One of Apple’s display suppliers is in dire financial trouble

Japan Display’s reluctance to embrace OLED manufacturing has cost it dearly. The firm took a net loss of ¥31.5 billion ($ 287,185,500) from April to June. “We have decided to make a strategic change as we would have no future in the smartphone business without OLED,” CEO Nobuhiro Higasgiiriki (above) said. The iPhone screen supplier has shed 30 percent of its employees (3,700 people according to Phys.org) and is reorganizing for what it says is the last time.

“We find ourselves in a very regrettable situation,” Higasgiiriki said. “Our biggest task is to build a management system that generates profits by keeping in mind that this is our last chance to restructure.” Its current OLED prototype won’t go into full production until 2019 — a year later than previous estimates.

According to Reuters‘ sources, the display supergroup was hoping to raise 100 million yen ($ 911,400) to pay for the restructuring. The company started in 2012 as a joint venture between Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba, with a focus on making small to mid-sized LCD screens.

Japan’s Innovation Network Corp helped fund the venture back then, and could come to its rescue once again with a ¥75 billion ($ 683,147,250) investment, Reuters reports. That should cover the restructuring costs. But, if the rumors are true, Apple needs OLED screens now, not in two year’s time.

Source: Phys.org, Reuters

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Apple’s HomePod firmware spills more details on the smart speaker

Apple unveiled its Siri-powered HomePod speaker hub at WWDC back in June, and despite a hefty $ 350 pricetag and the inevitable comparisons to Alexa devices, it actually sounds pretty good. In the lead up to its release this December, Apple pushed out the hub’s firmware, revealing that it runs on iOS — basically like a screenless iPhone or iPad. But in its current incarnation, the HomePod won’t support third-party apps and programs, according to developer Steve Troughton-Smith’s analysis.


Obviously, that’s not to say the device never will. Since it runs on a full iOS stack through a shell app called “Soundboard,” they could always patch in the ability for third parties to load up their software later. If things don’t change before launch, it’s an odd move to make, especially given how late the HomePod is to the voice-controlled assistant game. Both Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices allow and encourage companies to make apps that enable custom interactions (Alexa has 15,000 of these “skills” and counting). It would also be a huge surprise if the HomePod didn’t integrate at launch with the IoT HomeKit system Apple keeps trying to make happen.

Otherwise, the firmware reveals a few things about the HomePod’s interactions. In keeping with Apple tradition, the device will support accessibility features including VoiceOver. Troughton-Smith believes the top touch surface is an LED matrix that could display shapes and symbols, not just big LED lights. Onboard controls are limited to activating Siri, adjusting volume and alarms on the HomePod — the bulk of which we discovered during our hands-on back in June.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will report if we hear back.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Steve Troughton-Smith (Twitter)

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Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’: lousy TV, good for developers

Ashley D’Arcy always dreamed of being on a reality TV show. But her job as a creative director for an app doesn’t frequently put her in front of a camera. D’Arcy’s dream was realized, however, when she and dozens of other app makers were thrown into the spotlight on Apple’s first original TV series, Planet of the Apps (POTA). It’s been widely (and accurately) described as a cross between Shark Tank and The Voice, and it’s a tepid take on the high-stakes world of… app funding.

You may have heard how boring the show is, especially to my fellow tech reporters, who receive dozens of similar pitches every day. POTA is disappointing to those who expect more from the company that’s basically responsible for today’s thriving app ecosystem. You would think that Apple would be able to create a show that’s unique, informative and entertaining, given its expertise on the subject matter and history of innovating (even if its latest projects have been bland).

But the most interesting part of the show barely gets enough screen time. It’s a clever spin on the elevator pitch — a physical escalator that takes hopeful participants on a 60-second ride from the developer lounge while they describe their app. At the bottom, they face the celebrity judges: Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Garry Vaynberg and will.i.am. (I guess Jony Ive was too busy designing the next iPhone.) The judges swipe yes or no (green or red) on their iPads after the escalator pitch, and if at least one of them says yes, the developers get to explain their product in more detail. At the end of that, all four judges get to decide if they want to help out the app, and the participants pick the mentor they prefer. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the basic format for The Voice.

After the escalator pitch, the rest of the show follows typical reality TV tropes. Over the course of about 50 minutes, you’ll watch the developers work with their mentors to refocus their apps and come up with a killer pitch that will convince Lightspeed Venture Partners to give them money. Basically, after snagging a mentor on The Voice for apps, they’ll be working to get funding from Shark Tank for apps. Yup. Way to repurpose existing formats, Apple.

For a show about developers, there is shockingly little coding or app design on-screen. What you do get is a pop-up label every time a barely jargony phrase is dropped, explaining what the term means. It’s strangely condescending and seems somewhat misguided. The show targets a mainstream audience that might not get terms like API, SDK or UX, and for these folks those labels make sense. The thing is, because of its subject matter, Planet is theoretically more likely to appeal to those in the tech industry who already know the majority of those words.

But POTA is not completely without merit. At the least, it helps the participating companies. On last week’s episode, I watched as three apps that I would normally have written off — Poncho, Cheddar and Stop, Breathe & Think (SBT) — refocused and gained serious potential and funding.

Participants agreed that pitching a venture capital fund in real life isn’t much different from the way it plays out in POTA, barring the cameras and production schedules. “The only difference is, the VCs made their decision within probably 10 to 15 minutes, versus the real world where they probably take weeks, months before they can commit,” Poncho’s founder Kuan Huang told Engadget. “I’m pretty sure Lightspeed did lots of homework before they even talked to us.” Otherwise, Huang noted that the back and forth over details like metrics and financials very much resembled a venture capital pitch meeting outside the show, except Lightspeed was better prepared.

Although there wasn’t a significant difference between being on the show and fund-raising in real life, the companies involved still benefited to varying degrees. Of the trio from last week’s episode, Poncho gained the most. It’s a messaging bot in the form of a Brooklyn cat that tells you the weather in a personable way. I was already aware of Poncho’s app and chatbots before the episode, and while I found the character’s friendly persona interesting, I wasn’t as convinced by the promise of yet another AI assistant.

After Poncho was picked by Paltrow, Huang and D’Arcy talked to Giphy founder Alex Chung during a six-week incubation period and refocused their objective with Chung’s perspective and input. They went to Lightspeed with a compelling pitch — Poncho would be a content platform that served up intelligent alerts, schedules, news and even buying suggestions to your phone’s lock screen. Because of the work by D’Arcy and her team, Poncho is humorous, charming and adorable, which Lightspeed believed would resonate with the vast market of millennials today.

As they went over the details of the pitch, Lightspeed also pointed out that Poncho’s user base had a significant portion of younger women, whom they said were tastemakers. In fact, they said, Snapchat had similar demographics before it blew up. Lightspeed would know too: It was one of the first investors in the ephemeral messaging app.

In just one episode (that took six months to produce), Poncho went from a simple chat service looking to monetize its product to a content platform that aspires to be as big as Snapchat. I sure am paying attention now.

Stop, Breathe & Think saw more-quantifiable improvements. CEO Julie Campistron told Engadget that since being featured in the app store after the show, downloads of the company’s app have doubled. Being on POTA also sped up the process of creating a child-friendly version of Stop, Breathe and Think’s meditation program, Campistron said. That made-for-kids app has seen a 60 percent increase in downloads since the episode aired. Thanks to the show, she was also able to conduct focus groups (set up by the production company) to learn how children respond to her app.

For Cheddar’s CEO Jon Steinberg, having to repeatedly describe his business in a short time made him better at it. “The challenge of pitching on the escalator made me have to refine the idea in a very specific and simple way,” he said. “It forced me to have to explain the company in 60 seconds.” Steinberg ended up securing $ 2.5 million from Lightspeed to revamp his app (it’s worth noting Lightspeed had already invested in Cheddar prior to the show). Plus, he got to spend time with his mentor will.i.am, who Steinberg said was his first choice even before filming started, and they remain in touch.

Ultimately, POTA is a barely entertaining program that really only benefits its participants. The thing is, Apple had almost nothing to do with the improvements each company in the most recent episode saw, aside from download gains from being featured in the app store. It would have been nice to see the iPhone maker’s own developers weigh in on what makes an app successful or go full geek on the benefits of one programming language over another. If presented differently, maybe POTA would have a chance with app nerds and the TechCrunch crowd. But as it is, the show lacks punch and flavor — essential ingredients for drawing in a mainstream audience. If this is an indicator of what to expect from Apple’s upcoming lineup of original content, we may be in for more disappointment yet.

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Google hires designer behind Apple’s mobile chips

Google wasn’t shy about targeting its Pixel phones at iPhone users (it even helped them migrate), and now that similarity could extend to the processors under the hood. Variety has discovered that Google recently hired Manu Gulati, a key chip designer at Apple, to become its lead system-on-chip architect. While Gulati’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t say much about what he’s doing, sources claim that Google hired him with the goal of designing its own CPUs for Pixel phones. It’s looking for more chip experts, too, and has posted job listings or a “mobile SoC CPU architect” and similar roles.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will let you know if it can elaborate on the hire.

It’s not completely shocking that Google would go this route: there were rumblings in 2016 about Pixel phones eventually adopting custom processors. The big concern is whether or not it’s practical. Apple, Huawei and Samsung can all justify in-house CPUs because they sell many millions of devices every quarter. Google hasn’t divulged Pixel sales, but it’s safe to say they’re nowhere near as large as more established rivals with wider availability and bigger marketing budgets. If Variety is accurate, Google is betting either on the Pixel line’s continued growth or is willing to take the likely financial hit that comes with making chips in smaller batches.

The custom chip strategy could also make Google’s Android partners nervous. They’ve had to accept Google as a hardware competitor for years, to varying degrees, but they’ve also known that Nexus and Pixel phones were using off-the-shelf chips that reduced their ability to stand out. If Google can give itself a performance advantage through custom processors, that would change the game. The Pixel line would have an edge over the sea of Snapdragon-based phones on the market, and it might fare better against Huawei and Samsung phones. Apple wouldn’t have as much to worry about (it’s the only choice for iOS, after all), but it might sweat a bit if Google can brag about its hardware brawn.

Source: Variety, LinkedIn

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Apple’s fabled iPad redesign may arrive at WWDC

Apple could have more than one hardware treat to unveil at WWDC this year. KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who has a mostly solid track record for Apple predictions) now believes that Apple is likely to launch a long-rumored 10.5-inch iPad redesign when the developer conference kicks off on June 5th. Kuo understands that mass production is supposed to start in the late second quarter (aka June), so it only makes sense for the tablet to launch around the same time. As for what the device would entail, provided the report is accurate? To no one’s surprise, Kuo mostly focus on the display.

As hinted at in the past, the 10.5-inch iPad (possibly badged as an iPad Pro) would be the first example of the narrow-bezel design that would come to the iPhone this fall. You would get a noticeably larger screen in the same approximate surface area as Apple’s 9.7-inch tablets. There has also been some talk of this new model carrying a souped-up “A10X” processor (much as other iPads have used upgraded “X” chips), but it’s not certain that this would be the case. Other iPads might stick around, whatever happens. Kuo previously asserted that there would be refreshed 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch Pro models as well, so this would just represent a sort of middle child.

The WWDC launch is plausible, although there are definitely reasons to be skeptical. If it largely amounts to the familiar iPad with a bigger screen, it’d be a safe choice for WWDC — it’d make a splash and encourage developers to write apps that take advantage of practical upgrades, such as a higher resolution screen or faster processor. An iPad launch might also ensure that the next iPhone doesn’t share the spotlight with other major introductions.

At the same time, Apple might not want to spoil the next iPhone’s debut by launching an iPad with a similar narrow-bezel design just a few months earlier. And that’s assuming the 10.5-inch device shows up. We wouldn’t rule out Apple sticking to its existing tablet sizes. If both this and the rumored Siri speaker appear, though, WWDC could entail much more than the usual round of operating system updates.

Source: 9to5Mac

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Now Apple’s Live Photos can work on any website

Apple first introduced Live Photos in the iPhone 6S series back in 2015, but the odd photo/video-clip hybrid has taken its time coming to the internet. While Tumblr was the first to integrate Live Photos into its site last September, Apple is finally introducing an official JavaScript API to get its odd photo/video hybrid format out onto the web at large.

Developers will add their Live Photo as a DOM element like any other photo or video. They’ll be able to control how long their media should play, or if they should only play if end users hover over a “LIVE” button in the Live Photo’s top right corner.

Tumblr was the first to fully integrate the format last fall, but Google was the first to store Live Photos online over a year ago with an update to its Google Photos app for iOS. Then it released Motion Stills for Apple devices in June, an app that converted the hybrid media to looping GIFs or movie files so they could be exported and uploaded to the internet at large. After another update last month, Google’s app will likely continue be the most popular method to transfer Live Photos to the web for awhile since Apple’s API will still need developers to build it into apps and sites.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Apple

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Apple’s ‘we’re sorry we took away your ports’ dongle sale ends today

When Apple rolled out its controversial new MacBook Pro last fall, potential buyers were a bit miffed at the need to buy a host of expensive dongles to make the computer work with their old devices. Apple quickly responded by cutting prices on a host of USB-C cables and accessories, as well as the new LG 4K and 5K displays that are compatible with the MacBook and MacBook Pro. Originally, those discount prices were set to expire at the end of 2016, but Apple extended the deal until the end of March. Well, that day of reckoning is here — the discount on cables, accessories and monitors is set to expire today, March 31st.

So if you’ve been considering buying one of those LG monitors, today is definitely the day to do it. The 21.5-inch 4K display currently sells for $ 524, down from $ 700. The 27-inch 5K screen is priced at $ 924, a pretty notable discount from the $ 1,300 it will cost tomorrow.

You’re not going to save nearly as much cash on cables and adapters, but Apple is still offering pretty steep discounts. The super-helpful USB-C to USB dongle is $ 9 right now, down from $ 19, while you can save $ 5 on USB-C to Lightning cables for your iPhone or iPad. More expensive multiport adapters for outputting video to external displays are $ 49 instead of $ 69. All third-party USB-C accessories are 25 percent off, as well. If you’ve been thinking about buying a new MacBook Pro (or already have one) and have been dragging your feet on getting the cables you need, now’s a good day to go get them.

Source: Apple Store

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Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone could cost over $1,000

To mark 10 years of metal and glass slabs, Apple is expected to debut an ultra high-end version of the iPhone alongside its next scheduled update. According to a report from Fast Company, Tim Cook and company will likely roll out three new phones this year: the incremental iPhone 7S in the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch sizes, as well as a slightly larger, even more expensive 5.8-inch iPhone 8 with an edgeless OLED display and a few completely new features.

To really play up the 10th anniversary bit, Apple may even call the new flagship model the “iPhone X,” and the price is expected to shoot up past the $ 1,000 mark. That’s not too far-fetched by Apple’s standards, considering a maxed-out iPhone 7 Plus already costs $ 969 unlocked. We’ve heard rumors of an OLED iPhone before, but Fast Company‘s sources seem to confirm its existence. They higher-end screen alone is expected to cost Apple twice as much as the LCD displays it currently uses and with only Samsung’s OLEDs meeting Apple’s strict tolerances, the company is reportedly hogging up manufacturing capacity as well. There’s also a chance the iPhone 8/iPhone X will eliminate physical buttons entirely by incorporating the Home button into the screen itself and replacing the side buttons with touch-sensitive inlays in a metal frame with a glass back.

Probably the most interesting rumor about the next-generation iPhone, however, is Apple’s partnership with Lumentum. According to Fast Company‘s sources, Apple plans to incorporate Lumentum’s 3D-sensing technology into the flagship phone in some way — which could mean anything from better camera performance to advanced augmented reality features or even a facial recognition system that could supplement Touch ID. Of course, these features are just rumors at this point, so take them with a big lick of salt for now.

Source: Fast Company

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Apple’s ‘polarizing’ new products are paying off

Throughout much of 2016, it seemed like lots of Apple fans were unhappy. The year brought few updates to the Mac (and the one big change was quite polarizing), a barely redesigned iPhone with no headphone jack, AirPods that shipped two months late and a new Apple Watch that was a modest improvement to a product still seen as nonessential.

But it’s time to accept that the complainers on the internet (including those of us in the media) might not have our fingers on the pulse of Apple fandom. Case in point: Apple just reported a massively successful quarter. According to CEO Tim Cook, both iPhone and Apple Watch sales hit records for both unit sales and revenue. In the case of the iPhone, that reversed three consecutive quarters of declining sales. The iPhone turnaround had to be a huge relief for Apple: The product is the company’s biggest revenue source by far.

Mac sales also generated record revenue, despite the fact that the new MacBook Pro was limited in supply and the rest of Apple’s computer lineup hasn’t been updated in a long time. Meanwhile, Apple’s services business (iCloud, Apple Music, Apple Pay and so on) increased 18 percent over last year. Tim Cook has been talking up the company’s services for a year now and says the goal is to double its size over the next four years. The one weak spot in Apple’s quarter was the iPad, which is facing three years of declining sales and had the second-worst holiday quarter in its history. (The worst holiday quarter for the iPad was in 2010, when the original iPad was less than a year old and just carving out a place in the market.)

The iPad’s ongoing struggles aside, this quarter suggests Apple might actually be giving customers what they want. Or, more cynically, customers who’ve become locked into the Apple ecosystem decided that now was the best time to upgrade, not jump ship to another platform. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. While power users might miss the MacBook Pro’s full-size USB ports and longer battery life and those with great headphones might be annoyed at having to use a dongle with the iPhone 7, it seems the majority of “normal” consumers out there are not rejecting Apple’s new products en masse because of these changes.

The iPhone’s strength was particularly surprising when you consider how many viewed the iPhone 7 as an iterative update. It has essentially the same design as the iPhone 6 and 6S, and many believe that Apple is saving a radically redesigned smartphone for later this year, the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. But dismissing the iPhone 7 because of its looks does the phone a disservice. The dual camera and portrait photo mode in the 7 Plus are huge steps forward in mobile photography, and they appear to resonate with customers. Tim Cook specifically called out unexpectedly high demand for Apple’s larger phone in this week’s earnings call.

Waterproofing and the expected battery and performance improvements make for less-dramatic but nonetheless welcome updates. And when you figure it’s been two years since Apple’s positively massive quarter that accompanied the iPhone 6 launch, it stands to reason plenty of people were in the market for a new phone.

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It’s a little harder to explain the Mac’s successful quarter. But the simple answer is that the Mac is fitting customers’ needs, despite the relative lack of updates over the past 18 months. Indeed, last year’s tech is more than enough for the average consumer at this point. Pros might bristle about not having the latest Intel processor, but for those who aren’t rendering video or dealing with massive Photoshop files, the Macs out there are more than capable. That plus a bump from the new MacBook Pro was enough to put the Mac back in the black.

A year of iterative updates that were nonetheless successful with consumers last quarter speaks to an industry-wide trend of modest improvement in both PCs and smartphones. These product categories are extremely polished at this point, and there are simply not going to be sweeping, massive changes every year anymore. That might be a bummer for those of us who breathlessly await new products from the tech industry’s biggest companies. But you can currently buy a Mac or iPhone and rest assured that it’ll last you years, even if it doesn’t have a shiny new form factor or the latest Intel processors in it. For the average consumer who just wants to buy something that works well with minimal fuss, that maturity is a good thing.

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Apple’s next custom Mac chip could do a lot more

Intel processors have powered Apple’s Mac computers for over a decade now, but Apple has also found success designing its own A-series ARM-based chips for the iPhone and iPad. While the company isn’t going to dump Intel chips in the Mac any time soon, a report from Bloomberg indicates that Apple at least intends to put its foot in the water and test out designing its own silicon for the Mac.

According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Ian King, Apple is building an ARM-based chip that’ll offload the Mac’s “Power Nap” features from the standard Intel processor as a way to save batter life. Power Nap currently lets the Mac run software updates, download email and calendar updates, sync to iCloud, back up to Time Machine drives and a number of other features while the computer is asleep. Some of these features only work when plugged in, though — perhaps with a chip that consumers less energy, Power Nap’s capabilities could be expanded.

This could also be a first step towards a move away from Intel processors entirely, although Bloomberg says such a move would not happen in the immediate future. But Apple has invested a lot of money in its own series of chips since 2010 and could have more freedom to update the Mac without having to rely on Intel’s schedule.

It’s worth noting that this rumored Power Nap chip wouldn’t be the first Apple-designed chip to make it into a Mac. That honor would go to the T1, an ARM-based chip that showed up in the new MacBook Pro last fall. That chip controls the laptop’s Touch Bar and the Touch ID sensor but otherwise doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting. Apple has been pretty quiet about the chip, but it seems that the next MacBook Pro could have another ARM chip — maybe the T2? — that takes more tasks away from the main Intel processor. If that’s the case, we probably won’t know for a while, as Apple probably won’t update the MacBook Pro lineup again until this fall.

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