tvOS 9.2 includes new features, bug fixes, and improvements in the OS and SDK.
New features in tvOS 9.2 Beta 3 include:
Dictation support for onscreen text entry in countries where Siri is supported
Siri support for App Store search. Try saying “Search for “ or “Search for apps”
This was an obvious addition but I am really glad to see Apple iterating on the OS so quickly. They have addressed many of my complaints in just a few months since launching — tvOS 9.2 is expected to be released in March. With the latest beta, not only have they checked another feature request off the list, they’ve also done it really well. I made a quick video of the feature in action, because I think the implementation is slick. Just hold down the Siri button when interacting with a keyboard input, hinted by a cute label that appears inside the search field.
There’s some cool feedback with the visual voice meter too, which is styled differently to the voice meter used for Siri to indicate this is a different action. It looks great and works well. In general, tvOS has very high standards for UI across the system. I’ve commented many times that iOS would be better off if it borrowed inspiration from the Apple TV design team.
Perhaps it helps that tvOS is a clean slate, so every screen and component is being designed fresh. My worst parts of iOS are all stuff that dates back to earlier versions. New features are generally implemented in the flat world to a good standard.
In November, we announced that Safe Browsing would protect you from social engineering attacks – deceptive tactics that try to trick you into doing something dangerous, like installing unwanted software or revealing your personal information (for example, passwords, phone numbers, or credit cards). You may have encountered social engineering in a deceptive download button, or an image ad that falsely claims your system is out of date. Today, we’re expanding Safe Browsing protection to protect you from such deceptive embedded content, like social engineering ads.
Consistent with the social engineering policy we announced in November, embedded content (like ads) on a web page will be considered social engineering when they either:
Pretend to act, or look and feel, like a trusted entity — like your own device or browser, or the website itself.
Try to trick you into doing something you’d only do for a trusted entity — like sharing a password or calling tech support.
These kind of phishing attacks are everywhere, but typically hard to algorithmically detect as most of them are made up as images, which computers struggle to analyse. I’m happy to see Google ramping up its efforts to identify these kind of scams; I’ve been tricked into clicking through on these faux popups once or twice. Everyone has, I think. What’s sort of weird, though, is that these scams are very common on Google’s own AdSense network. Ironically, its Safe Browsing team will be flagging a lot of content that its own servers publish.
We have decided to do the following:
1. Rescind all of our “React” trademarks and applications.
2. Discontinue the React World program.
3. Release all past Content ID claims.
The concerns people have about React World are understandable, and that people see a link between that and our past video takedowns, but those were mistakes from an earlier time. It makes perfect sense for people to distrust our motives here, but we are confident that our actions will speak louder than these words moving forward.
The Fine Brothers took a battering for their bullish attempts at a YouTube licensing scheme which heavily favoured themselves. Given the backlash, the company has now cancelled the entire project. I was in agreement with the common line, that Fine Bros were being too greedy and monopolistic with their React World plans, but I don’t vilify. I think they should have kept their show trademarks, pledging to use them responsibly. There’s nothing wrong with owning your own logo.
The funny thing is, it was very likely for the highly-generic ‘React’ trademark to have been rejected by the USPTO anyway … yet it’s the main thing people were upset about.
Apple is expected to unveil new models of its iPad Air in March 2016 and production will start in the second quarter, with General Interface Solution and TPK Holding to supply touch panels, according to Taiwan-based supply chain makers.
The new 9.7-inch device will reportedly come equipped with a 4K resolution panel and up to 4GB in RAM, in addition to improved battery life.
The RAM increase is nice, a big reason why my iPad Pro feels so powerful is that apps stay in memory for such a long time. You can return to 3D games days later and they will still be frozen, ready for instantaneous resume. I would bet against the iPad Air getting a 4K screen though. For practical reasons, Apple would almost certainly pixel-double to get to 4K, for a resolution of 4096×3072. Those pixels would show a 4K video natively … but that’s about it. It doesn’t really add anything else, the iPad already has a great Retina display. Quadrupling the resolution would just result in a significant, unnecessary, hit on GPU and CPU performance to gain an almost-imperceptible improvement in display quality for users.
Neither of these improvements will reverse the course of the iPad sales decline, however. Besides 16 GB storage, tech specs are not the reason people aren’t buying iPads anymore.1 That responsibility lies in the software, with iOS 9 and iOS 9.3 (for education) displaying encouraging progress in this area.
1 You could argue that well-specced iPads are slowing iPad sales with many customers happily contented with the performance characteristics of older iPads. This isn’t a criticism — long-term customer satisfaction is preferable. I would be very upset if Apple ever holds back on its SoCs to artificially shorten the viable lifetime of a product.
First, we are told that there are different prototypes of the device floating around Apple’s campus: some with the A8 and M8 chips that we discussed in our previous report, and some with the iPhone 6s’s A9 and M9 processors. We’ve now learned that the iPhone 5se is more likely to include variants of the A9 and M9 chips instead of the A8 and M8 lines.
Nice to see Apple prioritising the more powerful hardware. Alas, even if the iPhone 7 changes up the storage tiers, it seems like the iPhone 5se will be the new standard-bearer of the 16 GB curse. I still think the ‘SE’ naming is stupid, especially if it ships with the iPhone 6s series SoC. ‘6c’ is a far better name that reflects the product’s specifications. The U2 iPod is an example of a real Special Edition product, it was a ‘special’ variant of the fifth-gen iPod classic. The iPhone 5se is shaping up to be a unique product in its own right, just like any other iPhone model. It doesn’t warrant a SE nomenclature.
Just look at this app. It’s beautiful, capable and intelligent. Beautifully drawn skeuomorphic instruments subtly integrated into a dark, flat UI. The grid of loops takes music production into a direction other than a scrolling X-axis timeline. Not only that, the icons for each grid cell represent the music that is playing. The circle shows how the loop will play out over its duration, with a line representing silence and a thick notch indicating heavy sound, it’s like a cylindrical waveform. You can see what the loop is going to do and its synced to the progress indicator 1:1. They are not mere arbitrary symbols.
There’s even a live particle effect for the Filter and Repeater adjustments. This is one screen of a deep, deep app and the same high quality bar is maintained throughout. The GarageBand team truly knocked it out of the park. This is the standard by which other professional iPad apps should be judged. Whether anyone but Apple can justify the same level of investment into iPad is a different matter.
Some members use proxies or “unblockers” to access titles available outside their territory. To address this, we employ the same or similar measures other firms do. This technology continues to evolve and we are evolving with it. That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies.
So many people use a proxy to access Netflix in the UK. The US content library is way better, like twice as good. Everyone at university proxied Netflix to access the American exclusive shows. The market is huge; there is even a ‘Netflix Proxy’ app monetising the demand in the Chrome Web Store. Removing that capability will cause a considerable number of people to unsubscribe. I can’t speak for other countries but I reckon they have a similar situation, with high Netflix proxy usage because their official region-locked content library is lacklustre. It’s a cat and mouse game, of course. There will be a new workaround soon enough.
Now, six years after launching iAd, Apple is stepping back from it. Multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans tell BuzzFeed News that Apple is getting out of the advertising-sales business and shifting to a more automated platform.
While iAd itself isn’t going anywhere, Apple’s direct involvement in the selling and creation of iAd units is ending. “It’s just not something we’re good at,” one source told BuzzFeed News. And so Apple is leaving the creation, selling, and management of iAds to the folks who do it best: the publishers.
iAd is so out of character with the rest of Apple. On the Apple Privacy page, Cook wrote a letter about Apple’s dedication to keeping user data private and secure. Yet, iAd sticks out like a sore thumb because by its nature, it can’t be that private. Cook has to dedicate a lengthy paragraph to explain the nature of iAd and its goals. It’s obviously an outlier.
Cook says the primary purpose of iAd is to help developers. If true, it needs a lot of work to actually make a difference in the space. Although the integration process is the simplest available for iOS advertising SDKs, ROI on impressions is mediocre and the iAd inventory exhibits particularly underwhelming fill rates. Transitioning completely to automatic ad sales will help that, but there will always be the tension from the rest of Apple getting in the way. The incentives of an ad network, selling users to third-parties, defies what Apple preaches in every other regard.
Apple yesterday released the first betas of iOS 9.3, watchOS 2.2 and tvOS 2.2 all packed with new features and enhancements. I’d argue these are the largest mid-cycle releases ever. I’ve compiled a quick list of my initial thoughts on the new stuff. Bullets point exist for a reason, I guess.
Night Shift is an obvious addition in the sense that it’s an obvious feature to be part of iOS, but it wasn’t obvious to expect it as part of the mid-cycle or anytime soon. Unlike a lot of others, I don’t think it is related to the recent ‘rejection’1 of Flux. Night Shift is a clever pun.
For iPads managed by educational institutions, Apple is adding some kind of multi-user shared iPad login experience with 9.3. It’s limited to a handful of data types and apps, but it’s start. Perhaps, Apple will build this out fully for iOS 10 and make it available to all.
tvOS folders are hard to create and arrange. Clicking around the Home Screen is unnecessarily fiddly. This can hopefully be tuned to be more straightforward and obvious in future betas.
tvOS app switcher is bad, in much of the same way iOS 9 switcher is bad. Screenshots overlap for no reason. The stack effect works well on iPhone and iPad — it doesn’t translate to the TV. The old UI is better.
iCloud for iBooks is what everyone has wanted since iBooks got the ability to store PDFs. PDF syncing is now easy; just add it to your bookshelf. iCloud has been key in removing data silos across the system, and iBooks was one of the remaining outliers in iOS 9. Really happy to see it included in 9.3.
You can now pair multiple Apple Watches to the same iPhone. Why? I think the Watch team should be prioritising other features that entice more people to buy their first Watch. It’s wasteful optimising for the sliver of the market who want to pair more than one watch to the same phone. I also question the battery life impact of pairing multiple watches.
More system apps support 3D Touch Quick Actions now, including Settings. Sadly, many of the icons are really drab. For example, the icon for the ‘Set Wallpaper’ action is the outline of a circle. Maybe these are placeholders for actual artwork coming in a later seed.
Podcasts is a new system app on tvOS. It seemingly prioritises audio over video shows, but I suppose the iTunes Podcasts library is much more rich in sound-only podcasts overall. The app appears well made and is quite pretty, so two thumbs up for quality. Even so, it’s a strange candidate to be a default app on Apple TV due to the subject matter.
Notes has a Password feature now, to add an additional layer of privacy to your notes. The Settings UI is pretty ugly however, in dire need of some padding between the table rows. You could also make a good argument that password-protecting apps should be an OS-level feature, not merely a part of Notes.
An unlikely report from Chinese site MyDrivers accompanied by an even unlikelier-looking graphic claims that Apple’s new 4-inch phone will not be named the iPhone 6c, as expected, but will instead be dubbed the iPhone 5e. The letter ‘e’ supposedly stands for ‘enhanced.’
The report also claims that the spec of the phone will be lower than previously rumored, having an A8 processor and 1GB RAM rather than the expected A9 and 2GB. This would essentially give it the same internals as the latest iPod touch.
I don’t buy it. The branding is just wrong. Apple will gimp itself if it releases a new product with an old number — 5 is old news. There was enough disappointment when Apple released the ‘iPhone 4s’ instead of the ‘iPhone 5’, purely based on the naming suggesting it wasn’t a big upgrade. In addition to the awkward suffix, ‘5e’ harkens back to old iPhone models. Taking it literally, the iPhone 5 was a 2012 device. The fashionability of iPhone buying is forfeited completely if you associate it with a 3-year old phone.
Even taking it at face value, it makes no sense. The MyDrivers report claims the device has A8 internals, but an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s never shipped with an A8. The A8 chip first shipped in the iPhone 6. On this basis, the most logical suggested name is in fact 6c. The ‘5e’ moniker is weird, confusing, and associated with old tech.
KGI, as do many other sources, suggest that the 4-inch phone comes equipped with an A9 chip and NFC for Apple Pay. Taking this reliable path, the obvious naming choices is iPhone 6c or iPhone 7c. Out of these two, I think its a bit of a toss up as to what Apple would go for. 7c feels newer but it has the potential of upstaging the real iPhone 7 due in the autumn. However, it also has much better longevity as a name and will align nicely on store shelves next to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
That being said, if I had to bet, I would say iPhone 6c. It links to the likely internal specifications of the device (6s : 6c) and still feels connected to this generation of iPhone, not an ethereal future version. After all, the iPhone 6s has only been on the market three months. It’s still pretty ‘new’ in its own right.
Most of the improvement happens by the time you know your 7 times table. The odd bump at 10 is because the ability to approximate relies implicitly on knowing your 10 times table already (to be able to handle the trailing zeros).
But the improvement in error from 9% to 8% comes at a price. Knowing up to your 10 times table requires recollection of 100 facts (OK, 55, if you assume symmetry). But knowing up to your 12 times table is 144 facts. Improving the error from 9.3% of the result to 8.1% is a relative improvement of 12% in the size of the error. But to achieve that you need to memorize 40% more information. That seems like a losing proposition.
Look, the point of the Wolfram blog is to promote the Wolfram platform. Naturally, this blog post incorporates Wolfram computations. It feels a little forced, but the subject matter was compelling so I stuck with it. Interesting data analysis exploring the cost-reward tradeoff of learning higher order times tables. This sounds way more hyperbolic than I mean, but questioning stuff that is done because that’s how it’s always been done is how humanity moves forward. That reasoning applies to math and education as much as it applies to technology or anything else.
What’s also interesting is the frictions that hold up change, particularly on a situational basis. Compare how fast schools change the basics of the curriculum against how fast school dinner menus change to the latest healthy eating initiatives. If you want to tie this back into Apple, think about the headphone port controversy swirling around the iPhone 7. Digital has to be better than a 100-year old analogue standard, but the entrenchment of the 3.5 mm port is immense.
2015 saw the launch of the Watch, following six months of official Apple preamble and years of rumours. In retrospect, it hasn’t shook the Earth as a project concept in the way I wanted it to. Ignoring absolute sales number, the opinion from people that own Watches is very mixed. Smart watches seem like an inevitable future, perhaps in the same way all phones are smartphones. The current Apple Watch needs to do more to justify its cost and its place on the wrist. I think a lot of people got Watches for Christmas, but how many will keep using them? I think the Activity tracking is the best tentpole of the current Watch and the platform needs one or two more flagship features of that calibre to be a compelling product. Hardware-wise, I wish the screen went truly edge-to-edge and that the device was just thinner overall. I think the whole device should be as tall as the diameter of the Digital Crown. On this front, I have no reservations that Apple will deliver. The company is tuned to make progressively smaller, thinner and lighter pieces of aluminium and glass.
A year ago, the community was demanding software stability. Much of this frustration was derived from discoveryd woes. Apple fixed this in OS X 10.10.4 by removing discoveryd entirely and going back to the old networking stack, so thumbs up I suppose. iOS 8 and Yosemite had various other miscellaneous bugs and issues too and at least for me, iOS 9 and El Capitan are on a different level. I think we are back to solid ground with ‘classic’ Apple software; emergent platforms like watchOS and tvOS are less concrete but that is more understandable given their youth. Remember: tvOS is months old.
Sticking on software, Apple finally gave the iPad some love. In coordination with iPad Pro obviously, the iOS split-screen multitasking additions bring huge productivity gains to the entire iPad line. The iPad Air 2 triple-core SoC is finally given something to do. Picture-In-Picture is sublime — it’s the obvious low-hanging fruit for OS X 10.12. It’s a good base to truly make the iPad a Mac replacement. I want more of this in whatever form; three apps side by side on Pro, expanding PIP beyond just video playback. The Springboard app icon grid also needs a rethink when blown up to thirteen inches. I wish the skinny sidebar app stayed visible when browsing to the Home Screen – making it vanish complicates the mental model of what apps are running with no real benefit.
The iPhone update for 2015 was straightforward, featuring faster internals, new case colour, new camera stuff, etcetera. 3D Touch is a weird feature. It’s effectively implemented as power-user shortcuts with the dichotomy that it is being marketed as a mainstream feature. Being able to preview emails isn’t that compelling to the public. The friction of bouncing between views in the navigation stack is not perceived as a problem. The second-to-second delays grate geeks but are imperceptible to the ‘mainstream’. Anyone who uses Command+C and Command+V for Copy and Paste on the desktop will share the pain of watching someone else slowly use the menu item in the pulldown menus, watching their life waste away. And yet, that same, slow, sluggish, snail pace is the standard computing paradigm for eighty-percent of the population. I think this explains why 3D Touch hasn’t caught on. It’s also just hard to migrate past eight years of habitual back-forward behaviour. Heck, I would call my own usage of 3D Touch as infrequent.
A big of theme of Apple’s 2015 was accessories. Even excluding the vast selection of Apple Watch bands Apple now sells, it released more accessories than ever. The Pencil is the standout success — a pretty much flawless execution of a drawing tablet stylus. The Smart Battery Case was the most unexpected and probably the most controversial in the community too. I still think it looks ugly and goes against the company brand. I want Apple to make things that are functional and visually appealing. That’s how I see the company. Compare the Battery Case with the new Lightning-rechargeable Magic accessories. The keyboard and mouse are useful and beautiful pieces of hardware, making difficult compromises to optimise those ideals. My biggest complaint with the Magic stuff is the tacky nomenclature and the pricing — too expensive across the board.
On a personal level, 2015 was a good year. I finished university in June, which meant deciding what to do with my professional life. In February, Apple flew me out to Cupertino for a job interview but unfortunately I didn’t perform on the day. Nevertheless, it was a cool experience and eternally thankful for the people at Apple who made it happen.
Since July, I have been doing application development and consultancy as a full time business. It’s still early days, but it’s been doing well. Eventually, I hope to be able to devote my entire business to my own revenue-generating projects but client work is a rewarding and enjoyable stepping stone. On this blog, I pushed somecoolpiecesand had my best months ever at 9to5Mac too. I was even live on BBC Radio once. As always, I’m very grateful for everyone’s support.1
1 It may be vain, but I don’t care. Knowing people watch what you do is an empowering feeling. I was so happy to pass 3000 Twitter followers in October.
Ever wonder where most of the world’s knock-off Apple products and electronics come from? Recently, I took a trip to Shenzhen in China and got to check out the madness first hand. In Shenzhen, they’ll slap an Apple logo on just about anything and try to pass it off as legitimate. Needless to say, it makes for a very comical experience.
This video is so good. Dom bought a ton of random tech stuff he found and basically unboxes it all. It’s all counterfeit of course. What makes this so hilarious is that these aren’t bad clones of legitimate tech products. They aren’t merely ‘real fakes’, it’s so much more absurd. One example: There is a battery pack that is designed to look like an iPhone 6 with rear-facing FCC markings, camera holes and other such details. It isn’t a phone at all though, it’s just a portable micro-USB battery charger. So weird. Watch the video for a good laugh, including a fantastic demo of the Motorona brick phone.
Apple Pencil is a cool accessory but in the absence of any serious drawing first party software1, it’s left up to third party apps to make the hardware sing. Watercolour and big brush art doesn’t fit the Pencil well, so I’ve focused on pen and pencil sketching. Paper is decent but my standout favourite is Procreate. The reproduction of the pencil strokes are incredibly realistic. I’ve sent several friends pictures of my sketches and they assumed it was a scan of physical paper, not digital stylus art. The digital brushes are that good.
Layers support is crucial for doing ‘tracing sketches’. The premise is simple. For people who can’t draw great freehand, you can draw over the top of an image from a website to get the outlines of the object in question. Then, you fill in the details as you see fit. I used this technique for most of the objects in the above photo. In Procreate, this is very easy to do. Import/paste an image from a website, reduce the opacity of the layer, and draw on top within a separate layer. Delete the image layer once you are finished tracing.
There’s no getting around it: Procreate is a complicated app. The menus offer a lot of customisation but they also get in the way. You can easily get lost in the various popovers and make destructive modifications to brushes, where the only out is to reset it completely and start over. Cut-Copy-Paste requires an awkward three-finger swipe gesture that I only discovered through googling for help. Paper is straightforward whereas Procreate requires some learning and experimentation. It’s frustrating because I think the app could improve usability significantly with a few interface refinements. Ultimately, though, Procreate yields a better end result so that has to be my recommendation.
Procreate has another killer feature — the Instant Replay mode. It pushes iPad art into a realm of its own. You can see the creation of the final product as well as the development from early-stage doodles into the final design. That video is interesting for me as much as it is for others. It acts as a reminder for me about what direction I was exploring before I ended up with the world theme; I apparently started this shot by doodling a bicycle.
Recreating what physical pens and pencils can do is great but enabling media that could not be created in the physical world is the best justification for digital art. I believe that’s why pixel art is so popular: there’s a beauty to the precision of the electronic grid. Making a video of the production is another one of these breakthroughs. Street-side caricaturists could draw their subject and then send them a video of the drawing over Facebook, in addition to the physical print.
1 The Notes sketching experience is fine for notes but falls short for actual painting and drawing.
“As you probably know from being a user of this now,” said Cook as he grabbed my iPhone 6, which was sporting the new case, “one of the real insights here is, have you ever used other cases and tried to get them on?”
Cook was pointing out the issue with cases, like those from Mophie, that are so rigid it takes considerable strength and patience to put them on and take them off.
“If you make this solid all the way across,” said Cook, indicating the spots where the Apple case’s embedded battery stops and you just have the soft fluoroelastomer casing, “in order to get it on, you’d find it very difficult to get it on and off.”
I love interviews with Cook that don’t focus on tax, equality or human rights. All those things are honourable aims, but listening to Cook’s take on the products he ultimately oversees is the most interesting stuff for me. Cook clearly doesn’t lead product development, although he is generally credited with the ‘invention’ of the iPad mini, but he always talks a lot of sense when talking about them. He highlights the real practicality of Apple’s case, conveniently ignoring the debate over the aesthetics.
What I wished Ulanoff had asked, though, is ‘did Jony Ive sign off on this?’. The Smart Battery Case is true to itself, there’s nothing unnecessary or indulgent in the design, which is a trademark Ive design point. On the other hand, another Ive design element is that the end result also looks good and I don’t believe the hump is appealing. It’s hard to say whether Jony would approve or not; he has created some wacky designs in his career.
My personal view is that Apple should have made the case uniformly thick, so the case is as thick as the battery at every point. That doesn’t mean they have to fill it with battery. I think it would be fine if those sections were effectively hollow, allowing the case to bend and remain flexible. This means the user could still flex the case for easy insertion and removal of the phone. Crucially, it would also be far prettier than the hump.
In 2013, we acquired Mailbox because we believed in the way it was making mobile email better. In 2014, we launched Carousel to create a new way to experience and share photos. With both, we aspired to extend the simplicity of Dropbox to other parts of our users’ lives.
Building new products is about learning as much as it’s about making. It’s also about tough choices. Over the past few months, we’ve increased our team’s focus on collaboration and simplifying the way people work together. In light of that, we’ve made the difficult decision to shut down Carousel and Mailbox.
I see a lot of people saying that apps die when they get acquired. Whilst this is technically true, it’s shortsighted reasoning. Mailbox had no guarantee of surviving on its own, it was a free app based on other companies’ email services with no revenue model. Mailbox could have died even sooner if Dropbox hadn’t bought them. I don’t know this for sure, it’s a possibility, but Mailbox might have decided to be acquired only because they knew the outlook for sustainability was bleak.
By the way, Eddy Cue’s son worked on Mailbox. Is he now working for one of Apple’s largest iCloud competitors?