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Apple to allow environmental audits of suppliers

Apple will soon allow independent environmental reviews of at least two of its suppliers’ factories in China, according to a new report. Citing Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, USA Today reports that Apple agreed to the reviews in late January, following the release of reports documenting hazardous-waste leaks and the use of toxic chemicals at suspected Apple suppliers. The reviews could begin as soon as March, and may expand to include more than just two factories.

Apple launches countdown to 25 billion app downloads

Apple has posted a new contest celebrating the download of the 25 billionth app. As the company has with past countdown contests, it has posted a counter roughly showing the number of apps downloaded to this point on the contest page; similar graphics have yet to appear on the main iTunes Store or App Store, but will likely appear later today. “As of today, nearly 25 billion apps have been downloaded worldwide”, reads the contest page. “Which is almost as amazing as the apps themselves. So we want to say thanks. Download the 25 billionth app, and you could win a US$10,000 App Store Gift Card. Just visit the App Store and download your best app yet.” The contest will end once the 25 billionth app has been downloaded; no purchase or download is necessary to enter.

Apple wins injunction against Motorola in Germany

Apple has won a permanent injunction against most of Motorola Mobility’s products in Germany. FOSS Patents reports that Presiding Judge Dr. Peter Guntz ruled that the products infringe on Apple’s slide-to-unlock image patent, which covers “unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”. According to the report, the court evaluated three different embodiments of the idea, two of which are implemented on Motorola’s phones—Apple won on those two—and a third which is used on Motorola’s Xoom tablet, and on which Apple did not prevail. The report states that Motorola will likely appeal the decision, at which point Apple will likely try to win on the third embodiment as well; currently, Apple would have to enforce the injunction at its own risk, by posting a bond that could be used to repay damages should the decision be reversed.

Apple bringing AirPlay Mirroring, Messages to OS X

Apple this morning announced OS X Mountain Lion, the next release of its desktop operating system for its Mac computers. Among the new features debuted by Apple this morning—many of which were based on existing iOS apps, including Notes, Reminders, and Game Center—is AirPlay Mirroring. As the name suggests, the feature will allow users to mirror their Mac’s screen on a HDTV using an Apple TV, making it easy for users to share web pages, videos, lessons, and presentations with others. In addition, the company announced a beta version of Messages for OS X. This iChat replacement mimics the Messages app on iOS, allowing users to send iMessages across both iOS and Mac devices. The app also integrates support for AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, and Jabber accounts, as well as FaceTime, removing the need for a separate, standalone app. The beta version of Messages is available now as a free download for users of OS X Lion 10.7.3 or later; OS X Mountain Lion is currently available in preview form to registered Mac developers and is slated to ship in late summer.

Apple adds new iBookstore publishing features

Apple has sent out an email to iBookstore content creators, informing them of several new additions and features to the eBook publishing section of iTunes Connect. According to AppleInsider, the email touted publishers’ new ability to post screenshots, receive up to 50 promo codes for each book published, offer pre-orders for certain titles before their release, and create series of books, which ties the separate volumes together on the iBookstore. The report indicates that the new features are active for both established publishers and iBooks Authors alike, and are available now.

Apple to require user approval for app contact access

A week after social networking app Path, and subsequently other apps, were found to be accessing users’ contacts data without their knowledge or permission, Apple has responded on the issue, saying that users will soon need to give explicit permission for an app to do so. “Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD. “We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.” Apple’s comment comes after an inquiry from Congress questioning the company about its policy relating to the privacy and security of a user’s data.

Apple seeks approval to sue bankrupt Kodak

Apple has asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to sue Kodak for patent infringement. Bloomberg reports that Apple’s filing indicates that it intends to file a complaint against Kodak with the International Trade Commission and a matching suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, based on claims that Kodak infringes on Apple patents covering technology used in printers, digital cameras, and digital picture frames. According to the report, Apple’s lawyers argued that while bankruptcy law does not prevent the filing of such claims against a company in court protection, “Apple requests express authority from [the] court before it initiates the actions out of an abundance of caution.”

Apple and Kodak are involved in a separate patent dispute over ownership of an image preview patent, which Kodak has used as the basis of claims filed against both Apple and BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion. Apple has argued that it and Kodak co-developed a digital camera in the early ‘90s, and that Kodak sought a patent on the technology, which should in fact belong to Apple; the ITC recently rejected the arguments, although that case and a matching lawsuit are still pending.

FLA: iPad plant conditions ‘way, way above average’

Working conditions at Foxconn are far better than those in other factories elsewhere in China, according to the initial findings of the Fair Labor Association. Reuters reports that the group is beginning its study—announced Monday—of Apple’s top eight suppliers in China, following several recent reports which painted the conditions at the plants in a negative light, as well as a number of documented worker suicides. Auret van Heerden, president of the FLA, spent the past several days visiting Foxconn plants in preparation for the study.

“The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm”, said van Heerden. “I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory. So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory. . It’s more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps.” He went on to say that suicides have been a problem at Chinese factories since the 1990s. “You have lot of young people, coming from rural areas, away from families for the first time”, he said. “They’re taken from a rural into an industrial lifestyle, often quite an intense one, and that’s quite a shock to these young workers. And we find that they often need some kind of emotional support, and they can’t get it. Factories initially didn’t realize those workers needed emotional support.”

Apple cuts iAd buy-in to $100,000, makes other changes

Apple is making several changes to the terms of its iAd service in an attempt to fight share loss in the mobile advertising market. According to an Ad Age report, Apple has lowered the initial buy-in to $100,000 from $300,000, making the current rate just one-tenth of the $1 million required when the service launched. Other changes include giving developers a 70% cut of ad revenues from iAds running in their apps, up from 60%, and dropping the per-click fee for advertisers in favor of a fixed cost-per-thousand rate. Citing data from IDC, the report claims that Apple lost ground in the mobile ad market in 2011, dropping to a 15 percent share from 19 percent in 2010.

Further comments from Apple CEO Cook at Goldman Sachs

In addition to the previously reported statements on supply chain statistics and the Apple TV, Apple CEO Tim Cook provided several other noteworthy comments during his talk at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference. Regarding iCloud, Cook suggested that the genesis of Apple’s Internet-based synchronization was customer convenience; in his words, it was not a great customer experience to have to sync content between devices, and Cook explained that iCloud makes this easier by letting its now 100 million users transfer content back and forth from the cloud rather than from an increasing variety of computer-like devices they now use. Cook also mentioned Siri, describing it as an emerging alternative to the physical keyboard and mouse, along with Multi-Touch. He called both iCloud and Siri “profound” innovations in computing, and claimed that they are things today’s users will talk about with their grandkids.

Additionally, when asked what mark he would like to leave on the company, Cook said Apple was a unique company, and unique culture, that can’t be replicated. Speaking forcefully, he said that he would not witness or permit the slow undoing of Apple—an allusion to the John Sculley regime of the 1980s—because Cook believes in the company’s work so deeply. “Steve drilled in all of us over many years that the company should revolve around great products, and that we should stay extremely focused on few things rather than try to do so many that we did nothing well, and that we should only go into markets where we can make significant contributions to society, not just sell a lot of products,” Cook said. “These things, along with the expectation of keeping excellence… these are the things I focus on. Because those are the things that make Apple this magical place, that really smart people want to work in, and not just do their life’s work, but their life’s best work…”

Apple CEO Tim Cook promises monthly supply chain reports

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company plans to start offering monthly supply chain reports. According to Cook, these monthly supply chain compliance statistic reports will be posted on the company’s website, and represent a further effort on the company’s part to improve the lives of those who are involved in the creation and production of its products.

Apple to offer audio stream of presentation by CEO Cook

Apple has posted a notice on its Investor Relations page noting that it will be offering a live audio webcast of CEO Tim Cook’s presentation at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference tomorrow. According to the notice, Cook will speak at approximately 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time/12:30 p.m. Pacific Time. As noted by Mac Rumors, Cook has spoken at the event several times in the past, and while offering occasional insight into Apple’s business, he has never used the event as a platform for an announcement. [via @setteB.IT]

Apple nabs top spot in corporate reputation study

Apple nabbed the top spot in the 13th Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) study, which measures corporate reputation among U.S. companies. The study measures six dimensions that comprise reputation and influence consumer behavior, including Social Responsibility, Emotional Appeal, Financial Performance, Products & Services, Vision & Leadership, and Workplace Environment. Apple scored the highest reputation score in the study’s history—85.62—by being the top-ranked company in the latter four categories, while Whole Foods was tops in Social Responsibility, and won the Emotional Appeal category. Overall, Apple was trailed in the rankings by previous leader Google, with a score of 82.82, Coca-Cola, with a score of 81.99, Amazon, with a score of 81.92, and Kraft Foods, which earned a score of 81.62. The study is based on surveys of more than 17,000 members of the American general public.

NPD: Apple top electronics brand of 2011

According to new data from The NPD Group, Apple was the top consumer electronics (CE) brand in the U.S. in 2011, based on revenue. As noted in a press release, Apple was the only company in the top five to see a sales increase, posting a 36 percent rise over 2010, besting Hewlett-Packard, which came in second place and saw sales decline three percent, and Samsung, which came in third on a sales decline of six percent. Sony and Dell rounded out the top five, seeing sales declines of 21 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Notably, Apple accounted for 19 percent of all sales dollars in the fourth quarter, meaning almost one of every five dollars spent on consumer electronics during the holiday quarter in the U.S. went to the Cupertino-based company. The company was also the third-largest CE retailer by revenue in the U.S. in 2011, behind only Best Buy and Walmart, and ahead of Staples and Amazon.

Apple sued over iPhone, Apple TV wireless interaction

Apple has been sued by a small Swiss-based company over wireless interaction between the iPhone and the Apple TV. According to an AppleInsider report, a company named SmartData filed suit against Apple in the Northern District Court of California, alleging that Apple infringed on a patent related to “wireless computing technology” called Zukero. The report claims that SmartData’s patent for a “modular computer” describes a wireless system consisting of a “pocket sized” unit to store data and run programs, a second data input device with wireless connectivity that serves as an interface, and a third element that is a television screen.

Specifically, the suit claims infringement when the iPhone and Apple TV are used together via Apple’s Remote app; it also says that Apple willfully infringed on the patent, as SmartData contacted Apple regarding the patent in July 2004, and reportedly negotiated a potential licensing agreement until mid-2006, at which point Apple allegedly ceased communication with the company. SmartData is seeking damages, a permanent ban on the infringing products, and a trial; the company does not make any devices itself, and is currently shopping around its Zukero patent, according to the report.

Apple exec Cue accepts Grammy honoring Steve Jobs

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was honored with a Special Grammy Award over the weekend, and Apple senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue was on hand to accept the award in his stead. Mac Rumors reports that upon accepting the Trustees Award, Cue said, “On behalf of Steve’s wife, Laurene, his children, and everyone at Apple, I’d like to thank you for honoring Steve with the Trustees Grammy Award. Steve was a visionary, a mentor, and a very close friend. I had the incredible honor of working with him for the last fifteen years”.

“Accepting this award means so much to me because music meant so much to him. He told us that music shaped his life…it made him who he was. Everyone that knows Steve knows the profound impact that artists like Bob Dylan and The Beatles had on him”, he continued. “Steve was focused on bringing music to everyone in innovative ways. We talked about it every single day. When he introduced the iPod in 2001, people asked ‘Why is Apple making a music player?’ His answer was simple: ‘We love music, and it’s always good to do something you love.’ His family and I know that this Grammy would have been very special to him, so I thank you for honoring him today.” As noted in the report, the Grammy marks the second time Jobs and Apple have been honored by The Recording Academy, as Apple itself won a Technical Grammy in 2002.

Apple requests audits of Foxconn by FLA

Apple has announced that the Free Labor Association (FLA) has started to conduct special voluntary audits of Apple’s final assembly suppliers—including Foxconn facilities in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China—at Apple’s request. According to a press release issued by the company, a team of labor rights experts led by FLA president Auret van Heerden began the first inspections Monday morning at the facility in Shenzhen known as Foxconn City. As part of the inspections, the FLA will interview “thousands” of employees, seeking information on working and living conditions, inspect manufacturing areas, dormitories, and other facilities, and conduct an extensive review of documents related to employment procedures, all with the full cooperation of Apple. The release claims that the FLA’s findings and recommendations from the first assessments will be posted in early March on its website, with similar inspections of Quanta and Pegatron facilities to be conducted later this Spring. When completed, the FLA’s assessment will cover facilities where more than 90 percent of Apple products are assembled.

“We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports.”

Apple sues Samsung, seeks to block Galaxy Nexus in U.S.

Apple has filed a new federal lawsuit against Samsung in the U.S., accompanied by a motion seeking a ban on sales of the Galaxy Nexus. FOSS Patents reports that Apple filed both in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California; the preliminary injunction filing has been released, while the main complaint has not yet entered public record. According to the report, Apple is asserting four patents in its injunction request, including the “data tapping” patent which led the International Trade Commission to order an import ban against HTC, a patent related to Siri and unified search, a new slide-to-unlock patent, and a word completion patent. The report notes that unlike Apple’s prior motion for an injunction against Samsung products—which was denied by Judge Judy Koh, to whom the new case has also been assigned—this filing is based on strong technical patents, as opposed to the design-related patents asserted previously. The move to block the Galaxy Nexus in particular is notable, as the device was developed by Samsung in close cooperation with Google, and serves as the flagship device for Android 4.0, meaning that “Google cannot deny its undivided responsibility for any infringement findings”.

Apple sues Motorola in U.S. over Qualcomm patents

Apple has filed a new lawsuit against Motorola Mobility in an attempt to prevent further litigation. Florian Mueller of FOSS patents reports that the suit, filed in the Southern District of California—close to where Qualcomm is based—claims that Apple, by way of the iPhone 4S’ use of a Qualcomm chip and an existing Motorola-Qualcomm patent licensing agreement, has every right to use Motorola’s patents in the handset. Should that prove true, Motorola may be guilty of breach of contract, which could result in damages awarded to Apple. In any case, a win by Apple is likely to derail any other lawsuits filed by Motorola against Apple over the iPhone 4S, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Motorola loses third patent case against Apple in Germany

Motorola Mobility, which recently won its second patent ruling against Apple in Germany, has lost its bid for a third. Bloomberg reports that the Regional Court in Mannheim has rejected a Motorola suit accusing Apple of infringing upon a patent involving the use of mathematical sequences in mobile telecommunications. When delivering the ruling, Presiding Judge Andreas Voss said that Motorola didn’t show that Apple is violating the patent. Two more cases between the two companies are pending in German courts, according to the report. [via MDN]

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