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Apple now selling SIM-free iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus

Apple is now selling SIM-free, unlocked versions of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus in its online store. This option lets users purchase a phone without immediately tying it to a carrier. The SIM-free iPhones do not come with a nano-SIM card — you have to get a card from a supported carrier. Customers will pay full retail price for these options, of course, which range from $649 for an unlocked iPhone 6s to $949 for a 128GB SIM-free iPhone 6s Plus. We’d prefer that Apple offer this option at launch, but it’s available now.

Apple TV, iPad Pro to be sold online in late October, in stores early November?

Apple will begin selling both the Apple TV and iPad Pro online in “late October” according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Citing reliable sources, the report notes that both devices are not scheduled to arrive in Apple retail stores until early November, but that they would be available online in late October. It’s unclear whether this would be for online preorders or whether the units will actually ship before the end of October, however. Apple previously set a November release date for the iPad Pro and a late October release date for the new Apple TV, although no mention was made of online vs. retail availability at that time. We’re still waiting to see if Apple announces a set release date in the near future for either device.

iBooks adds exclusive enhanced editions of Harry Potter series

Apple announced that enhanced versions of all seven of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are now available in the iBooks Store for download on iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Mac. These exclusive editions contain “interactive animations and elaborate artwork” as well as the full original text of the saga. This is the first time the Harry Potter books have been available digitally outside of the series’ own online store, the Pottermore Shop. Each book is currently available for $10 on the iBooks Store in English, with French, German, and Spanish versions of the books coming next month.

“I’m thrilled to see the Harry Potter books so beautifully realised on iBooks for the digital world; the artwork and animations in these enhanced editions bring the stories alive in a delightful new way,” J.K. Rowling said.

Report: Barclays to launch Apple Pay support in the UK early next year

U.K. bank Barclays plans to launch support for Apple Pay early next year, according to a customer’s blog post. Mike Jobson wrote Barclays CEO Ashok Vaswani asking when Barclays would make the digital payment method available and he claims to have gotten a response from Vaswani saying, “We have signed up for ApplePay [sic] and will launch it very early in the New Year.” Barclays was the last major holdout during Apple’s negotiations to bring Apple Pay to the U.K. and has been notably absent from the service since it launched there in July. [via Mac Rumors]

Apple reveals Beats Pill+ speaker

Months after recalling the Beats Pill XL over battery overheating concerns, Beats has revealed the Beats Pill+ ($230), the company’s first speaker offering since it was bought by Apple last year. Not yet available for purchase, the Pill+ features four front-facing speakers, with Beats claiming users will be able to sync up playback with a second speaker using its dedicated app. The new speaker has a Lightning port for charging, boasts a 12-hour battery life on a 3-hour charge and is able to charge an iOS device while playing music. Beats Pill+ will be available in black and white color options, and it will launch in November.

Antitrust monitor: Apple is ‘its own worst enemy’

In his final report to a U.S. district judge, antitrust monitor Michael Bromwich said Apple has made progress, but persistently raised objections to requests for information, Reuters reports. Bromwich acknowledges that the company has created new antitrust procedures, implemented training programs and improved engagement among executives, but said Apple’s combative stance cast an “unnecessary shadow over meaningful progress,” at one point calling the company “its own worst enemy.” Apple is still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court over the 2013 ruling that left the company with Bromwich looking over its shoulder in the first place. A federal court ruled against Apple’s first appeal to overturn $450 million in damages that U.S. District Judge Denise Cote imposed on the company for conspiring with publishers to fix e-book prices. Regardless of the appeal’s outcome, Bromwich’s time at Apple is officially over unless Cote chooses to extend his two-year appointment.

Report: Apple holding $181.1 billion in offshore tax havens

Apple is holding $181.1 billion in offshore tax havens, more than any other U.S. company, Reuters reports. A study by The Center for Tax Justice and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund examined the Security and Exchange Commission filings of the 500 largest American companies, concluding nearly three-quarters of them are collectively holding more than $2.1 trillion in accumulated profits offshore to avoid an estimated $620 billion in U.S. taxes; Apple itself would owe an estimated $59.2 billion in U.S. taxes if the company wanted to bring its overseas money back into the United States. The study concluded that “Congress can and should take strong action to prevent corporations from using offshore tax havens, which in turn would restore basic fairness to the tax system, reduce the deficit and improve the functioning of markets.” Apple has generally stated in the past that the company pays all the taxes it owes.

Apple releases fourth iOS 9.1 beta, third tvOS beta to developers

Less than a week after the last iOS 9.1 beta release, Apple has now released a fourth beta of iOS 9.1 to developers. iOS 9.1 appears to be primarily focused on adding developer-level support for features such as 3D Touch and Live Photos on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, with this latest beta focusing on fixing a number of issues from prior betas. Registered iOS developers can download the iOS 9.1 beta from Apple’s Developer site; a public version of the beta will likely be following soon.

In addition, Apple has also released a third beta of tvOS for the new Apple TV, intended to allow developers to get a head start on Apple TV App Development prior to the public release of the new set-top box. The tvOS beta is intended only for those developers who have already received a development kit for the new Apple TV, as it only runs on the not-yet-released model.

Apple taking reservations for new iPhones in six European countries

Apple is accepting iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus reservations in six of the 40 countries where the new phones are set to debut this Friday. Customers in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands can pick the model, color and storage size they want and reserve a phone for in-store pickup Friday, although iPhone 6s Plus models are still in limited supply at most locations. Reservations are limited to two per customer and valid government-issued ID may be required for pickup.

Apple adds transit directions for Boston, Sydney

Apple has quietly added Boston and Sydney, Australia to its list of cities where transit directions are supported in Apple Maps. The expansion solves a problem for some Australian users who were left without access to transit directions after Apple shut down the popular HopStop transit directions app earlier this month. HopStop covered cities in Russia, Israel and Australia that Apple Maps has yet to expand into with transit directions. Note: Though support has officially been added, not all users are seeing the feature as of yet. We searched both cities and no transit directions appeared to be available at the time of this writing.

Apple acquires artificial intelligence firm Perceptio

Apple has acquired Perceptio, a startup that develops tech which allows companies to run artificial intelligence on smartphones with less sharing of user data, Bloomberg reports. Since previous reports on Apple’s growing AI development push have cited the company’s demand that predictive recommendations be generated by a user’s device — not based on pooling and analyzing data like similar offerings from Google, Amazon and Facebook — the acquisition fits into Apple’s hopes to do as much processing as possible on local devices. Outside of its routine confirmation of the acquisition, Apple declined to comment on its plans for Perceptio.

Apple rolls out app thinning in iOS 9.0.2

Apple has fixed the iOS 9 issue that held up the release of its new app thinning feature. Users running iOS 9.0.2 or later will now receive device-specific versions of downloaded apps, provided the app’s developer has made such a download available. By tailoring app downloads to individual devices, developers can provide users with a variant containing only the features and capabilities that function on each device, minimizing the amount of space an app requires. How many developers have created device-specific variants of their apps so far is still unclear.

Apple Pay transaction numbers still low overall

A year after Apple Pay’s launch, the digital payment system is only accounting for 1 percent of U.S. retail transactions, Bloomberg reports. Apple Pay has suffered from a lack of promotion and limited support from retailers, but at Panera Bread — an early adopter of the new pay format — the percentage of Apple Pay transactions is in the low single digits. Even within Panera’s iOS app that lets users order from their iPhone, Apple Pay only accounts for around 20 percent of transactions. Vince Burchianti, chief financial officer of Firehouse Subs, said Apple Pay makes up about 2 percent of his company’s transactions. “Apple is just not even pushing it out,” Burchianti said. Apple’s lack of promotion is reflected in user ambivalence, with more than 75 percent of surveyed iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users saying they’d never tried the service.

Apple releases Apple Watch Hermès collection

After its announcement weeks ago, Apple has officially launched the Apple Watch Hermès, with prices starting at $1,100. The watch sports three leather band options and a custom face designed by Apple using fonts that mimic the classic Hermès style. The classic Single Tour band is available in both 38mm and 42mm sizes in brown and black. The Double Tour band — which wraps around the wrist twice — is only available in 38mm, but also comes in red or blue, while the wider Cuff style band is only available in 42mm in brown. The Apple Watch Hermès is only available at select Apple stores, Hermès stores and a few fashion retailers.

Apple to open Apple TV’s universal search API to more content providers

Apple plans to expand the new Apple TV’s universal search far beyond its initial launch partners, Buzzfeed reports. Universal search is one of the marquee features in the new device, letting users search once for a term and see results from multiple sources. The feature will support iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, HBO and Showtime when the new Apple TV ships this month, but Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is opening its API so other sources can make their content searchable as well, and he’s confident that providers will be eager to make their services compatible. “I think that many, many people will want to be in that search,” Cook said. “And that’s great for users.” Cook added that the new search will differentiate between paid and free options where users end up having the same content available from multiple sources.

Apple acquires speech tech startup VocalIQ

Apple has acquired VocalIQ, a UK-based startup company specializing in natural speech algorithms, The Financial Times reports. The company builds virtual assistants using machine learning technology, focused on providing a natural, conversational dialogue experience, and while such technology could conceivably be used to improve Siri, the report notes that VocalIQ was specifically focused on automotive applications, including a collaboration with General Motors.

VocalIQ had written a blog post earlier this year describing a “conversational voice-dialog system” that could be incorporated into a vehicle navigation system to reduce driver distraction from having to look at a screen. The company claims to have developed the world’s first “self-learning API” to “allow real conversation between human and the Internet of Things.” In another post, VocalIQ has noted that most of the big tech companies have produced vocal assistants that have fallen “well short of consumer expectations,” noting that solutions like Siri have “ended being used only as toys.” For its part, Apple confirmed the deal but made only its usual statement that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” VocalIQ’s team, however, is expected to remain in the U.K. rather than being moved to Apple’s U.S. headquarters.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks privacy to NPR

In a recent interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel, Apple CEO Tim Cook emphasized how he feels that “privacy is a fundamental human right” and discussed how Apple and its products and services work to protect the privacy of its users. Cook stated that the government does contact Apple “from time to time”, and of course Apple will supply any requested information if the government asks “in a way that is correct” and have followed proper legal proceedings through the courts. However, he also noted that Apple can only provide information on its users “to the degree that we have information” and noted that Apple’s products are designed in such a way that most of users’ personal information remains on their own devices — in an encrypted form — rather than being stored on Apple’s servers. Cook also discussed the allegations that the government may ask for back doors into the systems of Apple and other companies, stating that any back doors can just as easily allow access to “bad guys as well as good guys” and stated emphatically that for that reason, “I don’t support a back door for any government, ever.”

Former Boeing CFO James Bell elected to Apple’s Board of Directors

James Bell, former Chief Financial Officer and corporate president of Boeing, has been elected to Apple’s Board of Directors, Apple announced. Bell worked for Boeing for 38 years, and was the company’s interim CEO in 2005. Apple notes that Bell also sits on the board of directors at JP Morgan Chase, Dow Chemical Company, and CDW. “I am an avid user of Apple products and have a tremendous respect for the company’s ability to innovate,” Bell said in the release. “I am delighted to join the Apple board and look forward to contributing to its continued success in any way I can.”

“James brings a wealth of global, financial and industrial experience from his successful career at Boeing as corporate president and CFO,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said. “I am thrilled to welcome him to Apple’s board of directors and I look forward to working with him.”

Apple releases iOS 9.1 beta 3 to developers

Only a week after the last iOS 9.1 beta was released, Apple has now posted a third beta of iOS 9.1 for registered iOS developers. As with the prior beta, iOS 9.1 appears to be primarily focused on adding developer-level enhancements for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, for features such as 3D Touch and Live Photos. This latest beta focuses mostly on fixing a number of issues from the prior beta. Registered iOS developers can download the iOS 9.1 beta from Apple’s Developer site; a public version of the beta will likely be coming soon.

Apple releases iOS 9.0.2

Apple has released iOS 9.0.2, the second minor maintenance update since the release of iOS 9 two weeks ago. This latest update fixes problems with turning cellular data usage on or off on a per-app basis, iMessage activation, iCloud backups, screen rotation when receiving notifications, and Podcast app stability. The iOS 9.0.2 update is available over the air via General, Software Updates in the iOS Settings app.

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