Posts Tagged

Apple

“Apple’s Walled Garden” And the PG-13-ification of The Internet

Elizabeth Technology June 21, 2022

Tumblr

Tumblr is the most famous app to struggle with Apple’s obtuse clearance system. Since Tumblr seems to be making a bit of a comeback, it’s a good place to start the story. In 2018, the beginning stages of the NSFW content ban were beginning to wreak havoc on the site – Apple wasn’t going to allow specifically nudity-based NSFW media on any apps in the app store small enough for them to jerk around, and Tumblr had shrunk.

 NSFW content would be officially banned on December 17th, 2018, and any blog with any NSFW content would be put in the shadow realm, where they’d be impossible to search, and the posts that put them there would be removed.

 I can go on and on about how badly this screwed up Tumblr – there are a lot of artists who were making art that complied with Tumblr’s statement on what was allowed only to end up with their posts in review anyway because the auto-filter Tumblr used didn’t know the difference, there were people who reblogged something from a shirtless artist two years back, didn’t realize it was still there because of how much stuff they’d reblogged since then, and then ended up shadow-realmed with seemingly no way to figure out what got them in trouble, there were people who’d built entire careers out of shirtless art who got chased off to Twitter and took their followers with them, and there were people who were, quite frankly, only there for the shirtless art in the first place.

The ban was a huge mess and forced a lot of users off the site, including people who met all the requirements to stay but lost all of the blogs they followed to the ban. What do you do but leave when all of the people you were there for, are gone?

And it gets worse: some art was supposed to be allowed, but it de facto wasn’t. Museums were getting swept up! There are a lot of anthropologically important statues, paintings, and other representations of men and women, and not all of them are exactly dressed for church. Nobody is arguing that the Statue of David is not art, but there’s an argument (a bad faith one) that the statue is Not Suitable for Work. Automated filters can’t tell the difference between marble, paint, and flesh, anyway, so on Tumblr, pics of the statue were shadow-realmed unless they were censored. Appealing the post meant the post would be in limbo for days, if not weeks, and you may have to re-appeal it if the moderator who saw it didn’t recognize it as art at first. Combined with an overworked team of staff behind the scenes and general site-wide chaos, fixing the museum issue on top of fixing the spam bots and fixing the website and fixing the mistakenly-banned accounts and fixing the filter itself and fixing the – etc. felt like it was years away. So art where the subject happened to be nude was no longer present on the site, full stop.

Steve Jobs Hates Nudes

Which is just what Apple wanted. Steve Jobs was notoriously prudish. Steve Jobs did not like NSFW content. He did not want it anywhere near his beautiful, sleek app store. From TechCrunch: ‘When questioned about Apple’s role as moral police in the App Store, Jobs responds that “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”.’ Well, fine, but – again – ordinary, culturally important art got swept up in that too, and he didn’t seem to mind. A number of apps just aren’t allowed on the store because they’re icky, not because something is actually wrong with them beyond that ickiness. You can extrapolate from his entire personality, his fear of buttons, his minimalist philosophy in design – he had a real problem with existing as a human and wanted to be something cleaner.

That philosophy has infected every app that wants to be on the Apple app store, because if they don’t tow the line, they get kicked. In a world where Apple is a billion-dollar company and a huge number of consumers have an iPhone, avoiding the Apple app store is shooting your app in the foot before it even gets off the ground. However, making an Apple-specific window into your app can actually help you out quite a bit. To go back to Tumblr, the app was wrecked. When the app was up for renewal, and thus had to go through the opaque approval process again, the person reviewing the app had spotted NSFW content under otherwise innocuous tags. So it was going to be wrecked again. To be clear, that’s mostly the spam-bots fault: spam-bots looking to get people to click their ads and links would tag their posts with every popular tag they could, resulting in innocent tags like #girl, #selfie, #boy, and more being attached to gifs of banned content.

However, this time was different. Tumblr only banned the tags for Apple because the Google app store had no such requirement upon renewal. Apple Tumblr users were understandably a little weirded out that their innocent K-Drama tags were no longer allowed, but at this point they were in it for the long haul, and communities built new tags instead of wondering too hard about the old ones. Apple’s app renewal process is difficult to navigate on purpose because Apple holds all the power!  They can declare arbitrarily that because its inspector found art under a tag in the app’s tagging system (that rightfully should have been caught by the filter, but wasn’t, because the filter sucks) Tumblr will either no longer have those tags or Tumblr just won’t be renewed, full stop. Every app is subject to this. If NSFW art can be found by an Apple app inspector, the app has to deal with it right then and there. Tumblr’s two-prong method was an interesting solution to the issue, but the result is an inequal app experience. For small developers, this may not be an option.

The Web Was A Wasteland

There was a time where the web was for adults, whether it be news, forums, math, or games, and if kids saw something gorey or scary when they weren’t supposed to, that was their parents’ fault for letting them be on there. This changed when kids were encouraged to use the internet for research, and websites acknowledged that it was possible to click an innocent-looking link on Google and end up somewhere horrid. Websites introduced the “I verify that I’m over 18” button, Google introduced Safe Search, and kids were introduced to the idea of ‘safe browsing’ in general, which curbed a lot of the issues parents had with the way the web was. Most normal people were happier with the web when they couldn’t accidentally stumble onto something gross, as well.

But then things changed. Kids were expected to have smartphones or other devices. Social media sites took root and became cool. Youtube, Twitter and Reddit set a lower age limit of 13, which tacitly said that children at age 13 or older would be accepted (at least, that’s the argument they’d use when people called them out for being kids arguing with adults). Before, minors would have to at least behave like an adult or get ridiculed online. Adults who were able to assume they were talking to other adults on forums could no longer assume that was the case. You started seeing things like ‘Minors DNI’ (DNI stands for Do Not Interact) on Tumblr profiles because a blog owner would discover, three hours into a basic philosophy argument, that the other person they’d been arguing with was actually 14. Obviously, teens aren’t stupid, but they’re also not just underaged adults!

A couple of legal cases where children were exposed to things they shouldn’t have been then led to a change in online responsibility. Anybody making that shirtless art from before could get in trouble if they learned kids were following them but didn’t do anything to prevent them from seeing said art (you can block people on most sites to prevent them from seeing your stuff, for instance) so they’d warn kids to stay away and avoid the trouble altogether. Reddit demands you make an account to verify age if you want to see NSFW subreddits, and Twitter allows adult artists to flag individual posts as NSFW, which was good for both adults who liked the artist but didn’t want to accidentally see something inappropriate for the subway while they scrolled through their feed, and kids who didn’t want or need to see it in the first place if their artist of choice retweeted the original artist.

 The reverse applied with ‘Minor – Adults DNI’,  where kids were looking for other kids to talk to online and didn’t want to accidentally talk to a predator. This wouldn’t stop an ill-intentioned adult, but it kept well-meaning adults from accidentally stumbling into a Chris Hansen situation due to a misunderstanding. Would it be better if kids weren’t allowed on the sites at all? Enforcement is the issue, not shoulds and woulds. It is extraordinarily difficult to prevent kids from pretending to be 18. Anything that actually worked would violate privacy and thus limit its own userbase.

As such, a lot of smaller sites PG-13ified themselves to avoid getting in trouble for accidentally distributing NSFW content to kids, whether it be gore or nudity, and the big social media apps began toning it down as much as they could without turning into Tumblr. Museums and other such places that had depictions of human bodies were further cornered by auto-filters.

Sometimes Art Is Not Accessible to Children… and Sometimes It’s Not Meant to Be

Some art is not meant for children. Some art is aimed at adults who have struggled in ways that adults do, and to water that art down so kids understand it would be destroying the art in the process. Its why people are angry that Disney is buying up so many properties – it means you don’t get to see superheroes rising above situations if those situations aren’t easily explained to a kid.

Imagine trying to make something like Moby Dick child-friendly in content, or A Tale of Two Cities: you’d end up with a Marvel story. Worse, think of the recent controversies over stories like ‘Maus’ – because a 13-year-old isn’t allowed to read it, now the 14-17-year-olds still in high school can’t find it in that Pennsylvanian library. For context, I read it sophomore year in high school, and it didn’t spark rebellion in me, as the argument that got it removed said it would. That argument and the inappropriateness argument is a smokescreen to remove a book that made them uncomfortable.

Allowing a small minority of parents to dictate what an entire population of schoolchildren shouldn’t read because it’s ‘inappropriate for kids’ is also a significant problem, one tied into the general censorship of the web. When parents are allowed to jerk around the people making art because the art is inappropriate for their children, you end up with bland retellings of fairy tales because anything else might offend. You end up with the Hayes Code. You end up with Holocaust deniers who never had to learn about it in high school and thus think it’s a conspiracy. You end up with kids that grow up into adults that can’t think critically about the media they consume or about the stereotypes and biases that may be hidden inside, because art for kids has to be perfectly clear about who’s right and who’s wrong so as not to confuse them with things like gray areas, which art and content for adults features all the time. Nobody’s perfect, except for in fairy tales.

Apple’s censorship of the web and the resulting child-friendly attitude that followed it has haunted the internet ever since.

Sources: https://techcrunch.com/2010/04/19/steve-jobs-android-porn/

No Mini?

Elizabeth Technology April 1, 2022

The iPhone 14 isn’t supposed to have a Mini edition upon release. This is weird – because the next smallest size is like 6 inches long.

The Ideal Size

I’ve written about phone sizing before. I do still think phones should be getting thicker and smaller, because the new ones are so big that the average human hand is just barely big enough to reach across with the fingers on one side and the hand on the other. If you need to hit a button at the top of the screen one-handed, you now need to set the phone down to do so, or risking dropping it as you balance it on your fingers to move your palm for maximum thumb range. If you lose balance like that, you may not be able to catch it before it hits the ground. However, I was forced to replace my phone as I dropped my old one and broke something inside it. Now, my phone measures just over 6 inches from top to bottom – a Moto G Power, that cost 180$, a far cry from the iPhone’s 9XX$ and above. The new size is actually less of an encumberment than I was expecting, and it came with a charger, and an aux cord hole.

Enough dunking on Apple – why is 6 inches long the new default?

Aside From Functional Use

A bigger phone is a bigger, more visible phone. If it’s logo’d? The logo is more visible on the back, and the user’s hand probably isn’t covering it as much. It means more surface area for users to put things like stickers and decorative cases. A bigger phone is harder to lose and more capable of stuffing in secondary options such as a point-perfect GPS and a powerful flashlight that can stay lit for 30 minutes at a time while also still allowing the user to use the browser. The bigger the battery, the longer it lasts, too, so that bumps up the size. Phones have replaced alarm clocks, timers, GPS, mp3 players, internet hotspots, PCs, handheld games like Tamagotchis, paper games like Sudoku and crosswords, and a whole host of other small electronics designed for a singular purpose. If you’re willing to buy accessories, you can go even further, and your phone can replace things like meat thermometers and light switches. Even further, apps allow you to do things like lock your house, adjust the temperature, and watch your doorstep from your doorbell as you please, stuff you couldn’t do from a distance before phones. When you put it like that, of course the phone’s gigantic. Look at all the stuff it’s replacing!

All of the computing power and assorted hardware to make this possible does inflate the size of the phone, and while some argue that a thicker phone would be more resistant to bending (or more pleasant to hold and store, like I do), a wider, taller phone provides more functional use via a larger screen. More surface area is arguably the best outcome for a larger phone. Some phone brands go so far as to curve the glass over the side of the device so their buyer has the largest screen out of any phone with the same dimensions.  

Besides pure, compact hardware, the screens facilitate quite a few modern apps.

Media – Social

Social Media asks for increasingly more time, effort, and software from its users for the ‘best experience’, or the experience that keeps you scrolling. Prettier pictures with a convenient, easy-to-use camera like the iPhone’s camera get more likes, and are easier to generate more of, creating a self-generating cycle. Now, the phone must act as a viewfinder as well as a high-definition camera, but there’s no view hole like there were on traditional devices, so the view takes up the entire screen instead, a compromise. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to take those high-quality pictures.

On the other side, once the picture’s been posted to social media, a bigger phone means you don’t have to zoom in to see details, and people with poor eyesight or coordination can increase the size of their text and read more without swiping back and forth on the screen every five words. Is it better than a PC, or a dumbphone (aka a flip phone)? That’s down to user preference, but a bigger smartphone allows for the option.

Media – For You!

Besides picture taking and doomscrolling, a lot of people end up watching video on their phones. SmarTVs are annoying to navigate, not everyone has a SmarTV capable of searching the web for videos, and many people deliberately keep TVs out of their bedrooms anyway. The next most viable screen is their phone, which is portable, internet-connected, and has apps for websites like NetFlix, HBOMax, etc so they can watch in proper 16×9 formatting without fussing with the phone browser.

A bigger phone is less of a headache to watch, so it’s only natural that as video became more common, bigger devices would become more common with it. Some apps are also designing for that bigger screen anyway. Popular video-based app TikTok would often cover ¾ of the bottom part of the screen with the caption with my older moto, but now that’s less of a problem – the text size is unchangeable, so it was forced to adapt to the size of my screen.

Overall, larger phones are being driven by Apple, who is by far the largest smartphone brand in the US – apps have an incentive to keep up with Apple over anyone else, meaning that if other phones was the apps to look the same on their screens, they need to keep up with Apple’s sizing. If the consumer wants the giant screen but doesn’t want to pay Apple prices, that’s great! If they don’t want the big screen, they’re about to be pushed back into earlier generations of the Apple phone, or other third party phones.

Is It True That Macs Don’t Get Viruses?

Elizabeth Technology December 22, 2021

Absolutely not. Here’s why!

Apple devices are slightly harder to weasel into from outside, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. A virus has to be crafted differently to even function on an Apple computer. For the same reason that Apple needs its own version of browsers and games, it needs its own version of viruses, and with Microsoft being the default for most ‘sensitive’ systems, like pharmacies, school networks, and hospitals, hackers and other malicious individuals just don’t seem to care that much about Mac devices.

But not caring that much is not the same as not caring at all.

Apple’s known virus count is slowly creeping up, although viruses that use weaknesses in the system to get in are quickly made obsolete by updates. Apple viruses are a special kind of pain to deal with because the person who made them surely made them out of spite – as said previously, Mac’s system is not compatible with Microsoft’s, so viruses are custom tailored.

Their recommendation is to completely avoid third party apps – for good reason. The primary way that malware ends up in the computer’s system is via scam downloads. Those can look like a couple different things. Everybody (or almost everybody) knows not to click those flashing banners at the top of blog sites that advertise “FREE iPAD! CLICK NOW!” because it used to be the most common way to steal information from non-tech-savvy people.

“Free Flash Player!” “Free Game! Connect With Friends! Download Now!” are it’s equally outdated cousins. Anything that tells a Mac user that they need to download it has the potential to be a virus, and if the user is unlucky enough to get a virus prepared for a Mac, they’re in for a headache. But it’s tough to trick people with those flashing banners anymore, right? So…

The next easiest way is to fake an email from an app publisher, or even from Apple itself! This still won’t get a lot of people, but the people who fell for the flashing banners the first go-round might fall for an email that looks juuuuust official enough to make them doubt themselves.

One version of this scam involves sending an email with a downloadable attachment to ‘fix’ a ‘virus’ that ‘Apple’ has detected on the device. That’s not Apple, and there’s no virus until the recipient downloads the attachment. That was the goal! And now the virus is on the computer. Oh no!

Alternatively, if you’ve downloaded some game or another that you trusted, even though it was third party, and then received an email about a big patch that needs to be downloaded, you might fall for it! Depending on the game, they could have your email to send patches to, right? Official platforms like Steam certainly have their user’s email.

And that’s not even the game download itself! Downloading a game off of third party websites can lead to some nasty results, which is why Apple goes out of it’s way to warn you every step of the download, and also warn you off of third party downloads in every help forum. The risk that what you downloaded could be malware is just not worth the inconvenience of waiting for that game to come out on an Apple-licensed platform.

Long story short: it’s very possible, albeit difficult, to get viruses on a Mac computer. Don’t download attachments from strangers!

Source: Apple.com resources

The iPhone’s Hard Reset Bug

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 22, 2021

Apple

Apple’s proprietary software is notoriously difficult to make malware for. It’s not that it’s impossible (so don’t go cavorting around sketchy sites without antivirus just because you have an iMac) it’s just tougher than Windows, and because Windows is more common, Windows gets the bulk of the viruses.

However, glitches and bugs are a different story entirely! Bugs are plenty common under the hood of the iPhone – some user inconvenience was deliberately introduced into older phones, allegedly in an attempt to make users upgrade. Apple paid out a pretty penny in lawsuits for that one.

Even on new ones, dropping the phone could make it seize up. Leaving it on too long? Seize up. Apps could crash so hard that the only way to get the screen to respond to inputs again was with a hard reboot. The iPhone isn’t flawless or impossible to break, it’s just hardier on the virus front. With that caveat, sometimes glitches can be used like viruses to disrupt normal use of the phone. The text glitch that forced hard reboots of the phone is one example that Apple’s R&D department won’t soon forget.

But how did it happen?

Unicode

Unicode, which Apple switched to in iOS 5, or somewhere around the release of iPhones 3 and 4, is very widely used. Unicode is a character library meant to homogenize the text you see online. It’s not the only one, but it’s one of the biggest! Unicode assigns a unique numerical value to each character in its library (letters, numbers, punctuation signs, etc.). The device can then show you, the user, the character behind the numbers when it receives that data from the other side.

You’ll notice when Unicode is out of date. If you have an older phone, sometimes you’ll see blank boxes where there should be a character or emoji, but your device doesn’t ‘know’ what character is supposed to correspond to the value it’s being given, so it shows a blank box instead. Sometimes the OS can fudge it a little and substitute characters that aren’t necessarily part of the Unicode (see Apple’s devil emoji vs. Android’s in texts) but generally the OS has to be able to read the character to represent it.

That aside, when it comes to breadth, Unicode is pretty impressive: even if it doesn’t have hieroglyphs or every new emoji, Unicode supports an incredible array of languages by default. Russian characters, Greek characters, Arabic, Latin, Cherokee, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. are all represented in the Unicode library.

The Text

When you think of it that way – when you picture how many thousands of different characters and combinations you can create with the entire Unicode library at your fingertips – it’s not so surprising that someone found something that caused problems. In 2015, a string of English and Arabic letters combined with a couple of symbols could brick up the Apple iPhone so badly that the user had to reboot. One version of this used the iMessage notification to do so, so the only way to prevent it was to disable the notification from previewing the text on-screen – unfortunately, it also meant that if the phone tried to show the message again after rebooting, it could get caught in a death loop and need a reset unless the other user sent another text to replace the freezy one in the message previews. Apple did not introduce an update to fix the issue for weeks. Whether that was because they couldn’t or because they couldn’t replicate the issue on their own devices (it didn’t happen to every iPhone) is hard to say, but the text continued to circulate and collapse the iMessage app with little consequence.

Others

Not every iPhone was affected by this particular text. iPhones with iOS 7 or above didn’t shut down upon receiving the text, and neither did 5 or below. Androids seemed to be completely unaffected, and of course turning off notifications prevented it from happening to devices in the danger zone. That was for the Arabic/English/symbol text discovered in 2015… and people soon discovered it was not the only text capable of tanking a phone.

Apple patched the discovered ones once they realized it was an OS issue (and a serious one) but that didn’t stop people from finding new ones to send to their friends, restarting the cycle of ‘Discovered -> It’s Not Serious -> Oh No It IS Serious -> Don’t Worry We Patched It’ from Apple every time, a cycle that sometimes took weeks or months. Again, Unicode is absolutely massive, so there was no way to test every combo of characters before launch. One bug used Sindhi characters, another used Telugu to crash devices. In all cases (or everything searchable) it wasn’t the messaging app itself, but the notification – something about having to show the characters in the little notification box is what caused the iOS to flip out, further complicating fixes. Users could disable the notifications, but that would make iPhones slightly less user-friendly than they were, and with Android devices creeping up on them, that was a bad look.

Even worse, The Verge reported in 2018 that some of these bugs could cause MacOS to flip out upon receipt, as well as more recently updated iOS devices. While the original one was dealt with in 2015, echoes of it continued to wreak havoc on targeted iPhone users for years to come. It seems as though the latest phones don’t struggle with Unicode… so hopefully, the issue won’t be making another appearance.

Sources:

https://www.inputmag.com/tech/if-you-receive-this-message-your-iphone-will-crash

https://unicode.org/faq/basic_q.html

https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/936268845/apple-agrees-to-pay-113-million-to-settle-batterygate-case-over-iphone-slowdowns

https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/15/17015654/apple-iphone-crash-ios-11-bug-imessage

Apple’s Cameras are Becoming Too Delicate for Consumers

Elizabeth Uncategorized November 3, 2021

Do consumers want photography equipment, or a regular small camera with worse quality?

Apple

Apple is known for having the best in-phone cameras in the industry – they have been for quite some time, even as other companies like Samsung and Microsoft try to catch up and take that title for themselves. The phones are quite pricey, and things like the OS and the hardware inside the device are rarely fully appreciated for how much they cost in R&D and rare earth metals.

Apple, during it’s time under Jobs, pushed to create value for the consumer that could justify the price of a device that shattered its screen easily, but had to go to a proprietary repair shop afterwards (and still cost hundreds of dollars used). Cameras are one of the most visible and most used parts of a phone – Instagram, TikTok, and a number of other social media and content-sharing websites rely on phones with cameras for their user’s content to the point that they wouldn’t exist without them. These apps, of course, reward better cameras, which starts a feedback loop of demand.

Jobs made sure the camera was at least a little bit better with every new edition of the iPhone, and the people who took over when he left didn’t buck the trend.

Cameras

On professional equipment, certain lenses give better results at certain distances. The curvature of the lens directly affects the way the subject looks at the end! Bigger cameras that take in more data also give AI more to work with – and if they want to keep slapping in features that rely on AI, they’re going to need it.  

The camera on the last two iPhones boasts three lenses, and each serves a different purpose – one is long-distance, one is an all-rounder, and one is for closeups. It switches automatically between the three as the user uses the camera app. As said before, different lenses produce different results, and by allowing two of these lenses to specialize, they’ve made the iPhone even better at taking pictures. Additional features including internal gyroscopes and vibration sensors keep the camera focused on the right thing and reduce the effect of user movement, further improving the image. These tiny, delicate machinery parts have to be incredibly small to fit inside the phone – which, surprisingly, is somehow only 0.5 mm thicker than the iPhone 6, which was notorious for bending under pressure due to its aluminum frame. It’s incredible engineering!

All of this adds up to a phone that is easy to take and edit pictures with, better than what Samsung or Android offers most of the time. However, these gigantic, hyper-specialized cameras are beginning to present issues for the consumer – stuff that Apple can’t simply program away.

The Issue

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZM8SJxQMA

This video demonstrates the damage it does to the phone.

Motorcycle vibrations are damaging the internal components of the device necessary to keep the camera focused in the right place – those little gyroscopes and vibration sensors are extremely fine and delicate. Other phones have things like these too, but they’re bigger, and clunkier; their job is simpler than the iPhone counterpart. The phone mounts available on the market don’t compensate for these new tools, and allow too much vibration to travel up from the engine and into the phone. Even if you don’t own or use a motorcycle, weaker vibrations are also suspect: Apple recommends a vibration-dampening mount even for cars.

This is a problem for Apple’s long-term plans. Internal items become more delicate in the vicious cycle of thinner and thinner phones – as mentioned earlier, the iPhone 6 was only 0.5 mm thinner than the new iPhone 12, even though the amount of hardware inside has increased by quite a lot. Apple is pushing its devices to the limit of what the materials it’s made out of can do!

Obsolescence

Watching Apple go through this process is really fascinating. It’s like watching a tapir turn into a dolphin. They’ve hyperspecialized so hard that new phones can take over as hobbyist items! They took out the aux cord; in-brand accessories are wildly expensive; it takes special mounts to use; it’s resistant to viruses but downloading a different browser means violating warranty; the camera is phenomenal; it’s faster than ever; the battery promises 22 hours’ worth of video playback; the outside is rock hard now. All for around a thousand dollars. Really, it’s a photography tool with phone capabilities, not the other way around!

Unfortunately, for the casuals, this overdeveloped camera and its vestigial phone material means that the iPhones 12 and 13 are actually less sturdy than they used to be, in spite of the harder ceramic shell on the outside. It’s designed to be dropped on adventures, not hooked up to a windshield for daily driving with it’s GPS. Is that what consumers want? Either way, it’s what they’re getting – Apple has never made the camera worse on the main line. That’s always relegated to the secondary line, the iPhone minis and pros, which are also weaker devices (and sometimes the camera isn’t smaller or less powerful anyway, just the device). While it’s not a pressing split now, it could turn into one if the trend continues and Apple doesn’t thicken back out for longevity’s sake.

Sources:

https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/14/21515158/iphone-12-pro-max-best-camera-biggest-phone

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212803

https://backlightblog.com/iphone-12-pro-camera

https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/14/21515158/iphone-12-pro-max-best-camera-biggest-phone

Apple And Differentiation

Elizabeth Uncategorized October 6, 2021

You might remember Apple’s smart mouse having it’s left-right click removed. Now there is only mono-click. All hail mono-click.

Differentiation

Differentiating yourself from your competitors is generally a good thing. After all, if every company is producing the same product, customers will choose whichever is cheaper. However, differentiation is also not as simple as price or quality: at some point, this differentiation gets so huge that customers literally cannot switch back over without learning the competitor’s product from scratch.

Little differences make the electronics market incredibly diverse!

History

Apple and Microsoft have been the two big dogs in the industry for forever. Microsoft focused on software, while Apple focused on computers – Apple famously nearly bankrupted itself once by focusing too much of their resources at projects like the Newton, which would have been one of the first PDA devices able to recognize handwriting, in 1997. They also made a deal with Microsoft to secure an investment and get the company back into solvency, which lead to a much more user-friendly version of Windows for their computers. Essentially, Apple traded some of it’s UI in order to get back on track financially. Since then, Apple and Microsoft have taken wildly different paths, and while they’re always trying to go faster, they’re doing it in different ways:

Apple’s focus is very much on the human side of computer/human interaction, while Microsoft’s more concerned with the computer and it’s functionalities. After all, people are easier to teach new things to than the computer!

As a result, the two use very different machines to get to their ultimate goal of a happy customer. Even then, Microsoft can appear on any number of devices, from Dell to Azer or Asus and more, while Mac’s OS appears almost exclusively on Apple devices.

Hardware

Let’s start small. Most mice have two separate plates for left- and right- click. Most mice also have a few millimeters of give on them for clicks, so they have to be divided. The newest generation of Magic Mouse defies both of these, and the left-right click is handled by one, singular button. The plastic is more flexible than on traditional mice to accommodate the twisting it needs to do to function.  This fundamentally changes a user’s experience, as do the paper-thin buttons and the placement of the charging port. This new gen of Apple mice is also missing a physical scroll wheel!  

Slightly Bigger

 Apple’s laptops and peripherals are becoming wafer-thin. Their tablets, too, are typically thinner than tablets of the same speed and power brought out by Dell or Microsoft. Meanwhile, Alienware (produced by Dell) laptops play up how much thicker and beefier their products are when compared to the sleek, small Apple devices. Differentiation here allows the customer to pick a device more suited to what they need: Alienware’s goal is to look like a gaming device. Apple’s is to look like a personal computer. The million other shapes and sizes of Azer, Asus, Dell, etc. computers fall somewhere in the middle. Looks still tell consumers a lot about a machine, so physical differentiation is critical for marketing!

Even Bigger

Apple’s UI is one of a kind. Because the hardware is so different, the software itself needs to do more with less.

The Magic Mouse, for example, can’t be used while it’s charging. The charging port is at the bottom. It’s also missing buttons for separate left-right clicks, which presents an issue as the mouse gets older and becomes prone to mis-interpreting physical inputs. Both of these mean that Apple’s touch screens and touch pads have to be phenomenal to keep up with the features they’re getting rid of for sleekness – the built-in trackpad is often compensating for the finicky nature of the buttons.

Secondarily, the lack of physical buttons (like that scroll wheel) doesn’t mean those functionalities are gone, they’re just controlled by gestures instead. Apple’s newest Magic Mouse can actually “see” human hands and interpret certain movements as gestures! It’s even customizable to a limited extent. The software in the mouse alone is incredibly different from anything users see from Windows. That might be a good thing, as users are often frustrated by this 75+$ mouse when it glitches or misinterprets an input.

Meanwhile, third party and Windows-compatible mice don’t futz with gestures at all, bringing down the price dramatically.

Built Different

The computers themselves are built differently. It is possible to download the iOS on a third party computer – however, most computers come with either Windows or that iOS already installed. While Linux can run on Windows, it had to be specially modified to get to Linux on an Apple-made device. Apple also prioritizes computer resources differently – thinner machines have to sacrifice some function to get wafer-thin. It keeps the stuff that an average user needs, and cuts wants down to the bone so it all fits inside. You may notice that Apple tablets struggle with more intense App games, and that’s not a mistake. Game studios have to create a separate version of their game especially for Apple devices, not only for the programming but for the hardware: Apple uses less powerful GPU units than most Windows manufacturers, since Apple is catering to casual users first.

Apple’s also notoriously finnicky about warranty – open up your Apple device yourself and risk voiding the warranty on the machine. They barely tolerate third-party repair shops, and it seems, at times, like they want to punish the end user for buying something Apple-made with expensive and easily breakable parts (notably their easily breakable phone screens, up until a couple of years ago). Windows devices, which are really an assortment of all sorts of third party machines, can get repaired basically anywhere.

Final Verdict? Apple’s main focus is always going to be on the user experience first and performance second, where other devices may let user experience slink to second or third place to favor other aspects of computers. In Cult of Mac’s article, you can see just how many of these principles are to make the user experience easier, vs. Windows, which often didn’t bother to spell things out for the user until much later in its history. They’re radically different in more than just appearance!

Sources:

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5054751

https://magicutilities.net/magic-mouse/help/scrolling-and-swipes

https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/difference-between-windows-and-ios/

https://appleinsider.com/articles/18/08/06/august-6-1997—-the-day-apple-and-microsoft-made-peace

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-steve-jobs-took-apple-from-near-bankruptcy-to-billions-in-13-years-2011-1#1998-introducing-the-imac-2

Apple Wheels – It’s Wheely About Advertising

Ah, Complaining.

 

Apple Wheels

 

The Apple Mac Pro cost several thousand dollars, and it looked like a cheese grater. The little Apple-branded wheels to make it move cost about 700$, or approximately the price of the iPhone 8 at launch. Oh, but don’t worry – you can buy the feet for a mere 300$, if you just have to have Apple Brand. How did we get here? How did we, as a society, get to 700$ computer wheels?

 

Brand = Trustworthy

 

Branding by itself is an interesting mark of human psychology. It’s a shortcut to trusting something! The brand of an item itself purely imaginary – the brand, by itself, does not produce value for the final product except for the value the consumer gives it in their mind. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Look at IKEA: all those items come from different factories, so customers shouldn’t just blindly trust whatever they buy, right? But because IKEA has put their name behind it, consumers still buy the cheap shelves with the understanding that IKEA has endorsed them. If these shelves were somewhere else, and un-branded, consumers wouldn’t trust them as much. They’d sell less. Branding, in this way, is extremely valuable even though it’s intangible.

And it’s good for the customer, too! It allows them to make a more informed decision. Emotionally, people become loyal to brands that have served them well. Fortunately for the brand, they’ll stay loyal unless something seriously impacts their mental image of that brand.

All of this sounds totally logical and reasonable, right? It’s the way people have done business since cash was invented. It made sense for people to trust the smithy, who branded their creations, over someone who wouldn’t put their name to what they made.

Strange things start happening when people like the brand more than the products, and we’ll get there.

Even though consumers may know the store-brand comes from the same plant that the name-brand does, they may still pick name-brand. This is part of that trust – it is scary to try new things, and keeping one constant, the brand, the same, makes buying big electronics or new foods less scary. When consumers stop showing a brand loyalty, or they start complaining, the brand could do things like throw in warranties or spare parts for free and retain that good will. Store brand doesn’t stand a chance even if it’s literally identical.

 

Brand = Money

 

Branding can save a company even if they’re like modern day Pyrex, which has a different heat tolerance depending which factory you get it from. People post infographics online so consumers can identify the ‘good’ pieces, because they love Pyrex so much. A change to the glass manufacturing process means that the brand is no longer a reliable indicator of quality, but people still want to like Pyrex. Otherwise they wouldn’t go through all this effort to find the right Pyrex factory, they’d buy somewhere else. This is where brand starts to become more important than what it’s selling.

People will pay a premium for a brand they trust, and companies know this. We see this everywhere, from cars to computers. If something was good, some people will believe it’s still good. That’s the business principle of goodwill. Sears might have survived a couple years off of goodwill and nostalgia alone.

Branding, therefore, can become a phylactery in the hands of a new controlling board. As soon as a company starts to rely on goodwill to sell items that they know other companies would have ditched, they become like Apple. Unlike Apple, many of them don’t sell high-ticket items as a luxury.

For Apple, the brand is demand. Where Steve Jobs might have demanded innovation out of every item they released, the controlling board doesn’t. They know that the brand reputation he built will sell items because people love Apple, and they know people want to look like they have money, and by smearing Android products as ‘cheap’, Apple became a shortcut for ‘expensive’. Apple wheels are a natural result of a market that’s so hyperfocused on branding that it doesn’t care about functionality. A combination of goodwill and a little psychology gives us these overpriced items that are only overpriced for the sake of it.

The irony of all of this is that people will eventually buy the item as a ‘flex’, unironically, and then the product exists in a quantum state of sincerity. How does Apple live where others die?

 

Wheely Worth It

 

Apple sells sincere items alongside their ‘meme’ items. While Apple sells things like wheels and pens for hundreds of dollars, the past generations of phones are still about the right price for what the user gets. Factoring in things like R + D, factory overhead, and the materials to go into it, a comparable phone made by a third party would be cheaper, but not by much. They’re only at a small premium to other comparable brands for the same computing power, which makes sense with Apple’s well-known tech support. They haven’t gone full ‘Sears’ yet, and there’s still some value in the idea of their brand, and they still release ‘worthy’ items alongside the garbage ones. Why risk it with wheels that cost as much as an iPhone, a genuinely expensive item?

Simple: it’s for advertising, and it’s fairly cheap as far as campaigns go. Either ‘hype beasts’ (people known for buying branded clothing just because it’s expensive) buy it to flex on others, or regular people discuss how out-of-line Apple is. Either way, Apple’s name is out there. Apple might not actually expect to make money with these wheels, but the items are so cheap to make that a single purchase could finance the production of 50 more sets. Not to forget hype beasts!

This new trend of “flexing” expensive-but-nearly-worthless items has led to the creation of the Supreme Brick, the Apple wheels, and all sorts of other tomfoolery that relies on branding. Now, some brands use branding as a shortcut to ‘luxury’ instead of ‘trust’. Luxury clothing items have already been doing this for years, so while the material is thin, the manufacturing process cost cents on the dime, and shipping it en masse cost maybe a couple dollars, the final item is an 800$ shirt. Not because it’s made of especially good materials, or hardy – because it has a logo on it.

The only reason knockoffs are not worth as much is because the original brand has convinced people that their product is ‘better’ because it cost more, not that it cost more because it was better. And people believe it! Anyone self-conscious enough to get fake Airpods or a third-party Gucci shirt are still pursuing that image of luxury, which is fantastic for the brand. The same goes for Apple Wheels, and Airpods, and Supreme clothing… if the consumer values it, then they’re worth it. The Apple Wheels are worth 699$ to the people who want it, and that’s good enough to keep making them.  They’re buying Apple Brand, after all.

Apple Wheel. It’s wheely about the advertising.

 

Sources:

https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MX572ZM/A/apple-mac-pro-wheels-kit

https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MXNM2ZM/A/apple-mac-pro-feet-kit

https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2020/02/26/shout-or-whisper-dissecting-quiet-and-loud-luxury

 

Apple Wave

Elizabeth Advice December 30, 2020

If you’ve been online a while, you’ve probably heard of Apple Wave, an “update” that “allowed” phones to “charge” in the microwave. Don’t microwave your phone.

The Goal

An anonymous message board known for incredible coordination gets the idea to put together Apple Wave, a fake advertisement campaign. Apple Wave tells users that they can now microwave their phone to charge it. It wasn’t an immediate success; the successful version was several iterations deep as they worked out what an official Apple ads looked like together. The anonymous message board had finally gotten a graphic designer (or at least someone who knew how to assemble high-ish quality graphics) interested in the scheme, and away they went.

The Term “Life Hack”

Don’t microwave your phone. If the information doesn’t come from a respected source, don’t try it before researching. Remember that big explosion of people testing hacks on Youtube? That’s because for a while, life-hack folks were able to get away with just doing stuff or saying things that sound plausible but were usually useless – or dangerous in the worst cases. Nobody pictures molten caramel and a drill when they hear cotton candy, but hack channels slapped the two together. Sugar burns!

But nobody wanted to be wrong in the comments by calling it out – maybe the hack really did work. Many of them are tedious or annoying; nobody wanted to spend time on something that doesn’t work only so that they can say it doesn’t work with complete certainty. That caramel hack, for example, would mean getting a drill out, buying caramel candies if you don’t have them on hand, melting them in a pan (that you also have to wash), and either tending to your burns afterwards or trying to get a bad impression of sugar floss off the insides of a cardboard box, for what? Worse cotton candy? Cotton candy that is worse than the candy that went into making it?

The Youtuber trend of trying hacks might be annoying to some people, but at least someone is trying these things to verify that they don’t work.

Plausibility – “Nobody Made You Microwave Your Phone”

Plausible information is a perfect way to get people to do something they’d never normally do – common sense says you don’t put metal in a microwave, but the fake ad was so compelling people did it anyway. It appealed to authority as the information came from Apple, or at least, the ad had the Apple logo in it, which was as good as branding. A lot of tech seems totally opaque to people, and it’s difficult to blame them for assuming someone else knows their device better than they do. Apple has their Genius Bar for a reason, after all.

“Plausible”

It was plausible to a lot of people that a phone was microwaveable for charging. That’s the other essential part of a plausible troll/disinformation campaign! They completely removed any mention of a microwave’s normal functions to keep people from thinking too hard about what they were actually doing. Even the mechanism charging the phone was a ‘software update’ which could mean anything to a lot of ordinary people. When this troll post first popped up, the iPhone was still pretty new.

It only takes a few seconds in a microwave to seriously damage a phone. A microwave works roughly by shooting microwaves inside the box, where they reflect off the metal walls until they hit your food. This transfers the energy from the waves and causes the food molecules to heat up. When microwaves hit the phone, they either bounce off in a way they’re not supposed to (which causes sparks) or successfully hit the components, which aren’t meant to have that much energy. That causes electrical discharge which is bad for everything inside the phone. It can also cause battery rupture. If you remember that Samsung battery issue a few years back, you’ve seen how destructive lithium batteries are when the insides are exposed to air.

Red Flags

Some red flags you should look for when discovering information: Did it come straight from the suggested source (like the Apple website)? Or did you find it in a graphic somewhere else (like Facebook or Instagram)?

When you try to verify, is the information possible to find? Or does it seem like the graphic is the only source of the info?

Does it make sense with what you already know about that object?

Does it make sense that you’ve never seen or heard of the hack before, or haven’t thought of it yourself?

Are there special instructions in the comments to make the hack ‘work’ that were left out of the graphic?

Are the comments split into complete agreement and complete disagreement, where one party is insisting it works completely and the other is warning people NOT to try the hack under any circumstances?

If so, it might be a troll post.