Monday, May 7, 2018

All apps must support iPhone X resolution starting in July →

From the Apple Developer site:

Starting July 2018, all iOS app updates submitted to the App Store must be built with the iOS 11 SDK and must support the Super Retina display of iPhone X.

Apple is very generous when it comes to enforcing new standards, such as this. I won’t pretend to know the complexities that are managing the design of an app with a significant user base, but using apps that still aren’t updated for iPhone X is a glaringly bad experience. For instance, the Roku, Ring, and Alexa apps were only recently updated to support the Super Retina Display. Up until then, I used to twinge every time I had to launch one of them.

Alexa now available as a default assistant on Android →

Redditor itsallaguesswork discovered a new setting on his Pixel 2 this weekend that allows the selection of a default smart assistant. Most notably, Alexa is one of the new choices. Simply download the Alexa app and select your preference in the appropriate settings menu (depending on your device). Once done, you can invoke Alexa by name or by holding the home button.

Google Pixel 2 settings menu. Credit: Redditor itsallaguesswork
Google Pixel 2 settings menu. Credit: Redditor itsallaguesswork

This is a small change, but one that could potentially have huge ramifications. Starting today, Alexa has essentially escaped the confines of the living room and can be triggered on a phone without the hassle of diving into an app. It will be interesting to see how many people switch from Google Assistant and Bixby.

A hypothetical build-your-own Apple Upgrade Program

As I recently wrote, subscriptions are the norm these days, whether they are for goods, services, even applications. As much as I don’t love signing up for new ones, there is a theoretical one I would sign up for in a heartbeat. The iPhone Upgrade Program has spoiled me, and now I want more.

iPhone Upgrade Program

Apple introduced its own iPhone Upgrade Program in 2015 with iPhone 6S. The promise? After 12 payments or equivalent, you become eligible to trade in and upgrade to the latest model iPhone. AppleCare+ is also baked in as part of your monthly payment, which is a nice convenience. Having been part of the program since its inception, I am largely satisfied with it, despite how Apple mishandled the first upgrade cycle from iPhone 6S to iPhone 7. It is a huge boon for early adopters and the impatient (read: me). It is also a marked improvement over the hassle that comes with selling your old iPhone to buy a new one.

Apple fine tuned the upgrade process for the iPhone 8/8 Plus/X cycle, which resulted in an even bigger advantage to those in the program. I was able to become pre-approved for the upgrade and select my preferred model of choice days before pre-orders. At 12:01 on pre-order day — or as I call it, iDay — it was simply a manner of a couple taps, and the device was secured for pickup on launch day. Sure as hell beats scrambling like a mad man to enter payment info and whatnot. It turned an anxious, frantic experience into something seamless. It just worked.

Financing is in the form of a small, no interest loan. Apple parters with Citizens One to handle credit approval and loan management, but I would like to see the financing method changed for what I’m proposing.

Apple Upgrade Program

So, here’s my pitch: a build-your-own Apple Upgrade Program for those that are dedicated to having the latest and greatest of Apple’s main offerings: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

Enrollment & Scope

To enroll, you’d choose up to four devices from the following categories:

  1. Any iPhone
  2. Any Apple Watch
  3. And iPad
  4. Any Mac or MacBook, with exception of iMac Pro and Mac Pro. These devices are more niche, so I wouldn’t include them.

All devices would come with the benefit of AppleCare+, using the existing appropriate terms and limits for each (e.g. accidental damage replacement).

Instead of a loan, I propose it should function more like wireless carrier financing. You’d still need to run your credit, but you wouldn’t take out a loan for the products you’re buying. You would just pay Apple directly each month via iTunes billing for a total of 24 months. Apple could slap an early termination fee on the agreement and call it a day.

So, as an example, let’s use my current slew of devices that fit into the applicable categories: iPhone X (64GB), Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, iPad Pro 10.5-inch with cellular (64GB), and 2016 MacBook Pro 15-inch with Touch Bar (base model). Total for all of these devices, plus AppleCare+ equates to approximately $5,000 before tax. 1 In the context of my proposed upgrade program, that shakes out to 24 payments of about $208. Remember, that’s all interest free. Sign me up, already! I’d much rather pay Apple directly than some credit card company.

Side note on the topic of credit cards: the Apple Rewards Card from Barclay has been a good solution for the time being, since they offer deferred interest financing promotions.

During enrollment, Apple could offer perks and/or upgrades for its growing and maturing services (i.e. iCloud storage, Apple Music). Perhaps they could even include an additional 10GB of iCloud storage for each device added to the plan (+40GB max). Apple’s measly 5GB free tier has always been a bit of a head-scratcher, so this would be a conservative step in the right direction.

Upgrading and Adding Devices

Upgrading would be very similar to the iPhone Upgrade Program. Once you’ve made 12 payments or equivalent, you’d be eligible to upgrade to the latest versions of the devices you have, if and once they are available.

You could theoretically add to your plan at any time if you don’t have a device from a specific category. Eventual upgrades for added devices would also be held to the 12-minimum-payments threshold or equivalent (off cycle from your other devices).

Benefits

An upgrade program of this nature would be mutually beneficial. Diehards and early adopters get what they want, and Apple provides the utmost encouragement for folks to stay within their ecosystem.

And look, I’m not saying every single device release is going to be universally loved by everyone (looking at you, current-gen MacBook Pro). Nor am I saying you should upgrade to new versions blindly. Being in the program doesn’t mean you must upgrade, it just means you are in the best position to do so.

Essentially: if I’m going to give Apple a decent amount of money every so often for devices in these product categories, I just want an easier and more convenient way to do it.


  1. On a totally unrelated note: my wife is awesome. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Vlad Savov reviews Koss Porta Pro Wireless headphones →

Vlad Savov, resident audiophile for The Verge, published a review of the new Koss Porta Pro Wireless headphones — a modern update of the classic fan favorite. Here’s what he thinks:

I’ve had a pair of the new wireless Porta Pros for the past couple of weeks, and the quickest way I can summarize them is to say that they’re fundamentally the exact same Porta Pros above the wire. That’s mostly a good thing, though it does make the addition of a Bluetooth connection look and feel like an afterthought that’s been tacked on.

Thoughts on the design:

[…] Descending from each headphone is a black cylinder that either dangles aimlessly or gets pushed up by my collar, in both cases serving to make me look dorkier than usual. […]

And:

Even if I could forgive the dangly dongles on the wire connecting the two halves of the Porta Pro Wireless, the one thing I absolutely can’t abide is the pulsating blue light that’s emitted from the headphones when they’re on. Embedded in the remote control on the right side of the wearer’s head, this light is way too bright and, tragically, it can’t be switched off. This is more than a mere cosmetic issue: I’m unable to watch movies in a dark room with these Porta Pros without being distracted by their blinking searchlight. Koss says it’s looking into the issue, though it feels like an obvious oversight not to have addressed it before release.

Sound quality:

Sound quality from the Porta Pro Wireless a little less refined to my ear, more coarse and less detailed than the original Porta Pros. But this is a difference of only slight degrees — Paul happens to think the Porta Pro Wireless are just as awesome and amazing as the originals.

I love my original Koss Porta Pros. I remember using my Dad’s for the first time and being blown away by how amazing these simplistic-looking headphones sound — especially for the price.

With the wireless version, it sounds like Koss made a few design mistakes. I agree with Vlad on the connecting wire. Why not build the necessary electronics into the headphones themselves and avoid the eyesore? Koss could have stayed true to the classic design while accounting for the modern necessities. I can’t think of any other over-the-head Bluetooth cans that have a connecting wire.

That said, I’m tempted to pick up a pair of these for comparison with the original wired Porta Pros. After all, the price is just as compelling.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Apple: My request for all the data it had on me was eye-opening →

Jefferson Graham for USA Today:

It took eight days for my data to arrive from Apple, from a European office that is handling the privacy requests. After making the request, the iPhone maker first asked for my street address, phone number, the serial number of the iPhone, and other personal information before releasing it. This compares to Google and Facebook’s data dump. They asked no questions, and the results arrived swiftly-Facebook within minutes, and Google within hours.

Apple’s file on me took longer but was lightweight – a testimony, according to the company, of how little it collects and stores on its individual users.

And:

What Apple didn’t share with me is all the questions I’ve asked the Siri personal digital assistant, queries it gathers to make the artificial intelligence smarter.

The company says the data wouldn’t tell an individual user anything, since it’s not associated with him or her. Your Siri requests – “Show me how to get to PF Chang’s,” or “What year was Steve Jobs born?” go back to Apple – but it uses a random identifier to mask your identity. So a Siri search for the closest Chipotle restaurant will only tell Apple that a user requested the data, but not associate it with me.

There are people out there who hate Apple products and services, but damn if their privacy stance isn’t world-leading. There’s absolutely no debating that fact.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

iOS 11.4 beta enables AirPlay control via Siri

Zac Hall from 9to5Mac discovered an awesome new feature I’ve been clamoring for in the latest iOS 11.4 Beta. You can now ask Siri to AirPlay content to your Apple TV and/or HomePod, including multi-room audio playback!

This is a feature I have always thought Apple should implement to make the initiation of AirPlay even quicker, so I’m very excited. Hope it stays in through the final release.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Intel delays Cannon Lake processors →

Malcolm Owen for AppleInsider:

Revealed during Intel’s quarterly earnings report, the chip giant revealed it would continue to focus on shipping chips that use the established 14-nanometer process this year, reports PC Gamer. While next-generation chips using a 10nm production process will ship this year, Intel is instead shifting high volume manufacturing into 2019.


Intel CEO Brian Krzanich advised the change in pace was caused through issues achieving suitably high yields of 10nm chips. Rather than try to achieve high volume production this year, and potentially waste considerable portions of wafers used in manufacturing, the company is instead taking time to fix issues before attempting mass production.

Bad news for all PC makers, and another perfect example of the entire industry’s reliance on Intel. Apple’s rumored switch to ARM may be worth the headache.

Privacy Policy updates are trendy

There’s a silver lining in the aftermath of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica fiasco: everyone and their mother are updating privacy policies right now. Go ahead, check your inbox; I bet you have quite a few. Maybe it’s a bit marketing fluff, but the optimist in me hopes there is good intention.

Just in the past few weeks, I’ve received emails in regards to privacy policy updates from Twitter, Periscope, Roku, Plex, Airbnb, and Etsy. In fact, the following exchange I had with Matt Birchler from Birchtree in relation to a privacy policy update from BookBub prompted me to write this post.

Privacy is becoming increasingly more of a common thread amongst the general public, and is therefore a trendy thing to support. But that’s how things really get done on the Internet though, isn’t it? Hopefully the trend will help enable real change across Internet services and companies, like the encryption of traffic end-to-end. Hell, even the thought of insecure traffic should be a distant memory in the next few years.

One thing is for sure: companies can no longer cry innocence or näiveté for failing to protect the data of their users. Let’s hold them to it.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

It has been 229 days since AirPower was announced →

Nick Heer for Pixel Envy:

Imagine an alternate universe where the AirPower and the wireless charging case for the AirPods weren’t announced until, say, the opening keynote of WWDC this year with same-day availability. Sure, buyers of iPhones and Apple Watches that were released last year would have to suffer through several tedious months of wondering why Apple didn’t make their own charging pad because many of the ones out there right now aren’t very good, but the reaction to its then-immediate availability would have been a classic example of underpromising and overdelivering.

Good points by Nick.

There’s one thing I noticed, too: we haven’t received the typical “product needs a little more time” statement from Apple, like when AirPods were delayed for about two months. If this silence is any indication, something completely unforeseen happened with AirPower, or Apple wouldn’t have announced it so far in advance. Although, they have got into the rhythm of doing so over the past couple years. I don’t know if it’s Tim’s call in particular, but it’s quite a shift from announcing and releasing the same day or week like they used to.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Apple should reinvent home networking

I started writing this article about a month ago. Here’s part of the original intro:

You may have been saddened to hear that Apple has no plans to update their wireless networking/storage line of equipment known as AirPort, but I think something bigger could be brewing in Cupertino.

Now in the wake of AirPort’s official demise, my thoughts remain unchanged on how and why Apple should reinvent home networking, because it’s needed more than ever.

Like any Apple product, AirPort routers offered a simple interface for configuration, employing Apple’s ‘it just works’ mentality. I have never owned an AirPort product, but from what I know, the entire line handled the basics swimmingly. But the reality is: the demand on our home networks and the Internet is only growing, and AirPort essentially was a hobby, similar to the original Apple TV.

In a world where everything is connected, in a time where privacy and security are more important than ever, Apple should seize the opportunity to offer a modern wireless networking solution that also takes advantage of their flourishing ecosystem.

Read on