Is Apple secretly researching automotive battery technology?

Tesla is building its massive Gigafactory in order to reduce the production cost for their electric vehicle battery by thirty percent and now Apple is rumored to be secretly working on automotive battery research and development though no specific details were provided.

According to a report Thursday by Shanghai-based news outlet Yicai Global, Apple partnered with Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL) on the project.

The publication speculates that the move could indicate that Apple’s car project involves not only autonomous driving software but also hardware. The two companies are working together on “a scheme”, based on a confidentiality agreement, in the field of batteries.

“If Apple is working with CATL on a battery, the possibility that Apple will continue to make cars cannot be ruled out as one of the core components of self-driving electric cars is the battery,” CCID Consulting’s New Energy Director Wu Hui told the outlet.

Another, less likely explanation could be that Apple may be planning to sell batteries of its own to makers of electric vehicles, or directly to consumers to power their homes. Because no specific details were provided, we can even speculate that these batteries could be used in Apple's data center, stores and other corporate facilities.

Here's drone flyover of Tesla's Gigafactory site, courtesy of Duncan Sinfield.

Founded in 2011, CATL is a spinoff of Amperex Technology Limited.

In 2012, a report claimed that Apple dropped Samsung and switched to Amperex for iPad and MacBook batteries. However, Amperex is nowhere to be found on the February 2017 list of Apple suppliers, and neither is its parent company.

Amperex produced a replacement battery for Samsung's ill-fated Note 7, but it too was plagued by a manufacturing issue that could cause it to catch fire due to the welding defect.

Rendering: Tesla's Gigafactory 1 outside Sparks, Nevada.

Foxconn and Sharp buying a stake in micro-LED startup eLux

Apple's favorite contract manufacturer Foxconn Electronics is teaming up with its display-making subsidiary Sharp to acquire a 31.82 percent stake in eLux, a Delaware-based startup engaged in research and development of micro-LED technology and its application to virtual reality and augmented reality devices.

The American startup was established in October 2016 by researchers formerly employed at Sharp's research facilities across the United States.

Sharp says it will team with CyberNet Venture Capital, panel maker Innolux and Advanced Optoelectronic Technology (all affiliated with Foxconn) to buy eLux in October.

Nikkei said earlier this week that Sharp will take a stake of just over 30 percent in eLux, valued at $7 million, in exchange for related patents. Additionally, the Japanese giant will transfer 21 patents regarding micro-LED technology to eLux, said DigiTimes.

Apple is apparently serious about this promising new display technology.

Aside from acquiring micro-LED specialists LuxVue back in 2014, the Cupertino company could kick off trial production of micro-LEDs by the end of 2017, with Apple Watch Series 3 likely switching from OLED to micro-LED display technology.

Power-conserving micro-LEDs consist of small, light-emitting diodes that render images.

They're capable of boosting battery life by as much as 300 percent versus LCDs. The technology allows for improved color gamut and up to two to three times the brightness of OLED-based screens under the same power consumption.

Foxconn setting up Shenzhen facility to help Apple create gadget prototypes

iPhone manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group is building a new research and development facility in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to help Apple build prototypes of new products, Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday. According to two people familiar with the matter, plans call for the new facility to be located next to Apple's upcoming research and development center in Shenzhen.

Apple reportedly partners with Foxconn on R&D facilities in China and Indonesia

Last month, Apple officially agreed to set up a research and development center in Indonesia. Now we learn from a report Monday by Chinese-language outlet Economic Daily News that the company's allegedly partnered with contract manufacturer Foxconn to accelerate the planned expansion into the Southeast Asia region. The report was cited by Taiwanese trade publication DigiTimes.

Apple publishes its very first AI research paper

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) research communities have been critical of Apple's secretiveness to the point that it's hurt the firm's recruiting efforts and prompted it to change its tough stance against publicizing any internal AI findings. Last weekend, Apple finally published its very first AI paper, Forbes reported today.

Submitted for publication on November 15, the document outlines a technique for improving the training of an algorithm's ability to recognize objects on images using computer-generated images rather than real-world ones.

Apple to open R&D center in Shenzhen next year to boost China ties

Apple plans to set up a new research and development center in China's manufacturing capital Shenzhen, reports Shenzhen Economic Daily (via Reuters). The outlet says Tim Cook announced the plan during a meeting with senior city officials while attending a nation-wide event on innovation. Apparently Foxconn CEO Terry Gou was also in attendance.

iOS continues bleeding share to Android as smartphone market slows considerably

Mary Meeker's 2016 Internet Trends Report is a treasure trove of surveys and predictions on the global trends concerning our industry. I found out this morning that half of the searches will be either through images or speech by 2020 and that Siri was handling more than one billion requests per week through speech as of June 2015.

I've now compiled the report's most interesting tidbits regarding Internet usage around the world, the iOS vs. Android battle and more.

Both iPhone 7 models to include 256GB version, replacing 64GB with 128GB SKU?

Leaked components and sketchy rumors have led us to take for granted the theory that only the flagship, pricier iPhone 7 Plus model will exclusively include a new capacious 256-gigabyte model.

That assumption is now being challenged by researchers at TrendForce.

The research firm reported on Wednesday that the rumored 256GB SKU will actually extend to both iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models, possibly even replacing the most popular 64GB storage model.

Slice Intelligence: Apple Watch sales taper off to 30,000 units per day

Slice Intelligence, an opt-in service that scans receipts of two million online shoppers' inboxes, estimated Friday that Apple Watch sales have cooled off and currently stand at or below 30,000 daily units in the United States, following the launch day spike that saw an estimated 1.5 million U.S. pre-orders of the wrist-worn device.

As noted by Quartz tech editor Dan Former, that suggests that Apple Watch orders fell sharply after the first day and haven’t grown since.

Apple looking for Apple Watch feedback via market research survey

Apple has begun emailing Apple Watch owners, asking for their feedback on the just-released wearable. The email requests that users take a lengthy (took us about 15 minutes) survey, in which it asks a wide variety of questions regarding their reasons for purchasing the device, and satisfaction with it thus far.

The survey is interesting because Apple doesn't typically employ market research—we have seen questionnaires in the past, but it's not a frequent thing. Steve Jobs famously loathed the practice, telling Fortune in 2008 "We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. We just want to make great products.”

Apple working with researchers to build ResearchKit apps for gathering DNA data

Apple is collaborating with US researchers to launch apps that would allow iPhone owners to get their DNA tested, according to a new report from MIT's Technology Review. The apps are based on ResearchKit, a software platform Apple introduced in March that helps researchers gather data.

If true, Apple would join a growing battle for genetic information. Everyone from Google, to the government, to top universities are spending millions of dollars to amass large databases of DNA info in an effort to uncover clues that would help identify causes and possible cures for diseases.