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Apple confirms online-only sales for Apple Watch at launch

Apple today issued a press release officially confirming the preview and online pre-ordering of the Apple Watch for 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time, tomorrow, April 10, and availability for April 24. The Apple Watch will be available for customers to try on at Apple Stores and other select retailers in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. In the release, Apple SVP of Retail and Online Stores, Angela Ahrendts, confirms earlier reports that the new device will be available solely online for the initial launch.

Based on the tremendous interest from people visiting our stores, as well as the number of customers who have gone to the Apple Online Store to mark their favorite Apple Watch ahead of availability, we expect that strong customer demand will exceed our supply at launch. To provide the best experience and selection to as many customers as we can, we will be taking orders for Apple Watch exclusively online during the initial launch period.

Customers will still be able to visit Apple Stores to try on the Apple Watch and explore its features, although even in this case, they are encouraged to make appointments online rather than simply walking into the store. In addition to Apple Retail Stores, the Apple Watch is also being previewed at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Isetan in Tokyo, Selfridges in London, and select Apple Authorized Resellers in Japan and China, and will also be sold at several additional boutique stores in major cities beginning on April 24th, including colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, Maxfield in Los Angeles and The Corner in Berlin.

Apple quietly acquires keyboard app developer Dryft

Apple has acquired Dryft, a small startup that develops keyboard apps, TechCrunch reports. While the acquisition appears to have taken place last year, it has only recently come to light with LinkedIn profiles of a principal within the company showing him as having joined Apple last September as leading development for Apple’s “internal keyboard efforts.” It’s unclear whether the acquisition was for talent or assets, and financial terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed.

Apple releases iOS 8.3, iCloud Photo Library comes out of beta

Apple has publicly released iOS 8.3, noting more than 50 new fixes and improvements across areas such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Messages, CarPlay, Family Sharing, Accessibility, Enterprise features, orientation and rotation features, and more. The update also boasts improved performance for launching apps, responsiveness of apps, Messages, Wi-Fi, Control Center, Safari tabs, third-party keyboards, and other features. Notably, with iOS 8.3, Apple has also removed the “beta” label from its iCloud Photo Library feature which debuted last fall, optimizing it to work with the new Photos app now available in OS X Yosemite 10.3.3. Other notable fixes and improvements include a new Emoji keyboard featuring over 300 new characters, the ability to filter out Messages not sent by people in your contacts list, a way to report junk iMessages directly from the Messages app, italic and underline formatting options on the iPhone 6 Plus landscape keyboard, and the ability to remove shipping and billing addresses used with Apple Pay. iOS 8.3 can be downloaded by going to the iOS Settings app and choosing General, Software Update, or by connecting your iOS device to iTunes and using the Check for Update option found on the iTunes device summary screen.

Regulators scrutinizing Apple’s streaming music service

Apple’s upcoming subscription music streaming service is facing new scrutiny from federal regulators, the New York Post reports. Sources confirm the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are holding talks with music industry executives to see if Apple’s attempts to undercut streaming music competitors violate any antitrust laws. European regulators are conducting a similar investigation. Jimmy Iovine, Apple’s executive in charge of the streaming service, has gone on record saying he doesn’t like the way the freemium model employed by services like Spotify devalues music — an argument many record labels have made as well. While Apple’s attempts to negotiate with record labels for lower music prices than those offered to competitors have apparently failed, regulators are investigating whether Apple has made any exclusive deals with labels that would take content away from competing music services. Apple hasn’t announced deals with any major record labels.

Apple Watch in-store pickups limited to one per customer

Customers using Apple’s Reserve and Pickup service will only be able to reserve one Apple Watch for in-store pickup, MacRumors reports. All customers will be required to present government-issued photo ID when picking up their reserved watch, and Apple is painting a pretty dire picture for people who miss their pickup appointment or try to game the system. The reservation policy states, “Inventory is subject to change. Your reservation is valid for pickup only at the Apple Retail Store that you selected. If you do not pick up your selected item(s) by the designated date and time, your reservation will be cancelled and your item(s) will be returned to stock. There is a maximum of 1 reservation per customer. Number of reservations may be limited. Apple reserves the right to refuse, limit or cancel a reservation if Apple determines that a customer has provided misleading or fraudulent information and/or abused, disrupted or attempted to circumvent the reservation system.”

Sources claim Apple was planning to allow two reservations per customer as recently as last month, but the limited stock has dropped that number to one. The limit doesn’t apply to pre-orders that will be shipped to homes starting April 24. Walk-in customers can try on a watch, but won’t be able to buy one.

Apple Store employees to direct Apple Watch, Macbook customers online

With very limited quantities of the Apple Watch and 12-inch Macbook likely to be in stores at launch, Apple will be depending on Apple Store employees to steer customers online to place orders, Business Insider reports. In a memo from Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts, employees are instructed to promote the ease of using the Apple Store app and the company’s online store when customers come in looking for the latest products. “This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen. Tell your customers we have more availability online, and show them how easy it is to order,” the memo reads. As has been previously reported, the Apple Watch won’t be available for walk-in customers to purchase.

Report: Apple acquisition used for App Store ‘Explore’ tab

One of Apple’s small company acquisitions may have resulted in the more convenient search now found in the “Explore” tab in the App Store, according to TechCrunch. Ottocat, a small search startup focused on organizing apps based on “nested” categories, released a beta version of software designed to make it easier to find relevant apps in May 2013, claiming to have indexed every app in Apple’s App Store. By October 2013 the company was gone, with its website simply stating, “Ottocat is no longer available.” Little information is available on Apple’s acquisition of the company, aside from one of Ottocat’s co-founders authoring a patent as an employee of Apple and filing it in November 2013. It’s also unclear whether Edwin Cooper and Michelle Cooper, Ottocat’s founders, are still with Apple, but in June 2014 Apple unveiled the “Explore” tab in the App Store, sorting the store’s offerings into categories and subcategories, as Ottocat claimed to have done the previous year. No one from Apple or Ottocat has responded to the story.

Apple Maps adds Booking.com and Trip Advisor reviews

Apple has added Booking.com and Trip Advisor reviews to its Apple Maps app — previously, Apple Maps relied solely on Yelp for business reviews. Incorporation of Booking and Trip Advisor is still limited — only one of the three review providers is visible for any one business within Maps, with no clear way to determine which source you’ll be getting. And there’s no way to swap between review providers within the app. However, the addition of Booking seems to add more information about international destinations. Apple hasn’t commented on the additions and still lists Yelp as its sole review provider. [via 9to5Mac]

AppleCare+ for Apple Watch to cost $59 for Sport, $79 for Watch, $999 for Edition

AppleCare+ for Apple Watch will be priced at $59 for the Sport model, $79 for the stainless steel Watch, and $999 for the gold Edition model, according to 9to5Mac and MacRumors. Both sites have alleged internal Apple screenshots of the pricing. AppleCare+ will add an additional year of coverage to the included one-year warranty in the case of the Sport and stainless steel Watch models. Edition customers already get two years of around-the-clock support upon purchasing the $10,000+ Apple Watch model — the $999 price tag will add a third year of coverage.

Samsung to manufacture A9 chip for next iPhone

Samsung will provide Apple with A9 processors for the next iPhone, Bloomberg reports. The rumored move was reported earlier this year, and now appears to be official. Last year, Apple shifted much of its chip manufacturing to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, but the Cupertino company is returning to Samsung, ostensibly to benefit from the South Korean company’s more advanced manufacturing process. As the report notes, TSMC Chairman Morris Chang said last year that he expected his company “would lose ground to Samsung” before “reclaiming the upper hand in 2016.”

Apple under EU Commission scrutiny over streaming music service

Apple is under scrutiny from EU regulators concerning its new streaming music service, The Financial Times reports. Likely in response to a formal complaint, the European Commission has contacted several music labels and digital music companies, sending them questionnaires asking for more information about agreement between Apple and the labels. The report notes that the commission is concerned that Apple may use its size and influence to force music labels to abandon licenses that allow competitors such as Spotify to provide free, ad-supported services — something that music executives would reportedly be amenable to as well, based on earlier reports. If the Commission were to find wrongdoing as the result of a formal investigation, it could require changes to Apple’s business practices and possibly even impose hefty fees, however information gathering such as this is normally only a very preliminary step and does not necessarily mean a formal antitrust investigation will even be launched.

Apple wants networks to handle streaming for its web TV service

Apple wants TV networks to “handle the responsibility and cost of the streaming infrastructure” for its web TV service, Re/code reports. While Apple wants to launch its service in the fall, the streaming issue is “one of many unresolved questions,” with executives reportedly hesitant regarding the demand. It’s still too early to tell if this issue could push back the proposed autumn launch, but Apple has been pursuing some kind of TV service for some time now, with many apparent bumps in the road along the way. Additionally, Apple’s attempts at creating its new music streaming service have also reportedly found the company butting heads with others, with little to show for it thus far. Apple declined comment on the new report.

Pandora CFO calls Apple a ‘frenemy,’ says service will be available in CarPlay

Pandora CFO Mike Herring says his company and Apple have a “frenemy kind of relationship going on” with Apple poised to enter the streaming music market, Fox Business reports. The report also notes that “one can expect” Pandora will be integrated into Apple Watch, and Herring said “we’ll definitely be in CarPlay.” While Pandora and Apple have a close partnership — “We were part of what made it fun to have an iPhone,” Herring said — Apple’s development of a streaming music service comes at a time when Pandora’s share price has dropped over uncertainties about royalty rates paid to artists. Herring admits that if royalties go much higher than the current $0.0014 per song, Pandora would have a hard time staying profitable. Even though Pandora is still at the top of the streaming heap with 81 million monthly active users, Apple siphoning off a significant portion of that number would further strain the already struggling company. But since Pandora still owes much of its success to the popular iPhone app, Herring said it’s a “very interesting relationship.”

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.

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