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Google Play Music adds free, ad-supported streaming radio

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 releases second iOS 9, watchOS 2 betas to developers

Apple has released second betas of iOS 9 and watchOS 2 to developers, continuing the beta cycle for its next-generation mobile operating systems announced at WWDC for the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and the Apple Watch. Featuring a build number of 13A4280e, the second iOS 9 beta features a number of under-the-hood improvements from the first beta, focusing on improving the stability and reliability of the new features in the operating system. The latest watchOS beta has a build number of 13S5255c and is installed via a configuration profile that requires the corresponding iOS 9 beta to be installed.

These releases are also accompanied by a second beta of Xcode 7 to support the new APIs and development environment. Apple has also been releasing iOS 8.4 betas in tandem with the iOS 9 development cycle, with the 8.4 version expected to be released within the next week to support Apple’s new Music service, although at this point iOS 8.4 remains in its fourth beta version released two weeks ago; it is unclear if another beta or “GM” version will be released prior to the final public release.

Apple sues patent firm Unwired Planet for $15M

Apple has asked a federal judge for $15 million in attorney fees from patent firm Unwired Planet, claiming in the court filing that UP employed an “improper litigation strategy” in an “attempt to wring value out of an obsolete portfolio.” Unwired Planet — once known as Openwave — sued Apple in 2011, alleging that Apple was infringing on its patents with technology used in iPhones, iPods and iPads. Apple prevailed in the case, but now wants UP to pay because “UP’s continued pursuit of those claims put an unusual and unwarranted burden on Apple and the Court.” Apple is routinely sued over patents, but contends that UP’s dogged pursuit of compensation for technology that Apple doesn’t use makes the case “exceptional” under patent law and justifies Apple’s ability to request repayment of court fees. [via Law360]

Apple gains voting rights, board seat on Bluetooth SIG

Apple has become a Promoter Member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, giving the company voting rights on Bluetooth corporate matters and a seat on the SIG’s Board of Directors. The other 6 Promoter Members — Toshiba, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia, Ericsson and Intel — “unanimously welcomed Apple to the highest membership level of the organization,” according to a statement from Bluetooth. Toby Nixon, chairman of the SIG’s Board of Directors, said Apple has been a “key participant” in the Bluetooth system since 2011, and Apple’s newly upgraded status gives the company even more control over the future of Bluetooth.

Royalty rates for artists during Apple Music free trial still unclear

Apple has agreed to pay royalties during Apple Music’s three-month free trial, but The Wall Street Journal reports the royalty rate is still up for debate. The company has touted Apple Music’s 71.5 percent royalty rate as the highest in streaming music, but that rate is going to be applied to total monthly income from subscription fees. Until those payments start rolling in, there will be no subscriber income on which to base the rates. Apple declined to comment on how much rights holders will be paid during the trial, but said that rates will rise once customers start paying for subscriptions — leaving partners to wonder just how much lower the initial rates will be with only a week to go until the service’s launch. Apple Music’s largest competitor, Spotify, currently pays artists half of its usual royalty rate during promotional periods.

Buick, GMC bringing CarPlay to select 2016 models

Buick and GMC are the latest GM car brands to announce CarPlay availability for upcoming vehicles, GM has announced. Buick will be bringing CarPlay compatibility to the 2016 LaCrosse and Regal, while GMC’s 2016 Canyon, Sierra, and Yukon will also gain Apple’s CarPlay. Within the last month, GM has also announced CarPlay compatibility for upcoming Cadillac and Chevrolet models. Compared to Apple’s other CarPlay partners, GM appears to be ahead of the curve.

Cook: Chinese tastes influence Apple’s designs

Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple’s product designs are influenced by China’s consumer tastes, Bloomberg reports. As many have already suggested, the decision to release a gold iPhone last year was a reflection of that color’s popularity among Chinese users, Cook told the Chinese edition of Bloomberg Businessweek. Greater China has become Apple’s second-largest market after the U.S. Without releasing exact sales figures, Cook also disclosed that the Apple Watch is off to a promising start and drawing much more interest from app developers than either the first iPhone or iPad initially saw. A data analytics firm recently estimated the company has already sold 2.79 million Apple Watch units.

Apple caves to Taylor Swift, agrees to pay royalties for Apple Music trial period

Just one day after Taylor Swift announced she would hold back her “1989” album from Apple Music during the three-month free trial period, the company has agreed to pay royalties to rights owners during the free period. In a series of tweets, SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue publicly reversed Apple’s plans to withhold royalties during the free trial, saying “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.” The policy had been viewed as particularly detrimental to indie artists, who would be losing iTunes sales revenue without making up for that income with streaming revenue. In an interview with Billboard, Cue said he had heard the same “concern from a lot of artists,” but that Swift’s letter put it over the top. “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed a change. And so that’s why we decide we will now pay artists during the trial period,” Cue said.

After CEO Tim Cook approved the decision for Apple to eat the cost of paying royalties during the trial period, Cue said he called Taylor Swift, who is on tour in Amsterdam. Swift expressed her happiness over the policy change in another tweet:

 

Apple takes App Analytics out of beta, adds new features

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.

Original iPad mini disappears from Apple’s website

Apple has removed the original iPad mini from its website and online store. The original iPad mini debuted in October 2012 and up to this point continued to be sold as an entry-level model alongside the 2013 iPad mini 2 and 2014 iPad mini 3 versions. With the original iPad mini gone from the lineup, Apple’s iPad family is now comprised of exclusively 64-bit models using either A7 or A8X processors and Retina Displays. Refurbished iPad minis remain available from the Apple Store, and new iPad minis can still be found at third-party retailers, at least for the time being. [via 9to5Mac]

Report: Next-gen Apple Watch to include FaceTime camera, iPhone-free Wi-Fi

New details from 9to5Mac provide some possible insight into Apple’s direction for the next-generation Apple Watch, said to be on track for a 2016 release. Citing multiple sources “familiar with Apple’s plans,” the report notes that the second-generation of the wearable device is expected to gain a FaceTime camera, greater iPhone independence with a “new wireless system” as well as additional models priced at a higher premium. Despite the new additions, battery life is expected to be similar to the current models.

The built-in camera would allow users to place FaceTime video calls directly via their wrists. An internal initiative named “tether-less” is expected to allow the Watch to operate more independently from an iPhone over Wi-Fi networks, using a more sophisticated wireless chipset that would provide support for basic communication tasks such as sending text messages and emails and receiving updated weather data. The enhanced Wi-Fi capabilities would also enable Apple to implement a “Find my Watch” feature similar to that found on Apple’s other devices, such as the Wi-Fi-only iPad and iPod touch. The report also reveals that Apple has decided based on market research that the majority of current Apple Watch users are satisfied with its battery life and content to charge their devices nightly, and the company is therefore said to be focusing its priorities on simply maintaining or slightly improving battery life in the next-generation model, while adding additional hardware features.

Apple is also reportedly looking into expanding the portfolio of Apple Watch models, focusing on introducing new premium models that will fill the gap between the high-end stainless steel Apple Watch and the gold Apple Watch Edition models, with price points between $1,000 and $10,000. It is unclear, however, whether Apple is looking to expand the Edition lineup with lower-priced variations, create higher-priced stainless steel models with more premium bands, or introduce an entirely new lineup altogether.

Apple again scores high marks from EFF for privacy, transparency

Apple has once again taken top marks in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Who Has Your Back? report, which assesses online service providers’ practices regarding privacy and transparency where government requests for access to user information are concerned. Last year, Apple earned six stars, the maximum score at the time indicating that the company adopted all of what the EFF considered to be best practices in this area.

In the report, the EFF states that it “commend[s] Apple for its strong stance regarding user rights, transparency, and privacy.” This year’s report evaluates companies based on five new criteria: whether the company follows industry-standard best practices, informs users about government data requests, discloses its policies on data retention, discloses content removal requests from government agencies, and has a public policy opposing backdoors for government agencies. Apple earned full marks across all categories, sharing the top spot with other companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, and Yahoo. In contrast, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter came in at four stars, while Amazon, Google, and Microsoft each only received three. The lowest grade this year went to AT&T, which received only one star.

Nest debuts Nest Cam, updates Nest Protect and Learning Thermostat

Popular home automation device maker Nest has announced a major refresh of its entire product line, including the introduction of Nest Cam, a redesigned Nest Protect alarm, new features for the Nest Learning Thermostat, and a major update to its Nest iOS app. The new Nest Cam ($199) provides full 1080p HD video recording with motion alerts and night vision to allow users to keep an eye on their home from anywhere. A second-generation Nest Protect ($99) is now eleven percent smaller and provides a new split-spectrum sensor that uses two wavelengths of light to identify different types of fires and now provides the ability to silence alarms from the iOS app. The Nest Learning thermostat now gains the ability to notify customers when temperatures drop to help avoid frozen pipes, and adds tighter integration with other Nest products.

Estimate: 2.79M Apple Watch units sold, many with extra bands

A data analytics firm estimates that Apple has sold 2.79 million Apple Watch units as of mid-June, with nearly 20 percent of purchasers also springing for an extra band, Reuters reports. Although Apple itself has not released specifics on how many Apple Watches have been sold, research firm Slice Intelligence has developed estimates based on mining e-mail receipts from a panel of two million people considered to be representative of online shoppers in the U.S. If accurate, the numbers suggest that Apple is making a hefty profit from the sales of spare watch bands, which retail for prices starting at $49 with raw manufacturing costs estimated to be starting at $2.05. The report notes, however, that such estimates do not include packaging and shipping expenses, and in fact “may not capture the full cost of the material Apple uses to make the band.” The data collected by Slice indicates that the black sport band is the most popular choice overall — both with the Apple Watch and as a secondary band — while the $149 Milanese Loop is the most popular option being purchased separately as a second band.

FCC to fine AT&T $100M for misleading unlimited data plans

The Federal Communications Commission has announced its intention to fine AT&T $100 million for “misleading its customers about unlimited mobile data plans.” According to the FCC, AT&T “severely” slowed data speeds for customers with unlimited data plans, and the company “failed to adequately notify” customers that speeds could be slower than advertised. Millions of customers were said to be affected by the slowed data. As the FCC notes, AT&T no longer offers unlimited plans to new customers, but many long-time customers have retained the unlimited plan from when it was offered in the past. The company has been charged with violating the 2010 Open Internet Transparency Rule. AT&T said in a statement that it would “vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions,” claiming it has been “fully transparent” with customers.

Apple loses anti-competitive lawsuit in Taiwan

Apple has been fined nearly $650,000 after losing an anti-competition lawsuit in Taiwan, Reuters reports. The country’s Fair Trade Commission fined Apple in 2013 for requiring telecom partners to get the company’s approval for iPhone prices, subsidies, advertising content and price differentials between old and new phone models. Under Taiwanese law, once telecoms take possession of a phone, they can set prices however they see fit, the commission said. Apple countersued, but a judge ruled against the company. The commission claims this is the first case of a jurisdiction successfully defeating Apple’s practice of dictating pricing terms to its telecom partners. Apple could still appeal the decision; the company declined to comment when contacted.

Indie labels feeling shut out by Apple Music’s free trial period

Independent record labels are crying foul over Apple’s insistence that they provide their music without being paid during Apple Music’s three-month free trial, The Telegraph reports. British labels for artists like Adele and Arctic Monkeys have rejected Apple’s request for the unpaid trial period and don’t intend to cut a deal that would “literally put people out of business,” according to Andy Heath, chairman of lobbying group UK Music. Apple has confirmed it is paying a slightly higher-than-industry-standard 71.5 percent of revenues to rights holders in the hopes of assuaging doubts about the free trial period, but Heath said that solution misses the point. “If you are running a small label on tight margins you literally can’t afford to do this free trial business,” Heath said. “Their plan is clearly to move people over from downloads, which is fine, but it will mean us losing those revenues for three months.”

Heath confirmed ongoing Apple negotiations with some indie labels, but Billboard reports that others haven’t heard from Apple at all with only two weeks before Apple Music’s launch, leading them to speculate Apple will send out a mass-emailed opt-in contract soon. After a huge push for unique content, Apple Music is viewed as a big threat to Spotify, but if the company can’t lock down indie music rights holders before launch, Spotify could end up with its own advantage.

Apple Watch available for in-store pickup in some US states, UK, Canada, Australia

While you still can’t just walk into an Apple Store unannounced and buy an Apple Watch, starting today you can reserve a watch online for in-store pickup if you live in the U.K., Canada, Australia and some U.S. states. When looking at a specific watch and band combination, Apple’s online store now offers an “Interested in buying in-store?” option accompanied by a link to check availability at Apple Stores in the customer’s area. Apple Watch Sport models with a sport band are available at most Apple Stores, but more expensive models like the Apple Watch with a Milanese loop band seem to be in-stock at far fewer locations. Apple Watch Editions are even available for in-store pickup in ritzier locations like New York City’s Fifth Avenue Apple Store.

Hackers use app to steal passwords, data in iOS and OS X

University researchers have exposed a security flaw in iOS and OS X that lets an installed app exploit Apple’s cross-app resource sharing and communication to steal passwords from other apps and Apple’s Keychain, The Register reports. The team says they were able to upload their malware into an app that successfully passed the App Store’s vetting process. Once the app was downloaded, the researchers were able to raid users’ Keychain to steal passwords for iCloud, the Mail app and anything stored within Google’s Chrome browser. The team was able to steal banking credentials from Chrome, copy photos from WeChat and gain access to popular cloud service Evernote. Nearly 90 percent of a large sample of OS X and iOS apps were found to be “completely exposed” to the attack. Lead researcher Luyi Xing said his team informed Apple of the problem in October 2014 and complied with Apple’s request to hold off publishing the research for 6 months, but hasn’t heard back from the company since delivering an advance copy of the findings to Apple in February. Apple didn’t comment on the story, but Google’s Chromium security team has since removed Keychain integration for Chrome, saying the security flaw probably can’t be solved at the application level. AgileBits, which owns browser extension 1Password, said their company hadn’t found a way to fend off the attacks four months after the team’s disclosure. Since the malware was delivered in an app that got past Apple’s vetting process, the only protection for iOS and OS X users at this point is to scrutinize the developer before downloading an app and be wary of login prompts for things usually handled by Keychain.

Monster: Apple booted us from MFi program over Beats lawsuit

Apple has revoked Monster’s MFi program membership, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Representatives from Monster reported the news, indicating that the move was in retaliation to Monster’s lawsuit against the now-Apple-owned Beats Electronics. Monster has been making licensed accessories under the MFi program since 2005, and many of its accessories have even been sold in Apple’s retail stores. David Tognotti, general counsel for Monster, stated that Apple’s chief litigation counsel advised him that their MFi agreement was being terminated as of May 5 due to their relationship with Apple no longer being “mutually beneficial” and that Monster’s lawsuit against Beats would “destroy the working relationship” between the two companies. Monster has reportedly paid Apple more than $12 million in licensing fees since 2008, and more than 20 percent of the company’s products are produced under the MFi program license. Under the terms of the agreement, Monster will still be able to sell its existing stock of Apple-licensed accessories until September, but will no longer be permitted to manufacture new MFi accessories.

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