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Apple will reopen about 100 retail stores in the US by the end of the week

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Apple will reopen around 100 retail stores in the US by the end of the week, the company confirmed to The Verge. That will put Apple’s active retail locations in the country at 130 out of 271 spread out across 21 states. The company is reopening each location in phases, so some stores will support only curbside pickup, while others will allow in-store service and sales.

The states that will soon have active Apple Stores are: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, the report says. New York’s only store to reopen will be its Victor location just outside Rochester, New York, with more of the state’s stores — including those in New York City — to reopen later.

“This week we’ll return to serving customers in many US locations. For customer safety and convenience, most stores will offer curbside or storefront service only, where we provide online order pick-up and Genius Bar appointments,” Apple said in a statement given to The Verge. “Others will be open for walk-in customers and we encourage everyone to check their local store webpage for more information about hours at their preferred location. Customers can also visit apple.com for support by phone or chat. We are committed to reopening our stores in a very thoughtful manner with the health and safety of our customers and teams as our top priority, and we look forward to seeing our customers again soon.”

More than half of Apple’s 510 worldwide retail stores are located throughout the US, but a vast majority of locations have been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some states where shelter-in-place orders have been eased or lifted, the company has already resumed retail operations. Those include stores in Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, and South Carolina, which were part of the first wave of Apple Store reopenings that began earlier in May. Apple has been slowly reopening its stores worldwide, starting first with its 42 locations in mainland China, as countries have relaxed lockdown measures.

Apple’s focus so far has been less on selling products in its physical stores to walk-in customers and more on reopening its Genius Bar for service requests and repairs. The company had to shut down its on-site repair operation in March as part of its broader store closures, which meant some customers had to wait to pick up products that were locked up or couldn’t be easily fixed and returned by mail. With more stores reopening, however, Apple will now let customers come back in to pick up devices, either through curbside pickup or through in-store service, depending on the location.

Retail chief Deirdre O’Brien published a blog post earlier this month outlining Apple’s strategy for social distancing within its stores and the other safety measures it was taking to keep customers and staff safe. “Face coverings will be required for all of our teams and customers, and we will provide them to customers who don’t bring their own. Temperature checks will be conducted at the door, and posted health questions will screen for those with symptoms — like cough or fever — or who have had recent exposure to someone infected with COVID‑19,” O’Brien wrote. Additional measures include enhanced deep cleanings of all surfaces, display products, and other high-traffic areas.

“We’ve also taken this time to consider how we can serve our customers’ needs even more effectively, whether online or in our stores,” O’Brien continued. “For many stores, that will mean curb‑side pick‑up and drop off. If you choose to buy online, we can ship to your home or make your new items available for convenient pick‑up at our stores.”

Apple

Go read how the US government built a top-secret iPod right under Steve Jobs’ nose

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For a period of time starting in 2005, Apple allowed two US government contractors to work in its offices to develop a custom version of the iPod — but exactly what that iPod would do was a mystery, and remains so today, as shared in this fascinating story by former iPod engineer David Shayer that you should go read.

The story starts off like a novel:

It was a gray day in late 2005. I was sitting at my desk, writing code for the next year’s iPod. Without knocking, the director of iPod Software—my boss’s boss—abruptly entered and closed the door behind him. He cut to the chase. “I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.”

That first paragraph sets the tone for the whole story, which has an abundance of cool details that only add to Apple’s legendary mythos of secrecy. For example:

Only four people at Apple knew about this secret project. Me, the director of iPod Software, the vice president of the iPod Division, and the senior vice president of Hardware. None of us still work at Apple. There was no paper trail. All communication was in person.

As for what the engineers were actually working on, here’s how Shayer describes it:

They wanted to add some custom hardware to an iPod and record data from this custom hardware to the iPod’s disk in a way that couldn’t be easily detected. But it still had to look and work like a normal iPod.

Shayer says he didn’t know what that custom iPod would be used for. But he guessed that they were “building something like a stealth Geiger counter,” which could have theoretically allowed people to record radioactivity levels while appearing to use a normal-looking iPod.

It all sounded like something out of a spy movie, but former iPod chief Tony Fadell says it’s all real. He should know: Fadell was vice president of iPod at the time.

You should take a few minutes to read Shayer’s whole story on TidBITS.

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You can no longer subscribe to HBO via Apple TV Channels

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HBO is no longer available as an Apple TV Channel for people who want to subscribe to it though the Apple TV app (via 9to5Mac). The change follows today’s launch of the new streaming service HBO Max.

Apple TV Channels first launched last year as a way to watch content from many different service providers all in one app, meaning you wouldn’t have to bounce around between different third-party apps to watch different content. Now, though, it seems HBO wants to push users to watch HBO Max content on the HBO Max app instead of through Apple’s.

If you already subscribe to HBO through Apple TV’s Channels, you can apparently still see it in the Apple TV app, but it won’t be updated to include content that’s exclusive to HBO Max, according to 9to5Mac. You also have free access to HBO Max thanks to a deal that was struck between Apple and WarnerMedia last month. When that deal was struck, Deadline reported that HBO Max would be integrated into the Apple TV app, but it appears that hasn’t happened yet.

There are a number of ways to access HBO Max, and my colleague Chaim Gartenberg has put together a handy guide on how you can stream HBO Max and how to know if you may already have access to it without needing to pay.

If you want to subscribe to HBO Max through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels portal, however, you can’t just yet. The issue, it seems, is due to contract negotiations, reports The Wall Street Journal, which is why the HBO Max app is not available on either Amazon Fire devices or Roku ones. Amazon is blaming the dispute on AT&T, which owns HBO Max operator WarnerMedia, in a statement provided to The Verge:

With a seamless customer experience, nearly 5 million HBO streamers currently access their subscription through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels. Unfortunately, with the launch of HBO Max, AT&T is choosing to deny these loyal HBO customers access to the expanded catalog. We believe that if you’re paying for HBO, you’re entitled to the new programming through the method you’re already using. That’s just good customer service and that’s a priority for us.

WarnerMedia defended itself in this statement given to Engadget:

We are thrilled that HBO Max is widely available at launch to customers through a variety of devices and distribution partners as well as HBOMax.com. Our goal is to make HBO Max available on every platform possible to as many viewers globally as possible so they can enjoy beloved shows from HBO, the Warner Bros. movie and TV library and a diversity of hit programming exclusive to HBO Max. We look forward to reaching agreements with the few outstanding distribution partners left, including with Amazon and on par with how they provide customers access to Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu on Fire devices.

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Apple TV Plus acquires past Fraggle Rock seasons ahead of reboot

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Apple is acquiring Fraggle Rock’s past TV seasons ahead of a new reboot set to land on Apple TV Plus, signaling a potential strategy shift for a service that has thus far relied entirely on original content.

The new Fraggle Rock reboot is being created in partnership with the Jim Henson Company and will bring back characters from the original series “for new songs and adventures, with the same spirit as the classic,” according to a press release. Apple doesn’t mention the licensing deal, but all 96 episodes that aired between 1983 and 1987 are currently available to stream. Vulture first reported the addition on Tuesday.

A Fraggle Rock reboot isn’t too surprising; Apple cited the “global fandom” around its Fraggle Rock: Rock On! shorts as proof that people were interested in the show, but that’s hard to prove without viewership numbers, which Apple hasn’t released. Still, having a show with a recognizable name like Fraggle Rock as part of its entertainment lineup makes sense for Apple.

Acquiring the rights to past seasons also makes sense. Apple bringing licensed content onto Apple TV Plus — something the company adamantly didn’t incorporate into its original strategy — could help solve some of the streaming service’s issues. Having that additional content gives people more of a reason to stick around instead of relying on a sparser offering built on the backs of originals. Plus, being able to bring in recognizable franchise names helps Apple build its IP offerings, similar to what HBO Max, Disney Plus, and Peacock are doing.

The question is how far Apple’s acquisition strategy will go. Recent reports from Bloomberg and Vulture suggest that Apple is interested in acquiring titles that directly relate to new projects it’s developing. As Josef Adalian reported in Vulture this week, with big studios like Disney, WarnerMedia, and NBCUniversal “looking to keep their best and biggest titles for their own streaming platforms, there simply aren’t enough great titles around” to justify making a play for a traditional library of licensed content. Instead, it makes more sense for Apple to look at acquiring full libraries for shows it wants to reboot — keeping everything in one place makes for a better consumer experience.

“So were Apple to end up doing a deal for the rights to the James Bond franchise (something which has been buzzed about since at least 2017), the company would also likely try to get the back library of Bond films so it could market itself as the home for all things 007,” Adalian wrote.

Apple, like all streaming players right now, is making licensing bets where they make sense. Apple isn’t about to try to use Netflix’s licensing strategy, which helped the general entertainment platform catapult into a behemoth, for its own gain. As Apple figures out which properties make the most sense to either resurrect, remake, or reboot, building out full collections is a smart play.

Apple isn’t calling this a strategy shift — but it is one. Apple TV Plus launched without any licensed content, and CEO Tim Cook reiterated at a shareholders meeting in February that Apple TV Plus wasn’t about hosting older series or films, specifically saying that’s “not what ‌Apple TV‌ Plus is about.” Cook restated that Apple TV Plus is “about original programming.”

“It doesn’t feel right for Apple to just go out and take a rerun,” Cook said.

Now the caveat seems to be if that original programming is based on an older series or movie, it’s likely that collection will wind up on Apple TV Plus.

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