ESPN’s flagship iOS news app now works on both iPhone and iPad

ESPN pushed a big update to its flagship news app for iOS on Thursday. Now simply called ESPN — ditching the “Sportscenter” appellation — the app sports a new look, WatchESPN and ESPN Radio integration, and importantly for iPad-toting sports fans, it is a universal app that works on both phones and tablets running iOS.

It’s not that you couldn’t get scores from ESPN on an iPad before — the “Worldwide Leader” had a confusingly named and poorly-reviewed iPad app called ESPN ScoreCenter XL. But the company is following a new digital strategy, announced last fall, in which it is making cuts to its lineup of apps. Previously, the company had 45 different apps for various sports niches, including separate apps focusing on fantasy leagues, radio, and individual sports like soccer. Now, the game plan is to work on fewer, more individually personalized apps.

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The design language in the new iOS app is a preview of what ESPN’s new website will look like when it re-launches on April 1st. The new design emphasizes performance and speed, and is divided into three main sections: A feed for scores, a feed for news, and a new section called Now that combines social media, quick commentary, and ESPN photos and videos. The iPad version of the app sticks your favorite team logos on the bottom right hand corner of the screen for easy access. Of course, the app will still push alert notifications for scores and game starting times.

You can listen to ESPN Radio in the app, but internal WatchESPN links for live sports or highlights will send you to that service’s dedicated app, although an ESPN executive told Gigaom’s Janko Roettgers that eventually you’ll be able to play WatchESPN content in the main ESPN app.

The new ESPN app is available from the iTunes App Store. Unfortunately, fans using Android devices will have to wait “a few months” for a similar update.

 

Report: Apple won’t sell iOS accessories designed on leaks

It’s not uncommon for next-generation iPhone cases to appear before actual new iPhone models. That’s because accessory makers often jockey for position to be the first to have products ready for new iPhones. And Apple may have had enough of that mad dash. According to 9to5 Mac, Apple will reportedly ban sales of such products in Apple Stores.

Citing four different sources, 9to5 Mac says that [company]Apple[/company] sought new agreements from the top accessory makers prior to last year’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch:

Vendors that balked at the agreement were told that their products would be banned from Apple’s stores in the absence of a signature. Some vendors that signed the agreement were subsequently dropped from the stores anyway, but say that they believe they remain contractually bound by its terms.

Apple offers its own accessories, of course, so it’s not unreasonable to assume it wants customers to buy cases and such from it, rather than from third parties, during the high=volume sales period following a new device launch. By keeping that window a bit more to itself through such agreements, Apple can boost its profit margins and sales during that time. And when the other accessories arrive, designed on Apple’s official specs, they can join the Apple Store sales party.

Apple reportedly integrating Beats streaming into iOS and iTunes

After Beats was purchased in 2014, and even before then, one main question facing Apple is when the company plans to come out with a streaming music service. According to a new report from ace Apple reporter Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac, the company has been working to integrate Beats Music streaming into iOS, iTunes, and Apple TV, ahead of a launch that was planned for March, but now looks more likely to be June.

According to Gurman, Apple has decided to largely ditch the existing Beats Music brand on iPhone and iPad, instead choosing to integrate streaming features into the pre-installed Music app, which plays locally stored music and is still surprisingly popular.

One key feature for the service sounds a lot like an expansion of iTunes Match: Users will be able to upload current Beats or iTunes music libraries with the new service, which will merge those songs with iTunes in the Cloud, and users will be able to choose specific tracks or artists to download onto their iPhone or iPad’s local storage.

Although the new apps will reportedly ditch the black-and-red Beats color scheme, Apple appears poised to continue the Beats focus on human-curated playlists. Gurman also indicated that Apple may continue to try to build a music-focused social network in the Music app — remember that Apple tried and failed to do that before, with its Ping service.

Another surprise: Apple could be building a Beats Music app for Android in-house. There’s an existing Beats Music Android app, but Gurman reported that “Apple engineers are currently working on an Android app for the new Apple-branded service.” Apparently, there’s been a bit of discord stemming from the integration of Beats engineers and Apple engineers and Beats integration has been “not going so well.”

9to5Mac said a source warned them that there could be several employee departures from Apple’s services division in the near future. Remember that Apple’s core cloud infrastructure experts are distributed among teams, rather than in a single division, and pre-installing and promoting a streaming music service on up to 74.5 million iPhones a quarter would appear to require strong cloud infrastructure on the server side.

Apple has a long history in digital music going back to the introduction of iTunes. While only Apple’s board knows if Apple spent $3.2 billion on Beats for its profitable headphones business or its nascent music streaming service, this report appears to indicate that much of the software developed by Beats while it was independent has been ditched for code written by Apple. Beats headphones fit in very well with Apple’s main product lines — they’re complimentary high-margin luxury goods, whereas the Beats Music service might not have anything that Apple couldn’t have done itself, except for playlists curated by Dr. Dre’s friends.

As for pricing the service, Gurman’s report is less certain, but believes that the service could cost $7.99 a month, which would undercut the $9.99 price charge by Spotify, Google Play Music, and Rdio.

 

 

Apple earnings: 74.5M iPhones sold, record-breaking $18B profit

There was a lot going for Apple in its most recent holiday quarter. As the first quarter with the popular iPhone 6 on sale for the entire period, many expected Apple to boast eye-popping earnings, and Apple’s first fiscal quarter has traditionally been its best. Expectations were surpassed: Apple on Tuesday reported first quarter earning results of $74.6 billion in revenue and net profit of $18 billion.

In terms of device sales, that breaks down to:

  • 74.5 million iPhones, up from the 51 million sold a year ago.
  • 21.4 million iPads, down from the 26 million a year ago.
  • 5.5 million Macs, up from the 4.8 million a year ago.

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Apple’s earnings beat Wall Street’s already-lofty expectations. Analysts were generally expecting total revenue around $69 billion, and Apple’s own guidance was in the range of $63.5 billion to $66.5 billion. It’s also a big increase over last year’s holiday quarter, in which Apple reported $57.59 billion in revenue.

Earnings per share works out to $3.06. Apple declared a cash dividend of 47 cents per share.

The 74.5 million iPhones sold are a record for Apple, nearly 46 percent higher than the previous quarterly record set last December. Fortune-polled analysts predicted 66.5 million iPhones sold.

“This volume was hard to comprehend,” CEO Tim Cook said during a conference call to discuss the earnings. “34,000 iPhones sold per hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the quarter.”

Clearly, the iPhone is a juggernaut, and the new models with larger screens have only increased demand for it. Cook mentioned that he believes the number of switchers from Android to an iPhone 6 were as high as they’ve been for the previous three years. The proportion of Apple’s revenue coming from the iPhone has also never been higher:

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A key number to watch is Apple’s gross margins, or the proportion of revenue after manufacturing costs. Apple reported that its gross margins were 39.9 percent, which is up from 37.9 percent in the same quarter last year. It’s difficult to tell if the larger margins are due to the more expensive iPhone 6 Plus or the newly less-expensive 64 GB storage upgrade, but the average selling price for the iPhone was $687, which is nearly $50 more than last year’s holiday quarter. Cook didn’t elaborate on the sales mix between iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus beyond broad strokes.

“iPhone 6 was the most popular iPhone last quarter,” Cook said. “But to sell 74.5 million they were all popular. There is clearly a geographic preference, some [regions] skew much higher on their preference to iPhone 6 plus to other [regions], it’s something that’s not consistent around the world.”

It’s no secret that iPad sales have been dropping year-over-year for the past few quarters, but this earnings report reflects a full quarter selling new models released in October, including the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, but total unit sales were still down nearly 17 percent from the year-ago period. Cook has previously said that the lagging iPad sales were due to a longer upgrade cycle, and he reiterated that point on Tuesday.

Apple reported 5.5 million Macs sold this quarter, a 14 percent increase over the year-ago period despite the two newest Mac models released in October — the iMac with Retina Display and the Mac Mini — being niche products. However, it wasn’t a big jump from the prior quarter, which also saw 5.5 million Macs sold thanks to the back-to-school bump.

However, the average selling price for Macs was up $58, thanks to the new iMac with Retina Display which retails for $2500 or more.

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We expected sales in China to make an impact in these earnings. Apple reported that revenue in the Greater China region, which includes Taiwan, was $16.1 billion, or up 70 percent from the year-ago period. CFO Luca Maestri partially attributed the “particularly impressive” Greater China revenue to the strong dollar.

Maestri said Apple would reconsider its capital return program in April, which has included $57 billion in share repurchases in the past year. Apple still holds $178 billion in cash.

Apple also issued guidance for next quarter. It expects revenue to be between $52 billion and $55 billion, a “significant revenue increase despite foreign exchange headwinds” over the $46 billion in revenue Apple posted in the year-ago period. Next quarter will see the launch of Apple’s first wearable computer, Apple Watch. “Apple Watch will ship in April, right on schedule,” Cook said.

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This post was updated several times as more information became available.

Apple reduces the amount of storage iOS updates require

Apple started pushing a iOS update to iPhones and iPads on Tuesday. It’s a small bump to version 8.1.3, so it won’t completely revamp your phone. Apple said the release “includes bug fixes, increased stability, and performance improvements.”

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In a more specific note, Apple said that this update reduces the amount of storage required to perform a software update. You might remember that iOS uptake in the fall was slower than many expected — and the culprit seemed to be that the update was too big to fit into many people’s crowded iPhones with limited storage. Sure, users could update by plugging into a computer running iTunes without clearing space, but that doesn’t work for many mobile-first iPhone users.

It’s also worth noting that the iOS 8.0 update was a 1.1GB download — which required over 5GB to install — and this update is only 247MB. But it’s still a good sign that Apple is consciously trying to alleviate frustrations associated with upgrading its devices.

The update also fixes bugs affecting Apple ID, Spotlight, and iPad multitasking. The last major change is intriguing and vague: “Adds new configuration options for education standardized testing.”

I’ve reached out to [company]Apple[/company] for clarification on how the new upgrade process will use less storage and will update the post if it gets back to me. You can grab iOS 8.1.3. on your iOS device currently running iOS 8 by going to Settings > General > Software Update now.

Drop’s kitchen scale was so easy my 8 year old could use it

I am not a baker; we should get that out of the way right off the bat. So when I saw the Drop kitchen scale last winter I thought it was a great idea for mixing cocktails. The connected kitchen scale links to your iPad (must be third generation or above) and measures out your ingredients as you add them to a bowl sitting on the scale.

What’s unique about it is that it will help you adjust recipes down if you realize that you only have one egg instead of the two called for in the recipe or you want to take your recipe for eight people and pare it down to serve six. Those features had me excited about its potential use at the bar, simply because mixing up a batch of cocktails can be tricky and getting proportions right in a drink is so essential.

But the Drop scale is for baking. So when my review unit arrived, I grabbed my trays and mixing bowls.

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Let’s get cooking

When I saw the demos of the app I thought it would be ideal for a kid since everything is laid out so simply, so I asked my eight-year-old daughter to help me with the testing of the app. She readily agreed and chose to bake the Quick Chocolate Chunk Cookies from the app’s selection of recipes.

The other thing that the $100 scale does that’s worth mentioning is how it handles recipes. The app breaks recipes down into modular components starting with a list of what you’ll need in terms of equipment and ingredients. Then once you hit start, it takes you step by step through the recipe.

My daughter and I both found the recipes veered more toward the foodie end of the spectrum and were kind of awed by the number of vegan and gluten-free options.

“I feel that the recipes they give you, they won’t give you the normal version, they’ll give you the fancy version,” she told me when I asked her what she’d change. “They’ll give you the cookies with all the accessories, but before I am ready to go onto those I should first learn how to make the basics so I understand how this recipe is supposed to be working.”

We found the most basic chocolate chip recipe offered and went to town. I put her in charge, and she dutifully checked the ingredient list on the screen against the ones we laid out. Once we had everything assembled she clicked the start button and followed the instructions. It was awesome.

A Drop ingredient card.

A Drop ingredient card.

My daughter is a worrier. She worries about doing everything correctly, including scooping out the right amount of flour or butter into a bowl. So after we placed our mixing bowl on the scale and let it zero out, watching her start tossing in the butter with abandon as she kept an eye on what Drop calls the ingredient card fill up toward our goal weight of 10.25 ounces of butter was great. As a parent I rarely get to see her relax at a task because she’s so focused on making sure she’s doing things perfectly.

Whoops

She added all of the ingredients, although she added too much sugar, because it’s a bit tricky to see when you are going over the limit. The fill line for our first two ingredients was near the top of the card, so we just assumed that would be the case for others. However, when it came to adding sugar, the fill line was about a third of the way down. The fill line was a bit faint, so we went over. When you do that, you get these light pink diagonal stripes that flash as you add more of the ingredient, but it’s the least jarring warning I’ve ever seen.

Neither of us realized what was going on for a few more spoonfuls of sugar, and then it kicked in. So then I had to spoon the overflow out before we moved on. I should also say that for people who don’t like measuring cups, this scale is lovely, because you don’t really need them. Just dump your sugar or flour in until it says stop. I found it disconcerting, but my daughter loved it because it gave her more freedom from my supervision.

“I liked that with this you do it on your own, but you have a guide,” she said. “It lets you move more freely but shows me exactly where I am in the process and the instructions are really clear.”
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The final say

The other thing that caused us some consternation was the serving size on this particular recipe. It suggested that the recipe served eight people, but when it comes to cookies, what does that mean? Most cookie recipes give you an idea of how many cookies it will make. I guessed that eight people meant 16 cookies, so I doubled it. We ended up with about 60 cookies. A more experienced baker probably would have just looked at the amount of the ingredients and figured out what they were getting, but I don’t bake.

While my daughter continued to rhapsodize about the scale, I’m going to complain a bit. I found the use of weights to be frustrating, because when things like butter come in 2 ounce packages, asking for 10.25 ounces just feels aggravating. You can tell the scale you’re done when you get close to having the ingredient measured out with no repercussions, but if you are too far off you can end up with a resized recipe.

The recipe format is very clean, but it is also hard to glance at and get a sense of the steps without clicking through the entire recipe. At a glance you can only see the equipment you need and the ingredients, not the actual step-by-step instructions. For those you have to click through each individual step. It’s a bit of a pain. When I was testing, the ingredient substitution feature wasn’t working, but it did say it was coming soon.

The final result. They were delicious! All 60 of them.

The final result. They were delicious! All 60 of them.

A final complaint that my daughter and I both had was with the size of the scale, or maybe its top. Our big mixing bowl felt a little wobbly on the scale as it filled up with stuff and required us to mix in additional things. Of course, my existing digital scale feels a little fragile compared to the Drop so I’m not sure I’d ever try to mix anything on it.

The Drop scale can be used as a normal kitchen scale as long as you have your iPad handy, as there is no display on the scale itself. You can tap the scale instead of the iPad to move ahead when you are following a recipe, which is a handy feature to keep your iPad clean while you are cooking. There’s an integrated timer on the app, which is a nice feature if you are religiously tapping through the steps at the right place. I’m a bit more laissez faire, but my daughter was ON IT.

My daughter said she looks forward to using the scale again, and I’m set to try a few more recipes before shipping it back, but I’m not sure I’d spend $100 to replace my existing $50 digital scale. Since kitchen scales range in price from about $20 to $60 for an non-connected scale, paying $100 for a connected scale that comes with an app could either be seen as nuts or normal depending on where you fall on that spectrum.

If I didn’t have a scale already I might simply get the Drop because my daughter really seemed to get a kick out of it, and followed the entire recipe on her own. I might also buy one if I were really into baking.

But for now, I’ll wait until the Drop folks come out with something for mixologists.

Do e-readers really harm sleep? Depends what you call an e-reader

A new study has claimed that light-emitting e-readers “negatively affect sleep, circadian timing and next-morning alertness” when used in the evening. However, those reading the resulting coverage should look into the details before worrying too much.

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), leading to scary headlines such as: “E-readers ‘damage sleep and health,’ doctors warn” (BBC); “Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning” (Pacific Standard); and “Before Bed, Switch Off The E-Reader And Pick Up A Paperback” (Fast Company).

The key problem with this study and the more alarmist stories that followed, is that when it says “e-reader”, it means “[company]Apple[/company] iPad”. An iPad at full brightness, no less. When I hear “e-reader”, I tend to think “dedicated e-reader” – an e-ink device without a backlit screen — rather than a multi-purpose tablet. And there’s a big difference.

The screens of devices such as tablets and smartphones have long been known to emit short-wavelength light, also known as blue light. All light can suppress the secretion of melatonin – the hormone that controls our day-night cycles – in the evening and night-time, but blue light has a particularly pronounced effect and previous studies have shown that it’s best avoided at night.

The new study, conducted on a small group of 12 participants, adds to these earlier studies by comparing the effects of a light-emitting “e-book” (iPad) with those of a paper book. The researchers found printed books were definitely safer, writing:

The use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment has greatly increased recently. We found that the use of these devices before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep, and reduces alertness the following morning. Use of light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime also increases alertness at that time, which may lead users to delay bedtime at home. Overall, we found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety.

These effects could be serious. As the researchers note, recent evidence has linked chronic suppression of melatonin secretion by nocturnal light exposure with “the increased risk of breast, colorectal, and advanced prostate cancer associated with night-shift work… which has now been classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.”

But again, there’s a huge difference between an iPad and an e-ink reader such as those in the [company]Amazon[/company] Kindle, [company]Kobo[/company] or [company]Barnes & Noble[/company] Nook ranges. The study does not once mention e-ink e-readers. The iPad was also “set to maximum brightness throughout the four-hour reading session, whereas, by comparison, the print-book condition consisted of reflected exposure to very dim light.”

Charles Czeisler, director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who co-authored the study, told the Washington Post that the “standard Kindle” would provide an exception to the study’s findings as it does not emit light and was more like reading a paper book. A Vox interview with lead author Anne-Marie Chang suggests that the research was conducted between 2010 and 2011, when even the original, non-illuminated Kindle was pretty new and paper books made a better point of comparison.

There has been no mention at all of e-ink readers that are not backlit but that are illuminated, such as the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight — which is not surprising as these devices were only introduced in 2012. Rather than lighting the screen from behind, illuminated e-ink e-readers are “front-lit” and use small LEDs around the screen, pointing inward rather than outward, to cast a glow over it (the Paperwhite channels this through “light guides” to illuminate evenly). This is more like looking at an earlier Kindle in a lit room, than it is like looking at a light shining directly into your eyes.

What’s more, these devices generally allow users to dim the light – and so do blue-light-tastic backlit tablets, for that matter.

So in short, yes, you should avoid staring at your smartphone or tablet (or PC or TV) for hours before trying to nod off. And that includes the Kindle Fire, which is after all just a tablet. But let’s give dedicated e-ink e-readers, which are very different devices, the benefit of the doubt until someone proves they also pose a danger.

The software that helped hack the iCloud nudes got a scary update

The software tool that was used to exfiltrate many of the photos that comprised the infamous iCloud celebrity nude dump of 2014 has received a big update. Elcomsoft Phone Breaker now supports the two-factor authentication process that Apple added as a result of the iCloud hacks.