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Tony Fadell to oversee restructured Google Glass project

Google is restructuring its Google Glass project and appointing former Apple Executive Tony Fadell to head it up, according to the Wall Street Journal. Fadell, one of the inventors of the original iPod, left Apple to form Nest in 2010, which was later acquired by Google last year. Under the new plan, Glass will be moving from the Google X research lab to be a stand-alone unit directly led by Ivy Ross. Ms. Ross will report to Fadell, who will continue to run Nest while providing strategic guidance to the Glass team. The report notes that Google also plans to stop selling the initial version of Glass to consumers, planning a new version of Glass to be released sometime later this year. The new strategy is expected to follow the more Apple- and Nest-like approach of unveiling fully-finished products rather than deploying large, public tests of hardware prototypes as Google previously did under the Glass Explorer program.

Apple launches suit against Ericsson over LTE patents (Updated)

Apple has launched a lawsuit against Ericsson, alleging that the Swedish company is demanding excessive royalties for its LTE patents, Reuters reports. In the suit, Apple claims that Ericsson’s patents are “not essential to industry cellular standards” and that it does not owe Ericsson royalties for the patents as it has not infringed upon them. Apple’s suit further states that, should the patents be deemed essential by the courts, the royalties that Ericsson requires should be based on the value of the processor chip that includes LTE technology, rather than as a percentage of the price of an entire smartphone or tablet that incorporates the technology. The two companies have had a license agreement for the use of Ericsson’s patents since 2008, shortly after Apple launched the original iPhone. However, an Apple spokesperson noted that the company has “not been able to agree with Ericsson on a fair rate” for the patents in question, and is therefore asking the courts to intervene.

Update: In a follow-up report, Reuters notes that Ericsson has filed its own complaint against Apple, stating that Apple’s license to use its LTE technology had previously expired, and that it has been unable to come to a new deal after two years of negotiations. The company has asked the court to determine whether its license offer to Apple is fair. The company’s Chief Intellectual Property officer made a similar statement to the one in Apple’s filing, noting that it needs “the help of a third party” to help negotiate a new agreement.

Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel attempt to end poaching lawsuit

Apple, Google, Adobe, and Intel have agreed to a settlement in the anti-poaching lawsuit, Reuters reports. The suit accused several large Silicon Valley companies of collaborating to avoid poaching each others employees while also fixing salaries, and was originally brought against Apple and several other companies in 2011 as a class action by about 100,000 tech employees. In late 2013, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ordered that the suit would proceed against Apple, Google, Adobe, and Intel; the other defendants originally named – Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar – had previously settled out of court.

The suit originally requested damages of $9 billion, or about $90,000 in lost wages per employee. While the four companies offered a settlement of $324.5 million in April 2014, the proposal was rejected by Judge Koh as falling “below the range of reasonableness” after one of the plaintiffs objected. Judge Koh referred to a 2013 settlement involving Disney and Intuit, noting that Apple and Google workers received proportionally less than Disney workers, despite the “much more leverage” that the plaintiffs had against Apple and Google; Koh wrote that the deal with Apple, Google, Adobe, and Intel “would need to total at least $380 million.” The new agreement is reportedly closer to a joint payment of $415 million, and a detailed explanation of the deal is expected to be filed “imminently” at which point Judge Koh will then need to either accept or reject the new filing.

Apple responds to EU iTunes refund abuse

Following the introduction of its 14-day iTunes refund policy in Europe, Apple has apparently begun clamping down on refund abuse, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Citing a tweet from developer Rosyna Keller, users who are detected by Apple as abusing the new refund policy will now be presented with a dialog box requiring them to acknowledge that they will no longer be eligible to receive a refund once they have downloaded the item in question.

Since iTunes and App Store purchases normally begin downloading automatically once the user clicks the “Buy” button, this effectively removes the user’s right to receive a refund as soon as they click the “Buy” button. The relevant EU consumer protection laws specify that refunds are generally only available if the user has not begun “downloading or streaming the content,” provided the user is notified and acknowledges that this is the case prior to completing the purchase. Apple’s own Right of Withdrawal policy explicitly notes this as well:

You cannot cancel your order for the supply of digital content if the delivery has started upon your request and acknowledgement that you thereby lose your cancellation right.

In this case, it would appear that Apple has, by default, chosen the more user-friendly approach of providing a seamless one-click download experience rather than interrupting the user with additional confirmation popups. However, for those abusing the refund system – using it as a “try-before-you-buy” option, or taking advantage of a loophole previously reported by 9to5Mac – Apple is basically enforcing the letter of the law by notifying users that they will lose their right to a refund once they begin downloading the app, effectively requiring them to acknowledge that this is the case.

 

Apple releases additional specs on third-party Lightning port support

Following Apple’s announcement that third-party manufacturers will be able to license the female Lightning port, the company has now released more detailed specifications for how the port can be implemented various accessories, 9to5Mac reports. Apple is apparently hoping that a large range of different accessories will move from micro-USB to the Lightning port standard, and will allow manufacturers to have the port draw power from any MFi-certified power adapter, as well as providing passthrough charging and syncing for iOS devices connected to the other side of the accessory, such as iPhones used in battery cases. The passthrough feature could also allow a dock to simultaneously charge an iPhone while also providing audio output to Lightning headphones.

The specs note, however, that only one Lightning port will be allowed per accessory, ruling out the development of Lightning splitters or hubs. Faster charging will be possible via Lightning, however, with MFi-certified USB power adapters providing power ranging from a minimum of 1.0A to the Apple-recommended 2.4A level suitable for charging an iPad at full speed. Unfortunately, at this point the Lightning port is only available in sample quantities for development purposes, and all specs remain in “Developer Preview” mode, with some sections still listed as “to be determined.” It’s therefore unclear when the first accessories with female Lightning ports will actually appear.

Apple releases iOS 8.2 beta 4 to developers, adds Apple Watch support

Apple has released the fourth beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers. The latest release appears to add direct support for pairing an Apple Watch via Bluetooth, with a note in the standard Bluetooth settings directing users to use the “Apple Watch app” to do so. The note appears to link to the App Store, suggesting that an Apple Watch app could be available as a separate download that users will need to install, rather than being bundled with the future iOS 8.2 update.

Apple Pay coming to Canada in March?

Apple may be planning a Canadian rollout of Apple Pay as early as this March, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Citing “sources close to the situation,” the report notes that Canadian launch partners are currently in negotiations with Apple. Those partners are also in the process of planning advertising and promotional material scheduled for a possible release in March. While the report notes that negotiations are still ongoing, it claims that several sources have indicated that Apple is also targeting that timeframe. It remains unclear at this time whether Apple Pay would be launched across all of the six major Canadian banks right away, or limited to only specific partners for the initial rollout.

Apple introduces 14-day refund policy on iTunes purchases in the EU

Apple has introduced a fourteen-day return policy for iTunes purchases in EU countries, according to a new report by iFun. Outlined in a Right of Withdrawal document on Apple’s web site, the policy states that customers can cancel iTunes orders within 14 days from the date they receive their receipt, without a requirement to provide any reason. The policy also covers purchases such as iTunes Match and Season Pass subscriptions, as well as unredeemed iTunes Gifts and Allowances. Users can apparently request a “cancellation” of their iTunes order by using the “Report a Problem” form within iTunes and submitting a model cancellation form provided in the document, or “making any other clear statement.” While Apple’s policy document provides some additional clauses that are a bit unclear, the original report notes that people have already begun receiving refunds under the new policy, which appears to be a result of recent EU consumer protection initiatives.

Report: Beats Music arranging exclusive releases

Apple executive and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine is apparently in talks with artists about doing exclusive releases for Beats Music, the New York Post reports. Executives responsible for the music subscription service are said to be looking to replicate the success that artists such as Beyoncé have had with exclusive iTunes releases by bringing such exclusivity to the streaming side. Beats will apparently be able to leverage the connections it already has with artists such as Nicki Minaj, Will.i.am, Pharrell, Kanye West and Gwen Stefani. Record labels are reportedly less enthusiastic about the idea of artists making their own side deals with music streaming services. Beats Music launched last year and has an estimated subscriber base of around 300,000 users. Since acquiring the service earlier this year, Apple has reportedly been working to integrate Beats Music more tightly into its iOS and iTunes ecosystem, so exclusive artist deals may also be intended to pave the way for a rebranding and relaunch of the Beats Music service under a more Apple-centric branding.

Apple announces annual Japanese Lucky Bag promotion

Apple has once again announced its Japanese New Year’s promotion, offering Apple Store customers in Japan the opportunity to purchase “lucky bags.” The annual event will kick off at the company’s Japanese retail locations at 8 a.m. on January 2.

It has been a long-standing tradition among retailers in Japan to offer “lucky bags” or Fukubukuro on New Year’s Day. Containing random items, these grab bags are sold at significant discounts, and customers can potentially score some great deals depending on what they end up with in their bag – customers are required to purchase the bags without first knowing what’s in them. Last year the bags were sold for ¥36,000 (around $344 US at that time), however this year’s pricing has not yet been revealed. Apple’s lucky bags typically contain bundles of accessories that are always collectively worth the asking price, although lucky customers may even find iPods, iPads, or MacBook Airs in their bags.

Russian Apple Online Store returns with increased prices

Apple has restored its Russian online store after pulling it down last week due to “extreme” ruble fluctuations. Though the store is now back online, it’s returned with higher prices. iPhone prices have been increased by 35 percent — a 16GB iPhone 6 now costs 53,990 rubles ($956), up from the recent price of 39,990 rubles. As noted by Bloomberg, the iPhone’s price in Russia has increased 69 percent in less than a month.

Cook ‘deeply offended’ by BBC allegations

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is “deeply offended” by allegations in a new BBC documentary regarding Apple’s handling of workers at its Chinese suppliers, The Telegraph reports. In a BBC investigative report which aired last night, BBC’s Panorama revealed poor treatment of workers and a breach of working hour standards, after sending undercover reporters into factories run by Apple supplier Pegatron located on the outskirts of Shanghai.

This morning, Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams sent out an e-mail to around 5,000 UK staffers, saying that both he and Apple CEO Tim Cook were “deeply offended by the suggestion that Apple would break a promise to the workers in our supply chain or mislead our customers in any way,” and that in terms of accusations that Apple isn’t improving working conditions, “nothing could be further from the truth.” Williams alleges that Apple had shared “facts and perspective” regarding its commitment to human rights with the BBC, and that these details were “clearly missing from their programme.”

We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.

In response to the BBC’s report that workers were falling asleep during extremely long shifts and being required to work numerous days while repeatedly being denied requests for time off, Williams responded that Apple has been tracking the weekly hours of “over one million workers” in its various manufacturing partners and that all of its suppliers are at an average of 93 percent compliance with Apple’s 60-hour work week limit. Williams conceded that the company can do better, but maintains its commitment to doing so.

The BBC documentary also claimed that it had found cases of child workers and dangerous working conditions in the mines on the Indonesian island of Bangka, where Apple sources its tin supply from. Williams responded to this in much the same way as Apple’s original statement, noting that “Apple has publicly stated that tin from Indonesia ends up in our products, and some of that tin likely comes from illegal mines,” but that the situation is complex and the company is actively working to improve the situation in that country, believing that remaining engaged is the more responsible course of action, rather than sourcing tin from elsewhere. Since Apple consumes a relatively small portion of the tin mined in Indonesia, Williams stated that simply sourcing tin from elsewhere would “do nothing to improve the situation for Indonesian workers.”

In the internal e-mail, Wiliams assured staff that despite Apple’s position on the documentary itself, the company is taking all of the allegations seriously and plans to investigate all of the claims that have been made, acknowledging that the company is aware that there are “a lot of issues out there” and that Apple “will not rest until every person in our supply chain is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

BBC investigative report claims Apple fails to protect Chinese workers

Apple has not lived up to its commitment to improve working conditions in its Chinese suppliers’ factories, according to a new undercover BBC investigation. In a documentary scheduled to air tonight, titled “Apple’s Broken Promises,” BBC Panorama shows what conditions inside a Chinese iPhone 6 production line are really like. The investigation found standards being breached at Pegatron factories on everything from workers’ hours, to dormitories, to juvenile workers — all areas in which Apple had promised sweeping improvements over the past several years. The documentary includes footage of exhausted workers falling asleep on 12-hour shifts, an undercover reporter who was forced to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for time off, and another reporter who worked shifts of up to 16 hours. Panorama also followed Apple’s supply chain down to the Indonesian island of Bangka, and found evidence that tin from illegal mines could be entering Apple’s supply chain, despite the company’s dedication to ethical sourcing of minerals. Investigative reporters also found children digging tin ore out of the mines by hand under extremely dangerous conditions.

Apple declined to be interviewed for the story, but the company did release a statement saying that it is “aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions.” The company noted that it was a “very common practice” for workers to nap during breaks, but that it would “investigate any evidence” of workers falling asleep while actually working. In its statement, the company said that it had monitored the working hours of “more than a million workers” and that the workers at the particular plant in question were averaging 55 hours per week. Responding to the situation in Bangka, Apple described it as a “complex situation” as many miners sell tin through a series of middle men, so it’s not always possible to confirm the sources of tin, but Apple remains engaged in Bangka to attempt to “drive changes on the ground” to improve the situation there.

Panorama: Apple’s Broken Promises airs tonight on BBC One and will be available later on BBC’s iPlayer platform.

Apple releases iOS 8.2 beta 3 to developers

Apple has released the third beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, featuring a build number of 12D5452a. As with other recent versions, the latest beta appears to be primarily focused on fixes and enhancements to WatchKit to allow developers to continue preparing their apps for next year’s debut of the Apple Watch.

Tim Cook announces $20M raised for (PRODUCT)RED in internal e-mail

Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent out an e-mail to employees announcing that Apple has raised $20 million this quarter for (PRODUCT)RED, iClarified reports, with Apple’s Holiday (PRODUCT)RED campaign likely contributing the lion’s share of the fundraising, which goes to support the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa.

I’m thrilled to announce that our total donation for this quarter will be more than $20 million — our biggest ever — bringing the total amount Apple has raised for (PRODUCT) RED to over $100 million. The money we’ve raised is saving lives and bringing hope to people in need. It’s a cause we can all be proud to support.”

Apple has long been a supporter of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign, beginning with the debut of the iPod nano (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition in 2006, although this year’s World AIDS Day 2014 campaign was the largest the company has undertaken, and the first time App Store content has been included.

Apple announces 64-bit and iOS 8 requirements for app updates

Apple will begin requiring app updates submitted to the App Store after June 1, 2015 to include 64-bit support and be built with the iOS 8 SDK, as outlined in an e-mail sent out today to registered iOS Developers. As the e-mail noted, Apple had previously announced this requirement back in October for new iOS apps, scheduled to take effect February 1, 2015. However, this note indicates that Apple will also be applying this policy to updates to existing apps. This only affects updates submitted by developers, however, and since developers are not required to submit updates, apps built with the older SDK can likely remain available on the App Store in their present form until they otherwise need to be updated.

Apple ordered to turn over records in Canadian iPhone antitrust probe

A Canadian Federal Court has ordered Apple Canada to turn over documents to the Government’s Competition Bureau as part of an investigation into possible unfair marketing practices by the company, Reuters reports. The Competition Bureau, which is responsible for enforcing various competition and marketing acts on behalf of the Canadian Government, stated in a filing to the court that it believes Apple unfairly used its bargaining power from the popularity of the iPhone to negotiate contracts with wireless carriers that encouraged them to overprice rival phones, thereby reducing competition for the iPhone. Among other things, the Bureau is investigating whether the terms of their contracts with Apple may have discouraged carriers from reducing competing handset prices or encouraged them to charge higher prices for wireless services than they may otherwise have done.

Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton stated that he would sign the disclosure order later on Wednesday, at which point Apple will have 90 days to turn over the documents to the Competition Bureau, including all of the agreements that it has with Canadian mobile carriers. In response, Apple’s lawyers have suggested that the company is considering launching a constitutional challenge to determine whether Canadian courts actually have the jurisdiction to force Apple’s wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary to turn over documents that are held by the California-based parent company. The Competition Act provides Canadian courts with this power, however, and both the lawyer for the Competition Bureau and Chief Justice Crampton have stated that these provisions have never been found to be unconstitutional, and that there is increasing consensus in the worldwide legal community that such provisions are legitimate.

Apple halts online sales in Russia

Apple has ceased sales on its online stores in Russia due to “extreme” fluctuations in the ruble, Bloomberg reports. A spokesperson for Apple stated that the Russian online store is “currently unavailable while we review pricing.” With Russia’s currency varying wildly in recent weeks, Apple has already been working to deal with the changes, with the company increasing the price of the iPhone 6 by 25 percent in that country.

Apple found not guilty in iPod, iTunes Store lock-in suit

Apple has been cleared of wrongdoing in the recent antitrust case on iPod and iTunes Store lock-in, The Verge reports. The decade-old class-action lawsuit accused Apple of putting procedures in place in iTunes 7.0 that would remove music found on iPods from competing music services. Apple, for its part, claimed that the measures were simply “extra security” that the company added to its iPod and iTunes platforms in 2006. The lawsuit originally asked for damaged of more than $350 million to be distributed across 8 million consumers who bought affected iPod models between September 2006 and March 2009. Had Apple been found guilty of violating antitrust laws, however, the company could have potentially been liable for damages of more than $1 billion.

In a unanimous decision today, the eight-person jury in the trial rules that iTunes 7.0 was a “genuine product improvement” that was good for consumers, rather than a deliberate attempt by Apple to thwart competition by limiting purchased music to only Apple’s platform, as plaintiffs in the case had tried to argue. During the trial, Apple had repeatedly compared its iTunes and iPod ecosystem to integrated systems such as video game consoles, stating that it had simply built all of the pieces to work together. Further, the company’s lawyers noted that the DRM that ultimately locked out competitors was a necessary requirement of Apple’s deals with the major record companies, and that Apple was contractually obligated under the terms of those deals to patch any security holes that could have led to piracy of purchased content.

Apple Pay cards represent 90 percent of US credit purchase volume; Samsung readying rival service

Apple Pay now supports cards that “represent about 90 percent of the credit card purchase volume in the United States,” Apple has told The New York Times. Apple has repeatedly and consistently announced Apple Pay partnerships with more companies — ten more banks will back the mobile payment option today. Though the total amount of Apple Pay transactions on the supported cards is still a small number, the report notes that all of the partnerships “suggest that Apple has generated more traction for the service than any competing service.”

Speaking of competing services, Re/code reports that Samsung is discussing a deal with LoopPay to launch its own wireless mobile payment system in 2015. A deal would enable Samsung smartphone users to pay by waving their phones, though a source notes “the deal could still fall apart.” LoopPay’s technology mimics a credit card swipe, conceivably allowing it to work in more locations than Apple Pay. LoopPay CEO Will Graylin said his company is talking with Visa about how to make the payment process more secure — the company looks to use tokenization in its payments, as Apple Pay does.

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