Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for April, 2015

WatchKit Developer Mistakes

Above all the engineering mistakes made in this list, I think the most egregious developer issue is a sense of urgency. I understand that there are companies and developers who feel pressured to be on Apple’s latest platform on launch day, but it’s a brand new platform, and most developers probably have no idea how they or their users will be using the Watch. Take your time and slow down. Conceptualize reasons why a Watch owner may want your app on their wrist for five seconds at a time. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to be there on the very first day. It’s just getting started.

Automakers Want to Use the DMCA to Prevent Unauthorized Servicing or Modification

Chalk another one up for companies using the DMCA in dubious and creative ways. Pete Bigelow, Autoblog:

If there’s a recurring theme in the comments beyond their assertions of ownership, it’s that they say they know the intricacies of these ever-more-complicated software systems better than consumers and third parties. The Association of Global Automakers says the manufacturers and their suppliers “best understand the interdependence of automotive systems and are in the best position to know whether a modification, regardless of how slight, would disrupt another system.”

Comments from equipment manufacturer John Deere took a more condescending tone toward independent and amateur mechanics, noting that circumventing protected technology should be “against public policy because individual vehicle owners do not have the technological resources to provide safe, reliable and lawful software for repair, diagnosis or some dubious ‘aftermarket personalization, modification or other improvement’ that is not directed toward repair or diagnosis of the vehicle.”

It’s fair for companies to deny warranty coverage for a problem in which aftermarket modifications are likely a cause. But tinkerers shouldn’t live in fear of breaking the law just because they modified their ECU. That dispute should remain between the automaker and the owner.

How the Apple Watch’s Heart Rate Monitor Works

Apple, via MacStories:

The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.

Clever.

I tried a Watch yesterday and I asked the trainer who was there how accurate the heart rate monitor was. He said that he had no first-hand comparative experience, but added that the development of the Watch was extensive, so he thought it was likely good. He also told me that the Sport model does not feature a laminated display.

In a Galaxy, Some Galaxy, Any Galaxy

Jon Russell, TechCrunch:

The Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge go on sale in Japan on April 23, but customers won’t find Samsung’s logo on the devices as usual, instead they will be co-marketed with carrier partners as the ‘Docomo Galaxy’ and ‘au Galaxy’.

This rebrand goes beyond the company’s products. Samsung has also renamed its Facebook Page in Japan to ‘Galaxy Mobile Japan’ — against removing reference to ‘Samsung’ — while the marketing visuals for its new phones are also bereft of its name.

Not much of a gamble here — if you believe Counterpoint, even Fujitsu is a more prominent name in smartphones in Japan than Samsung is. It makes sense to try a new tactic there, but Japan is also a notoriously tricky market. If it’s successful in Japan, this might be the next logical step for Samsung’s smartphone brand worldwide two or three years from now.

A Glimpse Into a Non-Neutral Future

Mahesh Murthy, Quartz:

Here’s how the scheme works. Facebook approaches a telco — in India’s case, Reliance — and offers to pay them the bandwidth costs of serving Facebook site and a small group of other sites.

So when the poor, who in theory can’t afford a net connection come to the Facebook Zero service confusingly called Internet.org, they’re made to believe they’re on the internet while in reality they’re only on Facebook and a few hand-picked sites.

And the sites too are picked in secret under some unknown process. For instance, Facebook chose to offer the distant-second search engine Bing instead of industry-leading Google. Why? Is it rivalry with Google? Or because of Microsoft’s stake in Facebook? And then Facebook’s Zero product features a tiny job site like Babajob instead of the industry-leading Naukri. Why? So that the poor have fewer job options? No one knows. Facebook doesn’t feature YouTube — the largest video site in the world and an immense education resource — but allows its own videos in full. It doesn’t really look like charity any more, does it?

Apple Pay Reportedly Launching in Canada This Autumn

Rita Trichur and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Wall Street Journal:

[Apple] is in negotiations with Canada’s six biggest banks about a potential November launch of the service which would enable mobile payments for both credit and debit cards using iPhones and the forthcoming Apple Watch, those people said.

Aside from the dumb references to nonexistent Apple Pay security problems, this is great news for your Canadian writer. Now I can justify upgrading to a new phone later this year. I wonder if it will support our national Interac system in addition to credit cards.

Logic

Farhad Manjoo thinks that it’s a waste of time for the EU to charge Google with abusing its monopoly position:

With more than a decade of hindsight, the theories supporting the case against Microsoft have all but fallen apart, and the pursuit of the company that makes Windows may suggest a reason for skepticism about this fight against Google: The tech marketplace is fluid and unpredictable. The giants that look most unbeatable today could falter in ways that may once have seemed unthinkable — and without a lot of help from the government.

Kontra:

Logic: It’s OK to break the law by abusing monopoly; if you wait long enough technology will make it irrelevant. So go ahead, break the law!

If somewhat for symbolic reasons, the EU’s allegations are a valuable demonstration.

John Siracusa Has Earned His Aqua Stripes

John Siracusa:

Nearly 15 years ago, I wrote my first review of Mac OS X for a nascent “PC enthusiast’s” website called Ars Technica. Nearly 15 years later, I wrote my last. Though Apple will presumably announce the next major version of OS X at WWDC this coming June, I won’t be reviewing it for Ars Technica or any other publication, including the website you’re reading now.

Carefully reading and digesting every word of John Siracusa’s review was the first thing I’ve done with every release of OS X since Leopard, or thereabouts. While I’m gutted that I won’t get to do that with the release of OS X 10.11, I’m grateful to John for every single word he’s ever written. John, if you’re reading this (you’re probably not, but hey, a guy can dream): thank you, and have a great summer.

The New WWDC Ticket Policy

Dave Mark:

This year, Apple will charge you for a ticket the second you are eligible to purchase it. And that charge is non-refundable. No more cancellations. Which means a fairer distribution of tickets, as people and companies are only signing up if they have a true intent to go to the conference.

The down side of this policy is that it wrings a little bit more of the social from the conference. Two friends can no longer make tentative plans to go to the conference if they both get in. True, they can go solo, but that’s not the same thing, especially for people who only see each other at dev conferences like WWDC.

Update: I’ve done some research and while I could find plenty of conferences that have a lottery-style ticket system, and plenty of other conferences that don’t offer refunds, I wasn’t able to find a similar conference where tickets are distributed at random and cannot be refunded. I understand Apple’s motivation here, but there’s a social aspect to WWDC that takes place both inside and outside of Moscone West. Non-ticketholders can’t participate in any of the fun stuff within the conference; they must plan to meet up elsewhere. And that’s really tough when people only have five days to meet up.

“Google Doesn’t Have Any Friends”

Charles Arthur, on Google’s oft-cited mantra that “competition is just a click away”:

Google has poured huge amounts of money into making sure that people aren’t presented with any other search engine to begin with. The Mozilla organisation’s biggest source of funds for years has been Google, paying to be its default search (until last autumn, when Yahoo paid for the US default and Google, I understand, didn’t enter a bid – because Google Chrome is now bigger than Firefox). Google pays Apple billions every year to be the default search on Safari on the Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Clearly, Google doesn’t want to be in the position where it’s the one that’s a click away. That’s because it knows that the vast majority of people – usually 95% or so, for any setting – use the defaults.

Statement of Objections

Well, it’s now official:

The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google alleging the company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages. The Commission’s preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers. Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

I suspect the EU has limited their case to just the comparison shopping tool because it allows them an easier path to demonstrating direct consumer harm, should Google be found to have biased their results.

Amit Singhal, SVP of search at Google, has responded to these allegations.

The EU, continued:

The Commission has also formally opened a separate antitrust investigation into Google’s conduct as regards the mobile operating system Android. The investigation will focus on whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.

Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer has responded to these allegations, too:

The European Commission has asked questions about our partner agreements. It’s important to remember that these are voluntary—again, you can use Android without Google—but provide real benefits to Android users, developers and the broader ecosystem.

This is a little disingenuous. While it’s possible to create and use a version of Android with no strings tied to Google, it will be missing a lot:

If a company does ever manage to fork [the Android Open Source Project], clone the Google apps, and create a viable competitor to Google’s Android, it’s going to have a hard time getting anyone to build a device for it. In an open market, it would be as easy as calling up an Android OEM and convincing them to switch, but Google is out to make life a little more difficult than that. Google’s real power in mobile comes from control of the Google apps—mainly Gmail, Maps, Google Now, Hangouts, YouTube, and the Play Store. These are Android’s killer apps, and the big (and small) manufacturers want these apps on their phones. Since these apps are not open source, they need to be licensed from Google. It is at this point that you start picturing a scene out of The Godfather, because these apps aren’t going to come without some requirements attached.

While it might not be an official requirement, being granted a Google apps license will go a whole lot easier if you join the Open Handset Alliance. The OHA is a group of companies committed to Android — Google’s Android — and members are contractually prohibited from building non-Google approved devices. That’s right, joining the OHA requires a company to sign its life away and promise to not build a device that runs a competing Android fork.

WWDC 2015: June 8–12

The “WWDC 2015” in the invitation is typeset in San Francisco Rounded. The legal text on Apple’s limited edition hardware and its accompanying regulatory filing are also set in San Fransisco. What’s the over/under on iOS 9 and OS X getting San Fransisco as a universal system font?

(The one thorn in this theory is OS X: it just changed to Helvetica Neue. Would Apple do two system font changes in two years? I don’t necessarily think they’d be dissuaded from it; I suspect the main reason OS X doesn’t use San Fransisco today is because it wasn’t finished in time, or they wanted to debut it on the Watch.)

Europe to Accuse Google of Illegally Abusing Its Dominance

Alex Barker and Christian Oliver, Financial Times:

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is to say that the US group will soon be served with a formal charge sheet alleging that it breached antitrust rules by diverting traffic from rivals to favour its own services, according to two people familiar with the case.

[…]

In a further blow to the US group, Ms Vestager on Wednesday will also launch a separate formal investigation into Google’s Android operating system for smartphones.

The Commission probe will examine whether Google imposes uncompetitive terms on handset makers that ultimately favour its own lucrative apps such as YouTube. Google rejects any allegations of wrongdoing and says Android is an open platform distributed free.

Google has been accused of anticompetitive behaviour in the past, but they’ve always managed to settle. This is the first time charges will be laid against them.

This news breaks in the wake of comments from the EU digital chief, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

The European Union should regulate Internet platforms in a way that allows a new generation of European operators to overtake the dominant U.S. players, the bloc’s digital czar said, in an unusually blunt assessment of the risks that U.S. Web giants are viewed as posing to the continent’s industrial heartland.

Speaking at a major industrial fair in Hannover, Germany, the EU’s digital commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said Europe’s online businesses were “dependent on a few non-EU players world-wide” because the region had “missed many opportunities” in the development of online platforms.

Regardless of the overlap between Oettinger’s comments and the EU’s forthcoming actions, the EU is not without reasonable grounds to file these charges.

iOS 8.4 Beta Brings a Music App Overhaul

From Apple’s release notes:

The iOS 8.4 Beta includes an early preview of the the all-new Music app. With powerful features and an elegant new look, enjoying your music is easier than ever. This preview provides a sneak peek into what we’ve been working on, and what’s to come — the music is just getting started.

I don’t remember seeing redesigned or new features described by Apple in a beta as an “early preview”. The “beta” label implies that it’s an early look at a forthcoming feature anyway, and it’s missing the most-rumoured part: Apple’s new streaming service. This seems peculiar, as if it’s a hint at a different strategy.

Google Fiber Plans Expansion, Then TWC Makes Speeds Six Times Faster

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

With Google Fiber preparing an expansion into Charlotte, North Carolina, incumbent cable operator Time Warner Cable is trying to hold onto customers by dramatically increasing Internet speeds at no extra charge.

“The Internet transformation will begin this summer and will include speed increases on TWC residential Internet plans at no additional cost, with customers experiencing increases up to six times faster, depending on their current level of Internet service,” Time Warner Cable announced last week. “For example, customers who subscribe to Standard, formerly up to 15Mbps, will now receive up to 50Mbps, customers who subscribe to Extreme, formerly up to 30Mbps, will now receive up to 200Mbps; and customers who subscribe to Ultimate, formerly up to 50Mbps, will receive up to 300Mbps, at no extra charge.”

That is truly an odd and miraculous coincidence. It’s almost as if an oligopoly operating in siloed environments nationwide with clearly defined boundaries is not typically conducive to consumer-friendly pricing. But yeah, sure, we should nuke net neutrality and let these few and powerful players define the marketplace with little to no oversight, because that’s worked out really well so far.

Apple Says “Don’t Use Palmrest or Keycap Covers” on the Retina MacBook Pro

Last week, I was one of several people to write about an issue that surfaced on Retina MacBook Pros. Apparently, the anti-reflective coating on the display has been peeling off for a lot of people, giving the appearance of a “stained” display.

Katie Floyd (via Stephen Hackett):

I received an email from Mac Power Users listener Mark pointing me to this Apple Knowledge Base article warning MacBook Pro with Retina Display users not to use palm rest or keycap covers. The concern is that because Retina MacBook Pro is so thin and the tolerances are so tight, anything between the body and the top of the computer could cause it to rub against the screen.

This doesn’t surprise me. Every laptop I’ve ever seen with a keyboard or palm rest cover has had an outline of the keys or the palm rest caked onto the display. If the display has a coating of some kind, it’s not a big stretch to think that it will rub off if a rubbery keyboard cover is pushing against it whenever it’s closed.

But none of the Retina MacBook Pros on the Staingate site’s gallery show either of these accessories.They could have simply been removed before the owners took the photos, or the tolerances could be so tight that the keyboard on some models rests against the display and, over time, slowly erodes the display coating.

Cloud-Based OS X Accounts

At WWDC in 1997, Steve Jobs described his vision of the future:

I have computers at Apple, at Pixar, at NeXT and at home. I walk over to any of them and log in as myself. It goes over the network, finds my home directory on the server and I’ve got my stuff, where ever I am. And none of that is on a local disc. The server…is my local disc.

A lot of people saw iCloud, remembered this bit of history and, naturally, drew connections between them. But, while iCloud has gotten really good, it’s not exactly the “login from anywhere” experience that Jobs describes here. For that, we need something a little closer to what Dan Moren is proposing:

As wary as I am about Apple’s integration with cloud services—and I am, well, rather wary—I sometimes feel like the company doesn’t take things far enough. So while you can, these days, get pretty far using the web-based iCloud interface to access a lot of your data no matter where you are, I’d love to see Apple take things a step further and offer cloud-based user accounts for OS X.

I’m not quite prepared for a future where my entire home directory is stored on Apple’s servers, for lots of reasons: Apple doesn’t have the best track record with cloud services, the NSA still exists, and so on. But it would be so freaking cool to be able to sit down at any computer and log in as myself, and it would make it that much more manageable to own a very powerful desktop computer and a lightweight, stripped-down notebook. Like, say, the 5K iMac and the new MacBook. And I’d like to point out that a fresh Yosemite setup uses your Apple ID and password for your local user credentials.

Just saying.