iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center, bricks iPad Pros

So iOS 9.3.2 has arrived, in a flurry of news. MacRumors states that some iPad Pros are getting bricked by it (and I’ve heard a few people saying the same about iPhones). As always, back-up your devices prior to upgrading, not only to iCloud but also iTunes.

From a personal standpoint, assuming all my devices don’t get bricked, I’m looking forward to using Game Center again. I’ve been writing about Game Center for a while, and it had been broken for a great many users since the tail end of the iOS 8 cycle last summer. It sprang into life again in the iOS 9.3.2 betas (due, I’m reliably informed, to someone actually working on it rather than Apple essentially ignoring it).

Naturally, then, because Apple cares so much about Game Center and games, the fact iOS 9.3.2 fixes Game Center isn’t even mentioned in the release notes.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: News

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OS X El Capitan and tvOS still a bag of hurt for people with motion sickness and other vestibular disorders

I’m starting to feel like Apple has a vendetta against anyone with a vestibular disorder. Since OS X Lion, we’ve increasingly seen aggressive animations added to Apple’s desktop OS that can trigger dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo and related symptoms. These include slide transitions when moving between full-screen apps, the ‘morphing’ animation to and from full-screen apps, the slide between Launchpad pages, and entry/exit zooms for Mission Control. iOS 7 then introduced similar animations, along with parallax effects that made people ill. And now tvOS has followed suit.

iOS at least helped users, in providing a Reduce Motion option in the Accessibility section within Settings. Within six months, most of the worst animations were possible to replace with non-aggressive crossfades, much to the relief of vestibular disorder sufferers worldwide. But we’ve seen no such progress on OS X, and tvOS recently appeared with a ‘Reduce Motion’ setting so ineffective that it may as well have played a little sniggering noise when activated.

On the desktop, I’ve now, grudgingly, updated my main work Mac to OS X El Capitan. I’m not having fun.

The main reason is El Capitan kills the one remaining workaround I had that enabled me to safely use full-screen apps. System Integrity Protection, while essential to the security of the Mac, more or less kills off applications that inject code into OS X. TotalSpaces2 is one of them. The app was designed to manage desktops in a manner akin to those in OS X 10.6, but, importantly, included settings to customise transitions.

In other words, instead of getting a full-screen slide when switching full-screen apps or spaces, you could get a spinning cube or some other nutty animation. Or, mercifully, you could replace the animation with nothing at all. This is the sole reason I installed TotalSpaces2. No longer was I made dizzy by OS X’s aggressive default animations — something that could leave me groggy and feeling ill for an hour or even until going to sleep at night. And this isn’t just me — such issues are increasingly common, most likely because of the rapid adoption in the use of animation within desktop and mobile operating systems.

Because of Apple’s changes in OS X, I must now choose between the security of my Mac (turn off SIP and TotalSpaces2 will run) and my well-being; and I assume that in the long run, there won’t even be a choice, given that TotalSpaces2 is no longer a viable commercial product. I’ve long hunted for Terminal commands to disable the full-screen app animations in OS X, but it appears none exist. (Launchpad and Mission Control can be stripped of most animation. Commands for spaces were removed in OS X Lion. Reportedly, Apple engineers responded to a bug report by stating there was nothing to fix. This is technically accurate — Terminal commands are not user-facing. But it removed the one remaining avenue for users to tame a part of the OS adversely affecting their health.)

I also recently discovered an issue with window manager Moom, where windows wouldn’t snap, but would instead skid around the display, triggering motion sickness. It turns out other window managers are affected, and the trigger is activating text-to-speech. Just another OS X bug, presumably, but one that results in a very nasty surprise for anyone with a vestibular disorder. (The rough sequence of events: select text; read back text; don’t realise OS X has thrown a wobbly; attempt to snap window; watch it slide across the screen; end up dizzy for the next hour or more.)

The second of those examples is forgivable (and, I hope, will be fixed). It’s a niche and weird bug that likely won’t affect too many people. But the former absolutely isn’t. To be clear, though, I’m not blaming System Integrity Protection, which is necessary. I’m simply blaming Apple for doing almost nothing in OS X to help people with vestibular disorders.

Full-screen slide animations made their debut in OS X Lion, back in 2011. Since then, we’ve had OS X Mountain Lion, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite and OS X El Capitan. In all that time, and all those revisions, there has been precisely one attempt I’m aware of in OS X to assist anyone with vestibular disorders: a Reduce Motion setting being added to the Photos app. It’s, sadly, largely ineffective, however.

This leads me to believe at least one of the following must be true:

  • Apple doesn’t care about people with vestibular disorders. Accessibility increasingly means aiding those with poor/no vision, and occasionally people with hearing and motor issues. It doesn’t, in Apple’s view, mean making its software suitable for everyone.
  • Apple is ignorant of vestibular disorders, despite people like me banging on about them like a broken record for the past four years. It doesn’t have enough relevant in-house knowledge, and so does nothing.
  • Apple is fully aware of these issues, but doesn’t consider them enough of a priority to even add a single Reduce Motion switch to OS X in the fourth major update to its desktop OS since the problems appeared and were flagged. This despite many millions of people having related conditions.

None of these is particularly appealing, and I increasingly feel like I’m screaming into the void. There is, as already noted, an exception: iOS. There, it seems the team has fully taken on board much of the advice people have given and, most importantly, acted on it. iOS 7’s problematic animations were eventually mostly dealt with through Reduce Motion (a few outliers remain), and new features are eventually tamed to the point they’re at least more usable (such as the new app switcher). But elsewhere, Apple’s efforts in this area of accessibility are dismal and the company must do better. Whether it will is another matter — and I’m increasingly getting to the point where I feel like nothing is going to change.


Contact Apple about accessibility issues

To report accessibility problems to Apple, you can email accessibility@apple.com.

Further reading:

Kirk McElhearn has also responded to this article with additions of his own, complaining about issues relating to font size and contrast, and how developers don’t think about accessibility issues nearly enough.

Rob Griffiths posts on Many Tricks about workarounds we figured out for Moom (which may also work with other window managers).

February 4, 2016. Read more in: News

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BBC and Guardian respond regarding editing the Paul Chambers Twitter joke trial tweet

I yesterday reported on the BBC mis-quoting the Paul Chambers ‘Twitter joke trial’ tweet. The organisation edited the tweet, drastically changing its context, and turning a gooky if perhaps ill-considered social media message into one that resembled whatever it is the CPS presumably thinks Chambers meant.

The BBC’s version:

Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

The original:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

The changes in bold:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

As far as I can tell, the BBC article was subsequently edited at least twice, and, oddly, the tweet is still incorrect, omitting ‘and a bit’. Not good. The Guardian also messed up in a similar fashion in its latest article on the case. Along with writing my blog post, I mentioned the Guardian error on Twitter, copying in the Guardian account and that of its writer, and I filed a complaint with the BBC. The replies I got were interesting.

First, the Guardian. Writer Martin Wainwright (@mswainwright) took the time to write to many people who contacted him, apologised and said he’d simply gotten too busy. He then, amusingly, retweeted the entire tweet before the edited article went live. (Let’s hope the CPS wasn’t watching, eh?) He also sent me the following message:

Thanks ever so. I’ve had a curious day today: student bins, transit of venus, weather (twice), Ibsen’s Doll’s House, the Tweet, sheep racing in Barnsley and the poor Heathcliff actor. This is an explanation, not an excuse I hasten to add, tho’ one intrsesting thing is that the Northerner (my main love these days) gets you very used to corrections and comments in the thread and maybe I’ve eased off a bit knowing how many pleasant people there are who put me right kindly. Or it’s just age (62).  Anyway, sorry this isn’t a proper Tweet at all but thanks v much & to others who may come across this.

In short, then: writer in a hurry; makes an error; gets corrected; makes corrections; apologises. Note that the article’s headline was also amended, as was some of the copy, to make the former less accusatory and the latter more accurate. All good.

So, the BBC. My complaint stated that the edit was not in anyone’s interests, introduces bias, and changes the tweet’s meaning and context. I suggested that either the article should have stated the tweet was edited, included it in full, or included ‘censored’ profanity (i.e. Cr*p!), and noted that in the text. Here’s the reply I received from Laura Ellis, Head of New Media, BBC English Regions:

Initially we omitted the sections of Mr Chambers’ tweet that we thought may cause offence because they contain swear words.

I do not believe this fundamentally alters the sense of the tweet that he posted, however, we have since reconsidered and in the interest of absolute clarity we have included the full tweet.

Some quick points. First, if an entire case hinges on the meaning infused within 140 characters of text, it does everyone a disservice to change those 140 characters in any way, regardless of the ‘offence’ they could cause. Frankly, one might argue images of broken, battered, bloodied bodies in warzones might cause offence, but the BBC has shown plenty of those in the past, because it’s in the interests of the story. So mild profanity is no excuse, especially when it changes the context of the tweet. (Clearly, Laura disagreed, and also ignored my point about how the BBC could have gotten around the problem via cunning use of asterisks.)

This entire event also throws into light questions surrounding integrity and reporting in general. Journalists are too busy these days, which can lead to errors. And in some cases corrections will be made, despite, apparently, some organisations not initially thinking such things necessary. Even in the best-case scenario for corrections—i.e. what happened with the Guardian—there’s still the likelihood that information has been picked up by other sources and spread around the web. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I sure hope the industry finds one soon.

(Should you wish to donate to the trial fund for Paul Chambers, you can do so here.)

May 29, 2012. Read more in: News, Technology

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If others know more about us, we know more about them

From a Guardian article on Twitter Joke Trial:

The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer says we should welcome the exponential increase in the possibilities for surveillance. If others know more about us, we know more about them. We will move to a free and open society. We will be less ashamed of our secrets and less censorious of our neighbours. Disclosure will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

That or people will tend to lie even more than they do now.

February 13, 2012. Read more in: News

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Is Apple’s Siri feature anti-abortion?

Articles on MobileBeat and Amadi Talks have sparked an online row that Siri—and by extension Apple—is anti-abortion. This is on the basis that Siri does not respond successfully to questions about abortion clinics or abortion itself. If this really is the case, then Apple’s position here is at odds with its relatively liberal stance. Apple employees took part in pro-LGBT It Gets Better, for example, and it’s to participate in World Aids Day (The Loop); a blanket ban on pornography through the App Store is the only outright ‘moral’ clampdown I can think of.

There are also some things to bear in mind before attempting to rip Apple’s board a new arsehole over this issue (or, if you’re anti-abortion yourself, congratulating the company):

  1. Siri is still in beta. The software is full of holes. If you’re outside of the USA, you cannot even search for any businesses. Even in the USA, it’s full of bugs and often misinterprets input.
  2. Siri isn’t intelligent. Arguments about Siri being anti-abortion and misogynistic appear to have some credence when you’re mindful that it can reportedly infer someone’s demands to go to a strip club, and yet it ignores abortion terms. But Siri’s about one step up from a 1985 Infocom text adventure. The lack of understanding about abortion could easily be a hole in the feature’s ‘understanding’, or something that hasn’t been added, or something that a male-oriented team didn’t realise was important enough to correctly or fully define.
  3. Siri often uses generic answers. One comment I’ve seen is that Siri answers “I just am” if you ask: Why are you anti-abortion? This isn’t confirmation about anything, given that Siri offers the same answer if you say: Why are you a penguin?
  4. You can send Apple feedback. If you believe Apple’s in the wrong and doubt any of the possible reasoning I’ve offered (or simply want to ensure Siri is updated accordingly), visit the Apple website and offer some constructive feedback.

If Siri comes out of beta and it’s clear Siri’s still treating the term ‘abortion’ as a business (as it currently does when you ask “What is abortion?”, although “Define abortion” brings up a short description via Wolfram Alpha) and essentially blocking results to centres and institutions that Google and Bing offer, fair enough: there’s clearly something very wrong at Cupertino. For now, though, I’d argue Amadi Talks offers a perfectly sensible perspective on the issue:

Is this the most terrible programming failure ever? No. Is this worth a boycott of Apple? I don’t think so. What it is, however, is a demonstration of a problem. Especially when certain topics seem to be behind a black wall where information that’s readily available online is not being “found” or presented. This is something that Apple and/or Wolfram Alpha need to address and rectify.

In other words, don’t go crazy just yet, but this is something Apple needs to address.

November 30, 2011. Read more in: Apple, News, Technology

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