iOS 11.3 Preview

Apple Newsroom: Apple previews iOS 11.3

Usually, Apple only previews major system releases. The point releases just happen. However, some of the features coming to iOS 11.3 seem like they would usually be part of a major release.

On ARKit:

In addition to horizontal surfaces like tables and chairs, ARKit can now recognize and place virtual objects on vertical surfaces like walls and doors, and can more accurately map irregularly shaped surfaces like circular tables. Using advanced computer vision techniques to find and recognize the position of 2D images such as signs, posters, and artwork, ARKit can integrate these real world images into AR experiences such as filling a museum with interactive exhibits or bringing a movie poster to life. The view of the real world through the camera now has 50 percent greater resolution and supports auto-focus for an even sharper perspective.

On Business Chat:

Business Chat is a new way for users to communicate directly with businesses right within Messages. This feature will launch in Beta with the public availability of iOS 11.3 this spring, with the support of select businesses including Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. With Business Chat, it’s easy to have a conversation with a service representative, schedule an appointment or make purchases using Apple Pay in the Messages app. Business Chat doesn’t share the user’s contact information with businesses and gives users the ability to stop chatting at any time.

On the expected battery updates:

Additionally, users can now see if the power management feature that dynamically manages maximum performance to prevent unexpected shutdowns, first introduced in iOS 10.2.1, is on and can choose to turn it off. This feature can be found in Settings -> Battery and is available for iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

I think this is the first time Apple have publicly acknowledged plans to allow users to enable or disable this feature. In the past, they have only said people would be able to see if their batteries were triggering performance throttling.

On Health Records, which seems big:

The new Health Records feature brings together hospitals, clinics and the existing Health app to make it easy for consumers to see their available medical data from multiple providers, whenever they choose. Patients from participating medical institutions will have information from various institutions organized into one view and receive regular notifications for their lab results, medications, conditions and more. Health Records data is encrypted and protected with a passcode.

Finally, on AML:

Support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML) to automatically send a user’s current location when making a call to emergency services in countries where AML is supported.

Apple’s communication is improving in fits and starts. I hope this is the beginning of a trend where Apple are more transparent and upfront about their upcoming software updates.

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Changes to macOS Server

Apple: Prepare for changes to macOS Server

macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018. If you’ve already configured one of these services, you’ll still be able to use it in the spring 2018 macOS Server update.

These deprecated services will be removed in a future release of macOS Server, so those depending on them should consider alternatives, including hosted services. Deprecated services are listed below. Links to potential replacements are provided underneath each deprecated service.

I’ve never used macOS server, but this is rough for those that do. It is nice, however, that Apple provides links to alternatives for the services going away.

via 512 pixels

Making Apology Cinnamon Roles

The Everywhereist: I Made the Pizza Cinnamon Rolls from Mario Batali’s Sexual Misconduct Apology Letter

Last night, I made cinnamon rolls. I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon rolls, per se, but this recipe was included in Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct apology letter, and so I feel compelled to make them. Batali is not the first powerful man to request forgiveness for “inappropriate actions” towards his coworkers and employees. He is not the most high profile, and he is ostensibly not even the worst offender. But he is the only one who included a recipe.

And of course, the glaring question is why? Was his PR team drunk? Is life suddenly a really long, depressing SNL sketch? Do these cinnamon rolls somehow destroy the patriarchy? Does the icing advocate for equal pay?

I figure the only way to answer these questions is to make the damn rolls.

Brilliant.

Reinventing Zelda

Polygon: Ken Levine on Zelda and the Terrifying Need to Demolish the Old to Make Way For the New

Nobody’s fully comfortable with seeing their children taken by new hands, shaped and altered into ways we maybe never intended. Why do they need to be changed, anyway? Aren’t they perfect the way they are?!

The urge to return to old successes is powerful. But the things we make can become the tombs we bury ourselves in.

How do you overcome the fear that changing a masterpiece can curdle its magic? And the worse fear, deeper down: What if the new people find ways to make it better?

That’s the fear of obsolescence. And that fear makes us rigid. And rigidity is the enemy of invention. While there is a world where they changed Zelda and eliminated or added something that upset the alchemical balance of the series, I’m happy to report we don’t live in it.

I love the Zelda series, but it’s a fair criticism that Nintendo has been in bit of a rut with the franchise. Every 2D Zelda has been a variation of A Link to the Past, and every 3D entry has been templated on Ocarina of Time. Some entries like Phantom Hourglass moved the mark a bit, but Breath of the Wild is the first truly unique Zelda game in decades.

All the more interesting is the fact that they didn’t really have to break the mold. A solid traditional Zelda game would have still been financially successful. Nintendo took a risk, and it paid off. That said, I would like to see the next entry return to its roots a bit with more expansive dungeons and the return of some classic items.

Fitness Chains Ban Cable News

The Washington Post: Fitness Chain Bans Cable News Networks As Part of ‘Healthy Way of Life’

Life Time Fitness, a Minnesota-based gym chain, has decided to eliminate all national cable network news stations from the TV screens at its 128 fitness centers in the U.S. and Canada. The removed channels include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The decision, which was made at the start of the new year, came after a wave of feedback from gym members over time, Life Time said in a statement on Twitter last week. It also stemmed from the chain’s “commitment to provide family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content,” the statement read.

“It is always our goal to meet the majority of members’ expressed requests and we believe this change is consistent with the desires of overall membership as well as our healthy way of life philosophy,” the statement read.

I wish everywhere would stop running cable news on public televisions.

Cartoon Villains and Accents

The Atlantic: Why Do Cartoon Villains Speak in Foreign Accents?

For their initial study in 1998, Gidney and Dobrow had a team of coders analyze 323 animated TV characters using measures such as ethnic and gender identification, physical appearance, hero/villain status, and linguistic markers. The coders tested a random sample of 12 shows, which spanned a variety of networks, air-times, and genres. Their findings suggested that lots of kids’ shows use language to mark certain traits in a given character. All but two of the shows studied correlated dialect (a term that refers here to any particular variety of a language) with characters’ personality traits in some way.

The kicker: In many of the cases studied, villains were given foreign accents. A modern-day example is Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, the bad guy in Phineas and Ferb who speaks in a German(ish) accent and hails from the fictional European country Drusselstein. Meanwhile, the study found that most of the heroic characters in their research sample were American-sounding; only two heroes had foreign accents. Since television is a prominent source of cultural messaging for children, this correlation of foreign accents with “bad” characters could have concerning implications for the way kids are being taught to engage with diversity in the United States.

The most wicked foreign accent of all was British English, according to the study. From Scar to Aladdin’s Jafar, the study found that British is the foreign accent most commonly used for villains. German and Slavic accents are also common for villain voices. Henchmen or assistants to villains often spoke in dialects associated with low socioeconomic status, including working-class Eastern European dialects or regional American dialects such as “Italian-American gangster” (like when Claude in Captain Planet says ‘tuh-raining’ instead of ‘training.’) None of the villains in the sample studied seemed to speak Standard American English; when they did speak with an American accent, it was always in regional dialects associated with low socioeconomic status.

It’s crazy how pervasive this is. The messaging may be unintentional — voices done for comedic effect more than anything — but the result is the same. Different is bad.

Transmit On iOS

Panic Blog: The Future of Transmit iOS

Transmit iOS made about $35k in revenue in the last year, representing a minuscule fraction of our overall 2017 app revenue. That’s not enough to cover even a half-time developer working on the app. And the app needs full-time work — we’d love to be adding all of the new protocols we added in Transmit 5, as well as some dream features, but the low revenue would render that effort a guaranteed money-loser. Also, paid upgrades are still a matter of great debate and discomfort in the iOS universe, so the normally logical idea of a paid “Transmit 2 for iOS” would be unlikely to help. Finally, the new Files app in iOS 10 overlaps a lot of file-management functionality Transmit provides, and feels like a more natural place for that functionality. It all leads to one hecka murky situation.

Was the use case for this app too edge-casey or advanced? Did we overestimate the amount of file management people want to do on a portable device? Should we have focused more on document viewing capabilities? Maybe all of the above?

My optimistic take: we hope that as iOS matures, and more and more pro users begin to seriously consider the iPad as a legitimate part of their daily work routines, Transmit iOS can one day return and triumph like it does on the Mac.

I think it’s premature to declare Transmit’s departure as the beginning of the end for pro apps on iOS. There are still gems like Affinity Photo and Panic’s own Coda available, among others. However, it’s disappointing to see such a robust and capable app as Transmit fail to gain enough momentum on iOS to justify its continued development.

Has Apple Lost Its Design Mojo?

Fortune: Has Apple Lost Its Design Mojo?

If your friends and family are anything like my friends and family, you’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about Apple design recently. In fact, enumerating the ways Apple design fails consumers seems to have become an international pastime. Google “Apple design sucks,” and you’ll find a never-ending litany of the seemingly infinite ways that this ostensible paragon of design excellence misses the mark: The Watch isn’t out-of-the-box intuitive; the latest keyboards are annoying and fragile; Apple Pencils are easy to lose; the iPhone has been flawed ever since Apple introduced that camera lens that juts out on the back, and things have gotten worse with the “notch” on the screen of the iPhone X. Belittling headlines abound: “The Myth of Apple’s Great Design” (The Atlantic), “What Happened to Apple’s Faultless Design?” (The Verge), and “Apple Is Really Bad at Design” (The Outline), a recent screed that generated a lot of online chatter.

Highly respected developers and designers have weighed in with damning criticism. Tumblr cofounder Marco Arment admires most Apple design, but says, “Apple designs in the post-Steve era have been a little off-balance. The balance seems too much on the aesthetic, and too little on the functional.” Don Norman, a former member of the Apple design team (1993–1996) who now heads the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, beats the drum that Apple has abandoned user-centered design principles. “They have sacrificed understandability for aesthetic beauty,” he says.

As this article correctly points out, the thinking that Apple has somehow lost its way post-Jobs in terms of design clearly looks at the past through rose colored lenses. Apple has always had a struggle finding the perfect balance between usability and aesthetic. Look no further than the original iMac mouse for evidence.

Usually, though, the pendulum begins to swing after an iteration or two. They never get to the point of the utilitarianism that still pervades much of the tech industry, but Apple historically learns from their mistakes. It’s just that their mistakes now affect millions of more people than those of the Jobs era.

10 Years of the MacBook Air

The Verge: Steve Jobs Changed the Future of Laptops 10 Years Ago Today

“It’s the world’s thinnest notebook,” said Steve Jobs as he introduced the MacBook Air 10 years ago today. Apple’s Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft. Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was. We’d never seen a laptop quite like it, and it immediately changed the future of laptops.

At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn’t even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series — one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops.

Our MacBook Air is easily the best computer we’ve owned. We picked it up in 2011 as an emergency replacement, and it’s still going strong.

Bad UI and Missile Alerts

Kottke: Bad Design in Action: the False Hawaiian Ballistic Missile Alert

The employee made a mistake but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be fired for it. The interface is the problem and whoever caused that to happen — the designer, the software vendor, the heads of the agency, the lawmakers who haven’t made sufficient funds available for a proper design process to occur — should face the consequences. More importantly, the necessary changes should be made to fix the problem in a way that’s holistic, resilient, long-lasting, and helps operators make good decisions rather than encouraging mistakes.

The false alarm is not a left v. right issue. It’s not about any particular administration. It might be reductive to say it’s solely a design issue, but bad design leads to errors. Leaving designers out of anything people will interact with is never a good idea.

Value good design.