Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2015

FCC Reminds AT&T It Was Insane to Offer Unlimited Data

Julia Greenberg, Wired:

I use a lot of data—and you probably do, too. American smartphone users, on average, consume 1.2GB of cellular data each month, according to a Mobidia Technology analysis last year. (Even more data is consumed over Wi-Fi.)

So it should come as no surprise then that AT&T and Verizon no longer offer the unlimited cellular data plans they once sold to new customers. Even so, AT&T promised those early customers who came to be thrilled at the luck of their unlimited data that they could keep their plans under certain conditions. But today, the Federal Communications Commission said AT&T didn’t keep its promise. Now the agency wants to fine AT&T $100 million for allegedly misleading consumers about what it actually means to have an unlimited wireless data.

There’s no way that AT&T could have predicted back in 2007 just how much data people would use in the future; that much is understandable. To keep offering plans marked “unlimited” but with a big fucking asterisk beside them is misleading, pure and simple. You know it, the FCC knows it, and — deep in whatever they have instead of hearts — AT&T knows it.

“On a Long Enough Time Scale, Everything Is a Fad”

Daniel Jalkut wrote what is probably the best counterpoint to Christopher Mims’ silly Mac-killing op-ed:

Why have people been so convinced, for years, that mobile is the future, while desktop computers are on the way out? What if mobile devices only fill the variety of temporary needs that arise from how we live today?

[…]

Years from now, I suppose it’s possible desktop computers will become obsolete, supplanted by mobile devices. But given the unpredictability of progress, I suspect we’ll look back at both classes of computing devices and chuckle about how silly it all seemed, before the advent of ______.

Guessing the future of a marketplace is brilliantly paradoxical. The amount of effort required for a company like Apple to bring to market a brand new product is so great that they need to begin planning it well in advance of when the market could be ready for it. But they don’t get to define the future; if everything goes okay, the market decides that. We are, in effect, in control of the future of technology, but only after being shown what it could potentially be. We can’t predict the future because we only have the present as a state of reference, but we do control the future.

Bug Writing Season

Rene Ritchie implores you to file your radars early this year:

With profound respect to everyone who ships pixels and bits, here’s what I’ve learned: When the first betas of OS X, iOS, or watchOS hit, there are still months to go before release. That means engineers have more time to work on fixes, so there’s a higher chance your particular bug will get fixed.

[…]

As later betas are seeded, and release draws near, Apple is forced to triage. Eventually, there’s only time to work on show-stoppers. The chance of a bug reported at that stage getting fixed, no matter how annoying, trends towards zero.

Ritchie has a good point. But filing bugs can range from a mild inconvenience to an enormous pain in the ass.1 Craig Hockenberry has a way to make it a little bit easier:

Now’s the perfect time to start using QuickRadar. As its name suggests, this project run by Amy Worrall, makes creating or duplicating bug reports much quicker. You’ll also find that a native Mac user interface is much easier to deal with than some web form pretending to be iOS 6.

QuickRadar is super nice. It runs nearly invisibly in the menubar, you can set up a keyboard shortcut to bring up a new radar window, and you can configure it to automatically duplicate the bug to the OpenRadar project.


  1. The number of times I’ve been asked to recreate data loss bugs in production operating systems is decidedly in the latter category. ↩︎

Ignoring Apple’s Fundamental Thinking

Christopher Mims wrote a widely-derided op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Apple needs to drop the Mac line:

In the quarter ending in January of this year, a funny thing happened at Apple. The company took in the highest revenue for its Mac line ever, yet the Mac accounted for the lowest-ever proportion of overall revenue. Apple raked in $6.9 billion on 5.5 million Macs, just 9% of overall revenue. This would be a crazy thing to say for any other company, but Apple doesn’t need this revenue.

What the company does need, and like all ambitious companies occasionally strays from, is focus. If the iPhone is just coming into its prime, the iPad is an immature platform and the Watch is in its infancy. Yet Apple continues to invest in one-of-a-kind feats of engineering like the Mac Pro, which ships in volumes that are a rounding error on pretty much everything else Apple makes.

Even ignoring the Mac user story, Glenn Fleishman makes a compelling case for the Mac simply as a developer platform.

Apple will never again cede its future to other firms’ control. It’s why Apple makes its own chips, buys industrial-manufacturing firms that create special tools which it puts into its assembly partners’ factories, and even blows a wad of cash on a failed attempt to generate more sapphire screens.

And it’s why it has its own computer platform: 100 percent of software development for the iPhone, iPad, and Watch (and Mac apps) occurs on Macs. There’s no other way to assemble software for those devices. Even with the highest-end Mac hardware currently available, developers strain against the amount of time it can take to compile and test builds, whether in Mac-based emulators or when cross-loaded onto a developers’ test devices.

Meanwhile, the Macalope is typically direct:

Everyone is so concerned about Apple and its future. And for some reason that concern drives them to write this terrible anti-fan fiction. In effect, Apple’s power has driven them mad.

So Mims wrote a followup piece claiming that he was shocked — shocked! — that the tech press responded this way:

If we collected all the blistering heat generated by this week’s column on why Apple should phase out the Mac, I’m pretty sure it would be enough to power Apple’s headquarters for a month. Which is amazing to me, since I thought what I was saying was only a little bit controversial, and a natural extension of so many others’ reactions to last week’s Apple developer confab.

“There’s no way I could have known that suggesting the retirement of the original personal computer brand would make waves. Oh, please, don’t call it clickbait!”

Yeah, right.

Now, on the matter of the future: If Apple phased out the Mac, how would those who use it to get work done carry on? That’s the question filling up my inbox, and it’s one I wish I hadn’t cut answers to from the original piece.

I recognize this is probably an editor’s doing in order to fit the piece in the paper, but the web has no character limit. Mims could have extended the column on the web to include solutions to the obvious counterpoints; not doing so weakened an already weak piece.

Mims’ point is one that has been made countless times before, though with few titles as clickbaity as his WSJ article: that the computer is evolving, and that tablets will one day replace what we think of today as personal computers. That is, they may have similar form factors, but be using the same hardware as their mobile device counterparts:

It’s been clear since the debut of the iPad that Apple believes it will be the future of the PC. And countless PC makers have realized that, especially if people are going to use a tablet as their primary device, it needs to be able to snap into or easily connect to a keyboard and other input peripherals. Touch interfaces are great for certain tasks, but they’re just not enough on their own. If the iPad Pro isn’t a reasonable laptop replacement, suitable for the needs of 90% of the notebook-buying public, I’ll eat my hat.

Someone butter Mims’ hat and ready a sauté pan.

Indeed, sleuthing by one developer suggests that Apple is already laying the groundwork for developers to run OS X apps on the very same chips that are already in iPhones and iPads. Maybe we’ll get an iPad family that runs OS X apps without running OS X? Or “Macs” that only run iOS? Or, yes, I could be wrong about all this, and what this points to is OS X (i.e. Macs) that run on iPhone/iPad chips.

Mims hasn’t provided a timeframe prediction, only that “one day” we’ll be using laptops and desktops powered by ARM chips, running a hybrid of iOS and OS X. That much has been argued before, enthusiastically, and frequently. But what Mims has failed to articulate clearly is why the Mac brand needs to die for this to happen, instead of simply evolving to meet a new role.

Yet I still disagree. I doubt we’ll be using a hybrid version of iOS and OS X any time soon, with touch controls for when you’re using it on an iPad, and desktop controls on a laptop. I also doubt we’ll see Apple’s professional lineup move to ARM processors in the near future, though I could imagine something like the MacBook potentially using a high-end ARM CPU. But the MacBook Pro is still one of — if not the — best-selling lines of Macs Apple makes. They may have commoditized the Air, but the Pro still gets features first, it still sells extremely well, and it has a very distinctive core customer base. Yes, there are plenty of college students who buy a 13-inch MacBook Pro to browse the web on, but there are lots and lots of recording artists, drafters, designers, architects, movie editors, photographers, mathematicians, and physicists who require the kind of mobile power that the MacBook Pro provides in spades.

Spotify Rewind

Spotify is rolling out a sweet new feature called Rewind. Fletcher Babb, VentureBeat [sic]:

A man who appears to be a Spotify engineer posted the feature to Facebook post last night, revealing a public link to a mostly functioning new service.

Spotify did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter, but the Facebook post explains it best: “Ever wondered which artists you would be listening to if you were born in another time? Spotify can help you turn your music back in time (smile emoji), try it out!”

Apart from Babb’s awkward phrasing, and his inability to correctly link to the Facebook permalink, or to Spotify’s service itself, this is pretty cool. I took it for a spin with a few of my favourite artists — Refused, Deftones, and a third artist I can’t remember — and it returned some absolute jewels. The ’90s playlist was unfortunately obvious, with some Rage Against the Machine, Germs, and Incubus, but the ’80s playlist had stuff like Accepted’s “Monsterman”. It’s kind of fun, albeit limited.

Apple’s Increasing Localization for China

Mark D. Miller:

Most people in China get transportation by public transit. Having a mapping service in China without transit directions would be like having one in the US without driving directions. Apple hit this hard:

  • Apple developed transit directions for just 10 cities in the non-China world, but over 300 cities in China.

  • The non-China cities for which Apple has transit directions have a combined population of about 38M. Just the 9 listed cities in China have a combined population of over 130M.

In ways both explicit and implicit, Apple made enormous strides in their offerings to China. Having recognized the significance of China’s emerging middle class early, they’re farther ahead there than probably any of their Western competitors.

An Introduction to WebKit Content Blockers

New in Safari for iOS 9 and El Capitan is a content blocker-specific extension.

“But Nick,” you protest, “we already have extensions in Safari on OS X. And I already use content blockers like JavaScript Blacklist, to prevent the jackasses at Tynt and po.st from taking over basic functionality like copy and paste.”

Well, reader, there’s a good reason for introducing a new extension point. Benjamin Poulain writes on the WebKit blog:

The reason we are unhappy about the JavaScript-based content blocking extensions is they have significant performance drawbacks. The current model uses a lot of energy, reducing battery life, and increases page load time by adding latency for each resource. Certain kinds of extensions also reduce the runtime performance of webpages. Sometimes, they can allocate tremendous amounts of memory, which goes against our efforts to reduce WebKit’s memory footprint.

It is an area were we want to do better. We are working on new tools to enable content blocking at a fraction of the cost.

A while back, I was going to post this article about how AdBlock slows down your browser because it iterates through all the iframes on a page, running on each of them. I ultimately didn’t link to it because I think the author missed the point of why most people block ads: not because they’re slow, but just because they don’t want to see ads.

But I thought of it again after I heard about content blockers baked into Safari. I don’t use AdBlock, but I do use Steven Frank’s excellent ShutUp.css. The internet is much more peaceful without comments, but I also see a small performance hit on most modern web pages because of the number of iframes they contain.

This new extension point seems to smooth over these issues in a really nice way. Not only will this improve performance, I can now have ShutUp on my iPhone, too, and block the humungous JavaScript files so many sites use these days.

San Francisco UI and Compact

Apple has now released to developers copies of their new universal system UI type family, San Francisco. I’ve only done a little bit of digging into it but, so far, it looks like there are some significant updates and improvements compared to the versions released with WatchKit in November. There’s still no public copy of the rounded variant, however.

Apple’s Latest Product Is Privacy

Walt Mossberg, Recode:

Apple is clear in its belief that users are better off if personal data is stored locally as much as possible. The company makes settings for enhancing privacy relatively clear and easy for its customers. And some of this week’s new product demos were designed to show that local device data, like cloud data, can provide rich, helpful intelligence.

Yet Apple’s case isn’t impregnable. And it’s able to use privacy as a marketing point at least in part because that stance happens to fit its business model, and is harder to reconcile with Google’s.

Mossberg, to my eye, has this backwards: it’s not that higher privacy happens to fit Apple’s business model, but rather that their business model deliberately avoids violating or bending your expectations of privacy.

But I also think that I think I got this tradeoff between privacy and features all wrong. I was under the impression that the reason Google’s services work so well is because they have a consolidated privacy policy that allows them to blend data from almost every service they offer into one giant privacy-invading smoothie. They can then compare disparate pieces of data to try to determine what’s relevant to you now, and what can be done with that information.

Proactive search in iOS 9 demonstrates that it isn’t necessary to do that processing in the cloud, nor is it necessary to scoop up a ton of data to make these features work. If you get an email with a hotel booking, for example, it will suggest that booking in the calendar. This functionality does require scanning on-device email messages, but it doesn’t seem to leave the device, as far as I can tell. And because Apple’s business model doesn’t require them to know this kind of information, they really don’t care about it. What they do collect and store in the cloud is siloed.

Live with Phil

Marco Arment was at John Gruber’s annual WWDC live podcast recording and, oh boy, what a show:

But after a brief introduction from Merlin Mann and Adam Lisagor, John introduced, “and I shit you not,” Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller.

Being familiar with John’s dry humor, I’m not sure most of the audience believed him. Many cheered. Some hesitated. For a few seconds, nobody walked out, and people started laughing, thinking they got the joke.

And then Phil Schiller really walked on stage.

There’s a lot to unpack with an appearance like this, and Arment does so expertly. Most important, though, is that it still felt like an episode of the Talk Show. After a few minutes of thinking “holy shit, it’s that great writer interviewing one of the most important product people in the world”, it settles in to a pretty familiar feeling. It doesn’t feel like PR; it feels human. You really need to listen to this episode.

Update: The video recording is now up, and the tension in that short pause described by Arment above is totally palpable.

Really Big Twitter News

Twitter’s Sachin Agarwal:

We’ve done a lot to improve Direct Messages over the past year and have much more exciting work on the horizon. One change coming in July that we want to make you aware of now (and first!) is the removal of the 140 character limit in Direct Messages. In order to make this change as seamless as possible for you we’ve included some recommendations below to ensure all your applications and services can handle these longer format messages before we flip the switch.

According to Jordan Novet at Venture Beat, this isn’t a removal of the character limit so much as increasing it to 10,000 characters. Still, that’s pretty big news. After all, you’ve replaced email in your office with Slack, right? Why not replace Slack now? Isn’t it getting old?

Oh yeah, and they also whipped their Dick out:1

Twitter, Inc. today announced that Dick Costolo has decided to step down as Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, effective July 1, 2015. Twitter’s Board of Directors has named Jack Dorsey, Co-­Founder and Chairman of the Board, to serve as Interim CEO while the Board conducts a search for Twitter’s next CEO. Costolo will continue to serve on Twitter’s Board of Directors, and Dorsey will continue to serve as CEO of Square, Inc., the payments and financial services company he co-­founded in 2009.

Costolo’s lead has made Twitter into a hulking developer- and user-unfriendly version of its former self. Meanwhile, Dorsey is mow heading both Square, which looked like it was getting a little shaky, and the now-public Twitter. The stock is up after-hours, though.


  1. Lowbrow? Sure. Roll with it. ↩︎

iOS 9 Is the iPad’s Graduation

Federico Viticci:

iOS 9 is going to be a watershed moment for iPad users. For many, the iPad is about to graduate from utility to computer. Apple is envisioning a future where users can do more with iPad apps without the inherent complexities of OS X – and they’re largely relying on developers to help build this future.

My poor second-generation iPad Mini won’t get the split-screen multitasking, but even the “slide over” secondary app functionality is going to be huge. The other night, I was browsing Apple’s dev site for things to keep an eye out for in my forthcoming review. Every time I found something, I swiped to bring up Notes, jotted down my observations, and went right back to browsing. It feels completely fluid.

Update: Dr. Drang thinks the new multitasking environment on the iPad is intriguing, too:

Until iOS 9. This fall, the iPad will graduate to an interface that can show two apps at a time. As important, I think, is the way multitasking is being handled. Unlike Mac users, iPad users won’t be dumped immediately into a multitasking environment. Those who prefer to use and see only one app at a time can continue to do so—the multitasking interface will stay out of their way and won’t confuse them.

But for those who need to refer to one app while working in another, Slide Over and (especially) Split View will be a godsend. And it’s seemingly eliminated one of the biggest problems with using Mac-like multitasking environments: window management. There are no windows in Split View, there are only parts of the screen, with one part wholly given over to one app and another part wholly given over to another. There’s no overlap and there’s no Desktop peeking out from behind. The only thing the user has to think about is the position of the dividing line between the two apps.

Apple Music’s Streaming Audio Quality

Chris Davies of SlashGear got a preview of Apple Music following Monday’s keynote. This little thing intrigued me:

Apple Music will be at 256 kbps. In comparison, Beats Music uses a 320 kbps bitrate, as does Spotify, while Tidal offers a high-bitrate option.

This isn’t quite the even comparison it seems to be because all of these services — and Rdio — use different encoding formats. Beats Music is, or was, using the MP3 format, along with Rdio. Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis, while Tidal is unclear about what file format its lossy tier uses (FLAC is used for its premium offering). Apple Music will be in the same 256 kbps AAC files used on the iTunes Store.

What’s important to note about comparing these services is that the AAC format is generally better at preserving sound quality than the MP3 format. This has something to do with a smaller block size for a more accurately-detailed compression, and better handling of higher frequencies. A good rule of thumb is that the bitrate of an AAC file sounds approximately equivalent to the next level up in MP3, so a 256 kbps AAC file sounds as good as a 320 kbps MP3. But, at that end of the audio encoding spectrum, you’re really going to have to squint with your ears to tell the difference.

Update: Bruce Houghton over at Hypebot added a particularly stupid comment to this news:

Apple Music will stream at 256kps or 20% below the 320kps industry standard usually delivered by Beats Music, Spotify and other music streamers.

First of all, as discussed above, comparing different codecs on bitrate terms alone is idiotic. Second of all, comparing bitrates by percentage is meaningless. The implication seems to be that Apple Music streams are 20% lower quality than other services, but bitrate quality is not linear. It’s not even wrong; it’s just irrelevant.

Twitter Announced Shared Block Lists

Twitter’s Xiaoyun Zhang shares better news:

You can now export and share your block lists with people in your community facing similar issues or import another user’s list into your own account and block multiple accounts all at once, instead of blocking them individually. We also hope these advanced blocking tools will prove useful to the developer community to further improve users’ experience.

This should make it easier for both users and Twitter to keep tabs on organized groups of abusive and dangerous users. Smart move.

Abuses of canOpenURL to Be Blocked in iOS 9

Interesting post from Greg Pierce:

There are two URL-related methods available to apps on iOS that are effected: canOpenURL and openURL. These are not new methods and the methods themselves are not changing. As you might expect from the names, “canOpenURL” returns a yes or no answer after checking if there is any apps installed on the device that know how to handle a given URL. “openURL” is used to actually launch the URL, which will typically leave the app and open the URL in another app.

Up until iOS 9, apps have been able to call these methods on any arbitrary URLs. Starting on iOS 9, apps will have to declare what URL schemes they would like to be able to check for and open in the configuration files of the app as it is submitted to Apple. This is essentially a whitelist that can only be changed or added to by submitting an update to Apple. It appears that certain common URLs handled by system apps, like “http”, “https”, do not need to be explicitly whitelisted.

Didn’t catch that? Many apps use custom URL schemes. Right now, apps can randomly poll iOS using a huge list of canOpenURL scheme queries, and iOS will basically return a list of apps on the system that support those URL schemes. Since many schemes are very particular (like workflow:// for Workflow, uh, workflows), this is basically a list of apps on a user’s iOS device, which is kind of creepy.

But Twitter figured this out, and today, they announced they’re amping up the creepy. Kurt Wagner, Recode:

Twitter announced on Wednesday that its advertisers can use that app information to target users with ads. Marketers will be able to see the different categories of apps you have downloaded onto your phone as well as how recently you downloaded them in order to understand what you’re interested in.

This is opt-out, by the way, so turn off “Tailor Twitter based on my apps” under Settings. Better still, turn off all tailoring while you’re there — Twitter has demonstrated that they have little regard for your privacy. On the bright side, it seems like this kind of app-based targeting will only be possible for the next few months.

Stephen Hackett Reviews the WWDC Keynote

Not the contents of the keynote, mind you, but the keynote presentation itself:

The truth is that events like this seem crazy hard to pull off well, and while Apple generally does a great job, this year’s was a bit of a mixed bag. The pacing and length of today’s keynote was a bit of an issue, but the announcements were solid. The first 90 minutes were as good as Apple can be on stage, but the music section was just a wreck.

Make no mistake: these events are really hard to execute well; you will know this if you’ve ever watched one of their competitors’ product launches. And the first part of yesterday’s keynote was a well-done — albeit somewhat unremarkable — presentation. The two female executives were a great addition to Apple’s presenter roster; Susan Prescott, in particular, was great fun to watch and had a hilarious “I read ESPN for the articles” joke.

But then the Music part came, and it was a slow meander through too-long demos, unrehearsed executives, and a questionable appearance from Drake, who appeared to offer nothing solid from the perspective of the artist. Make no mistake: I want to hear what artists think about Apple Music; heck, I want to hear what Drake thinks about Apple Music, but his bit was almost entirely forgettable.

I also question the launch of this music service at a conference for developers. I understand that iOS 8.4 is being released alongside it at the end of the month, and Apple might not want to launch Apple Music alongside a new iPhone and iOS 9, but it could have waited three months. There’s nothing developers can do with Apple Music — they don’t even get an early preview launch. Which is fine. It seemed to dilute the presumed intent of the keynote, though.

Apple Music

Probably the most chaotic part of today’s keynote was also one of the coolest. If you haven’t watched the keynote, you should,1 then come back and try to honestly tell me that it didn’t feel a bit weird, jilted, and very un-Apple-y.

But it also felt joyous. It felt like a bunch of people who were genuinely excited about something. Apple’s clearly not the first to do a streaming music service, nor are they the first to put in some social stuff with Music — the bad “Ping 2.0” jokes were really flying on Twitter today.

I think that part of the chaos today came from how difficult it is to encapsulate such a comprehensive and far-reaching service. Reading the press release, it sounds like they wanted to say that the whole iTunes catalogue would be able to be streamed:

Apple Music is a revolutionary streaming service and app that puts the entire Apple Music catalog at your fingertips across your favorite devices. Starting with the music you already know — whether from the iTunes Store® or ripped CDs — your music now lives in one place alongside the Apple Music catalog with over 30 million songs. You can stream any song, album or playlist you choose — or better yet, let Apple Music do the work for you.

It comes close, but stops short of actually saying that it’s the whole catalogue, which makes me think it’s damn close to being so.

Then there’s the curatorial aspect of it, which was a trademark of Beats Music when it was launched, and probably the thing I’m most excited about. Shuffle is too random: if you have any kind of diversity in your music library, it’s a shit show. Genius is too algorithmic: it picks songs that you probably already play together, and it’s limited to songs you own. I’ve long wanted a way to pick a song in my library and get actual, human-tweaked recommendations for songs that I do and do not own. That’s what I’m hoping Apple Music can do for me.

Compounding the hurdle that Apple Music must climb is the sheer volume of music that gets released these days. As Trent Reznor alludes to in the intro video, there’s just as much music coming out of bedrooms and basements these days as is being made in recording studios. Some of it is crap, some of it is okay, and a little bit of it is truly special. I want to be able to dig that stuff up alongside the stuff I’ve already heard, and that which I’ve heard of.

If the curated suggestions are taking the manual transmission out of the car and replacing it with an automatic, Beats 1 is replacing your car’s controls with something more autonomous. It’s a 24/7 internet radio station with one host each in LA, New York, and London. That’s a pretty bold move, turning Apple singlehandedly into a broadcaster.

It’s just one channel,2 so your music tastes have to be very attuned to whatever they’re playing. It’s probably going to be something cool — the DJs they picked are all great — but if you don’t like what they’re playing, tough jam.

The last thing they’re bringing back are artist social features. I’m not sure these will be any more popular this time around, but we shall see.

Apple Music launches on June 30, but there hasn’t been any indication as to where it will be available, other than Beats 1 being in “over 100 countries”. Also not announced are any banner reasons to switch from a competing platform, really. Tidal has exclusives, and Spotify and Rdio have the user base. Apple Music has human curators and a radio station, which are both cool, but their beauty will be in their execution; they’re hard sells on their own. I’m excited to try Music nevertheless; it may make me switch from Spotify if the curatorial features are as game-changing as I think they’ll be.


  1. Stay tuned for the killer new Weeknd track at the end. Probably the best thing he’s done since the Balloons trilogy. Between this, and D’Angelo’s and Kendrick Lamar’s latest releases, I’m enjoying this funk/R&B renaissance. ↩︎

  2. For now? Apple Music Radio is described as “stations created by some of the world’s finest radio DJs. The new stations range in genres from indie rock to classical and folk to funk, with each one expertly curated.” What if there are a range of Beats stations in the future, too, with actual human hosts catering to a wide variety of tastes? ↩︎

Apple Merges Developer Tiers

Lots of big news from WWDC today, obviously, but this one stood out to me: the distinction between iOS and OS X developers is no longer. Both are one and the same account. If you have either of those developer accounts, you now have access to resources and tools for both; if you had both, the accounts are summed.

If you had a Safari developer membership, though, it’s a little more complicated:

In early fall, the new Safari Extensions Gallery for OS X El Capitan will go live. This gallery will be the safest and most reliable place for users to download Safari Extensions, as all extensions will be signed and hosted by Apple to ensure that they are safe to install. All updates to your existing extensions, must be submitted to the new gallery.

[…]

If you’re enrolled in the Safari Developer Program only, you’ll need to join the Apple Developer Program to submit your extensions to the Safari Extensions Gallery for OS X El Capitan.

The Safari developer program was free. Now it looks like you’ll need a membership if you want to distribute extensions more broadly and conveniently. If you’re cool distributing your extension in a more à la carte fashion, it looks like you can still do that, though it’s unclear if you’ll still self-sign.

Update: Also new is how the dev centre is counting registered devices. Previously, it was 100 iOS devices; now, it’s 100 of each product type: 100 iPhones, 100 iPads, etc.

The State of iOS: Addendum

I’ve realized that I have more to say about the current state of iOS. They’re just a couple of things, but they’re important to me.

Multitasking

I think that the slow rollout of background processing on iOS epitomizes the way Apple introduces big software features. They started small, with push notifications in iOS 3, and added limited multitasking to iOS 4. Then, in iOS 7, they added full background processing, thus presenting a more-or-less full multitasking experience. For developers who have been on the platform for a long time, this has allowed ever-greater possibilities while underscoring the need to be resource conscious.

While I like that the current implementation of multitasking keeps my phone fast and I don’t have to manually manage memory — not that you really have to do that on any platform — my experiences with Readdle’s Spark makes me wish that apps could spawn daemon processes. I’d like some way for a third-party app to declare that it is always running in the background with a small, memory-limited, higher-priority process.

This is likely only going to be “needed” by apps that are replacements for always-on system apps, like calendar or email apps. Therefore, a user-friendly way of implementing this might be to have a way to set third-party apps as defaults for certain categories.

This is more of a wishlist item that is produced from a culmination of my experiences with iOS over the years than it is purely an experience-driven review of multitasking, but this is something I’d really, really like to see.

iPad

I meant to say something about the iPad in my previous post, because I think it deserves its own section.

The iPad experience is, right now, stuck in a bit of a rut. The “big iPod Touch” paradigm has worked for a long time because there was a clear division between the 3.5- or 4-inch iPhone display and the much larger iPad. Even though they ran the same operating system and had broadly similar capabilities, the iPad felt completely different. It felt more powerful and capable, even if it wasn’t really so.

Now that the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus exists alongside the 7.9-inch iPad Mini, the line between the two platforms has become more blurred than ever. They still feel different, but not different enough.

When it was first released, the iPad felt like a product that you didn’t need so much as want. It’s a great way to browse the web and do basic computer stuff in bed, on the couch, or while kicking back on a patio. But the new MacBook shows that Apple’s laptop line is converging on it from the upper end, too.

Since the iPad not a “necessary” product in the same way a phone or a laptop are, it now feels squeezed between products that are awfully similar in a lot of ways. While nobody is likely to own an iPhone 6 Plus and an iPad and a MacBook One — as Marco Arment has dubbed it — I think it’s high time for the iPad to differentiate itself in some way.

My experience with iOS 8 on my iPad has been similar to my experience with it on my iPhone, and it feels like it should be more capable than it presently is. I love the web browsing experience on my iPad, but if I’m doing two things at once — for example, replying to texts or an email — I almost have to have my phone beside me for it to be a less clunky experience. Switching between apps one at a time feels slow, and they usually need to relaunch because the iPad has never had enough memory.

The rumour mill hints that the iPad’s OS will do some growing-up with iOS 9. I certainly hope so. It’s not a dead product category, or even a dying one, but I hope for a little boost of something new that expands its capabilities and really takes advantage of the much larger display and somewhat more powerful hardware.

A List of Questions for Apple Regarding the Upcoming Watch SDK

Jason Brennan (via Marco Arment):

Will I finally be able to connect and share moments with the ones I love all from the comfort of my own watch? Will more notifications buzzing on my arm finally make me feel important like I’ve always dreamed of? Will it at least get me more followers on Twitter? Jesus where is my Uber?

These and many of Brennan’s other questions will be asked and answered, many ignored, and some forgotten about at WWDC this year, only to be resurrected at next year’s event where Apple will hopefully bring back Stump the Experts specifically for those questions.