Epic and Apple

I’m guessing you’re aware of what’s going on between Epic and Apple. It’s been the big story in tech news for a few weeks. Yesterday Apple terminated Epic’s App Store account, as threatened, following a legal dispute between the companies. This is headed for the courts and is going to be playing out over the next several months.

I’m enjoying watching this battle. Its two big tech companies fighting it out over a lot of money. I do tend to side with Apple on this because of the brazen and calculating way Epic has brought this on them self.

The Apple pundits have differing opinions on who’s right or wrong but I like Jason Snell and David Sparks take on this kerfuffle.

Jason Snell:
Epic versus Apple? I’m rooting for the users

The thing is, I don’t really back all the actions of either party in this kerfuffle. Instead, I’m squarely on the side of the people who use technology. Let’s leave aside the tech giants. What are the outcomes that would most benefit regular users?

So who am I rooting for in this case? I’m hoping that the judges, along with the legislators and regulators, don’t get distracted by the sight of two large, profitable companies squabbling in court and lose sight of the most important party in this case—the people who use these products every day.

David Sparks:
Apple’s Troubles and MacSparky Coverage — MacSparky

Lately, Apple has been dealing with several percolating problems. Governments, at home and abroad, are interested in their business practices. Troubles between the United States and China are now threatening Apple’s business in one of its biggest markets. Big and small developers are now finding ways to exert pressure against the existing App Store model.

I have had several readers/listeners write in asking me to cover these topics more, but to be honest, I’m just not that interested.

I am much more concerned about all of the families that have lost loved ones and all of the people out of work due to this pandemic than the troubles of a $2 trillion company.

Hey controversy from a user perspective

As you have probably seen this past week, there has been a lot of controversy over the Hey.com email app being rejected from the Apple App Store.

Here’s some background on what the brew haha is about.

The Verge

Apple is threatening to remove Hey.com from the App Store if the ambitious new email service doesn’t begin offering an in-app subscription and sharing a cut of its revenue, according to an executive at Basecamp, which makes Hey.

David Heinemeier Hansson, the CTO of Basecamp, said that Apple is acting like “gangsters,” rejecting a bug fix update and asking the company in a phone call to commit to adding an in-app subscription to prevent it from being removed. “I was taken aback by how brazen that threat was,” Heinemeier Hansson told The Verge. “I thought you were supposed to wrap the threats in euphemisms or something. But it was pretty clear.”

In an email to The Verge, Apple said that it requires all developers to follow strict guidelines around business models. The company declined to comment specifically on Hey, but said that App Store review guidelines require an in-app purchase option if an app wants to offer access to content purchased on another platform. Apple suggested the call to Hey’s team was not out of the ordinary, saying it always works with developers to bring them into compliance. Apple also told Protocol that the app shouldn’t have been approved in the first place.

The developer community has been very vocal in siding with the app’s developer. But there’s another side to this story. I view this situation from a user perspective rather than a developer. So the question is how does Apple’s operation of the App Store affect me?

Ben Brooks wrote a piece about the controversy which I was intrigued by. It sums up how I as a user feel about the situation.

Hey, Controversy – The Brooks Review

FOCUS ON USERS

Apple employs an extremely simple, but effective business strategy: focus on making the best experience for users, and you will make loads of money. Amazon, Google, Uber, and many others copy this. But Apple is king of this strategy.

If Hey.com, or any other developer, wants an exception to the rule, then you need to prove that the best thing for the user is to grant that exception. Allow me to explain in two cases.

NETFLIX

You cannot sign up for Netflix in the Netflix app, and Apple allows this and they say the do because it is a content consumption app. Which is likely a good cover-your-ass statement. The real reason: not having Netflix on the App Store would be objectively worse for users than Apple bending the IAP subscription rule.

Or put another way: if Android has a Netflix app, and iOS does not, then iOS is likely to lose more iOS users and thus profit than they would if they just waived rule and allowed the app. So even though the Netflix app is not an ideal user experience, it is the best Apple can do and Apple clearly feels not having Netflix on the iPhone is worse for the user than bending the IAP rules.

HEY.COM

Now what Hey.com is saying: users have to subscribe on our website. What Apple is saying: that’s a worse user experience.

Stop there, because I know a ton of you agree with Hey.com, but I need you to be realistic as an iOS user. Is your argument that, as a user, the best experience is to use Safari to sign up and pay for Hey.com, and then further to always have to go to their website to manage that auto-recurring subscription? Is that really the argument? I think not.

Because that’s the worst user experience. The best is to have the App Store manage it, it makes signing up easier, safer, and faster. It makes management way easier.

So Apple, in looking at this says: it is objectively worse for users to bend the IAP rule, and by blocking Hey.com we are not likely to lose any meaningful amount of users. There are plenty of other options, so no, we will not make the experience worse for users.

Hey did not prove their case, and Apple sided with the users. You are also a user. Do you really want all these subscription based apps to start punting you to a website to sign up? Or do you actually find IAPs the best way to pay for subscriptions?

Yeah… Apple clearly agrees with you, that IAP subscriptions are way better than web subscriptions. And that’s why Hey.com got rejected, and frankly was always rolling the dice.

Ben’s article is well written and worth reading in full. You can find it here.

My thoughts on Apple & Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing

From what I’ve read Apple and Google’s COVID-19 contact tracing seems like a good idea and one that I’ll most likely use. It appears to be the best technological solution to date for governmental authorities to partially lift the lockdown orders that are currently in place. That said I do have privacy concerns.

According to the Verge, this is how we’ll use the tracking tool. “Google and Apple are using Bluetooth LE signals for contact tracing. When two people are near each other, their phones can exchange an anonymous identification key, recording that they’ve had close contact. If one person is later diagnosed with COVID-19, they can share that information through an app. The system will notify other users they’ve been close to, so those people can self-quarantine if necessary. Ideally, this means you won’t have to reveal your name, location, or other personal data.”

Apple and Google stress that “user privacy and security is central to the design”. So here’s the best explanation as to how privacy will be protected that I’ve found.

Ars Technica

But while mobile-based contact tracing may be more effective, it also poses a serious threat to individual privacy, since it opens the door to central databases that track the movements and social interactions of potentially millions, and possibly billions, of people. The platform Apple and Google are developing uses an innovative cryptographic scheme that aims to allow the contact tracing to work as scale without posing a risk to the privacy of those who opt into the system.

Privacy advocates—with at least one notable exception—mostly gave the system a qualified approval, saying that while the scheme removed some of the most immediate threats, it may still be open to abuse.

“To their credit, Apple and Google have announced an approach that appears to mitigate the worst privacy and centralization risks, but there is still room for improvement,” Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a statement. “We will remain vigilant moving forward to make sure any contact tracing app remains voluntary and decentralized, and used only for public health purposes and only for the duration of this pandemic.”

Unlike traditional contact tracing, the phone platform doesn’t collect names, locations, or other identifying information. Instead, when two or more users opting into the system come into physical contact, their phones use BLE to swap anonymous identifier beacons. The identifiers—which in technical jargon are known as rolling proximity identifiers—change roughly every 15 minutes to prevent wireless tracking of a device.

As the users move about and come into proximity with others, their phones continue to exchange these anonymous identifiers. Periodically, the users’ devices will also download broadcast beacon identifiers of anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in the same local region.

In the event someone reports to the system that she has tested positive, her phone will contact a central server and upload identifiers of all the users she has come into contact with over the last 14 days. The server then pushes a notification to the affected users.

Apple responds to COVID-19 by closing all stores outside of China

Apple’s COVID-19 response

Tim Cook, Writing at Apple Newsroom:

We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at http://www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.

In all of our offices, we are moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China. That means team members should work remotely if their job allows, and those whose work requires them to be on site should follow guidance to maximize interpersonal space. Extensive, deep cleaning will continue at all sites. In all our offices, we are rolling out new health screenings and temperature checks.

All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations. We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures.

Apple has also switched WWDC 2020 to an all online format.

An iPad with a mouse and trackpad?

9to5 Mac is reporting that sophisticated mouse cursor support is coming to iOS 14 and that new iPad Smart Keyboard models will have a trackpad.

According to code seen by 9to5Mac, Apple is set to roll out rich system-wide support for mouse cursors with iOS 14. Apple added rudimentary compatibility with external mice in iOS 13 Accessibility settings, but iOS 14 (iPadOS 14) will make it mainstream.

The iOS 14 build also referenced two new Smart Keyboard models in development.

The changes coming to the software will bring most of the cursor features you recognize from a Mac desktop experience to iOS.

I love it and I’m looking forward to it. This seems like something that could get me closer to making an iPad my main computing device.

Some thoughts on Apple’s Event – September 10, 2019

This week Apple announced the new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, Apple Watch Series 5, and iPad. With all the rumors floating around over the last few months the announcements weren’t surprising.

Here are my thoughts.

iPhone
I’ll be trading in my iPhone 7 Plus for a new iPhone 11. My 7 Plus is starting to show its age and I’m getting bored with it. I plan on getting the 64GB model for $499 after my 7 Plus trade-in. Colors? Now that’s a hard one. I’ll have to see the actual phones to decide on that one.

iPad
I might also consider the new iPad or iPad Air with a larger display, pencil, and keyboard to replace my 5th generation iPad. I’m finding myself using my iPad more these days so it would be nice to upgrade.

Watch
I just bought my series 4 Watch this last April so no new Watch for me this year.

Jon Gruber on Jony Ive leaving Apple

If you’re into this type of thing, John Gruber’s take on Jony Ive, Apple’s longtime design guru, leaving Apple is a good read. Gruber is the designer and inventor of Markdown. He also writes Daring Fireball, an Apple-focused blog and hosts a related podcast The Talk Show.

Jony Ive Is Leaving Apple

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.

Further reading:
Apple’s stock took an $8 billion hit after the news that design chief Jony Ive will be exiting the company

Apple will be just fine without Jony Ive — sorry, Jony

Ive Moves On