Apple is bringing iTunes content to Samsung’s Smart TVs

Ahead of Apple’s plans to introduce its own streaming service this year, the company has partnered with Samsung to allow iTunes content to be accessible on Samsung Smart TVs. Samsung announced this morning that it will offer access to iTunes Movies and TV shows through a new “iTunes Movies and TV” app on its Smart TVs across 100 countries, and it will offer AirPlay 2 support on its Smart TVs in 190 countries worldwide.

Samsung is the first TV maker to have direct access to iTunes content though this new “iTunes Movies and TV” app, but this is not the first time that iTunes content has been accessible outside of Apple’s own ecosystem.

iTunes content is already accessible today through the third-party Movies Anywhere application, alongside purchases from Prime Video, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Vudu, and others. That app currently works on a number of streaming media devices, like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and others, but not yet on Samsung Smart TVs. In addition, Apple Music can today be streamed on Android devices and iTunes is available on Windows PCs. 

According to Samsung, Apple’s new “iTunes Movies and TV Shows” app will allow Samsung Smart TV owners to browse their existing iTunes library and the iTunes store, where they can purchase and rent hundreds of thousands of movies and TV episodes, including a large selection of 4K HDR titles. The movies and TV shows will also work with Samsung Smart TV features, like the Universal Guide, the new Bixby, and Search.

Meanwhile, Samsung is making AirPlay 2 support available on a range of Smart TVs, including QLED 4K and 8K TVs, The Frame and Serif lifestyle TVs, as well as other Samsung UHD and HD models. This will allow TV owners to play videos, photos, music, podcasts, and more on their TV.

“We look forward to bringing the iTunes and AirPlay 2 experience to even more customers around the world through Samsung Smart TVs, so iPhone, iPad and Mac users have yet another way to enjoy all their favorite content on the biggest screen in their home,” said Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services at Apple, in a statement about the launch.

Given Apple’s plans to launch its own streaming service in 2019 – presumably through its existing iTunes app – it makes sense that Apple would make that app available on more devices in the living room, where it doesn’t have as much of a presence thanks to Apple TV’s small footprint.

The new app and AirPlay 2 will be offered on 2019 Samsung Smart TV models this spring. Samsung says. 2018 Samsung Smart TVs will receive a firmware update to enable access.

 

 

Apple losses trigger a plunge in US markets

Bad news from Apple and signs of slowing international and domestic growth sent stocks tumbling in Thursday trading on all of the major markets.

Investors erased some $75 billion in value from Apple alone… an amount known technically as a shit ton of money. But stocks were down broadly based on Apple’s news, with the Nasdaq falling 3 percent, or roughly 202.44 points, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting 660.02 points, or roughly 2.8 percent.

Apple halted trading of its stock yesterday afternoon to provide lower guidance for upcoming earnings.

Apple’s news from late yesterday that it would miss its earnings estimates by several billion dollars thanks to a collapse of sales in China was the trigger for a broad sell-off that erased gains from the last trading sessions before the New Year (which saw the biggest one-day gain in stocks in recent history).

Apple’s China woes could be attributed to any number of factors, D.A. Davidson senior analyst Tom Forte said. The weakening Chinese economy, patriotic fervor from Chinese consumers or the increasingly solid options available from domestic manufacturers could all be factors.

Sales were suffering in more regions than China, Forte noted. India, Russia, Brazil and Turkey also had slowing sales of new iPhone models, he said.

Investors have more than just weakness from Apple to be concerned about. Chinese manufacturing flipped from growth to contraction in December and analysts in the region expect that the pain will continue through at least the first half of the year.

“We expect a much worse slowdown in the first half, followed by a more serious and aggressive government easing/stimulus centred on deregulating the property market in big cities, and then we might see stabilisation and even a small rebound later this year,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, wrote in a report quoted by the Financial Times.

U.S. manufacturing isn’t doing much better, according to an industrial gauge published by The Institute for Supply Management. The institute’s index dropped to its lowest point in two years.

“There’s just so much uncertainty going on everywhere that businesses are just pausing,” Timothy Fiore, chairman of ISM’s manufacturing survey committee, told Bloomberg. “No matter where you look, you’ve got chaos everywhere. Businesses can’t operate in an environment of chaos. It’s a warning shot that we need to resolve some of these issues.”

The index remains above the threshold of a serious contraction in American industry, but the 5.2-point drop from the previous month in the manufacturing survey is the largest since the financial crisis, and was only exceeded one other time — following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S.

Metacert’ Cryptonite can catch phishing links in your email

Metacert, founded by Paul Walsh, originally began as a way to watch chat rooms for fake Ethereum scams. Walsh, who was an early experimenter in cryptocurrencies, grew frustrated when he saw hackers dumping fake links into chat rooms, resulting in users regularly losing cash to scammers.

Now Walsh has expanded his software to email. A new product built for email will show little green or red shields next to links, confirming that a link is what it appears to be. A fake link would appear red while a real PayPal link, say, would appear green. The plugin works with Apple’s Mail app on the iPhone and is called Cryptonite.

“The system utilizes the MetaCert Protocol infrastructure/registry,” said Walsh. “It contains 10 billion classified URLs. This is at the core of all of MetaCert’s products and services. It’s a single API that’s used to protect over 1 million crypto people on Telegram via a security bot and it’s the same API that powers the integration that turned off phishing for the crypto world in 2017. Even when links are shortened? MetaCert unfurls them until it finds the real destination site, and then checks the Protocol to see if it’s verified, unknown or classified as phishing. It does all this in less that 300ms.”

Walsh is also working on a system to scan for Fake News in the wild using a similar technology to his anti-phishing solution. The company is raising currently and is working on a utility token.

Walsh sees his first customers as enterprise and expects IT shops to implement the software to show employees which links are allowed, i.e. company or partner links, and which ones are bad.

“It’s likely we will approach this top down and bottom up, which is unusual for enterprise security solutions. But ours is an enterprise service that anyone can install on their phone in less than a minute,” he said. “SMEs isn’t typically a target market for email security companies but we believe we can address this massive market with a solution that’s not scary to setup and expensive to support. More research is required though, to see if our hypothesis is right.”

“With MetaCert’s security, training is reduced to a single sentence ‘if it doesn’t have a green shield, assume it’s not safe,” said Walsh.

Apple’s iBooks revamp, Apple Books, is here

Apple’s new and improved iBooks app, now called Apple Books, has popped up on iPhones across the world today with the release of iOS 12, the software update available to download as of this morning.

The new app has five tabs: Reading Now, Library, Book Store, Search and, for the first time, a dedicated Audiobooks tab.

Apple first previewed it at WWDC in June. The company said its sleek new look was the “biggest books redesign ever.” Cleaner UI, coupled with larger images, gives the app a more modern feel and an overall better experience. More importantly, it sets up Apple to better compete with other audio/e-book apps, like the Amazon-owned Audible.

In the Book Store, users can explore recently released titles and best-selling books, as well as curated collections and special offers; it’s available in 51 countries and free books for download are available in 155 countries.

Apple Books is also a lot smarter than its predecessor. As you download titles and engage with the app, the app will send you personalized recommendations based on your activity.

Indeed, it was time for an update. Audiobooks are more popular today than when Apple first launched iBooks in 2010 and are very much deserving of their own tab. According to Pew Research Center, one in five Americans regularly listens to them — a 28 percent increase from 2016.

Apple has removed Infowars podcasts from iTunes

Apple has followed the lead of Google and Facebook after it removed Infowars, the conspiracy theorist organization helmed by Alex Jones, from its iTunes and podcasts apps.

Unlike Google and Facebook, which removed four Infowars videos on the basis that the content violated its policies, Apple’s action is wider-reaching. The company has withdrawn all episodes of five of Infowars’ six podcasts from its directory of content, leaving just one left, a show called ‘Real News With David Knight.’

The removals were first spotted on Twitter. Later, Apple confirmed it took action on account of the use of hate speech which violates its content guidelines.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Apple’s action comes after fellow streaming services Spotify and Stitcher removed Infowars on account of its use of hate speech.

Jones has used Infowars, and by association the platforms of these media companies, to broadcast a range of conspiracy theories which have included claims 9/11 was an inside job and alternate theories to the San Bernardino shootings. In the case of another U.S. mass shooting, Sandy Hook, Jones and Infowars’ peddling of false information and hoax theories was so severe that some of the families of the deceased, who have been harassed online and faced death threats, have been forced to move multiple times. A group is suing Jones via a defamation suit.

Chat app Line gets serious about gaming with its latest acquisition

Line, the company best-known for its popular Asian messaging app, is doubling down on games after it acquired a controlling stake in Korean studio NextFloor for an undisclosed amount.

NextFloor, which has produced titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child, will be merged with Line’s games division to form the Line Games subsidiary. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch — it clocked $1 million in daily revenue at peak. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line’s own games are focused on its messaging app, which gives them access to social features such as friend graphs, and they have helped the company become a revenue generation machine. Alongside income from its booming sticker business, in-app purchases within games made Line Japan’s highest-earning non-game app publisher last year, according to App Annie, and the fourth highest worldwide. For some insight into how prolific it has been over the years, Line is ranked as the sixth highest earning iPhone app of all time.

But, despite revenue success, Line has struggled to become a global messaging giant. The big guns WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have in excess of one billion monthly users each, while Line has been stuck around the 200 million mark for some time. Most of its numbers are from just four countries: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. While it has been able to tap those markets with additional services like ride-hailing and payments, it is certainly under pressure from those more internationally successful competitors.

With that in mind, doubling down on games makes sense and Line said it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles, from the second half of this year.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

Safaricom rolls out Bonga social networking platform to augment M-Pesa

When it comes to monetizing digital social interactions, Kenya’s Safaricom has its own order. American tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter offered social networks first, then moved to commercialize them.

Through its M-Pesa mobile money product, Safaricom built one of Africa’s most robust commercial webs and now aims to leverage it as a social network.

The vehicle is the company’s new Bonga platform, something Kenya’s largest telco rolls out in pilot phase this week. An outgrowth of the Safaricom’s Alpha innovation incubator, “Bonga is a conversational and transactional social network,” Shikoh Gitau, Alpha’s Head of Products told TechCrunch.

“It’s focused on pay, play, and purpose…as the three main things our research found people do on our payment and mobile network,” she said. Gitau offered examples: pay could be using M-Pesa and SMS to coordinate anything from tuition payments to e-commerce, play spans online sports betting to gaming, and purpose includes SMS or WhatsApp chat groups that raise money for weddings, holidays, or Kenya’s informal investment groups.

“In our [Bonga] research we’ve said ‘what can we do to build upon those three network behaviors in our network that is Safaricom?,’” she said.

I recently sat in on an Alpha product development session in Nairobi and talked to Safaricom CIO Kamal Battacharya on his vision for the product late last year, as reported at TechCrunch.

“Safaricom’s unique in that we have telco services and a financial services platform that connect nearly every household in Kenya largely on the basis of trade,” he said.

“We’d actually like to move beyond M-Pesa by leveraging its power as a social network to connect people to other product solutions.”

As a telco, Safaricom­—still  has 69 percent of the Kenya’s mobile subscribers. Its M-Pesa fintech app―which generated $525 million of the company’s $2 billion annual revenues―boasts 27 million customers across a network of 136,000 agents.

Through in-house development and partnerships, the company continues to add consumer and small business-based products to its mobile and fintech network. These include digital TV, the M-Kopa solar-powered lighting kit, and Lipa-Na bill pay service.

This week Safaricom will offer Bonga to a test group of 600 users, before updating the product, allowing the initial group to refer it to friends, and then extending the platform in three phases.

Bonga Sasa will facilitate messaging and money transfer between individuals, “enabling users to send or receive money while conversing with each other,” according to a Safaricom release. For example, through Bonga Sasa a parent can send money to the child without having to leave the platform to access another money transfer tool.

Bonga Baraza, expected in mid-2018, will allow users to collect money for purpose driven events, including Kenya’s harambee collective fundraising drives.

Bonga Biashara will build on this use of social networks for commerce. Digitizing Kenya’s extensive informal trading commerce is at play here. Alpha’s research found roughly “2.5 million people doing side-hustles with a smartphone in Kenya” and 12.5 million total running small businesses on smart and USSD devices, according to Gitau.

Bonga will channel Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, PayPal, and eBay in one platform. Users will be able to create business profiles parallel to their personal social media profiles and M-Pesa accounts and sell online. Bonga will also include space for Kenya’s creative class to upload, shape, and distribute artistic products and content.

As for Safaricom’s Bonga monetization plan, it’s not an immediate priority, according to the Alpha team members I spoke to. “We’ll offer it for free for now, and it’s connected to M-Pesa, which is already monetized,” said Gitau. “The more these services grow and grow small businesses the more they grow M-Pesa..which is already profitable.”

Safaricom is exploring how to take Bonga beyond Kenya’s borders, which could include markets where both M-Pesa and Vodafone are present: currently 10 in Europe, Africa, and South Asia.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/WorldRemit

Apple iTunes finally arrives in the Windows Store

With Microsoft’s BUILD 2018 conference right around the corner, the company just made good on a promise from last year’s conference; Apple iTunes is finally coming to the Windows Store.

The music software was originally forecast to arrive by the end of 2017, but it took a bit longer to finally find its Windows home. The iTunes of the Windows Store is just the same old regular iTunes, but now installation updates are handled through the Windows Store updater rather than through Apple . It’s arrival also ensures the software’s compatibility with Windows 10 S mode which only runs apps downloaded from the Windows Store.

If you somehow don’t have iTunes yet you still desire iTunes on your Windows 10 PC, check it out here.

France takes legal action against Apple and Google for their app stores

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire criticized Apple and Google for the way they run the App Store and Play Store. According to him, Google and Apple have too much power against app developers. Le Maire will ask a court to look at it and fine tech giants if necessary.

“When developers want to develop their apps and sell them through Google or Apple, those companies set the prices, Google and Apple get back some data, Google and Apple can unilaterally modify contracts with developers,” Le Maire told RTL. “All of this is unacceptable, this isn’t the economy that we want.”

This isn’t the first time French officials pay attention to the App Store and Play Store. Last month, ARCEP president Sébastien Soriano shared a report that said that net neutrality should go beyond carriers and internet service providers. The ARCEP thinks that big tech companies also have a responsibility when it comes to the neutrality of the internet.

“This report has listed for the first time ever all the limitations you face as a smartphone user,” Soriano told me at the time. “By users, we mean both consumers and developers who submit apps in the stores.”

It’s clear that developers have no choice but to comply with App Store and Play Store rules. They have no choice but to pay Apple and Google 30 percent of their sales (or 15 percent for subscriptions).

If Apple or Google remove an app from their respective store, developers can’t take legal action because they signed a contract with them. But at the same time, they don’t have a say when it comes to negotiating the terms of those contracts.

“I’m going to take legal action against Google and Apple with the Paris Commercial Court for abusive business practices,” Le Maire said. Google and Apple shouldn’t really be worried as he expects a fine of a few million euros. But it’s an interesting case anyway.

As for the upcoming European tax plans on big tech companies, Le Maire said that it will become effective by the end 2018. Earlier this month, he said that we will hear more about this in the coming weeks.

Apple has a history of choosing cash over startups

 Apple has more cash than any other tech company on the planet. Yet, that hasn’t translated into spending on acquisitions. Over the past five years, Apple has spent the least on M&A out of all the “Big Five” most valuable U.S. tech companies. That’s despite the fact that it is estimated to have more than $260 billion in cash and cash equivalents. So, is it buying… Read More