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Despite the worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, global smartwatch shipments continued to grow during the first three months of the year, driven by online sales, says a new report by research firm Strategy Analytics.

Shipments grew 20% annually to reach 13.7 million units in the first quarter of 2020, up from 11.4 million units in the previous quarter. Apple Watch stayed in the top position, with 55% global market share, followed in second place by Samsung. Garmin rose to third place.

“Smartwatches are selling well through online retail channels, while many consumers have been using smartwatches to monitor their health and fitness during virus lockdown,” wrote Strategy Analytics senior analyst Steven Waltzer.

In the first quarter of 2020, 7.6 million Apple Watches shipped, a 23% increase from the 6.2 million shipped during the same period one year ago. Apple Watch’s market share grew from 54% to 55%.

Samsung shipped 1.9 million smartwatches, compared to 1.7 million last year, while its market share went down from 15% to 14%. Waltzer writes that Samsung’s smartwatch growth was slowed by the coronavirus lockdown in South Korea and new competition from rivals like Garmin .

Garmin took the number three position for the first time in two years, shipping 1.1 million smartwatches in the first quarter, a 38% increase from 800,000 a year ago. This grew Garmin’s share of the global smartwatch market from 7% to 8%, thanks to new models like the Venu with OLED color touchscreen.

Strategy Analytics expects global smartwatch shipments to slow in the second quarter of 2020 because of the pandemic, but recover during the second half of the year, as stores reopen and some consumers turn to smartwatches to help them monitor their health.

“Smartwatches continue to have excellent long-term prospects, as younger and older people will become more health-conscious in a post-virus world,” wrote analyst Woody Oh. “Smartwatches can monitor vital health signs, such as oxygen levels, and consumers may find comfort in having a virtual health assistant strapped to their wrist.”


TechCrunch

As it mobilizes its supply chain, employees, and partners to provide personal protective equipment to medical workers and others working to stop the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, Apple has sourced over 20 million face masks and is now building and shipping face shields, according to a statement from chief executive Tim Cook.

The company is working with governments around the world to distribute its supply of face masks to where it’s needed most.

Meanwhile, the first delivery of the company’s Apple face shields went out to Kaiser hospital facilities in the Santa Clara valley earlier this week, according to Cook.

As Cook noted, the masks pack flat and ship 100 to a box. They can be assembled in less than two minutes and are fully adjustable. Cook said that the company would ship 1 million by the end of the week and will expect to ship an additional 1 million face shields weekly, with a goal to expand distribution beyond the U.S. 

“For Apple this is a labor of love and gratitude and we will share more of our efforts over time,” Cook said. 

Apple is joining an effort that several 3D printing startups and maker facilities have already spent time working on.

In Canada, INKSmith, a startup that was making design and tech tools accessible for kids, has now moved to making face shields and is hiring up to 100 new employees to meet demand.

“I think in the short term, we’re going to scale up to meet the needs of the province soon. After that, we’re going to meet the demands of Canada,” INKSmith CEO Jeremy Hedges told the Canadian news outlet Global News.

3D-printing companies like Massachusetts-based Markforged and Formlabs and Brooklyn’s Voodoo Manufacturing are all making personal protective equipment like face shields in the US.


TechCrunch

So your aluminum Series 2 or Series 3 Apple Watch is suddenly cracking around the edges… but you don’t remember bumping it on anything, or being particularly rough with it.

Surprise! It might not be your fault at all.

Apple says that they’ve determined that “under very rare circumstances”, the displays on aluminum Series 2 and 3 Watches are developing cracks that can wrap along the rounded edges.

The good news? If Apple determines your display crack is caused by this newly discovered issue, they’ll replace the screen for free. The bad news? It’s not the kind of thing they can fix at the Genius Bar, so getting it patched up means shipping the Watch to Apple and being without it for 5+ days.

(It sounds like the kind of cracks they’re looking for are pretty specific — they’re looking for cracks that developed around the rounded edges, as pictured above. So if you really just dropped something on the watch and the display got obliterated, you probably aren’t gonna be able to pull a fast one here.)

As spotted by MacRumors, Apple has a full list of watches that are going to be covered under this new screen replacement program here. The company says that all eligible aluminum Series 2 and 3 watches will be covered under this new screen replacement program for 3 years from its original retail purchase date, or one year from today — whichever is longer.


TechCrunch

Apple is suing virtualization software company Corellium, according to documents filed today in Florida.

Corellium allows customers to create and interact with virtual iOS devices — a software iPhone, for example, running actual iOS firmware, all within the browser. Apple says this is copyright infringement, and is demanding Corellium stops “all uses of” its iOS virtualization products and pays Apple unspecified “damages and lost profits”

Corellium could allow, for example, a security researcher to quickly fire up a simulated iPhone and hunt for potential bugs. If one is discovered, they can quickly load up prior versions of iOS to see how long this bug has been around. If a bug “bricks” the virtual iOS device and renders it unusable, it’s a matter of just booting up a new one rather than obtaining a whole new phone. Virtualized devices can be paused, giving researchers a detailed look at its precise state at any given moment .

Forbes did a deep dive on the company last year. As they point out, two of the company’s co-founders were some of the earliest members of the iPhone jailbreak scene, giving them an understanding better than nearly anyone else in the world as to how iPhones, iPads, etc work under the hood.

In its complaint, Apple writes:

The product Corellium offers is a “virtual” version of Apple mobile hardware products, accessible to anyone with a web browser. Specifically, Corellium serves up what it touts as a perfect digital facsimile of a broad range of Apple’s market-leading devices—recreating with fastidious attention to detail not just the way the operating system and applications appear visually to bona fide purchasers, but also the underlying computer code. Corellium does so with no license or permission from Apple.

This news comes just days after Apple announced that it would be launching a “iOS Security Research Device Program”, in which select security researchers would be given access to less-locked down iOS devices in order to help them find vulnerabilities.


TechCrunch

Make way for another antitrust investigation into big tech. Step forward Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), which has opened an official probe of Apple — following a complaint lodged in March by security company Kaspersky Labs.

Kaspersky’s complaint to FAS followed a change in Apple’s policy towards a parental control app it offers, called Kaspersky Safe Kids. Discussing the complaint in a blog post the security firm says Apple contacted it in 2017 to inform it that the use of configuration profiles is against App Store policy, even though the app had been on Apple’s store for nearly three years without it raising any objections. 

Apple told Kaspersky to remove configuration profiles from the app — which it says would require it to remove two key features that makes it useful to parents: Namely, app control and Safari browser blocking.

It also points out that the timing of Apple’s objection followed Apple announcing its Screen Time feature, in iOS 12 — which allows iOS users to monitor the amount of time they spend using certain apps or on certain websites and set time restrictions. Kaspersky argues Screen Time is “essentially Apple’s own app for parental control” — hence raising concerns about the potential for Apple to exert unfair market power over the store it also operates by restricting competition.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the FAS investigation. The company referred Reuters to a statement it made in April about its policy towards parental control apps, following other complaints.

In the statement Apple says it removed several such apps from the App Store because they “put users’ privacy and security at risk” — calling out the use of what it described as “a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management” (MDM).

But Kaspersky claims its app does not, and never did, use MDM.

Following complaints and some press attention to Apple’s parental control apps crackdown), the company appears to have softened its stance on MDM for this specific use-case — updating the App Store Review Guidelines’ to allow using MDM for parental controls in limited cases.

Kaspersky also says that the Apple Developer Enterprise Program License Agreement “clarifies that the use of MDM-profiles and configuration profiles in applications for home users is only possible with the explicit written consent of Apple”.

However it argues that Apple’s updated rules and restrictions still “do not provide clear criteria allowing the usage of these profiles, as well as information on meeting the criteria, which is needed for obtaining written consent from Apple to use them”. Hence it’s not willing to drop its complaint yet.

It says it’s also continuing to prepare to file an antitrust complaint over the same issue in Europe — where a separate competition-related complaint was recently filed against Apple by the music service Spotify.

Kaspersky says now that only official written confirmation from Apple — of “the applicability of the new p.5.5. “App Store Review Guidelines” for Kaspersky Safe Kids for iOS” — will stay its complaint.

Russia’s FAS has shown itself to be relatively alacritous at handling big tech antitrust complaints — most notably slapping Google with an order against bundling its services with Android back in 2015, a few months after local search giant Yandex had filed a complaint.

It took the European Union’s competition regulator several more years before arriving at a similar conclusion vis-a-vis Google’s competition-blocking Android bundling.


TechCrunch

SoftBank Group announced today that it will launch its second Vision Fund with participation from Apple, Foxconn, Microsoft and other tech companies and investors. Called the Vision Fund 2, the fund will focus on AI-based technology. SoftBank said the fund’s capital has reached about $ 108 billion, based on memoranda of understandings. SoftBank Group’s own investment in the fund will be $ 38 billion.

It is worth noting that the second Vision Fund’s list of expected limited partners does not currently include any participants from the Saudi Arabia government (the first Vision Fund’s close ties to people, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who have been implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has understandably been a major source of concern for investors, companies and human rights observers).

But SoftBank Group also said is still in discussions with other participants and that the total amount of the fund is expected to increase. The full list of participants who have signed MOUs so far are: “Apple, Foxconn Technology Group, Microsoft Corporation, Mizuho Bank, Ltd., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, MUFG Bank, Ltd., The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Limited, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Limited, SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., Daiwa Securities Group Inc., National Investment Corporation of National Bank of Kazakhstan, Standard Chartered Bank, and major participants from Taiwan.”

SoftBank’s intention to launch Vision Fund 2 was first reported earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal. The new fund is expected to decrease SoftBank’s reliance on Saudi Arabian investment and also potentially change the relationship between startups, corporate giants like Microsoft and investors.

The second Vision Fund could help SoftBank extend its position as the most influential investor globally. Through its first $ 97 billion Vision Fund, the giant invested in dozens of high-profile growing companies, including ride hailing giants Didi Chuxing and Grab, and India-based grocery delivery startup Grofers, payments-firm Paytm, and budget lodging startup Oyo.

The maiden Vision Fund, which was announced in October 2016 and began investing in early 2017, has earned 62% returns to date, SoftBank said last month. SoftBank, known for consistently cutting checks of $ 100 million and of larger sizes, has invested in 24 of 377 unicorns globally (companies with valuation of $ 1 billion or more), according to research firm CB Insights.


TechCrunch

For the first time, Apple has published the number of requests it’s received from governments to take down apps from its app store.

In its latest transparency report published Tuesday, the tech giant said it received 80 requests from 11 countries to remove 634 apps from its localized app stores during July 1 and December 31, 2018.

Apple didn’t list the apps that were removed but noted in most cases why the apps were pulled. China made up the bulk of the requests, seeking to remove 517 apps claiming they violated its gambling and pornography laws. Vietnam and Austria also requested the takedown of several apps which violated its gambling laws, while Kuwait asked Apple to pull some apps that fell foul of its privacy laws.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Lebanon were among the countries that requested the removal of some apps, along with The Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.

The move comes more than a year after the company promised to publish the figures starting with this latest transparency report.

Apple said it will in a future transparency report — slated for mid-2020 — will report on appeals received in response to government demands to remove apps from the company’s localized app stores.

The tech giant also for the first time posted several national security letters it received permission to publish.

National security letters (NSLs) are controversial subpoenas issued by the FBI with no judicial oversight and often with a gag order preventing the company from disclosing their existence. Since the introduction of the Freedom Act in 2015, the FBI was required to periodically review the gag orders and lift them when they were no longer deemed necessary.

Apple first revealed it received an NSL in 2017 but never published the document. In its latest transparency report, the company finally published the letter — along with four others from 2018 which had the gag order lifted in April and May 2019.

As for the rest of the report, most of the government demands went down during the six-month period compared to the previous reporting period.

Apple said it received 29,183 demands from governments — down almost 10 percent on the last reporting period — to access 213,737 devices in the second half of last year.

Germany issued the most legal demands for the six-month period ending December 2018 with 12,343 requests for 19,380 devices. Apple said the large number of requests were primarily due to police investigating stolen devices.

The U.S. was in a distant second place with 4,680 demands for 19,318 devices.

Apple also received 4,875 requests for account data, such as information stored in iCloud — up by 16 percent on the previous reporting period — affecting 22,503 accounts.

The tech giant also saw a rise in the number of government requests to preserve data for up to three months. Apple said it received 1,823 requests, up by 15 percent, affecting 5,553 accounts, during which law enforcement sought to obtain the appropriate orders to access the data.


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