Against Gatekeeper on iOS

Against Gatekeeper on iOS

There’s a popular article by Jared Sinclair that’s been circling the web these last few weeks:

Gatekeeper for iOS

Apple should expand the Gatekeeper program to iOS.1 Developers should be allowed to sell Gatekeeper-signed apps directly to customers outside of the App Store.

Jared argues that one way the iPad could gain popularity and, more importantly, get the attention of developers it needs, is by allowing developers to sell iPad apps without using the App Store. By giving developers full freedom they can set their own prices, allow for paid updates, demo versions,… which theoretically would result in more sales and a bigger incentive to develop so-called pro Apps.

But, I don’t agree from a end-user standpoint. It would result in a worse user experience and confusion.

Why? An example.

My mother

My mom called me yesterday because the needed help with her Mac. She had some issues with backups and email, and was worried her recent El Capitan upgrade had something to do with it. 

While troubleshooting her Mac I decided to do a full checkup and upgrade every apps she used. 

Steps:

  1. Visit the App Store and check for updates. Press update all.
  2. Open every app she uses frequently -that’s sold outside of the App Store- to check for updates manually.

For apps that use the Sparkle framework upgrading is as easy as clicking the update button for every app that offers an update. For other apps like Adobe’s CC or Microsoft Office it’s a separate update app that gets launched and starts installing updates. And some are even more cumbersome and require the download of a separate DMG (hello VMWare).

Compare this to that same process on her iPad: 

  1. Visit the App Store and check for updates. Press update all.

The experience

The experience on iOS is easy and fast. There’s one path to follow, every app behaves the same and you’re sure you got each and every one of them.

On the Mac it takes a lot more steps and I’m still not sure I’ve got every app updated to its latest release. (Some apps like Office even required me to do incremental updates one after the other). Compared to iOS it feels cumbersome, clumsy and kinda old-fashioned. 

Side loading apps on iOS would mean that those apps aren’t updated via the App Store. They’re distributed outside of Apple’s control, so there’s no way Apple would allow these apps to appear in the Updates pane since they can’t guarantee their ‘stamp of approval’. Users would need to update these apps separately, either via alerts that tell them about updates, by requiring users to visit the developers website and download the app that way or by using iTunes or …

Why would Apple deteriorate user-experience for the sake of helping developers?

No, if Apple changes something about the way apps are distributed the last thing they do is bypass the App Store and make using iOS more difficult or confusing.

On multitasking and Safari ViewControllers

On multitasking and Safari ViewControllers

The new Safari ViewController that’s part of iOS 9 is one of my favorite new features introduced by Apple in recent years. It makes surfing the web a lot faster, continuous login and cookie sharing across apps is super easy, and I can only praise the uniform experience across apps.

Ever since its release I’ve gradually phased out apps that don’t support the in-app Safari experience for ones that do. It makes the apps good citizens of iOS, and, combined with support for split screen multitasking, allows for a more productive workflows. Less app switching means less time lost by the animations and less confusion of where you were working.

Annoyances

I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t have some issues with its implementation. Take the screenshot above as an example: Tweetbot as a secondary app on the right, Safari as the app in focus in the left:

I love browsing Twitter via Tweetbot in side mode next to other apps. It’s big enough to read and follow the timeline, but it allows for the main app I’m working in to be bigger and in focus.

But when I click a link in Tweetbot (the Tapbots website in this case) Tweetbot opens up the website in the SafariViewController by default. It’s expected behavior but it’s not the optimal behavior. There’s a bigger canvas on the left which gives me a better way to view the website and would keep Tweetbot focused on what it does best: show Twitter.

A better way

What I’d like in a perfect scenario would be the following:

Default behavior: SafariViewController

When the app is in the premium slot on the left, or full screen, it would know it’s using the larger size class, and would show the link in-app via Safari ViewController since its already the focus of the user.

Multitasking behaviour: redirect to Safari

The app in tiny mode on the right knows it’s using the smaller size class and is considered the lesser of the two apps currently in view. When clicking a link it doesn’t open the link in a SafariCiewController, its default behavior, but it would pass the link to the real Safari instead. The app keeps its current view, and the user gets a better experience browsing the web.

iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s

I finally got my hands on the new iPhone 6s plus today. Since Belgium wasn’t in the first release wave, I had two options: wait until the next wave hits (next friday), or go to France and buy an iPhone via in-store reservations.

I’ve been checking Apple’s preorder page and iStockNow every morning at 6 AM —I’m not very patient when it comes to buying new toys (hello Lego WALL-E on my desk), so— hoping to see the iPhone 6s Plus in stock. And I finally managed to get a reservation today.

A two hour train ride, 15 minutes in the Apple Store and a three hour trainride later, my new iPhone sits next to my Mac, and it will probably remain there for the rest of the night.

Why? Because after you unwrap a new iPhone you have two options: start from scratch and say goodbye to your Health Data, or go through the restore-process and retain that data.

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If you check Apple’s support page they describe the process in these short steps:

Transfer your iCloud backup to your new device

  1. Turn on your new device. (..)
  2. Swipe left to right on the “Hello” screen. (..)
  3. Tap a Wi-Fi network to join.
  4. Tap Restore from iCloud Backup > Next.
  5. Enter your Apple ID and password.
  6. Choose a backup. (..)
  7. Stay connected and wait for the process to complete. (..)

It just works right? That is.. until you use it in real live in combination with an Apple Watch and don’t get your device on day one.

Transfer your iCloud backup to your new device (Extended Version)

  1. Within a week after Apple released iOS 9 and the new iPhone they already pushed two small bug fixes. Which means your old iPhone probably runs a newer iOS than your new iPhone will.
  2. Optionally: Update all apps on the old device to make sure they work on the new hardware.
  3. Verify that everything has uploaded and synced. Especially Photos and iCloud Drive documents.
  4. Unpair your Apple Watch and wait for the syncing process to finish. Takes about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Make an iCloud Backup, which now contains a recent backup for your Apple Watch. Hope nothing errors out, or goes wrong. Takes about 15 minutes.
  6. Unwrap your new iPhone. Enjoy that new Apple product smell. If you try restoring your backup now, it will fail because the backup you just made is made on a more recent iOS version.
  7. Configure your new iPhone as a new device.
  8. Upgrade to the latest iOS. (Takes, yet again 10-15 minutes)
  9. Wipe your new iPhone. (Feels so wrong).
  10. Finally you can follow Apple’s steps and restore your iCloud backup. Naturally, only confirming that your Apple ID belongs to you via two-factor authentication on another device.
  11. Wait until restore finishes. Takes ages.. unless your running a Caching Server on El Capitan with your iCloud backup locally seeded.
  12. Wait until apps are downloaded, Photos and iCloud are cached.
  13. Enter dozens of passwords and reauthenticate most services. Move from 1Password to Dropbox and back again and hope nothing goes wrong.
  14. Re-pair the Apple Watch again and select its latest backup.
  15. Wait until your Watch restore finishes, which takes… a long long time.
  16. Finally enjoy your new iPhone.
  17. Enter some more passwords in password prompts that didn’t occur upon first boot
  18. Repeat in a year, or earlier if you break your device.

Steps 8 and 9 should be part of the initial wizard. If the iPhone detects its not running the latest OS, just update it. It may frustrate some users, but it makes the process so much easier for less-technical-inclined people.

And the Apple Watch really needs either independent iCloud backups, or an easier way to re-pair it to your new iPhone. How about:

  1. You don’t need to unpair your Apple Watch
  2. After restoring your backup to your new iPhone, show an alert that asks you if you want to move your Watch to the new iPhone.
  3. If yes: show that awesome QR code thingie again and voila, re-paired.

But even though the process is frustrating at times, in the end the process does work, and takes way less time than manually redownloading all your apps and configuring all the little settings.

Apple Store Brussel

Apple Store Brussel

Apple opened a new store today. The store, in the heart of Brussels, is Apple’s first store in Belgium, and it’s also their first shop in a new design.

Overview copy

I went to the opening together with a few hundred other fans, and I have to say, it’s a completely different experience than any other Apple Store I ever visited. Gone are the price cards, there’s a lot less accessories, no genius bar and there’s trees in the middle of the shop.

For an overview of the design, take a look at this photo series by a good friend of mine.

IMG_1027

Breaking with tradition, this time Apple didn’t give the first visitors a T-Shirt to commemorate the event. No, people got a set of 5 exclusive postcards featuring art from well —and lesser— known Belgian comic artists. Each set combined creates the top part of the Apple logo.

Thanks to some friendly Apple Store employees, who recently switched jobs, I got a few sets. There’s a total of fifteen different cards, combining into three different logosets.

Below are thirteen out of fifteen different designs. If anyone has the remaining two, I do have doubles to trade!

For those interested, I’ve scanned the ones I have.

Overview

Update

Thanks to @Undertaxxx25 and @Nico_rhns the digital sets are complete now.

A couple of thoughts on tonight’s Keynote

A couple of thoughts on tonight’s Keynote

The Apple Keynote is just around the corner, and although most of it has already been spoiled by 9to5Mac, some questions and thoughts still remain:

iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

Same price range, with an increased pricing in Europe thanks to the current state of $vs€. iPhone 6s in 4 colors (space black, silver, gold and rose gold), ranging 750€-950€ for 16GB,64GB and 128GB respectively. iPhone 6s Plus is similar for 100€ more. They keep the iPhone 6 and iPhone 5s as 16GB low-end models.

Questions:

  • How will Force Touch work on the new iPhones? Will it be a system feature? A replacement for existing gestures or UI elements? Or something entirely new?
  • Do we get Apple Pay in Europe? (Or Belgium, if I can pick only one place)

Apple TV

Just as the new Mac mini is basically a MacBook Air without a screen and battery, I think the Apple TV will basically be the guts of an iPad Air 2. It’ll run iOS 9 and have similar capabilities as the iPad, meaning it can run apps and games, and it is capable of split screen and picture in picture.

For simplicities’ sake, I think they’ll release just one model, in four colors, ranging yet again from space black to rose gold. Priced at 179€.

I wonder if the new remote will have Taptic feedback though.

Sadly, it still won’t be a replacement for an AirPort Express.

Questions

  • Will it get an App Store and seperate apps akin to the Mac and iPhone? Or will these apps be extensions, bundled in iOS apps like the Apple Watch?
  • If we get an Apple TV Store, will it be available from within iTunes too? Will we get a TV app on iOS similar to the Watch app? Or will all management happen on the device itself?
  • Will Apple allow any kind of app? Or only games and entertainment? From a business and IT standpoint I can see a use for Statusboard, Slack, OmniFocus, Eventbrite,… running on the Apple TV.
  • If they (ever) release a subscription service, do they also call it Apple TV? How do they differentiate device and service?

iPad Pro

If it exists, I honestly have no clue on why and what, except than what everyone already knows: it’s an iPad with a bigger screen that supposedly is going to put some energy into the iPad lineup again. But aside from that, no clue. Who will they market it too? Will it have any major features that are missing in its smaller siblings? What’s the reason for its existence?

If they market it as an alternative to the Mac, they can price it similar to the MacBook somewhere in the 100€ range. If they still see iOS as a simpler OS that accompagnies the Mac, they should price it in the 799-999€ range.

But still, ignoring screen size, I really wonder how they are going to position this device in their line-up. Calling it a bigger iPad is a nice pun to how the original iPad was viewed, but it doesn’t really help the platform forward, doesn’t it?

Questions

  • What will the iPad Pro’s home screen look like? An 8×5 grid of apps? Or a giant 5×4 grid? Will we be able to split the home screen into two with launchpad on the right, spotlight and proactive on the left?
  • Does the iPad Pro use lightning? Or USB-C?
  • What? How? Why?

Apple Watch

I think they’ll finally release some numbers on Apple Watch sales, and they’ll quickly release (or replace?) a couple of new band-colors and bring out a rose gold Sport model to complete their line-up.

Software

Releasing watchOS 2 and iOS9 are a given, but I wonder what they’ll do with El Capitan. If the rumors of a single Fall event are true, they could announce an Octobre release date today, or just don’t mention it and release it with a press release later this month, accompagnied with iPhone launch results.

Apple is a hardware company. So today’s keynote will focus on the devices, with software — which they showed at WWDC — there to support their story.

Going to be fun night!

 

Pocket Recommendations

Pocket Recommendations

Pocket released a new feature last week: Pocket Recommendations. They’ll now present you with a list of recommended articles based on what you’ve saved to the service.

It’s a similar idea as For You in Apple Music: Based on what you listen to and heart, Apple Music presents you with playlists based on what it thinks you like. Similarly, Pocket shows you a variety of possibly interesting articles based on what you’ve already saved to the service.
I’ve been testing the new service for about a month and I have to say, they’re mostly spot on.They show me very few articles that are nowhere related to what I find interesting, and generally Pocket offers me subjects that I like. I get a bunch tech related articles, intertwined with Star Wars, comics and coffee topics.

pocket

Curation

There’s a lot of content online and finding those few good articles isn’t all that easy. To manage it I’ve created a sifting system that gives me two giant sources of news: Twitter, and a selection of RSS feeds in FeedWrangler sorted by topic via its Smart Streams.

I read or skim through most articles within either Twitterrific or Unread, and what ends up in Pocket are articles that are longer, that I want to read later, or that are complex topics I want to tackle later on: tutorials, reviews of new apps ,… Pocket really is where articles end up after I’ve already sorted through that giant avalanche of content.

Which creates an issue when they start offering content on their own: most of the stuff they offer that’s interesting, is stuff that I’ve already read outside of the app. Either as part of an RSS feed, or as a link in Twitter. Stuff that I did read now, as opposed to read it later.

Hide this content

When they offer me articles that I don’t like, it’s easy: each article has a close button that removes the article from the list, and asks you to tell the app why you hide it. This way the service gets trained to remove certain topics.

If an article is interesting, but you can’t read it right now, Pocket does what it does best: there’s an Save to Pocket button that saves the article to, you guessed it, Pocket. With extra bonuspoints for confirming to the service that yes, I did like it.

But than there’s option number three. What if you’ve already read the article somewhere else? Or what if you read the article right then and there within the app? There’s no mark as read option. The only way you can hide that article from the list is by either saving it to Pocket and archiving it, or pressing the close button and telling the app that you’ve already seen this kind of article. I really wonder why they didn’t add the same Archive button their service already has in the main section of the app.

Training it wrong

Curation is awesome when the best content for you appears front and center. But what’s even better is good content you’ve never seen before.

But I find clicking: hide this become I’ve seen it from the same menu as hide this because I don’t like it quite confusing.
Suppose Pocket thinks that since I tell them I’ve read the article already, they don’t need to offer me content from that source anymore. Because I clearly find that kind of content on my own.
In case of a Daring Fireball-article that’s probably true. But an obscure website focussing on a Ring Theory for Star Wars? Yes, I coincidentally saw that one already. But that doesn’t mean that’ll be the case next time.

They really should clarify what that option does. Does it mean: Thanks, I’ve seen this, please hide it? Or does it mean: No, don’t show this kind of article anymore, I find these on my own?
Option A is a positive confirmation that their algorithm works. Option B is training that same article that they did a bad job. All from clicking the same menu-option, but interpreting it differently.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but these kind of hidden recommendation engines can be annoying. I’ve seen it happen with Netflix, where the service shows me kids-movies after I forget to switch to a different profile when a friend’s little kid comes over. I’ve seen it happen with Apple Music where it suddenly shows me Flamenco-music in For You because I showed off the service of to my mother. And I’ve seen it happen on Amazon that shows me dozens of Powerline-adapters all of the sudden just because I looked for one once.

Apple Music tries to solve this issue by asking you to select a bunch of artists and genres in advance. But even so, these recommendation-services can get confused over time. And I don’t even dare to mention Twitter’s “you should follow these people”-emails.

Discovery

Aside from this little issue, I do love the idea of Recommendations. In a perfect world I wouldn’t even need RSS anymore if this service does what it promises. It offers me content, I confirm that I like or dislike it, and it offers me better suggestions next time. An auto-updating list of good stuff.

But the benefit of RSS is that I also glance at stuff that doesn’t interest me. It keeps my mind open. Sometimes seeing something you disagree with is more fun than seeing dozens of articles telling you that yes, Apple’s event will be on September 9.

AirPort Extreme Caching

AirPort Extreme Caching

Google released a Wifi router today, the Google OnHub. It’s a smart router that is, according to Google, easy to configure and fast.

There’s one tidbit in the overview that caught my attention though:

Plenty of room

OnHub has 4GB of storage space, so there’s plenty of room for auto-updates and the latest software features

I assume they mean: caching updates for the wireless router itself, but I find the phrasing weird. Why mention the amount of on-device storage for a Wifi router if they only use it for device updates? At first I thought they meant: caching updates for other devices, like Androids phones or Chromebooks, but 4GB of storage seems a bit low for that. 

  
Following that train of thought I ended up with the following concept: what if Apple’s Airports could cache user data similar to how OS X server caches data? 

Imagine a Wifi router created by Apple, that not only stores Time Machine backups for your Macs, but also caches OS X and iOS updates for all your devices, preloads App Store updates, and caches your iCloud data for faster restores in case of emergency or when you upgrade to a new iPhone?

Yes, OS X server already does this, but no regular user would touch that. But a router that’s already in plenty of homes, that does this out of the box? Not only would it “just work” but it would improve the everyday experience of so many users.  Not to mention decrease data usage for a multi-device family. 

Everyday Carry

Everyday Carry

(I’ve got to admit, this post is inspired by Cortex #2)

As a system administrator who needs to work on site at multiple locations, having a good everyday carry bag is a necessity. The bag needs to contain everything needed to do the job, but should also be light so carrying it around isn’t a burden.

My bag has seen a lot of variation over the years and the stuff I carry has moved from Firewire to Thunderbolt and from dock connector to lightning, but one thing has been stable: the bag contains cables to carry data, to power devices and to take notes.

I consider the bag a Go-bag, which means that, aside from my Mac, there’s nothing in the bag I need to use at home, or need to use at the office when I’m at my desk. Both my desk and my home have all the necessary cables and hard drives available so that what’s in the bag is used exclusively when I’m on the road. Thanks to this, chances of forgetting something at home or at the office that I need while working on another locations are practically zero.

Here’s a list of my everyday carry:

Devices

  • MacBook Pro Retina 13″: in my opinion this is the best Mac Apple has ever made. It’s powerful (thanks to its 2.8Ghz and 16GB RAM), light and has a wonderful battery life. The battery life is so good, I don’t even have a charger in my bag these days. Although the fact that every location I visit for work is an Apple Store with multiple chargers availably may also be a part of that equation.
  • iPhone 6 Plus: there’s also an ultra-light everyday carry version of my bag: it’s the iPhone in my left-front pocket. I can leave the bag at home if I want to. But I never leave without my iPhone.

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Stuff

  • Earplugs: custom made for my ears and perfect in noisy environments like server-rooms or trains.
  • Pencil: It’s one of the best styluses I’ve tried and I use FiftyThree’s Paper a lot to draw schemes or sketch out a setup.
  • 256GB Hard Drive: this SSD drive contains installers for recent versions of OS X, combo updates, iOS installers, and all other software I need on a daily basis. I update it every month with the newest available updates. Encrypted. Naturally.
  • 32GB SanDisk USB Stick: this little USB 3 drive also contains Bootable OS X installers and an OS X Diagnostic Image. It’s a bit redundant since I already have the hard drive but it’s so small I still carry it with me.
  • Screwdriver with different heads for server racks, hard drives and Macs.
  • PowerBeats Wireless Headphones: great sound, acceptable battery life and did I mention: wireless?
  • Adapters: Thunderbolt to Ethernet, Thunderbolt to Firewire, Lightning to HDMI, Lightning to USB, Magsafe 2 Adapter, Apple Power Adapter 12W. I put them in a separate little bag for easy retrieval.
  • Mophie Powerstation XL: It can recharge an iPhone seven times before it runs out of juice. And the micro-usb cable not only charges the battery pack itself, it also charges my Beats and iPhone via Apple’s micro-usb adapter.
  • Cables: Flat CAT6 Cable, USB 3 cable, Thunderbolt cable, lightning cable, Apple Watch charging cable.
    I hope Apple someday will release an Apple Watch charger that just connects as an adapter to a regular micro-usb cable, spares me another cable..
  • Field Notes: Even in a digital era analog notes are useful. It comes with two black pens.
  • Business cards
  • Stupid little two factor bank authentication tool
  • 20€ note, for emergencies
  • 60cl water bottle

IMG_0583The Bag

The bag is an Ugmonk messenger bag. I bought it almost two years ago and I haven’t used another bag since.

It has two big internal compartments —one for the Mac, one for most of the accessories—, two smaller internal compartments I use for cables and the hard drive, and a section at the back that contains paper and pens. It’s waterproof and very sturdy and although it’s beginning to show some serious wear and tear I don’t see me changing to something else in the near future.