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Apple now accepting all Apple Watch app submissions

Apple has announced that third-party iOS Developers can now begin submitting their Apple WatchKit apps to the App Store for review, along with other data such as the app icon, screenshots, and description. Apple has also released guidelines for Apple Watch app submissions, including notes that up to five screenshots may be included, that WatchKit app icons should be “visually similar” to the corresponding iOS app icons, and that the iPhone app and WatchKit app should “share one name and one description” and the iPhone app should contain notes on Apple Watch functionality. Notably, WatchKit apps cannot include the phrase “Apple Watch” in their names. App Previews can also only include footage of the iPhone app, and developers are explicitly instructed not to show the WatchKit app in their app previews. Apple also notes that “a small group of people who currently have an Apple Watch will be able to use [...] WatchKit app[s] before April 24” although it notes that developers can choose to restrict availability until launch day in the same manner as for any other app.

While several developers released iPhone app updates late last week, it’s unclear whether those developers have received priority access for App Store submissions, or if their actual corresponding WatchKit apps were still waiting for final submissions to open. The Apple Watch App Store was added to the iPhone in iOS 8.2, although it remains closed with a “Coming Soon” banner and instructions to pre-order the Apple Watch on April 10th; the store will presumably open to begin showcasing apps closer to that time.

Apple hires former Dolby executive

Apple has hired former Dolby Executive Vice President Mike Rockwell as an executive in its hardware division, 9to5Mac reports. A source says Rockwell was likely recruited to improve audio and display performance of Apple’s upcoming products. Rockwell oversaw Dolby’s new technology development, including efforts to create “state-of-the-art color display technology” at a company mostly known for its audio applications. Before coming to Dolby, Rockwell was with Avid Technology, a company specializing in video and audio production technology. AnSEC filing shows Rockwell resigned from Dolby on January 30 and his LinkedIn profile shows him coming on board at Apple in February, but lists no current title. Rockwell’s addition fits with Apple’s hiring spree for top talent in recent months and further bolsters the company’s audio credibility following last year’s acquisition of Beats Electronics.

ITC to investigate Apple over Ericsson complaints

The U.S. International Trade Commission is investigating Ericsson’s claims that Apple violated its patents, PC World reports. Apple sued Ericsson in January, claiming Ericsson was charging too much for patents it holds and that the patents are no longer essential for the LTE technology in Apple’s iPhones, iPads and other cellular-enabled products. Ericsson counter-sued, arguing Apple had infringed on its patents and that the price demanded to use the technology was fair and non-discriminatory. With those lawsuits likely to take years to play out in court, Ericsson has turned to the ITC, which can act quickly to ban products from being imported into the U.S. Such an import ban would immediately affect sales, so companies like Ericsson are increasingly using the threat of ITC action to force settlements in patent disputes.

Apple Q2 earnings call coming April 27

Apple has announced that it will release its Q2 financial results on Monday, April 27. The company will conduct its conference call at 5 p.m. ET that day. For the first quarter, Apple previously provided guidance for Q2 of revenue between $52 billion and $55 billion, and gross margin between 38.5 percent and 39.5 percent. As always, iLounge will provide coverage of the results.

Apple expands iPhone trade-in program to non-Apple devices

Apple’s rumored expansion of its iPhone trade-in program to include non-Apple devices went live today in the U.S. and Europe, French blog MacPlus reports. The U.K. website for Brightstar, a third-party company that handles Apple’s trade-ins, indicates Apple is now offering Apple Store credit in exchange for select handsets from Sony, Nokia, Blackberry, Samsung, NTC and LG. The change to Apple’s exchange program was handled with little fanfare in the U.S., with the announcement buried on individual store pages according to 9to5Mac. This would seem to imply U.S. stores are accepting non-Apple devices for trade-ins, but it’s unclear when Apple’s website will provide a link to allow online U.S. users to get an estimate for the value of their Android phones.

FDA taking ‘hands-off approach’ to regulating Apple Watch

With the Apple Watch poised to launch Apple into the health care industry, the Food and Drug Administration is doing its best to stay out of the way, Bloomberg reports. Current FDA guidelines leave mobile applications geared toward wellness and fitness tracking mostly free from scrutiny, focusing more on technology used to diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses. The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on apps making dubious claims about diagnosing illnesses, but Bakul Patel, the FDA’s associate director for digital health, said his agency is a long way from scrutinizing the Apple Watch and other wearables. “We are taking a very light touch, an almost hands-off approach,” Patel said. “If you have technology that’s going to motivate a person to stay healthy, that’s not something we want to be engaged in.” Patel said the level of future FDA regulation will depend on how devices are marketed and whether a product is being promoted to aid doctors in making medical decisions.

Apple Watch won’t be sold to walk-in customers at launch

Leaked documents confirm Apple Stores won’t be selling Apple Watches to walk-in customers when the product launches on April 24, according to MacRumors. Customers will have to make an online “Product Reservation” to purchase a specific model at their local Apple Store, with Apple noting that even making a “try-on appointment” doesn’t reserve a specific Apple Watch for purchase. New training documents for Apple Store employees state, “If a customer walks in and wants to purchase a watch, offer the option to try on a watch. Then help them place an order online or through the Apple Store app.” This confirmation isn’t a big surprise, however, as Apple’s initial press release about the device’s launch noted that “On April 24, Apple Watch will be available online or by reservation in Apple’s retail stores and select Apple Authorized Resellers in China and Japan.”

During checkout, customers who have an Apple Watch reserved for purchase will be offered accessories and an upgrade to AppleCare+, adding a second year of hardware protection for aluminum and stainless steel models. The gold Edition comes with two years of protection standard, jumping to three years with AppleCare+. This information comes from 9to5Mac, which also reports that Apple has plans for a combined coverage program for customers buying both a new iPhone and Apple Watch from an Apple Store, but no official details have been released.

Cook: ‘Religious freedom’ laws allowing discrimination are dangerous

In an op-ed column for the Washington Post, Apple CEO Tim Cook says pro-discrimination “religious freedom” laws popping up all over the country are dangerous. Cook sees a law passed last week in Indiana which allows individuals to use their religious beliefs to refuse service to customers — and another in Texas taking the pay of clerks issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples — as transparent efforts to legalize discrimination. “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality,” Cook said.

In keeping with Apple’s commitment to “empower and enrich” the lives of its customers, Cook is adding his voice to the growing group of public figures and businesses opposing the Indiana law and similar legislation being considered in other states. Citing examples from the 1960s civil rights movement, Cook said the debate isn’t political or religious. “This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous,” he said.

Apple retail stores to have very limited Apple Watch stock

Perhaps not surprisingly, most Apple Stores are expected to have limited stock of the Apple Watch for the initial launch, 9to5Mac reports. Sources at Apple Stores have noted that priority will be given to reservations as well, limiting stock even further for walk-in purchases, and employees have been told to treat launch day as if there is no walk-in stock available at all. This problem will be exacerbated by the wide variety of models available, making it even harder for a walk-in customer to get the specific Apple Watch that they may be looking for.

Apple quietly acquiring companies to improve cloud services?

Apple’s recent acquisition of database developer FoundationDB actually follows another quiet acquisition of a related company in 2013, Bloomberg reports. Acunu Ltd., a U.K. based data analytics company, appears to have been acquired by Apple in late 2013, according to a LinkedIn entry that reveals that Acunu’s Chief Technology Officer began working as a manager for Apple’s iCloud division, followed by several other Acunu employees beginning to work at Apple shortly thereafter. Not much is known about what Apple’s plans for the new technologies would be, but the Bloomberg report suggests that Apple is “placing more emphasis on the development of solid data infrastructure to help provide services to its legions of global consumers beyond iPhones and iPads” and it seems reasonable that such technologies would be used to expand and improve iCloud and other cloud-based services.

Apple planning to release three iPhone models this year?

Apple may be planning to release three different iPhone models later this year, essentially adding a new 4-inch model to the lineup, according to the often-dubious DigiTimes. Citing “industry sources,” the report notes that the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus would be directly upgraded to the “iPhone 6S” and “iPhone 6S Plus”, respectively, and that a new “iPhone 6C” would be added to the lineup — a four-inch model that would presumably be the spiritual successor to the iPhone 5s. The devices would allegedly all include Corning Gorilla Glass, with the 6S series using A9 chips and the 6C using the current A8 chip, and all devices would include NFC and Touch ID hardware. The report’s sources also indicate that Apple would likely use different manufacturing partners for the smaller-sized iPhone.

While any early reports — especially from sources such as Digitimes — should be taken with an appropriate grain of salt, the move would not be entirely unexpected for Apple, particularly if demand for iPhones with the more “traditional” screen size remains high. As has been the company’s practice in previous years, Apple is currently still selling the older four-inch iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c alongside the larger iPhone 6 models, providing customers with a variety of screen sizes to choose from. However, as newer models are introduced, the company may not wish to leave these users with only significantly older hardware options.

Report reveals more details on Apple’s upcoming music service

The New York Times has a report today that provides some additional insight into Apple’s plans for the upcoming streaming music service that the company is rumored to be developing with its Beats division. Being billed as a service that is expected to rival Spotify, the new subscription offering has Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame overseeing the redesign of the iOS Music app to accommodate the new services. The report also notes that Apple is planning improvements to iTunes Radio to focus more on regional listeners, and “splashy new albums” that will be released initially as iTunes exclusives. Former BBC Radio DJ Zane Lowe has apparently been hired by Apple to play a role in redesigning iTunes Radio to “bear some resemblance to a traditional radio station.”

The report also confirms that Apple’s new service will not come in at a lower price than competing services. Several music executives told the New York Times that Apple’s attempts to negotiate lower pricing from record labels have failed, suggesting that Apple’s service will likely be priced at the $10/month level that has pretty much become standard across all streaming music services. Unlike services such as Spotify, however, Apple’s new service is not expected to have a free version, a decision that music executives are reported to be particularly happy about.

Apple acquires database company FoundationDB

Apple has acquired Foundation DB, a company specializing in fast, affordable databases, TechCrunch reports. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but FoundationDB is no longer providing downloads of its database software on the company’s website. The move bolsters Apple’s ability to deliver cloud services ahead of the company’s reported entry into the subscription TV business, but as usual, Apple is keeping quiet on the exact reasons behind the acquisition. “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple said.

Apple releases iOS 8.3 beta 4

Apple has released its fourth beta of iOS 8.3 to registered developers; it’s the second beta in the new iOS Public Beta program. This latest beta features a build number of 12F61 and details few changes in the release notes from the prior beta, with minor issues related to CarPlay, WatchKit, Spotlight and UIKit.

As with the third beta released earlier this month, this latest update is once again accompanied by a new beta build of the Apple TV Software, although it is unclear at this point what has changed in that particular version as Apple TV betas are generally not accompanied by release notes.

Apple adds Tastemade, TED, Young Hollywood channels to Apple TV

This morning Apple TV added channels from Tastemade, TED, and Young Hollywood. Tastemade features food and travel videos, Young Hollywood delivers celebrity content and TED, of course, provides access to TED Talks.

Source: Italian prosecutors wrap up Apple tax probe

An Italian tax probe alleging Apple failed to pay 879 million euros ($964 million) in corporate taxes has wrapped up, Reuters reports. Under Italian law, finalizing the probe lets prosecutors ask a judge to hear the case at trial. Prosecutors claim Apple dodged its full tax bill from 2008-2013 by having its profits in Italy booked by Irish subsidiary Apple Sales International, reducing its taxable income base. Apple has denied any wrongdoing, citing Italian audits of Apple in 2007, 2008 and 2009 that found the company in full compliance. The investigation, which began in late 2013, initially claimed Apple “hid” more than 1 billion euros from Italian authorities.

New Apple TV expected to debut at WWDC with App Store

After nearly two years of rumors and speculation on Apple’s plans for its next set-top box, a new report from BuzzFeed indicates that the company plans to debut a revamped Apple TV at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Citing sources familiar with the company’s plans, the report suggests that Apple will choose to show the device off at WWDC along with a long-anticipated App Store for the living room screen, with a software development kit that will help developers get started on building the necessary apps. The new Apple TV is expected to be a “significant overhaul” of the device to make it stand out from a field that has since been populated with many competitors. The report suggests that the new device will sport some variant of Apple’s latest A8 CPU, increased on-board storage to support the App Store, and integration of Siri voice control. The existing Apple TV hasn’t been updated since a minor revision was made to the 2012-era third-generation Apple TV in March 2013.

Apple pulls The Whole Pantry app amid developer scandal

Apple has pulled The Whole Pantry app from its U.S. and Australian App Stores amid controversy surrounding the app’s creator, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Australian app developer Belle Gibson’s claim of healing herself from terminal cancer without conventional treatment came under scrutiny last week after friends and doctors voiced doubts about her diagnosis, and charities reported that they hadn’t received funding Gibson had promised. The Whole Pantry — an app providing recipes and lifestyle guides — has been dropped from the App Store and is no longer featured on a page displaying Apple Watch apps.

Report: Apple in talks to add Discovery, Viacom networks to TV service

Apple is negotiating to add the Viacom and Discovery families of networks to its growing Apple TV subscription service, The Wall Street Journal reports. Adding any of Viacom’s MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon networks or Discovery’s Animal Planet, TLC and Discovery Channel would go a long way toward turning Apple’s TV package into one of the more robust alternatives to standard cable and could help justify a price tag that’s been estimated between $25 to $40. Major networks ABC, CBS and Fox are also in talks to anchor the subscription service, allowing Apple to undercut other discounted bundles like Dish Network’s $20 a month streaming service, which includes popular cable channels but no networks. NBC is still working on a dedicated app for Apple TV after being shut out of negotiations for inclusion in Apple’s subscription service, but that app will require a cable subscription to function.

Report: Apple offering to share data with programming partners

Apple plans to incentivize participation in its upcoming TV service by offering to share data with its programming partners, the New York Post reports. A report earlier today revealed that Apple is planning a web TV service expected to be released this fall, and this latest information indicates that the company has found it necessary to make certain concessions to get broadcast networks and others on board. Shared data would include who the viewers are, what they watch, and when they watch it — demographic data that is typically necessary for programmers to target their shows to viewers and advertisers. Sources familiar with the talks have indicated that Apple is taking the rather unusual approach of allowing a lot more decision-making by content owners, basically giving up a lot more control than is usually the case. Notably, traditional cable companies and other web providers such as Amazon and Netflix have refused to hand over viewership data to programmers.

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