An in-depth look at Apple’s ‘electric car team’ put together by 9to5Mac has revealed some additional insight that suggests that Apple is very likely working on an electric car, contrary to much of the dismissive speculation being put forth by industry analysts that have suggested the company is merely working on an enhanced software or electronics platform. The report notes that the team includes a “long list of automotive experts” that go well beyond software, including hardware engineers from companies such as Tesla and Ford, and many others from “an automotive hardware background.” It’s also notable that many of these new hires joined Apple only very recently — around the time that Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly approved the new car project. The talent and sheer number of employees would seem to imply that Apple’s ambitions go beyond only providing components for a vehicle or developing a software platform.
With the debut of the Apple Watch expected in about two months, Apple has begun its marketing efforts to position the new wearable device as a fashion accessory. The cover of the March issue of Self magazine features supermodel Candice Swanepoel sporting an Apple Watch with a white sport band. Presented in an athletic setting, the image seems intended to blend the trendy consumer fashion aspect of the Apple Watch with its health and fitness features.
In a rare move, Apple has released an iTunes 12.1.1 update specifically for Windows users only, with fixes related to direct synchronization with Outlook and iOS devices. The update also addresses an audio playback glitch, and the release notes also indicate that the update “improves compatibility with screen readers.” The update should appear via the normal software update mechanism, however it is also available for download directly at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download. [via 9to5Mac]
Apple has asked suppliers to manufacture five to six million units of its upcoming Apple Watch for the product’s first run, The Wall Street Journal reports. Half of that total will be made up of the lower-end Apple Watch Sport, which will start at $349. A third of the production will be dedicated to the mid-tier model, with the remaining amount — about a sixth of the initial total, based on these figures — to be the high-end Apple Watch Edition. Production for the Edition is expected to pick up in the second quarter, according to sources. Prices on the Edition and mid-tier Watch are still unknown, but the report speculates the Edition will “likely” cost more than $4,000.
In yet another new report related to Apple Watch, Bloomberg notes Apple recently met with Mexican regulators “to discuss advances in health-care devices.” According to the report, the meeting is indicative of a push to sell the Apple Watch in international markets. Apple’s international timeline for Apple Watch is unclear at this time.
Apple had originally intended for the upcoming Apple Watch to have a much stronger focus on health-related features, a new report by The Wall Street Journal reveals. Seemingly confirming early rumors, the report notes that Apple had wanted to position the Apple Watch as a “state-of-the-art health-monitoring device” that would be able to monitor blood pressure, heart activity, stress levels, and more. In the end, however, Apple found that such features either didn’t work reliably, proved too complex, or could have possibly resulted in “unwanted regulatory oversight.”
Apple reportedly began developing the Apple Watch four years ago as a device almost entirely focused on health and fitness. While it’s not uncommon for Apple to experiment and research different products and technologies, the report notes that the watch was “especially challenging” and in fact became known internally as a “black hole” project, sucking in company resources. Among other things, Apple experimented with sensors designed to measure skin conductivity, which showed promise for heart rate and stress monitoring, as well as ways to detect blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. However, these and other health sensor technologies available at the time reportedly failed to meet Apple’s standards and produced inconsistent results. The sensor data varied widely on different people due to things like skin conditions, body hair, and how tightly a person wore the watch. There were also concerns that if Apple interpreted the numbers to provide health or behavioral advice, the company may have needed FDA or other regulatory approval to be able to sell the Apple Watch. In the end, Apple had to settle for the more basic pulse-rate monitoring feature. Sources familiar with the matter, however, have noted that even though these features have been shelved for the initial Apple Watch release, it would seem Apple has not given up on them entirely and they may find their way into future models.
Apple has invited several third-party iOS app developers to Cupertino to provide assistance with testing and finalizing Apple Watch apps, 9to5Mac reports. The company is apparently also holding workshops for over 100 different developers throughout the month of February. The select group of developers reportedly includes companies working on sports applications, productivity software, banking applications for Apple Pay functionality, and more. As is typical with the pre-launch secrecy Apple normally employs for its products, developers noted that they were in many cases asked to travel to Cupertino on an urgent timeline with very little notice, and that the meetings themselves were conducted with anonymity between developers in attendance, with individuals labeled by unique number identifiers rather than names.
Several of the developers in attendance were also able to provide some initial impressions of the Apple Watch, highlighting some of the more impressive and unique features, describing the Watch OS as “more sophisticated” than the competing Android Wear solutions. However, some functionality is reportedly not yet active, and the built-in Watch features were said to be limited in much the same way the original iPhone was in 2007.
Happy Presidents’ Day from iLounge! We’ll be on a limited publication schedule today in observance of Presidents’ Day, and Family Day in Canada. We will return to normal updates on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Thanks for reading!
Apple “has several hundred employees” working to create an electric vehicle, The Wall Street Journal reports. The project is reportedly codenamed “Titan” and early vehicle designs are similar to a minivan. This report is the latest and most revealing of a number of recent Apple car reports and rumors, but it still notes that “Apple may decide not to proceed with a car,” with the usual caveats. Apple CEO Tim Cook allegedly approved the project nearly a year ago. A self-driving car is not part of the company’s plans, according to sources.
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Apple has been hiring a number of automotive experts to work in a secret research lab, The Financial Times reports. Citing several “people familiar with the company,” the report suggests that Apple has ambitions that go “beyond the dashboard.” Headed up by experienced managers from the company’s iPhone unit, a large group of Apple employees have reportedly been reassigned to research automotive products at a confidential location located outside of the company’s main Cupertino campus that was setup late last year. Jony Ive’s design team has also allegedly been holding regular meetings with senior automotive executives and engineers, and recent recruits to Apple’s new team include the head of Mercedes-Benz’s Silicon Valley R&D unit. Previous speculation has been that Apple may have simply been working on an extension of its CarPlay system, however the recent spate of new hires and discussions suggest larger ambitions.
A separate report earlier this week in The Mac Observer made claims that Apple is going into the car business, with information allegedly coming from an Apple employee who is with a group working on something intended to “give Tesla a run for its money.” The report noted that Apple is specifically poaching talent from Tesla with expertise directly suited to car design and manufacturing, and states that a number of top executives in Silicon Valley are “considering it a given” that Apple is in fact working on creating a car. Another recent report linked Apple to a “mysterious van” spotted in the San Francisco Bay Area.
These reports often note that like other most other major Silicon Valley technology companies, Apple frequently pursues avenues of research and projects that never move beyond the R&D phase, and of all companies, Apple certainly has the revenue and cash reserves to do so. If the company is headed in this direction, it is ultimately unclear whether this could be a skunkworks project similar to Google’s self-driving cars, or whether Apple actually has specific plans to move forward into manufacturing and marketing a car.
Apple has opened up its iWork for iCloud beta, allowing any user to create a new Apple ID and use the service, regardless of whether they are an iOS or Mac user or not. Although the feature is only available on the beta iCloud site, at least for now, users visiting that site can now sign up for a new Apple ID right from within their browser — something that previously required an iOS device or Mac. New users get 1GB of free iCloud storage and access to the Pages, Numbers, and Keynote web apps, and can presumably expand that existing Apple ID to be used with iOS and OS X should they later connect it to an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac. With competitors like Google Docs and Office 365 already long established, it seems unlikely that Apple is trying to promote this as an alternative web-based document platform for general use — it’s more likely that they’re giving prospective Apple users a look at the iWork services to encourage more adoption of iOS devices and Macs.
Apple has made another adjustment to its App Store review policies, this time cracking down on apps that display examples of gun-related violence in their icons or screenshots, PocketGamer reports. Citing reports from multiple developers, the report notes that Apple has begun rejecting both new games and updates from the App Store that include screenshots that “show people holding guns, or being maimed or killed.” Several examples are noted in the report, with developers being required to change screenshots and resubmit to meet this new restriction, which is reportedly just a more active enforcement of Section 3.6 of the App Store Review Guidelines. Section 3.6 states that “Apps with App icons, screenshots, and previews that do not adhere to the 4+ age rating will be rejected.” It’s worth noting that the rejections seem to be limited exclusively to content shown on the App Store page such as screenshots and icons; there have been no reports of Apple rejecting apps for any guns or violence shown within applications themselves, assuming the content is appropriate for the assigned age rating on the App Store.
Apple has changed course and decided to readmit a marijuana-related app to the App Store, according to a new report from the San Francisco Chronicle. In a controversial move some weeks ago, Apple pulled the app MassRoots from the App Store, despite its presence there from July 2013 until Nov 4, 2014. While the rejection was likely based on Section 2.18 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which states that “Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected,” it seems clear that Apple had not enforced this policy when the app was originally submitted, perhaps in part due to the varying legality of marijuana use between different jurisdictions. Following the app being removed from the App Store, the founder of MassRoots had reportedly contacted Apple, offering to restrict the use of the app based on geofencing to only operate in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. However, at the time Apple “refused to budge.” The company apparently changed course last week, when an Apple representative contacted the founder and notified them that “cannabis social apps” would be permitted on the App Store, provided they are “geo-restricted to the 23 states that have legalized medicinal cannabis.”
Apple has extended its two-step verification feature to include authentication of FaceTime and iMessage logins, The Guardian reports. First introduced in early 2013, Apple’s two-step verification requires users to enter a verification code that appears on a trusted iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch when signing in with their Apple ID and password, providing an extra layer of protection against compromised or hacked passwords. The security feature has been enabled for direct iCloud account features since its introduction, although other services continued to only require a standard password for access.
Apple has announced that developers can now submit applications up to 4GB in size to the App Store, an increase from the prior 2GB limit. This will allow developers of media-rich apps and games to include more content directly within their app, as opposed to using over-the-air downloads — a process that some developers previously relied on in order to provide content beyond that which could be included in the App Store download itself. The announcement notes that the cellular network delivery size limit of 100MB remains unchanged, however, meaning that larger apps will need to either be downloaded over Wi-Fi or synced via iTunes.
Apple has released its Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2015, providing an update on the actions the company has continued to take in ensuring that fair labor practices and human rights are respected through its supply chain. The report covers areas such as accountability, empowerment of workers, labor and human rights, health and safety, and environmental concerns. In the report, the company revealed it has doubled its number of conflict-free smelters to 135 — four smelters that would not agree to a third-party audit were informed they would be removed from Apple’s supply chain. Additionally, Apple has told its suppliers that “no worker employed on an Apple line could be charged any recruitment fees.” Apple has drawn plenty of fire in the past stemming from issues with smelters and foreign contract worker fees.
Apple’s auditors conducted a record number of 633 comprehensive, in-person audits to track working conditions, covering over 1.6 million workers in 19 countries, a forty percent increase in the number of audits performed in the prior year. Reviews were also conducted of 459 potential suppliers, including detailed risk assessments for those who had not been audited previously, a process which allowed Apple to address more than 700 findings related to labor standards, worker safety, permits, environmental hazards, and chemical management. In relation to protection of workers’ rights, Apple continued to enforce the maximum 60 hour workweek throughout its supply chain, noting that last year 92 percent of the company’s suppliers were complaint with that standard. The report also notes that Apple helped over 4,500 foreign contract workers recoup excessive fees paid to labor brokers. More than 870 Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) initiatives were also launched to improve working conditions, along with an extensive program to improve chemical management processes. Apple also expanded its clean water program, increased coverage to 50 percent of the total water withdrawn from its top suppliers, helped 13 suppliers save half a billion gallons of freshwater, and continued to closely monitor production facilities for hazardous waste and environmental violations.
In addition to the statistical compliance figures, the report also provides specific detail on significant non-compliance findings from the audit and the remedial steps taken in each case across areas ranging from anti-discrimination policies and juvenile worker protection to occupational injury prevention and wastewater and stormwater management. The full report can be found here.
iPhone thefts have been dropping dramatically in at least three major cities since Apple introduced its Activation Lock feature in 2013, Reuters reports. Specifically, the number of stolen iPhones in San Francisco has reportedly dropped by 40 percent, while the number of iPhone thefts in New York has dropped by 25 percent, and smartphone theft in general has dropped by half in London. The drop is believed to be a direct result of the anti-theft features that Apple added to iOS 7 in September 2013, which effectively “locked” an iOS device to its owner, preventing a stolen device from being used without entering the original user’s Apple ID and password. Supplementing the “Find My iPhone” feature introduced by Apple some time ago, the new Activation Lock feature essentially turns a stolen iPhone into a useless brick, reducing the motivation for theft. With smartphone theft now accounting for half of all crimes in cities like San Francisco, several U.S. states are considering laws mandating the use of similar “kill switches” in smartphones — California passed a smartphone “kill switch” law last year that has yet to go into effect. While Samsung and Google have added a similar feature, only Apple currently has it setup to be enabled by default.
Apple has been threatening sanctions against third-party accessory manufacturers that design iPhone and iPad products based on leaked and other unofficial device specifications, according to a new report by 9to5Mac. Last fall, prior to the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple reportedly required a number of accessory makers to sign agreements that would prohibit them from seeking out information about unannounced Apple devices. Manufactures were encouraged to sign the agreement or risk losing “future business opportunities that Apple and/or its affiliates may present” to them, and the agreement apparently includes language that could be interpreted as prohibiting developers from even reading any web site or newspaper that talks about upcoming Apple products, although it more specifically prohibits manufacturers from using “specifications from any source other than Apple” when developing new products for the iPhone and iPad.
To preserve its veil of secrecy, Apple traditionally only provides manufacturing specs after new devices have been formally announced, which places accessory makers at a disadvantage when it comes to getting products to market in a timely manner. This leaves customers with few options for things like cases other than Apple’s own offerings, which of course are generally made available simultaneously with a new product’s release. There has already been a stark decline in the number of third-party cases available in Apple Retail Stores, seemingly in favor of Apple’s own iPhone and iPad cases, which now take up approximately 75 percent of the display space in some stores. While there has been some speculation that Apple is simply making room for the Apple Watch, several sources have told iLounge that Apple Retail has been moving more toward a ‘boutique’ experience when it comes to cases, preferring to limit options to unique selections that it believes matches and enhances the aesthetics of its devices.
JetBlue will very soon be accepting Apple Pay for in-flight purchases, USA Today reports. Beginning as early as next week, customers on “select JetBlue Airways flights” will be able to use their iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus to purchase food, drinks, on-board amenities or even upgrade to available premium seats while in flight. This makes JetBlue the first airline to accept Apple Pay in flight, and the service promises to provide an easier experience compared to requiring customers to dig for credit cards while sitting in cramped seats. The carrier also expects to provide full support for payments via the Apple Watch once it becomes available as well. Later this year, passengers will also be able to use Apple Pay to make in-flight purchases directly through JetBlue’s own mobile app.
To support the new payment system, JetBlue flight crew will be outfitted with NFC-encased iPad minis that have been specially approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. These new iOS-based payment terminals will also be able to handle payment via conventional credit cards and provide a custom Inflight Service Assistant app to help flight attendants identify frequent fliers or passengers who may be celebrating a birthday. [via 9to5Mac]
In addition to the iOS 8.3 beta released earlier today, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that Apple has also begun development on iOS 8.4 in parallel. Codenamed “Copper,” iOS 8.4 is expected to be released sometime after the Apple Watch debuts, and sources indicate that support for Apple’s upcoming streaming music service may also be incorporated into this release.