It’s been a while since Apple has released software with such craft and care, as is on display here. Without even using the apps, the screenshots stand on their own as an impressive feat. I love how these apps are sophisticated in scope whilst still highly accommodating to touch input. A fair few ‘pro’ apps that have come to iPad in recent years just assume the user is working with an attached keyboard and mouse. They basically give up on the touchscreen part of the tablet form factor, because it’s easier to get their desktop app ported that way. No such shortcuts have been taken here. You could ably use Final Cut and Logic with just your finger on an iPad screen. I love to see it.
When these apps ship in a couple of weeks time, there will immediately be a laundry list of complaints from pro users about missing features and reasons why these iPad apps can’t replace their Mac workflow; many of those reasons will be the fault of the platform itself, like file management or access to plugins and I/O. Those negative headlines will inevitably happen, but I don’t think it matters much. This is Apple seriously putting its stake in the ground, and some people will be able to use these apps for real right out of the gate. Apple can and will keep chipping away at solving the outstanding problems to capture more and more use cases.
Apple has been crying wolf about the iPad as a productivity machine for far too long. You can’t deny that this announcement is a great start to fight that narrative.
Humane, the secretive startup founded by ex-Apple software design chief Imran Chaudri, finally went public with Chaudri showing off their device for the first time at the TED conference last week. I’ve seen a recording of the 15-minute presentation, which unfortunately is yet to be officially published online.
Chaudri’s talk is centred on the premise that technology (mainly through the smartphone) has invaded all of our lives too much. The idea is that personalised artificial intelligence can be used to dramatically change how we interact with technology. Rather than proactively opening an app to do something, AI can be an ambient thing that is there when you need it, works in the background of your life, and mostly stays out of your way. To make this a reality, Humane is introducing a new product: a wearable that resembles a rectangular pin badge. Chaudri is wearing one on his jacket pocket during the presentation. He sets out the vision of their product as something that is “screenless, seamless and sensing”.
Chaudri demonstrates the unobtrusive utility of their device by asking it ‘Where can I find a gift for my wife before I have to leave tomorrow?’. The badge audibly responds with a suggestion of a nearby shopping district. It’s a cool demo in that it gives a more useful contextual reply than what we’d expect from a typical response from Siri or a similar voice assistant would give today to that same query, with the Humane system clearly being infused with large language model smarts. (Assuming the demo is legit and not scripted canned responses, of course).
However, I do not see how that demo justifies the form factor of a clip-on screenless badge. In fact, if I wanted to actually go to said shopping mall, I am left wanting a screen to visualise the area on the map and show me directions. Innately, then, I think that a phone with a smarter inbuilt assistant supersedes the Humane product, as does a smartwatch for that matter. Watches have screens but they are just as seamless and subtle as a wearable on the front of your jacket, I’d argue.
Humane’s counter to the visual information problem seems to be the inclusion of a short-throw projector in the badge. This allows the device to beam text and images to a nearby surface. If you are standing upright, away from a table, this means holding up your hand awkwardly in front of you so the badge can project stuff onto it. So, despite the screenless pitch, what they have essentially created is another screen after all; one with unstable reproduction (thanks to your naturally shaky arm/body), relatively low color fidelity and resolution, and uncomfortable ergonomics.
We don’t have much else to go on in terms of technical specification, but Chaudri did stress that the device is meant to be used wholly independently; ‘you don’t need to carry a phone anymore’ was not said, but certainly an implied notion. Maybe there’s room for another wearable accessory in our lives, and if Humane had positioned their product in that vein, I would be far less sceptical. I am not onboard with the presented vision that they are pioneering the primary future of personal computing.
Apple’s recent history of new product category launches denote major, culturally impactful, events: AirPods, Apple Watch, iPad, and of course — the pinnacle of the bunch — the iPhone. The Watch didn’t set the world on fire immediately, but I think it still qualifies to be among the bunch, racking up tens of millions of sales within two years. AirPods took a while to ramp up too.
The rumoured headset product is simply not going to meet that same level of appeal, but is that a necessarily a bad thing? It depends. If Apple presents it as the next big thing, laden with superlatives, then it will backfire. If it approaches its introduction in a more subdued fashion, in a similar vein to the launch of something like the Pro Display XDR, then it’s probably fine. Don’t set unrealistic expectations and people will not be disappointed. Apple Reality Pro is the start of a long journey, and the billions of dollars of research and development will eventually culminate in something monumental. Just not yet.
Being active in the augmented reality space is clearly important, and Apple has signalled as much with six major versions of ARKit under its belt already. The v1.0 headset hardware is the next step on the journey. In the best case, it will establish Apple as a market leader in the space, evangelise to developers and kickstart an ecosystem. It might make some inroads in the enterprise. I don’t think many ordinary people will get on board. The rumoured second-generation model has a better shot, but even that will probably be priced above $1000. But maybe by the time that second-gen comes out, Apple and developers noodling with the first-gen might have figured out some killer app use cases that will allow that price to be somewhat justified. If not, no biggie. There’s always the third-gen. And after that ships, the state of the art of technology will hopefully be closing in on making the ideal form factor — thin and light glasses — viable. And when that happens, Apple will be ready.
Eddy Cue once said, if Apple only did things that were as big as the iPhone, they would never release another product. Back when Apple was far less flush with cash, it had to make an immediate splash to survive, let alone thrive. Nowadays, the company doesn’t have that pressure, and it’s implausible that it could one-up itself forever. Sometimes it makes sense to start small.
Homes are varied and complicated and individual to each person. They represent a myriad of diverse problems, and that simply cannot be solved by a one-size-fits-all product. As such, it was competitively unsustainable for Apple to only have one smart speaker on sale, in the form of the HomePod mini. It doesn’t necessarily need a product lineup as diverse as what Amazon has cooked up with the Echo ecosystem, but it does need a lineup: an ecosystem of products that can span price points and use cases.
Enter, HomePod (second-generation). The much-beloved original HomePod is back, in almost its original form, for when you want the best possible sound in a stylish standalone desktop speaker. It’s a testament to how good the HomePod was in 2018 that Apple can get away with bringing back almost the exact same product five years on. (The lack of advancement simultaneously speaks volumes about Apple’s wavering interest in competing in the smart home market.) Questions of commitment aside, Apple now has the HomePod mini for bedrooms and kitchens, and the HomePod for spaces where you really want to enjoy listening to music, like in the main lounge or living room of the house.
Two SKUs is still not enough, but it’s a start. Next up, I think, should probably be something with a screen. Apple is reportedly working on exactly that, but we might not see it materialise for at least another eighteen months.
I don’t believe that many laptop buyers seek out touch as a wanted feature, but touchscreen Windows laptops are popular just because they are so pervasive in the marketplace. Of all the Windows laptops pedalled in retail stores, I’d wager half have touch screens on them. So, people buy them. And when they buy them, it turns out, they actually get used.
All the time, I see people swipe up and down on their vertical laptop screens to navigate webpages and zoom into photos with a pinch gesture. The ergonomics of this are naturally poor. Stretching your arm out forwards to reach the laptop screen quickly becomes uncomfortable. And yet, people still do it frequently. The touch screen is used as an accessory to primary mouse input. They swipe around a bit, then they go back to the mouse. They read a screenful of content, then they swipe to the next page, and put their arm back down. It’s a surprisingly subconsciously natural thing to do.
Apple has trained a generation on the expectation that screens respond to touch input, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone and iPad. In the perspective of the average user, the MacBook is the outlier here: why doesn’t touching the screen work?
In terms of implementation, it is not the Apple way to introduce a touch screen without a touch screen OS. Making macOS truly designed for touch is a huge undertaking, though, and doing that without compromising the mouse-keyboard experience is even harder. I’m not sure Apple has the bandwidth for it. However, given what we just said about touch on Windows laptops being secondary rather than primary input, maybe Apple can get away with doing very little. As Windows has demonstrated, adding touch to laptops does not necessitate a major reworking of the desktop UI. It would be nice if that was the case — better even — but it’s not required for users to be happy.
It’s really cool that Apple found a sports league with an unencumbered portfolio of rights, to be able to strike a universal first-of-its-kind all-in streaming package with worldwide availability, no restrictions and blackouts. Fair credit to MLS too: the league thought ahead and purposefully organised its subordinate partners to make this a possibility; they were instructed to ensure all existing broadcast rights deals expired at the end of the 2022 season, so they could present a comprehensive unified offering to a streaming service. Apple bought in.
Rather than have games start at different times on different days spread across various channels, it will now be possible to pay for one subscription and watch every game live, or on-demand. The synchronisation of start times (7.30 pm local, Saturdays or Wednesdays) also allows Apple to offer a hosted whip-around show commentating highlights across all the games happening at once.
I do have some doubts about the pricing model. MLS Season Pass is priced at $14.99 per month, or $99 per season (discounted to $79 for Apple TV+ subscribers). This is a cost-effective offering if the customer is interested in watching most of the games. Soccer super fans do exist, and this will be great for them.
However, I’d wager most people only care about their local team. In that context, shelling out $99 a year for interest in watching one team (comprising at most two games a week) feels expensive. Previously, local regional networks would broadcast them available as part of a standard cable package, or you could see the games on something like ESPN — a channel that airs a plethora of different sports, not just soccer.
A slight wrinkle to this equation is that some percentage of games will be available to Apple TV+ subscribers without paying for the pass. Exactly how many is still unclear. Although Apple shared the MLS 2023 schedule yesterday, it did not designate which games will be in front of the paywall. A leaked plan from earlier this year suggested it could be as high as 40% of games, which I reckon would be a decent substitute for the old model of ‘free’ regional network broadcasting availability.
A team-friendly perk is that all club stadium season ticket holders will also get a subscription to MLS Season Pass included at no extra charge. What a nice thing to do. But it does reduce further the potential pool of super fans who would be interested in paying $99 to watch all the games in the first place.
Nevertheless, my understanding is Apple has the contractual freedom to adjust pricing as it sees fit. This is a ten year deal and they aren’t necessarily going to nail it first time. So, if the announced pricing structure underperforms, there’s room for product changes, like perhaps the introduction of a cheaper single team pass (maybe $50 a season?) or bundling it with something like Apple One Premier.
“What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” is what Apple boasted on a massive billboard it plastered on the side of a building, for all to see, at CES 2019. Although the essence of the ad was accurate, the messaging always felt a tad hollow. You couldn’t repeat it in good faith without hanging a couple of asterisks on the end.
iCloud Advanced Data Protection closes that gap and makes good on Apple’s wide-reaching marketing push towards privacy in full. If you want to, you can now fully encrypt the most vital sensitive information: Photos and Messages, including as part of an iCloud backup. End-to-end encryption means no one has the key to read that data, except you in the form of your Apple ID password (or device passcode, as Apple lets users unlock access to their account that way too). No other manufacturer offers a comprehensive end-to-end encryption option. It’s a big deal.
I won’t be turning this on myself. I value the safety net of Apple Support in the event I ever somehow forget my password more than the (mostly theoretical) risk that some entity may one day get their hands on my iCloud data. I won’t be recommending my family members do this either, for the same reason. Of course, if you are a potential target of a malicious nation state, like a political activist or journalist, you will probably choose differently. That’s great. What matters is the option is there. It’s so important because iOS does not let any third party service have low-level system access to offer an alternative cloud backup solution. iCloud Backup was the de facto only choice — aside from having no backup at all — and iCloud Backup was effectively an encryption backdoor … until now.
Apple has boldly presented Advanced Data Protection as a feature intended to rollout worldwide. Even if that is practically unrealistic, I am proud that Apple approached this the way they did. They are taking on the responsibility of countless legal battles and geopolitical angst. They could have negotiated this in private, but instead they are forcing the fight into the open. If end-to-encryption ultimately isn’t available in a certain region, we’ll know who to blame.
The Apple TV hardware has two main issues: lagging OS, and price. This week’s hardware refresh naturally didn’t do much to change the software experience — although Siri features a slightly more modernised UI and per-user voice recognition now — but they did tackle the price problem.
The previous lineup was $149 for Apple TV HD, a product first released in 2015, and two models of Apple TV 4K varying by storage capacity; $179 for 32 GB and $199 for 64 GB. This was simply outrageous pricing, in a market where competent 4K streaming sticks can be picked up for under $49. The premium advantages of the Apple TV platform were simply not worth four times more. I bought it because I’m a sucker, but I’d never recommend it to family or friends.
The new lineup is $129 for Apple TV 4K with 64 GB and $149 for Apple TV 4K with 128 GB. This time around, the higher-end model also differs in features other than storage; the more expensive Apple TV has an Ethernet port for wired networking and a Thread radio, for communicating with the latest Thread-only smart home devices.
In raw numbers, the Apple TV 4K is 28% cheaper than it was a week ago. The cheapest Apple TV you can buy is now 15% cheaper, and actually of respectable, recommendable, spec: the latest A15 chip, full 4K HDR support, and plenty of storage for future-proofing / space for downloading a dozen Apple Arcade games. And the obsolete Apple TV HD is gone for good, thankfully.
This is fantastic news. The lineup is much more reasonable now. If someone is mad that their Roku or Fire Stick is ad-ridden or behaving laggy, suggesting a $129 solution is now possible — an order of magnitude more palatable than the old $179 price point.
That being said, $129 is still too much for the Apple TV to capture significant market share. I wish Apple went further with stripping down the base model to push the price down more. $99 really feels like the target to hit, and they didn’t quite get there. A hypothetical 32 GB Apple TV model for $99 would have been appealing; very few will benefit from having 64 GB or 128 GB onboard storage. If you are just streaming video, you don’t care about the storage space.
It’s such an Apple simplification to show the exact same lock screen whether the phone is awake or not. It’s so similar that it is a stretch to even describe it as a “mode”. It’s just your lock screen, dimmed.
I like it. It’s the same way the Apple Watch works, it makes sense to me. When you invest in customising your lock screen using all the new widgets, dynamic wallpapers, font and colour options available in iOS 16, you get to enjoy your personalisation choices (quite literally) all day long on the iPhone 14 Pro. It feels like you have made the phone your own. The always-on feature also benefits from the iOS 16 maximised album art lock screen view, adding a splash of colour and vitality when your phone would otherwise be sitting dormant on your desk. The ability to glance at notifications and widgets adds some degree of utility, but it’s mostly just nice-to-have the screen stay on. Screen and battery technology have advanced to make it possible, so why shouldn’t phones work this way?
Of course, personal preference matters a lot here. Indeed, it’s never a good look when a significant portion of the initial embargoed reviews mentioned they turned off the feature entirely — arguably disabling one third of the Pro-exclusive features this generation — because they found the permanent aliveness of Apple’s always-on implementation too distracting. Some people simply prefer a simpler, muted, always-on state.
A Nightstand Mode perhaps, again cribbing from the Apple Watch.
The OS integration does feel a little incomplete. Obviously, some people want an option to get an Android-like always-on mode, where it just shows the time on a wholly black background. I don’t care for that so much but I do want a little more flexibility in how I am allowed to conditionally enable or disable always-on.
As I already said, I happen to like the feature as-is — but I don’t want the screen to shine brightly through the night whilst I’m trying to sleep, if only to avoid unnecessary battery drain. As of right now, the only way to get the screen to turn off at night is to use the Sleep Focus mode. The Sleep Focus is blessed with abilities other Focuses are not, and turning off always-on is one of them. I don’t do sleep tracking and I don’t really want to have a Focus-oriented device lifestyle. Until I got my 14, I had stuck to the pre-iOS 15 binary system of Do Not Disturb, or nothing. I have resorted to using Sleep, but I shouldn’t have to. Why can’t I set it so that Do Not Disturb also tames the always-on display?
There’s nothing inherently bad about ads per se. Typically, any ‘damage’ done to the user experience of a product by showing ads is offset by a lower — or free — purchase price. That’s the balancing act at play; the user is compensated in exchange for having to consume advertising, thereby maintaining an overall equilibrium of customer satisfaction. For just one example, Google runs a widely successful suite of services, almost exclusively powered by an ad-supported monetisation model.
In the context of Apple, the same ideas apply. I don’t think anyone would complain if Apple launched an ad-supported tier of Apple TV+, or Apple Music, as long as it was proportionately cheaper than the ad-free tier. If anything, those tiers would likely be more popular than the existing offerings. After all, Spotify has huge market dominance in music streaming precisely because they offer a free ad-supported tier.
Where the tension is, is the expectation that Apple is going to insert more and more ads into the user experiences of its premium products, without any such compensation in return. All signs point to the fact that Apple is going to try and uphold its position as a premium company charging premium prices, whilst also sucking out more revenue apparently indiscriminately.
And that is a dangerous slippery slope that threatens the essence of Apple’s entire product lineup. It’s a risky venture. A big problem is that the feedback loop is not so sensitive; the increase in revenue is immediate but the observation of the cumulative negative impact felt by users is lagging. You can probably insert a few additional ads into iOS and get away with it. But overdo it, and then you start undermining the premium brand the company has carefully curated for so long, and then you start losing customers, maybe for good.
Actually, we fitted smart wall switches rather than independent light bulbs, but it’s the same difference.
Smart lights are the go-to accessory to kit out a smart home with. We set some up in our house a few years ago, and an obvious thing to do was to make it so all the lights turn themselves off at night, so we aren’t wasting electricity, all night long, if someone forgets to flick the switches before going upstairs to bed.
We achieved this by configuring an automation that sets a ‘Good Night’ scene at 2 AM. It turns off the TV and some other stuff too. It’s neat, useful even. But a time-based schedule is far from an ideal trigger for this. What if someone happens to stay up late? Well, tough luck, everything is still going to unceremoniously turn itself off. The automation is set at 2 AM because all members of the family have clocked out around midnight or 1 AM, and that leaves enough of a buffer to account for the occasions when people stay up for another hour or so. Still, it’s not a foolproof system. The hack also means that when people are — most often — usually in bed before 12, the lights accessories are not automatically turned off for another two hours, wasting electricity for no reason.
It also doesn’t help with all the times during normal waking hours when people turn lights on and then leave the room. If you want to solve for that situation, a fixed time automation is not sufficient. The next tool in the arsenal is motion sensors, setting stuff to turn off when no motion is detected for a while. I’ve attempted to use a couple of motion sensors from different brands, but they are all largely unsatisfactory at the job. They aren’t reliable in general, especially for larger rooms and people might be obscured by sofas or tables; a very common pitfall is that when people relax, like reading a book or watching TV, they tend not to move enough to trigger the sensor. Motion sensors can be successfully deployed in some specific scenarios, but they aren’t general purpose solutions to the task of turning stuff on when people aren’t there anymore.
A few dedicated room occupancy sensors do exist. They typically attach to door frames, and count how many people enter and exit each room. If the count is greater than zero, the room is considered occupied. Unfortunately, these kinds of sensors are cost prohibitive, somewhat ugly, and also imperfect; a missed count of just one person will mean the total is off, requiring manual intervention to reset it. People enter and exit rooms a lot; even something that is 99% accurate will be wrong enough times to be frustratingly annoying.
So, the ‘simple’ task of intelligently automating turning things off in a house remains an open problem to crack. The 2 AM Good Night automation I use at the moment is a crude hack, but works well enough to tease the possibilities of where we could go in the future. I think fully solving room occupancy is the key to doing this and a world of other related fun and useful features.
The promise of a smart home could really come into its own if we could reliably detect exactly who is in what room. If the iPhone knew what room you were in at all times, you could open the Lock Screen and immediately see relevant smart home controls for the lights and accessories in your immediate proximity, as that is odds on what you wanted to change. It would be great to be able to say to your watch ‘turn on the light’, and the virtual assistant actually do exactly what you intended to happen as if you were talking to a real person; turn on the light just in that room where you are and nothing else.
Reducing friction is vital to making smart home stuff feel more useful and less of a gimmick. If the home knew who was in the lounge, it could change to that person’s user profile on the TV automatically. Playback of a podcast on smart speakers could follow someone through the house, as they move from eating dinner in the dining room to relaxing in their room. It’d be really cool if a smart speaker could automatically avoid expletive-filled music when young kids were known to be nearby. Smart thermostats could adjust to the temperature preferences of the person in the room at any moment, and perhaps turn off heating altogether when the system reliably knew everyone had gone to their rooms at bedtime at night. And your wake-up alarm could turn itself off when it observed you walk out of your bedroom the next morning.
I don’t pretend to know how we get there technologically. I figure it would probably involve coordination between some camera-esque sensors dotted around the home and communication with the devices people carry on them, like phones and watches. Maybe Apple could take advantage of Ultra-Wide Band positioning to accurately follow people’s movements throughout a house, with various static nodes like HomePods or Apple TVs or Echo speakers or whatever working in concert to track and triangulate the signals. I hope manufacturers pull on that Thread and see where it takes us (pun intended).
The jump to Apple Silicon and the M1 chip was nothing short of astonishing. The Mac got way, way, way, better, quite literally overnight. In the timeline of the Mac, 2020 will be remembered forever (and it’s not about COVID). Even more staggeringly, Rosetta 2 ensured old Intel binaries ran well enough that you generally couldn’t even tell that you were running through an emulation layer. Whether running new or old binaries on M1 Macs, everything performed at either the same speed or faster (typically significantly faster) than their Intel counterparts. The move to M1 came with no asterisks, downsides, or drawbacks. It was a perfectly executed transition.
Well, almost perfect. The move from Intel to Apple Silicon meant Apple’s best-selling machines, the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, went backwards in one regard. They were no longer capable of driving two external displays.
But that was easily excused. It is only the first-generation of Apple Silicon after all. Although using two monitors at once is not really an edge case, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker for a base model laptop. As such, the sang was remarked upon and quickly excused as a footnote; a strange quirk of first-gen engineering.
Year two, here comes M2. CPU is better, GPU is better … and yet the one-display limitation remains. Count me surprised. I was a bit taken aback by that. Now that the glow of Apple Silicon transition has faded slightly, the footnote pitfall is slightly harder to ignore.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect any Mac to be able to output to two displays at once. It’s a weird thing to explain to normal people too; when is the last time a customer had to think twice about plugging in a second monitor to their computer? Decade-old Intel Macs could do it just fine. Plenty of old MacBook Air users spent the last two pandemic years working from home with a dual display setup, and now when they come to upgrade their years-old laptop, they are going to be unpleasantly surprised to find that the (otherwise shiny and new) 2022 MacBook Air can’t do that.
It’s still not a dealbreaker — and it doesn’t impact everyone of course — but it is a noteworthy con. I’m obviously not expecting the base chip to drive multiple 6K displays like the Pro/Max/Ultra chips can. An adequate bar would be the ability to output to two 4K screens at once, plus the laptop’s own screen. I don’t think I’m asking for much; just match what the old Intel machines could do.
I hope this isn’t a new product segmentation scheme on Apple’s part to differentiate pro and non-pro lines by how many screens they can support. That would be dumb. I don’t think that’s the case. The M3 will surely close the loop. Right?
I swear, sometimes it feels like Apple waits out for everyone to give up hope for a feature, only to deliver it on a silver platter the very next year. Cynically, better late than never. Practically, this is great news.
I love using the Photos app to scroll through years of images, edit and crop right on the phone, run photo screensavers on the family room Apple TV, and glance at relevant images in the Photos home screen widgets across my devices.
It all just works swimmingly … except for the rather crucial part about getting those photos collated in the first place. The strategy our family has adopted until now, which I assume is what everyone else does, was to assign one person’s account to be ‘primary’ and they are in charge of having all the photos. If others take pictures, they can send them to said person who saves them in the canonical archive.
This is obviously a clunky ‘solution’. The primary person takes on a lot of responsibility to manage the library, including doing all cropping and editing, and loses the ability to have a safe space for their own personal photos that they want to keep separate. A family member cannot see all the family pictures on their own phone unless they also keep copies on their own individual buckets of iCloud, something that is both annoying to manage manually and wastes gigabytes of our 2 TB storage plan with duplicated content. A particular pain point in our household is that this arrangement necessitates having the designated person’s account signed into the Apple TV, so that the Photos screensaver will work. Unfortunately, that means those Apple TVs are unable to participate in HomeKit because the HomeKit home configuration was set up on someone else’s account, and tvOS won’t let you sign in to both at the same time.
The newly announced iCloud Shared Photo Library codifies the impromptu approach we have all been using into an official feature, giving all the benefits without the aforementioned downsides. Photos can be saved to your personal library, or sent to the shared library — which all members can access and view. iOS will use machine learning to remind you to share images to the family library where appropriate, and can (optionally) do it automatically when it detects the family has gone a group trip together. Edits to the photos and metadata adjustments can be done by anyone, and automatically synchronise. It just works.
As Apple presented it, it seemed like the shared library would be tied to the Family Sharing system; the six users are the six people in your Family Sharing group. That would certainly be the Occam’s razor approach, removing the need for additional account management steps. However, apparently, that is not the case and the “up to six users” can include people that aren’t in your Family Sharing circle. That definitely opens up the feature to be useful to groups of people who want to share their photos but are not neatly contained into a single household, with just one shared payment method between them. It does raise some finicky questions, though, like how exactly does iCloud allocate the shared library’s storage. If someone contributes a photo, does the file size count against their personal iCloud storage quota, the person who created the shared library originally, or a wholly separate bucket altogether? Who pays for it, if you need more space? Who is in control of adding and removing people? Can you be removed from the shared library against your will, and if that happens, can you get a local copy of all the pictures of you before you lose access?
As the App Store (is forced to) relax rules around alternative payment systems, In-App Purchase is more sensitive to competition and has to do more to compete. Long term, this will be positive for customers with lower prices and better features across the board. In the short term, those same competition forces mean that Apple will have to pull back on some of the customer-friendly In-App Purchase policies to align with the market, to keep publishers onboard.
As evidenced in discovery of the Apple vs Epic trial, the churn from ‘ungrandfathering’ price increases was one factor that led Netflix to exit In-App Purchase in 2018.
The prior policy that meant a subscription’s price could not be increased without explicit user consent was incredibly favourable to the customer, but out of whack with general customer expectations. The vast majority of subscriptions in the world do not work that way. In-App Purchase was a stark outlier. It stood in contrast to even Apple’s own subscriptions like iCloud or Apple One; they increase their price freely with notification, but without consent.
So, now, In-App Purchase will work the same way. I don’t think it’s something to get too mad at Apple about. It’s the reality of business; you have to balance developer and customer interests. In this instance, Apple has still enforced appropriate price caps to stop abuse of the system. And In-App Purchase remains highly customer favourable overall, with how easy each subscription is to cancel.
To me, the Apple brand ultimately stands for high-quality premium products, developed by teams of people that care deeply about what they are working on and have the freedom to sweat the details. Whilst they don’t always succeed, their consistency at achieving that feeling when it comes to hardware design is unrivalled. Every part, every component, every material, appears to have been thoroughly considered and debated. Nothing is rushed or skimped on. That permeates through to the end product, tangibly and intangibly so. That doesn’t mean everything they make is a surefire hit or a runaway success; just that someone cared about making it.
I’m not sure I could name a single Apple service that meets that bar. Apple’s services tick the boxes, and they mostly do what they promise. However, nothing comes close to the quality of experience I expect to have from things branded with the Apple logo. When I am using these apps, I am not filled with confidence that striving for greatness was a top priority. Far too often, meeting revenue goals and business objectives seem more important to their creation.
They are built to a passing grade, but nothing more. Basic features found in services from rival companies are either lacking altogether in Apple’s apps, or implemented half-heartedly and performance is sluggish. Browsing in Music and TV is painful, with an over-reliance on the infinite scroll. New content is just tacked on the bottom of already long lists. Meanwhile, the navigation bars are blank when they could include simple shortcut buttons and filters to help users navigate and explore. Moreover, these apps feature too many loading states and too much waiting around. They are akin to janky web apps, rather than richly-compelling responsive experiences.
Frequently, it seems the content teams and the tech teams are isolated from each other, when they really should be in sync and working together to make everything sing. Arcade is trapped inside a tab in the App Store app, and obvious synergies with Game Center are not exploited; Game Center remains in a quasi-extant state as a panel in Settings. The Library tab in TV is useless in the modern streaming service era. (Frankly, the entire TV app belies the content Apple is producing for it.) Another example: Apple Music relaunched the Radio tab significantly in 2020, boasting three live broadcasts and dozens of weekly shows, but all that is for nothing when it is still impossible for users to subscribe to a show to be notified when an artist goes live or when new episodes are available to listen to on-demand.
On a daily basis, I encounter issues, ranging from small niggles to significant gaps in functionality. These things have been in this state of mediocrity for many years. I’m losing faith that anyone in a position of power at the Services group cares enough to make them better. The high standards seen in the products of Apple’s hardware divisions are not reflected here.
Grading on a curve, Music and Fitness are the best, Arcade is in the middle, and TV+ and News+ are fighting it out at the bottom. But I stress, that’s grading on a curve of their own output. Apple’s best is not good enough. It is all middling to inferior, creaky and uninspired. Organisational dysfunction, a mountain of tech debt, distorted leadership incentives, and lack of passion likely all play a role. Whatever the cause, fixing this stems from the top. Services’ engineering and design teams have to be empowered with the resources and time to effectively execute and ultimately deliver excellence to customers, like the hardware teams clearly are.
Going into the quarter with Netflix providing guidance of +2.5 million subscriber adds, the company shocked everyone with poor results: minus 500,000 subscribers this quarter, another minus 2 million expected next quarter. They blamed a 700,000 subscriber loss on their exit from Russian market, which mitigates the current quarter numbers slightly. Obviously, the figures aren’t glowing, but I was struck by how strong the blowback on social media was to the news. Overnight, Netflix has suddenly become a service that nobody uses? That’s how my Twitter feed was acting like on Wednesday at least. Netflix may not be the exciting place anymore, but it’s undeniably the bedrock of modern television, and I don’t see that changing.
Firstly, the company is a behemoth on every metric; viewership, subscriber count and profitability. Sensations like Squid Game cannot be created by any other service; only Netflix has the worldwide content development infrastructure to get it made, and the immense audience reach to make it popular. Kicking Netflix out of culture is going to be really hard. I think nigh impossible. This is especially true when you consider they are the only streaming service with profitable operations. That means everybody else is having to sink into savings (and debt) to merely try and catch up. Maybe Disney+ will overtake them, but Netflix will be able to stick around as a top three player forever.
Of course, the investor base wanted growth and the shares got pummelled on the news for missing such expectations. My position is not talking about the stock market side. A funny parallel is the community opinion of Apple TV+, which has also gone through an about face recently. For two years straight, the general punditry has derided TV+ as a silly venture that will never succeed. Suddenly, Apple wins an Oscar and now everyone thinks TV+ is ruling the world. I have liked TV+ since the beginning, but the reality is TV+ is still an upstart with a long road ahead of it. It is hilarious how quickly people turn on something, positively in the recent case of TV+ or negatively in the recent case of Netflix. The knee-jerk reactions are rarely on the money, and do not reflect the fact that streaming is a very long game.
When TV+ was announced, I argued Apple had a good shot at being successful with it, at a time when the common take was that TV+ would be a failure and fade away. My argument on that was based on the idea that the fundamentals of streaming are relatively simple: get content people want to watch. The way to do that is to attract talent with the promise of money, audience and prestige. Resource-rich Apple had the money part guaranteed, and a decent runway at attaining the rest. Fast forward a couple of years and, sure enough, Apple has picked up the necessary prestige; audience size remains a question mark. Compare that to Netflix, which has a huge audience, a lot of money (recall they are the only profitable service so far) and decent — if not as much as it used to — levels of awards recognition and prestige. If I believed Apple could do it from scratch on that basis, so surely can Netflix from a position of incumbent strength. As long as those fundamentals remain strong, I’m not worried about Netflix’s future. The subscriber numbers need to be a lot worse before I deem it anything other than turbulence and growing pains.
Even as they reach saturation, they also have a lot more headroom to potentially exploit. Netflix has been somewhat complacent when it comes to business model expansion, with CEO Reed Hastings preferring a simpler streamlined approach. Now, he is forced to relent slightly and develop things like a cheaper ad-supported tier of Netflix; something which could catapult their market share even higher than it already is. They can also juice their financials and extract some incremental growth out of the announced crackdown on account sharing. They don’t need to annoy their entire user base with account verification screens; just the fraction that is fragrantly abusing the system with one password shared amongst three, four, or more households. That’s still tens of millions of people to try to monetise, which it can then reinvest in content for the long term. As a reminder of the scale here, Netflix has more freeloaders than most of these services have total subscribers. I think Netflix will be just fine.