Anti-trust authority investigates Apple and Samsung in Italy over planned obsolescence

iPhone Slowdown Investigation

Ever since users discovered a few weeks ago that Apple has been slowing down iPhones with chemically aged batteries for the most part of 2017, the iPhone maker has been in a world of hurt. Class action suit after class action suit was filed in the US and in other markets, with that old conspiracy theory that Apple slows downs old iPhones, so users buy newer models being brought back to life. Regulators in various countries have already started looking into the matter as well.

Apple has denied these planned obsolescence claims again, admitting that it has done a poor job communicating how this battery-life-saving feature works. The company offered a cheaper battery replacement program and recently revealed that an iOS update will give users control over iPhone slowdowns.

While Apple has been quick to react to the backlash, that doesn’t mean class actions will just disappear, or that governmental agencies around the world will stop investigating the company.

An Italian anti-trust authority is the latest to announce a formal investigation. The Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) said in a brief announcement that it’ll investigate alleged planned obsolescence practices at Apple and Samsung.

What’s strange about the announcement is that it involves Apple’s biggest rival. Samsung was quick to point out that it doesn’t throttle its smartphones, joining other smartphone makers who responded similarly to Apple’s iPhone slowdown fiasco.

But the AGCM still wants to look into claims that Samsung also reduces the performance of older device so that users end up buying newer models.

Apple, meanwhile, said that the only reason it slowed iPhones was to make sure the phones would not shut down unexpectedly. Users who have had the batteries replaced reported that iPhone performance returns to regular after the replacement. In fact, that’s how the iPhone slowdown was discovered in the first place.

The AGCM does not mention the iPhone slowdown mess directly, but the authority does say that companies have provided software updates to customers without offering sufficient information about their potential effects on performance.

From the wording used in the announcement, the AGCM makes it sound like Apple and Samsung have exploited the shortcomings of some components to reduce the performance of their devices. No smarpthone component is mentioned, however, not even the battery.

Apple – BGR

This year’s iPhone X successor might might not outsell the original

iPhone X 2018 Rumors

A few days after a report said that iPhone parts suppliers are expecting Apple to reduce orders for the current quarter, one of Apple’s most important clients went on record to say that sales of high-end smartphones will decline flat this year.

That client is TSMC, which happens to be the exclusive provider of the powerful A11 Bionic chip inside the iPhone X and iPhone 8. The Taiwanese giant will also mass-produce the A12 chips that will power 2018 iOS devices, including iPhone X and iPhone 8 successors.

TSMC’s co-chief executive of TSMC said during the company’s earnings call for the December quarter that shipments of flagship smartphones will decline this year, but mid-range and entry-level phone sales will increase.

“In terms of shipment units, high-end smartphones are decreasing for this year,” C.C. Wei said, according to Nikkei. “Mid-to-low-end smartphones will increase by several percentage points. For TSMC, overall wafer revenue for mobile phones will be flat compared with 2017.”

The mobile business accounted for roughly half of TSMC’s $ 33 billion revenue last year, and Apple is one of the company’s most important clients.

Even though the mobile market is expected to weaken this year, TSMC is confident it’ll continue to see growth in 2018. Bitcoin will be making up for lower smartphone sales, outgoing TSMC Chairman Morris Chang said.

TSMC will make some of the chips that are used in Bitcoin and altcoin miners, or computers whose sole purpose is to “mine” for cryptocurrencies. Bitmain is one of the companies that make such miners, controlling 70% to 80% of the Bitcoin mining market. Bitmain accounted for 3% to 5% of TSMC’s revenue in the third quarter of the year, comparable to NVIDIA’s share, according to estimates.

But TSMC is advancing cautiously with chip orders for miners, because of the high volatility of cryptocurrency, which means it won’t add extra capacity for digital currency mining.

Apple, meanwhile, is expected to launch four new iPhones this year, including an iPhone SE successor in March, and three iPhone X versions in September. Two of the new iPhone X models will supposedly be high-end handsets, while the third is expected to be a cheaper model.

Apple – BGR

Samsung found a way to kill the iPhone X notch, but Apple already has a better solution

iPhone X notch replacement

When it comes to sweeping redesigns, compromises are inevitable. It’s impossible to push a product forward without taking a few risks, some of which will pay off, and some of which won’t. For the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, Apple opted to mix things up with a brand new Face ID system, the death of the home button and an all-screen design.

While the display of the iPhone X does stretch to meet all sides of the phone, the infamous notch (which contains all of the sensors and cameras necessary for Face ID to work) keeps the flagship device from being truly bezel-less. In all likelihood, the notch is here to stay for at least a generation or two, but a newly published patent from Samsung appears to detail an alternative design that could eliminate the need for the notch.

Uncovered by LetsGoDigital this week, the patent describes a flexible OLED display with holes in it for the cameras, sensors, speakers and other vital components. This would allow for a truly all-screen design without having to slice out a segment at the top of the display, as we see on the iPhone X as well as the Essential Phone.

Photos and videos would benefit the most, as the dead area on the display is decreased significantly. The patent also shows how text would wrap around the holes, though users would have the option to shrink the viewing area so as to avoid the hole altogether (something that is also possible on the iPhone X).

This sounds like a viable solution, and probably a preferable one to those who dislike the notch. But Apple is already working on a solution of its own — one which appears to basically be a more advanced version of this idea.

Last January, we were made aware of an Apple patent detailing a method by which the display of an electronic device would feature perforations so small as to be imperceptible to the human eye. Beneath these tiny holes (and under the display) would be the cameras and sensors that are currently contained within the notch.

Of course, the viability of Samsung’s plan may be higher, as it appears to be somewhat less complicated, but if Apple is going to mess with the design of the iPhone X, it’s hard to imagine the company taking half measures. Some might see the notch as an eyesore, but millions of iPhone X owners have already gotten over it. That said, it’s interesting to think about how the design of the iPhone and other major flagships will evolve in the coming years.

Apple – BGR

Interest in new iPhones at a historic low, study suggests

iPhone X sales vs iPhone X: survey data

The cornerstone of Apple’s eye-watering profits remains the iPhone. While Apple’s other business divisions are growing at speed, the unbelievable profit margins that Apple rakes in on the iPhone make the company what it is.

So any threat to Fortress iPhone is a big deal for Apple. One-off problems, like manufacturing slowdowns or battery scandals, can be excused just as long as people keep lusting after the latest and greatest iPhone. But if that allure ever goes away, Apple is in trouble, which makes a new survey from Cowen unfortunate reading for Apple execs.

Cowen, a Wall Street research firm that gathers data from investors, frequently runs a study asking people what kind of phone they’re going to buy next. It’s a simple measure of brand loyalty and desirability, and unfortunately, Cowen found that the number of current iPhone owners planning to buy a new iPhone “was near the lowest levels since conducting our survey.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that Apple fans are jumping ship wholesale. 80.5% of current iPhone owners still plan on upgrading to a new iPhone next time around, which is still the kind of loyalty that other companies crave. But with virtually everyone in the developed world already owning a smartphone, Apple’s future profits depend heavily on current iPhone owners remaining loyal, as well as getting some Android buyers to defect. So, the fact that iPhone owners’ loyalty has dropped from 87.6% last quarter down to 80.5% this quarter is bad news.

“iPhone appeal moderating across the industry,” Cowen wrote in the report, seen by Fierce Wireless. “When asked ‘what kind of cell phone do you think you will get with your next upgrade/purchase,’ the percent of postpaid respondents at AT&T, Sprint and Verizon selecting iPhone moderated vs. last quarter while at the same time just 80.5% of postpaid respondents who already have an iPhone indicated they will get one with their next upgrade/purchase, which was near the lowest levels since conducting our survey and was down from 87.6% last quarter.”

Speculation is running rampant about how successful the iPhone X has been in its first three months on sale. The first quarterly earnings after a new iPhone release are always a big deal, and a strong indicator of how successful a phone will be overall. But limited iPhone X supply at launch means that sales are going to have to remain strong through most of 2018 in order for the iPhone X to be a real success. That means converting everyone who’s thinking about buying a new phone, not just the early adopters and avid Apple lovers who are going to buy a new iPhone, no matter what.

Apple – BGR

Apple is going to fix the text message bug that crashes your iPhone next week

ChaiOS Text Message Crash

Earlier this week, a software developer on Twitter shared a link that is capable of crashing the an iPhone or a Mac when sent via the Messages app. Dubbed “chaiOS,” the bug works similarly to the “Effective Power” bug from 2015, which involved sending a string of text to another iPhone user which would cause the recipient’s phone to crash and reboot. chaiOS is more of a nuisance than a serious security flaw, but either way, it won’t be around much longer.

On Thursday, just two days after the malicious was initially disseminated on Twitter, Apple told BuzzFeed that a fix is coming in a software update next week. No further details were shared, but presumably both iOS and macOS devices will receive the update, as both can be affected by the text string in the Messages app.

Unless your contact list is filled with trolls, chances are that you’ll never have to deal with chaiOS before Apple takes care of it. In fact, the original link has already been taken down by GitHub (that’s where it was originally hosted), but the code contained therein has likely been copied by others and hosted elsewhere.

“My intention is not to do bad things,” Abraham Masri told BuzzFeed. “My main purpose was to reach out to Apple and say, ‘Hey, you’ve been ignoring my bug reports.’ I always report the bug before releasing something.”

By this time next week, the update will have rolled out, but if you receive the bug in the meantime, do whatever you can to delete the text thread that contains it. That might be a challenge, as the Messages app will repeatedly crash for some users, but it’s the only option other than a factory reset. If it comes to that, back up your data first.

Apple – BGR

This is the Macbook dongle to end all dongles

HyperDrive USB-C Hub

One of the more interesting product reveals that we missed during CES 2018 last week was the latest edition of the HyperDrive USB-C Hub for the Mac. We’ve covered Hyper’s products before, but the new HyperDrive is an 8-in-1 hub plus a 7.5W Qi wireless charger and iPhone stand. With a single USB-C cable, you can add eight additional ports to a Mac in addition to placing a Qi wireless charging stand on your desk for your new iPhone X or iPhone 8.

Hyper launched a Kickstarter campaign preview last week shortly after it unveiled the hub, but now that the campaign has gone live, you can officially preorder the HyperDrive. The expected retail price is $ 159, but you can preorder now while the campaign is still live and secure your HyperDrive for as little as $ 99.

The new HyperDrive hub adds eight ports to your MacBook: 4K HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, microSD, SD, 3 x USB 3.1 and USB-C Power Delivery. In addition to being a formidable hub of ports, the new HyperDrive is also supports 7.5W high speed wireless charging for the iPhone X and iPhone 8/8 Plus, as well as 5W, 10W and 15W wireless charging for Android devices. Hyper claims that it will charge the iPhone X faster than Belkin and Mophie too.

But that’s not all. The charger has three charging coils so that there won’t be any blind spots when you set your phone down on it, the stand has adjustable viewing angles so that you can adjust your phone while it’s docked (and still use Face ID), and it has a built-in LCD display to measure voltage and current.

If you’re an Apple user, you’re sick of dongles and you want a Qi wireless charger for your iPhone all in one package, you’re going to want to check the Kickstarter campaign for the HyperDrive USB-C Hub and iPhone stand.

Apple – BGR

The iPhone X just extended Apple’s lead over Samsung

iPhone X sales vs Samsung

In the run-up to the iPhone X launch, all the analyst chatter revolved around one topic: How big of a success the iPhone X would be. It was always a given that Apple’s big upgrade would sell; the only question was whether it would sell a “normal” amount of iPhones, generating two swimming pools of money for Apple, or whether it would spark a “supercycle” of upgrades beyond the usual, giving Apple a mid-sized lake of profit.

Although we won’t have any conclusive answers until Apple releases its Q4 earnings data, a new set of insights from CIRP, which measures new device activations, suggests that the iPhone X has been a runaway success for Apple.

According to CIRP’s data, US iPhone activations were up 10 percent in the last quarter of the year, from 29% of all phone activations to 39%. That isn’t unusual — Apple released three new phones in that time period — but the change in new activations year-on-year is particularly significant. Over the same period in 2016, Apple’s market share was at 34%, meaning that it finished 2017 with a full 5% better market share. All of that can be attributed to the iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch.

It also means that Apple is pulling ahead of Samsung in new device activations. Samsung is currently sitting at 32% to Apple’s 39%, with LG in third place at 13%, and all other brands chipping in 15%. Since Apple’s average selling price for a phone (and profit!) is well above all comparable manufacturers, the combination of high profit and high market share means Apple captures the lion’s share of mobile profit in the US. That situation only seems to be getting better for the company.

“In the first full quarter after the launch of its three new models, Apple grew its share relative to Android brands,” CIRP partner Josh Lowitz said in a note seen by 9to5Mac. “If we compare change in share from the September quarter to the December quarter in this year and last year, Apple clearly improved its market position. It gained ten percentage points from the September to the December quarter both years, but as it had a better September quarter in 2017 than in 2016, this resulted in an overall stronger December quarter.”

Apple – BGR

Plaintiff suing Apple for slowing down older iPhones wants Apple to halt its battery recycling program

iPhone Slowdown

With dozens of class-action lawsuits swirling overhead, Apple could have saved itself a whole lot of heartache and money — not to mention bad press — if it opted to be transparent about throttling CPU performance on older iPhone models. Indeed, allegations that Apple was purposefully slowing down older iPhone models with new iOS updates have persisted for years, only to be routinely dismissed as baseless, if not conspiratorial.

Predictably, once Apple confirmed that it does slow down older iPhone models with degraded batteries — all in the interest of preventing unexpected device shutdowns — the class action lawsuits started piling up quickly. It started with two lawsuits in California and has only expanded since then. Currently, Apple faces 40 class-action lawsuits stemming from its decision, however well-intentioned, to slow down older iPhones.

All that said, there’s now a new wrinkle to one of the class-action suits. Earlier this week, the plaintiff involved in the case Harvey v. Apple Inc. filed a motion in pursuit of a preliminary injunction that would would require Apple to temporarily suspend its battery recycling program and preserve all data it obtains via diagnostic testing on older iPhone batteries.

In a statement on the matter, the plaintiff’s attorney, Adam Levitt, explained:

Apple deceived many of its customers into buying brand new iPhones by rolling out its iOS throttling software, causing them material financial damages. Given the ever-changing nature of Apple’s battery replacement program and the critical importance of that diagnostic data to this lawsuit, Apple should be required to preserve that data and produce it to Plaintiff’s counsel. Not doing so exacerbates the problem and further erodes consumers’ trust in Apple.

The motion itself reads in part:

The timing of this program is questionable: Apple denied the existence of a problem with the batteries it installed in millions of iPhones for years, then announced the Defective Battery Program one week after Plaintiff Harvey sued it for fraudulently concealing the existence of defective batteries in Affected iPhones. It then accelerated the program and began removing and replacing those batteries and subjecting Affected iPhones to diagnostic tests. As a result, Class members are handing over evidence from their iPhones to Apple, without any assurance that Apple will not dispose of the replaced batteries or selectively use and/or dispose of the information gathered as a means of trying to avoid liability.

Apple’s internal policies call for it to recycle all iPhone batteries, 5 meaning that the evidence Class members expose to Apple’s data grab is destined for destruction and, thus, spoliation.

The plaintiff’s motion is set to be heard on February 21.

Apple – BGR

Apple might’ve found a way to make the notch smaller on next year’s iPhones

iPhone X Review

Apple’s tenth-anniversary iPhone X is the first completely redesigned iPhone the world has seen since all the way back in 2014. That’s when Apple finally caved to the wants of its customers and released two new iPhone models with larger displays. Apple was apparently so impressed with its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus designs that it decided to use them for four consecutive years. Thankfully, the fourth year was 2017, and the familiar iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus were accompanied by Apple’s fresh new iPhone X.

Since the iPhone X is a complete reimagining of Apple’s iPhone user experience, it has taken many users a bit of time to get used to. People who do have complaints seem to have three main issues with the phone in particular: they have problems with Face ID, they can’t remember all the new gestures, and they don’t like the “notch” cut out of the top of the display. While Touch ID isn’t coming back anytime soon and those new gestures are here to stay, it looks like we may have some good news regarding the iPhone X’s notch.

Apple’s iPhone X ditches the home button so that the display can stretch almost all the way to the bottom edge of the phone. The screen reaches just as far at the top of the phone as well, but only on the sides. A big chunk has been taken out of the middle of the screen along the top edge to make room for a speaker, a front-facing camera, and the sensor cluster Apple calls TrueDepth Camera.

The TrueDepth Camera is what enables Face ID, an advanced facial recognition system that is far more secure than similar biometric authentication systems on rival phones. It works by using an infrared dot projector to beam 30,000 invisible dots onto the user’s face, and then a special camera reads the dots and matches the resulting data to the phone’s saved face profile.

Apple is expected to unveil three new iPhone models this September, and all three of them will reportedly feature the iPhone X’s “all-screen” design, complete with the infamous notch. According to a new report from ETNews, however, next year’s new iPhones might not be quite as notchy.

“According to industries, it is heard that Apple is planning to strengthen face sensing function starting from 2019 models,” the report reads. “That is why it is planning to increase number of parts that will be used for iPhones and is looking into combination of a face recognition module with a camera module.” It should be noted that this is a translation of a Chinese-language report.

It’s possible that Apple’s upcoming new iPhones will combine elements of the TrueDepth camera with the standard front-facing camera. Apart from allowing Apple to squeeze a more complex solution into the phone, this might also allow the company to reduce the footprint of the sensor array. In other words, next year’s new iPhones might have a smaller notch.

Nothing is confirmed for the time being, of course, and many people out there like the notch. This is good news even for notch fans, however, because a smaller notch means upcoming iPhones would have more room for the screen.

Apple – BGR

New iPad Pro ads highlight augmented reality and the Apple Pencil

iPad Pro Features

Apple over the weekend released two new ads for the iPad Pro, one of which highlights augmented reality and another which focuses on what one can do with the Apple Pencil. Both ads are relatively short and arguably have an 80s themed vibe.

The first ad, which focuses on augmented reality, features a girl riding her bike across a city street whereupon she comes across an older man quietly reading a newspaper on a bench. She quickly takes out her iPad, and thanks to the power of iOS 11’s augmented reality features, she explores what the scene would look like if a couch was suddenly dropped nearby. Apple’s tagline for the ad reads: “With iPad Pro + iOS 11, you can use augmented reality to literally transform the world around you. Your next computer might not be a computer.”

That ad, appropriately dubbed “Augment Reality”, can be viewed below.

Apple’s second iPad Pro commercial focuses on the Apple Pencil and features the same girl perched up in a tree with her trusty Apple tablet in hand. We see that she’s already created some jaw-dropping notes with the Apple Pencil as she proceeds to swiftly drag a file from her Files app into the document. Apple’s tagline for this particular ad reads: “With iPad Pro + iOS 11, you can use Apple Pencil to create multimedia notes. Draw, type, or drag and drop your favorite photos from Files. Your next computer might not be a computer. ”

That ad, dubbed “Take Notes”, can be seen below.

To be honest, I’m not sure these ads are all that compelling, and I sincerely doubt they’ll do much of anything to engender much interest in the iPad Pro. That aside, it’s worth noting that iPad sales in 2017 finally experienced some growth after years of steady declines in sales. Specifically, Apple during the June quarter of 2017 saw iPad sales jump 15% year over year and 28% compared to sales in the March 2017 quarter.

Apple – BGR