Apple unleashed an update avalanche last week, with OS X 10.11.1, iOS 9.1, and watchOS 2.0.1 — we have the details on each. Also, the fourth-generation Apple TV is now available for sale and will start shipping later this week. Elsewhere in this issue, Julio Ojeda-Zapata evaluates the Android Wear smartwatch platform for iOS users, Josh Centers explains Siri content reminders in iOS 9, and Adam Engst assigns blame for the Internet’s content woes. Notable software releases this week include Tinderbox 6.3.2, Postbox 4.0.7, SpamSieve 2.9.22, Safari 9.0.1, Mac EFI Security Update 2015-002, and Security Update 2015-007 (Mavericks) and 2015-004 (Yosemite).
by Josh Centers
Apple has updated OS X 10.11 El Capitan to 10.11.1 with new emoji characters and bug fixes for Mail and Microsoft Office 2016.Show full article
Apple has released OS X 10.11.1, with several bug fixes, most notably improved compatibility with Microsoft Office 2016, which should hopefully fix the issues those users have been experiencing, such as frequent app crashes. The 942 MB update can be installed via Software Update, with a 1.19 GB delta updater available as a standalone download.
Apple says that OS X 10.11.1 also improves the stability of the installer when upgrading to OS X El Capitan, addresses an issue that prevented certain Audio Unit plug-ins from functioning properly, and improves VoiceOver reliability. If you’ve seen JPEG images show up as gray or green boxes in Preview in El Capitan, that’s now fixed too.
Users of Apple Mail will appreciate a fix for a bug that prevented the display of certain messages and mailboxes; another fix resolves a situation where outgoing server information could disappear. Unfortunately, the El Capitan version of Mail broke clicking the table-of-contents links in the HTML issue of TidBITS, and that bug doesn’t appear to be fixed.
The update also includes 150 new emoji characters, including tacos, burritos, a bow and arrow, the “devil horn” hand gesture, and the much-requested “middle finger” hand gesture. Tech Insider has a roundup for emoji junkies.
As always, OS X 10.11.1 includes a bunch of security updates: 37 to be precise.
Our take is that those of you running Microsoft Office 2016 should probably update right away, particularly if you’ve been experiencing crashes and other problems while using Office apps. For everyone else, hold off for a few days and see what early adopters say about it.
Apart from an improvement to Live Photos for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus users, and more emoji, iOS 9.1 focuses on bug fixes, none of which are particularly notable.Show full article
Alongside the 10.11.1 update to El Capitan and watchOS 2.0.1, Apple has updated iOS to version 9.1, making only two feature changes. First, for those iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus users taking Live Photos, iOS now senses when you raise or lower your iPhone and avoids recording those movements. That’s a useful change, since many Live Photos were bookended by inadvertent movements.
Second, as with El Capitan’s update, iOS 9.1 includes 150 new emoji characters, including additional foods, different family units, more faces, new animals, more sports equipment, various weather icons, and more. You can finally convey that you’re nonplussed about your archery match being postponed due to heavy fog, all without having to think of any of those pesky words. Emoji junkies can find a roundup of the new images at Tech Insider.
After those two changes, iOS 9.1 focuses on stability, resolving unspecified problems in CarPlay, Music, Photos, Safari, and Search, and on performance, reportedly improving responsiveness in the multitasking user interface. Other bugs fixed could:
- Cause Calendar to freeze in Month view
- Prevent Game Center from launching
- Inappropriately zoom content in some apps
- Cause incorrect message counts for POP accounts
- Prevent users from removing recent contacts from new email or messages
- Fail to display some messages in Mail searches
- Display a spurious gray bar in the body of audio messages
- Cause activation errors on some cellular carriers
- Prevent some apps from updating via the App Store
Security updates are included as well, with 24 vulnerabilities blocked.
At 246 MB for an iPhone 6, iOS 9.1 is probably most easily installed directly on the device via Settings > General > Software Update, although it should also work fine if installed via iTunes.
If you’re using one of the just-released iPhone 6s models and are taking Live Photos, you’ll want to install iOS 9.1 sooner rather than later. Otherwise, wait a few days and see what’s said about it online as the early adopters report on what they’re seeing. We haven’t experienced any notable problems on our test devices.
by Josh Centers
The latest update to watchOS addresses some minor bugs, including stalled software updates and poor battery life.Show full article
Continuing with its operating system update avalanche after the releases of OS X 10.11.1 and iOS 9.1, Apple has pushed out watchOS 2.0.1, which fixes some lingering bugs and adds new emoji characters. You can find the 62.8 MB update in the Watch app on your iPhone, in My Watch > General > Software Update. To update, the Apple Watch needs to be in range of your iPhone, connected to its charger, and charged to at least 50 percent.
According to Apple, watchOS 2.0.1 fixes issues that caused stalled software updates and poor battery life. It also addresses issues that prevented location information from updating, caused Digital Touch to send from an email address instead of a phone number, and made sensors stay on indefinitely when using Siri to measure heart rate. The update also resolves an issue that prevented a managed iPhone from syncing iOS calendar events to the Apple Watch. Finally, watchOS 2.0.1 addresses stability issues when using a Live Photo as a watch face.
With so little history of updates, it’s impossible to know if watchOS updates may be problematic, as some OS X and iOS updates have been in the past. Nevertheless, since the bugs fixed are quite minor, it’s probably worth waiting a few days before installing the update, just in case it has some unanticipated ill effects. Ironically, Adam Engst’s Apple Watch ran out of juice for the first time since updating to watchOS 2.0 the day before he updated to 2.0.1, so perhaps his watch was trying to encourage the update.
Google has made Android Wear watches compatible with the iPhone – but this may be of limited appeal to most iPhone users given severe restrictions, such as an inability to install third-party apps and most watch faces. Watch-model support is limited, too.Show full article
Smartwatches running Google’s Android Wear operating system were, until recently, largely irrelevant to iPhone users because they officially worked only with Android smartphones.
Unofficial hacks cropped up here and there to enable a degree of iPhone compatibility, but for the vast majority of iOS users the Google-y watches essentially did not exist.
That changed recently when Google released an Android Wear app for iOS to enable Bluetooth pairing of iPhones with Android Wear smartwatches – a move that had long been rumored to be in the offing.
Google said its Android Wear app for iOS is compatible with iPhone models going all the way back to the iPhone 5, running iOS 8.2 or later.
This makes Android Wear watches somewhat iOS-competitive with the Apple Watch, which is unlikely to ever be Android-compatible, and with Pebble watches that have long worked with both iPhones and Android phones (see “Pebble Time Offers Low-Budget Apple Watch Alternative,” 7 Sep 2015).
The question is: Would anyone actually want to use an Android Wear watch with an iPhone, given alternatives that are more iOS-friendly?
The answer is… complicated.
I’ll admit a bit of a Google bias, being an Apple user who relies almost exclusively on Google cloud services instead of Apple’s weaker variants. As a result, the prospect of having a wrist-deployed Google-cloud console to use in tandem with my iPhone excited me. I had a blast testing the Android Wear app on an iPhone with a couple of Android Wear watches.
But, in doing so, I ran into a number of issues that should give most iPhone users pause. Such potential showstoppers include limited Android Wear model support, and limited access to apps and watch faces compared to those who using the watches with Android smartphones.
Stellar Notifier -- Pairing an Android Wear watch and an iPhone via the Android Wear app is straightforward – so much so I wonder why it took Google so long.
Once paired via Bluetooth, the next steps are just as straightforward. These include granting the watch access to my iPhone’s calendar, and enabling notifications and location tracking.
I did all of this with LG’s recently released Watch Urbane, one of several Android Wear smartwatches that Google recommends for use with the iPhone. The watch and my iPhone 6 Plus were soon simpatico. I wasn’t delighted with the Urbane’s styling, but the watch became a fantastic notification device.
Google has adapted the card-style formatting of its computer- and phone-based Google Now intelligent assistant and notification system for a smartwatch display. This means email messages and other updates appear as compact cards, while groupings of similar notifications (such as a bunch of Gmail messages) show up as card stacks.
Dealing with the cards is enjoyable and intuitive. Swipe right to dismiss a card, left for more info (if available), and up to cycle through a card stack. The cards and card stacks are easy to identify via telltale icons and colors (red for Gmail, say, with the email service’s icon prominently shown), and can be dismissed card by card or en masse.
This is my favorite way to get notifications on my wrist, beating out the Apple Watch and Pebble approaches. That makes Android Wear, strictly in a notifications sense, my favorite smartwatch platform.
An iPhone user has lots of control over an Android Wear watch’s behavior. Google Now can be turned off, for one thing. This does not alter card-style formatting, but it dumbs down the experience. If Google Now is disabled, your iPhone and watch will not anticipate your needs by feeding you relevant, useful information – such as flight, hotel, and public transport updates. Simple notifications will keep coming through, however.
You can decide whether to get calendar notifications from the Google or Apple calendar apps on the iPhone, too, and you can block notifications from some apps (such as Apple Mail, if you’re a Gmail user). Android Wear has optional “rich Gmail cards” with a degree of interactivity, like the choice to archive or reply to email.
I was walking to the bus stop when a Gmail message from my editor came in, for instance. Activating voice control – by saying “OK, Google” instead of “Hey, Siri” – I was able to dictate and send off a fast reply. Android Wear also has an emoji option that turns a finger-scrawled emoticon into a corresponding yellow icon.
App and Watch Face Drought -- My Android Wear love affair soured when I realized how limited this experience can be compared to what Android Wear smartwatch users currently enjoy via an Android smartphone.
Consider apps and watch faces. Those using these watches with Android handsets have access to an immense library of third-party apps and watch faces via the Google Play store, but these apps are mostly off limits to iPhone users at the moment.
Instead, iPhone users get access to only a small set of Google-approved apps, like a flashlight and a stopwatch, along with fitness apps to track calories, steps, heart activity, and so on. Really, Google?
The situation with watch faces is a bit better with a small selection of third-party faces, along with the stock faces. But this doesn’t include my favorite third-party faces, such as those that show comic covers, and works of fine and folk art. One such face, Street Art, is Google’s creation, which makes its absence from the iPhone all the more baffling.
It’s unclear to me if third-party apps and watch faces in the future will originate directly from Google via the Android Wear app, as they do for Android users, or indirectly, by way of Apple and its App Store. I think Apple may have a big problem with the former scenario, which may be what is holding up apps and faces for iOS users.
Regardless, stock apps are also limited when using an Android Wear smartwatch with an iPhone. Hangouts, Google’s own messaging app, does not provide interactive notifications like Gmail. The Hangouts app doesn’t even show up on the watch, as it does when the device is paired with an Android phone. Google Maps also is missing in action on the smartwatch when used with an iPhone. I also miss Google’s feature for locating the paired iPhone, especially after getting hooked on the Apple Watch version of that feature.
Few, Pricey Watches -- Watch compatibility and pricing issues further complicate matters.
With the Android Wear app for iOS, Google supports only one months-old device, the Watch Urbane, along with a small set of watches just now being released or announced by the likes of Asus, Huawei, and Motorola. LG has unveiled but not yet released its Urbane successor, the Watch Urbane Second Edition, which presumably will also be iPhone-friendly.
This dashed my longstanding hope that official support would encompass older, less-costly Android Wear models like Motorola’s popular first-generation Moto 360.
The current Moto 360 is a steal at $150 or less, if you can find it (Motorola has announced next-generation 360 and 360 Sport models). That would have made it a nice Apple Watch alternative for cost-conscious iPhone users who don’t mind a limited feature set.
Unofficially, though, I didn’t seem to have any trouble pairing a first-gen Moto 360 with my iPhone using the Android Wear app. The watch received software updates after pairing, and features like notifications seemed to work just fine. I had access to those third-party faces I used on the Watch Urbane, too.
If you are an adventurous iOS user, therefore, and find an old Android Wear watch deeply discounted somewhere, it could be the iPhone companion you are looking for – and at a big savings over the price of an Apple Watch.
This is not a situation that inspires confidence, however, since you have no guarantee of getting software updates needed to keep your old watch fully compatible with an iPhone in the future.
I’m Not Watching -- On an emotional level, I yearn to use an Android Wear watch with my iPhone because I greatly prefer Google’s style of wrist notifications. I’m enamored of and invested in Google services, generally speaking.
Spending $300 or more for an Android Wear smartwatch doesn’t make a lot of sense, however, given how crippled it is when used via an iPhone, especially with regard to app and watch-face availability. In that regard, an entry-level Apple Watch or even a Pebble is a better investment.
It’s possible, a year or two from now, that now-pricey Android Wear gadgets will have come down enough in cost to become enticing as budget alternatives to the Apple Watch. Hopefully, Google will also have worked out its problems with app and watch-face distribution by then.
If so, my dream of a Google wrist-mounted sidekick to my iPhone may finally come true.
by Josh Centers
The fourth-generation Apple TV is just days away. In the meantime, the current model gets a few new channels, and we tell you how to see the new Apple TV’s screensavers today.Show full article
The fourth-generation Apple TV is now officially available for sale, with shipments beginning 30 October 2015. As we reported in “The Fourth-Generation Apple TV Is Coming at Last” (9 September 2015), the new Apple TV features faster hardware, a new Siri-enabled remote control, and an App Store. It’s available in two tiers: 32 GB for $149 and 64 GB for $199. The third-generation Apple TV sticks around at $69, although Apple hasn’t said if it will gain a software update to resemble its new sibling more closely.
How much storage should you get? For most people, 32 GB should be sufficient for streaming video and music and for a few apps and games. Apple says that if you plan to download and use lots of apps and games, you’ll prefer the 64 GB version, although the company doesn’t say why exactly. On Twitter, ScreenCastsOnline’s Don McAllister explained that the Apple TV’s storage is used for local caching, so if you think you’ll use numerous apps, springing for a 64 GB model will reduce the amount of re-downloading necessary. How much that will happen in real-world usage is as yet unknown. We’re hoping that the storage will eventually be useful for caching photos from iCloud Photo Library for the screensaver, although there’s no hint of that yet.
Interestingly, Apple is offering AppleCare for the Apple TV at $29, though it’s probably a waste of money for most people. Also note that the new Apple TV doesn’t include an HDMI cable in the box. Apple will happily sell you one for $19, though you can get a better cable for less from the likes of Amazon or Monoprice.
The fourth-generation Apple TV will include beautiful video screensavers of China, Hawaii, London, New York City, and San Francisco. If you’d like to see what they’ll look like while waiting for your Apple TV to arrive, Benjamin Mayo has extracted them and posted them on his Web site.
In other Apple TV news, Apple has added three channels to the third-generation Apple TV: CBS, NBC, and an Apple-TV exclusive channel, M2M, which focuses on fashion. The CBS app requires a $5.99 per-month CBS All Access subscription for all but short clips (a one-week trial is available). CBS All Access also streams live TV in select markets. The NBC app offers full episodes of recent shows, with brief ads. The NBC app ostensibly requires activation with a cable provider, but I was never prompted to do so in my testing.
by Josh Centers
In iOS 9, Siri can now remind you of things you’re viewing on the screen. Josh Centers explains why this feature is useful, and how it helped reduce stress while he was on vacation.Show full article
You’re probably familiar with Siri’s extremely useful reminder functionality, which integrates with the built-in Reminders app for iOS. Siri can remind you to do things based on time or location, so you can say, “Remind me to drop off the package tomorrow at 9 AM,” or “Remind me to grab the package when I leave home.” It’s especially useful when triggered from an Apple Watch, since you don’t even have to find your iPhone.
But you may not have known that in iOS 9, Siri can remind you to act upon content in certain apps, if you use the magic word “this” to indicate “what I’m looking at right now.” I wrote about this capability in “iOS 9: A Take Control Crash Course,” but it wasn’t until I went on vacation recently that I appreciated just how helpful this feature is.
I didn’t disconnect entirely while away — I occasionally checked my email and Twitter timeline so I’d be aware of what was going on in the outside world. For instance, I received an email message from Apple asking for diagnostic information from my Mac to help resolve a bug I had reported. But I was hundreds of miles away from home! So, while viewing the email message in Mail, I summoned Siri and said, “Remind me to read this when I get home.” I was then able to put the issue out of my mind until days later, when I pulled into the driveway at home. The Reminders app notified me on my iPhone, and the reminder stayed on my Lock screen until I marked it as done.
But you don’t have to be on vacation to appreciate Siri’s email reminders. If I’m reading on my iPad in bed at night and receive an email message about something I need to do for TidBITS, like editing an article, I can tell Siri to “Remind me about this in the morning,” and safely forget about it until the next day.
These content-specific reminders also work with Safari. Sure, I can add interesting articles to my Reading List for later perusal, but if it’s something important, I like to have a notification to help prompt me to read it. “Remind me to read this tomorrow at 10 AM.”
Note that Siri can’t create reminders for Web pages viewed in a Safari View Controller, such as the one in Tweetbot. You’ll have to tap the Safari button to open the Web page in Safari, and then bring up Siri. However, Siri can remind you of Web pages viewed in Safari in Slide Over on an iPad.
Siri can also create reminders for the Notes app, although, curiously, this doesn’t work for notes in the On My iPhone folder. For instance, you might use the new checklist function in Notes to create a shopping list, and then have Siri remind you to look at that list when you get to the store. You could create a contact for say, your favorite grocery store, but Siri can also recognize local businesses. If I say, “Remind me of this when I get to Walmart,” Siri creates a reminder that will be triggered when I arrive at my local Walmart. If you live in the sticks, like I do, you may need to be reminded at a store out of town, so you can say something like, “Remind me about this when I get to Home Depot in Bowling Green, Kentucky.”
Why do this instead of just creating your list in Reminders? Flexibility — you can insert pictures and create drawings in Notes, which you can’t do in Reminders. I often take pictures of oddly shaped lightbulbs that need replacement, since bringing one into a store would be awkward.
Siri’s content reminders also work with Maps, though I have trouble getting it to work consistently. Sometimes Siri will recognize a location I’m looking at, while other times, it will say, “OK, just tell me what you’d like to be reminded about.”
Content reminders also work in numerous third party apps, though there’s a bit of trial and error in figuring out which ones support the feature. For instance, Siri can remind you about open documents in Pixelmator or the current calculation in PCalc. You’ll have to experiment to see what else Siri can remind you of.
One last thing: there is a bug related to Siri reminders in iOS 9.0.2. Even if you delete a reminder from the Siri screen immediately after creating it (as you might do if Siri misunderstands your words completely, which still happens regularly), it will still be added to the Reminders app. So if you’ve ended up with a bunch of unwanted reminders, that’s why, and you can delete them in the Reminders app. Happily, this bug has been fixed in iOS 9.1.
Though easy to miss, Siri’s content reminders are one of the best things about iOS 9. You may not use them every day, but they can help you focus on what you’re doing, rather than what you have to do later.
The fuss over Apple allowing ad blockers in iOS 9 made Adam Engst think about who’s to blame for the mess. It’s a long list, and you’re probably on it.Show full article
By now, you’re likely aware of the kerfuffle surrounding ad blockers for iOS. If not, here’s the short version. In iOS 9, Apple made it possible for developers to create content blockers that could prevent ads from appearing in Safari on the iPhone and iPad. So they did, and when I last looked, Purify Blocker was the top-selling paid app in the Productivity category — clearly people want the faster and less intrusive browsing experience provided by an ad blocker, and some developers aren’t above profiting from tools designed to hurt other businesses. Others have trouble with that — developer Marco Arment’s Peace ad blocker became the top-selling iOS app overall briefly before he pulled it from sale several days later. The fuss even prompted the Interactive Advertising Bureau trade group to admit that the ads have gone too far.
In subsequent weeks, Internet ink has flowed fast and furious with debate about ad blockers — fast and private browsing is great, but most Internet publications rely on ad revenue. The backlash against ad blockers has already begun — in a high-profile response, German company Axel Springer announced that it is now blocking readers of its Bild tabloid Web site who use an ad blocker, asking them to whitelist the site or turn off the ad blocker so ads display, or pay €2.99 (US$3.37) per month to browse the site without ads.
If you’ve contemplated or installed an ad blocker out of disgust for how ads impact your Internet experience or because you dislike being tracked on principle, you’ve probably wondered who’s to blame for this mess. It’s easy to point fingers at grasping publishers and sleazy advertisers, but we need to look harder. I was pondering the question in the shower this morning, and when I got out, my reflection in the bathroom mirror made me realize just who the real culprit is: it’s me, you, and everyone else on the Internet.
That’s right, we’re all to blame. That’s because we’re a bunch of cheap bastards who aren’t willing to cough up a few bucks to pay for the news, magazine articles, blog posts, and even apps we so greedily consume. (Those of you who are TidBITS members, consider yourselves part of the solution, since you’re not only paying to support TidBITS, you’re also doing so voluntarily.)
But that’s too glib of an indictment — sure, given the choice between free and not-free, most people choose free most of the time, and what’s wrong with that? “Cheap bastard” is just a more engaging way of saying “rational economic actor.” When faced with two options of equivalent utility, why would you pay if you didn’t have to?
Without venturing too far into the weeds of history, how about if we blame the guy responsible for the concept of free-market capitalism — Adam Smith, he of the invisible hand? I’ve not read his “Wealth of Nations” (I’m a writer, Jim, not an economist!), but it seems to me that the very basis of a free market is that prices are set freely by consent between vendors and consumers, free from intervention by government, monopoly, or other authority. I’d argue that implicit in that is that various business models are acceptable, based as they are on different forms of consent (and in a situation where something is freely available, consent can be determined only by consumption).
Blaming Adam Smith is unsatisfying, though, since, among other problems, the dude died in 1790, and therefore knew nothing about Internet business models — he didn’t even overlap with Charles Babbage or Ada Lovelace, who were born in 1791 and 1815 respectively. It’s tempting to lay some blame at their feet too, along with Alan Turing, as pioneers of computing without whose work we wouldn’t have digital content that can be replicated ad infinitum without any loss of quality. But, you know, they’re all ex-parrots too.
Let’s jump forward to the 1830s, which saw the rise of the “penny press” — newspapers that sold for a penny each, rather than the six cents that was common at the time, democratizing journalism and making money through paid advertisements. Though they came late to the penny press game, and certainly weren’t the first to take ads, the next people on whom we can pin some blame are George Jones and Henry Raymond, who in 1851 founded The New York Daily Times, later to be renamed The New York Times.
Now we’re getting somewhere, since The New York Times has both covered the ad-blocking brouhaha and weighed in on the utility of ad blockers, all while serving ads that actively prevented designer and blogger Khoi Vinh (formerly Design Director for NYTimes.com) from reading the article about ad blocking. Ironic, no?
That’s not quite fair, though, since The New York Times tries hard to make people pay, allowing readers to view only ten free articles per month, and charging for online access at rates ranging from $3.75 to $8.75 per week, depending on whether you want to use a smartphone, a tablet, or both (and share with a family member). Tellingly, daily delivery of the physical paper costs only $8.90 per week.
So The New York Times is trying to charge mostly for its content — apparently all those dead trees and delivery trucks make up only 15 cents of the subscription price. That implies that the Internet itself is inextricably tied up in the whole mess — so how about we blame Al Gore, who never said he invented the Internet but may as well take some heat for the moment? But we can’t lay more than government funding for the pipes at Gore’s feet, so what do you say we point the finger at Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web? Not for creating it (thanks, Tim!) but for ignoring the intellectual efforts of Ted Nelson, whose Project Xanadu had a far more powerful concept of linking that incorporated two-way links, rights management with automatic usage royalties, and micropayments. Heck, let’s blame Ted Nelson too, for being too much of a visionary and too little of an implementer.
But they’re not responsible for the dominant Internet business model of giving content away for free and generating revenue entirely from ads. That can perhaps be laid at the feet of free, ad-supported newspapers, which date back to 1885. However, despite that early start, they didn’t really take off until recent times. A better scapegoat would be commercial radio, which got its start in the 1920s, and commercial television, which dates to the 1950s. Initially, both radio and TV used a single sponsor model before realizing that it would be easier to sell smaller blocks of advertising time to multiple businesses. The sponsor model would come back to fund both the non-profit National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), founded in 1970. Blame them too, not in the least because that’s where Tonya and I took our inspiration when we began the first advertising program on the Internet in 1992 (see “TidBITS Sponsorship Program,” 20 July 1992). We can’t sidestep our blame for all this. Nor can Tim O’Reilly, whose Global Network Navigator was the first Web publication to take clickable ads in 1993.
If I’m going to shoulder some blame here, I want to share it with a few billionaires. Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s Google took the concept of Internet advertising and ran with it, building a corporate behemoth based on the idea that you could make compelling Internet services available for free and generate revenues based on contextual, targeted advertising that attempts to display ads users might find useful.
While we’re on the topic of tracking, let’s blame the U.S. National Security Agency for taking something that’s potentially annoying and at minimum theoretically troubling (ad-based tracking) and turning it into something truly creepy (mass domestic surveillance by a government agency).
Over at Apple, Tim Cook and company have made hay from the fact that Apple doesn’t collect information about its users to target advertising better, and to prevent government agencies from acquiring it. That’s not to say Apple doesn’t want to advertise to you — iAd, anyone? — but the company’s business model is primarily based instead on the almost quaint principle of selling a product for money. However, Apple is far from blameless in the woes of Internet content, thanks to its role in creating the highly artificial App Store and iBooks Store markets — we can lay that at the feet of Steve Jobs. Thanks to Apple’s refusal to allow demos and paid upgrades for apps, separation of developers from their users, and poor interface that makes price the primary differentiator of similar-sounding products, apps and books have been almost entirely devalued in the eyes of consumers. Parking meters are a larger expense for many people.
Of course, Apple was far from the first to devalue software. For that, we need look no further than Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement, and Linus Torvalds, the driving force behind the Linux kernel that would later sit at the heart of numerous operating systems, most notably billions of copies of Google’s Android. To be fair, Stallman in particular feels software should be free as in speech, not free as in beer, but that’s a distinction lost on many.
The problem for the purposes of today’s discussion is that when software is free (as in beer), developers have to develop alternative business models, such as charging for tech support, hosting, ancillary services, or premium features. That’s not a problem in and of itself, but it encourages the same sort of behavior in other fields. Google, of course, but also look at Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg and company have figured out how to monetize your relationships by selling ads alongside your personal communications.
What’s most annoying is that we’re not worth very much to any of these companies. Facebook’s average revenue per user (ARPU) is only about $10, about double Twitter’s $5 ARPU and far behind Google’s $45 ARPU. Heck, if it were an option, I wouldn’t even blink at paying $45 per year for all the great stuff Google provides me instead of seeing ads, and I’d happily hand over $15 per year for ad-free Facebook and Twitter combined.
But paying for the services we use, the content we consume, and the apps we install is quite literally a hard sell, despite all the negatives that come with business models that separate product from price. Speaking of which, let’s drag Jeff Bezos in for helping to devalue digital goods, starting with the way Amazon drove down the price of ebooks by selling them as loss leaders, and most recently with the new Amazon Underground app and service. Amazon Underground provides Android users with access to over $10,000 worth of apps, games, and in-app purchases for free, paying developers $0.0020 per minute (two-tenths of a cent), which means a penny per five minutes, or 12 cents per hour. Amazon is presumably funding the service through increased sales of other products, but the entire thing brings to mind the old joke, “We lose money on every sale, but make it up on volume.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around for how we’ve ended up in a world where all our digital content is free and we’re used as raw material in increasingly troubling monetization schemes. Most recently, ad industry behavior is what brought this situation to a head, but if online ads weren’t so universally ignored, the industry might not have felt the need to stoop to tracking-based targeting. Or perhaps it would have; cable TV companies and movie theaters certainly aren’t shy about adding advertising even after we pay our cable bills and buy our movie tickets. And while individual advertisers are also at the heart of the problem, they’re just trying to tell us about their products and services — it’s hard enough to introduce something new to the public with advertising; without advertising, it’s nearly impossible.
In the end, I’m going to return to where I started, and say that society as a whole is responsible. But the opportunity for change also lies with all of us, both in our everyday ways of choosing free services and support of broader policies. I see ad blockers as just a weapon in an arms race, not a solution, but here are a few changes that could make a real difference, in decreasing order of likelihood:
Digital content, app, and service companies could offer paid, ad-free alternatives for those who want to pay directly. Google, where can I send my $45?
The U.S. government could adopt privacy protections along the lines of the European Union’s Data Protection Directive.
Someone could develop an Internet platform that enables us to manage our personal information to ensure accuracy, control access, and benefit directly from any commercial use. If we’re to be commercial objects, we should have a say in how our data and attention are monetized.
I’m not holding my breath for any of these, so for now, if you’re bothered by this situation, I encourage you to focus your support on companies that do business in ways you approve of.
Notable software releases this week include Tinderbox 6.3.2, Postbox 4.0.7, SpamSieve 2.9.22, Safari 9.0.1, Mac EFI Security Update 2015-002, and Security Update 2015-007 (Mavericks) and 2015-004 (Yosemite).Show full article
Tinderbox 6.3.2 -- Eastgate Systems has released Tinderbox 6.3.2 with a newly added built-in $Tags attribute (categorized under References), which can be used for free-form tagging of notes. The personal content assistant improves OPML importing from outliners and RSS readers, as well as importing spreadsheets (particularly those with long text fields). The update also makes several improvements to maps, including the capability to use left and right arrows to select the next and previous sibling of a selected note, correctly renders arrowheads on linear links, and ensures image adornments with transparent or translucent regions are no longer rendered opaque. The Roadmap is now available from the treemap contextual menu, and a torn-off Roadmap window automatically adjusts the width of its columns. ($249 new, free update, 48.8 MB, release notes, 10.8+)
Read/post comments about Tinderbox 6.3.2.
Postbox 4.0.7 -- Postbox issued version 4.0.6 of its eponymous email client with added support for OAuth 2 for Gmail/Google accounts and improved folder creation (with newly separate New Folder and New Sub-Folder actions). The update also fixed an issue when marking multiple messages as pending, fixed styling of the attachment Save All button on Retina displays, and improved the update experience with release notes displayed in the updater.
Shortly after that update was released, Postbox was updated to version 4.0.7, which reorganized the Compose window’s contextual menu and added an option for searching a selection in Google. Postbox 4.0.7 also now enables you to select text in the Compose window and create a Response using the contextual menu, adds Run Junk Mail Controls on Folder and Delete Mail Marked as Junk in Folder commands to the Junk toolbar button, and adds show/hide controls for headers in the Folder and Focus panes. ($15 new, free update, 25.6 MB, release notes, 10.9+)
Read/post comments about Postbox 4.0.7.
SpamSieve 2.9.22 -- Michael Tsai of C-Command Software has released SpamSieve 2.9.20, adding support for Apple Mail in OS X 10.11.1 El Capitan. The spam filtering utility is given more time to launch when filtering incoming messages in Apple Mail in case the system delays respawning of the launch agent, and the update now ensures the launch agent no longer quits itself when either Mail or SpamSieve quits if it’s set to run continuously. Should an AppleScript bug in El Capitan prevent a message from being trained, SpamSieve will direct you to the new Duplicate Apple Mail Accounts section of the manual for a workaround. ($30 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free update, 14.5 MB, release notes, 10.6+)
Read/post comments about SpamSieve 2.9.22.
Safari 9.0.1 -- Apple has released Safari 9.0.1 for OS X Mavericks 10.9.5 and Yosemite 10.10.5, as well as El Capitan 10.11. The update includes patches for vulnerabilities associated with multiple memory corruption issues in WebKit, which could lead to arbitrary code execution by a malicious Web site. Safari 9.0 is available only via Software Update. (Free, 85.4 MB, 10.9+)
Read/post comments about Safari 9.0.1.
Mac EFI Security Update 2015-002 -- Apple has released Mac EFI Security Update 2015-002 for OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks, which addresses an issue where the EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) could potentially be overwritten without authorization. This update is available as a direct download as well as via Software Update. (Free, 82 MB, 10.9.5)
Read/post comments about Mac EFI Security Update 2015-002.
Security Update 2015-007 (Mavericks) and 2015-004 (Yosemite) -- Apple has issued Security Update 2015-007 for OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks and Security Update 2015-004 for 10.10.5 Yosemite, bringing along many of the security fixes that appeared in the concurrently released OS X 10.11.1 El Capitan (see “Apple Releases OS X 10.11.1 to Fix Microsoft Office 2016 Crashes,” 21 October 2015). Regardless of the somewhat confusing naming (Apple doesn’t normally re-use security update numbers within the same year, but 004 was used back in April), these security updates patch a wide swath of memory corruption issues, including vulnerabilities with the Accelerate Framework in multi-threading mode, handling of audio files, CoreGraphics, handling of font files, and parsing of disk images — all of which could lead to arbitrary code execution. The security updates are available via Software Update or via direct download from Apple’s Support Downloads Web site. (Free. For 10.9.5 Mavericks, 266.2 MB; for 10.10.5 Yosemite, 334.7 MB)
Read/post comments about Security Update 2015-007 (Mavericks) and 2015-004 (Yosemite).
In ExtraBITS this week, Josh Centers talks about TV shows with the Tech Night Owl, Find My Friends arrives on the Web, and publishers are torn between native apps and the mobile Web.Show full article
In ExtraBITS this week, Josh Centers talks about TV shows with the Tech Night Owl, Find My Friends arrives on the Web, and publishers are torn between native apps and the mobile Web.
Josh Centers Discusses TV with The Tech Night Owl -- On his latest Tech Night Owl appearance, Josh Centers broke from the usual tech topics to discuss favorite TV shows with host Gene Steinberg, including The Blacklist and Hannibal. Of course, the pair eventually returned to technology, specifically the new Apple TV and the much-rumored Apple Car.
Find My Friends Now on iCloud.com -- Along with other updates last week, Apple added a Web-based version of its Find My Friends app to iCloud.com. Just like its iOS counterpart, the Web-based version of Find My Friends displays where all of your friends are on a map, assuming they’ve agreed to let you view their locations.
Publishers Debate Apps Versus Mobile Web Sites -- The New York Times highlights the tension publishers feel when trying to decide whether to distribute content via apps or mobile Web sites, tying it to a somewhat exaggerated Apple-versus-Google debate. Apps tend to be better at serving loyal readers and capturing payments, but are far too expensive for many publishers. On the other hand, Web sites cost less and are essential to attract new readers, but can’t provide as good a mobile experience. (And of course, it’s not clear that most readers are even all that clear on the difference between apps and sites.) The money quote, from publisher Ann Kjellberg, is about how Google and Apple are aiming not “to support the endeavor of creative working people, but to get people addicted to their business models, their devices, or interaction with a screen.”