AI

Amazon Is Designing Custom AI Chips For Alexa (theverge.com) 70

According to a report (paywalled) from The Information, Amazon is designing a custom artificial intelligence chip that would power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its Alexa voice assistant. "The move closely followers rivals Apple and Google, both of which have already developed and deployed custom AI hardware at various scales," reports The Verge. From the report: While Amazon is unlikely to physically produce the chips, given its lack of both fabrication experience and a manufacturing presence in China, the news does pose a risk to the businesses of companies like Nvidia and Intel. Both companies have shifted large portions of their chipmaking expertise to AI and the future of the burgeoning field, and both make money by designing and manufacturing chips for companies like Apple, Amazon, and others. Amazon, which seeks to stay competitive in the smart home hardware market and in the realm of consumer-facing AI products, has nearly 450 people with chip expertise on staff, reports The Information, thanks to key hires and acquisitions the e-commerce giant has made in the last few years. The plan is for Amazon to develop its own AI chips so Alexa-powered products in its ever-expanding Echo line can do more on-device processing, instead of having to communicate with the cloud, a process that increases response rate times.
Music

Reddit Audiophiles Test HomePod, Say It Sounds Better Than $1,000 Speaker (arstechnica.com) 327

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple released its much-hyped HomePod speaker to the masses last week, and the general consensus among early reviews is that it sounds superb for a relatively small device. But most of those reviews seem to have avoided making precise measurements of the HomePod's audio output, instead relying on personal experience to give generalized impressions. That's not a total disaster: a general rule for speaker testing is that while it's good to stamp out any outside factor that may cause a skewed result, making definitive, "objective" claims is difficult. But having some proper measurements is important. Reddit user WinterCharm, whose real name is Fouzan Alam, has made just that in a truly massive review for the site's "r/audiophile" sub. And if his results are to be believed, those early reviews may be underselling the HomePod's sonic abilities. After a series of tests with a calibrated microphone in an untreated room, Alam found the HomePod to sound better than the KEF X300A, a generally well-regarded bookshelf speaker that retails for $999. What's more, Alam's measurements found the HomePod to provide a "near-perfectly flat frequency response," meaning it stays accurate to a given track without pushing the treble, mids, or bass to an unnatural degree. He concludes that the digital signal processing tech the HomePod uses to "self-calibrate" its sound to its surroundings allows it to impress at all volumes and in tricky environments. "The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker," he writes.
Google

Google's Next Android Overhaul Will Embrace iPhone's 'Notch' (bloomberg.com) 179

Google is working on a "dramatic redesign" of its Android operating system, Bloomberg reported on Monday. The company has stuck with a single look for its mobile operating system (OS) for quite some time now, but it's now reportedly looking at Apple for inspiration. The new version of Android -- which Bloomberg says is called "Pistachio Ice Cream" internally -- will apparently be designed with the space for a cutout at the top, much like the iPhone X and its so-called "notch." From the report: The operating system refresh, Android P, will emphasize Google's Assistant, a digital helper that competes with Apple's Siri and Amazon.com's Alexa. Developers will be able to integrate Google's voice-based technology inside of their apps. The company has also weighed integrating the search bar on the Android home screen with its assistant, although neither of these changes are finalized for introduction this year, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.
Apple

HomePod Repairs Cost Almost as Much as a New HomePod (theverge.com) 130

This may not come as a huge surprise, but it's going to be pricey if you break Apple's fully sealed and densely packed new speaker. From a report: Repair pricing for the HomePod was posted to Apple's website this week, and the number is high enough that it's clear you should invest in a warranty if you're worried about breaking one: an out-of-warranty repair from Apple will cost $279 in the US, which is 80 percent of the price of a brand-new HomePod. So you're not so much repairing it as getting a small discount on a new one.
Security

Sandboxed Mac Apps Can Record Screen Any Time Without You Knowing (bleepingcomputer.com) 59

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Malicious app developers can secretly abuse a macOS API function to take screenshots of the user's screen and then use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to programmatically read the text found in the image. The function is CGWindowListCreateImage, often utilized by Mac apps that take screenshots or live stream a user's desktop. According to Fastlane Tools founder Felix Krause, any Mac app, sandboxed or not, can access this function and secretly take screenshots of the user's screen. Krause argues that miscreants can abuse this privacy loophole and utilize CGWindowListCreateImage to take screenshots of the screen without the user's permission.
IOS

Apple Intern Reportedly Leaked iPhone Source Code (theverge.com) 153

Earlier this week, a portion of iOS source code was posted online to GitHub, and in an interesting twist, a new report from Motherboard reveals that the code was originally leaked by a former Apple intern. The Verge reports: According to Motherboard, the intern who stole the code took it and distributed it to a small group of five friends in the iOS jailbreaking community in order to help them with their ongoing efforts to circumvent Apple's locked down mobile operating system. The former employee apparently took "all sorts of Apple internal tools and whatnot," according to one of the individuals who had originally received the code, including additional source code that was apparently not included in the initial leak. The plan was originally to make sure that the code never left the initial circle of five friends, but apparently the code spread beyond the original group sometime last year. Eventually, the code was then posted in a Discord chat group, and was shared to Reddit roughly four months ago (although that post was apparently removed by a moderation bot automatically). But then, it was posted again to GitHub this week, which is when things snowballed to where they are now, with Apple ordering GitHub to remove the code.
IOS

Apple Says the Leaked iPhone Source Code is Outdated (cnet.com) 80

Apple has responded to security concerns surrounding leaked iPhone source code, pointing out that any potential vulnerabilities would be outdated. From a report: "Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked," Apple said in a statement, "but by design the security of our products doesn't depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built in to our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections." The iBoot source code for iOS 9, a core part of what keeps your iPhones and iPads secure when they turn on, was leaked on GitHub, Motherboard first reported. The source code leak was considered a major security issue for Apple, as hackers could dig through it and search for any vulnerabilities in iBoot. Apple had used a DMCA notice to get the Github page hosting the leaked code taken down, but multiple copies of the code have already spread online.
IOS

Key iPhone Source Code Gets Posted On GitHub (vice.com) 188

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: An anonymous person posted what experts say is the source code for a core component of the iPhone's operating system on GitHub, which could pave the way for hackers and security researchers to find vulnerabilities in iOS and make iPhone jailbreaks easier to achieve. The code is for "iBoot," which is the part of iOS that is responsible for ensuring a trusted boot of the operating system. It's the program that loads iOS, the very first process that runs when you turn on your iPhone. The code says it's for iOS 9, an older version of the operating system, but portions of it are likely to still be used in iOS 11. Bugs in the boot process are the most valuable ones if reported to Apple through its bounty program, which values them at a max payment of $200,000. "This is the biggest leak in history," Jonathan Levin, the author of a series of books on iOS and Mac OSX internals, told Motherboard in an online chat. "It's a huge deal." Levin, along with a second security researcher familiar with iOS, says the code appears to be the real iBoot code because it aligns with the code he reverse engineered himself.
Businesses

Bowing To Popularity, Apple Stores In China Accept Alipay (9to5mac.com) 23

hackingbear writes: Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has announced that its mobile wallet app Alipay is to be accepted in physical Apple Stores in the country. This would be the first time Apple has allowed retail store purchases to be made with a third-party mobile wallet app amid a push by the iPhone maker to revive growth in the world's No.2 economy. Apple has had to work hard to promote Apple Pay in China due to the popularity of existing, local mobile wallet apps like WeChat Pat and Alipay. The company had already bowed to the inevitable in allowing local apps to be used for online payments. Other American brands like McDonald's and Starbucks have already started accepting Alipay and WeChat Pay in China for sometimes.
Power

What Apple's Battery Health 'Fix' Looks Like (bgr.com) 69

Apple has released new battery health features in iOS 11.3 beta 2, which was seeded to developers today. BGR reports what those battery health functions look like, and how to disable power management if you're using an older iPhone: The feature is contained within a new "Battery Health" menu, which is under the "Battery" tab on iOS 11.3. The page only really has two fields: Maximum Capacity, which shows what percentage of the original charge your battery can still hold; and Peak Performance Capacity, which tells you if your phone's performance is being throttled due to the battery. Right now, there are no options to change anything within the menu. Maximum Capacity should be at 100% for newer phones, and it should fall down to around 80% over the course of about two years of normal use. A Redditor on the iOSBeta forum uploaded a photo of his iPhone 7, which is sitting at 87% capacity. That device still shows peak performance.

On older devices with a worse battery, the phone will show that reduced Maximum Capacity, as well as detail any performance slowdowns due to the decreased battery capacity. On devices that have weaker batteries, the Peak Performance Capability will change to read "This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again." A small blue hyperlink then says "Disable," which lets you manually turn off your iPhone's performance management.

Music

Apple Homepod Review: Locked In (theverge.com) 73

On Tuesday, the review embargo lifted for full reviews of Apple's new HomePod smart speaker. The Verge's Niley Patel shared his thoughts on Apple's new HomePod in video and written form. Patel found that while it offers best-in-class sound for the price, Siri is frustratingly limited and the voice controls only work with Apple Music. Furthermore, Siri can't tell different voices apart, therefore raising some privacy concerns as anyone can come up to the speaker and ask Siri to send and read text messages and other private information aloud. Here's an excerpt from the report: The HomePod, whether Apple likes it or not, is the company's answer to the wildly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Apple is very insistent that the $349 HomePod has been in development for the past six years and that it's entirely focused on sound quality, but it's entering a market where Amazon is advertising Alexa as a lovable and well-known character during the Super Bowl instead of promoting its actual features. Our shared expectations about smart speakers are beginning to settle in, and outside of engineering labs and controlled listening tests, the HomePod has to measure up. And while it's true that the HomePod sounds incredible -- it sounds far better than any other speaker in its price range -- it also demands that you live entirely inside Apple's ecosystem in a way that even Apple's other products do not. The question is: is beautiful sound quality worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden? As for technical specifications, the HomePod comes in at 6.8 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and weights 5.5 pounds. It features a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier, six-microphone array, internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming, and transparent studio-level dynamic processing.
Iphone

Apple Is Seeing 'Strong Demand' For Replacement iPhone Batteries (reuters.com) 83

In a letter addressed to the U.S. lawmakers, Apple said earlier this month that it was seeing "strong demand" for replacement iPhone batteries. The company added that it may offer rebates for consumers who paid full price for new batteries. From a report: Apple confirmed in December that software to deal with aging batteries in iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE models could slow down performance. The company apologized and lowered the price of battery replacements for affected models from $79 to $29. In the letter released Tuesday, amid nagging allegations that it slowed down phones with older batteries as a way to push people into buying new phones, the company said it was considering issuing rebates to consumers who paid full price for replacement batteries.
Privacy

Apple is Sending Some Developers Ad Spend and Install Details For Other People's Apps (techcrunch.com) 14

An issue at Apple appears to be resulting in app developers getting emails of ad spend and install summaries for apps belonging to other developers. From a report: The issue -- which appears specific right now to developers using Search Ads Basic, pay-per-install ads that appear as promoted apps when people search on the App Store -- was raised on Twitter by a number of those affected, including prominent developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who posted a screenshot of an email that summarized January's ad spend and install data another developer's two apps. Several others replied noting the same issue, listing more developers and random apps.
Businesses

Apple Music Was Always Going To Win (gizmodo.com) 161

Apple Music is about to overtake Spotify as the most popular streaming music service in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. Gizmodo: [...] Here's where the inevitability comes into play. Because all Apple devices come preloaded with Apple Music, countless consumers start using Apple Music without knowing any better. It's effectively become the streaming music analogue of Microsoft pushing people to surf the web with Internet Explorer. The big difference is that people eventually have to pay for Apple Music, which is the same price as Spotify. As many suspected when it launched three years ago, Apple Music was bound to succeed simply because Apple is big enough and rich enough to will it so. Think about it this way: Spotify gained traction quickly after its 2011 launch, largely because music enthusiasts had seen its streaming model succeed globally and wanted to try this neat new thing. After all, there wasn't anything quite like it at the time, and Americans love to feel innovative.

But eventually, Spotify would cease to feel special and new. As the years passed, practically every major tech company launched its own music streaming service. And then, in 2015, Apple unveiled Apple Music in 2015 -- which was really just a rebranded version of Beats Music. Because Apple could preload the service on iPhones, Watches, and Macs, the company could effectively tap into a new revenue stream without actually inventing anything.

Iphone

iPhone X Bug Leaves Some Users Unable To Answer Calls (betanews.com) 65

Mark Wilson writes: A number of iPhone X users are complaining about a bug that leaves them unable to answer incoming calls. Reports of the bug are spreading through Apple's support forums, and the company says it is looking into the problem. People who are experiencing the bug say that when they receive a call, their iPhone X rings, but the screen does not wake up. While the problem has been around for a couple of months, complaints seem to be growing in number at the moment.

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