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‘iWatch’ Production Reportedly Underway For Fall Release

Apple has reportedly begun production of its upcoming ‘iWatch’ in limited quantities, according to a new report from China Times (via G for Games). The report cites supply chain sources, which claim that the product will be ready for launch in the second half of the year.

The purported timeline established by the report lines up with earlier predictions from reliable KGI Securities analyst, Ming-chi Kuo, who stated in his 2014 Apple product roadmap that the iWatch will see a Q3 release. Other reports have corroborated these claims as well, which make them seem all the more likely.

Another interesting point to note from the China Times report is that Apple will reportedly be using SiPs (or system-in-package modules) as opposed to traditional PCBs (printed circuit boards) for the iWatch.

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PowerPoint for iPad now comes with a new 'SmartGuides' feature

Microsoft Updates Office for iPad with Printing Capabilities

Last month, Microsoft debuted its productivity suite, Office for iPad on the App Store to much fanfare and excitement, with downloads quickly hitting 12 million after just one week. However, one feature that Microsoft surprisingly left out was the ability to print using the app. Today, the company announced in a blog post that it has released the first update for Office for iPad which includes printing and several other improvements.

PowerPoint for iPad now comes with a new 'SmartGuides' feature
PowerPoint for iPad now comes with a new ‘SmartGuides’ feature

Your top request is here! You can now print Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations to an AirPrintTM printer. In Word for iPad, you can choose to print a document with or without markup. In Excel, print a selected range, a single worksheet or an entire spreadsheet. Of course, you can select the pages or slides you want to print.

Microsoft also added a new SmartGuides feature in PowerPoint that helps users align shapes, pictures and textboxes while moving them around. Excel for iPad has also been updated with Autofit, which lets users adjust the width of multiple rows or the height of multiple columns at the same time. 

The update also features bug fixes and other stability improvements.

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Steve Jobs Tops CNBC’s List of Most Influential Business Leaders In The Past 25 Years

In celebration of its 25-year anniversary, CNBC today published a ranked list of 25 individuals whom they judge to have the most ‘profound impact on business and finance since 1989′, with Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs topping the list, followed closely by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

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Jobs at No. 1 and Gates at No. 2? Or should it be the other way around? After all, there hardly would have been a personal computer revolution without Gates. Yes, you say, but if he hadn’t propagated an operating system, somebody else would have. True, but Gates did it. And even if IBM handed him the ball, he didn’t fumble. He built the dominant productivity software of the past quarter-century, Microsoft Office; the paramount browser, Explorer; incubated the world’s top travel website, Expedia; and hatched Xbox.

In CNBC’s opinion, the 25 individuals on the list have ‘disrupted industries, sparked change and exercised an influence far beyond their own companies’. It is interesting to note that the list comprises several tech heavyweights, including Amazon’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schidmt and Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom made the top 10 list.

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Bill Gates
  3. Alan Greenspan & Ben Bernanke
  4. Sergey Brin, Larry Page & Eric Schmidt
  5. Jeff Bezos
  6. Warren Buffett
  7. Oprah Winfrey
  8. Mark Zuckerberg
  9. Jack Bogle
  10. Larry Ellison
  11. Rupert Murdoch
  12. Jack Welch
  13. NR Narayana Murthy
  14. Howard Schultz
  15. Bernard Arnault
  16. Li Ka-shing
  17. Carl Icahn
  18. Meg Whitman
  19. Amancio Ortega
  20. Michael Bloomberg
  21. Sandy Weill
  22. Cher Wang
  23. Aliko Dangote
  24. Martha Stewart
  25. Carlos Slim

CNBC will be airing a one-hour special about the full list tonight in the United States. The program, anchored by CNBC’s Tyler Mathisen, will air at 7 PM ET.

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Apple Launches Refreshed MacBook Airs with Processor Improvements and S$160 Price Cut

Apple today announced new refreshed models of its 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air, as predicted by reports yesterday.

“With MacBook Air starting at $899, there’s no reason to settle for anything less than a Mac,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Macs have never been more popular, and today we’ve boosted the performance and lowered the price of MacBook Air so even more people can experience the perfect everyday notebook.”

The new MacBook Air models feature a minor spec bump from the previous models, and also a S$160 price drop. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch models come with a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz, as compared to a 1.3GHz processor with Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz in the previous models. Apple has also dropped the price of the 13-inch base model to S$1,328 from S$1,488 previously, with the 11-inch base model seeing a similar price reduction to S$1,188.

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Video of Alleged ‘iPhone 6′ Case Shows iPod Touch Slimness

Youtube channel Unbox Therapy has posted a new video (below) that compares a leaked ‘iPhone 6′ case to a fifth-generation iPod Touch. According to the video, the iPod Touch fits snugly into the case, suggesting that the new iPhone could be only 6.1 mm thin.

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Apple’s fifth-generation iPod Touch is only 6.1 mm thin.

The claim is in-line with renders posted last week by UkrainianiPhone.com, which showed that the next-generation iPhone could potentially be 138mm in height, 67 mm in width, and 6 mm in depth. The case also incorporates features such as rounded edges and a power button positioned on the upper right of the device, both of which are in-line with recent reports of a revamped chassis design.

In addition, the case sports rectangular pill-shaped volume buttons, similar to the fifth-gen iPod Touch, also in-line with claims from several reports.

According to Appleinsider, the channel’s creator, Lewis Hilsenteger, purchased an iPod Touch specifically for the test:

The YouTube channel’s creator, Lewis Hilsenteger, purchased a current-generation iPod touch to find out if the 6.1mm-thick device would fit in the purported case. As seen in the video above, the iPod’s thickness is “exactly the same” as the case’s internal dimensions. Further, the volume buttons also appear to line up perfectly with those on the silicone-like shell, suggesting the iPhone 6 may take on a form factor closer to the iPod touch and current iPad lineup.

The next-generation iPhone is heavily rumoured to be launching this fall in two sizes – 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch.

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Apple SVPs Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi To Attend Upcoming Code Conference

Tech site Re/Code has announced that two of Apple’s top executives – Craig Federighi and Eddy Cue – will be attending its upcoming Code Conference next month.

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Apple has been an important part of our tech conferences for a long time now — this is actually the 12th that Walt Mossberg and I will mount. We had the late Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs onstage many times in memorable interviews, including a joint one with Microsoft’s Bill Gates. More recently, we had current CEO Tim Cook, who talked about his vision for the legendary Silicon Valley tech company.

The tech conference, led by Re/Code editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, both formally from tech site AllThingsD, will be held in late May and will feature several tech heavy-weights, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook attended the previous two ‘D’ Conferences but will apparently be skipping this year’s event.

Eddy Cue is Apple’s Senior VP of Internet Software and Services, while Craig Federighi is the company’s Senior VP of Software Engineering.

We are very excited to have both Cue and Federighi at the event to talk about a range of things about the company that remains at the center of the action, especially in the important mobile sector. From the shifting entertainment and communications landscape to the fast-moving wearables space to, well, everything digital, these two play a very important role.

Tickets to the event have been sold out, but Re/Code will be posting a video of the interview shortly after.

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Updated MacBook Airs Reportedly Launching Tomorrow

According to a new report by 9to5Mac, Apple could be refreshing its line of MacBook Airs ‘as soon as tomorrow’.

The report cites ‘multiple sources’ which claim that new shipments of upgraded 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs have started to arrive at Apple Stores across the United States. Apple has also reportedly informed stores to re-arrange the placement of Macs to focus on the new MacBook Airs.

Last week,  it was reported that Apple would be updating its MacBook Air line this week. However, the update is likely to be incremental, with sources claiming that both the 11-inch and 13-inch models will be receiving a minor spec bump, in-line with Intel’s processor roadmap. These claims are reiterated in the 9to5Mac report:

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Apple Readying US$17 Billion Bond Issue To Fund Share Buyback

Apple is preparing another US$17 billion (S$21.25 billion) bond sale to fund its upcoming share buyback, according to a report by The Financial Times (via Appleinsider).

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Last week, Apple announced in a press release that it was looking to expand its capital return program  to over US$130 billion by the end of 2015, and in doing so, increase its share repurchases to US$90 billion from US$60 billion last year.

According to the company’s press release, and also highlighted by CFO Luca Maestri during the company’s earnings call, Apple was looking to the debt markets to finance the share repurchases:

To assist in funding the program, the Company expects to access the public debt markets during 2014, both domestically and internationally, for an amount of term debt similar to what the Company raised during 2013.

Back in May 2013, Apple issued US$17 billion of bonds in what was then the largest corporate offering on record before being surpassed by Verizon’s US$49 billion bond issue in September.

According to a Bloomberg report published last year, Apple’s bond issue comprised US$3 billion of floating-rate notes and $14 billion of fixed-rate securities in six parts with maturities from three to 30 years. It was widely speculated then that the bond issue was undertaken to help the company avoid repatriation taxes on its overseas cash as it initiated its capital return program for shareholders.

Though Apple has some $150 billion in cash, almost all of that — $130 billion — is held overseas. Executives from the company have signaled numerous times, including last week, that they have no plans to repatriate the overseas cash, citing high tax rates for bringing the money to the U.S.

According to the FT report, Apple is looking to target both the domestic and foreign markets with its upcoming bond issue. The report notes that Apple is likely to target the eurozone for its foreign issue, spurred by low interest rates and also the prospect of allowing it to ‘diversify its base’, and ‘prevent saturation of the US debt market’.

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Apple’s Market Share Rebounds On Strong iPhone 5s Sales

Market research company Kantar Worldpanel published a report today that provides statistics on smartphone sales for the first three months of 2014. According to the report, Apple performed strongly during the quarter, with sales rebounding in Europe, Japan and Australia.

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Dominic Sunnebo, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, comments: “Apple regained ground in the first quarter of 2014, primarily due to the strong performance of the iPhone 5S, growing its sales share in Europe, Japan and Australia. By contrast, Windows had a tough start to the year as a result of its entry-level Nokia models facing fierce competition from low-end Motorola, LG and Samsung Android smartphones.”

As seen from Kantar’s statistics, Apple’s largest growth in market share came from Japan, with the company registering an 8.6% increase from the year-ago quarter, bringing its market share to 57.6% as of March 2014. The significant boost in market share is presumably the result of Apple’s success in inking a deal with Japan’s largest carrier, NTT Docomo, last year to offer the iPhone in Japan.

Sunnebo continues: “Japan’s love affair with Apple shows no sign of fading.  Even though the iPhone has now been available on Japan’s largest carrier, NTT DoCoMo, for a number of months Apple still accounts for more than 40% of sales on the network. The success of the iPhone is also filtering through to the iPad, with almost a quarter of Japanese iPhone owners also owning an iPad. With smartphone penetration in Japan lagging well behind Europe and the US, Japan will remain a key growth market for Apple.”

Besides Japan, Apple also registered increases of 3.4% and 2.0% in Great Britain and Australia respectively, bringing the company’s market share to 32.1% and 33.1% in the two countries. In contrast, Apple’s market share in the United States fell by 7.8% from the year-ago quarter, while Android booked an 8.3% increase during the same period.

Macrumors offered a possible explanation for Apple’s market share decline in the States, citing a previous report by Kantar Director Dominic Sunnebo:

However, Sunnebo noted in a prior Kantar report highlighting smartphone sales over the August-October 2013 period that customers in the U.S. generally react better to “full releases” like the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 than “incremental” updates such as the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c.

iOS also lags significantly behind Android in the EU5 (the big five European markets comprising UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) with a 19.2% market share versus Android’s whopping 70.7%.

Apple is rumoured to be releasing its next-generation iPhone in two larger sizes this fall – 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch. Leaked internal documents during the ongoing Samsung-Apple patent trial revealed concern among Apple’s executives about the declining growth rate of the iPhone, with one of the reasons cited being consumers wanting phones with ‘larger screen sizes’.

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Apple Launches Sleep/Wake Button Replacement Program for iPhone 5

Yesterday, Apple initiated a new ‘iPhone 5 Sleep/Wake Button Replacement Program’ for users to replace faulty sleep/wake buttons on affected iPhone 5 handsets.

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According to Apple’s new webpage set up specifically for the issue, the company determined that the sleep/wake button mechanism on a small percentage of iPhone 5 models may stop working or work intermittently. iPhone 5 models manufactured through March 2013 may be affected by this issue.

Apple issued the following statement to The Loop:

“Apple today launched a program to replace the sleep/wake button on a small percentage of iPhone 5 models where the button may stop working or work intermittently,” Apple said in a statement provided to The Loop. “Apple will offer the service free of charge to iPhone 5 customers with models that exhibit this issue and have a qualifying serial number.”

Users with faulty sleep/wake buttons can check whether their handset qualifies for the program by entering the serial number of their phone into Apple’s webpage. Further instructions are provided on the site.

According to Apple, the replacement process will be available in the United States and Canada from April 25, 2014. For other countries, which presumably includes Singapore, it will be available from May 2, 2014.