Apple says: Papers, Please—but no nudity

Update: The developer reports that the rejection was a “misunderstanding”. He will now resubmit, and expects the app to be approved. I’m increasingly sceptical about this kind of error. Either it’s true, in which case the app review team needs more time per app and/or better guidance; or it’s false, and devs now essentially need to kick up an online shitstorm to get Apple to see sense. Neither of these things strikes me as especially good.

As reported by Eurogamer and elsewhere, Apple’s okayed Papers, Please for App Store release (on iPad) but demanded it be fixed to a ‘no nudity’ version included (but not required) in the original PC version. Half the internet has now apparently lost its shit, branding Apple fascists, and suggesting developers are now all going to flock to Android.

The decision Apple made is not remotely a surprise. It has consistently from the dawn of the App Store argued that if you want to describe or display things of a sexual nature, you should write a song or book. Such media may be branded ‘explicit’ in the store, but won’t be stopped from sale. However, games are different, suffering from a rigid and puritanical stance, and the question is why this is the case.

My guess—and I don’t really have anything other than a gut feeling to back this up—is this rule comes directly from Steve Jobs and possibly other senior execs with children, and also from the lack of a VP leading games at Apple. I suspect the people making the big decisions at Apple understand the cultural significance of music, movies and books, but remain largely ignorant of and clueless about games. Maybe they just don’t get them—at all. This would also explain wider fumbles with games (notably the initially botched and still sub-optimal iOS games controllers), despite games being one of the main sources of App Store income.

I’m not sure what the solution is—a VP for games seems unlikely to happen any time soon; still, it might be something Apple should consider rather than digging deeper into a hole of its own making, mired in accusations of being a company full of censor-happy philistines.

December 12, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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Transmit for iOS gets its iCloud Drive back

What’s new in Transmit for iOS 1.1.2:

Added back, at Apple’s request, the ability to “Send” files to other destinations including “iCloud Drive”

Credit to Apple for getting this one sorted quickly, and dealing with one of the most stupid App Store decisions in recent memory. However, Apple really needs to rapidly nail down what is and isn’t allowed on iOS 8, get the information out there in a transparent manner (“We’ll know it when we see it” is not good enough when a dev’s livelihood is at stake), communicate effectively, and apply any rules consistently.

December 11, 2014. Read more in: Apple

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More stupid Apple bullshit regarding iOS extensions

Here we go again. Now Panic has got hit by Apple’s random hammer of doom, being forced to remove an ‘upload document to iCloud’ feature from Transmit iOS, because, and I quote:

we cannot upload content to iCloud Drive unless the content was created in the app itself

Just to be clear, Apple’s made the decision—undocumented, naturally, according to Panic—that uploading to iCloud Drive is perfectly fine, but only if your app makes the document that it’s uploading, which presumably takes into account the most minor of edits/updates as well. What’s out, however, is a company (once admired so much by Steve Jobs he wanted it to make iTunes) creating a pro-oriented app for pro-oriented people that would enable them to manage files, for example sending Mac documents to Dropbox, or Dropbox content to iCloud Drive. That kind of thing is totally not wanted on iOS, for reasons.

This decision strikes me as so absurdly stupid, it’s hard to know where to begin. iPad sales are reportedly in the toilet, and yet here again we see Apple freaking out about the extensibility afforded to iOS devs in iOS 8 and banning things it’s now decided aren’t allowed, even though nothing’s actually written down, and even though such things are helpful to the kind of professional users who shout loud and also showcase how iOS potentially isn’t just for faffing about with semi-automated creation tools and playing games—it’s possible to use for actual work. *deep breath*

Perhaps this will all settle down soon. Maybe Apple will perform a quick U-turn like it did when PCalc was judged to have broken App Store rules with its Notification Center widget. But given recent events elsewhere, I’m not optimistic. Apple needs to sort its shit out with these new capabilities, before the developers that try to do something new and useful bugger off elsewhere, before those devs who consider innovating think better of it, in case of subsequent random and abrupt app rejection, and before iOS itself gains a reputation for being a hamstrung and hugely limited platform, primarily because of Apple hamstringing and limiting it.

December 8, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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Screen sighs: why 16:9 shouldn’t always be the way

The Guardian criticises the iPad Air 2’s display, due to Apple using what the reviewer refers to in the verdict as a “square screen”. Of course, the screen isn’t actually square, but it’s squarer than the bulk of those used by its rivals. Apple, since the original iPad, has provided a tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio, somewhat aping the printed page. By contrast, most competing tablets have primarily been designed for landscape orientation, in 16:9, common for movies.

If nothing else, this showcases assumptions regarding intentions for the devices themselves. Android tablets have been more geared towards movie and TV consumption, whereas iPads ‘compromised’ that use-case in order to provide a device with wider scope. I explore this further in a piece for Stuff, which examines Google’s new Nexus displays, the tablet now following Apple’s lead.

The short of that is about versatility. 16:9 leaves little room in landscape for content when using the virtual keyboard; in portrait it’s often unsatisfying for reading, because the viewport is so narrow. (Oddly, the Guardian reviewer calls out the iPad for having black bars at the side of comic books, despite those blank spaces being perfectly good for placing your thumbs and flipping pages, without covering content; by contrast, tablets closer to 9:16 aspect ratios in portrait may have black bars at the top and bottom, which the reviewer had a go at the iPad for regarding video.)

Of course, the best aspect ratio for you depends entirely on what you’re doing with a device, and if you only want TV on the go, then having a device with a screen ratio similar to a telly’s makes sense; however, if you want a device suitable for a much wider range of tasks, 16:9 isn’t the smartest move, something Apple knew all along, something Google’s now embracing, and something Microsoft’s also figured out with its new Surface Pro tablets, which use a 3:2 aspect.

October 23, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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Dear Apple: we need to talk about Newsstand

The Magazine is shutting down. Created by Marco Arment and taken over in May 2013 by Glenn Fleishman, The Magazine was a pioneer, thinking different about digital magazines. Initially inspired by Arment’s Instapaper, it stripped things back, emphasising content in a manner that chimed with an audience tired of ad-infested websites and poor digital magazine user experiences.

It turns out whatever The Magazine was doing isn’t enough; although it’s been profitable throughout its entire life (extremely rare for any publication), subscriber numbers continue to fall, to the point Fleishman believes the magazine will eventually not be sustainable. Better to go out with a kind of controlled bang than gradually sink into quicksand.

There are undoubtedly all sorts of reasons why The Magazine is closing, some of which are explored in a Cult of Mac interview with Fleishman, but Newsstand seems to be key, having transformed from a well of potential into an empty bucket of pain as far as publishers are concerned. Jim Dalrymple, editor of The Loop, pointedly commented: “Apple should just admit that they don’t give a shit about digital magazines and be done with it.”

He’s right. At one time, Newsstand was touted as Apple redefining magazines, saving an industry in serious decline. In iOS 5 and 6, it resembled iBooks, in being both an app and store, but also used a custom folder to showcase cover images, making new issues very visible. This was irksome for those who didn’t use Newsstand, left with an empty wooden shelf (as ever, Apple could really do with enabling you to disable unused default apps), but handy for publishers and readers alike.

As of iOS 7, Newsstand was overhauled to fit in with Apple’s philosophy of flat design. The icon became a generic picture of four publications, and you now have to tap this to view magazine covers. So instead of a custom folder, Newsstand now has a strange ‘apps within an app’ set-up that doesn’t really seem to benefit anyone. This also means Newsstand now behaves like other iOS apps, in that it can be stashed in a folder. Visibility of new magazine issues has been seriously hit; coupled with this, ongoing abuse of system notifications has led to many disabling them, closing off another avenue for alerting readers about new issues.

Fleishman himself reasons that these changes “did not help [The Magazine] thrive”, and he’s far from alone. In 2011, publishers were full of hope regarding Newsstand; now, pretty much every one of them I know hates it. They think Apple’s practically abandoned Newsstand and just doesn’t care — it’s turned into an afterthought product Apple feels it must have rather than one it wants to keep evolving as part of the core iOS experience.

Perhaps magazines are simply doomed—digital or otherwise. Maybe people just don’t want to pay for content bundles and either want free websites, churn-based humour on Buzzfeed, or some kind of system where they can self-edit and cherry-pick what they think they’ll like (rather than possibly discovering something new). But while some kind of magazine industry does still exist, it’d be great for Apple to do more than turn Newsstand into the publication equivalent of Stocks. Maybe iOS 8.1 should silently admit Newsstand is a failed experiment, and simply remove it entirely. Put individual magazines back on the Home screen as standard apps, with (standard-sized) icons developers can update as and when a new issue goes live and standard alert badges, and therefore provide the flexibility that might reengage readers.

October 10, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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