Some brief personal thoughts on Apple and regulatory fights

Apple’s being walloped by regulators, and it’s increasingly clear most of the tech press doesn’t understand antitrust. Fortunately, Ian Betteridge does, so go and read his blog.

My take, honestly, is all this just makes me feel a bit sad. I like a lot of what Apple does. Even if I didn’t write about Apple, I’d have an iMac, an Apple TV or two, an iPhone, and an iPad. But Apple as it grows (and is expected by the markets to continue doing so) has overreached in some cases, and enacted dark patterns elsewhere.

I imagine a lot of people are rushing to defend Apple by default because, in part, they remember when the company nearly winked out of existence. Others, perhaps, because the company does objectively do an awful lot of things really well, and seems to care more than most rivals about what matters. But that doesn’t excuse the bad stuff, nor that in some cases Apple has decided it’s OK to just be ‘least bad’. That isn’t good enough.

I don’t want an MLS nav item forced on me in Apple TV. I want to install Retroarch on my iPhone. I don’t want ads in the App Store trying to trick me into installing something other than what I searched for. And I don’t want devs of apps I love to partake in a lottery with every single update they file. Small things, of course, but all of these little pieces – from millions and millions of users, businesses and creators – add up.

If nothing else, what happens next will be interesting. But mostly, I hope it will be beneficial, leading to a better future for consumers and Apple alike, even if the Apple that emerges is in key ways different from the one we have today.

March 23, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Game over for Apple Arcade?

As ably documented by Michael Tsai, Apple Arcade’s future is looking rocky. This comes from reports Apple’s rowing back on new content and paying less to developers.

Honestly, I always thought Apple Arcade was a strange move for Apple, given that it’s never seemed there was anyone sufficiently senior at the company who genuinely cares about gaming. Music and typography are infused in Apple’s DNA. Gaming is too often presented as something cool to show off the power of new devices, or comes across from Apple execs as a weird thing people waste time on. No new M-series chip or gaming toolkits will get us past that.

However, specifically on Apple Arcade, while I thought it was a weird decision, I’m nonetheless glad it exists. Because it’s objectively good. Sure, people who claim the only ‘real games’ are AAA (and who even attempt to dismiss the Switch, let alone mobiles) won’t give it a chance. But there are loads of fun titles, even if much of the service’s strength now lies in ‘+’ fare (existing App Store releases minus ads/IAP) rather than exclusives. It’s superb for kids who like mobile games (again: no ads; no IAP). And there are still interesting new things to play. (I mean, Arcade added a pinball game at one point. And pinball is pretty niche!)

For me, the main error Apple Arcade made was during its launch. It offered too much, too soon. It was simultaneously overwhelming and somehow yet made people think they could blaze through everything and instantly demand more. And more didn’t come for a long while, and so users felt they weren’t getting good value, even though Arcade at the time cost only five bucks per month.

Retention then became the driver, as subscribers dried up, extinguishing much of the original direction of the service (quality; games as art; experiments; uniqueness) for friendlier and grindy fare that is too often akin to freemium with the IAP ripped out. It’s hard to see where things go now. Maybe the future of Apple Arcade will be mostly + games, thereby turning it into Apple’s equivalent of Google Play Pass, rather than a place to exhibit the pinnacle of mobile games.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but Apple Arcade feels like the same old story with Apple and gaming: what success occurs is in many ways despite rather than because of Apple’s decisions and direction. I do hope things improve. I won’t hold my breath. Had I been doing so with Apple and gaming, I’d have expired within a year of getting my first Mac, way back in the 1990s.

March 2, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions


Weeknote: 17 February 2024 – good and bad Apple(s)

Loads of Apple kit and some other single-use devices behind the iPhone

Published stuff

A slightly tongue-in-cheek column for Stuff this week: My phone does everything, which is why I want to resurrect my iPod. And I really wish I could find the comic strip I refer to in the intro. It’s been bugging me for years.

I also gave my best free iPhone apps list a bump by adding Arc Browser, which has a really interesting way of presenting search results.

Over at TapSmart, it was all about kit this week, with new iPad and Apple Watch buyer’s guides.

Other stuff

Some random thoughts rattling around my head this week, mostly about Apple.

First, HomeKit is dreadful. I didn’t realise quite how bad it would be and regret dumping our Alexa kit and moving over, despite this household mostly being based around Apple products.

Yet again, an iOS update nuked my set-up. I recovered it, although our Eve plugs decided to not come along for the ride and once again needed resetting. It took a couple of days to figure out how to get my wife (listed as an admin on the system) back into the shared home too. Apple prides itself on “it just works”. But HomeKit just doesn’t. Looking online, I found I’m far from alone in this.

The same goes for macOS sidebar peeking, which has suddenly gained traction online, primarily because people hate it. If you’ve not noticed this in Sonoma, hover the cursor over a closed sidebar (left window edge) and it opens very slightly to remind you of its existence. This in many cases shifts all of the content within the window, which makes it a quite dangerous vestibular trigger. 

I’ve written to Apple’s accessibility team to suggest the behaviour is disabled when Reduce Motion is on. But mostly it’s yet another example of how hidden UI elements are a bad thing. (Weirdly, most macOS apps I use that have sidebars include a sidebar button in the toolbar though. So I’m not sure what Apple’s playing at here.)

Also, while I’m on a GRRR @ APPLE roll, nuking PWAs in the EU is now official, as reported by The Register. So the original ‘sweet solution’ for third party iPhone apps is hobbled. Apple, natch, blames the EU. Developers blame Apple for not getting its shit together. And honestly, I’ve little sympathy for Apple, given that it yet again looks like a company eradicating solutions for anything that might (but often don’t) threaten the money it makes from the App Store.

Finally, I was chatting with folks online this week about imposter syndrome. It’s a curious thing, in that I’ve been a professional writer in some capacity for well over 20 years, and it’s been my primary source of income for well over 15. I’ve written for a wide range of publications, including The Guardian and Wired. My rational brain (and, frequently, my wife) notes that I must be doing somethingright to have done pretty well in this industry for so long. And yet I can never quite shake that feeling: what if I get found out?

In some ways, it’s good to have a regular internal check against complacency. I never feel entitled to do what I do, and strive to always give my best, whoever I’m writing for. By the same token, I wish my internal needler would give over sometimes. Two decades in should be enough proof in any profession that you’re qualified to be there.

February 17, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 10 February 2024 – lighten up

Super Mario Wonder download code and Solstice app icon

Published stuff

Living a fair way north, I experience great variance in daylight across the year. And that’s not ideal in winter, when the nights draw in and it’s also dark when I get up. Daylight trackers can help combat SAD symptoms during the early months of the year, by providing a reminder of how daylight is increasing. Solstice by Dan Eden is my favourite, in part because it can automatically turn offnotifications when the days start getting shorter again.

Solstice and several other daylight trackers – including ones that aid photographers and surveyors – are explored in my daylight trackers round-up for TapSmart. I also wrote an explainer on game streaming for iPhone.

Over at Stuff this week, my column is Nintendo Switch digital game prices are bananas – but beat Ubisoft’s dream future for console gaming. Even my nine-year-old has pointed out how ridiculous the pricing situation is, hence why we’re very much a household centred on physical carts – albeit one that’s aware this option might not be around for much longer.

Other stuff

I’m not sure what’s going on with Apple of late. I get that it’s historically acted with ferocity towards what it perceives as injustice towards the company. But its scrap with the EU is set to cause collateral damage, perhaps so the company can point to problems and say to other jurisdictions: “See‽ This is what happens when you force us to do things we said were bad!”

The latest ‘headdesk’ moment: Apple has reportedly killed PWAs in iOS 17.4 – if you’re in the EU. Users are now asked if the app should open a PWA in Safari or cancel. 

Web apps were Apple’s original ‘sweet solution’ for expanding on base iPhone installs before the arrival of the App Store. And although good examples are rare, there have been cases where PWAs have provided functionality effectively banned by Apple from the App Store, such as retro game emulation and cloud gaming. Now, these experiences will be made worse, by virtue of loading within the browser rather than a more app-like full-screen view.

Defenders of Apple (who too often align with being anti-EU and rabidly pro-anything-American) argue this is a case of ‘careful what you wish for’. Apple, they say, has no choice but to nerf PWA functionality, because a PWA is technically a browser and doesn’t let people switch browser engines – or that only Safari having this functionality would be unacceptable regarding level playing field rules. Naturally, there are counterpoint arguments, claiming PWA functionality doesn’t clash with the EU’s Digital Markets Act. (Also, if you take ‘level playing field’ to its extreme, you may as well argue Safari cannot implement any features at all that a competitor doesn’t have.) If you fancy balance, web expert Bruce Lawson offers a reasoned, thoughtful take.

With Apple remaining tight-lipped, it’s impossible to know whether this change was inevitable or temporary while the company explores how to enable all browsers to create PWAs. The problem is that it’s just not a good look. Even if this isn’t malicious compliance, it sure feels like it. It feels petty. And that doesn’t come so much from the EU’s demands as Apple’s responses to them.

February 10, 2024. Read more in: Apple, Weeknotes

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My first Mac experiences


A Mac Plus, much like the one I first used at school. (Image: MARC912374)

As the Mac hits 40, I’ve been remembering my key ‘firsts’ with the platform.

At school, in around 1989 or 1990, I was plonked in front of a Mac Plus stashed in a cupboard. My English teacher reasoned “You know about computers” and I was tasked, with a few friends, with putting together the first edition of the school magazine. It’s to the credit of Apple and Aldus that the Mac and PageMaker together were usable enough that we managed this with no instructions. Although the teacher was perhaps overly optimistic about how long it would take, since she started getting annoyed after a few hours of us working on it instead of going to class. Even my most hardcore editors would admit putting together a magazine from scratch with dozens of pages takes a bit longer than a single session of double-English.

In 1996, while studying at Cardiff Art School, I was fortunate enough to win the Helen Gregory Memorial Scholarship. I shall remain forever grateful to the Gregory family, whose generosity allowed me to purchase my first Mac. It was a mighty beast – a PowerMac 8600/250AV, optimistically purchased during a period where people wondered whether Apple would wink out of existence entirely. I used this Mac to fashion some pioneering multimedia artwork, even if its dodgy internal HDD and the integrated Jaz drive tried their best to scupper my chances of retaining data for the entire length of my course.

By the time my uni course was done, Steve Jobs was back at Apple, and it looked like the company had turned the corner. The iMac had arrived. Until then, my parents had been fighting with a terrible PC, sold to them by some local cowboy to help run their business. I suggested the Mac. My folks were reluctant, but bought the Bondi Blue – and never looked back. That was my first experience of a ‘modern’ Mac as well.

Clearly, it had an impact, because I’m still writing about Macs regularly over a quarter of a century later!

January 24, 2024. Read more in: Apple

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