Apple’s iPhone sales in surprise drop

Apple sold fewer iPhones than a year ago in the first three months of 2017, the company said in its latest results.
 
Apple sold fewer iPhones than a year ago in the first three months of 2017, the company said in its latest results.
 
The California firm, which is due to release a new phone later this year, said it sold 50.8 million iPhones in the period, down 1% year-on-year. Apple boss Tim Cook blamed a “pause” as customers wait for the next iPhone.
 
Shares in the firm fell nearly 2% in after-hours trading after earlier hitting a record high on expectations of better results. Apple reported a 4.6% rise in revenue across the whole company to $52.9bn (£41bn), slightly below analysts’ forecasts.
The dip in iPhone sales was offset by services, including Apple Pay, iCloud and the App store, which recorded an 18% increase in sales to $7bn.
 
Mr Cook also pointed to growth in sales of Apple Watch, as well as its AirPods and Beats earphones. Despite falling unit sales, revenue from iPhones still climbed 1% to $33.2bn due to “robust” sales of its bigger, more expensive iPhone 7 Plus.
 
 
 
 

Apple settles patent case at last minute

Apple has settled a patent dispute with a litigant that had already beaten Huawei and Samsung in court.
 
Apple has settled a patent dispute with a litigant that had already beaten Huawei and Samsung in court.
 
The jury for the latest case had been selected but a deal was done in the early hours of the day the US trial was to begin, according to news site Ars Technica. Unwired Planet had sought $33m (£25.7m) and a cut of iPhone and iPad sales, which it said made use of its tech. The terms of the settlement have not been made public.
 
Apple had previously described the case – involving voice recognition and data transmission inventions – as being “frivolous”. Nevada-based Unwired used to develop mobile software, when it was known as Openwave Systems, but no longer makes products of its own. It acquired the rights to the inventions involved in the case from Ericsson in a controversial deal. Rather than purchase the technologies outright, Unwired instead agreed to share future revenues generated from the patents with the Swedish telecoms equipment-maker.
 
That has led some to describe Unwired as a “patent troll” – although the firm’s legal team described the term as “hackneyed”.
 
“Our ambition is to bring efficiency and fairness to patent licensing and create a marketplace where product manufacturers and innovators feel confident that high quality technology is available at a fair and reasonable price,” a spokeswoman for PanOptis Patent Management, which recently bought Unwired’s licensing business, said. “Over the past nine months since we acquired the Unwired Planet patent portfolio, we have actively resolved a majority of the existing litigation that had been initiated by Unwired Planet, including suits involving Samsung, LG and Apple.”
 
Earlier this month, the firm scored a court victory over Huawei in London. The Chinese company was ordered to pay a global fee for use of Unwired’s 4G patents or face a UK sales ban. Unwired previously won a case against Samsung involving 2G technologies. It is also involved in disputes with Google and HTC.
 
 

Huawei defeats Samsung in patent battle in China

The Chinese smartphone-maker Huawei has won a patent victory over its South Korean rival Samsung.
 
The Chinese smartphone-maker Huawei has won a patent victory over its South Korean rival Samsung.
 
A Chinese court in Quanzhou has ordered the Galaxy S8-maker to pay 80m yuan ($11.6m; £9.3m) to Huawei for infringing the firm’s smartphone cellular technologies. The two are also suing each other over patents in other courts.
 
Huawei’s victory was tempered, however, by news that it could face a sales ban in the UK.
 
Huawei launched the legal action against Samsung last May and has subsequently followed with other claims filed in its home city of Shenzhen and California, covering more than 10 patents. It has alleged that more than 20 models of Samsung’s phones and tablets make use of its technologies without permission.
 
Samsung countersued in July over six alleged infringed patents, saying it had attempted to resolve the dispute “amicably”. Huawei was the world’s third-bestselling smartphone-maker in 2016 and Samsung the first, according to market research firm IDC.
 
Although intellectual property disputes that pitted one tech giant against another were common a few years ago, they have been fought out of the public eye in more recent times. Even so, many of the details of the latest case were redacted by the court because of commercial privacy concerns.
 
“Huawei notes the court’s decision in this case,” a spokesman said after the verdict. “Huawei believes that respecting and protecting the intellectual property of others enables all companies to make a return on our R&D investments. We maintain that respect for intellectual property promotes innovation and healthy, sustained growth in the industry.”
 
A spokesman for Samsung said it intended to review the court’s decision and would decide its response later. “Over many years, Samsung Electronics has pioneered the development of innovative mobile technologies through continuous investment in R&D to provide consumers with a wide selection of innovative products,” he added.
 
The Chinese ruling coincides with a judgement from the High Court of England and Wales that Huawei must pay a US firm a global fee for its 4G patents or face a local sales ban. The owner – Unwired Planet – had acquired the inventions from Ericsson. It does not make products itself and has been referred to in the past as being a “major patent troll” because of its efforts to extract payments from those who do.
 
The Nevada-based company is also suing Samsung, Google and Apple. Huawei had argued that the amount being sought by Unwired was too high, which the court agreed with, so it still views the ruling as being a partial victory.
 
“Huawei is still evaluating the decision as well as its possible next steps,” said a spokesman for the firm. “Huawei does not believe that this decision will adversely affect its global business operations.”
 
However, a lawyer for Unwired Planet also viewed the case a win for his client because Huawei faces having to compensate the firm for sales worldwide.
 
“Until now there has been a view that even if the infringing party is successfully sued, at the end of the day they would have to pay no more than the royalty rate they would have had to pay anyway, and only for the countries in which they were sued,” explained Gary Moss from EIP. “That gave an incentive for implementers to hold out in the hope of achieving a more favourable royalty rate. Today’s judgement confirms that this need not be the case.”
 
 

Apple taken to court for ‘refusing to fix devices’

Australia’s consumer watchdog has begun legal action against Apple over claims it refused to repair iPads and iPhones previously serviced by third parties.
  
Australia’s consumer watchdog has begun legal action against Apple over claims it refused to repair iPads and iPhones previously serviced by third parties.
 
It alleges that Apple made “false, misleading, or deceptive representations” about consumers’ rights under Australian law. The case follows complaints that users were “routinely refused” repairs after an error disabled their devices.
 
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) began an investigation after users complained about Apple’s so-called “error 53”, which disabled some users’ devices after they downloaded an update to their operating system.
 
Many had previously had their device fixed by a third party, not an official Apple technician, often to replace a cracked screen. In many cases, Apple refused to fix the devices, even when the repair was unrelated to the fault, the ACCC said. The proceedings against Apple were brought on behalf of 275 consumers.
 
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said: “Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturer’s warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party.”
 
He added: “Denying a consumer their consumer guarantee rights simply because they had chosen a third party repairer not only impacts those consumers but can dissuade other customers from making informed choices about their repair options including where they may be offered at lower cost than the manufacturer.” He also reminded businesses that consumer rights extended to “any software or software updates” loaded onto those goods.
 
Breaches of Australian Consumer Law can result in fines of up to A$1.1m (£667,000). In February 2016, Apple apologised over similar claims and issued a fix for error 53. Some users found that their iPhone stopped working following servicing by a non-Apple technician and saw an “error 53” message in iTunes. Apple said the error occurred when a device failed a standard security test designed to ensure that the Touch ID fingerprint scanner was working correctly.
 
 

iPhone users fooled by fake ransomware

Apple has issued an iPhone software update after reports of fake ransomware attacks where money was demanded in order to unlock the handset’s browser.

  
Apple has issued an iPhone software update after reports of fake ransomware attacks where money was demanded in order to unlock the handset’s browser.
 
A pop-up screen accused the phone owner of accessing illegal pornography or pirating music and could not be removed. However the ransomware was fake – and clearing the browser cache was actually enough to restore full access. It ran on JavaScript, a code commonly employed by many websites.
 
The attackers demanded £100 in the form of an iTunes gift card with the code sent via text message to a designated mobile number, said security firm Lookout in a blog about the malware.
 
“…the attack doesn’t actually encrypt any data and hold it ransom,” wrote its security researchers. “Its purpose is to scare the victim into paying to unlock the browser before he realizes he doesn’t have to pay the ransom to recover data or access the browser.”
 
The patch closed the loophole but Professor Alan Woodward, cybersecurity expert at Surrey University said some iPhone users have put off the update because it also includes other changes to the running of the device.
 
 “Some people have held off thinking it sounds fairly major, but obviously if they do that they won’t get the protection,” he said. “There is this feeling that iOS [Apple’s operating system] and Apple devices in general are less vulnerable. This shines a light on the fact that nothing is invulnerable. JavaSript is cross-platform and it’s a matter of how you manage it.”
 
 

Samsung plans to relaunch refurbished Note 7 devices

Samsung hopes to refurbish the 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that it recalled after a battery fault led to some catching fire.
  
Samsung hopes to refurbish the 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that it recalled after a battery fault led to some catching fire.
 
If local authorities and carriers agreed, and there was demand, it may then resell the phones, Samsung said. It also unveiled two other proposals for recycling the devices, including detaching the components and retrieving the hardware’s precious metals.
 
Samsung had faced pressure from environmental campaigner Greenpeace. The organisation had lobbied the technology giant over its plans for the devices, launching a petition and staging global protests including at the Mobile World Congress event.
 
“While we welcome this news, Samsung must share as soon as possible more detailed timelines on when it will implement its promises, as well as how it intends to change its production system to make sure this never happens again,” said Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Jude Lee.
 
Samsung said it would have to liaise with “regulatory authorities and carriers” and measure local demand before determining where and when refurbished handsets would be released.
 
 
 

Apple found guilty of Russian price-fixing

Russia’s competition watchdog has found that Apple fixed the prices of certain iPhone models sold in the country.
  
Russia’s competition watchdog has found that Apple fixed the prices of certain iPhone models sold in the country.
 
The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (Fas) said that Apple’s local subsidiary told 16 retailers to maintain the recommended prices of phones in the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 families. Non-compliance with the pricing guidelines may have led to the termination of contracts, it found.
 
At the time of the investigation, Apple denied that it controlled its products’ pricing, telling Reuters that resellers “set their own prices for the Apple products they sell in Russia and around the world”. The regulator said Apple had now ended its price-fixing practices but has not said whether the company faces a fine. The FAS claimed that Apple Rus monitored the retail prices for the iPhone 5c, 5s, 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus.
 
“In the case of the establishment of ‘inappropriate’ prices, the Russian subsidiary of Apple sent emails to resellers asking them to change,” the watchdog said.
 
The deputy head of the FAS, Andrey Tsarikovsky, added that “Apple actively co-operated” with the investigation and that the company had “adopted the necessary measures to eliminate violations of the law”. That included training employees in the “anti-monopoly legislation norms” in Russia.
 
 
 
 

Sony launches super-slow-motion phone

Sony’s latest smartphone is capable of filming smooth slow-motion footage at four times the rate possible on Apple and Samsung’s top-end models.
 
Sony’s latest smartphone is capable of filming smooth slow-motion footage at four times the rate possible on Apple and Samsung’s top-end models.
 
The Xperia XZ Premium captures video at up to 960 frames per second (fps). The achievement was made possible by a new type of image sensor that has built-in memory of its own. Sony’s smartphone market share is small, but it usually makes its sensors available to rivals about six to 12 months after they debut.
 
Apple, Samsung, LG and Xiaomi are among those to have used its technology in recent handsets. The new phone was unveiled alongside several lower specification devices on the first day of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

 
“Despite this being one of the best devices at MWC, I don’t see it changing Sony’s fortunes,” commented Francisco Jeronimo, from the market research firm IDC. “If you go through Sony’s financial statements you can see it now makes more money from selling phone cameras to its competitors than selling its own smartphones, which is quite remarkable So, its phones are a way to show off its capabilities, and the new camera is outstanding – not just the slow-mo but also the picture quality.”
 
Sony shipped about half as many smartphones in 2016 as the previous year and has about 1% share of the market, according to IDC, putting it in 17th place.

 
Sony calls the new technology Motion Eye. It uses a three-layer stacked sensor fitted with one gigabit of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Doing so lets the component temporarily store a rapid burst of video data locally before it is transferred to other memory components, which takes more time.

 
When the firm first announced the sensor earlier this month it said it was capable of 1,000 fps in 1080p “full high definition”. However, on the Xperia XZ Premium it has been restricted to slightly fewer frames per second at 720p resolution. In practice, users can only capture 0.18 seconds of footage at this speed, which produces six seconds of video when played back. But they can do so in the middle of filming normal footage to create a slow-down-and-speed-back-up effect. The challenge is to press the button at the right moment.
 
“It’s only a very brief amount of time and you’ve got to be really on the ball to use it effectively,” commented Tim Coulling from the Canalys tech consultancy. “But it’s a great feature.”
 
The built-in DRAM memory also lets users record action that happened a second before they pressed the record button. This buffer function is intended to help them avoid missed moments, but only works if the device detects motion, which triggers the facility.
 
Other unusual features include:
a 5.5in (14cm) 4K resolution display that has four times as many pixels as 1080p equivalents. It also plays back Amazon Prime Video content in high dynamic range. HDR delivers more vibrant images that reveal extra detail compared to traditional footage & the choice of a mirrored body. This allows the back of the device to be used to help put on make-up or put in contact lenses. However, it also attracts fingerprint marks

 
The machine is designed to be used while connected to a power source, but can work for up to an hour unplugged. 

A potential problem, however, is its price: Sony plans to charge €1,499 ($1,584; £1,269) when it goes on sale in Europe and Japan.
 

“I think Sony should be applauded for being bold enough to push into a new category, but unfortunately it’s out of reach to all but the most affluent gadget addicts,” commented Ben Wood from CCS Insight.

 
Mr Jeronimo was more harsh in his criticism. “It’s a huge mistake,” he said. “If Sony combined a projector with a device like the Amazon Echo or Google Home for a third of the price, that would be a very interesting. But asking for more than $1,500 – there’s no way they will sell them.”
 
 

Huawei P10 has smarter selfie and rear cameras

Huawei’s latest high-end smartphone features a camera on its front that counts how many people are in shot.
 
Huawei’s latest high-end smartphone features a camera on its front that counts how many people are in shot.
 
If the P10 detects there is more than one person being photographed in a “selfie”, it automatically switches from standard to wide-angle mode. The phone’s rear cameras also use use 3D depth-sensing technology to help enhance portraits.
 
Analysts said the device only marks a relatively minor improvement on last year’s well-received model. It was unveiled on the eve of Mobile World Congress, a tech trade show in Barcelona.
 
“I think it’s deliberately incremental, but I don’t think that’s a problem,” commented Ben Wood from CCS Insight. “It makes it an even more refined version of the P9, which was a milestone device for Huawei as it took them from being a relative unknown to a player with a credible top-end smartphone.”
 
The Chinese firm is currently the world’s third bestselling smartphone-maker. It has said it intends to be one of the top two by the end of 2018. The company shipped more than 139 million handsets last year – according to market analysis by IDC – which represented a 30% gain on 2015. That put Huawe’s share of 2016’s smartphone market at 9%, behind Apple with 15% and Samsung with 21%.
 
The P10 continues Huawei’s alliance with Leica, the German camera-maker whose brand is stamped on the phone’s photo sensor components. As before, there are two of these cameras on the rear of the device, one capturing colour, the other black-and-white data – the information is combined to create a single 12 megapixel colour image or used to deliver a 20 megapixel monochrome one.
 
What is new, is that software now analyses the difference between the two images to work out the position and size of the subject’s various facial features – such as how big a nose they have. This is then used to adjust the lighting, shadows and skin colours to try and produce more flattering portraits.

 
In addition, Huawei has built in software co-developed by the action camera-maker GoPro to automatically create photo books and videos. The firm has also moved the fingerprint sensor from the rear of the device to the front.
 
The standard P10 has a 5.1in 1080p high definition display, while the P10 Plus has a 5.5in higher resolution component.
 
Much of the firm’s press conference was dedicated to the fact they now come in blue and green bodies among other options.
 
“If you saw it against the P9 you might think: what’s the difference?” commented David McQueen from ABI Research. “What Huawei has done is really push the camera features and functionality. That will appeal to keen photographers, but others won’t notice much improvement.”
 
 

LG G6 phone offers split-screen use

LG has ditched the modular design of its previous flagship smartphone and unveiled a new top-end model that is designed for split-screen uses.
  
LG has ditched the modular design of its previous flagship smartphone and unveiled a new top-end model that is designed for split-screen uses.
 
To achieve this, the G6’s display has an 18:9 aspect ratio, rather than the 16:9 used by most handsets. It means that when viewed in landscape mode, the screen appears wider than normal. LG has acknowledged that last year’s G5 missed its sales targets. One analyst said the change in strategy was wise. The new device was unveiled in Barcelona ahead of the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show.
 
LG’s new phone was also distinguished by being the first Android device announced to include Google Assistant – the search giant’s voice-controlled rival to Apple’s Siri – beyond Google’s own Pixel phone.
 
The G6’s display measures 5.7in (14.5cm) compared to the G5’s 5.3in (13.5cm) component. It is also brighter, adding support for high dynamic range (HDR) video playback. This makes compatible footage appear more vibrant and detailed in the shadows. The new device can also be submerged underwater for up to half an hour.
 
Yet the G6 is thinner and slightly smaller than last year’s model thanks to the decision to abandon add-on components – such as a higher quality audio processor – and a return to an irremovable battery. The new phone is designed around Android 7’s support for split-screen software, allowing two same-sized square interfaces to be seen either side-by-side or one-above-the-other, depending on how the phone is held.

 
Suggested uses include: running two different apps alongside each other, displaying a monthly calendar in one box, and a day’s agenda in the other, showing a music album’s artwork and play controls in one interface, and a list of the songs it contains in the other. A further use of the split screens would be to help take square-shaped photos for the social network Instagram. When the phone is held vertically, the top box shows the live view from the camera while the bottom one displays the last photo taken. The idea is to make it possible to review an image without the risk of missing another key moment.
 
However, one side effect of the screen’s unusual aspect ratio is that many apps will have to be slightly stretched to fit it, unless the owner opts not to use the full screen.
 
LG acknowledges that the G6 is less radical than last year’s offering, but it hopes that means demand will be stronger than it was for the G5. “I’d love to be sat here now saying that the mass market had adopted it and understood it – unfortunately that wasn’t the case,” Jeremy Daniels, head of sales for LG UK said. “We proved the concept could be done, but actually we know that [this year] we had to tick a lot of boxes like water resistance and bigger battery. And that could only be done by moving to a design that was more appealing to the masses.”
 

LG is the world’s sixth bestselling smartphone maker, according to the research firm IDC. Figures indicate that the South Korean firm shipped 7% fewer handsets in 2016 compared to the previous year.
 
Despite the G5’s struggles, its unusual design won plaudits when it was unveiled a year ago. The GSM association – a trade body representing the world’s mobile operators – even declared it the best device introduced at 2016’s MWC. But one expert said the idea of adding functionality via add-on accessories – known as friends – proved to be unwieldy in practice.

 
“If you look at the way G5 worked – owners had to open the case, remove the battery and power down the device before putting in another friend – that concept was fatally flawed,” said Tim Coulling from the tech consultancy Canalys. Also because the phone had to be taken apart a lot, there were problems with dust and water. So, the decision to move back from modular to non-modular is completely the correct decision.”
 
Over the past year, Google has also cancelled its Project Ara modular smartphone concept. But Lenovo continues to pursue the modular idea with its Moto Z devices, which do not need to be switched off when their parts are swapped.