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Apple releases 2015 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report

Apple has released its Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2015, providing an update on the actions the company has continued to take in ensuring that fair labor practices and human rights are respected through its supply chain. The report covers areas such as accountability, empowerment of workers, labor and human rights, health and safety, and environmental concerns. In the report, the company revealed it has doubled its number of conflict-free smelters to 135 — four smelters that would not agree to a third-party audit were informed they would be removed from Apple’s supply chain. Additionally, Apple has told its suppliers that “no worker employed on an Apple line could be charged any recruitment fees.” Apple has drawn plenty of fire in the past stemming from issues with smelters and foreign contract worker fees.

Apple’s auditors conducted a record number of 633 comprehensive, in-person audits to track working conditions, covering over 1.6 million workers in 19 countries, a forty percent increase in the number of audits performed in the prior year. Reviews were also conducted of 459 potential suppliers, including detailed risk assessments for those who had not been audited previously, a process which allowed Apple to address more than 700 findings related to labor standards, worker safety, permits, environmental hazards, and chemical management. In relation to protection of workers’ rights, Apple continued to enforce the maximum 60 hour workweek throughout its supply chain, noting that last year 92 percent of the company’s suppliers were complaint with that standard. The report also notes that Apple helped over 4,500 foreign contract workers recoup excessive fees paid to labor brokers. More than 870 Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) initiatives were also launched to improve working conditions, along with an extensive program to improve chemical management processes. Apple also expanded its clean water program, increased coverage to 50 percent of the total water withdrawn from its top suppliers, helped 13 suppliers save half a billion gallons of freshwater, and continued to closely monitor production facilities for hazardous waste and environmental violations.

In addition to the statistical compliance figures, the report also provides specific detail on significant non-compliance findings from the audit and the remedial steps taken in each case across areas ranging from anti-discrimination policies and juvenile worker protection to occupational injury prevention and wastewater and stormwater management. The full report can be found here.

iPhone theft decline attributed to Activation Lock feature

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.

Apple threatens action against accessory makers using leaked device specs

Apple has been threatening sanctions against third-party accessory manufacturers that design iPhone and iPad products based on leaked and other unofficial device specifications, according to a new report by 9to5Mac. Last fall, prior to the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple reportedly required a number of accessory makers to sign agreements that would prohibit them from seeking out information about unannounced Apple devices. Manufactures were encouraged to sign the agreement or risk losing “future business opportunities that Apple and/or its affiliates may present” to them, and the agreement apparently includes language that could be interpreted as prohibiting developers from even reading any web site or newspaper that talks about upcoming Apple products, although it more specifically prohibits manufacturers from using “specifications from any source other than Apple” when developing new products for the iPhone and iPad.

To preserve its veil of secrecy, Apple traditionally only provides manufacturing specs after new devices have been formally announced, which places accessory makers at a disadvantage when it comes to getting products to market in a timely manner. This leaves customers with few options for things like cases other than Apple’s own offerings, which of course are generally made available simultaneously with a new product’s release. There has already been a stark decline in the number of third-party cases available in Apple Retail Stores, seemingly in favor of Apple’s own iPhone and iPad cases, which now take up approximately 75 percent of the display space in some stores. While there has been some speculation that Apple is simply making room for the Apple Watch, several sources have told iLounge that Apple Retail has been moving more toward a ‘boutique’ experience when it comes to cases, preferring to limit options to unique selections that it believes matches and enhances the aesthetics of its devices.

JetBlue to accept Apple Pay for in-flight purchases

JetBlue will very soon be accepting Apple Pay for in-flight purchases, USA Today reports. Beginning as early as next week, customers on “select JetBlue Airways flights” will be able to use their iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus to purchase food, drinks, on-board amenities or even upgrade to available premium seats while in flight. This makes JetBlue the first airline to accept Apple Pay in flight, and the service promises to provide an easier experience compared to requiring customers to dig for credit cards while sitting in cramped seats. The carrier also expects to provide full support for payments via the Apple Watch once it becomes available as well. Later this year, passengers will also be able to use Apple Pay to make in-flight purchases directly through JetBlue’s own mobile app.

To support the new payment system, JetBlue flight crew will be outfitted with NFC-encased iPad minis that have been specially approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. These new iOS-based payment terminals will also be able to handle payment via conventional credit cards and provide a custom Inflight Service Assistant app to help flight attendants identify frequent fliers or passengers who may be celebrating a birthday. [via 9to5Mac]

iOS 8.4 already in development?

In addition to the iOS 8.3 beta released earlier today, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that Apple has also begun development on iOS 8.4 in parallel. Codenamed “Copper,” iOS 8.4 is expected to be released sometime after the Apple Watch debuts, and sources indicate that support for Apple’s upcoming streaming music service may also be incorporated into this release.

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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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.

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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.

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