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Report: Apple working on smart home hardware

Apple is reportedly working on its own smart home hardware products that integrate with the company’s current devices, according to 9to5Mac. Development of these home devices has advanced “beyond the exploratory phase,” and sources said Apple thinks the devices could have “mainstream” usage — sources noted Apple is looking to make products that would have wider usage than the thermostat and smoke detector made by Google’s Nest. However, it’s unknown as to exactly what kinds of home devices Apple is developing, though sources noted it could be “advanced speaker systems or control panels for homes.” Apple’s home products would be built on its recently introduced HomeKit software. No timeline for the devices is known at this time.

Apple intros new 16GB iPod touch, cuts prices on 32/64GB models

Apple has quietly switched up its iPod touch 5G lineup, replacing the rear camera-less 16GB model introduced last year with a model that now has feature parity with the higher capacity units. Further, this new 16GB iPod touch now sells for $199—$30 less than last year’s feature-limited model—and comes with all of the same assets and accessories, save for the iPod touch loop lanyard, which can be purchased separately. It’s also now available in the full array of colors originally introduced for the fifth-generation iPod touch. In addition, the 32GB model has also seen a price drop of $50, down to $249, and the 64GB model has been slashed from $399 to $299.

Updated: Apple has issued a press release announcing the updates.

Bono questions Apple’s treatment of (RED) branding

Speaking at a Cannes Lions presentation about his global AIDS nonprofit agency (RED), U2 frontman Bono took Apple to task for the way the company has branded its (RED) products, Adweek reports. Bono criticized the company with his friend and Apple design chief Jony Ive seated on stage, saying Apple is “so f———annoyingly quiet about the fact they’ve raised $75 million. Nobody knows!” According to Bono, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs refused to put the signature (RED) parentheses in any Apple stores, and understates them on Apple products. “Where’s the (RED) branding?” Bono asked Ive, pointing to their hidden location inside an iPad Smart Cover. “Nobody can see that. This is modesty run amok. This is the Apple way. They’re like a religious cult.”

Ive sidestepped the criticism: “We started in 2006 with one (RED) product, a Nano, and now we’ve got well over half a dozen,” he said. “It’s been really, really special for us.” Apple has been one of (RED)‘s biggest supporters from its early days, as all of its red-colored iPods, iPhone accessories, and iPad accessories have been (PRODUCT) RED exclusives. The company’s (PRODUCT) RED website notes Apple alone has raised more than $70 million; in total, (PRODUCT) RED’s numerous partners has raised more than $250 million for the Global Fund to help African AIDS programs.

Foxconn, Pegatron hiring for iPhone 6 production

Foxconn and Pegatron, two of Apple’s largest manufacturing partners, have begun hiring workers to produce the iPhone 6. The former is recruiting more than 100,000 people, a Chinese continental record, according to reports from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News and Reuters. The bulk of the orders will go to Foxconn, which is said to be responsible for 70 percent of production; Pegatron will handle the rest. High demand is expected, with Pegatron adding 30 percent to its workforce in one mainland factory.

WSJ: iWatch to come in multiple designs, have 10+ sensors

A new report from the Wall Street Journal claims Apple’s iWatch will likely be available in multiple screen sizes. Also according to sources, “The new wrist device from Apple will include more than 10 sensors including ones to track health and fitness.” Additional reporting from Chinese website Laoyaoba states that some of these sensors will monitor heart rate, blood glucose, and blood pressure, and that Apple is awaiting FDA approval on the device. By the end of the year, shipments of the unannounced product are expected to total between 10 million and 15 million.  A Thursday report only claimed the iWatch would feature a 2.5” slightly rectangular display, wireless charging, and a pulse sensor.

Report: Apple exploring changes to AppleCare+, customer support

Apple is considering a number of customer support tweaks including changes to AppleCare+, 9to5Mac reports. The company is considering making AppleCare+ available for 60 days after purchasing a supported device, rather than the current 30 days. AppleCare+ may also be pushed as a subscription service, which has been reported in the past. The report also claims that this fall, Apple will let technicians share iOS screens with users in order to diagnose or fix problems with a device, similar to the support currently offered to Mac users. Apple may also introduce diagnostic tools to help users solve minor issues with Apple IDs, iTunes, and iCloud on their own.

Apple promoting books Amazon won’t sell

Apple is looking to take advantage of Amazon’s ongoing dispute with Hachette Book Group — or at least ruffle Amazon’s feathers — by promoting discounted Hachette books in its iTunes Store. Currently, Apple is promoting 26 books under the heading “Popular Pre-Orders: $9.99 or Less,” and all of the books are from Hachette. Re/Code confirmed the promotion with Apple, but pricing arrangements were not disclosed. Amazon and Hachette couldn’t reach an agreement during contact negotiations and have been at odds ever since, with Amazon stating it is “buying less (print) inventory and ‘safety stock’ ” from Hachette.

Apple releases iOS 8 beta 2, Apple TV beta software to developers

Apple has released iOS 8 beta 2 to registered developers. The release is available over-the-air through Settings. 9to5Mac reports that a new Apple TV software beta has also been released. We’ll update in the near future with any pertinent information on what’s new and notable within iOS 8 beta 2.

Apple settles with states, consumers for e-book price fixing

Apple has settled with states and consumers seeking damages from the company’s role in fixing e-book prices, Bloomberg reports. The company avoids a trial set for next month in which the company faced up to $840 million in damage claims; terms of the settlement were not disclosed. A judge ruled last July that Apple conspired to raise e-book prices — the upcoming trial would have provided additional state-level consumer relief based upon the federal ruling. It’s noted that Apple still plans on appealing the original federal ruling, and unclear as to what consequences a successful appeal might have upon this settlement.

Ive promises new device materials in NYT interview

The New York Times has released an edited transcript of an interview with Apple design chief Jony Ive, who was interviewed for the paper’s recent profile of Apple CEO Tim Cook. In the interview, Ive said, “I would love to talk about future stuff – they’re materials we haven’t worked in before. I’ve been working on this stuff for a few years now.” Although Ive didn’t specify the new materials, Apple has shown clear signs of interest in working further with LiquidMetal and sapphire glass, each material having been used only in minor prior components. Alleged rear assemblies for the iPhone 6 appear to show a unibody metal housing with bonded antenna stripes, despite the fact that most metals inhibit antennas rather than letting them radiate, an issue that the more complex glass-like LiquidMetal is apparently capable of solving.

While people wait for the next big thing from Apple, Ive notes that it’s hard to be patient, even for the company’s key executives. Despite public clamor for new products, Ive also pointed out that the iPhone, iPod, and iPad were all dismissed by some people upon being introduced.

WSJ: Samsung possible suitor for Siri tech developer Nuance

Nuance Communications — the company behind the speech-recognition technology used in Apple’s Siri — has held buy-out discussions with Samsung, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s reported that Nuance has discussed a sale with both Samsung and private-equity firms, but it’s unclear how close the company is to being sold at this time. Nuance’s biggest shareholder is Carl Icahn, who currently has a large stake in Apple. Last July, a report noted that Apple assembled a new team to work on Siri speech-recognition — a team that included a number of members who previously worked for Nuance — in a possible move to reduce its reliance on Nuance’s technology. [via MacRumors]

NYT profile praises Cook’s humanity, questions growth potential

Tim Cook is the subject of a New York Times profile that attempts to explain how the Apple CEO is reshaping the company in his own ways. While his predecessor Steve Jobs was known for being “maniacal about design,” Cook takes a less hands-on approach, with more decisions delegated to his trusted team. Cook is praised in the piece for his strong values, and how he believes Apple is committed to “advancing humanity.” As he told shareholders in a February meeting, “If you want me to make decisions that have a clear [return on investment], then you should get out of the stock.” Curiously enough, though Apple design chief Jony Ive, Disney CEO and Apple board member Robert Iger, and others were interviewed for the profile, Cook himself declined an interview.

The article points out how Cook’s values can be seen in the development of Apple’s iWatch. Cook is apparently most intrigued by the big picture health implications of the device — how it can change health for the better by monitoring vital measures and reducing visits to doctors. Some space in the profile is given to the recent clamoring for more innovation from Apple, with critics finding Cook “uninspiring,” and claiming that the company’s prior soul has been lost. Growth concerns are also noted; the company’s sales are currently so large that there may not be an opportunity for a big needle-moving increase. Ive, however, doesn’t believe anything has changed within the company when it comes to a desire to innovate. Though the report notes Cook “digests things carefully, with time,” Ive suggested that waiting for such innovations to be revealed has always been a challenge. “It is hard for all of us to be patient,” he said. “It was hard for Steve. It is hard for Tim.”

Apple apparently allowing Bitcoin wallet apps again

iOS Bitcoin wallet app Coin Pocket has recently been published in the App Store, as it appears Apple is again allowing such apps in its ecosystem. A recent report noted that Apple updated its App Store Review Guidelines to allow for certain virtual currency apps. Coin Pocket is an app that allows users to send and receive Bitcoin from an iOS device. It won’t be a surprise to see more Bitcoin wallet apps pop up in the App Store now — popular Bitcoin wallet Blockchain was pulled in February, but Blockchain CEO Nic Cary has already said he will be resubmitting the app for Apple’s approval. As noted by CoinDesk, a few other non-wallet apps are also now allowing Bitcoin transactions, as well.

Report: Apple cracking down on fake app ratings

Apple has reportedly been removing fake App Store reviews that have improved the chart ranking of certain apps, according to TechCrunch. These rating removals have been going on for an indeterminate amount of time. A recent tweet noted one app saw 20,000 ratings removed “overnight,” and the report claims it was due to Apple’s intervention.

Another recent report noted that Apple has started rejecting apps that offer rewards for video ads and social sharing. It appears as if Apple is once again taking a larger role to step in and adjust what it sees as problems within the App Store.

Apple announces exchange program for some European 5W power adapters

Apple has announced an exchange program for its 5W European USB power adapters that “may overheat and pose a safety risk.” The affected adapters came with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S models shipped from October 2009 to September 2012 in a number of European countries — the full list is included within the announcement. Though the adapters only pose a risk “in rare cases,” the company is voluntarily offering a free, new, redesigned power adapter for each affected adapter exchanged. Affected models are marked “Model A1300” with the letters “CE” in solid gray.

Apple recommends users with these adapters discontinue use and exchange the adapter. In the meantime, users can charge their iPhones by connecting the USB cable to a computer. Users must bring their affected adapters to an Apple Retail Store or participating Apple Authorized Service Provider to make the exchange for a new adapter.

Nest’s Fadell talks about relationship with Steve Jobs

Nest founder and “father of the iPod” Tony Fadell is featured in a new Fortune profile that devotes plenty of time to his relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Fadell regrets that he never got to show Nest to Jobs. “I would have loved to have been able to show it to him, but the timing didn’t work,” he said.

The article describes the Jobs-Fadell relationship as alternating “between the father/son and school principal/naughty student archetypes,” with Fadell saying, “He thought I asked too many questions,” and Jobs often returning the favor. While it’s believed Jobs fired Fadell on numerous occasions, instead, Fadell says he “repeatedly quit.” The article notes that on at least two occasions, Fadell recanted his resignations, “having gotten his way each time.”

Apple responds to EU tax investigation

As expected, the European Commission today officially announced an investigation into Apple’s tax practices in Ireland. The EU is checking whether the deal, along with separate deals made by Starbucks and Fiat, qualifies as illegal state aid, Bloomberg reports.  “Apple pays every euro of every tax that we owe,” Apple responded in an e-mailed statement. “We have received no selective treatment from Irish officials. Apple is subject to the same tax laws as scores of other international companies doing business in Ireland.” Ireland’s Finance Ministry is “confident” that no state aid rules were breached.

EU to investigate Apple’s Irish tax practices

The European Commission will launch a formal investigation into Apple’s tax practices in Ireland, RTE reports. It’s expected that the commission will officially announce the investigation tomorrow. Apple CEO Tim Cook testified on Apple’s tax policies to a U.S. Senate subcommittee last year. Recently, a March report accused the company of moving $8.9 billion in untaxed profits from Australia to Ireland.

Apple plans 1,000 in-house ad/marketing employees, more competition

Ad Age has a new comprehensive report on Apple’s shifting strategies in advertising and marketing, claiming the company is “madly building an internal agency that it’s telling recruits will eventually number 1,000.” The article starts with an anecdote about a pitch from Apple’s longtime ad agency partner TBWA/Media Arts Lab being spurned in favor of an Apple in-house ad. That’s by design, as Apple is reportedly creating more direct competitions between TBWA/MAL and its own internal agency “with ‘jump balls’ to mine the best creative ideas, a controversial tactic with outside agencies, let alone an internal one.” One source said Apple has always used such techniques, but they’ve become more obvious since Apple’s internal agency is now winning most of those “jump balls.” Apple is also inviting other agencies to make pitches on major projects.

While Apple has poached a few top advertising names — including a number of recruits from the noted Portland, Oregon-based ad firm Wieden & Kennedy — candidates still have concerns, including skepticism about the company’s creative direction. “I don’t feel that energy from Apple,” said a top agency exec who was approached by Apple. “The revolution has come and gone, and I’m not sure a job at Apple would be a creative opportunity. If I were going to go brand-side, there are a lot more interesting companies I’d rather work for, like Coke or Pepsi.” Another executive cited the high cost of living in Cupertino as an issue. The article adds a tremendous amount of background to a recent report noting Apple was now producing more ads in-house; the move wasn’t completely surprising considering Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller’s vocal displeasure with Media Arts Lab, as seen in January 2013 emails released in an April report.

FOIA request reveals Apple, FDA medical sensor discussion

Apple and the FDA discussed Apple’s interest in including medical sensors in mobile devices, according to a report from Apple Toolbox, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request to gain insight into Apple’s December meeting with the FDA. The response notes that “[w]ith the potential for more sensors on mobile devices, Apple believes there is the opportunity to do more with devices, and that there may be a moral obligation to do more.” It’s also explained that while sensors would not necessarily mean a device must be reviewed by the FDA, the FDA would likely regulate any software that uses those sensors for medical purposes.

A glucometer, which measures blood sugar level, was cited as a specific example — it would be regulated if the software was marketed toward diabetics, under the label of diagnostic software. If only used to monitor blood sugar for nutritional reasons, a glucometer could be unregulated. Apple also received guidance for Mobile Medical Apps, which was likely a stand-in name for the company’s now announced HealthKit. The FDA noted that “Apple will work closely with FDA as they develop future products.” It’s widely believed Apple will include biometric sensors in its upcoming iWatch.

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