UK court blocks Epic Games from contesting Apple’s Fortnite ban

(Reuters) – The UK antitrust tribunal ruled on Monday that Epic Games, the creator of popular game Fortnite, will not be allowed to pursue its case against Apple Inc in the United Kingdom over its App Store payment system and control over app downloads.

The two companies have been at loggerheads since August, when the game maker tried to avoid Apple’s 30% fee on the App Store by launching its own in-app payment system, which led to Apple’s subsequent ban of Fortnite from its store.

The UK tribunal said Epic’s suit against Alphabet Inc’s Google could move forward, but deemed that the United States would be a better forum for its case against Apple.

“Epic will reconsider pursuing its case against Apple in the UK after the resolution of the U.S. case,” the video game company said in a statement in response to the tribunal’s ruling.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

In October, a federal judge in California ruled in an injunction request that Apple could bar the Fortnite game from its App Store but must not harm Epic’s developer tools business, which includes the “Unreal Engine” software used by hundreds of other video games.

Epic Games founder and Chief Executive Tim Sweeney had previously said Apple’s control of its platform had tilted the level playing field.

Apple adds ‘BlastDoor’ security feature to fight iMessage hacks

Apple Inc has added a security feature across its operating systems to battle hacks into its devices that rely on incoming iMessages, it said on Thursday.

The “BlastDoor” feature processes incoming iMessage traffic and only passes on safe data to the rest of an Apple device’s operating system, company officials said in a briefing.

Starting in 2016, a team of former U.S. government intelligence operatives working for the United Arab Emirates hacked into the iPhones of activists, diplomats and rival foreign leaders, Reuters reported here in 2019.

Using a sophisticated spying tool called Karma, which relied on a flaw in Apple’s iMessage system, they accessed iPhones without requiring the targets to click on anything to establish a connection. A new wave of attacks last year used similar tools to target journalists at Al Jazeera.

While largely invisible to users, BlastDoor is present on iOS 14, the most recent version of Apple’s iPhone operating system, and systems for all its other devices, company officials said.

Apple held the briefing around the release of its annual security guide for cybersecurity researchers.

The latest update included new details on how many security features long found in iPhones are being brought over to Apple’s Mac computer line, which in November began to integrate custom-designed processor chips after more than a decade of relying on Intel Corp processors.

Source: Reuters Business

Apple revamps syringe emoji for Covid vaccines

Apple is changing its syringe emoji to remove the dripping blood, as it becomes widely used to talk about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Apple’s new version has nothing inside the needle.

“This makes the emoji more versatile when used to describe Covid-19 vaccination,” explained Emojipedia, a site that catalogues the icons.

The site reports a surge in the use of the syringe emoji last year to talk about the Covid vaccine.

Emojipedia said that while the syringe was once associated with blood donation, it saw a noticeable shift to it being used for vaccinations, alongside other emoji such as a face mask or a microbe.

By December, the icon had become associated with words such as “vaccine”, “Covid-19”, “Pfizer”, and “Moderna”, it said.

View original tweet on Twitter

Apple has not officially made any comment on the revised graphic.

But the change was discovered in the beta version for Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 14.5, which is likely to be available to ordinary users soon.

New emojis must be approved by industry body the Unicode consortium – but existing ones are designed slightly differently by companies such as Apple, making tweaks possible.

Google’s Android has not announced any similar changes, but the major software makers usually converge on a similar design.

In 2016, Apple changed the pistol emoji from a handgun to a water pistol, with Google, Samsung, Microsoft and others eventually following suit.

No entry for apps

The change comes as Apple also placed limitations on developers building “vaccine passport” apps – ones that entitle the bearer access to somewhere based on a Covid test or vaccine.

It said it had noticed an increase in such apps that generate “passes” used to access locations or services.

But such apps will no longer be allowed unless they are working with recognised public health authorities or companies associated with them.

That includes “test kit manufacturers, laboratories, or healthcare providers” as well as government and medical institutions, Apple said.

The change is designed “to ensure these apps responsibly handle sensitive data and provide reliable functionality”.

It is the latest hurdle for so-called vaccine passports, which have long been proposed as an eventual alternative solution to lockdowns.

But on Wednesday, UK think tank the Ada Lovelace Institute, which looks at how big data affects society, warned that such a system could present a host of issues.

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Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

There appears to be growing momentum for a “no jab, no job” policy among some employers, but it’s quite unlikely to happen in the short term and here’s why. 

There are a host of technical, legal and political challenges for any company wanting to know about the vaccine status of their staff or customers. First, there is no officially recognised vaccine passport or certificate out there – and there is unlikely to be one until the government gives the go-ahead for any scheme to get access to NHS records. 

The Ada Lovelace Institute’s report today warns against rushing out vaccine passports before there is clear evidence that a vaccinated person cannot pass on Covid-19 to someone else. Even when there is evidence, the report warns such a scheme could exacerbate mistrust in vaccines by making them appear mandatory. 

Lawyers say that treating employees who haven’t been vaccinated differently could amount to discrimination, and data protection specialists say demanding to know someone’s vaccine status may be against the law.

Apple may discontinue iPhone 12 mini in second quarter this year, says report

JP Morgan Chase supply chain analyst William Yang adjusted his forecast for the current iPhone 12 series and the next-generation iPhone series, expected to be launched in the second half of 2021.

In the wake of poor demand for iPhone 12 mini, Apple may consider halting its production in the second quarter this year, according to multiple reports based on the new forecast note by JP Morgan Chase.

JP Morgan Chase supply chain analyst William Yang adjusted his forecast for the current iPhone 12 series and the next-generation iPhone series, expected to be launched in the second half of 2021.

Yang lowered the production volume of iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini by 9 million units and 11 million units, respectively, reports Apple Insider.

According to him, “given that demand for the iPhone 12 mini seems to be weak, the supply chain may stop production of the phone in the second quarter of 2021”.

The analyst, however, raised the iPhone 12 Pro Max sales forecast by 11 million units, iPhone 12 Pro by 2 million units and iPhone 11 by 8 million units.

Yang predicted that Apple aims to produce 80 million to 90 million iPhone 13 series, higher than the 76 million scheduled for the iPhone 12 series in the second half of 2020.

According to him, there may not be new iPhone SE models in 2021. 

iPhone 12 mini is the smallest, thinnest, and lightest 5G smartphone in the world, re-architected to pack all the technology of iPhone 12 into a delightfully compact size, while still delivering an impressively large and immersive edge-to-edge display.

With a 5.4-inch screen, compared with the standard model’s 6.1-inch display, it sports the same dual-camera setup on the back as the 12 model and looks absolutely stunning in hands.

Apple delivered a phenomenal performance in the December quarter, returning to the top position with 90.1 million devices shipped, driven by the success of the iPhone 12 series, according to data from the IDC’s ‘Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker’.

For Apple, the festive quarter represents the highest shipment volume from a vendor in a single quarter and resulted in 23.4 per cent market share and 22.2 per cent (YoY) growth.

Apple is reportedly ramping up production of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other devices in India and Vietnam to end its dependence on China and new iPhone 12 series could be assembled in India “as soon as this quarter”, Nikkei Asia reported.

EU claims court errors in bid to overturn $15.7 billion Apple tax judgment

EU antitrust enforcers have claimed a court made legal errors when it scrapped their order for iPhone maker Apple to pay 13 billion euros ($15.7 billion) in Irish back taxes, in a filing to have the verdict overturned.

The stakes are high for the European Commission in its crackdown against what it sees as aggressive tax planning by multinationals.

It has a mixed record to date, winning court backing in its case against Fiat Chrysler but losing in the Starbucks and Belgian tax break cases.

The Commission is appealing to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union following a ruling last year by the General Court, which said the EU executive had not met the requisite legal standard to show Apple had enjoyed an unfair advantage.

In its 2016 finding the Commission said two Irish tax rulings had artificially reduced Apple’s tax burden for over two decades, which in 2014 was as low as 0.005%.

“The General Court’s failure to properly consider the structure and content of the decision and the explanations in the Commission’s written submissions on the functions performed by the head offices and the Irish branches is a breach of procedure,” the Commission said in a filing in the Official Journal,

The EU competition enforcer added: “The General Court’s subsequent acknowledgement… that the decision examines the functions performed by the Irish branches in justifying the attribution of the Apple IP licences to them constitutes contradictory reasoning, which amounts to a failure to state reasons.”

Apple has said the General Court judgment proved it has always complied with Irish laws, with the issue more about where it should pay taxes rather than the amount.

The CJEU will hold a hearing on the case in the coming months. The case is C-465/20 P Commission v Ireland and Others.

Italy consumer association sues Apple for planned iPhone obsolescence

Italian consumer association Altroconsumo said on Monday it had told Apple it has launched a class action against the U.S. tech giant for the practice of planned obsolescence.

In a statement Altroconsumo said it was asking for damages of 60 million euros ($73 million) on behalf of Italian consumers tricked by the practice which had also been recognised by Italian authorities.

Altroconsumo said the lawsuit covers owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus, sales of which in Italy totalled some 1 million phones between 2014 and 2020.

Apple said in an email that it had never done anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.

Two similar lawsuits against Apple have been filed in Belgium and Spain for the planned obsolescence of iPhones.

European consumer association Euroconsumers, which is coordinating the three lawsuits, said it was also planning to launch a class action in Portugal in the coming weeks.

By: Kwamed2k

Apple may bring back Touch ID for next year’s iPhone

Apple is reportedly mulling bringing Touch ID back to iPhones.

The Silicon Valley giant signed the death warrant for the fingerprint sensor in 2017 as it began phasing out the home button in its flagship handsets, but is now testing a version of Touch ID that will live under the iPhone’s display, Bloomberg reports.

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Face ID was massively popular when it was introduced, but has irked users over the past year as they have been forced to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic. The company previously updated its software to allow users to more quickly enter their passcodes.

The next generation of iPhones wouldn’t ditch Face ID however, instead giving users the option of how they’d like to unlock their phones. Apple recently built Touch ID into the iPad Air’s wake button.

Apple is also considering eliminating the charging port entirely in upcoming iPhones, which would allow the devices to only refill their batteries through wireless charging.

Fortnite-maker Epic Games sues Apple and Google in UK

Epic Games, the studio behind the hit game Fortnite, has started legal action against Apple and Google in the UK.

Both Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their smartphone app stores in a row over the cut of sales they take from developers.

Epic Games claims the two tech giants’ rules are in violation of UK competition laws.

But both companies say Epic Games broke their terms and conditions by trying to bypass their payment systems.

Apple said Epic Games’ action had been “reckless”.

What is the dispute about?

When people buy an app, subscription or in-app item on Apple’s App Store or the Google Play store, the tech giants take a cut of the fee.

Typically they take a 30% cut, although in some cases the rate is lower.

For this reason, some companies charge more for subscriptions when people buy directly in the app instead of on their website, while others do not sell subscriptions in-app at all. Companies are also banned from telling app users a cheaper deal is available.

Epic Games has previously said it thinks a 30% cut is too much, given the amount of money and effort it invests in developing its games.

In August 2019, the company bypassed the Apple and Google payment systems to let Fortnite players buy virtual currency at a lower price, direct from Epic.

Both app stores then removed Fortnite from their services, and Apple terminated Epic Games’ developer account.

What is the UK case about?

In documents submitted to the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal (CTA), Epic Games alleges that Apple and Google have abused their dominance over their smartphone operating systems.

While Apple produces iOS exclusively for its iPhones, Google’s Android software is open-source so in theory any smartphone-maker can use it.

However, Google also produces a suite of proprietary tools including Maps, Search and the Play Store, which power some of the most popular services on smartphones. Phone-makers must enter an agreement with Google to use them on their devices.

Epic Games alleges that both companies abuse their power by:

  • unfairly restricting competition from alternative app stores
  • stopping developers using their own payment-processing services for purchases
  • charging “unfair prices for the distribution of apps”

Epic Games is not seeking a financial payout but instead wants the court to order Apple and Google to:

  • reinstate Epic Games’ software and accounts
  • let developers use their own payment-processing systems in their apps
  • let consumers download Epic Games’ software outside of the App Store or Google Play

In a statement, Epic Games said: “We believe that this is an important argument to make on behalf of consumers and developers in the UK and around the world who are impacted by Apple and Google’s misuse of market power.”

It has taken similar legal action in the US and Australia. 

On Thursday, 21 January, the CTA will decide whether Epic Games can include US-based divisions of Apple and Google in its legal action.

How have Apple and Google responded?

Apple said its priority was to create a “safe and trusted place to download software” and that it applied its rules equally to all developers.”Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines,” it said in a statement.”Their reckless behaviour made pawns of customers, and we look forward to making this clear to courts in the UK.”Google said: “The open Android ecosystem lets developers distribute apps through multiple app stores. For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users.”It said it welcomed the opportunity to “continue discussions” with Epic Games about bringing Fortnite back to Google Play.

Hyundai’s confusion over Apple electric car tie-up

Hyundai has sparked confusion over a possible electric car tie-up with Apple.

The South Korean car company initially said it was in the “early stage” of talks with the iPhone maker about a possible electric car partnership.

But hours later it backtracked and said it was talking with a number of potential partners without naming Apple.

Hyundai’s share price rose more than 20% when the tie-up was announced.

“Apple and Hyundai are in discussions but they are at an early stage and nothing has been decided,” it said in a statement which was later revised. Hyundai’s value shot up $9bn (£6.5bn) after the Apple announcement.

While an updated statement said it was talking to a number of companies about a possible electric car tie-up including Apple, a later version omitted the US tech firm. 

Apple is known for its secretiveness when it comes to new products and partnerships. 

Last month, news emerged that Apple was moving forward with self-driving car technology with a 2024 launch date.

The electric vehicle (EV) market is becoming increasingly competitive, with companies such as Tesla grabbing the headlines with its rapidly-increasing valuation. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is now the richest man in the world, displacing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Experts say an electric vehicle from Apple is still at least five years away. 

They say pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.

Catching up

Hyundai has already been pushing into new technologies such as electric, driverless and flying cars.

Last month, it took a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics in a deal that valued the mobile robot firm at $1.1bn.

The company is also setting up a $4bn autonomous-driving joint venture with auto parts supplier Aptiv.

Apple’s efforts to produce an electric car, known as Project Titan, have been on and off ever since plans were revealed in 2014. 

There have been rumours over who would assemble an Apple-branded car as it may be difficult for the tech giant to manufacture them on its own.

Its rival Alphabet’s Waymo chose a factory in Detroit to mass produce its own self-driving cars.

Apple and Hyundai in talks over electric car tie-up

Hyundai has announced it is in early discussions with Apple to work together on self-driving electric cars.

The South Korean car firm’s share price rocketed more than 20% on Friday when the news was announced.

“Apple and Hyundai are in discussions but they are at an early stage and nothing has been decided,” it said in a statement.

Last month, news emerged that Apple was moving forward with self-driving car technology with a 2024 launch date.

The electric vehicle (EV) market is becoming increasingly competitive with companies like Tesla grabbing the headlines with its rapidly-increasing valuation. Its founder Elon Musk is now the richest man in the world, displacing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Experts say an electric vehicle from Apple is still at least five years away. 

They say pandemic-related delays could push the start of production into 2025 or beyond.

Catching up

Hyundai has already been pushing into new technologies such as electric, driverless and flying cars.

Last month, it took a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics in a deal that valued the mobile robot firm at $1.1bn.

The company is also setting up a $4bn (£3bn) autonomous-driving joint venture with auto parts supplier Aptiv. 

Both partners will invest $2bn, while Ireland-based Aptiv will contribute about 700 engineers and transfer patents and intellectual property to the venture. Should I buy an electric car?

Apple’s efforts to produce an electric car, known as Project Titan, have been on and off ever since plans were revealed in 2014. 

There have been rumours over who would assemble an Apple-branded car as it may be difficult for the tech giant to manufacture them on its own.

Its rival Alphabet’s Waymo chose a factory in Detroit to mass produce its own self-driving cars.