Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2021

Some Google Executives Wish Sundar Pichai Would Make Decisions Faster

Daisuke Wakabayashi, New York Times:

Fifteen current and former Google executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering Google and [Sundar] Pichai, told The New York Times that Google was suffering from many of the pitfalls of a large, maturing company — a paralyzing bureaucracy, a bias toward inaction and a fixation on public perception.

The executives, some of whom regularly interacted with Mr. Pichai, said Google did not move quickly on key business and personnel moves because he chewed over decisions and delayed action. They said that Google continued to be rocked by workplace culture fights, and that Mr. Pichai’s attempts to lower the temperature had the opposite effect — allowing problems to fester while avoiding tough and sometimes unpopular positions.

In an article about Pichai’s apparently indecisive and slow-moving leadership style, it is remarkable how feeble are the examples cited by Wakabayashi — not even the company’s inability to ship a good messaging client. Google’s leadership apparently considered acquiring Shopify, and Pichai took a while to address Timnit Gebru’s firing, but there are few other specifics. This article reads more like a few Google executives decided to leak their frustrations to the Times because Pichai has not been returning their emails fast enough.

What this article shows most of all is that, eventually, every corporate behemoth has to act its size. With over half of digital ad spending going to Google — a single company — I hope it behaves more responsibly than it did ten or twenty years ago, boring as that is. Google is, more than ever not a tech company but an advertising company, and a deeply immoral one at that.

A Timeline of Sixteen Years of Some of Google’s Messaging Efforts

Chaim Gartenberg, of the Verge, has chronicled many of Google’s efforts to build a universal messaging app for the past sixteen years, and it does not include every possible example. For instance, there is a separate messaging client built into Google Photos.

For all of the ways Google is great at web services, it is shocking how poorly it has handled instant messaging. I would love to know the inside story of why there are so many disjointed and failed attempts to launch such a seemingly straightforward platform-level feature. It seems like something Google’s engineers ought to be able to sort out if they had some way of communicating the problem.

Different Software Update Tracks in iOS

Jason Snell, Macworld:

Apple’s been crowing about the pace at which its users install software updates for ages. Rapid uptake of updates is a sign of a healthy ecosystem—and yet, as announced last week, Apple has made a change that threatens to derail the iOS update train. Just as it unveiled all the features that threaten to make iOS 15 a must-have update this fall, Apple also announced that iOS 14 users who aren’t ready to board will have the opportunity to step off and wait it out.

“iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app,” reads a page on the iOS 15 website. “You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on iOS 14 and still get important security updates until you’re ready to upgrade to the next major version.”

This is a curious strategy shift. I wonder how long this will persist. Will users get three update options next year: staying on iOS 14, staying on iOS 15, and updating to iOS 16? Apple has been okay about creating out-of-band security patches; how long would it guarantee support for? More to the point, why is it pursuing this strategy instead of pushing users to shift to the latest version? Snell has some thoughts about how that last question might be answered.

WWDC Session on Discoverable Design

Marcos Tanaka pointed out this session from WWDC this year.

Jiabao Li of Apple’s prototyping team:

So, we have our ten main features, and we know people love clean interfaces. So, we’ll just throw all the non-essential features into a menu. Clean and easy, right? You may have seen this icon before. It’s called a hamburger menu. When we tested our interface in the hands of people and found out that, when the hamburger menu is closed, people don’t know what’s inside. The three lines don’t convey anything about the features inside. So, instead, we decided to go with a tab bar navigation system, which appears at the bottom of an app and lets people quickly switch between different sections. It’s better because you can immediately see the most important features of the app.

The most minimal user interfaces might not be usable or simple because people won’t know what to do. Because when we hide things to make the app look minimal, we increase the risk that people won’t find features. They might even forget that your favorite feature exists.

Inconsistencies at big companies are to be expected. But it is fairly shocking to see, in a WWDC session, such a blatant dismissal of the visual interface trends creeping throughout Apple’s operating systems and applications. The teams that work on Safari, Music, and Notification Centre should talk to Jiabao when they get the chance.

Safari 15 and Chickenshit Minimalism

Stephen Hackett, Six Colors:

Apple seems to be unhappy with the traditional browser design that includes navigation tools at the top, with websites being forced to live in their own view down below, and with Safari 15, it has blurred the line between browser and web content. This goes far beyond the mere splashes of color that Safari users may be used to seeing behind their navigation controls when scrolling a long webpage.

Now, the new tab bar takes on the color of the website, letting the entire window take on the personality of whatever website is visible. Apple says that this lets browsing feel more expansive, as the browser’s UI is now yielding to the content.

If you are running Big Sur, you can get the same UI experience in the latest version of Safari Technology Preview. It is a very big change.

Before I begin with a few high-level criticisms, I should say that this is an early preview that may change significantly or, like the tabs above the address bar in Safari 4, be scrapped altogether. That said, Apple is marketing the new design heavily, so if you are not a fan of this change, don’t get your hopes up. I should also say that I think I use the web differently than many people. As John Gruber and Ben Thompson said on a recent episode of “Dithering”, there are two types of people in the world: those who know that Safari on iPhone has a limit of five hundred open tabs, and those who do not. I am the former.

I am not a fan of the new Safari design. I am not sure I hate it, and I think I get what Apple is trying to do by combining the tab and address bar into a single element and allowing it to inherit the colour of the page. But I do not think it makes sense yet and, worse, I am concerned about some bad design patterns that are emerging. Before I get into that, I wanted to start with the tab bar backdrop colour.

Hackett:

The color the tab bar takes on can be manually set by including setting a meta tag named theme-color in the head of the webpage. (Optionally, different values can be set for light and dark modes.) If this value isn’t set, Safari will choose its own color from the website’s background color or header image. Thankfully, Safari is smart enough to not use colors that interfere with UI elements like standard window controls in macOS.

This meta tag might be familiar to anyone who has built websites with specific support for Android.

This background colour only applies to the currently open tab; it does not persist when switching tabs. If you are on CNet — which has a red accent colour — and then switch to this website, which has a white accent, the CNet tab does not stay red. There is an obvious reason for this: it would become messy and hard to read with many tabs open. But you could make a similar argument if CNet were the only open tab — the red backdrop is jarring and difficult to read in every context.

It also is not a consistent browsing experience if the theme-color is not defined for a website. For example, at the top scroll position of a Markup article, the tab bar backdrop will be a deep blue, selected automatically by the browser. But if you scroll the page a little, the tab will turn grey. Surely it should select a colour and maintain it. And, while Safari is smart enough not to automatically select colours that will make it hard to see window controls, it will accept theme-colors that do. An article page at Rest of World will turn the tab bar a shade of green that is very close to that used for the expand window control in the Aqua MacOS theme.

Condensing the address bar into each tab is also irksome. It is a clever idea, but it means that everything moves around because tabs move. They scroll left to right; they change size as you open and close other tabs.

The small size of a browser tab also means that many controls are hidden by default, including the reload and share buttons. They are all buried into one of those vague “⋯” controls that Apple is obsessed with these days. If you share web links a lot, there is not even a way to add the button back to the toolbar in a more permanent state. This, I think, continues a worrying pattern of bad UI habits.

Over the past several releases of MacOS and iOS, Apple has experimented with hiding controls until users hover their cursor overtop, click, tap, or swipe. I see it as an extension of what Maciej Cegłowski memorably called “chickenshit minimalism”. He defined it as “the illusion of simplicity backed by megabytes of cruft”; I see parallels in a “junk drawer” approach that prioritizes the appearance of simplicity over functional clarity. It adds complexity because it reduces clutter, and it allows UI designers to avoid making choices about interface hierarchy by burying everything but the most critical elements behind vague controls.

If UI density is a continuum, the other side of chickenshit minimalism might be something like Microsoft’s “ribbon” toolbar. Dozens of controls of various sizes and types, loosely grouped by function, and separated by a tabbed UI creates a confusing mess. But being unnecessarily reductionist with onscreen controls also creates confusion. I do not want every web browser control available at all times, but I cannot see what users gain by making it harder to find the reload button in Safari.

I just want something in the middle of that continuum. That goes for Safari, but it could just as easily be applied to UI elements that are slowly being hidden behind menus and mouseovers across MacOS like the progress time in Music, the invisible access to Notification Centre, the invisible controls on notifications themselves, and, yes, the proxy icon in document-based applications. These details matter. It is one thing to have a few onscreen elements that have functionality most users are largely unaware of, but it is quite another to hide them with the assumption that if you know, you know.

My opinion might change as I spend more time with this version of Safari on my Mac and iPad, where it is basically the same. But I am adding the “⋯” button to my UI element enemies list. Like the back button, it is a vague excuse to avoid making decisions. It makes application interfaces worse, and the more often I see it, the more concerned I am about Apple’s human interface direction.

Facebook Is Starting to Roll Out Ads in Its Oculus VR Headsets Because of Course It Is

Facebook is an advertising company. From the moment it bought Oculus in 2014, there were questions about whether it was going to be used as yet another place where we cannot escape from companies trying to sell us crap — so much so that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey promised in a Reddit Q&A that the headsets would not be used for advertising. Imagine my surprise when, under its creepy ad company ownership, that is turning out to be untrue.

This was no surprise — everyone saw this coming — and it still sounds horrible. If augmented reality and virtual reality truly are the technologies of the future, I hope that they are not hyperrealistic echoes of the ad giants largely responsible for the current state of the web.

Proposed U.S. Antitrust Legislation Would Require Preinstalled Apps to Be Removable

Rebecca Kern, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. would be prohibited from pre-installing its own apps on Apple devices under antitrust reform legislation introduced last week, said Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who is leading a push to pass new regulations for U.S. technology companies.

Cicilline told reporters Wednesday that a proposal prohibiting tech platforms from giving an advantage to their own products over those of competitors would mean Apple can’t ship devices with pre-installed apps on its iOS operating platform.

“It would be equally easy to download the other five apps as the Apple one so they’re not using their market dominance to favor their own products and services,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

Cicilline equivocated on a question of whether this would also apply to Microsoft’s platforms. Given that it fulfills the prerequisites of active user count and market capitalization, it would also likely be prohibited from including preinstalled apps.

I would love to know what Cicilline believes an empty shell of an operating system looks like. Can a platform owner include a web browser so that it is possible to search for applications? Can it include a terminal emulator or command line applications, of which there are many competing types? Would preinstalling curl but not wget be a problem since they have some overlapping functionality? Can a platform owner include specific drivers for components or is that verboten? Since Apple allows alternative software keyboards, would defaulting to its own violate the law? This may all sound snarky but I am genuinely wondering what an operating system without any preinstalled apps looks like.

And what is the goal here? I agree in theory with limiting a platform owner’s ability to use that unique power and privilege to stifle competition. But if a user has to configure everything about their system manually, well that just sounds horrible. It is why no year has been the year of Linux on the desktop: most people just want the tool to work with as little configuration and maintenance as possible. The question for regulators is how they can improve competition and define platform owners’ responsibilities with a user-friendly expectation.

Update: After this article was published, Rich Luchette, a senior adviser to Cicilline, tweeted a clarification:

Just to correct the record, this is not what Cicilline said. iPhones can be shipped with pre-installed apps, but Apple could not stop someone from un-installing or changing their default settings under the non-discrimination bill.

In another example of Bloomberg’s stellar reporting, Kern has updated this article to reflect this understanding. However, in Benedict Evans’ analysis, the actual text of the bill more closely reflects the initial report. Excellent work all around.

U.K. Authority Investigating Anticompetitive Practices in iOS and Android

The BBC:

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has confirmed it is investigating Apple and Google over their dominant position in the mobile phone market.

It is “taking a closer look” at the “effective duopoly” the two firms have.

That includes the operating systems Android and iOS, both app stores, and Safari and Chrome web browsers.

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority:

The CMA is looking into whether the two firms’ control over mobile ecosystems is stifling competition across a range of digital markets. The CMA is concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices.

The study will also examine any effects of the firms’ market power over other businesses – such as app developers – which rely on Apple or Google to market their products to customers via their phones.

The CMA is asking developers to complete a survey for an assessment of their experiences with both platforms and their respective app marketplaces. Its scope does not appear to be limited to British developers; if you offer apps in the U.K., you should complete the survey.

Benedict Evans contrasted the approach taken by the U.K. and the recent bills proposed in the U.S.:

USA: An 11-page law banning Apple and Google from adding features to iOS or Android

UK: A 12 month consultation, producing an expert report, followed by recommendations for legislation

Structure matters as much as intent.

The American bill has not become law yet. Also, it is not as though it was written in a vacuum: a committee investigated the firms for sixteen months and solicited developer commentary before issuing a lengthy report last year.

That is not an argument that the U.S. process is perfect or the proposed legislation makes complete sense. But Evans, in this tweet-length commentary, distills the American position on this to iron-fisted regulators equipped with policies pulled from thin air, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Web Browser Security on iOS

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Vice last month:

Since the beginning of 2021, Apple has patched seven bugs that “may have been actively exploited,” according to Motherboards’s count of vulnerabilities mentioned in Apple disclosures. That means the company is relatively confident that some hackers somewhere were taking advantage of those bugs to hack iPhones — something the industry usually refers to as zero-days caught “in the wild.” To be clear, if a bug is being used “in the wild,” that means that a hacker is using it to hack people. In this case, that means Apple fixed these bugs only after iPhone users were being hacked by some unknown-to-us entity.

The good news is that Apple, with the help of other companies and researchers, is not only patching these dozen security vulnerabilities but is also able to see that they are being used in the wild. The bad news is, well, that they were being used in the wild and that there have been seven different vulnerabilities of this type disclosed in the last four months, which is a lot of security vulnerabilities. Out of the seven in the wild vulnerabilities fixed by Apple this year, five of them were in Webkit, the browser engine developed by the company and used in Safari.

Justin Schuh on Twitter:

An attacker with enough resources will inevitably win, and any major software will eventually get hit by a 0day. That stated, Webkit/Safari represents a uniquely soft spot in iOS security, and Apple won’t allow their customers to choose a more secure browser instead.

SecurityWeek’s Ryan Naraine in his Monday Security Conversations newsletter:

Late yesterday afternoon, Apple released an emergency patch to cover a pair of WebKit bugs being exploited in mysterious zero-day attacks on older iPhones. For those keeping count, we’re up to 46 in-the-wild zero-day discoveries so far in 2021. A whopping three-quarters of all the documented 0days in 2021 have hit three prominent vendors: Microsoft (30%), Apple (25%) and Google (20%).

[…]

You see, Apple App Store rules forbid third-party runtimes, which means that Google or Brave or DuckDuckGo or any non-Apple browser cannot ship their own rendering or JavaScript engines on iOS. When you install Chrome on iOS, you’re really running Apple’s Safari (WebKit) with a Chrome UI and interface.

Every time I see a batch of dangerous WebKit/Safari security flaws, I think of these interconnected risks and the false sense of security they bring to modern computing.

As ex-Googler Chris Evans puts it, your Chrome on iOS browser is “typically less secure, slower, less standards compliant.”

While web browsers are a vulnerability on pretty much all platforms, and Apple’s rendering engine restrictions on iOS create a unique single point of failure in WebKit, I do not fully understand this line of reasoning. Naraine does not cite a specific source for his figures, but it is safe to say that a huge number of those Google zero-days have been in Chrome. In fact, at least six Chrome zero-days have been found actively exploited in the wild so far this year, similar to the number of WebKit zero-days. All of those vulnerabilities were found in cross-platform components. I can see good arguments for allowing browser vendors to use their own rendering engines on iOS, but these figures suggest that it will not magically improve security. I do not love the idea of such a singular point of failure but, if anything, a more liberal rendering engine policy means that users would have to contend with vulnerabilities in WebKit and Chrome.

Ad Tech Companies Are Already Linking FLoC IDs to Other Identifiers

Kate Kaye, Digiday:

Google’s automated cookieless ad targeting method — or Federated Learning of Cohorts — is supposed to protect privacy by providing people with a greater degree of anonymity than the third-party cookie offered. Instead, it may make it quicker and easier for advertising companies to identify and access information about people online.

As privacy and data ethics advocates warned, companies are starting to combine FLoC IDs with existing identifiable profile information, linking unique insights about people’s digital travels to what they already know about them, even before third-party cookie tracking could have revealed it. And identity tech firms say the IDs will help improve the accuracy of systems that detect people’s identities and could even serve as persistent identifiers.

Ad tech companies will use every possible identifier to isolate individual users and market themselves as uniquely precise in their targeting capabilities. Effective advertising does not depend on hyper-accurate personalization, but it is important for ad tech companies to preserve this illusion so that this lucrative scam may continue for as long as possible.

Google’s FLoC initiative is a blatant attempt at redefining privacy in its favour and away from users’ expectations. It doubles down on profiling instead of moving away from this invasive and unnecessary way of serving advertisements — and ad tech companies are taking full advantage.

Beats Studio Buds

Caitlin McGarry, Gizmodo:

I tested pairing Studio Buds to an iPhone 12 Pro and a Google Pixel 5, and the process was identical for both devices. Open the case lid, press the Bluetooth pairing button nestled between the two earbuds, and a notification with an image of the Studio Buds requesting permission to connect pops up almost instantly. The only difference between the Android and iOS experience is the need for an additional Beats app on an Android phone to customize the earbuds’ controls and update the firmware for new features. On an iPhone, these controls are accessible from the Bluetooth settings, no app required. Otherwise, you get the same exact experience.

McGarry says that, unlike other Beats headphones, the Studio Buds do not have any of Apple’s custom wireless chips, so they do not support automatic device pairing or switching. But they do support other exclusive-to-AirPods features like “Hey, Siri” and the simplified setup process. I cannot imagine the former would ever be supported in headphones from a non-Apple-owned company, but I have to wonder if the better Bluetooth configuration could be made available to other accessory makers.

Remixing Old Tracks in Spatial Audio Is ‘Sacrilegious’

Bob Lefsetz:

Let’s say you have the equipment and ability to make an Atmos mix. My understanding is right now, you send the end product to Dolby and they use their special sauce to create the final product. Furthermore, they have special sauce to turn the same Atmosfied music into two track stereo. So, in a business where how it sounds is critical, Dolby is the ultimate arbiter.

The writer at the top is right. It is sacrilegious to remix/Atmosfy classic tracks. They weren’t cut that way to begin with. It even bugs me that they’re using remixed tracks from “Abbey Road” to Atmosfy, now you’re multiple steps from the original.

No matter how good I thought Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” sounded in Atmos, it is a bit like doing a 3D movie conversion on “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The person creating the remix, no matter how well-intentioned, has no idea what the original mixer or the artist would have wanted in this situation.

Just like 3D movies, Atmos mixes only really work for songs and albums recorded with it in mind. That’s why I remain surprised that a bunch of albums recorded with the intention of a surround sound mix — “Dark Side of the Moon”, “The Downward Spiral” — are not available in Atmos on Apple Music, but a cheap conversion of “What’s My Age Again” is.

Bipartisan U.S. Lawmakers Push Five Antitrust Bills Targeted at Tech Companies

Cecilia Kang, New York Times:

The bills — five in total — take direct aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and their grip on online commerce, information and entertainment. The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies.

The legislation could reshape the way the companies operate. Facebook and Google, for instance, could have a higher bar to prove that any mergers aren’t anticompetitive. Amazon could face more scrutiny when selling its own branded products like toilet paper and clothing. Apple could have a harder time entering new lines of business that are promoted on its App Store.

A tech industry lobbying group is simultaneously seeking to minimize what lawmakers are confronting — “[w]ith all the challenges facing our country […] some policymakers think our biggest problem worth fixing is… Amazon Basics batteries” — and exaggerate how debilitating it would be to people. Heck of a time to introduce this legislation during the same week Apple has spent telling the world how great it is that all of its platforms are so tightly integrated with unique cross-device features that it can only do because it controls the hardware, software, and services stack.

I am dying to know why tech companies have spent the past decade becoming more siloed, entrenched, and unwavering in their taunting of antitrust action instead of pulling back just a touch. Of course, I wrote that and then immediately remembered that the two biggest spenders on lobbying in the U.S. are Amazon and Facebook, so it seems unlikely that all of these bills will become law as-is. Meanwhile, Axios reports that it is Rupert Murdoch’s companies that you can thank for the Republican support of this legislation; incidentally, Murdoch also pushed for Australia’s new media law.

The Digital Garden

Maggie Appleton (via Gabe Weatherhead) writing about the practice of “Digital Gardening” — that is, personal scratchpads of ideas, links, snippets, and unfinished thoughts categorized loosely and tended to frequently:

In performance-blog-land you do that thinking and researching privately, then shove it out at the final moment. A grand flourish that hides the process.

In garden-land, that process of researching and refining happens on the open internet. You post ideas while they’re still “seedlings,” and tend them regularly until they’re fully grown, respectable opinions.

[…]

Gardens are imperfect by design. They don’t hide their rough edges or claim to be a permanent source of truth.

I love this idea, but I think assuming good faith and reckoning with bad and ill-formed ideas in public is a hard shift to make.

“Learning in public” is something I have been thinking about since my friend G. Keenan Schneider wrote about, among other things, the piling on of people on Twitter who have said something stupid. Not something racist or sexist or exclusionary or discriminatory — just something dumb and wrong.

There are certainly those who ought to know better — people with a significant public presence who elevate stupidity — but there are also plenty of people with maybe dozens or hundreds of followers who are riffing, and they get something wrong. Sometimes, people will kindly explain to them where they messed up or point them to a good resource. A lot of the time, they will quote-tweet them to shame and embarrass.

It was something I thought about when Joe Rogan said on his podcast that, in his opinion, young people did not really need to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, and said later that he’s “not a respected source of information” so listeners should not trust his advice. Shant Mesrobian defended Rogan’s comments by saying that it merely proved that “the show is an open platform for debate and a free exchange of ideas”, a sentiment that was approvingly shared by Glenn Greenwald who commented “Rogan doesn’t feign expertise he doesn’t have. He admits what he doesn’t know.”

But there are vast gaps between all of these things. We have all been given the tools to be broadcasters, but most of us probably do not have the responsibility that entails. And, most of the time, that is fine; our sillier comments stay within a small group of people even if our accounts are public. People like Rogan are different: they have massive followings, so they have a responsibility not to workshop uninformed medical ideas before an audience. I do not think many people, if any, would be directly influenced by Rogan — I was going to get vaccinated, but then this podcast host noncommittally shrugged his shoulders so I guess I won’t now — but treating them as though they are open questions with two or more equally probable answers for which someone with millions of listeners cannot possibly find a reputable source is an abuse of that power and position, no matter how innocently- or well-intentioned.

I often wish that I could just post a link with my scratch notes; if I did, this post would have been up two hours ago. But you come here to read full sentences, so it is the least I can provide. However, it is not that simple: while I am certainly not famous, I am lucky to have an audience. It is important for me to remember that I cannot write solely for myself, since other people might read it. No matter whether it is a longer article or just a quick link, I don’t want to further the spread of something that I believe to be false or unhelpful.

Perhaps there is a place in public for loose thoughts and ignorant questions, but I am not sure what happens when that attracts attention and publicity. We have to assume good intentions in every idea and link. Yet, if there is anything we have learned in the last many years of the internet, it is that many people will abuse your trust for their gain.

On Elevated Stupidity

Dave Holmes, Esquire:

There are many voices of Elevated Stupidity but only one face, and fittingly, it is an emoji: the smug thinky guy. His round yellow face is contorted into a rictus of Deep Thought, resting on a disembodied thumb and forefinger. Let me see if I have this right, that little asshole is thinking, right next to the dumbest thoughts you’ve ever read. “Let me play devil’s advocate here,” he says, failing to notice that Satan is pretty well defended these days. […]

An eminently quotable and truly delightful piece of writing that is somehow too elegant to be a rant but just frustrated enough that it cannot simply be called a column.

How Spatial Audio Will Work With the Apple TV

Igor Bonifacic, Engadget:

[…] When you sit down to watch a movie or TV show, the included head tracking feature will lock in after it detects you’ve been looking in the same direction for a while. Once you get up to walk around, it will reactivate. […]

As long as I am pointing out when I am right, I feel like it is only fair to show you when I am wrong. Spatial audio will work with existing Apple TV models and high-end AirPods, with the assumption that a stationary position probably means you are looking directly at the screen. Simple.

Dark Sky Will Stop Working at the End of 2022

When Dark Sky was acquired by Apple last year, it promised to keep the API functioning at least until the end of 2021. As of now, developers dependent on it have about a year and a half to find another provider.

There is a WeatherKit private framework lurking in iOS 15 that does not exist in iOS 14. It currently only contains strings of different weather conditions, but perhaps it will be more substantial and not private in the future.

For what it’s worth, there is a same-named private framework in MacOS Catalina and Big Sur, but its contents are very different. It contains images of different weather conditions, and lengthier sentences like “The high will be (placeholder). (Placeholder) tonight with a low of (placeholder).” instead of the simple condition text (“sunny”, “cloudy”) in the iOS 15 framework. Therefore, I do not believe it is a mistake in copying files from a shared code base.

Apple Is Using Akamai, Cloudflare, and Fastly for iCloud Private Relay

Dan Rayburn:

On Monday, Apple announced some new privacy features in iCloud, one of which they are calling Private Relay. The way it works is that when you go to a website using Safari, iCloud Private Relay takes your IP address to connect you to the website and then encrypts the URL so that app developers, and even Apple, don’t know what website you are visiting. The IP and encrypted URL then travels to an intermediary relay station run by what Apple calls a “trusted partner”. In a media interview published yesterday, Apple would not say who the trusted partners are but I can confirm, based on public details (as shown below; Akamai on left, Fastly on the right), that Akamai, Fastly and Cloudflare are being used.

Dave Hamilton, the Mac Observer:

Apple made specific mention that while the “Ingress Proxy” servers are run by Apple, the “Egress Proxy” (aka the server which communicates with the websites you visit) is not controlled by Apple and is under the control of “a (trusted) content provider”. This means that Apple doesn’t know what site(s) you’re visiting, and the third-party content provider doesn’t know who you are.

I imagine the Oblivious DNS over HTTPS standard proposed by Apple, Cloudflare, and Fastly last year is relevant to this, and I have to wonder about this week’s Fastly outage, too.

WWDC is a Developers’ Conference After All

Apple’s relationship with the developer community has often been fractured, but I am not sure there has been such outright animosity and grief with the company as that expressed in the past year. The arguments expressed on the blogs of many developers — from Marco Arment to Becky Hansmeyer to Michael Tsai — are the norm, not the exception.

The developer community is deeply unhappy. While the opening keynote of WWDC has undoubtably become more of a consumer marketing affair, the rest of the conference is just for developers — and they have long needed to feel heard.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

Usually, the hours before Apple’s keynote event are filled with speculation and excitement, but this year there is far more frustration and antipathy than I can remember seeing in my decade and a half covering Apple. There’s always been some degree of dissatisfaction, especially amongst developers, but it’s hard to escape that the current story about Apple is less about its products and more about its attitude.

[…]

WWDC marks Apple’s opportunity to take control of the story. Whatever its executives announce when they take the stage later today has the potential to dominate the tech news cycle for days and weeks to come.

But the real question is whether, by sheer compelling nature or simply by volume, it can drown out the existing narrative.

So, how did Apple do?

Well, that depends on which issues you would like to focus on. Fraud is a hot-button problem, with a lengthy story about App Store scams appearing in the Washington Post on Sunday.

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch:

Related to this, Apple clarified the language around App Store discovery fraud (5.6.3) to more specifically call out any type of manipulations of App Store charts, search, reviews and referrals. The former would mean to crack down on the clearly booming industry of fake App Store ratings and reviews, which can send a scam app higher in charts and search.

[…]

But a new update to these guidelines seems to be an admission that Apple may need a little help on this front. It says developers can now directly report possible violations they find in other developers’ apps. Through a new form that standardizes this sort of complaint, developers can point to guideline violations and any other trust and safety issues they discover. Often, developers notice the scammers whose apps are impacting their own business and revenue, so they’ll likely turn to this form now as a first step in getting the scammer dealt with.

This could be beneficial to developers who may stumble across fraud, but it does not users, and particularly not those who have found themselves close to becoming victims but did not fall for a scam. While I get that a reporting mechanism could introduce a new vector for misuse by less-knowledgeable users, I still cannot believe there is nowhere for an average person to say that they found a scam.

The long-requested TestFlight for Mac is finally real, as part of the new Xcode Cloud service. It will also be possible to A/B test App Store pages, something else many developers have wanted for a long time. So that’s the good news.

What about the thorny problem of some high-profile developers getting access to platform features and APIs that most do not? For example, it was possible to get a refund for Hulu and Netflix subscriptions bought through in-app purchases from within their apps — something developers are generally unable to offer. While there is a promising new beginRefundRequest method, it just displays the App Store refund request sheet within the app with the same two-day turnaround, still controlled by Apple.

I do not know that there was a single developer who expected Apple to relent on its in-app purchase policy. It remains unchanged, and likely will until lawmakers demand a different policy.

A story today by Jacob Kastrenakes, of the Verge, noted — almost as an aside — that Patreon is allowed to offer third-party payment services in its app. For example, I tried upgrading one of my subscriptions to a level that had entirely digital perks, and Patreon threw up its own payment form. I tried subscribing to a creator account and once again saw Patreon’s own form, not an in-app purchase dialog. You can try it by subscribing to my perk-less Patreon account. I am insufferable and I am sorry.

I do not know that this is enough to cool Apple’s tense relationship with developers. Judging by the number of people I saw taking issue with Apple’s annual payout slide, I doubt it. I imagine all of the presenters this year are thrilled they did not have to talk about how great the App Store is in a room full of people who resent it, but the reasons for their disdain continue.