U.S. prosecutors have postponed their showdown with Apple by two weeks to try a “third party” method for unlocking the iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, Reuters reports. A federal judge granted the Department of Justice’s request to stall the hearing until April 5 while the FBI tries the newly discovered method to unlock the phone, which is at the center of a case which has seen Apple refusing to cooperate with the FBI’s request to develop new software for disabling the phone’s password security features. Until Monday, the government insisted it had no other way to access the iPhone, and lawyers supporting Apple said the timing of the request for delay suggests the DOJ feared it would lose a legal battle based on the assertion that it had tried every other way to get into the phone. “From a purely technical perspective, one of the most fragile parts of the government’s case is the claim that Apple’s help is required to unlock the phone,” said Matt Blaze, a professor and computer security expert at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many in the technical community have been skeptical that this is true, especially given the government’s considerable resources.” The government’s use of the All Writs Act had also recently come into doubt after a judge ruled the AWA couldn’t be used to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone in a similar case.
Apple officially announced the release of iOS 9.3 today during the company’s special event in Cupertino, and the update is now available. Originally released in January to developers, and then later as part of the company’s public beta program, iOS 9.3 is an unusually feature-packed update for a point iOS release, as we observed in our early analysis of the betas.
As expected from recent reports, Apple today announced the new 4-inch iPhone SE. Apple VP Greg Joswiak took the stage to highlight the new addition to the company’s iPhone lineup, explaining that, despite the popularity of larger-screened iPhone models, a market for a 4-inch iPhone still exists, as “some people love smaller phones” and many users are still new to the iPhone entirely, especially in markets such as China.
The U.S. Supreme Court will review a judge’s decision to award Apple $548 million in damages from Samsung in a patent infringement case, The Wall Street Journal reports. Apple had hoped the Supreme Court wouldn’t get involved, arguing that the lower court had appropriately assessed the fines. The Cupertino company also deemed the case “legally unexceptional” despite the high dollar amount involved. A federal appeals court upheld the awarded damages last December, but the Supreme Court will now hear Samsung’s appeal that the 1887 law cited is “outdated and too punitive for modern products such as a smartphone.” A jury ruled that basic design elements of certain Samsung smartphones were too close to Apple’s iPhone design, but Samsung argues that those design aspects don’t affect the functionality of the phone. [via Apple Insider]
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered a bug in Apple’s iMessage software which allowed them to decrypt photos and video sent through the secure messaging service, The Washington Post reports. Apple says it partially addressed the problem with the release of iOS 9 last fall and will fully fix the issue with the release of iOS 9.3. “We appreciate the team of researchers that identified this bug and brought it to our attention so we could patch the vulnerability,” Apple said in a statement. “Security requires constant dedication and we’re grateful to have a community of developers and researchers who help us stay ahead.”
The FAA and Alaska Airlines are investigating after a passenger’s iPhone 6 burst into flames during a flight, ABC News reports. Anna Crail claimed she was watching a movie on the phone when flames began shooting out of the device. “All of the sudden there was like 8-inch flames coming out of my phone,” Crail said. “And I flipped it off onto the ground and it got under someone’s seat, and the flames were just getting higher and a bunch of people stood up.”
A photo posted on Chinese site Weibo shows an alleged spec sheet for the four-inch iPhone, which appears to confirm that the upcoming model will indeed be named the “iPhone SE” as expected, and that a 16GB capacity model will be available. Unsurprisingly, the image also shows that the new model will support NFC for use with Apple Pay. The new four-inch iPhone SE is expected to be announced at Apple’s upcoming event on Monday, March 21. [via 9to5Mac]
Another leaked photo obtained by French website NowhereElse appears to support previous rumors that the upcoming iPhone 7 will do away with the straight horizontal antenna lines of its iPhone 6s predecessor. The photo shows the bottom half of a silver device featuring a curved antenna line instead of the iPhone 6s’s dual-line design on the phone’s rear. Another leaked photo from earlier in the week appeared to show a design schematic for a new iPhone that featured curved antenna lines at both the top and bottom of the device. The antenna line in this new image is similarly positioned to that in the previous image, but slightly higher and seemingly bulkier. The angle of the new picture doesn’t allow for a glimpse at the possible top antenna or the bottom of the phone, lending no further insights into rumors that the new phone will do away with its headphone jack in favor of stereo speakers.
Alongside redoubled efforts to strengthen iOS security, Apple is trying to make iCloud encryption so tough that the company won’t be able hand over information to law enforcement, but has concerns that such strong encryption could be a detriment to users who forget their passcodes, The Wall Street Journal reports. Apple’s current iCloud backups are encrypted, but not tied to a user’s unique passcode, so authorities can access content users back up this way with relative ease. Over the years Apple has provided police with information tied to a variety of court cases, but after FBI demands that Apple build a way to crack a terrorist’s iPhone, the company is faced with the possibility that it could be asked to hack into its own security systems. Tim Cook has reportedly told colleagues that he continues to stand by Apple’s goals to encrypt everything stored on Apple devices and online services, including iCloud. So in response to FBI pressure, Apple wants to re-engineer the iCloud backups with encryption based on each user’s passcode, making the company unable to decrypt the data without the proper passcode. That would take the keys out of Apple’s hands when the government comes asking for information, but it would also leave users who forget their passcode without a viable option for retrieving their personal data, leaving Apple in something of a quandary over how far it’s willing to inconvenience users in order to make its products more secure. [via 9to5Mac]
Apple recently released the seventh beta for its upcoming iOS 9.3 update. The new beta was released to both developers and public beta testers. With an iOS 9.3 final public release expected to come as early as next week, it’s already surprising that Apple has released a seventh beta installment. Although the release notes are sparse, it’s safe to assume that this seventh beta predominantly includes bug fixes and minor optimizations to tighten up iOS 9.3 before its final release. Apple also released a seventh watchOS 2.2 beta to developers. Anything particularly noteworthy will be found in a future update of our Inside the betas piece.
An unverified tip claims Apple is preparing a promotional video ahead of next week’s event touting the ability to shoot 4K video on the new ‘iPhone SE,’ Apple Insider reports. Until now there hasn’t been speculation one way or the other as to whether the new phone would be able to capture 4K video, but if rumors about the new device’s camera and CPU being basically equivalent to those of the iPhone 6s are accurate, the omission of 4K recording would seem to be an artificial limitation, rather than a technical one.
John Oliver — from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver — has unleashed his satirical brand of humor on Apple’s fight with the FBI over cell phone encryption, spending the last half of this week’s show on the issue. After pointing out the simplified way that Apple’s critics portray the security issues at stake in the case, Oliver admits it sounds scary. But once he lays out Apple’s case for not wanting to create code that could used to hack all of its devices, Oliver concludes, “The FBI and its supporters can be weirdly dismissive of that issue in ways that indicate they either don’t fully understand how technology works or are pretending not to.” The segment lambasts the government’s use of the All Writs Act to compel the company’s cooperation and the idea that the code Apple makes to access the phone can be destroyed after a single use.
After last week’s leaked case photos hinted at a larger camera in the upcoming iPhone 7, another round of photos posted by French website NowhereElse appear to snow a much larger camera opening in the new device. Purportedly from a Catcher Technology factory, the schematic plans show the back case of an alleged iPhone, with changes to the hole for the camera and a lack of antenna lines. The camera hole appears bigger than the camera hole on the iPhone 6 or 6s, hinting at some sort of upgrade, but since the photos appear to show the 4.7-inch model, they shed no more light on other rumors that the iPhone 7 Plus will be getting a dual-camera system.
Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, has officially debunked the longstanding myth that users should quit background iOS apps in order to improve performance or save battery life, 9to5Mac reports. A 9to5Mac reader emailed Apple CEO Tim Cook asking the company for an official stance on whether this was necessary. The message was passed on to Federighi who responded with an uncategorical “no.”
While Apple’s own support documents and various iOS presentations over the years have pretty clearly implied that force-quitting apps should not be necessary except in cases where apps become unresponsive, there has been a persistent myth for years that force-quitting apps somehow improves the performance or battery life on iOS devices, perhaps due to the way that multitasking works on traditional Windows and OS X-based computers, not to mention Android devices. Further, even Apple’s own stance has not been entirely consistent at the lower levels, with iLounge’s own editors and readers encountering Genius Bar staff in Apple Stores who have recommended closing apps to “improve performance.” However, since the multitasking frameworks in iOS exercise an almost draconian control over background processes, most apps are actually suspended when in the background, using no CPU or battery power at all. While there are exceptions to this rule, these are usually obvious, such as navigation apps that use the actual GPS hardware (as opposed to mere “geo-fencing” apps that trigger location-based alerts), Voice-over-IP apps, and apps that play or record audio in the background. In many cases the user should be well aware that these apps are running, and are likely actively using them in some way.
French website NowhereElse has posted what it claims to be several leaked photos of a silicone iPhone 7 case obtained from an accessory manufacturer, fueling previous rumors that Apple is doing away with the headphone jack. The clear case appears to fit a phone similar to the iPhone 6 and 6S in shape and button placement, but with a cutout for a second speaker where the previous phones had a 3.5 mm headphone port. Apple has been rumored to be looking to drop the headphone jack in favor of adding a second speaker for stereo audio, and is expected to launch cord-free Beats earphones alongside the new iPhone 7.
Citing pre-publication notes from DigiTimes — a notoriously spotty source for Apple news — The Motley Fool reports Apple has “plans to launch a 5.8-inch iPhone featuring rigid AMOLED display panels in 2018 or even earlier in 2017.” The report, cited as coming from Taiwan-based Apple supply chain makers, echoes previous rumors that Apple would be turning to LG Display and Samsung Electronics to supply the new screen technology for an upcoming generation of iPhones. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted Apple will release two variants of the iPhone 7 Plus this fall — one with a single lens camera and another with a dual-lens camera — but this new report is the first mention of Apple considering production of a 5.8-inch iPhone model.
The U.S. Department of Justice is appealing last week’s court ruling that prevented the government from forcing Apple to unlock an iPhone, Reuters reports. The DOJ has submitted its arguments to a higher court after a magistrate judge in Brooklyn ruled the All Writs Act can’t justify asking Apple to help the government access an encrypted device. The new filing cites the ruling of a judge in California who found the All Writs Act an acceptable rationale for compelling Apple’s cooperation, pitting two lower courts against one another. While the cases are slightly different, the government’s use of the AWA to justify its position is the same, and Apple CEO Tim Cook said he is willing to take the California case all the way to the Supreme Court. The DOJ has at least a dozen more iPhones it wants cracked in a similar fashion, and FBI Director James Comey has publicly admitted that success in applying the AWA in any of these cases would be used as a precedent to justify similar legal requests moving forward.
Apple has released yet another beta for its upcoming iOS update, in the form of iOS 9.3 beta 6. The new beta has been released to both developers and public beta testers. With an iOS 9.3 final public release believed to be around the corner, this sixth beta could be the last beta seen before the iOS update goes live to all users. Apple also released a sixth watchOS 2.2 beta to developers today. Anything particularly noteworthy will be found in a future update of our Inside the betas piece.
Lavabit, the secure email company that shut down in 2013 rather than hand over its encryption key to the U.S. government, has joined the growing list of companies filing amicus briefs on Apple’s behalf as it battles the FBI in court, TechCrunch reports. In the brief, Lavabit details the “extraordinary assistance” the FBI demanded three years ago, after public disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden led authorities to the company’s email service. “In the same vein, the government now seeks extraordinary assistance from Apple,” Lavabit wrote, arguing that “the government’s extraordinary request eviscerates the purpose of the All Writs Act, and unnecessarily compromises the proprietary intellectual property of a private company that has not been implicated, in any way, with the crime under investigation.”
The National Assembly of France has voted in favor of a bill that would penalize smartphone makers such as Apple who refuse to cooperate with terrorism inquiries, The Guardian reports. The move, which goes against the wishes of the French government, took the form of an amendment to a penal reform bill related to the end of the state of emergency which has been in place in France since last fall’s Paris terrorist attacks. The state of emergency is expected to be lifted in May. The amendment stipulates a private company that refuses to hand over encrypted data to any investigating authority could face a €350,000 fine ($385,000), and up five years in jail for those deemed liable. The French government has shown a reluctance to take on large phone companies in this manner, leading the report to speculate whether the amendment will actually make it through the remaining and lengthy parliamentary process, which would include a vote and possible amendment by the French Senate, possible constitutional review, and additional commissions.