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Hidden Diagnostic Port on Apple Watch Could Allow for Smart Band Accessories [Updated]

apple_watch_sensorAhead of Monday's media event where Apple is expected to provide final details on the Apple Watch, a new report from TechCrunch details a hidden "diagnostic port" inside one of the channels on the Apple Watch where watch bands slip into place. While the port is currently used only for diagnostic purposes, the report argues it could be used in the future to interface with "smart band" accessories bringing additional functionality to the watch.
The port has a 6-dot brass contact array inside the groove for the ‘bottom’ strap connector slot. Several sources have confirmed its existence and placement to me. It is very similar to the connector for the Lightning connector in iPhones, as that connector currently only uses 6 of its 8 available pins. Apple recently began opening up the Lightning port for use by third parties. A source says that this port is currently for diagnostic purposes only — but that there is nothing preventing it from being a connection port for future accessories.
TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino is careful to state that he has no knowledge of any plans by Apple to launch such smart band accessories, but the idea remains an intriguing one. Possibilities for such bands include additional sensors, external batteries integrated into a band, and more.

Apple revealed a number of high-level details about the Apple Watch at the device's unveiling last September, but even now with a launch set for next month there is still much that remains unknown, including pricing details beyond the $349 starting price. Apple will undoubtedly address many of the details at Monday's events, but some of the technical details will likely need to wait until the device launches and users and technical experts can get a closer look at the device.

Update 2:13 PM: The diagnostic port will not be included on the Apple Watch that ships to consumers, according to 9to5Mac.

Related roundup: Apple Watch , Tag: techcrunch.com

Apple to Unveil Revamped Streaming Music Service at WWDC

beatsmusicApple will launch a revamped streaming music service in June at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, according to 9to5Mac and TechCrunch. The report claims the new Beats-based service will debut at Apple's WWDC keynote, likely during the week of June 8, as opposed to an announcement taking place at the upcoming "Spring Forward" media event on March 9.
"Apple currently plans to launch the new music service as part of an iOS 8.4 upgrade for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch following WWDC, but a final decision has not yet been made. It’s possible that the service will be bundled into iOS 9 this fall, which is expected to have a significant focus on bug fixes and stability improvements."
As detailed last month, the purported streaming music service is expected to cost up to $7.99 per month, a few dollars cheaper than Apple-owned Beats Music and competitors such as Spotify, Rdio and Google Play Music. The service will be deeply integrated into iTunes on Mac and the stock Music app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and apps will also be available for Apple TV and Android.

Apple is developing its first in-house Android application for the upcoming streaming music service, one of the rarer times that the iPhone maker offers cross-platform support for its products and services. Nevertheless, as the release of iTunes for Windows in the early 2000s helped drive sales of the iPod, expanding beyond the iPhone, iPad and Mac will provide Apple with a much larger pool of potential subscribers in the competitive streaming music market.

Apple is also reportedly wrapping up development of its next-generation Apple TV set-top box that could ship with an improved, tactile remote control and all-new operating system bundled with an App Store. Apple allegedly planned to release a new Apple TV as soon as this month, but the release may be delayed until later this year or beyond until Apple reaches agreements with more content providers like HBO Now.

Related roundups: Apple TV, WWDC 2015 , Tags: Beats, iTunes, 9to5mac.com, techcrunch.com

Apple Notifying Aperture Users of Impending Removal From Mac App Store

Photos for OS X iMacApple has sent an email to Aperture customers this afternoon as a reminder about the impending removal of the professional photo editing software from the Mac App Store. The email confirms that Aperture will be removed from the Mac App Store upon the release of Photos for OS X as we initially reported last month.
"When Photos for OS X launches this spring, Aperture will no longer be available for purchase from the Mac App Store. You can continue to use Aperture on OS X Yosemite, but you will not be able to buy additional copies of the app. 

You can migrate your Aperture library to Photos for OS X, including your photos, adjustments, albums, and keywords. After migrating, your Aperture library remains intact. However, Aperture and Photos do not share a unified library, so any changes made after the migration will not be shared between the apps."
Aperture users will be able to continue using the software on OS X Yosemite following its discontinuation, although the app will no longer be available for purchase on the Mac App Store and new feature updates are not planned. Aperture users can migrate their photo libraries to Photos for OS X, including photos, adjustments, albums and keywords.

Photos for OS X will be available this spring for OS X Yosemite.

Microsoft Launches Office 2016 for Mac Preview, Available for Free to Mac Users

Microsoft is today introducing a preview of the next iteration of its office software designed for Mac users, Office 2016. Office 2016 for Mac is the company's first major Mac release since Office 2011, and it brings new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with redesigned Retina-optimized interfaces, new features, and a heavy focus on collaboration and cloud integration.

Office 2016 for Mac, which is free to all Mac users running OS X Yosemite during the preview period, is the next step in Microsoft's plan to make its Office products available anywhere, anytime, on any device, and as such, it's been designed to work with Office 365 and OneDrive. Users will get the best experience when signed into Office 365 because that allows them to access all of their documents on all of their devices, but an Office 365 account is not required to use the software.

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Office 2016 for Mac has adopted many elements previously found in both the Windows version of Office and in the mobile Office apps, released last year. There's a new Ribbon that reorganizes tools and formatting options, a task pane interface for greater graphics customization within all three apps (which can be manipulated and repositioned within each app), new themes and styles, and there's a Yosemite-style look that takes advantage of features like full-screen support.
Office 2016 for Mac is powered by the cloud so you can access your documents anytime, anywhere, and on any device. It’s unmistakably Office – but thoughtfully designed to take advantage of the unique features of the Mac. The new apps offer full retina display support with thousands of retina-optimized graphics, full screen view for native immersive experiences, and even little Mac affordances like scroll bounce.
Microsoft believes that cloud connectivity is a key feature that people have come to expect from their software, so that's become a focal point for the company. With cloud support, Office 2016 for Mac lets users access a list of files created on any device, keep files up to date on all of their devices, and collaborate with other users. Each of Microsoft's new Office apps have received several new cloud-based features and other updates, as outlined below.

Word 2016 focuses heavily on collaboration. It's designed to improve the multi-author experience, with a consistent sharing interface at the top right of the app. Through this menu, users can invite coworkers to work on a document, send out links, and see who a document has been shared with.

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Threaded comments have been added to the Mac for the first time and in Word's new Styles pane, users can make detailed edits on styles within the app as they can on Office for Windows.

Excel 2016 has deeper data analysis functionality with advanced statistical functions. There are also Slicers in PivotTables, a popular Windows feature that should make it easier for users to analyze large chunks of data to find patterns. With Office 2011, many users were frustrated that the Mac shortcut keys were not the same as the Office for Windows shortcut keys, so Microsoft has made all Windows shortcuts available on the Mac. Users already used to existing Mac shortcuts can continue to use them.

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PowerPoint 2016 has a revamped presenter view, which is similar to the presenter view in the PowerPoint for iOS app. In the top left, the presenter sees exactly what the audience sees, including animations in real time. There's also a visual preview of the next slide, access to notes, a timer, and thumbnails for the entire slide deck.

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As with the other two apps, there are deeper editing tools available through the right-side pane, which allows for functions like customized animations or shapes, with results that can be seen in real-time.

Along with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Microsoft's Office 2016 for Mac preview also includes Outlook for Mac, which was released in October, and Microsoft OneNote for Mac, released last March. Outlook for Mac has been limited to Office 365 users since its release, but as of today, it's available for anyone to use.

The Office 2016 for Mac preview has a built-in feedback mechanism, which Microsoft is hoping its customers will use to report bugs and share what they like and don't like about the software. Customer feedback will be an important tool that helps Microsoft decide on the next features to add to its software. According to Microsoft, the company is "data obsessed" and reads all of the feedback it receives.

Though it's been years since Microsoft last delivered a software update, the company plans to introduce bug fixes and feature updates quickly in the future, as such updates are possible now that the Microsoft Office experience is unified as a service across a range of devices.

Microsoft's Office 2016 for Mac preview is available today at no cost for all Mac users. It is officially supported on machines running OS X Yosemite. Microsoft has plans to launch the software in the summer following this beta testing period.

iOS 8.2 to Launch Next Week as Final Beta Seeded to Employees and Carrier Partners

IPSWAfter initially reporting that iOS 8.2 would be released to the public this week, BGR now claims that the upcoming software update will arrive next week as Apple decided to seed one last beta to employees and carrier partners for testing. The final GM carries a build number of 12D508 and includes Health app improvements, stability enhancements and bug fixes.

While the initial report was incorrect, this new timeframe appears more plausible given Apple's upcoming "Spring Forward" media event for the Apple Watch on March 9. Apple also promised that a fix would be prepared by next week for the recently discovered "FREAK" security vulnerability affecting devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Mac. The security flaw was disclosed to Apple well in advance of the public.

The release notes for iOS 8.2 outline several improvements to Apple's stock Health app, including the ability to select units of measurement for body temperature, weight, height, distance and blood glucose. The software update also delivers stability enhancements for Mail, Flyover in Maps, Music, VoiceOver and Made for iPhone hearing aids.
Health App improvements

  • Adds the ability to select the unit of measurement for body temperature, weight, height, distance, and blood glucose
  • Improves stability when dealing with large amounts of data
  • Includes the ability to add and visualise workout sessions from 3rd-party apps
  • Addresses an issue that may have prevented users from adding a photo in Medical ID
  • Fixes units for vitamins and minerals
  • Fixes an issue where Health data wouldn’t refresh after changes data source order
  • Fixes an issue where some graphics showed no data values
  • Adds a privacy setting that enables turning off tracking of steps, distance, and flights climbed
  • A number of bug fixes have been made in iOS 8.2, including a long-awaited fix for the so-called "GMT bug" causing calendar syncing issues for several iPhone and iPad users. Google quietly fixed the GMT bug on their backend early last month, but Microsoft Exchange calendar users have still been experiencing syncing issues. Other bug fixes are outlined in the full release notes shared in the MacRumors discussion forums.

    iOS 8.2 will also include support for the Apple Watch ahead of its launch in April.

    Related roundups: iOS 8, iOS 8 Features , Tag: iOS 8.2

    12.9-Inch 'iPad Pro' Again Rumored to Have Oxide LCD Display

    ipadair2cApple's much-rumored 12.9-inch "iPad Pro" could have Oxide LCD display technology and will enter mass production in the third quarter of 2015, according to DigiTimes. The report, citing sources within the supply chain, claims that Apple has elected to use oxide panels for the tablet after weighing the cost versus performance of display technologies a-Si, TFT LCD and Oxide LCD.
    "Market rumors over the last six months have stated that Apple would aim to release the device in the first half of the year, with mass production occurring in the first quarter. The company, however, has been assessing different panel technologies ranging from a-Si, TFT LCD and Oxide LCD in terms of cost versus performance, and has only recently decided to move forward with Oxide technology."
    The report adds that Sharp, LG Display and Samsung Display have been sending Apple display samples as they compete to secure component orders for the iPad Pro. Sharp is expected to be the main supplier due to its advantages in Oxide LCD display production, with LG also in the running to be a secondary vendor. The panel suppliers will reportedly produce limited supply in May and begin mass production in July and August.

    KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a respectable track record at reporting on Apple's upcoming product plans, also forecasted in November that the iPad Pro would be equipped with an oxide panel for "high resolution, quick response, and high color saturation," with manufacturing difficulties pushing mass production of the tablet into the second quarter of 2015.

    Oxide LCD technologies, one of the most popular being "IGZO," have been used since the original iPad Air and allow for thinner and more power efficient displays. Expected to have a large 12.9-inch screen, it would make sense for the iPad Pro to have an Oxide LCD display to ensure that the extra screen real estate is not a drain on battery life.

    Bloomberg Business reported late Wednesday that Apple missed the mark on second quarter production of the iPad Pro and that manufacturing of the tablet is now slated to begin around September. The larger-screened tablet, rumored to potentially have USB 3.0 ports for faster data transfer, could help Apple reverse four quarters of declining iPad sales as overall tablet market growth has slowed.

    Related roundup: iPad Pro , Tags: IGZO, Oxide LCD

    BMW Denies Report of Electric Car Discussions With Apple

    German carmaker BMW on Thursday denied that its discussions with Apple involved developing an electric car, according to Reuters. German automotive magazine Auto Motor und Sport reported hours earlier that Apple and BMW were in close negotiations about developing the automaker's all-electric i3 vehicle into a so-called "Apple Car."
    "The BMW spokesman said: 'We are in regular talks with companies from the IT and telecommunications sector, including Apple, concerning topics like connected vehicles. Developing or building a car is not a topic of these discussions.'"
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    The German report claimed that the electric car could be manufactured by BMW and sold at Apple Stores, with Apple developing a full-fledged operating system for the vehicle that integrates with the car's fuel consumption and driving data. It is plausible that Apple is working to expand its CarPlay efforts on the dashboard, but it remains to be seen how closely integrated the platform will be with future vehicles.

    Multiple reports claim that Apple is working on an electric car that is possibly self-driving and could enter production in 2020. Some other reports, however, downplay the rumors by suggesting that Apple is working on expanding its presence in vehicles through CarPlay. Any electric car project at Apple is likely in the early stages of research and development at this time.

    Related roundup: Apple Car , Tags: BMW, i3

    June WWDC Launch Looking More Likely for 12-Inch Retina MacBook Air

    Despite rumors earlier this week suggesting the 12-inch Retina MacBook Air could see a launch during Apple's upcoming March 9 media event, The Wall Street Journal tonight released a report indicating the notebook won't be shipping until Q2 2015. The site shared the tidbit in a detailed report on upcoming features that might be added to the larger-screened 12.9-inch "iPad Pro."
    While suppliers are gearing up to ship the new 12-inch MacBook Air in large quantities in the second quarter, Apple's launch schedule remains unclear, the people said.
    A Q2 2015 shipment date for the 12-inch MacBook Air suggests Apple could be planning to launch the notebook around June, possibly at its Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple has launched products during WWDC before, introducing the Mac Pro in 2013 and the Retina MacBook Pro in 2012.

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    Rendering of the 12-inch MacBook Air next to an existing MacBook Air by Martin Hajek

    Aside from a potential launch date for the notebook, there's one other significant point of interest in The Wall Street Journal's report -- a clear distinction between the 12-inch MacBook Air and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Some users have speculated that due to the similarity in screen size and the iPad-like features rumored for the 12-inch Retina MacBook Air, the two products are actually one, but this new report makes it very clear that Apple is developing two separate product lines.
    Separately, Apple also plans to broaden its product offering with a new 12-inch MacBook Air, people familiar with the matter said.

    Earlier this year, Apple's suppliers started mass production of a 12-inch MacBook Air, featuring a higher resolution display, they said.
    There is some convergence between the two products, despite the fact that one is an iPad and one is a MacBook. The 12-inch MacBook Air is rumored to have iPad-like colors, fewer ports, and no Magsafe charger, while tonight's WSJ report points towards an iPad with USB ports, but it's likely the two products will continue to be separated by operating system.

    Though Apple may not plan to launch the 12-inch Retina MacBook Air during its March 9 event, there's still a good chance the company may refresh its existing 11 and 13-inch MacBook Air lineup, which are overdue for an update. Screenshots said to be from a 13-inch MacBook Air with a Broadwell processor and integrated Intel HD 6000 graphics were shared this afternoon, suggesting a refresh is imminent.

    Related roundups: WWDC 2015, Retina MacBook Air , Tag: wsj.com

    Apple May Include USB 3.0 Ports on Upcoming 12.9-Inch 'iPad Pro'

    Following up on a report from earlier today claiming Apple has pushed back its plans for the so-called "iPad Pro", asking suppliers to begin production in September rather than this quarter, The Wall Street Journal weighs in with its own claim that Apple is indeed now targeting the second half of this year for the mass production of the device.

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    Mockup of iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini

    Beyond timing, the report also claims Apple is still tweaking plans for the iPad Pro's design and feature set, with the company considering including USB 3.0 ports to accommodate data transfer and peripherals connectivity.
    “Apple has continued to rework some of the features of the larger iPad. It is now considering the faster technology for data synchronization between the larger iPad and other computing devices,” said the person. [..]

    The company has also been considering adding ports to connect to a keyboard and mouse, the people said.
    Apple is reportedly also looking into ways to speed up charging time for the iPad Pro, as the device will almost certainly come with an even higher-capacity battery than the iPad Air family.

    Finally, The Wall Street Journal's sources indicate the iPad Pro's display does indeed measure 12.9 inches diagonally, marking a substantial increase over the iPad Air family's 9.7-inch display. Rumors have been split between 12.9 inches and 12.2 inches for the iPad Pro's display.

    Related roundup: iPad Pro , Tag: wsj.com

    Apple Delaying Production on Larger-Screened 'iPad Pro' Until September

    Apple has opted to delay production on the rumored larger-screened "iPad Pro" due to issues with display panel supply, reports Bloomberg. Manufacturing on the tablet will reportedly begin in September, rather than earlier in the year.
    Production of the 12.9-inch-screen iPad is now scheduled to start around September because of delays involving the supply of display panels, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the details aren't public. Apple had initially planned to begin making the larger version this quarter, people familiar those plans had said.
    This isn't the first time that rumors have hinted at delays for the iPad Pro. Apple was said to be targeting an early 2015 release date for the tablet last year, but those plans were reportedly put on hold. Back in October, The Wall Street Journal said that Apple had opted to delay mass production on the iPad in order to focus on iPhone 6 Plus production, and in November, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said production could be delayed until Q2 2015 because of difficulties related to the production of display components. With production delayed until September, the tablet could see a release in late 2015.

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    Rendering of the iPad Pro by Martin Hajek

    Apple is planning to use the "iPad Pro," as the media calls it, to boost its flagging iPad sales. The tablet is expected to measure in somewhere between 12.2 and 12.9 inches, dwarfing both the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 and the 7.9-inch iPad mini 3.

    It may be targeted at the enterprise market, and rumors have suggested it could sport an "ultra" high-resolution display and stereo speakers at the top and bottom edges of the device for an improved audio experience. It may also ship with an optional stylus accessory.

    Related roundup: iPad Pro , Tag: bloomberg.com

    Apple Putting Banners Up at Yerba Buena Center Ahead of March 9 Event

    Apple began its efforts to decorate the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco yesterday, putting up the scaffolding that would allow workers to hang colorful banners and logos, and as of today, the first decorations have gone up.

    Starting this morning, workers were spotted in the basket of a bright orange cherry picker, placing a banner across the glass of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where Apple will hold a special "Spring Forward" media event on March 9. The initial banner panels, which include Apple's iconic Apple logo, use the same general colors that were seen on the event invite, in shades of green ranging from pistachio to honeydew merging into shades of blue.

    yerbabuenabannerappleevent
    Workers have only just begun decorating the event center and it's likely the building's entire side will feature the same graduated lotus flower Apple design that was seen on the invitation, so colors should expand from green to blue to purple over the next few days as the company finishes preparations for Monday's event.

    Apple's "Spring Forward" affair is said to be focused on the Apple Watch, and the company is expected to unveil additional details about the device, including information on battery life, pricing, and a launch date. Apple may also be planning to use the event to unveil the 12-inch Retina MacBook Air and/or refreshed 11 and 13-inch MacBook Airs.

    The event will kick off on Monday, March 9 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Apple plans to provide live coverage of the event on its website and through a channel on the Apple TV, and MacRumors will also be covering the event with both a live blog here on MacRumors.com and through our MacRumorsLive Twitter account.

    Related roundup: Apple Watch , Tag: Apple event

    HBO and Apple in Talks for $15/Month Apple TV Streaming Service Launching in April

    HBO is in talks with Apple over a partnership that would see its upcoming standalone web-only subscription television package available on the Apple TV, reports Michael Learmonth, writing for International Business Times. CNBC has also confirmed that Apple and HBO are in talks in the video tweet posted below.


    Apple could potentially be one of HBO's launch partners for its web-only service, which may be called "HBO Now." News of HBO's web-based subscription service first surfaced in October of 2014, after HBO CEO Richard Plepler shared the company's plans at an investor presentation.

    The service, aimed at cable cutters, will allow users to access HBO content without a cable subscription for a set monthly fee. With the launch of a cable-free subscription service, HBO will become the first major premium content provider to cease limiting its television and movie offerings to cable subscribers.

    According to Learmonth, HBO's web-only subscription will launch in April alongside the premiere of the fifth season of Game of Thrones, which takes place on April 12. The service is said to cost $15 per month, which is roughly how much it costs to subscribe to HBO through a cable company. A partnership with Apple would allow the service to be watched on the Apple TV, much like the existing version of HBO's service, HBO Go. HBO Go is available to all existing HBO subscribers on a variety of devices like the iPad and Apple TV, but it requires an HBO subscription through a cable or satellite provider.

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    Cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast have long been reluctant to offer piecemeal pricing and companies like HBO have previously avoided moving away from traditional cable models in order to preserve the status quo and avoid upsetting existing revenue streams.

    The introduction of HBO's service will be a major victory for cord cutters, and it could encourage other content providers to introduce similar offerings. Content providers' reluctance to shift away from traditional cable pricing models has been one of the major factors that's prevented Apple from establishing deals for its own service in the past.

    Related roundup: Apple TV , Tags: cnbc.com, ibtimes.com, HBO