UK government increases hypocrisy rating to 11

Inevitably, the UK government is now demanding snooping powers after the recent Paris attacks. The hypocrisy never fails to boggle the mind when it comes to technology and British people in power. They’ll slam ‘regimes’ for heavily censoring the internet while simultaneously arguing the internet should be censored by default in the UK; and now the argument is that the government should be able to access everyone’s digital communications, potentially stopping the use of anything it can’t access, despite the same government having previously criticised other countries for doing much the same thing.

Of course, our government and our police would never use these powers for anything other than good, right? (And it’s doubly baffling to see Labour doing what opposition parties do right now and opposing the government, regardless of what it’s saying. Labour’s history is peppered with ramming through similar legislation, and so I don’t believe for a second a majority Labour government in 2015 wouldn’t put into place similarly intrusive legislation.)

Still, it’s more ammo for election campaigns as we barrel towards May. Politicians must be seen to be doing something. Even better if it supposedly protects people from harm, even if the reality is rather different. Probably best if we ignore the fact more data isn’t terribly helpful if algorithms cannot rapidly extract critical information. And also probably best to ignore the Met placing journalists under close surveillance for, well, reasons.

January 13, 2015. Read more in: Politics, Technology

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News from the future: iPhone 7 and #straightgate

TechRadar reports that curved phones are amazing. This baffles me slightly. Perhaps this is the point where I’ve hit number 3 from Douglas Adams’s rules regarding people’s reactions to technology:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things

The arguments in favour of curved displays are that they’re more comfortable for your hands and face, and, according to TechRadar, more immersive for video. Although quite how immersive the latest Hollywood blockbusters can be even on giant smartphones is clearly up for debate.

The author adds:

The general public might still need some convincing, it might even need Apple to jump on board before curved screens really become popular

I’m sure many tech blogs are eagerly hoping Apple does this. The all-new iPhone 7, “now with a beautiful curved display”, which Jony Ive can talk about while locked in his white room. And then, approximately eleven seconds after someone gets their hands on one, #straightgate, where it’s shown that bendy iPhones become entirely flat when introduced merely to the slightest breath (and possibly also a car’s tyres and the weight of said car).

Sounds great.

January 12, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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Internet Arcade: when illegal IP can benefit rights owners

I recently penned a piece for Stuff on Internet Arcade, a part of non-profit site Internet Archive, designed to provide universal access to all manner of digitised content. Internet Arcade is essentially a version of MAME running in a browser, enabling you to play a bunch of classic arcade titles.

At the time I wrote the piece, about 900 games were available. Shortly after my article went live (a few weeks later, due to holiday scheduling), someone helpfully emailed me to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been removed from the site, due to a takedown request. I checked through the remaining items just now, and several more I selected have gone. The overall number of titles available, last I looked, was 649.

It’s understandable that IP owners get twitchy with online content such as this, and I’m generally against IP infringement myself. But I can’t help thinking there are differences in the way we experience media and the manner in which lawyers might be able to respond to various kinds of infringements.

Clever though it is, Internet Arcade isn’t the best way to experience these old games; at the most, it’s a reminder of a title you once loved, and a fun way to waste a few minutes during a lunchtime. When I was researching the article, it also reminded me once again of how much I enjoyed specific old games. The net result with me was that I fancied hunting down versions of said titles that would run on my current hardware—legally.

Perhaps that makes me an outlier. As I’ve written elsewhere, we live in an age where younger generations have only grown up with immediate and free access to all content, and so many don’t feel compelled to pay for anything. But I also see organisations making great use of the internet and benefitting from making content freely available: musicians upload entire albums on Soundcloud and report a subsequent uptick in sales; the likes of Image offer comics for peanuts on Humble Bundle and say the knock-on effect has been more people buying new issues of said titles.

I can’t help but think Internet Arcade is something that companies might consider nurturing rather than taking down, if not for the historical aspect—ensuring games of cultural significance remain available to all—then at least as a clever interactive ‘advert’ for when these games appear on commercial services elsewhere.

January 12, 2015. Read more in: Gaming, Opinions, Technology

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The new MacBook Air rumour is the new iPhone 6 rumour

9to5Mac has got the Mac world talking about the new MacBook Air. Its report says the new laptop will be thinner and ditch all but two ports: USB and headphones. The former port will be a USB Type-C connector that almost no-one’s using at the moment. 9to5Mac adds:

Additionally, the latest specifications from the USB foundation indicate that USB Type-C can actually be used to power computers, which makes the standard MagSafe plugs unnecessary on this new device.

By contrast, the current MacBook Air has two USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt, a headphone socket, and MagSafe 2. (The larger model adds a slot for an SDXC card.) So if 9to5Mac is to be believed, Apple is going to remove one USB port, Thunderbolt, and MagSafe 2, in order to thin the thinnest laptop that’s ever thinned.

Although Apple’s never been shy in ruthlessly ditching ports and the like (both ADB being replaced by USB on the original iMac, and also getting rid of optical drives spring immediately to mind), this seems like a step too far. One USB port for everything—charging, connectivity—seems over the top, even for Apple. And ditching MagSafe is effectively a downgrade, given that Apple laptops would once again potentially be hurled across the room if someone stumbled into the charging lead when it’s plugged in.

So there are three possibilities here:

1. Apple’s decided no-one really needs to plug anything in any more, because Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is everywhere, and too bad for those that do. And it doesn’t care if your laptop gets a free flying lesson while it’s being charged.

2. The same as 1, but Apple will also announce a ‘magical’ new version of MagSafe that combines USB Type-C and some sort of magnetic attachment doohickey, assuming that’s possible.

3. The rumours are all utter bollocks, like the one last summer that said Apple would ditch the headphone port from the iPhone 6 and force everyone to use Lightning port headphones instead.

I know which of those options I’m putting my money on.


 

Update: Judging by the response on Twitter, quite a few people reckon this is a legit ‘leak’. Of my options above, I’m not discounting #2, but reckon that would be a big jump, even for Apple. If we get #1, that says things about Apple that aren’t at all positive.

January 7, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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The Panic report — on App Stores and revenue

The latest Panic blog post provides insight into the previous year at one of the best developers for Apple software. In 2014, Panic released a bunch of new things, including Transmit iOS — an app I believe defines the platform.

However, the more interesting part of the post goes into some depth about the challenges Panic faced, most of which were down to Apple. Without iOS upgrades, the company felt forced to issue Prompt 2 as a brand-new app (and was relieved there was no backlash); Coda left the Mac App Store, because Apple’s restrictions are too severe; and Transmit iOS lost and then got back iCloud export, in part due to a PR shitstorm — countless sites helpfully pointing out how asinine Apple’s decision had been.

Apple always argues “running to the press” is just about the worst thing a dev can do when an app is hobbled by a rule Apple might have just made up without really thinking it through, but Panic’s not alone in saying

the “bad PR” version of the app dispute process is monumentally more effective [than dealing with it offline]. Which is a shame.

And it is. This should be food for thought for Apple, as should Panic’s final challenge: low iOS revenue. Although units sold in November 2014 were roughly even across OS X and iOS, the revenue split was 83/17 in OS X’s favour. Panic had some thoughts about why:

1. We’re not charging enough for our iOS apps. Or Mac users are simply willing to pay more for apps. Or both.
2. We’re not getting the word out well enough about our iOS apps.
3. The type of software we make just isn’t as compelling to iOS users as it is to Mac users. Our professional tools are geared for a type of user that simply might not exist on the iPad — admins and coders. We might have misjudged that market.

I’d agree with 1 — although this is common with cross-platform devs, given that most price iOS apps way lower than OS X equivalents, even if they’re broadly similar —but make an addition to 3: yet. As in: “Our professional tools are geared for a type of user that simply might not exist on the iPad — yet“.

It strikes me that an iPad and keyboard remains a great set-up for doing website work, especially when away from home. But Panic’s trailblazing — the iPad still hasn’t really found its place for a lot of people, and many professionals inevitably drift back to Macs after flirting with the iPad for a while. (Personally, I want to use mine more, but I’m simply more efficient on the Mac, and with writing rates having been stagnant for a decade now, the speed at which I can write and edit copy is important. I do far less web work these days, but the same’s largely true there as well.)

I’m not sure what the solution is to Panic’s complaints and grumbles, but it should worry Apple that one of the best OS X and iOS developers is pulling away from the Mac App Store, rolling its own solutions rather than using the likes of iCloud, and mulling over the feasibility of any further ‘huge’ iOS projects.

January 6, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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