Apple Seeds Third Beta of watchOS 4.3 to Developers

Apple today seeded the third beta of an upcoming watchOS 4.3 update to developers, two weeks after seeding the second beta and two days after releasing watchOS 4.2.3, a minor update focusing on bug fixes.

Once the proper configuration profile has been installed from the Apple Developer Center, the new watchOS beta can be downloaded through the dedicated Apple Watch app on the iPhone by going to General --> Software update.


To install the update, the Apple Watch needs to have at least 50 percent battery, it has to be placed on the charger, and it needs to be in range of the iPhone it's paired to.

watchOS 4.3 introduces support for Nightstand mode in portrait orientation, a feature that was previously only available when the watch was placed in landscape orientation. There's also a new charging animation when the Apple Watch is placed on the charger, and your Activity data is now displayed on the Siri watch face.

In watchOS 4.3 beta 3, the Apple Watch's battery complication more accurately reports battery life. In the release notes, Apple says the battery complication "no longer reports remaining battery percentage in increments of 5."

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The watchOS 4.3 update brings the return of a much-desired feature that allows music playing on the iPhone to be controlled using the Music app on the Apple Watch. In prior versions of watchOS, starting with watchOS 4, the Music app could only be used to control music playing on the watch itself. With tvOS 11.3 installed, there's also an option to control music playing on the Apple TV with the watch.

Apple plans to release watchOS 4.3 to the public in the spring, and until then, it will be limited to developers. Apple offers public betas of tvOS, iOS, and macOS, but watchOS betas are not available for public beta testers.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 4
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)

Dish Reports Sling TV Has Grown to 2.2M Subscribers as of the End of 2017

Dish Network today reported official numbers for its streaming television service Sling TV, which marks the first time that the company disclosed the service's subscriber numbers separately from its traditional pay TV numbers. According to Dish, Sling TV had 2.212 million subscribers as of the end of 2017, aligning with previous estimates that the service had well over 2 million subscribers (via TechCrunch).

Sling TV was one of the first streaming TV bundles to launch, so its continued high ranking in regards to subscriber numbers makes sense. Following Sling TV remain services like DirecTV Now (1 million subscribers as of December 2017), PlayStation Vue (455,000 as of December 2017), Hulu with Live TV (450,000 as of January 2018), and YouTube TV (300,000 as of January 2018). Sling TV and PlayStation Vue launched in 2015, DirecTV Now launched in 2016, and Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV each debuted in 2017.


Dish further detailed Sling TV's subscriber growth in its 10-K filing this week, stating the service had 623,000 subscribers in its first year on the market, then grew to 1.5 million by 2016, and 2.21 million by the end of 2017. More users switching from traditional TV bundles to streaming services are believed to be impacting Dish's revenue, however, with its total 2017 revenue at $14.39 billion, down year-over-year from $15.21 billion. In total, 1.1 million users were reported as having dropped Dish's pay TV bundles in 2017.

Like other streaming TV services, Sling TV allows users to choose between various tiers, with prices that start at $20/month for a small amount of channels and then increase in price as more channels are added. Sling TV is one of the cheapest services to enter with this price, while rivals like YouTube TV cost $35/month, and Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue start at $39.99/month. DirecTV Now also starts at $35/month, and has an ongoing deal where new subscribers can pay for three months of service at $105 and get a 32GB Apple TV 4K for free.

Although Sling TV has been out for longer and subsequently has more robust features, some of the newer services are still in beta and testing updates that have yet to launch to a wide audience. These include DirecTV Now's beta test of a Cloud DVR, which is now said to be coming this spring, as well as Hulu's decision to add a more traditional channel guide for its users. Earlier in February, YouTube TV launched an app for Apple TV after delaying the initial launch from 2017.

Facebook Messenger Streamlines Controls for Creating Group Video and Audio Chats

In December 2016, Facebook Messenger rolled out the ability for users to create group video chats with up to six members participating, and today the company has further streamlined the feature. Before today's update, if users were already in a one-on-one video or audio call they had to hang up, start a new conversation, and choose every member to invite to the new group chat.


Now, while in a video chat or voice call, there will be a new "add person" icon so that users can simply scrub through a list of their Facebook Messenger friends, tap who to invite, and wait for them to join -- all without leaving the original call.
With the ability to add more people seamlessly to your calls, you can continue your conversation in the moment, just like if you were together in real life. Never again worry about skipping a beat when sharing your BFF’s spontaneous karaoke performance on Messenger. Sharing moments like these is now a few quick taps away.
Otherwise, the feature remains the same with six total users able to video chat at once and various filters and effects still supported. After the call ends, Facebook Messenger also creates a group chat automatically in each user's inbox, so that members can keep texting one another.


Facebook's refinement to group video chats in Messenger comes as a similar feature has yet to debut in Apple's FaceTime app. The long-requested, multi-person FaceTime call update is now being rumored for a potential launch within iOS 12 later this year, but Bloomberg has stated that it may not be ready for a debut in 2018.

If group video calls don't make it into iOS 12, other improvements to FaceTime are rumored to be coming in the update this fall. Mainly, Apple is planning to integrate Animoji into FaceTime, allowing people to use the animated emoji characters when making a video call.

For Facebook, the company said that the new Messenger update will be available today on iOS and Android devices worldwide.

Things 3.4 Update Introduces URL Linking Support, App Handover and Automation Features

Popular to-do app Things reached version 3.4 today and gained a trio of additional features made possible by the introduction of all-new Things URL links. Basically, the app now supports a special kind of link that starts with "things:" and enables users to send a variety of commands to the app.

For example, it's now possible to link to your Today list, as well as the contents of your Upcoming and Logbook lists, from anywhere, such as in another app or within Things itself. In addition, links can be tied to specific to-dos within lists.

On Mac, links can be generated within Things by right-clicking on any to-do or list in the sidebar and selecting Share -> Copy Link. On iOS, the same option can be found in the Share menu, accessed via the chevron button in the upper right corner of a list. Some examples of the new links users can generate include:
Apart from simple navigation, more advanced users can use Things URLs to execute powerful commands from outside of the app – to create to-dos, show tag filters, perform searches, and so on – while other apps will soon be able to use the URLs to send data to Things. For example, MindNode now lets users brainstorm on an empty canvas and then "hand it over" to Things as a project via a link.

The popular Drafts app is planning support for Things URL links in its next version, and with the publication of Things' open source Swift library, more are likely to follow suit.

Things 3.4 can be downloaded from the Mac App Store for $49.99 and from the iOS App Store. The iPad version is priced at $19.99 [Direct Link] while the iPhone version (which includes Apple watch support) is priced at $9.99. [Direct Link] A 15-day trial of Things for Mac is available on the Cultured Code website.

Fire Emblem Heroes Marked as Nintendo and DeNA's 'Most Successful Mobile Game to Date'

It's been just over one year since Fire Emblem Heroes launched on the iOS App Store in the United States, Japan, and over 30 other countries, and this week new data researched by Sensor Tower has titled the app as Nintendo and DeNA's "most successful mobile game to date." Over the course of its first year, Fire Emblem Heroes earned an estimated $295 million in player spending worldwide, helped by the game's free-to-play structure that includes in-app purchases of various items like game-boosting "Orbs."

The other Nintendo/DeNA apps include the soon-to-be-discontinued Miitomo, Super Mario Run, and the most recent game, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which has earned about $20 million across the iOS App Store and Google Play Store in the two months since release. In comparison, Fire Emblem Heroes earned $86 million in its first two months after launch, following an initial slow start in the first few days.

Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes is the Kyoto-based gaming giant’s most successful mobile game to date, earning an estimated $295 million in worldwide player spend during its first year of availability, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data.

With players worldwide continuing to spend more than $10 million per month on “luck of the draw” character draws, Fire Emblem Heroes is a clearly a financial success for Nintendo and DeNA. The question now is whether the publisher-developer duo can progress to the next echelon of mobile gaming revenue with future titles, including the recently announced Mario Kart Tour.
In terms of worldwide mobile game revenue, Sensor Tower reported that Fire Emblem Heroes ranked at No. 34 in January on the iOS App Store, while Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp sat at No. 190. Furthermore, Fire Emblem Heroes is said to have been successful both in the U.S. and Japan, with 30 percent of the game's first year revenue coming from the former country and 60 percent from the latter. For Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, 13 percent of its revenue so far has been made in the U.S., and more than 82 percent comes from Japan.

Although the games support different payment structures, Sensor Tower compared Fire Emblem Heroes with Super Mario Run, which earned $56 million across its first year in worldwide revenue. Super Mario Run was a bigger hit initially as many players downloaded the game in the first few weeks of launch -- earning $8.4 million on its first day -- but slacked off in subsequent months. The game is free-to-download so that users can play the first few levels, but a $9.99 payment is required to unlock everything.

Chart via Sensor Tower

During Nintendo's quarterly earnings report last fall, the company admitted that Super Mario Run had "not yet reached an acceptable profit point" ten months after launch, while Fire Emblem Heroes was on track to meet its business and profit objectives. For Super Mario Run, the company stated that it had "learned a lot in terms of game development and deployment," which it will "take advantage of moving forward." Nintendo is also reportedly looking for new mobile developers to partner with in addition to DeNA.

While Fire Emblem Heroes has been successful for Nintendo and DeNA, it's still lagging behind the breakout hits on the iOS App Store, like Clash Royale ($967 million in first year worldwide revenue) and Niantic's Pokémon Go ($1.1 billion). Nintendo's next mobile game Mario Kart Tour will be free-to-start, which is terminology that Nintendo has used to describe the in-app purchase model of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Previous rumors have also stated the company could be working on a smartphone game set in The Legend of Zelda universe.

'Alto's Odyssey' Launches One Day Early on iOS and tvOS App Stores

Earlier in February, developer Snowman announced that "Alto's Odyssey" would be launching on iOS and tvOS Thursday, February 22, but the game has appeared one day early on both App Stores and is available to download right now for $4.99 [Direct Link] (via TouchArcade). Alto's Odyssey isn't featured yet on the United States App Store, but a search for it on both iOS and tvOS should surface the correct game.

Originally set to debut in summer 2017, Alto's Odyssey is the sequel to the original 2015 game "Alto's Adventure" and keeps the endless runner gameplay that the original was known for while introducing new features, controls, and a new desert location. Both games feature a "one-touch trick system" that players use to control the main character to chain together combos and complete various goals.


If anyone has yet to play the original, Snowman said that Alto's Odyssey is a standalone experience and doesn't require knowledge of Alto's Adventure. Other features of Alto's Odyssey include:
- Explore Biomes. From the dunes, to the canyons, to the temples, explore a rich and diverse landscape, with each area boasting unique visuals and gameplay.
- Newfound heights. Discover secrets in the sky with hot-air balloons, moving grind rails, and wall riding.
- Meet Alto and friends. Unlock six unique characters, each with their own attributes and abilities.
- Zen Mode. Complete with its own serene soundtrack, this relaxing mode distills Odyssey down to its purest elements: no scores, no coins, and no power-ups. Just you and the endless desert.
- Photo Mode. From the pause screen, get behind the lens and take stunning photos of your trip through the desert. Pinch, swipe, pan and zoom to frame the ideal shot, and share them with friends and family.
Alto's Odyssey is a universal app with iCloud support, so users can play the game on iPhone or iPad and have their progress synced across devices, even Apple TV. The game also supports a "purchase once, play forever" promise on its App Store description, and Snowman states that it has no ads or in-app purchases anywhere within the game. Those interested can purchase Alto's Odyssey for $4.99 starting today [Direct Link].

Apple in Talks to Buy Key Battery Ingredient Cobalt Directly From Miners

Apple is in talks to purchase long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners to ensure a steady supply of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage, according to a report by Bloomberg today.

The companies that make batteries for Apple's iPads and iPhones depend heavily on the availability of cobalt, but Apple is said to have taken the issue into its own hands, prompted by fears that the electric vehicle boom could see supply of the raw material dwindle.

Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer, according to one of the people, declining to be named as the discussions are confidential. Apple's first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were over a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.
About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones that use lithium-ion batteries, according to Bloomberg. Smartphones are said to use around eight grams of refined cobalt, but the battery for an electric car requires over 1,000 times more. That means Apple will be in fierce competition with carmakers like BMW and Volkswagen as well as battery producers like Samsung as the firms seek to secure supplies into the future.

With two thirds of all supplies sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a history of political instability and child labor, the price of cobalt has more than tripled in the past 18 months and now trades more than $80,000 a metric ton.

In recent years, Apple has responded to criticism from human rights groups for its metal supply chain, which in the past has bought cobalt from mines that use child labor. Last year the tech giant published a list of companies that supply the cobalt used in its batteries for the first time, and said it would not allow cobalt from smaller Congo mines into its supply chain unless they could prove that "appropriate protections" to safeguard against child labor were in place.

Apple Shares Three New iPhone Photography Tutorials

Apple this afternoon updated its YouTube channel with three new tutorials designed to walk people through using various photography features on the iPhone.

The videos cover shooting an overhead photo on iPhone using the level feature, shooting in black and white, and adjusting slo-mo timing on iPhone to change the slow motion effect of a previously captured slo-mo video.




Each video is approximately 30 seconds in length and shows step-by-step instructions on using each feature, with the actual recording done on an iPhone's display to effectively demonstrate each action.

Apple regularly shares iPhone photography tutorials in this ongoing tutorial video series to provide users with tips and tricks on using various Photos and Camera features. Like many of Apple's tutorial videos, these new tutorials are aimed at people who aren't particularly familiar with the feature set of the iPhone.

Apple does, however, sometimes highlight features that even some seasoned users might not be aware of or remember, so these videos are often worth the 30 seconds it takes to watch them.

Apple Seeds Third Beta of tvOS 11.3 to Developers

Apple today seeded the third beta of an upcoming tvOS 11.3 update to developers for testing purposes, two weeks after seeding the second beta and just a day after releasing the tvOS 11.2.6 update.

Designed for the fourth and fifth-generation Apple TV models, the tvOS 11.3 developer beta can be downloaded onto the Apple TV via a profile that's installed using Xcode and Apple Configurator.


The tvOS 11.3 update introduces support for AirPlay 2, allowing the Apple TV to be added to the Home app as part of a HomeKit setup.

With AirPlay 2, you can play the same song on multiple Apple TVs in different rooms, and when AirPlay 2 officially launches, that functionality will extend to other AirPlay 2 devices like HomePod and AirPlay 2 compatible speakers.

Other new features in tvOS 11.3 include enhancements to Match Content support, automatic frame rate switching on the fourth-generation Apple TV (a feature that was added to Apple TV 4K in a past tvOS update), and automatic mode switching for AirPlay video sessions.

Related Roundup: Apple TV
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Buy Now)

Snapchat Updating Friends and Discover Pages With 'Tabs' for Easier Navigation, Introduces GIPHY Support

Over the past few weeks Snapchat has been rolling out a major user interface overhaul to more and more users on its iOS and Android apps. Most users have responded negatively to the app redesign, which separates friends from brands so that users can focus on people they actually know, but condenses stories and text chats into one page.

Today, Snap Inc. announced an additional update to Friends and Discovery pages that should help make it easier for users to navigate between stories and chats.

On the Friends section of Snapchat, users will be able to cycle through tabs related to active stories, group chats, and "all" content. The Discovery section's tabs will focus on separating publishers, creators, and the community. Snapchat said tabs will be launching fairly soon on iOS, and Android will follow in the coming weeks.

In addition to tabs, today Snapchat users will have many more GIF sticker options to choose from thanks to full support from GIPHY. Snapchat has partnered with GIPHY and greatly expanded its library of GIF stickers that users can discover and place into a story. Previously, the only GIF stickers available in Snapchat were in-house designed stickers that launched late in 2017.


Users can tap the sticker icon, type in the search field, and a new GIPHY section in results will showcase GIF stickers related to the search query. Like other stickers, GIF stickers can be scaled, rotated, pinned to a video story, and more than one can be added to a snap. Snapchat's GIPHY support launches one month after Instagram announced a similar wide-scale support for GIF stickers in its own version of stories.

Apple TV 4K With 64GB is Back in Stock After Extended Shipping Delays

Apple TV 4K models with 64GB of storage are finally back in stock following months of shipping delays for the larger capacity model.


64GB configurations are currently estimated for delivery in 1-2 days in the United States and several other countries on Apple's online store, while same-day pickup is now available at dozens of Apple's retail stores.

Back in November, shipping estimates for the 64GB model fell back to 4-5 weeks. The estimate began to shrink gradually in January and has now improved enough for next-day delivery to be a possibility again as of this week.

Apple never provided a reason for the shipping delays, but it may have been due to a recent shortage in the NAND flash storage market.

Apple TV 4K was released last September in 32GB and 64GB sizes for $179 and $199 respectively in the United States. Apple recently began selling refurbished units for $30 off in the United States, a roughly 15 percent discount.

Related Roundup: Apple TV
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Buy Now)

Spotify Job Listings Say Company 'On Its Way' to Launch of First Physical Products, Hinting at HomePod Rival

Following an ad for a senior product manager last spring that hinted at Spotify's interest in creating a hardware product, this week a collection of new job listings further suggest the launch of a physical Spotify product will be coming in the future (via Music Ally). The listings call for an Operations Manager: Hardware Product, Senior Product Manager: Hardware Production, and Project Manager: Hardware Production and Engineering.

According to the page for the Operations Manager, Spotify is "on its way" to developing and launching its "first physical products," potentially hinting at an upcoming rival device to Apple's HomePod. Although the job listing pages are not full confirmations of Spotify's entry into the smart speaker market, in terms of physical hardware a speaker of some kind does make sense for the music streaming company. The "connected hardware" could also refer to devices like wireless headphones and other music-based products.


A Spotify speaker would enter the market as a competitor to products like Apple's HomePod, which as of now can play Spotify but lacks deep integration with the service and instead favors Apple Music. Spotify's speaker could flip that and focus on the company's own streaming customers, of which there is a large market of more than 140 million subscribers worldwide who could be interested in a Spotify-focused speaker.

The person who gets hired for the position will help the company in setting up an operational organization for manufacturing, and build up the supply chain, sales, and marketing, all while working out of the company's office in Stockholm. All three job listings state that the employee's work will "impact the way the world experiences music."
Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products and setting up an operational organisation for manufacturing, supply chain, sales & marketing.

We are looking for a passionate and seasoned Operations Manager that will contribute in the creation of innovative Spotify experiences via connected hardware. You will define and manage Distribution, Supply, Logistics, fulfillment and Customer Service for Hardware Products. You will also work with partners to deliver the optimal Spotify experience to millions of users. Above all, your work will impact the way the world experiences music.
As the rivalry between Apple Music and Spotify has grown since the former service's mid-2015 launch, Apple Music is now forecasted to overtake Spotify in paid subscriber numbers in the United States as soon as this summer. That prediction came from The Wall Street Journal earlier in the month, in a report that stated Apple Music's monthly growth rates have been exceeding Spotify's by about three percentage points. In terms of worldwide numbers, Spotify still has about 70 million paid subscribers compared to Apple Music's 36 million.

Tag: Spotify