Rumor: Apple to built biometric fingerprint sensor into more expensive iPhone 5S units

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Date: Tuesday, September 10th, 2013, 07:12
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

This is just about the last rumor before Apple hopefully unveils its long-awaited next-gen iPhone(s) today, so here we go.

Per AppleInsider and the Wall Street Journal, sources close to the story last week stated that fingerprint scanners will be built into the “more expensive of two iPhones” Apple plans to announce at a media event on Tuesday, seemingly confirming a long stream of rumors regarding the feature’s inclusion.

The publication speculates that Apple’s entry into the biometric security segment will spark interest from other handset makers to find similar solution. Another source claims at least one smartphone running Google’s Android will incorporate fingerprint security, though it is unknown if the device will be marketed in the U.S.

Apple is expected to field a fingerprint sensor built by AuthenTec, a biometric security firm the Cupertino company purchased for US$356 million in 2012, and plans to place the module under the iPhone’s home button. While other handsets and computers have tried to use fingerprinting methods in the past, Apple’s solution is thought to be much more intuitive and less prone to error.

Instead of swiping a finger across a small sensor strip, the AuthenTec package uses RF field attenuation to map a user’s print. This static means of capture would allow iPhone owners to authenticate by simply pressing the home button as they would when waking the phone from sleep.

Most recently, rumors of a “silver ring” surrounding the “iPhone 5S” home button surfaced, with some claiming the part was added as an aesthetic flourish. AppleInsider, however, reported that Apple’s patent applications suggest the component likely serves a functional purpose in the fingerprint sensor’s design.

All should be revealed at today’s event, which is scheduled to kick off at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: iPhone 5 “silver ring” around Home button could be part of fingerprint reader system

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Date: Monday, September 9th, 2013, 09:20
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

You know that rumored cool “silver ring” that’s been rumored for the upcoming iPhone 5S handset?

It might be part of a fingerprint sensor.

Per AppleInsider and Fox News’ This Week in Tech, reporter Clayton Morris proposed the ring is merely aesthetic, possibly added so users can easily distinguish an iPhone that has a built-in fingerprint sensor from those that do not.

However, given recent patent filings, the metallic ring may be a functional component necessary to the sensor’s operation.

There stands a variety of ways to accomplish biometric fingerprint readings, including the stereotypical “swiping” motion made famous in movies, as well as methods using optical, thermal, pressure and capacitive measurements, among others. AuthenTec, which Apple purchased in 2012 for US$356 million, uses a few different capture methods in its products, though the tech most likely to be used in the iPhone doesn’t involve swiping.

Typical methods of swipe authentication, usually direct capacitance, involve a thin “strip” sensor that captures and stitches together multiple images of a fingerprint as a user sweeps their finger across the sensing plate. With direct capacitance, an electrical field is applied to the sensor, which detects ridges and valleys — the skin structures that form fingerprint whorls — by measuring variations in capacitance at the sensor plate. Lower capacitance denotes skin that is farther from the sensor, or valleys, while higher capacitance is associated with ridges.

A more accurate and robust method of capture is called radio frequency field sensing, or AC capacitance. Like direct capacitive sensing, this technique also measures capacitance of a sort, but the similarities end there. Instead of measuring the effect on an electrical field, a low frequency RF signal is inserted into the finger and received by the sensor. In this case, RF signal strength captured by the pixel traces are measured and the corresponding data is translated to form an image of the print.

Benefits of RF field/AC capacitance sensing include static non-swipe readings, resistance to dust and capability for the sensor to operate even when covered by layers of protective material. These types of sensors are usually larger in size to allow for a wider capture area.

One patent, filed by AuthenTec cofounder Dale R. Setlak and subsequently assigned to Apple, goes into detail about a technology based on mechanics which are very similar to RF field sensing. The property also relates to the company’s “Smart Sensor” — also based on RF field sensing tech — which has been used successfully in at least one phone, the Japan-only Toshiba REGZA T-01D.

As noted in Setlak’s patent, along with other similar inventions credited to his name, electrodes need to be in contact with the finger to pump the drive signal that will ultimately be measured by pixel traces on the pixel plate.

In nearly all RF field sensors, a ring disposed around the sensor array acts as the electrode that drives the low frequency RF signal into the finger, which is attenuated by ridges and valleys in the print and finally captured by AC sensors as a high quality image.

As a type of bonus side effect, the tech can also be used as a form of input. By analyzing slight movements or changes in attenuation over time, the system can interpolate gesture behaviors like scrolling, cursor control and, when combined with a physical or virtual button, drag-and-drop operations.

Embedding this type of package in an iPhone’s home button is likely quite challenging as the part moves up and down constantly, which would put undue wear on the sensing module’s interconnects. It is possible that Apple has found a way to separate the finger ring from the sensor array in order to isolate the integral components from wear and tear. Such a system would also be less apt to fouling or misreadings due to debris.

As for utility, the sensor design wouldn’t force users to swipe the home button to authenticate, but would have the module read the print while a user presses the button to wake the phone from sleep. In other words, the security factor would take place seamlessly. No new gestures to learn, just enhanced functionality, transparent to the user.

It remains wholly unknown if Apple has incorporated this particular fingerprint technology into the next-gen iPhone, though circumstantial evidence seems to point in that very specific direction.

Further, a non-functional aesthetic bezel rimming the home button, which has seen nary a design tweak since the first iPhone launched in 2007, simply to demarcate new biometric capabilities seems to go against Apple’s design sensibilities. When the company introduced a front-facing camera with the iPhone 4, it buried the feature just above the earpiece. No special decorations or embellishments to note that the handset sported FaceTime capabilities.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and be sure to check in tomorrow for coverage of Apple’s September 10th iPhone press event.

Rumor: OS X 10.9 Mavericks to arrive in late October

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Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013, 07:11
Category: Rumor, Software

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You might have to wait until the end of next month to get your mitts on Mavericks.

Per 9to5Mac, despite being announced in early June at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, the next major Mac update, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, may not arrive until late October.

Citing sources with knowledge of Apple’s alleged launch plans, the web site reported on Friday that the debut for Mavericks is nearly two months away. In addition, the site also cited apparent “chatter” that iOS 7 for iPad won’t be available until October as well.

Last year, Apple surprised when it unveiled OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion in February with little fanfare, outside of a typical keynote address. The software then became available in the Mac App Store in late July, or about five months later.

That means this year’s time between announcement and launch of OS X 10.9 Mavericks would actually be shorter than the same window for OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion was in 2012. Still, some had expected that next Mac operating system might launch in the near future, perhaps as soon as Apple’s iPhone media event next week.

Just this week, developers were supplied with the seventh preview build of Mavericks. The latest developer preview includes performance enhancements but still isn’t ready for the public, with features like iCloud Keychain remaining a work in progress.

Apple hasn’t given a specific launch window for Mavericks beyond this fall. When it does launch, it will pack in new features such as iBooks for Mac, Finder Tabs, Apple Maps, App Nap, Compressed Memory, and more.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple TV out of stock on online store, next-gen units possible in near term

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Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013, 06:00
Category: Apple TV, News

When the stock runs out, the new stuff is on its way.

Or that’s what one tends to hope.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has either run out of stock or suspended sales of refurbished Apple TVs through its online store, possibly hinting that a new version of the device is in the offing.

As noted by reader Brian, the Online Apple Store’s refurbished product webpage no longer shows the Apple TV as available for sale. Apple recently cut the price of the refurbished device to US$75 in early August, down from US$85 as seen in the above image.

While it is possible that Apple has simply run out or suspended sales of refurbished units, the timing of the stockout jibes with recent rumors of a possible product refresh. A report on Tuesday noted Apple took receipt of three fairly large shipments from Chinese partner manufacturer BYD Precision in August, the contents of each described as “Set Top Boxes.” The information was discovered in bills of lading from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Until the past few days, there have been little to no rumors regarding a new Apple TV, as most media attention has been focused on an anticipated iPhone lineup refresh. However, Apple has been actively updating the existing set-top streamer’s content, adding channels like Vevo, Disney, Weather and Smithsonian in late August, while a beta of the next Apple TV software released in July was found to have reinstated iTunes purchasing.

Apple last refreshed its Apple TV in March 2012, adding 1080p output to the unit while retaining the prior model’s design.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has scheduled a media event for Sept. 10 which is expected to see the unveiling of new iPhone models. Although mere speculation, it is possible that Apple may be planning to announce a new Apple TV product alongside the handsets.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple to unveil Haswell-based MacBook Pro at September 10th event

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Date: Friday, August 23rd, 2013, 07:02
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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The Haswell-based MacBook Pro you’re hankering for could be unveiled early next month.

Per AppleInsider and EMSone, the highly-anticipated MacBook Pro refresh is said to already be in production, setting the stage for a possible unveiling alongside new iPhones at Apple’s rumored Sept. 10 event.

Taiwanese manufacturers have begun to ship components for new MacBook Pros based on Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell processors to assembly plants, according to a Thursday report by Hong Kong-based supply chain monitor EMSOne.

The Haswell architecture, which made its Apple debut at WWDC 2013 in the MacBook Air, is designed to take advantage of improvements in transistor manufacturing processes to increase power efficiency and computational performance. Like its predecessor Ivy Bridge, Haswell chips are manufactured using a 22-nanometer process.

Apple’s 2013 MacBook Air demonstrated the substantial power savings that can be realized with the new architecture. Despite maintaining the same battery capacity as their 2012 counterparts, the 2013 Airs run significantly longer on a charge – the 13-inch model gained five hours of battery life after the Haswell update, while the 11-inch model gained four hours.

Haswell-based MacBook Pros are expected to see similarly impressive gains in graphics performance. Benchmarks have revealed that we can expect to see Intel’s Iris Pro 5200 GPU — the chipmaker’s top-of-the-line integrated graphics option that is intended to compete with discrete GPUs from nVidia and AMD — in the new models.

The future of non-Retina and hard disk-based MacBook Pros remains unclear. While Apple is not expected to discontinue either model, the report does not specify which variants will benefit from the September refresh.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple begins graphics card program for designated iMacs, looks to replace faulty AMD Radeon HD 6970M units

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Date: Monday, August 19th, 2013, 07:10
Category: Hardware, iMac, News

Check the manufacturing date on your iMac, it may be eligible for a replacement graphics card.

Per AppleInsider, addressing complaints from owners, Apple has decided to institute a replacement program for graphics cards used in specific 27-inch iMac models sold between May 2011 and October 2012.

According to a document on Apple’s Support webpage, the AMD Radeon HD 6970M video cards shipped with certain 27-inch iMac desktop configurations would fail, causing the display to “appear distorted, white or blue with vertical lines.” In some cases, the screen would simply go black.

Models covered in the replacement program include high-end “mid-2011″ 27-inch iMacs with 3.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 or 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processors. The all-in-ones first hit store shelves in May 2011 and remained on sale until the current ultra thin iMacs debuted in October 2012.

Apple will replace failed video cards free of charge for up to three years after the initial purchase date. In addition, people who may have paid for repair or replacement associated with the issue can seek a refund.

Those affected by the issue can take their iMac in for evaluation at the Genius Bar of a local Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider. If those services are unavailable, owners are instructed to call Apple Technical Support for other further options.

If you’ve seen this issue on your end, please let us know in the comments.

CrossOver updated to 12.5

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Date: Tuesday, August 13th, 2013, 10:44
Category: News, Software

You can’t knock an appreciable update.

CrossOver, the popular virtualization program from CodeWeavers, has been updated to version 12.5. The new version, an 84.9 megabyte download, is available as a demo, offers the following fix:

WHAT’S NEW:
- Drag and Drop.

- System Tray Icons in the Mac Menu Bar.

- Shaped windows and transparency.

- Better mouse handling for many games.

- Support for command-tab switching in full-screen mode.

- Better integration with the OS X Dock, and features such as Expose and Spaces.

- Better international keyboard support.

- Improved clipboard (cut and paste) support.

- Support for mice with more than three buttons.

- Fixes for many window ordering problems.

- Force-feedback joysticks are supported.

- Improved input method support for non-Latin characters.

Application Support:
Microsoft Outlook:
- Microsoft Outlook will now maintain its connection when the computer sleeps or the network configuration changes.

- Improved auto-discovery for Exchange account setup.

- Outlook will no longer crash if the Exchange server is unavailable.

- Fixed a crash when editing contacts.

- Right-click to format will now work.

- Improved NTLM authentication – you can now change your password if you have ‘smbpasswd’ installed.

- Improved sharepoint list display in profile.

- Characters can now be inserted from the character palette.

- Fixed printing of calendar items.

- Attachment preview will now work.

- Outlook Today can now be customized.

- Phone numbers now accept a ‘+’ character for international notation.

Microsoft Excel:
- Fixed a crash when copying a worksheet.

- Improved macro support.

- Fixed a problem opening read-only files.

- Fixed garbage when opening xlsx documents.

Quicken:
- Fixed display of help topics in Quicken 2012.

- Fixed a bug in the ‘Change Assumptions’ function of Quicken 2013.

Internet Explorer 7:
- More web sites will now work.

- Fixed a bug which sometimes caused failure during installation.

- Fixed a crash in the print dialog.

World of Tanks:
- Fixed a crash connecting to the server on certain Macs.

- Fixed a crash when zooming in on targets.

Microsoft Office:
- Fixed problems in which drop-down menus could not be dismissed.

- Microsoft Office 2010 Simplified Chinese Edition will now install.

- Fixed a bug which caused Microsoft Office 2007 to fail to install on some machines.

- Fixed an installation conflict between .Net 4.0 and DirectX 9.

- Fixed an installation problem with Microsoft Money 2001.

- Fixed an issue where Microsoft Visio 2010 would not open .vxd files.

- Fixed installation problems with .Net 3.5.

- Fixed graphical glitches in Wizard101.

- Fixed problems with the patcher in Pirate101.

- Fixed a crash on login in Starcraft II.

- Fixed crashes on install of Rift’s Storm Legion expansion.

- Fixed Rift graphics bugs on Nvidia hardware.

- Fixed various errors in ChemSketch 12.

- Fixed a crash in Baseball Mogul 2013 and 2014.

Other Improvements:
- CrossOver 12.5.0 is based on the new stable Wine 1.6 release. This includes innumerable fixes for various Windows applications.

- CrossOver can be configured for compatibility with Windows 7.

CrossOver 12.5 retails for US$59.95 and requires Mac OS X 10.6 and or later and an Intel-based Mac to install and run.

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

Apple purchases Passif semiconductor, move allows access to low-power technologies

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Date: Friday, August 2nd, 2013, 07:23
Category: Hardware, News

applelogo_silver

It was a bit on the subtle side this time, but Apple bought another company for a potentially key asset.

Per Jessica Lessin, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, Apple has purchased Passif Semiconductor, a California communication chip developer that specializes in low-power designs — technology that could be useful in developing a smartwatch-like wearable device.

To date, Passif’s current products have included wireless radios for Bluetooth Low Energy profiles.

It’s unknown how much Apple paid for Passif, but according to Lessin, the iPhone maker attempted to buy the chipmaker years ago “a for a price in the mid-tens-of-millions of dollars.” The company confirmed that the deal took place, but did not divulge any specifics.

The acquisition may be linked to Apple’s rumored “iWatch” development, an anticipated wrist-worn device that is expected to connect with devices like the iPhone while also measuring biometric data for fitness and health purposes.

Apple has also been aggressively hiring personnel from the medical sensor field in an apparent attempt to bolster its team for the rumored “iWatch.” Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities expects such a device to debut in late 2014.

In a rare move, Apple has even openly filed for ownership of the iWatch name in a number of countries around the world.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook revealed in May that his company had at that point acquired 9 companies since October of 2012. He also said that his company had picked up the pace since 2012, when Apple acquired companies at a rate of one every 70 days.

Since Cook’s comments in May, Apple has acquired at least three more companies: In addition to Passif, it bought public transit and navigation firm HopStop, as well as crowdsourced mapping data startup Locationary. While the buyout of Passif will help Apple’s future hardware, the benefits of the Locationary and HopStop purchases will most certainly be seen on the software front, through Apple’s in-house Maps service.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Q3 2013 numbers, cites $35.3 billion in revenue, $6.9 billion profit

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Date: Wednesday, July 24th, 2013, 06:17
Category: Finance, News, retail

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There wasn’t massive growth, but the numbers were still good.

Per Macworld, Apple reported sales of US$35.3 billion, with net profit at US$6.9 billion for its third fiscal quarter. That translated to earnings of US$7.47 per diluted share. Apple’s revenue marked a record for the June quarter, ticking up 1 percent from the $35 billion Apple posted in last year’s third quarter. Still, profits fell 22 percent year-over-year, down from US$8.88 billion in 2012. Apple also reported a drop in profit during its fiscal second quarter of 2013.

With a tiny increase in revenue but a drop in profit, you’d rightly conclude that Apple’s gross margin dropped: For the quarter, it was 36.9 percent, versus 42.8 percent on the year-ago quarter. That’s because Apple’s most popular products now have lower margins than the top-sellers a year ago.

The company also says it has issued US$18.8 billion in cash to shareholders through dividends and buybacks.

While Apple generally keeps a tight lid on future product announcement, company officials did reiterate a point made during its second-quarter earnings announcement in April—that the company plans to roll out new products starting this fall and into the next year. “We are laser-focused and working hard on some amazing new products,” CEO Tim Cook said in an statement accompanying Apple’s earnings announcement.”

Apple says it sold 32.2 million iPhones—a record for the June quarter. That’s up from 26 million iPhones in the year-ago period. For the U.S., iPhone sales rose 51 percent year-over-year, Apple says.

The picture was less rosy for iPad sales, but Apple has a perfectly reasonable explanation for the 14 percent drop in tablet sales from last year’s third quarter. A year ago, Apple introduced the third-generation iPad and enjoyed a full quarter’s worth of sales to the tune of 17 million units. This quarter, sales fell to 14.6 million iPads.

Still, Apple has plenty of reason to remain bullish on the iPad. Company chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer said that the iPad ranked tops in a 2013 U.S. tablet satisfaction survey by JD Power and Associates. And during the quarter, the company inked a deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest district in the U.S., to roll out iPads to 640,000 students.

In fact, the iPad got the bulk of the credit for a strong quarter of sales to U.S. schools. According to Oppenheimer, the last three months generated the highest quarterly revenue ever for Apple’s U.S. education institution business.

Mac sales also fell in the quarter, down 7 percent from last year to 3.8 million units. Still, Oppenheimer pointed out that the 3.8 million Macs sold beat Apple’s own expectations. And Apple’s sales still were ahead of the total PC market, which saw sales contract by 11 percent according to estimates from research firm IDC. By Apple’s math, the Mac gained market share during the quarter.

The Mac was one of the few product lines to see any changes during the quarter, with Apple updating its MacBook Air lineup at the beginning of June by adding new Intel processors. Company executives had little to say about any impact those new laptops had on overall Mac sales, but Oppenheimer did call it the most successful MacBook Air launch to date, adding that customer response was great.

But during the call, executives implied that there were better things to come. Oppenheimer noted that June’s Worldwide Developers Conference included previews of both the Mac Pro and the next version of OS X, code-named Mavericks.

The iTunes Stores—which includes the App Store, Mac App Store, iBookstore, and the music, movies, and TV sections of iTunes—generated $4.3 billion in billings, Oppenheimer said, culminating in the best week and best month ever for App Store. That translated to quarterly revenue of US$2.4 billion, up 29 percent year over year. Total quarterly revenue from iTunes, software, and services generated US$4 billion in revenue.

Oppenheimer said that Apple now has over 320 million iCloud accounts, and 240 million Game Center accounts.

As for brick-and-mortar retail efforts, the Apple Store saw revenue of US$4.1 billion for the quarter, virtually unchanged from the year-ago quarter. Oppenheimer reported that Apple saw 16,000 visitors per store each week.

For the quarter, Apple had an average of 405 stores, with average revenue per store at US$10.1 million, down US$1 million from the year-ago quarter. Apple opened six stores across five countries during the quarter, giving it 408 stores around the globe; 156 of those outlets are outside the U.S.

The company plans to open nine new stores during the September quarter, giving it 27 new openings during the 2013 fiscal year. It’s not just about new stores, however: Apple says that it relocated four of its stores to more appealing spots; it will complete 23 such relocations before the end 2013 fiscal year in September.

Where stockholders are concerned, the company’s Board of Directors has announced another cash dividend, this one at US$3.05 per share of common stock, payable on August 15 to any shareholder as of August 12.

For the next quarter, Apple is predicting revenue between US$34 billion and US$37 billion, with gross margins between 36 and 37 percent. That sales figure would put Apple’s performance in line with the US$36 billion in revenue it reported in the fourth quarter of 2012. For the coming quarter, Apple also predicts operating expenses will be between US$3.9 billion and US$3.95 billion, with a tax rate of 26.5 percent.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple testing larger-screen versions of upcoming iPhone, iPad devices

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Date: Monday, July 22nd, 2013, 06:09
Category: Hardware, iPad, iPhone, Rumor

Maybe there’s money to be made in the larger display market.

Per the Wall Street Journal and 9to5Mac, Apple and its suppliers are reportedly testing versions of the iPad and iPhone with larger displays.

Apple and its Asian component makers are testing larger screens for iPhones and tablets, officials at the company’s suppliers say.

Due to mounting competition from hardware competitors like Samsung, a larger-screened iPhone has long been expected and rumored. However, this is one of the first specific claims for a larger sized iPad. In March of this year, an unverified claim emerged for a 12.9-inch iPad model being in the works with a rather unlikely name. The report pointed to a display “measuring slightly less than 13 inches diagonally.”

A June report claimed that Apple and its suppliers are testing versions of the iPhone with both 4.7-inch and 5.7-inch screens. With Apple likely releasing a new iPhone with the same design as the iPhone 5 later this year, it seems likely that Apple’s 2014 iPhone will include significant design changes. The WSJ report does not specify screen sizes for the future iPhones.

The 2013 iPhone update, likely known as the “iPhone 5S”, will include an improved camera system, better chip, and potentially a slow-motion camera mode and fingerprint sensor.

As for today’s larger iPad claims, as Apple moves forward in its post-PC initiative, and as Mac sales dwindle, larger iPads that could replace more Mac features seem plausible.

In 2012, Apple slightly enlarged the iPhone display size by increasing the screen to 4-inches diagonally. Apple also shrunk the iPad by debuting a 7.9-inch model called the iPad mini.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.