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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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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Find your iOS 11 games death list – and learn how to save your favourites

As outlined in Alex Hern’s Guardian piece, iOS 10.3 provides a death list for apps and games. Without updates, these products will all cease to work in iOS 11. You can find the list in Settings, by navigating to General > About > Apps. Of the 74 favourite/stored games I have on my iPhone, the following are currently listed as having no updates available:

Beat Sneak Bandit; Bit Pilot; Crazy Taxi; Critter Panic; Devil’s Attorney; Drop7; Drop Wizard; Flick Kick Field Goal; Flight Control; Forget-Me-Not; Gridrunner; I Am Level (which in some ways is the saddest entry in this list – here’s why); Infinight; LEX; Mikey Boots; Mikey Hooks; Mikey Shorts; Mini Motor Racing; Mos Speedrun; Osmos; Relic Rush; Ridiculous Fishing; Spell Sword; Strata; Trainyard; VVVVVV; Westbang; Zen Bound 2.

And that’s just the games on my iPhone. On my iPad, which has far more games stored, you can add: Active Soccer 2; Big Big Castle; Crazy Taxi; CRUSH; Darkside; DRM; ElectroMaster; Halcyon; Helix; HungryMaster; Magnetic Billiards; Minotaur Rescue; Minotron; Ms. Particle Man; Mutant Storm; Nightmare Cooperative; Puzzlejuice; QatQi; Reckless Racing HD; Sailor’s Dream; Slydris; Space Invaders Infinity Gene; Space Junk; Sprinkle Islands; Stealth Inc.; Sunburn!; Super Crossfire; Twelve A Dozen; Wave Trip; Wonderputt; World of Goo; Year Walk. That’s… a lot of games.

There are still five months until iOS 11 drops, and some may be updated by then. VVVVVV’s author has confirmed to me that his game will be, as has Darkside’s. Mos Speedrun’s author readied a 64-bit build within a couple of days of me flagging the game as under threat on Twitter. Simogo is also aiming to make its games compatible. However, I also know several games on the above list definitely won’t be fixed – either because it’s impossible/not viable to, or because the creators would rather you grab sequels/follow-ups instead. Worryingly, several developers I’ve contacted weren’t aware there was even a problem with their apps.

This piece isn’t a criticism of Apple, note (although it would be good if the company would again politely nudge developers of apps in the firing line). We no longer live in a world where mobile games systems are a single unit, living for a finite time, and offering one generation of backwards compatibility if you’re lucky. Instead, mobile systems in the sense of smartphones and tablets are all about incremental upgrades. Things break all of the time, as OS upgrades cause issues with older software. But iOS 11 looks like it’s going to be a doozy, so you’d best come prepared.

I outlined how in a feature for Stuff a short while ago, which also explains the history of this particular transition, warnings Apple provided to developers, but also the sad reality that in many cases it’s simply not worth a developer’s time to update a game. So, again, welcome to gaming’s future – it’s not especially bothered about even its relatively recent past.

April 4, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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