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Netflix testing removal of in-app subscription purchases

Netflix is looking to cut Apple out of its action by removing the option to purchase a Netflix subscription via the App Store’s in-app purchasing system. According to TechCrunch, while the streaming media giant says it has been “testing the iTunes payment method” in 33 countries, what it actually means to say is that it’s texting how to bypass the iTunes payment method. Until Sept. 30, anybody in Europe, Latin America, and Asia subscribing to Netflix will be unable to pay using iTunes, and will instead be redirected to the mobile web version of the Netflix site to enter payment details directly.

Apple pulls 25,000 illegal apps from Chinese App Store

Apple has pulled approximately 25,000 illegal gambling apps from its App Store in China, The Wall Street Journal reports. The move reportedly comes as a result of pressure from Chinese state media, although Apple released a statement emphasizing that “Gambling apps are illegal and not allowed on the App Store in China,” and that it has “already removed many apps and developers for trying to distribute illegal gambling apps on our App Store” and remains “vigilant in our efforts to find these and stop them from being on the App Store.” Apple has been under fire from Chinese news outlets for its weak enforcement in filtering banned content and applications. According to one of Apple’s more vocal critics, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, approximately 25,000 apps had been removed as of Sunday. The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology notes that Apple offers more than 1.8 million apps in China, so 25,000 apps would amount to about 1.4 percent of the total number of apps available on the Chinese App Store, although Apple has not confirmed either number.

Twitter client Leaf discontinued as a result of Twitter API changes

The iOS Twitter app Leaf is the latest casualty of Twitter’s recent API changes, with the developer today announcing that the app is being discontinued entirely due to the limitations of the new API. While some Twitter apps, such as the popular Tweetbot, have attempted to scale back and simply remove unsupported features, the new Twitter API has resulted in even these apps becoming shadows of their former selves. Leaf has clearly decided that there’s no advantage in continuing to develop a more limited app, so while those who have already purchased it can continue to use the existing version, it is no longer available on the App Store and there will be no further updates released.

Tweetbot update removes deprecated features in advance of Twitter API changes

Tapbots has released an update to its popular Tweetbot client for Twitter, removing features that will no longer be supported as of today’s Twitter API changes. Twitter announced changes to its APIs last year — a move that was met with protests by developers of third-party Twitter clients, and while the company later extended its deadline, it offered no leeway in allowing third-party app developers to continue using many of the streaming and notification features that they had come to rely on. In the release notes for Tweetbot, Tapbots notes that “because Twitter has chosen not to provide alternatives to these interfaces we have been forced to disable or degrade certain features” and that the matter is out of its control. this includes not only the popular live timeline streaming feature — users will now be limited to 1-2 minute refresh intervals rather than live updates — but also delays push notifications for mentions and direct messages, and removes them entirely for likes, retweets, follows, and quotes. Ina addition, the Activity and Stats tabs and the Apple Watch app are casualties of the new changes, as the latter depended heavily on the Activity data that is no longer available to third-party apps. Although Tapbots notes that it will be investigating how to bring some features back in the future, it seems this will depend heavily on finding workarounds in Twitter’s more limited API, and it’s unclear whether this will be successful, or, if so, for how long. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple may be casting too wide a net in gambling app ban

A new report by MacRumors suggests that Apple’s recent enforcement actions against gambling apps on the App Store may be catching unrelated apps as a result of an overly broad consideration of “unrestricted web access” as providing the potential for accessing gambling-related sites, since it would allow a user to access any URL from an in-app browser window. While the “Unrestricted web access” designation has long required apps to carry a “17+” age rating, since the browser window can circumvent parental controls, it seems that Apple considers it an open window into activities that would otherwise be banned on the App Store. Apps that have been caught up in the ban include a magazine app and even an Apple Watch app, WatchPlay, that’s designed to simply allow users to start YouTube videos from their wrist.

The new crackdown is based on a new App Store policy that now only permits “verified accounts from incorporated business entities” to publish gambling apps, with Apple sending other developers notices telling them that the move is “to reduce fraudulent activity on the App Store and comply with government requests to address illegal online gambling activity.” The policy includes not only gambling apps that use real money but also any apps that “simulate a gambling experience.”

Anki announces Vector, a new home robot with personality

Consumer robotics and AI company Anki has announced Vector, a new fully-autonomous little robot that builds on the technology of last year’s cute and brilliant Cozmo. Promising a major leap forward in consumer robotics, Vector will come alive with even more personality than its predecessor, and will include direct cloud connectivity over Wi-Fi, removing the need to rely on an iOS device to power its interactions, essentially becoming an always-on robotic pet who will have an awareness of surroundings through touch, sight, and sound. Like Cozmo, Vector will gain new features and more intelligence over time courtesy of software updates, but with a direct cloud connection, such updates will arrive autonomously over-the-air without the need for any user interaction. A high-res color IPS display will allow Vector to react to his environment and display his personality, and even respond to human touch via a capacitive touch sensor on his back. An “Ask Vector” feature will also allow him to provide answers to factual questions, provide weather reports, and set timers, allowing him to double as a home assistant, and he’ll also be able to take pictures, perform facial recognition, play games, and dance to music.

Apple Store app adds voice search

Apple has released an update to its Apple Store app for iOS adding an updated search interface with an enhanced design along with speech recognition technology to allow users to search for products by voice. The redesigned search now uses an interface that’s more in line with the App Store and iTunes Store apps, and also now displays trending searches. In the U.S. version of the app, a microphone icon can also now be found on the search bar to allow users to dictate search results instead of typing, although this doesn’t appear to have been rolled out in other countries.

Tablo adds Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via firmware update

Tablo has announced the addition of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound to its lineup of OTA DVRs. Rolling out gradually to existing users via a new firmware update (2.2.22), the new feature will allow Tablo devices to capture and pass AC3 surround sound audio through to supported viewing devices. The Tablo team notes that the feature has been a long time coming due to the problems with the DVR hardware only being engineered to deliver a single audio stream, and not all devices — especially mobile devices — being able to decode AC3 audio. While the single stream is still an issue, as more mobile devices are beginning to support surround sound, the team felt that it was a good time to begin offering the feature, although users will still have to make the choice between gaining surround sound on supported devices and maintaining compatibility with playback on other mobile devices that can’t handle the Dolby Digital stream. Surround Sound must be toggled globally, and when enabled, devices that can’t decode the AC3 stream will get no audio at all. Note that all current Apple devices are capable of surround sound decoding, including not only the Apple TV, but also an iPhone, iPad, or iPod running iOS 11 or later, and even a Mac using the Safari browser.

Nike Training Club lands on the Apple Watch

Nike has announced that its Nike Training Club app is now available for the Apple Watch, allowing trainers, athletes, and workout enthusiasts to easily keep track of their drills right from their wrist. The [Nike Training Club app] has been available for the iPhone for a few years, but until now users had to keep their iPhone on-hand in order to use the app as part of their workout routines. Nike Training Club features more than 180 free workouts developed by Nike Master Trainers and elite Nike athletes across a range of disciplines, however Nike has been receiving requests from users around the world to bring the app onto Apple’s wearable, with Nike’s VP Mike McCabe adding that “The resounding feedback from athletes worldwide was that they wanted us to put the best training app onto Apple Watch, and I think we’ve done it in a way that will make it an intuitive and invaluable training tool.” While it seems that the new watchOS app will still need to be used in conjunction with the user’s iPhone, it will now be possible to start a workout on the iPhone and then monitor it on the Apple Watch in order to check things like time or reps remaining on a drill, with the Apple Watch also providing haptic prompts to signal the beginning of each drill. The Nike Training Club app for Apple Watch is available now as an update from the App Store, and supports all of the workouts currently available in the main NTC app.

Instagram moving away from SMS two-factor authentication

Instagram is building a non-SMS-based two-factor authentication system in response to increased efforts by hackers, TechCrunch reports. Since phone numbers can be stolen by hackers with relative ease — as outlined by Motherboard, all it takes is convincing a carrier customer service rep to port the number to a new SIM card — Instagram accounts have been prime targets for hackers since a password can be reset with only an SMS message. To defend against these sort of attacks, Instagram has told TechCrunch that it will be building a more modern two-factor authentication system that will use one-time passwords that can be generated by apps like Google Authenticator or 1Password. The social media network has been historically slow to adopt stronger authentication methods, not even implementing two-factor authentication at all until 2016 — long after most other social media networks had already adopted even more secure methods, but sadly only relied on basic SMS authentication, leaving the service vulnerable to SIM porting attacks. While Instagram is not alone in using SMS as a second authentication factor, it is one of the few major services that offers that as the sole option.

Instapaper parts ways with Pinterest to go it on its own

Popular offline reading and bookmarking service Instapaper has announced that it will be leaving Pinterest to go its own way, only two years after the social media platform acquired it in August of 2016. Instapaper was one of the first apps on the App Store back in 2008, developed by Marco Arment who is more recently best known for the very popular podcasting app, Overcast. Arment sold Instapaper to Digg parent company Betaworks in 2013, and the service was later acquired by Pinterest a few years later. Today’s announcement notes that ownership will be transferred to a new company, Instant Paper, Inc., which is owned and operated by the development team that’s been building and supporting the app since it left the original developer’s hands in the 2013 acquisition. In the announcement, the Instapaper team emphasizes that not much will change in terms of the user experience, since the same team will be working on it, but now separate from the umbrella of Pinterest.

Adobe launching full Photoshop for iPad next year

Adobe is planning to shift its mobile app strategy once again with a full release of Photoshop for iPad, Bloomberg reports. The move, which is part of an effort to make its products available across as many device as possible and thereby boost subscription sales, would see a new full-featured Photoshop app unveiled at Adobe’s MAX creative conference in October, with the app scheduled to be released in 2019. The information comes from undisclosed sources, and engineering delays could still alter the timeline, however Adobe’s Chief Product Officer of Creative Cloud, Scott Belsky, did confirm that the company is working on a new cross-platform iteration of Photoshop, but declined to comment on when the new versions would be launched. “My aspiration is to get these on the market as soon as possible,” Belsky said in an interview. “There’s a lot required to take a product as sophisticated and powerful as Photoshop and make that work on a modern device like the iPad. We need to bring our products into this cloud-first collaborative era.”

Plex adds Grid View on Apple TV

Last month, Plex announced a new Grid View for its DVR and Live TV feature, allowing users to browse a programming guide in the more familiar user interface. While the new layout was originally only available in the Plex web app, the company has now brought it to the Apple TV platform, allowing Plex fans to take advantage of a more traditional DVR-style experience. Plex added Live TV support to the Apple TV last year, although the original user interface for the feature only allowed users to browse by show, similar to navigating Plex library content.

Apple looks back at ten years of the App Store

Apple has published a news release heralding the 10th Anniversary of the App Store, a milestone that the venerable marketplace will be officially celebrating next Tuesday. As Apple points out, the App Store opened on July 10, 2008, with the release of the iPhone 3G and iPhone Software 2.0. At launch, the App Store included a mere 500 apps, 25 percent of which were available for free, and 90 percent of the commercial apps selling for $9.99 or less. Games also made up a third of the initial set of apps, and then-CEO Steve Jobs insisted that Apple was not trying to make money of the App Store specifically, but simply wanted to use the App Store as a way to “sell more iPhones.”

iTunes Remote lives on with iPhone X update

Apple today released an update to iTunes Remote, it’s iOS app for remotely controlling music playback from the iTunes app running on a Mac or Windows PC. iTunes Remote 4.4 includes compatibility with the iPhone X along with stability and performance improvements and an all new design on both the iPhone and iPad platforms. The app was last updated in early 2017, and with Apple having split off Apple TV control into a standalone Apple TV Remote app shortly before that, it was unclear whether the iTunes-focused version would continue to exist, and even less certain with the recent rollout of AirPlay 2 support now providing the multi-speaker playback capabilities that were previously the exclusive domain of iTunes. The latest update suggests that Apple intends to continue supporting iTunes Remote for the foreseeable future.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Apple appeal of App Store antirust case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Apple’s appeal over a lower-court decision that resurrected a seven-year-old class-antitrust lawsuit, Reuters reports. In 2011, a group of consumers filed a lawsuit alleging that Apple was maintaining a monopoly on the sale of iPhone apps, driving up prices because the App Store is the only place where such apps can be purchased. Apple asked for the suit to be dismissed in 2013, asserting that there was nothing illegal about creating a closed system, and arguing that it is developers, not Apple, that set prices for apps. A U.S. District Judge ruled later that same year that the plaintiffs couldn’t continue the lawsuit simply because they hadn’t actually bought the apps in question, and therefore couldn’t demonstrate that they had “personally suffered an injury” based on the conduct that they were accusing Apple of. While a lawyer for the plaintiffs at the same said the case could easily be refiled to meet the requirements, that didn’t surface until early last year, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that iPhone users are free to sue Apple for its alleged monopoly on iPhone apps, although Apple maintained its original argument at the time that users had no standing to sue Apple because the App Store is simply a storefront, however the appellate court judge disagreed, saying that since iPhone users must purchase apps directly from Apple, they have a right to bring a legal challenge against Apple.

ArmourGrid’s new Family Kuvrr app provides innovative child safety monitoring

ArmourGrid has launched Family Kuvrr, a new safety app that provides smart monitoring and protection for the whole family against a number of common digital and physical threats.The app’s comprehensive set of features includes intelligent monitoring of app usage, web browsing, call history, location history, and text messages that can alert parents of incidents of cyberbullying, sexting, solicitations, drugs, improper emoji texts, and other issues based on matching texts, images, and videos against known threats in the Family Kuvrr databases. A “Smart Geo” feature provides the ability for family members to keep track of each other’s locations and create personalized “geo-fences” that will alert a parent, guardian, or older sibling when another family member enters or leaves specific locations, such as leaving school, arriving home, or entering unsafe areas. The app also provides an SOS alert feature to allow any family member to quickly send an emergency alert to the rest of the family, including a text/email/app notification with the user’s location, along with opening up a live audio/video stream so that other family members can assess the situation right away, and also includes roadside assistance in the U.S. and Canada as part of the annual membership plan. Family Kuvrr is available in a basic free version, or users can sign up for a Premium ten-member plan for $2/month or $10/year; a Premium+ plan is also available for larger families — up to 20 members — for $3/month or $20/year. A 30-day free trial is also available. The app is available on both iOS and Android platforms, and ArmourGrid notes that some features “may have limited availability on iOS due to iOS restrictions.”

Apple expands Siri support for World Cup, adds new themed content

Apple is going all-out for the 2018 World Cup tournament, announcing expanded support, coverage, and tournament-related content throughout multiple apps and services. In addition to the 26 other countries in which sports information is already generally available via Siri, users in Brazil, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Israel will also be able to ask Siri for scores, schedules, standings, and team rosters. The editorial team on the new App Store will also be highlighting the favorite apps and games of various football stars and posting other articles with tips for following the games, including key apps for following and watching the tournament. Users in the U.S. and Canada can follow the action through the Sports feature in Apple’s TV App, and will even be able to favorite specific teams to follow their matches in the “Up Next” section and get notifications of when teams are playing or when games are close.

Developers remain concerned about App Store ‘free trials’ policies

Apple’s revisions earlier this week to its App Store Review Guidelines to explicitly allow free trials may not be sufficient to appease calls by developers for a proper free trial system. In a blog post titled Ersatz Free Trials (via Daring Fireball), Red Sweater’s Daniel Jalkut, best known for MarsEdit, outlines a number of valid reasons why Apple’s solution falls far short of what many developers have been hoping for almost since the advent of the App Store ten years ago. As Jalkut notes, Apple’s revisions aren’t even offering anything specifically new, but are more of a codification of a practice that was started by The Omni Group back in 2016 and has been used by several other developers since — that of basically giving away a free version of an app and unlocking the “paid” functionality via in-app purchases. The change to the App Store Review Guidelines offers some comfort that Apple isn’t going to pull the plug on these practices, but still doesn’t address the real issue with the lack of “proper” free trials.

Revised App Store Review Guidelines now allow for free trials

In addition to changes allowing for apps like Valve’s Steam Link noted earlier this week in Apple’s revised App Store Review Guidelines, it appears that Apple has now also opened up the gates for time-based trial periods. MacRumors discovered the change in section 3.1.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which adds a section stating that non-subscription apps may now offer an explicit free time-based trial period as a zero-dollar in-app purchase.

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