Has Apple or everyone else got Dynamic Island backwards?

It looks like there’s growing consensus that Dynamic Island’s primary interaction model is wrong. Michael Tsai compiles commentary across two posts, which include people grumping about how a tap on Dynamic Island opens an app, whereas a long-press is required to expand what’s in the island to use its controls. Everyone from Nilay Patel at The Verge to John ‘Daring Fireball’ Gruber seems to want the opposite.

I’ve taken a contrary viewpoint. The iOS Home Screen has long had a similar interaction model. Whether you’re interacting with an icon or a widget, a tap opens an app, whereas a long press (and, previously, Force Touch) exists for actions. To my mind, Dynamic Island follows this existing convention, rather than making up new ones. So if a timer’s in the island, you tap-hold to perform a contextual action, or tap to open the item’s app. Even if you take a more desktop analogy of minimising to a ‘dock’ (which is in some ways how Dynamic Island presents), Apple is being consistent in this regard.

Rob Jonson on Twitter disagrees, arguing we’re effectively talking about a long press for a quick interaction and a tap for a deeper one (that is, opening the app), which “doesn’t seem right to me”. He asks: “Put it another way – is the dynamic island primarily the holder of the full app, or the holder of the expanded dynamic island?”

I’m clearly in the minority here (albeit, at present, a minority that includes Apple), but it’d feel odd to me if a long-press in Dynamic Island was the route to launching an app, just the same as it’d be weird elsewhere in the operating system.

October 18, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions


The best of the best of 2000 AD

July 1989. Best of 2000 AD Monthly #46. That’s when I was properly hooked. Barely a teen, I’d until then read UK humour comics, bits of DC and Marvel, and licensed fare like Transformers. I’d been given a couple of ancient 2000 AD annuals, but they were full of hokey content and hadn’t aged well.

But that ‘Best of’ was something else. Judge Dredd with his stompy boots on the cover. Within, a veritable feast of classics. The Exo-Men. Block War. The Aggro Dome. Black and white art by Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Mike McMahon and Colin Wilson. It was a window into an amazing world that instantly made Marvel fare I’d read look stale.

The months passed. More Dredd. The mind-boggling Nemesis The Warlock. Strontium Dog gut-puncher Slavers of Drule, with the late, great Carlos Ezquerra on art duties. That was the issue that convinced me to start buying the weekly ‘Prog’. #651 was my first, long after the comic’s first ‘golden age’. No matter – I plugged gaps over the years by way of comic stores, car boot sales, and a huge collection very kindly donated by a member of a famous band.

Despite being well north of 40, I’m still collecting. I now have over 2300 issues of 2000 AD, and look forward to the Prog arriving every week. Current editor Matt Smith has during his tenure (now by far the longest on the comic) managed to keep 2000 AD fresh, decades into its run. As classic strips fade, new quality ably replaces them: Brink; Proteus Vex; The Out; Jaegir; Thistlebone.

The one downside is that 2000 AD, despite being 45 years old, remains largely unknown beyond the UK. Even within the UK, it’s often referred to as a historical artefact, as if it’s no longer a going concern. In the US, it’s on the periphery, with most collectors having heard of (but not read) Dredd, and owning a set of Zenith hardcovers, because Grant Morrison. But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise when potential new readers are faced with 45 years of history and ask: Where do you start?

In short, with Best of 2000 AD. No, not the comic I bought in the 1980s, but publisher Rebellion’s revamped, modernised take. Originally conceived as a newsstand monthly, COVID necessitated its rebirth into a series of six chunky volumes. Under the slogan of the “ultimate 2000 AD mix-tape”, each book aims to give new and lapsed readers a taste of 2000 AD’s history across 200+ pages.

Issue 1 sets the stage with a superb Jamie McKelvie (The Wicked & The Divine) cover, and gorgeous design work by Tom Muller (X-Men). A complete John Wagner Dredd tale kicks things off, before we dig into the first volume of Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard’s claustrophobic space station police procedural Brink – a modern-day 2000 AD classic.

Alan Moore’s first major hit, Halo Jones, is next. Telling the tale of an ordinary woman living in a dystopian hellscape who has to go… shopping. You’ll never look at Tesco in quite the same way again. After a quick Strontium Dog (which might baffle newbies – a smidgeon of context about the strip might have helped), there’s a critical essay of Judge Anderson high point Shamballa, by Adam Karenina Sherifm, followed by the heartbreaking story itself. A lurid Dredd short and single-pager D.R. & Quinch wrap things up.

There’s no obvious theme, but there’s a broad commonality of tone that threads throughout 2000 AD. It revels in exploring bleak realities and lacks the overt heroism evident in many US comics. Lights in the darkness come by way of explorations of humanity and hope in all its various forms, and splashes of jet-black humour that frequently punctuate even the grimmest of Judge Dredd sagas.

2000 AD also differentiates itself through pace. The Prog has long offered strips in bursts of five or six pages. Every week, something has to happen within that space – stories have to move on. Arcs are therefore swift. Imagine each issue of 2000 AD being like five US comics compressed and distilled to their essence until no fat remains. That’s why in this 200-page volume, you effectively get two complete graphic novels, most of another (Brink ends on a cliffhanger – there’s more in vol. 2), along with a bunch of extras.

It remains to be seen whether Best of 2000 AD moves the needle and finally gets the publication the greater notoriety it’s long deserved. (Be mindful how many major creators have gone through 2000 AD’s ranks!) But it must have a shot. Regardless, if you, as comics reader, have ever wondered what all the fuss is about, buy a copy. The first volume is a cracking read and bodes well for the rest of the six-book run.

Best of 2000 AD vol. 1 is available to order now, priced £14.99/$22.99.

September 27, 2022. Read more in: Books, Opinions

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Apple needs to start helping developers and not allow scammers to thrive

Kevin Archer is an indie developer who makes Authenticator App by 2Stable, a feature-rich, premium and suitably named take on, well, an authenticator app. There are of course other, similar, apps on the App Store. But he today revealed just how similar.

On Twitter, he claimed another developer lifted text from his app (including a section on Apple Watch support, despite the other app not supporting Apple’s wearable). When testing the app, Archer found a review request during onboarding, which doesn’t appear to align with Apple guidelines. And, naturally, there’s a weekly IAP subscription, because of course there is.

That’s all bad enough, but the dodgy app popped up a second time, with a different icon. The linked thread outlines how the app is not only a straight clone of the other scammy app (right down to what appears to be integrated stock art), but also directly lifts copy and functionality from Archer’s app.

On Twitter, Archer rightly said he didn’t understand how these apps pass review with features that don’t work, a copied design and a weekly subscription. He added that every day, indie devs like him get “apps rejected for silly things”, while these scammy apps sneak through.

It’s reasonable to argue Apple cannot deal with a flood of daily apps to review that might circumvent copyright – and that certain things aren’t liable to such protections anyway. If someone steals the ideas within an app, tough (broadly). Actual content is another matter, mind. But you might counter by using an argument from Apple itself that the App Store is meant to be better. It’s supposed to be curated. It should be a place where developers thrive, not where they play whac-a-mole with pretenders ripping them off.

Mind you, Archer told me even getting to whac-a-mole stage isn’t easy. Although you might reasonably argue Apple cannot pre-emptively police its store, surely it makes it easy for developers to flag when their apps are ripped off? Archer suggested otherwise: “One of the main issues with the App Store team is that you can’t contact them directly. You can contact developer support, but they are in charge of technical issues and told us on the phone they can’t put us in contact with the App Store team.”

Archer says he’s submitted a report via the App Store’s ‘report a problem’ feature and is hoping for the best. Meanwhile, Apple regularly argues that when devs hit a problem that running to the press won’t solve them. History suggests otherwise; but if Apple really doesn’t want issues to be fixed by bad press, perhaps it should give developers the tools to flag problems more rapidly with those who can actually do something about them – who then should, very swiftly, take action.

Update: MacRumors wrote about the situation yesterday. Apple has since removed both apps from the App Store.

February 19, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions


iCloud sync is randomly breaking

A week or so ago, Cloud Battery stopped working for me. The app syncs device battery status across iCloud, providing alerts across all your devices — handy when one needs charging. Having just updated a bunch of them, I figured this was a bug in a nice but not critical piece of indie software and thought nothing more of it.

Then I needed to use Transloader for something. It worked – at first. But then it started throwing up sync errors. On iPhone, the app noted these were 503s. If you’re not familiar with arcane error codes, this one states a server is not able to handle a request. Since the ‘server’ in this case is iCloud, that was a concern. I switched two devices to a spare account and Transloader worked fine. I finished my work, albeit a day behind.

Then Soulver failed — suddenly and very badly. I needed to restart my iMac so was shutting down all my apps. Soulver threw up a permissions error. A week of input was wiped out in an instant. This was a shock on multiple fronts: in part because of the data loss, but also because Soulver is one of the most robust apps I use. It had never failed before.

I swapped messages with the app’s creator, who was mortified. I sent grabs of my iCloud Drive folder where Soulver’s ‘sheetbook’ was stored, which now had an exciting and mysterious new file. I moved the sheetbook to local storage and had had no further problems. I tested the old one several times on iCloud, and it went wrong half a dozen times. The culprit was clearly iCloud.

I griped about this on Twitter. It turned out, I wasn’t alone. Developer Becky Hansmeyer kicked off a thread about the issue, which ended up starring, among others, Paul Haddad (Tapbots), Adam Overholtzer (Cheatsheet), and Quentin Zervaas (Streaks). A quick look on Reddit had already suggested to me that the problem had in fact been around for months, rather than days; terrifyingly, Zervaas said he’d seen this issue “on and off since May 2021”, and his own app only currently fully works on some of his Apple IDs.

On and off since May 2021. For iCloud sync. For an issue that at best causes somewhat random sync failure for the apps that differentiate Apple’s devices and that at worst can cause catastrophic and unrecoverable data loss. That is not good enough.

Several devs noted Apple is at least “aware” of the problem, but it’s apparently been rumbling on for eight months now, and is, as Zevaas suggests “seemingly quite random”. That’s just what everyone — users and developers alike — want to hear about the reliability (or lack thereof) of such a critical service. My question now — having apparently decided at the worst possible time to bin Dropbox and go all-in on Apple’s equivalent — is whether I can trust iCloud sync and iCloud Drive at all.

An hour or so after I posted this piece, some of the Mac website giants stomped on in with their takes. You can read two below:

Update: Zervaas said on 25 Jan he saw a big drop-off in 503 errors. For now (26 Jan), Cloud Battery and Transloader are working for me again. (I haven’t moved my Soulver sheetbook back to iCloud though. It’s going to take a lot for me to trust iCloud Drive with that again.)

January 24, 2022. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology


Apple should counter its emulation stance by adding retro classics to Apple Arcade

9to5Mac reports iDOS 2 is to be pulled from the App Store. This isn’t the first time the app’s been removed, and probably not coincidentally comes hot on the heels of news posts showing people using it to get Windows 3.1 running on an iPad. (With a bit of effort, you can get classic Mac OS running too.)

Apple, naturally, cites that its rules have been broken:

Executing code can introduce or changes features or functionality of the app and allows for downloading of content without licensing.

Presumably, Apple reckons the ‘executing code’ bit is the main issue; after all, kicking an app for running illegal content would be a touch hypocritical, given how many book readers and audio and video players are on the store. Ahem.

This also points to shoddy App Store review. It’s not like iDOS 2 snuck through. It’s been back on the store with this exact same functionality for a while now, and received several updates. I’d hoped this was a sign Apple was changing its tone on retro gaming and emulation, but feared it was not. And Apple’s seeming distaste for emulated classic games feels further cemented by it not approving entirely legal retro-gaming streaming service Antstream Arcade for the App Store.

So what now? If you like emulators and want them on your phone: Android. Sure, there are workarounds on iOS, but they’re more hassle than they’re worth. But if Apple was canny, there would be another way — a very Apple way: add a retro arcade to Apple Arcade.

Apple Arcade is oddly lacking in arcade games. Apple likes doing things by the book. Plenty of companies are happy to license out old IP. So alongside Arcade Originals, App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, let’s have Arcade Classics. Get fully licensed Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Robotron, Bubble Bobble, Dig Dug and loads more — an actual old-school arcade — on to Apple Arcade. It would be a great way to show off iOS 15’s new virtual controls overlay system, along with simultaneously dealing with the bizarre lack of arcade games in Apple Arcade and the paucity of classic games on the App Store as a whole.

July 23, 2021. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions, Retro gaming

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