iCloud+ beta testing custom domain hosting and living with COVID-19.

Apple has made available via their iCloud beta website the custom domain hosting – I tried it out and it was fairly painless though adding the CNAME record was a bit of a pain in the backside because it wasn’t just a simply copy and past. That being said, all these services are available if you pay for extra storage space (I’m on 200GB at the moment but I’m looking at upgrading it to 2TB in the near future). Beta 7 of iOS 15 has been released so if I had to guess I would say that the announcement of the next iPhone will be mid October with the release of iOS 15 being a week after then when the iPhone 13 starts arriving there will probably a minor update (something like an iOS 15.0.1). When it comes to macOS I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up seeing macOS 12 being released mid to end of November with iOS 15.1 being made available which will include iCloud Private Relay (it was disabled in iOS 15 Beta 7 which is an indication that they’re wanting to stabilise it read to ship the ‘golden master’ to the factory for the new phones).

Getting the Delta stran under control appears to be working – the growth of community transmission is slowling which indicates a flatting of the curve (assuming there isn’t a cluster suddenly found. With all that being said, they are doing sewage testing as well which will help detect if there is any COVID within the community – at the moment the tests in Christchurch has detected trace amounts but (link). It’s speculation on my part but I have a feeling that there will be an extension probably until the end of next week with a move to level 3 the week after next week but then again anything could happen – NSW thought that they had it under control then it all went sideways because they half-assed the lock down resulting it never being properly controlled.

Drama, scandal, mystery and intrigue in the world of technology.

And the backlash with the on device scanning has coming in ‘thick and fast’ with the situation now made worse now that the discourse has moved from technology enthusiasts online debating on how the technology could be expanded in the future by Apple (via pressure from governments) to now mainstream outlets, or to use an internet term ‘normies’,

Although Apple said that it is ‘more private’ because it doesn’t involve scanning every photo already uploaded in the cloud then it raises questions why the alternatives were looked into such as Rene Ritchie bringing up the idea of using a relay service where the photo is uploaded and scanned by a server before it goes through to the destination in much the same way that a mail server will scan email for viruses as it delivered. The other option is more direct, why not scan it on the server as it is uploaded? Better still, why not announce it and then request for feedback and don’t include it in the net release or any future releases until there is a solution that the experts and tech community can agree on? It has appeared to me that this decision by Apple has been the result of one of two things; the first being that the hard word was put on them by government where by they would sooner voluntary compliance but if need be legislation might follow which will be a lot more onerous or secondly the top management of Apple is an echo chamber and they’ve convinced themselves ‘the plebs’ will eventually quiet down once something else comes along to take the focus off them.

There is also an interesting treasure trove (link) about the goings on behind close doors which has come out in the Apple vs. Epic Games trial where, as part of the disclosure process Apple is having to disclose emails between executives. With the big focus on ‘big tech’, breaking up monopolies and anticompetitive behaviours, it’ll be interesting to see whether anything comes from this or whether this is a big show that is kept up until the public loses interest in it. As noted prior, if Apple insist on having the store being the only way to allow users to load applications onto their phone along with requiring that all payments go through their own payments system then they’re opening themselves up to regulation – and to think that all this could easily be dealt with if they implemented side loading with notarisation like they did with macOS. The likes of Apple might have had clout with politicians in the past but I think they’re going to quickly find that they’re now dealing in a new era – the political winds are blowing, Apple can either demonstrate some contrition and make changes voluntarily or quickly find that there is a solution handed down by politicians that goes well beyond simply a few tweaks to Apple’s AppStore business model.

As for me, I’ve been using Chrome for the last few months because I’ve found Safari completely unusable on YouTube. Just as I thought that maybe Apple had fixed the issue of video play back issues, that video will stop but audio will keep playing or vice versa, it appears that once again they’re rearing their ugly head. I love using macOS but Safari has become increasingly irrelevant as the web has become more sophisticated the problem is that Safari simply hasn’t kept up and when Apple do deliver support for an open standard then either it is too late, too buggy and/or castrated in some way because of some nebulous reasons that sound more akin to ‘the five standard excuses’ listed by Sir Humphrey Appleby in ‘Yes Minister’. It’s frustrating but there is no use getting worked up because Apple has made their decision in terms of crippling Webkit to ensure it doesn’t pose as a viable threat to their AppStore (see recent ‘boasting’ by executives at the growth of their services and you can see that as the upgrade cycles for phones become longer the more dependent they’ll be on pushing services hence their iCloud+.

When it comes to iCloud+, before I make any drastic changes I’m going to wait until there is the announcement towards the end of September, when Apple does their iPhone event, about what iCloud+ actually looks like such as the custom domain support that was mentioned, what iOS 15 and macOS 12 is like so then I can look at it when compared to the Pixel 6 and possibly a refresh of the Chromecast with Google TV (to support AV1 – the current one doesn’t support AV1). Things could be quite different when macOS and iOS are launched, there might be limitations with Safari but the annoying bugs might have been addressed by then so I’m going to keep an open mind so that a constructive comparison can be made.

The moment that maybe you should step back, take a deep breath and reconsider.

Now things start to get interesting when it comes to the discussion around CSAM where the discussion moves out of the realm of ‘arm chair expert throws around speculation’ to actual experts in the area voicing concerns and backing it up with research (link). Up until now the internet has been awash with speculation on what could happen but in this case they’ve actually done the research and, ummm, how does one put it…this is where Apple should step back and put the idea on ice in much the same way that the backlash regarding FLoC.

I think when discussing such sensitive topics that we avoid needless speculation and instead stick to the facts as they’re known – there is nothing wrong with admitting ignorance, admitting that there is limited knowledge at this point, that it is too soon to draw conclusions. It’ll be something I’ll follow closely as more independent researchers get to have a look at how it operates and whether the concerns that experts have hold merit. What I am surprised about is the fact that Apple announced it and decided to include it in iOS rather than announcing the technology, obtain feedback from independent researchers and then make a decision based on the feedback because it appears to be a bit pointless to declare that you’ve made the decision to include the technology regardless of what independent researchers say.

Supermarket shopping, CSAM saga continues and Google’s future hardware.

Finally got that $15 voucher from Countdown – I’m going to use that to buy some nice fresh organic free range eggs tomorrow which will go with my noodles (soft boiled so that they’re just firm enough to take the shell off but the yolk is still semi-runny). It’s a quick and easy meal at a good price I also grabbed some lamb and venison although lamb and venison in New Zealand is a big pricy I treat myself once or twice a week. That being said, it is cheaper than having fast food delivered so my goal is to move away from ordering in pizza in favour of having a nice meal at home with top notch ingredients which will be slightly cheaper but a whole lot healthier.

I sent a tweet to Rene Ritchie seeking clarification regarding the the whole CSAM drama by laying out what my understanding was of how the system worked (and got a reply back):

So basically it has become ‘much to do about nothing’ – the way in which people online are making it out is as though Apple just aimlessly scans what is on your device when in reality the only scanning that takes place is during the upload process – no different to a virus scanner scanning an email before sending it as to ensure there is no viruses or any other nasties attached to it. I think that eventually it’ll die down because the noise on the internet very rarely reflects the real world in much the same way that the Apple subreddit makes a lot of noise about the virtues of small phones even though in the real world their sales crash and burn because for the vast majority of people a big screen is desirable for a phone because for a significant number of people they see their phone as their ‘computer on the go’.

Although there are rumours of Apple refreshing the Mac product line up with the rumours of the ARM M1X SoC, my bug focus is on the announcement of the Pixel 6, in particular, the pro version. I’ve always had a soft sport for Android but always preferring the Android from Google in the form of the Nexus 6P and Pixel 4 XL which provides a bloatware free experience that delivers the best Google integration available. Some OEMs seem to have this idea that when customers buy their products that they’re interested in them (the OEM) when in reality for the vast majority of people the phone isa. means to an end – the end being to get online and log into Google services and if you as an OEM get in the way of that objective then you’ll quickly find that customers will look to another vendor instead.

The one thing I am also interest about is whether we’ll see a refresh of Chromecast with Google TV because the current one utilises an SoC that doesn’t support hardware accelerated AV1 decoding – I wouldn’t be surprised that if we don’t see a refresh now that we might see a refresh involving the joint venture between Samsung and Google so that eventually they get to the point that all their devices use their own custom silicon to deliver the best possible experience for end users. It is the reason why, years ago, they bought out Android because they realised that if you don’t control your own platform then it puts you in a very vulnerable position of being at the mercy of the platform provider – that the platform provider at any moment may have a change in outlook and you quickly find yourself at a disadvantage.

The CSAM on device scanning controversy.

Well, this was an interesting start to the week. I went to get my Pfizer covid shot and made a complete mess of it by going to the wrong clinic – instead of reading the address I decided that I already knew where it was only to find out that what I thought was the clinic ended up not to be the case. Anyway, long story short, I got to the correct clinic (after rushing from the wrong clinic to the correct one while falling on slipper muddy grass resulting in muddy pants) and it was all sorted in 30 minutes. After receiving the injection you wait in the waiting room for 20 minutes to ensure that there were no negative side effects however we were advised to keep hydrated (lots of water) along with feeling tired/fatigued. I still feel tired after yesterday so I’m going to think about taking today (Wednesday) off from work – working in a call centre you have to be fully awake.

The other big of news that came out was news about Apple implementing technology that scans photos on the device as it is uploaded to iCloud by comparing ‘hashes’ of those files against a CSAM database (link) and as usual the internet has been ablaze with randoms online give their usually insightful recons on the matter. Whenever something like this comes out I always wait until the dust settles and 9/10 there will be a sane and calmly delivered analysis is delivered that attempts to give a coherent explanation of what is going on. I have my differences of opinion with Rene Ritchie but when push comes to shove he does a great job at delivering a coherent explanation when compared to the torrent of BS making their rounds.

Personally, I’ve kept out of the whole debate – reminds me of the old saying, “a debate creates a lot of spark and heat but very little illumination” and what I saw were a lot of people yelling an screaming (metaphorically) in forums so I noped out of there asap. Reddit is filling up with self righteous chest betting virtue signallers about how they’re ‘men of principle’ and how they’re ‘taking a stand’ – all I can do look at such nonsense is to close my eyes, chuckle to myself while shaking my head. I also avoid it because more often than not people end up being wrong, take the latest bit of sensationalism posted on the Android subreddit (link) where in an article they quote some no body with no track record then for it to all be turned upside down when official numbers come out and show the complete opposite (link) – The first link has 2.2K responses where as the second one (the one that corrects the first one) has only 40 responses. It appears people are only interested in reading what reinforces existing beliefs than any interest in finding out the truth. I’m seeing the same sort of nonsense with this debate – the moment someone is called out the only come back they have is “..for now!” as if it were some sort of statement that they can use as a trump card.

Yes fanboys can be annoying, they epitomise the saying “enough knowledge to be dangerous”, such as Apple fanboys saying, “Google sells your personal information to advertisers” which is wholly inaccurate and yet no matter how many times that is corrected there people who repeat it because they aren’t interested in being factually accurate, it is about repeating something they heard that they believe (gut instinct, not backed up by facts) sounds like a decisive win in their forum debates online. When conversations online are more about scoring points than having a good faith discussion of learning off each other than at that point is the moment I jump out of the conversation because it is clear that I’m wasting my time.

Google Pixel 6 and Google deciding to settle on a messaging platform.

Out of nowhere Google has shown off the Pixel 6 to journalists however they could only show mockups in the videos being uploaded to YouTube. The focus was more a ‘top level’ macro overview rather than specifics (link) however pretty much all the tick boxes were filled when it came to confirming the rumours that have been making their round in the technology enthusiast space since the launch of the Samsung S21 and Google working with Samsung. The big focus appears to be the integration between the software and hardware which makes for an interesting situation when one considers that Apple has their own SoC, Samsung with their own SoC, Google with now their own SoC and Microsoft very much working with Qualcomm (maybe Microsoft will move beyond the Duo when it comes to Android phones).

I say tha tit is interesting because for many years the analysts on wall street convinced themselves that the future was all horizontal business models, that vertical business models like what Apple does is ‘stodgy’ and ‘old fashioned’ but it appears that once again the ‘experts on wall street’ demonstrate that they’re largely clueless about running a business. While Apple is making big investments into their services as people are keeping their phones for longer (thus slowing down growth) we’re seeing Google doing the same by not only developing their hardware division but offering more paid for services – I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up seeing more paid for services with the eventual goal to become less dependent on their advertisement business as it has become a lightning rod in recent years as concerns about consumer privacy come to the forefront.

One thing is interesting is how things are calming down in the area of messaging platforms, that after years of floating between different solutions it appears that Google has finally standardised on a platform (RCS) along with providing a framework so that third parties can build their messaging applications on while utilising the Google Jibe RCS network. Things are gradually evolving where recently end to end encrypt was enabled using the signal protocol for individual conversations but there are rumours that Google is working on enabling it for group conversations. Truth be known I only use SMS when chatting with friends and family, I got rid of my WhatsApp a few months ago so I could rid myself of any connection with Facebook.

One application I do like is Google Chat – it works a whole long nice than hangouts, it’ll be interesting to see whether long term we’ll see Meet replace duo or if they do keep it whether they call it something different- something that is a lot more descriptive given that Duo doesn’t exactly tell the end user much regarding it is supposed to do. It appears that across the board all the big players such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are rationalising their product portfolio and with the current political climate in the US regarding big tech giants I wouldn’t be surprised if we see further moves by Google to offer paid for versions – their recent move has been to provide a cheaper entry level version of YouTube Premium, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing more paid for ad free versions – a paid for product has a whole lot less political sensitivity associated with it when compared to an ad support service which bring scrutiny to the ad platform regarding end user privacy.

Apple releases updates, right to repair moving forward and products designed for obsolescence.

That was rather unexpected, a week after the iOS 14.7 and maOS 11.5 were released, Apple released another update within the last 24 hours in the form of iOS 14.7.1 and macOS 11.5.1 with the update of iOS 14.7.1 weighing it at 128MB where as macOS 11.5.1 weighed in at 2.2G. Given the size of the macOS update I have to wonder whether the correction in the IOMobileFrameBuffer required recompiling of all the frameworks that are based off that. I also wonder whether this was a fix for the much reported pegasus spyware but we’ll need to ‘wait and see’ given that there is currently a whole lot of political fall out that is occurring such as Emmanuel Macron an enquiry into NSO spyware concerns (link).

Personally I find the whole industry a bit unsavoury when one considers ‘In July 2001, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was jailed for several weeks…’ (link) because he is researching the technology behind technology (and help create software that would enable customers who had purchased Adobe ebooks to convert them into PDF so then it is possible to read them on devices without an special reader) but nothing is said about shady businesses that find vulnerabilities, create malware kits and then sell them to the highest bidder? Aaron Swartz bulk downloaded articles off JSTOR and had the legal system thrown at him which resulted in him taking his own life – yet nothing is said or done about these shady purveyors of malware and spying kits?

Regarding the matter of ‘right to repair’ which I raised towards the end of my last post, there was an interesting video from Louis Rossman (link) being interviewed by Krystal & Saagar (formally from ‘The Hill’):

It is important to keep in mind, it isn’t just the right to be able to get something repaired and for the repairer to be able to order the part, it also is about ensuring that there is the ability to repair without having to deal with proprietary firmware and software which make repairs impossible (link). Part of this trend has been pushed by the industry so that you’re dependent on their network of repair agents in much the same way that razor vendors will sell you a pack with a couple of ‘free’ blades but they make up the money on replacement blades or when printers sell a printer at a low margin and make up for it on the ink sales.

With all that being said, it is important not to let the consumer off the hook for a lot of what exists in the technology space at the moment. I’d argue that a fair amount of the push has been from consumers wanting thinner, lighter and valuing convenience over longevity and efficiency. Check out any discussion on forums of people whining about how their iPhone was ‘slightly heavier’ when Apple responded to demand for a larger battery, or the complaints by reviews of a laptop that is ever so slightly heavier but has the the added bonus of upgradeable memory and other components.

As I raised earlier regarding wireless keyboard and mouse on a desktop computer – to whose benefit? imagine the batteries that one goes through and made worse that some don’t even include replaceable batteries (see Apple’s own wireless keyboards) – you’re using your keyboard at your desk all the time so what is the purpose of having it wireless? It appears to be an example of a trend within technology which I’ll call “wires are old fashioned, wireless is sleek and modern” – the fetishisation and commodification of certain technologies as representing something ‘more modern’ even though if someone stood back they would realise that in the long term it is worse for the consumer and the environment.

The question is how does one educate consumers about what they’re forfeiting – to move people away from this idea of treating what they own as disposable to one where they value what they’ve bought and demand that devices are repairable and long lasting – that a pair of earphones that only last 2 years but cost NZ$249 is bordering on the ridiculous if the battery isn’t user replaceable.

One of the things I would love to see is a requirement that hardware companies have to open source the driver source so that it can be merged back into the Android master tree so then there isn’t the situation of Android phones being sold and they stop receiving security and bug fixes 6-12 months after being launched. At the end of the day when you have a smart phone you are running a minicomputer that is connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so it makes sense that you need to receive regular updates as security holes are found or as general bugs are found. Many of these devices have good enough hardware specifications to last 2-3 years minimum so why isn’t there an effort to ensure that those devices keep receiving updates even after they’re launched and the OEM has lost interest. Google could provide the compile farms and I’m sure there will be enough enthusiasts willing to keep things working.

Mandate that batteries are user replaceable – we used to have user replaceable batteries. Will it add to the bulk? sure but I’d sooner have the additional bulk with the freedom of being able to replace my battery rather than having to go through the inconvenience of having to take my phone to a store or find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no ability to get a replacement. This also goes for parts because as Louis Rossman noted in his interview, the vendor which supplies Apple has the part but Apple forbids that company from selling it to him so he can complete a repair – which is particularly important when the device is out of warranty or something that Apple has decided is beyond their scope (aka, telling the customer ‘just buy a new one’ but the customer needs the content of what is on the device since it may have not all backed up to the cloud).