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Happy Thanksgiving 2014 from iLounge!

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S., and we at iLounge would like to wish you a happy holiday and express how grateful we are for your readership and support. We will be on a limited posting schedule today and Friday; we will return to normal updates on Monday, December 1st. Happy Thanksgiving!

Apple highlights more Apple Watch info

Apple has quietly updated its Apple Watch pages with some new details on the upcoming device along with some interactive images. The previous “Features” page has been broken out into separate pages with more in-depth descriptions and images of the Watch’s features, with specific pages for Timekeeping, New Ways to Connect, and Health and Fitness.

The Timekeeping page provides more information on the included Watch faces, along with a brief description of several faces, and information on how they can be extensively customized. The New Ways to Connect page shows more about the social and interactivity features of the Watch, including new animations for the various communication apps, and the Health and Fitness page provides new interactive animations for the various health and fitness monitoring functions. A new feature dubbed “complications” is also highlighted, comprised of several utilities that can appear on watch faces as shortcuts to open specific related apps, such as setting alarms, checking the weather, and getting stock quotes. [via 9to5Mac]

Verizon sponsoring ad-free listening to all U.S. iTunes Radio users

As part of its “Connection Day” promotion, Verizon is sponsoring a virtually ad-free iTunes Radio experience today. Featuring “limited interruptions,” instead of seeing normal ads on the service, iTunes Radio listeners will instead just see the message “Enjoy with limited interruptions courtesy of Verizon.” A banner ad will also occasionally appear, offering lucky listeners a $5 iTunes Store credit. The promotion is available today only and applies to all iTunes Radio listeners in the U.S., not just Verizon customers. iTunes Match users, who already have an ad-free listening experience, are not eligible to access the $5 iTunes credit promotion. [via 9to5Mac]

Microsoft, Yahoo hope to replace Google for Safari default search?

  • November 25, 2014
  • Apple,

With Apple’s contract with Google for default search placement in Safari scheduled to end next year, both Yahoo and Microsoft are now actively courting Apple to be the next default search provider, according to a new report from The Information (subscription required). Google and Apple last renewed the contract in 2010, a deal that reportedly nets Apple around $100m per year. Yahoo and Microsoft both have existing relationships providing data for Apple’s built-in iOS apps, such as stock data and Bing search results, and executives from both have apparently approached Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services to attempt to woo Apple into considering one of them as the default search engine for iOS devices and Macs.

Apple had discussions with Microsoft about having Bing replace Google Search back in 2010, and a report last spring suggested that Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer was already attempting to influence Apple in Yahoo’s direction for some time as well; iOS 8 notably switched away from Yahoo for weather data, opting to get its data from The Weather Channel instead. There is no other indication that Apple is considering making any changes to its current arrangements at this time, and the company is likely to focus on whichever company can provide the best user experience. [via MacRumors]

T-Mobile required to fully disclose throttled data speeds

  • November 25, 2014
  • Other,

T-Mobile has agreed to provide more accurate information to help customers determine when their mobile data speeds are being throttled, according to a new FCC release. T-Mobile provides “capped” data plans, however unlike competing carriers, the company simply slows down data speeds when users exceed their plan thresholds, rather than billing for overages. Although T-Mobile makes no secret about this throttling process, it was discovered that the company was exempting certain speed testing services from the throttling, incorrectly reporting faster data speeds than customers were actually getting.

Under the new agreement with the FCC, T-Mobile will now send users a text message once they’ve hit their high-speed data allotment, providing a link to an accurate speed test that will show customers their actual reduced speeds. T-Mobile will also apparently provide a “button” on smartphones linking to an accurate speed test, as well as providing more disclosures both on its web site and its customer communications as to which speed tests will provide accurate results.

Steve Jobs biopic picked up by Universal, Fassbender to star

  • November 25, 2014
  • Other,

Following news last week that Sony Pictures had decided to drop Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, sources have told The Wrap that Universal Pictures will now be picking it up. Sony reportedly dropped the movie due to shooting scheduling issues around director Danny Boyle and newly attached star Michael Fassbender, however the picture now appears to be back on track with Universal’s involvement. The film is expected to highlight Jobs’ key role in three of Apple’s most high-profile product launches, including the first Macintosh, and the 2001 debut of the original iPod. Recent reports have suggested that Jobs’ oldest daughter Lisa will have a major role in the film, helping to tie the segments together. A script was written by Aaron Sorkin and based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs. [via MacRumors]

Handbrake updated to 0.10, adds new encoders + more

The popular open-source video conversion tool Handbrake has been updated to version 0.10.0, incremented from 0.9.9. Long the tool of choice for converting videos to iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV formats, the latest update adds several new general-purpose encoders such as H.265 and VP8, allowing Handbrake to be used to convert DVDs and other source videos to a wider variety of target formats and devices. A number of improvements have also been made to filters and scalers, including higher quality denoising and experimental Bicubic scaling through OpenCL. The graphical user interfaces are also now more unified across platforms than they have been in the past, and audio and subtitle settings can now be stored in presets to simplify batch encoding workflows. A complete list of changes can be found here. Handbrake 0.10.0 is available as a free download for Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows Vista or later, and Linux.

Report: ‘Deep Organizational Issues’ at Apple affecting iCloud progress

  • November 24, 2014
  • Apple,

A new report from The Information (subscription required) as summarized by MacRumors provides some insight on internal issues that Apple has apparently been experiencing in developing new cloud-based features and services. The report specifically alleges that “deep organizational issues” are holding up development on new features for iCloud such as iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library. New iCloud features introduced with iOS 8 got off to a somewhat rocky start, with the promised iCloud Photo Library feature basically removed from the iOS 8 release, later to return as a “public beta” in iOS 8.1, whilst a companion desktop app is not expected to be introduced until sometime next year. The report cites interviews “with nearly a dozen current and former Apple employees” that “paint a different picture” from the progress that Apple executives repeatedly claim the company is making in this area. This latest report of problems in the iCloud team resembles recent reports of Apple’s struggles in other areas, including CarPlay delays and problems with iOS 8.0.1 and Apple Maps.

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]

Apple unveils Product(RED) apps for World AIDS Day 2014

To mark World AIDS Day 2014, Apple has announced that a collection of Product(RED) apps will be appearing in the App Store over the next two weeks to generate donations for the (RED) Global Fund to fight AIDS. Updates to popular apps such as GarageBand, Monument Valley, Star Walk, and Threes began appearing on the App Store yesterday, and Apple has now created a special “Apps for (RED)” section of the App Store offering 25 apps containing special new in-app content, in which all proceeds from the purchase will go directly to the (RED) Global Fund. In addition, Apple will be donating a portion of all of its sales at its retail and online stores on Black Friday (Friday, November 28th), and Cyber Monday (Monday, December 1st).

Examples of new Product(RED) content include an exclusive “(GarageBand)RED” loop pack in Apple’s iOS GarageBand app, an Ida’s (RED) Dream chapter in Monument Valley, a free Product(RED) theme in Threes, and an in-app purchase of detailed information on the RED Planet: Mars in Star Walk 2. Many of the special (RED) edition features are only available until the end of the promotion.

Apps of the Week: Sago Mini Road Trip, Football Manager Handheld 2015, Deliveries 6.0 + more

New Games

Sago Mini Road Trip ($3) — Sago Sago’s latest game, Sago Mini Road Trip, lets children take an adventurous — but leisurely-paced — drive with Sago’s Jinja the cat. Sago Mini Road Trip slightly expands on the usual concept of Sago Sago’s games, letting kids pack a suitcase and pick which vehicle they want to drive across a road filled with bridges, puddle, mud holes, and more. You can stop and fill your gas tank or get your car washed on the way, as well. After a short trip, you’ve reached a friend, and it’s time to start the journey again, if you wish. It’s simple stuff, but the variety of cars — and the unexpected ability to make your car fly — could keep younger children coming back for more play.

Football Manager Handheld 2015 ($10) — Sega’s Football Manager returns for the 2015 season, allowing users to take on the role of managing their favorite real-life club. Players must manage transfers and tactics, and take charge from the touchline on match days, and this year’s version provides a new 2D Match Engine with improved realism, a new Scouting Agency to monitor the top-ranked players, more detailed club stats, world rankings, and a manager achievements page that lets you keep track of your trophies and accolades. A new in-game editor is also available as an optional in-app purchase that lets users change game parameters in mid-career to simulate different scenarios.

Square plans to accept Apple Pay in 2015

  • November 21, 2014
  • Apple,

Mobile payments company Square is working toward accepting Apple Pay for transactions through its system by some time next year, according to a new report from CNN Money. Although Square offers its own payment sending service in the form of Square Cash, the company is primarily focused on providing a mobile merchant solution, and the ability to accept Apple Pay would be a logical fit. Square’s current hardware is only designed to support swiping of traditional credit cards, and Apple at this time does not allow third-party developers to access the NFC hardware in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Square would presumably develop an NFC add-on module similar in concept to their current Square Reader that could accept Apple Pay transactions in the same manner as traditional payment terminals.

Google settles patent litigation with Apple’s Rockstar consortium

Google has come to an agreement with patent consortium Rockstar to settle all pending litigation, Reuters reports. Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, a Texas federal court filing made public on Monday indicated that the two companies have agreed to settle “all matters in controversy between the parties.” The Rockstar group, consisting of Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry (formerly RIM), among others, successfully outbid Google in 2011, paying $4.5 billion for over 6,000 patents from former telecom giant Nortel, covering a wide range of Internet and wireless communications technologies. Google subsequently penned an open letter accusing the group of waging “a hostile, organized campaign against Android” using “bogus” patents.

Last October, Rockstar filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company was infringing seven Nortel patents related to search engine technology. At that time, Rockstar also filed infringement lawsuits against several other Android handset manufacturers concerning other patents. However, Google intervened on behalf of the handset makers, successfully halting the Texas proceedings while it petitioned a California judge to rule that devices using the Android operating system did not infringe the cited patents. This week’s filing does not indicate whether Rockstar has also settled with the Android handset makers, or whether Google has taken any further action in that regard.

Corning announces Gorilla Glass 4

  • November 20, 2014
  • Other,

Corning has announced Gorilla Glass 4, the latest version of the chemically-strengthened glass that has been used in iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. Version 4 promises “dramatically improved performance” against drops on rough surface such as jagged streets, sidewalks, and parking lots, as screen breakage is “the #1 consumer complaint, according to Corning’s research.” Corning promises that the new version of Gorilla Glass withstands drops up to two times better than competing designs, while being just as thin and light as prior versions; it delivers marked anti-drop improvements at any thickness it’s manufactured to, and can withstand more pressure at a 0.4mm thickness than version 3 Glass at 0.7mm. While Apple sought to replace Gorilla Glass with manufactured sapphire screen covers from GT Advanced, that venture dramatically fell apart earlier this year, leaving Corning as the supplier for most of Apple’s device glass.

Report: GT Advanced struggled with sapphire production

  • November 20, 2014
  • Apple,

A new report from the Wall Street Journal reveals some interesting background on the breakdown between Apple and GT Advanced Technologies, pointing to the problems and challenges the erstwhile sapphire supplier faced in trying to meet the terms of its agreement with Apple. Apple originally began using sapphire last year for the iPhone camera lens and Touch ID sensor, and after having success with the material, began looking for a larger supplier that could provide enough sapphire to cover the full iPhone screen. Apple originally discussed buying 2,600 sapphire furnaces from GT, which was developing a new furnace design that could yield larger boules and therefore greater quantities of sapphire. However, Apple later reportedly decided that it did not want to pay the 40 percent margin for the furnaces, and began shopping around for a company that could supply sapphire at the prices Apple was willing to pay for the material.

After failing to find a viable supplier, Apple chose to set up GT Advanced Technologies to produce the sapphire itself, agreeing to lend them $578 million to build 2,036 furnaces in a new facility that Apple would build in Mesa, Arizona and lease to GT for $100/year. However, the new report reveals that the deal turned out to be troubled from the very beginning, as GT had no experience mass-producing actual sapphire, and the first 578-pound cylinder it produced was “flawed and unusable.” GT also reportedly mismanaged the project, hiring hundreds of workers without placing them in clearly defined roles or telling them who they reported to, and failing to have policies in place for attendance, leading to an “unusual number of sick days.” Managers at GT also authorized “unlimited overtime” to fill furnaces with material to grow sapphire – a growing process that takes about 30 days to complete – however the company had not yet manufactured enough furnaces to fill, resulting in many workers effectively being paid overtime to do nothing more than sweep floors once the initial furnaces had been prepped and filled. Many boules that were produced reportedly continued to be unusable, and an area of the Mesa factory eventually became known by employees as the “boule graveyard.”

In their court filings, both companies blamed each other for GT’s ultimate failure. Apple told creditors that GT failed due to “mismanagement” and that it “never wavered from our commitment to make the project successful.” GT claimed it lost three months of production due to Apple’s failure to build the facility to GT’s specifications and provide adequate power, and to meet Apple’s own changing specifications for the sapphire, alleging that it cost the company more than twice the financing that Apple had provided in order to get the factory up and running. Further, GT stated that Apple had turned the company “into a captive supplier, bearing all of the risk and all of the cost,” making it impossible to turn a profit due to Apple’s “dictated pricing.” While Apple and GT reportedly tried to renegotiate terms in late September — which included an offer by Apple to renegotiate loan repayment schedules, raise the price it would pay for sapphire and relax its exclusivity requirements — GT Advanced Technologies filed for bankruptcy less than a week following Apple’s offer.

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 plans to ‘repurpose’ Arizona manufacturing plant, save jobs

  • November 19, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple plans to continue supporting manufacturing operations in Arizona despite the failure of its sapphire supplier, GT Advanced Technologies, earlier this year. According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple has been speaking with officials in Mesa, Arizona and reiterating its commitment to bring jobs and manufacturing to the area. Mesa City Manager Christopher Brady noted in a recent interview that Apple wants to repurpose the building used by GT, saying it’s focused “on preserving jobs in Arizona.”

The Mesa-based GT sapphire plant was considered a milestone in Apple’s efforts to bring manufacturing back to home soil and help rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base, and it was a boon to the economy of the Arizona city, which was hit hard by the 2007 housing bust. The closing of the plant this fall resulted in the loss of more than 700 jobs in the area — however the 1.3 million square-foot factory and its related infrastructure remains, including a new power substation that uses 100 percent renewable energy and the area’s designation as a foreign trade zone with reduced property taxes. Apple has not divulged any specific plans for the facility, and spokespeople for Apple and GT Advanced Technologies declined to comment.

Apple announces WatchKit software tools available to developers now

Apple has announced the official availability of its WatchKit SDK for iOS developers. WatchKit provides developers with the tools to design apps for the new Apple Watch, and is being released today so that developers can begin preparing for the new wearable device when it ships next year. The new software development tools will allow third-party developers to build apps for the watch which will let users respond or take action from the watch, or get quick looks at other information — which Apple calls Glances. WatchKit is bundled with the iOS 8.2 beta SDK, available for registered iOS developers to download now as part of the Xcode 6.2 beta. The release is also accompanied by a developer beta of iOS 8.2.

Apple ordered to pay $23.6M in pager technology settlement

  • November 18, 2014
  • Apple,

Apple has been ordered to pay $23.6 million to a Texas company after a jury found that the iPhone and other devices infringed on a patent for SkyTel pager technology, Bloomberg reports. The patents in question were issued in the 1990s for the SkyTel two-way paging network, and are owned by Mobile Telecommunications Technologies (MTel). In responding to a claim by MTel that Apple’s Airport, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices were infringing upon the SkyTel technology, a federal jury in Texas ruled that the patents were valid and infringed by Apple, awarding MTel about a tenth of what it had been seeking in damages.

For its part, Apple denied infringing the patents in question, arguing that MTel was trying to take credit for emojis and calendar invitations and that the patents should be deemed invalid as they didn’t cover new innovations even when they were first issued. MTel claimed that Apple’s devices “rely on foundational technology for the transmission and storing of messages” and that the company should therefore be required to pay royalties — the company was seeking damages of approximately $1 per infringing device. Notably, Samsung is also accused of infringing the same patents, although that case remains pending.

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.

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