New York Times: It’s time for Apple to build a less addictive iPhone

Farhad Manjoo, New York Times:

Tech “addiction” is a topic of rising national concern. I put the A-word in quotes because the precise pull that our phones exert over us isn’t the same as that of drugs or alcohol. The issue isn’t really new, either; researchers who study how we use digital technology have for years been warning of its potential negative effects on our cognition, psyche and well-being.

What is new is who has joined the ranks of the worried. Recently, a parade of tech luminaries, including several former Facebook employees, have argued that we’re no match for the sophisticated machinery of engagement and persuasion being built into smartphone apps. Their fears are manifold: They’re worried about distraction, productivity, how social networks alter our emotional lives and relationships, and what they’re doing to children.

And:

I got to thinking about Apple’s responsibility last week when two large investors wrote an open letter asking the company to do more about its products’ effects on children. I was initially inclined to dismiss the letter as a publicity stunt; if you’re worried about children and tech, why not go after Facebook?

But when I called several experts, I found they agreed with the investors. Sure, they said, Apple isn’t responsible for the excesses of the digital ad business, but it does have a moral responsibility to — and a business interest in — the well-being of its customers.

I am not sure I agree with Farhad’s allegation of Apple’s moral responsibility, but I think this article is worth reading. More and more, the world is stumbling around, staring at their phones and losing their connections with each other, losing touch with their humanity.

Is this Apple’s fault? I don’t think so. I think blame, in general, is not helpful, and I also think we were heading down this road as technology evolved, whether Apple was there to steer us or not.

One more quote from the article:

There’s another, more important reason for Apple to take on tech addiction: because it would probably do an elegant job of addressing the problem.

“I do think this is their time to step up,” said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google who now runs Time Well Spent, an organization working to improve technology’s impact on society.

“In fact,” Mr. Harris added, “they may be our only hope.”

Just me, or did this immediately spring to mind for you, too?

TWiT is suing Twitter, alleging breach of contract and copyright infringement

Megan Rose Dickey, TechCrunch:

TWiT, officially known as This Week in Tech, is suing Twitter. The audio and video media platform alleges breach of written contract, breach of oral agreement, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and trademark infringement.

As the story goes, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams had previously told Leo Laporte Twitter was simply a text-based microblogging service, the lawsuit states.

And:

As the lawsuit alleges, what happened on Twitter — short, 140-character bursts of text — was very different from the audio and video TWiT produced on its platform. In 2009, however, Laporte felt concerned that Twitter was going to move in on TWiT’s audio and video, the lawsuit states. That’s when Laporte allegedly reached out to Williams, who told Laporte “we’re not expanding to audio or video under the Twitter brand,” the lawsuit states.

This Week in Tech started as a roundtable discussion at MacWorld Expo, back in 2005. Twitter started in March of 2006. So it’s clear which came first.

That said, in all the time I’ve been aware of both, I’ve never once confused TWiT with Twitter.

And that said, it sounds like the core issue here is an alleged oral agreement. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Some pain points in the iOS 11 Music app

Yesterday, we posted an article titled, Apple Music and the loss of the album.

As a result of that discussion, I became aware of this post from a few month’s ago, a piece by Dave B on pain points in the iOS 11 Music app.

Dave does a nice job digging through Apple’s music experience, and I hope that folks on the Apple Music team take a few minutes to read through this post, if they haven’t already. Some terrific food for thought.

High School Senior Rebecca Kahn emails Tim Cook for interview. Tim said sure.

Rebecca Kahn:

The process began when my computer class teacher at Porter-Gaud challenged us to interview a person of interest in technology and present what we learned.

And:

It was my senior year, and I wanted to interview not just a real leader in technology, but one whose philosophy and ideas about life were motivating as well. As soon as the assignment was announced, one name immediately came to mind: Apple CEO Tim Cook. He is not just in charge of the world’s largest tech company, but he personally advocates and stands up for things he believes are right. He travels the world and meets with political and innovative leaders. What was the likelihood of him even responding to me?

I love this story.

Apple and the The Office: Office actors surface in new FileMaker ad

[VIDEO] One of the rumors linked to Apple’s burgeoning video efforts was a possible reboot of The Office.

Not clear if this is the extent of Apple’s plans for The Office, but check out this FileMaker ad (embedded in the main Loop post). I’ll leave it to you to judge the ad’s charms.

I was surprised to see an ad for FileMaker after all these years. I’d love to know the backstory here. Was this done solely by FileMaker staff? Or was this the brainchild of Apple marketing, either as an experiment, or as an attempt to bump FileMaker visibility/sales?

Seems expensive for an experiment, or a FileMaker coffers funded ad campaign. And the ad specifically brands FileMaker as “An Apple Subsidiary”.

Perhaps this is serving more as a trailer for Apple’s future video efforts.

Matt Birchler lays out a beautifully designed wish list for watchOS 5

Matt Birchler:

It strikes me this year that we’re hitting the 5th major version of watchOS. This is not a brand new platform anymore, even though the Apple Watch feels relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Add to that the fact that Apple’s direct competitor here, Android Wear, has all but exited the market as Wear 2.0 barely got released and basically no one is making Wear watches anymore, and you get the feeling that watchOS updates don’t need to be that substantial anymore.

And:

watchOS is far from perfect and there are tons of things that could be done to make it not only a better experience for those who already own one, but to draw in more people to the platform. The Apple Watch is one of the largest reasons I’m loyal to iOS for my smartphone, and since Apple is pretty darn invested in people buying more iPhones, they probably want to get people to love their Apple Watches even more so these customers never change sides.

Without further ado, here are some of my suggestions to Apple that I think would make the Apple Watch a better, more appealing product.

This is a fantastic read, from beginning to end. Lots of great ideas, and great images as well.

Two particular suggestions I want to highlight:

The battery is fantastic on the new hardware.

Now Apple, please spend that battery surplus on always on watch faces! I don’t always need this, and the Apple Watch turns on 95% of the time when I want it to, but it’s not 100% and it is always a pain when it doesn’t turn itself on. With always on faces, I may not be able to see everything on the face, but at least seeing the time would be hugely useful.

Amen. There are times when having the display always on would be immensely helpful. When I am cooking, for example, my hands covered in flour, and I want to check the status of a timer. It’s not that I can’t get the display to pop on. It’s that sometimes it takes some extra wrist wriggling.

I would like them to add automatic workout detection. Some activity trackers do this already, and while it’s not perfect on any of them, it’s always good to have as a back up in case you forget to start or stop a workout. For example, if I start a run and forget to start a running workout on my Apple Watch, the watch should send me a notification after a minute that asks me if I am running and if I want to start tracking this as a workout. When I tap “yes” it should start a workout and know what type of workout I’m doing.

Completely agree.

This is some beautiful work, Matt.

Apple Music and the loss of the album

Over the weekend, someone started a thread asking why an artist’s album view in Apple Music has gotten so cluttered.

To see this for yourself, pick a relatively modern artist and check out their list of albums in the Music app. For example, fire up Siri and say:

Show me all the Bruno Mars albums

When the Bruno Mars page appears, scroll down to the Albums section and tap See All. Amongst the actual Bruno Mars albums, you’ll find a lot of singles and EPs. Way more singles and EPs than actual albums, in fact.

Now it certainly is great to have a complete list of all of Bruno Mars’ music at your fingertips. But sometimes you want to find an album. And there is a lot of clutter.

Personally, I think it’d be nice if there was some way to declutter the list, have a view without all the duplicated remixed singles.

To get a sense of the core of this problem, take a few minutes to read Kirk McElhearn’s excellent post, How iTunes Handles Albums, EPs, and Singles. From the post:

With digital music, everything has changed. When you see a bit of text on a website or in iTunes, all you know is the name of the release and its artist. David Bowie’s Let’s Dance could be a single, an EP, or an Album. This is because the tags – the metadata that identifies music – doesn’t allow for this type of differentiation. iTunes uses a simplified version of the ID3 tagging system, which doesn’t offer a tag to identify what type of release a record is. (MusicBrainz does use a tag called Release Group, which can be used to distinguish between singles, albums, and EPs, but also broadcasts and “other.”)

So how can you distinguish between these different formats in digital? The only way is if the record label has tagged the name of a release with the word “Single” or “EP.”

Bottom line, this is not a trivial problem to solve. Not, at least, without the cooperation of the labels. But seems to me, this is a problem worth solving. And if I, as a human, can step through an artists list of albums/EPs/singles and quickly suss out which items on the list are albums, surely this is the kind of problem that would yield to a well applied bit of machine learning.

And once Apple Music knows the difference between albums, singles, EPs, etc., it’d be easy enough to add a filter to let me search through only albums, or only singles for that matter.

A custom, hand-made gift for the Technology Evangelism group at Apple

Josh Tidsbury, Apple:

I have the great honor of working as part of the Technology Evangelism group at Apple. Involvement in the annual WWDC conference is one of the key efforts by the team each year, and I was really taken by the conference this year. The developers I met were simply amazing, the team behind the conference immensely talented, and the conference branding and theme also spoke to me very deeply.

As someone who came into technology from the arts, and endeavors to bring the best of both disciplines into everything I do, it struck a chord in my heart.

And:

I wanted to create something of a keepsake for each of the other members of our team as a personal gift to each of them. I’ve always loved the aesthetic of the Apple Design Award, and wanted to create something of an homage to that design, but using my favourite material: wood.

Read the post, take a look at the pictures. What an amazingly thoughtful gift. So cool.

Google app uses machine learning to match your photo with some famous art

Here’s a link to the Google Arts & Culture app.

Once you install the app, launch it, then scroll down, just a bit, to the section with the white box that asks, “Is your portrait in a museum?”

Tap to get started, give Google access to your camera, take a selfie, then let the app do its thing. My sense is that the matching algorithm keys in on your hair, including any facial hair.

Interesting idea. Wondering what Google does with all the selfies it harvests.

Amateur explorers discover vast, ancient underground passage beneath Montreal

The Guardian:

A pair of amateur explorers in Canada have found a vast underground passage stretching hundreds of metres underneath the bustling streets of Montreal whose formation dates back more than 15,000 years ago to the Earth’s last ice age.

And:

Formed thousands of years ago by massive glaciers that ruptured the rock beneath, yellow calcite line the walls of the passage at times, adding pops of bright colour while icicle-shaped stalactites hang overhead.

I find it incredible that such a massive complex underground tunnel has been hidden for so long. An amazing find.

Old school cool: A picture is worth a thousand icons

This is a phenomenal image from our collective history. This is Susan Kare, designer of the original Mac icons (and so much more) in her office, back in the early days of Macintosh.

There’s a lot of detail here. Check the Mac on the shelf with the color Mac logo. What model is that?

And zoom in (tap the image for a higher rez version) on that piece of graph paper taped above the computer. Is that some kind of icon code? An ASCII table?

Check out the toys on the shelf, the books. It’s all such a moment in time.

UPDATE: Some cool feedback from some folks who lived this history.

First things first, the photo originated in Cabel Sasser’s Twitter feed (thanks for the heads up, Cabel!), as seen here:

https://twitter.com/cabel/status/951163850333741056

Read down Cabel’s post for replies from Susan Kare herself, along with Chris Espinosa and lots of other folks. Some great reading.

And, as a bonus, here are some pics I took of Susan Kare’s original design notebook when it was on display at the Museum of Modern Art a few years back.

Handing off phone calls to Apple Watch

Jesse Hollington, iLounge:

If you have an Apple Watch, you already know that incoming phone calls and FaceTime calls will ring on your watch alongside your iPhone, so you can answer the call and talk on your wrist, Dick Tracy style. Switching the call back to your iPhone once you’ve answered it is straightforward enough as well — simply tap the green bar that appears at the top of the home screen to open the Phone app and transfer the call to there in one fell swoop. What you may not know, however, is that you can also send calls in the other direction — transfer an in-progress call from your iPhone over to your Apple Watch.

Great tip, especially if you have a cellular Series 3 Apple Watch.

UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, not likely you’ll be able to use this technique to jump from the iPhone’s cellular connection to the Apple Watch Series 3’s own cellular capability. Good point.

Apple health data is being used as evidence in a rape and murder investigation

Samantha Cole, Motherboard:

One of the most important witnesses to the rape and homicide of a 19-year-old-woman in Germany might be a stock app on the iPhone of her alleged murderer.

Hussein K., an Afghan refugee in Freiburg, has been on trial since September for allegedly raping and murdering a student in Freiburg, and disposing of her body in a river.

And:

He refused to give authorities the passcode to his iPhone, but investigators hired a Munich company (which one is not publicly known) to gain access his device, according to German news outlet Welt. They searched through Apple’s Health app, which was added to all iPhones with the release of iOS 8 in 2014, and were able to gain more data about what he was doing that day. The app records how many steps he took and what kind of activity he was doing throughout that day.

The app recorded a portion of his activity as “climbing stairs,” which authorities were able to correlate with the time he would have dragged his victim down the river embankment, and then climbed back up. Freiburg police sent an investigator to the scene to replicate his movements, and sure enough, his Health app activity correlated with what was recorded on the defendant’s phone.

This is two stories. First and foremost, there’s the use of HealthKit data in a murder/rape trial. But underneath is the question of how the unnamed German firm was able to get into the phone.

Matt Gemmell: I found my suicide note

Obviously, this is some relatively dark reading. But I found it compelling and incredibly well written.

If your head is in the right place, give this a look.

A roundup of CES home automation and Apple accessory announcements

If you haven’t already, read this post from Ben Bajarin, Apple’s indirect presence fades from CES, which we linked to yesterday. From the post:

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

Now make your way through the linked MacStories roundup of cool CES gadgets and accessories. It does seem like the vast majority of CES announcements I’ve seen are Alexa first, HomeKit second.

Not sure I agree that this is a barometer of the health of Apple’s ecosystem. Instead, I see it as a marker of where the puck is now, not where it is going to be. Apple Watch is a perfect example of this. When Apple Watch first hit, it was lost in the glut of watch product. Over time, Apple Watch proved itself as a well designed, thoughtful product, while many of the cheap, competing products are no longer around.

Not saying that Alexa won’t win. But I am saying that it is simply too early to tell how this will all shake out.

Some international accounts alerted to Apple’s iCloud transfer in China

Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica:

Apple began notifying Chinese iCloud customers of the forthcoming handoff of its cloud service to the Chinese company Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), which will take over local operations starting February 28. However, TechCrunch reported that some non-Chinese iCloud accounts have been notified of this change. Some users with US-based billing addresses and connections to the US App Store received the notification email stating the physical location of their iCloud data will change come February.

So there are people who do not (or no longer) reside in China, but their iCloud accounts will be force migrated.

According to Apple’s help page on the issue, your iCloud’s country or region setting dictates whether or not your account will be part of the migration.

Interesting. And I’ve read that China is cracking down on people who live in China but change their region code so their data remains outside the country.

If you don’t live in China, but your data is tagged for movement, consider changing your region code, as discussed in this support page.

iPhone X: The annoyance of surprise screenshots

Jeremy Burge:

Why am I now always taking screenshots by accident? Two things:

The volume buttons are directly opposite the Lock button (aka “Sleep/Wake” button), and The combination for screenshot has changed. On phones with a home button, the iOS combination has always been Lock and Home buttons but is now Lock and Volume Up on iPhone X (due to lack of home button)

Trying to hold the phone with a stable grip while pushing the lock button means my thumb is resting on the lock button, and my index finger is on the volume up button.

Design is hard.

The position/function of the external iPhone buttons has evolved over time, and with each new generation, it seems there’s some design compromise that emerges.

In this case, putting buttons on opposite sides of the device mean that pressing one will require an equal and opposite press on the opposing button. And for the iPhone X, this results in a screenshot.

From CES: Handheld iPhone video steady-cam

If you shoot a lot of video, take a look (embedded in the main Loop post) as this Osmo 2 rep walks through the features of this video stabilizer. It’s so tiny and light. And rock steady. It also has a power port so you can plug your phone in, if need be.

I love gear like this. Best of all, the previous version had a street price of about $159, and the Osmo 2 price will drop to $129. Shot by 9to5Mac at CES.

Apple orders epic drama “See” from Peaky Blinders creator/Hunger Games director

Deadline:

In a competitive situation, Apple has landed the hot TV package See with a straight-to-series order. An epic, world-building drama set in the future, the project is written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight and directed by Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2).

And:

This marks the fourth scripted series order for Apple’s recently formed worldwide video programming division under Jamie Erlicht & Zack Van Amburg. See joins a morning-show drama, executive produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon; Amazing Stories, a reimagining of the anthology from Steven Spielberg and Bryan Fuller; and a Ronald D. Moore space drama. Additionally, the division just ordered its first docuseries, Home.

Here’s a question for you: How soon do you think it will be before Apple gets its first (non-technical) Golden Globes or Emmy nomination?

This year, Netflix got 20 Golden Globe nominations and Amazon and Hulu got 3 each. Will Apple get a nod in the December 2018 nominations? If not, surely we’ll see one by December 2019, no?

How to set up Apple ID unlock on your Mac

This is a great piece of advice from iMore’s Lory Gil. Follow along to make sure you have Apple ID unlock enabled on your Mac. Read through the rest of the post for related how-to info.

Even if you think you’ll never forget your password, this is a smart backup plan.

UPDATE: Looks like this option is moved, or just plain gone from High Sierra. Working with Lory to figure out the new way to do this, check Lory’s post over the next day or so for an update.

UPDATE 2: Turns out the issue is having FileVault enabled, and not specific to High Sierra. If you have FileVault enabled, have a recovery key, you won’t see the checkbox. Yeesh. Bad interface, I think. Better to have the checkbox in both cases, but dim it if FileVault enabled, with some kind of explainer.

Lana Del Rey says Radiohead suing her for copying “Creep”

OK, this seems really clearcut to me, but judge for yourself.

My take: The chord structure seems identical, the production not so much. But there’s this one moment that really makes the case for me.

  • In the Radiohead video, jump to about 39 seconds in and listen to the phrase, “float like a feather”, with that bit of vocalization at the end of the word “feather”.

  • Now, in the Lana Del Rey video, jump to about 50 seconds in and listen to the phrase “my modern manifesto”. To me, I hear the same vocalization at the end of the word “manifesto”.

As I said, judge for yourself. But hard for me to believe Creep wasn’t an influence here.

UPDATE: And then there’s this from BBC News (H/T @timbo_baggins), Radiohead deny suing Lana Del Rey:

Radiohead’s publisher, Warner/Chappell, has since issued a statement clarifying its position. “It’s true that we’ve been in discussions since August of last year with Lana Del Rey’s representatives,” it said.

“It’s clear that the verses of Get Free use musical elements found in the verses of Creep and we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of all writers of Creep.

“To set the record straight, no lawsuit has been issued and Radiohead have not said they ‘will only accept 100%’ of the publishing of Get Free.”

Apple Watch to be able to control Whirlpool appliances this year

CNBC:

Whirlpool has said Apple Watch wearers will soon be able to remotely control their home appliances.

It would mean smart watch owners could change temperature settings on ovens, delay cycles on washers or check how long is left to run on a dryer.

When I first saw this, I compared it to the ability to use my Apple Watch to quickly bring up my profile/setup on a piece of gym equipment. This takes advantage of the security/identity features of the Apple Watch.

But thinking a bit more, I can see the value in using my Apple Watch to control an appliance. With an oven, you could tap a recipe, have the oven preheat to the right temperature without having to look it up. And checking the time remaining on a washer/dryer cycle, also useful.

Things like this make me realize just how much the Apple Watch is still in its infancy.

Prince playing jazz piano, coaching his band through “Summertime”

[VIDEO] Open Culture:

We do not typically remember [Prince] as a jazz pianist. But his facility with jazz earned him the admiration of Miles Davis, who made several efforts to collaborate with the extremely busy pop star. (They performed together only once, it seems, on New Year’s Eve, 1987 at Paisley Park.) Prince’s style, stage show, songwriting, and arranging drew from jazz of all kinds—from zoot suit-era big band to the frenetic movement of hard bop to the classically-inflected show tunes of George Gershwin. Just above see him “casually own” Gershwin’s “Summertime” during a 1990 soundcheck in Osaka, Japan.

I had no idea Prince even played piano, let alone so well. I love this video (embedded in the main Loop post). The groove is right there, with Prince driving. Super talented.

HomePod: It’s more important to be right than first

Dan Moren, Macworld:

Late last year, Apple announced that it would delay the promised release of its HomePod smart speaker to early 2018. It was a disappointment for those customers hoping to score one for the holiday season, but in an interview with Dutch site Bright.nl, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said Apple needed “more time to make it right.”

And:

A new report from Canalys says that the smart speaker market is forecast to spike this year, outpacing other technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality. In a rare moment of (for it) transparency, Amazon said it had sold tens of millions of Echo devices during the holidays. (Though many of those sales are likely for the low-cost devices that Apple won’t compete with.)

And:

By all accounts, the version of the HomePod shown to press during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last year was far from a fully functional prototype. Those to whom Apple gave access reportedly got a demonstration of the device’s audio quality, but not much beyond that.

Add to this mix, is a new survey (reported by CNBC) on the impact of smart speakers on people’s smartphone habits:

Two thirds of people who use digital voice assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home use their smartphones less often, according to a new survey published by tech consultancy Accenture.

The results suggest that the next big wave of consumer technology will be centered around these digital assistants, and may spell trouble for smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung— who lag behind Amazon and Google in this emerging space.

Here’s a link to that survey. Be sure to click Key Finding #1.

No matter what Apple ships as HomePod 1.0, I suspect there is already a team hard at work on HomePod 2.0, and perhaps on HomePod satellite products. I wouldn’t waste a second worrying about the impact of the smart speaker market on iPhone sales, nor about the first HomePod being the be-all and end-all of smart speakers.

Just as they did with Apple Watch, Apple will revise and tune, learning from every sale, with HomePod eventually landing in a sweet spot that makes money and extends the ecosystem for iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple Music, and Siri.

The demise of Transmit and the future of pro level iOS apps

From the Panic blog, announcing the suspension of the iOS version of the very popular Transmit app:

Transmit iOS made about $35k in revenue in the last year, representing a minuscule fraction of our overall 2017 app revenue. That’s not enough to cover even a half-time developer working on the app. And the app needs full-time work — we’d love to be adding all of the new protocols we added in Transmit 5, as well as some dream features, but the low revenue would render that effort a guaranteed money-loser.

David Sparks from his blog:

Panic has made public statements about how little income they’re making off their pro-level iOS apps, and I really can’t blame them for pulling Transmit if it is losing them money.

What is even more upsetting is that an app of the calibre of Transmit for iOS is a financial failure and none of us are much surprised.

And:

I use Transmit both on my Mac and iOS devices. I don’t recall what I originally paid for Transmit, but I believe it was in the neighborhood of $50. Since then I’ve upgraded twice so let’s say I’ve now given Panic $100 for the privilege of having their app on my Mac.

When I bought Transmit for my iOS devices, I paid $10. That is it. I’ve been using the app for years and all the money Panic ever got out of me was $10, less than I’m going to spend today on lunch.

That’s the issue. Somehow, consoles like Nintendo Switch and the Xbox, as well as the Mac, have avoided the race to the bottom that makes iOS apps want to be free, or dependent on in app purchases. While in-app-purchases make sense for a game, it is a harder sell for a pro-level app.

Panic is pulling Transmit for iOS but keeping the Mac version. Part of the issue is the massive size of the iOS App Store compared to the Mac App Store. The iOS App Store is large enough that it attracts people willing to build something for free just for the experience. And once there’s a free alternative, it becomes exponentially harder to get people to pay for an alternative, even if it is a better experience.