• Apps

    by Published on 07-10-2020 08:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Breaking news this morning from The Verge:

    A number of popular apps and services including Spotify, Pinterest and Tinder are currently broken on iOS devices, with early analysis suggesting Facebook is to blame.
    Though it hasn't yet been confirmed, the leading theory so far points to an issue with the Facebook SDK—the affected apps all seem to offer Facebook as a login option, so the SDK is built into the code even if you yourself don't use it.

    It's not the first time this has happened, either. The Verge reminds us of a nearly-identical event that occurred on May 6th of this year.

    As of this writing, the bug is limited to iPhones and iPads; I can confirm that Spotify on Android is (so far) unaffected. Hopefully this gets sorted out soon!

    Sources: The Verge (1) (2)

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 05-08-2020 03:15 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps



    For your consideration: some evidence below in support of the hypothesis above.

    Exhibit A: Foodora

    Next Monday May 11th Foodora, a subsidiary of Berlin-based Delivery Hero SE, will officially cease all operations here in Canada. With most of the country still locked down due COVID-19 one might expect the food delivery business to be booming—and my own observations from the streets of downtown Toronto would indicate the same. But that's apparently not the case—in fact, quite the opposite seems to be true: the company's insolvency filings reveal some $4.7 million CAD owed to creditors, mostly restaurants for unpaid food sales.

    In leaving Canada Foodora hasn't just screwed over restaurants, but delivery couriers as well. Those couriers won the right to unionize back in February; I've a sneaking suspicion that this may also have influenced Foodora's decision to close up shop here.

    On the subject of couriers I feel compelled to add another anecdotal observation: On the few occasions that I've ventured out to pick up food almost every business I've visited was full of delivery couriers. No one seemed particularly happy to be there.

    Sources: CBC, NOW Toronto

    Exhibit B: Lyft, Uber, Airbnb

    My girlfriend once pointed something out that made me see ride-hailing services in a completely different way—basically that me, the passenger, is not actually the true customer for these businesses; it's actually the vehicle owner, the one with the asset that these businesses seek to exploit. Ditto for Airbnb, who isn't after thrifty travellers so much as property owners seeking to leverage unused space—with Airbnb taking a cut of each and every stay.

    So how's all this working out in the face of COVID-19? Well, when Airbnb asked our government for a bailout (presumably to pass on to their hosts) they were famously turned down in a single-word tweet. And south of the border, Uber drivers in New York City were already sleeping in their cars before the pandemic even started.

    Sources: @TOAdamVaughan, VICE

    Exhibit C: Instacart

    Facing my own dwindling supply at the height of the toilet paper scare this past March I turned in desperation to Instacart, thinking that the service had something unique to offer beyond just sending someone to do your shopping for you. It does not. In a city where at least one major grocery chain has had a proper home delivery platform for over a decade, Instacart brings no new innovation beyond exploiting gig workers with strong arms and free time.

    Enter COVID-19 and Instacart is instantly worse for everyone. Those seeking delivery slots have likened the experience to using Ticketmaster, and those making the deliveries have been doing so at great personal risk. In fact, it took the threat of a general strike for Instacart to provide the most meager of protections to personal shoppers in the midst of a global pandemic.

    Sources: BNN Bloomberg, Global News

    So I've asked Instacart to delete my account but have not yet heard back. I was never really interested in Airbnb, and gave up on Lyft last year and returned to my favourite Toronto taxi company instead. And I guess I should consider myself lucky to be able to walk to my local eateries and bring food home myself.

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 02-06-2020 12:30 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Back in the mid-1990s when my job mandated a fair amount of late-night cabs, Beck Taxi was the operator I would call. So imagine my surprise and delight to find out that they, like me, have embraced the 20th century [edit: 21st] with a compelling alternative to Uber and Lyft.

    Like Uber and Lyft their smartphone app allows you to summon a car to your current location, but you can also just hop into any available cab and use the app to pay, via a QR code on the driver's terminal. This is especially handy because in downtown Toronto Beck taxis are literally everywhere.

    You won't need to register for an account, just provide an email address where Beck can send the receipt for your ride. And to respect your privacy you can use PayPal for payment.

    The drivers I spoke with said that Beck's entire fleet is compatible with their app.

    One obvious difference between Beck and the other ride-sharing apps is the fares; there is no available estimate of what you'll pay because taxi fares are calculated by distance and regulated by the city. I'm actually fine with this, because with a metered cab I won't ever have to worry about surge pricing.

    Another difference is that with Beck you can't rate your driver. Surprisingly I'm also okay with this, only because of recent and uniformly terrible so-called "five-star rides" with Lyft—I'm talking dirty cars (with baby seats and other unnecessary clutter) and drivers who are great at mashing pedals but terrible with directions, were it not for the large navigational aids mounted directly in front of their faces.

    So fellow Torontonians, rejoice! There is yet another, possibly better way to get around the downtown core.

    Links: Beck Taxi on Apple App Store / Google Play Store

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 12-05-2019 04:45 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    So my late-2019 phone upgrade is a OnePlus 7T, which out of the box runs Android 10. In migrating over the apps I rely on I found one pair in particular that were getting a bit long in the tooth—still working as advertised (for the most part) but with UIs that haven't been updated since the days of Ice Cream Sandwich.

    Here, for what it's worth, is what I replaced them with:

    1. K-9 Mail to FairEmail



    Sure, I could add my IMAP accounts to Gmail, but since I don't want to hand over everything to Google I've been using K-9 Mail instead. K-9 still works fine but over the past decade has become progressively more unpleasant to look at. Its replacement, FairEmail, is also open-source (ie. available on F-Droid) but looks and feels far more like a modern Android app.

    2. Titanium Backup to Swift Backup



    In the past I could always count on Titanium Backup to save and restore my apps and their data, especially when migrating to a new device. But my latest experience was particularly rough—an unacceptable number of batch-restored apps would repeatedly force quit on launch, requiring manual reinstalls from the Play Store, one by one.

    To find out why a search on XDA led me to this thread, and a new app that I hadn't heard of before: Swift Backup. It does pretty much everything that TiBU claims to, and does so with a much cleaner, less-confusing interface.

    Using the app does require a Google login; here's the developer to explain why:

    Hi, Swift Backup developer here. Thanks for taking a look at the privacy policy. Here are the reasons why I mandate a Google sign-in:

    True, it has nothing to do with backups but it makes my job easier to fight piracy. I'm the only person working on the app and it uses Google's Firebase server to save user's app settings etc. This would incur me a gigantic amount of monthly bill if the pirates were able to use the same Firebase server. Google sign-in makes sure that the pirate dev has to create his own Firebase account in order to distribute a pirated apk. Also, cloud backups are uploaded to the cloud server (Dropbox/Google Drive) and their metadata is saved to the user's account on Firebase. This helps reduce the queries made to the cloud server which could otherwise result in rate limiting of HTTP calls to cloud server and hinder the user experience.
    Note also that I haven't yet done a full backup and restore with Swift. If I have any problems with that I'll be sure to follow up here.

    Links: Play Store (1) (2), XDA

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 09-24-2019 01:20 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Google has announced Play Pass, a new subscription service for select apps and games on the Play Store. Currently available in the USA only, the launch promo will set you back only $1.99 USD/month for the first 12 months, then the regular $4.99/month thereafter.

    Android Authority has put together a helpful list of launch titles (there actually aren't that many); I've added Play Store links so that you can check them out and decide if a subscription is worth your money.

    APPS

    AccuWeather: Daily Forecast & Live Weather Reports
    Tunable: Music Practice Tools
    ISS HD Live: View Earth Live
    Pic Stitch – #1 Collage Maker
    Photo Studio Pro
    CamtoPlan
    Slow Motion Video FX
    Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder (Pro)

    GAMES

    Action:
    Absolute Drift
    Chameleon Run
    Farm Invasion USA
    Lichtspeer
    Ninja Hero Cats
    Shadow Fight 2 Special Edition
    Titan Quest

    Adventure:
    60 Seconds! Atomic Adventure
    80 Days
    Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride (Full)
    LIMBO
    Lumino City
    Old Man’s Journey
    Sorcery! 4
    Swordigo
    Suzy Cube
    The Bug Butcher
    Thimbleweed Park
    Wayward Souls

    Kids:
    Sago Mini Pet Cafe
    Thomas & Friends: Race On!
    Toca Nature
    Toca Mystery House

    Puzzle:
    Agent A: A puzzle in disguise
    Bridge Constructor Portal
    Death Squared
    ELOH
    FRAMED
    Hidden Folks
    Monument Valley 2
    Neighbours from Hell Season 1
    Neighbours from Hell Season 2
    One More Line
    .projekt
    Save the Puppies
    The Tiny Bang Story

    RPG:
    Evoland
    Game Dev Tycoon
    Hoplite
    Stardew Valley
    Star Wars™: KOTOR
    Terraria

    Strategy/simulation:
    Door Kickers
    Guns’n’Glory Heroes
    Guns’n’Glory Zombies
    King’s League: Odyssey
    Mini Metro
    Pocket City
    Reigns: Game of Thrones
    Risk
    SpellForce – Heroes & Magic
    The Battle of Polytopia
    This is the Police
    Tiny Guardians

    Sources: Android Authority, Google
    Image source: TechCrunch

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 08-12-2019 02:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    My own failed login above jibes with what Android Police is reporting—that my favourite utility for backing up text messages to Gmail no longer works. If you're willing to jump through a few extra hoops there is a workaround that AP found on the app's GitHub bug tracker:

    Create an App specific password in your Google account:

    Go to your Google account, select Security from the left menu, select App Passwords in the Signing in to Google box.*

    At the bottom of the list select the Select app drop down menu - SMS Backup+ won't be there, so select Other.

    Type SMS Backup+ in the field and click generate. You'll get a 16 character password.

    Now open SMS Backup+ (it's easier if you have the password open on a different device, or maybe write it down if you're doing all of this on the same device.

    In SMS Backup+ go to Advanced Settings/Custom IMAP server

    Tap Authentication at the top and change it to Plain Text.

    Leave the server address as imap.gmail.com:993

    Enter your email address.

    Enter the app password you generated WITHOUT the spaces.

    Make sure Security is on TLS.

    You're done, go back to the main SMS Backup+ screen and it should work.
    * Note that you'll need to have 2-step verification enabled to see the option for app passwords. Also note the following:



    In English this means that your text backups will work as before, but your call log still can't be saved to your Google Calendar. So it's more of a half-fix, really. If, like myself, you find this solution lacking you can do what I did and switch to SMS Backup and Restore instead.

    Source: GitHub via Android Police

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 08-09-2019 04:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Some five years ago I posted about how a chat app for iOS became an unlikely bridge for a free exchange of ideas between Mainland China and Taiwan. This summer there's a different but not dissimilar app that's proving to be indispensable for protestors in Hong Kong.

    But first, a quick word from Bruce Lee:



    Next, some very necessary context via this dispatch from Hong Kong:

    “Be water”–a take on a famous Bruce Lee quote to be “formless, shapeless, like water”–has been a rallying cry of the leaderless protest movement since demonstrations in Hong Kong began on 9 June, but it appears to have been perfected over the past weekend.

    For three consecutive days, tens of thousands of protesters took part in an amorphous protest movement that would flare up in one district only to die down and reemerge with intensity in another district a short while later.

    “Be water” can feel chaotic, with people running from one train station to the next, but it is backed by a highly disciplined strategy. Protesters are often following alerts on Telegram and a website documenting police locations or protest groups needing backup.
    Available for both Android and iOS, Telegram offers server to client encryption for all messages, but also a secret chat feature with client to client (aka end to end) encryption, with messages that can be set to auto-destruct after they're delivered.

    The platform has proven to be a dependable tool for protestors; a massive DDOS attack believed to have originated from the mainland managed to disrupt some traffic, but only temporarily.

    Sources: The Independent, Telegram FAQ, The Verge

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 07-18-2019 01:30 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    You may have noticed that your social media friends and/or favourite celebs have suddenly aged a few decades... it's all thanks to FaceApp. Available for Android and iOS, it uses "advanced neural portrait editing technology" to, among other things, make you look older or younger.

    What makes FaceApp different from other photo editing apps is that it's suddenly made us aware of privacy issues that come with sharing our likeness on the Internet.

    First, there's the app's terms of service:

    “You grant FaceApp a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.”
    I've bolded the word "non-exclusive" for a reason; you still own your photos that you upload to FaceApp, just as you do with Facebook, Twitter and any other photo sharing service on the Internet. It would be great if FaceApp could work its magic locally on your device, but it doesn't. So it's not entirely unreasonable for them to require a non-exclusive license to upload your content to their servers—or, more likely, a CDN that they pay for but don't directly control. The rest looks to me like the standard legalese you'd find in the EULA for any social media network.

    Perhaps alarm bells are ringing louder than usual due to the unfortunate coincidence that the creators of FaceApp are based in St. Petersburg. So while all the clickbaity headlines like: "Russia now owns your face!" are technically true, in practical terms it's no less of an issue than for a Russian Snapchat user to upload their selfie to that American owned and run service (for example).

    If you're asking me for advice I personally would leave such narcissistic behaviour to celebrities, but in this age of influencers I suppose that we're all celebrities to a degree. So in the spirit of sharing and community here's a FaceApp of myself:



    What a time to be alive!

    Links: Fast Company via Vox

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 07-15-2019 02:10 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    As per the email above, Google is breaking one of Android's most useful utilities. I've been using SMS Backup+ for almost as long as I've been using Android. It's not the only way to back up your text messages (and phone call history), but up until today it was arguably the most useful—users have been able to send their SMS history to Gmail (and their phone calls to Calendar) for easy searches of your communications history through these two Google products.

    As of July 15th existing hooks may or may not continue to work, but one thing is clear: as soon as I upgrade to a new phone and try to reconnect the app to Gmail I'll be locked out.

    Here's a message from the developer on GitHub:

    Hello everyone. I'm sorry about this situation, SMS Backup+ will no longer have access to Gmail, mainly because it's not an email reading app. I applied for an exception but it was declined, as expected [...] Unfortunately the Android platform is getting more and more closed. I'm not sure what to do at this point, either remove the app from the store or release a new version which removes the automatic account setup, since that is broken / will be broken soon.
    Ars Technica reports that this isn't the only app that's going to suffer from Google's new "protections"; SwiftKey will also be blocked from using Gmail to better predict text input—a move which will obviously benefit the first-party alternative from Mountain View.

    Links: Ars Technica, GitHub

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    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
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    by Published on 06-07-2019 10:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Yesterday Google revealed more details about Stadia, its forthcoming game-streaming service. Supported devices at launch include the Chrome browser on MacOS and Windows, the Chromecast Ultra and 3rd-gen Pixel phones. Additional details are as follows:

    Launch Date
    Founder's Edition early access - November, 2019
    Stadia Pro - 2020

    Launch Markets
    Belgium
    Canada
    Denmark
    Finland
    France
    Germany
    Italy
    Ireland
    Netherlands
    Norway
    Spain
    Sweden
    United Kingdom
    United States (except Hawaii)

    Launch Titles
    Assassin's Creed Odyssey
    Baldur's Gate 3
    Borderlands 3
    Darksiders Genesis
    Destiny 2
    DOOM Eternal
    DRAGON BALL XENOVERSE 2
    Farming Simulator 19
    FINAL FANTASY XV
    Football Manager 2020
    Get Packed
    Ghost Recon Breakpoint
    GRID
    Gylt
    Just Dance 2020
    Metro Exodus
    Mortal Kombat 11
    NBA 2K
    Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid
    Rage 2
    SAMURAI SHODOWN
    The Crew 2
    The Division 2
    The Elder Scrolls Online
    Thumper
    Tomb Raider Trilogy
    Trials Rising
    Wolfenstein: Youngblood

    Pricing
    Founder's Edition, includes:
    - Chromecast Ultra
    - limited edition Night Blue Stadia controller
    - three months of Stadia Pro (see below)
    - three month Buddy Pass
    - dibs on selecting a Stadia Name
    - $169 CAD / $129.99 USD
    Stadia Pro
    - $11.99 CAD / $9.99 USD per month
    Pay-per-game pricing TBA

    Sources: Android Police, Mobile Syrup
    Image source: XDA

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    by Published on 06-04-2019 02:10 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Breaking news from XDA today: Support for the Android version of Google Trips will end on August 5th of this year. As someone who likes to travel every now and again I'm actually not too busted-up over this, as there will continue to be a web version of the app. Also, the service itself was never actually very good.

    When it was first announced not even three years ago Trips seemed to me like an obvious replacement for TripIt, a free/paid service that you forward your travel plans to in exchange for an itinerary that you can print, share or add to your Google Calendar. I had been using TripIt for over a decade, but switched to Trips since it could scan my Gmail for reservations and dump them into my calendar automatically. And with Inbox's travel bundles entire itineraries were only a click or tap away.

    Now we all know what happened to Inbox, but what I didn't know was how bad Google is at adding travel plans to Calendar, especially when those plans change.

    As for the app itself, here's a screenshot from my most recent trip:



    Of the tiles you see above the one for reservations was all I ever used; the rest seem like they were designed for people who travel without mobile data—in other words, nobody. Thus, it's hardly surprising that the web version of Trips includes none of this unnecessary cruft.

    So no, I'm not going to shed any tears over the Android version of Trips because, like so many of Mountain View's other "experiments", not a lot of effort was ever put into it. I've just gone back to using TripIt, which still works great!

    Source: XDA

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    by Published on 06-03-2019 02:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Unfortunately a prior commitment will keep me from catching the WWDC keynote this afternoon, so instead I'm going to spill the beans on what is rumoured to be the best possible news to come out of Cupertino in many years: The death of iTunes.

    As a loyal Apple customer from 1995 until 2010, it never made sense to me that iPhones connected to Macs via a music player.

    I'm well aware that one of the reasons why the iPhone came to market in the first place was to combat the rising tide of Nokias and Sony Ericssons with onboard music players of their own. And as a natural evolution of the wildly-successful iPod I can appreciate how iPhone plus iTunes probably made sense at the time, as users were still shuttling their music collections between desktop and mobile in those dark days before Spotify or Apple Music.

    But even back then smartphones were about so much more than just media. Apple already had a pretty great syncing tool in the early 2000s called iSync, which used Bluetooth and SyncML to synchronize the four pillars of personal information management: calendars, contacts, notes and tasks. Now, almost two decades later, Apple is finally breaking apart the bloated mess that is iTunes, paving the way for a more useful and sensible connection to desktop computers:

    This year, Apple is finally ready to move into a new era. The company is launching a trio of new apps for the Mac—Music, TV, and Podcasts—to replace iTunes. That matches Apple’s media app strategy on iPhones and iPads.

    Without iTunes, customers can manage their Apple gadgets through the Music app.
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Source: Bloomberg
    Image source: Gizmodo

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    by Published on 05-24-2019 09:45 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    With all the talk about Chinese backdoors and state-sponsored spying we must remember that our personal information is also at risk from entities closer to home. Case in point: Snapchat, whose employees have apparently been abusing access to user data, according to a new report from VICE. This is especially troubling for an ephemeral photo and video messaging service that first gained popularity as a sexting app.

    The tool used to access user accounts is known internally as SnapLion (as per the fake logo whipped up by a VICE artist above); more on that from the source:

    The tool was originally used to gather information on users in response to valid law enforcement requests, such as a court order or subpoena, two former employees said. Snap's "Spam and Abuse" team has access, according to one of the former employees, and a current employee suggested the tool is used to combat bullying or harassment on the platform by other users. An internal Snap email obtained by Motherboard says a department called "Customer Ops" has access to SnapLion. Security staff also have access, according to the current employee. The existence of this tool has not been previously reported.
    Data that can be retrieved using SnapLion includes user generated content (Snaps) and location information, plus the email addresses and phone numbers of users.

    From interviews with Snap employees VICE says that abuse was carried out by multiple individuals within the company, and occurred on multiple occasions. Read the full story at the link immediately below.

    Source: VICE

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    by Published on 05-16-2019 11:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    A special episode of The Vergecast this week features an interview with Mark Rifkin, a lawyer involved in a class action suit against Apple. Originally filed in 2011, Apple vs. Pepper argues that the iOS App Store is an unlawful monopoly; whereas Android (for example) offers alternative app stores and direct installs from developers, Apple gives you exactly two choices: deal with the App Store or have zero third-party apps on your phone. Because Apple takes a 30% commission on all App Store purchases, the plaintiffs argue that this fee is passed on to users, who again have nowhere else to go.

    The case has been making its way through the legal system for the past eight years. First, a lower court sided with Apple; then an appeals court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. This week the Supreme Court upheld the prior ruling against Apple, citing the precedent of Illinois Brick, a case where the state of Illinois sued a brick company for price-fixing. Without going into too much detail, that case was about who in the supply chain was the guilty party.

    Here's what Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh says about Apple:

    iPhone owners are not consumers at the bottom of a vertical distribution chain who are attempting to sue manufacturers at the top of the chain. There is no intermediary in the distribution chain between Apple and the consumer. The iPhone owners purchase apps directly from the retailer Apple, who is the alleged antitrust violator. The iPhone owners pay the alleged overcharge directly to Apple.
    In a statement to The Verge Apple asserts that its App Store "is not a monopoly by any metric", and will likely cite the very existence of Android as proof. But, according to Rifkin:

    “The fact that they have a [less than] 50 percent market share of smartphones doesn’t mean they don’t have a 100 percent share of the distribution of iPhone apps—which they absolutely do.”
    Have a listen to the 40-minute episode at the link immediately below.

    Source: The Verge

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    by Published on 05-10-2019 12:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Okay, this is getting a bit ridiculous... after years of complaining about tap and pay on Android I finally have a OnePlus phone with a decent NFC radio and a stable version of Magisk that successfully hides root from Google's official tap and pay app.

    And it still doesn't work.

    Shame on me, I guess, for thinking I could use it with my AMEX card at a shop where AMEX isn't accepted. Since Google obfuscates your credit card number from the merchant I assumed that the type of credit card would similarly be hidden; I was wrong. I realize that it's only a matter of time until tap and pay finally starts working as promised, but this latest experience has me questioning yet again if I should even bother.

    Let's revisit the three pillars of Google Pay:

    Security
    Again, Google Pay hides my credit card number from the retailer, but here in Canada credit cards use Chip and PIN security which yields, for the user, pretty much the same result.

    Convenience
    Google Pay does at least let me leave my credit and debit cards at home, so if I get a hankering for Peanut M&Ms when I'm out getting exercise then I'm covered. But most of the time I carry my phone in my oversized wallet, so the value for me is dubious at best.

    Offers
    Google Pay is supposed to alert me of nearby offers as I make my way through the world. For the past week in downtown Toronto the number of said offers has been zero.

    I'm starting to wonder if the only real perk of using Google Pay is that Google gets to see all of your transactions on any registered card, whether you're using Google Pay or not. Is there something I'm missing here?

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    by Published on 04-02-2019 01:50 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    As of today, Google's "experiment" in re-imagining email is officially over, with Inbox joining a growing list of the company's abandoned apps and services.

    I can still remember the exact moment that I decided to try it out, while listening to The Verge crew sing its praises on their weekly podcast. Like Gmail you had to get an invite at launch; unlike Gmail it was only a few weeks before I got mine. And almost immediately thereafter I began using Inbox full-time.

    Less than four years later Google abruptly announced that Inbox would be shutting down. They promised at the time that its best features would be added to Gmail proper but, as 9to5Google reports, that promise has yet to be fulfilled. I'm still missing the very handy travel bundle, where I could see plane tickets and hotel reservations organized by date on a single screen. On Android I can use Google Trips, but for some reason that app no longer has a desktop counterpart.



    What I'll miss most about Inbox, though, was its elegant interface, which encouraged me to act on messages quickly and then file them away—when I did I'd get this nice little graphic as a reward. Gmail has it now too, but Inbox did it first.

    So rest in peace Inbox, and say hi to Google Reader for me.

    Sources: 9to5Google, The Verge (1) (2)

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    by Published on 03-26-2019 01:50 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Apple's Spring 2019 Event went down yesterday at the Steve Jobs Theater in California, promoted everywhere with the tag line: "it's show time". Indeed, as the many embedded YouTube videos in this post would suggest, Cupertino is leaning hard into traditional media. And also credit cards...?

    I'm already getting ahead of myself here; let's break it down:



    Apple Arcade

    This one is the lightest on details, a subscription service for games promised sometime this year. It seems to me that its announcement was primarily an attempt to steal some thunder from Google Stadia, with the main differentiator being that Apple Arcade titles can be played offline.

    Apple did say that it will launch, in both Canada and the United States, with more than 100 new and exclusive titles.



    Apple Card

    ... Or, more accurately, an Apple-branded virtual MasterCard from Goldman Sachs. Available this summer (USA-only), it will offer deep integration with Apple Pay, no extra fees and daily cashback rewards of up to 3% on purchases.

    One caveat that I spotted right away was that the cashback goes on a separate digital card within Apple Pay, and cannot be used to pay down your balance. On the plus side, you also get a nifty physical card made of titanium for anywhere Apple Pay isn't accepted.



    Apple News+

    Here's Apple's revamped subscription-based service for magazines and newspapers. It's available right now in the U.S. (for $9.99/month) and Canada ($12.99/month) via iOS 12.2 and the existing news app. You can also try before you subscribe with the first 30 days free.

    About 300 titles are currently available, some featuring animated "live covers".



    Apple TV+

    In addition to new premium TV channels that users can subscribe to à la carte, Apple is also launching a separate Plus package with original programming. Content partners who have already signed on include J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Steven Spielberg.

    The service is set for a wide launch this fall in 100 markets, including Canada. Pricing is TBA.

    Additional Sources: MacRumors (1) (2) (3), The Verge (1) (2)

    ---------
    by Published on 03-22-2019 02:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Here's evil in action on a whole new level: BuzzFeed is reporting on a new ad fraud scheme for Android apps that may run up extra charges on your data network, but will almost certainly drain your device's battery. I don't really understand the graphic above either, so here's the scam works—using the example of "Julien", an app developer:

    Julien sells a banner ad, which appears in the app and is visible to his users. Then, hidden from view behind that banner, fraudsters conceal auto-playing video ads that no human being actually sees, but which register as having been served and viewed. In this scenario, Julien gets paid for the small banner ad in his app that users see, but the fraudsters earn many times that amount by stuffing far more lucrative video ads behind the banner. Ultimately, it’s the brands whose ads were shown in hidden video players that lose money to those running the scheme.
    According to BuzzFeed, this scam streams as many as 60 million unseen video ads per month, and is a $20 billion annual business for fraudulent advertisers. This might be a good time to remind you of the existence of ad blockers. I've heard good things about AdGuard, but nothing beats AdAway if you've got root.

    Links: AdAway, AdGuard, BuzzFeed

    ---------
    by Published on 02-12-2019 02:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    What, this confusing banner graphic from a random foreign-language YouTube video doesn't make things abundantly clear for you? Fine... It seems that the music streaming service Spotify updated its Terms of Service recently, and eagle-eyed tech bloggers noticed this clause:

    The following is not permitted for any reason whatsoever:

    10. Circumventing or blocking advertisements in the Spotify Service, or creating or distributing tools designed to block advertisements in the Spotify Service.
    Unfortunately the headlines that resulted—like The Verge's "Spotify bans ad blockers in updated Terms of Service"—are more than a little misleading. Over the weekend I watched as a bunch of confused redditors tried to figure this out in a thread on r/Android.

    Eventually they did, and it boils down to this: Spotify's warning is meant for users running modded APKs that filter out audio ads from the free version of their service. if you're running Spotify on a device with a system-wide ad-blocker like AdAway or Blockada, you almost certainly have nothing to worry about.

    You can Google "hacked Spotify apk" if you like to get an idea of what's out there, just don't bother downloading anything from the results—or your free account might be terminated, remember?

    As a paying subscriber I honestly have no idea if there are visual ads in the app; if there were then sure, AdAway would probably block them, thereby violating the ToS. But then again, I can't imagine Spotify being impacted by this, as someone streaming music through their phone isn't likely to be staring at the album art for any significant length of time.

    Sources: Spotify, The Verge via r/Android

    ---------
    by Published on 02-08-2019 03:35 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps



    Ditto for Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com and Singapore Airlines. All of these apps—on both Android and iOS as far as I can tell—use a customer experience analytics firm called Glassbox. Here's how they themselves describe their own tech:

    Imagine if your website or mobile app could see exactly what your customers do in real time, and why they did it? This is no longer a hypothetical question, but a real possibility. This is Glassbox.
    The obvious security risk here is that each of the apps in question holds sensitive user information, not only email and physical addresses but credit card numbers as well. Glassbox gives app developers tools to mask this data (quite literally, with black boxes) but guess what? They don't always work. Check out this screencast from The App Analyst:



    Since the story broke, Air Canada reached out to TechCrunch with this official statement:

    “Air Canada uses customer provided information to ensure we can support their travel needs and to ensure we can resolve any issues that may affect their trips [...] This includes user information entered in, and collected on, the Air Canada mobile app. However, Air Canada does not—and cannot—capture phone screens outside of the Air Canada app.”
    Way to miss the point there, AC.

    Apple too, has responded to the situation, threatening immediate action for any app recording screens without explicit user consent. Nothing from Google yet...

    Sources: TechCrunch (1) (2) via The App Analyst

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