February 13th, 2013
Dan Hon has learned the hard way that purchases made through the iTunes Store are subject to the whims of the rights owners, with Apple acting much as Amazon did after losing the rights to publish a particular edition of 1984 three years ago:
Why you can't trust iTunes in the Cloud
At some point, it looks like Apple lost the rights to distribute Anchorman. Unfortunately, this happens all the time because the movie industry is shitty and doesn't care at all about what you, the person who wants to watch movies, does. What the movie industry cares about is maximising its profit, and that means release windows. This is why Netflix gets things for a while and then they disappear and then they (maybe) come back. And yes, I realise that sale windows are different from VOD/streaming windows. But the general idea is this:
Studio sale windows trump iTunes in the Cloud.
The business of Apple removing the sale of the item from your Purchase History if they no longer hold the rights to offer it for sale/download is a bit unfortunate. I don't doubt that it grants itself permission to do so somewhere in the dozens of pages of terms & conditions that you're required to claim you've read and understood when setting up an iTunes account on a device, but it's still not good: Apple shouldn't be making retrospective alterations to records of purchases like that.
Basically, a purchase isn't a purchase when it's made online, and we shouldn't ever forget it.
November 3rd, 2012
Ever since Apple introduced the Reader feature to Safari, I've been forced to engage in the same ritual after every update to Safari. The thing is, Reader does quite a good job of rendering a cluttered web page readable, but it insists on doing it using justified text, which looks hideous. The (not very user-friendly) way to fix this was to find the Reader.html file buried inside the Safari application package and add a simple text-align: left; to the CSS embedded in that file and save it. Problem solved, except that after each Safari update you'd almost certainly have to repeat the trick. Better still, in some updates Apple changed the location of the damned file so you'd have to figure out where it lived now before you could apply the fix.
After the update to Safari 6 I found the latest home of the Reader.html file and applied my customary edit, but for some reason Safari ignored the revised CSS and kept on rendering justified text in Reader. In searching for hints as to why this might be happening, I came across a much better answer: CustomReader:
With CustomReader, you can change pretty much any aspect of Safari Reader's appearance. CustomReader's settings panel has a graphical user interface that lets you edit a few basic settings, like body font and background color, with a few clicks. But the true power of CustomReader lies in the Advanced tab, where you can directly edit the custom stylesheet that the extension inserts into Safari Reader. By editing this stylesheet, you can override any of Safari Reader's built-in styles with one of your own.
CustomReader has another feature that may be of interest to some. If you find yourself frequently invoking Safari Reader on a certain kind of page at a specific site – for instance, articles on the New York Times website – you can have CustomReader automatically enter the reader whenever you open that kind of page.
It works! And with any luck it'll keep working after the next Safari update.
October 25th, 2012
September 20th, 2012
Remember how for years one of the standard jokes about technological overkill was about whether the world really needed an internet-connected fridge. At heart, that joke was all about the pervasiveness of the network and what could be done with it.
Now we're living in the era of the PDA and I think we have a worthy successor to the networked fridge: Smarter Socks…
Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks. Your phone would know:
- which socks belong together,
- and could help sort them out,
- how often you have washed your socks,
- when your socks were produced,
- when you ordered your socks and
- when your socks were dispatched.
Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.
This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true. The result is Smarter Socks – probably the smartest socks in the world. They are undoubtedly the first socks which leave their mark on the internet via the Sock Sorter and your iPhone.
The funny thing is that I spent some time sorting socks yesterday, as you do, and even though I had my iPod Touch to hand at no point did I think "I wonder if there's an app for this?" Not only is there an app, there's a sock-scanning peripheral to scan the RFID tag built into each sock. Furthermore, the app includes a Blackometer function that allows you to check how black your socks are. Which is vital, apparently.
Granted, this is from the company that brought us the Sockscription, so it's for people who are really serious about their socks. I don't think I'm the target audience.
[Via VentureBeat, via Chuq Von Rospach]
September 17th, 2012
File under "I can't believe it never occurred to me to try this":
Like the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store strangely lacks tabbed browsing, despite the fact that they're both basically just websites. One way to work around this drawback hails from Josh Helfferich, who pointed out that you can drag and drop icons from the Mac App Store onto your browser. If you're doing a lot of looking around, this is a great way to look at a lot of apps quickly or keep multiple tab open to compare.
I knew you could copy the URL for an item. I even knew I could drag an App Store/iTunes Store icon onto my desktop and get a .webloc file to click on later. Somehow it never occurred to me to just drop the damn link on the web browser and see what happened.
[Via Mac OS X Hints]
August 10th, 2012
What I learned on the internet today: iTunes on a Mac lets you filter songs by star rating by typing asterisks into the search field.
August 7th, 2012
Getting beyond the particulars of how Mat Honan had hackers use social engineering to get his passwords reset and his iOS and MacOS devices remote wiped, for my money here's the key lesson of the whole sorry saga:
I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can't put a price on.
This isn't just about Apple – it's about all the corporations expanding from their original niches into as many corners of our online life as possible. Having a single sign-on is scary, and only gets more so as the uses of that ID expand over time.
I'd like to think that scares like this would motivate Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the rest to get this stuff right lest the public be discouraged from signing up for all the different services they offer, but I fear that convenience wins out all too often.
August 5th, 2012
One for the MacOS X users: Brett Terpstra has come up with a neat little script for Launching your entire Dock at once.
And just like that, he solves one of those issues that's been nagging away at me for ages. I'd been thinking in terms of saving a plain text list of applications that I could point a script at, but his approach of extracting the list of applications from the Dock's .plist is so much more flexible.
June 18th, 2012
I swear this sort of thing makes me want never to set foot in an Apple Store again:
Beneath all the chillness and chirpiness [of an Apple Store] is a consumer destination whose whimsy is the result of painstaking calibration. Think Disney World's underground tunnels, except with all the draconianism out on display and integral to the whole aesthetic. The products placed on blond-wood tables at precisely measured intervals. The reservations-only appointment system at the Genius Bar. The Five Steps of Service. The fact that Jon's beard is trimmed to a uniform three inches. It takes a lot of work to stay this relaxed.
Turns out, though, that there's one more bit of precision required to make the Apple Store so Apple-y. The notebook computers displayed on the store's tabletops and counters are set out, each day, to exactly the same angle. That angle being, precisely, 70 degrees: not as rigid as a table-perpendicular 90 degrees, but open enough — and, also, closed enough — for screens' content to remain visible and inviting to would-be typers and tinkerers.
The point, explains Carmine Gallo, who is writing a book on the inside workings of the Apple Store, is to get people to touch the devices. [...]
April 27th, 2012
Good news and bad news for Mac users.
I wondered what software update/new release was finally going to prod me into updating to Lion; I think this might just be it.
[Via Ars Technica]
April 22nd, 2012
The other day, Kieran Healy had a bright idea:
The other day Brett Terpstra posted a gigantic and quite beautifully-executed feature comparison of all of the text editors available for iOS devices. The table is really terrific and also a bit overwhelming, as there's so much data. On the bus home yesterday, it struck me that it might make for a nice data visualization exercise. [...]
He was right. Good work.
April 15th, 2012
Based on Justin Williams' review, I very much want a Das Keyboard for my Mac:
[...] The Das Keyboard is a throwback to the days of loud, mechanical keys that came with the computers you used in previous decades. Mechanical keys give this feeling of satisfaction as you're typing. The keyboard itself is insanely large and has a substantial weight to it. It feels really well built and worth the amount of money I spent on it. It's got a full keyboard, number pad and even two full-powered USB ports on the side. The only thing missing from this throwback is the PS/2 or ADB cable at the end.
So… how does it type?
Not that I can justify spending money on a new keyboard right now, but still…
January 29th, 2012
Tweet of the week, courtesy of @kjhealy, a.k.a. Kieran Healy:
Alain de Botton plans to build a series of temples for atheists. Apparently he has never heard of Apple Stores. dezeen.com/2012/01/25/ala…
[Via Crooked Timber]
December 6th, 2011
In the course of a post about Browsing vs. Searching, user interface guru Bruce Tognazzini touches on something central to the experience of using the current generation of Apple software:
[...] Instead of working to make everything visible to the user, Apple's industrial and graphic designers, now fully in command, are doing just the opposite: Apparently bereft of even the barest knowledge of behavioral (HCI) design, they have busied themselves hiding everything they can, increasing visual simplicity at the expense of actual simplicity. Then, they pretend both to themselves and to us that the only instruction you'll ever need for an iPad is, "Turn it on." iPad users are left to stumble around, trying to find the things they need to get their work done, things so carefully hidden that without a friend to help them, they are unlikely to ever find them.
Case in point: At some point in the past, perhaps the distant past, Apple added the capability to jump from letter group to letter group by holding down on the letter column, rather than just stabbing at your letter of choice (and usually missing). After four years of using iDevices, during the course of writing this column, I accidentally held down for a second on an alpha character, causing the slide bar to appear. I never knew before that moment that hold-and-slide even existed in Contacts. Principle: If a capability is not visible and the developer does not teach that capability, it may as well not exist.
Damned straight! I had no idea the slide bar existed until I read that last paragraph earlier this evening.
I like iOS, I really do, but it's a crying shame that the most usable portable computers I've ever owned were designed by Palm and Psion back in the 1990s.
Come on Apple, you can do better than this…
[Via Daring Fireball]
November 30th, 2011
Siri's apparent unwillingness to provide useful responses to search queries relating to birth control makes Apple look terrible. I wonder how much embarrassment it would take for Apple to cite the program's 'Beta' status and pull it for a while so they can work the bugs out?
For what it's worth, I'd be astounded if the behaviour people are reporting is the result of a deliberate strategy on Apple's part of trying to avoid giving information about contraception, rape and so on. If it is, it's clearly very poorly implemented, both because the iPhone will happily let you google for them and because it's such a hot button subject that there's no way it would have gone unnoticed for long.
I strongly suspect that Siri's anomalous behaviour will turn out to be some combination of the user's location, the quality and consistency of data in the databases and directories Siri is acting as a front end for, and some rough edges in Siri's code. Running natural language search queries against third party databases is hard: doing so when your data providers may themselves be erring on the side of caution when it comes to tagging and categorising the data you're accessing is never going to be close to completely accurate. Doing all that and having Siri respond in colloquial English rather than displaying less user-friendly but more informative error messages like "Connection refused" or "0 records found", and thus making every failed query look like the result of a conscious decision on Siri's part. isn't helping one little bit.
Whatever the reason, it'll be interesting to see how Apple respond.
November 27th, 2011
One for the Safari users among you: the ZoomBySite extension makes Safari remember the zoom level you applied last time you visited a site, then automatically applies it again for future visits. Marvelous for the many web sites that assume we all still have the eyes of our 21 year old selves.
The one feature ZoomBySite is missing is that it doesn't respect Safari's Zoom Text Only setting and always zooms both text and images. You can still use the default Safari zoom feature, so it's not a disaster, but it's mildly irritating to have to switch to the native Safari method for some sites when ZoomBySite otherwise does such a good job.
Apart from that quirk, ZoomBySite does one thing and does it really well: recommended.
November 21st, 2011
In enthusing over his iPad, TV producer Ash Atalla requested a feature that I'd be willing to bet Jonathan Ive doesn't have on his drawing board just yet:
What additional features would you add if you could?
Some sort of tea-carrying device would be good. I drink 10-15 cups of tea a day, so it would be good if it just had a circle in it where I could put my tea cup right through the middle of it, and then it would reform itself once I had finished my tea. At the moment I use it as a tray when I'm carrying things around, so often I have a mug of tea on top of my iPad. And I just wish it would make that system a little bit safer, because one day it's going to have a bath in lovely Earl Grey.
Alternatively, I suppose that if Apple could make the touchscreen register the presence of a larger-that-finger-sized non-organic circular object then they could rewrite the iOS display routines to display a skeuomorphic image of a coaster under the cup and flow the user interface around the virtual coaster so that the cup didn't obscure anything important.
November 12th, 2011
Remember when Apple made TV adverts styling themselves as opponents of Big Brother. Judging by a recent Employment Tribunal finding, that stance is inoperative:
Crisp, who worked in an Apple Store, posted derogatory statements on Facebook about Apple and its products. The posts were made on a "private" Facebook page and outside of working hours. One of his colleagues, who happened to be a Facebook "friend", saw the comments, printed the posts and passed them to the store manager. Crisp was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
The employment tribunal rejected Crisp's claim for unfair dismissal. [...]
Despite having "private" Facebook settings, the tribunal decided that there was nothing to prevent friends from copying and passing on Crisp's comments, so he was unable to rely on the right to privacy contained in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (covered in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998). He retained his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, but Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts.
I'm not saying that the tribunal's findings are wrong in law: apparently Apple Retail's 'social media policy' emphasised that employees were forbidden from posting unfavourable opinions on the company's products on social media sites, so on the face of it the ex-employee was in breach of this policy.
My problem is threefold:
- With the tribunal, for apparently holding that even though the employee used Facebook's privacy controls to restrict access to his comments the fact that someone could have copied-and-pasted the text of those comments negated his right to privacy. By that logic, if he'd been talking to a couple of friends in a pub or in his home, the fact that one of his pals could have surreptitiously recorded his comments using their smartphone renders those comments public too. This is a terribly bad idea.
- With Apple Retail, for trying to gag their employees outside working hours. I don't doubt that their social media policy bans derogatory comments from employees. I just think that a) they shouldn't be trying to control what employees do when they're not at work, and b) they need to distinguish between genuinely public expressions of dissatisfaction and private letting-off of steam.
- With the little shit who ratted on his 'friend' to his Apple Store bosses.
[Via The Register, via Risks Digest Volume 26: Issue 60]
October 28th, 2011
Jack Donaghy demonstrates one good reason why Apple won't be adding Siri to the Apple TV any time soon.
[Via Daring Fireball]
October 17th, 2011