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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.

Apple releases iOS 8.1.1

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 adds UnionPay support to Chinese App Store

  • November 17, 2014
  • Apple,

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.

Don’t miss our Best of the Year Awards 2014

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!

Apps of the Week: Auxy, Golfinity, Space Age, Monument Valley + more

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.

US government posts iOS Masque Attack alert

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 introduces Solo2 Wireless Headphones

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.

AnandTech analysis reveals iPad Air 2 A8X GPU design likely customized by Apple

  • November 12, 2014
  • iPad,

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 patents crowdsourced mapping of cellular dead spots

  • November 11, 2014

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 update adds 1080p streaming for iPhone 6 Plus

  • November 11, 2014

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]

Lawsuit against Apple over unsent text messages will proceed

  • November 11, 2014
  • Apple,

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]

Nautilus announces HealthKit integration

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.

Apple Pay: 1% of Whole Foods transactions, Alibaba key in China?

  • November 11, 2014
  • Apple,

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.

iOS camera app ProCam 2 adds “4K Ultra HD” video recording mode as $5 IAP

ProCam 2, a $2 still and video camera app by developer Samer Azzam, has added “4K Ultra HD video recording” via a $5 in-app purchase. Following a technique debuted in September by i4software in the $1,000 app Vizzywig 4K, ProCam 2 uses a hack to splice high-resolution still images together with an audio recording to simulate 4K video recording. ProCam 2’s videos save at 3840x2160 resolution, resulting in large file sizes—over 400MB per minute—with a promised 30 frame per second recording rate for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A lower frame rate of “up to 25 fps” is promised for the iPhone 5s.

Unfortunately, ProCam 2’s actual performance on an iPhone 6 Plus typically reached only 15 to 25FPS during our testing, with a noticeably laggy shutter during recording. Videos are saved within the app in a 4K Videos folder, in a standard .MOV format that can play with obvious jitters directly on the device. The app is currently at version 4.0.1, addressing an iOS 7-related crash bug, but continues to suffer from many memory-related crashes when using the 4K recording mode. Vizzywig 4K has been reduced in price to $50, and now supports iOS 8.1, though notably with user complaints as to video quality.

Touch Press releases Molecules by Theodore Gray, sequel to The Elements

  • November 10, 2014

Four and a half years after Theodore Gray released the breakthrough iPad science application The Elements: A Visual Exploration, developer Touch Press has published Molecules by Theodore Gray ($14), billed as an “extraordinary sequel.” While The Elements was neatly organized using a fully animated version of the Periodic Table, Molecules is closer to a 14-chapter book in design, yet preserves the incredible rotating and interactive 3-D objects that were such a phenomenon during the original iPad’s introduction. It also continues Gray’s tradition of breezily walking readers through complex science using clear language and engaging examples, including more of the subtle, erudite humor that made The Elements so charming.

A virtual table of contents lets readers learn about the molecules and compounds inside foods, liquids, and everyday objects, selecting from animated images such as a honeycomb, a rock formation, a moving fountain, or a glass filled with dry ice. Most of the pages contain multiple paragraphs of explanatory text alongside objects that can be spun around by 360 degrees, playing back a series of photographs taken from every angle. Additionally, a university-developed molecular simulation engine enables accurate representations of molecules to be manipulated in full 3-D, sometimes with temperature and time sliders to increase the pace of their energetic movements. Now built for Retina displays, the app doesn’t let iPad users zoom in on objects, but does include separate portrait and landscape iPad modes, as well as iPhone support. Released last week as version 1.0, it’s currently at version 1.1. Additional pictures can be seen below.

Target announces unprecedented Black Friday Apple deals

  • November 10, 2014

Black Friday deals reported by 9to5Mac show that Target will be offering some unprecedented pricing on new Apple products later this month. This year’s holiday deals include an iPhone 6 for $179.99 with a $30 gift card included, 16GB iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi for $499 with a $140 Target Gift Card, a 16GB iPad mini Wi-Fi model for $249 with an $80 Target Gift Card, and a buy one get 30% off iTunes gift card discount. Some items are even available to order now online with free in-store pickup on Black Friday.

Security researcher IDs new app-spoofing iOS vulnerability

  • November 10, 2014

Security research firm FireEye has identified a vulnerability that can allow iOS apps to be replaced by malware versions. Dubbed the “Masque Attack,” the vulnerability uses an existing app’s App Store ID, signed with an enterprise provisioning certificate, to replace the good app with a rogue version. The report explains that although iOS requires that all third-party applications be signed by a valid provisioning certificate, it does not require that the certificate used to sign an app update be the same as the certificate used to sign the original app.

Masque Attack uses a vulnerability similar to the WireLurker exploit revealed last week, leveraging the enterprise distribution system that Apple has provided for companies to distribute in-house apps to their users, however this particular vulnerability goes beyond requiring a USB connection, potentially allowing devices to be infected wirelessly by prompting users to install bogus application updates over-the-air. This could be done by presenting prompts in Safari to encourage users to install an update to an app they may already be using. The prompt need not even match the app actually being delivered, and once the user accepts, the app will be downloaded and replace the legitimate version on the user’s device. The FireEye report cites examples such as replacing a mobile banking app as a phishing attack to collect login and password information. FireEye notes that the vulnerability still exists in the iOS 8.1.1 beta, and has been identified as far back as iOS 7.1.1.

It is key to mention that this exploit relies heavily on social engineering to encourage the user to install an untrusted app, and that iOS itself provides cues that should raise suspicion, such as asking the user to randomly install an app while they may be engaged in an otherwise unrelated activity such as browsing the web, and requiring that the user explicitly respond to an “Untrusted Developer” notification when installing the app. The FireEye report notes that users can mitigate their risk simply by not installing “apps from third-party sources other than Apple’s official App Store or the user’s own organization” and not clicking on random pop-ups on web pages to install third-party apps, regardless of the title or description shown for the app. [via CNBC]

Apple releases iMessage Deregistration Tool

Apple has released a new web-based tool to allow users to deregister phone numbers from iMessage. Designed to address a long-standing problem that users have experienced when switching away from the iPhone to other devices, the site provides instructions on how to deregister a phone number from Apple’s iMessage servers so that text messages sent from other iPhone users will be sent as SMS messages instead of via Apple’s iMessage network. The problem exists because the iPhone automatically registers a user’s cellular phone number with Apple’s iMessage servers when the user first sets up their device or inserts a new SIM card in their iPhone. Messages from other iOS devices sent to that phone number will travel via the iMessage servers instead of the cellular carrier’s SMS network — if users later switch their SIM card to a non-iPhone device, their number does not get deregistered automatically, so messages to that phone number will continue to travel over the iMessage network.

Apple acknowledged the issue back in May, shortly before a lawsuit was filed by a former iPhone user who was losing text messages as a result of the problem. Apple promised a fix was coming shortly thereafter, but other than advising users to disable iMessage before removing their SIM card—a suggestion that is often unreasonable as many users will have already switched to another device before discovering the problem even exists—the company has not provided a solution until now. The new web portal provides the same advice to deactivate iMessage manually for users who still have their iPhones, but failing that, users can now enter their phone number directly on the web page, and after confirming their number via an SMS confirmation code, their number will be deregistered from Apple’s iMessage servers.

Apps of the Week: Julius Jr.‘s Playground, Nighty Night Circus, Google Maps + iMovie

New Games

Julius Jr.‘s Playhouse ($3) — StoryToys brings the popular Paul Frank character to life in this new kids’ app. The game provides four fun activities, including Tea Party, Garage Band, Friends Quiz, and Get Puzzling, that allow kids to decorate cakes, play along with songs, identify characters and put together colourful puzzles. The app features eight jigsaw puzzles, over 100 quiz questions, three Julius Jr. songs, professional narration, and more, all in an intuitive and child-friendly package.

Nighty Night Circus ($4) — The sequel to Fox and Sheep’s popular “Nighty Night!”, Nighty Night Circus brings a new magical setting with a bedtime atmosphere full of colourful animations. Children are presented with a circus setting with eight animals that they can put to bed with various actions. Each animal performs various tricks before going to sleep, and the app features designs and animations by Oscar-nominated artist Heidi Wittlinger. The cute animals, calming lullaby music and narration make this a great app for a daily go-to-sleep ritual for young children.

Unsealed GT court documents reveal Apple negotiation tactics

  • November 7, 2014
  • Apple,

Key court documents related to GT Advanced Technologies’ bankruptcy filing earlier this fall have recently been unsealed, providing some interesting insights into negotiations between Apple and GT. While both companies had previously fought to keep court documents sealed, citing confidentiality agreements, a judge ruled earlier this week that the documents did not contain trade secrets of other confidential information.

The newly disclosed documents also include an unedited affidavit from GT Advanced’s Chief Operating Officer, Daniel Squiller, who places much of the blame for GT’s failure on Apple, in light of agreements that the company had already previously referred to as oppressive and burdensome. Squiller describes Apple as using a “bait-and-switch” strategy, initially appealing to GT with the promise of a lucrative deal that would have involved Apple purchasing sapphire furnaces and allowing GT to operate them, but later demanding a “fundamentally different deal” that was “onerous and massively one-sided.” The new deal required GT to purchase and operate the furnaces, and shifted all economic risk to GT Advanced Technologies, putting Apple in the role of a lender with no other obligations to purchase any equipment or materials produced by GT.

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