Apple

Sprint customers can now use Apple Business Chat to reach an agent

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, business, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

Sprint today announced it will support Apple’s Business Chat — the new platform that allows businesses and customers to interact over iMessage. According to the carrier, customers can now message a Sprint customer service agent, get info about plans and other services, as well as look up store information in Maps, Safari and with Siri during a chat session.

The support from Sprint comes after two other launches on the platform this week.

TD Ameritrade said it will allow customers to fund their brokerage accounts using Apple Pay on Apple Business Chat. And Gubagoo said it will connect car dealerships with customers through Business Chat for viewing inventory, plus scheduling test drives and service appointments.

Apple has been steadily growing its list of supported Business Chat partners, and today has a number of big brands on its platform, which is still in beta. These include names like 1-800-Contacts, DISH, Overstock.com, Quicken Loans, Kimpton Hotels, West Elm, Burberry, Vodafone, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse, Jos A. Bank, Men’s Warehouse, The Home Depot, Hilton, Four Seasons, American Express, Harry & David and several others.

The platform also supports integrations with customer service platforms LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance, Genesys, InTheChat, Zendesk, Quiq, Cisco, Kipsu, Lithium, eGain, [24]7.ai, ContactAtOnce, Dimelo, Brand Embassy, ASAPP, IMImobile and MessengerPeople, according to Apple’s website.

Business Chat was officially introduced at WWDC 2017, and is Apple’s entry into the business messaging and chatbot space.

Before its arrival, customers would generally reach out to businesses through social media sites like Facebook (e.g. Pages and Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) and Twitter. But Apple’s product gets the businesses even closer to the customer, as their chats can live alongside those from family and friends. Plus, they don’t have to share their data with a third party.

For consumers, reaching a business through iMessage is also a bit easier at times.

A company’s Business Chat profile is highlighted across Apple’s iOS platform in areas like Safari, Maps and Spotlight, and via Siri. This makes it more seamless to move from one Apple app to an iMessage chat, compared with having to seek out the business’s social media profile.

It’s also less painful than having to dial a customer service phone number, in many cases — as Sprint today pointed out.

“More consumers are embracing quick and easy self-service and digital assistance versus calling customer service through an 800 line,” said Rob Roy, Sprint chief digital officer, in a statement about the launch. “Apple Business Chat is an amazing tool for our customers that makes communicating with Sprint fast, easy and stress-free.”

Business Chat has come at a time when the “phone” part of our smartphones is turning into just another “app” — and increasingly, a spammy and bothersome one thanks to spam calls. Apple’s solution makes it easier for customers and businesses to move away from phone lines, while Google is leveraging AI to handle spammers — and even place calls for customers through its Google Duplex technology.

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Rumor suggests Apple’s AirPower mat has finally gone into production

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, TC | No Comments

In 2017, Apple announced the Qi-compatible AirPower Mat, a device that would charge multiple devices at once simply by placing them on the mat.

That product has been seriously delayed due to reported interference and overheating issues, with a whole year going by without hearing much about the availability of the product. In fact, Apple’s total silence on the matter led some to believe it may have been canceled altogether.

Today, however, a new rumor has breathed life back into hopes for an AirPower Mat.

Hong Kong website ChargerLAB tweeted that a credible source in the supply chain said Luxshare Precision (the same manufacturer that builds AirPods and USB-C cables) has started production on the AirPower charging pad.

Breaking: AirPower is finally coming. We just learned from credible source in supply chain that the manufacture Luxshare Precision has already started producing Apple AirPower wireless charging pad. Luxshare Precision is also the maker of Apple AirPods and USB-C cables. pic.twitter.com/UqgWIAh3sx

— ChargerLAB (@chargerlab) January 12, 2019

MacRumors took a look at the tweet and used Google Translate to translate the WeChat screenshot included in the tweet, saying that the conversation is consistent with the information in the tweet.

ChargerLAB went on to tweet that another manufacturer, Pegatron, would start production on January 21st alongside Luxshare Precision. A report from June said that Pegatron would also be involved in manufacturing, so these tweets at least line up with what we’ve already heard.

Respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in October that the AirPower Mat could be released in first quarter 2019.

That said, this is just a rumor being passed along the Twitter grapevine for now.

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GM is smartening up its Bolt EV smartphone app

Posted by | Android, Apple, automotive, cars, ChargePoint, charging stations, chevrolet bolt, electric vehicle, electric vehicles, energy, evgo, General-Motors, Greenlots, inductive charging, michigan, smartphone, transport, Transportation | No Comments

GM is sprucing up its smartphone app for owners of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt through a collaboration with charging network companies EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots.

The idea is to take aggregate dynamic data from each of the EV charging networks so owners can have a “more seamless charging experience.” In short: GM wants to make it easier and more intuitive for Bolt EV owners to find and access charging. Removing hurdles from the charging experience can go a long way in convincing more people to buy the Bolt EV, or any EV for that matter.

The partnership with EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots is a notable start considering that collectively that means more than 31,000 charging ports.

“GM believes in an all-electric future, and this is a significant step to make charging easier for our customers,” said Doug Parks, General Motors vice president of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. “By collaborating with these three companies, we expect to reduce barriers to create a stronger EV infrastructure for the future. This is an important step toward achieving GM’s vision of a world with zero emissions.”

GM plans to take the aggregate charging data from EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots and use it to improve the myChevrolet app. For instance, owners will be able to see if a charging station is available and compatible with the Bolt EV. It also will provide real-time data on charge stations to report if a charging station is working.

GM plans to create an app interface that will streamline the enrollment process for each of these networks. The automaker wants owners to be able to activate a charging session using the app instead of a membership card, but didn’t say when that feature would be rolled out.

GM recently made a few updates to the myChevrolet app that lets owners project the energy assist to the vehicle’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for drivers with model year 2017 or newer Bolt EVs.

This means Bolt EV drivers can access information through their infotainment system, like vehicle range, charging station locations and search, as well as route planning that takes into consideration charging stops along the way if the destination is out of range.

Original purchasers of new Bolt EVs will have access to these features at no additional cost for five years from the vehicle delivery date, according to GM.

GM doesn’t provide updates about the Bolt EV, and more broadly its electric vehicle program, at the same pace and frequency as say Tesla. But the company is still ramping up and expanding. GM recently expanded a battery lab, and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan has come online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park started making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet  Bolt.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt.

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Sorry Apple, I’m still not ready to upgrade my iPhone

Posted by | Apple, Apple earbuds, apple inc, e-waste, Gadgets, headphones, iOS, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

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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Apple’s increasingly tricky international trade-offs

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Android, Apple, apple inc, Asia, Baidu, Bing, China, DuckDuckGo, Europe, France, Google, iOS, iPhone, Mobile, privacy, Qwant, safari, search engine, search engines, siri, smartphone, smartphones, TC, Tim Cook, United States, Yahoo | No Comments

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…

6/ and @Apple also defaults to ON, approx 13 location settings the moment a user enables location settings 🤔 that includes using YOUR location to support APPLE’s advertising business interests & $$$. By ‘enabling location based services’ you give your consent to this 🤔@tim_cook pic.twitter.com/scYSg94QgY

— Privacy Matters (@PrivacyMatters) October 19, 2018

As the saying goes you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But the new normal of a saturated smartphone market is imposing new pressures that will require a reconfiguration of approach.

Certainly the challenges of revenue growth and user retention are only going to step up from here on in. So keeping an otherwise loyal base of users happy and — crucially — feeling listened to and well served is going to be more and more important for the tech giant as the back and forth business of services becomes, well, essential to its fortunes going forward.

(At least barring some miracle new piece of Apple hardware — yet to be unboxed but which somehow rekindles smartphone-level demand afresh. That’s highly unlikely in any medium term timeframe given how versatile and capable the smartphone remains; ergo Apple’s greatest success is now Apple’s biggest challenge.)

With smartphone hardware replacement cycles slowing, the pressure on Cook to accelerate services revenue naturally steps up — which could in turn increase pressure on the core principles Cupertino likes to flash around.

Yet without principles there can be no brand premium for Apple to command. So that way ruin absolutely lies.

Control shift

It’s true that controlling the iOS experience by applying certain limits to deliver mainstream consumer friendly hardware served Apple well for years. But it’s also true iOS has grown in complexity over time having dropped some of its control freakery.

Elements that were previously locked down have been opened up — like the keyboard, for instance, allowing for third party keyboard apps to be installed by users that wish to rethink how they type.

This shift means the imposed limit on which search engines users can choose to set as an iOS default looks increasingly hard for Apple to justify from a user experience point of view.

Though of course from a business PoV Apple benefits by being able to charge Google a large sum of money to remain in the plum search default spot. (Reportedly a very large sum, though claims that the 2018 figure was $9BN have not been confirmed. Unsurprisingly neither party wants to talk about the terms of the transaction.)

The problem for Apple is that indirectly benefiting from Google eroding the user privacy it claims to champion — by letting the ad tech giant pay it to suck up iOS users’ search queries by default — is hardly consistent messaging.

Not when privacy is increasingly central to the premium the Apple brand commands.

Cook has also made a point of strongly and publicly attacking the ‘data industrial complex‘. Yet without mentioning the inconvenient side-note that Apple also engages in trading user data for profit in some instances, albeit indirectly.

In 2017 Apple switched from using Bing to Google for Siri web search results. So even as it has stepped up its rhetoric around user privacy it has deepened its business relationship with one of the Western Internet’s primary data suckers.

All of which makes for a very easy charge of hypocrisy.

Of course Apple offers iOS users a non-tracking search engine choice, DuckDuckGo, as an alternative choice — and has done so since 2014’s iOS 8.

Its support for a growing but still very niche product in what are mainstream consumer devices is an example of Apple being true to its word and actively championing privacy.

The presence of the DDG startup alongside three data-mining tech giants has allowed those ‘in the know’ iOS users to flip the bird at Google for years, meaning Apple has kept privacy conscious consumers buying its products (if not fully on side with all its business choices).

But that sort of compromise position looks increasingly difficult for Apple to defend.

Not if it wants privacy to be the clear blue water that differentiates its brand in an era of increasingly cut-throat and cut-price Android -powered smartphone competition that’s serving up much the same features at a lower up-front price thanks to all the embedded data-suckers.

There is also the not-so-small matter of the inflating $1,000+ price-tags on Apple’s top-of-the-range iPhones. $1,000+ for a smartphone that isn’t selling your data by default might still sound very pricy but at least you’d be getting something more than just shiny glass for all those extra dollars. But the iPhone isn’t actually that phone. Not by default.

Apple may be taking a view that the most privacy sensitive iPhone users are effectively a captive market with little option but to buy iOS hardware, given the Google-flavored Android competition. Which is true but also wouldn’t bode well for the chances of Apple upselling more services to these people to drive replacement revenue in a saturated smartphone market.

Offending those consumers who otherwise could be your very best, most committed and bought in users seems short-sighted and short-termist to say the least.

Although removing Google as the default search provider in markets where it dominates would obviously go massively against the mainstream grain that Apple’s business exists to serve.

This logic says Google is in the default position because, for most Internet users, Google search remains their default.

Indeed, Cook rolled out this exact line late last year when asked to defend the arrangement in an interview with Axios on HBO — saying: “I think their search engine is the best.”

He also flagged various pro-privacy features Apple has baked into its software in recent years, such as private browsing mode and smart tracker prevention, which he said work against the data suckers.

Albeit, that’s a bit like saying you’ve scattered a few garlic cloves around the house after inviting the thirsty vampire inside. And Cook readily admitted the arrangement isn’t “perfect”.

Clearly it’s a trade off. But Apple benefitting financially is what makes this particular trade-off whiff.

It implies Apple does indeed have an eye on quarterly balance sheets, and the increasingly important services line item specifically, in continuing this imperfect but lucrative arrangement — rather than taking a longer term view as the company purports to, per Cook’s letter to shareholders this week; in which he wrote: “We manage Apple for the long term, and Apple has always used periods of adversity to re-examine our approach, to take advantage of our culture of flexibility, adaptability and creativity, and to emerge better as a result.”

If Google’s search product is the best and Apple wants to take the moral high ground over privacy by decrying the surveillance industrial complex it could maintain the default arrangement in service to its mainstream base but donate Google’s billions to consumer and digital rights groups that fight to uphold and strengthen the privacy laws that people-profiling ad tech giants are butting hard against.

Apple’s shareholders might not like that medicine, though.

More palatable for investors would be for Apple to offer a broader choice of alternative search engines, thereby widening the playing field and opening up to more pro-privacy Google alternatives.

It could also design this choice in a way that flags up the trade-off to its millions of users. Such as, during device set-up, proactively asking users whether they want to keep their Internet searches private by default or use Google?

When put like that rather more people than you imagine might choose not to opt for Google to be their search default.

Non-tracking search engine DDG has been growing steadily for years, for example, hitting 30M daily searches last fall — with year-on-year growth of ~50%.

Given the terms of the Apple-Google arrangement sit under an NDA (as indeed all these arrangements do; DDG told us it couldn’t share any details about its own arrangement with Apple, for e.g.) it’s not clear whether one of Google’s conditions requires there be a limit on how many other search engines iOS users can pick from.

But it’s at least a possibility that Google is paying Apple to limit how many rivals sit in the list of competitors iOS users can pick out an alternative default. (It has, after all, recently been spanked in Europe for anti-competitive contractual limits imposed on Android OEMs to limit their ability to use alternatives to Google products, including search. So you could say Google has history where search is concerned.)

Equally, should Google actually relaunch a search product in China — as it’s controversially been toying with doing — it’s likely the company would push Apple to give it the default slot there too.

Though Apple would have more reason to push back, given Google would likely remain a minnow in that market. (Apple currently defaults to local search giant Baidu for iOS users in China.)

So even the current picture around search on iOS is a little more fuzzy than Cook likes to make out.

Local flavor

China is an interesting case, because if you look at Apple’s growth challenges in that market you could come to a very different conclusion vis-a-vis the power of privacy as a brand premium.

In China it’s convenience, via the do-it-all ‘Swiss army knife’ WeChat platform, that’s apparently the driving consumer force — and now also a headwind for Apple’s business there.

At the same time, the idea of users in the market having any kind of privacy online — when Internet surveillance has been imposed and ‘normalized’ by the state — is essentially impossible to imagine.

Yet Apple continues doing business in China, netting it further charges of hypocrisy.

Its revised guidance this week merely spotlights how important China and emerging markets are to its business fortunes. A principled pull-out hardly looks to be on the cards.

All of which underscores growing emerging market pressures on Apple that might push harder against its stated principles. What price privacy indeed?

It’s clear that carving out growth in a saturated smartphone market is going to be an increasingly tricky business for all players, with the risk of fresh trade-offs and pitfalls looming especially for Apple.

Negotiating this terrain certainly demands a fresh approach, as Cook implies is on his mind, per the shareholder letter.

Arguably the new normal may also call for an increasingly localized approach as a way to differentiate in a saturated and samey smartphone market.

The old Apple ‘one-sized fits all’ philosophy is already very outdated for some users and risks being caught flat-footed on a growing number of fronts — be that if your measure is software ‘innovation’ or a principled position on privacy.

An arbitrary limit on the choice of search engine your users can pick seems a telling example. Why not offer iOS users a free choice?

Or are Google’s billions really standing in the way of that?

It’s certainly an odd situation that iPhone owners in France, say, can pick from a wide range of keyboard apps — from mainstream names to superficial bling-focused glitter and/or neon LED keyboard skins or indeed emoji and GIF-obsessed keyboards — but if they want to use locally developed pro-privacy search engine Qwant on their phone’s native browser they have to tediously surf to the company’s webpage every time they want to look something up.

Google search might be the best for a median average ‘global’ (excluding China) iOS user but in an age of increasingly self-focused and self-centred technology, with ever more demanding consumers, there’s really no argument against letting people who want to choose for themselves.

In Europe there’s also the updated data protection framework, GDPR, to consider. Which may yet rework some mainstream ad tech business models.

On this front Qwant questions how even non-tracking rival DDG can protect users’ searches from government surveillance given its use of AWS cloud hosting and the U.S. Cloud Act. (Though, responding to a discussion thread about the issue on Github two years ago, DDG’s founder noted it has servers around the world, writing: “If you are in Europe you will be connected to our European servers.” He also reiterated that DDG does not collect any personal data from users — thereby limiting what could be extracted from AWS via the Act.)

Asked what reception it’s had when asking about getting its search engine on the Safari iOS list, Qwant told us the line that’s been (indirectly) fed back to it is “we are too European according to Apple”. (Apple declined to comment on the search choices it offers iOS users.)

“I have to work a lot to be more American,” Qwant co-founder and CEO Eric Leandri told us, summing up the smoke signals coming out of Cupertino.

“I understand that Apple wants to give the same kind of experience to their customers… but I would say that if I was Apple now, based on the politics that I want to follow — about protecting the privacy of customers — I think it would be great to start thinking about Europe as a market where people have a different point of view on their data,” he continued.

“Apple has done a lot of work to, for example, not let applications give data to each by a very strict [anti-tracking policy]; Apple has done a lot of work to guarantee that cookies and tracking is super difficult on iOS; and now the last problem of Apple is Google search.”

“So I hope that Apple will look at our proposal in a different way — not just one-fits-all. Because we don’t think that one-fits-all today,” he added.

Qwant too, then, is hoping for a better Apple to emerge as a result of a little market adversity.

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New Apple voice phishing scam looks just like a real support call

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, phishing, TC | No Comments

A new voice phishing scam is going after iPhone users in a clever new way: by making calls seem like they are coming directly from Apple Support.

Brian Krebs reported today that a user, Jody Westby, got a call from Apple Support asking for her to call back. The contact information that came along with the number appeared to be Apple Inc.’s in the identity screen for the call. When she called the 866 number, however, something was clearly amiss.

KrebsOnSecurity called the number that the scam message asked Westby to contact (866-277-7794).

An automated system answered and said I’d reached Apple Support, and that my expected wait time was about one minute and 30 seconds. About a minute later, a man with an Indian accent answered and inquired as to the reason for my call.

Playing the part of someone who had received the scam call, I told him I’d been alerted about a breach at Apple and that I needed to call this number. After asking me to hold for a brief moment, our call was disconnected.

No doubt this is just another scheme to separate the unwary from their personal and financial details, and to extract some kind of payment (for supposed tech support services or some such). But it is remarkable that Apple’s own devices (or AT&T, which sold her the phone) can’t tell the difference between a call from Apple and someone trying to spoof Apple.

The exploit is unique because it allows callers to masquerade as other callers essentially by polluting search results with junk information that makes one number look like the contact number for a real company. The number Westby was told to call is a known phishing source. Remember: If anyone calls you claiming that your computer is broken they are most probably lying. After all, support people will never be proactive when it comes to problems with your computers, only reactive (if that).

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Qualcomm patent dispute forces Apple to pull iPhone 7 and 8 from its stores in Germany

Posted by | Apple, Definers, Europe, Germany, iPhones, lawsuit, Mobile, patents, Qualcomm | No Comments

In more bad news for Apple, the company’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models are not currently on sale in its own retail stores in Germany.

This follows an injunction issued by a Munich court last month related to patent litigation brought by chipmaker Qualcomm that’s being enforced from today. The patent dispute concerns smartphone power management technology that’s used to extend battery life.

In December, the Munich court sided with Qualcomm, finding that Apple is infringing its patented power savings technology in the two models — granting a permanent injunction.

The court ordered Apple to cease the sale, offer for sale and importation for sale in Germany of infringing iPhones.

Apple has said it will appeal.

The Apple Germany website currently offers the newest models of the iPhone (the XS, XS Max and XR); and older models from 2014 (iPhone 6 and 6 Plus); 2015 (iPhone 6S and 6S Plus); and 2016 (iPhone SE). But buyers looking for 2016’s iPhone 7 or 2017’s iPhone 8 will be disappointed.

Yesterday Qualcomm announced it had posted security bonds totalling €1.34BN required by the court, enabling the injunction issued by the District Court of Munich on December 20 to be enforced.

The bonds are required to cover potential damages incurred by Apple should the judgment be overturned or amended on appeal. Qualcomm had said on December 20 that it would post the bonds “within a few days.”

In a statement yesterday the chipmaker also claimed the court had ordered Apple to recall infringing iPhones from third-party resellers in the market.

But at the time of writing, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models are still being offered by Apple resellers in Germany.

Amazon.de currently offers both handsets, for instance. Gravis, Germany’s biggest reseller of Apple products, also told Reuters it was still selling all Apple products, including the two models.

Qualcomm has also been pursing patent litigation against Apple in China and the U.S., and last month Apple appealed against a preliminary injunction banning the import and sales of old iPhone models in China.

In that case, the patents relate to editing photos and managing apps on smartphone touchscreens.

In the U.S., Qualcomm has most recently accused Intel engineers working with Apple of stealing trade secrets.

The feud dates back further, though. Two years ago the FTC filed charges against Qualcomm accusing it of anticompetitive tactics in an attempt to maintain a monopoly in its chip business — with Apple officially cited in the complaint.

Cupertino also filed a billion-dollar royalty lawsuit against the chipmaker at the same time, accusing it of charging for patents “they have nothing to do with.”

The legal battle between the pair shows no signs of fizzling out, and has led Apple to reduce its reliance on Qualcomm chips — with Intel the short-term beneficiary.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the latest litigious development in Germany, but pointed to its statement from December 20 in which it takes a broad swipe at Qualcomm’s “tactics.”

In the statement, Apple also said resellers in the market would continue to stock all models.

It writes:

Qualcomm’s campaign is a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues between our companies. Their tactics, in the courts and in their everyday business, are harming innovation and harming consumers. Qualcomm insists on charging exorbitant fees based on work they didn’t do and they are being investigated by governments all around the world for their behavior.
We are of course disappointed by this verdict and we plan to appeal. All iPhone models remain available to customers through carriers and resellers in 4,300 locations across Germany. During the appeal process, iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models will not be available at Apple’s 15 retail stores in Germany. iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR will remain available in all our stores.

The sideswipe at Qualcomm’s “tactics” is perhaps also a reference to the use of a controversial PR firm, Definers, which — as we reported in November — sent pitches slinging mud at Apple seemingly on Qualcomm’s behalf.

Late last year Facebook confirmed it had severed its own business relationship with the PR firm after it was revealed to have used anti-Semitic smear tactics to try to discredit Facebook critics.

We’ve asked Qualcomm for comment on its use of the PR firm.

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Apple stock has dropped 38 percent in 90 days

Posted by | Apple, Earnings, Finance, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

Apple stock was down more than 9 percent overnight and continued the downward trend in trading this morning. In fact, the company’s stock price is down a total of 38 percent since October. This, after the company halted trading yesterday afternoon to provide lower guidance for upcoming earnings. As the iPhone upgrade market softened, it was having a big impact on revenue, at least in the short term, and Apple stock took a big hit as a result.

On October 3, the stock was selling at 232.07 per share, and while the price has fluctuated and the market in general has plunged in that time period, the stock has been on a downward trend for the past couple of months and has lost approximately $87 a share since that October high point.

 

Last night, before the company briefly stopped trading to make its announcement, the stock stood at $157.92 a share. This morning as we went to publication, it was recovering a bit, but was still down 8.19 percent to $144.981.

D.A. Davidson senior analyst Tom Forte says yesterday’s announcement, while not completely unexpected, was surprising, given Apple’s traditionally strong position. “We knew that iPhone unit sales were weak, but just not how weak,” he said.

The biggest factor in yesterday’s announcement, in Forte’s view, was China, where he says the company generates 20 percent of its sales. As the U.S.-China trade war drags on, it’s having an impact on these sales. This could be because of a combination of factors, including a weakening Chinese economy as a result of the trade war, or patriotism on the part of Chinese consumers, who are choosing to buy Chinese brands over of the iPhone.

This also comes at a time when Apple had already indicated that iPhone sales were weak in other worldwide markets, including India, Russia, Brazil and Turkey. This already helped weaken the iPhone sales worldwide, although Forte still sees the Chinese market as the biggest factor in play here.

Forte says that in spite of the soft iPhone performance, the good news is the rest of the product portfolio is up 19 percent, and that could bode well for the future. What’s more, the company has set aside $100 billion for stock buy-back purposes. “They have the balance sheet. They have the stock buy-back program. They still generate very significant free cash flow, and if the individual investor won’t buy the stock, then the company will buy the stock,” he explained.

In a report released this morning, financial analysts Canaccord Genuity believe that in spite of yesterday’s report, the company is still fundamentally sound and they continue to recommend a BUY for Apple stock. “We maintain our belief Apple can expand its leading market share of the premium-tier smartphone market and the iPhone installed base (excluding refurbished iPhones) will exceed 700M in 2018. This impressive installed base should drive iPhone replacement sales and earnings, as well as cash flow generation to fund strong long-term capital returns. We reiterate our BUY rating but decrease our price target to $190 based on our lowered estimates,” the company wrote in a report released this morning.

Forte says the unknown-unknown here is how the U.S.-China trade war plays out, and as long as that situation remains fluid, the company might not recover that income in the near term in spite of stronger sales across the catalog.

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Sorry that I took so long to upgrade, Apple

Posted by | Apple, iPhone, Mobile | No Comments

Apple had some bad news tonight. It was so bad, in fact, that it had to halt trading for a time while posting a grim report that its numbers would be lower than it had forecast at the last quarterly earnings report in November. Apple blamed faltering sales in Asia, particularly in China, for the adjustment, but I’m afraid it can lay at least part of the blame on me, too.

You see, I was part of the problem, as well. On the bright side, I finally upgraded my iPhone this week. I had been using an old iPhone 6 that was more than three years old. It had become crotchety with a bad battery life, and the recharge cable wouldn’t say stuck without some serious coaxing. The phone had to be flat on a table, and would often disconnect if I even brushed against the cord or looked at it the wrong way.

I had been thinking about upgrading for several months, but I kept putting it off because the thought of spending $1,000 for a new phone frankly irked me, and I had, after all, paid off my trusty 6 in full long ago. I was going to squeeze every bit of life out of it, dammit.

In spite of my great frustration with my old phone, it took the enticement of a $200 credit to finally get me to replace it, as I’m sure the promotion was intended to do. Just yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I headed to my closest Apple Store and I finally did right by the company.

I replaced my ancient 6, but I did something else that probably hurt Apple as part of its death by a thousand cuts. I went into the store thinking I would buy the more expensive XS, but in the end I walked out with the lower-cost XR. I looked at the two phones and I couldn’t justify spending more than $1,000 for a phone with 256 GB of storage. I wanted a phone with longer battery life and a decent display and camera, and the XR gave it to me. Yes, I could have gotten an even better phone, but in the end, the XR was good enough for me, and certainly a huge upgrade over what I had been using.

Clearly lots of people across the world had similar thoughts, and one thing led to another and, before you knew it, you had a situation on your on your hands, one that forced you to halt the trading of your stock and report the bad news. The stock price is paying the price, down more than 7 percent as I write this post.

So, sorry Apple, but it appears that there is a tipping point when it comes to the cost of a new phone. As essential as these devices have become in our lives, it’s just too hard for many consumers around the world to justify spending more than $1,000 for a new phone, and you just have to realize that.

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Two years later, I still miss the headphone port

Posted by | Apple, Dongles, headphone jack, headphones, iPhone, Mobile, TC | No Comments

Two years ago, Apple killed the headphone port. I still haven’t forgiven them for it.

When Apple announced that the iPhone 7 would have no headphone port, I was pretty immediately annoyed. I figured maybe I’d get over it in a few months. I didn’t. I figured if worse came to worse, I’d switch platforms. Then all of the other manufacturers started following suit.

This, of course, isn’t a new annoyance for me. I’ve been hating headphone adapters on phones right here on this very website since two thousand and nine. For a little stretch there, though, I got my way.

It was a world full of dongles and crappy proprietary audio ports. Sony Ericsson had the FastPort. Nokia had the Pop-Port. Samsung had like 10 different ports that no one gave a shit about. No single phone maker had claimed the throne yet, so no one port had really become ubiquitous… but every manufacturer wanted their port to become the port. Even the phones that had a standardized audio jack mostly had the smaller 2.5mm port, requiring an adapter all the same.

Then came the original iPhone with its 3.5mm headphone port. It was a weird recessed 3.5mm port that didn’t work with most headphones, but it was a 3.5mm port! Apple was riding on the success of the iPod, and people were referring to this rumored device as the iPod Phone before it was even announced. How could something like that not have a headphone port?

Sales of the iPhone started to climb. A few million in 2007. Nearly 12 million in 2008. 20 million in 2009. A tide shifted. As Apple’s little slab of glass took over the smartphone world, other manufacturers tried to figure out what Apple was doing so right. The smartphone market, once filled with chunky, button-covered plastic beasts (this one slides! This one spins!), homogenized. Release by release, everything started looking more like the iPhone. A slab of glass. Premium materials. Minimal physical buttons. And, of course, a headphone port.

Within a couple years, a standard headphone port wasn’t just a nice selling point — it was mandatory. We’d entered a wonderful age of being able to use your wired headphones whenever you damn well pleased.

Then came September 7th, 2016, when Apple had the “courage” to announce it was ditching the 3.5mm jack (oh and also by the way check out these new $150 wireless headphones!).

Apple wasn’t the first to ditch the headphone port — but, just as with its decision to include one, its decision to remove it has turned the tide. A few months after the portless iPhone 7 was announced, Xiaomi nixed the port on the Mi 6. Then Google ditched it from its flagship Android phone, the Pixel 3. Even Samsung, which lampooned Apple for the decision, seems to be tinkering with the idea of dropping it. Though leaks suggest the upcoming Galaxy S10 will have a headphone port, the company pulled it from the mid-range A8 line earlier this year. If 2016 was the year Apple took a stab at the headphone jack, 2018 was the year it bled out.

And I’m still mad about it.

Technology comes and goes, and oh-so-often at Apple’s doing. Ditching the CD drive in laptops? That’s okay — CDs were doomed, and they were pretty awful to begin with. Killing Flash? Flash sucked. Switching one type of USB port for another? Fine, I suppose. The new USB is better in just about every way. At the very least, I won’t try to plug it in upside down only to flip it over and realize I had it right the first time.

But the headphone jack? It was fine. It stood the test of time for one hundred damned years, and with good reason: It. Just. Worked.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the removal of the headphone port bugs me more than other ports that have been unceremoniously killed off, and I think it’s because the headphone port almost always only made me happy. Using the headphone port meant listening to my favorite album, or using a free minute to catch the latest episode of a show, or passing an earbud to a friend to share some new tune. It enabled happy moments and never got in the way.

Now every time I want to use my headphones, I just find myself annoyed.

Bluetooth? Whoops, forgot to charge them. Or whoops, they’re trying to pair with my laptop even though my laptop is turned off and in my backpack.

Dongle? Whoops, left it on my other pair of headphones at work. Or whoops, it fell off somewhere, and now I’ve got to go buy another one.

I’ll just buy a bunch of dongles, and put them on all my headphones! I’ll keep extras in my bag for when I need to borrow a pair of headphones. That’s just like five dongles at this point, problem solved! Oh, wait: now I want to listen to music while I fall asleep, but also charge my phone so it’s not dead in the morning. That’s a different, more expensive splitter dongle (many of which, I’ve found, are poorly made garbage).

None of these are that big of a deal. Charge your damned headphones, Greg. Stop losing your dongles. The thing is: they took a thing that just worked and just made me happy and replaced it with something that, quite often, just bugs the hell out of me. If a friend sent me a YouTube link and I wanted to watch it without bugging everyone around me, I could just use whatever crappy, worn out headphones I happened to have sitting in my bag. Now it’s a process with a bunch of potential points of failure.

“But now its water resistant!” Water-resistant phones existed before all of this, plenty of which had/have headphone ports. As a recent example, see Samsung’s Galaxy S9 with its IP68 rating (matching that of the iPhone XS.)

“But it can be slimmer!” No one was asking for that.

“But the batteries inside can be bigger!” The capacity of the battery barely jumped in the years from the 6S to the 8 — from 1,715mAh to 1,821mAh. It wasn’t until a few years later with the iPhone X, when the standard iPhone started getting wider and taller, that we saw super big jumps in its battery capacity.

Will this post change anything? Of course not. Apple blew the horn that told the industry it’s okay to drop the headphone port, and everyone fell right in line. The next year — and the year after that — Apple sold another 200M-plus phones. At this point, Apple doesn’t even bother giving you the headphone adapter in the box. Apple’s mind is made up.

But if you’re out there, annoyed, stumbling across this post after finding yourself with a pair of headphones and a smartphone that won’t play friendly together in a pinch, just know: you’re not the only one. Two years later, I’m still mad at whoever made this call — and everyone else in the industry who followed suit.

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