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.

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.

That’s just not what “is the new” means

I know I’m the last and prob­a­bly least sig­nif­i­cant per­son to weigh in on this, but this “Safari is the New IE” arti­cle that I did­n’t read when it came out three months ago has been tucked away in the back of my mind since then, and I’ve final­ly put my fin­ger on the sim­ple rea­son it both­ers me.

[M]y point was to com­pare Safari to IE in terms of 1) not keep­ing up with new stan­dards, 2) main­tain­ing a cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy, and 3) play­ing a monop­o­lis­tic role, by not allow­ing oth­er ren­der­ing engines on iOS. Those accu­sa­tions are pret­ty unde­ni­able.


Per­son­al­ly what I want out of this whole debate is for Apple to real­ize that the web is start­ing to move on with­out them, and that their weird iso­la­tion­ism and glacial release cycle are not going to win them any favors in this new, dynam­ic web com­mu­ni­ty.

First of all, what does it mean to “be an Inter­net Explor­er”? What did Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent? A monop­oly, sure, to con­sumers and cor­po­rate attor­neys from the 1990s. “A cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy”? Maybe, though that’s not what comes to my mind. It also had a blue icon and a six-syl­la­ble name, but these are acci­dents — they’re not what Inter­net Explor­er was.

What Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent­ed to web devel­op­ers, the bulk of that arti­cle’s audi­ence, is not a pop­u­lar brows­er lag­ging behind mod­ern stan­dards, but a pop­u­lar brows­er egre­gious­ly dis­obey­ing estab­lished stan­dards. There is no Safari equiv­a­lent (that I know of, and almost cer­tain­ly not as sig­nif­i­cant) as, say, IE’s dou­ble-mar­gin bug. Every web devel­op­er who’s wres­tled with IE has tear­ful­ly ref­er­enced Explor­er Exposed! and QuirksMode for the sixth time in a week, their links in Google’s results seem­ing an even deep­er pur­ple than oth­ers. Every web devel­op­er has har­bored a sense of loom­ing dread as they glee­ful­ly devel­op in Chrome and Fire­fox, know­ing that there will soon be the reck­on­ing of hav­ing to fix what­ev­er IE bugs they’re will­ful­ly ignor­ing, but for right now it feels so good not to have to write ter­ri­ble, hacky code to sup­port a ten-year-old brows­er, and maybe my boss will announce tomor­row that we offi­cial­ly don’t sup­port IE 6 any­more?

This, I think, is where the back­lash comes from. “Devel­op­ing for Safari” is bare­ly a thing. “Devel­op­ing for IE” was hell. To see the two com­pared in — yes — a click­baity way is mad­den­ing.

If Apple makes a watch

I don’t claim to be any kind of Apple pun­dit, but I have some hunch­es about what their watch will be like if and when they release one.

The two fac­tors I see as being vital are price and sim­plic­i­ty.


The Galaxy Gear starts at $299, which is a lot more, I think, than the aver­age per­son (i.e., non-Android zealots) are will­ing to spend on a watch that they have to charge every night. A suc­cess­ful watch, one that gets into the hands of mil­lions of peo­ple, will have to be clos­er to the “Apple impulse buy” price of the iPods Nano — at most $249, but I think they could do it for $199. (The Peb­ble E Ink watch is $150.) To reach that price point, an Apple watch will lack, for instance, a cam­era and a speak­er, which are includ­ed in the Galaxy Gear.

Con­tin­ue →

Random Really Drunk Guy

From Giz­mo­do:

The per­son who even­tu­al­ly end­ed up with the lost iPhone was sit­ting next to Pow­ell. He was drink­ing with a friend too. He noticed Pow­ell on the stool next to him but did­n’t think twice about him at the time. Not until Pow­ell had already left the bar, and a ran­dom real­ly drunk guy—who’d been sit­ting on the oth­er side of Powell—returned from the bath­room to his own stool.

The Ran­dom Real­ly Drunk Guy point­ed at the iPhone sit­ting on the stool, the pre­cious pro­to­type left by the young Apple engi­neer.

Hey man, is that your iPhone?” asked Ran­dom Real­ly Drunk Guy.

Hmmm, what?” replied the per­son who end­ed up with the iPhone. “No, no, it isn’t mine.”

Ooooh, I guess it’s your friend’s then,” refer­ring to a friend who at the time was in the bath­room. “Here, take it,” said the Ran­dom Real­ly Drunk Guy, hand­ing it to him. “You don’t want to lose it.” After that, the Ran­dom Real­ly Drunk Guy also left the bar.

I have a pret­ty strong sus­pi­cion that this “Real­ly Ran­dom Drunk Guy” is a fab­ri­ca­tion of the guy who found the iPhone — “I did­n’t pick it up; it was hand­ed to me.”

Macbook Wheel Predictive Sentence Technology

The aard­vark admit­ted its fault.
The aard­vark admit­ted it was wrong.
The aard­vark asked for an aard­vark.
The aard­vark asked for a dag­ger.
The aard­vark asked for health.
The aard­vark asked for a ride.
The absinthe arrived by air­mail.
The abor­tion went well.
The actor asked for an aard­vark.
The actor asked for absti­nence.
The actor asked for redemp­tion.
The adver­tise­ment was effec­tive.
The agile aard­vark arrived by air­mail.
The agile aard­vark bathed with beau­ties.
The agri­cul­ture was cul­ti­vat­ed by the coral.
The aggra­vat­ed dri­ver beeped on his horn.
The aggra­vat­ed roost­er scratched the dirt.
The Althusser­ian schol­ar gave his copy of Lacan’s “Ecrits” to the
abor­tion doc­tor.
The ami­able Althusser­ian schol­ar asked the aard­vark for absinthe.
The ami­able croc­o­dile brushed his teeth with a tooth­brush.
The ami­able doc­tor per­formed the oper­a­tion admirably.
The annex was cov­ered with asbestos.
The annex was crawl­ing with bee­tles.
The apple was air­mailed by the doc­tor.
The apple was con­sumed by the ami­able croc­o­dile.
The apple was inquir­ing about the ami­able croc­o­dile’s friend.
The aqua­ma­rine lifevest was not used.
The aqua­ma­rine lifevest was unpop­u­lar.
The arm­chair was uncom­fort­able.
The arm­chair was favored by the ami­able house­cat.
The ass asked for a bet­ter absinthe.
The ass brayed at the moon.
The assump­tive doc­tor did not accept our per­son­al check.
The assump­tive agri­cul­tur­al expert eyed our absinthe sus­pi­cious­ly.
The attrac­tive peanut farmer grad­ed the term paper.
The attrac­tive roost­er preened its feath­ers to attract absinthe.
The aux­il­iary gen­er­a­tor has mal­func­tioned!
The awning cov­ered the agile aard­vark dur­ing the ami­able rain­storm.
The awning was too tall to touch.
The bab­bling baby asked the aard­vark for some absinthe.
The bab­bling baby baked brown­ies with the ami­able croc­o­dile.
The bab­bling baby basked in its moth­er’s affec­tion.
The bab­bling baby bounced the ball at the bab­bling brook.

Alphabetization Is Not Fit for Music Libraries

Wikipedi­a’s arti­cle on alpha­bet­i­za­tion explains:

Advan­tages of sort­ed lists include:

  • one can eas­i­ly find the first n ele­ments (e.g. the 5 small­est coun­tries) and the last n ele­ments (e.g. the 3 largest coun­tries)
  • one can eas­i­ly find the ele­ments in a giv­en range (e.g. coun­tries with an area between .. and .. square km)
  • one can eas­i­ly search for an ele­ment, and con­clude whether it is in the list

The first two advan­tages are things you almost nev­er need to do with music libraries. And the third has been sup­plant­ed by now-ubiq­ui­tous search box­es: if you know what you’re look­ing for, you search; and if you don’t, an alpha­bet­ized list is not the way to find it.

Web vision­ary Ted Nel­son (<mst3k>Dr. Ted Nelson?</mst3k>) has been para­phrased as point­ing out that “elec­tron­ic doc­u­ments have been designed to mim­ic their paper antecedents,” and that “this is where every­thing went wrong: elec­tron­ic doc­u­ments could and should behave entire­ly dif­fer­ent­ly from paper ones.” If the fold­er metaphor is inad­e­quate for dig­i­tal doc­u­ments, no won­der it’s so piti­ful at han­dling music. The prox­im­i­ty between pieces of music in a library should least of all be based on the first let­ter in a band’s name – it’s as arbi­trary as sort­ing them by the vocal­ist’s month of birth – yet this is how it’s uni­ver­sal­ly done.

Music library orga­ni­za­tion needs to be re-thought from the ground up. We need to con­sid­er how it is that peo­ple used to lis­ten to music before it was all on their iTunes. How are your CDs orga­nized (or dis­or­ga­nized) on your shelf? How are they orga­nized in your head? What is it that prompts you to lis­ten to what you lis­ten to when you lis­ten to it? And how can we use com­put­ers to adopt and enhance these ways of think­ing, rather than forc­ing us to think like com­put­ers? Con­tin­ue →