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Apple draws interest of antitrust regulators

Both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have started looking at the new terms Apple set this week for media companies that want to sell content on the iOS platform, according to a new report. Citing people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reports that the groups’ interest in Apple is only at a preliminary stage, and won’t necessarily develop into a formal investigation or action against the company. Beyond the U.S., a spokesperson for the European Commission has said the commission is aware of Apple’s new policies and is “carefully monitoring the situation.” Earlier this week, Apple issued a press release announcing its new subscription service for the App Store, in which it revealed new rules that forbid companies from including links in their apps to sell content outside the app, force them to offer the same subscription price via In-App Purchase—of which Apple gets a 30 percent cut—as they do outside the app. Banning apps from linking to external sites “sounds like a pretty aggressive position,” said Eric Goldman, director of Santa Clara University’s High Tech Law Institute. “It seems like that’s purely in the interests of Apple trying to restrict people doing transactions they don’t get a cut from.”

NYT: Apple has no plans for smaller iPhone

Despite recent reports, Apple is not developing a smaller version of the iPhone, according to a New York Times report. Citing people briefed on Apple’s plans, the report states that Apple is exploring ways of making the device less expensive and allowing users to control the phone with voice commands, but is not working on a smaller version, in part due to fact that it would be more difficult to operate, and would likely not represent much of a cost savings. In addition, a smaller screen might force some developers to modify their apps, something that Apple wants to avoid. The report continues, citing a senior Apple executive as saying during a private meeting that it didn’t make sense for the company to make multiple iPhone models, and that it would continue its practice of dropping the price on older models when it introduces a new one. “Although the innards of the phone, including memory size or camera quality, could change to offer a less expensive model, the size of the device would not vary,” said a person with knowledge of Apple’s plans and who has worked on multiple versions of the device.

A separate person with knowledge of Apple’s plans is cited in the report as saying the company was actively building a more versatile version of its MobileMe service. The new version is expected to be free, according to the report, and would allow users to sync their files without using a cable. “The goal is that your photos and other media content will eventually just sync across all your Apple devices without people having to do anything,” the person said. Interestingly, the report also mentions the “N97” code name that has previously been tied to the project of a cheaper iPhone; according to several of the NYT’s sources, N97 was actually the code name for the Verizon iPhone 4, which launched last week.

Scosche ships goBat II portable battery pack

Scosche has announced that it is now shipping its goBat II portable battery pack for the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and other portable devices. Sporting an internal 5,000mAh lithium ion battery, the goBat II features two USB ports—one with a 2.1 Amp output for charging devices such as the iPad, and one with a 1 Amp output for charging smaller devices such as the iPod and iPhone—which can be used for simultaneous charging of two devices. Other features include an LED battery level indicator and a microUSB port and wall charger for recharging the internal battery. Scosche’s goBat II portable battery pack is available now and sells for $90.

China Telecom hacks CDMA iPhone, deal with Apple near?

A new report indicates that a group of China Telecom employees have hacked the CDMA version of the iPhone 4 to allow for use on its network, while an analyst suggests the company is nearing a deal with Apple to carry the handset. The Wall Street Journal, citing a Sina Weibo post, reports that employees of China Telecom’s Guangdong branch have said the “CDMA iPhone 4 has made its first call in China” without issue. According to a China Telecom official, the test call was done by individuals within the company and does not represent an official action. Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White, meanwhile, has suggested Apple is close to reaching a deal with China Telecom to carry the iPhone. Citing material posted to NetEase’s website that a branch of the carrier was accepting pre-orders for the CDMA iPhone 4, White said, “The key takeaway is that the relationship between Apple and China Telecom is clearly moving in the right direction, and we believe that a deal will eventually be announced this year.”

iStudiez Pro adds cloud sync

Popular schoolwork management application iStudiez Pro has been updated adding the ability to sync data between multiple iOS devices. Designed for students, teachers and parents, iStudiez Pro allows users to keep track of course schedules, instructors, homework assignments, tests, critical dates and tasks, grades and more. With the latest version users can now seamlessly sync their data between their devices, allowing the universal app to easily be used on both an iPhone and iPad with the same data. The update also provides several other small fixes and enhancements including decimal weights for grade assignments, exam icons in the week view, and an option to add partners for assignments that have been temporarily removed. iStudiez Pro requires iOS 4.2 and available from the App Store for $3 as a single universal app. A separate Mac version has also been announced which will allow users to sync and manage their iStudiez Pro data on their desktop computer.

Sony exec denies earlier report of iTunes withdrawal

A Sony executive has denied a report from earlier in the week that suggested the company was considering pulling its music from the iTunes Store. In an earlier interview with The Age discussing the company’s Music Unlimited streaming service, which launches in the U.S. Australia, and New Zealand today, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Michael Ephraim said, ‘‘If we do [get mass take up] then does Sony Music need to provide content to iTunes? Currently we do. We have to provide it to iTunes as that’s the format right now.” He continued, ‘‘Publishers are being held to ransom by Apple and they are looking for other delivery systems, and we are waiting to see what the next three to five years will hold.’’ Sony Network Entertainment COO Brandon Layden has since spoken with SAI, denying the idea that the company is threatening to withdrawal from the store. “Sony Music as I understand it has no intention of withdrawing from iTunes, they’re one of our biggest partners in the digital domain. I think those words were either taken out of context or the person who spoke them was unclear on the circumstances.” As the second-largest of the “big four” record companies, Sony controls a large number of important artists and a large percentage of the music available on the iTunes Store.

Springpad adds audio notes and sharing features

Spring Partners has released an update to its Springpad iOS application adding support for recording audio notes and sharing information online. Springpad is an application and back-end web service that allows users to collect, record and quickly organize ideas and information while on the go. Springpad provides automatic organization of content and provides enhanced information for saved notes such as directions for places, showtimes for movies, price comparisons for products, and links to other related resources and information. Springpad 2.2 adds the ability to record audio notes either as separate items or attachments to an existing text note. Users can also now post items to Twitter and Facebook directly from the application with a link back to their public Springpad page. Additional enhancement include the ability to rearrange notebooks within the app and OpenID support for logging in with Google, Facebook, Twitter or Yahoo accounts. Several other bug fixes and performance improvements are also addressed in the update. Springpad is a universal app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad and is available from the App Store as a free download.

iPhone 4 catches fire in woman’s hand?

A new report suggests an iPhone 4 unit has overheated and caught fire while in use. Citing a video reenactment of the incident from Omar Huartas, BGR claims that Huartas’ iPhone 4 became extremely hot while his wife held the device. The battery reportedly swelled, dislodging the rear glass cover, and then caught fire. Huartas’ wife then dropped the phone onto a table, where it left burn marks; Huartas claims the device also burnt his hand and let off enough smoke to trigger his fire alarm. Huartas reportedly went to the Apple Store to get a replacement phone. Notably, the video reenactment contains distracting fire and smoke effects that detract somewhat from the plausibility of Huartas’ story, leaving the exact circumstances of the incident somewhat unclear, despite the fact that the still images appear to show a badly damaged battery.

Apple secures 60% of global touch panel capacity?

Apple has secured close to 60 percent of global touch panel capacity for 2011, leading to tight supplies for its competitors, according to a new report. Citing sources from upstream component makers, DigiTimes reports that Apple’s move was made in order to achieve its internal goal of shipping 40 million iPads in 2011, with the company holding control over the capacity of major panel suppliers such as Wintek and TPK. Sources from iPad distributors reportedly said that Apple’s 2010 order forecasts to OEM partners were also high, but the biggest problem on the supply side was not capacity, but instead low yields of touch panels. The report notes that aside from Apple, large companies such as Motorola, RIM, and HP are also competing for related components, leaving second-tier tablet makers “out of the game.”

Spruce seeks funding for Wedge iPad stand

Spruce Design Studio is seeking funding on Kickstarter for its new Wedge iPad stand. Made from anodized silver aluminum, the Wedge is a minimalist stand, with a slot for holding the iPad in either vertical or horizontal orientation, multiple open cavities to reduce weight, and a non-skid case that helps hold the stand in place while protecting furniture from scratches. Interested customers can pledge as little as $20 as a pre-order for the Wedge; higher contributions include multiple stands and/or a limited-edition, laser-etched Kickstarter version.

Verizon iPhone sales slower than expected?

Sales of the Verizon iPhone have been slower than what Apple and Verizon expected, according to a new report. Citing an Apple source, BGR reports that combined unit sales totals from five Apple stores—including two described as “very, very prominent” locations—fell between 660 and 916 for each of the first five days the Verizon iPhone was on sale, compared to sales of between 471 and 701 for the AT&T model over the same time period. The report goes on to state that online pre-orders from both Verizon and Apple accounted for roughly 550,000 units, and that out of early Verizon iPhone buyers, 30 percent were Android users, 25 percent were former BlackBerry users, and only 14 percent were former AT&T iPhone owners.

Apple developer rule changes may impact a wide range of apps

While the majority of yesterday’s Apple App Store subscription press release focused on the company’s new subscription purchasing system for periodicals, the company also snuck in a policy change that could impact important non-periodical apps. Coupled with an existing policy that gives Apple a 30% share of in-app purchases, the new policy forbids publishers from providing links in their apps to sell content outside the app, where Apple receives no revenue.

This language echoed an earlier statement from Apple spokesperson Trudy Miller, who in responding to the unexpected rejection of Sony’s reader application said, “We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.” While that policy appears from one perspective to be reasonable, the practical consequence is that companies are now faced with the business choice of raising their prices across the board as a way to recoup revenues lost to Apple, or cutting off support for Apple’s products and users. Under one scenario, both the company’s Apple- and non-Apple customers will pay more for their content; under the other, customers will pay the same prices but be unable to use the content on Apple’s devices.

The ramifications for traditional publishers, such as the New York Times and Time, Inc., are still being sorted out. “We have agreements with other other tablet makers on mutually beneficial business terms,” a spokesman for Time Inc. told the Wall Street Journal. “Apple’s latest announcement seems to be a step in the right direction, but it raises a lot of questions, mostly centered around consumer data, that we have to work through and agree on.” The New York Times, which has been preparing its own billing system to allow it to sell a digital subscription that includes both online and app access, said through a spokesperson that “We are working with Apple to understand how this impacts our plans, if at all.” Other companies that have not traditionally been understood as publishers, such as digital book vendors Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are being treated as publishers by the new policy and subjected to the same content-related fees and rules. iLounge reached out to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble for comment on how the policy changes might affect their e-reader apps for iOS, but had not received a response from either at the time of this article’s publication.

The impact of the change on other companies—such as those that provide subscription-based access to streaming media, like Netflix, Hulu, and Rhapsody—is even less clear. Rhapsody has already issued a statement airing its concerns over the changes, which states, “Our philosophy is simple too – an Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple, in addition to content fees that we pay to the music labels, publishers and artists, is economically untenable. The bottom line is we would not be able to offer our service through the iTunes store if subjected to Apple’s 30 percent monthly fee vs. a typical 2.5 percent credit card fee.” The statement added that “we will be collaborating with our market peers in determining an appropriate legal and business response to this latest development.”

As a consequence of the change, Apple will likely face antitrust scrutiny over its new policy, although it remains to be seen whether its position in the market is seen as strong enough to force action, and to establish Apple’s position in the market, the market itself must be defined. While publishers might claim that Apple dominates the market for consumer tablets, and is using its position to restrict competition, Apple might define the market as including all digital and print media, suggesting that any publisher unhappy with Apple’s terms is still free to reach customers through other means. “Millions will be spent litigating how broad the market is,” Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, told the Wall Street Journal. He also said that digital media is the most plausible market definition in this case, and that he doubts Apple currently has a sufficiently dominant position to warrant scrutiny. Should Apple reach a point where it is selling 60 percent or more of all digital subscriptions through the App Store, according to Hovenkamp, “then you might move into territory where an antitrust challenge would seem feasible.”

Mix: iPhone screen, Verizon FiOS, 3GS ad, AT&T comments

A new report claims Apple is considering using a four-inch screen in the fifth-generation iPhone. Citing upstream component suppliers, DigiTimes reports that production lines for the next-generation iPhone have begun testing, and that Apple is interested in expanding the screen size of the iPhone to four inches to help it compete with Android in the four- to seven-inch smartphone/tablet market. Notably, an increase in screen size without a similar increase in resolution could leave Apple marketing a four-inch “Retina” display that has fewer pixels per inch (ppi) than the 3.5-inch version from the prior model.

Verizon has announced a new promotion for its FiOS bundles that includes a “free” iPhone 4. If a customer signs up for FiOS TV + FiOS Internet + home phone service on a two-year contract and a $200 Visa Prepaid Card which can be used towards the purchase of an iPhone. In addition, customers who sign up for the bundle and add Verizon Wireless service to the package receive an extra $9.99/month discount.

AT&T has started to air a new television commercial for the iPhone 3GS. Referred to in the commercial as “the phone that changed everything,” the 8GB iPhone 3GS appears in front of a plain background as the 30-second spot highlights the device’s recently-dropped $49 price tag. The spot is likely another move by AT&T to retain as many iPhone customers as possible, as Verizon doesn’t have an equivalent iPhone model—at an equivalent price—to offer customers, although that situation could change following the announcement of the fifth-generation model.

Speaking in an interview in Barcelona, Spain, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made several positive comments relating to the end of iPhone exclusivity in the United States. “It’s good for the industry, you can’t turn on a TV now without seeing an Apple commercial,” Stephenson told Bloomberg. “So the iPhone is getting broadly promoted.” He also admitted that his company would lose some customers to Verizon Wireless, saying, “When you have an iconic device and you lose exclusivity to another carrier, it’ll have an effect, obviously. Verizon is going to have a lot of success with the iPhone, just like we did.”

Apple explains calling differences between GSM, CDMA iPhones

Apple has posted a support document outlining the differences in calling features between the GSM and CDMA models of iPhone. As the document notes, “depending on your wireless carrier’s network technology (GSM or CDMA), there are different methods for enabling and using” many phone features. The list of features includes call forwarding, call waiting, caller ID, conference calls, inserting pauses when dialing, and hold. Notably, the GSM model of iPhone supports up to five calls simultaneously in conference call mode, while the CDMA model supports only two, and doesn’t offer support for placing a call on hold, while the GSM model does. [via 9 to 5 Mac]

Photo of the Week: iPad in Nigeria

This week’s featured photo is from our iPads Around the World gallery, and shows an iPad overlooking the skyline of Lagos, Nigeria. To share your photos and to be considered for our Photo of the Week, you simply need to submit your own photo to one of our galleries. So get out there, take some pictures featuring your favorite iPod, iPad, or iPhone and maybe your submission will be our next Photo of the Week!

Apple updates App Store Review Guidelines to cover ‘cheating’

Following this morning’s announcement of a new subscription billing service for the App Store, Apple has updated its App Store Review Guidelines to reflect changes related to the subscription service, as well as to add new language relating to those who try to ‘cheat’ the App Store system. As reported by Mac Rumors, the new guidelines state, “If you attempt to cheat the system (for example, by trying to trick the review process, steal data from users, copy another developer’s work, or manipulate the ratings) your apps will be removed from the store and you will be expelled from the developer program.” The report notes that the language was likely added to give Apple further power to deal with developers who hide unauthorized features as “easter eggs” inside their programs, as well as those who steal content from other developers.

TouCoul rolls out CoulVue mount for iPad

TouCoul has rolled out its new CoulVue headrest mounting system for the iPad. The CoulVue attaches to any standard car headrest with dual steel rods, using a reinforced locking system to hold the unit securely in place. Features include a flexible arm mount, 360 degree twist/tilt functionality, open access to all ports and controls, and a secure iPad mounting bracket that is designed to be a perfect fit for unencased first-generation iPads. TouCoul’s CoulVue headrest mounting system for iPad is available for pre-order now and sells for $80.

View Quest intros Retro 1 DAB Radio with Dock

View Quest has introduced its Retro 1 DAB Radio for the iPod and iPhone in the U.K. The device features a retro design, with a leather-wrapped body and built-in carry handle, an integrated, front-mounted iPod/iPhone dock, 10 presets for the DAB/FM radio, an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices, two full-range speakers, a back LCD display, and a battery life of 15 hours. View Quest’s Retro 1 DAB for iPod and iPhone is available now from Play.com and sells for £100, or roughly $162.

Deutsche Telekom claims NFC iPhone coming in Q2

Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile USA, has announced plans to roll out a mobile payment system based on Near Field Communications (NFC) technology in multiple countries in 2011-2012. As reported by Phone Scoop, the company specifically mentions that it expects NFC phones from both Apple and Samsung in the second quarter of 2011. A recent analyst report suggested that Apple plans to include NFC technology in the next versions of the iPhone and iPad; a later iLounge report claimed that Apple is developing new accessories that will communicate with the devices via NFC. Deutsche Telekom said that it sees mobile payments as being the most popular use for the technology, followed by mobile ticketing; it plans to launch its mobile payment initiative in the U.S. in 2012. [via BGR]

Apple launches subscription service on App Store

Apple today announced the launch of its long-rumored subscription service for the App Store. According to the announcement, the service is available to all publishers of content-based apps on the store, including magazines, newspapers, video, music, and more. The service will use the same App Store billing system as In-App Purchases, and will allow publishers to set the price and length of subscription (weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly). Customers are able to choose their subscription length with one-click, are automatically charged based based on their chosen length of commitment, and will be able to review and manage all of their subscriptions from their personal account page, including canceling automatic renewals. Notably, Apple processes the payments, and keeps the same 30 percent share as it does for other In-App Purchases.

Customers who purchase a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing personal information—such as their name, email address, and zip code—to the publisher when they subscribe. The use of such information will fall under the publisher’s privacy policy, rather than Apple’s. The same rules will apply for any additional information provided to the publisher via the app, assuming the customers are offered a clear choice as to whether or not they want to provide the information, and are clearly told that any additional information will be handled under the publisher’s privacy policy and not Apple’s.

“Our philosophy is simple—when Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share; when the publisher brings an existing or new subscriber to the app, the publisher keeps 100 percent and Apple earns nothing,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “All we require is that, if a publisher is making a subscription offer outside of the app, the same (or better) offer be made inside the app, so that customers can easily subscribe with one-click right in the app. We believe that this innovative subscription service will provide publishers with a brand new opportunity to expand digital access to their content onto the iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, delighting both new and existing subscribers.”

The announcement goes on to say that publishers offering Apple’s subscription service from inside the app may also leverage other methods of acquiring digital subscribers outside of the app, such as selling digital subscriptions online, or providing free access to existing subscribers. Apple notes that there is no revenue sharing or exchange of customer information in such cases, and that it will be up to the publisher to provide an authentication process for such subscribers. In addition, publishers may no longer provide links in their apps which allow the customer to purchase content or subscriptions outside of the app.

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