Despite attempts to reduce fraudulent App Store reviews, developers are continuing to use deceptive practices to boost the sales of their applications, and have expanded beyond the App Store by posting comments on online reviews. In an investigation of suspicious comments that began in early March of this year, iLounge has discovered foreign postings from India and Indonesia that illustrate how developers have been generating artificially positive feedback for their products. Additionally, reports indicate that “app review blogs” have been set up to offer developer-purchased positive reviews of iPhone and iPod touch software under the guise of independently generated content.
In one example, the Indonesian web site jauharimedia.com includes a number of “freelance” job requests for people to post positive reviews of iPhone apps on the App Store. A separate posting from username “timiphone”, found on iPhoneDevForums.com promises “4-5 star reviews” at a cost of $2 each, with a minimum order of 100 reviews. The same screen name “timiphone” was attached to a positive review on the App Store for the app FreeContact from DarkApples. Additionally, iPhone developer Brandon, author of the app gCalWall, claims that a site he contacted in hopes of getting his application reviewed responded with a $50 offer (warning: strong language) for an “expedited review,” with a promise that the review would only be published if the site’s reviewers “approve” the app, accompanied by a solicitation for advertising, which includes one “expedited review” for free. The site, identified elsewhere as “AppCraver,” claimed to be read by venture capitalists and journalists, and noted that “our readers are not interested in negative reviews.”
iLounge has continued to block astroturfing reviews and related comments from application developers, including Robosoft, an Indian company that has developed a number of iPhone apps, including 99Games Online’s WordsWorth, which posted multiple fake “fan” comments attacking a competing product called Bookworm. Other developers, such as the ones behind Voicebox and Westward, have also been blocked for posting policy-violating comments.
Speaking in an interview with Wired over the current state of App Store piracy, Kai Yu, president of BeeJive, said the situation was worse than most realize. “We think that current piracy of content from the App Store is much more widespread than most people realize,” Yu said. Yu added that after installing analytics software in the company’s BeeJive IM application, the company discovered 60 percent of activity coming from pirated copies; it has since taken measures to disable cracked copies. However, Yu remains optimistic that Apple will address the situation, saying, “This will hopefully be a temporary state, mostly due to the ‘newness’ of the App Store. It is like the Wild West.”
iPhone analytics company Medialets estimates at least 5,000 apps have been cracked thus far, according to the Wired report. There are multiple websites hosting pirated copies of apps, including one that currently offers roughly 3,200 cracked apps, and apps can also be found in Torrent files, including a 5.4 gigabyte file called the X-Mas iBrain Pack, which contains 808 cracked iPhone applications.
Despite the seemingly widespread problem of app piracy, some developers feel it has not made a significant impact on sales. Brian Greenstone, owner of Pangea Software, said the company actively tracked piracy of its game Enigmo, only to see a 5 percent piracy rate in the app’s first week on the store, a figure which fell to nearly zero percent afterwards. “Like any piracy scheme, it’s just a matter of time until hackers find their way around,” Greenstone said. “There are things we can do as developers, but since the piracy rate is so low, my thought is ‘Who cares? It’s not even worth the trouble.’”
AT&T stores have begun to offer fully subsidized pricing on the iPhone 3G to select early upgrade customers. According to Apple Insider, the company is waiving the upgrade clause for customers who are approximately 14 months into their 24-month contract and want to purchase an iPhone 3G. Previously, users who were not yet eligible for upgrade pricing were forced to pay $399 for the 8GB model and $499 for the 16GB. The move comes closely after the launch of contract-free iPhone 3G sales by both AT&T and Apple, suggesting the companies may be trying to clear inventory ahead of a new model.
Internet metrics firm comScore has released its first data on iPhone use in the U.K. Based on a three-month average ending in January, iPhone users lead traditional smartphone users in all measured online activity, with 93 percent of iPhone users accessing mobile media in January. Nearly 80% of iPhone users accessed news or information via the Safari browser, compared to 48% of smartphone users, and 75.4% accessed e-mail, compared to just 35.4% of smartphone users. 65.6% listened to mobile music, while 55.6% accessed news or info via a downloaded application, compared to percentages of 40.5 and 22.1, respectively, for traditional smartphone users. 54.8 percent accessed a social networking site, 55.5% accessed weather information, and 55.1% used web search, with 29.6%, 26.1%, and 31.9% of smartphone users accessing the same services, respectively.
“The iPhone is indeed an early adopter phenomenon in the United Kingdom,” said comScore analyst Alistair Hill. “While the device’s ease of use is certainly contributing to the lift we see in mobile media consumption, the fact that the device requires a subscription package that includes an unlimited data plan is also a contributing factor. However, it is also important to note that while nearly all iPhone owners are consuming mobile media, the device is in the hands of only two percent of mobile phone users in the UK.”
Apple has begun to offer the iPhone 3G without a contract in its own retail stores, according to a new report. The move comes just one week after AT&T confirmed that it would offer the handset without a contract. Apple Insider reports that the two companies differ on the terms of sale, with AT&T restricting units to one per customer, who must have an existing AT&T contract, while Apple is not requiring either pre-requisite. The no-contract iPhone 3Gs are priced at $599 for the 8GB model and $699 for 16GB units.
China Unicom has reached a deal with Apple to offer the iPhone in China and may be planning to launch the handset on May 17, According to a new report. Citing Chinese-language Sita, JLM Pacific Epoch reports that the Shanghai subsidiary of China Unicom — the same subsidiary that yesterday posted a page for the iPhone 3G online — has confirmed an agreement between the two companies. A “related employee” said that the Shanghai office heard the news today, and has begun prepping for the launch, which could come on May 17.
Citing a second report from Communications Weekly based on an unnamed insider, Unicom plans to announce the agreement on May 17, and that the company has begun testing in Hebei province’s Lanfang, Baoding, Tangshan and Qinhuangdao cities. The insider indicated that the agreement involves Unicom subsidizing the iPhone hardware, purchasing a designated number of units, and sharing revenue from value-added wireless services with Apple. Apple will be responsible for localizing the software, testing iPhone compatibility with Unicom’s WCDMA network, and has agreed to lock the phones to Unicom’s network.
According to mobile advertisement firm AdMob’s Mobile Metrics report for February, the iPhone now accounts for one-third of all worldwide smartphone web traffic, and half—49.5%—of US traffic. Interestingly, the iPod touch ranked second in worldwide handset traffic, with 6.7%, following only the iPhone with 11.2%. Apple ranked second in worldwide handset share, with 17.9% of requests compared to Nokia’s 30.2%. In the US, Apple ranked first with 27.1% of requests, and both the iPhone and iPod touch hold a greater percentage of requests, the iPhone leading with 16.4%, followed by the iPod touch with 10.6%. Overall, worldwide requests were down 3% month over month to 6.6 billion.
A new lawsuit has been filed against Apple for promoting the iPhone as a touchscreen book reader. MONEC Holding Ltd of Switzerland has filed a seven-page complaint in a Virginia district court, accusing Apple of patent infringement, unfair trade practices, monopolization, and tortious interference, relating to MONEC’s 2002 patent titled “Electronic device, preferably an electronic book.” The patent describes an electronic device with a touchscreen LCD display, having the “dimensions such that [...] approximately one page of a book can be illustrated at normal size, this display being integrated in a flat, frame-like housing.” MONEC argues that Apple is “well aware” of its patent and that the iPhone maker’s infringement has caused injury to its property and business, which it hopes to reclaim as damages; the company is also seeking attorney’s fees and an injunction preventing Apple from further infringement.
A listing for the iPhone 3G has appeared on China Unicom’s regional Shanghai website (Translated Link), suggesting the carrier may be close to a deal with Apple to launch the iPhone in China. The page in question appears in a section of Unicom’s site dedicated to its upcoming WCDMA 3G rollout, alongside dedicated pages for the HTC G1, Sony Ericsson X1, and Nokia’s N97 and E71 smartphones; notably, the iPhone 3G page also includes images of the iPhone 2G, and makes reference to certain features—such as animated screensavers—that the iPhones don’t actually include. According to Macworld UK, a China Unicom delegation made a breakthrough last week in its talks with Apple to bring the handset to China; the company had previously confirmed that it was in talks with Apple over the iPhone. The China Unicom page does not specify whether the company will sell the iPhone.
John Carmack of id Software has released an open-source port of his classic FPS game Wolfenstein 3D for the iPhone and iPod touch. Available under a GPL license as a direct download from id, the code is not compiled, requiring access to Apple’s iPhone SDK to be rendered playable, and offers developers the opportunity to create their own takes on the somewhat enhanced version of the original game.
In a statement included with the game code, Carmack explained how Wolfenstein RPG, originally slated to be the company’s first iPhone title, stumbled in development after a disagreement with publisher Electronic Arts over the graphics renderer, which delivered sub-par visual performance that resembled a mid-range JAVA phone. Carmack noted that switching the rendering from a software engine to the iPhone’s 3D hardware accelerator was claimed to require two months and an excessively high budget, but took him four days and improved the frame rate by eight times its prior performance; still, it is unclear whether the improved title will be appearing on the iPhone. He went on to say that the company does have a “cool” but unnamed iPhone project in development, and that he expects Classic Doom to be available for the iPhone “fairly soon.”
Update: id has released Wolfenstein 3D Classic via the App Store. The game includes all six original episodes with 60 levels, an all-new control system developed for the iPhone by John Carmack, and sells for $5.
New evidence suggesting the existence of new, unreleased iPhone and iPod touch hardware has been found in iPhone OS 3.0. Ars Technica reports that the USBDeviceConfiguration.plist file, which lists details about the USB configurations of various hardware models along with their Device IDs and product names, lists not one but two unidentified iPhone models, as well as a new iPod touch model, and two unknown products. The original iPhone, iPhone 3G, original iPod touch, and iPod touch 2G are listed as iPhone1,1; iPhone1,2; iPod1,1; and iPod2,1 respectively, with an increase in the first number representing a significant hardware redesign.
A listing for a product labeled iPhone 2,1 was found in the latest iPhone firmware in January, and has since been joined by products listed as iPhone 3,1 and iPod 3,1; as well as listings for iFPGA and iProd0,1. Two new iPhones on the list simultaneously suggests potentially differing form factors or features, such as a smaller iPhone or a larger one. The report suggests that the iFPGA could be a device that uses field-programmable gate arrays, a type of programmable microchip, but since it doesn’t observe Apple’s standard numbering scheme, it’s unlikely to be intended for release. The iProd, with its 0,1 status, is most likely an early prototype of a new device that is neither an iPhone nor an iPod touch.
O2 has announced that starting April 3 it will introduce a new 24-month tariff option for iPhone customers that will see a “free” iPhone 3G bundled with a lower minimum tariff than before. Customers signing up for the 24-month £34.26 tariff plan, which includes 600 minutes, 500 texts, and unlimited data and Wi-Fi hotspot service, will receive the 8GB model for free, while the 16GB model will be priced at £57.74. Customers will be able to receive either model for free when signing up for the £44.05 tariff, which includes 1200 minutes, 500 texts, and unlimited data and hotspot service. 18-month contracts for both tariffs will also be available, with the 8GB model available for free only with the more expensive plan, and prices ranging from £57.74 to £155.61 for other model/18-month tariff combinations. The 8GB model was previously only available for free with a £45 or higher monthly tariff, while the 16GB model was free with a £75 monthly tariff only.
A new report states that LG is expected to provide OLED screens for new iPhone and iPod touch models due later this year. Smarthouse, citing sources within LG Korea, claims that the new screens bound for the iPhone and iPod touch will be joined by an OLED-based touchscreen “notebook,” and that LG has been working on increasing touch sensitivity on the screens, as well as working on a new outer layer of covering for the screens to reduce the appearance of finger marks on the screen, left by accumulating body oils and sweat. Finally, the report states that Apple is also looking at a thin OLED screen from LG that will “link with a wireless content device similar to the current Apple TV.”
OLED technology has the potential to improve battery life in formerly LCD or LED-based devices by removing the need for backlighting, as well as improving color ranges, viewing angles, and rendition of true black coloration. Unfortunately, OLED technology has been plagued with considerably lower lifespans than LCD and LED screens, reducing the longevity of OLED devices to under five years when used for 8 hours per day.
New screenshots taken from the beta release of iPhone OS 3.0 suggest that Apple may be planning to add video-recording functionality to current or possibly future iPhone models. Engadget Mobile reports that a “Publish Video” screen appears when attempting to publish a still image to MobileMe, prompting users to enter a title and optional description. Given that Apple did not mention video recording as a new feature of iPhone OS 3.0, the appearance of this menu suggests the feature may be planned for future iPhone and/or iPod touch hardware; it is also possible, but unlikely, that the text is simply a typo.
The iPhone has been ranked as the top revenue driver on AT&T’s website from November 2008 - January 2009, according to the latest data from comScore. The latest report also found the iPhone to be ranked ninth in total unit sales from AT&T’s online store; the top seller by unit sales was the refurbished LG Shine, 95% of which were offered for free. These numbers are quite similar to those found with Verizon’s flagship handset, the Blackberry Storm, and with T-Mobile’s HTC G1, both of which were the top revenue driver for their respective carrier’s websites during the period, and both of which were ranked eighth in total unit sales. Sprint’s Samsung Instinct, by comparison, was only ranked seventh by sales revenue, and fifteenth by unit sales.
Imagination Technologies, the company behind the iPhone’s PowerVR MBX chip, has introduced a new GP-GPU multi-core processor that could make its way into the next-generation iPhone. According to the company’s CEO, the new chip—dubbed the PowerVX SGX543—is designed to scale from two to sixteen cores without increasing performance challenges for developers, and appears to offer both OpenGL ES and OpenCL support, the latter of which Apple is building into its next-generation Mac OS X Snow Leopard operating system. Both Apple and Intel have made substantial investments in the company.
A number of iPhone developers are complaining of a bug in the App Store which prevents new applications from appearing on the mobile versions of the store when sorting by release date. According to an email from a concerned developer received by iLounge, the problem has been ongoing for some time, and despite contact from a number of developers complaining about the issue, the problem has yet to be fixed. A different developer, writing in a forum thread on the subject, claims that his revenue is down by 50% for March, blaming the bug for decreased exposure. According to the original developer’s email, there is also a large thread on the subject on Apple’s own Developer Forums, which have been down since the release of the iPhone OS 3.0 beta SDK.
An iPhone developer has managed to successfully enable tethering support in iPhone OS 3.0. According to screenshots posted by the developer, tethering will be allowed over both USB and Bluetooth, with pairing necessary for the latter connection; they also show that the status bar turns purplish blue while tethering, in the same manner that it turns green during a call or red during audio recording. The developer claims he has no idea how he enabled the feature, as he was “hacking around” with carrier bundle files on the new OS. During the iPhone OS 3.0 event yesterday, Apple stated that it built tethering support into the OS and is working with carriers to implement the feature, but it does not appear as an option on normal installs of the beta OS. Continue reading for more screenshots. [via Mac Rumors]
AT&T is preparing to offer the iPhone 3G on a no-commit basis beginning March 26, according to a new report. Based on AT&T training slides published by the Boy Genius Report, the no-commitment-required handsets will be available only to current customers, and will be priced at $599 for the 8GB model and $699 for 16GB units. The no-commit option will be offered alongside the current fully-subsidized and early-upgrade pricing levels.
Update: AT&T has confirmed plans to sell no-contract iPhones at the $599 and $699 price points.