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UK digital download taxes could increase in 2015

Digital downloads including App Store and iTunes purchases are due to see a tax increase in the U.K. under new laws next year, The Guardian reports. A new budget would force Apple and others to charge a 20 percent tax rate on such downloads. The budget closes a tax loophole that currently allows digital downloads to be taxed through other countries, with the tax rate sometimes dropping as low as three percent. Barring any changes, the new law is set to go into effect January 1, 2015.

WSJ: Apple talking with Comcast about streaming TV

Apple is talking with Comcast about working together on a streaming television service that would use an Apple set-top box like Apple TV, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal would use Comcast’s cables to bypass web congestion, sources said. Using Comcast as a partner would, ideally, prevent buffering and other service issues that often plague streaming web video. Apple seeks to let users stream live and on-demand TV shows stored in the cloud, thus replacing a traditional cable box.

The report claims that at the moment, Apple and Comcast “aren’t close” to an agreement. Comcast would have to make “significant investments” in network equipment and other technology, while the two companies seem to disagree on which would control customer data — Apple wants people to sign on to the device using its Apple IDs, and the company is asking for a cut of the monthly subscription fees paid by customers. It’s noted that Apple was working on a deal with Time Warner Cable since mid-2012; Comcast’s deal to acquire Time Warner is currently being reviewed by regulators.

Report: Apple to launch Spotify rival, iTunes Android app?

Apple has “opened exploratory talks” with record executives about creating an on-demand music streaming service, à la Spotify, and the company is also considering making an iTunes app for Android, Billboard reports. The discussions are reportedly part of a strategy to help Apple cope with declining downloads in the iTunes Music Store. “They are feeling out some people at labels on thoughts about transitioning its customers from iTunes proper to a streaming service,” a major label source said. “So when you buy a song for $1.29, and you put it in your library, iTunes might send an e-mail pointing out that for a total of, say, $8 a month you can access that song plus all the music in the iTunes store. It’s all in the ‘what if’ stage.” Such a streaming service could be a standalone app. An iTunes spokesman declined comment.

The report also notes Apple is trying to stimulate more download sales by pushing catalog titles. iTunes executives have asked labels to clean up catalogs of their top 100 selling artists to prevent multiple copies of albums and redundant compilations from showing up in the store, with the hopes of reducing the available number of compilations for each artist to a more manageable number.

iLounge Game Spotlight: Star Horizon

Star Horizon ($4) is a new space shooter from Tabasco Interactive. A graphically impressive game, Star Horizon puts players into the ship of space fighter pilot. The on-rails shooter supports iOS controllers.

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Star Horizon certainly looks like a premium title. With nice, clear graphics and an impressive frame rate, it looks like everything you’d want out of a space shooter. Your ship dips and turns on a predetermined track as you pass by larger ships and fire upon enemies — sometimes you’ll take one out and zoom by the wreckage.

Golden State first NBA team to use iBeacons

The Golden State Warriors are the first NBA team to roll out iBeacons in their home arena, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. Oracle Arena in Oakland uses iBeacons to push seat upgrades, as fans with the team’s smartphone app — and cheaper seats — are prompted to upgrade when in the arena. The article notes issues with the plan, including a lack of extra tickets, and an estimate that the majority of users don’t leave Bluetooth LE on regularly, preventing them from receiving the notifications. A January report noted that 20 MLB teams plan on having iBeacons installed in their parks by Opening Day later this month.

Apps: Cosmos, NCAA March Madness Live, NFB StopMo Studio + The Very Hungry Caterpillar

FOX Broadcasting Company’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (free) is a companion app to the new 13-part FOX series, Cosmos. The app offers a full view of an interactive cosmic calendar which visualizes the history of the universe throughout the year. Episode sneak peeks and synopses are included along with additional videos, as well as a production diary and bios of those involved with the production. The visually impressive app stands on its own, but it’ll be of more use to fans of the show.

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NCAA March Madness Live from NCAA Digital (free) has upgraded to version 4.0 for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The app has been redesigned for iOS 7. March Madness Live lets users log in with their television provider to watch live streaming tournament games on TBS, TNT, and TruTV. CBS games don’t need a paid TV subscription. Live radio broadcasts, game alerts, live scores, and an interactive tournament bracket are featured in the app. Video highlights are also included, as users can track “unbelievable moments” in real-time from each game.

China Mobile added 1M new iPhone users in February

China Mobile sold about one million new iPhones in February according to Chief Executive Li Yue. “We added 1.34 million new 4G users in February and most of them are iPhone users. We are happy with the progress as we are still building our 4G network and the coverage is only available in some major cities,” China Mobile Chairman Xi Gouhua told The Wall Street Journal. There were no details on specific sales for the iPhone 5s and 5c. China Mobile launched the iPhone on January 17.

Hacked EA game site phishing for Apple IDs

An EA Games server is hosting a phishing site that’s asking for Apple IDs, passwords, and credit card information, according to anti-fraud Internet services company Netcraft. Two websites in the ea.com domain use the compromised server, which redirects users to the actual Apple ID website after entering their confidential information. It’s possible that hackers accessed the site using vulnerabilities in an outdated version of WebCalendar 1.2.0 software. Netcraft notes that it informed EA of the hack, but the server and content is still online. [via CNET UK]

Apple CEO Cook slams new ‘Haunted Empire’ book

Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued a strongly-worded statement slamming “Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs,” a new book by former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane. Cook said in a statement to CNBC, “This nonsense belongs with some of the other books I’ve read about Apple. It fails to capture Apple, Steve, or anyone else in the company. Apple has over 85,000 employees that come to work each day to do their best work, to create the world’s best products, to put their mark in the universe and leave it better than they found it. This has been the heart of Apple from day one and will remain at the heart for decades to come. I am very confident about our future.”

Critically panned by most early reviewers, Kane’s book is based on 200 interviews with current and former executives, business partners, and others on the post-Steve Jobs era at Apple. The book’s description notes that Haunted Empire “reveals the perils and opportunities an iconic company faces when it loses its visionary leader.”

Apple releases iTunes 11.1.6 beta to employees

Apple has released iTunes 11.1.6 beta to its employees, 9to5Mac reports. The beta restores the ability to sync contacts and calendar information to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch from a Mac running OS X 10.9.3, which is also in beta. Apple had previously removed the ability to sync that information from a Mac to an iOS device. It’s unknown what else might be included in the beta.

Apps: Angry Birds Epic, Bears vs. Art, Facebook 8.0 + Sphero 3.3.37

In Angry Birds Epic (Free), just soft launched in the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand App Stores, Rovio has brought its most famous characters into an unusual new genre: a tactical RPG where the birds navigate through a fantasy world, battling bad piggies along the way. Combat is handled in typical turn-based RPG style, and players can obtain various items to equip their bird warriors and rescue new characters to add to their party along the way—Epic’s goal is to incentivize upgrades, using in-app purchased Lucky Coins to speed along the process. Unfortunately, while the game tries to provide in-game clues to guide the player through various new UI elements, the gameplay is somewhat confusing—even fans of the tactical RPG genre may feel a little bit lost, say nothing of Rovio’s core group of casual gamers. That said, the game still provides some basic playing enjoyment even if you’re just forging ahead blindly and not really paying attention to specs and equipment.

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Also soft-launched only in Australia and Canada, Bears vs. Art (Free) by long-time App Store favorite Halfbrick Studios is a casual puzzle game with a simple and somewhat charming premise. You take on the role of a bear whose peaceful wilderness habitat has been invaded by a series of art museums. The goal is to go on a rampage and take out as much of the art as you can, moving through a series of individual levels representing different small museums. In each case, you guide the bear to smash a specified number of pieces of art with limited turns or time to do so. The trick: your controls can move the bear in any direction, but the bear will always move all the way to the nearest wall, with force. Make contact with a piece of art, and you’re given the opportunity to slash it with a bear claw before moving on to the next piece. Bears vs. Art is a fun and addictive little casual game that will likely provide hours of enjoyment; you needn’t cough up real-world currency to enjoy playing it.

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Apple adds 8GB iPhone 5c, re-launches 4th-gen iPad, ends iPad 2 (updated x2)

Confirming reports yesterday, Apple officially expanded the iPhone lineup this morning by adding an 8GB version of the plastic-bodied iPhone 5c, and changed the iPad family by discontinuing the aging iPad 2 in favor of the fourth-generation iPad, also known as the “iPad with Retina display.” It appears that neither the iPhone 5c nor the fourth-generation iPad has changed considerably from previously-available versions: apart from its lower storage capacity, the iPhone 5c is available with the same colors and features as prior models, and the iPad has the same colors, model numbers and features as the version discontinued last year.

As of press time, the 8GB iPhone 5c has only been added to European Apple Stores, where it sells for £429 or €549, with some variation between countries; it has not replaced the still lower-priced iPhone 4S. The iPad with Retina display is available in the United States, selling solely in a 16GB capacity for $399 (Wi-Fi) or $529 (LTE), the same prices as the iPad 2 was previously selling for.

Update: According to Philip Elmer-Dewitt, Apple has confirmed that the iPhone 5c 8GB model is only being sold in the U.K., France, Germany, Australia and China. This is the first time since the little-known 4GB fourth-generation iPod nano that Apple has sold a lower-capacity version of a device solely outside the United States.

Update 2: A representative of Apple told Re/code that the “mid-tier iPhone segment is growing year-over-year and the 8GB model provides a more affordable option for markets where LTE is becoming more established.” This characterization of the iPhone 5c contrasts with the German carrier O2’s internal e-mail released yesterday, which described the new 8GB model as Apple’s “entry-level smartphone.”

Apple to bring back iPad 4 on Tuesday?

Apple will bring back the fourth-generation iPad on Tuesday, 9to5Mac reports. According to a source, Apple stores have been receiving shipments of the previously discontinued iPad. Both Wi-Fi and LTE black and white 16GB models have arrived in stores. It’s likely that Apple will make the 16GB fourth-gen iPad the low-end $399 iPad model, and discontinue the second-generation iPad, so all current iPads would be Lightning devices.

It was reported earlier today that Apple will introduce an 8GB version of the iPhone 5c, likely at the same time as the reintroduction of the fourth-generation iPad tomorrow. Apple could discontinue the iPhone 4s and introduce the new 5c as the low-end iPhone model — all current iPhones would then be Lightning devices, as well.

Microsoft Office to make iPad debut March 27

Microsoft will unveil Office for iPad at a March 27 event, The Verge reports. The iPhone and iPod versions of Office were released last June. Apparently, the iPad version will be similar, requiring an Office 365 subscription for editing. Document creation and editing will reportedly be supported in full for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint apps.

Apple TV adds ACC Sports channel

Apple has added an ACC Sports channel to Apple TV. The channel offers game highlights, interviews, insider reports, player profiles and more on Atlantic Coast Conference athletics.

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament previews are also included in a Campus Insiders section. Like other recent channel additions, the ACC Sports channel appears automatically on the main page without a software update.

Apple launches $20/incident post-warranty chat support

Apple today has started charging out-of-warranty customers for for online chat support — it now costs users $20 per incident for support. The company’s new web payment system, first reported weeks ago, is having difficulties thus far, 9to5Mac reports. It’s likely Apple will offer exceptions for payments until the system is working properly. The company will also grant exceptions for iCloud issues and accidental damage incidents to set up a repair or replacement.

Apple to release 8GB iPhone 5c this week? (Updated)

Apple may introduce an 8GB version of the iPhone 5c this week, according to an alleged internal email from German wireless carrier O2, obtained by German blog stadt-bremerhaven.de. The lower-capacity version of the phone is supposedly shipping to stores today for a Tuesday morning launch.

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The email describes the new 5c as Apple’s “entry-level smartphone,” and suggests that other 5c models may see reduced pricing, as well. While all five iPhone 5c colors will allegedly be offered in 8GB capacities, only white and blue versions will allegedly be available immediately in O2 stores, with other colors available to be ordered online. It’s unclear whether this will be the case in other territories or with other retailers, as well; Apple Stores tend to have full color and capacity inventories faster than carrier partners.

It’s notable that Apple has amped up its 5c advertising recently — a large interactive ad appeared on the New York Times website last week. [via Apple Insider]

Update: Engadget posted a reader photo of the 8GB 5c’s packaging, confirming the device’s existence.

Healthbook app may monitor heart rate, hydration, blood sugar, more

Apple’s upcoming Healthbook app may track users’ heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep, and more, according to a new in-depth look from 9to5Mac. The article offers “complete recreations of screenshots” which appear to answer numerous questions as to what Apple is testing in health and fitness tracking. Bloodwork, oxygen saturation, and blood sugar sections of the app will monitor a user’s blood. Apple could also track hydration and respiratory rate using Healthbook, as well as sleep cycles.

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As one might expect, Healthbook will also be used in fitness tracking, to examine weight, activity, and nutrition. An Emergency Card section would store vital health information that can be used be a doctor or emergency technician in times of health crisis. It’s unknown how Healthbook will acquire the data, though the iPhone, iWatch, and third-party apps or devices could all contribute information. Healthbook could be released with iOS 8, but the report notes—likely for cautionary purposes only—that the app “could be pushed back to a future operating system version or cancelled entirely.”

iLounge Game Spotlight: Glorkian Warrior: Trials Of Glork

Glorkian Warrior: Trials Of Glork ($3) is a collaboration between developer Pixeljam and prolific comic book artist James Kochalka. A Glorkian Warrior graphic novel, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, will be released in a few weeks. The game is a colorful Galaga-esque shooter with a light dose of platforming, and a heavy dose of humor.

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The game’s graphics are the first thing gamers will notice. While fans of James Kochalka’s work will recognize Glorkian Warrior’s art instantly, the game’s look should be a breath of fresh air to everyone else when compared to most games in the App Store. It’s bright and colorful, and every character design is a fun treat, even when you’re shooting at them.

Apple may remove Game Center app in iOS 8

Apple is thinking about removing the Game Center app from iOS 8, while leaving the Game Center functionality intact within games, 9to5Mac reports. Recent alleged leaked screenshots from iOS 8 do feature the Game Center icon. Apple may also simplify alerts within Notification Center and add the ability to automatically delete Messages threads. Inter-app communication may be improved in iOS 8, and Apple also plans on tweaking controls in its Voice Memos app. Some versions of iOS 8 in testing include WiFi-enabled CarPlay, though it’s unclear if this functionality will be delayed until a future release.

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