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Apple's Rumored Amazon Echo Competitor Could Be a Next-Generation Apple TV

apple_tv_squareEarlier this week, The Information said Apple was actively developing an in-home hub that would compete with the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, and now VentureBeat has shared new details on the product and its prospective features.

Citing an unnamed source, VentureBeat says rather than developing a new product, Apple could add Echo-like features to a revamped version of the Apple TV. The Amazon Echo, for those unfamiliar, is an in-home personal assistant device with a built-in speaker and a robust AI system. The Echo is able to perform a wide range of functions, from giving weather reports and answering queries to controlling smart home devices.

A future version of the Apple TV may gain a dedicated microphone and speaker, along with deeper Siri integration to allow it to function like the Echo. Processing queries and serving up results is said to require additional computing infrastructure, which Apple is working on. It is not clear what extra computing infrastructure is needed as the fourth-generation Apple TV includes the same A8 processor that was used in the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, two devices more than capable of processing Siri inquiries.
The company will build on its enhancements to the Apple TV announced last year, which brought the Siri virtual assistant to the set-top box. A new version of the Apple TV will solve problems with the existing box and remote control, a source familiar with the matter claims.

"They want Apple TV to be just the hub of everything," the source told VentureBeat.
Apple reportedly considered several options, ranging from a more comprehensive Siri implementation in the Apple TV to an improved Siri Remote to a standalone Echo-like product, but the standalone option was dropped in favor of furthering development on the Apple TV.

VentureBeat's report does not include details on when a next-generation Apple TV box with the aforementioned features could be released, but a late 2015 rumor from DigiTimes suggested Apple was already at work on a fifth-generation Apple TV with a new CPU and redesigned heat-dissipation solution to go along with it.

Turning the Apple TV (or another hardware product) into an Amazon Echo competitor will require more robust Siri capabilities, which could come as soon as iOS 10. Apple is said to be working on a Siri SDK, allowing third-party developers to build Siri support into their apps.

Related Roundup: Apple TV
Tags: Siri, venturebeat.com, Amazon Echo
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Neutral)

Apple to Ramp Up Original Content, Considered Buying Time Warner Last Year

Time-Warner-AppleiTunes and services chief Eddy Cue proposed the idea of Apple bidding on media conglomerate Time Warner at the end of last year, according to the FT.

The discussions reportedly never progressed beyond the preliminary stage, however, and did not involve Apple CEO Tim Cook or Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.

The meetings had reportedly been arranged for the companies to discuss other partnerships, such as the inclusion of Time Warner assets in Apple's much-rumored streaming TV service.

Time Warner and its subsidiaries own several iconic media properties, including CNN, HBO, TBS, and TNT, that would be appropriate for a Netflix-like service streamable on the Apple TV, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and other devices. The company also holds the broadcast rights for the NBA in the United States.

The report adds that Apple plans to ramp up spending on original content to "several hundred million dollars a year" in order to better compete with rivals like Amazon and Netflix, both of which offer a growing number of exclusive TV series.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Apple executives met with TV producers and Hollywood studios about developing original TV shows that it would offer exclusively to its iTunes customers. Those discussions were also reportedly led by Cue and Robert Kondrk, vice-president of iTunes content.

The original content could spearhead Apple's plans to launch its streaming TV service, which has been delayed due to its difficulties in securing deals with media providers like CBS, ABC, Fox, Disney, Discovery, and Viacom.

Earlier reports claimed that Apple would offer a skinny bundle of channels for around $30 to $40 per month, while the original content would presumably be available to stream or purchase on the iTunes Store.

In April 2015, Time Warner CEO Bewkes said he was "pretty confident" that Apple will eventually launch a streaming TV service.

Apple Not Able to Open Retail Stores in India Without Selling 30% Locally Sourced Goods

Apple's plan to open three Apple Store locations in India may fall through following a ruling from the Indian finance ministry that says Apple must sell locally sourced goods if it wants to open stores in the country, reports Reuters.

In India, 30 percent of goods sold by foreign companies must be manufactured or produced in the country, a requirement Apple does not meet as its products are largely made in China. India last year exempted retailers selling state-of-the-art goods from the rule, prompting Apple to file a new application with the Indian government.

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Apple was expected to receive an exemption from the rule, earning a recommendation from country's Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, but the ministry of finance has decided Apple's products do not fall into the cutting-edge technology category. A source told Reuters Apple did not provide enough material to justify the exemption.
"They did ask for a waiver but didn't provide any material on record to justify it. The decision was taken only after a thorough examination of their application," the source said.

The waiver is available only for investment in "state of the art" or "cutting-edge technology", he added.
Without the ability to open its own retail stores in the country, Apple will need to continue selling iOS and Mac devices in India through third-party distributors. Apple is eager to expand its business in India as it is a largely untapped market. Last quarter, Apple saw its revenue from India grow 56 percent, surpassing $1 billion.

The ministry of finance's ruling comes just after Tim Cook spent several days in India, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other local business leaders, actors, politicians, and developers.

Apple has also announced the launch of a Maps development center in Hyderabad and an iOS app and design accelerator in Bangalore.

Tag: India

Apple in Talks About Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

Tesla-SuperchargerApple has been engaged in discussions with charging station companies about their underlying technologies, according to Reuters.

The talks are largely unsurprising given that Apple is widely believed to be researching and developing its own electric vehicle, which could enter production by 2020.

Apple would of course need to provide a way to charge the so-called Apple Car's battery, possibly akin to Tesla's network of Supercharger partners in the U.S. and around the world.
Charging firms are treading carefully, the person added, wary of sharing too much with a company they view as a potential rival.

It is unclear whether Apple would want its own proprietary technology, such as Tesla Motors' Supercharger network, or design a system compatible with offerings from other market players.
The report offers few specific details about the discussions, but it does confirm that a "global engineering and construction firm" has already contacted Apple to offer its services. It remains unclear, however, if Apple would be open to a charging partner or prefer to create its own proprietary network.
"It would be natural to assume if Apple is going to have a full battery electric vehicle that creates a seamless consumer experience the way Apple does, the charging infrastructure and its availability would be of paramount importance," the source said.
The report also reflects upon a series of charging-related hirings that Apple has made in recent months, based on LinkedIn profiles, such as Nan Liu, described as "an engineer who researched a form of wireless charging for electric vehicles," and former Google charging expert Kurt Adelberger.

As more electric vehicles begin to arrive on the roads, it is expected that EV automakers will have to expand their charging stations to accommodate. Tesla, for example, currently has around 600 charging stations worldwide, which pales in comparison to the nearly 400,000 reservations for its lower-priced Model 3.

Apple is on track to spend a record $10 billion on R&D this year, which analyst Neil Cybart believes is a clear indicator of its electric vehicle plans. Cybart predicted the odds of Apple releasing an electric vehicle are at least 80 percent, adding that Apple has likely already spent at least a few billion dollars on the project.

"Apple is not spending $10 billion on R&D just to come up with new Watch bands, larger iPads, or a video streaming service," he wrote. "Instead, Apple is planning on something much bigger: a pivot into the automobile industry."

The majority of R&D may be taking place in Sunnyvale and the surrounding Santa Clara Valley area, near Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, with a recent report claiming the company is looking to purchase "large expanses of real estate" in the San Francisco Bay Area for the project.

Related Roundup: Apple Car

Qualcomm's Fast X12 LTE Modem is Appropriate Candidate for iPhone 7

X12While several rumors point towards Apple switching to Intel as its primary supplier of LTE modems for the iPhone 7 series, the consensus remains that longtime supplier Qualcomm will continue to share a portion of orders.

Assuming at least a percentage of orders go to Qualcomm, which has been the exclusive provider of LTE modems in iPhones for over three years, its X12 modem is a likely candidate for LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity on iPhone 7.

Qualcomm's X12 chipsets, announced in September 2015, feature theoretical LTE category 12 download speeds up to 600 Mbps and LTE category 13 upload speeds up to 150 Mbps. The lineup, including the MDM9x45 and MDM9x40 chipsets, also support LTE Advanced carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, LTE-U small cells, and automatic LTE and Wi-Fi switching.

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LTE Advanced enables data transfer between multiple cell towers to allow for higher data rates with lower latency across the network, translating to faster speeds for browsing the web, downloading apps, streaming video, and other data-related tasks.

The MDM9x45 would be an appropriate successor to Qualcomm's MDM9635 modem in the iPhone 6s series, which provides theoretical downlink speeds up to 300 Mbps and uplink speeds up to 50 Mbps. The X12 has already been adopted in several flagship Android smartphones equipped with the Snapdragon 820 processor, including the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, and Xiaomi Mi5.


Comparatively, Apple is rumored to use Intel's XMM 7360 LTE modem [PDF] with theoretical download speeds up to 450 Mbps and upload speeds up to 100 Mbps. The chip also features LTE Advanced with 3x carrier aggregation and support for up to 29 LTE bands overall, VoLTE, dual SIM cards, and LTE and Wi-Fi interworking.

Provided that rumors about Apple sourcing LTE modems from both Intel and Qualcomm are accurate, it remains unclear how the chipsets will be divided. The split could be based on certain iPhone models or SKUs, or perhaps Apple will elect to use Intel modems in certain regions and Qualcomm modems in others.


Qualcomm also introduced the X16, the world's first announced Gigabit-class LTE modem, in February 2016, but the chipset is unlikely to make its way into iPhones until at least late 2017. The X16 supports 4x20 MHz carrier aggregation to achieve unprecedented theoretical download speeds up to 1 Gbps and peak upload speeds up to 150 Mbps. Real-world speeds, however, are often limited by carriers.

The bottom line for end users is that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus/Pro will likely have much faster peak LTE and Wi-Fi speeds, regardless of whether the chipsets are sourced from Intel, Qualcomm, or a combination of the two. While true speeds ultimately rely upon carriers, the upgrade should be a welcomed improvement for data-heavy users in the U.S. and around the world.

Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: Qualcomm, LTE

Hyundai Releases Software Update to Expand CarPlay Support to Additional Vehicles

Hyundai is releasing a software update that brings CarPlay support to eight new vehicles, including the 2016 Elantra GT, 2015 and 2016 non-hybrid Sonata, 2017 Santa Fe Sport, 2017 Santa Fe, 2015 and 2016 Genesis Sedan, and the 2016 Tucson.

The vehicles gaining CarPlay support through a software update join Hyundai's previously announced CarPlay models, the 2016 Sonata, 2017 Elantra, and the 2017 IONIQ. Hyundai has not officially announced the news, but dealers were sent a notice about the update on May 19. Dealer information suggests the update is supposed to be available as of today, May 24.

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Hyundai owners with an eligible vehicle can download the CarPlay update through the Hyundai website and are encouraged to go through the installation process themselves. A Mac or PC with an SD card slot or an external SD card reader is required to download the software and transfer the update to the vehicle's in-dash system. Software download times range from 25 minutes for Display Audio to more than three hours for Navigation if a map update is required.

CarPlay took several years to roll out to new vehicles, but there are now dozens of 2016 and 2017 vehicles available with CarPlay support. Apple maintains a list of vehicles that come equipped with CarPlay on its website, which sees updates every few weeks.

Update 5/25: Several MacRumors readers have confirmed that the CarPlay software update is now available for eligible vehicles.

(Thanks, Brad!)

Related Roundup: CarPlay

Apple Working on Amazon Echo Competitor, Opening Siri Up to Developers

amazonecho2Apple is actively developing a product that would compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, reports The Information. Citing a source with direct knowledge of Apple's plans, the report suggests Apple is working on a Siri-based device that would include a speaker and microphone that could be used for features like listening to music, getting news headlines, and more.

In addition to developing such a device, Apple is planning to improve Siri by opening the voice assistant up to outside developers. Apple is said to be preparing to release a Siri software development kit that would allow developers to make their apps and their app content accessible through Siri voice commands. Apple plans to require developers to use the tool responsibly.

Opening Siri up to third-party developers will go a long way towards expanding the capabilities of Apple's virtual assistant. Right now, Siri only works with a handful of apps like OpenTable and Yelp, and Apple has been hesitant to develop a Siri API and improve Siri's functionality because of privacy concerns.

According to The Information, a Siri SDK could be introduced as soon as WWDC, meaning third-party Siri access would be built into iOS 10 and perhaps OS X 10.12, which is also rumored to be gaining Siri support.

Both Amazon and Google have developed robust in-home personal assistant devices built around their respective AI platforms, which Apple hopes to compete with. The products are able to perform a wide range of features, from giving weather reports and answering queries to controlling smart home devices like light bulbs and thermostats. The Amazon Echo has been well-received, and Google's Home product, just announced at Google I/O, supports similar features.

Apple has reportedly been working on an Echo competitor since before the Echo debuted last year, and it will perhaps include features like a speaker, Internet access, and the ability to control HomeKit products. It is not known when Apple will be ready to debut its home accessory or how it will fit into the company's existing product lineup.

Related Roundups: WWDC 2016, iOS 10
Tags: Siri, Amazon Echo

Apple Seeds First iOS 9.3.3 Beta to Public Beta Testers

Apple today released the first beta of an upcoming iOS 9.3.3 update for public beta testers, one day after seeding the first iOS 9.3.3 beta to developers. iOS 9.3.3 comes one week after the release of iOS 9.3.2, an update focusing primarily on bug fixes.

Beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program will receive the iOS 9.3.3 update over-the-air after installing the proper certificate on their iOS device.

Those who want to be a part of Apple's beta testing program can sign up to participate through the beta testing website, which gives users access to both iOS and OS X betas.

appleios93
As another minor 9.x.x update, iOS 9.3.3 appears to include mainly under-the-hood bug fixes and performance improvements to address issues that have been discovered since the release of iOS 9.3.2. iOS 9.3.3 is not yet available for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro due to an iOS 9.3.2 issue that has caused some 9.7-inch iPad Pro devices to be bricked.

No outward-facing changes or immediately apparent bug fixes were discovered in the first developer beta of iOS 9.3.3.

Related Roundup: iOS 9
Tag: iOS 9.3.3

Apple Rehires Security and Encryption Expert Jon Callas Following FBI Dispute

Following its very public encryption battle with the FBI, Apple has rehired software engineer and and security expert Jon Callas, reports Reuters. Callas, who has previously worked at Apple, is known for co-founding encrypted communications services Silent Circle, Blackphone, and PGP Corporation.

Apple's decision to rehire Callas comes amid rumors the company is working on improving the security of its iOS devices. Apple has said it will continually improve security to keep ahead of hackers, and its dispute with the FBI is said to have spurred the company begin work on implementing security measures "even it can't hack."

joncallas
Earlier this year, Apple was ordered to assist the FBI in the unlocking of the iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook, an order it fought because the FBI was asking for new software that would bypass iPhone passcode security measures. Apple insisted the software was "too dangerous to create," setting dangerous precedents that could lead to a weakening of overall device encryption. The FBI eventually dropped the case after finding an alternate method to breach the iPhone, but the fight over encryption is far from over.

According to Reuters, Callas supports Apple's position and is opposed to companies being compelled to break their own encryption by the government, but he believes law enforcement officials should be able to take advantage of software vulnerabilities, the method the FBI ultimately used to get into Farook's iPhone 5c.
Callas has said he is against companies being compelled by law enforcement to break into their own encrypted products. But he has also said he supports a compromise proposal under which law enforcement officials with a court order can take advantage of undisclosed software vulnerabilities to hack into tech systems, as long as they disclose the vulnerabilities afterwards so they can be patched.
An Apple spokesperson confirmed the hiring, but did not offer details on what Callas is working on. Callas was formerly employed at Apple in the 1990s and from 2009 to 2011, working on cryptographic security products for OS X and iOS.

Prior to its dispute with the FBI, Apple also acquired security company LegbaCore to improve the security of its software.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: Health Industry is 'Ripe for Simplicity and a New View'

Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke this morning at Startup Fest Europe, a festival geared towards helping startups grow, where he gave some sage business advice and shared some insight into Apple's future plans in the television and healthcare industries.

Some of Cook's most interesting comments were on healthcare, which has been a focus for Apple in recent years with ResearchKit, HealthKit, and the Apple Watch. According to Cook, healthcare could be significantly improved through the use of apps and it's one area where the App Store has potential for growth.


Cook went on to say that health is something that interests Apple because it's an area where hardware, software, and services can come together into "something that's magical." Apple said health is a "huge problem in the world" that's ripe for a revamp.
The things that interest us the most are things where we can bring our ability to integrate hardware, software, and services into something that's magical and enriches people in some way. If you look at some of the things we're doing that do not drive revenue but they have massive interest in them from our teams - health is very much one of those. [...]

The net of that is we believe that health is something that is a huge problem in the world, a huge issue, and we think it is ripe for simplicity and sort of a new view and we'd like to contribute to that. So that's an area where we're very focused.
He also made some predictions on the Apple Watch, once again stating that people will one day look back at the watch and wonder how they lived without it. The "holy grail" of the watch, he says, is being able to monitor more and more of what's going on in the body, something that's not possible today, but will be possible in the future. He likened the future of healthcare and monitoring devices to the systems available in cars.
For those of you that own a car. You get in your car, you crank it up, you drive for a while. If it gets a little too hot a light comes on and says you know pull over or check out. If you need an oil change, it comes on and says check the oil. It has all of these things in it that alert you that you need to do something. What is the equivalent for the body?

Well, it's our minds, but our minds unfortunately convince all of us all too often not to seek help. And many times, we don't even know. There's no symptom. So if you could have a device that knew so much about you, it would be pretty incredible and would extend life and extend quality. I'm not saying one device will do all of that, but when you solve such a big problem it takes several contributions. That's the way I feel here.
Other tidbits of information from the interview included Apple's stance on becoming a carrier, to which Tim Cook said the company's expertise "doesn't extend to the network," and Apple's interest in the entertainment industry and its desire to be a catalyst for change.
We also believe in the entertainment realm that apps are the future of TV and so we've launched our new Apple TV product, but it's clear to us as we pull that string that there's a lot left to do, and we'd like to be a catalyst in changing the world of entertainment and so we're continuing to work on that.
When it comes to business advice, Cook ended the interview by saying companies shouldn't be worried about cannibalizing their products and shouldn't compromise. "Don't get full of yourself. Don't smoke your own exhaust. Don't worry about cannibalizing yourself," he said. "I think being hungry -- not being driven by money, but being driven by some higher purpose and building great products -- is really key. Never do something strictly for money. Do it for love, do it for passion."

Tag: Tim Cook

Pebble 2, Time 2, and Pebble Core Launch on Kickstarter

Pebble today launched a Kickstarter campaign for two new fitness-focused smartwatches, and an all-new cellular-connected wearable.

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Pebble 2, the first major upgrade to the original Pebble smartwatch, features new built-in sleep, step, and heart rate tracking functionality alongside existing phone, text, and information notification capabilities.

The iOS- and Android-compatible smartwatch retains an always-on high contrast black and white display that is readable both indoors and outdoors. The watch also features an anti-scratch lens coating, built-in microphone, up to weeklong battery life, and water resistance up to 30 meters.

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Pebble 2 is compatible with over 13,000 existing apps and watchfaces, and runs an updated version of its Timeline operating system that enables customizable one-click actions that, for example, make it easier to send a text message, call an Uber, or check your calendar right from your wrist.

Time 2 is Pebble's premium smartwatch featuring a stainless steel design, built-in heart rate monitor and microphone, and color e-paper display that is more than 50 percent larger than its predecessor and has up to 80 percent more pixels to see twice the text. The battery lasts up to 10 days on a single charge.

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Time 2 adopts many other Pebble 2 features and is compatible with iOS and Android.

Pebble Core is an all-new Android-based lightweight, cellular-connected clip that allows runners to leave their smartphones behind, yet still conveniently stream music from Spotify, track their pace, distance, and location with GPS, record voice notes, and even send an emergency SOS if needed.

Pebble Core supports both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular networks using a micro-SIM card, while both Bluetooth and wired headphones can be connected. The wearable provides up to 5 days of battery life based on 45 minute workouts and can be charged using the included USB cable or an add-on wireless charging pad.

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Pebble 2 starts at $99 on Kickstarter in flame, aqua, black, white, and lime and begins shipping in September 2016, while Time 2 starts at $169 in black, gold, and silver and is slated to ship in November 2016. Pebble Core starts at $69 in black-red and begins shipping in January 2017.

Pebble has already well exceeded its $1 million fundraising goal, with limited early bird and regular pledge tiers still available on Kickstarter. The Pebble 2, Time 2, and Core will each cost $30 extra at full retail price once the crowdfunding campaign is completed at the end of June.

Pebble also introduced Pebble Core for Hackers and new Pebble Health tools and features.

Pebble's existing smartwatch lineup includes the Pebble Classic, Pebble Steel, Pebble Time, Pebble Time Steel, and Pebble Time Round.

2016 MacBook Pro May Include OLED Display Touch Bar and Touch ID

Apple plans to introduce a revamped high-end MacBook Pro this year that'll include a thinner and lighter form factor, Touch ID and a new OLED display touch bar above the keyboard, according to a new report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The new MacBook Pro would come in 13- and 15-inch variations and arrive in the fourth quarter of 2016.

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While long overlooked, the MacBook line is the brightest spot for Apple’s 2016 rollouts. This is particularly true of the two new MacBook Pro models, to be introduced in 4Q16, as they will have a thinner and lighter form factor, Touch ID, use OLED display touch bar (to replace physical function keys, located above the keyboard) and adopt USB- C / Thunderbolt 3.
Kuo calls the new MacBook Pro updates the "most significant upgrade ever undertaken by Apple." The new "thin and light" design will be helped by new metal injection mold-made hinges and the butterfly-mechanism keyboards that debuted in the 12-inch MacBook. There has been speculation Apple would introduce Touch ID to MacBooks and, in the meantime, Apple engineers are working on a way users could unlock their Macs with Touch ID on iPhone.

The 12-inch MacBook will also be joined by a 13-inch MacBook, according to Kuo. The analyst believes that Apple will move forward with all three MacBook lines this year, with the MacBook Pro occupying the high-end slot, the MacBook will replace the Air as the medium-level model and the MacBook Air will serve as an entry-level model with comparatively low prices.

In April, it was reported that the new MacBook Pros would see slimmer designs and new hinges. Additionally, speculation indicated the new MacBook Pros could adopt Thunderbolt 3 with USB-C. Today's report confirms both rumors. Apple's refreshed MacBook Pros are also expected to sport faster Skylake processors, with the top-of-the-line MacBook Pros also sporting AMD's new 400-series Polaris graphics chips.