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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.

WSJ: New Apple music service to debut at WWDC

A new report from The Wall Street Journal has confirmed that Apple will indeed unveil its new Apple Music service at next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The report also confirms most of the details that have previously been reported about the new service, including that Apple will not only be unveiling a $10/month streaming music service to compete with Spotify, but also plans to update iTunes Radio with channels that are programmed and hosted by human DJs. While these details have been making the rounds for some time, it was previously unclear whether Apple would have the necessary licensing agreements in place in time for an early June unveiling of the service.

Updated Apple document claims Apple Watch won’t measure heart rate while in motion

Upgrading to Watch OS 1.0.1 decreases the frequency of heart rate readings taken by the Apple Watch when users are in motion, according to the device’s updated heart monitoring support document. “Apple Watch attempts to measure your heart rate every 10 minutes, but won’t record it when you’re in motion or your arm is moving,” according to the site. Watch OS 1.0 recorded a user’s heart rate every 10 minutes, regardless of whether a user’s arm was in motion. The change only applies to passive heart rate monitoring, which uses infrared sensors to determine heart rate. Users can still record more frequent heart rate measurements by starting a workout in the Workout app — which uses green LED lights and photo sensors to collect heart rate data — and can still get readings at any specific time using the Heart Rate sensor. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Apple pursuing Drake for iTunes Radio guest DJ

Apple is rumored to be working on a $19 million deal to add rapper Drake as a guest DJ for iTunes Radio, according to the New York Post. DJ David Guetta and Pharrell Williams — who sported his Apple Watch last month on “The Voice” — are also in talks to get on board as faces of Apple’s upcoming entry into the streaming music business, according to music industry sources. Reliance on artist involvement and star power to promote the new service is consistent with previous rumors that “Apple Music” will provide fans with track samples, photos, videos, and concert updates on artist-curated social networking pages.

Typo to stop selling iPhone keyboard cases

Typo Products has agreed to stop selling its iPhone keyboard cases to settle its legal troubles with BlackBerry, The Globe and Mail reports. A federal judge awarded BlackBerry $860,600 in damages in February after Typo violated an injunction banning the company from selling its keyboard cases in the U.S. over a “likelihood” that the cases violated BlackBerry’s proprietary keyboard designs. The latest agreement prohibits Typo from selling smartphone keyboards on mobile devices with a screen smaller than 7.9 inches anywhere in the world, BlackBerry said in a news release. Other terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. The Typo 2 – which snapped onto an iPhone and provided a physical keyboard to replace the touch-screen model — emerged last fall in answer to BlackBerry’s previous lawsuit, but BlackBerry successfully argued that the updated model still copied their backlighting features and “fret bars” for separating keys.

Apple issues workaround for Messages text string bug

Apple has issued a workaround for the recent Messages bug, which causes iPhones to reboot and Messages to repeatedly crash after a specific, strange string of unicode characters is received via text. In an official support document, Apple recommends using Siri to re-open the Messages app. Users are instructed to ask Siri to “read unread messages,” then to reply to the malicious message. Messages should then be able to open again, and users can delete the message, or the entire conversation. Apple notes that an upcoming software update will fix the issue.

Apple acquires Metaio, an augmented reality company

Apple has made yet another acquisition in the form of Metaio, a small augmented reality company, TechCrunch reports. Metaio launched in 2003 as a result from a project at Volkswagen, and the company has worked on a number of virtual reality and augmented reality projects, including the 2010 launch of Junaio, one of the very first augmented reality apps for the iOS platform. A legal document sourced by TechCrunch notes that shares in the company were transferred to Apple on May 21-22. Although Apple’s response was the usual standard boilerplate confirmation: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” there are several readily apparent possibilities as to what Apple may be planning to do with Metaio, particularly in light of recent news that Apple may be bringing augmented reality features to iOS 9.

Apple stuck with court-appointed antitrust monitor

Apple’s appeal to the courts to have its appointed antitrust monitor dismissed has been rejected, the The Wall Street Journal reports. Former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich had been appointed to assess and oversee Apple’s antitrust compliance policies after the company was found liable in conspiring to raise e-book prices back in 2013. Since that time, Apple has been trying to have Bromwich dismissed, arguing that he has been exceeding the scope of his mandate, and that his fees were “exorbitant.” According to Bromwich, Apple has become uncooperative with the monitor in recent months, inappropriately limiting his access to necessary corporate records and denying requests for interviews with key personnel.

In a decision handed down earlier today, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Bromwich’s role was “appropriately constrained” and noted that Apple can continue raising objections in the lower court if it believes Bromwich has overstepped his bounds. Mr. Bromwich’s role was clarified by the court in early 2014, in a decision which made it clear that Apple was required to cooperate with the antitrust monitor, but that his role was limited to ensuring that “Apple has policies in place to prevent future antitrust violations and that senior executives and board members understand them.” One of the judges in today’s decision further noted that Apple failed to follow the court-mandated dispute resolution process in dealing with the monitor, instead choosing to sit “on its hands, allowing issues with the monitor to fester and the relationship to deteriorate, mostly without the district court’s knowledge.”

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