Category: Links

To cut down on bugs, Apple is changing how it develops its software

Ars Technica:

The initial release windows of both iOS 12 and iOS 13 saw users complaining about a plethora of bugs both major and minor. Apple has plans to mitigate this problem when iOS 14 launches next year, according to sources who spoke with Bloomberg.

People familiar with the shift told the publication that a major factor contributing to iOS 13’s rough launch window was the fact that many Apple developers were making daily or weekly commits of new features at varying levels of readiness and quality, and those features were enabled by default regardless of their readiness. This meant that test builds were often unusable for stretches of time due to one problematic feature or another, which limited the amount of time testers spent with the software.

Under the new methodology, new test builds of Apple’s future operating systems will turn certain features deemed to be buggy or to cause usability issues off by default. Testers will be able to opt-in on a feature-by-feature basis in many cases, reducing the likelihood that they will be working with “unlivable” builds.

Bloomberg’s sources provided some insight about how Apple assesses the reliability and state of its own software features, as well. From the report:

Apple measures and ranks the quality of its software using a scale of 1 to 100 that’s based on what’s known internally as a “white glove” test. Buggy releases might get a score in the low 60s whereas more stable software would be above 80. iOS 13 scored lower on that scale than the more polished iOS 12 that preceded it. Apple teams also assign green, yellow and red color codes to features to indicate their quality during development. A priority scale of 0 through 5, with 0 being a critical issue and 5 being minor, is used to determine the gravity of individual bugs.

The change in approach was directed by Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering, and was announced during an internal meeting. And this would also apply to Apple’s other operating systems such as macOS, watchOS, tvOS, and iPadOS.

People familiar with Apple’s internal operations have said that Apple is also considering postponing some features from iOS 14 to a later update, possibly iOS 15, in order to put the magnifying glass on performance and stability. However, iOS 14 would still likely have as many new features as iOS 13 shipped with.

[…]

The report also says that Apple “privately considered” iOS 13.1 to be “the actual public release” and that the company expected only die-hard fans would update to iOS 13 within the short week between its initial release and the iOS 13.1 update. This is a surprising expectation, given that the company often publicly boasts of how quickly its users adopt new software updates compared to competing platforms.

Apple is currently working on iOS 13.3, another major feature release. Bloomberg’s sources suggested that the company has been happier with the stability and quality of its software releases this cycle since iOS 13.2, despite a background multitasking bug that needed to be fixed with a minor update recently.

Microsoft delays its new Surface Earbuds launch to spring 2020

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft had been planning to launch its new Surface Earbuds “later this year,” but the company is now delaying the wireless earbuds to spring 2020. “Product-making is about the relentless pursuit to get all the details right, which takes time… sometimes more than we planned on,” explains Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, in a tweet today. ”To ensure we deliver the best possible experience for you, our fans & customers, Surface Earbuds will now launch worldwide in spring 2020.”

Panay hasn’t revealed exactly why Microsoft is delaying the Surface Earbuds, but it’s clear testing or manufacturing didn’t go to plan for a December launch. Microsoft is now planning to release the Surface Earbuds in the spring in both grey and a new white color. Microsoft originally revealed the Surface Earbuds at a special press event last month, alongside the new Surface Pro 7Surface Laptop 3, and Surface Pro X that are already on sale. 

The $249 Surface Earbuds are tuned for both music and voice performance, and have a fairly divisive design with large and circular earbuds. Microsoft has even included dictation for use with Office apps, and it’s pitching them at workers and consumers. Each earbud has two microphones built in, which aid in noise reduction when you’re using them for calls. Both of the earbuds also have touch areas that can be used with tap and swipe gestures to control music or other audio.

Tim Cook on China

ABC News:

China is not just where the company produces its iPhones, it’s a very lucrative market for the Cupertino, California-based tech company.

The Apple chief said that he doesn’t want to “speculate” on how the next round of China tariffs could raise the price of iPhones.

“I’m hoping that the U.S. and China come to an agreement, and so I don’t even want to go down that road right now,” Cook said. “I’m so convinced that it’s in the best interest of the U.S. and best interest of China, and so if you have two parties where there’s a common best interest there has got to be some kind of path forward here. And I think that will happen.”

[…]

Cook said he isn’t concerned over Apple’s relationship with China.

“China really hasn’t pressured us, and so I I don’t envision that,” he added.

Cook added that “in terms of the Hong Kong situation, I hope and pray for everyone’s safety,” and “more broadly I pray for dialogue, because I think that good people coming together can decide ways forward.”

Though Apple has come under fire for removing an app used by protesters in Hong Kong, Cook reiterated that Apple acts the same in China as it does in the U.S. and the EU, and won’t bow to government pressure.

Cook said they have never been asked in China by authorities to unlock an iPhone, but added, referring to the U.S., “I have here.”

“And we stood up against that, and said we can’t do it,” he added. “Our privacy commitment is a worldwide one.”

“In the specific app in Hong Kong, we made the decision unilaterally,” he said. “We made it for safety, and I recognize that somebody can say that is the wrong decision and so forth. We obviously get second guessed a lot when you make tough decisions on apps to be on versus off, but we made it for safety.”

Apple Card’s Algorithm Problem

David Heinemeier Hansson (video):

Jamie Heinemeier Hansson:

I care about transparency and fairness. It’s why I was deeply annoyed to be told by AppleCard representatives, “It’s just the algorithm,” and “It’s just your credit score.” I have had credit in the US far longer than David. I have never had a single late payment. I do not have any debts. David and I share all financial accounts, and my very good credit score is higher than David’s. […] But AppleCard representatives did not want to hear any of this. I was given no explanation. No way to make my case.

[…]

I care about justice for all. It’s why, when the AppleCard manager told me she was aware of David’s tweets and that my credit limit would be raised to meet his, without any real explanation, I felt the weight and guilt of my ridiculous privilege.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Sridhar Natarajan and Shahien Nasiripour:

A Wall Street regulator is opening a probe into Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s credit card practices after a viral tweet from a tech entrepreneur alleged gender discrimination in the new Apple Card’s algorithms when determining credit limits.

Sonder Scheme:

We suspect that the Goldman algorithm was trained on data that included an important bias: that the husband is the primary card holder in traditional credit card approval. This biased the data so the algorithm assigned higher creditworthiness to the primary card holder. This meant that the primary card holder status became the proxy for gender.

The whole situation was made worse by a number of applications coming from a demographic or group that exposed this bias, an AI-enabled product which broke the mental model of Apple family sharing and a total lack of a “human-in-the-loop” recovery combined with unexplainable and non-intuitive AI.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Steve Wozniak:

Daniel Vassallo:

David Heinemeier Hansson:

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Overall, Apple Card is not having a good week with this going viral. Also, sorry about all the twitter embeds, just shows the picture better that way.

John Gruber: 16-inch MacBook Pro First Impressions

John Gruber:

Apple today is releasing its much-rumored new 16-inch MacBook Pro.

It is full of good news.

Yesterday, Apple held a series of roundtable briefings for the media in New York. There was an on-the-record introduction followed by an off-the-record series of demos.1 The introduction was led by MacBook Pro product manager Shruti Haldea, along with senior director of Mac product marketing Tom Boger and Phil Schiller. Attending media received loaner units to review. Let’s not even pretend that a few hours is enough time for a proper review, but it’s more than enough time to establish some strong broad impressions. Here’s what you need to know, in what I think is the order of importance.

[…]

We got it all: a return of scissor key mechanisms in lieu of butterfly switches, a return of the inverted-T arrow key arrangement, and a hardware Escape key. Apple stated explicitly that their inspiration for this keyboard is the Magic Keyboard that ships with iMacs. At a glance, it looks very similar to the butterfly-switch keyboards on the previous 15-inch MacBook Pros. But don’t let that fool you — it feels completely different. There’s a full 1mm of key travel; the butterfly keyboards only have 0.5mm. This is a very good compromise on key travel, balancing the superior feel and accuracy of more travel with the goal of keeping the overall device thin. (The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is, in fact, a little thicker than the previous 15-inch models overall.) Calling it the “Magic Keyboard” threads the impossible marketing needle they needed to thread: it concedes everything while confessing nothing. Apple has always had a great keyboard that could fit in a MacBook — it just hasn’t been in a MacBook the last three years.

[…]

It’s hard not to speculate that all of these changes are, to some degree, a de-Jony-Ive-ification of the keyboard. For all we on the outside know, this exact same keyboard might have shipped today even if Jony Ive were still at Apple. I’m not sure I know anyone, though, who would disagree that over the last 5-6 years, Apple’s balance of how things work versus how things look has veered problematically toward making things look better — hardware and software — at the expense of how they function.

[…]

What Apple emphasized yesterday in its presentation is not that the butterfly-switch keyboards are problematic or unpopular. They can’t do that — they still include them on every MacBook other than this new 16-inch model. And even if they do eventually switch the whole lineup to this new keyboard — and I think they will, but of course, when asked about that, they had no comment on any future products — it’s not Apple’s style to throw one of their old products under the proverbial bus. What Apple emphasized is simply that they listened to the complaints from professional MacBook users. They recognized how important the Escape key is to developers — they even mentioned Vim by name during a developer tool demo. And they emphasized that they studied what makes for a good keyboard. What reduces mistakes, what increases efficiency. And they didn’t throw away the good parts of the butterfly keyboard — including excellent backlighting and especially the increased stability, where keys go down flat even when pressed off-center. The keys on this keyboard don’t wobble like the keys on pre-2016 MacBook Pro keyboards do.

[…]

The new 16-inch display has a native resolution of 3072 × 1920 pixels, with a density of 226 pixels per inch. The old 15-inch retina display was 2880 × 1800 pixels, with a density of 220 pixels per inch. Apple didn’t just use the same number of pixels and make the pixels bigger — they actually made the pixels slightly smaller and added more of them to make a bigger display. Brightness and color gamut are unchanged. No rounded corners (like on the iPad Pro and iPhone X/XS/11) — the display is still a good old-fashioned rectangle with pure corners.

[…]

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the new “big” MacBook Pro — it replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro in the lineup at the same prices: $2400 for a 6-core base model and $2800 for the 8-core base model.

The Intel chips are the same as the ones available on the May 2019 15-inch MacBook Pro. So it goes, until Apple switches to its own chips for Macs — these are still the best laptop chips Intel makes. It’s a bit unusual, to say the least, that a major update to the flagship MacBook uses the same CPUs as the generation it’s replacing.

[…]

It feels a bit silly to be excited about a classic arrow key layout, a hardware Escape key, and key switches that function reliably and feel good when you type with them, but that’s where we are. The risk of being a Mac user is that we’re captive to a single company’s whims.

[…]

We shouldn’t be celebrating the return of longstanding features we never should have lost in the first place. But Apple’s willingness to revisit these decisions — their explicit acknowledgment that, yes, keyboards are meant to by typed upon, not gazed upon — is, if not cause for a party, at the very least cause for a jubilant toast.

John touched on more too, but these were points I found most interesting.

Apple TV, Apple TV, Apple TV, and Apple TV+

Dustin Curtis:

Apple TV is a hardware device.

Apple TV is an app on Apple TV that curates content you can buy from Apple and also content you can stream through other installed apps (but not all apps, and there is no way to tell which ones).

Apple TV is an app on iOS/iPadOS devices that operates similarly to Apple TV on Apple TV. Apple TV on iOS/iPadOS syncs playback and watch history with Apple TV on Apple TV, but only if the iOS/iPadOS device has the same apps installed as the Apple TV — and not all apps are available on all platforms. Apple TV is also an app on macOS, but it does not show content that can only be streamed from external apps on an Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS device.

Apple TV Channels can only be viewed within Apple TV; you cannot watch an Apple TV Channel service’s content on any non-Apple TV device, app, or the web. However, if you subscribe to the same service within that service’s app or through a cable TV provider, you can watch that service’s content on other devices and apps and, if you use the service’s app on Apple TV or iOS/iPadOS, its content will show up in Apple TV as though you were subscribed to the service’s Apple TV Channel (but it will play the content in the app, not within Apple TV).

Apple TV+ is a subscription streaming service from Apple that functions like an Apple TV Channel but is not an Apple TV Channel.
[…]

Other than that, though, Apple TV is relatively straightforward. 

Electron Apps Are Being Rejected from the Mac App Store for Calling Private Apis

Michael Tsai:

So there are a multiple problems here:

1. It’s (apparently) impossible for Chromium to get competitive performance and battery life without using private API, which Safari freely uses.

2. Apple probably has good reasons for keeping these APIs private.

3. Private API has always been banned, but Apple has been accepting these apps for years and then abruptly stopped without any notice.

4. Apps using Electron probably didn’t know that they were even using private API. Neither Xcode nor Application Loader reports this, and App Review was accepting the apps.

5. The rule is not being enforced equally.

Facebook says 100 developers might have improperly accessed Groups member data

Adi Robertson, writing for The Verge:

Facebook says that even after it locked down its Groups system last year, some app developers retained improper access to information about members. A company blog post reports that roughly 100 developers might have accessed user information since Facebook changed its rules in April of 2018, and at least 11 accessed member data in the last 60 days. It says it’s now cut all partners off from that data.

Facebook Group administrators can use third-party tools to manage their groups, giving apps information about its activity. Since the changes last year, developers shouldn’t be able to see individual members’ names, profile pictures, or unspecified other profile data. Facebook platform partnerships head Konstantinos Papamiltiadis says a recent security review found that some apps still had access, however.

[…]

Facebook didn’t disclose the names of these roughly 100 developers. Papamiltiadis only says that the apps were “primarily social media management and video streaming apps, designed to make it easier for group admins to manage their groups more effectively and help members share videos to their groups.” We also don’t know exactly what information was involved besides names and photos, nor how many users and groups the apps served.

Facebook locked down the Groups application programming interface (API) as part of a general crackdown after the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal. It added rules that required developers to get approval from Facebook before using the Groups API, then relaunched the system with new features in July, suggesting that it was trying to implement real oversight — so it’s a little surprising that these apps slipped through the cracks.

Jason Snell on Apple TV+

Jason Snell:

In the regular phone call with Wall Street analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook tried very hard to get investors excited about Apple’s opportunities to make lots of money while not making it seem like Apple’s lost its soul in the process.

[…]

The analysts wanted to understand why Apple, after spending billions of dollars on developing a bunch of new premium television content, was going to give it away to purchasers of Apple hardware for a year.

[…]

Yeah, it’s it’s a gift to our users, and from a business point of view, we’re really proud of the content, we’d like as many people as possible to to view it. And so this allows us to focus on maximizing subscribers, particularly in the early going.

Read Jason’s entire article, it’s great.