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Russia mulling tax increase on App Store purchases, other Apple services

The Russian government is considering a bill that would increase taxes on a dozen categories of digital products and services offered by foreign companies like Apple, including ads, games, movies, marketplace transactions and cloud computing, Bloomberg reports. In a recent interview described as “peppered with expletives,” Russian Internet Czar German Klimenko said he is pushing to raise the taxes to level the playing field for Russian competitors, following the lead of other European countries. “When you buy an app from Google Play or the App Store anywhere in Europe, VAT is charged at the place of payment, but not here in our banana republic,” Klimenko said. The new bill proposes an 18 percent value-added tax on an estimated $3.9 billion in profits earned on digital media and services by Apple, Google and other foreign technology companies. Klimenko also railed against Apple’s compliance with U.S. sanctions on Russia after the country annexed Crimea, calling that decision “the point of no return.” Apple declined to comment on the proposed tax increase.

Indie game ‘The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’ rejected by Apple over violence toward children

Apple has rejected an iOS version of the popular indie game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth after deciding its content depicts “violence towards, or abuse of, children,” the game’s developer said on Twitter. The game, based loosely on the Old Testament story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, revolves around the child protagonist’s efforts to escape the basement where he is being held by his mother. The console and platform versions of the game are rated Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, but feature only cartoonish violence similar to that found in Limbo, another popular iOS title that had no trouble getting approved despite being a platformer where a child essentially dies over and over again. But promotional images for The Binding of Isaac show a child naked and weeping on the floor, and Nintendo initially rejected the game for the 3DS and Wii U over objections to “questionable religious content.”

Facebook rolls out Live Video to US users

Facebook has announced the rollout of its Live Video feature on the iPhone to all Facebook users in the U.S., with expansion to the rest of the world “in the coming weeks.” Originally introduced as a trial in early December, the Live Video feature allows users to broadcast in real-time to friends, family, or other Facebook users via the Facebook app, initiated as a status update. Users can write a quick description and choose the audience that they wish to share with before going live. During the broadcast, Live Video users will see the number of live viewers, names of friends who are watching, and a stream of comments presented in real-time. Once ended, live video broadcasts will be saved onto the user’s Timeline like any other video.

Microsoft releases News Pro app for iOS

Microsoft has released News Pro, a new free news app. Unlike Apple’s built-in iOS 9 News app, News Pro appears to be geared more toward professional and business interests. Billed as “Your Work News Brief,” the app is designed to help users search for daily news relevant to their work field, with over a million topics to choose from. Users can link News Pro with their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to tailor their news feed to their work experience and personal interests, and the app will suggest new topics to explore and web sites to discover based on the user’s current profile.

Report: Apple to offer subscription content via News app

Apple is planning to expand its News service to provide subscription content through the iOS 9 News app, Reuters reports. Citing sources familiar with the matter, the report notes that the aim would be to give publishers with paywalls a way to limit access to their content, and would help to distinguish Apple’s offering from other online news apps and services such as Facebook’s Instant Articles. The move may address concerns raised by publishers, which cannot ignore Apple’s hundreds of millions of users, while at the same time preferring to still connect directly with readers. Making paid content available through the iOS News app would allow publishers to maintain relationships with their existing reader base and possibly attract new subscribers, although it’s still unclear at this time how Apple plans to authenticate subscribers or whether it would take its usual cut of subscription payments, as the company did with its prior Newsstand system.

Frogmind releases Badland 2

Frogmind has released Badland 2 ($5), the sequel to its award-winning game Badland, for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The new side-scrolling, action-adventure game expands on the original world of Badland, adding rich new graphic detail and levels that now extend and scroll in all directions, as well as new obstacles and elements to fly through, such as liquids, flamethrowers, frost, magma, water, and searing light. The single-player campaign provides unique, physics-based challenges, however players can also jump into online levels for competing against friends in seasonal asynchronous multiplayer events. Frogmind also promises more content for both modes will be provided in future free updates, as in the original Badland. The new sequel also includes support for 3D Touch capability for iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus users.

BBC iPlayer app arrives on Apple TV in UK

BBC has launched its iPlayer app for Apple TV in the U.K. According to the BBC, the app features Siri voice search, along with typical playback and search functions. At this point, though, the app doesn’t support subtitles, as Apple doesn’t support the same format used by the BBC. The BBC also notes that it’s working with Apple on making BBC iPlayer shows available via the Apple TV’s search — that may arrive sometime next year.

More Apple picks for Best of 2015: Apple Watch apps, Books, Podcasts

Apple agreed with iLounge’s pick for the Best Apple Watch App of 2015, naming weather app Dark Sky its choice for Apple Watch App of the Year. Apple Watch Game of the Year went to Rules!, a fast-paced puzzle game which is a smaller version of its iOS edition. Best Classic Podcast went to WTF with Marc Maron, and newcomer Mystery Show was named Best New Podcast of 2015. Apple also released its picks for best books of 2015 in 16 categories, listed below.

Cue: Apple is working on ‘Siri Remote’ app for Apple TV

In an interview with BuzzFeed News discussing the success of the new fourth-generation Apple TV, Apple SVP Eddy Cue revealed that the addition of Apple Remote app support in yesterday’s tvOS update may actually just be a stop-gap measure while the company produces an enhanced Remote app for iOS devices. Cue noted that a new Apple TV remote app is in development that will provide “the full functionality of the Siri Remote on your iPhone,” and he expects Apple to release the new updated app in the first half of 2016.

Microsoft’s Cortana now available on iOS

A little more than a month after its open beta period, Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant hit the App Store today. The free app allows users access to functions similar to those performed by Apple’s Siri, like getting answers to questions, but adds the ability to sync reminders between an iOS device and a Windows PC. Cortana is also able to track packages, flights, sports scores and stocks for those looking for up-to-the-minute updates, and a Notebook function stores information about a user’s interests and activities. But Cortana’s functionality is much more limited on the iPhone than on Windows phones where it’s fully integrated: Cortana isn’t allowed to change iPhone settings or activate when users say “Hey Cortana,” making the app less of a full replacement for Siri and more of a handy extension for iOS device users operating a Windows PC that they want to integrate with their device.

Apple makes its picks for best iPhone, iPad and Apple TV apps of 2015

Apple has released its picks for best apps of 2015. The company picked Periscope (our runner up for App of the Year) as its iPhone App of the Year — calling it a game-changer that “made sharing and watching live videos an instant obsession” — and selected photo editor Enlight and stock-trading app Robinhood as its runners-up. Workflow won Most Innovative app for iPhone, and Instagram’s 3D Touch enhancements won it Best App on iPhone 6s. Lara Croft GO won Best Game of the Year for iPhone for its “beauty and clever design,” with Fallout Shelter and Mr Jump earning runner-up honors. Dark Echo was listed as the Most Innovative iPhone game and “immersive 3D Touch controls” won Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade honors as Best Game on iPhone 6s.

Apple puts plan to offer subscription TV service on hold

After months of unsuccessful negotiations, Apple has suspended its plans to offer a subscription TV service and is refocusing on being a platform for other media companies through the App Store, Bloomberg reports.  During a press conference on Tuesday, CBS CEO Les Moonves said Apple has put its live TV plans “on hold,” and sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Apple’s plan to offer a package of around 14 channels for $30 to $40 a month has stalled over networks’ demands for more money. While Moonves went on to say he’s confident Apple’s TV service “will happen” at some point, the company’s negotiations with TV executives have proven much more difficult than those with music companies, which have been mostly willing to partner with Apple. With cable providers already starting to offer smaller bundles and networks selling their own individual subscriptions through apps available on Apple TV, Apple is facing the prospect of charging more for its service unless it can convince media companies to accept less. Without those agreements in place, Apple is turning to software developers to create new entertainment content in the hopes of setting the latest Apple TV’s App Store apart from similar offerings from Roku, Amazon and Google.

Apple’s Eddy Cue shares his hopes for Apple News

Apple SVP Eddy Cue laid out the company’s vision for Apple News in an interview with CNN, touting the app as more of a public service than a money-making venture. Cue said Apple is working hard to steer clear of the economics of the news business, focusing more on building the platform for news organizations to leverage on their own. While Apple offers to sell the ads that display next to content—claiming 30 percent of the revenue for ad space it sells—the company also gives publishers the ability to sell their own ads and keep 100 percent of the profits. (It’s unclear how many news organizations sell their own ads, and how many rely on Apple at this point.) Cue said the app aims to clear away hurdles that keep publications from delivering content to consumers. “News organizations today have lots to worry about: Each of them has to worry about building their own apps, the interfaces, the user experience,” Cue said. “This gives them an opportunity to focus on what they do really well, which is the journalism part, and let us handle the technology piece of building the apps and distributing them.”

Amazon Instant Video app could hit Apple TV ‘within a few weeks’

According to an Amazon customer service reply, an app for Amazon Instant Video could be landing on Apple TV “within a few weeks.” The unnamed company representative supposedly told Twitter user Dan Bostonweeks that the company’s technical team is currently working on the tvOS app and expressed optimism that it would launch soon, since the company has “already succeeded in developing an app for the iPhone and iPad.” Other users have received similar messages from Amazon about the tvOS app, but this is the first that included even a rough timetable for launch. Amazon’s Instant Video has been the largest noticeable absence on Apple TV for some time, with other services like Netflix and Hulu having long been available. Amazon also banned sales of the new Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast device on its site in an apparent bid to drive users away from those devices.

DisneyLife subscription-based app launches in the U.K.

Disney has launched the subscription-based app DisneyLife for U.K. residents ahead of a planned global roll out, offering unlimited access to movies, shows, music, books, and more for £9.99 a month. The service provides unlimited streaming within the U.K. and downloads that expire after 30 days without an Internet connection. Users running the app on Apple devices with iOS 8 or iOS 9 installed can stream HD content, but videos downloaded for offline viewing aren’t available in HD. While there’s no native Apple TV version of the app, content from the app is supported on Apple TV through AirPlay with one catch: All audio and video is streamed in standard definition.

Apple working on app to diagnose problems with iOS devices?

Photo: uSwitch

Apple is building an app to diagnose problems with iOS devices and help users schedule service, according to uSwitch. A source with direct knowledge of the app’s development said it will ask “basic questions (about the device in need of repair) to boil down to the problem quickly.” The new app will reportedly provide user guides and basic how-to information for every iOS device registered to the user’s Apple ID and offers tips for resolving a series of commonly experienced problems. If those fail to resolve the issue, the app will aid users in booking service at an Apple Store, sending their device in for service, or calling Apple for further support. The current Apple Store app only provides assistance in booking appointments with an Apple Store’s Genius bar; it’s unclear if this functionality will be shifted into the Apple Store app, or if it will be a new app of its own. Photos of the app show it also provides an option to chat live with Apple’s tech support network.

App Store rules may limit number of iPad Pro-specific apps

The iPad Pro has been touted as powerful enough to replace laptop and desktop computers, but many developers tell The Verge that they see big problems with developing apps specifically for the larger device’s enhanced capabilities. While the tablet is fast enough to run professional-grade software, it still operates on iOS, making all apps developed for it subject to App Store rules. The App Store doesn’t allow free trials as part of the download process, and developers like Bohemian Coding co-founders Pieter Omvlee and Emanuel Sa don’t see users paying $99 for their Sketch app without ever seeing it work. “Sketch on the Mac costs $99, and we wouldn’t dare ask someone to pay $99 without having seen or tried it first,” Omvlee said. “So to be sold through the App Store, we would have to dramatically lower the price, and then, since we’re a niche app, we wouldn’t have the volume to make up for it.”

Foursquare added to Apple Maps business listings

Apple has updated the acknowledgments page for its Maps app to include Foursquare as a provider of business listings. Foursquare officially joins Yelp, Trip Advisor and Booking.com as official providers of information about businesses, restaurants and attractions within the app, but so far we at iLounge haven’t seen any Foursquare information popping up when searching in Apple Maps. In other Foursquare news, the company’s Swarm app got an update yesterday, making it possible to use the 3D Touch feature to press on a friend’s check-in for quick access to more information about their current location.

App Store gets search engine improvements

Improvements to the App Store’s search that Apple has rolled out in the past few weeks are producing more intelligent and relevant returns, TechCrunch reports. Where past updates to the store’s algorithms have focused on changes to the way apps are ranked within Top Charts and various categories, the new changes appear to affect how results are returned when users search for apps using a keyword. The improved search now ranks apps using contextual keyword matches or partial matches, and goes beyond the text found in an app’s title or “keyword” slot, expanding the usefulness of the search in finding apps that serve a function which might not be explicitly stated in the app’s name. The new search puts more emphasis on the main features of the app and returns a better range of similar and competing apps. A search for “Twitter,” for example, now returns results for Twitter clients Tweetbot and Twitterrific, where both apps were recently not displayed in those search results at all despite serving the same basic function as Twitter’s own app. Apple hasn’t commented on the change, and how the move will affect app downloads and sales is still unclear.

Apple shutting down Beats Music on Nov. 30

In a post on the Beats Music support blog, Apple said it’s shutting down Beats Music on Nov. 30 and urged users to move their picks and preferences over to Apple Music before it’s too late. Apple has been encouraging Beats Music users to switch to Apple Music since launching the new service in June, but those users still paying for Beats Music will see their subscriptions canceled at the end of the month. The “related articles” section attached to the post features links to newly updated user guides for migrating from Beats Music to Apple Music for both iOS and Android, making it possible that Apple was waiting until the Android app’s release earlier this week before finally pulling the plug on Beats Music.

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