Amazon counters against Siri, purchases Yap voice recognition startup

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Date: Thursday, November 10th, 2011, 06:08
Category: iPad, iPhone, iPod, News, Software

When in doubt about the competition, roll your own version and see what happens.

As competition between Amazon and Apple in the mobile devices market continues to grow, the online retailer has purchased a voice-to-text company called Yap.

Per The Atlantic, a new filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reveals that Amazon’s acquisition of Yap was completed in September. The filing does not specifically name Amazon, but lists “Dion Acquisition Sub,” headquartered out of an Amazon-owned building in Seattle, Wash.

Yap offered a consumer-level voicemail-to-text service in private beta, but it was the company’s proprietary intellectual property that helped it raise US$6.5 million in venture capital in 2008. Yap is based out of Charlotte, N.C., and the service was discontinued in October following the apparent acquisition by Amazon.

Apple acquired Siri, which previously made an iPhone application, in April of 2010 for a rumored US$200 million. Now found on the iPhone 4S, Siri allows users to speak to it in natural language to gather information or accomplish complex tasks, like composing an e-mail or creating a calendar event.

While the Siri feature is driven by technology acquired by Apple, the iPhone 4S-exclusive voice recognition software is also believed to incorporate intellectual property from Nuance Communications, makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Neither Apple nor Nuance have confirmed that Nuance technology is utilized in Siri.

Amazon’s interest in voice recognition technology comes as the company is prepared to launch its own color touchscreen tablet, the Kindle Fire, which will go on sale next week at a price of US$199, or less than half of Apple’s entry-level US$499 iPad.

While Apple sells devices like the iPhone and iPad with high margins and supports them with an ecosystem of content through iTunes and the App Store, Amazon’s entrance into the portable hardware business with devices like the Kindle Fire employs a very different approach. Instead of making money on hardware sales, Amazon aims to tie customers into its own ecosystem of buying products through its online storefront.

Amazon admitted to investors late last month that the impending launch of the Kindle Fire could pose a threat to its future profits. One estimate issued in September suggested that Amazon is poised to lose US$50 for each Kindle Fire it sells.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Consumer Reports signs off on iPhone 4S, cites antenna issue as resolved

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Date: Wednesday, November 9th, 2011, 07:25
Category: iPhone, News

If you can win over “Consumer Reports”, that’s saying something.

Per Boy Genius Report, Consumer Reports magazine, which stated that it refused to “recommend” the iPhone 4 due to antenna-based issues, on Tuesday proclaimed that the redesigned antenna system on Apple’s iPhone 4S is no longer affected by the dreaded death grip.

“In special reception tests of the iPhone 4S that duplicated those we did on the iPhone 4, the newer phone did not display the same reception flaw, which involves a loss of signal strength when you touch a spot on the phone’s lower left side while you’re in an area with a weak signal,” the independent consumer shopping guide stated on its blog.

While the new antenna allowed the iPhone 4S to score higher than its predecessor in Consumer Reports’ ratings, the improvements still weren’t enough to top Samsung’s Galaxy S II, the LG Thrill or the Motorola DROID BIONIC.

If you have two cents to hurl in regarding the iPhone 4S’ current antenna and its reception, please let us know what’s on your mind via the comments.

Rumor: Adobe to announce cancelation of Flash Player for mobile platforms

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Date: Wednesday, November 9th, 2011, 04:20
Category: iOS, iPad, iPhone, iPod, News, Software

It’s had a good run, but maybe it’s time to move on to something else.

Per ZDNet, Adobe has briefed its employees on the company’s plans to abandon development of Flash player for mobile browsers in a blow to Google Android and Research in Motion PlayBook tablets, according to a new report.

Citing “sources close to Adobe” late Tuesday, ZDNet went on to claim that the company will soon make the following announcement, possibly as early as Wednesday:
“Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores. We will no longer adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations. Some of our source code licensees may opt to continue working on and releasing their own implementations. We will continue to support the current Android and PlayBook configurations with critical bug fixes and security updates.”

Adobe’s partners will reportedly receive an email briefing them on the fact that it is “stopping development on Flash Player for browsers on mobile,” the report continued. The company will instead focus its efforts on mobile applications, desktop content “in and out of browser,” and investments in HTML5.

The rumored announcement can largely be seen as a win for Apple and a loss for Android tablets and the Playbook. Competitors to the iPad and iPhone had originally touted Adobe Flash as a major selling point for their devices over Apple’s mobile offerings, which have eschewed Flash. RIM had highlighted in videos the fact that its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet was Flash-capable.

Making the resource-intensive Flash work for low-power mobile situations has long been a thorn in Adobe’s side. The company has encountered delays as it struggled to streamline Flash to run on mobile processors. Earlier this year, Motorola bragged that its Xoom tablet would come “fully Flash-enabled,” but then went ahead and launched the device without initial Flash support, promising to add it later.

The end of mobile Flash could also be seen as a vindication of Apple’s decision to steer clear of it. The late Steve Jobs famously called out Adobe for its struggles with Flash.

“Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it,” Jobs said in an open letter last April.

“Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”

In recent months, Adobe has moved towards HTML5. For instance, in September, the company announced that its Flash Media Server product would support the delivery of HTML5 video to Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Adobe also unveiled this summer work on an Edge web development tool that will enable creation of Flash-style animations through HTML5.

Adobe’s decision to drop development of mobile Flash comes as the company has initiated a round of layoffs due to restructuring. According to a press release on Tuesday, the software maker is aiming to focus more on “Digital Media and Digital Marketing” and will cut 750 full-time positions in North America and Europe as a result.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Java updates for Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7 operating systems

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Date: Wednesday, November 9th, 2011, 04:27
Category: News, Software

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The fixes, they tend to help.

Late Tuesday, Apple released Java update for Mac OS X 10.6 brings Java SE 5 to 1.6.0_29, providing “improved compatibility, security, and reliability.” The 75.45MB download requires Mac OS X 10.6.4 to install and run.

The company also released Java for OS X Lion Update 1, which updates Java SE 6 to 1.6.0_29 with improved compatibility security and reliability. The download comes in at 62.53MB and requires OS X 10.7 or later to install and run.

Apple has said that the version of Java “that is ported by Apple, and that ships with Mac OS X,” is deprecated. As Apple phases out support, Oracle is expected to step in to maintain Java, which it obtained when it acquired Sun.

The updates can be located, downloaded and installed via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature. If you’ve tried the new versions and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Mozilla releases Firefox 8.0 update

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Date: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 10:02
Category: News, Software

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On Monday, Mozilla.org released version 8.0 of its Firefox web browser. The new version stands as an 28.2 megabyte download offered the following change:

– Add-ons installed by third party programs are now disabled by default.

– Added a one-time add-on selection dialog to manage previously installed add-ons.

– Added Twitter to the search bar.

– Added a preference to load tabs on demand, improving start-up time when windows are restored.

– Improved tab animations when moving, reordering, or detaching tabs.

– Improved performance and memory handling when using.

– Added CORS support for cross-domain textures in WebGL.

– Added support for HTML5 context menus.

– Added support for insertAdjacentHTML.

– Improved CSS hyphen support for many languages.

– Improved WebSocket support.

– Fixed several stability issues.

Firefox 8.0 requires an Intel-based Mac and Mac OS X 10.5 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback, let us know.

Apple Store app hits 2.0, adds in-store pickup, Easy Pay features

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Date: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 07:37
Category: iOS, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, News, retail, Software

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Apple may not make all aspects of your life easier at all times, but they do try to streamline buying more of their products…

Per AppleInsider, Apple has updated its official Apple Store application for iOS, adding the new “Personal Pickup” option, as well as an “Easy Pay” feature, which allows customers to pay for an item on their own, direct from an iPhone, while in a retail store.

The Apple Store application was updated on Tuesday to version 2.0. The free application is a 4.0MB download that requires iOS 4.2 or later to install and run and is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The most significant new features in the update are EasyPay and Personal Pickup. With EasyPay, an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S the user can scan the barcode of an accessory while in a store, and complete the transaction using the same credit card information tied to their Apple ID.

Word of the self-checkout option first surfaced last week, and accurately revealed that the option would only apply to accessories and items found on the shelf. Users cannot complete a self-checkout with more expensive items that are kept in Apple’s retail stockrooms, including the iPhone, iPad, iPods or Macs.

The updated Apple Store application also features a built-in Personal Pickup feature. With the software, users can buy an item on their iOS device, and then pick it up in a store in less than an hour if it is in stock.

Apple began offering an in-store pickup option on its website last month with a trial that began in San Francisco, Calif., and quickly spread to New York City stores. The in-store pickup option is currently available in the U.S. only.

The full list of new features included in version 2.0 of the Apple Store iOS application are included below:

Personal Pickup: Buy in the app and choose to pick up your order at any Apple Retail Store. Most in-stock orders are available for pickup within an hour. (U.S. only)

EasyPay: Purchase select accessories in store quickly by scanning the barcode and completing your transaction right in the app. (U.S. only, requires iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S)

Track your stuff: View the status of current and previous orders from the order status section in the More tab.

If you’ve tried the new app and its features and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Security researcher Charlie Miller outs iOS code signing flaw, security hole

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Date: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 05:46
Category: iOS, News, security, Software

It’s hard to say if it’s discouraging to see the iOS get spotted on assorted security failures or reassuring to see that security experts manage to notice these and bring them to the public’s attention.

According to Forbes, Mac hacker and researcher Charlie Miller has reportedly found a way to sneak malware into the App Store and subsequently onto any iOS device by exploiting a flaw in Apple’s restrictions on code signing, allowing the malware to steal user data and take control of certain iOS functions.

Miller explains that code signing restrictions allow only Apple’s approved commands to run in an iOS device’s memory, and submitted apps that violate these rules are not allowed on the App Store. However, he has found a method to bypass Apple’s security by exploiting a bug in iOS code signing that allows an app to download new unapproved commands from a remote computer.

“Now you could have a program in the App Store like Angry Birds that can run new code on your phone that Apple never had a chance to check,” Miller said. “With this bug, you can’t be assured of anything you download from the App Store behaving nicely.”

The flaw was introduced when Apple released iOS 4.3, which increased browser speed by allowing javascript code from the internet to run on a much deeper level in a device’s memory than in previous iterations of the OS. Miller realized that in exchange for speed, Apple created a new exception for the web browser to run unapproved code. The researcher soon found a bug that allowed him to expand the flawed code beyond the browser, integrating it into apps downloaded from the App Store.

Miller created a proof-of-concept app called “Instastock” to showcase the vulnerability, which was submitted to and approved by Apple to be distributed via the App Store. The simple program appears to be an innocuous stock ticker, but it can leverage the code signing bug to communicate with Miller’s server to pull unauthorized commands onto the affected device. From there the program has the ability to send back user data including address book contacts, photos and other files, as well as initiate certain iOS functions like vibrating alerts.

The app has since been pulled and according to his Twitter account, Miller has reportedly been banned from the App Store and kicked out of the iOS Developer Program.

Miller, a former NSA analyst who now works for computer security firm Accuvant, is a prominent Apple researcher who previously exposed the MacBook battery vulnerability and a security hole in the mobile version of Safari.

The researcher has refused to publicly reveal the exploit, reportedly giving Apple time to come up with a fix, though he will announce the specifics at the SysCan conference in Taiwan next week.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Hackers unlock hidden panorama camera mode in iOS 5, post instructions on accessing it

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Date: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 05:19
Category: iPhone, News, security

It’s the hidden features that tend to make a gadget that much cooler.

Per iDownloadBlog, a group of hackers have discovered a hidden panorama mode embedded within Apple’s Camera application on iOS 5, though the feature does not appear to be completed.

iOS hacker Conrad Kramer, who goes by the alias Conradev, revealed via a tweet on Monday that he had discovered a way to enable the hidden Panorama mode within Apple’s own app, as noted by iDownloadBlog. The feature, which appears to be in ongoing development by Apple, offers settings for a grid and HDR when creating a panorama photo.

According to Kramer, the mode is activated by setting the “EnableFirebreak” key to YES in a preference file within the mobile operating system.

Fellow jailbreak hacker Grant Paul, also known as Chpwn, posted screenshots and examples of the panorama mode. He also announced that a tweak enabling the feature has been submitted to the Cydia application storefront for jailbroken iPhones and should arrive sometime on Tuesday.

‘Jailbreaking’ is a process that opens up an iOS device to run unauthorized code and applications. Though the U.S. government has legalized the procedure, it does still void Apple’s warranty.

With the release of the iPhone 4S, iCloud and iOS 5 last month, jailbreak hackers have been kept busy. Paul recently publicized a tweak that brought limited Siri voice assistant functionality to the iPhone 4 and the fourth-generation iPod touch. Siri is currently only officially available on Apple’s new iPhone 4S.

In addition, a “hidden” Drop Box-like syncing feature was discovered last week in Mac OS X Lion that can be used to sync files across multiple Macs.

In August, notorious jailbreak hacker “Comex” revealed that he would be starting an internship with Apple. It is not immediately clear whether he is working specifically on iOS security, but some have speculated that the iPhone maker will put him to use on locking down its software.

If you’ve tried the panorama hack and have any feedback about it, please let us know in the comments.

AT&T offers revised timeline for T-Mobile merger

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Date: Monday, November 7th, 2011, 13:47
Category: Finance, iPhone, News

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Sometimes you’ve just got to wait for your gigantic telecom merger to take place.

Per Macworld, AT&T has pushed back the expected date of its proposed US$39 billion merger with T-Mobile USA, saying now that the deal will close in the first half of 2012.

When it announced the deal in April, AT&T said it expected to get regulatory approval within 12 months. But a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice and seven states, filed on Aug. 31, made that forecast unrealistic. The suit isn’t even scheduled to go to trial until Feb. 13, 2012.

AT&T laid out the new timeline in a document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

The DOJ has argued that the merger would raise prices and stifle innovation by eliminating a low-price competitor. AT&T’s plans have also come under attack from some consumer groups and from Sprint Nextel and C-Spire Wireless, a smaller mobile operator. Earlier this week, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit by Sprint and C-Spire to go forward. Those carriers argue that the merger would make it harder for them to acquire new types of handsets because of exclusive deals that a combined AT&T and T-Mobile could make.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple may incorporate dual-LED light bars for iPad 3’s boosted screen resolution

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Date: Monday, November 7th, 2011, 08:11
Category: iPad, Rumor

The iPad 3: It could be nifty.

Per DigiTimes, with Apple’s next-generation iPad expected to adopt much higher resolution displays, the electronics maker and its component suppliers are reportedly challenged with designing new backlight solutions capable of maintaining the tablet’s existing level of brightness with the higher density panels.

Citing sources within Apple’s Taiwanese supply chain, DigiTimes claims that the single LED back-light bar designed for the iPad 2’s 1024 x 768 resolution display is insufficient for maintaining and strengthening the brightness of the iPad 3’s planned upgraded to a double pixel density “Retina Display” long rumored to be in the ballpark of 2048 by 1536 pixels.

As such, LED back-light unit (BLU) vendors have reportedly pitched two alternative solutions to the Cupertino-based company, including a new design that maintains a single-bar form factor but with two LED chips nestled inside.

Apple, however, is said to be leading towards a second option that proposes using dual-LED light bars inside the iPad 3 — one on the left and one on the right — now that the BLU makers have reportedly conquered initial design glitches that created heat dissipation and battery consumption problems earlier in their development.

Difficulty with the higher resolution displays and new LED backlight design is already reported to have “affected the launch schedule” of the iPad 3. Still, necessary components for the tablet’s production have been arriving at Apple’s overseas manufacturing facilities since the end of October, as Apple reportedly aspires to pre-construct roughly 2 million of the new tablets by the end of December in anticipation of a launch in March of 2012.

In addition to the higher resolution displays, the next iPad is also rumored to adopt a quad-core A6 processor based on either Samsung’s or TSMC’s 28-nanometer processing technology. Other rumored enhancements include a redesigned, smaller dock connector that will allow Apple to continue to shave down the tablet’s thickness, and a thinner, lighter battery pack meeting CTIA IEE 1625 standard for better quality and safety reliability that will reportedly offer a longer service life than the battery found in the iPad 2.

If sources are to be believed, the company as of last week had still yet to sign off on a finalized design for the new tablet that will ultimately be sent to mass production. Instead, it’s reportedly been developing two next-generation designs — code-named “J1″ and “J2″ — that each sport slightly different sizes, specifications and technologies.

According to one report, the J2 project is a more ambitious upgraded to the iPad 2 than the J1 project and Apple will “likely to make the final decision” on which model to mass produce based on “its needs” and intelligence on what rival tablet makers will be capable of producing come early next year.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.