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Apple quietly starts Retina iPad mini sales

Without so much as a day’s warning, Apple has started online sales of the new iPad mini with Retina Display, offering an extremely limited set of units for near-term shipping. Only 16GB and 32GB Wi-Fi models are available for shipment in 1-3 days, with all other models shipping in 5-10 days, including higher-capacity Wi-Fi units and all cellular models from any carrier in any capacity.

Recent reports suggested that major screen-related manufacturing issues have constrained the initial rollout of the mini, with one report claiming that the launch would be delayed due to the scarcity of defect-free screens. Apple instead notified resellers via a late Monday message that it would begin sales on Tuesday, then opened its online store to orders at midnight Pacific Time. The Retina iPad mini starts at $399 for a 16GB Wi-Fi model and climbs to $829 for 128GB LTE models; it is available in the same two colors as the iPad Air.

Update: Apple has officially announced availability of the iPad mini with Retina Display. The press release notes the device will be sold online for shipping or personal pickup at Apple retail stores, or through carriers and select resellers — it’s still unclear when the devices will be sold in Apple stores. Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller alluded to the suspected lack of inventory for the device, saying in the press release that “...we’re working hard to get as many as we can in the hands of our customers.”

Report: Apple starting A-series chip production in New York

Following rumors earlier this year that Apple was looking to partner with other chip manufacturers, the Times Union reports that preparations are actually under way at GlobalFoundries Fab 8 complex in Malta, New York to produce chips for Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Citing a “source close to the company” the Times Union report also notes that Samsung will be assisting with the start-up of the new manufacturing program, intended to provide a second U.S. source for Apple’s A-series chips. The report also notes that it’s unclear whether GlobalFoundries is being sub-contracted by Samsung or begin contracted directly by Apple as an alternate supplier. A GlobalFoundries spokesperson refused to confirm or deny the story, indicating that the company “does not comment on customer engagements or products unless they do so first.” [via MacRumors]

Apple experiencing rapid market growth in Japan

A new report in the Wall Street Journal highlights how Apple has been experiencing rapid market growth in Japan over the past two years, outpacing both the U.S., Greater China, and the rest of Asia. Although Japan hasn’t traditionally been a growth market for most foreign companies, the iPhone has bolstered Apple’s success in the area, thanks to marketing and subsidies from local telephone companies, becoming Japan’s best-selling smartphone with a 37% market share.

Japan’s largest wireless carrier, NTT DoCoMo, began selling the iPhone for the first time in late September, providing another boost to sales and offering aggressive discounts that prompted Japan’s second- and third-largest carriers follow suit; all three companies are now offering the standard iPhone 5s to customers at no upfront cost. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Apple developing larger, curved-screen iPhones

Apple is working on new iPhone designs that include larger screens with curved glass according to a new report from Bloomberg. Citing a “person familiar with the plans” the report claims that there are two models slated for release late next year that would feature 4.7” and 5.5” displays with glass that curves downward at the edges. Apple is also said to be working on developing enhanced sensors that can differentiate between the pressure of touches on the screen, although these would not likely be available until after the next iPhone release. [via MacRumors]

Report: Apple had interest in BlackBerry patents

Apple had “expressed interest” in acquiring parts of BlackBerry Ltd, but Blackberry’s board decided against breaking up the company, according to Reuters. Specifically, both Apple and Microsoft were interested in BlackBerry’s intellectual property and patents, a source said. BlackBerry was also involved in discussions with Cisco, Google, and Lenovo. Apple declined comment on the report.

iPad demo model catches fire in store

An iPad demo model recently caught fire in an Australian store as a “burst of flames” appeared from the charging port, news.com.au reports. The Vodafone store in Canberra was evacuated after the incident, and no one was injured. Though the report only refers to the device as an iPad, other reports — such as this report from the Daily Mail — claim the device was an iPad Air. Apple reportedly sent a representative to investigate the incident. Two shock incidents earlier this year involving iPhone chargers in China prompted Apple to add a power adapter page to its Chinese website, as those accidents were allegedly caused by counterfeit chargers.

Report details inhumane labor practices in Apple’s supply chain

A new report from Bloomberg Businessweek gives insight into the workings of Apple’s supply chain, while focusing on the story of one man’s journey to work for Apple supplier Flextronics on the iPhone 5 camera. The report claims such jobs are “so coveted that they’re not merely offered, they’re sold,” detailing how recruiters charge fees from families that are often paid back with loans. Though Flextronics offered to pay the brokers so workers wouldn’t be charged, brokers said the company “demanded so many men so quickly that there was no way to do it without tapping the country’s network of subagents” — Apple itself has noted the subagents “always charge.”

The article tells the story of Bibek Dhong, a 27-year-old Nepalese man who had to pay three recruiters, leaving him more than $1,000 in debt before starting work at Flextronics’ Bukit Raja facility near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Dhong was told not to mention the fees, because he would be “charged and punished.” The report follows Dhong during his work at Flextronics, including a time when Apple was “rejecting about 7 out of every 10 cameras.” A shutdown production left Dhong and fellow workers waiting in their living quarters for more than 20 days before the jobs were eliminated. Dhong and other workers were left stranded in Malaysia, as managers kept the workers’ passports — after a long, harrowing period, Dhong returned home more than two months after he last worked.

Apple spokesman Chris Gaither reiterated Apple’s commitment to ethical treatment of its workers. Gaither said the company aggressively investigates claims of bonded labor, and the company “is continuously auditing deeper into the supply chain,” while noting that “Flextronics’ Bukit Raja facility is no longer in Apple’s supply chain.”

Report: Apple to start in-store iPhone 5c, 5s repairs

Apple stores will soon be able to make hardware repairs to the iPhone 5c and 5s, according to a new report. Sources claim the touchscreens will be replaced in-store, with a replacement costing $149 for either device. The stores will also be able to replace the volume buttons, rear camera, speaker system, and vibrating motor on either device, and the Home Button on the iPhone 5c — but likely not the Touch ID Home Button on the 5s. Fees for part replacements will be waived if a device is under AppleCare warranty. [via 9to5Mac]

New U.S. Apple factory to produce sapphire

Apple will be building a new U.S. manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, as announced recently by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. The factory will create “at least 700 quality jobs in the first year” and will also create about 1,300 construction-related jobs. “We are proud to expand our domestic manufacturing initiative with a new facility in Arizona, creating more than 2,000 jobs in engineering, manufacturing and construction,” Apple said in a statement to Pocket-lint. “This new plant will make components for Apple products and it will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one, as a result of the work we are doing with SRP to create green energy sources to power the facility.”

Although Apple didn’t specify the facility’s use, a separate release from GT Advanced Technologies noted the company “has entered into a multi-year supply agreement with Apple Inc. to provide sapphire material.” GT will own and operate furnaces at “an Apple factory in Arizona.” Apple will pay $578 million to GT, which GT will later reimburse to Apple. It’s noted that GT “will be subject to certain exclusivity terms during the duration of the agreement.” Apple uses sapphire in a number of products, including the iPhone 5s camera lens and Touch ID. More sapphire will be needed if Apple plans on using the Touch ID in other products moving forward, as one would reasonably expect. It’s also possible that additional Apple components could incorporate sapphire in the future, such as fully sapphire screens for iOS devices.

Apple adding suppliers to boost device production

Apple is preparing to add Asian manufacturing partners to increase iOS device production, the Wall Street Journal reports. iPhone 5c manufacturing will reportedly be outsourced to Taiwan-based contract manufacturer Wistron Corp. later this year, while Compal Communications will manufacture the iPad mini “starting next year.” The shifts are being made to meet consumer demands.

Apple’s main supplier, Foxconn (Hon Hai), is focusing on making the iPhone 5s, which is in short supply. The report notes Apple’s frustration with Foxconn, stemming from scrutiny of its labor practices and defective iPhone 5 units produced by the manufacturer — Apple declined comment. An unnamed Foxconn executive said, “Apple has raised this quarter’s iPhone 5s orders from Hon Hai as demand has been stronger than expected. But it takes time to boost production capacity and Apple can’t find other assemblers to increase production to meet demand immediately.” Foxconn is taking a “cautious stance” on increasing production of the 5s, the executive said.

Apple releases iTunes 11.1.3

Apple has released iTunes 11.1.3, a minor update with some performance and bug fixes. The new version specifically resolves an issue where the equalizer may not work as expected and improves performance when switching views in large iTunes libraries. The latest version of iTunes can be downloaded via OS X Software Update or the “Check for Updates” options found within the iTunes app, or directly from Apple at http://www.itunes.com.

Apple releases details on Government Information Requests

Apple has published a report providing details on its customer privacy policies in light of information requests that it receives from government agencies. In the document, titled Report on Government Information Requests, Apple emphasizes that its priority is on ensuring that its customers “have a right to understand how their personal information is handled” and that it has released the report in the interests of transparency and included “all of the information [the company] is legally allowed to share.” Apple notes in the report that “the most common account requests involve robberies and other crimes or requests from law enforcement officers searching for missing persons or children, finding a kidnapping victim, or hoping to prevent a suicide” and that most requests usually involve providing only information such as a name or address, and only “in very rare cases” is the company asked to disclose content such as “stored photos or email.”

The document also includes charts that disclose how many requests the company has received from various governments throughout the first half of 2013 for both account information and devices. Account information is broken down for each country by total number of requests, accounts specified in the requests, and the number of requests for which data was disclosed or where Apple objected, and which type of content was disclosed. The second table provides details on the total number of device requests received by Apple, usually related to lost or stolen devices, and how many of these requests resulted in some data being provided. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple loses iOS Engineering VP Henri Lamiraux

iOS Vice President of Engineering Henri Lamiraux has left Apple, as confirmed by his LinkedIn profile. Lamiraux was reportedly in charge of developing iOS applications, leading feature implementation, and managing bug-fixing, among other duties; his position was underneath Senior Vice President Craig Federighi, who has recently become one of Apple’s public faces for iOS releases. Lamiraux was also listed as an inventor on a key Apple patent covering a great portion of the iOS interface. He departed the company some weeks ago, after the release of iOS 7.0.3; the reasons are unknown. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple CEO Cook pens op-ed on workplace equality

Apple CEO Tim Cook has written a short opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The proposed legislation would protect employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. “We urge senators to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and we challenge the House of Representatives to bring it to the floor for a vote,” Cook wrote. He noted that Apple already goes beyond current legal protections, as the company prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

Apple discontinues iPad Smart Cover, Case

Apple’s online store now lists the iPad Smart Case and iPad Smart Cover as discontinued for the iPad 2 and iPad (3rd/4th-Gen). The site now only shows a dark gray Smart Case and Cover, but both are unavailable for purchase online. Limited inventory may be available in some retail stores.

This is a somewhat curious move, considering Apple has kept the iPad 2 in its lineup. However, Apple is still selling a number of third-party cases that are compatible with the iPad 2, as well as new iPad Air and iPad mini Smart Cases and Smart Covers.

Update: Apple is now selling dark gray versions of the iPad Smart Case and Smart Cover in its online store again.

Claim forms sent for iPad 3G lawsuit

Customers who ordered an iPad 3G before June 7, 2010 have begun receiving claim forms for the class action settlement over misleading AT&T iPad data plans. Apple previously agreed to pay $40 to customers as the result of a suit based on AT&T advertising of an iPad unlimited data plan that was later eliminated. Some customers may also be eligible to receive a $20/month discount from AT&T on the carrier’s 5GB monthly plan. A website for the settlement offers more information. [via Apple Insider]

Apple annual report: R&D up $1.1 billion

Apple has filed its annual 10-K report with the SEC, revealing another jump in research and development expenses, among other details. The company spent $4.48 billion on R&D in 2013, a 32 percent increase from last year’s $3.38 billion expenditure. Apple also now has 80,300 full-time employees — last year, the number was 72,800. The report also notes that the company plans on opening “about 30 new retail stores” in 2014, with two-thirds of those stores to be located outside the U.S. The entire report can be viewed on Apple’s investor website.

Apple confirms battery drain in some iPhone 5s units

Apple has confirmed a problem with a “small number” of iPhone 5s units causing the battery to drain quickly, The New York Times reports. “We recently discovered a manufacturing issue affecting a very limited number of iPhone 5s devices that could cause the battery to take longer to charge or result in reduced battery life,” Apple spokeswoman Teresa Brewer said. “We are reaching out to customers with affected phones and will provide them with a replacement phone.” Apple did not say just how many phones were affected, although the report notes it could be “a few thousand phones.”

Steve Jobs’ childhood home granted historic designation

Steve Jobs’ childhood home — where Jobs co-founded Apple — was recently deemed worthy of historic designation, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The house, located at 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, Calif., was unanimously voted a “historic resource” by the Los Altos Historical Commission on Monday night. Any possible renovations to the house in the future would need to pass a review. Jobs built the first 100 Apple 1 computers at the home, which will eventually be listed on the Registry of Historic Places.

Notes from Apple’s Q4 2013 conference call

Apple’s Q4 2013 earnings conference call kicked off with Apple CEO Tim Cook saying “Apple’s business is stronger than ever” while briefly discussing the company’s new and upcoming products. Cook said the company sold 150 million iPhones and 71 million iPads during the 2013 fiscal year. Apple also made more than $16 billion in revenue from iTunes software and services. Cook also said the company earned a record revenue of $171 billion in the 2013 fiscal year. Apple completed 15 strategic acquisitions during the year.

Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer started his portion of the call by discussing the just announced quarterly results. Oppenheimer said both iPhone and iPad sales exceeded expectations in the quarter. He also spent a few moments detailing the upcoming iPads before discussing Mac sales.

Oppenheimer said iTunes earned 4.4 billion in the September quarter. App developers have earned $13 billion through the App Store — half of that amount was earned in the last year. Oppenheimer announced Apple has $146.8 billion in cash, with $5.2 billion offshore.

During the Q&A, Cook called new technologies in the iPhone 5s — such as the 64-bit processor and Touch ID — “the front end of a long road map.” Cook expressed a desire to see the iPhone business grow within each category, from the entry model 4s to the 5s. “We do need growth,” Cook said. “And we’re happy that we’ve seen that.”

Asked about new product categories in the second half of 2013 and first half of 2014, Cook said, “I didn’t say in April that you would see them in this year and the first half of next year.” He only said there would be “new products” this year and “across 2014.”

Cook was complimented on Apple’s growth in China. “We had a pretty good quarter in China,” Cook said. “We obviously we want to do better.” He pointed out the company was able to launch the new iPhones in the “first round” in China.

Asked about the difference in how often people are upgrading iPhones as compared to iPads, Cook said, “We do believe the announcement last week was our largest iPad announcement ever.” He also said, “iPad Air is an absolutely incredible product, the best iPad we’ve ever done. I think it’s going to be an iPad Christmas.”

When asked about the competition from low-priced Google devices, Cook concentrated on Apple’s improvements in the education sector. “We do see Chromebooks in some places ... but the vast majority of people are buying PC/Mac or an iPad,” he said. Apple’s share of tablets in education is 94 percent.

Cook said there’s still a “backlog” for the iPhone 5s, but supply is building as the company rolls out the device to new countries. In regards to possible supply issues with the upcoming iPad mini with Retina display, Cook said it’s “unclear” if Apple can meet demand for the quarter. Cook noted Apple knows how many new iPad mini units it has, but isn’t quite sure of how high demand will be. As for the iPad Air, he said, “I think we’ll have a very good weekend,” but “it’s not clear” that everyone who wants an iPad Air will be able to get one.

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