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Apple, AT&T, Shazam sued over song ID tech

Apple, AT&T, Shazam Entertainment, and others have been sued in federal court by Tune Hunter, which claims the various companies have infringed on its patented song identification technology. Applied for in 2000 and granted in September, 2005, U.S. Patent no. 6,941,275 describes a music identification system that can either record the timestamp and currently playing radio station on an electronic device, or record and submit for processing a sample of audio in order, each technique capable of determining the song playing at the time. After submission, the song’s title, artist, and other information can be presented to the user via Internet or traditional voice telephony, with the possibility of providing a purchase link alongside the results.

Though Shazam and other companies may have offered music identification services since before 2005, Tune Hunter could recover damages for infringements taking place after its patent was granted. Apple, although potentially protected by its App Store contract, may be liable given that it has actively promoted Shazam’s iPhone application in a dedicated advertisement for the iPhone 3G as a reason to purchase the device. Other companies named in the suit include Samsung, Amazon, Napster, Motorola, Gracenote, Cellco Partnership (Verizon Wireless), LG, and Pantech; it is unclear whether additional applications, such as Melodis’s Midomi or Griffin’s iFM, will also be impacted by the patent.

Apple VP Schiller to lead 2009 WWDC group keynote

Apple has announced that it will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with a keynote address on Monday, June 8 at 10:00 a.m Pacific Time. Traditionally delivered by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, this year’s address will feature an entire team of Apple executives, led by Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. Last year’s address included extensive previews of Mac OS X Snow Leopard and the announcement of the iPhone 3G; this year’s is expected to follow a similar pattern, with Apple showing highlights of Snow Leopard and possibly announcing the next generation of iPhone hardware.

FTC investigates Apple, Google ties

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether the close ties between Apple and Google’s boards amount to a violation of antitrust laws. Citing multiple people briefed on the inquiry, who asked to remain anonymous, the New York Times reports that the companies’ sharing of two directors—Eric Schimdt, CEO of Google, and Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech—may violate the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, which prohibits a person’s presence on the board of two rival companies when it could reduce competition between them.The article notes that while the companies have worked together to bring services such as Gmail and Google Maps to the iPhone, they have been increasingly been in competition, with products such as the iPhone and the Android OS, and with Safari and Google’s Chrome browser. Under the Clayton Act, sharing directors is not considered a problem if the revenue from products in which the companies compete is less than 2 percent of either company’s sales.

WSJ: Ex-AMD exec Koduri joins Drebin at Apple

Raja Koduri, CTO of the graphics product group at AMD, has left the company to take an unspecified position at Apple, according to a new report. Citing people familiar with Apple’s plans, the Wall Street Journal reports that Koduri started work this week, and will help the iPod maker design multifunction chips for use in the iPhone, iPod touch, and other yet-unannounced mobile devices. The report suggests the chips may offer drastic reductions in power consumption and may also offer graphics circuitry to help play more realistic games and high-definition videos, although the chips aren’t expected to emerge in shipping products until next year at the earliest. Word of Koduri’s arrival comes only days after it was revealed that Bob Drebin, also a former CTO at AMD and veteran console graphics engineer, had joined Apple; the report suggests that the company is still trying to fill dozens of chip-related positions.

Apple sued over legal threats made to BluWiki

Apple has been sued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and representatives of OdioWorks, which runs the BluWiki website, after Apple made legal threats to the company over content hosted on the wiki. At issue is a group of pages, referred to as the iTunesDB pages, that contained information on how to use an iPod or iPhone with third-party software. Apple legal sent a letter demanding the pages be removed, arguing that the content constituted copyright infringement and a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA’s) prohibition on circumventing copy protection measures. OdioWorks’ suit against Apple seeks a declaratory judgment that the discussions do not violate any of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions, and do not infringe any copyrights owned by Apple.

Apple gets ex-ATI console GPU lead Bob Drebin

According to his LinkedIn profile page, former Chief Technology Officer of AMD’s Graphics Products Group Bob Drebin has joined Apple as a Senior Director. Previously a key member of the architecture and engineering team at ArtX, the company responsible for the Nintendo GameCube’s graphics processor, Drebin came to AMD through its acquisition of ATI, which acquired ArtX and used its expertise to develop the graphics processor for Nintendo’s Wii. Drebin was previously a chief engineer at Silicon Graphics, and a computer R&D tech for Pixar. Drebin’s hiring is the latest in a series of moves by Apple that suggest the company will develop its own chips for the iPhone and iPod. The company first purchased chipmaker P.A. Semi in April 2008, later confirming that the company was purchased with plans to “do system-on-chips for iPhones and iPods.” It then hired former IBM executive Mark Papermaster in November to lead the company’s iPod and iPhone hardware engineering teams, and made a significant investment in mobile GPU maker Imagination Technologies in December. Imagination makes the PowerVR MBX chip used in current iPhone hardware. [via The Inquirer]

Bump is billionth app downloaded, 13-year-old wins prizes

Apple has released details of the winning user in its Billion App Countdown contest. The one billionth app, the contact swapping app Bump from Bump Technologies, was downloaded by Connor Mulcahey, age 13, of Weston, CT, USA. As the grand prize winner of Apple’s one billion app countdown contest, Mulcahey will receive a $10,000 iTunes gift card, a 32GB iPod touch, a Time Capsule and a 17-inch MacBook Pro.

“The revolutionary App Store has been a phenomenal hit with iPhone and iPod touch users around the world, and we’d like to thank our customers and developers for helping us achieve the astonishing milestone of one billion apps downloaded,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “In nine months, the App Store has completely revolutionized the mobile industry and this is only the beginning.”

Notes from Apple’s Q2 2009 Conference Call

During the company’s Q2 2009 financial earnings Conference Call, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer and COO Tim Cook made several comments relating to the company’s iPod and iPhone businesses. Oppenheimer opened the call with some opening remarks, during which he revealed that the 11 million units sold marked a new March quarter record for iPod sales, driven by the iPod touch, which saw sales more than double the year-ago quarter. He added that customers and reviewers responded favorably to iPod shuffle 3G, and that Apple is very pleased with its iPod MP3 Player market share, which remains over 70% in the U.S., according to the latest data from NPD.

Oppenheimer also revealed that there are now over 35,000 applications available in the App Store, and that the billionth app download should happen “within hours.” He said the App Store was a key differentiator for the iPhone and iPod touch relative to competing devices, and that it keeps Apple “years ahead of the competition.” iPhone’s global reach expanded during the quarter, as it is now available in 81 countries. As with the early announcement of iPhone OS 2.0, Apple will delay recognition of revenue from all iPhones sold on or after the March 17 iPhone OS 3.0 announcement until after the updated software’s release.

A brief question and answer session followed, continue reading to see more.

Apple Q2 2009: 11m iPods, 3.79 million iPhones sold

Reporting its second quarter financial results today, Apple said it sold 11.01 million iPods during the quarter. Despite Apple’s introduction of the third-generation iPod shuffle during the quarter, iPod sales growth was modest compared to the year-ago quarter, with only three percent growth in unit sales. It also sold 3.79 million iPhones in the quarter, down slightly from the 4.363 million sold in the first quarter, but more than double the 1.7 million units sold in the second quarter of 2008.

The company posted revenue of $8.16 billion and a net quarterly profit of $1.21 billion, or $1.33 per diluted share, compared with revenue of $7.51 billion and net quarterly profit of $1.05 billion, or $1.16 per diluted share in Q2 2008. Sales of Other Music Related Products + Services were up 19% over the year-ago quarter and roughly 4% over the first quarter of 2009, to $1.049 billion total. That category includes iTunes Store sales, iPod services, and revenues from Apple and third-party iPod accessories. Revenue from iPhone and Related Products & Services, which includes iPhone handset sales, carrier agreements, and Apple-branded and third-party iPhone accessories, was $1.521 billion, up 22% from Q1 2009 and 302% over the year-ago quarter.

“We are extremely pleased to report the best non-holiday quarter revenue and earnings in our history,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s CFO. “Apple’s financial condition remains very robust, with almost $29 billion in cash and marketable securities on our balance sheet. Looking ahead to the third fiscal quarter of 2009, we expect revenue in the range of about $7.7 billion to $7.9 billion and we expect diluted earnings per share in the range of about $.95 to $1.00.”

Apple sued over multi-touch technology

Taiwanese firm Elan Microelectronics has filed suit against Apple claiming infringement on two of Elan’s touch-screen patents. The New York Times reports that the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and alleges that Apple products including the MacBook, iPhone, and iPod touch feature technology that infringes on two of Elan’s multi-touch patents. “We couldn’t find a common viewpoint with Apple, so we decided we had to take action,” said Elan spokesman Dennis Liu, adding that the two companies had been in licensing talks for roughly two years. Elan previously sued U.S.-based Synaptics in 2006 over one of the patents mentioned in the Apple suit; Synaptics counter-sued, and both actions were later dismissed after the two companies reached a cross-licensing agreement. It is unclear what damages or action Elan is seeking in its suit against Apple.

Bono: Apple limits led U2 to BlackBerry deal

Irish rock band U2’s falling out with Apple and subsequent partnership with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion was spurred by the former company’s unwillingness to work with the band on a more intimate level, according to a new report. Citing Toronto-based radio DJ Alan Cross, the Globe and Mail reports that when asked about the new partnership with RIM, U2 lead singer Bono said, “I’m very excited about this[.] Research In Motion is going to give us what Apple wouldn’t — access to their labs and their people so we can do something really spectacular.” After Cross asked Bono whether this might entail a special U2 BlackBerry application that would help the band interact with fans on their upcoming tour, the singer responded simply, “You’re not far off.” Apple originally introduced the special edition U2 iPod in October of 2004, upgrading it to add a color screen, and introducing a new version based on the fifth-generation iPod in 2006. The U2 iPods were cross-promoted with U2’s album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and a downloadable video called Love U2. Apple has since released the iPod classic without a version specific to U2 or any other band, while U2 has released an album with comparatively mild promotion from Apple.

Apple second quarter earnings release coming April 22

Apple has announced that it will reveal its financial results of its second fiscal quarter on Wednesday, April 22. As it has in the past, the company will also conduct a conference call at 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time that day to discuss the results. When announcing its first fiscal quarter results, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said the company expects revenue in the range of about $7.6 billion to $8 billion, with diluted earnings per share in the range of about $.90 to $1.00. [via SetteB.IT]

Apple moves up in Greenpeace electronics rankings

Apple has moved up the list of companies featured in Greenpeace’s latest Guide to Greener Electronics. Apple, which was 14th in past rankings, moved up to 10th in the latest set, scoring a 4.7 out of ten. Fellow mobile handset producers Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson top the list in first, second, and third places, respectively. According to Greenpeace, the company is doing well on chemicals elimination and has improved its recycling efforts, but still ranks as “poor” on energy; the environmental group cited the company as “bad” for little use of recycled plastic content in its products, but somewhat amusingly noted that certain cases available for its products did use recycled materials. Greenpeace’s full scorecard used for the rankings is available online (PDF Link).

Apple sets WWDC 2009 for June 8-12

Apple has announced the dates for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The 2009 event will be held June 8-12, in its traditional venue of Moscone West in San Francisco, CA. As with last year’s event, Apple will be providing sessions focusing on both Mac OS X and iPhone OS X, as well as web app development. For the past two years, the company has also used the event’s keynote address as a venue for iPhone-related announcements, revealing the launch date for the original iPhone in 2007, and introducing the iPhone 3G at the 2008 event. It is unclear if Apple CEO Steve Jobs will deliver the keynote at this year’s event, as his six-month leave of absence is not expected to be over until the end of June.

Apple patent app offers smart multi-user car navigation

A recently published Apple patent application provides details of a “safe” in-vehicle navigation system that the company proposes as an improvement on current and somewhat frustrating alternatives. More specifically, the patent discusses a touch screen-based navigation system that could use touch input in conjunction with a GPS, accelerometer, or other sensors, to sense both whether the vehicle is moving, and whether the car’s driver or passenger is attempting to operate the nav system. If the vehicle is moving and the driver is attempting to operate the system, the user interface is locked down and a warning is provided; by comparison, a passenger can be detected by a seat-based weight sensor and the angle of his or her touch input relative to the screen. Additional settings would be offered to enable the system’s various features to be locked down or unlocked based on specific driving conditions, the experience of the driver, and user preferences. The application notes that the navigation system could be implemented in a variety of ways, including in both hardwired and removable manners, suggesting the patent could be applied to the iPhone and iPod touch as well as factory-installed systems. As with all Apple patents, this filing does not necessarily represent any future product release from Apple, but offers evidence of the company’s research in this area. [via Apple Insider]

Apple launches Cross Border international ordering

Apple has quietly launched its new Cross Border ordering option, allowing customers with family or friends in different countries to order products for delivery directly to them. Prior to the launch of this feature, it was impossible to order products from Apple for delivery in a different country. Currently, US-based customers can order items for delivery in Mexico, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Belgium, Finland, and France. To take advantage of the new program, users can visit the Apple Online Store for the destination country.

Apple sends Pivotal C&D letter over Podium accessory

Apple has sent a cease and desist letter to Pivotal, makers of the iPhone and iPod touch stand Podium, claiming it infringes on the company’s “Pod” trademark. A portion of the letter, published by TUAW, states “[t]he term POD has also been adopted and used extensively in the marketplace by consumers as an abbreviation to refer to Apple’s IPOD player. The IPOD and POD marks indicate to consumers that a broad range of products, including portable electronic devices, computer software, and related goods and services bearing those marks and marks similar thereto originate from or are sponsored or endorsed by Apple.”

While Apple has in the past gone after companies who lacked a logical defense against such a claim, as Pivotal’s president Scott Baumann points out, “If you look at our product and then look up the word Podium in the dictionary, I think it becomes pretty clear where our branding inspiration came from.” The letter goes on to allege that the Podium’s design mimics the stands of recent iMac models, that Pivotal’s website apes Apple’s brand stylization, and also covers Pivotal’s upcoming FlyPod product. Pivotal is currently seeking legal advice on the matter.

iPhone OS stats: 30M devices, 25k apps, 800m downloads, 96% approved

At the start of its iPhone OS 3.0 event today, Apple announced a collection of statistics regarding the growth of the iPhone OS X platform, including:

Over 30M Devices. Apple disclosed that 17 million iPhones and over 13 million iPod touches have been sold so far, for a total of over 30 million iPhone OS devices.

App Store Countries. Fifteen additional countries are being added as App Store countries, bringing the total to 77.

App Store Downloads. As of now, there are over 25,000 applications in the App Store, downloaded collectively over 800 million times.

App Store Approvals. The 25,000 applications represent a 96% approval rate for the total pool of submissions. Of those, 98% of approved apps received approvals in seven days or less.

Fielding questions at the end of the event, Apple executives noted that while the App Store’s submission process wasn’t perfect, the turnaround time has improved, and some of the persistent issues arise from things Apple’s team is spending a lot of time looking out for: essentially, stability issues and content that isn’t suitable for children, pornography, and profanity in titles. The company made no promise to change or improve the process further, relying instead on its commitments to enabling new functionality in the iPhone OS 3.0 software unveiled during the event.

Apple intros Airport Extreme with iPhone-ready dual-band mode

Along with across-the-board updates to its Mac desktop computers, Apple today quietly introduced a new version of its Airport Extreme Base Station, featuring a new dual-band Wi-Fi mode that improves wireless performance on recent computers that share networks with devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch. The new dual-band support lets 802.11b/g devices, such as older computers, the iPhone, and the iPod touch, connect using the 2.4GHz wireless band, while simultaneously allowing 802.11n devices, such as modern computers and the Apple TV, to connect over the higher-speed 5GHz band, ensuring the fastest possible wireless performance for all devices on the network. In addition, the new Extreme offers guest networking features, support for up to 50 devices, the ability to share an external USB printer or hard drive—including over the Internet via a MobileMe account—and more. Apple’s new Airport Extreme Base Station is available now and sells for $180; the same dual-band and other features were added to the company’s Time Capsule wireless backup routers, which remain priced at $299 for the 500GB model and $499 for the 1TB model.

Japanese iPhone “hate” disputed by Wired, Tokyo-based source

In an unusual public dispute over the current Japanese popularity of the iPhone 3G, Tokyo-based freelance writer and self-described “most famous advocate of iPhone in Japan” Nobuyuki Hayashi has taken Wired to task for republishing his eight-month old quote on the topic—originally rendered before the launch of the device—as evidence of Japan’s supposed “hate” for the iPhone. Hayashi, who has written about Apple products for a number of Japanese and international publications, used the situation as a springboard to disagree with Wired’s article, and share a wide variety of interesting observations about the iPhone 3G’s successes and problems in Japan, including:

• Initial skepticism from certain newspapers, including the Sankei Shimbun, has evolved into more positive coverage with the growth of the App Store.

• While projected Japanese sales of the iPhone 3G are in the 300,000 - 400,000 range, lower than apparently inaccurate sales targets that were circulated last year, poor overall Japanese cell phone sales in 2008 would place the iPhone’s Japanese sales at or above Apple’s targeted global 1% level for the year.

• Apple responses to Japanese complaints about the device have been addressed by the company, including the addition of Emoji icons and the sale of a battery-aided TV tuner, with pricing issues addressed this week in a campaign that has seen lines forming to purchase iPhones.

• One remaining issue, the iPhone 3G’s inability to serve as a digital credit card for making purchases, has not been addressed by Apple, though some iPhone users have developed workarounds known throughout the Japanese community.

• Softbank, Apple’s sole service partner for the iPhone in Japan, has recently won awards for its TV advertisements, but has done comparatively little to promote the iPhone due to Apple approvals required for marketing purposes. Consequently, the majority of Japanese consumers remain unfamiliar with the device, though they warm quickly to it when they’re given the opportunity to actually use one.

• Softbank lags modestly behind competitors NTT DoCoMo and KDDI in network coverage and frequency options, and has struggled with domestic media perceptions about its viability, reasons that Apple might need to expand its partnerships in the country.

The full, interesting posting from Nobuyuki Hayashi can be read here.

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