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 […]

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Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong

From Saumel Axon at Ars Technica:

If big tech companies and venture capital investments are to be believed, AI and machine learning will only become more ubiquitous in the coming years. However it shakes out, Giannandrea and Borchers made one thing clear: machine learning now plays a part in much of what Apple does with its products, and many of the features consumers use daily. And with the Neural Engine coming to Macs starting this fall, machine learning’s role at Apple will likely continue to grow.

John Giannandrea joined Apple a few years ago from Google to run the AI part of the business and the fruits of his expertise appear to be paying off according to this article. There’s a lot of direct quotes and anecdotes in this article, but near the end you get the feeling that there’s a cultural shift happening in Cupertino:

After a long track record of mostly working on AI features in the dark, Apple’s emphasis on machine learning has greatly expanded over the past few years.

The company is publishing regularly, it’s doing academic sponsorships, it has fellowships, it sponsors labs, it goes to AI/ML conferences. It recently relaunched a machine learning blog where it shares some of its research. It has also been on a hiring binge, picking up engineers and others in the machine learning space—including Giannandrea himself just two years ago.

Remember when Giannandrea said he was surprised that machine learning wasn’t used for handwriting with the Pencil? He went on to see the creation of the team that made it happen. And in tandem with other teams, they moved forward with machine learning-driven handwriting—a cornerstone in iPadOS 14.
It appears that behind the scenes there’s a decent amount of restructuring happening that should help Apple deliver more practical enhancements to experiences without just shouting “AI” from the rooftops the way that Google does. Users don’t actually care about those implementation details, they just want nifty products that work well and get out of the way.

WWDC 2020 Initial Thoughts

The WWDC 2020 “pandemic edition” is now behind us, and it was one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite some time. Apple announced a lot in the 2 hour presentation, with iOS and MacOS getting the bulk of the attention this year. What follows is a quick rundown of my thoughts after watching […]

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Craig Federighi on Apple’s WWDC privacy news

From Michael Grothaus at Fast Company:

“We think we’re showing the way to the industry, to the customer, that they can demand more–they should expect more–about the protection of their privacy, and that we can help move the industry into building things that better protect privacy.”

[…]

“I think the protections that we’re building in, to intimately say that the customer’s device is in service of the customer, not of another company or entity–the customer is the one who is in control of their data and their device–is what’s most compatible with human rights and the interest of society,” Federighi says. “And so that’s what we’re going to keep trying to support–our customers being in control of their privacy.”

Glad this is getting more mainstream attention. The biggest features mentioned in this article are:

  • Approximate location, sharing which quadrant of a worldwide grid you’re in, not your exact location. This is something that’s gotten more attention lately, and I’m really pleased they’re doing this.
  • Cross-tracking prevention. Advertisers and data brokers have used these techniques to build a profile on all of us over the years.
  • Categorized data that’s being tracked, broken up by “type” (up to 31 types!) in the App Store.
  • Better password security notifications
  • Enhanced tracker blocking in Safari
  • Enhanced Safari extension support and security controls around permissions
  • Camera and mic notifications to let users know when either are active
  • Photo selection security

I believe that Apple’s stance on this has moved Google and Facebook in a better direction when it comes to security and privacy. Regardless of your opinion on their products, you should be thankful they’re pushing so hard on this.

Apple, HEY, and the path forward

From the HEY blog (I really hate that name):

So we got down to it, and worked the weekend to get an update on Apple’s desk Monday morning. Our team did a great job implementing the product changes that Schiller asked for, and first thing this morning, right after we shipped 1.0.2 to our customers, we submitted 1.0.3 to the App Store for approval.

Glad to see some compromises are being made. I do hope this is the beginning and not the end, however. This is an opportunity for Apple to alter their rules to make the App Store better for developers and customers.

Apple’s App Store polices are bad, but its interpretation and enforcement is worse

From The Verge:

The real issue is Apple’s power, of which this whole Kafkaesque series of changing rules is a symptom. We all know the score here: Apple needs to protect the 30 percent cut it takes, and if it allows too many apps to circumvent that cut then some sort of dam may break. From Apple’s perspective, it’s not so much the money for its services bottom line but that if everybody used a different payment system, the experience on the iPhone would genuinely be degraded, if not fragmented. (The money doesn’t hurt, though.)

[…]

There’s a cognitive dissonance to calling Apple a monopolist. After all, people are free to buy an Android phone and well over 80 percent of smartphone buyers on the planet do just that. Apple’s marketshare in the US is significantly higher than it is in the rest of the world, but it’s not that high.

Ben Thompson at Stratechery has been writing about this for years — he recently pulled his 2018 article on this very issue out from behind the paywall. In it, he writes that “I don’t believe the relevant market is smartphones, but rather digital goods and services.” Indeed.

The monopoly Apple has is a monopoly over the iPhone itself, not over smartphones. And that is a very strange way to think about a monopoly. Shouldn’t Apple be free to make whatever rules it wants on the devices it sells? Is it unfair for Apple to demand a cut of all digital commerce on its platforms?

If you aren’t keeping up, HEY is a new email service that has popped up and costs $99/year. They built native apps for all of the major platforms (although wrapping their website in an electron app is hardly a native app, but I digress) with Apple’s iOS being one of those platforms. They did not include a way for users to buy a subscription to their service via in app purchases, instead sending users to the HEY.com site to sign up. Apple rejected the app, saying that they should allow users to buy a subscription in the app. Now customers who signed up for the service can’t use the mobile app and the developers have said they won’t give Apple 30% of their revenue to simply process payment.

This whole thing is such a mess. Incoherent rules and inconsistent enforcement by Apple have created a situation that is bad for consumers and developers.  Ultimately, I think a situation closer to what Google allows (any 3rd party can use their own payment system for anything other than IAP and in all games) as well as allowing for easier side loading on iOS would keep the regulators away and allow for more innovation. Would their services revenue numbers take a hit? Surely. But given most of the big players already have found workarounds, I don’t think it’d be as bad as you’d think.  I also expect more from Apple than essentially rent-seeking.

Additionally, if the argument from Apple is at least partially around providing consistency and clarity for customers, having these Easter egg hunt-style messages in apps like Netflix, Kindle and others (saying things like “you can’t buy content here. Sorry!” due to Apple’s rules around linking to external signups) makes things worse, not better. With WWDC & EU antitrust discussions looming, I’m sure this will be top of mind for the folks in Cupertino over the next few weeks. I hope Apple does the right thing and at a minimum updates their rules to be more clear. If they really want to support their developer community they need to do way more than that, though.

Sanding the Rough Edges of iPadOS

I recently bought an 11″ iPad Pro to “replace” my aging 2015 MacBook Pro. My work has provided me with a 15” MacBook Pro that’s only about a year old, so there’s no reason for me to buy a new laptop for myself right now – especially when I’m working from home every day anyway. […]

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Apple Plans to Announce Move to Its Own Mac Chips at WWDC

From Mark Gurman at Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is preparing to announce a shift to its own main processors in Mac computers, replacing chips from Intel Corp., as early as this month at its annual developer conference, according to people familiar with the plans.

The new processors will be based on the same technology used in Apple-designed iPhone and iPad chips. However, future Macs will still run the macOS operating system rather than the iOS software on mobile devices from the company. Bloomberg News reported on Apple’s effort to move away from Intel earlier this year, and in 2018.

Apple’s chip-development group, led by Johny Srouji, decided to make the switch after Intel’s annual chip performance gains slowed. Apple engineers worried that sticking to Intel’s road map would delay or derail some future Macs, according to people familiar with the effort.

This has been rumored for what seems like years now, but it appears to be finally happening. This will be a huge shift, and I’m excited to see what the transition plan looks like. I’d imagine we’ll see it first hit the “consumer” lines and work out from there. A couple of questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How will this affect things like virtualization software?
  • What about cross-platform software and games? My Steam library was already decimated by the 32bit to 64bit transition. I’d imagine an ARM transition will finish it off.
  • Will iPad Pros be a test device during the transition?
  • What are the tradeoffs going to be? What are the gains going to look like?

Really excited to see what we learn in a few short weeks!

WWDC20 still lacks a schedule

With WWDC 2020 just 2 weeks away, I was kind of surprised to check out the developer site today to see the same announcement landing page that we saw a month or so ago. I’m still very curious to see what this year’s virtual conference looks like as I could imagine a hybrid model being […]

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Seven years later, I bought a new Macbook. For the first time, I don’t love it

From Carlos Fenollosa:

This computer is bittersweet.

I’m happy that I can finally perform tasks which were severely limited on my previous laptop. But this has nothing to do with the design of the product, it is just due to the fact that the internals are more modern.

Maybe loving your work tools is a privilege that only computer nerds have. Do taxi drivers love their cars? Do baristas love their coffee machines? Do gardeners love their leaf blowers? Do surgeons love their scalpels?

A comprehensive review with lots to love about the new machine, but the lows are low. While the performance, speakers, screen and build quality are exceptional as always, he points out a lot of issues with the ports, software, and the webcam quality’s complete lack of progress in the past 7 years. I’ve also heard a number of different versions of this quote over the years:

I would have paid extra money to not have a touchbar on my macbook.

I think that on balance, people are just more negative about technology these days but it’s also worth pointing out that our expectations are higher now as we depend on these devices for our livelihoods more than we did a decade ago. I appreciate experimentation and pushing the boundaries of tech but most Apple customers would prefer “it just works” to “thin, light, experimentation”.