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Apple Music makes much-anticipated debut with iOS 8.4 release

Apple has released iOS 8.4, and with it, Apple Music makes its much-anticipated debut within the redesigned Music app. Apple Music’s DJ-curated Beats 1 station will begin broadcasting at 12 p.m. Eastern time. The full scope of Apple Music features will eventually cost $10/month, but all the features are available to users free of charge for the first three months. iOS 8.4 also includes iBooks improvements and bug fixes.

Apps containing Confederate flag pulled from App Store

Apple has apparently removed all apps that include the Confederate flag from its App Store, including games set around the American Civil War, TouchArcade reports. The move comes on the heels of a number of other major U.S. retailers such as Walmart, Amazon, and eBay removing all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores in the wake of the recent tragic shooting in Charleston. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a tweet on Sunday making reference to “removing symbols & words that feed” racism.

Developers affected by Apple’s decision have received messages stating that their apps are being removed as they include “images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways.” Some developers have expressed concern that Apple may be casting too wide of a net, however, banning apps such as period-based games that incorporate the flag merely in an appropriate historical context, such as in games set around the American Civil war.

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 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.

Hackers use app to steal passwords, data in iOS and OS X

University researchers have exposed a security flaw in iOS and OS X that lets an installed app exploit Apple’s cross-app resource sharing and communication to steal passwords from other apps and Apple’s Keychain, The Register reports. The team says they were able to upload their malware into an app that successfully passed the App Store’s vetting process. Once the app was downloaded, the researchers were able to raid users’ Keychain to steal passwords for iCloud, the Mail app and anything stored within Google’s Chrome browser. The team was able to steal banking credentials from Chrome, copy photos from WeChat and gain access to popular cloud service Evernote. Nearly 90 percent of a large sample of OS X and iOS apps were found to be “completely exposed” to the attack. Lead researcher Luyi Xing said his team informed Apple of the problem in October 2014 and complied with Apple’s request to hold off publishing the research for 6 months, but hasn’t heard back from the company since delivering an advance copy of the findings to Apple in February. Apple didn’t comment on the story, but Google’s Chromium security team has since removed Keychain integration for Chrome, saying the security flaw probably can’t be solved at the application level. AgileBits, which owns browser extension 1Password, said their company hadn’t found a way to fend off the attacks four months after the team’s disclosure. Since the malware was delivered in an app that got past Apple’s vetting process, the only protection for iOS and OS X users at this point is to scrutinize the developer before downloading an app and be wary of login prompts for things usually handled by Keychain.

Apple vans collecting Maps data in U.S., England and Ireland

Apple has confirmed that those camera-laden vans seen in public are indeed collecting images for use in Apple Maps. Apple has pledged to respect privacy while collecting its images, blurring faces and license plates before publishing the photos. The vans will be in some larger cities throughout the U.S., England, and Ireland until the end of the month. The push for adding images, combined with the new Transit feature coming in iOS 9 and a contract extension with TomTom, shows Apple is continuing its push to make Maps a viable competitor to Google Maps.

Apple to release ‘Move to iOS’ app for iOS 9

Although it wasn’t mentioned during Apple’s iOS 9 preview earlier today, a section at the bottom of Apple’s iOS 9 page reveals that the company also plans to release an Android migration app. Dubbed “Move to iOS”, the new app will likely be available as a separate download from the App Store as opposed to being bundled into the operating system, and will allow users to wirelessly move “contacts, message history, camera photos and videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts, calendars, wallpaper, and DRM-free songs and books.” The app will also help users “rebuild” their app library by suggesting downloads for free iOS versions of apps that the user had on their Android device, such as Facebook and Twitter, and adding paid apps to the user’s iTunes Wish List.

Apple to launch Flipboard-style app, do away with Newsstand

Apple is going to do away with Newsstand and introducte a free, Flipboard-style app that will show users samples of content from providers like the New York Times, Hearst, Conde Nast and ESPN, Re/code reports. Partners who complained about Newsstand burying their content will now sell their own apps on the App Store, with Apple taking 30 percent of revenue generated from subscriptions sold though the publisher’s own apps. Publishers will keep 100 percent of the advertising they sell within the new Flipboard-type app, according to unnamed sources. Apple will sell the ad space that publishers can’t, and will take a cut that one publisher called “very favorable.”

iOS bug allows peculiar string of characters in Messages to reboot iPhones

A bug in banner notifications through the Messages app allows a string of characters sent via iMessage or SMS to crash an iPhone, MacRumors reports. Receiving the string of symbols and Arabic characters causes an iPhone to crash and quickly reboot after the message pops up in a notification. After the reboot, Messages will crash immediately upon opening, unless it’s being opened to the conversation containing the offending message. Even then, trying to navigate to another conversation in Messages will crash the app. Reddit users found that replying to the original message solves the problem if the Messages app opens directly to the conversation containing the offending message. But if Messages opens to the conversation list view, the app will crash when opened until another message is received.

If you can’t get someone else to send you a message, sending yourself a message through Siri or through the Share sheet in another app is an option to resolve the issue. While the character strand is very specific and unlikely to be sent by accident, a quick search proves plenty of people have already started using the message maliciously. Until Apple rolls out a fix, turning off previews for Messages will help mitigate the immediate effects of receiving the message, and if someone is repeatedly sending the message to shut down your iPhone, blocking them is always an option.

Microsoft confirms Cortana coming to iOS this year

Cortana — Microsoft’s answer to Siri — will be available to iPhone users through the App Store later this year, according to a blog post from Microsoft. Cortana will manage various functions across both an iPhone and Windows 10 PC — Microsoft notes that its “Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone.” It will be able to answer questions, provide reminders, make notes, track flights and other routine tasks. There will be some limitations to the integration, however, as the iOS version of Cortana won’t be able to toggle settings or open apps on iOS, and isn’t integrated with an iPhone’s microphone to enable the hands-free access available on a Windows phone by saying “Hey Cortana.”

Microsoft hopes its new Phone Companion app built into Windows 10 will make PC desktops more appealing to iPhone users, allowing the phone to instantly upload photos, access music, work on Office documents and make notes that sync up with a user’s PC through the company’s OneDrive service.  A preview of Phone Companion will be available in a few weeks, but Cortana isn’t scheduled to land on iPhone until later this year.

Adobe dropping Photoshop Touch in favor of more focused apps

Adobe has announced that it will be discontinuing its Photoshop Touch app, preferring to focus instead on its family of more focused apps tied into its Creative Cloud program. A post on the company’s Photoshop Blog highlights Adobe’s other more recent offerings such as Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Sketch as examples of how the company believes it has produced better user experiences through “laser-focus” on specific and traditionally complex workflows for specific subsets of tasks, rather than the more ambitious approach of trying to replicate all of Photoshop’s capabilities in a mobile app. In a similar vein, Adobe has already started work on a new “serious retouching” app to add the the collection, dubbed “Project Rigel” which is expected to be available later this year.

Photoshop Touch is scheduled to be removed from the App Store on May 28th, and no further updates will be provided. Users who have already purchased the app prior to that time, however, will be able to continue using it on their devices or even reinstalling it from their purchase history “for the foreseeable future” – likely meaning for as long as it remains compatible with future iOS versions.

Transit coming to Apple Maps in iOS 9?

Apple may finally be adding transit directions to Apple Maps with the release of iOS 9, according to new information obtained by 9to5Mac. When Apple transitioned from Google Maps to its own mapping service, integrated transit directions were one of the casualties, and as a stop-gap measure, Apple provided plug-ins for third-party routing apps for getting directions, allowing users to start planning a trip in Apple Maps and then switch to another app, such as Google Maps or Transit app, to provide specific routing directions. While built-in transit routing was expected to arrive last year in iOS 8, Apple reportedly experienced difficulty getting the feature off the ground due to personnel problems and data, as well as coverage limitations, deciding to pull the feature just prior to WWDC 2014.

Sources are now indicating that Apple hopes to launch its Transit service with iOS 9, which would include bus, subway, and train route navigation as the major updates to the Maps app. The new functionality would not only include routing and trip planning for public transit, but also larger icons for airports, subway stations, and train stations, and a new Transit view to complement the existing standard, hybrid, and satellite views. In addition, Apple has also apparently been making headway on an indoor mapping project that would allow users to navigate major buildings, offices, and landmarks. Autonomous robots with iBeacon sensors are reportedly being deployed in buildings to collect data for the indoor mapping project, however it’s uncertain whether this feature will go live with iOS 9 or is simply being prepared for some future release.

Leak reveals Flow by Outlook, a Microsoft email messaging app for iPhone

Microsoft looks to be working on a way to make email conversations on the iPhone more like instant messaging with an apparent new app discovered by Twitter user @h0x0d. A posted image shows a general outline for Flow by Outlook, an app designed to let users have real-time conversations via their email accounts without bothering with the subject lines and signatures of traditional email exchanges. Only conversations started within the Flow app will be displayed there, separating out the more casual instant messaging-style communications from standard email correspondence. Users will be able to continue Flow conversations in Outlook. A disclaimer at the bottom of the image marks Flow as “Microsoft Confidential” and implores users not to discuss Flow or send Flow messages to anyone outside of Microsoft. [via ZDNet]

Apple extends agreement with TomTom for Maps

In a simple two-sentence statement, TomTom confirmed that its partnership to provide Apple with maps and related information has been extended, but provided no further details. TomTom has been partnered with Apple since 2012, the same year Apple fired its own internal manager in charge of Maps for iOS 6. Apple recently announced the acquisition of GPS firm Coherent Navigation, which could be another move to bolster the features of Maps. [via 9to5Mac]

First Nintendo mobile game expected to arrive this year

Nintendo may be on track to release its first iOS game later this year, according to details revealed in the company’s Financial Results Briefing. Back in March, reports surfaced that the company was partnering with DeNA to allow its intellectual property to be used on non-Nintendo mobile hardware. The latest report refers rather obliquely to games for “smart devices,” making it unclear which platforms the company may be targeting for the initial release, however the current plan suggests that the company will debut one title later this year, with four more expected to arrive by March 2017. Nintendo chief Satoru Iwata’s comments make it clear that the company is taking a cautious and measured approach to ensure that customers will “appreciate the quality” of the games developed for smart device platforms, with designs intended to “match the play styles” of other devices, as opposed to simply being direct ports, and that the company will “carefully select appropriate IP and titles for our smart device deployment.” Iwata goes on to state that five titles is “not a small number at all” and that it “should demonstrate our serious commitment to the smart device business.” [via Engadget]

Music services accuse App Store pricing of being anticompetititve

Following reports earlier this week that Apple has been using its influence to encourage record labels to kill off free streaming licenses for services like Spotify and YouTube, some services are accusing Apple of anticompetitive pricing as a result of its App Store subscription model. Several music industry sources have spoken with The Verge, strongly calling out Apple for the thirty percent cut that it takes from all in-app subscriptions, which of course includes subscriptions to services such as Spotify and Rdio. While the sources acknowledge that some fee for administrative overhead is reasonable, the feeling is that a 30 percent cut is excessive.

The sense is that Apple gets an unfair pricing advantage for its own upcoming streaming service, as other services are forced to either give up 30 percent of their base fees to Apple, or raise their prices for in-app subscriptions to make up the difference. While most of these services provide alternate methods for purchasing subscriptions outside of the App Store, such as visiting the company’s web site directly, Apple’s App Store Guidelines specifically prohibit redirecting users to a web site or even providing this information in the app itself, resulting in many users not being aware of another way to purchase a subscription.

Apple rejects Apple Watch apps that just tell time, requires independent approval for certain health apps

In a series of updates to its App Store guidelines, Apple has spelled out some boundaries for which apps will be allowed on the Apple Watch. Watch apps built primarily to tell time will be rejected, reflecting the time Apple has spent in its own exhaustive efforts to create intricate faces for the watch. Apple also clarified that apps used for health-related research on human subjects will need to be approved by an independent ethics review board. [via 9to5Mac]

Security flaw opens iOS devices to attack using fake WiFi hotspots

Researchers at Skycure have exposed an SSL certificate security flaw allowing them to create a ‘No iOS Zone’ where most apps on iPhones and iPads running iOS 8 will crash while connecting to the Internet, even crashing the devices themselves in some cases. While the exploit is normally triggered by users manually joining these rogue Wi-Fi networks, hackers can also take advantage of the WiFiGate vulnerability to create fake Wi-Fi networks with names that iOS devices on some carriers will automatically join — for example any iPhone on AT&T will join any nearby Wi-Fi network with the name “attwifi” without requiring any user interaction. Once the device is connected, either automatically or manually by the user, apps attempting to make a secure connection with a server will crash. Heavy use of the device while it is exposed to the fake Wi-Fi location can even cause the device’s OS to crash. In some instances that crash led to a repeatable boot cycle, rendering the device useless while within range of the fake Wi-Fi hotspot. Users can avoid the problem by disconnecting from the offending Wi-Fi network and generally avoiding connecting to suspicious free Wi-Fi networks, although in the case of carrier-defined Wi-Fi networks, the user may be required to move out of range of the Wi-Fi network entirely, as many of these carrier settings cannot be overridden. Skycure has reported the problem to Apple and speculates that iOS 8.3 may have fixed some of the underlying issues. [via 9to5Mac]

Security flaw leaves about 1,500 iOS apps vulnerable to attack

About 1,500 iOS apps have an HTTPS vulnerability leaving them open to attack, according to analytics service SourceDNA. The flaw stems from a weakness in version 2.5.1 of AFNetworking, an open-source code which provides networking capabilities for apps. Apps containing the code may not properly validate SSL certificates, leaving users of apps like Movies by Flixster with Rotten Tomatoes and Citrix OpenVoice Audio Conferencing vulnerable to spying over public Wi-Fi networks. AFNetworking has updated version 2.5.2 to fix the issue and companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and Uber have already issued fixes for affected apps. The full list of vulnerable apps still using version 2.5.1 has been kept private, but SourceDNA provides a search tool allowing users to see which of their apps might be affected. [via Ars Technica]

Security change in iOS 8.3 limits some file manager and transfer apps

A security change in iOS 8.3 prevents some file manager and transfer utilities like iFunBox and iExplorer from accessing app directories on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, MacRumors notes. The apps allow users to manage, transfer and back up data between their iOS devices and a Mac or PC, but updated iOS 8.3 security features blocked the apps’ ability to control data in installed apps and games. Scrambling for a fix over the weekend, iFunBox released an updated version that partially addressed the problem, allowing any music file to be imported as a ringtone, and apps with “iTunes File Sharing” enabled to be opened for sandbox browsing. Any other apps are still not accessible in iOS 8.3. Macroplant’s iExplorer claims to be iOS 8.3 ready, making no mention of the security issues.

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