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FTC Also Investigating Apple's Upcoming Music Streaming Service

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Apple's efforts to set up deals with record labels as it prepares to launch its new music streaming service, a rebranded version of Beats Music, according to Bloomberg. This would make the FTC the third government body to look into the new music service after the U. S. Department of Justice and European Commission.

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The FTC's investigators, still in the early stages, of their inquiry, are asking whether Apple’s efforts will change the way music labels work with other streaming services, for example curtailing ad-supported music and pushing more songs into paid tiers of service at higher rates, according to one of the people.
A couple days ago, a report emerged that Apple was utilizing its power within the music industry to push record labels to stop licensing freemium tiers offered by Spotify and other music services. The Cupertino company also reportedly offered to pay YouTube's licensing fee to Universal Music Group if the label stopped allowing its music on the website, which is a popular destination for music videos.

The FTC is speaking to multiple record labels about Apple's practices. However, music-industry executives told Bloomberg that Apple has made no such demands. Similarly, the Department of Justice is also interviewing high-ranking music executives about Apple's practices. The European Commission is doing the same, concerned that Apple will use its size to force record labels to stop supporting freemium music tiers.

Apple's Beats-based music streaming service will reportedly launch in June at WWDC, though the company is still finalizing several streaming deals. It will reportedly be deeply integrated into iTunes for Mac and the stock music app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch while apps will also be available for Apple TV and Android, and Apple is aiming to offer exclusive content in the hopes of drawing people from other services. Last month, the company seeded iOS 8.4 beta to developers with a redesigned Music app featuring a new MiniPlayer, a redesigned look for "Now Playing", and more.

Home Depot to Officially Support Apple Pay Following Retail System Upgrade

homedepotHome Depot plans to officially support Apple Pay in its home improvement stores following a retail system upgrade, reports Bloomberg. Though there's no timeline on when Apple Pay support will be introduced in Home Depot stores, a spokesperson said the payment service would be available after a revamp to the company's point-of-sale machines.

News of Home Depot's plans to support Apple Pay come following earlier reports suggesting the retailer was shutting off Apple Pay access in its stores. Home Depot has NFC-based terminals in its stores allowing for unofficial use of Apple Pay, but as of this morning, a few customers discovered they could no longer use Apple Pay at Home Depot.

Contacting customer support resulted in a message stating that while Apple Pay was not supported in Home Depot stores, PayPal was, hinting that Home Depot may be choosing to promote PayPal over Apple Pay, but as it turns out, that's not the case. According to Bloomberg, Home Depot's NFC checkout terminals have been disabled as the company works on upgrading its point-of-sale system.

Many Home Depot stores continue to support checkout through Apple Pay using NFC payment terminals at this time, but access may be shut off in the coming weeks until Apple Pay officially launches at the retail chain. Home Depot will likely support Apple Pay both in its retail stores and through its iOS app.

With 2,000 stores across the United States, Home Depot will be the largest retailer to offer Apple Pay.

Apple's Streaming Music Service and Revamped iTunes Radio Launching in Several Countries in Late June

iTunes-RadioWhile Apple is still working to get key deals in place for its upcoming streaming music service, the company remains committed to announcing the service at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), likely during the opening keynote on June 8, according to 9to5Mac.

Apple's streaming music service will reportedly launch alongside a revamped iTunes Radio in a "long list" of countries in late June as part of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2. New Apple TV and Mac apps that will integrate the service remain under development at Apple.

The redesigned Music app in iOS 8.4 beta, seeded to developers in April, will reportedly have different options and tabs geared towards Apple's streaming music service by time the software version reaches the public. Meanwhile, the all-new version of iTunes Radio will reportedly offer unlimited skipping as a paid option, and become available in additional countries beyond the United States and Australia.
"The beta version of iOS 8.4 in the hands of developers is only a taste of the new design, according to sources, and the different options and tabs across the application will be tweaked to better feature streaming music over music stored offline. Sources said earlier this year that the new Beats-based application will include porting of existing Beats accounts, curated playlists, and the ability to save tracks for offline listening. While Apple initially hoped to charge $8/month for the service, roadblocks from the record labels have reportedly pushed the price back to the existing $10/month."
The report also reveals a few details about iOS 9 "Monarch," also expected to be announced at WWDC in June. The next major version of the iPhone and iPad operating system is said to have a redesigned Siri interface that resembles the colorful design of Siri on Apple Watch, and will also contain several security improvements and bug fixes.

Related roundups: iOS 9, WWDC 2015 , Tags: Siri, iTunes Radio, Beats revamp

Apple Still Working to Finalize Streaming Music Deals Ahead of Rumored WWDC Launch

Just weeks ahead of the rumored debut of its newly revamped streaming music service, Apple is still working to get key deals completed. According to a new report from Billboard that cites music industry sources, Apple does not yet have the necessary licensing agreements that it needs to launch the service, leading to disagreements over whether it will be ready to go in June.
A June launch is still attainable. One source notes Apple has been able to quickly secure licensing deals in the past. "If any company can pull it off, they can," the source tells Billboard, adding that "labels are more likely to play ball with them" because of Apple's track record of generating revenue for rights holders.

Another major label source believes the Beats Music re-launch isn't coming soon. "June won't be the release date. The deals aren't done."
Rumors about several licensing issues have arisen over the past several months as Apple has worked to ink deals with record labels. Originally, Apple was said to be seeking an agreement that would let it offer its new music service for $7.99 per month, but it was forced to back down on that price point after record companies resisted going below $9.99.

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More recently, rumors have suggested Apple is pressuring music labels to cease offering licenses for the freemium tiers that Spotify and other services offer, as Apple does not plan to offer a freemium tier for its rebranded music service. These efforts have earned Apple government scrutiny, as the European Commission is now poking into Apple's agreements with music companies. U.S. Department of Justice officials are also said to be looking into Apple's music negotiations.

Apple is known for asking for highly favorable deals from media companies due to its influence and the sheer number of potential customers it commands, and it is unsurprising that the company has yet to finalize deals given some of the rumors about its demands. If deals are not completed in time, it's possible Apple will unveil the music service at its Worldwide Developers Conference, but release it at a later date.

Apple's upcoming music service is said to be positioned as a rebranding of its existing Beats Music service. To draw in customers and set its music service apart from the competition, Apple is aiming to offer a range of exclusive content. There are also plans to integrate the new music service deeply into iTunes, and it's likely it will be built into the newly revamped Music app introduced with iOS 8.4.

CBS Sports and USA NOW Channels Now Available on Apple TV

The Apple TV has gained two new channels today in CBS Sports and USA NOW, bringing on-demand sports, drama, comedy, sitcoms and more programming to the set-top box in the United States. The new channels should be appearing on the Apple TV for all users today as an over-the-air update, with CBS Sports offering free sports clips for all users worldwide and USA NOW requiring a U.S. cable subscription to access most content.

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CBS Sports channel for Apple TV

The new channels arrive less than six weeks before Apple is expected to announce its next-generation Apple TV alongside a full-fledged streaming TV service at WWDC in June. The new A8-based set-top box will reportedly feature both an App Store and Siri, in addition to a redesigned remote control with a touch pad and significantly higher internal storage than the current 8GB model.

Apple's much-rumored streaming TV service will consist of a lightweight package of about 25 channels for between $30 to $40 per month, anchored by networks such as ABC, CBS and Fox. The service will be available on several devices, including the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, with other potential channels in the lineup including Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, MTV, Comedy Central, FX and Nickelodeon.

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USA NOW channel for Apple TV

Apple has been steadily adding new channels to the Apple TV this year, including NBC Sports in late April, CNNGo and TED, Tastemade and Young Hollywood in March and Sports Illustrated's 120 SPORTS in January. HBO NOW, a subscription-based service that provides on-demand HBO content, also went live on Apple TV in early April for $14.99 per month with a free trial available.

Update 11:05 AM PT: Crave TV and Shomi are now available on Apple TV in Canada per Rene Ritchie, with the former requiring a Bell TV subscription and the latter needing a Rogers or Shaw subscription. French-German TV network Arte is also now available on Apple TV in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Luxembourg per iFun.de. Fox Sports is also available in Australia, while Hopster has been added in the UK.

Related roundup: Apple TV , Tags: USA NOW, CBS Sports

Third-Party Apple Watch Bands May Be Coming Soon Following Launch of New Guidelines

Apple today debuted a new developer site (via Macotakara) titled "Creating Bands for Apple Watch", which includes band design guidelines for third-party companies looking to make bands for the Apple Watch. The design guidelines include requirements for the bands to achieve Apple certification in the new Made for Apple Watch program, which is similar to the already established Made for iPhone program.

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Apple Watch bands are easily changed with simple release buttons and lugs that secure the band to the Apple Watch case. When creating your custom bands, refer to the band design guidelines and lug profile. Apple Watch lugs will be available soon through the Made for Apple Watch program.
Firstly, the bands must integrate with the two lugs that mate with the Apple Watch Band Interface. They also should not integrate magnetic chargers and the lug latch must never be jammed while in an extended position. Bands also cannot prevent a user's skin from maintaining direct contact with the Watch's heart rate sensors or general back area. The band themselves must also compensate for any potential shifting or dimensional changes in material.

Apple also has recommendations for the materials that lugs and lug latches should be made of, with the lugs being made out of a specific silicone, nylon or stainless steel while lug latches are recommended to be made out of either nylon or stainless steel. Other requirements for band materials include compliance with applicable environmental regulations in regions where bands are intended to be sold.

Finally, Apple has physical requirements for what the bands for Apple Watch are not allowed to do, which include not obstructing Apple Watch hardware items like the mic or speaker, the charging pad, the antenna, and the heart rate sensors. They also cannot extend beyond the sensor windows, cover the glass or interfere with the Digital Crown or Force Touch.

While the Apple Watch only launched a little over a week ago and many early adopters have yet to receive their new devices, interest in third-party bands has been growing, with some using parts from the Classic Buckle to make their own custom bands. The guidelines for the Made for Apple Watch program are now available, and it's likely the first official third-party bands could be seen in the coming months.

Remote for Next-Generation Apple TV to Include 'Touch Pad' for Scrolling

appletvremoteApple's next-generation Apple TV will include a new touch-based remote with a revamped design, reports The New York Times, citing sources with knowledge of Apple's plans. Described as being "slightly thicker" than the current version, the new Apple TV remote will gain a "touch pad" that will be used for scrolling, along with two physical buttons.

The touch pad will likely replace the circular click-wheel style control that's on the existing remote, giving users an easier way to scroll through content on the Apple TV. Currently, navigating through content on a channel like Netflix with the Apple TV remote requires users to click multiple times on the click wheel.

A touch-based control area on the remote would likely function similarly to the Apple Remote apps on the iPhone and the Apple Watch, allowing for swipe-based controls for scrolling through content available on the Apple TV. Using the Apple Watch or the iPhone to browse channels and make selections on the existing Apple TV is both quicker and easier than using the current physical remote.

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Apple's Remote app for the Apple Watch

Size wise, The New York Times' source says the new remote will be similar in design to the remote control for the Amazon Echo speaker system, which is approximately 0.6 inches thick. The current Apple TV remote is 0.2 inches thick and has not seen a redesign since the second-generation Apple TV initially debuted in 2010.

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Amazon Echo remote

Rumors have suggested that Apple's redesigned Apple TV could make an appearance in June, at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Along with today's rumor pointing towards a new design for the remote, previous rumors have indicated the device will include an A8 processor, Siri integration, a dedicated App Store, and expanded internal storage.

Apple is also rumored to be working on an accompanying Internet-based television service, which may see it providing between 20 and 30 channels at a price of $30 to $40 per month.

Related roundup: Apple TV

Apple Hires New General Contractor for Apple Campus 2, Sparking Delay Speculation

As construction on its "spaceship" campus in Cupertino continues, Apple has hired a new general contractor, sparking rumors questioning whether the new campus will be finished by the company's prospective 2016 completion date.

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Silicon Valley company Rudolph & Sletten Inc. will take on the buildout of the Campus 2's interior structure, a job that was previously thought to be going to DPR Construction Co. and Skanska USA, the two companies heading up the construction project.

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Most recent image of the ongoing construction of Apple Campus 2, from the City of Cupertino.
It's unclear why Rudolph & Sletten is being brought in and exactly what DPR/Skanska's involvement will be going forward. Two sources said the DPR-Skanska joint venture would still complete the core and shell -- or the basic structure -- of the circular building. It's also possible that DPR and Skanska never intended to do more than the core and shell.
Neither Apple nor the three companies involved in the construction of the main ring-shaped building would comment on the involvement of a new general contractor for the interior of the building, but sources in the local construction industry that spoke to the Silicon Valley Business Journal believe the new addition could potentially point towards delays.

Campus 2 delays could potentially end up causing the cost of constructing the massive structure to skyrocket beyond its current $5 billion estimation. Prior budgeting issues caused Apple to revise its Campus 2 plans, splitting construction into two phases to save money. Phase 1 includes the main Apple campus and several buildings like an auditorium and fitness center, while phase 2 focuses on the Tantau Development, a 600,000 square foot area housing research facilities. Plans for the second phase of construction were submitted to the city back in October of 2014.

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The Tantau development area

In Cupertino, the base structure for the main ring-shaped campus has been completed, and walls have been going up for the last several months. Construction is also continuing on an underground parking garage and several ancillary buildings

Apple's second campus will feature a massive 2.8 million square foot ring-shaped main building, an underground parking facility capable of accommodating 2,400 cars, a 100,000 square foot fitness center, and a 120,000 square foot auditorium. The entire campus will be outfitted with hundreds of trees for 80 percent green space, along with a central garden with outdoor dining areas.

Thus far, city officials have not received word of a potential delay from Apple, suggesting construction may still be on track. Apple plans to complete its new campus by the end of 2016.

GE to Create Intelligent LED Lightbulbs Compatible with Apple HomeKit

GE today announced plans to take advantage of Apple's HomeKit platform, creating intelligent, color-changing LED lightbulbs that will interface with iOS devices. GE's HomeKit-compatible LED lightbulbs will include GE's Align technology, which aims to improve sleep through controlling blue light output at critical times.

During the day, the Align technology is able to mimic daylight to suppress the production of melatonin for a more awake feeling, adding bright blue tones to white light, and at night, blue light is reduced to promote melatonin production and avoid disrupting circadian sleep rhythms.

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"As we continue to grow our infrastructure business by connecting our brilliant industrial machines to the Internet, it is important that consumers experience connected things in easy-to-use, everyday ways. Lighting is how many first experiment with the idea of a smart home, and our insights show that consumers want the ability to control lighting from anywhere, automate lighting and pair lighting with other devices--like sensors, thermostats and door locks," says Comstock. "We're excited to announce our support for HomeKit as it will bring a seamless, intuitive user experience using Siri and superior quality of light from America's most trusted lighting brand for more than a century."
HomeKit is Apple's home control platform that will allow Apple devices to control various connected smart home products like lightbulbs, garage doors, locks, fans, thermostats, power outlets, and more. Users will be able to give Siri commands to perform actions that will control physical objects, such as "shut off the lights" or "close the garage," with the Apple TV serving as a home automation hub.

Through HomeKit, the GE bulbs will integrate with other HomeKit-connected devices and will be able to be controlled by voice using Siri. Lightbulbs will be available for individual control and can also be organized into groups for room-wide lighting scenes.

GE's upcoming lighting project will be a direct competitor to the Philips hue line of lights, which also allow consumers to choose lighting colors based on mood and control lights with their iOS devices. Philips is also one of Apple's HomeKit partners and plans to have its hue lighting system integrate with HomeKit.

Apple's HomeKit hardware specifications were finalized in October of 2014, further paving the way for the first HomeKit devices to come to market. In January, Apple said it was "excited" about the growing number of partners bringing HomeKit products to market. Some of those upcoming products include the iDevices smart plug, Elgato's range of connected home devices, and the Schlage Sense smart lock.

We still don't know when HomeKit-enabled devices will be widely available for purchase, but GE says that its lightbulbs will be available later in 2015.

Tags: HomeKit, GE

Apple Urging Music Labels to Stop Licensing Free Songs on Spotify and YouTube

Apple has been leveraging its power within the music industry in an attempt to push music labels to stop licensing freemium tiers offered by Spotify and other streaming music services, according to The Verge. The company has also reportedly offered to pay YouTube's music licensing fee to Universal Music Group if the label stops allowing its songs on the website, a popular destination for music videos.

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The report claims that U.S. Department of Justice officials are looking into Apple's business practices in relation to its upcoming streaming music service, expected to be a rebranded version of Beats Music that will debut at WWDC next month. "DOJ officials have already interviewed high-ranking music industry executives about Apple’s business habits," the report claims.

Apple's much-rumored Beats streaming service would naturally be a more competitive alternative over two of its biggest rivals in Spotify and YouTube if it successfully convinces music labels to force streaming services to ditch their freemium tiers. Apple's service is expected to have lots of exclusive content, and only about one-quarter of Spotify's 60 million customers have paid subscriptions.

Apple faces a similar probe from the European Commission over concerns that it's persuading labels to abandon free, ad-supported services such as Spotify in Europe as well. Apple's own Beats streaming service will reportedly not offer a free tier, requiring customers to pay a recurring fee of around $9.99 per month, similar to paid tiers offered by Spotify, Rdio and Google Play Music.


Apple's Beats-based streaming music service will reportedly 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. Last month, the company seeded iOS 8.4 beta to developers with a redesigned Music app featuring a new MiniPlayer, a redesigned look for "Now Playing," global search capabilities, a streamlined design and more.

Samsung Debuts Apple-Like Design Video for Galaxy S6 Edge

Earlier today Samsung debuted a new video on its YouTube channel called "Designing Possible", detailing the design process of the brand new Galaxy S6 Edge (via iMore). However, the video bears a striking resemblance to Apple's video on how the company designed the gold Apple Watch Edition.


Both videos feature men with English accents talking about the design process of the companies' devices while showcasing the manufacturing processes. The two videos also share similar cinematography, with both of them including almost identical images of lined up components in a dark area as a light zooms over them. The intent for both ads also appears to be the same, making sure people understand the kind of thought and detail that goes into the design of these devices.


While both ads are similar in tone, intent and content, there are a few differences. Samsung's ad, for example, seems to be a little more focused on Samsung as a design company. Apple's ad, on the other hand, seems slightly more focused on the product. Additionally, Apple's Jony Ive speaks in the Apple ad while the voice in the Samsung ad sounds similar to British actor Richard Ayoade.

The ad does potentially signal a shift in Samsung's marketing strategy, which had largely focused on attacking Apple products and poking fun at its customers. The shift could be the result of Samsung devices losing key differentiators that the iPhone could not boast, like screen size, user-replaceable batteries and a waterproof design, with the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. While Samsung hasn't been accused of copying Apple's ads in recent years, the Korean company has been accused of copying Apple in other areas.

Tag: Samsung

iFixit Posts Apple Watch Repair Manuals for Battery, Screen and More

iFixit has released Apple Watch repair manuals for various components of the device, including the battery, screen, adhesive, and NFC antenna. The guides provide step-by-step instructions on how to replace the Apple Watch's OLED display and battery, alongside additional steps for repairing the adhesive and NFC antenna that can be damaged as a result of opening the casing.

iFixit Apple Watch Display Repair
The steps required to replace the OLED display and fused glass digitizer, in simplified terms, include separating the screen from the watch body with a sharp, curved knife and opening pick, prying and removing the internal battery, disconnecting the display data and digitizer cables, and removing the screen. The steps to replace the battery are nearly identical.

Replacing the Apple Watch's adhesive involves laying the backed adhesive tape down on the NFC antenna, around the edge of the case where the screen rests, using a plastic opening tool to reconnect the display data and digitizer cable connectors, reinstalling the metal bracket, pressing the battery back into its position, and pressing the casing down firmly on the new adhesive.

iFixit Apple Watch Adhesive Repair
While many of the tools used in the repair guides are available for purchase, iFixit has not yet stocked the necessary Apple Watch replacement parts needed to make these repairs. Given that the Apple Watch has only been available for one week, it could be some time before the website makes replacement batteries, screens, adhesive and NFC antennas available through it online store.

Related roundup: Apple Watch , Tag: iFixit