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Report: ‘Deep Organizational Issues’ at Apple affecting iCloud progress

  • November 24, 2014
  • Apple,

A new report from The Information (subscription required) as summarized by MacRumors provides some insight on internal issues that Apple has apparently been experiencing in developing new cloud-based features and services. The report specifically alleges that “deep organizational issues” are holding up development on new features for iCloud such as iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library. New iCloud features introduced with iOS 8 got off to a somewhat rocky start, with the promised iCloud Photo Library feature basically removed from the iOS 8 release, later to return as a “public beta” in iOS 8.1, whilst a companion desktop app is not expected to be introduced until sometime next year. The report cites interviews “with nearly a dozen current and former Apple employees” that “paint a different picture” from the progress that Apple executives repeatedly claim the company is making in this area. This latest report of problems in the iCloud team resembles recent reports of Apple’s struggles in other areas, including CarPlay delays and problems with iOS 8.0.1 and Apple Maps.

Apple announces Product(RED) Gift Cards for Black Friday

In addition to the new Product(RED) app collection announced earlier today, Apple has released information on the Product(RED) iTunes Gift Cards that it will be giving out with qualifying purchases on Black Friday, with a percentage of each Gift Card donated to the (RED) Global Fund. Qualifying products include the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, all iPad Air and iPad mini models, iPod touch, iPod nano, Apple TV, all current iMac and MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models, and Beats Headphones and Speakers. iPhone and iPad buyers will receive a $50 gift card, Mac buyers a $100 card, and iPod, Apple TV, and Beats buyers will receive a $25 card. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus purchases are limited to two gift cards per household, as are iPad Air and iPad mini purchases. [via MacRumors]

Apple unveils Product(RED) apps for World AIDS Day 2014

To mark World AIDS Day 2014, Apple has announced that a collection of Product(RED) apps will be appearing in the App Store over the next two weeks to generate donations for the (RED) Global Fund to fight AIDS. Updates to popular apps such as GarageBand, Monument Valley, Star Walk, and Threes began appearing on the App Store yesterday, and Apple has now created a special “Apps for (RED)” section of the App Store offering 25 apps containing special new in-app content, in which all proceeds from the purchase will go directly to the (RED) Global Fund. In addition, Apple will be donating a portion of all of its sales at its retail and online stores on Black Friday (Friday, November 28th), and Cyber Monday (Monday, December 1st).

Examples of new Product(RED) content include an exclusive “(GarageBand)RED” loop pack in Apple’s iOS GarageBand app, an Ida’s (RED) Dream chapter in Monument Valley, a free Product(RED) theme in Threes, and an in-app purchase of detailed information on the RED Planet: Mars in Star Walk 2. Many of the special (RED) edition features are only available until the end of the promotion.

Square plans to accept Apple Pay in 2015

  • November 21, 2014
  • Apple,

Mobile payments company Square is working toward accepting Apple Pay for transactions through its system by some time next year, according to a new report from CNN Money. Although Square offers its own payment sending service in the form of Square Cash, the company is primarily focused on providing a mobile merchant solution, and the ability to accept Apple Pay would be a logical fit. Square’s current hardware is only designed to support swiping of traditional credit cards, and Apple at this time does not allow third-party developers to access the NFC hardware in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Square would presumably develop an NFC add-on module similar in concept to their current Square Reader that could accept Apple Pay transactions in the same manner as traditional payment terminals.

Google settles patent litigation with Apple’s Rockstar consortium

Google has come to an agreement with patent consortium Rockstar to settle all pending litigation, Reuters reports. Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, a Texas federal court filing made public on Monday indicated that the two companies have agreed to settle “all matters in controversy between the parties.” The Rockstar group, consisting of Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry (formerly RIM), among others, successfully outbid Google in 2011, paying $4.5 billion for over 6,000 patents from former telecom giant Nortel, covering a wide range of Internet and wireless communications technologies. Google subsequently penned an open letter accusing the group of waging “a hostile, organized campaign against Android” using “bogus” patents.

Last October, Rockstar filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company was infringing seven Nortel patents related to search engine technology. At that time, Rockstar also filed infringement lawsuits against several other Android handset manufacturers concerning other patents. However, Google intervened on behalf of the handset makers, successfully halting the Texas proceedings while it petitioned a California judge to rule that devices using the Android operating system did not infringe the cited patents. This week’s filing does not indicate whether Rockstar has also settled with the Android handset makers, or whether Google has taken any further action in that regard.

Report: GT Advanced struggled with sapphire production

  • November 20, 2014
  • Apple,

A new report from the Wall Street Journal reveals some interesting background on the breakdown between Apple and GT Advanced Technologies, pointing to the problems and challenges the erstwhile sapphire supplier faced in trying to meet the terms of its agreement with Apple. Apple originally began using sapphire last year for the iPhone camera lens and Touch ID sensor, and after having success with the material, began looking for a larger supplier that could provide enough sapphire to cover the full iPhone screen. Apple originally discussed buying 2,600 sapphire furnaces from GT, which was developing a new furnace design that could yield larger boules and therefore greater quantities of sapphire. However, Apple later reportedly decided that it did not want to pay the 40 percent margin for the furnaces, and began shopping around for a company that could supply sapphire at the prices Apple was willing to pay for the material.

After failing to find a viable supplier, Apple chose to set up GT Advanced Technologies to produce the sapphire itself, agreeing to lend them $578 million to build 2,036 furnaces in a new facility that Apple would build in Mesa, Arizona and lease to GT for $100/year. However, the new report reveals that the deal turned out to be troubled from the very beginning, as GT had no experience mass-producing actual sapphire, and the first 578-pound cylinder it produced was “flawed and unusable.” GT also reportedly mismanaged the project, hiring hundreds of workers without placing them in clearly defined roles or telling them who they reported to, and failing to have policies in place for attendance, leading to an “unusual number of sick days.” Managers at GT also authorized “unlimited overtime” to fill furnaces with material to grow sapphire – a growing process that takes about 30 days to complete – however the company had not yet manufactured enough furnaces to fill, resulting in many workers effectively being paid overtime to do nothing more than sweep floors once the initial furnaces had been prepped and filled. Many boules that were produced reportedly continued to be unusable, and an area of the Mesa factory eventually became known by employees as the “boule graveyard.”

In their court filings, both companies blamed each other for GT’s ultimate failure. Apple told creditors that GT failed due to “mismanagement” and that it “never wavered from our commitment to make the project successful.” GT claimed it lost three months of production due to Apple’s failure to build the facility to GT’s specifications and provide adequate power, and to meet Apple’s own changing specifications for the sapphire, alleging that it cost the company more than twice the financing that Apple had provided in order to get the factory up and running. Further, GT stated that Apple had turned the company “into a captive supplier, bearing all of the risk and all of the cost,” making it impossible to turn a profit due to Apple’s “dictated pricing.” While Apple and GT reportedly tried to renegotiate terms in late September — which included an offer by Apple to renegotiate loan repayment schedules, raise the price it would pay for sapphire and relax its exclusivity requirements — GT Advanced Technologies filed for bankruptcy less than a week following Apple’s offer.

Report: Apple plans to integrate Beats Music directly into iOS

Apple will integrate its Beats music subscription service directly into a future iOS update, according to a new report from Financial Times. Citing sources familiar with the situation, the report notes that the inclusion of the paid Beats service in an iOS software update could happen “as early as March” of next year. Although Apple has in the past debuted new services such as iBooks and Podcasts as standalone apps with their own update cycle, only later choosing to bake them into the core OS, music services such as iTunes Radio have traditionally been incorporated directly into the iOS “Music” app, suggesting that a redesigned music subscription service would be implemented in a similar manner, rather than as the separate app that currently exists for Beats Music.

After acquiring Beats earlier this year, Apple began working toward integrating the company’s Beats Music subscription service with its own music services, appointing Beats Music chief Ian Rogers to head up iTunes Radio, working to negotiate better subscription music rates with the labels, and reportedly planning to reposition Beats Music into a future service under the iTunes brand. Apple also notably included a Beats Music channel in an Apple TV update earlier this fall.

Apple plans to ‘repurpose’ Arizona manufacturing plant, save jobs

  • November 19, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple plans to continue supporting manufacturing operations in Arizona despite the failure of its sapphire supplier, GT Advanced Technologies, earlier this year. According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple has been speaking with officials in Mesa, Arizona and reiterating its commitment to bring jobs and manufacturing to the area. Mesa City Manager Christopher Brady noted in a recent interview that Apple wants to repurpose the building used by GT, saying it’s focused “on preserving jobs in Arizona.”

The Mesa-based GT sapphire plant was considered a milestone in Apple’s efforts to bring manufacturing back to home soil and help rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base, and it was a boon to the economy of the Arizona city, which was hit hard by the 2007 housing bust. The closing of the plant this fall resulted in the loss of more than 700 jobs in the area — however the 1.3 million square-foot factory and its related infrastructure remains, including a new power substation that uses 100 percent renewable energy and the area’s designation as a foreign trade zone with reduced property taxes. Apple has not divulged any specific plans for the facility, and spokespeople for Apple and GT Advanced Technologies declined to comment.

Apple announces WatchKit software tools available to developers now

Apple has announced the official availability of its WatchKit SDK for iOS developers. WatchKit provides developers with the tools to design apps for the new Apple Watch, and is being released today so that developers can begin preparing for the new wearable device when it ships next year. The new software development tools will allow third-party developers to build apps for the watch which will let users respond or take action from the watch, or get quick looks at other information — which Apple calls Glances. WatchKit is bundled with the iOS 8.2 beta SDK, available for registered iOS developers to download now as part of the Xcode 6.2 beta. The release is also accompanied by a developer beta of iOS 8.2.

Apple ordered to pay $23.6M in pager technology settlement

  • November 18, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple has been ordered to pay $23.6 million to a Texas company after a jury found that the iPhone and other devices infringed on a patent for SkyTel pager technology, Bloomberg reports. The patents in question were issued in the 1990s for the SkyTel two-way paging network, and are owned by Mobile Telecommunications Technologies (MTel). In responding to a claim by MTel that Apple’s Airport, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices were infringing upon the SkyTel technology, a federal jury in Texas ruled that the patents were valid and infringed by Apple, awarding MTel about a tenth of what it had been seeking in damages.

For its part, Apple denied infringing the patents in question, arguing that MTel was trying to take credit for emojis and calendar invitations and that the patents should be deemed invalid as they didn’t cover new innovations even when they were first issued. MTel claimed that Apple’s devices “rely on foundational technology for the transmission and storing of messages” and that the company should therefore be required to pay royalties — the company was seeking damages of approximately $1 per infringing device. Notably, Samsung is also accused of infringing the same patents, although that case remains pending.

Apple opens up Lightning port to third-party manufacturers, begins accepting HomeKit plans

Apple will soon allow third-party manufacturers to use its Lightning port, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Although Apple has long allowed accessory makers to produce accessories that connect to the Lightning and Dock Connector ports on iOS devices, it has not traditionally permitted third-party manufacturers to include the female versions of these ports in their accessories. For example, battery cases can include a Lightning connector for an encased iPhone, but must charge using some other form of connection, usually Micro-USB.

During Apple’s annual briefing for companies in its Made-for-iPhone/iPad (MFI) program, Apple revealed new Lightning connectors as well as specifications for female Lightning ports that manufacturers will be able to use in their own accessories. This will allow third-party accessory makers to reduce costs and create an easier product experience for users by providing a consistent charging connector between an accessory and an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. In addition, the new Lightning connector provides a lower profile design that should allow for easier compatibility with accessories such as docks and cases. Apple plans to make the new Lightning port and connector designs available to third-party manufacturers starting in early 2015.

Also during the summit in Shenzhen, Apple officially began accepting plans for HomeKit products for approval, according to another 9to5Mac report. As Apple’s MFI approval process is one of the final steps before third-party manufacturers are allowed to announce new products, this move suggests that new products designed to work with iOS 8’s HomeKit features may start to be revealed in the near future.

Apple releases iOS 8.1.1

Apple has officially released iOS 8.1.1 to the public, a minor maintenance release that notes “bug fixes” as well as “stability and performance improvements” for the older iPhone 4S and iPad 2 models. iOS 8.1.1 is available as an over-the-air update or by updating via iTunes on a Mac or PC.

Apple adds UnionPay support to Chinese App Store

  • November 17, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple announced today that UnionPay has now been added as a payment option for customers in China. As the most popular payment card in China, this will make it easier for Chinese App Store customers to purchase content on the App Store, and customers can now link their Apple ID with a UnionPay debit or credit card for one-tap purchases. UnionPay is responsible for China’s national inter-bank clearing and settlement system, and has issued more than 4.5 billion of its own debit and credit cards worldwide. It’s previously been reported that Apple is looking to bring Apple Pay to China, in conjunction with UnionPay.

Lawsuit against Apple over unsent text messages will proceed

  • November 11, 2014
  • Apple,

A lawsuit filed last May against Apple regarding lost text messages will be allowed to proceed, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh stated that Apple will be required to face Adrienne Moore’s complaint that iMessage interfered with her contract with Verizon Wireless, which serviced her Samsung Galaxy S5 after switching from an iPhone 4. Although Apple acknowledged the issue in May, it did not come up with a viable solution until this week, releasing an iMessage deregistration tool for former iPhone users to deregister their cellular numbers from Apple’s iMessage network, thereby allowing messages sent from iPhone users to revert back to using the standard carrier SMS network, rather than being directed to the user’s former iPhone via Apple’s iMessage network. It’s noteworthy that Apple’s alternative solution—manually turning iMessages off on your old device after inserting a SIM card—would not have worked for the iPhone 4 or 4S, the Verizon versions of which did not use SIM cards.

In its own court filing, Apple noted that it has never made any claims that its iMessage service and Messages application would recognize when iPhone users switched to competing devices, stating that “the law does not provide a remedy when, as here, technology simply does not function as plaintiff subjectively believes it should.” In her decision, Judge Koh said that Moore deserved a chance to show that Apple disrupted her wireless service contract and in doing so violated a California unfair competition law by blocking messages sent to her after she switching to a rival device. Koh wrote that the plaintiff “does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple’s intentional acts have caused an actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship.” Moore is seeking class-action status and unspecified damages on the basis that Apple failed to disclose how its iOS operating system would obstruct the delivery of “countless” messages if iPhone users switched to non-Apple devices. [via MacRumors]

Apple Pay: 1% of Whole Foods transactions, Alibaba key in China?

  • November 11, 2014
  • Apple,

With only three weeks since the launch of Apple’s new mobile payments service, Whole Foods has reported that it has processed 150,000 Apple Pay transactions – about 1% of the retailers total transactions in the same time period, according to calculations by Mike Dudas, former mobile commerce lead at Google and PayPal. Apple also appears to be moving ahead in establishing an Apple Pay partnership with Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba, as noted by Apple CEO Tim Cook during his interview last week at WSDJ Live. Such a partnership would likely help facilitate a much faster rollout of Apple Pay in China, according to a report by 9to5Mac, which notes that Alibaba is the key player in online shopping in the country, with an estimated 80% marketshare. Alibaba has already met the often complicated regulatory requirements to operate in China, suggesting that the Chinese government would be more receptive to a partnership between Apple and an existing major player in the Chinese market.

Apple releases iMessage Deregistration Tool

Apple has released a new web-based tool to allow users to deregister phone numbers from iMessage. Designed to address a long-standing problem that users have experienced when switching away from the iPhone to other devices, the site provides instructions on how to deregister a phone number from Apple’s iMessage servers so that text messages sent from other iPhone users will be sent as SMS messages instead of via Apple’s iMessage network. The problem exists because the iPhone automatically registers a user’s cellular phone number with Apple’s iMessage servers when the user first sets up their device or inserts a new SIM card in their iPhone. Messages from other iOS devices sent to that phone number will travel via the iMessage servers instead of the cellular carrier’s SMS network — if users later switch their SIM card to a non-iPhone device, their number does not get deregistered automatically, so messages to that phone number will continue to travel over the iMessage network.

Apple acknowledged the issue back in May, shortly before a lawsuit was filed by a former iPhone user who was losing text messages as a result of the problem. Apple promised a fix was coming shortly thereafter, but other than advising users to disable iMessage before removing their SIM card—a suggestion that is often unreasonable as many users will have already switched to another device before discovering the problem even exists—the company has not provided a solution until now. The new web portal provides the same advice to deactivate iMessage manually for users who still have their iPhones, but failing that, users can now enter their phone number directly on the web page, and after confirming their number via an SMS confirmation code, their number will be deregistered from Apple’s iMessage servers.

Unsealed GT court documents reveal Apple negotiation tactics

  • November 7, 2014
  • Apple,

Key court documents related to GT Advanced Technologies’ bankruptcy filing earlier this fall have recently been unsealed, providing some interesting insights into negotiations between Apple and GT. While both companies had previously fought to keep court documents sealed, citing confidentiality agreements, a judge ruled earlier this week that the documents did not contain trade secrets of other confidential information.

The newly disclosed documents also include an unedited affidavit from GT Advanced’s Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Squiller, who places much of the blame for GT’s failure on Apple, in light of agreements that the company had already previously referred to as oppressive and burdensome. Squiller describes Apple as using a “bait-and-switch” strategy, initially appealing to GT with the promise of a lucrative deal that would have involved Apple purchasing sapphire furnaces and allowing GT to operate them, but later demanding a “fundamentally different deal” that was “onerous and massively one-sided.” The new deal required GT to purchase and operate the furnaces, and shifted all economic risk to GT Advanced Technologies, putting Apple in the role of a lender with no other obligations to purchase any equipment or materials produced by GT.

Report reveals Apple Pay requirements for card issuers

  • November 3, 2014
  • Apple,

Financial news site Benzinga has provided a summary of a new report from Sanjay Sakhrani of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods that provides some insight into Apple’s contractual relationship with card issuers for Apple Pay. The report naturally provides some details on the percentage that Apple takes from transactions, but also highlights Apple’s requirements for card issuers to participate in Apple Pay. Card issuers must apparently “allow at least 95 percent of the cards in their portfolio to participate in Apple Pay,” the report notes, and also adds that Visa and MasterCard are playing a “large operational role” in the new payment system. Apple also receives “15 basis points per credit card transaction” and 0.5 cents per debit transaction; issuers are required to supply Apple with “various data statistics in nearly three dozen categories.” [via 9to5Mac]

Trent Reznor working on Apple music project

  • October 31, 2014
  • Apple,

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor — who is also chief creative officer of Beats Music — is working on a secret music project with Apple, according to a recent interview in Billboard. When asked if the project was about music delivery, Reznor said, “It’s in that world.” He also noted that Apple “expressed direct interest” in Reznor designing products for the company when Beats was bought by Apple. Apple’s interest was “flattering, as a life-long Apple consumer and fan and advocate,” Reznor said.

Reznor also said, “I am on the side of streaming music, and I think the right streaming service could solve everybody’s problems.” Apple has reportedly asked labels to cut prices for a revamped the Beats Music service. It’s unclear if Reznor is involved in this, or if his project is related to the “secret project” U2 is working on for Apple, involving “a new digital music format.”

Magazine publisher Fleishman explains iOS Newsstand’s failure

  • October 31, 2014
  • Apple,

A new essay by Glenn Fleishman discusses the reasons for the winding down of his iPad-only digital publication, The Magazine, including an in-depth look at Apple’s continued treatment of Newsstand as a failed experiment. Launched around two years ago as a digital-only periodical, The Magazine focused on reaching iPad users via Apple’s then-fledgling Newsstand app and online store. At its height, The Magazine had nearly 35,000 monthly subscribers paying $2/month, however Fleishman notes that it peaked in February 2013, and has since diminished to 2,000 yearly and 4,000 monthly subscribers.

While Fleishman doesn’t completely blame Apple, he spotlights how Newsstand’s implementation failed to live up to expectations and publisher requirements, noting that Apple’s well-intentioned focus on privacy and customer experience weren’t always compatible with the publishing industry’s needs. Difficulty communicating with subscribers, nagging monthly billing reminder e-mails, required continuous app re-developmen, and the “brushing aside” of Newsstand in iOS 7’s design were all key issues that eroded and dissatisfied readership. Fleishman notes that iOS 7 alone triggered hundreds of emails from readers who forgot to read new issues, received bills, then cancelled subscriptions after realizing that they hadn’t read a single article in recent memory. The 30% cut taken by Apple for each subscription was also a factor, and Fleishman notes that it would have been more reasonable for Apple to find a way to reduce the amount to 15% in subsequent years, as most publications expect front-loaded expenses for acquiring new subscribers, but expect costs to be reduced for subscriber retention.

Fleishman describes Apple’s Newsstand today as “a wasteland for publications that only use it as an adjunct,” but offers salient points on what Apple could do to improve the experience for both users and publishers. Options include releasing publications from Newsstand to essentially turn them into standalone apps, providing an optional path for publishers to reach their readers directly, and stop sending monthly billing notifications to subscribers. Fleishman acknowledges that Newsstand clearly didn’t turn into a success for Apple, and compares it to the iBookstore, which he notes “never quite took off either.” While Apple continues to run both systems, he said, it hasn’t been improving the tools on either side. He concludes by saying that “If Newsstand is to persist, it needs its own app for users to find publications, download sample issues (currently not available; only free trials), and manage subscriptions,” describing the integration and dependency on the App Store and iTunes as “maddening and confusing.”

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