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iPhone theft decline attributed to Activation Lock feature

iPhone thefts have been dropping dramatically in at least three major cities since Apple introduced its Activation Lock feature in 2013, Reuters reports. Specifically, the number of stolen iPhones in San Francisco has reportedly dropped by 40 percent, while the number of iPhone thefts in New York has dropped by 25 percent, and smartphone theft in general has dropped by half in London. The drop is believed to be a direct result of the anti-theft features that Apple added to iOS 7 in September 2013, which effectively “locked” an iOS device to its owner, preventing a stolen device from being used without entering the original user’s Apple ID and password. Supplementing the “Find My iPhone” feature introduced by Apple some time ago, the new Activation Lock feature essentially turns a stolen iPhone into a useless brick, reducing the motivation for theft. With smartphone theft now accounting for half of all crimes in cities like San Francisco, several U.S. states are considering laws mandating the use of similar “kill switches” in smartphones — California passed a smartphone “kill switch” law last year that has yet to go into effect. While Samsung and Google have added a similar feature, only Apple currently has it setup to be enabled by default.

iOS 8.4 already in development?

In addition to the iOS 8.3 beta released earlier today, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that Apple has also begun development on iOS 8.4 in parallel. Codenamed “Copper,” iOS 8.4 is expected to be released sometime after the Apple Watch debuts, and sources indicate that support for Apple’s upcoming streaming music service may also be incorporated into this release.

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta to developers

In an unusual move, Apple has released a new beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers, alongside the fifth beta of iOS 8.2 seeded last week. This latest beta features a build number of 12F5027d, and includes extremely sparse release notes noting some minor issues with CarPlay and WatchKit. The parallel release of this newer iOS beta suggests that iOS 8.2 has likely reached a freeze point and will be released soon, while Apple wants to allow developers to get an early start on working with the new iOS 8.3 development environment as soon as possible. Notably, this latest version is also accompanied by an Xcode 6.3 beta that incorporates version 1.2 of the new Swift development language, noting “a number of noteworthy changes to the language” as well as a migrator for moving existing code to Swift 1.2 and “enhancements that ease interoperability between Swift and Objective-C code.”

Report: iOS 9 to focus on stability and optimization

Apple’s next major iOS update will be primarily focused on delivering stability, optimization, and performance improvements, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. While most major iOS updates have released at least a few landmark features, the rapid development pace has reportedly taken a toll on the operating system’s overall performance as engineering teams have been more focused on delivering new features than polishing existing ones. With iOS 9, Apple is apparently going to focus primarily on delivering under-the-hood improvements; fixing bugs and improving stability and performance, while also striving to keep the size of the OS manageable to accommodate users with lower-capacity devices.

The report speculates that it’s possible Apple may even limit iOS 9 support to newer 64-bit devices, essentially discontinuing support for the iPhone 5c, iPod touch, and first-generation iPad mini. This approach would be similar to the one Apple took with OS X Snow Leopard a few years ago, but it’s expected that Apple may still debut some new iOS features, such as Transit and Indoor mapping modes for its Maps app. However, features like these would be more dependent on back-end services than forming key new iOS components.

iOS 8 adoption rate reaches 72 percent

According to Apple’s developer website, approximately 72 percent of devices are now running iOS 8 as of February 2, 2015. While this number is up dramatically from estimates made in late September, it’s still lower than the 80 percent adoption rate of iOS 7 reported around this time last year. These latest statistics report that the majority of the remaining devices are still running iOS 7, and approximately 3 percent of iOS devices operate on some prior version. As not all devices are upgradeable to the latest iOS versions, this also includes users who may be unable to upgrade without purchasing a newer device. It’s also worth noting that these numbers are intended for developers and only include devices that actively connect to the App Store, suggesting that they may not be generalizable to the entire iOS user base.

Apple releases iOS 8.2 beta 5 to developers

Apple has released the fifth beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, featuring a build number of 12D5480a. As with other recent betas, this latest one appears to be primarily focused on continuing to refine the development environment for preparing apps for the upcoming debut of the Apple Watch. This latest beta is also accompanied by a beta version of updated software for the third-generation Apple TV.

Apple releases iOS 8.1.3

Apple has officially released iOS 8.1.3 to the public, another relatively minor maintenance release that notes bug fixes, increased stability and performance improvements. The update also addresses problems some users have had signing into Messages and FaceTime, issues with Spotlight sometimes not displaying app results, and multitasking gesture fix for iPad users. The amount of free storage space required to perform an update has also been reduced, and new configuration options have been added for education standardized testing. iOS 8.1.3 is available as an over-the-air update or by updating via iTunes on a Mac or PC.

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 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.

iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 cellular models available in China this week

Apple has announced the Chinese release of the cellular models of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, noting that both versions will be available in China “starting this week.” Both tablets are now available on Apple’s Chinese online store. A single cellular version of each model provides support for the Chinese TD-LTE and FDD-LTE standards, as well as TD-SCDMA, DC-HSDPA, HSPA+ and other fast network technologies, providing cellular connectivity in both China and most other countries.

Apple releases iOS 8.2 beta 2 to developers

Apple has released the second beta of iOS 8.2 to registered developers, following up on the first 8.2 beta released with the debut of WatchKit last month. The latest beta features a build number of 12D445d and appears to contain mostly minor tweaks and fixes, particularly focused on enhancements to WatchKit as developers prepare apps for next year’s debut of the Apple Watch.

Apple releases iOS 8.1.2, fixing missing ringtones issue

Apple has officially released iOS 8.1.2 to the public, a minor maintenance release that notes “bug fixes” as well as addressing a problem with missing ringtones previously purchased through the iTunes Store. The ringtone issue has been noted in an Apple Support article, which provides instructions for either restoring missing tones by syncing with the associated iTunes library containing those tones, or visiting http://itunes.com/restore-tones from Safari on an affected iOS device after updating.

iOS 8.1.2 is available as an over-the-air update or by updating via iTunes on a Mac or PC.

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]

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 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.

US government posts iOS Masque Attack alert

The U.S. Government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has posted an official alert regarding the iOS Masque Attack disclosed earlier this week. The notice summarizes the vulnerability, specifically noting that the vulnerability works “under a limited set of circumstances” and that “in order for the attack to succeed, a user must install an untrusted app, such as one delivered through a phishing link.” The bulletin goes on to reiterate the solutions provided by the original report: specifically that users should not install apps from sources other than Apple’s App Store or their own enterprise organization, should never click install from an app pop-up that appears on a web page, and if iOS shows an “Untrusted App Developer” alert, click on “Don’t Trust” and remove the app.

AnandTech analysis reveals iPad Air 2 A8X GPU design likely customized by Apple

A new analysis by AnandTech of the A8X’s GPU used in Apple’s new iPad Air 2 has revealed some surprising details regarding the new chip’s design and performance. While AnandTech initially thought that that GPU was based on Imagination’s PowerVR GX6650 – a 6-cluster GPU that currently represents the largest of Imagination’s GPU designs – additional investigation reveals that the GPU design has likely been customized by Apple for even higher performance, resulting in a GPU design that AnandTech has dubbed the GX6850. GFXBench measures the iPad Air 2’s performance at double the fill rate found on the A8-equipped Phone 6 Plus, and notes that Apple tends to have a preference for larger bus widths and lower clock speeds for the sake of energy efficiency, suggesting that Apple chose to build a custom eight-cluster design with this in mind. An unreleased die shot of the A8X confirmed to Anandtech that the new GPU design is essentially just two of the A8’s four-cluster GX6450s stacked together. Interestingly, the analysis notes that the iPad Air 2 is “overweight” in terms of GPU performance compared to the iPhone 6 Plus, providing roughly 30 percent better performance per pixel.

AT&T and Verizon tracking customer web activity

New reports reveal that both AT&T and Verizon have been using unique identifying information to track web activity for their respective mobile customers. According to Wired, Verizon has been “subtly altering” web traffic from its wireless customers for the past two years in order to insert a unique identifier header, or UIDH, that allows the company to identify users on the web and target its Internet advertising. This “perma-cookie” — as termed by Jacob Hoffman-Andrews of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — allows any web server to build a profile of a user’s Internet habits. Since Verizon is able to take advantage of its unique position as the Internet Service Provider to actually modify traffic midstream, this method also has the potential to circumvent existing privacy tools such as private browsing sessions and “do not track” restrictions. At this time, there is no way to turn off this UIDH feature, according to a Verizon spokesperson. The company notes that it does not use the feature to create customer profiles, but only targeted ads for those users who have not opted out of the company’s Relevant Mobile Advertising program. Verizon customers can choose to opt out by visiting https://www.vzw.com/myprivacy, however Hoffman-Andrews points out that because the UIDH is broadcast to every web site that a Verizon user visits, other ad networks could begin leveraging the identifier themselves to profile Verizon users’ web activity even without the company’s involvement.

AT&T also appears to have begun testing its own unique mobile tracking solution, according to another report from Forbes. While AT&T claims to only be “testing” the system for now, the company claims to be building in its own privacy measures by rotating the unique identifier every 24 hours. However, the security researcher who discovered the tracking, Kenneth White, states that this is “categorically untrue,” noting that he has found three identifying codes sent by AT&T that were persistent. An AT&T spokesperson declined to reveal how long the test had been running, saying only that it has been a “little while” and claims that customers will be able to opt out of any future AT&T programs that might use this code, noting that unlike Verizon, AT&T will not include the code at all for customers who have chosen to opt out. Users can see if they’re affected by visiting http://205.234.28.93/mobileoptout/ using a cellular data connection from their AT&T mobile device.

In either case, users can check to see if their devices are broadcasting a mobile identifier by visiting http://lessonslearned.org/sniff, a site setup by Kenneth White, the security researcher who discovered the tracking. [via MacRumors]

AT&T locks Apple SIM cards upon activation in iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3

Users who activate Apple’s own SIM card to use an AT&T data plan with the Wi-Fi + Cellular models of iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 3 are finding the SIM will lock itself to AT&T, and can no longer be used by another network. Though it appeared the SIM card would be interchangeable between AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile — though not Verizon — it’s not the case with AT&T. The issue was confirmed by Re/code through AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel, who said users will need another SIM card to switch carriers, as the device remains unlocked. Why did AT&T decide to lock its card, unlike T-Mobile or Sprint? Siegel said “it’s just simply the way we’ve chosen to do it.” An Apple support document notes: “If your Apple SIM becomes dedicated to a specific network and you want to choose from other carrier programs, you can purchase a new Apple SIM from an Apple Retail store.” T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted a screenshot of AT&T’s SIM card prompt on Thursday. [via MacRumors]

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