One answer Apple's digital assistant might consider giving is: start selling the iPhone 4S in China. And starting on Jan. 13th, Apple will do just that.
The company said Wednesday that China will be among 22 countries that soon will get the newest iPhone, one of Apple's hottest-selling yet. The iPhone now accounts for nearly half of Apple's annual revenue, and some analysts believe it earns the company more than 60% of its profits.
China is one of the world's largest mobile device markets, with close to a billion cellphone users by some estimates. Apple currently partners with China Unicom, one of the larger carriers with close to 200 million cellular subscribers.
Apple said Wednesday it had no current plans to announce a partnership with China Mobile, the country's largest carrier with more than 630 million subscribers (a user base that, somewhat amazingly, is more than twice the size of the U.S. population). But for months now Apple has been rumored to be nailing down a deal with China Mobile, and millions of the carriers' customers are already using the iPhone by modifying the device to work on their network.
Will Siri actually be able to speak and understand Mandarin? Eventually, yes. An Apple spokesman said the company plans to add official language support in 2012 — and that will include Chinese. But Siri won't yet be multilingual when the phone hits Chinese stores this month.
As Republicans focused on the Iowa caucuses and President Barack Obama made a pitch to Iowans of his own over streaming video on Tuesday, the Obama 2012 reelection campaign took its message to Instagram.
The president's campaign staff, which is also looking to reach voters on Tumblr and Google+ (along with a few Republicanrivals), has posted two photos thus far, both of the president speaking with Iowa's caucus voters via video chat, making his case for another term in the White House.
Although Instagram — a photo-sharing app known for retro filters that allows people to share photos with one another from their iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads — is new territory for Obama, the move by his 2012 campaign shouldn't come as a surprise.
In the 2008 election, Obama's team was so well known for its use of Twitter, Facebook and blogging to help build up an overwhelming amount of support that the Technology blog described Obama as "the first social media President." And over the last four years, the White House has made great use of the photo-sharing site Flickr.
Instagram, which has seen its more than 5-million users share more than 150-million photos, said in a company blog post that it is "excited to welcome President Barack Obama to Instagram" and that it looks "forward to seeing how President Obama uses Instagram to give folks a visual sense of what happens in the everyday life of the President of the United States."
The Obama 2012 campaign is also looking for supporters to share their photos with the @BarackObama Instagram account by tagging their photos with "#obama2012," Instagram said.
The company also made sure to point out that political coverage on Instagram has been on the rise over the last year as the 2012 presidential election gets closer.
"News organizations such as NBC News, ABC World News and the Washington Post have been sharing behind-the-scenes photos at debates and town hall meetings across the country, offering a unique look into the 2012 elections," Instagram said.
Among the most interesting photos shared so far by news organizations covering the election on Instagram would have to be Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker's shot of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney typing on his Apple iPad in an airport.
As of the new year Apple's head of design, Jonathan Ive, will be a knight of the British Empire. The London-born engineer has been the lead designer at Apple for more than 15 years and grew to become the "spiritual partner" of the company late co-founder Steve Jobs, according to Jobs himself.
The two collaborated on creating the look and feel of Apple's many successful consumer electronics products.
Reached by the BBC about the honor, Ive reportedly said it was "absolutely thrilling."
"I am keenly aware that I benefit from a wonderful tradition in the U.K. of designing and making," he said. "I discovered at an early age that all I've ever wanted to do is design."
As described in a Times profile earlier this year, Ive is responsible for the look of Apple's iPod music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet, all blockbuster products in their own categories.
Apple and Android mobile devices lit up like Christmas lights on Dec. 25 as people the world over pulled a smartphone from their stocking.
People fired up 6.8 million Apple and Android devices on Christmas Day, more than doubling the 2.5 million that they activated on the same day last year, according to Flurry Analytics, a mobile metrics firm that tracks activity from 140,000 apps.
On the days leading up to Christmas, people activated about 1.5 million Apple and Android smartphones and tablets each day.
But on Christmas itself, activations shot up more than 350%, to 6.8 million. (The report does not disclose whether Apple or Google-powered devices accounted for a larger share of that number).
Perhaps a bit predictably, Christmas Day app downloads began to rocket up around 6 a.m., and remained high throughout the day until they hit a peak around 8 p.m. -- that is, after dinner, when sated revelers can play with their new toys in earnest. More than 15 million apps were downloaded between 7 and 9 p.m. alone, if you line up all the world's time zones.
The Flurry report notes that app downloads have shot up in 2011, with Apple users downloading close to 10 billion this year, as many as in the previous three years combined. Google's Android devices have seen similarly rapid growth.
Amazon updated its Kindle Fire software and iPhone and iPad apps this week, adding new features all around.
For the Kindle Fire, Amazon's first tablet and a hot-selling item, the update promises to improve the responsiveness of touch navigation and the speed of actions on the device, such as loading webpages in the Fire's Web browser.
However, the biggest new feature might be the ability for users to edit what shows up in their "carousel" of recent apps and content displayed on the Fire's home screen.
Before the update, a Fire user couldn't remove any items -- books they've read, games and music played, movies watched or websites visited -- in their carousel.
The ability to remove items from the carousel was a highly requested feature and in this case, Amazon was pretty quick to deliver -- the Fire was released Nov. 14.
The iOS Kindle app updates the user interface for periodicals and text books, with access to the same selection of more than 400 magazines and newspapers that are offered on the Fire, Amazon said in a statement.
For the first time, Amazon is also offering "print replica textbooks" to iOS Kindle app users, which allow for full-color pages and the ability to zoom in and out or take notes as needed, the company said.
And the update also now makes the Kindle iOS app a PDF reader as well, Amazon said, which will allow users to view their own documents -- a feature offered by iBooks for some time now.
Buying a $200 to $400 phone for a child to play with might seem a little over the top, though some families do it. But, parents, buying a cover to protect your own pricey device is probably a smart move for the times you do inevitably hand it over, whether as a learning tool or benign distraction.
Let's face it. If you give your uncovered iPhone to your toddler, you're just asking for trouble. After all, small hands can do big damage to these devices.
But for just about $20, Infantino's HappiTaps and Griffin's Woogie 2 transform your inflexible, vulnerable iPhone into a plush, cuddlier plaything.
When you pull the HappiTaps case out of the box, you're greeted by a smiling Beary Happi, the case's sweet and engaging character brought to life via free downloadable app. He really comes to life when you open the app and drop your phone into the case.
Although initially the animated face on the phone made me flash back to my fears of Teddy Ruxpin and that living teddy bear from "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" -- two stuffed bears with more self-awareness than should exist in a toy -- Beary Happi's big green eyes and sweet child's voice won me over fairly quickly.
The Beary Happi app includes more than 150 facial expressions, which actually are quite adorable. He blinks, winks, smiles, sleeps, eats, talks -- and has different settings to moderate his expressions and mood from mellow to super chatty.
Peek-a-boo with Beary Happi involves interaction from the child. To reveal the hidden bear, the child has to tap the screen. "Feeding" him means tapping and dragging the food to his little mouth.
For 99 cents, you can get in-app additions such as two additional rattles (yes, your child will be shaking your iPhone in this case), two stories or two songs. Also, an educational game or the bedtime package (a poem, light show, lullaby and auto shut-off) can be purchased for 99 cents.
You can set the app to lock out purchases so that your happy tapper doesn't go shopping for upgrades without your knowledge or consent.
Also, it can be set to "toddler mode" to lock the menu. While the phone is in this case, it essentially impedes your child from leaving the app -- they'd have to remove the phone to hit the home button. (You can adjust volume or turn it off, but it does take effort.)
It's a bit of an overstatement to call it huggable. It's a soft, cushioned cover with a miniature body. It might just be soft enough for small hands, though.
The HappiTaps case is advertised for children 18 months and older. It comes with a green hanger to attach it to, say, a play mat or car seat.
I gave it to my 7-month-old to try out. My tech-savvy teether, like babies his age, did try to put the case in his mouth.
Beary is kind of kissable. Unfortunately, there is no protective plastic cover over the iPhone screen, so there's nothing between your child's mouth and that screen -- or, for that matter, the screen and any hard surface. Luckily, with an older child, you are probably less likely to have them give Beary Happi the full-on Bam-Bam treatment.
The original Woogie was a bit more like a stuffed starfish or inkblot -- soft but flat. Its successor, Woogie 2, has slightly weighted legs and is more versatile in that it can stand or sit, making it more flexible for the many uses of touchscreen devices.
When I tried it out with my baby, we could play videos, have him scroll through photos, and sit and enjoy an interactive audio picture book.
My son was also able to drag the Woogie around without his protective mother being ultra-nervous about whether he'd try his burgeoning skills as an amateur drummer with her iPhone.
Unlike the HappiTaps case, Woogie 2 has a plastic face, allowing a touch-permeable barrier of sorts between the grimy screen of the iPhone or iPod and your little one.
It comes in a couple of colors -- blue and pink. The original was a neon green.
This case is more like an actual stuffed animal that happens to also be a case. Your kid could play with this even without the iPhone tucked in it.
Both cases work with current and older-model iPhones and iPod Touch. I have reserved my old 3G iPhone for my baby's use and it fit easily in both.
Although the Velcro closure will hold your phone or player in place, it's fairly easy for even a child under a year old to open and free the device. So as always with children, you'll want to keep your eyes open.
Apple has hit 100 million downloads from its online software shop, the Mac App Store.
When the company opened the digital shop in January of this year, its goal was to put an end to the old days of PC software on a box -- the kind users bought from brick and mortar stores like Best Buy or Fry's, or Babbage's, or Software Etc., or Egghead Software, or the Softwarehouse, or CompUSA. (Am I missing any obvious ones?)
After all, the logic goes, software is just 1's and 0's -- so why would you need to drive somewhere to pick up a shrink-wrapped package full of it?
So far, the approach appears to be working. The store is averaging 8 million downloads per month this year. That includes the summer launch of Lion, the latest version of its Macintosh operating system, which sold more than 1 million digital copies in its first day, far outpacing sales of any previous OS X release.
What the company did not say is how many of the 100 million apps downloaded were, specifically, its operating system -- or how many of them were counted from the many free apps available on the store.
However, some companies do approach online software sales by offering free and paid apps. Autodesk Inc. offers a simpler, free version of its AutoCAD software through the store, and its $900 AutoCAD LT version for pros (or amateurs that get hooked).
Apple also said its iPhone and iPad-based App Store hit 18 billion total downloads. That store went online for the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2008.
It's sitting atop the appropriately named iNuke Boom, an 8-foot wide, 4-foot-tall, 700-pound iPod and iPhone dock that pumps out 10,000 watts of power.
And if that wasn't outrageous enough — the price tag is $29,999.
"Everyone is making something small," said Mark Wilder, vice president of marketing and communications for Behringer, the audio and music equipment company behind the iNuke Boom. "We said, 'Let's make something loud.'"
Wilder assures us that it is not a joke, and that an iNuke Boom has not only been produced but will be seen — and heard — at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show coming up in January.
"I'm not sure our neighbors are going to like us that much," he said.
Wilder admitted that the iNuke Boom is essentially a publicity stunt and marketing tool to promote the company's new line of home audio equipment.
"We made this one as a prototype, but we will make them and sell them if we take orders for them," he said.
So who is this person who would pay $30,000 for an iPhone docking station? "The buyer who has everything," said Wilder. "Probably someone with a sizable amount of property and wants to throw a party and wants something more elegant than a normal speaker system."
Elegance, we suppose, is in the eye of the very rich iPod owner.
Samsung chalked up a victory in its ongoing patent battle with Apple when a federal judge ruled against a proposed sales ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S.
Apple had requested a ban similar to the temporary injunction placed on sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia, but the U.S. District Court in San Jose on Friday decided that such a move wasn't necessary before the dispute goes to trial in July, according to Bloomberg Businessweek
Australian's ban on sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is set to lift on Dec. 9, with the patent battle there headed for trial in March.
The two consumer electronics titans are involved in a running legal war over the rights to technologies used on tablets and smartphones in more than 10 countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, France and Italy, and with more than 20 lawsuits filed between the two companies.
So far, sales of Samsung's Galaxy S, Galaxy S II and Ace smartphones have been temporarily banned in 30 European countries, and Germany has placed a preliminary sales ban on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 7.7 (all devices which run on Google's Android operating system). Samsung went so far as to redesign and then re-release the German version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 as the Galaxy Tab 10.1N, but Apple requested a new ban of that tablet in that country as well, according to the Times of India.
When Apple and Samsung aren't fighting to keep each other's products off of store shelves, the two are actually business partners. Samsung, for example, manufactures Apple's A4 and A5 processors found in the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and iPod Touch, among other components, such as flash memory, inside of i-devices.
It being Black Friday today, Apple's annual sale (online and in Apple Stores) is here and the discounts are coming in about as expected -- small price drops but nothing too dramatic.
For the one-day sale, Apple lopped $101 off of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac prices. Not discounted are the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro.
The iPad is on sale today too, with a $41 discount off of the 16-gigabyte model, $51 off the 32-gigabyte unit and $61 off of the 64-gigabyte tablets. The discount puts the iPad into a price range of $458 to $768, rather than the usual range of $499 to $829.
Apple also is taking a tiered discount approach with the iPod Touch, with the 8-gigabyte model selling for $178 ($21 off), the 16-gigabyte unit priced at $268 ($31 off) and the 32-gigabyte device at $358 ($41 off).
The iPod Nano is $11 cheaper than usual, selling at $118 for 8 gigabytes of storage and $138 for 16 gigabytes. Not on sale, iPod-wise, is the iPod Shuffle, pegged at $49, and the iconic, yet aging iPod Classic stuck at $249. Apple's most popular product, the iPhone, isn't on sale either.
Mice, keyboards and iPad covers are also on sale, as well as non-Apple products such as the Blue Yeti USB microphone, an M-Audio MIDI keyboard, a few laptop bags and backpacks, select iPhone cases and even Microsoft Office for Mac.
The full list of Apple's Black Friday discounts, which are being offered alongside free shipping, can be seen here.