Amazon to hold media event on September 6th, expected to unveil new Kindle models

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Date: Friday, August 24th, 2012, 06:11
Category: Hardware, News

Apple’s not the only company with a nifty tablet out there.

And there’s some cooler stuff on the way.

On Friday, Amazon announced that it will hold a media event on Sept. 6, prompting speculation that the company plans to unveil a new lineup of Kindle tablets and e-readers.

Per AppleInsider, Amazon sent out a cryptic invitation to members of the press that simply reads “Please join us for an Amazon Press Conference.” The event will be held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif.

Amazon is expected to be planning a number of new Kindle devices for launch before the end of the year. New hardware could potentially include multiple new versions of its Kindle Fire touchscreen tablet, as well as new e-ink Kindle readers.

One report from July claimed that Amazon will launch at least three new Kindle Fire models this fall: A version with a 1,024-by-600-pixel display and no camera, a 1,280-by-800 model with a camera, and a 1,280-by-800 version with both a camera and 4G LTE connectivity.

It’s also been suggested that Amazon could continue to sell its existing Kindle Fire at an even lower price point of US$149. The first-generation Kindle Fire was announced in late September of last year, and currently sells for US$199, but now faces strong competition from Google’s identically priced Nexus 7.

The Kindle Fire debuted to a strong start, but demand for the device quickly collapsed, as customer satisfaction with Amazon’s low-priced device was about half that of Apple’s third-generation iPad, according to research from ChangeWave.

Beyond the Kindle lineup, another potential device that Amazon could unveil at its media event is a smartphone. Various reports have suggested that the online retailer is considering building its own smartphone to compete with devices like Apple’s iPhone and handsets that run the Google Android operating system.

Amazon’s Sept. 6 event will come less than a week before Apple is expected to hold its own media briefing to unveil its next-generation iPhone. Rumors have pegged such an event to take place on Sept. 12, with the new iPhone becoming available in the U.S. on Sept. 21.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases OS X 10.8.2 beta to developer community.

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Date: Thursday, August 23rd, 2012, 16:12
Category: News, Software

If you like OS X 10.8.1 (just released today), there’s some interesting stuff en route for OS X 10.8.2.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has provided select developers with a beta release of the next update to Mountain Lion, OS X 10.8.2.

Apple first began soliciting developers on Wednesday, inviting them to be among the first participate in the beta for OS X 10.8.2. Those who accepted the invitation began gaining access to the pre-release beta on Thursday.

The first build of OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.2 is known as Build 12C31A, those familiar with the software indicated. The combo update is available as a 642-megabyte download direct from Apple’s developer website.

Apple has reportedly asked developers to focus their testing on Facebook integration with the beta build of OS X 10.8.2. System-wide Facebook integration is set to publicly launch with a software update to Mountain Lion later this year.

People familiar with the pre-release software also indicated that Apple has asked them to concentrate on Messages, Game Center, Safari and Reminders when testing OS X 10.8.2. The first beta is said to currently have no known issues.

Earlier Thursday, Apple publicly released OS X 10.8.1 for Mountain Lion, less than a month after the operating system update first went on sale via the Mac App Store. That software update provides fixes for iMessage, Migration Assistant, and audio when connected to Thunderbolt displays.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases OS X 10.8.1 update

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Date: Thursday, August 23rd, 2012, 07:29
Category: News, Software

The bug fixes had to come sometime.

On Thursday, Apple released version 10.8.1 of its OS X Mountain Lion operating system. The new version, a 24.2 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

– Resolve an issue that may cause Migration Assistant to unexpectedly quit.

– Improve compatibility when connecting to a Microsoft Exchange server in Mail.

– Address an issue playing audio through a Thunderbolt display.

– Resolve an issue that could prevent iMessages from being sent.

– Address an issue that could cause the system to become unresponsive when using Pinyin input.

– Resolve an issue when connecting to SMB servers with long names.

– Address a issue that may prevent Safari from launching when using a Proxy Automatic Configuration (PAC) file.

– Improve 802.1X authentication with Active Directory credentials.

OS X 10.8.1 requires an Intel-based Mac running OS X 10.8 to install and run, the update itself being attainable by using OS X’s Software Update feature.

If you’ve tried the new operating system and have any feedback, please let us know in the comments.

Verizon blocks employee vacations from September 21 – 30, strengthens new iPhone release date rumors

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Date: Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012, 07:40
Category: iPhone, News

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It seems a bit more likely that you’ll snag the new iPhone on September 21st.

And it seems very likely that a Verizon employee won’t have that day off.

Per TechCrunch, Verizon Wireless employees have reportedly had vacation days blacked out for late September, again hinting that Apple plans to launch its next-generation iPhone on Sept. 21.

Verizon employee vacation dates have been blocked from Friday, Sept. 21 to Friday, Sept. 30, according to a “trusted” employee that spoke with the media. That aligns with previous rumors that the next iPhone will become publicly available in America on Sept. 21.

The week before, on Sept. 12, Apple is widely expected to hold a media event to unveil its sixth-generation iPhone, referred to by many in the media and public as the “iPhone 5.” A Tuesday unveiling followed by a formal product launch the next Friday follows the same timetable as previous Apple iPhone announcements.

Last year, Apple announced the iPhone 4S on Oct. 4, and the device became available in stores over a week later, on Friday, Oct. 14. Preorders began on Oct. 7 last year, but this year Apple is rumored to begin accepting preorders the same day the next iPhone is announced, on Sept. 12.

Anticipation of Apple’s next iPhone continues to build ahead of the expected forthcoming announcement. Recently a number of component leaks have revealed what are believed to be parts from Apple’s next handset.

The new iPhone is expected to have a slightly taller 4-inch screen, as well as a smaller 9-pin dock connector that will replace the legacy 30-pin design that has been around since long before the iPhone. Components have also shown that the headphone jack will be moved to the bottom of the device as part of a major hardware redesign.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent allows potential automatic skipping of commercials for radio, television devices

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Date: Tuesday, August 21st, 2012, 06:23
Category: News, Patents

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This could be interesting.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent that allows users to skip unwanted audio and video broadcast segments such as commercials with on-device content like songs, podcasts or other media, possibly hinting at technology headed to the battle for the living room.

Apple’s aptly titled U.S. Patent No. 8,249,497 for “Seamless switching between radio and local media” describes a system in which a mobile device will automatically switch between broadcast content and stored media to offer the user a type of customized content consumption experience.

With the new patent, a device will allow a user listening to content from a radio station or “non-radio media or content sources” to skip past the sections they aren’t interested in, filling the gap with on-board media instead. Also of interest is that commercials are among the types of content which can be replaced by stored media.

Covered under the invention’s umbrella are broadcasts from a “radio stream provided over any communications network,” while the stored media can include content saved in a device’s memory or from a streaming host device.

From the patent background:
“A user, however, may not be interested in every media item provided as part of a broadcast stream. For example, a user may not like a particular song broadcast by a radio station, or may not like a particular segment of a talk radio station (e.g., the user does not like the topic or guest of the segment). As another example, a user may not be interested in content originally generated by sources other than the media source (e.g., advertisement content). Because the user has no control over the media broadcast, the user can typically only tune to a different media broadcast, or listen to or consume the broadcast content that is not of interest.”

By using metadata from assets like Radio Data System (RDS) data, broadcast listings or published third-party schedules, a device can “determine when an upcoming broadcast segment or media item is not of interest to the user.” When such an event is detected, the device will seamlessly switch to stored media until the unwanted content is completed. Also included as methods of discerning what a user may or may not want to consume are analysis of audio or video from the source, akin to current iOS apps Shazam or IntoNow.

As far as calculating what a user likes or dislikes, the patent employs comparisons of media items to generate a preference profile, much like the system in place with apps like Pandora. For example, a user can “like” or “dislike” a song and the corresponding metadata will then be included in their preference profile. In another embodiment, the device can keep track of a user’s content consumption habits and make guesses as to what they would like in their preference profile. The metadata can be specific media items, such as artists, songs and genres, as well as specific types of media.

After the system identifies that an upcoming segment is outside of the preference profile’s parameters, the device can look for an appropriate replacement from stored media to play instead. The patent notes that a “relevance algorithm” can be used to keep the stored media in line with content from the broadcast stream. To keep the experience consistent, the device can either monitor the broadcast stream to choose an opportune time to switch away from stored media playback, or buffer the broadcast stream for later consumption.

Seemingly, Apple is proposing a way to not only transform radio listening, but also television broadcasts. While not specifically noted in the patent and mentioned here only for purposes of discussion, the system could be tweaked for cable which would lend itself nicely to the set-top box Apple is rumored to be shopping around to U.S. providers. Insiders say the cloud-based device is meant to blur the line between live and on-demand television.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

iPod nano retail stock shortages hint at model refresh come September

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Date: Monday, August 20th, 2012, 12:34
Category: iPod, iPod Nano

When the supplies get short, the new stuff’s en route.

Or that’s the more hopeful school of thought when it comes to being unable to buy the cool thing that you want.

Per 9to5Mac, a number of retailers are running out of stock of the iPod nano. In the US these include major chains like Amazon, Target, Walmart and Best Buy. Amazon and Target are believed to be out of about half of their Nanos, while Walmart has just a few in stock. Outside of the US, Amazon UK is also seeing stock-outs; some retailers do have plenty of units though, including Apple itself and B&H Photo.

Apple is expected to refresh several products at a September 12th event. Like the iPod touch, the Nano is overdue for an update, since it was left essentially unchanged after an event last October. What Apple might have in mind hasn’t emerged in many reports, but one rumor does have the player reverting to a rectangular design. In any case the Nano will probably switch to Apple’s new, smaller dock connector, since space is a particular problem on the device. It measures just 1.61 inches long, 1.48 inches wide, and 0.35 inches thick, including a clip.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple advocates use of iMessage in wake of SMS bug discovery

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Date: Monday, August 20th, 2012, 07:11
Category: iPhone, News, security, Software

Ok, this is going to require a fix.

Following a discovery last week wherein Pod2G uncovered a SMS flaw in iOS that lets someone send a spoofed SMS (in this scenario, the SMS would appear to be from a trusted source, but the response would actually be sent to someone else), the cool cats at Engadget reached out to Apple for comment and received the following reply:

“Apple takes security very seriously. When using iMessage instead of SMS, addresses are verified which protects against these kinds of spoofing attacks. One of the limitations of SMS is that it allows messages to be sent with spoofed addresses to any phone, so we urge customers to be extremely careful if they’re directed to an unknown website or address over SMS.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and with any luck, a fix should be en route soon.

China Unicom may break away from contract sales of iPhone, cites high overhead costs

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Date: Friday, August 17th, 2012, 06:20
Category: iPhone, News

Sometimes contracts don’t work as well as you’d like them to.

Per DigiTimes, China’s Unicom wireless carrier is struggling to benefit from its investment in contract sales of Apple’s latest iPhone models and is reportedly considering a move that would do away with traditional pricing discounts on the handset for customers willing to sign two-year service agreements.

As the only WCDMA carrier in China, China Unicom signed a two-year agreement with Apple back in September of 2010 to offer its iPhone subscribers the handsets at reduced pricing if they agree to 24-month service contracts.

But high overhead costs for the devices themselves, coupled with a need for continued investment in infrastructure to support surging growth and data consumption by iPhone users, has China Unicom mulling a move to end contract bundles of the phone come next month.

Company representatives have stated that China Unicom “has not substantially profited from sales of iPhone 4” and therefore may not re-sign its agreement with Apple to continue sales of the iPhone 4S or a new version of the phone widely expected to make its debut in September.

Though no further details were reported, it appears that the carrier would continue to carry the iPhone but only market it to customers who are willing to pay full retail price for the device.

Although most iPhone carriers offer Apple’s latest device to customers at prices between US$199 and US$399 USD, they actually purchase the phones from Apple at much higher costs, then turn around and subsidize the handsets for customers, banking on recouping the overhead costs and making profits through two-year, high-margin service agreements.

For its part, China Unicom has been amongst the most aggressive with its subsidies, and earlier this year began offering the 16GB iPhone 4S at no cost to customers who sign up for multi-year service contracts for as little as US$45 USD per month.

With more than 125 million subscribers, China Unicom is China’s second-largest cell phone service provider. It’s also the tenth-largest worldwide. But its 3G business has reportedly been a money-losing operation, with high smartphone subsidies — like those required for the iPhone — accounting for 45% of its overhead.

As of January, the average selling price of an iPhone — or the price charged by Apple to carriers — was roughly US$660.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Motion Picture Experts Group releases H.265 draft standard, offers Web-based video at twice the quality, half the data size

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Date: Thursday, August 16th, 2012, 08:10
Category: News, Software

If you think Web-based video is impressive now, wait a bit.

Per AppleInsider, the Motion Pictures Expert Group has issued a new video standards draft that promises to deliver twice the video quality at the same size, or alternatively, identical video quality at half the data rate as today’s MPEG-4 H.264 standard.

The new H.265 draft specifically addresses mobile devices and networks overloaded with video. Products using the new H.265 video compression standard could begin to launch as early as 2013.

Apple is likely to quickly adopt support for the new H.265 specification, just as it has rapidly rolled out support for new features of H.264, including support for expanded H.264 profiles in the new third generation Apple TV and the new iPad.

MPEG, formed by the International Standards Organization in 1988, first developed a joint video compression format in 1993 intended for Video CD. Its video codec, H.261, was used to deliver multimedia video clips. The audio portion of that standard, MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (also known as MP3) revolutionized the portability of music by allowing users to rip CDs to files that could be compressed enough to be used in mobile devices with limited storage.

Apple backed MP3 with the iPod in 2001 at a time when Microsoft and Sony were working to entrench their own proprietary standards with strong DRM (Windows Media and ATRAC, respectively).

MPEG released the MPEG-2 standard in 1994, which enabled high quality DVD and efficient digital TV transmissions. MPEG-2 incorporated the initial H.261 video compression standard as well as a more efficient H.262 and, later, the H.263 ASP codec implemented by DivX and Xvid, popular formats used for video file sharing. Work on an MPEG-3 standard aimed at HDTV was abandoned and folded into the MPEG-2 portfolio.

MPEG-4, initiated in 1998 and released in 2003, merged the television and video industry’s expertise with work pioneered by Apple’s QuickTime on desktop computers, resulting in a video format that incorporated Apple’s QuickTime container format. This helped to simplify video editing tasks, even as Apple began adopting advanced bidirectional compression technologies in QuickTime that had been contributed to the MPEG-4 pool by the rest of the industry.

MPEG-4 carried forward H.263, which Apple hadn’t ever widely used, while also introducing H.264, which enabled a doubling of video quality at the same size as the earlier H.263 codec.

Before MPEG-4, Apple had previously used proprietary video codecs from Sorenson in QuickTime, but rapidly began adopting MPEG standards as the pooled efforts of every major company with video expertise began to quickly outpace the development of alternatives.

Apple helped to popularize MPEG-4’s AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) format as a more efficient replacement for MP3 in iTunes, then brought MPEG-4’s H.264 video compression into the desktop computing mainstream as the default video codec in QuickTime. It is now essentially the only video standard supported by the iPhone and other iOS devices, and H.264 is deeply integrated into the architecture of QuickTime.

While MPEG itself usually refers to its MPEG-4 audio and video standards as AAC and AVC, Steve Jobs introduced the new video standard to the world as H.264, and Apple continued to refer to it by its ITU numerical designation. MPEG is now referring to its newest H.265 standard as “HEVC” (High Efficiency Video Coding).

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple seeds third Mac OS X 10.7.5 beta to developer community

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Date: Thursday, August 16th, 2012, 07:37
Category: News, Software

The nice thing about betas, it means they’re a bit closer to getting somewhere.

Per MacNN, Apple is seeding a third developer beta of OS X 10.7.5 to developers. The code is listed as build 11G36, and as before, has no known issues. Apple is also holding steady on testing focus, asking developers to look at graphics quality and performance, along with media importing, editing, and viewing.

The Mac OS X 10.7.5 update may or may not be the last for OS X Lion, since Mountain Lion has been available for several weeks. Apple is forging new ground with its current development cycle, since it has switched to releasing a new OS every year. As a result, it may end up having to support Lion well into Mountain Lion’s lifespan.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.