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Apple Watch to launch in Spring 2015

  • November 3, 2014

A new report from 9to5Mac reveals that the Apple Watch may be launching later than originally anticipated. In a video message to retail employees, Apple’s Senior VP of Retail and Online Stores Angela Ahrendts stated that “we’re going into the holidays, we’ll go into Chinese New Year, and then we’ve got a new watch launch coming in the spring.” Although Apple only publicly specified “early 2015” as a timeframe for the Apple Watch launch, some sources had earlier suggested that the company was aiming for a Valentine’s Day release. However, with Chinese New Year occurring on February 19th, it appears as though Apple will in the very least miss Valentine’s Day, and Ahrendts’ “coming in the spring” statement suggests that the release is more likely to be even later than that—the end of March at the earliest.

While it’s unclear whether this actually represents a delay from Apple’s original target date, sources have told 9to5Mac that Apple is “still working out kinks” in relation to battery performance, in an effort to boost recharging times. Reports last year had also suggested that Apple originally planned to ship the Watch this fall, but that it was delayed due to engineering problems. For its part, Apple’s official Apple Watch page still says “Coming Early 2015,” although there’s obviously room for debate as to what timeframe “early 2015” actually represents.

Apps of the Week: SimCity BuildIt, Run Sackboy! Run!, Star Wars: Galactic Defense + more

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New Games

SimCity BuildIt (free) — The venerable city-building simulation returns as a freemium game that adds a whole new dimension in the form of managing supply chains and new economic trade interactions. SimCity BuildIt takes a more resource-focused approach to building your city, starting out by constructing residential zones, factories, and stores that are used to produce raw materials and manufactured goods that are needed to construct and upgrade residential buildings that range from trailer parks to sprawling condos. The game is presented in a nice and very detailed 360-degree 3D view that allows users to zoom in and out, tilt up and down, and pan around their city.

Players earn gold by trading resources, upgrading residential zones, collecting taxes and completing challenges, which are used to provide necessary city services including water, power, sewage, waste management, fire, police, health, transit, education, and more. As in the original SimCity, new buildings and challenges are unlocked as players grow their city, leveling up and increasing population, although the game adds a new twist in the form of civic awards that you receive for keeping your population happy, which are required to expand your land area. While a freemium model allows users to speed through the game, the gameplay moves at a reasonable enough pace that only the most impatient will be tempted to do so. For everybody else, SimCity BuildIt actually makes a nice casual game that you can pop into and out of throughout the day to gradually build up your city, and with the number of resource and building options available, progressing slowly through the game is definitely a much better approach to gradually become accustomed to all of the myriad options available.

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Run Sackboy! Run! (free) — LittleBigPlanet’s knitted hero, Sackboy, comes to your iOS device in this new endless platformer, featuring a world that fans will find familiar and endearing. Players run Sackboy through an ever-changing handcrafted world and must dash to escape the goo and the grumpy Negativitron. Players and customize Sackboy with exclusive costumes, collect stickers and unlock prizes, power-ups, and upgrades, and challenge and compete with friends.

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Star Wars: Galactic Defense (free) — Star Wars excitement returns in this new tower defense game. Players choose their allegiance to the Light or Dark sides of The Force and then deploy an arsenal of specialized towers and Star Wars characters to defend key locations. The game features diverse locations from the Star Wars universe across all eras of the series, with more than 100 different battle scenarios. As players level up, they must tailor their upgrades to match their preferred approach to the game, and a plethora of different unit styles allow for a wide variety of gameplay strategies. A collection of Champions are available for each side: Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi for the Light side, and Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Darth Sidious on the Dark side of the Force, each with special powers and abilities, and players can call the big guns with things like orbital bombardments if things get really bad. An immersive Star Wars soundtrack adds a great extra dimension to the game that fans of the saga will appreciate.

Trent Reznor working on Apple music project

  • October 31, 2014
  • Apple,

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor — who is also chief creative officer of Beats Music — is working on a secret music project with Apple, according to a recent interview in Billboard. When asked if the project was about music delivery, Reznor said, “It’s in that world.” He also noted that Apple “expressed direct interest” in Reznor designing products for the company when Beats was bought by Apple. Apple’s interest was “flattering, as a life-long Apple consumer and fan and advocate,” Reznor said.

Reznor also said, “I am on the side of streaming music, and I think the right streaming service could solve everybody’s problems.” Apple has reportedly asked labels to cut prices for a revamped the Beats Music service. It’s unclear if Reznor is involved in this, or if his project is related to the “secret project” U2 is working on for Apple, involving “a new digital music format.”

Magazine publisher Fleishman explains iOS Newsstand’s failure

  • October 31, 2014
  • Apple,

A new essay by Glenn Fleishman discusses the reasons for the winding down of his iPad-only digital publication, The Magazine, including an in-depth look at Apple’s continued treatment of Newsstand as a failed experiment. Launched around two years ago as a digital-only periodical, The Magazine focused on reaching iPad users via Apple’s then-fledgling Newsstand app and online store. At its height, The Magazine had nearly 35,000 monthly subscribers paying $2/month, however Fleishman notes that it peaked in February 2013, and has since diminished to 2,000 yearly and 4,000 monthly subscribers.

While Fleishman doesn’t completely blame Apple, he spotlights how Newsstand’s implementation failed to live up to expectations and publisher requirements, noting that Apple’s well-intentioned focus on privacy and customer experience weren’t always compatible with the publishing industry’s needs. Difficulty communicating with subscribers, nagging monthly billing reminder e-mails, required continuous app re-developmen, and the “brushing aside” of Newsstand in iOS 7’s design were all key issues that eroded and dissatisfied readership. Fleishman notes that iOS 7 alone triggered hundreds of emails from readers who forgot to read new issues, received bills, then cancelled subscriptions after realizing that they hadn’t read a single article in recent memory. The 30% cut taken by Apple for each subscription was also a factor, and Fleishman notes that it would have been more reasonable for Apple to find a way to reduce the amount to 15% in subsequent years, as most publications expect front-loaded expenses for acquiring new subscribers, but expect costs to be reduced for subscriber retention.

Fleishman describes Apple’s Newsstand today as “a wasteland for publications that only use it as an adjunct,” but offers salient points on what Apple could do to improve the experience for both users and publishers. Options include releasing publications from Newsstand to essentially turn them into standalone apps, providing an optional path for publishers to reach their readers directly, and stop sending monthly billing notifications to subscribers. Fleishman acknowledges that Newsstand clearly didn’t turn into a success for Apple, and compares it to the iBookstore, which he notes “never quite took off either.” While Apple continues to run both systems, he said, it hasn’t been improving the tools on either side. He concludes by saying that “If Newsstand is to persist, it needs its own app for users to find publications, download sample issues (currently not available; only free trials), and manage subscriptions,” describing the integration and dependency on the App Store and iTunes as “maddening and confusing.”

Jony Ive: Apple Watch was a ‘design challenge’

A new report in The Wall Street Journal highlights comments by Apple’s chief designer, Jony Ive, on the challenges of designing the Apple Watch. Speaking at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Thursday, Ive explained that although he believes with “every bone in his body” that the Apple Watch will break new ground in computing devices, actually designing it was more challenging than the iPhone due to the “social expectations around a wristwatch.” Ive noted that the wrist is an ideal place for “lightweight interactions” and “casual glancing” but not for heavy reading. He went on to explain that there are “cultural, historical implications and expectations” around designing a watch, and described it as a “humbling” experience, stating that creating a wearable device raises new consumer expectations that had to be addressed, such as a wider selection of cosmetic options as people don’t generally all wear the same thing—except in prison. Ive also stated that his focus is entirely on creating great products, rather than paying attention to Apple’s finances, and revealed that he doesn’t even know sales and revenue numbers, other than that “they are high.”

 

Apple reverses course on iOS calculator widgets

Following Wednesday reports that Apple would be removing apps from the App Store that make improper use of the new iOS 8 Today screen extensions, TechCrunch reports that the company appears to have softened the policy somewhat, at least concerning calculator widgets. James Thomson, developer of the popular iOS calculator app PCalc, had been one of the first to add new extension features when iOS 8 was released. However, despite his app being approved in time for the initial iOS 8 launch — and featured as an Editors Choice in the App Store — Thomson was advised by Apple earlier this week that PCalc would be pulled from the App Store as “widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations.”

Now, however, an Apple spokesperson has confirmed to TechCrunch that it is reversing course, allowing the PCalc app to remain in the App Store, with the widget intact, and permitting calculator-type widgets in other apps in the future. The calculator use case was supposedly not one that Apple had anticipated—despite including its own calculator widget in the OS X Yosemite Today screen—and the restriction was originally intended to prohibit developers from creating more complex widgets with functionality that should be placed in a standalone app. Apple’s developer documentation specifically notes that Today widgets are designed to “give users quick updates or enable very simple tasks.”

 

Thomson tweeted that the policy reversal actually came as a surprise to him, and that he is now trying to get confirmation from Apple that this is indeed the case. But it appears that PCalc will remain in the App Store in its current form, allowing iOS 8 users to continue to take advantage of the handy calculator widget that it provides. While calculator widgets have now received a green light, it remains unclear what this means for other apps making more advanced use of Today widgets; it seems that with any major new iOS 8 feature, Apple still has to sort out a few blurred lines within its App Store Review Guidelines.

 

Tim Cook: ‘I’m proud to be gay’

  • October 30, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple CEO Tim Cook has published an essay on equality in Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he publicly acknowledges that he is gay in an effort to help others who may be struggling with issues of inequality or coming to terms with their own sexual orientation. Cook notes that while he has been open about his sexuality to many of his colleagues, and has never denied his sexuality, he has yet to acknowledge it publicly until now. Cook states outright, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.” While Cook describes himself in the essay as a private person, he notes that he has come to the realization that what he can do to help others is more important than his own desire for privacy:

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Cook goes on to emphasize that Apple has been a long advocate of human rights and equality, and has taken stands in support of workplace equality, marriage equality, and against gender discrimination. He writes that Apple will continue to fight for these values, and that he himself will “personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.”

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]

iOS updates causing Mophie Juice Pack Air compatibility problems?

A number of users of the Mophie Juice Pack Air have reported problems with the battery case not being recognized or properly charging iPhone 5 devices following iOS updates. While the specific reasons are unclear, there have been reports since iOS 7.0 and iOS 7.1 of iPhones suddenly showing a message that the accessory may not be supported, usually following an iOS update; similar issues have been reported following the recent release of iOS 8.1. Some users have reported temporary success with workarounds such as using an iPad 10W power adapter or charging the iPhone and battery case separately a few times. Notably, Mophie has recommended the latter procedure when users have reported compatibility errors, although not all users have had success with that particular method, even when using Mophie-supplied cables and recommended power adapters. Mophie’s cases are notably carried in Apple Stores, and were amongst the very first to receive Apple’s Made For iPhone Lightning certification after the iPhone 5 was released.

The Mophie Juice Pack Air charges the iPhone and the battery case in sequence, and accessory-related error messages occasionally appear when the accessory transitions between charging the iPhone and charging its own battery, suggesting that there may be a handshaking issue with Apple’s authentication chips. However, it appears that authentication chip-related components in the case may be failing entirely over a longer time period, ultimately resulting in the case not being recognized by iOS, and the connected iPhone refusing to accept a charge. Reports have varied regarding problems with pass-through charging and charging directly from the case’s battery, but there appears to be a correlation between new iOS version updates and problems with the Mophie cases. It’s possible that changes to Lightning authentication in later iOS versions may be affecting compatibility with previously certified “Made For iPhone” accessories, an issue that would be Apple’s responsibility to resolve.

FTC launches complaint against AT&T over unlimited data throttling policies

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that it has filed a federal court complaint against AT&T, alleging that the company has misled millions of customers by charging them for “unlimited” data plans while reducing their data speeds. The complaint alleges that the company failed to properly disclose to unlimited data plan customers that their speeds would be throttled after reaching a certain amount of data use. In some cases, data speeds were allegedly throttled by up to 90%, “to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video –  become difficult or nearly impossible to use.” While AT&T’s marketing promoted “unlimited” data, customers were not meaningfully informed of the throttling policy, even when renewing their contracts, and customers who cancelled contracts after being throttled were charged early termination fees. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stated in the announcement that “AT&T promised its customers ‘unlimited’ data, and in many instances, it has failed to deliver on that promise. The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited.” The FTC alleges that AT&T has throttled 3.5 million customers on more than 25 million occasions, thereby violating the FTC Act.

For its part, AT&T responded to MacRumors’ story on the complaint claiming that the FTC’s allegations are “baseless” and that the company has been “completely transparent with customers since the very beginning,” informing all unlimited data-plan customers via bill notices and a national press release that was widely published prior to the program being implemented. AT&T also noted that customers are notified by text message “before any customer is affected,” although the text message notably is a warning that speeds will be reduced after reaching a certain data threshold.

Apple VP Joswiak testy at Code/Mobile event

  • October 28, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple’s Vice President of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing Greg Joswiak was interviewed at the Code/Mobile conference today, where he discussed a number of new Apple products and initiatives, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay, the Apple Watch, and the ill-fated iOS 8.0.1 release last month. While Apple had previously announced first weekend sales of 10 million iPhones, Joswiak wouldn’t disclose the breakdown between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, although he did mention that most iPhones are sold at carrier stores, rather than directly by Apple. When asked about Apple SIM for phones, Joswiak said he wouldn’t discuss the subject. Asked about the iOS 8.0.1 release that caused carrier and Touch ID problems on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Joswiak also apologized, but noted that the problem wasn’t the software itself, but rather how it was distributed, and said that less than 40,000 users were affected. When asked more pointedly about QA issues recently plaguing iPhones, Joswiak responded that, “[t]he reality is we don’t make many mistakes,” but that Apple quickly acknowledges the mistakes and works to resolve them.

In discussing the decision by some U.S. retailers to shut out Apple Pay, Joswiak responded that retailers who want to be successful will accept the way customers want to pay. Regarding the Apple Watch, Joswiak defended the form factor, saying “things tend to read better when they’re square,” and when asked by Walt Mossberg who the Apple Watch was for, based on the high price points, Joswiak simply responded with ‘Who is it not for?” Joswiak responded more evasively to questions regarding falling iPad sales and experiences with Siri; Joswiak stated that “Siri has gotten really good,” and when asked by Walt Mossberg whether everyone has had a perfect experience with Siri, Joswiak responded by saying, “You can’t ask that. Has everyone had a perfect experience with Walt?” Joswiak noted that Apple’s priority is on staying focused on making the best products and user experience, rather than chasing market share, and that Apple is often not the first to do something, but rather aims to be the first to do it well.

Cook discusses Apple Pay, Watch, iPod classic at WSJD Live

Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed at the Wall Street Journal’s inaugural WSJD Live conference in California last night where he talked about Apple’s latest initiatives and directions, including Apple Pay and Apple Watch. Cook described last week’s Apple Pay launch as very successful; more than one million credit cards were activated in the first 72 hours, and Visa noted that more credit cards have been activated in Apple Pay than in all other contactless payments combined. Cook also noted that he’d be talking with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba about a possible Apple Pay partnership “later this week.”

Regarding Apple Watch, Cook was a bit evasive on the battery life question, reiterating a previous claim that Apple “think[s] people are going to use it so much you will end up charging it daily,” and that the key to Apple Watch was that it needs “to look really cool” as opposed to being “geeky.” Cook also touched on Apple’s involvement in the TV marketplace, stating that “We are living in the 1970s” when it comes to the television paradigm, and suggesting that Apple is working on something in this area, although he once again declined to go into specifics beyond saying “that there can be something great done in the space.” Asked about the discontinuation of the iPod classic, Cook noted that Apple could no longer get the parts for the existing 2009 model, and huge engineering would have been required to update it, which wasn’t worth it in light of small consumer demand. Cook also said that Apple would continue to go as low as it could on iPhone prices while “maintaining the customer experience.”

Apple TV adds Hallmark’s Feeln and A&E’s FYI channels

Apple has added quietly added two more new content channels to the Apple TV: Hallmark Cards’ Feeln network and A&E’s FYI network. Feeln provides access to “family-friendly movies, documentaries, and short films” while FYI “features lifestyle programming, with a mix of reality, culinary, home renovation and makeover series.” The new channels appear to be available only to Apple TV users in the U.S. [via 9to5Mac]

 

Fitbit announces Charge, Charge HR + Surge health and fitness trackers

Fitbit has announced three new additions to its lineup of wristband fitness and health tracking products. The first, Charge ($130) is a reinvention of Fitbit’s Force product, providing activity tracking of steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and floors climbed. It features an OLED display that displays the time of day and real-time fitness stats, a high-quality, water-resistant textured wristband design with an improved clasp, and up to seven days of battery life. Charge, which is available now, also supports caller ID from a connected iPhone or other mobile device, with vibrating alerts and display of the caller’s name or number.

Charge HR ($150) expands on the features in Fitbit Charge by adding continuous wrist-based heart rate monitoring using Fitbit’s proprietary PurePulse optical heart rate technology, which uses LED lights to detect blood volume changes on the wrist. The heart-rate monitoring feature provides more accurate reporting of stats such as all-day calorie burn and workout intensity, although the feature drops the battery life down to five days.

Apple looking to expand NFC use beyond Apple Pay

A new report from The Information (subscription required) notes that Apple is presently in talks regarding expanding NFC use in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to go beyond mobile payments. While the NFC chip in the new iPhone models is currently restricted to use by Apple Pay, this new report suggests that the company is seeking partnerships to implement the technology into areas such as building security and public transit, conceivably to let people use iPhones as replacements for business ID cards and metro passes. The report specifically notes that Apple has already been in talks with HID Global and Cubic, two companies that develop electronic solutions in these areas. [via 9to5Mac]

Some U.S. retailers disabling Apple Pay in favor of other services?

  • October 27, 2014
  • Apple,

At least two U.S. retailers have disabled Apple Pay in their stores, with analysts speculating that the move may be intended to promote a rival payment system, The New York Times reports. Both Rite Aid and CVS have disabled NFC payments in their stores, and although the move appears to specifically target Apple Pay, other contactless payment systems such as Google Wallet and even MasterCard PayPass and VISA payWave are also affected by the move.

Rite Aid and CVS are part of a consortium of retailers known as the Merchant Consumer Exchange (MCX) that also includes Wal-mart, Best Buy, and Gap, among others. The group is presently in the process of developing their own payment system, CurrentC, which is scheduled to be released in 2015 and will link payments directly to a customer’s checking account using a dedicated app. CurrentC will use an on-screen QR Code rather than NFC, removing the requirement for NFC payment terminals while also bypassing the credit card companies and their associated merchant fees entirely. The retailer-developed system also promises to provide the companies with the ability to track shopping habits and collect related data on customers—data that Apple has explicitly stated is not shared via Apple Pay for the protection of consumer privacy.

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

  • October 24, 2014
  • iPad,

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]

iTunes music sales down at least 13 percent worldwide

A new report from The Wall Street Journal reveals that iTunes music sales have fallen by 13 to 14 percent worldwide this year, citing people familiar with the matter. This is in stark contrast to only a 2.1 percent overall dip last year in global revenue from music downloads – a decline that was said to be offset by increases from ad-supported and subscription services. As previously reported, Apple has been working to cut music subscription prices and has plans to rebuild its recently-acquired Beats Music and relaunch it next year as an iTunes service, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Despite the drop, Apple remains the largest seller of music in the world, both physical and digital, and according to music executives, its dominance over other digital music stores is “especially pronounced.” Although overall music sales were mostly steady last year due to physical CD sales, some record company executives are reportedly concerned that the music industry could fall into decline if download sales drop more quickly than streaming service growth accelerates. Notably, executives are working to persuade users of online music services to pay a monthly subscription fee, rather than using free ad-supported services which are said to generate considerably less revenue for the music labels. According to the RIAA, streaming services now account for nearly one-third of the revenue from recorded music in the U.S.

Notably, Apple reported a healthy increase in overall iTunes sales this quarter, which includes other types of content such as apps, movies, and books, although the company does not break out sales by individual content type.

iPad Air 2 includes NFC chip, but likely won’t be used (Updated)

  • October 24, 2014


Earlier this week, iFixit’s teardown of the iPad Air 2 revealed the unexpected presence of an NXP 65V10 NFC Controller chip. This is the same NFC chip found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, where it is presently used for Apple Pay wireless payments at retail locations. While Apple announced last week that the iPad Air 2 would include Apple Pay support, this was limited to storing credit card information for online transactions, and specifically excluded point-of-sale merchant payments, presumably due to the impracticality of using the much larger full-sized iPad for such things.

Despite speculation that the NFC chip is for an as-yet-unannounced Apple Pay enabled cash register, a search of the FCC’s device certification database suggests that Apple did not seek certification for any NFC functionality in the iPad Air 2, as it would have needed to do if the chip was to be used for wireless communications. Further, no evidence of an NFC antenna was found inside the iPad Air 2.

Apple notably filed a patent earlier this year to enable NFC and non-NFC wireless antennas to be coupled together, suggesting the possibility that existing antennas could do double-duty for NFC purposes. But if this patent was being used in the iPad Air 2, an FCC filing would have been required.

Updated: Through a source, a new report from 9to5Mac confirms that the iPad Air 2’s NFC chip will not be used for wireless transactions, and is instead serving only as a “secure element” to hold credit card information. iFixit notably has also discovered the same NXP chip inside the iPad mini 3, where it serves the same purpose.

Apps of the Week: Inbox by Gmail, Pixelmator, NHL 2K + more

New Apps

Inbox by Gmail (Free*) — A new app by Google has been getting a lot of buzz this week for its approach to reinventing the way that e-mail is managed. The key benefit here is Google using its algorithmic magic to try and group your incoming e-mails into bundles based on categories like Travel, Finance, Purchases, Social, and so forth to make it easier to manage your incoming flow. You can pin individual items to mark them as important, and then sweep the rest away into your archive or trash at the push of a button. Each bundle gets its own notification settings, and you can create your own and automatically file messages based on the usual search criteria. Inbox also borrows a page from Dropbox’s Mailbox app, allowing you to snooze individual items to return to your inbox later, but takes it a step further with location-based snoozes, so you can file away that e-mail about getting that TPS report done until you actually get back to work on Monday.

Right now the iOS version of Inbox is available for the iPhone only, and you’ll need a golden ticket in the form of an invite to play. However, Google employees have been given stacks of invites to hand out, and those who have been invited already should get more to share, so it should only be a matter of days before anybody who really wants access can get it. Google is no stranger to this game, of course, pioneering an arguably revolutionary new approach to e-mail when it first debuted Gmail ten years ago. While only time will tell whether Inbox has the same impact, what Google has done here is definitely a very interesting approach to handling a decades-old technology.

Pixelmator ($5) — When Pixelmator debuted on the Mac a few years ago, it turned out to be a very popular choice for many users who might have otherwise defaulted to simply going with the considerably more expensive Photoshop, providing almost all of the functionality that most users really needed in an image editor in a seriously inexpensive package. The Pixelmator Team has now brought that same power to the iPad version in a $5 app that provides a plethora of image editing tools in a user-friendly app that feels right at home on iOS. Right out of the box, Pixelmator provides a nice collection of templates to get you started, and then takes you into an intuitive collection of tools for doing everything from adding effects to painting, color-correcting, retouching, and repairing.

As with its Mac counterpart, Pixelmator also provides full support for layer-based editing on the iPad, allowing you to select any part of an image and apply corrections or effects to it, or remove it entirely. You can also cut and paste objects between different images, and add non-destructive layer styles and change them any time. A huge collection of effects is also included to help you give your images that extra artistic punch, from vintage effects to bokeh lights. All of the typical image file formats are supported, including opening PSD files with layers intact. Best of all, Pixelmator is built specifically to take advantage of the latest-generation iPads for high performance, and it integrates nicely into the iOS environment, providing full iCloud Drive support rather than trying to get you to use its own cloud service, syncing your work across your Macs and iPads.

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