Apple TV+ to launch November 1 for $4.99/month, one year free comes with select Apple devices – gpgmail


Apple today formally announced its launch plans for its new TV streaming service, Apple TV+, which will be available starting on November 1st, 2019 t and will cost just $4.99 per month for the whole family. The service will be available across Apple’s platforms in over 100 countries through the Apple TV app.

As an unexpected surprise, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that when buy an Apple device — including an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV — you’ll get a year of Apple TV+ for free.

According to Cook, only some of the shows will be available at launch. Others will be added every month.

A higher price point of $9.99 per month was previously reported by Bloomberg, which would have made Apple TV+ more expensive than rivals like the $6.99 per month Disney+, $5.99 per month Hulu (with ads), or the $8.99 per month single screen Netflix plan. It is, however, less expensive than Netflix’s $12.99 per month standard plan.

The $4.99 per month price undercuts all. And bundling a free year with new Apple hardware should boost sales as well.

Apple’s entry into the TV streaming market has been public for some time thanks to leaks and reports from Hollywood media news sites and announcements of programs from Apple itself. The company then officially introduced Apple TV+ this March at a special event focused on the company’s services and subscriptions.

The event brought out a cavalcade of stars to discuss their involvement in the new streaming platform, including Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, Kumail Nanjiani, J.J. Abrams, Sara Bareilles, and even Big Bird.

Some of the more anticipated shows arriving include a morning show drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston; a Witherspoon-backed comedy based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s “You Think It, I’ll Say It;” a thriller called “Truth Be Told” starring Octavia Spencer; a revival of “Amazing Stories” exec-produced by Steven Spielberg; a new space drama “For All Mankind” from “Battlestar Galactica’s” creator Ronald D. Moore; a show from “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle; an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation;” original shows produced by Oprah Winfrey; a psychological thriller “Servant” produced by M. Night Shyamalan; an animated series called “Central Park” from “Bob’s Burgers” creator, and many others.

(Here’s a full list.)

Despite the numerous high-profile names attached, Apple’s service isn’t really a Netflix alternative. There’s not a big back catalog of licensed TV shows and movies, as you’d find elsewhere. Instead, the focus is on original content. If you want more, Apple TV Channels offers paid subscriptions to other premium services.

As Apple SVP Eddy Cue told attendees at SXSW 2018: “we’re not after quantity, we’re after quality.”

Services, like Apple Music, iCloud and AppleCare, have been a bigger focus for Apple in recent years, and may even become its most profitable sector, according to reports. As of its third-quarter earnings, Apple reported its services revenues, which include App Store fees, subscriptions, and other online services, had grown to $11.456 billion. At the same time, the iPhone made up less than half of Apple’s business.

The slowing iPhone sales have to do with the quality of the devices — even older models are still very good, and the improvements in new versions are not enough to prompt as frequent upgrades. To diversify, Apple has been focused on growing services revenues with launches like Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and now Apple TV+.

Apple is also clearly willing to spend in order to grow its media business further.

Last year, Apple had said it would spend around a billion dollars acquiring ten shows for the streaming TV service. But it later signed deals with Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and Sesame Workshop, which likely pushed that number much higher. A newer report from the Financial Times in August claimed the figure was now around $6 billion instead. 

What we don’t yet know is how well Apple’s investment will attract new subscribers in a market where there’s an increasing number of services offering premium, award-winning on-demand content, including Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and soon, Disney+.

The few trailers Apple has released so far have been fairly iffy — the first one of “The Morning Show” almost felt like a parody, while the latest, “Dickinson” seems to have turned the celebrated poet Emily Dickinson into a CW-style feminist punk rock hero.

Apple said the trailers had been watched over 100 million times.

At the event, it unveiled the trailer for the post-apocalyptic drama starring  Jason Momoa, “See,” which is Apple TV+’s take on Netflix’s “Bird Box,” apparently. It takes place in a world where all have gone blind.

As media critics finally get their hands on the shows for reviews, we’ll know more about whether Apple TV+ is worth the price.


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Netflix officially launches a ‘Latest’ section with built-in reminders – gpgmail


Last month, Netflix was spotted testing a new section in its TV app called “Latest,” which would connect viewers with a personalized list of upcoming content due to be released over the course of the current week and the next. Today, Netflix is formally announcing the launch of the feature with a focus on its ability to remind you of shows and movies you want to watch.

Netflix had confirmed in August that the Latest section would be available on its streaming app for TVs, including Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, and others. But it also had a similar feature available on Android and is testing the feature on iOS, it said at the time.

Today, the company confirms the new tab will now be available on many game consoles and Roku, with smart TVs and other devices getting the upgrade in the next couple of months.

The tab itself will feature content from across categories, like drama, comedy, horror, docs, foreign, original, licensed and kids, the company notes. These recommendations will be organized into three sections: New this Week, Coming this Week, and Coming Next Week.

When you see something of interest, you can click “Remind Me” to receive a notification when the title is available to stream.

Netflix says the new feature was inspired by its popular “Now on Netflix” newsletters which help subscribers keep up with the ever-changing content slate.

The feature’s launch is significant for a few reasons.

For starters, it’s a rare addition to Netflix’s top-level navigation in its app which before was limited to Home, Search, TV, Movies, and My List. The Latest section will now get a prominent position, just beneath the Home button.

It will also be an important tool that Netflix will use to keep viewers engaged with its content so they’ll continue to pay for the subscription service. This is now more of a concern for Netflix, which recently posted a disappointing quarter, where it lost U.S. subscribers for the first time since 2011. It’s also poised to face serious competition from newcomers to the streaming market including, most notably, Disney whose soon-to-launch Disney+ will cost less than Netflix and can be bundled with Hulu and ESPN for the same price as a standard Netflix subscription.

The new addition will help to address another challenge, as well — helping subscribers figure out what to watch. Unlike traditional linear TV, Netflix doesn’t just drop you into live TV — you have to make a decision. This often leads to people scrolling for several minutes to find a show to stream, getting frustrated or overwhelmed by the choices, then just launching an old standby, like “The Office.” With reminders and notifications, Netflix can gently nudge viewers towards titles they already want to watch, which could mean less timing browsing and more time streaming.

 


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Amazon unveils a new Fire TV Cube, soundbar, and over a dozen Fire TV Edition products – gpgmail


At the big European tech trade show, IFA 2019, Amazon today announced over 20 new Fire TV-branded devices, including a next-generation Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Edition soundbar from Anker — its first foray into Fire TV Edition audio products — and 15 new Fire TV Edition products, including the first OLED Fire TV Edition smart TVs.

The announcement represents a significant expansion of Amazon’s Fire TV hardware line and integrations at a time when Roku has gained a lead over Amazon in the U.S., in terms of connected-TV market share, while Fire TV has been claiming the top spot in some European markets and an international lead over Roku.

The company today said its Fire TV devices now have over 37 million monthly active users globally, which is ahead of the 30.5 million Roku reported in Q2. Both companies offer products that may be used by more than one person in a household, of course, but each household only gets counted as one user (or account) as long as they’ve streamed through the platform in the past month. It’s a relatively fair comparison, in other words.

Of the new devices, the new Fire TV Cube is one of the more interesting additions to the lineup as it represents the second generation, and a big upgrade, over the existing product. The device offers a hands-free Fire TV experience, and has become the testing ground for many Fire TV software enhancements before they roll out to the wider product lineup.

The updated Fire TV Cube now includes a faster, “hexa-core” processor that’s twice as powerful as the one that shipped in the first generation device. It provides “instant access” to Dolby Vision and 4K Ultra HD content, Amazon claims, at up to 60 frames per second. The new Cube also includes on-device processing with Local Voice Control, which lets you more quickly execute some of your common voice commands like “Alexa, go home,” or “Alexa, scroll right,” for example. These commands will now execute up to 4 times faster, says Amazon.

The Fire TV Cube will also ship with far-field voice recognition capabilities with 8 microphones and technology that helps to suppress noise, reverberation, content currently playing, and even competing speech so Alexa better hears your voice commands even when the TV is on in a room full of people.

Customers will be able to control their compatible TV, soundbar, A/V receiver, cable or satellite box, as well as other smart home devices by way of the device’s support of multi-directional infrared technology, cloud-based protocols, and HDMI CEC, combined with Alexa. 

“Fire TV Cube was the first hands-free streaming media player powered by Alexa, and since launching last year we have gathered a wealth of feedback from customers about how they use voice in the living room,” said Marc Whitten, Vice President of Amazon Fire TV, in a statement. “Over the past year, we have continued to expand and advance the Fire TV Cube experience based on this feedback with dozens of new features including Multi-Room Music, Follow-Up Mode, and Alexa Communications. These key learnings carried over and guided the development of the second-generation Fire TV Cube, and we are excited to introduce this new-and-improved experience to customers around the world,” he said.

The new Fire TV Cube is available for pre-order in the U.S. for $119.99, in Canada for $149.99, the United Kingdom for £109.99, Germany for €119.99, and Japan for ¥14980.  It ships on Oct. 10 in all markets except Japan, where it ships on Nov. 5, instead. And it will be sold in a package with Ring Video Doorbell 2 for $249.99 (or $69 off).

Fire TV Cube Couch

Amazon’s Fire TV Edition lineup is expanding, too. This is the licensed version of the Fire TV OS available to other manufacturers for use in their own products.

The company announced more than 15 new products from brands including Skyworth, Arcelik, TPV, Compal, and others.

In partnership with Dixons Carphone, Amazon is teaming up to launch JVC – Fire TV Edition Smart 4K Ultra HD HDR LED TVs, which are the first Fire TV Edition products in the U.K. They’ll be sold by Currys PC World and online at Amazon.co.uk and are priced at £349 and up.

With IMTRON, a company of MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group, Amazon is launching a lineup of Fire TV Edition smart TVs under the private label ok. These will be available in Germany and Austria, as will the 11 Fire TV Edition smart TVs from Grundig including the first OLED Fire TV Edition television ( available in 55” and 65” models, starting at €1,299.99 for hands-free; or starting at €1,199.99 if not; pictured below). 

Grundig OLED Fire TV Edition display

Other more affordable Grundig Fire TV Edition products will be sold on Amazon.de in 32″, 40″, 43″, 49″, 55″, and 65″ variations, starting at €239.99. They’ll also come to retailers including MediaMarkt, Saturn, Euronics, Expert, EP:, Medimax, and others.

In the U.S., Amazon and Best Buy announced the first 65-inch Toshiba – Fire TV Edition smart TV with Dolby Vision, which will be available for customers in the United States next month for $599.

Finally, following Roku’s lead into home audio, Amazon also announced the first expansion of Fire TV Edition beyond the TV itself with the launch of the Nebula Soundbar from Anker. (Roku also today launched its own wireless soundbar).

The new device supports 4K Ultra HD, a unified smart TV user interface, near-field Alexa voice control, Dolby Vision pass-through, and more. It can also be added to a multi-room speaker group through the Alexa app, and comes with a 90-day trial to Amazon Music Unlimited. 

Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition 4

It’s available for pre-order today for $229.99 in the United States, $269.99 in Canada, £179.99 in the United Kingdom, and €209.99 in Germany. It will begin shipping on November 21.

The expansion of Fire TV Edition-branded products is also meant to challenge Roku on the success of its Roku TV-branded television sets, which are similarly manufactured by partners but run the Roku OS.

In the U.S., Roku OS is the No. 1 licensed TV OS in the U.S. and now powers more than 1 in 3 smart TVs. Amazon is today is clearly answering that challenge by focusing on the international markets with a suite of new partners for Fire TV Edition.

 


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Hulu redesigns its mobile app for better discovery – gpgmail


At this year’s CES event, Hulu announced plans to trial an updated version of its user interface that would do away with the confusing landing page called “Lineup.” At the time, the company said it was considering both  “Hulu Picks” option or an “Unwatched in My Stuff” screen as a replacement for “Lineup.” Today, Hulu’s new interface is rolling out across iOS and Android* devices, the company says, and “Lineup” is gone.

The Hulu interface launched in 2017 was not always well-liked — something Hulu had acknowledged after a complaint became the most upvoted item on Hulu’s customer feedback forums a couple of years ago. Users felt the interface was too difficult to navigate and the layout was confusing, among other things.

Some of Hulu’s challenges were around the fact that it was trying to merge an on-demand library with a live TV service, while also finding room to promote its original content.

But some of its other design choices were just odd — like its decision to make a single piece of content the main focus for many of its screens, for example. Meanwhile, its landing page “Lineup” never really made sense, either. Its name hinted at some form personalization, but instead, it was more often filled with suggestions of what Hulu was promoting, like “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The updated iOS interface ditches “Lineup,” and replaces it with “Hulu Picks.”

This is more clearly a collection of things to watch that’s curated by Hulu staff, rather than algorithmically derived by user viewing behavior.

However, the other landing page Hulu had been considering, “Unwatched in My Stuff,” is still available, just a few swipes over.

While Hulu still gives a single piece of content the focus on its main screens on the iPhone, it’s now easier to see there’s more content available if you swipe down, as the top of the next item’s card is peeking up from the bottom of the screen.

On the smartphone, this means you can see two items at a time. On iPad, you can see two rows totaling 6 cards on the app’s main screen when in landscape mode.

Image from iOS 8

This same format applies not only to “Hulu Picks,” but also to neighboring screens like “Live Now,” “Unwatched in My Stuff,” “My Channels,” and the genre-based sections like “Sports,” “News,” “TV,” “Movies,” “Kids,” “Hulu Originals,” and others.

Only the “Keep Watching” screen retains the more traditional thumbnails.

This seems like a small change, but it goes a long way to increase the discoverability of Hulu content, as it reduces how many times you have to swipe to see more suggestions.

Image from iOS 6

Other changes touted at CES like adding expanded metadata next to content (genre, rating, year) or the ability to mark content as “unwatched” haven’t made an appearance. (Plenty of items still lack a rating). The 14-day live TV guide mentioned at CES isn’t available on iOS, either.

Hulu didn’t publicly announce the launch of the iOS redesign, but did confirm it’s rolling out now, only to mobile devices. They said other devices will get the update “soon.”

Update: Hulu says the update is coming to Android as well now, but it’s only in A/B testing at present. The post has been updated since publication. 


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DirecTV Now’s rebranding to ‘AT&T TV NOW’ is officially rolling out – gpgmail


AT&T’s live TV streaming service, DirecTV Now, is getting a new name. The company in July announced that the service would soon be rebranded to AT&T TV NOW at some point later in the summer. The company today confirmed that change is officially rolling out.

The company teased the rebrand’s launch on its Twitter account this afternoon, but didn’t clarify what it meant by “whole new look.” Many assumed the tweet referred to the fact that DirecTV Now brand — which still remains across all app platforms and social accounts — will finally be removed.

A company spokesperson confirmed the tweet was related to AT&T’s prior announcement of the name change.

That being said, the AT&T DirecTV Now apps haven’t yet been updated in the app stores, so this is the first news that the name change is imminent. (The spokesperson could not speak to the exact timing of the rebrand’s arrival).

AT&T had previously explained that DirecTV Now customers would see the rebranding go live around the same time that the new AT&T TV service began its pilot testing.

The latter is the company’s new home TV service that doesn’t require a satellite. Instead, it offers live TV and on-demand titles over a broadband connection, plus a cloud DVR, and access to thousands of streaming apps like Netflix and Pandora, as well as a voice remote powered by Google Assistant.

Both AT&T TV NOW and AT&T TV will utilize the same AT&T TV app on mobile devices and on their TV’s big screen. There will be no change for current DirecTV NOW subscribers beyond needing to re-accept the terms of service to continue streaming.

The DirecTV Now app will update automatically to become the AT&T NOW app when the changes go live, the company said.

DirecTV Now rebranding isn’t the only change to AT&T’s streaming plans in recent months.

The company also rolled out price hikes and new bundles for DirecTV Now customers, punted on its original plans for a multi-tiered WarnerMedia streaming service, and last month announced its new HBO Max service would instead launch in spring 2020 for slightly more than the HBO NOW subscription of $14.99/month.

The new name for AT&T’s live television streaming service comes at an opportune time, as the DirecTV Now brand has been in the headlines due to a nearly three-week-long blackout of CBS stations while the companies negotiated a new carriage agreement.

That deal had impacted 6.6 million people across DirecTV Now, Direct TV, and AT&T’s U-Verse in several major cities including New York, Chicago, and LA. A new agreement was reached last week, just ahead of the anticipated announcement of a CBS-Viacom merger. (Announced today!)

 




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