Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Apple shares hit $200 for first time ever

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SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Apple Inc. shares on Wednesday hit $200 for the first time in the company's history. In afternoon trading, Apple's stock rose $1.20 to a new all-time intraday high of $200 a share. For the year, Apple's stock has risen 134% as the company has seen strong sales of its Macintosh computers and the iPhone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Apple's iPhone: Great -- or Greatest?

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Apple shares are closing in on $200 per share, as speculation grows that iPhone sales are far better than anyone anticipated.

There are rumors all over the web that Apple will announce staggering handset unit sales at Macworld next month. And while I fully anticipate strong numbers, I'm a little skeptical that they'll measure up to some of the wild estimates making the rounds., for one, suspects Apple will announce 5 million iPhones sold so far at Macworld. The site adds that, "If that's true, it would put Apple at half of its 2008 sales goal before 2008 even starts."

The site goes on to suggest such huge numbers would mean that "despite Apple only selling one model of GSM iPhone in four countries with four dedicated carriers, Apple's shipments in this quarter -- around 3.5 million -- will be very close to the 3.9 million Blackberry smartphones Research In Motion shipped in its most recent quarter across more than 100 carriers and 13 product lines."

To say that outlook is optimistic is a dramatic understatement, and if true, it would blow past the most bullish estimates on the Street.

Piper Jaffray says the 5 million number would be mean a huge jump in handset sales during the December quarter. Piper is modeling 2 million units sold. This 5 million unit figure would mean something closer to 3.6 million units. That's a long shot. Gene Munster tells me this morning, "The phone is selling well, but not that well."

As for the rest of 2008, Piper does anticipate a 3G version of iPhone by June as I have previously written, and also suggests that if that happens, and the price still hovers at $300, the Apple could overtake RIM's Blackberry as the best-selling high-end smart phone on the market.

That'd be some trick for a product that's so brand new to the marketplace. But all this suggests that Apple's strong move today may come from investors looking ahead to another robust product pipeline from Apple in 2008. I've written about what my sources have told me about the new sub-notebook coming -- which should be unveiled at Macworld. Now we're hearing rumblings about ongoing, strong sales of the iPhone.

We'll see what Apple does with iPod.

Macworld is a Mac-centric event, sure. But the company took the wraps off iPhone at the last one. That could mean a nice iPhone update this time around. It's due for one: revised sales figures, new markets (China?) and new capabilities all would be big news for the Mac faithful. And the company's shareholders. Strap in, folks: This could be a very happy new year indeed for Apple.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Apple Seeks to Patent Antipiracy Technology

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Apple Inc. has filed an updated application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for a product activation and anti-piracy technology that would give the company the same kind of control over its software as the oft-criticized Windows Genuine Advantage platform provides its rival, Microsoft Corp.

Patent application 20070288886, titled "Run-Time Code Injection To Perform Checks" and dated Dec. 13, spells out a "digital rights management system" that would "restrict execution of that application to specific hardware platforms."

In the application, Apple noted the ease with which digital information can be copied and the just-as-easy way users could break promises not to illegally distribute copies of that data. It also admitted that, in the end, copy-protection schemes such as dongles or encrypting software wouldn't stop pirates on a mission. "There is very little, however, that these approaches can do to thwart a determined user," the patent filing stated.

"Thus, it would be beneficial to provide a mechanism to restrict the execution of one or more applications to a specific hardware platform that is transparent to the user."

Apple currently does not copy-protect its Mac OS X operating system, or tie a specific copy of the OS to a given notebook or desktop Macintosh machine.

The scheme Apple outlined in the patent application would rely on a cryptographic key generated prior to the hardware reaching the user. As an application launches, the technology would inject code into the app's executing code stream, generate data that's sent to a digital rights management module, then compare that signed data with the key. If they match, the application continues to open. If not, it's stopped in its tracks.

Such checks could be done on a very frequent basis, said Apple's patent application.

"In general, the selected time period should be small enough to prevent significant use of an unauthorized application or system, yet long enough so as not to degrade system performance," the filing read. Apple used an example of a check every five to ten minutes, which is much more often than Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) technology. In June 2006, Microsoft took heat, then modified WGA, after users found out it was "phoning home" to the company's servers daily.

Patent application 20070288886 isn't new, the December filing noted, but rather builds on other applications, including one first filed in mid-2005 but not publicly posted until early January 2007.

Apple was not immediately available for comment, but has a policy of not commenting on patent applications.

Apple to Launch iPod With Automatic Volume Control

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Listening to music non-stop has never been easier since the iPod came along.

But future versions of Apple's MP3 player are to be adapted to prevent users from playing tracks at full blast through their earphones for too long.

Amid growing fears that listeners could cause irreversible damage to their hearing - the highest setting is as loud as a chainsaw - Apple is developing an automatic volume control.

A new patent reveals that the next iPods and iPhones could automatically calculate how long a person has been listening and at what volume, before gradually reducing the sound level.

The device will also calculate the amount of "quiet time" between when the iPod is turned off and when it is restarted, allowing the volume to be increased again to a safe level.

The patent states: "Since the damaging effect on users' hearing is both gradual and cumulative, even those users who are concerned about hearing loss may not behave in a manner that would limit or minimise such damaging effects."

Listening to volumes below 70 decibels is considered safe. But iPods can currently reach volumes of over 100 decibels - the equivalent to standing 10ft from a pneumatic drill - and enough to cause permanent damage after just 15 minutes.

Some MP3 players can even exceed 120 decibels.

In April, Apple revealed it had sold more than 100million iPods worldwide and was expecting, by the end of this year, to have sold more than 4.5million iPhones. Of those 200,000 will have been bought in Britain.

Its patent application, however, is the first time Apple has acknowledged concerns over the risk the iPod poses to hearing and comes after a series of damning studies highlighted the potentially damaging effects.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) has led calls for restrained listening and claimed that more than four million young people aged between 16- and 24-years-old are at risk of hearing damage from listening to loud music.

Its research showed more than half of that age group were listening to digital music players for more than an hour a day. Twenty per cent notch up more than 21 hours a week.

RNID chief executive Dr John Low said: "If young people don't heed our warnings about safer listening, they could end up facing premature hearing damage.

"If you regularly plug in, it is only too easy to clock up noise doses that could damage your hearing for ever."

Last year, researchers in the U.S. claimed that listening to an iPod on full blast for just five minutes a day could cause irrevocable hearing damage.

Audiologists from Harvard University said consumers should limit their listening to about four-and-a-half hours a day at 70 per cent volume, or 90 minutes at 80 per cent.

Many MP3 players in Europe, including France, have had volume levels capped at 100 decibels.

Apple refused to comment on its patent application.

Emma Harrison, head of campaigns at RNID, said: "If the next generation iPods do what the patent claims, it could help to protect the hearing of millions of its customers."

It is unclear whether owners of the next-generation iPod will be able to switch off the automatic volume control.

The iPod was launched in 2001 with enough memory to store 1,000 songs. The latest models can hold many times more. The Queen is said to have one capable of holding 1,500 songs.

Apple MacBook is Amazon’s No. 1 top-selling computer

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Despite fierce competition from machines with more than twice the memory and price points hundreds of dollars lower, Apple’s (AAPL) white 120 GB MacBook has captured the top spot on Amazon’s (AMZN) list of bestselling computers this Christmas eve.

Helped along by rebates ranging from $75 to $150, three Apple-brand notebooks are on the top 10 list this morning. The other bestsellers are the 80 GB MacBook (No. 7) and the 120 GB MacBook Pro (No. 10).

Price cutting among the competition is even steeper. HP’s (HPQ) 250 GB Pavilion (No. 5) is selling for $999.99, 27% off the $1,375 list price.

The least expensive computer on the list, at No. 8, is the $381 Linux-based Asus Galaxy with a 7-inch screen and 4 GB of flash memory rather than a hard drive. Many expect Steve Jobs to announce at Macworld that Apple is entering the market for flash-based notebook computes. Apple’s thin MacBook, however, is likely to be larger, carry more memory, and cost a whole lot more than $381.

In Amazon’s list of top-selling electronics, a late surge by a heavily discounted portable hard drive has pushed an iPod off the stack. Apple had five of the top 10 spots for much of the pre-Christmas shopping period; it’s now down to four.