Apple releases iOS 5.1 beta 3, areas of improvement still hazy

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Date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2012, 04:42
Category: iPhone, News, Software

It’s not as specific as you might like it to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Per AppleInsider, Apple on Monday supplied developers with a new pre-release build of its mobile operating system in the form of iOS 5.1 beta 3.

Little is known so far about the latest beta, which was issued to test devices as an over-the-air update. iOS 5.1 beta 1 is not yet available to developers as a direct download from Apple, and as such, there aren’t yet any release notes.

The second beta of iOS 5.1 came a month ago, and gave developers the ability to delete individual Photo Stream pictures. In current, public versions of iOS, users cannot delete individual Photo Stream pictures, and must turn off the Photo Stream feature entirely if they do not want a picture to be stored on Apple’s servers.

iOS 5.1 beta 3 is compatible with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 2, iPad, and third- and fourth-generation iPod touch.

The first beta of iOS 5.1 was provided to developers in late November. It included references to a next-generation iPhone, labeled “iPhone5,1,” as well as third-generation iPad models, “iPad3,2” and “iPad3,3.”

If you’ve received the new beta and have any feedback to offer, let us know what you think in the comments.

Intel demonstrates Near-Field Communications on upcoming Ivy Bridge notebook architecture

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Date: Monday, January 9th, 2012, 10:49
Category: Accessory, Hardware, wireless

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This could prove spiffy.

Per Engadget and its CES coverage, Intel executive Mooly Eden has just confirmed that the company’s forthcoming Ivy Bridge chips will support Near-Field Communications (NFC), as demoed in a transaction involving a laptop and PayPass-enabled MasterCard.

NFC technology has yet to be truly demoed as incorporated into notebooks and it’ll be interesting to see which companies and developers pick up on this as well as whether this will find its way into upcoming Apple notebooks.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Belkin to release Thunderbolt Express Dock this September for $299

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Date: Monday, January 9th, 2012, 10:17
Category: Accessory, News

Give it time and the spiffy peripherals eventually show up on the market.

Per AppleInsider, Belkin on Monday introduced its new Thunderbolt Express Dock, which will allow users to connect multiple devices to their Mac with one Thunderbolt cable when it arrives in September for US$299.

Though it won’t be available until later this year, the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock will be on display at the company’s booth at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev. The dock will enable Thunderbolt-equipped Macs to access multiple desktop peripherals with just one cable.

“People purchase MacBook Airs and Ultrabooks for ultimate portability, but constantly plugging-in and unplugging numerous cable-connected peripherals is an annoying and time consuming ordeal,” said Martin Avilla, general manager of Belkin’s Core Business Unit. “The Thunderbolt Express Dock provides a much-needed solution that creates a cleaner, faster, more productive workspace and reliable connectivity to desktop devices and the Internet.”



Highlighted features of the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock are:
– Quickly connects into a desktop workstation and instantly accesses multiple devices with a single cable.

– Adds reliable, gigabit Ethernet connectivity to your notebook.

– Includes three USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire 800 port, one HDMI port, one 3.5mm Audio port, one gigabit Ethernet port and two Thunderbolt ports (one upstream and one downstream) for daisy-chaining to another Thunderbolt compatible device.

– Utilizes Thunderbolt Technology for data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps bi-directionally.

For now, Mac users looking to use Thunderbolt for a simplified docking solution can use Apple’s Thunderbolt Display, which allows users to plug in one 10Gbps Thunderbolt cable that can drive multiple devices with its high bandwidth capacity. The Thunderbolt display serves as a docking station in addition to a monitor, and packs three USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port and a Thunderbolt port for daisy chaining up to five additional Thunderbolt devices.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

China Unicom customers can snag free iPhone 4S handset after signing multi-year contract

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Date: Friday, January 6th, 2012, 09:11
Category: iPhone, News

Incentives are always a good thing.

Apple’s carrier partner in China is offering an aggressive promotion in which customers can get a brand new iPhone 4S for free if they sign a multi-year service contract.

Per Bloomberg, customers can pay as little as 286 yuan, or US$45 per month, for the plan to get a free iPhone 4S. The promotion will begin Friday, Jan. 13, which is the day the iPhone 4S will go on sale in mainland China and 21 other countries.

China Unicom subscribers can get a free 32-gigabyte iPhone 4S with a three-year service contract. And the 16GB model is available free for those who agree to a two-year contract.

The iPhone has already proven to be costly for China Unicom, as the carrier saw its 3G-related cost increase nearly fourfold in the first half of 2011. Some analysts believe the carrier’s heavy iPhone 4S subsidy will only accelerate those costs.

China Unicom’s 3G business has been a money-losing operation for the carrier through the first six months of 2011. Subsidies of smartphones reportedly accounted for 45 percent of the 3G service costs.

The subsidies being offered by China Unicom are much more aggressive than other carriers across the world. For example, in the U.S., customers on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon can get a 16GB iPhone 4S for US$199 with a new two-year plan, while the 32GB model is US$299 and 64GB is US$399.

Customers in the U.S. and some other countries to have an option for a free handset in the form of the iPhone 3GS, which was first released in 2009. That promotion started with the release of the iPhone 4S in October.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple to ship iPad 3 in March, iPad 4 in October

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Date: Friday, January 6th, 2012, 07:20
Category: iPad, Rumor

It’s the rumors that make technology interesting.

Per DigiTimes, component makers in Taiwan have stated that the so-called “iPad 3” will launch in March with a high-resolution Retina Display, like is found on the iPhone and iPod touch. That will be followed by an “iPad 4” with “killer applications” set to launch in October.

The report claimed that Apple is planning to launch the fourth iPad quickly in October to counter a rumored Google-branded tablet as well as touchscreen devices running Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. The Taiwanese industry publication said the fourth iPad will feature “much upgraded hardware specifications and integrated applications so as to compete with an array of Android-, Wintel- or WoA (Windows on ARM)-based tablet PCs to be released in the fourth quarter.”

As for the third-generation iPad, the report said it will feature a QXGA display with a resolution of 1,536-by-2,048 pixels. It will also sport longer battery life, but reportedly “may not be so amazing as expected.”

Finally, the publication also reiterated belief that Apple will continue to sell the current iPad 2, but will drop its price to US$399, much like Apple currently does with older iPhone models. Such a move is believed to be in an effort to counter lower priced tablets that are available, such as the Kindle Fire for US$199.

Of course, Friday’s report should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism, as similar rumors surfaced numerous occasions last year that Apple planned to launch a third-generation iPad in 2011. That, of course, never came to be, and Apple stayed true to its promise of 2011 being the “Year of iPad 2.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Claims deadline approaches for MagSafe power adapter owners

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Date: Thursday, January 5th, 2012, 08:02
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, News

If you have a MagSafe power connector for your MacBook or MacBook Pro, there’s only so much time left to make your claim under the class action settlement relating to problems with the adapter. The lawsuit was settled by Apple in November 2011.

Per The Apple Core, he problem with the early MagSafe was a week sleeve. Of course, the cable bent and the wires inside the plastic sleeve could become frayed and pull out. This posed a fire hazard and many customers replaced the units. Apple settled, but of course, “the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing.”

Owners of MacBooks and MacBook Pros can receive various cash payments covering the purchase of replacements adapters within the first three years following the initial purchase of the computer. The amount of the cash payments vary depending on when the replacement adapter was purchased.

The FAQ page for the settlement is here and the timeline page is here. The date to object to the suit and to exclude oneself from the suit just passed. The site says that March 21, 2012 is the due date for the sending of claim forms, which can be downloaded from the site.

If you have two cents to throw in or your own MagSafe power adapter story, please let us know what’s on your mind in the comments.

Apple patent towards HDTV design with additional backlighting features

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Date: Thursday, January 5th, 2012, 08:51
Category: News, Patents

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This could turn into something pretty cool.

Per Free Patents Online, Apple is looking into building displays with dynamic backlight adaptation for better picture quality, particularly when watching letterboxed widescreen movies on a high-definition screen.

The concept was revealed this week in a new Apple patent application discovered by AppleInsider. The filing, entitled “Dynamic Backlight Adaptation for Black Bars with Subtitles,” focuses on improving picture quality when watching letterboxed content, like Hollywood movies, on an LCD display.

The application was filed just months ago, in September of 2011, and comes as rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set continue to build. One report this week claimed that Apple design chief Jonathan Ive has a 50-inch prototype set located in his secure work studio at the company’s corporate headquarters.

A common problem with LCD displays is the ability to show “true” black colors on the screen. This becomes amplified when black bars are included in a video, such as when watching a letterboxed film. The difficulty of adjusting the backlight properly when the black bars are present can result in poorer quality of the remainder of the video.

Even though modern television sets are built with widescreen 16-by-9 aspect ratios, Blu-ray and DVD films, as well as those sold on iTunes, often show movies in an even wider format, leaving black bars at the top and bottom. For example, many movies are shot in Panavision’s 2.35:1 ratio.

“Many video images are encoded with black bars, e.g., non-picture portions of the video images,” the filing reads. “These non-picture portions complicate the analysis of the brightness of the video images, and therefore can create problems when determining the trade-off between the brightness of the video signals and the intensity setting of the light source. Moreover, these non-picture portions can also produce visual artifacts, which can degrade the overall user experience.”

Further complicating picture quality and brightness is the fact that users can often view subtitles in the black bars located at the top and bottom of a widescreen film. This makes it even more difficult for the system to dynamically adjust and ensure the highest level of quality.

Apple’s solution is a complex processing system that could “spatially vary visual information” on a display. This would dynamically adjust the backlight source on a screen, like a high-definition television set, in a way that would improve the picture quality.

The display would have multiple brightness settings for its backlight based on the processing of the image. For example, the “picture portion” of the screen would be illuminated by LED backlighting to an appropriate level, whereas the “non-picture portion,” which would include the black bars, would have a different backlight setting.

The application describes an “extraction circuit” included in the display, which would calculate a brightness metric associated with the video signal. Then an “analysis circuit” would analyze and identify specific subsets of a video, like black bars that are shown when watching a movie.

The display would also include an “intensity circuit” that would determine the ideal intensity of the light source that illuminates the LCD display. The system could also employ a mapping function to determine optimum quality by using features like a “distortion metric” to limit image distortion.

Apple’s system could also process the video signal in advance and synchronize the intensity of the light source based on the image currently being displayed.

“The system determines the intensity setting of the light source on an image-by-image basis for the sequence of video images, where the intensity of the given video image is based on the brightness setting and/or brightness information contained in the video signals associated with the given image,” the filing reads. “Then, the system synchronizes the intensity of the setting of the light source with the current video image to be displayed.”

The filing, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is credited to inventors Ulrich T. Barnhoefer, Wei H. Yao, Wei Chen, Barry J. Corlett, and Jean-didier Allegrucci.

Though rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set have persisted for years, they picked up once again late last year, when it was revealed that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his biographer that he had “cracked’ the secret to building an integrated, easy-to-use television set.

“It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine,” Jobs said, prompting speculation that an Apple-branded television would use Siri, Apple’s voice control software featured on the iPhone 4S, as its primary input method.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple may leave iPhone 4S call drop bug in final build of iOS 5.1

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Date: Wednesday, January 4th, 2012, 04:16
Category: iPhone, News, Software

Sometimes the bugs tend to stick around.

Per GigaOM and a 109-page thread on the Apple Support Communites forum, the problem cropped up when the iPhone 4S was launched in November 2011 only to remain unfixed when iOS 5.0.1 was released a month later to deal with battery life complaints, and a look at the new build of an update seeded to developers shows that the audio issues will likely remain unresolved.

The issue was first identified when a number of Apple Community forum members began to complain that the audio on their iPhone 4S was intermittently failing when placing calls, forcing them to hang up and dial again. Interestingly, recipients on the other end were unaffected and could reportedly hear the iPhone user who originated the call.

The reports are fairly widespread as the Apple forum thread alone is still very active and now has well over 1,600 replies. Some are reporting a 1 in 10 audio failure rate, while others are seeing multiple back-to-back calls experiencing the problem.

It is unclear what is to blame for the audio failure, and although most calls go through without a problem, some users have reported the issue becoming bad enough that they needed to reboot their device.

Some forum members posit that the iOS software is to blame as the problem is not exclusive to the 4S and has been seen on previous generation iPhone 4 models running iOS 5. Others suggest the issue arises from new hardware in the 4S and its inability to communicate with carriers’ networks.

Affected users were hoping that the issue would be resolved when iOS 5.0.1 was released, though it seems that the problem remains. The newest build of the iOS, now in the hands of developers, also reportedly doesn’t address the situation.

Although no conclusive solution has been found for “Audiogate,” as some forum members have taken to calling it, workarounds have been found and include using a bluetooth headset, placing the call through Siri and completing a full restore of handset software.

Apple has yet to make any official statement regarding the matter.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Nintendo to create Wii U app store, work to draw business from iOS App Store

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Date: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012, 10:05
Category: iOS, Rumor, Software

You know all those nifty profits Apple seems to be making from the App Store? Nintendo might want some of it for itself.

Quickly coming on the heels of talk of a full Wii U app store is a rumor late Monday of Nintendo actively courting iOS developers. The gaming giant was said by a developer talking to Forget the Box to be offering “assistance” porting apps for Apple’s platform to the Wii U. The titles would by necessity played on the controller’s 6.2-inch touchscreen.

Per Forget the Box, Nintendo may also be dipping into e-reading on its mobile devices for the first time, the source said. It would make e-reading catalog with books, comics, magazines, and other periodicals. The aim would be to let owners read even when the TV is occupied, since the ultra-wideband wireless controller would let users treat the Wii U controller as a tablet while within range.

To stand out, Nintendo would bring some of its own content into the fray. Every issue of Nintendo Power ever released would be available, as well as its Players Guides and manuals for Virtual Console games. Titles would be available on both the Wii U and the 3DS, presumably taking advantage of the 3DS’ second screen for extra reading space.

All of this remains a rumor, but combined with talk of an app store point to Nintendo hoping to get away from its reputation solely as a child-oriented game system developer. Both Microsoft and Sony have made their systems media hubs with access to several or more music and video services and, in Microsoft’s case, an revenue losses to Apple from those using their iPads and iPods both for gaming and for apps.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel could release Ivy Bridge-based Xeon chips in spring, provide new processor offerings for Mac Pro lineup

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Date: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012, 05:48
Category: Hardware, News, Processors

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The upcoming Mac Pro units could get that much niftier, even with a slightly older technology.

Per DigiTimes, Intel’s Xeon E5 launch early this year could be matched by a handful of Ivy Bridge-based models soon after based on a tentative roadmap. After releasing 18 E5 chips based on the current Sandy Bridge architecture, Intel would have 11 Xeons arrive in the spring based on the 2012 design. Billed as Ivy Bridge-H2, these would include Xeon E3 chips like the E3-1290v2 in bulk costs of US$189 to US$884 as well as E5s from US$192 to US$1,440, one of which would be the E5-2470.

The exact specifications of the Ivy Bridge models aren’t apparent. The Sandy Bridge E5 chips were already known to range from a 1.8GHz quad-core processor to 3.1GHz in eight-core varieties.

If sustained, the Xeon lineup could create dilemmas for workstations like the possible Mac Pro refresh. It may push Apple and others into either picking Sandy Bridge models and going for a slightly older but wider range, choosing from a limited Ivy Bridge range, or having to split the computer lineup between the two Intel architectures.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.