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07.24.17 | 5:24 am

So, Apple and The Rock got together to make a movie about Siri…

And it's funny, it's essentially a long commercial, and Siri works way better in it than in real life.

07.21.17 | 8:35 pm

The record sums tech giants just spent to influence U.S. law in the Trump era, in a handy chart

As they searched for their sea legs amid the strong currents of a new administration, technology companies spent a record amount—$15.79 million—on lobbying politicians at the White House and in Congress during the second quarter of 2017.

While spending by Microsoft was down over the same three-month period in 2016, some companies' spending surged. Alphabet spent $5.9 million, up 40% over last year; Oracle spent $2.79 million, a 45% hike; Uber spent a record $430,000 in its tumultuous second quarter, a 26% climb over 2016; Palantir, cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, spent a record $380,000, up 46% over last year; and Apple spent $2.2 million, an almost 80% increase from last year. The big splurge contributed to a surge in lobbyist revenues during the same period.

What are they after? While the tech companies' latest public campaigns have centered around net neutrality, their objectives before the White House and Congress include responses to the president's travel ban, immigration, STEM innovation, privacy regulations, small businesses, digital terrorism, and freedom of expression, as Recode notes. Tax reform is also a major issue, as tech companies contemplate how to repatriate overseas cash. (An analysis by Moody's released this week says that five of the country's largest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle — have a collective $512 billion in money abroad.

There are more company-specific objectives too. Amazon, for instance, also lobbied a variety of federal agencies for issues related to Wi-Fi and device accessibility, copyright reform, renewable energy tax reform, drones, cybersecurity, immigration, and autonomous vehicles. A few companies are fighting a proposal in Congress that would impose new limits on how companies tap users' data to sell ads.

Aside from advancing their business priorities, some of the companies are also likely thinking defense. Back in May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested that Amazon has a "huge antitrust problem." As the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post reports, the lobbying comes amid new regulations and penalties in Europe, while "in recent months, some in Washington have called for increased scrutiny of tech's dominant platforms." 

07.19.17 | 1:25 pm

This Apple patent imagines an easier way to call 911 for help

Apple was granted a patent yesterday that could make it easier for people to dial 911 from their iPhones. As CNBC reports, the feature would allow users to make calls to emergency services without giving away the fact that they are doing so. That could mean that when an emergency strikes, you won't have to patiently tap your home button or enter your passcode, remember how to use your iPhone as an actual phone and then dial 911 all while White Walkers descend upon you. Instead, according to the patent, tech could sense the "manner" in which a finger touched the iPhone screen to trigger a 911 call. The emergency alert could be triggered by a sequence of finger use (middle finger-middle finger-middle finger) or tapping that could activate "panic command" and secretly alert the authorities and provide the user's location.

The patent was first applied for in 2013 and doesn't necessarily mean Apple is planning to release an actual product. Of course as Gizmodo points out, just being able to alert the police won't help if the police take too long to show up—or never show up at all. 

07.19.17 | 10:56 am

Apple has a new machine-learning journal that lets Apple scientists publicize their work

Apple is trying to shed its reputation for secrecy as it pursues more research talent in artificial intelligence and machine learning. After publishing its first AI research paper last December, the company has just launched the Apple Machine Learning Journal. The journal's first entry describes a way to make computer-generated images look more realistic, so that machine-learning models can train on them without tedious human supervision.

The journal is still a far cry from academic research publications like Science, with no bylines and no indication of peer review on the initial publication. Still, it's an interesting snapshot into what Apple's scientists have been up to. For recruitment purposes, maybe that's enough.

07.19.17 | 5:50 am

Apple just named its first managing director for China

Isabel Ge Mahe has been named vice president and managing director of Greater China, Apple has announced in a press release. Ge Mahe's role as Apple's first ever managing director of China will see her "provide leadership and coordination across Apple's China-based team." The appointment of a managing director for China highlights the growing importance of the country's market to Apple. Ge Mahe's new role will be based in Shanghai. Previously she had led Apple's wireless technologies software engineering teams for nine years as well as having overseen the Apple Pay, HomeKit, and CarPlay engineering teams.

[Photo: Apple]

07.06.17 | 5:09 pm

Qualcomm is trying to block iPhones with Intel modems from coming into the U.S.

In a fairly dramatic escalation of the two tech companies' long-running patent battle, Qualcomm is now asking the International Trade Commission (ITC) to block the import of Apple phones that have Intel wireless modems inside. Qualcomm was for a long time the sole provider of the cellular modems inside iPhones, but Intel has in recent years scratched itself back into the picture and is now providing the modems in some iPhones.

Qualcomm filed papers with the ITC today, claiming that the iPhone infringes on six relatively recent Qualcomm patents dealing with things like fast boot-up, web access, and battery-life extension. Only one of the patents seems to relate directly to wireless modems. This may be Qualcomm's way of demonstrating how essential the company's technologies are to the iPhone, and using that as leverage to attack the specific competitive threat from Intel. There's a fascinating backstory (here) about how Intel got a chip back inside the processor, and why.

Because Apple and Qualcomm are still big mutual customers, it's very, very unlikely any iPhones will be blocked from reaching the U.S. More likely, Qualcomm is playing a leverage game in its larger battle with Apple over licensing fees. Hypothetically, if such a ban happened, it would affect the versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that run on the T-Mobile and AT&T networks. 

06.29.17 | 2:13 pm

Developer: Apple quietly added VR “Godzilla” mode to Maps in iOS 11

Apple already had "Flyover" for Maps, which added some pre-scripted animations to the experience, but a new VR mode uses the iPhone cameras and sensors to change the view of the map based on the user's movements. That's according to Montreal-based developer Felix Lapalme (he defends his thesis in the comments of the below post). Lapalme says the new mode is powered by Apple's augmented reality development tools, called ARKit.

I asked Apple for comment on this, but have yet to hear back. I'll update with any new information.

[Photo: Bandai Namco Entertainment America via Wikimedia Commons]

06.29.17 | 7:56 am

Here’s why it doesn’t make sense to make the iPhone in America

Cheaper labor isn't the main reason, reports Bloomberg. They note that labor is only 2.2% (about $5) of the iPhone's hardware cost (estimated to be $224.80). The ability to scale the volume of labor, on the other hand, is a major factor. China's Foxconn can rapidly hire up to a million workers during "iPhone season" and cut back to a few hundred thousand when iPhone production isn't ramping up—something that would be much more difficult in America. Also, as most of the suppliers who make components for the iPhone are Chinese-based, and thus located within 50 miles of Foxconn facilities, iPhone components can be shipped cheaply and quickly to arrive at iPhone assembly facilities, something not possible if the iPhone was made in America.

06.28.17 | 5:58 pm

Here’s the first TV commercial for the original iPhone–“Hello”

Apple's first iPhone ad features about 50 well-known faces cut from TV shows and movies saying, "Hello," like Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, and Will Ferrell (well, he actually screams it). The ad seems to say the iPhone is first and foremost a great phone . . . that happens to be a bunch of other things like a music player and an internet device. "Hello" first ran on February 25, 2007, during the Oscars. As the iPhone turns 10 years old on Thursday, the ad still seems fresh.

[Source: Gul Tech Life/YouTube]

06.26.17 | 7:13 pm

Attention iPad fans: iOS 11 is now an extremely tempting public beta

Earlier this month at Apple's WWDC keynote, one of the biggest pieces of news was the seriously ambitious new features Apple is building into iOS 11, especially for iPad users. The software isn't set to ship until the fall, but Apple has now released the first public beta—a test version that anyone can install on an iPad (or iPhone).

The usual caveats apply: Beta software is buggy by definition and will likely break some third-party apps (even ones that will work fine by the time of iOS 11's official release). But it's unusual for any upcoming operating system to offer as many temptations to throw caution to the wind as this one does. Here's Mashable's Lance Ulanoff on the major additions, which include more advanced multitasking and a new file manager.

Me, I'm about to take the plunge—knowing that I have a backup that will, in the case of emergency, allow me to return (relunctantly) to iOS 10.

06.26.17 | 3:09 pm

Apple rents a few SUVs from Hertz, Hertz shares jump 14%

Apple is renting a small fleet of vehicles from Hertz, according to DMV documents seen by Bloomberg. Apple will reportedly use the vehicles to test autonomous driving software and sensor systems. 

Hertz investors have been looking for something to feel good about after seeing the company's stock drop by 75% over the past year. Some implied role for Hertz in the self-driving future seems to have done the trick. 

And Avis stock got its biggest jolt in five years (+21%) earlier on Monday after Alphabet said its Waymo autonomous driving division will pay the rental company to store and manage a few of its autonomous testing vehicles in Phoenix. 

06.26.17 | 3:00 pm

Get ready to (maybe) hear a lot more ads on your favorite podcasts

According to a recent study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), ad revenue from podcasts is about to go way up. Last year, podcast ad revenue was about $119 million; this year, that number is projected to hit $220 million. 

Thus far, a podcast's success has been measured by number of downloads; beyond that, however, many advertisers have had little sense of how many people are actually listening to their ads, beyond tracking promo code usage. (Ad skipping is a phenomenon in podcasting, too.) Podcast creators, too, received little feedback. But as Apple beefs up its podcast analytics, advertisers and creators alike can be smarter about how they spend their money. So while IAB's study indicates that advertisers will be pouring a lot more money into podcasting, the podcast ad biz is still young, so we don't want to make any proclamations just yet.