As you likely know, a ton of documents pilfered and leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), have shown that that agency's surveillance has been shockingly widespread, including having access to the phone records of you and me. In recent days, the leaked documents have brought the NSA's snooping even closer to home, with the release of documents that say the agency had the ability in 2008 to take control of an iPhone. They were able to "remotely push/pull files from the device, SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control, and data exfiltration can occur over SMS messaging or a GPRS data connection. All communications with the implant will be covert and encrypted."
Apple quietly introduced iBeacon this year as a feature in iOS 7. Basically this functionality uses the new Bluetooth technology called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to let devices communicate with one another while using very little energy. This means that tiny transmitters can be placed at specific locations such that when you come in range, say within 10 feet, your phone alerts you with some information. Apple, for example, earlier this month deployed iBeacon transmitters in 254 of their US Apple Stores. If you have this feature enabled, you'll receive information as you browse in an Apple Store. For example, if you pause by the iPhone display, the iBeacon will inform you of your upgrade status and encourage you to trade in your old phone for a new one.
We're in day five of Apple's free app 12 Days of Gifts, and today's present is the best yet: the award-winning 2011 film Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. If you haven't yet downloaded the app, now would be a good time to do it.
A few days ago I listed the rumor that we'll see a 4K "iPad Pro" as one of the craziest rumors of 2013. Yet the rumor keeps popping up. A 4K display would have twice the resolution of today's retina iPad. To my mind, it's not credible, given the difficulty and expense. Plus, it's not clear to me whether the unaided eye would even be able to see the difference. You can read about the latest rumor on Forbes, which cites as it sources the Chinese language website Pad News as well as Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufactures many of Apple's devices. According to one rumor, Apple already has a prototype ready of a retina iPad Pro and is now working on developing a 4K version of the iPad Pro. By way of comparison, the retina display of the iPad Air has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, while an iPad with a 4K display would have a resolution of 4096 x 3072.
A friend got some money for Christmas and emailed me to ask where she should go to get an iPhone. I checked and was surprised to see at least one holiday sale still going on. So if you're in the same situation, be sure to check around. As I write this on December 28, Best Buy is offering the 16 GB iPhone 5c for free and the 16GB iPhone 5s for $124.99. There's also a $75 discount on models with more storage. Of course, these offers entail committing to a two-year contract.
We're in day 2 of Apple's 12 Days of Gifts, a free app that offers you something for free each day for 12 days starting on Dec 26. Yesterday's inaugural freebie was a music download that included the four songs performed by Justin Timberlake at this year's iTunes Festival. Earlier today Apple's offering in the U.S. was the pilot episode of the TV series "Once Upon a Time," which I downloaded to my iPad Air.
Now is a good time to buy games for your iPhone or iPad. Electronic Arts, one of the top game developers, is having a limited-time sale on 40 of its games, which are currently available for $0.99. You can see a list on TUAW. That page also lists special holiday prices on scores of additional games from developers such as SNL Playmore, Subatomic Studio, Taito Corporation, Warner Bros, Gameloft, and many more. Around 200 games in all.
In an end-of-year memo to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love." That's not much to go on, but it's created a lot of buzz. And it lends support to the latest rumor that Apple will be releasing a larger iPhone in May and a 12.9-inch iPad in October. Both rumors of larger devices are gaining some traction, given that various sources in Apple's supply chain have indicated this. The most recent provenance is the Taiwan publication DigiTimes. Their source says that Apple has considered both a 12.9-inch and 13.3-inch display for the larger iPad, with the former now seeming more likely. The report doesn't say what size iPhone is expected in May, but past rumors have said that Apple has been testing a 4.9-inch model. One analyst has suggested that the phone will be between 4.5 and 5 inches, and that a model larger than 5 inches is unlikely.
It's been a great year for new devices from Apple, each of which was preceded by months of rumors—which I dutifully passed along. Many turned out to be true: a new iPad with a form factor like the iPad mini, an iPad mini with retina display, and a lower-cost iPhone. But some were off. There were many rumors of an HDTV from Apple that would arrive late this year. Many people are now doubting Apple will ever come out with one, even though they're known to have developed a variety of prototypes. We kept getting rumors of an iWatch, which have gotten more tangible over time. But still no watch.
Some of the top app developers have gotten together and created a website called App Santa where they are promoting special Christmas pricing on some of the most popular apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apps with hefty discounts include 1Password ($9.99, marked down from $17.99), Scanner Pro ($2.99, marked down from $6.99), Mileage Log+ ($4.99, marked down from $9.99), Printer Pro ($2.99, marked down from $6.99), Tweetbot ($1.99, marked down from $4.99), and 10 more. If any of these apps interest you, now would be a good time to download them.