Apple Announces Apple Music at WWDC 2015

After months of speculation following their acquisition of Beats, Apple has announced its own streaming music service.

1433792824-apple-musicAt yesterday’s WWDC keynote, Eddy Cue (Apple’s VP of Internet Software and Services) introduced Apple Music, “a revolutionary streaming service” that gives users access to a collection of over 30 million songs right from their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Android phone. Users can also access their ripped CDs and previous iTunes purchases.

In addition to creating their own playlists, users have access to a variety of curated playlists from noted entertainment personalities. Apple has hired an impressive team of DJs, musicians, and other experts in the field to curate exclusive playlists to fit any mood, genre, or situation. In addition to human curation, you can explore Apple Music using Siri. Ask anything, from “play me songs by The Cure” to “play the greatest hits of 1993″.

Apple also launched Beats 1, a 24/7 live music radio station broadcast to over 100 countries, with programming by DJ Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London. In addition to a curated selection of songs, Beats 1 will offer exclusive interviews, guest stars, and news on the latest and greatest in music and music culture.

Apple Music Radio, a new and improved version of iTunes Radio, allows users to create custom stations based on their favorite songs or artists to discover other tunes that fit their taste. And in other news that’s sure to delight music lovers, with membership there is no limit to how many songs you can skip– yay!

In a move that’s somewhat surprising given the failure of 2010’s iTunes Ping, Apple is launching a new social network feature called iTunes Connect. With Connect, artists can share lyrics, photos, videos, and exclusive sneak peaks with their fans. Fans can follow their favorite artists, comment and like posts, and share content with friends via iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Apple Music launches on June 30 in over 100 countries. Users can try it out with a free 3-month trial, after which the service is $9.99/month, making it an attractive competitor to the equally-priced Spotify. Users can also opt for a family plan, which gives access to up to 6 family members (iCloud Family Sharing required) for $14.99/month.

Todoist for Apple Watch is here

Todoist LogoTodoist is my favorite to-do list management app. I use it every day on my Mac and my iOS devices. Earlier this week, Todoist released an Apple Watch version of the app that brings many of the app’s functions to Apple’s smallest screen. Here’s a list of key features:

  • Glance View allows you to view your next upcoming task and the number of tasks you have left for the day.
  • Main View gives you access to your Inbox, Today view, Projects, Labels (Premium), and Filters.
  • Quick-Add with Voice Command allows users to add new tasks to Todoist by simply speaking them into the watch.
  • Reminders will provide a gentle buzz on the wrist when you’re near a certain location or at the exact date/time associated with your task.
  • Notifications are a great way to keep up with shared tasks, as Todoist will let you know when someone sends you a new task or comments on an existing task.

Todoist worked hard to make use of the Apple Watch’s small display to ensure its app worked well with a minimalist design. The primary objective with the app’s layout is to keep things focused and distraction free. Todoist carried this mindset over from its other apps which are set up to allow you to focus on whatever you need to work on now, so you’re not burning brain cycles thinking about stuff you need to do tomorrow, next week or next year.

In order to start using Todoist on your Apple Watch, just download the app (if you don’t have it already) to your iPhone, open the Apple Watch app and enable Todoist on your watch in the “My Watch” tab.

Then get ready for your productivity level to soar!

Rewards Program may come to Apple Pay

Apple LogoCredit cards, debit cards, rewards program cards, ID’s… The list of small plastic rectangles we’re saddled with is just one of the costs of doing business in the 21st century. Technology has been relatively slow in terms of providing solutions to the glut of cards we have to carry around every day. The rise of mobile apps has given us some relief, as many rewards programs are now operating with a simple scan of a barcode on a smartphone screen. But due to the complex nature of banking security and credit cards, mobile payments have taken longer to catch on.

We’ve seen some progress in this field recently with the introduction of Apple Pay. And while it’s incredibly swift and convenient for users of iPhones and Apple Watches to tap their devices against a payment terminal, Apple Pay has experienced a relatively slow rollout. There are still only a limited number of vendors that accept the service for payment and there are still many payment institutions that don’t even support it. And now Google is prepped to launch its own mobile payment system, one that could bring simple tap-to-pay technology to the millions of Android phones on the market.

Faced with these challenges, Apple may be looking at ways to increase user and vendor adoption of Apple Pay. Rumors are circulating that the company may introduce a rewards program of its own at the upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Details are slim on what this program could offer. Maybe it’d be a points system that’d allow users to trade in those points for products from the Apple Store. Or perhaps Apple would limit its rewards program only to digital products such as music, movies and apps. And since Apple Pay works with third-party banks to handle customer accounts, it seems possible that users could actually collect rewards thru this proposed Apple program as well as whatever rewards system are in place with their connected accounts.

Time will tell if the Apple Pay rewards program becomes a reality. Regardless, it’s good to see that Apple is working to expand its mobile payment service. My pockets are getting heavy under the weight of all of these cards!

Swatch may Bring a Smartwatch to Market in August

Swatch logoSwatch, the Swiss watch maker best known for its colorful and untraditional designs, is looking to enter the smartwatch market. It’s still unclear as to what exactly Swatch is planning. But at a recent company meeting, Swatch CEO Nick Hayak stated that Swatch’s smartwatch will be launching in two countries within the next three months.

2015 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the smartwatch. And while tech companies like Apple, Motorola and Pebble have all made headlines this year in the smartwatch space, it seems few established watchmakers have entered the fray. Given its history as a known and trusted brand in watchmaking, could Swatch bring a new perspective to the field?

Little is known yet about Swatch’s proposed smartwatch. Will Swatch develop a proprietary OS? Will the company implement some version of the Android operating system? During that company meeting, Hayak said that Swatch will launch its smartwatch in two countries. The first will be Switzerland and the other was only described as a “large country.” It seems logical that this other country would be the United States. But Swatch has made deals with China UnionPay, a Chinese financial firm, and it’s likely that the Swatch smartwatch will ship with a near field communication chip that could allow the device to make mobile payments. Given the prevalence of the Apple Watch and Android Wearables in the U.S., perhaps Swatch’s second launch country will be China instead.

Despite its rapid growth in recent months, the smartwatch space is still fairly new and much is likely to change. If Swatch is able to bring a product to consumers that’s unique and reasonably priced, the watchmaker might just find a whole new market to tap into.

iOS Bug Causes Text Message Crashing

Apple LogoApple’s iOS is generally considered to be a world-class operating system for mobile devices. But some things slip thru even Apple’s meticulous fingers. It was recently discovered that a specific string of text, sent as a text message, will immediately cause the recipient’s iOS device to crash. The bug requires no action on the part of the person receiving the message. As soon as the text pops up in the form of a system notification, the device will immediately crash and reboot.

The flaw was originally discovered by some Reddit users. They noted that if a very specific combination of Arabic characters are strung together and then sent as a text message, the receiving device will automatically truncate the text with an ellipses (…) at the end when it’s displayed as a system notification. And there’s something about that particular character string that iOS really doesn’t like, resulting in a hard reset of the device.

Considering that it takes such an odd combination of circumstances to trigger this iOS bug, it’s doubtful that most people will be affected by it. Of course, some pranksters will surely make use of it while they can. Apple has already acknowledged the problem and has said it’ll be fixed in a future update.

In the meantime, if you do receive an errant message that triggers an annoying crash, after your device resets, go into the Messages app and delete the conversation. And then consider blocking the sender, at least until the next iOS update comes out.

Line 6 brings Amplifi Remote app to Apple Watch

Line 6 logoLine 6 is a musical instrument and audio equipment manufacturer that’s been a real industry innovator for nearly two decades. I bought my first Line 6 guitar amp back in 2001 and have been hooked on the company’s products ever since. At this point, it’d be a neck-and-neck battle between Line 6 and Apple as far as which company has made a bigger dent in my overall net worth.

One thing that Line 6 has done recently that’s really intriguing is the development of “remote” apps that work wirelessly with its various products. The first of these connected-app lines is the Amplifi guitar amp/smart speaker system.  Amplifi was designed to bridge the gap between practicing at home and jamming with other musicians. At home, the Amplifi could be used as a speaker for entertainment systems. At the rehearsal space, Amplifi also works as a full-power electric guitar amp.

Amplifi is also the first Line 6 product to use a remote app to control different features of the device. The app originally launched for Android and iOS, running both on iPhone and iPad. Now, Line 6 has brought its Amplifi Remote app to Apple Watch:

The new AMPLIFi Remote v2.11 update enables guitar players to control and access guitar tones via Apple Watch. Guitarists can now access tones, control levels, search the Line 6 Tone Cloud, and use the tuner, right from their wrist. AMPLIFi Remote works with the entire AMPLIFi family, and provides guitarists with unprecedented control over every aspect of their guitar tone and effects.

Amplifi Remote features such as Tuner, MyTones and master/instrument level controls will be accessibly directly on the Apple Watch version of the app. Users will also be able to do a “dictation search” of Line 6’s Tone Cloud service, which will allow them to use vocal requests to search thru guitar tones saved to Line 6’s cloud service. Tones can then be quickly loaded onto an Amplifi device for immediate use.

It’s great to see Line 6’s continued development of things like the Amplifi Remote App. The company has also started rolling out other products that work with similar apps. I’m definitely excited to see what else Line 6 comes up with this year.

IFTTT Brings Apps to iPad and Apple Watch

IFTTT logoIf This Then That, better known as IFTTT, is a popular service that ties a plethora of online apps. services and devices together to perform specific tasks. For example, you could create an IFTTT “recipe” (the term that IFTTT uses for actions created thru the service) to automatically save your Instagram photos to Dropbox. IFTTT can also be used to work with things like smart sensors, home automation systems and more.

The IFTTT interface itself is accessed mostly thru the company’s website. There, you can search for recipes created by IFTTT staff and users. Once you find a recipe you’d like to try, just add it to your own IFTTT account where you can then configure the recipe to specifically work with your own user accounts across whatever services are referenced in the recipe. Along with that interface, IFTTT also offers its own apps that work in complementary ways to IFTTT’s core functionality:

  • Do Button: This app gives you a simple one-button interface to trigger the recipes that you’ve made thru IFTTT.
  • Do Camera: Create a “personalized” camera that will automatically share your photos with services like Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote and more.
  • Do Note: Use this app like a “digital notepad.” Make a quick note and then use IFTTT recipes to share it with Evernote, Google Calendar and more.

All of these apps were originally available for iPhone only. But IFTTT recently brought all of these apps to iPad and Apple Watch. The company is touting this move as “small, medium and large” versions of its apps for the different devices. Now it’s easier than ever to access and activate your IFTTT recipes.

I’ll admit, I’m still kind of an IFTTT newbie. But with the ease of use provided by these new apps, I’m definitely going to be looking into using the service more.

Special Needs Customers Can Make Apple Watch Demo Appointments

Apple LogoApple has made a point of adding accessibility features to its products for years. Everything from the Mac to iOS devices has user-enabled controls and configurations for things like voice-to-text, alteration of the screen thru focused zooming in and more. And while it seems like the company’s new Apple Watch wouldn’t necessarily be that useful for customers with visual or other kinds of impairments, Apple wants to prove that misconception wrong right out of the gate. That’s why users with special needs can make appointments to test out an Apple Watch, with specific guidance from an Apple Store employee that can demonstrate all of the watch’s accessibility options.

Customers who are interested in making one of these appointments can do so thru the Apple website, the Apple Store iOS app or by calling 1-800-692-7753. When making an appointment, it’s a good idea to note that you’re a disabled user and you’d like to try out the Apple Watch’s accessibility features. This way, the store can have an iPhone preloaded with the full Watch OS and paired with an Apple Watch ready when you arrive. (Apple Stores don’t normally have their watches fully set up like this for customers who just walk in off the street, that’s why it’s important to make an appointment in advance.)

Anytime you’re going to purchase a new item (especially something that can be pricey like an Apple Watch), it’s a good idea to try it out and really see if its right for you before handing over the credit card. It’s great that Apple is continuing its commitment to disabled users by allowing them to make these special appointments. Hopefully, the Apple Watch will prove to be a true asset to those who are in need of assistive technology.

WatchPlate will Gold Plate your Apple Watch

WatchPlateDeserved or otherwise, the prevailing perception of the new Apple Watch is that it’s an accessory for rich people. It’s unclear at this point if Apple sees this as an asset or a liability. Regardless, now that the Apple Watch is officially on the market, all kinds of third party accessories and services are jumping in to fill the needs of Apple Watch owners. And while the third-party Apple Watch market may never reach the kind of saturation point that’s happened for iPhone accessories, this market is still likely to generate some real profits. The latest example of that is WatchPlate, a new service that will add gold plating to any Apple Watch.

WatchPlate works by placing an order thru the company’s website. From there, you’ll receive an e-mail with a prepaid FedEx shipping label. Take your Apple Watch to any authorized FedEx drop-off point and it’ll be whisked away to WatchPlate where it’ll undergo the gold plating process. The company estimates that your Apple Watch will be back in your hands (and on your wrist) within three business days of when its received by WatchPlate.

WatchPlate charges a $399.00 flat fee for gold plating an Apple Watch, a watch band or both. Shipping is free anywhere in the world. The plating can be done in either yellow or rose gold and WatchPlate states that it uses only 24 karat gold in the process. WatchPlate also recommends that users regularly clean and maintain their gold plated watches to ensure longevity of the plating. If needed, the company will re-plate a watch for a flat fee of $199.00.

There are a couple of things to be aware of before placing a WatchPlate order. Gold plating is only possible on stainless steel models of the Apple Watch, which excludes the Sport edition. And when it comes to potentially voiding an Apple Watch warranty, WatchPlate says:

It is possible. The process involves dipping the watch in about 3 inches of fluid for about 20 minutes total. This is much easier on the watch than Apple’s recommended maximum of 3 ft submersion for 30 minutes. That being said, because this is a new service, we don’t know how Apple’s warrantee policies could change regarding gold plating.

If you’re concerned about your watch breaking during its warranty period and it’d be difficult for you to buy another one out of pocket, you may want to proceed with caution when it comes to gold plating the device. If that’s not a concern, and you can stand to be without your shiny new watch for a few days, head on over to WatchPlate and make that new accessory truly stand out.

Would You buy a 12 Inch “iPad Pro?”

apple logoCoverage of tech industry rumors has really turned into a cottage industry in recent years. Nothing fuels the rumor mill more than anticipated new products or product updates from Apple. It seems like every time a tech blog gets the tiniest shred of information about a potential new iThing, dozens of websites then kick into overdrive with endless reaction and speculation pieces.

I tend to ignore most of this cruft but one rumored item that’s being tossed around by tech pundits has me somewhat intrigued. That item is the so-called “iPad Pro” (also referred to sometimes as the “iPad Plus”). The iPad Pro is believed to be a 12 or 13-inch iPad. This would be the largest modern iDevice Apple has ever made, eclipsing the size of the iPad Air 2 by about three inches. It’s even been suggested that the iPad Pro will come with a built-in USB port, a first for Apple touchscreen devices.

2015 does seem like the year for the iPad to go Pro. Traditionally, Apple has rolled out new additions to its existing product lines slowly. And while the original iPad has seen a number of upgrades over the years, its overall form factor hasn’t really changed. iPad Mini, the successor to the original iPad has gone thru some iterations of its own, but like the original iPad, its overall size hasn’t changed much since the premier edition. And while the first iPad pretty much ushered in the era of modern tablet computing, competitors have been quick on Apple’s heels to design comparable devices. Walk into any retail store that carries electronics and you’ll see larger-sized tablets running the Android and Windows Mobile operating systems. But nothing from Apple.

I’ll admit, I’m usually a sucker for new Apple things. I’ve owned a total of four iPhones over the years, one iPad 2 and one iPad Mini. After a year of living without a cell phone, relying only on my iPad Mini for mobile computing/communication needs, I recently got back into the iPhone game, and its caused me to do some reconsideration on the role of mobile devices in my life. Overall, I find I’m using the Mini less and I’m leaving it at home more often. I’m still using the Mini as part of my audio production toolkit, and it’s nice to have around the house for things like looking up recipes or the occasional game of Flight Control. But for things like e-mail or listening to podcasts, I find I’m using the iPhone more. Given that the Mini is becoming more of a “stay-at-home” device, I don’t really need the smaller form factor, which is incredibly convenient when traveling. That led me to consider swapping the Mini for an iPad Air 2. That’s when I started seeing the iPad Pro speculation.

I’m legally blind, so I tend to prefer larger screens anytime I can get them. In a lot of ways, the iPhone Six Plus is really the first smartphone I’ve had that I can truly use. And while the Six Plus display is unquestionably big at 5.5 inches, the Mini’s display is still bigger, coming in at nearly eight inches. But even with that extra real estate, the Mini is still light and relatively easy to hold in one hand. This is important for me as I have to hold the device relatively close to my face in order to really see what’s on the display. This was really difficult to do with the iPad Air 2, not only because the device was too big to hold in one hand but also because it was kinda heavy. This gives me some pause in ditching the Mini for a larger iPad, as I don’t want to wind up with a device that’s awkward or difficult to use at times when I might need to hold the device in order to see it properly.

Which brings me to the iPad Pro. Apple has made great strides over the years in making its devices thinner and lighter. So while the Pro would still be the largest iPad ever, it may actually weigh less than the iPad 2 I used to have, thus making it a bit more manageable as a handheld device. There’s also an ever-expanding market of third-party stands, mounts and cases that allow mobile devices to be used in different environments while freeing users’ hands from having to hold those devices. If the iPad Pro turns out to be real, a plethora of these accessories will surely flood the market. And it almost goes without saying that a larger-screen iPad would be great for someone like me. I often have to rely on the zoom function built into iOS to see things on my iPad Mini’s screen. A larger screen could make that unnecessary. At the very least, I might not have to zoom in as much to properly see what’s on the display.

And really, display size is just the tip of the iceberg as to how an iPad Pro could be useful to me. All of the current prognostication is placing the potential release of the new device to happen during the fourth quarter of this year. There’s still a lot of time for this particular rumor to turn into digital vapor. For now, I may go out and take a look at some of those other 12-inch tablets on the market, just to get an idea of what the form factor is like. Of course, none of those devices will truly replicate what an iPad Pro will be like, but it’s a start.