April 6, 2020

Android Police:

Even if you don’t like Apple, or you think iOS is derpy and restrictive — which is, in my opinion, unarguably true — iPads really do offer the best big-screen tablet environment.

The first half of that sentence is what I expect from Android Police. But what I didn’t expect is the linked post’s rave about the iPad.

Consider how I got here. The linked post’s headline is Do yourself a favor and buy an iPad during lockdown. And they’re not wrong.

Bradley Chambers, 9to5Mac:

I closed out the mobile version of the Kindle website, and I reinstalled Apple Books. As I opened it, it felt like a breath of fresh air. The overall design is just stunning. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with the new interface that Apple released with iOS 12, but I was quickly blown away.

When I read this piece by Bradley Chambers, I. realized that I had been locked into the Kindle app on my iPad for a long, long time. So I fired up Books and dug in. Bradley is right. Apple Books really is a breath of fresh air.

Two things stand out in particular to me. First, the process of sliding the scrollbar to jump to a different location is so much better in Books. As you slide, a popup appears that shows both chapter number/title and page number. Much better than Kindle’s clunky navigation process.

Add to that, the process of searching for and purchasing new books. To be fair, Apple’s 30% fee makes it obvious why Amazon makes you exit the Kindle app and buy your books on the web. Definitely not their fault. But still. Buying new books in the Apple Books app is a pleasure.

MediaPlayNews:

Apple TV Channels, which like Amazon Channels, offers access to third party over-the-top video platforms, is offering extended free access to content during the coronavirus pandemic.

Apple is extending to 30 days free trials to ViacomCBS’ Showtime OTT and MGM-owned Epix (through May 2 with no subscription required), AMC Networks’ Acorn TV and Lifetime Movie Channel, among others.

Lots of great, binge-worthy content here. If you’ve not yet seen it, check out the excellent Pennyworth (on EPIX), a sort of Batman pre-history, but focused on Alfred.

And on Showtime, there’s Billions, Dexter, and Ray Donavon. My tastes do run a bit dark, don’t they?

Tim Cook, a voice of calm and reason

Watch the video in the tweet below. Apple is working hard to help, ramping up a manufacturing chain to produce face shields for health workers, and getting those face shields into the hands of those who need them.

And sharing the details is Tim Cook, a calm, rational voice at the center of the storm. Well done Tim. Well done Apple.

Inside Apple TV+’s Amazing Stories

Have you watched Amazing Stories? If not, this will give you a taste. To me, this genre is interesting, sort of a palette cleanser between other shows. Like Little America, you can watch one, or binge the whole thing, stop any time you like.

I see this as the short story collection, a break from the commitment to a full length novel.

April 4, 2020

Marvel:

Marvel Unlimited, Marvel’s digital comics subscription service, is now offering all fans FREE access to some of Marvel’s most iconic stories from recent years, including now-classic Marvel Comics events and critically acclaimed runs featuring the Avengers, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and more. Fans who are social distancing will be able to escape into the Marvel Universe and revisit their favorite stories from a curated selection of complete story arcs – completely free – on Marvel Unlimited, starting Thursday, April 2 until Monday, May 4.

To access Marvel Unlimited’s free comics offering, download or update the Marvel Unlimited app for iOS or Android at the respective Apple and Google Play app stores, and click “Free Comics” on the landing screen. No payment information or trial subscriptions will be required for the selection of free comics.

Sitting at home reading a bunch of comic books sounds like a great idea right now.

TidBITS:

Of all the tech companies that have benefitted from the massive shift to telecommuting that the global pandemic has forced, Zoom stands at the top. The company’s multi-platform videoconferencing software was well known before, being a frequently used, market-leading choice mentioned in the same breath as Adobe Connect, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. But now Zoom has become a verb among businesses, schools, and people making social connections.

Any time we discuss Zoom and consider recommending its use or thinking about its future, we have to look at a series of bad programming, security, marketing, and privacy decisions the company has taken.

Let me put it bluntly: Zoom is sloppy.

There’s no doubt Zoom is and was shitty software that you really shouldn’t be using if you give a damn about your privacy and security. Unfortunately, many are forced, for various reasons, to use the software so this article may help you lock down your Zoom vulnerability.

April 3, 2020

No Film School:

Thanks to Oscilloscope and Mailchimp Presents, these SXSW 2020 official short film selections have been given new life.

The indie film community suffered a major blow after the cancelation of SXSW 2020. Hundreds of filmmakers, who worked so hard to get into one of the biggest film festivals in the world, wouldn’t see their films screened thanks to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, Oscilloscope Laboratories and Mailchimp have partnered with SXSW to give official short film selections “a digital home”, allowing anyone with an internet connection and a love of cinema to watch them for free online.

Personally, I’m all in favour of SXSW being canceled but it does hurt the indie filmmakers. If you’ve got the time (and who doesn’t now?), you might find a few cinematic gems in here.

William Gallagher, AppleInsider:

It may seem as if the iPhone, iPad, and even Mac, have not changed their user interface in years, but in truth Apple is continually revising its software. Apple is also increasingly good at hardware surviving underwater, plus it continues to look into actually making devices remain usable when submerged.

These issues are revisited in two new patents, one of which will concern anyone who’s truly wanted to operate an iOS device underwater. And the other uses technology to solve a small but recurring annoyance.

I would absolutely love the ability to use my iPhone camera under water (without a special case). There are issues with waterproofing the phone itself, but beyond that is the complexity of interacting with a phone within the physics of water. Complicated problem.

Then there’s using your face to orient your device:

All iPads have always automatically rotated their screen so that you can hold them in landscape or portrait, and such that you can hold them any way up. However, every iPad user has also had the experience of having to physically rotate the device in order to get it to check again after it’s turned the wrong way.

Happens to me every single time I fire up my iPad. Every time. I’d love to see this problem solved.

Great read.

John Voorhees wrote a terrific appreciation piece, for MacStories, on the under-appreciated iPad mini. Worth reading, especially worth scrolling through to see all the use cases for which the iPad mini is just perfect.

At the very least, I think the iPad mini is perfect for reading. It’s got the right screen proportion, bigger than iPhone, but still very light. And it supports trackpad and mouse input. Spot on.

Ryan Pickren:

This vulnerability allowed malicious websites to masquerade as trusted websites when viewed on Desktop Safari (like on Mac computers) or Mobile Safari (like on iPhones or iPads). ​> Hackers could then use their fraudulent identity to invade users’ privacy. This worked because Apple lets users permanently save their security settings on a per-website basis. ​> If the malicious website wanted camera access, all it had to do was masquerade as a trusted video-conferencing website such as Skype or Zoom.

And:

I reported this bug to Apple in accordance with the Security Bounty Program rules and used BugPoC to give them a live demo. Apple considered this exploit to fall into the “Network Attack without User Interaction: Zero-Click Unauthorized Access to Sensitive Data” category and awarded me $75,000.

If this sort of thing concerns you, put a post-it over your Mac and Mac display cameras.

Apple Platform Security document:

All Mac portables with the Apple T2 Security Chip feature a hardware disconnect that ensures the microphone is disabled whenever the lid is closed. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air computers with the T2 chip, and on the 15-inch MacBook Pro portables from 2019 or later, this disconnect is implemented in hardware alone. The disconnect prevents any software—even with root or kernel privileges in macOS, and even the software on the T2 chip—from engaging the microphone when the lid is closed. (The camera is not disconnected in hardware, because its field of view is completely obstructed with the lid closed.)

That’s the Mac side. On the iPad:

iPad models beginning in 2020 also feature the hardware microphone disconnect. When an MFI compliant case (including those sold by Apple) is attached to the iPad and closed, the microphone is disconnected in hardware, preventing microphone audio data being made available to any software—even with root or kernel privileges in iPadOS or in case the firmware is compromised.

The culture of camera and mic access on the Mac and iPad are very different. On my Mac, when the camera is in use, I see a light. And, as the note states, when the lid is closed, the camera is blocked.

Hardware disconnect does prevent the mic from working when the iPad case is closed. But what if I use my iPad without a case? And what about the camera without a case? There’s no hardware disconnect to rely on. Instead, Apple requires apps to ask for permission to access the camera and microphone.

Seemingly foolproof, but no.

Michael Potuck, 9to5Mac:

After bringing the long-awaited feature to iOS last fall, Spotify has updated its app today to take advantage of Siri support on Apple Watch in watchOS 6.

And:

Spotify mentions in the release notes to use Siri with the music service on Apple Watch users can say, “Hey Siri, Play music on Spotify,” or just add “on Spotify” to any voice command to play content.

Works pretty much everywhere for me now, except HomePod. For that, you’ll need to use AirPlay.

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

In a memo to employees, Apple Senior Vice President of Retail and People Deirdre O’Brien told staff that the company anticipates that “flexible work arrangements will remain in place for all offices, and all retail stores will remain closed, until early May.”

She said that Apple is “continuing to monitor local conditions for every Apple facility on a daily basis” and that the company will make “reopening decisions on the basis of thorough, thoughtful reviews and the latest guidance from local governments and public health experts.”

Apple deciding to open a specific Apple Store will definitely be a canary in the coal mine, a sign that we’re heading back to normal, at least in that area.

Wondering what those early days will be like. Will there be social distancing methods in place? After all, until we have tests for everyone, and a widely available vaccine, how will stores prevent the spread of COVID-19?

April 2, 2020

When flight attendants work from home

Ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get through this.

HBO:

To provide some entertainment relief for those doing their part to keep everyone safe and healthy in this time of social isolation, HBO is making almost 500 hours of top programming available to stream for free for a limited time on HBO NOW and HBO GO–without a subscription–starting this Friday, April 3. The list of free programming includes every episode of nine iconic HBO series such as The Sopranos, Veep, Six Feet Under and The Wire; major Warner Bros. blockbusters from HBO’s current catalog like Pokémon Detective Pikachu, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part and Crazy, Stupid, Love; and 10 riveting HBO documentaries and docu-series including McMillion$ and The Case Against Adnan Syed.

Sadly, not available outside the US.

Eric Yuan, Zoom founder, on the Zoom blog:

Usage of Zoom has ballooned overnight – far surpassing what we expected when we first announced our desire to help in late February. This includes over 90,000 schools across 20 countries that have taken us up on our offer to help children continue their education remotely. To put this growth in context, as of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, we reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants, both free and paid.

That’s amazing growth. Zoom has made Yuan one of the world’s richest people.

But Zoom is beset by security issues, with reports of attacks that can take over Windows machines and Macs, and lots of trolling Zoom-bombing (where an uninvited person joins a conference, frequently harassing the rest of the attendees).

Continuing:

We recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry, and I want to share what we are doing about it.

Read the rest of the post for all the details. This feels like about as good of a response as we could have hoped for. Feels like the team got in over their head, were not prepared for this growth, did not anticipate the security issues that have emerged.

A big black eye for Zoom. Let’s see if they can recover. In the meantime, here are some alternatives.

Greg Kumparak, TechCrunch:

If you’ve ever tried to buy the Harry Potter audiobooks, you probably noticed something kind of tricky: there are two very different versions. The version most widely available in the U.S. is narrated by Jim Dale. The U.K. version is read by Stephen Fry.

And:

Audible has put the Stephen Fry version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” up online, for free, until further notice.

This is part of J.K. Rowling’s COVID-19 response, which grants teachers an open license to post videos of themselves reading from the books as part of the #HarryPotterAtHome program.

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

In an effort to encourage social distancing, Apple has indicated that it will provide subsidies to Apple Authorized Service Providers that offer product repairs on a pickup and drop-off basis in the United States and Canada.

Here’s how this works. Go to https://getsupport.apple.com/ and start a repair request. Go through the first few screens to describe your issue. Then, when you get to the screen titled “How would you like to get help?”, select “Send in for repair”.

Apple is doing double-service here. They’re providing repair when their stores are closed, and they are helping keep small businesses afloat.

April 1, 2020

The Verge:

Amazon’s Prime Video iOS and Apple TV apps now let customers make in-app purchases, including renting and buying films and TV shows. The change marks a huge shift in Amazon’s approach to the App Store, which mandates a 30 percent cut on all in-app purchases. Prior to the change, Amazon would not allow you to rent or buy content on the Prime Video app, instead, directing users to a web browser to avoid the App Store fee.

The prices do not appear to have been raised to account for the 30 percent fee, as some platform owners like Spotify have done in the past. It is not clear whether Amazon reached a deal with Apple or whether it is indeed deciding to pay the full cut.

Great news for Amazon Prime Video customers. But unless this was negotiated with or approved by Apple, it will likely get shut down pretty quickly

UPDATE: CNBC confirms Apple has made an arrangement with Amazon, among others.

CNET:

Major League Baseball is attempting to fill the void of this baseball-less spring by opening its vaults to past seasons and classic games throughout its history. First, it opened up the archives to MLB.TV for the past two seasons. And now you can watch classic games on MLB’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages in a new series it’s calling #MLBAtHome. The games start at 7 p.m. ET (4 p.m. PT) each night and are available to watch after they are first shown.

If you’re like me, you’ll really enjoy being able to watch baseball again.

Google:

In lieu of our normal April Fools’ joke, today we’re getting serious. Over the past few weeks, the world has come to a halt, our healthcare systems have been overwhelmed, and countless people are experiencing food and housing insecurity. This crisis has caused Google to reflect on how critical it is to respond to another global emergency: climate change. Today, we would like to announce a small step in that direction: we will stop our funding of organizations that deny or work to block action on climate change, effective immediately.

For 21 years, Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. However, since 2013, we have funded think tanks, policy-makers, and lobbyists that supported strong technology policies, but also spread misinformation about climate change. Many of these organizations have actively worked to derail environmental protections, often successfully. Today, Google is ready to say that this is completely unacceptable, and we are declaring a zero tolerance policy for funding any entities that oppose aggressive actions to halt climate change.

A small step and arguably one that should have been taken sooner.

UPDATE: As Doney den Ouden pointed out to me on Twitter, this is a fake page/post. I pride myself on not getting caught by these but this one got me because I didn’t read all the way to the end. My bad.

MacStories:

Apple has released noteworthy updates for its iWork suite of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, alongside a new version of iMovie, all of which have as their hallmark feature mouse and trackpad support on iPadOS. There are a variety of other nice changes too, big and small, that make these apps more powerful than ever across all platforms.

It’s been a couple weeks since iPadOS 13.4 officially brought proper trackpad support to the iPad, but now Apple’s most important productivity apps on the platform fully support it. Although you could still use a mouse or trackpad in an app like Pages before today, the app wasn’t optimized to support those input methods, whereas now UI elements will respond appropriately to the interactions of the iPad’s new cursor. This involves, for example, having the cursor shift to different shapes to indicate what it can do.

If you use these apps, these updates will be very welcome.

Imagination Library:

Everyone’s favorite Book Lady is bringing children and families everywhere just what they need during a time of unrest. Goodnight with Dolly is a 10-week special series of weekly videos featuring Dolly Parton reading select Imagination Library books.

Goodnight with Dolly launches on April 2, with the hope that this gift will further inspire a love of books and shared storytime during this important period. The weekly read-aloud series features several of the Imagination Library’s wonderful books including “The Little Engine That Could.” Watty Piper’s classic tale of a determined little engine has been an inspiration to generations. This year marks the 90th Anniversary of “The Little Engine That Could.” For many years the story has been a source of inspiration for Dolly and it is the welcome book that all newly registered children in the United States and Canada receive when they sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Dolly hopes this series of stories will provide comfort and reassurance to coping kids and families during the shelter-in-place mandates.

So many kids think of Dolly Parton as “The Book Lady” but she is so much more. But right now, I bet a lot of kids would love to have her read them bedtimes stories. Hell, I’ll watch it too because I love that book and I love the sound of Dolly’s voice.

SiriusXM:

SiriusXM and Howard Stern today announced that starting today through May 15, SiriusXM will start offering free access to its full lineup of Premier Streaming content to listeners in North America. Howard kicked off the unprecedented Stream Free access this morning while hosting The Howard Stern Show, on channel 100, from his home.

Listeners will have free access to more than 300 channels of dynamic programming, featuring the acclaimed The Howard Stern Show, hundreds of exclusive ad-free music channels, and vital news and information sources. SiriusXM is also adding entirely new curated content, and bringing back some beloved music channels by top artists.

Many companies are “taking advantage of” this self-isolation and self-distancing by offering their products and services to potential customers for free. It’s a great idea – consumers get to try out products they might not have otherwise and the companies build up some goodwill and possibly gain future buyers.

John Gruber:

This feels like another kick in the nuts, in an ongoing series of kicks in the nuts. Oof. All of this — as Brent says, gestures at everything — aside, it is hard to shake the feeling that the market for independent professional software is coming apart at the seams, fraying irreparably.

So many layoffs, so many people impacted. This tunnel feels particularly long and particularly dark, hard to make out that little pinprick of light at the end of it.

Related: Michael Tsai’s rollup page with other posts from Omni Group folks looking for work. There’s a deep talent pool on the bench, an opportunity for someone.

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Apple has recently contacted some of its retail employees in the U.S. with an opportunity to work from home as a support advisor on a temporary basis due to the ongoing pandemic, according to sources familiar with the matter.

And:

Retail employees who accept this offer will receive the necessary equipment from Apple to offer support to customers by phone or online chat, as well as a small cash incentive, one source noted.

Looks like this offer applies to all retail employees.

Zoom bombing. What are people thinking? And especially Zoom bombing like this.

The past week had not been good for Zoom. But no doubt, it fills a need and people will continue to use it. So follow the link, learn about waiting rooms, see if that’s a solution for you.

Mike Wuerthele, AppleInsider:

Russia’s lower house of parliament passed legislation in November 2019 that makes it mandatory for devices such as Apple’s iPhone that feature apps to include pre-loaded Russian-made ones. The legislation threatening the ban encompasses smartphones, computers, tablets, and televisions.

And:

Tass isn’t yet clear on the reasons behind the postponement. The delay may be technical, but is more likely related to the COVID-19 outbreak that is complicating device production and development at the moment.

Not the best time to hinder technology that allows people to communicate. The postponement makes a lot of sense.

From the headline linked post about Publix rolling out Apple Pay:

A post on Reddit by user Gabriel2790 shows a picture of an internal document. “Contactless payments are coming to our store! What does that mean,” asks the document. “The most commonly known forms of contactless payment are Apple Pay and Android Pay.”

The document goes on to explain how customers will be able to use mobile phones, smartwatches, and contactless credit and debit cards, as well as what cashiers can expect from the transaction. At the bottom of the document, it shows that the store in question will receive the ability to accept contactless payments on March 31, 2020.

The number of in person credit card transactions is dwindling. But those few that still occur highlights the issue with someone else handling your credit card or placing your credit card in a slot that has held other people’s cards.

When Apple Pay first rolled out, I mostly thought about security and convenience. But now I think about transmission, in this case, of COVID-19.

In these days of fewer and fewer in person transactions, I can only imagine Apple Pay is showing shrinking transaction numbers along with all the other players. But as we emerge from this cocoon, I see big potential for Apple Pay, assuming the value of truly contactless payments is not lost as we rush to return to “normal”.