Telegram hits out at Apple’s app store ‘tax’ in latest EU antitrust complaint – TechCrunch

Apple has another antitrust charge on its plate. Messaging app Telegram has joined Spotify in filing a formal complaint against the iOS App Store in Europe — adding its voice to a growing number of developers willing to publicly rail against what they decry as Apple’s app “tax”.

A spokesperson for Telegram confirmed the complaint to TechCrunch, pointing us to this public Telegram post where founder, Pavel Durov, sets out seven reasons why he thinks iPhone users should be concerned about the company’s behavior.

These range from the contention that Apple’s 30% fee on app developers leads to higher prices for iPhone users; to censorship concerns, given Apple controls what’s allowed (and not allowed) on its store; to criticism of delays to app updates that flow from Apple’s app review process; to the claim that the app store structure is inherently hostile to user privacy, given that Apple gets full visibility of which apps users are downloading and engaging with.

This week Durov also published a blog post in which he takes aim at a number of “myths” he says Apple uses to try to justify the 30% app fee — such as a claim that iOS faces plenty of competition for developers; or that developers can choose not to develop for iOS and instead only publish apps for Android.

“Try to imagine Telegram or TikTok as Android -only apps and you will quickly understand why avoiding Apple is impossible,” he writes. “You can’t just exclude iPhone users. As for the iPhone users, the costs for consumers to switch from an iPhone to an Android is so high that it qualifies as a monopolistic lock-in” — citing a study done by Yale University to bolster that claim.

“Now that anti-monopoly investigations against Apple have started in the EU and the US, I expect Apple to double down on spreading such myths,” Durov adds. “We shouldn’t sit idly and let Apple’s lobbyists and PR agents do their thing. At the end of the day, it is up to us – consumers and creators – to defend our rights and to stop monopolists from stealing our money. They may think they have tricked us into a deadlock, because we’ve already bought a critical mass of their devices and created a critical mass of apps for them. But we shouldn’t be giving them a free ride any longer.”

The European Commission declined to comment on Telegram’s complaint.

We also reached out to Apple for comment but the company also declined to provide an on the record statement regarding Telegram’s complaint. A spokesperson did point to a piece of analyst research, from earlier this year, which found iOS had a marketshare of 15% vs Android’s 85%. They also flagged a separate analyst report, which looks at commission rates charged by app and digital content stores and marketplaces — suggesting this shows that rates charged for similar types of stores are generally also around 30%.

So the company’s overarching argument against ‘app tax’ complaints continues to be the claim that: A) Apple can’t have monopoly power, given its relatively small mobile OS marketshare (vs Android); and B) the App Store fee is fair because it’s basically the same as everyone else charges. (On the latter point it’s true Google also takes a 30% cut via the Play Store. However the Android platform lets users sideload apps; whereas, on iOS, users would have to jailbreak their device to get the same level of freedom to freely install apps of their choice).

Apple’s arguments are also now being actively looked into by EU regulators. Last month the Competition Commission announced it’s investigating Apple’s iOS store (and Apple Pay) — saying a preliminary probe of the store had identified concerns related to conditions and restrictions applied by the tech giant.

Specifically vis-a-vis the App Store, the Commission said it’s looking at Apple’s mandatory requirement that developers use its proprietary in-app purchase system, and at restrictions it applies on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of the App Store.

The investigation by EU regulators is just the latest in a series of major big tech antitrust probes under the bloc’s current competition chief, Margrethe Vestager — who has also been digging into Amazon and Facebook business practices in recent years, as well as hitting Google with a series of record-breaking antitrust fines.

Over in the US, meanwhile, lawmakers are also actively grappling with competition concerns that have long been attached to a number of tech giants — and are being exacerbated by the pandemic concentrating platform power. Apple is one of the tech giants of concern, though not, seemingly, top of US lawmakers’ target list.

Yesterday, a hearing of the House Antitrust Subcommittee took testimony from four big tech CEOs: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai — with Pichai, Bezos and Zuckerberg getting the most questions from lawmakers.

Cook did face a number of questions around how the company operates the App Store, though — including about the commission it charges developers and a specific line of enquiry on why it had removed rival screen time apps. Asked whether Apple could ever raise its 30% take on app subscriptions Cook sought to sidestep the question, saying the fee had remained unchanged since the launch of the store.

He then followed up by arguing Apple faces huge competition for developers — citing alternatives platforms such as Windows and Xbox as also fiercely vying for developers, and likening the competition to attract developers as akin to “a street fight for market share”.

The contention from complainants like Spotify and Telegram is that Cook’s claim of Apple facing fierce competition for developers’ wares, from its position as the world’s second largest smartphone OS by marketshare, does not stand up to scrutiny. But it’ll be up to EU regulators to determine how to define the market for smartphone apps and, flowing from that, whether they identify harm or not.

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Logitech’s new Mac-specific mouse and keyboards are the new best choices for Mac input devices – TechCrunch

Logitech has released new versions of its MX peripherals in Mac-friendly finishes, as well as a new K380 wireless Bluetooth keyboard designed for Apple devices. These aren’t dramatically different devices from the existing versions that Logitech offers — but that’s a good thing in this case, and it elevates what were already amazing peripherals to no-brainer default choices for Mac users.

MX Master 3 for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The MX Master 3 for Mac is a very slightly altered twist on the MX Master 3 — consisting mostly of a new paint job that actually pretty closely resembles the old one. Specs are the same for the Mac-specific version, including its quiet scroll wheel with 1,000 lines per second maximum scroll speed, and Logitech’s MagSpeed tech that dynamically enables freewheel scrolling when you’re going fast.

The MX Master 3 for Mac ships with a USB-C to USB-C cord in the box instead of the USB-A to USB-C cable that comes with the non-Mac version, and that’s much more convenient for charging and using it dongle-free with modern MacBook computers. It can run for 70 days on a full charge, and you can get three full hours of use out of just 60 seconds of charge time. The mouse uses Logitech’s Darkfield laser tracking, which provides 1000 dpi on average of accuracy and the ability to track on virtually every surface, and it can also work across Macs and iPads with Logitech’s Easy-Switch technology for connecting to multiple devices.

In terms of major differences, the main one any owners of the MX Master 3 will notice is that the MX Master 3 for Mac is listed on Logitech’s website as only offering Bluetooth connectivity — and it doesn’t ship with Logitech’s Unifying USB receiver, which connects its peripherals via a dedicated RF network instead of Bluetooth for greater reliability. That’s odd, because the MX Master 3 for Mac definitely still works with Logitech’s Unifying Retriever, and that’s exactly how I had it set up, using the USB dongle that shipped with the MX Master Keys for Mac.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

This is noteworthy because Logitech is charging $129.99 for the MX Master 3 for Mac — the same as the non-Mac version, but it doesn’t include the receiver and bills itself as a Bluetooth mouse. It’s a bit of an odd choice, but if you’ve used Logitech gear over the years, you probably have an abundance of unifying receivers on hand, and the Space Gray colorway on the Mac version does match better with actual Mac hardware.

Performance-wise, the MX Master 3 for Mac is still one of the best full-size mice you can get. It’s extremely comfortable to use, features a healthy array of controls that are customizable with Logitech’s Options software and provides smooth, high-precision tracking, with the ability to use it while charging.

MX Keys for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Like the mouse, the Mac version of the MX Keys is mostly an aesthetic change. It’s also done up in Space Gray to match Apple’s colorway of the same name, and it features contrast-coloured black keys and a top bar that houses the wireless and battery electronics. The key layout also gets Mac-specific, ditching the hybrid key labeling of Logitech’s existing MX Keys for actual dedicated Command and Option keys, as well as a hardware eject key.

Also like the Mac Master 3, the MX Keys can work across devices, including those running macOS, iPadOS and iOS. It ships with a USB-C to USB-C charging cable (again, more convenient than the USB-A to USB-C one in the standard MX Keys configuration) and a unifying receiver. It’s also able to connect via Bluetooth, and can be connected to up to three devices with dedicated keys to switch between each.

The MX Keys is already probably your best choice for a third-party keyboard that offers great performance and key feel, unless you’re specifically into clicky mechanical keyboards. It includes smart backlighting that activates automatically when your hands approach, and turns off automatically when not in use to preserve battery life. While it’s made of plastic, it still feels heavy (in a good way), ensuring it’ll rest flat on your desk. Because it’s based on the MX Keys, I can also attest to its durability, as I’ve been using that keyboard since its launch and have not had any problems with it at all thus far.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of battery life, you can expect 10 days of use with the backlighting active — but if you go without the underlay lighting, it’ll stretch out to as much as five months. And as mentioned, it’s easy to charge up directly from your Mac with the included USB-C cable — which also allows you to use it while charging.

Logitech’s work on the color scheme here really does a good job of matching the look of Apple’s aluminum treatment, right down to the metal-like speckles on the Space Gray surfaces. If you’re already using an MX Keys, stick with it, but if you’re in the market for something new, this is the new best choice for a Mac user — at the same $129.99 price point as the original.

K380 Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac, iPad and iPhone

The K380 is a much more portable keyboard option, with rounded keys and a lighter plastic shell. It’s Bluetooth-only, but still offers the ability to connect up to three devices at once. The Mac version comes in either a white or pink version, and it features Mac-specific keys like the MX.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

It works across macOS, iOS and iPadOS, and can switch between each seamlessly, making it a great choice for working on the road with a setup that includes both a Mac and your iPad or iPhone. It’s powered by two AAA batteries (included), and is rated at around two years of use on a single pair.

The typing feel is a bit shallower than the MX series, but still impressive, and it’s near-silent, which makes it better for use in shared or busy spaces. It’s available now for $49.99.

Bottom line

Logitech hasn’t reinvented the mouse wheel with any of these products (it already did that with the MX Master 3’s original launch), but these are all welcome updates that make its hardware feel more at home with Mac and other Apple devices. Even Apple itself charges a premium for the dark-coated versions of its input devices, too, so it’s nice to see pricing stay the same along with the facelift.

If you’re in the market for new peripherals and don’t already own the MX series, these are obvious choices. Ditto the K380 for Mac if you want a durable, all-in-one keyboard to use across your devices that won’t add too much weight to your pack, and that looks and feels great.

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Apple announces new iPad Pro – TechCrunch

Apple has announced new iPad Pro models in a press release. In addition to better specifications, Apple is also releasing a new Magic Keyboard with backlit keys, a trackpad and a hinge that allows you to move the iPad freely.

The iPad Pro looks more or less like the existing iPad Pro. You can choose between an 11-inch display and a 12.9-inch display. It features an eight-core A12Z Bionic system on a chip — the previous version came with an A12X Bionic system on a chip.

The new iPad Pro features a 10MP ultra-wide camera sensor as well as a lidar sensor on the back of the device — lidar sensors can be useful for augmented reality apps, for instance. There’s a standard 12MP camera sensor as well. The microphones have been improved and Apple promises “studio-quality” sound.

Wi-Fi and LTE should be slightly faster, like on the iPhone 11 Pro. On the display front, the iPad Pro supports a refresh rate of 120 Hz and True Tone like previous models, as well as a wide range of colors thanks to P3 support.

Apple also says that the thermal architecture has been improved, which should let you run demanding apps at peak performance for a longer time.

But let’s talk about the trackpad. 9to5mac previously noticed references to full mouse cursor support in iOS 14. It turns out that Apple will release that feature before iOS 14 this fall.

By default, Apple shows a rounded cursor. But the cursor changes depending on what you’re hovering over. If you’re moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you’re resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. In other words, it works pretty much like a cursor on a desktop computer.

The new trackpad will support gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center. Third-party apps already support the trackpad without any change. But developers can release updates to improve support thanks to new APIs.

The keyboard of the Magic Keyboard now looks more like a traditional keyboard with separate keys. There’s a USB-C port, which recharges both the keyboard and the iPad attached to it. This way, you can recharge your device and plug another accessory to the iPad Pro itself.

The new keyboard accessory will be available in May and will cost $299 or $349, depending on the size of your iPad Pro. Yep, that’s an expensive keyboard.

The iPad Pro will be available next week — orders start today. There are two finishes — silver and space gray. The 11-inch iPad Pro with 128GB of storage costs $799. The 12.9-inch model with 128GB of storage costs $999. You can add cellular support for an additional $150. There are also more expensive options with more storage (256GB, 512GB and 1TB).

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iPads become more laptop-like with the arrival of full mouse and trackpad support – TechCrunch

Apple just dumped a bunch of hardware news online via press release. That’s just the world we live in right now. We’ll probably be seeing a whole lot of this in the coming weeks and months, as companies adjust to the new online reality. Along with a new MacBook Air and update to the Mac Mini, the company’s creative pro-focused iPad Pro got a couple of key new features.

A number of the additions, including the $299/$349 (depending on model) Magic Keyboard, are aimed at the company’s longtime desire to push the iPad beyond a tablet, into something more akin to a super-portable productivity device.

At the center of the latest push is the forthcoming iPadOS 13.4, which brings with it laptop-style cursor and mouse support. The update will be available on the new Pro, for use with the trackpad on the keyboard case. Some good news, too, for those not willing to shell out the money for new models: It’s also coming to most iPads released in the last few years.

But iPadOS, for better and worse, is not MacOS. As such, the company’s taken a different approach to the familiar desktop cursor model. Per the press release:

Rather than copying the experience from macOS, trackpad support has been completely reimagined for iPad. As users move their finger across the trackpad, the pointer elegantly transforms to highlight user interface elements. Multi-Touch gestures on the trackpad make it fast and easy to navigate the entire system without users ever lifting their hand.

Clearly these sorts of updates were a big motivator behind forking iOS and iPadOS, as the iPad increasingly seeks to blaze its own path in the nebulous territory between mobile and desktop. We may not yet have a touchscreen Mac, but for users who are considering turning to the tablet as a primary computing device, Apple’s certainly eases that transition.

The new iPro is available for purchase today, and the Magic Keyboard arrives in May; iPadOS is set to arrive sometime between the two, on March 24. The update will make the system compatible with the latest version of Apple’s Magic Mouse and trackpad, along with some third-party Bluetooth mice.

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Apple unveils new iPad Pro and MacBook Air – TechCrunch

Apple has new hardware coming, the U.S. government may use cell phone data to track the spread of COVID-19 and Fox acquires a streaming company. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 18, 2020.

1. Apple announces new iPad Pro

The new iPad Pro looks more-or-less like the existing iPad Pro, but with better specifications, plus a new Magic Keyboard with backlit keys, a trackpad and a hinge that allows you to move the iPad freely.

Apple also announced a new MacBook Air that’s getting that same Magic Keyboard mechanism, which was introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro last year. The new scissor mechanisms offer more travel than the earlier, much-maligned MacBook keyboard and should hold up much better.

2. US government reportedly in talks with tech companies on how to use location data in COVID-19 fight

U.S. government officials are currently in discussion with a number of tech companies, including Facebook and Google, around how data from cell phones might provide methods for combating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Washington Post report.

3. Fox gets deeper into streaming with $440M acquisition of Tubi

Tubi, an ad-supported streaming service, will bring a new digitally native consumer offering to Fox. (This Fox is the broadcast news and entertainment company holding what remains of the Murdoch family’s television and cable sports and media assets after the sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney.)

4. Facebook wrongly blocked some links, including coronavirus info

Facebook suffered from a massive bug in its News Feed spam filter, causing URLs for legitimate websites, including Medium, BuzzFeed and USA Today, to be blocked from being shared as posts or comments. As of yesterday evening, the company said it has restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed.

5. With the travel market in tatters, when can Airbnb go public in 2020?

The world’s travel industry has become troubled in light of the spread of COVID-19, the resulting border closures and reduction in personal and business travel. Mix in a broad stock market sell-off, and Airbnb is in a tricky spot. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. SpaceX’s latest Starlink launch included an unforeseen engine issue

While successful in its primary mission, the latest SpaceX launch wasn’t without unexpected issues: The secondary mission of recovering the Falcon 9 booster with a controlled landing failed, for the second launch in a row.

7. Facebook announces $100M grant program for small businesses

Applications aren’t open yet, but the company says the program will include both ad credits and cash grants that can be spent on operational costs like paying workers and paying rent.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Can Apple keep the AR industry alive? – TechCrunch

Augmented reality still has Apple’s enthusiasm behind it, but can that keep the whole industry afloat?

On Wednesday, Apple debuted a new iPad Pro, the hallmark feature of which was a lidar time-of-flight sensor baked into the camera, which is designed to make augmented reality experiences more realistic and immersive. For most potential users, the inclusion is something of an oddity. Consumer AR apps are few and far between, and Apple has also been slow to bring AR functionality into its own stock apps.

For the AR industry, the hardware inclusion amounts to an industry gift, signaling once again that Apple is still committed to making an augmented reality future happen.

The company’s ARKit development platform has brought out some interesting use cases, but app developers have scored few resounding victories. The reasons why increasingly seem to have little to do with individual technical features of the development platform or camera hardware. Apple can keep improving both, but without some concerted integrations of AR functionality into the core of iOS or iPadOS, it’s unclear whether these little developer-focused feature bumps will make a dent. Consumers just don’t see anything they want yet.

AR startups have already been struggling and hardware efforts have largely cratered. The software platforms have had some success building what Apple hasn’t or won’t for niche enterprise customers, but as the economic realities shift, all bets are off.

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Apple will let users pick their own default email and browser apps – TechCrunch

Apple quietly made a major announcement that will change life for users of mobile Chrome, Gmail or Outlook. The company is shifting its view on app defaults and will be allowing users to set different app defaults for their mail and browser apps.

The company specifically denoted that this feature is coming to iPadOS and iOS 14. This likely means users can designate which browser they’re directed to when they tap a link somewhere. We’ll see whether Apple reserves any functionality for its own services. Rather than highlighting this new feature in the keynote, they snuck it into roundup screens that hovered onscreen for a few seconds. It’s hidden in the bottom center of the screen.

This is a big change for Apple but it’s no surprise they wouldn’t opt to specifically highlight this onstage. Apple has been reluctant to give users the option to use third-party apps as defaults. The big exception to date has been allowing users early on to set Google Maps as the default over Apple Maps.

Email and browsing are huge mobile use cases and it’s surprising that users haven’t had this capability to shift defaults to apps like Chrome or Gmail until this upcoming update. As Apple finds itself at the center of more anti-trust conversations, app defaults has been one area that’s always popped up as a method by which Apple promotes its own services over those from other companies.

Details are scant in terms of what this feature will look like exactly and what services will boast support, but I imagine we’ll hear more as the betas begin rolling out.

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Apple expands Apple Card’s interest-free financing to iPad, Mac, AirPods & more – TechCrunch

Last year, Apple introduced interest-free financing for new iPhone purchases when you pay with an Apple Card. Today, it’s expanding interest-free Apple Card monthly installments to a range of Apple products, including Mac and iPad, Apple TV, HomePod and AirPods, plus select accessories and related products. However, the financing options available will vary by product and device — and none offer a term as long as the 24-month interest-free option that’s offered for iPhone purchases made using Apple Card.

Instead, Apple says that Apple TV, HomePod and AirPods can be financed over six months with no interest.

Meanwhile, other products like Mac, iPad and related products and accessories can be paid for over 12 months without interest.

This latter group includes Mac and related products and accessories like the Pro Display XDR, Pro Stand, VESA Mount Adapter Kit for iMac Pro, Apple Afterburner Card and Leather Sleeves for MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Meanwhile, in addition to the iPad, you can also finance iPad accessories like the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard Folio for iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard for iPad and iPad Air, Smart Folios, and Covers for iPad Pro and iPad.

All Apple products purchased with Apple Card will also receive the 3% cash back in the form of Apple Card’s Daily Cash, as before. This cash can be used with Apple Pay, sent to family and friends via iMessage or put toward your Apple Card bill.

Apple had already offered interest-free financing for its iPhone through the iPhone Upgrade Program before its launch of Apple Card interest-free financing last year. But the earlier program required a 24-month installment loan from Citizens One and could still include other fees — like those on late payments, for example. Apple Card’s financing program for iPhone and now this wider range of Apple devices promises zero fees in addition to the interest-free financing and cash back, which ultimately makes it a better deal for customers.

The expansion also brings Apple closer to what some hope will be the company’s end goal: offering Apple devices and optional add-on services, like Apple Music or Apple TV+, as a packaged subscription. On that front, Apple has been said to be considering an Apple services bundle, with music, news and TV, but its music licensing deals may derail those plans and would make a full bundle of devices and services difficult to launch. In the meantime, being able to finance other Apple devices, interest-free, is a good first step.

Apple’s iPhone sales have largely held steady so far in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but the full economic impacts on Apple’s hardware business related to the crisis may have yet to be seen. The new interest-free financing offer is an acknowledgment that, for some customers, access to Apple’s devices may have gotten out of reach.

Bloomberg had previously reported on Apple’s plans to expand its monthly installment program.

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Adobe updates its Creative Cloud apps – TechCrunch

Adobe today announced a slew of updates to its various Creative Cloud apps, ranging from Photoshop and Lightroom to Premiere Pro, After Effects, Illustrator and its XD design tool. Like with some of its most recent releases, the emphasis of these updates is often on bringing more AI smarts to these applications with the help of the company’s Sensei platform. This includes Adobe’s recently launched Photoshop Camera app.

In addition to bringing more AI smarts to its applications, the updates also include the usual mix of new features, workflow enhancement and performance improvements.

Among the new smart tools coming to Photoshop on the desktop is an improved “select subject” feature that now does a significantly better job at helping you isolate faces, for example. Traditionally, this tool did a pretty decent job, but it often took a lot of manual work to correctly select a subject’s hair, for example. With this update, Adobe has tuned its systems to provide a significantly better experience.

Image credits: Adobe

Other new Photoshop features include auto-activation for Adobe Fonts when you open a Photoshop document that uses fonts you haven’t installed on your machine yet, as well as rotatable patterns and an update to its existing “match font” tool that now also uses Sensei to help you find matching fonts from a photograph.

Image credits: Adobe

If you use Photoshop and Lightroom on the iPad, then you’ll be happy to hear that the two are now more closely integrated, allowing you to easily send images from Lightroom to Photoshop and making Photoshop tools available in Lightroom when you edit a photo there.

Photoshop now also features all of the tools available in Adobe Capture, the company’s (previously only mobile) application for extracting color themes, patterns and shapes from photos.

In the Lightroom world, the main new feature here is Versions, which is coming to desktop and mobile. As the name implies, this lets you create different versions of your edits. With this, you can work one black and white and color version of a photo, for example, all without having to make additional copies of the image.

Image credits: Adobe

Photographers are also getting a new tool in Lightroom for adjusting local hue. “This new slider allows you to precisely edit the hue of the underlying pixels, while keeping the white balance of the selected area unchanged,” explains Adobe’s Greg Zulkie.

Also new are raw defaults, to help you streamline your workflow for editing raw files and ISO Adaptive Presets, which automatically applies different edit settings to photos depending on their ISO.

On the video side, the marquee update is the integration of Adobe Stock audio in Premiere Pro, so that you can easily add stock audio to your videos.

The company also pre-announced a couple of upcoming, Sensei-powered features for Premiere Pro, After Effects and Premiere Rush. These include a new Scene Edit Detection feature in Premiere Pro that can automatically analyze video files and add cuts or markers whenever there is a scene change. With Roto Brush 2 in After Effects, Adobe is using Sensei to mask and track objects in a video, and Auto Reframe in Premiere Rush will allow creators to quickly generate different versions of a video for different aspect ratios thanks to Sensei’s ability to figure out the most important part in a shot so that it can automatically reframe it for different devices and social media channels as needed.

Image credits: Adobe

Auto Reframe will become part of Rush’s new Effect Panel, which should go live later this month in Rush’s public beta.

There are also updates to virtually every other Creative Cloud tool here as well, though most focus on workflow improvements and the additions of relatively minor features. As usual, if you are a Creative Cloud subscriber, you’ll automatically get access to these new features once you install the latest updates.

 

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Apple Pay and iOS App Store under formal antitrust probe in Europe – TechCrunch

Apple is under formal investigation by antitrust regulators in European Union — following a number of complaints related to how it operates the iOS App Store and also its payment offering, Apple Pay.

The Commission said today that it has concerns that conditions and restrictions applied by the tech giant may be distorting competition in a number of areas, following a preliminary probe of the issues.

Back in March 2019, European music streaming service Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple — railing very publicly against what it dubbed an “Apple tax”; aka the 30% tariff the tech giant applies on accepting payments in apps on its App Store. Spotify also accused Apple of impeding its business by applying arbitrary rules — such as making it harder to offer its own users discounts.

The Commission confirmed today that it’s looking formally into whether Apple’s rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules. It said the probe focuses on Apple’s mandatory requirement that app developers use its own proprietary in-app purchase system, as well as restrictions applied on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

As well as the very public complaint from Spotify, the Commission has received a similar complaint from an unnamed e-book/audiobook distributor related to the impact of the App Store rules on competition.

Two specific restrictions imposed by Apple in its agreements with companies that wish to distribute apps to users of Apple devices will be investigated, per the Commission — namely [emphasis its]:

(i)   The mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system “IAP” for the distribution of paid digital content. Apple charges app developers a 30% commission on all subscription fees through IAP.

(ii)  Restrictions on the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps. While Apple allows users to consume content such as music, e-books and audiobooks purchased elsewhere (e.g. on the website of the app developer) also in the app, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper.

“Following a preliminary investigation the Commission has concerns that Apple’s restrictions may distort competition for music streaming services on Apple’s devices,” it writes in a press release. “Apple’s competitors have either decided to disable the in-app subscription possibility altogether or have raised their subscription prices in the app and passed on Apple’s fee to consumers.

“In both cases, they were not allowed to inform users about alternative subscription possibilities outside of the app. The IAP obligation also appears to give Apple full control over the relationship with customers of its competitors subscribing in the app, thus dis-intermediating its competitors from important customer data while Apple may obtain valuable data about the activities and offers of its competitors.”

Commenting in a statement, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager — who heads up competition policy for the bloc — added: Mobile applications have fundamentally changed the way we access content. Apple sets the rules for the distribution of apps to users of iPhones and iPads. It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books. I have therefore decided to take a close look at Apple’s App Store rules and their compliance with EU competition rules.”

Vestager’s reference to a “gatekeeper” role has specific significance as the Commission is currently consulting on updating regulations for digital platforms — including floating the possibility of ex ante regulation for platforms deemed to be gatekeepers vis-a-vis other suppliers.  (In parallel, the Commission is consulting on updates to competition law that may allow it to intervene more swiftly in future, in instances where it suspects digital markets have ‘tipped’.)

Spotify welcomed the Commission’s action, writing in a statement:

Today is a good day for consumers, Spotify and other app developers across Europe and around the world. Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long. We welcome the European Commission’s decision to formally investigate Apple, and hope they’ll act with urgency to ensure fair competition on the iOS platform for all participants in the digital economy.

On Apple Pay, the Commission said a formal investigation of how it operates the payment tech will look at the “terms, conditions and other measures” Apple applies for integrating the payment solution in merchant apps and websites on iPhones and iPads; Apple’s limitation of access to the NFC functionality on iPhones for payments in stores; and allegations of “refusals of access to Apple Pay”.

Following a preliminary probe, the Commission said it is concerned Apple’s processes “may distort competition and reduce choice and innovation”.

It also notes that Apple Pay is the only mobile payment solution that is allowed to access NFC technology on iOS devices for making payments in stores.

“The investigation will also focus on alleged restrictions of access to Apple Pay for specific products of rivals on iOS and iPadOS smart mobile devices,” it added.

The Commission said it will carry out the investigations “as a matter of priority”, but there’s no set timeframe for how long this process might take.

EU antitrust investigations have tended to take a number of years from an announcement of a formal probe to a decision being reached. (Although, in an ongoing investigation against Broadcom, Vestager recently dusted off a tool to accelerate regulatory intervention — but as yet there’s no formal ‘statement of objections’ against Apple so it remains to be seen how this case will proceed, and whether regulators may seek to speed up any intervention.)

Reached for comment on the Commission’s announcement of the two antitrust investigations, Apple dubbed the complaints “baseless” — choosing to throw shade on the complainants by claiming these companies are after “a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else”.

Here’s Apple’s statement on the two investigations in full:

Throughout our history, Apple has created groundbreaking new products and services in some of the most fiercely competitive markets in the world. We follow the law in everything we do and we embrace competition at every stage because we believe it pushes us to deliver even better results.

We developed the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs and developers. We’re deeply proud of the countless developers who’ve innovated and found success through our platform. And as we’ve grown together, we’ve continued to deliver innovative new services — like Apple Pay — that provide the very best customer experience while meeting industry-leading standards for privacy and security.

It’s disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. We don’t think that’s right — we want to maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed.

At the end of the day, our goal is simple: for our customers to have access to the best app or service of their choice, in a safe and secure environment. We welcome the opportunity to show the European Commission all we’ve done to make that goal a reality.

Apple has had a number of run-ins with EU regulators over the years — including a probe of its acquisition of Shazam (which was later cleared); a major investigation of ebook pricing; and a probe of tax benefits in Ireland which saw it on the hook for $15BN.

French competition regulators also recently fined the tech giant $1.2BN for anti-competitive sales tactics. It’s also been fined $27M by French regulators this year for throttling old iPhones.

This report was updated with comment from Spotify

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