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Apple releases iOS 11.3 with Battery Health, Health Records, Business Chat and more

Apple has announced the final public release of iOS 11.3, featuring a significant number of updates for a point release. Originally previewed in late January, iOS 11.3 promises new augmented reality experiences, new Animoji for iPhone X users, a new Business Chat feature that will allow businesses to communicate with customers via iMessage, a Health Records feature that helps users of participating medical institutions more easily view their medical records, enhanced data and privacy controls, and the Battery Health feature that will ensure users know when their performance is being throttled due to aging batteries on older iPhones.

GarageBand gets new “Toy Box” educational sound pack, TrueDepth facial control

Following today’s education event in Chicago, Apple has released an update to GarageBand for iOS unveiling a free new education-themed sound pack, “Toy Box”, along with support for controlling musical effects using the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X.  The new sound pack includes over 400 Apple Loops, three drum kits, ten keyboard instruments, and five Live Loop grids, focused on education with sounds such as animals, vehicles, and counting to ten in different languages. TrueDepth camera support allows iPhone X users to control effects like guitar wah and synth parameters using facial expressions, and the update also adds a Modern Wah guitar stompbox effect.

Apple updates Clips with new Selfie Scenes, education-themed posters

Apple has released a content update to its Clips app, adding a collection of new styles, fonts, colors, layouts, stickers, and more. Specifically, the update adds four new Live Title styles, for new animated labels, nine new animated stickers, eleven new Apple-designed posters, including education-themed blackboard and notebook designs in line with the education event Apple held earlier today. iPhone X users also gain two new Disney-Pixar Selfie Scenes from “Finding Dory” and “Monsters, Inc.” In addition to the new content, the update also fixes some minor bugs and polishes up some of the design elements.

Apple calls for more regulation amid Facebook data scandal

In light of the use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica in unauthorized voter targeting efforts, Apple CEO Tim Cook has called for stronger government regulations on how data can be used, Bloomberg reports. Apple has usually come down on the side of privacy in showdowns with the government, and now the company is asking the U.S. Congress to create “well-crafted” regulations that prevent use of data without a user’s knowledge. “I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” Cook said. “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

Report: Apple could launch its original video service as early as next March

Apple has at least 12 major video projects in the works and could be ready to launch its new video offerings to the public as soon as next March, The New York Times reports. The overall video project — which Apple reportedly is willing to spend upwards of $1 billion on — now has around 40 permanent staffers and is preparing to outspend Netflix, Facebook, YouTube and many other traditional TV studios to carve out its place in the landscape. The report emphasized what we’ve previously heard about Apple looking to pick up shows that have a ‘bright, optimistic’ tone that reflects Apple’s broad user base and efforts at remaining family-friendly.

Apple expected to launch new low-cost iPads at next week’s education event

Apple is expected to unveil at least one new low-cost iPad model at next week’s education event, Bloomberg reports. The event, announced last week, is being held on Tuesday at Lane Technical College Prep High School in Chicago, and is the first time Apple has held an education-related event since 2012 when it unveiled textbooks and the iBooks Author tool. According to Mark Gurman, Apple will be showing off a new version of its entry-level iPad, presumably an update to the fifth-generation iPad which debuted around this time last year starting at the previously unheard of price of $329. While there has been speculation that Apple may lower the price even further this year or introduce Apple Pencil support to the lower-end iPad, Gurman doesn’t provide any insight into that.

Apple Store app gains new ‘Sessions’ section

Apple has released a significant update to its Apple Store app, promising users “a more personal, relevant in-store experience” with recommendations for products and in-store training sessions. The highlight of the update is a new “Sessions” tab which allows users to more easily find daily sessions be held in local Apple Stores on creative subjects such as photography and music, and sessions can be filtered based on the products that a user already owns. Users can also now view stock levels for their favorite products, and scan accessories using their iPhone in-store to get more information on a product, including information such as device compatibility. New order management features also allow users to view invoices, edit shipping details and custom engraving messages, and cancel individual items in an order — all capabilities that previously required a visit to Apple’s website.

Apple confirms fix is in the works for bug that allows Siri to access hidden notifications

In a statement provided to MacRumors, Apple has confirmed that it already has a fix underway for a bug reported earlier this week in which Siri could bypass privacy restrictions on third-party messaging apps, allowing for otherwise hidden messages to be read aloud, even when an iPhone is locked.

Apple up to 45 vehicles in its fleet of self-driving cars as Uber crash casts shadow on the industry

Apple has grown its fleet of self-driving cars from just three when the program started in April 2017 to a whopping 45 as of its most recent filings, The Financial Times reports. Those filings for legal purposes are the only indication Apple has given that the program even exists, and even sources inside the company still aren’t sure what final form of self-driving technology Apple may eventually offer to consumers, if any. Since Apple is so secretive about the project, it’s also unclear if the company has made any changes after a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian earlier this week. Like Uber, Apple requires a human operator inside the vehicle during testing for safety purposes, but it’s unclear if the Uber driver even had time to react to the pedestrian who was killed. Uber has temporarily suspended its own testing in wake of the death, but preliminary reports seem to indicate the pedestrian was at fault in the accident.

Democrats interested in Apple’s download records on Trump administration officials

A memo released last week by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee could put Congress on a legal collision course with Apple if Democrats take back the House of Representatives, The Intercept reports. On page 20 of the document protesting the Republican decision to end the HIC’s Russian collusion inquiry, the Democrats proposed the committee go after Apple’s “records reflecting downloaded encrypted messaging apps for certain key individuals” of interest in the investigation. Encrypted communications app WhatsApp is another target of the proposed inquiry, but the Democrats won’t have subpoena power over any of the companies in question if they can’t manage to flip the House in November.

Apple announces education-focused event for March 27

Apple has announced that it will be holding an education-related event at a Chicago high school on March 27, Bloomberg reports. While specific details are vague, the choice to hold this event away from the usual vicinity of its Cupertino campus makes it a particularly unusual one. The invitation for the March 27 event simply notes that Apple will share “creative new ideas for teachers and students” and lists the location as Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. It’s been several years since Apple has made any major announcements specifically targeted at the education market; the company held a similarly-themed education event in New York City in 2012, where it unveiled the iBooks Author tool, digital textbooks from major publishers on the iBookstore, and the advent of iTunes U as a standalone app targeted at handling online courses.

Apple’s new ‘Families’ page provides a unified collection of tips for parents

Apple has set up a new Families page on its website providing a one-stop collection of tips on all of the parental controls and other options that are available to support parents in helping their kids use their Apple devices safely and responsibly. The new page appears following recent concerns from investors that the company hasn’t been doing enough to protect children from the negative effects of increased device use, and the new Families page emphasis the efforts Apple has put into designing its products with families in mind, noting that the company has “put a lot of thought into helping parents choose what their kids can do with their devices.”

Apple announces WWDC 2018

Apple has officially announced details for its 29th Annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which will be held from June 4 – 8, 2018, once again at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. While this year’s announcement comes about a month late compared to WWDC 2017, registration has already opened today, two weeks earlier than last year. The opportunity to purchase tickets will once again be offered by random selection, and only those who are members of the Apple Developer Program as of today will be eligible to register for the conference, and registration will close on Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. PDT.

Apple manufacturing partner building new assembly site in India

Apple manufacturing partner Wistron has secured the land to build a new assembly facility in the south Indian state of Karnataka, Reuters reports. The move could signal an expansion of Apple’s use of facilities in India to manufacture its products, as Wistron claims the facility will be used to create “smartphones, internet of things (IOT) products and bio-tech devices,” according to government filings. The new plant is expected to create around 6,000 jobs in the country, with local employment and resourcing serving as the enticement that has allowed Apple to gain increased access to the larger Indian electronics market.

Apple orders animated series from ‘Bob’s Burgers’ creator

Apple has added a comedy cartoon to its slate of upcoming TV programming, Variety reports. The show — called “Central Park” — comes from Loren Bouchard (creator of the hit series “Bob’s Burgers”) and has been given a two-season order. The musical comedy will be written by Bouchard, Josh Gad, and Nora Smith, and centers around a family of caretakers who live and work in Central Park. The show will also include Gad’s voice talents, alongside other stars like Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci, and Titus Burgess.

Apple Maps adds bike sharing locations

Apple has quietly added bike-sharing data to Apple Maps, TechCrunch reports. Through a partnership with Ito World, the data includes locations for bike-sharing points from several different providers in over 175 cities across 36 countries. Users will be able to search for the nearest stations in any supported city simply by typing “bike sharing” or the name of the specific service, such as “BIXI.” While Apple Maps has had limited bike-sharing data previously, this new partnership provides a much larger data set than Apple was able to put together in-house, and allows Apple to benefit from Ito World’s data as more companies are added in the future.

Apple acquires digital magazine subscription service Texture

Apple has announced a deal to acquire digital magazine subscription service Texture from Next Issue Media LLC. The service charges users a flat monthly subscription fee and delivers unlimited access to more than 200 magazines, including People, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and The New Yorker. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Apple’s services head Eddy Cue said the company is “committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users.”

Apple releases 12th annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report

Apple has announced its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, providing insight into the company’s efforts to improve working conditions at its supplier facilities and protect the environment. Highlights of the report include the training of three million supplier employees on worker rights in the past year, the launch of health programs specifically targeted at female employees with a goal of training one million more women by 2020, and the repayment of $1.9 million in excessive recruitment fees to 1,558 people affected by bonded labor. While not to be confused with Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Reports, the Supplier Responsibility report does also cover environmental initiatives within the supply chain, including the expansion of zero waste to landfill efforts to India, deployment of alternative green cleaners in final assembly facilities, and a 37 percent average wastewater reuse rate with freshwater savings of 5.1 billion gallons.

Report: Analyst predicts lower-cost MacBook Air coming in second quarter

Well-respected KGI analyst is telling investors to expect Apple to release a more affordable 13” MacBook Air some time in the first half of the year, MacRumors reports. Kuo said the new MacBook Air “with a lower price tag” will land in the second quarter, but how much lower the price will be than the current $999 price tag for the current 13” MacBook Air isn’t clear. While Apple released new offerings in the MacBook Pro line in 2016, the MacBook Air has only received a minor processor upgrade since 2014, and the MacBook line essentially displaced the Air with a slimmer design in 2015. Kuo doesn’t speak to what kinds of hardware improvements would be featured in the new MacBook Air, but there is plenty of room for improvement since the current model is underpowered in just about every area compared to Apple’s other MacBooks, including processors, graphics and displays.

Apple testifies before Canadian Parliamentary Committee on iPhone slowdown issue

Representatives from Apple Canada appeared voluntarily before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee yesterday to respond to the recent scandal surrounding the slowing down of older iPhone models, the CBC reports. Answering questions from House of Commons’ standing committee on industry, science, and technology, Apple’s Canadian manager of legal and government affairs, Jacqueline Famulak, maintained that Apple did not intend for customers to think that it was being secretive regarding the reasons behind the slowing down of older iPhones. While Apple has continued to maintain that it made the decision to avoid unexpected shutdowns and thereby extend the life of older iPhone models, many consumers have accused Apple of a deliberate attempt to push customers to upgrade to newer iPhone models.

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