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★ Locations of Media Files in MacOS 10.15 Catalina

24 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Kirk McElhearn, back in June, right after Catalina was announced:

Music: By default, these files will be stored in ~/Music. (~ is a shortcut for your home folder, the one with the house icon and your user name.)

Apple TV: For TV shows and movies, the default location is ~/Movies. Music Videos, however, will stay in the Music app.

Podcasts: Podcasts are stored in a cache folder in ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts. This is not designed to be user accessible, and the podcast files do not display the original file names. You can, however, drag podcast files from the Podcasts app to the Desktop or to a folder.

I needed this because my Mac version of Podcasts had gotten screwy. I don’t really listen to podcasts using Podcasts, but I subscribe to my own show in it just to make sure it looks and works right. I usually do this checking on my iPhone, but I was taking a look at it on my Mac this week, and noticed that four episodes (#245–248) were missing from the listing of “all episodes”. My first thought was that something must be corrupt in my RSS feed for the show. My second thought, a split-second later, was, nah, it’s probably a bug in the Mac Podcasts app. My second thought was right. Those four episodes of my show were not missing in any other podcast client, including Apple Podcasts on my iPhone and iPad.

Nothing I did within the Podcasts app, like unsubscribing / resubscribing, fixed the problem. The same four episodes were always missing — but only on my Mac. This reeked of a caching problem — but how to delete the cache? The Catalina Music and Movies apps continue to store their media files in the traditional, obvious places. That’s because they’re traditional Mac apps derived from the old iTunes app. I really had no idea where to look for Podcasts data to delete to try to unscrew whatever was screwed up. Trashing the folder McElhearn cites above — ~/Library/Group Containers/243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts — and relaunching Podcasts did the trick. Problem solved.

When I saw McElhearn’s folder name, my first thought was that he had overlooked that the “243LU875E5” part must be generated per-user, and wouldn’t be the same for everyone. It certainly looks random, right? But it’s not — that’s the name of the Apple Podcasts cache folder for everyone on Catalina, so far as I can see. Why in the world all the folders in ~/Library/Group Containers/ are prefixed with these ugly seemingly-random identifiers, I have no idea, but it strikes me as one more step along the path of Apple now caring less and less about what the back of the cabinet looks like.


How the CIA Used Crypto AG Encryption Devices to Spy on Countries for Decades

23 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Greg Miller, reporting earlier this month for The Washington Post:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software. The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

What a story. And in turn, makes you wonder what companies the CIA or NSA (or spy agencies from other governments) might own today.


A Pro-Foldable Look at the Galaxy Z Flip

23 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Michael Simon, writing for PC World:

As soon as I picked up the iPhone back in 2007, I knew that the future of the smartphone had arrived. I feel the same way about the Galaxy Z Flip.

When I flipped it open for the first time, the Galaxy Z Flip was as much of a revelation as the first time I slid my finger to unlock the original iPhone. The other folding phones I’ve used from Huawei, Royale, and Samsung have all felt a little off, almost like they were movie props meant to look like futuristic phones. From the plastic screens to the uncertain form factors, folding phones might be wow-worthy, but they haven’t felt like the kind of product that could change the way we think about smartphones.

I have little doubt that good foldables are in our collective future. Somewhere between today’s technology and something like the phone-to-tablet foldables on Westworld, we might look back on unfoldable phones as archaic and bulky.


Galaxy Z Flip vs. Motorola Razr

23 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Good hands-on comparison between the two new flagship folding phones from Michael Fischer. (He’s got standalone reviews of each phone, too.) The bottom line is that Samsung has handed Motorola its ass — faster, better hinge, better display, far better camera, and over $100 cheaper. The only thing the Razr has going for it is nostalgia for a phone that I suspect almost no one actually has any nostalgia for.


Apple Maps Expands ‘Look Around’ to Philly, Boston, and Washington

22 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Such a great feature. The Philly map is excellent.


Gurman: Apple Is Considering Allowing Third-Party Default Apps and, Seemingly, an SDK for HomePod

22 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.

Users have been clamoring for this ever since the App Store opened. I get why Apple has been cautious about allowing this, but at this point it’s overdue. There are third-party email clients and web browsers that are really good — Apple should celebrate that fact. And browsers will almost certainly still be required to use the system WebKit for rendering, alleviating system resource and security concerns. Chrome on iOS can’t burn through your battery like Chrome on MacOS does, because on iOS Chrome uses WebKit, not Blink.

I could also see Apple doing this for email (and maybe calendars and contacts too) but not for the web browser, simply as defense against Chrome’s growing hegemony over the web. But I think the fact that Chrome on iOS must use WebKit is defense enough against that. It’s WebKit that’s worth requiring, not Safari.

Now, Apple is working to allow third-party music services to run directly on the HomePod, said the people. Spotify and other third-party music apps can stream from an iPhone or iPad to the HomePod via Apple’s AirPlay technology. That’s a much more cumbersome experience than streaming directly from the speaker.

This is interesting news, because at a technical level it would seemingly require an SDK for HomePod. HomePod isn’t like Apple Watch where it’s tethered to an iOS device — it runs independently. It’s possible that Apple could just work privately with a handful of big names like Spotify and Pandora and bake support for those specific services into the HomePod OS, but I hope it’s something Apple announces at WWDC as an API for any audio app. (I’m thinking about podcast clients in particular.)

Also under discussion at Apple is whether to let users set competing music services as the default with Siri on iPhones and iPads, the people said. Currently, Apple Music is the default music app.

Siri does support third-party apps — you just have to specify them by name: “Hey Siri, play some Pearl Jam from Spotify”. It makes sense that this should be a setting too — if you’re a Spotify user it’s a bit ridiculous that you’re currently required to tack on “from Spotify” with every single request.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.


Adam Engst’s Last Conversation With Larry Tesler

22 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Adam Engst, writing at TidBITS:

In 1980, Tesler left Xerox PARC to join Apple, and he worked there until 1997. During that time, he led the Newton Group, became Apple’s Chief Scientist, and was the vice president of AppleNet, which was tasked in part with developing and promoting Apple’s Internet strategy. It was at the end of his tenure there that I corresponded with him, since he and I were both on a private Net-Thinkers mailing list that discussed issues relating to Apple and the Internet.

It’s telling how much things have changed, I think, that an Apple vice president would speak freely on even a private mailing list that included a writer like me. (At that time, apart from publishing TidBITS, my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh book had sold about 400,000 copies, and I had just penned a MacWEEK column entitled “The Emperor Has No Strategy” that had ruffled feathers with Apple executives.)

To give you a better sense of who Larry Tesler was, I’m going to reprint an email conversation he and I had on the Net-Thinkers list back in February of 1997. In retrospect, it must not have been that long before he left Apple, although I have no record of that in my email archive.

A different age.


The State of Scamware on the Mac

22 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Last week there was a hubbub regarding a report from antivirus software vendor Malwarebytes that claimed “Mac threats increased exponentially in comparison to those against Windows PCs” in 2020. That line got a lot of headlines.

Michael Tsai:

This sounds really bad at first, like the number of Mac threats is growing in proportion to the (larger) number of Windows threats. But I guess they are just using the non-technical meaning of “exponential,” so the whole thing boils down to “more than.” […]

This sounds unnecessarily alarmist compared with the contents of the report, and I remain convinced that for most users Apple’s built-in security measures are sufficient. I’ve seen far more Mac problems caused by anti-virus software than actual viruses.

Computer viruses are called viruses because like biological viruses, they spread by themselves. What Malwarebytes is talking about are scam apps — things that trick or otherwise convince the user to install voluntarily. Dan Goodin had a piece at Ars Technica last month about the scourge of fake Adobe Flash installers — which work because unsophisticated Mac users had been truthfully told they needed to upgrade their version of Flash for a decade. It’s a real problem — but third-party antivirus software is not the answer. As usual, Tsai has a wonderful compilation of links to commentary on the matter.

Be sure to read Jason Snell’s excellent take, which convincingly makes the point that Apple has been working to protect Mac users from these sort of apps for years, exemplified by this technical note Apple published back in November, expanding their definition of “suspicious software” that MacOS defends against.


Google Has Banned Almost 600 Android Apps for Pushing ‘Disruptive’ Ads

22 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Craig Silverman, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

One of the biggest developers banned from the Play Store and Google’s ad networks was Cheetah Mobile, a publicly traded Chinese company that BuzzFeed News revealed in November 2018 had been engaging in ad fraud. The following December, Google removed one of the offending apps but allowed Cheetah to continue offering other apps in the Play Store. As of this morning, Cheetah’s entire suite of roughly 45 apps in the Play Store was removed, and the apps no longer offer advertising inventory for sale in Google’s ad networks.

Per Bjorke, Google’s senior product manager for ad traffic quality, told BuzzFeed News the removed apps, which had been installed more than 4.5 billion times, primarily targeted English-speaking users and were mainly from developers based in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and India. He declined to name specific apps or developers but said many of the banned apps were utilities or games. Google published a blog post today with details about the removals.

I don’t understand why Google was so lenient with Cheetah Mobile until now. BuzzFeed News’s investigation clearly showed they were fraudsters. They hadn’t made a mistake, it wasn’t a bug or misunderstanding — they were ripping off users. Just ban them, and keep an eye out for any attempts to return under a new name. Like I’ve been advocating for Apple’s App Store, there ought to be a bunco squad that hunts down scams and rackets of all sorts and gets them out of the store.

Google has even more leeway to be aggressive on this front, because Android allows sideloading apps. The Play Store is not the only supported way to install apps on Android devices.


Ryan Christoffel’s Proposed Fix for iPad Multitasking

21 février, par John Gruber[ —]

Ryan Christoffel, writing for MacStories:

I love the functionality enabled by iPad multitasking, but the current system is unnecessarily complex. I don’t believe the iPad should revert to its origins as a one-app-at-a-time device, but I know there’s a better way forward for multitasking.

My proposal for a new multitasking system employs a UI mechanic that already exists across both iPhone and iPad. Without losing any of iPadOS 13’s current functionality, it brings the iPad closer to its iPhone roots again and makes multitasking accessible for the masses.

Context menus are the key to a better multitasking system.

Christoffel published this two weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since — hence the delay in my linking to it. I’m working on a longer piece about this, but in short, I think two things about this idea:

  1. It’s very thoughtful and considered, and obviously comes from someone who gets the iPad Way, insofar as there is an iPad Way. And the design he proposes is better in every way — or at least almost every way — than what we have with iPadOS 13 today.
  2. It’s not good enough. Hiding everything behind contextual menus is a crutch.

If you haven’t read Christoffel’s proposal, do so. Consider it a reading assignment.


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