This Week in Apps: The year’s best apps, 2020’s biggest downloads, the App Store’s newest hire

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People now spend three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

This week, Apple and Google announced their editorially curated lists detailing the best apps of the year, and Apple also revealed those that were downloaded the most. Apple also made a notable new hire for an App Store role and opened up its anticipated App Store Small Business Program to developers.

Top Stories

Best Apps of the Year

Image Credits: Apple

Both Apple and Google released their “best apps of 2020” year-end lists and there were some similarities between the two, as well as some differences. Both companies’ lists reflected the tough and stressful year 2020 has been, with everyone being stuck at home during a pandemic that changed how we worked, attended school, connected with friends and family, and entertained ourselves.

Apple and Google, as a result, both selected at least one “de-stressing” app among their year-end winners. In Apple’s case, it was Endel, an iOS app that won for Apple Watch App of the Year. Google, however, awarded sleep app Loóna the title of best app of the year.

Disney+ also made both Apple and Google’s lists, the former as Apple TV App of the Year and the latter as the User’s Choice for app of the year. The new streaming service was a godsend for families with younger children, who often struggled in 2020 to keep kids entertained. New releases like Onward and Mulan in 2020 helped give families something to look forward to, while Marvel and Star Wars content, including new series “The Mandalorian,” were hits with streamers, as well.

Another pandemic-prompted choice was Zoom, which won as iPad App of the Year. Though Zoom was around before the coronavirus outbreak, it’s now become a part of our everyday lexicon as an interchangeable term for “online video meeting” — as in, “let’s do a zoom call about that.” The iPad app at least made these endless virtual meetings a little less painless.

And home workout companion Wakeout! become Apple’s iPhone app of the year, as most people gave up the gym due to coronavirus risks. The app’s quick one-minute breaks helped users stay moving, even when stuck at home for days on the couch or working on their laptop in bed.

Image Credits: Genshin Impact (screenshot via Sensor Tower)

Meanwhile, gacha-based action role-playing game Genshin Impact won as “best game” of the year on both Apple and Google’s lists. While a cynical take is that the app stores wanted to point users to a huge moneymaker — the game reportedly earned $245 million its first month and nearly $400 million in two months on mobile — it also highlights consumers’ desire for console-like experiences on mobile.

The game, however, has been heavily criticized for its gacha game monetization techniques, which though common to games in China, Japan and South Korea, are basically gambling mechanics. And addictive ones at that. But as a Wired report noted, some of this comes down to cultural differences. U.S. users grew up on cartridge games, not arcade games, where you were constantly inserting more money to keep playing. Western users just aren’t as comfortable with this “spend to keep playing” business model, which they feel is predatory.

Apple’s other top apps of the year included perennial favorite Fantastical as Apple’s Mac App of the Year; Legends of Runeterra as iPad Game of the Year; Disco Elysium as Mac Game of the Year; Dandara Trials of Fear as Apple TV Game of the Year; and Sneaky Sasquatch as the Apple Arcade Game of the Year.

Google’s list also included SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off as users’ choice for best game, and it highlighted a variety of top titles in various gaming subgenres in a dedicated section of its Play Store.

2020’s most downloaded apps

Apple also gave a peek into the “best” apps of the year, as determined by app downloads. The pandemic played a role here as well, making Zoom the most-downloaded iPhone app of 2020.

Also of note, TikTok was the biggest social media app by downloads, ahead of all the Facebook-owned apps making the list, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Square’s Cash App hit No. 10, as the pandemic saw increased demand for contactless payments and direct giving to people in need.

The most-downloaded apps and games of 2020 were, as follows:

Top Free iPhone Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. TikTok
  3. Disney+
  4. YouTube
  5. Instagram
  6. Facebook
  7. Snapchat
  8. Messenger
  9. Gmail
  10. Cash App

Top Paid iPhone Apps

  1. TouchRetouch
  2. Procreate Pocket
  3. Dark Sky Weather
  4. Facetune
  5. HotSchedules
  6. AutoSleep Track Sleep
  7. The Wonder Weeks
  8. SkyView
  9. Shadowrocket
  10. Sky Guide

Top Free iPhone Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Call of Duty: Mobile
  3. Roblox
  4. Subway Surfers
  5. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  6. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  7. Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles
  8. Brain Out
  9. Coin Master
  10. Cube Surfer!

Top Paid iPhone Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Plague Inc.
  3. Heads Up!
  4. Monopoly
  5. Bloons TD6
  6. Geometry Dash
  7. NBA 2K20
  8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  9. The Game of Life
  10. True Skate

Top Free iPad Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. Disney+
  3. YouTube
  4. Netflix
  5. Google Chrome
  6. TikTok
  7. Amazon Prime Video
  8. Gmail
  9. Hulu
  10. Google Classroom

Top Paid iPad Apps

  1. Procreate
  2. GoodNotes 5
  3. Notability
  4. Duet Display
  5. Teach Your Monster
  6. LumaFusion
  7. Affinity Designer
  8. Toca Hair Salon 3
    9: Toca Life: Hospital
  9. Toca Kitchen 2

Top Free iPad Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Roblox
  3. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  4. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  5. Call of Duty: Mobile
  6. Subway Surfers
  7. Dancing Road: Color Ball Run!
  8. Tiles Hop – EDM Rush
  9. Mario Kart Tour
  10. Save The Girl!

Top Paid iPad Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Monopoly
  3. Bloons TD 6
  4. Plague Inc.
  5. Geometry Dash
  6. The Game of Life
  7. Five Nights at Freddy’s
  8. Human: Fall Flat
  9. Stardew Valley
  10. Terraria

Top Arcade Games

  1. Sneaky Sasquatch
  2. Hot Lava
  3. Skate City
  4. Sonic Racing
  5. PAC-MAN Party Royale
  6. SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
  7. Oceanhorn 2
  8. Crossy Road Castle
  9. WHAT THE GOLF?
  10. LEGO Brawls

Josh Elman joins Apple to focus on App Store discovery 

VC Josh Elman announced this week he was joining Apple in a role that will see him helping customers “discover the best apps for them.” In other words, app discovery.

Elman’s background includes RealNetworks, LinkedIn, Zazzle, Facebook and Twitter, and later moved into VC. Elman worked at venture firm Greylock in 2011 as a principal, and by 2013 he had become a general partner. While there, he invested in SmartThings, as well as social networks like Musical.ly (now the massive No. 2 app of the year, TikTok), Nextdoor, Houseparty and Discord. He later moved to fast-rising fintech startup Robinhood and now, he’s heading to Apple.

Weekly News

Platforms

  • Apple opens up enrollment into the App Store Small Business Program. The program will reduce App Store commissions to 15% for qualified developers with revenues under $1 million.
  • Google announced Android’s winter update will include an expanded Emoji Kitchen in Gboard, auto-narration for Google Play Book without narration, a “Go Tab” in Google Maps for frequent destinations, Android Auto soon arriving in more countries, support for app sharing in Nearby Share and Voice Access improvements.
  • Google launches the first version of Android Studio Arctic Fox (2020.3.1) on the Canary channel, along with Android Gradle plugin (AGP) version 7.0.0-alpha01. The release is also notable for moving to a year-based system more aligned with IntelliJ IDEA, the IDE upon which Android Studio is built. Going forward, the number scheme will work like this: <Year of IntelliJ Version>.<IntelliJ major version>.<Studio major version>. The new version of Android Studio includes over 200 improvements and bugs, including those in the code editor, app inspection tools, layout editor and the embedded emulator.

Services

Security & Privacy

  • Twitter now supports hardware security keys for iPhones and Android.
  • Google Authenticator app for iOS adds a dark theme and support for bulk 2FA account transfers, helpful for switching between devices.
  • Google launches Android Enterprise Essentials, an MDM for SMBs that will require their employees to use a lock screen and encryption to protect company data and can remotely wipe devices. It also prevents users from installing apps outside the Google Play Store via the Google Play Protect service.

Accessibility

  • iPhones can now automatically recognize and label buttons and UI features for blind users using Screen Recognition in iOS 14.
  • Android’s winter update, similarly, will introduce a new version of Voice Access that will use ML to understand interface labels and buttons on devices.

Apps in the News

  • Google now lets anyone contribute to Google Maps’ Street View using the Street View app and Android phone that supports ARCore.
  • Telegram is the first third-party app to use Apple’s Announce Messages with Siri feature for AirPods.
  • Google adds the messaging feature every iMessage user dreams of: the ability to schedule sending of messages in Google’s Messages app.
  • Reddit reveals DAUs for first time: 52 million.
  • Google Assistant can now reply to messages from WhatsApp, Google Voice and more.
  • Google Maps gets a Facebook-like news feed with business updates, local reviews and more.
  • TikTok tests three-minute long videos. (But we don’t need longer versions of its viral hits like M to the B).
  • Triller claims 321 million downloads and 65 million MAUs. (Former employees have accused the TikTok rival of inflating its numbers, which Triller denies.)
  • Evernote rolls out a redesign on Android. The updates include a new note editor, faster search and improved navigation.
  • Google’s learn-to-code app Grasshopper is now available in Spanish.
  • WhatsApp will now allow users to set custom wallpapers, adds doodle wallpaper in more colors and adds new stickers.
  • E-commerce app Wish accused of selling counterfeit products. 
  • 7-Eleven adds its own mobile wallet to its app to allow customers, including cash customers, a contactless way to pay at its stores using their phone.
  • Match-owned dating app Hinge refreshes design and adds a “Standouts” feature to show users outstanding prompts and photo prompts from their best potential matches, and can answer with a new paid feature, Roses.
  • Quibi is really gone now.

Trends

Image Credits: App Annie

  • App download rates have declined by 4% since 2015, but active engagement has grown.
  • Messaging app usage is up 13% (four-year CAGR), and users spend 67% more time in messaging apps than in social media apps.
  • Messaging apps that offer privacy features see, on avgerage, 30% more active users than alternatives.
  • Q3 smartphone sales down 5.7% in Q3 to 366 million.
  • Mobile shopping climbed 25% on Black Friday to $3.6 billion. 
  • U.S. shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8 million per Sensor Tower, or 2.7 million per App Annie. App Annie also said shopping shopping app downloads topped 2.3 million on Thanksgiving and 2.1 million on Cyber Monday.
  • On Black Friday, Walmart was the No. 1 U.S. shopping app download, followed by Amazon. On Cyber Monday, that was reversed, also per App Annie.
  • In-app revenue was 150% higher on Black Friday than the average of the previous 30 days, says AppsFlyer.
  • App Store and Google Play consumer spending topped $100 billion from January 1-November 29, Sensor Tower says.

Funding and M&A

  • Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7 billion.
  • VSCO acquires the tech and team from the AI-powered video editing app Trash to move further into the video market. Deal terms weren’t available, but Trash was backed by $3.3 million.
  • Teen banking app Step raises $50 million. The app is TikTok star Charli D’Amelio’s first startup investment. Other investors included lead Coatue; returning investors from Stripe, Crosslink Capital, Collaborative Fund and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC; and celeb investors D’Amelio, Justin Timberlake and The Chainsmokers, Eli Manning, Kelvin Beachum, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Iguodala.
  • Ivanti acquired security firms, including enterprise mobile security firm MobileIron and corporate VPN provider Pulse Secure. Ivanti bought MobileIron for $872 million in stock.
  • U.K. challenger banking app Monzo adds £60 million in funding.
  • AR gaming startup Krikey raises undisclosed funding, including from Jio Platforms. The company has raised $22 million to date.
  • Wellory raises $4.5 million for its anti-diet nutrition app.
  • Airbnb to IPO with shares priced between $44 and $50.
  • ESL app for kids Novakid raises $4.25 million.
  • Virtual fitness app Salut raises $1.25 million.
  • Video app Supergreat, a TikTok for beauty products, raises $6.5 million.
  • Mental health app Intellect raises undisclosed round led by Insignia VP.

Review

We tried the Apple Watch Family Setup with a tween. They weren’t impressed with the apps or the controls, but did like the Memoji. No Roblox group chat on the small screen? Boo.

Downloads

Iconboard

Image Credits: Iconboard

If you find it too frustrating to use Apple’s Shortcuts to build your own custom icons, you can turn to Iconboard instead. This newly launched app lets you design a style for your icons and apply it to all of your icons at once. It can even create invisible icons to give you a way to space out items on your screen.

Cardlet

Image Credits: Cardlet

While I’ve been enjoying Punkpost’s custom designs for when I’m too lazy…err I mean busy…to send my own handwritten notes and cards, Cardlet is ready to give my go-to app a run for the money. Like Punkpost, Cardlet will send a real paper card on your behalf, but it adds a modern-day touch: The app includes a hidden AR experience that brings the card to life when viewed with the camera.

Heynote

Image Credits: Heynote

Some people don’t trust to-do lists, reminders or calendar notifications to always get the job done. When there’s something we really need to remember, we stick it directly on our home screen. (Okay, this one may only appeal to a small niche of scatterbrained users like me.) But if you have, in the past, also designed your own temporary wallpaper just so you won’t forget a super critical appointment, the Android app Heynote, (hat tip to Android Police!) might help. Instead of a widget or reminder, this app lets you put custom text directly on your home screen as a custom wallpaper. Doctor appt. at 11 AM? You can’t forget it when it’s there every single time you look at your phone.

#app-stores, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #google, #mobile, #this-week-in-apps

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Developers can now enroll in Apple’s ‘Small Business Program’ for reduced App Store fees

Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching an “App Store Small Business Program” that would reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1 million per year from the App Store.

That program is starting to roll out now, with Apple opening up the enrollment process just this morning.

Apple outlines the program here, with a few things standing out:

  • It’s open to both new developers and existing developers who made less than $1 million this year across all of their apps combined.
  • Once a developer surpasses $1 million for the year, the rate goes back up to the standard rate.
  • Once the program kicks in after December 31, participating developers won’t be able to transfer apps to/from other accounts — presumably so that people don’t go “Oh, this app is making too much money. Quick, switch it to another account!”. “If you initiate an app transfer after December 31, 2020, or accept a transfer of an app that was initiated after December 31, 2020,” Apple writes, “you will no longer be eligible to participate in program.”
  • If you oversee multiple developer accounts, Apple wants you to identify them.

Apple says that if you enroll by December 18, reduced fees should be active by January 1 of 2021. Existing developers can still enroll after that cutoff, but things get a bit more complicated, with reduced fees generally kicking in midway through the next fiscal calendar month.

 

#app-store, #apple, #tc

0

iPhones can now automatically recognize and label buttons and UI features for blind users

Apple has always gone out of its way to build features for users with disabilities, and Voiceover on iOS is an invaluable tool for anyone with a vision impairment — assuming every element of the interface has been manually labeled. But the company just unveiled a brand new feature that uses machine learning to identify and label every button, slider, and tab automatically.

Screen Recognition, available now in iOS 14, is a computer vision system that has been trained on thousands of images of apps in use, learning what a button looks like, what icons mean, and so on. Such systems are very flexible — depending on the data you give them, they can become expert at spotting cats, facial expressions, or as in this case the different parts of a user interface.

The result is that in any app now, users can invoke the feature and a fraction of a second later every item on screen will be labeled. And by “every,” they mean every — after all, screen readers need to be aware of every thing that a sighted user would see and be able to interact with, from images (which iOS has been able to create one-sentence summaries of for some time) to common icons (home, back) and context-specific ones like “…” menus that appear just about everywhere.

The idea is not to make manual labeling obsolete — developers know best how to label their own apps, but updates, changing standards, and challenging situations (in-game interfaces, for instance) can lead to things not being as accessible as they could be.

I chatted with Chris Fleizach from Apple’s iOS accessibility engineering team, and Jeff Bigham from the AI/ML accessibility team, about the origin of this extremely helpful new feature. (It’s described in a paper due to be presented next year.)

“We looked for areas where we can make inroads on accessibility, like image descriptions,” said Fleizach. “In iOS 13 we labeled icons automatically – Screen Recognition takes it another step forward. We can look at the pixels on screen and identify the hierarchy of objects you can interact with, and all of this happens on device within tenths of a second.”

The idea is not a new one, exactly; Bigham mentioned a screen reader, Outspoken, which years ago attempted to use pixel-level data to identify UI elements. But while that system needed precise matches, the fuzzy logic of machine learning systems and the speed of iPhones’ built-in AI accelerators means that Screen Recognition is much more flexible and powerful.

It wouldn’t have been possibly just a couple years ago — the state of machine learning and the lack of a dedicated unit for executing it meant that something like this would have been extremely taxing on the system, taking much longer and probably draining the battery all the while.

But once this kind of system seemed possible, the team got to work prototyping it with the help of their dedicated accessibility staff and testing community.

“VoiceOver has been the standard bearer for vision accessibility for so long. If you look at the steps in development for Screen Recognition, it was grounded in collaboration across teams — Accessibility throughout, our partners in data collection and annotation, AI/ML, and, of course, design. We did this to make sure that our machine learning development continued to push toward an excellent user experience,” said Bigham.

It was done by taking thousands of screenshots of popular apps and games, then manually labeling them as one of several standard UI elements. This labeled data was fed to the machine learning system, which soon became proficient at picking out those same elements on its own.

It’s not as simple as it sounds — as humans, we’ve gotten quite good at understanding the intention of a particular graphic or bit of text, and so often we can navigate even abstract or creatively designed interfaces. It’s not nearly as clear to a machine learning model, and the team had to work with it to create a complex set of rules and hierarchies that ensure the resulting screen reader interpretation makes sense.

The new capability should help make millions of apps more accessible, or just accessible at all, to users with vision impairments. You can turn it on by going to Accessibility settings, then VoiceOver, then VoiceOver Recognition, where you can turn on and off image, screen, and text recognition.

It would not be trivial to bring Screen Recognition over to other platforms, like the Mac, so don’t get your hopes up for that just yet. But the principle is sound, though the model itself is not generalizable to desktop apps, which are very different from mobile ones. Perhaps others will take on that task; the prospect of AI-driven accessibility features is only just beginning to be realized.

#accessibility, #apple, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #mobile, #screen-readers, #tc, #voiceover

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Sight Tech Global day 2 is live! Hear from Apple, Waymo, Microsoft, Sara Hendren and Haben Girma

Day 2 for the virtual event Sight Tech Global is streaming on TechCrunch from 8 a.m. PST to 12:30. The event looks at how AI-based technologies are rapidly changing the field of accessibility, especially for blind people and those with low vision. Today’s programming includes top accessibility product and technology leaders from Apple, Waymo, Microsoft and Google, plus sessions featuring disability rights lawyer Haben Girma and author and designer Sara Hendren. Check out the event’s full agenda.

The Sight Tech Global project aims to showcase the remarkable community of technologists working on accessibility-related products and platforms. It is a project of the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is based in Silicon Valley.

This year’s event sponsors include: Waymo, Verizon Media, TechCrunch, Ford, Vispero, Salesforce, Mojo Vision, iSenpai, Facebook, Ability Central, Google, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Amazon, Eyedaptic, Verizon 5G, Humanware, APH, and accessiBe. Our production partners: Cohere Studio (design),  Sunol Media Group (video production), Fable (accessibility crowd testing), Clarity Media (speaker prep), Be My Eyes (customer service), 3Play and Vitac  (captioning).

#apple, #artificial-intelligence, #events, #google, #haben-girma, #microsoft, #sight-tech-global, #tc

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Daily Crunch: Apple announces its best apps of 2020

Apple releases its annual best apps list, a self-driving truck startup raises $350 million and the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine gets emergency approval in the United Kingdom. This is your Daily Crunch for December 2, 2020.

The big story: Apple announces its best apps of 2020

There were different winners — all selected by App Store editors — for different devices. Home workout app Wakeout! was named the iPhone App of the Year, Disney+ was the Apple TV App of the Year and the productivity app Fantastical was the Mac App of the Year. As for the iPad App of the Year, it went to perhaps the most obvious choice: Zoom.

As far as user popularity goes, Apple said that Zoom was the biggest free iPhone app, followed by TikTok and Disney+ (which must qualify as free on a technicality), while the most popular free iPhone game was Among Us.

The tech giants

Loon’s stratospheric balloons are now teaching themselves to fly better thanks to Google AI — Alphabet’s Loon has been using algorithmic processes to optimize the flight of its stratospheric balloons for years, but the company is now deploying a new navigation system.

Apple’s MagSafe Duo charger is now available — The MagSafe Duo appeared yesterday on Apple’s own store and has delivery estimates as soon as this week.

Google says its News Showcase will add free access to paywalled stories — So far, Google News Showcase has launched in countries including Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, France, U.K. and Australia.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple raises $350M from US rail, retail and freight giants — TuSimple was one of the first autonomous trucking startups to emerge in what has become a small-yet-bustling industry.

Virta Health’s behavioral diabetes treatment service is now worth over $1B — Virta aims to reverse the presence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic metabolic conditions by changing a user’s diet and exercise.

Space Perspective raises $7M for its plan to ferry tourists to the edge of space — Spaceship Neptune is designed to carry up to eight passengers on a six-hour journey that will include two hours spent at the upper edge of Earth’s atmosphere.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

From surviving to thriving as a hardware startup — Six strategies from Minut CEO Nils Mattisson.

A roundup of recent unicorn news — So much for a December news slowdown.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

The U.K. approves the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use — The U.K. is the first country to approve the vaccine for widespread use.

Discovery will launch its own streaming service on January 4 — Discovery is the latest media company to launch a standalone streaming service, and the latest to adopt the simple naming strategy of just adding a plus sign.

Gift Guide: The best books for 2020 recommended by VCs and TechCrunch writers (Part 1) — Includes lots of good books for tech and business readers, plus my recommendation for the non-new, non-tech, yet extremely good novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#apple, #apps, #daily-crunch, #mobile

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Apple’s MagSafe Duo charger finally shows up in online stores

Today, Apple finally began selling and shipping the MagSafe Duo charger, an accessory that was announced alongside the new iPhone 12 lineup on October 13.

The MagSafe Duo is a charging pad that uses Qi wireless charging tech to charge two devices at once. Apple says it supports any Qi-enabled device but, of course, it specifically notes that the Duo can charge any two-device combination of an iPhone, an Apple Watch, or AirPods cases.

The MagSafe Duo charger is just one of a number of MagSafe accessories Apple announced in October. New iPhones have a magnet built into the back that is designed to allow chargers and cases to latch on, and MagSafe iPhones also have built-in sensors to detect what kind of accessory is being connected and communicate with it via NFC.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-store, #iphone-12, #magsafe, #magsafe-duo, #qi, #tech, #wireless-charging

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Apple releases its ‘Best of 2020’ App Store winners and most downloaded apps of the year

Apple today released its highly anticipated annual list of the best apps and games of 2020. As in previous years, App Store editors selected the winners based on factors like the app’s quality, creative design, usability and use of Apple technology, among other things. The “Best of 2020” winners this year include a number of apps that helped people transition to a life spent at home. For example, home workout app Wakeout! won iPhone App of the Year, while Zoom snagged the top spot as the iPad App of the Year.

Disney+, which helped families keep kids entertained during coronavirus lockdowns, won for Apple TV App of the Year. The streaming service had just won “best app” in Google Play’s User Choice category, announced on Tuesday alongside its other Play Store winners.

Image Credits: Wakeout!

Top games of the year highlighted our collective need for escapism, often to fantasy worlds. This year, the list of game winners included Genshin Impact (also a Play Store “best game” winner) for iPhone Game of the Year; Legends of Runeterra as iPad Game of the Year; Disco Elysium as Mac Game of the Year; Dandara Trials of Fear as Apple TV Game of the Year; and Sneaky Sasquatch as the Apple Arcade Game of the Year.

Image Credits: Fantastical

Meanwhile, productivity app Fantastical won as Apple’s Mac App of the Year, a reflection of our new work-from-home lifestyles.

A relaxation and sleep app, Endel, won Apple Watch App of the Year.

Image Credits: Endel

It’s not surprising to see another relaxation app win a top app of the year accolade. Google just awarded sleep app, Loóna, the title of best app of 2020 on Tuesday, as well.

2020 has been a tough year filled with stressful events, including not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but Trump’s impeachment and November’s contentious U.S. presidential elections, the biggest stock market crash since ’87, protests and riots over racial injustice, wildfires in Australia and the U.S. West, the Weinstein verdict, Brexit, the deadly Beirut explosion, violence in Delhi, the Hong Kong protests, locust swarms in East Africa and deaths of prominent figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kobe Bryant Chadwick Boseman and others.

As Apple explained in its announcement, apps are a reflection of culture. And this year, they reflected people’s focus on self-care and mental health, remote work and learning, staying connected with family and friends, interactive and social gaming, and more.

Image Credits: Pokémon GO

Apple selected a handful of apps to reflect these “app trends,” including self-care app Shine, remote learning app Explain Everything Whiteboard, family messaging app Caribu, charitable giving app SharetheMeal and the revamped Pokémon GO, which shifted to support indoor gaming.

“This year, more than ever before, some of our most creative and connected moments happened in apps. This was thanks to the amazing work of developers who introduced fresh, helpful app experiences throughout the year,” said Phil Schiller, Apple Fellow, in a statement. “Around the world, we saw remarkable efforts from so many developers, and these Best of 2020 winners are 15 outstanding examples of that innovation,” he added.

Image Credits: Apple

This year’s “Best of” winners will receive the first-ever physical App Store Best of 2020 award, featuring the App Store logo set into 100% recycled aluminum, with the winner’s name on the side.

Apple also unveiled the most downloaded apps and games of the year, which, unlike its “best of” editorial selections, are a showcase of real consumer demand.

Not surprisingly, these lists included remote work must-haves like Zoom and Gmail; a number of escapist games and, not coincidentally, pandemic simulator Plague, Inc.; the viral hit Among Us! ,which even AOC live-streamed; kids’ “metaverse” platforms like Minecraft and Roblox; and the usual set of top social apps — this year led by TikTok, not a Facebook-owned app.

The most-downloaded apps and games of 2020 were, as follows:

Top Free iPhone Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. TikTok
  3. Disney+
  4. YouTube
  5. Instagram
  6. Facebook
  7. Snapchat
  8. Messenger
  9. Gmail
  10. Cash App

Top Paid iPhone Apps

  1. TouchRetouch
  2. Procreate Pocket
  3. Dark Sky Weather
  4. Facetune
  5. HotSchedules
  6. AutoSleep Track Sleep
  7. The Wonder Weeks
  8. SkyView
  9. Shadowrocket
  10. Sky Guide

Top Free iPhone Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Call of Duty: Mobile
  3. Roblox
  4. Subway Surfers
  5. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  6. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  7. Brain Test: Tricky Puzzles
  8. Brain Out
  9. Coin Master
  10. Cube Surfer!

Top Paid iPhone Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Plague Inc.
  3. Heads Up!
  4. Monopoly
  5. Bloons TD6
  6. Geometry Dash
  7. NBA 2K20
  8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  9. The Game of Life
  10. True Skate

Top Free iPad Apps

  1. ZOOM Cloud Meetings
  2. Disney+
  3. YouTube
  4. Netflix
  5. Google Chrome
  6. TikTok
  7. Amazon Prime Video
  8. Gmail
  9. Hulu
  10. Google Classroom

Top Paid iPad Apps

  1. Procreate
  2. GoodNotes 5
  3. Notability
  4. Duet Display
  5. Teach Your Monster
  6. LumaFusion
  7. Affinity Designer
  8. Toca Hair Salon 3
    9: Toca Life: Hospital
  9. Toca Kitchen 2

Top Free iPad Games

  1. Among Us!
  2. Roblox
  3. Magic Tiles 3: Piano Game
  4. Ink Inc. – Tattoo Drawing
  5. Call of Duty: Mobile
  6. Subway Surfers
  7. Dancing Road: Color Ball Run!
  8. Tiles Hop – EDM Rush
  9. Mario Kart Tour
  10. Save The Girl!

Top Paid iPad Games

  1. Minecraft
  2. Monopoly
  3. Bloons TD 6
  4. Plague Inc.
  5. Geometry Dash
  6. The Game of Life
  7. Five Nights at Freddy’s
  8. Human: Fall Flat
  9. Stardew Valley
  10. Terraria

Top Arcade Games

  1. Sneaky Sasquatch
  2. Hot Lava
  3. Skate City
  4. Sonic Racing
  5. PAC-MAN Party Royale
  6. SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
  7. Oceanhorn 2
  8. Crossy Road Castle
  9. WHAT THE GOLF?
  10. LEGO Brawls

 

#apple, #apps

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iPhone zero-click Wi-Fi exploit is one of the most breathtaking hacks ever

The screen on the iPhone 12 Pro Max

Enlarge / That’s a lot of screen. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Earlier this year, Apple patched one of the most breathtaking iPhone vulnerabilities ever: a memory corruption bug in the iOS kernel that gave attackers remote access to the entire device—over Wi-Fi, with no user interaction required at all. Oh, and exploits were wormable—meaning radio-proximity exploits could spread from one near-by device to another, once again, with no user interaction needed.

This Wi-Fi packet of death exploit was devised by Ian Beer, a researcher at Project Zero, Google’s vulnerability research arm. In a 30,000-word post published on Tuesday afternoon, Beer described the vulnerability and the proof-of-concept exploit he spent six months developing single handedly. Almost immediately, fellow security researchers took notice.

Beware of dodgy Wi-Fi packets

“This is a fantastic piece of work,” Chris Evans, a semi-retired security researcher and executive and the founder of Project Zero, said in an interview. “It really is pretty serious. The fact you don’t have to really interact with your phone for this to be set off on you is really quite scary. This attack is just you’re walking along, the phone is in your pocket, and over Wi-Fi someone just worms in with some dodgy Wi-Fi packets.”

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#apple, #biz-it, #exploits, #ios, #iphone, #tech, #vulnerabilities, #wi-fi

0

Apple’s MagSafe Duo charger is now available

Back in October Apple announced the MagSafe Duo, a folding travel charger capable of charging both the iPhone and either an Apple Watch or AirPods simultaneously/wirelessly. In an unusual move, the company didn’t specify exactly when it’d start shipping — or even when it’d go up for sale. Some rumors suggested late December, while others were uncertain it would even make it out before the end of the year. When was this thing actually going to be released?

The answer, it seems, is today. The MagSafe Duo just appeared on Apple’s own store and, with delivery estimates as soon as this week, it looks like they’re shipping them immediately.

TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino gave the charger a spin a few weeks ago, calling it “useful, but expensive and underwhelming” while noting that it feels like something that should cost around $70 rather than $129.

 

#apple, #magsafe, #magsafe-duo, #tc

0

Italy fines Apple $12 million over iPhone marketing claims

The iPhone 11 Pro Max

Enlarge / The iPhone 11 Pro Max. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Italy has again hit Apple with a fine for what the country’s regulators deem to be misleading marketing claims, though the fine is only €10 million ($12 million)—a pittance from a company like Apple.

This time around, Italy’s Autorita Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) claims that Apple told consumers that many iPhone models are water resistant but that the iPhones are not as resistant as Apple says. In one example, Apple claimed the iPhone 8 was rated IP67 for water and dust resistance, meaning the phone could survive for up to 30 minutes under three feet of water. But the Italian regulator says that’s only true under special lab conditions with static and pure water conditions.

An announcement by the AGCM specifically names the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Presumably, the claims would also apply to the iPhone 12 line, but that line was only just introduced to the market.

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#agcm, #antitrust, #apple, #eu, #iphone, #italy, #regulation, #smartphone, #tech, #water-resistance

0

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud

AWS today opened its re:Invent conference with a surprise announcement: the company is bringing the Mac mini to its cloud. These new EC2 Mac instances, as AWS calls them, are now available in preview. They won’t come cheap, though.

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Given the recent launch of the M1 Mac minis, it’s worth pointing out that the hardware AWS is using — at least for the time being — are i7 machines with six physical and 12 logical cores and 32 GB of memory. Using the Mac’s built-in networking options, AWS connects them to its Nitro System for fast network and storage access. This means you’ll also be able to attach AWS block storage to these instances, for example.

Unsurprisingly, the AWS team is also working on bringing Apple’s new M1 Mac minis into its data centers. The current plan is to roll this out “early next year,” AWS tells me, and definitely within the first half of 2021. Both AWS and Apple believe that the need for Intel-powered machines won’t go away anytime soon, though, especially given that a lot of developers will want to continue to run their tests on Intel machines for the foreseeable future.

David Brown, AWS’s vice president of EC2, tells me that these are completely unmodified Mac minis. AWS only turned off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It helps, Brown said, that the minis fit nicely into a 1U rack.

“You can’t really stack them on shelves — you want to put them in some sort of service sled [and] it fits very well into a service sled and then our cards and all the various things we have to worry about, from an integration point of view, fit around it and just plug into the Mac mini through the ports that it provides,” Brown explained. He admitted that this was obviously a new challenge for AWS. The only way to offer this kind of service is to use Apple’s hardware, after all.

Image Credits: AWS

It’s also worth noting that AWS is not virtualizing the hardware. What you’re getting here is full access to your own device that you’re not sharing with anybody else. “We wanted to make sure that we support the Mac Mini that you would get if you went to the Apple store and you bought a Mac mini,” Brown said.

Unlike with other EC2 instances, whenever you spin up a new Mac instance, you have to pre-pay for the first 24 hours to get started. After those first 24 hours, prices are by the second, just like with any other instance type AWS offers today.

AWS will charge $1.083 per hour, billed by the second. That’s just under $26 to spin up a machine and run it for 24 hours. That’s quite a lot more than what some of the small Mac mini cloud providers are charging (we’re generally talking about $60 or less per month for their entry-level offerings and around two to three times as much for a comparable i7 machine with 32GB of RAM).

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

Until now, Mac mini hosting was a small niche in the hosting market, though it has its fair number of players, with the likes of MacStadium, MacinCloud, MacWeb and Mac Mini Vault vying for their share of the market.

With this new offering from AWS, they are now facing a formidable competitor, though they can still compete on price. AWS, however, argues that it can give developers access to all of the additional cloud services in its portfolio, which sets it apart from all of the smaller players.

“The speed that things happen at [other Mac mini cloud providers] and the granularity that you can use those services at is not as fine as you get with a large cloud provider like AWS,” Brown said. “So if you want to launch a machine, it takes a few days to provision and somebody puts a machine in a rack for you and gives you an IP address to get to it and you manage the OS. And normally, you’re paying for at least a month — or a longer period of time to get a discount. What we’ve done is you can literally launch these machines in minutes and have a working machine available to you. If you decide you want 100 of them, 500 of them, you just ask us for that and we’ll make them available. The other thing is the ecosystem. All those other 200-plus AWS services that you’re now able to utilize together with the Mac mini is the other big difference.”

Brown also stressed that Amazon makes it easy for developers to use different machine images, with the company currently offering images for macOS Mojave and Catalina, with Big Sure support coming “at some point in the future.” And developers can obviously create their own images with all of the software they need so they can reuse them whenever they spin up a new machine.

“Pretty much every one of our customers today has some need to support an Apple product and the Apple ecosystem, whether it’s iPhone, iPad or  Apple TV, whatever it might be. They’re looking for that bold use case,” Brown said. “And so the problem we’ve really been focused on solving is customers that say, ‘hey, I’ve moved all my server-side workloads to AWS, I’d love to be able to move some of these build workflows, because I still have some Mac minis in a data center or in my office that I have to maintain. I’d love that just to be on AWS.’ ”

AWS’s marquee launch customers for the new service are Intuit, Ring and mobile camera app FiLMiC.

“EC2 Mac instances, with their familiar EC2 interfaces and APIs, have enabled us to seamlessly migrate our existing iOS and macOS build-and-test pipelines to AWS, further improving developer productivity,” said Pratik Wadher, vice president of Product Development at Intuit. “We‘re experiencing up to 30% better performance over our data center infrastructure, thanks to elastic capacity expansion, and a high availability setup leveraging multiple zones. We’re now running around 80% of our production builds on EC2 Mac instances, and are excited to see what the future holds for AWS innovation in this space.”

The new Mac instances are now available in a number of AWS regions. These include US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore), with other regions to follow soon.

#amazon-web-services, #apple, #apple-inc, #asia-pacific, #aws-reinvent, #bluetooth, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #david-brown, #developer, #europe, #ipad, #iphone, #ireland, #mac-mini, #macintosh, #ohio, #oregon, #singapore, #steve-jobs, #tc, #web-hosting

0

A tween tries Apple’s new ‘Family Setup’ system for Apple Watch

With the release of watchOS 7, Apple at last turned the Apple Watch into the GPS-based kid tracker parents have wanted, albeit at a price point that requires careful consideration. As someone in the target demographic for such a device — a parent of a “tween” who’s allowed to freely roam the neighborhood (but not without some sort of communication device) — I put the new Family Setup system for the Apple Watch through its paces over the past couple of months.

The result? To be frank, I’m conflicted as to whether I’d recommend the Apple Watch to a fellow parent, as opposed to just suggesting that it’s time to get the child a phone.

This has to do, in part, with the advantages offered by a dedicated family tracking solution — like Life360, for example — as well as how a child may respond to the Apple Watch itself, and the quirks of using a solution that wasn’t initially designed with the needs of family tracking in mind.

As a parent of a busy and active tween (nearly 11), I can see the initial appeal of an Apple Watch as a family tracker. It has everything you need for that purpose: GPS tracking, the ability to call and text, alerts, and access to emergency assistance. It’s easy to keep up with, theoretically, and it’s not as pricey as a new iPhone. (The new Apple Watch SE cellular models start at $329. The feature also works on older Apple Watch Series 4 or later models with cellular. Adding on the Apple Watch to your phone plan is usually around $10 per month more.)

I think the Apple Watch as a kid tracker mainly appeals to a specific type of parent: one who’s worried about the dangers of giving a younger child a phone and thereby giving them access to the world of addictive apps and the wider internet. I understand that concern, but I personally disagree with the idea that you should wait until a child is “older,” then hand them a phone and say “ok, good luck with that!” They need a transition period and the “tween” age range is an ideal time frame to get started.

The reality is that smartphones and technology are unavoidable. As a parent, I believe it’s my job to introduce these things in small measures — with parental controls and screen time limits, for example. And then I need to monitor their usage. I may make mistakes and so will my daughter, but we both need these extra years to figure out how to balance parenting and the use of digital tools. With a phone, I know I will have to have the hard conversations about the problems we run into. I understand, too, why parents want to put that off, and just buy a watch instead.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

After my experience, I feel the only cases where I’d fully endorse the Apple Watch would be for those tech-free or tech-light families where kids will not be given phones at any point, households where kids’ phone usage is highly restricted (like those with Wi-Fi only phones), or those where kids don’t get phones until their later teenage years. I am not here to convince them of my alternative, perhaps more progressive view on when to give a kid a phone. The Apple Watch may make sense for these families and that’s their prerogative.

However, a number of people may be wondering if the Apple Watch can be a temporary solution for perhaps a year or two before they buy the child a smartphone. To them, I have to say this feels like an expensive way to delay the inevitable, unavoidable task of having to parent your child through the digital age.

Given my position on the matter, my one big caveat to this review is that my daughter does, in fact, have a smartphone. Also, let’s be clear: this is not meant to be a thorough review of the Apple Watch itself, or a detailed report of its various “tech specs”. It’s a subjective report as to how things went for us that, hopefully, you can learn from.

Image Credits: Apple

To begin, the process of configuring the new Apple Watch with Family Setup was easy. “Set Up for a Family Member” is one of two setup options to tap on as you get started. Apple offers a simple user interface that walks you through pairing the Watch with your phone and all the choices that have to be made, like enabling cellular, turning on “Ask to Buy” for app purchases, enabling Schooltime and Activity features, and more.

What was harder was actually using the Apple Watch as intended after it was configured. I found it far easier to launch an iPhone app (like Life360, which we use) where everything you need is in one place. That turned out not to be true for Apple Watch Family Setup system.

For the purpose of testing the Apple Watch with Family Setup, my daughter would leave her iPhone behind when she went out biking or when meeting up with friends for outdoor activities.

As a child who worked her way up to an iPhone over a couple of years, I have to admit I was surprised at how irresponsible she was with the watch in the early weeks.

She didn’t at all respect at the multi-hundred dollar device it was, at first, but rather treated it like her junk jewelry or her wrist-worn scrunchies. The Apple Watch was tossed on a dresser, a bathroom counter, a kitchen table, on a beanbag chair, and so on.

Thankfully, the “Find My” app can locate the Apple Watch, if it has battery and a signal. But I’m not going to lie — there were some scary moments where a dead watch was later found on the back of a toilet (!!), on the top of the piano, and once, abandoned at a friend’s house.

And this, from a child who always knows where her iPhone is!

The problem is that her iPhone is something she learned to be responsible for after years of practice. This fooled me into thinking she actually was responsible for expensive devices. For two years, we painfully went through a few low-end Android phones while she got the hang of keeping up with and caring for such a device. Despite wrapping those starter phones in protective cases, we still lost one to a screen-destroying crash on a tile floor and another to being run over by a car. (How it flew out of a pocket and into the middle of the road, I’ll never understand!)

But, eventually, she did earn access to a hand-me down iPhone. And after initially only being allowed to use it in the house on Wi-Fi, that phone now goes outdoors and has its own phone number. And she has been careful with it in the months since. (Ahem, knocks on wood.)

The Apple Watch, however, held no such elevated status for her. It was not an earned privilege. It was not fun. It was not filled with favorite apps and games. It was, instead, thrust upon her.

While the iPhone is used often for enjoyable and addictive activities like Roblox, TikTok, Disney+, and Netflix, the Apple Watch was boring by comparison. Sure, there are a few things you can do on the device — it has an App Store! You can make a Memoji! You can customize different watch faces! But unless this is your child’s first-ever access to technology, these features may have limited appeal.

“Do you want to download this game? This looks fun,” I suggested. pointing to a coloring game, as we looked at her Watch together one night.

“No thanks,” she replied.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think it would be good on the little screen.”

“Maybe a different game?”

“Nah.”

And that was that. I could not convince her to give a single Apple Watch app a try in the days that followed.

She didn’t even want to stream music on the Apple Watch — she has Alexa for that, she pointed out. She didn’t want to play a game on the watch — she has Roblox on the bigger screen of her hand-me down laptop. She also has a handheld Nintendo Switch.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Initially, she picked an Apple Watch face that matched her current “aesthetic” — simple and neutral — and that was the extent of her interest in personalizing the device in the first several weeks.

Having already burned herself out on Memoji by borrowing my phone to play with the feature when it launched, there wasn’t as much interest in doing more with the customized avatar creation process, despite my suggestions to try it. (She had already made a Memoji her Profile photo for her contact card on iPhone.)

However, I later showed her the Memoji Watch Face option after I set it up, and asked her if she liked it. She responded “YESSSS. I love it,” and snatched the watch from my hand to play some more.

Demo’ing features is important, it seems.

But largely, the Apple Watch was only strapped on only at my request as she walked out the door.

Soon, this became a routine.

“Can I go outside and play?”

“Yes. Wear the watch!,” I’d reply.

“I knowwww.”

It took over a month to get to the point that she would remember the watch on her own.

I have to admit that I didn’t fully demo the Apple Watch to her or explain how to use it in detail, beyond a few basics in those beginning weeks. While I could have made her an expert, I suppose, I think it’s important to realize that many parents are less tech-savvy than their kids. The children are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to devices, and this particular kid has had several devices. For that reason, I was curious how a fairly tech literate child who has moved from iPad to Android to now iPhone, and who hops from Windows to Mac to Chromebook, would now adapt to an Apple Watch.

As it turned out, she found it a little confusing.

“What do you think about the Watch?” I asked one evening, feeling her out for an opinion.

“It’s fun…but sometimes I don’t really understand it,” she replied.

“What don’t you understand?”

“I don’t know. Just…almost everything,” she said, dramatically, as tweens tend to do. “Like, sometimes  I don’t know how to turn up and down the volume.”

Upon prodding, I realize she meant this: she was confused about how to adjust the alert volume for messages and notifications, as well as how to change the Watch from phone calls to a vibration or to silence calls altogether with Do Not Disturb. (It was her only real complaint, but annoying enough to be “almost everything,” I guess!)

I’ll translate now from kid language what I learned here.

First, given that the “Do Not Disturb” option is accessible from a swipe gesture, it’s clear my daughter hadn’t fully explored the watch’s user interface. It didn’t occur to her that the swipe gestures of the iPhone would have their own Apple Watch counterparts. (And also, why would you swipe up from the bottom of the screen for the Control Center when that doesn’t work on the iPhone anymore? On iPhone, you now swipe down from the top-right to get to Control Center functions.)

And she definitely hadn’t discovered the tiny “Settings” app (the gear icon) on the Apple Watch’s Home Screen to make further changes.

Instead, her expectation was that you should be able to use either a button on the side for managing volume — you know, like on a phone — or maybe the digital crown, since that’s available here. But these physical features of the device — confusingly — took her to that “unimportant stuff” like the Home Screen and an app switcher, when in actuality, it was calls, notifications, and alerts that were the app’s main function, in her opinion.

And why do you need to zoom into the Home Screen with a turn of the digital crown? She wasn’t even using the apps at this point. There weren’t that many on the screen.

Curious, since she didn’t care for the current lineup of apps, I asked for feedback.

“What kind of apps do you want?,” I asked.

“Roblox and TikTok.”

“Roblox?!,” I said, laughing. “How would that even work?”

As it turned out, she didn’t want to play Roblox on her watch. She wanted to respond to her incoming messages and participate in her group chats from her watch.

Oh. That’s actually a reasonable idea. The Apple Watch is, after all, a messaging device.

And since many kids her age don’t have a phone or the ability to use a messaging app like Snapchat or Instagram, they trade Roblox usernames and friend each other in the game as way to work around this restriction. They then message each other to arrange virtual playdates or even real-life ones if they live nearby.

But the iOS version of the Roblox mobile app doesn’t have an Apple Watch counterpart.

“And TikTok?” I also found this hilarious.

But the fact that Apple Watch is not exactly an ideal video player is lost on her. It’s a device with a screen, connected to the internet. So why isn’t that enough, she wondered?

“You could look through popular TikToks,” she suggested. “You wouldn’t need to make an account or anything,” she clarified, as these details were would fix the only problems she saw with her suggestion.

Even if the technology was there, a TikTok experience on the small screen would never be a great one. But this goes to show how much interest in technology is directly tied to what apps and games are available, compared with the technology platform itself.

Other built-in features had even less appeal than the app lineup.

Image Credits: Apple

Though I had set up some basic Activity features during the setup process, like a “Move Goal,” she had no idea what any of that was. So I showed her the “rings” and how they worked, and she thought it was kind of neat that the Apple Watch could track her standing. However, there was no genuine interest or excitement in being able quantify her daily movement — at least, not until one day many weeks later when were hiking and she heard my watch ding as my rings closed and wanted to do the same on hers. She became interested in recording her steps for that hike, but the interest wasn’t sustained afterwards.

Apple said it built in the Activity features so kids could track their move goal and exercise progress. But I would guess many kids won’t care about this, even if they’re active. After all, kids play — they don’t think “how much did I play?” Did I move enough today? And nor should they, really.

As a parent, I can see her data in the Health app on my iPhone, which is the device I use to manage her Apple Watch. It’s interesting, perhaps, to see things like her steps walked or flights climbed. But it’s not entirely useful, as her Apple Watch is not continually worn throughout the day. (She finds the bands uncomfortable — we tried Sport Band and Sport Loop and she still fiddles with them constantly, trying to readjust them for comfort.)

In addition, if I did want to change her Activity goals later on for some reason, I’d have to do from her Watch directly.

Of course, a parent doesn’t buy a child an Apple Watch to track their exercise. It’s for the location tracking features. That is the only real reason a parent would consider this device for a younger child.

On that front, I did like that the watch was a GPS tracker that was looped into our household Apple ecosystem as its own device with its own phone number. I liked that I could ping the Watch with “Find My” when it’s lost — and it was lost a lot, as I noted. I liked that I could manage the Watch from my iPhone, since it’s very difficult to reacquire a device to make changes, once it’s handed over to someone else.

I also liked the Apple Watch was always available for use. This may have been one of its biggest perks, in fact. Unlike my daughter’s iPhone, which is almost constantly at 10-20% battery (or much less), the watch was consistently charged and ready when it was time for outdoor play.

I liked that it was easier for her to answer a call on the Apple Watch compared with digging her phone out of her bike basket or bag. I liked that she didn’t have to worry about constantly holding onto her phone while out and about.

I also appreciated that I could create geofenced alerts — like when she reached the park or a friend’s house, for example, or when she left. But I didn’t like that the ability to do so is buried in the “Find My” app. (You tap on the child’s name in the “People” tab. Tap “Add” under “Notifications.” Tap “Notify Me.” Tap “New Location.” Do a search for an address or venue. Tap “Done.”)

Image Credits: TechCrunch

I also didn’t like that when I created a recurring geofence, my daughter would be notified. Yes, privacy. I know! But who’s in charge here? My daughter is a child, not a teen. She knows the Apple Watch is a GPS tracker — we had that conversation. She knows it allows me to see where she is. She’s young and for now, she doesn’t feel like this a privacy violation. We’ll have that discussion later, I’m sure. But at the present, she likes the feel of this electronic tether to home as she experiments with expanding the boundaries of her world.

When I tweak and update recurring alerts for geofenced locations, such alerts can be confusing or even concerning. I appreciate that Apple is being transparent and trying to give kids the ability to understand they’re being tracked — but I’d also argue that most parents who suddenly gift an expensive watch to their child will explain why they’re doing so. This is a tool, not a toy.

Also, the interface for configuring geofences is cumbersome. By comparison, the family tracking app Life360 which we normally use has a screen where you simply tap add, search to find the location, and then you’re done. One tap on a bell icon next to the location turns on or off its alerts. (You can get all granular about it: recurring, one time, arrives, leaves, etc. — but you don’t have to. Just tap and be alerted. It’s more straightforward.)

Image Credits: Apple

One feature I did like on the Apple Watch, but sadly couldn’t really use, was its Schooltime mode — a sort of remotely-enabled, scheduled version of Do Not Disturb. This feature blocks apps and complications and turns on the Do Not Disturb setting for the kids, while letting emergency calls and notifications break through. (Make sure to set up Shared Contacts, so you can manage that aspect.)

Currently, we have no use for Schooltime, thanks to this pandemic. My daughter is attending school remotely this year. I could imagine how this may be helpful one day when she returns to class.

But I also worry that if I sent her to class with the Apple Watch, other kids will judge her for her expensive device. I worry that teachers (who don’t know about Schooltime), will judge me for having her wear it. I worry kids will covet it and ask to try it on. I worry a kid running off with it, causing additional disciplinary headaches for teachers. I worry it will get smashed on the playground or during PE, or somehow fall off because she meddled with the band for the umpteenth time. I worry she’ll take it off because “the strap is so annoying” (as I was told), then leave it in her desk.

I don’t worry as much about the iPhone at school, because it stays in her backpack the whole time due to school policy. It doesn’t sit on her arm as a constant temptation, “Schooltime” mode or otherwise.

The Apple Watch Family Setup is also not a solution that adapts as the child ages to the expanding needs of teen monitoring, compared with other family tracking solutions.

To continue the Life360 comparison, the app today offers features for teen drivers and its new privacy-sensitive location “bubbles” for teens now give them more autonomy. Apple’s family tracking solution, meanwhile, becomes more limited as the child ages up.

For instance, Schooltime doesn’t work on an iPhone. Once the child upgrades to an iPhone, you are meant to use parental controls and Screen Time features to manage what apps are allowed and when she can use her device. It seems a good transitional step to the phone would be a way to maintain Schooltime mode on the child’s next device, too.

Instead, by buying into Apple Watch for its Family Setup features, what you’ll soon end up with is a child who now owns both an Apple Watch and a smartphone. (Sure, you could regift it or take it back, I suppose…I certainly do wish you luck if you try that!)

Beyond the overboard embrace of consumerism that is buying an Apple Watch for a child, the biggest complaint I had was that there were three different apps for me to use to manage and view data associated with my daughter’s Apple Watch. I could view her tracked activity was tracked in my Health app. Location-tracking and geofence configuration was in the Find My app. And remotely configuring the Apple Watch itself, including Schooltime, was found in my Watch mobile app.

I understand that Apple built the Watch to be a personal device designed for use with one person and it had to stretch to turn it into a family tracking system. But what Apple is doing here is really just pairing the child’s watch with the parent’s iPhone and then tacking on extra features, like Schooltime. It hasn’t approached this as a whole new system designed from the ground-up for families or for their expanding needs as the child grows.

As a result, the whole system feels underdeveloped compared with existing family tracking solutions. And given the numerous features to configure, adjust, and monitor, Family Setup deserves its own app or at the very least, its own tab in a parent’s Watch app to simplify its use.

At the end of the day, if you are letting your child out in the world — beyond school and supervised playdates — the Apple Watch is a solution, but it may not be the best solution for your needs. If you have specific reasons why your child will not get their own phone now or anytime soon, the Apple Watch may certainly work. But if you don’t have those reasons, it may be time to try a smartphone.

Both Apple and Google now offer robust parental control solutions for their smartphone platforms that can mitigate many parents’ concerns over content and app addiction. And considering the cost of a new Apple Watch, the savings just aren’t there — especially when considering entry-level Android phones or other hand-me-down phones as the alternative.

[Apple provided a loaner device for the purposes of this review. My daughter was cited and quoted with permission but asked for her name to not be used.]

 

#apple, #apple-watch, #apps, #families, #family, #gadgets, #kids, #mobile, #parents, #tc, #tweens

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With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple

Josh Elman is moving over to Apple, he announced on Twitter today, saying he will be focused on the company’s App Store and helping “customers discover the best apps for them.”

Asked for more details about his new role, Elman referred us to Apple, which confirmed his employment but declined to offer more, including about his new title. (This is typical operating procedure for the tech giant.)

Certainly, Elman has plenty of experience with fast-growing technologies and popular apps in particular.  One of his first jobs out of Stanford was with RealNetworks, a bubble-era internet streaming company that went public in 1997, three years after it was founded. (It remains publicly traded, though its market cap is just $60 million these days.)

After RealNetworks, it was on to LinkedIn, which Elman joined in 2004 as a senior product manager when the company was just two years old.  From there, Elman worked in product management at the custom apparel and accessories company Zazzle, then at Facebook, then Twitter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the venture firm Greylock brought Elman into the fold in 2011 as a principal, and by 2013, he was a general partner, investing in social networking deals throughout like Musical.ly (Bytedance acquired the company and turned it into TikTok); Nextdoor (which is reportedly eyeing ways to go public); Houseparty (acquired last year by Epic Games, which is now suing Apple); and Discord (which is sewing up a private funding deal at a valuation of roughly $7 billion).

Somewhat unexpectedly, in 2018, Elman left his full-time role with Greylock to join a company notably not in the firm’s portfolio, the stock-trading platform Robinhood. As interesting, though he took on the role of VP of product at the popular and fast-growing startup, he didn’t cut ties with Greylock entirely, taking on the title of venture partner and remaining on as a board member to his companies.

Asked about the move, Elman told TC at the time that he had “started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company.”

Ultimately, the role didn’t last long, with Elman leaving last November after less than two years on the job. Now Elman — who said he’s stepping away from some of his Greylock-related board seats —  has a new chance to do what he loves most that from one of the most powerful perches in the world, the App Store.

“I’m really excited to get to build ways to help over a billion customers and millions of developers connect,” he tweeted earlier. He added in the same thread: “I recently found my college resume. My career objective was ‘To create great technology that changes people’s lives’. Still at it :)”

#app-store, #apple, #greylock-partners, #josh-elman, #robinhood, #tc, #venture-capital

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Growl, once a staple of the Mac desktop experience, has been retired

A Growl notification.

A Growl notification. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Growl, a key part of the Mac desktop experience for 17 years, is being retired. Christopher Forsythe, who acted as the lead developer for the project for years, announced the retirement in a blog post on Friday.

Launched in 2004, Growl provided notifications for applications on Macs (it was also offered for Windows) before Apple introduced its own Notification Center. Notification Center was added to macOS (then styled Mac OS X) in the Mountain Lion update in 2012, but it first debuted on iOS a year earlier.

Here’s a snippet of Forsythe’s announcement:

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #github, #growl, #mac, #mac-os-x, #macos, #notifications, #os-x, #tech

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Apple on the hook for €10M in Italy, accused of misleading users about iPhone water resistance

Apple’s marketing of iPhones as ‘water resistant’ without clarifying the limits of the feature and also having a warranty that excludes cover for damage by liquids has got the company into hot water in Italy.

The Italian competition authority (AGCM) has informed the tech giant of an intent to fine it €10 million for commercial practices related to the marketing and warranty of a number of iPhone models since October 2017, starting with the iPhone 8 through to the iPhone 11, following an investigation into consumer complaints related to its promotion of water resistance and subsequent refusal to cover the cost of repairs caused by water damage.

In a document setting out the AGCM’s decision dated towards the end of October — which was made public today (via Reuters) — the regulator concludes Apple violated the country’s consumer code twice because of what it characterizes as “misleading” and “aggressive” commercial practices.

Its investigation found Apple’s iPhone marketing tricked consumers into believing the devices were impermeable to water, rather than merely water resistant — with the limitations of the feature not given enough prominence in ads. While a disclaimer stating that Apple’s warranty excludes damage by liquids was deemed an aggressive attempt to circumvent consumer rights obligations — given its heavy promotion of the devices as water resistant.

Apple places a liquid contact indicator inside iPhones, which changes from white or silver to red on contact with liquid, and checking the indicator is a standard step undertaken by its repair staff.

The AGCM report cites examples of consumers who’s iPhone had taken a “short dive” in the sea being refused cover. Another complainant had been washing their device under the tap — which Apple deemed improper use.

A third reported that their one-month old iPhone XR stopped working after coming into contact with water. Apple told them they must buy a new device — albeit at a subsidized price.

While an iPhone XS user, with a one-year old handset who reported it had never come into contact with water was refused coverage by Apple support who said it had, complained to the regulator there’s no way for a consumer to prove their device was not immersed in water for more than the length of time and depth to which Apple’s small print specifies it has water resistance.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the AGCM’s findings.

The tech giant has 60 days from the date it was notified of the regulator’s intent to fine to appeal the decision.

The size of the penalty is well under half of the operating profit the regulator says Apple’s Italian operation made in the year September 2018 to September 2019, when it note it recorded revenues on its sales and services of €58,652,628; and an operating profit of €26,918,658.

Two years ago Italy’s competition watchdog also fined Apple and Samsung around $15M for forcing updates on consumers that may slow or break their devices. While, this February, France fined Apple $27 million for capping the OS performance of iPhones with older batteries.

Apple has also faced much larger penalties from competition authorities elsewhere in Europe — including being notified of a $1.2BN fine by France’s competition authority in March this year, which accused the tech giant of operating a reseller cartel along with two wholesale distribution partners, Ingram Micro and Tech Data.

Apple also had to stump up as much as €500M in back taxes demanded by French authorities last year.

While some $15BN from Apple’s European HQ is sitting in an escrow account to cover a 2016 European Commission ‘State Aid’ charge that it illegally benefited from corporate tax arrangements in Ireland between 2003 and 2014.

In July Apple and Ireland won the first round of an appeal against the charge. But the Commission filed an appeal in September — meaning the case will go up to the CJEU, likely adding years more of legal wrangling.

EU lawmakers are continuing to work on pushing for global reform of digital taxation, while some Member States push on with their own digital taxes.

#apple, #consumer-rights, #europe, #iphone, #italy, #mobile, #water-resistance

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This Week in Apps: Snapchat clones TikTok, India bans 43 Chinese apps, more data on App Store commission changes

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications, and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People now spend three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

This week, we’re digging into more data about how the App Store commission changes will impact developers, as well as other top stories, like Snapchat’s new Spotlight feed and India’s move to ban more Chinese apps from the country, among other things.

We also have our weekly round-up of news about platforms, services, privacy, trends, and other headlines.

Top Stories

More on App Store Commissions

Last week, App Annie confirmed to TechCrunch around 98% of all iOS developers in 2019 (meaning, unique publisher accounts) fell under the $1 million annual consumer spend threshold that will now move App Store commissions from a reduced 15% to the standard 30%. The firm also found that only 0.5% of developers were making between $800K and $1M; only 1% were in $500K-$800K range; and 87.7% made less than $100K.

This week, Appfigures has compiled its own data on how Apple’s changes to App Store commissions will impact the app developer community.

According to its findings, of the 2M published apps on the App Store, 376K apps are a paid download, have in-app purchases, or monetize with subscriptions. Those 376K apps are operated by a smaller group of 124.5K developers. Of those developers, only a little under 2% earned more than $1M in 2019. This confirms App Annie’s estimate that 98% of all developers earned under the $1M threshold.

Image Credits: Appfigures

The firm also took a look at companies above the $1M mark, and found that around 53% were games, led by King (of the Candy Crush titles). After a large gap, the next largest categories in 2019 were Health & Fitness, Social Networking, Entertainment, then Photo & Video.

 

Of the developers making over $1M, the largest percentage — 39% — made between $1M and $2.5M in 2019.

Image Credits: Appfigures

The smallest group (1.5%) of developers making more than $1M is the group making more than $150M. These accounted for 29% of the “over $1M” crowd’s total revenue. And those making between $50M and $150M accounted for 24% of the revenue.

Image Credits: Appfigures

AppFigures also found that of those making less than $1M, most (>97%) fell into the sub $250K category. Some developes were worried about the way Apple’s commission change system was implemented — that is, it immediately upon hitting $1M and only annual reassessments. But there are so few developers operating in the “danger zone” (being near the threshold), this doesn’t seem like a significant problem. Read More.

Snapchat takes on TikTok

After taking on TikTok  with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this week launched a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting. Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis. Read More

India bans more Chinese apps

India, which has already banned at least 220 apps with links to China in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 Chinese apps, again citing cybersecurity concerns. Newly banned apps include short video service Snack Video, e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, shopping app Taobao Live, business card reader CamCard, and others. There are now no Chinese apps in the top 500 most-used apps in India, as a result. Read More.

Weekly News

Platforms

  • Apple’s App Store Connect will now require an Apple ID with 2-step verification enabled.
  • Apple announces holiday schedule for App Store Connect. New apps and app updates won’t be accepted Dec. 23-27 (Pacific Time).
  • SKAdNetwork 2.0 adds Source App ID and Conversion Value. The former lets networks identify which app initiated a download from the App Store and the latter lets them know whether users who installed an app through a campaign performed an action in the app, like signing up for a trial or completing a purchase.
  • Apple rounded up developer praise for its App Store commission change. Lending their names to Apple’s list: Little 10 Robot (Tots Letters and Numbers), Broadstreet (Brief), Foundermark (Friended), Shine, Lifesum, Med ART Studios (Sprout Fertility Tracker), RevenueCat, OK Play, SignEasy, Jump Rope, Wine Spectator, Apollo for Reddit, SwingVision Tennis, Cinémoi.

Services

  • Fortnite adds a $12/mo subscription offering a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. More money for Apple to miss out on, I guess.
  • 14 U.S. states plus Washington D.C. have now adopted COVID-19 contact tracing apps. CA and other states may release apps soon. Few in the U.S. have downloaded the apps, however, which limits their usefulness. 
  • Samsung’s TV Plus streaming TV service comes to more Galaxy phones

Security & Privacy

  • Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, in a letter to the Ranking Digital Rights organization, confirms App Tracking Transparency feature will arrive in 2021. The feature will allow users to disable tracking between apps. The letter also slams Facebook for collecting “as much data as possible” on users.
  • Baidu’s apps banned from Google Play, Baidu Maps and the Baidu App, were leaking sensitive user data, researchers said. The apps had 6M U.S. users and millions more worldwide.

Apps in the News

Trends

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. Brick-and-mortar retail apps saw 27% growth in first three quarters of 2020, or nearly double the growth of online retailer apps (14%), as measured by new installs. Top apps included Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Nike, Walgreens, and The Home Depot.
  • App Annie forecast estimates shoppers will spend over 110M hours in (Android) mobile shopping apps this holiday season.
  • PayPal and Square’s Cash app have scored 100% of the newly-issued supply of bitcoins, report says.
  • All social media companies now look alike, Axois argues, citing Twitter’s Fleets and Snap’s TikTok-like feature as recent examples.

Funding and M&A

  • CoStar Group, a provider of commercial real estate info and analytics, acquires Homesnap’s platform and app for $250M to move into the residential real estate market.
  • Remote work app Friday raises $2.1M seed led by Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Stories-style Q&A app F3 raises $3.9M. The team previously founded Ask.fm.
  • Edtech company Kahoot acquires Drops, a startup whose apps help people learn languages using games, for $50M.
  • Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, led by Tiger Global Management.
  • Square buys Credit Karma’s tax unit, Credit Karma Tax, for $50M in cash.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #developers, #google, #mobile, #this-week-in-apps

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Linus Torvalds doubts Linux will get ported to Apple M1 hardware

It would be great to see Linux running and fully operational on Apple M1 hardware like this Mac Mini—but it seems unlikely to happen.

Enlarge / It would be great to see Linux running and fully operational on Apple M1 hardware like this Mac Mini—but it seems unlikely to happen. (credit: Produnis / Jim Salter)

In a recent post on the Real World Technologies forum—one of the few public internet venues Linux founder Linus Torvalds is known to regularly visit—a user named Paul asked Torvalds, “What do you think of the new Apple laptop?”

“I’d absolutely love to have one, if it just ran Linux,” Torvalds replied. “I’ve been waiting for an ARM laptop that can run Linux for a long time. The new [Macbook] Air would be almost perfect, except for the OS.”

Torvalds, of course, can already have an ARM based Linux laptop if he wants one—for example, the Pinebook Pro. The unspoken part here is that he’d like a high-performance ARM based laptop, rather than a budget-friendly but extremely performance constrained design such as one finds in the Pinebook Pro, the Raspberry Pi, or a legion of other inexpensive gadgets.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #apple-m1, #arm, #linus-torvalds, #linux, #m1-macbook-air, #tech

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The best Apple deals of Black Friday 2020

It's been a busy year for Apple, which means a busy year for deals.

Enlarge / It’s been a busy year for Apple, which means a busy year for deals.

It’s Black Friday, which means it’s time for larger-than-usual discounts on Apple products. We have a more general roundup of the best Black Friday tech deals on the site, but because we know many people are specifically looking to grab new Apple gear this holiday season, we’re giving special mention the best Apple deals we’re seeing this Black Friday.

Apple tends to be stingier than most this time of year when it comes to deals, typically offering modest price drops and gift card incentives. That’s still the case with many devices this year, particularly when it comes to the latest crop of iPhones, but there are still a few eye-catchers worth noting.

One example is a new low price on Apple’s AirPods Pro, as the wireless noise-cancelling earphones are currently available for $170 at Amazon. That’s $80 off Apple’s MSRP. Amazon lists the device as “temporarily out of stock” as of this writing, but if you don’t mind a wait, you can still lock in a purchase at the discounted price. The standard AirPods, meanwhile, are down to $110, which is $10 off their all-time low. If you prefer something more workout-friendly, select colors of the Beats Powerbeats Pro—another set of true wireless earbuds we’ve recommended—are down to $160. That’s the lowest price we’ve tracked.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #black-friday, #black-friday-2020, #dealmaster, #staff

0

Foxconn could move some iPad and MacBook production to Vietnam

Following a request from Apple, Foxconn could be shifting production out of China for some iPad and MacBook models according to a report from Reuters. The new assembly lines would be based in Vietnam.

As a recent investigation from The Information highlighted, both companies are intrinsically connected. The Taiwanese manufacturer is Apple’s main production partner. Apple is also Foxconn’s main client. When it comes to raw numbers, Foxconn is making 60% to 70% of iPhones, Apple’s main product.

Over the past few years, Apple has tried to diversify its supply chain in two major ways. First, Apple is trying to work with other manufacturing companies, such as Luxshare Precision Industry and Wistron.

Second, Apple is trying to manufacture its products in different countries. New tariffs and import restrictions have made that issue more pressing.

According to Reuters, Apple asked Foxconn to move some iPad and MacBook assembly to Vietnam. The assembly line should be operating at some point during the first half of 2021.

In addition to Vietnam, Foxconn also produces iPhone 11 devices in a plant near Chennai, India. Wistron also assembles iPhone models in India. Foxconn has also manufactured some iPhone models in Brazil.

#apple, #foxconn, #gadgets, #tc

0

Apple security chief maintains innocence after bribery charges

Apple's global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California. (credit: Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A grand jury in California’s Santa Clara County has indicted Thomas Moyer, Apple’s head of global security, for bribery. Moyer is accused of offering 200 iPads to the Santa County Sheriff’s office in exchange for concealed carry permits for four Apple employees.

Moyer’s attorney says that he did nothing wrong, and notably Apple is standing behind its executive.

“We expect all of our employees to conduct themselves with integrity,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. “After learning of the allegations, we conducted a thorough internal investigation and found no wrongdoing.”

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#apple, #policy, #thomas-moyer

0

Decrypted: Apple and Facebook’s privacy feud, Twitter hires Mudge, mysterious zero-days

Trump’s election denialism saw him retaliate in a way that isn’t just putting the remainder of his presidency in jeopardy, it’s already putting the next administration in harm’s way.

In a stunning display of retaliation, Trump fired CISA director Chris Krebs last week after declaring that there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised,” a direct contradiction to the conspiracy-fueled fever dreams of the president who repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that the election had been hijacked by the Democrats. CISA is left distracted by disarray, with multiple senior leaders leaving their posts — some walked, some were pushed — only for the next likely chief to stumble before he even starts because of concerns with his security clearance.

Until yesterday, Biden’s presidential transition team was stuck in cybersecurity purgatory because the incumbent administration refused to trigger the law that grants the incoming team access to government resources, including cybersecurity protections. That’s left the incoming president exposed to ongoing cyber threats, all while being shut out from classified briefings that describe those threats in detail.

As Biden builds his team, Silicon Valley is also gearing up for a change in government — and temperament. But don’t expect too much of the backlash to change. Much of the antitrust allegations, privacy violations and net neutrality remain hot button issues, and the tech titans resorting to cheap “charm offenses” are likely to face the music under the Biden administration — whether they like it or not.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Apple and Facebook spar over privacy — again

Apple and Facebook are back in the ring, fighting over which company is a bigger existential threat to privacy. In a letter to a privacy rights group, Apple said its new anti-tracking feature will launch next year, which will give users the choice of blocking in-app tracking, a move that’s largely expected to cause havoc to the online advertising industry and data brokers.

Given an explicit option between being tracked and not, as the feature will do, most are expected to decline.

Apple’s letter specifically called out Facebook for showing a “disregard for user privacy.” Facebook, which made more than 98% of its global revenue last year from advertising, took its own potshot back at Apple, claiming the iPhone maker was “using their dominant market position to self-preference their own data collection, while making it nearly impossible for their competitors to use the same data.”

#apple, #chief-information-security-officer, #chris-krebs, #cisa, #computer-security, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #iphone, #malware, #privacy, #rinki-sethi, #security, #startups

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Gift Guide: 7 great gifts for anyone working from home

Let’s just get this out of the way: for the past several years, I’ve contributed the “Best Gifts for Frequent Travelers” segment to TechCrunch’s annual gift guide. I love it. It was easily my favorite gift guide to write, and it was an audience favorite, as well. But I am no longer a frequent traveler. I’ve left New York City exactly once since March. Odds are that special person in your life isn’t traveling much, either.

So, in honor of this new sedentary life to which we’ve all grown accustom over the past eight or nine months, I’m bringing you the polar opposite. This, friends, is the gift guide for those who have come to carve out office space in their homes. For everyone who’s come to blur the important lines between work and personal life.

The transition hasn’t been an easy one for everyone, but here are a handful of gifts that can help ease the transition and make someone’s home office a…well, a home, I guess. They’re not necessary the most fun gifts, but odds are someone in your life can really use them.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Hyken Mesh Task Chair

Image Credits: Staples

I never truly appreciated the value of a good office chair until this pandemic. I’ve been lucky to work for a corporation that considers Herman Millers a necessary expense. I honestly can’t remember which manner of ratty Amazon bargain bin chair I had held onto for the last several years, but a month or two into this, I rolled it into the donation pile.

There’s truth in the conventional wisdom that you get what you pay for when it comes to office chairs. And, indeed, it’s an investment. But there are deals to be had. I didn’t spend an arm or leg, so I’m not going to encourage you to. After a good about of research, I landed on this beast from Staples. It’s big, and comfortable and offers great full body support that won’t leave you sore after eight hours in front of the computer (I mean, do get up and move around at least once an hour for your health and sanity).

Best of all, it’s almost shockingly affordable.

Price: $169-200 from Amazon, depending on color

Apple iMac

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Remember how I told you I wasn’t going to encourage you to spend an arm and a leg on the chair? Well, consider this a gift for the person in your life who was really good this year. If a good office chair is an investment, a computer is lifeline. I wouldn’t recommend an iMac for, say, a 3D designer, but for many or most, you can’t really argue with ease of use for Apple’s all-in-one.

Apple refreshed the system earlier this year, with some improved features, including, notably, an improved webcam — that’s obviously an important upgrade these days. There are no external monitors to deal with and minimal futzing required out of the box. There is, of course, a big Apple Silicon redesign coming in the next year or two, but that won’t do you a whole lot of good in the meantime.

Price: Starting at $1,019 from Apple

Razer Kiyo

Image Credits: Razer

Much like the office chair, Webcams were one of those those things I really didn’t pay much mind to before the pandemic. But the truth is this: Built-in webcams, as a category, suck. There are exceptions to this, of course, but unlike with smartphone makers, cameras have nearly universally been an afterthought with PC manufactures. I do suspect there’s a good chance this will finally shift in the next year or so, but for now, you really want to avoid using your computer’s built-in camera for those important Zoom meetings, if you can.

There are a ton of options out there, and you can get a decent webcam at a decent price — Logitech is usually a pretty solid choice. This time out, however, I’m giving the prize to Razer. The gaming company has delivered a clever and versatile camera. It’s got an adjustable clip/stand, can capture video at 1080p @ 30FPS / 720p @ 60FPS and best of all, there’s a built-in light ring. It’s not going to replace a pro-level camera set up, obviously, if they do a lot of conference appearances or frequently appear on CNN. But if they’re looking to liven up a Zoom call or two, this is a solid choice.

Price: $100 from Razer 

RØDE NT-USB Mini

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Okay, so, as a long-time podcaster this is something I’ve been thinking about well before the pandemic started. The truth is a decent set of headphones should double as an okay meeting mic. But if conference calls are central to work days, a good mic is a great way to up that game. And hey, everyone’s starting a podcast these days, right?

RØDE has some great USB mic options. The NT-USB Mini wouldn’t be by first (or probably even 10th) choice for podcasting. But its price and size make it a nice option for augmenting meetings and other calls. It also has the advantage of size and a removable stand that will make it a good travel companion if we’re able able to travel again.

Price: $100 from Amazon

Cubii Pro desk elliptical

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Living in Queens at the height of the pandemic in New York — and dealing with my own personal health issues — I basically didn’t leave my apartment in April or May. Cubii’s sit down elliptical isn’t a replacement for full body exercise, but it’s a nice supplement, if you’re housebound for any reason.

 

I might have to put it under my desk again as the weather starts getting cold. There’s a mobile component, as well, that tracks progress and integrates it into third-party trackers like Apple Health.

Price: $349 from Amazon

Nest Audio

Headphones are necessary for working from home, but I’d also recommend getting a semi-decent speaker for your desk. A smart speaker is likely the path of least resistance for listening to streaming services like Spotify, and Nest Audio is probably the most well-rounded of the bunch. Google Assistant is great for all of the smart stuff and the new hardware sounds really solid.

Price: $100 from Amazon

Aarke Carbonator

Image Credits: Aarke

Did I need to spend $200 on a seltzer maker? No, of course not. Do I regret spending $200 on a seltzer maker? Also no. Aarke’s system looks great, has a solid build and the pulling down that hand crank is decidedly satisfying. Hydration is important, friends. Honorable mention to the LARQ UV disinfecting bottle. You’ll need something to drink that carbonated water out of, after all.

Price: $200 from Aarke

Really good, customizable lighting for the entire office

Image Credits: Philips

Bonus entry, this one from TechCrunch Editor Greg Kumparak:

I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and honestly the most important change I’ve made this year is vastly improving my home office’s lighting situation. Lighting — both natural and artificial — is hugely important to how we feel throughout the day, and being able to customize the lights to your exact likings is one of the huge plusses of working from home. No more awful flickering fluorescent lights! Want to make the lights purple and blue? You do you.

Smart lighting lets you do fancy things like shifting the colors to those that make you feel alert/productive, or dim them as evening approaches. During the California wildfires, when smoke and haze dyed the sky a terrifying orange, I shifted all of my lighting to be way more blue than it otherwise would be to help my brain realize it was the afternoon and not, as it seemed, an impossibly long sunrise.

Philips Hue bulbs are a solid pick, generally. They offer a ton of flexibility and options, the downside being that they’re generally on the more expensive end. I also don’t expect Philips to drop support for the Hue line or go out of business any time soon. New competition has been entering the market at lower price points, but my hesitation there is always how well they’ll be supported in the years to come.

If they’ve already got other smart lights around their house though, try to stick within the same brand. It makes things considerably easier to not have to deal with new hubs, apps, etc.

Price: $90 for a starter pack of two Philips Hue color shifting bulbs from Amazon

#apple, #cubii, #gift-guide-2020, #google, #imac, #nest-audio, #tc

0

Apple moving forward with plan to limit “creepy” user tracking

A man glowers at an iPhone, just as ad firms are worried iOS users will when they discover how they are being tracked and that they can opt out of it.

Enlarge / A man glowers at an iPhone, just as ad firms are worried iOS users will when they discover how they are being tracked and that they can opt out of it. (credit: Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Apple’s plan to add a new privacy feature to iOS to limit “invasive, even creepy” tracking by third-party firms is nothing but an abuse of market power to stifle competition, Facebook—a third-party tracking firm extraordinaire—claims.

Apple in June announced that iOS 14 would make a change requiring app developers to notify users if their app collects a unique device code, known as an IDFA (ID for Advertisers), and require that collection to be an opt-in setting. After pushback from Facebook and other firms, however, Apple delayed implementation of the new policy and launched iOS 14 in September without enabling it. The company said instead the feature would be added “early next year” to give developers more time to update their apps accordingly.

Apple stands behind its plan to implement the new app tracking transparency (ATT) feature next year and plans to move forward with it, Jane Horvath, senior director of global privacy at Apple, said in a letter to eight civil, human, and digital rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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#antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #ios, #policy, #privacy

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Apple pushes out iOS 14.2.1, and it’s mostly bug fixes

The iPhone 12 mini. iOS 14.2.1 fixes an issue that affected the lock screen on this phone.

Enlarge / The iPhone 12 mini. iOS 14.2.1 fixes an issue that affected the lock screen on this phone. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Yesterday, Apple released iOS 14.2.1 to fix bugs users have encountered since iOS 14.2 launched on November 5. Unlike many other iOS releases, this release was not accompanied by updates to all of the company’s other operating systems.

The update fixes a bug that caused an unresponsive lock screen specifically on the iPhone 12 mini, and it addressed an issue that prevented MMS messages from coming in. Further, 14.2.1 fixes a problem with sound quality on connected hearing devices.

Here are Apple’s release notes for iOS 14.2.1:

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#apple, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-2, #ios-14-2-1, #iphone, #iphone-12-mini, #tech

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“We are giddy”—interviewing Apple about its Mac silicon revolution

The graphic representing the Apple M1 chip, as presented by Apple at an event earlier this month.

The graphic representing the Apple M1 chip, as presented by Apple at an event earlier this month.

Some time ago, in an Apple campus building, a group of engineers got together. Isolated from others in the company, they took the guts of old MacBook Air laptops and connected them to their own prototype boards with the goal of building the very first machines that would run macOS on Apple’s own, custom-designed, ARM-based silicon.

To hear Apple’s Craig Federighi tell the story, it sounds a bit like a callback to Steve Wozniak in a Silicon Valley garage so many years ago. And this week, Apple finally took the big step that those engineers were preparing for: the company released the first Macs running on Apple Silicon, beginning a transition of the Mac product line away from Intel’s CPUs, which have been industry-standard for desktop and laptop computers for decades.

In a conversation shortly after the M1 announcement with Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, SVP of Worldwide Marketing Greg Joswiak, and SVP of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji, we learned that—unsurprisingly—Apple has been planning this change for many, many years.

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#apple, #apple-m1, #apple-silicon, #arm, #craig-federighi, #features, #greg-joswiak, #intel, #interview, #johny-srouji, #mac, #macos, #tech

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Google Chrome is available as an Apple M1 native app today

Chrome isn't available in the App Store—you'll need to download it using Safari. When you do, Google will ask you which version you'd like to download.

Enlarge / Chrome isn’t available in the App Store—you’ll need to download it using Safari. When you do, Google will ask you which version you’d like to download. (credit: Jim Salter)

The Google Chrome browser is now available as an Apple M1 native application, for those of you lucky enough to have M1 Mac Mini, Macbook Air, or Macbook Pro systems. (If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, the M1 is Apple’s newest in-house-designed ARM silicon, which the company began selling in traditional form-factor laptops and Mac Minis for the first time this week.)

Google presents Chrome for download as either an x86_64 package or an M1 native option—which comes across as a little odd, since the M1 native version is actually a universal binary, which works on either M1 or traditional Intel Macs. Presumably, Google is pushing separate downloads due to the much smaller file size necessary for the x86_64-only package—the universal binary contains both x86_64 and ARM applications, and weighs in at 165MiB to the Intel-only package’s 96MiB.

Performance

In our earlier testing, we declared that the previous version of Google Chrome—which was available only as an x86_64 binary, and needed to be run using Rosetta 2—was perfectly fine. That was and is a true statement; we find it difficult to believe anyone using the non-native binary for Chrome under an M1 machine would find it “slow.” That said, Google’s newer, ARM-native .dmg is available today, and—as expected—it’s significantly faster, if you’re doing something complicated enough in your browser to notice.

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#apple, #apple-m1, #arm, #google, #google-chrome, #m1, #m1-native, #tech, #universal-binary

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Tech in the Biden era

President-elect Joe Biden may have spent eight years in an administration that doted on the tech industry, but that long honeymoon, punctuated by four years of Trump, looks to be over.

Tech is on notice in 2020. The Russian election interference saga of the 2016 election opened the floodgates for social media’s ills. The subsequent years unleashed dangerous torrents of homegrown extremism and misinformation that either disillusioned or radicalized regular people. A cluster of tech’s biggest data brokers further consolidated power, buying up any would-be competitor they stumbled across and steamrolling everything else. Things got so bad that Republicans and Democrats, in uncanny agreement, are both pushing plans to regulate tech.

Suddenly, allowing the world’s information merchants to grow, unmolested, into towering ad-fed behemoths over the last decade looked like a huge mistake. And that’s where we are today.

Biden and big tech

Biden didn’t make attacking tech a cornerstone of his campaign and mostly avoided weighing in on tech issues, even as Elizabeth Warren stirred the big tech backlash into the campaign conversation. His attitude toward the tech industry at large is a bit mysterious, but there are some things we do know.

The president-elect is expected to keep the Trump administration’s antitrust case against Google on track, potentially even opening additional cases into Facebook, Amazon and Apple. But his campaign also leaned on former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for early fundraising, so the relationship to Google looks a bit more complex than the Biden team’s open contempt for a company like Facebook.

As Biden picked up the nomination and the months wore on, it became clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s chumminess with Trump’s White House was unlikely to continue into a Biden administration. By September, the Biden campaign had penned a scathing letter to Mark Zuckerberg denouncing Facebook as the “foremost propagator” of election disinformation, and that frustration doesn’t seem to have dissipated. His deputy communications director recently criticized Facebook for “shredding” the fabric of democracy. It appears that Facebook could come to regret the many decisions it’s made to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces over the last four years.

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for all tech — big tech isn’t everything. There are plenty of potential bright spots, from Biden’s climate plans (lack of Senate control notwithstanding), which could crack open a whole new industry and shower it in federal dollars, to his intention to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, from telecommunications and transportation to energy-efficient housing. 

And antitrust legislation, usually framed as an existential threat to “tech” broadly, actually stands to benefit the startup scene, where the largest tech companies have walled off many paths to innovation with years of anti-competitive behavior. If Congress, states and/or the Justice Department manages to get anywhere with the antitrust actions percolating now — and there are many things percolating — the result could open up paths for startups that would prefer a more interesting exit than being bought and subsumed (best case) or shuttered (worst case) into one of five or so tech mega-companies.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is another wildcard. Hailing from tech’s backyard, Harris brings a distinctly Bay Area vibe to the office. Most interesting is Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West. West is Uber’s chief legal officer and played a prominent role in pushing for California’s Proposition 22, which absolved gig economy companies like Lyft and Uber from the need to grant their workers benefits afforded to full-time employees. Siding with organized labor, Harris landed on the other side of the issue.

The extent of her relationships in the tech world isn’t totally clear, but she apparently has a friendly relationship with Sheryl Sandberg, who was a frontrunner for a Treasury or Commerce position four years ago in the advent of a Hillary Clinton win. 

The Biden administration will also have all kinds of quiet ties to power players in the tech world, many of whom served in the Obama years and then made a beeline for Silicon Valley. Apple’s Lisa Jackson, formerly of Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and Jay Carney, a former Obama spokesman who sits comfortably as SVP of global corporate affairs at Amazon, are two examples there.

Transition names from tech

The Biden administration’s transition list is generously peppered with names from the tech industry, though some of them are likely grandfathered in from the Obama era rather than pulled directly for their more recent industry experience. The list named Matt Olsen, Uber’s chief trust and security officer, for his prior experience in the intel community under Obama rather than his ridesharing industry insights, for example.

The list doesn’t include any names fresh from Facebook or Google, but it does include four members from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and one from Eric Schmidt’s philanthropic project Schmidt Futures. The list also suggests a degree of continuity with the Obama era, with the inclusion of Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, and Nicole Wong, a former deputy chief technology officer under Obama who previously worked at Twitter and Google. The transition also includes a smattering of names that served in the digital services agency 18F and some from the USDS, which borrows talent from the tech world to solve public problems.

Other names from the tech world include Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah and Clare Gallagher, Lyft’s Brandon Belford, Arthur Plews of Stripe, Dell CTO Ann Dunkin and quite a few more. These transition figures will help the administration fill the many open slots in a new government, but they’re less telling than who gets called to the cabinet. 

Tech in the cabinet? Maybe.

Beyond reading the tea leaves of the transition team and Biden’s previous statements here and there, we’re in for a wait. The administration’s picks for its cabinets will say a lot about its priorities, but for now we’re mostly left with the rumor mill. 

What does the rumor mill suggest? Meg Whitman, the former HP and eBay CEO most recently at the helm of failed short-form streaming platform Quibi, keeps coming up as a symbolic across-the-aisle pick for the Commerce Department, though Quibi’s spectacular dive probably doesn’t bode well for her chances.

Eric Schmidt’s name has bubbled up to lead some kind of White House tech task force, but that seems ill-fated considering the federal antitrust case against Google and the broader legislative appetite for doing something about big tech. But Alphabet board member Roger Ferguson, whose name has been floating around for Treasury Secretary, just stepped down from his current position at a finance firm, kicking up more speculation.

Seth Harris, who served in Obama’s Labor Department, made at least one list suggesting he could land a cabinet position. Harris, who is already involved in the Biden transition, also has the controversial distinction of proposing a “new legal category” of worker “for those who occupy the gray area between employees and independent contractors.” Lyft apparently cited his paper specifically after Prop 22 passed. With labor a hot issue in general right now — and Bernie Sanders himself potentially in the running for the same role — Harris would likely ignite a firestorm of controversy among labor activists if appointed to helm the department. 

On the other side of the coin, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra could be considered for a cabinet-level role in the Department of Justice. Becerra isn’t from the tech world, but as California’s AG he’s been stationed there and his department currently has its own antitrust case against Google simmering. In a recent interview with Bloomberg about antitrust issues under the Biden administration, Becerra denounced “behemoths” in the tech industry that stifle innovation, noting that state AGs have “taken the lead” on pressing tech companies on anti-competitive behavior.

“At the end of the day we all want competition, right?” Becerra said. “But here’s the thing, competition is essential if you want innovation.” Becerra, who succeeded Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she left the Attorney General’s office for Congress, could also again follow in her footsteps, filling the vacant seat she will leave in the Senate come January.

All told, we’re seeing some familiar names in the mix, but 2020 isn’t 2008. Tech companies that emerged as golden children over the last ten years are radioactive now. Regulation looms on the horizon in every direction. Whatever policy priorities emerge out of the Biden administration, Obama’s technocratic gilded age is over and we’re in for something new.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #government, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #tc, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #white-house

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