Why the bad iPhone web app experience keeps coming up in Epic v. Apple

From Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

Something keeps coming up at the Epic v. Apple trial as a potential alternative for getting Fortnite on the iPhone: web apps. It’s an intriguing idea, as web apps are able to do surprisingly complex things: just look at a Chromebook or even game streaming services on the iPhone. But potential is far from reality, because the ability for web apps to look, feel, and perform as well as native apps on iOS is severely limited.

Another good breakdown of the issues Apple is trying to have both ways. They’re keeping a tight grip on their App Store and saying that Web Apps are a path forward if you don’t like it, but then they’re making it difficult for folks to actually ship web apps that are truly compelling. In the “best case” scenario for customers and developers, I think a ruling that includes forces Apple to change some of their rules to allow 3rd party browsers could change things greatly. Add to that some of the suggestions I made a while back, and I think a lot of this would go away. A “worst case” scenario is a confusing hellscape of competing app stores, browser ballots and even possibly no default apps on first load. Lets hope cooler heads prevail.

Progress Delayed Is Progress Denied

From The Infrequently Noted blog:

Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.

The author makes a lot of good points about where Webkit lags behind other browsers, and what its strengths are. The main thrust of the argument is that Apple won’t let other browsers onto iOS without being a branded interface wrapping around WebKit and that is harmful to users and the overall Open Web as there is no choice. Further, it puts a dent into Apple’s argument that people can always make a web app if they don’t want to participate in the App Store because the tech isn’t there to fully replace what many native apps do today.

Any time a tech company like Apple is insulated from competition, consumers suffer. iOS needs to open up their app store to alternative browsers as it will force Apple to compete more than they do right now. To their credit, they’ve done the bare minimum recently and allowed a non-Safari browser to be set as default, but they need to go the additional step and allow browsers to use their own engines. Not only would this be a win for the open web, but it would also increase competition and likely force Apple to invest more in their browser engine. There’s a lot they can differentiate on, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of web technologies advancing. I also want WebKit to be the best rendering engine out there because they focus on performance and security over chasing every single API, as that’s an area they can really hang their hat on. I personally feel like Safari on both the Mac and iOS has gotten worse in the past few years from a UX perspective (I’ll save that for another post) but better from a performance perspective. However, it would appear that WebKit as a standards-supporting platform has gotten worse. I hope they can find a good balance between the two.

This assessment can be true and it can also be true that the author is looking at the situation through Google-colored glasses. Google wants to push the web as much as possible because the web is more likely to have ads than an app would, so a more robust, “app-like” web means more opportunities for them to track and target you.

Wish List: Better anti-spam tools for Messages

From Six Colors:

In the war against spam, it often feels like we’re waging an uphill battle. While our email tools have improved and evolved over the last few years, the battlefield has started to shift from our inbox to our phones.

Recently, I’ve ended up on the receiving end of spammy text chains. Usually these are links, texted from a local number, to roughly 20 different phone numbers, many of them within the same area code as my own (or adjacent ones).

I can totally relate to an influx of text spam in the past few months.

I think that in general Apple needs to focus on privacy when it comes to messaging and email. I appreciate the fact that Messages are technically E2E encrypted but things like blocking tracking pixels in the Mail app as well as better contacts privacy settings are high on my wish list. If Apple were able to tell a cohesive story around blocking spam texts and calls, protecting your email privacy and giving you more control over your contacts list at this summer’s WWDC, I’d be thrilled.

Georgia lawmakers pass bill limiting drop box and Sunday voting

From the AJC:

The Georgia House passed a sweeping measure, House Bill 531, that would create new rules for elections by limiting weekend early voting hours, requiring more ID to vote absentee and restricting drop boxes.

While we’re still waiting for any evidence of widespread voter fraud from the 2020 election (I’m sure it’s coming any time now), the Georgia House is wasting no time pushing through restrictive measures that make it harder for people to vote. Here’s the high level of what’s in the bill:

  • Limits Sunday voting to one optional Sunday in each county
  • Restricts the use of ballot drop boxes by requiring them to be located inside early voting locations
  • Requires a driver’s license number, state ID number or copy of photo ID to vote absentee
  • Sets a deadline to request absentee ballots 11 days before election day
  • Disqualifies provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct
  • Bans outside funding of elections from nonprofit organizations
  • Prohibits governments from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications
  • Creates instant-runoff voting for military and overseas voters
  • Schedules runoffs four weeks after election day rather than the current nine weeks
  • Prevents free food and drinks for voters waiting in line to vote
  • Restricts early voting buses to emergencies

That’s a grab bag of bad ideas and a few areas that I don’t have much argument with (Ranked-choice voting in particular is a fantastic idea and I hope it gets expanded over time). But removing early-access to voting makes it harder for tons of Georgians to vote. However, what’s scarier is that the Georgia Senate is now considering removing no-exuse mail-in ballots for voters. The combo of the two is really concerning, but not that surprising.

HomePod struggles to track played Apple Music songs

From José Adorno at 9to5Mac:

HomePod and even the new HomePod mini don’t count songs when you ask Siri to play something on your smart speaker. This affects your Apple Music Replay statistics and integration with third-party Apple Music applications.

Play counts with Apple Music have always been wonky. I don’t see this particular issue, but I don’t doubt he’s seeing it. One of the main reasons I use Apple Music over Spotify is the underlying power of play counts and metadata, but relying on it being 100% accurate is a fool’s errand. It’s been abut 5 years since Apple Music launched and I still feel like the fundamentals aren’t quite where they need to be.

The Apple TV’s touchpad swipes and misses at being a good remote

From Chaim Gartenberg at The Verge:

Apple made a remote control that’s an undeniably beautiful piece of hardware. Outside of the Siri Remote, how many TV remotes can claim to actually look good? But the touchpad’s minimalism and misplaced attempt at trying to turn the entire remote into something that it’s not makes it like other failed Apple buttons before it: a stark warning of the dangers of chasing form over function.

The Siri Remote is by far the worst Apple product I own and this article sums up all of the frustrations users feel when using it. The actual Siri functionality is brilliant but it mostly stops there. Swiping around is a pain, they’re easy to lose and when you do find them, odds are you’ll pick it up facing upside down.

I could be wrong, but this sort of design feels like the worst of the Jony Ive era and I’m hopeful that Apple will make amends with the next Apple TV version.

Airbnb will build a new tech hub in Atlanta

From Protocol:

The company chose Atlanta for its future growth for one explicit reason: In order to meet its hiring goals for technical teams with a diverse range of perspectives, the company needed a location that produces diverse and creative talent and would continue to attract more. No other city could surpass Atlanta’s potential to do that, Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s senior vice president for global policy and communications, told Protocol.

The fallout from Covid-19 accelerating work from anywhere has a large number of California-based tech companies looking for other places to search for talent. Atlanta has a ton of ingredients – relatively low cost of living, good weather, good local talent pools and a very diverse workforce – that make it appealing to any company looking outside of SF for talent.

With Trump’s Acquittal, The Fragility Of America’s Democracy Is Even More Clear

From FiveThirtyEight:

The Democrats, already divided in some ways on ideological grounds on issues like Medicare for All, now have another big question: How do they try to defend American democracy against rising anti-democratic forces largely centered within the GOP? That debate is likely to center on to what extent Democrats should adopt more hardball tactics to try to reduce GOP power, including steps such as getting rid of the filibuster or adding justices to the Supreme Court. That debate will also have an electoral dimension, as the party must figure out whether conservative voters wary of Trump and Trumpism constitute a big enough bloc to make it worthwhile to court them, even if that means sidelining some of the policy goals of the party’s more progressive wing.

Democrats gave Republicans every opportunity to disavow Trump and move on to retake their party but they’ve chosen not to. Given where polling stands for Republicans on Trump, impeachment and who they would vote for in a 2024 primary, it seems that they’ve chosen not to “retake” their party because they don’t want to.

I miss having a center-right party in the US.

Distributed-First Is the Future of Work at Spotify

From Spotify:

The future of how we work has been a popular topic inside the walls of Spotify for a while now. Our leadership team has long championed the idea that digitalization and globalization are massive drivers for a more flexible workplace that better suits both our band and our business.

Add another company to the list. One interesting tidbit is their focus on paying NY/SF salaries no matter where the employee chooses to live. I’m really curious to see what the Covid year does to our industry as well as current tech centers like NY and SF.

Reminders App is All I Need

From The Brooks Review:

During the week of Thanksgiving 2020 I upended my task management life and moved away from Things (which I have been using for a while) and moved all in with Reminders.app.

Interesting take by Ben on how Reminders hits the mark for him over more-fiddly options like OmniFocus and Things. I’m a big fan of using Things but there are definitely times where the relative simplicity of a native app like Reminders appeals to me.