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New Apple connectors unavailable, third-party add-ons may miss holidays

After nine years of steady third-party accessory growth for its devices, Apple faces a potentially serious ecosystem disruption this year, multiple reliable sources have confirmed to iLounge. With only two weeks remaining before the expected debut of the next-generation iPhone, Apple has not offered third-party developers the components or engineering details necessary to build docking accessories for the new device—the first iOS product expected to ship without Apple’s now-ubiquitous 30-pin Dock Connector, which will soon be replaced across all future Apple pocket and tablet devices. Noting the time required to manufacture and ship new products, the sources suggest that new iPhone-specific electronic add-ons will likely miss the upcoming holiday season, apart from whatever accessories are released by Apple itself.

Rumors of a smaller Dock Connector replacement have circulated for years, and the new component has recently been spotted in leaked cables, next-generation iPhones, and even parts apparently intended for other iOS devices. References to the new connector have also been found in beta versions of iOS 6. Despite these disclosures, however, Apple has not made the connectors available for developers to test or purchase, or discussed its new authentication chips, both of which might stop existing accessories from working, or limit their functionality with new Apple devices.

While the broadly available Micro-USB standard was suggested as a possible replacement for the 30-pin Dock Connector, sources suggest that Apple’s switch to a proprietary new connector will enable it to control the entire supply of available parts, as well as developers, since third-party versions of the new connector will likely be either unavailable or unreliable for months. One source expects that Apple will introduce a more stringent version of its Made For iPod/iPhone/iPad (“MFi”) licensing program alongside the new connector, complete with more elaborate testing requirements and perhaps higher fees. It remains possible, however, that Apple may merely attempt to dominate the 2012 holiday market by selling its own accessories—perhaps including adapters for older accessories—then supply new connectors and chips to developers in 2013.

Apple’s MFi program was grudgingly accepted by most developers years ago as a necessary cost of doing business with the Cupertino company, adding additional costs to iPod accessories once Apple began to sell electronic components and require per-unit licensing fees, collectively described by some as an “iPod tax.” The subsequent “Works With iPhone” program generated industry-wide grumbles based on new Apple approval and testing procedures, which were blamed for delaying the release of early iPhone electronic accessories for roughly a year, as well as restricting the variety of accessories that could be developed without Apple’s consent. Apple has since been criticized for problems with its AirPlay licensing program, which offers developers a wireless, dock-less alternative for streaming music to Wi-Fi-equipped accessories. AirPlay add-ons have been plagued by audio drop-outs and other issues, leading to complaints and mass returns by disappointed consumers, the costs of which have largely been absorbed by developers.

Report: Sharp falls behind on new iPhone displays

One of Apple’s component suppliers, Sharp, may be falling behind in its production of screens for the new iPhone, according to a new report from Reuters. According to an anonymous source familiar with Sharp’s production operations, the company may be struggling with high production costs, and has questioned whether Apple might provide a financial incentive to accelerate production. For its part, Sharp was expected to begin mass production of LCD screens from its Kameyama plant in Japan, and although it is considered common knowledge that the company produces screens for Apple, it has never officially acknowledged that Apple is among its customers.

Apple’s next-generation iPhone is expected to be announced at an event in mid-September, and released shortly thereafter. Since Apple routinely uses multiple screen suppliers, it is unclear whether a delay at one supplier will have any impact on Apple’s release schedule. Moreover, Apple also schedules subsequent international product release dates over the course of several weeks, allowing the company to limit broader worldwide availability without affecting its initial domestic launch.

Samsung ready to sue Apple over LTE technology

According to The Korea Times, Samsung plans to immediately sue Apple if it releases products using LTE mobile technology, which is widely expected to be incorporated within the next-generation iPhone. The threat initially appears to be serious, as data from Thomson-Reuters shows that Samsung holds 12.2 percent of current LTE patents. However, Apple already sells the third-generation iPad in an LTE-capable version, and is believed to have purchased cellular chips with valid licenses to the underlying LTE technologies.

The Apple-Samsung conflict shows no signs of ending, even after last week’s court decision in Apple’s favor. As reported by The Korea Times, Samsung’s lawyers are preparing to counter every issue in which the jurors found in favor of Apple, and planning to wage a patent war against Apple across 10 different countries. In addition, Samsung is discussing modified Galaxy designs with major cellular providers, and the company is partnering with Microsoft to alleviate its dependency on Google’s Android, as well as placing the legal dispute entirely in the hands of Samsung Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung.

Report: Apple, Google CEOs discussing IP issues

According to Reuters, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Larry Page have been talking behind the scenes about a number of intellectual property matters, including continuing mobile patent disputes between Apple and Google, as a prelude or alternative to a lawsuit between the companies. The two CEOs are expected to chat again in the coming weeks, after a reported delay of a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. One source envisions a possible truce between Apple and Google regarding basic Android features, but the scope of the discussions are unknown.

A jury ruled in favor of Apple last Friday in its patent and trade dress trial against Samsung, awarding $1.05 billion to Apple, which then requested a sales ban on eight Samsung phones. Samsung uses Google’s Android software, which is at the core of numerous iPhone competitors, including devices sold under Google’s own name. Apple and Google reportedly declined comment.

Report: Apple cuts retail store budgets, refocuses on profits

Retail policy changes and cutbacks at Apple Stores are quietly continuing, according to a new report from ifoAppleStore, placing more emphasis on revenues and profit over customer satisfaction. The report claims that Apple has cut back in several budgetary categories, while decreasing hours for many employees, and instituted sales-focused performance metrics that threaten to further undermine morale within the retail division.

Last month, Apple Senior VP of Retail John Browett reportedly instituted a number of new staffing policies, including reducing hours, laying off new, probationary employees, and limiting overtime, leading to outcry from retail employees. According to a subsequent follow-up in The Wall Street Journal, Browett later reversed these changes and denied that any employees had been laid off, however, ifoAppleStore’s sources disagreed with at least some of these claims, indicating that layoffs had in fact occurred, and that affected employees were later rehired.

This more recent spate of changes within Apple Retail involve a reduction in workshops at many stores, continuing limits on available overtime hours, and assigning of only minimal hours to part-time employees. Further, new employee performance measurements emphasize contract sales of iPhones, as well as the number of accessories such as cases that are sold alongside major products. Additionally, the report indicates that employees are being told to promote use of the EasyPay app, despite the fact that EasyPay sales are not credited to any specific employee, thereby having no positive impact on individual performance reports. Sources also indicate that no explanation or apology has ever been received from Browett or store management about the original staffing cuts, despite public claims to the contrary. Instead, employees have been told not to discuss the situation with anybody, leading to an overall decrease in employee morale.

iTunes Festival now available on Apple TV

Apple has quietly added a new content section to the Apple TV for the upcoming 2012 iTunes Festival in London. The Festival will feature 30 nights of free, live music from more than 60 artists performing at the Roundhouse in London. Apple has already released a universal iOS app for the iTunes Festival providing users with both live streaming of shows and later on-demand viewing, and users will also be able to stream content to iTunes or to the Apple TV via AirPlay from an iOS device or directly within the new iTunes Festival section. Previous shows are expected to be available for only a limited time, and it is unclear for how long the iTunes Festival content will remain available on the Apple TV following the conclusion of the event on September 30th.

Apple engineeering SVP Mansfield unretires, Riccio promoted

Following up on a late June announcement that Apple senior vice president of hardware engineering Bob Mansfield would retire, transitioning his responsibilities to vice president Dan Riccio, Apple unexpectedly announced today that Mansfield will remain at Apple, though Riccio will assume most of his leadership responsibilities for Apple’s hardware engineering teams. As a new senior vice president of Hardware Engineering, Riccio will lead the Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod engineering teams, reporting directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook and serving as a member of Apple’s executive management team. According to Apple, Mansfield will be working “on future products,” also reporting to Cook, though his biography on Apple’s web site indicates that he is keeping his prior title, and is listed as overseeing the Mac hardware team. Apple also announced that Craig Federighi, vice president of Mac Software Engineering, is being promoted to a senior VP role with the company.

Update August 31, 2012: Apple has updated its web site to reflect that Mansfield remains a Senior Vice President, working on future products, and no longer leads Apple’s hardware engineering teams.

Apple requests sales ban of eight Samsung phones

In the wake of Friday’s decision in Apple’s favor in the Apple vs. Samsung patent trial, CNET reports that Apple has now specified eight Samsung devices that it wants banned from sale “to address a portion of the immediate, ongoing irreparable harm that Apple is suffering” and including details on which design, utility and trade dress patents each device has been found to infringe. The list of devices includes the Galaxy S 4G, Galaxy S2 AT&T, Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, Galaxy S2 T-Mobile, Galaxy S2 Epic 4G, Galaxy S Showcase, Droid Charge and Galaxy Prevail; of these, the Galaxy S 4G is the most infringing, found to have infringed on a total of seven Apple patents.

NFC chip found in next-gen iPhone? (Update: No)

More alleged next-generation iPhone photos appearing on over the weekend have revealed the presence of a previously unseen square chip near the top of the new iPhone design, believed to be the first confirmation of previously rumored near-field communication (NFC) hardware in Apple’s next-generation iPhone. While the actual functions of the chip are not clear from the photos, software support for NFC was discovered in June by 9to5Mac in code dumps taken from iPhone prototype hardware, and the location of the new chip corresponds to diagrams in Apple’s iWallet patent from May of 2010. NFC capabilities would enable the new iPhone to serve as a virtual wallet, communicating with wireless payment terminals at stores to transfer stored value, rather than requiring users to carry separate credit cards. The feature would likely tie into Passbook, a new addition to iOS 6 that holds tickets and other virtual proof of payment documents for iPhone users.
[via 9to5Mac]

Updated August 28, 2012: Following an Anandtech analysis concluding that NFC would not be in the new iPhone, Apple-sourced blogger Jim Dalrymple appeared to confirm the analysis as correct. [via MacRumors]

Apple vs. Samsung: jury finds Samsung violated Apple patents, trade dress, owes over $1 Billion

Following several days of deliberations in the Apple vs. Samsung trial, the jury reached verdicts on a number of design and utility patent infringement allegations brought against Samsung by Apple, finding numerous violations by Samsung. The jury also found that Apple possessed certain trade dress rights in the iPhone—namely, that certain elements of iPhone designs were famous and protectable—and were diluted by some of Samsung’s products. Other asserted iPhone and iPad trade dress rights were not found to be famous or protectable.

The jury was specifically asked to determine whether Samsung had infringed a number of different Apple patents across a wide collection of different Samsung devices, and given a questionnaire to answer “yes” or “no” for each Apple patent on each Samsung device. While not every Samsung device was found to have infringed all of Apple’s patents, multiple Samsung devices were found to be infringing on one or more patents. Moreover, a number of Samsung’s infringements were determined to be willful—not accidental—subjecting the company to higher penalties. The jury also said that Samsung had failed to demonstrate that Apple’s patents were invalid, a possible defense, and found that Apple had not violated a number of Samsung patents, contrary to claims by Samsung.

Reports varied on whether Apple had also prevailed on an antitrust claim against Samsung. According to an initial report by CNET, the jury found that Samsung had unlawfully monopolized markets related to the UMTS standard, while finding that Apple had not violated antitrust laws on UMTS.

Although an early report suggested that Samsung would be liable for roughly $2.5-billion in damages for infringements in various products, the judge clarified that total damages assessed against Samsung were in the $1.05-billion range, and due to the large number of infringing Samsung products, the numbers apparently had to be re-checked after the verdict was read. As Apple was not found responsible for any violations of Samsung patents, no damages were assessed against the Cupertino company. [via CNET]

In addition to seeking damages for these violations, Apple has attempted to block sales of allegedly infringing Samsung devices, a decision that is being left to the judge in this case. Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously noted that the company had sought patent protection for all of the inventions embodied in the iPhone, and patents have subsequently been granted on numerous aspects of the iPhone, as well as later devices such as the iPod touch and iPad. Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has signaled that the company will in some cases license patents, while in other cases reserving the inventions to Apple for its own products, and suing companies that infringe.

Following the verdict, Apple’s and Samsung’s public relations teams each issued statements, with Apple praising the jury for listening to a story it was “thrilled” to “finally” tell regarding Samsung’s copying of Apple’s products, and Samsung suggesting that the “verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer,” as Apple had patented obvious concepts that “will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices.”

Apple, Samsung found guilty of infringement in Korea

A South Korean court has ruled that Apple and Samsung both infringed on each other’s patents, the New York Times reports. As a result of the rulings, the Seoul Central District Court ordered Apple to stop selling the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, original iPad, and iPad 2 in South Korea, claiming that they infringed two of Samsung’s patents. Likewise, the court banned sales of the Galaxy S2 and other products for infringing upon one of Apple’s patents. Notably, the two companies’ most recent products, including the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S3 smartphones, were unaffected by the ruling. In addition to the sales bans, Samsung must pay Apple about $22,000, while Apple must pay Samsung roughly $35,000.

Apple debuts new locking Dock Connectors at retail stores

Apple has started to roll out new Dock Connectors for its iPhone, iPad, and iPod displays that double as security locks, according to a new report. Citing a reader report that was subsequently confirmed by a number of Apple Store locations, AppleInsider reports that the cable may be in short supply, as not every device has one—they are primarily being used for third-generation iPads and products near the stores’ entrances—and not all stores have started to use them. The cable itself is very similar in appearance to a standard Dock Connector cable, only with a lock icon on the top, and new internals that prevent the unit from disengaging.

Apple seeking more iPad display space ahead of ‘mini’ debut?

Apple is seeking additional table space for iPad displays in the shops of Apple Premium Resellers in Europe, according to a new report. Citing multiple resellers, MacRumors reports that Apple has requested that the shops set aside additional table space for iPad displays over the next few weeks. One source reportedly cited September 12—the same day Apple is expected to hold its next media event—as the Apple-imposed deadline for the changes to be made, while another source said their store is already in the process of tripling the amount of display space dedicated to the iPad. The extra space is coming primarily at the expense of Mac Pro and Mac mini computers, which are reportedly being removed from display entirely, while iPod and headphone displays are also being trimmed back. While the exact reason for the change isn’t clear, the September 12 date suggests that the move has something to do with Apple’s media event, at which it is expected to introduce the next-generation iPhone and could also unveil the long-rumored “iPad mini”.

Fair Labor Association finds progress at Foxconn

The Fair Labor Association has published a status report on implementation of its recommendations following its assessment of three Foxconn facilities in February and March. According to the group, the review covered items slated for April and May, finding that Foxconn has completed all of the 195 actions that were due. In addition, 89 items were completed ahead of their deadlines, with 76 items due over the course of the next year. The report also found that Foxconn has already reduced working hours to under 60 per week—including overtime—with the goal of reaching full compliance with the Chinese legal limit of 40 hours per week plus an average of 9 hours of overtime per week.

“Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made. We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program,” said Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the Fair Labor Association. “The next phase of improvements will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve major changes in the working environment that will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers. As Foxconn prepares to comply with the Chinese legal limits on work hours, consultation with workers on the changes and implications will be critical to a successful transition.”

“The verification confirmed that Apple and Foxconn are ahead of schedule in improving the conditions under which some of the world’s most popular electronics are being made,” added van Heerden. “Apple and Foxconn’s progress since the March assessment, combined with the additional actions planned through July 2013, would create the roadmap for all Chinese suppliers in the tech industry.” Apple was the first electronics company to join the FLA, a “coalition of universities, non-governmental organizations and businesses committed to improving the well-being, safety, fair treatment, and respect of workers”, in January of 2012.

Petition urges FCC to challenge AT&T’s stance on FaceTime over Cellular

Free Press has started a new petition aimed at getting the FCC to force AT&T to change its policies regarding FaceTime over Cellular. The feature, which is part of iOS 6, allows users to participate in FaceTime video calls over cellular networks; AT&T has said that the feature will only be available to customers on the company’s new Mobile Share plans. “Dear FCC Commissioners,” the petition reads, “AT&T just announced it’s blocking the FaceTime video calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribe to a more expensive text-and-voice plan.”

It continues, “[t]his is a clear violation of Net Neutrality and of your own Open Internet rules. AT&T knows that if it can get the FCC to condone this kind of Net Neutrality violation, then they can get away with just about anything. I urge you to put a stop to AT&T’s anti-consumer and anti-Net Neutrality actions.”

Apple to open retail stores in Russia

Apple is planning to begin direct sales of its products in Russia, according to a new report. Citing Russian-language Kommersant, the Moscow News reports that Apple has registered a new company name, Apple Rus, and has assigned local legal advisor Vitaly Morozko to act as its director general. According to an unnamed manager of an Apple distributor, direct sales in the country could start as early as next year, although there seems to be no timetable for opening a retail store. The report notes that Apple managers travelled to Moscow in search of a potential retail store location in 2011, but came away empty.

Motorola Mobility files new patent case against Apple

Google’s Motorola Mobility unit has filed a new patent-infringement complaint against Apple. Bloomberg reports that the suit claims that certain features on some Apple devices, including the virtual assistant Siri, infringe its patents. The complaint, filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), alleges that Apple’s products infringe on seven Motorola Mobility patents, including location reminders, email notification, and phone/video players. “We would like to settle these patent matters, but Apple’s unwillingness to work out a license leaves us little choice but to defend ourselves and our engineers’ innovations,” Motorola Mobility said in a statement. The complaint seeks a ban on U.S. imports of the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers.

Apple files plans for Oregon data center

Apple has filed its master plan for its data center facility in Prineville, Oregon. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the plan shows two buildings with more than 500,000 sq. ft. of “data halls”; the overall facility is expected to cover about 107 acres. No time table is given in the plans for construction. “They really didn’t say how long they are looking at,” Prineville senior planner Joshua Smith said. Apple is already building a 10,000 sq. ft. data center on the Princeville property it purchased in February.

Apple in talks with cable operators over live TV

Apple is in talks with some of the U.S.’ largest cable operators about letting an Apple device serve as a set-top box for live television and other content, according to a new report. Citing people familiar with the matter, the Wall Street Journal reports that no deal has yet been reached with any of the operators, possibly due to their reluctance to let Apple establish a larger presence in the TV business. Although the report does not state whether the device in question is an iteration of the current Apple TV or a more sophisticated device, it does cite two people briefed on the matter who claimed that the technology could be embedded in a television.

Apple granted Radial Menus Patent

Apple has been granted a major patent relating to a new radial menu design for computer applications, according to a report from Patently Apple. In the newly granted patent 8,245,156, Radial menu selection, Apple describes a design for radial menus that can be used for both desktop and portable devices, working with a mouse or touch interactions using a finger, stylus or iPen, presenting menus and submenus at optimal locations. Such a new radial menu system would be an alternative method of presenting menu options from the traditional linear pull-down menus that have been used in most computer applications and operating systems to date.

Radial menus would appear as a collection of menu options presented as a set of wedges surrounding a central cursor position on a display, with submenus cascading from the first circle of wedges as necessary. Apple’s patent describes several unique aspects of radial menu implementations using sweep-based gestures, including Sweep Commands, Selecting and Activating Menu Items with Sweep Commands, Predicting Stopping Location of Sweep Commands, Serial Sweep Commands, Moving Menus and Spring-Load Commands. The patent was originally filed in 2008 and lists Charles Migos and Jean-Pierre Mouilleseaux as the inventors.

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