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Apple Watch launches April 24; pre-orders on April 10th, prices starting at $349

As expected, Apple has provided an official launch date and pricing for the new Apple Watch at today’s “Spring Forward” event. The Apple Watch will launch on April 24 in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Apple will begin accepting Apple Watch pre-orders on April 10th, and demonstrations and previews of the device will be available in Apple Retail stores on the same date.

The Apple Watch Sport model, which includes an aluminum casing, will retail for $349 for the 38mm model and $399 for the 42mm model. The standard stainless steel model will be available in a traditional or slate black finish and will retail from from $549 to $1,099 in the same 38mm and 42mm sizes, with specific prices depending on watch band selection. The solid gold Edition Apple Watch will be available in limited quantities, starting at $10,000 at “select retail stores” — presumably those which have been equipped with vaults.

Apple releases iOS 8.2

During today’s “Spring Forward” event, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that iOS 8.2 is being released today. The new update includes an Apple Watch app that will provide access to the App Store for the new wearable device, as well as the ability to configure settings, transfer apps to the Apple Watch, and even watch information and preview videos on the Apple Watch before buying one. iOS 8.2 is expected to be available for download through the normal software update mechanisms later today.

Update: iOS 8.2 includes a patch to remedy the FREAK security flaw.

Apple announces ResearchKit to assist medical research data collection

Apple announced a new technology during the company’s “Spring Forward” event that will expand its HealthKit framework to aid in medical research. ResearchKit will allow users who wish to participate in research studies to opt into an app or service that will automatically collect medical data from their iPhone and securely and privately submit it to researchers. Apple has already partnered with universities and hospitals to help build apps that will allow them to further the study of conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and breast cancer. Apple COO Jeff Williams emphasized that the service will be entirely opt-in, demonstrating how users would have to sign up for research studies — in some cases even with an on-screen signature to indicate consent — and how all data would be submitted directly to researchers securely and privately, and that such data is not even available to Apple. Williams also noted that as it is Apple’s goal to make this platform and data available as widely as possible, ResearchKit is being released as open source. Five initial partner apps will be available for download today, and ResearchKit will debut next month.

Cook: ‘every major car brand’ committed to supporting CarPlay

While reviewing the new iPhone technologies, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that “every major car brand” has committed to supporting CarPlay, stating that 40 new car models are expected to be announced this year with built-in CarPlay support. Notably, however, it’s unclear what Cook means by “committed” in this context, particularly in light of Toyota’s recent statement that it has no plans to adopt CarPlay in the near term.

Apple unveils HBO Now channel on Apple TV

During today’s ‘Spring Forward’ event, HBO CEO Richard Plepler, joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage to officially announce the exclusive release of HBO’s new HBO Now streaming service on the Apple TV. The service will debut in early April and will be priced at $15/month, and Plepler noted that all you need to get HBO Now is “a broadband connection and an Apple device,” including not only the Apple TV, but also iPhone and iPad users. While HBO previously offered an HBO Go service, this was tied to existing cable or satellite subscribers; the new HBO Now service will be available via direct subscription, providing access to all of HBO’s past, current, and future content, including new releases such as the upcoming season of Game of Thrones, which Plepler noted will be available to those who sign up when the service debuts in April.

Report: Apple Stores to take appointments to try on Apple Watch

Apple Stores will be taking appointments for customers to try on the Apple Watch, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Customers will make reservations to test the watch in a “quiet showroom” setting, separate within an Apple Store. The report also reveals that Apple has researched platinum watch casings, but the company isn’t expected to announce any sort of platinum-edition Apple Watch today. All will be revealed soon, as the event starts in less than an hour.

Follow iLounge’s live Twitter coverage of today’s Apple event

Follow @iLounge on Twitter during Apple’s Spring Forward event today for up-to-the-second coverage of everything new about the Apple Watch, and any other surprises Apple has in store. After the event ends we’ll have all the details here, so check back regularly throughout the day for an in-depth look. Apple’s special event starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. EST), and will be streaming live on Apple’s website and on Apple TV’s Special Events channel.

Apple Watch details leaked prior to today’s event

A number of alleged Apple Watch details have leaked in the past few days leading up to today’s Apple event. Sources who have used the Apple Watch say the device’s battery will be able to handle 5 hours of “fairly heavy application use,” besting an earlier estimate of 2.5 to 4 hours, according to 9to5Mac. Meanwhile, TechCrunch is reporting it will take the watch about 2 hours to charge fully.

Other tidbits from the 9to5Mac piece include details on the Heart Rate Glance, a yet-to-be-announced feature that will allow users to view their heart’s beats per minute any time. The touch of a button will start the BPM monitor, which sources say starts reading the heart rate almost instantly and is “seemingly accurate.” Apple has only publicly mentioned the watch’s heart rate sensor being used with communication features and the fitness app. Additionaly, default glances installed on the Apple Watch will include: Fitness Stats, Activity, Clock, Weather, Music, Quick Settings, Calendar and Maps. The watch will also include Notification Center, accessed by swiping down from the top of the display while on any screen.

Japan Display vying to be Apple’s primary display supplier (Update: new plant confirmed)

Japan Display is in talks with Apple about the possibility of manufacturing smartphone screens, Reuters reports. Citing a “person familiar with the situation,” the report reveals that Japan Display and Apple are presently negotiating, with Japan Display looking for Apple to carry the majority of the 200 billion yen ($1.7 billion) investment in building a new display manufacturing plant. The discussions are confidential, but a successful deal between the two companies would attempt to have the new plant in operation next year, and would make Japan Display the primary supplier of displays for next-generation iPhones. The report notes the new plant would be expected to have a larger capacity than Japan Display’s existing facilities in Mobara — a plant that is running close to its capacity, according to Japan Display CEO Shuichi Otsuka. Japan Display currently produces approximately 50,000 meter sheets of LCD screen per month, with some of the sheets being used for the iPhone 6.

Update: Japan Display has confirmed that it will build a new $1.4 billion LCD manufacturing plant starting in 2016, and a source within Apple has confirmed the plant will supply display screens for the company. Apple will also be “investing an unspecified amount” in the plant, furthering the possibility that Japan Display will become the primary supplier for iPhone screens.

Apple comes to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, will replace AT&T

Apple will be gaining a place in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, CNBC reports. Expected to take place after the market closes on March 18, Apple will replace AT&T in the DJIA with the opening of trading on March 19. “The DJIA is price weighted so extremely high stock prices tend to distort the index while very low stock prices have little impact,” noted David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. He went on to outline how a recent Visa 4-for-1 stock split reduced the “technology weight” in the index, effectively making room for Apple after its 7-for-1 stock split last June brought its stock price down closer to the DJIA median price. With a $736 billion market capitalization, Apple is currently the largest publicly traded company in the world.

Apple extends iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program

Apple’s iPhone 5 Battery Replacement Program has been extended, as noted by iPhone in Canada. The program, which launched last August, replaces iPhone 5 batteries in select units free of charge — a serial number checker on the site confirms device eligibility. Initially, the program was set to run until March 1, 2015, but the program now claims to cover “affected iPhone 5 batteries for 3 years after the first retail sale of the unit.” The affected devices were sold between September 2012 and January 2013, which means the program will extend until January 2016 at the latest.

Revamped Apple music service not coming until WWDC; new Apple TV later this year?

Following on earlier rumors that Apple’s new streaming music service may have been ready for a March launch, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that the new service likely won’t be unveiled until at least June, when the company holds its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Citing music industry sources that have been briefed on Apple’s timeline for the new service, the report confirms that the new iTunes music streaming service is being developed, but notes that the company plans to introduce the new service as a beta at WWDC in early June.

The same report also notes that Apple is still working on a new Apple TV as well, which is expected to be a slimmer set-top box with an improved remote control and a redesigned operating system. It’s also expected that Apple will introduce an App Store with the redesigned OS — a feature which has been long-awaited by many Apple TV users. Apple had apparently hoped to debut the new Apple TV as early as this month, however, the company is still experiencing issues negotiating with content providers.

Larger iPad production delayed until later this year, USB 3.0 ports to be added?

Apple’s release plans for a 12.9-inch iPad have been pushed back to later this year, according to multiple reports. Production of the device will start “around September” due to display panel delays, Bloomberg reports. Initially, Apple was set to start manufacturing the larger device this quarter.

A report from The Wall Street Journal also notes production will start in this year’s second half. However, this report makes no mention of display panel issues, instead noting that Apple is considering “new designs and features for the enterprise market.” Apple could reportedly add USB 3.0 ports, keyboard and mouse ports to the larger iPad.

Apple, others likely to reach $415M settlement in poaching lawsuit (Update: settlement approved)

A U.S. judge appears ready to accept a $415 million offer to settle a lawsuit accusing Apple and three other Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to keep employee wages low, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh rejected an earlier $324 million offer as too low after one of the plaintiffs objected. Apple, Intel, Google and Adobe are accused of agreeing not to recruit employees from the other companies, limiting job mobility to keep salaries lower. The lawsuit, filed in 2011, was largely based on emails from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and leaders at the other rival companies.

Update: Judge Koh has tentatively approved the settlement, the Associated Press reports, stating that she was satisfied after the companies increased their earlier offer. The tentative approval is to allow for comments prior to granting a final approval at a hearing scheduled on June 9.

Apple and HBO in talks for ‘HBO Now’ service launch

Apple is in talks with HBO about launching its new “HBO Now” streaming video service on the Apple TV, International Business Times reports. HBO is apparently working with partner Major League Baseball Advanced Media to launch the standalone web service in April, tied in with the premiere of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones.” Unlike HBO’s prior streaming offerings, HBO Now will be available for purchase directly from the company, rather than requiring the user to have an account with a cable or satellite provider. It’s expected that it will launch at a retail price of $15/month, which is in line with the current HBO pricing through traditional providers. While HBO and Apple are in talks about having HBO Now available on the Apple TV, it’s not expected that this will be an exclusive deal, and the service is likely to also be available on other devices such as Roku, Xbox, PlayStation and other platforms.

Report: Next-gen ‘iPhone 6s’ to feature 2GB RAM, Apple SIM

Apple plans to increase the RAM in the next-generation iPhone — likely to be dubbed the ‘6s’ — to 2GB, according to AppleInsider. This would provide more working memory to allow for apps to stay open and preserve data in the background, although at a potential battery cost. While Apple has defied expectations thus far in maintaining the iPhone RAM at 1GB in recent years, the iPad Air 2 received a RAM bump to 2GB last year, suggesting a high probability that Apple will do the same for the next-generation iPhone. The report suggests that this would apply to both the base iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

The same report also suggests that Apple is “strongly considering” including the “Apple SIM” in the new iPhone models as well, which would allow users to sign up for service directly with their carrier of choice right from within an iOS app or setup screen. While the iPad Air 2 included the Apple SIM last fall, the idea was met with resistance from carriers, with some such as Verizon choosing to opt out of the program entirely. The more complex iPhone plans that most carriers offer — in comparison to the more basic data-only iPad plans — would make this even more of a challenge for Apple to work out with carriers.

Apple looking to settle with electric car battery company

Apple is in talks to settle the lawsuit recently brought against the company by electric car battery manufacturer A123 Systems, Reuters reports. The breach of contract lawsuit against Apple and five former A123 employees claims that Apple began poaching engineers from the company last June. A123 specializes in creating large lithium-ion batteries for use in cars and other machines — it’s believed that Apple is working on its own electric car. In a court filing Tuesday, Apple requested an extension in responding to the lawsuit to explore a “potential resolution.”

Apple pushing out fix next week for ‘FREAK’ security flaw

Apple will be releasing a fix next week to remedy the newly discovered “FREAK” security flaw affecting the company’s iOS devices and Macs, according to Re/code. Researchers who uncovered the vulnerability in encryption technology said it could be used to spy on users of Apple’s Safari browser. A U.S. government regulation banning American companies from using the strongest encryption standards for users from overseas — ostensibly so the government could more easily monitor that communication, according to some experts — left websites vulnerable to hackers who realized they could exploit the weaker export encryption standard to break into sites in a matter of hours. The hackers could then steal data or take over elements of the affected websites. The bug left Apple and Android users vulnerable to attack while using hundreds of thousands of websites, including Whitehouse.gov, FBI.gov and NSA.gov.

Report: Apple Watch retail strategy aims to push iPhone sales

The approach expected to be used by Apple Retail to sell and promote the Apple Watch has been unveiled in a new report by 9to5Mac. The strategy will focus on “three key features” as well as a plan to encourage Apple Watch customers to adopt the latest iPhone models. Citing sources within Apple Retail, the new selling guidelines indicate that Apple believes “many customers have already decided they want an Apple Watch.” The company expects to leverage the Apple Watch to “position the benefits” of users either upgrading to the latest iPhone model or switching to the iPhone from other platforms. Retail employees have been specifically instructed to “highlight the ways Apple Watch will add value” to a customer’s life, before asking a variety of iPhone-related questions. It’s interesting that Apple appears convinced of customers’ desire to buy an Apple Watch — as the report notes, employees aren’t instructed to make a “hard sales pitch” regarding the device.

Apple back on top in phone sales for first time since 2011

Apple took back the throne as the world’s top-selling phone manufacturer in the final quarter of 2014, according to Gartner, Inc. Sales of the iPhone made up more than 20 percent of the total phone market, narrowly edging out Samsung for the first time since 2011. Apple reported its best quarter ever at the end of 2014, selling 74.8 million units. The increase is attributed to Apple’s strong ecosystem of products and the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which were a concession to users in the U.S. and China looking for bigger screens than previous iPhone models ever provided.

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