Category: Links

Apple Is Quietly Encouraging Paid App Developers to Move to Subscriptions

Kif Leswing, writing for Business Insider:

The new way Apple wanted to promote: Instead of users paying for apps once, they’d pay on a regular basis, putting money into developer coffers on a regular schedule. Apple would still get a 30% cut of the subscription’s cost, but if a customer continued to subscribe after a year, Apple’s cut would go down to 15%.

At the meeting, Apple underscored that the app model was changing. The meeting touched on topics including launching, customer acquisition, testing and marketing, engagement, retention, monetization, and paid search ads.

An Apple representative said at the meeting that paid apps represent 15% of total app sales and is on the decline, according to a person who was there who did not want to be identified to maintain their relationship with Apple.

Interesting story, and the move does make sense, why make a one-time sale off a customer when you can work with subscriptions and keep passive income?

Why Apple’s Group FaceTime delay is the right move.

Jason Snell:

This week, Apple removed Group FaceTime from the beta for iOS 12 and macOS Mojave. The company indicated that the feature will not appear in the initial release, but will rather appear in a subsequent update released later in the year.

For people who were excited about audio and video chats with multiple friends, this is a bummer. (I heard from several people who said their kids were especially looking forward to using the feature, or were using it in the beta period and were sad that it’s going to be removed for a little while.)

But I’m a little less down on Apple making this decision. Every time I used Group FaceTime in the iOS and macOS betas, it was far from flawless. I had connection problems, video and audio would disappear and reappear at random, sometimes a person would appear multiple times in my view (or disappear altogether), and there were numerous cosmetic defects to the interface, too. It seemed… very beta. And clearly someone at Apple decided it was just not going to be solid enough by release time.

More broadly, though, I support this sort of move because it’s Apple realizing that it has a particular quality standard it’s supposed to meet, especially for new features. It can’t be easy to delay a banner feature of your next operating-system release, but when the alternative is releasing something that’s not good enough, this is the right choice.

[…]

The decision to delay Group FaceTime is encouraging because it’s part of a pattern. In the past few years, Apple has become much more willing to delay OS features that aren’t ready, even if they were part of the initial marketing roll-out at the Worldwide Developer Conference in June. (A past iteration of Apple would’ve shipped every single one of those features, whether they were ready or not.)

Just a few recent examples include Messages in the Cloud, which was announced for iOS 11 and arrived this spring. The last thing Apple needed to do was screw up the text message history of billions of customers… so it waited until the feature felt more solid.

Or consider Portrait Mode, a banner feature of the iPhone 7 Plus. Presumably Apple intended for that feature to ship on the iPhone 7 Plus when it came from the factory, but it wasn’t ready. So the company announced that it would be enabled in a later software update. (And when that update came, it was still sold as a “beta” feature, essentially a label warning users that it might be a bit unreliable, in order to reduce outrage if and when it didn’t work reliably.)

And then there’s AirPlay 2, a banner feature of iOS 11 that shipped almost a year after it was announced. Based on what I’ve heard, AirPlay 2 just didn’t work right and Apple had to do a major overhaul of the software. Better to delay that feature than ship something broken and spend the next six months apologizing and promising you’ll fix it.

[…]

I can congratulate Apple for being smart enough to not ship broken software when it can avoid it, but it’s worth pointing out that this sort of thing still shouldn’t be happening on a regular basis. There is a worrying trend of Apple misjudging its ability to ship certain features and products, at least at the time they expected.

The first step is not releasing buggy software. The next step is being a better judge of what features can be shipped in a given timeframe, so Apple can stop making promises it can’t keep. That’s a much harder, more complex challenge—but it’s something Apple should work to change. Maybe it can change that by altering its software processes, but maybe it needs to consider something more radical: announcing and rolling out OS features throughout the year in smaller updates, rather than pegging everything to an annual fall iOS roll-out.
In a way, these delays of iOS features are already creating this roll-out schedule, because we got Messages sync in the spring, AirPlay 2 in the summer, and will apparently get Group FaceTime in the late fall or early winter. Perhaps this is as simple as Apple announcing its operating-system releases as a collection of features that will roll out across an entire calendar year, rather than promising to hit a single date. “Here’s a look at what we’ve got in store for iOS over the next year,” they could say on stage.
At this point, that’s the truth of the matter. Maybe Apple should just admit it and move on. It would be one less thing Apple would need to apologize for.

Inside the iPhone Repair Ecosystem: Where Do Replacement Parts Come From and Can You Trust Them?

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

There’s a thriving market for unofficial, aftermarket iPhone parts, and in China, there are entire massive factories that are dedicated to producing these components for repair shops unable to get ahold of parts that have been produced by Apple.

The entire Apple device repair ecosystem is fascinating, complex, and oftentimes confusing to consumers given the disconnect between Apple, Apple Authorized Service Providers, third-party factories, and independent repair shops, so we thought we’d delve into the complicated world of Apple repairs.

[..]

Looking at the iPhone repair ecosystem holistically, there’s a disparity between what repair shops want and what Apple is offering. It’s a fascinatingly complex situation where all involved parties feel their way is the better way, and it’s easy to comprehend why. 

Apple understandably does not want independent repair shops repairing iPhones with less than optimal parts and work that might not be up to Apple standards, but at the same time, Apple is running a repair authorization program that many repair shops find too restrictive, too expensive, and too wasteful. 

Demand for cheaper, more accessible repairs has led to a thriving independent repair community and a huge market for third-party components that’s entirely unregulated, ultimately creating this strange, confusing web of repair options that can be difficult for consumers to navigate. 

With no access to genuine parts or Apple component schematics, independent repair shops are going to keep doing repairs with what’s available, and despite Apple’s warnings, some customers are going to keep choosing what’s cheap. 

Right to Repair legislation makes the entire mess more interesting, because the repair ecosystem seems to be heading for some major changes. Either these Right to Repair laws are going to pass, or the legislation will all fizzle out, giving Apple a clearer path towards proprietary repairs and the eventual phasing out of the independent repair shop.

This is a pretty interesting read.

Earlier this year, I had to get an iPad screen replaced for the first time when my daughter’s iPad got dropped accidentally. I went to a local repair shop that specializes in fixing phones and tablets, the repair was affordable, and the screen works like new.

Apple, YouTube and Facebook Have All Kicked InfoWars Off Their Platforms

John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Apple moved first, striking the entire library for five of Infowars’ six podcasts from its iTunes and Podcasts apps. Among the podcasts, which were removed from Apple’s iTunes directory, are the show War Room and the popular Alex Jones Show podcast, which is hosted daily by the prominent conspiracy theorist.

After that, platforms that have come under far more scrutiny for hosting Jones and his content — Facebook and YouTube — quickly followed suit after long and tortured deliberations. Spotify also did the same.

In all, the actions will currently seriously limit Jones’s ability to reach his massive audience. Twitter and Periscope remain one of the sole major platforms to still host Jones.

YouTube’s enforcement action will have the greatest impact on Jones. His channel had nearly 2.5 million subscribers and more than 1 billion views over its lifetime. It killed most if not all of the videos hosted on Jones’s website.

Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason

Facebook didn’t intend for any of this to happen. It just wanted to connect people. But there is a thread running from Perkins’ death to religious violence in Myanmar and the company’s half-assed attempts at combating fake news. Facebook really is evil. Not on purpose. In the banal kind of way.

Underlying all of Facebook’s screw-ups is a bumbling obliviousness to real humans. The company’s singular focus on “connecting people” has allowed it to conquer the world, making possible the creation of a vast network of human relationships, a source of insights and eyeballs that makes advertisers and investors drool.

But the imperative to “connect people” lacks the one ingredient essential for being a good citizen: Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct. To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them

iFixit Tears down the new Macbook Pro keyboard

Sam Lionheart for iFixit:

The 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard is a wealth of secrets—it just keeps surprising us. Just when we think we’ve exhausted one vein of tasty tech ore, we find something new. And today, we bring this trove to you. If you’re not excited for a deep dive, check out our keyboard teardown for a more photo-driven experience.

[…]

We started with a fine, powdered paint additive to add a bit of color and enable finer tracking (thanks for the tip, Dan!). Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. The holes in the membrane allow the keycap clips to pass through, but are covered by the cap itself, blocking dust ingress. The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules. On the 2018 keyboard, with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet. Time will tell how long the barrier will hold up.

[…]

Apple’s patent application is pretty broad, basically taking ownership of any flexible barrier under a keyboard. This implementation lacks the “bellows” function intended to blow particulate away from the mechanism; the gaps in the membrane are for keycap attachment, and to allow key presses without interference from an air cushion. Figure 2 in the patent lays out the layers we saw in our teardown, but showcases a secondary keycap layer not present in this design. What we found is closer in spirit to Figure 5, wherein the keycap clips pass through the membrane to attach to the butterfly mechanism. The membrane in its present form covers more of the central area of the switch than Figure 5 shows, and does not “couple” to either the keycap or mechanism, but lies sandwiched between them.

[…]

Okay, so why does all this matter? Apple has a proven track record of failure for these keyboards. They’re being accused, by way of several class-action lawsuits, of knowingly selling failure-prone keyboards. Apple may claim that they design products to last—and that designing for repairability compromises the durability of a device—but this keyboard misadventure belies those points. If a single grain of sand can bring a computer to a grinding halt, that’s not built to last. If said computer can only be fixed by throwing half of it away and starting over, that’s not built to last. We’re definitely excited to see improved protection on these machines—consumers deserve it with the prices they’re paying. But if Apple had designed their keyboards for longevity in the first place, instead of chasing thinness at all cost, maybe we’d be in a whole different timeline, where MacBooks are repairable, and they never canceled Firefly

Adobe Working on a Full Version of Photoshop for the iPad

Mark Gurman and Nico Grant writing for Bloomberg:

Adobe Systems Inc., the maker of popular digital design programs for creatives, is planning to launch the full version of its Photoshop app for Apple Inc.’s iPad as part of a new strategy to make its products compatible across multiple devices and boost subscription sales.

The software developer is planning to unveil the new app at its annual MAX creative conference in October, according to people with knowledge of the plan. The app is slated to hit the market in 2019, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private product plans. Engineering delays could still alter that timeline.

This is part of multiyear plan by rewrite most, if not all, of the Creative Cloud tools for tablets as more and more creatives work off tablets rather than traditional workstations.

Ex-Apple worker charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

U.S. authorities on Monday charged a former Apple Inc employee with theft of trade secrets, alleging that the person downloaded a secret blueprint related to a self-driving car to a personal laptop and later trying to flee the country, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

The complaint said that the former employee, Xiaolang Zhang, disclosed intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car startup and booked a last-minute flight to China after downloading the plan for a circuit board for the self-driving car. Authorities arrested Zhang on July 7 at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint.

“Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously,” Apple said in a statement. “We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”

[…]

In April, Zhang took paternity leave following the birth of a child and traveled with his family to China, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

When Zhang returned, he told his supervisor he planned to resign, move back to China and work for Xiaopeng Motors, an intelligent electric vehicle company headquartered there with offices in Silicon Valley, the complaint said.

Since leaving Apple, Zhang had been employed by Xiaopeng Motors’ wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary XMotors.

Zhang’s supervisor called Apple security officials, who discovered that Zhang had run extensive searches of secret databases and had come on to Apple’s campus on April 28, when he was supposed to be on paternity leave, the complaint alleged.

While on campus, the complaint alleges, Zhang took circuit boards and a computer server from a self-driving car hardware lab, and his Apple co-workers showed him a “proprietary chip.”

XMotors said in a statement on Wednesday that it is “highly concerned” and that “there is no indication that (Zhang) has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors.”

[…]

Zhang told Apple officials he had taken the hardware from the lab because he wanted to transfer to a new position within Apple and thought it would be useful to him, the complaint said.

Zhang also allegedly downloaded data to a personally owned computer, including a 25-page secret blueprint of a circuit board for a self-driving car, which investigators described as “the single file” that “serves as the basis for the instant criminal charge.”

FBI agents questioned Zhang and served a search warrant at his house on June 27, according to the complaint. Agents learned he had purchased a “last-minute” round-trip airline ticket for China on July 7 and arrested Zhang at the airport, according to the complaint.

Wow, that’s some real life corporate espionage right there from the sounds of it.

Linux apps on Chrome OS coming to 18 more Chromebooks

Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:

Eighteen more Chromebooks are getting support for Linux apps on Chrome OS, with laptops based in Intel’s Apollo Lake architecture now able to run the applications, via XDA Developers.

That list includes computers from Lenovo (Thinkpad 11e Chromebook), Acer (Chromebook Spin 11 and Chromebook 15), Asus (Chromebook Flip), and Dell (Dell Chromebook 11) — check the full list at XDA’s site to see if your machine is included.

Previously, Linux apps worked on the Google Pixelbook and Samsung Chromebook Plus, but support for the Apollo Lake machines should open it up to a much wider range of users — and more importantly, to a much wider range of laptop price points.

The update is still in the works, so Canary and Developer channel users will see the added support first, with customers on the main, final Chrome OS branch not set to get the update until the next version of Chrome (Chrome 69) rolls out later this year.

I’ve been testing this on my Pixelbook for the last couple weeks and it’s been pretty handy, so seeing more devices getting support is nice.

Apple Engineers Its Own Downfall With the Macbook Pro Keyboard

  • March, 2015: Apple introduces butterfly keys in the 2015 MacBook
  • October, 2016: Apple introduces butterfly 2.0 in the Late 2016 MacBook Pro. We note in our teardown, “The keycaps are a little taller at the edges, making keys easier to find with your fingers. The switches have likewise gained some heft.”
  • Late 2017: Keyboard complaints begin to roll in
  • June 2018: Apple announces keyboard replacement program

The first-gen butterfly keyboard showed up in 2015, but the real root of the problem dates back to 2012 in the very first Retina MacBook Pro. That radical redesign replaced their rugged, modular workhorse with a slimmed-down frame and first-of-its-kind retina display.

And a battery glued to the keyboard.

The new notebook was universally applauded by tech pundits, with one notable exception: my team at iFixit. Unlike the rest of the tech media, we don’t judge products for their release-day usability or aesthetics—we focus on what will happen when the device (inevitably) fails. How time-consuming (and therefore expensive) is it to open? Can broken components be replaced individually, or will you have to swap out more expensive larger modules? Our score provides a consumer with an educated guess of repair costs before they buy the product.

The basic flaw is that these ultra-thin keys are easily paralyzed by particulate matter. Dust can block the keycap from pressing the switch, or disable the return mechanism. I’ll show you how in a minute.

[…]

So you can’t switch key caps. And it gets worse. The keyboard itself can’t simply be swapped out. You can’t even swap out the upper case containing the keyboard on its own. You also have to replace the glued-in battery, trackpad, and speakers at the same time. For Apple’s service team, the entire upper half of the laptop is a single component. That’s why Apple has been charging through the nose and taking forever on these repairs. And that’s why it’s such a big deal—for customers and for shareholders—that Apple is extending the warranty. It’s a damned expensive way to dust a laptop.

[…]

Thin may be in, but it has tradeoffs. Ask any Touch Bar owner if they would trade a tenth of a millimeter for a more reliable keyboard. No one who has followed this Apple support document instructing them to shake their laptop at a 75 degree angle and spray their keyboard with air in a precise zig-zag pattern will quibble over a slightly thicker design.

This is design anorexia: making a product slimmer and slimmer at the cost of usefulness, functionality, serviceability, and the environment.