Music Discovery Just Got Easier with Apple Music’s ‘Browse’ Update

It’s been over 3 years since the introduction of Apple Music, and in that time, the look and feel has seen dramatic changes, as well as smaller updates. In the early days of the service, many of the most desired sections were relegated to small lists, redundant menus, or buried several taps deep into the UI.

Since the introduction, much has changed, but one section remained trapped between the old and new Apple Music experiences. Today, that changed. A server-side update last night, which is slowly rolling out to users around the world, brings the more curated, highly visual design to the apps “Browse” tab.

The emphasis of the update is on making it faster and easier to start exploring the latest or hottest music. Some of the update is geared toward simplified discovery, with a variety of sections for top songs, themed playlists, new music, and hot tracks.

The curation is another key feature to the updated browse section. Much like the curated experience of the “For You” section, “Browse” now also surfaces a larger collection of playlists and has rearranged some of the sections for more clear discovery.

When Apple Music was introduced in 2015, it was presented as a human curated steaming service, making music discovery better than the competitors. After a rocky start, the service really started to hit its stride with discovery in 2016, adding some personalization to the “For You” section.

Since then, Apple has quietly made occasional server-side updates to the platform, enhancing the look and feel or introducing new sections. Todays update to the Browse section is another example of Apple quietly working to improve the service for users.

With Apple’s ever prevalent push into services, it’s good to see them continuing to improve the experience of their existing products. The updates to the Browse section can be seen on iOS and macOS. We have not been able to confirm the changes on tvOS, but expect the updates will be visible there as well.

We’ll likely hear more about Apple Music on Monday, as Cook and company takes the stage of the Steve Jobs Theater to discuss their anticipated news and tv subscription services. It’s also likely that we’ll also see updates to the design and experience of the TV app, which most agree is in need to some attention.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Comcast Announces “Streaming TV Service” Ahead of Apple Event

Apple’s first event of the year is just a mere days away. With all the rumors and speculation surrounding the highly anticipated streaming video service, everyone’s favorite cable provider decided to hop in on the news cycle.

Comcast, today, announced their upcoming streaming TV service “Xfinity Flex.” The service, which is scheduled to officially launch on 26 March, is targeted at non-cable customers of Comcast/Xfinity. For $5/month, subscribers will get an Xfinity-branded set-top box (preloaded with Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and Prime Video), and the Xfinity X1 remote.

According to Comcast, there are a couple key selling points of Flex, aside from it’s low price tag. First is that it offers 4K streaming of available 4K content. Secondly is that users will have a centralized guide that can show them content from all of their streaming platforms, as well as from Comcast’s library of on-demand programming, and a selection of live streaming channels.

While Flex is an interesting concept, it’s nothing like the streaming set-top boxes we’ve grown used to with Apple TV, Roku, or Fire TV. There are no other streaming TV apps like SlingTV or YouTube TV, and there’s no App Store to add to the available content. Instead, the Flex streaming box is more like a traditional cable box without the cable snaking into the back.

It’s also worth noting that the $5/month fee is strictly for access to the Xfinity on-demand streaming catalog of 10,000+ shows and the rental of the Flex hardware. Subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and the rest will still be required to use those features.

The Flex hardware is also limited by the Xfinity router in your home, requiring the xFi Gateway to provide the service. This means Comcast customers with older routers or customer-owned equipment won’t be able to use the product. Customers of other internet providers are also excluded. Comcast has also confirmed that any streaming done on Flex is count toward your monthly data allotment.

If Comcast’s hope was to take on Apple TV and any kind of upcoming “Video” streaming service, they’ve sent the most rudimentary version into the ring. For $60/year (on top of your internet package), the product offers very little that can’t be done on offerings from nearly every streaming set-top box maker.

Apple is expected to launch their streaming TV subscription service on Monday. Rumors indicate the service may launch with a strong line-up of curated and original programming, as well as some key partnerships with other television networks and providers. Comcast’s service launches the following day, if Apple’s offering turns out to be a bust.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Rumor Has It AirPower Production Began Earlier This Year

It’s been 18 months since Apple first teased us with their take on wireless charging. The AirPower wireless charging mat, which promised to charge an iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods has since been one of the most elusive products in Apple’s history.

With today’s introduction of second-generation AirPods, complete with wireless charging case, it seems that the release of AirPower may finally be imminent. Back in September of 2017, Apple introduced the product, promising it in "early 2018."

Now that things seems to be lining up for the release, a report from the Wall Street Journal suggest the wireless charging mat was approved for production earlier this year. Assuming production started in the the past month or two, Apple would likely have sufficient supply built up to release the product as soon as this week.

Earlier reports suggested that Apple encountered numerous development challenges with the multi-coil wireless charging mat. If those rumors were true, and production has begun, it seems Apple has engineered themselves out of a tough spot.

Reports, going back to last fall, have suggested that AirPower was set to finally ship in the first quarter of 2019. Earlier this week, iOS developer, code spelunker, and 9to5mac contributor Guilherme Rambo spotted code changes in a beta release of iOS 12.2 that pointed to AirPower support.

If Apple keeps pace with their daily product releases to close out the week, we could finally see AirPower make its debut before their March 25 event. Updated iPod touch are also expected this spring, with reports indicating it could happen this week.

So far this week, Apple has updated the iPad Air, iPad mini, iMac, AirPods, and released the new spring collection of cases, covers, and watch bands. Another 2 days of releases could add to the already massive buzz around the Cupertino company leading into their subscription services event next Monday.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Updated iPod Touch Could Drop Tomorrow

This week has already been Christmas in March for Apple fans. The company has launched a new iPad Air, iPad mini, and iMac machines. According to MacRumors, the next product in the line-up to potentially see an update is the iPod touch.

According to rumors earlier this year, the refresh is expected to upgrade the internals of the iPod touch to a more modern processor. If the update follows suit with the iPad mini, we could see an A12 processor, as well as a bump in the minimum storage capacity.

The latest rumors don’t suggest any update in the design of the product, though an update in screen size and materials (something akin to the iPhone 8) could provide a more modern feel. It’s unlikely that the product would see the addition of FaceID or the iPhone X design, likely retaining the current “chin and forehead” bezels and home button

The current iPod touch was last updated in 2015 with an A8 processor and a non-TouchID home button. To remain modern enough to receive Apple’s iOS updates and support the company’s continued focus on security, the iPod touch is would need to move to an A10 processor and would likely gain TouchID.

The market for the iPod touch, in its current state, is quite small. Most applications are for kids, developers (as a testing device), and in enterprise and commerce applications (like many in-store payment systems). In a dwindling market or users, it’s not likely that Apple would put large amounts engineering or innovation into the product.

If the rumors are true, Apple will have all major hardware updates taken care of before their event next Monday. That would work to set the stage for a services-only event focused on both a subscription News and TV service. It’s also possible that Apple could surprise us with updated AirPods and AirPower later this week, offering us an jam-packed events worth of hardware without a hardware event.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Apple Watch Projected to Lead Wearable Growth

Wearables are the next frontier for technology, and Apple Watch appears to be leading the charge. Last fall, for example, IDC reported that Apple sold 4.7 million Apple Watches and claiming 17% of the wearable market. In their 5-year projections, IDC is now estimating that “WatchOS will account for 27.5% of all watches in 2023.”

The wearables report (including watches, wristbands, earwear, and clothing) suggests that the wearables market is expected to grow, on average, 9.7% annually through 2023. Some of that growth is expected to be in the increased adoption of smart assistants (like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa). According to Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers,

Though still in its infancy, the integration of these assistants with wearables opens up new use cases, from allowing these devices to tie into the smart home to making the devices more proactive at urging users to live healthier or more productive lives.

Also expected to drive the increase in wearables are the healthcare and enterprise markets. Apple Watch has already been attributed to improving people’s health and saving lives, so it’s no surprise that the product would continue to play a key role in digital health. In enterprises, the Apple Watch (and other wearables) could provide increased efficiency in communicating and completing tasks faster.

Earwear (ear-worn devices like AirPods and other Bluetooth audio devices) are also projected to see large increases in adoption to the tune of 12.3% annually. The largest drivers of increased marketshare for the earwear category are biometric sensors and smart assistant features.

The category to see the largest percentage growth, according to the report, is in connected clothing. While the overall anticipated shipments (8.5 million by 2023) will likely pale in comparison to watches (131.3 million by 2023) and earwear (86.5 million by 2023), the category is project to see 30.2% annual growth. Currently connected clothing applications consist mostly of shoes with embedded pedometers, but enterprise could see adoption in the category for monitoring employees in potentially hazardous situations.

Overall, IDC is projecting an average 8.9% annual growth in the wearables market over the next 5 years, with Apple playing a pivotal role in at least 2 categories already (Apple Watch and AirPods). With those being the largest growth areas, it appears Apple is well positioned for continued success in wearables.

It is worth noting that absent from the report was any insight on the potential to see the eyewear category emerge. Currently, the wearable “smart glasses” market is limited to beta tested devices like Google Glass and concept/vaporware products like Microsoft’s Hololens. Rumors suggest Apple could be working on form of connected glasses, but at this point, there aren’t any signs that such a product is coming any time soon.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Spotify Hits Back, Calls Apple a Monopolist

In the ongoing saga that is Spotify’s frustration with Apple’s App Store policies, the streaming music company has responded to Apple’s pointed statement. According to a response to news outlet ‘Variety,’ a Spotify rep said:

Every monopolist will suggest they have done nothing wrong and will argue that they have the best interests of competitors and consumers at heart. In that way, Apple’s response to our complaint before the European Commission is not new and is entirely in line with our expectations.

Spotify’s positioning of Apple as a monopolist bring fighting words to the Apple/Spotify drama. The accusation that Apple has a monopoly over their own App Store will certainly add fuel to the heated battle between the two companies.

In Spotify’s view, Apple is hurting consumers by taking a cut of all App sales, in-app purchases, and subscriptions. They also feel that Apple’s limitation in how third parties can promote external payment options results in diminished competition.

Apple’s remarks from last week suggest that they feel they are providing a service to their customers and third parties by offering a centralized platform for purchases, as well as providing attention and promotion of apps and services from a wide range of third party developers.

Another key take away from Spotify’s comments to Variety are that they feel Apple’s restrictions prevent customers from truly being a customer of the third party. According to the Spotify representative,

This is evident in Apple’s belief that Spotify’s users on iOS are Apple customers and not Spotify customers, which goes to the very heart of the issue with Apple.

In all App Store purchases and subscriptions, Apple takes a 30% cut of the transaction. According to Apple, this covers their share of facilitating financial transactions as well as providing the framework for discovery and promotion within the App Store. For Spotify, losing 30% of their earnings from iOS subscribers could boil down to a massive sum.

The accusation that these customers aren’t really Spotify customers is a bit of a gray area. All Spotify users require accounts on the service, which the company can use to gain valuable insights on.

The battle between the two companies will likely continue for the foreseeable future, as both rely on each other for their success. For Spotify to continue to find success, they need to reach iOS users through Apple’s App Store. For Spotify users on iOS devices to remain loyal to the platform, they need count on Spotify to stay on the Apple’s products.

Where the story ends remains a mystery. For now, the playground fighting has us all watching carefully.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Stanford Medicine Shares “Apple Heart Study” Results

After more than 400,000 Apple Watch users volunteered to participate in a heart study, Stanford University School of Medicine has published the results of “the largest study ever of its kind.” Participants from all 50 states shared heart rate data collected by their Apple Watch over the course of 8 months to “evaluate Apple Watch’s irregular rhythm notification.”

Through the study, if an irregular rhythms detected, the notification would alert the user that there was a reading that would suggest atrial fibrillation (AFib). Study participants who received the notification would then have the opportunity to have a “telehealth” consultation with a doctor, and could elect to wear an ECG patch for further monitoring.

Stanford Medicine’s findings were also presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session and Expo on March 16. Of the 400,000 participants, 0.5% received the notification. 34% of users who received the notification and followed up with the ECG patch were later found to have atrial fibrillation.

One major takeaway from the study is the general accuracy of the Apple Watch at detecting potential heart conditions. According to the results:

comparisons between irregular pulse-detection on Apple Watch and simultaneous electrocardiography patch recordings showed the pulse detection algorithm (indicating a positive tachogram reading) has a 71 percent positive predictive value. Eighty-four percent of the time, participants who received irregular pulse notifications were found to be in atrial fibrillation at the time of the notification.

The other major takeaway that can be drawn from the results is that Apple Watch is enabling users to gain meaningful insight into their well being. Without the irregular heart rhythm notification, many of these users may not have detected AFib during a regular medical visit. Atrial fibrillation can be deadly, and is often undiagnosed. Having a medically accurate consumer electronic device can provide valuable information that may otherwise go undetected.

Qualifying Apple Watch devices in the study included the Series 1, 2, and 3. The Study was underway before the release of the Series 4, which includes a built-in ECG feature. Apple’s dominant position in the smart watch and health markets allow it to play a major role in research like the Apple Heart Study. The Apple Watch has also been credited for saving the lives of multiple people after the release of the irregular heart rhythm notification and the Series 4 ECG feature.

Apple shared additional comments about the study in their Newsroom, highlighting how Apple Watch is making a difference in health care.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Consumer Study Finds AirPods are “Most Preferred” Wireless Headphone

The findings of a consumer research study by Counterpoint Research were released today. The main objective – determine “the penetration of wireless hearables among global smartphone users.”

In studying current and potential hearables (wireless earbuds, headphones, and headsets) buyers, Counterpoint found that 19% ranked Apple’s AirPods as their number one most preferred hearable brand, with Apple-owned Beats ranking 5th at 6%. Filling out the rest of the top 5 were Sony (17%), Samsung (16%), and Bose (10%).

In investigating the key drivers for choosing preferred brands, the study found that – unsurprisingly – sound quality wasn’t Apple’s strongest category. Instead, comfort and fit ranked highest, followed by ease of use, and portability for consumers when choosing AirPods. On the flip side, those that preferred Bose ranked sound quality as the key driver, followed closely by noise cancellation.

The report also offered a glimpse into current usage habits and future plans for the hearable market. According to their findings, almost 2/3 of respondents are listening to music for more than 40 minutes per day, with “at home” and “leisure/working out” being the two most common use cases.

According to the report, Apple sold an estimated 35 million pairs of the wireless earbuds in 2018, claiming nearly 75% of the wireless “hearables” segment. The study cites expected updates to the AirPods, as well as increased competition from Sony, Bose, and others, in projecting the market to top 129 million units this year.

Advancements in AI, and the addition of voice assistant features are also expected to play a key role in the growth of the category. Over half of respondents indicated they had intentions to buy AI-based wearables in the future.

The summary report is available from Counterpoint Research, and the full detailed insights can be purchased through their research portal.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Even Apple Won’t Pay Artists For Their Work

It seems that Apple may be pinching its pennies when it comes to “Today at Apple”. At least, that’s what artists are telling San Fransisco NPR station KQED. According to sources in the article, Apple has been stealing a line from Craigslist posts, effectively telling presenters they won’t be getting paid, but the exposure will be great!

According to Ayodele Nzinga, a playwright who presented last month at San Fransisco’s Union Square Apple Store, several artists gathered to share their expertise and art. At the end of the night, none were paid – not in the monetary sense. Instead, they were presented with Apple products.

Other artists interviewed by KQED corroborated the story. Instead of paying in cash, artists were offered a choice of an Apple Watch, AirPods, or Apple TV.

While receiving goods can be seen as a form of “payment”, many artists feel (and we agree) that it’s taking advantage of people who are working hard to share their craft. Additionally, paying in “exposure” isn’t something the world’s largest company should deem acceptable.

The “Today at Apple” series is designed as a way for artists and creatives to showcase their talents and expertise with their fans and visitors in the Apple Store. In doing so, Apple is creating a bridge for the fans to be customers in their store.

According to sources, the entire experience leaves significant work to the performer. Apple provides no promotional or marketing materials to presenters for the “Today at Apple” series. This leaves the work up to the performer, adding time, and potentially money, on to their commitment.

“I was a little disappointed that they weren’t maximizing the moment as much as they could because they’re a huge tech company,” said Nzinga. “They think the platform is sufficient,” she adds. “Of course, we have to pay rent like other people.”

The “Today at Apple” series was introduced shortly after Angela Ahrendts was introduced as SVP of Retail at Apple. Since then, the series has seen mixed results. Last month, Ahrendts announced that she was leaving Apple, so the future of the series – and its compensation practices – may change.

For now, it’s important for artists and presenters to understand the arrangement in advance, and decide whether some moderately priced tech is an acceptable form of payment. In the long-term, if Apple intends to keep the series around, they should be doing more to show that they care about the arts. Whether that means providing more promotion or simply compensating artists, Apple has the resources to make a difference.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

New Rumor Suggests Size Change for 7th Gen iPad

After reports last week suggested minimal changes to the 2019 entry level iPad, a tweet by previously accurate leaker CoinX suggests there may be changes after all.

According to the Tweet posted Wednesday:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

A 10.2-inch “entry level” iPad would align with much earlier rumors about the anticipated 2019 product. A 10.2-inch screen could fit in the current 9.7-inch body, meaning slimmed down bezels without a physical redesign.

What is less clear is whether the current 9.7-inch model would stick around for educational markets, and what “but not at the same time” is meant to imply.

It seems unlikely that Apple would release non-pro model iPads at varying times throughout the year, and currently, the 10.5-inch slot is taken by the 2017 iPad Pro.

In the past, CoinX accurately predicted the iPhone Xs, Xs Max, and Xr names, as well as some details about the 2018 iPad Pro models. In this case, it’s possible that they are correct once again, but it’s equally possible that there is some confusion about which products are in which line ups.

A possible alternative is a reduction in the price of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, allowing the Pro line-up to cover a wider range of price points. It is also possible that a 10.5-inch, non-Pro model is coming, and the 10.2-inch device is a smaller Pro model. Either would allow both the entry-level and professional line-ups to expand to another size option.

In addition, rumors continue to come out suggesting an updated iPad mini in 2019. Offering a trio of both high-end Pro and lower-cost non-Pro devices would allow Apple to hit a huge range of sizes and use cases in both configurations.

Expectations are that Apple will introduce new iPads at their event on March 25. WWDC 2019 could also serve as a possible platform for new hardware. Additionally, a fall event could feature an annual update to the iPad Pro.

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from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast