Friday, July 27, 2012

Deep Dive: Mercedes-Benz S-Class and 2014 Audi A8

All three of the German luxury giants have new flagships coming in the next few years. We’ve already told you about the next-generation BMW 7 Series due in 2015 – and its M770ix variant – but now we have all the details on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and 2014 Audi A8. Georg Kacher details them below. –Ed

Countless S-Classes
Although the new S-Class is less than twelve months away, the outgoing model still tops its segment in China and Germany. The next big Benz will likely be offered in no fewer than seven different variations: a standard-wheelbase sedan (codenamed W222, 200.79 inches long); a long-wheelbase sedan (V222, 7.08-inch stretch); an extra-long-wheelbase sedan (X222, 13.78-inch stretch); a six-door Pullmann (25.59-inch stretch); a full-size CL-class replacement (C217, rumored to return to SLC moniker); a full-size CL convertible (A217); and a full-size four-door coupe (V217). Only Mercedes has the guts to offer a Pullmann luxury liner and a stately drop-top powered by an optional 680-hp, 811-lb-ft V-12 engine. Has it already forgotten Maybach’s failure?

From Pauper to Prince
The new modular rear-wheel drive architecture – dubbed Mercedes Rear Architecture – will stretch from a relatively humble four-cylinder mild hybrid S-Class to a quartet of ultra-luxurious Bentley and Rolls-Royce rivals. Lighter and more rigid than the current platform, MRA introduces a reengineered four-link front suspension, which separates the steering and braking forces from the spring and damper action. Unlike Audi and BMW, Mercedes-Benz keeps a relatively low carbon fiber profile, concentrating on steel, aluminum, and magnesium instead. The one notable exception is the new S63 AMG that sports a roof, trunk, hood, and doors made of carbon fiber.

Inside, the sixth-generation S-Class gets a completely redesigned dashboard with two large-format monitors, programmable instruments, extended voice and gesture control, head-up display, and knee and belt-integrated airbags. The long list of innovative driver aids includes dynamic LED headlights, the so-called Magic Carpet Ride chassis featuring a camera-based damper adjustment system, an ever-more-intelligent brake assist with cross traffic recognition, and a new active cruise control that can even execute lane changes and passing maneuvers.

From 2016 onwards (about a year after the car’s debut), Mercedes will start introducing the new in-line six-cylinder engines codenamed M256 (gas) and OM656 (diesel). The European S-Class launches with the familiar 2.1-, 3.0-, and 3.5-liter V-6 units, but it will switch to the more efficient straight sixes at the model-year changeover for 2017. The initial engine line-up should span from the 224-hp diesel installed in the S250 CDI to the mighty V-12 fitted to the S600 and the S65 AMG. The final metamorphosis of the outgoing V-6 is a 3.0-liter good for 333 hp. On the hybrid front, customers will be able to choose from three options: mild with a 41-hp electric motor, or one of two plug-in models with motors rated at either 68 hp or 109 hp. Even the least economical hybrid drivetrain returns a super-frugal 75mpg – but only because current European regulations ignore the energy used to charge the batteries.

2014 Audi A8: An Extensive Facelift
The facelifted 2014 Audi A8 looks like a new car. Major changes include completely restyled front and rear ends with less aggressive lights, a prettier grille, and more elegant bumpers. While the current A8 (pictured here) is doing really well in China, Ingolstadt’s halo car has been overtaken in Germany by underdogs like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the Porsche Panamera. Enginewise, the high-end Audi will receive a more powerful 3.0-liter V-6 TFSI (310 hp instead of 290 hp), an improved 3.0-liter V-6 TDI (258 hp instead of 250 hp), and a brawnier 4.2-liter V-8 TDI (360 hp instead of 350 hp). Of those revised engines, only the V-6 options are expected to make it to U.S. cars. We fully expect the gasoline V-8 and W-12 engines to remain on offer with no major changes expected. Other upgrades include an MMI update, enhanced smartphone and infotainment connectivity, and additional driver assistance systems.

Read more

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Apple's next iPhone to feature 'slimmer screen'

HONG KONG — Apple is expected to unveil a new iPhone later this year with a slimmer screen thanks to updated touch-screen technology, a report said Tuesday.The next generation iPhone, referred to by fans as the "iPhone 5", is being manufactured by Asian component makers, Dow Jones Newswires quoted unnamed sources as saying.

Its panels will use "in-cell technology" integrating touch sensors into the LCD, it said.That makes a separate touch-screen layer unnecessary and reduces the screen thickness by about half a millimetre, Dow Jones quoted DisplaySearch analyst Hiroshi Hayase as saying.

The new technology will also boost displayed image quality, and help Apple cut costs as it would no longer have to buy touch panels and LCDs from separate suppliers, the report added.It said Japanese liquid crystal display makers Sharp and Japan Display Inc as well as South Korea's LG Display Co were currently mass producing panels for the next iPhone.

Apple is widely expected to launch the device in the third quarter of this year, around 12 months after the release of its hugely popular iPhone 4S -- the firm's first new product following the death of co-founder Steve Jobs.An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the report or the next iPhone's release date when contacted by AFP.

The report came amid heated competition from rivals such as Samsung, whose flagship smartphone the Galaxy S III uses a 4.8-inch (12.2 centimetre) screen that is thinner than the current iPhone.Apple posted a $11.6 billion profit in the first three months this year, led by record sales of iPad tablet computers and iPhones -- the latter surging 88 percent year-on-year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Apple fights websites selling access to iOS6 beta code

Apple is cracking down on websites that sell access to pre-release, beta versions of its iOS6 iPhone and iPad software. Beta software is incomplete, and Apple only makes it available to software developers for testing purposes.

The websites charge about $10 (£6.45) to register an individual device so that it can run iOS6 beta software. Apple has sent legal notices to web-hosting companies requesting that they disable the websites.

Apple offers the latest finished versions of its iOS mobile operating system free, but charges registered developers $99 (£65) to access beta versions.

This payment entitles developers to "activate" the Unique Device IDentifier (UDID) numbers of up to one hundred iOS devices with Apple so that they can run iOS 6 beta software. iOS6 is expected to be released later this year.

Activation websites register developer accounts and pay Apple for a hundred device activations, and then sell these off individually at a profit.

"We have paid the fees and done all the work. All you have to do is register your iOS device on our account. Once you register, you'll be able to download the beta firmware and install it on your device," promises one activation site.

Within the last month Apple has issued DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notices to Fused, a Seattle-based web-hosting company, in relation to activation websites it hosts, according to Fused chief executive David McKendrick.

A DMCA takedown notice is a formal way for a copyright holder or their agent to demand removal of allegedly infringing content from the Internet.

The sites in question had been active for three months, Mr McKendrick said, and Apple claimed in the notices that they breached its developer agreement or facilitated copyright infringement.

"This is definitely a new move on Apple's part," he said. Apple prohibits developers from providing pre-release software to anyone other than their employees and contractors who have a "demonstrable" need to use it to develop and test applications on their behalf.

But Mr McKendrick added that Apple's action was unlikely to be effective, because many of the sites in question were in the process of moving their sites to hosting firms based outside the US.

"Apple is definitely fighting a losing battle on this one. Unless they go directly after the developer accounts abusing the process, they have little chance scrubbing these sites off the web," he said.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Apple Preps for New Tablet

Apple Inc.'s AAPL +1.15% component suppliers in Asia are preparing for mass production in September of a tablet computer with a smaller screen than the iPad, people familiar with the situation said, suggesting a launch for the device is near.

Two of the people said that the tablet's screen will likely be smaller than eight inches. The iPad's screen measures 9.7 inches, unchanged since the first model was released in 2010.

Officials at the component suppliers, who declined to be named, said this week that Apple has told them to prepare for mass production of the smaller tablet. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Apple was testing such a device but hadn't yet decided whether to proceed with production.

One person said the screen makers Apple is working with include LG Display Co. LPL +4.44% of South Korea and Taiwan-based AU Optronics Co. AUO +1.24%

An Apple spokeswoman in California declined to comment.

Analysts said a smaller tablet could help Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple maintain its dominance in a market that keeps getting more crowded. Competitors include Samsung Electronics Co. 005930.SE +1.36% and Inc., AMZN +0.09% while Microsoft Corp. MSFT +0.65% and Google Inc. GOOG +1.27% recently unveiled tablet devices.

Last year, the iPad held a 62% share of the world-wide tablet market, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli, which expects overall tablet sales this year to surge 85% to 126.6 million units..

As the market continues to expand, consumers' choices—in size, technical specifications and price—are growing more varied. Last week, Google started taking orders for the Nexus 7, a tablet device with a seven-inch screen that will sell for $199. That matches the price of Amazon's Kindle Fire, which came out last year and also has a seven-inch screen.

Microsoft's Surface tablet, expected to debut this fall, has a 10.6-inch display, larger than the iPad. Microsoft's Windows Chief Steve Sinofsky said that it will be "priced like comparable tablets."