Tag: Apple

Game Center switching on tvOS 14: Who’s doing this?

Here’s a small thing that nobody cares about but me, because nobody “games” on the Apple TV:

tvOS 14 promised Game Center switching for when you have multiple Apple TV users, so different users’ progress can be saved and loaded separately. What I didn’t know until running the beta is that games have to opt in to this, so games don’t have it by default.

I would expect that Apple Arcade games would all support this flagship feature of tvOS 14 (insofar as tvOS can have “flagship features”), but none of them that I have seems to support it yet. Are they all just going to drop updates today to support Game Center switching?

If so, that’s kind of crazy and weird last-minute timing. If not, that means Apple’s subscription gaming service won’t support one of the most important gaming features on Apple TV.

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How to have Siri read articles to you

On a drive recently and wanting to listen to a longform article over BlueTooth, I considered my options.

Apple News has a great new human-read audio service, but only for select articles.

There have been a half dozen human-read news apps that came to (and sometimes went from) the App Store in the last few years, but their library of content is often small — Noa and Listle, to name a couple.

Instapaper and Pocket can “read” articles with generated speech, but the quality of the speech isn’t great.

I remembered the impressive demo of the new Siri voice at the iOS 13 keynote and thought it’d be cool if Siri could read an article to me. I said, “Hey Siri, read this article to me,” with no luck.

But there’s an unobtrusive accessibility setting you can activate that will allow you to trigger Siri reading any web content.

In “Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content,” turn on “Speak Screen.” Then in “Voices,” download one of the “Siri” voices, which should be better than the default “Samantha.”

Now, when you’re viewing an article in Safari, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen, and Siri will start reading the article, even with variable speed. It’s not perfect, but it’s better and even easier than the third-party options I’ve found.

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Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video

I love these videos, where Apple showcases its fantasies for what a fully Apple-ified life looks like. (I’m reminded of this Martin Scorcese/Siri commercial from 2012.) I’m also fascinated by production design and the small easter eggs hidden in stuff like this. And I like watching people…be productive? It’s weird I know.

I imagine the purpose is to pull all of Apple’s devices and features out of the abstract and into something resembling a real-life context, so that you can more easily say, “Oh that would make things easier/better/faster/cooler for me.”

So here’s some stuff I noticed:

Continue reading “Observations on Apple’s “The whole working-from-home thing” video”

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What if the iPad trackpad is for focus, too?

I’ve been thinking about the rumored iPad trackpad lately, and find myself having thoughts along the same lines as Dieter Bohn, namely that adding a cursor to the iPad would be a step backwards. Not only would it inherently invalidate and derail the current path of the touch computing paradigm, it could lead to lazy development of iPad apps that employ “touch targets” that are at too fine a scale for actual touch. Slapping an arrow cursor onto the iPad is a cop out. The addition of mouse support for accessibility is great, for accessibility, and importantly that addition doesn’t mimic a traditional cursor.

Bohn suggests that the trackpad would be useful even if just for text manipulation, but I think it could go further. Multi-finger gestures, of course, for accessing slideover and expose, for instance; but as I heard Federico Viticci point out that there is no “focus engine” in iPadOS as there is in tvOS, it occurred to me that maybe the trackpad could perform this function, too. Apps on the Apple TV can’t respond to touch, of course, so everything is handled with the remote’s touchpad moving focus around. Would this be a useful addition to iPadOS, giving users the ability to “tap” touch targets without removing their hands from the keyboard?

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If it’s not an RSS feed, it’s not a podcast

Recently a podcast I like “moved to Spotify,” which is the only place it can now be heard. A couple weeks ago I was recommended a podcast that sounded interesting, but it turned out to be exclusive to the Luminary “podcast network.”

These are not podcasts. It’s not a matter of being behind a paywall (though Spotify’s aren’t, as far as I know); subscription fees aren’t antithetical to podcasting (though they may be technically challenging).

A podcast is a text file, an XML or JSON outline, that points a podcast player to a list of episodes. The podcast is indifferent to the thing downloading it, and the player is indifferent to the thing hosting it. Anything else isn’t a podcast — it’s just an audio show.

The term “podcast” has long outgrown its etymology as “something you play on your iPod,” but it’s nevertheless notable that these new “podcasts” cannot even be played on an iPod, other than an iPod Touch with a WiFi connection.

If I can’t listen to it on my iPod Nano, it’s not a podcast.

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The Problem with Apple as Creator and Curator

I haven’t watched much at all of Apple TV+’s content, so this isn’t about whether their shows are good or not. Hell, they’re winning Emmys after all.

One thing I used to love about the Roku is that it had no incentive to make you watch one thing over another. There was no “Roku store,” so its makers weren’t motivated to put paid content front-and-center in the UI.

I gave that up once I switched to Apple TV, but I knew that, although Apple was incentivized to encourage me to watch things that I could buy or rent through them, at least it wasn’t directing me toward specific things for that reason; Apple doesn’t care whether I rent Barton Fink or Transformers, as long as I rent it from Apple (and their library is extensive).

I love the TV app for its “Up Next” section, reminding me what I want to watch and where I left off. I even like the remaining rows, highlighting content that is either being talked about (recent award winners, for instance, or big shows that are ending soon), or that is positively reviewed, or that is similar to things I’ve expressed interest in in the past. With so much to watch these days, it’s nice to have different ways for content to be surfaced.

On the other hand are Amazon’s and Netflix’s UIs, which lately seem to almost exclusively show you content produced by them, to encourage you to stay in their ecosystems. The “home page” of the Netflix app has got to be one of the most valuable advertising spaces on earth, and they take advantage of that. (See: Birdbox.)

But unfortunately what has tainted the Amazon and Netflix UIs is now a problem on Apple TV, for two reasons: Apple TV Channels and Apple TV+.

Because Apple TV Channels is limited to a small handful of networks — CBS, AMC, HBO, etc. — Apple is strongly incentivized to promote shows from those networks to encourage me to subscribe to them through Apple. And with original content being produced for Apple TV+, they’re also incentivized to recommend their own shows to me, sometimes with an entire row of content in the UI.

This destroys what trust I once had in the content curation. It would be naive to think the recommendations weren’t at all previously motivated by sales, but now when I see an Apple TV+ or CBS show highlighted, I know it’s effectively no different from an ad. They would recommend “The Morning Show” to me whether or not it was good.

I almost wish they had an “editorial department” who curated the contents of the TV app and were not beholden to the other teams at Apple whatsoever.

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Apple Arcade: Games That Won’t Piss You Off

This holiday I’ve been traveling to spend the week visiting some of my family, including four of my nieces and nephews. My youngest niece is 10 and I thought she’d like sitting on the couch solving some kind of puzzle-y iPad game with me. I went to Apple Arcade and downloaded Tint, which I’d never played before.

The experience of playing Tint really made apparent the difference in playing an Apple Arcade game versus virtually any other game on the App Store. Playing it was almost uncanny — the genre it represents as a geometry-based puzzle game is the kind of thing that absolutely floods the App Store and shows you unskippable 30-second ads for tower defense games between levels. Even games within this genre that do cost a buck or two up front will likely have some forms of in-app purchases, for rubies, gems, in-game hints, extra levels, etc. I kept expecting the gameplay to be interrupted by something ugly, loud, or obnoxious, but it never happened.

There are plenty of poor Apple Arcade games, but they’re poor in ways that other games in the App Store aren’t — in a shortcoming of gameplay design, artwork, or execution, rather than in a disrespect for the value of customers’ time and money. These games feel as though they were made by people, not by cheap puzzle-generating algorithms, copycats, or fly-by-night App Store flooding.

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No, your iPhone is not listening to you

There’s a lot of FUD going around about your phone listening to everything you say and selling that data to advertisers. This is wildly and irresponsibly misleading.

I can’t speak for Android phones because those things are the Wild West of APIs and outdated OSes and malware, so use Android phones at your own risk.

Here is the claim being made, in short:

Any third-party (non-Apple) app you have installed on your iPhone can record and remotely save conversations taking place within earshot of your iPhone, even when the app isn’t running (in the foreground or in the background), and even when the phone is sleeping.

This is patently false. Third-party iOS apps can only record audio when they are running in the foreground or running in the background, and only if you have given them permission to do so. And even if you have granted microphone access to the Facebook app, for instance, if you “kill” Facebook by swiping up on it in the app switcher, Facebook is quit and can no longer access the microphone in any way.

Further, when third-party apps are using the microphone, there is a big red bar with a microphone icon at the top of the screen of your phone in the status bar. There is as far as I know no way for developers to prevent this from appearing.

In other words, in order for any third-party app to “listen to you” through your iPhone:

  1. That app must be running, either in the foreground or the background.
  2. You must have explicitly granted that app permission to access your microphone.
  3. There will be a red microphone icon at the top of your screen.

If any of those three things haven’t happened or aren’t happening, then that app is not listening to you.


How do I explain, then, all the anecdotal evidence that ads for certain products show up after people start shouting about mattresses into their phones?

First, this is anecdotal and cannot be trusted. Nobody behind these articles has even tried to monitor what domains are being pinged by their router in an attempt to determine where all these recordings are secretly being sent.

Second, if you come up with a random product category, and especially if that category is mattresses (!!! The most advertised internet thing there is!), and you only start to notice ads for that product category after you’ve begun whispering the phrase, then this is likely a failing of your perception. We are all way, way more blind than we realize and filter out 99% of our surroundings. If you say “I swear I never saw an ad for t-shirts before this!,” that is a completely unreliable claim.

Third, advertisers already know tons and tons about you just from your browsing habits. They don’t need to listen through your phone’s microphone. Facebook and Google already know every site you visit as well as in what things the people in your demographic are interested and probably talking about with you and your friends.

All this anecdotal evidence is coincidental.

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