Lawmakers in California and New York want to ban the sale of encrypted mobile devices, but two members of Congress are fighting back. Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Blake Farenthold of Texas introduced the ENCRYPT Act this week, a federal law that would prevent states or other local governments from mandating weak handset security. Law enforcement officials want the ability to break into the phones of suspects. Devices running Android and iOS are encrypted by default, and Apple and Google refuse to decrypt them. The ENCRYPT Act is a response to bills introduced in California and New York. "Different rules in different states create a myriad of issues and will actually make it more difficult for law enforcement officials," said Rep. Farenthold. "We need a unified approach to this issue that both protects security and privacy while enabling law enforcement to keep us safe. The California and New York proposals do not solve the problem." Farenthold said backdoors could be exploited by hackers, thereby rendering the very idea of encrypting devices useless. Farenthold and Lieu hope their act will ensure the conversation regarding encryption is handled at the federal level.
Immersion has filed multiple lawsuits against Apple and AT&T, claiming the two violate its haptic feedback patents. Specifically, Immersion believes the Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus, iPhone 6s/6s Plus, Apple Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition make use to two patents pertaining to "haptic feedback system with stored effects" and "method and apparatus for providing tactile sensations." The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are further accused of infringing a third patent for "interactivity model for shared feedback on mobile devices" — or 3D Touch, the defining feature of the two phones. Immersion didn't immediately make clear AT&T's role in the complaint. The company filed lawsuits with the U.S. International Trade Commission seeking a ban on the devices, as well as a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware seeking monetary damages. Immersion develops and makes touch-based feedback systems for mobile devices.
Pandora Media may sell itself and has met with Morgan Stanley to help broker such an action, reports the New York Times. The music-streaming service has seen its stock value drop by 60% over the last few months and the company is facing increased competition from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. Pandora is the largest music-streaming service in terms of raw users with north of 75 million subscribers. Apple Music has 10 million subscribers and Spotify claims to have more than 20 million. Apple Music launched in June of last year and Pandora's user base has eroded since then. Last year, Pandora spent $450 million for Ticketfly and $75 million for Rdio. The company said it made those purchases to improve its product offering, but the Times' source did not make clear what Pandora expects to get from a sale of itself. Pandora did not comment on the Times' story.
Apple today made several new beta operating system available to developers. First up is iOS 9.3 beta 3. Apple didn't spell out what's new in build 13E5200d, aside from performance tweaks. iOS 9.3's previously disclosed new features include richer tools for education, Night Shift to reduce eye strain, as well as new behaviors to Notes and Health. WatchOS 2.2 beta 3 updates the map app and makes it possible to pair the Apple Watch with more than a single iPhone. Last, tvOS 9.2 adds support for Bluetooth keyboards. The betas are available to developers to download starting today. Apple generally makes public betas available to consumers a day or two after it releases developer betas.
Apple will now accept damaged iPhones as trade-ins when people wish to upgrade to a new iPhone. Previously, Apple only accepted working iPhones as trade-ins, but will now take in iPhones with "damaged displays, cameras, and buttons within reason." Apple will credit people who turn in a damaged iPhone 5s with $50. The company will credit people $200 for a broken iPhone 6 and $250 for a broken iPhone 6 Plus. Phones that don't have cracked screens or broken buttons may be worth up to $350. Apple hopes the change in policy will convince people holding onto older, possibly busted devices to upgrade. The new Apple trade-in policy is available at Apple's retail stores, but not online.
Owners of newer iPhones can make mobile payments at more than 2 million retail stores, according to Apple. Some of the latest adoptees include Au Bon Pain, Chick-fil-A, and Crate & Barrel. The service is gaining traction within third-party apps, too, as companies including Zappos add Apple Pay to their own applications. Using Apple Pay within apps makes it easier to pay, as consumers don't have to fill in credit card details each time they make a purchase. Apple Pay launched at 700,000 locations in 2014. The company met its goal of reaching 1.5 million locations by the end of 2015, and is pushing for broader adoption by retailers around the globe. Apple Pay is available to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus.
Sharp is favoring an acquisition offer from Foxconn over a potential rescue from Japanese investors. Sharp has lost market share in the consumer electronics business over the last few years while prices for its display panels have sunk. The two combined have put Sharp in a precarious position; it has already been bailed out once. Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, a government-backed fund, has offered to inject capital into the company to keep it solvent. INCJ's offer, however, is about half that of a $5.5 billion take-over bid from Taiwan's Foxconn. Foxconn is more aggressively pursuing Sharp, says the Wall Street Journal, and is pressing the firm to accept its offer. Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou is traveling to Japan Thursday to meet with Sharp CEO Kozo Takahashi and the company's leadership team. Takahashi said, "The two offers are not equal," and that the company will focus on Foxconn's offer more so than INCJ's. Foxconn is known as one of Apple's primary manufacturing partners.
Apple updated its Apple Music application for Android devices and added the ability for users to store music on microSD cards for offline playback. This is chiefly important for devices that have limited on-board storage. The app also now displays the full schedule of Beats 1 Radio programs, and makes it easier to browse through classical music and movie scores thanks to options for viewing composers and compilations. Apple Music and Beats 1 Radio are free to download and use, but the full service, which adds an ad-free, offline playback, and curated stations, requires a $10 monthly fee.
Apple has been ordered to compensate VirnetX $625 million for using one of the company's patents without permission. VirnetX's patent covers "the use of a domain-name service to set up virtual private networks." Under VirnetX's patent, the VPNs are then used by corporations to communicate with customers or employees. VirnetX claimed Apple used the patent in its iMessage and FaceTime apps, and a Texas jury agreed. The original complaint was filed years ago and has been bouncing around courts since 2012. VirnetX first won a judgement against Apple for $368 million in 2013, but that award was vacated in 2014. VirnetX sought $532 million in the trial that began January 25 of this year, but the jury decided Apple willfully violated the patent and upped the total award to $625 million. Apple immediately requested the judge declare a mistrial, saying VirnetX's lawyers confused and misled the jury during closing arguments. The judge didn't immediately respond to Apple's request. VirnetX, a patent-licensing firm, has filed similar complaints against other companies.
Apple has filed comments with the FCC requesting the agency refrain from adopting new hearing aid rules. In November, the agency issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would require all phones to be accessible to people who use hearing aids or have cochlear implants. Right now, phone makers only have to make a small selection of their handsets accessible to hearing-impaired persons. The FCC wants to see such people offered the same range of devices that are available to all consumers. Apple complies with current rules with its own hearing aid platform called Made for iPhone (MFi), but believes the FCC's new proposal goes too far. "The FCC has not in the past, and should not now, require that manufacturers ubiquitously implement coupling technologies that can function with every hearing aid," argued Apple. "To do so would undermine companies' ability to attract consumers with hearing loss by differentiating their products in the marketplace, and would severely constrain innovation." Further, Apple believes its Made for iPhone program should be more than adequate for its handsets. "Recognizing approaches such as the MFi hearing aid platform as compliant under the FCC's HAC rules will accelerate adoption, increase scale, and reduce cost of new technologies that can improve accessibility compared with today's HAC-compliant technologies." MFi supports voice calls, FaceTime, Siri, navigation, and multimedia. The FCC is still accepting comments on its proposal and has not said if or when any regulations might go into effect.
JPMorgan Chase and other banks are readying next-generation ATMs that will allow people to withdraw funds using their smartphone. Chase said the first series of new ATMs will grant access to cash through the Chase mobile app, and will require a code. The second series of new ATMs will support NFC, allowing smartphone owners to tap their handsets to ATMs in order to initiate transactions. These machines will continue to support ATM cards, but will offer mobile access as an option. Chase also plans to increase the amount of cash customers can withdraw during banking hours, as well as expand the list of services available at ATMs, such as cashing checks and completing mortgage payments. Bank of America and Wells Fargo have similar projects underway, reports TechCrunch. Jonathan Velline, who is in charge of Wells Fargo's ATM business, said, "We've been working on the technology that allows us to hook to digital wallets, leveraging NFC on mobile phones to replace the card at the transaction at the ATM. Right now the wallet that we support is Android Pay," Velline implied that Wells is also working on Apple Pay. Bank of America confirmed it is "currently developing a new cardless ATM solution. This solution will enable customers to leverage NFC technology on their smart phone in order to authenticate and complete transactions at a Bank of America ATM." Bank of America is targeting late February in select markets (New York, San Francisco, Boston) and will expand over time. Chase and Wells Fargo did not provide timelines for their smartphone-enabled ATMs.
Microsoft has released News Pro for iOS devices, a news- and article-aggrating app that delivers "hyper-relevant" news to users based on their interests. In the same vein as Apple News, Pro News from Microsoft allows users to select from more than one million topics to receive catered results. The app can "find articles and topics you didn't know you needed," says Microsoft. Users can sign in via Facebook or LinkedIn, if they wish, to extend the app's ability to suggest content and then share it with social connections. News Pro, developed by Microsoft's Garage project, is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Apple today pushed out a handful of new beta releases. Developers can now download iOS 9.3 beta 2, watchOS 2.2 beta 2, and tvOS beta 9.2. Each beta has bug fixes and performance upgrades when compared to prior versions. Apple will likely make new consumer versions of the betas available shortly. Apple today also released tvOS 9.1.1 for consumers, which adds Apple's newer podcast app to the platform.
Sprint today said it has doubled the availability of its LTE Plus coverage from 77 markets in November to more than 150 markets today. Some of the new markets include Boulder, Colo., West Palm Beach, Fla., Cleveland, Ohio, and Syracuse, N.Y. LTE Plus is the new brand name for what used to be Sprint Spark. LTE Plus is the company's tri-band LTE network, which uses 800MHz, 1.9GHz, and 2.5GHz. Sprint is using carrier aggregation to increase capacity and beamforming to improve connections between cell sites and handsets. Sprint says these techniques have helped improve speeds and performance across its network. Sprint has more than a dozen handsets able to take advantage of these technologies, including the Apple iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S6.
Microsoft has updated Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Apple's iOS platform with a handful of new features. Most significantly, the Office productivity suite now supports 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which can be used to call up actions such as opening or creating files. All three apps also gain support for the Apple Pencil for use with the iPad Pro, and compatibility with iOS 9's Spotlight Search tool. Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are free to download from the iTunes App Store, though some features require a subscription to Office 365.
Apple today improved its selection of apps for music makers. First, it pushed out a significant update to GarageBand for iOS, which now includes Live Loops. Apple says deejay equipment inspired Live Loops. Anyone can create looping rhythm or backing tracks using cells, columns, and grids within GarageBand. The app also adds a new drummer feature with nine EDM and acoustic session drummers, and a wider selection of virtual amps and bass players. The app has been optimized for the iPad Pro, but adds 3D Touch support to the iPhone 6s/6s Plus versions. GarageBand 2.1 is available from the iTunes App Store. Music Memos, inspired by the iOS Voice Memo app, is a brand new tool meant to help musicians quickly and easily record and organize their musical ideas. The app can record any instrument through the built-in microphone, analyze the rhythm and chords of guitar/piano tracks, and automatically add bass and drum accompaniments. Music Memos provides basic notation, and can display which chords have been played. Last, the app syncs with iCloud so Music Memos are available across Apple devices. Music Memo is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Apple today made iOS 9.3 Beta 1.1 available to those testing the pre-release operating system. Apple says the minor update contains bug fixes and other improvements to the initial beta.
Starbucks today expanded the scale of its mobile application to include Spotify-backed music discovery. People who visit Starbucks stores will be able to use the Starbucks mobile app to discover what songs are being played in-store and save those songs to a personal Spotify playlist. Users will be able to view recently played songs, "love" songs to boost their visibility, and share songs to social networks. The music discovery service is available to Spotify's free and premium customers. Beginning later this month, the Starbucks app will also highlight emerging artists to help expose them to larger audiences. The music discovery tool is available to both the Android and iOS versions of the Starbucks mobile app and can be used at some 7,500 Starbucks stores around the U.S. Starbucks has long held an interest in promoting music. The coffee company had a similar partnership with Apple that allowed iTunes users to see and purchase the current overhead track when logged into Starbucks WiFi. Starbucks has sold CDs at the register for more than a decade.
Samsung has been commanded to stop selling several older smartphones after a new court ruling in California. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh granted Apple's petition to block the sale of certain handsets that were found to violate some of Apple's patents. The court initially determined that a fine of $120 million was sufficient, but Apple appealed and an appeals court agreed that the fine wasn't enough. "The court finds that Apple will suffer irreparable harm if Samsung continues to use the infringing features, that monetary damages cannot adequately compensate Apple for this resulting irreparable harm, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor entry of a permanent injunction," said Koh in her new ruling. Samsung is no longer allowed to sell the Admire, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S2, Galaxy S2 Epic 4G Touch, Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, Galaxy S3, and Stratosphere. Few of these phones remain available for retail purchase. For example, some prepaid carriers offer the S3 as a free or entry-level handset, and the S3 is still being sold by Amazon.com. It's not clear how quickly retailers will have to pull their stock of these phones. Neither Apple nor Samsung commented on the latest decision.
Google has updated the Google Play Developer Console for app writers and added the ability to generate and distribute promotional codes. The idea is to encourage users to check out new games or continue playing ones they already own. Promo codes can be used to cover the cost of entire apps or games, as well as in-app purchases. Developers will be limited to 500 codes per app per quarter, and Google suggests they be used to reward loyal users or attract new ones. The Apple iTunes App Store has offered promo codes for years.
Apple has begun informing listeners of iTunes Radio that the service will require a fee beginning later this month. iTunes Radio has been available since 2013 and allows people to listen to ad-supported music stations. Apple said Beats 1, its global radio station, will be the only free offering after January 28. People who want to listen to Apple's curated radio stations will need to subscribe to Apple Music, which costs $10 per month. Competing services such as Pandora and Slacker continue to offer ad-supported streaming services for free. Apple Music debuted in June 2015 and offers ad-free listening in addition to playlists, social connections, and users' own libraries.
Apple today made iOS 9.3 Beta 1 available to consumers who've signed up for the public beta program. The software includes Night Shift, education tools, TouchID Notes and more. It is free to download and test. Apple released a developer version of iOS 9.3 earlier this week.
Apple has added a small feature to WiFi Assist in iOS 9.3 that displays how much cellular data the tool is using. WiFi Assist forces iPhones off of weak WiFi signals in favor of stronger cellular data signals. It was added to iOS to combat slow network performance when iPhones doggedly remained connected to crummy WiFi even when strong LTE was available. Some users have complained, however, that they ran up large cellular bills by surfing over LTE when they thought they were using WiFi. Now, WiFi Assist clearly shows how much cellular data has been consumed with the WiFi Assist function is turned on.
Apple today released a beta of iOS 9.3 and revealed that the system update will bring new features to education. This version of iOS 9.3 is chiefly for developers. It I ntroduces several new classroom-friendly features, such as the ability for students to sign into any iPad (rather than just one), and a new classroom app for teachers to use for managing their students and assignments. Further, iOS 9.3 brings more control over iOS to school admins, who will be able to create and manage school-specific Apple IDs on various devices, as well as manage the hardware deployed within the school district. iOS 9.3 also tweaks Apple Health, Apple News, and Apple Notes. The update introduces Night Shift, a mode that begins to reduce the amount of blue light throughout the OS during the evening hours in order to help assist with sleeping. (Google's book reading app does something similar.) The revised platform improves CarPlay with more Apple Musiuc features, as well. Apple hasn't said when it might release iOS 9.3 to the general public. Apple also released new betas of tvOS, watchOS, and OS X.
Samsung said it plans to add support for the Apple iPhone to the Gear S2 smartwatch later this year. The S2, which runs Tizen, is already compatible with Android handsets. Samsung didn't say what features will make the jump from Android to iOS, though it may drop a few. In the past, Samsung has restricted its smartwatch compatibility to its own handsets. Bringing iOS support to the S2 is an important change of direction for Samsung.
Apple said a second beta of iOS 9.2.1 is now available for developers to download and install on their test devices. Apple hasn't specified what new features are in iOS 9.2.1, but they most likely center on bug fixes.
Fiat Chrysler today followed Ford in voicing support for Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay interfaces. The fourth generation of Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect platform will add the smartphone-linking software to select 2016 models. Both Android Auto and CarPlay allow smartphones to push certain content to the in-dash infotainment center for accessing maps, music, messaging, and calling features. Fiat Chrysler did not say which cars will gain the latest Uconnect platform, nor exactly when it will begin the rollout.
Ford today announced an update to its Sync 3 in-car infotainment system, to support Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. All 2017 Ford models with Sync 3 will support CarPlay and Android Auto, and an update will be offered for 2016 models with Sync 3. Ford has previously supported Apple's Siri Eyes-Free for integrated Siri voice control with iPhones. The new support brings a car-oriented visual interface to the dash display, powered by the phone. The update to Sync 3 also brings LTE connectivity, allowing owners to remotely start and unlock their car from their smartphone. Ford joins Audi, Volkswagen, Kia, GM, Hyundai, Nissan, Volvo, Subaru, and Honda in supporting both CarPlay and Android Auto.
Apple will not have to face a lawsuit over its iMessage service because the case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh. Several consumers sued Apple in 2014, claiming that Apple prevented text messages from reaching Android phones once people switched away from an iPhone. The bug was notorious and impacted many people, but Apple resolved the issue in November 2014 with a web site that lets people disassociate their number from iMessage. The plaintiffs said Apple was violating the Federal Wire Tap Act, but Judge Koh disagreed.
The Facebook iOS application now lets users upload, share, and view Live Photos captured with the iPhone 6s or 6s Plus. Live Photos debuted with the newest iPhones from Apple earlier this year. Similar to HTC's Zoes, iOS Live Photos combine video and images to create a moving, living montage. At launch, Live Photos could be shared across Apple's phones, tablets, and PCs, but not third-party platforms. The latest version of the Facebook iOS app adds support for Live Photos. Live Photos can only be viewed by other devices running iOS 9. The feature is being pushed to a small number of users initially, with a broader rollout planned for 2016.
Apple and Ericsson have signed a patent-licensing agreement and put an end to on-going patent litigation between the two. Ericsson said the deal is broad and covers 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE technologies. Royalty payment rates were the heart of the matter. The agreement "means we can continue to work with Apple in areas such as 5G radio network and optimization of the network," said Ericsson's Chief Intellectual Property Officer, Kasim Alfalahi. Apple sued Ericsson in January of this year, and Ericsson countersued. Terms of the patent-licensing agreement were not made public.
Apple and Samsung have each announced plans to launch their mobile payment platforms in China next year. Card-issuer China UnionPay has partnered with both companies and will allow its cardholders to add their accounts to Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. UnionPay is similar to MasterCard and Visa in that it runs a card acceptance network. China is an important market for Apple and Samsung to enter, given its size. Apple Pay is available to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus. Samsung Pay is available to the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5. Both mobile payment services are already available in the U.S.
Apple has released a beta version of iOS 9.2.1 to public testers. The public beta follows the developer beta by a day. iOS 9.2.1 is a minor update and does not appear to add any user-facing changes. Anyone can enroll on the public beta-testing program through Apple's web site.
Apple today appointed Jeff Williams as chief operating officer. Williams has been with Apple since 1998. Johny Srouji will join Apple's executive ranks as senior vice president for hardware technologies. Srouji joined Apple in 2008 to help usher in the A4 processor. Phil Schiller, who serves as senior vice president of marketing, will add the App Store across all platforms to his list of responsibilities. Last, Tor Myhren will join Apple in 2016 as vice president of marketing communications. Myhren comes from Grey Group and replaces Hiroki Asai, who is retiring.
Pebble today updated its smartwatches with new system software. Pebble OS 3.8 bestows the Pebble Time Steel and Pebble Time Round with a fitness and activity tracking application. With Pebble Health, smartwatch owners can monitor their sleep and track steps. The app delivers a sleep report upon waking and a step report at the end of the day. It collects information over time and displays it in graph form to help people spot trends. The app is compatible with Google Fit and Apple HealthKit. Pebble is also pushing Pebble OS 3.8 to the older Pebble Classic and Pebble Steel watches. These devices gain the timeline user interface that ships with the newest watches from Pebble, although the older watches do not have access to Pebble Health. The refreshed system software also adds universal search, improvements to music control and Facebook Messenger notifications, and bug fixes. Pebble owners can update their wearable through the associated Android and iOS apps.
Samsung hopes the Supreme Court will weigh in on its patent fight with Apple. The company has filed an appeal, asking the high court to review the verdicts reached in Apple's patent-related lawsuit. Samsung has two chief complaints. First, Samsung believes the jury that found it guilty of copying Apple's designs wasn't given enough information from the judge to interpret the law accurately. Samsung also finds fault in how design-related patent damages are generated. "Samsung is escalating this case because it believes that the way the laws were interpreted is not in line with modern times," said Samsung. "If the current legal precedent stands, it could diminish innovation, stifle competition, pave the way for design patent troll litigation and negatively impact the economy and consumers." Samsung wrote Apple a $548 million check to pay the damages earlier this month — more than two years after the initial verdict. Samsung told Apple it wants its money back if the verdicts are reversed upon appeal.
Google has updated its Play Movies & TV app for iOS devices and added direct Airplay support for streaming to the Apple TV. Play Movies users have been able to push content to the Apple TV for a while, but it involved a workaround. Now, Airplay is built directly into Play Movies and can stream with the push of a button. Airplay compatibility requires the 3rd-generation Apple TV or newer running OS 7.0 and up. The app also gains the ability to stream content over cellular connections, and the ability to stream in HD. Google Play Movies & TV is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but content generally must be purchased or rented.
Walmart today announced Walmart Pay, its own mobile payment service for in-store purchases. Rather than rely on NFC or MST wireless technology, purchases are conducted through the Walmart app. This is what makes the service compatible with any Android phone and any iPhone. Customers can add most any credit or debit card to the Walmart app for supporting purchases. At checkout, users need to open the app and launch the camera. Using the camera, customers scan a code displayed at the register. This activates the transaction. The associate scans and bags the items and the final amount due is taken from the credit/debit card associated with the app. Customers will receive an electronic receipt that is saved in the app. Walmart Pay will be added to select stores beginning this month. Walmart expects to complete a nationwide rollout by the first half of next year. Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay all allow users to tap their phones on retail payment terminals to make purchases, rather than open an app and scan a code. Walmart has resisted supporting these competitive mobile payment services in favor of its own.
Apple today released watchOS 2.1 for the Apple Watch. The refreshed platform chiefly delivers a new set of languages, including Arabic, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Malay, Portugese, and Vietnamese. Accordingly, the platform gains right-to-left language support, and Siri is able to recognize and receive dictation in several of these languages. In addition to the new languages, watchOS 2.1 resolves a number of bugs, such as one plaguing the calendar and others impacting third-party apps. Apple's watchOS 2.1 system update is free to download and install through the owner's iPhone.
Apple today made iOS 9.2 available in to iPhone and iPad owners. The minor update, which Apple has tested in beta extensively over the last month, improves Apple Music by making it easier to create playlists, save songs offline, and browse through classical music. The update adds a new Top Stories section to the News app and redesigns it a bit so it more closely resembles a newspaper. The update also tweaks Mail Drop in Mail for sending large attachments, and makes numerous bug fixes. iOS 9.2 is free to download and install over the air.