He takes the MacBook to Apple for repairs. They immediately claim it’s water damaged and the entire logic board (and, for some reason, the top of the case) need to be replaced at a cost of $1200. When taken to a board repair expert, he spends a few minutes nudging a pin into place, fixing the issue. This kind of practice from Apple has been an open secret for years, but it’s good to see pressure from a news organization on it.

Apple’s been charging people huge repair bills for years, which usually ends up converting someone into just replacing the machine outright. At the same time, they’ve been fighting hard against our right to repair our own machines, exploiting law enforcement or loopholes in copyright laws to interfere with repair shops who fix the machines Apple refuses to. Apple has massive leverage and needs to be checked through legislation. Luckily there are many Right-to-Repair bills being proposed in state legislatures, and if even only one or two pass, they would force companies like Apple to provide resources to these shops. And while Apple is a huge offender, they’re not alone, as more companies emulate their model and lock down their devices in order to sell you new products when yours become prematurely obsolete.

Consider supporting one of these Right to Repair bills in your state or country.

Owen Williams:

Microsoft, it seems, has removed all of the barriers to remaining in your ‘flow.’ Surface is designed to adapt to the mode you want to be in, and just let you do it well. Getting shit done doesn’t require switching device or changing mode, you can just pull off the keyboard, or grab your pen and the very same machine adapts to you.

It took years to get here, but Microsoft has nailed it. By comparison, the competition is flailing around arguing about whether or not touchscreens have a place on laptops. The answer? Just let people choose.

This coherency is what I had come to expect from Apple, but iPad and MacBook look messier than ever. Sure, you can get an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, but you can’t use either of them in a meaningful way in tandem with your desktop workflow. It requires switching modes entirely, to a completely different operating system and interaction model, then back again.

The Surface lineup is super compelling now, and Windows continues to get better and better through minor feature updates every few months. Microsoft under its new CEO is cleaning up its act and actually conveying and executing a vision for how the personal computer fits into a modern lifestyle in 2018. At a time when Apple is struggling to remember that it’s creator audience exists, Microsoft is capitalizing on it and giving people what they want.

That said, it’s really silly that the Surface Studio 2, their iMac equivalent, is using a 7th generation CPU when Intel’s 8th generation has been out for months, and some of these are missing USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. There is definitely more work to do to bring these machines to peak performance.

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Separating Apple Watch from iPhone as a Public Health Good


At their September event, Apple spoke of their annual upgrades to their iPhone and Apple Watch lines. While the iPhone update was mostly limited to the processor and camera, the Apple Watch had some more significant improvements, notably including the capability to capture an electrocardiogram, atril fibrillation detection, fall detection, and an emergency SOS feature.

While the original pitch for the Apple Watch included health features, it was more concerned with being a workout accessory and general activity tracker. Over the years, it has grown more sophisticated at being not just an accessory, but a true guardian of the wearer’s health. Features like ResearchKit are making it possible for medical research to be conducted on people on a daily basis. It’s clear Apple is going to continue moving the Apple Watch in this direction.

This has potential to be transformative to public health, but there’s a problem: this device is limited to people who have iPhones, which makes up about 2 in 5 US phones and 1 in 5 phones worldwide. That means these features are not available to the vast majority of smartphone users, a market that is currently starved for a comparable product. And while there are finally some signs of life for an alternate smartwatch platform, Apple’s actively working with the FDA on some of their features; they’re simply better positioned to have accurate results.

When the iPhone launched, it was tethered to a computer running iTunes, but with its fifth release, the iPhone went PC-free and became fully self-sufficient. While it’s unlikely that the Apple Watch could ever be completely run without a connection to some other device, surely there will be many features that aren’t dependent on an iPhone. The health care features alone would be transformative for many people; there are absolutely people who would buy an Apple Watch just to have a modern health guardian device. Are they obligated to make the Watch work without the iPhone? Of course not. But it would dramatically expand the market for the device, and provide a marked improvement to the health and lives of people who can’t get one today.

Apple’s App Review has made another sweeping change that is disrupting the lives of developers yesterday, kicking out a bunch of apps without warning that are for gambling. Many of the apps involved have either nothing resembling gambling mechanics in them. And many of these are from small developers who effectively have no recourse.

It appears that this was a massive overreach that is actively getting walked back by Apple, but it still highlights the fact that Apple can and will terminate your business on a whim, without warning, based on whatever reason they like. And since you can’t bypass the App Store like you can on Android, if your business depends on this, you’re toast. Decisions like this are why I don’t make my own iOS apps anymore.

Apple’s official line:

In order to reduce fraudulent activity on the App Store and comply with government requests to address illegal online gambling activity, we are no longer allowing gambling apps submitted by individual developers. This includes both real money gambling apps as well as apps that simulate a gambling experience.

As a result, this app has been removed from the App Store. While you can no longer distribute gambling apps from this account, you may continue to submit and distribute other types of apps to the App Store.

They’ve pulled magazine app (since restored), a GIF search app (since restored), a YouTube search app (since restored), a YouTube player, a photography app, a Reddit client (since restored), and many others. It’s unclear if these were all automated, though in at least one case it appeared to involve a call to Apple developer support. There’s also an 11 year old blackjack game and a poker chips calculator app, which possibly could fall under some definition of “simulated gambling”, which is now apparently against the rules for some reason.

Since there is no oversight of App Review or the rulings it makes, there is no way to know the full extent of the bans, how many apps were affected, or what percentage of them are being reinstated. Still, it sounds like this was an error at least some of the apps are returning. I’m sure the developers could’ve done without the panic attack from an email suddenly stating that their apps were kicked off, though.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to allow and profit heavily from apps with actual gambling mechanics like loot boxes and gacha games that encourage people, including minors, to gamble.

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Fortnite Skipping the Google Play Store


This is a real power play. Epic Games is planning to push Fortnite outside of the Google Play Store by asking users to install an APK file. This will help them run around the exorbitant 30% fee that Apple instituted and Google adopted for their app stores. This isn’t the first alternative app platform to appear on Android; companies like Baidu, Tencent, Itch.io, the open source F-Droid, and even Amazon have their own stores. But it is probably the first that will get major mainstream attention (and installs) in the west. Fortnite is big enough; this will probably work.

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rip

Apple, who just yesterday announced a $53 billion profit in a single quarter (driven largely by the iPhone and its App Store), is shutting down the affiliate program for the App Store. Meaning blogs that cover the App Store and highlight great apps will no longer be able to get paid for driving traffic. With only 60 days notice, Apple will stop paying developers for the traffic they’re already sending and just take the money for themselves.

I don’t know how to view this as anything other than a “screw you, we got ours” move. Apple has the cash to run this program into perpetuity. With the App Store in the millions of apps, there is always room for more voices of curation, because the most valuable marketing is word-of-mouth. Developers won’t see lower rates and customers won’t see lower prices. There is no upside to anyone here except Apple, the richest company on the planet. It doesn’t make any sense.

Eli Hodapp of TouchArcade:

I don’t know how the takeaway from this move can be seen as anything other than Apple extending a massive middle finger to sites like TouchArcade, AppShopper, and many others who have spent the last decade evangelizing the App Store and iOS gaming.

Federico Viticci:

I am personally not that affected because we saw this coming years ago and we adapted – but it’s a huge blow to small publications, indie devs, and others who rely on this to earn commissions. Sad.

Daily reminder that if you truly want your favorite blog to stick around, make sure to support them directly, whitelist them for ads, buy through their podcast sponsors, etc.

Shawn King:

This has the potential to kill sites like Touch Arcade that use the revenue from App Store affiliate links to stay afloat. I think Apple’s stated reasoning for this action is utterly ridiculous and complete bullshit. But it also shows the danger for any site or business to rely too much on one source of revenue.

Greg Pierce:

The affiliate program was not huge for me, but it was a nice small check every month. I imagine this will particularly hurt small blog/news sites that do a lot of app coverage, however.

Apple’s quarterly results showed the Mac down 13% year-over-year. Everything was out of date; the new MacBook Pros didn’t ship until Q3 in July, so that certainly didn’t help. John Voorhees also has some handy charts over at MacStories.

I really hope Apple starts to get the Mac back in shape soon. They showed a relatively strong offering of Mac software at WWDC, probably the most exciting since the reveal of the trash can Mac Pro in 2013.

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So yeah, Apple wants to remove the headphone port from the iPhone, apparently. Nilay Patel wrote a rant article on The Verge describing how removing the headphone port would be “user-hostile and stupid” (like, it’s in the title of the article). He makes a compelling, if incomplete, case for why it hurts you for Apple to force this change, citing the potential for a return of music DRM, need for additional pricey adapters, major compatibility issues, and the fact that nobody really wants this.

Nilay’s article is written under the argument that it would be “user-hostile” to remove the headphone port. I’m going to define this as acting against the user’s wishes, or being designed without the user in mind. It seems pretty reasonable that a user would not want hardware compatibility issues, DRM-encumbered music, or significantly more expensive headphones. And users already have lots of devices compatible with the 3.5mm headphone port. Therefore, to remove the port in a way that is not user-hostile and stupid, Apple would have to provide more value and benefit than they are taking away, on top of whatever new features they provide.

Following it up, John Gruber writes a rebuttal comparing this transition to Apple’s removal of floppy drives in the late 90s by writing about how this will be a positive for Apple. A rebuttal should address the core argument made, and John’s rebuttal completely fails to do that.

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App Subscriptions and Premium App Experiences


Today Apple announced some plans to allow apps to offer subscriptions, where you pay periodically for software. Many indie developers were quick to praise it, as support for subscriptions was something asked of Apple for years (which were only officially supported in certain types of apps, like news periodicals). Opening new business models is definitely a welcome thing, as it is currently super difficult to make a living as a small developer on the App Store.

However, I worry that Apple is chasing the wrong idea here. The App Store is now 8 years old, and the race to the bottom on pricing is well documented. Today, the vast majority of apps that get downloaded are free up-front, not paid. With over 1.5 million apps on the store, for seemingly any task you might want or game you might be curious about, there is a free variant made by the same developer or someone else. The mainstream consumer has been well trained to skip right past apps that charge a price for entry, and for better or worse, people scoff at the idea of paying for apps.

So, if mainstream users are already unwilling to pay once, why would they pay for an app monthly or yearly?

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Why the iPad Pro needs Xcode


On March 7, 2012, Tim Cook announced their 3rd-generation “New iPad”, leading into it with a (fair and justified) dig at the state of Android tablet apps. Apps like Twitter and Yelp were shown as they ran at the time, with a smartphone-based UI stretched out to fit the wider display. Cook made jokes about apps being hard to see, with small text and lots of whitespace.

The prospect of building iPad apps has not been as popular for developers as building for iPhone. At the same time, iOS as a platform went from having a couple fixed screen sizes to requiring developers design their apps to be flexible. In an effort to bring more iPhone apps to iPad, Apple developed the concept of Adaptive UI, pushing developers away from targeting screen sizes to targeting flexible rectangles with certain size properties.

What Apple wanted to happen was that developers would build a compact UI, and a full-size UI, and the library of iPad apps would naturally expand to have a lot of what was on iPhone. But that didn’t really happen. What happened instead was that many developers design and target for iPhone, then fudge and fiddle with that UI until it looks okay on iPad, leading to (in the worst case) things like what Twitter’s iPad app has now become.

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How Apple Watch changes Apple Retail


The Apple Watch is a unique product for Apple Retail. The retail operation is designed today to showcase a few demo models of a product, sitting on a table, chained to a desk. Guests can get a very good feel of how a laptop or a phone works by touching it while tethered. You can play with the iPhone’s software or check Facebook on a MacBook Air and reasonably intuit how this thing will fit into your life. Apple has perfected that purchasing experience over the last decade because their products have fundamentally all been disconnected from the user.

While the Apple Watch shares some similarities to Apple’s other mobile products, the experience of using one is totally different. A smartwatch becomes an augmentation, an extension of your body. It has to fit your wrist, and be comfortable, and provide subtle utility. It must look and feel good to the person wearing it. A watch is often more about fashion than utility.

Proving those elements will be what convinces someone who walks into an Apple Store to walk out with an Apple Watch. So to really try an Apple Watch before you buy one, you’re going to have to wear it.

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Replacing Objective-C and Cocoa


Ash Furrow wrote an article arguing that Apple needed to replace Objective-C with something else. The crux of the argument is that programming languages have moved to higher levels of abstraction over time, edging further away from direct hardware access. By the time such a transition were completed (say within 10 years), using C-based languages will seem as archaic as using assembly. Ash then lays out features he would like to see in such a language.

Replacing something as fundamental to a platform as its language is no small feat. Apple did this once before with Cocoa and the compatibility bridge of Carbon when moving from OS 9 to OS X, and its migration took 12 years to be fully finished in public API. Developers fought this change for many years before Cocoa became the de-facto standard. So a migration to something newer cannot be a cavalier move done to embrace trends; it must be done with a clear purpose that fixes common issues in the thing it replaces, and it must set a foundation upon which to build at least a decade or two of software. And it must coexist with that which came before it. With the OS X transition, Apple didn’t just have a new language; they had a whole new operating system. It came with entirely different ways of handling memory, threading, files, and graphics. It delivered frameworks that were way more usable than their predecessors. It wasn’t just a new programming language; it was a revolution in how we built software.

That’s what it should take to inspire a radical change in developer tools – improvements on an order of magnitude in building software, making it easier to solve hard problems, and fixing issues in common coding standards that have arisen through heavy use. This goes beyond just a programming language; it will require new frameworks and design patterns to really bring about the benefit. Apple owns their developer technologies stack; from compilation with LLVM, to language features in Objective-C, to framework features in Cocoa, to web technologies in WebKit. When you have control of all of these pieces, the problems at the top of the stack can be addressed at the bottom, and vice-versa.

Here are some things I’d love to see in a next-generation developer platform.

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Much ado has been made about the idea of App Store apps getting discounted upgrades, where you buy an app once, and then pay a discounted amount for an upgrade. This idea is not new; for many years, developers sold apps under a model known as shareware. In an era when software was harder to use and people feared viruses, this model thrived among technically-savvy people who tended to spend more money on technology. The generally-accepted model in the Apple world has a fair bit of complexity, involving trials (some time-based, some feature-restricted), serial numbers or license files, and periodic requests for more money. Then the App Store came and replaced it outright with a new, simpler model that favors a traditional retail-style system of cheap software that you pay for once. It’s far more straightforward and easier to understand; if you want the app, you buy it, and then you own it.

Developers who have thrived under the old model have complained for a long time that they want discounted upgrades to make a return to iOS. Along with it comes the added complexity of managing different tiers of ownership, both technically and mentally. Apple has not offered this, instead opting to make major updates available as a separate, standalone app that existing users pay for in full, as was done recently with Logic Pro X. To me, this is far and away a better and simpler approach to handling upgrades in an era when non-technical people buy software.

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When I got my first-gen iPad, I stopped using it regularly within a few weeks. It was just too heavy, too big, too thick to really consider using as a replacement for a laptop, or to bring with me places. It’s too heavy to hold for a sustained period of time. In many ways, the iPad mini is what I really wanted the iPad itself to be, and how I want to use it. Smaller, thinner, and lighter than a laptop. Easy to carry everywhere. More immersive than an iPhone. It’s much better suited for the couch, bed, hammock, bus, or car. It’s the size of a book but the weight of a pad of paper.

Today, most iPhone apps are meant to be used in portrait (if not exclusively, then at least primarily). The OS goes out of its way to enforce this; the home screen is in portrait, and locking the orientation restricts you to portrait (even in cases like video and the camera where it makes no sense). On iPad, you can orient the device any way you like, including for the homescreen and orientation lock, but I’d wager that most people use it primarily in landscape. The narrower edge design of the iPad mini seems to encourage more portrait use, which means there may be an awkward early adopter period of apps that aren’t as useful on the mini because they are optimized for landscape over portrait. One possible benefit of the smaller size and the portrait emphasis is that maybe, just maybe, scaled-up iPhone apps won’t look as comically bad on the mini (and don’t scoff, as there are hundreds of thousands of apps that aren’t optimized for iPad). Who knows.

Last week I said I wasn’t going to buy one until I tried it out and felt the size. Oops. I guess we’ll see how it feels when I get mine on Friday.

The iPad mini is basically a small iPad 2. It has an upgraded camera, improved wireless, and a 15% higher density screen. But the screen is only as good as the original iPhone, and it’s running the same 19-month-old A5 processor (which is no slouch, but is hardly state-of-the-art). This is the same chip used in the latest iPod touch, but has more pixels to drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if, even with the non-Retina display, this device feels a little sluggish compared to an iPhone 5, or even a 4S.

The mini certainly fills a need; the current iPad is too large to be truly portable, but is smaller than every notebook you can buy. The iPad has definitely been the dominant player in the 10-inch tablet market, but the 7-inch tablet market has been growing. The leading competition in the 7-inch tablet space is the Nexus 7 (which is a very capable tablet), which will probably end up in a respectable #2 place by the end of 2012 in the area of several million units. It makes sense that Apple would want to try to hold on to the top seat.

The $329 base price point, however, is a strange and awkward place to start the lineup. Not only is this $130 more expensive than the Nexus 7, it misses the psychological barrier of getting under $300. This propagates through the upgraded models as well, and causing a weird staggering effect. In fact, adding in the iPad 2’s and the iPad 4’s price points, we get this pricing chart of 13 prices spread out over 14 models:

Price Model Storage Cell Data
$329 iPad mini 16 GB None
$399 iPad 2 16 GB None
$429 iPad mini 32 GB None
$459 iPad mini 16 GB 4G
$499 iPad 4 16 GB None
$529 iPad mini 64 GB None
$529 iPad 2 16 GB 3G
$559 iPad mini 32 GB 4G
$599 iPad 4 16 GB 4G
$629 iPad 4 16 GB 4G
$659 iPad mini 64 GB 4G
$699 iPad 4 64 GB None
$729 iPad 4 32 GB 4G
$829 iPad 4 64 GB 4G

While there are some overarching rules (e.g. if you want more space, or you want 4G data, you’re paying more), there’s no consistency when you move up or down by one price point. If you were thinking of spending an extra $30, you suddenly have a lot more variables to consider. Perhaps Apple did this to maybe get a few extra dollars out of the customer, but my hunch is that it’ll have the opposite effect. Say you walk into the Apple Store to buy a base model iPad 4 at $499. If you wanted to spend a little more, you could get a slower iPad with 3G, or a smaller iPad with a lot of space you don’t know if you need. On the other hand you could get the iPad mini with the exact same storage, a smaller screen, and 4G data, all while walking out of the store with $40 in your pocket. It’s not a hard conclusion to draw.

In the end, Apple will sell a zillion of them, and they’ll work fine. In a year, Apple will announce the next iPad mini, which will probably include a Retina display, a more modern chipset, and probably a price drop to $299 as well. It just feels like they’re holding some of that stuff back from this version, and it doesn’t seem like price is the motivating factor.

Personally I’m waiting to get one until I actually hold it and try to fit it into my large-but-not-iPad-large jacket pocket. The true test of a device like the iPad mini is its portability. The Nexus 7 fits my jacket, but barely. Hopefully the iPad mini fits as well.

iCloud looks like it will be an incredible technology for moving app data between devices. This is inherently a good thing, and it will open avenues for many new types of apps. But, there is a fundamental problem. Right now, the only way to access it is through Objective-C APIs embedded into iOS and Mac OS X. Under the hood, they are obviously talking to the network and doing the business of syncing data, but that networking layer is not exposed or documented, and would have to be reverse-engineered in order to understand and use. So the only way for developers to move their data through this system is through a pre-compiled bundle that gets referenced within an application.

This has a few interesting practical repercussions. If you build an application targeting iCloud, you can only ever put it on two platforms – Mac and iOS. You will never be able to port it to Android, WebOS, Windows Phone, or the web (mobile or desktop). If you sync data through iCloud, And, you will never be able to have a server component that can do things with your data all the time.

Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. In my To Do list app, Todolicious, one thing I would love to be able to do is to push badges to your iPhone and Mac showing the number of To Dos you have left. When you tap a To Do to mark it as done, suddenly all your devices would show the correct number on the icon. With the sync server I was building, this was fairly trivial; wait for the user’s list to change, and send a signal to push the count everywhere. But if I back Todolicious with iCloud, I have no way of speaking between my server and iCloud (and I’d still need a server of some kind to send the notifications, after all).

Similarly, if I were to build a web app version of Todolicious (which I was planning on), I could not get access to that data within iCloud at all. I’d have to have either to sync to both iCloud and a custom solution (unwieldy, poor UX and network traffic, and otherwise gross), or not load existing data at all (completely negating the benefit of having such a web app).

So there is a serious ecosystem lock-in problem for apps that wish to target iCloud. All of these problems go away when iCloud is made available as a server-to-server API. A big benefit in the promise of cloud computing includes service interoperability, but right now iCloud is merely a data silo. I have filed this as a bug, rdar://9598555, for a server-to-server API (through which you could build code that speaks to iCloud on your server or on other platforms). I dearly hope Apple addresses it.

Such a server-to-server API would drastically decrease the friction of setting up cloud services to complement an iCloud-backed app, and would lead to better apps and more pleased users.

JailbreakMe.com is a website that offers visitors the ability to jailbreak their iPhone without a computer-based tether. It does this by exploiting the system-wide ability for applications to read PDF files, where an incorrectly-formatted PDF file can lead a hacker to do anything they want to your system. While this bug CAN be used maliciously to steal all the personal data from your phone, the developers in this instance used it to enable jailbreaking.

Others will tell you why you should or should not jailbreak your iPhone. Others will decry the developers for bringing to light a serious vulnerability in the iPhone OS. In this blog post, I won’t do any of that, but will instead point out some things you should and shouldn’t do if you decide to jailbreak.

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iPhone had the first two store UIs; the iTunes Store for content like music and movies, and the App Store for software. The iPad will add a third, the iBookstore, for buying eBooks. These stores all provide content for users to extend the utility of their device. But each has a pretty different user interaction model for accessing, purchasing, and consuming that content.

  • The iTunes Store is a separate app that is completely distinct from the iPod app. When you find something to buy, prompting you for your iTunes account password. It then adds the purchase to the app’s Downloads tab. Once you have purchased the content, you must then switch back to the iPod app to listen to or watch it.
  • The App Store is a separate app. When you purchase something, it prompts you for your iTunes password, and then exits to the home screen, switching to the screen where the app will live. The state of the download is reflected in the app icon. When the download is complete, you tap the icon on the home screen to use it
  • The iBookstore (the one word is the official name as used by Apple) is not a separate app, but lives within the iBooks app on the iPad. Purchasing content prompts for the iTunes password and downloads in-app, which can be directly accessed after it has finished downloading.

Each type of content follows a different workflow when going from access to purchase to use. If a goal of the iPad’s low price is to drive content sales through the three stores, as some speculate is the case, then the purchase model should be as streamlined for the different types of content. Forcing different workflows will only confuse users who can’t remember which type of content comes from where.

Just a few years ago, Greenpeace would regularly call out Apple for their environmental impact. In that time, they’ve managed to climb a few ranks, mostly on the back of their efforts eliminating toxic chemicals like PVC. Kudos to them.

Not to minimize the efforts of other companies high on that list. Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, Phillips, LG, Sony, Motorola, and Samsung, you guys rock for not polluting all over the place.

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