The iPhone 5 was well-received by critics and consumers alike, with one major exception: Apple Maps, the in-house replacement for Google Maps, which had been a default app on the iPhone for years. Apple Maps, detractors argue, is a "flop," a "debacle," and just plain "ugly."
But maybe not for long. According to a new report in The New York Times, Google will release a new iOS 6 maps app, perhaps within the next couple of months, and almost certainly before the end of the year. The Times sources its article to "to people involved with the effort who declined to be named because of the nature of their work"; neither Apple nor Google has offered official comment. Still, this is one rumor that we buy.
From the Times:
One reason that it will take Google some time to build the iPhone app: it expected the app with Google’s maps to remain on the iPhone for some time, based on the contract between the two companies, and was caught off guard when Apple decided to build a new application to replace the old one... There are several complicating factors to Google’s development of the app. Google’s contract with Apple to keep the maps app on the iPhone had more time remaining, and Google did not know that Apple had changed its mind until Apple said publicly in June that it would replace the app with its new maps app.
In other words, this whole thing got sprung on Google, which is now playing catch-up. That makes sense. It also stands to reason, of course, that by the time Google gets together a new mapping app for the iPhone and iPad, Apple will have corrected some of the flaws in its in-house application, including the lack of transit directions and the plethora of glitches (check out this Tumblr for a compendium).
Another thing to consider: Apple is going to have to approve any Google Maps app before it appears on any Apple product again. John Paczkowski of All Things D says that talks between Google and Apple failed because of a spat over turn-by-turn directions – and that Apple eventually decided to go with its own in-house product. Would the companies reach an agreement this time around?
The past couple of years have not been particularly kind to RIM, the Canada-based maker of the BlackBerry smartphone line. The PlayBook tablet flopped; global sales shrank; workers were laid off; and Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, formerly the RIM co-CEOs, were pushed out in favor of COO Thorsten Heins. Cue the takeover rumors and the snarky obituaries for a company that once sat at the top of the smartphone game.
But according to Reuters, those obits may have been a little premature. RIM tells Reuters today that its subscriber base has actually climbed as of late – from 78 million at the beginning of 2012 to 80 million now. Reuters reports that many of the new RIM subscribers are in emerging markets, such as India, "where consumers are much more price conscious and where RIM's much-admired BlackBerry messaging platform gives it a big edge."
The subscriber numbers helped nudge RIM stock up three percent in trading today. So is RIM in the midst of a resurgence?
Well, the company would certainly like you to think so. Speaking at an event in San Jose, Calif., Heins pointed to the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is expected to launch on a range of RIM devices early next year. "We recognize the need for change," Heins said at the event. "There is a new energy and a lot of fighting spirit at RIM."
We're somewhat less than fully convinced. Although RIM may still find a market among business users, the company has fallen well behind Apple and Google in both the inventiveness of its devices and the quality of its operating systems. Even if RIM knocks it out of the park with BlackBerry 10 – which won't even launch until long after the holiday shopping season has concluded – it will have a tough time catching up.
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If you pre-ordered an iPhone 5 sometime in the last 10 days, there's a good chance you won't see your shiny, new, big-screen smartphone until October, which is something of a hassle if you're one of those instant-gratification types.
So what's behind the delay? Well, according to a new report in Bloomberg, it's the rejiggered display on the iPhone 5. In the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, the display and touch sensor were separate. In the iPhone 5, they're twinned – the technology is called "in-cell." Bloomberg says it's taking Apple longer than expected to wrestle up the various parts needed for the in-cell displays and to actually assemble the screens.
"This is like the opening weekend for the summer blockbuster movie," Tom Dinges, senior principal analyst at IHS iSuppli, told Bloomberg. "They needed to get a lot of products in the door during a tight window, and these supply constraints that were talked about probably did have some impact." But have no fear: Dinges expects that the supply stream should speed up exponentially in coming weeks.
In the meantime, as Eric Zeman of InformationWeek points out, there are still a few ways to get your hands on a new iPhone.
"First, you can try your luck at your local Apple retail store, though Apple warns 'limited quantities may also be for in-store pickup on a first-come, first-served basis,'" Zeman writes. "Second, you can try calling around wireless network operators' stores and other retailers to see if they have any in stock. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless, as well as Best Buy, RadioShack, Target, and Wal-Mart are selling the iPhone 5."
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In the US, the iPhone 5 has launched to blockbuster sales. In Taiyuan, a city in northern China, rioting has consumed a plant operated by Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that provides parts for many Apple products.
The BBC reports that over 5,000 police officers were sent to Taiyuan, effectively ending the riots. 40 people were reportedly injured in the fighting, three critically. It remains unclear whether the Taiyuan Foxconn plant was a major Apple supplier; speaking to the New York Times, a Foxconn spokesman would say only that the factory "supplied goods to many consumer electronics brands." (Foxconn works with a wide range of companies, including Sony and Amazon.)
"The cause of this dispute is under investigation by local authorities and we are working closely with them in this process, but it appears not to have been work-related," Foxconn reps told Reuters.
Production at the plant, which employs just under 80,000 workers, was suspended on Monday.
In March of this year, a month after the Times published a damning report on conditions in Foxconn factories, Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a visit to a plant in China. "China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there," Apple spokesperson Carolyn Wu said at the time.
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Customers picked up five million copies of the iPhone 5 in the first three days the device was on sale, according to Apple. In a press statement released today, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the new smartphone, which is currently available in a range of European, Asian, and North American markets, had exceeded initial supplies, and predicted that some pre-orders would not ship until next month.
"Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible," Cook said. "While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone."
Couple things to note here. First: A sold-out product is a much-buzzed-about product. So although Apple has twice implicitly apologized for the delay in shipping more iPhone 5 handsets, we expect the company is secretly pretty happy to be releasing statements like the one above. Second: Five million is certainly an impressive number, but it actually falls short of many industry predictions.
As Business Insider points out today, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimated that Apple would ship 6 to 10 million iPhone 5 handsets in the first weekend after launch. Six million handsets, he said, would be a "worst case scenario." So Apple actually failed to meet Munster's worst-case scenario; unsurprisingly, Apple stock was down two percent this morning.
In related news, Apple continues to deal with the fall-out from its new mapping app. Horizons readers will remember that Apple ditched Google Maps in iOS 6 and the iPhone 5 and replaced it with Apple Maps, an in-house application. But Apple Maps has a number of holes – public transit directions are missing, for instance – and critics have slammed the app as "an unsightly blemish on what is otherwise a beautiful OS."
Tried out the new iPhone? Drop us a line in the comments section. And to receive regular updates on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.
Just about every Apple product launch comes with some sort of backlash.
With the iPhone 4, it was the so-called "death grip." With the new iPad, it was Wi-Fi issues. And with the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 it's the new Maps app, which has been called everything from a "flop" to a "debacle" to just plain "ugly."
Why boot Google Maps? Because Google is a competitor in the smartphone market. And there's no use giving a competitor stage space on your flagship device. Which would all be fine if the "the best smartphone on the market" wasn't running a deficient mapping application.
"Apple believes that they can deliver a better experience for customers than Google," Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research, told Businessweek today. "But in the short term, Google has a better mapping application, and iPhone customers will suffer."
So what exactly makes Apple Maps, in the words of Zach Epstein of BGR, "an unsightly blemish on what is otherwise a beautiful OS"? Well, for one, there's no public transportation option – a bummer for folks who live in cities, and relied on Google Maps to tell them what train to take. There are some third-party plug-ins available (Gizmodo's list is good), but it does seem fairly inexcusable not to have the transit stuff baked in at launch.
Worse yet, there seem to be all sorts of glitches with the maps themselves – see also the Tumblr called Amazing iOS 6 Maps, which documents particularly egregious flaws – and problems obtaining accurate directions.
Over to Epstein of BGR:
I have had a great deal of trouble when searching for most business names in Apple’s Maps app. This is especially problematic when I’m rushing to a meeting that I am already late for. Sadly, this happens often. Searching the name of a hotel or event center in Google Maps always took me right where I needed to go. The same cannot be said of Apple’s Maps app. Even if I’m within a mile of the place I’m looking for, Maps in iOS 6 often serves results that are across town or even in a different city.
The Apple iPhone 5 officially launches on Friday. iOS 6 is available for download now. Tried it out? Drop us a line in the comments section. And to receive regular updates on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.
Back in May, Target announced it would stop selling Amazon Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets. Now, several months later, Wal-Mart has followed suit, booting the Kindle line, which includes a range of Fire and Kindle devices, from outlets across the country.
"We have recently made the business decision to not carry Amazon tablets and eReaders beyond our existing inventory and purchase commitments," Wal-Mart said in an internal memo obtained by Reuters. "This includes all Amazon Kindle models current and recently announced."
So what's behind the shift? Well, a healthy sense of competition, mostly. Consider: Wal-Mart sells a range of household and homegoods products. Amazon used to be just a big bookseller, but in recent years it has become a bookseller that also sells television sets and food products and even deodorant. That's threatening to Wal-Mart and Target.
"I think part of it could be margin, though the bigger point is that Wal-Mart and Target view Amazon as a competitor," Scott Tilghman, an analyst at Caris & Company, told Reuters. (It's worth noting that neither Wal-Mart nor Target has officially commented on the reason for removing the Kindle line from stores; Amazon, for its part, is staying mum.)
Earlier this month, at an event in Santa Monica, Kindle CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a new line of Kindle Fire tablets and a backlit e-reader called the Kindle Paperlight. Generally speaking, critics have been pleased with the new Kindle Fires, and especially the 7-inch HD model. Writing in Gizmodo, Kyle Wagner said he found the tablet "impressive." The modified Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system? Less so.
"[A]fter using Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7, it's just impossible to go back to [the Fire] without it feeling horribly slow and laggy," Wagner wrote. "How bad is it? It's bad enough that when you tap an icon, you wonder if you did it wrong, if maybe you didn't tap firmly enough."
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If you're a tech news junkie, it's probably hard to hear or see anything but the words iPhone 5 right now, but believe it or not, other smartphones do exist, and a few are even being demoed and released in the run-up to the iPhone 5 launch. Cases in point are Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S, a pair of handsets manufactured by HTC and powered by Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.
Both the 8X and 8S were unveiled today by Microsoft and HTC brass. Expect a November launch date, and a wide range of carrier options, including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Of the two phones, the 8X is the higher-end of the pair, with a 4.3-inch HD display and a 1.5-GHz, dual-core Snapdragon chip.
The 8S, on the other hand, is a little smaller in shape and display – it gets a 4-inch display instead of a 4.3-inch display – and a 1-GHz, dual-core Qualcomm S4 chip. So how do the devices handle? Well, over at PC Mag, Alex Colon and Sascha Segan took the 8X and 8S for a quick spin, and they like what they saw – especially the sharp and vibrant looks of the phones.
"The HTC Windows Phone 8X is made of polycarbonate and comes in blue, red, or yellow," they write. "If you dig the more traditional smartphone look it comes in black too, but these bright colors are really where it's at." The 8S, they continue, cuts a few corners to save cost, but turns in a "solid" performance – "just as responsive as the 8X" in early tests.
Where all this leaves Nokia is a little unclear. After all, Nokia and Microsoft partnered to much fanfare last year – but now HTC seems to be stealing a little bit of Nokia's thunder. As Brian Bennett of CNET notes, the 8S and 8X look very, very much like the Nokia Lumia line.
"When HTC representatives first uncovered its new products, literally removing a cloth that covered them for dramatic effect, I briefly thought I was in the wrong meeting," Bennett writes. "That's because the HTC Windows Phone 8X could easily be a doppelganger for Nokia's Lumia handsets, either the Lumia 900 or upcoming Lumia 920. Honestly, if I squinted my eyes I could almost make out Nokia's logo above the device's 4.3-inch screen instead of HTC's."
All of which has made Nokia a little cantankerous. In a statement to the Verge, Nokia marketing chief Chris Weber attempted to frame the Lumia line as the true Windows Phone 8 device.
"While others may choose to tactically re-brand their products, Nokia is driving an industry-leading smartphone franchise – that we call Lumia -- exclusively around Windows Phone," Weber wrote. "With Lumia, we are creating truly differentiated experiences like PureView imaging, location and navigation, wireless charging and Nokia Music. And we’re just getting started!"
Friday marks the official launch of the iPhone 5. Expect long lines at Apple stores, a throbbing hurricane of media hype, and probably another boost to Apple stock, which earlier this week topped $700 per share – an all-time high for the Cupertino tech titan. But just how good is the iPhone 5, exactly? Well, according to a range of reviews posted to the Web today, it's very good indeed.
"On balance," Walt Mossberg writes at The Wall Street Journal, "I still consider the iPhone the best smartphone on the market." Mossberg singles out for praise the snappiness of the device: "Apple has finally connected the iPhone to the fastest cellular data network, called LTE, and data downloads and uploads just fly, even when you aren't on Wi-Fi," he writes. "Also, the processor now has twice the previous speed."
Of course, as we've noted, the iPhone 5 is not an aesthetic leap forward for the Apple smart phone. It's got an aluminum back, instead of glass, but it retains the boxy look and hard edges of the iPhone 4. Still, Henry McCracken of Time is fine with the looks of the device, which he calls a "refinement." Despite the taller screen, he writes, the iPhone 5, is an "exemplary one-handed phone: You can cradle it in your palm and use your thumb to type."
About that screen: Does the added half-inch yield a radically new experience?
"It’s a nice but not life-changing change," answers David Pogue of The New York Times. "You gain an extra row of icons on the Home screen, more messages in e-mail lists, wider keyboard keys in landscape mode and a more expansive view of all the other built-in apps. (Non-Apple apps can be written to exploit the bigger screen. Until then, they sit in the center of the larger screen, flanked by unnoticeable slim black bars.)"
Horizons readers will remember that Apple has made its own in-house mapping service the de-facto maps app on the iPhone 5 – gone is Google Maps, which had been a staple of the iPhone since the first iteration of the phone. So how does Apple's offering stack up?
"Google had beaten Apple to the punch with audio turn-by-turn directions for Android. Apple has generally done a very good job with its own turn-by-turn feature, which I tested driving in San Francisco and the greater New York City area," writes Edward Baig of USA Today. "The Maps app includes real-time traffic and accident alerts, and a feature called Flyover, photo-realistic 3-D imagery of landmarks as you zoom in over major cities."
And now on to the elephant in the room: Lightning, the replacement for the iPhone dock connector of yore. Apple says Lightning makes transfers much faster, but it causes a whole lot of compatibility issues: no longer will your old iPhone and iPad cords work on the iPhone 5.
"A lot of people are upset that they’re going to need adapters for their old accessories," argues MG Siegler of TechCrunch. "But that’s the price of progress. The Lightning connector is tiny compared to the old 30-pin connector, and the ability to plug it in with either side facing upwards is nice. I’m also not going to miss the pocket lint build up in the long port at the bottom of the iPhone."
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The biggest design change is that pages now have a big header image at the top -- similar to Facebook's Timeline banner -- with a user's avatar superimposed over it. (Note that the new header won't replace the background image that lots of users employ; you can still paste a giant photo of a cat behind your tweets if you like.) The single-row photo stream is gone, too; it's been given prominence higher on the page and an extra row of real estate.
The facelift extends past Twitter's homepage to mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and iPad, the latter of which the company has apparently rebuilt from scratch. All of the new mobile apps include photo streams -- a feature that used to be limited to the site itself -- allowing users to flick through photos and enlarge them to fill the screen. The iPad app also lets you expand certain tweets for more context, like tapping an article link to read a summary or tapping a video to play it in fullscreen.
For now, the changes won't take effect automatically: Twitter users can switch over to the new look by uploading a header photo. Twitter will eventually bump everyone over to the new design, just like Facebook did with Timeline a few months back. No word yet on when the company will flip the switch for all its users, but the Today Show (where Costolo unveiled the redesign for the first time on Tuesday morning) speculates that it could happen in the next few months.
The design does have some downsides for third-party developers: mobile non-native Twitter apps have lost the ability to post a picture to Twitter, although they should be functioning normally aside from that. This probably doesn't come as much of a shock to developers, since Twitter has been exerting more control over its platform over the past few months.
The redesign definitely puts visuals front and center, which has been a big trend with social media companies this year (think not only of Facebook, but of the meteoric rise of Pinterest, a site comprised almost entirely of images). It's a bold move for Twitter, though, which still has short text updates at its heart. The redesign, with its emphasis on big photos, may encourage people to think of their Twitter page as a landing site, rather than just an ephemeral collection of updates accessed through a third-party client. And, of course, the longer visitors linger on each page, the better Twitter will be able to monetize the site with ads.
What do you think of Twitter's new look? Is it a useful improvement, UI boondoggle, or somewhere in between? Let us know in the comments section below. And for more on how technology intersects daily life, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.