Apple iPad, Mac rumors suggest upgrades for power users

While we prepare to see the next iPhone on September 7th, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has delivered another batch of rumors centered around Apple’s iPad and Mac plans. According to his sources, along with a standalone 5K monitor the company is working on with LG (that would surpass even the 21:9 screens just announced) the next step for iMacs are the option of AMD GPUs built-in, while the Macbook Air is expected to get a USB-C upgrade that could mimic the current Macbook.

Otherwise, a thinner (of course) Macbook Pro could take its own notes from the Macbook with a flatter keyboard, plus what Bloomberg says is a “Dynamic Function Row” above the keyboard. Earlier rumors referred to an OLED touch bar, and combined with the upcoming Sierra macOS update, it could handle different functions depending on what software is active, like iMovie or Safari.

Finally, the iPad is expected to get upgraded display tech that zooms and scrolls faster, while a software update would make the Apple Pencil work across more software on iOS. The new iPad software is expected to arrive at some point in 2017, while the new Mac hardware is expected to debut later this year.

Source: Bloomberg

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Apple patenting a way to collect iPhone thieves’ fingerprints

Apple’s done a lot to curb iPhone theft via the “Find my iPhone” feature and encryption that locks out users if an incorrect code or fingerprint is used too often. However, it’s thinking about getting more proactive, judging by a recent patent application. It claims a method of “capturing biometric information for identifying unauthorized users,” including fingerprints, video or audio. The information could be stored or send to a server, where police could presumably use it to figure out who nabbed your device.

The system is pretty simple. The Touch ID sensor, front camera and microphone are already there, they simply need to be switched on without alerting the bad guy. In one scheme, the system could capture biometric data after a single failed passcode attempt; in another, it would only store it after a pre-determined number of failed attempts. On top of storing video, audio and fingerprint data, it could save and transmit “forensic” info like a GPS location. (The patent doesn’t specifically mention the iPhone or iPad, but those are Apple’s only devices with fingerprint sensors.)

Such a feature might be on shaky legal ground, however. Apple, maybe more than any company, understands the downsides of storing data without notifying users. And while it’s fun to speculate about patents, the tech rarely makes it into actual products, and this one has yet to be approved by the USPTO. Still, Apple can already track thieves, and such a scheme would let you nab them without having to traipse around the world.

Via: Apple Insider

Source: USPTO

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Apple patches three zero-day exploits after activist is hacked

Apple has rolled out a patch for three previously unknown zero-day exploits that were used to hack into the iPhone 6 of Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist based in the United Arab Emirates. Security company Lookout and internet watchdog group Citizen Lab investigated the attack on Mansoor’s iPhone and found it to be the product of NSO Group, a “cyber war” organization based in Israel that’s responsible for distributing a powerful, government-exclusive spyware product called Pegasus.

The hack took advantage of three zero-day exploits that allowed the attackers to jailbreak Mansoor’s iPhone and install spyware to track his movements, record his WhatsApp and Viber calls, log his messages and access his microphone and camera. Given the high cost of iPhone zero-days and the use of a government-specific spyware product, Citizen Lab believes the UAE is behind the hack. The UAE has previously targeted Mansoor.

“We are not aware of any previous instance of an iPhone remote jailbreak used in the wild as part of a targeted attack campaign, making this a rare find,” Citizen Lab writes.

Once Citizen Lab discovered the zero-days, it contacted Apple and says the company responded promptly. Apple released a software update today, iOS 9.3.5, that addresses the three flaws.

Source: Citizen Lab, Apple, Lookout

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Calvin Klein thinks Apple was paid fairly in Samsung patent case

The exhausting brawl between Apple and Samsung over patents simply refuses to die the horrible, gruesome death it deserves. Samsung is the more bloodied, you may recall, having paid Apple a $ 548 million settlement for violating a bunch of patents (not that Cupertino is done squeezing money from the Korean company). That big payout is due to be reviewed and potentially reduced by the US Supreme Court, however, with Samsung arguing it shouldn’t have had to hand over every cent of profit it made on devices that were found to specifically infringe Apple design patents. Naturally, Apple disagrees, and now it’s got none other than Calvin Klein fighting in its corner.

The underwear mogul, seminal designer Dieter Rams and architect Lord Norman Foster are some of the better-known names among over 100 signatories of an amicus brief published today by Apple (PDF). These documents are submitted to courts as supporting evidence — supporting Apple’s agenda, in this instance — and often feature the opinions of interested parties that aren’t directly involved in the case at hand. Unsurprisingly, the key takeaway of the report is the Supreme Court shouldn’t revisit the settlement after “the jury properly awarded to Apple all of Samsung’s profits from selling its copycat devices.”

The amicus brief gives us a bitesized history lesson on the importance of product design. Coca-Cola wouldn’t have become “the most widely distributed product on earth” if its contoured bottle hadn’t contributed to its appeal, is one example. Similarly, General Motors would never have outpaced Ford if it hadn’t focused on attractive vehicle designs. The document goes on to argue design has never been more important, since tech products like smartphones all do more or less the same thing. “The iPhone did not fundamentally alter the core functionality of the smartphone.”

Samsung Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S

Take that quote with a pinch of humblebrag, though, as Apple does go on to say that the design of the iPhone is what elevated it so very far above competing products. Add in a ton of cognitive science research, and the message is that design is basically the only thing that gives a device meaning. A consumer doesn’t see components, features or functionality; their initial impressions are rooted in visual design. In other words, they judge a book by its cover. “Appearance becomes identified with the underlying functional features and with a particular level of product quality and safety.”

“Thus, when a consumer encounters a known product (or an infringing copy), the consumer identifies the look of the product with the underlying functional features.” Apple is saying here: Yes, we were entitled to the total profits from infringing Samsung devices because everything that makes iPhones great is embodied by their design. Samsung was piggybacking on Apple’s legacy, and profiting. “Indeed, Samsung’s infringement covered the most important design elements of the iPhone. The rectangular face with rounded corners, and the home screen with colorful icons…”

This is just Apple’s position, of course, which is apparently shared by numerous designers, relevant academics, experts and the like who would rather not see the value of design patents eroded by a partial refund. “We all share a strong professional interest in seeing that design patent law continues to protect investments in product design.”

supreme court building

Much like lobbying, the extent to which amicus briefs effect court proceedings is indeterminable. This document was put together by Apple in support of Apple’s interests, after all, but it’s also just one to Samsung’s many. In fact, seven pro-Samsung amicus briefs have been submitted thus far, including one undersigned by Google, Facebook, Dell, HP, eBay and other tech companies. You see, there is widespread worry that awarding the total profits for products deemed to violate design patents sets a dangerous precedent.

Samsung likens it to handing over profits on the sale of a car with a patent-infringing cup holder. It’s the obvious counter-argument: That design is just one element of a product, not the be all and end all. Furthermore, such cases could inspire trolls that will attempt to take credit for a complex piece of hardware or software based on one relatively inconsequential design similarity. It’s important to note that even the Department of Justice has chimed in with a (neutral) amicus brief of its own, recommending the case be sent back to a lower court so more evidence can be collected to inform a verdict.

Whichever way the cookie crumbles, it’ll be interesting fuel for patent reform debate, and it’s important that it’ll be decided in the Supreme Court. It’s basically unheard of for design patent cases to be decided at this level — the first in over 120 years, to be more precise.

[Inline image credits: Janitors/Flickr & Shutterstock / Brandon Bourdages]

Source: Apple (PDF)

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Apple drops the gun emoji for a friendlier water pistol

The news is awash in the shootings of police officers and unarmed black men, and individuals opening fire in nightclubs and public party events. In an effort to stop promoting gun violence, Apple is replacing its gun emoji with a friendlier-looking water pistol. In place of the old black and silver revolver is a bright green and orange water gun that looks very distinctly like a harmless toy.

Apple also led the decision to remove a rifle from a list of potential additions to the emoji library on all platforms, including Android. Unicode, the organization that handles the character standard, listened to the company’s request, and Microsoft agreed with this decision as well.

Apple has an additional one hundred new and redesigned emoji that will be available to iPhone and iPad users this Fall with iOS 10. These new emoji show women playing more sports and performing jobs that, before this update, only had male options. A few examples are a woman riding a mountain bike, lifting weights, and playing basketball. There will also be redesigns of popular emoji, a new rainbow flag, and more family options.

This is in an effort to bring more gender and race options to existing characters, and Google’s leading the charge. Apple, Unicode, Google, and other companies have the power to promote change, and making important tweaks to a popular way people communicate on their phones is one way to do it.

Source: Apple

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Square Enix’s first Apple Watch RPG is stylish yet dull

There aren’t enough dedicated apps for the Apple Watch, let alone role-playing games from established publishers like Square Enix. The name alone conjures images of classic RPGs: Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Valkyrie Profile to name a few. That’s why Cosmos Rings, the company’s first Apple Watch-exclusive RPG, feels like such a departure from the norm. It’s vivid, gorgeous and inspired, but unfortunately it falls victim to the very same cliches of so many mobile games that came before it.

At first glance, Cosmos Rings looks quite promising, with a narrative that’s par for the course when it comes to JRPGs. As the God of Time, you’re tasked with wandering an endless expanse called the Rift in a bid to restore time to the way you once knew it. After being moved to stop time to grant the wishes of human beings, you’ve got to repent for causing the Goddess of Time to shatter into pieces. Her crystallized remains were scattered throughout the Rift, and it’s up to you to make things right. Lost love? Check. Protagonist taking it upon himself to make things right? Double check. Now all it needs is an amnesiac to fill the rest of its RPG trope quota.

The Rift acts as the stage on which Cosmos Rings plays out. Get used to the way it looks, because you’re going to be seeing a whole lot of it. After you launch the iPhone app and open up the companion version on your Apple Watch, you’re met with a bit of expository story coupled with artwork that’s meant to move you along. These quickly introduce additional characters whose presence don’t immediately make sense in the context of the God of Time’s story, but you’ll soon realize it won’t matter much when the game basically plays itself, barring a few player-controller machinations.

That’s right — Cosmos Rings is essentially an incremental game that requires little or no input from you. The game is perfect for the diminutive Apple Watch screen, and its neon pixel art absolutely sings on the small display. But in the end, it’s little better than playing Tap My Katamari or Cookie Clicker with a few added mechanics.

The God of Time continues to run headlong into the Rift, fighting off enemies as they appear before him. This is your default screen among the three the game’s comprised of. The God will automatically attack on his own, but if you so desire you can tap the Skills button at the lower right of the screen to utilize various attacks you’ll earn along the way. If you wait for the timer to count down and then fire off a Skill right after the first one, you can chain them for additional damage. You can also rotate the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown to head to the Fragments screen, where you can spend Fragments (displayed on-screen as you collect them in battle) to upgrade your weapons, unlock additional skill slots and most importantly, earn more time.

You’ll want to keep a close eye on the time you’re allotted, especially if you don’t want to keep playing the same “days” over and over. There’s a timer at the bottom left of the screen that continually counts down. Essentially, that’s your HP gauge. Let it run out, and you’re forced to start the game from the beginning, though you’ll retain any Skills or Relics acquired in the process.

It’s more akin to a roguelike in this respect than an RPG, and is one of the most challenging elements of Cosmos Rings. If you make a mistake or forget to use Fragments to level up or augment your equipment, you can also use the digital crown of your Apple Watch in the Rift to rewind time to a specific “hour,” as the game is split into during each day, to go back and do it all again. These light strategic elements add a little variety, but the game is otherwise so hands-off you’ll wonder why you’re even interacting with it.

Bizarrely, time doesn’t cease counting down unless you’re fighting a boss, when the ticker hits 3 minutes, or during a story event where you’re given a slice of story. So if you’re planning on not playing for a long stretch of time you’ll need to make sure you do keep an eye on the game when you want to make progress. It’s almost like toting around a Tamagotchi or a Giga Pet, except you can’t let your “pet” die.

Cosmos Rings is a strange amalgam of clicker mechanics, colorful pixelated graphics and a score that you’ll want to listen to more than once, but it’s also lacking in the RPG department. When compared to its competition, a fantasy adventure called Runeblade from Everywear Games, Cosmos Rings seems feature-deficient. The former utilizes several of the same mechanics Cosmos Rings does (namely time travel), but offers an offline mode, various quests, and other reasons to keep you coming back. It’s hard to recommend Square Enix’s offering over Runeblade, especially since Runeblade is free.

If you’re looking for something to idly tap on while on the way to work or need to use your Apple Watch for a use beyond regular apps, it’s an interesting experiment. If you’re hoping for anything more than an endless grind with little input required from you, you might want to take your 3DS or Vita with you along for the ride instead. Cosmos Rings is available now as an Apple Watch exclusive.

Source: App Store

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Apple has finally sold its billionth iPhone

Apple has managed to pull in some extremely impressive numbers when it comes to its flagship mobile phone. While iPhone sales overall had begun to decline over the last quarter, that didn’t stop the company from selling its one billionth iPhone last week.

Apple’s CEO announced the milestone today during a special employee meeting in Cupertino this morning. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, thanked employees for “helping change the world every day,” noting that Apple has “always set out to make the best products that make a difference.”

The billionth iPhone was sold about two years after Apple sold its 500 millionth iPhone. That’s a lot of units, and with the impending launch of additional phones to its line, it’s likely to sell a whole lot more in the future.

Via: TechCrunch

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Apple entices its first big drug company to ResearchKit

Although Apple’s ResearchKit is almost two years old, the platform has mainly been reserved for clinical studies hosted by universities and medical researchers. Hundreds of thousands of people are already contributing data for studies focusing on asthma, diabetes, breast cancer, autism, epilepsy and melanoma, but now drugmakers are getting in on the act. Almost a year after it said it was readying studies using Apple’s health data-collecting tool, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has confirmed the launch of a new research app to help monitor patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

GSK’s Patient Rheumatoid Arthritis Data from the Real World (PARADE) study is the first of its kind and is the first time a major pharmaceutical (or big pharma) company has embarked on such a project. PARADE is designed to look at the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on a patient’s life, by using iPhone sensors to collect information on joint pain, fatigue and overall mood. GSK will track the activity and “quality of life measures” for 300 patients over a three-month period.

GSK Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although GSK uses over 40 different technologies to collect health data, ResearchKit allows doctors, scientists and researchers to collect data more regularly and accurately from patients via their iPhone. It’s not testing a new treatment yet, but the company intends to use the data it collects to “develop medicines more effectively.”

Via: Bloomberg

Source: GSK

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Spotify: Apple is holding up app approval to squash competition

How do you catch up with the biggest music streaming service? Well, not approving app updates is one tactic, and Spotify says Apple is doing just that. The streaming service sent a letter to Apple’s legal counsel this week claiming that the company is rejecting an update to Spotify’s iOS app and it’s “causing grave harm” to users by doing so. The letter explains that Apple won’t approve the new version because Spotify doesn’t use the company’s billing method for in-app purchases and subscription services. Apple announced an changes to app subscriptions in iTunes just before this month’s WWDC.

Like other apps, Spotify had been getting customers to foot the bill for Apple’s App Store billing fees by charging an extra $ 3 a month. It recently launched a promotion for the second time that gave new users three months of service for a dollar, if they signed up on the web. As you can imagine, that didn’t make Apple too happy, and the company reportedly threatened to pull the app entirely unless Spotify stopped pushing the deal for iPhone owners. It complied with the request, but it also nixed the iTunes billing option in the iOS version which lead to the current dispute.

Sure, Spotify users can still sign up through its website to avoid paying the extra money every month. However, charging extra to pay through iTunes puts the streaming service at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with Apple Music. Spotify still has double the paying customers as Apple, but with exclusives and things like Beats1, the iPhone maker continues to gain ground. We’ve reached out to both Apple and Spotify on the matter and we’ll update this post when and if we hear back.

Source: Recode

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