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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Tribalism and British politics, and the need for progressive electoral cooperation

I’m an advocate of proportional representation. My belief is that parliament should broadly mirror the votes made by the public, rather than being hugely imbalanced. I’m also keen on the idea of electoral pacts, in the event that parties outside of the conservative sphere have little other chance of making headway.

Polling suggests in the upcoming general election, a pact might not be enough to stop a Conservative majority anyway. But with a fully strategic approach, it’s possible many of 2015’s Liberal Democrat losses could be flipped (not least due to the party’s pro-EU stance), the Greens could make minor gains, and Labour could benefit in key seats through being backed by a majority of Liberal Democrat and Green voters.

The tiny snag is political parties and the voting public in the UK often won’t have any truck with this. The country en masse reverts to tribalism, and I just don’t understand it. Earlier today, I on Twitter spoke of a fantasy idea where the broadly progressive parties sat down and mapped out a way forward. A response I received was as follows:

Would this result in people being denied a chance to vote for policies they believe in, due to the party candidate tactically not standing?

I think this is the wrong way to look at things, but it’s also commonplace. The British have been trained to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to politics. Compromise, concession and collaboration are all dirty words in the minds of a great many people across the entire political spectrum.

To illustrate this point, I for a while was a member of a Green Party group on Facebook, largely to try and get across to its members my thoughts on the party’s approach to copyright (which I considered deeply flawed) prior to the 2015 general election. There were people there fuming at the prospect of any cooperation with parties that supported nuclear power. When asked what their plan was, they responded they would wait until the time there was a Green Party majority government that could implement its policies in full.

The reality is that there will almost certainly never be a Green Party majority government in the UK, and nor will there be a Liberal Democrat one. There cannot be Plaid Cymru or SNP majorities, and it also seems vanishingly unlikely Labour will be able to get a majority either. And so we again come down to tribalism versus compromise.

My position is that I’d rather have most of what I want than nothing at all. Under a Lab/Lib/SNP coalition, the resulting policy will be more authoritarian than I’d like, with – due to Labour – more overt compromises on Europe. Similarly for those anti-nuclear Greens, imagine a coalition where Caroline Lucas is in government with the energy brief. She wouldn’t be able to shut down all the nuclear power stations, but she would be able to begin transforming the UK’s energy situation, rapidly increasing renewable power.

In other words, the compromise position will always likely be better than what you get in deciding on all or nothing. But, as ever, despite the most urgent need for electoral cooperation in modern British history, the chances of that happening at the party level are almost nil. In part, the voting system is to blame – with a proportional representation (or even a run-off) system, you’d be able to vote with your heart and provide subsequent pragmatic ‘support’ options for other parties. But mostly the lack of political will among fairly like-minded parties (most notably right now Labour and the Liberal Democrats) and among voters will stop millions getting anything close to what they want, and will leave them with nothing.

April 21, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Politics

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