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.

Apple opens app design and development accelerator in China

Apple has opened a design and development accelerator in Shanghai — its first for China — to help local developers create better apps as the iPhone maker looks to scale its services business in one of its key overseas markets.

At the accelerator, Apple has begun to hold regular lectures, seminars and networking sessions for developers, the company said this week. It is similar to an accelerator it opened in Bangalore about two years ago.

In India, where Apple has about half a million app developers, the accelerator program has proven crucially useful, more than three dozen developers who have enrolled for the program have told TechCrunch over the years. Participation in the accelerator is free of cost.

Apple said more than 2.5 million developers from greater China, which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, actively build apps for its platform. These developers have earned more than $29 billion through App Store sales. More than 15% of Apple’s revenue comes from greater China, according to official figures.

“Developers here in China are leading the world with some of the most popular apps on the App Store, and we are proud to be providing this additional support for them. From education to health to entertainment, the innovation we see here is incredible and we can’t wait to see what these talented developers will come up with next,” said Enwei Xie, Apple’s head of developer relations, Greater China in a statement.

The launch of the design and development accelerator comes at a time when growth of iPhone sales has slowed down in the nation (and elsewhere), though some devices such as the iPad continue to see strong momentum. The slower growth for Apple’s marquee product is in part a direct result of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.

“We believe the economic environment in China has been further impacted by rising trade tensions with the United States. As the climate of mounting uncertainty weighed on financial markets, the effects appeared to reach consumers as well, with traffic to our retail stores and our channel partners in China declining as the quarter progressed,” Tim Cook wrote to shareholders ahead of Q1 2019 earnings report.

Some analysts expect Apple will report a surge in its services revenue in the third quarter, thanks to a turnaround in China.

The design and development accelerator in the country’s largest city would help developers create more quality apps, which would then improve user experience and incentivize more spendings on Apple’s ecosystem of services and products.

At its developer accelerator in India — the company’s maiden developer centre of its kind anywhere — many employees who work for major companies such as Flipkart and Paytm have participated in the program and used the learnings from the sessions to improve their companies’ apps. Many Apple employees and other experts are readily available at these sessions to coach developers.

The Cupertino-giant has also opened other design and coding programs in many other markets over the years. In March, Apple said it was expanding app development curriculum at partner schools in Singapore and opening a second developer academy in Indonesia. It also maintains a similar program in Italy. Earlier this year, Apple also accepted 11 app development companies founded by women to an entrepreneur camp.

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

NTWRK moves into live IRL events

NTWRK, is a fascinating experiment in live video shopping for the iPhone set. It’s been described as a blend of QVC and Twitter and Twitch and they just got a new slice of money from investors like Drake and Live Nation to expand into physical events.

There’s been a bunch of attempts at this kind of hybrid event shopping experience, but none of them have quite hit a home run yet. NTWRK was a pretty compelling experience even at launch last year. The core experience is a live show presented only in NTWRK’s app, where guests can talk about products which become available in the app as the show airs.

There was a built in opportunity to offer limited availability streetwear and sneakers, and an audience that founder Aaron Levant knew very well from his time running ComplexCon and Agenda, two big streetwear and marketing shows.

One of the first shows starred Ben Baller and Jeff Staple, and featured a drop of a new colorway of Staple’s iconic Pigeon Dunk from Nike . I tuned in and found the experience to be compelling in its own way. The live show provided context for the product and the interface let you purchase in a couple taps of a button (the shoes sold out immediately and the app inevitably crashed from the rush of hype beasts). The stream and app have gotten more stable since then.

IMG 6407

Since the launch, NTWRK has experimented with various product areas and promotions. The latest funding is enabling expansion back into physical events and some new angles on the NTWRK model.

After getting kicked out of high school in 10th grade, Levant went on to work in graphic design, sales and marketing for an LA streetwear brand. That led to trade show attending and eventually to Levant founding his own show, Agenda in 2003. Agenda got bigger over the next 10 years, becoming one of the biggest action sports, streetwear and lifestyle tradeshows in the world. He sold a majority of Agenda to ReeedPOP, which owns Comic Con and stayed on in a development role. Eventually, he developed other shows including ComplexCon, a smash hit culture and sneaker show in partnership with Complex.

Last year, Levant left to found NTWRK.

“That transition really happened through a conversation that I had with Jimmy Iovine in September of 2017,” Levant told me in an interview last year. “I got introduced to him by a friend. He expressed his interest in a new company for him and his son, and we had similar interests and ideas around that. That night that I met him, I went home, stayed up all night to 4:00 in the morning and wrote the entire business plan for NTWRK.”

Iovine ended up as an investor via the MSA Enterprises vehicle, along with Warner Bros. Digital Networks, LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jimmy’s son Jamie is a co-founder and Head of Fandom at NTWRK.

One of Levant’s big takeaways from his time with ComplexCon and Agenda was that the physical audiences were valuable but a digital audience is built to foster through earned media and user-generated content around these lifestyle events.

“There’s 50,000 people in the room but I think there’s probably a million people online who want to engage with those products and that content,” said Levant. “Maybe I felt a little bit like I was using my skill set and I wasn’t extracting the full value out of it because I wasn’t in the e-com or digital media business in the past. I think that was a key unlock for me, how do I do that better with a phase two of my career?”

The past few months have seen a series of high profile launches and collaborations with sneaker and streetwear people. And now, the Live Nation and Drake tie up will lead to artist-driven collections sold on NTWRK’s app, unique ticket access, promo bundles developed by NTWKR and, yes, a new live event called NTWRK Presents that will launch in Q4.

In recent months, Drake sold some of his tour merch exclusively on NTWRK.

Screen Shot 2019 06 26 at 4.32.30 PM

They’ve also been running auctions for rare resell market items like Supreme guitars and sneakers.

The concept of shopping as entertainment is far from new. There’s a reason that the easy buzzphrase people attach to NTWRK is ‘QVC for millennials’. But there has yet to be a platform that has managed to pin together the right culture with the right delivery mechanism at the right time. NTWRK has a chance to do this I believe because Levant has the taste for it, but also because he’s backing into this from a place of understanding when it comes to culture.

Too many times we see the technology of the platform take center stage — a clever delivery mechanism or good design. But, fundamentally, most tech companies are absolutely crap at culture. They’re too homogenic — they do not allow for and encourage the influence of the spaces that they’re catering to.

Black Twitter made Twitter. Creators of color made Vine. Asian and Indian users dominate Whatsapp. But when there is an attempt to engage even niche cultures in commerce or monetization the lack of inclusivity and understanding causes them to just screw up over and over.

Having started with live events that existed primarily as a framework for culture to create its own moments, Levant and NTWRK are in a better position to figure this out. If you’ve ever been to an Agenda or ComplexCon you know what I mean. There’s this pungent melange of culture, music, money, rare goods and ephemeral moment creation happening. The challenge is to make that work in a digital context, of course, and then to sort of ‘re-export’ that back into event formats.

“I think that, as I’ve said countless times, physical events have a huge organic digital ripple, but we needed the digital platform to already be established and scalable before we implemented the physical events, to have an effect on the larger digital platform,” Levant says about moving NTWRK into an IRL context. “In my previous roles, I spent 15 years really focusing on the physical experiential events and towards the end of my career doing that I came to the realization I was doing it backwards.”

I don’t necessarily think that this model’s going to work for everybody. I think Levant and co have a unique skill of bringing people together and I think the celebrity thing is a strong overall angle – right down to the investors.

“Obviously Drake is an icon that has massive influence over all of pop culture and I think there are few people in that category of him that can capture consumer’s imagination,” says Levant. “I couldn’t think of someone better than him to be involved with our company.”

There are other angles too, though, that still have the same thing at the core. NTWRK is creating this engaged audience and they’re giving them value and then offering them a very on-the-face, honest transaction: “Look, here’s this thing. If you buy it, we benefit. Thanks, peace.”

That kind of interaction model is foreign to media because of this idea that advertising is the only gain and the only way to build that monetary relationship. I think people are going to start to get wise to that but they still are very resistant.

“We were out there, talking to every brand and every agency in the world and it’s really interesting to watch who gets it and who’s totally confused,” said Levant when we spoke about the launch. “It’s really fun to have these conversations because people are just like, ‘Wait, what are you doing?’

They have a really hard time grasping it and they don’t know who we should talk to. Should we be talking to the media buying team? Should we be talking to the wholesale team? Should we talk to the PR team? I’m like, ‘No, we’re talking to everybody.””

“Companies tend to divide their business up into these silos, these business units and these internal categories and they usually don’t collaborate and play well together and when you get these big, global organizations, their head’s spinning because they don’t know who we should talk to because no one’s done this one-to-one yet.”

Right now as I write this I’m watching Bobby Hundreds talk live about his memoir This is Not A T-Shirt — while selling a bundle that includes the book and, yes, a t-shirt. Hundreds (Bobby Kim), built a streetwear brand when it was definitely not a thing to build a streetwear brand.

The bundle runs $50. I’m thinking about buying it.

5G reportedly coming to premium iPhones in 2020, all models in 2021

The latest report from renowned Apple leaker Ming-Chi Kuo already has an eye on 2020 and beyond. The news lines up with other reports around future iPhones, noting that the high-end versions of the handset are set to get 5G in the second half of next year. By 2021, all models are set to be on-board with the next-gen wireless standard.

The report is inline with recent rumors that have the company holding off on 5G until 2020. That puts Apple somewhat behind the curve of a number of Android manufacturers who have been racing to get the technology to market. Of course, those companies (including Samsung, LG and even OnePlus) may be putting the cart before the horse, with wireless carriers providing extremely limited access to the tech through the end of 2019.

Apple’s push into 5G is believed to be a primary driver behind the company’s recent decision to make nice with Qualcomm, though Kuo believes that the company is shooting for 2022/2023 to begin manufacturing its own wireless chips. That would help Apple further divorce itself on reliance from third party component makers, which seems to have been the plan all along.

The report has Apple continuing to release three models of iPhone later next year. The list includes a 5.4 inch and 6.7 inch OLED models, making the smaller iPhone even smaller and the larger even larger. The XR successor, meanwhile, would maintain a 6.1 inch display, getting upgraded to OLED next year, while only offering up an LTE modem — a move that could muddy the waters a bit for consumers.

Facebook collected device data on 187,000 users using banned snooping app

Facebook obtained personal and sensitive device data on about 187,000 users of its now-defunct Research app, which Apple banned earlier this year after the app violated its rules.

The social media giant said in a letter to Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office — which TechCrunch obtained — that it collected data on 31,000 users in the U.S., including 4,300 teenagers. The rest of the collected data came from users in India.

Earlier this year, a TechCrunch investigation found both Facebook and Google were abusing their Apple-issued enterprise developer certificates, designed to only allow employees to run iPhone and iPad apps used only inside the company. The investigation found the companies were building and providing apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store, in violation of Apple’s rules. The apps paid users in return for collecting data on how participants used their devices and to understand app habits by gaining access to all of the network data in and out of their device.

Apple banned the apps by revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate — and later Google’s enterprise certificate. In doing so, the revocation knocked offline both companies’ fleet of internal iPhone or iPad apps that relied on the same certificates.

But in response to lawmakers’ questions, Apple said it didn’t know how many devices installed Facebook’s rule-violating app.

“We know that the provisioning profile for the Facebook Research app was created on April 19, 2017, but this does not necessarily correlate to the date that Facebook distributed the provisioning profile to end users,” said Timothy Powderly, Apple’s director of federal affairs, in his letter.

Facebook said the app dated back to 2016.

TechCrunch also obtained the letters sent by Apple and Google to lawmakers in early March, but were never made public.

These “research” apps relied on willing participants to download the app from outside the app store and use the Apple-issued developer certificates to install the apps. Then, the apps would install a root network certificate, allowing the app to collect all the data out of the device — like web browsing histories, encrypted messages and mobile app activity — potentially also including data from their friends — for competitive analysis.

A response by Facebook about the number of users involved in Project Atlas (Image: TechCrunch)

In Facebook’s case, the research app — dubbed Project Atlas — was a repackaged version of its Onavo VPN app, which Facebook was forced to remove from Apple’s App Store last year for gathering too much device data.

Just this week, Facebook relaunched its research app as Study, only available on Google Play and for users who have been approved through Facebook’s research partner, Applause. Facebook said it would be more transparent about how it collects user data.

Facebook’s vice president of public policy Kevin Martin defended the company’s use of enterprise certificates, saying it “was a relatively well-known industry practice.” When asked, a Facebook spokesperson didn’t quantify this further. Later, TechCrunch found dozens of apps that used enterprise certificates to evade the app store.

Facebook previously said it “specifically ignores information shared via financial or health apps.” In its letter to lawmakers, Facebook stuck to its guns, saying its data collection was focused on “analytics,” but confirmed “in some isolated circumstances the app received some limited non-targeted content.”

“We did not review all of the data to determine whether it contained health or financial data,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We have deleted all user-level market insights data that was collected from the Facebook Research app, which would include any health or financial data that may have existed.”

But Facebook didn’t say what kind of data, only that the app didn’t decrypt “the vast majority” of data sent by a device.

Facebook describing the type of data it collected — including “limited, non-targeted content” (Image: TechCrunch)

Google’s letter, penned by public policy vice president Karan Bhatia, did not provide a number of devices or users, saying only that its app was a “small scale” program. When reached, a Google spokesperson did not comment by our deadline.

Google also said it found “no other apps that were distributed to consumer end users,” but confirmed several other apps used by the company’s partners and contractors, which no longer rely on enterprise certificates.

Google explaining which of its apps were improperly using Apple-issued enterprise certificates (Image: TechCrunch)

Apple told TechCrunch that both Facebook and Google “are in compliance” with its rules as of the time of publication. At its annual developer conference last week, the company said it now “reserves the right to review and approve or reject any internal use application.”

Facebook’s willingness to collect this data from teenagers — despite constant scrutiny from press and regulators — demonstrates how valuable the company sees market research on its competitors. With its restarted paid research program but with greater transparency, the company continues to leverage its data collection to keep ahead of its rivals.

Facebook and Google came off worse in the enterprise app abuse scandal, but critics said in revoking enterprise certificates Apple retains too much control over what content customers have on their devices.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are said to be examining the big four tech giants — Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google-owner Alphabet — for potentially falling afoul of U.S. antitrust laws.

Postmates taps longtime Apple engineer to boost autonomous delivery efforts

Postmates has hired Apple veteran and author Ken Kocienda as a principal software engineer at Postmates X, the team building the food delivery company’s semi-autonomous sidewalk rover, Serve.

Kocienda, author of “Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs,” spent 15 years at Apple focused on human interface design, collaborating with engineers to develop the first iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Kocienda left Apple in 2017 to focus on his book.

Now, he’s picked Postmates as his next project, citing the team’s spirit and energy as motivation for joining.

“My goal throughout my career has not been technology for the sake of opportunity, I am interested in making product experiences that people out in the world will find useful and meaningful,” Kocienda tells TechCrunch. “It’s not about the technology or just the design, it’s about the technology and design coming together.”


Postmates unveiled Serve, their human-like delivery robot, in December. The semi-autonomous rover uses cameras and lidar to navigate sidewalks and can carry 50 pounds for up to 25 miles after one charge. To ensure safety, the team has a human pilot remotely monitoring the Serve fleets, and each rover has a “Help” button, touchscreen and video chat display for customers or passers-by to use if necessary. The company said they had planned to roll out the bots in 2019, though no pilots have been officially announced yet.

Kocienda said he is working on a variety of tasks within the Postmates X team. Just yesterday, he was focused on creating more expressions for the robot.

“We are spending a lot of time going in and refining and inventing new ways that Serve can communicate,” he said. “It’s not like we are a robotics startup. We have a business rolling, so part of what is interesting to me is that we can mine the data we have and use the intelligence we have to improve the [Serve] experience end-to-end.”

The purpose of Postmates’ incoming fleet of semi-autonomous rovers is not to eliminate the role of human drivers but to make their routes more efficient. If, say, a Postmates customer orders food from a nearby restaurant, Serve could pick up the food, potentially even get back into a car with a human driver, then get back out of the car to complete the last-mile delivery. This saves the driver from sitting in traffic and gets the customer their food much faster, ideally.

One questions how humans might respond to these rovers, however, if they are roaming the streets independently. To protect them from damage or defacement, Postmates is making them as human-like as possible, complete with a set of “eyes.”

“We want to make it socially intelligent,” Kocienda explained. “We want people, when they see Serve going down the street, to smile at it and to be happy to see it there … It’s going to have this halo effect for Postmates. It’s going to be a brand ambassador for Postmates.”

Postmates, headquartered in San Francisco, is expected to go public later this year. Most recently, the company lined up a $100 million pre-IPO financing that valued the business at $1.85 billion. Postmates is backed by Tiger Global, BlackRock, Spark Capital, Uncork Capital, Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and others.

With iOS 13, Apple locks out apps from accessing users’ private notes in Contacts

Apple is closing a loophole that allowed app developers to access users’ potentially sensitive and private data. With the launch of iOS 13, apps that request access to users’ Contacts will no longer be able to read the data in the “Notes” field of those address book entries.

For years, security professionals have warned people not to store private information in their phone’s Address Book because it’s not protected or encrypted in any way. And that makes it vulnerable.

Yet, people continued to use their Address Book as a makeshift password manager. Or they would enter in a variety of other private information into the Notes field in Contacts.

Perhaps they’d note their ATM pin code, the door code for their home, a vault code, a social security number, credit card information, and more. They may also have written down private notes about a person that they wouldn’t want shared.

However, when an iOS app asked for access to a user’s Contacts, it would receive all this data from the Notes field, in addition to the name, address, email and phone number stored.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference this week, the company announced that would no longer be the case.

The Notes field, Apple said, could include potentially sensitive details like sneaky comments about the boss. In reality, many users’ Notes field may have contained much worse than that.

The company explained that most apps have no need to request this private Notes data, so this change won’t impact them. However, if an app developer does believe it has a valid reason for accessing the Notes field, they’ll be able to file a request for an exception.

Most users probably didn’t think too much about this problem. After all, those who were smart enough not to use their Address Book for sensitive information won’t care about this change because it doesn’t impact them.

And those who didn’t know any better now have Apple stepping in on their behalf to make sure their private data stays private.