A little more than a month after its open beta period, Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant hit the App Store today. The free app allows users access to functions similar to those performed by Apple’s Siri, like getting answers to questions, but adds the ability to sync reminders between an iOS device and a Windows PC. Cortana is also able to track packages, flights, sports scores and stocks for those looking for up-to-the-minute updates, and a Notebook function stores information about a user’s interests and activities. But Cortana’s functionality is much more limited on the iPhone than on Windows phones where it’s fully integrated: Cortana isn’t allowed to change iPhone settings or activate when users say “Hey Cortana,” making the app less of a full replacement for Siri and more of a handy extension for iOS device users operating a Windows PC that they want to integrate with their device.
Apple has released its picks for best apps of 2015. The company picked Periscope (our runner up for App of the Year) as its iPhone App of the Year — calling it a game-changer that “made sharing and watching live videos an instant obsession” — and selected photo editor Enlight and stock-trading app Robinhood as its runners-up. Workflow won Most Innovative app for iPhone, and Instagram’s 3D Touch enhancements won it Best App on iPhone 6s. Lara Croft GO won Best Game of the Year for iPhone for its “beauty and clever design,” with Fallout Shelter and Mr Jump earning runner-up honors. Dark Echo was listed as the Most Innovative iPhone game and “immersive 3D Touch controls” won Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade honors as Best Game on iPhone 6s.
After months of unsuccessful negotiations, Apple has suspended its plans to offer a subscription TV service and is refocusing on being a platform for other media companies through the App Store, Bloomberg reports. During a press conference on Tuesday, CBS CEO Les Moonves said Apple has put its live TV plans “on hold,” and sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Apple’s plan to offer a package of around 14 channels for $30 to $40 a month has stalled over networks’ demands for more money. While Moonves went on to say he’s confident Apple’s TV service “will happen” at some point, the company’s negotiations with TV executives have proven much more difficult than those with music companies, which have been mostly willing to partner with Apple. With cable providers already starting to offer smaller bundles and networks selling their own individual subscriptions through apps available on Apple TV, Apple is facing the prospect of charging more for its service unless it can convince media companies to accept less. Without those agreements in place, Apple is turning to software developers to create new entertainment content in the hopes of setting the latest Apple TV’s App Store apart from similar offerings from Roku, Amazon and Google.
Apple SVP Eddy Cue laid out the company’s vision for Apple News in an interview with CNN, touting the app as more of a public service than a money-making venture. Cue said Apple is working hard to steer clear of the economics of the news business, focusing more on building the platform for news organizations to leverage on their own. While Apple offers to sell the ads that display next to content—claiming 30 percent of the revenue for ad space it sells—the company also gives publishers the ability to sell their own ads and keep 100 percent of the profits. (It’s unclear how many news organizations sell their own ads, and how many rely on Apple at this point.) Cue said the app aims to clear away hurdles that keep publications from delivering content to consumers. “News organizations today have lots to worry about: Each of them has to worry about building their own apps, the interfaces, the user experience,” Cue said. “This gives them an opportunity to focus on what they do really well, which is the journalism part, and let us handle the technology piece of building the apps and distributing them.”
I sent feedback to Amazon via the Amazon Instant Video iOS app about supporting tvOS. They say it’s in development. pic.twitter.com/52fYUgtgNs— Dan Bostonweeks (@danimal) November 28, 2015
According to an Amazon customer service reply, an app for Amazon Instant Video could be landing on Apple TV “within a few weeks.” The unnamed company representative supposedly told Twitter user Dan Bostonweeks that the company’s technical team is currently working on the tvOS app and expressed optimism that it would launch soon, since the company has “already succeeded in developing an app for the iPhone and iPad.” Other users have received similar messages from Amazon about the tvOS app, but this is the first that included even a rough timetable for launch. Amazon’s Instant Video has been the largest noticeable absence on Apple TV for some time, with other services like Netflix and Hulu having long been available. Amazon also banned sales of the new Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast device on its site in an apparent bid to drive users away from those devices.
Disney has launched the subscription-based app DisneyLife for U.K. residents ahead of a planned global roll out, offering unlimited access to movies, shows, music, books, and more for £9.99 a month. The service provides unlimited streaming within the U.K. and downloads that expire after 30 days without an Internet connection. Users running the app on Apple devices with iOS 8 or iOS 9 installed can stream HD content, but videos downloaded for offline viewing aren’t available in HD. While there’s no native Apple TV version of the app, content from the app is supported on Apple TV through AirPlay with one catch: All audio and video is streamed in standard definition.
Apple is building an app to diagnose problems with iOS devices and help users schedule service, according to uSwitch. A source with direct knowledge of the app’s development said it will ask “basic questions (about the device in need of repair) to boil down to the problem quickly.” The new app will reportedly provide user guides and basic how-to information for every iOS device registered to the user’s Apple ID and offers tips for resolving a series of commonly experienced problems. If those fail to resolve the issue, the app will aid users in booking service at an Apple Store, sending their device in for service, or calling Apple for further support. The current Apple Store app only provides assistance in booking appointments with an Apple Store’s Genius bar; it’s unclear if this functionality will be shifted into the Apple Store app, or if it will be a new app of its own. Photos of the app show it also provides an option to chat live with Apple’s tech support network.
The iPad Pro has been touted as powerful enough to replace laptop and desktop computers, but many developers tell The Verge that they see big problems with developing apps specifically for the larger device’s enhanced capabilities. While the tablet is fast enough to run professional-grade software, it still operates on iOS, making all apps developed for it subject to App Store rules. The App Store doesn’t allow free trials as part of the download process, and developers like Bohemian Coding co-founders Pieter Omvlee and Emanuel Sa don’t see users paying $99 for their Sketch app without ever seeing it work. “Sketch on the Mac costs $99, and we wouldn’t dare ask someone to pay $99 without having seen or tried it first,” Omvlee said. “So to be sold through the App Store, we would have to dramatically lower the price, and then, since we’re a niche app, we wouldn’t have the volume to make up for it.”
Apple has updated the acknowledgments page for its Maps app to include Foursquare as a provider of business listings. Foursquare officially joins Yelp, Trip Advisor and Booking.com as official providers of information about businesses, restaurants and attractions within the app, but so far we at iLounge haven’t seen any Foursquare information popping up when searching in Apple Maps. In other Foursquare news, the company’s Swarm app got an update yesterday, making it possible to use the 3D Touch feature to press on a friend’s check-in for quick access to more information about their current location.
Improvements to the App Store’s search that Apple has rolled out in the past few weeks are producing more intelligent and relevant returns, TechCrunch reports. Where past updates to the store’s algorithms have focused on changes to the way apps are ranked within Top Charts and various categories, the new changes appear to affect how results are returned when users search for apps using a keyword. The improved search now ranks apps using contextual keyword matches or partial matches, and goes beyond the text found in an app’s title or “keyword” slot, expanding the usefulness of the search in finding apps that serve a function which might not be explicitly stated in the app’s name. The new search puts more emphasis on the main features of the app and returns a better range of similar and competing apps. A search for “Twitter,” for example, now returns results for Twitter clients Tweetbot and Twitterrific, where both apps were recently not displayed in those search results at all despite serving the same basic function as Twitter’s own app. Apple hasn’t commented on the change, and how the move will affect app downloads and sales is still unclear.
In a post on the Beats Music support blog, Apple said it’s shutting down Beats Music on Nov. 30 and urged users to move their picks and preferences over to Apple Music before it’s too late. Apple has been encouraging Beats Music users to switch to Apple Music since launching the new service in June, but those users still paying for Beats Music will see their subscriptions canceled at the end of the month. The “related articles” section attached to the post features links to newly updated user guides for migrating from Beats Music to Apple Music for both iOS and Android, making it possible that Apple was waiting until the Android app’s release earlier this week before finally pulling the plug on Beats Music.
Google has released its new YouTube Music app for iOS in the U.S. App Store, following the company’s announcement last month that it would arrive following the debut of its new YouTube Red subscription service. YouTube Music is focused on allowing users to watch and listen to the entire catalog of music videos available on YouTube, with discovery features that allow users to tap on tracks they love and explore from there. Users can listen to music online for free, with ads, while YouTube Red subscribers get the ability to watch ad-free videos and listen to music offline, in the background, or without having to load the video. Users will automatically receive a free fourteen-day trial of YouTube Red upon signing into the YouTube Music app.
Apple is adding 1,000 new jobs at its office in Cork, Ireland, Reuters reports. The company is currently under investigation by the European Union over whether the tax breaks it enjoys in Ireland are legal, but Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the new hiring shows the controversy “hasn’t affected their enthusiasm for Ireland.” The company already employs 5,000 workers at the Cork facility and announced the construction of a new 850 million euro data center earlier this year.
A beta version of the Apple Music app for Android is available in the Google Play Store today, making Apple’s subscription music service publicly available on Android devices for the first time. Betabound invited its users to take part in a beta test of the Android app in September, but Apple Music’s appearance in the Google Play store is the first official Android release accessible to the average user. The app still has major limitations, with music video playback still unavailable and an inability to handle family plan sign-ups from within the app. Users can use their family plan account with the Android app, but will need to register for it using a Mac or iOS device until promised fixes for the sign-up process are rolled out to Android, making adoption of the music service a complicated proposition for users who only own PCs and Android devices. The app is free to download, but will require the same subscription as Apple’s in-house app after the three-month trial period for new users expires. The app requires Android 4.3 or up and 29MB of space to install. [via 9to5Mac]
On his tour of London this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook pushed the idea that the new iPad Pro is as versatile a product as the company has ever made with features that appeal to a broad range of users. In his interview with The Telegraph, Cook said the new tablet has the screen and speakers to give the average media consumer a much more robust viewing and listening experience, but when paired with the company’s keyboard case the device is powerful enough to replace a user’s notebook or desktop computer and challenge the PC’s dominance in the workplace. “I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?” Cook said.
When paired with the Apple Pencil, Cook said the device is the first of its kind to give creatives a true alternative to putting pencil to paper for sketching. Addressing criticism that the Apple Pencil is a stylus that users don’t need since their finger can do the same job, Cook told The Independent that the Apple Pencil has won over artists by going far beyond what a stylus can do. “The traditional stylus is fat, it has really bad latency so you’re sketching here and it’s filling the line in somewhere behind. You can’t sketch with something like that, you need something that mimics the look and feel of the pencil itself or you’re not going to replace it,” Cook said. “We’re not trying to replace finger touch, we’re complementing it with the Pencil.”
Apple has added Categories to the App Store for the new Apple TV, as the company continues to slowly improve the set-top box’s application catalog and add more app discovery features. Earlier this week, the App Store also gained support for Top Charts, although both features appear to remain limited to the U.S. App Store at this time.
Fun fact: HeadBoard, the tvOS UI, has pretty complete folder support inside. Looks like it would work like iOS - drop an app on another app— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) November 5, 2015
Developer Steve Troughton-Smith has been poking around the tvOS code and discovered that tvOS actually has “pretty complete folder support” that appears to work the same way as on iOS, suggesting that the feature may be coming soon to a future version of tvOS, although it’s unclear as to why Apple has chosen not to implement folders at this time.
Fireproof Games has released The Room Three ($5), the third installment in its popular puzzle game series, following up on last year’s iLounge Game of the Year, The Room Two. The physical puzzle game puts you on a remote island where you must use your puzzle-solving ability to navigate the trials devices by a mysterious figure known only as “The Craftsman.” The Room Three continues the extremely detailed tactile world design of its previous chapters, with an easy pick-up-and-play design while expanding locations into new environments and multiple areas. A new eyepiece ability has also been added that allows you to explore the world in an even more miniature view, and an enhanced system helps you progress through the game more easily when you get really stuck. The Room Three also features alternate endings so that you can play through the game several times with different outcomes, along with a haunting soundtrack and dynamic sound effects, and iCloud and Game Center support for playing on multiple devices and tracking achievements.
Microsoft has announced plans to release public betas of the iOS version of its Cortana app to Windows Insiders. The company has apparently been testing the app internally over the past six months, and is now ready to start inviting a limited number of outside users to try out an early version of the app. While the iOS version will reportedly not be as feature complete as the Windows 10 Mobile and Android equivalents, the general look and feel is reportedly the same, and the beta will support reminders, scheduling events, and sending emails. Applicants will need to be part of the Windows Insider program and the trial will initially be limited to those in the U.S. and China; those interested in signing up can complete an online survey to apply. [via The Verge]
Plex has released its very popular media streaming client for the new Apple TV, providing users of the new set-top box with the ability to legitimately access and stream their content from their Plex media server to their television. Although Plex has been available on other media streaming platforms for several years, the lack of an App Store for the Apple TV has forced many users to either AirPlay content from the Plex iOS app or resort to out-of-the-box hacking methods to present Plex content by taking over an existing Apple TV channel. The Plex app is free in the App Store and requires that users update to the latest Plex media server software on their NAS device or computer. Additional details can be found on the Plex blog.
In addition, Apple has added top charts categories to the Apple TV App Store, including “Top Paid”, “Top Free”, and “Top Grossing” apps. The Top Charts can be found on the top menu bar between Featured and Purchased. Top Charts appear to only be available in the U.S. App Store at this time; it’s unclear when they will be appearing in other countries.
Nintendo has announced its first official smartphone “game,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Expected to debut in March 2016, the first new release by the famous video game developer will be titled “Miitomo” and will be a free-to-play app with in-app purchases that can be used to buy “attractive add-ons.” According to Nintendo CEO Tatsumk Kimishima, future iOS games released by the company will be pay-to-download titles — the company still plans to release four other apps by March 2017.
It’s not entirely clear whether Miitomo should be called a game, per se, as it appears to be more focused on allowing users to design their own avatars — Nintendo Miis -— to communicate with other users. In this sense, Miitomo appears to be more of a social app than a game, and Nintendo Executive Shinya Takahashi noted that the company is building the app to try and find ways to encourage shier users to talk and share things about themselves in the app. For example, it appears that Miis will automatically communicate with other Miis without your knowledge, helping people who are hesitant to talk about themselves to participate in the social aspect and “reveal a side of your friends you never knew.” It also appears that Mii avatars can be ported back into games on Nintendo hardware, suggesting this new release may be designed more as a companion app for current Nintendo fans rather than an entirely standalone experience.