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Tue, 15 Jan 2019 21:58:47 +0000
iPhone – TechCrunch

There’s no shortage of iPhone cases out there, of course. But for those who absolutely must have Apple’s stamp on their accessories, the company just dropped a couple of official charging cases for its latest round of handsets — the XS,  XS Max and XR.

The cases, first spotted by MacRumors, maintain a similar design language as their predecessor, marking its return for the first time since the iPhone 7. The familiar battery bump is back, but it now encompasses the whole of the rear, which should make holding it a little less awkward — and at the very least is a bit better looking.

This time out, the silicone covers are available in black and white and will work with Qi chargers without having to pull the case off. 

The new smart charging cases are priced at $129, regardless of model, and should add between 33 (for the XS) and 39 (for the XR) hours of additional talk time. As Apple notes, there are some marked advantages with going first-party on this one, including intelligent battery status, which is displayed in the notification center and on the phone’s lock screen.

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Tue, 15 Jan 2019 12:59:23 +0000
Apple’s battery cases return for the iPhone XS and XR

Qualcomm has had a patent lawsuit against Apple dismissed by a court in Mannheim, Germany, as groundless (via Reuters).

The chipmaker had argued Intel -powered iPhones infringed a transistor switch patent it holds. But in an initial verbal decision the court disagreed. Qualcomm has said it will appeal.

In a statement, Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s executive VP and general counsel, said: “Apple has a history of infringing our patents. Only last month the Munich Regional Court affirmed the value of another of Qualcomm’s cutting-edge patents against Apple’s infringement and ordered a ban on the import and sale of impacted iPhones in Germany. That decision followed a Court-ordered ban on patent-infringing iPhones in China as well as recognition by an ITC judge that Apple is infringing Qualcomm’s IP. The Mannheim court interpreted one aspect of our patent very narrowly, saying that because a voltage inside a part of an iPhone wasn’t constant the patent wasn’t infringed.  We strongly disagree and will appeal.”

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment. Update: The company told us: “We are happy with the decision and thank the court for their time and diligence.  We regret Qualcomm’s use of the court to divert attention from their illegal behavior that is the subject of multiple lawsuits and proceedings around the world.”

The pair have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter and global legal battle in recent years, as Apple has shifted away from using Qualcomm chips in its devices.

Two years ago the FTC also filed charges against the chipmaker accusing it of anticompetitive tactics in an attempt to maintain a monopoly (Apple is officially cited in the complaint). That trial began early this month.

Cupertino has also filed a billion-dollar royalty lawsuit accusing Qualcomm of charging for patents “they have nothing to do with”.

While the latest court decision in Mannheim has gone in Apple’s favor, a separate ruling in Germany late last year went Qualcomm’s way. And earlier this month Apple was forced to withdraw the iPhone 7 and 8 from its retail stores in Germany, after Qualcomm posted ˆ1.34BN in security bonds to enforce the December court decision — which related to a power management patent.

Although the affected iPhone models remain on sale in Germany via resellers. Apple is also appealing.

Qualcomm also recently secured a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of some older iPhone models in China. Again, Apple is appealing.

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Mon, 14 Jan 2019 04:49:25 +0000
German court tosses Qualcomm’s latest iPhone patent suit

Apple is finally launching HomePod in China, but the timing is tricky as the premium device will have to wrestle with local competitors and a slowing economy. The firm said over the weekend that its smart speaker will be available in Mainland China and Hong Kong starting January 18, adding to a list of countries where it has entered, including U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and Spain.

The Amazon Echo competitor, which launched in mid-2017, is already available to Chinese buyers through third-party channels like “daigou,” or shopping agents who bring overseas products into China. What separates the new model is that it supports Mandarin, the official language on Mainland China, and Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong and China’s most populated province Guangdong. Previously, Chinese-speaking users had to converse with HomePod in English until a system update in December that added Siri support for the two Chinese dialects.

A main selling point of HomePod is its focus on music, so the China version comes with AirPlay support of a range of local music streaming apps like Tencent’s QQ Music for Mainland users and JOOX, which is more popular in Hong Kong.

In its home market, HomePod remains an underdog, with 5 percent market share, while Amazon Echo and Google Home command 66 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

The question is how many Chinese shoppers are willing to shell out 2,799 yuan, or $414, for the Siri-controlled speaker. Much cheaper options from local giants are available, such as Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, Xiaomi’s Mi AI and several models from Baidu.

Analysts have cited relatively high price — on top of a softening economy — as a major culprit for iPhones’ low sales in China, which have prompted Apple to lower its quarterly revenue forecast for the first time in over a decade and Chinese retailers to slash iPhone prices. It remains to be seen how Chinese shoppers react to HomePod, which is already about 17 percent higher than its normal $349 price in the U.S.

Correction: (January 14, 2018, 14:00 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that HomePod in non-China markets began supporting Chinese in December.

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Tue, 08 Jan 2019 17:00:18 +0000
Apple HomePod comes to China at $400 amid iPhone sales woes

Yubico, the company behind the almost ubiquitous YubiKey two-factor authentication dongles, today announced that its YubiKey for Lightning is now in private preview. Once it is widely available, this will mark the first time the company offers a key that supports iPad and iPhone users. One nifty feature of the new key is that it has both USB-C and Lightning connectors — one on each side. Thanks to that, you’ll be able to use it on both modern Macs and iPhones.

With this, Yubico is also announcing that it is extending its developer program to iOS developers who want to use the company’s software tools for two-factor authentication.

“Yubico’s goal is to make strong, simple authentication truly ubiquitous, across all services, devices, and operating systems,” said the company’s CEO and founder Stina EhrensvTue, 08 Jan 2019 14:50:12 +0000
Yubico launches a new NFC security key and preps iPhone support

Last week, in light of Apple’s revised revenue guidance, my TC colleague Ron Miller made a tongue-in-cheek apology for taking so long to upgrade his old iPhone.

He wrote that he had finally bitten the bullet and shelled out to upgrade a more than three-years-old (but still working) iPhone 6 for a shiny new iPhone XR ($750+) — deciding at the last minute to spare his wallet the full $1,000 whack for the top of the range iPhone XS. 

Ergo, even the famous Apple premium only stretches so far.

I bring even less good news for the company. I still can’t bring myself to upgrade my (still working but now heavily creaking on the battery and storage front) iPhone 6s because — and here’s my line — Apple removed the headphone jack. Which is absolutely an affront to usability and choice.

My (petite) ears do not conform to the one-size-fits-all shape Cupertino uses for its bundled earbuds. So even if the earbuds weren’t low audio quality, I still couldn’t use them. Headphones that you have to walk around holding in your ears because otherwise every twist and head turn pops them right back out again are, to put it politely, not very useful.

And, yes, this also applies to wireless AirPods — even if I wanted to give Apple more money to be forever stuck having to charge a pair of headphones before being able to use them, which frankly doesn’t sound very smart to me.

On the earbuds front, Apple does not cater to petite people, period. I have to use in-ear headphones, with replaceable rubber caps that come in a range of sizes (typically requiring the tiniest of the bunch). This means a 3.5mm jack, which lets me use my own choice of appropriately sized headphones, is not optional but essential.

A 3.5mm jack also lets me invest in higher audio quality kit, should I choose to.

Apple has other ideas, however. And judging by its own messaging at the time it ditched the headphone jack, it presumably thinks I should bravely ram its earbuds in my undersized ears anyway. Er, no thanks!

Of course, I could upgrade and just plug in a dongle to (re)convert the Lightning port into the necessary 3.5mm headphone jack. But that’s yet another dongle tax ($9) I shouldn’t have to pay.

iPhones are a premium product, after all. Having to buy extra accessories that are actually essential to get you back to where you were doesn’t feel like progress. (A better word for these irritating wallet-gougers would be “unnecessaries.”)

Add to that there is of course the sheer irritation and hassle of having to remember to have the stupid thing with you whenever you want to use your headphones.

While, for those into Apple aesthetics, dongles are of course 100 percent pure eyesore.

Also — an extra kicker — the Apple Lighting to 3.5mm converter doesn’t appear to play nice with third-party remotes. So your headphones’ physical volume control is probably going to be glitchy… (just check out all these 1-star reviews).

I won’t get started on Apple also vanishing the SD card port from the MBA. But the expense and hassle of trying to deal with that SNAFU, following a work laptop upgrade, has put me right off the prospect of “courageously” forgetting about other ports that I really need to use.

Nor am I the only TCer affronted by Apple ditching the headphone jack. My colleague Greg Kumparak wrote in December that he’s still missing the 3.5mm port two years later. “It enabled happy moments and never got in the way,” he lamented of the missing jack.

Safe to say, no one is ever going to bemoan the lack of a dongle like that.For TC’s Miller, he was finally pushed to upgrade his trusty old iPhone because of a bad battery and a glitchy recharge cable.

My own iPhone 6s has also tipped over into bad battery territory. The original battery was replaced in 2017 (after being in a faulty bunch for which Apple offered free replacements). But the other day the phone experienced its first “unexpected shutdown” — and a pop-up informed me Peak Performance Capability had been switched on.

Aka the performance management feature Apple got in some hot water with consumer groups for not being clear enough about previously. So there’s now an option to disable this in iOS settings.

I could also, of course, pay to replace the battery. Which would be a lot cheaper than a new iPhone. Or else — even cheaper — just carry a spare battery pack.

So which is less hassle to remember? A spare battery or a headphone dongle?

At least a battery pack extends the daily longevity of the handset, which feels like it’s offering some added utility (with the bonus social feature of being able to offer to juice up friends’ devices on-demand).

I’d certainly much prefer to keep a spare battery pack in my bag when I leave the house than always be trying to remember where on earth I left the dumb headphone dongle.

Ignoring Apple’s customary fraying charger cables (which can just be replaced), the other issue I’m facing with my current iPhone is storage. It’s almost full.

Apple offers cloud storage for a fee (after a small amount of free space). But I could also delete stuff I’m not using and buy an external hard drive for storing iPhone photo content (which is what’s taking up the most space) and offload the data to that.

Then I could wipe the iPhone 6s clean and start again.

Frankly the prospect of a rebooted iPhone 6s, which (battery wobbles aside) otherwise still works fine, is more appealing than paying a premium for an otherwise not so different handset which will, in certain key aspects, be less welcoming and useful to me than the one I already own.

It’s almost the more environmentally friendly choice, of course. And let’s not forget that lots of dongles = lots more unnecessary e-waste. So imposed dongle hell is bad for the planet too.

One size never fits all, but when combined with an upwardly inflating Apple premium, the Cupertino philosophy is starting to feel increasingly awkward — while “reuse don’t replace” feels more and more normal.

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Mon, 07 Jan 2019 22:16:17 +0000
Sorry Apple, I’m still not ready to upgrade my iPhone

Let’s face it, we love large numbers. We are obsessed with them, whether it’s Forbes list of wealthiest individuals or tech unicorns, if it’s a big number we can’t get enough. Such is the case with the somehow magical trillion-dollar mark that Apple briefly reached last summer. We splashed the headlines and glorified it as though it mattered… but it didn’t.

It was just a number.

Sure it showed the tremendous value of the Apple stock, but it was a moment in time fueled by an overheated stock market, full of sound and fury, but in the end adding up to nothing. Fast forward 4 months and the company has lost more than a third of its stock value. Last week, it lost $75 billion with a B in market cap in a single day. We got a hard lesson in stock market physics — what goes up eventually must come down.

Hard lessons

In that light, the trillion-dollar mark was fun, but it didn’t mean much in the end. Ultimately, Apple stock still has value. It may make a few less billion next quarter than it predicted, but it’s still got plenty of cash on the books, and chances are it will be just fine in the end.

As long as the US-China trade war rages on and the US economy continues to cool, it’s probably not going to approach that trillion threshold again any time soon. Investor enthusiasm for tech stocks in general has waned considerably since those heady dog days of August.

Just as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos may have a few billion more or less on the books on any given day, it just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s not as though they’re going broke. Just as Apple isn’t going to shut down because it might have a bad (less good) quarter than it was projected to have.

Nobody grows forever, not even Apple. It had to cool off at some point, and if this is cooling off, 87 billion instead of 91 billion, it’s a drop-off that investors should be able to understand and live with. If it became a troubling pattern and an ice age set in, that would be another matter, but Apple is still selling product hand over fist, tens of millions of iPhones is still a lot of iPhones. Wall Street should probably take a chill pill.

Tech stock doldrums

It’s worth noting that Apple has hardly been in alone taking a huge hit on its stock price, especially tech stocks, which have been taking a beating since November on Wall Street. Want to talk a trillion dollars, how about the biggest names in tech losing a trillion (that’s with a T, folks) in value in one stretch in November. When Apple halted trading last week to announce lower than expected revenue, the stock dove even further, as it confirmed the worst fears of investors.

Worse, Chinese consumers have driven iPhone sales just as the Chinese economy has hit a massive speed bump this year. In June, Reuters reported shockingly weak growth. In November, Bloomberg reported that the Chinese economy was slowing down long before the president started a trade war. .

Apple also appears to be having more trouble selling the XR worldwide than it had projected, and fluctuating currency rates are also wreaking havoc — not to mention the trade war — but analyst Horace Dediu from Asymco sees Apple generating strong revenue from non-iPhone hardware, as the chart he shared on Twitter recently shows:

Whatever the future holds for Apple and other tech stocks, we clearly like to throw around large numbers. Yet companies don’t tend to live and die by their market cap. It’s not a metric that matters all that much to anyone, except those of us who like to marvel at the size of the biggest numbers, and then click our tongues when they inevitably fall to earth.

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Sun, 06 Jan 2019 18:00:35 +0000
Apple’s trillion-dollar market cap was always a false idol

Far from Apple’s troubles in emerging markets and China, the company is attracting the ire of what should really be a core supporter demographic naturally aligned with the pro-privacy stance CEO Tim Cook has made into his public soapbox in recent years — but which is instead crying foul over perceived hypocrisy.

The problem for this subset of otherwise loyal European iPhone users is that Apple isn’t offering enough privacy.

These users want more choice over key elements such as the search engine that can be set as the default in Safari on iOS (Apple currently offers four choices: Google, Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, all U.S. search engines; and with ad tech giant Google set as the default).

It is also being called out over other default settings that undermine its claims to follow a privacy by design philosophy. Such as the iOS location services setting which, once enabled, non-transparently flip an associated sub-menu of settings — including location-based Apple ads. Yet bundled consent is never the same as informed consent…

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