Dear Apple: it’s time to steal an idea from Google for your iOS App Store

Apple says iTunes 12.7 has been “updated to focus on music, films, TV programmes, podcasts and audiobooks”. In other words, the iOS App Store is dead on desktop. The only remnants are iTunes Preview pages for apps, which can be viewed in a browser.

The lack of a desktop component for iOS apps means some things are now impossible. You cannot browse the iOS App Store on the desktop, download and manage local copies of apps (to, for example, later reinstall apps that are no longer available), redeem promo codes on a Mac, install apps to your devices from macOS, nor queue them for later if you’re tight for space.

Google Play’s approach at least manages to do some of these things. You can browse the entirety of Google Play from Safari, and buy/install apps, choosing which of your Android devices to send them to.

Google has always been more comfortable with the internet than Apple, and in this area Apple now falls short. If I’m reading about great iOS apps or games on my PC or Mac, I can no longer quickly grab them in iTunes, and later download them to my iOS devices. There’s not even a wish-list option. I now have to send myself a link, or switch to an iOS device. (Also, some apps are device-specific, and I still can’t buy an iPad app from an iPhone, which is absurd.)

Apple should steal an idea from Google. It should be possible to buy apps directly from iTunes Preview, and choose where to send them. Better: iTunes Preview should grow to become the entire iOS App Store online, giving greater visibility to apps, and freeing browsing and buying them from the confines of iOS.

The other downsides of iTunes losing the App Store are likely permanent losses. Apple doesn’t want you making local app archives. Apple doesn’t want you installing old apps that may have compatibility and security issues. Apple does, though, want your money – and having a web-based take on the App Store would further that goal.

September 18, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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New iPhone to be a load of old poomaji?

With MacRumors recently revealing the new iPhone will include Animoji, emoji that animate and respond to the user’s facial expressions, quite a few people have lost their minds. This, they say (once again) is proof Apple is doomed and cannot innovate. It’s a stupid feature that no-one needs. Apparently, it signifies that nothing of note will ever happen to the iPhone again.

The real problem is people don’t get excited about incremental upgrades, and therefore ignore the reality that smartphones are actually barrelling along in terms of upgrades and technology. Look at the quality of highish-end Android displays compared to what you got a few years back. Compare the camera hardware/software combination in the latest iPhone to anything that existed two generations back. These are big leaps but people just don’t see them, because they’re not the kind of quantum leap we saw with the original iPhone – which will never happen again (unless the iPhone 25 is injected directly into your cranium).

As for Animoji, I personally couldn’t give a fig about them. But this kind of humanisation of technology is popular. Quite a few apps already attempt to map things on to your face. ARKit on iOS will make that so much easier for developers, and enable much richer experiences. Will most of them end up being throwaway gimmicks? Probably. But some may turn out to be genuinely useful. Naturally, it still won’t be enough for people who can’t take a few steps back and see just how far technology has come over the past year, let alone the previous ten.

September 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Relying on smartphones is the opposite of future-proofing

I’ve written several times about the impending appocalypse. If you’ve not heard, 32-bit apps are dead as of iOS 11. They simply won’t open. This will consign many great iOS apps and games to oblivion.

Fortunately, many games have been updated since the issue became widely known, including Osmos, Beat Sneak Bandit, Mos Speedrun, and the original Reckless Racing, but a recent TidBITS piece by Marc Zeedar flagged another important issue regarding swathes of apps ceasing to function:

Worst of all, some of my obsolete apps are linked to hardware. For instance, years ago I bought a toy car that’s controlled via an app on my iPhone. That app is on my obsolete list. When it goes, the car is useless.

For Stuff magazine, I recently reviewed smart robot Cozmo and Sphero’s R2-D2. Both are very good – I was particularly taken by the former – but both are also totally reliant on smartphones to function, to the point that they stop working the second you close their controller apps.

It’s curious to think that as technology evolves, and companies furiously try to interlink everything, we’re setting ourselves up to make so much technology obsolete. At some point in the future, these controller apps will simply stop working, after an OS update. Then Artoo and Cozmo will be little more than paperweights.

You could of course keep an old device specifically as a controller for a favourite, but it’s sad to think we’re zooming away from electronic toys a child might one day be able to share with their own children. And that’s all before we start thinking about smartphones and apps being vital for critical aspects of a home, such as security, lighting, heating, and dealing with appliances.

Still, I’m sure it’s all worth it to not have to get off of your arse to turn on a light.

September 6, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Drag and dropped

I have two Macs. My reasoning behind this is I try to keep one for work and one for regular reinstallation. After all, when you review a huge number of apps, some of which worm their way into the operating system, you occasionally need to nuke from orbit. Because of this, I’ve only just upgraded my main work Mac to macOS Sierra, which I now use daily rather than specifically when writing about new Mac apps. And it turns out that either my installations of Sierra are broken, or Apple’s had a massive brain fart.

If you use a Mac, chances are you use Photos. It merrily sucks in all the stuff you shoot on iOS devices, providing a central repository for pics, videos and screen grabs. Lovely. Except that on macOS Sierra, you don’t appear to be able to drag and drop a photo on to a Dock icon, in order to open it in another app. That’s right: Apple has managed to fundamentally break one of the key aspects of the entire Mac experience. To which I ask: does anyone actually test these things? (Or is this another aspect of ‘courage’, like dropping the headphone jack?)

 

May 15, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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iCloud: iClod (and iCouldn’t)

I have an ongoing battle with iCloud. Every now and again, I’ll be informed I’ve run out of space, and I’ll attempt to prune my back-ups. Naturally, Apple would rather I just buy more space, but I’m stubborn. Also, I don’t like paying for a system where management is opaque, fiddly, and doesn’t always work; and I don’t like splashing out something where it’s impossible to figure out where the storage is used. (Right now, I have about 10 GB of space that’s unaccounted for. From what I can tell, this is commonplace with iCloud Drive.)

iCloud is deeply unimpressive in other ways, too. On deleting stored content, there’s no guarantee the system will recognise this. It appears to cache data about available space, and then sometimes loses it completely. At the time of writing, my Mac is erroneously stating I have 49.96 GB available, despite my iPhone and iPad both saying I have 0 bytes from 50 GB to use.

But the worst bit of all this is in how Apple has chosen to assign space on iCloud. Things like Notes are not prioritised in any way. So all of that lovely cross-device Apple seamlessness goes away the second you run out of space. You’re held hostage to opaque back-ups – unless you decide to stop backing up. And then woe betide you should something go wrong with your device.

I know it’s only a few quid a month for the next tier of iCloud, but that’s still a few quid I’m loathe to spend. Also, plenty of people simply cannot spare that kind of money. I’m sure for Apple execs earning millions, they don’t understand why people push back against what they consider a service that offers great value. But really Apple needs to look again at iCloud.

Why when you pay for an upgrade to a new tier does your original free 5 GB vanish (unlike, say, with Dropbox)? Why when you buy a new device is your original 5 GB of free space not bumped up a little, as a thank-you for you buying new hardware? And, most importantly, why doesn’t iCloud actually work properly, when it comes to storage management and figuring out how much space you have available? Given that Dropbox can tell me this instantly across every single platform it’s running on, it’s a bit poor that iCloud can’t.

May 3, 2017. Read more in: Apple

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