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Apple reiterates, strengthens its opposition to FBI’s demands in iPhone ‘backdoor’ request

In a memo sent out this morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked employees for their support during the company’s high-profile fight with the FBI and reiterated the company’s position against complying with an order to develop a new “backdoor” to decrypt information stored on the cell phone of one of the San Bernadino shooters,Buzzfeed reports. Cook responded to the FBI’s request via an open letter to customers last Tuesday, and today Apple posted a Q&A addressing further questions customers may have about the growing debate, explaining that the removal of privacy safeguards and the legal precedent set by such a move would put all Apple users at risk of having their personal information compromised. While FBI Director James Comey argued in a blog post that the FBI isn’t looking for a master key for access to all iPhones, Apple said the FBI’s argument — that the unlocking technique, once created, would be used only once for this specific iPhone — is impossible to guarantee. “Yes, it is certainly possible to create an entirely new operating system to undermine our security features as the government wants,” the document reads. “But it’s something we believe is too dangerous to do. The only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.”

Report: iPhone 7 may include stereo speakers in place of headphone jack

In addition to the previously rumoured dual-camera system, a new report from MacRumors suggests that the iPhone 7 may also include dual stereo speakers, with the second speaker being located in place of the 3.5mm headphone jack found on current iPhone 6s models. Reports that Apple was considering dropping the headphone jack began to surface last fall, although it wasn’t until last week that two analysts from Barclays suggested that Apple was in fact considering adding a second speaker in its place for stereo audio. The Barclays report suggested that the speaker system would be powered by an amp chip from Cirrus Logic, a notion seemingly confirmed by today’s report from DigiTimes that Cirrus Logic has now begun ramping up production capacity to provide chips for the iPhone 7.

Further details of Apple-FBI iPhone showdown revealed

An article in The New York Times provides some additional background details on what led up to Apple’s recent legal battles with the FBI over unlocking the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The Times profiled Tim Cook and his past efforts involving digital privacy and human rights, and highlighted scenarios where Apple has previously worked with law enforcement agencies in responding to data-extraction requests, contrasting those with the current situation in which the CEO of the Cupertino company is now digging in his heels.

Notably, Apple has cooperated with law enforcement agencies in past years, although the company has often required that officials bring the devices under investigation to the company’s headquarters to be worked on by trusted Apple engineers in RF-shielded Faraday bags. More recently, however, with the development of iOS 8, Apple had taken steps to make it virtually impossible for even Apple engineers to gain access to encrypted iPhone data, essentially putting “keys squarely in the hands of the customer.” Apple continued to comply with court orders to the extent that it could, and in another situation similar to the current FBI request, a federal judge in New York ruled last October that the U.S. Government was overstepping its boundaries in the use of the All Writs Act to compel Apple to open an iPhone for a drug investigation — that particular case also still remains pending. Interestingly, the Times report also notes that Apple did work with the FBI following the San Bernardino attack to gather and provide data from the iPhone in question that had been backed up to iCloud. However, investigators also wanted unspecified information on the iPhone that had not been backed up, resulting in the judge ordering Apple to create a tool specifically to allow investigators to easily crack the iPhone’s passcode to gain access to the device.

Apple issues iOS 9.2.1 patch to fix ‘Error 53’ problem

Following reports earlier this month that certain unauthorized repairs made to iPhones were causing device failures,  Apple has now issued an updated version of iOS — version 9.2.1 — that will restore any iPhones that have been “bricked” with this error message as well as preventing future iPhones from being disabled in the event of third-party repairs. Apple has also issued a support document detailing the error and the process to update or restore devices that are affected by the issue.

Apple offers new iPhone trade-in installment upgrade program

Apple has created a new hybrid of its iPhone Reuse + Recycle Program and iPhone Upgrade Program, allowing users to trade-in their old iPhone and then pay for a new model in installments, USA Today reports. The new program, dubbed “Trade Up With Installments,” can cost users as little as $15 per month depending on the iPhone and other smartphone models involved, and it allows users to trade in an older iPhone or even an Android or Windows phone. iPhone models as far back as the iPhone 4 can be traded in, and the report estimates that users will pay about $15 per month for each step up in model, with an interest-free term lasting for 24 months, similar to Apple’s current direct iPhone Upgrade Program. The report provides examples, indicating that users could pay $14.54 to $14.58/month to move from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 6s or from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5s, or at the other extreme, $35.37/month to move from an iPhone 4 to a 128GB iPhone 6s Plus. The program is expected to be available in U.S. Apple Stores today.

Bon Appétit’s March issue features photos shot on iPhone 6s

Bon Appétit insisted photographers shoot the main photos for its March issue with the iPhone 6s and documented their reactions to trading in their camera equipment for Apple’s flagship smartphone. Common complaints were a lack of fine control over depth of field and ability to keep lighting consistent, but New Orleans photographer Daymon Gardner said the experience was “liberating,” allowing him to keep everything more “conversational and loose” with the subjects as he shot photos. While he bought a couple of macro lenses to give the phone’s camera a boost, Gardner said he didn’t find them very effective. “The beauty of iPhone photography is that it’s very simple,” he said.

Apple stops selling iPhone 4s, 5c models in India

Apple has stopped selling to iPhone 4s and 5c models to customers in India, The Economic Times reports. The move essentially doubles the price of an entry-level iPhone in the country, from the 12,000 rupees charged for the iPhone 4s to 24,000 rupees for the iPhone 5s. The move brings the Indian market in line with countries like the U.S. and Canada, where the iPhone 5s is already the low-end option available from Apple, but the move could impact the company’s sales to a greater extent in India, where the fastest growing segment of the cell phone market is priced below 20,000 rupees. Apple is making a strong push in the Indian market, planning to open its own retail locations and starting up a development center in Hyderabad expected to employ around 150 people on the Maps team.

Tim Cook’s open letter opposes court order to unlock iPhone

A federal judge has ordered Apple to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, and Apple CEO Tim Cook has responded with a letter noting that Apple opposes the court order. As reported by NBC News, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has argued that it needs Apple’s help to access encrypted content contained on the iPhone in question. The court ruled that Apple had five days to respond if the company believed compliance would be “unreasonably burdensome.” The iPhone is actually owned by the employer of the shooter, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, and the county has consented to investigators’ requests to search its contents.

Apple’s official response has arrived much earlier than five days. In an open letter titled “A Message to Our Customers,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has reiterated the company’s stance against creating a “backdoor” for government access to encrypted content. As the letter begins, “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

Report: Apple expanding electromagnetic interference shielding in iPhone 7

Citing unnamed sources, South Korean site ETNews claims Apple is expanding its use of electromagnetic interference shielding to most of the major chips in the new iPhone 7. Apple has previously applied shielding to its circuit boards and connector, but expanding the technique to more components would decrease the space required between them, allowing for further miniaturization of the phone’s profile and possibly providing more space for the battery. Apple first used the process in the original Apple Watch — where space was at a premium — and has reportedly invested “tens of millions of dollars” in contracts with South Korean companies StatsChipPac and Amkor to expand the technology into the iPhone 7. The new process means higher costs for each shielded component, but the publication’s source emphasized the growing necessity to reduce interference “as clock signals of digital chips have increased and as diverse functions such as 3D-touch and others have recently [been] added.” [via Patently Apple]

iPad Air 3, iPhone 5se expected to be available March 18

Following reports that the iPhone 5se and iPad Air 3 will be unveiled on March 15, it now appears that the models will also be available in Apple Stores three days later, on March 18, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. With the devices going on sale so soon after the event, sources suggest that Apple is unlikely to offer pre-orders for either of the new devices, although they cautioned that Apple’s plans could still change. In the case of iPhones, in particular, Apple has traditionally opened pre-orders within two to three days after it unveils a new model, with in-store availability coming one to two weeks later, around the same time pre-orders begin arriving in customers’ hands. While Apple’s iPad releases have been a little less consistent in this regard, it would still be unusual for Apple to release both devices in-store so quickly following a major Apple event. Sources have suggested that Apple has already begun ramping up production of the new four-inch iPhone, which is intended to bring the latest technology — specifically NFC for Apple Pay — to the iPhone 5 family for users who may be reluctant to embrace the larger iPhone 6 screen sizes.

Apple will source iPhone 7 ‘A10’ CPU solely from TSMC

Apple will be sourcing the new CPU for its iPhone 7 models exclusively from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), according to a new report from The Electronic Times . The two companies reportedly reached a deal based on the Taiwanese company’s manufacturing process for 10nm chips and more advanced designs that provide better performance and efficiency. Although Apple had been rumoured to be looking for new suppliers for its A9 CPU in the two iPhone 6s models, the company went back to Samsung for at least some of its chips, splitting chip orders between both Samsung and TSMC. This led to a number of reports that the TSMC version of the A9 provided significantly better battery life than the Samsung version in at least some artificial benchmarks, with Apple tacitly acknowledging the difference but noting that it represents a two to three percent variance under real-world usage conditions. TSMC is expected to begin production of the A10 chip in June, with a ramp-up of its 10nm manufacturing process in the second half of 2016, ramping up to full production in 2017. [via MacRumors]

Federal bill aims to take regulatory power for phone encryption out of state hands

A new bipartisan bill introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives aims to bar states from introducing their own bans on smartphone encryption, The Verge reports. At the urging of local district attorney’s offices, assemblymen in New York and California have introduced identical bills that would ban smartphone encryption for phones sold in those states and fine manufacturers for each phone sold with secure disk encryption. While critics argue it wouldn’t be feasible to tailor phone encryption capabilities for specific states, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) have introduced the Ensuring National Constitutional Rights of Your Private Telecommunications (ENCRYPT) Act to override state and local government encryption laws, over concerns that having varying bills on encryption would endanger the country and the competitiveness of American companies.

Screen protector installation now available at Apple Stores

Apple Stores worldwide began offering screen protector installation for iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus and 6s Plus users starting today. As previously reported, Apple has partnered with Belkin to place specialized screen protector installation machines in the back of stores, allowing customers to have their screen protector properly installed free of charge after they buy it. Two types of screen protectors — “Invisiglass” and “Anti-Glare” — are being offered. Apple will guarantee the installation of screen protectors and offer a free replacement and re-attempt at installation if the protector isn’t installed successfully for the customer. Many stores began rolling out the new process last week, but it is available everywhere as of today.

Lawyers threaten to sue Apple over ‘Error 53’ codes disabling iPhones

After reports that iOS 9 updates have disabled iPhone 6 and 6s devices that had third-party repairs done to their Touch ID sensors, law firms in the U.S. and U.K. are considering legal action against Apple, The Guardian reports. Users with iPhones that have been repaired by someone other than Apple or that have unrepaired damage have reported receiving an “Error 53” message when updating their device’s software, leaving the phone locked and completely unusable. Seattle-based law firm PCVA is preparing a class action lawsuit, saying it believes Apple’s stance violates several consumer protection laws, and the firm has offered to represent victims for free.

Apple releases iOS 9.3 beta 3, tvOS 9.2 beta 3, watchOS 2.2 beta 3 to developers

Apple has released three of its latest betas to developers today with iOS 9.3 beta 3, tvOS 9.2 beta 3, and watchOS 2.2 beta 3. The public version of iOS 9.3 beta 3 should be released later this week. We’ll update our iOS and tvOS “Inside the betas” article later on with any relevant information.

Conflicting reports over pink color to be featured in iPhone 5se

Ahead of the expected March 15 reveal of the iPhone 5se, conflicting reports have emerged about which shade of pink will be featured on the new iPhone. Macotakara reported that the new model will be available in the hot pink color that appeared in the new iPod touch and iPod nano last summer, instead of the rose gold featured in the iPhone 6s. 9to5Mac pushed back against that rumor, claiming its sources are holding firm that the new phones will be available in the same silver, space gray, gold and rose gold colors as the iPhone 6s models. Apple is even said to be adding a rose gold variation to the iPad Air 3, in an effort to keep hardware colors consistent across all of its iOS devices. New versions of the 12-inch Macbook and iPad mini may also be available in rose gold, but are unlikely to debut on March 15.

Report: Some third-party repairs ‘bricking’ iPhones with iOS 9

A new report from The Guardian notes that thousands of iPhone 6 users are claiming to have been left holding useless iPhones as a result of repairs carried out by non-Apple authorized technicians. According to the report, users who previously had iPhone 6 models repaired at unauthorized third-party service centers have encountered an “Error 53” when updating to iOS 9, leaving their devices locked in a completely unusable state. The problem seems to center on handsets where a Touch ID home button has been repaired by an unauthorized company or individual, but it has also reportedly impacted customers with damaged iPhones that have otherwise been able to carry on using them without repairs.

Challenges with third parties making repairs involving the Touch ID sensor aren’t actually new: A 2013 report from iMore, released shortly after Apple introduced Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, revealed the Touch ID sensor and related hardware on each iPhone unit is specifically paired to that unit, presumably for security purposes. Home buttons, which include the Touch ID sensor, cannot be swapped between even identical iPhones, and the iMore article states that “For DIY repairers, things just got a bit more difficult. When removing the screen, say to replace a cracked screen, you’ll also need to remove the Touch ID cable to transfer it to the new screen. Extra care will need to be taken to ensure the cable isn’t damaged.”

Apple to begin taking broken iPhones for trade-in, offer in-store screen protector installation

Apple is planning to launch two new retail initiatives for iPhone users, according to a new report by 9to5Mac. The first is an enhancement to the company’s Reuse and Recycle Program that it launched two years ago, allowing customers to bring in an older iPhone model to trade it in and receive credit toward the purchase of a new iPhone. Starting this week, in addition to working iPhone models, Apple will now begin accepting iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus units with damaged displays, cameras, and buttons, with sources indicating that the current trade-in values for such models will be $50 for an iPhone 5s, $200 for an iPhone 6, and $250 for an iPhone 6 Plus. Sources indicate that Apple believes this will encourage users to upgrade to a newer iPhone model, rather than simply paying for a standard iPhone screen repair.

Report: iPhone 7 to include flush camera lens, drop rear antenna bands

A few new details have emerged on Apple’s iPhone 7, as reported by MacRumors. Citing a reliable source, the report notes that the iPhone 7 body will be very similar to the iPhone 6 design, although the rear camera will apparently sit flush with the rear casing, rather than protruding as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6s. The iPhone 7 will also reportedly exclude the antenna bands across the rear, providing a cleaner, flat metal look on the back, although antenna bands at the sides and around the top and bottom edges will apparently remain much the same as they are on current iPhone 6/6s models.

Report: iPhone 5se, iPad Air 3 set for March 15 unveil

Apple is looking to hold an event on March 15 to unveil a new iPhone, iPad Air, and Apple Watch band options, 9to5Mac reports, following a report last week that the new standard-sized iPad would be available in March, while also revealing that the rumored 4-inch iPhone model will debut at the same time. Sources suggest that the new “iPhone 5se” will include an A9 chip, improved cameras, Live Photos support, and Apple Pay, while mirroring the general design of the iPhone 5s and coming in at the same price, starting at $450 for 16GB, with a 64GB model also being available. The report suggests that the iPad Air 3 will look much as suggested in previous reports, with enhanced speakers, a possible rear LED flash, and a Smart Connector like that found on the iPad Pro. Apple will also reportedly introduce new Apple Watch bands and software at the same event, although it appears no actual new Apple Watch device hardware will be unveiled.

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