A response to Theresa May’s letter to EU citizens

Theresa May has written to EU citizens. Well, I say written to EU citizens. It’s worth delving into the letter, so you can see precisely the way this government thinks.

As I travel to Brussels today, I know that many people will be looking to us – the leaders of the 28 nations in the European Union – to demonstrate we are putting people first.

As she travels to Brussels today, it’s worth noting she sent this letter to the press first, to get decent PR at home, only later sending it to the people it’s addressed to. As for putting people first, she’s right there if she means Brexiters and/or her government. Not so much EU citizens, whose rights she could have unilaterally guaranteed last year.

I have been clear throughout this process that citizens’ rights are my first priority.

As many commentators have noted, the use of ‘clear’ usually means the opposite.

And I know my fellow leaders have the same objective: to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.

In the UK’s case, by removing existing rights, and also by refusing to guarantee even the right to reside in the event the UK leaves the EU with no deal.

I want to give reassurance that this issue remains a priority, that we are united on the key principles, and that the focus over the weeks to come will be delivering an agreement that works for people here in the UK, and people in the EU.

Reassurance means nothing. These are empty words. EU citizens have been living in limbo since the referendum. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate: many thousands have already decided to the leave the UK, taking their skills, taxes and families (often including British nationals) with them.

When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips.

Apart from Liam Fox. Although May is technically accurate here, because he referred to them as cards in a poker hand rather than bargaining chips. Much better!

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Oops. Actually, almost everything is further from the truth. See above.

EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK have made a huge contribution to our country.

Which May, her cronies, and the British press continue on a daily basis to erode in people’s minds, by positioning EU citizens as simultaneously taking all the jobs that ‘should’ go to British people, and taking all the benefits they can possibly carry in their gnarled and evil EU citizen claws.

And we want them and their families to stay.

Except her government is continuing to push against family reunion rights, and is looking towards ‘equalising’ how migration works regarding the abhorrent income barrier (if you don’t earn over £18,600, bye); also, Amber Rudd helpfully noted that “maybe” those EU citizens who are unemployed won’t be able to stay. So the inference is even the unemployed spouse of an employed person here (British, EU or other) won’t necessarily be able to remain in the UK – despite May saying she wants them to.

The language is important here – as with a lot of Brexit guff, it’s about aspiration, rather than actions.

I couldn’t be clearer: EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.

Lawfully.

But this agreement will not only provide certainty about residence, but also healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system – and UK nationals into the system of an EU27 country – can benefit from what they’ve put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together in the EU and UK to stay together. And it will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK will not diverge over time.

An entire paragraph of not awful. Hurrah! Although this all depends on the caveats already mentioned – and those I suspect are about to come. (I’m reading this for the first time now, by the way. Here’s hoping for exciting shock twists and a happy ending. I’m going to be disappointed, aren’t I?)

What that leaves us with is a small number of important points to finalise. That is to be expected at this point in negotiations. We are in touching distance of agreement. I know both sides will consider each other’s proposals for finalising the agreement with an open mind.

Probably accurate, if you mean “will approach the proposals with venom, and throw up roadblocks much like a cat spewing hairballs all over the carpet”. (The EU’s not perfect here either, note. The one actually quite smart thing the UK’s suggested – dropping a two-year maximum absence from the UK to retain settled status, for Brits in the EU to retain free movement within the EU – was spurned.)

And with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens’ rights in the coming weeks.

Meaning: do what we want, or we will have the press say failure is entirely your fault for being inflexible in not bending to our every whim.

I know there is real anxiety about how the agreement will be implemented.

But don’t care.

People are concerned that the process will be complicated and bureaucratic, and will put up hurdles that are difficult to overcome.

Probably because existing processes are unnecessarily complicated and bureaucratic, and put up hurdles that are difficult to overcome.

I want to provide reassurance here too.

Here we go.

We are developing a streamlined digital process

Because those never go wrong in the UK.

for those applying for settled status in the UK in the future. This process will be designed with users in mind,

As opposed to, say, people who aren’t using it.

and we will engage with them every step of the way.

COMPUTER SAYS NO.

We will keep the cost as low as possible – no more than the cost of a UK passport.

An actually good thing. Although I’m hoping this means people applying from scratch; otherwise, it goes against an earlier suggestion that moving from PR to settled status wouldn’t cost anything.

The criteria applied will be simple, transparent and strictly in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. People applying will not have to account for every trip they have taken in and out of the UK and will no longer have to demonstrate Comprehensive Sickness Insurance as they currently have to under EU rules.

There’s disagreement about CSI, but legal experts on Twitter have told me that either the UK could drop CSI as a block to PR right now, or at least remove the existing requirement. The EU’s long contended anyone with access to the NHS qualifies for CSI. But the UK Home Office disagrees, which means many EU citizens seeking PR (required for citizenship) do not qualify unless they have comprehensive sickness insurance.

The snag: almost no-one knew about this, and the Home Office helpfully doesn’t explain the specifics of what qualifies for CSI. So it’s a lottery of sorts, and an intentional block, to stop people who haven’t been working for the past five years from being able to stay.

The British government could change this right now, but chooses not to. Bear that in mind when you hear May and co. banging on about wanting people to stay. Again, the inference is “we want people to stay who make us money”. Anyone else is considered collateral damage. This kind of thinking isn’t smart, though, because that damage is poor for society as a whole, affecting social webs, carers and the like, and impacting heavily on families.

And importantly, for any EU citizen who holds Permanent Residence under the old scheme, there will be a simple process put in place to swap their current status for UK settled status.

File under: will believe it when I see it.

To keep development of the system on track, the Government is also setting up a User Group that will include representatives of EU citizens in the UK, and digital, technical and legal experts. This group will meet regularly, ensuring the process is transparent and responds properly to users’ needs. And we recognise that British nationals living in the EU27 will be similarly concerned about potential changes to processes after the UK leaves the EU. We have repeatedly flagged these issues during the negotiations. And we are keen to work closely with EU Member States to ensure their processes are equally streamlined.

OK.

We want people to stay and we want families to stay together.

Assuming you earn enough, that everyone’s in work, and that you can jump through enough hoops.

We hugely value the contributions that EU nationals make to the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK.

Enough to leave them in limbo for a year and a half.

And I know that Member States value equally UK nationals living in their communities. I hope that these reassurances, alongside those made by both the UK and the European Commission last week, will provide further helpful certainty to the four million people who were understandably anxious about what Brexit would mean for their futures.

Nope.

Oh, and a quick PS to Theresa May and her government colleagues: are you even aware that EEA and Swiss nationals are in the UK on the same free movement rules? Given that you never mention them in your hot air letters, I suspect not.

October 19, 2017. Read more in: Politics

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One Home Screen on Apple TV – one big pain in the backside

When making major changes to how devices work, it’s important to not foist them on users – and to at least enable reversion should someone not like something. The new Apple TV OS, tvOS 11, failed for me on both counts.

I have two Apple TVs: one is in the office, used as a ‘review’ device for my app and game round-ups; the other’s in the living room, and used primarily for watching telly.

On turning on the living room Apple TV recently, I was surprised to see its intentionally stripped-down Home screen suddenly littered with dozens of games and apps. It turns out it had implemented One Home Screen, a new Apple TV feature that syncs Home screens across your devices.

This was mildly irritating. What pushed it over the edge into bafflingly stupid was when I turned this feature off, all the ‘new’ apps and games remained. And if you know how much of a pain in the backside it is to remove tvOS apps, you’ll know the next half hour wasn’t exactly a thrill ride.

Perhaps this was a glitch, but I’d have much preferred a dialog box to confirm the sync, rather than the Apple TV wrongly assuming I wanted One Home Screen on, and merrily doing what it wanted all by itself.

October 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple TV 4K and why Apple needs to realise some markets are a race to the bottom

Many people don’t get Apple pricing. They note rival devices are significantly cheaper, and so Apple should ‘compete’ by lowering prices accordingly. Instead, Apple shoots for the high end of the market, grabs most of the profits, and leaves everyone else fighting for scraps.

Mostly, this works. In tablets, there’s simply no competition if you want a device for more than the odd bit of gaming, Netflix and web browsing. Even premium Android tablets are hampered by an app ecosystem that rarely rises above mediocre.

In smartphones, desktops and notebooks, competition is stronger, but even there Apple often wins out through a combination of build quality, software, and services. For many people, for example, you’re only going to prise a device that supports Messages out of their cold, dead hands.

Television is different. Despite Apple’s hopes that the future of television would be apps, the reality is most people use their telly boxes to watch stuff. Although decent apps and games exist for Apple TV, what I hear from developers is sales aren’t stellar (to put it mildly), and most users are gawping at the latest shows and movies rather than battling it out in virtual worlds, or having their telly demand they do more sit-ups.

This presents a problem for Apple, because success in this area largely rests on TV networks and channels supporting your hardware – and that only comes when enough eyes are along for the ride. In the UK, the pickings are slim when it comes to major players. Beyond Netflix and YouTube, you’ve got a BBC iPlayer app that seems to have stumbled in from 2015, and that’s vastly under-featured compared to the app on Android and Amazon boxes. And then there’s the ongoing farce that is NOW TV, a third-generation Apple TV app that’s lurching about like a zombie, desperate to be put out of its misery. Amazon Video’s supposedly showing up at some point, but isn’t here yet. And other major broadcasters like Channel 4 and ITV are entirely absent despite releasing apps for rival boxes and smart TVs.

One strategy with Apple TV would have been – in an un-Apple manner – to go all-in for the mainstream. Fill that little black box full of amazing technology, and an interface far beyond the competition – but price it to grab marketshare.

Instead, Apple decided to be Apple. On stage at the most recent Apple event, execs talked about the benefits of the new Apple TV 4K: amazing picture quality (although The Verge took exception to that in certain circumstances), integration with Apple services (such as Photos), and support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. What they didn’t talk about was a price-point that shot it far beyond its contemporaries.

Amazon’s new Fire TV is now in pre-order, and the contrast is stark. The lack of Dolby Vision HDR support in Amazon’s box might be a red line for some, but the unit costs a penny under 70 quid. You could buy two and still have nine quid in change compared to the price of the old Apple TV (£149!), let alone the new one, which starts at £179. Even for a great many Apple fans, this is just too much to swallow. I can’t imagine many newcomers faced with these two options plumping for Apple. And if the user-base doesn’t grow, services will fade, leaving Apple TV an increasingly insular and limited experience.

I like Apple, and write about the company a lot. I also like Apple TV. It’s a solid unit, with a decent UI, and a ton of potential. But if none of that potential is going to be realised in terms of the unit’s primary purpose, what’s the point in buying Apple TV over an Amazon box? That’s what Apple needs to address, rather than beaming that you can rapidly get an iCloud photo gallery on your telly.

October 6, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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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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