David Shayer on the Spotty Quality of iOS 13 and MacOS 10.15 

Terrific piece for TidBITS from David Shayer, who worked as a software engineer at Apple for 18 years:

Remember what I said about changes causing new bugs? If an engineer accidentally breaks a working feature, that’s called a regression. They’re expected to fix it.

But if you file a bug report, and the QA engineer determines that bug also exists in previous releases of the software, it’s marked “not a regression.” By definition, it’s not a new bug, it’s an old bug. Chances are, no one will ever be assigned to fix it.

Not all groups at Apple work this way, but many do. It drove me crazy. One group I knew at Apple even made “Not a Regression” T-shirts. If a bug isn’t a regression, they don’t have to fix it. That’s why the iCloud photo upload bug and the contact syncing bug I mentioned above may never be fixed.


Idle Speculation on Whether Apple Is Going to Hold Another Keynote Event This Year

Last year Apple held an event in Brooklyn on October 30; invitations to the media were sent on October 18. In 2016, they held an event on October 27 at the Town Hall theater on the old Infinite Loop campus; invitations to that event were sent October 19.

We’re running out of time for Apple to hold an event in October. Still possible, of course — those 2016 invitations only went out eight days in advance. But I think if it were going to happen, the invitations would’ve gone out today at the latest.

But what about new products? We should see the new Mac Pros launch before the end of the year. It sounds like we might be getting a new 16-inch MacBook Pro with a new keyboard that returns to reliable better-feeling scissor switches, and maybe new high-end AirPods with noise cancellation.

Apple could still hold an event in October. They could hold an event in early November, although I don’t recall that ever happening. But recall that Apple held no October event in 2017, even though the iMac Pro was slated to ship before the end of that year. Instead of a keynote event, Apple held private media briefings in New York City and Cupertino — in mid-December.

Updated AirPods are something Apple would ideally want to announce sooner rather than later, to make them available for holiday gift purchases. Mac Pros and high-end MacBook Pros aren’t holiday gifts. If Apple still intends to hold another 2019 keynote event, they’d want to announce everything remaining for 2019 at the event. If they do private media briefings though, they could easily hold separate briefings for the AirPods and Mac hardware.

Another factor: I just don’t think these three products — assuming all three will launch this year — add up to a cohesive event. Apple doesn’t hold events willy-nilly just because there’s something new. They tell stories at events. There’s a narrative flow to them. AirPods, a slightly bigger MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro that was unveiled in June at WWDC don’t make for an event. And the most interesting thing about the new MacBook Pro — the keyboard — isn’t something Apple would want to talk about on stage.

Bonus nugget: On the upcoming episode of my podcast, special guest Rene Ritchie says his understanding is that Apple has its hands full dealing with the November 1 launch of TV+ and the premiere events for its various original shows. I fully expect more Apple hardware before the end of the year, but not another keynote event. 


Tim Cook Named Board Chairman of Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management 

Not the best timing for this, I think we can all agree.

Bipartisan Letter From Congress to Tim Cook on Hong Kong and China (PDF) 

Bipartisan letter from the U.S. Congress to Tim Cook:

In promoting values, as in most things, actions matter far more than words. Apple’s decisions last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning. We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong.

It’s a strong letter, but unfortunately it conflates apps censored in mainland China with apps censored in Hong Kong — these are very different things. When China declares an app illegal in mainland China, Apple has no choice but to comply. The HKMaps decision was different — it was a political decision, not a legal one — and that difference is worth emphasizing. Apple could have chosen to fight for the HKMaps app.


On the Upcoming Photoshop for iPad

Mark Gurman and Nico Grant, reporting for Bloomberg, “Photoshop for iPad Nearing Launch With Some Key Features Missing”:1

“Feature-wise, it feels like a beefed-up cloud-based version of their existing iPad apps and not ‘real Photoshop’ as advertised,” said someone beta-testing the software, who declined to be named talking about an unreleased app. “I understand it is based on desktop Photoshop code, but it doesn’t feel like it right now.” Other testers have called the app “rudimentary” and said, in its current state, it is inferior to other apps like Procreate and Affinity on the iPad.

Scott Belsky, chief product officer of Adobe’s Creative Cloud division, granted Bloomberg an interview for the story, and it’s worth reading.

From what I gather, the mistake Adobe made was not precisely setting expectations for the initial release of Photoshop for iPad. When Adobe described it as “real” Photoshop, what a lot of people heard was “full” Photoshop, and that was never the plan. Some of this expectation-setting is attributable to Bloomberg, which described the project as “the full version of its Photoshop app” as far back as July last year.

Photoshop for iPad is real because it is using the same code base that’s been running on the desktop for decades. That’s an amazing technical accomplishment. Photoshop for iPad is not full — and the initial release was never planned to be — because it only exposes a subset of features from the desktop version.

But because Photoshop for iPad is built on the real Photoshop core, on day one it will provide complete roundtrip compatibility with PSD files exchanged with the desktop versions of Photoshop. It also means that as Adobe begins adding features to the iPad app after version 1, almost all of the work to be done is about designing and implementing the UI, because the core rendering and functionality is already there. I’m not suggesting that UI work is easy or quick (it’s neither), but the biggest and most important work getting Photoshop for iPad out the door is at the foundational level. It’s a foundation meant to last for a decade or more.

What I’ve heard, from multiple reliable sources, is that Adobe is genuinely all-in on Photoshop for iPad. They view it as a serious, top-shelf project for creative professionals. The team of engineers working on it has grown significantly from a year ago, and they have plans to add features iteratively on an aggressive schedule. It’s reasonable to be disappointed that it isn’t further along feature-count-wise, but anyone who cares about Photoshop for iPad as a long-term product should be very excited about its foundation, direction, and the attention Adobe is paying to the fine details of a touch-first Photoshop UI.

Photoshop for iPad is not a “port” (like Photoshop for Windows was, back in the day). It’s a rethinking of the app for modern UI surfaces. 


Bloomberg on the Bidding for ‘South Park’ Streaming Rights 

Lucas Shaw, reporting for Bloomberg:*

One company that probably won’t be bidding is Apple Inc., the people said. The tech giant has eschewed controversial programming that could damage its brand, and it’s wary of offending China, where it sells a lot of iPhones. “South Park” was just banned in China after an episode mocked the country’s censorship of Western movies and TV.

It makes no sense to inject Apple into this story. Shaw is trying to paint Apple’s abstention from bidding for “South Park” as a combination of the company’s prudishness regarding adult content and obsequiousness toward China. He’s probably right about the branding implications of “South Park” — Apple wouldn’t get near “South Park” as an Apple-owned brand. But the China angle is a potshot. “South Park” could be Xi Jinping’s very favorite show in the world and Apple would not be bidding for the streaming rights to its back catalog, for the very obvious reason that Apple doesn’t offer a streaming service that includes the back catalogs of old shows. Apple isn’t bidding on shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” either. This has nothing to do with China. It’s simply the nature of Apple TV+ — it’s all original content.

And, Apple does offer “South Park” in the iTunes Store. If you want to buy episodes or entire seasons, it’s right there. And if you search for “South Park” in the TV app, it’ll helpfully point you to Hulu, which currently holds the streaming rights.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

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Screen Time on MacOS 10.15 Catalina Seems Useless 

Kirk McElhearn:

Screen Time was also added to macOS Catalina, with the same features. However, it doesn’t seem to work correctly. Rather than showing which apps are frontmost when you work, it shows how long apps are open. […]

I keep a number of apps open all the time: Mail, Messages, Fantastical, OmniFocus, Music, and a few others. So counting them as actual “screen time” makes no sense.

In the above example, all these apps were open all day — obviously, the Finder is always “open” — so the data is essentially useless. Is this a bug or a feature? I would think that Screen Time should only record that time when apps are frontmost.

I can’t see the point of this feature on the Mac other than as a parental control. It seems like Apple just copied the design of iOS’s Screen Time without considering any of the many ways that the Mac is different from iOS.

The good news: if you really want to measure how much time you’re spending using specific apps, there are excellent third-party utilities, like Timing and Time Sink.

Joe Girardi to CC Sabathia: ‘I Love You, Man’ 

Hard not to choke up watching Girardi talk about Sabathia.

Facebook’s Origin, Then and Now 

Sarah Frier:

Behold Mark Zuckerberg’s revised origin story for Facebook, as a way to give people voice during the Iraq war.

(And compare to the Harvard Crimson on Zuckerberg’s hot-or-not tool in 2003.)

“I understood that some parts were still a little sketchy” holds up as a description of Facebook, 16 years later.

16-Inch MacBook Pro Seemingly Pictured in MacOS 10.15.1 Beta 

Nice find by French site MacGeneration. Looks very similar to the current 15-inch MacBook Pro, but with smaller bezels around the display. As rumors have suggested, it even looks like it has a nice big physical Esc key.

(Via MacRumors.)

Oregon Judge Ordered Woman to Type in Her iPhone Passcode So Police Could Search It for Evidence Against Her 

Aimee Green, reporting for The Oregonian (via Dave Mark at The Loop):

Police wanted to search the contents of an iPhone they found in Catrice Pittman’s purse, but she never confirmed whether it was hers and wasn’t offering up a passcode. Her defense attorney argued forcing her to do so would violate her rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Section 12 of the Oregon Constitution.

But a Marion County judge sided with police and prosecutors by ordering Pittman to enter her passcode. On Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with that ruling — in a first-of-its-kind opinion for an appeals court in this state.

This is bullshit — being forced to produce a password is clearly a violation of the Fifth Amendment. If you’ve got the password written down on a sticky note and the police get a warrant to search your home and find it, that’s evidence. But being compelled to produce something in your mind is the definition of self-incrimination.

A password is different than biometric authentication. There are debates on whether law enforcement should be able to compel someone to provide their fingerprint or look at a facial recognition scanner to unlock a device. Are they allowed to just wave your phone in front of your face? (With a Pixel 4, closing your eyes won’t protect you.)

As a reminder, you can temporarily disable Touch ID and Face ID just by going to the power-down screen. On a X-class iPhone, that means pressing and hold the power button and either volume button for a second or two. Once your phone is at this screen, even if you tap “Cancel”, you must enter your passcode to unlock the phone. If you’re ever worried about anyone — law enforcement or otherwise — taking your phone from you and unlocking it with your face, just squeeze those two buttons. You don’t even need to take it out of your pocket or purse — you’ll feel haptic feedback once you’ve held the buttons long enough. And, if you keep holding the two buttons down for five seconds, your iPhone will call emergency services and contact your emergency contacts.

Quick Video Always Records With a 4:3 Aspect Ratio 

Joseph Keller, writing at iMore:

Something to keep in mind about quick video: it doesn’t record in 4K. No matter what resolution you’ve set for taking video on your iPhone, whether above or below 4K, quick videos on the iPhone 11 series of phones will always record at a resolution of 1920 × 1440.

“HD” video is usually 1920 × 1080, but Quick Video shoots 1920 × 1440 because it always records with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That’s not what I expected, but you don’t lose anything — the 1920 × 1080 image recorded by default in the “Video” mode is a 16:9 center crop of the 4:3 sensor. If you want a 16:9 aspect ratio from a clip shot using Quick Video, you can just crop it in post, right in the Camera or Photos app using the new video editing tools in iOS 13. (And not only can you crop to 16:9 in post, you can decide to raise or lower the centerline on the video when you do so.)

Jason Snell on Baseball Telecast Graphics 

Jason Snell, in a lovely piece at Six Colors that feels like it was written just for me:

And then there are the out dots.

This is one of the delightfully stupid controversies that comes up when you write about baseball graphics. In a nod to skeuomorphism and old ballpark scoreboards, many networks display the number of outs in an inning not as a numeral, but as dots. These dots generally appear as gray circles that are filled in with a bright color as the inning progresses.

The controversy is this: How many dots should there be? There are three outs in an inning, so you’d think the answer would be three. But some folks will point out that since getting the third out ends the inning, having a third dot would be superfluous. Once the third out is made, the inning is over and there are no outs at all.

I get the argument, but I firmly reject it. Outs come in threes, not twos. If you must represent it by a series of faux light bulbs, you should have three bulbs. Better, I think, to light up that third bulb momentarily, then turn it off and indicate the end of the inning. It improves the clarity of the graphic at the expense of a few pixels — and gives you the opportunity to make a fun animation at the end of the inning.

I strongly agree with Snell on this: if you’re going to use dots to represent outs, there should be three. When there are two outs, the batting team still has an out to give — the empty third dot represents that out. And when the third out is made, fill it in for the few seconds before the telecast cuts to the commercial break.

Another note: nearly all modern baseball telecasts show the strike zone live. This box, though, should be subtle. When you look at Snell’s screenshots, compare ESPN’s live strike zone (far too prominent) with Fox’s (perfectly subtle).

Here’s an example of the in-game graphics from YES, the Yankees’ regular season broadcaster. Good strike zone indicator (including the speed at the pitch location), good legibility, but boo hiss for the two-dot out display.

Jonathan Morrison Shot His Pixel 4 First Thoughts Video With Front-Facing iPhone 11 Camera 

Interesting take on the Pixel 4, but what really grabbed my attention was Rene Ritchie pointing out that Morrison shot this video using the front-facing iPhone 11 camera. It’s 4K 60 FPS and, like everything Morrison shoots, looks fantastic. Most high-end Android phones — including the Pixel 4 — can’t shoot 4K/60 with the rear camera.

There are nuanced arguments to be had regarding the competitive landscape in high-end phone camera still photography, but video is another area where Apple is indisputably years ahead of all competition.

Luna Display Introduces Mac-to-Mac Mode 

Luna Display:

We’re always looking for ways to give our users the freedom and flexibility that their workflow deserves. Luna Display’s launch in the fall of 2018 blasted us off into an arena that no company had successfully played in before — we’d created a device that could turn your iPad into a second display for Mac.

Since then, we’ve continued to ask ourselves, “Is there more that we could be doing with Luna Display?” The answer was sitting right under our noses in the form of all the idle Macs we had laying around our development space. What if we could turn people’s e-waste into extra screen space!

What a great idea — a fantastic use case for older 5K iMacs that would otherwise be put out to pasture. Here’s how Luna Display co-founder and CEO Matt Ronge introduced it on Twitter:

After Apple “sherlocked” @LunaDisplayHQ, we put our heads together on how we could make Luna even better

So I’m excited to announce today… Mac-to-Mac Mode for Luna Display! Turn any extra Mac into a second display. Apple zigs, we zag.

The “sherlocking”, of course, is the new Sidecar feature in iPadOS 13 and MacOS 10.15 Catalina that allows recent Macs to use iPads as external displays. Zigging when Apple zags is exactly the right attitude for third-party developers.

Trump Has Awarded Next Year’s G-7 Summit to His Doral Resort 

Toluse Olorunnipa, David A. Fahrenthold, and Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for The Washington Post:

President Trump has awarded the 2020 Group of Seven summit of world leaders to his private company, scheduling the summit for June at his Trump Doral golf resort in Miami, the White House announced Thursday.

That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself.

Trump’s Doral resort — set among office parks near the Miami airport — has been in sharp decline in recent years, according to the Trump Organization’s own records. Its net operating income fell 69 percent from 2015 to 2017; a Trump Organization representative testified last year that the reason was Trump’s damaged brand.

Now, the G-7 summit will draw hundreds of diplomats, journalists and security personnel to the resort during one of its slowest months of the year, when Miami is hot and the hotel is often less than 40 percent full. It will also provide a worldwide spotlight for the club.

We’ve now reached the point where Trump’s kleptocracy is just out in the open. Any true believer in democratic norms would agree that the same ethical standards — not to mention laws — apply equally to everyone, regardless of their party. Democrats still believe this; there’s no way Democrats would stand for a president from their own party who used the office to line their own pockets. Nor would they stand for a president who used foreign policy as a cudgel to persuade other countries to open investigations into the president’s political rivals here in the U.S. Republicans’ continuing support for Trump is a rejection of democracy and the rule of law. It really is that simple.

Serious question: Shouldn’t the other G-7 nations refuse to attend? Attending — and spending their nation’s money at a Trump resort — will make them complicit in Trump’s kleptocracy. This is as much a violation of ethical norms — and the Constitution’s emoluments clause — as it would be if the summit were held at a neutral location but the other world leaders were expected to hand Trump envelopes stuffed with cash. Even if Trump were willing to foot the bill for the entire summit out of his own pocket — which, let’s face it, is not his style — it would still be grossly inappropriate and illegal on the grounds of the event’s significant promotional value alone.

Not quite as serious question: What happens if Trump is impeached (which is very likely) and removed from office before June? Do they still hold the summit at Doral? What a delightful problem that would be to have.

Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock Works Even if Your Eyes Are Shut 

Chris Fox, writing for BBC News:

On Tuesday, BBC News tested the Face Unlock feature on the new Pixel 4. Using the default settings, the phone still unlocked if the user pretended to be asleep. The test was repeated on several people, with the same result.

It’s right there in Google’s own support document for the Pixel 4: “Your phone can also be unlocked by someone else if it’s held up to your face, even if your eyes are closed.”

Speaking before the launch, Pixel product manager Sherry Lin said: “They are actually only two face [authorisation] solutions that meet the bar for being super-secure. So, you know, for payments, that level — it’s ours and Apple’s.”

Sounds like it’s still only Apple’s, which is now in its third-generation of devices. Biometric authentication is an area where Apple has been, and remains, several years ahead of all its competitors.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Fingerprint Sensor Can Be Circumvented With $3 Screen Protector 

BBC News:

After buying a £2.70 gel screen protector on eBay, Lisa Neilson registered her right thumbprint and then found her left thumbprint, which was not registered, could also unlock the phone.

She then asked her husband to try and both his thumbs also unlocked it. And when the screen protector was added to another relative’s phone, the same thing happened. […]

Samsung said it was “aware of the case of S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch”.

When the iPhone 5S debuted with Touch ID, we were inundated with news stories about “easy” ways to spoof it that were, in fact, not easy at all.

Now we learn that Samsung’s flagship phone’s fingerprint sensor can in fact be spoofed trivially — and… crickets.

What’s the Deal With Instagram and iPad? 

Joanna Stern, in her review of the Samsung Galaxy Fold:

The Fold’s hardware gets lots of attention, but its Android software tricks deserve some, too. Open an app on the small screen, unfold the phone, and the app automatically supersizes. (In some cases, I got a pop-up that the app needed to restart.) Samsung has also worked directly with Android app makers, including Instagram and Spotify, to refine the apps for the squarish tablet.

The sized-right-for-the-display version of Instagram caught my eye after watching Stern’s (outstanding) video review of the Fold. So Instagram is willing to update their Android app to adjust to the extraordinarily niche Galaxy Fold, but still hasn’t updated their iOS app to adjust to the extraordinarily popular and much-used iPad?

It makes no sense to me why Instagram doesn’t support the iPad natively. As far back as 2014 it seemed hard to believe that the best way to use Instagram on an iPad — an ideal device for scrolling through photos — was “still” the iPhone app in 2× mode. And yet here we are in 2019, with Instagram already supporting dark mode (nicely, too) but still without proper iPad support. At this point Instagram feels like the only reason iPadOS still lets you run iPhone-only apps. It boggles the mind.

What the hell is the deal with this?

My only plausible theories are (a) simple spite on Facebook’s part, a byproduct of their cold war with Apple; and/or (b) a belief that ads perform better on iPhone, where they can nearly fill the screen, and so withholding a proper iPad app is Facebook’s way of discouraging using Instagram anywhere but on your phone.

The Time Signature of ‘The Terminator’ Score 

Seth Stevenson, writing for Slate:

Fiedel was at heart an improviser. To create the Terminator theme, he first set up a rhythm loop on one of the primitive, early-’80s devices he was using. (In those days, Fiedel was firing up a Prophet-10 and an Oberheim.) He recorded samples of himself whacking a frying pan to create the clanking sounds. Then he played melodic riffs on a synthesizer over the looped beat. Amid the throes of creation, what he hadn’t quite noticed—or hadn’t bothered to notice—was that his finger had been a split-second off when it pressed the button to establish that rhythm loop. Being an old machine, there was no autocorrection. Which meant the loop was in a profoundly herky-jerky time signature. Fiedel just went with it. The beat seemed to be falling forward, and he liked its propulsiveness. He recorded the score that way and (not being classically trained) never wrote down any notation. The music he’d improvised went straight into the film. With its collaboration between fallible humanity and rigid machinedom, the score was especially well-suited to the material at hand.

A great little story about a great and memorable score.

Google’s Auto-Delete Data Tools Are Effectively Worthless 

Jared Newman, writing for Fast Company:

In reality, these auto-delete tools accomplish little for users, even as they generate positive PR for Google. Experts say that by the time three months rolls around, Google has already extracted nearly all the potential value from users’ data, and from an advertising standpoint, data becomes practically worthless when it’s more than a few months old.

“Anything up to one month is extremely valuable,” says David Dweck, the head of paid search at digital ad firm WPromote. “Anything beyond one month, we probably weren’t going to target you anyway.” […]

“I feel like them auto-scrubbing data every three months is really lip service,” Dweck says. “It’s not some massive change, because the reality is that no one was really buying that data.”

That was my take exactly. Wake me up when they offer options to delete your history every 12, 24, or 72 hours.

Bloomberg: ‘Apple’s 5G IPhone Delay Stings as Next-Gen Devices Hit Shelves’ 

What a facile, bullshit article from Bloomberg. Where is the proof that the lack of 5G is “stinging” Apple in any way? By all reports, iPhone 11 sales are up over last year, not down. 5G is a niche technology this year, and the only phones that support it are niche phones. What Bloomberg doesn’t even mention is that Apple does not make niche phones. If they went the Samsung route they’d sell an “iPhone 11 Pro 5G” for $1,600 in addition to all the existing iPhone 11 models, just to check the “We sell a 5G phone” box.

Apple doesn’t do that.

And even if Apple could have made all 2019 iPhone 11 models 5G, there’s no way carriers would have let them, because there’s no way nascent 5G networks are ready for that many phones. Consumer-wise, I don’t know anyone who thinks “LTE isn’t fast enough for me” is a top 10 problem to solve for any phone. 5G hype is from the carriers (looking to charge more), for the carriers. Yes, we’ll all be on 5G networks within a few years, but anyone who argues that Apple has a 5G problem today, with its current iPhone lineup, is either full of shit or doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Wireless Pixel Buds: $180 and Not Coming Until Spring 2020 

Nilay Patel:

I just spent a few minutes with the new Google Pixel Buds hardware — the $179 truly wireless earbuds aren’t shipping until Spring 2020, and the units at Google’s fall hardware event aren’t actually turned on and working. So there’s no way to tell how they’ll actually sound, and how Google’s various software tricks work in practice.

Not shipping for six months is one thing; not even having usable prototypes now is another. They must have felt like they had to show them anyway — Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are already in the game.

Apple isn’t usually first in a product category, but AirPods established a template all the other tech giants (other than Facebook, so far) are following.

The Verge’s First Look at Pixel 4 and 4 XL 

Dieter Bohn:

The other feature this local model enables is a new app: Recorder. It’s a voice recorder, but it also does real-time transcription right there as it records without needing to send anything to the internet. In a couple of tests, I found it to be much more accurate than the other real-time transcription app I’ve used, Otter. You can also do searches for anything in those transcripts later.

There’s a lot more that’s new, of course, but instant accurate transcripts in the voice recorder app is a killer feature. It’s all done on-device too.

‘How Safe Is Apple’s Safe Browsing?’ 

Matthew Green, writing at Cryptographic Engineering:

When Apple wants to advertise a major privacy feature, they’re damned good at it. As an example: this past summer the company announced the release of the privacy-preserving “Find My” feature at WWDC, to widespread acclaim. They’ve also been happy to claim credit for their work on encryption, including technology such as iCloud Keychain.

But lately there’s been a troubling silence out of Cupertino, mostly related to the company’s interactions with China. Two years ago, the company moved much of iCloud server infrastructure into mainland China, for default use by Chinese users. It seems that Apple had no choice in this, since the move was mandated by Chinese law. But their silence was deafening. Did the move involve transferring key servers for end-to-end encryption? Would non-Chinese users be affected? Reporters had to drag the answers out of the company, and we still don’t know many of them.

In the Safe Browsing change we have another example of Apple making significant modifications to its privacy infrastructure, largely without publicity or announcement. We have learn about this stuff from the fine print. This approach to privacy issues does users around the world a disservice.

If Apple needs to do things differently in China to comply with Chinese law, they need to explain exactly what they’re doing and why. Otherwise people are going to assume the worst. “Trust us” is not good enough. If they’re embarrassed to explain in detail what they’re doing to comply with Chinese law, then they shouldn’t be doing it.

Trust but Verify, ‘Safari Fraudulent Website Warning’ Edition 

Via Dino Dai Zovi, a user on Hacker News disassembled the code for Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning feature and verified that it only uses Tencent (instead of Google) if the region code is set to mainland China.

Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning Feature Only Uses Tencent in Mainland China 

Apple, in a statement to iMore:

Apple protects user privacy and safeguards your data with Safari Fraudulent Website Warning, a security feature that flags websites known to be malicious in nature. When the feature is enabled, Safari checks the website URL against lists of known websites and displays a warning if the URL the user is visiting is suspected of fraudulent conduct like phishing. To accomplish this task, Safari receives a list of websites known to be malicious from Google, and for devices with their region code set to mainland China, it receives a list from Tencent. The actual URL of a website you visit is never shared with a safe browsing provider and the feature can be turned off.

After quoting Apple’s statement, Rene Ritchie has more details on how the feature works, including the fact that the URLs you visit aren’t sent to Google (or Tencent) — hashed prefixes of the URLs are sent. This became a story over the weekend when a story by Tom Parker at Reclaim the Net ran under the alarming headline “Apple Safari Browser Sends Some User IP Addresses to Chinese Conglomerate Tencent by Default”.

My assumption was that Apple was only using Tencent in mainland China, where Google services are banned. Apple’s statement today makes it clear that that is true. But Apple brought this mini-controversy upon itself, because Apple’s own description of the feature doesn’t specify when the Fraudulent Website Warning feature uses Google and when it uses Tencent. Apple’s description simply says:

Before visiting a website, Safari may send information calculated from the website address to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing to check if the website is fraudulent. These safe browsing providers may also log your IP address.

NYT: ‘Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.’ 

David Sanger, writing for The New York Times:

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

I’m starting to think this guy is a terrible president.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for again sponsoring Daring Fireball. Kolide is a new Slack app that messages employees when their Mac, Windows, or Linux device is not compliant with security best-practices or policy. If your team uses Slack, you should look at Kolide.

With this app, Kolide will notify users or groups when a device is out of compliance along with clear instructions about what is wrong, and step by step instructions to remediate the issue themselves. They can even confirm in real-time that they resolved the problem with an interactive button inside the Slack message!

Unlike most endpoint security solutions, Kolide was designed with user privacy in mind. Your users will know what data is collected about their device, who can see that data, and can even view the full source code of the agent that is run on the device.

Kolide is already used by hundreds of fast growing companies who want to level-up their device security without locking down their devices. Try Kolide’s new product for free for 30 days for your entire fleet.

BuzzFeed: ‘Apple Told Some Apple TV+ Show Developers Not to Anger China’ 

Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

In early 2018 as development on Apple’s slate of exclusive Apple TV+ programming was underway, the company’s leadership gave guidance to the creators of some of those shows to avoid portraying China in a poor light, BuzzFeed News has learned. Sources in position to know said the instruction was communicated by Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, its head of international content development. It was part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to remain in China’s good graces after a 2016 incident in which Beijing shut down Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies six months after they debuted in the country.

Judd Apatow:

Hey and don’t mention that Turkey is bad. We sell a lot of watches there. And don’t mention Saudi Arabia murdering journalists — they love the iMac and don’t mention Russia — big iPad market.

Apple’s far from alone here. Making big-budget movies and TV shows China-friendly is de rigueur in Hollywood today, and Apple TV+ is now a player in Hollywood. But how is this not a victory for the stifling of free speech?

Apple Needs China 

Peter Kafka, writing at Recode:

Unlike tech companies that haven’t broken into the country or only do minor business in it, Apple is now so deep in China that leaving it could be catastrophic. Even if the company was willing to forgo the $44 billion a year in sales it makes in China, it can’t leave the deep network of suppliers and assemblers that build hundreds of millions of iPhones every year.

Earlier this year, in response to the escalating US-China trade war, Apple floated the idea that it could move some of its production outside of China to hedge its bets. But it was only willing to suggest that it would move a third of production.

So even if Apple decided to make the wrenching decision to get out of China today, it couldn’t. It is stuck there, for better and for worse.

What’s New in iOS 13.2 Beta 2: Siri Privacy and Video Settings in the Camera App 

Two features stand out to me (I’m already running the 13.2 betas on my daily use iPhone — feel like I have nothing to lose on this front given the de facto beta-y state of 13.1.2):

  • 13.2b2 introduces two important Siri privacy features. First, you can opt in and out of “Improve Siri & Dictation” in Settings → Privacy → Analytics & Improvements. Second, you can delete your Siri and dictation history in Settings → Siri & Search. In a briefing with Apple, I was told that even if you opt in to “Improve Siri & Dictation”, no one at Apple will ever review a Siri interaction until 24 hours have passed. So if you ever do say anything to Siri you don’t want reviewed, you have a full day to delete your history. Also, I was told that Siri interactions will henceforth only be reviewed by Apple employees — no more contractors. All told, these changes are a solid response to the Siri “grading” controversy.

  • The camera app now lets you change the frame rate (24/30/60 FPS) and resolution (720p, 1080p (HD), 4K) right in the viewfinder when you’re in video mode. Previously these could only be changed by going to Settings → Camera — a real pain in the ass when you’re ready to shoot a fleeting moment. But I find this interface a bit fiddly at the moment, because there’s no feedback on tap down. It’s hard to tell even that these are two separate buttons — one for the frame rate and one for the resolution. I’d rather have the whole thing be one button that opens a picker like the iPhone 11 zoom wheel.

Ming-Chi Kuo Expects Apple to Launch AR Glasses in Second Quarter of 2020 

We know for a fact, with ARKit, that Apple has a strong interest in augmented reality. We also know that phones and tablets are not ideal AR devices. They’re not bad, but they’re not ideal. So you don’t need a weatherman to tell you the wind is blowing toward Apple working on AR-dedicated hardware — glasses or goggles or something. Now we have Kuo saying it’s coming in the first half of 2020. That’s pretty close.

But if true, no one thus far seems to have any idea what exactly Apple has in mind. Are they glasses you’re supposed to wear all the time, like you do with Apple Watch? That doesn’t sound right to me. The glasshole problems all persist. If there’s a camera, it’s creepy and rude to wear them all the time. Do they make you look weird? Eyeglasses are a huge personal statement — far more so than a watch. If they all look like “Apple Glasses”, there’s going to be a huge resistance to wearing the same glasses as everyone else. And if it’s something else entirely — a product you don’t wear all day like a watch — when do you wear them and what are they meant for? Perhaps they’re more like AirPods, in terms of being situational. All unanswered questions.

BuzzFeed News: ‘Disgraced Google Exec Andy Rubin Quietly Left His Venture Firm Earlier This Year’ 

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Rubin’s departure from Playground was also accompanied by a payout, with a source familiar placing the amount at more than $9 million. Documents related to his exit, which were seen by some investors and the company’s leadership, but not all of Playground’s staff, were reviewed by BuzzFeed News.

“Effective May 31, 2019, Playground Global ended our business relationship with Andy Rubin,” read one internal document. “While Andy is still a good friend of Playground, he no longer has any economic interest in or any ongoing roles at Playground Global or the related funds.”

“Quietly” is overused, especially in headlines, but here’s a case where something really was done quietly. Rubin founded the firm and its own staff wasn’t aware he left?

Rubin, however, is still using Playground’s money to build Essential. The two are heavily linked, with Playground investing in both of Essential’s fundraising rounds that have raised a collective $330 million and the two companies sharing the same address, according to their websites.

That’s quite a racket Rubin has going here.

It’s not clear why Rubin, Playground’s founder and figurehead, departed the venture firm, but the nimbus of persistently negative publicity around him may have played a role.

Yeah, maybe that’s it.


Gurman on Catalyst’s Shaky Debut

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:1

But the first iteration, which appears to still be quite raw and in a number of ways frustrating to developers, risks upsetting users who may have to pay again when they download the Mac version of an iPad app they’ve already bought.

I get this, and Gurman has reported previously that one goal of the Marzipan/Catalyst project is to have universal apps that work across iOS/iPadOS/MacOS, the way that the exact same app can work on both iOS and iPadOS today. But Catalyst is a developer technology. Users have no idea what it is and shouldn’t need to. “You have to pay for iPad and Mac versions separately” doesn’t seem like a big deal to me because it’s been that way all along, regardless of Catalyst.

Worse, the expectation that you should pay only once for both iPad and Mac versions of an app makes it hard for developers of commercial software to justify doing a Mac app, period. The rest of Gurman’s article is about how much work it takes to create a good Mac app even with Catalyst.

Developers have found several problems with Apple’s tools for bringing iPad apps over to Mac computers. Some features that only make sense on iPad touchscreens, such as scrollable lists that help users select dates and times on calendars, are showing up on the Mac, where the input paradigm is still built around a keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

Troughton-Smith said Mac versions of some apps can’t hide the mouse cursor while video is playing. He’s also found problems with video recording and two-finger scrolling in some cases, along with issues with using the keyboard and full-screen mode in video games. Thomson, the PCalc developer, said some older Mac computers struggle to handle Catalyst apps that use another Apple system called SceneKit for 3-D gaming and animations.

Other than that, how do you like the APIs, Mrs. Lincoln?

Two anticipated Catalyst apps, featured on Apple’s website since June, were abruptly removed this week: the video-playing and comic-book-browsing DC Universe and the car-racing game Asphalt 9. Gameloft, which makes the racing game, said on Tuesday that the title has been “slightly delayed” in order to “polish the experience” and that it will launch later this year.

At WWDC in early June — four months ago — Apple showcased the catalyzed Asphalt 9 port on stage, with the following quote from Gameloft: “We had Asphalt 9: Legends for Mac running on the first day. It looks stunning and runs super fast using Metal on powerful Mac hardware.”

Maybe it’s not so easy, and maybe Catalyst is not good for games.

One last tidbit from Gurman:

However, Netflix Inc., the largest U.S. video-streaming service with the second most popular free iPad app, said on Tuesday that it won’t be taking part.

That’s all Gurman says about Netflix. No quote, no link to a Netflix statement. There have been no rumblings about a native Mac app — and word on the street has suggested it is not in the works — but Gurman reports this as categorical.

It’s a shame, because there are two features a native Netflix Mac app could deliver that you can’t get through their website using a Mac: downloads for offline viewing (essential for air travel) and 4K video. 4K might eventually get support from WebKit, but there’s no way Netflix could ever allow offline downloads from the website. I’m not sure what Netflix’s calculus is here, but the simple truth is that if Netflix wanted a native Mac app they would have made one long ago. 


MacOS Tip of the Year: Turn Off Spotlight Suggestions in Look Up 

Craig Mod:

Do you three-finger-tap to get definitions in macOS? Does it drive you bonkers that the lookup overlay tries to access Wikipedia and other random non-dictionary things?

Sysprefs → Spotlight → [uncheck] Allow Spotlight Suggestions in Look up

Enjoy blazing fast definitions.

What a fantastic tip, if, like me, you only ever use this feature to get Dictionary lookups. I didn’t realize how slow this feature sometimes gets until I turned this off. Now it’s always instantaneous, as it should be. Remember: fast software is the best software.

(Remember too that in addition to the three-finger tap, you can use the right-click contextual menu to look up the current text selection, and ⌃⌘D to look up whatever word is adjacent to the insertion point (while editing) or under the mouse pointer (while reading a web page or PDF). These shortcuts work system wide on MacOS.)

Crazy Apple Rumors Site: ‘Apple Revokes Panic Developer License’ 

John Moltz, at the rejuvenated Crazy Apple Rumors Site:

“Untitled Goose Game represents a clear and present threat to Chinese sovereignty,” said Yang Cheung, a spokesperson for the Chinese government.

Gesturing to a video of Untitled Goose Game gameplay, Cheung explained. “The goose is a lawless force of rampant anti-nationalism. It encourages violence against the state and disrespects authority.”

NYT: ‘China Blows Whistle on Nationalistic Protests Against the NBA’ 

Keith Bradsher and Javier C. Hernández, reporting for The New York Times from Beijing:

After three days of fanning nationalistic outrage, the Chinese government abruptly moved on Thursday to tamp down public anger at the N.B.A. as concerns spread in Beijing that the rhetoric was damaging China’s interests and image around the world.

You don’t say.

Now, the Chinese government appears to be reassessing its campaign against the N.B.A. and dialing down the clamor. The government is already in a bruising trade war with the United States, and a backlash against China could hurt its image in the sporting world ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics near Beijing. The dispute with the N.B.A. was also quickly politicizing an audience of sports fans who would not normally focus on issues like the protests in Hong Kong.

Pretty sure there wouldn’t be as many “Free Hong Kong” signs at NBA games — or any at all — if the Chinese government had simply let this slide.

Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok Writes Open Letter to Tim Cook 

Charles Mok:

As a long-time user of Apple products and services, I highly appreciate that Apple has been championing freedom of expression as one of the corporation’s tenets. I sincerely hope Apple will choose to support its users and stop banning HKmap.live simply out of political reason or succumbing to China’s influence like other American companies appear to be doing.

We Hongkongers will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to uphold its commitment to free expression and other basic human rights, or become an accomplice for Chinese censorship and oppression.

As quoted in Tim Cook’s own Twitter bio:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” —Martin Luther King Jr.

Tim Cook’s Company-Wide Memo on HKmap.live Doesn’t Add Up 

I’ve seen a copy of Cook’s company-wide memo, and the copy reproduced here is accurate. Maciej Ceglowski — who has been in Hong Kong for weeks — responds:

The first allegation is that “the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence”. This makes no sense at all. The app does not show the locations of individual officers at all. It shows general concentrations of police units, with a significant lag.

As the developer and @charlesmok, a Hong Kong legislator, have pointed out, the app aggregates reports from Telegram, Facebook and other sources. It beggars belief that a campaign to target individual officers would use a world-readable crowdsourcing format like this.

Moreover, what are these incidents where protesters have targeted individual police for a premeditated attack? Can Mr. Cook point to a single example? Can anyone? […]

So not only is there no evidence for this claim, but it goes against the documentary record of 18 weeks of protests, and is not even possible given the technical constraints of the app (which tracks groups of police).

The second, related allegation is that the app helps “victimize individuals and property where no police are present”. Again, does Mr. Cook have any evidence for this claim? The app does not show an absence of police, it shows concentrations of police, tear gas, riot flags etc.

So, three questions, no answers:

  • When was HKmap.live “used maliciously to target individual officers for violence”?
  • When was it used to “victimize individuals and property where no police are present”?
  • What local laws in Hong Kong does it violate?

I can’t recall an Apple memo or statement that crumbles so quickly under scrutiny. For a company that usually measures umpteen times before cutting anything, it’s both sad and startling.

Hong Kong Officials on Why HKmap.live Should Be Removed From App Store: Ask Apple 

Transcript from journalist Tim McLaughlin:

Reporter: Two questions about the HKmap.live app. Which local laws the HKmap.live app violates and why should Apple remove HKmap.live when apps which allow users to track the location of police checkpoints remain in the app store? Thank you. […]

Chief Secretary for the Administration Matthew Cheung: I suppose the Police have already explained the reasons for it, okay? And, we have nothing further to add.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan: Indeed the taking down of the app from the Apple store is the decision made by the operating company — Apple. So, if you want to know the reason for them to take down the app, maybe you can approach Apple and the Apple store.

Complete non-answers to both questions.

(One sidenote I confirmed with Apple: While they pulled HKmap.live from the App Store, anyone who already has it installed still has the app. No more software updates, but copy of the app they have installed still works.)

Apple Removes HKmap.live From App Store 

Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times:

A day earlier, People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial that accused Apple of aiding “rioters” in Hong Kong. “Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings,” said the article, which was written under a pseudonym, “Calming the Waves.”

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” Apple said in a statement late Wednesday. “This app violates our guidelines and local laws.”

I still haven’t seen which local laws it violates, other than the unwritten law of pissing off Beijing.

Capitulation is a bad look for Apple.

HKmap remains available on the web, and on the Google Play Store.