Apple unveils iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch

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Apple introduced two new iPhones, its long-awaited Apple Watch and a mobile payment system as part of a marketing blitz aimed at drumming up consumer excitement. Now the question is whether the new gear will live up to the hype.

Speaking from the Flint Performing Arts Center in Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, Calif., Apple marketing chief Philip Schiller kept the audience waiting beyond the event’s scheduled 1 p.m. ET start, a fitting delay for a company that has kept its fans waiting for a new product.

First up was the company’s new larger, thinner iPhone 6, which features an aluminum body and glass front that curves around the sides. (See CNET for complete coverage of Apple’s product launch.)

The base model comes with a 4.7-inch screen and the other, dubbed the iPhone 6 Plus, has a 5.5 inch-screen. The iPhone 6 screen has over 1 million pixels, while the iPhone 6 Plus has over 2 million pixels, Schiller said, emphasizing what he called the the devices’ “stunning display.”

Gesturing toward giant photos of a lizard and a butterfly projected on-stage, Schiller also highlighted the new iPhone’s enhanced camera, which he said includes image-stabilization functionality.

The new phones will be available Sept. 19; pre-orders begin Sept. 12. With a two-year contract, the iPhone 6 will cost $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of memory, $299 for the 64GB phone and $399 for 128GB. The iPhone 6 Plus is priced at $299 (16GB), $399 (64GB) and $499 (128GB).

“They’re definitely targeting the more professional user and the ‘phablet’ user,” observed CNET Editor-at-Large Tim Stevens.

The technology giant has much riding on the popular reception to its new iPhone, sales of which drive most of the company’s profits and which account for more than half of its revenue. But Apple’s new offerings may be even more important, as the company seeks to entice customers with an expanded lineup of products and services designed to keep them within its technological ecosystem.

To that end, Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the company’s new mobile payments tool, called Apple Pay, which aims to let users make purchases from their iPhone or Apple Watch. He noted that Americans make roughly 200 million payments per day, but called the process “antiquated.” With Apple Pay, consumers can pay for goods without sharing credit card, address and other personal information with a merchant, Cook said.

Apple Pay uses short-distance wireless technology called near-field communication, or NFC, to enable users to make purchases — a system already built in to many Android phones. Apple has teamed with financial industry heavyweights including American Express (AXP), Mastercard (MA) and Visa (V) and says Apple Pay will work at more than 220,000 retailers nationwide. Apple has been working with companies like McDonald’s, Disney, Target, Subway, and Whole Foods to integrate its service as well.

Then, finally putting an end to months of rumors and speculation, Cook presented Apple’s new wearable device, the Apple Watch, describing it as the “next chapter” in the company’s history and a “breakthrough.”

The watch, which is available with six interchangeable bands, comes in stainless steel, aluminum or 18K gold and is priced at $349. Users navigate by tapping and swiping the face, as well as through a crown on the right side of the watch that brings up apps. Apple Watch, which works with the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, as well as the iPhone 6, will be available early next year.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we’ve ever created,” Cook said. “It will redefine what people expect from a watch.”

Ian Fogg, senior director for research firm IHS, said Apple wants to validate wearable gadgets in the same way the iPhone in 2007 established a mass market for smartphones.

“However, moving into a new category is a bold, expensive and risky effort,” he added in a client note. “This Apple Watch is a first-generation device, and whether it is successful or not Apple will aim to iterate and make it a must-have companion for every iPhone owner.”

Although Apple has posted solid financial results this year, investors and even some of the company’s famously rabid fans have seemed underwhelmed by recent product launches. The last iPhones and iPads, while commercially successful, have been deemed only incremental advances — pleasing refinements that remain well short of the big leaps forward Apple has made in the course of growing into the most valuable company in the world.

That’s of particular concern for a company that, under co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, was vaunted for its design prowess and ability to discern consumer tastes even before those were fully formed. Apple is also eager to reclaim market share taken in recent years by Samsung and other makers of mobile phones based on Google’s  Android platform.

For Cook, the Apple Watch could prove either a canny move into a lucrative new product segment, or a dead end. The gadget — which fans referred to as the Apple iWatch as rumors intensified in recent months that a device was imminent — is the first developed entirely under Cook’s leadership since he succeeded Jobs as CEO in 2011. For both Apple and other companies making smartwatches, it also represents a key test of consumer interest in a technology that to date has failed to dazzle customers.

A critical challenge for Apple, experts say: Building a device that — like the iPod, iPhone and iPad before it — compellingly fills a need users may not know they have. No surprise, then, that Cook touted HealthKit, a software development tool that integrates health and fitness apps through the Apple Watch while giving consumers control over what health data they choose to share.

Although the company could benefit from expanding into new product segments, in the short-term it remains highly dependent on rolling out devices that push the design envelope and capture the public’s imagination. Indeed, until today Apple hadn’t released a brand new product since launching the iPad four year ago.

In the interim, Apple’s competitors have stormed into a range of areas ripe for innovation, with Google working to develop driverless cars and Facebook pushing the envelope on virtual reality. That has raised concerns that, without Jobs, Apple risks losing the vision that powered its rise.

Perhaps more than any tech provider, Apple is under the gun to innovate. And to be sure it is trying mightily to do that. Along with expanding into the wearable computing segment, Apple is developing Internet-enabled tools people can use to control lights, thermostats and other parts of their home. For enterprises, meanwhile, the company wants to let employers harness the power of “Big Data” from their Apple devices.

“A lot of other companies don’t need to be as bold on a frequent basis as Apple,” Soumen Ganguly, a director at consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Co., told CNET ahead of Apple’s latest commercial launch. “But people have come to expect it from Apple. They’re only as good as their last great product, and we’re four years away from that.”

A sense that Apple may be losing its bite hasn’t kept investors from bidding up its shares, it’s worth noting — the company’s stock has risen nearly 26 percent this year. The shares edged up $1.65, topping $100, shortly after the presentation began.

If there are questions about Apple’s creative mojo, it is clear from Tuesday’s event that its marketing instincts remain intact. Winding up the event, Cook brought out the band U2 to play a tune and pitch the group’s new album, which the executive said will be available for free download for all iTunes users.

Ice Bucket Challenge stirs controversy in China

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The “Ice Bucket Challenge” ─ meant to raise funds for research into a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ─ has come to China, only to raise controversy.

Lei Jun, founder of fast-growing smartphone maker Beijing Xiaomi Technology, said Monday on his Weibo microblogging account that he had accepted a “nomination” for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, becoming one of the first Chinese nationals to have a bucket of ice water poured onto his head to raise awareness of the disease.

The challenge involves a participant choosing between dousing themselves with ice water and making a small donation to the ALS Association or else opting out of the water and making a larger donation instead.

Lei announced Sunday that he would perform the challenge the next day and invited the public to offer suggestions of whom he should nominate to be the next three participants.

But Lei’s move was apparently preempted by Peter Yijia Liu, founder of handset maker Oneplus Tech, who said he had initiated his own ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, uploading a video on Weibo of him pouring a bucket of ice water onto his head. Liu nominated three other participants from the Internet industry, including Zhou Hongyi, chairman of 360 Technology.

But both Lei and Liu came in for criticism on social media, as some commentators accused the pair of indulging in a marketing exercise rather than trying to help find a cure for ALS.

Some said Liu’s dumping water on his head was merely “for his own amusement.”

Likewise, Victor Koo ─ founder of the YouTube-like website Youku.com ─ performed a toned-down version of the challenge by pouring two cups of water on his head at the opening ceremony of a local video festival. This too drew criticism, with some calling the move a meaningless gesture as Koo mentioned ALS in subsequent posting on Weibo but failed to explain what it was.

A report Tuesday in the Beijing Times newspaper offered some mild criticism of the stunts. It quoted yet another industry executive ─ iiMedia Research Group Chief Executive Zhang Yi ─ as saying: “Charity is a long-term and continuous thing. Just keep your mind on it. There is no need to hype it up.”

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge lends positive attention to serious disease

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Lou Gehrig  would have gotten a great laugh at all the ‘ice bucket challenge’ and attention that took his life. The New York Yankee legend became a popular figure head for ALS after being diagnosed with the disease in 1941, just shy of 38 years old. Describing himself as the ‘luckiest man alive’ after being diagnosed with ALS, Gehrig gave his remaining years, post voluntary retirement, to bring awareness to ALS. Many people do not realize the seriousness and need to draw attention to this debilitating neurological disease and the much needed help to find a cure for the over 5,000 plus victims diagnosed annually in the U.S.

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease, neurodegenerative disease

A=No. Myo = Muscle. Trophic = Nourishment

When a ‘muscle’ has no nourishment, it atrophies or wastes away. The progression and process of ALS slowly debilitates the connection between the brain and spinal cord, which work cohesively to communicate to the ‘voluntary muscles’ throughout the body. As ALS progresses, the muscle communication declines eventually resulting in paralysis. Muscle ‘atrophy’ and become smaller, weaker as the nutrition to the muscles declines.

“The body has many kinds of nerves. There are those involved in the process of thinking, memory, and of detecting sensations (such as hot/cold, sharp/dull), and others for vision, hearing, and other bodily functions. The nerves that are affected when you have ALS are the motor neurons that provide voluntary movements and muscle power. Examples of voluntary movements are your making the effort to reach for the phone or step off a curb; these actions are controlled by the muscles in the arms and legs.

The heart and the digestive system are also made of muscle but a different kind, and their movements are not under voluntary control. When your heart beats or a meal is digested, it all happens automatically. Therefore, the heart and digestive system are not involved in ALS. Breathing also may seem to be involuntary. Remember, though, while you cannot stop your heart, you can hold your breath – so be aware that ALS may eventually have an impact on breathing.

The heart and lungs are referred to as ‘involuntary muscles’, thus the reason why they can continue to function with ALS.

What causes ALS?

Chromosome 21 – There is a possible genetic link in defect of chromosome 21, where the condition reoccurs in 20% of families and 2% overall.

Environmental exposure may be linked to ALS

Many factors may be attributed to ALS

What treatment is available for ALS?

Currently, the FDA has approved ‘Riluzole’ to treat ALS, delaying the progression of the disease. Devices and therapy are also used to help treat ALS.

To learn more about ALS visit ALSA’s website at www.alsa.org

To take the ‘ice bucket challenge’ fill a bucket with icy, cold water, get a friend (or enemy who needs to get you back….) and have another friend/family member record you taking the challenge. Send out your recorded ice bucket challenge to all your friends via social media and challenge them (or call out individual names) to take the challenge, too! It’s ‘clean’ fun for a good cause!

China blocks Line, Kakao Talk to counter terrorism, S. Korea reports

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Since the first day of July, the messaging apps started to have disrupted services which have caught the attention of the ICT, Ministry of Science, and Future Planning in Seoul.

Kakao Talk and Line are just two of the popular apps in Asian markets such as China and India. Kakao Talk is operated by the South Korean based Kakao Corp whereas Line is under a Japanese subsidiary of Naver, South Korea’s biggest portal.

The reason behind the issue is now being investigated. China explained that some foreign messaging apps had been blocked, believing that the apps are used as channels for circulating terrorism-related information. These would include planning the attacks or spreading some details on how to make bombs. Apart from the apps, terrorists would also use video websites for their channels.

Lee Jin-Gyu, director of the Internet Policy unit, told reporters that “The ministry will continue negotiations with Chinese authorities so that users’ inconveniences be resolved at the earliest possible date.” He added that apart from Kakao Talk and Line, other foreign messaging services were also affected such as Vower, TalkBox, and Didi.

China itself has a main messaging app which, interestingly, is spared from suffering disrupted services. Dubbed as Weixin which is the sibling of WeChat, the service still operates normally even though it can also be a channel that can be used by terrorists to exchange information. However, Chinese internet company Tencent works round the clock to clean up messages and save itself from getting into trouble with the Chinese government.

A spokeswoman at Kakao Corp said that service disruptions continued while a spokesman at Naver Corp said he had been notified of the blockage. Both have declined to give further comments.

China is known as one of those countries that places tight control over the Internet. The government occasionally schedules its internet blocks as soon as it notices any signs of dissent or challenges to the Communist Party. It has already blocked access to several websites that include Twitter and YouTube using a blocking system known as the “Great Firewall.” The government tightens its restrictions on certain dates which are believed to be sensitive.

KakaoTalk and Line aren’t the only affected online services that have a disabled access to Chinese users. Currently, Yahoo’s Flickr and Microsoft’s OneDrive are inaccessible as well. On the other hand, Viber, which is another popular mobile messenger, seemed to be running normally.

The Fastest Mi Phone – Xiaomi Mi 4 Launched Ahead of iPhone 6

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Xiaomi the so called “China Apple” has already launched its flagship product, earlier than Apple Inc’s flagship product, at the company’s “The Journey of a Piece of Steel” event yesterday.

While iPhone 6’s launch date is yet to be confirmed, Xiao Mi 4 was already launched this week together with the Mi Band, Xiaomi’s first wearable device. The Mi 4 was named as “The Fastest and Most Gorgeous Mi Phone Ever”. Mi 4 will also be released this July.

Lei Jun, the founder of Xiaomi, stated on the event that the company sold 57.36 million phones in its first three years of operation, TechinAsia Liveblog reports.

Xiaomi Company sold 7.9 million Xiaomi Mi phones – 17.4 million Xiaomi M2 phones, 10.5 million Xiaomi Mi 3 phones, 18 million Hongmi or the so called Redmi outside China and 3.56 million Hongmi Note or Redmi Note.

The company claims that Xiaomi Mi 3 was sold out 40 minutes just after its release in India, NDTV reports. The company is expecting to have greater revenue for the newly launched Xiaomi Mi 4.

According to XiaomiChina, Mi 4 will feature a stainless steel frame that has an unbelievable craftsmanship and polish. Its hardware has a 2.5gz Quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset processor, 3 GB RAM and can choose from 16 or 64 GB internal storage. It has a 5 inch screen size with a 1080x1920p full HD resolution and a very high colour gamut.

The company also posted that Mi 4’s stainless steel metal frame features have undergone 40 processes and 193 steps.

For its camera specifications: 13 megapixels is installed on the rear camera with real-time HDR and 4K video recording. While the 8 megapixels front camera has an 80-degree wide angle. The smartphone has a durable 3080 mAh internal battery with a quick charging ability.

“The Xiaomi Mi 4 has Android 4.4 under MIUI V6 – so that’s the first time a Xiaomi phone launches with the very latest version of Android in China.” says on TechinAsia Liveblog. “The new Mi 4 has a very slim bezel at each side, but the company assures people that the screen will ignore accidental inputs on the side.”

The 16 GB Mi 4 is available for US$322 or AU$342.91 while the 64 GB Mi 4 will be available at US$400 or AU$425.97.

LeTV teams up with domestic production houses

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Online video streaming website LeTV announced partnerships with several domestic production houses and TV presenters in an effort to beef up video content and attract more viewers.

Taiwanese TV anchor and producer Jacky Wu joined a number of TV variety show producers who will be providing exclusive programs for LeTV in the next few years.

LeTV Chief Operating Officer Gao Fei said at a media briefing yesterday that it will focus more on short videos that are easier for viewers to watch on the go.

Demand for short video clips is picking up due to higher mobile data connection speeds and the popularity of smartphones and mobile devices.

It will also provide self-produced variety shows.

Last year, LeTV unveiled its first TV set, following other Internet companies into the hardware market.

China’s online video sites are expanding into producing their own content as they are no longer satisfied with just being a distribution channel for TV series and movies.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group last month completed the takeover of Hong Kong-listed film production company ChinaVision Media.