Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for September, 2013


I’m not a huge podcast listener, but I’m intrigued by the idea of a Marco Arment take on what a podcast app should be. This is an app to look forward to.

The Maps Data Gap

Steve Wildstrom on Techpinions:

The worst problems continue to be in the map database. I know that in some places, such as the San Francisco Bay area, the maps are pretty good. But in my neck of the woods, they stink.

And a similar sentiment from Michael Tsai:

Apple itself has barely said anything about maps lately. Nearly every time I’ve tried to use Apple Maps, it has gotten something important wrong. Google Maps has rarely given me any trouble.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but online services like Maps are clearly Apple’s weakness. The excuses for why they’re not good enough aren’t helpful to the millions of iPhone owners who simply don’t want to get lost.

Nine Million

Apple PR:

Apple today announced it has sold a record-breaking nine million new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c models, just three days after the launch of the new iPhones on September 20. In addition, more than 200 million iOS devices are now running the completely redesigned iOS 7, making it the fastest software upgrade in history.

That’s a little under 35 iPhones sold every second. That compares, by the way, to five million sold in the first weekend last year. Huge.

Chaos Computer Club Breaks Apple Touch ID

Frank Rieger of the Chaos Computer Club:

A fingerprint of the phone user, photographed from a glass surface, was enough to create a fake finger that could unlock an iPhone 5s secured with TouchID. This demonstrates – again – that fingerprint biometrics is unsuitable as access control method and should be avoided.

That was fast.

But their argument that “fingerprint biometrics is unsuitable as access control method and should be avoided” is wrong. The method they used to gain access is impractical to be done quickly or surreptitiously:

First, the fingerprint of the enroled [sic] user is photographed with 2400 dpi resolution. The resulting image is then cleaned up, inverted and laser printed with 1200 dpi onto transparent sheet with a thick toner setting. Finally, pink latex milk or white woodglue is smeared into the pattern created by the toner onto the transparent sheet. After it cures, the thin latex sheet is lifted from the sheet, breathed on to make it a tiny bit moist and then placed onto the sensor to unlock the phone.

That’s broadly similar to using the smudges on your display to work out what numbers are in your passcode.

In their support documentation, Apple describes it as such:

Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world. It’s always with you, and no two are exactly alike. Touch ID is a seamless way to use your fingerprint as a passcode.

The clearest flaw with using a fingerprint as a passcode is, as Al Franken put it, “[p]asswords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent”. But, for practical purposes of everyday people, a fingerprint scanner is certainly no less secure than a numerical passcode, and significantly more convenient.

Also, this…

Biometrics is fundamentally a technology designed for oppression and control, not for securing everyday device access.

…is a bunch of conspiracy theory laden bullshit.

Update on iOS 7 Adoption Rate

24 hours after its release, iOS 7 was on 35% of the devices reporting to Mixpanel. As of this morning — around four days after its release — it’s on more devices than iOS 6. That adoption rate is why developers can take advantage of the latest APIs and technologies by going iOS 7-only if they so choose.

Layer Cake

Justin Williams:

The easy way to define iOS 7 is to compare its design to both modern Android and Windows Phone 8. To claim that iOS 7 is just a “flat” interface is missing one of the key points of the new platform.

iOS 7 may not be rich with textures, but it’s not flat. It’s layered. This completely layered experience that is going to change the way we interact with apps over the next few years.

This is a damn good rebut of the “iOS 7 is just a flatter iOS 6” line espoused by reviewers and a few app developers alike.

Apple Seems to Also Believe in Multipath TCP

Olivier Bonaventure [sic]:

You won’t see Multipath TCP for regular TCP connections from applications like Safari, but if you use SIRI, you might see that the connection with one of the apple servers runs uses Multipath TCP.

In a nut, this means that using some Apple services — Siri, for example — will use whatever network connection is fastest, whether that’s WiFi, cellular, or whatever. iOS will automatically and seamlessly switch between these as necessary.

Fantastical and iOS 7

Very good news from Flexibits, developers of one of my favourite apps ever:

After a few minutes with iOS 7 we knew we had to go back to the iPhone and take Fantastical to the next level. With many new features and a brand-new design, we’re incredibly excited to announce that Fantastical 2 for iPhone is almost done and will be available in October!

I’d rather wait a month and have a killer app which has been truly redesigned than have day-one availability of a re-skinned app. From what I’m reading, Fantastical sounds like it’s going to be the former, and it’s going to be great.

All Things D to Leave Dow Jones

Jim Romenesko has the statement from the Wall Street Journal’s managing editor Gerard Baker:

As part of the mutual separation, Walt Mossberg will be leaving the Journal at the end of this year. I want to offer heartfelt thanks for more than twenty years of Personal Technology columns as well as his very fine reporting on national and international affairs in the years before he turned his attention to technology coverage.

iOS 7 Adoption Already As High As 35% In One Day

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch:

Mobile web and app analytics provider Mixpanel has been watching the iOS 7 uptake in real time, and has found that within the first 24 hours, devices running iOS 7 hitting its network reached 35 percent. The firm also found that many people updated during the workday (with 22 percent on iOS in the 10 hours following its launch), and that many more were updating late into the night Pacific time, with another 10 percent coming on between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. PT. Predicting adoption based on the current rate, Mixpanel says iOS 7 could exceed iOS 6 activity on its network by this time tomorrow.

Incredible. This means more developers can go iOS 7-only, without having to worry too much about stragglers.

The Dumbest Generation? Nope

Clive Thompson, the Globe and Mail:

More subtle yet – but equally powerful – is the fluency with which they compose. Students not only write more, they write more quickly. It’s hard for us to imagine now, but in 1917, the act of writing was arduous. Fountain pens spilled ink and shredded paper if you tried to write quickly. They were such a nightmare that when the ballpoint pen emerged in the 1940s, businesspeople happily spent the equivalent of $90 in today’s money for a single pen.

And when it comes to writing and thinking, speed matters. It’s what’s called transcription fluency: “If you can’t write fast enough, you can lose an idea or a way of phrasing something, and it never comes back,” Steven Graham, a literacy scholar at Arizona State University, told me. In contrast, when you can write and edit more swiftly, you can include more ideas and flesh them out more deeply. The emergence of the cheap ballpoint pen, the typewriter – and now the computer and smartphones and tablets – precisely match the cognitive curve of our students’ performance.

Retina Assets on Non-Retina iPads in iOS 7

I missed this one. Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica:

There is one minor benefit to using iOS 7 on a non-Retina iPad if you often find yourself using iPhone apps on your tablet. Here’s the deal: in iOS 6, iPhone apps will run using the same 480×320 resolution that they’d use on a non-Retina iPhone like the 3GS. Even if scaled up into 2x mode, the apps would simply scale up their non-Retina assets, meaning that you’d be looking at a 480×320 image scaled up to 1024×768. […]

In iOS 7, the 1x non-Retina display mode is entirely gone, and iPhone-only apps run in 2x mode and use their 960×640 Retina assets exclusively. The obvious upshot is that iPhone-only apps will look better on the non-Retina iPads.

Apple’s Magic Curtain

Marco della Cava of USA Today also got to sit down with Jony Ive and Craig Federighi:

He picks up his iPhone and slides the Notifications Center into place; it appears like information attached to a frosted shower door, where the world behind it is still visible.

“Look at that,” says Ive. “The lovely thing about translucency is you’re not sitting there going, ‘Where have I just been taken?’ because your world is still there.”

Federighi nods. “You didn’t just get walled off,” he says. “It’s about a different philosophy.”

“New? New Is Easy. Right Is Hard”

Businessweek got to spend some time with Tim Cook, Jony Ive, and Craig Federighi last week. Obviously, you’re not going to find any news, per se, in this discussion. But there’s a lot of talk about Apple’s strategy, and how these executives see the company’s values demonstrated in its products.

Google’s New Project to Solve Death

Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman, for Time:

At the moment Google is working on an especially uncertain and distant shot. It is launching Calico, a new company that will focus on health and aging in particular. The independent firm will be run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of biotech pioneer Genentech, who will also be an investor. Levinson, who began his career as a scientist and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, plans to remain in his current roles as the chairman of the board of directors for both Genentech and Apple, a position he took over after its co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. In other words, the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend the human life span.

In hindsight, it’s incredible just how good humans have gotten at extending our lifespans. Not too long ago, you’d probably be dead by the age of 40, consumed by one of hundreds of lethal diseases. Today, through diet, medicine, hand washing, and other practices, we’ve managed to eliminate most of those diseases. We now live longer than we ever have.

But eliminating those diseases didn’t come without side effects. Symptoms of various cancers, for example, were described by ancient Egyptians, but those they affected died from another disease long before the cancer could take its course. We’re dying from cancer in greater numbers now because those diseases don’t exist (and also likely because we can better detect cancer).

That’s just one example. There are dozens of other diseases and syndromes which exist in greater prevalence now because we live so long. Whatever Calico has up its sleeve will likely tackle these new complications. This is exciting.

Redesigning Mailbox for iOS 7

Mailbox is, so far, one of my favourite products of the iOS 7 treatment. Gentry Underwood, writing about working with iOS 7’s new interface paradigms:

In short, if you value simplicity, designing for iOS 7 is a joy. Everything is faster and more focused: by removing the need to create artificial depth and texture, the designer is freed to focus on form that expresses function.

A similar sentiment from Fitbit’s Christopher Clark:

Let’s hope everyone is actually taking the hint that design is about making better products, not making prettier textures.

Of the apps that have been updated so far for iOS 7, there are two types: those that have simply removed textures, and those which have been redesigned. Unfortunately, the former seems to be more common right now, but we’re about six hours into this release. Give it time, and you’re going to see a lot of beautiful new apps on your phone.