Apple Archive

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.

Apple previews iOS 12

Apple previewed iOS 12 today, and two features stand out to me as exciting and interesting. First, a focus on performance for the many, many people using older iPhones and iPads.

The company said it is putting a particular focus on ensuring the update works smoothly on older devices. To give a point of reference, Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said iOS 12 will launch apps up to 40% faster and bring up the keyboard up to 50% faster on an iPhone 6 Plus. Federighi said the update will make a compatible phone "instantly ramp up performance to its highest state" when it recognizes that it needs a performance boost - such as when you're loading an app - then more quickly bring it down to help preserve battery life.

While you should always take these "faster than" claims with a grain of salt, I really do hope they're at least partially true, because Apple is not cutting off support for any older device with iOS 12 - iOS 12 will run on every device that currently also supports iOS 11.

The second interesting feature is Shortcuts, which is effectively the amazing app Workflow that Apple acquired last year, integrated into Siri.

The update will bring new features to Apple's Siri digital assistant as well. The biggest of the bunch is a feature called Shortcuts, which will let users create a voice prompt to ask Siri to perform commonly-made actions with third-party apps, and let developers integrate further with the assistant for certain quick actions. Apple gave the example of assigning the phrase "help me find my keys" in conjunction with the Tile app: if you say that, Siri could be made to automatically activate the Tile app and use it to help you find your keys right from within the Siri interface. You could also assign a multistep routine to the assistant: a custom phrase like "heading home," for instance, could prompt Siri to start up a favorite radio station, adjust your home thermostat, send a message to your spouse, and tell you how long it'll take to reach your house.

There's ton of other things, and there's one other I'd like to highlight specifically: grouped notifications.

Finally.

The first iOS 12 developer preview is available today, and the final version will, as always, ship this Autumn.

Apple is blocking Telegram updates following Russian ban

Russia ordered a ban of the Telegram secure messaging app back in April, and the knock-on effects continue to cause issues for users outside of Russia. Following the messy block of 15.8 million IPs on Amazon and Google's cloud platforms, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov says Apple has been blocking updates for the app globally. The lack of Telegram app updates mean some features, like stickers, aren't working correctly in the recently released iOS 11.4 update.

"Apple has been preventing Telegram from updating its iOS apps globally ever since the Russian authorities ordered Apple to remove Telegram from the App Store," explains Durov in a Telegram message. "While Russia makes up only 7 percent of Telegram's userbase, Apple is restricting updates for all Telegram users around the world since mid-April."

Apple's so-called love of privacy only extends to people in the west, and only matters as long as it's not too troublesome to the bottom-line. Apple has no qualms about handing over the data of Chinese Apple users to the Chinese government, and apparently, the company is all too eager to please the Russian government by selling out not only Russian Telegram users, but all Telegram users. It seems like Apple is just fine with undermining one of the primary tools with which dissidents in Russia communicate, because whatever, who cares about morals and principles, right?

Apple's privacy advocacy is a thin veneer designed to trick rich, comfy westerners into believing Apple actually cares about them. I can't believe it seems to be working, too.

iOS 11.4 released

Apple has released iOS 11.4.

iOS 11.4 is an audio-focused update, introducing support for multi-room audio through a new protocol that supports multi-room audio on all AirPlay 2 enabled devices.

The iOS 11.4 update also introduces Messages in iCloud, a feature that has been in the works for several months and was first promised as an iOS 11 feature in June of 2017. Messages in iCloud is designed to store your iMessages in iCloud rather than on each individual device, allowing for improved syncing capabilities.

watchOS 4.3.1 and tvOS 11.4 have also been released, and the software on the HomePod has been updated as well.

Apple launches new privacy portal due to GDPR

Apple has today launched its new Data and Privacy website, allowing Apple users to download everything that Apple personally associates with your account, from Apple ID info, App Store activity, AppleCare history to data stored in iCloud like photos and documents. This is currently only available for European Union accounts, to comply with GDPR, and will roll out worldwide in the coming months.

There are also simple shortcuts to updating your info, temporarily deactivating your account and options to permanently delete it.

It's almost like all the people whining about suddenly having to care about their users' personal data were wrong, and the GDPR is actually doing what it's supposed to do: force accountability onto data holders.

The Power Mac G4 Line

The tower form factor may be a thing of the past, at least until the new Mac Pro shows up next year, but for years, if you needed the most powerful and flexible machine money could buy, the Power Mac was the only way to go.

For almost five years, the heart of the Power Mac was the PowerPC G4 chip. Starting in 1999 it clocked at just 350 MHz, but by the time the Power Mac G4 line was retired, a tower with dual 1.42 GHz CPUs could be ordered. In that time frame, things like Gigabit Ethernet, SuperDrives, and Wi-Fi became mainstream.

I have a soft spot for all Macs from the PowerPC G4 era - back when Apple wasn't boring - and the various models of Power Mac G4 aren't exceptions. I can't really explain why I find PowerPC G4 Macs so appealing, even to this day - all I know is that I am dead-set on collecting a number of them, especially those I couldn't ever afford when they were new.

iOS developers form union to pressure Apple

A number of prominent third-party iOS developers have formed a union to put pressure on Apple to change several App Store policies.

We believe that people who create great software should be able to make a living doing it. So we created The Developers Union to advocate for sustainability in the App Store.

Today, we are asking Apple to publicly commit - by the tenth anniversary of the App Store this July - to allowing free trials for all apps in the App Stores before July 2019. After that, we'll start advocating for a more reasonable revenue cut and other community-driven, developer-friendly changes.

I've railed against the long-term sustainability of the application store model for years now, long before it became en vogue in wider developer circles. I absolutely love the idea of independent developers forming a union - even if it's not a literal union - as a means to put pressure on Apple, Google, and other owners of application stores to take better care of developers.

At the same time, I fear that they are too late - the vast majority of the App Store's revenue comes from crappy pay-to-win mobile games, not from well-made, lovingly crafted applications. I simply don't think these developers are important enough to a bean-counting bottom-liner like Tim Cook.

iOS design inconsistencies across Apple’s apps

This has been bugging me for a while - definitely since iOS 11 was unveiled last June and probably before then. I have no clue what Apple's strategy is with their iOS app icon sets, other than to resign myself to the truth that there isn't one. For simplicity, I'm focusing on just the share icon in this post (what Apple formally calls the 'action' button) but these criticisms apply much more widely.

iOS is, indeed, an inconsistent mess when it comes to user interface design. Every application looks and feels different, which trips me up all the time. Android is a little bit better in this regard thanks to Material Design, but that's really not saying much.

And you know what? I'd rather have misaligned ports I never see at the bottom of my phone than inconsistent UI design I look at multiple times a day.

How much does Apple know about me?

Following Facebook's acknowledgement that it had let a political ad targeting firm scrape the personal data of 87 million users, I rushed to see what kind of personal data the social network and Google had gathered on me. Both had more information, reaching back longer, than I had envisioned.

So Apple was next. I use an iPhone, iPad and two Mac computers, and Apple also offers data downloads in the privacy section of its website. It's hard to find, and once you do make the connection, you can expect a hefty wait to get the results. But don't expect to stay up all night reading what Apple has on you.

Hint: it ain't much.

20 years of iMac: a story of relentless design iteration

A 20th anniversary is a milestone worthy of celebration in its own right, but even more so when describing a computer. Few technology products boast such a feat in an industry where changing customer preference and exponential technical advancement can quickly obsolete even the most well-considered plans.

This Sunday, Apple's iMac line joins the 20-year club. Its ticket to entry is two decades of valuable lessons and ideas that tell the recent history of the personal computer industry and reveal Apple's priorities and values. The iMac's timeline tells many stories - some of reinvention and business strategy, others of software and hardware.

Perhaps none are more significant than the iMac's design story. Explorations of color, form, material, and miniaturization have marked significant breakthroughs throughout the years. On this anniversary week, we'll take a look at the design evolution of the iMac.

The iMac G4 is definitely my favourite iMac. I've owned all types of iMac - the G3, G4, G5, and various Intel models - and the latest incarnation, the iMac Pro, is definitely on my list of things I'd love to buy if I win the lottery.

Apple iMac Pro and secure storage

Given all of these changes, we wanted to explore how the T2 coprocessor was being used by Apple and how it currently fits into the larger system security model, as well as how this may evolve in the future. What follows is the first part of this exploration where we describe how the T2 coprocessor is used to implement Secure Boot on the iMac Pro, as well as comparing and contrasting this Secure Boot approach to those that have been present in Apple’s iDevices for a number of years.

Detailed exploration of the T2 coprocessor in the new iMac Pro.

Apple officially discontinues AirPort wireless router lineup

Apple has officially ended development on its AirPort line of products, which includes the AirPort Express ($99), the AirPort Extreme ($199), and the AirPort Time Capsule ($299).

This makes me sad. I have the latest AirPort Extreme, and it's one of those products I have absolutely zero complaints about. It's easy to use, works like a charm, has far better performance than any other router I've ever had, and looks unassuming. If it ever fails. I'll probably take a look at something like Eero.

The fifth age of Macintosh: what happens if Apple dumps Intel?

Regardless, the Fifth Age of the Macintosh is at hand. We just don’t know what form it’ll take. The first age began with the original 1984 Mac. The second age was marked by maturity and stability of the environment that came with Mac System Software 6 in 1988. 2001’s OS X did nothing less than save the entire platform. And when Apple finally figured out notebooks - around 2006-2008, with the introductions of the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air - the company brought the sexy back to the Mac.

Which brings us to Five.

The next major step could be a revolutionary spin on the Mac that goes way beyond merely keeping pace with modern computing and makes the Mac into an influential platform once more. We can even dare to hope that by building its own CPUs, consolidating the Mac’s hardware design further, and incorporating iPad manufacturing methods, Apple can finally produce a great Mac that sells for way under $900.

Or, it could be equally significant as The Last Version Of MacOS That Apple Ever Ships.

I have a distinct feeling - and I've had that feeling for years now - that something big is about to happen to the Mac. I do not believe that the Mac as we know it today will be around for much longer; what form it will take, exactly, is up for debate, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the platform slowly but surely move towards ARM, probably from the bottom (MacBook Air) to the top (Mac Pro). MacOS and iOS aren't going to become unified in the sense they're the same on an iPhone and a Mac, but they will run the exact same applications, just with different UIs depending on the input method (and screen size) used.

The upcoming Mac Pro might very well be the last traditional x86 Apple workstation.

Why I left Mac for Windows: Apple has given up

If you ask anyone who knows me, I'm probably the biggest Apple fan they know. Ask for a suggestion of what computer to get, and I'll almost certainly either tell you the MacBook Pro, or to wait, because Apple is about to update its hardware finally.

But recently, I realized I'd gotten tired of Apple's attitude toward the desktop. The progress in macOS land has basically been dead since Yosemite, two years ago, and Apple's updates to the platform have been incredibly small. I'm a developer, and it seems to me Apple doesn't pay any attention to its software or care about the hundreds of thousands of developers that have embraced the Mac as their go-to platform.

Something's obviously afoot in Mac land.

“Apple has an iPad gesture dilemma”

At its launch back in 2010, the iPad was heavily criticized for being a big iPhone. iOS 11 and the iPad Pro proved that wasn't the case. Things further diverged with the introduction of the iPhone X, which has led to some confusion for anyone who regularly uses an iPad. I've been using an iPhone X and iPad Pro together for nearly six months now, and I often feel lost when moving back and forth between the devices - one with a physical home button, the other with webOS-like gestures. The result is a vastly different user experience, even though they run the same version of iOS on large rectangles of glass.

I also use both an iPhone X and an iPad Pro 12.9", and I actually don't see this as a problem at all. The two devices are vastly different, and I use them in completely different ways - one as a smartphone, the other as a laptop - so it only makes sense to use them differently. Forcing the iPad into the same gestures and UI as the iPhone only leaves it hamstrung; it restricts the iPad into being an oversized iPhone, while what I want is for the iPad to gain more and more features from classic operating systems like macOS and Windows.