Apple TV units moving briskly, no signs of updated models for Q3

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Date: Friday, July 29th, 2011, 10:42
Category: Apple TV, News

Albeit not as popular as some of its other products, the Apple TV unit seems to be achieving moderate success, selling roughly 500,000 units per quarter as the 2011 holiday shopping season approaches.

The latest update to Apple’s US$99 streaming media box arrived last fall and within just a few months went on to sell a million units. Even so, Apple has provided no update on sales of the device. Per AppleInsider, Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo tells has stated that his industry checks indicate the company shipped 480,000 units during the second calendar quarter of the year, representing more than 70% year-over-year growth.

Although Apple continues to see Internet television devices as a nascent category, frequently referring to the Apple TV as a “hobby,” when sales of the device are pit against its peers, the Apple TV appears to be a runaway success.

For instance, Logitech said this week that “very modest sales” of its US$249 Google TV-based Revue set-top-box were exceeded by returns of the product from unhappy customers, prompting the company to slash pricing by 66% to match Apple TV’s US$99 price point.

The move will reportedly cost the device maker some US$34 million in one-time charges as it hopes to “remove price as a barrier to broad consumer adoption.” The failed partnership with Google also contributed to a US$29.6 million loss for Logitech during its fiscal first quarter, prompting the exist of chief executive Gerald P. Quindlen.

Looking ahead to the second half of the year, Kuo said his industry checks have turned up no evidence that Apple plans push a hardware revision to the Apple TV into production during the third quarter. Instead, the Cupertino-based company will reportedly take a more measured approach to advancing the platform in 2011, relying instead on an Apple TV Software Update this fall that will allow devices such as the iPad 2 and upcoming iPhone 5 to beam their content to the big-screen.

The technology, dubbed AirPlay, essentially allows devices equipped with Apple’s A5 processor and the forthcoming iOS 5.0 update to mirror their video content from supporting applications to HDTVs hooked up to an Apple TV. While ideal for sharing video with friends and family, the feature is even more significant for Apple’s encroachment on the gaming market, as it will allow any iOS game developer to offer console-style gaming (demos below) by which the the iPhone or iPad transforms into a wireless controller, equipped with gyro sensors and touch-screen controls.

Even so, Apple continues to struggle with the second prong of its Apple TV strategy: HD video content. Unlike the inaugural Apple TV that offered a trove of archived television content priced between US$2 and US$3 an episode, the company continues to face opposition from networks who feel the new Apple TV’s US$0.99 per episode HD rental model devalues their content, according to people familiar with the matter.

Over the past year, Apple has failed to reach licensing agreements with content producers that would have them join Fox and partner Disney, for which Apple chief executive Steve Jobs is a director and largest individual shareholder, in providing their television content to Apple TV users. As such, Apple is now reportedly in talks to grow its streaming video business through a potential acquisition of Hulu, an ad-supported streaming service that offers video content from NBC, ABC, USA, Bravo, FX, A&E, and numerous other television networks.

“[W]e love the product. It’s clear that customers love the product,” Apple chief operating office Tim Cook said this month of the Apple TV. “We really guided right when we went to the new Apple TV just last fall. But right now, it’s still a hobby status that we’re continuing to invest in it because we think that there is something there.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

MacBook Air examined, found to be using scaled-down Thunderbolt controller

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Date: Friday, July 29th, 2011, 06:28
Category: MacBook Air, News

The new MacBook Air is getting positive feedback and being regarded as nifty.

And the cool nerds at AnandTech found out why.

Per AnandTech, Apple is using a scaled-down “Eagle Ridge” controller chip from Intel instead of the “Light Ridge” chip found in larger Thunderbolt-enabled machines.

Eagle Ridge is available in two form factors (normal and SFF [small form factor]) and is effectively half of a Light Ridge chip. That means you only get two Thunderbolt channels and one DP output. Apple used the small form factor version of Eagle Ridge in its new MacBook Air to cut cost and save on motherboard real estate.

With Eagle Ridge only supporting a single DisplayPort output, MacBook Air users are only able to drive a single external display via the Thunderbolt port, although the machine’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 would also preclude the use of two external monitors on the MacBook Air as it does on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt adoption has thus far been limited to high-end devices in part due to high costs associated with inclusion of the technology. Use of the scaled-down Eagle Ridge controller could help push Thunderbolt into lower-end products, presuming that the smaller chip carries some cost savings for manufacturers.

If you’ve gotten your mitts on a brand new MacBook Air, let us know what you make of it via the comments.

Analyst: Apple unlikely to purchase Barnes & Noble retail chain

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Date: Friday, July 29th, 2011, 06:44
Category: Finance, Rumor

With the recent closing of Borders, the rumor mill’s been in full force with regard to competitor Barnes and Noble.

Responding to a new rumor that Apple is considering a purchase of bookseller Barnes & Noble, one Wall Street analyst has said he doesn’t think such a deal would make much sense for the iPhone maker.

According to AppleInsider, Brian Marshall with Gleacher & Company said in a note to investors on Thursday that he doesn’t think Barnes & Noble is a likely acquisition target for Apple and its US$76 billion cash hoard.

In fact, if Apple’s sole goal was to obtain brick-and-mortar locations, the company would have been better suited to purchase another bookseller, Borders, which has about 400 stores in liquidation.

Marshall said that Barnes & Noble’s real estate footprint is “impressive,” with more than 700 stores totaling 18.4 million square feet of space from an average store footprint of 26,000 square feet. But he also says a potential US$1.5 billion vestment would not be a wise use of Apple’s money.

Apple is currently making an aggressive push in the retail space, and plans to add 30 stores in the September 2011 quarter. Most of Apple’s planned expansion, though, is set to take place internationally, and the vast majority of Barnes & Noble’s retail space is in the U.S.

“We would much prefer to see AAPL use cash for strategic purposes and balance sheet optimization (e.g., acquisition of content rights, dividend initiation, share repurchases, etc.),” Marshall wrote.

The analysis came in response to a story published earlier on Thursday, in which an “unproven source” claimed to have knowledge of negotiations between Apple and Barnes & Noble.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Forthcoming Microsoft Office 2011 update to add support for Mac OS X 10.7 feature base

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Date: Thursday, July 28th, 2011, 12:25
Category: News, Software

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The good news: Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) is out.

The bad news: Not all of Microsoft’s products support all of the Mac OS X 10.7 feature base.

Still, there may be hope on the horizon.

Per the Office for Mac blog, Microsoft has revealed that a forthcoming update for Office for Mac 2011 will add support for new features in Mac OS X 10.7, including versions, auto-save and full-screen.

Pat Fox of the Office for Mac team wrote on the company’s official blog this week that inquiries about those features have been the “most common question” for users of late. The Microsoft team is said to be “working hard with Apple” to enable the features.

“I know your next question will be ‘when?’, and unfortunately I can’t answer that — but it’s likely measured in months not days — just to set expectations,” the post reads.

The news came alongside the release of an update to Communicator for Mac, which addresses an issue related to crashing in Lion. The download is available through Microsoft AutoUpdate.

The company also reiterated that Office for Mac 2004 will not ever work on Lion, because the software was a PowerPC-based product, and Lion no longer includes Rosetta.

“Now would be a great time to upgrade to Office for Mac 2011 if you’re upgrading to Lion!” Fox said.

Office for Mac 2011, the industry’s most popular productivity suite, was released last October, delivering better compatibility with the Windows version of Office and corporate server products. It also features a revised user interface that’s similar to the “ribbon” interface used in Windows.

Those user interface elements are built on Cocoa, the development layer of Mac OS X. And the all-new version of Outlook that shipped with Office for Mac 2011 was also built from the ground-up with Cocoa for the Mac.

File versions, auto-save and full-screen are major features touted as part of the newly released Mac OS X 10.7 Lion operating system. With support for Lion, documents are automatically saved, and multiple versions of the file are stored allowing for Time Machine-like recovery of previous iterations of a file.

The new full-screen support in Lion will bring an iPad-like feel to the operating system, allowing users to concentrate on one task at a time and quickly swipe between full-screen applications with a multi-touch gesture.

Apple’s own competing productivity suite, iLife, was already updated for Lion earlier this month. iWork Update 6 adds support for full-screen mode, resume, auto-save and versions to Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple files patent for flat keyboard technology that would rely on acoustic pulses rather than physical key taps

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Date: Thursday, July 28th, 2011, 02:19
Category: News, Patents

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This could be weird.

But also spiffy.

Per a patent application files with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple has looked into a flat keyboard that would detect acoustic pulses from users’ taps instead of relying on physical key presses.

The patent, entitled “Piezo-based acoustic and capacitive detection,” was published last week and describes an effort solve an issue with touch-sensitive input devices.

“In general, touch-sensitive surface or related input devices may be less reliable in determining a pressed command or intended input when compared with a traditional mechanical keyboard,” the filing read. “For example, some touch screens often require that a user tap on the screen several times before detecting the command.

The Mac maker’s proposed solution is to couple a capacitive touch sensor with a piezoelectric sensor that can detect an “acoustic signature” from user input. That acoustic signature would then be compared to a database of reference acoustic signatures in order to determine where the input occurred.

One embodiment of the invention would entail multiple piezoelectric sensors to track more than one acoustic pulse. Apple also proposes that “tuning features,” such as openings on the surface of the keyboard, could help distinguish various keys by distorting or altering the acoustic signature of taps.

According to the filing, pressure switches and proximity devices could also be utilized to help ensure accurate detection.

Apple suggests that “it may be useful to provide an input device that is flat and has few to no moving pieces, as this may yield a more robust product.” The company also noted that the invention could “take any form of a input-surface input device for a computing system, not just a traditional keyboard layout.

The filing provides for several materials for the keys, such as metal, glass and plastic. In the case of metal or plastic, the keys could be “machined, stamped or micro-perforated” into the surface. For a glass solution, keys can be painted on the surface or “provided as graphics on a display screen located below the glass surface.”

Additionally, keys could be indented or have textural differences that would help users distinguish between keys. Apple suggests that the flat keyboard could include a “haptic or tactile feedback mechanism” that would provide “force, vibration and/or motion” to a user’s fingers or hands in response to pressing on the keyboard surface. The company has, in the past, expressed interest in haptic feedback for touch screens.

Apple filed for the patent on Jan. 20, 2010.

Mushtaq A. Sarwar, Omar Sze Leung, Aleksandar Pance, Brett Bilbrey and Andew Ross Richardson are credited as the inventors.

Rumor: Apple looking to slim down MacBook Pro, move towards lighter/thinner form factor

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Date: Thursday, July 28th, 2011, 02:54
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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The notion of slimming a notebook down and having it sell well seems to be working for the MacBook Air and this may be where the MacBook Pro is headed.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Apple seems likely to completely redesign its MacBook Pro line in favor of a thinner and lighter form factor. A 15-inch Air-like MacBook Pro and a 17-inch model are in the works, sources say, and may be here in time for holiday gift giving.

To get to that leaner form factor, Apple will likely ditch the optical drive (perhaps ultimately signaling the death knell for discs) while integrated SSD storage is also expected. The MacBook Pros have been Apple’s laptop workhorses, so we can also expect the premium laptops to offer more ports, better graphics, and more storage than the MacBook Air–at a more premium price but with the slimmer design.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple looking into long-term plans for solar powered devices

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Date: Wednesday, July 27th, 2011, 08:40
Category: News

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It’s the nifty stuff that’s always down the road a bit…

Per DigiTimes, Apple has reportedly shown continued interest in building solar-powered devices, but the niche market for solar components is said to require more time to mature.

Apple and Samsung are the two companies specifically said to be “evaluating” solar power for their consumer products. Both device makers are alleged to have considered including Taiwan-based solar power component makers in their supply chains.

Citing sources in the Taiwan solar component industry, the report said that the niche market needs more time to develop and expand. Mass production of organic photovoltaic cells is said to remain an issue, and higher efficiency products are still being tested in labs and are not ready for mass production.

“The number of solar cells used is less than rooftop solar systems, hence it is unlikely for solar-powered consumer products to form a solid market in the short term,” the report said.

Samsung plans to release a solar-powered netbook, the NC215S, this August, a first for the company. The report said that the Samsung netbook utilizes a unique-sized solar cell.

A number of companies are said to be working on organic photovoltaic cells, which provide higher efficiency and are largely made with polyethylene terepthalate, or PET. America’s Solarmer and Plextronics, the U.K.’s Konarka, and Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical are all said to be pursuing organic photovoltaic technology.

Over the years in numerous patent applications, Apple has shown interest in adopting solar power in its mobile devices. This January, one such filing described a device with an auxiliary solar cell that would serve as a secondary power source.

Another proposed invention showed an iPod with solar panels placed on both the front and back of the portable media player, giving a large surface area to collect more potential power. Apple’s concept would build solar cells of rigid materials, allowing virtually the entire exterior of the device to be covered in solar cells.

And in 2008, the company presented a concept in which it would sandwich solar panels between the LCD and circuit board of a device. In this way, a product could collect energy through its display while maintaining the aesthetics and size of the product.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Leaked iPhone 5 case schematic shows curved sides, other details

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Date: Wednesday, July 27th, 2011, 02:38
Category: iPhone, Pictures

Interestingly enough, it’s the upcoming cases that tend to provide the most interesting tidbits.

Per UK web site MobileFun.co.uk, a leaked schematic claimed to be for a case for Apple’s anticipated fifth-generation iPhone shows a larger area for the home button, a slightly larger screen, and the return of curved sides like on the iPhone 3GS.

The documents allegedly come from a Chinese case manufacturer and show a design with curved sides, similar to iPhone models released before the current iPhone 4.

On the front, the case appears to have a larger, oval-shaped opening for where the device’s home button would go. That could lend support to rumors from earlier this year that Apple’s next-iPhone would feature a multi-touch “gesture area” in place of the current home button.

That same report also predicted that Apple’s next iPhone would have a slightly larger 3.7-inch edge-to-edge screen. The images that claim to show a so-called “iPhone 5″ case also suggest that the device may have a larger screen.

The photos show the handset’s volume buttons and SIM card slot in the same place, but also show placement of the vibrate switch on the opposite side.

The case also suggests the device will feature an unmoved LED camera flash, which would contradict purported fifth-generation iPhone parts (1, 2), which leaked in May and suggested the camera lens and flash would be moved further apart to improve picture quality. Separating the camera flash and lens can reduce the red-eye effect seen in photographs.

The alleged schematic would contradict other rumors that the next iPhone will have a design largely similar to the current iPhone 4, with one of the biggest changes being a new, higher-resolution 8-megapixel camera and the addition of the A5 processor. Some reports have characterized the device as an “iPhone 4S,” in references to the alleged minor changes.

Though the next iPhone will arrive later than usual this year, reports from Apple’s supply chain have been picking up, indicating that the company is preparing to begin mass production of the next-generation device. Last week, during the company’s quarterly earnings conference call, Apple executives revealed that an unnamed major product transition is in the cards to take place by the end of September.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and let us know what’s on your mind in the comments.

Rumor: Apple developing 15 and 17-inch MacBook Air notebooks

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Date: Wednesday, July 27th, 2011, 02:25
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

With Apple’s new family of MacBook Airs selling like hotcakes, the company is believed to be working to introduce 15- and 17-inch models with a similar minimalist design to capitalize on the trend towards ultra-mobile computing.

Per MacRumors, the notebook is believed to be in the late testing stages, though no further details were provided. It’s therefore unclear at this time whether the device will be marketed under the MacBook Pro brand or arrive as an extension of the MacBook Air line.

A move away from the hefty, optical- and hard disk drive-equipped MacBook Pros and towards a family of notebooks based exclusively on thin, ultra-lightweight designs is something AppleInsider’s sources first began alluding to back in February. At the time, the transition was expected to take between 12 to 18 months.

The latest report may suggest Apple has ambitions of easing the transition by first introducing a 15-inch MacBook Air as an intermediate step. A jump towards an ultra-thin MacBook Pro before year’s end could ultimately prove burdened by too many sacrifices, given that existing technologies and componentry may not allow Apple to deliver a design as thin and lightweight as the existing Airs but powerful enough to replace the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Nevertheless, sources close to the story have said that MacBook Air features such as instant-on, standard SSD drives, slimmer enclosures, and the omission of optical drives should begin making their way to the remainder of Apple’s notebook offerings over the course of the next 12 months.

In similar news, The Unofficial Apple Weblog reports that the site has also heard rumors of an ultra-thin 17-inch Apple notebook and believes both models could potentially turn up ahead of the holiday shopping season under the MacBook Pro moniker.

Apple releases Mac OS X 10.6.8 Supplemental Update, offers final fixes for Snow Leopard operating systems

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Date: Tuesday, July 26th, 2011, 04:19
Category: News, Software

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Apple on Monday issued a recommended “Supplemental Update” for all Macs running Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8 that delivers a handful of final fixes for the previous-generation operating system.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has stated that the update, a 10.2 megabyte download, resolves issues with:

- Transferring personal data, settings, and compatible applications from a Mac running Mac OS X Snow Leopard to a new Mac running Mac OS X Lion.

- Certain network printers that pause print jobs immediately and fail to complete.

- System audio that stops working when using HDMI or optical audio out.

A similar 10.23 megabyte download was released for Snow Leopard Server.

For those Macs that haven’t yet moved to Snow Leopard version 10.6.8, Apple re-released its distributions of that point release with the supplemental fixes baked in:
- Mac OS X 10.6.8 Update v.1.1 (453MB)

- Mac OS X 10.6.8 Update Combo v1.1 (1.09GB)

- Mac OS X Server v10.6.8 Update v1.1 (518MB)

Monday’s releases would appear to be the final updates Apple has planned for the Snow Leopard operating system, with the company having released Mac OS X Lion last Wednesday.

If you’ve tried the updates and noticed any changes, please let us know.