Saturday, April 14, 2018

watchOS 4.3.1 suggests future support for third party watch faces →

Guilherme Rambo for 9to5Mac found some interesting code in watchOS 4.3.1 that hints at third party watch faces:

[…] A component of the NanoTimeKit framework, responsible for the watch faces, implements a developer tools server that’s probably designed to communicate with Xcode running on a Mac. One of its methods has a very interesting log message:

The log message in the image reads:

This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen

Not surprising that Apple may already have dormant support for this, but I’m wondering how they’d handle it. I think there are two schools of thought. On one hand, Apple Watch could use third party watch faces to spice things up a bit. It may even spur further interest in Apple Watch apps as a whole.

On the other hand, I’d say watch faces make up at least fifty percent of a watch’s brand. That’s any watch, not just a smart one. Apple is very careful and precise about any kind of customization with the potential to alter their branding. For instance, you can’t change the look of the home or lock screens on iOS. At most, you can change the wallpaper, and that’s it.

What I could see Apple doing is meeting us somewhere in the middle by opening up Apple Watch faces development to a small number of artists or institutions. In a sense, they’ve already done this with Nike and Hermès, the difference being those faces are only available with their associated unique hardware. I can see an extension of this kind of partnership to include accomplished artists, colleges, and the entertainment industry.

Imagine an official collegiate Apple Watch face, or maybe one by your favorite musical group. I know I’d buy a few. I would expect these faces to have equal functionality (complications what whatnot) as the stock ones.

I really don’t think Apple will let just anyone create a face for Apple Watch. It’s just too risky for their branding. If you’ve seen the some of the terrible third-party faces available for other smart watches, you wouldn’t want just anyone building Apple Watch faces either.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Chrome and Firefox will support a new standard for password-free logins →

Russel Brandom for The Verge:

Web browsers are building a new way for you to log in, announced today by the W3C and FIDO Alliance standards bodies. Called WebAuthn, the new open standard is currently supported in the latest version of Firefox, and will be supported in upcoming versions of Chrome and Edge slated for release in the next few months.

WebAuthn has been working its way toward W3C approval for nearly two years, but today marks the first major announcement of browser support. Apple has not commented on Safari support for WebAuthn, although the company is part of the working group that developed the standard.

Today’s announcement the latest step in a years-long effort to move users away from passwords and toward more secure login methods like biometrics and USB tokens. The system is already in place on major services like Google and Facebook, where you can log in using a Yubikey token built to the FIDO standard.

I’m beginning to hate passwords, even with password managers. I look forward to the day in which authentication works just like magic (securely, of course). This sounds like a good step.

Apple offers extended three year repair program for iPad Pro Smart Keyboards →

Jordan Kahn for 9to5Mac:

Apple has launched a new extended repair program for its Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, allowing customers experiencing certain issues with the product to receive repairs or replacements from Apple for three years after the device is purchased. Apple informed its retail staff and authorized service providers of the new policy in an internal memo obtained by 9to5Mac (pictured below).

The program covers the Smart Keyboard for both the 9.7-inch (Early 2016) and 12.9-inch (Late 2015) iPad Pro models, and applies to keyboards experiencing certain Functional Issues, including: sticking/repeating keys, sensor issues, problems with the keyboard’s magnetic connector, connection issues, and unresponsive keys.

I’m glad to hear this warranted a real repair program. The Smart Keyboard is great, but I have experienced the unresponsive keys issue a few times. It’s usually resolved by reconnecting the keyboard, but it’s annoying and breaks my flow. I should take mine in.

How Google identifies who's talking →

From the Google Research Blog

People are remarkably good at focusing their attention on a particular person in a noisy environment, mentally “muting” all other voices and sounds. Known as the cocktail party effect, this capability comes natural to us humans. However, automatic speech separation — separating an audio signal into its individual speech sources — while a well-studied problem, remains a significant challenge for computers.

I hope Apple makes similar advances in this area. Identification by voice will open up so many possibilities.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Wired’s ‘4 Best Smartphones’ list omits iPhone X

Wired published a list of ‘The 4 Best Smartphones Money Can Buy In 2018’ earlier today, crowning Google Pixel 2 as ‘the best overall’, while ommitting iPhone X.

Jeffrey Van Camp for Wired:

There are a lot of good reasons people may choose iOS over Android, but right now Google’s Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are our picks for best overall smartphone. Google has made it super easy to buy its flagship phones unlocked, and all Pixel phones get security and software updates direct like clockwork.

Well kudos to Google for doing what Apple has always done. I still wouldn’t go near a Pixel phone. Google is way too early of a hardware manufacturer to be trusted (privacy reasons aside).

Jeffrey on the exclusion of iPhone X:

While we love the spiffy iPhone X, let’s get down to brass tacks: the cheaper iPhone 8 (and iPhone 8 Plus) are virtually identical in the ways that count.

Define ‘ways that count’. If he means specific components, then yes, there are core similarities. However, there are also core differences in terms of components (i.e. TrueDepth camera system and edge-to-edge screen). These components result in the individual user experiences of both models being radically different. There are even key UI elements that are different. If Jeffrey is saying these aren’t ‘ways that count’, then he’s missing the big picture. iPhone X isn’t just the future, it feels like the future. iPhone 8 is likely the last iteration of a tried-and-true 11 year old design. Let’s not pretend its going to be sticking around forever like the headphone jack. 1

While I think iPhone X is for everyone, not everyone may be ready for iPhone X. But to omit it completely is folly. In truth, iPhone 8/8 Plus and iPhone X all deserve to be on this list.


  1. Jeffrey also groans at the lack of a headphone jack across both Pixel and iPhone. 

I am jealous of the new (PRODUCT)RED iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus →

From the Apple Newsroom:

Cupertino, California — Apple today announced iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition, the new generation of iPhone in a stunning red finish. Both phones sport a beautiful glass enclosure, now in red, with a matching aluminum band and a sleek black front. The special edition (PRODUCT)RED iPhone will be available to order online in select countries and regions tomorrow and in stores beginning Friday, April 13.

Seems like Apple is on an “official” cycle with these (PRODUCT)RED iPhone special editions. This year, though, the cover glass is the way it should always have been (black, not white).

Red and grey are my favorite colors, so I would kill for an iPhone X in this scheme, but I’m sure the investment wouldn’t pay off (literally) for Apple. Red is a polarizing color enough. Lumped together with the general hesitation for iPhone X alone, 1 you probably wouldn’t have a winning combination.

No, us iPhone X users are left with a new (PRODUCT)RED leather folio case, instead. Looks nice. Too bad I hate cases.


  1. You know, lack of home button, price, ‘the unfamiliar’. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Healthcare IT Consultant’s take on Facebook’s play for patient data →

Christina Farr for CNBC:

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.

And:

While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

A supposed use case:

The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.

Alright, I’m putting my Healthcare IT Consultant hat on here and calling bullshit on multiple levels. To note a couple:

  1. If you’re going to receive anonymized data, hash it, then cross-reference it, you don’t really have anonymized data in the end-run. This implies Facebook was seeking data without patient consent. Otherwise, why anonymize it in the first place? Just do it the right way and ask patients for it. Many healthcare pilots and/or clinical trials deal with patient data, and many are done with proper consent.

  2. You don’t need to cross-reference Facebook to figure out if someone needs a follow up home visit after surgery. These are common for many different types of surgeries, not just for the elderly who live alone. Medical professionals have access to patient history and other means of expertise to make this decision.

As for the whole plan, I think it’s quite ridiculous. Sure, it’s popular to jump all over Facebook right now because of the Cambridge Analytica catastrophe, but I also think this is warranted outcry. There are extremely strict laws, rules, regulations, and policies you must follow when dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI). The most stringent and cited one of all is HIPAA. HIPAA training and compliance is mandatory for all healthcare employees. It’s taken extremely seriously and ingrained into every employee’s mind.

The only large Silicon Valley company that doesn’t scare me in this area is Apple. They have time and again proved that customer privacy is of the utmost importance, and they are the only ones I would trust with using my data in the future. In fact, you may be interested in my first entry on how I think they can improve healthcare overall.

Any healthcare system that partners with Facebook on something like this is now being extremely risky with their brand and reputation.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Redesigned Mac Pro coming in 2019 →

Last year, in a move of unprecedented transparency, Apple invited a few journalists and bloggers to their campus to discuss the future of Mac Pro (as well as admit some mistakes in the current iteration’s design).

Matthew Panzarino from TechCrunch was recently invited back to be provided with more details, including their targeted year of release (2019). Here are the highlights from his meeting, focusing on how Apple’s new Pro Workflow Team is shaping the future of Mac Pro.

Tom Boger, senior director of Mac Hardware Product Marketing:

“We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community, so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product. It’s not something for this year.” In addition to transparency for pro customers, there’s also a larger fiscal reason behind it.

Makes sense. It wouldn’t be cool for organizations to spend tens of thousands of dollars upgrading to iMac Pros, only for a potentially more desirable Mac Pro to be close behind.

On Apple’s ‘Pro Workflow Team’:

Now, it’s a year later and Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, and they haven’t talked about it publicly before today. The group is under John Ternus and works closely with the engineering organization.

On how Apple is capturing workflows of professional creatives:

So Apple decided to go a step further and just begin hiring these creatives directly into Apple. Some of them on a contract basis but many full-time, as well. These are award-winning artists and technicians that are brought in to shoot real projects (I saw a bunch of them walking by in Apple Park toting kit for an on-premise outdoor shoot). They then put the hardware and software through their paces and point out sticking points that could cause frustration and friction among pro users.

Now this is commitment. This isn’t just a partnership or collaboration. Apple is paying these people for their time — the people who do this type of work for a living. I can only imagine the outcomes will be magnificent for everyone (non-pros included).

On fixing issues discovered during workflow capture:

This kind of workflow analysis has enabled Apple to find and fix problems that won’t be solved by throwing more hardware at them. An in-depth analysis of how workflow is affected by the whole stack of hardware and software has, Ternus says, helped them to really understand the pain points. He stresses that it’s not just Apple’s applications that they’re testing and working to help make better. Third-party relationships on this are very important to them and the workflow team is helping to fix their problems faster too.

On making the new Mac Pro modular by design:

“As we said a year ago, working on modular was inherently a modular system and in looking at our customers and their workflows obviously that’s a real need for our customers and that’s the direction we’re going,” says Boger.

“Well, it’s a need for some of them,” adds Ternus. “I want to be clear that the work that we’re doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything. It’s super relevant for MacBook Pros, it’s super relevant for iMacs and iMac Pros and in the end I think it helps us in dialogue with customers to figure out what are the right systems for you. […]

Translation: all our Macs are great, even if you don’t need modularity.

Matthew’s comments on Apple’s strategy here:

[…] In this case it’s heartening to see that there is a straight line between the pros that Apple has hired, the conversations it’s having with contractors who come in to contribute and proactive action taken on products. The work of the Pro Workflow Team is directly affecting the development of the new Mac Pro. And the iMac Pro, Final Cut Pro and macOS.

And:

[…] As depressing as it has been to see professionals believe that Apple was getting ready to give them up, I find this an interesting and exciting thing to watch. It is very, very hard for a company like Apple — whose reputation is built on myth building — to admit that it was mistaken. And it’s even harder to then change course with billions of dollars’ worth of revenue at stake.[…]

Overall, this sounds like excellent news for professional creatives. As I said above, regular consumers can only stand to benefit from the Pro Workflow Team’s finding as well, as software tweaks may trickle down. As for me, I just can’t wait to see what the thing looks like. 1 Even though Apple is feeding us a lot of details ahead of time (for them anyway), I think this will give the grand reveal even more intrigue. To quote Phil Schiller: “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass!”


  1. Hopefully not like a trash can. 

Apple hires John Giannandrea, Google’s AI chief →

Jack Nicas and Cade Metz for The New York Times:

Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals.

Apple said on Tuesday that Mr. Giannandrea will run Apple’s “machine learning and A.I. strategy,” and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook.

And:

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” Mr. Cook said Tuesday morning in an email to staff members obtained by The New York Times. “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

Now this is a huge hire. Apple must have ponied up big time, but I’m sure a guy like Giannandrea wouldn’t jump ship only because of money. Apple must have let on just enough about what he’s going to be working on for it to be worth it.

The note about privacy is a stark difference between how Google and Apple handle user data. The perception of Apple as lacking in AI/ML is mostly attributed to their hard privacy stances, whereas Google is more cavalier with user data. It’s going to be a hard problem for Apple and Giannandrea to solve, but all good things come with time. Apple is essentially saying we can have exceptional AI/ML and keep our privacy. That’s exactly what we need.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018