Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Linked by Dan Moren

Apple takes the wraps off WWDC 2020 schedule

Apple:

Now in its 31st year, WWDC20 will be the biggest WWDC to date, bringing together the global Apple developer community of more than 23 million in an unprecedented, virtual way, from June 22 to 26. Apple today shared the WWDC20 lineup, including keynote and Platforms State of the Union timing, and information on how developers can learn about the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS, and engage with Apple engineers.

There's nothing too surprising in here: Apple will be streaming its keynote live from Apple Park on Monday June 22, at 1pm Eastern/10am Pacific.

Further events, such as the Platforms State of the Union and sessions will be available via the Apple Developer app on iOS and Apple Developer website. Sessions will be posted at 10am Pacific each day.

If there is a big surprise, it's that the Apple Developer Forums are getting a revamp, with anybody able to search and view them and, perhaps most surprisingly, with responses from Apple engineers. However, only Apple Developer Program members will be allowed to post on the site.

Similarly, the labs--which were the big question going into WWDC--will be available only to Developer Program members, and will offer one-on-one opportunities to talk to Apple engineers, presumably via a video chat mechanism, though Apple hasn't spelled that out explicitly. Space, however, is limited.

As Apple's first virtual WWDC, it'll be interesting to see how this shakes out, since this model may certainly be used in years forward. Expect some problems to crop up, for sure. But overall, it seems as though Apple is attempting to be proactive about addressing the biggest pain points in the switch to an online conference.


Linked by Jason Snell

What will the ARM Mac look like?

I really enjoyed this post by Gus Mueller about what’s likely to happen if Apple is indeed transitioning the Mac to ARM processors:

With all the recent rumors flying around about the Mac transitioning to ARM processors, I’ve seen some assertions about what this means for software going forward. I thought I could chime in on this as someone who’s been developing software for the Mac for a long time, including the last architecture transition from PowerPC to Intel.

I agree with all of Gus’s points. ARM Macs are going to be Macs, almost certainly running more or less all Mac software that currently runs on Catalina. ARM Macs won’t be iPads. They’ll be Macs. 1

Who knows where the Mac will go after it makes the ARM transition? Between SwiftUI and Mac Catalyst, it’s entirely possible that Apple will lead developers on a years-long path to an entirely new method of delivering Mac apps. But there’s no point in the Mac existing if it’s just an iPad—and I think Apple agrees.


  1. I don’t want to pick on Steven Sinofsky, an incredibly smart and thoughtful tech commentator who was a high-level Microsoft exec for many years, but this is not his strongest work. ↩


Arm yourselves. There might be a few ARM puns in this episode.


Linked by Dan Moren

Explaining the law that prevents Internet platforms from being sued

Fantastic explainer by Ars Technica’s Timothy B. Lee about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants immunity to online platforms for content posted on their services:

It’s hard to imagine sites like Yelp, Reddit, or Facebook existing in their current form without a law like Section 230. Yelp, for example, is regularly threatened by business owners for allegedly defamatory reviews. Section 230 allows Yelp to basically ignore these threats. Without Section 230, Yelp would need a large staff to conduct legal analysis of potentially defamatory reviews—a cost that could have prevented Yelp from getting off the ground 15 years ago.

Section 230 was, of course, in the news recently because of the president’s attempt to issue an executive order undoing it. But Democratic candidate Joe Biden has also called to revoke the immunity implication of Section 230, at least in the case of Facebook.

Perhaps most importantly, though many politicians say that Section 230 requires online platforms to be “politically neutral” that’s actually not the case at all:

And despite a number of politicians’ claims, Kosseff added, “there’s no mention I can find of a requirement for neutrality.” The authors of the statute “do talk about a need to promote political discourse,” he adds. “But I don’t see anything saying to receive 230 protections you must be neutral.”

Fundamentally, the law is not well understood and the implications of rolling it back are potentially damaging (even as there are definite needs to tweak and reform parts of it as well). Lee’s rundown should be required reading for anybody looking to understand Section 230, and especially for all those politicians who want to revise it.


By Dan Moren

Apple closes the book on iBooks Author

ibooks-author

iBooks Author, Apple’s application for creating and publishing ebooks, wrote its last chapter on Wednesday. The company announced that the app will be discontinued for new users as of July 1, 2020.

iBooks Author came out back in a January 2012 Apple special event in New York City, which I actually attended. The app was announced in conjunction with a big push from Apple on publishing digital textbooks to the then iBookstore (now Apple Books); iBooks Author was specifically designed to help create those textbooks, with a focus on design for multitouch and interactivity.

However, iBooks Author was, at first, pretty limited: among other things, it could only export to either Apple’s own .ibooks format or to a PDF; it wasn’t until 2015 that the company added the ability to publish books in the standard ePub format, though the iBooks Author format itself was based on ePub. That update also saw the ability to, for the first time, create multi-touch books designed not just for the iPad, but also the iPhone, another long-awaited feature.

Unfortunately, Apple’s textbook initiative never quite took off the way the company had clearly hoped, and development on iBooks Author was always kind of slow. The last substantial update to the app came in September 2018, adding only minor stability and performance updates. (It also probably didn’t help that Apple found itself in hot water with the U.S. government over ebook price-fixing in the early 2010s.)

Over time, iBooks Author has had more competition from other sources, most notably from Apple itself. The company has in recent years added more and more publishing features to its free Pages word processor, allowing those looking to create ebooks the ability to both write and publish a book using the same app, rather than having to use separate tools. Third party apps like Scrivener and Vellum both provide deep ebook publishing features as well, as I detailed in my own ebook experiments earlier this year.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Apple’s announcement of iBooks Author’s end of life points users towards Pages as a substitute. While the app may not duplicate all of the features of iBooks Author, it seems as though Apple is committed to continuing to improve the publishing experience. For one thing, Apple says it will be offering an import feature in an upcoming update that will allow users to open and edit iBooks Author files.

iBooks Author will continue to function if you’ve already installed it; if you’ve downloaded it in the past, you can still get it from your purchase history in the Mac App Store. However, it seems as though it won’t necessarily be supported on versions of macOS past Catalina.

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, and podcaster. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple will discontinue iTunes U next year

Apple announced today that it’s discontinuing iTunes U at the end of 2021. Apple has been moving away from the iTunes U concept for some time, moving iTunes U content to Apple Podcasts back in 2017, and now deprecating the education-focused app in favor of its Classroom and Schoolwork apps, and more:

Classroom turns your iPad into a powerful teaching assistant, helping teachers guide students through a lesson, see their progress, and keep them on track. Schoolwork helps teachers save time and maximize each student’s potential by making it easy for teachers to share class materials, get students to a specific activity in an app, collaborate with students, and view student progress.

In addition to Classroom and Schoolwork, Apple also introduced Apple School Manager to enable IT Administrators to easily manage iPads, Macs, Apple TV, Apple IDs, books, and apps, while ensuring data is kept secure and private. Apps such as Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand, iMovie, Clips, and Swift Playgrounds have education-specific features that are used regularly by teachers and students.

In other words, Apple has other education options available, and educational experiences that rely on iTunes U will last through the next academic year. Apple recommends that publishers of public content migrate to podcasts and ebooks—Apple Podcasts and Apple Books, of course—if they want to continue to communicate their educational material to the wider world.


Jason Snell for Macworld

WWDC wish list: macOS 10.16 ↦

As Mac users approach Apple’s annual developer conference and the promise of the whole operating system cycle starting over again, it would be natural to feel a lot of trepidation. It’s been a rough ride for macOS Catalina, with overly strict and chatty security barriers, incompatibility with 32-bit apps, a host of little annoying instabilities, and a less-than-impressive debut for Mac Catalyst.

it’s just time to get back on the hamster wheel and go through another macOS beta cycle—whether we like it or not. But I’ve got some hope that this year will be different. Here’s what I’m wishing for when Apple rolls out the new Mac operating system, macOS 10.16, at WWDC in less than two weeks.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Dan Moren

WWDC Wish List: HomePod stereo pair as Mac system output

HomePod

The HomePod has kind of faded into the background since its release more than two years ago, with little in the way of new features, and some notable omissions still remaining. Among all those, the one that frustrates me the most is the inability to use a stereo pair of HomePods at the system level on macOS.

Yes, the Music app on the Mac can send audio to a pair of HomePods grouped together in a stereo pair. Yes, macOS can send all system audio to a single HomePod. But somehow, the twain shall never meet. That’s pretty poor performance when compared with both iOS devices and the Apple TV, all of which have no problem outputting audio to a stereo pair of Apple’s own devices.

This might seem like a small thing, but for me it has a couple of big impacts. The first and more immediate is that I end up with a slightly ridiculous four speakers on my desk: two HomePods and two traditional computer speakers. I’d be happy to replace the clunky (though perfectly good-sounding) latter with the former, in the interests of simplifying.

But the latter, and larger issue, is the place of the HomePod within Apple’s ecosystem. In the over two years since Apple released the smart speaker, it’s seen only meager improvements. It seems very much as though, like the late-lamented iPod Hi-Fi before it 1, the HomePod may be destined to go down in history as a weird, expensive indulgence product that never really took off.

However, there is some hope. A recent update transitioned the onboard software from something based on iOS to a tvOS-based system, which suggests that perhaps development on the product is more active than previously thought. Moreover, there have for some time been whispers of a lower-priced HomePod that might help broaden its appeal in the market—though don’t expect anything as cheap as similar offerings from Amazon and Google.

But when WWDC rolls around in a couple weeks, I’m hoping that the HomePod’s second coming will kick off just this little, but important update: letting you use a stereo pair as your Mac’s default speakers. Don’t let me down.


  1. Yes, Jason, I know you love yours! ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, and podcaster. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Dan Moren

IBM no longer developing facial recognition

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna in a letter to Congress:

IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency. We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies. Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe. But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported. Finally, national policy also should encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing, such as body cameras and modern data analytics techniques.

As Ars Technica’s Kate Cox points out, IBM is currently in the midst of a reorganization, so it may be that facial recognition was getting the axe anyway, but the rationale presented by Krishna is still sound. Facial recognition is problematic, especially for people of color, and it’s already being widely deployed around the world, often without consideration of its limitations, downsides, and inherent biases.

Krishna also advocates for police reform and providing more pathways for people of color to acquire the skills needed for jobs in the tech industry.

The letter also stands in stark contrast to another tech giant, Amazon, which has not only been providing facial recognition systems to law enforcement, but has at least considered the possibility of implementing such technology in its consumer-oriented Ring doorbell and security cameras—which could then potentially be accessed by police.


Linked by Dan Moren

Bloomberg: Apple to announce Mac ARM transition at WWDC

Mark Gurman at Bloomberg says that the ARM transition is imminent:

Apple Inc. is preparing to announce a shift to its own main processors in Mac computers, replacing chips from Intel Corp., as early as this month at its annual developer conference, according to people familiar with the plans.

The company is holding WWDC the week of June 22. Unveiling the initiative, codenamed Kalamata, at the event would give outside developers time to adjust before new Macs roll out in 2021, the people said. Since the hardware transition is still months away, the timing of the announcement could change, they added, while asking not to be identified discussing private plans.

We have, of course, been expecting this move for some time now, but it certainly seems as though the evidence is mounting for an announcement at WWDC.

Gurman’s report contains a few interesting tidbits, such as the fact that the hardware transition is still months off, suggesting that developers will be given a healthy heads up to adapt their software before new products start to arrive.

It also lends credence to the idea of the iPad Pro as a stealth ARM Mac development kit, since those developers will presumably need to test their software on something1

Gurman also says that Apple’s internal tests show significant performance gains in graphics performance and AI-based apps, and suggests that power efficiency should be better as well. That raises an interesting question, to my mind: is there any place where Apple’s chips don’t measure up to Intel’s? Price? Non-graphics compute performance? Or is it all upside?

This is likely to be the biggest shift in the Mac since the Intel transition, although given Apple’s penchant for keeping underlying technical shifts seamless, it may go largely unnoticed by many users. With just under two weeks until WWDC, looks like we’ll find out sooner rather than later.


  1. My guess is that, if Apple did take this approach, it would be limited to the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models, since they have support for the Magic Keyboard and a USB-C port.  ↩


By Jason Snell

WWDC Wish List: HealthKit on iPad and Mac

Apple introduced HealthKit in 2014, but the iPad and Mac are still left out.

Since the launch of the Apple Watch, Apple has become increasingly focused on health technology. As someone who makes an effort to fill the rings on my Apple Watch, I appreciate the focus.

In the past few years I’ve also bought a few sensors that collect health data and then sync it back to Apple’s HealthKit database. And this is where I’ve run into trouble, because for sensors that I use when I’m sleeping or getting up in the morning, I tend to have my iPad nearby—and my iPhone is charging in another room.

It’s frustrating, because Apple offers the Health and Activity apps on the iPhone, but not on the iPad or the Mac. I’d love to check my blood pressure data on my Mac or view the location of a previous day’s hike on my iPad, but those features are unavailable. It also means that if I want to sync to those connected health devices, I need to bring my iPhone around, since it’s the device that’s capable of consuming all this data.

For a company with such a deep focus on health, restricting this data to one device (okay, two if you count Apple Watch) seems like a big mistake. We all use our Apple devices in different ways. I realize that as someone who uses a Mac and iPad more often than an iPhone, I’m a bit of an outlier. And I am apparently unusual in not sleeping with my iPhone on my nightstand. But why should the iPad be walled off from viewing, editing, sharing, and syncing health data?

So I’m adding this item onto my WWDC Wish List: Apple should provide health data, securely synced across devices via iCloud, across iPhone, Watch, iPad, and Mac. (Mac Catalyst should be a help here—but that will require getting the Health and Activity apps to run on the iPad first.) It’s been six years since the introduction of HealthKit. Time to get the job done.


With WWDC two weeks away, Myke and Jason share their wishes for iPadOS updates. They also analyze why they love certain kinds of games but are repelled by others and discuss Apple’s inevitable move into streaming live sports.


Linked by Jason Snell

Tim Cook: ‘Speaking up on racism’

Apple CEO Tim Cook, posted at the top of Apple’s homepage:

But we must do more. We commit to continuing our work to bring critical resources and technology to underserved school systems. We commit to continuing to fight the forces of environmental injustice — like climate change — which disproportionately harm Black communities and other communities of color. We commit to looking inward and pushing progress forward on inclusion and diversity, so that every great idea can be heard. And we’re donating to organizations including the Equal Justice Initiative, which challenge racial injustice and mass incarceration.

To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines. To the Black community — we see you. You matter and your lives matter.

I believe that Tim Cook truly cares about diversity. He’s also right that Apple (like so many of us, individually and as companies and organizations and industries) must do more.


This week, on the 30-minute tech show that is all out of four letter words, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Anže Tomić and Florence Ion to discuss our use of voice assistants on our phones, mass deleting content from social media, the tech we use to wake up, and companies responding to current events.


Linked by Jason Snell

The science and reality of mask wearing

The Chief of Medicine at UC San Francisco, Bob Wachter, has been a must-follow during the COVID-19 outbreak. Last month he posted a tweetstorm, upgraded to a Medium post, with some clear and sensible explanations of how masks work at preventing the spread of the virus, and where they’re most effective.

Of course the main point is that you wear a mask to protect others in case you’re infected and asymptomatic, not that you wear a mask as personal protection. Wearing a mask shows you are concerned about the welfare of others. It’s not a sign of fear, it’s a sign of compassion.

His anecdote about someone with COVID-19 riding on a packed airplane, coughing repeatedly, but wearing a mask—and not infecting anyone around them—really hits it home.

And there’s this sort of practical advice, too:

One of the most common questions is whether it is necessary to wear a mask when walking or exercising outside. Empiric and simulation studies have shown that there is practically zero risk of viral spread when one is outdoors and keeping a distance of greater than six feet from others. I personally don’t wear a mask when walking the dog (but I do keep one with me just in case I encounter someone at close range). But I always wear a mask inside, or if an encounter within six feet is likely.

This pretty much tracks with how I approach this, and it’s what my county’s health department has mandated: Wear a mask indoors or if you’re going to be close to people, but don’t sweat it if you’re out walking the dog and there’s nobody around. But carry a mask in case you run into anyone.


We’ll be honest: things are not great. But we’ll talk about things and technology and then get to our picks.


Linked by Jason Snell

Congress may want to tinker with Apple and Google’s tracking system

Tony Romm, reporting for the Washington Post about a proposed bipartisan bill to regulate privacy among virus-tracing apps:

“I think if you ask most people, ‘Do you trust Google to respect your privacy?’ …they don’t trust Google,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.), one of the bill’s sponsors. “This is a matter of perception. It’s not an indictment of Google,” added Cassidy, a doctor by background before arriving in the Senate. “We’re making sure people are comfortable with this.”

The way Cassidy frames this is about providing reassurance to people so that they are more likely to opt in to tracing features, because many people are suspicious of tech giants and what they do with their information. I can quibble about how so many people are perfectly willing to trade their privacy for convenience, but I also appreciate that these virus-tracking systems won’t work without most people participating, and government reassurance that they can’t be used for an invasion of privacy could help grease the skids.

But then there’s this:

The bill by Cantwell and her peers requires companies developing contact-tracing applications to do so in collaboration with public-health authorities. These tools must also obtain consent before they can begin tracking a user’s location to determine the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the proposed, bipartisan legislation, any data collected as part of coronavirus monitoring technology could not be used for commercial purposes, and users could request at any time to delete it. App makers and other companies behind contact-tracing tools further would have to notify users in the event of a breach, and the U.S. government would gain new powers to penalize privacy and security abuses, the bill prescribes.

The debate over these tools has largely involved public-health authorities demanding more information than Google and Apple’s system is willing to provide. This line suggests to me that the government may expect Google and Apple to weaken the privacy restrictions built into their system in exchange for legal protection against the extra personal data being misused.

I wouldn’t bet against this having the opposite of its intended effect, by making the resulting system even more invasive—and leading people to opt out rather than pass even more personal information to a government agency, whether or not there are legal restrictions on its misuse.


It’s episode 300! This week we look to the future by drafting stories we’ll be talking about over the next hundred episodes of Upgrade, and then we answer all of your questions about how the podcast got started, how we put it together, and where we’re going from here.


Linked by Dan Moren

A shortcut for texting location and video to a friend when detained by the police

Shortcuts guru and friend of the site Matthew Cassinelli has shared an iOS shortcut for users who are being detained by the police. The shortcut texts a preset message to a trusted contact, before recording a video.

Cassinelli’s version tweaks an earlier shortcut that was making the rounds by adding GPS coordinates and a street location.

You can download the shortcut here. In order to install it, you’ll need to make sure you’ve enabled the Allow Untrusted Shortcuts option under Settings > Shortcuts. (If you don’t even see such an option, you may need to go to the Gallery tab in the Shortcuts app and install a shortcut from there first.)

Updated 6/8/20 to correct the link to the original shortcut.


Linked by Dan Moren

Securing your tech for protests

At Wired, Andy Greenberg and Lily Hay Newman lay out precautions to take with your tech when you’re protesting:

If you insist on using biometric unlocking methods to have faster access to your devices, keep in mind that some have an emergency function to disable these types of locks. Hold the wake button and one of the volume buttons simultaneously on an iPhone, for instance, and it will lock itself and require a passcode to unlock rather than FaceID or TouchID. Most devices also let you take photos or record video without unlocking them first, a good way to keep your phone locked as much as possible.

I’ve also seen several people online pointing out that if you want to share a photo of a protest, it may be better to take a screenshot of that photo—the rationale being that screenshots don’t contain location or other metadata. (In iOS, take a screenshot by pushing the Sleep/Wake button and the volume up button at the same time).