Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2020

WWDC and My Wish List

Now that the dust has started to settle on WWDC 2020, I thought I would see how my wishes fared this year.

[Stuart Breckenridge] guesses [the next version of MacOS] will be named Anacapa. My money is on Avalon.

My guess of the name “Avalon” took into account my assumptions about the transition to ARM processors. When the Mac transitioned to Intel, it simply received a new build of 10.4 Tiger, and I thought that a similarly low-key shift would be in the cards. I was wrong. I like the name, though — Big Sur feels appropriate, as does the change to MacOS 11.

Some indication — anything — that Siri is a priority. The wholly-generated voice that shipped with iOS 13 is a welcome improvement; it sounds so much better, particularly with more complex words.

But Siri’s ability to respond accurately and as expected remains terrible. I know that all voice-based assistants have their weak spots, but my experience with Siri is that it cannot be trusted to do anything more than set timers and create reminders.

While out for some errands today with my iPhone running iOS 14 plugged in and running CarPlay, I received an incoming message. I asked Siri to read it; after it did, it asked if I would like to reply. “Yes,” I said. It asked “what would you like to say?”, and I responded “thank you” because I wanted to thank the sender. And Siri decided that I meant to thank it instead of sending a message, so it replied “don’t mention it”. No response text was sent.

Despite its somewhat confused presentation, I like the new look of Siri. I also like that it has, according to Apple, twenty times more facts than three years ago.1 But, nine years after its debut, Siri remains Siri: it listens to my voice pretty accurately, articulates words well, and is entirely unreliable for anything I ask of it to a point of disobedience.

An indication that “iPadOS” is more than just a name. It seems to me that a great reason to rename the iPad’s operating system is to indicate that it is no longer a bigger and slightly different version of the operating system that’s used on the iPhone. I’d like to see evidence of this.

There seem to be no changes to the multitasking system nor any difference in the way it kills background apps. But I think we saw clear indications that Apple wants to treat iPadOS as its own system. Across iOS and iPadOS, Siri no longer takes over the entire display and neither do incoming calls — while this is nice on the iPhone, it’s fantastic on the iPad. Official support for sidebars is terrific, too, as is its new MacOS Spotlight-like search field.

My other wish for WWDC is a noticeable focus on quality: fewer bugs, less waiting, better fit and finish, and no catastrophes when upgrading. The tick-tock cycle of feature-heavy releases followed by refinement versions is a horrible strategy that does neither effectively. I would like to see this acknowledged in some regard as an ongoing priority for every release. That’s not going to happen, but that’s what wish lists are for: the things you really want.

This can only be assessed fairly based on the public release of each operating system this autumn. In the first week, though, these first builds are promising. I don’t think it is advisable to put any of these betas on your daily carry devices, but they all feel far more solid than most of the operating system releases for the past year. A good sign.


  1. Those numbers are pretty precise. It is unclear to me whether this is a big leap specifically for this year, or if it simply indicates that Apple is frequently adding more fact-based responses. ↩︎

Marques Brownlee in Conversation With Craig Federighi

As part of his post-WWDC press tour, Craig Federighi appeared on Marques Brownlee’s Waveform podcast and in a more truncated form in a short video interview. They discuss the redesign of MacOS appearing in Big Sur, the keynote video production, and why it will only be possible to change the default browser and email clients but not, say, maps or music.

One thing that Federighi and Brownlee discussed is how Siri still doesn’t allow interaction behind it, even though it now appears as a floating orb that does not visually dominate the screen. According to Federighi, this is a deliberate limitation — it was tried both with and without interaction, but the latter suffered from a lack of clarity about how to dismiss Siri after use. However, MacOS has a floating Siri panel and it, somehow, avoids this confusion. “Just copy MacOS” is not a great answer or solution, but I think the current design is somewhat misleading.

As Major Companies Pull Advertising, Facebook Executives Admit to ‘Trust Deficit’

The Anti-Defamation League:

In response to Facebook’s repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms, six organizations today announced a new campaign, #StopHateforProfit, that asks large Facebook advertisers to show they will not support a company that puts profit over safety. ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense have created a coalition of the nation’s most storied civil rights organizations calling for some of the world’s largest corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July 2020.

Megan Graham, CNBC:

Verizon said on Thursday it is pulling advertising on Facebook until the company “can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable.”

A company spokesperson said the pause applies to both Facebook and Instagram. It comes as marketers including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and REI have also said they plan to pause advertising on the platforms.

Anthony Ha, TechCrunch:

Then today, it was joined by consumer goods giant Unilever, which said it will halt all U.S. advertising on Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and even Twitter, at least until the end of the year.

“Based on the current polarization and the election that we are having in the U.S., there needs to be much more enforcement in the area of hate speech,” Unilever’s executive vice president of global media Luis Di Como told The Wall Street Journal.

Put a pin in “Unilever”.

Hannah Murphy, Financial Times:

A leading Facebook executive has told advertisers the company is suffering from a “trust deficit” as it tries to stop brands joining a boycott over its policies on political content moderation.

The world’s largest social media group joined a conference call with almost 200 advertisers on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the discussion. Senior policy executives then defended Facebook’s decision to allow several controversial posts from US president Donald Trump to remain on its platform.

According to leaked audio of the call obtained by the Financial Times, Neil Potts, Facebook’s head of trust and safety policy, acknowledged that the company suffered from a “trust deficit” but added that it was “here to listen” to its clients’ concerns. The call was convened by the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade body in Canada.

Tanya Dua, Business Insider (both this and the Financial Times link above are ostensibly paywalled, but I trust that you are clever):

Mark Zuckerberg this week addressed a group of top-ranking executives from agency holding companies and advertisers including Anheuser-Busch InBev, Dentsu Aegis Network, and Omnicom Media Group.

The companies are part of the client council, a small-knit group of marketing heavyweights from brands and ad agencies who work closely with Facebook on product features and other feedback.

He acknowledged the advertisers’ concerns over its policies on political content moderation, explained the company’s position, tried to assure them that the company was reviewing policies and decision-making processes, and took questions.

Casey Newton:

Very cynical take: ad budgets are shrinking already during the pandemic. Why not get some applause for it?

Seb Joseph, reporting for Digiday in April:

The planning process for marketers is being thrown into disarray. With uncertainty pervading all aspects of business, marketers are forced to pare down their plans and focus only on a month or two head. Annual plans are, for the most part, a relic of a different era.

“In many cases, we’re either in re-planning mode or ring-fencing budgets for certain brands,” said the chief media officer at global [consumer packaged goods] manufacturer.

[…]

In reality, what happens is those brands that are doing moderately well for the business will get fewer media dollars in the second and third quarters of the year to ease the company’s cash flow on the basis that more will be eventually invested in the fourth quarter to ensure those targets are met, said the chief media officer.

Molly Fleming, reporting for MarketingWeek in April:

Unilever is stopping major advertising production and exploring cheaper media in a bid to make savings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The [fast-moving consumer goods] giant’s chief executive, Alan Jope, told investors on a call today (23 April) that the company would be halting the production of major ad campaigns and “reviewing all spend to be effective”.

It is very hard to know how effective the ADL’s campaign is when companies are reducing their advertising budgets anyway. To be clear, I do not think that the ADL itself is cynically taking advantage of lower spending, but it is very possible that some companies are shamelessly rationalizing their withdrawal.

Microsoft Announces Closure of All but Four Retail Stores

Microsoft’s David Porter, in a LinkedIn post titled “A New Day for Microsoft Store”:

As we look forward, we start a new chapter for Microsoft Store. Our team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location. We are energized about the opportunity to innovate in how we engage with all customers, optimize our talent for greatest impact, and most importantly – help our valued customers achieve more.

As part of our business plan, we announced a strategic change in our retail operations, including closing Microsoft Store physical locations. Our retail team members will continue to serve customers working from Microsoft corporate facilities or remotely and we will continue to develop our diverse team in support of the overall company mission and objectives.

I did not go to business school so I guess that’s why I don’t understand the artificially sunny and buzzword-filled framing of this post. That is especially true in this case where, even though Microsoft’s experiment in ripping off Apple’s stores failed, it is not laying off any of its retail staff. As far as bummer announcements go, that represents some genuinely good news. The four retail stores that will remain open are in New York, London, Sydney, and Redmond.

Barr’s Interest in Google Antitrust Case Keeps It Moving Swiftly

Kadhim Shubber, reporting earlier this week for the Financial Times:

Two US prosecutors are set to testify on Wednesday that politics drove Department of Justice decisions in cases linked to Donald Trump.

[…]

The second prosecutor, John Elias, works in the antitrust division and had previously been chief of staff to Makan Delrahim, the Trump appointee who heads the division.

Mr Elias said in his written testimony that on August 22 2019, the political leadership of the antitrust division ordered an investigation of four carmakers — Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW — just a day after Mr Trump tweeted about them.

The president had criticised the companies for agreeing to emissions reductions with California that were stricter than rules his administration was attempting to push through at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The memo opening the inquiry had no staff recommendation, stating instead that the division “would like to open an investigation”, and was generated by policy lawyers at the division, rather than enforcement attorneys as would be typical, Mr Elias said.

David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

For months, lawyers at the Justice Department have been marshaling their forces for a possible antitrust lawsuit against Google, spurred on by the personal interest of Attorney General William P. Barr.

The day-to-day digging of a federal antitrust investigation rarely rises to the level of the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

But under Mr. Barr, the agency has made top priority of looking into the country’s biggest tech companies. He receives regular updates on the Google case from an aide, according to several people close to the investigations, while an official in the office of his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen, oversees the investigations into tech companies.

It is possible that there is a legitimate antitrust case to be brought against Google, and that Barr and this administration have so corrupted the Department of Justice as to render that case compromised from the start.

I think an investigation into Google’s control of online advertising is long overdue — I still cannot believe that it was allowed to buy DoubleClick. There are probably cases that can be brought against Amazon, Apple, and Facebook as well. But the Trump administration’s will struggle to levy legitimate arguments due to the undercurrent of personal retribution these cases carry. The Department of Justice is doing the dirty work of a president with a personal enemies list longer than Nixon’s and a truly next level lack of self-awareness.

You can tell that this administration doesn’t care about companies taking advantage of uncompetitive markets because they have not indicated any concerns about ISPs and cellular carriers. In fact, you’ll remember that Barr’s Antitrust Division allowed the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile to sail through earlier this year.

The Talk Show WWDC 2020 Special With Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak

As ever, a terrific interview that covers a lot of ground. This year’s edition is worth spending time with as Federighi provides more context for the switch to ARM and the redesign of Big Sur.

I’ve been impressed by how well Apple, in particular, has adapted its developer conference to the realities of a pandemic-afflicted world. All week long, I’ve seen nothing but praise for everything from Monday’s keynote and Platforms State of the Union through all of the sessions. I think Gruber and company did a similarly great job with this remote interpretation of the annual WWDC special.

iOS 14 Requires Apps to Ask Permission to Use IDFA to Track Users

George P. Slefo, Ad Adge:

[The Identifier for Advertisers] is shared with app makers and advertisers by default, but that will change once iOS 14 rolls out this fall. Then, users must give explicit permission through a popup for app publishers to track them across different apps and websites, or to share that information with third parties.

“This is a tectonic shift in the industry,” says Gadi Eliashiv, CEO at Singular, a mobile marketing intelligence company. “Some business models will be completely disrupted, while others will have to be completely reinvented.”

Apple didn’t kill its Indentifier for Advertisers, but rendered it useless, Eliashiv says. “It’s unlikely many consumers will say ‘yes’ to tracking when asked and, even if they do, saying ‘yes’ on one app is not enough. You also need to say ‘yes’ on all the other apps you’re seeing ads on for IDFA to be useful for attribution, retargeting, look-alike audiences and many other mobile measurement requirements,” he says.

If users are unlikely to opt into being tracked across multiple apps and websites with frighteningly granular detail, perhaps it is an indication that such privacy-hostile practices are unethical and the industry’s attempts at self-regulation are bunk.

A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists

Wesley Lowery, New York Times:

And so, instead of promising our readers that we will never, on any platform, betray a single personal bias — submitting ourselves to a life sentence of public thoughtlessness — a better pledge would be an assurance that we will devote ourselves to accuracy, that we will diligently seek out the perspectives of those with whom we personally may be inclined to disagree and that we will be just as sure to ask hard questions of those with whom we’re inclined to agree.

The best of our profession already does this. But we need to be honest about the gulf that lies between the best and the bulk.

It’s possible to build journalism self-aware enough to bridge that gap. But it will take moral clarity, which will require both editors and reporters to stop doing things like reflexively hiding behind euphemisms that obfuscate the truth, simply because we’ve always done it that way. Deference to precedent is a poor excuse for continuing to make decisions that potentially let powerful bad actors off the hook and harm the public we serve.

Entirely agreed. I would rather read honest reporting than coverage of an event that is purportedly neutral, especially when that apparent neutrality is contrived and built on a phoney belief that there are two equal sides to every story. Honest reporting does not pretend that every argument is valid or needs to be presented.

Republican Senators Introduce Bill to Destroy End-to-End Encryption

Alfred Ng, CNet:

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers introduced the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, which calls for an end to “warrant-proof” encryption that’s disrupted criminal investigations. The bill was proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, along with Sens. Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn. If passed, the act would require tech companies to help investigators access encrypted data if that assistance would help carry out a warrant.

Lawmakers and the US Justice Department have long battled with tech companies over encryption, which is used to encode data. The Justice Department argues that encryption prevents investigators from getting necessary evidence from suspects’ devices and has requested that tech giants provide “lawful access.”

[…]

The proposed legislation stops short of requiring tech companies to create a backdoor, noting that the attorney general is prohibited from giving specific steps on how tech companies need to comply with lawful access orders.

It may not require a specific implementation, but eradicating meaningful encryption by introducing vulnerabilities is exactly what this bill mandates:

The debate over encryption and lawful access has raged on, unresolved, for years. The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act would bring an end to warrant-proof encryption in devices, platforms, and systems.

Pay little attention to the deliberate use of “warrant-proof” to describe end-to-end encryption. All end-to-end encryption is unable to be accessed by anyone other than the users at each endpoint; that is, almost always, a very good thing.

There is simply no way to do what Senate Republicans are envisioning without some form of back door access. But, as writing that into the bill would likely trigger a First Amendment case should it be voted and signed into law, it instead includes some magical thinking:

Directs the Attorney General to create a prize competition to award participants who create a lawful access solution in an encrypted environment, while maximizing privacy and security.

And I would very much like to acquire a house without expending any money.

There are clearly concerns about what nefarious users of end-to-end encryption are hiding, but requiring everyone to bend to that level means that we all become vulnerable. Making it easier for law enforcement to look into the activities of terrible people makes it easier for terrible people to take advantage of everyone else.

Besides, U.S. intelligence took over a year to discover that their most sensitive and powerful hacking tools had been sent outside its ostensibly secure walls. I don’t trust them with having a key to my phone.

ARM Macs Will Not Support Boot Camp

Caitlin McGarry, Gizmodo:

Apple is making a family of custom ARM-based processors for Macs, which is a huge shift that brings with it rippling effects. One change that some might not be too pleased about is that Boot Camp, the free utility that allows you to dual-boot Windows and macOS, is going away on the new Macs powered by Apple silicon.

Rosyna Keller:

You can still disable Secure Boot using the same method as on Intel-based Mac. But it’s entirely up to Microsoft to support booting from something other than the 3 supported Qualcomm SoCs Windows on ARM currently supports.

I don’t know what fraction of Macs today are currently using Boot Camp but, I imagine, anyone who is using it really does rely upon it. It sounds like Apple would like to support Windows on ARM but, if anyone was wondering why Linux was demonstrated during the keynote instead of ARM Windows, it sounds like a technical limitation on the Windows side and not with Apple’s own processors.

Accidental Tech Podcast’s WWDC 2020 Special

While I was writing about Apple’s big ARM transition from the perspective of a technically interested user, the ATP folks recorded over thirty minutes of discussion from the perspective of people with far more knowledge. This is a three hour long episode; buckle up.

Only Apple

The introduction of the iPad in January 2010 will be remembered for lots of reasons. It was the first tablet computer to sell in large numbers and remains a category-defining product. It was the last new category of product to be introduced by Steve Jobs. It was the first expansion of the iOS codebase, which now underpins the Apple TV, Apple Watch, HomePod, and MacBook Pro Touch Bar. And, of course, it debuted Apple’s A-series of ARM processors designed in-house.

Ever since, there has been growing speculation about the viability of a Mac featuring an Apple-designed processor; as those custom processors have far outperformed competing offerings for phones and tablets, and spread across the product line, it has felt inevitable.

Exactly fifteen years and two weeks after Apple’s last processor transition was announced, the Mac is about to make the leap. It will join the rest of the company’s product lineup in running on processors developed in-house, using the ARM instruction set instead of the x86 architecture used by Intel. Just like that — boom — the inevitable became reality.

The way Apple is describing its current motivations for switching, you’d think they could almost copy the press releases from last time but swapping “PowerPC” and “Intel” for “Intel” and “Apple Silicon”, respectively. Everything feels a bit deja vu — efficiency, for example, is a primary motivator. The constraints of performance are primarily determined by energy use as it strongly correlates with battery consumption — relevant in notebooks — and heat output – relevant everywhere. Apple says that its own processors perform more efficiently than the Intel processors it has been using for the past fifteen years just as, during the transition away from PowerPC, Intel processors were described as providing more performance-per-watt.

The timing also recalls the last transition. When Apple moved away from PowerPC, Jobs specifically mentioned the company’s frustration at being unable to deliver a G5 PowerBook as there wasn’t a suitable processor in IBM’s pipeline. Intel, on the other hand, had a full portfolio of processors for everything from notebooks to professional desktops. During this year’s keynote, Johny Srouji spoke about how the company was developing a family of processors for the entire Mac lineup, and Craig Federighi demonstrated great performance from professional apps compiled for Apple’s own processors. What was unspoken but has been plainly obvious for years was how Intel has struggled to deliver across the board. Knowledgeable people say that this is a primary reason why Apple has struggled to update its Mac lineup as regularly as it once did.

Apple gains the ability to update its Macs as frequently as Srouji’s team is able to deliver new processors, but it also assumes the responsibility of being a more vertically integrated single vendor platform. Bold.

I don’t think anyone should be surprised by how closely this transition appears to be modelled on the last one — so much so that many of the technologies that are intended to create a seamless experience for users are billed as sequels to the ones used for the Intel transition: Universal 2 and Rosetta 2. Federighi even made a reference to Jobs’ introduction of Intel processors by introducing the transition after showing new MacOS features and saying that all of the new stuff was demonstrated on a Mac powered by Apple’s own processors.

But the big difference this transition is in the inherent possibilities of custom, product-specific processors with architecture shared by the rest of the product line. By not relying upon a third-party supplier, Apple is free to build into its Mac processors the kind of unique capabilities that have long been afforded to every other product the company makes. I have no dirt on this, but I would not be surprised if the reason no Mac has Face ID yet is because it demands Apple’s own ARM architecture.

MacOS Big Sur running on ARM will also allow iOS and iPadOS apps to run unmodified on a Mac. I do not know what to make of this. Where once there were separate worlds of iOS apps and Mac apps, there are now several app environments that you can run on a Mac: iOS apps, iPad-like Catalyst apps, Catalyst apps modified to be more Mac-like, Cocoa Mac apps — which are, in a sense, the new Classic — and SwiftUI-based apps. Oh, and Electron “apps”. These all feel a little different and, I imagine, iOS apps will sit with Electron and typical Catalyst apps on the ass-end of a scale of Mac-likeness. Whether this is something to look forward to or just something different about ARM Macs is yet to be seen. I think any Mac app that you love today from a developer that you trust will continue to be a true Mac app, so long as that is the best way to deliver a superior product. But whether Apple will continue to deliver terrific first-party apps designed and built specifically for the Mac is a concerning question.

Speaking of ARM, I feel compelled to point out that “ARM” is not mentioned once in the press release announcing this switch. This is something else that is not shocking — it isn’t as though Apple has spent the last fifteen years marketing its products as “x86-based”. That said, I think the use of “Apple silicon” in marketing materials is temporary. I expect the first ARM-based Mac to arrive with a processor branded in true Apple fashion.

Recall the Cook doctrine, via Adam Lashinsky in 2009, with my own emphasis:

We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.

You can judge for yourself whether Apple is living up to the simple-versus-complex qualities, or if it is not settling for less than excellence. But any time it has not controlled the technologies that underpin its products is a time when that has eventually bitten them in the ass. Ensuring that Apple’s products have wholly adequate processors tailored for its specific needs makes complete sense.

Does that mean that I am not a little bit anxious? No — of course I have some concern that, when I am next in the market for a Mac, it won’t be quite what I need and some piece of software I love won’t work properly on the new machines. But it isn’t as though that’s an entirely new concern. Also, Apple has set a high bar for both native applications and those running with the help of Rosetta 2. This is, truly, a new era of Mac. No wonder they called the software that will usher it in MacOS 11.

One of the slogans tying together the Tim Cook era is “only Apple” – as in, only Apple could have done this. Well, this truly feels like one of those moments, in more ways than one. Yes, only Apple can convince us that this platform transition will be near-seamless. But this also means that the next generation of Macs will be only Apple products through and through. From the processor to the operating system — and to many of the apps and services users will touch — these Macs are increasingly products defined solely by Apple.

I suppose that is my biggest concern. It is as though Apple now has no escape hatch — no obvious Plan B. When Intel began to struggle, it felt as though AMD could, perhaps, take the reins. That simply isn’t the case any longer. If Apple cannot deliver on its processors for its entire lineup — from the massively popular MacBook Air to the niche Mac Pro, and absolutely everything that lies between — it stops delivering period.

Thankfully, ten solid years of unmatched growth in CPU and GPU performance is a pretty solid C.V. to build the next generation of a business on top of. Apple has proved that it can build powerful and energy-efficient processors in devices as small as earbuds. I am excited to see what it can do with a chassis the size of my iMac, and the kind of vision and capabilities it has shown with its custom processors so far.

Developers Will Be Able to Dispute App Store Rules, and Bug Fix Updates Won’t Be Used as Leverage

In an Apple press release summarizing the developer-specific announcements at WWDC, there are these two significant changes to App Review:

Additionally, two changes are coming to the app review process and will be implemented this summer. First, developers will not only be able to appeal decisions about whether an app violates a given guideline of the App Store Review Guidelines, but will also have a mechanism to challenge the guideline itself. Second, for apps that are already on the App Store, bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues. Developers will instead be able to address the issue in their next submission.

It is anyone’s guess how likely a rules dispute will result in modifications, but at least the avenue is now there. As for no longer withholding bug fix updates — it’s about time. Unnecessarily punishing users for a developer dispute is unfair and I am glad to see this change.

Apple Drops Force Touch in WatchOS 7

Tim Hardwick, MacRumors:

Force Touch can be used in watchOS 6 to reveal hidden menus on Apple Watch , such as options to clear notifications and customize the current Watch Face. These options will no longer be accessed using the Force Touch gesture when watchOS 7 is released. Apple’s new Human Interface Guidelines for developers making apps for watchOS 7 confirms the change:

Firm press and long press. In versions of watchOS before watchOS 7, people could press firmly on the display to do things like change the watch face or reveal a hidden menu called a Force Touch menu. In watchOS 7 and later, system apps make previously hidden menu items accessible in a related screen or a settings screen. If you formerly supported a long-press gesture to open a hidden menu, consider relocating the menu items elsewhere.

Several native apps in the watchOS 7 beta already reflect the gesture’s removal. For example, the Force Touch gesture for the app layout Grid/List View has been replaced by a menu option in the Settings app. Similarly, changing the Calendar view must now be done in Settings, while the gesture to Change Move Goal in the Activity app has become just another menu item. The Customize Watch Face menu is now accessed via a long press.

Not a particularly surprising change; even I called it, and I am a dummy. Force Touch and 3D Touch were both interesting experiments in different interaction models, but they were invisible and implemented too inconsistently. As of the first beta of Big Sur, Force Touch trackpad options remain in MacOS, but I suspect not for long.

Fifteen Years and Two Weeks Ago, Apple Announced the Switch to Intel

Here’s a fifteen year old press release that has suddenly become both relevant and obsolete:

At its Worldwide Developer Conference today, Apple announced plans to deliver models of its Macintosh computers using Intel microprocessors by this time next year, and to transition all of its Macs to using Intel microprocessors by the end of 2007. Apple previewed a version of its critically acclaimed operating system, Mac OS X Tiger, running on an Intel-based Mac to the over 3,800 developers attending CEO Steve Jobs’ keynote address. Apple also announced the availability of a Developer Transition Kit, consisting of an Intel-based Mac development system along with preview versions of Apple’s software, which will allow developers to prepare versions of their applications which will run on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.

I will, of course, have more to say about today’s news, but what is immediately apparent is that Apple is presenting this as an even better take on the already-smooth Intel transition.

Apple, Hey, and the Path Forward

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, announcing that the bug fix update held by App Review has been released, and the company is trying something new:

Okay. We thought we were following Appleʼs unwritten rules for multi-platform SaaS products: No signups, no links, no mentions of where to sign up. Plenty of applications in the App Store work exactly like this today, including long-approved apps from Netflix, Google, Salesforce, and Nintendo.

But then Schiller said “One way that HEY could have gone… is to offer a free or paid version of the app with basic email reading features on the App Store, then separately offered an upgraded email service that worked with the Hey app on iOS on its own website.”

So we got down to it, and worked the weekend to get an update on Apple’s desk Monday morning. Our team did a great job implementing the product changes that Schiller asked for, and first thing this morning, right after we shipped 1.0.2 to our customers, we submitted 1.0.3 to the App Store for approval.

This new version introduces a new free option for the iOS app. Now users can sign up directly in-app for a free, temporary, randomized @hey.com email address that works for 14 days. Think of it like a temporary SIM card you buy when traveling. Or for when you don’t want to give out your real email address, like a short term “for sale” listing, like Craigslist does it.

This is a very clever feature and, I think, makes Hey’s service even more compelling. If its app was not rejected from the iOS App Store, I wonder if Hey would have introduced something like this at all. But this feature has not been tested against the App Store rules, so it remains to be seen if Apple will see it as an acceptable solution.

Even if this improvement to the app is enough to make it sail through App Review, I don’t know that it’s fair to summarize this saga as Basecamp making lemonade from lemons. The possibility of a positive outcome does not necessarily warrant the bureaucratic struggle that created it. As of this morning, the rules of the App Store continue to be a reflection of Apple wanting to be right rather than happy. Hey’s difficulties are only different from the stories of countless developers only because they are being aired in public, and the cumulative effect indicates that changes ought to be made to the App Store so that developers want to be there, and not just because they must. At the very least, clear communication about different interpretations of rules must be a priority.

An Oracle BlueKai Database Containing Billions of Records of Raw Web Browsing Data Was Not Password Protected

Zack Whittaker, TechCrunch:

BlueKai uses website cookies and other tracking tech to follow you around the web. By knowing which websites you visit and which emails you open, marketers can use this vast amount of tracking data to infer as much about you as possible — your income, education, political views, and interests to name a few — in order to target you with ads that should match your apparent tastes. If you click, the advertisers make money.

But for a time, that web tracking data was spilling out onto the open internet because a server was left unsecured and without a password, exposing billions of records for anyone to find.

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the database and reported his finding to Oracle through an intermediary — Roi Carthy, chief executive at cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock and former TechCrunch reporter.

TechCrunch reviewed the data shared by Sen and found names, home addresses, email addresses and other identifiable data in the database. The data also revealed sensitive users’ web browsing activity — from purchases to newsletter unsubscribes.

[…]

One estimate says BlueKai tracks over 1% of all web traffic — an unfathomable amount of daily data collection — and tracks some of the world’s biggest websites: Amazon, ESPN, Forbes, Glassdoor, Healthline, Levi’s, MSN.com, Rotten Tomatoes, and The New York Times. Even this very article has a BlueKai tracker because our parent company, Verizon Media, is a BlueKai partner.

Yet another reminder that, without meaningful laws restricting the collection and use of behavioural data, privacy-hostile companies will proceed to invade every facet of internet-connected life with scarce permission and heedless security.

Allies of Whiteness

Rafia Zakaria, the Baffler:

In recent weeks, as protests have raged through the country, as video after video of white entitlement and its consequences has surfaced, many white people have been wrestling with whether they are being good allies to black people and other people of color. This is an urgent and worthwhile reckoning. My category “allies of whiteness” may be inexact, but it encapsulates the silent supporters of those with overtly racist views, those who fight to keep up statues that celebrate slavery, those who actively create new structures of oppression.

This Juneteenth, and every single day, those of us with societal and structural advantages ought to reexamine the very structure that has disadvantaged the vast majority of people who do not. It is necessarily difficult and uncomfortable to acknowledge our own failures, but we must do better — far better.

See Also: Monique Judge on shallow corporate gestures, and Catherine Pugh, Esq. on why “allyship” is a myth.

Hey, Wait, I’ve Got a New Complaint

I cannot stop thinking about this Hey app situation.

It blows my mind that, with just a week to go until the year’s most important Apple developer conference, Apple decided on Monday to pick a fight with a high-profile developer. Discussions about Apple this week have not centred around the excitement of what might come in the next versions of iOS or MacOS, but about how developers have been treated by App Store policies and reviewers. The PR catastrophe is, of course, nothing on the actual impact these policies have on developers’ livelihoods, but it is still hard to believe that Apple is fighting this one out. Why not simply approve Hey’s bug fix update and deal with this in a couple of weeks?

But, hey, here we are.

First, it should be pointed out that there are several apps which seem to violate this policy. Fastmail is an email app that does not offer in-app purchases. At first launch, it displays only a login form and a link to the company’s documentation on its website. Registration and payment links are just a couple of taps away. Some apps get raked over the coals for this; there’s no reason for that, and I hope Fastmail doesn’t suffer the wrath of the App Review team.

(Update: Fastmail on Twitter: “Apple asked us recently to add IAP. We agreed to add it, and it was already on our longer term roadmap. We have always believed in meeting our users where they want to be, and more and more people are going mobile-only. It’s expected in our next major release.”)

You can find dozens of similar examples if you start poking around. It sure seems like a lot of apps have been approved by mistake. If App Review can’t understand the rules about when it is okay to only show a login screen upon launch, how are developers supposed to know? Inconsistencies reflect human nature but so, too, should Apple’s responses to such inconsistencies.

Second, I want to briefly touch on this “Reader” app exemption in the App Store guidelines:

3.1.3(a) “Reader” Apps: Apps may allow a user to access previously purchased content or content subscriptions (specifically: magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, video, access to professional databases, VoIP, cloud storage, and approved services such as classroom management apps), provided that you agree not to directly or indirectly target iOS users to use a purchasing method other than in-app purchase, and your general communications about other purchasing methods are not designed to discourage use of in-app purchase.

Those specific categories of apps sure seem to overlap with Apple’s own services — News Plus, Apple Books, Apple Music, Apple TV Plus, and iCloud Drive. If it was a requirement for competitors to use Apple’s in-app purchases API, I imagine the antitrust case would write itself.

Suppose this clause was not inserted as a preemptive response to antitrust complaints; suppose that it’s there because the user experience is better if apps are allowed to present a simple login form. Why should that apply only to Netflix and Dropbox but not Hey?

Finally, I cannot stop thinking about the final paragraph of the email Apple sent to Basecamp. Nick Statt, the Verge:

The final paragraph of Apple’s letter acknowledges that Basecamp has offered enterprise apps in the App Store, another obvious exemption to the current App Store rules barring Hey’s iOS app, that do not offer in-app purchases or sign-up options. Apple says it’s done so without taking any money in a way that sounds ominously like it’s demanding gratitude for a free ride. But critically, it seems Apple is distinguishing Hey as a consumer email app that does not seem to fit the criteria for an in-app purchase exemption, despite evidence of other apps — including similar email providers like Newton — that have done the same in the past.

It’s not just about this one app. I don’t even like the sound of Hey, and I find the Basecamp guys to be rather unlikeable on Twitter. None of that matters, though. Apple’s email is an extraordinarily condescending series of statements that seems to emphasize that third-party developers are allowed to develop for Apple’s products through the grace and generosity of the company. But how many people would buy an iPhone if there were no ecosystem of third-party apps, or if free apps were not allowed? The App Store’s policies have incentivized business models that do not require customers to pay money for downloading apps. How many Macs has Apple sold because that’s the only platform supported by the company’s developer tools?

This is the kind of thing a company writes because it can — because anyone who wishes to have an audience for their product or service on about half of Americans’ smartphones has no choice but to tolerate whatever inconsistent hell they are put through.

It is now three days until WWDC 2020 will begin. As Becky Hansmeyer wrote, “I bet the execs are glad they won’t have to look into 6,000 developers’ eyes” after writing that email. There was simply no reason to include such a bitter and arrogant passage, and it’s still hard to believe that Apple provided a copy of that email to several news organizations as their public defence.

Apple Stands by Its Rejection of Hey

Apple shared an email sent to Basecamp with a number of news outlets, including TechCrunch and NBC News. It reads, in part:

Apps that operate services across multiple platforms may allow users to access content, subscriptions, or features they have acquired in your app on other platforms or on your website, provided those items are also available as in-app purchases within the app. In fact, the app does not function as an email app or for any purpose until the user goes to the Basecamp Hey Email website to start a free trial or purchase a separate license to use the app for its intended purpose.

[…]

If you would prefer not to offer the users the option of in-app purchases, you could consider having the app function as marketed — an email client that works with standard IMAP and POP email accounts, where customers can optionally configure the Hey Email service as their preferred email service provider. This would allow the app to function as an email client without requiring an additional payment to use its features and functionality. Under this approach, what you sell on your website is clearly an email service separate from the function of your app as distributed on the App Store.

Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch interviewed Phil Schiller about the company’s stance:

“You download the app and it doesn’t work, that’s not what we want on the store,” says Schiller. This, he says, is why Apple requires in-app purchases to offer the same purchasing functionality as they would have elsewhere.

To be clear, this is against the App Store rules for most apps. The exceptions here are apps that are viewed as ‘readers’ that only display external content of certain types like music, books and movies — and apps that only offer bulk pricing options that are paid for by institutions or corporations rather than the end user.

Schiller is clear on our call that Hey does not fit these rules.

The reason I emphasized how Hey works at the top of my piece from earlier this week is because it isn’t an email client, it’s a Hey service client — and Apple sees those as wildly different categories. The Gmail app, for example, allows you to sign in with any IMAP account, which stops it from falling afoul of the “reader” app restrictions.

Zendesk is another product built on email standards that doesn’t do anything unless you sign in — there is no way to register within the app. But it’s allowed in the App Store either because it has bulk pricing options or because it offers access to a professional database. It’s also not marketed as an “email client”.

John Siracusa (more on Accidental Tech Podcast):

Wow, this is extremely flimsy. Who is Apple protecting with this stance? The poor iOS user who might download the *free* Hey app and be shocked to learn that it doesn’t function without an account?

…or maybe it’s about that 30% cut of in-app purchases? Yep, a real stumper.

Maybe someone really will stumble across the Hey app, and maybe they will download it expecting to be able to use it immediately only to be shown a bare login page and no way to sign up from within the app. And maybe that will suck for them and they will delete the app. Maybe many other apps will become more client apps with fewer ways of registering for them, too.

But the App Store is worse without the Hey app for those who use Hey. I can’t imagine tacking a standard IMAP client onto the app, as Apple suggests, would improve it. That leaves adding in-app purchases and foregoing 30% of revenue from users who registered within the app, or advising Hey users to switch to Android. But is that better for users? I can’t imagine so.

There is, I suppose, some logic to Apple’s rejection on the basis of its current rules, but I agree with Panzarino:

I think that, for me, it boils down to some simple observations. The fact is that Hey violates app store rules. Which means that the question is not ‘how can we contort those rules or squint enough to justify it’ but instead ‘should those be the rules’?

In his interview, Schiller indicates that there are no imminent changes to the App Store rules nor any changes the company is considering making. The case of Hey has made it clear to me that Apple ought to further clarify its rules. Hey falls precisely between the cracks of several app types that are allowed, but it’s hard to see that until the developer tries to submit the finished product to the store.

Also of note is the way Apple closes its email to Basecamp:

Thank you for being an iOS app developer. We understand that Basecamp has developed a number of apps and many subsequent versions for the App Store for many years, and that the App Store has distributed millions of these apps to iOS users. These apps do not offer in-app purchase — and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years. We are happy to continue to support you in your app business and offer you the solutions to provide your services for free — so long as you follow and respect the same App Store Review Guidelines and terms that all developers must follow.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but this reads as wildly passive aggressive — the kind of thing someone only writes if they know that they have all of the power and isn’t worried about the moral high ground.