Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Apple revs up software, woos Chinese

NEW FEATURES:Apart from ditching Google Maps for its own mapping technology and adding more power to laptops, Apple has included features for Chinese users

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Apple said on Monday it was revving up the software running its coveted gadgets, training its sights on the China market — and tossing Google Maps aside in the process.

Apple used its Worldwide Developers Conference to show off upgrades to the software running iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices, including its own Siri-infused mapping technology and features tailored for Chinese users.

The hundreds of improvements in the iOS 6 mobile operating system due out before the end of the year come as Apple seeks to outdistance rivals powered by Google’s Android software.

Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook started the California company’s annual conference by showing off new capabilities built into software for its hot-selling devices and slimmer, more powerful MacBook laptop computers.

Apple booted Google Maps from iOS 6, opening up another front in the war with the maker of the Android operating system.

Apple’s new operating system for the iPhone and iPad includes “an entire new mapping solution from the ground up, and it is beautiful,” Apple senior vice president for iPhone software Scott Forstall told the standing-room only crowd in San Francisco.

“We are doing all the cartography ourselves. We are covering the world,” he said.

Apple has “ingested hundreds of millions of business listings around the world,” he added, and has integrated with the consumer review service Yelp for reviews and ratings.

Although Maps does little to generate revenues directly, it often links to searches for products and services such as restaurants or businesses.

“You can now do local searches even in China,” said Forstall, who added that an array of new iOS 6 features was tailored for that country.

Analysts say the Apple maps program could over time move iPhone and iPad users away from Google searches and reduce revenues for the search giant.

“Make no mistake, with maps and some expanded Siri features, Apple is now in the search business,” analyst Greg Sterling said on the blog Search Engine Land.

Google last week beefed up its maps program, which had been pre-installed on Apple devices.

Apple said that iOS 6 would also include a better-educated Siri personal assistant, which performs many of the search functions of Google.

“Siri has been out only eight months,” Forstall said. “In these eight months Siri has been studying up and learning a lot more.”

Siri, which made its debut with the release of the iPhone 4S, will be extended to recent generation iPad tablet computers, according to Forstall.

Another improvement to the iOS will be to incorporate Facebook in the operating system.

“We have been working very closely with Facebook to create the best Facebook experience ever on a mobile device,” Forstall said.

Apple also pulled back the curtain on slimmer, more powerful Macintosh laptops.

The move keeps Apple, which has been dominating the market for tablet computers like the iPad, in the game against a new line of slimmer laptops using Microsoft Windows or the Google Chrome operating system.

“Today we’ve updated the entire MacBook line with faster processors, graphics, memory, flash storage and USB 3 connectivity,” Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller said.

The MacBook Air is as thin as 1.7cm and weighs as little as 1.08kg. Its price starts at US$999.

Improved models will see a boost in speed and memory, and cost US$100 less than previous versions.

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