Recent patent hints at possible near-field communication feature in upcoming iPhone handset

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Date: Monday, April 30th, 2012, 06:34
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

It’s the patents that provide the really interesting hints as to what’s to come in a product line.

According to Patently Apple, a new patent suggests that the company will be introducing a near-field communication (NFC) chip into its next-generation iPhone, which will enable users to quickly send iTunes gifts to one another.

The story reports that the ‘Gifting’ feature will allow users to share iTunes files including Playlists, though at a cost. Users could buy, send and receive files from iTunes between multiple iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.

A user could select one or more media files to share with another device, and authorize a gift charge. The gift can then be shared with a second device within close range using the NFC chip’s connection.

Gifts may also be sent via email, for those who are not in close proximity of the device they wish to send files to. This will involve sending en electronic gift certificate that can be redeemed by the recipient. These gift certificates will be capable of sharing multiple files in a single transaction.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel launches Ivy Bridge architecture, includes 3D transistors in hardware

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Date: Monday, April 23rd, 2012, 06:53
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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The day you’ve been waiting for has arrived.

Or at least one of them.

Because really good health-related news or the birth of a new child tends to rank up there as well.

Per MacNN, Intel has officially launched the first wave of its Ivy Bridge processors with a new tri-gate transistor technology, touting the new chips as the “world’s first 22 nanometer product.”

The chipmaker released 13 quad-core processors on Sunday and promised that new dual-core processors will arrive later in the spring. The web site reported that the first batch of chips are from the Core i5 and i7 families.

CEO Paul Otellini said earlier this month that the “bulk” of the initial Ivy Bridge lineup would arrive in desktop PCs. However, Apple is expected to use the new quad-core chips in an update to its MacBook Pro line.

After moving to a 22nm process for Ivy Bridge, Intel boasts 20 percent more performance while using 20 percent less power. Intel PC business chief Kirk Skaugen told the BBC that the launch will be Intel’s “fastest ramp ever.”

“There will be 50% more supply than we had early in the product cycle of our last generation, Sandy Bridge, a year ago. And we’re still constrained based on the amount of demand we’re seeing in the marketplace,” he said.

Ivy Bridge also introduces a transistor technology 11 years in the making. By moving from flat two-dimensional transistors to new three-dimensional “tri-gate transistors,” Intel has managed to improve both performance and energy efficiency with minimal cost increases.

Graphics are a key area of improvement for the new processors. Ivy Bridge supports 4K resolution and will feature as much as a 60 percent performance boost over the current-generation Sandy Bridge chips.

Stay tuned and we’ll bring you additional details (and details of anything Apple-related using the new Ivy Bridge architecture) as soon as it becomes available.

Intel to focus “bulk” of initial Ivy Bridge shipments to desktop market

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Date: Wednesday, April 18th, 2012, 06:39
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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Intel revealed on Tuesday that the first wave of its next-generation Ivy Bridge processors will feature quad-core models, the bulk of which are headed for desktop computers, followed by a second launch of dual-core chips for “mainstream notebooks.”

Per CNET, CEO Paul Otellini relayed the information to investors during a quarterly earnings call on Tuesday.

“The first versions of Ivy Bridge that we’re shipping are quad cores, and then bulk of those are going into desktops,” Otellini said, according to a transcript by Seeking Alpha.

“And then the second launch of the products is in the dual core, which is the mainstream notebooks. So I think that helps put a profile over the course of quarter as well.”

Intel pushed the Ivy Bridge launch back by three weeks in order to “make sure that there was enough inventory in the pipeline,” the company’s CFO said. The chipmaker is expected to launch its first batch of Ivy Bridge chips next week.

Otellini’s comments could still leave room for a MacBook Pro release within the first wave of chips. Apple could potentially obtain enough inventory for initial MacBook Pro shipments even if the “bulk” of Intel’s new processors are headed for desktops. Currently, both the 15-inch and 17-inch versions of the MacBook Pro make use of a quad-core Intel processor, while the 13-inch model has a dual-core processor.

Availability of 15-inch MacBook Pros has been constrained among authorized resellers, often a reliable indicator of an imminent update.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple job listing points to potentially revised power systems for future Macs

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Date: Tuesday, April 17th, 2012, 18:40
Category: Hardware, News

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Sometimes it’s the job listings that prove the most telling.

Per AppleInsider, Apple is looking for a new hire to work closely with Apple’s computer system hardware team for DC-DC power designs integration.

The job listing also makes mention of optimizing power use with “white LED backlight drivers,” related to the LCD screens found on Apple’s iMac and MacBook lineups.

Apple would prefer to hire an employee with a PhD in power electronics. Candidates must have at least 8 years of experience in the field to be considered for the high-level position.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent describes effort to create smoother, “unibody” earbuds through ultrasonic bonding process

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Date: Friday, April 13th, 2012, 07:58
Category: Hardware, Patents

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Your Apple earbuds, they could get better through an ultrasonic bonding process.

Per FreePatentsOnline, a new patent application entitled “Ultrasonically Welded Structures and Methods for Making the Same,” describes how different components could be welded together for a seamless look for the Apple earbuds.

Apple describes the new headphones as having an appearance that they were constructed as “a seamless unibody structure,” even though the earbuds may include two different component pieces welded together.

Combining two different elements in this way may form a weld ring that can be cut, sanded, polished and cleaned. This allows the headphone to appear to be one piece, even though it may actually be a number of connected pieces.

Apple’s desire to build a better set of earbuds was also detailed in a separate application published this week, entitled “Curved Plastic Object and Systems and Methods for Deburring the Same.” It describes building curved plastic objects in the shape of a cap or grill of a headphone or earbud.

The filing notes that holes are needed in earbuds to allow sound to travel, but the creation of those holes can result in remnants in or around them that degrade both the appearance of the device and the acoustic properties of the headphones.

The solution presented in that application is a tool for “deburring” a curved plastic object. The tool could be coated in an abrasive material and would conform to the shape of the curved object, then polish it by vibrating while in contact with the plastic surface.

Both the inner and outer surfaces would be both “deburred” and polished, ensuring that no remnants remain in the holes or on any surface of the headphones.

The ultrasonic welding patent application is credited to Jeff Hayashida, Jonathan Aase, Rico Zorkendorfer, and Evans M. Hankey. Both Hayashida and Aase are also credited with the curved plastic patent application.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Intel to announce Ivy Bridge architecture on April 23rd

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 07:18
Category: Hardware, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News, Processors

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There’s gotta be some truth to this somewhere…

Per DigiTimes, Intel has moved up the announcement of its next-generation Ivy Bridge processors from the original date of April 29 to April 23 as PC makers ready the second generation of ultrabooks, expected to arrive in May.

The publication claimed on Thursday that sources from notebook players had revealed Intel’s change in plans. The launch comes as Asustek, Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard are expected to release Ivy Bridge-powered ultrabooks next month.

Multiple sources have pointed to late April for the Ivy Bridge launch. One report claimed late last month that Intel would announce the new processors between April 22 and April 28 and begin selling them on April 29.

Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pros will likely be the first Macs to feature the new Intel chips. Sources out of the Far East said last month that the updated laptops could arrive by the end of April.

Following the release of its new notebooks, the Cupertino, Calif., company is expected to release updated Ivy Bridge iMacs as early as June or July.

Other hints that Intel is nearly ready to release its Ivy Bridge architecture also came on Thursday when reports surfaced that Intel is shipping its second-generation Thunderbolt controllers for use with Ivy Bridge chips.

Thursday’s report also quoted Intel vice president Kirk Skaugen as saying that ultrabook prices will fall from US$999 to US$699 in the new few months as volume shipments drive costs down. PC makers have been hard at work at reducing the average price of ultrabook laptops in order to better compete against Apple’s MacBook Air.

Intel declared earlier this month that ultrabooks trump the MacBook Air in functionality and value.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Third-generation Apple TV A5 processor studied, second core found

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 07:50
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, News, Processors

This is sort of interesting.

An investigation into the custom A5 chip used in Apple TV has found that the new Application Processor uses both a smaller, more efficient 32nm die process and actually incorporates two cores, one of which is simply turned off.

Per Chipworks, the custom A5 “APL2498″ used in the third generation, 1080p Apple TV has improved upon the 45nm LP CMOS process of the previous A5 “APL0498,” used in both iPad 2 and iPhone 4S last year.

The smaller die size makes the Apple TV’s A5 almost 41 percent smaller than the original part, allowing more chips to be created from a single silicon wafer. That makes producing the part cheaper, and also helps improve performance and lower power consumption (as its components are shrunken down and therefore closer to each other).

In addition to being smaller, Chipworks found that the new version of the A5 actually incorporates two cores. Apple only advertises Apple TV as having a single core chip, so the investigation notes that “either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts.”

By turning off one core, Apple could reduce the power consumption of a device. However, Apple TV lacks the power constraints of battery-powered mobile devices, making it more likely that the company simply developed a smaller, cheaper version of the A5 and is using the dual core rejects to power Apple TV, where one core is sufficient.

Chipworks explains that such “parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements, in this case they could disable the ‘bad’ core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost.”

Chip makers routinely create CPUs and RAM components and test them for the highest speed they can consistently operate at, selling the fastest parts for more and the slower components for less, rated to work at a slower clock speed.

This strategy would allow Apple to use its poorest performing new A5 chips in the US$99 Apple TV, while creating a new supply of fully functional 32nm A5 chips that are faster, smaller and cheaper than last year’s 45nm batch.

Chipworks notes that these chips could either power a new generation of iPhones (or other devices) or help to reduce the cost of existing products such as the iPhone 4S or iPad 2. The latest third generation iPad uses a custom chip Apple calls A5X, which incorporates the same dual ARM cores but delivers quad-core GPUs to drive its Retina Display, with four times the pixels.

Early Ivy Bridge benchmark tests surface, show appreciable improvements in graphics, overall performance

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Date: Wednesday, April 11th, 2012, 11:06
Category: Hardware, MacBook Pro, News

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It’s the benchmarks that make an upcoming technology that much more interesting.

Per CPU World, a series of benchmark tests demonstrates how the much-anticipated Ivy Bridge architecture in the upcoming MacBook Pro notebooks could show fairly significant improvements in performance, particularly in graphics.

The chip being tested was the Core i7-3820QM, a 2.7 GHz processor with turbo speeds up to 3.7 GHz paired with Intel HD 4000 graphics. The chip is scheduled to debut with a price of US$568 in high volume, and seems to be the natural successor to the Sandy Bridge Core i7-2860QM that is the current high-end processor for the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro, available as a build-to-order option.

For benchmarking comparisons, the new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3820QM chip was pitted against a Sandy Bridge Core i7-2960XM, which is an even higher-performance “Extreme” chip than is available in the current MacBook Pro. Consequently, any performance increase between the current high-end MacBook Pro chip and this new Ivy Bridge chip would be even greater than outlined in the benchmarking comparison.

Overall, the 3820QM was found to score an average of 9% higher than the Extreme 2960XM chip, a modest improvement but one which should be significantly higher relative to the 2860QM chip from the current MacBook Pro. Taking into account a roughly 10% higher performance for the tested 2960XM Sandy Bridge processor compared to the 2860QM actually found in the current MacBook Pro, the new 3820QM Ivy Bridge processor should offer roughly 20% higher CPU performance than is currently available in the MacBook Pro.

Looking at the CPU performance, using a few tests, the reduced production process helps the performance for a number of standard tests. In 3DMark Vantage (Entry level preset), Ivy Bridge has a 10% performance improvement over Sandy Bridge for the CPU score, and 9% in the physics score. In Cinebench 11.5, the single thread test showed a performance boost of 4%, and the multi-threaded test gave an improvement of 10%. The performance boost in the Truecrypt 7.0a – AES test was 4%. Finally, using x264 HD Benchmark 4.0, test 1 showed a boost of 13%, and test 2 showed a boost of 11%.

Even more significant gains for the Ivy Bridge chip show up in graphics performance, where the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics supplants the HD 3000 graphics found in the Sandy Bridge chips. According to the benchmarks, the new HD 4000 integrated graphics outperforms the current graphics by anywhere from 32% to 108% depending on the test.

Apple, of course also includes a dedicated graphics chip in its larger MacBook Pro models, giving users the option of higher performance with the dedicated chip or increased battery life with the integrated graphics. And given that the HD 4000 integrated graphics does not yet approach the performance of dedicated chips, those looking for maximum performance will still want to take advantage of whichever dedicated graphics option Apple includes in updated MacBook Pro models.

But significant improvements to integrated graphics performance could show up as a benefit in a number of areas, including providing users with better performance even when opting for the battery-conserving graphics settings. Apple has also reportedly been considering using integrated graphics only in some of its mid-range MacBook Pro models, with the HD 4000 chip making it feasible for the company to drop the dedicated graphics chip on some of those models while still being able to offer acceptable graphics performance.

Finally, the HD 4000 graphics will offer a marked improvement for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is expected to debut in June when Intel rolls out its dual-core Ivy Bridge processors. The smaller 13-inch form factor requires that those models rely solely on integrated graphics, meaning that all users would see a significant boost from the current HD 3000 graphics to the new HD 4000 graphics.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Inventory constraints point towards possibility of new 15-inch MacBook Pro notebook on horizon

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Date: Tuesday, April 10th, 2012, 06:12
Category: Hardware, MacBook Pro, News

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When the current supplies dwindle, interesting things are about to happen.

Per AppleInsider, multiple authorized resellers this week are reflecting stock-outs of 15-inch MacBook Pros, suggesting that Apple is ramping down production of existing models before introducing redesigned offerings that will largely resemble the company’s increasingly popular line of ultra-slim MacBook Airs.

Among those resellers reflecting backorder status on some of the current 15-inch MacBook Pros is J&R, which is now sold out of both the 2.2GHz model, which is listed as “out of stock,” and the 2.4GHz variety, which is currently advertised as “on order.”

In addition, Best Buy has also stopped accepting online orders for the 2.4GHz model for home delivery. The 15-inch notebook is still available on a store-by-store basis, however a quick check of individual store inventory in cities such as Chicago and Austin similarly indicate that between 40 and 60 percent of those shops are similarly reflecting stock outs.

Earlier this week, MacConnection was temporarily out of stock the 2.2GHz model of Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, but the notebook has since come back in stock at the online retailer.

Multiple instances of inventory constraints within Apple’s indirect sales channel are often some of the first signs that the Mac maker is drawing down stock and slowing shipments of existing models before replacing them with materially enhanced offerings. This week’s stock-outs come as Intel is gearing up to launch its Ivy Bridge chips, which have been rumored to begin finding their way into Apple’s Mac product line as early as this month or next.

Apple appears to be planning a staggered overhaul of the MacBook Pro lineup, beginning with an updated 15-inch model, followed by the 13-inch, and ultimately the 17-inch by the end of the year.

Recent rumors have claimed production of the 15-inch model will begin this month with 200,000 units, while production of the new the 13-inch MacBook Pro will occur in June with builds of 400,000 initial units.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is rumored to arrive as soon as this month with Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 Ivy Bridge processors. Reports have suggested Apple’s new notebooks could include Intel’s Core i7-3820QM and Core i7-3720QM models featuring integrated HD 4000 graphics.

There are fewer details on the forthcoming 13-inch MacBook Pro, as one report from March said it was “not clear” if Apple planned to introduce a new MacBook Pro with an entry-level Core i3 Ivy Bridge processor. All of Apple’s current “Pro” laptops feature only higher-end Core i5 and Core i7 processors.

The new MacBook Pros are expected to be noticeably thinner and lighter in design, and will eschew the spinning disc drive to adopt a form factor similar to Apple’s thin-and-light MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro lineup was given a quiet update with faster GPUs and graphics cards last October, while the last major redesign of the lineup came in late 2008.

Separately, in what could be a sign of the end of the Mac Pro desktop line, Amazon is currently out of stock of the 8-core model.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple internally seeding iPhone unit with 1GB of RAM, upgraded iPod touch device

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Date: Monday, April 9th, 2012, 09:48
Category: Hardware, iPod, Rumor

With one iOS device update out of the way for 2012, Apple is working on updates to the iPhone and iPod touch. While these updates are expected, some additional iOS device details have leaked.

Per 9to5Mac, Apple has internally seeded a prototype next-generation iPhone with the iPhone 4 design. The actual next-generation iPhone is specifically said to not include the iPhone 4/4S design, but Apple is testing these new devices in older casings to throw off leaks. The purpose of the prototype iPhone that we heard about is to test a variation of the “A5X” chip in an iPhone. The A5X processor in the new iPad was specifically built to drive the new Retina Display, so that chip wouldn’t make much sense in an iPhone.

Instead, the iPhone prototypes feature a variation of the A5X’s S5L8945X architecture. Like the A5X-powered iPad, these new iPhone prototypes are packing 1GB of RAM. This prototype is labeled N96 internally, so it’s not certain if this internal codename will carry over to the actual next-generation iPhone. Again, this iPhone is an internal-only unit built for testing the performance of a new chip in an iPhone, not an actual phone that Apple will produce.

The iPod touch was an interesting product for Apple last year as it was the only iOS device to not receive internal nor cosmetic changes (save for a new white model). However, it looks like Apple is still interested in the iPod touch and wants a future for it. According to a file inside of an internal iOS 5.1 build, Apple is working on a fifth-generation iPod touch that is labeled iPod 5,1 internally. No specifics have been confirmed regarding the new iPod touch hardware, but the jump from 4,1 (the current internal iPod touch label) to 5,1 indicates major internal changes, at the very least. Perhaps Apple is finally moving to an A5 or A5X-like chip in the iPod touch. After all, the iPod touch is one of the most popular gaming devices on the market, and Apple’s dual-core iOS device processors offer top-of-the-line graphics performance.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.