Scientists looking into methods of boosting consumer battery strengths via millions of tiny holes

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Date: Tuesday, November 15th, 2011, 08:27
Category: battery, News

Even if you’d like to throw your MacBook or MacBook Pro’s battery through a wall on occasion, there’s hope.

Per BBC News, a new battery development technique could allow batteries for phones and notebooks to recharge up to ten times faster and hold a charge ten times larger than current technology allows.

Scientists at Northwestern University in the US have changed the materials in lithium-ion batteries to boost their abilities.

One change involves poking millions of minuscule holes in the battery.

Batteries built using the novel technique could be in the shops within five years, estimate the scientists.

In essence, a mobile phone battery built using the Northwestern techniques would charge from flat in 15 minutes and last a week before needing a recharge.

The density and movement of lithium ions are key to the process.

Dr. Harold Kung and his team at Northwestern said they have found a way to cram more of the ions in and to speed up their movement by altering the materials used to manufacture a battery.

The maximum charge has been boosted by replacing sheets of silicon with tiny clusters of the substance to increase the amount of lithium ions a battery can hold on to.

The recharging speed has been accelerated using a chemical oxidation process which drills small holes – just 20-40 nanometers wide – in the atom-thick sheets of graphene that batteries are made of.

This helps lithium ions move and find a place to be stored much faster.

The downside is that the recharging and power gains fall off sharply after a battery has been charged about 150 times.

“Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today,” said lead scientist Prof Harold Kung from the chemical and biological engineering department at Northwestern.

So far, the work done by the team has concentrated on making improvements to anodes – where the current flows into the batteries when they are providing power.

The group now plans to study the cathode – where the current flows out – to make further improvements.

A paper detailing the work of Prof Kung and his co-workers has been published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available…and a MacBook Pro battery that charged in less than 15 minutes, the ladies would love it.

Security researcher Charlie Miller outs iOS code signing flaw, security hole

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Date: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011, 05:46
Category: iOS, News, security, Software

It’s hard to say if it’s discouraging to see the iOS get spotted on assorted security failures or reassuring to see that security experts manage to notice these and bring them to the public’s attention.

According to Forbes, Mac hacker and researcher Charlie Miller has reportedly found a way to sneak malware into the App Store and subsequently onto any iOS device by exploiting a flaw in Apple’s restrictions on code signing, allowing the malware to steal user data and take control of certain iOS functions.

Miller explains that code signing restrictions allow only Apple’s approved commands to run in an iOS device’s memory, and submitted apps that violate these rules are not allowed on the App Store. However, he has found a method to bypass Apple’s security by exploiting a bug in iOS code signing that allows an app to download new unapproved commands from a remote computer.

“Now you could have a program in the App Store like Angry Birds that can run new code on your phone that Apple never had a chance to check,” Miller said. “With this bug, you can’t be assured of anything you download from the App Store behaving nicely.”

The flaw was introduced when Apple released iOS 4.3, which increased browser speed by allowing javascript code from the internet to run on a much deeper level in a device’s memory than in previous iterations of the OS. Miller realized that in exchange for speed, Apple created a new exception for the web browser to run unapproved code. The researcher soon found a bug that allowed him to expand the flawed code beyond the browser, integrating it into apps downloaded from the App Store.

Miller created a proof-of-concept app called “Instastock” to showcase the vulnerability, which was submitted to and approved by Apple to be distributed via the App Store. The simple program appears to be an innocuous stock ticker, but it can leverage the code signing bug to communicate with Miller’s server to pull unauthorized commands onto the affected device. From there the program has the ability to send back user data including address book contacts, photos and other files, as well as initiate certain iOS functions like vibrating alerts.

The app has since been pulled and according to his Twitter account, Miller has reportedly been banned from the App Store and kicked out of the iOS Developer Program.

Miller, a former NSA analyst who now works for computer security firm Accuvant, is a prominent Apple researcher who previously exposed the MacBook battery vulnerability and a security hole in the mobile version of Safari.

The researcher has refused to publicly reveal the exploit, reportedly giving Apple time to come up with a fix, though he will announce the specifics at the SysCan conference in Taiwan next week.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

PlugBug accessory simultaneously charges current Apple notebooks, iOS devices

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Date: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011, 04:30
Category: Hardware, iPad, iPhone, iPod

This could be nifty.

Per Electronica, accessory developer Twelve South on Tuesday Tuesday unveiled a unique add-on to help Apple fans that travel with more than one device. PlugBug takes advantage of the changeable connector on a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro AC adapter to add a 10W USB charger. The add-on can charge anything up to the power levels of an iPad and is seen as a way to charge any iOS device or other USB hardware without having to remember all the cables or charge through the MacBook.

The adapter doesn’t have to slot into the AC brick to work and has a cap to cover the exposed area. Twelve South imagines it as a substitute for those outside of North America who want a converter.

The PlugBug is already on sale and ships for US$35 through the company’s own online store.

If you’ve snagged one or have a favorite charger of choice, please let us know and thanks.

Rumor: Apple testing ultrathin, optical-drive-free 15″ MacBook Pro notebook

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Date: Monday, October 31st, 2011, 05:59
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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Never doubt the thin nature of the MacBook Air, as people tend to like it.

Per the Japanese Macotakara web blog, Apple is allegedly prepared to add a new thin-and-light 15-inch MacBook to its lineup in the near future, with one report claiming the company has finished development of a crucial test component.

Calling the new notebook model an extension of the MacBook Air family, Macotakara reported on Sunday that Apple is finishing up a “test phase” for the new 15-inch ultraportable. Citing an Asian source, the report said Apple has already finished development of an LCD test component for the anticipated notebook.

However, the report also noted that Apple is believed to be developing a next-generation MacBook Pro that will not have a built-in optical disc drive. The new 15-inch MacBook reportedly “seems to fill” the role of a next-generation MacBook Pro.

Whatever name the new portable Mac might take, rumors have suggested the current physical form factor of the MacBook Pro lineup will undergo a drastic redesign in 2012. For some time now it has been said that Apple will redesign its MacBook Pro lineup sometime next year.

Last week, Apple quietly updated its MacBook Pro lineup, adding slightly faster Intel Sandy Bridge processors, as well as improved AMD Radeon graphics. The new notebooks were a minor update ahead of the holiday buying season, believed to be an attempt to keep the MacBook Pro lineup competitive until a major refresh occurs next year.

Apple’s future MacBooks are expected to feature Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge processors, which are slated to arrive at some point in the first half of 2012. Intel confirmed last week that it has begun volume production of its 22nm Ivy Bridge processors, and systems powered by the new CPUs should be available in the spring of 2012.

Currently, Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup comes with screen sizes of 13 inches, 15 inches and 17 inches, and all of its professional notebooks feature optical DVD disc drives. The MacBook Air is available with screen sizes of 11.6 inches and 13.3 inches, and all models feature only solid-state hard drives with no optical drive.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 2.3, MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.2 upgrades

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Date: Thursday, October 27th, 2011, 04:22
Category: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Software

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Late Wednesday, Apple released EFI firmware updates for both its 2011 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air notebooks. The updates, which weigh in at a 4.1 megabyte download and a 4 megabyte download, respectively, fix several issues to improve the stability of Apple’s mid-2011notebooks.

The update includes fixes that enhance the stability of Lion Recovery from an Internet connection, and resolve issues with Apple Thunderbolt Display compatibility and Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance on Apple’s mid-2011 notebook models.

As always, the updates can be located, downloaded and installed via Mac OS X’s built-in Software Update feature.

The updates require an Intel-based mid-2011 MacBook Pro or MacBook Air notebook and Mac OS X 10.7.2 or later to install and run.

If you’ve installed the firmware updates and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Catcher unibody plant may reopen as early as next week

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Date: Wednesday, October 26th, 2011, 06:08
Category: MacBook Pro, News

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Maybe the problems weren’t as bad as they said they were.

Per Reuters, Apple supplier Catcher Technology said Wednesday that its China plant that builds unibody MacBook cases will fully reopen at the end of October.

The new details from Taipei, Taiwan are an indication that any supply constraints experienced by Apple could be relatively short-lived. The company was ordered to shut down a factory that builds unibody enclosures for Apple on Oct. 16.

That plant in Eastern China was said to produce 60 percent of Apple’s unibody enclosures for its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air products. The plant has also been responsible for casings for Apple’s all-in-one iMac desktop.

Catcher had previously said that a partial production halt at the factory would slash shipments in October by 20 percent. That number could have grown to as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refused to allow the plant to resume production.

But with Wednesday’s announcement that the plan will open at the end of the month, any concerns about November production appear to be assuaged. Last week, Catcher had originally said it hoped to reopen its plant at some time in November.

The Catcher facility was closed due to “strange odors” said to have been emanating from the plant. The shutdown came just as Apple reported its best quarter ever for Mac sales, reaching 4.9 million units.

Apple quietly updated its MacBook Pro lineup on Monday, with slightly faster Intel processors and updated graphics, while some models gained larger hard drives. The design of the notebooks remains unchanged, featuring Apple’s signature unibody look.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Catcher to invest $2-3 million to reopen Chinese MacBook unibody case plant within November time frame

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Date: Friday, October 21st, 2011, 06:05
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News

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After local officials ordered the suspension of operations at a Suzhou, China factory that supplies Apple with chassis for its laptops, Taiwanese manufacturer Catcher Technology will invest US$2-3 million with the goal of getting its facility back online in November.

Per DigiTimes, details emerged that Catcher had temporarily closed a plant that provides 60 percent of Apple’s unibody enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air product lines, as well as the iMac all-in-one desktop. The company is reportedly spending to “modify equipment and manufacturing processes” to resolve complaints from nearby residents regarding “odorous gas emissions.”

“Catcher aims to resume operations at the plant in November,” the publication noted. The manufacturer’s president, Allen Horng, had previously said that total shipments would fall 20 percent in October and could drop by as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refuses to allow the plant to resume production.

“Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected,” he said in a press conference Monday. “We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement.”

According to the report, Catcher is now considering increasing its investment in Taiwan in order to diversify operations and reduce its operating risk. The manufacturer recently ratcheted up production at a plant in southern Taiwan and purchased a new lot for further expansion in the area.

Catcher’s production woes could restrict an already limited supply chain for metal chassis. In August, it was reported that laptop makers looking to build machines to Intel’s “Ultrabook” specifications were having trouble securing production capacity for unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis. Foxconn and Catcher reportedly have a combined total of 10,000 CNC lathes required for the process, with most of their supply going to Apple.

During Apple’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook said that the company is “investigating and assessing” the potential shortage of Mac unibody casings. In the most recent September quarter, Apple had its best quarter ever for Mac sales, selling 4.89 million during the period. Portables now represent 74 percent of the company’s sales.

In 2008, Apple detailed the new unibody manufacturing process, calling the design “in many ways more beautiful internally than externally.”

Apple is expected to release a modest update to its MacBook Pro line later this month. The laptops will likely receive a speed bump to tide them over until Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge chips are ready next year.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

“Strange odor” at manufacturing plant could lead to reduced Mac notebook shipments in November

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Date: Tuesday, October 18th, 2011, 04:32
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, News

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Come to think of it, metal housings ARE sort of important on your Mac notebook…

According to the Financial Times, a Chinese factory responsible for manufacturing the metal housings for Apple’s uni-body laptop lineup has been shutdown due to “strange odors” emanating from the plant, potentially causing a 40% decrease in shipments for November.

Catcher Technology, a Taiwanese company with factories in Eastern China, was ordered on Sunday to shutdown a factory that produces 60% of Apple’s uni-body enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines. The plant also produces casings for Apple’s iMac and products for other notebook makers such as Acer, Dell, Lenovo and Sony.

The president of Catcher Technology, Allen Horng, reported that total shipments would fall 20% in October, adding that November could see a 40% drop if the local government doesn’t clear the plant for operation by the end of the month.

“Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected,” Horng said in a press conference Monday. “We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement.”

It is unclear whether the plant shutdown will affect shipments of a rumored MacBook Pro refresh, expected to be announced later this month. Notebooks accounted for a majority of Apple’s Mac sales in the quarter ending in June.

Analysts expect another record breaking quarter, bolstered by strengthened MacBook Air sales, when the company announces its quarterly earnings on Tuesday.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple support note advises against daisy-chaining Thunderbolt-equipped displays

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Date: Monday, September 19th, 2011, 03:27
Category: Hardware, News

Apple’s new Thunderbolt-equipped displays are getting good reviews and can do a fair number of things.

But they can’t be daisy-chained.

According to an Apple support document, the company has noted that previous DisplayPort screens will not work when attached to the Thunderbolt port of its new display.

Thunderbolt-equipped Macs can support one or two Thunderbolt Displays, depending on the Thunderbolt chip in the system.

Apple notes that MacBook Airs support one external Thunderbolt Display in addition to their built in screen, while MacBook Pros, iMacs and the Mac mini can all support two Thunderbolt Displays.

With two external displays, the lowest end 13 inch MacBook Pro will lose the ability to drive its built in screen, while the highest end Mac mini with discrete AMD graphics can support two Thunderbolt Displays in addition to a third screen attached to its HDMI port.

However, users with an existing Mini DisplayPort external monitor will not be able to daisy chain the screen from the back of the new Thunderbolt Display, despite it being physically compatible with the port. Apple notes that “Mini DisplayPort displays will not light up if connected to the Thunderbolt port on an Apple Thunderbolt Display.”

Existing Mini DisplayPort screens, such as Apple’s LED Cinema Display, have never previously supported daisy chaining multiple screens to a single Mini DisplayPort interface, but the screens are supposed to work at the end of a Thunderbolt chain if there are no other displays in the chain.

Having any other screen in the Thunderbolt chain will kill ability of previous, non-Thunderbolt displays from being able to receive the DisplayPort signal, negating their forward compatibility with the new Thunderbolt standard.

The new Thunderbolt Display just began shipping to users yesterday after Apple released firmware updates for its new Thunderbolt-equipped Macs to solve remaining issues with working with the new screens.

In addition to serving as an external screen with stereo speakers, a FaceTime camera and a Magsafe power supply for powering a connected notebook, the new Thunderbolt Display also incorporates the features of a docking station, supplying connected Thunderbolt Macs with Gigabit Ethernet, three additional USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800 and an additional Thunderbolt port.

Apple recommends that users connect storages devices to the display’s Thunderbolt port rather than connecting the display further down the chain.

If you’ve received a new Thunderbolt-equipped Apple display and have feedback regarding it, please let us know what you think in the comments.

Apple’s white legacy MacBook shifted over to education marketplace

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Date: Thursday, July 21st, 2011, 03:11
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, News

Following up on yesterday’s story that Apple had removed its US$999 white entry-level MacBook from its inventory, the company has apparently kept the notebook available for eduction institutions only.

Per AppleInsider, Apple surprised on Wednesday when it suddenly pulled the white MacBook from its site, bringing a faster-than-expected transition to the new 11.6-inch MacBook Air as the only $999 notebook in Apple’s lineup.

According to sources, monthly shipments for the Core 2 Duo MacBook had fallen to between 80,000 and 100,000 units, comprising less than 10 percent of the Apple’s total Mac shipments in the first half of 2011.

Since then, Apple has announced to resellers that its white MacBook, model No. MC516, is available for education institutions only. Channel backlog and non-direct education institution customers will see their orders canceled effective immediately.

The MacBook will remain available to partners via Apple’s online reseller stores only for education institutions. The company did not offer a timeframe for which the entry-level notebook will remain available.

The white polycarbonate MacBook was Apple’s only US$999 notebook for years, but that changed in 2010 when the redesigned MacBook Air was launched. That included a new entry-level 11.6-inch model at the same price point which found instant success on the market.

The MacBook Air offers some key advantages over the white MacBook, namely fast NAND flash memory for storage, an ultraportable thin-and-light design, and a durable aluminum unibody construction. But the MacBook also sports a larger 13-inch display, features an optical drive, includes a built-in Ethernet port, and has more hard drive space.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.