by Lance Somoza

Quite a few folks chimed in on a growing issue with the MacBook and MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard yesterday. Already polarizing in terms of key travel and feel, there seems to be underlying issues with the technology or implementation on a large scale.

Casey Johnston for The Outline:

[…] There were no mysteriously faulty innerworkings. It was the spacebar. It was broken. And not even physically broken — it still moved and acted normally. But every time I pressed it once, it spaced twice.

“Maybe it’s a piece of dust,” the Genius had offered. The previous times I’d been to the Apple Store for the same computer with the same problem — a misbehaving keyboard — Geniuses had said to me these exact same nonchalant words, and I had been stunned into silence, the first time because it seemed so improbable to blame such a core problem on such a small thing, and the second time because I couldn’t believe the first time I was hearing this line that it was not a fluke. […]

Stephen Hackett for 512 Pixels:

As outlined in the most recent episode of Connected, the keyboard on my Late 2016, 13-inch TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pro is not doing well.

A couple of weeks ago, its i key started feeling a little sticky. This keyboard does not boast a large amount of travel, but this key was barely moving at all when pressed.

One of the tiny arms that the key cap clips onto is broken. My nearly $2,000 laptop that I bought less than a year ago is now missing a key, as I shared with our Connected audience this weekend before using an iBook G3 for the rest of the sho

I fully understand this because I am experiencing nearly the same thing on my 15-inch 2016 MacBook Pro. For the past few weeks, the ‘Q’ key has become what can only be described as ‘stuck’. That is to say that half the time I press it, there’s a noticeable snag before the key actually depresses accompanied by a garish CLACK sound as the key travels downward. I have carefully removed the key and sprayed the hell out of the switch a couple times to no avail. Upon close inspection, there doesn’t seem to be any debris, so the whole situation is maddening. I have been putting off a trip to the Apple Store, but I will unfortunately have to take it in.

I don’t mind the actual shallow key travel too much, but I prefer the feel of the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard over it.

Marco Arment also chimed in with the following on Twitter:

Apple needs to do two things, in my opinion:

  1. Offer free ‘sticky key’ repairs for all 2016/2017 MacBooks and MacBook Pros beyond current warranty periods.
  2. Fix the design for the next iteration. There is something really flawed here if the low-profile key is more prone to dust and debris issues than a higher profile one.

The MacBook line has largely been viewed as neglected over the past couple years, so this really adds insult to injury. If Apple does nothing, they’re just begging for a class action lawsuit.

Google’s second-generation Pixel impresses most reviewers, even if the screen quality is less than perfect. Here’s a couple reviews that caught my eye.

David Pierce for Wired on the camera:

I was in New Orleans for the weekend, and I took pictures of drunk people in bars, jazz bands, drunk people outdoors, and gators. All, of course, to put the Pixel 2 through its paces (which is why I will be expensing all my bar tabs, please and thank you). After about a week of using both models, the Pixel 2 and the larger Pixel 2 XL, but mostly the XL, I can safely say the Pixel 2 is the Android phone to buy. Not because it has any particular otherworldly feature: the camera is fantastic, though not a full class above the Samsung Note 8 or the iPhone 8 Plus. As with last year, the Pixel 2 is just the phone that gets the most things right. It has the best, smartest, most reliable software. It’s fast. It’s waterproof. It’s interestingly and attractively designed. OK, fine, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. That sucks. But the Pixel 2’s still the phone I recommend.

The impressive picture quality of the Pixel 2’s camera is a recurring theme amongst reviewers. Even though iPhone has typically been regarded as the industry benchmark, I gotta give it up for Google here for iterating so quickly on the Pixel’s original camera.

Dieter Bohn for The Verge on the screen:

The screen, especially on the 2 XL, has been polarizing. Google opted to tune the display to sRGB (the Galaxy S8, by comparison, offers four gamut options), so it looks a little more like the iPhone’s screen. But more than that, on the 2 XL the colors look muted in a way that many Android users I’ve shown it to found distasteful (even with the “vivid colors” setting turned on). I think many Android phones, especially from Samsung, are so vivid as to be phantasmagoric, so Google’s choice was to make this more “naturalistic.”

Part of the issue, Google says, is that Oreo is the first version of Android to have proper color space control. So until now, Android developers really didn’t have a way to control precisely how their colors would look on screens. The Pixel 2 is part of an effort to fix that, but even so, the more “naturalistic” color tuning on the Pixel 2 XL (and, to a lesser extent, the smaller Pixel 2) just looks a little off. The problem gets much worse when you look at the screen from angles, the color swings simply because that’s what pOLED does.

OLED itself isn’t perfect, but it’s damn nice, even if most people don’t like the pentile pixel arrangement typically found in these screens. iPhone X is confirmed to have such an arrangement, but Apple also said its the first OLED panel “worthy of iPhone”, so it will be interesting to see how it differs from Samsung’s normal offerings. pOLED, what LG makes and is in the Pixel 2, is even further behind and will require more iteration to catch up.

In my opinion, the screen is the most important part of a phone, especially in an age where the phone is essentially becoming the screen. For it to be anything less than stellar is unfortunate.

Astro HQ, makers of the popular Astropad app which allows you to use your iPad as a secondary (tethered) monitor for your Mac, have announced a very interesting feature for their new Luna Display product 1 called the ‘Camera Button’. They have essentially turned the iPad’s front-facing camera into a button for triggering the Luna app’s UI.

Savannah Reising for Astro HQ:

Our problem started three years ago when we were working on our first product, Astropad. With Astropad mirroring your Mac screen on your iPad, you end up getting a unique UI overlap. First, there’s Mac UI showing up on your iPad, coming from whatever Mac program you’re using, such as Photoshop or Sketch. On top of that, there’s the native iPad UI. So if we wanted to add our own Astropad UI, where would it go? We didn’t want to create a crazy matrix of conflicting UI, so we looked for a way to minimize it.

On the first solution:

Our first solution for this tangled UI was the Astropad “ring.” It’s a little movable ring that always appears on your iPad screen when you’re working in Astropad. Tap on it once brings up a sidebar with shortcuts and settings. Tap on it again and it disappears. But could we minimize our UI real estate even more? As handy as this little ring was, it still gets in the way.

On creating the button:

Our Astro HQ cofounder Giovanni Donelli said that the idea to turn the camera into a button came like lightning, “I had been staring at a white bezel iPad for so long, and I kept wishing there was another home button we could use. My eyes kept falling on the camera, and I really wanted to touch it!” Giovanni built an initial prototype of the Camera Button within an hour.

Quite ingenious.

Savannah goes on to point out a couple of the the obvious concerns that come from having an always-on camera. First, according to their analysis, “the Camera Button requires less than 1% CPU to run”, and is therefore energy efficient. Second, she goes on to say they have designed the app so that the camera only detects light coming in — all other data is blurred and never leaves the iPad itself.

This is a bold move. When developers have done things like this in the past, Apple has sometimes rejected their ingenuity. I’m not sure if Apple has exact guidelines against this interaction, but we’ll see if the feature gets to stay. After all, the privacy concerns are real, especially if implemented by not-so-honest developers. If it’s allowed, I can see the ‘Camera Button’ being replicated in short order by other apps.


  1. Whereas Astropad requires a cable, Luna Display is a hardware solution that plugs into your Mac and pairs with your iPad wirelessly to function as a secondary monitor. ↩︎

Kevin Beaumont for Double Pulsar:

So there’s a new Wi-Fi attack. In the media it is being presented as a flaw in WPA protocol which isn’t fixable. This isn’t true.

  • It is patchable, both client and server (Wi-Fi) side.
  • Linux patches are available now. Linux distributions should have it very shortly.
  • The attack realistically doesn’t work against Windows or iOS devices. The Group vuln is there, but it’s not near enough to actually do anything of interest.
  • There is currently no publicly available code out there to attack this in the real world — you would need an incredibly high skill set and to be at the Wi-Fi base station to attack this.
  • Android is the issue, which is why the research paper concentrates on it. The issue with Android is people largely don’t patch.

Good points here. As a matter of fact, I patched my Ubiquiti UniFi access points this morning to protect against the vulnerability. Patches will trickle down to consumer devices in due time, I’m sure.

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Google has decided to “permanently remove” the feature that led to a “small number” of Home Mini units accidentally recording thousands of times a day, instead of just when a user triggers it. In a statement released today, the company said that it made the decision because “we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.”

Google had seemingly hoped to return the top button functionality to the Home Mini at a later date, but now the company seems to have given up on that — either because it couldn’t figure out a way to do it, or simply out of an abundance of caution. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both; the potential for the Mini to turn into a constant surveillance device would be a huge liability.) Either way, it’s not the biggest loss, but it’s not great to see such a major issue come up right as a product is about to ship.

With the top button gone, the Home Mini now has to be activated entirely by voice, which isn’t really a huge limitation since it’s designed to be a voice assistant. The Mini’s left and right buttons will continue to work for adjusting the volume.

I’m guessing most people rarely use a similar button on the full-size Google Home or Echo devices, but the fact that this basic functionality had to be completely disabled is a monumental screw up. Google is learning the hard way that making your own hardware isn’t as easy as it seems.

As Jacob alludes to, the optics of this aren’t great either, as Google is a company that profits mainly off user data.

All in all, this really is an unfortunate misstep — the smart home market’s maturity will depend on increased competition as a result of successful products. I quite like the fabric top, too. To me, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than the all-business-looking Echo Dot.

TIm Cook sat down with Andrew Griffin from The Independent to talk about Augmented Reality.

On how widespread AR will become:

“Think back to 2008, when the App Store went live. There was the initial round of apps and people looked at them and said, ‘this is not anything, mobile apps are not going to take off’.”

“And then step by step things start to move. And it is sort of a curve, it was just exponential – and now you couldn’t imagine your life without apps. Your health is on one app, your financials, your shopping, your news, your entertainment – it’s everything.”

“AR is like that. It will be that dramatic.”

I think Tim’s right in terms of AR eventually being everywhere — this is the stuff of science fiction! That said, it’s going to take truly transformative experiences for the masses to jump on board. While furniture apps are cool, there’s a possibility they could be seen as the fart apps of AR after a while.

On AR glasses:

“There are rumours and stuff about companies working on those – we obviously don’t talk about what we’re working on.”

“But today I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way. The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there’s huge challenges with that.”

“The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet,”

That’s a nice way of saying Google Glass without actually saying it. Don’t get me wrong, Glass was pretty cool, but it was nowhere near ready for the masses, and why it has been relegated to factories. True AR glasses (or whatever form they come in) are going to be game changing.

On AirPods/audio as part of the AR experience:

I asked Cook whether he saw Apple’s AirPods – the wireless earphones that also allow their wearer to talk to Siri and hear directions – as a kind of augmented reality technology. He didn’t, but said that he can “envision audio becoming a key part of the AR experience”, referencing a game we had played that was soundtracked by the beautiful and dynamic twinkling of a Japanese rock garden.

I have been saying the AirPods (and Watch) could potentially be part of Apple’s AR strategy. If you notice, Tim’s distinction here is that AirPods are not AR, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still play a role. As for the Watch, I could see it providing motion data for games or possibly used as an input device.

Ming-Chi Kuo:

We predict iOS devices to be equipped with TrueDepth Camera in 2018F will include iPhone X and 2018 new iPhone and iPad models. Because of this, we believe more developers will pay attention to TrueDepth Camera/ facial recognition related applications. We expect Apple’s (US) major promotion of facial recognition related applications will encourage the Android camp to also dedicate more resources to developing hardware and facial recognition applications.

TrueDepth and Face ID will obviously make it into iPad (and Mac), but it’s a question of when. Unless Apple can overcome the low yields on the 3D sensor they are currently experiencing, I think Kuo’s expectation may be a bit of a stretch for next year. Even more so if the iPhone 9 (?) is also going to be upgraded to TrueDepth.

Next year is going to be even more interesting than this one, if only to see where Apple will take these brand new technologies next.

Futuremark:

Our benchmarking data shows that, rather than intentionally degrading the performance of older models, Apple actually does a good job of supporting its older devices with regular updates that maintain a consistent level of performance across iOS versions.

Check out the nicely-compiled data and graphs. Now can we please finally put the nail in the coffin on this one? I get that it stems from a misunderstanding of technology, but it’s beyond beating a dead horse.

Post updated on October 7 at 2:20 PM Pacific to include a new notification from Offer Up.

You get them, I get them, we all get them — and no it’s not ice cream, but something far worse — Push Notification spam. Whether they direct us to new features or advertise sales and specials, they have become a plague. We get so many notifications as is. Coupled with the lacking notification management in iOS, the last thing we need is literal spam adding to the mess.

For too long we have let apps control our endless stream of notifications in the hopes they’ll make our lives easier. While most do, there are countless others, big and small, that have abused our trust. I say no more. Here are my top offenders, in order of most annoying to least.

My Top Offenders

Postmates

They are by far the worst in terms of content and frequency. Here’s one in particular I saved from June.

No.
How about you just put it in your update notes instead?

Offer Up

Offer Up isn’t far behind Postmates. Yeah, I know it’s [insert national holiday here]. It doesn’t mean I’m going to look for [insert holiday-associated item here] in your app. I didn’t save an example, but I’m sure it won’t be long before I get another one.

Added on October 7 at 2:20PM:

Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.
What did I tell you? Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.

Starbucks

Really? Why? Did everyone suddenly forget about the largest coffee chain on Earth?

No shit? Get out of town!
No shit? Get outta town!

Others

There are countless others, as I’ve seen plenty examples over the years. I asked family and friends to send me any notifications they received in the same vein, so here are a few more. If you have particularly terrible ones, feel free to send them to me.

5miles A repeat offender.
Awful, and a repeat offender for my niece.

Even TILE?
Even TILE? Again from my niece.

QVC
Egregious. Sent in by my Dad.

Come now, Domino’s.
Come now, Domino’s.

Solution

The solution I feel is three-fold.

Marketers: Don’t Be Shitty

Marketers need to stop trying to appeal to us this way. To think at any time I could be bombarded with an asinine notification about your product is ridiculous. If anything, it makes me dislike your brand/app and inches me ever closer to never using your service again. Only engage me when it’s actually warranted. Otherwise, get out of my way.

We The People

Report apps that do this to Apple. It’s explicitly against the App Store Review Guidelines, and if we make enough noise, hopefully Apple will listen. Which brings me to the third part of the solution.

You can report an app via the ‘Report A Problem’ site. One you login, apps purchased within the last 90 days will appear. Click the offending app’s ‘Report A Problem’ button and enter something of the following nature. If you need to report an app not on the list, contact support directly.

Apple’s Report A Problem site.
How to report an app. Just using Giphy as an example. They are not an offender.

Apple: Enforce App Store Guidelines

Half of the onus for this mess is on Apple. They have rules explicitly outlawing these kinds of practices, yet have continued to let marketers get away with it. As a result, they have set a terrible precedent.

They also haven’t provided a way for us as users to opt-out or otherwise better manage these kinds of notifications. To draw a parallel, Apple introduced an official API for developers to engage users on rating and reviewing apps in iOS 11. As a result, the experience has been far better than what developers have resorted to over the years. Maybe they could apply this same kind of thinking to ad-based notifications.

Otherwise, Apple needs to get with the program and actually enforce the policies below. Here are a few App Store Review Guidelines that speak best to this situation.

3.2.2 Unacceptable [Business Models]

(ii) Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

4.5 Apple Sites and Services

4.5.3 Do not use Apple Services to spam, phish, or send unsolicited messages to customers, including Game Center, Push Notifications, etc.

4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information.

Emphasis mine. I don’t know how it can be more clear.

The Starbucks notification above is obviously in violation of all these rules. They outright say they want me to place an order from my phone under the guise of ‘cool feature’.

In the case of Postmates asking me to check out their latest update, I’ll play devil’s advocate. One could argue it’s not for ‘direct marketing purposes’, and only a plea to check out ‘cool feature’. Still, what feature could they possibly add that wouldn’t be for the benefit of their core business? Considering this, how could the notification not be in violation of the App Store guidelines? It might as well say ‘Please open our app and order something.’ — at least then I’d have a little more respect for their honesty.

Not A Solution

You might be saying, ‘well then don’t patronize these businesses and stop using their apps’ or ‘turn off notifications for the offenders’, but that’s beside the point. Some do offer great services or experiences that require or provide great benefit via Push Notification (e.g. letting you know when your order is ready). We simply must be vocal about discouraging this kind of behavior or it will continue to run rampant.

Update Notes:

watchOS 4.0.1 fixes issues that in rare cases were causing Apple Watch to join unauthenticated (captive) Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in public places like coffee shops and hotels, which direct the user to a webpage before the network can be accessed.

Quite a mouthful. Good on Apple for issuing a quick fix. Even though it seemed like an extremely rare bug, it was still sloppy.

Corbin Davenport for Android Police:

Google created a preview program for the Google Home back in August, allowing users to test upcoming features. A new option has appeared for Homes on the preview - Night Mode. With this, you can set a time span (and even specific days) for the Home to reduce its volume automatically and dim the speaker’s lights. In addition, you can also enable a new Do Not Disturb mode, which blocks sounds from reminders and other broadcasted messages. Alarms and timers will still be heard when DnD is turned on, just like on Android.

This is great, and the volume lowering addresses one of the feature requests I wrote about in a terribly-titled article a few months ago. Hopefully similar options come to Alexa and especially Siri, since HomePod is launching this December.

Gary Sims from Android Authority does a good job breaking down the reason why Apple’s A11 Bionic chip outperforms Qualcomm’s recent offerings.

Gary on the difference between Apple, Qualcomm, and others:

Apple designs processors that use ARM’s 64-bit instruction architecture. That means that Apple’s chips use the same underlying RISC architecture as Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei and others. The difference is that Apple holds an architectural license with ARM, which allows it to design its own chips from scratch. […]

This is widely-known. Also, Apple’s purchase of PA Semi in 2008 has made significant contribution to their chip gains.

On A11 Bionic:

The six CPU cores are made up of two high-performance cores (codenamed Monsoon), and four energy-efficient cores (codenamed Mistral). Unlike the Apple A10, which also had a cluster of high performance cores and a cluster of energy-efficient cores, the A11 is able to use all six cores simultaneously.

Emphasis his. This is really key when it comes to the jump we’re seeing. By comparison, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 (an octa-core processor), can’t use all cores at the same time.

Geekbench Results

Gary compared the A11 Bionic, A10X Fusion, and Snapdragon 835 via Geekbench. The results aren’t even close.

Benchmark A11 Bionic A10X Fusion Snapdragon 835
Single Core 4260 3399 1998
Multi-Core 10221 5386 6765

These results really speak for themselves. You can say “they’re just benchmarks and not real-world comparisons”, but I’ve lost count of how many times Android-to-iPhone switchers say how fast, smooth, and seamless the experience is on iOS. This is largely thanks to Apple’s silicon. 1

On the difference between Apple’s cores (two points):

First, Apple had a head-start over just about everyone when it comes to 64-bit ARM based CPUs. Although ARM itself announced the Cortex-A57 back in October 2012, the proposed timeline was that ARM’s partners would ship the first processors during 2014. But Apple had a 64-bit ARM CPU in devices during 2013. The company has since managed to capitalize on that early lead and has produced a new CPU core design every year.

Second, Apple’s SoC efforts are tightly coupled to its handset releases. Designing a high performance mobile CPU is hard. It is hard for Apple; for ARM; for Qualcomm; for everyone. Because it is hard, it takes a long time. The Cortex-A57 was announced in October 2012, but it didn’t appear in a smartphone until April 2014. That is a long lead time. That lead time is changing.

For example: the Kirin 960 in the Huawei Mate 9 was released just 8 months after the ARM Mali-G71 GPU was delivered to Huawei. There is an argument that since Apple does everything in-house, then that tight coupling allows it to shave a few precious weeks off the development cycle.

Both of these points are highly important. Apple started pushing early for 64-bit architecture, which was called a marketing gimmick by a Qualcomm exec back in 2013, and even questioned by some Apple diehards. It paid off, as most will agree (including Gary) that Apple is now two years ahead of everyone else in this arena. Looks like Apple knew what they were doing after all. Go figure.

Bottom line: Apple has been making bespoke silicon for their products since 2013 and the tangible results are becoming even more apparent with each new release. Also, I’m willing to be Apple is saving a whole lot more than just “a few precious week” off the development cycle for these chips.

Steve always said Apple wanted to own as much of the technology stack as possible in order to make hardware and software that work in tandem. That is never more true than it is today, further taking into account the W-series chip for Bluetooth audio and the Watch’s S-series SIP. As for new territory, the A11 Bionic has a first-ever Apple-designed GPU. They are even rumored to be working on a chip to specifically tackle AI tasks. See a pattern emerging here?

Maybe before long, we’ll see Apple’s silicon replace Intel’s in the Mac. It’s been a long-standing theory, but one that is starting to sound more plausible with every A-series release. With these kinds of gains between generations, an ARM-powered Mac could be a force to be reckoned with.


  1. Software, too. ↩︎

Rene Ritchie for iMore:

In the wake of the devastation wrought by recent hurricanes and earthquakes, politicians in the U.S. are calling for Apple and other manufacturers to turn on the FM radios that they presume are lying dormant in iPhones and other phones. I really wish — and I suspect Apple and other manufacturers really wish — it was that as simple. But it’s not. And, unfortunately, politicians aren’t often well versed in technology, and they often don’t ask before they soundbite.

Statement from Apple provided to Rene:

“Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products,” Apple told iMore. “Users can dial emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from Weather Advisories to AMBER alerts. iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

Rene on older iPhones and other phones:

For older iPhones and other phones, even if it was possible to just “flip a switch” and enable FM on the chipset, significant additional roadblocks remain. Those chips may not be connected in a way that makes FM radio even possible. Assuming they were, changes would likely require an update to the wireless chipset firmware (Apple rolls its own, other manufacturers would need to request updates from Broadcom, Qualcomm, Intel, or whichever company manufactured the chip).

It’s a nice sentiment, but politicians don’t know what the hell they are talking about in regards to technology. What else is new, right? I’m increasingly convinced we need way more technology-minded folks in office.

Summary

Join us for discussion of iPhone 8 reviews and thoughts, more on iPhone X, and a recap of Lance’s Watch Series 3 review (spoiler alert: it’s the best Watch yet).

Topics

  • iPhone X Follow-Up
  • iPhone 8 review coverage
    • More on the A11 Bionic chip
    • Lack of lines at Apple Stores
    • Glass-back design
  • iPhone X
    • Launch production quantity reportedly hovering around 12M units.
    • Space Gray vs. White/Silver
  • Digressions about music.
  • Lance’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review
  • Waiting on more HomePod and iMac Pro info

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