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Belkin to build LEGO cases for iPhone, iPod

Belkin has announced a multi-year licensing partnership with toymaker LEGO to create accessories for mobile devices, initially focusing on iOS devices including the iPhone and iPod touch. While images were not yet available at press time, Belkin plans to start with the release of smartphone cases with LEGO bricks for a “buildable” case experience, starting this spring. The cases will be “based on iconic LEGO toys,” Belkin said.

Apple to stream audio from CEO Cook’s presentation

Once again, Apple has announced that CEO Tim Cook will speak at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, and his presentation will be streamed live tomorrow, February 12 at 10:15 a.m. Eastern on Apple’s site. While Cook will probably discuss Apple’s business, it’s unlikely that he’ll make any sort of product announcement. [via 9to5Mac]

iPhone 5S front, inside photos leaked? (Update: No)

Images posted on a Chinese site allegedly show Apple’s as-yet-unannounced iPhone 5S. The photos notably show a front panel similar to the iPhone 5, with a slightly different front proximity sensor design.

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Images of the interior components reveal what appears to be a linear oscillating motor for vibration, which differs from the iPhone 5. [via 9to5Mac]

Update: Reversing its original report, 9to5Mac now identifies the images as an iPhone 5 clone, pointing out the presence of a smaller 1150 mAh battery and SD card slot.

European carriers suggest 4S users avoid iOS 6.1

Two European mobile operators, Vodafone UK and 3 Austria, have told iPhone 4S users to avoid updating their devices to iOS 6.1 due to a 3G connectivity issue. Vodafone’s statement contends that 4S handsets have seen their 3G performance impacted, as “Some customers may occasionally experience difficulty in connecting to the network to make or receive calls or texts or connect to the internet.” While the statements notes that “Apple is working on a solution to their software issue,” Apple has yet to comment. [via GigaOM]

Report: Apple’s Cook never wanted to sue Samsung

Apple CEO Tim Cook never wanted to sue Samsung, according to a new report examining the relationship between the two companies. Reuters suggests that Cook didn’t want to sue due to Samsung’s role as a component supplier for Apple, while Steve Jobs preferred a legal war against all “clones,” including Samsung’s. Jobs maintained that “Samsung was counting on the supplier relationship to shield it from retribution” and Apple first filed suit against Samsung in April 2011. The two companies continue to fight legal battles across the world, with a final International Trade Commission ruling in their U.S. patent case expected in August.

Apple testing curved glass smart watch?

Following a recent post by Apple Human Interface Group founder Bruce Tognazzini detailing the possibilities of an “iWatch,” multiple reports suggest that Apple is indeed currently experimenting with designs for a smart watch. According to The New York Times, the watch would use curved glass to stand apart from competitors, quite possibly Corning’s Willow Glass, which “can flop as easily as a piece of paper in the wind without breaking.” Corning chief technology officer Pete Bocko told the Times that Willow Glass can “wrap around a cylindrical object and that could be someone’s wrist.” The article also suggested that an Apple smart watch would use iOS, and according to the Wall Street Journal, would perform some functions of a smartphone. Apple has discussed the device with manufacturing partner Foxconn, according to sources. The sources were unnamed in both reports, and Apple declined comment. [via The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal]

iLounge Weekly coming Monday, giveaway reminder

The latest edition of iLounge Weekly, our weekly newsletter covering all things iLounge, will be arriving in subscribers’ inboxes early next week. iLounge Weekly is a summary of the week’s best news, reviews, and feature articles we’ve published, and it also features giveaways and accessory discount offers from various companies. There’s still plenty of time to sign up and receive this week’s edition — just use the simple form below to submit your email address, if you haven’t done so already.

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Also, remember to enter our February giveaways. In our iBattz Mojo Battstation Dual Pro Battery Pack Giveaway, iLounge and iBattz are giving away ten Mojo Battstation Tough Dual Pro Battery Packs, and in the Unu DX Battery Case Giveaway, iLounge and Unu are giving away ten Unu DX Protective Battery Cases in matte black. To enter, simply fill out and submit the form on the giveaway pages—both giveaways will end on February 28, 2013 at 11:59PM Pacific Time. Good luck!

Apple Human Interface Group founder talks iWatch

Bruce Tognazzini, former Apple employee and founder of Apple’s Human Interface Group, has discussed how Apple could practically position an iWatch as a companion product to current iOS devices, and handle user experience challenges. Tognazzini suggests that the “iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem,” and add conveniences such as remote and local Siri device control, phone call management, doing away with passcodes on other devices, finding a misplaced iPhone, handling NFC payments, and plenty of other features. Fitness features and numerous sensors could also be integrated into the wearable device. According to Tognazzini, the “Apple iWatch development team I expect exists is likely already well ahead of the ideas I’m suggesting here.” Some outside-the-box iWatch ideas include temperature control within the room you’re in, and the use of crowdsourced altitude data to build a “precision altitude map of the world.” Tognazzini also details his concerns with current smartwatches, including poor power management and recharging requirements, while discussing the ways Apple could avoid their pitfalls. [via 9to5Mac]

Facing lawsuit, Apple responds to preferred stock proposal

Apple has taken the unusual step of issuing a press release in response to a lawsuit filed today by Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn, who has pressured the company to create preferred stock that will distribute additional cash to shareholders. Indirectly addressing the lawsuit and a related open letter Einhorn published to fellow Apple investors, Apple began by citing the company’s existing plan to return $45 billion to shareholders over the next three years, while noting that “as of next week we will have executed $10 billion of that plan.”

Einhorn has claimed that adoption of an Apple proxy proposal would prevent the company from issuing preferred stock, but Apple disputes that, suggesting that the proposal would actually enable shareholders to approve issuance of preferred stock. “We remain committed to having an ongoing dialogue with our shareholders to get perspectives around return of capital and driving shareholder value,” Apple said, noting that the company has found itself “in the fortunate position of continuing to generate large amounts of cash, including $23 billion in cash flow from operations in the last quarter alone.”

Article details messy Beats by Dre-Monster split

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.

Apps: After Burner Climax, Little Mermaid, ProCutX, Twitter 5.3

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.

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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.

 

iOS 6.1.1 beta released to developers

Following last week’s general release of iOS 6.1, Apple has now released iOS 6.1.1 beta to developers. The new version includes a number of improvements to Maps for Japan, including improved pronunciation of roads and identification of toll roads during turn-by-turn navigation, direction optimizations, and new indicators and icons for various features such as interchanges, transit systems and location categories. The beta also adds 3-D buildings for locations such as Tokyo Station, Japan’s Imperial Palace and Tokyo Tower.

It is notably unusual for Apple to release betas to developers for minor iOS versions; for example, both iOS 6.0.1 and 5.1.1 were released directly to the public with no prior betas sent out for developer testing. It is also worth noting that this beta release does not include an iOS SDK update nor any updates for the Apple TV or iTunes.

 

Belkin intros FastFit Keyboard Case for iPad mini

Belkin has released the FastFit Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard Case for iPad Mini ($80). Billed as the thinnest keyboard case currently available for the iPad mini, the keyboard features spaced TruType keys with tactile feedback as well as dedicated function keys for copy and paste, volume, and music control.

The case also includes a built-in stand that works in both portrait and landscape orientation, magnets for auto wake/sleep support of the iPad mini, and promises battery life of up to three months on standby or 155 hours of active use. The case will be available for pre-order via Belkin’s web site.

 

Apple announces 25 billion songs sold on iTunes

Apple today issued an unexpected press release announcing that more than 25 billion songs have now been purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store, setting a new record. In the press release, Apple SVP Eddy Cue thanked users for making iTunes the most popular music retailer in the world, and noted that the iTunes Store averages over 15,000 songs downloaded every minute.

The 25 billionth song was “Monkey Drums” (Goksel Vancin Remix) by Chase Buch and was purchased by Phillip Lüpke from Germany, who will receive a €10,000 iTunes Gift Card for the download. Apple previously publicized major music download milestones with public countdown contests, however, this milestone was reached without advance publicity or the promise of a prize. The last major music milestone to feature a prize was the 10 billion downloaded song mark, reached in late February 2010 and awarded a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card. Apple has recently focused more attention on app downloads, which have accelerated far faster than music downloads, hitting 25 billion in March 2012, then 40 billion less than a year later.

NOCS now shipping long-delayed NS2 Air Monitors

Swedish audio company NOCS has begun shipping its new AirPlay speakers, the NS2 Air Monitors ($450). First announced last year at a slightly lower price of $400, the Air Monitors are a pair of bookshelf speakers that incorporate AirPlay technology to allow users to stream audio from a computer or iOS device. While the speakers were supposed to be available early in 2012, they actually became available in limited quantities only in mid-December, with additional stock appearing online more recently.

NOCS advertises the NS2 Air Monitors in six colors—black, white, orange, grey, red, and yellow—however only the first three colors are available at this time, with more stock said to be coming in all colors later this month. The speakers are relatively small and coated in soft touch rubber.

 

Apple tweaking PR strategy, sharing 3rd-party reports

A new report from the Wall Street Journal highlights how Apple has been adjusting its PR efforts recently, citing the company’s press release announcing the relatively minor iOS 6.1 update last week, as well as an uptick in favorable third-party reports being sent out to members of the press—a practice common within the technology industry, and apparently increasing at Apple. According to the WSJ, a person familiar with the matter notes that these latest PR moves “represent a recognition that competition is heating up.” The report goes on to note that despite strong international growth in countries such as China, Apple stock growth has slowed and competitors such as Samsung have begun spending more on advertising and marketing to compete.

iTunes adds self-published Breakout Books section

Apple has introduced Breakout Books, a new section to its iBookstore. The section features selected independently published books that have earned four and five star reviews.

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Currently, four categories are featured in the section: Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Mysteries & Thrillers, and More to Explore. Breakout Books will be featured at the top of the iTunes Store’s book section for at least two weeks before being moved to a less prominent location. [via MacRumors]

Mophie debuts Juice Pack Helium for iPhone 5

Following months of unexpected silence, Mophie has finally announced its first iPhone 5 battery case, Juice Pack Helium ($80). Initially available in two colors, the new Juice Pack Helium looks extremely similar to the company’s earlier versions for iPhones, emphasizing thinness over raw battery capacity. Still sporting a curved rear surface with button access holes and bottom pass-throughs for speakerphone functionality, the case offers iPhone body coverage everywhere else, apart from the fully open face. Mophie claims that it’s 13% thinner than any of its previous iPhone Juice Packs, while packing a 1500mAh battery pack that adds 80% additional power to the iPhone 5—notably less than most of the rival cases that were announced at CES last month. An included micro-USB cable promises to simultaneously charge the iPhone and Juice Pack Helium together.

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A dark gunmetal metallic version promises to ship by February 14, with a silver version coming at the beginning of March.

Report: ‘Radio Buy” button hidden in iPad iOS 6.1

A new set of files discovered in the iPad music app may signal new functionality in the future, according to a new report. Discovered on a jailbroken iPad running iOS 6.1, button files are labeled with “radio buy” in the file names. It’s unknown as to what these files may actually mean, if anything, but previous reports suggest that Apple plans to launch its own streaming radio service; one report suggested that the feature could have been launched as an iPhone 5 feature prior to royalty negotiations breaking down. It’s notable that these “radio buy” files have not been discovered in jailbroken iPhones running iOS 6.1. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple patents fourth-generation iPod shuffle

Apple has been awarded a patent for the fourth-generation iPod shuffle, originally filed in August 2010 immediately before the device’s launch. The patent is for a “very small form factor consumer electronic product,” and the device is described in great detail in the patent.

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In patenting the shuffle, Apple attempts to protect a housing with “integral front and side walls that cooperate to form a cavity in cooperation with a front opening where an edge of the side walls define a rear opening and at least some of the edges have flanges.” The clip assembly and other parts are also covered at length, with some details as to how such a small device can be protected against moisture intrusion. [via AppleInsider]

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