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Revamped Apple music service not coming until WWDC; new Apple TV later this year?

Following on earlier rumors that Apple’s new streaming music service may have been ready for a March launch, a new report from 9to5Mac indicates that the new service likely won’t be unveiled until at least June, when the company holds its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Citing music industry sources that have been briefed on Apple’s timeline for the new service, the report confirms that the new iTunes music streaming service is being developed, but notes that the company plans to introduce the new service as a beta at WWDC in early June.

The same report also notes that Apple is still working on a new Apple TV as well, which is expected to be a slimmer set-top box with an improved remote control and a redesigned operating system. It’s also expected that Apple will introduce an App Store with the redesigned OS — a feature which has been long-awaited by many Apple TV users. Apple had apparently hoped to debut the new Apple TV as early as this month, however, the company is still experiencing issues negotiating with content providers.

Apple releases iTunes 12.1.1 update for Windows

In a rare move, Apple has released an iTunes 12.1.1 update specifically for Windows users only, with fixes related to direct synchronization with Outlook and iOS devices. The update also addresses an audio playback glitch, and the release notes also indicate that the update “improves compatibility with screen readers.” The update should appear via the normal software update mechanism, however it is also available for download directly at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Details on Apple’s upcoming Beats-based streaming service

More detailed plans for Apple’s new Beats-based music service show an integrated song catalog combining streaming services and a user’s own music collection, according to 9to5Mac. Citing multiple sources from Apple and the music industry, this latest report indicates that the new, yet-to-be-named service will be designed entirely by Apple in terms of the user experience, but will leverage technology and music deals that Apple acquired from Beats. As previously reported, Apple will integrate the music service into iOS and the Apple TV, likely in much the same way that iTunes Radio was tied into the iOS Music app, rather than delivered as a standalone app. An updated iTunes application is also said to be in the works that will “deeply integrate” the streaming service. The new service will likely be a hybrid of a cloud-based streaming service and Apple’s existing iTunes Match service for mixing the user’s own catalog with the available streaming content, making it more akin to the services that Google’s Play Music provides, rather than the streaming-focused services like Spotify and Rdio. The service will also leverage Beats Music’s existing Playlists, Activities, and Mixes features to allow users to choose from a wide variety of pre-made playlists for various activities.

Despite the introduction of the new service, Apple apparently plans to continue providing its iTunes Match, iTunes Radio, and iTunes Store services in their current form for users who may prefer these options to the higher-priced streaming service alternative. Sources indicate that Apple is also working to provide pricing below competing services, having initially discussed a $5/month price point with record labels — however, the company will likely end up being forced to price the service closer to $8/month.

Last fall, news surfaced that Apple was planning to re-brand and likely re-release the Beats Music service as something more tightly integrated into the iOS ecosystem. It was also reported that the company was asking the music labels for price concessions to hopefully be able to offer a streaming music service at a lower price point than existing services such as Spotify and Rdio.

Apple releases iTunes 12.1 update, adds Notification Center widget

Apple has released iTunes 12.1, a relatively minor update that adds a new widget for the OS X Yosemite Notification Center and improves iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch syncing performance. The new widget allows users to control iTunes from the Notification Center, providing a “What’s Playing” view with controls to skip to the next track or even purchase songs while listening to iTunes Radio. iTunes 12.1 is available through the standard software update mechanism, or for direct download at iTunes.com.

Apple responds to EU iTunes refund abuse

Following the introduction of its 14-day iTunes refund policy in Europe, Apple has apparently begun clamping down on refund abuse, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. Citing a tweet from developer Rosyna Keller, users who are detected by Apple as abusing the new refund policy will now be presented with a dialog box requiring them to acknowledge that they will no longer be eligible to receive a refund once they have downloaded the item in question.

Since iTunes and App Store purchases normally begin downloading automatically once the user clicks the “Buy” button, this effectively removes the user’s right to receive a refund as soon as they click the “Buy” button. The relevant EU consumer protection laws specify that refunds are generally only available if the user has not begun “downloading or streaming the content,” provided the user is notified and acknowledges that this is the case prior to completing the purchase. Apple’s own Right of Withdrawal policy explicitly notes this as well:

You cannot cancel your order for the supply of digital content if the delivery has started upon your request and acknowledgement that you thereby lose your cancellation right.

In this case, it would appear that Apple has, by default, chosen the more user-friendly approach of providing a seamless one-click download experience rather than interrupting the user with additional confirmation popups. However, for those abusing the refund system – using it as a “try-before-you-buy” option, or taking advantage of a loophole previously reported by 9to5Mac – Apple is basically enforcing the letter of the law by notifying users that they will lose their right to a refund once they begin downloading the app, effectively requiring them to acknowledge that this is the case.

 

Apple introduces 14-day refund policy on iTunes purchases in the EU

Apple has introduced a fourteen-day return policy for iTunes purchases in EU countries, according to a new report by iFun. Outlined in a Right of Withdrawal document on Apple’s web site, the policy states that customers can cancel iTunes orders within 14 days from the date they receive their receipt, without a requirement to provide any reason. The policy also covers purchases such as iTunes Match and Season Pass subscriptions, as well as unredeemed iTunes Gifts and Allowances. Users can apparently request a “cancellation” of their iTunes order by using the “Report a Problem” form within iTunes and submitting a model cancellation form provided in the document, or “making any other clear statement.” While Apple’s policy document provides some additional clauses that are a bit unclear, the original report notes that people have already begun receiving refunds under the new policy, which appears to be a result of recent EU consumer protection initiatives.

Apple found not guilty in iPod, iTunes Store lock-in suit

Apple has been cleared of wrongdoing in the recent antitrust case on iPod and iTunes Store lock-in, The Verge reports. The decade-old class-action lawsuit accused Apple of putting procedures in place in iTunes 7.0 that would remove music found on iPods from competing music services. Apple, for its part, claimed that the measures were simply “extra security” that the company added to its iPod and iTunes platforms in 2006. The lawsuit originally asked for damaged of more than $350 million to be distributed across 8 million consumers who bought affected iPod models between September 2006 and March 2009. Had Apple been found guilty of violating antitrust laws, however, the company could have potentially been liable for damages of more than $1 billion.

In a unanimous decision today, the eight-person jury in the trial rules that iTunes 7.0 was a “genuine product improvement” that was good for consumers, rather than a deliberate attempt by Apple to thwart competition by limiting purchased music to only Apple’s platform, as plaintiffs in the case had tried to argue. During the trial, Apple had repeatedly compared its iTunes and iPod ecosystem to integrated systems such as video game consoles, stating that it had simply built all of the pieces to work together. Further, the company’s lawyers noted that the DRM that ultimately locked out competitors was a necessary requirement of Apple’s deals with the major record companies, and that Apple was contractually obligated under the terms of those deals to patch any security holes that could have led to piracy of purchased content.

Antitrust lawyers claim Apple deleted competing songs from users’ iPods

Apple has been accused of deleting music from users’ iPods that had been downloaded from competing music services, according to a new report in the Wall Street Journal. In the recently commenced class-action antitrust suit against Apple regarding iPod and iTunes Store lock-in, lawyers for the consumers told jurors that between 2007 and 2009, Apple knowingly had procedures in place to delete music found on iPods from competing music services without telling users. When users who had downloaded music from a rival service attempted to sync an iPod to their iTunes library, an error message would be displayed by iTunes instructing the user to restore to factory settings, a process that removes all content on the portable device and then reloads it from the user’s iTunes library. This process caused songs from rival services to disappear, the lawyers said, further alleging that Apple directed the system “not to tell users the problem.” The plaintiffs in the case claim that this demonstrates that Apple was stifling competition for music players and downloads from other services; they are seeking $350 million in damages based on the claim that Apple’s lock-in forced them to pay more for music players by being forced to keep buying iPods rather than being able to consider competing options.

Apple responded by stating the moves were legitimate security measures, with the company’s security director, Augustin Farrugia, testifying that Apple did not provide detailed information as the company doesn’t “need to give users too much information,” and doesn’t “want to confuse users” – an approach that is typical in the software designed by the company. Farrugia noted that Apple was “very paranoid” about protecting iTunes in light of hackers that were working to crack the FairPlay copy protection used by iTunes and the iPod, and that updates which removed non-Apple music files were intended to protect customers. “The system was totally hacked,” Farrugia said. E-mails from Steve Jobs presented in evidence revealed similar security concerns.

Verizon sponsoring ad-free listening to all U.S. iTunes Radio users

As part of its “Connection Day” promotion, Verizon is sponsoring a virtually ad-free iTunes Radio experience today. Featuring “limited interruptions,” instead of seeing normal ads on the service, iTunes Radio listeners will instead just see the message “Enjoy with limited interruptions courtesy of Verizon.” A banner ad will also occasionally appear, offering lucky listeners a $5 iTunes Store credit. The promotion is available today only and applies to all iTunes Radio listeners in the U.S., not just Verizon customers. iTunes Match users, who already have an ad-free listening experience, are not eligible to access the $5 iTunes credit promotion. [via 9to5Mac]

iTunes music sales down at least 13 percent worldwide

A new report from The Wall Street Journal reveals that iTunes music sales have fallen by 13 to 14 percent worldwide this year, citing people familiar with the matter. This is in stark contrast to only a 2.1 percent overall dip last year in global revenue from music downloads – a decline that was said to be offset by increases from ad-supported and subscription services. As previously reported, Apple has been working to cut music subscription prices and has plans to rebuild its recently-acquired Beats Music and relaunch it next year as an iTunes service, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Despite the drop, Apple remains the largest seller of music in the world, both physical and digital, and according to music executives, its dominance over other digital music stores is “especially pronounced.” Although overall music sales were mostly steady last year due to physical CD sales, some record company executives are reportedly concerned that the music industry could fall into decline if download sales drop more quickly than streaming service growth accelerates. Notably, executives are working to persuade users of online music services to pay a monthly subscription fee, rather than using free ad-supported services which are said to generate considerably less revenue for the music labels. According to the RIAA, streaming services now account for nearly one-third of the revenue from recorded music in the U.S.

Notably, Apple reported a healthy increase in overall iTunes sales this quarter, which includes other types of content such as apps, movies, and books, although the company does not break out sales by individual content type.

Apple working to cut music subscription prices

A new report from Re/code reveals that Apple is working to get the price of its subscription music services down to as low as $5/month. Apple was reportedly asking the labels to cut prices to pave the way for a cheaper Beats music subscription, and is suggesting that top iTunes buyers spend about $60/year on music downloads, which equates to about $5/month. On a $5/month subscription model, the music labels would therefore not lose any revenue as a result of those download buyers switching over to a streaming model, and would in fact potentially gain more revenue in the form of new subscribers who may not otherwise spend as much on downloads. The Re/code report also notes that Spotify has just made changes to its streaming plan, offering a “family plan” price of $5/month for additional accounts beyond the first account, suggesting that some room exists in the label agreements for lowering pricing. It’s also worth noting that competing streaming service Rdio has been offering a similar “family plan” for about two years now.

Apple formally debuts iTunes 12 after three months of betas

Oddly released without any fanfare in beta form to developers back in July, iTunes 12 has officially debuted at Apple’s media event today. As noted in our What’s New in iTunes 12 article, the Mac and PC application has received a “flatter” cosmetic overhaul inspired by iOS 7 and iOS 8. It largely does away with the traditional sidebar found in earlier versions of iTunes — a feature that was hidden but still present in iTunes 11 — to embrace a more media library-heavy interface. Various types of media are now individually browsed and managed using icons at the upper left of the iTunes window, with separate iTunes Store access points for each medium.

iTunes 12 has been announced for OS X Yosemite, but not yet for older versions of OS X or Windows PCs. Updated: It is now available for download for OS X 10.7.5 and newer through iTunes.com, as well as for Windows XP and newer.

U2’s Bono apologizes for automatic iTunes album download

A recent U2 interview posted on Facebook saw the band members taking questions from fans, and one of the questions concerned the automatic free download of U2’s Songs of Innocence album to iTunes playlists: “Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to peoples [sic] playlists ever again? It’s really rude.” The album was accessible for free to 500 million iTunes customers; early estimates claimed 33 million users accessed the album.

The question was posed to U2 frontman Bono, who answered, “Oops. Um. I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. Drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion, and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we — we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

Apple releases another iTunes 12 beta

Apple has released a new beta for iTunes 12. We took an in-depth look at the first iTunes 12 beta in late July, and we’ll update this story with changes found in the new edition. The latest beta includes a few more cosmetic changes, such as simplifying certain Preferences screens, adding media categories with keyboard shortcuts to the View menu, and improving support for viewing sync settings when multiple iOS devices or iPods are connected.

Apple and U2 working on ‘secret project’ to boost music sales

Last week, Apple and U2 teamed up to release the band’s newest album — Songs of Innocence — for free on iTunes. A new article from Time claims that the company and band are also teaming up on a “secret project” to boost digital music sales. According to the article, Bono “hopes that a new digital music format in the works will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music — whole albums as well as individual tracks.” Details are very sparse, but it’s highly possible that this new project could involve a long-rumored higher-bitrate iTunes audio format, and/or the inclusion of iTunes Extras for albums, as Apple currently does with HD videos.

Apple: 33M iTunes users have accessed U2 album

Apple has announced that 33 million iTunes account holders have accessed U2’s Songs of Innocence album for free. That figure includes customers who downloaded the album, streamed it, or listened to it using iTunes’ radio player. A report notes that Apple SVP Eddy Cue “called the number record-breaking, but did not elaborate.” For those uninterested in the latest effort from U2, Apple has released a guide on how to remove the album from your iTunes music library. [via Associated Press]

iTunes Festival channel returns to Apple TV

The iTunes Festival channel has reappeared on Apple TV, not long before the festival kicks off in London. Apple’s iTunes Festival starts September 1 and runs through the whole month. As has been the case previously, the channel will let users watch live HD streaming video of the performances, as well as on-demand recordings after performances have ended. New acts, including Mary J. Blige, deadmau5, and Ed Sheeran, were recently added to the schedule. Currently, only two days of the festival have acts yet to be announced, as the schedule is mostly set.

Apple releases new iTunes 12 beta

Apple has released a new beta for iTunes 12. We took an in-depth look at the first iTunes 12 beta in late July, and we’ll update this story with changes found in the new edition. The latest beta includes a few more cosmetic changes, such as redesigned media section icons and a new “Recently Added” section in areas such as Movies and TV Shows.

Apple honors Robin Williams with webpage, iTunes section

Apple is honoring Robin Williams on its website and in its iTunes Store following the recent death of the actor and comedian. A new “Remembering Robin Williams” webpage has been posted on Apple’s official website — a rare occurrence. Additionally, the iTunes Store now has its own “Remembering Robin Williams” section. The section gathers many of Williams’ movies in one place, in addition to the first season of his recent TV show, The Crazy Ones, and a few of his comedy albums.

Apple releases iTunes 11.3.1

Apple has released iTunes 11.3.1, a minor update that fixes a few podcast bugs — one problem caused podcast subscriptions to stop updating with new episodes, and another issue caused iTunes to become unresponsive while browsing podcast episodes. Users can get the update through Software Update in the Mac App Store or at Apple’s iTunes download page.

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