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Apple releases fifth iOS 11.3, tvOS 11.3 betas to registered developers

Only a week after the fourth betas appeared, Apple has released a fifth set of betas of iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3 to registered developers. The more rapid release schedule suggests that Apple is likely getting very close to a release date for iOS 11.3, which is expected to be available by the end of this month, and will add several useful new features, along with the battery health feature. As would be expected this late in the cycle, the latest betas of both iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3 consist mostly of bug fixes and refinements, and there’s still no sign of the return of AirPlay 2 support of the iBooks redesign that were hinted at in early betas before being subsequently removed, suggesting that these features have been pushed off to a future release, possibly iOS 12 later this year.

Apple Maps adds bike sharing locations

Apple has quietly added bike-sharing data to Apple Maps, TechCrunch reports. Through a partnership with Ito World, the data includes locations for bike-sharing points from several different providers in over 175 cities across 36 countries. Users will be able to search for the nearest stations in any supported city simply by typing “bike sharing” or the name of the specific service, such as “BIXI.” While Apple Maps has had limited bike-sharing data previously, this new partnership provides a much larger data set than Apple was able to put together in-house, and allows Apple to benefit from Ito World’s data as more companies are added in the future.

Pair of patents provide look at waterproof Lightning connector, crumb-proof keyboard

A pair of patents show Apple’s interest in improving the seals on its devices, starting with a Lightning connector that creates a water-tight seal when inserted. Discovered by Patently Apple, one version of the Lightning connector features a tapered shape made of a “deformable material” that molds itself to the Lightning port to lock moisture out and keep the internal connections free from moisture.

Amazon brings Alexa calling and messaging features to the iPad

Amazon has expanded access to its Alexa calling and messaging options to the iPad and other tablets, Engadget reports. The feature already allowed Echo owners to communicate with iPhone users with the Alexa app installed, but today’s change opens it up to the iPad as well. The Alexa app can even call out from the iPad to any smartphone or tablet in the device’s contact list, provided it’s running the Alexa app, too — so the update isn’t limited to communicating with those with Amazon devices.

Apple acquires digital magazine subscription service Texture

Apple has announced a deal to acquire digital magazine subscription service Texture from Next Issue Media LLC. The service charges users a flat monthly subscription fee and delivers unlimited access to more than 200 magazines, including People, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and The New Yorker. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Apple’s services head Eddy Cue said the company is “committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users.”

Barclays claims AirPods with improved noise canceling features coming next year

Speculation has been ramping up around when we’ll see the next generation of AirPods, with some reports claiming we’ll see a new model with an upgraded wireless chip and “Hey Siri” support for calling up Siri without the need to physically tap the headphones as early as this year. But 9to5Mac reports Barclays thinks Apple could wait until 2019 to reveal new AirPods with improved noise-canceling features. The analysts claim we’ll see “design changes and improvements” over current AirPods, but earbuds using physical analog methods will have a tough time competing with electronic active noise cancellation now common in over-the-ear headphones. The previous report from Bloomberg speculated that Apple could be adding waterproofing to the AirPods by 2019, so it’s possible that the noise reduction claim is a happy coincidence created by the better seal.

Studies verify smartband for the Apple Watch can detect high potassium, atrial fibrillation symptoms

A couple of studies have shown it’s possible to use AliveCor’s EKG-monitoring band for the Apple Watch to detect high potassium levels and atrial fibrillation symptoms, MacRumors reports. It’s not surprising that a Cleveland Clinic study found that the FDA-approved band can differentiate between atrial fibrillation and a normal heart rhythm since that’s a part of what it was designed to do, but the Mayo Clinic found that with a little help from AI the band could also alert users to dangerous potassium levels in their blood. Currently the only way to diagnose high potassium levels is a blood test, meaning that the condition (and accompanying causes) often do undetected.

Philips introducing first Hue outdoor lights in July

Philips will release its first outdoor additions to the Hue line in July, the company said today. New luminaries — starting at $30 — can be set to be activated by motion sensor or a timer, but only produce white light. The Philips Hue Lily spotlight ($280 for a pack of three) provides the company’s full 16 million-color range for highlighting features on the house or in the garden, while the Philips Hue Calla ($130 for base unit pack) provides the same color options in a path light, along with dimming features that allow for a gradual change as the night goes on.

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HomePass gives you a place to store all of your HomeKit codes

A handy new app from developer Aaron Pearce aims to address an interesting problem that many advanced HomeKit users have probably run into — keeping track of all of the HomeKit pairing codes for a household full of home automation accessories. HomePass for HomeKit ($3) is a fairly simple app that efficiently addresses this issue, providing a single place to keep all of your device codes backed up so that they’re readily available should you ever need to re-pair a device, transfer it to a new home, or sell it or give it away. HomePass is capable of reading your existing HomeKit configuration to build your device list so that you can then simply tap on each device and punch in the codes, and you can also add additional accessories manually. Sadly, the app doesn’t provide any way to scan codes with your camera, so you’ll have to key them in yourself, although it does sync your database of codes to iCloud so that it’s backed up and available from multiple devices, and you can also export the data to a CSV file. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple releases 12th annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report

Apple has announced its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, providing insight into the company’s efforts to improve working conditions at its supplier facilities and protect the environment. Highlights of the report include the training of three million supplier employees on worker rights in the past year, the launch of health programs specifically targeted at female employees with a goal of training one million more women by 2020, and the repayment of $1.9 million in excessive recruitment fees to 1,558 people affected by bonded labor. While not to be confused with Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Reports, the Supplier Responsibility report does also cover environmental initiatives within the supply chain, including the expansion of zero waste to landfill efforts to India, deployment of alternative green cleaners in final assembly facilities, and a 37 percent average wastewater reuse rate with freshwater savings of 5.1 billion gallons.

August begins offering free 24-hour video recording plan for Doorbell Cam

August has announced that it will begin offering a free basic tier to the video recording service for its August Doorbell Cam, allowing all users to access the past 24 hours of videos recorded by the camera without the need to pay a subscription fee. For users who want to store all their camera videos for longer, August’s paid subscription plan remains available for $5/month or $50/year, and stores 30 days of video history, however the free plan allows recorded videos to be downloaded and shared, so users can choose to save important videos indefinitely without any additional subscription fees.

New Indiegogo project aims to improve iPhone anti-theft protection

A new project on Indiegogo, Safeskin, is looking to address one of the main limitations with Find My iPhone with a case that locks onto an iPhone and prevents it from being turned off. While it’s not clear exactly how Safeskin works to keep an iPhone powered on, it appears that it connects to the iPhone Lighting port, suggesting an electronic solution rather than something that simply interferes with the physical controls. The package will also include an Eye proximity sensor that pairs with the case to alert you when your iPhone gets out of range. No additional details on the product are yet available, although users who are interested can sign up on the Indiegogo product page to be kept up to date on further developments.

Report: iPad Pro with Face ID could debut at WWDC

A new report from Rosenblatt analyst Jun Zhang in Barrons suggests that Apple’s rumoured Face ID enabled iPad Pro models may make their debut at this year’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference in June. Zhang expects that the new devices could offset some persisting weaknesses in iPhone X sales, and estimates that the new iPad Pro would be ready for mass production with a release date in late Q2 2018. Rumours of Face ID coming to the iPad Pro first appeared last October from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, suggesting that the inclusion of a TrueDepth camera would not only enable Face ID but would open up many more possibilities for developers. A WWDC release date doesn’t seem entirely out of the question in light of the fact that last year’s iPad Pro models were unveiled at the same time, although Apple has also more commonly unveiled major new iPad releases during its fall events in recent years. [via MacRumors]

Lower-priced HomePod may be coming later this year

New reports from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News and Japanese blog Mac Otakara are suggesting that Apple may have a more inexpensive HomePod model in the works for release later this year, MacRumors reports. While the report is unclear as to what would differentiate the lower-end model from the current HomePod, it seems to suggest that it would be a smaller version, perhaps intended to compete on price with Amazon and Google’s speakers, but whether or not it would sacrifice features or sound quality is unknown at this point.

Apple releases fourth watchOS 4.3 developer beta, new public betas of iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3

Apple has released a fourth watchOS 4.3 beta along with new public betas for iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3, matching the fourth developer betas released earlier this week. Featuring a build number of 15T5199f,  the sparse release notes don’t suggest any significant changes since the prior beta. watchOS 4.3 is expected to bring iPhone music control back to the Apple Watch and allow Nightstand mode to work in portrait orientation. The latest beta also appears to resolve issues with weather information in Greater China and accuracy in the battery complication.

Apple Music for Android adds music video improvements

Apple has released an update for Apple Music for Android users, rolling in some of the improvements that will also be coming to the Apple Music app in iOS 11.3. In addition to “significantly improv[ing] stability” and reliability on more devices, the update lets users watch music videos in fullscreen or inside the Now Playing view, continue watching videos while browsing through the Apple Music app, listen to music videos in the background while using other apps, and add music videos to playlists for back-to-back playback.

Apple reverts updated Books app back to iBooks in fourth iOS 11.3 beta

Apple has rolled back the much-hyped change to its iBooks app in the fourth iOS 11.3 beta, seeming to indicate the update isn’t quite ready for a broader release. The app was renamed from iBooks to Books in the first iOS 11.3 developer beta and remained that way through the third beta release, but as of yesterday’s fourth betas of iOS and macOS it has reverted back to iBooks. Reports from January claimed the updated app will eventually include a simpler user interface, redesigned digital bookstore, a new section called “Reading Now,” and a dedicated tab for audiobooks. Some references to those features were unearthed in the early iOS 11.3 betas only to disappear in this most recent one. Several minor but noticeable problems cropped up in the beta 3 version of the Books app, including sorting issues with recently read books not appearing at the top, intermittent problems opening ePub books and PDFs that weren’t from the iBooks Store, and problems opening recent iBooks from the 3D Touch menu, so it’s possible we won’t see the final public release of the new Books app until iOS 12 this fall. The reverted iBooks app seems to be functioning normally again, but doesn’t include the new features.

Apple pulling the plug on ‘iTunes LPs’ format

In a letter to music industry representatives, Apple has quietly announced that it will be discontinuing its iTunes LPs, Metro reports. While LP means “long-playing” and usually refers to a full album as far as physical media are concerned, in Apple’s world the LP signifies a special music bundle that includes extras like liner notes, photos and videos. Apple won’t be accepting new submissions for iTunes LPs starting next month and the company plans to remove the existing bundles from the iTunes Store through the rest of 2018. While Apple said, “Customers who have previously purchased an album containing an iTunes LP will still be able to download the additional content using iTunes Match,” VentureBeat claims an attempt to download a previously purchased iTunes LP from the iTunes Store only yielded the album’s tracks without the accompanying content.

New video shows big benefits of battery replacement for older iPhones

While it’s already been shown that replacing the battery on an older iPhone speeds it up — and Apple has already admitted that they slowed the older devices on purpose when the batteries weakened — a new video is showing just how pronounced the benefits are. The video, posted by Bennett Sorbo, showed a slowed-down iPhone 6s completing a series of tasks in 5 minutes and 45 seconds, then showed the same device taking only 4 minutes and 33 seconds to finish them once the battery was replaced. The old battery left the 6s with a single-core Geekbench score of 1437 points and a multi-core score of 2485, where the device scored 2520 and 4412 respectively once the battery was swapped out. While users will soon be able to turn the throttling on and off at will, the video proves there are serious benefits to taking Apple up on its cheap battery replacement offer for eligible iPhones.

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