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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iCloud: iClod (and iCouldn’t)

I have an ongoing battle with iCloud. Every now and again, I’ll be informed I’ve run out of space, and I’ll attempt to prune my back-ups. Naturally, Apple would rather I just buy more space, but I’m stubborn. Also, I don’t like paying for a system where management is opaque, fiddly, and doesn’t always work; and I don’t like splashing out something where it’s impossible to figure out where the storage is used. (Right now, I have about 10 GB of space that’s unaccounted for. From what I can tell, this is commonplace with iCloud Drive.)

iCloud is deeply unimpressive in other ways, too. On deleting stored content, there’s no guarantee the system will recognise this. It appears to cache data about available space, and then sometimes loses it completely. At the time of writing, my Mac is erroneously stating I have 49.96 GB available, despite my iPhone and iPad both saying I have 0 bytes from 50 GB to use.

But the worst bit of all this is in how Apple has chosen to assign space on iCloud. Things like Notes are not prioritised in any way. So all of that lovely cross-device Apple seamlessness goes away the second you run out of space. You’re held hostage to opaque back-ups – unless you decide to stop backing up. And then woe betide you should something go wrong with your device.

I know it’s only a few quid a month for the next tier of iCloud, but that’s still a few quid I’m loathe to spend. Also, plenty of people simply cannot spare that kind of money. I’m sure for Apple execs earning millions, they don’t understand why people push back against what they consider a service that offers great value. But really Apple needs to look again at iCloud.

Why when you pay for an upgrade to a new tier does your original free 5 GB vanish (unlike, say, with Dropbox)? Why when you buy a new device is your original 5 GB of free space not bumped up a little, as a thank-you for you buying new hardware? And, most importantly, why doesn’t iCloud actually work properly, when it comes to storage management and figuring out how much space you have available? Given that Dropbox can tell me this instantly across every single platform it’s running on, it’s a bit poor that iCloud can’t.

May 3, 2017. Read more in: Apple

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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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Burger King, ‘OK, Google’, and the effect of intrusive advertising

You’ve probably heard by now that Burger King in its infinite wisdom decided to run an advert that had someone leaning into the camera to say: “OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Cue: every Google device within earshot obediently reading the Wikipedia article about one of the company’s burgers.

Google’s since put out a fix, which I assume had the code name ‘Die, Burger King, die’, and reports suggest the company’s working to have devices respond to owners rather than anyone.

Speaking to BuzzFeed, Burger King president José Cil argued it was a “cool way to connect directly with our guests”. I’d argue it was a clever way to get column inches, but the company seemingly makes the assumption everyone is a potential Burger King customer, and is happy to be in on the experiment.

More bafflingly, in the Guardian’s report, Charlie Crowe, president of a publishing and events company, appeared to back Burger King, although he started well when talking about the nature of the advert. “Any advertising or media idea which provokes us to think about the absurdities of modern day digital life is, in itself, a good thing,” he said — and that in itself is a good point, as is: “Perhaps what is so unnerving about this is that it makes us think about how digital technology is impacting our lives in ways we are only beginning to appreciate.”

But then he added: “Maybe this all is a little uncomfortable… so why shouldn’t this make us want to leave our homes and visit a Burger King with our friends?” Frankly, any company overstepping the mark into my living room and disrupting my world uninvited can piss right off. But perhaps this is it now: intrusive and aggressive advertising is here to stay. It’s not about winning you over, but bludgeoning you into submission, so you’ll buy something or visit an outlet, in the hope that the companies in question will eventually leave you alone.

April 13, 2017. Read more in: Technology

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