Thursday, August 31, 2017

Apple breaks silence on Net Neutrality in support letter to FCC →

Yesterday was the last day to provide comment to the FCC on their proposal to gut Net Neutrality rules implemented in 2015. As a result, Apple finally broke their silence on this subject with an official letter to the FCC. In it, Apple comments on consumer choice, fast lanes, transparency, competition, investment and innovation, and more in support of Net Neutrality. It’s a great, short read, but to the point.

Here’s my Net Neutrality And You post if you need a refresher on the subject. Now for a few excerpts from Apple’s letter…

On consumer choice:

Consumers must be allowed to access the lawful internet content, applications, and services of their choice, using non-harmful devices of their choice (subject, of course, to reasonable network management). Broadband providers should not block, throttle, or otherwise discriminate against lawful websites and services.

On the prospect of paid fast lanes:

Paid fast lanes could replace today’s content-neutral transmission of internet traffic with differential treatment of content based on an online providers’ ability or willingness to pay. The result would be an internet with distorted competition where online providers are driven to reach deals with broadband providers or risk being stuck in the slow lane and losing customers due to lower quality service.

On competition:

Competition for last-mile broadband connections is crucial to protecting an open internet. Based on the FCC’s latest data, 57 percent of Americans with access to fixed broadband at or above 25Mbps/3Mbps—the current FCC benchmark for advanced broadband service—have only one choice of broadband provider.3 This means that many consumers cannot switch providers even if they learn that their broadband provider interferes with the internet’s openness in a way that they oppose.

This in particular is laughably pathetic. America is so far behind in terms of home Internet speeds it’s embarrassing.

I’m glad to see this official response from Apple, even if it doesn’t explicitly call for ISPs to remain classified as Title II utilities. On the other hand, I don’t know why it took them so damn long to comment.

Apple announces September 12 event

Apple confirmed the rumored September 12 event today, as the above press invites have gone out. This will be the first event on their new campus, Apple Park. As such, it will also be the first event held in the Steve Jobs Theater. There was some uncertainty if the theater would be ready in time, since Apple has yet to fully complete construction, but they seem determined to make it happen.

Among the expected announcements are three new iPhones, a new Watch, and a new Apple TV.

The event will be live streamed via the Apple website and the Apple Events app on Apple TV beginning at 10am on September 12. Can’t wait!

The new, cheaper Nest Thermostat E

Greg Kumparak for TechCrunch:

The Thermostat E, meanwhile, is meant to blend in. It’s for the vast majority of the thermostat buying population that doesn’t really want anyone noticing the little doodad that keeps their house warm.

Nest has dropped the metallic ring around the edges, instead replacing it with a white plastic ring that the company says is meant to feel like ceramic (it felt like soft-touch paint to me; velvety when brushed with the thumb, harder when tapped with a fingernail.) The screen, too, is white — or, more accurately, a fancy white diffuser on top of a black screen makes it look like a white screen. Most walls are white/off white, so going all white here lets the E blend right in.

I kind of get what Nest was going for with the all-white design, but it just seems like they missed the mark. The diffuser looks so plasticky, like they took inspiration from one of those white push lights you put in your closet. Gross. It certainly is a far cry from the design of my black and silver Nest Learning Thermostat.

Design inspiration?
Design inspiration?

On functionality:

So what can’t it do that the original can to account for that nearly-$100 difference? The screen is a bit more basic; it’s only meant to tell you the temperature now, rather than doing fancy things like acting like a clock in its downtime. Meanwhile, they’ve dropped a few wiring connections inside that Nest says will limit compatibility to around 85% of US houses rather than 95% — so if you’ve already checked if the original model will work with your place, you might want to check again here.

On availability:

Orders for the new Nest Thermostat E should open up on August 31st, with shipments going out on September 1st and hitting retail stores sometime around the 10th.

Design aside, this is most likely aimed at those who thought the main Nest was a bit too expensive. There will probably never be official HomeKit integration, since Nest is owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent company). There are, however, other ways to integrate Nest with Siri..

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Essential accidentally shares sensitive customer data →

Dieter Bohn for The Verge:

Last night, some customers who had preordered an Essential phone received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license, ostensibly to verify their address in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Dozens of customers replied with their personal information, but those emails didn’t just go to Essential; they went out to everybody who had received the original email. That means that an unknown number of Essential customers are now in possession of each other’s drivers license, birth date, and address information.

The incident is being reported as phishing by many outlets, because it looks and smells quite a lot like a phishing attempt: a weird request for personal information. After examining the email headers, it doesn’t look like this was an actual phishing attempt. It seems much more likely that this was a colossal screw up, the result of a misconfigured customer support email list.

Just wow. Definitely not the headline you want surrounding your first product release.

In a post regarding Andy Rubin’s vision, I said the following in reference to user data. With today’s mistake, Essential has absolutely lost some credibility. And this is the company that wants to run our homes?

While many may trust Andy Rubin, Essential has to walk the walk. They have to measurably demonstrate their accountability and be transparent with user data.

Update

Andy Rubin has now penned a formal apology on the Essential Blog, saying:

Yesterday, we made an error in our customer care function that resulted in personal information from approximately 70 customers being shared with a small group of other customers. We have disabled the misconfigured account and have taken steps internally to add safeguards against this happening again in the future. We sincerely apologize for our error and will be offering the impacted customers one year of LifeLock. We will also continue to invest more in our infrastructure and customer care, which will only be more important as we grow.

Being a founder in an intensely competitive business means you occasionally have to eat crow. It’s humiliating, it doesn’t taste good, and often, it’s a humbling experience. As Essential’s founder and CEO, I’m personally responsible for this error and will try my best to not repeat it.

Good on him to take ownership for the blunder and provide LifeLock to the affected individuals. Also glad to hear the impact was minimal. Hopefully Essential learns a big lesson from this.

Mark Gurman details absence of home button for iPhone 8 →

Mark Gurman is reporting that the iPhone 8 will not have a home button at all, instead having its functions replaced by gestures. While I would support the absence of a home button, many questions spring to mind based on Mark’s descriptions.

Unlocking the phone:

Across the bottom of the screen there’s a thin, software bar in lieu of the home button. A user can drag it up to the middle of the screen to open the phone.

The return of slide to unlock, but vertical? Not to say this wouldn’t work, but I’m a little skeptical. Also, how would Control Center be accessed from the Lock Screen?

Accessing multitasking (App Switcher):

When inside an app, a similar gesture starts multitasking. From here, users can continue to flick upwards to close the app and go back to the home screen. An animation in testing sucks the app back into its icon. The multitasking interface has been redesigned to appear like a series of standalone cards that can be swiped through, versus the stack of cards on current iPhones, the images show.

  1. What happens to Control Center if its swipe-up gesture is changed to open the App Switcher? Does it become the card on the far-right, similar to iOS 11 on iPad? Does it get relegated to the Cover Sheet?

This sounds a lot like the following videos discovered in iOS 11 beta by Guilherme Rambo on Twitter. I would prefer Control Center become the far-right card on the App Switcher.

  1. What happens to accessing Siri via button? Tap and hold on the indicator? What about when the indicator is hidden, as hinted at in the iOS 11 beta (discovered by Steve Troughton-Smith)?

  1. Redesign of the App Switcher cards sounds a lot like iOS 7’s initial implementation. Quite honestly, I don’t prefer one design over another, but perhaps there’s a reason behind this change that isn’t yet apparent.

I have been advocating for the removal of any home button indicator and implementation of 3D Touch, but what Gurman describes sounds like a nice middle ground. If true, getting in and out of apps will be faster than ever.

Mark also mentions that Apple will embrace the notch cutout an the top of the screen.

Apple has opted to not hide the notch area at the top of the screen, showing a definitive cutout at the top of apps with non-black backgrounds. The cutout is noticeable during app usage in the middle of the very top of the screen, where the status bar (the area that shows cellular reception, the time, and battery life) would normally be placed, according to the images. Instead, the status bar will be split into left and right sides, which some Apple employees call “ears” internally. In images of recent test devices, the left side shows the time while the area on the right side of the notch displays cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity and remaining battery life. Because of limited space, the status bar could change based on the task at hand, according to a person familiar with the testing.

Makes sense to make use of the space for indicators, but it would definitely take some getting used to.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Google announces ARCore, an Augmented Reality development kit

Today, Google announced a new Augmented Reality SDK preview for developers dubbed ARCore. Based off work it has accomplished with Project Tango and similar to Apple’s ARKit, ARCore allow developers to implement Augmented Reality into their apps starting today.

From the Google Blog:

ARCore will run on millions of devices, starting today with the Pixel and Samsung’s S8, running 7.0 Nougat and above. We’re targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview. We’re working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and others to make this possible with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.

Google has even launched its own AR Experiments showcase to highlight example uses of ARCore. This is similar to the third-party run Made With ARKit website, which serves the same purpose for iOS.

As for the SDK name, I think Google could’ve chosen something less Apple-like as the branding is highly similar.

Either way, Augmented Reality is going to be huge. Pedestrian implementations are already loved by the masses (see: Pokémon Go, Snapchat filters). We’re all going to be blown away by what AR will do for us, and it won’t take that much longer to reap tangible rewards.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fitbit intros the Ionic smartwatch

This is an incredibly ugly watch. The bezels are huge, the body is blocky, and the gigantic “fitbit” on the front is an eyesore. The software looks decent from a design perspective, and multi-day battery life is nice (if true), but the new Apple Watch coming in the next few weeks is going to embarrass this thing.