Germany

German court tosses Qualcomm’s latest iPhone patent suit

Posted by | apple inc, China, Europe, Federal Trade Commission, Germany, Intel, iPhone, lawsuit, Mobile, patent, Qualcomm, smartphones | No Comments

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 €1.34BN 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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Amazon Dash buttons judged to breach consumer rules in Germany

Posted by | Amazon, amazon dash, consumer protection, consumer rights, eCommerce, Europe, Gadgets, Germany, lawsuit, munich | No Comments

Amazon’s Dash buttons have been found to breach consumer e-commerce rules in Germany.

The push-to-order gizmos were debuted by Amazon in 2015 in an attempt by the e-commerce giant to shave friction off of the online shopping process by encouraging consumers to fill their homes with stick-on, account-linked buttons that trigger product-specific staple purchases when pressed — from washing powder to toilet roll to cat food.

Germany was among the first international markets where Amazon launched Dash, in 2016, along with the U.K. and Austria. But yesterday a higher state court in Munich ruled the system does not provide consumers with sufficient information about a purchase.

The judgement follows a legal challenge by a regional consumer watchdog, Verbraucherzentrale NRW, which objects to the terms Amazon operates with Dash.

It complains that Amazon’s terms allow the company to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product in place of what the consumer originally selected for a Dash push purchase.

It argues consumers are also not provided with enough information on the purchase triggered when the button is pressed — which might be months after an original selection was made.

Dash buttons should carry a label stating that a paid purchase is triggered by a press, it believes.

The Munich court has now sided with the group’s view that Amazon does not provide sufficient information to Dash consumers, per Reuters.

In a press release following the ruling, Verbraucherzentrale NRW said the judges agreed Amazon should inform consumers about price and product before taking the order, rather than after the purchase as is currently the case.

It also expressed confidence the judgement leaves no room for Amazon to appeal — though the company has said it intends to do so.

Commenting on the ruling in a statement, Verbraucherzentrale NRW consumer bureau chief, Wolfgang Schuldzinski, said: “We are always open to innovation. But if innovation is to put consumers at a disadvantage and to make price comparisons more difficult, then we use all means against them, as in this case.”

Amazon did not reply to questions about how it intends to respond to the court ruling in the short term, such as whether it will withdraw the devices or change how Dash works in Germany.

Instead it emailed us the following statement, attributed to a spokesperson: “The decision is not only against innovation, it also prevents customers from making an informed choice for themselves about whether a service like Dash Button is a convenient way for them to shop. We are convinced the Dash Button and the corresponding app are in line with German legislation. Therefore, we’re going to appeal.”

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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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The annual PornHub year in review tells us what we’re really looking at online

Posted by | Android, Apps, arkansas, Australia, chrome os, Germany, india, microsoft windows, Mississippi, Nintendo, pornhub, pornography, South Carolina, Startups, TC, United Kingdom, United States, video hosting, world wide web | No Comments

PornHub, a popular site that features people in various stages of undress, saw 33.5 billion visits in 2018. There are currently 7.53 billion people on Earth.

Y’all have been busy.

The company, which owns most of the major porn sites online, produces a yearly report that aggregates user behavior on the site. Of particular interest, aside from the fact that all of us are horndogs, is that the U.S., Germany and India are in the top spots for porn browsing and that the company transferred 4,000 petabytes of data, or about 500 MB, per person on the planet.

We ignore this data at our peril. While it doesn’t seem important at first glance, the fact that these porn sites are doing more traffic than most major news organizations is deeply telling. Further, like the meme worlds of Twitter and Facebook, Stormy Daniels and Fortnite made the top searches, which points to the spread of politics and culture into the heart of our desires. TV manufacturers should note that 4K searchers are rising in popularity, which suggests that consumer electronics manufacturers should start getting read for a shift (although it should be noted that there is sadly little free 4K content on these sites, a discovery I just made while researching this brief.)

Need more frightening/enlightening data? Here you go.

Just as ‘1080p’ searches had been a defining term in 2017, now ‘4k’ ultra-hd has seen a significant increase in popularity through-out 2018. The popularity of ‘Romantic’ videos more than doubled, and remained twice as popular with female visitors when compared to men.

Searches referring to the dating app ‘Tinder’ grew by 161% among women, 113% among men and 131% by visitors aged 35 to 44. It was also a top trending term in many countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. The number of Tinder themed fantasy date videos on the site is now more than 3500.

Life imitates art, and eventually porn imitates everything, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see that ‘Bowsette’ also made our list of searches that defined 2018. After the original Nintendo fan-art went viral, searches for Bowsette exceeded 3 million in just one week and resulted in the release of a live-action Bowsette themed porn parody (NSFW) with more than 720,000 views.

Bowsette. Good. Moving on.

The Bible Belt represented well in the showings, with Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas spending the most time looking at porn. Kansas spent the least. Phones got the most use as porn distribution devices and iOS and Android nearly tied in terms of platform popularity.

Windows traffic fell considerably this year, while Chrome OS became decidedly more popular in 2018. Chrome was popular when it came to browsers used, while the PlayStation was the biggest deliverer of flicks to the console user.

Porn is a the canary in the tech coal mine, and where it goes the rest of tech follows. All of these data points, taken together, paint a fascinating picture of a world on the cusp of a fairly unique shift from desktop to mobile and from HD to 4K video. Further, given that these sites are delivering so much data on a daily basis, it’s clear that all of us are sneaking a peek now and again… even if we refuse to admit it.

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Apple Pay finally launches in Germany

Posted by | apple inc, Apple Pay, cash, contactless payments, Europe, Germany, iPhone, mastercard, Mobile, mobile payments, payments, privacy | No Comments

Apple’s mobile payment technology has finally launched in Germany, some four years after it debuted in the U.S.

On its newly launched Apple Pay website for Germany, Apple lists partner banks and credit card companies at launch, with customers from the likes of Deutsche Bank, O2 Banking, N26, Comdirect, HypoVerensbank, Bunq and Boon able to tap up the payment method directly.

Some fifteen banks and services are supported at launch. A further nine banks are slated as adding support in 2019, including DKB, INK and Revolut.

iOS users in the country can now add supported debit or credit cards to Apple Pay to make contactless payments with their device, rather than having to carry cash. Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID biometrics are used to a security layer to the payment system.

The local Apple Pay site also lists a selection of retailers, with Apple writing: “Apple Pay works in supermarkets, boutiques, restaurants, hotels and many other places. You can also use Apple Pay in many apps — and on participating websites with Safari on your Mac, iPhone or iPad.”

Aside from convenience, the other consumer advantage Apple touts for the system is privacy, with Apple Pay using a device-specific number and unique transaction code — and the user’s actual card numbers never stored on their device or on Apple’s servers — which means trackable card numbers aren’t shared with merchants, so purchases can’t be tied back to the individual.

While that might sound like an abstract concern, a Bloomberg report this summer revealed details of a multi-million deal in which Google pays for transaction data from Mastercard — in order to try to link online ad views with offline purchases in the US.

Facebook has also long been known to buy offline data to supplement the interest signals it collects on users from inside (and outside) its social network — further fleshing out ad-targeting profiles.

So escaping the surveillance net of one flavor of big tech can require buying into another. Or else going low tech and paying in cash.

Apple does not say what took it so long to add Germany to its now pretty long list of Apple Pay countries but Apple Insider suggests the relatively late adoption was down to pushback from local banks over fees, noting that it’s four months after the official announcement of a German launch.

It’s also true that paying by plastic isn’t always an option in Germany, as cash remains the dominant payment method of choice — also, seemingly, for privacy purposes. So Apple Pay is at least aligned with those concerns.

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Alexa is reported down across Europe

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, austria, computing, engadget, Gadgets, Germany, ireland, Online Music Stores, Publishing, spain, United Kingdom, world wide web | No Comments

Reports are coming in that Amazon’s Alexa service is down in parts of UK, Spain, Germany and Austria. According to Down Detector and Twitter, the problem started surfacing around 8am local time and still continues. Interestingly, some users are reporting the issue is isolated to Echo Dot 2 models and while other Echo devices are still working. Sometimes. Other reports say everything is down. When users try to talk to their Echo devices, Alexa will report an error with connectivity and spin a red ring around the top.

Because of this outage, users will have to use wall switches to turn on lights, press buttons to make coffee and look outside to assess the weather. Sucks. I know.

As Engadget points out in their coverage, the outage could stem from Amazon Web Service issues at the company’s Ireland facility. Amazon is now reporting that those issues have been resolved so there’s a chance Alexa will be coming back online shortly.

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This clever case pops open to protect your phone when you drop it

Posted by | accessories, Gadgets, Germany, hardware, Mobile | No Comments

That moment when you drop your phone and everything stops. You can hear your heart beat — the buzz of the world around you is silenced — all cognition stops — you see as if in slow motion the pirouette of your $700 piece of electronics toward the cement. How will it land? Will you get lucky this time? Or is this it? But if you had this case on it, you’d then see it spring horns and land with a jaunty bounce.

This “active damping” case, a bit like an airbag for your phone, is the brainchild of Philip Frenzel, an engineer at Aalen University in Germany. His idea won the top award from the German Society for Mechatronics, which considered projects from students all over the country, and you can see him explain its genesis in a video here.

Frenzel, like me, doesn’t like compromising his phone’s aesthetic with some ugly protective shell, but he likes even less the shattered countenance that inevitably results from this aesthetic decision.

Why not something that only deploys when the phone is in danger, then? He got to work. The activation mechanism he arrived at early: sensors that detect when the phone is in free fall and activate the next step.

But what was that step? In his tinkering, he initially thought of installing an actual airbag mechanism on the phone. But that, and a foam-based alternative, and a few others, simply didn’t prove practical.

Finally inspiration struck. Instead of something soft, why not something springy? Perhaps… springs.

As you see above, what he arrived at is a set of eight thin metal curls that normally lie flat inside the case. But when released, they pop out and curl up, protecting the edges of the phone from impact and softening the blow considerably compared with a full stop on the concrete.

When you pick up your (hopefully undamaged) phone, you simply fold the springs back into their holsters, priming them for their next deployment.

Of course, there’s the consideration that having these things deploy while the phone is still in your pocket would be at best embarrassing and at worst rather painful. One assumes there are considerations in place for that — tapping into the phone’s proximity sensor, for instance, to see if it’s in a pocket or bag.

Frenzel has already applied for a patent, and even printed T-shirts with a catchy logo. So this thing is practically for sale. Next stop: Kickstarter.

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Babbel founder talks language learning and the challenges of the US market

Posted by | Apps, babbel, Europe, Germany, language learning, Mobile, TC | No Comments

There are plenty of choices out there if you want to learn a new language, but if you’re in Europe, chances are you’ve given Babbel a shot. The app, which started back in 2007 on the web, is celebrating its 10th birthday by expanding to the U.S. — a unique country that has proven a unique challenge for the company and its model.

We chatted with Babbel’s Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder, Thomas Holl, at the company’s headquarters in Berlin. The success of the company was evident in the lively, populous workplace.

But although the app is the top-grossing language learning app in the world, it’s more than possible that many of our readers haven’t encountered it, since it started in Europe and until very recently has stayed there.

It differs from other popular platforms like Duolingo, Holl explained, by focusing on real-world settings like introductions and restaurant interactions.

“I think it’s very practical, and that’s probably the difference to many other solutions out there that have a rather structural approach — we’re always focused on language that you can actually use in real life.”

There’s also something unique about each pair of languages — that is to say, a Mandarin speaker has different challenges learning French than a Spanish speaker. So lessons and progression are specific to each pairing, not just copy-pasted and translated. Babbel touts this as a reason why people learn faster on its platform. (People may feel they need to get their money’s worth as well – it’s a subscription service.)

Expanding to the U.S. has been the company’s main ambition over the last year, but the U.S. is very unlike the tangle of closely-related, multilingual states on that side of the pond. Few people are looking to improve a second or third language in order to advance their careers, Holl pointed out, with a major exception: English learners.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the most popular language to learn in the U.S. is English; we are a country of immigrants, after all, and although we have many communities that speak their native language at home, English is a necessity for getting by.

Babbel has deployed a new type of monolingual course for advanced English learners, essentially a story in English that you fill out as it goes along. The audio portion has the added difficulty of multiple English (and Scottish, and Liverpudlian) accents.

Combined with apps like Blue Canoe, which focuses on pronunciation, English learners are beginning to have a real wealth of resources online.

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