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Apple debuts iOS 9, introduces Proactive Assistant

At its annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco today, Apple took the wraps off iOS 9, the next version of its mobile operating system for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. As expected, iOS 9 was introduced primarily as building on the “foundations” of the operating system to improve battery life and stability, however several other new features were demonstrated, most notably improvements to Siri and a new Proactive Assistant feature. The Proactive Assistant will be able to provide more contextually relevant apps and information based on the user’s location and usual routines, such as bringing up an appropriate playlist when the headphones are plugged in during workout times, setting reminders for getting into the car, creating reminders based on the user’s current context such as a web page or iMessage, and automatically adding appointments from emails and looking up phone numbers from incoming calls based on information contained in emails. Search suggestions in Siri and Spotlight also become more contextually relevant based on trends, who the user has contacted, appointments, reminders, and more, and a new search API allows for content to be searched within third-party apps, deep-linked to bring up the specific information searched for directly in the app, along with a backlink to search results.

Passbook has been renamed “Wallet” and Apple Pay has also been enhanced, and in addition to launching in the U.K. in July, support is being added for loyalty and reward cards from a wide variety of stores, which will be presented based on location. The Notes app has also received a number of enhancements including a toolbar with formatting options for styles, a new feature to add checklists in Notes, and improvements to importing photos directly into Notes. A new drawing mode has also been added to allow users to sketch in Notes, and the iOS 9 Share Sheet will allow items such as web page links to be easily added to Notes as rich links. A new attachments view will also allow users to quickly see a list of attachments in Notes and access them directly from that view.

Apple announces watchOS 2 with native SDK

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference today, the company announced watchOS 2, sporting a number of new features for Apple Watch, as well as a new Watch SDK that will allow third-party developers to build native apps that run directly on the watch, rather than as an extension of a paired iPhone app. Developers will now be able to write their own complications to effectively design custom watch faces that provide an ability to quickly glance at app-specific information. A new “Time Travel” feature will allow users to rotate their digital crowns to quickly and easily view time-based information on their Watch face, such as a future weather forecast or upcoming appointments. “Nightstand Mode” will allow the Watch to display the time and other information in a sideways orientation when the device is plugged in and charging, including adding an alarm clock feature and using the side button as a snooze button.

Additional enhancements allow friends to be added directly on the Watch’s friends list, and Digital Touch drawings can now be done with multiple colors. Emails can be replied to, and FaceTime Audio support is being added so users can place and receive phone calls right from the user’s wrist. Native third-party fitness apps will also now be supported, with the ability for workout data to contribute directly to the built-in activity monitoring apps. Siri has also been enhanced in watchOS 2, allowing users to start workouts by voice, control HomeKit devices, and request specific glances. The mass transit feature in iOS 9 will also come to watchOS 2, allowing users to get departure times for nearby stations at a glance, and step-by-step walking directions to get to a nearby transit station as part of the overall transit routing.

The watchOS 2 SDK will be available to developers today, while the Apple watchOS 2 update will be released in the fall as a free update for all current Apple Watch devices.

Apple Pay coming to the U.K. in July

During today’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple announced that Apple Pay will be launching in the U.K. in July. The wireless payment service will support most of the U.K.‘s major banks and retailers, as well as payments on the London transit system.

Apple Maps adds Transit directions in iOS 9

During today’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced that the Apple Maps app in iOS 9 will be updated to include public transit directions. New features will include specific map overlays that emphasize transit lines over roads, with detailed information available by tapping on stations, including transit times. Multi-modal routing will also be added, allowing users to easily get routes that include multiple paths such as trains, subways, buses, ferries, and more, and walking directions will take into account specific transit station entrances for accurate routing. Transit services will launch initially in Baltimore, New York, Berlin, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Toronto, Mexico City, and Washington D.C., as well as a number of cities in China.

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.”

Follow iLounge’s live Twitter coverage of today’s WWDC keynote

Follow @iLounge on Twitter for live coverage of today’s WWDC Keynote. It’s expect that Apple will introduce iOS 9, the Apple Music streaming service, as well as the native SDK for Apple Watch — and who knows what other surprises will be in store. We’ll have all the details here on the site as the day goes on, so check back regularly for a deeper look. Apple’s special event starts at 10 a.m. Pacific Time (1 p.m. Eastern), and will be streaming live on Apple’s website and on Apple TV’s Special Events channel.

Report: Apple beefing up high-speed network for streaming music, TV services

Apple is building its own high-speed network and upgrading how it builds data centers to compete with Amazon, Microsoft and Google in cloud services, Bloomberg reports. Apple relies on traditional network providers to support services like iCloud, iTunes and Siri functionality, but sources familiar with the company’s plans said Apple will need faster, more efficient infrastructure to handle millions of users for the music streaming service expected to be announced today at WWDC and the upcoming TV streaming service expected later this year. The new push includes billions of dollars of new investment in custom-designed data centers and fiber lines that can send data at hundreds of gigabits per second. The company aims to link its existing data centers in California, Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon to Internet hubs in yet-undisclosed cities, getting content closer to densely populated markets before it’s delivered to consumers by broadband connections and cell towers. Apple, as usual, declined comment.

Report: Apple aiming for 100 million Apple Music users

A source familiar with Apple’s plans said the company is aiming to sign up 100 million subscribers for its Apple Music service, dwarfing all existing streaming music services combined, the Associated Press reports. Users of Beats Music will be migrated over before that service is shut down, and those purchasing songs or albums on iTunes will begin receiving an offer to subscribe to the $10/month streaming service instead. Apple will be flooding the online music scene to rack up those numbers, providing a three-month free trial of the paid service alongside a slew of guest DJs drawing users to its free iTunes Radio offering, including Pharrell Williams, Drake, Muse and David Guetta.

During an interview at the Midem music and technology festival, Sony Music CEO Doug Morris emphasized Apple’s unique position to dominate and revolutionize the streaming music market, Venture Beat notes. “What does Apple bring to this?” Morris said. “Well, they’ve got $178 billion dollars in the bank. And they have 800 million credit cards in iTunes. Spotify has never really advertised because it’s never been profitable. My guess is that Apple will promote this like crazy and I think that will have a halo effect on the streaming business.”

Apple planning to decrease its take of in-app subscriptions

Apple may be looking to reduce the 30 percent cut that it takes from in-app media subscriptions, according to a new report in The Financial Times. The company is apparently in discussions with media companies looking to change the 70/30 revenue sharing split that Apple has traditionally offered for paid subscriptions to music, video, and news content. While the same revenue sharing model has been adopted by rival companies Google and Amazon, an improvement to the App Store’s pricing terms for content providers would help to ensure the iOS platform remains attractive to media companies as well as possibly reassuring regulators that Apple is not abusing its dominant market position. Services affected would include companies such as Spotify, Rdio, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Condé Nast and The New York Times, among many others. The move would also encourage more companies to take advantage of Apple’s in-app payment system for subscriptions, rather than working around them with browser-based solutions in order to avoid paying the 30 percent share to Apple, or passing the additional costs along to subscribers with higher pricing for those who choose to use Apple’s in-app payment system. While the report notes that Apple is in discussions with media companies about adjusting the revenue sharing model, no information has been provided about exactly what amounts Apple would be willing to settle for.

Some major U.S. retailers still lukewarm on Apple Pay

Despite Apple’s aggressive attempts to court U.S. retailers to sign on for Apple Pay, many remain skeptical of the new mobile payment system, Reuters reports. While Apple claims that half of the top 100 merchants in the U.S. have committed to supporting Apple Pay this year, discussions with analysis and merchants reveal that Apple’s forecast may be too optimistic, with many retailers unsure of the new payment system. Reuters surveyed 98 of the National Retail Federation’s list of top 100 U.S. retailers — all of those that have physical stores. Out of the merchants surveyed, 85 provided detailed responses while 11 only stated whether or not they currently accept Apple Pay and two did not respond to the request. From this information, Reuters concluded that while some of the merchants use and like Apple Pay, fewer than a quarter currently accept it, and almost two-thirds categorically stated they would not be accepting it this year; only four companies stated definite plans to implement Apple Pay in the next year. Reasons cited by retailers for not accepting Apple Pay included a lack of customer demand, inability to access data generated by Apple Pay transactions, and the cost of equipping stores with terminals and other technology to handle the contactless payment system.

Notably, some merchants also indicated they were holding out in anticipation of “a new mobile payment system to be launched by a coalition of retailers later this year” — quite likely the competing CurrentC service being launched by a consortium of retailers including Walmart, Best Buy, and Gap, the terms of which will prohibit participating retailers from accepting “any other mobile wallet” until 2016. Since 18 of the top 100 retailers are part of the MCX consortium behind CurrentC, it stands to reason that these merchants would be part of the group that has stated they will not be supporting Apple Pay in 2015.

Although statistics on mobile wallet payments are essentially unavailable as payment providers and credit card issuers do not disclose usage data, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated in January that Apple Pay accounted for “two out of three dollars” spent in contactless payments, citing internal data but not releasing the data supporting those numbers. Most analysts agree that contactless payments and mobile wallets still account for only “a tiny percentage of U.S. retail transactions.” The lack of contactless payment terminals in U.S. retailers likely accounts for much of the lack of uptake in the technology, however most retailers will be required to install upgraded credit card terminals to support chip cards by October, most of which also allow for contactless payment systems. The U.S. dramatically lags behind other countries such as Canada in accepting mobile payments, suggesting that Apple may have a more successful market penetration when it’s expected to launch in Canada later this year.

Apple in eleventh-hour negotiations for streaming music deals

Mere days before Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) where the company is expected to announce a new streaming music service, Apple remains in negotiations with record labels, Bloomberg reports. Labels are reportedly pushing for a larger portion of revenue from Apple than they are currently getting from their deals with rival service Spotify, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Both sides are said to want to complete a deal prior to WWDC on Monday, and the talks are actively continuing to that end. The labels are apparently using the talks with Apple to set a benchmark for negotiations with other services. Currently, the labels take 55 percent of Spotify’s monthly fees, and publishers take an additional 15 percent; the labels are said to be pushing for closer to 60 percent from Apple.

Apple Watch goes on sale in seven more countries on June 26

Apple has officially announced that the Apple Watch will go on sale in seven more countries on June 26. Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked during the Q2 2015 earnings call in April that Apple was “hoping to expand Apple Watch sales into more countries in late June,” and the list of new countries includes Italy, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Taiwan, where the watch will be available both from the Apple Online Store as well as in Apple’s retail stores and “select Apple Authorized Resellers.”

The announcement also notes that on the same date, Friday, June 26, Apple will begin selling some models in Apple Retail Stores in countries where the watch has already been available, and that Apple has been making “great progress” with current Apple Watch orders, with orders placed through May for almost all models expected to ship within two weeks.

NYT: No new Apple TV at WWDC

A new report from The New York Times has thrown cold water on the collection of reports suggesting that a new Apple TV would debut at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) next week. According to “people briefed on the device,” Apple had considered announcing the new Apple TV as recently as mid-May, but has now decided to delay the announcement as the product is “not ready to be demonstrated.” The report goes on to note that in addition to possible delays with the hardware and developer tool kit, Apple’s content deals for a new streaming television service may also not be ready for an announcement at this time. Plans for the new set-top box appear to have been merely delayed, however, and Apple still seems to be actively pursuing the release of new Apple TV hardware with a new app platform to go along with it.

Report: CBS to announce standalone Showtime service for Apple TV

CBS Corp. is expected to very soon announce a deal to bring a standalone version of Showtime to Apple TV, Variety reports. The move to provide a broadband-only option for accessing Showtime content follows the HBO Now roll out to Apple TV back in April, although the pricing and official name for Showtime’s new service is still unclear. Apple is an exclusive partner for HBO Now’s $15-a-month standalone service for the time being, but industry sources say CBS will be expanding its independent Showtime offering to other partners shortly after announcing its deal with Apple.

Cook delivers fiery speech on privacy, encryption

Tim Cook emphasized Apple’s long-standing commitment to privacy in remarks given during EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event, TechCrunch reports. The Apple CEO took other companies — presumably Google and Facebook — to task for heavily relying on collecting user data for the success of their lucrative advertising model. “I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” Cook said. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Now that Apple is storing even more sensitive data relating to users’ health, homes and finances, Cook said he believes the user should be in full control of their information, not allowing it to be sold as a commodity in exchange for a free service. He took a very pointed shot at Google’s Photos product, warning users against allowing their “family photos [to be] data mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose.” He also lambasted government efforts to push for weaker encryption, echoing the letter to President Obama that Apple co-signed in May.

Apple issues recall of Beats Pill XL speaker

Apple has issued a voluntary recall of the Beats Pill XL speaker, citing concerns that the battery could overheat and pose a fire safety risk. The recall provides a link to the form for returning the speakers to Apple for Apple Store credit or an electronic payment of $325 (or equivalent amount of local currency for those outside the U.S.). Refunds take approximately three weeks, and returns will only be processed on the web — customers should not try to return the product to the store where it was purchased.

Apple confirms Apple TV to act as HomeKit hub

A new support document confirms the long-standing rumor that Apple TVs (third-generation or later) will allow users to control HomeKit devices using Siri even when they’re away from home. Devices running iOS 8.1 or later will be able to control HomeKit devices locally after downloading an app for each family of devices and entering a unique HomeKit code. After setup, Siri will be able to control the HomeKit products inside the house, but the iOS device may need to be unlocked when giving commands to certain products. For Siri to control a user’s home remotely, the same Apple ID will have to be logged in on the user’s iOS device and an Apple TV running software version 7.0 or later. For HomeKit devices to be grouped, they’ll need to be configured through the same third-party app before Siri can control them as a unit. The document includes a link to HomeKit compatible products and instructions for reconfiguring your HomeKit settings if you move or lose the device you use for control. Notably, Siri can’t be used to unlock your door, presumably for safety purposes.

Apple TV adds NatGeo TV channel

Apple has added another new channel, NatGeo TV, to Apple TV today. As one might surmise, NatGeo TV is a National Geographic channel for Apple’s set-top box. The channel includes a number of clips and shows — some episodes require cable authentication, but at first glance, the channel appears to offer more free content than many other “cable channels” on Apple TV. Apple TV users will also notice the Apple Events channel has returned to Apple TV’s main menu, in advance of next Monday’s Apple WWDC keynote.

Insteon’s HomeKit-enabled Hub now available

With HomeKit accessories now on the way, the first to ship is Insteon’s Hub ($150). Hub and its accompanying app allow users to control all previous Insteon devices alongside new HomeKit-enabled devices from other manufacturers, eliminating the need to toss all of Insteon’s previous gear and start over to build a HomeKit-friendly home. The app allows for grouping devices for convenient control and scheduling to turn single devices or groups on and off. Making Hub HomeKit-compatible also integrates Siri into the process, allowing for voice command of devices and groups.

Other companies are now plugging HomeKit products ahead of upcoming availability, including the SmartPlug from iHome, which we first saw at CES in January. iHome’s SmartPlug will be available for pre-order June 15.

Apple’s subscription TV service won’t be announced at WWDC next week

Apple won’t be unveiling its subscription TV service next week at WWDC, Re/code reports. The company wanted to launch the new service in early fall to coincide with the new broadcast TV season, but necessary licensing deals aren’t yet finalized, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. Apple wants to provide customers in cities around the U.S. with local broadcast programming to set its service apart from those already available from Dish and Sony, but obtaining the rights to local shows and developing the technology to deliver them has proven time-consuming. CBS CEO Les Moonves has indicated his network will likely sign with Apple, but money is still a sticking point. Industry executives predict Apple’s TV service won’t launch until late this year or in 2016.

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