U.S. Cellular announces plans to carry Apple products later this year

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U.S. Cellular, the Chicago-based carrier serving around 5.8 million customers in 126 markets, will likely start offering the iPhone later this year, possibly in addition to other iOS devices. The carrier announced today in its first quarter results that it will soon begin carrying Apple products, but didn’t provide any further information regarding when or what specific products it might launch:

“We have a number of strategies in progress to increase loyalty and attract more customers, including our announcement today that we will begin offering Apple products later this year. By further strengthening our device portfolio, we’ll give consumers another great reason to switch to U.S. Cellular, and enable our existing customers to choose from an even wider variety of iconic smartphones, and enjoy the outstanding U.S. Cellular customer experiences they deserve. Our smartphone penetration is currently 43 percent of core market customers and growing quickly. We believe there will be strong, ongoing demand for smartphones and data products and services from our customers, and we have significant room for growth in this area.

You might remember a couple years back U.S. Cellular claimed it said no to the iPhone 4S with CEO Mary Dillon at the time saying Apple’s “terms were unacceptable from a risk and profitability standpoint.” Later, CEO of the cellular provider’s parent company TDS hinted that the carrier would wait until Apple unveiled an LTE capable device, which was of course before the unveiling of Apple’s LTE iPhone 5.

After it decided not to carry the iPhone 4S, it soon after launched its Wonderphone ad campaign that were seen by many as mocking the iPhone.

U.S. Celluar today reported service revenues for the first quarter of $996.3 million and noted that it plans to roll out its 4G LTE service to 87 percent of its subscribers this year. The carrier also said it plans to close its $480 million deal to sell its Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois and other markets to Sprint in the second quarter of 2013.  Read more

iOS 6.1.1 build 10B145 being rushed to address 3G performance and enterprise concerns, some carrier testing completed

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Following reports about some carriers in Europe issuing warnings not to upgrade to iOS 6.1 due to issues with 3G performance, it seems a fix is already in the works. The issue was not just with 3G through carriers such as Vodafone and three in Austria, many users in Apple’s own forums complained of similar problems, degraded battery life, and more. Users have also had problems with Exchange support, causing AOL corporate to temporarily disable the ability to manage mobile meetings from iOS devices running iOS 6.1.

Today, a report from German language blog iFun claimed that carriers have already completed testing a 6.1.1 update to address the bugs and a 23MB update carrying build number 10B145 should be available over-the-air soon:

After ifun.de this information is already in version 6.1.1 of the night on Monday as “Testing Complete” and should be offered the iPhone community with little flow as a wireless update. Sources which are applicable in the past on the issue dates of iOS 6.0.2 and iOS 6.1 as well as the eradication of the “SMS spoofing problem” have informed, indicate the large 23MB update with UMTS-compatible.

Apple’s first beta release for 6.1.1 was released last week with build number 10B311.

Walmart now offers iPhone 5 for $127, 4S for $47, and third-gen iPad for $399; Target to discount Virgin’s Prepaid 4S to $399 (updated)

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Walmart is continuing to slash price tags on Apple products this holiday season, as the global retailer just announced it is now offering the 16GB iPhone 5 for $127.

Walmart also cut the iPhone 4S from $89.97 to $47 starting today, with both smartphones sales subject to the usual two-year contract, and it further lowered the (update below16 GB third-generation iPad with Wi-Fi to $399. Walmart said its iPad deal would feature a bonus $30 iTunes card beginning Dec. 17, but all special rollback prices are in-store only.

Target plans to offer an Apple product sale, as well. It will discount Virgin Mobile’s Prepaid 16GB iPhone 4S from $449.99 to $399.99 starting Dec. 16, but the deal is only available at Target Mobile locations.

Update 1: Walmart’s story continues to evolve. We’ll continue to update.

Update 2: Walmart’s PR agency made multiple corrections to its original announcement today. While the first press release said the third-generation iPad would go on sale for $399 on Dec. 17, a later correction indicated the deal actually started today for the fourth-generation iPad. Now, this evening, Walmart’s PR agency has made another correction: today’s $399 sale is for the third-generation iPad. The rollback prices for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S remain correct.

9to5Mac contacted Walmart directly today on multiple occasions to verify the sale prices advertised in the press release, but only its PR agency would comment on specifics and make subsequent corrections. Read more

Giant Retina MacBook Pro window display goes up at Apple Store

Apple has created oversized window displays in the past following its latest product launches, including the iPhone 4S, and we snapped some photos today of the new Retina MacBook Pro signage.

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Siri vs S-Voice on Samsung’s Galaxy S III

The Verge recently went hands on with Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S III launched earlier this month and during its review put the device’s new Vlingo-powered “S-Voice” feature up against Siri on the iPhone 4S. Other than the striking resemblance to Siri’s UI and canned responses, the first thing we notice is Siri appears to be much quicker than S-Voice running on the Galaxy S III.

When asked “Who is the president of France”, Siri quickly asks to search the web, while S-Voice takes a little longer but comes up with the correct answer. However, in most scenarios, both Siri and S-Voice request to search the web for the majority of the same queries. You’ll also notice S-Voice has no problem keeping up with Siri when scheduling appointments, but both have some of the same issues understanding The Verge’s commands.

S Voice consistently chews up my words when I try asking it questions, although it works better when instructed to schedule an appointment or set an alarm. It can also be used as an unlocking mechanism once you pre-record a pass phrase. That adds to the face unlocking option that’s native to Android 4.0 in being frustratingly unwieldy and planted firmly within gimmick territory — more than once I was stuck repeating “hello” without any recognition from the phone.

While we don’t have all of the info on S-Voice, we know it is using voice recognition technology from Vlingo, the same as the previous Voice Commander feature for the Galaxy S II. Last December Nuance acquired Vlingo. It’s no secret Apple is currently using Nuance to power speech in Siri, and Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky told us in October that Siri originally used Vlingo, but that Nuance has by far the most IP in speech synthesis technologies”. However, he also noted Apple could likely easily replace Nuance if something better was available.
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Is Siri a success for Apple? [Poll]

Oh, Siri. Apple’s little voice-activated personal assistant in iOS can handle questions, give recommendations, and delegate requests, but does it really live up to expectations?

The folks in Cupertino like to roll out advertisements that show Siri capable of compiling individual preferences with personalized results, and even completing basic tasks like finding a nearby restaurant, but the software met very mixed reactions after it Beta-débuted on the iPhone 4S in October. Those who felt misled by Siri’s functionality depicted in commercials eventually sought reimbursement by filing a class action lawsuit against Apple earlier this year.

Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky wrote about how chief executive Tim Cook is changing Apple in an interesting piece this morning, but he also touched upon the contention surrounding Siri. He noted Apple’s future relies on the quality of its products, which holds true for any company, but then he pointed to the iOS-maker’s knowledge navigator:

“Those looking for deficiencies have found them in Siri, a less-than-perfect product that Apple released with the rare beta label in late 2011, a signal that the service shouldn’t be viewed as fully baked. Siri’s response time has been slow, meaning the servers and software powering it are inadequate. ‘People are embarrassed by Siri,’ says one former insider. ‘Steve would have lost his mind over Siri.'”

It is interesting that an unnamed insider claimed Jobs would “lose his mind” over Siri, especially because it is well-known the late CEO worked with former Siri founder and subsequent Apple Engineering Director Dag Kittlaus on the project. Kittlaus admitted last March at Network World that Jobs felt they “cracked it” in regards to Siri, which alludes to the chief’s satisfaction with the voice assistant and contrasts with the insider’s opinion.

The poll is after the break.

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Meta Watch announces first Bluetooth 4.0 smartwatch for iOS, ships to devs this month

Run by former Nokia and Fossil execs, and previously available in beta for Android devices only, Meta Watch officially launched its smartwatch platform today that interfaces with iOS—the first of its kind to utilize the low energy Bluetooth 4.0 technology. The watch works with an iOS app for customizing which notifications will pop up on its display. Notifications consist of the usual phone calls and messaging, but developers have access to an API that will allow them to send almost anything to the device.

The company previously had issues getting the platform to run smoothly due to limitations of iOS. However, thanks to Bluetooth 4.0, the device featuring a 96-by-96-pixel LCD display is now slated to ship sometime this month for $199. The Meta Watch is clearly still more of a development kit than an end-user product at this point, but with six fully programmable buttons, a 3-axis accelerometer, vibrating motor, ambient light sensor, and of course Bluetooth 4.0, there is a ton that devs will be able to do with the device.

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T-Mobile TV ad compares iPhone 4S on AT&T to its 4G network

As part of its new “Alter Ego” ad campaign, T-Mobile posted the above TV commercial comparing the speed of the iPhone 4S on AT&T to devices on its 4G network. The carrier recently did a similar comparison when launching its Test Drive tool for comparing its 4G devices with the iPhone on other networks. In related news, yesterday we reported T-Mobile was preparing to rollout an iPhone-compatible 4G HSPA+ 19000 MHz network to various markets by the end of the year.

Although many thought the comparison of the 3G iPhone on AT&T to 4G Android devices on T-Mobile was unfair, Apple is rumored to launch a new LTE iPhone following the introduction of the new 4G iPad last March. Recent reports indicated Qualcomm was having trouble meeting demand for LTE chips likely to land in the next-gen iPhone, indicating T-Mobile will likely have to take a new approach to its ads come October.
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IDC: Samsung takes top smartphone marketshare in Q1, as Apple hits 8.8-percent high of total mobile phone market

Today, research firm IDC published its Q1 2012 report of top mobile phone and smartphone shipments worldwide. While Apple was able to post impressive growth with a high of 8.8-percent of the total mobile phone market (up from 4.6-percent a year ago) and 24.2-percent of the global smartphone market (up from 18.3-percent), Samsung was able overtake Apple for the top spot with a year-over-year change of 267 percent and 29.1-percent of the total smartphone market. Samsung also took the top spot of global mobile phone marketshare from Nokia for the first time since 2004.

Meanwhile, the worldwide smartphone market grew 42.5% year over year in 1Q12, as Samsung overtook Apple for the smartphone leadership position. Vendors shipped 144.9 million smartphones in 1Q12 compared to 101.7 million units in 1Q11. The 42.5% year-over-year growth was 1% higher than IDC’s forecast of 41.5% for the quarter, and lower than the 57.4% growth in the fourth quarter of 2011

In terms of shipments among smartphone vendors, Apple took the second spot behind Samsung up from 18.6 million units in Q1 2011 to 35.1 million in Q1 2012. Apple was only behind Samsung with 42.2 million units shipped, up from just 11.5 million a year ago.

The company does not publicly release shipments from Samsung, and IDC’s number of 42.2 million smartphones shipped during Q1 is significantly more than the 32 million estimated by IHS iSuppli just days ago. If IHS’s estimate were correct, it would put Samsung much closer to the 35.1 million devices Apple confirmed it shipped sold during the quarter.

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Hands-on with Aereo: $12 monthly broadcast TV with DVR live-streams in Safari for Mac and iOS

 

Lets talk about Aereo—the service that streams over-the-air local TV to any Mac, iOS device, or PC running Safari for $12 per month.

The decidedly McGyver tech behind this venture relies on fingertip-sized TV antennas in data centers that allow servers to live-stream channels with high-definition reception through a speedy Internet connection. Aereo also works with Apple TV via iTunes’ AirPlay and a source iOS device, and Roku-lovers can use the Aereo channel through set-top boxes. The service even flaunts 40 hours of DVR storage space and an HTML 5 experience. That’s right, no apps—nor cords, cables, and boxes. Hence the startup’s “It’s TV made simple” badge.

Aereo is currently an invite-only 90-day free trial to New York City residents. Oh, and the behind-the-scene gurus verify billing and IP addresses, so there is no fooling Aereo when requesting login credentials.

That’s enough with the basics; now time to spill the juicy details:

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iPad 2 & iPod touch up to $50 off, Target offering $25 off iPhones on contract

According to an in-store iPhone advertisement in at least one Target location in Orlando, the store is offering $25 off the 8GB iPhone 4 and both the 16GB and 32GB iPhone 4S models until the end of the month. A tipster sent the image above showing the deal is offered for upgrades or on a new two-year contract available through AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint depending on your location.

(Thanks L. Nielsen!)

We are also noticing some of the best prices ever on iPad 2s. When Apple dropped the price of the iPad 2 by $100 (now starting at $399) after the introduction of the new iPad, retailers immediately started slashing prices even further on the last-generation device. We already saw the 16GB entry-level iPad 2 go for as low as $360, and today 9to5Toys pointed us to a 32GB model in white or black for $449 from Go4Computers through eBay Daily Deal. That deal includes free shipping and no tax (outside Florida), and the same goes for the 8GB iPod touch, which is usually $199 but now goes for $169.

If you live close enough to swing by a local Micro Center, it is currently offering the 16GB Wi-Fi only iPad 2 for $359.99.
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