July 15, 2017

TechCrunch:

Unless you’ve had a chance to try some Apple HomeKit products in someone’s home or apartment, it can be hard to understand how it all works. In order to help with that, Apple has unveiled interactive HomeKit experiences in 46 of its retail stores worldwide.

Now, when you go into Apple’s new retail stores, you’ll be able to use the Home app from either an Apple Watch, iPhone or iPad to control devices like the Philips Hue light bulb, the Hunter ceiling fan and many others. If you tap to lower the shades in the living room, for example, you’ll see the shades lower in the house shown on the screen.

This is one of the primary reasons Apple created the Apple Retails Stores – to show off their products and technology. I can’t wait to go to my local store to try this out. It’s not exactly like the “real” HomeKit experience but it looks like a good approximation.

TidBITS:

I want to pick apart this story, not to criticize Motherboard or the reporter per se, but instead to explain in greater depth for existing 1Password users why this licensing shift doesn’t force them to put their passwords in the cloud. And, additionally, how AgileBits’s approach to zero-knowledge encryption in the cloud, which is similar to that employed by Apple for iCloud Keychain and LastPass for its system, may be less risky and less exposed in some ways than using Dropbox to sync vaults.

The devil is in the details, though: despite having a robust design, the implementation of AgileBits’ cloud-based system isn’t as fully transparent and audited as many researchers would like.

As usual, there is a lot of hair on fire reporting from the tech and Mac media on subjects they don’t understand and/or are too lazy to actually do any research or real reporting. Fleishman does a great job on both.

July 14, 2017

Equinux blog:

Apple is known for doing things with more attention to detail than most companies. So it should come as no surprise that even App Store gift cards with their promo codes have a few secret details that help make the experience more Apple-like.

So what powers the simple App Store promo codes? Secret fonts, special dimensions, and many more.

Today, we uncover these secrets.

And:

Apple’s App Store gift cards have a special trick: you can simply hold one up to your iPhone or Mac’s camera and it’ll automatically scan in the code and redeem the card for you. As developers, we thought it’d be cool to print some of our own promo code cards to give away at events, so we tried to create our own scannable cards. Turns out, there’s more to it than meets the eye…

This is some fascinating reverse engineering. My concern is that the post exposes font details that might be used to break Apple’s carefully built promo card system. If so, I’d expect a pretty rapid response by Apple.

Charvel continues its long-held partnerships with Warren DeMartini and Jake E Lee with the upcoming release of brand-new signature models. The Warren DeMartini USA Signature Frenchie and the Jake E Lee USA Signature Blue Burst will be unveiled this week at the Summer NAMM Show in Nashville, Tenn., and available to consumers in October 2017.

Both of these guys are among my favorite players.

Australia on Friday proposed new laws to compel companies such as U.S. social media giant Facebook and device manufacturer Apple to provide security agencies access to encrypted messages.

They don’t seem to understand that you can’t just let them have access to the information. Once access is grant, security is weaker for everyone.

Thanks to Jamf Now for sponsoring The Loop this week. Jamf Now is an on-demand mobile device management solution for your iPad, iPhone and Mac devices at work. We make management tasks like deploying Wi-Fi passwords, securing company data and enforcing passcodes, simple and affordable, so businesses can support their users; no IT required. Get started for free today!

iPhone silly season and the elimination of Touch ID

We’re homing in on a likely fall iPhone rollout and the rumors are flying. John Gruber, from a piece titled iPhone silly season:

With software Apple can (and does) play a bit fast and loose. iOS 11.0 won’t be baked until late August. But software can (and always is) patched. Hardware doesn’t work like that. Many of the decisions related to the hardware on this year’s new iPhones were made two years ago. (And there are decisions being made now for 2019’s new iPhones.)

Is there a 3D laser sensor on the back of the new iPhone? Is there a Touch ID sensor? I don’t know. But Apple knows, and has known for a while. Months, even.

And:

If the new iPhone ships without a Touch ID sensor and there is no replacement authentication technology that is as good or better than Touch ID — that would be a dead canary in the coal mine.

From this Bloomberg piece by Mark Gurman:

For its redesigned iPhone, set to go on sale later this year, Apple is testing an improved security system that allows users to log in, authenticate payments, and launch secure apps by scanning their face, according to people familiar with the product. This is powered by a new 3-D sensor, added the people, who asked not to be identified discussing technology that’s still in development. The company is also testing eye scanning to augment the system, one of the people said.

A move to add 3D face scanning is one thing. A move away from Touch ID is another thing entirely. Apple proved they are willing to (have the “Courage” to?) make a major hardware shift, forcibly doing away with one technology (the 3.5 mm headphone jack) to usher in a newer technology (Bluetooth headphones).

Will this be the case with Touch ID? As John Gruber says, that decision has likely already been made.

My two cents? “As good or better than Touch ID” has to address accessibility. If I am visually impaired, I can unlock my iPhone with my finger in the dark. An edge case, certainly, but one that is a bit of a litmus test for any Touch ID replacement.

In a low light environment, will I be able to unlock my iPhone with a facial scan? If I am in a meeting, I can subtly unlock my iPhone with my finger. Will I have to hold my next generation iPhone in front of my face to accomplish the same thing?

As John says, that would be a dead canary in the coal mine.

UPDATE: The new system is said to include an infrared camera and low angle support (hat tip to Rene Ritchie), which would solve the low light and hold the phone in front of my face scenarios. Other use cases include unlocking the phone while driving (say, to take a look at your map) and the mechanic of approving an Apple Pay purchase. All of these seem legitimately solvable if the underlying tech works as rumored. This is yet another opportunity for yet another magical Apple experience.

This is a brand new refresh of the iOS/Mac/web refund process. Bookmark and pass along.

Disney doesn’t add entire new lands that frequently. A new land is an entire new, heavily themed area for the park, with new rides, new attractions and, of course, new shops.

In this case, both DisneyWorld and Disneyland are getting a new Star Wars Land, which is said to open in 2019. TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino wrangled an invite to see what the new land is going to look like. Follow the headline link to step through the slide show, and check the video embedded in the tweet below for a panning shot of the 3D model.

The only thing better than Radiohead hiding the app like this is the fact that someone figured it out. Deep geek.

July 13, 2017

But as security ominously filed into SoundCloud’s meeting rooms at its offices around the world during the all-hands video conference broadcast from its Berlin headquarters, the startup’s staff discovered they wouldn’t be getting the answers they wanted. Instead, sources at SoundCloud tell TechCrunch that founders Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss confessed the layoffs only saved the company enough money to have runway “until Q4” — which begins in just 50 days.

Under the current climate, I don’t see how SoundCloud can stay alive.

Mark Knopfler on guitars

I just love Mark’s guitar playing.

The BIAS Mini is a compact and portable size amplifier that comes in two versions, Guitar and Bass—each one specially designed to be the most versatile amplifier on the planet for the gigging musician.

And

The BIAS Twin Delay, Modulation, and Distortion pedals are Positive Grid’s new line of professional effects stompboxes designed for maximum tone versatility. All three pedals feature the same incredible tone of the award-winning BIAS Pro pedals in a compact 2-button pedal format.

I love Positive Grid’s software, but I haven’t tried their hardware gear yet. From what I’ve seen, it’s great sounding though.

Amazon to take on HomePod with next-gen Echo

Devindra Hardawar, writing for Engadget:

Amazon is working on a new Echo that will improve on the first speaker in practically every way, a source tells Engadget. And, not surprisingly, it’s aiming to take some of the hype away from Apple’s HomePod.

The new Echo will be both shorter and slimmer than the original, almost as if it were three or four Echo Dots stacked on top of each other, our source claims. Amazon is also softening its design with rounded edges and a cloth-like covering, rather than the current Echo’s plastic shell and flat ends. And yes, it should sound better, too.

I get why Amazon wants to improve the Echo to take on the HomePod, but I just don’t think it’s going to work for them. I’ve listened to Apple’s HomePod at WWDC and it was pretty amazing—and even better when you connected two of them together.

Apple is going for a full fledged music listening experience with HomePod. Yes, there are still a lot of questions to be answered, but the fact is, HomePod sounds really good.

Amazon is trying to do a cross between a digital assistant and a music experience. That’s not a recipe for success when taking on Apple and the HomePod.

From the SFMOMA site:

Text 572-51 with the words “send me” followed by a keyword, a color, or even an emoji and you’ll receive a related artwork image and caption via text message.

For example, I texted the words “send me cake” and got a text back (in about 30 seconds) with a pic of Wayne Thiebaud’s “Dessert Tray”.

SFMOMA has about 35,000 pieces in their collection, only a fraction of that on display at any moment. This gives you random access to the entire thing. Fun!

Another peek at ARKit’s future

This video shows a more sophisticated bit of ARKit, letting you walk around a room and quickly map out the floorspace. While this app might not widely useful, it does show the tip of a pretty large iceberg.

For example, imagine walking/measuring around your entire house and ending up with a reasonably precise set of up to the minute blueprints. You might feed those into another app and place/rearrange furniture to get a sense of what will fit and what works where. You might use the numbers to order the precise amount of carpeting you need, or take your app to a store to make sure that bookshelf will fit in that corner.

Take a look. ARKit is a big deal.

Amazon Prime Day’s chess move against Apple’s HomePod

The chess move? Amazon used the heavily promoted Prime Day to sell as many Amazon Echo devices as they possibly could, in part in an effort to disrupt Apple’s entry into the market with December’s HomePod rollout.

Brian Sozzi, writing for The Street:

Amazon said that it sold three times as many Echo devices worldwide midway through Prime Day. Imagine what the grand total looks like seeing as Amazon was hawking the smart speaker for a low, low price of $89.99. What this means to Apple is rather simple to understand: Amazon has managed to stuff more homes with Echos in front of Apple’s major HomePod launch. Hence, if you bought a discounted Echo why in the world would you want a HomePod, too?

While I do agree that Amazon is doing everything they can to maximize their home assistant market share in advance of Apple’s entry into the market, I disagree with the premise that Amazon is making big headway in eating future HomePod sales.

First, there’s price. $89.99 is a low enough price that it will not prevent someone from spending $349 to buy a HomePod. If the Echo was, say, $299, this might be a different story. But the vastly different prices puts the products in different market tiers.

Then, there’s capability. The HomePod gives inside access to the Apple ecosystem. The most likely candidates for a HomePod purchase have already invested in an Apple product, have made a little ecosystem nest out of music, files, apps and, most importantly, experience. While they might pop for $89.99 to give Alexa a try, I don’t see that sunk cost being enough to stop an Apple folk from buying into HomePod.

And folks who’ve heard both systems consistently say that HomePod is head and shoulders better sounding than Alexa when it comes to playing music.

What Amazon has not done is deliver a better quality speaker system which is also compatible with Apple Music. While Echo can act as a dumb Bluetooth speaker, you’d still need your iOS device or Mac in the loop to control the Apple Music experience, and that defeats the purpose.

I see HomePod entering the market in the same way as Apple Watch. The market is crowded, but crowded with devices that offer no real advantage to the Apple ecosystem. And to me, that’s all the difference in the world.

Latest Apple Park drone footage, the homestretch

Things are really coming along. The focus this month is the landscaping. Keep an eye on the details, like all the shrubs and trees, and the landscape leveling/grading. And, about 2:45 in, you’ll see they’ve moved the historic Glendenning Barn into place.

Editor Paul Machliss has cut some difficult movies. You’ve seen his work if you’ve ever seen the quick edits in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End, both personal favorites.

From the linked Premium Beat article:

For the film to work just right, Machliss had to be on set editing to verify that the timing of each shot was perfect: “To make it work you had to sort of be there at the moment of creation . . . I was there every day of every moment of every take. Edgar would do a take and yell ‘Cut!’ and then from the other side of the set go ‘How was that Paul?’ . . . and sort of wait until you went . . . ‘Yes it’s good.’ Then he felt he could move on. The advantage, of course being, we knew that six months down the line we weren’t gonna go ‘Ugh, we missed a trick here,’ ‘This didn’t work.’”

And:

To keep up with the production, Machliss had to be mobile and fast. He managed to put together an editing cart, pictured above: “This was the edit cart, basically, which was loaned to me by the sound department when we very quickly learned that I had to be absolutely mobile.”

The cart is pretty bare bones — a MacBook Pro, some external hard drives, “[Avid] Media Composer with an A-grade monitor which doubled either as a second screen for Media Composer, or as a full screen in its own right when Edgar wanted to come over and say ‘How does that look?’”

Check out the image of the extended keyboard at the very end of the article. It was new out-of-the-box when the film started.

[H/T Oliver Thomas]

July 12, 2017

Experts said a 5,800-square-kilometer (2,239-square-mile) section of Larsen C was confirmed to have broken away between Monday and Wednesday by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite.

Holy crap, that’s huge.

The security issue, uncovered by research from cybersecurity firm UpGuard, was caused by a misconfigured security setting on a cloud server due to “human error.”

The error made customer phone numbers, names, and some PIN codes publicly available online. PIN codes are used to confirm the identity of people who call for customer service.

Wow!

Speaking of companies I respect, check out the new Fantastical for Mac. It’s just packed with great new features.

Design, create, sketch, and diagram. An incredibly powerful app for both beginners and professionals.

There are very few companies I respect as much as The Omni Group.

Get Beats wireless headphones when you buy an eligible Mac or iPad Pro for college. And save more with Apple education pricing.

Personally, I don’t like Beats headphones, but I guess it’s something free.

iOS 11, however, will let you record the screen directly on your device, keeping your Mac out of the equation entirely. Here’s how it works in the developer and public betas.

This is a really handy addition in iOS 11. I’ve recorded my iOS screen with my Mac before, but now I’ll be able to do it right on the device.

Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc, Alphabet Inc and dozens of other major technology companies protested online on Wednesday against proposed changes to U.S. net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from giving or selling access to certain internet services over others.

It’s hard to believe we’re still arguing about this.

Macworld:

Autoplay video: The bane of the web. You either hate them, or are completely disgusted by them. Fortunately, with Safari 11 in macOS High Sierra, you can easily disable autoplay video and surf the web in relative peace.

I hope the irony of this tip being posted on a page with autoplaying video is not lost on Macworld.

Megan Rose Dickey, TechCrunch:

Unless you’ve had a chance to try some Apple HomeKit products in someone’s home or apartment, it can be hard to understand how it all works. In order to help with that, Apple has unveiled interactive HomeKit experiences in 46 of its retail stores worldwide.

Now, when you go into Apple’s new retail stores, you’ll be able to use the Home app from either an Apple Watch, iPhone or iPad to control devices like the Phillips Hue light bulb, the Hunter ceiling fan and many others. If you tap to the lower the shades in the living room, for example, you’ll see the shades lower in the house shown on the screen.

Smart.

Glenn Fleishman digs into the details on a few things that might be slowing down your Mac. All interesting, all good to know about.

Motherboard:

Ronald Wayne lives in a little house in the town of Pahrump, Nevada. The 83-year-old designer and engineer was Apple’s original third co-founder, though nowadays he is perhaps best known as the unlucky guy who sold his 10 percent stake of the company for $800 just 12 days after it was incorporated in 1976. Today, it’s estimated that his shares would have been worth $67 billion.

Fascinating interview. My favorite response:

Q: What Apple products do you use now?

A: I have never owned an Apple product in my life, and I didn’t even have a computer until the mid 90s. What would I do with it? If you say “anything you want,” I’d come across the table at you. I had to have a reason. It popped up in the mid 90s when a friend asked to write him a short story and I delivered to him on a typewriter. So I had someone cobble a computer together for me and it just had basic internet and (Corel’s) WordPerfect on it. And over the years I have never had anything but the simplest computers.

Read the whole thing. Very interesting guy.