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

22 February, by 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.

The State of Scamware on the Mac

22 February, by 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 February, by 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 February, by 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.

Sony, Facebook Pull Out of GDC 2020 Due to Coronavirus Concerns

21 February, by John Gruber[ —]

This follows Mobile World Congress — a 100,000-attendee conference/expo in Barcelona that should be going on right now — being completely canceled.

‘Was It Good? I Don’t Know.’

21 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Stephanie K. Baer, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

President Donald Trump criticized the Academy Awards during a rally Thursday for awarding this year’s top prize to Parasite, a South Korean movie. […]

“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year — did you see? ‘And the winner is a movie from South Korea’ — what the hell was that all about?” Trump said to a crowd in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know.”

“Let’s get Gone With the Wind — can we get, like, Gone With the Wind back, please?” Trump continued, referring to the 1940 Best Picture winner, which is set on a slave plantation during the Civil War.

Where to start with this? First, BuzzFeed’s headline is euphemistic: “Trump Criticized the Oscars For Awarding Best Picture To ‘Parasite’, a South Korean Movie”. That obfuscates the blatant truth: he criticized the Academy for awarding Best Picture to Parasite because it’s a South Korean film. His own remarks make that crystal clear — he expressly states that he doesn’t even know if it’s a good movie, but he knows it shouldn’t have been awarded Best Picture because it’s from South Korea.

That is outright bigotry. How can it even be denied?

And honestly, Gone With the Wind? That movie won best picture 80 years ago. The only relevance of Gone With the Wind is that it’s a movie about slave-owning plantation owners in the Civil War South. Out of all the Best Picture winners, Trump cited the one with a favorable perspective on slavery. Birth of a Nation would have been more subtle.

Chris Espinosa on Larry Tesler

21 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Chris Espinosa:

Larry taught me the value of taking the user’s point of view; using heuristics to work magic; to look at all the cases. Much more than inventing copy and paste, he invented it as a writing tool, not a code-editing tool, for people who didn’t understand computers.

‘Pay Up, or We’ll Make Google Ban Your Ads’

21 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Brian Krebs:

A new email-based extortion scheme apparently is making the rounds, targeting Web site owners serving banner ads through Google’s AdSense program. In this scam, the fraudsters demand bitcoin in exchange for a promise not to flood the publisher’s ads with so much bot and junk traffic that Google’s automated anti-fraud systems suspend the user’s AdSense account for suspicious traffic.

It’s almost like it’s a bad idea to rely on automated advertising from an ad platform that doesn’t care about you.

You have to admit, this is a clever attack. Companies need a Chief Asshole — someone whose job it is to lead a team that does nothing but think of ways to fuck with everything. That’s only tangential to what we think of as “security” — these crooks are using a system created by Google to defeat fraud to commit an entirely different type of crime.

John Markoff on Larry Tesler

21 February, by John Gruber[ —]

John Markoff, writing for The New York Times:

It was Mr. Tesler who gave Mr. Jobs the celebrated demonstration of the Xerox Alto computer and the Smalltalk software system that would come to influence the design of Apple’s Lisa personal computer and then its Macintosh.

Mr. Tesler left Xerox to work for Mr. Jobs at Apple in 1980.

“The questions the Apple people were asking totally blew me away,” Mr. Tesler was quoted as saying in a profile that appeared in IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 2005. “They were the kind of questions Xerox executives should have been asking but didn’t.”

It’s simply impossible to even guess where we’d be today if not for Larry Tesler and his team’s work at PARC.

In addition to helping develop the Lisa and Macintosh, Mr. Tesler founded and ran Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, after which he led the design of the Newton hand-held computer, although that proved unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful in the marketplace, no doubt, but the Newton was in many ways a triumph in human-computer interaction that in at least a few ways, remains unmatched. I’m thinking of the concept of the “soup” for data, in particular.

The group also created much of the technology that would become the Wi-Fi wireless standard, and Mr. Tesler led an Apple joint venture with two other companies that created Acorn RISC Machine, a partnership intended to provide a microprocessor for the Newton.

Helped invent Wi-Fi and ARM, no big deal.

In 1960, while attending the Bronx High School of Science, Mr. Tesler developed a new method of generating prime numbers. He showed it to one of his teachers, who was impressed. As Mr. Tesler later recalled, he told the teacher that the method was a formula; the teacher responded, “No, it’s not really a formula, it’s an algorithm, and it can be implemented on a computer.”

“Where do you find a computer?” Mr. Tesler asked.

What a life. Just read the whole thing — too many accomplishments to quote them all here.

Larry Tesler, UI Visionary, Dies at 74

19 February, by John Gruber[ —]

Luke Dormehl, in a detailed obituary at Cult of Mac:

Larry Tesler, a pioneering computer scientist who worked at Apple from 1980 to 1997 and created computerized cut, copy and paste, died Monday at the age of 74.

Tesler served as VP of AppleNet and Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. During his time at Apple, he played a key role in the development of products ranging from the Lisa to the Newton MessagePad. And that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his contribution to computing. […]

Tesler was passionate about something called modeless computing, meaning a type of computing (now taken for granted) in which the user doesn’t have to switch constantly between different input states. His Dodge Valiant bore a customized license plate reading “NO MODES.” He regularly wore a T-shirt warning colleagues not to “Mode Me In.” And his Twitter handle was @nomodes.

This is so terribly sad. Tesler was a titan in the field. Much of what we take for granted as fundamental in human-computer interaction today is thanks to Larry Tesler.

His death is especially jarring to me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about his “no modes” mantra just this month, specifically in the context of the recent debate regarding iPad multitasking. One simple way to describe what’s wrong with iPadOS multitasking is that it is a fundamentally modal design, and modes are generally bad. (It’s also hard to overstate how preposterously modal most user interfaces were prior to the GUIs Tesler helped pioneer at Xerox and Apple.)

I met Tesler a few years back, when I was invited to lunch with a few of his fellow early Mac luminaries. He was everything you’d think: gracious, friendly, and whip smart. And he was embarrassingly complimentary regarding my work at Daring Fireball. I had been thinking about reaching out to him to get his thoughts on the iPad.

So it goes.

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