Google discontinues its Google Nest Secure alarm system

From The Verge:

Google isn’t totally out of smart home security, though. It still sells video doorbells, security cameras, smoke alarms, and more.

For now.

Unless you’re using something that is absolutely mission critical to Google, prepare to have the rug pulled out from under you. Good on them for continuing to support the platform for now but you can already see the “sunset” blog post 12 months from now.

The HomePod Video

I’ve owned a lot of smart speakers in the past few years but I think the device I’ve enjoyed the most is the Google Nest Hub (I think that’s what they’re calling it this year). It does a few things really well:

  • Music playback control
  • Smart home controls
  • Can be a video casting target, also can play a few video services natively
  • Passive photo slideshow when not in use
  • Good visual timer countdown
  • Google image search – the kids love this

The major downside is that I’ve mostly moved on from Google smart home stuff with the exception of the Nest hub and one Chromecast for travel.

Apple announced the HomePod Mini yesterday, and it looks pretty compelling for $99 if you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem like I am. However, I already have a Sonos One + HomePod setup at my house so I don’t anticipate buying any of those at this time – but I could see myself adding a few as “cheap” Airplay 2 speakers down the road.

However, one device that wasn’t announced yesterday that I long for would be a “HomePod Video” device.

Features I’d like in a “HomePod Video”

  • A basic Siri interface to control music playback, HomeKit, etc. My only real expectations are to work as good as the HomePod.
  • An always on display that can control HomeKit scenes
  • Airplay 2 target to allow users to play videos in the kitchen or wherever this device lives.
  • A way to show off photos from my iCloud Photo Library, ideally by choosing an album or two to rotate through.
  • A decent speaker – something a step down from the HomePod (I’d assume the same hardware as the HomePod Mini) but still good enough.
  • UI tweaks for things like notifications, timers and communication.
  • Ability to do FaceTime calls.

You can cobble together something like this with an iPad mini, external speakers and a stand of some kind but I’d love to see Apple continue to invest in the home ecosystem like they appear to be with the HomePod Mini. Maybe next year. I think Apple could charge roughly ~$200 for a device like this and it’d really tie the room together.

Battle for the Soul of the Nation

This is one of Biden’s better speeches I’ve heard in some time. He’ll never be mistaken for the great orators of this or any generation but it’s so refreshing to hear someone earnestly speaking about how to heal the divisions in our country and represent all of us.

Safari 14 Extension Icons

Yesterday, alongside all of the iOS/iPadOS/tvOS/watchOS releases, Apple released Safari 14 for the Mac. The headline features are under the hood performance, tons of privacy enhancements, better tab management, tab start page improvements, site translation, and WebExtension API support. These are all great and so far I’m quite pleased with the features I’ve run across.

However, I really hope there’s a way to disable the blue tinted extension icons for 3rd party extensions. This is extremely distracting:

Maybe this is only on Catalina and it looks much more at home on Big Sur. But I’ve been scouring Twitter for a plist hack to get these all back to one color with no luck so far.

Bundled ‘Apple One’ Subscription Announced

From Nick Heer @ Pixel Envy:

I have reservations about how this will be promoted. I can see many push notifications, modal banners, and emails in my future telling me about how, for the same price I pay now, I can also have Apple Arcade. Or, for just a few dollars more, I can get News Plus and Fitness Plus. Thanks, but no thanks.

This is the thing that gives me the most discomfort about Apple’s services offerings. When you offer service tiers (Apple News and then a “Plus” service on top of that, etc) along with a bundle, your incentives as a company become misaligned. The marginal cost for Apple to throw in a banner or notification pushing their own content or services is extremely low as it is their platform, and therefore they’re way more likely to slip one or two of these in to push newer services in particular. Once that pattern is established, it will slowly find its way into every part of the OS. From a blog post by Steve Streza earlier this year that has a ton of great screenshots showing how bad this is getting:

Apple wants to grow their services business with drastic increases year-over-year. This means they are going to aggressively push more services into more places (including deeper into macOS and tvOS, which are also slowly having adware trickled into them). Apple TV+, News+, Arcade, and Card are all new this year, and are already strongly advertised in iOS. Apple Music has existed for a few years, and its level of advertising in the app is pervasive. As time goes on, these ads are going to get worse, not better.

I’m an Apple Music and iCloud subscriber currently and have tried a few of their other “Plus” offerings over the past year or so as they’ve come online. I actually like most of the services they offer and might try out this bundle as my kids get a little older and could make use of Arcade more. What bugs me the most is that there’s no way to fully disable the “Plus” experience if you’re not interested in Apple Arcade, News+, and now Fitness+. I don’t begrudge Apple for wanting to build on their platform to make it more sticky and a better overall integrated experience for their customers – I do begrudge them for prioritizing growth over respect for users who may not be interested.

Project Connected Home over IP Connectivity Standard Developing Into Reality

From the Zigbee Alliance blog:

When we set out in December 2019 to create a unifying standard for the smart home industry, there was naturally a lot of excitement — and of course, questions. Would this global consortium truly be able to bring this new standard to market? How long would it take? What products would actually emerge? Would we be able to pull off our promise to unify a fragmented industry under a single connectivity standard that would help companies focus on creating experiences over “plumbing”?

Eight months later, we are indeed executing on that vision as our progress has garnered global recognition and strength in membership, participants and technology. We are on track to deliver a draft specification by late 2020, and continue to drive towards our goal of releasing the standard in 2021.

I’ll be skeptical that companies like Nest and Ring ever fully adopt these standards but I’m hopeful. The fact that the Connected Home Over IP initiative made it past the introductory blog post is progress, I suppose. In an ideal world you can buy most any of the standard light bulb, thermostat, speaker or sensor products out there and get some functionality out of the box.

Apple’s App Store Issues

If you’ve been under a technology rock, you might have missed the kerfuffle Apple’s been in for the past few months. We’ve seen a few high-profile dust ups over Apple’s control of what goes on the App Store (HEY, Microsoft’s xCloud, Fortnite). The arguments vary for each of these but the common issue is that Apple seeks to control how developers build their apps, wants to take a cut of all revenue coming into their apps regardless of how much value the store provides, and restrict many types of apps based on what tend to be arbitrary standards.

There’s a good read in Stratechery about this same issue but from an economic / antitrust angle that I recommend you check out for more detail.

If Apple isn’t careful, they’re going to wade into antitrust regulation that could potentially strip the company of a lot of control over their store. If they get ahead of it, they can set the terms. Here’s what I wish they’d do:

Reduce App Store Commission

Reduce the cut for iOS purchases. You would see fewer complaints about other problems with the App Store if the cut Apple took was closer to 10-15%. I doubt that will happen without government intervention, but one can dream.

Sideload apps

Apple should allow users to sideload apps like on a Mac. Here’s what a user sees in the security panel on MacOS:

Apple could require all apps to be signed to maintain a level of “break in case of emergency” control. Even if iOS required users to plug into a computer and load an .apk rather than a more seamless TestFlight-like experience, that’d solve for apps that are categorically not allowed (xCloud), apps that want to do their own thing payment wise (Fortnite), and fringe jailbreak-like apps.

Clearer Rules

Next up, Apple should revamp their rules to reflect the world of 2020, not 2007. Clearer rules for developers with an escape hatch to side load if push comes to shove would make most folks happy. As it currently stands, many developers are fearful of investing time and money into app development that may be rejected on a technicality.

In-app Links

Apple should allow apps like Netflix, Kindle and Fortnite to send users to an in-app webview that would allow you to purchase in-app content or sign up for the service. Apple would not get a cut of these purchases. Let the better experience and safety of Apple’s IAP compete to win out over a popover web view.

Will Any of This Happen?

I don’t anticipate they’ll do any of these unfortunately, especially the commission cut. I do worry that Apple is stifling innovation on their platform and if they do it enough times you could see a situation where entire categories of users start to choose Android over iOS because there are important things they just can’t do on iOS. Most of the things Apple has gotten into hot water for lately are not policies that put customers first. Instead, they are things that solidify Apple’s ability to make money, protect their interests or keep things “simple”. Given the push to present the iPad Pro as a computer, their limitations on the types of things that are allowed on iOS make me reconsider how much I’d like to invest in iPads or iPhones.

Even Apple’s privacy push could have an unintended outcome. A lot of apps rely on advertising to make their money and if Apple makes it prohibitively difficult for developers to monetize their apps, they may choose to slow or stop development on the platform. It is a difficult tightrope to walk but I trust that Apple can do it. Whether they will is another story.

70 Top Republican National Security Officials Denounce Trump As Unfit, Announce Support For Biden

From Defending Democracy Together:

We are former national security officials who served during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and/or Donald Trump, or as Republican Members of Congress. We are profoundly concerned about the course of our nation under the leadership of Donald Trump. Through his actions and his rhetoric, Trump has demonstrated that he lacks the character and competence to lead this nation and has engaged in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve as President.For the following reasons, we have concluded that Donald Trump has failed our country and that Vice President Joe Biden should be elected the next President of the United States.

Look at that list. This isn’t a bunch of lightweight GOP members.

Obama’s 2020 DNC Speech

Take a few minutes and watch this speech. Obama breaks down the difference between American principles and the principles our current leadership seem to believe in.

Album-focused Music Apps

Call me old fashioned, but I love queueing up albums and listening to them all the way through. Nowadays, playlists are all the rage, but because listening to Albums in a CD-changer was the way I grew up listening to music I still enjoy hearing the entire album from start to finish. For me, it tends to invoke more memories than the random song showing up on a playlist. While one of the primary reasons I switched to Apple Music earlier this year was around better album support, the app (especially on iOS) still could use some work to make albums feel like first class citizens.

But there’s good news! As the Apple Music API has gotten more robust, more apps have been released to deliver niche music experiences on iOS. In the past month, 2 such apps have come out – Albums and Longplay. To my delight, both focus on allowing users to play their library in a way that’s “album first” – sorting albums based on certain criteria and playing them in their entirety. Both of these apps do a lot of similar things, but I thought it’d be worthwhile to highlight the pros and cons of both.

Albums 3.0

Albums is over a year old but the 3.0 release is a big one. Adam Linder, the developer of the app, has added a ton to the latest version. You have a few views at your disposal:

The main view in Albums 3

  • Albums – the traditional grid based layout that lets you perform basic filtering based on album play count, date added, etc. Tapping on any album starts playing it.
  • Library – a more granular breakdown that allows you to drill down by genre, decade, artist and more.
  • Insights – These are ‘smart playlists’ of albums that meet criteria like unplayed albums, old favorites, only listened once, and more.
  • Stats – Here are some dashboards that allow you to see which albums have been played the most.

The good:

  • Super active development gives me hope that the stability issues (see below) will be worked out eventually.
  • I love all of the ways you can sort and visualize albums.
  • Tons of settings you can adjust to your style.
  • You can view different sorts of stats for an album (play ranking for the year, compared to other albums by the same artist, etc).
  • The now playing view gives you a track listing, album metadata as well as stats about the album. The progress bar is also very interesting, as it shows you each songs progress as part of the album.
The now playing screen

The not so good:

  • It’s pretty glitchy. The app crashes a decent amount, things jump around at times (especially on an iPad where I use it in split view from time to time), and there’s a lot of room to improve the UX and the visual consistency is lacking.
  • It’s yet-another-subscription if you want all of the features. It’s only a buck a month but the mental overhead of subscribing for yet another app isn’t ideal for me. Still, I signed up for a 1-year subscription ($10) to see where things are going and to support development.
  • Due to some limitations around the way the Apple Music API works, a lot of the play recency stats seem to be tied to your device. Uou may have out-of-sync sorting between the iPhone and the iPad.

Longplay

Longplay is an app I just found out about in the past few days. This app is a lot simpler but approaches the job in a similar fashion. There are no stats or advanced sorting options so this is a bit more like Albums 2.0 was. Still, There’s a lot to like here.

This is the extent of the UI, but it gives you about everything that you need

The good:

  • It’s only $2.99. Sold.
  • Playlists are included along with albums!
  • You can long press and hide an album or playlist from the wall of art.
  • Visually, it’s very clean.

The not so good:

  • This app is really basic right now. The now playing screen is essentially a blown up version of the album art.
  • Appears to be iPad only right now. Apparently it’s on the phone, so scratch that from the list.

Anyway, I’d recommend either of these apps if you’re looking for a way to sort through, rediscover and shuffle your albums.