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Plex announces new Dashboard with user and bandwidth stats, enhanced Now Playing screen

Plex has announced that it’s rolling out a new server dashboard that will allow Plex Media Server owners to better monitor their server and library activity, especially when sharing their library with friends and family members. While third-party tools have been available to do this for a few years now, the integration into the Plex Media Server itself allows for real-time tracking and additional metrics. The new Dashboard will allow Plex Media Server administrators to monitor which users and devices are streaming, what shows they’re watching or tracks they’re listening to, as well as providing status on what’s most popular in your library. In addition to play history, the new Dashboard will show bandwidth consumption for both local and remote users, play history by date, and top content. The Dashboard feature has actually been in development for a few years now, and Plex notes that the server has already been storing the data, so admins will actually be able to use the new feature to see data as far back as three years in the media consumption graph. The “Now Playing” screen has also been enhanced to provide more information at a glance, such as which platforms are being used to stream media, and the video and audio formats being used. The new Dashboard is available with Plex Media Server v1.41.1 or newer and v3.81.1 of the web app, which is currently only available in the hosted version, and coming soon to the server-bundled version.

Alexa integration coming to Vector on Dec. 17 along with more interactive features

Anki has announced that Amazon Alexa support will officially be coming to Vector on Monday, Dec. 17, just in time for the holidays. While the company announced the upcoming Alexa support last month, no release date was given at that time. The Alexa integration will be opt-in, so users who want to use this feature will have to specifically link Vector up with Alexa, but after doing so they will be able to issue commands to Vector using the standard “Alexa” prefix, allowing the little robot to provide access to the expanding collection of Alexa skills, which coincidentally will also include Apple Music starting on the same day that Vector joins the Alexa family. Anki has also published a video demonstrating the new Alexa support in action.

Plex begins rolling out Enhanced Video Player in Apple TV and iOS apps

Plex has begun rolling out a preview of its new and improved video player in its Apple TV and iOS apps, replacing Apple’s own built-in AVPlayer that was previously used in the Plex app with the mpv video player framework that it’s already been using in Plex Media Player. By implementing the new player, Plex will be able to improve the user experience by offering support for many more video formats without requiring that they be transcoding into an Apple-compatible format by the Plex Media Server. This will allow users of lower-end Plex servers, such as those embedded in NAS devices, to actually be able to use the Apple TV and iOS Plex apps with a much wider variety of video source material. The new player should also provide sharper video output for most formats, and promises to improve subtitle support, since it will now be able to read and play subtitles directly as well rather than requiring them to burned in at the Plex Media Server. The new player also offers a new UI that provides Plex users with direct access to proper audio track and subtitle switching from the pull down menu that’s presented during playback. The new player was released to Plex beta testers last month, and is now being made available to Plex Pass users as an opt-in “experimental” feature, so users can choose whether they want to take advantage of the new player experience or retain the existing AVPlayer for now.

Plex joins forces with Tidal to provide access to over 60 million high-quality tracks

Popular media platform Plex is taking another step towards solidifying its position as a one-stop media hub with announcement that it has partnered with the global music streaming platform Tidal. The new deal will give Plex members access to more than 60 million high-quality music tracks and over 244,000 videos, along with unique editorial content. Plex users will be able to access Tidal content directly from the Plex app through an exclusive subscription deal that will enhance the user of both services. Plex users will continue to be able to enjoy their own personal music collections alongside Tidal’s catalog, with everything seamlessly blended together within the Plex app, allowing users to search out their favourite music and other content regardless of where it’s located.

YouTube now offering discounted Premium and Music student subscriptions

YouTube has announced new discounted student plans for its YouTube Premium and YouTube Music services, providing eligible students with a 40 to 50 percent discount over the normal subscription rates. YouTube Music is being offered for students at $4.99/month, half of the normal $9.99/month price tag, while YouTube Premium for students will be $6.99/month, down from the normal $11.99/month pricing. YouTube is also offering a special promotion for students who sign up before January 31, 2019, enabling them to lock in a $5.99/month rate for the life of their subscription. YouTube Music is Google’s latest response to Spotify and Apple Music, both of which have been offering student plans for some time now. YouTube Premium is an expanded service which combines all of the benefits of YouTube Music while also offering users ad-free video, background playback, offline viewing, and access to all YouTube Originals. The new student plans are currently only available in the U.S., to full-time students at an accredited college or university, although YouTube notes that it will be expanding to more countries in the future.

Transit for iOS now lets you combine public transit and ridehailing

Popular iOS transportation planning app Transit has announced a major new feature in the form of “multimodal” trip support that will allow users to combine public transit and ride-sharing services into single trip itineraries, all in one app. Although transportation apps such as Transit and Google Maps have offered support for services such as Uber for quite some time, ride-sharing services have traditionally been presented as alternatives to taking public transit, rather than allowing users to mix and match then with other transportation types. Transit’s new feature, dubbed Transit+, is a “transit-oriented ridehailing” service that will allow users to plan trips that include a combination of services such as Uber, Lyft, Via, Ola, and Téo, along with local and regional public transit services, feeding rides from these services onto buses and trains.

Further, Transit+ isn’t just about allowing users to choose to use ridehail services as an alternative, but is actually designed to provide recommendations on the most efficient trip, so even in situations where a bus might easily take you to a nearby rail station, transit will let you know if an alternative route if a specific ride-hailing provider like Uber or Lyft can get you there faster, and Transit notes that in many cases, contrary to a common misconception, a combination of ridehail and transit services can actually provide for a faster trip, particularly in congested downtown areas where rail services are frequently much more efficient. The app will also handle the necessary bookings and payments for a seamless travel experience, saving users the hassle of juggling different apps, and Transit has also announced that it is working with transit carriers in various cities to integrate fare payments into the app, with an initial rollout already underway in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. The Transit+ service is rolling out in beta with support for ridehail with rail services in all cities, and ridehail with bus services rolling out initially in Kansas City, Silicon Valley, Boston, Detroit, Nashville, Columbus, Cleveland, St. Petersburg, St. Louis, Dayton, Albany, and Las Vegas.

App Store antitrust case goes before U.S. Supreme Court

A seven-year old antitrust monopoly lawsuit against Apple’s App Store is scheduled to go before the Supreme Court today, Reuters reports, in a case which is expected to answer a bigger question as to whether consumers can sue the intermediate suppliers and distributors in an online economy for damages in antitrust cases. Apple, for its part, is citing a relatively ancient Supreme Court precedent from 1977 in its defence, which limited damages for anti-competitive conduct to those who were overcharged directly, rather than simply those who paid an overcharge passed on by others. On this basic, Apple is arguing that it is simply acting as an agent, and it is the developers that set the prices, which Apple simply passes on through its storefront. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, however, are arguing that Apple’s 30 percent cut for selling apps on the App Store forces developers to charge higher prices than they otherwise would, thereby passing Apple’s costs on directly to the consumers. A competitive landscape, they suggest, would allow for developers to charge lower prices on other App Stores.

1Password offering a free year for friends and family on Thanksgiving

Current users of 1Password are being given an opportunity to share the love this Thanksgiving with the opportunity to gift friends or family a one-year subscription to the password management service at no charge. Founder Dave Teare announced the offer today on the company’s blog and via e-mail to its customers, noting that the offer is available for any customer who has a license for 1Password 7 or a subscription that continues into 2019; 1Password subscribers can send the gift out directly via e-mail by signing into and looking for the “Happy Thanksgiving” button in the sidebar, while users with a standard 1Password 7 license will need to contact 1Password support. The gift will provide the recipient with a free year of 1Password Families, a $60 value that allows up to five users to have their own personal and shared password vaults, although users will of course need to subscribe to continue using the service once the free year is up. We’ve reached out to 1Password for more information as there’s no indication as to when the offer expires, although it seems like a safe bet that it will be available at least through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Update: 1Password has let us know that the offer will be available until the end of November.

Tumblr app’s mysterious disappearance was the result of child pornography getting past filters

Following Tumblr’s mysterious disappearance from the App Store yesterday, CNET’s has learned from independent sources that the app was pulled from the App Store due to the presence of child pornography content slipping past the social media site’s filters. In speaking with Tumblr, a company spokesperson reiterated the service’s zero tolerance policy with regard to “media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse” and explained how uploaded content is scanned against “an industry database of known child sexual abuse material.” During a routine audit, however, the company discovered content that had slipped through the filters as a result of it not yet being included in the industry database. Tumblr has also update the article on its support site, explaining the situation and noting that the company is continuing to work on returning the iOS app to the App Store. [via 9to5Mac]

Spotify trying to woo back former Premium subscribers with special offer of $9.99 for three months

Spotify has begun offering former Premium subscribers three months of Premium for $9.99 in an effort to win them back to the service. The offer, which is available via a special “comeback” page, appears to be going out via e-mail to Spotify users who cancelled their Premium service prior to Oct. 16, although it appears anybody can sign up, provided they meet the eligibility requirements, which note that users must have previously “subscribed to the Premium or Unlimited service before the date shown in the offer” and of course cannot be a current Spotify Premium subscriber. The terms and conditions also note that only “a limited number of Re-Engagement Offer Offers are available, while supplies last” and that the offer ends on Dec. 31, 2018. Users who take advantage of the offer are under no obligation to continue their subscription past the three-month period, but if they choose to do so, they will simply be billed at the normal rate of $9.99/month once the promotion is over.

Spotify now available on Apple Watch

Spotify has officially announced its app for the Apple Watch. The release comes not long after it was rolled out to Spotify beta testers earlier this month, and while the initial app appears limited to providing playback controls, Spotify has acknowledged that the ability to listen to music offline is in the works for a future update. While the standard watchOS “Now Playing” app previously allowed users to pause and resume playback, the Spotify app gives users the ability to start up playback right from their wrists, mark tracks as favourites, and access recently played tracks, as well as connecting to Spotify Connect enabled speakers.

Spotify Connect will no longer require a Premium subscription

Spotify will begin allow its free customers to take advantage of direct streaming via Spotify Connect-enabled speakers, according to The Verge, although individual hardware manufacturers will need to push out a firmware update to bring their speakers up to Spotify’s latest SDK to enable the feature. Once enabled, however, users will be able to enjoy higher-quality Wi-Fi steaming to their speakers that feature Spotify Connect, eliminating the need to keep the playback device within Bluetooth range. While Spotify’s free tier will still be ad-supported, and there will a limit on how many tracks can be skipped, the move should offer a boon to those who haven’t been able to take advantage of the Spotify Connect feature, or who may have been paying up exclusively for that feature.

Apple updates iTunes Remote app for new iPad Pros

Apple has released an update to its iTunes Remote app for the new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models announced last week — a surprisingly quick update for an app that took almost a year to gain iPhone X support, leaving many to fear that Apple had abandoned it entirely, and also making it one of the first Apple apps to be updated for the new iPad Pro lineup. Version 4.4.1 of iTunes Remote also includes improvements to network connectivity along with simpler access to Now Playing and AirPlay controls, along with new shortcuts to play and shuffle playlists and albums. Apple notes that the latest version works best with iTunes 12.7.5 or later.

Spotify for Apple Watch enters beta testing

It looks like Spotify may finally be arriving on the Apple Watch, according to a user on Reddit, a Spotify beta tester who noted the addition of a watchOS app in the latest TestFlight build. At this point, it appears that the Spotify watchOS app functions primarily as a remote for controlling playback from the main Spotify app on the iPhone, and features playback controls and access to a list of recently played tracks. Offline playback is not yet supported, although that could be added in a future update, either during the beta cycle or after the release of an initial version to the public, and users also note that the watchOS app has not yet been optimized for Apple’s Series 4 models. [via MacRumors]

Apple updates Shortcuts with support for weather, alarms and timers, and unit conversions

Apple has updated its Shortcuts app with support for several new actions, providing access to weather data, the ability to controlling alarms and timers, and perform unit conversions. New weather actions allow users to pull in either current or forecasted weather and use that data in their shortcuts, and users can also start timers and create and toggle alarms. Measurement and Convert Measurement actions allow for conversions between a variety units, and a Get Last Import action will allow users to create shortcuts that pull in recently-imported photos. The new version also tweaks HomePod integration, automatically playing back media via AirPlay when a shortcut is called up from the HomePod via Siri.

Niantic adding HealthKit support to Pokémon GO to track walking progress

Although the Pokémon GO craze has run its course for many, Niantic is hoping to breathe new life into the experience with the announcement of plans to integrate with Apple’s HealthKit framework so that users can receive walking credit even when they aren’t actively playing the game. Niantic is calling the new feature “Adventure Sync,” and once users opt into the feature — and of course give Pokémon GO permission to read HealthKit data — the app will record walking distances even when Pokémon GO isn’t launched, so that users can still earn Candy and hatch Eggs as they go about their daily routines. Adventure Sync will also deliver a weekly summary that allows users to see their Incubator and Candy progress alongside important activity stats, and the number of kilometres recorded for each week will be shown in users’ Trainer Profiles, alongside push notifications that will let users know when their Buddy Pokémon has found a Candy or when an Egg is about to hatch, and rewards for crossing specific other milestones.

Award-winning farming RPG ‘Stardew Valley’ now available on iOS

ConcernedApe’s very popular Stardew Valley is the latest blockbuster game to have made the transition from PC to iOS, with a fully-functional, touch-optimized version of the game now available on the App Store. Stardew Valley is an extremely detailed simulation and RPG game that tasks players with working to make a small farm into a success by planting crops, raising animals, and selling goods, but provides a plethora of activities beyond that, ranging from fighting monsters to mining and fishing along with engaging in social activities with nearby townspeople. While the idea of a farming sim may sound rather pedestrian, the award-winning game has become a huge success by offering engaging gameplay that can occupy players for hundreds of hours in figuring out various strategies. The iOS version of Stardew Valley is not a scaled-down version either, with the developer noting that it “plays almost identically to all the other versions, but [adds] touch-based controls suitable for the iPhone and iPad.” [via MacRumors]

Google Maps for iOS gets real-time trip and ETA sharing

Google has announced that its real-time location sharing feature is now available in the iOS version of Google Maps. Introduced into the Android version last year, the feature allows Google Maps users to share travel details, such as letting friends and family know when you’re expected to arrive somewhere. Users can easily begin sharing live location, route, and ETA with selected contacts by selecting “Share Trip Progress” from the menu, and with today’s update users on both Android and iOS will be able to share trip information via third-party apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The feature isn’t designed to provide full “Find My Friends” style persistent location sharing, but rather only to help those close to you keep track of your progress while on a specific trip; sharing automatically ends once your journey does. The feature is supported not only for driving, but also in walking and cycling navigation modes as well.

Apple cracking down on misleading in-app free trial subscriptions

Following an exposé earlier this week that revealed a number of apps using deceptive marketing practices to trick users into signing up for expensive in-app subscriptions, Apple now appears to be cracking down on such apps, according to a follow-up report by Forbes, who originally broke the story earlier this month. According to multiple app develops, Apple has begun “systemically combing through” subscription apps on the App Store, looking for those with potentially confusing terms of service, removing those “that look problematic.” According to one developer, Albert Renshaw, who received a rejection notice after Apple “re-evaluated” their app, it appears that Apple is automatically removing many “non-big-name” apps that are showing high in-app subscription revenues, sending out notices to developers indicating that auto-renewable subscriptions are being “marketed in a manner that may mislead of confuse users about the subscription terms of pricing,” citing section 3.1.2 of the App Store Review Guidelines.

The Sims FreePlay adds augmented reality with ARKit 2

Electronic Arts and Maxis have released a new “Brilliant Backyards” update for The Sims FreePlay, adding support for Apple’s ARKit 2 to allow users to not only place their Sims in real-world settings, but also share real-time co-op building experiences with a friend. Users can build their Sims’ dream homes in a real-world environment, and even tie the AR experience to a specific location so they can return to it anytime. A trailer has also been published demonstrating the new ARKit features.

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