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Apple publishes detailed list of Siri HomeKit commands

Apple has updated its support document on HomeKit, adding a full list of voice commands that can be used with Siri to control HomeKit compatible accessories. Standard commands include obvious ones such as “Turn on the lights,” “Turn off the lights,” and “Set the brightness to 50%,” however, the document also illustrates some more advanced commands that can be used with defined rooms or scenes to say things like “Turn on the upstairs lights,” “Turn off Chloe’s light,” or “Set up for a party, Siri.” The document also notes some other interesting aspects of the HomeKit integration, such as restrictions on using some commands while the iOS device is locked, likely as a security feature; you’ll need to unlock your iPhone before you can unlock a door, for example. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple to pay 0.2 cents per song during Apple Music free trial

Apple will be paying royalties of 0.2 cents for each song that is streamed from Apple Music during the service’s three-month trial period, The New York Times reports. While the company had originally not planned to compensate artists during the free trial period for its new streaming music service, it reversed course earlier this week following an open letter from Taylor Swift castigating the company for its unwillingness to support struggling independent artists, although the terms of any compensation were not immediately revealed. As a result, however, indie label Beggars Group and digital rights organization Merlin came to terms with Apple, with the latter recommending its member labels accept Apple’s new deal. The 0.2-cent-per-song rate is said by music executives to be “roughly comparable” to what other services such as Spotify pay for streamed songs from their free, ad-supported tiers, however, it does not include a smaller payment to music publishers for “songwriting rights” which Apple is reportedly still negotiating with publishers over.

Pharrell’s new single will be exclusive to Apple Music

In a teaser video posted on Twitter, Pharrell Williams reveals that his new single ‘Freedom’ will be exclusive to Apple Music and available on the subscription service’s June 30 launch date. Apple has locked down several celebrity guest DJs ahead of Apple Music’s debut and courted other artists for exclusive content deals, but Pharrell’s song is the first piece of confirmed exclusive Apple Music content to emerge so far.

U.K. Apple Pay won’t require a PIN, but likely limits transactions to £20 or less

Apple has spelled out the requirements for using Apple Pay in the United Kingdom in an FAQ. Apple’s requirement that users enter their Touch ID or passcode for every purchase means using Apple Pay won’t require entering a separate PIN at the terminal, but at launch in July transactions will likely be limited to £20 or less at many retailers. While Apple Pay allows transactions of any amount, payments to retailers with most existing contactless payment hardware will be capped at £20, just like all other contactless transactions conducted with a card. That limit is being increased to £30 in September, according to the UK Cards Association’s website. To accept payments of higher amounts from Apple Pay, retailers will need to ensure their new payment terminals support the Consumer Device Cardholder Verification Method (CDCVM) standard. CDCVM-capable hardware accepts Apple Pay customers’ Touch ID/passcode verification in lieu of a PIN to verify the user’s identity. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Apple Music cut deals with prominent indie labels, rights groups

With less than a week to go before launch of its new music service, Apple has now struck deals with indie label Beggars Group and digital rights organization Merlin, Billboard reports. Merlin CEO Charles Caldas sent a letter to members recommending the new arrangement now that Apple has agreed to pay royalties during the service’s three-month free trial, although financial terms were not disclosed. Apple’s pay rate for artists during the free trial is still unknown, but Caldas told members that amendments to their current agreement with Apple would be available soon in iTunes Connect. Each of Merlin’s more than 20,000 members will then make its own decision about whether to take the deal or not.

Other indie groups are still standing opposed to signing with Apple Music until payment terms are discussed, but Beggars Group - which helped launch the careers of Adele, Radiohead and Arcade Fire - has signed on after being a vocal opponent of Apple’s previous stance. In a joint statement issued by Worldwide Independent Network, Beggars Group founder and chairman Martin Mills said after “fruitful discussions with Apple” his label is “happy to endorse the deal with Apple Music as it now stands, and look forward to being a big part of a very exciting future.”

Apple already publishing iOS 9 Tips in latest developer betas

Apple has already begun pushing out tips specific to iOS 9 in the second iOS 9 beta released yesterday. The built-in Tips app, which first appeared last year in the fourth iOS 8 beta, provides push-based tips to help illustrate useful features specific to Apple’s latest mobile operating system. So far, two iOS 9 specific tips have appeared in the latest beta, the first explaining how users can now search for a player or team to get the latest sports scores, and the second outlining the new scrubber in the iOS 9 Photos app that can be used to quickly compare pictures. Additional iOS 9 tips will likely appear as the iOS beta cycle continues, which will provide a ready-to-go collection of tips in the app by the time iOS 9 is released to the public in the fall.

Google Play Music adds free, ad-supported streaming radio

Google has announced the launch of a free, ad-supported streaming radio tier to Google Play Music, allowing users to listen to any of the service’s curated streaming radio stations without needing to pay for a subscription. Google Play Music has offered a free tier for some time that allows users to upload up to 50,000 of their own tracks and stream them from Google’s cloud, however listening to anything the user hadn’t specifically uploaded previously required a $10/month subscription to the Google Play Music service, originally referred to as an “All Access” subscription. This new tier provides users with access to curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or search for favorite artists, albums, or songs to create a station of related music. Launching online today, the new free, ad-supported tier will arrive on iOS this week. The timing of introducing the free tier is interesting, considering Apple Music is a week away from launching.

As before, users with a subscription to Google Play Music will gain an ad-free listening experience as well as the ability to listen to music offline, create playlists, and listen to any song on-demand. The paid tier will also now include access to YouTube Music Key, Google’s new ad-free, offline and background listening experience for music videos on YouTube.

Apple releases second iOS 9, watchOS 2 betas to developers

Apple has released second betas of iOS 9 and watchOS 2 to developers, continuing the beta cycle for its next-generation mobile operating systems announced at WWDC for the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and the Apple Watch. Featuring a build number of 13A4280e, the second iOS 9 beta features a number of under-the-hood improvements from the first beta, focusing on improving the stability and reliability of the new features in the operating system. The latest watchOS beta has a build number of 13S5255c and is installed via a configuration profile that requires the corresponding iOS 9 beta to be installed.

These releases are also accompanied by a second beta of Xcode 7 to support the new APIs and development environment. Apple has also been releasing iOS 8.4 betas in tandem with the iOS 9 development cycle, with the 8.4 version expected to be released within the next week to support Apple’s new Music service, although at this point iOS 8.4 remains in its fourth beta version released two weeks ago; it is unclear if another beta or “GM” version will be released prior to the final public release.

Apple sues patent firm Unwired Planet for $15M

Apple has asked a federal judge for $15 million in attorney fees from patent firm Unwired Planet, claiming in the court filing that UP employed an “improper litigation strategy” in an “attempt to wring value out of an obsolete portfolio.” Unwired Planet — once known as Openwave — sued Apple in 2011, alleging that Apple was infringing on its patents with technology used in iPhones, iPods and iPads. Apple prevailed in the case, but now wants UP to pay because “UP’s continued pursuit of those claims put an unusual and unwarranted burden on Apple and the Court.” Apple is routinely sued over patents, but contends that UP’s dogged pursuit of compensation for technology that Apple doesn’t use makes the case “exceptional” under patent law and justifies Apple’s ability to request repayment of court fees. [via Law360]

Apple gains voting rights, board seat on Bluetooth SIG

Apple has become a Promoter Member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, giving the company voting rights on Bluetooth corporate matters and a seat on the SIG’s Board of Directors. The other 6 Promoter Members — Toshiba, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia, Ericsson and Intel — “unanimously welcomed Apple to the highest membership level of the organization,” according to a statement from Bluetooth. Toby Nixon, chairman of the SIG’s Board of Directors, said Apple has been a “key participant” in the Bluetooth system since 2011, and Apple’s newly upgraded status gives the company even more control over the future of Bluetooth.

Royalty rates for artists during Apple Music free trial still unclear

Apple has agreed to pay royalties during Apple Music’s three-month free trial, but The Wall Street Journal reports the royalty rate is still up for debate. The company has touted Apple Music’s 71.5 percent royalty rate as the highest in streaming music, but that rate is going to be applied to total monthly income from subscription fees. Until those payments start rolling in, there will be no subscriber income on which to base the rates. Apple declined to comment on how much rights holders will be paid during the trial, but said that rates will rise once customers start paying for subscriptions — leaving partners to wonder just how much lower the initial rates will be with only a week to go until the service’s launch. Apple Music’s largest competitor, Spotify, currently pays artists half of its usual royalty rate during promotional periods.

Buick, GMC bringing CarPlay to select 2016 models

Buick and GMC are the latest GM car brands to announce CarPlay availability for upcoming vehicles, GM has announced. Buick will be bringing CarPlay compatibility to the 2016 LaCrosse and Regal, while GMC’s 2016 Canyon, Sierra, and Yukon will also gain Apple’s CarPlay. Within the last month, GM has also announced CarPlay compatibility for upcoming Cadillac and Chevrolet models. Compared to Apple’s other CarPlay partners, GM appears to be ahead of the curve.

Cook: Chinese tastes influence Apple’s designs

Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple’s product designs are influenced by China’s consumer tastes, Bloomberg reports. As many have already suggested, the decision to release a gold iPhone last year was a reflection of that color’s popularity among Chinese users, Cook told the Chinese edition of Bloomberg Businessweek. Greater China has become Apple’s second-largest market after the U.S. Without releasing exact sales figures, Cook also disclosed that the Apple Watch is off to a promising start and drawing much more interest from app developers than either the first iPhone or iPad initially saw. A data analytics firm recently estimated the company has already sold 2.79 million Apple Watch units.

Apple caves to Taylor Swift, agrees to pay royalties for Apple Music trial period

Just one day after Taylor Swift announced she would hold back her “1989” album from Apple Music during the three-month free trial period, the company has agreed to pay royalties to rights owners during the free period. In a series of tweets, SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue publicly reversed Apple’s plans to withhold royalties during the free trial, saying “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.” The policy had been viewed as particularly detrimental to indie artists, who would be losing iTunes sales revenue without making up for that income with streaming revenue. In an interview with Billboard, Cue said he had heard the same “concern from a lot of artists,” but that Swift’s letter put it over the top. “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed a change. And so that’s why we decide we will now pay artists during the trial period,” Cue said.

After CEO Tim Cook approved the decision for Apple to eat the cost of paying royalties during the trial period, Cue said he called Taylor Swift, who is on tour in Amsterdam. Swift expressed her happiness over the policy change in another tweet:

 

Apple takes App Analytics out of beta, adds new features

Apple has announced that its App Analytics tools for iOS Developers have been taken out of beta and are now available to all iOS Developers to assist in providing insight into how their App Store apps are performing in terms of performance, stability, and sales. New features have also been added to App Analytics, allowing developers to track crashes, paying users, and ratios. App Analytics are reported as anonymized, aggregate data from all iOS 8 users who have opted into “App Analytics” reporting during the iOS Setup process.

With the new, finalized App Analytics, crash data can now be viewed on a daily basis to measure the stability of apps, and data can be filtered by platform, app version, and operating system to help pinpoint causes and improve the user experience by addressing stability issues. Data on paying users has been improved to now be tracked by Apple ID instead of on a per-device basis, providing developers with a more precise look at how many individual purchases have been made. Number of paying users can be reported on a day-to-day basis so that developers can determine the impact of changes in spending within apps. Filtering by source can also allow users to see if users are being directed from a particular campaign or website. A new “Ratios” feature allows developers to view any two measures as a ratio so that they can gain more insight into app performance and marketing efforts, useful for tracking conversion rates, sales per paying user, sessions per active device, and more. App Analytics are available for all iOS Developers through the iTunes Connect portal for all users with a Sales, Finance, or Admin role.

Original iPad mini disappears from Apple’s website

Apple has removed the original iPad mini from its website and online store. The original iPad mini debuted in October 2012 and up to this point continued to be sold as an entry-level model alongside the 2013 iPad mini 2 and 2014 iPad mini 3 versions. With the original iPad mini gone from the lineup, Apple’s iPad family is now comprised of exclusively 64-bit models using either A7 or A8X processors and Retina Displays. Refurbished iPad minis remain available from the Apple Store, and new iPad minis can still be found at third-party retailers, at least for the time being. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Next-gen Apple Watch to include FaceTime camera, iPhone-free Wi-Fi

New details from 9to5Mac provide some possible insight into Apple’s direction for the next-generation Apple Watch, said to be on track for a 2016 release. Citing multiple sources “familiar with Apple’s plans,” the report notes that the second-generation of the wearable device is expected to gain a FaceTime camera, greater iPhone independence with a “new wireless system” as well as additional models priced at a higher premium. Despite the new additions, battery life is expected to be similar to the current models.

The built-in camera would allow users to place FaceTime video calls directly via their wrists. An internal initiative named “tether-less” is expected to allow the Watch to operate more independently from an iPhone over Wi-Fi networks, using a more sophisticated wireless chipset that would provide support for basic communication tasks such as sending text messages and emails and receiving updated weather data. The enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities would also enable Apple to implement a “Find my Watch” feature similar to that found on Apple’s other devices, such as the Wi-Fi-only iPad and iPod touch. The report also reveals that Apple has decided based on market research that the majority of current Apple Watch users are satisfied with its battery life and content to charge their devices nightly, and the company is therefore said to be focusing its priorities on simply maintaining or slightly improving battery life in the next-generation model, while adding additional hardware features.

Apple is also reportedly looking into expanding the portfolio of Apple Watch models, focusing on introducing new premium models that will fill the gap between the high-end stainless steel Apple Watch and the gold Apple Watch Edition models, with price points between $1,000 and $10,000. It is unclear, however, whether Apple is looking to expand the Edition lineup with lower-priced variations, create higher-priced stainless steel models with more premium bands, or introduce an entirely new lineup altogether.

Apple again scores high marks from EFF for privacy, transparency

Apple has once again taken top marks in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Who Has Your Back? report, which assesses online service providers’ practices regarding privacy and transparency where government requests for access to user information are concerned. Last year, Apple earned six stars, the maximum score at the time indicating that the company adopted all of what the EFF considered to be best practices in this area.

In the report, the EFF states that it “commend[s] Apple for its strong stance regarding user rights, transparency, and privacy.” This year’s report evaluates companies based on five new criteria: whether the company follows industry-standard best practices, informs users about government data requests, discloses its policies on data retention, discloses content removal requests from government agencies, and has a public policy opposing backdoors for government agencies. Apple earned full marks across all categories, sharing the top spot with other companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, and Yahoo. In contrast, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter came in at four stars, while Amazon, Google, and Microsoft each only received three. The lowest grade this year went to AT&T, which received only one star.

Nest debuts Nest Cam, updates Nest Protect and Learning Thermostat

Popular home automation device maker Nest has announced a major refresh of its entire product line, including the introduction of Nest Cam, a redesigned Nest Protect alarm, new features for the Nest Learning Thermostat, and a major update to its Nest iOS app. The new Nest Cam ($199) provides full 1080p HD video recording with motion alerts and night vision to allow users to keep an eye on their home from anywhere. A second-generation Nest Protect ($99) is now eleven percent smaller and provides a new split-spectrum sensor that uses two wavelengths of light to identify different types of fires and now provides the ability to silence alarms from the iOS app. The Nest Learning thermostat now gains the ability to notify customers when temperatures drop to help avoid frozen pipes, and adds tighter integration with other Nest products.

Estimate: 2.79M Apple Watch units sold, many with extra bands

A data analytics firm estimates that Apple has sold 2.79 million Apple Watch units as of mid-June, with nearly 20 percent of purchasers also springing for an extra band, Reuters reports. Although Apple itself has not released specifics on how many Apple Watches have been sold, research firm Slice Intelligence has developed estimates based on mining e-mail receipts from a panel of two million people considered to be representative of online shoppers in the U.S. If accurate, the numbers suggest that Apple is making a hefty profit from the sales of spare watch bands, which retail for prices starting at $49 with raw manufacturing costs estimated to be starting at $2.05. The report notes, however, that such estimates do not include packaging and shipping expenses, and in fact “may not capture the full cost of the material Apple uses to make the band.” The data collected by Slice indicates that the black sport band is the most popular choice overall — both with the Apple Watch and as a secondary band — while the $149 Milanese Loop is the most popular option being purchased separately as a second band.

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