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iTunes 12 makes its first appearance with iOS-style design

Alongside the latest OS X Yosemite beta preview, Apple has issued the first beta of iTunes 12. This represents the first time the app has been seen at all, although a new red icon was visible in the dock during Apple’s Yosemite presentation at WWDC. iTunes 12.0 includes a new “streamlined,” iOS 7/8-style design, Family Sharing, improved playlists, and a redesigned info window. The app has shifted to using black and white iOS-influenced iconography, and lets you view device media and other content (“Apps,” “Music,” “Photos”) in vertical lists rather than with horizontal tabs.

The app is available to registered developers through the Mac App Store.

Eighth annual iTunes Festival announced

Apple has announced the eighth annual iTunes Festival, a concert series held in London at the Roundhouse. There will be 30 days of concerts throughout September, which will be broadcast live to an iOS app, iTunes on the desktop, and Apple TV. This year’s artists include Maroon 5, Pharrell Williams, Beck, and Blondie. Apple held its first ever U.S. edition of the iTunes Festival at SXSW in March. More information is available on iTunes.

iTunes Pass service extends to U.S., other countries

After launching in Japan on Tuesday, Apple’s new iTunes Pass credit system has been rolled out in the United States, as well as Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The system allows iTunes customers to refill their iTunes Store balance by having an Apple Store Specialist scan a QR code on a pass in Passbook; once payment is issued, the credit is automatically applied. To add iTunes Pass to Passbook, one must open the iTunes Store app on an iPhone or iPod touch, scroll down to the bottom, and then tap Redeem.

iTunes 11.3 brings HD Extras to Mac; iTunes Extras comes to Apple TV (Update)

Apple has released iTunes 11.3, bringing iTunes Extras for HD movies to the Mac — iTunes Extras has also been added to Apple TV within software update 6.2 for the set-top box. As noted in the release, “iTunes Extras can include behind-the-scenes videos, short films, high-resolution image galleries, director’s commentary, scenes, and more.” iTunes Extras will also be brought to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 8 in the fall. Previously purchased HD content will automatically gain the iTunes Extras content with any additional purchases necessary.

Update: With the update, Apple is changing the way it treats HD video files, as one download now contains all extras, and some movies start by showing users a screen more akin to a DVD menu. A consistent Extras UI works across iTunes, iOS, and Apple TV, sometimes including even more content than was previously available. The Bourne Legacy, for instance, adds 5 additional featurettes to the two originally included. Photos are included after the jump.

Apple promoting books Amazon won’t sell

Apple is looking to take advantage of Amazon’s ongoing dispute with Hachette Book Group — or at least ruffle Amazon’s feathers — by promoting discounted Hachette books in its iTunes Store. Currently, Apple is promoting 26 books under the heading “Popular Pre-Orders: $9.99 or Less,” and all of the books are from Hachette. Re/Code confirmed the promotion with Apple, but pricing arrangements were not disclosed. Amazon and Hachette couldn’t reach an agreement during contact negotiations and have been at odds ever since, with Amazon stating it is “buying less (print) inventory and ‘safety stock’ ” from Hachette.

iTunes Radio adds ESPN Radio, local NPR stations

ESPN Radio and a number of local NPR stations are now available on iTunes Radio. The stations are notably live streaming stations, rather than customizable iTunes Radio stations.

NPR launched its first iTunes Radio station, NPR News and Culture, in March. A search for “NPR” within iTunes Radio today turned up 41 local stations, though there may be more available. [via Apple Insider]

Report: Apple employees reveal issues with iTunes Radio management

The development of Apple’s iTunes Radio and Ping suffered from shortsighted management, and Apple engineers often preferred to use Spotify and Pandora, according to a new report from Buzzfeed, which interviewed both former and current Apple employees. “Pandora is an awesome radio that blows iTunes Radio out of the water. Seriously, iTunes Radio sucks and it sucks because of Apple’s arrogance,” a former mid-level Apple employee said. “I was floored by the decision-making skills by management over and over again.” It’s reported that management ignored iTunes’ biggest streaming competitors, “with some managers refusing to open or use Spotify,” and some not even understanding what Spotify did. “They didn’t understand how Spotify worked, which is why they thought iTunes Radio would be a Spotify killer,” a source said.

Employees also said Apple “didn’t seem to have an interest in how the song collections created by iTunes Radio sounded, or whether they were cohesive.” iTunes Radio users have reported hearing the same songs too often, or hearing songs that don’t fit into certain stations. Buzzfeed speculates that a major reason for the Beats acquisition was due to Apple’s problems in tackling streaming music on its own.

iTunes 11.2.2 update issued

Apple has released the second update to its iTunes 11.2 software. Version number 11.2.2 “fixes a problem where certain podcast episodes may download unexpectedly.” Podcast enhancements were among the biggest components when iTunes 11.2 was released 13 days ago.

Apple releases iTunes 11.2

Apple has released iTunes 11.2, which boasts improved podcast browsing. Users can now quickly find unplayed podcast episodes, browse episodes available to download or stream in the Feed tab, save episodes to a computer, and choose to automatically delete already-played episodes. A fix is also included for an issue that made iTunes unresponsive while updating Genius. The update can be downloaded at iTunes.com or through the Mac App Store.

Apple adds iTunes in the Cloud video support, Apple TV shows in Germany

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Apple has added iTunes in the Cloud support for movies and TV shows in Germany, iFun.de reports. TV shows have also been added to Apple TV in the country. Previously, iTunes in the Cloud was only available for music, apps, and books in Germany. At this point, Apple has yet to update its iTunes in the Cloud availability page to reflect the changes. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Apple bans UK music service from iAd

Bloom.fm, a U.K.-based streaming music service, has reportedly been blocked from using iAd by Apple. A spokesman for Bloom told CNET Apple must view the much smaller service as a threat. “We were surprised at Apple’s decision to ban us from their iAd network as their iTunes Radio service isn’t even available in the U.K.,” the spokesman said. “Bloom.fm gives you 22 million tracks for £1 a month — the price of a single download on iTunes — so I can see why they’d want to protect their business.” Although Bloom spent £2,000 per month on iAd, the company was informed it could no longer advertise on the platform. Apple said Bloom.fm is “a competitive service to iTunes Radio and it is against Apple policy,” according to a Bloom tweet. iTunes Radio still has yet to launch in the U.K., though a report said the service would launch in early 2014.

Apple considering ‘dramatic overhaul’ of iTunes Music Store

Apple is now considering “the most dramatic overhaul of its iTunes music store in more than a decade,” Billboard reports. The internal debate has been prompted by iTunes Radio’s inability to cease the decline of music downloads. Apparently, only 1-2 percent of iTunes Radio listeners are clicking the buy button. But just how Apple plans on revamping the iTunes store is up in the air.

It’s previously been reported that Apple is considering creating an on-demand music streaming service like Spotify, and the company has looked into creating an iTunes app for Android. Apple is also reportedly pressuring labels for exclusive album releases to boost sales, though it’s likely the company is placing more focus on streaming music at this time.

iTunes credits sent out for e-book price fixing

Customers affected by Apple’s role in the e-book price fixing scandal are now receiving emails with iTunes credits. Though Apple is appealing the ruling, the company is still sending credits to customers. The emails are coming from the E-Book AG Settlement Administrator — not Apple — so customers should be sure to check their spam folders. Each email contains an iTunes Store credit activation code, and the credit will expire on April 1, 2015, if not activated. [via 9to5Mac]

NPR news channel coming to iTunes Radio today

iTunes Radio will add National Public Radio as its first news channel, Re/code reports. NPR’s channel is expected to go live today, and it will offer a free 24-hour stream of live news and pre-recorded shows. Additionaly, some local NPR stations will offer their own iTunes Radio channels “within weeks.” The report notes it’s also possible that on-demand NPR programming based on listening preferences and location may come to iTunes Radio in the future.

Update: The station, NPR News and Culture, is now live on iTunes Radio.

UK digital download taxes could increase in 2015

Digital downloads including App Store and iTunes purchases are due to see a tax increase in the U.K. under new laws next year, The Guardian reports. A new budget would force Apple and others to charge a 20 percent tax rate on such downloads. The budget closes a tax loophole that currently allows digital downloads to be taxed through other countries, with the tax rate sometimes dropping as low as three percent. Barring any changes, the new law is set to go into effect January 1, 2015.

Report: Apple to launch Spotify rival, iTunes Android app?

Apple has “opened exploratory talks” with record executives about creating an on-demand music streaming service, à la Spotify, and the company is also considering making an iTunes app for Android, Billboard reports. The discussions are reportedly part of a strategy to help Apple cope with declining downloads in the iTunes Music Store. “They are feeling out some people at labels on thoughts about transitioning its customers from iTunes proper to a streaming service,” a major label source said. “So when you buy a song for $1.29, and you put it in your library, iTunes might send an e-mail pointing out that for a total of, say, $8 a month you can access that song plus all the music in the iTunes store. It’s all in the ‘what if’ stage.” Such a streaming service could be a standalone app. An iTunes spokesman declined comment.

The report also notes Apple is trying to stimulate more download sales by pushing catalog titles. iTunes executives have asked labels to clean up catalogs of their top 100 selling artists to prevent multiple copies of albums and redundant compilations from showing up in the store, with the hopes of reducing the available number of compilations for each artist to a more manageable number.

Apple releases iTunes 11.1.6 beta to employees

Apple has released iTunes 11.1.6 beta to its employees, 9to5Mac reports. The beta restores the ability to sync contacts and calendar information to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch from a Mac running OS X 10.9.3, which is also in beta. Apple had previously removed the ability to sync that information from a Mac to an iOS device. It’s unknown what else might be included in the beta.

iTunes Radio could be standalone app in iOS 8

Apple is currently testing iTunes Radio as a standalone app within iOS 8, 9to5Mac reports. At this point, the streaming service is accessible through the iOS Music app. iTunes Radio app functionality would resemble the Music app, allowing users to browse history, purchase streamed tracks, and create stations. Though the report notes the change might not happen this year, moving iTunes Radio into its own app makes sense for a number of reasons — it would be more accessible, and could increase its user base simply by having its own pre-installed icon.

Apple TV adds iTunes Festival channel

Apple added an iTunes Festival channel to Apple TV this weekend, ahead of its upcoming SXSW concert series. While SXSW kicked off March 6, the iTunes Festival will begin Tuesday with Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, and London Grammar. Other acts to perform at Apple’s first U.S.-based iTunes Festival include Kendrick Lamar, Willie Nelson, and Soundgarden.

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The channel will stream the concerts live when the festival begins. But for now, the channel only has basic information about the performers and the festival, with links to the musicians’ albums in iTunes.

Apple pressing labels for exclusive album releases

Apple music chief Robert Kondrk “has been pressuring major labels for releases similar to last year’s Beyonce exclusive,” according to Billboard. “Tense talks with label executives” reportedly followed Beyonce’s successful exclusive one-week debut of her self-titled album on iTunes. The album was kept off streaming services for the first week, and sold 1 million copies worldwide during that time. Apple is pitching the “windowing” method as a way to boost music download sales. Kondrk reportedly suggested to labels that new albums wouldn’t necessarily have to be iTunes exclusives, but those albums should be unavailable to streaming services for a set period of time.

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