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Apple again under fire as Ericsson escalates legal action

Ericsson has escalated its legal dispute with Apple, Bloomberg reports. The Swedish phone maker announced that it plans to file seven new lawsuits in a U.S. court as well as a request to the U.S. International Trade Commission to block Apple products from being sold in the U.S. Last month, Apple and Ericsson filed several suits against each other over LTE patents, after Apple’s license to use Ericsson’s technology expired and re-negotiations broke down between the two companies. Ericsson’s latest series of complaints allege that Apple has infringed as many as 41 patents related to mobile device communications, user interfaces, battery conservation, and the operating system itself.

In other patent litigation news, after Apple was ordered to pay $532.9 million to Smartflash, LLC earlier this week, Reuters reports that the Texas-based patent licensing company has launched a second lawsuit against the larger company, over the same patents’ continued use in devices that were introduced after the original case began. The $532.9m settlement in the original case was awarded to Smartflash as a result of Apple using the company’s patents in all devices capable of accessing iTunes up to the point the lawsuit was filed, but it excluded the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Air 2. This second salvo by Smartflash is intended to make Apple pay the royalties deemed necessary by the original case, applied to these newer devices, as well.

Apple announces ‘Spring Forward’ event for March 9

Apple has sent out media invitations for an event on March 9, with the tagline “Spring forward.” The Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco will host the event. It’s expected that the event will mainly focus on the Apple Watch, which is scheduled for an April release, but some other surprises may also be in store. [via The Loop]

Update: Apple has announced that it will stream the event live on its website. The event takes place at 10 a.m. Pacific time, March 9.

Apple Maps adds new third-party data providers

Apple has been adding new data providers to Apple Maps, according to a new report from Apple Maps Marketing. The report notes several new services have recently appeared as suppliers of “Business Listings Data” in Apple’s Maps Acknowledgements page. Some of the notable new providers include GasBuddy, which provides gas price information, and GreatSchools, which provides school reviews and other school-related data. Although none of this data appears to have been incorporated into any actual Apple Maps listings, the appearance of these providers suggests that Apple is taking steps to integrate direct feeds from specialty services to enhance the amount of information available in Apple Maps. The report goes on to note that there may be a number of other companies beta testing integration with Apple Maps under typical Apple non-disclosure agreements.

Apple ordered to pay $532.9m in iTunes patent infringement case

Apple has been ordered to pay $532.9 million in an iTunes patent infringement case, Bloomberg reports. Texas-based Smartflash LLC brought a suit against Apple claiming that the Cupertino company infringed three patents related to iTunes digital rights management and “inventions related to data storage and managing access through patent systems.” The original claim sought $852 million in damages as an entitlement to a percentage of sales of all of Apple’s devices capable of accessing iTunes.

Apple had responded to the allegations by stating that it did not recognize the Smartflash patents, pointing out that “Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented.” Apple lawyers repeatedly argued that the patents in question were invalid and that Smartflash’s royalty demands were “excessive and unsupportable,” noting that Apple should not be required to pay royalties on the full price of an iPhone when the dispute only pertains to a single feature, stating that “It doesn’t make a lick of sense that one person would buy an iPhone and not make calls.” Apple notes that it will appeal the decision. Smartflash, which appears to be in the sole business of having licensed seven patents, has also launched patent infringement claims against Samsung, Google, and Amazon.

Apple reportedly streamlining Genius Bar experience

Apple is planning some significant changes to how Genius Bar appointments are handled in its retail stores, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Citing several inside sources, the report notes that the initiative, dubbed “The new Concierge,” is expected to launch in Apple’s U.S. retail stores starting in early March. Under the new system, customers walking into a store and looking for a Genius Bar appointment will be placed on a priority-based wait list after describing their issue to an Apple Store employee, and will then receive a wait time based on how “important” the issue is. So a customer with a broken iPhone screen would be automatically prioritized over somebody seeking help with a more minor issue. Customers can then provide a phone number to receive text messages with time updates, so they can continue shopping elsewhere in the area and know when to return to the Apple Store for their scheduled appointment.

The brainchild of Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail Operations, the new system is being heralded by Apple employees as “one of the most significant changes to Apple Store operations in several years” and is expected to reduce congestion in Apple Stores and hopefully make customers happier by reducing fatigue and impatience while waiting for appointments. At this point, the new system will only apply to walk-in Genius Bar requests, however; appointments booked online will continue to be scheduled for specific times as they have been in the past.

Report: Apple acquires Camel Audio

Apple has acquired music software developer Camel Audio, according to a new report from MacRumors. Citing information found on a corporate registry site, the report notes that the U.K.-based company’s address has been updated to match that of Apple’s London office, and the sole director of the company is listed as a member of Apple’s legal team. Camel Audio was best known for Alchemy, its modular music editing suite that incorporated a range of plug-ins, synthesizers, effects, and sound libraries, along with powerful resynthesis engines and other features. The developer shut down most of its operations early last month, although at the time no reason was given for the sudden change; this latest information suggests Camel Audio quietly wound down its operations after being acquired by Apple. While it’s unclear what Apple’s specific plans may be for Camel Audio, it seems reasonable that the company’s technologies and talents will be directed toward work on Apple products such as Logic Pro X or GarageBand.

VISA ‘tokenization’ may speed Apple Pay EU deployment

VISA has announced that it will be introducing a new payment “tokenization” service in Europe designed to help facilitate mobile payment solutions. Intended to be available for European financial institutions to take advantage of as early as April, the new service will replace traditional plastic credit card numbers with unique one-time tokens that can be used to authorize payments without needing to expose account information. This form of one-time “tokenization” is a key component of the security behind Apple Pay, and while the VISA announcement simply mentions mobile devices and contactless payments in general terms, it seems likely that this development is intended to at least indirectly provide support for a future rollout of Apple Pay within the European Union. [via TNW]

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta 2 to developers

Apple has released a second beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers, continuing its parallel iOS 8.3 beta cycle which started earlier this month alongside the iOS 8.2 betas. This latest beta features a build number of 12F5037c and details few changes in the release notes from the prior beta. According to a report last week, Apple plans to begin releasing public betas with iOS 8.3 sometime in March; this second developer beta is likely the last for this version prior to the beginning of the public beta cycle.

Toyota currently has ‘no plans’ to adopt CarPlay in the US

Despite being listed as a partner company on Apple’s CarPlay page, Toyota currently has “no plans to adopt [...] CarPlay in the United States,” according to an article from The New York Times. The report mostly examines how Google and Apple are vying to develop the best in-car dashboard systems. John Hanson, the national manager of Toyota’s advanced technology communications, noted that the company is in frequent talks with both companies, but that the car maker currently prefers to use its “own in-house proprietary platforms for those kinds of functions.” Hanson conceded that the company may “eventually wind up there,” which may explain why Toyota remains a CarPlay partner, but the lack of any specific plans in this case raises questions about how soon CarPlay may actually be coming to new vehicles from any of Apple’s listed CarPlay partners. While it also remains unclear as to whether Toyota may implement CarPlay in other markets — considering that Hanson specifically limited his comments to the company’s U.S. operations — it’s worth noting that as a national manager, he likely wouldn’t comment on what Toyota’s plans may be outside of the U.S.

Report: Apple to release iOS public betas

Apple plans to begin releasing new versions of iOS as public betas, according to a new report by 9to5Mac. Intended to help eliminate bugs from upcoming iOS versions before general release, the model will follow the one used by Apple for OS X Yosemite last summer — a public beta cycle that will begin following the early developer betas, running in tandem with the developer program up until general availability of the new operating system. The report notes that Apple intends to begin the new program with the release of the upcoming iOS 8.3 update as a public beta in March, aligned with the third developer beta release of that version; iOS 9 will also allegedly follow a similar schedule to last year’s OS X Yosemite releases, with an announcement at WWDC and the beginning of the developer beta program, followed by a public beta in mid-summer, and the normal final release in the fall. The iOS public beta program is expected to be limited to 100,000 users “in order to maintain a higher level of exclusivity.”

Japan Display vying to be Apple’s primary display supplier

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

Report: Apple looking to produce electric cars by 2020

Apple has set an internal goal to begin producing an electric vehicle by 2020, Bloomberg reports. With automakers normally taking between five and ten years to develop a car, the timeframe suggests an aggressive goal by Apple to compete in a market expected to be otherwise dominated by Tesla and General Motors — two companies that are said to be targeting a release of an electric vehicle within the next two to three years that can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge and cost under $40,000. While nothing is certain as Apple only appears to be in the early research and development stages of this project, the company already has a car team of about 200 people and has been adding new hires at an increased rate in recent months, specifically looking for experts in areas such as batteries and robotics.

 

Apple’s new car team provides insight into company’s plans

An in-depth look at Apple’s ‘electric car team’ put together by 9to5Mac has revealed some additional insight that suggests that Apple is very likely working on an electric car, contrary to much of the dismissive speculation being put forth by industry analysts that have suggested the company is merely working on an enhanced software or electronics platform. The report notes that the team includes a “long list of automotive experts” that go well beyond software, including hardware engineers from companies such as Tesla and Ford, and many others from “an automotive hardware background.” It’s also notable that many of these new hires joined Apple only very recently — around the time that Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly approved the new car project. The talent and sheer number of employees would seem to imply that Apple’s ambitions go beyond only providing components for a vehicle or developing a software platform.

Apple Watch: more than 5M units for first run; international sales push?

Apple has asked suppliers to manufacture five to six million units of its upcoming Apple Watch for the product’s first run, The Wall Street Journal reports. Half of that total will be made up of the lower-end Apple Watch Sport, which will start at $349. A third of the production will be dedicated to the mid-tier model, with the remaining amount — about a sixth of the initial total, based on these figures — to be the high-end Apple Watch Edition. Production for the Edition is expected to pick up in the second quarter, according to sources. Prices on the Edition and mid-tier Watch are still unknown, but the report speculates the Edition will “likely” cost more than $4,000.

In yet another new report related to Apple Watch, Bloomberg notes Apple recently met with Mexican regulators “to discuss advances in health-care devices.” According to the report, the meeting is indicative of a push to sell the Apple Watch in international markets. Apple’s international timeline for Apple Watch is unclear at this time.

Apple nixed health features from Apple Watch

Apple had originally intended for the upcoming Apple Watch to have a much stronger focus on health-related features, a new report by The Wall Street Journal reveals. Seemingly confirming early rumors, the report notes that Apple had wanted to position the Apple Watch as a “state-of-the-art health-monitoring device” that would be able to monitor blood pressure, heart activity, stress levels, and more. In the end, however, Apple found that such features either didn’t work reliably, proved too complex, or could have possibly resulted in “unwanted regulatory oversight.”

Apple reportedly began developing the Apple Watch four years ago as a device almost entirely focused on health and fitness. While it’s not uncommon for Apple to experiment and research different products and technologies, the report notes that the watch was “especially challenging” and in fact became known internally as a “black hole” project, sucking in company resources. Among other things, Apple experimented with sensors designed to measure skin conductivity, which showed promise for heart rate and stress monitoring, as well as ways to detect blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. However, these and other health sensor technologies available at the time reportedly failed to meet Apple’s standards and produced inconsistent results. The sensor data varied widely on different people due to things like skin conditions, body hair, and how tightly a person wore the watch. There were also concerns that if Apple interpreted the numbers to provide health or behavioral advice, the company may have needed FDA or other regulatory approval to be able to sell the Apple Watch. In the end, Apple had to settle for the more basic pulse-rate monitoring feature. Sources familiar with the matter, however, have noted that even though these features have been shelved for the initial Apple Watch release, it would seem Apple has not given up on them entirely and they may find their way into future models.

Apple WatchKit developers attending workshops in Cupertino

Apple has invited several third-party iOS app developers to Cupertino to provide assistance with testing and finalizing Apple Watch apps, 9to5Mac reports. The company is apparently also holding workshops for over 100 different developers throughout the month of February. The select group of developers reportedly includes companies working on sports applications, productivity software, banking applications for Apple Pay functionality, and more. As is typical with the pre-launch secrecy Apple normally employs for its products, developers noted that they were in many cases asked to travel to Cupertino on an urgent timeline with very little notice, and that the meetings themselves were conducted with anonymity between developers in attendance, with individuals labeled by unique number identifiers rather than names.

Several of the developers in attendance were also able to provide some initial impressions of the Apple Watch, highlighting some of the more impressive and unique features, describing the Watch OS as “more sophisticated” than the competing Android Wear solutions. However, some functionality is reportedly not yet active, and the built-in Watch features were said to be limited in much the same way the original iPhone was in 2007.

WSJ: Apple working on electric car

Apple “has several hundred employees” working to create an electric vehicle, The Wall Street Journal reports. The project is reportedly codenamed “Titan” and early vehicle designs are similar to a minivan. This report is the latest and most revealing of a number of recent Apple car reports and rumors, but it still notes that “Apple may decide not to proceed with a car,” with the usual caveats. Apple CEO Tim Cook allegedly approved the project nearly a year ago. A self-driving car is not part of the company’s plans, according to sources.

iWork for iCloud beta now available to non-Apple users

Apple has opened up its iWork for iCloud beta, allowing any user to create a new Apple ID and use the service, regardless of whether they are an iOS or Mac user or not. Although the feature is only available on the beta iCloud site, at least for now, users visiting that site can now sign up for a new Apple ID right from within their browser — something that previously required an iOS device or Mac. New users get 1GB of free iCloud storage and access to the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote web apps, and can presumably expand that existing Apple ID to be used with iOS and OS X should they later connect it to an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac. With competitors like Google Docs and Office 365 already long established, it seems unlikely that Apple is trying to promote this as an alternative web-based document platform for general use — it’s more likely that they’re giving prospective Apple users a look at the iWork services to encourage more adoption of iOS devices and Macs.

Apple cracks down on gun and violence imagery in App Store screenshots

Apple has made another adjustment to its App Store review policies, this time cracking down on apps that display examples of gun-related violence in their icons or screenshots, PocketGamer reports. Citing reports from multiple developers, the report notes that Apple has begun rejecting both new games and updates from the App Store that include screenshots that “show people holding guns, or being maimed or killed.” Several examples are noted in the report, with developers being required to change screenshots and resubmit to meet this new restriction, which is reportedly just a more active enforcement of Section 3.6 of the App Store Review Guidelines. Section 3.6 states that “Apps with App icons, screenshots, and previews that do not adhere to the 4+ age rating will be rejected.” It’s worth noting that the rejections seem to be limited exclusively to content shown on the App Store page such as screenshots and icons; there have been no reports of Apple rejecting apps for any guns or violence shown within applications themselves, assuming the content is appropriate for the assigned age rating on the App Store.

Apple readmits marijuana-related app to App Store

Apple has changed course and decided to readmit a marijuana-related app to the App Store, according to a new report from the San Francisco Chronicle. In a controversial move some weeks ago, Apple pulled the app MassRoots from the App Store, despite its presence there from July 2013 until Nov 4, 2014. While the rejection was likely based on Section 2.18 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which states that “Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected,” it seems clear that Apple had not enforced this policy when the app was originally submitted, perhaps in part due to the varying legality of marijuana use between different jurisdictions. Following the app being removed from the App Store, the founder of MassRoots had reportedly contacted Apple, offering to restrict the use of the app based on geofencing to only operate in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. However, at the time Apple “refused to budge.” The company apparently changed course last week, when an Apple representative contacted the founder and notified them that “cannabis social apps” would be permitted on the App Store, provided they are “geo-restricted to the 23 states that have legalized medicinal cannabis.”

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