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Apple patents crowdsourced mapping of cellular dead spots

Apple was recently granted a patent on monitoring cellular network conditions to help identify network dead spots. U.S. Patent No. 8,886,178 describes a “Location-based profile” designed to help cellular carriers and device makers collect crowdsourced information on localized areas where network problems such as dropped calls occur. The patent describes using device-based location services to allow individual iOS devices to automatically provide monitoring data to server-side systems. The tool would likely act as a background task using geofencing to relate it to known coordinates of surrounding cellular towers and trigger mobile monitoring systems on that basis to collect more detailed data when a known dead spot is encountered. [via AppleInsider]

Netflix update adds 1080p streaming for iPhone 6 Plus

Netflix has released an update to its eponymous streaming app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, adding support for the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus displays. The update notably adds full 1080p HD streaming for the iPhone 6 Plus, which natively supports a 1920x1080 standard resolution. The update also notes full support for iOS 8 and improvements for Chromecast users. [via 9to5Mac]

Lawsuit against Apple over unsent text messages will proceed

A lawsuit filed last May against Apple regarding lost text messages will be allowed to proceed, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh stated that Apple will be required to face Adrienne Moore’s complaint that iMessage interfered with her contract with Verizon Wireless, which serviced her Samsung Galaxy S5 after switching from an iPhone 4. Although Apple acknowledged the issue in May, it did not come up with a viable solution until this week, releasing an iMessage deregistration tool for former iPhone users to deregister their cellular numbers from Apple’s iMessage network, thereby allowing messages sent from iPhone users to revert back to using the standard carrier SMS network, rather than being directed to the user’s former iPhone via Apple’s iMessage network. It’s noteworthy that Apple’s alternative solution—manually turning iMessages off on your old device after inserting a SIM card—would not have worked for the iPhone 4 or 4S, the Verizon versions of which did not use SIM cards.

In its own court filing, Apple noted that it has never made any claims that its iMessage service and Messages application would recognize when iPhone users switched to competing devices, stating that “the law does not provide a remedy when, as here, technology simply does not function as plaintiff subjectively believes it should.” In her decision, Judge Koh said that Moore deserved a chance to show that Apple disrupted her wireless service contract and in doing so violated a California unfair competition law by blocking messages sent to her after she switching to a rival device. Koh wrote that the plaintiff “does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple’s intentional acts have caused an actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship.” Moore is seeking class-action status and unspecified damages on the basis that Apple failed to disclose how its iOS operating system would obstruct the delivery of “countless” messages if iPhone users switched to non-Apple devices. [via MacRumors]

Nautilus announces HealthKit integration

Fitness company Nautilus has announced that it is officially adding support for iOS 8 HealthKit to its Bowflex Max Trainer and Nautilus 616 products, allowing users to send workout data directly to iOS 8’s new Health app. The Bowflex Max Trainer will be getting HealthKit integration this month, with the Nautilus 616 Cardio series following “closely.” These Nautilus workout machines use Bluetooth Smart technology to transfer workout details including calories burned, heart rate, distance covered, and workout time to companion apps on the user’s iPhone or iPod touch. The apps then sync all workout data with the iOS Health app, as well as continuing to allow Nautilus users to integrate with other third-party applications and the company’s own online services.

Apple Pay: 1% of Whole Foods transactions, Alibaba key in China?

With only three weeks since the launch of Apple’s new mobile payments service, Whole Foods has reported that it has processed 150,000 Apple Pay transactions – about 1% of the retailers total transactions in the same time period, according to calculations by Mike Dudas, former mobile commerce lead at Google and PayPal. Apple also appears to be moving ahead in establishing an Apple Pay partnership with Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba, as noted by Apple CEO Tim Cook during his interview last week at WSDJ Live. Such a partnership would likely help facilitate a much faster rollout of Apple Pay in China, according to a report by 9to5Mac, which notes that Alibaba is the key player in online shopping in the country, with an estimated 80% marketshare. Alibaba has already met the often complicated regulatory requirements to operate in China, suggesting that the Chinese government would be more receptive to a partnership between Apple and an existing major player in the Chinese market.

iOS camera app ProCam 2 adds “4K Ultra HD” video recording mode as $5 IAP

ProCam 2, a $2 still and video camera app by developer Samer Azzam, has added “4K Ultra HD video recording” via a $5 in-app purchase. Following a technique debuted in September by i4software in the $1,000 app Vizzywig 4K, ProCam 2 uses a hack to splice high-resolution still images together with an audio recording to simulate 4K video recording. ProCam 2’s videos save at 3840x2160 resolution, resulting in large file sizes—over 400MB per minute—with a promised 30 frame per second recording rate for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A lower frame rate of “up to 25 fps” is promised for the iPhone 5s.

Unfortunately, ProCam 2’s actual performance on an iPhone 6 Plus typically reached only 15 to 25FPS during our testing, with a noticeably laggy shutter during recording. Videos are saved within the app in a 4K Videos folder, in a standard .MOV format that can play with obvious jitters directly on the device. The app is currently at version 4.0.1, addressing an iOS 7-related crash bug, but continues to suffer from many memory-related crashes when using the 4K recording mode. Vizzywig 4K has been reduced in price to $50, and now supports iOS 8.1, though notably with user complaints as to video quality.

Touch Press releases Molecules by Theodore Gray, sequel to The Elements

Four and a half years after Theodore Gray released the breakthrough iPad science application The Elements: A Visual Exploration, developer Touch Press has published Molecules by Theodore Gray ($14), billed as an “extraordinary sequel.” While The Elements was neatly organized using a fully animated version of the Periodic Table, Molecules is closer to a 14-chapter book in design, yet preserves the incredible rotating and interactive 3-D objects that were such a phenomenon during the original iPad’s introduction. It also continues Gray’s tradition of breezily walking readers through complex science using clear language and engaging examples, including more of the subtle, erudite humor that made The Elements so charming.

A virtual table of contents lets readers learn about the molecules and compounds inside foods, liquids, and everyday objects, selecting from animated images such as a honeycomb, a rock formation, a moving fountain, or a glass filled with dry ice. Most of the pages contain multiple paragraphs of explanatory text alongside objects that can be spun around by 360 degrees, playing back a series of photographs taken from every angle. Additionally, a university-developed molecular simulation engine enables accurate representations of molecules to be manipulated in full 3-D, sometimes with temperature and time sliders to increase the pace of their energetic movements. Now built for Retina displays, the app doesn’t let iPad users zoom in on objects, but does include separate portrait and landscape iPad modes, as well as iPhone support. Released last week as version 1.0, it’s currently at version 1.1. Additional pictures can be seen below.

Target announces unprecedented Black Friday Apple deals

Black Friday deals reported by 9to5Mac show that Target will be offering some unprecedented pricing on new Apple products later this month. This year’s holiday deals include an iPhone 6 for $179.99 with a $30 gift card included, 16GB iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi for $499 with a $140 Target Gift Card, a 16GB iPad mini Wi-Fi model for $249 with an $80 Target Gift Card, and a buy one get 30% off iTunes gift card discount. Some items are even available to order now online with free in-store pickup on Black Friday.

Security researcher IDs new app-spoofing iOS vulnerability

Security research firm FireEye has identified a vulnerability that can allow iOS apps to be replaced by malware versions. Dubbed the “Masque Attack,” the vulnerability uses an existing app’s App Store ID, signed with an enterprise provisioning certificate, to replace the good app with a rogue version. The report explains that although iOS requires that all third-party applications be signed by a valid provisioning certificate, it does not require that the certificate used to sign an app update be the same as the certificate used to sign the original app.

Masque Attack uses a vulnerability similar to the WireLurker exploit revealed last week, leveraging the enterprise distribution system that Apple has provided for companies to distribute in-house apps to their users, however this particular vulnerability goes beyond requiring a USB connection, potentially allowing devices to be infected wirelessly by prompting users to install bogus application updates over-the-air. This could be done by presenting prompts in Safari to encourage users to install an update to an app they may already be using. The prompt need not even match the app actually being delivered, and once the user accepts, the app will be downloaded and replace the legitimate version on the user’s device. The FireEye report cites examples such as replacing a mobile banking app as a phishing attack to collect login and password information. FireEye notes that the vulnerability still exists in the iOS 8.1.1 beta, and has been identified as far back as iOS 7.1.1.

It is key to mention that this exploit relies heavily on social engineering to encourage the user to install an untrusted app, and that iOS itself provides cues that should raise suspicion, such as asking the user to randomly install an app while they may be engaged in an otherwise unrelated activity such as browsing the web, and requiring that the user explicitly respond to an “Untrusted Developer” notification when installing the app. The FireEye report notes that users can mitigate their risk simply by not installing “apps from third-party sources other than Apple’s official App Store or the user’s own organization” and not clicking on random pop-ups on web pages to install third-party apps, regardless of the title or description shown for the app. [via CNBC]

Apple releases iMessage Deregistration Tool

Apple has released a new web-based tool to allow users to deregister phone numbers from iMessage. Designed to address a long-standing problem that users have experienced when switching away from the iPhone to other devices, the site provides instructions on how to deregister a phone number from Apple’s iMessage servers so that text messages sent from other iPhone users will be sent as SMS messages instead of via Apple’s iMessage network. The problem exists because the iPhone automatically registers a user’s cellular phone number with Apple’s iMessage servers when the user first sets up their device or inserts a new SIM card in their iPhone. Messages from other iOS devices sent to that phone number will travel via the iMessage servers instead of the cellular carrier’s SMS network — if users later switch their SIM card to a non-iPhone device, their number does not get deregistered automatically, so messages to that phone number will continue to travel over the iMessage network.

Apple acknowledged the issue back in May, shortly before a lawsuit was filed by a former iPhone user who was losing text messages as a result of the problem. Apple promised a fix was coming shortly thereafter, but other than advising users to disable iMessage before removing their SIM card—a suggestion that is often unreasonable as many users will have already switched to another device before discovering the problem even exists—the company has not provided a solution until now. The new web portal provides the same advice to deactivate iMessage manually for users who still have their iPhones, but failing that, users can now enter their phone number directly on the web page, and after confirming their number via an SMS confirmation code, their number will be deregistered from Apple’s iMessage servers.

Apps of the Week: Julius Jr.‘s Playground, Nighty Night Circus, Google Maps + iMovie

New Games

Julius Jr.‘s Playhouse ($3) — StoryToys brings the popular Paul Frank character to life in this new kids’ app. The game provides four fun activities, including Tea Party, Garage Band, Friends Quiz, and Get Puzzling, that allow kids to decorate cakes, play along with songs, identify characters and put together colourful puzzles. The app features eight jigsaw puzzles, over 100 quiz questions, three Julius Jr. songs, professional narration, and more, all in an intuitive and child-friendly package.

Nighty Night Circus ($4) — The sequel to Fox and Sheep’s popular “Nighty Night!”, Nighty Night Circus brings a new magical setting with a bedtime atmosphere full of colourful animations. Children are presented with a circus setting with eight animals that they can put to bed with various actions. Each animal performs various tricks before going to sleep, and the app features designs and animations by Oscar-nominated artist Heidi Wittlinger. The cute animals, calming lullaby music and narration make this a great app for a daily go-to-sleep ritual for young children.

Unsealed GT court documents reveal Apple negotiation tactics

Key court documents related to GT Advanced Technologies’ bankruptcy filing earlier this fall have recently been unsealed, providing some interesting insights into negotiations between Apple and GT. While both companies had previously fought to keep court documents sealed, citing confidentiality agreements, a judge ruled earlier this week that the documents did not contain trade secrets of other confidential information.

The newly disclosed documents also include an unedited affidavit from GT Advanced’s Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Squiller, who places much of the blame for GT’s failure on Apple, in light of agreements that the company had already previously referred to as oppressive and burdensome. Squiller describes Apple as using a “bait-and-switch” strategy, initially appealing to GT with the promise of a lucrative deal that would have involved Apple purchasing sapphire furnaces and allowing GT to operate them, but later demanding a “fundamentally different deal” that was “onerous and massively one-sided.” The new deal required GT to purchase and operate the furnaces, and shifted all economic risk to GT Advanced Technologies, putting Apple in the role of a lender with no other obligations to purchase any equipment or materials produced by GT.

Apple blocks WireLurker malware

Following reports earlier this week of a new malware threat capable of infecting iOS devices, Apple has responded by blocking apps that are infected with the malicious code, Macworld UK reports. On Wednesday, Security firm Palo Alto Networks revealed a threat in which hackers were transferring malware to iOS devices through infected OS X desktop applications downloaded from a Chinese app marketplace. The attack could notably affect devices that had not been jailbroken by transferring malicious code to the devices over a direct USB connection, signed with an enterprise provisioning certificate—the technique normally used for developers building apps to be distributed privately for internal corporate use, as opposed to via Apple’s App Store. Approximately 467 Mac desktop applications on the Chinese app store Maiyadi were found to be infected with WireLurker. While Apple didn’t specify exactly what it had done to stop the attack, a representative stated that the company is “aware of malicious software available from a download site aimed at users in China,” and that it has “blocked the identified apps to prevent them from launching.” Apple also reminded users of its usual advice to download software only from trusted sources.

Apple planning to switch NAND Flash chips in new iPhones due to reported problems?

A new report from BusinessKorea suggests that Apple may be planning to change the type of NAND flash chips it uses for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, following reports of various users problems with higher-capacity models. Citing industry sources, the report states that Apple has decided to discontinue use of triple-level-cell (TLC) NAND as it believes the NAND controller IC contained in the chips to be the cause of recent problems with the 128GB iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models. Although TLC flash memory is the more cost-efficient option, it is also slower than single-level-cell (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash, and Apple is allegedly looking to switch to MLC NAND flash in the 64GB iPhone 6 and the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus at some point in the future, although it reportedly plans in the meantime to address problems with TLC NAND versions in a coming iOS 8.1.1 update. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the first two iPhone models to use TLC NAND flash; previous-generation models used MLC NAND flash chips. [via MacRumors]

Apple TV adds CBS News channel

Apple has quietly added a new CBS News channel to the Apple TV, providing free access to the CBSN streaming news channel launched earlier today by the television network for U.S. Apple TV users. The channel also allows viewers to access on-demand content from CBS Evening News, CBS This Morning, 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, Sunday Morning, and Face the Nation. [via 9to5Mac]

iLounge announces its Best of the Year Awards for 2014

iLounge has released its Best of the Year Awards for 2014, highlighting the past year’s top accessories, apps, games, and more. Our editors have picked the best of the best in more than 25 categories, narrowing down a list of thousands of potential products. In the past, iLounge has released a Buyers Guide containing our annual awards — the list has been expanded and is now available here on the site, with no download needed. Click here to discover all the winners and notable runners-up!

Microsoft Office apps gain iPhone support, free editing

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.

Jawbone announces UP3, UP Move fitness trackers

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.

Apple Watch Edition may be priced as high as $5K, Valentine’s Day launch date ‘still valid’?

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.”

AT&T and Verizon working on VoLTE interoperability

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]

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