Apple Archive

x86 finds its way into your iPhone

In one of my several lives, I'm supposed to be a vulnerability researcher working on baseband exploitation. As every vulnerability researcher knows, being up to date with recent developments is of utmost importance for the success of your job. So of course, after Apple announced its new, shiny, big, bigger and biggest line of iPhone smartphones, I downloaded some OTA firmwares from ipsw.me and started to look into the new baseband firmware.

What I discovered sent a shiver of horror down my spine, the kind of horror that only playing Doom at nighttime, alone in your room, without lights, can produce. Bear with me and I'll tell you what I found...

So the baseband processor inside the iPhone XS is a tiny x86 processor. That's not really all that meaningful or impactful, but I find it deeply fascinating nonetheless.

Apple moves the iPhone away from physical SIMs

On Wednesday, Apple announced that its new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max will use an eSIM - a purely electronic SIM that allows users to maintain a secondary phone line in a single device. That line could be a secondary domestic line (say you're a journalist and don't want to have separate personal and work iPhones), or the phone could have an American and Canadian number (if you travel across the border frequently).

These handsets will have a new "dual SIM dual standby" option, one of which will be a nano SIM. In other words, they will have two distinct phone numbers. (Chinese models will have two SIM slots instead of the eSIM option.)

I'm by no means an expert, but something about soldered electronic SIM cards seems unpleasant about me - it seems like another bit of control over our devices handed over to device makers and carriers. Won't this make it easier to lock devices even more?

Apple unveils new iPhones, new Apple Watch

Apple today in California officially announced the "iPhone Xs" and "iPhone Xs Max", the latest iPhone models coming this year. The company confirmed that both models will come in Space Gray, Silver, and Gold color options, with Gold being the new addition to the iPhone Xs lineup this year.

The iPhone Xs models have the same design as the iPhone X from 2017, with an edge-to-edge OLED display, greatly reduced bezels, and a "notch" that houses the front-facing TrueDepth Camera system. The iPhone Xs is the direct iPhone X successor and measures in at 5.8 inches, while the XS Max is Apple's biggest iPhone yet at 6.5 inches.

Even by "S" standards, this is a relatively small update to the top-tier iPhone, but as an iPhone X user I can say that's honestly perfectly fine - the X is simply still one of the best phones on the market today. Apple also unveiled the iPhone Xr, a cheaper version of the same iPhone X design, which sports an LCD display instead of OLED, and comes in a variety of colours.

Lastly, Apple also released the Apple Watch Series 4, which is a bigger update. It has a much larger display than the Series 3, it's noticeably thinner, and comes with a electrocardiogram functionality and other FDA-approved heartrate functions. They also come with a processor that supposedly makes them twice as fast. A nice upgrade for sure.

Will we ever get tired of buying iPhones?

It's iPhone launch day today, which I would usually greet with some meditation on the expected features or design of the new device and how it fits into the wider competitive field. This year, however, I want to zoom out rather than in. Because no matter how much or how little the iPhone changes today, no matter how awful its new naming scheme, we can all be certain that Apple will sell tens of millions of its 2018 iteration before the year is through. It's this apparent inevitability to Apple's commercial success that I find fascinating.

The only danger the iPhone can run into at this stage is a sudden collapse in its perceived coolness factor among the general public - but barring anything unforeseen, I don't see that happening any time soon. We'll be stuck with the iPhone being the smartphone all others get compared to for a long time to come.

Inside the iPhone repair ecosystem

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.

Just as for cars, all repair and spare parts information should be publicly available to third party repair shops. The fact that this even has to be a shady business to begin with is preposterous.

Why Apple had a secret meeting with app developers

10 years later, the App Store isn't new anymore, and Apple continues to tweak its rules so that developers can create sustainable business models, instead of selling high-quality software for a few dollars or monetizing through advertising. If Apple can't make it worthwhile for developers to make high-quality utilities for the iPhone, then the vibrant software ecosystem that made it so valuable could decay.

Apple's main tool to fight the downward pricing pressure on iPhone apps is subscriptions.

The application store model is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing since it made it very easy for developers to get their code to users, but that ease also caused the supply side of applications to grow exponentially. The end result is something we are all aware of - application stores are littered with garbage, prices of software have plummeted to unsustainable levels, which in turn has all but killed off the independent application developer. The top application lists are now dominated by either high-profile applications such as Facebook or Twitter, or predatory pay-to-win gambling "games". Doing any search in a modern application store reveals piles of useless junk.

The next step is obvious: Apple (and perhaps Google) will attempt an almost Netflix-like app subscription service, where you pay Apple a monthly fee for unlimited use of applications available in the store. It's the next step in milking the last possible drop out of third party developers, and while it will surely allow application store proponents to continue to claim the model is working, it's just a stay of execution.

Developing quality software is a time-consuming and expensive task, and the current application store model - with or without subscriptions - is simply incompatible with it. Either software delivery on modern computing devices gets rethought completely, or even the last remaining bits of quality software will simply disappear from application stores.

Chinese iCloud user data is now handled by a state-owned telco

If you're an Apple customer living in China who didn't already opt out of having your iCloud data stored locally, here's a good reason to do so now. That information, the data belonging to China-based iCloud users which includes emails and text messages, is now being stored by a division of China Telecom, the state-owned telco.

The operator’s Tianyi cloud storage business unit has taken the reins for iCloud China, according to a WeChat post from China Telecom. Apple separately confirmed the change to TechCrunch.

Privacy is very important to us at Apple. Unless you're Chinese - then you're shit out of luck.

Apple partnered with Blackmagic Design on an external GPU

Apple finally found some time to spec bump the Touchbar models of their MacBook Pro laptops (without fixing the keyboard, so buyer beware), and alongside it, the company announced an external GPU enclosure it created in partnsership with Blackmagic.

Alongside the release of new MacBook Pros, the company has taken an extra step toward embracing the tech by giving its seal of approval to a new system from Blackmagic - the simply named Blackmagic eGPU. The company does these kinds of partnerships from time to time - the LG UltraFine 5K Display being perhaps the most notable example.

The $699 accessory features an AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics card and 8GB of DDR5 RAM in a fairly small footprint. There’s an HDMI port, four USB 3.1s and three Thunderbolt 3s, the latter of which makes it unique among these peripherals. The company says the on-board cooling system operates pretty quietly, which should fit nicely alongside those new, quieter MacBook keyboards.

I used Apple’s new controls to limit a teenager’s iPhone time

I, for one, probably have a problem with compulsively picking up my phone. So when Apple announced new software to help people restrict the amount of time they spend on iPhones, I knew I had to test it on myself. I also wanted to try it on a "screenager", a teenager who is addicted to screens - exactly the kind of person generating so much concern.

Just one problem: I don't have a child, so I needed to borrow one. Fortunately, my editor gleefully volunteered her 14-year-old, Sophie, to be a test subject. So last month, I lent Sophie an iPhone X loaded with an unfinished version of iOS 12, Apple's new operating system, that included the Screen Time feature, which is set for release this fall. We set up the account so that I was a parent, with the ability to set limits, and she was my child.

Modern technologies like smartphones and tablets really pose a new kind of problem for parents, and parents today are only just now finding out how to deal with these.

Since I happen to be remarkably aware of the harsh way parents tend to judge each other when it comes to how to raise children, I just want to point out that there really is no one true way to manage how children use these technologies, and on top of that, not every child is the same. And, of course, a child growing up in The Netherlands is not the same as that same hypothetical child growing up in Arco, Montana. In short, there's tons of variables here, so for the parents among us - for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and all that.

How far does 20MHz of Macintosh IIsi power go today?

Years later, I had that story on my mind when I was browsing a local online classifieds site and stumbled across a gem: a Macintosh IIsi. Even better, the old computer was for sale along with the elusive but much-desired Portrait Display, a must-have for the desktop publishing industry of its time. I bought it the very next day.

It took me several days just to get the machine to boot at all, but I kept thinking back to that article. Could I do any better? With much less? Am I that arrogant? Am I a masochist?

Cupertino retro-curiosity ultimately won out: I decided to enroll the Macintosh IIsi as my main computing system for a while. A 1990 bit of gear would now go through the 2018 paces. Just how far can 20MHz of raw processing power take you in the 21st century?

The Macintosh IIsi is such an elegant machine, a fitting home for the equally elegant System 7.x.

Apple engineers its own downfall with the MBP keyboard

A titan of tech and industrial innovation has been laid low by a mere speck of dust. Last week, Apple quietly announced that they were extending the warranty on their flagship laptop's keyboard by four years. As it turns out, the initial run of these keyboards, described by Jony Ive as thin, precise, and "sturdy", has been magnificently prone to failure.

When you see it all spelled out like this, it makes Apple look either incredibly incompetent, or astonishingly arrogant.

Marzipan as a path to ARM-based Macs

Apple has dropped legacy frameworks very easily in the past though. But how exactly did that happen?

CPU changes. Once when MacOS went from PPC to Intel, and then once when MacOS went from 32 bit to 64 bit. Each time that transition happened Apple was able to say "OK, this legacy stuff just isn't going to be there on the new architecture". And since you had to recompile apps anyway to make them run on the new architecture, developers kind of shrugged and said "Well, yea. That's what I would have done too". It made sense.

So are we about to see 128 bit Intel processors anytime soon, to facilitate this change? I doubt it.

OK then, what about a new architecture?

Oh. Hello 64 bit ARM.

The Macintosh platform is going to transition to Apple's own ARM64 architecture over the coming years. The most succinct explanation as to why comes from Steven Troughton-Smith:

Opening ARM-based Macs to the iOS ecosystem to make one unified Apple platform, knowing what we know about Marzipan, makes so much sense that it becomes difficult to imagine it any other way. Apple finds itself completely unable to build the computers it wants to build with Intel.

Windows has already made the move to ARM, and macOS will be joining it over the coming years. There is a major architectural shift happening in desktop computing, and there are quite a few companies who have to worry about their long-term bottom line: Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA.

Apple releases first public beta of iOS 12

Apple this morning released the first public beta of iOS 12 to its public beta testing group, giving non-developers a chance to test the software ahead of its upcoming fall release. The first public beta of iOS 12 should correspond to the second developer beta, which was released last week.

Both iOS 12 betas have been remarkably solid on my iPhone X, and if that's any indication of the final release, iOS 12 is going to be a no-brainer update.

Apple will replace faulty MacBook keyboards free of charge

It wasn't long after Apple changed the mechanisms of its MacBook keyboards that reports of sticky keys and other problems surfaced. Over time as anecdotal evidence mounted, it became apparent that the problem was widespread, but of course, only Apple knew exactly how common the issues were.

Now, in response to the keyboard problems, Apple has begun a keyboard service program to fix or replace keyboards with faulty butterfly switch mechanisms.

As usual when it comes to systemic defects in its products - hello PowerPC logic board failures - Apple really dragged its feet on this one. Unlike the Apple-verse, I'm not even going to commend them for this.

Shortcuts: a new vision for Siri and iOS automation

On the surface, Shortcuts the app looks like the full-blown Workflow replacement heavy users of the app have been wishfully imagining for the past year. But there is more going on with Shortcuts than the app alone. Shortcuts the feature, in fact, reveals a fascinating twofold strategy: on one hand, Apple hopes to accelerate third-party Siri integrations by leveraging existing APIs as well as enabling the creation of custom SiriKit Intents; on the other, the company is advancing a new vision of automation through the lens of Siri and proactive assistance from which everyone - not just power users - can reap the benefits.

While it's still too early to comment on the long-term impact of Shortcuts, I can at least attempt to understand the potential of this new technology. In this article, I'll try to explain the differences between Siri shortcuts and the Shortcuts app, as well as answering some common questions about how much Shortcuts borrows from the original Workflow app. Let's dig in.

Workflow was an amazing iOS application, even with the inherent limitations imposed by iOS. Now that Workflow is owned by Apple and properly integrated into iOS, it should provide an even better experience. While I'm not particularly interested in Shortcuts on my iPhone X, I can't wait to dig into it on my iPad Pro.

How ARKit 2 works, and why Apple is so focused on AR

Augmented reality (AR) has played prominently in nearly all of Apple's events since iOS 11 was introduced, Tim Cook has said he believes it will be as revolutionary as the smartphone itself, and AR was Apple's biggest focus in sessions with developers at WWDC this year.

But why? Most users don't think the killer app for AR has arrived yet - unless you count Pokémon Go. The use cases so far are cool, but they're not necessary and they're arguably a lot less cool on an iPhone or iPad screen than they would be if you had glasses or contacts that did the same things.

From this year's WWDC keynote to Apple's various developer sessions hosted at the San Jose Convention Center and posted online for everyone to view, though, it's clear that Apple is investing heavily in augmented reality for the future. We're going to comb through what Apple has said about AR and ARKit this week, go over exactly what the toolkit does and how it works, and speculate about the company's strategy - why Apple seems to care so much about AR, and why it thinks it's going to get there first in a coming gold rush.

While AR clearly has a role to play in professional settings (e.g construction work, medical settings, and so on), I still haven't seen a general purpose application that justifies the heavy investment in AR by Apple. All demos usually come down to "oh, that's neat, I guess" and "that is incredibly uncomfortable". Where's the killer app?

On the sad state of Macintosh hardware

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.

Given the incredibly sad state of the Mac lineup, it's difficult to understand how WWDC could have come and gone with no hardware releases. Apple's transparency in 2017 regarding their miscalculation with the Mac Pro seemed encouraging, but over a year later, the company has utterly failed to produce anything tangible. Instead, customers are still forced to choose between purchasing new computers that are actually years old or holding out in the faint hope that hardware updates are still to come. Every day, the situation becomes more dire.

The Rogue Amoeba tea is not wrong. Apple's Mac line-up is pretty much a joke at this point, and despite Tim Cook's endless "we have great stuff in the pipeline" remarks, Apple is simply failing to deliver. The Mac is still not in a good spot.

Apple tries to stop developers sharing data on users’ friends

Apple changed its App Store rules last week to limit how developers use information about iPhone owners' friends and other contacts, quietly closing a loophole that let app makers store and share data without many people's consent.

The move cracks down on a practice that's been employed for years. Developers ask users for access to their phone contacts, then use it for marketing and sometimes share or sell the information - without permission from the other people listed on those digital address books. On both Apple's iOS and Google's Android, the world's largest smartphone operating systems, the tactic is sometimes used to juice growth and make money.

I've always found it quite easy to spot applications that would try to abuse permissions like this - weather applications don't need access to telephony, a notes application doesn't need access to my contact list, and so on. It's good to see Apple cracking down on this practice for those among us who aren't as observant.

AirPods to get Live Listen feature in iOS 12

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.

What a great accessibility feature for people with hearing problems.