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Apple News ad restrictions angering media companies

Irate media company executives are complaining that the Apple News app to be released with iOS 9 next week is too restrictive on advertising content, the New York Post reports. The company has placed unconventional restrictions on ad formats and requires strict approval hurdles for ad campaigns, leading one unnamed senior news executive to say, “[Apple News is] giving us some great ways to distribute our product, but they’re not giving us a lot of ways to monetize it.” Popular tools like real-time bidding for ad placements aren’t supported yet, and Apple has refused to accommodate Google’s Doubleclick, one of the most popular tools for placing and tracking online ads. Apple’s requirement that the company be allowed to approve every ad campaign within 48 hours’ notice and refusal to run pre-roll video ads without direct vetting has also made the process “very difficult,” according to another news executive. While publishers like CNN, Vox Media and Time Inc. have agreed to make most of their content available on the new app, others with strong paid subscription models like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are reportedly restricting Apple News to a few dozen stories a day. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Apple required to pay unpaid back taxes, fines in China

Apple has found itself in hot water in China, CNN Money reports, with the Chinese Ministry of Finance revealing that Apple had misreported sales and profits in the country. The company failed to report 8.8 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) in sales in 2013 while also overstating its profit by 5.4 billion yuan ($220 million) that same year. Apple has been required to pay 452 million yuan ($71 million) in back taxes to the Chinese government, and a 65 million yuan ($10 million) fine has been levied against the company for the failure to report the 2013 taxes. A spokesperson for Apple claimed the error was discovered during an audit of the company’s 2013 operations, and resulted from “a difference in interpretation of a tax rule.” The Apple spokesman stated, “We pay all the taxes we owe wherever we do business and we will continue working closely with the Ministry of Finance.” China has reportedly been cracking down on unpaid taxes by U.S. companies recently, with Microsoft also being charged with $140 million in unpaid taxes in November 2014.

Ive discusses Hermès Apple Watch partnership

In a joint interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple design chief Jony Ive and Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas provided some insight into Apple’s new partnership with the French fashion house and where the company is positioning the Apple Watch in terms of luxury branding. Ive revealed that he approached Hermès about collaborating on the Apple Watch before the device had even been announced — an unusual move for the normally secretive company — and that the two companies decided to partner over lunch in Paris last October.

Ive noted that Apple also took a very unique approach in its partnership with Hermès, allowing the fashion company’s branding to display more prominently on the Watch, using three fonts that Hermès has long used in its own watches, and excluding the Apple name and logo from the Hermès user interface — the first time Apple has ever allowed another company’s symbols to upstage its own. While the new Hermès Apple Watch is far from either company’s most expensive offering, the $1,500 Hermès edition is clearly intended to enhance Apple’s positioning of the Apple Watch as more than a high-tech gadget, although Ive shies away from the idea that the Apple Watch is heading in a more exclusive direction in the manner usually associated with luxury goods. He stated that he doesn’t feel the attention that has been lavished on the Apple Watch Hermès provides it with any special status, indicating that even placed next to the lower-end Sport Edition, “there’s not one that had more care invested in its designing or making.” The new Hermès edition Apple Watch goes on sale Oct. 5 and will be available in Apple and Hermès stores in fourteen countries, with prices ranging from $1,100 for the 38mm classic bracelet version to $1,500 for the 42mm cuff version.

Apple posts iPhone 6s ‘Get ready for pre-order’ instructions

Apple has added a “Get ready for pre-order” link on its iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus store pages, leading to a pop-up box that provides customers with guidance on what they can do now to ensure that they’re ready to pre-order the new iPhone models when pre-orders begin on Sept. 12. Instructions include advising users to enter their account details to check their account status and upgrade eligibility now, as well as directing them to the Apple Store app on their current iPhone where they can store their wireless account details to save time when pre-orders actually begin. Customers will be able to pre-order the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus beginning at 12:01 a.m. PDT on Sept. 12, and if past years are any indication, availability of new models will become scarce within the first few minutes, so tips on speeding up the checkout process will be helpful both for customer satisfaction and avoiding heavier loads on Apple’s servers.

Apple adds ‘Hey Siri’ training mode in iOS 9 GM

Apple has added a new series of setup and training screens for enabling the “Hey Siri” feature in iOS 9, explaining the feature and taking users through a series of steps where they’re asked to speak phrases such as “Hey Siri”, “Hey Siri, how’s the weather today?”, and “Hey Siri, it’s me.” Users updating to iOS 9 — even from a beta to the GM candidate — will likely find that the “Hey Siri” feature has been disabled under Settings, General, Siri, and turning it on will take them through the process before the feature gets enabled. The new training mode should likely help to reduce the number of false positives where Siri accidentally thinks users are talking to it, and will probably be particularly useful in the case of the new iPhone 6s models which will allow “Hey Siri” to function even when not connected to power.

Apple releases iOS 9 GM seed, first iOS 9.1 developer beta

As in previous years, following yesterday’s event, Apple has now released the final GM seed for iOS 9 to registered developers. The GM seed is a final “release candidate” and barring any problems found in this version, it is expected to be identical to the final iOS 9.0 release scheduled to be rolled out to the public next week. Unlike prior beta updates, the GM seed does not appear to be available as an over-the-air update; developers will need to download the GM seed from Apple’s site and update to it manually via iTunes.

Along with the iOS 9 GM Seed, Apple has also already released the first beta version of iOS 9.1 to developers. The iOS 9.1 beta release notes don’t reveal much new in iOS 9.1, although it appears to include developer-level enhancements for new features introduced on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus yesterday, such as 3D Touch and Live Photos. The iOS 9.1 beta continues to support the same devices as iOS 9.0 and registered iOS developers can download the iOS 9.1 beta from Apple’s Developer site.

Apple making limited new Apple TV units available to registered developers

In order to give developers a chance to develop Apple TV applications in advance of the public release of the new set-top box, Apple is making a limited number of Apple TV Developer Kits available to registered Apple Developer Program members. To qualify, developers must already be members of the Apple Developer Program, must be located in one of 22 specific countries and must register to request a kit by Sept 11 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time. The kit includes the new Apple TV, Apple TV Remote, Power cord, Lightning to USB Cable, USB-A to USB-C Cable, and documentation. Apple notes that due to limited availability, priority will be given to teams that already have apps on the App Store, and developers will be notified of whether or not they have been selected beginning on Sept. 14.

In addition, Apple has already posted developer documentation on building apps for the new Apple TV as well as downloads and release notes of the new tvOS beta. Of particular note is that “the maximum size of an Apple TV app is limited to 200MB. Anything beyond this size needs to be packaged and loaded using on-demand resources.”

Apple increases AppleCare+ pricing for iPhone 6s

Apple has increased the pricing of its AppleCare+ plans for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus to $129 — $30 more than last year’s AppleCare+ pricing for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models. The less expensive $99 AppleCare+ for iPhone 6 and earlier models remains available, with the new pricing only applying to users purchasing AppleCare+ for Apple’s newest iPhones. The AppleCare+ plan for the iPhone 6s models is also included in Apple’s new iPhone Upgrade Program. The terms and conditions of the AppleCare+ program do not appear to have changed for the new models, however.

Apple announces iPhone Upgrade Program

During its fall event today, Apple also briefly announced a new iPhone Upgrade Program initiative. Being introduced initially in U.S. Apple Retail stores, the program will allow customers to pay a monthly fee to receive a new iPhone each year. Pricing for the program starts at $32/month and would include AppleCare+ and an unlocked iPhone that could be used on a carrier of the customer’s choice. Users could then upgrade to the latest model each year, presumably an equivalent version to their current iPhone, appropriate to the price level they’re paying. Additional details are not yet available, although Apple did indicate that it plans to roll the program out to additional countries in the future.

Apple schedules iOS 9 release for Sept. 16

Apple has announced Sept. 16 as the official release date for iOS 9, the next major update to its mobile operating system. Originally shown in June at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference and then released into public beta over the summer, iOS 9 will add a number of new features including a more proactive assistant mode for Siri, Transit directions in Apple Maps, a News app for curated news feeds, split-screen multitasking for iPad users, and support for loyalty cards in Passbook, which is being renamed Wallet in light of its new role. The new version will also offer HomeKit support for new devices, as well as accessing HomeKit via iCloud, and support for wireless CarPlay connections. New developer features will also allow for smaller and more efficient iOS applications. The new version is also expected to run more efficiently on older iPhone and iPad models.

Apple reduces iCloud Storage Pricing

Apple has announced new pricing tiers for its iCloud Storage Plans, more closely matching the prices offered by competing services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft. Effective today, users can purchase 50GB of iCloud storage for $1/month (users previously only received 20GB for that price), 200GB for $3/month (down from $4/month), or 1TB for $10/month (down from $20/month). Users still get 5GB of storage for free, while the prior 500GB plan which was priced at $10/month has now disappeared rather than being similarly discounted.

Apple announces iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus

As expected, Apple also unveiled its next-generation iPhone models, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Sporting the new third-generation 64-bit A9 chip that promises 90 percent better graphics performance from the previous generation, the headline feature on the new models is a new 3D Touch feature which uses force touch sensors similar to the Apple Watch to provide an additional layer of navigation through the iPhone user interface. 3D Touch gestures will allow users to access shortcuts to frequently access features from the home screen icons, which appear as contextual style menus that pop up near the icon, enabling actions such as quickly taking selfies from the Camera icon or quickly composing a new email from the Mail icon.

Users can press lightly to peek at content — such as pulling up a map view from an address in a calendar appointment, pulling up a web page preview from a link in an email, or pulling up a calendar view when looking at a proposed meeting time in an email message. Pressing slightly harder will take the user directly into the new content area, and releasing closes the “peek” to return the user back to their original content. The new 3D Touch also enables distinct tactile feedback for actions. The app switcher can now also be accessed with a 3D Touch gesture at the end of the iPhone screen to more naturally bring up the panel of apps and then swipe across to switch apps. Selected third-party developers such as Dropbox, Facebook, and Instragram have also already implemented support for 3D Touch.

Apple debuts its new Apple TV

Apple today debuted its long-awaited next-generation Apple TV set-top box, incorporating what the company calls a “new foundation for TV” consisting of more powerful hardware, a modernized operating system, a completely revamped user experience and a development framework and App Store for facilitating third-party apps. The new Apple TV will include a remote that includes a glass touch surface and Siri support for interacting with the TV user interface. Users can swipe to navigate through menus, or give a wide variety of Siri voice commands to search for and play content, look up information, and navigate the Apple TV. A new Universal Search feature allows users to find content across multiple sources — currently iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and Showtime — as well as searching with Siri for content by type (“action films”), actor, or even guest star.

When viewing content, users can also click and swipe to scrub through a show with thumbnails preview images shown on the scrubber bar, or use Siri commands such as “skip ahead 7 minutes” to go forward, or “what did she say?” to skip back 15 seconds and temporarily turn on captions. Contextual information can also be looked up when watching a movie or TV show by issuing Siri commands such as “Who stars in this?” to see cast information, or even non-contextual information such as sports scores or weather. A notification overlay appears to provide information without taking the user out of the current video, and users can either dismiss or swipe up to pause playback and show more detail.

Apple introduces iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard, Pencil

Apple took the wraps off its long-rumored iPad Pro during today’s event in San Francisco, revealing a new 12.9” version of the tablet that provides a 2732 x 2048, 5.6 million pixel display. Combined with iOS 9, the new iPad Pro allows for iPad Air apps to run with more room side-by-side, and incorporates a third-generation A9X 64-bit CPU providing twice the performance of the prior A8X devices such as the iPad Air 2 — performance that can allow users to edit three streams of 4K video simultaneously. The iPad Pro features a variable refresh rate to save energy, providing up to 10 hours of battery life, and a new four-speaker audio system that provides stereo separation, and automatically balances left and right audio depending on orientation while providing three times the audio volume of the iPad Air 2. The iPad Pro comes in at 6.9mm thick, only 0.8mm more than the iPad Air 2, and weighs 1.57 pounds. The new device also features an 8MP iSight camera, a FaceTime HD camera on the front, 150Mbps LTE and 802.11ac with MIMO support, and Touch ID authentication.

To complement the iPad Pro, Apple also debuted a new physical keyboard accessory, dubbed the Smart Keyboard. Similar to the design of the Smart Covers that Apple has created for other iPad models, the Smart Keyboard uses the Apple dome switch key design from the new Apple MacBook which debuted earlier this year, covered with a custom fabric. The keyboard docks with the iPad Pro using a new “Smart Connector” on the long edge that provides power and data and attaches magnetically to the Smart Keyboard.

Follow iLounge’s live coverage of today’s Apple event

Follow @iLounge on Twitter during Apple’s event today for up-to-the-second coverage of everything new about the iPhone 6S, new Apple TV, iPad Pro, and any other surprises Apple has in store. After the event ends we’ll have all the details here, so check back regularly throughout the day for an in-depth look. Apple’s special event starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. EST), and will be streaming live on Apple’s website and on Apple TV’s Special Events channel.

Last-minute details emerge before today’s Apple event

Ahead of what 9to5Mac believes will be Apple’s only event this fall, the site’s sources have spilled more last-minute details about the company’s new products. Contrary to previous rumors that had the iPad Pro starting at 64GB of storage, the new device will reportedly start at a base 32GB storage capacity — still double that of current iPad base models — priced at $800. 64GB and 128GB models are expected to cost $900 and $1,000, respectively, and LTE-capable models will tack on another $130 — bringing the total cost for a top-of-the-line iPad Pro to $1,130, just under the base price of a new Retina MacBook. In addition to camera upgrades, all-new “3D Touch Display” screens, improved A9 chips and more efficient wireless systems, the new iPhones are expected to feature always-on Siri functionality, allowing users to activate Apple’s personal assistant simply by saying, “Hey Siri” at any time. Current iPhone models have to be plugged into a power source to activate that feature.

The fourth-generation Apple TV is getting software upgrades too, expected to run a new iOS 9-based system appropriately named “tvOS.” While based on the current Apple TV OS, the new system reportedly includes plenty of new elements from iOS 9 and El Capitan, including enhanced transparency effects. And finally, although Apple Watch isn’t expected to get a second-generation version this year, the company is expected to debut new gold color options and bands at today’s event — a PRODUCT(RED) Sport band box has already been posted on Twitter — as well as possible announcements about the company’s collaborations with popular fashion brands. The event kicks off at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 EST) today.

Apple Music Festival adds Carrie Underwood, Mumford & Sons and more

Apple has announced more headliners for its Apple Music Festival, including Carrie Underwood, Mumford & Sons and Ellie Goulding. Goulding will open the festival on Sept. 19 at London’s Roundhouse, and Underwood will become the first country star to headline at the event when she takes the stage on Sept. 21, according to NewsOK. Previously announced acts include Pharrell Williams, Florence + The Machine and One Direction. A full list of the festival’s headliners can be found here. Apple plans to make performances available for free to Apple Music and iTunes users live and on-demand, with Beats 1 and individual artists’ Connect pages providing continuing coverage of the event and access to backstage news and footage. Apple TV owners will be able to view the event in HD.

Apple, other tech companies fighting U.S. over privacy

Government officials considering a lawsuit against Apple after the company refused to follow a court order which would allow the U.S. Justice Department to see text message conversations between suspected criminals, The New York Times reports. Apple told the government that its iMessage system’s encryption prevented the company from complying with the order, prompting senior Justice Department and F.B.I. officials to suggest taking Apple to court. While Apple didn’t end up being sued over that incident, Microsoft is in court over a similar refusal to turn over emails in a 2013 investigation, after the company told federal officials that they’d need to get a warrant in Ireland since the emails were hosted on a server in Dublin. Both cases have drawn the attention of privacy advocates and law enforcement agencies alike, with government officials expressing frustration with the White House for letting tech companies “win” the public relations fight over data encryption. The Justice Department wants data currently protected by Apple’s end-to-end encryption to be subject to the same types of wiretap orders that phone companies currently face for voice calls. In a May letter to President Obama, Apple joined several other companies objecting to limits on encryption, saying any built-in vulnerabilities for law enforcement use could just as easily be exploited by malicious hackers or repressive government regimes.

Apple beefing up artificial intelligence research department

Apple is boosting the size of its artificial intelligence staff, looking to add at least 86 new positions to create smartphone features that predict what users will want next, Reuters reports. The company is recruiting artificial intelligence experts from PhD programs geared toward machine learning, which lets devices use previous experience to infer what users are likely to need in the future. The capability relies on computing vast amounts of data to provide those unprompted services, and while Apple pioneered the idea of the idea of a digital assistant with the introduction of Siri in 2011, experts say the company’s strict stance on privacy could undermine Apple’s ability to compete with the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook in the future. The company’s self-imposed restraints on pooling and analyzing user data means Apple’s only option would be analyzing the data on each user’s iPhone, which former employees said complicates the work at every turn. Companies like Google and Microsoft have far fewer qualms about accumulating and studying user data, allowing them to learn about users faster and create personal assistant features more suited to their daily routines.

Apple has acquired social media analytics firm Topsy and personalized podcasting app Swell, among other companies in the field. When asked for comment on the growing AI initiative, an Apple spokeswoman pointed to statements from senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, who said the company is “adding intelligence throughout the user experience in a way that enhances how you use your device but without compromising your privacy, things like improving the apps that you use most.”

Apple admits Apple Music still needs work, says iTunes downloads remain strong

Speaking to The Guardian, Apple has admitted that it still has “homework to be done” on the Apple Music service. Oliver Schusser, the vice president of iTunes International, told the Guardian that a lot of work is still being put into improving the service, with “teams all around the world” focusing on editorial and playlists, but also adding features and “cleaning up certain things.” When asked about usability criticisms that have been levied against the service, Schusser reiterated that the service remains a priority for Apple, noting that it was a very big launch and they’re getting a “ton of feedback” but are “obviously trying to make it better every day.” Schusser also confirmed that Apple remains on track to launch Apple Music for Android devices and Sonos players this fall.

Schusser also stated that the download business has been “really, really healthy,” and iTunes continues to be a big part of Apple’s business on which they are still focused, as well. Dr. Dre’s recent release of “Compton: A Soundtrack Album” was streamed 25 million times in its first week, however, it still sold nearly 500,000 iTunes downloads in the same time frame. Schusser holds up Compton as a “really good example of how streaming and downloads can be successful side-by-side,” stated that they’ve proven “when there’s great content, customers will buy as well as listen.”

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