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Rumor: Apple making longterm plans to retire music downloads? (Update: Source doubles down)

Apple has been making plans to completely eliminate music downloads on the iTunes Store, according to a new report from Digital Music News. Sources “with close and active business relationships with Apple” have told Digital Music News that the company is actively considering a two-year termination timetable, and discussions within Apple have begun focusing on not if purchased music downloads should be retired for good, but rather when it’s going to happen. A range of shutdown timetables are apparently being considered by Apple, with executives suggesting that the company no longer expects to run the service indefinitely, although it may ride out iTunes music sales for a few more years until paid music downloads are eclipsed by “a streaming-dominated industry.”

While it’s unclear exactly why Apple would want to kill off a profitable business market — music industry analysts expect that iTunes music download revenue will still be around $600 million in 2019 — there may be concerns within Apple that the availability of digital download sales are limiting the success of the Apple Music streaming service by providing iTunes and iOS users with options, and that the overlap between Apple Music and the iTunes Store is creating product confusion, both in terms of purchasing products and in the combination of other overlapping services such as iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match. Further, despite the revenue from digital music sales, analysts suggest that music purchases in this form are in rapid decline, dropping by 15 to 30 percent year-over-year, suggesting that Apple may be planning a proactive exit strategy in a world that’s moving progressively more toward streaming services.

Update: A two-word refutation from Apple, as spokesman Tom Neumayr told Re/code that the report is simply “not true.”

Update 2, 6/8/16: Digital Music News is standing firm with its 2-3 year timeframe for Apple phasing out iTunes downloads, saying that sources with knowledge of the company’s plans are still adamant despite public denials. The site claims music downloads have entered a “free fall” this year and the decision to finally pull the plug on music download sales will depend on how sharply sales decline, how quickly streaming accelerates and the internal politics at Apple. It’s interesting that the site is doubling down despite Apple’s firm denial after the initial report was released — there’s a good possibility that factions inside Apple may be split on this issue.

UK drops encryption backdoor requirements from cybersecurity bill due to Apple pressure

The U.K. has passed a bill giving its spy agencies wide-reaching powers to hack computer systems and engage in bulk surveillance, but protests from Apple and other technology companies kept out requirements for weakened encryption, Bloomberg reports. Tim Cook expressed concerns that there would be “dire consequences” if the bill passed as it was first offered, with language mandating access points that subverted encryption to provide government access. The law allows for collecting metadata and using malware to infiltrate the computers and mobile phones of terror suspects, but makes it clear that companies aren’t responsible for building backdoors into their encryption. Under the law, companies will only be required to remove encryption at the government’s request if it’s “technically feasible and not unduly expensive.” How those provisions will be interpreted by British judges going forward is an open question.

Google’s new Motion Stills app lets iOS users make GIFs out of Live Photos

Google has announced Motion Stills, a new iOS app that allows users to turn Live Photos from an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus into animated looping GIFs that can more easily be shared with other users. Motion Stills uses Google’s own image stabilization technology to freeze Live Photo backgrounds or create sweeping cinematic pans, and users can combine multiple Live Photos into a movie montage. Loop optimization features help to identify optimal start and end points and discard blurry frames entirely, helping to fix “pocket shots.” Motion Stills is available for free from the App Store, and all processing is notably handled on the user’s iOS device, so no Google account or Internet connection is required to use the app. Our initial experience with Motion Stills was quite positive — it’s fun and user-friendly, and certainly worth a free download for those who use Live Photos.

NBC Sports Radio now available in Music app

A live stream from NBC Sports Radio is now available for free through the iOS Music app or iTunes. The station joins NPR and BBC World Service as free listening options for Apple users and includes sports talk personalities like Mike Florio, Chris Mannix, Amani Toomer and Rodney Harrison. The update comes ahead of a rumored overhaul of Apple Music expected to be unveiled at WWDC. [via Apple Insider]

Instagram now allows sharing directly from Photos

The latest version of Instagram has a welcome addition for those wanting to share their pictures as they look at them in Photos. Now users can share their photos directly to Instagram without launching the app itself, by simply tapping the share button on the bottom left in Photos and adding Instagram to the options, using the “More” tab. After that, Instagram will appear in the listed options for sharing directly from the Photos app. The new feature lets users add a caption to photos and videos, but doesn’t offer any other editing features. To apply filters, users will still need to open the Instagram app and post their photos the standard way.

Apple hires doc who created HealthKit app

Apple has made another high-profile hire for its efforts to improve and expand HealthKit, Fast Company reports. Rajiv Kumar, who specializes in treating children with diabetes, drew attention in 2015 when he created a HealthKit-enabled diabetes monitoring system for kids. His former employer, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, confirmed Kumar will maintain a part-time appointment at the hospital, but CEO Christopher Dawes said, “We can’t compete with companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook when they really want one of our own.”

Apple could get 2-3 year exemption to open stores in India

India’s government may allow Apple to open retail stores in the country and provide a 2-3 year exemption from local sourcing requirements, The Times of India reports. Apple was expected to be completely exempted from laws requiring companies to source 30 percent of their products’ material locally because of the company’s status as a provider of “cutting-edge technology”, but the company’s application to bypass those rules was rejected by India’s finance minister two weeks ago. Sources now say that discussions have begun between the finance ministry and Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion aimed at granting Apple the waiver, but only in the first few years of Apple’s retail store operations.

Apple hires architect of luxury car satellite navigation systems

Apple has hired Sinisa Durekovic, the software engineer behind the development of satellite navigation systems for several luxury carmakers, Bloomberg reports. Durekovic, who has more than 20 years of experience in developing satellite navigation software, was previously the principal architect and chief engineer for navigation at Harman International Industries, which develops in-car navigation systems for several high-end car manufacturers, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. According to the report, Durekovic joined Apple in an “unspecified role” back in October, although it seems logical that his skills will be put to use in areas such as improving Apple Maps, CarPlay, or Apple’s much-rumored electric car project. Apple has recently made a stronger push toward Apple Maps development, opening an office in Hyperabad, India last month, where it will employ 4,000 staff focused on developing its mapping platform. Spokespersons for Apple and Harman had no comments to make on the hiring; Durekovic didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

Apple releases iTunes 12.4.1

Less than a month after the release of iTunes 12.4, Apple has pushed out iTunes 12.4.1, a minor maintenance update that addresses a number of problems with VoiceOver, restores the option to Reset Plays, and fixes issues with Up Next playing songs in the incorrect order and crossfading between songs. The update is available for direct download from www.iTunes.com or via Apple’s Software Update tools.

Unicode Consortium approves 72 new emoji

The Unicode Consortium has approved 72 new emoji for inclusion in the Unicode 9.0 standard, scheduled for release this month, expanding on the existing base of 1,601 emoji with a handful of new symbols that have long been requested. The new emoji build on existing themes, such as facial expressions, animals, and food, and a new roster of sports and medal-style characters have also been introduced in time for the Rio Olympics. Specific new emoji include a selfie, shrugs, clowns, face palms, and rolling-on-the-floor-laughing, while new animals include bats, rhinos, owls, and sharks. Croissants, pancakes, bacon, avocados, and kiwi fruit will be added to the food roster. Although the Unicode 9.0 standard becomes official this month, Apple will still have to add support for the new emoji to iOS. With the announcement of iOS 10 around the corner, it’s unclear whether these will appear in a coming point update to iOS 9 or whether users will have to wait until iOS 10, likely in the fall, before seeing the new characters.

Apple re-releases iOS 9.3.2 update for 9.7” iPad Pro

Apple has re-released the iOS 9.3.2 update for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, after pulling the update last month due to “bricking” issues with that particular model. While other iOS devices were unaffected, many users of Apple’s newest iPad Pro model found themselves faced with “Error 56” messages after applying the update, rendering their devices unusable, and needing to be replaced by Apple. The new version of iOS 9.3.2, which doesn’t bear any obvious numbering to differentiate it from the last one, addresses these earlier issues and users should now be able to safely update to the latest iOS version through the normal software update process.

Jawbone not leaving wearables business, CEO says

Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman says the company is “still committed” to the wearables business, refuting recent reports that Jawbone is exiting the wearables business or going out of business altogether. In a blog post on the company’s website, Rahman denies recent media reports as “unequivocally false,” noting that the speculation appeared to come from “wrongful insinuations” made by “a particular digital publication,” and although the publication later made a correction, this was not done until after other media picked up on the news and spread it further. Rahman emphasizes that Jawbone “remains wholly committed to innovating in and building great wearables products” and has technology in the pipeline that they “look forward to sharing ... with the world.”

Apple Pay ‘struggling’ outside the U.S.

Apple Pay is “struggling” to succeed outside of the U.S., according to a new article from Reuters. The report notes that Apple has made “only a small dent” in the global payments market, due in part to technical challenges, low consumer adoption, and resistance by banks to embrace the new payment technology. Despite being available in six countries as of today, following the recent large scale Canadian launch, Apple Pay’s usage last year only amounted to $10.9 billion, which the report notes is less than the annual volume of transactions in Kenya, a country that leads the world in mobile payment adoption. Although the bulk of that usage is said to be U.S.-centric, it’s worth noting that Apple Pay’s first rollout outside of the U.S. was in the middle of the year, with other countries such as Australia, Canada, and China coming on toward the very end of 2015, many with very limited participation from banks.

Apple launches 2016 Back to School promotion with Beats headphones

Apple has launched its annual Back to School promotion for 2016, providing a free pair of Beats headphones to eligible students purchasing a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone for college or university. Students purchasing any new Mac model will receive a free pair of Beats Solo2 Wireless Headphones, valued at $300, while those purchasing an iPad Pro, iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus, or iPhone 6s Plus will get Beats Powerbeats2 Wireless Headphones, valued at $200. As with prior promotions, the promotion takes the form of an instant credit for the pre-tax price of the headphones, meaning the customer will still be responsible for any sales taxes that might otherwise apply. Standard Apple student discounts also apply on Mac and iPad purchases. The Apple Back to School promotion runs from today through Sept. 5, and users can take advantage of the offer by purchasing a Mac, iPad Pro, or iPhone at any Apple Retail Store of the online Apple Store for Education, and buyers must be enrolled in an eligible college, university, or similar higher education institution in order to qualify.

Apple sends out press invites for WWDC Keynote

Apple has sent out press invites for the keynote to kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference later this month. The keynote will be held on Monday, Jun. 13 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. It’s expected that Apple will announce new versions of its various mobile and desktop operating systems — iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and OS X — along with changes to Apple Music, a Siri SDK for developers, web-based support for Apple Pay and Maps, and possibly even the announcement of new hardware products. It is expected that the keynote will be broadcast on the web and via the Apple TV as Apple has done with past keynote presentations.

Coach bands for Apple Watch found on company’s site

URLs live on Coach’s site but not yet openly displayed to the public seem to confirm reports about Coach bands coming to Apple Watch, 9to5Mac points out. A URL for a hidden listing shows an “Apple Watch leather watch strap with charms,” with minor tweaks to the model numbers also revealing “tea rose” and “wild beast camo” variants.

Facebook eyeing optional encryption upgrade for Messenger app

Facebook is planning to release an optional encrypted mode for its Messenger app, The Guardian reports. According to three sources close to the project, the social media giant will give its users the choice between extra privacy and better artificial intelligence. Opting to add end-to-end encryption to communications aimed at safeguarding a user’s messages from prying eyes will also have the unhappy side effect of inhibiting some of the new machine learning features being added to Messenger, the sources said.

Apple Pay expanded to all of Canada’s major banks

As of this morning, Apple Pay users can finally add their Visa, MasterCard and debit cards from the country’s five major banks, the Toronto Star reports. Apple Pay launched in Canada last November, but only for non-bank American Express cardholders. Last month Apple Pay expanded to support Visa and MasterCard in Canada, but only for Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce customers. Today BMO, TD and Scotiabank join the other banks included in Canada’s “Big Five” in allowing customers to add all of their cards to Apple Pay. Bank customers have noted that they can only use their credit cards for in-app payments, with debit cards still not working for purchases within iOS. ATB and Canadian Tire credit cards also work for in-app payments.

Apple TV App Store now removes installed apps from Top Charts

Apple has tweaked its TV App Store algorithm to hide apps already installed on the device. After a brief scare when their new app went missing from the Top Charts in Germany, app designer Equinux figured out that the update eliminates apps that users already have from app store lists, presumably to provide more visibility for lesser-known apps and keep customers from having to trudge past all the apps they already have while seeking out new ones.

Apple to push ‘new’ iPhone cycle from two to three years?

A new story from Nikkei confidently states what many following the so-called “iPhone 7” leaks have been thinking — Apple appears to be pushing its usual two years between full model changes to a three-year cycle. While Nikkei doesn’t cite any Apple sources in making the claim, the new iPhone seems to have the same dimensions as the iPhone 6s and certainly looks more like a minor improvement to the current model than a dramatically new device in its own right, with camera upgrades expected to be the major new feature. Tech analysts and journalists alike see the 2017 iPhone as the next great leap forward, with that model thought to be getting an improved edge-to-edge display, embedded Touch ID sensor, possible wireless charging and perhaps an all-glass body.

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