More DRM madness as Sainsbury’s exits ebook market

Earlier this year, I wrote about Nook going splat, and libraries being transferred to Sainsbury’s. I said it highlighted how digital books are more akin to rental, and that DRM is pretty awful for anyone who actually wants to own copies of virtual media.

Brilliantly, Sainsbury’s is now quitting the market, and Rakuten Kobo is apparently going to enable customers “the opportunity to transfer their eBook libraries to Kobo’s eReading service”. The press release I received just now adds people will “be able to cherish the books they currently have for years to come”. I won’t hold my breath on that.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, this does mean customers being bounced around will have to use Kobo apps or hardware until such point that Rakuten Kobo also gives up and some other company grabs the library, like a frenzied mash-up of a librarian, venture capitalist and vulture.

September 20, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

No Comments

We left your package in a safe place

These days, many people are more likely to receive large packages by mail than things that fit through a letterbox. This presents a problem for delivery services, given that people are often not at home when attempts at delivery are made. When I lived in Iceland, its postal service had a cunning workaround: packages were delivered during early evening, the reasoning being more people were likely to be home. In the UK, though, couriers and Royal Mail alike appear to be doubling down on the following concept: We left your package in a safe place.

The idea is convenience. It’s more convenient for a delivery service to dump your package than try to deliver it again at a later date (or store it at a depot), but this is spun as it being more convenient for the recipient. After all, you get your package sooner, see? Well, probably. Because the tiny snag with a ‘safe place’ is that most people don’t actually have one. Over the past few years, so-called safe places where packages for me have been left include:

  • With a neighbour a quarter of a street away, without Royal Mail actually informing me
  • Inside the recycling bin
  • On our back doorstep (which was freaky, since someone had to climb over the fence to do that)
  • Hurled over a fence into some bushes
  • Hidden behind a black (general waste) wheelie bin while we were away for weeks on holiday, during a typically wet English ‘summer’.

The last of those was particularly lovely. My father, checking in on our house, found a sopping wet package “crawling with bugs”. Royal Mail’s response, initially, was to note that packages was “left in a safe place”, the inference presumably being that the package was safe on account of no-one wanting to touch a soggy box guarded by hundreds of bugs.

The Guardian now reports Amazon and the UK government are exploring the viability of drone deliveries. Columnist and journo Alistair Dabbs snarked earlier that “Amazon wants govt to test whether 8 spinning knives landing on your doorstep is safe”. My reaction is more that it will provide even more scope for creative safe-place ‘delivery’. After all, what could be safer than that box-set you’ve been looking forward to for ages being carefully left on your roof, or at the top of a massive tree in your garden?

July 26, 2016. Read more in: Technology

3 Comments

Reduce Motion coming to ‘OS X’, in macOS Sierra

I’ve been regularly writing about motion sickness and vestibular issues in computing for years now, on this blog and elsewhere. The problem is poorly understood and broadly ignored by designers and engineers alike, who thrill at the prospect of infusing interfaces with dynamic movement, without pausing to consider how this affects a sizeable proportion of the population.

Apple’s response has been better than most, but still half-hearted at times. iOS is an exception. Although niggles remain, Apple’s iOS team has clearly worked very hard to ensure the iPhone and iPad interfaces are truly usable for all. But on tvOS, Reduce Motion does relatively little, and on the Mac, the system does not exist at all. This is something I find maddening, given how prominent animation is within OS X, how long Apple’s had to fix the problem, and the fact underlying settings have existed for years — but clearly in a half-finished state that users could not easily access.

Last October, I posted the following on Twitter:


Hey, Apple: this —
☑️ Reduce Motion
— would fit almost perfectly in the area I’ve outlined in red.

System Preferences pane with area marked out where Reduce Motion setting could go


It turns out all I got wrong was the placement. At WWDC 2016’s keynote yesterday, while no mention was made of Reduce Motion in macOS Sierra, I’m informed it’s coming. In fact, I was sent the following image:

Reduce Motion checkbox in macOS Sierra

I’m told when this box is checked, major system animations switch to crossfades, much like on iOS. This includes entry/exit animations for Mission Control, Launchpad and full-screen apps, along with swiping between spaces. I’ve no idea whether other integrated and problematic animations are also affected (such as full-page swipes in Safari and Preview), but there’s a checkbox there. It’s a start. It’s something to build on. It’s something to report feedback on regarding improvements rather than it’s very existence. And I’m delighted.

As much as it might irritate John Gruber, I really think this one merits a finally.

June 14, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Design, Technology

4 Comments

The subtle march of bad posture — how I got new RSI from the iPhone 6s

I’ve had RSI in various forms since the late 1990s. Much of this arose from truly appalling working conditions at my first proper job, where managers seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to give everyone a crap chair and a tiny desk, the latter of which in my case had two towers and a CRT monitor on top of it. Things gradually changed, but not before I ended up with regular shooting pains up my back and along the length of my arm.

Since then, I’ve become wise to such problems, and attempt to stave off potential issues. My home office set-up includes a decent chair, very carefully positioned, a large screen at the optimum height, a trackpad as a pointer, and also a stylus touchpad for when I need precision pointer control. The mouse is banished.

The problem, though, is that although you do get a very abrupt message when old issues flare up, new ones take a lot longer to bed in. This past week, I’d noticed an issue with the little finger on my left hand. It often feels slightly numb or painful. At times, it feels like it’s been wrenched back, as if I’ve been playing baseball or cricket and messed up a catch. Of course, it’s all down to the iPhone.

My current iPhone is a 6s. I’d previously been using the 5s, and have the habit of, for the most part, using the device in one hand. But the 6s is much larger, and therefore ends up sitting differently in my hand. I quite often, as it turns out, use my little finger to balance and stabilise the iPhone, but since the device sits quite low (in order for me to reach enough of the screen easily), my finger gets stressed and stretched, but so slowly it’s difficult to notice it happening.

I’m fortunate at least to realise this now, and I can take appropriate action. One wily editor suggested “a lawsuit”. But this is Britain, and so the reality will be inwardly tutting, grumbling about the weather (even though that’s entirely unrelated to the issue at hand), and then using the iPhone a little differently. Still, it’s always a good time to take stock of these things. How often are you using electronic devices, desktop computers and notebooks? When did you last think about your own set-up in front of them, rather than just the set-up inside the machines? If you can’t remember, perhaps today’s a good day to start thinking differently about ergonomic and posture yourself.

June 1, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Technology

Comments Off on The subtle march of bad posture — how I got new RSI from the iPhone 6s

App Store review guidelines

In light of Apple’s recent about-face on Liyla and the Shadows of War, it’s interesting to look at Apple’s App Store review guidelines. One of the statements is:

If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.

The wording here is pure Jobs, but the thing that gets me is this statement is flat-out wrong. Most developers don’t have the contacts or a subject that results in a load of press. Generally, though, those who have ‘run to the press’ have found bizarre decisions Apple made about an app rapidly overturned. Perhaps the ‘and trash us’ bit is key. But certainly running to the press can help.

It’s also interesting looking at Apple’s other so-called ‘broader themes’:

We have lots of kids downloading lots of Apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.

This, I think, governs an awful lot of what Apple deems acceptable regarding app and game content, but the App Store has age gating. On that basis, I still find the following baffling:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App.

Clearly, Apple isn’t really budging much on this, but it makes no sense to consider interactive content somehow ‘lesser’ than books or music when it comes to self expression. I recall during my fine arts degree that it was innovative for people to be creating interactive art, but that was during the 1990s. Now, apps and games are just another medium for working within. Treating them with kid gloves helps no-one.

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.

I actually like this one’s ‘plain creepy’ remark, although as ever with Apple, it’s almost like the vague language that politicians use, meaning you can apply all sorts of content to that rule if you want to kick out an app. As for ‘useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment’, plenty of apps in the store arguably fail that test.

If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.

This is the other rule that really gets me. Amateur hour is everywhere on the App Store. There are thousands of truly terrible apps and games that are devoid of quality. I suppose it’s still helpful for Apple to argue people should aim higher, but it strikes me this rule has never been seriously adhered to.

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

“We won’t tell you what the rules are and can change them whenever we see fit.” It’s this kind of thing that is slowly putting off developers from creating innovative content for iOS. And times are changing.

I recall chatting to a lot of game devs at an event five or six years ago, and without exception they were thrilled about the platform. As they saw it, Apple was a major step up from existing players, who too often made onerous demands on developers. There was a kind of hands-off freedom in developing for iOS. But goodwill continues to be chipped away as developers almost randomly find apps and games blocked for no obvious reason. (And then, worse, you see other apps of the same kind approved, and the original sometimes making its way to the store many months later, far too late to make an impact or any money.)

But hey, at least Apple points out your app could trigger a bout of craziness:

This is a living document, and new Apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your App will trigger this.

‘Boom’.

 

May 23, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Opinions, Technology

3 Comments

« older posts