Apple has announced iOS 14 onstage at WWDC 2020, giving the first (official) look at the latest version of its software for the iPhone, and it’s bringing the biggest change to the iOS home screen in years: widgets. Widgets come in a variety of sizes and can still be viewed in the Today view, but in iOS 14, Apple allows widgets to be added to the main Home screen to live right alongside your apps. To add them, there’s a new “widget gallery” where users can easily add and customize widgets. There’s also a new “Smart Stack” widget that automatically shows relevant apps based on the time of day. iOS 14 will be a big update, but a lot of it is catching up to features other platforms have had for a decade now, such as the above-mentioned widgets, which look virtually identical to live tiles on Windows Phone. It also comes with an application drawer (like Android), divided into various application categories (like the Palm OS launcher), and the ability to set your own default browser and email application (like every other operating system since the dawn of time). There’s more, of course, such as picture-in-picture support, something called App Clips where parts of applications can be displayed for quick access (Android has had a similar features for a few years now), and a number of other, smaller things. All in all, it seems like a decent update, bringing a number of features to iOS that most of the world’s smartphone users have been enjoying for a decade or more now. Good news for iOS users, I suppose, but nothing groundbreaking.
The European Commission has opened two formal antitrust investigations into Apple. The first investigation concerns “the mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system and restrictions on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.” The second investigation concerns “Apple’s terms, conditions and other measures for integrating Apple Pay in merchant apps and websites on iPhones and iPads, Apple’s limitation of access to the Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality (‘tap and go’) on iPhones for payments in stores, and alleged refusals of access to Apple Pay.”
Apple Inc. removed podcast apps Pocket Casts and Castro from its App Store in China at the request of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the apps’ developers said this week. “We believe podcasting is and should remain an open medium, free of government censorship,” Pocket Casts wrote on Twitter. “As such we won’t be censoring podcast content at their request.” The developers said that Apple contacted them on behalf of the Chinese regulator and that the app was removed two days later. The developer wrote that Apple said Pocket Casts includes “content that is illegal in China as determined by the CAC.” It turns out the developers behind these two small podcast applications have a stronger and bigger backbone than Apple – because Apple censored its own podcasts application when the Chinese government ordered them to.
It’s April 1, and that means it’s both April Fools’ Day and the anniversary of the founding of Apple Inc. While this year is a sober one due to current events, I think a lot of people still appreciate what people are creating and sharing to keep spirits up, whether that be music or art or… Impractical programming projects. And while pranks on April Fools’ seem less and less fun, obvious jokes and whimsy, not at anyone’s expense, are still something I believe in… And even better if they actually work. Last year I implemented the world’s best code visualizer. This year I decided to seriously attempt something that I’d thought about in the past: getting a Swift program to run on Mac OS 9. This is not an April Fools joke, but a real project that really works. An absolutely outstanding effort and great technical write-up.
Apple has released macOS 10.15.4, watchOS 6.2, and iOS, iPadOS and tvOS 13.4. Earlier today, Apple continued its tradition of updating all of its operating systems at once. The day brought major new feature releases to iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. The iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS updates are numbered 13.4, Apple Watches got watchOS 6.2, and Macs saw the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.4. You know where to get them.
Update: the WebKit blog post has been updated with a clarification: Web applications added to the home screen are not part of Safari and thus have their own counter of days of use. Their days of use will match actual use of the web application which resets the timer. We do not expect the first-party in such a web application to have its website data deleted. That’s definitely a relief, and good thing they cleared this up. Original continues below: On the face of it, WebKit’s announcement yesterday titled Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking and More sounds like something I would wholeheartedly welcome. Unfortunately, I can’t because the “and more” bit effectively kills off Offline Web Apps and, with it, the chance to have privacy-respecting apps like the prototype I was exploring earlier in the year based on DAT. Block all third-party cookies, yes, by all means. But deleting all local storage (including Indexed DB, etc.) after 7 days effectively blocks any future decentralised apps using the browser (client side) as a trusted replication node in a peer-to-peer network. And that’s a huge blow to the future of privacy. I’m sure that’s entirely a coincidence for a company that wants to force everyone to use their App Store, the open web be damned.
Apple today released the golden master version of iOS and iPadOS 13.4, the latest major updates to the iOS 13 operating system that was released in September. The iOS and iPadOS 13.4 GMs come after a little over a month of beta testing. The biggest new feature – which is accompanied by new iPad Pro devices and a keyboard with trackpad – is mouse support in iPadOS. The cool thing here is that Apple’s iOS cursor – a dot, so not an arrow – is a thing of marvel, and it does some really neat tricks that you won’t find anywhere else. When you hover over a tappable button, the pointer disappears and instead you get a hover-state highlight around the button. Hover over an app icon in the Dock or on your homescreen, and instead of seeing the mouse pointer on top of the icon, you see a highlight around the icon, much like the way icons are popped on tvOS. When text editing, the cursor changes to an I-beam, of course, but it’s an all-new I-beam cursor, not the one you get in iOS while using the on-screen keyboard as a virtual trackpad (after a tap-and-hold on the spacebar or two-finger tap-and-drag on the key area). This new I-beam cursor is smart. It adjusts to the size of the text you’re editing — if you’re editing 16-point text you’ll get a smaller cursor; if you’re editing 48-point text you’ll get a larger cursor. (Lo these 35+ years after the original Macintosh, it suddenly strikes me as a bit silly that the I-beam cursor stays small even when editing very large text.) The new iPadOS I-beam cursor also is aware of where lines are in text fields, and “snaps” to the line. There seem to be a lot of small little niceties here that seem so obvious once you see them in action. It’s really cool stuff, and I can’t wait to try it out.
Thanks to Dutch technology website Tweakers’ Arnoud Wokke for pointing this one out before any of the major sites have – Apple has been fined for 1.1 billion euros by the French competition authority for anti-competitive practices. You can read the announcement in French, too. The short of it is that between 2005 and 2013, Apple primarily sold its products in France through two specific wholesalers, who have also been fined, and the three of them agreed not to compete, limiting competition. Apple also imposed pricing upon its independent Authorised Resellers and Premium Resellers, making it impossible for them to compete on price. In addition, Apple also limited the supply given to these resellers compared to its own stores, which further limited the their ability to function. What’s interesting here is that this is Apple’s modus operandi all over Europe and the rest of the world, so it wouldn’t surprise me if other EU countries will work off of this ruling in the near future. This kind of illegal behaviour by massive corporations has gone unpunished for long enough, and it’s high time serious punishments are doled out. Good on the French authorities for this one.
I stopped there because we had to get back to work, but without even leaving the Finder and Desktop I was able to find a bunch of things that long-time Mac users had never known about because they never discovered them in their daily use. None of this is meant to say macOS is garbage or anything like that. It’s just interesting to see when people who love the Mac and are so critical of “discoverability” on the iPad. I’m not even saying the iPad is better than the Mac here, I’m just saying that “discoverability” is one of the big things that has people in a tizzy right now about the iPad, but I think some are laying into the iPad harder than is warranted. You have no idea how many undiscoverable or obtuse features, functions, tricks, and so on you take for granted when using old, established platforms like Windows or macOS.
The third beta version of iOS 13.4 reveals the existence of a new feature called “OS Recovery”, which is quite suggestive. As best we can tell, it looks like a new way to restore an iPhone, iPad, and other Apple devices without the need to connect them to a computer. It’s not yet possible to access it in the system as the feature is still under development and it could be scrapped at any time. According to what we found in the system, it would be possible to restore the iOS directly over-the-air as well as by connecting the device via USB to another iPhone or iPad, similar to how Apple’s Migration Tool works. This seems like one of those things that should’ve been the default for years now on both iOS and Android – so much so that I had to stop and think twice just to remember it isn’t, yet.
Apple Inc. is considering giving rival apps more prominence on iPhones and iPads and opening its HomePod speaker to third-party music services after criticism the company provides an unfair advantage to its in-house products. The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry. Just the mere possibility of antitrust action is making Apple considering changes to improve competition – the strength of legal action. Of course, these concessions are way too little, and especially the EU will want more than just competing Safari skins – that’s all third-party iOS browsers really are – and mail clients.
Steve Streza, developer and all-around good guy, writing about Apple turning iOS into adware: Over the years, Apple has built up a portfolio of services and add-ons that you pay for. Starting with AppleCare extended warranties and iCloud data subscriptions, they expanded to Apple Music a few years ago, only to dramatically ramp up their offerings last year with TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card. Their services business, taken as a whole, is quickly becoming massive; Apple reported $12.7 billion in Q1 2020 alone, nearly a sixth of its already gigantic quarterly revenue. All that money comes from the wallets of 480 million subscribers, and their goal is to grow that number to 600 million this year. But to do that, Apple has resorted to insidious tactics to get those people: ads. Lots and lots of ads, on devices that you pay for. iOS 13 has an abundance of ads from Apple marketing Apple services, from the moment you set it up and all throughout the experience. These ads cannot be hidden through the iOS content blocker extension system. Some can be dismissed or hidden, but most cannot, and are purposefully designed into core apps like Music and the App Store. There’s a term to describe software that has lots of unremovable ads: adware, which what iOS has sadly become. Apple, decidedly not an ad company, puts tons of ads into iOS, while Google, decidedly very much an ad company, puts basically zero ads in Android. Yet, this is something we rarely talk about because for some reason, we seem to just accept platform owners treating users like garbage and negatively impacting the user experience to try and get them to subscribe to “services”. Apple is undertaking a massive push to get iOS users to subscribe to more and more services, and the company has clearly shown it has no qualms about degrading the user experience to get there. And of course, while you can block every other company’s ads on iOS – you can’t block Apple’s ads, since the rules Apple sets for third parties don’t apply to Apple itself, and you can’t change your default applications either. Now that you’re locked into their ecosystem, Apple is going to try every sleazy tactic under the sun to try and get you to subscribe to their services. Have fun.
Apple has $209 billion in cash on hand. California law requires Apple Inc. to pay its workers for being searched before they leave retail stores, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday. A group of Apple workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the tech giant, charging they were required to submit to searches before leaving the stores but were not compensated for the time those searches required. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is now pending, asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether state law requires compensation. In a decision written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the court said an industrial wage order defines hours worked as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” I repeat, Apple has $209 billion in cash on hand. Since it’s really hard to imagine how much even just one billion dollars really is, this demonstration should give you a very good idea. One billion dollars is way, way, way more than you think it is. Apple has 209 times that in cash on hand.
Recently, Motherboard obtained a copy of the contract businesses are required to sign before being admitted to Apple’s IRP Program. The contract, which has not previously been made public, sheds new light on a program Apple initially touted as increasing access to repair but has been remarkably silent on ever since. It contains terms that lawyers and repair advocates described as “onerous” and “crazy”; terms that could give Apple significant control over businesses that choose to participate. Concerningly, the contract is also invasive from a consumer privacy standpoint. In order to join the program, the contract states independent repair shops must agree to unannounced audits and inspections by Apple, which are intended, at least in part, to search for and identify the use of “prohibited” repair parts, which Apple can impose fines for. If they leave the program, Apple reserves the right to continue inspecting repair shops for up to five years after a repair shop leaves the program. Apple also requires repair shops in the program to share information about their customers at Apple’s request, including names, phone numbers, and home addresses. Nobody should be surprised by this. The only reason Apple announced this half-hearted program in the first place is to try and take the wind out of the sails of right to repair legislation, which is being proposed all over the US (and beyond), and the terms of this contract only further confirm that. As for the privacy aspect and Apple wanting all that very private user information – if you still think Apple cares about privacy, you really haven’t been paying attention.
The iPad is now ten years old, and people still have to write articles about how, no, really, you can do real work on an iPad! In 1994, ten years after the Mac was originally introduced, I got my first computer, a Performa 450. Nobody wrote any articles about how, actually, real work on a Mac is possible. Everybody who had a Mac used it for real work. There was no need to write articles about how you could use Macs for real work, because for Macs, it was – and still is – actually true. There are countless people who work on iPads, but the central thread in almost all of the articles and stories about these people is that they involve countless, extensive compromises to make it work – whether that’s resorting to a PC for a lot of tasks, or using complex, hacky Shortcuts to accomplish things any other computer can do without you even thinking about it. I see no reason an iPad can’t be a full, proper computer that can replace many a laptop and desktop, but Apple will need to put some serious weight behind iOS as a platform. The hardware is more than capable – it’s the software that holds it back. The fact we’re ten years into this thing and there’s still no Xcode for iPad tells you all you need to know about how Apple sees the iPad.
Apple Inc dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt backups of their devices in the company’s iCloud service after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations, six sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The tech giant’s reversal, about two years ago, has not previously been reported. It shows how much Apple has been willing to help U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, despite taking a harder line in high-profile legal disputes with the government and casting itself as a defender of its customers’ information. This once again just goes to show Apple’s privacy chest-thumping is nothing but marketing and grandstanding. This is effectively a backdoor for government agencies to use, and if the “good guys” can use it, so can the bad guys. On top of that, this neatly ties into Apple handing over iCloud data to the Chinese government – data that is most certainly being used by the Chinese regime in, among other things, its genocide of the Uyghurs. I prefer a company that’s open and honest about what data it collects and uses and why – Google – over a company that purposefully tries to muddy the waters through marketing and grandstanding – Apple. The devil you know and all that.
Yesterday saw the release of the new Mac Pro, finally replacing the trash can and moving back to a tower-based design. It has had a somewhat mixed response, with many people taking issue with the high prices, ranging from $6000 to over $52000. There have been those seeking to defend the prices and write off the complaints, but I don’t believe these arguments take into account the larger picture. All in all, the Mac Pro is a powerful machine. For certain workflows it is even worth the cost. But the problem is that Apple has priced out a huge swathe of the professional market by making its lower end Mac Pros prohibitively expensive for what is frankly underwhelming hardware. The base model Mac Pro is, indeed, a terrible purchase, and some of the upgrade options are downright laughable – to get anything even remotely resembling a decent GPU, you’re asked to spend $2400, which is insane. Anybody who isn’t spending their boss’ money shouldn’t buy this machine. That being said – the interior design and layout of the new Mac Pro is beautiful. I can’t believe that we’re still dealing with kilometers of fiddly cabling and ugly, gamery ATX motherboards that have become ever more cumbersome to deal with, while Apple can design and build such a neat, clean, and tidy system.
Every month, thousands of perfectly good iPhones are shredded instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. Why? Two words: Activation Lock. And Macs are its next victim. “We receive four to six thousand locked iPhones per month,” laments Peter Schindler, founder and owner of The Wireless Alliance, a Colorado-based electronics recycler and refurbisher. Those iPhones, which could easily be refurbished and put back into circulation, “have to get parted out or scrapped,” all because of this anti-theft feature. With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that’s equipped with Apple’s new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock—meaning we’re about to see a lot of otherwise usable Macs heading to shredders, too. While I understand the need for security features such as these – who doesn’t – it should definitely be possible to save these devices from the shredder. It’s such a waste of perfectly good hardware that could make a lot of less-privileged people around the world a whole lot happier.
Overall I am impressed with the PureDarwin project and have enjoyed conducting my research around it. They have achieved a lot, considering that the project is funded by community donations and run by volunteers. It definitely isn’t a production-ready system, but for developers it has the potential to come in very useful. The PureDarwin team have been able to successfully install MacPorts in PureDarwin, allowing many software packages such as Apache HTTPd, Git and even XFCE to be installed. Unfortunately this is non-trivial to achieve without strong networking support, but it shows the potential use cases of PureDarwin. The problem with Darwin is that you’re always confined to Apple’s whim; the company has a history of delaying Darwin code dumps after new macOS releases for a long time, not including any ARM/iOS code for almost a decade, and the releases themselves don’t really have a commit history and comments – they’re just big code dumps. I guess Darwin is interesting from an enthusiasts’ perspective, but as far as Apple goes, they don’t really seem to care all that much about it, other than scoring the occasional good press.
Apple Inc. is overhauling how it tests software after a swarm of bugs marred the latest iPhone and iPad operating systems, according to people familiar with the shift. Software chief Craig Federighi and lieutenants including Stacey Lysik announced the changes at a recent internal “kickoff” meeting with the company’s software developers. The new approach calls for Apple’s development teams to ensure that test versions, known as “daily builds,” of future software updates disable unfinished or buggy features by default. Testers will then have the option to selectively enable those features, via a new internal process and settings menu dubbed Flags, allowing them to isolate the impact of each individual addition on the system. If the many issues with and complaints about iOS 13 are to be believed, this seems like a much needed intervention.