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Apple disables Walkie-Talkie app after notified of iPhone snooping threat

 

Apple late Wednesday said it disabled the Walkie-Talkie app on Apple Watch after being alerted to a vulnerability that allows a user to surreptitiously listen in on another iPhone’s audio.

Walkie-Talkie

In a statement issued to TechCrunch, Apple said it was made aware of the bug through its product security reporting service, which allows developers, researchers and others to flag security and privacy issues via email.

Apple did not specify how the Walkie-Talkie flaw works, but in a statement said the bug “could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.” A more detailed rundown might be provided in release notes accompanying a consequent watchOS security update. Whatever the case, the vulnerability is apparently serious enough to prompt Apple to deactivate a major platform feature.

The company told TechCrunch that while the bug has not been spotted in the wild, it has decided to temporarily disable Walkie-Talkie until a fix is in place. Apple will keep the Walkie-Talkie app on user devices as a patch is developed and deployed, suggesting the vulnerability at least partially impacts server-side assets.

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent. We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Walkie-Talkie was introduced last year as a tentpole feature of watchOS 5. A modern take on push-to-talk communication methods popularized by two-way radios — and later transformed into a cellular service option by Nextel and other handset makers — Walkie-Talkie enables Apple Watch users the ability to send ephemeral audio messages to one another through the cloud.

Apple’s decision to disable Walkie-Talkie is reminiscent of its handling of the Group FaceTime fiasco earlier this year.

In January, teenager Grant Thompson discovered a particularly insidious bug that allowed any iPhone owner to eavesdrop on another user simply by adding that person’s number to a Group FaceTime call. The vulnerability granted access to a target device’s microphone without user intervention.

As word of the FaceTime exploit spread, Apple was forced to disable the feature until a fix was rolled in an update issued about a week later.

Thompson, whose mother attempted to inform Apple of the bug multiple times a week before it went viral, was ultimately paid a bug bounty and scholarship for finding the flaw.

Apple has not provided an estimated timeline of completion for the Walkie-Talkie fix.

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Apple to lead smartwatch growth through 2023, report says

 

Apple will be a primary growth driver of worldwide smartwatch sales through 2023, though its share of the market is expected to see erosion from an onslaught of competitors, according to research firm IDC.

Smartwatches are expected to lead growth in the wider wearable device segment over the next five years with shipments moving from 91.8 million units in 2019 to 131.6 million units in 2023, IDC said in a forecast released on Wednesday. The product category currently accounts for 41.2% of worldwide wearable shipments and will grow to 43.5% at the end of 2023, according to the IDC Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker.

Apple is anticipated to lead the pack and will end the five-year period with a 25.9% share of all watches, the report said. Following behind Apple Watch will be a motley crew of devices running Android, WearOS, Tizen and other first- and third-party wearable operating systems.

“Apple’s…nearest competitors follow by a long margin,” Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team, said in a statement to CNET. “Android also plays a big role here, but it’s mostly known as a Chinese wearables platform.”

While IDC sees Apple Watch as a clear market leader, the five-year forecast terminates in a number slightly down from recent estimates. In March, the research firm said Apple clinched a 26.8% share of the smartwatch market in 2018 on 46.2 million shipments, up 39.5% year-over-year.

According to IDC, watches and “earwear,” like AirPods, will dominate the overall wearables sector come 2023, combining for a whopping 78.3% share of the market. Wristbands, like those popularized by Fitbit, are predicted to account for an 18.2% marketshare, up only 0.3% between 2019 to 2023.

In total, IDC anticipates 302.3 million wearable device shipments in 2023.

Today’s results are modified down from predictions aired in March, which pegged Apple to take 27.5% of all smartwatch shipments at the end of 2023. The earlier report also quoted total wearable device shipments at 279 million units over the same period.

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Apple’s ‘How to take an ECG’ video teaches how to use the feature on an Apple Watch Series 4

 

Apple has published a new video to its YouTube account teaching people how to use the Apple Watch Series 4’s ECG feature, with the brief video detailing all of the steps required to perform the measurement on the wearable device.

A still from Apple's

A still from Apple’s “How to take an ECG” video

Published on Friday, the 36-second video titled “How to take an ECG” quickly explains how to start the electrocardiogram process, started off by opening the ECG app itself. As the video explains, users have to hold their finger on the digital crown on the side of the device until the 30-second timer expires.

After the test has completed, users can scroll through the results to see more information, including next steps a user can take. This includes an “Add Symptoms” button if the user feels unwell and believes it is worth adding alongside the ECG’s results for future reference by medical professionals.

The new tutorial video is in a similar style to those published in December, with quick clips giving a basic overview on how to use Walkie-Talkie, to remotely locate a paired iPhone, customize watch faces, and other topics.

Apple started to roll out the ECG function to Apple Watch Series 4 users as part of the watchOS 5.1.2 update. The feature is limited only to the United States, due to the need to receive regulatory approval in other territories before being enabled.

Shortly after being made available, the ECG function, which is capable of detecting an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, has already helped save lives. Reports surfaced where users visited physicians and hospital emergency rooms for a full-scale electrocardiogram following a warning from their Apple Watch, which in some cases led to further medical procedures.

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Apple Watch could get more hands-free tilt controls in future watchOS update

The Apple Watch could include more gestures similar to Raise to Speak in the future, after the revelation Apple has explored the possibility of producing more hands-free ways to interact with wearable devices and other hardware.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch

Apple introduced Raise to Speak as part of a raft of updates in watchOS 5 last year. The gesture, where the user raises their wrist up and prepares to speak to the Apple Watch, is automatically treated as an intention to issue a command to Siri, all without saying the “Hey Siri” prompt beforehand.

The gesture is useful for more than dismissing the need for a verbal prompt, as it is a way of interacting with the Apple Watch without needing to use both hands. Most actions still require the use of the free hand, such as by touching the screen or turning the digital crown, and while voice commands are also useful, it may not be a desirable time to use them while the user’s hands are occupied with other tasks.

A patent application from Apple published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday for “interacting with an electronic device through physical movement” describes how an Apple Watch could be controlled in a more elaborate manner than currently offered, just by tilting the wrist.

The concept relies on the Apple Watch detecting the user raising their wrist, in a similar way to the current Raise to Speak gesture, but the bulk of the filing details what the users do after the detected raise. By rotating their wrist or tilting their arm, it is suggested the user can select one from multiple different actions presented to them on the display.

While this could be used to prompt actions, it is more likely that such a system would be needed for when a user needs to respond to a notification, without needing to use both of their hands. One example offered is to either accept or reject an incoming call to the Apple Watch.

In one interpretation, the display has a three pronged image that works in a similar fashion to ball-in-maze puzzles. One prong of the M-shaped maze contains an indicator that can be moved to other two lanes, with each representing the response to answer the call or to hang up.

An example of the simple tilt maze used to answer calls in the proposed patent application

An example of the simple tilt maze used to answer calls in the proposed patent application

By rotating the wrist back, the user can shift the indicator in the relevant direction, then tilt to determine which operation they wish to perform, and then rotate the wrist back for a specific period of time to bring the indicator all the way along the path, to confirm the action.

In another way, a single-path lane with two corners can provide two different responses, such as muting a call and hanging up while in a call, with the duration appearing in the middle of the U-shaped path. The indicator can be kept between the two corners while the call is made, but can be tilted and made to reach one of the path’s ends if the user requires one of the two actions to be performed.

The two corner U-shaped path variant in the Apple Watch tilt control patent application

The two corner U-shaped path variant in the Apple Watch tilt control patent application

The concept can also be extended to allow for calls to be answered without the user even needing to see the screen.

When a call is received, the Apple Watch could play a special ringtone consisting of high and low notes in a specific short sequence, potentially for a specific user. To answer the call, the user could perform a series of rotating “flick” movements that matches the ringtone’s notes, rolling away from their face for a high note, and towards for a low note.

An example of the musical notes tilt-cue ringtone concept from the patent application

An example of the musical notes tilt-cue ringtone concept from the patent application

The lifting and rotating mechanic could be employed for selecting and sending pre-made instant messages to contacts. Once the right response is highlighted, the user could keep their wrist still for a few seconds to confirm they wish the message to be sent.

A further tilt mechanic could be used to answer calls by tilting towards the user and holding in place for a few seconds to start the conversation, or away and holding to reject. The same can also be performed by tilting the wrist forward or back, then holding to confirm.

Tilting and holding could be used to answer and reject calls on the Apple Watch

Tilting and holding could be used to answer and reject calls on the Apple Watch

While Apple does produce a large number of patent filings and applications on a weekly basis, their existence isn’t a guarantee that the concepts described will make their way into future products or services. They do however serve as an indication of areas where Apple has shown interest.

For this patent application, employing any of the ideas is plausible for Apple, as it would require only software changes made to watchOS. Since the Apple Watch has tilt sensors and accelerometers for fitness tracking and the aforementioned Raise to Speak, it already has the hardware required to implement such features in the future, if Apple decides to use them.

The application is the latest in a number of other filings where Apple has examined alternative ways for users to interact with devices. For the HomePod, it suggested the creation of a depth map for a room to detect a user’s hands, in order to perform gestures from anywhere in the room.

Gestures have also been considered as a way to control a self-driving vehicle, with actions performed within a designated “interaction zone” able to order a vehicle to do one of a selection of maneuvers. More recently, Apple has looked into force-sensing gloves, which could allow gestures to be performed without a touch-sensitive surface or cameras monitoring the hand itself.

This is also not the first time Apple has considered using wrist gestures with the Apple Watch. Dating back to October 2016, one idea involved adding detectors to the band to detect changes in wrist position and hand shape that alter the stress on the band, rather than using tilt sensors.

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Apple breaks earnings records, disappoints analysts, and offers festive cheer — Apple’s November 2018 in review

Looking back at Apple’s November 2018, it looked like investors just weren’t getting as into the Christmas spirit as Apple is with its new holiday ads. And maybe Apple is looking for cheer in all the wrong places as Microsoft supplants it as the most valuable company in the world.

Apple's Share Your Gifts ad

Apple’s Share Your Gifts ad

Sometimes there’s just nothing a trillion-dollar company can do. By November, Apple had released three new phones, two new iPads, a desktop Mac, a laptop, a pencil and some keyboard cover thing, but still its stock price dropped. The value of Apple stock dropped enough that in fact it was no longer a trillion-dollar company.

It’ll be back and if Tim Cook were here now, he’d be saying that it’s never about the money anyway, so there. Still, it had to hurt when during November 2018, Apple lost the mantle of World’s Most Valuable Company —to Microsoft.

Satya Nadella (Source: Microsoft)

Satya Nadella (Source: Microsoft)

You knew about the trillion-dollar part but you’d be forgiven for having forgotten that Apple was the most valuable public company in the world because it’s actually been that for so long. Apple was top from August 2011 to November 2018.

It will be again and Microsoft will be again and all of these firms will dance around but on the one hand, Apple must be smarting. And on the other, this is November. There were releases from Apple but the firm had just been through two months of announcing products, now it had to get them into peoples’ hands.

In transit

While many of us watched our delivery tracking information, Apple may have spent some time building a new shelf for all the awards it got.

The company as a whole won the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for its work toward device accessibility.

Examples of Apple's work on accessibility

Examples of Apple’s work on accessibility

This is far from a new effort or direction for Apple and it’s also far from the first such award it’s received. In accepting the award, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives Sarah Herrlinger said that accessibility had been central to the company “from the very beginning”.

“Our products should reduce barriers so you can do just that, regardless of ability. This work is never done,” she said. “But it’s exactly the kind of design and engineering challenge Apple was built for.”

Also this month, Apple as a whole earned the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Stop Slavery Award and announced a new initiative to help victims of human trafficking to get jobs in the company.

Then the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park won the Structural Artistry award from the UK’s Institute of Structural Engineers. You’ve not heard of them and you’re wondering just how many things in the world are covered by awards ceremonies but then you see an image of Apple Park.

The Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park

The Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park

And you’re thinking yes, that’s structural artistry. Even if people walk into its walls. It’s a small price to pay for art.

The Steve Jobs Theater is “the largest structure in the world solely supported by glass”, said the UK organization, and it presented the award to architectural firm Eckersley O’Callaghan & Arup.

It won’t be the last award Apple Park gets. Also in November, Tim Cook was announced as being the first to win the Anti-Defamation League’s Courage Against Hate award.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook

“During a time where technology is being used to spread hate, Tim has been a trailblazer in combating it on Apple’s platforms,” said ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt. “He is a staunch advocate for the LGBTQ community and immigrants’ rights while denouncing racist vitriol like the events in Charlottesville and we are proud and excited to present Tim with this award.”

Cook would collect the award in December, when he would also deliver a keynote speech.

Tim Cook was continuing this new role of speaking out about social and political issues but he was continuing to do so with keynote speeches. He’s good at those.

Money calls

Cook is similarly good when he has to speak on Apple’s quarterly financial call, the legally-required announcement of earnings. They’re little more than an audiobook version of the earnings statements Apple has to release. Although they also then include optimistic questions from analysts thinking Apple might reveal future plans, and patient answers from Tim Cook saying that it won’t.

The earnings call in November did come at an interesting time, though, because this month Apple set records. “We’re thrilled to report another record-breaking quarter that caps a tremendous fiscal 2018, the year in which we shipped our 2 billionth iOS device, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the App Store and achieved the strongest revenue and earnings in Apple’s history,” said Tim Cook on the call.

So Apple is making money hand over fist and it’s releasing acclaimed products.

What could possibly go wrong?

Apple’s stock price immediately took a beating because you don’t want successful new products and high earnings. Or rather, investment analysts look at this and think no, it can’t continue.

“Calendar fourth-quarter guidance reflects our cautious view on weaker-than-expected sell-through and production reductions for the iPhone XS and iPhone XR,” wrote Rosenblatt Securities analyst Jun Zhang.

In other words, nobody’s buying the new iPhones. Allegedly.

Apple's new iPhone XS Max (left) and iPhone XS (right)

Apple’s new iPhone XS Max (left) and iPhone XS (right)

There were plenty of rumors that demand for the iPhone XR, in particular, had been poor.

Yet a lot of noise was being made over the fact that Apple had announced in this earnings call that it would no longer report specific iPhone sales figures. In future such calls, it would say how much money it made but not how many phones it sold.

This was greeted by furore by just about everyone and the conclusion was that Apple was hiding something. Sales must be going down and it’s only that the price of iPhones is going up that is saving Apple from being doomed.

Hang on, said AppleInsider, no other firm has ever reported its specific sales figures and nobody’s complaining about them.

Tim Cook at a Foxconn factory

Tim Cook at a Foxconn factory

Arguments

While some wrung their hands about Apple’s accounting practices and others saw how the move fitted into the company’s history, there were bigger disputes about the future.

It just didn’t always seem that way, or at least it didn’t appear to be that way for Apple. Now, for Qualcomm, it was bad news.

Amongst other things, Qualcomm makes modems for phones and Apple used their technology for many years. This month, US District Judge Lucy Koh issued a preliminary ruling against Qualcomm in a Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit.

Qualcomm offices

Qualcomm offices

The bottom line was that the court says Qualcomm must license its modem technology to rivals such as Intel.

Just getting to this point, though, Qualcomm had been in a global legal war over patents and royalties and in part with Apple. By November, Apple was rolling up its sleeves, preparing to go to trial, and definitely not talking privately with Qualcomm at all.

Somebody should’ve told that to Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf as he claimed the opposite. “We do talk as companies,” he told CNBC. “We’re really on the doorstep of finding a resolution.”

There’s an irony in the head of a company that makes communication equipment not knowing he isn’t communicating. Yet if you spot that this was really just an olive branch of a quote, you should know that it came too late.

Tim Cook for President? Not so much.

For even before that CNBC interview aired, the New York Times had revealed that Qualcomm’s PR company had been targeting attack campaigns aimed at Apple.

Definers Public Affairs, the same firm that Facebook used to sling mud at critics after the Cambridge Analytica debacle, worked to affect perception of Apple.

Much of the work revolved around conservative-leaning news aggregator NTK Network and whether it was used to disseminate stories critical of Apple. According to NTK‘s editor in chief, Joe Pounder, this is nonsense. “What NTK writes and posts on is what NTK chooses to write and post on,” he said.

Perhaps we’re foolish to automatically assume this means editorial independence as he could just have meant that NTK chooses to publish whatever Definers PR tells it.

For their part, Definers boasted to potential clients that it effectively owned NTK. “Definers manages NTK Network, a news aggregation platform that targets Washington D.C. influencers,” wrote Definers’ Tim Miller. “Through NTK we can directly re-publish favorable news from other outlets, and work with like-minded individuals to help create an echo chamber effect.”

Whether they were planted stories or completely independent editorial, NTK reportedly ran at least 57 articles about Apple. The New York Times also cited emails that demonstrated “dozens” of articles were planted on conservative news sites.

We can report that Definers emailed us, too. Back in June 2017, AppleInsider was contacted by Miller who pitched an article suggesting there was coordination between Apple, Intel, Samsung —those famously friendly firms —and the US Federal Trade Commission.

Just about the only thing Miller’s email to us failed to mention was the small fact that Definers was working for Qualcomm. We passed.

There was one more piece of work by Definers that we’ve got to mention. Here’s a company that was working to discredit Apple and Tim Cook but it was allegedly behind a Tim Cook for President campaign.

Screengrab from

Screengrab from “Tim Cook for President” campaign website

Whether you think Cook would be good in the White House or not is one thing —and it isn’t what is believed to have mattered to Definers PR or Qualcomm. It’s the current occupant of the building who matters and at this point, Tim Cook and Donald Trump’s relationship was up and down.

Early in November, Apple had been one of more than 50 major US companies who drafted and signed a letter opposing the Trump administration’s plans to define gender.

Alongside Apple, the letter’s signatories include Google and Microsoft. Both of them were then invited to a technology roundtable event to be held in December at the White House but Tim Cook wasn’t. Oh, and Qualcomm’s Steve Mollenkopf was.

And while the administration has been imposing tariffs on all manner of industries, toward the end of the month it did specifically state that iPhones could come under question. Asked about the next round of tariffs and whether they would apply to duties paid on phones and computers imported into the country, President Trump said: “Maybe. Maybe. Depends on what the rate is. I mean, I can make it 10 percent, and people could stand that very easily.”

Speaking of politics

November saw the midterms in America and technology firms were among many working to get more people voting. All the major car-riding companies like Uber and Lyft offered free or discounted rides to voting stations —though specifically to, never back from there —and updated their apps to help with finding those stations.

On the day itself, Apple News revamped to bring midterms coverage front and centre on the app. In a link up with the Associated Press, Apple News provided real-time information on the balance of the Senate and the House.

Apple News revamped for the midterms

Apple News revamped for the midterms

As you know, the result was that Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives but it also saw Apple’s home state of California getting a new governor. AppleInsider looked at the effects both of these are likely to have on Apple.

Speaking of people

You didn’t have to be in office or a PR firm to make news this month. Though being Mark Zuckerberg helped as he allegedly ordered Facebook executives to all ditch iPhones because of Tim Cook’s criticism of Facebook. He did later deny being so petty and just laid it on that Android “is the most popular operating system in the world.”

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

There was then the case of the Black Friday shopper who either misread the terms and conditions or just didn’t notice them and so filed a class action lawsuit against Apple for not doing what it didn’t say it would.

We’re not entirely sure how much it costs to sue Apple and, one imagines, face a judge telling you to read the small print. However, it’s likely to be more than the $200 gift card this shopper believes she is due.

Not how this iPad Pro shipped

Not how this iPad Pro shipped

We’re also not completely on board with the idea of spending a lot of money to buy an iPad Pro and then deliberately bend it to the point of breaking. In hindsight, YouTuber JerryRigEverything could’ve just waited for Apple to bend some iPads but in November, he torture-tested one poor device himself for giggles.

AppleInsider also tested the new iPad Pro models in November, though our methodology was more about using them rather than holding up a lighter to see how long it takes a flame to burn through.

Everything tested

We also tested and reviewed and tried everything Apple released in its September and October events. The results were uniformly good but not uniformly great.

We were also highly critical of how Apple moved the Smart Connector on the new iPad Pros. That seemingly simple change belies a remarkably short-sighted approach that is going to mean the connector may never become as useful as Apple expected.

That said, we also found that the iPhone XR is far more than just the entry-level phone.

Reflections on November

There were new releases from Apple in November and they did include hardware of a sort —the Apple Watch gained two new Hermes bands. And also somewhat more importantly there was new software too as watchOS 5.1.1 came out to fix issues with Apple Watches being bricked.

Otherwise Apple released plans for a new Entrepreneur Camp for women with app-driven businesses and it launched new adverts including a sweetly animated one for the holidays.

It felt early to be looking to the end of the year but maybe Apple is just longing to put its feet up for a bit.

Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.

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Analysts blow iPhone X sales guesses, Apple Watch saving lives — Apple’s May 2018 in review

Depending on when in the month you asked, and who you talked to, sales of Apple’s flagship iPhone X were appalling or fantastic. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch was saving lives and Amazon’s Alexa was getting even creepier. AppleInsider takes a look at Apple’s May 2018 in review.

People actually paid to have this done to their beautiful iPhone X

People actually paid to have this done to their beautiful iPhone X

In a word, May 2018 was about money. Chiefly it concerned Apple revealing just how much cash it had made but it did also begin with the company having to pay out quite a bit too.

Specifically and possibly grudgingly, Apple made a first payment of its disputed Irish tax bill. The company is said to owe $15.3 billion and in May Ireland’s finance minister Paschal Donohoe announced that the first $1.76 billion had been paid into an escrow account.

Even Apple prefers to pay in instalments, then.

Apple Ireland

Apple Ireland

The reason this is all disputed is not that anyone much disagrees that Apple should be paying more tax than it does. It’s that Apple didn’t dodge anything: it always paid exactly what it was billed by Ireland. Even the Irish government is saying well, yes, we could’ve got more but this was what we billed them for.

It’s the European Commission who says Apple owes back taxes and they’re serious: they threatened legal action against the Irish government for its alleged failure to collect.

So everything is fine between Apple and Ireland, really. Oh, except that in May, Apple cancelled plans to build a $1 billion data center there, that’s all.

It’s not as petty as that sounds. The company said that it was cancelling it because of years of legal challenges. Late in April, the Irish High Court had passed a ruling that would allow objectors to begin an appeal process again.

Apple had announced plans for the datacenter in Athenry back in February 2016. On the same day, it also revealed it would be building another such datacenter in Viborg, Denmark.

That one is open and running. Apple has since announced that it’s going to build a second one in the country, this time at Aabenraa, which is in southern Denmark.

An Apple datacenter like the one that had been planned for Ireland

An Apple datacenter like the one that had been planned for Ireland

Money

It’s estimated that it costs around a billion dollars to build these datacenter wherever they are so Apple does need your help. Fortunately, we’ve not been slowing in chipping in a few bucks here or there.

In its legally-required earnings call in May, Apple revealed as little as it could about sales but Tim Cook directly stated that the iPhone X was a success. “Customers chose iPhone X more than any other iPhone each week in the March quarter, just as they did following its launch in the December quarter.”

Just for once, we’d like Cook to end that kind of sentence with the words “so there”. For even more than ever, this year had seen analysts and critics resolutely proving that the iPhone was a failure.

Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and just about everyone except customers said the iPhone X was a disappointing dud. So much so that AppleInsider took them to task in an editorial this May.

The exceedingly popular and/or unsuccessful iPhone X (delete as applicable)

The exceedingly popular and/or unsuccessful iPhone X

It’s not as if we think news reports about Apple should all be shiny happy, we do think that doom-laden headlines conjured up out of sloppy journalism are offensive. It doesn’t take much to get this right.

Usually the analysts who say the iPhone cannot succeed because no one is willing to pay such a high price are then the ones who say it did succeed because people were will paying such a high price. This time we did get at least an attempt at face-saving from Jun Zhang of Rosenblatt Securities.

“We believe that after Apple reported a slightly better quarter and guided better than the market anticipated, Apple’s supply chain should look towards an increase in the 2nd half,” he said. “Apple needs to reduce most of their components, such as panels, RF, 3D sensing, and some commodity components. We believe this is the key reason that Apple’s supply chain might still provide weak guidance for the June quarter, even as Apple’s guidance was better than expected.”

More money than cents

If you were one of the many of us who turned out to be willing to pay a lot of money for the iPhone X, perhaps you were one of the few who felt it could be more expensive than it was.

In which case, May was your lucky month because luxury accessor maker Hadoro began selling a version of the iPhone X costing up to 8,900 euros or approximately $10,436.

There are real diamonds embedded in that case, you just can't see them.

There are real diamonds embedded in that case, you just can’t see them.

That price does include the phone.

Hadoro replaces the casing with anything from leather to marble and even something with real diamonds in it. You can forget your Apple warranty, the phones cease to be waterproof, and in our opinion they look ugly as hell, but it’s your money.

Plus we said that about them being ugly before we saw what else was released in May 2018. For a comparatively bargain $3,964.16, you could briefly buy a Royal Wedding commemorative iPhone X encased in gold.

Okay.

Okay.

To think we’d been saying HomePods were expensive at $349.

HomePod

Speaking of which, Apple’s earnings call did say how much money the company had taken in but it didn’t and never does break out the details for items like the HomePod or the Apple Watch. That doesn’t stop people guessing.

Sorry, we mean estimating and calculating based on reliable sources in the supply and retail chain. This month Strategy Analytics guessed that Apple had sold around 600,000 HomePods. Compare that to Google’s 2.4 million Home devices and Amazon’s 4 million Echo speakers.

Mind you, the Dot version of the Echo sells for $50 or seven times cheaper than the HomePod. And Apple’s device is the only one that wasn’t available for the whole quarter.

Consumer Reports on the HomePod

Consumer Reports on the HomePod

Maybe we’ll just give up on sales figures and concentrate on how great the HomePod sounds. At least that’s something everyone agrees on, except for Consumer Reports who insist it’s good but others are better. This May, AppleInsider went to see how their controversial testing is actually done.

Apple Watch saves lives

While we were busy concentrating on that testing, other people were out at church, working at bowling alleys, taking their parents to hospital —and having their lives saved by their Apple Watch. No kidding.

“If it wasn’t for her Apple Watch alarming her about her HR [heart rate] we wouldn’t have discovered her kidney issue,” wrote Stacey Recktenwald in a letter to Apple. “I honestly feel your Apple Watch saved my daughter’s life. I am forever grateful to Apple for developing such an amazing, lifesaving product.”

Recktenwald’s 18-year-old daughter had got a notification from her Apple Watch telling her to seek medical attention because her resting heart rate had reached 190 beats per minute.

Left: William Monzidelis (credit NBC New York)

Left: William Monzidelis (credit NBC‘s New York division)

She lives in Tampa, Florida, but a similar thing happened with William Monzidelis in New York. Again it was a heart rate warning but in his case he had an erupted ulcer. Doctors told him that if he had ignored the dizziness he was feeling, he would’ve died.

Then in England, Kevin Pearson was in hospital accompanying his father when his Watch warned that his heart was beating 161 times per minute. He followed the Watch’s instructions and sat down, monitoring his heart rate until it steadied.

He was at a hospital, after all, so he got doctors to check him out and they discovered that he had atrial fibrillation. Pearson says he’s now set his Watch to alert him whenever his heart rate spikes over 120 beats per minute.

There’s no word about how his father is.

Alternatives to Apple

You can’t be anything but amazed that a watch can save lives. It is truly a remarkable thing that Apple has done with this device. Yet if it’s impossible to dislike the results, plenty of people are not keen on the company who’s doing it.

This May if you happened to be someone who didn’t like Apple devices or you were finally worn out from how much they all cost, you could of course turn to Android. What’s more, if you did that, you could finally get a phone that doesn’t have the notch at the top of the screen that the iPhone X did.

You know that the notch is there because it’s needed, because behind it is all the Face ID sensing equipment. By May, many Android phones were including a notch solely to look good.

Except LG, which doesn’t just follow fashion and doesn’t make technologically-based decisions. And which seemingly hasn’t heard the old engineering maxim of ‘form follows function’. For LG put a notch on its new phone, the LG G7 ThinQ, and revealed in May that it was after a survey.

The company asked 1,000 people across the US, UK, Italy and South Korea and only 300 or so objected to there being a notch.

The company didn’t break down the rest of the results for us, though, saying only that 60 percent liked or didn’t mind the notch. Whatever the breakdown, enough liked it that the new LG phone had one.

Or sometimes. The LG G7 ThinQ has a feature whereby you can choose to switch the notch off. Of course it does.

Sequences Lengthened

Samsung also hesitated over fully going for the notch, too, but not in its phones, just in its advertising. May saw an ad that belabored a comparison between the iPhone 6 from 2014 and the Samsung Galaxy S9 from 2018. You’ll never guess which phone was faster.

You missed it, but at the start there was a pixel-high disclaimer on the screen saying that “newer iPhone models are currently available”.

What you may also have missed in the barrage of examples of slowness was the occasional tentative mocking of the notch.

If the ad had run just a little later in May, though, it could have instead focused on the features announced for the new version of Android. Google announced Android P and also released it in a beta program.

That beta program meant that Android P was initially only installed on what AppleInsider called “a small sliver of devices”. Later it would be released publicly to all Android users and consequently end up on a slightly larger sliver.

A likely story

Android is famous for how even new phones can’t always be updated to the latest versions and slightly older phones never can. Still, we wouldn’t say that in front of Android users because we’re polite.

And because you never know who’s listening.

You talkin' to me?

You talkin’ to me?

In May, Amazon confirmed a report that an Echo device had recorded audio from a conversation and sent it to someone else. Speaking to AppleInsider, the company explained that it was down to an extremely unusual sequence of mishearing. Alexa believed it had been told to send a message and then after it had said “To whom?” believed it was told a name in the customer’s contacts list.

“As unlikely as this string of events is,” said Amazon, “we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

An unlikely story

Maybe you’d have guessed that something like this must happen sooner or later with a device that works by listening to your conversations. We’d have bet money, though, that you wouldn’t have guessed we’d lose net neutrality.

That wouldn’t go away until June but in May we were still hanging on to the hope that a last-minute Senate vote might help.

US Senate

US Senate

It didn’t.

With the prospect of losing net neutrality and all it could mean for us and even Apple, we weren’t leaving May in the best of moods.

Except it was during May that Apple confirmed the dates of WWDC 2018. Things were looking up for June 4.

Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.

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Amazon’s Cyber Monday Deals Week delivers $249 iPads, $299 Apple Watches, 4K Fire TVs under $300 & more

 

Amazon has kicked off its Cyber Monday Deals Week with discounts on iPads and Apple Watches, as well as HDTVs and Echo hardware. We’re rounding up the lowest prices on great gift ideas that you can buy right now.

Amazon is offering some of the lowest prices on iPads, Fire TVs, Echo Spots, HomeKit accessories and Apple Watches during its Cyber Monday Deals Week with discounts of up to half off. Here are our top picks that you can purchase right now.

2018 9.7″ iPads

2018 11″ iPad Pros

10.5″ iPad Pros

Apple Watch Series 3 deals

Mac deals

HomeKit deals

Echo devices

Fire devices

Amazon Cloud Cams

Sonos speakers

Home security deals

HDTV deals

Storage

Amazon Music

Additional Apple Deals

AppleInsider and Apple authorized resellers are also running a handful of additional exclusive promotions this month on Apple hardware that will not only deliver the lowest prices on many of the items, but also throw in discounts on AppleCare, software and accessories. These deals are as follows:

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Apple’s camera-toting Apple Watch band employs facial recognition tech for clear FaceTime calls

Apple is investigating methods of incorporating camera hardware into its Apple Watch product lineup, focusing specifically on systems that avoid the inherent pitfalls of embedding image capturing equipment in a device not well-suited to the task.

Apple Watch Camera

Source: USPTO

According to a patent granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, the tech giant is looking to broaden the feature set of its wearable by incorporating a novel camera system capable of automatically cropping in on subject matter, tracking objects like a user’s face and generating angle-adjusted avatars for FaceTime calls.

Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 10,129,503 for an “Image-capturing watch” details a hardware and software solution that makes a camera-toting Apple Watch not only feasible, but useful.

As noted in the property’s language, such designs would allow users to be less reliant on their iPhones, perhaps ditching the handset altogether in certain situations. With a camera-enabled Watch, users would be able to leave bulky handheld equipment behind when playing sports, working out or performing other strenuous activities.

A workable smartwatch camera solution is difficult to execute. Simply graphing a traditional handheld image capture system, like an iPhone camera, onto Apple Watch would be a user experience nightmare. Owners would be hard pressed to aim the camera at a subject without moving the entire platform — their wrist — to check framing, while at the same time dealing with a host of other concerns, from video stability to ergonomics.

To address the litany of anticipated issues, Apple proposes a system in which a wide-angle lens is fitted to a sensor built into a watch band. Alternatively, multiple cameras might simultaneously capture image data that is seamlessly stitched together to create one continuous image with a field of view that is much wider than any single-lens camera can provide.

The resulting wide-angle image reduces the need for precise aiming. Instead of framing subject matter beforehand, the final photo or video can be cropped after the fact to home in on a target or point of interest. This process can be conducted algorithmically or manually by the user.

Apple notes the technique not only works well for initial image acquisition — users need only point the lens in a target’s general direction — but also adds a new level of convenience not usually available to portable camera users. Crop-after-capture can assist in recording spur of the moment events, for example.

Apple Watch Camera

Illustration of teleconference call technique.

Beyond basic photography, the patent delves into teleconferencing. Here, too, Apple provides thoughtful context to the proposed technology.

In some embodiments, the watch processes a captured image and applies facial recognition software to recognize a user’s face. The device dynamically outputs a cropped image centered around the identified visage, making continuous on-the-fly adjustments to keep the face in frame even if the watch is in motion.

Perhaps most interesting is a contingency for rectifying unflattering “up nose” angles. If a user were to employ Watch in a FaceTime call, and do so without holding the device directly in front of their face as promised by Apple’s auto-cropping tech, the resulting image would at times be captured from a low vantage point.

To negate “up nose” shots, Apple proposes outputting a representation of a user’s face that appears to be taken from a straight-on perspective.

As noted in the patent, Watch’s onboard processor might generate an angle-corrected image or representation of a user’s face by compiling stored facial data, perhaps information gathered during biometric registration. Motion data captured by the camera and processed by the watch is then mapped onto the computer generated representation, which mimics a user’s facial expressions and movements in real time.

Alternatively, source motion data can be used to inform the movements of a non-human avatar like Apple’s Animoji and Memoji.

Apple Watch Camera

Illustration of automated cropping (top) and “up nose” angle correction.

Whether Apple intends to bring its Apple Watch camera band technology remains unknown. The company was in 2015 rumored to integrate a FaceTime camera into a future Apple Watch model, though the rumblings failed to bear fruit.

Apple’s camera watch band patent was first filed for in September 2016 and credits Seung Wook Kim and Megan A. McClain as its inventors.

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Apple Heart Study not used to gain FDA clearance for Apple Watch Series 4 ECG

 

The Apple Heart Study, conducted in partnership with Stanford Medicine, collected heart rate data from more than 400,000 Apple Watch users in its attempt to determine whether wearable devices can effectively detect irregular heart rhythms. Contrary to previous reports, however, the results were not used to gain clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Apple Watch Series 4’s ECG feature.

Apple Watch ECG

The ECG app on Apple Watch Series 4.

Stanford revealed the scope of the Apple Heart Study in an announcement Thursday, saying the clinical trial was the largest screening study on atrial fibrillation ever conducted. A paper detailing the study and its design was published in the American Heart Journal today.

Apple closed enrollment in August, some eight months after it launched the program in 2017. Participants began receiving word that the study was complete in September, though Stanford says data collection will be completed early next year, in line with previous statements from Apple.

Following the closure to enrollment, Apple quietly submitted a de novo request for FDA clearance to two Apple Watch apps that would feature prominently in Apple Watch Series 4. The first app handles interpretation of and display of electrocardiogram readings from the wearable’s new ECG system, while a second uses optical sensors to identify irregular heart rhythms.

The FDA issued regulatory Class II clearances — over-the-counter access — for both.

Previous reports claimed Apple leveraged the Heart Study in both de novo requests, but Stanford says the trial was used only in respect to atrial fibrillation notifications.

The clarification makes sense, as the Heart Study related to atrial fibrillation, not ECG systems or data collection. During the months-long trial, a specialized app collected pulse rate data from Apple Watch Series 1, 2 and 3 hardware. In some cases, the app was able to detect and notify users of irregular pulse rate episodes.

The study, according to Stanford, sought to determine how many patients who received irregular pulse notifications were found to have atrial fibrillation, and how many went on to get medical attention. Calculating the accuracy of the system against simultaneous ECG recordings was a tertiary goal of the trial.

Though it did not factor into regulatory approval of Apple’s ECG solution as previously thought, the Heart Study can be considered an important first step toward providing consumers with easily accessible medical hardware.

“We now have access to high-quality sensors that can measure and detect changes in our bodies in entirely new and insightful ways without even needing to go to the doctor, but we need to rigorously evaluate them,” said Mintu Turakhia, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford. “There’s never really been a study like this done before.”

Apple is expected to activate the ECG feature in Apple Watch Series 4 later this year.

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Apple Heart Study data reportedly used to win FDA approval for Apple Watch ECG

 

The two FDA clearances that Apple announced Wednesday for the Apple Watch Series 4’s ECG capabilities came from data collected via the Apple Heart Study, according to a report Thursday.

Apple Watch warning

Apple announced Wednesday at its “Gather Round” event that the new Apple Watch Series 4 comes with the ability to take an electrocardiogram — the first Apple product to receive clearance from the FDA. Apple COO Jeff Williams said on stage that the company received the clearances for its ECG and atrial fibrillation testing on the Apple Watch via a “de novo” pathway, which means it supplied data to the agency to prove the product both worked and is safe.

Quartz reported Thursday, citing FDA documents, that the FDA used data from the Apple Heart Study in order to grant Apple those clearances. That study, conducted by Apple along with Stanford Health, launched last November and began winding down earlier this month.

The Watch’s abilities don’t actually mean much, according to one doctor.

Andrew Moore, an emergency department physician at the Oregon Health and Science University, told Quartz Thursday that the Series 4 doesn’t rise to the level of a medical device.

“The tech that Apple is working with is very rudimentary compared to what we’d do for someone in a hospital or health care setting,” Moore told the site. “The ECG thing is a little bit overhyped in terms of what it will really provide.”

Apple has never quite claimed that this Apple Watch, or any other product it makes, is meant to serve as a substitute for full-fledged medical devices or professional medical attention.

It says right there on the Apple Watch, that if the Watch detects atrial fibrillation (AFib), “you should talk to your doctor.” At the same time, Apple’s Williams admitted that the Series 4 won’t always catch AFib every time.