Playrise Edge/Playrise Digital on the road to the next Wipeout—just realize that Table Top Racing isn’t that game, or at this point, even close.
Originally sold for $3, the note-taking and sketching program Penultimate has been on each of iLounge’s editors’ iPads for years, having justified its asking price long ago with an intuitively simple drawing interface. Following its acquisition by Evernote, Penultimate has just been updated to version 4 while becoming free: now, the UI looks Retina-sharp and polished, pages sync across multiple devices, and can be text-searched with handwriting recognition—assuming you sign up for an Evernote account. If for whatever reason you held off on grabbing this app before, the new features and zero-dollar pricetag make it a must-grab for iPad users, right now.
Currently being given away as a limited time promotion, Callaway Digital Arts’ Endless Alphabet (Free) is one of the best letter and spelling apps we’ve seen for iPads, iPhones, and iPods. Kids are presented with an alphabetized list of vocabulary words—ones that are arguably a little more advanced than might be expected for the mass of children that will instantly understand the interface—and then rearrange charmingly animated “monster” letters to form the words. Additional words and monsters will be added each week, says Callaway. From the music and fun animations to the theme and interface, Endless Alphabet is most definitely worth grabbing for any young child.
Despite its ubiquity and ever-growing collection of features, Facebook’s universal iOS app Facebook (Free) continues to rack up middling App Store rankings—this time due as much to crashes as still-missing desktop site functionality. The just-released version 5.4 claims to build upon the recent addition of voice messaging and VoIP calling with new video recording and sharing features, but apart from iPhone/iPod UI tweaks borrowed from Facebook Messenger, the differences don’t appear to be major. Improvements to the Nearby/Places Nearby feature, now including an interactive map with icons leading directly to business pages, are for now more intriguing.
After over 80 years in the consumer electronics business, Philips announced Tuesday that it has sold the remainder of its consumer-focused electronics business to Japan’s Funai. Although Philips steadily reduced its involvement in consumer electronics, leaving its television and mobile phone divisions behind in recent years, the company suffered a fourth-quarter net loss of €358 Million (about $481 million).
Philips has had an interesting history with Apple. It originally sold products that challenged the iPod, including its GoGear series of media players. It then started to make iPod-friendly speaker systems, and later bought iPod/iPhone accessory maker DLO to become a major player in Apple accessories. The company developed quite a few distinctive speakers, eventually including some AirPlay models at widely varying price points, and continued to sell earphones and headphones. Funai will apparently continue to sell these products under its own brand.
Philips will now turn most of its attention to medical equipment, as healthcare sales made up 40 percent of the group’s revenue in the fourth quarter. Consumer lifestyle products accounted for 26 percent of the company’s fourth quarter revenue. [via Wall Street Journal]
Withings has announced the US release of its Smart Kid Scale ($180). A Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-connected device, the Smart Kid Scale is designed to track the weight and growth of newborns and toddlers. The scale can be used from infancy to eight years old. It features a large graphical screen and an interlocking baby basket to weigh infants — the basket can be removed to become a toddler scale.
By using the free Withings Baby Companion app in conjunction with the Smart Kid Scale, parents can easily access a history of weight and height readings. The app also logs height, feedings, and how a child’s data compares with children of the same gender and age. Withings’ Smart Kid Scale is available now.
Google has released its anticipated Google Maps app for iOS. The app is designed for the iPhone and iPod touch, but runs on the iPad in a lower-resolution window. Google Maps features Google’s local search, vector-based maps, voice guided turn-by-turn navigation, public transit directions, Street View, imagery inside 100,000 businesses worldwide, walking directions, live traffic information, and more. Developers can embed Google Maps into their applications using the new Google Maps SDK for iOS, and a URL scheme allows Google Maps to be launched from any iOS app or web application, giving third-party developers options for circumventing Apple’s Maps.
Google claims that the completely redesigned iOS app is “even better than Google Maps for Android phones,” according to The New York Times. It’s noted that offline map saving and an iPad-specific app will be on the way soon. Google Maps requires iOS 5.1 or later.
Twitter’s new iOS app update has arrived in the App Store, and as recently suggested by the company now features eight Instagram-esque photo filters. The filters, powered by Aviary, can be seen in a grid view. An auto-enhancing wand and crop and scale feature are also included in the update. The update comes after Instagram recently disabled its Twitter Card integration — Instagram photos no longer show up on Twitter, instead linking to Instagram’s website, as the two services grow further apart.
The Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, “jOBS,” will premiere in Park City, Utah at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27 as the independent festival’s closing night film. A short synopsis notes “the defining 30 years of Steve Jobs’ life” will be chronicled in “jOBS.” A promotional photo released shows Kutcher replicating the pose of a young Jobs.
Also starring Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, and Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, “jOBS” is directed by Joshua Michael Stern. It is not to be confused with the script Aaron Sorkin is writing about Jobs for a different film that Sorkin says will only consist of three scenes, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Japanese carrier SoftBank is buying a 70% interest in U.S. carrier Sprint for $20.1 billion, as announced at a Tokyo press event. The deal is expected to close in mid-2013, during which time SoftBank will purchase $8 billion in new shares and $12.1 billion in existing shares from Sprint.
The two companies will have the third-highest mobile service revenue of any company, and the combined subscriber base will be one of the world’s largest. Sprint’s Dan Hesse will remain CEO of the new Sprint, and notes that the deal will allow Sprint to build out its LTE network, which has struggled by comparison with Verizon’s and AT&T’s growing LTE footprints. [via The Verge]
Preparing for a new holiday season of competition with the iPad and iPod touch, Amazon today announced new 7- and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD tablets, and a new $159 version of the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire HD starts at 16GB and comes equipped with either a 1280x800/7” or 1920x1200/8.9” screen, promising 25 percent less glare than the prior Kindle Fire, plus improved viewing angles and stereo speakers. Kindle Fire HD will feature dual-band Wi-Fi with MIMO, as well as a front-facing camera, helping it to compete more effectively against the third-generation iPad. The 7” 16GB version will sell for $199 starting on September 14, with the 8.9” 16GB version at $299 on November 20. Each will also come in a 32GB model.
As a more direct competitor to the third-generation iPad, Amazon also announced a $499, 32GB version of the 8.9” Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE support as its signature feature. This model is paired with a “breakthrough” $50 per year LTE plan, offering 250MB of data per month for an entire year, for a price of $549 versus $959 for a 32GB iPad with LTE and one year of data service. AT&T is believed to be the LTE data provider, and additional details were not immediately available. Notably, Amazon has not disclosed battery life for the 8.9” Kindle Fire HDs, but claims 11 hours of run time for the 7” model.
As a successor to last year’s Kindle Fire, which Amazon claims holds 22% of the U.S. tablet market, the $159 Fire looks similar to its predecessor, but is being billed as 40 percent faster, with double the RAM and longer battery life. It also ships Sept. 14.
Amazon has released its new Amazon Instant Video app for the iPad. The app, which requires iOS 4.3 or later, allows users to watch movies and TV shows from Amazon’s streaming library. Amazon Prime members can watch titles from Prime Instant Video for no additional cost, while all users can watch over 120,000 videos available from the Amazon Instant Video store. Purchased and Rented videos can be downloaded to the device for offline video, and users can also add videos to their Watchlists and resume watching videos they have already started thanks to Amazon Whispersync. Amazon’s Instant Video app for the iPad is available now as a free download from the App Store.
Sparrow, developer of the popular Mac and iOS e-mail client of the same name, has announced that it has been acquired by Google. In a post on the company’s web site and an e-mail sent out to customers, Sparrow CEO Dom Leca indicates that the company will be joining the Gmail team “to accomplish a bigger vision” that it feels it can better achieve working with Google. Leca goes on to note that they will continue to make the Sparrow e-mail client available and provide support for its users, including any critical updates that may be required, however they do expect to be working on new projects at Google and do not plan to release any new features for the Sparrow apps.
A judge has ruled against Bose in a patent infringement lawsuit filed by the company against a number of well-known makers of speaker docks for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. CE Pro reports that the judge ruled that SDI Technologies Inc.—the parent company of iHome—Imation Corp., Memorex Products Inc., 3XM Consulting LLC, and D.P.I. Inc did not violate a Bose patent for “Interactive Sound Reproducing” that covers an audio system that receives signals from a computer and converts the digital signal to an audio signal. The suit covered 144 products in total, including at least one AirPlay-capable unit.
“In our minds, the decision is a boon to Apple users and the entire audio technology industry that’s built up around Apple products,” said a spokesperson for Thompson Coburn, the firm that represented Imation and DPI. “Bose targeted three relatively low-cost producers of speaker docks with the belief they wouldn’t fight the lawsuit and pony up a license fee to Bose. Had these smaller manufacturers folded, Bose likely would have lodged similar infringement claims against higher-cost producers, continuing until it had licensed the entire market. This decision promotes the healthy competition that keeps prices down for Apple consumers.”
A hacker has discovered a method for obtaining in-app purchases without having to pay for them. Citing Russian blog i-ekb.ru, 9to5Mac reports that the method was published by a Russian developer, and works on all devices running iOS 3.0 or later, no jailbreak required. According to the report, the hack involves the installation of two certificates and the changing of a DNS record in Wi-Fi settings. The report claims that the hack does not work on 100 percent of apps, failing with certain purchases in certain regions; the developer of the hack also receives unnecessary data when using it—including the user’s location—and for obvious reasons we recommend against trying this on your own device.