- August 27, 2010
Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, has sued Apple and ten other companies claiming they infringe on technology patents awarded to his Interval Research Corp. think tank. The Wall Street Journal reports that while Allen didn’t develop any of the technology himself, he does own the patents, which cover automatic suggestions for shopping sites, automatic location of related stories on a news site, and the presentation of information such as ads, stock quotes, news updates, or videos on a computer screen, in the periphery of the user’s main activity. Allen’s suit names Apple, as well as Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and Google’s YouTube subsidiary; unsurprisingly, Microsoft is missing from the list, as Allen remains a major investor in the Redmond, WA-based company.
- August 27, 2010
Apple has ended its relationship with SurfaceInk, a small Silicon Valley design firm, over its exhibition of a prototype tablet computer. The New York Times reports that Eric Bauswell, a founder and chief executive of the engineering design company, said Apple parted ways with his company due to its “growing awareness of our turnkey capabilities,” or business of designing products for clients. “I think they view our capabilities as an opportunity for competitors,” he added. According to the report, SurfaceInk had helped Apple with the development of certain products for nearly 10 years.
- August 26, 2010
HTC has filed an answer to Apple’s complaints against them involving patent infringement, Groklaw reports. In its reply, HTC denies infringing the patents, but also claims that four of the four of the patents are invalid for “failure to comply with one or more of the conditions for patentability set forth in Title 35 of the United States Code, including, but not limited to, utility, novelty, non-obviousness, enablement, written description and definiteness in accordance with 35 U.S.C. §§ 101, 102, 103, 112, and/or 116, or are invalid pursuant to the judicial doctrine barring double-patenting.” In addition, HTC claims that it has license agreements with third-party suppliers that allow it to do some of the things Apple claims are infringing. Apple filed suit against HTC in March.
Apple, meanwhile, has asked that all four current cases involving these patents—including both Nokia’s suits against Apple and Apple’s suits against HTC—be consolidated “at least for purposes of coordinating pre-trial activities.” “Consolidation is appropriate in this instance because the four cases involve numerous common issues of law and fact, including eleven patents that Apple has asserted against both Nokia and HTC,” Apple said in the filing (PDF Link). “Given the overlapping patents and technologies at issue in the cases, consolidation offers the benefit of conserving resources and promoting judicial economy by avoiding the need for duplicative discovery or any other redundant litigation activities, such as multiple Markman hearings concerning the same patents. Importantly, consolidation before a single judge will also ensure that there are no inconsistent pretrial rulings—most notably inconsistent constructions of claim terms in the eleven overlapping patents.”
Apple has begun emailing select members of the press, inviting them to a special event in San Francisco on September 1. As it has been in the past, the event will be held at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, and will be focused on the company’s iPod line, as indicated by the invitation’s image of an acoustic guitar with an Apple logo cut-out. Apple is widely expected to introduce updated iPods at the event, likely including the fourth-generation iPod touch, and possibly a rumored next-generation Apple TV, which may be renamed iTV, as well as 99 cent TV episode rentals.
Apple plans to hold its annual iPod media event in San Francisco on September 7th, according to a new report. Contained within the same Bloomberg report that suggested Apple would be debuting a 99 cent TV show rental service, yet curiously overlooked by multiple outlets—including iLounge—the brief statement cites two people as saying Apple will launch a new iPod touch, an improved Apple TV, and the TV show rental service at the event. Traditionally, Apple has held the event in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco; the Yerba Buena’s calendar shows an event scheduled for the 7th in its gallery area, but nothing being held in the theater on that day.
Apple is in talks with Fox parent News Corp., along with other media companies, to offer 99 cent TV episode rentals through iTunes. Bloomberg, citing three people familiar with the plan, reports that users would have a 48 hour rental window, and that Disney and CBS are also part of the discussions. “This is a smart move by everyone,” said David Bank, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York. “Something like this a la carte rental service is an incremental opportunity and it doesn’t upset the existing ecosystem.” The report goes on to reiterate prior reports of a next-generation Apple TV, with a smaller hard drive than prior models that will be priced at $99 and tied into the rental service.
Movies rented from the iTunes Store using the iPhone 4 cannot be transferred back to users’ iTunes libraries, iLounge has discovered, and must be viewed solely on the iPhone 4. Although this is similar to a restriction found on the iPad and Apple TV, this marks the first time that this limitation has appeared on an iPhone. The iTunes Store Terms and Conditions and iTunes Store Movie/Film Rental FAQ (iTunes link) indicate that movies rented “using the Apple TV or iPad may not be moved” however they exclude any mention of the iPhone 4 in this regard, as do any of Apple’s current support documents. The only reference to this restriction is found buried on page 99 in the iPhone iOS 4 User Guide (PDF link) which states:
“On iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, you can transfer rented movies between iPhone and your computer. On iPhone 4, you can transfer rented movies between iPhone and your computer only if they were rented in iTunes on your computer. Movies rented on iPhone 4 cannot be transferred to a computer.”
It is also worth noting that the iPhone 4 has the same restriction on video output as the iPad, prohibiting the iPad Dock to VGA Connector from being used to display HD content purchased or rented from the iTunes Store. This brings into question the practicality of renting HD movies directly on the iPhone 4 since the 960 x 640 Retina Display still falls short of full 720p resolution while standard-definition content at 854 x 480 comes reasonably close to the capabilities of the new display.
Apple has announced that iTunes U downloads have surpassed the 300 million mark. Launched just over three years ago, iTunes U offers users public access to content from learning institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, University of Melbourne and Université de Montréal. “iTunes U makes it easy for people to discover and learn with content from many of the world’s top institutions,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of Internet Services. “With such a wide selection of educational material, we’re providing iTunes users with an incredible way to learn on their computer, iPhone, iPod or iPad.” According to Apple, over 800 universities worldwide have active iTunes U sites, and nearly half of these institutions distribute their content publicly. Overall, iTunes U hosts more than 350,000 audio and video files from educational institutions around the globe.
A newly published Apple patent application has led to reports that the company will use a new unauthorized user recognition technology to deter users from jailbreaking iPhones. The patent application, entitled “Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device,” primarily describes methods for detecting unauthorized users—people who do not normally use the device—and taking appropriate action, such as relaying information about the unauthorized user’s identity and location to the device’s owner, restricting functions, or deleting sensitive data. The controversy stems from references in the application to jailbreaking and/or unlocking the device, both of which it describes as “activities that can indicate suspicious behavior.” In July, the U.S. Library of Congress’ Copyright Office announced a decision under which jailbreaking was deemed legal and within the user’s fair use rights, which might conceivably limit Apple’s ability to discriminate against users with jailbroken devices. However, it’s unclear as to whether Apple is patenting this invention in the hopes of actually locking out users for its own purposes, deterring certain uses of its devices, or merely empowering owners to protect their own items as they wish. As with all Apple patent applications, the filing does not necessarily represent any future product release from Apple, but offers evidence of the company’s research in this area.
A placeholder for an as-yet-unknown Apple device has appeared in the latest internal build of the iOS 4.1 beta, according to a new report. Citing people familiar with the matter, AppleInsider reports that the latest iOS 4.1 build contains code referencing both the fourth-generation iPod touch—labeled iPod4,1—and a second-generation iPad—labeled iProd2,1. Perhaps more interesting, however, is a listing for “unknownHardware,” given a productID of 20547—compared to 4765 for the second-generation iPad and 4766 for the fourth-generation iPod touch—and a productString of “Unknown- Add device descriptor info for this device.” The report speculates that the code could in fact reference a rumored iOS-based next-generation Apple TV, although it could also simply be placeholder code for some other potentially upcoming product, such as a CDMA or fifth-generation iPhone.
Apple has finally enabled publishers to offer their magazines via iPad apps to current subscribers free of charge. Beginning with the update of the People Magazine app earlier today, subscribers to Time, Inc. publications including Time, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune will soon be able to be able to access the iPad versions of issues for free as part of their print subscriptions. Fortune reports that the changes should roll out to the other magazines within 30 days, and suggests that other magazine publishers will likely adopt the same policy. The report also states that publishers who were encouraged to built iPad apps say they were ready from the start to make them free to subscribers, but Apple would not provide the tools necessary, or explain what was delaying their release. Publishers remain unable to sell subscriptions directly through the App Store.
Apple and AT&T have removed no-contract iPhone purchasing options from their websites, signaling a further tightening of restrictions on U.S. iPhone users compared to those abroad. Previously available at prices significantly higher than those of even early upgraders—$599 for a 16GB iPhone 4 and $699 for a 32GB unit—the options allowed customers to purchase the phones without extending their existing AT&T contracts. Apple has also changed its FAQ found at the bottom of its online store’s iPhone page, noting that the iPhone is not available without a commitment and “requires a two year AT&T wireless service contract.” Curiously, Apple did not begin contract-free sales of the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS until the devices had been on the market for roughly nine months; it is unclear what prompted the change in policy with the iPhone 4. [via MacNN]
Updated: An AT&T spokesman has issued a statement indicating that the language on Apple’s site has not been changed, and that customer should still be able to purchase a contract-free iPhone 4 by visiting an AT&T store.
Chua Kim Guan, chairman of Singapore-based JLJ Holdings Ltd., has stepped down amid a scandal that allegedly saw kickbacks given to an Apple employee for confidential information. JLJ Holdings has been named in a lawsuit by Apple against former Apple global supply manager Paul Shin Devine, which claims Devine shared confidential information from Apple with suppliers of iPod and iPhone accessories, who used the information to negotiate favorable contracts with Apple. “In order to facilitate the impartial review of all activities relating to the Apple claim that may involve the company and its subsidiaries, the company’s executive chairman has voluntarily relinquished all executive duties…for the time being,” JLJ said in a statement. The Wall Street Journal reports that JLJ revealed Chua is the brother of Andrew Ang, a former assistant general manager of its Jin Li Mould Manufacturing unit who is also named in Apple’s suit. Both Devine and Ang were recently indicted for wire fraud, money laundering, and kickbacks. [via MDN]
Apple’s applications director is selling his own fart apps on the App Store. Wired reports that Phillip Shoemaker, director of applications technology at Apple, is behind a selection of seven iPhone apps from Gray Noodle, including both a fart app called Animal Farts and a urination simulator called iWiz. Shoemaker’s apps range in price from $1 ro $2, and have generally received below-average ratings from users, while also testing the limits of Apple’s App Store decency restrictions. Apple told Wired that Shoemaker was hired partly because of his background in application development. “Phillip’s apps were written, submitted and approved before he became an Apple employee,” an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement. “His experience and perspective as a developer is one of the valuable things he brings to Apple’s developer relations team. Apple’s policy allows for employees to have apps on the App Store if they’re developed and published prior to their start at Apple.” The report notes that Shoemaker said he had started working at Apple via a tweet on March 9, 2009, while three of his apps weren’t published until afterwards.
Former Apple senior iPhone software engineer Evan Doll said the company typically doesn’t allow employees to sell apps unless they receive special permission from an executive, part of a policy to avoid conflicts of interest. “Apple employees are generally prohibited [from selling apps],” Doll told Wired. “You have to get a special exception from a VP. Otherwise, big no-no. If he was doing it pre-Apple then he’d have an easier time getting an exception.” Doll left Apple last year and now runs the company behind the Flipboard application for the iPad. Following the publication of Wired’s story, Shoemaker edited or outright deleted many of his social networking profiles that linked him with Gray Noodle, and has yet to comment on the matter.
Apple has released a new iPad television ad, the second for the company’s tablet device. The new app-focused spot shows the iPad being used mostly in front of a white background, while showing a variety of different apps. The spot starts with the words “iPad is” on the screen, and a different descriptor—including “delicious,” “current,” “learning,” “playful,” “literary,” “artful,” “friendly,” “productive,” “scientific,” and “magical.” In addition, it features the song “Never Stop” by Gonzales in the background. Apple’s latest iPad ad is available for viewing on the company’s website.
South Korea-based Cresyn Co., a supplier of earphones for the iPod, has said that former Apple global supply manager Paul Shin Devine was paid for what was thought to be consulting work. “It was our understanding the contract was with Apple since we knew he was an Apple employee,” Kim Chang Jun, a spokesman for the Seoul-based company, told Bloomberg. “Apple was specified in the contract, and we believed it, so we sent the money.” Devine, along with associate Andrew Ang of Singapore, was recently indicted for wire fraud, money laundering, and kickbacks. Devine allegedly shared confidential information from Apple with suppliers of iPod and iPhone accessories, which then used the information to negotiate favorable contracts with Apple.
Reuters reports that in addition to Cresyn, Apple claims that Devine was also in contact with Singapore’s Glocom/Lateral Solutions, JLJ Holdings, and Fastening Technologies, as well as Taiwan’s Nishoku Technology and Pegatron. Said Jonathan Chang, a deputy spokesman for Pegatron, “We are investigating the case now and feel sorry about this.” Pegatron owns Kaeder Electronics, a maker of third-party plastic cases for the iPhone, iPod, and other devices, which was named in the kickback charges but is not a direct Apple supplier.
- August 16, 2010
Apple has hired Benjamin Vigier, a veteran of Near-Field Communications (NFC) development, as its new product manager for mobile commerce. Vigier, who joined Apple in July, according to his LinkedIn page, was most recently product manager for mobile wallet, payment, and NFC at US mobile payments company mFoundry. NFC World reports that while at mFoundry, Vigier helped develop and managed both the PayPal Mobile service and Starbucks’ barcode-based mobile payments service, among several other high-profile projects. It is not yet known what future products Vigier may be working on for Apple, but the company has applied for a number of NFC-related patents over the past year. [via Mac Rumors]
Apple is facing some early challenges in getting its iAd mobile advertising network up and running, according to a new report. Citing unnamed ad executives, the Wall Street Journal reports that some ad campaigns are experiencing delays due to Apple’s tight control over the creative process and the agencies’ learning curves. The report claims that the creation of iAds is taking from eight to ten weeks, or longer than normal for typical mobile ads, and the building of the actual ads, which is currently being handled by Apple, is sometimes taking two weeks longer than expected. Of the 17 iAd launch partners named by Apple, only ads from Unilever and Nissan were running for much of July; Citigroup, Disney, and J.C. Penney have since launched iAd campaigns with more companies to follow. Notably, one named launch partner—Chanel SA—is now saying it has no iAd campaigns planned at this time. A recent report claimed that early advertisers and developers are nonetheless pleased with iAd’s early performance; Apple recently added new functionality to iAd allowing developers to sell apps directly from within iAds, helping the company to fill iAd slots.
An Apple manager has been arrested and accused of accepting kickback payments from iPod and iPhone accessory suppliers. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Paul Shin Devine, a global supply manager with Apple, along with Andrew Ang of Singapore, were named in a grand jury indictment for wire fraud, money laundering, and kickbacks. According to the report, the scheme saw Devine share confidential information from Apple with the suppliers, which used the information to negotiate favorable contracts with Apple. In return, the suppliers gave Devine monetary kickbacks, which were routed through U.S. and foreign bank accounts, plus a front company. Devine is currently being held by the U.S. Marshals Service; Apple has filed a separate civil suit against Devine, claiming he received more than $1 million in “payments, kickbacks and bribes” over several years. “Apple is committed to the highest ethical standards in the way we do business,” said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling. “We have zero tolerance for dishonest behavior inside or outside the company.”
Update: According to Macworld UK, China’s Kaeder Electronics, South Korea’s Cresyn, and Singapore’s Jin Li Mould Manufacturing were all involved in the kickback scheme, along with three other suppliers; none of the three named suppliers has yet commented on the case.
Following news from earlier this week on a hidden volume shutter button feature in the Camera+ app, it appears that Apple may now be cracking down on other iPhone camera applications that have employed similar features. In a post on Tap tap tap’s blog explaining how its Camera+ update was initially rejected by Apple, developer John Casasanta noted that there were other camera apps that “make use of the volume buttons for snapping photos” but that Apple advised him that these likely “slipped through the review cracks” as a result of developers intentionally omitting the feature from descriptions and screenshots. Tap tap tap was forced to remove the volume button shutter feature from Camera+ but later revealed via Twitter that the feature was still hidden away within the app and described how to enable it. Camera+ was subsequently removed from the App Store, presumably for violating the terms of Apple’s Developer Agreement.
Today, another iOS developer, KendiTech, released an update to its Camera Zoom 2 app with release notes indicating that it had “Removed [the] Volume Button Shutter feature.” It is unclear whether this removal was precipitated by a specific request from Apple or whether the developer chose to be proactive in removing this feature as a result of the demise of Camera+.
Citing precedent with Apple’s approach to LED flashlight apps, which were originally banned from the App Store for a similar reason, Casasanta has submitted a feature request to Apple to allow for the hardware volume controls to be used for other purposes and encourages users to send feedback to Apple to attempt to pressure the company to change its policy.