Month: June 2018

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

Maps needs fixing.

Apple, it turns out, is aware of this, so it’s re-building the maps part of Maps.

It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually, and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

This is huge news. As Panzarino points out, only one other company owns a data set like this, and that’s Google. Mark Gurman first reported on this project for 9to5Mac in 2015.

It’s also a gigantic undertaking — obviously. It combines truly anonymized and minimized data gathered from iPhones — which can be turned off — with data gathered from those Apple Maps vehicles that have been driving around nearly a dozen countries over the past few years. Those vehicles are gathering more than just images and information about the roads; they’re also helping model cities in 3D.

It really does seem like Apple is committed to radically improving the most painful parts of their mapping data. They trusted that the information they were getting from third-party sources was accurate; but, in my experience, the majority of errors I’ve reported have been for places that were permanently shut long before Apple Maps launched. There simply wasn’t a mechanism in place at launch to verify that this third-party information was correct. Five years ago, they started hiring people as their “ground truth” team, but that doesn’t seem to have had the effect they wanted. So, they’re starting from scratch with the source data and, as Panzarino reports, have made it easier for their staff to keep everything up to date. Whether they actually can do so, at worldwide scale, is another matter; I have my doubts.

Apple says that they will be rolling this out across the United States next year, after launching initially in the Bay Area, of course. They’ve been driving extensively throughout the U.K. for about the same amount of time as in the U.S., so I would imagine that its revised cartography won’t be far behind.

Apple hasn’t even begun to drive Canada yet, though — not even Toronto. However, I’ve been watching their vehicle schedule page for a while and there are some smaller communities in the U.S. that they seem to have driven through over and over. My guess is that they’ve been perfecting the vehicle rig, and will rapidly scale their use of those rigs worldwide. The biggest question now is: when can we expect Maps to be entirely powered by Apple’s own data? It has already been six years since Apple launched their own Maps app with iOS 6, and it seems like there’s still a long way to go before they are no longer dependent on third parties like Tom Tom and Yelp.

Ryan Christoffel, MacStories:

[…] Once not long ago, Apple’s primary media platform was iTunes. Now, hundreds of millions of users consume media every day through Apple’s suite of spiritual successors to iTunes:

  • Apple Music

  • Apple TV (the app)

  • Apple Podcasts

  • Apple Books

  • Apple News

  • And the App Store

Apple has one unified goal, I believe, driving all its media efforts: it aspires to utilize hardware, software, and services to provide the entirety of a user’s media experience. If you consume media, Apple wants to provide the full stack of that consumption, from media delivery to media discovery. My aim in this story is to share an overview of how that goal is being fulfilled today.

This is big — the kind of thing that, in hindsight, was indicated when they dropped “Computer” from the “Apple Computer, Inc.” name.

Anna Washenko, Radio and Internet News:

Apple may be planning a new type of multimedia content subscription. The Information (paywall) reports that Apple is considering a single package that would combine Apple Music with the company’s original TV and video projects and its overhauled news app. Each of the services would still be available individually, but a single access point would position Apple as a single-stop purveyor of entertainment.

Several of the other leading tech companies have pursued similar paths. Amazon Prime combines several perks for repeat customers of the ecommerce giant and Google’s YouTube Premium is making another effort to blend subscription music and video on the platform. The potential for Apple to incorporate its recent acquisition of Texture, frequently billed as “the Netflix of magazines,” is a new wrinkle for this type of joint package.

This makes complete sense to me: let people subscribe to individual services that they’re most interested in, but incentivize them to get everything. But will the Apple TV subscription be closer to a true Netflix competitor? I hope so.

Kyle Wiens of iFixIt:

Which brings us back to the point. Why did it take so long, and so many complaints, for the repair program to be put in place? Why do you need to send your MacBook Pro away for upwards of a week for a repair? That’s easy: because Apple made their product hard for them to repair, too. Apple’s new warranty program is going to cost them a lot of money.

Apple’s profit on every machine that they warranty under this new program has been decimated. There is a real business impact caused by unrepairable product design. Samsung recently had a similar experience with the Note7. Yes, the battery problem was a manufacturing defect. But if the battery had been easy to replace, they could have recalled just the batteries instead of the entire phone. It was a $5 billion design mistake.

But this isn’t just about warranty cost—there is a loud outcry for reliable, long-lasting, upgradeable machines. Just look at the market demand for the six-year-old 2012 MacBook Pro — the last fully upgradeable notebook Apple made. I use one myself, and I love it.

Notebooks have long been less modular than desktops. When the Nvidia GPU failed in my mid-2007 MacBook Pro about ten years ago, Apple had to replace the entire logic board. Since then, their notebooks have become increasingly sealed — first, by placing the battery behind the screwed-on bottom plate, then soldering the RAM to the board, and finally by making the SSD also part of the board.

A couple of friends were mentioning in a small Slack room that they had some warranty-covered service done recently — one with a MacBook Pro, and one with a MacBook Air. In both cases, Apple replaced nearly all of the parts of the computer without doing a whole-machine swap.

Stories like these, and especially this new keyboard replacement program, make me wonder if this trend is being reconsidered. Of course, there haven’t been widespread complaints similar to the MacBook Pro’s keyboard about the SSD or RAM failing, or about the battery not being removable. Perhaps these failures are a relatively small, somewhat expensive step back after years of moving forward. If anything about the design of Apple’s portables is being reconsidered, though, I hope that it isn’t just the financials that would be the primary factor; likewise, if no such discussions are happening.

Tony Romm, Washington Post:

In response, the Twitter executive heard an earful from conservatives gathered at the table, who scoffed at the fact that Dorsey runs a platform that’s supposed to be neutral even though he’s tweeted about issues like immigration, gay rights and national politics. They also told Dorsey that the tech industry’s efforts to improve diversity — after years of criticism for maintaining a largely white, male workforce — should focus on hiring engineers with more diverse political viewpoints as well, according to those who dined with him in D.C.

Hadas Gold:

What I find fascinating about the several meet-ups social media has had w/ conservatives, is the feeling that there’s an inherent need for these platforms to be unbiased and run by unbiased folks… as though they’re a public utility

Ashley Feinberg:

Meanwhile I’ve talked to like a dozen people over the past week who have tried to get tweets with their addresses and phone numbers removed as Twitter keeps telling them it’s not a violation […]

Are the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook not supposed to have their own viewpoint? That’s a bizarre notion.

Let’s look at this from a free market perspective. If Twitter truly were censoring conservatives — they’re not, but let’s pretend that there’s a movement at Twitter targeting conservative voices for a moment — this should just sort itself out, right? Dorsey has heard the complaints of Grover Norquist, Sean Hannity, and Ted Cruz, and will likely make no changes: the company has been growing steadily for a couple of years, so this (completely fictional) conservative censorship project seems to be paying off. Conservatives could continue to suffer on Twitter, or they could build a competitor that is either conservative-focused or truly neutral. Maybe that competitor will be a rousing success amongst conservatives, or the public at large; maybe it won’t. Either way, that’s the free market making the decision, right?

In the real world, though, Dorsey and other Twitter executives have repeatedly insisted that they are not banning or silencing users for expressing conservative viewpoints. They have been trying to combat harassment and that has resulted in the moderation of users of different political orientations — including those who tweeted a news story purportedly containing Stephen Miller’s cellphone number.

This is an entirely silly, bad faith line of argument. If Dorsey needs to meet with American conservatives and take seriously their complaints about being the victims of silencing — the Republican President has used Twitter to threaten a congressperson, while conservatives also control Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court — then that’s his game to play. But it isn’t worth pretending it isn’t horseshit.

Update: Max Read, New York:

That either Dorsey or Zuckerberg might be taking these complaints seriously is troubling. What’s galling is not the staleness of the charges — reporters are too liberal to neutrally cover politics! Editors suppress conservative stories! Newspaper coverage is biased against conservatives! — but the context in which they arrive. The conservative movement has found itself with complete control of the federal government and in power in a majority of states across the country — and it’s taken that power thanks in a large part to social media like Twitter and Facebook.

Benjamin Mayo:

Looking slighter wider, what is the point of this app existing? Remote controlling your Mac’s iTunes app makes little sense in an era of AirPlay 2 and HomePod speakers. Also, Apple now has three separate places to find ‘media remotes’. There’s the iTunes Remote app, Apple TV Remote app, and the Apple TV Remote platter in Control Centre. Each of these tread on each other’s toes in different ways, but there’s not one app for everything either. It is messy. Before today, I was assuming iTunes Remote had run its course and was heading towards extinction. With this update, I just don’t know what the roadmap is here. Apple isn’t normally prone to carrying around legacy baggage.

I completely agree that having two different remote apps — plus a Control Centre widget — is confusing, but I hope that being able to control iTunes playback from an iPhone doesn’t disappear. Because my music library and bookshelf speakers are still connected to my Mac, I use the iTunes Remote app all the time. It’s nice to see this app updated.

Mathew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review:

Apple launched a special section of its News app on Monday dedicated to the upcoming midterm elections, a section it said will be filled with stories and features curated by Apple News editors from “trusted publishers.” And while the name Facebook didn’t appear anywhere in the company’s press release, the description of the new section seemed like one long subtweet of the social network.

While Facebook continues to try to overcome a reputation for misinformation—especially the kind distributed by Russian trolls—and fights with publishers about lumping their news stories in with political advertising, Apple makes a point of noting that its stories are curated by human beings, and that it has solid relationships with leading news publishers. […]

The skeptical and cynical counterpoint that I’ve seen repeated on Twitter today is that humans are fallible and have their own biases. No shit. But I don’t think Apple’s promotion of this is entirely marketing bluster. There’s a reason human editors still work in newsrooms and decide what’s most worthy to appear on the front page, no matter whether that’s the homepage of their website or A1 — what is most popular can be important, but it’s their job to decide what is most newsworthy, and that’s often not the same thing.

Maybe Apple’s human editors will accidentally place something of little value in the midterm section; they may even promote a story that is later revealed to have critical mistakes. But they are less likely to surface something simply because of its virality without accounting for its news value.

Jason Snell:

With macOS Mojave, available today to the general public as a part of a public beta, the story is different. macOS Mojave feels like a macOS update that’s truly about the Mac, extending features that are at the core of the Mac’s identity. At the same time, macOS Mojave represents the end of a long era (of stability or, less charitably, stagnation) and the beginning of a period that could completely redefine what it means to use a Mac.

Is macOS Mojave the latest chapter of an ongoing story, the beginning of a new one, or the end of an old one? It feels very much like the answer is yes and yes and yes.

Given the somewhat frustrating Mac hardware situation, I’d be deeply concerned for the future of the platform if this year’s MacOS release was a boring one. It isn’t — Mojave shows that there’s lots of life left in the Mac. Even simple things, like Desktop Stacks, make a difference in real-world everyday usability.

Last year’s migration to APFS pays off in a big way for those of you thinking about trying the public beta of Mojave on a separate partition. I don’t know how many of you had to run fsck in single-user mode to get previous beta partitions working, but I did — every year. Not this time, though. It took a minute flat to create a Mojave “container” and begin installing. Nice.

Ryan Gallagher and Henrik Moltke, the Intercept:

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In each of these cities, The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.” It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it “has access to information that transits the nation,” but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

This article is fairly American-centric, because it is unconstitutional for the NSA to be monitoring the contents of Americans’ communications. But it also raises questions about the extent to which the American government is monitoring the world’s communications.

To the best of my understanding, the NSA is legally able to gather intelligence from any non-U.S. communications. The main reason they didn’t do so historically was because it’s not as efficient as a more targeted collection sttategy. But, after building a massive data centre in Utah and creating software to automatically sift through all they collect, it has become reasonable for them to broaden their scope. This article from the Intercept reinforces that: AT&T is a valuable NSA partner because they have access to, effectively, much of the world’s communications through their peering agreements. Legally, this is apparently fine by the NSA’s mandate; ethically, it’s outrageous. My communications and yours, probably, have been scooped up and could be sitting on a hard drive somewhere in the United States, without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing, in a repugnant dismissal of common-sense morals.

Michael Lopp:

BARTENDER: Can I get you something?

TOUCHBAR: Can I get a Blue Hawaiian?


MACBOOK PRO: NACHOS? Wait, WHOA WHOA. You didn’t say we’d be eating food. I’ve got work tomorrow, and a single bit of chip, a smear of cheese, or a bit of jalapeño and I’m screwed.

I can’t put my finger on why this is the case, but there’s something so right about an anthropomorphized Touch Bar ordering a Blue Hawaiian.

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple didn’t say when in 2018 it would release AirPower, but engineers hoped to launch the charger by June. The aim now is to put it on sale before or in September, according to one of the people. In recent months, some Apple engineers have ramped up testing of the device by using it as their charger at the office, another person said.

Gurman doesn’t say when the shipping target was originally set as June. If that was the case when they announced it last year, why not hold the announcement until WWDC? Regardless, if the new deadline is September, that will make it a full year between announcement and shipping — and for what? Most iPhone buyers probably don’t remember that Apple announced the AirPower because, let’s face it, it’s nowhere near as exciting as new iPhones. Judging by my Twitter feed and comments around the web, many of those who do remember the announcement of the AirPower are disappointed that it’s taking so long.

This saga is a blunder, and I’d be shocked to find out that it wasn’t a preventable one.

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple today launched a keyboard repair program for MacBook and MacBook Pro models equipped with butterfly keys to address complaints over letters or characters that repeat unexpectedly, letters or characters that do not appear, and keys that feel “sticky” or do not respond in a consistent manner.

According to Apple, a “small percentage” of MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards from 2015 to 2017 can experience these symptoms.

This is good news for anyone affected by this, whether in the past, now, or with future sales of this same generation of MacBooks. My only question is whether they’ve somehow quietly fixed the problem, or if a faulty keyboard repaired with another of the same design will one day require fixing again.

Dan Moren, Macworld:

At present, the lack of recently updated Macs is frustrating, especially to those looking to spend money on new hardware. (And, I would argue, it’s multiplied by the current dissatisfaction with the company’s portable line.) But it certainly isn’t leaving Apple or customers at the brink of disaster. On the other hand, if this fall comes and goes with nary a new Mac, then there will definitely be some hard questions.

If Apple had been updating all of their Mac lines on a relatively consistent or more frequent basis, I doubt there would be as much consternation. Similarly, if the MacBook were a more affordable entry-model notebook and the MacBook Pro did not have ridiculous keyboard problems — and, sigh, still had an SD Card slot — I think people would be a lot happier. But, as it is, there’s a poor combination of a lack of updates followed by, in some ways, hardware regression.

I’m generally optimistic about the future of the Mac; I think that Mojave is a great update, the iMac remains a reliably solid performer, and Apple’s commitment to a better Mac Pro and new display signify a strong commitment to smaller market segments. But, as a single platform vendor, there are unique responsibilities that Apple has to their users.

Katarzyna Szymielewicz and Bill Budington of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The concept of legitimate interest in the GDPR has been constructed as a compromise between privacy advocates and business interests. It is much more vague and ambiguous than other legal grounds for processing data. In the coming months, you will see many companies who operate in Europe attempt to build their tracking and data collection of their users on the basis of their “legitimate interest.”

But that path won’t be easy for covert web fingerprinters. To be able to rely on this specific legal ground, every company that considers fingerprinting has to, first, go through a balancing test (that is, verify for itself whether its interest in obscure tracking is not overridden by “the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject, including privacy” and whether it is in line with “reasonable expectations of data subjects”) and openly lay out its legitimate interest argument for end-users. Second, and more importantly, the site has to share detailed information with the person that is subjected to fingerprinting, including the scope, purposes, and legal basis of such data processing. Finally, if fingerprinting is done for marketing purposes, all it takes for end-users to stop it (provided they do not agree with the legitimate interest argument that has been made by the fingerprinter) is to say “no.” The GDPR requires no further justification.

Browser fingerprinting is seriously intrusive — and popular. One of the privacy-focused features new to Safari in MacOS Mojave is protection against fingerprinting, which Apple says is possible because any given installation of the browser will look more generic. I’m glad to see it being reined in from both regulatory and technological standpoints.

Paris Martineau, the Outline:

Though it’s only been a few weeks since the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) officially went into effect, its impact is already noticeable. Sites have gone dark and pared down their tracking-laden homepages, while users have had to struggle to stay afloat under the deluge of privacy policy update emails. But, strangely enough, the most interesting side effect of GDPR can be found outside of its regulatory borders. In a rather shocking turn of events, U.S. lawmakers, policy wonks, and academics alike appear to actually be inspired by the GDPR’s bold design and efficacy. New measures in the works would deny businesses the ability to share and sell people’s data willy nilly, more clearly identify where and to whom their personal information has been disclosed, and even require them to alert people if their data has been stolen within 72 hours. […]

I’m glad to see even ostensibly regulation-averse American policy makers confront online privacy abuses, but I’m concerned that they won’t get it right. Lucy surely isn’t going to let Charlie kick the football this time, right?

Getting it right is highly subjective, of course. GDPR does a good job of making everyone aware of all of the rats and cockroaches, but it doesn’t establish any requirements for their limitations or extermination. Maciej Cegłowski’s proposals are, I think, a terrific blueprint for successful privacy regulations.

The Macalope in Macworld skewers Mike Murphy’s ridiculous piece — “Apple Killed Fun” — that was published in Quartz last week:

Even still, the MacBook, all of the iPhones other than the iPhone X, the iPad Pro, and the Watch (counting the Edition) all come in four different colors. The MacBook Pro comes in two and the iPad in three. Other than the Product(RED), they’re all muted tones but that’s good. The bright colors of the original run of iMacs worked for Apple and were a brilliant strategic move but, frankly, created a trend in design that did not age well.

One thing that the Macalope, astute as it is, did not mention is the way that Murphy blames Apple for the entire industry’s lack of colourful products:

By refining its products to near-impenetrable pieces of glass and metal, and bringing the aesthetic of the entire consumer electronics market along with them, Apple has stamped out much of the fun within its own company, and the greater industry. […]

Murphy’s passive tone here is his way of shifting the blame towards Apple and away from all of the companies that thoughtlessly copy them. There’s every opportunity for Samsung or Xaomi or Oppo or Google to come along and ship a brightly-coloured lineup of devices with unique shapes and clear differentiation through design, but they don’t. That’s not on Apple; that’s on them — but their lack of doing so also assuredly reflects what most consumers want to buy.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

The Obama-era FCC voted to impose privacy rules that would have required carriers to get consumers’ consent before selling or sharing personal data, including location information. But Congress last year voted to prevent implementation of those rules, with Pai’s support. Pai also took action to halt implementation of data security requirements that were part of the Obama-era FCC’s privacy rulemaking.

The current FCC administration has been uniquely terrible for consumers, but there may be another reason for their rejection of sound privacy regulations for carriers beyond simple malicious intent:

The Federal Communications Commission is investigating the matter, and Wyden called on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to recuse himself because he represented Securus as an attorney in 2012.

Readers may also recognize that Pai has previously represented Verizon as well. Isn’t it remarkable how many decisions made by Pai’s FCC happen to benefit companies he used to work for?

Karl Bode, Techdirt:

Over in an interview with Marketplace, Pai again doubles down on repeated falsehoods, including a new claim that the repeal somehow had broad public support:

Marketplace: …this is not a popular decision. Millions of people have written in opposition to it. Public opinion polling shows most Americans favor net neutrality, not your open internet rule. And I wonder why you’re doing this then? If public opinion is against you, what are you doing?

Pai: First of all, public opinion is not against us. If you look at some of the polls —

Marketplace: No, it is, sir, come on.

Pai: If you look at some of the polling, if you dig down and see how these polls were constructed, it was clearly designed to reach a particular result. But even beyond that —

Marketplace: It’s not just one, there are many surveys, sir.

Pai: The FCC’s job is not to put a finger in the wind and decide which way the winds are blowing, it’s to look at the facts and make a sober judgment based on what the law is. And that is exactly what we’ve done here. Moreover, the long-term interest is in building better, faster, cheaper internet access. That is what consumers say when I travel around the country, and I’ve have spoken to consumers in Los Angeles to the reservation in South Dakota, places like Dahlonega, Georgia. That is what is on consumers’ minds. That is what this regulatory framework is going to deliver.

First Pai tries to claim that the public supported his repeal, then when pressed tries to claim that the polls that were conducted were somehow flawed. Neither is true. In fact, one recent survey out of the University of Maryland found that 82% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats opposed the FCC’s obnoxiously-named “restoring internet freedom” repeal. Pai then tries to sell the interviewer on the implication that consumers simply aren’t smart or informed enough to realize that gutting oversight of indisputably terrible companies like Comcast will somehow be secretly good for them.

It’s worth reading or listening to that Marketplace interview in full. The host, Kai Ryssdal, does a respectable job of pushing back against Pai’s repeated lies and faulty talking points.

Ali Breland, the Hill:

Many groups espousing racist rhetoric and hate speech were kicked off Facebook and Twitter after violence erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally last summer in Charlottesville, Va., where a woman was killed by a car that was driven into a crowd of protesters.

While such voices have been kicked off Facebook and Twitter, they have not been purged from Google Plus.

Anthony Cuthbertson, the Independent:

A Google spokesperson told The Independent: “We have clear policies against violent content as well as content from known terrorist organisations and when we find violations, we take swift action.”

They added: “We have a team dedicated to keeping violent content and hate speech off our platforms, including Google+. And while we recognise we have more to do, we’re committed to getting this right.”

At this point, I’m surprised Google would keep investing in moderation rather than simply shuttering Google Plus.

Cory Doctorow, in an op-ed published by Vice:

On Wednesday, a European Union committee will vote on Article 11, a proposal to create a new copyright over links to news stories. If the proposal is adopted, a service that publishes a link to a story on a news website with a headline or a short snippet would have to get a license before linking. News sites could charge whatever they want for these licenses, and shut down critics by refusing to license to people with whom they disagreed. And the new rule would apply to any service where a link to a news story can appear, including social media platforms, search engines, blogging platforms, and even nonprofits like Wikipedia.

This is a ridiculous proposal that would likely undermine the basics of the web.