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Coronavirus clouds Apple’s timeline for new iPhones

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Travel restrictions to China because of the coronavirus have come just as Apple Inc’s engineers usually jet off to Asia to perfect the production of this fall’s new iPhones, former employees and supply chain experts told Reuters.

High-volume manufacturing is not scheduled until summer, but the first months of the year are when Apple irons out assembly processes with partners such as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co’s Foxconn, two former Apple employees said.

“They probably have one assembly line they’re trying things out on,” said one of the former employees who asked not to be named discussing production matters.

“Are Apple’s engineers with the Foxconn engineers? If they are, they’re probably making progress. But if they’re not, if they’re quarantined, that could be bad.”

While Apple uses other contract manufacturers such as Wistron Corp to make some iPhones, Taiwan’s Foxconn tends to handle the introduction of new models because its capabilities are the most advanced, supply chain experts said.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics maker, delayed reopening key iPhone factories in Shenzhen and Zhengzhou after the Lunar New Year holiday but hopes to resume half of its Chinese production by the end of February.

Senior Foxconn officials who have been working remotely from Taipei since the holiday have not yet returned to China on a large scale, a person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, speaking of company officials generally.

Apple declined to comment. Foxconn Technology Group said in an emailed statement on Tuesday that the company is following all legally required health and safety practices at its factories to protect employee welfare.

“Consistent with this, we are taking a cautious approach in the implementation of our post-holiday production schedules in each of our facilities in China,” the company said.

Last week, Apple warned investors it was unlikely to meet revenue targets for the first three months of 2020 and that global iPhone supplies would be limited as manufacturing sites in China were not ramping up production as quickly as expected.

Foxconn said this month that the coronavirus outbreak would lower its revenue this year.

Earlier this month, United Airlines, which has disclosed that Apple is a major customer, said it was cancelling all fights to China until late April. Apple, meanwhile, said on Jan. 28 that it was restricting employee to travel to China to “business-critical” situations.

Medical workers in protective suits check a CT (computed tomography) scan image of a patient at a community health service center, which has an isolated section to receive patients with mild symptoms caused by the novel coronavirus and suspected patients of the virus, in Qingshan district of Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 8, 2020. (REUTERS/China Daily)

Collaboration critical

For new iPhone models, the transition from prototype to the assembly of millions of units starts in earnest when the Lunar New Year holiday in China ends in late January and early February, people familiar with the process said.

At that point, Apple has tested numerous prototypes and is in the late stages of what is called engineering validation, in which Foxconn workers assemble small numbers of devices while engineers from both firms troubleshoot.

If delays occur at this stage it would eat into the time Apple needs to finalize orders for chips and other parts, almost all of which are custom-made for the iPhone.

Because of the huge volumes needed, “they can’t wait to make component selections”, said Ron Keith, founder of Supply Chain Resources Group, which works with electronics makers such as Alphabet Inc’s Nest.

In March and April, Apple engineers typically work with Foxconn counterparts to set up new assembly lines and do trial runs, before making final adjustments in April and May. The aim is to have production lines up and running in June so others can be added progressively to ramp up output.

“It’s very complicated. There are so many variables in the environment, including small factors such as air pollution,” one of the people familiar with the process said.

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, a former Apple engineer and founder of Instrumental, a startup focused on factory automation based in Mountain View, California, said on-the-ground engineering collaboration was critical for new products.

“You can fly those engineers somewhere else but there’s knowledge about how you make a product in that environment. It’s not that it can’t be taught but it’s a hard thing to move,” she said.

While supply chain experts and industry insiders say Apple still has time to keep its annual iPhone schedule on track, travel restrictions have left it in a tough spot.

“There is no face-to-face work being done,” an executive at a semiconductor firm that supplies smartphone companies and works with teams in China said, speaking generally about phone production cycles.

“And the word is, that’s probably not going to change for another month at best. You’re really talking about two lost months, which in the consumer electronics cycle is huge.”

Source: – The Jakarta Post

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Xbox Series X’s expansion card costs $219.99 – Polygon

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The officially licensed Storage Expansion Card for the Xbox Series X and Series S costs $219.99, according to a product listing at Best Buy.

Seagate makes the solid-state drive, which Microsoft announced but gave no price for in March. It’s pitched as “the only available expansion card that replicates the Xbox Velocity Architecture,” which is what delivers “faster load times, richer environments, and more immersive gameplay” on the next-generation Xbox consoles.

Microsoft has promised that all the accessories you use on your Xbox One will work on the Xbox Series X. This goes for external hard drives, too, with USB 3.1 or 3.2 connectivity. However, all Xbox Series X games must be installed to the console’s internal SSD or the Seagate card — USB external hard drives are far slower than these NVMe SSDs, which use the new PCIe 4.0 standard. (Series X games can be backed up to a USB external drive, but can’t be played from one.)

Backward-compatible Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox games can still be played on the Xbox Series X if they’re installed on a USB external drive. And if you have one piled up with installed games for your Xbox One right now, it will be plug-and-play compatible with the new console launching Nov. 10. But Xbox One games that are “optimized for Xbox Series X,” like Gears 5 will be, can’t be played off a USB drive if users want “optimal performance,” says Microsoft.

For comparison, a Seagate-made 2 TB external hard drive that’s designed for Xbox One is currently available for $89.99. The $219.99 cost for the Xbox Series X Storage Expansion Card may be a fair price for the cutting-edge technology in the device, although it’s hard to say; very few PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs are on the market, and even so, this is a custom-built SSD that’s designed to plug directly into the back of an Xbox Series X or Series S.

Unlike Microsoft with the Xbox Series X and Series S, Sony will not require a proprietary storage expansion solution for the PlayStation 5. PS5 owners will be able to upgrade the console’s 825 GB internal storage with an off-the-shelf PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD, although Sony will have to certify specific drives as compatible with the console. (For reference, Samsung announced its Evo 980 Pro SSD this week, and the 1 TB model will retail for $229.99.) It’s worth noting that stand-alone PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs will get cheaper over time, but a proprietary product like the Seagate-branded Xbox Series X card may not.

While NVMe SSDs are the state of the art for storage, 1 TB is not a lot of space for any PC or console currently available. The Xbox Series X itself has a 1 TB internal NVMe SSD, so $219.99 only doubles that capacity. The Xbox Series S has only 512 GB of internal storage — just above the amount of storage in launch Xbox One consoles seven years ago. (Next-gen games will at least take up less space on the Series S than on the Series X, because the smaller console is designed for gaming at 1440p resolution rather than 4K.)

Assuming an average of 50 GB per game — and that may be on the low side for next-gen games — you could store at most 20 games on a 1 TB card, despite a Best Buy listing that promises gamers can “collect thousands of games across four generations of Xbox without sacrificing performance.”

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Apple responds to antitrust pressure with App Store PR blitz – 9to5Mac

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Apple is today responding to increasing antitrust pressure with an App Store PR blitz. This includes a complete revamp of its main App Store page, a new page promoting the benefits of the App Store to developers, new messaging, and a new program for developers of streaming video apps.

The response begins on Apple’s homepage, with a large banner at the top pointing visitors to the new App Store page. The headline message is ‘The apps you love from a place you can trust’ …

The new page again stresses the consumer benefits of a curated app store.

For over a decade, the App Store has proved to be a safe and trusted place to discover and download apps. But the App Store is more than just a storefront — it’s an innovative destination focused on bringing you amazing experiences. And a big part of those experiences is ensuring that the apps we offer are held to the highest standards for privacy, security, and content. Because we offer nearly two million apps — and we want you to feel good about using every single one of them.

The new page for developers is headed ‘Together we turn apps into opportunities.’

Apple is committed to helping developers turn their brightest ideas into apps that change the world. That’s why the App Store helps you from start to finish — to build, test, market, and distribute your products and grow your business. Our marketplace is secure, trusted, and accessible — connecting you to over 1.5 billion devices in 175 regions. The App Store and you. Together every step of the way.

This again stresses the privacy and security message.

Over a decade of trust and success. In 12 years, the App Store has grown from 500 apps to 1.8 million — all reviewed to comply with our rigorous standards for privacy, security, and content. All along the way, we’ve provided developers with the cutting‑edge tools and end‑to‑end support they need. So they can keep making the apps that change how people work, play, meet, learn, travel, and live their lives.

The pages contain some new facts and figures, the most notable of which is that more than a million apps have been rejected for objectionable content, with more than 150,000 apps rejected last year alone for failing to adhere to Apple’s privacy requirements.

One of the antitrust accusations leveled against Apple is that it doesn’t live up to its claim to treat all developers equally. There is evidence of Apple offering special deals for large developers whose apps the company wants to have on its platform.

We learned in July that Amazon Prime Video pays half the usual App Store commission, in a special deal agreed between Jeff Bezos and Eddy Cue.

Apple is also accused of creating arbitrary rules to allow it to appease companies like Netflix. It claims that it has since 2016 offered a program open to all video streaming apps, but has for the first time formalized and promoted this in the form of a new webpage for the Apple Video Partner Program.

This program is designed for apps that deliver premium subscription video entertainment services. Participating apps are required to integrate with a number of Apple technologies, such as Universal Search, Siri, AirPlay, and single sign-on or zero sign-on, to ensure a seamless experience for customers.

As a result of this integration, these apps are featured on the Apple TV app and throughout tvOS, and their content is discoverable through Universal Search and Siri.

As a program member, you earn 85% of sales from customers who sign up using Apple’s in-app purchase system. You may also allow customers who subscribe using your payment method outside of the app to use that payment method for additional video transactions within the app. You must enable in-app purchase to enjoy these economic benefits.

Apple’s response comes as a number of big developers banded together to form a coalition intended to coordinate antitrust battles over the App Store.

I argued back in July that Apple’s antitrust woes aren’t going anywhere, and it needs to address them head-on. The company seems to be getting halfway there with the PR blitz offering better messaging, together with a more formal and consistent approach to its exceptions, but it still seems determined to resist any move likely to reduce its income from developers.

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Epic, Spotify, Tile and more form Coalition for App Fairness – 9to5Mac

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A number of big developers who object to Apple’s App Store policies have jointly formed the Coalition for App Fairness, a non-profit intended to coordinate efforts to do battle with Apple. Founding members include Epic Games, Spotify and Tile, each of which is involved in high-profile disputes with the iPhone maker.

It will add to the antitrust pressure faced by Apple as the coalition accuses the Cupertino company of ‘taxing consumers’ and ‘crushing innovation’ …

Every day, Apple taxes consumers and crushes innovation. The Coalition for App Fairness is an independent nonprofit organization founded by industry-leading companies to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.

Founding members are listed as:

  • Basecamp
  • Blix
  • Blockchain
  • Deezer
  • Epic Games
  • European Publishers Council
  • Match
  • News Media Europe
  • Prepear
  • ProtonMail
  • SkyDemon
  • Spotify
  • Tile

It claims that Apple makes $15B a year from app commissions, and contrasts the 30% cut with the 5% maximum charged by payment providers. Apple would, of course, argue that it does much more than a payment provider: hosting apps, meeting all delivery costs and marketing apps to consumers. The iPhone maker would also point out that it created the platform that enabled developers to sell to its customers.

The organization is inviting developers of all sizes to join, and says that the only requirement is you have at least one app in the App Store.

This is an open call to all developers, big and small, to join us – and together we will fight back against the monopolist control of the app ecosystem by Apple.

It says it was established to tackle three issues: anti-competitive policies, Apple’s 30% commission and no alternative app source for consumers.

Carefully Crafted Anti-Competitive Policies. Apple uses its control of the iOS operating system to favor itself by controlling the products and features that are available to consumers. The company requires equipment manufacturers to limit options, forces developers tO sell through its App Store, and even steals ideas from competitors.

30% “App Tax” on Creators & Consumers. For most purchases made within the App Store, Apple takes 30% of the purchase price. No other transaction fee -in any industry comes close. This app tax cuts deeply into consumer purchasing power and developer revenue. This app tax is especially unfair when it is imposed on apps that compete directly with those sold by Apple, driving up their prices and putting them at a distinct competitive advantage.

No Consumer Freedom. If consumers want to use a modern mobile device, Apple levies a tax that no one can avoid. No competition, no options, no recourse. The Apple App Store policies are prisons that consumers are required to pay for and that developers cannot escape.

The coalition then expands on this with 10 principles it believes should apply to any app store.

There is already an existing organization with a similar name and objective: the App Coalition, formed back in April. My guess would be that the developers behind the Coalition for App Fairness want to ensure that they have control of the agenda.

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