Technology

Technology

Apple Event Roundup

The Verge has a pretty good roundup of the Apple announcements today:

After a busy fall announcement season, Apple has unveiled what’s expected to be the last of its hardware refreshes this year with the introduction of a new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini. All new devices are available for preorder today with a ship date of November 7th. Here’s a look at them all.

That new iPad sure looks great.

Facebook Adds Music Features to Profiles

Dami Lee, writing for The Verge:

Facebook is rolling out more music features today, bringing more ways to integrate its licensing partnership with all three major labels into Stories, user profiles, and its Lip Sync Live feature.

Starting today, users will be able to add music stickers to their Facebook Stories. You can search for songs, pick out the part you want to share, and add the sticker with the artist and song name. It works exactly the same way as it does on Instagram Stories, which introduced the feature in June.

Spotify Opens Up Playlist Submission Feature

Spotify:

A few months ago, we unveiled a beta feature in the Spotify for Artists tool that gives artists, labels, and teams the ability to share new music directly with our editorial team for playlist consideration. Since the feature became available in July more than 67,000 artists and labels have submitted music and now we’re excited to announce our playlist submission feature is officially out of beta.

Creating a Simple App Launcher With a Custom Icon for iOS

In iOS 10 Apple introduced the ability for app makers to offer alternative app icons for their apps. A few of my favorite apps have taken advantage of this. Overcast has a cool dark icon for subscribers, Carrot Weather has a huge selection to choose from, and the MLB At Bat app lets you pick your favorite team’s logo as the icon. It’s a nice way to add a little bit of customization to your device. However, not every app has taken advantage of this new feature. For example, it’s a no brainer that the NBA should copy baseball and let you put a team logo as the app icon … but, they don’t. So when it came time to move from having the MLB app on my home screen, to the NBA, I started looking into all the different ways I could maybe change-up the icon. I have no desire to jailbreak my phone and this really isn’t an app I open up all that often anyway. I check it maybe a couple times a day, at most, to see what games are on, check scores, and watch one via League Pass if it’s coming down to the wire. Because of this, I thought about just using a Siri Shortcut to act as an app launcher and being done with it, but I didn’t love how the shortcut would launch, then switch to the Shortcut app, and then launch the NBA app. Sure, it worked, but it took longer than I wanted to even for an app I only open a few times a day.

However, I realized that if there was only one slight pause and a redirect to the NBA app, without first going through Shortcuts, that would probably work just fine for what I wanted this to do. So I took a look at how Shortcuts was creating these launchers and realized they’re basically just Web Clips that when opened redirect to a Shortcuts URL scheme. Looking a little closer I saw they created these Web Clips in a pretty clever way that kept everything local on the device. Usually a Web Clip will launch Safari and hit a web site, which is slow, however, if it’s a local HTML file it doesn’t need to do anything at all. So I copied their technique.

I created a basic HTML file that redirects to the NBA url scheme, created the icon I wanted for it, turned the background black, and then added a startup image that displays the logo on a black background. That way, when I tap the icon, instead of just getting a brief white background, I get a cool all black Trail Blazer screen before being sent to the NBA app. There’s still a slight delay, but it’s passable this time, since I’m sent right to the app and not to Shortcuts first.

And it means I can have the Blazer logo on my home screen:

If anyone is interested in how I did it. Here’s the basics: I started with a simple HTML document.

<html>
<head>
<title>NBA</title>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, maximum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=no, viewport-fit=cover” />
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-capable” content=”yes”>
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style” content=”black”>
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0;URL=’nba://'” />
<link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=””>
<link rel=”apple-touch-startup-image” href=””>
</head>
<body style=”background: #000;text-align: center;”>
<img src=”data:image/png;base64,” width=”175″ style=”position:fixed;top:47%;left:49.2%;transform: translate(-50%, -50%);”/>
</body>
</html>

The meta refresh tag I set to the NBA URL scheme. I told the Web Clip to be full-screen (apple-mobile-web-app-capable). Set the status bar to black to match the background (apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style). (Change “black” to “default” to make it white.) And set the icon (apple-touch-icon) and the start up image (apple-touch-startup-image) to their respective images (you can find the recommended sizes via Google depending on what device you use).

Now, in the middle of the screen I wanted to show the Blazer logo. However, I didn’t want this image to be hosted on a server somewhere and slow down my little launcher. So, I recommend optimizing your image as much as possible and then converting it to Base 64. Grab that code and set it as the source for the image. I tweaked the size and positioning so that on load the start-up image and my little website thing would look the exact same.

After that I borrowed how Siri Shortcuts adds home screen apps. Convert the entire HTML page to Base 64. You’ll get a giant string representing your Web Clip. Mobile Safari won’t let you just copy and paste this into your browser, so you’ll need to link it from somewhere. I created a page that just had one link on it:

<a href=”data:text/html;base64,”>click me</a>

After the comma, I put the giant base 64 string. I tossed that on my server, opened it on my phone, and clicked it.

(I’m sure you can use something like this to do that too.)

It opened up the HTML page I created and asked if I wanted to be redirected to the NBA app. I clicked cancel, then just created the home screen app like usual (share sheet, add to home screen). I tapped the icon, it showed my startup screen, and then the NBA app opened up. Exactly like any of the Siri Shortcut apps and all without having to jailbreak my device or create a custom profile on the phone. Just a basic local HTML page turned into a web clip. I’d never do this for any app I open all the time, but this use case is just about perfect.

I share other things like this in the Apple thread from time to time.

Oh. And go Blazers.

Genius Teams Up With Apple Music

Genius will be providing lyrics to Apple Music:

Genius has the world’s best lyrics database and now it’s available on Apple Music. Genius will provide lyrics to thousands of hit songs on the service—bringing world-class accuracy and timeliness powered by Genius’s global community of artists and fans.

Instagram’s Co-Founders Leave Company

Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the co-founders of the photo-sharing app Instagram, have resigned and plan to leave the company in coming weeks, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The exits add to the challenges facing Instagram’s parent company, Facebook.

Mr. Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive, and Mr. Krieger, the chief technical officer, notified Instagram’s leadership team and Facebook on Monday of their decision to leave, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Whoa. This isn’t a good sign for the future of Instagram.

Streaming Accounts for 75% of Music Industry Revenue

The RIAA have released their mid-year revenue report for the music industry. Patricia Hernandez, writing at The Verge, has a good rundown:

Turns out, streaming makes more money than physical CDs, digital downloads, and licensing deals combined.

Streaming in this context includes paid subscriptions to services such as Spotify and Tidal, but also digital radio broadcasts and video streaming services such as VEVO. It’s a broad category that nonetheless has made $3.4 billion dollars in 2018 so far, a total that amounts to 75 percent of overall revenue for the record industry.

Overcast 5 Is Here

Overcast, my favorite podcast player, has a great new 5.0 update. Federico Viticci reviewed it for MacStories:

The most notable difference between the old Overcast and the updated version is the redesigned Now Playing screen. Page indicators and hidden gestures to navigate show notes and chapters are gone, replaced by a carousel of swipable cards containing effects, podcast artwork, show notes, and chapters (if available).

It’s a nice update and I’m excited to try out the stand alone Watch playback.

Spotify Lifts Song Download Cap

Amy X. Wang, writing at Rolling Stone:

A common gripe among Spotify users is that the app limits the number of songs that can be downloaded to phones and computers for offline listening (3,333 tracks per device, with a three-device limit, to be exact). In its latest software update, the streaming service has quietly increased the limit threefold.

A number of power-users first noticed that they were able to save more than 3,333 songs this week, and the Swedish streaming giant confirmed the change on Wednesday to Rolling Stone.

A well deserved finally.

Tumblr Is Explicitly Banning Hate Speech

Shannon Liao, writing for The Verge:

Tumblr is changing its community guidelines to more explicitly ban hate speech, glorifying violence, and revenge porn. The new rules go into effect on September 10th.

“It’s on all of us to create a safe, constructive, and empowering environment,” Tumblr writes in its blog post. “Our community guidelines need to reflect the reality of the internet and social media today.”

Twitter Breaks Twitter for Third-Party Clients

John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball:

My strong preference for Tweetbot, on both iOS and Mac, is simple: I prefer its user interface.

Tweetbot presents tweets and replies/mentions in a way that fits my mental model of what Twitter is. Tweetbot makes sense to me — in large part simply because it presents tweets in chronological order. Twitter’s iOS app does none of these things for me. I truly find it confusing. And Twitter no longer even fucking has a first-party native app for the Mac. I don’t want to use a website for Twitter. I want an app.

I think Twitter should reverse course on this whole thing.

I agree with Gruber on this entire thing. Now that Tweetbot can no longer stream tweets, but instead will show them after a one or two minute delay, the app is almost worthless while watching sports. Beside just getting pissed off at the news each day, that’s one of the main reasons I loved Twitter. I’ve never seen a service constantly shoot itself in the foot and alienate its most loyal users as much as Twitter has in the past year.

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.

Kara Swisher, writing for The New York Times:

But by that measure, the rest of us plebes, including Mr. Jones, should probably get no protection if we err, no matter how much we rant that tweeting is a right under the First Amendment. It’s not, because Twitter is not the government and it can decide what and what not to host on its service. In any case, if you get kicked off Twitter, you can always unload your twisted mind on your very own website. And it cannot be said too many times that freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from consequence.

All this is not to say that fixing Twitter will be easy; in fact, I think at this point it is nearly impossible. Add to that the fact that this is a global issue, making it hard to have any consistent rules that address the complexity of the world and, really, its deep and abiding ugliness.

It’s time for Jack to leave as CEO. He failed at the most important tests for his company, time, and time again.

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life

Kashmir Hill, writing at Gizmodo:

But in September 2015, she was suddenly plunged into an American nightmare. She got a call at 6 a.m. one morning from a colleague at Re/Max telling her something terrible had been posted about her on the Re/Max Facebook page. [Monika Glennon] thought at first she meant that a client had left her a bad review, but it turned out to be much worse than that.

It was a link to a story about Glennon on She’s A Homewrecker, a site that exists for the sole purpose of shaming the alleged “other woman.” The author of the Homewrecker post claimed that she and her husband had used Glennon as their realtor and that everything was going great until one evening when she walked in on Glennon having sex with her husband on the floor of a home the couple had been scheduled to see. The unnamed woman went into graphic detail about the sex act and claimed she’d taken photos that she used to get everything from her husband in a divorce. The only photo she posted though was Glennon’s professional headshot, taken from her bio page on Re/Max’s site.

Glennon was horrified. The story was completely fabricated and she had no idea why someone would have written it. Someone on Facebook named Ryan Baxter had posted it to the Re/Max page; Baxter also went through Glennon’s Facebook friend list and sent it to her husband, family members, and many of her professional contacts.

Facebook Loses Over $110 Billion in Market Value

Todd Spangler, writing for Variety:

Shares of Facebook plunged more than 19% in early trading Thursday, as investors reacted to signs that the social-media giant’s user and revenue growth are significantly slowing down.

The stock drop, to its lowest levels in nearly three months, wiped out more than $110 billion in market capitalization for Facebook and dragged down other internet and tech stocks including Twitter and Snap. Facebook’s market cap was $629.6 billion at the close of market Wednesday, and stood at around $503 billion as of Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

Ouch.

iOS 11.4.1 and Blocks Passcode Cracking Tools Used by Police

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

Apple today released iOS 11.4.1, and while most of us are already looking ahead to all the new stuff coming in iOS 12, this small update contains an important new security feature: USB Restricted Mode. Apple has added protections against the USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies that connect over Lightning to crack an iPhone’s passcode and evade Apple’s usual encryption safeguards.

If you have an iPhone, you should install this when you get the chance.

How Smart TVs in Millions of U.S. Homes Track Us

The New York Times:

Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40 million in venture funding from investors including Time Warner , the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban.

Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.

Instagram Adds Ability to Add Background Music

Josh Constine, writing at TechCrunch:

The right music can make a boring photo or video epic, so Instagram is equipping users with a way to add popular songs to their Stories. […] Thanks to Facebook’s recent deals with record labels, users will be able to choose from thousands of songs from artists including Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and Guns N’ Roses.

And:

When friends watch a music-equipped Story, the song will post automatically. They’ll also be able to tap on the sticker to see artist and song title info, but for now these stickers won’t link out to a musician’s Instagram page or their presence on streaming services — though that would certainly be helpful. I also suggest that Instagram should create deeplinks that artists can share with their fans that automatically opens the Stories camera with that song’s sticker added.

Good idea.