Facebook says a bug caused its iPhone app’s inadvertent camera access

Facebook has faced a barrage of concern over an apparent bug that resulted in the social media giant’s iPhone app exposing the camera as users scroll through their feed.

A tweet over the weekend blew up after Joshua Maddux tweeted a screen recording of the Facebook app on his iPhone. He noticed that the camera would appear behind the Facebook app as he scrolled through his social media feed.

Several users had already spotted the bug earlier in the month. One person called it “a little worrying.”

Some immediately assumed the worst — as you might expect, given the long history of security vulnerabilities, data breaches and inadvertent exposures at Facebook over the past year. Just last week, the company confirmed that some developers had improperly retained access to some Facebook user data for more than a year.

Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall, said it looked like a “harmless but creepy looking bug.”

The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software, and those who have already granted the app access to the camera and microphone. It’s believed the bug relates to the “story” view in the app, which opens the camera for users to take photos.

One workaround is to simply revoke camera and microphone access to the Facebook app in their iOS settings.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted this morning that it “sounds like a bug” and the company was investigating. Only after we published, a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the issue was in fact a bug.

“We recently discovered that version 244 of the Facebook iOS app would incorrectly launch in landscape mode,” said the spokesperson. “In fixing that issue last week in v246 — launched on November 8th — we inadvertently introduced a bug that caused the app to partially navigate to the camera screen adjacent to News Feed when users tapped on photos.”

“We have seen no evidence of photos or videos being uploaded due to this bug,” the spokesperson added. The bug fix was submitted for Apple’s approval today.

“I guess it does say something when Facebook trust has eroded so badly that it will not get the benefit of the doubt when people see such a bug,” said Strafach.

Updated with Facebook comment.

This Week in Apps: TikTok security check, app store cleanups, GameClub takes on Apple Arcade

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry in 2018 saw 194 billion downloads and more than $100 billion in purchases. This past quarter, consumer spending exceeded $23 billion and installs topped 31 billion. And there’s no sign of the app economy slowing down.

But with app marketplaces growing this large and powerful, they’re also now coming under more scrutiny from government officials as this intersection between apps and politics can no longer be overlooked.

This week, U.S. Senators asked for a TikTok security check, Google hosted its Android Developer Summit, a whole bunch of malicious apps got booted off Google Play (and a few on the App Store, too.) Plus, a great alternative to Apple Arcade launched; it’s called GameClub and delivers some of the best App Store games for $5 per month.

Headlines

TikTok comes under more political pressure

The world’s most downloaded app, TikTok, continues to draw attention not for its fun skits and lip-synced songs, but for censorship issues and potential security risks. This week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter (PDF) to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, formally requesting that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-owned content platforms in the U.S.

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Their concerns revolved around the storage of U.S. TikTok user data (TikTok parent company ByteDance claims it’s in the U.S.), its data collection capabilities, censorship concerns, and the potential for the app to be a counterintelligence threat. As a Chinese-owned company, TikTok still has to adhere to Chinese law. That’s a potential problem. 

By the way, a press release circulated about the letter, which said the senators claimed TikTok was a “national security threat.” They actually did not write those words in the letter — and it’s a step beyond what they were claiming. The senators wanted a risk assessment performed.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. TikTok said it was “carefully reviewing” the letter. Good thing they just hired those lawyers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is now the top advisor to a business school called China’s Harvard

The issues around the App Store’s intersection with U.S. politics aren’t limited to TikTok.

Apple, already under scrutiny for removing a crowdsourced mapping app that showed police presence in Hong Kong, last week attracted a letter from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers who urged to have the app reinstated. 

Now (with a lack of concern over the optics apparently), Apple CEO Tim Cook has been appointed as chairman of Tsinghua University’s business school advisory board. The university is known as “China’s Harvard,” and is one of the most country’s most elite institutions; Chinese President Xi Jinping is a noted alumnus. The university has a history of relationships with Western leaders — last year, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Satya Nadella were listed as board members, and its previous chairman was American VC Jim Breyer.

But given the issues around Apple’s capitulation to China’s demands to censor its App Store in the region — not to mention the U.S.-China trade war, or how Apple had told Apple TV+ showrunners not to anger China — everyone pretty much agrees it was not the best timing for this news.

Unfortunately for Apple, it can’t abandon China now, as it’s grown too dependent on its business there. As Vox recently reported:

Unlike tech companies that haven’t broken into the country or only do minor business in it, Apple is now so deep in China that leaving it could be catastrophic. Even if the company was willing to forgo the $44 billion a year in sales it makes in China, it can’t leave the deep network of suppliers and assemblers that build hundreds of millions of iPhones every year.

Millions of malicious apps get booted from Google Play…and malicious apps spotted on the App Store, too

Malicious apps were found on both Google Play and the App Store this week. But these stories are not at all the same.

Security researchers found dozens of Android apps in the Google Play store serving ads to unsuspecting victims as part of a money-making scheme. The 42 apps containing adware had been downloaded more than 8 million times since they first launched in July 2018. The apps were also sending back data about the user’s device, TechCrunch reported — including if certain apps are installed and if the device allows apps from non-app store sources — which could be used to install more malicious software.

Sadly, this kind of thing happens a lot on Google Play.

What’s less common, however, is to find malware on the App Store — which happened this week, when 17 malicious apps were removed.

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Apple’s China stance makes for strange political alliances, as AOC and Ted Cruz slam the company

In a rare instance of bipartisanship overcoming the rancorous discord that’s been the hallmark of the U.S. Congress, senators and sepresentatives issued a scathing rebuke to Apple for its decision to take down an app at the request of the Chinese government.

Signed by Senators Ron Wyden, Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Congressional Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher and Tom Malinowski, the letter was written to “express… strong concern about Apple’s censorship of apps, including a prominent app used by protestors in Hong Kong, at the request of the Chinese government.”

In 2019, it seems the only things that can unite America’s clashing political factions are the decisions made by companies in one of its most powerful industries.

At the heart of the dispute is Apple’s decision to take down an app called HKMaps that was being used by citizens of the island territory to track police activity.

For several months protestors have been clashing with police in the tiny territory over what they see as the undue influence being exerted by China’s government in Beijing over the governance of Hong Kong. Citizens of the former British protectorate have enjoyed special privileges and rights not afforded to mainland Chinese citizens since the United Kingdom returned sovereignty over the region to China on July 1, 1997.

“Apple’s decision last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning,” the authors of the letter wrote. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong.”

Apple has long positioned itself as a defender of human rights (including privacy and free speech)… in the United States. Abroad, the company’s record is not quite as spotless, especially when it comes to pressure from China, which is one of the company’s largest markets outside of the U.S.

Back in 2017, Apple capitulated to a request from the Chinese government that it remove all virtual private networking apps from the App Store. Those applications allowed Chinese users to circumvent the “Great Firewall” of China, which limits access to information to only that which is approved by the Chinese government and its censors.

Over 1,100 applications have been taken down by Apple at the request of the Chinese government, according to the organization GreatFire (whose data was cited in the Congressional letter). They include VPNs, and applications made for oppressed communities inside China’s borders (like Uighurs and Tibetans).

Apple isn’t the only company that’s come under fire from the Chinese government as part of their overall response to the unrest in Hong Kong. The National Basketball Association and the gaming company Blizzard have had their own run-ins resulting in self-censorship as a result of various public positions from employees or individuals affiliated with the sports franchises or gaming communities these companies represent.

However, Apple is the largest of these companies, and therefore the biggest target. The company’s stance indicates a willingness to accede to pressure in markets that it considers strategically important no matter how it positions itself at home.

The question is what will happen should regulators in the U.S. stop writing letters and start making legislative demands of their own.

This Week in Apps: AltStore, acquisitions and Google Play Pass

The app industry shows no signs of slowing down, with 194 billion downloads in 2018 and over $100 billion in consumer spending. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. In other words, apps aren’t just a way to spend idle hours — they’re a big business. And one that often seems to change overnight. In this new Extra Crunch series, we’ll help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps — including everything from the OS’s to the apps that run upon them, as well as the money that flows through it all.

This week, alternatives to the traditional app store is a big theme. Not only has a new, jailbreak-free iOS marketplace called AltStore just popped up, we’ve also got both Apple and Google ramping up their own subscription-based collections of premium apps and games.

Meanwhile, the way brands and publishers want to track their apps’ success is changing, too. And App Annie — the company that was the first to start selling pickaxes for the App Store gold rush — is responding with an acquisition that will help app publishers better understand the return on investment for their app businesses.

Headlines

AltStore is an alternative App Store that doesn’t need a jailbreak

An interesting alternative app marketplace has appeared on the scene, allowing a way for developers to distribute iOS apps outside the official App Store, reports Engadget — without jailbreaking, which can be difficult and has various security implications. Instead, the new store works by tricking your device into thinking you’re a developer sideloading apps. And it uses a companion app on your Mac or PC to re-sign the apps every 7 days via iTunes WiFi syncing protocol. Already, it’s offering a Nintendo emulator and other games, says The Verge. And Apple is probably already working on a way to shut this down. For now, it’s live at Altstore.io.

For the third time in a month, Google mass-deleted Android apps from a big Chinese developer.

Does Google Play have a malicious app problem? That appears to be the case as Google has booted some 46 apps from major Chinese mobile developer iHandy out of its app store, BuzzFeed reported. And it isn’t saying why. The move follows Google’s ban of two other major Chinese app developers, DO Global and CooTek, who had 1 billion total downloads.

Google Firebase gets new tools

Apple says a bug may grant ‘full access’ to third-party keyboards by mistake

Apple is warning users of an iOS bug involving third-party keyboards.

In a brief advisory posted Tuesday, the tech giant said the bug impacts third-party keyboards which have the ability to request “full access” permissions.

Third-party keyboards can either run as standalone or, with “full access” they can talk to other apps or get internet access for additional features, like spell check. But “full access” also allows the keyboard maker to capture keystroke data or anything you type — like emails, messages or passwords — to its servers.

This bug, however, may allow third-party keyboards to gain full access permissions — even if it was not approved

Apple didn’t say much more about the problem. A spokesperson did not comment beyond the advisory. But the advisory said that the bug doesn’t affect iOS’ in-built keyboard.

The bug will be fixed in an upcoming software update.

iOS 13 pushes the envelope across the board

Apple released iOS 13, the new major version of iOS. This isn’t a groundbreaking release that is going to change the way you use your phone. But Apple has done some tremendous work across the board to improve some low-level features as well as most Apple apps.

In many ways, iOS 13 feels like a quality-of-life update. In developer lingo, quality-of-life updates are all about refining things that already work. It helps you save a second here, do something more easily there.

I’m going to talk about many of those small refinements, but I want to focus on two things that are going to matter more than the rest — Dark Mode and Apple’s focus on privacy.

Dark Mode is here

At some point, smartphone manufacturers started making bigger phones. And if you don’t want to become blind at night, Dark Mode is a must. It took a while, but it is finally here and it looks great.

Dark Mode on iOS 13 is a system-wide trigger. You can activate it from the Settings app or by opening up the Control Center panel and long-pressing on the brightness indicator. And it completely transforms the look and feel of your iPhone.

While some third-party apps have been updated, many developers still have to release updates to make their apps work with this new setting. I hope in six months, you’ll be able to turn on Dark Mode and jump from one app to another without any white interface.

I would recommend turning on the automated mode in the settings. iOS uses your current location to time the change with sunset and sunrise — your iPhone goes dark at night and it lights up in the morning.

Dark Mode doesn’t just affect apps. Widgets, notifications and other buttons in the user interface become dark. Apple uses pure black, which looks great on OLED displays. And you can optionally dim your custom wallpapers at night.

The privacy hammer

Many geeks have tried iOS 13 over the summer. But it’s going to be a completely different story when tens of millions of people download it this fall. iOS 13 brings some much-needed changes on the privacy front, and it’s going to be nasty for some companies.

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 silently tracking your location in the background with a map of those data points.

Apple is shaming app developers directly by saying “This app has used 40 locations in the background in the past 2 days” and showing you a map. You can turn off location tracking directly in the popup. Facebook is already freaking out and wrote a blog post last week to tell you that it cares about your privacy.

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. Some apps actually need Bluetooth to communicated with connected devices, initiate peer-to-peer payments with nearby users, etc.

But the vast majority of them have been abusing Bluetooth scanning. To be clear, you can disable Bluetooth scanning and still use Bluetooth headphones. Audio will still be routed to your headphones just fine.

I hope many app developers will review the third-party SDKs that they use. Many ad-supported apps embed code from adtech companies. But they don’t always that those SDKs are hostile to your privacy.

Finally, Apple is adding “Sign In with Apple”. It is an alternative to “Sign In with Google” or “Sign In with Facebook”. Customers can choose whether or not to share their email address and developers get little personal data. It’s going to be interesting to see if it takes off.

Low-level improvements

There are a few changes at the operating system level. First, in addition to optimizations, animations have been slightly sped up. Swiping, opening and closing apps feels faster.

Second, the keyboard now supports swipe-to-type. If you’ve used Android phones or third-party keyboards in the past, you already know how it works. You can move your finger across the display from one letter to another without lifting it. It feels like magic.

Third, 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 one app to another.

When it comes to automation, the Shortcuts is installed by default with iOS 13. Many people are going to discover Shortcuts for the first time by opening the app. Voice-activated Siri Shortcuts are now also available in the Shortcuts app.

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.

New app features

I’m going to go through some of the major changes in Apple’s apps.

Apple Arcade is here. You have to download iOS 13 to access it. I’ll let you read our first impressions in our separate article.

iOS 13 5

Photos has received some of the biggest improvements. The main tab has been completely redesigned. You now get four sub-tabs that lets you see a curated photo library.

In addition to ‘All Photos’, you can tap on ‘Years’ to jump straight to a specific year, ‘Months’ to see some smart albums based on dates and locations. You can then open those events. It’ll jump to the ‘Days’ tab and show you the best photos.

I’m not sure I like the wording of those sub-tabs, but it’s definitely a lot more efficient if you’re looking for an old photo from a few years.

Photo editing is also much better on iOS 13. It feels like you can do pretty much all the basic editing you’d do with a third-party app.

Maps is an interesting app. While Apple has been working on improved mapping data, it’s going to be hard to notice if you don’t live in California. But Look Around, a feature that works pretty much like Google Street View, is quite impressive. This isn’t just 360 photo shots — those are 3D representations of streets with foregrounds and backgrounds. I’d recommend finding a street in San Francisco and opening Look Around.

Messages now works a bit more like WhatsApp. By that, I mean that you can pick a profile name and picture and share those with your friends and family. Apple also tells you to use Memoji, but you can pick any photo. Search in Messages is also much better.

Health has been slightly redesigned. But the big addition is that you can track your menstrual cycles in the Health app. You don’t need to install any third-party app.

Reminders has gained some new features. There’s a quick toolbar to add times, dates, locations and more. You can indent items, create smart lists and more. To-do apps are highly personal, but I’m sure some people will like it.

Find My is the new name for Find My Phone and Find My Friends. Maybe you’ll be able to find your objects soon when Apple launches Tile-like trackers?

Mail, Notes and Safari received small improvements, such as rich-text editing in Mail, a gallery view in Notes, a new site settings popup in Safari to request the desktop site, disable a content blocker or enable reader view.

Files works with Samba file servers and you can zip/unzip files directly in the app — no shortcut needed. You can also install custom fonts.

As you can see, there are a lot of big and tiny improvements across the board with iOS 13. Sure, this version feels buggy at times. It’s an ambitious update with Apple telling everyone that they’re not ready to slow down the pace of iOS releases. And Apple is making some welcome progress on the privacy front.

iOS 13 is now available to download

Apple has just released the final version of iOS 13. This update brings many much needed quality-of-life improvements — and there are also a bunch of new features. The update is currently rolling out and is available both over-the-air in the Settings app, and by plugging your device into iTunes for a wired update.

Many people try to download these major updates at the same time. Apple usually implements a queue system to ensure speedy downloads once you’re at the front of the queue.

iOS 13 is compatible with the iPhone 6s or later, the iPhone SE or the 7th-generation iPod touch. If you have an iPad and you are looking for iPadOS 13, it’ll be available on September 30 with the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.1.

But first, backup your device. Make sure your iCloud backup is up to date by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tapping on your account information at the top and then on your device name. Additionally, you can also plug your iOS device to your computer to do a manual backup in iTunes (or do both, really).

Don’t forget to encrypt your backup in iTunes. It is much safer if somebody hacks your computer. And encrypted backups include saved passwords and health data. This way, you don’t have to reconnect to all your online accounts.

Once this is done, you should go to the Settings app as soon as possible to get in the queue. Navigate to ‘Settings,’ then ‘General’ and then ‘Software Update.’ Then you should see ‘Update Requested…” It will then automatically start downloading once the download is available.

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.

iOS 13: Here are the new security and privacy features you need to know

It’s finally here.

Apple’s new iOS 13, the thirteenth major iteration of its popular iPhone software, is out to download. We took iOS 13 for a spin with a focus on the new security and privacy features to see what’s new and how it all works.

Here’s what you need to know.

You’ll start to see reminders about apps that track your location

1 location track

Ever wonder which apps track your location? Wonder no more. iOS 13 periodically reminds you about apps that are tracking your location in the background. Every so often it will tell you how many times an app has tracked where you’ve been in a recent period of time, along with a small map of the location points. From this screen you can “always allow” the app to track your location or have the option to limit the tracking.

You can grant an app your location just once

2 location ask

To give you more control over what data have access to, iOS 13 now lets you give apps access to your location just once. Previously there was “always,” “never” or “while using,” meaning an app could be collecting your real-time location as you’re using it. Now you can grant an app access on a per use basis — particularly helpful for the privacy-minded folks.

And apps wanting access to Bluetooth can be declined access

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Apps wanting to access Bluetooth will also ask for your consent. Although apps can use Bluetooth to connect to gadgets, like fitness bands and watches, Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices known as beacons can be used to monitor your whereabouts. These beacons are found everywhere — from stores to shopping malls. They can grab your device’s unique Bluetooth identifier and track your physical location between places, building up a picture of where you go and what you do — often for targeting you with ads. Blocking Bluetooth connections from apps that clearly don’t need it will help protect your privacy.

Find My gets a new name — and offline tracking

5 find my

Find My, the new app name for locating your friends and lost devices, now comes with offline tracking. If you lost your laptop, you’d rely on its last Wi-Fi connected location. Now it broadcasts its location using Bluetooth, which is securely uploaded to Apple’s servers using nearby cellular-connected iPhones and other Apple devices. The location data is cryptographically scrambled and anonymized to prevent anyone other than the device owner — including Apple — from tracking your lost devices.

Your apps will no longer be able to snoop on your contacts’ notes

8 contact snoop

Another area that Apple is trying to button down is your contacts. Apps have to ask for your permission before they can access to your contacts. But in doing so they were also able to access the personal notes you wrote on each contact, like their home alarm code or a PIN number for phone banking, for example. Now, apps will no longer be able to see what’s in each “notes” field in a user’s contacts.

Sign In With Apple lets you use a fake relay email address

6 sign in

This is one of the cooler features coming soon — Apple’s new sign-in option allows users to sign in to apps and services with one tap, and without having to turn over any sensitive or private information. Any app that requires a sign-in option must use Sign In With Apple as an option. In doing so users can choose to share their email with the app maker, or choose a private “relay” email, which hides a user’s real email address so the app only sees a unique Apple-generated email instead. Apple says it doesn’t collect users’ data, making it a more privacy-minded solution. It works across all devices, including Android devices and websites.

You can silence unknown callers

4 block callers

Here’s one way you can cut down on disruptive spam calls: iOS 13 will let you send unknown callers straight to voicemail. This catches anyone who’s not in your contacts list will be considered an unknown caller.

You can strip location metadata from your photos

7 strip location

Every time you take a photo your iPhone stores the precise location of where the photo was taken as metadata in the photo file. But that can reveal sensitive or private locations — such as your home or office — if you share those photos on social media or other platforms, many of which don’t strip the data when they’re uploaded. Now you can. With a few taps, you can remove the location data from a photo before sharing it.

And Safari gets better anti-tracking features

9 safari improvements

Apple continues to advance its new anti-tracking technologies in its native Safari browser, like preventing cross-site tracking and browser fingerprinting. These features make it far more difficult for ads to track users across the web. iOS 13 has its cross-site tracking technology enabled by default so users are protected from the very beginning.

First published on July 19 and updated with iOS 13’s launch. 

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North now offers Focals smart glasses fittings and purchases via app

North’s Focals smart glasses are the first in the category to even approach mainstream appeal, but to date, the only way to get a pair has been to go into a physical North showroom and get a custom fitting, and then return once they’re ready for a pick-up and final adjustment. Now, North has released its Showroom app, which makes Focals available across the U.S. and Canada without an in-person appointment.

This approach reduces considerable friction, and it’s able to do so thanks to technology available on board the iPhone X or later – essentially the same tech that makes Face ID possible. People can go through the sizing and fitting process using these later model iPhones (and you can borrow a friend’s if you’re on Android or an older iOS device) and then North takes those measurements and can produce either prescription or non-prescription Focals, shipped directly to your door after a few weeks.

The Showroom app also includes an AR-powered virtual try-on feature for making sure you like the look of the frames, and for picking out your favorite color. Once the Focals show up at your door, the final fitting process is also something you can do at home, guided by the app’s directions for getting the fit just right.

Should you still want to hit an actual physical showroom, North’s still going to be operating its Brooklyn and Toronto storefronts, and will be operating pop-ups across North America as well.

Focals began shipping earlier this year, bringing practical smart notification, guidance and other software experiences to your field of view via a tiny projector and in-lens transparent display. North, which previously existed as Thalmic Labs and created the Myo gesture control armband, recognized that they were building control devices optimized for exactly this kind of application, but also found that no one was yet getting wearable tech like smart glasses right. Last year, Thalmic Labs pivoted to become North and focus on Focals as a result.

Since launching its smart glasses to consumers, it’s been iterating the software to consistently add new features, and making them more accessible to customers. An early price drop significantly lessened sticker shock, and now removing the requirement to actually visit a location in person to both order and collect the glasses should help expand their customer base further still.

I hope Apple Arcade makes room for weird cool shit

Apple Arcade seems purpose built to make room in the market for beautiful, sad, weird, moving, slow, clever and heartfelt. All things that the action, shooter and MOBA driven major market of games has done nothing to foster over the last decade.

I had a chance to play a bunch of the titles coming to Apple Arcade, which launched today in a surprise move for some early testers of iOS 13. Nearly every game I played was fun, all were gorgeous and some were really really great.

A few I really enjoyed, in no particular order:

20190524 WCF GameplayScreenshot wcf screenShot mcFishShakeJump 1080

Where Cards Fall — A Snowman game from Sam Rosenthal. A beautiful game with a clever card-based mechanic that allows room for story moments and a ramping difficulty level that should be fantastic for short play sessions. Shades of Monument Valley, of course, in its puzzle + story interleave and it its willingness to get super emotional about things right away. More of this in gaming! Super satisfying gameplay and crisp animations abound.

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Overland — Finji — Overland is one of my most anticipated games from the bunch, I’ve been following the development of this game from the Night in the Woods and Canabalt creators for a long time. It does not disappoint, with a stylized but somehow hyper-realized post apocalyptic turn-based system that transmits urgency through economy of movement. Every act you take counts. Given that it’s a rogue like, the story is told through the world rather than through an individual character’s narrative and the world does a great job of it.

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Oceanhorn 2 — Cornfox & Brothers — The closest to a native Zelda you’ll get on iOS — this plays great on a controller. Do yourself a favor and try it that way.

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Spek — RAC7 — One of those puzzle games people will plow through, it makes the mechanics simple to understand then begins to really push and prod at your mastery of them over time. The AR component of the app seems like it will be a better party game than solo experience, but the effects used here are great and it really plays with distance and perspective in a way that an AR game should. A good totem for the genre going forward.

I was able to play several of the games across all three platforms including Apple TV with an Xbox controller, iPhone and iPad. While some favored controller (Skate City) and others touch controls (Super Impossible Road), all felt like I could play them either way without much difficulty.

There are also some surprises in the initial batch of games like Lego Brawls — a Smash Brothers clone that will be a big hit for car rides and get togethers I think.

My hope is that the Apple Arcade advantage, an agressive $4.99 price and prime placement in the App Store, may help to create an umbrella of sorts for games that don’t fit the ‘big opening weekend’ revenue mold and I hope Apple leans into that. I know that there may be action-oriented and big name titles in the package now and in the future, and that’s fine. But there are many kinds of games out there that are fantastic but “minor” in the grand scheme of things and having a place that could create sustainability in the market for these gems is a great thing.

The financial terms were not disclosed by Apple but many of the developers appear to have gotten up front money to make games for the platform and, doubtless, there is a rev share on some sort of basis, probably usage or installs. Whatever it is, I hope the focus is on sustainability, but the people responsible for Arcade inside Apple are making all the right noises about that so I have hopes.

I am especially glad that Apple is being aggressive with the pricing and with the restrictions it has set for the store, including no in-app purchases or ads. This creates an environment where a parent (ratings permitting) can be confident that a kid playing games from the Arcade tab will not be besieged with casino ads in the middle of their puzzle game.

There is, however, a general irony in the fact that Apple had to create Apple Arcade because of the proliferation of loot box/currency/in-app purchase revenue models. An economy driven by the App Store’s overall depressive effect on the price of games and the decade long acclimation people have had to spending less and less, down to free, for games and apps on the store.

By bundling them into a subscription, Apple sidesteps the individual purchase barrier that it has had a big hand in creating in the first place. While I don’t think it is fully to blame — plenty of other platforms aggressively promote loot box mechanics — a big chunk of the responsibility to fix this distortion does rest on Apple. Apple Arcade is a great stab at that and I hope that the early titles are an indicator of the overall variety and quality that we can expect.