Roku’s Free Ad-Supported Channel Launches in the UK

Streaming device maker Roku has launched its free ad-supported Roku Channel in the UK, offering access to over 10,000 movies, TV shows, and documentaries at a time when stay-at-home entertainment is in high demand.


The Roku Channel can be accessed on Roku devices and – thanks to exclusive UK partnerships – Now TV sticks and Sky Q set-top boxes via the dedicated Roku app.

If you're fine with watching content interspersed with ads, there's plenty of British fare to get stuck into, including the likes of Fifth Gear, Skins, Get Carter, and The Wicker Man. There isn't any sign-in requirement or profiles to set up when you launch the app, so getting started is pretty painless.
"With The Roku Channel we are making it easy for consumers to find great free entertainment and provide additional value to Roku users, Now TV device holders and Sky Q customers," said Roku vice president of programming, Rob Holmes.

"Ad-supported viewing is one of the fastest growing categories on our platform and we are excited to meet the consumer demand for free TV."
Since it launched in the US in 2017, the Roku Channel has added a browser-based web player, live news, a dedicated kids and family section, and an option to subscribe to premium content providers like Showtime and HBO.

Out of those, only the kids and family section is available in the UK at present. However, the British-version of the Roku Channel features over 40 content partners, including Hollywood studios such as Lionsgate and Sony Pictures Television, and more publishers are expected to be added in the future.
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UK Telecoms Providers Remove All Data Caps on Home Broadband Services

Britain's big telecoms providers have agreed to lift the data caps on all fixed-line broadband services to help people isolated at home following the coronavirus epidemic, reports Reuters.


The companies, which include BT, Virgin Media, Sky, O2, Vodafone, Three, and TalkTalk, committed to support and protect vulnerable customers during the pandemic following talks with the government and telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The ISPs are also introducing additional measures, which include helping customers who find it difficult to pay bills because of the viral outbreak, improving mobile and landline packages, and prioritizing repairs for vulnerabile customers.
"It is essential that people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This package helps people to stay connected whilst they stay home," Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said in the government statement.
The U.K. government last week imposed strict measures on public movement, including social distancing, a ban on gatherings of more than two people, and the closure of all shops selling non-essential goods.

People have also been told they should only leave the house to shop for basic necessities, exercise, medical needs and traveling to work if they can't work from home. The measures are expect to remain in place for at least 13 weeks, and possibly longer.
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Apple Adds British Government Coronavirus PSA to UK App Store

U.K. iPhone and iPad users who open the App Store this morning are being met with a COVID-19 public service announcement from the British government, signaling an expansion of Apple's efforts to prominently display official coronavirus alerts on its devices.


Tapping on the prioritized card takes users to an NHS app link and a video containing coronavirus protection guidance from the UK government's chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty:
To help save lives, stay at home. Anyone can spread coronavirus. You should now only go out when absolutely necessary, for food, medicine, work, or exercise. Always try to stay two meters apart. Do not meet others outside your household – even friends and family.

Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.
The ‌App Store‌ is an unfamiliar home for a PSA – Apple News would be the normal location for this kind of content – but Apple is obviously trying to get out the official guidance to as many users as possible, including anyone browsing for new apps and updates on their devices.

In the U.S., Apple began displaying White House public service announcements at the top of the ‌App Store‌ on March 21, offering official guidance on the "dos and don'ts" of social distancing. Users in other countries are also likely to see similar advice from their national governments.

This is just the latest of several other measures that Apple is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple said earlier this month that it is critically evaluating coronavirus-related apps submitted to the ‌App Store‌ to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions.
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UK Contactless Spending Limit to Increase From £30 to £45 Beginning Next Month

The U.K. spending limit for contactless card payments is to increase from £30 to £45, meaning iPhone users will soon be able to pay for more expensive shopping bills using their smartphones in stores where limitless Apple Pay transactions aren't supported.


The increase in the upper limit on contactless payments is set to roll out nationally beginning from April 1, UK Finance today announced.

To put the change into context, many merchants set up their terminals to only accept contactless payments of up to £30, regardless of whether you’re swiping a bank card or using ‌Apple Pay‌. While some banks don't set a limit on ‌Apple Pay‌ transactions, Apple notes that you might not be able to use ‌Apple Pay‌ for purchases over £30, depending on the retailer.

The decision to raise the standard debit card contactless limit to £45 is said to have been taken following consultation between the retail sector and the finance and payments industry, and follows similar increases in several other European countries over the past week.

The changes were reportedly already under consideration by the industry, but the process has been expedited as part of the industry’s response to the global viral pandemic to support consumers who choose to pay using contactless.

Stephen Jones, CEO of UK Finance, said:
"The payments industry has been working closely with retailers to be able to increase the contactless payment limit to help customers with their shopping at this critical time for the country.

“This will give more people the choice to opt for the speed and convenience of purchasing goods using their contactless card, helping to cut queues at the checkout."
UK Finance notes that the new limits could take some time to be introduced across all retailers, but eventually they'll offer people another way to pay shopping bills without handling money or touching payment terminals, which should help in the fight against the current viral outbreak.

Of course, in the meantime U.K. consumers spending more than £45 can still use Chip & Pin, cash, and biometric-authenticated mobile payment systems like ‌Apple Pay‌, where accepted.
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Disney+ Officially Launches in the UK and More European Countries

Disney+ today officially launched in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria.


The premium streaming service is accessible via web browser, on Amazon Fire devices, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV (4K or HD), iOS devices, Android, Google Chromecast, Xbox One, PS4, and smart TVs from LG, Sony, Samsung, and Vizio. You can download the iPhone and iPad apps here.

The subscription price in the U.K. and across Europe is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription.

Over 500 feature films and over 7,500 shows are available on the service including new original content like the critically acclaimed "The Mandalorian" and "The World According To Jeff Goldblum," along with timeless classics like "Lady and the Tramp," "Star Wars," and the entire Pixar library.

Disney+ has been available in the U.S. for a while now, but subscribers should note that there will be some content differences in the European offering because of licensing issues.

Due to the anticipated high load on the continent's broadband infrastructure because of a surge in remote working, Disney+ is following other digital video services by streaming at an intentionally lowered bitrate, so picture quality won't be as good as some viewers will be expecting.

It's unclear how long Disney intends to limit video quality, but Netflix said last Thursday that it plans to implement similar measures for 30 days, following a request from the European Union.

The launch of Disney+ has been delayed in France by two weeks on request of the French government – Disney+ will now launch in the country the week of April 7.

Disney says the service will launch later this summer in additional Western Europe markets, including Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal. Disney+ has been available in the Netherlands since September, when it launched there as a pilot trial.
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U.K. iPhone Reseller Carphone Warehouse to Close All 531 Stores

Long-standing mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse has announced that it will close all 531 of its standalone stores on Britain's high streets next month, with around 60 percent of staff (2,900) set to lose their jobs.


As part of the same company that owns Currys PC World, Carphone Warehouse has 350 mini-shops inside 305 of those stores, but these will not be affected by the changes.

The standalone stores will close on April 3. The move is not related to the coronavirus outbreak, but rather the result of the changing mobile market, according to the firm.

Group chief executive Alex Baldock told BBC News that customers were increasingly buying online and from its big stores, which sell computers and TVs as well as mobiles.
"They can't find all this in the small mobile-only stores that are one-twentieth of the size; they're visiting these less and these stores are losing more money as a result," he added.
The company says the closures represent around 8 percent of its current selling area, and the move is "an essential next step" towards making its mobile business a sustainable and profitable category.
"We have to take the difficult decisions to throw our weight behind the parts of the business that the customers are showing us they want... that's with the big stores and that's online."
Carphone Warehouse and Dixons Retail merged in 2017 to become Dixons Carphone, in a bid to fend off tough competition from internet players like Amazon. However, the online strategy has failed to pay dividends and the merged entity has lost £90 million a year as a result.

Almost 40 percent of staff (1,800) affected by the closures are expected to take new roles in the business, the firm said.
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Disney+ Partners With UK Mobile Network O2 to Offer Customers Free 6-Month Membership

With a week to go before Disney+ launches in the U.K., the streaming giant has partnered with mobile provider O2 to offer two exclusive deals to customers on the network.


New and upgrading O2 monthly customers can get six months of free access to Disney+ when it launches in the U.K. on March 24. The offer is open to anyone who orders a new (or upgrades to a new) handset, tablet, or SIM-only contract through the mobile network.

Meanwhile, existing O2 customers who aren't ready to upgrade can get a £2 discount on the normal £5.99 asking price for Disney+ when it launches by adding the new streaming platform as an extra.

O2 customers that take advantage of the deal will be able to watch Disney+ content across mobile devices, online, smart TVs, and streaming boxes, just like other Disney+ subscribers.

As reported previously, Disney is offering all prospective U.K. customers a discount subscription offer if they sign up early to the streaming video service.

Anyone in the United Kingdom can get a year of Disney+ for £49.99 instead of the standard £59.99 annual subscription rate if they sign up between now and March 23.

Over 500 feature films and over 7,500 shows will be available on the service including new original content like the critically acclaimed "The Mandalorian" and "The World According To Jeff Goldblum," along with timeless classics like "Lady and the Tramp" and the entire Pixar library.
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Apple’s Victoria Square Store in Belfast Reportedly Undergoes Deep Clean Amid COVID-19 Contamination Fears [Update: Fake]

Apple's Victoria Square retail store in Belfast, Northern Ireland reportedly closed its doors early on Wednesday to undergo a deep clean, following suspicions of a coronavirus contamination in the local area.


Video shared on Facebook appeared to capture a clean-up operation taking place at the store. In the clip, two people wearing breathable isolation suits can be seen wiping the Sequoia wood tables, which appear to have been cleared of products.

An anonymous tipster told MacRumors that all devices were removed from the store and the shop floor was still empty as of 8:10 a.m. local time on Thursday morning. A call to the store confirmed that Apple Victoria Square is now open, however staff declined to confirm or deny that a decontamination had taken place overnight. We've reached out to Apple for comment and will update this article if we learn more.

Two more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, with one a postgraduate student at Queen's University in Belfast. The student had recently returned from Italy and mixed with others at university. The other adult had been in contact with someone in the U.K. who had tested positive for COVID-19.

It's not clear if specific information relating to the movements of the infected adults led to a deep clean of Apple Victoria Square. Whether a decision was taken by Apple itself or was undertaken as part of broader contingency measures by local government to mitigate the spread of the virus remains unknown.

The latest positive tests took the total number of cases in the region to three, none of which are thought to be linked. The United Kingdom as a whole had its biggest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 87. There are 80 in England, three in Scotland, and one in Wales. The British government's response to coronavirus is already moving into its second "delay" phase, rather than seeking to simply "contain" the disease.

Apple Victoria Store underwent a deep clean Wednesday night

Apple has temporarily closed some of its retail stores in Italy following a government decree, as the country grapples with the spread of COVID-19. The number of deaths has surged in Italy, which is now the country with the most deaths in the world outside of China, where the viral outbreak originated.

Apple closed all 42 of its retail stores in China at the beginning of February as the outbreak in China worsened, but most of the stores have re-opened, albeit operating with shortened hours. New infections and deaths reported in China have been declining in recent weeks, according to government data, suggesting the virus may have peaked there. There were 119 new confirmed cases in China on March 3, compared with 125 the day before.

In the U.S., the death toll from COVID-19 climbed to 11 on Wednesday, while California has declared a state of emergency because of the spread of the virus after it reported its first fatality. The death was of an elderly man with underlying health issues. The state now has 53 confirmed cases. It was the first death from the outbreak in the U.S. outside of Washington state.

Meanwhile, Apple has pulled out of the SXSW 2020 Film Festival to be held later this month in Austin, Texas. The company planned to premiere new original content coming to Apple TV+, but will no longer attend because of ongoing concerns. Organizers said last month that the event would proceed as planned despite some cancellations related to the virus.

We're still waiting to hear news regarding the fate of this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, which usually takes place in San Jose, California. Apple has not announced dates for WWDC 2020, but based on past events, June 8 to June 12 are the likely dates that Apple is targeting.

Apple may still have some time before it makes a decision about whether to cancel WWDC this year due to coronavirus concerns, but with Facebook and Google both canceling May events, current circumstances aren't looking favorable.

Update: Apple has informed MacRumors that a deep clean did not take place at Apple Victoria Square on Wednesday night. The video shows a routine retail restoration which took place before the spread of COVID-19, although Apple did acknowledge that all of its stores are receiving regular enhanced cleaning in light of the viral outbreak.


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MI5 Argues for ‘Exceptional Access’ to Encrypted Messages

The director general of Britain's Security Service is arguing for "exceptional access" to encrypted messages, in the ongoing battle between authorities and technology companies, reports The Guardian.

MI5 head Andrew Parker
MI5's director general has called on technology companies to find a way to allow spy agencies "exceptional access" to encrypted messages, amid fears they cannot otherwise access such communications.

Sir Andrew Parker is understood to be particularly concerned about Facebook, which announced plans to introduce powerful end-to-end encryption last March across all the social media firm's services.

In an ITV interview to be broadcast on Thursday, Sir Andrew Parker says he has found it "increasingly mystifying" that intelligence agencies like his are not able to easily read secret messages of terror suspects they are monitoring.
Parker goes on to say that cyberspace has become an unregulated "Wild West" that is largely inaccessible to authorities, and calls on tech firms to answer the question: "Can you provide end-to-end encryption but on an exceptional basis – exceptional basis – where there is a legal warrant and a compelling case to do it, provide access to stop the most serious forms of harm happening?"

The U.K. government has long argued that encrypted online channels such as WhatsApp and Telegram provide a "safe haven" for terrorists because governments and even the companies that host the services cannot read them.

Tech companies have pushed back against various attempts by authorities to weaken encryption methods, such as the FBI's request that Apple help it hack into the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino.

Apple famously refused to comply with the request, and has since consistently argued against laws that would require tech companies to build so-called "back doors" into their software, claiming that such a move would weaken security for everyone and simply make terrorists and criminals turn to open-source encryption methods for their digital communications.

On the opposing side of the debate, Britain's cybersecurity agency has proposed that if tech companies sent a copy of encrypted messages and the encryption keys to unscramble them when requested following a warrant, this would allow them to prevent terrorists and criminals from operating out of sight without compromising encryption methods.

However, given that encrypted communication services like WhatsApp and Signal do not have access to private keys that would enable them to decrypt messages, a back door would seem the only alternative.

A spokesperson for Privacy International, a technology human rights group, told The Guardian that strong encryption kept communications safe from criminals and hostile governments.

"The reality is that these big tech platforms are international companies: providing access to UK police would mean establishing a precedent that police around the world could use to compel the platforms to monitor activists and opposition, from Hong Kong to Honduras," the spokesperson added.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.


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Apple Begins Selling Certified Refurbished 16-Inch MacBook Pro Models in the UK

Apple has started selling certified refurbished 16-inch MacBook Pro models through its online store in the United Kingdom for the first time since the notebook was released in November 2019. All of the refurbished configurations are discounted by 15 percent compared to the equivalent brand new models.


As of writing, a Silver 16-inch MacBook Pro 2.6GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 is listed for £2,039, down from £2,399, offering a £360 saving on the original price. The same savings are being offered on a Space Grey 16-inch MacBook Pro with matching specs.

Refurbished 16-inch MacBook Pro models have also been spotted in Apple's online refurb stores in Germany and Japan. Apple has been offering refurb 16-inch models in the United States for a couple of weeks now.

Apple says refurbished 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged with a 96W USB-C power adapter and USB-C cable in the box. In our view, a refurbished ‌MacBook Pro‌ is virtually indistinguishable from a brand new model, so this represents a good opportunity for savings.

Keep in mind that third-party resellers frequently offer better deals than Apple's refurbished prices, so be sure to shop around.

A refurbished ‌MacBook Pro‌ comes with Apple's standard one-year warranty effective on the date the notebook is delivered. The warranty can be extended to three years from the refurbished purchase date with AppleCare+ for Mac, which costs £399 for the 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ in the U.K.

(Thanks, Tommy!)

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Caution)

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