Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December, 2014

Apple Hit With Class Action Over iOS Storage Requirements

Julia Love, SiliconBeat:

The case, filed in the Bay Area’s federal court on Tuesday, claims iOS 8 can take up as much as 23.1 percent of the advertised storage capacity on Apple gadgets, but few users realize that when they make their purchases. Seeking damages and changes to Apple policies under California state law, plaintiffs hope to represent sweeping classes of users who bought Apple gadgets with iOS 8 already installed and users who upgraded to the latest version of the software.

Not quite as bad as Microsoft’s Surface RT, but it seems like yet another good reason for Apple to discontinue iPhones with 16 GB or less of storage space.

This is going to be another instance of the public questioning the validity of fine print, too. If Apple notes that the “actual formatted capacity [is] less” than the advertised space, is that good enough?

Amazon Names Amazon Show as Best of 2014

Jason Del Rey, Recode:

If you’re looking to catch up on the top movies and TV shows of 2014, Amazon has a Top 10 list for you. And surprise! Amazon is No. 1.

The company, which is no stranger to beating its chest loudly and often, is using the list as another thumping opportunity during prime binge-viewing season. Case in point: It named its own show “Transparent” as the No. 1 show on its “Best of 2014” list for the “top 10 movies & TV shows.” Another one of its shows, “Mozart in the Jungle,” is No. 8 on the list. The latter just became available online one week ago, squeaking in just in time for the rankings. Sneaky Amazon!

The irony of a show called “Transparent” being produced and promoted by its distributor without any indication of the conflict of interest is kind of beautiful.

Performance Degradation Between Tiger and Yosemite

I hate1 to keep going on about stuff like this, but it’s really important to the overall user experience. OS X engineers might consider peeking over WebKit’s proverbial shoulders:

The way to make a program faster is to never let it get slower.

We have a zero-tolerance policy for performance regressions. If a patch lands that regresses performance according to our benchmarks, then the person responsible must either back the patch out of the tree or drop everything immediately and fix the regression.

Common excuses people give when they regress performance are, “But the new way is cleaner!” or “The new way is more correct.” We don’t care. No performance regressions are allowed, regardless of the reason. There is no justification for regressing performance. None.

A similar level of attention to and focus on performance might be applied to OS X — and, for that matter, iOS: performance should not regress. That’s a very tall order for the demands of an operating system, especially before the inclusion of new features, but on recent hardware, it should be a reasonable guideline. Users should not have to worry that using the most recent version of an OS will impede the performance of their computer, tablet, or phone.


  1. I don’t. ↩︎

What’s So Special About the AeroPress

Shawn Blanc really likes his AeroPress, but I think he missed a big reason of why it’s so loveable — and I’ve tried nearly everything: the ratio of ease-of-use to results. A French press is really easy to use, but makes — in my opinion — a mediocre cup of coffee, and is a pain in the ass to clean. An espresso machine is very challenging to use consistently, but it makes a great cup of coffee. An automated machine is super easy to use, but the results are nearly always wanting. A V60 is finicky, but makes a good cup.

The AeroPress, though, is really hard to screw up and produces a fantastic cup, and it’s easy to clean.

It’s not just one thing, but the combination of everything that Blanc mentions that makes the AeroPress so damn great. For a single cup of coffee, no other brewing method is able to combine ease-of-use, easy cleaning, lack of waste, inexpensiveness, and consistently great results.

Promoted Accounts on Twitter

Danny Sullivan, MarketingLand:

Take a look at your “Following” list on Twitter. You might find some brands or people showing up there, even if you don’t follow them. If so, that seems due to either a new change or a newly noticed change in how Twitter is doing placement for promoted accounts.

Credit to William Shatner who spotted this first — or if not first — has been the most vocal about it. He noted that MasterCard was showing up on the list of accounts he was following, even though he wasn’t actually following them.

I noticed this too a couple of weeks ago, but I entirely forgot about it because I don’t really use the official Twitter apps or website; none of Twitter’s promoted content shows up in third-party apps.

This is super sleazy. Promoted tweets from people you don’t follow showing up in your timeline is one thing; that feels like a typical social media ad. But making it appear as though I’m following accounts that I’m not? That’s real sketchy. MasterCard is one thing — I don’t hold a strong opinion on the company. But what if some company I am philosophically opposed to buys a promoted spot and it appears in my list of people I’m following?

iTunes Syncing Is Broken

Kirk McElhearn, Macworld:

In a way, this may be a predictable side effect of Apple’s push to online services. The company wants everything to be in the cloud, and it would prefer that you buy all your music and movies from there as well. Local syncing isn’t really a part of that plan and so may be treated as an afterthought. The difficulty is that not all users are right for the cloud model. For those with large iTunes libraries, or with limited broadband bandwidth, cloud storage simply isn’t usable.

My iTunes music library — not counting video, podcast, or anything else — is over 300 GB. So many of the problems I’ve seen with iTunes syncing have manifested themselves or become worse with an ever-expanding library.

I’m sure that my unreasonably large library is only part of the problem though; I’ve seen these and other issues with libraries a tenth the size.

90 Day Apple ID Password Reset

A few years ago, I was trying to log in with my Apple ID in iTunes and I kept getting a weird password-related error. I switched over to try it on one of Apple’s websites, and was told that my password needed to be reset. This was the first time I saw this and, without fail, every 90 days from thereon, I was required to reset my password every single time. Then, about a year ago, it stopped.

I have two Apple IDs and saw the same behaviour in both, but none of my friends saw a similar behaviour, and I had a hard time tracking down any reliable reports on the web of this occurring.

The Iconfactory’s Sean Heber asked developer relations about this, and got an answer:

A response from Apple seems to indicate that access to Attache is the thing triggering the 90 day password reset.

What the hell is Attaché?

Apple’s Attache is a kind of internal email system or something. I remember using once to deliver a particularly big file to an engineer.

Fascinating. I don’t remember ever having used this. Very odd.

Update: It could be due to the Apple ID having been used to log into an AppleConnect-related service. Attaché is connected to AppleConnect, but so is Radar, Apple’s bug reporter. I’ve used that. A lot.

Apple Has a Way to Push Software Updates to OS X Automatically

Intriguing tidbit about the critical NTP patch, as reported by Jim Finkle of Reuters:

When Apple has released previous security patches, it has done so through its regular software update system, which typically requires user intervention.

The company decided to deliver the NTP bug fixes with its technology for automatically pushing out security updates, which Apple introduced two years ago but had never previously used, because it wanted to protect customers as quickly as possible due to the severity of the vulnerabilities, [Apple spokesman Bill] Evans said.

With Apple’s not-particularly-stellar track record as of late, this is a little worrying. However, given that this is the first time the mechanism has ever been used, it appears that they are being abundantly cautious. This means that users silently have part of their system patched without requiring any intervention or interruption.

Unswitchers

My, how things have changed. Want to know how far? Here’s Microsoft’s guide for Mac users switching to a Surface, with gems like:

On my Macbook… [sic]

I was used to using the command key with letters like C, V, and P to copy, paste, and print respectively.

On my Surface Pro 3…

Use Ctrl in place of command and many of the keyboard shortcuts you know still work!

It’s like Apple’s “Switch” campaign all over again, just in reverse. This isn’t gloating or anything; I just find the situation entirely surreal.

OS X NTP Security Update

You’re going to want to update as soon as you can:

Available for: OS X Mountain Lion v10.8.5, OS X Mavericks v10.9.5, OS X Yosemite v10.10.1

Impact: A remote attacker may be able to execute arbitrary code

Description: Several issues existed in ntpd that would have allowed an attacker to trigger buffer overflows. These issues were addressed through improved error checking.

Scary stuff. Do this right away: it’s 1.4 MB, it requires no reboot, and it’s in the App Store. Just go do it.

Update: This is apparently no longer theoretical.

On Developer Confidence in iOS

Russell Ivanovic wrote an intriguing post titled “2015: The Year of Android” (via Michael Tsai). With a title like that, I had to check it out:

In other words in 2013 Google payed out $2 billion to developers on Google Play. In 2014, $5 billion. This is a growth rate of 2.5x since last year. The lazy way to analyse this would be to point out that Apple announced that they’d paid out $15 billion to developers in December of 2013. 15 = 5 x 3, case closed. We could argue all day about growth rates, profitability and which platform is ‘winning’ right now. The real thing I pay attention to as a developer is this: can you be profitable on Android? To me the clear answer, with many years of actual revenue flowing into our company is an emphatic ‘Yes’.

Ivanovic’s phrasing isn’t quite correct here. Apple’s $15 billion figure is a cumulative amount, and they announced last year that they’d paid out a total of $7 billion to developers, giving Apple a 115% growth rate. Not as good as Google’s, but way, way more money on a per-user basis.

Though Ivanovic’s company has done very well on Android, but the vast majority of developers with paid apps in both stores have consistently reported far greater revenue on iOS than on Android. The chance of users paying for an app on iOS remains vastly greater than Android, so I have to disagree with Ivanovic here.

His second of three points:

The next thing people often throw out is “Oh but it’s so fragmented, I could never bring myself to buy 300 phones and test on 1000 screen sizes!”. This too as it turns out is a mostly a myth based on a lack of understanding. Firstly screen sizes on Android are actually less fragmented on Android than iOS. If you don’t understand why, or don’t believe me then you need to read this, followed by this.

iOS has the greater developer tools for supporting flexible layouts, especially for game developers. Neener neener.

But Ivanovic’s third point is why I’m linking to it. Not to poke fun, but to agree with it:

To me the next most important thing is how the App Store on the platform works. On iOS we’re starting to see things like this on a daily basis:

And that’s just the high profile developers. I shudder to think of how many small developers, with no contacts in the media are just being crushed on a daily basis. Do I see those things on Android? Nope. The only place I’ve seen Google crack down is on apps that download from YouTube and apps that do nefarious things. The first is against YouTube’s TOS, clearly so, and the second is obvious. I can’t tell you just how refreshing it is to push ‘publish’ on a brand new app or update, and see it in the store an hour later.

2015 should be the year of iOS. Apple has given developers a boatload of new APIs and new ways of interacting with iOS, but they apparently haven’t told the App Store review team any of this. While I don’t agree with Ivanovic’s premise — “2015 is the year of Android” — I do think that Apple is squandering its goodwill with developers and betraying their trust and confidence in developing for the platform.

PHG’s Fund Releasing Policy

The per-currency $30 threshold is the biggest pain in the ass for smaller publishers like myself. PHG’s policies have a habit of encouraging only the biggest referral marketers, while leaving people with not-insubstantial but not-quite-big-enough sales figures without their funds.

The Curse of Compressing Reality

Noah Lorang (via Shawn Blanc):

Any creative endeavor is highly non-linear, but the sharing of it almost always skips a lot of the actual work that goes into it. That’s ok; a clear progression makes for a good story that’s easy to tell. But don’t judge your reality against someone else’s compressed work. It’s ok if it takes you a day to make a cutting board like one that someone made in six minutes on YouTube; the truth is it probably took them a day too.

As I watch the traffic on this site rocket upwards one day only to take a dive over the following days, time and time again, I must keep reminding myself that the success I’m so amazed and proud of Blanc, and Gruber, and others for achieving is the product of a lot of work and a lot of time. But, while I don’t write Pixel Envy for the most readers — only the best, like you — it’s hard to stay motivated when one great week is followed by a lousy one. It’s probably my fault, or the fault of the season, but I must keep reminding myself that Blanc probably had (and has) crappy weeks himself, and what keeps him motivated is knowing that he does great work. I want to do great work for myself, and for you. That’s what motivates me to keep going.

Apple Forces the Nintype Keyboard to Drop Its Calculator

Just as I thought that things might — might — possibly be improving, Apple snatched that idea right back. Jormy, the developer of Nintype:

So the reason I was given was that “completing calculations” is “not an appropriate use of App Extensions”

I mean, for real?

Update: Turns out this decision was reversed (thanks, Mike M). I ask again: How much confidence can developers really have in a review system that’s so wildly inconsistent?

On File Formats, Very Briefly

Paul Ford, in the Manual:

You can take apart these formats and find out which decisions were made to create them. You’ll find that within them each carries the weight of its own past. Whether it’s Photoshop reacting to the enormous power of computers by doing ever more things with images, ever more channel ops and blends, or HTML opening up to accept every kind of data, serving not as a way to present documents but as a sort of glue.

Samsung to Shut Down ChatOn Next Year

I didn’t even know Samsung had an iMessage competitor, though I should have guessed. But they do, or, rather, did. Richard Lawler, Engadget:

The company blamed “changing market conditions” for the change, but seems that despite a claimed 100 million strong user base, people weren’t really using the software preloaded on so many smartphones.

“Changing market conditions”, eh? How’s iMessage doing?

During today’s annual stockholders meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed (via Bloomberg) that [several] billion iMessages and 15 to 20 million FaceTime calls are made daily. That number suggests iMessage has grown exponentially over the course of the last year as usage numbers were at two billion messages per day in January of 2013.

Maybe if market conditions continue to change, Samsung will keep removing its terrible bloatware.