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Summer’18: Einstein Bots For the People

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Service Cloud could automatically handle common customer requests and questions? With the release of Summer ’18, Einstein Bots — harnessing the power of AI — are generally available. Because of their conversational interface, building these bots can be a wholly new experience for Salesforce developers. In this blog post, we’ll investigate the what, why, and how of building Einstein Bots.

Wait, what’s an Einstein Bot?

Einstein Bots are part of Service Cloud. They are designed to augment your human call center agents. The goal of Einstein Bots is to enable your customers to quickly and accurately interact with your company without waiting for a human agent to become available. Bots provide a chat-based interface to customers. That means they can send messages, ask questions and take actions based on defined rules and/or customer input. Bots use the Einstein Platform’s Intent service to interpret customer input. Additionally, bots can present customers with pre-defined options in menus.

Naming things is hard — let’s built a bot


To me, one of the most fascinating things about any technology is the names and words we use to describe it. With Einstein Bots, we’re introducing a few new terms that I want to draw your attention to.

  1. Dialogs: Dialogs are a the basic ‘unit’ of conversation between your customers and bots. Dialogs are built from a developer-defined list of Messages, Questions, Actions and Rules.
    1. Messages are used to communicate information to the customer. Everything from static text like ‘Welcome’ to string-interpolated information is done through messages.
    2. Questions enable you to ask for customer input and store that information for later use. You might, for instance, ask a customer what their order number is with a question.
    3. Actions enable you to call Apex code with parameters and store the resulting value for later use.
    4. Finally, Rules act as a conditional engine allowing developers to make runtime decisions based on customer data. You might use a rule to ensure some bit of data has a value before you share it with the customer. You might also use a rule to decide to transition to another dialog based on some existing data.
  2. Slots: Slots represent a mechanism to store dynamically created data within the context of a dialog. They act like variables. For example, the customer’s response to a question can be stored in a slot, and you pass data from a Slot as a parameter to an Action. Not only can slots be used to store data, but developers can use familiar merge syntax {!slotName} in messages to interpolate slot data.
  3. Entities: Entities define the datatype (i. e. String, Currency, Date etc.) as well as optional selection values. A slot gets assigned to an entity, so that the system knows how to handle the slot in-/output. Think of an Entity as a ‘bucket’ of slots.
  4. Intents: Intents are phrases and words that you provide for each dialog. Whenever a customer types a message, the bot framework predicts the customer’s intent using the Einstein Platform’s Intent service. Based on the prediction, the system selects the dialog most likely matching the customer’s input.

Ok, that’s a lot of terms. Putting it all together though, a bot is built from intents that route customer to dialogs via the Einstein Intent service. Dialogs define the conversation flow, and utilize messages, questions, actions and rules to drive customer answers. Rules help ensure data sanity and provide flexibility to dialogs. Dialogs can use the questions to store customer input in slots, actions to call Apex code, and messages to display data from slots. Put together, the system functions to interpret customer requests and quickly provide them information and answers without having to wait for a human agent. So what does this actually look like to the customer? Glad you asked! Below is a quick demo of the bot at work.


Let’s walk through what you’re seeing:

  1. The bot welcomes the user with a standard message, which is part of the welcome dialog.
  2. The customer enters a question. In this case, “What’s my name?” Based on this question, Einstein predicts the intended dialog is “What’s my name?” and transitions to it.
  3. The dialog asks the customer for their name and after they respond, it transitions to the “Say my name” dialog which repeats the customer’s name back.
  4. When the customer follows up with the question “What’s the temperature?,” Einstein predicts and routes the user to the “What’s the temperature?” dialog. This dialog prompts them to enter a city and calls an Invocable method. That method returns a random temperature and date, which is then displayed to the user.

Say what?

Populate as many intents as you can, for every dialog

I had the pleasure of working with the Dreamforce ’17 Keynote team on the Developer Keynote. One of the biggest problems I had developing the demo bot wasn’t with the technology or the naming of things. No, I struggled with developing a list of intents. Because these are tied to routing customers to specific dialogs, intents are critically important. The problem, of course, is coming up with a reasonable list of things people might say in relation to a given dialog. The more examples you provide, the more accurate the intent prediction will be. Generating an exhaustive list can be difficult. To overcome this, the demo team would tackle generating intent lists on conference calls. Because we are from different backgrounds and locations, we were able to generate a much larger list of example phrases for each dialog.

Putting it all together

I put together a short video on setting up a demo ‘Hello world’ bot. Watch, and then let’s talk about some of the choices and steps that I used.

For this bot, I chose to create dialogs for “What’s my name?” “Say my name!” and “What’s the temperature?” One dialog can automatically transition to another. In my example, I setup the “What’s my name?” dialog to transition to the “Say my name” dialog as soon as the customer has answered a question. While you can have multiple back-and-forth conversation elements within a single dialog, breaking them out into logical units allows a better re-usage.

Let’s look at the “Say my name!” dialog. Remember, dialogs are chosen based on the predicted customer intent. Because of this, it’s possible a customer is routed to our “Say my name!” dialog before we’ve asked for and saved their name. Rules can help us ensure data exists before we use it. In this case, the rule checks to see if the customerData : customerName slot is not set. If it’s not, we redirect to the “What’s my name?” dialog. Because the “What’s my name?” dialog automatically transitions to the “Say my name!” dialog, if the customer is routed to “Say my name!” first, the rule seamlessly redirects us to gather the name.

After our rule is evaluated, we’re using string interpolation (Your name is: {!customerName?}) to send slot data. In this case, we’re sending the customer’s name in a message. Note: it’s important to use the API name of the slot!

At this point, we have two dialogs: one asking a question and storing the data, the second verifying the data is set and sending that data back to the customer.


Let’s tackle the “Whats the temperature?” dialog. We start off with a question and store the information. We then call an action, which we’ve configured to use our ChatBotTime class:

public with sharing class ChatBotTime {
    
    public class ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput {
        @InvocableVariable(required=true)
        public String city;
        @InvocableVariable(required=true)
        public Decimal temperature;
        @InvocableVariable(required=true)
        public String dateStamp;
    }
    
    public class ChatBotTimeAndTempInput {
        @InvocableVariable(required=true)
        public String city;
    }
    
    @InvocableMethod(label='Get System Time' description='Returns the current system time and temperature for the given cities')
    public static List<ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput> getSystemTimeAndTemp(List<ChatBotTimeAndTempInput> inputs) {
        List<ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput> results = new List<ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput>();
        for(ChatBotTimeAndTempInput i:inputs){
            ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput item = new ChatBotTimeAndTempOutput();
            item.city = i.city;
            item.temperature = Math.floor(Math.random() * (1000 - 100) + 100) / 100;
            item.dateStamp = String.valueOf(dateTime.now());
            results.add(item);
        }
        return results;
    }
}

Because our invocable method accepts a list of ChatBotTimeAndTempInput objects, the Action configuration screen automatically displays the fields we can populate. It knows what fields to show based on the @InvocableVariables listed in our input class.

Similarly, because our invocable method returns a list of objects that have variables marked as invocableVariable, the system knows what output to expect and allows us to map those data points to slots.

So what does this all mean?

As you can see, it’s not hard to build a conversational experience for your customers using Einstein Bots. Declarative configuration, combined with invocable Apex, gives you powerful capabilities to enhance your customer experience. The hardest part is identifying the variety of intents for every dialog. Use crowdsourcing in your company as well as the data in your existing service cases to gather as many examples as possible.

Now what?

I want to encourage you to sign up for a Summer ’18 pre-release org and build a bot for yourself. (Note: You’ll need to setup Live Agent, Omni-Chanel and the Web Snap-ins prior to building a bot.) Experiment with calling Invocable Apex. Ask questions. Play with various slot and entity types. Start a discussion on Chatter to gather intent options for what customers might say to ask “Where’s my order?” Most of all, I want to encourage you to just play with bots. Discover how easy they are to setup and how quickly they can get your customers’ information!

As you build bots, you may want to spend some additional time learning more about the Einstein Platform and the Intent service. The Einstein Intent API Basics module in Trailhead is a great resource for this.

About the author

Kevin Poorman works as a Senior Developer Evangelist at Salesforce. He focuses on Testing, IOT, Mobile, and Integrations on the Lightning Platform. You can pester him on Twitter at @codefriar.

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&#039;Why not take a risk&#039; attitude widespread among patients and providers

“Antibiotics can’t hurt. They might even make me feel better. Why not take a risk?” You may have had similar thoughts when sick with the flu or common cold. Your doctor may think so too.

A new study led by David Broniatowski, an assistant professor in the George Washington University’s department of engineering management and systems engineering, finds the “Why not take a risk?” mentality is widespread among patients and medical care providers. Many in both groups believe that antibiotics “can’t hurt” patients with flu or cold symptoms. They held this belief even though they knew antibiotics have side effects. Education alone doesn’t seem to help: many knew antibiotics don’t work against viruses. However, providers still believed the antibiotics might help patients feel better.

Patients and providers who use antibiotics may not be behaving irrationally. “When you’re feeling sick, you just want to feel better as soon as possible and the side effects from antibiotics look extremely mild in comparison,” Dr. Broniatowski said. “There’s always that extremely rare possibility that your disease actually is bacterial.”

However, this “Why not take a risk?” belief may be leading to unnecessary prescribing and to the spread of superbugs, which have caused 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total cost to treat superbugs exceeds $20 billion annually.

“People may be acting strategically — trying to hedge their bets — when they expect or prescribe antibiotics,” Dr. Broniatowski said. “Unfortunately, this individually-rational action leads to negative consequences for society.”

The team behind the study included researchers from GW; the Center For Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy; Johns Hopkins University; University of California, Davis; and Cornell University. They surveyed 149 clinicians and 225 patients from two large urban academic hospitals, and 519 online nonpatient subjects to determine whether providers share patients’ rationales for antibiotic use. The research, “Patients’ and Clinicians’ Perceptions of Antibiotic Prescribing for Upper Respiratory Infections in the Acute Care Setting,” appeared in May in the journal Medical Decision Making.

Dr. Broniatowski and his colleagues hope a better understanding of this issue will lead to the development of communication strategies directed to both patients and providers that can be used to reduce inappropriate prescribing, thus alleviating antibiotic resistance.

Story Source:

Materials provided by George Washington University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Uber update brings a 911 ‘panic button’ to the app

best transit apps

Over the past year or so, Uber has taken quite a beating when it comes to rider safety. After numerous reports of assaults and robberies, Uber promised in April this year to work aggressively to make sure riders feel safe.

As part of that initiative, today Uber is rolling out a new “panic button” feature within the Uber app, via The Verge. The button (which simply calls 911) is located in a new section of the app called the Safety Center. 

If you were to be riding in an Uber and needed to call 911, you would simply open the app and swipe up on the Safety Center icon. There, you’ll see an option called “911 Assistance.” If you tap that, a notification will pop up asking if you are sure you want to dial 911; if you push through that notification, your phone will dial for help.

Editor’s Pick

One might argue that opening your phone’s dialer and inputting “9-1-1” would be way faster than this. However, this feature will be incredibly helpful if you are riding in an Uber in a foreign country, where 911 may or may not be the emergency number to dial. The feature is also helpful if you are in an emergency situation where dialing 911 would be dangerous, whereas swiping around on your phone would be safer and more discrete.

Additionally, in certain markets the Uber app will automatically transmit your location to first responders if you use the panic button rather than dialing 911 manually. However, this feature is only a pilot program right now and not nationwide.

Along with the panic button, the new Safety Center features information about how drivers are selected to become Uber contractors, details about insurance protections, and general community guidelines.

This is all well and good for Uber riders, but what about drivers? Uber says that a driver-centric Safety Center is in the works and coming soon.

To get access to this new Safety Center feature, download the latest Uber update at the link below.

Previous updates

Latest Uber update brings live location sharing, beacon expansions, and much more

November 21, 2017: Uber is rolling out live location sharing. Now, your driver can see exactly where you’re located in relation to your pickup spot. To turn on live location, tap the grey icon in the bottom right corner of your app. When the icon turns blue, that means the driver can see your location. Uber is also expanding its Beacon functionality to New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago. When you activate a Beacon, you can select a specific color that will only light up on your Uber’s windshield, allowing you to spot the right car more quickly. There’s another new feature coming to the Uber app that will make requesting rides for other people much easier. Say, for instance, you’d like to call a ride for your parents but they’ve never used Uber. Just tap “Where to?”, then choose who’s riding in the car. Your parents will then receive an SMS with ETA details, car type, and the driver’s contact info. 

In-app chat between drivers and riders

August 10, 2017: Uber issued an update in August that allows riders to communicate with drivers much easier. No more awkward calling, and no more running down the street to holler at your driver.Uber is rolling out an update which will add in-app messaging between drivers and riders, right inside the app. Once you’ve summoned a ride, you will see the usual “Contact” button below the driver’s name. Tapping that will bring up a brand-new chatting window. If you need to call the driver, the option is still there on the top right corner.

Book an Uber for someone else

June 28, 2017: Uber has released a new feature that basically allows you to book a ride for someone else. To make sure your loved ones are able to get to wherever they want to go, you can simply open up the app and book a ride by setting the pickup away from your current location, at which point Uber will ask you whether the ride is for you or someone else. You can then select the rider from your address book, set the final destination, and request the ride on their behalf. The rider will receive a text message with the driver’s details once the car is on its way, along with a link to track its route.

Updated rating system

April 27, 2017: Uber has updated its app’s rating system to try and make it fairer and encourage better rider behavior. Rider ratings are now more visible, as they are placed directly under their names in the app menu. The new placement will act as an ongoing reminder to users to be respectful on their journeys.

The update also brings changes to POOL trips so that driver ratings aren’t negatively affected by forces outside of their control. When you rate a POOL trip less than 5 stars, you can select additional reasons why. And when the reason is something like the route or co-rider behavior, the rating won’t be applied to the driver’s average.

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Apple&#039;s iPad Mini 4 Is Now $100 Off

The iPad Mini 4 is the perfect companion for the digital hoarder, packing 128GB of storage space across all models. By comparison, base models of Apple’s new iPad offer 32GB of storage, whereas the Pro models both start at 64GB. 

ipad mini brick

For a limited time, Walmart is taking $100 off the 128GB iPad Mini 4, which after discount sells for $299.99. That’s $30 cheaper than the new 2018 iPad, which starts at $329 and only offers 32GB of storage.

Buy on Walmart

The iPad Mini 4 sports a 7.9-inch 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution display. Even in bright sunlight, its anti-reflective coating allows you to clearly read text off the screen.

In terms of performance, it houses Apple’s A8 CPU and M8 coprocessor with 2GB of RAM. Although that’s not Apple’s latest chip, it’s still strong enough to keep things zippy and allow you to play the latest iOS games without any lag.

The iPad Mini 4 is built for travel and its battery endured for 9 hours and 23 minutes in our battery test, which is longer than then 8:48 tablet average.

So while it’s not the fastest tablet in the iOS market, the iPad Mini 4 is still a solid value if require a premium tablet with plenty of storage space.  

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Apple subscription movie & TV on-demand service rumours

Are Netflix and Amazon’s offerings enough for you, or are your evenings still empty and in need of entertainment? The good news is that Apple is gearing up to take on Netflix, Amazon and UK services such as Now TV, with its own TV shows and movies which will be available to watch via subscription on the Apple TV, iPhone and iPad.

With many new shows in the works, we may soon hear news about the new subscription service being planned by Apple, perhaps as early as WWDC on 4 June.

You can already stream some Apple’s shows, as long as you subscribe to Apple Music for £9.99 a month (details of these below). It is thought that when it launches the new subscription service will either be available via a re-branded Apple Music or via the TV app. It’s not clear whether Apple will include the content as part of the Apple Music monthly subscription, but it looks likely. The company says that there are now 38 million subscribers to Apple Music.

One of Apple’s series of content related hires is the ex controller of BBC One & chief creative officer of Channel 4. Jay Hunt is expected to commission programmes on behalf of Apple for Europe and the UK market. Read more about Apple’s team of execs working on the streaming project here.

We have information about all of Apple’s new shows below, including a series from La La Land director and writer Damien Chazelle, news that Apple has signed up a show by Bob’s Burgers creator staring Frozen’s Kristen Bell and Josh Gad, and a show by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon who co-wrote The Big Sick.

Apple is also reported to be planning to offer movies two to three weeks after cinema release, in a move that could threaten cinema chains, find out more below

Why is Apple trying to get in on TV and video content? According to Bloomberg (in October 2017), Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to double revenue from its services business by 2020. That includes iTunes, Apple Music, and the TV app (read about how to use the TV app here).

The company is said to plan to spend $4.2 billion on original programming by 2022, including $1 billion in 2018.

According to Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster (famous for his predictions that Apple would launch an actual television), Apple will spend more on original content than any other tech giant, with a budget of $8.3 billion, compared to Netflix’s $6.8 billion. 

Apple’s Eddy Cue says the company isn’t going to buy Netflix or Disney though, despite rumours. Read more about why Apple might buy Netflix here.

It is likely that if you want to watch this content on your TV you will need an Apple TV to do so – read all the rumours about the 2018 Apple TV here.

Apple’s team of TV and film execs

Apple’s Eddy Cue has been building a video team for some time. He says that the team is now made up of more than 40 people.

The video team is based in Los Angeles and is lead by two ex-Sony Pictures execs Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, who have shows such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul under their belt, have worked at Sony for 15 years (Amburg) and 20 years (Erlicht).

When he was given the job in June 2017, Erlicht said: “It will be an honor to be part of the Apple team. We want to bring to video what Apple has been so successful with in their other services and consumer products — unparalleled quality.”

Van Amburg added: “Apple has a relentless focus on delighting customers with their products. We will bring that same intention to Apple’s programming and we could not be more excited about what lies ahead,” according to a report on Deadline Hollywood.

In September 2017, in Erlicht and Van Amburg’s Apple’s TV content team was joined by Matt Cherniss, president of US TV broadcasting company WGN. He was behind shows such as Manhattan and Salem and has previously worked for Sony, Warner Bros. Pictures and Fox.

And in late October 2017 Apple added the former controller of BBC One and chief creative officer of Channel 4 to its team of creatives working on video content.

Jay Hunt was behind shows like Sherlock, Luther, and then helped Channel 4 buy The Great British Bake Off. In her new role at Apple she will be creative director Europe, worldwide video. It is thought that she will be commissioning programming on behalf of Apple.

In February 2018 Apple hired Gaumont Television executive Carol Trussell as Head of Production at its Worldwide Video Programming division.

When at Gaumont, Trussell was responsible for Narcos and Hannibal amongst other shows. She was previously a producer for HBO’s True Blood

Apple has also hired The Paramount Network’s Dana Tuinier as creative executive for comedy. Before Paramount, Tuinier worked at Fox on shows including New Girl, Almost Human and Glee.

The company had been said to be taking out a lease on The Culver Studios – a studio where The Matrix was shot – to be its base in Hollywood, however, according to Variety, Amazon has taken over those studios. Apple is said to be signing a lease on another property in Culver City (which is about eight miles from Hollywood), it’s a four story building offering 128,000 square feet of office space, and is expected to be ready in 2019.

The TV shows Apple’s making

Wondering what shows the team at Apple is making? The company has been unable to keep rumours and snippits of information getting out about it’s plans here, so we already know about quite a few of the shows the company is working on. With so much information about the shows that are coming from Apple there can be no doubt that the company intends to extend its own offering beyond iTunes rentals very soon.

And it’s not skimping. Apple is said to have invested at least $1 billion in 2018 buying and producing its own video content in a bid to compete with Netflix and Amazon, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg claim that the investment could translate to 10 new shows, but there are more than 10 shows listed below.

According to Apple senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, speaking at the South by Southwest conference in March 2018, Apple plans is to produce a small number of quality shows rather than focus on quantity.

Back in January 2017, Apple Music head Jimmy Iovine confirmed that Apple had plans to offer original video content via its Apple Music service. Speaking at a Television Critics Association event, Irvine said that Apple is working towards creating “an entire cultural, pop cultural experience, and that happens to include audio and video,” via the Apple Music service.

Don’t expect to see anything like Game of Thrones coming from Apple’s studios though. Apparently the company isn’t looking for sex or violence. According to Bloomberg: “Apple wants comedies and emotional dramas with broad appeal, such as the NBC hit ‘This Is Us,’ and family shows like ‘Amazing Stories.’”

Top executives don’t want kids “catching a stray nipple,” the report claims.

Apple has launched two shows so far, Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps, and you can find out more about them below. Those shows are currently distributed via the £9.99 a month Apple Music subscription service, but it is likely a new service would be launched to host the new movie and TV content, perhaps Apple Movies.

However, the new shows in the pipeline aren’t all about music. We have details on some of the other new shows that Apple is working on:

Little Amerca

This one is being co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon who wrote the Big Sick. It’s about American immigrants and will be produced by Master of None co-creator/executive producer Alan Yang.

M. Night Shyamalan show

All we know is that a psychological thriller written by Tony Basgallop is in the works and that the first episode will be directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation

Apple has landed a TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novel trilogy Foundation.

According to a Deadline report, the project from Skydance Television will be produced by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman as well as Skydance’s David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross.

Goyer’s credits include The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Ghost Rider, and more. He co-wrote the upcoming Terminator reboot.

Friedman’s credits include Avatar 2, the War of the Worlds remake and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Top of the Morning/Morning Show

Apple has also bought a new drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

The company beat others in a bidding war for the two-season show, based on the book Top of the Morning. Ellenberg’s book looked at the lives of morning TV presenters.

Aniston and Witherspoon are co-owners and executive producers along with Michael Ellenberg’s Media Res company, which will produce the show. The series was to be written and executive produced by Jay Carson (who was behind House of Cards).

However, there’s already been a bit of drama regarding this show. The creator Jay Carson has left the project due to “creative differences” according to Variety. That site suggests that Apple may be closing a deal with Kerry Ehrin to head up the project in Carson’s absence. Ehrin was creator, executive producer and showrunner for Bates Motel.

Central Park

This will be an animated musical comedy series staring Kristen Bell and Josh Gad (who last worked together on Frozen), as well as Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr and Daveed Diggs, Tituss Burgess from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent actress Kathryn Hahn and Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci, according to Digital Spy.

The series is based on a family of Central Park caretakers who have to save the world.

It’s from the creator of Bob’s Burgers, Loren Bouchard and is being co-written with Josh Gad and Nora Smith. Apple is committed to 26 episodes over two seasons.

The Obamas

It was reported that Apple, Netflix and Amazon were apparently in a bidding war over a show that would star former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama, hosting conversations on topics ranging from health care to climate change. However, in May 2018 it was revealed that Netflix had won the rights to the show.

Swagger

Swagger is a drama series based on the life of Kevin Durant, a Basketball player. It will be written and directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood who wrote Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious.

Untitled drama from La La Land writer

La La Land’s Damien Chazelle has been signed up by Apple to write and direct a drama series for Apple.

House of Cards studio MRC is also involved with the show.

Untitled: ‘You Think It, I’ll Say It’

Staring Kristen Wiig and produced by Reese Witherspoon, this comedy series is based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection titled You Think It, I’ll Say It.

Comedian Kristen Wiig used to appear on Saturday Night Live.

J.J. Abrams Si-Fi drama

Apple is said to be in a bidding war with HBO for this one (January 2018), reports Variety.

See

Described as an “epic, world building drama”, See is directed by Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence and written by Steven Knight.

Untitled: ‘Space drama’

As yet unnamed, this drama comes from Star Trek veteran Ronald D. Moore.

Are You Sleeping

This crime drama, based on a novel by Kathleen Barber, sees a murder case reopened after a Serial-style podcast publicises it.

The series is being written by Nichelle Tramble Spellman, who also wrote The Good Wife.

Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, is co-producing it for Apple.

Amazing Stories

Apple has also bought Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, which was being executive produced by Spielberg in partnership with Bryan Fuller, however Fuller departed the show in February 2018.

Apparently that drama will transport the audience to worlds of wonder through the lens of today’s most imaginative filmmakers, directors and writers.

In May 2018 it was revealed that ‘Once Upon A Time‘ co-creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis would be the executive producers on the show.

It’s thought that Fuller’s ideas for the show weren’t family friendly enough for Apple, according to a Variety report.

Apple Movies

As yet we aren’t aware of any movies in the works at Apple. However, movie studios are said to be working with Apple on plans to release movies for rental just two or three weeks after cinema release, according to a Bloomberg report.

Apparently these PVOD (premium video on demand) rentals would be available to download months before they hit services like Netflix and Now TV, but they would have a higher price than Apple’s usual rental deals. According to the Bloomberg report, if rented from iTunes the movies could cost between $30-$50, while the average price of a cinema ticket is $8.84. ($30 is about £24).

It’s normal for digital rentals of movies to be available around three months after cinema release.

This move could be a threat to cinema chains, although the high price of the iTunes rentals is likely to put most customers off – although the price of taking a family of four to the cinema might turn out to be higher than the rental price of the movie.

4K movies

4K titles are already available to watch on the 4K Apple TV and these new titles are available at the same price as HD titles are currently. In fact, announcing the 4K content at the September iPhone X launch event, Apple confirmed that if you have already purchased a HD title you will be able to automatically get the 4K version.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will both support 4K on Apple TV.

Older Apple TVs will not be able to play the 4K content.

How will Apple deliver the content?

This isn’t clear, yet. But there are a few possibilties:

Merging Apple Music and the iTunes Store

Apple may expand the remit of Apple Music to include TV and movies, as was the case when iTunes expanded to include TV and movies back in 2005. Back then Apple introduced iTunes 6 and added support for purchasing and viewing video content from the iTunes Music Store.

Initially the iTunes Music Store offered Music Videos and a small selection of TV shows, including Lost and Desperate Housewives. Since then, the collection has expanded to include content from numerous television networks and movies.

Eventually the iTunes Music Store dropped the word music, as it’s focus was much more…

However, the main complaint many have with the iTunes Store as it stands is that content can either be bought or rented, you can’t sign up for a all-you-can-eat style subscription service such as Netflix offers.

Loop analyst Gene Munster claims that Apple will rebrand Apple Music within the next two or three years, launching the new content under that banner, reports Variety. 

In a 22 November research note Munster wrote: “Apple should be able to quickly expand their sub base given they have a running start with just over 30 million Apple Music subs that will have access to the video offering for the same $10 per month.”

Apple TV app

To date Apple’s TV app is the closest Apple has come to offering customers all the shows and movies they might want to watch in one place. It pulls the information about all the content from all the different content apps you might have on the Apple TV and your other Apple devices into one place so that you can make a choice about what you want to watch without having to go into all the different apps – although once you make that choice, you will currently be transferred to the other app to watch the content.

It seems likely that Apple plans to release its first few content projects to everyone with an Apple device via its TV app.

A Bloomberg report in May 2018 suggested that Apple could change the way its TV app works to accomodate this. Currently the TV app, which is found on iPhones, iPads and the Apple TV, is able to direct users to subscription content, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV, but you cannot actually subscribe or watch the content through the Apple TV app. It looks like this is set to change, with Apple’s TV app being able to play the content without kicking you out into a separate app to consume it.

The Bloomberg story suggests that the updated TV app could be available in 2019, and that with the new functionality, Apple could be opening the TV app up to allow its own content to be streamed.

The Apple TV app launched in the UK in December. At launch it offers content from My5, ITV Hub, iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video. Netflix was later added to the offering. Read about how to use the TV app on iPhone or iPad here and how to use the TV app on Apple TV here.

On a subscription basis?

Apple currently has an extensive library of movie and TV shows available via iTunes. Rather than being available on a subscription basis, as with Netflix and Amazon, you can only choose to rent of buy movies, or buy individual episodes or series passes for TV content.

Since Netflix took off there have been calls for Apple to offer content via a subscription service.

Apple’s willingness to offer shows to Apple Music subscribers, and it’s hires in the TV and movie production field, does seem to indicate that this is something it plans to do, but it isn’t clear whether it will only offer it’s own content via subscription, or if it will offer all the content available on iTunes. People want the latter, but Apple will need necessary deals with the content providers in place before it can do so.

One thing is clear, Apple is unlikely to offer an commercial-based model in order to cut the subscription cost to consumers. Speaking at Recode in February 2017, Apple’s Eddy Cue said of such models: “I’m not saying we’ll never do it.. I don’t think it’s the direction we should be going. I don’t think that’s what our customers are asking for.”

What shows has Apple already made?

The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2017 that Apple has been talking to producers about creating premium programming and movies. So far we know only of the following programmes that have been made for Apple’s streaming service:

Carpool Karaoke

A popular spot on CBS’s The Late Late Show, 16 episodes of Carpool Karaoke will be available to stream via Apple Music – though not all will star original host James Corden, and the majority will instead feature a variety of celebrity pairings.

The show was set to start streaming in April, but eventually premiered in August 2017. You will need a Apple Music subscription in order to watch the episodes.

Bloomberg has revealed that the reason for the delay was the “Foul language and references to vaginal hygiene,” that had to be removed from some episodes.

Apple is showing a pair of ads for upcoming episodes, one of which will feature Queen Latifah, and the other featuring Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus, plus the rest of their family. This time the presenter is Jada Pinkett Smith rather than creator James Corden.

Here’s the ad for the episode featuring the Cyrus family.

Previous episodes have included Ariana Grande and Seth MacFarlane…

…and “Game of Thrones” co-stars Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner.

If you have signed up for Apple Music, or if you sign up for the free three month trial, you can watch the first episode here.

Planet of the Apps

Hosted by Will.i.am this is a sort of Dragon’s Den for App developers. It features celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba mentoring app developers. App developers have the length of a escalator ride to pitch their apps.

Apple posted this trailer:

Planet of the Apps is available on Apple Music – you can watch it here.

Unfortunately the show didn’t impress. according to Variety’s Maureen Ryan it was a: “Bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of Shark Tank.”

Vital Signs

Backed by Apple, Dr Dre’s semi-autobiographical six-part series was rumoured to be in production in February 2016. However, little has been revealed about this show since those reports appeared regarding it.

How can I watch Apple’s TV shows?

Currently you can only watch Apple’s own TV shows via the Apple Music app (which means you need to subscribe to that). However, according to Bloomberg, the shows Apple is making will not be placed on Apple Music, which will limit its focus to music-related video.

The shows that are currently live are available for Apple Music subscribers for £9.99 a month. You can also sign up for a free trial for three months here.

As of February 2017 there were 20 million paid subscribers to the Apple Music service. Subscribers are able to stream the shows on their Apple devices including the newest Apple TV model, the iPhone and iPad, and the Mac.

When will I be able to watch Apple’s TV shows in the UK?

iTunes tends to be region specific so it is possible that there may be a delay in content being available in the UK, and some content may never be made available in the UK. However in terms of the Apple Music shows those programmes were be available in the UK at the same time as they went live in the US, so that may be the case with at least some of the content available on Apple’s Movie & TV streaming service.

The UK Tech Weekly Podcast team discuss Apple TV-streaming plans in episode 52, starting at 24 minutes.

Background to Apple’s Movie & TV streaming service plans

There have been rumours for years that Apple planned to work with the networks to distribute content via its own streaming service. Here is a run down of the various rumours that have emerged, as well as some of the hurdles Apple is said to have encountered along the way.

Why has it taken Apple so long to offer a streaming service?

Back in 2015 Apple was said to be negotiating deals with networks. At the time, ESPN’s boss John Skipper confirmed that he was working on a deal with Apple for its rumoured streaming service, but revealed that Apple was having more trouble convincing other networks to join in.

However, it appears Apple hit a bit of a brick wall with the negotiations because by August 2015 talks with CBS, Fox, and NBC were said to have stalled. And then, in December 2015 it was claimed that Apple was putting its plans for the streaming service on hold because the cable companies and networks were proving too resistant to the idea.

By February 2016 CBS CEO Les Moonves had confirmed that talks with Apple had stopped following months of conversations with content providers: “We had conversations awhile back, and we haven’t had recent conversations with them,” Moonves said. 

Why did Apple fail to come to an agreement in these negotiations? One report claimed that Apple was looking to collect a 30% fee from all subscriptions and the network operators weren’t happy about this.

Having failed to negotiate content deals will Apple instead seek to acquire companies that have content available for distribution? There are claims that the company could buy Disney, for example, more on that below.

For now the company seems to be distancing itself from the idea. Speaking at Recode, Apple’s Eddy Cue said that Apple isn’t “trying to buy a bunch of shows,” indicating that Apple isn’t planning to make any content acquisitions, and back in June 2016 Apple’s Eddy Cue said that Apple wasn’t interested in becoming a Netflix competitor.

Is Apple going to launch a television?

The short answer: no. Rumours that Apple would launch a TV were circulating for some time, spurred by the fact that Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs seemed to hint in his biography that he intended to reinvent television. This spurred a long running rumour that Apple would launch an actual television set.

Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use… It will have the simplest use interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to share Jobs’ TV dreams. Over the years he has suggested both that the TV experience needed to be bought up to date, and that Apple might revolutionise television. He stated back in September 2014: “Think how much your life has changed, and all the things around you that have changed, and yet TV, when you go into the living room to watch TV or wherever it may be, it almost feels like you’re rewinding the clock and you’ve entered a time capsule and you’re going backwards. The interface is terrible, I mean it’s awful. You watch things when they come on unless you remember to record them.”

Analyst Gene Munster was probably the most vocal in his predictions that Apple would launch an actual TV, he may even have been correct, as there were reports that Apple did have a team working on an actual TV, but it appears that the company eventually ditched the idea.

Instead of launching an actual television, the company launched Apple’s tvOS and the re-imagined Apple TV in 2016, both of which could be seen as the culmination of Steve Jobs vision for TV. However, those who were hoping for the reinvention of television, with a fancy TV set and a Netflix-style streaming service were disappointed.

Read our review of the 2015 Apple TV here.

Will Apple buy Netflix?

One rumour that’s been doing the rounds for some time, is that Apple could buy Netflix. However, Apple’s Eddy Cue has quashed that rumour by saying that Apple isn’t looking to buy a content company: “We might be better buying somebody or doing that, but that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Cue said at the Recode conference in February 2017.

Cue reiterated this at the South by Southwest conference in March 2018, saying that Apple isn’t going to buy Netflix or Disney, instead Apple will make its own original content. 

One reason for the rumours that Apple could buy the likes of Netflix is the fact that due to US tax reforms it should now be easier (and less expensive) for Apple to repatriate its $200+ billion dollars held overseas back to the US – and that could pave the way for some big spending on acquisition.

Will Apple buy Netflix? We think it’s unlikely given Apple’s recent spending to create its own team of executives to develop shows for its platform. But, given Netflix’s 115 million subscribers and it’s excellent collection of shows and movies, it would certainly be an attractive buy. Not to mention the fact that buying Netflix would keep it out of the hands of Amazon, Google and Apple’s other competitors.

Will Apple buy Sony, Paramount…

Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior vice president Eddy Cue have been talking with TV and film producers in Hollywood.

The New York Post source told the paper that Apple “Is looking for a transformative acquisition and not just a deal to buy TV shows”.

The Apple execs have met with execs Paramount Pictures and with Sony TV and film.

The outcome of discussion with Sony execs might be the eventual hiring of Sony execs Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, who have shows such as Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul under their belt. These ex-Sony Pictures execs will help Apple with its programming plans.

Could Apple buy Disney?

Apple could probably buy a whole country if it wanted to, it has so much money in the bank. As to whether it might buy Disney, there are reasons to think that such a deal wouldn’t be completely surprising: to do so would bring content, excellent co-branding potential, and a 30% share of Hulu.

There is also the fact that Steve Jobs was Disney’s biggest shareholder following his sale of Pixar to the company, and the fact that Disney CEO Bob Iger sits on Apple’s board.

With all that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the rumour has been circulating.

However, Apple’s Eddy Cue has said that Apple is not going to buy Disney, putting pay to any rumours that Apple could be interested in the Mickey Mouse house.

Could Apple buy HBO? Time Warner?

There was a rumour that Apple was considering buying HBO, the home of Game of Thrones as part of an acquisition deal with Time Warner.

Back in early 2016 a New York Post report even claimed that Apple might even buy Time Warner, Inc. That purchase would include HBO, CNN, HLN, TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. However, no such deal emerged.

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Jury awards Apple $533.3M from Samsung in latest iPhone patent retrial (Jeremy Horwitz/VentureBeat)

Nearly six years after a federal jury awarded Apple over $1 billion in damages against Samsung for infringing on iPhone design patents, a jury retrying the case has reached a unanimous verdict, modifying the figure to $538,641,656. The verdict comes after years of damages-only retrials and appeals, including a visit to the United States Supreme Court.

Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. began in April 2011 with Apple’s allegation that certain Samsung smartphones infringed on iPhone intellectual properties including patents and trademarks. Apple won the trial in August 2012, receiving an initial award of $1.049 billion, but was forced back into court for subsequent disputes over legal questions and damages. Following the first verdict, Samsung paid Apple $548 million in damages, $399 million of which was at stake here.

During the latest retrial, the key issue has been the appropriate definition of the phrase “article of manufacture” — specifically, whether to calculate the damages Apple suffered based solely on the specific value of iPhone innovations Samsung infringed, or upon the total value of a phone containing those innovations. If a $600 phone contained $300 of infringed Apple parts, Samsung might argue that it owed Apple damages only for the $300 portion, while Apple might say that its $300 of innovations enabled sales of $600 phones.

The retrial has been looming since December 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to a lower federal court for a jury to determine whether the entire phone or its components were the correct “article of manufacture.” Last October, the federal court ordered a jury retrial on that issue, using a new test focused on four factors:

  • “[T]he scope of the design claimed in the plaintiff’s patent, including the drawing and written description,”
  • “[T]he relative prominence of the design within the product as a whole,”
  • “[W]hether the design is conceptually distinct from the product as a whole,” and
  • “[T]he physical relationship between the patented design and the rest of the product… [whether] the design pertains to a component that a user or seller can physically separate from the product as a whole” and “the design is embodied in a component that is manufactured separately from the rest of the product, or if the component can be sold separately.”

Not surprisingly, each side polarized its measure of damages to persuade the jury to fall somewhere in the middle. Samsung suggested damages of $28 million, while Apple asked for $1 billion, telling the jury to “put it in context: Samsung infringed millions and millions and millions of times.” The jury’s verdict included $533,316,606 for infringement of Apple’s design patents, and $5,325,050 for infringement of its utility patents, totaling just over $538.6 million. That figure sits roughly in the middle of the companies’ extremes, but is higher than the $399 million that was originally at stake in the retrial, a victory for Apple.

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Uber expands Partner Protection, its accident insurance and medical cover, across Europe (Romain Dillet/TechCrunch)

Romain Dillet / TechCrunch:
Uber expands Partner Protection, its accident insurance and medical cover, across Europe  —  Uber has been slowly rolling out free insurance products to its drivers and delivery persons in Europe.  The company is announcing that its contractors will get better coverage in 21 European countries.