Siri Shortcuts app gets updated with weather, alarms, timers and more

Alongside today’s announcements of new iPads and Mac, Apple also rolled out an updated version of its Siri Shortcuts app. The app, first introduced at WWDC, arrived with iOS 12 as a way to unlock Siri’s potential by allowing users to create their own custom voice commands and workflows. Now, it can do a few new things, too – including setting alarms and timers, getting the latest weather, and more.

The weather actions should be especially useful for those who have created custom morning routines with Siri Shortcuts, as you’ll now be able to use the latest weather in your shortcuts with the new “Get Current Weather” and “Get Weather Forecast” actions. Being able to ask for this sort of information is already among the top use cases for voice assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant, so it makes sense to offer these sorts of commands to Siri Shortcuts users, as well.

Also helpful are the new “Create Alarm,” “Toggle Alarm,” and “Start Timer” actions, which addressed another notable hole in the Shortcuts app at launch. Many people were confused about how to use alarms within the app because these actions weren’t available, and the request often came up on Apple’s own support site, too. The new release, Siri Shortcuts 2.1, addresses this problem.

Other new actions include the ability to convert between a variety of units from the “Measurement” and “Convert Measurement” actions, and the ability to get the most recent set of imported photos from the Photos app using the “Get Last Import” action.

The app also fixes a problem with using Siri Shortcuts with HomePod. It will now automatically play back media from the HomePod over AirPlay, when you run the shortcut from HomePod via Siri – which just makes more sense.

Siri Shortcuts version 2.1 is the first major update following the app’s release with iOS 12. However, the app today still largely appeals to iOS power users – those who were already comfortable using its predecessor, Workflow, and who understand how to build routines.

More mainstream users are likely being exposed to Siri’s expanded powers through their favorite apps. With iOS 12, a number of top developers updated their apps with “Add to Siri” buttons that point out special tasks their apps can perform by way of voice. Early adopters on this front included Pandora, The Weather Channel, Sky Guide, Citymapper, Google News, TripIt, Trello, Monster, and others.

The updated version of Siri Shortcuts is available for download from the App Store.

Review: Apple’s iPhone XR is a fine young cannibal

This iPhone is great. It is most like the last iPhone — but not the last “best” iPhone — more like the last not as good iPhone. It’s better than that one though, just not as good as the newest best iPhone or the older best iPhone.

If you’re upgrading from an iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, you’re gonna love it and likely won’t miss any current features while also getting a nice update to a gesture-driven phone with Face ID. But don’t buy it if you’re coming from an iPhone X, you’ll be disappointed as there are some compromises from the incredibly high level of performance and quality in Apple’s last flagship, which really was pushing the envelope at the time.

From a consumer perspective, this is offering a bit of choice that targets the same kind of customer who bought the iPhone 8 instead of the iPhone X last year. They want a great phone with a solid feature set and good performance but are not obsessed with ‘the best’ and likely won’t notice any of the things that would bug an iPhone X user about the iPhone XR.

On the business side, Apple is offering the iPhone XR to make sure there is no pricing umbrella underneath the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, and to make sure that the pricing curve is smooth across the iPhone line. It’s not so much a bulwark against low-end Android, that’s why the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7S are sticking around at those low prices.

Instead it’s offering an ‘affordable’ option that’s similar in philosophy to the iPhone 8’s role last year but with some additional benefits in terms of uniformity. Apple gets to move more of its user base to a fully gesture-oriented interface, as well as giving them Face ID. It benefits from more of its pipeline being dedicated to devices that share a lot of components like the A12 and True Depth camera system. It’s also recognizing the overall move towards larger screens in the market.

If Apple was trying to cannibalize sales of the iPhone XS, it couldn’t have created a better roasting spit than the iPhone XR.

Screen

Apple says that the iPhone XR has ‘the most advanced LCD ever in a smartphone’ — their words.

The iPhone XR’s screen is an LCD, not an OLED. This is one of the biggest differences between the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS models, and while the screen is one of the best LCDs I’ve ever seen, it’s not as good as the other models. Specifically, I believe that the OLED’s ability to display true black and display deeper color (especially in images that are taken on the new XR cameras in HDR) set it apart easily.

That said, I have a massive advantage in that I am able to hold the screens side by side to compare images. Simply put, if you don’t run them next to one another, this is a great screen. Given that the iPhone XS models have perhaps the best displays ever made for a smartphone, coming in a very close second isn’t a bad place to be.

A lot of nice advancements have been made here over earlier iPhone LCDs. You get True Tone, faster 120hz touch response and wide color support. All on a 326 psi stage that’s larger than the iPhone 8 Plus in a smaller body. You also now get tap-to-wake, another way Apple is working hard to unify the design and interaction language of its phones across the lineup.

All of these advancements don’t come for free to an LCD. There was a lot of time, energy and money spent getting the older technology to work as absolutely closely as possible to the flagship models. It’s rare to the point of non-existence that companies care at all to put in the work to make the lower end devices feel as well worked as the higher end ones. For as much crap as Apple gets about withholding features to get people to upsell, there is very little of that happening with the iPhone XR, quite the opposite really.

There are a few caveats here. First, 3D touch is gone, replaced by ‘Haptic Touch’ which Apple says works similarly to the MacBook’s track pad. It provides feedback from the iPhone’s Taptic vibration engine to simulate a ‘button press’ or trigger. In practice, the reality of the situation is that it is a very prosaic ‘long press to activate’ more than anything else. It’s used to trigger the camera on the home screen and the flashlight, and Apple says it’s coming to other places throughout the system as it sees it appropriate and figures out how to make it feel right.

I’m not a fan. I know 3D touch has its detractors, even among the people I’ve talked to who helped build it, I think it’s a clever utility that has a nice snap to it when activating quick actions like the camera. In contrast, on the iPhone XR you must tap and hold the camera button for about a second and a half — no pressure sensitivity here obviously — as the system figures out that this is an intentional press by determining duration, touch shape and spread etc and then triggers the action. You get the feedback still, which is nice, but it feels disconnected and slow. It’s the best case scenario without the additional 3D touch layer, but it’s not ideal.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the edges of the iPhone XR screen have a slight dimming effect that is best described as a ‘drop shadow’. It’s wildly hard to photograph but imagine a very thin line of shadow around the edge of the phone that gets more pronounced as you tilt it and look at the edges. It’s likely an effect of the way Apple was able to get a nice sharp black drop-off at the edges that gets that to-the-edges look of the iPhone XR’s screen.

Apple is already doing a ton of work rounding  the corners of the LCD screen to make them look smoothly curved (this works great and is nearly seamless unless you bust out the magnifying loupe) and it’s doing some additional stuff around the edge to keep it looking tidy. They’ve doubled the amount of LEDs in the screen to make that dithering and the edging possible.

Frankly, I don’t think most people will ever notice this slight shading of dark around the edge — it is very slight — but when the screen is displaying mostly white and it’s next to the iPhone XS it’s visible.

Oh, the bezels are bigger. It makes the front look slightly less elegant and screenful than the iPhone XS, but it’s not a big deal.

Camera

Yes, the portrait mode works. No, it’s not as good as the iPhone XS. Yes, I miss having a zoom lens.

All of those things are true and easily the biggest reason I won’t be buying an iPhone XR. However, in the theme of Apple working its hardest to make even its ‘lower end’ devices work and feel as much like its best, it’s really impressive what has been done here.

The iPhone XR’s front-facing camera array is identical to what you’ll find in the iPhone XS. Which is to say it’s very good.

The rear facing camera is where it gets interesting, and different.

The rear camera is a single lens and sensor that is both functionally and actually identical to the wide angle lens in the iPhone XS. It’s the same sensor, the same optics, the same 27mm wide-angle frame. You’re going to get great ‘standard’ pictures out of this. No compromises.

However, I found myself missing the zoom lens a lot. This is absolutely a your mileage may vary scenario, but I take the vast majority of my pictures with the telephoto lens. Looking back at my year with the iPhone X I’d say north of 80% of my pictures were shot with the telephoto, even if they were close ups. I simply prefer the “52mm” equivalent with its nice compression and tight crop. It’s just a better way to shoot than a wide angle — as any photographer or camera company will tell you because that’s the standard (equivalent) lens that all cameras have shipped with for decades.

Wide angle lenses were always a kludge in smartphones and it’s only in recent years that we’ve started getting decent telephotos. If I had my choice, I’d default to the tele and have a button to zoom out to the wide angle, that would be much nicer.

But with the iPhone XR you’re stuck with the wide — and it’s a single lens at that, without the two different perspectives Apple normally uses to gather its depth data to apply the portrait effect.

So they got clever. iPhone XR portrait images still contain a depth map that determines foreground, subject and background, as well as the new segmentation map that handles fine detail like hair. While the segmentation maps are roughly identical, the depth maps from the iPhone XR are nowhere as detailed or information rich as the ones that are generated by the iPhone XS.

See the two maps compared here, the iPhone XR’s depth map is far less aware of the scene depth and separation between the ‘slices’ of distance. It means that the overall portrait effect, while effective, is not as nuanced or aggressive.

In addition, the iPhone XR’s portrait mode only works on people.You’re also limited to just a couple of the portrait lighting modes: studio and contour.

In order to accomplish portrait mode without the twin lens perspective, Apple is doing facial landmark mapping and image recognition work to determine that the subject you’re shooting is a person. It’s doing depth acquisition by acquiring the map using a continuous real-time buffer of information coming from the focus pixels embedded in the iPhone XR’s sensor that it is passing to the A12 Bionic’s Neural Engine. Multiple neural nets analyze the data and reproduce the depth effect right in the viewfinder.

When you snap the shutter it combines the depth data, the segmentation map and the image data into a portrait shot instantaneously. You’re able to see the effect immediately. It’s wild to see this happen in real time and it boggles thinking about the horsepower needed to do this. By comparison, the Pixel 3 does not do real time preview and takes a couple of seconds to even show you the completed portrait shot once it’s snapped.

It’s a bravura performance in terms of silicon. But how do the pictures look?

I have to say, I really like the portraits that come out of the iPhone XR. I was ready to hate on the software-driven solution they’d come up with for the single lens portrait but it’s pretty damn good. The depth map is not as ‘deep’ and the transitions between out of focus and in focus areas are not as wide or smooth as they are on iPhone XS, but it’s passable. You’re going to get more funny blurring of the hair, more obvious hard transitions between foreground and background and that sort of thing.

And the wide angle portraits are completely incorrect from an optical compression perspective (nose too large, ears too small). Still, they are kind of fun in an exaggerated way. Think the way your face looks when you get to close to your front camera.

If you take a ton of portraits with your iPhone, the iPhone XS is going to give you a better chance of getting a great shot with a ton of depth that you can play with to get the exact look that you want. But as a solution that leans hard on the software and the Neural Engine, the iPhone XR’s portrait mode isn’t bad.

Performance

Unsurprisingly, given that it has the same exact A12 Bionic processor, but the iPhone XR performs almost identically to the iPhone XS in tests. Even though it features 3GB of RAM to the iPhone XS’ 4GB, the overall situation here is that you’re getting a phone that is damn near identical as far as speed and capability. If you care most about core features and not the camera or screen quirks, the iPhone XR does not offer many, if any, compromises here.

Size

The iPhone XR is the perfect size. If Apple were to make only one phone next year, they could just make it XR-sized and call it good. Though I am now used to the size of the iPhone X, a bit of extra screen real-estate is much appreciated when you do a lot of reading and email. Unfortunately, the iPhone XS Max is a two-handed phone, period. The increase in vertical size is lovely for reading and viewing movies, but it’s hell on reachability. Stretching to the corners with your thumb is darn near impossible and to complete even simple actions like closing a modal view inside an app it’s often easiest (and most habitual) to just default to two hands to perform those actions.

For those users that are ‘Plus’ addicts, the XS Max is an exercise in excess. It’s great as a command center for someone who does most of their work on their iPhones or in scenarios where it’s their only computer. My wife, for instance, has never owned her own computer and hasn’t really needed a permanent one in 15 years. For the last 10 years, she’s been all iPhone, with a bit of iPad thrown in. I myself am now on a XS Max because I also do a huge amount of my work on my iPhone and the extra screen size is great for big email threads and more general context.

But I don’t think Apple has done enough to capitalize on the larger screen iPhones in terms of software — certainly not enough to justify two-handed operation. It’s about time iOS was customized thoroughly for larger phones beyond a couple of concessions to split-view apps like Mail.

That’s why the iPhone XR’s size comes across as such a nice compromise. It’s absolutely a one-handed phone, but you still get some extra real-estate over the iPhone XS and the exact same amount of information appears on the iPhone XR’s screen as on the iPhone XS Max in a phone that is shorter enough to be thumb friendly.

Color

Apple’s industrial design chops continue to shine with the iPhone XR’s color finishes. My tester iPhone was the new Coral color and it is absolutely gorgeous.

The way Apple is doing colors is like nobody else. There’s no comparison to holding a Pixel 3, for instance. The Pixel 3 is fun and photographs well, but super “cheap and cheerful” in its look and feel. Even though the XR is Apple’s mid-range iPhone, the feel is very much that of a piece of nicely crafted jewelry. It’s weighty, with a gorgeous 7-layer color process laminating the back of the rear glass, giving it a depth and sparkle that’s just unmatched in consumer electronics.

The various textures of the blasted aluminum and glass are complimentary and it’s a nice melding of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X design ethos. It’s massively unfortunate that most people will be covering the color with cases, and I expect clear cases to explode in popularity when these phone start getting delivered.

It remains very curious that Apple is not shipping any first-party cases for the iPhone XR — not even the rumored clear case. I’m guessing that they just weren’t ready or that Apple was having issues with some odd quirk of clear cases like yellowing or cracking or something. But whatever it is, they’re leaving a bunch of cash on the table.

Apple’s ID does a lot of heavy lifting here, as usual. It often goes un-analyzed just how well the construction of the device works in conjunction with marketing and market placement to help customers both justify and enjoy their purchase. It transmits to the buyer that this is a piece of quality kit that has had a lot of thought put into it and makes them feel good about paying a hefty price for a chunk of silicon and glass. No one takes materials science anywhere as seriously at Apple and it continues to be on display here.

Should you buy it?

As I said above, it’s not that complicated of a question. I honestly wouldn’t overthink this one too much. The iPhone XR is made to serve a certain segment of customers that want the new iPhone but don’t necessarily need every new feature. It works great, has a few small compromises that probably won’t faze the kind of folks that would consider not buying the best and is really well built and executed.

“Apple’s pricing lineup is easily its strongest yet competitively,” creative Strategies’ Ben Bajarin puts it here in a subscriber piece. “The [iPhone] XR in particular is well lined up against the competition. I spoke to a few of my carrier contacts after Apple’s iPhone launch event and they seemed to believe the XR was going to stack up well against the competition and when you look at it priced against the Google Pixel ($799) and Samsung Galaxy 9 ($719). Some of my contacts even going so far to suggest the XR could end up being more disruptive to competitions portfolios than any iPhone since the 6/6 Plus launch.”

Apple wants to fill the umbrella, leaving less room than ever for competitors. Launching a phone that’s competitive in price and features an enormous amount of research and execution that attempt to make it as close a competitor as possible to its own flagship line, Apple has set itself up for a really diverse and interesting fiscal Q4.

Whether you help Apple boost its average selling price by buying one of the maxed out XS models or you help it block another Android purchase with an iPhone XR, I think it will probably be happy having you, raw or cooked.

How to download your data from Apple

Good news! Apple now allows U.S. customers to download a copy of their data, months after rolling out the feature to EU customers.

But don’t be disappointed when you get your download and find there’s almost nothing in there. Earlier this year when I requested my own data (before the portal feature rolled out), Apple sent me a dozen spreadsheets with my purchase and order history, a few iCloud logs, and some of my account information. The data will date back to when you opened your account, but may not include recent data if Apple has no reason to retain it.

But because most Apple data is stored on your devices, it can’t turn over what it doesn’t have. And any data it collects from Apple News, Maps and Siri is anonymous and can’t attribute to individual users.

Apple has a short support page explaining the kind of data it will send back to you.

If you’re curious — here’s how you get your data.

1. Go to Apple’s privacy portal

You need to log in to privacy.apple.com with your Apple ID and password, and enter your two-factor authentication code if you have it set-up.

2. Request a copy of your data

From here, tap on “Obtain a copy of your data” and select the data that you would like to download — or hit “select all.” You will also have the option of splitting the download into smaller portions.

3. Go through the account verification steps

Apple will verify that you’re the account holder, and may ask you for several bits of information. Once the data is ready to download, you’ll get a notification that it’s available for download, and you’ll have two weeks to download the .zip file.

If the “obtain your data” option isn’t immediately available, it may still take time to roll out to all customers.

Indie farm-em-up Stardew Valley is coming to iOS and Android

Stardew Valley, the hit indie farming game made by one guy in his spare time, is coming to mobile. I’ve dropped dozens of hours into this charming little spiritual successor to Harvest Moon, and now I know how I’m going to spend my next few plane rides.

In case you’re not aware, Stardew Valley is a game where you inherit a farm near a lovely little town and must restore it, befriend (and romance) the locals, fish, fight your way through caverns, forage for spring onions and wild horseradish, mine ore, and… well, there’s a lot. Amazingly, it was created entirely by one person, Eric Barone, who taught himself to code, make pixel art, compose music, and do literally everything. And yes, it took a long time. (GQ of all things wrote an interesting profile recently.)

Fortunately it was a huge hit, to Barone’s great surprise and no doubt pleasure, and deservedly so.

Originally released for the PC, Stardew Valley has since expanded (with the help of non-Barone teams) to the major consoles and is now coming to iOS — undiminished, Barone was careful to point out in a blog post. This game is big, but nothing is left out from the mobile port.

“”It’s the full game, not a cut down version, and plays almost identically to all other versions,” he wrote. “The main difference is that it has been rebuilt for touch-screen gameplay on iOS (new UI, menu systems and controls).”

Barone has added a lot to the game since its release in early 2016, and the mobile version will include those updates up to 1.3 — meaning you’ll have several additional areas and features but not the multiplayer options most recently added. Those are planned, however, so if you want to do a co-op farm you’ll just have to wait a bit. No mods will be supported, alas.

In a rare treat for mobile ports, you can take your progress from the PC version and transfer it to iOS via iTunes. No need to start over again, which, fun as it is, can be a bit daunting when you realize how much time you’ve put into the game to start with.

I can’t recommend Stardew Valley enough, and the controls should be more than adequate for the laid-back gameplay it offers (combat is fairly forgiving). It’ll cost $8 in the App Store starting October 24 (Android version coming soon), half off the original $15 price — which I must say was amazingly generous to begin with. You can’t go wrong here, trust me.

The accessibility of the iPhone XS Max

I’ve heard it said many times recently by hosts of various Apple-focused podcasts that adapting to the new iPhone XS Max has felt like “coming home.” For these members of the so-called “Plus Club” — the whimsical name referring to the group of users who have chosen Plus models in the past — the return to a device with such a massive display felt instantly familiar, comfortable even.

After a year with the smaller, 5.8-inch iPhone X, I, too, have experienced these feelings of comfort and familiarity. I’ve been testing an iPhone XS Max, a review unit provided to me by Apple, for close to two weeks and am reminded every time I use it why I fell in love with the Plus models. As the old adage goes, bigger is better.

While the headlining aspect of Apple’s newest iPhone is the substantially better camera system, the key story for me, as a visually impaired person, is my return to the largest-screened iPhone. The XS Max is every bit as delightful (and accessible) as the Plus, made better by the inclusion of Face ID and an edge-to-edge display.

Adjusting to the size and weight

At last month’s event, Apple marketing boss Phil Schiller made a point to emphasize the fact that the iPhone XS Max has a larger display — the largest ever on an iPhone, the company says — in a smaller industrial design. This makes it possible, Schiller said on stage, for the XS Max to feel much like an iPhone 8 Plus. In my usage, his comparison seems spot-on; holding the XS Max feels identical to my previous Plus phones.

Why this is noteworthy from an accessibility perspective is a matter of dexterity. If you, like me, have cerebral palsy or other physical motor conditions, the way an object (any object, it isn’t limited to smartphones) feels in your hand when you hold it and carry it warrants serious consideration. In this context, if you have trouble manipulating the XS Max due to such motor delays, that very well may be the determining factor as to whether you choose it or opt for the smaller XS size.

In my review of the iPhone 6s three years ago, I said the 6s Plus wasn’t the phone for me, saying in part that “the Faustian bargain that it presents” was an offer to have a large-screened phone but only at the cost of using a physically unwieldy device. At the time, I reasoned the regular 6s was “good enough,” because I didn’t want such a gargantuan phone.

Not long thereafter, I did indeed switch to the 6s Plus, and I’ve never looked back. Turns out, big displays are the best, and I’ve acclimated to holding the larger device just fine.

Is the display big enough?

I freely admit to having a few moments of contemplation, in the midst of testing the XS Max with my year-old X nearby, where I wondered if the latter’s 5.8-inch screen was big enough for my needs. (Apple also gave me a regular XS to test, but since the X is nearly identical in size, I haven’t used it as thoroughly as I have the Max.) It isn’t small by any means, and I have enjoyed spending the last year having a relatively large display in a smaller body. The X (and XS, obviously) certainly are easier to carry and pocket than their larger brethren. To be perfectly honest, I never once wished my phone’s screen was bigger the entire time I used the iPhone X.

And yet, to reiterate what I wrote at the outset, as soon as I unboxed the XS Max and restored from my iCloud backup, it really did feel like coming home. Forget OLED, forget pixel density — having a 6.5-inch display is super nice and easier on my eyes. More screen means more content, which means less eye strain and fatigue. Given these factors, it was no contest as to what I prefer. Although I have multiple disabilities, my visual impairment is arguably the most important and the one I should prioritize above all others. I did that, and I’m happier for it.

The iPhone XS Max is, yes, the most accessible iPhone Apple’s built yet.

The lesson here is not insignificant, and illustrates the kind of practical life choices disabled people face on a daily basis. I was extremely pleased by the iPhone X; if it were the only new iPhone Apple released this year, I would jump to the XS. But it isn’t — the XS Max does exist, and the allure of its large display is too strong for me (and my vision) to pass up.

I do miss the Goldilocks-esque “just right” properties of the iPhone X/XS form factor. But if the loss of maneuverability begets a gain in visuals, I’ll make that trade-off every time.

Thoughts on ‘Advanced’ Face ID

When Face ID debuted last year, I soon discovered an issue where it had major problems recognizing my face despite having my face registered with the iPhone X. After some troubleshooting, I found the issue was due to the strabismus in my left eye. The colloquial term for it is “lazy eye,” but it’s a condition whereby one or both of the eyes aren’t set straight, and it wreaked havoc with the TrueDepth camera system. Even with my face “recognized” by the system, my phone would never unlock because Face ID thought I wasn’t looking at the phone even though I knew I was, in fact, definitely looking at it.

The remedy for this was to disable the Require Attention option in Face ID’s settings. When you do so, iOS warns you it makes the facial recognition system less secure than it could be, but it is the only way I can benefit from Face ID like anyone else. I haven’t had any issues for over a year now, and my iPhone X seemed to get better over time at seeing me; this is particularly true at extreme angles, such as when I lean over the phone while it sits on my kitchen table, for instance.

Face ID on the XS Max has been reliable, with Require Attention off, of course. My only quibble continues to be because I typically hold my phone close to my face to see, I’m still not consistently holding it far enough away that it unlocks properly. I get the playful “head shake” animation and enter my passcode more than I’d like, but instinctual habits are hard to break I suppose. At least Face ID learns me better every time I do so, which is a nice bit of machine learning on Apple’s part.

The bottom line

I’ve concluded my last several iPhone reviews by saying each model is “the most accessible iPhone yet.” However trite, I’m compelled to do it yet again because it’s an entirely accurate description.

I’ve been a happy returnee to the Plus Club. The larger display, along with Face ID and the edge-to-edge design, has been a joy to use. The iPhone XS Max is, yes, the most accessible iPhone Apple’s built yet. Truthfully, however, for as good as the XS line is, I’m even more amped at the existence of a blue iPhone, blue being my favorite color. It’s effectively a Max, and I get my blue too.

Most iOS devices now run iOS 12 according to Mixpanel’s data

Analytics company Mixpanel is currently tracking the install base of iOS 12. And the latest version of iOS is quite popular as it’s already installed on roughly 47.6 percent of all iOS devices. 45.6 percent of devices still run iOS 11, and 6.9 percent of iOS users run an older version.

Adoption rate is an important metric for app developers. With major iOS releases, Apple also releases new frameworks. But developers still need to support old versions of iOS for a little bit before moving entirely to newer frameworks and drop support for old iOS versions.

But it’s interesting to see that you can already drop support for iOS 10 without losing too many customers. Chances are that users who don’t update their version of iOS don’t really care about having the latest version of your app anyway.

With iOS 11, it took much longer to reach that level. Last year, Apple announced on November 6th that iOS 11 was more popular than iOS 10. Sure, Mixpanel and Apple don’t have the exact same numbers, but you can already see that the trend is different this year.

iOS 12 focuses on performance. Apple has optimized this major release for older devices, such as the iPhone 6. All devices that run iOS 11 can update to iOS 12 as well. Basically, if you want a faster phone, you should update to iOS 12.

This is a bit counterintuitive as previous iOS releases had rendered older devices much slower. But it sounds like iOS users got the message based on the adoption rate.

Opera Touch is a solid alternative to Safari on the iPhone

Browser company Opera is back doing what it does best, offering you beautifully-designed alternatives to the stock browsers from the likes of Google and Apple . This week the company brought its ‘Opera Touch’ browser to iOS to give iPhone owners a new alternative to the basic Safari browser.

The app was first launched for Android in April and, as we noted at the time, it reinvents a lot of the established paradigms to work well on mobile and particularly large screens that don’t have a home button — which is steadily becoming every premium devices on the market today.

Touch for iOS — which you can download here — will be particularly of interest to owners of the iPhone X or Apple’s newest iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and (upcoming) iPhone XR devices since it is optimized for one-handed use. That’s to say it employs the same nifty user interface seen on the Android app (see below), which lets you open or close tabs, switch to search, go back or forward using a menu bar located at the bottom of the screen. One thing it is missing, for now, is more comprehensive management of bookmarks.

The app also includes Opera’s ‘Flow’ technology which lets a user pass links, images and notes from their phone to an Opera browser on their computer using a “secure and private” connection.

As ever, the Opera browser comes with ad blocking built-in and there’s the company’s usual protection from cryptojacking — that’s the process of being hacked and having your CPU used to mine crypto for someone else.

All in all, the browser is worth taking for a spin if you have Apple’s new home buttonless devices and seek an alternative to the pre-loaded Safari browser. Other options might include Google Chrome, recently given a redesign for its tenth anniversary, as well as Mozilla, UC Web, Dolphin and Brave.

Apple’s iBooks revamp, Apple Books, is here

Apple’s new and improved iBooks app, now called Apple Books, has popped up on iPhones across the world today with the release of iOS 12, the software update available to download as of this morning.

The new app has five tabs: Reading Now, Library, Book Store, Search and, for the first time, a dedicated Audiobooks tab.

Apple first previewed it at WWDC in June. The company said its sleek new look was the “biggest books redesign ever.” Cleaner UI, coupled with larger images, gives the app a more modern feel and an overall better experience. More importantly, it sets up Apple to better compete with other audio/e-book apps, like the Amazon-owned Audible.

In the Book Store, users can explore recently released titles and best-selling books, as well as curated collections and special offers; it’s available in 51 countries and free books for download are available in 155 countries.

Apple Books is also a lot smarter than its predecessor. As you download titles and engage with the app, the app will send you personalized recommendations based on your activity.

Indeed, it was time for an update. Audiobooks are more popular today than when Apple first launched iBooks in 2010 and are very much deserving of their own tab. According to Pew Research Center, one in five Americans regularly listens to them — a 28 percent increase from 2016.

A new CSS-based web attack will crash and restart your iPhone

A security researcher has found a new way to crash and restart any iPhone — with just a few lines of code.

Sabri Haddouche tweeted a proof-of-concept webpage with just 15 lines of code which, if visited, will crash and restart an iPhone or iPad. Those on macOS may also see Safari freeze when opening the link.

The code exploits a weakness in iOS’ web rendering engine WebKit, which Apple mandates all apps and browsers use, Haddouche told TechCrunch. He explained that nesting a ton of elements — such as <div> tags — inside a backdrop filter property in CSS, you can use up all of the device’s resources and cause a kernel panic, which shuts down and restarts the operating system to prevent damage.

“Anything that renders HTML on iOS is affected,” he said. That means anyone sending you a link on Facebook or Twitter, or if any webpage you visit includes the code, or anyone sending you an email, he warned.

TechCrunch tested the exploit running on the most recent mobile software iOS 11.4.1, and confirm it crashes and restarts the phone. Thomas Reed, director of Mac & Mobile at security firm Malwarebytes confirmed that  the most recent iOS 12 beta also froze when tapping the link.

The lucky whose devices won’t crash may just see their device restart (or “respring”) the user interface instead.

For those curious, you can see how it works without it running the crash-inducing code.

The good news is that as annoying as this attack is, it can’t be used to run malicious code, he said, meaning malware can’t run and data can’t be stolen using this attack. But there’s no easy way to prevent the attack from working. One tap on a booby-trapped link sent in a message or opening an HTML email that renders the code can crash the device instantly.

Haddouche contacted Apple on Friday about the attack, which is said to be investigating. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The iPhone XR shows Apple admitting 3D Touch is a failure

Remember 3D Touch? Unless you’re a power iOS user you probably don’t. Or, well, you’d rather not. It’s been clear for some time now that the technology Apple lauded at its 2015 unveiling as the “next generation of multi-touch” most certainly wasn’t. For the mainstream iPhone user it’s just that annoying thing that gets in the way of what you’re actually trying to do.

What Apple actually made with 3D Touch is the keyboard shortcut of multi-touch. Aka a secret weapon for nerds only.

Pro geeks might be endlessly delighted about being able to learn the secrets of its hidden depths, and shave all-important microseconds off of their highly nuanced workflows. But everyone else ignores it.

Or at least tries to ignore it — until, in the middle of trying to do something important they accidentally trigger it and get confused and annoyed about what their phone is trying to do to them.

Tech veterans might recall that BlackBerry (remember them?!) tried something similarly misplaced a decade ago on one of its handsets — unboxing an unlovely (and unloved) clickable touchscreen, in the one-off weirdo BlackBerry Storm.

The Storm didn’t have the iconic physical BlackBerry keyboard but did have a touchscreen with on-screen qwerty keys you could still click. In short, madness!

Safe to say, no usage storms resulted then either — unless you’re talking about the storm of BlackBerry buyers returning to the shop demanding a replacement handset.

In Apple’s case, the misstep is hardly on that level. But three years on from unveiling 3D Touch, it’s now ‘fessing up to its own feature failure — as the latest iPhone line-up drops the pressure-sensing technology entirely from the cheapest of the trio: The iPhone XR.

The lack of 3D Touch on the XR will help shave off some manufacturing cost and maybe a little thickness from the device. Mostly though it shows Apple recognizing it expended a lot of engineering effort to make something most iPhone users don’t use and don’t want to use — given, as TC’s Brian Heater has called it, the iPhone XR is the iPhone for the rest of us.

It isn’t a budget handset, though. The XR does pack Apple’s next-gen biometric technology, Face ID, for instance, so contains a package of sophisticated sensor hardware lodged in its own top notch.

That shows Apple is not cheaping out here. Rather it’s making selective feature decisions based on what it believes iPhone users want and need. So the clear calculation in Cupertino is lots of iPhone users simply don’t need 3D Touch.

At the same time, company execs heaped praise on Face ID at its event this week, saying the technology has proved wildly popular with users. Yet they glossed over the simultaneous depreciation of 3D Touch at the end of the iPhone line without a word of explanation.

Compare the two technologies and it’s easy to see why.

Face ID’s popularity is hardly surprising. It’s hard to think of a simpler interaction than a look that unlocks.

Not so fiddly 3D Touch — which requires a press that’s more than a tap and kind of akin to a push or a little shove. Push too softly and you’ll get a tap which takes you somewhere you weren’t trying to go. But go in too hard from the start and the touchscreen starts to feel like work and/or wasted effort.

On top of that the sought for utility can itself feel pointless — with, for example, content previews that can be horribly slow to load, so why not just tap and look at the email in the first place?

With all the fingering and faffing around 3D Touch is like the Goldilocks of user interfaces: Frustration is all but guaranteed unless you have an awful lot of patience to keep going and going until you get it just right. And who, but power users, can be bothered with that?

For the ‘everyman’ iPhone XR, Apple has swapped 3D Touch for a haptic feedback feature (forgettably named Haptic Touch) — that’s presumably mostly intended to be a sticking plaster to smooth out any fragmentation cracks across the iPhone estate, i.e. in the rare instances where developers have made use of 3D Touch to create in-app shortcuts that people do actually want to use.

If, as we’ve suggested, the iPhone XR ends up being the iPhone that ships in serious quantities there will soon be millions of iOS users without access to 3D Touch at all. So Apple is relegating the technology it once called the future of multi-touch to what it really was: An add-on power feature for pro users.

Pro users are also the people most likely to be willing to spend the biggest bucks on an iPhone — and so will happily shell out to own the iPhone XS or XS Max (which do retain 3D Touch, at least for now).

So while 3D Touch might keep incrementally helping to shift a few extra premium iPhones at the top of the range, it isn’t going to be shifting any paradigms.

Multitouch — combined with generous screen real estate — has been more than good enough on that front.