Mozilla has announced a limited release of its Firefox browser for iOS. Originally hinted at last December, Mozilla changed direction on earlier statements that its browser would only be made available on iOS if Apple were to loosen its restrictions and permit the company’s own web engine to be used. The first preview version of Firefox is being released exclusively in New Zealand so that the company can collect feedback from a limited user base in a single country. Highlighted features of this first release include Intelligent Search, which provides suggested search results and a choice of search providers, as well as Firefox Accounts, which allows users to sync browser history, passwords, and tabs between Firefox on the desktop and the iOS version. A Visual Tabs feature is also included to help users keep track of open tabs. Mozilla plans to release future previews in “a few more countries” prior to a full public launch of the browser scheduled for later this year.
Google has announced a new Google Street View app that allows iOS users to explore a collection of immersive 360-degree “photo sphere” panoramic images associated with locations around the world. The new app is actually a major redesign based on the company’s earlier Photo Sphere Camera app, which was originally designed to allow users to collect their own 360-degree spherical photography shots and upload them to Google Maps. The new Google Street View app takes this one step further, adding the ability to now explore Street View collections and content from Google Maps and photo spheres contributed by other users. In addition to creating and contributing photo spheres from the iPhone camera, the new app also adds support for connecting to external spherical cameras.
CBS announced it will stream Super Bowl 50, four NFL playoff games and and two regular season games through its CBS Sports app, available on Apple TV and several other platforms. The live streams are available for free and won’t require authentication to be viewed. The October 4 game between the Jets and Dolphins in London will be the first to stream live, followed by the November 26 Thanksgiving Day game between the Panthers and Cowboys. All of CBS’ AFC playoff coverage will be streamed as well, including Wild Card, Divisional, and Championship games.
Although Google released an iOS app able to link certain Android Wear watches to iPhones, the new interface doesn’t yet include support for Apple’s HealthKit, BuzzFeed reports. While Android watches can track steps, heart rate and other fitness metrics, the data won’t show up in Apple’s Health dashboard like data collected from the Apple Watch does. Instead, the information will be routed through Google’s competing health dashboard, Google Fit. An Apple spokeswoman was quick to point out that the choice not to integrate Android Wear watches with HealthKit was entirely Google’s, leading to speculation that Google is happy to tap into Apple’s iPhone user base, but reluctant to allow its watches to share data with competing platforms. It’s possible that Google could change its mind in the future and allow Android Wear to interact with HealthKit.
An update to the Amazon Video iOS app now allows Amazon Prime members in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Austria to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing at no added cost. A new download icon has appeared alongside the play button next to individual pieces of content within the app. To locate and view videos after downloading, iPhone or iPad users can open their Library, tap Refine and then select the On Device option. Users can also watch content by tapping Watch Now from the Prime movie or TV show page, which is also where they’ll go to delete downloads once they’re done watching. Amazon is touting the move as setting its service apart from competitors like Netflix by making content available for viewing even when an Internet connection isn’t available.
Google announced on its official blog that an iOS app rolling out today will finally let users pair some Android Wear watches with newer iPhones. Android Wear for iOS will let users running iOS 8.2+ on an iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6 or 6 Plus connect their phone to the LG Watch Urbane. Google said all future Android Wear watches — including those from Asus, Huawei and Motorola — will support the iOS app as well, but for now, only the Urbane offers support. Once connected, the watch will mirror the notifications on a user’s iPhone, display messages, and show info about incoming phone calls. In the announcement, Google makes a point of noting that Android Wear’s always-on display means users won’t have to move their wrist to “wake up” their watch — a clear dig at how the Apple Watch only turns its screen on to display notifications after a user rotates their wrist or taps the smartwatch. Android Wear is going after Apple Watch on the health front as well, allowing iPhone users to track heart rate, distance traveled, and progress toward fitness goals. The app also attempts to provide an alternative to Siri in offering the “OK Google” capability, which allows users to get responses to questions, check traffic or flight information, and create to-do list reminders on the fly.
Shoppers using the Apple Store’s iOS app can now use Apple Store gift cards when making their purchases. Previously users wanting to shop with a gift card had to complete their purchases on the Apple Store website. In version 3.4 of the Apple Store app, users will now see a spot just above payment options where they can add gift cards during checkout. Gift cards can be scanned using an iOS device’s camera, and existing gift cards can also be imported from Passbook.
The European Commission has ended its inquiry into Apple, saying it failed to find evidence that the company colluded with music labels to undercut free music streaming services offered by Spotify, Re/code reports. Multiple unnamed sources said questionnaires sent by European regulators to major record labels in April turned up no proof that Apple had made efforts to stifle Spotify’s free, ad-based offerings to users. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice also talked to music industry leaders in April about Spotify’s concerns, but haven’t publicly released any findings.
While the EU dropping its collusion investigation is good news for Apple, sources with knowledge of the situation say the company isn’t in the clear yet, with EU officials now asking Spotify and other streaming music services for more information about their App Store agreements with Apple. The FTC is conducting a similar investigation into whether the company’s share of profits from competitors to its Apple Music service violates antitrust laws. The 30 percent cut of revenue that Apple demands on subscription fees — which competing music streaming services charge through their iOS apps — has drawn scrutiny ever since Apple entered the streaming music business.
Target announced it is installing low-powered Bluetooth beacons in 50 of its stores, set to use the company’s iOS app to highlight products and special offers as customers walk through certain sections of the store. The beacons will track shoppers throughout the store and present limited recommendations depending on which section the customer is in – an alert that a nearby item in women’s apparel is trending on Pinterest, for example. Eventually Target hopes to provide more in-depth features, like reorganizing a shopping list based on the best path through a store or providing reminders if a user forgot an item once they make it to the checkout line.
The technology could even be used to pair employees with customers in need of assistance in real time. Users will have to “opt in” to share their location while in the store and allow the app to send push notifications to their phones. Target says it plans to limit those notifications to two per shopping trip, but in-app updates on the app’s “Target Run” page will offer deals in a social media-style news feed. Target said the 50 test stores – located in areas in and around Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle – were chosen because they represent a good cross-section of stores in various markets, according to TechCrunch. Expansion to other stores and support for Android phones is expected later in the year.
Nokia has sold its HERE Maps mapping service to Audi, BMW and Daimler, CNET reports — a move that could set up the automakers to compete with Apple and Google in the self-driving car arena. It was reported in April that Nokia was looking to sell its maps division, and the company was believed to be courting Apple, among others.
As Apple Maps vans are rushing to map the streets of major metropolitan areas worldwide in an effort to catch up with Google — and fueling speculation about Apple’s long-rumored electric car project — the automakers have invested $3.1 billion to acquire Nokia’s mapping technology. The deal is expected to help the companies’ vehicles collect real-time updates on traffic, parking and other variables that would make self-driving cars a more efficient means of transportation. With Apple reportedly interested in using BMW’s i3 electric car as a starting point for its own vehicle, the expensive map acquisition may even provide increased leverage for BMW in further negotiations.
Microsoft has released its slimmed-down email messaging app, called Send, on iOS devices. Plans for the app leaked in May under the name Flow by Outlook, but despite the new name, details about the hybrid email/instant messaging app have remained mostly the same. The app works with Office 365 business and school email accounts, allowing users to send quick messages to any email address without bothering with the subject lines or signatures found in traditional email. Microsoft seems to be aiming squarely at businesses, making several mentions of how the short communications are meant to be sent to co-workers. “While tools like text messaging and IM are great for short messages, you often don’t have your co-worker’s cell phone number or an IM app on your work phone…Send gives you the simple, quick text message-like experience while allowing you to reach all co-workers and have all of your communications in Outlook for reference later,” the announcement reads.
The app is notably only available on iOS at launch, with versions for Windows and Android phones said to be coming soon. Microsoft also claims to be working on making the service available beyond its own Office 365 accounts in the coming months. Only messages sent through Send will appear in the app, but all messages sent in Send will be synced in Outlook for future reference. Conversations started in Send can also be continued in Outlook, just as any other email exchange.
In a move sure to make app developers happy, Apple has blocked users running an iOS beta on their device from writing reviews in the App Store. Developers have been asking for the change because negative reviews from users enrolled in Apple’s Beta Software Program — based on an app’s inability to work with an obviously unsupported operating system — drags down the app’s overall rating and could hurt potential sales. Apple likely didn’t consider the issue a problem when developers were the only ones running a beta version of iOS, but with beta iOS versions being released to the public since March, it’s possible those less knowledgeable users don’t realize that many apps haven’t been designed to run with that software. Beta users trying to leave a review will now be met with a pop-up telling them that the feature isn’t available.
Popular email provider FastMail has announced that it is now offering full support for push email in the native iOS Mail app. While, like many other email providers, FastMail had previously released a dedicated iOS app for its service, it is the first third-party email provider to implement native push e-mail in the built-in iOS Mail app since MobileMe (now iCloud) and Yahoo Mail first introduced the capability in 2008. However, while iCloud only provides the pushing of new messages, FastMail’s implementation goes beyond this, pushing out updates for any changes to the user’s mailbox or other folders, so that the iOS Mail client gets updated instantly when messages are read, deleted, or moved using other devices. FastMail indicates that the new feature is automatically enabled for all accounts on its service and doesn’t require any special configuration on the iOS device; existing FastMail users should simply begin seeing e-mail updates pushed to their devices, and new users can setup their FastMail account in the iOS Mail app in the same way as any other generic IMAP account.
The Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether Apple’s cut of profits taken from rival streaming music apps violates antitrust laws, Reuters reports. Apple takes 30 percent of the $10/month subscriptions sold through iOS apps for streaming music competitors like Jango, Spotify, Rhapsody and others, leading those companies to complain that the higher-than-normal cut Apple takes forces them to charge more than they do on other platforms or see their profit margins eroded. Raising the price would mean making streaming subscriptions for competing music apps more expensive than Apple Music’s $10/month fee. Rivals could deny Apple its cut if users signed up for music subscriptions through their web browser instead of in-app, but Apple’s terms of service specifically prohibit advertising the app’s availability from other sources or linking to the company’s website from the app. These policies are more stringent than the ones Google places on app makers, and three industry sources said the FTC is looking at whether Apple’s tighter rules break any laws, but hasn’t the commission hasn’t yet started a formal investigation. Neither the FTC nor Apple commented on the issue.
An update to all three iWork apps for iOS has cleared up problems with Accessibility features. Apple says Pages, Numbers and Keynote had “an issue that prevented proper navigation and editing with VoiceOver.” Those problems are resolved in version 2.5.4, which also fixes text blurring in Pages when turning on Speak Screen.
In an email to developers, Apple has confirmed that app prices are increasing starting Thursday in Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. A value-added tax is driving up prices by 10 percent in South Korea, but Apple has agreed to pay the tax for any developer living outside South Korea. Developers based in South Korea will be responsible for paying the new tax on their own. Users of apps with auto-renewed subscriptions in South Korea, South Africa and Turkey will need to resubscribe to confirm they accept the price increase. Users of similar subscription apps in Mexico won’t have their subscriptions interrupted, but they will still be getting a price increase. Apple is sending out emails to all subscribers in those countries to inform them of the price change and provide users with the necessary links to resubscribe.
Two new low-price tiers are coming to the Indian, Indonesian, Mexican, Russian, South African and Turkish App Stores too, along with updates to pricing in the tiers already in place in China’s App Store. Developers will be able to review the new pricing scheme in the Rights and Pricing section of My Apps. [via 9to5 Mac]
Apple has released iOS 8.4, and with it, Apple Music makes its much-anticipated debut within the redesigned Music app. Apple Music’s DJ-curated Beats 1 station will begin broadcasting at 12 p.m. Eastern time. The full scope of Apple Music features will eventually cost $10/month, but all the features are available to users free of charge for the first three months. iOS 8.4 also includes iBooks improvements and bug fixes.
Apple has apparently removed all apps that include the Confederate flag from its App Store, including games set around the American Civil War, TouchArcade reports. The move comes on the heels of a number of other major U.S. retailers such as Walmart, Amazon, and eBay removing all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores in the wake of the recent tragic shooting in Charleston. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a tweet on Sunday making reference to “removing symbols & words that feed” racism.
Developers affected by Apple’s decision have received messages stating that their apps are being removed as they include “images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways.” Some developers have expressed concern that Apple may be casting too wide of a net, however, banning apps such as period-based games that incorporate the flag merely in an appropriate historical context, such as in games set around the American Civil war.
Google has announced the launch of a free, ad-supported streaming radio tier to Google Play Music, allowing users to listen to any of the service’s curated streaming radio stations without needing to pay for a subscription. Google Play Music has offered a free tier for some time that allows users to upload up to 50,000 of their own tracks and stream them from Google’s cloud, however listening to anything the user hadn’t specifically uploaded previously required a $10/month subscription to the Google Play Music service, originally referred to as an “All Access” subscription. This new tier provides users with access to curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or search for favorite artists, albums, or songs to create a station of related music. Launching online today, the new free, ad-supported tier will arrive on iOS this week. The timing of introducing the free tier is interesting, considering Apple Music is a week away from launching.
As before, users with a subscription to Google Play Music will gain an ad-free listening experience as well as the ability to listen to music offline, create playlists, and listen to any song on-demand. The paid tier will also now include access to YouTube Music Key, Google’s new ad-free, offline and background listening experience for music videos on YouTube.
Apple has announced that its App Analytics tools for iOS Developers have been taken out of beta and are now available to all iOS Developers to assist in providing insight into how their App Store apps are performing in terms of performance, stability, and sales. New features have also been added to App Analytics, allowing developers to track crashes, paying users, and ratios. App Analytics are reported as anonymized, aggregate data from all iOS 8 users who have opted into “App Analytics” reporting during the iOS Setup process.
With the new, finalized App Analytics, crash data can now be viewed on a daily basis to measure the stability of apps, and data can be filtered by platform, app version, and operating system to help pinpoint causes and improve the user experience by addressing stability issues. Data on paying users has been improved to now be tracked by Apple ID instead of on a per-device basis, providing developers with a more precise look at how many individual purchases have been made. Number of paying users can be reported on a day-to-day basis so that developers can determine the impact of changes in spending within apps. Filtering by source can also allow users to see if users are being directed from a particular campaign or website. A new “Ratios” feature allows developers to view any two measures as a ratio so that they can gain more insight into app performance and marketing efforts, useful for tracking conversion rates, sales per paying user, sessions per active device, and more. App Analytics are available for all iOS Developers through the iTunes Connect portal for all users with a Sales, Finance, or Admin role.