Apple dominates App Store search results, thwarting competitors

Apple’s mobile apps routinely appear first in search results ahead of competitors in its App Store, a powerful advantage that skirts some of the company’s rules on such rankings, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

The company’s apps ranked first in more than 60% of basic searches, such as for “maps,” the analysis showed. Apple apps that generate revenue through subscriptions or sales, like Music or Books, showed up first in 95% of searches related to those apps.

This dominance gives the company an upper hand in a marketplace that generates $50 billion in annual spending. Services revenue linked to the performance of apps is at the center of Apple’s strategy to diversify its profits as iPhone sales wane.

This should surprise absolutely nobody. Apple has a lot riding on becoming a successful services company, and it’s doing a lot of sleazy things already to try and convert iPhone buyers into wallets on legs from whom Cupertino can siphon monthly amounts. It’s only natural that the company would use its Appe Store search engine to promote its own services – something that will surely turn some heads in Europe.

The article also has this fascinating little tidbit:

Phillip Shoemaker, who led the App Store review process until 2016, said Apple executives were aware of Podcasts’ poor ratings. Around 2015, his team proposed to senior executives that it purge all apps rated lower than two stars to ensure overall quality.

“That would kill our Podcasts app,” an Apple executive said, according to Mr. Shoemaker, who has advised some independent apps on the App Store review process since leaving Apple. The proposal was eventually rejected, Mr. Shoemaker said.

So Apple pondered purging all apps with two stars or lower from the App Store… Only to realise a number of its own apps would be purged, too. Oh and in what I’m sure is entirely unrelated, many Apple apps inside the App Store no longer show a rating at all – special treatment only Apple apps get.

If even 50% of this story is true, antitrust lawyers and investigators are going to have a field day with this.

Unikernels: the next stage of Linux’s dominance

Unikernels have demonstrated enormous advantages over Linux in many important domains, causing some to propose that the days of Linux’s dominance may be coming to an end. On the contrary, we believe that unikernels’ advantages represent the next natural evolution for Linux, as it can adopt the best ideas from the unikernel approach and, along with its battle-tested codebase and large open source community, continue to dominate. In this paper, we posit that an up-streamable unikernel target is achievable from the Linux kernel, and, through an early Linux unikernel prototype, demonstrate that some simple changes can bring dramatic performance advantages.

A scientific paper on the subject.

Files are fraught with peril

In this talk, we’re going to look at how file systems differ from each other and other issues we might encounter when writing to files. We’re going to look at the file “stack” starting at the top with the file API, which we’ll see is nearly impossible to use correctly and that supporting multiple filesystems without corrupting data is much harder than supporting a single filesystem; move down to the filesystem, which we’ll see has serious bugs that cause data loss and data corruption; and then we’ll look at disks and see that disks can easily corrupt data at a rate five million times greater than claimed in vendor datasheets.

Deeply technical, but well-written and pleasant to read.

A tale of pointlessness: retro 5″ black and white TV as a computer monitor

When my brother’s old 1980s 5″ black and white TV was recently discovered during a “I wonder what’s under here?” exercise and amazingly seemed to still be working my first thought was, of course, “Nice!! 3rd monitor for my PC”.

I knew that wouldn’t be exactly simple as the TV only appeared to have a 3.5mm “EXT. ANT” socket.

…I can’t do anything but applaud this.

A new motherboard for Amiga, the platform that refuses to die

In the early years of personal computing there were a slew of serious contenders. A PC, a Mac, an Atari ST, an Amiga, and several more that all demanded serious consideration on the general purpose desktop computer market. Of all these platforms, the Amiga somehow stubbornly refuses to die. The Amiga 1200+ from [Jeroen Vandezande] is the latest in a long procession of post-Commodore Amigas, and as its name suggests it provides an upgrade for the popular early-1990s all-in-one Amiga model.

If I ever get filthy rich, one of the things I’ll be doing with my money is using it to support platforms like the Amiga. Try and buy up as much IP, fund people and companies trying to make hardware and software, try to attract developers with financial incentives, and so on.

Not a sound investment by any stretch of the imagination, but still a fun little diversion to daydream about.

Apple releases round of iOS, macOS updates

Today, Apple released a round of minor updates for all of its supported devices, including iOS 12.4, macOS 10.14.6, watchOS 5.3, and tvOS 12.4 . As it turns out though, some older devices – devices that aren’t supported by the latest updates anymore – are getting some love as well.

According to MacRumors, iOS 9.3.6 and iOS 10.3.4 are now available. The report states that the former is only available for cellular models of the iPad mini, iPad 2, and iPad 3, all devices that used an A5 processor or a variant of it. It’s worth noting that the third-generation Apple TV also got an update today, as that also included an A5 chipset.

Always a nice surprise to see older devices getting some love.

How many kinds of USB-C to USB-C cables are there?

Classic USB from the 1.1, 2.0, to 3.0 generations using USB-A and USB-B connectors have a really nice property in that cables were directional and plugs and receptacles were physically distinct to specify a different capability. A USB 3.0 capable USB-B plug was physically larger than a 2.0 plug and would not fit into a USB 2.0-only receptacle. For the end user, this meant that as long as they have a cable that would physically connect to both the host and the device, the system would function properly, as there is only ever one kind of cable that goes from one A plug to a particular flavor of B plug.

Does the same hold for USB-C?

We all know the answer to this mess.

This could be our first look at an Android-powered feature phone from Nokia

Kyle Bradshaw at 9To5Google:

For the past few months, we’ve been tracking developments in Chrome that point to Android becoming a competitor to KaiOS by entering the feature phone market. Today, the first purported image of an Android feature phone has come to light, with Nokia stylings.

Thus far, everything we’ve learned about the likelihood of Android coming to feature phones has come from tidbits within public Chrome code. From the code, we know that Android feature phones will be distinctly different from Android Go, as the feature phones will not have a touchscreen. Instead, the phones will be navigated using a traditional d-pad, shoulder buttons, and the number keys.

Feature phones are far from dead, and it seems Google really wants a piece of this pie. KaiOS is kind of an unsung hero here in the west, but it’s quite popular on feature phones all over the world.

Google claims to have cancelled its censored Chinese search engine project

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Google’s vice president of public policy, Karan Bhatia, said that the tech giant’s much-criticized effort to launch a search engine in China had been abandoned.

“We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” Bhatia said of the controversial search app for the Chinese market that Google had reportedly been working on last year. He was responding to a series of questions from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley about Google’s business with China.

Google employees were decidedly not happy with this project, so internal pressure certainly seems to have made an impact.

Zelda NES screen transitions are undefined behaviour

The vertical scrolling effect in the original “The Legend of Zelda” relies on manipulating the NES graphics hardware in a manner likely that was unintended by its designers.

[…]

Writing to a particular PPU register while a frame is being drawn can result in graphical artefacts. The Legend of Zelda intentionally causes an artefact which manifests itself as partial vertical scrolling. This post gives some background on NES graphics hardware, and explains how the partial vertical scrolling trick works.

Game developers on these older, constrained systems had to resort to some very clever thinking to work around said constraints.

Cities: Skylines is Turing complete

Cities: Skylines is a city simulation game that is complex enough to build universal logic gates in it. Using universal logic gates it is possible to construct any circuit including Turing complete machines. So, just like in Minecraft one can build a computer inside Cities: Skylines. However, it would be very complicated to build a fully fledged computer using these gates, so I will demonstrate a 4-bit adder instead. Everything is done in the vanilla version of the game, no mods or add-ons are required.

I’ve played a lot of Cities: Skylines, but I never thought something like this would be possible.

To break Google’s monopoly on search, make its index public

Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index”—the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content—into a kind of public commons.

There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on—no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them. One particular government intervention is especially relevant to the Big Tech dilemma: the 1956 consent decree in the U.S. in which AT&T agreed to share all its patents with other companies free of charge. As tech investor Roger McNamee and others have pointed out, that sharing reverberated around the world, leading to a significant increase in technological competition and innovation.

This is an interesting proposition. I don’t know if this will increase competition in any meaningful way, or if it’ll just lead to a shift in power from Google to the other major technology companies without really creating opportunities for newcomers, but it’s certainly yet another proposal on how to deal with the ever growing power these companies wield.

How US tech giants are helping to build China’s surveillance state

The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and U.S. chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently.

Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people.

IBM, of course, has always been perfectly fine with aiding in and profiting from genocide, so it’s not really surprising that the company jumped at the chance to aid the totalitarian Chinese regime’s genocide against the Uhgurs. Google’s involvement may be slightly more surprising since the company has no real presence in China, but I don’t think anyone should be shocked.

Many western companies choose profits over ethics in China, such as Apple, who aides the Chinese dictatorship’s massive surveillance state by handing over all Chinese Apple user’s iCloud data to the Chinese government. Since such anti-privacy measures are legally mandated in China, you can safely assume that any western technology company active in China is just as guilty as IBM, Google, and Apple.

40 years later, lessons from the rise and quick decline of the first ‘killer app’

Remember VisiCalc, the world’s first spreadsheet? Today’s tech giants do, and that is why they buy up and invest in potential competitive threats.

It was the first killer app, the spark for Apple’s early success and a trigger for the broader PC boom that vaulted Microsoft to its central position in business computing. And within a few years, it was tech-industry roadkill.

Many silicon valley startups basically have only one purpose these days: flaunt their ideas in front of the tech giants, and hope VC funding doesn’t run dry before one of them buys them. They’re not building sustainable businesses; they’re building a corporate advertorials.

Pete’s QBasic site

QBasic lives!

QBasic is an old-school, vintage programming language that was designed for beginners. QBasic ran on MS-DOS, and was a more advanced version of BASIC. QB was a lot of people’s first foray into programming (particularly those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s). Therefore, a lot of people look back at QBasic with nostalgia.

QBasic is one of the very few programming languages I actually ever even used – back when i was a very young kid – so I do have some faint nostalgia for it. Great to see such a dedicated community keeping it alive.

One player spent 10 years exploring every corner of Eve Online

Eve Online is unique among spacefaring games — not just for its complexity, but for its structure. The galaxy of New Eden is composed of nearly 8,000 star systems, each one placed into the virtual firmament by the hand of its creators at CCP Games. Some are easy to find, while others are hidden.

Few players have actually visited all of New Eden’s known star systems. Fewer still have visited the thousands more that are hidden from view. But only one has visited all of them without losing a single starship. The journey took 10 long years.

That’s quite an amazing achievement, especially considering Eve Online is incredibly boring.

AmigaOS 3.1.4.1 released

Hyperion Entertainment CVBA is pleased to announced the immediate availability of AmigaOS 3.1.4.1 as a free update to AmigaOS 3.1.4 released in September 2018.

Since then, some bugs were found and functionality reviewed. We are therefore providing updates that address those issues in order to improve the user experience and also added more workarounds to improve compatibility with some oddly behaving programs.

A small bugfix release for the operating system that never dies.

Debian 10 “buster” released

In this release, GNOME defaults to using the Wayland display server instead of Xorg. Wayland has a simpler and more modern design, which has advantages for security. However, the Xorg display server is still installed by default and the default display manager allows users to choose Xorg as the display server for their next session.

Thanks to the Reproducible Builds project, over 91% of the source packages included in Debian 10 will build bit-for-bit identical binary packages. This is an important verification feature which protects users against malicious attempts to tamper with compilers and build networks. Future Debian releases will include tools and metadata so that end-users can validate the provenance of packages within the archive.

Debian forms the bedrock under many popular distributions, so any new Debian release is a major milestone, and will eventually find its way, in one form or another, to many Linux users’ computers.

Facebook’s $5 billion FTC fine is an embarrassing joke

Facebook’s stock went up after news of a record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine for various privacy violations broke today.

That, as the New York Times’ Mike Isaac points out, is the real story here: the United States government spent months coming up with a punishment for Facebook’s long list of privacy-related bad behavior, and the best it could do was so weak that Facebook’s stock price went up.

Facebook was one of the most important tools that Russia used to interfere in the US presidential elections. Do you really think that the regime profiting from said interference is going to punish their golden ticket?