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Pharrell Williams, Florence + The Machine to headline Apple Music Festival in September

Apple’s rebranded iTunes Music Festival — now called the Apple Music Festival — will take place from September 19 to 28 at London’s Roundhouse and feature headlining acts Pharrell Williams, Florence + The Machine, One Direction, and Disclosure, among others. U.K. residents can apply to win tickets through Apple Music and Apple’s media partners, but as always, Apple plans to make performances available for free to Apple Music and iTunes users live and on-demand. Apple TV owners will also be able to view the event in HD. Beats 1 and individual artists’ Connect pages will provide continuing coverage of the event and access to backstage news and footage. The event has been held in London annually under the iTunes Music Festival name since 2007.

Apple Stores shifting to walk-ins for Apple Watch trials

Apple seems to have eliminated try-on appointments for the Apple Watch from its online store. An appointment was never required to try on an Apple Watch (though prospective customers would have to make an “appointment” in store), but high demand early on meant that walk-in customers trying on an Apple Watch had to buy online. Four months after the Apple Watch’s debut, Apple Retail employees say customers looking to try on the watch can now simply walk in and will be accommodated in a first-come, first-served fashion, 9to5Mac reports. While they won’t have to give up any personal information to try the watch, customers can provide their email address and Apple Watch preferences in-store to be saved in their Apple Online Store wish list for purchase later through the Apple Store app or website. Apple has relaxed requirements around buying the watch in recent months, allowing for in-store pickup in June and opening watch sales to Best Buy earlier this month.

Dr. Dre’s ‘Compton’ streamed 25 million times on Apple Music

Apple executives said Dr. Dre’s “Compton: A Soundtrack” had 25 million streams worldwide on Apple Music in its first week and sold nearly half a million copies in iTunes, scoring Apple’s first high-profile success with exclusive content, The New York Times reports. While not quite popular enough to unseat “Kill the Lights” by country star Luke Bryan from the top spot on Billboard’s charts, Dr. Dre’s first album since 2001 netted 11 million streams in the U.S. alone. But compared with other, more broadly available streaming hits this year, those totals are modest. “If If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” by rapper Drake netted 48 million streams in its first week with the benefit of additional plays on Spotify, which boasts a paid subscriber base which is about twice as large as Apple Music’s reported 11 million users. With Dr. Dre’s album also likely benefiting from the coinciding release of the NWA biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” industry observers are still skeptical that Apple Music’s early successes will translate to paying users once the three-month free trial period ends.

Report: Apple Pay fees hindering rollout in Australia

Australia’s largest banks are balking at Apple Pay’s fees and slowing down the rollout of the payment service in their country, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Apple is reportedly demanding the same 15 cents on every $100 of transactions that the company is believed to receive from banks in the U.S., even though banks in Australia make half as much from interchange fees as compared to their U.S. counterparts. British banks struck a much tougher deal than those in the U.S., paying only a few cents on each £100 of transactions. With the reserve bank of Australia threatening to push interchange fees even lower — down from 50 cents to around 30 cents on each $100 of transactions — the timing of Apple Pay’s entry into the market makes the stakes of negotiations even higher for Australian banks.

Apple’s slice of the estimated $2 billion in interchange fees isn’t the only issue holding up talks. Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief executive Ian Narev said the CBA has been offering the same functionality to users through an app for Andriod phones for 2 years, so the introduction of Apple Pay isn’t as innovative in Australia as it was when it was introduced into the U.S. market in October 2014. Westpac, another Australian bank, also allows customers to pay with an Android phone, but notes that most customers still prefer to pay with their cards. National Australia Bank is rumored to be closer to a deal with Apple than the other major banks, but sources told Fairfax Media that a smaller bank may be the first to jump on-board, using an Apple Pay deal to appeal to iPhone users and draw in more customers.

Apple now offering L/XL Apple Watch Sport bands

Apple has introduced a larger size for its Sport bands, L/XL. The new size band is paired with the M/L band, while the S/M band is also paired with the M/L band. The new, larger sized band will fit up to 245mm wrists, where the M/L size fits up to 210mm wrists. Apple also introduced a 42mm Link Bracelet Kit for larger sizes — it extends the existing Link Bracelet an extra 40mm. Both the new Sport band and Link Bracelet Kit cost $49. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple scouting locations to test self-driving car

A new report from The Guardian reveals that Apple is in fact working on a self-driving car project in Silicon Valley, and has already began scouting for secure locations in the area to conduct testing. Documents obtained by the news agency reveal that Apple’s car project, dubbed Project Titan, may be further along than many previously suspected. The report reveals that engineers from a secret Special Project group within Apple met with officials from GoMentum Station, a former naval base near San Francisco that is being transformed to serve specifically as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles. The correspondence obtained by the Guardian cites a communication from an Apple engineer, Frank Fearon, to the base, stating that the company would “like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].”

An old naval weapons station, GoMentum Station is a high-security facility still guarded by the U.S. military with 20 miles of paved highways and city streets that make it particularly well-suited to the “testing validation and commercialization of connected vehicle (CV) applications and autonomous vehicles (AV) technologies to define the next generation of transportation network infrastructure,” according to officials. The facility has already been used by other car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz and Honda to carry out experiments with self-driving cars. Apple has naturally declined to comment.

Court rejects Samsung’s appeal in iPhone patent suit

Samsung’s most recent appeal in the 2012 iPhone patent suit has been rejected, the San Jose Mercury News reports. On Thursday, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Samsung’s request to re-examine the verdict that had ruled the company violated Apple’s iPhone patents — a verdict that had originally resulted in a judgement of more than $1 billion against Samsung (that award was later reduced). The appellate court upheld the core of Apple’s case against Samsung, essentially confirming the judgement that the South Korean company’s smartphones and tablets violated Apple’s iPhone patent rights. Other major Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Facebook, and Hewlett-Package had also backed Samsung’s appeal. This decision leaves an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as Samsung’s only remaining recourse.

Apple TV service to be delayed to 2016

A new report from Bloomberg has confirmed an earlier report at the end of last month stating that Apple’s planned subscription TV service will be delayed into 2016. While the report notes that the company had wanted to introduce the service this fall, source familiar with Apple’s plans note that talks with TV networks such as subsidiaries of CBS and 21st Century Fox are progressing more slowly than expected. Further, Apple is apparently still working to build the network capacity to “ensure a good viewing experience.” As a result, Apple has reportedly canceled its original plan to announce the service in September with the beginning of the new network TV season, although the company is apparently still on track to introduce the rumored new Apple TV set-top box at the event.

Apple releases updated diversity report

Apple has updated its diversity report, outlining the company’s efforts in ensuring employment equality in the workplace. The latest report notes that Apple has hired over 11,000 women globally — an increase of 65 percent over the previous year — and that Apple hired more than 2,200 black employees and 2,700 Hispanic employees – increases of 50 percent and 66 percent, respectively, and that nearly 50 percent of all new U.S. hires in the first six months of 2015 were women, black, Hispanic, or Native American.

In comparison to last year’s diversity report, the breakdown now shows 54 percent of Apple employees identifying as white, with 18 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent black. Three percent identified as belonging to multiple or other racial groups, while six percent did not declare their race. Gender distribution was 69 percent male and 31 percent female, globally, a one percent shift from last year’s numbers. In his comments released with the report, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated, “We are proud of the progress we’ve made, and our commitment to diversity is unwavering. But we know there is a lot more work to be done.”

Apple releases iOS 8.4.1, iTunes 12.2.2

Apple has released iOS 8.4.1 and iTunes 12.2.2, a pair of relatively minor updates that add fixes and enhancements mostly related to Apple’s Music and Beats 1 Radio services. iOS 8.4.1 notes fixes related to iCloud Music Library, adding songs to playlists, displaying album artwork, and resolves issues experienced by artists posting to Connect. iTunes 12.2.2 fixes a number of display and sorting problems related to Apple Music, and adds the ability to view a list of followed artists and see a schedule of upcoming Beats 1 programming. The iTunes update also allows artists using the Connect service to now post new content directly from within the iTunes app.

Apple increases iPad business focus, partners with 40+ companies

Apple is increasing its efforts to position the iPad as a work and business tool, The Wall Street Journal reports. With sales of the iPad having fallen recently, Apple has refocused its efforts on business computing, working with over 40 companies to build business solutions for the iPad. The move echoes last year’s partnership with IBM, but unlike that initiative, this appears to focus more on the small-to-medium business market.

Apple has reportedly involved officials from accounting firms and other partners in the business application program to train Apple business specialists, and has even invited some of its partners to present at a traditionally closed Apple sales conference. The company has also been working closely with its partners, reviewing apps and offering very detailed suggestions for improvements, and pairing up companies to build integrated solutions from complementary apps. Apple has internally referred to the initiative as the “mobility partner program,” although partners have been “discouraged” from using that name publicly. Further, in line with Apple’s typically secretive approach, many partners are still unclear on what their role will be in selling apps. The identities of most of the individual partners also remain undisclosed by Apple except in specific cases, so many partners don’t know who else is involved. Apple’s long-term goal has been described as hoping to sell curated bundles of applications for specific vertical markets, as opposed to simply leaving people to scour the App Store on their own, in turn positioning the iPad as a device that can be focused for specific business needs.

Apple becomes member of NFC Forum, takes seat on board of directors

Apple has joined the NFC Forum as a top-tier sponsor and taken a seat on the group’s board of directors, NFC World reports. Apple introduced an NFC chip last year in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to enable Apple Pay and is now in a prime position to help steer new developments in the technology. The NFC Forum’s website now lists Apple among its sponsor members – the highest level of membership – alongside companies like Samsung, Visa and Sony. Aon Mujtaba, a director of wireless systems engineering at Apple, has been appointed the company’s representative on the NFC Forum board of directors. In June Apple made a similar move, gaining voting rights and a board seat in Bluetooth’s Special Interest Group by becoming a Promoter Member. [via 9to5Mac]

Updated Apple Store app accepts gift cards

Shoppers using the Apple Store’s iOS app can now use Apple Store gift cards when making their purchases. Previously users wanting to shop with a gift card had to complete their purchases on the Apple Store website. In version 3.4 of the Apple Store app, users will now see a spot just above payment options where they can add gift cards during checkout. Gift cards can be scanned using an iOS device’s camera, and existing gift cards can also be imported from Passbook.

Conflicting reports leave existence of ‘iPhone 6c’ a mystery

Well-known leaker Evan Blass tweeted yesterday that an iPhone 6c will be arriving concurrently with the upcoming iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, but new information from mobile marketing company Fiksu may fly in the face of that prediction. Fiksu’s web logs have turned up two new iPhone models — designated “iphone8,1” and iphone 8,2” — being used to access a range of popular travel, gaming and lifestyle apps. The company notes that these identifiers don’t match what the phones will be called once they’re released to the public, since the current iPhone 6 is designated “iphone 7,2” and the iPhone 6 Plus is designated “iphone 7,1” within that naming convention. The fact that Fiksu only found two new iPhone models being tested lends more credibility to previous rumors that the iPhone 6c won’t be coming until at least next year, if at all. Alleged photos of an iPhone 6c casing made news in March, but since then speculation has been all over the map, with some claiming that an iPhone 6c is coming this year and others saying Apple isn’t building one.

El Capitan file hints at split-screen apps on iPad mini 4

A resource file in the upcoming Safari 9 browser for OS X El Capitan seems to show support for a split-screen view on the iPad mini 4, 9to5Mac reports. Apple has already confirmed that iOS 9 will give some iPad users the ability to run two apps at once side-by-side, but the iPad Air 2 is the only current model with a processor strong enough to take advantage of it. A developer tool in El Capitan used for testing the responsiveness of websites also looks to simulate an iPad mini 3 running Safari in split-screen mode, but the iPad 3 mini’s hardware doesn’t support the split-screen feature. Those testing capabilities could be further proof that the upcoming iPad mini 4 — rumored to be a smaller version of the iPad Air 2 — will also have the power to handle split-screen functions.

Rite Aid to reactivate Apple Pay starting August 15

After joining CVS in disabling Apple Pay last October, Rite Aid has announced it will begin accepting the touchless payment method again on Saturday, August 15. The chain’s 4,600 U.S. stores will also start accepting other cell phone-based payment methods and credit or debit cards equipped with tap-and-pay technology, installing NFC terminals in its stores as consumers increasingly turn to the faster form of payment. “Increasingly, consumers are actively seeking out and incorporating mobile technology into many facets of their life, including their shopping and purchasing decisions,” said Ken Martindale, CEO of Rite Aid stores.

The drugstore chain belongs to a group of retailers known as the Merchant Consumer Exchange, which has invested heavily in creating its own contactless, QR-Code-based payment system, called CurrentC. Industry experts saw the move as an effort to avoid the cost of installing NFC terminals and bypass merchant fees imposed by credit card companies, but CurrentC’s three-year exclusivity agreement with MCX members is set to expire this month, just as the payment system begins its first limited test run in member stores. Other MCX members, like Wal-mart and Target, are still not accepting Apple Pay. [via MacRumors]

Falling currency value could raise iPhone prices in China

With China devaluing its currency Tuesday, Chinese iPhone buyers could see a big spike in prices soon, The Wall Street Journal reports. In its annual report last year, Apple warned investors that a stronger U.S. currency might translate to lower sales and profit margins overseas when those sales are expressed in U.S. dollars. “There is a risk that the company will have to adjust local currency product pricing due to competitive pressures when there have been significant volatility in foreign currency exchange rates,” the reports stated. Apple didn’t immediately comment on China’s move, but the company has raised prices on its products in Canada, Japan and other countries in recent years to respond to persistent changes in exchange rates. China is currently the second-largest market for Apple — after the Americas — and the iPhone is already among the most expensive smartphones in China.

Report: iPhone 6S Force Touch to focus on shortcuts

The upcoming version of Force Touch found on Apple’s next iPhones will concentrate on shortcut actions, according to new report from 9to5Mac. On Apple Watch, Force Touch is used to reveal additional controls, acting as a clever way to provide more options on the small-screened smartwatch. Apps on the iPhone won’t have that same screen space issue, so it makes sense for Force Touch to offer other capabilities. A source in the report noted a number of examples, including: accessing voicemail by Force Touching the Phone app icon, Force Touching a track in Music to quickly access another menu, and using Force Touch in Maps to immediately start turn-by-turn directions. It’s said that iPhone Force Touch will be used in a number of ways, including an interface localized to the gesture, and via a shortcut list.

It also appears that Force Touch will be included in the upcoming “iPad Pro.” Though not a surprise, this report claims the feature will interact with the rumored iPad stylus. The report also notes that Apple was working on 4K video recording for the iPhone 6S, but it’s unknown as to whether the feature will make it into the newest devices next month.

Verizon to stop offering subsidized phones on August 13

Verizon has announced that starting this Thursday, August 13, it will no longer subsidize phones for new subscribers, leaving new customers left with the options to buy their phones outright or spread out the payments with the company’s device payment option. The company is also doing away with two-year contracts in favor of a simplified monthly billing format. Verizon said current customers can keep their existing plan or move onto the new plan, but notes that “some restrictions” will apply. The move is aimed more at making cellular plans easier to understand than at providing a better value to customers.

EU ends one inquiry into Apple, begins another

The European Commission has ended its inquiry into Apple, saying it failed to find evidence that the company colluded with music labels to undercut free music streaming services offered by Spotify, Re/code reports. Multiple unnamed sources said questionnaires sent by European regulators to major record labels in April turned up no proof that Apple had made efforts to stifle Spotify’s free, ad-based offerings to users. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice also talked to music industry leaders in April about Spotify’s concerns, but haven’t publicly released any findings.

While the EU dropping its collusion investigation is good news for Apple, sources with knowledge of the situation say the company isn’t in the clear yet, with EU officials now asking Spotify and other streaming music services for more information about their App Store agreements with Apple. The FTC is conducting a similar investigation into whether the company’s share of profits from competitors to its Apple Music service violates antitrust laws. The 30 percent cut of revenue that Apple demands on subscription fees — which competing music streaming services charge through their iOS apps — has drawn scrutiny ever since Apple entered the streaming music business.

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