Apple sued by employees over labor issues- David Gilinsky

apple employees
Something is rotten in the Genius Bar, according to a class-action lawsuit.

Apple has another employee lawsuit to contend with.

The company is facing a lawsuit certified as a class action this week from employees who say they were denied meal breaks and rest periods in violation of California labor law.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimate that more than 20,000 current or former Apple employees from the retail to corporate level have been affected by the alleged violations.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims Apple employees were forced to work for stretches of five hours or more without meals, and didn’t get breaks on shorter shifts. There are also more nitpicky complaints about alleged failures to provide timely wage statements and final checks that arrived a few days late.

Apple & Microsoft: Both kicking butt
 The lawsuit contends that Apple’s employment rules restrict employees from talking about the company’s labor conditions with one another, allowing the company to “invoke fear into the class members that if they so much as discuss the various labor policies, they run the risk of being fired, sued or disciplined.”

Apple (AAPL, Tech30) declined to comment.

Related: Apple profit soars on booming iPhone and Mac sales — but iPads slump

This isn’t the first time Apple has found itself in hot water for labor-related issues. The company also faces a class-action lawsuit from Apple Store employees who said they were not paid wages for time spent waiting for managers to check their personal bags before they left work.

Apple and other tech companies have previously faced a series of lawsuits alleging that they engaged in anti-competitive hiring practices by agreeing not to poach employees from one another. Earlier this year, Apple, Google (GOOGL, Tech30), Adobe (ADBE) and Intel(INTC, Tech30) reached a tentative $324 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving some 64,000 tech workers who say their wages were lower as a result of the no-poaching deal.

Apple has also faced scrutiny in recent years following revelations of wage and overtime violations at Foxconn, its main manufacturing partner in China.

Is this Apple’s new iWatch?- David Gilinsky

Apple was granted a patent for a smartwatch Tuesday, lending credence to rumors that the company will unveil a new “iWatch” this fall.

In the patent filing, Apple (AAPL, Tech30) revealed a square smartwatch design, but it didn’t disclose too many more details about the iWatch.

Most of what the company revealed shows that the device may have many of the same features as its competitors’ smartwatches — a touchscreen, an accelerometer, a GPS receiver, Bluetooth, and alerts via vibration. The iWatch connects to a mobile device, displays notifications and allows users to accept or decline phone calls.

If there’s anything unusual about Apple’s filing, it’s that the iWatch can be used apart from a smartphone. You can store music and video on the smartwatch itself and play it back directly from the watch. You can even plug a set of headphones directly into the watch via a socket on the upper left corner.

Apple said the iWatch might respond to specific movements from its wearer. For instance, Apple said a user might shake, bounce or tap his or her wrist to accept or decline a notification or phone call.

The company said the watch could receive text messages, social network posts or news alerts, but it’s unclear if users can send messages from the watch. Apple also didn’t say if the watch would let users make phone calls.

Related: Hands on with a Google-powered smartwatch

It’s also unknown what the watch will be made of, though Apple said the band would be made of a non-metal material. Rubber, silicone, plastic, Mylar and vinyl were cited as possibilities.

Though the patent gives the world a glimpse at Apple’s smartwatch ideas, it is not necessarily reflective of a final product that will hit store shelves. Though many Apple patents look exactly like the finished products that it sells to customers, Apple notoriously patents many technologies that are dramatically different from the ones that it ultimately brings to market. Some never even see the light of day.

Apple has long been rumored to be releasing an iWatch. Chatter about an Apple smartwatch intensified after Nike (NKE) pulled the plug on its Fuelband fitness device earlier this year. Apple and Nike have partnered on technology for runners since 2006.

Over the past year, many of its competitors have brought smartwatches to market, most notably Samsung’s (SSNLF) Galaxy Gear. Google (GOOGL, Tech30) has also developed its Android Wear software for smartwatches, which has appeared on LG’s G Watch, Samsung’s Gear Live watch and will soon run on Motorola’s Moto 360 watch.

New smartwatch: Cool? Yes. Useful? Meh.
 

Apple is set to report its quarterly financial results after the stock market closes Tuesday afternoon. Shares of Apple rose 1% in early trading and are up nearly 20% this year.

Microsoft weighed down by ailing Nokia- David Gilinsky

nadella microsoft earnings
Satya Nadella has a lot of work ahead of him.

It’s going to take more than layoffs for Microsoft to fix Nokia.

Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) said Tuesday that Nokia’s devices and services business, which Microsoft acquired April 25, lost a stunning $692 million between that date and June 30, the end of the company’s most recent quarter.

That loss includes some non-recurring expenses, but Nokia is clearly an unhealthy business.

Microsoft is in the midst of a transition led by new CEO Satya Nadella, who announced plans last week to cut 18000 jobs within the next year, or about 14% of the company. Most of those layoffs — about 12,500 — will come from Nokia. In a memo to Microsoft staff, Nadella said that Microsoft found many redundancies between the two companies, including both professional and factory workers.

Nadella’s task now is to figure out how to make Nokia devices running Windows Phone software competitive in a sector dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. He recently announced plans to kill off Nokia’s short-lived “Nokia X” Android smartphone experiment.

Microsoft’s Nadella swings the ax
 
Other parts of Microsoft’s business are healthier, with search advertising revenue from Bing growing 40% versus a year prior and subscriptions to the company’s Office 365 software rising by 1 million to more than 5.6 million. Sales of Windows software to manufacturers rose 3%, a positive sign after years of weak PC sales.

Overall, Microsoft’s sales totaled $23.3 billion, ahead of Wall Street expectations, sending shares up slightly in after-hours trading.

Apple profit soars on booming iPhone and Mac sales — but wow, did iPads slump- David Gilinsky

apple earnings 072214

Apple sales and profit soared last quarter despite a steep decline in demand for the iPad.

The iPhone, Apple’s flagship product, continued to gain significant traction. Apple sold 35.2 million iPhones in the past three months, up 13% compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, Mac desktop computers led the product line in terms of growth, up 18% with 4.4 million sold — well above Wall Street analysts’ forecasts.

But iPad sales fell by 9% to 13.2 million last quarter. Also hurting Apple’s bottom line was the fact that customers are buying cheaper iPads — the average selling price of an iPad fell by about $20 since last year. That means the iPad mini continues to outshine the larger iPad, including the new iPad Air, released in October 2013.

CEO Tim Cook blamed “market softness” in some parts of the world. But he said a turnaround might come from Apple’s recently announced deal with IBM to sell industry-specific Apple devices later this year.

Cook noted that currently, tablets haven’t quite caught on in the office. IBM will help change that with a better entry into the business realm.

“We think our partnership with IBM (IBM, Tech30)… will be one such catalyst for future iPad growth,” Cook said. “We’re very bullish about the tablet market.”

Related story: Is this Apple’s new iWatch?

The company’s profit grew 12% to $7.7 billion, or $1.28 per share, during its fiscal third quarter, which ended in June. Apple’s earnings per share was nudged up partly because of the company’s ongoing stock buyback program, which has lowered the number of shares held by investors by about 7% since last year.

Apple posted $37.4 billion in revenue, up 6%. Profit exceeded Wall Street’s expectations, but sales missed forecasts.

For the current quarter, Apple said it expects sales between $37 billion and $40 billion, also falling short of analysts’ forecasts. That sent shares of Apple (AAPL, Tech30) lower in aftermarket trading.

Meanwhile, the company is still swimming in cash. At the end of the quarter, Apple said it had more than $164 billion on hand.

But all eyes are already on the next few months, because many customers are holding out for the iPhone 6 — assuming that’s the name. The phone, expected out in September, will likely have a screen much larger than the latest model’s 4-inch display.

Now that Apple has deals with major Chinese mobile carriers and government approval, the iPhone 6 is slated for a blockbuster release around the world — the largest yet.

Put in perspective: China Mobile has close to 700 million users — more than twice the population of the United States.

This time around, Cook said the clip of growth in China “honestly was surprising to us.” Next quarter has the potential to improve on that.

WiFi 101: How to Buy Your Next Wireless Router- David Gilinsky

Quiz time. What’s the most important piece of electronics in your home: a) your personal computer, b) your smartphone, or c) your flat-screen TV?

The correct answer is d) your wireless router. If you answered e) your blender, you’ve been spending too much time in Margaritaville.

WiFi 101: How to Buy Your Next Wireless Router

(Thinkstock)

The router is your home’s lifeline to the Internet. As more of our music, movies, live TV, phone lines, software, and home security services come flowing over a broadband connection, your router will grow even more important. As the “Internet of Things” takes hold, the number of devices that connect via your home network could grow into the hundreds.

The good news: Routers are a lot more sophisticated than ever before. The bad news: The decision about what router to get next is now more complicated. You can’t just grab the cheapest box off the shelf at Best Buy or Office Depot and hope for the best. I mean, you could, but you might regret it later.

Wherefore WiFi?
In the not-too-distant past, setting up a home network required the skills of a Cisco certified engineer, the patience of a Trappist monk, and a whole lot of wire. Then, in the late 1990s, WiFi showed up and changed everything. All you needed was a wireless router and a compatible adapter attached to your computer. Fiddle with a few network settings, plug in the network name and password, and voilà — instant Internet in every room of your house. Or at least, close to it.

See also: Five Ways to Make Your WiFi Network Safer, Faster, and More Reliable

Incidentally, “WiFi” is a word conjured up by Interbrand, a New York City marketing company that’s also responsible for “Prozac” and “Pepsi Slice.” It was a brilliant piece of marketing, because without it we’d be walking into big-box stores asking teenagers in blue shirts where they keep the 802.11 (pronounced “eight-oh-two-dot-eleven”) wireless network thingies.

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Unfortunately, that’s where the brilliant marketing stopped. Shopping for a new router now means navigating nerd terms like “gigabit,” “dual band,” “throughput,” “MIMO,” “spatial streams,” and other gibberish designed to send normal humans screaming from the room.

But buying a new router doesn’t have to involve a visit to geek hell. Let’s start by going back to the basics.

Router essentials
A WiFi router contains a two-way radio, and it may support different wireless network types, just as your bedside radio supports both AM and FM. WiFi radios all use a common standard known by a number: 802.11. That refers to a technical specification created by a committee of supergeeks at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), that defines how wireless networking devices operate. You may now safely forget all of that.

The important part is the letter or letters that follow the “802.11” part. The first commercial WiFi devices were labeled 802.11a and 802.11b, with the b devices being the first ones in homes. They were followed a few years later by g and then n. (Why not c and d? Beats me — do I look like an electrical engineer?) Each new letter represents a major improvement in the technology, typically increasing the speed and range of the device. Except that is faster than b. You can forget that, too. 

The newest WiFi spec is 802.11ac. It promises data speeds up to three times faster than previous speed champ 802.11n, as well as better ability to intelligently manage multiple data streams as it connects to different devices, plus greater reliability and range and other wicked cool stuff. 802.11ac routers are also known as gigabit routers, meaning they can transfer up to 1.3 billion bits of data (1.3 gigabits or 1,300 megabits) per second.

Sounds hella fast, doesn’t it? But to take advantage of all that speed, a device on your network also needs a WiFi adapter capable of sending and receiving signals using 802.11ac. Today only a relatively small number of wireless devices have 802.11ac built in, though lots more are coming. Fortunately, WiFi routers are backward compatible — your older devices, back to 802.11b, will still work with an 802.11ac router, though you won’t see the fastest speeds with them. 

Nearly all 802.11ac routers are also dual band, meaning that they have two radios inside: One is a radio that communicates with older 802.11 devices that use the the 2.4 GHz frequency (802.11b, g, or n), the other talks to gadgets on the 5 GHz band. The advantage to operating at 5 GHz is a) it’s faster, and b) you can avoid interference from Bluetooth, baby monitors, microwave ovens, and other devices that can muck with devices at 2.4 GHz. 

The upshot: Dual-band routers are what you want.

Beautiful streamers
The next question — one where you run into blizzards of obscure terminology — is how many spatial streams the router can support at one time. Today’s .11ac routers can support up to three data streams, each with a maximum throughput (data transfer rate) of 433 megabits per second. That means the router can seamlessly stream a high-def movie to your 50-inch connected TV while your son watches YouTube on his laptop, your daughter plays Xbox Live, and you surf the Web on your tablet. Or it may be able to stream an HD video from your phone to your TV in a matter of seconds.

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The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 router (Netgear)

It accomplishes this via a technology known as MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) using several antennas. The number of antennas and streams is usually indicated by numbers like 2×2 (two antennas for receiving and two for transmitting) or 3×3. Generally speaking, the more antennas you have, the more data streams the router can deliver and the more devices it can support at the same time.

So if you see a router with “Dual Band Wireless AC1900” on the side of the box, that means it uses both .11ac and .11n technology, works with wireless devices that operate at either 2.4 or 5 GHz, and offers a maximum throughput of 1.9 gigabits — 1.3 gigabits for the .11ac radio, plus another 600 megabits for .11n — via three data streams. Stick with me here.

Now, that 1.9 gigabit number, as with all claims to wireless speed, is a theoretical maximum speed you will never experience in real life, for a variety of reasons — including the fact that it’s many times faster than your current Internet connection. Buying an .11ac router is really about the deluge of data and devices that are coming in the near future.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
There’s a lot more to buying a router, of course. One of the most important things to consider is how easy the thing is to configure and use, something you won’t find out by reading the specs on the outside of the box. That’s one reason why I’m such a fan of PowerCloud’s Skydog routers, which are not only a breeze to manage but also let you test drive the software online before you buy. Netgear offers Genie, a free app that lets you control your router settings from your smartphone or computer.

Because the router is essentially the front door to your home network, you want it to have a strong deadbolt — a password-protected encryption scheme that scrambles your data so no one else can see it. These days, security features don’t vary much from one router to the next, but you want to make sure they’re enabled straight out of the box. (You also want to make sure you change the default login and password pronto.) 

Then there’s the question of price. A state-of-the-art 11ac router will run you $200 or more, while you can still get a perfectly usable .11n model for $50. If you live in an apartment or other small space, don’t use a ton of connected devices, and don’t plan to add many more, you can get away with a basic box. If your old router is still working fine, there’s no need to rush out and buy a new one today.

But if you’re shopping for a router that will serve you well in the future, as Internet connections get faster and more video gets shuttled down the pipes, you’d do well to spend a little more on the latest and greatest. And, this time, you might even understand exactly what you’re getting.

This Website Compares All the Different Phone and Carrier Combinations for You- David Gilinsky

This Website Compares All the Different Phone and Carrier Combinations for You

With all the fantastic smartphones that have launched in recent months, finding a great phone is becoming easier than ever. Finding the right wireless provider and the right service plan, however, can be a much more daunting task.

Spurred by T-Mobile and its industry-quaking “Uncarrier” initiatives, competition among wireless carriers in the United States is hotter now than it has been in years. Carriers are constantly changing their service plan prices and introducing new value-added features in an effort to one-up each other. There is also now a new breed of plans that separate the cost of a phone from the monthly price of service.

It’s impossible to keep up with everything that is going on right now in the industry.

Luckily, you don’t have to.

A brand new website called WhistleOut that just launched allows users to find the best available plans from every big U.S. wireless carrier. According to the site, nearly 80,000 different wireless plan combinations are stored in its data base for comparison.

You start by selecting the number of lines on your account and then choosing a phone model. There’s also a separate cellphone finder tool, in case you’re having trouble choosing a handset.

Next, you input how many voice minutes you use each month on average, as well as how many messages you send and receive and how much data you want. Finally, you can pick a target price range for monthly service, choose between prepaid or postpaid plans, and select your current carrier.

The result is a fantastic comparison of any and all service plans that might suit your needs from 16 different carriers.

WhistleOut is well-made and incredibly useful, and you can find it here.

Major U.S. Internet Providers Accused of Deliberately Slowing Traffic- David Gilinsky

Major U.S. Internet Providers Accused of Deliberately Slowing Traffic

Five major internet service providers in the US and one in Europe have been accused of abusing their market share to interfere with the flow of the internet for end users. The accusations come from Level 3, a communications company that helps connect large-scale ISPs like Comcast or AT&T to the rest of the internet. According to the company, these six unnamed ISPs are deliberately degrading the quality of internet services using the Level 3 network, in an attempt to get Level 3 to pay them a fee for additional traffic caused by services like Netflix, a process known as paid peering.

“They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”

“They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” writes Level 3’s Mark Taylor. “They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.” While Taylor doesn’t name names, he describes the six offenders as “large broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market.” He adds that “in countries or markets where consumers have multiple broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers.” He also says that Level 3 won’t be paying up. “Our policy is to refuse to pay arbitrary charges to add interconnection capacity,” he explains.

The situation recalls recent claims by Netflix that Comcast is intentionally throttling traffic with intermediaries like Level 3 and Cogent, a problem that Netflix says ultimately led it to start signing direct traffic deals — Comcast and Verizon have been paid so far, with more likely to come. Since the Comcast deal, Netflix says its streaming speeds on Comcast have increased 65 percent. But despite the performance improvement, Netflix doesn’t appear happy about the arrangement. “While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience,” CEO Reed Hastings said back in March, “we will continue to fight for the internet the world needs and deserves.”