Automatic app updates out, this method in.

Automatic app updates are a bad idea. Apple should recognize this by now. In case you, dear reader, aren’t convinced of that, here are some simple reasons why automatic app updates are just no good –

  1. Software is buggy – how many times have you heard that “we shouldn’t get the dot zero version of that software”? It’s almost a maxim in the enterprise world – unless you deeply trust it to not break your current setup, don’t get that update. So why should we be so cavalier about software updates for our personal devices? We shouldn’t let developers decide the de facto time when we get an update.
  2. It’s a vehicle for disruption – and not the good kind. App updates are great if they’re well thought out, streamlined, and work. But more often than not, they introduce changes which wouldn’t sit well with you and your workflow. How many of us regret updating to some version of iOS that slowed down our devices to hell and there was no recourse? Why do we trust third party developers more than we trust Apple in this instance? If I don’t know exactly what is going to change in the update, why should I update it? Which leads me to the next point…
  3. Automatic app updates are evil – Yes, they’re evil. How many times has Facebook slipped in something nasty and you didn’t even know it till you got the update? There are two types of nasty Facebook has slipped into your devices over time – the first is when they change the user agreement. So often, we would go to the website and Facebook would make us check a box and hit Accept before letting us burst out our Likes and jealousy. We’ve all brushed past those to chat with our friends. The same applies to app updates. You open the app to answer the call of a notification and an annoying pop up tells you to just say YES before you can do what you came here to do. What option do you have other than to stab that yes button? The second nasty is the more insidious version – Facebook has been able to slip in all kinds of dirty code, tracking features, and nasty experiments into our apps simply by adopting frameworks that let them remotely update our apps, and by using vague release notes that just said “making some improvements”, even when they were shipping major changes to your Facebook and Instagram experiences. This must stop, and the easiest way to make them stop (even though we’re too far gone now thanks to their remote app update frameworks), is to stop automatic app updates.
  4. It’s bad for security – This goes against everything you’ve ever heard. “Automatically updating software is great! It keeps things secure!” Until, it doesn’t. Software is eating up our life and yet, pretty much all of us are rather careless about the security of our apps and services. For most technophobes, automatic app updates are both a boon, and an excuse to hide behind. “Hey, I keep my apps updated, but I still got hacked!” Well, did you consider 2FA? Did you try to understand whether you’re using insecure communication over insecure networks? Did your app have the requisite features to protect your privacy, like data encryption? Are you using the same password for fifty services? We would all be more knowledgeable about all those questions if we bothered to understand what goes on in the making of our apps, the design decisions taken by the devs, and the shortcuts they take to ship sooner. Which leads to the next point –
  5. It’s a surprise! – it feels great to open an app the first time in the day and notice that something has changed overnight, but more than once, I’ve been bitten by apps that changed their business models, removed features, and made decisions that affect me, without so much as bothering to explain that a change is coming. This attitude is a right that a developer feels about a piece of code that they’ve written, but it’s a piece of code that I licensed from them and is running on my machine. They should not be able to decide how that code changes for me. By removing automatic updates, we’re forcing developers to explain why we should be getting this new update, rather than letting them get away with “we removed bugs!” or the boilerplate crap big tech companies throw at us.

Until things change and developers become better documentation writers, and tech companies stop lying about the code they’re sneaking into our machines, I have one suggestion –

Don’t do automatic app updates. Do expiration-based ones instead.

Right now, automatic app updates are an all or nothing deal. You either trust Apple and third party devs completely, or your don’t. I fall in the latter category and I couldn’t be happier! I know that I’m gonna get exactly what I paid for an app (especially if it’s free), and it’s going to work exactly as I expect it to for a long time to come.

Well, almost. Apps often have massive API changes, or security updates that are absolutely essential. The only way for devs to push those through is to expire the version of app currently installed on your devices, and force you to update (when you open the app the next time, at the crucial moment when you actually need the app). I’ve seen a lot of important updates like this, like when my banks update their APIs, or my insurance firm tells me to get the update else I won’t get continued service, or my grocer decides that I can’t get to my weekly ‘one dollar off’ coupons until I get the latest and greatest app update they’ve pushed out.

OK, that last one is silly. Apps like my grocer and my insurance app should always work. If I’m in front of a cop who’s asking for my insurance info, it would suck if I have to tell her that I have to update my darn app before I can show it to her. Also, why the heck does my grocer need to update the app once a month? Haven’t they heard of APIs?

Situations like those cause me to propose the solution I’m presenting, though, it’s obvious that it should be taken with a pinch of salt, since it’s not the perfect solution.

Here’s what we should do –

Apps shouldn’t get auto-updated. Instead, this should be a deliberate process. We need to be able to approve everything that goes into our devices. Yet, some apps are essentials, and though I don’t open my insurance app every day, when I open it, I expect it to work instead of showing me a banner to update the app before I can continue. So those essential apps should have two options – either I let them auto update completely, or I let them update only when the app is marked as ‘expired’ by the developer. The benefit of the latter approach is that devs should have a legitimate reason, such as changing their API drastically, that should drive app updates. Does this put more strain on Apple’s app approval process? Yes. Let’s make them earn that 30% they take from the devs, and the hundreds of dollars of Apple tax they collect from us.

I’m not interested in the smaller updates. I’m interested in keeping my apps available when I need them. So if I can skip the small ones and only get the big, breaking news updates, I’ll be a happy camper.

But this may not suit everyone. Some people don’t care about how and what changes are coming to their devices, but that’s what got us into this mess before with Apple and the battery issue which Apple effectively cheated and lied to us about, and Facebook and every privacy scandal they’ve been able to walk away from.

I believe that if you want to remain that kind of person, you have the full right. So I would love to see all of these options incorporated into the next iOS, or the one after that. The future is customization and personalized feature sets for everyone. It’s more expensive due to that, but that’s just where we’re headed. Hopefully, we’ll get to enjoy some good software on the way.

A couple of things about the iPadOS.

To me, this is the most exciting consumer announcement at WWDC today.

Everything, from better copy/paste (that terrible tap UI be damned), to the new Apple ID based app sign-in (it’s been a long time coming), to the fact that you see footnotes on the iPadOS page for the first time at about 70% down the page (when they mention speed improvements, which are already a sore spot for Apple), tells me that Apple has finally accepted that the iPad is not just a ‘bigger iOS device’ but a thing in itself.

Some of the ideas they’re throwing at us are reminiscent of OS X jiggery-pokery (like Today widgets, and App Expose and app spaces), while others, like Apple Arcade (gaming subscription service; akin to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited) seem like good improvements that Apple needs to keep their services business growing.

Apple’s long road to merging Mac and iPad app development is on the cusp of breaking out, and their continuity and handoff features are getting better and better.

The best part was the range of iPads that this new OS supports, which is a good job, well done, Apple.

I realized recently, that we use our iPads horizontally almost exclusively, and Apple should ideally twist the Apple logo in the back by ninety degrees. Perhaps this software change is the first step to embracing this new mentality.

Reuters takes offense at hacked apps in iOS

It is unclear how much revenue the pirate distributors are siphoning away from Apple and legitimate app makers.

Source: Software pirates use Apple tech to put hacked apps on iPhones | Reuters

It’s taken a long time and another massive Facebook privacy scandal for the news media to discover this underbelly of hacked apps chugging along happily due to Apple’s Enterprise Apps program.

I’ve used one on and off – Instagram++

I must say, it’s a liberating experience – I see no ads on Instagram, I see no random “Suggested Friends to Follow” crap.

I had to resort to this because my Instagram experience is vastly worse off than my wife’s and my friends’. I see, on average, 3x more ads on Instagram than others around me. How many ads does my wife see? None.

So to my mind, using Instagram++ makes perfect sense. If I can hack my way to a better UX, why shouldn’t I? It’s the same as using an adblocker.

I don’t support piracy of services. There’s no legit reason to not pay for Spotify.

As for hacked games, well, cheats and hacks have always existed, and will continue to exist, despite the alarmed voice of this Reuters article.

Also, the article got one thing wrong – I’ve observed Apple kick out the Enterprise cert almost once a month, sometimes two or three times a month. They seem to make it sound as if Reuters alerting Apple was the only thing that forced Apple into action.

They’re very much aware of the problem and can’t or won’t do much about it. Talking about it as if it’s the end of the App Store is just noise.

As for how much revenue these services generate? Not close to enough. They do seem to have a comfortable existence, and so might be able to get around Apple’s 2FA proposal by just buying a bunch of phone numbers in China. But do they run a massive profit? You bet that if they did, Apple would be all over them.

This is the same as the jailbreak community in some senses – only a small percentage of users are actually trusting these services not to misuse the extensive powers that Enterprise certs give them. Out of that small percentage, a further small percent is paying for it.

It’s sad that large companies like Facebook pulling the shit that they do often also bring to light little players that are just trying to provide a good service to users.

Now, the technical aspect of this – Instagram++ is available online for download as an IPA if you want to use your own developer account. If you don’t have a dev account, Apple now allows side-loading, but it is a cumbersome process that expires after 7 days. Apple’s earlier sideloading used to be 30 days. When Apple made it free for everyone to sideload (not just if you’re a $99/year paying developer), they reduced the time frame of the cert to 7 days, which in my mind is a total d*ck move.

If Apple really wants to combat Enterprise cert misuse while letting users do whatever they want with their systems, they can just legitimize sideloading and let me choose when my cert would expire, but Apple isn’t that generous.

Till a good solution presents itself, services like TweakBox, Tutu, and AppValley will continue to operate by hook or by crook. So be it.

The Original iPad mini and Apple’s fluid vision

It is meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size. Apple’s done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them.

Source: A Look Back at the Original iPad mini – MacStories

 

It seems like Steve Jobs and Apple understood that you can’t place things too close inside the screen, but forgot that you can’t place the screen and the edge too close either, because it’ll cause hours of headaches by unwanted swipes, taps, and hard presses. The Apple of today thinks bezels are bad and it is wrong. Steve Jobs might have said the above, but he’s also the one constantly touting that they made their devices thinner, which reduces battery life and also the ‘holdability’ of mobile devices.

(Proof of the holdability issue – When was the last time you held your iPhone 7 or above naked, without a case, and felt confident that you’ll not drop it? It’s been months for me and when I did it last night, it felt alien. It seems Apple has outsourced the job of holdability to the cases that we inevitably put on our sold-a-kidney-for devices.)

I love my original iPad Mini and still use it. It’s a very well built device. The iPads of today make me feel like Apple just wants to make the jump to touch ‘computers’ instead of trying to keep the iPad what it is – a touchscreen tablet that feels different than anything else on the market.

The difference between a touch computer and a touch tablet? The former, you keep on your desk and work on using a keyboard (think Surface). The latter, your kids hold while they’re watching YouTube videos on in the car.

But this gives Apple a great new diversification strategy – do you want an iPad to work or an iPad to play?

Till now, they’ve kept these two together. But maybe, bowing to market forces, they’ll break these two use cases apart and give us two iPads that do very different things. That’ll require Apple to stop treating the iPad like it’s just the overgrown brother of the iPhone. Let’s see if they do that.

p.s. With iOS 12, if Apple is truly committed to making software releases that don’t completely destroy older devices, that’s also relevant to corporate uses. Companies don’t keep updating everyone’s hardware every two years ‘because the software got old’. So if Apple wants an iPad on every office desk (as they should), they really need to get their software updates game right, which they seem to be on a path to.

p.p.s I was going to call the title “Apple’s faltering vision” (because clickbait!) but Apple’s vision is rather fluid. If they see a market segment responding well, they go after that, instead of doubling down on losing segments like some other companies do.

Security vs Usability

I’ve come to a point where I do **not** update apps, plugins, software in general. I know that’s a regressive approach to safety, but safety can’t keep trumping usability all the time.

Source: My comment on Stephen’s Notebook

 

Every few days, I have a conversation about security vs usability somewhere. With my iPad Mini, I blindly trusted Apple to do the right thing and they’ve screwed me over. It’s a beloved device, destroyed completely by iOS 9.

So I’ve basically given up on this bullshit harp that companies sing of ‘security’ to shove software updates down our throats. Sometimes it’s their stupidity, and sometimes it’s just them being sinister. The new Microsoft is the old Microsoft. The benevolent Apple is an insidious Apple. Don’t get me started on Facebook, twitter, and Google. Gmail is just the latest casualty of our overzealous overlords.

Yes, security is a big problem. Yes, it needs constant vigilance. But just like national defense budgets, one key phrase doesn’t allow organizations to completely railroad people’s expectations, asks, hopes, and in this case, UX.

If you’re concerned that by not updating software, you’re living on the edge, restrict the things you do on that device, while keeping other devices that are completely updated and secured. Use only frequently updated third party browsers instead of the default options. Read up on the latest security scares on the Internet and just be aware of the situations you can get into. But most importantly – back up. Make frequent backups of things you care about. I don’t care if it’s as much as letting iCloud run its course every night, and Google Photos siphoning off your pics. Just do it so that if you brick your device, or get hacked, you’re not set back a hundred years.

99% of security is just keeping your eyes open.

How do you like them upgrades?

Every few days, my iPhone politely but firmly nudges me to ‘downgrade’ my iOS from iOS 10 to iOS 11. I say downgrade because that’s what iOS 11 is to me – a crappy OS that was shoved out with half baked ideas which work well for the latest and greatest iPhone, but not at all for any other device Apple supposedly still supports. Getting rid of that prompt requires careful jumping through a confusing menu that makes it too easy to accept a “sure go ahead with this change at night when no one is watching” option. Most of the time, I am able to do just that. But last night, in a haze of trying to actually use my phone, I must have hit the wrong button, because when I woke up, my phone had restarted and was magically on iOS 11.4.1. Yay.

Before I talk about iOS 11, I just want to say why I didn’t want to get on it –

  1. It’s terribly built – simple features such as the ability to close apps quickly (in a few years time, Apple will reveal that just like their battery nonsense, closing apps DOES actually increase the speed of the phone, as empirically witnessed by a Bajillion people), the ability to turn off the wifi completely through the Control Center, the ability to actually use the phone for half an hour without draining the battery completely (my wife got on iOS 11 as soon as it released and she had the worst experience possible with that OS) were nice to have in iOS 10.
  2. I won’t be able to use all my apps – Apple, with iOS 11, waged a war on 32 bit apps. Now, most apps (99.9% I’d say) were smart about it and went 64bit, but I still have 4 apps on my phone, two of which I was using every few days till yesterday, which are 32 bit. So long Stress Baal and Sunstroke. You will be sorely missed.
  3. It will most certainly screw up my Apple Watch – I have a Series 0 (zero) Apple Watch. When will I buy the new one? Probably not for another few years. It’s a watch. It’s somewhat smart and lets me see messages and cut phone calls, but that’s about it. Do I need LTE? If AT&T pays me $15/mo instead of charging it from me, I might. But one minute into using the new OS, I was told to update my Watch from version 3.2.3 to 4.3.2 and told that if I do not, the phone will force unpair my watch and reset it. Thanks Obama. I exited the Watch app on my phone and plan on opening it at some point in the future. My watch is no longer getting notifications and isn’t able to send heart rate data to the phone (so much for Apple’s “we’re helping you take care of your health” crap. If the data collection is conditional, it’s not really helpful, is it?). But I know that watchOS 4 will screw up the watch, the third party apps, the battery usage. Basically, this is Apple’s way of making you buy a new watch. NO.

Now, coming to iOS 11. I immediately noticed that most apps seem to work differently – Google Maps had some new and interesting UI changes, Egg Inc had AR, the photos app had an irritating number of new features it had to tell me about before it let me use the app, the screenshots were showing up at the bottom (which is nice), etc.

Oh wait, backup. AR. That gleaming, new, awesome technology that’s changing the world! Yeah, I used it. For about 30 seconds. Then I was done.

Literally the only thing I could imagine using AR for – Egg, Inc. With that, my AR experience has ended. Well done, Apple.

Incidentally, I only recently watched this rather interesting video about how Apple will eventually launch AR glasses and they will be more successful than Google’s half-ass attempt because, well, Apple. It’s worth a watch 🙂 –

The rest of the stuff, is as I expected – meh. The app switcher can now close apps (yay!). The wifi stupidity that Apple propagated with iOS 11 is still there (so it’s always going to drain your battery no matter what). The animations and speed of launching apps is meh. Apple really wanted to make you feel something different, and well, I feel it, but I don’t care for it. It’s more a disruption than a nice addition. Plus, if you close an app that sits at the top of the screen vs at the bottom, the animation helps you see where the app is ‘going to’, but that’s really a rather stupid thing to care for Apple. I say that because I’m sure anyone who has as many apps as I do uses the search bar to get to apps instead.

Oh, yeah, that might be the silver lining – in iOS 10, I would swipe down, type out the name of an app I want, and the phone would just sit there, like a dunce, unsure of what I want it to do. Something was really borked in the code there and sometimes the search would work perfectly and other times it would go completely for a toss. Hopefully, that experience will be more consistent with iOS 11. If not, I’ll know that Apple did not even bother improving the Siri search code underneath and just dressed it in iOS 11 style. Typical Apple. Let’s see.

I’m no Luddite. I like experimenting with new stuff. But I really was hoping to go directly from iOS 10 to iOS 12. When iOS 12 drops, it’ll most likely not support my Series 0 watch. But at least it’s purported to be better than this monstrosity Apple threw our way. It’s OK to skip an OS, it’s OK to turn off auto-upgrades and auto-updates and watch your ‘to update’ App Store list burgeon to 197 apps. It’s OK to let the latest and greatest go while developers work on hardening releases. We all do it in some sphere of our lives. It’s just that my sphere was the one I’m staring at the most during my day – my phone. I want it to be consistent, familiar, and with less fluff. Sometimes people stick to a particular iPhone for a lot longer than they can, because they like the form factor and the materials used. Well, iOS 10 was that for me. But now my phone has moved past it. Time to adopt the new and shiny and see what changes this brings. Hopefully some nice AR filters.

7 days with the Apple Watch

I was recently gifted the Apple Watch by my girlfriend and despite my initial apprehensions, I love having this device strapped to my wrist. I was test-driving the Pebble watch before this and I have an analog and a digital watch I alternated between before that. But the Apple Watch definitely has blown all of those out of the water.

As my brother Nipun once said –

Continue reading

Apple needs to release a Mind-Body-Soul LifeKit

How many miles did you walk today?
How long did you sleep?
What was your calorie intake and expenditure over the weekend?

These are questions that your iPhone can answer right now.

How many pages of a book have you read in the last week?
How much time have you spent meditating using one of the meditation apps on your iPad?
How much time have you spent on twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Reddit today?
Are your iMessages mostly positive or negative?

These are some of the questions that Apple’s iOS cannot answer right now. Continue reading

The guy in the rain

http://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/transportation/bike

Image Courtesy CU Boulder

About two years ago, when not one month had passed since I had entered the US, I once got a free bike from CU Boulder’s Bike Station. It’s a great service where any student or faculty member can rent a bike for forty-eight hours, for free. Since it was time to return it, I cycled up to the UMC, near which the bike station sits under a large tree. As I was returning the bike, it started to rain. Afraid for the newly bought iPhone in my pocket, I went into the shed and hid from the rain. Two guys were working at the station that day. The one on the inside showed me a Lenovo laptop that was basically everything proof – shock, water and temperature. It was given to the bike station specifically because it faces all the elements on nature all the time. Continue reading