An update to Angry Birds has been released adding a new underground episode, Mine and Dine, with 15 new levels. In this latest episode, the bad piggies are now hiding in underground caverns with the stolen eggs; players must chase the pigs out of their hiding holes using the landscape and geology such as hanging stalactites to retrieve the eggs and gather rare collectible gems. The Mighty Eagle power up introduced in the previous version also remains available as an in-app purchase even in the underground levels to help players pass the more difficult levels. The update also makes some minor changes to some of the tougher game levels to reduce their difficulty. Angry Birds for the iPhone and iPod touch is available from the App Store for $1; Angry Birds HD for the iPad is available separately for $5. The Mighty Eagle is available as a one-time in-app purchase for $1.
Apple has been sued in federal court by publisher John T. Colby, which is claiming trademark infringement over the use of the term “iBooks.” Bloomberg reports that Colby purchased the assets of various entities owned by New York publisher Byron Preiss, who had published more than 1,000 books under the “ibooks” name, beginning in 1999. Apple has a trademark on the term “IBOOK” as it relates to computers and once sold a laptop called the iBook, which was replaced by the MacBook when the company switched to Intel processors. The lawsuit argues that Apple never used the term as a designation for electronic books or an application for the delivery of electronic books until it launched the iPad. “Apple’s use of the mark ‘iBooks’ to denote the electronic library that can be accessed via its iPad tablet computer and its iPhone is likely to overwhelm the good will of plaintiffs’ ‘ibooks’ and ‘ipicturebooks’ marks and render them virtually worthless,” the lawsuit says.
A new app by Timelines allows users to creatively share photos from their iPhone or iPod touch using a variety of unique themes. With Photogram, users can build digital photo postcards with up to four photos choosing from dozens of unique themes by independent artists. Photograms can be customized with a personalized message and profile photo and shared via e-mail or posted on Facebook or Twitter. Photos can be cropped and zoomed when inserting into a photogram and users can create groups within the app for easy one-click sending to multiple recipients such as friends and family. The app includes over 30 themes with additional themes available via in-app purchase from an integrated Theme Store; all themes in the store are by independent artists who receive a share of the revenue from the sale of their work. Photogram is available from the App Store as a free download.
Apple has officially launched its annual Back to School promotion. Unlike past years, which saw the company bundle a free iPod with the purchase of a qualifying Mac with Education Pricing, Apple is now offering a $100 Gift Card under the same conditions. The Gift Card can be used on the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, or Mac App Store, although the focus of the promotional materials is on the latter. Qualifying systems include the company’s MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro laptop computers, as well as its iMac desktops. Full terms and conditions are available here.
The switch to a Gift Card instead of an iPod may indicate a sea change at Apple, as the iPod + Mac promotion ran for six straight years, beginning with an offer of a free iPod mini, then changing to include an iPod nano, and eventually adding the iPod touch. The change is also notable in that Apple has also traditionally used the promotion as a tool to help clear out iPod inventory prior to its annual music event, traditionally held in early September.
Three people in China have been convicted of violating commercial secrets relating to the theft of the iPad 2’s design, according to an AFP report. Citing the Guangzhou Daily, the report states that the theft took place late last year at a plant run by Foxconn, and allowed for the manufacture and sale of counterfeit iPad 2 units prior to the product’s official introduction. Xiao Chengsong, a legal agent of Maita Electronics, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined 150,000 yuan (roughly $23,000) for buying the design from two Foxconn workers for 200,000 yuan. The Foxconn workers, Lin Kecheng and Hou Pengna, were sentenced to 14 months and two years—suspended for one year—and fined 100,000 yuan and 30,000 yuan, respectively.
Another round of 2048x1536 iPad graphics has been found in the initial beta version of iOS 5. TechUnwrapped reports that images found in the new Twitter framework are labeled “2x”—the same designation given to similarly-oversized graphics found in iBooks in January—and are 2048x1536 in size, suggesting that a future iPad model will sport a display with quadruple the pixels of the first two generations. An additional “2x” image has been found in Newsstand, although this particular image is 1536x800, while its normal-sized counterpart is 768x400. A move from 1024x768 to 2048x1536 would allow Apple to make a similar transition to the one it made when it moved from 480x320 displays on the iPhone and iPod touch to the Retina Display, which offers exactly quadruple the pixels at 960x640. While many—including iLounge—were skeptical of such a display appearing in the iPad 2, Samsung has since shown a 2560x1600, 10.1-inch display prototype, suggesting that a 2048x1536 display is at least technically possible for the iPad 3, if not necessarily available in sufficient quantities to meet likely demand. [via 9 to 5 Mac]
An extensive profile of Apple’s retail stores by the Wall Street Journal has revealed some interesting facts about the decade-old chain. Although Apple’s attention to detail in its stores’ designs is evident, the company also stresses over customer service details, going so far as to instruct its Genius Bar staffers to use “as it turns out” rather than “unfortunately” to sound less negative when they are unable to fix a problem, and to forbid employees from correcting customers when they mispronounce an item name because that might make them feel patronized. The report also references an Apple employee training manual as using the acronym APPLE for its steps of service, which include “Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome,” “Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs,” “Present a solution for the customer to take home today,” “Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns,” and “End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.”
The report also goes into detail about the stores’ financial performance, citing investment bank Needham & Co. as saying that Apple’s annual retail sales per square foot have risen to $5,914—including online sales—compared to $3,070 for Tiffany & Co. and $880 for Best Buy. Despite the $880 mark, Best Buy’s profit margin is roughly one percent, according to the report, while Apple’s retail profit margin is said to be 26.9 percent. The comparison between the Apple and Tiffany is perhaps more fitting, as both companies’ stores are similar in size, use high-end fittings and materials in their construction, and sell mostly smaller items that retail for hundreds of dollars, while Best Buy carries a number of larger items—such as appliances and home theater packages—in more warehouse-like stores.
Griffin Technology has announced that it is now shipping its Beacon Universal Remote Control System for iOS devices. Winner of an iLounge Best of Show 2011 Finalist award, the Beacon connects to iOS devices over Bluetooth, allowing for remote control—via Dijit’s free Universal Remote app—of TVs, cable boxes, and other home entertainment components. Other features include a low-profile design, a constantly updated device code library with learning functionality, a built-in program guide, and battery life of up to eight weeks under heavy usage from four AA batteries. Griffin’s Beacon Universal Remote Control System is available now and sells for $80.
If you haven’t yet entered our iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide Top Tweeter Contest, today is your last chance to do so. In the contest, iLounge and Bowers & Wilkins are giving away two Zeppelin Air systems to the Grand Prize winners, two MM-1 speaker systems to our First Prize winners, and two Zeppelin Mini systems to our Second Prize winners. To enter, simply post the following tweet on Twitter: “Grab the amazing @iLounge iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide + tweet this link for a shot at six Bowers & Wilkins speakers! http://t.co/5Z5bpb5” or retweet this linked message to your followers. We’ll look for the top tweeters/retweeters—based on the number and positive influence of retweets—and pick two winners for each of the three speakers above. The contest ends tonight at 11:59PM Pacific Time, so get to Tweeting, and good luck!
Facebook is planning to launch its own standalone photo-sharing app for iOS devices, according to a new report. Citing roughly 50MB of images and documents related to the app, TechCrunch reports that the app—internally referred to as “Hovertown” or “WithPeople”—is built on top of Facebook’s existing social network, but functions more like standalone photo-sharing apps and services such as Path, Instagram, and Color. TechCrunch claims that it will be posting more on the app soon; we will update this story when/if any new information is available.
Imagination Technologies has announced that six companies are now licensing its next-generation mobile graphics processing unit architecture. Codenamed “Rogue”, the PowerVR Series6 architecture is said by the company to deliver “unrivalled GFLOPS per mm2 and per mW for all APIs,” and “not only a clear technology advantage and exceptional roadmap, driven by one of the largest teams of graphics engineers in the world, but also an extensive ecosystem of third party developers which has created hundreds of thousands of apps optimised for POWERVR enabled devices to date.” Imagination said ST-Ericsson, Texas Instruments, and MediaTek are all Series6 partners, while the other three licensees—a group that likely includes Apple—have yet to be announced. Apple currently employs Imagination’s GPU designs in its iOS devices, most recently in the iPad 2, which uses the PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU, and also owns a 9.5 percent stake in the company. [via Mac Rumors]
Garmin Ltd and Navigon AG announced today that the two companies have signed an agreement for Garmin to acquire privately-held Navigon AG. Known in the iOS community for its very popular MobileNavigator series of turn-by-turn GPS apps, Navigon also manufactures a number of portable navigation devices as well as developing software for PNDs and other smartphone platforms. In announcing the acquisition, Garmin’s president and COO Cliff Pemble highlighted the strategic nature of Navigon’s application portfolio, stating that “With Navigon, we are also acquiring one of the top-selling navigation applications for the iPhone and Android platforms – something that we expect will help drive revenue for the combined company going forward.” Although one of the largest GPS navigation product manufacturers, Garmin was relatively late in releasing its own turn-by-turn GPS app for the iOS platform, debuting its StreetPilot application for iOS only six months ago after an earlier announcement in November that it was abandoning its own Nuvifone GPS smartphone product. It is unclear whether both the Garmin and Navigon iOS apps will continue to be developed independently; however Navigon will continue to operate as a subsidiary of Garmin Ltd. The acquisition is still subject to regulatory approvals and other closing conditions and financial terms of the transaction are not being released.
Cocoon Innovations has rolled out its new GRID-IT Wrap case for iPad. The GRID-IT is a sleeve-style case featuring a dedicated pocket for the iPad or iPad 2, the GRID-IT organization system for holding items such as chargers, an iPhone, pens, pencils, and other accessories, and a neoprene cover that folds closed to cover the iPad pocket and any items held in place by the organization system. Cocoon’s new GRID-IT Wrap case for iPad is available now in black, grey, or red, and sells for $30.
A major update to the CineXPlayer third-party iPad video player app has been released adding support for additional video formats and 3D video playback along with a number of other enhancements. CineXPlayer 2.1 now provides support for Xvid and Native formats including AVI, MOV, M4V, 3GP and MP4 as well as support for playing back native 3D video content or Xvid 2D movies in 3D with the appropriate glasses. The new version also provides a redesigned navigation and search interface with folders and playlists and Facebook integration for sharing video titles with friends. Additional new features include subtitle support, gesture-based video navigation and movable subtitles. The new version also provides an optional privacy feature that can be purchased in the app for $1 that adds support for password-protected folders and blocks video content from being backed up by iTunes. CineXPlayer 2.1 is available from the App Store for $3. 3D video support is an optional in-app purchase for an additional $2.
Urban Apps has released an update to its popular audio environment enhancement app adding the ability for users to import their own sounds into the app. Ambiance allows the user to play back a wide variety of ambient noises that can be downloaded from a very large catalog of sounds ranging from nature sounds to sounds from busy train stations; the latest update now allows users to also import their own audio files into the app in a number of standard audio formats. The new version also provides a new Drill Down mode on the library page to make it easier to browse large libraries and includes several other minor bug fixes and improvements. Ambiance 3.2.3 is a universal app and is available from the App Store for $3.
Ron Johnson, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail, is set to leave the company in order to take a position as the president, and eventually CEO, of J. C. Penney. The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is expected to announce Johnson’s departure later today; Johnson will succeed long-time Penney leader Myron Ullman in the CEO position. Apple hired Johnson away from Target in 2000 in order to build out its retail stores, which have grown to over 300 outlets during his 11-year tenure. The report does not indicate whom Apple might have in mind as Johnson’s replacement.
Update: In a J. C. Penney press release announcing the move, Johnson said, “I’ve always dreamed of leading a major retail company as CEO, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help J. C. Penney re-imagine what I believe to be the single greatest opportunity in American retailing today, the Department Store. I have tremendous confidence in J. C. Penney’s future and look forward to working with Mike Ullman, the Executive Board and the Company’s 150,000 associates to transform the way America shops.”
The release also notes that Johnson has committed to make a personal investment of $50 million in the company “through the purchase, at fair market value, of 7 1/2-year warrants on 7.257 million shares of J. C. Penney Company stock. The warrants cannot be sold or hedged for the first six years of their term and have a strike price of $29.92, the closing price of the stock on the business day prior to Mr. Johnson’s commitment to purchase the warrants.”
Apple has also responded to the departure, with a spokesperson telling AllThingsD, “Ron is excited about this opportunity and we hope it goes well for him. We’ve got a great retail team in place and are actively recruiting for his replacement.”
Apple has responded to a Samsung request to provide its lawyers with samples of its next-generation iPhone and iPad an “improper attempt to harass” Apple. FOSS Patents reports that Apple, in its response, argues that delivering such samples would result in the exposure of “extremely sensitive trade secrets,” that Apple is not claiming infringement of future products, but of current offerings, and that the request goes far beyond Apple’s own, which requested “expedited discovery” of Samsung products that, at the time of the request, had already been unveiled publicly. The report also notes that Samsung’s law firm, Quinn Emanuel, also represents a variety of Android device makers against Apple and others, and might therefore be able to make use of any confidential information on future Apple products to developer infringement cases that its clients could bring against Apple in a later stage.
Apple first sued Samsung this past April, claiming that products such as the Galaxy S 4G, Epic 4G, Nexus S, and Galaxy Tab copy the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad; Samsung quickly countersued in South Korea, Japan, and Germany, before filing a separate countersuit in the U.S.
Nokia has announced that it has signed a patent license agreement with Apple. Under the agreement, Apple will make a one-time payment to Nokia, as well as on-going royalty payments. In addition, the agreement will result in the settlement of all patent litigation between the companies, including the withdrawal of both companies’ respective complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission. “We are very pleased to have Apple join the growing number of Nokia licensees,” said Stephen Elop, president and chief executive officer of Nokia. “This settlement demonstrates Nokia’s industry leading patent portfolio and enables us to focus on further licensing opportunities in the mobile communications market.”
As previously reported, Apple has started selling unlocked GSM iPhone 4 units through its stores in the U.S. and online. Apple is pricing the handsets at $649 for 16GB units and $749 for 32GB models; black iPhone 4s are given a shipping estimate of 1-3 business days, while white units are listed at 3-5 business days. In its description for the handset, Apple says, “If you don’t want a multiyear service contract or if you prefer to use a local carrier when traveling abroad, the unlocked iPhone 4 is the best choice. It arrives without a micro-SIM card, so you’ll need an active micro-SIM card from any supported GSM carrier worldwide.”
Readdle has released an updated version of its iPad application for viewing, editing and annotating PDF files adding support for signing documents directly on the device. PDF Expert 2.5 adds support for entering both saved and one-time signatures on electronic forms allowing users such as legal professionals and sales people to sign agreements and contracts with partners and clients right on the iPad while working in the field.
The “My Signature” feature allows users to create a regular, standardized signature that is saved in the app for re-use while the “Customer Signature” feature is designed to allow other users such as customers and clients to electronically sign documents on the iPad without the signature being saved outside of the form for compliance with various industry regulations. The new version also adds support for electronic PDF forms with integrated signature fields, allowing documents to be easily signed directly in the proper place. Signed documents can then easily be sent out via e-mail or uploading a corporate web server for further processing. The new version also adds support for selecting text by dragging, refactors PDF stamps and improves calculations in forms in addition to various other performance and stability improvements. PDF Expert 2.5 is available from the App Store for $10.