Amazon Passes Alphabet To Become the World's Second Most Valuable Company ( 11

Amazon has passed Alphabet to become the second most valuable company in the world. Apple remains the only other company more valuable than Amazon. CNBC reports: The e-commerce giant rose 2.7 percent on Tuesday lifting its stock market value to $768 billion. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 0.4 percent and is now valued at $762.5 billion. While the U.S. tech mega-caps have rallied in the past year, Amazon's performance has dwarfed them all, with the stock surging 85 percent over the past 12 months, including 35 percent to start 2018. Investors have been piling into Amazon, betting that the company's growing and very profitable cloud computing business will provide the cash needed for investments in original content, physical stores and continuing to build data centers and warehouses.

Apple's Newest iPhone X Ad Captures an Embarrassing iOS 11 Bug ( 81

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge: If you blink during Apple's latest iPhone ad, you might miss a weird little animation bug. It's right at the end of a slickly produced commercial, where the text from an iMessage escapes the animated bubble it's supposed to stay inside. It's a minor issue and easy to brush off, but the fact it's captured in such a high profile ad just further highlights Apple's many bugs in iOS 11. 9to5Mac writer Benjamin Mayo spotted the bug in Apple's latest ad, and he's clearly surprised "that this was signed off for the commercial," especially as he highlighted it months ago and has filed a bug report with Apple.

Apple Bans Iran from the App Store ( 58

Iranian users have not been able to access Apple's App Store all day today, in what appears to be a ban put in place by the US company. From a report: According to reports and sources who spoke with Bleeping Computer, the ban appears to have been put in place earlier today, around noon, GMT. Users were not able to connect to the Apple App Store to install or update applications. When visiting the App Store, they were instead greeted with the message "The App Store is unavailable in the country or region you're in." This ban appears to be IP-based. Meysam Firouzi -- an Iranian security researcher -- told Bleeping Computer that he successfully connected to the App Store while using a VPN, despite having Iran-related details set on his account.

Siri Team Didn't Learn About HomePod Until 2015, After Amazon Echo Debuted ( 31

The Information (paywalled) has published a lengthy report today covering the development of Siri. The article documents Siri's tumultuous changes in leadership and management over the last few years, indicating that Siri 1.0's infrastructure was very creaky, which held back the service. From a report: One of the most interesting anecdotes is the claim that Apple's HomePod team didn't meet with the Siri group until 2015 (Amazon Echo debuted in late 2014). The story says Apple had originally considered launching the speaker without Siri. The big takeaway from The Information's reporting is that Siri launched with a poorly scalable infrastructure that caused bottlenecks for years after it launched in 2011. At the initial release, the popularity of Siri 'exceeded expectations' and led to a lot of unreliability. The backend was not designed to handle enough users. Apple has spent the intervening years modernising the system apparently.

Apple Is Letting Companies Make 3.5mm To Lightning Cables Now ( 110

Apple has updated the specs for its Made-For-iPhone accessories program, letting accessory makers put USB-C ports on licensed devices, as well as create 3.5mm to Lightning cables for the first time. 9to5Mac reports: With the new specs, companies in the MFi program can now include USB-C receptacles on their officially certified iOS and Mac accessories for charging. That allows users to charge MFi accessories with a USB-C cable and or power adapter they might already have, for example, and also draw power from the USB port on a Mac using the same cable. It also has other advantages for manufacturers. Apple's documentation for the new specs lists battery packs and speakers as products that could benefit from using a USB-C receptacle. Products are also allowed to bundle USB-C cables with the MFi accessories, but manufacturers can opt to not include a cable or adapter and reduce their costs and or price in the process. Unlike with Lightning receptacles, Apple does not allow the port to be used for passthrough charging or sync of an iOS device. Also, new for accessory makers is the ability to create a Lightning to 3.5mm stereo analog audio output plug, which would allow users to go direct from the Lightning port to a 3.5mm input on another device.

Apple Seems OK With Currency Miners In the Mac App Store 38

Apple has yet to block a popular title in the Mac App Store that has openly embraced coin mining, prompting one to ask the question: does Apple allow apps in the Mac App Store if they clearly disclose that they will be mining cryptocurrency? Ars Technica reports: The app is Calendar 2, a scheduling app that aims to include more features than the Calendar app that Apple bundles with macOS. In recent days, Calendar 2 developer Qbix endowed it with code that mines the digital coin known as Monero. The xmr-stack miner isn't supposed to run unless users specifically approve it in a dialog that says the mining will be in exchange for turning on a set of premium features. If users approve the arrangement, the miner will then run. Users can bypass this default action by selecting an option to keep the premium features turned off or to pay a fee to turn on the premium features. If Calendar 2 isn't the first known app offered in Apple's official and highly exclusive App Store to do currency mining, it's one of the very few.

Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says ( 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.


Siri Co-founder is Surprised By How Much Siri Still Can't Do ( 86

In an interview with Quartz, Norman Winarsky, a founder of Siri, suggests that Apple may have given Siri an overly ambitious collection of responsibilities and hasn't made the feature reliable enough. From a report: And while vastly improved from its earliest days, Siri still isn't a sparkling conversationalist. "Surprise and delight is kind of missing right now," said Winarsky, now a consultant and venture capitalist. Winarsky acknowledges that some of this disappointment stems from the sheer difficulty of predicting the pace of major technological advancement, which Bill Gates once summed up as the human tendency to "overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10."

But part of it is also likely because Apple chose to take Siri in a very different direction than the one its founders envisioned. Pre-Apple, Winarsky said, Siri was intended to launch specifically as a travel and entertainment concierge. Were you to arrive at an airport to discover a cancelled flight, for example, Siri would already be searching for an alternate route home by the time you pulled your phone from your pocket -- and if none was available, would have a hotel room ready to book. It would have a smaller remit, but it would learn it flawlessly, and then gradually extend to related areas. "These are hard problems and when you're a company dealing with up to a billion people, the problems get harder yet," Winarsky said. "They're probably looking for a level of perfection they can't get."


Apple Buys Texture, a 'Netflix For Magazines' App ( 43

Apple said on Monday it will acquire Texture, a digital magazine app, as the iPhone maker looks to fill the gap left by Facebook's pullback from news distribution. From a report: The deal is Apple's latest move to build out its content and services platform, coming just three months after it announced plans to acquire Shazam, the music recognition app, for around $400m. First launched in 2010, Texture has been described as "Netflix for magazines," as its $10-per-month subscription service provides unlimited access to more than 220 publications including People, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Vogue. Further reading: Recode.

Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard ( 91

According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the patent application reads. Digital Trends reports: The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.

Documents Prove Local Cops Have Bought Cheap iPhone Cracking Tech ( 101

GrayShift is a new company that promises to unlock even iPhones running the latest version of iOS for a relatively cheap price. From a report: In a sign of how hacking technology often trickles down from more well-funded federal agencies to local bodies, at least one regional police department has already signed up for GrayShift's services, according to documents and emails obtained by Motherboard. As Forbes reported on Monday, GrayShift is an American company which appears to be run by an ex-Apple security engineer and others who have long held contracts with intelligence agencies. In its marketing materials, GrayShift offers a tool called GrayKey, an offline version of which costs $30,000 and comes with an unlimited number of uses. For $15,000, customers can instead buy the online version, which grants 300 iPhones unlocks.

This is what the Indiana State Police bought, judging by a purchase order obtained by Motherboard. The document, dated February 21, is for one GrayKey unit costing $500, and a "GrayKey annual license -- online -- 300 uses," for $14,500. The order, and an accompanying request for quotation, indicate the unlocking service was intended for Indiana State Police's cybercrime department. A quotation document emblazoned with GrayShift's logo shows the company gave Indiana State Police a $500 dollar discount for their first year of the service. Importantly, according to the marketing material cited by Forbes, GrayKey can unlock iPhones running modern versions of Apple's mobile operating system, such as iOS 10 and 11, as well as the most up to date Apple hardware, like the iPhone 8 and X.


Chrome 65 Arrives With Material Design Extensions Page, New Developer Features ( 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google today launched Chrome 65 for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. Additions in this release include Material Design changes and new developer features. You can update to the latest version now using the browser's built-in silent updater or download it directly from Chrome 65 comes with a few visual changes. The most obvious is related to Google's Material Design mantra. The extensions page has been completely revamped to follow it. Next up, Chrome 65 replaces the Email Page Location link in Chrome for Mac's File menu with a Share submenu. As you might expect, Mac users can use this submenu to share the URL of a current tab via installed macOS Share Extensions. Speaking of Macs, Chrome 65 is also the last release for OS X 10.9 users. Chrome 66 will require OS X 10.10 or later. Moving on to developer features, Chrome 65 includes the CSS Paint API, which allows developers to programmatically generate an image, and the Server Timing API, which allows web servers to provide performance timing information via HTTP headers.

Leaked Apple Email Hints at the Possible End of iTunes: Report ( 145

An anonymous reader shares a report: Apple could kill off iTunes in the near future, a new report suggests. It cites an email that Apple reportedly wrote to people in the music industry recently, announcing the "end of iTunes LPs." The iTunes LP format was first introduced in 2009 and let publishers add interactive artwork, along with assorted iTunes Extras, with their content. The LP format never achieved great popularity. However, the fact that Apple plans to ditch iTunes LPs in 2018 potentially hints at the possibility that Apple may stop selling iTunes music downloads in the near future. The Apple email announcing the change was reportedly sent two weeks ago from an address at "The iTunes Store" and signed by "The Apple Music Team." But its existence has only been highlighted now through a report by the U.K. newspaper The Metro. "Apple will no longer accept new submissions of iTunes LPs after March 2018," the letter notes. "Existing LPs will be deprecated from the store during the remainder of 2018. Customers who have previously purchased an album containing an iTunes LP will still be able to download the additional content using iTunes Match." The news about the possible winding down of iTunes would come as no surprise to many users. Not only has iTunes been outdated for years in terms of its interface and functionality, but Apple clearly aims to move to a streaming model of music selling. Further reading: 'Apple Stole My Music. No, Seriously'; Apple Says It Doesn't Know Why iTunes Users Are Losing Their Music Files; iTunes Turns 13 Today -- Continues To Be 'Awful'.

Europe Plans Special Tax For Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon ( 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Bruno Le Maire, France's minister for the economy, has revealed that a plan to levy a special tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon will soon be revealed by European authorities. Le Maire told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche "A European directive will be unveiled in the coming weeks, the minister reveals, and it will mark a considerable step forward." The minister told the paper that a tax of between two and six per cent has been considered, with the proposal to be "closer to two than six." The proposed tax will be levied on the four companies' turnover, rather than profits. Taxing turnover is hoped to offer a simple way to tax the companies, as all use legal-but-cynical ways to minimize their taxable income. Le Maire added that a turnover tax is seen as being quick to implement and that the four companies know they're going to have to pay more tax in Europe, so may be amenable to such an arrangement.

Apple Is Reportedly Making Its Own High-End Noise-Cancelling Headphones ( 87

Apple is planning to push into the high-end audio market with the launch of noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones. The cans are expected to launch at the end of this year and will rival headsets from market leaders like Bose and even the company's own Beats by Dre brand. Bloomberg reports: Work on the Apple headset has been on-and-off over the past year. The company encountered similar problems with the HomePod during its development, including multiple redesigns, according to the people. It's possible Apple will redesign the headphones again before launch, or scrap the project altogether, they warned, asking not to be identified discussing private development work.

Mysterious $15,000 'GrayKey' Promises To Unlock iPhone X For The Feds ( 106

Thomas Fox-Brewster, reporting for Forbes: Just a week after Forbes reported on the claim of Israeli U.S. government manufacturer Cellebrite that it could unlock the latest Apple iPhone models, another service has emerged promising much the same. Except this time it comes from an unkown entity, an obscure American startup named Grayshift, which appears to be run by long-time U.S. intelligence agency contractors and an ex-Apple security engineer. In recent weeks, its marketing materials have been disseminated around private online police and forensics groups, offering a $15,000 iPhone unlock tool named GrayKey, which permits 300 uses. That's for the online mode that requires constant connectivity at the customer end, whilst an offline version costs $30,000. The latter comes with unlimited uses. Another ad showed Grayshift claiming to be able to unlock iPhones running iOS 10 and 11, with iOS 9 support coming soon. It also claims to work on the latest Apple hardware, up to the iPhone 8 and X models released just last year. In a post from one private Google group, handed to Forbes by a source who asked to remain anonymous, the writer indicated they'd been demoed the technology and that it had opened an iPhone X.

Bad iPhone Notches Are Happening To Good Android Phones ( 260

The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Android smartphone manufacturers are copying the iPhone's design (specifically, the iPhone X's notch) with more speed and cynicism than ever before: I've been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I've never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year's show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next. No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple's notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven't even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display. Asus is one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world, and yet its copycat notch is probably the most galling of them all. The Zenfone 5 looks and feels like a promising phone, featuring loud speakers, the latest Sony imaging sensor with larger-than-average pixels, and a price somewhere south of $499. I should be celebrating it right now, but instead I'm turning away in disgust as Asus leans into its copying by calling Apple a "Fruit Company" repeatedly. If you're going to copy the iPhone, at least have the decency to avoid trying to mock it.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. I'm absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they're purely cosmetic. Apple's notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus et al have a sizeable "chin" at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look -- not function, look -- like an iPhone X.

Portables (Apple)

Apple To Release a Cheaper MacBook Air Later This Year ( 149

According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, Apple doesn't appear to be axing its MacBook Air line, despite it being on the market for ten years. Kuo says Apple is planning to release a 13-inch MacBook Air "with a lower price tag" during the second quarter of 2018, which should help push MacBook shipments up by 10-15 percent this year. 9to5Mac reports: Details on the new MacBook Air are sparse, but this report from KGI corroborates a similarly vague report from Digitimes earlier this year. The MacBook Air line has been largely stagnate in recent years as Apple has shifted focus towards the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. Currently, Apple sells the 13-inch MacBook Air starting at $999, and KGI seems to think it will get even cheaper this year. Despite its neglect by Apple, the MacBook Air remains a popular choice for college students.

Your Love of Your Old Smartphone Is a Problem for Apple and Samsung ( 120

The smartphone industry has a culprit to blame for slumping sales: Its old devices remain too popular. From a report: Flashy phones of yesteryear, particularly Apple's iPhones and Samsung's Galaxy S handsets, are getting refurbished, and U.S. consumers are snapping them up. Many shoppers are balking at price tags for new phones pushing $1,000, and improvements on latest launches in many cases haven't impressed [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. As more people hold on to devices longer, new smartphone shipments plunged to historic lows at the end of 2017. "Smartphones now resemble the car industry very closely," said Sean Cleland, director of mobile at B-Stock Solutions, the world's largest platform for trade-in and overstock phones, based in Redwood City, Calif. "I still want to drive a Mercedes, but I'll wait a couple of years to buy the older model. Same mentality." Another trend borrowed from the car industry that has helped consumers get around sticker shock: leasing. Instead of buying new phones, Sprint and T-Mobile allow subscribers to effectively lease them, allowing them to trade up for the latest device. That option, though, hasn't yet gone mainstream.

[...] Second-hand phones long found their way to Africa, India and other developing markets. But now, U.S. buyers represent 93% of the purchases made at second-hand phone online auctions run by B-Stock, compared with an about-even split between the U.S. and the rest of the world in 2013. Samsung and Apple together sell more than one out of every three phones globally and capture about 95% of the industry's profits. U.S. consumers, spurred by two-year carrier contracts and phone subsidies, were upgrading every 23 months as recently as 2014, according to BayStreet Research, which tracks device sales. Now, people are holding onto their phones for an extra eight months. By next year, the time gap is estimated to widen to 33 months, BayStreet says.


Even With Double the Subscribers, Spotify Says Apple Will Always Have an Edge Owning the App Store ( 25

On Wednesday, Spotify filed for a direct listing in the U.S., sidestepping the traditional IPO process, and now we're starting to see some of the true financial guts of the company -- and some of the significant risks it faces from challenging services from Apple and Google. From a report: Apple, for example, charges apps a percentage of revenue for subscriptions processed through the App Store. Apple Music, meanwhile, will always deliver Apple 100 percent of the subscription revenue that it receives from subscribers (sans record fees and all that kind of stuff, of course). Apple, too, has a direct integration with its iOS devices and also a huge amount of brand recognition, even though Spotify is a massive service. Spotify says it has 159 million monthly active users and 71 million premium subscribers, while Apple has 36 million paying subscribers as of February 2018. Spotify said, "In addition, Apple and Google also own application store platforms and are charging in-application purchase fees, which are not being levied on their own applications, thus creating a competitive advantage for themselves against us. As the market for on-demand music on the internet and mobile and connected devices increases, new competitors, business models, and solutions are likely to emerge."

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