Get Info Redesigned

With every update to OS X comes a reminder of just how far behind some parts of the system are. The Get Info dialog is one of those things; the colour picker is another.

Journalism as Entertainment

Stephen Hackett:

[T]he old-school rules of objective journalism exist for a reason. They protect reporters, subjects and stories from being influenced by emotions. Breaking those rules is fine, as long as expectations are set correctly. The fact that people are upset at Serial’s ending indicates they weren’t.

On the contrary, I think Sarah Koenig did a great job emphasizing that it’s not a fictional drama series, but a real-life event. Adnan Syed is still in prison, and it’s continuously referenced throughout her reporting on the story. If people are upset, that’s an indication that Koenig did a great job of making such a contrived decade-old case so compelling.

Stop the Presses

Kontra:

Yes, we have ever growing access to filtering software to shape our own sphere of coverage, and yet tens of millions of people read, and likely most believed, that Apple had deliberately and secretly deleted competitors’ songs from users’ iPods, an impression which may never be sufficiently corrected. Yes, we’re getting better tools to find and check facts, and yet the incentives to not deceive readers through disingenuous headlining and packaging are clearly not in place. How many headline corrections have you seen in this case?

Not a single one. While most headlines stated that “Apple deleted non-iTunes music from iPods”, or something to that effect, Mike Beasley of 9to5Mac took his headline even further:

Apple admits it deleted songs purchased through competing stores from iPods without warning

Bold. And not just my formatting.

It’s funny, because later in Beasley’s re-reporting, he makes the opposite case:

Apple’s lawyers stress that while such security measures did exist, the plaintiffs have yet to produce a single case of music being lost.

C’est la clickbait.

Drafts 4.0.6

Greg Pierce, the Agile Tortoise himself:

New: Today widget. Now back with the addition of recent drafts summary. Thanks to the help of some fine folks inside Apple for sorting this out.

Of the major App Store rejection stories this past month, all have now had their rejections reversed. But do you think developers — in particular, those who have a lower profile and smaller user base — are much more confident?

App Store Discovery Is Completely Broken

It’s so bad that it’s almost as if it’s programmed to be deliberately obtuse. If the App Store were a barista, it would bring you a wrench instead of your coffee and then come around to your house a few weeks later to take it back for unclear reasons.

Shaw Wins Gold in Verbal Gymnastics

Remember that totally craptacular Shaw announcement I wrote about earlier? They finally officially announced the changes to the pricing and service tiers, and it’s like a masterclass in spin:

These new services will introduce faster download speeds and greater value for customers who have our most popular tiers by providing more value per Mbps (Megabits Per Second) download rate.

HS 10 improves to Internet 15
HS 25 improves to Internet 30
BB 50 improves to Internet 60

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except it’s not like the 50 mbps service becomes 60 mbps for the same price; rather, the 50 mbps service turns into a 60 mbps service for the same price as the outgoing 100 mbps service.

Meanwhile:

We’re pleased to be introducing a new entry-level Internet service, Internet 5, which is well suited to customers who use their Internet for simple web browsing and email.

Who the fuck, exactly, is going to want a 5 mbps service for the same price as the outgoing 10 mbps service?

The Ten Year DRM Saga Is, at Last, Over

Robert Burnson and Karen Gullo, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. prevailed in a potential $1 billion lawsuit by iPod customers who claimed restrictions in the iTunes library were meant to kill competition, as a jury handed the company a decisive victory after only three hours of deliberations.

Firmware and software updates in iTunes 7.0, which were contained in the iPod models at issue, were genuine product improvements, the jury in Oakland, California federal court said. That finding meant the company couldn’t be held liable for thwarting competition even if the tweaks hurt rivals.

A decade of combined lawsuits and general nuttiness ended in just three hours. Finally.

All-Canadian Duopoly

I talk a lot here about the importance of ensuring net neutrality. I also talk a lot here about how shitty internet service providers are. But most of the time, I’m talking about this in the context of American providers because the majority of my readership is American. But I’m Canadian, and we’ve got our own problems. Let’s talk about them.

There are two major internet service providers in Canada: Shaw and Telus. There are a few more in certain cities — Rogers and Bell, for example — and several local providers that generally operate using bandwidth from a larger provider. I’m with Shaw, because they’re marginally more reliable than Telus, and they provide Usenet access.

Every year, like clockwork, Shaw bumps their prices up a little; last year, it was by a lot — over 50% in some cases. This year is no different, and I received notification from them a couple of weeks ago that they would be increasing prices by about 10% across the board. Why? Shaw makes several claims:

Canadians use the Internet more than anyone else in the world. We are doing more than just browsing the web and checking email – we’re conducting business, watching videos and movies, streaming TV shows and talking to our loved ones with video chat. Today the average home has 10 WiFi devices with modern appliances, tablets, phones, and home security all increasing traffic on the network. By 2018, Internet traffic is estimated to triple*.

There’s no citation for the statement “Canadians use the Internet more than anyone else in the world”. By number of users and penetration, Canadians are far from the most connected country on earth, and according to Wikipedia’s traffic stats,1 Canada is nowhere near the top. Either that, or we’re just way less curious. It is incomprehensible that Canada — a country with about 10% of the internet users of the United States — could be using more bandwidth.

The citation for the traffic estimate is Cisco’s VNI forecast, which estimated traffic to triple from 2013 to 2018, and we’re nearly halfway through that. Traffic isn’t expected to triple from 2015 to 2018.

So it’s clear that Shaw’s reasons for the price increase are built on shaky ground, at best. Some person named “seanman72” — going out on a limb here that it’s some guy named Sean — has thoroughly deconstructed these arguments.

Simultaneously, Shaw will be cutting back service plans:

Effective Jan 6th (One day after the price increase):

Shaw 100mbps becomes Shaw 60mbps
Shaw 50mbps becomes Shaw 30mbps
Shaw 25mbps becomes Shaw 15mbps
Shaw 10mbps becomes Shaw 5mbps

All for the same increased price of their originating packages…

On the bright side, anyone currently ON one of the higher packages will be grandfathered in, until they have to make any changes to their account (Moving, changing package, etc).

This hasn’t been announced by Shaw, but numerous customers have confirmed it over the phone, though phone staff have offered mixed information regarding grandfathering.

In a country Shaw claims is using the internet most heavily, they are simultaneously raising prices and cutting — by 40-50% — the amount of service offered to their customers. This comes as Shaw and Rogers have teamed up to launch Shomi, a Netflix competitor. Shaw and Rogers also own various Canadian television networks as well.

This smacks of an abuse of their market-leading position, in an industry that has almost no actual competition. Similar to Canada’s cellular carriers, our internet service providers have an unprecedented level of end-to-end control and responsibility in the market. It’s time we started regulating them as we view them in 2014: as utilities.


  1. This is the best source I could find. Most global traffic estimates are behind paywalls of thousands or tens-of-thousands of dollars. I like you, reader, but not quite that much. 

Who’s Apple’s Ideal Customer?

Thomas Verschoren:

There’s a clear devide [sic] within Apple these days. On one side you have the people who bring you WWDC, new SDK’s and who feature LaunchCenter Pro as a top app in 2014. It’s those people who, I think, invite developers to push the boundaries of what’s possible in iOS forward.

On the other side you have the people who promote these free apps, push [in-app purchases] and who see those who develop differently as wrong and force them to remove those imaginative features.

Internal disagreements are common — even encouraged — at most companies, including Apple. But this internal disagreement — similar to the Maps debacle from two years ago — is spilling into the lives of their developers, customers, and most ardent users. Shouldn’t that be enough to spark a large internal shift of priorities and practices?

Insecure Keyboard Entry

Daniel Jalkut made a little tool to alert him any time he tries to enter his password in a non-password field on his Mac. Turns out, there are a couple of places in OS X that look and work like secure password entry fields, but aren’t. Like Terminal:

The nice “•” is new to Yosemite, I believe. Previously tools such as sudo just blocked typing, leaving a blank space. But in Yosemite I notice the same “secure style” bullet is displayed in both sudo and ssh, when prompting for a password. To me this implies a sense of enhanced security: clearly, the Terminal knows that I am inputting a password here, so I would assume it applies the same care that the rest of the system does when I’m entering text into a secure field. But it doesn’t. When I type my password to sudo something in the Terminal, my little utility barks at me. There’s no way around it: it saw me typing my password. I confirmed that it sees my typing when entering an ssh password, as well.

There are a couple of radars that are dupe-able in Jalkut’s post, too.

IUMA: Digital Music’s First Big Chance

Caleb Garling:

In IUMA’s final days, computing celebrity John Gilmore furiously scraped the tracks — imploring others to do the same — and stowed them away. In 2012 he worked with Jason Scott of Archive.org to put the “wreckage” of IUMA, as Scott calls it — 45,000 bands and over 680,000 tracks — back on the web, where it remains today, free for anyone to access.

“It’s what it was always meant to be: a big pile of music that people enjoy listening to,” Scott says. (Though about 100 artists have asked Scott to remove their music, many having shed punk guitar riffs for collared shirts.)

Casual browsing turns up all kinds of hidden gems. Adam Duritz was the lead singer of The Himalayans and would eventually bring the band’s song “Round Here” to the Counting Crows and the top of Billboard charts. Duritz ensured The Himalayans got songwriting credits for the iconic ’90s tune, and their version remains preserved on Archive.org.

Scott says listeners sometimes come across the IUMA music and review it, as if it were new, having no idea these tracks were first uploaded in the 1990s. “The music is timeless,” he says. “It just might be more angry at the first Bush than the second.”

The Sony Hacks Are Terrifying

Brian Barrett, Gizmodo:

The most painful stuff in the Sony cache is a doctor shopping for Ritalin. It’s an email about trying to get pregnant. It’s shit-talking coworkers behind their backs, and people’s credit card log-ins. It’s literally thousands of Social Security numbers laid bare. It’s even the harmless, mundane, trivial stuff that makes up any day’s email load that suddenly feels ugly and raw out in the open, a digital Babadook brought to life by a scorched earth cyberattack.

These are people who did nothing wrong. They didn’t click on phishing links, or use dumb passwords (or even if they did, they didn’t cause this). They just showed up. They sent the same banal workplace emails you send every day, some personal, some not, some thoughtful, some dumb. Even if they didn’t have the expectation of full privacy, at most they may have assumed that an IT creeper might flip through their inbox, or that it was being crunched in an NSA server somewhere. For better or worse, we’ve become inured to small, anonymous violations. What happened to Sony Pictures employees, though, is public. And it is total.

Apple Probed in Canada Over iPhone Carrier Contracts

Alastair Sharp and Euan Rocha, Reuters:

Canada’s Competition Bureau is investigating allegations that Apple Inc’s Canadian unit used anti-competitive clauses in contracts with domestic wireless carriers, the watchdog said on Thursday.

The bureau said no wrongdoing by Apple’s Canadian arm has been found so far, without stating who made the allegations. An Apple spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Apple was part of that giant Silicon Valley employee anti-poaching ring, so heavy-handed contracts with cell carriers wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But I do wish the CRTC and the Competition Bureau would cooperate to investigate the carriers themselves, too. Or maybe it’s entirely coincidental that all three major carriers announced almost-identical plans when the wireless consumer code was introduced.

Workflow for iOS

Another one of Federico Viticci’s mammoth reviews, and — oh boy — what an app to review. Workflow is like Automator for iOS, and with capabilities like that, it’s worth downloading fast, before Apple pulls it for confusing and ultimately ridiculous reasons.

I’ve been messing around with it for a little while, trying to add a button to my Share sheet to create link posts. It’s incredibly powerful, especially with Pythonista and Editorial integration. I think I’ve gone down the Viticci rabbit hole.

Anyway, if you’d like to join us freaky iOS automation types down in this hole, you can grab the app from this referral link.

Transmit’s Forced Removal of Its Sharing Sheet to Be Overturned

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur broke the news in an article about developer grievances with the App Store:

The Guardian understands that Panic will be allowed to reinstate sharing – but that only raises the question of why it was stopped in the first place. Apple declined to comment to the Guardian on the banning or reinstatement of the functionality.

And from Panic themselves:

Update: late Wednesday we got a nice call from Apple. We have resubmitted Transmit iOS with “Send To” (iCloud Drive et al.) restored.

Great for Transmit iOS users, but how does this crapshoot style of App Store moderation instil developer confidence?

Instagram Surpasses Twitter’s Userbase

John Gruber:

Perhaps it’s as simple as photos being more appealing to a broader audience than tweets. But I say part of Instagram’s success is that their interface is simpler, and the rules for what you see in your feed are like what Twitter’s used to be: a simple chronological list of posts from the people you choose to follow. Insert your own “Correlation is not causation” disclaimer here, but it seems to me that Twitter’s slowing growth corresponds pretty closely to its complexity increasing over the past few years.

I remember Twitter being easy to explain, even if it wasn’t conceptually easy to understand: “constant 140 character snippets of whatever from people you find interesting”. Twitter is no longer that simple; its complexity has made it more difficult to explain and understand.

Twitter Clients in 2014

Federico Viticci has added another to his series of mammoth reviews, this time regarding the state of Twitter clients in 2014. Pour yourself a coffee for this one, because it’s a great read. Viticci has made known his preference for the official Twitter client, but I found his conclusion most telling as to why I prefer Tweetbot:

2014 Twitter is bigger than Twitterrific and Tweetbot. Today’s Twitter goes beyond text and a traditional display of the timeline – it encompasses native photos (and soon videos), interactive previews, advanced recommendation algorithms, photo tagging features, and a fully indexed search. I didn’t know how much I would come to rely on Twitter’s new features until I started using the official app and now, in spite of design details and advanced functionalities that I still prefer in third-party clients, I don’t feel like I want to switch back.

And that’s because the basic Twitter experience in 2014 is different. Twitter is split in Legacy Twitter and Modern Twitter, and it increasingly seems like users and developers of classic clients will have to stay in the past of the service. Perfectly functional (for now), beautiful in their delightful touches, but ultimately limited.

I am a happy Legacy Twitter user. I don’t much like Cards, the insertion of tweets from people I don’t follow into my timeline, the blue conversation line, or creepy app spying. As Viticci notes, your choice of Twitter client is a personal one. You, like Viticci, may actually like Twitter cards, so you might use the official Twitter app, or you might like a unified timeline, so you’d prefer Twitterrific. The best possible user experience for my needs, however, remains Tweetbot. Regardless of your choice, this is a must-read article.

Apple Pay’s User Experience

James Cook at — sighBusiness Insider:

iPhone 6 users are hitting upon a problem when trying to pay for burgers in McDonald’s: Staff don’t know how to accept payment using Apple Pay, the new mobile payments app.

[…]

Here’s a post from DKDonkeyKong that explains the problem:

I just got my new Gold iPhone 6 Plus (128GB) yesterday. I went to McDonalds, excited to purchase lunch using my new device. The lady at the front gave me my total, and I said “I’m going to pay using my new iPhone”. She immediately gave a very confused look and told me I could pay using cash or credit. I said that Apple Pay is an NFC-based feature and should work with any NFC terminal. She told me to wait just a moment while she spoke with her manager. At that point I was rather embarrassed and told her I’d just pay with my card.

First of all, it’s from Business Insider, so we’re already off to a bad start.

Then there’s this DKDonkeyKong person, who might — and this is just a guess — not necessarily be the best source for a journalistic outlet.1 But, then again, this is Business Insider.

But there’s actually something to this. Cook continues with a quote from the MacRumors thread from which he sourced this entire let’s-call-it-an-article:

Do NOT involve the cashier. While they ring up, I generally have my phone near the terminal [with] home button pushed. This works over 50% of time. For those other times, when they ask cash or credit, simply say credit. People spend too much time talking to the cashiers. They’re easily confused.

Aside from the holier-than-thou way this poster calls cashiers “easily confused”, they’re kind of right. You shouldn’t need to explain that you’re using Apple Pay; it should work just like a contactless credit card. It’s not cashiers that are to blame, but rather retailers who favour collecting data over customer experience creating unnecessary complications in the contactless payment space.


  1. This is from a MacRumors thread, but you could probably tell that from the way this user explains, in full, which iPhone they bought. I’m half-surprised DKDonkeyKong didn’t also include the model number. 

Big Dogs/Little Fish

Ole Begemann:

What does it say about Apple’s priorities when app review spends its time policing developers for building features that are innovative, useful, and entirely opt-in anyway?

At around the same time, Twitter announced that their app is now spying on users in a new way, using a public API for a purpose it was clearly not intended for. I would argue that this practice, if not against the letter of the Review Guidelines, is much more harmful to users. It’s stuff like this that should warrant action from the app review team.

Things like Begemann’s Twitter example and putting a U2 album on everyone’s iPhone are clearly more detrimental to user experience than having a calculator in Notification Centre. It’s undeniably frustrating for developers to be given a shitload of great new APIs only to be told through subterranean channels that they cannot be used in ways which are innovative, interesting, and ultimately make the platform better.

Shy

Jessica Guynn, USA Today:

American companies collect and report information about their workforces to the federal government each year in a form called the EEO-1.

The EEO-1 is a standard form that breaks down race, ethnicity and gender of workforces by job classification.

Facebook, eBay, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn are among the technology companies that have made public their EEO-1s.

[…]

Chief among the companies that decided not to disclose their EEO-1s were Microsoft, Twitter, Apple and Amazon.

Every company’s already-disclosed diversity figures are already so bad that I’m not certain why they’d be so shy about their EEO-1s.

Untransmitted

Cabel Sasser of Panic has written a short post officially announcing that Transmit for iOS is dropping support for send-to-iCloud Drive, and, collaterally, send-to-several-other-services-on-the-same-sheet. The gold is in the comments, though; an addendum of sorts from Sasser:

Speaking for myself: when we get a call from the App Review Bad News Guy — a very nice guy with a very terrible job — we know we’re in for a difficult few weeks. We haven’t shared, and likely never will share, most of those stories. To be clear, we always work all of the angles available to us to keep our software great, and there’s no doubt there are countless great people at Apple who are doing wonderful work and want the best for all developers. But we have to remember Apple is now a massive organization with countless divisions — the App Review team isn’t even in Cupertino, for example — and sometimes that means the wheels turn slowly or the car, well, drives backwards. It’s hard to describe the legitimate emotional toll we feel when we’re angry or frustrated with a company we love so deeply. But then we realize it’s never Apple we’re frustrated with. It’s always the App Store.

Apple is a fucking massive company; internally, though, it’s been famously described as “the world’s biggest startup”. I don’t think it’s naïvety but rather a sense of optimism that has kept it humming as a gigantic startup, but the widening gap between that and the giant company that it is has become most apparent to developers through the App Stores.

There doesn’t appear to be a common understanding of what rules the app reviewers should be focusing on, or even what rules exist — as far as I can tell, there’s no written rule that prohibits what Transmit was doing here. The lack of consistency is especially frustrating for developers. They become increasingly unsure of how much effort they should invest in features that shouldn’t be controversial. They don’t know if they’re the next ones to be rejected for some feature while dozens of other apps remain on sale with a similar feature.

In this particular case, I don’t understand what Apple gains by having Panic remove their export to iCloud Drive feature. I don’t understand what Apple or their users would lose — financially, morally, ethically, or in any other way — by allowing Transmit to retain this feature. If anything, this entices people to use iCloud Drive.

Meanwhile, there remain apps available in the Store that continue to push out notification spam or have atrocious user interfaces, both of which are explicitly prohibited by the review guidelines.1 Both of these rule violations directly impact users’ experience with the platform, yet issues of this nature are not treated nearly as seriously. Why, for example, is there no way to report apps that send excessive or spam notifications?

We all want Apple to do better here. It’s not about the (bloody) ROI, nor should it be. It’s just an issue of user and developer satisfaction, both of which are being toyed with in inconsistent and frustrating ways. That’s it.

And am I the only one who wishes for a book of stories from development hell?


  1. 5.6 Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind,” and “10.6 Apple and our customers place a high value on simple, refined, creative, well thought through interfaces. They take more work but are worth it. Apple sets a high bar. If your user interface is complex or less than very good, it may be rejected”. And, arguably, “If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour”. 

Profound Stupidity, Round Three

Apple’s war on developers putting to use the new APIs in iOS 8 continues. Transmit for iOS doesn’t have a Notification Centre widget, but it does have a ridiculously powerful Share sheet extension. Or, well, did, because Apple has decided to neuter it by removing its send-to-iCloud Drive functionality.

The thing that PCalc, Drafts, and Transmit all have in common is that they’re power user tools. I’d wager heavily that their users are more likely to be longtime Apple supporters and very tech savvy. Never mind the silliness of going after developers who actually use the new APIs; the stupidity of taking on software used by Apple’s most ardent supporters is baffling to me.

…And Then It Got Weird

That iTunes/iPod/DRM/RealPlayer/blast-from-the-past lawsuit that’s been going on seemingly since the dawn of consumer technology? Yeah, it just got weird. Brian X. Chen, New York Times:

The class action seeks damages for iPods bought from September 2006 to March 2009. Apple said it checked the serial number of Ms. Rosen’s iPod Touch and found that it was bought in July 2009, months after the class period ended.

Apple’s lawyers also said the company could not verify purchases of other iPods that Ms. Rosen said she had bought, including an iPod Nano in the fall of 2007. Apple lawyers said they had requested proof from Ms. Rosen’s lawyers of her purchases.

Apple also said it had asked the plaintiffs’ lawyers for proof of any purchases of iPods by the other plaintiff in the case, Melanie Tucker of North Carolina. Apple said it verified that an iPod Touch was purchased by Ms. Tucker in August 2010, also outside the class period. In her testimony, Ms. Tucker said she bought an iPod in April 2005.

The judge overseeing the case, Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, said she was concerned about the potential issues presented by the letter. “I am concerned that I don’t have a plaintiff,” she said. “That’s a problem.”

Deleting the Evidence

Jeff Elder, Wall Street Journal:

When a user who had downloaded music from a rival service tried to sync an iPod to the user’s iTunes library, Apple would display an error message and instruct the user to restore the factory settings, [attorney Patrick Coughlin] said. When the user restored the settings, the music from rival services would disappear, he said.

Apple directed the system “not to tell users the problem,” Coughlin said.

This is yet another example of the plaintiffs in this case confusing various computer terminology. In this case, it was an iPod software update with a revised version of FairPlay. And Apple did warn users what would happen, in broad strokes:

We strongly caution Real and their customers that when we update our iPod software from time to time it is highly likely that Real’s Harmony technology will cease to work with current and future iPods.

I’m a generally optimistic guy, so I’m a pretty big believer in Hanlon’s razor. I’d like to believe that the reason Apple didn’t tell users specifically what was going on was due to the kind of confusion that this trial has created. People don’t understand the difference between DRM formats, or even the fact that an audio file has DRM. So Apple not explicitly telling users that they’re updating the iPod to ensure the security of their own FairPlay DRM — and that this will remove songs with unlicensed or hacked versions of FairPlay — is likely borne from simplicity, not malice.