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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
Apple has officially released iOS 8.1.1 to the public, a minor maintenance release that notes “bug fixes” as well as “stability and performance improvements” for the older iPhone 4S and iPad 2 models. iOS 8.1.1 is available as an over-the-air update or by updating via iTunes on a Mac or PC.
Apple announced today that UnionPay has now been added as a payment option for customers in China. As the most popular payment card in China, this will make it easier for Chinese App Store customers to purchase content on the App Store, and customers can now link their Apple ID with a UnionPay debit or credit card for one-tap purchases. UnionPay is responsible for China’s national inter-bank clearing and settlement system, and has issued more than 4.5 billion of its own debit and credit cards worldwide. It’s previously been reported that Apple is looking to bring Apple Pay to China, in conjunction with UnionPay.
In case you missed it last week, iLounge has released the Best of the Year Awards for 2014, highlighting this past year’s top accessories, apps, games, and more. Our editors have picked the best of the best in more than 25 categories, narrowing down a list of thousands of potential products. The list has been expanded from previous years and is now available here on the site, with no download needed, just in time for your holiday shopping. Click here to discover all the winners and notable runners-up!
New Apps + Games
Auxy (free) — Users with even a passing interest in making their own creative music will definitely want to check out Auxy. A recently released free modern beat making app, Auxy focuses on providing an incredibly simple, fun, and intuitive interface for laying down beats, bass lines, loops, melodies, and more. Everything gets selected and adjusted with intuitive tap, touch, and swipe gestures, and the final compositions can be recorded and shared/saved via all of the usual iOS 8 export methods, from e-mail to AirDrop and across any supported third-party apps you have installed.
Golfinity (free) — Nimblebits’ latest offering is a deceptively simple golf game, but don’t let the basic graphics of the courses fool you—there’s a lot more going on here than you’d expect, with three-dimensional ball physics that can actually allow you to jump over obstacles and even send the ball flying off the course and into the void. As the name suggests, there is seemingly no end to the number and variation of courses available. Reviews suggest that the ad-supported nature of the game might be a concern, but oddly we’ve played through a couple dozen levels and have yet to see an ad.
Space Age ($4) — A nice throwback to the classic adventure games of yesteryear, Space Age takes you back to the retro-futuristic sci-fi world of 1976, when a group of intrepid explorers have landed on a seemingly uninhabited planet. With charming retro graphics that will appeal to anybody who came of age in the Space Quest generation, the game features an engaging and amusing storyline and a great orchestral score. Best of all, it’s a classic “pay-once-to-play” game—a pricing model that’s becoming increasingly rare in the App Store’s modern era of freemium offerings.
The U.S. Government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has posted an official alert regarding the iOS Masque Attack disclosed earlier this week. The notice summarizes the vulnerability, specifically noting that the vulnerability works “under a limited set of circumstances” and that “in order for the attack to succeed, a user must install an untrusted app, such as one delivered through a phishing link.” The bulletin goes on to reiterate the solutions provided by the original report: specifically that users should not install apps from sources other than Apple’s App Store or their own enterprise organization, should never click install from an app pop-up that appears on a web page, and if iOS shows an “Untrusted App Developer” alert, click on “Don’t Trust” and remove the app.
Beats by Dr. Dre has announced the first new product in its lineup since the company was acquired by Apple last spring. The Solo2 Wireless ($300) on-ear headphones add wireless Bluetooth capabilities to the popular Solo2 headphones. It’s noted that the new Wireless headphones offer the same sound and design as the original Solo2. Users can take phone calls, skip songs, and change the volume using the “b” button and volume buttons on the side. The built-in rechargeable battery allows up to 12 hours of wireless playback, with a fallback to a wired connection if the batteries aren’t charged. Solo2 Wireless will be available later this month at Apple and other select retailers, with a Red version also being sold exclusively by Verizon Wireless.
A new analysis by AnandTech of the A8X’s GPU used in Apple’s new iPad Air 2 has revealed some surprising details regarding the new chip’s design and performance. While AnandTech initially thought that that GPU was based on Imagination’s PowerVR GX6650 – a 6-cluster GPU that currently represents the largest of Imagination’s GPU designs – additional investigation reveals that the GPU design has likely been customized by Apple for even higher performance, resulting in a GPU design that AnandTech has dubbed the GX6850. GFXBench measures the iPad Air 2’s performance at double the fill rate found on the A8-equipped Phone 6 Plus, and notes that Apple tends to have a preference for larger bus widths and lower clock speeds for the sake of energy efficiency, suggesting that Apple chose to build a custom eight-cluster design with this in mind. An unreleased die shot of the A8X confirmed to Anandtech that the new GPU design is essentially just two of the A8’s four-cluster GX6450s stacked together. Interestingly, the analysis notes that the iPad Air 2 is “overweight” in terms of GPU performance compared to the iPhone 6 Plus, providing roughly 30 percent better performance per pixel.
Apple was recently granted a patent on monitoring cellular network conditions to help identify network dead spots. U.S. Patent No. 8,886,178 describes a “Location-based profile” designed to help cellular carriers and device makers collect crowdsourced information on localized areas where network problems such as dropped calls occur. The patent describes using device-based location services to allow individual iOS devices to automatically provide monitoring data to server-side systems. The tool would likely act as a background task using geofencing to relate it to known coordinates of surrounding cellular towers and trigger mobile monitoring systems on that basis to collect more detailed data when a known dead spot is encountered. [via AppleInsider]
Netflix has released an update to its eponymous streaming app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, adding support for the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus displays. The update notably adds full 1080p HD streaming for the iPhone 6 Plus, which natively supports a 1920x1080 standard resolution. The update also notes full support for iOS 8 and improvements for Chromecast users. [via 9to5Mac]
A lawsuit filed last May against Apple regarding lost text messages will be allowed to proceed, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh stated that Apple will be required to face Adrienne Moore’s complaint that iMessage interfered with her contract with Verizon Wireless, which serviced her Samsung Galaxy S5 after switching from an iPhone 4. Although Apple acknowledged the issue in May, it did not come up with a viable solution until this week, releasing an iMessage deregistration tool for former iPhone users to deregister their cellular numbers from Apple’s iMessage network, thereby allowing messages sent from iPhone users to revert back to using the standard carrier SMS network, rather than being directed to the user’s former iPhone via Apple’s iMessage network. It’s noteworthy that Apple’s alternative solution—manually turning iMessages off on your old device after inserting a SIM card—would not have worked for the iPhone 4 or 4S, the Verizon versions of which did not use SIM cards.
In its own court filing, Apple noted that it has never made any claims that its iMessage service and Messages application would recognize when iPhone users switched to competing devices, stating that “the law does not provide a remedy when, as here, technology simply does not function as plaintiff subjectively believes it should.” In her decision, Judge Koh said that Moore deserved a chance to show that Apple disrupted her wireless service contract and in doing so violated a California unfair competition law by blocking messages sent to her after she switching to a rival device. Koh wrote that the plaintiff “does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple’s intentional acts have caused an actual breach or disruption of the contractual relationship.” Moore is seeking class-action status and unspecified damages on the basis that Apple failed to disclose how its iOS operating system would obstruct the delivery of “countless” messages if iPhone users switched to non-Apple devices. [via MacRumors]
Fitness company Nautilus has announced that it is officially adding support for iOS 8 HealthKit to its Bowflex Max Trainer and Nautilus 616 products, allowing users to send workout data directly to iOS 8’s new Health app. The Bowflex Max Trainer will be getting HealthKit integration this month, with the Nautilus 616 Cardio series following “closely.” These Nautilus workout machines use Bluetooth Smart technology to transfer workout details including calories burned, heart rate, distance covered, and workout time to companion apps on the user’s iPhone or iPod touch. The apps then sync all workout data with the iOS Health app, as well as continuing to allow Nautilus users to integrate with other third-party applications and the company’s own online services.
With only three weeks since the launch of Apple’s new mobile payments service, Whole Foods has reported that it has processed 150,000 Apple Pay transactions – about 1% of the retailers total transactions in the same time period, according to calculations by Mike Dudas, former mobile commerce lead at Google and PayPal. Apple also appears to be moving ahead in establishing an Apple Pay partnership with Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba, as noted by Apple CEO Tim Cook during his interview last week at WSDJ Live. Such a partnership would likely help facilitate a much faster rollout of Apple Pay in China, according to a report by 9to5Mac, which notes that Alibaba is the key player in online shopping in the country, with an estimated 80% marketshare. Alibaba has already met the often complicated regulatory requirements to operate in China, suggesting that the Chinese government would be more receptive to a partnership between Apple and an existing major player in the Chinese market.