Microsoft purchases Nokia’s Devices and Services division, moves to rearrange executive lineups

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Date: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013, 06:53
Category: News, wireless

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Because it’s fun to buy multi-billion dollar companies.

Per The Mac Observer, Microsoft is buying Nokia’s cell phone business for about US$5 billion and tossing in another US$2.2 billion to license the company’s patents. The deal throws together two big time companies that are struggling to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung, brings Nokia CEO Stephen Elop — a former Microsoft executive — back into the fold, and shows Microsoft is serious about playing in the smartphone game. All this as current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has announced he will step down within 12 months, although now it’s looking like that may come much sooner than he thought.

As part of the €5.44 billion (about US$7.2 billion) deal, Mr. Elop will step down as Nokia’s CEO and take on the roll of Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Devices and Services. Other Nokia executives joining Microsoft include Chris Weber, Jo Harlow, Timo Toikkanen, and Juha Putkiranta.

Microsoft has had limited success in the smartphone market taking on Apple’s iPhone and Google Android-based devices from Samsung and other companies. Nokia threw its weight behind Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform about two years ago, and has since been able to climb above BlackBerry’s marketshare to become a very distant third to iOS and Android-based smartphones.

With Nokia’s Windows-based Lumia smartphone now in Microsoft’s hands, it’s a safe bet that we’ll see a strong push to boost sales. Exactly how Microsoft can go about convincing consumers to start buying the smartphone, however, maybe something of a trick since shoppers haven’t been flocking to the device in droves. So far, consumers are still far more interested in buying iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones.

Whether or not Microsoft can really be successful at its slow-and-steady game this time isn’t, however, a sure thing. Apple and Android smartphone makers hold nearly all of the market share today and aren’t showing any signs of loosening their grips.

Apple is expected to unveil new iPhone models on September 10, and Samsung, HTC and Motorola are churning out new Android-based smartphones as fast as they can. Microsoft has maybe a year ahead of it during during which it will integrate Nokia into its business, plus it’s on the hunt for a new CEO who will need time to settle into the job.

Mr. Ballmer said he plans to step down within 12 months, implying that it may be that long before his replacement is found. Finding a new CEO could take that long, although Microsoft is already on the hunt, and it’s very possible the company just bought their new boss and picked up their own smartphone business as a side bonus.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Leaked internal memo shows Apple blocking AppleCare employees’ vacation time between Sept. 15 – 28, next-gen iPhone, iOS 7 launches cited

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Date: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013, 06:18
Category: iPhone, News, retail

When a company blacks out employee vacation days, they’re up to something.

Per AppleInsider, AppleCare employees have been restricted from taking time off for a two-week period, from Sept. 15 through 28 — a span during which Apple is expected to launch its new iPhone lineup, as well as the revamped iOS 7 mobile operating system.

An internal company document purportedly shows time off available for AppleCare employees for the latter half of September. As can be seen in the calendar, available time off drops off significantly starting Sunday, Sept. 15, and continues through Saturday, Sept. 28.

The image provided shows the calendar being accessed via virtual private network from an internal Apple employee domain. Potentially identifying portions of the picture have been cropped out.

Apple is generally expected to make its new iPhone models available for sale on Friday, Sept. 20, just over a week after the company is gearing up to hold a media event to introduce the new devices. Based on prior years’ release schedules, it’s likely that iOS 7 a few days prior, perhaps on Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Between the debut of new iPhones and the launch of a different-looking operating system in iOS 7, AppleCare telephone support will likely have their hands full. As such, Apple has restricted employee time off for a two-week span covering not only the expected launch, but a full week after.

Developers have had their hands on iOS 7 since the new platform was unveiled at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The platform has a cleaner and more colorful look than its predecessor, with simpler icons and graphics, but it also packs in new features and functionality, such as a revamped Notification Center and quick-access Control Center.

Built-in apps and functions such as Photos, Camera, Weather, Safari, multitasking and Siri also sport new designs that may initially confuse new users once they are prompted to update to iOS 7.

As for hardware, Apple is set to hold an event on Sept. 10 that will focus on the company’s new iPhones. Specifically, Apple is expected to introduce a new high-end “iPhone 5S” with an integrated fingerprint sensor under the home button, as well as a more affordable “iPhone 5C” with a plastic back available in a range of colors.

The iPhone is Apple’s most popular product, and 2013 is expected to be the first time the company launches two new models at the same time, which sets the stage for the company’s biggest product debut ever.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple blocks certain Java plug-ins, goes through security protocols yet again

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Date: Friday, August 30th, 2013, 08:46
Category: News, security, Software

As nifty and useful as Java tends to be, its security nightmares remain.

And you should probably download and install the most recent version possible.

Per The Mac Observer, Apple blocked the Java 6 and Java 7 plug-ins for the third time this year over Mac users on Thursday over more potential security threats. Mac users running versions of Java that are earlier than version 6 update 51 and version 7 update 25 can no longer run Java code on their computer until they update to a newer version.

Apple hasn’t uninstalled Java from user’s Macs, and instead has simply disabled the older versions of the plug-in, which means apps and websites that rely on Java either won’t work or will be partially non-functional. Users running newer versions of the plug-ins aren’t affected.

This isn’t the first time this year Apple has remotely disabled older versions of Java over security-related issues. For Mac owners that don’t actually need Java, you can uninstall it, or at least find out exactly which version is living on your Mac, by following along with TMO’s handy guide.

Apple has taken to remotely disabling older versions of Java on user’s Macs, and will also auto-disable the plug-in when it hasn’t been used for at least 30 days. You can also disable Java yourself in Safari’s preferences.

Apple has stopped maintaining Java on its own and has handed that task off to Oracle, which also happens to be the company that develops the Java platform. Assuming you need Java on your Mac, you can find the latest version at Oracle’s Java website.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple confirms iPhone trade-in program at retail locations, certain Best Buy locations

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Date: Friday, August 30th, 2013, 08:52
Category: iPhone, News, retail

The rumors of an iPhone trade-in program are true.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has confirmed rumors that it has been developing an iPhone trade-in program to be based out of its retail locations, saying that that program will begin rolling out nationwide today.

Rumors of the program surfaced in June of this year when it was reported that Apple had confirmed the program’s existence, as well as its Friday launch. The program will see Apple Store customers able to trade-in an older model iPhone for store credit toward the purchase of a new model.

Notably, the program appears designed to keep current iPhone owners within the iPhone ecosystem. Reports stated that “customer[s] must leave [the] store with [a] new contract” in order to take part in the program.

Shortly after news of Apple’s confirmation broke, the Wall Street Journal reported that the highest value a customer can receive for a trade-in will be US$280.

The confirmation aligns with previous claims as to the program’s nature. Those claims had customers being given a gift card for the value of their trade-in with the requirement that that gift card be used toward the purchase of a new iPhone model.

Further, the gift card is only usable is the purchaser is eligible for a phone upgrade from their selected carrier. Any leftover value can be used for other retail store purchases.

Apple is launching the trade-in program only about a week and a half before it is expected to unveil the next iteration of its bestselling smartphone. A rumored September 10 media event may well see the introduction of both a high-end and low-end model of the new iPhone, and having a trade-in program up and running would likely help draw current iPhone owners back into Apple’s retail stores to grab the newest generation.

Prior reports had the trade-in company being run by Brightstar Corp., the same company that handles trade-ins for AT&T and T-Mobile. Previously, it was expected that Brightstar would resell the units in emerging markets, though some have since disputed such claims.

Apple is not the only firm offering discounts for iPhone trade-ins. Best Buy has its own program going on for Labor Day weekend. That program will see the electronics retailer offering 50 percent off of the on-contract price of an iPhone 5 in exchange for working iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Researcher draws attention to long-standing security vulnerability in OS X operating systems

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Date: Thursday, August 29th, 2013, 10:19
Category: News, security, Software

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After five months, it might be time to fix this sucker…

Per mitre.org and Ars Technica, a unaddressed bug in Apple’s Mac OS X discovered five months ago allows hackers to bypass the usual authentication measures by tweaking specific clock and user timestamp settings, granting near unlimited access to a computer’s files.

While the security flaw has been around for nearly half a year, a new module created by developers of testing software Metasploit makes it easier to exploit the vulnerability in Macs.

The bug revolves around a Unix program called sudo, which allows or disallows users operational access based on privilege levels. Top tier privileges grant access to files belonging to other users’ files, though that level of control is password protected.

Instead of inputting a password, the flaw works around authentication by setting a computer’s clock to Jan. 1, 1970, or what is referred to as the Unix epoch. Unix time starts at zero hours on this date and is the basis for calculations. By resetting a Mac’s clock, as well as the sudo user timestamp, to epoch, time restrictions and privilege limitations can be bypassed.

“The bug is significant because it allows any user-level compromise to become root, which in turn exposes things like clear-text passwords from Keychain and makes it possible for the intruder to install a permanent rootkit,” said H.D. Moore, founder of the open-source Metasploit and chief research officer at security firm Rapid7.

Macs are especially vulnerable to the bug as OS X does not require a password to change these clock settings. As a result, all versions of the operating system from OS X 10.7 to the current 10.8.4 are affected. The same problem exists in Linux builds, but many of those iterations password protect clock changes.

While powerful, the bypass method has limitations. In order to implement changes, an attacker must already be logged in to a Mac with administrator privileges and have run sudo at least once before. As noted by the National Vulnerability Database, the person attempting to gain unauthorized privileges must also have physical or remote access to the target computer.

Apple has yet to respond or issue a patch for the bug.

“I believe Apple should take this more seriously but am not surprised with the slow response given their history of responding to vulnerabilities in the open source tools they package,” Moore said.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple to hold off on next-gen iPad announcement for September 10th media event, more likely to announce new iPhones

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Date: Thursday, August 29th, 2013, 08:32
Category: iPad, iPhone, News

You might have to wait a bit longer for that next-gen iPad you’ve been hankering for.

Per The Loop, there will be “no iPads” at Apple’s upcoming September 10th media event. The keynote is expected to feature Apple’s next-generation iPhones, rumored to be called the “iPhone 5S” and “iPhone 5C.”

The mighty Jim Dalrymple’s comments were provided in response to an earlier media report that had suggested iPads could be introduced at Apple’s Sept. 10 media event. However, Apple has historically kept its iPhone and iPad announcements separate.

Last year, the iPhone 5 was unveiled at a media event in September, while the iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad were introduced to the public in October. It’s likely that Apple will follow a similar schedule this year, and introduce a second-generation iPad mini and redesigned fifth-generation iPad in October, ahead of the holiday shopping season.Jim Dalrymple’s comments assure that there won’t be iPads at Apple’s iPhone-centric Sept. 10 event, but new MacBook Pros with Haswell processors remain a possibility.

The new fifth-generation iPad is expected to feature many of the same design elements as the current iPad mini, including smaller size bezels, a thinner body, and lighter weight. Parts claimed to be for the “iPad 5” have appeared regularly throughout 2013.

As for the iPad mini, it’s expected that Apple’s second-generation 7.9-inch tablet will see an upgraded high-resolution Retina display. There has also been speculation by well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities that Apple could additionally offer a low-cost iPad mini, potentially without a Retina display, to allow the company to hit an even lower price point than the current US$329 entry price.

While Dalrymple’s comments assure that there won’t be any iPads at Apple’s Sept. 10 event, the possibility of new Macs being unveiled at the keynote remains. Most of Apple’s Mac lineup, including the MacBook Pro and iMac, are due for upgrades to Intel’s latest-generation Haswell processors.

The September event is also expected to announce the release date for iOS 7, Apple’s next-generation mobile operating system currently available in beta to developers. If prior release schedules hold again for 2013, iOS 7 will likely become available to the public about a week after the event, while Apple’s next-generation iPhones will be in the hands of customers on Friday, Sept. 20.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple purchases swedish firm AlgoTrim, snags image, video compression assets for mobile devices

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Date: Wednesday, August 28th, 2013, 07:49
Category: Finance, News

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The Apple shopping spree continues.

Per Rapidus.se and TechCrunch, Apple has purchased a Swedish firm called AlgoTrim for an undisclosed price. The small company specializes in image and video, specifically JPEG, compression techniques on mobile devices which allow faster processing of images on power-constrained mobile devices.

AlgoTrim develops advanced solutions for mobile devices within the fields of data compression, mobile imaging and video, and computer graphics.

These solutions are designed to excel in terms of high performance and small memory requirements, making them ideal for mobile devices. Many solutions offered by AlgoTrim are codecs that are the fastest on the market, for example, the lossless codec for general data compression and the imaging codecs.

Apple could use these codecs in its camera and image viewing and manipulation apps on iOS. It is probable that the cost of picking up the company and owning the technology outweighed the cost of licensing the technology over its hundreds of millions of devices. This also could be an “aquihire”.

Apple is no stranger to the Swedish technology market. It picked up Polar Rose in 2010, a face recognition company and C3, a Swedish 3D mapping company in the run up to its Maps product launch. Cupertino has been on a bit of a startup binge lately buying such companies as Embark and Matcha.tv.

Last year, AlgoTrim reported a revenue of US$3.0 million, with an net income before taxes of EUR -1.1 million. Until now, AloTrim has been focused mostly on Android development.

As of now, the acquisition has been confirmed to TechCrunch, Apple offering the following quote:

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple TV update closes security hole, prevents PlexConnect client from working

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Date: Wednesday, August 28th, 2013, 06:56
Category: Apple TV, News

The update didn’t go exactly as planned.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog and MacRumors, the Apple TV update yesterday that added five new channels to the set-top box. However, the also prevents the PlexConnect streaming media client from running on the Apple TV. Released in June, PlexConnect allowed Apple TV users to view stored movies on remote servers right through Apple’s device without a hack. However, with yesterday’s update, PlexConnect has been blocked:

“The client, called PlexConnect, used a hack to get video from the Plex Media Server onto the Apple TV. A small Python program on the Mac intercepted DNS requests from the Movie Trailers app on the Apple TV and instead returned a custom XML feed that delivered a list of media and movie streams to the device.

Now, however, Apple has closed the loophole. Previously, the Trailers app used regular HTTP requests and the PlexConnect app intercepted those requests. Now, the Trailers app uses HTTPS and it is likely impossible for the Plex programmers to overcome it.”

Plex’s developers stated that they’re sorry to hear Apple has blocked PlexConnect and can only hope that Apple will eventually release an official Apple TV SDK so developers can make apps with Apple’s blessing.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Leaked Nuance e-mail to developer community points to September 10th release date for iOS 7

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Date: Tuesday, August 27th, 2013, 07:20
Category: iOS, iPhone, News, Software

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September 10th seems to be the day for iOS 7’s release.

Per Owened and The Verge, an email sent to developers from speech recognition software company Nuance (in this case, those using its SpeechKit 1.4.5 speech services) on Monday suggests iOS 7 could be available to the public on Sept. 10, the same day Apple is widely expected to announce its next-generation iPhone.

Technology from Nuance was recently confirmed to be part of the Siri voice-recognizing assistant, meaning the company works closely with Apple and could be privy to upcoming launch information.

There is, however, some confusion over the email’s use of iOS 7 “GA,” which means general availability, a term often confused with “GM,” or golden master. Traditionally, Apple has released GM versions of iOS to developers alongside a new iPhone’s release, with the GA rolling out a week later.

Apple is expected to announce both a next-generation “iPhone 5S” and a lower-cost “iPhone 5C” at a special event on Sept. 10.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple TV update adds support for Vevo, Disney, Weather Channel and Smithsonian Channel

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Date: Tuesday, August 27th, 2013, 07:41
Category: Apple TV, News, Software

The Apple TV console received several new channels via an update today.

Per AppleInsider, an update released for the set top box added Vevo, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Weather Channel, and content from the Smithsonian Channel.

The launch of new content options on Apple TV comes just days after it was revealed that Apple had inked a deal with Vevo to provide music video content to its HDTV accessory.

Apple has been steadily adding channels to the Apple TV through new dedicated apps throughout 2013. The last major update came in June, when Apple added HBO Go, WatchESPN, Sky News, CrunchyRoll and Qello.

Established programming partners on the Apple TV also include Hulu Plus, Netflix, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, and The Wall Street Journal.

The next major direction for Apple TV may be live and on demand content from cable providers. Apple is said to have been working with Time Warner Cable to provide streaming content to existing cable subscribers without the need to have a dedicated table box.

Tuesday’s update also arrives amidst rumors that Apple is in the process of negotiating directly with content providers for a new product category that may be a realization of the company’s long-rumored television set. It’s been said that Apple has found little success in negotiations with cable providers, prompting the company to turn to the content providers themselves.

The update can be installed by heading to the “General” settings on the Apple TV, then choosing “Software Update” and letting the unit locate, download and install its updated operating system.

One rumor from earlier this month suggested that Apple could announce a new television product of some sort as soon as November. While that product may not be a full-fledged television set, it was said the supposed product is likely to include some sort of enhanced control functionality.

Apple’s future ambitions in the TV space were hinted at with the company’s acquisition of Matcha.tv earlier this month. The small startup company provided a second-screen iOS app connected to various content outlets like cable TV, Internet streams, and digital storefronts.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.