The EU on Tuesday narrowed its landmark antitrust case against Apple to focus on how the iPhone-maker prevents apps from giving users information about rival music subscription options.
The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, launched the original case against Apple over alleged anti-competitive behaviour in 2021.
It had been based on a 2019 complaint brought by Sweden-based Spotify and others that accused Apple of making unfair use of the App Store to promote its own Apple Music.
With the latest announcement, the Commission has withdrawn a charge against Apple over in-app purchase rules that force developers to use the company’s own payment technology.
The Commission, in a statement, now says only that Apple restricts iPhone and iPad users from seeing other music subscription options at lower prices outside of the app.
These policies are, it added, “neither necessary nor proportionate for the provision of the App Store on iPhones and iPads and are detrimental to users of music streaming services on Apple’s mobile devices who may end up paying more.”
Apple said it was “pleased” the Commission narrowed the case.
“Apple will continue to work with the European Commission to understand and respond to their concerns, all the while promoting competition and choice for European consumers,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The company has firmly opposed the case and said it hoped the “Commission will end its pursuit of a complaint that has no merit”.
In its app review guidelines, Apple says “developers can send communications outside of the app to their user base about purchasing methods other than in-app purchase”.
Apple faces scrutiny in the United States and Europe to relax its hold on the App Store, which has been bashed by others including Fortnite maker Epic Games, and Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Spotify on Tuesday welcomed the Commission’s announcement and its general counsel, Eve Konstan, called on the Commission to reach a “swift decision”.
“Today, the European Commission sent a clear message that Apple’s anti-competitive behaviour and unfair practices have harmed consumers and disadvantaged developers for far too long,” she said in a statement.
Amazon empowers Alexa with generative AI
Amazon’s popular Alexa digital assistant is about to be supercharged with the powers of generative artificial intelligence, the company said on Wednesday, as the tech giant steps into the AI race dominated by ChatGPT, Google and Microsoft.
Voice assistants like Alexa or Apple’s Siri are often designated as perfect candidates to have their sometimes-glitchy and robot-like technology streamlined with capabilities of generative AI.
Generative AI, such as used in the ChatGPT chatbot, delivers content as complex as a poem or scholarly essay in just seconds, and Amazon’s goal is that Alexa could do that and even more with verbal commands from a user’s living room or kitchen.
At an event at the company’s offices near Washington, the company said that an English-language version of Alexa AI would be made available as an opt-in on all its devices in the United States in the coming months.
“It’s going to take some time to integrate these technologies into the surface area that is Alexa. But I am super optimistic that we are off to a wonderful an excellent start,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services.
With the change, Alexa will be able to converse with a more personable style and drop its robotic tone, the company said.
Alexa would also tap into real-time information and create the semblance of a personal rapport with users that would include an awareness of their habits or favorite sports teams.
“For example, you could say ‘Alexa every morning at 8 am turn on the coffee machine, open the blinds, dim the lights in the study and play my morning news,’ and boom — it creates the routine,” Limp said.
While widely plugged as the next stage of consumer technology, in the past decade Alexa and its connected smart home devices have yet to become big money spinners for Amazon, with Google and Apple also struggling to make traction in the space.
Daniel Rausch, the executive in charge of Alexa, told reporters that the AI would put an extra emphasis on accuracy and that its efforts in AI were not comparable with chatbots that have been shown to output inaccuracies or go off the rails.
“Accuracy in smart home means yes, we did turn on the right light, we did lock the right door, we are sure about the state of the security system,” he said.
At the launch event, Amazon also introduced its latest Echo 8 smart home hub as well as a soundbar for televisions and new AI-fueled search capabilities on its FireTV service.
Limp, Amazon’s longtime device chief, is retiring after more than a decade in the role amid reports he will be replaced by a senior executive from Microsoft.
Biden launches ‘climate corps’ for green jobs
US President Joe Biden launched a new “Climate Corps” on Wednesday to help young people get green jobs, as he tries to sell voters on his plans for a clean energy economy.
“Today, we are mobilizing the next generation of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience workers,” Biden said on X, formerly Twitter.
Biden added that the scheme would train over 20,000 young people to get “good-paying jobs” after they complete their paid training.
The US president has made the economy a key plank of his bid for reelection in 2024, particularly through his signature Inflation Reduction Act.
The ambitious climate law aims to speed the US transition to clean energy, rebuild US industry and boost social justice.
Biden, who is in New York for the UN General Assembly, warned the world body yesterday that the climate crisis poses an existential threat to “all of humanity.”
US climate activists, who have long called for the initiative, gave it a mixed reception.
One group, Evergreen, said it was a “big step toward delivering good jobs for young people in the booming clean energy economy.”
But Keanu Arpels-Josiah, an organizer of an anti-fossil fuels march in New York last Sunday, said it was “not enough.”
The Climate Corps’ name has echoes of the US Peace Corps which has sent volunteers around the world for decades.
US media said however that it was more closely modelled on a scheme during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to get America out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The Civilian Conservation Corps set around a quarter of a million unemployed young men to work on a huge program of projects like reforestation and dam-building.
Tire maker honored for tackling electric car pollution
Electric cars are widely hailed as the future of transport, but even though they eliminate the issue of fuel emissions from tailpipes, the problem of particle pollution as a result of tire wear hasn’t been resolved.
A British company selected as a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize now promises more durable tires that increase vehicle range and decrease the emission of toxic chemicals.
“We have here a very harmful and hidden pollution,” Gunnlaugur Erlendsson, founder and CEO of ENSO, which caters specifically to electric vehicles, told AFP. “We’re exposed to it whenever we breathe.”
Because of decades of regulations that brought about improvements to internal combustion engines, tire and brake wear are today responsible for significantly more small particle pollution than vehicle exhausts, studies show.
Tire wear particles are also microplastics, with emerging evidence linking them to a range of impacts on heart and lung health, as well as cancers, in addition to widespread environmental harm.
For example, as much as 28 percent of the microplastics that reach the ocean comes from tire wear.
Some research suggests that electric cars might be worse offenders than gasoline and diesel powered vehicles on this front.
A study carried out by the research company Emissions Analytics this year found that the Tesla Model Y was responsible for 26 percent more emissions than the similar-sized hybrid Kia Niro. The report’s authors said the electric car’s heavier weight and harder acceleration was to blame.
Erlendsson disagrees with the idea that electric cars are uniquely problematic — rather, the tire pollution problem has grown as vehicles become heavier, with the US market in particular trending towards large SUVs.
By using higher-grade raw materials combined with better engineering, ENSO has been able to improve its tires in a market that hasn’t prioritized durability.
During real-world trials organized by Transport for London, the company’s tires were shown to reduce particulate emissions by 35 percent and increase driving range by 10 percent.
“The energy saving we deliver is a direct carbon reduction because we still don’t live in a world where electricity comes only from non-carbon sources,” said Erlendsson.
By contrast, the wider industry is focused on cost-saving, making tires that don’t last as long and need to be replaced faster, in order to boost sales. Researchers in the field of tire pollution are demanding stricter regulation, a call Erlendsson agrees with.
All that said, there are limits, he stressed. “We won’t make tires last forever, but we can severely reduce the pollution that comes off them,” he said.
“But of course, if people don’t want to be generating tire pollution, they shouldn’t be driving.”
ENSO was among 15 Earthshot Finalists honored on Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
They are now in the running to receive one of five one million pound prizes ($1.24 million) awarded at a ceremony in Singapore later this year.
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