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Australian government holds meeting with Apple over turning over user data on terrorists, criminals

Australian Attorney General George Brandis will meet with Apple this week to discuss gaining access to encrypted information from “suspected terrorists and criminals,” Sky News reports. Brandis said he hopes companies can be convinced to comply voluntarily, but said the country “will also be legislating so that we do have that coercive power if need be if we don’t get the cooperation we seek.” Facebook and other tech companies have raised serious concerns they will be forced by security agencies to hand over their user data. Apple won a very public fight with the FBI over the company’s refusal to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone and has supported the fights of tech giants like Google against having their data seized as well, but is under increased pressure in places like China to keep tabs on users and limit which apps are available.

Apple Music expands $99 annual Apple Music subscriptions to new countries

Apple has expanded the list of countries where a $99 annual subscription to Apple Music can be purchased. Most countries that have Apple Music also qualify for the reduced price annual subscription, with a few notable exceptions including Saudi Arabia, Norway, the Philippines and Peru. Apple recently included the $99 subscription option for all existing users after previously only selling a year for $99 through gift cards. Apple also expanded the ability to pay for its electronic services with PayPal internationally this month.

Apple cracks down on ad blockers that affect other apps

Future Mind, maker of VPN-based ad block programs like AdBlock, Weblock and Admosphere, has been informed by Apple that the company is “no longer allowing VPN/root certificate-based ad blockers on the App Store and will not be accepting updates of existing ad blockers that use those techniques going forward,” MacRumors reports. Tomasz Koperski, CTO of Future Mind, said Apple rejected the latest update for AdBlock for iOS, writing in its rejection that the app “uses a VPN profile or root certificate to block ads or other content in a third-party app, which is not allowed on the App Store.” The app is still available on the App Store — along with many other ad blockers — but Apple “has officially changed their policy regarding VPN/root certificate based ad blockers on the App Store and is no longer accepting updates of apps, which directly block content in third party apps.”

Facing delays, Apple is buying its own equipment to produce circuit boards

Apple has purchased “tens of millions of dollars” in equipment to produce the rigid flexible printed circuit boards it needs to build the new OLED iPhone 8, The Korea Herald reports. Apple doesn’t have its own production facilities, but has reportedly begun leasing the equipment to manufacturers to ensure its supply of the RFPCB components. The company was supposed to be securing the RFPCBs from Korea’s Interflex and Youngpoong Electronics and another Taiwanese company, but a source claims the supplier in Taiwan has backed out of the arrangement after the difficult work and strict quality controls made the project much less profitable. Interflex and Youngpoong Electronics are still expected to share the estimated 100 million RFPCB orders — with Apple shelling out to boost their capacities — but Apple is still looking for a new supplier in Korea to fill the gap.

Apple releases third watchOS 4 developer beta

Two days following the release of third developer betas for iOS 11 and tvOS 11, Apple has pushed out a third beta for watchOS 4, featuring a build number of 15R5321h. The release notes for this latest beta, which is not part of Apple’s Public Beta program, include an “Update 1” reference in the title, suggesting that Apple may have originally intended to push out the third watchOS 4 beta alongside the corresponding iOS 11 and tvOS 11 betas, but held it back for further tweaking. As expected at this still-early stage of a major OS update, the release notes list a long number of known issues that Apple has resolved since the last beta, with a decreasing number of issues that are still outstanding, mostly affecting developer APIs for third-party apps.

Apple considering rear 3D laser for ARKit applications and autofocus

A new report from Fast Company reveals a previously undisclosed technology that Apple is working on for the company’s upcoming “iPhone 8” in the form of a rear-facing 3D laser sensor system that would be used to provide a more accurate autofocus for photography as well as enabling better depth detection for augmented reality apps. The report’s source suggests that the new VSCEL laser system is “probably intended for the 10th anniversary iPhone,” expected to arrive later this year, although that remains uncertain in light of all of the other technical hurdles that Apple is reportedly struggling with. The source suggests that the main issue in this case is integrated the laser system into the iPhone, rather than the system itself.

Apple announces 2017 Back to School Promo, offering free Beats headphones with Mac purchase

Apple has announced its annual Back to School Promotion for 2017, once again providing free or discounted Beats headphones with select Mac or iPad purchases. This year’s promotion is similar to the deal Apple offered last year, although it notably excludes the iPhone from the list of eligible products. This year, qualifying educational customers purchasing just about any Mac model can choose to receive a free pair of Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones, Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones, or BeatsX Earphones, while those purchasing one of the new iPad Pro models can receive a free pair of BeatsX Earphones, or alternatively choose to purchase a pair of Beats Solo3 headphones for $150 or Powerbeats3 for $50 — basically receiving a discount equal to the price of the otherwise-free BeatsX Earphones.

Ability to use PayPal to pay for Apple downloads and services expanded internationally

Apple users in Canada, the UK, Germany, Mexico, and the Netherlands can now use PayPal to pay for Apple services, according to a statement from PayPal. The payment service has been an available option in the US for years, but is now available to users in some other countries to pay for downloads or services from the App Store, iCloud, iTunes, and Apple Music. [via AppleInsider]

Apple setting up data center in China to comply with new cybersecurity rules

Apple is setting up its first data center in China to comply with new cybersecurity regulations, CNBC reports. The company will build the data center in partnership with local data management firm Guizhou-Cloud Big Data Industry Co as part of a $1 billion investment in Guizhou province, an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “These regulations require cloud services be operated by Chinese companies so we’re partnering with GCBD to offer iCloud,” the statement read. Apple has faced increased pressure from China in the last year, with the government ordering the company to monitor mobile app users and pull The New York Times app from the county’s App Store. China has also voiced concerns over live streaming apps, but an Apple representative claims all of Apple’s safeguards for privacy are still in place. “No backdoors will be created into any of our systems,” the company’s statement said.

Apple earns four out of five stars from online privacy watchdog

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s newest “Who Has Your Back” report on how companies handle government requests for user data gave Apple four out of five stars, docking points only for the company’s lack of support for reforming the NSA’s surveillance programs. The EFF tweaks Apple for “not publicly [calling] for reforms to Section 702 to curtail the surveillance of innocent people,” but otherwise delivers high marks, including lauding Apple’s constant efforts to provide users with transparency whenever their data is accessed by government order. Many information requests also come with an indefinite gag order to keep Apple from disclosing when the government collects its data, and Apple’s standard procedure includes appeals for judicial review within 30 days of why each gag order should stay in effect. “If Apple receives notice that the nondisclosure order no longer applies, it will notify the affected customer(s) pursuant to Apple’s customer notice policies,” the EFF found. The company also scored high marks for its legal fight with the FBI after a terrorist shooting in San Bernardino led to a government request to develop a method to break into locked iPhones. [via 9to5Mac]

Rumor: ‘Sense of panic’ at Apple over iPhone 8 software problems

A source claiming to have knowledge of Apple’s iPhone 8 development said there’s a “sense of panic in the air” among engineers and designers over software problems, Fast Company reports. In addition to the wireless charging software problems reported earlier this week, Apple is reportedly having trouble with the new 3D sensors rumored to be used in a new facial recognition process for unlocking the device. With other rumors claiming that Apple is also having problems with the iPhone 8’s under-the-glass fingerprint scanner, facial recognition has been seen as a possible alternative for authentication, leaving the company in an even more precarious position if that software is not functional at launch.

Siri use down, but it’s still the most popular digital assistant

A new research report by Verto Analytics shows use of Siri is down 15 percent over last year, but the personal assistant is still twice as popular as its nearest competitor. Siri’s 41.4 million monthly active users still dwarfs Samsung’s S Voice at 24.8 million, but last year Siri boasted 48.7 million users. Other services, like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, are growing steadily because of their ties to the rising populary of home automation, but Alexa and Google Home’s mobile app still only have 2.6 million and 4.7 million users, respectively. Women and people over 45 were the key demographics making the most use of their digital assistants. [via TechCrunch]

Apple releases iTunes 12.7 for macOS High Sierra beta, with added Apple Music sharing features

Apple has rolled out iTunes 12.7 for users running the macOS High Siera beta, adding in new Apple Music sharing capabilities. Clicking on your profile picture in “For You” in iTunes 12.7 now takes you to a personal profile page showing your username, whichever playlists you want to share, and an “Edit” button that lets you adjust your profile and privacy settings (mostly to determine who can follow you). Once the update is available to the general public, users will be able to follow their friends, view that they’re listening to, and share their own recommendations. The update dovetails with the same social features coming in iOS 11 and helps to streamline and unify the Apple Music experience across various platforms.

Report: Apple has ‘just weeks’ to fix iPhone 8 fingerprint scanner or risk Apple Pay problems

In a new research note, Barron’s claims Apple is down to the wire with “just weeks to fix its fingerprint problem” or be forced to either delay the iPhone 8’s launch or do away with Touch ID altogether. Problems with the speed and accuracy of sensors embedded under the iPhone 8’s OLED screen has led Apple to delay orders on the necessary chips to run a fingerprint sensor, leading analyst Andy Hargreaves to conclude that if Apple doesn’t place the necessary orders by early August, the company will have to delay the device’s launch or drop the fingerprint scanning feature.

Apple adds three-year coverage to 1st-generation Apple Watches with detached back covers

Apple has updated its internal service policy to offer free repairs to first-generation Apple Watches whose back covers have become detached, MacRumors reports. Apple now admits “that under certain conditions on some first-generation Apple Watch devices the back cover may separate from the watch case,” which seems to usually occur when the device is being taken off its magnetic charger, according to many users on Reddit. To address the growing problem, the company has decided to provide the same three-year warranty for the back cover that it added recently for swollen batteries in all first-generation Apple Watches. Now Apple and Apple Authorized Service Providers will fix the back cover for free up to three years from the user’s original purchase date. Customers who have already paid for such a repair have been advised to contact Apple Support about a possible refund.

Apple releases third developer betas for iOS 11 and tvOS 11

Apple has released third betas for iOS 11 and tvOS 11, addressing a number of issues in the prior developer previews The release notes continue to list a large number of known issues that are still pending. A new beta for watchOS 4 has not yet appeared. Apple released the second set of betas on June 21, followed by very minor updates a week later, immediately prior to the release of the public bets for iOS 11 and tvOS 11.

Apple to open second renewable-powered data center in Denmark

Apple is planning to open a second data center in Denmark, to be run entirely on renewable energy, Reuters reports. The center is expected to power online services like the iTunes Store, App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri for European customers. “The planned facility in Aabenraa, like all of our data centers, will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one, thanks to new clean energy sources we’re adding,” said Erik Stannow, Nordic manager for Apple. The first announced facility in Denmark is scheduled to go online later this year, and the newly announced project should be up and running by mid-2019. Stannow said ‘the reliability of the Danish grid” was a key factor in choosing the county for two data centers, as well as an abundance of wind and biomass energy.

Apple opening office near Imagination Technologies months after severing ties to the company

Apple is opening an office near Imagination Technologies just months after severing ties to the company, The Telegraph reports. The move to open its own graphics technology development office a “stone;‘s throw away” from Imagination’s headquarters has led to speculation that Apple is intent on poaching away the British company’s top employees. In April, Apple announced its plans to part ways with the company that previously crated the technology to power the iPhone’s graphics, instantly cutting Imagination’s revenue in half and sending the company’s stock dropping. Imagination’s CEO has expressed doubts that Apple will be able to create its own graphics technology without infringing on his company’s patents, but the struggles since Apple’s announcement have forced Imagination to put itself up for sale. Apple was reportedly in talks to acquire Imagination in 2016, but a deal never materialized.

iTunes Store losing its dominance in movie rentals, sales

Apple’s market share of digitally renting and selling digital movies through iTunes — as high as 50 percent as recently as 2012 — has fallen to between 20 and 35 percent, The Wall Street Journal reports. While third-party tracking is basically nonexistent in the digital movie business, various studios have reported a serious decline in Apple’s dominance in the industry. An Apple rep didn’t dispute the estimates, but pointed out that iTunes rentals and purchases have hit their highest level in more than a decade over the past year. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that Apple’s movie rentals and sales rose 12 percent last year in the US, for a total of $5.3 billion in sales, but that growth is on account of a general shift to renting and buying movies online, not an indicator that Apple is outperforming the competition.

iPhone 8 rumored to come in four colors, may not ship with wireless charger

Tech blogger Benjamin Geskin claims the iPhone 8 will come in four colors, including a new mirror finish. Geskin posted images of a reflective case on a current iPhone to illustrate his point, but said an unnamed source hinted at a black or silver reflective backing joining some of Apple’s existing colors. If his information proves reliable, that would mean Apple is scaling back on its available colors since the iPhone 7 is available in five colors (or six if you count the special PRODUCT(RED) version that’s still available). The tweet didn’t provide any information about which colors would be cut from the existing slate.

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