Free Trials from Apple’s Perspective

Drew McCormack:

I don’t want to get into a point-by-point debate on the topic; instead, I want to do something that I haven’t seen anyone do: try to understand why Apple don’t want the sort of free trials that are being demanded.

Apple currently allows free trials in two forms: if you sell subscriptions, you can give customers a free month to try the app; and, you can give your app away free, and offer a free In-App Purchase (IAP) to unlock all features for a fixed period of time.

So why does Apple allow these forms, but not offer a more formal version of free trials? Most developers seem to assume they are deliberately ignoring their protests, for no good reason, or that they simply are not willing to dedicate the resources to solve the problem. I doubt both of these assumptions. I think Apple have probably thought long and hard about it, and concluded that the options they have introduced are actually better than the free trials developer’s are requesting.

How Apple can fix 3D Touch

Eliz Kilic:

It’s been almost 4 years since its first introduction, yet people don’t know/use 3D Touch. Why would they? Even tech-savvy users don’t know which buttons offer 3D touch. Let alone regular users.

What would happen if we decide to make all links same color and style as the regular text? People would not know what to click on right? Why is 3D Touch be any different? We rely on our vision to decide actionability before anything else. If you can’t distinguish 3D Touchable buttons from those that are not, how are you supposed to know you can press on them?

On The Sad State of Macintosh Hardware

Quentin Carnicelli:

At the time of the writing, with the exception of the $5,000 iMac Pro, no Macintosh has been updated at all in the past year.

  • iMac Pro: 182 days ago
  • iMac: 374 days ago
  • MacBook: 374 days ago
  • MacBook Air: 374 days ago
  • MacBook Pro: 374 days ago
  • Mac Pro: 436 days ago
  • Mac Mini: 1337 days ago:

Worse, most of these counts are misleading, with the machines not seeing a true update in quite a bit longer. The Mac Mini hasn’t seen an update of any kind in almost 4 years (nor, for that matter, a price drop). The once-solid Mac Pro was replaced by the dead-end cylindrical version all the way back in 2013, which was then left to stagnate. I don’t even want to get started on the MacBook Pro’s questionable keyboard, or the MacBook’s sole port (USB-C which must also be used to provide power).

[…]

Rather than attempting to wow the world with “innovative” new designs like the failed Mac Pro, Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.

Apple finally has the right attitude about notifications in iOS 12

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

There were a lot of great features announced last week at Apple’s WWDC, but the one that’s going to have the biggest effect on my day-to-day life is the overhaul to how notifications are managed in iOS 12.

Back in April, I detailed four things that Android does better than the iPhone when it comes to notifications. With iOS 12, Apple has taken care of three of them. Notifications can be grouped, it’s easier to make them silently appear, and, most importantly, you can directly manage settings from the notification itself. Android P still claims to do a better job of prioritizing notifications, but three out of four isn’t bad.

I suspect that the features Apple added to iOS 12 will go a very long way toward helping people get control over their notifications. Dealing with notifications was one of the iPhone’s most glaring UI deficiencies compared to Android, and I am glad to see something a little closer to parity coming.

[…]

More important than a bulleted list of features is what I think is a change in attitude about notifications inside Apple. In years past when I’d complain about them, I would basically hear a message that trying to manage your entire phone experience through a notification center was a recipe for a bad experience. That’s perhaps true, but it also missed the point: the increasing influx of notifications was real, and we need a better way to handle them.

With iOS 12, I see Apple actually contending with that bare fact. Along with the basic changes to managing the notifications, it also added the Screen Time feature to help you manage how much time you spend on your phone. (Google announced a similar thing for Android P, but the likelihood that a majority of Android users will get P in the next six months is tiny.) Apple also added more nuanced controls for Do Not Disturb.

Taken together, I see a shift away from treating notifications as a feed of information you just dip in and out of. It’s a recognition that notifications are like email: some are very important, most are not, and we need ways to differentiate between them.

Some of the iPhone’s new notification features are deeper and more interesting than I first realized. You can set time limits and location limits for when DND should end, but Apple is also using on-device analysis to suggest it. When a meeting pops up, Siri might send a notification saying your meeting “looks important! Turn on Do Not Disturb until the end of this event.”

[…]

What’s important about this attitude shift is that Apple is adding quite a bit of complexity to iOS. It’s a recognition that hard problems like notifications sometimes require complicated solutions. Whether or not Apple has struck the right balance of simplicity and complexity is a matter for the review, but for right now, I think I can speak to the philosophy of it.

Apple is leaving the default behavior pretty simple but giving us slightly faster ways to dive into its complex underpinnings. For example, tapping “Deliver Quietly” doesn’t do anything magical. It just sets up some already-existing settings for how a notification should arrive. Preventing notifications from buzzing your phone in one step is a great, helpful thing that tons of people will use. If you want more complexity, you can go in and mess with more discrete settings like Temporary vs. Persistent banners yourself. But you don’t have to.

Another example of contending with complexity is that Apple is finally recognizing that a ton of apps have their own in-app notification settings in addition to the global settings. For example, a news app has different categories of news, and a sports app has notifications for your team. Apple has made it easy for developers to deep-link into their in-app settings and put those links at the bottom of the global settings. It also put them in the pop-up for when you want to turn off notifications, giving developers one last chance to stay on your lock screen.

There’s another change that didn’t get mentioned on the main keynote stage but inside one of the developer sessions instead: Designing Notifications. Until now, developers only had a blunt instrument for sending you notifications: a pop-up asking if you want them. With iOS 12, developers can send their first notification directly to the Notification Center without asking your permission. That sounds awful, but the first time one appears, it will do so along with a prompt asking if you really want them or not.

The war for CopperheadOS

For anyone who doesn’t know, CopperheadOS is a source-available operating system for smartphones and tablet computers, based on the Android mobile platform. It is based on the official releases of the Android Open Source Project by Google, with added privacy and security features. The developer, Daniel Micay, builds on the existing official releases of Android to make a more secure solution, and it works great.

Yesterday, Daniel tweeted this:

There’s also a conversation going on on Reddit as well in the CopperheadOS subreddit.

Daniel, the former CTO, has been the sole developer on CopperheadOS since day one, and part owner of the company.

His partner, James Donaldson, decided to seize control of the company yesterday.

James owns the http://copperhead.co domain on his personal namecheap account, and has demanded that Daniel hand over his GPG signing key that he created in 2009, before the company was founded in 2015.

Daniel posted in the reddit thread:

Note that the signing keys are not compromised and no updates to the OS or apps can be created now. I destroyed my signing keys to prevent any situation where users could be compromised. The infrastructure is not trusted by the OS. No OS or app updates can be created that would be accepted. There is still most of the month before the July security update at which point I can’t recommend using it anymore…

I honestly have no idea who is in the right or wrong here.

The two owners have apparently been arguing over the past couple weeks before Micay’s firing yesterday.

What the future holds for CopperheadOS is up in the air right now.

How Siri Shortcuts Can Revolutionize Ios Automation

David Sparks:

One of the nice things about returning home from the excitement of WWDC is a chance to reflect on what Apple announced and begin thinking about how it will change things, if at all. At the top of my mind is Siri Shortcuts.

[…]

I was invited to the Workflow app beta pretty early. From the first install, it was immediately apparent to me that Workflow was one of those unique apps that could change everything. As the beta went on and on (and on), my biggest worry was that Apple would not approve the app. Eventually, they did, however, and Workflow gave us tools that, at least in some ways, exceed our abilities to automate on the Mac platform.

Over time, it only got better. One of the primary reasons I work at an iMac throughout the day with an iPad always in arm’s reach is for Workflow. I’ve automated so much of my work using Workflow that I can’t imagine losing it.

That’s why when, in March 2017, Apple purchased Workflow, I freaked out a bit. Last year at Sal Soghoian’s CMD-D Automation conference, I gave a session on Workflow. As I was about to start my presentation, one attendee introduced himself to me and explained he was super-excited because he had never used Workflow before and was looking forward to me helping him get started. Then as I stood up on stage, I looked in the back row of the room to see the Workflow developers sitting, smiling. So my last thought before starting my first slide was that I had a room ranging from absolute beginner to the actual app developer and 45 minutes to satisfy them both.

[…]

Siri Shortcuts are Workflow plus so much more. This includes deeper operating system integration, more tools, and a better user experience with multiple ways to discover and use these shortcuts.

[…]

To begin, Siri Shortcuts allow app developers, through two different programming methods, to add the ability of specific views in their apps to become actionable Shortcuts that can be triggered by voice, through the operating system suggestions, or as part of the new Shortcuts app. I’m over-simplifying, but one method can be implemented, in some instances, with a single line of additional code.

Apple further created more comprehensive tools letting developers go even deeper with this. Specific application functions can provide the user information, take action, or go deeper with the application. The whole point is to simplify the process of getting Siri to do tasks and report back information that usually takes a user many taps and much navigation.

[…]

One of the easiest ways to trigger a Siri Shortcut is, not surprisingly, with your voice. The good news here is that Apple has not defined a specific voice control syntax. Instead, it lets the user record their own Siri Shortcut phase for any Siri Shortcut or chain of Siri Shortcuts.

Because the user defines the Siri phrase, it doesn’t have to be some crazy app-related syntax. A user can say, “Hey Siri, I’m heading home”, and this could trigger a string of Siri shortcuts to send a text message to a loved one, turn on the heater, play your favorite playlist, and display navigation directions home. Another person that happens to be a Star Trek fan could pull off the same tasks with the command, “Hey Siri, Go home, Engage!”

So in addition to operating system integration and power, this new system provides users is a simple method to create their own voice phrases to trigger automation. For a lot of people, this could just be a few, like ordering their favorite latte or controlling their HomeKit devices. For others, like me, this will turn into a library of user-defined phrases to trigger automation magic. For example, I plan to make one called “new client” that with just those two words will trigger two OmniFocus template projects, create an engagement agreement, and send off an email to my assistant about billing details.

[…]

However, another bit of insight that comes out of watching last week’s Keynote and the WWDC Siri Shortcuts sessions is that this is not just intended to be something you choose to engage with your voice. The system can also plug into Siri’s predictive analysis of the user as she goes through the day.

In both the home screen pull down and the widget screen, Siri Shortcuts are looking at your local data and trying to help. If you routinely order the same drink every day, it’s going to offer to do that for you. If you have a meeting with location data and you’re not at that location, Siri Shortcuts are going to write a text message to the other meeting participant explaining you’re late and ask you if you want to send it. This could be the easiest way to pull in novice users if it works as advertised.

Regardless, you’ll get integration throughout the operating system that we could never have dreamed of with Workflow was an independent application.

[…]

Looking at some of the screenshots of the new Siri Shortcuts app, it becomes clear that this is the successor to the Workflow application. It appears to work exactly the same, with stackable actions, a library of existing workflows, and even the ability to look up and pass data between steps as the automation proceeds.

[…]

When you stop to think about the feelings we all had on the day that Apple announced the purchase of the Workflow app, it’s hard to believe a better outcome than what we got. Apple fully supported Workflow after the acquisition, and while building the new thing, Siri Shortcuts is clearly the successor using ideas from the original Workflow app and adding so much more with deep operating system integration, and this new version has voice-controlled and operating system triggers that would have never been possible before.

[…]

I’ve always felt that the iPhone and iPad could be capable of so much more with deeper automation. For so long Apple showed no interest in automation, and I’d convinced myself that they were afraid to get that geeky all over their new mobile operating system. I’m not alone in this. However, with the Workflow acquisition, it feels like we have now embedded, inside Apple, a group of our brother and sister automation nerds and they are running wild all over the iOS operating system. I couldn’t be happier. I hope that when iOS 12 ships, Siri Shortcuts delivers the goods we’ve seen so far. I also hope Apple management never wises up to the automation revolution that may result.

David gives a great write up on the upcoming Siri Shortcuts, and I like the direction they’ve taken their purchase of Workflow, it’s an app I use daily and will use even more now with iOS 12.

App store “free trials”

App store "free trials"

MarsEdit developer Daniel Jalkut on Apple’s announced free trials:

On Monday Apple announced that they are officially supporting so-called “free trials” for non-subscription apps. The reaction has been a breathless celebration that Apple has finally relented and given developers something we’ve been asking, no begging, for since the dawn of the App Store.

But what really changed? Not much. Apple announced no functional changes to the way the apps are categorized, how pricing is conveyed to customers, or how the physical transaction of downloading, trialing, and potentially purchasing an app takes place. What they did announce is a change to the App Review Guidelines, adding a bullet item to section 3.1.1 describing a kind of ersatz substitute for actual free trials, built on the in-app purchase system:

Non-subscription apps may offer a free time-based trial period before presenting a full unlock option by setting up a Non-Consumable IAP item at Price Tier 0 that follows the naming convention: “14-day Trial.”

This change to the review guidelines is fantastic, because it will give app developers greater confidence that such a workaround will continue to be approved by Apple. But the practice of offering free trials in this manner is not new, and is not particularly great by any stretch of the imagination.

[…]

I  think it’s particularly important, in the face of all the celebration this week about Apple’s perceived changes to the App Store, to understand the many ways in which this solution falls short of what many developers still hope for: bona fide support for real free trials in the App Store.

In summary: none of the mechanics of supporting ersatz free trials are substantially supported by the App Store. Every aspect of the solution is bolted on to a system which was not designed for, yet is somewhat admirably being used to simulate real support for free trials. Let me elaborate by listing several shortcomings and how they affect both users and developers in significant ways. Just off the top of my head …

  • Paid apps are listed as free, even though payment is required to unlock core functionality. This is confusing to many users and leads some to a feeling of bait-and-switch, and that they’ve been betrayed by the developer. This is particularly problematic with apps whose price points make them most suitable to free trials. MarsEdit is $50, so some users who download the “free app” are understandably annoyed when the first thing they learn is that it will cost a significant amount to unlock it.
  • Bulk purchase programs are unavailable. Apple’s Volume Purchase Programs for business and education are based on a system of allocating a certain number of “primary” App Store products to an institution. In the case of a free app with paid in-app purchases, there is no mechanism by which a school or company can for example purchase 500 copies of MarsEdit from the App Store. They can “purchase” 500 free copies and then proceed to unlock each copy individually through the in-app purchase dialog in each app. This is a particularly unfortunate limitation for apps that are uniquely suitedeither to education or to business uses.
  • Family sharing is unavailable. For the same reasons that bulk purchases are off the table, a developer who wants to allow families to purchase an app once and share it among their family’s devices and accounts is unable to do so unless they sell their app with a fixed, up-front cost in the App Store.
  • Not applicable to all app types. Although Apple doesn’t explicitly state it in their revised App Review Guidelines, I strongly suspect that a continuing requirement for ersatz free trials is that the app must continue to function in some way as a perpetually free, unlocked app. For document-based apps such as Omni’s, they went with an approach whereby the app becomes a read-only document viewer when it is not paid for. In MarsEdit, I took a similar tack by allowing all features to function except for publishing changes to blogs. In many cases it is possible to contrive a free/paid functionality divide, but for some apps it would be very awkward, or maybe impossible to do so.
  • Apps are ranked and featured in the wrong charts. A problem rooted in these paid apps being listed as free is that there is no natural place for them to be honestly ranked among the App Store’s two-tier division of apps into “Paid” and “Free” charts. An app that is $50 and sells very well will never make its way to the top of the “Paid” charts, and if it is lucky enough to beat out actually free apps in the free charts, it will only confound users who are surprised to learn that one of the top free apps actually costs money. The presence of a “Top Grossing” category provided a sort of compromise category for such apps, but Apple removed the ranking from iOS 11, and appears to be set to remove it from the Mac App Store in macOS Mojave.
  • Transaction mechanics are pushed onto developers. One of the primary advantages of the App Store to developers is being able to get out of the business of managing direct sale transactions. With the paid-up-front approach, users browse the store, conduct a transaction with Apple, and download the app. In exchange for taking on this work, Apple is rewarded with a 30% cut. With ersatz free trials, almost every aspect of this complexity is pushed into the app, where developers have to laboriously devise a mechanism for conveying app limitations to users, blocking pertinent functionality, transacting an in-app purchase, facilitating the unlock of app functionality, and so on.
  • Free trials cannot be easily reset. It is typical outside of App Store marketplaces for developers who offer free trials to periodically reset free trials so that users who, for example, enjoyed a free trial on version 1.0 of an app, can give it a fresh look on 1.1. The use of in-app purchases for accommodating free trials would, strictly speaking, require that developers perpetually add new SKUs to the App Store representing a different “free trial” product for each of the timeframes in which a developer wants to reset things.
  • Apps cannot be made to “just work” out of the box. One of the main rationales for offering free trials is to get prospective customers to download and start using the great features of an app as quickly and with as little effort as possible. With ersatz free trials a customer must first authorize Apple to allow the download of the free app, and then they must commence a confusing in-app purchase process during which they will be asked again whether they want to start a free trial.

[…]

For starters, real free trials would allow developers who currently list their apps as “free” in the App Store to list them by their actual price. The App Store could convey that information both more honestly and more informatively to users. Instead of “Free with in-app purchases,” MarsEdit could be identified succinctly as “$49.95 with 14-day free trial.” These apps would no longer be erroneously featured among free apps, but would rank alongside other paid apps, where they belong.

Having a bona fide price associated with the main App Store SKU would re-open access to the bulk purchase programs and family sharing. You know you want 500 copies of MarsEdit for your company? Go ahead and purchase 500 copies. The fact that the App Store happens to support free trials would be irrelevant to your conducting this transaction with Apple.

Real free trials would open the functionality up to any developer who chooses to participate, regardless of their app’s functionality. Instead of forcing developers to come up with arbitrary lock-downs on functionality in the app, they would simply flip a switch in App Store Connect, ideally specifying a trial duration. When free trials are downloaded from the store, the receipt would have the trial information baked right in.

Putting the logic in the store itself would also empower developers to start or stop offering free trials whenever they like, and to reset free trials across the board with major updates, in the same way they can choose to reset star ratings today. And all the tedious mechanics of offering, transacting, and enforcing free trial limitations would obviously be back in Apple’s court, where they can efficiently support such functionality in one place instead of requiring every developer to re-implement the same kind of support in every app.

Finally, and probably equally importantly to users and developers alike, real free trials would enable users to effortlessly download and use all the features of an app without having to labor through any of the administrative tedium that is currently required by ersatz free trials. Happy customers trying excellent apps and ultimately paying for them is something that we can all get excited about.

100 features coming in iOS 12

The guys at 9to5 Mac have put together this neat video of 100 features coming in IOS 12.

Changes covered in this video:

  • GeekBench 4 Compute Comparison
  • New iOS 12 wallpaper
  • New Measure app
  • Leveler moved from Compass app
  • Swipe up to kill apps
  • Redesigned Voice Memos app
  • Voice Memos for iPad
  • Date in iPad Status Bar
  • Faster performance
  • Updated QuickType keyboard UI
  • Updated Stocks app
  • iPad Stocks app
  • New iPhone X-inspired iPad gestures
  • Redesigned News app
  • More Markup color options
  • Change markup thickness and opacity
  • Control Center Scan QR Code shortcut
  • QR Codes now highlighted in frame
  • Face ID Alternative Appearance
  • Apple Books
  • Updated Apple Books preferences
  • Enhanced battery statistics
  • Persistent battery usage data
  • Hey Siri works with Low Power Mode
  • Security code autofill
  • New ‘Strong Password’ verbiage
  • Updated Passwords and Accounts preferences
  • Ask Siri for passwords
  • Password reuse auditing
  • Automatic system updates switch
  • English thesaurus
  • New dictionaries
  • CarPlay supports third-party navigation apps
  • Do Not Disturb during bedtime
  • New Do Not Disturb options
  • Grouped notifications
  • Instant tuning for notifications
  • Deliver notifications quietly
  • Updated Notification Center
  • Updated Notifications preferences UI
  • Sounds and Haptics preferences relocated
  • Control Center preferences relocated
  • New Stocks preferences
  • New Voice Memos preferences
  • New Measure preferences
  • No System Services Location icon
  • Favicons in Safari tabs
  • Podcast app custom skip settings
  • Remote control skip support for Podcasts
  • Animoji tongue detection
  • Animoji wink detection
  • Memoji
  • Memoji Maker
  • Longer Animoji (30 secs)
  • Messages app Camera
  • Photos iMessage app
  • Messages app Camera effects
  • Messages app Animoji
  • Messages app filters
  • Messages app text effects
  • Messages app shapes
  • Redesigned App Strip
  • Quick Messages app contact shortcuts
  • New Photos Search and For You app tabs
  • New Photos app Album media types
  • New Photos app Search
  • New Photos app For You
  • Updated photo/video import interface
  • Find My iPhone intents for Siri
  • Add Shortcuts to Siri
  • Screen Time
  • Screen Time (Downtime)
  • Screen Time (App Limits)
  • Screen Time (Always Allow)
  • Screen Time (Restrictions)
  • Screen Time (for kids)
  • FaceTime enhancements
  • Group FaceTime
  • Group FaceTime Messages
  • Search for Music via lyrics
  • Rescan failed Face ID
  • Trackpad mode via space bar
  • Dark now playing Lock screen UI
  • Siri flashlight control
  • Workflow scripts work with Siri Shortcuts
  • Extended email preview on notifications
  • Dictation works with third-party keyboards
  • Updated Apple Music artist page
  • New Spotlight Suggestions (open links)
  • Scrollable Reachability
  • Live Listen Control Center Hearing shortcut
  • New Control Center brightness control animation
  • Apple Music Featured Radio Stations
  • New home settings icon in Home app
  • New notifications section for Home app
  • Weather app air quality settings
  • Screen Time widget
  • Enhanced Spotlight Siri suggestions
  • Updated Screen Recording UI for iPad

Otamatone, that fun weird musical instrument

Otamatone, that fun weird musical instrument

The Otamatone, it’s this weird looking musical instrument. It is a singing toy whose body is shaped like an eighth note (it also somewhat resembles a tadpole, “otamajakushi” being Japanese for “tadpole”), with sound emerging from a “mouth” on the notehead.

I got this for my daughter for her 10th birthday as a fun gift, but she was quickly taken by it and has been learning to play it, even listening to songs on her headphones and converting them to Otamatone.

There are a lot of youtube videos like this one ^ as well which show what you can do with this interesting little toy.

It’s fun to play with and learn new music on, and the wide variety of colours make it even more interesting.

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You can find the Otamatone for sale on:

iOS 12 will bring live listen to AirPods

Steven Aquino, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple has one hardware-specific feature planned that wasn’t announced at Monday’s WWDC keynote. In iOS 12, users will be able to use Live Listen, a special feature previously reserved for hearing aids certified through Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid program, with their AirPods.

After enabling the feature in the iPhone’s settings, users will be able to use their phones effectively as a directional mic. This means you can have AirPods in at a noisy restaurant with your iPhone on the table, for example, and the voice of whomever is speaking will be routed to your AirPods.

Live Listen is a feature Apple developed and eventually launched in 2014 that allows iPhone users with hearing aids to hear people in noisy environments or from across a room, such as a crowded restaurant or lecture hall. If a compatible hearing aid is paired to a user’s phone, there are options to turn Live Listen on and off, adjust volume and even set it as their preferred Accessibility Shortcut.

Live Listen support in AirPods is key. The inclusion of this feature makes AirPods more capable and more alluring; it’s significant given they are almost universally hailed as one of Apple’s best products in years. Soon, anyone — particularly someone with limited hearing — will have access to this feature without needing to buy dedicated hardware to get it.

Still, it’s critical to note AirPods with Live Listen is not a full replacement for a hearing aid. It’s obviously best to speak with your audiologist to determine the best solution for your ears.