Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a ‘push to talk’ interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

A statement from Apple reads:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent.  We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Apple was alerted to the bug via its report a vulnerability portal directly and says that there is no current evidence that it was exploited in the wild.

The company is temporarily disabling the feature entirely until a fix can be made and rolled out to devices. The Walkie Talkie App will remain installed on devices, but will not function until it has been updated with the fix.

Earlier this year a bug was discovered in the group calling feature of FaceTime that allowed people to listen in before a call was accepted. It turned out that the teen who discovered the bug, Grant Thompson, had attempted to contact Apple about the issue but was unable to get a response. Apple fixed the bug and eventually rewarded Thompson a bug bounty.  This time around, Apple appears to be listening more closely to the reports that come in via its vulnerability tips line and has disabled the feature.

Earlier today, Apple quietly pushed a Mac update to remove a feature of the Zoom conference app that allowed it to work around Mac restrictions to provide a smoother call initiation experience — but that also allowed emails and websites to add a user to an active video call without their permission.

UnitedMasters releases iPhone app for DIY cross-service music distribution

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specific an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.

Apple’s iOS 13 update will make FaceTime eye contact way easier

Apple has added a feature called ‘FaceTime Attention Correction’ to the latest iOS 13 Developer beta, and it looks like it could make a big difference when it comes to actually making FaceTime calls feel even more like talking to someone in person. The feature, spotted in the third beta of the new software update that went out this week, apparently does a terrific job of making it look like you’re looking directly into the camera even when you’re looking at the screen during a FaceTime call.

That’s actually a huge improvement because when people FaceTime, most of the time they’re looking at the screen rather than the camera, since the whole point is to see the person or people you’re talking to, rather than the small black lens at the top of your device.

The catch so far seems to be that this FaceTime feature is only available on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which could mean it only works with the latest camera tech available on Apple hardware. That could be because of the new image signal processor that Apple included in the A12 processor which powers the iPhone XS and XS Max, which also provide improvements over previous generation phones in terms of HDR and portrait lighting effects.

It’s also possible with any updates or features that arrive in iOS beta releases that they could expand to other devices and/or vanish prior to the actual public launch of iOS 13, which is set for this fall. But here’s hoping this one remains in place, because it really seems to make a huge difference in terms of providing a sense of ‘presence’ for FaceTime calls, which is one of the core values of the Apple chat feature overall.

Apple Sans Ive

Well, this has been interesting. After almost 30 years with Apple, Jony Ive is leaving, to found his own firm LoveFrom with his friend and frequent collaborator Marc Newson — also leaving Apple. The response to this news has been predictably histrionic from Apple watchers and press.

The narratives, to summarize, are essentially that:

  • Jony had checked out, become incompetent or just plain lazy
  • Apple is doomed because he is leaving

If those narratives look contradictory then you have eyes.

If you take the sum of the breathless (dare I say thirsty) stories tying together a bunch of anecdotes about Jony’s last couple of years, they are trying to paint a picture of a legendary design figure that has abandoned the team and company he helped build, leading to a stagnation of forward progress — while at the same time trying to argue that the company is doomed without him.

Ok.

Ironically (or perhaps inevitably) even the phrasing of the tweets that accompanied these stories were couched in inflammatory positioning. Tim Cook’s email (actually quite plainly stated) was touted as ‘scathing’, the Journal posited the question: ‘Why hasn’t Apple had a hit product in years? A look at the internal drama around the departure of its design chief helps explain.’ A conclusion that its story only hints at.

Most watchers of the company that I know who were asking and listening to Apple people over the past couple of years are aware that Jony has been on borrowed time with the company. Shocking, this was not — a surprise it was always guaranteed to be given how much control Jony keeps over how and when he does press.

Back in 2015, it was clear that Jony wanted to do less paper pushing and more pencil pushing. And the past decade of Apple has been nothing if not an explosion of management challenges. Enormous growth in product volumes, splintering product lines that made an attempt to leave less room under the pricing and feature umbrella and, yeah, a hell of a lot more people.

“Many of Apple’s critics are purely nostalgic,” Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies puts it. “Wanting Apple to go back to the days when some of the designs were more bold, iconic, possibly polarizing, but in that time Apple was selling tens of millions of products not hundreds of millions of products. This is a crucially important point that many in the public sphere miss. “

All of that growth means that the job of someone like Jony would naturally shift from scooting a pencil around a drafting board to something more like management — or, in Apple’s case, teaching.

I’m not the Journal’s (or any other publication’s, thank god) public editor. So I will not be fisking the stories that have come out about Jony and his work habits. I’ve never been that good at it and I don’t really have the stomach for it these days. I do have thoughts, though about the way that these anecdotes are tied together in a narrative.

Given that I have covered the company closely for years, I know a lot of the people who were involved in some of these situations. Jony did, in fact, move to holding design meetings at his house in SF. They absolutely held design meetings at The Battery to collate device opinion. He has a design studio in other homes like Hawaii and London. He has absolutely spent more time in the city than down at Apple headquarters over the past few years. The design teams, in and out of the industrial design people, absolutely saw less of him than before.

There are also bits and pieces in the various stories over the past few days that are not, as I understand them, accurate, or represented in an accurate context. But the more important point is that no one I know felt that Jony had checked out or abandoned the team.

As he stated himself, Jony was just plain tired. What prolific designer do you know that is excited about doing more management and less design?

Also, I fully reject the narrative that Apple has somehow floundered because Jony has been absentee. During the period, the company has shipped some enormously successful products — including the major category hit Apple Watch. As one note, I found the criticism that Jony wanted a gold watch so that made the Apple Watch a boondoggle to be enormously hilarious.

The gold watch had 2 distinct purposes:

  • Jony wanted to make it
  • It set expectation that this was a product worth wearing all day

I think it is 100% possible and fair to argue that the first point means Jony had too much power or that it was him exercising that power in a way that felt foreign to Apple’s egalitarian ideals about computing. But the fact is that, regardless of how many they sold, it made a splash and did, in fact, push Apple into the world of fashion and wearable conversation in a way that it hadn’t ever before.

That toe-hold gave them time to figure out what the Watch is actually for and it is a very real success for the company. During the same period, Apple shipped the iPhone X months ahead of schedule, and major updates to every line including the iMac.

I can certainly understand one or more members of the design team resenting the lack of intimate one-on-one time that Jony used to spend with the team when Apple shipped fewer products in more time. And not all of Jony’s influence over the past few years is pristine in hindsight. The MacBook keyboards still suck, I’ll give you that one.

Basically, all design is worth critiquing, and Jony isn’t above that. If something doesn’t work consistently or feel human centric, then it doesn’t matter if 1950’s Dieter Rams himself designed it, it’s crap.

But the argument that Jony derailed product at Apple looks like complete nonsense when you observe the facts. And every design team member I’ve spoken to over the last 4 years has said that Jony, while at times difficult, demanding and intense, has also been an enormous enabling force when it comes to spending the time, resources and energy it took them to get a product or feature to the level they wanted. Resources like on-the-ground materials consultation in China, collaborations with artists around the world, research into the effects of a design — the willingness to ‘do the most’ in search of a solution. None of that went away.

That said, if Jony doesn’t like managing, guess what Jony is not going to be enthusiastic about? As Shel Silverstein put it: “If you have to dry the dishes, and you drop one on the floor, maybe they won’t make you dry dishes any more.”

There is certainly calculus in everything an executive at any big company says publicly — but I think you can believe Jony when he says that he feels like he can be useful elsewhere.

“I certainly have an ambition and feel almost a moral obligation to be useful,” he says in this FT piece. “I feel I’ve been fortunate enough to work with remarkable people over the last 30-plus years and have worked on some very interesting projects and solved some very difficult problems. I feel keenly aware of a responsibility to do something significant with that learning.”

He wants out, and that’s what he’s doing. But he’s not leaving the company in terrible shape, from either an overall perspective and from an internal perspective.

Let’s move away from the anecdotal. What’s more interesting to me than any of this Jony shit talking is where Apple design goes from here.

Apple has put Evans Hankey and Alan Dye in charge of design, reporting to Jeff Williams. Wring your hands all you want about Apple becoming an operations company but, like, where have you been for the last 10 years?

Yes, Apple is a different company now, and it should be. While Jony has given us some amazing work (and some amazing what the hell moments) over the years, its going to be fascinating to watch a new leadership tackle the next era at Apple.

I think it’s also smart of Apple not to announce a single ‘Jony replacement’ at this juncture. Any immediate comparison would likely not do them any favors and this gives the team time to find a new center and a new direction over the next couple of years. I think someone will emerge as the design lead here eventually, but I’m not sure who.

Evans, as I understand it, was hand picked by Jony to lead the ID team as a manager, a job she’s already been doing. She’s a capable design manager with hundreds of patents to her name. More importantly, Apple has a historic and systemic policy that they don’t just put people in to do a job, they put them there to learn from them and to teach them. The Apple way of doing things is institutionalized and taught to new hires.

This institutional tissue, I believe, will survive Jony leaving.

One of the things that struck me the most about a lot of the recent stories is that it painted members of the design team as feckless automatons that could not proceed without Jony approving every move. That’s not true and honestly not even possible. There’s no way Apple could ship on the schedule they have done over the past few years if Jony being late to a meeting would handicap them.

There are a lot of very smart and very talented people at Apple and they are not all named Jony.

I’m also very interested to see how Alan Dye gets on with Apple. He’s got a calm, understated demeanor in person that can come across a bit flat, but he’s clearly very engaged with the task. He’s respected by Apple designers who feel that his work speaks for itself internally and that he has the chops. One of the arcs of Dye’s tenure has been to unify the look and feel of iOS across its platforms in terms of typography like San Francisco.

One of the biggest potholes that the software design team has ever hit, in my opinion, was iOS 7. It needed to be a break with the past for some legitimate reasons, like the expansion of iOS onto new platforms like the car, the watch and beyond. But Jony brought print, not interaction, designers from other parts of Apple in to flesh out the final design and that ended up presenting as a radical new but also radically less usable iOS.

iOS 7, to me, has always reminded me of an apocryphal saying I heard but can’t remember where. It’s about the notoriously difficult to drive Porsche 911: Porsche made a beautiful mistake, and it’s spent 50 years fixing it.

The 911 was a car that was designed to be imbalanced from the beginning by placing the engine in the rear, to emphasize power transfer to the ground via weight and traction. Also, no joke, so you could still fit groceries in it.

Unfortunately, it also enabled massive oversteer, with the car swinging wide on corners incredibly suddenly if pushed too hard. Porsche has refined that design with every iteration, improving every other aspect of the vehicle like traction, larger wheelbase, steering, braking and gearing. Just to get it to a place where the original vision remained intact, but, you know, less fire and dying.

Apple has done much the same since iOS 7, taking a concept that it felt was necessary and continuing to pull it back into a place that feels more usable.

One of the things that stood out to me at the time was that iOS 7 led with a ‘panes of glass’ metaphor. They weren’t all that explicit about it then but it seemed clear to me that they saw this as a way to support all kinds of interfaces from palm first to heads up. An evolution of the information appliance.

Dye and the design team (and Jony, tbf) have spent the last couple of years making big strides fixing the mechanical issues, but it was very exciting to me to see the panes of glass metaphor heavily emphasized at WWDC this year. They’re just panes with depth, texture and hopefully more accessible context this time around.

Even though Jony is a ‘unicorn’ designer, Apple has always thrived on small teams with decision makers, and they’re not all one person. The structure of Apple, which does not rely on product managers, still leaves an enormous amount of power in the hands of the people actually doing the work. I’m not as concerned as a lot of people are that, with Jony leaving, there will suddenly be a slavish hewing to the needs of ‘ops over all’. It’s not in the DNA.

That doesn’t mean however, that there aren’t still question marks. Jony was an enormous force in this company. It is completely natural to be curious, excited and, hell yeah even worried about what his departure will do to the design focused Apple people love to love.

daniel arsham adidas futurecraft 4d bd7400 where to buy 2

An Adidas Futurecraft shoe with a midsole printed by Carbon

As for me, I hope that there can be a balance struck between the established patterns of Apple design and new schools of thought. No company should remain rooted in the past completely. There are wildly interesting things happening in design and manufacturing at the moment. Trends like programmatic or “AI” design that allow designers to define an algorithm and a set of constraints, and then generate ‘impossible’ shapes out of edgy materials to obtain a result unable to be sketched or sculpted by traditional processes.

The shoe pictured above is a collaboration between an artist and an algorithm. Daniel Arsham, Adidas and a startup called Carbon made this with the help of a design program that understands the goals and materials its working with, but charts its own path to getting there. This is the new school of design.

The compression of the design and manufacturing stacks into one segment is going to be the defining characteristic of this age of product development in my opinion. Apple needs to jump on that wave and ride it.

There’s a Steve quote, prominently displayed on the wall of the Infinite Loop 4 building in its old Cupertino headquarters.

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

I’d love to see Apple’s design teams do just that, embrace these new schools of thought and find ways to integrate them into the way that it has always worked. There hasn’t been a more fascinating time to follow this company in years. Whatever happens it won’t be boring.

Lead image: Bryce Durbin

iOS 13 brings many much needed quality-of-life improvements

In developer lingo, quality-of-life updates are all about refining things that already work. Thanks to these incremental improvements, it should make the end user experience much more enjoyable. And with iOS 13, it feels like Apple’s main focus is on this concept.

Dark Mode is basically the only new flashy feature of iOS this year. But that’s not a bad thing. From my experience, all the tiny refinements across the board are really convincing. iOS 13 is a much more interesting release than iOS 12 for instance.

I’ve been playing with early beta versions of iOS 13, so here’s what you should be looking for.

Dark Mode is gorgeous

Dark Mode is here, and it looks great. It’s a system-wide trigger that completely transforms the look and feel of your iPhone — you have to play with it to really feel the difference. The easiest way to activate it is by opening the Control Center panel, long pressing on the brightness indicator and turning it on.

While you can trigger it manually, you can also select an automated mode in the settings. Right now, my phone becomes dark at night and lights up in the morning. iOS uses your current location to time the change with the sunset and sunrise.

Widgets, notifications and menus now use black or transparent black as much as possible. You can choose new Apple wallpapers that change when you turn on Dark Mode, or you can optionally dim your custom wallpapers at night.

Apple has updated all its apps to support Dark Mode, from Notes to Mail, Messages, Safari and more. And it works really well with those apps.

But the issue is that many third-party apps haven’t been updated for Dark Mode yet. So it’s a disappointing experience for now, but I’m sure many app developers will update their apps before the final release of iOS 13.

Many apps already support have a dark version that you can trigger in the app settings. But Apple really wants third-party developers to follow the system-wide option going forward. So those apps will have to be updated as well.

Low-level improvements

iOS still looks like iOS. But if you carefully pay attention to your first experience of iOS 13, you’ll notice two things. First, animations have been sped up — it feels like unlocking your phone, opening and closing an app or swiping on a notification are much faster. It’s hard to know if those actions have been optimized or if it’s just Apple hitting the fast-forward button.

Second, Face ID is better. It’s not a dramatic change, but your phone recognizes you a tiny bit faster than before. iPhone users will appreciate that they don’t have to buy a new phone for this free improvement.

The two other iOS 13 changes that you can experience in any app is that the keyboard now supports swipe-to-type and the share sheet has been updated. It is now separated in three areas: a top row with suggested contacts to send photos, links and more depending on your most important contacts.

Under that row of contacts, you get the usual row of app icons to open something in another app. If you scroll down, you access a long list of actions that vary from app to another.

Siri and the Shortcuts app have been improved and now work more closely together. In addition to a more natural Siri voice, Shortcuts is now installed by default with iOS, which is great news for automation and scripting on your phone.

And I was surprised to see all my voice-activated Siri Shortcuts in the Shortcuts widget. For instance, since iOS 12, I’ve been able to say “Hey Siri, I’m heading home with Citymapper” to launch Citymapper with directions to my home. There’s now a button in the Shortcuts app to trigger that Siri Shortcut.

More interestingly, you can now create automated triggers to launch a shortcut. For instance, you can create scenarios related to CarPlay, a location or even a cheap NFC tag. Here are some examples:

  • Launch a music playlist when I connect my phone to CarPlay or to my car using Bluetooth.
  • Dim my screen and turn on low power mode when I activate airplane mode.
  • Turn off my Philips Hue lights when I put my phone on an NFC sticker on my nightstand.

App improvements

All first-party apps have been improved in one way to another. Some changes are small, but a few apps have received a massive update.

Photos looks completely different with a new main tab. Instead of relatively boring looking grid of photos, you now get four sub-tabs that should help you navigate your photo library more efficiently.

‘Years’ lets you jump straight to a specific year. The ‘Months’ view is the most interesting one as iOS tries to sort your photos in smart albums based on dates and locations. When you open an event, you get the best photos of this event in the ‘Days’ tab. Some photos, such as duplicates are hidden by default.

And the last tab, ‘All Photos’ features the traditional never-ending grid of all your photos in your camera roll. Everything is still there. Live photos and videos now automatically play by default in some views. I’ve never been a fan of autoplaying videos but I guess that’s what people like.

The camera has been slightly improved, especially when it comes to Portrait mode with better segmentation of hair. And photo editing has been redesigned — it looks more like VSCO now.

Maps is getting a gradual update with better mapping data. But most people won’t see any change for a while. You can see real-time transit data, your flight status and share lists of places with friends though. It might not replace Citymapper, FlightLogger or Mapstr, but more contextual data is key when it comes to competing with Google Maps.

Talking about Google Maps, there’s a new Look Around feature that could have been called Apple Street View. I recommend trying the feature in San Francisco because it’s stunning. This isn’t just 360 photo shots — those are 3D representations of streets with foregrounds and backgrounds.

Messages is getting some much needed improvements. You can now choose a profile name and profile picture and share it with your contacts. I hate the default grey avatar, so it’s great to let people push a profile picture to other people.

If you have a Memoji-compatible device, you can now share Memoji stickers. If you’ve used Bitmoji in the past, this is Apple’s take on Bitmoji. And finally, search has been improved and is now actually useful. You can find an address or a specific message in no time.

Health has been redesigned but features more or less the same data. But it’s worth noting that Apple now lets you track, visualize and predict your menstrual cycle from the Health app.

Privacy

iOS 13 has a big emphasis on privacy as well thanks to a new signup option called “Sign In with Apple”. I couldn’t try it as I couldn’t see the option in any app. But Sarah Perez already wrote a great explainer on the topic.

In a few words, this button will let you create an account for a service without inputing an email address and password, and without connecting with your Google or Facebook account. Apple keeps as little data as possible — it’s all about creating a unique identifier and storing that in your iCloud keychain.

Apple is adding more ways to control your personal information. If an app needs your location for something, you can now grant access to your location just once. The app will have to ask for your permission the next time. Similarly, iOS 13 can tell you when an app has been tracking your location in the background with a map of those data points.

But I didn’t realize iOS 13 also blocks Bluetooth scanning by default in all apps. Many apps scan for nearby Bluetooth accessories and compare that with a database of Bluetooth devices around the world. In other words, it’s a way to get your location even if you’re not sharing your location with this app.

You now get a standard permission popup for apps that actually need to scan for Bluetooth devices — Mobike uses Bluetooth to unlock bikes or Eve uses Bluetooth to interact with connected objects for instance. But the vast majority of apps have no reason to scan for Bluetooth devices. You can decline Bluetooth permission and use Bluetooth headphones normally.

Random tidbits

Let’s go through some tiny little updates:

  • App updates are smaller because iOS doesn’t download everything from their servers — only files that are relevant to your current device.
  • Files works with Samba file servers, and you can zip/unzip files.
  • Safari features a new site settings popup to request the desktop site, disable a content blocker or enable reader view. This is much cleaner than before.
  • Notes has a new gallery view.
  • Mail lets you customize font style, size and color. You can also indent text, create bulleted lists, etc.
  • Find My iPhone and Find My Friends have been merged in a new Find My app. It also theoretically can help you find misplaced devices using other Apple devices from other people around your device — everything is supposed to be end-to-end encrypted.

Things I couldn’t try

  • CarPlay has been redesigned for the first time in years. But I don’t own a car.
  • You can store security camera footage in iCloud if your camera is HomeKit-compatible. But I don’t own a security camera.
  • ARKit has been improved and can detect people in the real world.
  • You can install custom fonts from the App Store and manage them from the settings. You can then use those fonts in any app.
  • Lyrics in the Music app now scroll just like in a karaoke. I haven’t tried that.
  • The Reminders app has been redesigned but I wasn’t using the app before. It feels like a full-fledged task manager now. Maybe I should use it.

Overall, iOS 13 feels like a breath of fresh air. Everything works slightly better than it used to. None of the changes are outrageous or particularly surprising. But they all contribute to making iOS a more enjoyable platform.

Apple just released the first iOS and iPadOS 13 beta to everyone

This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS — and iPadOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, the next major version of the operating systems for the iPhone and iPad. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download those betas without a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.

The company still plans to release the final version of iOS and iPadOS 13.0 this fall (usually September). But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.

As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 13 just last week. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.

But remember, you shouldn’t install an iOS beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. Proceed with extreme caution.

I’ve been using the developer beta of iOS and it’s still quite buggy. Some websites don’t work, some apps are broken.

But if you have an iPad or iPhone you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website and download the configuration profile. It’s a tiny file that tells your iPhone or iPad to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.

You can either download the configuration profile from Safari on your iOS device directly, or transfer it to your device using AirDrop, for instance. Reboot your device, then head over to the Settings app. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS and iPadOS 13 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 13. This year, in addition to dark mode, it feels like every single app has been improved with some quality-of-life updates. The Photos app features a brand new gallery view with autoplaying live photos and videos, smart curation and a more immersive design.

This version has a big emphasis on privacy as well thanks to a new signup option called “Sign in with Apple” and a bunch of privacy popups for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi consent, background location tracking. Apple Maps now features an impressive Google Street View-like feature called Look Around. It’s only available in a handful of cities, but I recommend… looking around as everything is in 3D.

Many apps have been updated, such as Reminders with a brand new version, Messages with the ability to set a profile picture shared with your contacts, Mail with better text formatting options, Health with menstrual cycle tracking, Files with desktop-like features, Safari with a new website settings menu, etc. Read more on iOS 13 in my separate preview.

On the iPad front, for the first time Apple is calling iOS for the iPad under a new name — iPadOS. Multitasking has been improved, the Apple Pencil should feel snappier, Safari is now as powerful as Safari on macOS and more.

Netflix is testing a pop-out floating video player on desktop

Netflix is testing out a new feature that could mean you never have to stop watching, not even while you work – it’s a pop-out video player, similar to the one you may be used to from iOS and macOS for any website or app that supports Safari’s native video player. Basically, that means you can choose to ‘pop out’ the video and then reposition it anywhere on your screen for a picture-in-picture effect that remains visible over any other apps you might be using.

The streaming company told Engadget, which found this experimental feature, that it’s only a test, but you can see why this might be a useful feature for users. Netflix could offer this already to iOS and Mac users using built-in system tools, but because it uses is own player (in part likely for copyright protection), it instead has to build its own feature. The benefit of this is that it should be coming to both Windows PCs and Macs should it graduate from being an experiment to being a full-fledged product.

NFC gets a lot more powerful in iOS 13

NFC — the technology that helps power Apple Pay as well other clever features for iOS apps like Launch Center Pro’s tappable stickers — is getting a big upgrade with the launch of iOS 13, due out this fall. Instead of only allowing iPhone apps to read NFC tags, apps will be able to write directly to blank tags, as well as interact with tags through native protocols. This opens up a range of new application possibilities, Apple told attendees at its Worldwide Developer Conference last week, including the ability to create apps that read passports and contactless smart cards and interact with NFC-enabled hardware.

We’ve already seen the potential for NFC that goes beyond just an easier way to check out at point-of-sale in a traditional retail environment, as with Apple Pay.

For example, both Apple and Google recently announced support for Apple Pay and Google Pay-enabled contactless payments for the NYC Subway. Portland offers something similar, as do several other international cities.

With the updates to the core NFC framework, however, the iPhone’s NFC capabilities will get even more powerful.

With iOS 13 (on iPhone 7 and up), users will be able to read a range of contactless smartcards and tags, including NFC-enabled passports and other government IDs.

There are already solutions in the works that will take advantage of this new feature.

For example, both Engadget Japan and Nikkei have reported the Japanese government will add support for NFC tag reading to Japan’s national ID (Individual Number Card) when iOS 13 launches later this year.

The news was confirmed by the Japanese government, via a tweet from an advisor to the government’s CIO:

In addition, the U.K. government’s NFC passport reader app, ReadID, will now work on the iPhone as a result of the iOS 13 updates.

“This announcement means that ReadID will also work on iPhones, using the embedded internal NFC capability,” the company said in a blog post.

“Needless to say we are very excited about this. We’re convinced this will have a major impact on the online use cases such as mobile onboarding for banks, especially for countries with a high iPhone penetration,” the announcement read.

Beyond ID-scanning, iOS apps will be able to write to NFC tags (i.e. NDEF writing), and even lock the tag so it can’t be written to again, if the developer chooses.

And now, the core NFC framework will support tag reading and writing across various formats, including not only NFC NDEF Tag (for NDEF tags, as offered today), but also Mifare, FeliCa, ISO 7816 (e.g. for passports), and ISO 15693.

That means NFC will work in more places with more type of tags than what’s available today.

Above Image Credit: Ata Distance, which covers Apple Pay and contactless news 

Apple had unveiled some of its plans around NFC by pre-announcing support for NFC stickers and tags that can trigger Apple Pay payments at the Transact conference in Las Vegas, just ahead of WWDC.

Bird (scooters), Bonobos (retailer) and PayByPhone (parking meters) said they would soon support this feature, which enables NFC transactions without a terminal or special app from the vendor.

This is enabled by way of new support for Value Added Service (VAS) tags, which also support loyalty sign-ups with merchants. On this front, Apple said that Dairy Queen, Dave & Buster’s and Caribou Coffee will later this year use NFC tags that make it easier for their customers to sign up for their loyalty programs.

Panera Bread, Yogurtland and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches will also pilot instant enrollment.

At Apple’s WWDC, the company demonstrated NFC’s expanded abilities in a real-world scenario.

As an example of NFC in action on an iOS 13 device, the company showed off how a merchant could use NFC tags that displayed a product description after the customer scanned it, as well as how another NFC tag could offer the customer a coupon for their purchase, when scanned.

Launch Center Pro developer David Barnard, who had been selling NFC tags that were pre-encoded and locked so they couldn’t work with other apps beyond his own, is now unloading older inventory in preparation for iOS 13. The developer tweeted that his app will soon be able to write to blank NFC stickers, which you can buy in bulk on Amazon.

In addition, the upgrade to Apple’s Siri Shortcuts app means users could kick off an action or even a multi-step workflow just by scanning an NFC tag.

Developers have wanted more NFC capabilities for some time, and Apple has delivered. Consumers may not understand the underlying technology or know what it’s called. However, they will get the “tap to interact” functionality thanks to broad Apple Pay adoption, which taught them the behavior.

iMovie’s big iOS update adds 80 new soundtracks, green screen effects, image overlays

Ahead of the public launch of Apple’s revamped suite of first-party apps on iOS 13, the company has rolled out a new version of its popular video editor, iMovie for iOS. With the app’s most recent update, iMovie has received a host of new features — most notably, support for a green screen effect that lets you remove the background from clips, as well as the addition of 80 new soundtracks across a variety of genres.

The green screen support, in particular, could make iMovie a better competitor to the third-party video editors which tend to offer more advanced feature sets, while also keeping things simple for less savvy users.

Apple says users of the new version (2.2.7) will be able to remove backgrounds from any clips shot in front of a blue or green screen, as well as adjust the clip with a 4-point mask and strength slider.

 

Its 80 new soundtracks include genres like pop, chill and sentimental that will automatically adjust to the length of the movie.

In terms of new effects, iMovie will now allow users to add photos as overlays to create picture-in-picture and split screen effects as well as opt to hide the border on those. These were some of iMovie’s more requested features, in fact, and one of the reasons why people went elsewhere for video editing apps.

Other new features are designed to make iMovie easier to use. For example, when you switch back to the iOS app from other applications, it will take you right to the edit screen of your project. It has also tucked away access to iMovie Theater from the three-dot ( … ) more menu, as it’s shifting users to share videos to iCloud instead.

And, as part of other classroom-focused updates, iMovie now supports ClassKit, which means students can deliver their video assignments directly the teachers via Apple’s Schoolwork app.

Because iMovie is designed to work across Apple’s platforms, users can begin editing projects on their phone then transfer them to other devices like the iPad or Mac in order to complete edits, including those that may benefit from working via a larger screen — such as the green screen effect or color corrections, for example.

The updated iMovie is available for both iPhone and iPad from the App Store.

Mobile games now account for 33% of installs, 10% of time, and 74% of consumer spend

Mobile gaming continues to hold its own, accounting for 10% of the time users spend in apps — a percentage that has remained steady over the years, even though our time in apps overall has grown by 50% over the past two years. In addition, games are continuing to grow their share of consumer spend, notes App Annie in a new research report out this week, timed with E3.

Thanks to growth in hyper-casual and cross-platform gaming in particular, mobile games are on track to reach 60% market share in consumer spend in 2019.

The new report looks at how much time users spend gaming versus using other apps, monetization, and regional highlights within the gaming market, among other things.

Despite accounting for a sizable portion of users’ time, games don’t lead the other categories, App Annie says.

Instead, social and communications apps account for half (50%) of the time users spent globally in apps in 2018, followed by video players and editors at 15%, then games at 10%.

In the U.S., users generally have 8 games installed per device and globally, we play an average of 2 to 5 games per month.

The number of total hours spent games continues to grow roughly 10% year-over-year, as well, thanks to existing gamers increasing their time in games and from a broadening user base including a large number of mobile app newcomers from emerging markets.

This has also contributed to a widening age range for gamers.

Today, the majority of time spent in gaming is by those aged 25 and up. In many cases, these players may not even classify themselves as “gamers,” App Annie noted.

While games may not lead the categories in terms of time spent, they do account for a large number of mobile downloads and the majority of consumer spending on mobile.

One-third of all worldwide downloads are games across iOS, Google Play, and third-party app stores.

Last year, 1.6+ million games launched on Google Play and 1.1+ million arrived on iOS.

On Android, 74 cents of every dollar is spent on games with 95% of those purchases coming as in-app purchases not paid downloads. App Annie didn’t have figures for iOS.

Google Play is known for having more downloads than iOS, but continues to trail on consumer spend. In 2018, Google Play grabbed a 72% share of worldwide downloads, compared with 28% on iOS. Meanwhile, Google Play only saw 36% of consumer spend versus 64% on iOS.

One particular type of gaming jumped out in the new report: racing games.

Consumer spend in this subcategory of gaming grew 7.9 times as fast as the overall mobile gaming market. Adventure games did well, too, growing roughly 5 times the rate of games in general. Music games and board games were also popular.

Of course, gaming expands beyond mobile. But it’s surprising to see how large a share of the broader market can be attributed to mobile gaming.

According to App Annie, mobile gaming is larger than all other channels including home game consoles, handheld consoles, and computers (Mac and PC). It’s also 20% larger than all these other categories combined — a shift from only a few years ago, attributed to the growth in the mobile consumer base, which allows mobile gaming to reach more people.

Cross-platform gaming is a key gaming trend today, thanks to titles like PUBG and Fortnite in particular, which were among the most downloaded games across several markets last year.

Meanwhile, hyper-casual games are appealing to those who don’t think of themselves as gamers, which has helped to broaden the market further.

App Annie is predicting the next big surge will come from AR gaming, with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite expected to bring Pokémon Go-like frenzy back to AR, bringing the new title $100 million in its first 30 days. The game is currently in beta testing in select markets, with plans for a 2019 release.

In terms of regions, China’s impact on gaming tends to be outsized, but its growth last year was limited due to the game license regulations. This forced publishers to look outside the country for growth — particularly in markets like North America and Japan, App Annie said.

Meanwhile, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia lead the emerging markets with regard to game
downloads, but established markets of the U.S. and China remain strong players in terms of sheer numbers.

With the continued steady growth in consumer spend and the stable time spent in games, App Annie states the monetization potential for games is growing. In 2018, there were 1900 games that made more than $5 million, up from 1200 in 2106. In addition, consumer spend in many key markets is still growing too — like the 105% growth in two years in China, for example, and the 45% growth in the U.S.

The full report delves into other regions as well as game publishers’ user acquisition strategies. It’s available download here.