How to make the most of iOS 14 widgets and iPhone home screen customization

You’ve probably seen the screenshots going around that show iOS home screens that differ considerably from the stock options that Apple provides. Yes, if you’re an Android user you’re probably laughing at iPhone owners for finally (nearly) catching up to the customization features they’ve had for years, but if you’re an iOS fan, you probably just want to know how to join in. It’s actually relatively easy — provided you’ve got some time to spare, and you don’t mind a few slightly hacky workarounds (don’t worry, no jailbreaking required).

Widgets

The big new addition that’s prompting all the shared screens across social media are home screen widgets, which are supported under iOS 14 for the first time. These can be either first or third-party, and are included with apps you download from the App Store. There are a number of developers who pushed to ensure they were ready at or near the launch of iOS, and Sarah has created a growing list of some of the best for you to check out if you’re not sure where to start.

One of my personal favorite widget apps is Widgetsmith, an app that, as its name suggests, was created pretty much entirely for the purpose of making them. It allows you a range of customization options, has a number of handy, useful functions, including calendar, weather and clock, and comes with different font choices to best suit your style. I’ve always aimed to create a clean, single-tone look with iOS as much as possible, and Widgetsmith is the best I’ve found so far for creating home screen displays that look like they’re borderless (provided your iOS wallpaper is a solid color that matches one of those the app supports).

Widgets are great at providing right on your home screen (where you need it) at-a-glance information that you don’t typically want to dive into an app to retrieve. Some can shortcut to useful features, like the search widget built into Google’s iOS app, but most are made primarily to reduce the amount of time you spend actually inside the apps themselves.

Custom app icons

While Widgets are new, another big component of this customization push is not — the ability to create custom home screen icons for iOS apps. That’s been around ever since Apple introduced its Shortcuts app on iOS a couple of years ago, but many people are discovering the feature for the first time as a result of the increased attention around home screen customization with the introduction of Widgets in iOS 14.

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Creating custom icons on iOS isn’t actually doing that, strictly speaking — what you’re in fact doing is creating new Shortcuts that trigger the launch of an app, and using a custom image for that bookmark that then lives on your home screen instead. This is not an ideal solution, because it means that A) you won’t have any notification badges on your “apps,” and B) the system first directs you to Apple’s Shortcuts app, which opens for a split-second before bumping you into the actual app you selected for the shortcut.

Apple clearly didn’t design this Shortcuts feature for this use (opening a target app is meant to be the start of a string of automated actions), but Apple also hasn’t really ever seemed interested in letting users choose their own custom icons, so it’s the best we can do for now. Luckily, the process is relatively simple. Unluckily, there are a lot of steps involved, so it’s pretty time-consuming to customize your entire home screen.

Here’s a video of how to do this as simply as possible:

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

There are some fantastic examples out there of what creative individuals have been able to do with this, given a little time and some elbow grease. With more widget options coming online all the time, we’ve probably only begun to see the limits of testing the boundaries of what’s possible under Apple’s rules, too.

Are high churn rates depressing earnings for app developers?

Ever since Apple opened up subscription monetization to more apps in 2016 — and enticed developers with an 85/15 split on revenue from customers that remain subscribed for more than a year — subscription monetization and retention has felt like the Holy Grail for app developers. So much so that Google quickly followed suit in what appeared to be an example of healthy competition for developers in the mobile OS duopoly.

But how does that split actually work out for most apps? Turns out, the 85/15 split — which Apple is keen to mention anytime developers complain about the App Store rev share — doesn’t have a meaningful impact for most developers. Because churn.

No matter how great an app is, subscribers are going to churn. Sometimes it’s because of a credit card expiring or some other billing issue. And sometimes it’s more of a pause, and the user comes back after a few months. But the majority of churn comes from subscribers who, for whatever reason, decide that the app just isn’t worth paying for anymore. If a subscriber churns before the one-year mark, the developer never sees that 85% split. And even if the user resubscribes, Apple and Google reset the clock if a subscription has lapsed for more than 60 days. Rather convenient… for Apple and Google.

Top mobile apps like Netflix and Spotify report churn rates in the low single digits, but they are the outliers. According to our data, the median churn rate for subscription apps is around 13% for monthly subscriptions and around 50% for annual. Monthly subscription churn is generally a bit higher in the first few months, then it tapers off. But an average churn of 13% leaves just 20% of subscribers crossing that magical 85/15 threshold.

In practice, what this means is that, for all the hype around the 85/15 split, very few developers are going to see a meaningful increase in revenue:

Apple won’t force developers to let users opt out of tracking until next year

At its global developer conference in June, Apple said its forthcoming iOS 14 update would allow users to opt out of in-app ad tracking, a privacy feature that quickly drew ire from advertising giants over fears that it would make it harder to deliver targeted ads to users.

But now Apple is delaying enforcing the feature until “early next year”, the company confirmed.

iOS 14, expected out later this year, will contain a new prompt that asks users whether they would like to opt into this kind of targeted ad tracking. Developers will be able to integrate this prompt into their apps as soon as iOS 14 is released, but they will not be required to, as Apple indicated they would earlier.

In a statement, Apple said:

We believe technology should protect users’ fundamental right to privacy, and that means giving users tools to understand which apps and websites may be sharing their data with other companies for advertising or advertising measurement purposes, as well as the tools to revoke permission for this tracking. When enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis. We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.

Although Apple cites the necessity of giving developers time, major advertising companies like Facebook have warned that the change could severely impact their operations. “Apple’s updates may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14,” the company said in a statement last week.

Putting these lucrative partnerships in jeopardy could hit Apple’s bottom line as well and may even affect whether some apps or services are available at all.

The exact date when the policy would be enforced, and other details of this compromise, will be announced later.

Apple said to soon offer subscription bundles combining multiple of its services

Apple is reportedly getting ready to launch new bundles of its various subscription services, according to Bloomberg. The bundled services packages, said to be potentially called ‘Apple One,’ will include Apple services including Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, Apple News+ and iCloud in a number of different tiered offerings, all for one fee lower that would be lower than subscribing to each individually.

Bloomberg says that these could launch as early as October, which is when the new iPhone is said to be coming to market. Different package options will include one entry-level offering with Apple Music and Apple TV+, alongside an upgrade option that adds Apple Arcade, and other that also includes Apple News+. A higher-priced option will also bundle in extra iCloud storage, according to the report, though Bloomberg also claims that these arrangements and plans could still change prior to launch.

While the final pricing isn’t included in the report, it does say that the aim is to save subscribers between $2 and $5 per month depending on the tier, vs. the standard cost of subscribing to those services currently. All subscriptions would also work with Apple’s existing Family Sharing system, meaning up to six members of a single household can have access through Apple’s existing shared family digital goods infrastructure.

Apple is also said to be planning to continue its strategy of bundling free subscriptions to its services with new hardware purchases – a tactic it used last year with the introduction of Apple TV+, which it offered free for a year to customers who bought recently-released Apple hardware.

Service subscription bundling is move that a lot of Apple observers have been calling for basically ever since Apple started investing more seriously in its service options. The strategy makes a lot of sense, especially in terms of helping Apple boost adoption of its services which aren’t necessarily as popular as some of the others. It also provides a way for the company to begin to build out a more comprehensive and potentially stable recurring revenue business similar to something like Amazon Prime, which is a regular standout success story for Amazon in terms of its fiscal performance.

Apple goes to war with the gaming industry

Most gamers may not view Apple as a games company to the same degree that they see Sony with PlayStation or Microsoft with Xbox, but the iPhone-maker continues to uniformly drive the industry with decisions made in the Apple App Store.

The company made the news a couple times late this week for App Store approvals. Once for denying a gaming app, and the other for approving one.

The denial was Microsoft’s xCloud gaming app, something the Xbox folks weren’t too psyched about. Microsoft xCloud is one of the Xbox’s most substantial software platform plays in quite some time, allowing gamers to live-stream titles from the cloud and play console-quality games across a number of devices. It’s a huge effort that’s been in preview for a bit, but is likely going to officially launch next month. The app had been in a Testflight preview for iOS, but as Microsoft looked to push it to primetime, Apple said not so fast.

The app that was approved was the Facebook Gaming app which Facebook has been trying to shove through the App Store for months to no avail. It was at last approved Friday after the company stripped one of its two central features, a library of playable mobile games. In a curt statement to The New York Times, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the stand-alone Facebook Gaming app.”

Microsoft’s Xbox team also took the unusually aggressive step of calling out Apple in a statement that reads, in-part, “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

Microsoft is still a $1.61 trillion company so don’t think I’m busting out the violin for them, but iOS is the world’s largest gaming platform, something CEO Tim Cook proudly proclaimed when the company launched its own game subscription platform, Apple Arcade, last year. Apple likes to play at its own pace, and all of these game-streaming platforms popping up at the same time seem poised to overwhelm them.

Image Credits: Microsoft

There are a few things about cloud gaming apps that seem at odds with some of the App Store’s rules, yet these rules are, of course, just guidelines written by Apple.  For Apple’s part, they basically said (full statement later) that the App Store had curators for a reason and that approving apps like these means they can’t individually review the apps which compromises the App Store experience.

To say that’s “the reason” seems disingenuous because the company has long approved platforms to operate on the App Store without stamping approval on the individual pieces of content that can be accessed. With “Games” representing the App Store’s most popular category, Apple likely cares much more about keeping their own money straight.

Analysis from CNBC pinned Apple’s 2019 App Store total revenue at $50 billion.

When these cloud gaming platforms like xCloud scale with zero iOS support, millions of Apple customers, myself included, are actually going to be pissed that their iPhone can’t do something that their friend’s phone can. Playing console-class titles on the iPhone would be a substantial feature upgrade for consumers. There are about 90 million Xbox Live users out there, a substantial number of which are iPhone owners I would imagine. The games industry is steadily rallying around game subscription networks and cloud gaming as a move to encourage consumers to sample more titles and discover more indie hits.

I’ve seen enough of these sagas to realize that sometimes parties will kick off these fights purely as a tactic to get their way in negotiations and avoid workarounds, but it’s a tactic that really only works when consumers have a reason to care. Most of the bigger App Store developer spats have played in the background and come to light later, but at this point the Xbox team undoubtedly sees that Apple isn’t positioned all that well to wage an App Store war in the midst of increased antitrust attention over a cause that seems wholly focused on maintaining their edge in monetizing the games consumers play on Apple screens.

CEO Tim Cook spent an awful lot of time in his Congressional Zoom room answering question about perceived anticompetitiveness on the company’s application storefront.

The big point of tension I could see happening behind closed doors is that plenty of these titles offer in-game transactions and just because that in-app purchase framework is being live-streamed from a cloud computer doesn’t mean that a user isn’t still using experiencing that content on an Apple device. I’m not sure whether this is actually the point of contention, but it seems like it would be a major threat to Apple’s ecosystem-wide in-app purchase raking.

The App Store does not currently support cloud gaming on Nvidia’s GeForce platform or Google’s Stadia which are also both available on Android phones. Both of these platforms are more limited in scope than Microsoft’s offering which is expected to launch with wider support and pick up wider adoption.

While I can understand Apple’s desire to not have gaming titles ship that might not function properly on an iPhone because of system constraints, that argument doesn’t apply so well to the cloud gaming world where apps are translating button presses to the cloud and the cloud is sending them back the next engine-rendered frames of their game. Apple is being forced to get pretty particular about what media types of apps fall under the “reader” designation. The inherent interactivity of a cloud gaming platform seems to be the differentiation Apple is pushing here — as well as the interfaces that allows gamers to directly launch titles with an interface that’s far more specialized than some generic remote desktop app.

All of these platforms arrive after the company already launched Apple Arcade, a non-cloud gaming product made in the image of what Apple would like to think are the values it fosters in the gaming world: family friendly indie titles with no intrusive ads, no bothersome micro-transactions and Apple’s watchful review.

Apple’s driver’s seat position in the gaming world has been far from a wholly positive influence for the industry. Apple has acted as a gatekeeper, but the fact is plenty of the “innovations” pushed through as a result of App Store policies have been great for Apple but questionable for the development of a gamer-friendly games industry.

Apple facilitated the advent of free-to-play games by pushing in-app purchases which have been abused recklessly over the years as studios have been irresistibly pushed to structure their titles around principles of addiction. Mobile gaming has been one of the more insane areas of Wild West startup growth over the past decade and Apple’s mechanics for fueling quick transactions inside these titles has moved fast and broken things.

Take a look at the 200 top grossing games in the App Store (data via Sensor Tower) and you’ll see that all 199 of them rely solely on in-app micro-transaction to reach that status — Microsoft’s Minecraft, ranked 50th costs $6.99 to download, though it also offers in-app purchases.

In 2013, the company settled a class-action lawsuit that kicked off after parents sued Apple for making it too easy for kids to make in-app purchases. In 2014, Apple settled a case with the FTC over the same mechanism for $32 million. This year, a lawsuit filed against Apple questioned the legality of “loot box” in-app purchases which gave gamers randomized digital awards.

“Through the games it sells and offers for free to consumers through its AppStore, Apple engages in predatory practices enticing consumers, including children to engage in gambling and similar addictive conduct in violation of this and other laws designed to protect consumers and to prohibit such practices,” read that most recent lawsuit filing.

This is, of course, not how Apple sees its role in the gaming industry. In a statement to Business Insider responding to the company’s denial of Microsoft’s xCloud, Apple laid out its messaging.

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

The impact has — quite obviously — not been uniformly negative, but Apple has played fast and loose with industry changes when they benefit the mothership. I won’t act like plenty of Sony and Microsoft’s actions over the years haven’t offered similar affronts to gamers, but Apple exercises the industry-wide sway it holds, operating the world’s largest gaming platform, too often and gamers should be cautious in trusting the App Store owner to make decisions that have their best interests at heart.


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Apple’s iOS 14 will give users option to decline ad tracking

A new version of iOS wouldn’t be the same without a bunch of security and privacy updates. Apple on Monday announced a ton of new features it’ll bake into iOS 14, expected out later this year with the release of new iPhones and iPads.

Apple said it will allow users to share your approximate location with apps, instead of your precise location. It’ll allow apps to take your rough location without identifying precisely where you are. It’s another option that users have when they give over their location. Last year, Apple allowed users to give over their location once so that apps can’t track a person as they go about their day.

iPhones with iOS 14 will also get a camera recording indicator in the status bar. It’s a similar feature to the camera light that comes with Macs and MacBooks. The recording indicator will sit in the top bar of your iPhone’s display when your front or rear camera is in use.

But the biggest changes are for app developers themselves, Apple said. In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect: by allowing users to reject tracking, it’ll reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will also require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps ask for. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It’s a feature that Android users have been able to see app permissions for years on the Google Play app store.

The move is Apple’s latest assault against the ad industry as part of the tech giant’s privacy-conscious mantra.

The ad industry has frequently been the target of Apple’s barbs, amid a string of controversies that have embroiled both advertisers and data-hungry tech giants, like Facebook and Google, which make the bulk of their profits from targeted advertising. As far back as 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said its Silicon Valley rivals are “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.” Apple, which makes its money selling hardware, “elected not to do that,” said Cook.

As targeted advertising became more invasive, Apple countered by baking in new privacy features to its software, like its intelligence tracking prevention technology and allowing Safari users to install content blockers that prevent ads and trackers from loading.

Just last year Apple told developers to stop using third-party trackers in apps for children or face rejection from the App Store.

Apple Pay and iOS App Store under formal antitrust probe in Europe

Apple is under formal investigation by antitrust regulators in European Union — following a number of complaints related to how it operates the iOS App Store and also its payment offering, Apple Pay.

The Commission said today that it has concerns that conditions and restrictions applied by the tech giant may be distorting competition in a number of areas, following a preliminary probe of the issues.

Back in March 2019, European music streaming service Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple — railing very publicly against what it dubbed an “Apple tax”; aka the 30% tariff the tech giant applies on accepting payments in apps on its App Store. Spotify also accused Apple of impeding its business by applying arbitrary rules — such as making it harder to offer its own users discounts.

The Commission confirmed today that it’s looking formally into whether Apple’s rules for app developers on the distribution of apps via the App Store violate EU competition rules. It said the probe focuses on Apple’s mandatory requirement that app developers use its own proprietary in-app purchase system, as well as restrictions applied on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

As well as the very public complaint from Spotify, the Commission has received a similar complaint from an unnamed e-book/audiobook distributor related to the impact of the App Store rules on competition.

Two specific restrictions imposed by Apple in its agreements with companies that wish to distribute apps to users of Apple devices will be investigated, per the Commission — namely [emphasis its]:

(i)   The mandatory use of Apple’s own proprietary in-app purchase system “IAP” for the distribution of paid digital content. Apple charges app developers a 30% commission on all subscription fees through IAP.

(ii)  Restrictions on the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing possibilities outside of apps. While Apple allows users to consume content such as music, e-books and audiobooks purchased elsewhere (e.g. on the website of the app developer) also in the app, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper.

“Following a preliminary investigation the Commission has concerns that Apple’s restrictions may distort competition for music streaming services on Apple’s devices,” it writes in a press release. “Apple’s competitors have either decided to disable the in-app subscription possibility altogether or have raised their subscription prices in the app and passed on Apple’s fee to consumers.

“In both cases, they were not allowed to inform users about alternative subscription possibilities outside of the app. The IAP obligation also appears to give Apple full control over the relationship with customers of its competitors subscribing in the app, thus dis-intermediating its competitors from important customer data while Apple may obtain valuable data about the activities and offers of its competitors.”

Commenting in a statement, Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager — who heads up competition policy for the bloc — added: Mobile applications have fundamentally changed the way we access content. Apple sets the rules for the distribution of apps to users of iPhones and iPads. It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books. I have therefore decided to take a close look at Apple’s App Store rules and their compliance with EU competition rules.”

Vestager’s reference to a “gatekeeper” role has specific significance as the Commission is currently consulting on updating regulations for digital platforms — including floating the possibility of ex ante regulation for platforms deemed to be gatekeepers vis-a-vis other suppliers.  (In parallel, the Commission is consulting on updates to competition law that may allow it to intervene more swiftly in future, in instances where it suspects digital markets have ‘tipped’.)

Spotify welcomed the Commission’s action, writing in a statement:

Today is a good day for consumers, Spotify and other app developers across Europe and around the world. Apple’s anticompetitive behavior has intentionally disadvantaged competitors, created an unlevel playing field, and deprived consumers of meaningful choice for far too long. We welcome the European Commission’s decision to formally investigate Apple, and hope they’ll act with urgency to ensure fair competition on the iOS platform for all participants in the digital economy.

On Apple Pay, the Commission said a formal investigation of how it operates the payment tech will look at the “terms, conditions and other measures” Apple applies for integrating the payment solution in merchant apps and websites on iPhones and iPads; Apple’s limitation of access to the NFC functionality on iPhones for payments in stores; and allegations of “refusals of access to Apple Pay”.

Following a preliminary probe, the Commission said it is concerned Apple’s processes “may distort competition and reduce choice and innovation”.

It also notes that Apple Pay is the only mobile payment solution that is allowed to access NFC technology on iOS devices for making payments in stores.

“The investigation will also focus on alleged restrictions of access to Apple Pay for specific products of rivals on iOS and iPadOS smart mobile devices,” it added.

The Commission said it will carry out the investigations “as a matter of priority”, but there’s no set timeframe for how long this process might take.

EU antitrust investigations have tended to take a number of years from an announcement of a formal probe to a decision being reached. (Although, in an ongoing investigation against Broadcom, Vestager recently dusted off a tool to accelerate regulatory intervention — but as yet there’s no formal ‘statement of objections’ against Apple so it remains to be seen how this case will proceed, and whether regulators may seek to speed up any intervention.)

Reached for comment on the Commission’s announcement of the two antitrust investigations, Apple dubbed the complaints “baseless” — choosing to throw shade on the complainants by claiming these companies are after “a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else”.

Here’s Apple’s statement on the two investigations in full:

Throughout our history, Apple has created groundbreaking new products and services in some of the most fiercely competitive markets in the world. We follow the law in everything we do and we embrace competition at every stage because we believe it pushes us to deliver even better results.

We developed the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs and developers. We’re deeply proud of the countless developers who’ve innovated and found success through our platform. And as we’ve grown together, we’ve continued to deliver innovative new services — like Apple Pay — that provide the very best customer experience while meeting industry-leading standards for privacy and security.

It’s disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else. We don’t think that’s right — we want to maintain a level playing field where anyone with determination and a great idea can succeed.

At the end of the day, our goal is simple: for our customers to have access to the best app or service of their choice, in a safe and secure environment. We welcome the opportunity to show the European Commission all we’ve done to make that goal a reality.

Apple has had a number of run-ins with EU regulators over the years — including a probe of its acquisition of Shazam (which was later cleared); a major investigation of ebook pricing; and a probe of tax benefits in Ireland which saw it on the hook for $15BN.

French competition regulators also recently fined the tech giant $1.2BN for anti-competitive sales tactics. It’s also been fined $27M by French regulators this year for throttling old iPhones.

This report was updated with comment from Spotify

Apple has just patched the recent iOS 13.5 jailbreak

Well that didn’t last long.

Apple has patched a security vulnerability that allowed hackers to build a jailbreak tool allowing deep access to the iPhone software.

In a security advisory, Apple acknowledged that it had fixed the vulnerability in iOS 13.5.1, posted Monday. The technology giant credited the unc0ver team, which released the jailbreak just last week, for finding the vulnerability.

Although details of the vulnerability are not yet public, Apple typically works quickly to patch vulnerabilities that allow jailbreaks, fearing that the same vulnerability could also be abused by malicious hackers.

In a tweet, one of the lead jailbreakers confirmed that updating to iOS 13.5.1 will close the vulnerability and render the jailbreak useless.

Jailbreaking is a popular way to allow users to break free from Apple’s “jail” — hence the term — that prevents deep access to an iPhone’s operating system. Apple has does this to improve device security and to reduce the surface area in which hackers can attack the software. But jailbreakers say breaking through those restrictions allows them greater customization over their iPhones in a way that most Android users are already used to.

Security experts typically advise against jailbreaking as it can expose a device owner to a greater range of attacks, while advising users to install their devices and software as soon as update become available.

Apple said iOS 13.5.1 also comes with new Memoji stickers and other bug fixes and improvements.

Update today. If security isn’t your thing, at least do it for the Memoji stickers.

Apple Watch designer reveals the device’s origins on its fifth birthday

Update: We mistakenly noted in an earlier version that Chaudhri had been a part of Microsoft’s Hololens team. The story has been updated to remove the reference. 

In his two decades at Apple, Imran Chaudhri worked on many of the company’s most iconic product lines, including the iPhone, iPad and Mac. The designer left the company in 2017 , but today he’s offering up some fun insight into Apple Watch’s beginnings on the wearable’s fifth birthday.

The thread is a treasure trove of fun facts about the device’s early days. One interesting tidbit that might not be a huge surprise to those following Apple at the time is that an early prototype of the Watch consisted of an iPod nano strapped to a watch band.

Five years before it finally entered the smartwatch market in earnest, Apple introduced a square touchscreen nano. Three years before the arrival of the first Pebble, people were already considering the smartwatch possibilities. Accessory makers quickly took advantage, introducing wrist bands that would let it function as a touchscreen music watch. That sixth-gen product ultimately served as a foundation for the popular device to come. 

Per Chaudhri:

i had just wrapped up ios5 and took it down to show the ID team what notification centre and siri was – and what it could be in the future. i never got to share it with steve. we lost him right after ios5.

Other interesting bits here include:

  • The Solar watch face was designed as “as a way for muslims observing ramadan to quickly see the position of the sun and for all to understand the sun’s relationship to time.”
  • The butterfly animation was created using real (albeit deceased) butterflies (one of which is now framed in his home).
  • The touch feature originally went by the name E.T. (electronic touch).
  • The Digital Touch drawing feature was inspired by his time as a graffiti artist.

Apple opens access to mobility data, offering insight into how COVID-19 is changing cities

Apple is providing a dataset derived from aggregated, anonymized information taken from users of its Maps navigational app, the company announced today. The data is collected as a set of “Mobility Trends Reports,” which are updated daily and which provide a look at the change in the number of routing requests made within the Maps app, which is the default routing app on iPhones, for three modes of transportation including driving, walking and transit.

Apple is quick to note that this information isn’t tied to any individuals, since Maps does not associate any mobility data with a user’s Apple ID, nor does it maintain any history of where people have been. In fact, Apple notes that all data collected by maps, including search terms and specific routing, is only ever tied to random rotating identifying numbers that are reset on a rolling basis. This anonymized, aggregated data is collected only to provide a city, country or region-level view, representing the change over time in the number of pedestrians, drivers and transit-takers in an area based on the number of times they open the app and ask for directions.

As far as signals go for measuring the decrease in outdoor activity in a given city, this is a pretty good one considering Apple’s install base and the fact that most users probably don’t bother installing or using a third-party app like Google Maps for their daily commuting or transportation needs.

The data is available to all directly from Apple’s website, and can be downloaded in a broadly compatible CSV format. You can also use the web-based version to search a particular location and see the overall trend for that area.

For an individual, this is more or less a curiosity, but the release f this info could be very useful for municipal, state and federal policy makers looking to study the impact of COVID-19, as well as the effect of strategies put in place to mitigate its spread, including social distancing, shelter-in-place and quarantining measures.

Apple has also announced that it’s working with Google on a new system-level, anonymized contact tracing system that both companies will first release as APIs for use by developers, before making them native built-in features that are supplemented by public health agency applications and guidance. Apple seems particularly eager to do what it can to assist with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, while still striving to ensure that these measures respect the privacy of their individual users. That’s a hard balance to strike in terms of taking effective action at a population level, but Apple’s reach is a powerful potential advantage to any tools it provides.