Apple Times Thu, 27 Mar 2014 19:45:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Microsoft unveils Office for iPad Thu, 27 Mar 2014 19:45:33 +0000 Microsoft

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft on Thursday unveiled Office for the iPad, a software suite that includes programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and works on rival Apple Inc.’s hugely popular tablet computer.

The app was to be made available for download on Thursday in the App Store at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

Office for the iPad corrects layout problems that users experienced when accessing files they had saved on Microsoft’s cloud storage service, OneDrive.

The app has touch-enabled features that allow users to drag photos around Word documents and grab elements like pie charts in Excel.

The app will allow reading and presenting of documents for free, but will require a subscription to Office365 to enable writing and editing. A subscription for up to five computers and five smartphones costs $100 a year, but a personal version for one computer and one tablet costs $70 a year. The subscription includes 20 gigabytes of storage space on OneDrive.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant unveiled the app at an event in San Francisco where Satya Nadella addressed reporters on his 52nd day as Microsoft Corp.’s chief executive.

“This, in a sense, is a cloud for every person and every mobile device,” Nadella said.

He built on comments he has made previously that Microsoft will develop key software for mobile devices regardless of whether they run on Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android or Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Thursday’s announcement follows Microsoft’s move earlier this month to release a version of its OneNote note-taking software for Macs.

“There’s no tradeoff,” Nadella said. “What motivates us is the realities of our customers.”

Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said the move to develop key software products for Apple devices is a “great first step.”

Microsoft had previously resisted introducing Office for the iPad, preferring to leverage the software suite as a key selling point of Windows 8 tablets and its own line of Surface tablet computers. But those tablets have struggled in the marketplace.

“They finally looked in the mirror and realized they needed to go with the crowd in terms of iPads,” Ives said. “I think it signals there is change in Redmond, even if they picked an insider.”

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Groups protest chemicals used in Apple’s iPhone Thu, 13 Mar 2014 11:06:03 +0000 iPhone

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple’s labor practices are under attack by two activist groups who contend the company makes its iPhones with a hazardous mix of chemicals that threaten the health of factory workers assembling the devices in China.

The campaign began Wednesday with an online petition put together by China Labor Watch, a longtime Apple critic, and Green America, an environmental protection group.

If enough consumers sign the “Bad Apple” petition, the two groups hope to pressure the company into abandoning the use of two chemicals, benzene and n-hexane, in the production of the iPhone, Apple’s top-selling product.

Benzene is a carcinogen that can cause leukemia if not handled properly and n-hexane has been linked to nerve damage.

In a statement, Apple pointed out that it has already stopped using many hazardous chemicals, including PVC plastic and brominated flame, during the past few years to the acclaim of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. The Cupertino, Calif. company also says it ensures all remaining toxic substances comply with U.S. safety standards.

“Last year, we conducted nearly 200 factory inspections which focused on hazardous chemicals, to make sure those facilities meet our strict standards,” Apple said.

The protesting groups believe Apple’s factory inspections and publicly released reports about the findings have been whitewashing the real working conditions. They say they suspect many of the estimated 1.5 million workers in overseas factories hired by Apple are still logging grueling hours and, in some cases, being exposed to dangerous materials without proper training.

“Apple touts itself as a socially responsible leader in the tech industry, but to really be a leader, Apple must put a stop to worker poisoning and ensure sick workers are receiving treatment,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaign director.

Coming up with a safer manufacturing recipe for the iPhone would cost less than $1 per device, O’Connell estimated. That’s a pittance for a company that earned $37 billion during its last fiscal year.

Neither benzene nor n-hexane is unique to Apple’s manufacturing process. They are also used in the production of electronics products sold by other large technology companies who have also been criticized for their practices. For instance, last year a South Korean court raised doubts about Samsung Electronics’ claims that the benzene levels in its computer chip factories were safe. The court ruled Samsung hadn’t fully examined the health risk in its chip factories after a 29-year-old worker died of leukemia in 2009.

Low levels of benzene are also found in gasoline, cigarettes, paints, glues and detergents.

Apple’s size and success make it an inviting target for groups seeking to draw attention to their causes and perhaps spur changes that are eventually adopted by other companies. Apple boasts a market value of about $480 billion, higher than any other publicly traded company. And the iPhone remains a cultural phenomenon with more than 470 million of the devices sold since the release of the first model nearly seven years ago.

China Labor Watch has been especially harsh in its criticism of Apple, maintaining that the conditions in its manufacturing contractors’ factories are so oppressive that workers are driven to suicide.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, though, has steadfastly maintained that the company’s high standards have led to better treatment of the factory workers and reduced suppliers’ reliance on dangerous substances.

“Since Tim Cook took the helm, Apple’s increased transparency and accountability back down the supply chain has significantly improved, and is quickly becoming a hallmark of his leadership at the company,” Tom Dowdall, a Greenpeace energy campaigner, wrote in a blog post last month.



“Bad Apple” petition:

Apple’s supplier responsibility report:

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Inside the tech behind CarPlay, Apple’s new in-vehicle infotainment system Tue, 04 Mar 2014 14:01:53 +0000 carplay
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Apple’s newly-announced CarPlay system seems to bear more than an onomastic resemblance to AirPlay, as evidence mounts that the celebrated media streaming technology may underpin Apple’s vehicular ambitions.

CarPlay represents an ambitious leap for Apple into a fragmented landscape dominated by proprietary technologies and processes. The company must find a way to meld hundreds of different control layouts featuring multiple combinations of knobs, buttons, and touchscreens with what has traditionally been a system centered on a single pane of glass.

One way for Apple to cut through the muck may be to adapt a familiar, flexible tool that has already been adopted by dozens of third-party manufacturers for the task: AirPlay.

While Apple has been characteristically tight-lipped about CarPlay’s technical details, admitting only that the feature will require a Lightning-equipped iPhone at launch, its automotive partners have been more forthcoming.

Data from the iPhone’s display is sent to the vehicle’s in-dash screen via an H.264 video stream, according to Volvo. Apple’s long-standing “AirPlay mirroring” feature — which allows users to mirror the display of a compatible Mac or iOS device to an Apple TV — works the same way, encoding display output in H.264 and transmitting it over a standard TCP network connection.

CarPlay goes further, Volvo said, by providing a means to return input from the vehicle’s touchscreen to the user’s iPhone. Such a facility for monitoring and transmitting control events is already built in to AirPlay, allowing users to control media playback through their AirPlay-enabled speakers or Apple TV.

Though AirPlay is a wireless standard and CarPlay requires an iPhone tethered via a special Lightning cable, there are indications that Apple intends for future revisions to function wirelessly. Volvo initially said that Wi-Fi support is “coming in the near future” before removing that statement from press materials, perhaps a sign that CarPlay over Wi-Fi is simply not yet ready for a public debut.

The most overt indication that CarPlay springs from the AirPlay family tree, however, came from Mercedes-Benz. Touting CarPlay’s ease-of-use during a press event in advance of this week’s Geneva Auto Show, one executive from the German marque called out the streaming standard by name.

“If you know Apple’s AirPlay, you know what I’m talking about,” he told the assembled crowd.


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Review: Lots of innovations beyond iOS and Android Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:59:11 +0000 Spain Wireless Show

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — When it comes to smartphones, consumers have an array of choices from Apple to… well, Android.

The impression you get stepping into most phone carriers’ showrooms is that the programmers behind Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are driving most of the innovation in smartphones. You’ll find few phones on display that run other software systems.

Research firm Gartner says 94 percent of smartphones sales last year were either iPhones or Android devices. Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices made up another 5 percent combined.

But what about the remaining 1 percent? They are the wannabes such as Firefox and Sailfish —and many of them are introducing innovative advancements in features and functions.

I had a chance to try out some of these little-known systems at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain, this week. Many of these systems aren’t even available in the U.S., where I live. Although I don’t see myself replacing my Samsung Android phone even if I could, some of these alternative phones have features I envy.


— Firefox OS, from Mozilla

Firefox is better known for its Web browser. Now, the people behind it are trying to adapt it to run smartphones targeted at emerging markets.

Firefox OS launched last summer with three phones, priced around $50 to $70. They are in available in 15 countries, but not in the U.S.

At the Barcelona show, Mozilla unveiled plans to expand to additional markets in Latin America and eastern Europe, while ZTE announced two new models. Chipmaker Spreadtrum Communications Inc. also announced a blueprint for any phone maker to make $25 smartphones.

The home screen and icons resemble what’s found on iPhones and Android.

Where Firefox OS starts to differ is in apps. With iPhones and Android, you go to an app store to get new apps. With Firefox OS, you typically have instant access to all apps, the same way you can visit a website for the first time without installing anything.

The catch is you need an Internet connection to use apps that aren’t on your phone, but many apps need that access anyway to refresh news, social networks or restaurant guides.

Firefox OS also has a universal search for all content on the phone and online.

There’s another neat feature coming to Firefox OS. Swipe from the left side of the screen to flip through recent apps one by one, just like hitting the back button on a Web browser.


— Sailfish OS, from Jolla

Sailfish is based on the Linux operating system and comes from the Finnish company Jolla (pronounced “yolla”). Former Nokia employees created Jolla after that struggling cellphone maker abandoned an in-house operating system in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

There’s only one phone out so far, and it’s sold only in Europe for 399 euros ($546). But Jolla has ambitions to reach Russia and Asia and to partner with other phone makers.

Jolla Ltd. also announced last week that it will release a free app that Android users can install to replace the regular Android interface with Sailfish’s.

I can see getting the hang of Sailfish over time. It emphasizes gestures over tapping. Access many functions by swiping from an edge on the screen.

The home screen has nine large rectangles, similar to an elongated tic-tac-toe board. These are filled with up to nine of your open apps, so you can instantly get to any one.

You can tap to open an app, but what’s neat is you can reach a task directly by pressing gently on the rectangle and dragging your finger. For the mail app, drag from the left to create a new message, or drag from the right to refresh messages. For the phone app, drag from the left to get the dialer, or drag from the right to get your list of contacts.

This saves time once you get used to the gestures.

To close an app, you can swipe down from the top edge like a window shade. If you’re already on the home screen, swipe down to lock the phone.

Swipe from the left or the right edge within an app to get the home screen. Do that from the home screen to change background, ring tones and other settings. Or if you replace your phone’s back cover with a promotional cover, you get special content, such as social media feeds on “Angry Birds.”

Apple introduced similar gesture controls with its iOS 7 update last fall, but Sailfish goes much further.

There aren’t many apps written for Sailfish yet, but Sailfish phones have a special tool for running most Android apps. You won’t get some of the gesture functions, though.


— Ubuntu, from Canonical

Like Sailfish, Ubuntu is based on Linux. Unlike Sailfish, there aren’t any Ubuntu phones yet. But the company behind it announced partnerships with two phone makers last week. Phones are due to come out this year, likely to European and Asian markets at first.

Ubuntu’s home page has a series of so-called scopes, arranged by category. One video scope might consist of icons for movies on your phone. Another might have items in your Netflix queue. You can refine what’s presented through a universal search. The idea is to let you access content easily, without having to open an app first.

Swipe from the left edge to get a launcher. The top has all your open apps, while your favorite apps are underneath those. There’s also a home screen scope to search for installed apps and those in the app store.

Swipe from the right edge to get your most recently used app. Swipe further for a carousel of all open apps. Just pick one to go straight to it.

These systems all have good innovations to help users, but people will find the phone and app selections quite limiting. Sailfish has potential if it can indeed run well on existing Android phones, while Android apps can run on it. I look forward to trying that out when it’s released in the first half of the year.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Phone makers look to emerging markets for growth Wed, 26 Feb 2014 09:08:03 +0000 Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Gear 2

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Here’s the rub for companies: A good part of the key markets they serve already own smartphones and use them to connect various Internet services. How do you grow from there?

Services from Facebook to Firefox are looking to emerging markets for the next few billion people. They are not only targeting the obvious high-population countries such as India and China, but also see potential in Latin America, Africa and just about everywhere beyond the U.S., Canada, western Europe and a few Asian nations.

One message has been clear this week at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain: Even as the affluent crave the latest iPhones or Android phones, most of the world can’t afford the hundreds of dollars they cost.

So there’s been a push to get mobile devices cheap enough to reach emerging markets without sacrificing so much performance that first-time smartphone owners will give up on the Internet and forgo a second smartphone down the road.

It’s a delicate balance.

When Motorola Mobility introduced the low-cost Moto G smartphone last fall, the company emphasized how it was bringing the features of high-end smartphones to a device that starts at just $179. Even then, it had to sacrifice camera resolution and connectivity to the faster 4G LTE cellular networks. And $179 is still expensive for many.

At the Barcelona show this week, Nokia Corp. unveiled the Nokia X series, starting at 89 euros ($122).

“In the growth market … a couple of bucks make a huge difference,” said Timo Toikkanen, Nokia’s executive vice president for mobile phones.

Still too expensive? Try some of the $50 to $70 smartphones based on Firefox OS, a system adapted from the popular Firefox Web browser. Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox, announced a partnership with Chinese chipmaker Spreadtrum Communications Inc. to create a blueprint for any phone maker to make $25 smartphones.

Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, said it was relaxing hardware requirements to keep phone costs down. For instance, phones no longer need physical camera and control buttons. Those can now be done through software instead.

It is also working with Qualcomm Inc. on blueprints for any phone maker to quickly design a Windows phone. While global brands such as Apple and Samsung reign in industrialized countries, smaller, regional manufacturers thrive in emerging markets because of lower distribution costs and better tailoring to local needs.

Internet services also see opportunities in finding the next few billions in emerging markets.

In fact, getting the smartphone and the connectivity is just the beginning, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during Monday’s keynote. More important, he said, is giving people a reason to connect: basic financial services, access to health care information and educational materials. He sees Facebook as the “on ramp” to all those services.

In many ways, emerging markets provide unmatched opportunities.

Apple has insisted on making premium smartphones. Even last fall’s iPhone 5c was just $100 cheaper, at $549, than the more-advanced iPhone 5s. That’s way beyond the reach of many people in poorer countries.

“They are focusing on the premium segment,” Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing told The Associated Press. “Their market has become mature, saturated. So now, if you want to further grow, you must focus on those emerging markets, particular those poor people.”

He said Lenovo releases 40 or 50 smartphones a year to meet the diversity of needs in those markets.

Making cheap phones available will help companies expand in developed countries, too. Even in the U.S., not everyone wants or can afford a high-end smartphone, Sony Mobile President Kunimasa Suzuki said in an interview.

But emerging markets also pose challenges unfamiliar in the industrialized world.

The easy one to solve is to support two SIM cards in the same phone. Pricing and plans vary so much in emerging markets that it’s common for people to use different carriers for different circumstances. The Moto G, the Nokia X and Sony’s new Xperia M2 phone support that, and Microsoft will enable that in Windows Phone this spring.

More challenging is dealing with expensive data connections, something Zuckerberg posed as a bigger barrier than smartphone affordability.

Chris Weasler, whose role at Facebook is to improve access to Internet services around the world, said he has met many smartphone owners who forgo data services and use the devices instead as mobile computers and cameras.

Local wireless carriers will need to better educate their customers on the value of connectivity, he said, while app developers need to tweak their services to work on slower, less reliable networks. He said Facebook learned that when a team went to Africa and couldn’t use Facebook’s Android app because it pulled too much data.

Firefox phones have FM radio tuners built in so owners won’t waste data connection on streaming services, while another emerging system, Ubuntu, tries to make sure it has apps that work well offline.

To address the lack of credit cards in emerging markets, Nokia replaced Android’s card-based app store with one that permits billing directly to mobile operators.

Ultimately, companies need to figure out what to sacrifice to bring costs down. Forget high-resolution video or a giant screen, such as the 5.1-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S5 that was announced Monday. Not only are those features expensive, they require faster processors and longer battery life, adding to expenses.

Cellular connectivity through 4G is also something often dropped, as many emerging markets are lucky just to have the slower 3G.

But what’s good enough? Leo Li, CEO of Spreadtrum, said phones using his company’s blueprints work as good as Apple’s iPhone 4. But that’s a 4-year-old phone. Nonetheless, he said performance is better than the basic phones that first-timers are upgrading from.

By upgrading, people can truly access the Web and aren’t limited to the few services that phone makers already included.

“To spend a little more for a true Web experience is pretty good, even if the resolution isn’t as good as the iPhone,” said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s chief operating officer. “People want to be connected. They want to be online and have access to all the information and all the things we do, like maps, as they explore new places.”


AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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