Happy New Year from iLounge! We’ll be on a limited publication schedule today and Thursday as we begin 2015 with our families and friends. We’ll return to our normal posting schedule on Friday, Jan. 2.
It’s definitely been an interesting 2014 for Apple, as the company unsurprisingly delayed its biggest releases to a series of fall events. However, we eventually saw the growth of the iPhone into two new, larger-screened models, the introduction of the thinner iPad Air 2, and the announcement of the long-rumored Apple Watch, setting the stage for an interesting 2015. While the iOS accessories and app markets are clearly maturing, there are still cool new products to surprise and delight us, and we’ve highlighted the year’s best Apple and third-party hardware and software releases in a special awards article.
We’ll again be heading out to Las Vegas later this week to prepare for the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show. As always, companies will unveil their latest and greatest iOS products at the show — debuting in our iProducts Marketplace and elsewhere during the week. The 2015 International CES officially kicks off next Tuesday. Feel free to browse through our archives until we return, and please join us for our upcoming CES live coverage. Once again, Happy New Year!
Apple has introduced a fourteen-day return policy for iTunes purchases in EU countries, according to a new report by iFun. Outlined in a Right of Withdrawal document on Apple’s web site, the policy states that customers can cancel iTunes orders within 14 days from the date they receive their receipt, without a requirement to provide any reason. The policy also covers purchases such as iTunes Match and Season Pass subscriptions, as well as unredeemed iTunes Gifts and Allowances. Users can apparently request a “cancellation” of their iTunes order by using the “Report a Problem” form within iTunes and submitting a model cancellation form provided in the document, or “making any other clear statement.” While Apple’s policy document provides some additional clauses that are a bit unclear, the original report notes that people have already begun receiving refunds under the new policy, which appears to be a result of recent EU consumer protection initiatives.
Apple executive and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine is apparently in talks with artists about doing exclusive releases for Beats Music, the New York Post reports. Executives responsible for the music subscription service are said to be looking to replicate the success that artists such as Beyoncé have had with exclusive iTunes releases by bringing such exclusivity to the streaming side. Beats will apparently be able to leverage the connections it already has with artists such as Nicki Minaj, Will.i.am, Pharrell, Kanye West and Gwen Stefani. Record labels are reportedly less enthusiastic about the idea of artists making their own side deals with music streaming services. Beats Music launched last year and has an estimated subscriber base of around 300,000 users. Since acquiring the service earlier this year, Apple has reportedly been working to integrate Beats Music more tightly into its iOS and iTunes ecosystem, so exclusive artist deals may also be intended to pave the way for a rebranding and relaunch of the Beats Music service under a more Apple-centric branding.
Apple has once again announced its Japanese New Year’s promotion, offering Apple Store customers in Japan the opportunity to purchase “lucky bags.” The annual event will kick off at the company’s Japanese retail locations at 8 a.m. on January 2.
It has been a long-standing tradition among retailers in Japan to offer “lucky bags” or Fukubukuro on New Year’s Day. Containing random items, these grab bags are sold at significant discounts, and customers can potentially score some great deals depending on what they end up with in their bag – customers are required to purchase the bags without first knowing what’s in them. Last year the bags were sold for ¥36,000 (around $344 US at that time), however this year’s pricing has not yet been revealed. Apple’s lucky bags typically contain bundles of accessories that are always collectively worth the asking price, although lucky customers may even find iPods, iPads, or MacBook Airs in their bags.
On behalf of all of iLounge’s staff and volunteers we’d like to wish the happiest of holidays to you and yours. We will be on a limited publication schedule for the next few days as we celebrate with our families and friends, and we will return to our regular posting schedule on Monday, December 29th.
Hopefully, you’ll find a new iPhone, iPad, iPod, accessory, or gift card wrapped in a shiny box over the next few days! Let us know below what sort of Apple goodies you received or gave as gifts for the holidays!
If you’re looking for a way to spend either a gift card or a few dollars, don’t forget to check out our Best of the Year 2014 Awards, which highlight our top picks from the past year in more than 25 different categories of products, from cases to speakers to apps and games. We also have a Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide, which takes a look at some of the best products that came out after our Best of the Year awards were already decided. And as always, check out iLounge’s collection of thousands of reviews, covering products for all iPhone, iPad, and iPod models.
We hope all of you have a great and relaxing holiday!
Apple has restored its Russian online store after pulling it down last week due to “extreme” ruble fluctuations. Though the store is now back online, it’s returned with higher prices. iPhone prices have been increased by 35 percent — a 16GB iPhone 6 now costs 53,990 rubles ($956), up from the recent price of 39,990 rubles. As noted by Bloomberg, the iPhone’s price in Russia has increased 69 percent in less than a month.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is “deeply offended” by allegations in a new BBC documentary regarding Apple’s handling of workers at its Chinese suppliers, The Telegraph reports. In a BBC investigative report which aired last night, BBC’s Panorama revealed poor treatment of workers and a breach of working hour standards, after sending undercover reporters into factories run by Apple supplier Pegatron located on the outskirts of Shanghai.
This morning, Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams sent out an e-mail to around 5,000 UK staffers, saying that both he and Apple CEO Tim Cook were “deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way,” and that in terms of accusations that Apple isn’t improving working conditions, “nothing could be further from the truth.” Williams alleges that Apple had shared “facts and perspective” regarding its commitment to human rights with the BBC, and that these details were “clearly missing from their programme.”
We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.
In response to the BBC’s report that workers were falling asleep during extremely long shifts and being required to work numerous days while repeatedly being denied requests for time off, Williams responded that Apple has been tracking the weekly hours of “over one million workers” in its various manufacturing partners and that all of its suppliers are at an average of 93 percent compliance with Apple’s 60-hour work week limit. Williams conceded that the company can do better, but maintains its commitment to doing so.
The BBC documentary also claimed that it had found cases of child workers and dangerous working conditions in the mines on the Indonesian island of Bangka, where Apple sources its tin supply from. Williams responded to this in much the same way as Apple’s original statement, noting that “Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines,” but that the situation is complex and the company is actively working to improve the situation in that country, believing that remaining engaged is the more responsible course of action, rather than sourcing tin from elsewhere. Since Apple consumes a relatively small portion of the tin mined in Indonesia, Williams stated that simply sourcing tin from elsewhere would “do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers.”
In the internal e-mail, Wiliams assured staff that despite Apple’s position on the documentary itself, the company is taking all of the allegations seriously and plans to investigate all of the claims that have been made, acknowledging that the company is aware that there are “a lot of issues out there” and that Apple “will not rest until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Apple has not lived up to its commitment to improve working conditions in its Chinese suppliers’ factories, according to a new undercover BBC investigation. In a documentary scheduled to air tonight, titled “Apple’s Broken Promises,” BBC Panorama shows what conditions inside a Chinese iPhone 6 production line are really like. The investigation found standards being breached at Pegatron factories on everything from workers’ hours, to dormitories, to juvenile workers — all areas in which Apple had promised sweeping improvements over the past several years. The documentary includes footage of exhausted workers falling asleep on 12-hour shifts, an undercover reporter who was forced to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for time off, and another reporter who worked shifts of up to 16 hours. Panorama also followed Apple’s supply chain down to the Indonesian island of Bangka, and found evidence that tin from illegal mines could be entering Apple’s supply chain, despite the company’s dedication to ethical sourcing of minerals. Investigative reporters also found children digging tin ore out of the mines by hand under extremely dangerous conditions.
Apple declined to be interviewed for the story, but the company did release a statement saying that it is “aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.” The company noted that it was a “very common practice” for workers to nap during breaks, but that it would “investigate any evidence” of workers falling asleep while actually working. In its statement, the company said that it had monitored the working hours of “more than a million workers” and that the workers at the particular plant in question were averaging 55 hours per week. Responding to the situation in Bangka, Apple described it as a “complex situation” as many miners sell tin through a series of middle men, so it’s not always possible to confirm the sources of tin, but Apple remains engaged in Bangka to attempt to “drive changes on the ground” to improve the situation there.
Panorama: Apple’s Broken Promises airs tonight on BBC One and will be available later on BBC’s iPlayer platform.
Apple has released the third beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, featuring a build number of 12D5452a. As with other recent versions, the latest beta appears to be primarily focused on fixes and enhancements to WatchKit to allow developers to continue preparing their apps for next year’s debut of the Apple Watch.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent out an e-mail to employees announcing that Apple has raised $20 million this quarter for (PRODUCT)RED, iClarified reports, with Apple’s Holiday (PRODUCT)RED campaign likely contributing the lion’s share of the fundraising, which goes to support the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa.
I’m thrilled to announce that our total donation for this quarter will be more than $20 million — our biggest ever — bringing the total amount Apple has raised for (PRODUCT) RED to over $100 million. The money we’ve raised is saving lives and bringing hope to people in need. It’s a cause we can all be proud to support.”
Apple has long been a supporter of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign, beginning with the debut of the iPod nano (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition in 2006, although this year’s World AIDS Day 2014 campaign was the largest the company has undertaken, and the first time App Store content has been included.
Apple will begin requiring app updates submitted to the App Store after June 1, 2015 to include 64-bit support and be built with the iOS 8 SDK, as outlined in an e-mail sent out today to registered iOS Developers. As the e-mail noted, Apple had previously announced this requirement back in October for new iOS apps, scheduled to take effect February 1, 2015. However, this note indicates that Apple will also be applying this policy to updates to existing apps. This only affects updates submitted by developers, however, and since developers are not required to submit updates, apps built with the older SDK can likely remain available on the App Store in their present form until they otherwise need to be updated.
A Canadian Federal Court has ordered Apple Canada to turn over documents to the Government’s Competition Bureau as part of an investigation into possible unfair marketing practices by the company, Reuters reports. The Competition Bureau, which is responsible for enforcing various competition and marketing acts on behalf of the Canadian Government, stated in a filing to the court that it believes Apple unfairly used its bargaining power from the popularity of the iPhone to negotiate contracts with wireless carriers that encouraged them to overprice rival phones, thereby reducing competition for the iPhone. Among other things, the Bureau is investigating whether the terms of their contracts with Apple may have discouraged carriers from reducing competing handset prices or encouraged them to charge higher prices for wireless services than they may otherwise have done.
Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton stated that he would sign the disclosure order later on Wednesday, at which point Apple will have 90 days to turn over the documents to the Competition Bureau, including all of the agreements that it has with Canadian mobile carriers. In response, Apple’s lawyers have suggested that the company is considering launching a constitutional challenge to determine whether Canadian courts actually have the jurisdiction to force Apple’s wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary to turn over documents that are held by the California-based parent company. The Competition Act provides Canadian courts with this power, however, and both the lawyer for the Competition Bureau and Chief Justice Crampton have stated that these provisions have never been found to be unconstitutional, and that there is increasing consensus in the worldwide legal community that such provisions are legitimate.
Apple has ceased sales on its online stores in Russia due to “extreme” fluctuations in the ruble, Bloomberg reports. A spokesperson for Apple stated that the Russian online store is “currently unavailable while we review pricing.” With Russia’s currency varying wildly in recent weeks, Apple has already been working to deal with the changes, with the company increasing the price of the iPhone 6 by 25 percent in that country.
Apple has been cleared of wrongdoing in the recent antitrust case on iPod and iTunes Store lock-in, The Verge reports. The decade-old class-action lawsuit accused Apple of putting procedures in place in iTunes 7.0 that would remove music found on iPods from competing music services. Apple, for its part, claimed that the measures were simply “extra security” that the company added to its iPod and iTunes platforms in 2006. The lawsuit originally asked for damaged of more than $350 million to be distributed across 8 million consumers who bought affected iPod models between September 2006 and March 2009. Had Apple been found guilty of violating antitrust laws, however, the company could have potentially been liable for damages of more than $1 billion.
In a unanimous decision today, the eight-person jury in the trial rules that iTunes 7.0 was a “genuine product improvement” that was good for consumers, rather than a deliberate attempt by Apple to thwart competition by limiting purchased music to only Apple’s platform, as plaintiffs in the case had tried to argue. During the trial, Apple had repeatedly compared its iTunes and iPod ecosystem to integrated systems such as video game consoles, stating that it had simply built all of the pieces to work together. Further, the company’s lawyers noted that the DRM that ultimately locked out competitors was a necessary requirement of Apple’s deals with the major record companies, and that Apple was contractually obligated under the terms of those deals to patch any security holes that could have led to piracy of purchased content.
Apple Pay now supports cards that “represent about 90 percent of the credit card purchase volume in the United States,” Apple has told The New York Times. Apple has repeatedly and consistently announced Apple Pay partnerships with more companies — ten more banks will back the mobile payment option today. Though the total amount of Apple Pay transactions on the supported cards is still a small number, the report notes that all of the partnerships “suggest that Apple has generated more traction for the service than any competing service.”
Speaking of competing services, Re/code reports that Samsung is discussing a deal with LoopPay to launch its own wireless mobile payment system in 2015. A deal would enable Samsung smartphone users to pay by waving their phones, though a source notes “the deal could still fall apart.” LoopPay’s technology mimics a credit card swipe, conceivably allowing it to work in more locations than Apple Pay. LoopPay CEO Will Graylin said his company is talking with Visa about how to make the payment process more secure — the company looks to use tokenization in its payments, as Apple Pay does.
Microsoft has unleashed an entire series of MSN Apps for iOS devices, providing comprehensive apps across categories including news and sports, finance, fitness and health, and food and drink. While these apps were previously available for Windows Mobile devices under the “Bing” brand, Microsoft has released them for the iPhone and iPad platforms not just as mere second-rate ports, but as elegantly designed iOS apps in their own right that take advantage of many of the new features and UI designs in iOS 8.
MSN Food & Drink (free) — This is a recipe and food information app that provides access to hundreds of thousands of recipes curated from magazines, world-famous chefs, and other online sources, complete with straightforward instructions and elegantly presented photos. An extensive set of wine and cocktails guides are also included, along with tasting notes and reviews on more than 1.5 million wines. Recipes can be searched and filtered by type of cuisine, source, ingredients, dietary needs, difficulty, methods, prep time, and more. A collection of how-to videos with cooking school tips and techniques is also provided.
MSN Health & Fitness (free) — Microsoft’s app for Health and Fitness provides not only news and information, but a set of fitness tracking tools, including a pedometer and run tracker in the iPhone version, allowing users to track steps taken, calories burned, distance, time, and pace. A Diet Tracker provides the ability to track daily caloric intake by recording meals from a large database of foods, and a Cardio Tracker tracks cardio training. The app also provides access to over 1000+ exercise and workout videos and nutritional and medical reference material. The app is even integrated with Apple’s iOS HealthKit for storing all of your tracking data, and the Medical Reference section includes a Symptom Checker for looking up possible health conditions, and an interactive 3D Human Body for learning human anatomy. As with the other apps, everything can be synced to MSN Health & Fitness on the web and to other iOS devices sharing the same account.
TwelveSouth has released the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus versions of its signature BookBook case. As with prior versions, the new BookBook for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus ($60) combines a wallet and iPhone protection into a single, classic-looking leather book design. The new version also now adds a removable, sturdy shell case, however, allowing users to easily remove their iPhone from the wallet and carry it separately without losing protection. A hands-free stand has also been incorporated into the new design, allowing users to prop up their iPhone to an appropriate viewing angle for watching videos or conducting FaceTime calls. The new BookBook for iPhone 6/6Plus is available in Vintage Brown and Classic Black, and can be ordered online from TwelveSouth.com.
Apple is now enforcing more stringent requirements for case manufacturers in its Made for iPhone (MFi) program, 9to5Mac reports. The new requirements are intended to ensure that cases provide better protection for Apple devices from impact, as well as providing proper glass coverage. Case makers will now be required to ensure that devices are protected from drops of up to 1 meter onto a hard surface, from any possible device orientation. Cases will also be required to protect an iPhone, iPad, or iPod’s glass when resting flat on a surface such as a table, providing a buffer of at least 1mm between the cover glass and a flat surface — this can be accomplished either by including full screen protection or having the front lip of the case protrude slightly to keep the glass from touching a flat surface.
The report also notes that Apple is now listing a number of restricted substances and materials in order to lessen the environmental impact of MFi cases. The list of newly restricted substances includes “Formaldehyde, Endangered species of flora and fauna, PFOS, PFOA, PBDE, PBB, and Phthalates.” While companies are not required to be part of Apple’s MFi program simply to produce cases for Apple devices, Apple’s licensing program provides certification for third-party accessories, allowing manufacturers to include a “Made-for-iPhone/iPad/iPod” logo on their packaging.
Apple has announced the Chinese release of the cellular models of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, noting that both versions will be available in China “starting this week.” Both tablets are now available on Apple’s Chinese online store. A single cellular version of each model provides support for the Chinese TD-LTE and FDD-LTE standards, as well as TD-SCDMA, DC-HSDPA, HSPA+ and other fast network technologies, providing cellular connectivity in both China and most other countries.
Apple has released the second beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, following up on the first 8.2 beta released with the debut of WatchKit last month. The latest beta features a build number of 12D445d and appears to contain mostly minor tweaks and fixes, particularly focused on enhancements to WatchKit as developers prepare apps for next year’s debut of the Apple Watch.