Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for March, 2016

Mac OS X, Which Became OS X, Might Become macOS

AppleInsider:

Digging through the frameworks of OS X 10.11.4, a reference to “macOS” was discovered by developer Guilherme Rambo. The mention was found in a private framework called “FlightUtilities” — a feature that he says enables tracking flights, but is not currently in use by El Capitan.

Rambo even went as far to create a sample application using the new, untapped framework. He theorizes that both it and the new “macOS” branding could debut as part of the next-generation Mac operating system, widely expected to be introduced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

Makes sense to me. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to the big-X branding, but at least there won’t be any ludicrous articles predicting the demise of the Mac like there were when they dropped “Mac” from “OS X”.

I’m curious about how this will work with future version numbering. My hunch is that the marketing will be simplified — something like macOS El Capitan — with version numbering appearing only in the About This Mac dialog, but this becomes out-of-sync with Apple’s other operating system families. iOS, watchOS, and tvOS all have version numbering in their marketing names, but OS X has both a version and a California place name that represents the version. This could be a good case for refining their overall OS branding.

Introducing Safari Technology Preview

Think WebKit nightlies, but with fewer bizarre bugs and much iCloud-ier. Ricky Mondello writing on the official WebKit blog:

Safari Technology Preview is a standalone application that can be used side-by-side with Safari or other web browsers, making it easy to compare behaviors between them. Besides having the latest web features and bug fixes from WebKit, Safari Technology Preview includes the latest improvements to Web Inspector, which you can use to develop and debug your websites. Updates for Safari Technology Preview will be available every two weeks through the Updates pane of the Mac App Store. […]

Unlike the nightlies, Safari Technology Preview supports the full set of iCloud-based Safari features, including iCloud History and iCloud Tabs. And we’ll use the time between Safari Technology Preview releases to curate and test updates to a point where we think developers will find it practical to use as their primary browser.

I stopped using WebKit nightlies after Safari got a bunch of iCloud-specific things — especially iCloud Keychain — but this sounds great. Looking forward to using this regularly, because I need less stability and more purple icons in my life.

By the way, I’d just like to point to the Mac App Store review guidelines:

2.6 Apps that are “beta”, “demo”, “trial”, or “test” versions will be rejected

Just in case you thought you might be able to get away with this, as a third-party developer. Not that you did, of course.

Interestingly, the app is available via the web, but updates are delivered through the Mac App Store. I always wondered what it would be like if third-party developers didn’t have to use frameworks like Sparkle and could instead pipe their updates through Apple’s official software update channels.

Update: If you’re downloading this, remember to set your preferences as you’d like them and add your extensions — the tech preview doesn’t migrate anything from Safari. The Develop menu is, of course, switched on by default.

F.U.

In the world of podcasting, “F.U.” means “followup”. In Dropcam co-founder Greg Duffy’s response to that Nest article from last week, I think it also means the other thing:

The ~50 Dropcam employees who resigned did so because they felt their ability to build great products being totally crushed. All of us have worked at big companies before, where it is harder to move fast. But this is something different, as evidenced by the continued lack of output from the currently 1200-person team and its virtually unlimited budget. According to LinkedIn, total attrition to date at Nest amounts to nearly 500 people, which suggests that we were not alone in our frustrations.

My, the rules of public relations certainly have changed.

Heroically Lazy

IFTTT has been sending emails to their users who make use of Pinboard integrations:

We’re working on a new IFTTT platform for developers that makes building Channels and Recipes a breeze.

Recently, we’ve worked with our partners to migrate to the improved platform, but some have chosen not to do so. Unfortunately, the Pinboard Channel did not migrate to the new platform and will be removed on April 4th.

If you received a PR-friendly email like this, you might think ‘Wow, the Pinboard developer is a jerk,’ and not understand the full context of what the “migration” entails. Pinboard creator Maciej Cegłowski:

IFTTT has already written all this shim code. They did it when they were small and had no money, so it’s difficult to believe they have to throw it away now that they have lots of staff and thirty million dollars.

Instead, sites that want to work with IFTTT will have to implement a private API that can change without warning.

This is a perfectly reasonable business decision. It is always smart to make other people do all the work.

However, cutting out sites that you have supported for years because they refuse to work for free is not very friendly to your oldest and most loyal users. And claiming that it’s the other party’s fault that you’re discontinuing service is a bit of a dick move.=

Cegłowski in a tweet from about a year and a half ago:

Right now the IFTTT business model is to charge one user $30M, rather than lots of users $2. The challenge will be with recurring payments

I suspect this is not unrelated.

Tidal Says It Has Three Million Paying Users

Yours presciently on Sunday:

As far as I can tell, Tidal hasn’t reported active user statistics since the release of West’s new album; if the strategy had “paid off” to the extent that [Quartz writer Ian] Kar seems to think it has, wouldn’t they be gloating about its overwhelming success? And how many of those users will stick around after the trial period ends, and the new album lustre fades?

Dan Rys reports for Billboard today:

The one-year anniversary of Tidal’s gaudy, much-maligned launch event in New York City is tomorrow, March 30 — so naturally, the service celebrating with an announcement the day before, releasing new numbers on both subscribers and exclusive releases. In its first year, Tidal claims to have passed three million paid subscribers globally, adding about 2.5 million subs to the approximately 540,000 it had when it launched in the U.S.

Of those subscribers, 45 percent, or around 1.35 million, have signed up for its hi-fidelity, lossless audio/video tier, which costs $19.99 per month as opposed to its regular $9.99/month tier.

Adding two-and-a-half million subscribers in a year is nothing to sneeze at, but Tidal doesn’t seem like a massive success, either. For comparison, Apple Music launched in June of last year and has 11 million subscribers as of February; Spotify launched in October 2008 and has 30 million subscribers. Apple Music, of course, has the built-in app advantage, plus an interstitial ad that appears within the Music app if you’re not a subscriber.

FBI Successfully Unlocks iPhone

Just a month and a bit after the FBI swore in court that they would be unable to proceed without requiring Apple to undermine iOS’ security in their favour, they’ve now unlocked the iPhone. Hurrah.

Joel Rubin, James Queally, and Paresh Dave, Los Angeles Times:

The breakthrough came over the weekend, when FBI agents successfully extracted the phone’s contents, a law enforcement official said during a call with reporters. The official spoke on the condition his name not be used.

The official declined to say anything about the contents of the phone other than to say FBI agents are examining it.

The official declined to offer any details about the hacking method or the outside party that provided it.

You can bet Apple will be treating this as a bug report, and will be looking for any loophole that would allow anyone the ability to decrypt an iPhone’s contents. When they find it, they will fix it, and this case will start anew. At the very least, it’s terrific news this iPhone and this case in particular were not used to set a precedent. But this is far from over.

The App Store’s Golden Opportunity

Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal:

There is a second reason why iPad sales fell 23% in the fiscal year ended September 2015, from their peak two years earlier: Apple has put onerous constraints on the makers of software whose apps are key to the success of the iPhone.

“Whenever my friends say, ‘Denys, we want to make money on the App store,’ I spend a lot of time trying to tell them not to do this,” says Denys Zhadanov, head of marketing for Readdle Inc., a Ukraine-based company that has had best-selling productivity apps on the App Store since the store went live in 2008.

Mr. Zhadanov says Apple makes it hard for developers to connect directly with users, or to encourage them to buy upgrades. This means app makers can’t reach users through mailing lists, critical to generating repeat sales and marketing other software and services.

As a result, apps that Readdle first released in 2009 generate no additional revenue from the company’s most loyal users. Readdle says the lifetime value of those customers can be as little as $2.

Mims followed up on Twitter:

A very experienced iOS developer told me Apple is talking directly to devs about how to fix the app store’s issues since forever

That fact was anonymously confirmed by a source who would know. So perhaps in the next 6 months we’ll see big changes in the App store.

Picture a number line, of sorts, with the Apple Watch at one end and the Mac at the other, with the iPhone and iPad equally spaced between. Along this gradient of — for lack of a better word — capability, the first three products are treated similarly in terms of their ability to add third-party apps, insomuch as that they all run through the App Store. The Mac is the exception, in that it can run apps from wherever.

Apple would like to move the iPad’s needle closer to the Mac, and I think that’s terrific. But one thing that seems fairly clear is that the number of complaints with the App Store increases with the capability of the product. The Mac App Store is a dreadful place for developers, but at least they can make their apps available elsewhere. Perhaps one of the ways to make the iPad more like a Mac would be to increase its flexibility with installing third-party apps.

Instagram Users Prompting Followers to Turn on Notifications in Preparation for an Algorithmic Feed

Romain Dillet, TechCrunch:

Like most feed-based networks, Instagram is starting to feel like a crowded place. People now follow hundreds of accounts and receive dozens of new photos per hour. Good posts are getting lost in the middle of not-so-good posts.

User experience suffers, people are less inclined to use Instagram. And that’s why Instagram has a solution. Soon (but not tomorrow), Instagram’s magical robots will put the best photos at the top of your feed. If posts don’t perform well, Instagram won’t show those posts to all followers.

I’m not sure this is going to be as shocking for the majority of users as some are making it out to be. But there are legitimate concerns. Mine is that an algorithmic treats each post as though it were an interchangeable — *sigh* — piece of content, giving each photo a weighting based on its popularity. Inevitably, bigger brands and famous users will garner more likes and be vastly more popular than you or I.

However, our relationships with the people we follow are not necessarily governed by popularity, and it’s hard to trust an automated, weighted system with providing the posts I really do care about most of the time. Facebook has the same problem — though Dillet cites it as a success story, I see nothing but posts from Wired, Jalopnik, Lapham’s Quarterly, and other pages I follow. Of the posts that are supposed to be from my real-life friends, almost all are actually from a handful of people, most of which I rarely interact with. Meanwhile, stuff from the friends that I actually care about almost never appears in my timeline.

This could merely indicate that I don’t spend a lot of time using Facebook, and that I don’t provide them with enough information to make an accurate judgement of who I really care about. And I guess that’s my concern with Instagram adopting such a timeline: either I refuse to provide them with significant data and I see only the most popular posts, or I give them more information to hopefully see more relevant posts and, it must be said, ads. I’m not sure that’s a fair exchange.

Kanye West’s Technological Gamble

Ian Kar, Quartz:

The Life of Pablo isn’t available in stores. West has tweeted that he doesn’t plan on selling physical copies. He’s also opted to elude Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music and iTunes. Instead, it’s available only on Tidal, the streaming service he co-owns with other major music artists like Jay-Z, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj. (West briefly made it available for purchase on kanyewest.com, but took it down shortly afterward, directing users to Tidal instead.) […]

Very few artists have the power to restrict a release to only one platform in the age of streaming music. And plenty of people illegally downloaded The Life of Pablo. But overall, West’s strategy seems to have paid off. Tidal has soared up the App Store charts since the album was uploaded at 3 AM on Feb. 13 and peaked at number 1. (It was back down to 178 as of March 18.)

As far as I can tell, Tidal hasn’t reported active user statistics since the release of West’s new album; if the strategy had “paid off” to the extent that Kar seems to think it has, wouldn’t they be gloating about its overwhelming success? And how many of those users will stick around after the trial period ends, and the new album lustre fades?

Here’s what I think is fascinating about this article, though:

And weeks after the initial release, West is still tinkering with his album. He’s changed lines around in some songs and altered the production on others. He even dramatically changed one song, “Wolves,” in response to critiques from fans who missed the guest vocals from an earlier version of the track, released back in Feb. 2015.

The products of artistic expression — whether they be paintings, sculptures, or albums — have long been rooted in an era of an absolute sense of completeness. That is, the artist will produce something that is to be fixed in a medium as a “finished” product. The work of Nicolas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics has changed this viewpoint somewhat within the visual arts, but musical albums — particularly big, mainstream releases — haven’t seen a similar treatment until now. It’s West using the medium as a facilitator for his artistic goals, and I think that’s terrific.

Then again, the latest version of the album still has “Facts” on it, which is unforgivably bad.

One more quote from the article:

Meanwhile, West has used his Twitter account as a way to directly communicate with his fans and lift the veil on his artistic process. He’s tweeted extensively about changing the album’s name, adding tracks, and cutting others, all while posting hand-drawn illustrations of his collaborators and photos from the studio.

If West had jumped in with Apple Music instead of Tidal, do you think he would be doing this on Connect instead of Twitter? I have my doubts.

Recode: Apple Pay for Mobile Websites Coming Later This Year

Jason Del Rey, Recode:

Apple has been telling potential partners that its payment service, which lets shoppers complete a purchase on mobile apps with their fingerprint rather than by entering credit card details, is expanding to websites later this year, multiple sources told Re/code.

The service will be available to shoppers using the Safari browser on models of iPhones and iPads that possess Apple’s TouchID fingerprint technology, these people said. Apple has also considered making the service available on Apple laptops and desktops, too, though it’s not clear if the company will launch that capability.

Apple Pay cards are saved locally to an iOS device’s secure enclave, so I’m not sure how an OS X experience could work. Maybe with two-factor authentication using an iOS device’s saved cards to complete the transaction? Or, perhaps future Macs will contain a secure enclave.

Aapl.De.App

Emily Steel, New York Times:

Apple announced on Thursday that it was working with the entertainer Will.i.am and two veteran TV executives, Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens, on a new show that will spotlight the app economy.

“One of the things with the app store that was always great about it was the great ideas that people had to build things and create things,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, said in an interview.

Details about the production are scant, and it was unclear how directly the show would promote or refer to Apple’s own app store. Executives declined to discuss specifics, such as financing, title, timeline, storylines, episode length or how people will watch the show.

Please reference the last thing I wrote about Will.I.Am, which was about a device he created that put “Salesforce on your wrist” and had “four kilowatts of DAF (Dope as Fuckness)”.

Update: Cabel Sasser on Twitter:

Oh man I just read the thing about Apple’s App Show. What perfect frothing irony if the “App: The Human Story” documentary gets Sherlock’d

I have a hunch that the App documentary will be a lot less effusive than Apple’s interpretation.

Apple’s Privacy Czars

Intriguing report from Julia Love of Reuters:

Unlike Google, Amazon and Facebook, Apple is loathe to use customer data to deliver targeted advertising or personalized recommendations. Indeed, any collection of Apple customer data requires sign-off from a committee of three “privacy czars” and a top executive, according to four former employees who worked on a variety of products that went through privacy vetting.

Approval is anything but automatic: products including the Siri voice-command feature and the recently scaled-back iAd advertising network were restricted over privacy concerns, these people said.

As their competitors build even more capable personalized, anticipatory behaviour into their software, I’m curious to see how Apple is able to respond. They don’t need to match Google Now feature-to-feature, but will their stance on privacy put a damper on their capabilities? Or, from another perspective, are their competitors’ relatively cavalier approaches to sharing and retaining data a reasonable tradeoff for easier development of these kinds of services?

Garry Shandling, Dead at 66

What a loss. I’m linking here to his episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, but one of my favourite Shandling appearances was from several years ago on the Green Room with Paul Provenza. Someone uploaded the episode — also featuring Marc Maron, Ray Romano, Judd Apatow, and Bo Burnham — to YouTube, but know that the language is very unfit for work. He was deeply passionate about authenticity, and I think that’s something we could all benefit from.

Rottenest

Reed Albergotti wrote an extraordinary article for the Information about Nest’s year of struggles. There are a lot of on-the-record quotes for executives, all of whom have their own horror stories about working with Tony Fadell, working with Alphabet executives, and issues of growth.

Fadell is known to be a demanding boss, but some of the Alphabet-related stuff is particularly messy:

In an interview with The Information, Mr. Fadell acknowledged some management difficulties, which he said stemmed from the speed at which the company has grown. Growth “didn’t happen as dramatically at other places,” he said, referring to other companies he’s worked for, like Apple and Phillips.

He said that Alphabet was tightening the financial screws. “The fiscal discipline era has now descended upon everything.” Alphabet’s message is now “hey, show us your business plan for the year. We’re going to hold you to those numbers.” Mr. Fadell said Alphabet is putting the same pressure on all of its subsidiaries it dubs “other bets.”

And:

[As] Nest has delayed the release of products, Google has moved forward on similar efforts of its own. It built the OnHub, a wireless router that performs some of the functions that Nest’s Flintstone was at one time meant to perform, including a hub and thread radio.

In a statement, Mr. Fadell said that OnHub was an example of a “collaborative effort between the two companies.” He said it didn’t initially include Nest technologies such as its Thread wireless radio “but once the team at Google understood the benefits, they included the technologies in the final product.”

Separately, Nest asked to be included in a secret Google project to create a competitor to Amazon’s Echo, a voice-controlled personal assistant device. But the Google executive in charge of the project, which has not been reported on publicly until now, said Nest would not be involved in its development, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

Why does Google own Nest if they’re not going to fully utilize their expertise?

(I’m linking to John Gruber’s mirror which, for some reason, is attributed to Matthew Panzarino’s Information account, not Gruber’s.)

About the iPad Pro’s Embedded Apple SIM

Since there’s no embargo, journalists with review units can talk freely about them. Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

When Apple introduced its new iPad Pro 9.7″, one of the small technical specifications the company touted prompted the most questions from readers: the new embedded Apple SIM. […]

This programmable SIM makes it easier for Apple to ship one device that is compatible with carriers all over the world, especially when coupled with a cellular radio that integrates most of the known technologies that the networks use all in one bundle.

But those Apple SIMs have always been removable, just like a regular SIM card, and some carriers actually program those SIMs permanently, rendering them ‘locked’ to that carrier.

If your carrier of choice is an consumer-unfriendly dillweed and locks the embedded SIM card to their network, there’s a secondary SIM card slot that allows you to add a non-locked SIM afterwards. I wonder if that slot supports Apple’s removable SIM.

If Apple doesn’t need to add a removable SIM card tray and can instead build the card directly into the logic board, perhaps it tips the scales in favour of cellular-capable MacBooks, too.

Apple’s Naming Conventions

James Creixems:

[One] of the things that has really suffered from Steve Jobs’ absence is Apple’s naming conventions. Over the last 5 years, as product choice has grown, Apple’s product names have slowly turned into a mess that’s hard to understand and follow. […]

However these patterns are not consistent nor they are standard across the multiple product lines. However, we can see concepts behind these patterns: they’re used to describe sizes, generations and target market.

Apple’s products have never been better, but their naming schemes haven’t been this wanting for a long time. It isn’t a post-Steve thing, I don’t think — remember the iPhone 3G and 3GS, or the iPod that lacked a suffix for the better part of a decade? Or, heck, the MacBook Pro brand, which has always sounded like accounting software.

Lately, however, the product names haven’t been bad so much as they’ve been confusing. This is exacerbated by a large and ungainly lineup — the iPad range, for instance, currently consists of the iPad Mini 2, the iPad Mini 4, the iPad Air 2, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That’s five models of iPad, two pairs of which look almost identical.

This is nowhere near as unfathomable as it was during the mid-ninties, with non-descriptive product names — choose between a Performa, a Quadra, a Ferma, and a Centris, and I made one of those up — and numerical extensions that referenced the processor’s clock speed. At least you have a pretty good idea of what the difference might be between a Plus-model iPhone and a non-Plus model. But I wish for a clearer naming scheme still. Their existing scheme is borne from a set of two or three model lines, and it has not scaled well. I don’t necessarily like what Creixems has come up with, but there must be a more straightforward way of differentiating between different products within a line. Having dozens of choices of Apple Watch straps is a good kind of choice for consumers, but having too many similar-seeming products is confusing.

Really Sad

Riccardo Mori, quoting Phil Schiller:

There’s a second group of people that we’d love to reach with this iPad Pro: Windows users. You may not know this, but the majority of people who come to an iPad Pro are coming from a Windows PC.

Windows PCs were originally conceived of before there was an Internet, before there was social media, before there was app stores, and this is an amazing statistic: There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old. This is really… sad. It really is. These people could really benefit from an iPad Pro.

[…]

Some said that this is a bit rich coming from a company still selling a 13-inch MacBook Pro containing 4-year-old technology, and whose current Pro laptops could really benefit from an update. I think that Schiller’s comment wasn’t meant to come across as harsh as it sounded. I took it to simply mean that many PC users with old computers are really missing out and should consider an iPad Pro to jump on the Post-PC era bandwagon. But yes, the delivery probably turned out to be more unfortunate than intended.

Schiller’s setup makes it sound like he’s trying to explain their target market: Windows PC users who, with computers that are over five years old, are seeking to upgrade. This is the new “Switch” campaign, except with an iPad in place of a Mac.

But his — I assume — improvised “really sad” punchline didn’t land because having a five year old functional computer is not sad, it is impressive. I didn’t replace my MacBook Pro until it was over five years old. My MacBook Air will turn four this year and, while I ache for a better display, I have no immediate intention of replacing it any time soon. The display in my Air, by the way, is effectively the same panel that has been included with MacBook Airs since at least 2010, making it well over five years old.

It’s a minor smudge on an otherwise decent keynote, but it really didn’t play well.