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Apple Music First Impressions: Convenient All-in-One Experience With Overwhelming Design

As Apple Music gears up to launch in the next few hours this morning -- 9 AM Pacific to be exact, following iOS 8.4 at around 8 AM Pacific -- a few publications have posted some detailed first impressions of the the music streaming service. Getting to mess around with the app for the first time, Mashable, Re/code, The Loop and Rolling Stone came away with largely positive reactions to Apple's first foray into the music streaming game, although the large consensus hanging over it all was a tentative negativity regarding the app's overwhelming amount of content and the somewhat confusing UI that is used to navigate it all.

First off, Mashable noted the big positive of the Apple Music service: for those baked into the Apple ecosystem it offers one library, combining purchases from iTunes with the songs users will listen to in Apple Music for one uniform experience. The site was also one of the few to enjoy Apple Music's UI, calling it, "more polished and finished than the old music app." Its biggest takeaway, however, was the "For You" section.

apple music for you
It's hard for me to over-stress how much I like For You. From the very beginning, the recommendations in playlists and albums that the app showed me were dead-on accurate, reflecting my various musical interests.

The idea behind "For You" is to help make it easy to find good music to listen to. Tapping on an album or playlist will play it instantly. You can then either add it to your library, keep it playing in the background, add a track to another playlist or just cycle through. The DNA of this experience really is what we saw with Beats Music last year, but now it's more refined and feels more fully realized.
Re/code mentioned three big positives for the new streaming service: the slick combination of old iTunes songs with new Apple Music songs, surprisingly accurate and enjoyable song curation, and the $15 per month family plan. The biggest issue however tied into one of the app's positives, with the wealth of content and exploration somewhat kneecapped by an overly "confusing" user interface experience, especially within the "New" tab, which "could be a streaming app all by itself."
I set out to gather some initial impressions of how it feels to use the product. And to answer the question: Would I pay $10 a month — $120 a year — to use it? My answer is a tentative yes, with some caveats. Apple has built a handsome, robust app and service that goes well beyond just offering a huge catalog of music by providing many ways to discover and group music for a very wide range of tastes and moods.

But it’s also uncharacteristically complicated by Apple standards, with everything from a global terrestrial radio station to numerous suggested playlists for different purposes in different places. And the company offers very little guidance on how to navigate its many features. It will take time to learn it. And that’s not something you’re going to want to do if all you’re looking for is to lean back and listen.
Similar to Re/code and Mashable, Rolling Stone was impressed by the "Netflix-style hyper customization" of the "For You" tab that will great every user when first entering Apple Music for the first time. Although Beats 1 Radio had not yet launched when the site had hands-on with the service, they got to preview a few artist-focused shows, including St. Vincent's "Mixtape Delivery Service," which saw the alternative musician reading notes from fans and spending the hour dedicating personalized songs to each one.

Rolling Stone also detailed Apple Music's "Connect" platform a bit more than the others, noting that even though a few artists had Connect available to them in the pre-launch demo phase, the Twitter-like service "looked pretty quiet." The biggest issue, however, was the possibility of fan interaction amongst one another within Connect, and the fact that the only designated place for it to occur was within the comments of each individual post.
Moreover, the only place where fans can interact is the comments section of each post, cutting out a major part of what Apple hopes will be a new music ecosystem: fandom. While it's possible fans would share music individually – with Apple Music's many options to post to text, email, Twitter and Facebook – the absence of fans' voices on "Connect" makes it more like a supplement to a social network than an exciting music-discovery platform. But only time will tell if it catches on. This is one place where Spotify, with its ability to follow and make playlists your friends, has a leg up.

With its vast selection of music and smartly curated playlists and radio, Apple Music is robust enough to compete with, and possibly supplant, Spotify and Pandora as the go-to service for music fans. At the same time, users will need to play around with it a bit and dig to move past some of the less immediately intuitive facets (i.e., just how deep the "New" tab goes) for it to hook them.
The Loop went into detail regarding the "My Music" section of Apple Music, noting that between the tab's two sections -- Library and Playlists -- all of a user's old iTunes music downloaded or in the cloud can be found there. Users will be able to add certain playlists to My Music so it can appear front-and-center in the tab without having to go through multiple pages, and entire playlists will be able to be made to listen to offline. Besides a finicky rating system for Beats 1, The Loop largely enjoyed Apple Music in the end.
I’m damned impressed. Apple Music is a quality service, with the right mix of human curation and algorithms to help users figure out exactly what they want to hear. I can only imagine that the service will only get better from here. The more I use it, like/dislike songs, the better it will know me.

I was interacting with Apple Music the entire time I was writing this and the radio station I started listening to improved quite a bit in those hours. I’m not skipping songs, instead I have a steady diet of Slash, Godsmack, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica. It’s hard to beat that.
Everyone will be able to test out Apple Music for themselves soon enough, with the official launch of the updated music app in just a few hours at 9 AM Pacific. Those interested should remember to first download the new iOS 8.4 update an hour before in preparation for the streaming music service's debut.

Apple Retail Announces 2015 Interactive Summer Camps for Kids

Apple has opened registration for its annual Apple Camp three-day workshops where kids aged 8 to 12 can visit a retail store and learn how to make movies or create interactive books using software such as GarageBand, iBooks Author and iMovie on iPad and Mac. This year's two free workshops are called "Stories in Motion with iMovie" and "Interactive Storytelling with iBooks."

Apple Camp Retail 2015
Apple's summer workshops will be hosted between 11 AM and 12:30 PM local time, on various dates from July 20 to August 7, in the United States, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Parents are recommended to sign up early since space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Stories in Motion with iMovie" teaches kids how to create their own movies, ranging from storyboarding ideas and shooting video to creating an original soundtrack in GarageBand on an iPad and editing in iMovie on a Mac. "Interactive Storytelling with iBooks" shows kids how to create their own interactive books by drawing illustrations on an iPad and adding sound effects and Multi-Touch features using iBooks Author.

Apple notes that children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian for the duration of each workshop.

AppleCare for Mac Now Covers Batteries Retaining Less Than 80% Capacity

Just a few days after updating the terms of its AppleCare+ Protection Plan for iPhone, iPad, iPod and Apple Watch to cover batteries that retain less than 80% of their original capacity within the extended warranty period, Apple has extended the same policy to the AppleCare Protection Plan for the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

AppleCare MacBook
Apple previously only replaced defective batteries under the old terms of the AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac, but a support page updated today now outlines that the company will also replace a MacBook's battery at no charge if it retains less than 80% of its original capacity. If the notebook is not covered by AppleCare, replacing the battery requires paying an out-of-warranty service charge ranging between $129 and $199.

The new battery terms of the AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac:
"Your Apple One Year Limited Warranty or AppleCare Protection Plan includes replacement coverage for a defective battery. If you purchased an AppleCare Protection Plan for your Mac notebook with a non-removable battery, Apple will replace the notebook battery at no charge if it retains less than 80 percent of its original capacity. If you do not have coverage, you can have the battery replaced for a fee."
The old battery terms of the AppleCare Protection Plan for Mac:
"Your one-year warranty includes replacement coverage for a defective battery. You can extend your replacement coverage for a defective battery to three years from the date of your notebook purchase with the AppleCare Protection Plan. However, the AppleCare Protection Plan for notebook computers does not cover batteries that have stopped working or are exhibiting diminished capacity due to normal use except when it is the result of a manufacturing defect."
MacBook notebooks with non-removable batteries:

  • MacBook (13-inch, Late 2009) and later
  • All MacBook Airs
  • All MacBook Pros with Retina display
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2009) and later; MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2009) and later

    AppleCare for Mac extends the notebook's warranty coverage and telephone technical support to three years from the original date of purchase. Without an AppleCare Protection Plan, Mac customers are covered by a limited one-year warranty and 90 days of complimentary phone support. AppleCare for Mac costs between $249 and $349 depending on the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro model.

    MacBook batteries are designed to retain up to 80% of their original capacity at 1000 complete charge cycles, similar to the iPad and Apple Watch.

    Apple retail staff have been informed of the new policy which is effective immediately.

  • Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic' Also Available Exclusively on Apple Music

    One of the ways Apple will draw customers to Apple Music is through exclusive content that's unavailable on other music services. Pharrell will release his new single "Freedom" exclusively on the platform, Taylor Swift has already promised to make her 1989 album available on Apple Music, and now Apple has confirmed that Dr. Dre's album The Chronic will also make its streaming music debut on the service.

    Released in 1992, The Chronic has never before been made available on any streaming music service, including the hip hop star's own Beats Music service.

    thechronic
    As outlined by Rolling Stone, the site that first reported the news, the album had been the subject of an ongoing legal battle between Dr. Dre and his former label Death Row Records, which may be the reason why it's been previously unavailable. Dre received full digital rights to The Chronic in 2011 and is free to release the album on Apple Music.

    Exclusive content will likely be an ongoing feature in Apple Music, with Apple working to secure deals with a number of artists. Ahead of Apple Music's debut, the company was rumored to be in talks with dozens of high-profile musical acts like Florence and the Machine and Taylor Swift.

    In addition to sharing exclusive songs and album releases on Apple Music, Apple is also hoping to engage artists and customers through its Apple Music Connect platform, a social network that lets artists share photos, videos, and other content with fans.

    The company's worldwide 24/7 live radio station, Beats 1 radio, will also feature one-of-a-kind content like interviews and music curated by celebrities. Eminem, a close friend of Dr. Dre, will be the first Beats 1 interviewee following tomorrow's launch of Apple Music and Beats 1, and Dr. Dre will host his own radio show on the station.

    Update 6:35 PM Pacific: The New York Times reports that AC/DC will also be streaming its collection through Apple Music, Spotify and Rdio.

    Apple Watch Sport's Display With Ion-X Glass Outperforms Sapphire Models in Bright Lighting

    Although there has been much comparison of the scratch-resistance and weight differences between the two Apple Watch display cover options -- sapphire crystal and Ion-X glass -- not much has been scientifically tested regarding each model's reflectiveness. A new report by DisplayMate out today, however, shows just how much lower reflectivity and higher contrast there is on the Apple Watch Sport's Ion-X glass compared to the higher-end Apple Watch models with sapphire.

    As DisplayMate points out, the two models have identical OLED displays internally, but thanks to the different outer coverings, the different models react uniquely in bright light situations. In summary, the site found that the Apple Watch with sapphire crystal display reflects 74 percent more ambient light than the Ion-X glass of the Sport model. The two displays behave almost identically in dark environments given the low levels of ambient light available for reflection.

    DisplayMate_Photo_28_800
    Photo comparing Ion-X glass (left) and sapphire crystal (right) taken at 2,000 lux, which equates to moderate outdoor lighting
    For the Apple Watch Sport with Ion-X Glass we measured the Screen Reflectance to be 4.7 percent, while for the Apple Watch with Sapphire we measured 8.2 percent Screen Reflectance, which is 74 percent higher than with Glass. Both values are about 0.6 percent higher than just pure sapphire and glass alone, indicating that Apple has done an excellent job in optically bonding both the glass and sapphire to the OLED display without an air gap.

    The 74 percent higher Reflectance of the Apple Watch with Sapphire means that its screen will reflect almost twice as much surrounding ambient light as the Apple Watch Sport with Glass. And it takes surprisingly little ambient light for that to make a significant visible difference…
    Starting in the dark at 0 lux, DisplayMate increased light levels in successive stages of testing to discover the contrast ratios of each screen under increasingly stressful lighting situations. With both displays set to their maximum brightness, at 500 lux ("mid-range indoor ambient lighting") the display contrast ratios had fallen from 100 to 64 for Ion-X and 38 for sapphire, illustrating the distinct visibility advantage for the cheaper model. Jumping to 2,000 lux ("moderate outdoor lighting in the shade or an overcast sky"), the ratios drop to 17 and 10 for Ion-X glass and sapphire, respectively.

    Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.16.08 AM
    Chart comparing various aspects of reflectivity between the two displays

    For a full-on sunlight measurement of 10,000 lux, the Ion-X glass display contrast ratio fell to 3 while the Sapphire Crystal came in at just 2. So, while the Sport's display proves to handle moderate outdoor sunlight much better than the sapphire display, both are significantly impacted by harsh, direct sunlight.

    Higher reflectivity and lower light transmittance were highlighted as challenges for Apple amid Apple's failed partnership with GT Advanced Technologies for sapphire production and rumors the iPhone 6 would include a sapphire display cover. Recent advancements in sapphire production technology may, however, overcome those difficulties, with future generations of products able to use sapphire that has better viewing characteristics than glass while retaining sapphire's advantages of high scratch resistance.

    Related roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 2

    Survey Suggests 'iPhone 6s' Could Outsell iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    While every new iPhone model released has gone on to outsell its predecessor, dating back to the iPhone 3G outselling the original iPhone, the overwhelming success of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus has created some skepticism about whether Apple will be able to continue that trend in the future.

    The 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have been popular among consumers because of their larger screens, a long-awaited hardware feature that was previously limited to Android-based smartphones and other devices. The new iPhones are also slimmer and feature faster A8 processors and improved iSight cameras.

    iPhone Comparison
    Nevertheless, a new survey from RBC Capital Markets suggests the so-called "iPhone 6s" could actually be more popular than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The research firm expects positive year-over-year growth in the December quarter, claiming that carrier contracts are ultimately the deciding factor in a customer's upgrade cycle.
    "While there has been concern regarding AAPL going ex-growth in Dec-Qtr, our survey work shows carrier contracts are the bigger driver for refresh cycles, implying 6s cycle should be positive given contract renewals and sustained expansion of 4G networking in China. We are raising our estimates ahead of Street expectations for June, FY15/FY16 but maintaining our OP rating and $150 target."
    RBC Capital Markets surveyed 6,000 individuals about their smartphone purchasing decisions and found that loyalty remains strong among Apple customers, meaning that the company should be able to increase iOS adoption and revenue going forward. However, the investment bank warns that iPad demand has not picked up and could further disappoint expectations in the June quarter.

    RBC Capital iPhone Upgrade Chart 2015
    50% of surveyees who plan to purchase a new smartphone will do so within 12 months

    Specifically, the research firm found that 83.4% of current iPhone customers intend on staying with Apple, while 64.2% of Samsung customers expressed their future commitment to the South Korean handset maker. It also found that about 50% of customers who plan on purchasing a new iPhone will do so in the next 12 months, with longer battery life the most requested improvement.

    Apple's next-generation iPhones will likely retain similar physical designs as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, including 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen sizes. The smartphones are also rumored to feature an A9 processor with 2GB of RAM, Force Touch, 7000 Series aluminum, improved 12-megapixel camera, a new rose gold color option, improved Touch ID recognition and more.

    Related roundups: iPhone 6, iPhone 6s (2015) , Tag: RBC Capital Markets

    Apple Released the iPhone Eight Years Ago Today

    Original iPhone 2GEight years ago today, the smartphone market changed forever. On June 29, 2007, Apple released the original iPhone with a sleek form factor and revolutionary multi-touch screen and significantly disrupted an industry then dominated by companies such as Nokia, BlackBerry, Sony and Motorola.

    The original iPhone was exclusive to AT&T in the United States before launching in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Portugal, Ireland and Austria in November 2007. The 8GB model initially cost $599 on a two-year contract until Apple dropped the price to $399 in September 2007, far more expensive than today's starting price of $199.

    The eighth anniversary of the original iPhone's release takes place just one day before the worldwide debut of Apple Music, another launch that could prove historic as Apple attempts to enter the crowded streaming music market alongside Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, YouTube and other players. Fittingly, many people will try Apple Music for the first time using an iPhone.


    Apple has since sold hundreds of millions of iPhones around the world and launched ten models in eight years, ranging from the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. In the second quarter, the iPhone accounted for nearly 70% of Apple's revenue alongside the iPad, Mac, iTunes and other products and services.

    Apple Music Coming to Sonos Home Audio Systems by End of 2015

    Popular Wi-Fi home audio system manufacturer Sonos has supported direct streaming of Beats Music since the music service's launch in early 2014, but the company has repeatedly stated it will not initially support Apple Music when that service launches this week. Apple Music senior director Ian Rogers confirmed late last week that Apple Music will be coming to Sonos "ASAP, but not at launch."

    sonos_beats
    Earlier today, Sonos confirmed to The Verge that it is working with Apple to bring Apple Music to Sonos systems by the end of the year. Apple joined Sonos in confirming the plans to BuzzFeed.
    “We’re working together to make Apple Music available on Sonos before the end of the year,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told BuzzFeed News.
    Apple Music launches this Tuesday, June 30 with the release of iOS 8.4 and a new developer seed of iOS 9. Apple's free Beats 1 streaming radio station is scheduled to go live at 9:00 AM Pacific, with the necessary software updates apparently arriving roughly an hour before that.

    iOS 8.4 Launching at 8 AM Pacific Tuesday, Beats 1 Goes Live at 9 AM [Updated]

    Former Beats Music CEO and current Apple Music senior director Ian Rogers made a brief blog post yesterday summarizing some of his background in music leading up to this week's debut of Apple Music while also revealing Apple's launch schedule for iOS 8.4 and the new Beats 1 radio station.


    According to Rogers, iOS 8.4 will go live at 8 AM Pacific this Tuesday, two hours earlier than Apple's usual iOS update release window. Beats 1 will kick off programming an hour later, offering users around the world a 24/7 streaming music station led by former BBC DJ Zane Lowe and featuring a mixture of interviews and music sets from DJs interspersed with programming blocks from celebrities such as Elton John, Dr. Dre, Pharrell, and Drake.
    Tuesday morning we’ll be unveiling the next chapter. Please make a note to upgrade to iOS 8.4 at 8am PT Tuesday, June 30th and listen to the first Beats 1 broadcast at 9am PT. Here’s a Facebook invite to make it easy for you to say yes, you’ll be there, and invite all your friends. See you there.
    Aside from Beats 1, which is free to all users signed in with an Apple ID, Apple Music also includes a paid streaming component priced at $9.99 per month for a single user or $14.99 for a family of up to six people. Subscribers will have streaming access to the full Apple Music catalog of over 30 million tracks, with Apple offering a three-month free trial to give users an extended opportunity to test out the new service.

    Update: In a series of responses on Twitter, Eddy Cue has confirmed Apple will be releasing a new seed of iOS 9 to enable Apple Music for users on that version, as well as Apple's plans to increase the current 25,000-track limit for iTunes Match (and thus Apple Music's scan/match/upload service) to 100,000 with the launch of iOS 9.

    Update 2: Rogers has removed mention of the specific timing for the launch from his blog post, but a Tweet by Rogers yesterday encouraging a user to upgrade at 8:00 AM ahead of Zane Lowe's kickoff of Beats 1 at 9:00 AM remains.

    Apple Starts Early Production on Next-Generation iPhones With Force Touch

    Apple is starting production on its next-generation iPhones, reports Bloomberg, and the new models are equipped with Force Touch capabilities. Force Touch, first introduced with the Apple Watch, is a feature that's able to distinguish between a light tap and a harder press, enabling a range of new gestures.

    The two new iPhones will retain the same 4.7 and 5.5-inch display sizes, with an exterior design that's largely unchanged. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested the addition of Force Touch could make the iPhone 0.2mm thicker, but it is unclear if that rumor is accurate.

    iphone6-stock-photo
    Apple Inc. has started early production of new iPhone models with a feature called Force Touch, which senses how hard users are pressing down on a screen, people with knowledge of the matter said.

    Its newest iPhones, in the same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch versions as the current iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices, will have a similar exterior design, the people said. Volume manufacturing is scheduled to ramp up as soon as next month, they said.
    Because the design of the new iPhones will remain the same, Bloomberg's sources believe final assembly will go smoothly, but caution that production volume could be impacted by the supply and yield of displays for the devices. Apple has been working to add Force Touch across its product lineup since unveiling the Apple Watch and has thus far incorporated the feature into the trackpads of the Retina MacBook and Retina MacBook Pro.

    Apple is expected to debut its next-generation "iPhone 6s" and "iPhone 6s Plus" in September. Other rumors about the device suggest it could include an improved camera, 7000 series aluminum, and a new rose gold color option.

    Related roundups: iPhone 6, iPhone 6s (2015) , Tag: bloomberg.com

    Hidden Features in iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan

    iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan have been available to developers for two weeks now, giving us time to discover all of the little features in both operating systems that weren't discussed during the keynote event. We've created two videos that highlight some of the small but neat additions to iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, which you can watch below.

    Apple's introduced a wide range of feature additions and minor tweaks in iOS 9 that make some very useful improvements to iOS. For example, there's now a Notification Center widget that displays the battery life of connected devices like the Apple Watch, and there's a search bar in the Settings app that lets you find a specific setting very quickly.

    A "Back to App" feature lets you swap between apps quickly when you click a notification or a link, and some keyboard changes on the iPad make editing documents a whole lot easier.


    OS X 10.11 El Capitan has fewer small feature additions, but there are some improvements worth pointing out. The famous rainbow wheel pointer or "beachball," which spins when a program is loading has brighter, more defined colors, and the cursor is now easier to find when waking a Mac from sleep. There's also a revamped Disk Utility window and a dedicated Find My Friends widget for the Notification Center.


    If you want to see an overview of all of the features in the new operating systems, make sure to check out our roundups: iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan. Our dedicated iOS 9 and El Capitan forums are also an excellent resource for learning more about the software we'll all be using in the fall.

    Related roundups: iOS 9, OS X El Capitan

    Apple Obtains Touch ID-Related Patents From Biometric Security Firm Privaris

    iPhone 6 Touch IDApple has been working to acquire the intellectual property assets of Charlottesville, Virginia-based biometric security firm Privaris, according to CNN. Privaris recently transferred 26 of its 31 patents to the iPhone maker, including 4 patents in December 2012 and dozens more in October 2014.

    The patents are primarily related to fingerprint and touchscreen technology that could lead to Touch ID improvements on future devices. Last February, well-informed KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo told investors that the next iPhone will have an improved Touch ID with reduced errors.
    "For example, one of Privaris' patents covers the ability to use a touchscreen and fingerprint reader at the same time. Another invention of Privaris' could allow you to open a door with your iPhone by scanning your fingerprint and holding your phone up to a reader, similar to how you pay for items with Apple Pay."
    While the transferred patents have fueled acquisition rumors, the Privaris website has not been updated since 2010 and seemingly none of the company's senior executives or other employees have updated their LinkedIn profiles with positions at Apple.

    Accordingly, it is more likely that Privaris has scaled down or went out of business and Apple has acquired the company's patent portfolio and other intellectual property. However, the possibility of an acquisition cannot be entirely ruled out.

    Privaris, which reportedly raised $29 million in funding, developed a lineup of PlusID personal biometric devices to access computers, networks, websites, software, VPNs, secured printers and online apps.

    The company has also offered several other products and services related to access control systems, fingerprint authentication, biometric computer security, biometric security software and access cards, all technologies that fall within the realm of Touch ID.

    Update: MacRumors has heard Privaris essentially shut down roughly five years ago, so this certainly appears to be a patent portfolio purchase rather than a full acquisition of Privaris by Apple.