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.

Revenge of the Suburbs

From Ian Bogost at The Atlantic:

But after the anxious spring of 2020, these defects seem like new luxuries. There was always comfort to be found in a big house on a plot of land that’s your own. The relief is even more soothing with a pandemic bearing down on you. And as the novel coronavirus graduates from acute terror to long-term malaise, urbanites are trapped in small apartments with little or no outdoor space, reliant on mass transit that now seems less like a public service and more like a rolling petri dish.
The pandemic will improve suburban life, perhaps in lasting ways. Take the automobile commute: The exodus from the office has dramatically decreased traffic and pollution, a trend that will continue in some form if even a fraction of the people who abandoned their commutes continue to work from home. Dunham-Jones, who is also my colleague in Georgia Tech’s college of design, thinks that even a modest rise in telecommuting could also increase the appeal of local walking and bike trips. Families have two cars, but nowhere to go. They are rediscovering the pleasures of pedestrianism.
[…]
Multigenerational households represent a modest increase in density, and they can make quarantine more tolerable on top of it. The summer is upon us, but camps are largely closed and ordinary family activities have been substantially disrupted. The spring lockdowns also proved that working from home while facilitating children’s remote schoolwork is extremely challenging. Intergenerational households offer more hands and eyes to watch the kids or manage mealtimes made incompatible by overlapping schedules. Schools have always been a huge driver of residential real-estate sales, and even a modest increase in online learning could shock the market. Economic pressure may encourage consolidation of some families into bigger but more populous single-family homes, while decoupling home values from school districts even somewhat could make them more affordable.

Living in the suburbs is a mixed bag as it’s always been – you trade things like culture, collectivism, walkability and energy efficiency for a longer commute, more space (but more isolation) and (often) better schools. However, I’m hopeful that this pandemic has shown us there’s possibility to find a middle ground now that more folks are working from their homes and helping educate from the comfort of our house. If we’re lucky, residents in suburban areas will look to invest more in their local communities and build them into places that might make those longer commutes less necessary. If we can move to a world where remote work is accessible for more folks, suburban and exurban communities can be more sustainable.

I try to remind myself daily how lucky we are to have a setup like we do – we have an office that I can work remotely out of, (mostly) uninterrupted during the day. Our kids can complete their schoolwork in the basement. We have a fenced in back yard that the kids can play in as well. So generally speaking the quarantine has been “easier” for our family than the average apartment dweller.

To our YouTube TV members: an update to our content and price

From the Youtube TV blog:

As we continue to evaluate how to provide the best possible service and content for you, our membership price will be $64.99. This new price takes effect today, June 30, for new members. Existing subscribers will see these changes reflected in their subsequent billing cycle on or after July 30.

I get that the content business is a cutthroat, low margin world. But we’re slowly getting into cable prices – which defeats the entire purpose of services like YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV.

Welcome to the 21st Century

From Tim O’Reilly:

Our failure to make deep, systemic changes after the financial collapse of 2009, and our choice instead to spend the last decade cutting taxes and spending profusely to prop up financial markets while ignoring deep, underlying problems has only made responding to the current crisis that much more difficult. Our failure to build back creatively and productively from the global financial crisis is necessary context for the challenge to do so now.

I enjoyed this article so much. O’Reilly talks a lot about how the future won’t be be just like the past, and we should be thinking about what changes this new world we’ve living in will require of us so that we don’t just revert back to our old habits. What will be gone or changed forever? Travel, large-scale events, privacy, health care and work-from-home are all certain to be transformed. But how? And what new things will emerge?

My fear is that this article assumes we’ll handle the Covid crisis and learn from that experience. Instead, it’s looking more and more like a preview of how America and much of the western world might handle coming climate crises. We won’t – can’t? – work collectively on big problems as a nation any more and that’s a huge danger to both our political system and our planet. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I am hopeful that changes to attitudes and tools for working remotely will create a more equitable job market. That will in turn allow communities across the nation to be destinations for remote workers.

For us to emerge as strongly as possible from Covid and not be left behind by the rest of the world as they recover, we’ll need to see more planning and strategic thinking from our local and national leaders, however. Businesses are doing their part, but our nation is rudderless.

Graham, Cotton, Blackburn Introduce Balanced Solution to Bolster National Security, End Use of Warrant-Proof Encryption that Shields Criminal Activity

From the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary:

The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is a balanced solution that keeps in mind the constitutional rights afforded to all Americans, while providing law enforcement the tools needed to protect the public from everyday violent crime and threats to our national security. The bill would require service providers and device manufacturers to provide assistance to law enforcement when access to encrypted devices or data is necessary – but only after a court issues a warrant, based on probable cause that a crime has occurred, authorizing law enforcement to search and seize the data.

I don’t expect our elected officials to understand every little detail of how something like encryption work, but legislating that companies keep backdoors defeats the purpose of encryption and privacy.

Tech companies are already helping when a warrant is provided. As an example, Apple already provides a ton when asked to by law enforcement. Eliminating encryption is a bridge too far.

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.

The Deathly Tragedy of American Exceptionalism

From Robert Reich:

With 4.25 percent of the world population, America has the tragic distinction of accounting for about 30 percent of pandemic deaths so far.

Some folks have tried to downplay the extremely high death count numbers in the US by looking at infection rate per 1000 – which does show that some countries like Spain are seeing more infections than we are. However, our death numbers are staggering. I think some of that is attributable to a poor testing strategy – you can have “invisible” infections but it’s much harder to hide deaths. There’s probably some blame to go around for our healthcare system as well, that puts poor folks at a disadvantage relative to those with money.

Our inept leaders and broken unemployment system have handicapped our recovery as well.

We saw some good news last week, relatively speaking, with 2.5 million jobs added but I fear the road to recovery is going to be bumpy.