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Amazon brings Alexa calling and messaging features to the iPad

Amazon has expanded access to its Alexa calling and messaging options to the iPad and other tablets, Engadget reports. The feature already allowed Echo owners to communicate with iPhone users with the Alexa app installed, but today’s change opens it up to the iPad as well. The Alexa app can even call out from the iPad to any smartphone or tablet in the device’s contact list, provided it’s running the Alexa app, too — so the update isn’t limited to communicating with those with Amazon devices.

Apple acquires digital magazine subscription service Texture

Apple has announced a deal to acquire digital magazine subscription service Texture from Next Issue Media LLC. The service charges users a flat monthly subscription fee and delivers unlimited access to more than 200 magazines, including People, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and The New Yorker. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Apple’s services head Eddy Cue said the company is “committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users.”

HomePass gives you a place to store all of your HomeKit codes

A handy new app from developer Aaron Pearce aims to address an interesting problem that many advanced HomeKit users have probably run into — keeping track of all of the HomeKit pairing codes for a household full of home automation accessories. HomePass for HomeKit ($3) is a fairly simple app that efficiently addresses this issue, providing a single place to keep all of your device codes backed up so that they’re readily available should you ever need to re-pair a device, transfer it to a new home, or sell it or give it away. HomePass is capable of reading your existing HomeKit configuration to build your device list so that you can then simply tap on each device and punch in the codes, and you can also add additional accessories manually. Sadly, the app doesn’t provide any way to scan codes with your camera, so you’ll have to key them in yourself, although it does sync your database of codes to iCloud so that it’s backed up and available from multiple devices, and you can also export the data to a CSV file. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple Music for Android adds music video improvements

Apple has released an update for Apple Music for Android users, rolling in some of the improvements that will also be coming to the Apple Music app in iOS 11.3. In addition to “significantly improv[ing] stability” and reliability on more devices, the update lets users watch music videos in fullscreen or inside the Now Playing view, continue watching videos while browsing through the Apple Music app, listen to music videos in the background while using other apps, and add music videos to playlists for back-to-back playback.

Apple reverts updated Books app back to iBooks in fourth iOS 11.3 beta

Apple has rolled back the much-hyped change to its iBooks app in the fourth iOS 11.3 beta, seeming to indicate the update isn’t quite ready for a broader release. The app was renamed from iBooks to Books in the first iOS 11.3 developer beta and remained that way through the third beta release, but as of yesterday’s fourth betas of iOS and macOS it has reverted back to iBooks. Reports from January claimed the updated app will eventually include a simpler user interface, redesigned digital bookstore, a new section called “Reading Now,” and a dedicated tab for audiobooks. Some references to those features were unearthed in the early iOS 11.3 betas only to disappear in this most recent one. Several minor but noticeable problems cropped up in the beta 3 version of the Books app, including sorting issues with recently read books not appearing at the top, intermittent problems opening ePub books and PDFs that weren’t from the iBooks Store, and problems opening recent iBooks from the 3D Touch menu, so it’s possible we won’t see the final public release of the new Books app until iOS 12 this fall. The reverted iBooks app seems to be functioning normally again, but doesn’t include the new features.

Apple facing growing calls to dump NRA TV after school shooting

Apple is one of many companies taking heat for allowing NRA TV to be broadcast on its platforms, The Huffington Post reports. A growing number of companies have severed ties with the gun lobbying group, but the NRA TV app is still available on the Apple TV App Store. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, has created a website aimed at pressuring streaming platforms to ditch the channel, which she calls a media arm of the gun lobby that “propagates dangerous misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric that pits Americans against each other and furthers their agenda of guns anywhere, for anyone, no questions asked.” Apple hasn’t publicly commented on the demand, but in the past Apple has shown some willingness to engage in the gun debate, cracking down on gun violence imagery in the App Store in 2015 and replacing its pistol emoji with a watergun in the iOS 10 update.

Third-party apps now let Apple Watch Series 3 track skiing, snowboarding workouts

Apple is promoting a series of third-party apps that allow users to track skiinbg and snowboparding workouts using the Apple Watch Series 3. Slopes, snoww, Squaw Alpine, Snocru, and Ski Tracks apps have all been updated with new tracking features that take advantage of custom workout APIs in watchOS 4.2 and the device’s built-in altimeter to track vertical descent, horizontal distance, average and maximum speeds, number of runs and calories burned, among other things. Strangely not all of that data is available in Apple’s own Activity or Workout apps, but some of the third-party apps have integrations that let their recorded workouts count toward Activity Rings or the calorie measurements in the Activity app. Slopes and snoww also allow users to start tracking workouts using voice commands, making it easier to use without taking off gloves to fumble around with touch commands.

AgileBits adds secure way to check for leaked passwords in 1Password

Only a day after well-known security researcher Troy Hunt launched his new new Pwned Passwords service, AgileBits has already built a proof of concept leveraging the service to help users determine if their passwords have been leaked onto the internet as part of a password breach. In a blog post, the company explains how they’ve integrated 1Password with Hunt’s new online database containing over 500 million passwords that have been collected from various breaches across the internet. While users can visit Pwned Passwords to check their passwords against the database manually, AgileBits has taken this a step further by adding a “Check Password” button in the web-based version of 1Password that can be unlocked with a specific keyboard sequence. This initial integration is strictly a proof of concept at this time, however AgileBits has stated that it plans to add this capability to the Watchtower password monitoring feature within the 1Password Mac and iOS apps to allow users to see if their passwords have been “pwned” right in the app.

Apple releases iOS 11.2.6 with Telugu character fix, watchOS 4.2.3 and tvOS 11.2.6

Apple has released iOS 11.2.6 with an update that fixes issues with third-party apps connecting to external accessories and a bug causing the Indian Tegulu character to crash Messages and other apps. Apple had fixed the special character bug in the iOS 11.3 beta, but seems to have pushed out the fix early to keep users from having to wait for the next big release. A macOS 10.13.3 update fixes the Tegulu problem for Mac users, and Apple also released tvOS 11.2.6 for Apple TV and watchOS 4.2.3 for Apple Watch.

Apple to require all new iOS apps to support iPhone X starting in April

Apple has announced that all new apps submitted to the App Store after April 2018 will be required to support the iPhone X. In an e-mail sent to registered developers, the company heralded the new features that iOS 11 has brought to the iOS platform, adding that “Starting April 2018, all new iOS apps submitted to the App Store must be built with the iOS 11 SDK, included in Xcode 9 or later. All new apps for iPhone, including universal apps, must support the Super Retina display of iPhone X.” Apple’s page on Submitting iOS apps to the App Store also adds that developers should make sure their App Store product page showcases updates for the Super Retina display of the iPhone X, and provides additional tips for developers on how to make sure that their apps look great on the iPhone X and how to submit proper screenshots for their App Store pages.

Facebook using iOS app to promote VPN ‘protection’ that also tracks user behavior

Users choosing the “Protect” option in the Facebook iOS app are being sent to download a VPN app that also allows Facebook to track their phone use, TechCrunch reports. Facebook acquired Onavo Protect and its VPN technology in 2013, but iOS users in the U.S. are just starting to see the redirect link in the main Facebook app that leads to the Onavo Protect – VPN Security app in the App Store. The app promises to safeguard private information and provide warnings about malicious websites, but it also gives Facebook the ability to monitor activity across all the apps on a user’s phone. Facebook reportedly uses those insights to spot new apps that are surging with key demographics and decide which apps to buy before they blow up or which features to steal from other successful apps, like when the company undercut Snapchat by adding similar features to Instagram. The Onavo Protect app is currently installed on more than 33 million devices, and it’s unclear how many of those users know just how much of their data is being sent back to Facebook while it’s in use.

Alto’s Odyssey, sequel to hit snowboarding game Alto’s Adventure, coming later this month

In the followup to the popular side-scrolling snowboarding game Alto’s Adventure, Snowman is taking Alto and his friends to the desert in Alto’s Odyssey, available for pre-order now and set to be released on February 22. The new game preserves what we loved about the first, with simple, clean graphics and an uncluttered display putting the emphasis on the snowboarding mechanics and various tricks that can be accomplished.

YouTube for Apple TV gets a major facelift

Google has released significant update to YouTube for Apple TV, overhauling the user interface with an entirely new design that’s more resemblant of the user interface found in the YouTube apps on other platforms, and a departure from the more traditional Apple TV UI layout that YouTube had been following since the days before the tvOS App Store was unveiled two years ago.

Microsoft Cortana gets updated with iPad support

Microsoft’s Cortana app has been updated for the iPad, offering a native interface for Apple’s tablet device. While the design remains largely the same as the iPhone version, which was released over two years ago but received a UI facelift last fall, the release notes also indicate that the app has gained some performance improvements, launching 20 percent faster than before — an important boost for a third-party voice assistant app, since unlike Siri, Cortana can only receive commands when running in the foreground. [via MacRumors]

ESPN to launch $4.99/month standalone streaming service

Disney is set to launch its first direct-to-consumer streaming service in the form of ESPN Plus, providing access to over 10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year from all of the usual leagues such as MLB, NHL, and MLS. Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger told CNBC that the service will also “include an array of live programming that is not available on current channels” and that it will roll out in the spring alongside a redesign of Disney’s ESPN app. The new service will be priced at $4.99/month and will be available for both iOS and the Apple TV when it launches. [via Engadget]

Apple pulled Telegram app over child pornography concerns, returned it with a fix in place

Apple temporarily pulled the Telegram app from the App Store last week, and now 9to5Mac has confirmed that the app was pulled over the app being used to deliver child pornography. When the app was pulled, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said Apple had dropped it over concerns about “inappropriate content,” and a e-mail response from App Store head Phil Schiller now confirms his team “was alerted to illegal content, specifically child pornography, in the apps. After verifying the existence of the illegal content the team took the apps down from the store, alerted the developer, and notified the proper authorities, including the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).” Schiller said his team has worked with Telegram to remove the offending content, ban the users who posted it and verified that the app developer “put in place more controls to keep this illegal activity from happening again” before adding the app back to the App Store.

Nike offering Apple Music, exercise program and merchandise rewards for working out with Nike+ app

Nike is offering a new set of rewards for those using the Nike Run Club and Nike Training Club apps to document their workouts, TechCrunch reports. The NikePlus Unlocks program will provide exclusive playlists from Apple Music, guided meditations from the Headspace app, credits for the ClassPass fitness app and more. Other offers for purchasing Nike gear through the app also have special rewards, like a free four-month subscription to Apple Music for buying certain shoes, for example.

Report: Apple struggling to police fake apps in Chinese App Store

A new report from TechCrunch suggests that Apple may be struggling to properly vet content in its App Store in China, particularly where copycat apps are concerned. The report cites the example of a Japanese app called “Tabi Kaeru” (“Travel Frog”) that became an unexpected hit in China, resulting in more than 30 knock-off copycat apps looking to profit off its success. While Apple has become very successful at dealing with such apps within the U.S. App Store, the company was clearly not as well-prepared to deal with the issue in the Chinese App Store, where at least one knock-off, an app named 旅行青蛙, managed to not only survive long enough to generate significant revenue for the developer, but also rise to the top of the App Store charts, displacing the original genuine app for the better part of a day.

YouTube TV now available on Apple TV

Google has announced that its live TV service, YouTube TV, is now available for Apple TV users in the U.S.  For a base $35 monthly cost, the service provides subscribers with more than 40 live channels from major networks such as CBS, Fox, NBC, and CBS, as well as sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports. The service also includes unlimited cloud DVR storage.

Gucci adds ‘Year of the Dog’ custom Animoji

Fashion house Gucci has created its own emoji to celebrate Lunar New Year, according to a new report from The Verge. Available as part of Gucci’s mobile app, the new creation takes the form of two Animoji dogs based on Gucci Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s own Boston terriers, further inspired by artworks by Unskilled Worker, a Gucci collaborator. According to the report, the Animoji creations appear to be considerably more limited than Apple’s own built-in Animoji, noting that they “can’t even smile, or look anything other than intimidating and annoyed.” While clearly done as primarily a marketing move on Gucci’s part, it’s probably also just one of the first examples of many more home-grown third-party Animoji yet to come.

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