Following reports earlier this week that Apple has been using its influence to encourage record labels to kill off free streaming licenses for services like Spotify and YouTube, some services are accusing Apple of anticompetitive pricing as a result of its App Store subscription model. Several music industry sources have spoken with The Verge, strongly calling out Apple for the thirty percent cut that it takes from all in-app subscriptions, which of course includes subscriptions to services such as Spotify and Rdio. While the sources acknowledge that some fee for administrative overhead is reasonable, the feeling is that a 30 percent cut is excessive.
The sense is that Apple gets an unfair pricing advantage for its own upcoming streaming service, as other services are forced to either give up 30 percent of their base fees to Apple, or raise their prices for in-app subscriptions to make up the difference. While most of these services provide alternate methods for purchasing subscriptions outside of the App Store, such as visiting the company’s web site directly, Apple’s App Store Guidelines specifically prohibit redirecting users to a web site or even providing this information in the app itself, resulting in many users not being aware of another way to purchase a subscription.
A civil suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court accuses Apple of violating five OpenTV streaming video patents, Re/code reports. OpenTV is requesting unspecific damages for patents it says Apple used illegally in iTunes software for securely downloading or streaming rented movies. OpenTV technology powers on-demand video services and digital video recorders and has been licensed by other giants in the streaming video business, such as Google and Disney, according to the suit. Apple couldn’t be reached for comment.
Apple is missing some key music licensing deals for its upcoming streaming service, according to a new report from Billboard. While several reports have suggested that the company has been targeting June’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) to debut the new service, industry sources have told Billboard that as of now Apple doesn’t have the necessary licensing deals in place as of yet. While at least one source notes that a June launch might be “still attainable” due to Apple’s past track record of quickly securing licensing deals, another major label source is cited as suggesting that the launch “isn’t coming soon” as “the deals aren’t done” and there isn’t enough time to make it happen.
In addition to the CBS Sports and USA Now channels added to the Apple TV in the U.S., Canadian users are getting a nice bonus with the addition of Bell’s CraveTV and Rogers and Shaw’s Shomi streaming TV services. Similar to Hulu in the U.S., CraveTV and Shomi are designed to provide domestic alternatives to Netflix, albeit with a stronger focus on television content than movies. CraveTV is available to existing Bell subscribers for an additional $4/month while Shomi charges $9/month for non-Rogers and Shaw subscribers while including the service for free in most cable TV and Internet packages. Apple TV is one of the first third-party set-top boxes to get support for either of the new services; CraveTV was previously only available on Bell’s own Fibe receivers, while Shomi has up until now been limited to Rogers/Shaw cable boxes and the Xbox. Both services also continue to provide web-based playback and iOS apps for portable device playback.
Apple TV has gained two more channels today, as CBS Sports and USA Now have been added to the main menu. CBS Sports offers free clips from a number of shows — mostly sports discussion — which can be sorted by show or sport. USA Now also offers free clips from shows on the USA Network, but cable authentication is required to view full episodes. These two new channels follow another recent addition, NBC Sports Live Extra, which debuted last week.
GE is building intelligent, color-changing LED lighting that will be compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, GE CEO Beth Comstock said during the company’s Connected Future event. GE’s Align technology allows users to automate lighting based on the body’s sleep cycle, producing a bright blue tone during the day to suppress melatonin production and a warmer amber light at night to encourage sleep. HomeKit will allow the lighting to be controlled by Apple devices and to integrate with other connected devices. The connection between the bulbs and iOS device will be authenticated and protected by end-to-end encryption to prevent tampering. GE plans to make the intelligent bulbs available later this year.
Apple has laid out its guidelines for third-party developers looking to make bands for the Apple Watch. The document comes with only two basic guidelines — the band must securely attach to the watch and not hinder its operation — but there are still plenty of other restrictions. Most notably, bands are prohibited from integrating magnetic chargers or using certain materials that don’t meet environmental standards. No mention is made of the watch’s diagnostic port, located in the slot where the bottom band fastens to the watch. Bands will have to fasten tightly enough to keep the watch’s sensors in contact with the user’s skin while remaining comfortable. The bands must pass corrosion tests and resist efforts to pull the band off, while still providing easy detachment when a user wants to remove the band. Apple provides specifications for creating the special lugs used to secure bands to the Apple Watch, but the homepage for the new guidelines says Apple will be making its own lugs available to developers soon through the Made for Apple Watch program.
The Apple TV remote is getting a touchpad when Apple debuts the new Apple TV this summer, The New York Times reports. An employee briefed on the product said the remote will have two physical buttons and the touchpad, which will be used for scrolling. The new remote will also be thicker than the previous model. Apple declined comment.
A person familiar with Apple’s product plans told Apple Insider that the company’s new 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” will feature the Force Touch technology featured in the Apple Watch and new MacBook. The new touchscreen will sense different amounts of pressure from fingertips or the accompanying Bluetooth stylus, providing pressure-sensitive output. An alleged NFC radio inside the device will make for easier pairing of the stylus with the iPad and also allow the new device to serve as a payment receiving terminal for Apple Pay, although tap-to-pay functionality is unlikely. A USB-C port is also likely — cases based on alleged “iPad Pro” designs have included spaces for two port openings.
Apple is trying to convince record labels not to renew Spotify’s license to stream music for free, drawing even more scrutiny from the Department of Justice, The Verge reports. Apple’s aggressive attempts to undercut the competition ahead of releasing its upcoming subscription music streaming service have already drawn attention from regulators in the the U.S. and Europe. If successful, this latest gambit would leave an estimated 45 million free Spotify users without the free listening option, putting Apple in a prime spot to grab new users by offering exclusive content that the paid tier of Spotify doesn’t have. Sources also told The Verge that Apple has offered to pay YouTube’s music licensing fee to Universal Music Group if the label will pull its songs from YouTube. Apple is expected to launch the new streaming service at WWDC in June.
Apple has quietly updated its support article on the Apple Watch heart rate feature, confirming the issue that was reported earlier this week by users with wrist tattoos having problems getting accurate readings.
Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.
Apple had previously noted possible limitations with the sensor, indicating that a “small percentage of users” might not be able to get the heart monitor to work at all due to “various factors.” While it’s unclear whether Apple was specifically referring to tattoo-related problems is unclear, however a number of users have reported not only issues with getting the heart rate sensor to work, but also situations where the Apple Watch wrist detection security feature is triggered when placed on top of a black tattoo, requiring the user to enter a password each time the watch is awoken from sleep, and rendering Apple Pay unusable. [via 9to5Mac]
Apple has been poaching more radio producers from BBC, according to a new report from Music Business Worldwide. On the heels of the recent move of BBC Radio 1 personality Zane Low to Apple in March, the report notes that four other producers from BBC Radio 1 have been hired by Apple, including Lowe’s former producer, James Bursey, who apparently is already headed to Los Angeles to work with Lowe. Three other BBC producers are expected to join Apple at the end of the month to work from the company’s London office, rumored to possibly include Natasha Lynch and Kirean Yeates, star producers responsible for the Huw Stephens show and BBC Introducing, respectively.
While MBW suggests that all of these recent hires, including Zane, are geared directly toward Apple’s upcoming Beats-based streaming service, it’s notable that earlier reports suggested that Zane, at least, was hired to play a role in redesigning iTunes Radio to “bear some resemblance to a traditional radio station,” suggesting that the addition of other talent from BBC Radio may also be directed toward the same project.
The limited availability of the Apple Watch at launch is the result of supply constraints related to the taptic feedback sensors, the Wall Street Journal reports. The component, which provides the wrist-based vibration feedback, was being manufactured by two suppliers, one of which was found to be producing faulty components. The problem apparently remained undiscovered until mass production began in February, only revealing itself through reliability testing on finished units coming off the assembly line. Some completed watches were apparently scrapped entirely as a result, and Apple was forced to move all of its production to a single supplier, which has not been able to scale up production as quickly as needed to meet the demand for the new wearable device. While it’s unclear how much the taptic engine component problems altered Apple’s retail availability plans overall, several other component suppliers have reported that they have been told to slow down production until June, in line with prior retail availability announcements and shipping estimates that have been coming out of Apple.
During yesterday’s quarterly earnings call, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said his company is working on injecting more tweets into the Spotlight feature on iOS and OS X. Spotlight already displays information from Twitter when users search for specific Twitter handles or certain hashtags, but how the search prioritizes hashtags is unclear. A search for hashtags including terms already occurring in a user’s stored messages can return no Twitter results at all, and even when a hashtag search produces results from Twitter, the results don’t match up with the same search in the iOS Twitter app. Costolo said Twitter is “working with Apple to surface great Twitter content and accounts directly in Spotlight Search on iOS and OS X, that also makes it easier and quicker to find great things on Twitter.” No timeline for the added integration or information about how it will function within Spotlight was offered. [via 9to5Mac]
Multiple American Airlines flights were grounded Tuesday night over an issue with an iPad app used by pilots, The Verge reports. “Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads,” American Airlines spokesperson Andrea Huguely said. “In some cases, the flight has had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue.”
@bjacaruso Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads. We'll have info about your departure soon.— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) April 29, 2015
American Airlines has been using the iPad to replace bulky flight manuals since 2012, but the widespread outage of the company’s app Tuesday left the iPad screens of pilots and copilots on a few dozen flights completely blank, according to passenger Bill Jacaruso. American Airlines claims to have identified and solved the problem.
Apple rejects Apple Watch apps that just tell time, requires independent approval for certain health apps
In a series of updates to its App Store guidelines, Apple has spelled out some boundaries for which apps will be allowed on the Apple Watch. Watch apps built primarily to tell time will be rejected, reflecting the time Apple has spent in its own exhaustive efforts to create intricate faces for the watch. Apple also clarified that apps used for health-related research on human subjects will need to be approved by an independent ethics review board. [via 9to5Mac]
Some people with tattoos are reportedly having trouble with sensors in the Apple Watch, as noted in a recent Reddit thread. Apple had previously noted that the watch’s wrist sensors — which rely on green LED and infrared lights being reflected into light-sensitive photodiodes — may not work properly for everyone, and it seems that large patches of dark ink over the area of skin where the watch makes contact with a user’s wrist is causing problems. One commenter said putting the watch on over his black tattoo caused it to lock every time the screen went dark, prompting him for his password and not delivering notifications. When the user held the watch over a patch of non-tattooed skin on his hand, the watch stayed unlocked and functioned as expected. Disabling wrist detection allowed messages to be delivered to the watch instead of the user’s iPhone, but left him unable to use Apple Pay from the watch. The user informed an Applecare specialist of the issue, which was referred to Apple engineers. [via 9to5Mac]
Apple sold more iPhones in China than the U.S. for the first time in Q2, Reuters reports. Apple’s revenue in the country was up 71 percent to $16.8 billion over the quarter, fueled by gift buying around Chinese New Year. Apple sold 61.2 million iPhones overall in the quarter, up 40 percent from last year’s Q2, but down from the previous record-breaking holiday quarter. The larger-screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have proven popular with customers worldwide, helping Apple overtake Samsung in global smartphone sales last quarter.
Kicking off Apple’s conference call announcing its record-breaking numbers for Q2 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook reported that the company had its strongest March quarter ever, with 27 percent revenue growth overall, and 55 percent year-over-year growth in iPhone revenue. Cook also noted that Apple has seen a higher rate of user switching to the iPhone than in previous iPhone cycles. He cited strong success of the iPhone in emerging markets with 63 percent year-over-year growth, and noted that the App Store had its best quarter ever with a record number of customers making purchases, driving a new record for App Store revenue.
Cook also touched on Apple’s successes in other areas, noting that Apple Pay has had great momentum, with the number of merchants accepting Apple Pay having tripled. More than 60,000 iPhone users enrolled in ResearchKit in only the first few weeks of its availability, and thousands of researchers have contacted Apple expressing interest in the technology for their own studies. Naturally, Cook also spoke on the Apple Watch debut, noting that the response to the Apple Watch has been positive and that more than 3,500 apps that are already available have added to “the surprise and delight” of Apple Watch. Cook expressed his thanks to third-party developers, customers, and Apple employees in making the Apple Watch launch a success.
Apple reported its second quarter 2015 financial results today, selling 61.1 million iPhones and 12.6 million iPads. The company posted quarterly revenue of $58 billion and quarterly net profit of $13.6 billion, or $2.33 per diluted share. In Q2 2014, Apple had revenue of $45.6 billion and net profit of $10.2 billion, or $1.66 per diluted share. Gross margin was 40.8 percent compared to 39.3 percent a year ago. International sales contributed to 69 percent of this quarter’s revenue.
For Q2 2015, Apple is providing guidance of revenue between $46 billion and $48 billion, and gross margin between 38.5 percent and 39.5 percent. Apple’s earnings call will begin at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, and can be heard live on the company’s investor website.