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Apple TV: Plex now available, Top Charts come to App Store

Plex has released its very popular media streaming client for the new Apple TV, providing users of the new set-top box with the ability to legitimately access and stream their content from their Plex media server to their television. Although Plex has been available on other media streaming platforms for several years, the lack of an App Store for the Apple TV has forced many users to either AirPlay content from the Plex iOS app or resort to out-of-the-box hacking methods to present Plex content by taking over an existing Apple TV channel. The Plex app is free in the App Store and requires that users update to the latest Plex media server software on their NAS device or computer. Additional details can be found on the Plex blog.

In addition, Apple has added top charts categories to the Apple TV App Store, including “Top Paid”, “Top Free”, and “Top Grossing” apps. The Top Charts can be found on the top menu bar between Featured and Purchased. Top Charts appear to only be available in the U.S. App Store at this time; it’s unclear when they will be appearing in other countries.

Nintendo announces first smartphone ‘game’ Miitomo, coming in March 2016

Nintendo has announced its first official smartphone “game,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Expected to debut in March 2016, the first new release by the famous video game developer will be titled “Miitomo” and will be a free-to-play app with in-app purchases that can be used to buy “attractive add-ons.” According to Nintendo CEO Tatsumk Kimishima, future iOS games released by the company will be pay-to-download titles — the company still plans to release four other apps by March 2017.

It’s not entirely clear whether Miitomo should be called a game, per se, as it appears to be more focused on allowing users to design their own avatars — Nintendo Miis -— to communicate with other users. In this sense, Miitomo appears to be more of a social app than a game, and Nintendo Executive Shinya Takahashi noted that the company is building the app to try and find ways to encourage shier users to talk and share things about themselves in the app. For example, it appears that Miis will automatically communicate with other Miis without your knowledge, helping people who are hesitant to talk about themselves to participate in the social aspect and “reveal a side of your friends you never knew.” It also appears that Mii avatars can be ported back into games on Nintendo hardware, suggesting this new release may be designed more as a companion app for current Nintendo fans rather than an entirely standalone experience.

Apple expands ‘Nearby’ search results in Maps to four new countries

Apple’s iOS 9 feature availability page shows the company has expanded its ‘Nearby’ search functionality in the Maps app to Canada, Australia, Germany and France. The feature — which allows users to see restaurants, bars, gas stations and other places of interest near their current location — was previously only officially available in the U.S. and China, though some Canadian users reported seeing the feature appear intermittently during the past few weeks.

Facebook responds to battery problems regarding iOS app

Facebook is taking steps to address some of the recent complaints about its iOS app consuming an inordinate amount of battery power. According to a new Facebook post by Ari Grant, the company’s Engineering Manager, Facebook has been looking into the causes of the reported problems and have identified some key issues and addressed some of them in the recent Facebook app update. Grant notes that they found the problem was mostly related to a “CPU spin” in network code as well as improper management of background audio sessions, with the latter problem having been observed by users affected by the bug, which basically causes the background audio channel in iOS to remain open after watching a video on Facebook, even though nothing is actually playing.

Google launches YouTube Red Subscription service

Google has announced the launch of YouTube Red, its new ad-free YouTube Subscription service. Launched earlier this year in beta as “YouTube Music Key,” the service has now been rebranded with the new name and will offer users the ability to view videos across all of YouTube without ads on both desktop and mobile platforms, as well as saving videos for offline viewing and playing videos in the background on mobile devices. The membership will also work in other YouTube apps, such the Gaming and Kids apps, with the company also planning to launch a YouTube Music app soon, although it’s unclear whether that will be available to iOS devices. As promised during the beta period, YouTube Red will also be integrated with Google Play Music, so users who have already subscribed to Google Play Music should get access to YouTube Red at no additional charge (and vice-versa for new YouTube Red subscribers). YouTube Red will be available in the U.S. starting on Oct. 28 for $10/month, with a one month free trial available. While users of the YouTube iOS app will also be able to purchase a YouTube Red subscription through an in-app purchase, the in-app purchase price is more expensive, at $13/month — presumably to account for the 30 percent cut that developers are required to give to Apple. iOS users can still simply subscribe directly via the YouTube site in their browser and avoid the additional $3/month.

Apple Maps adds Amtrak routes, Boston transit directions

Apple has added a number of Amtrak routes to Apple Maps. It appears as if routes included thus far are concentrated in the Northeast U.S. These routes include the Acela Express, Northeast Regional, and Pennsylvanian, among others.

In other Apple Maps news, Boston Transit directions have finally gone live, as The Boston Globe points out. Apple added Transit support for Boston a few weeks ago, but directions haven’t actually been available until now. [via MacRumors]

Hundreds of iOS apps caught taking user data from private APIs

Security firm SourceDNA claims to have discovered hundreds of App Store apps that violate Apple’s privacy policies by accessing private user information. Apps using the Youmi advertising SDK were found to be accessing users’ Apple IDs, gathering a list of apps installed on devices and documenting the serial numbers of peripherals, among other privacy invasions. Youmi’s SDK skirted Apple’s review process by hiding its data collection processes within binary code sent out to developers over the last two years, leaving even app developers themselves unaware of the data that was being collected and sent back directly to Youmi. After Apple started blocking apps from reading platform serial numbers in iOS 8, Youmi started collecting information on individual device components, like the battery system, and used those to identify individual devices.

Apple updates Pages, Numbers, Keynote with iOS 9 + 3D Touch features

Apple has released updates to its suite of iWork apps for iOS, adding new iOS 9 related features as well as 3D Touch support for the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. All three of the apps, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, have been updated with support for Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture features on supported iPad models, a new Shortcut Bar on the iPad for quick access to formatting tools, support for new Multi-Touch gestures on the iPad, new keyboard shortcuts for use with external keyboards, and 3D Touch support. The three apps now gain the ability to open documents from older versions, with Pages ‘06 and ‘08, Numbers ‘08, and Keynote ‘06 and ‘08 supported. Shared documents can now also be previewed in iOS and Android browsers, version history allows users to view and restore previous changes made to a document, and many accessibility improvements have also been added. New templates and themes are available in each of the apps, and compatibility with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats has also been improved.

Bell Canada fined $1.25 million for posting of fake App Store reviews

Canadian telecommunications giant Bell Canada has agreed to pay a $1.25 million “administrative monetary penalty” to the Canadian Government for encouraging its employees to post positive ratings and reviews of the company’s free MyBell Mobile and Virgin My Account apps, according to a news release from Canada’s Competition Bureau. The case concerns reviews posted last fall, when “certain Bell employees were encouraged to post positive reviews and ratings” of the company’s apps “without disclosing that they work for Bell.” The report notes that the company “acted quickly” to remove the reviews and ratings as soon as it became aware of the matter, stated that “the postings were the result of an overzealous effort on the part of our service team to highlight the app.” In its release, the Competition Bureau noted that regardless of the company’s action, these reviews and ratings “created the general impression that they were made by independent and impartial consumers and temporarily affected the overall star rating for the apps.” In addition to paying the monetary penalty, Bell also agreed to “enhance and maintain its corporate compliance program, with a specific focus on prohibiting the rating, ranking or reviewing of apps in app stores by employees and contractors” as well as to “sponsor and host a workshop to promote, discuss and enhance Canadians’ trust in the digital economy, including the integrity of online reviews.” [via iPhone in Canada]

App Store prices going up in Australia, Indonesia and Sweden

Citing changing exchange rates, Apple has notified developers that prices in the App Store will be increasing in Australia, Indonesia and Sweden over the next few days. Prices will also be going up for in-app purchase subscriptions, with Apple planning to send an email to subscribers notifying them of the increase and how to turn the subscription off if necessary. The strategy is a new one for Apple, which automatically canceled auto-renewed subscriptions when prices went up in South Korea, South Africa and Turkey earlier this year, requiring those users to resubscribe to opt in at the higher price. The Australian App Store is getting two new low-price tiers as well, echoing Apple’s changes to app pricing in India, Mexico and a handful of other countries in July. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple adds transit directions for Boston, Sydney

Apple has quietly added Boston and Sydney, Australia to its list of cities where transit directions are supported in Apple Maps. The expansion solves a problem for some Australian users who were left without access to transit directions after Apple shut down the popular HopStop transit directions app earlier this month. HopStop covered cities in Russia, Israel and Australia that Apple Maps has yet to expand into with transit directions. Note: Though support has officially been added, not all users are seeing the feature as of yet. We searched both cities and no transit directions appeared to be available at the time of this writing.

Apple rolls out app thinning in iOS 9.0.2

Apple has fixed the iOS 9 issue that held up the release of its new app thinning feature. Users running iOS 9.0.2 or later will now receive device-specific versions of downloaded apps, provided the app’s developer has made such a download available. By tailoring app downloads to individual devices, developers can provide users with a variant containing only the features and capabilities that function on each device, minimizing the amount of space an app requires. How many developers have created device-specific variants of their apps so far is still unclear.

Adobe releases Photoshop Fix, Capture CC apps for iOS

After dropping its Photoshop Touch app in May to focus on smaller, more specific apps, Adobe has rolled out its Photoshop Fix and Capture CC apps for iOS, giving users two new free tools for photo manipulation. Photoshop Fix, pictured above left, provides a slimmed-down version of Adobe’s flagship program aimed at providing the tools users most frequently want when retouching their pictures. Basic brightening, sharpening and cropping functions are here alongside more transformative options for blending, reshaping and smoothing. All Fix edits are saved in layers within a PSD file that can be exported to Creative Cloud and opened in other Adobe programs. Capture CC, pictured above right, is a little less helpful to the causal user, designed to extract color themes, vector graphics and brush textures from images to be exported to other Adobe programs for use within other projects. Both apps require a free account with Adobe to use.

New Philips Hue Bridge supports HomeKit, Siri

The new HomeKit-enabled Hue Bridge ($60) that Philips has been teasing for months is now available. The upgraded Bridge 2.0 allows users to control all existing and future Hue bulbs and lamps using Siri, courtesy of the updated Hue app. Siri functionality can be turned on in Settings once the app is downloaded, allowing Hue owners to issue voice commands to alter a room’s lighting, change the temperature on their thermostat, or lock their doors. Users can save various configurations like “wake mode” or “night mode” for routine use, but HomeKit integration will also provide for making fine adjustments on the fly, allowing a user to tell Siri to dim a particular light to 30 percent, for example. Upgrading to the new bridge allows existing Hue users to control up to 50 bulbs, but new users can opt for a starter kit ($200) that includes the new bridge and three A19 Hue bulbs.

Apple pulls app that documented US drone strikes

Apple has pulled an app that documented U.S. military drone strikes, saying it violated the company’s app guidelines by containing “excessively crude or objectionable content,” Gawker reports. Metadata+ was developed by Intercept editor Josh Begley as a companion app to the Twitter account @Dronestream, which publicizes American drone attacks based on information from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Starting in 2012, Apple rejected the app five times under the name Dronestream for being “not useful or entertaining enough” before finally accepting the app once its name was changed to Metadata+ in 2014. Over the weekend, users were informed through a push notification that the app had been pulled. The move has drawn the ire of critics who point out that an app reporting the news is being banned as offensive, and this isn’t the first time the arbitrary nature of Apple’s app guidelines has come under fire as censorship. Just last week the company sparked concerns when it rejected Ferguson Firsthand, an app that documented various accounts of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and presented them in a 3D environment. Apple hasn’t commented on the story.

Google Maps gets Apple Watch support

Google has released an update to Google Maps adding support for getting directions using the Apple Watch. This latest update allows users to route to home or work directly from the wearable device, or view any other directions that have been plotted using the app on the iPhone. In addition to Apple Watch support, the Google Maps iOS update also allows users to compare ETAs across driving, transit, walking and biking routes, and call businesses and get directions directly from a list of places in search results.

Apple updates privacy policies for iOS 9, releases new security white paper

Apple has updated its privacy policy to cover newer aspects of iOS 9, including sections breaking down security measures within specific apps like News, Apple Music and public transit directions in Maps. Apple says while News uses information about the stories a user is reading to serve up ads, reading activity information isn’t shared with other Apple services and is linked only to a News-specific identifier that can be reset at any time by clearing the app’s history. Recommendations within News are generated locally on a user’s device, not sent to Apple. To get Apple Music features like Radio, For You and Connect to reflect a user’s musical tastes, Apple collects activity information spelled out in the app’s individual privacy policy, but again, the company claims the songs a user streams aren’t shared with any other service for advertising purposes.

Google launches Google Keep for iOS

Google has released an official Google Keep iOS app for its Google Keep note-taking service. Although Google launched Google Keep for Android more than two years ago, it was one of the few Google services that didn’t seem to be making it onto the iOS platform. Although Keep was available through a web browser, and some third-party apps appeared attempting to provide web wrappers, none of them provides the same seamless experience that Android users enjoyed.

Apple posts XcodeGhost Q&A, lists affected apps

Apple has posted a Q&A on XcodeGhost, the counterfeit software development kit that was used to create malicious apps that were able to be released on the App Store. As expected, the Q&A emphasizes that the problem was created by developers downloading iOS software development tools from third-party sites, rather than Apple’s, but also interestingly notes that OS X protections that Apple has put in place — such as Gatekeeper — had to be “deliberately disabled by the developer for something like XcodeGhost to successfully install.” The Q&A also notes that Apple has no reason to believe that the code was ever actually used to do anything malicious, or that any personally identifiable information could have been transmitted, and that it “did not have the ability to request customer credentials to gain iCloud and other service passwords” as some other reports had suggested.

iPad Pro users will have to pay to use Microsoft Office

If iPad Pro users want to use Microsoft’s Office suite, they’re going to have to pay for an Office 365 subscription. In a March blog post, Microsoft VP Kirk Koenigsbauer said the company uses screen size to “delineate between professional and personal use,” allowing devices with screens smaller than 10.1 inches to use a limited version of its productivity software for free. Last November Microsoft made Word, Excel and Powerpoint apps capable of basic editing available for free on iOS devices, but the iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch display makes it the first iOS device to fall outside of the bounds Microsoft sets for free use. The distinction applies to Android and Windows tablets as well, with Microsoft referring to devices with bigger displays as “a ‘pro’ category tablet that is used for design or presentations.” [via MacWorld]

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