One of Apple TV’s most-desired features finally makes its way to the diminutive set-top box.
On Wednesday, Sept. 9, Apple will unveil its next-generation Apple TV, as we've already told you. And, as we've also already told you, the device is a significant overhaul of its hoary predecessor, with more powerful innards and a new remote that sources say has been “drastically improved” by a touchpad input and, as first reported by TechCrunch and independently confirmed by BuzzFeed, motion sensors that will allow it to function as game controller.
But there's another tentpole feature coming to the new Apple TV as well — and it's one for which anyone with the old Apple TV has been pining for years.
Essentially, you'll be able to search for a show or movie once, and see results from all sorts of different sources.
Sources familiar with Apple's plans say that a cornerstone of the the company's new set-top box is a universal search feature that will enable searches across multiple streaming video services as well as Apple's iTunes Store. Instead of searching the catalogs of multiple video services one at a time for a particular movie, you'll now be able to search all — or most of them — at once and then choose the service on which you'd like to watch it. You'll also be able to search for actors and directors, and run other more targeted searches as well — all with Siri. While Apple's intelligent personal assistant is core to this feature, sources say there's another engine driving it as well — Matcha, the video discovery startup Apple acquired back in 2013. iOS 9's “Proactive” search is also likely part of the mix here, as 9to5Mac reported.
Universal search will dramatically improve the Apple TV experience, which has suffered for years from a largely text-based, frustrating, and not nearly as intuitive as it once was user interface. It's a big deal, and it will very clearly position the Apple TV as an entryway for video consumption from all kinds of different sources and services.
In many ways, this makes the forthcoming Apple TV the first “true” Apple TV in that it's the first to really begin delivering on Apple's vision of what the TV viewing experience should be.
One last thing: The new Apple TV will start at $ 149, the lower of the two price points 9to5Mac first reported. Apple will soon have a subscription internet TV service to sell and the faster it ramps up its installed base of new Apple TV households, the better.
A precursor to the new game-friendly Apple TV expected next week?
Apple's iPhones and iPads have transformed the company into a mobile gaming giant. Now, with a new Apple TV due out later this year, the company is poised to bring games to the living room as well. In possible preparation for that move, Apple on Thursday debuted a new Twitter channel dedicated to games. Dubbed @AppStoreGames, the account promises a curated feed of Apple gaming selections “straight from our Games Editors.”
On April 3, 2012, Christopher Hills posted a clip to his YouTube account. In the three-minute video, Hills squarely addresses his webcam from what looks like his childhood bedroom. On the white walls behind him are a smattering of posters of high-end sports cars, jets, and rocket ships — it’s the kind of teen bedroom that’s been home to countless YouTube rants, confessions, and reviews. But Hills’s demeanor is serious as he begins talking about the rise of smartphones, tablets, and touchscreen technology. “I am going to show you how touchscreens help me,” he says to the camera. Moments later, we see Hills in his wheelchair, facing a desk with an iPad perched atop. We watch Christopher, a resident of Queensland, Australia, move forward slightly, struggle for a moment, and then pause, unable to reach the iPad screen.
“I keep reading things about the touchscreen overtaking the mouse and keyboard and this really scares me,” he confesses into the camera. Hills’ Athetoid cerebral palsy has left him unable to walk or use his hands, and, at that moment in 2012, his fears were understandable. “I think touchscreens are an amazing technology, but my disability means I can't use my hands — so let's face it,” he says. The video — shot, edited, and posted by Hills — is an arresting reminder of an alarming truth: Technologies aimed at, hyped by, and marketed toward an able-bodied majority often overlook the eager constituency of the disabled.
For Hills, that fear and frustration began to subside after 2013. That’s when Apple introduced Switch Control, an accessibility feature that helps those with limited mobility to navigate, select, and manipulate iOS touchscreen devices with the click of a button, movement of the body, or any number of alternative inputs (blowing into a tube, etc.). Launched as a feature in iOS 7, Switch Control gave Christopher and thousands of others the opportunity to finally take command of touch displays inside Apple’s applications as well as third-party programs, like games and browsers, without the use of expensive third-party devices. For Hills, though, nothing was as satisfying or memorable as being able to perform the most elemental functions.
“The thing that comes to mind is the day I made my first phone call. I was 15. I was able to call mum at work. As you can imagine, this was a very big thing,” Hills told BuzzFeed News of using Switch Control for the first time.
For decades, accessibility technology has seemed an afterthought for the world’s most powerful technology companies, leaving those who require additional assistive features with largely outdated technology or, in the case of touchscreens, no access at all.” The biggest problem used to be a general lag in software,” Elizabeth Ellcessor, a professor at Indiana University who specializes in digital media and accessibility studies told BuzzFeed News. “Software would come out and companies wouldn’t build in accessibility features for years and by that time the piece of software would be out of date,” she said.
For Hills, a gadget fan, the lag was excruciating. “When the iPhone came out, I was using these devices that were designed in the time of the Apple Newton and had not improved since then,” he told Buzzfeed News.
But the problems with assistive tech innovations were more than just inconvenient. The Dynamo, an assistive switching tool and universal remote for desktop computers that Hills used before Switch Control, cost thousands of dollars and could only serve the most basic communications functions. “Typing on the PC was possible, but it was extremely slow and, as a result, I always needed to have a [caregiver], mostly Dad, to help me whenever I needed to type more than just a few words,” Hills said.
Around the time Hills made his video about touchscreens, he was beginning to worry that he might never get to play games or even make phone calls like millions of his peers; the touchscreen revolution, he feared would leave him behind. “I knew how hard it was finding assistive technology solutions to control my desktop and here was a completely new thing and it just didn’t seem like anybody would be able to come up with a solution very quickly,” he wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.
But in the mid-2000s, Apple began a full overhaul of its assistive program with an emphasis on building accessibility features into products from the ground up, rather than adding them into previously developed software. In 2005, the company created a built-in voice reader called VoiceOver for its desktop computers, which it incorporated into the iPhone in 2009, allowing visually impaired iPhone users to navigate the touch device using voice controls. The company also began courting users of all abilities, focusing on previously underserved constituencies to ask them what features needed improvement and what to build next. As part of this initiative, Apple engineers also underwent mandatory accessibility training.
Apple is not alone in this space. In 2005, Google began funding research projects geared toward accessibility issues in areas such as speech, mobile, and human-computer interaction; others, like Microsoft, have also begun work to include more accessibility features in initial shipped versions of software and hardware, in order to bake assistive tech in from the beginning with features like text narration, magnification, password speaking, and high contrast text.
But for all that progress, and for all the mostly happy stories from people like Hills, companies such as Apple still have plenty to do if they are to be truly accessible. The costs of accessible tech, while much lower than they were five or ten years ago, are still expensive for disabled customers with limited financial resources, and while Apple’s Voice Control and Switch Control features are free, third-party assistive tech can often be prohibitively costly (a Freedom Scientific braille display monitor for those with vision impairments runs $ 7,795 for an 80 cell display.) The disparate nature of the applications inside the App Store and lack of standardized accessibility requirements for developers has left advocates in some disabled communities frustrated by the quality of numerous popular apps.
In January, a blog post from a concerned blind user noted that “Apple does have a fantastic accessibility story” but that “they’re on the verge of badly trumping that trust many people with disabilities put in them by delivering such poor quality updates that make it virtually impossible to take advantage of [accessibility] features in full force.” And last July, the National Federation of the Blind, as a part of an ongoing campaign, publicly pushed Apple to bring accessibility requirements to the App Store, noting that “'it’s time for Apple to step up or we will take the next step” (Apple has since begun to address such complaints). That said, Mark A. Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, has repeatedly spoken out in support of Apple’s accessibility efforts, noting that, “Apple has done more for accessibility than any other company to date.” These dual feelings hint at an insidious tension for those advocating for assistive tech: They want to hold tech’s leaders accountable, but fear alienating or overstepping their bounds with their biggest allies.
And for his part, Hills said he “hope[s] software developers continue to do more. There are apps I still can’t access, such as some games,” he said, adding that “it would change my life if there was a technology that could help me directly overcome my speech difficulties.”
Less than three years after Hills posted the the touchscreen video, his life is dramatically different. He no longer needs to spend thousands of dollars on new, quickly obsolete devices to use an iPhone or iPad and is no longer forced to rely on a caregiver for tasks like typing an email. He is now an Apple-certified Final Cut Pro editor and has his own video production and editing business that he runs out of his house. And his YouTube page is home to dozens of videos geared toward educating others about accessibility tech, including Switch Control. In his spare time, Hills speaks to training and support groups and writes guest blog posts about his experiences and how to best take advantage of assistive technology.
Features like Switch Control work in practical and measurable ways to lower costs for the disabled and work to bring more and more people not only online, but further into a culture that overlooked their technological needs. Giving more people the necessary tools means not only offering up the vast and rich world of internet and all that modern software and hardware have to offer to a wider audience, it also means widening the spectrum and potential of innovation through inclusion. “I like to think about this kind of technology less like a light switch and more as a set of possibilities,” Ellcessor said. “Accessibility is about creating the possibility for those with particular bodily impairments to participate and engage in culture and in whatever ways they want to.” That possibility, and the participation that it fosters, ultimately mean adding more diverse voices into the culture.
Maybe most important though — at least for Hills — it’s about a feeling of liberation that’s hard for any company to measure in an earnings report or tech specs sheet. “These tools have allowed me to come out of my shell and make my own way in the world,” he wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. “From communication and environmental control, to work and learning, and recreation and entertainment. Combined with the internet, Switch Control has allowed me to engage with the world more than ever before and to participate and contribute in ways that I never really thought would be possible.” Ultimately for Hills, it’s about a personal sense of dignity that comes from being able to share his voice and passion with the world.
Now, more than two years after posting about touchscreens, his videos have taken on a different, bolder tone. In one clip from last September, Hills has swapped the bedroom and posters for HD footage, complex, staged shot compositions, lens tinting, and a powerful score. The clip opens with a woman standing on a balcony, casually taking pictures of the setting sun through the trees on her iPhone. Moments later, Hills comes onto the balcony and angles his mounted iPhone toward the sunset. Using the toggling button located on his wheelchair’s headrest, Hills begins to take photos of his own along with the woman as the music swells. At its crescendo, the screen cuts to black and the screen flashes a final message: #iAmMorePowerfulThanYouThink. The tagline is Hills’s own reference to Apple’s 2014 “Powerful” advertisement as well as a crucial reminder to those building, using, and writing technology products today; and, as anyone who’s ever watched one of Hills’s videos knows, it’s also the truth.
Best Buy will sell Apple Watches online and in more than 100 stores nationwide starting Aug. 7, making it the first major national retailer — besides Apple — to do so.
Though Best Buy will carry Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch as well as an array of accessories, it will not offer the gold-cased Apple Watch Edition. By the holidays, a total of more than 300 Best Buy stores will carry the watch, Apple said Sunday.
“The Apple Watch is an important addition to an emerging product category, and we know our customers want it,” Jason Bonfig, senior category officer at Best Buy, said in a press release.
Customers began pre-ordering the Apple Watch in April, but the gadget, which starts at $ 350, wasn't available for purchase in Apple's retail stores until just last month.
Expanding Watch's availability to Best Buy will almost certainly lead to an increase in sales, but it's unclear what that will mean in the grand picture of the gadget's success, since Apple won't disclose how many watches have been sold. Last week, in its latest quarterly earnings report, the company said its category of “other” devices — which includes the watch, iPod, and Apple TV — went to $ 2.6 billion from $ 1.7 billion the previous quarter.
“As you know, we made a decision back in September, quite several months ago, not to disclose the shipments on the watch,” CEO Tim Cook told analysts on an earnings call. “That was not a matter of not being transparent. It was a matter of not giving our competition insight. It's a product that we worked really hard on.”
PayPal, iCloud, and many online subscription services are now off limits due to laws banning the use of Greek credit cards to spend money outside the country.
Last weekend, Greece's government imposed capital controls — restrictions on the ability to take money out of the country — due to an economic crisis that continues to deepen after the country failed to make a debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund. The restrictions were an attempt to ensure cash remains within Greece's economy and is not simply moved to a foreign safe haven.
However, the move has also had the effect of stopping many payments made using Greek credit cards to online services based outside the country. As a result, ordinary Greeks who are accustomed to using international services such as Apple's AppStore and PayPal are now finding that they can non longer use popular paid-for internet services due to the financial restrictions.
Five years after its debut, Apple’s online store in China is second only to the United States in web visits.
“We are lucky that Steve Jobs … doesn't care about China. If Apple were to spend the same effort on the Chinese consumer as we do, we would be in trouble.”
Liu Chuanzhi, founder of PC maker Lenovo, said that of Apple in 2010, poking the company for treating China as an afterthought and foregoing what at the times was an almost stupidly self-evident growth opportunity.
Though Apple was relatively late to the Chinese market, it moved quickly to make inroads there. The world's most populous nation is now a key focus for the company, which is on track to have about 40 stores in greater China by mid-2016 — up from the 19 it operates there currently. And Apple's leadership is quite enthusiastic about it. As Apple CFO Luca Maestri said after an April earnings report that saw the Greater China region set a new sales record and surpass Europe in revenue to become the company's second biggest market behind the Americas, “The growth rate in China is significantly higher than most parts of the world. In the short term, we don't expect China to become bigger than the U.S. but over the long arc of time, one could certainly draw that conclusion.”
Web analytics firm SimilarWeb analyzed a recent four-week period of global web traffic to Apple's online stores and found that China is second only to the United States in the number of visits (not unique visitors) it generates for Apple's online store. The U.S. was responsible for 34.86% of web traffic to store.apple.com between May 2 and May 29; China was responsible for 12.74% (via store.apple.com/cn/) — which is more than double the visits coming from the U.K.
Even more interesting is how visits originating from Apple's online store in China broke down across various product pages. During that same period in May, MacBooks (including Air and Pro), iPhones, and the Apple Watch drew the most interest, accounting for 20.2%, 15.8%, and 12.1% of visits respectively. iPads, accessories, and desktops drew the least, topping out at 5.9%, 4.3% and 3%. At first glance, it might seem odd that Apple notebooks draw more visits to the company's online store in China than iPhones. But there's likely additional traffic to more notebook pages as people explore custom configuration options for those machines.
Interestingly, 6.9% of web traffic to Apple's online store in China was directed at its checkout page — though there's no way to determine how much of it was linked to actual purchases.
The online marketplace dates back to an e-commerce era involving dial-up modems. Its leaders hope the Apple Watch will help accelerate its transition to the new online shopping era.
How can an e-commerce company built in the desktop era get customers to buy things from their wrists? That's the challenge for RJ Pittman, eBay's head of product, who came to the auction and marketplace giant in late 2013 from Apple, where he worked on the company's e-commerce platforms.
Despite a history that dates back to dial-up modems and a business whose sales are still made primarily on desktop computers, eBay is “uniquely suited to jump into wearables,” Pittman told BuzzFeed News in an interview. Because the Apple Watch will be tethered to iPhones, “several hundred million” people who have downloaded eBay's app will be Watch-enabled, “just with the app they have.”
While the 46-year-old Pittman wouldn't say much about the specific functions of eBay's watch app, he did say that he hoped efforts to get on users' wrists would take the entire company further down the line of “ephemeral” and “frictionless” commerce. “We're thinking about breaking the barrier of websites, even apps and downloads, and transact commerce at the speed of thought.”
A specific example Pittman gave of what his team of five to seven people are working on is notifications: When you are outbid on an eBay auction, “you might get a little vibration on your wrist and have an outbid notice,” he said. “You don't have to do anything to look at it and turn it away, or you can tap to bid it up and in one tap you're in the game. It's a new level of frictionless engagement.”
Pittman did say that when eBay's app for the Apple Watch is released (“it's coming this spring, call it a few weeks or so, right on the heels of the launch of the Watch”), the vibrating notifications “will be part of the experience.”
But, for now at least, the vast majority of eBay's activity will be on screens considerably larger than even the 42 millimeters the largest Apple Watch provides. Of the $ 83 billion transacted through eBay's marketplace in 2014, $ 28 billion (34%) came through mobile devices, up from over $ 20 billion in 2013.
The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba had 42% of its gross merchandise volume in China come from mobile in the last three months of this year — about 327 billion yuan (about $ 53 billion) worth, more than triple that of a year ago.
While eBay's scale is still massive — its $ 83 billion in general merchandise volume (all sales done on the marketplace, of which eBay takes a cut) in 2014 is comparable to Amazon's $ 74 billion in sales — its growth has slowed. eBay's chief financial officer Bob Swan said on a call with reporters to discuss the company's financial results that 2014 was a “year we're glad to have behind us,” while its revenue from transactions on its marketplace grew only 1% in the fourth quarter of 2014, and 9% for the full year.
Sales at Amazon, by comparison, rose 20% in 2014, while at Etsy — a much smaller, much trendier entrant into the online marketplace business — sales rose 46% to $ 1.9 billion. And both competitors seem to have the wind at their backs, with Etsy approaching an IPO and Amazon on Tuesday announcing a new system that lets customers place orders by pressing buttons stuck on the walls of their kitchen pantries or laundry rooms.
Wearable computers like the Apple Watch will add to pressure on eBay to adapt to changing consumer habits, but Pittman also sees it as an opportunity to rethink the basics of the business. “What I love about this is that the 42mm screen real estate is a design constraint, it's driving something that I'm trying to do at eBay: simplify commerce,” he said. “The watch forces you to your bare essentials, you don't get to build a web site or app in 42 millimeters. We get right down to the most important, most useful capabilities and put them in in a way that's only for one finger to tap.”
There is, however, an intuitively designed and habit-forming mobile commerce product already under the eBay roof: Venmo, which eBay CEO John Donahoe recently said is “on fire.” But Venmo is part of PayPal, which will soon be spun off from eBay into a new stand-alone company.
Representative Patricia Todd, the only out lesbian in the Alabama State Legislature, had a plan to get attention for a bill that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees: Name it the “Tim Cook Economic Development Act.” The bill's title would honor Apple's CEO, who came out as gay in October. Cook recently criticized Alabama — his home state — for allowing discrimination against LGBT employees.
Apple was less enchanted with the idea of a LGBT-rights bill named after its chief executive, Todd said.
“I did get a call from Apple asking me not to name it the Tim Cook bill,” she told BuzzFeed News. “They don't want their corporation tied up in the political battle. I understand where they are coming from. I quickly said I would not name it after him.”
But it's difficult to begrudge Todd, a Democrat, for trying to get attention. Naming the bill after Cook was a “kind of tongue in cheek” way to give her bill a boost in a hostile climate, she said. “I don't think I'll get very far because the Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature. You have got to have a sense of humor if you're going to be a liberal in Alabama.”
On being the only out gay person in the Alabama legislature, Todd laughed. “It's lonely.”
Todd introduced a similar bill in 2011 that would prohibit the state from discriminating against employees, such as teachers, on the basis of their sexual orientation. That legislation never got a hearing, Todd said. “The committee chair is Republican and he told me in no uncertain terms that the bill would never see the light of day.”
This time around, Todd intends to pre-file the bill before the 2015 legislative session begins in spring and add protections for transgender employees.
Taking a somewhat adversarial stance, Republican Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's office recently told the Anniston Star that the federal Civil Rights Act already bans the state from discriminating based on sexual orientation. But Todd said she knows public-school teachers in Alabama who were fired for being gay, and that she was fired from a state university because the university's board discovered she is a lesbian. Todd argued that banning LGBT discrimination would help repair the state's reputation as hostile to civil rights, a stigma that she said scares off Fortune 500 companies that want to employ a diverse workforce.
She said the GOP majority is all but certain to scotch her latest bill. “They don't think anybody is being discriminated against,” she said. “What's interesting is that they are all white men who say that.”
Todd said she promotes long-shot legislation to spark conversations about issues that get little attention in her southern state. “I do have a lot of fun doing this, especially when you know you're not going to win. It's not always about winning,” she said. “It's about, can I move the ball forward a little bit?”
Apple has come out in support of same-sex marriage, and the Human Rights Campign has given Apple a perfect score on treatment of LGBT employees. Apple did not respond to questions by the time this story was published.
Pairing with popular apps like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Monument Valley , the company plans to donate all global proceeds from downloads and in-app purchases to the Global Fund.
Starting Monday, Apple is teaming with 25 of its App Store's largest apps for World AIDS Day. For two weeks, Apple and the participating apps will donate all global proceeds from downloads as well as in-app purchases to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.
The effort is one in a series of promotions Apple is doing during the holiday season with (RED). On Black Friday US Apple customers in the US will receive gift cards after purchasing selected Apple products. The company will donate an undisclosed percentage from the gift card purchases. And on December 1, the company will also be donating an undisclosed portion of its retail and online sales to the Global Fund.
In order to boost downloads, the participating apps have paired with the Global Fund to offer exclusive (RED) content, including a suite of 300 GarageBand guitar, bass, synth and drum loops as well as new features inside apps like FIFA 15 Ultimate Team, CSR Racing, FarmVille 2, Clash of Clans, Angry Birds, and Heads Up!. The popular game Monument Valley will be rolling out an exclusive final chapter and (RED) and Apple have also partnered with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood to include a new suite of in-app purchase products. As part of the promotion, a new update featuring Kris Jenner will debut on December 1.
The campaign will start during a particularly busy time of year for the App Store. Back in January the company announced that it made over $ 1 billion in App Store sales in December 2013, and over $ 10 billion for all of last year. Some of the participating apps in the upcoming promotion like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood are among the highest grossing apps in Apple's App Store. According to Bloomberg analysts, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which makes its money through an exhaustive array of in-app purchases, is predicted to pull in $ 200 million in revenue by the end of the year (the app debuted on the App Store this summer).
The company said WatchKit, its development tools for the Apple Watch, was rolling out today.
Apple CEO Tim Cook stands in front of a screen displaying apps available for the Apple Watch at a presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, Oct. 16.
Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Developers now finally have a chance to figure out the killer use case for the Apple Watch.
As with any new hardware, for the Apple Watch to succeed, the company will have to lean on developers to build applications that will convince consumers to purchase the watch. Now that the company has released its development kit, WatchKit, the development community will have an opportunity to build applications for the Apple Watch.
Apple does build its own applications, and the company demoed several apps like watch faces and a maps application at its event in September unveiling the watch. But traditionally the company has not been known for creating software better than existing app developers like Snapchat and Facebook. The iPhone, a powerful piece of hardware, has seen other developers find the killer use case for the smartphone beyond its obvious applications as a phone.
In conversations with numerous developers in the technology community, anticipation is greatly building for the watch in part because it contains new touch points that developers did not think would be useful. The dial on the side of the watch, for example, was seen as a stroke of genius for app usability among developers, which are eager to experiment with the first new intelligent touch point for a smart device in a very long time.
The watch too has found itself in not only direct competition with Google's watch technology called Android Wear, but also with startups like Pebble, which already have a thriving development ecosystem. Pebble, for example, already enlisted developers to build activity and health-monitoring applications for its watch, which is seen in the technology community as a low-cost competitor with a much longer battery life compared to higher-end, more expensive watches.
The Apple Watch is expected to launch sometime next year, at predicted price points ranging as high as $ 5,000 for the highest-end version of the watch. Apple has basically elected not to go after the lower-end market, leaving the door open for cheaper options like Pebble. However, there is always the opportunity for developers to figure out a killer app — much like Rovio started a wave of popular new games with its Angry Birds titles — that could drive sales and massive adoption for the watch.