Sofia Sapega looked forward to finishing law school and was not particularly political, friends said. But in Belarus, having a relationship with a dissident can now mean jail.
Apple incorporated the announcement of this year’s Apple Design Award winners into its virtual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) online event, instead of waiting until the event had wrapped, like last year. Ahead of WWDC, Apple previewed the finalists, whose apps and games showcased a combination of technical achievement, design and ingenuity. This evening, Apple announced the winners across six new award categories.
In each category, Apple selected one app and one game as the winner.
In the Inclusivity category, winners supported people from a diversity of backgrounds, abilities and languages.
This year, winners included U.S.-based Aconite’s highly accessible game, HoloVista, where users can adjust various options for motion control, text sizes, text contrast, sound, and visual effect intensity. In the game, users explore using the iPhone’s camera to find hidden objects, solve puzzles and more. (Our coverage)
Another winner, Voice Dream Reader, is a text-to-speech app that support more than two dozen languages and offers adaptive features and a high level of customizable settings.
In the Delight and Fun, category, winners offer memorable and engaging experiences enhanced by Apple technologies. Belgium’s Pok Pok Playroom, a kid entertainment app that spun out of Snowman (Alto’s Adventure series), won for its thoughtful design and use of subtle haptics, sound effects and interactions. (Our coverage)
Another winner included U.K.s’ Little Orpheus, a platformer that combines storytelling, surprises, and fun and offers a console-like experience in a casual game.
The Interaction category winners showcase apps that offer intuitive interfaces and effortless controls, Apple says.
The U.S.-based snarky weather app CARROT Weather won for its humorous forecasts, unique visuals, and entertaining experience, which is also available as Apple Watch faces and widgets.
Canada’s Bird Alone game combines gestures, haptics, parallax, and dynamic sound effects in clever ways to brings its world to life.
A Social Impact category doled out awards to Denmark’s Be My Eyes, which enables people who are blind and low vision to identify objects by pairing them with volunteers from around the world using their camera. Today, it supports over 300K users who are assisted by over 4.5M volunteers. (Our coverage)
U.K.’s ustwo games won in this category for Alba, a game that teaches about respecting the environment as players save wildlife, repair a bridge, clean up trash and more. The game also plants a tree for every download.
The Visuals and Graphics winners feature “stunning imagery, skillfully drawn interfaces, and high-quality animations,” Apple says.
Belarus-based Loóna offers sleepscape sessions which combine relaxing activities and atmospheric sounds with storytelling to help people wind down at night. The app was recently awarded Google’s “best app” of 2020.
China’s Genshin Impact won for pushing the visual frontier on gaming, as motion blur, shadow quality, and frame rate can be reconfigured on the fly. The game had previously made Apple’s Best of 2020 list and was Google’s best game of 2020.
Innovation winners included India’s NaadSadhana, an all-in-one, studio-quality music app that helps artists perform and publish. The app uses A.I. and Core ML to listen and provide feedback on the accuracy of notes, and generates a backing track to match.
Riot Games’ League of Legends: Wild Rift (U.S.) won for taking a complex PC classic and delivering a full mobile experience that includes touchscreen controls, an auto-targeting system for newcomers, and a mobile-exclusive camera setting.
The winners this year will receive a prize package that includes hardware and the award itself.
A video featuring the winners is here on the Apple Developer website.
“This year’s Apple Design Award winners have redefined what we’ve come to expect from a great app experience, and we congratulate them on a well-deserved win,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations, in a statement. “The work of these developers embodies the essential role apps and games play in our everyday lives, and serve as perfect examples of our six new award categories.”
Even with U.N.’s previous goals unmet, delegates tried to water down provisions regarding protections for vulnerable populations and patents for essential drugs.
Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.
As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:
When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.
The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.
Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.
Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.
In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:
“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”
It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.
Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.
Roman Protasevich, an activist who was detained when his commercial flight was diverted to Belarus, appeared in a video that aired on state television confessing to organizing illegal rallies. His family says the comments were made under duress.
Before his apparent suicide attempt, Stepan Latypov said he had been tortured and his family threatened, amid President Alexander G. Lukashenko’s efforts to stifle dissent.
The move is the latest Western response to the forced landing of a European commercial flight with a Belarusian dissident aboard.
The skies over Eastern Europe became a geopolitical checkerboard, and a Swiss email provider pushed back against Belarus’s claims of an emailed bomb threat.
Why did the leader of Belarus force a commercial airplane to land? Who was he after? And what might happen next?
What’s happening in Belarus could easily soon happen in Russia.
For those trying to catch up on the “state hijacking” of an airplane, the arrest of a dissident and what preceded it.
For years, the leader of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has played the West against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Now, weakened and isolated, he is losing leverage.
Disgusted by the brutality of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Mr. Protasevich bravely embarked at 16 on a life in opposition.
Mr. Lukashenko has gone too far, and the response should be convincing and swift.
The extraordinary forced landing of a commercial flight with a Belarusian dissident aboard escalated into one of the biggest flare-ups in East-West tensions in recent years.
The European Union told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after the country forced a commercial flight to land in order to arrest a journalist.
Mr. Protasevich, 26, is an exiled dissident whose reach drew an authoritarian ruler into a gambit that outraged Western governments.
The dissident, Roman Protasevich, co-founded a Telegram channel that is a popular opposition outlet in Belarus. The plane was flying from Athens to Lithuania when it was forced down.
The dissident, Roman Protasevich, co-founded a Telegram channel that is a popular opposition outlet in Belarus. The plane was flying from Athens to Lithuania when it was forced down.
The song’s lyrics were found to violate the competition’s rules in what critics called an endorsement of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s crackdown on antigovernment protests.
After crushing mass demonstrations calling for his ouster, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has engaged in a broad crackdown on dissent and stepped up retaliation against critics.
The app has helped fuel democracy movements in Iran and Belarus but now faces scrutiny as extremists and conspiracy theorists flock to it amid crackdowns by Facebook and Twitter on disinformation.
The virus has been crushing spirits around the world, but some people refuse to be bowed. Here are their stories.
Molchat Doma, a synth-pop trio, has become an unlikely social media star. Back home, its music was the soundtrack to a traumatic year.
The iron-fisted tactics used against Georgia and Ukraine seem to have fallen out of favor, replaced by a more subtle blend of soft power and an implicit military threat.
The country’s autocratic ruler, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, is hanging on. But his fate may be decided in Moscow, where patience is wearing thin.
“We’re now approaching the technological threshold where the little guys can do it to the big guys,” one researcher said.
Berlin’s patience seems to be wearing thin.
Foreign ministers of the bloc, which had imposed sanctions on other Belarus officials, agreed to apply them to the country’s president, pressuring him to call new elections.
Fueled by the pandemic, uprisings in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan and a war in the Caucasus region are undermining the influence of the Russian leader.
The delay in punishing Belarus for the crackdown that followed its flawed elections had been a huge embarrassment for the bloc.
From Myanmar to Canada, people are asking: How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And why won’t the president commit to a peaceful transition of power?
E.U. foreign policy moves require unanimous support from the member nations — a rule that continually undercuts the bloc’s bold ambitions for global influence.
Despite weeks of mass demonstrations against his re-election, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko declared victory over protesters as he began a sixth term.
My husband was jailed for daring to run against our president. So I ran in his place.
After days of pleading to enter Ukraine despite virus travel restrictions, some pilgrims sang the country’s national anthem, to no avail. Most turned back on Friday.
E.U. leaders are still learning to navigate a world ever more dangerous for them, while relations with the United States grow more and more awkward.
Hundreds of Jewish pilgrims seeking to travel from Belarus to Ukraine to visit the grave of a revered rabbi were barred from entering because of virus restrictions.
President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has for weeks tried to quell protests against his re-election claim. A day before meeting President Vladimir V. Putin, his main backer, he continued to crack down on the opposition.
America and Europe must make clear that they stand behind the Belarusian people’s demand for fair elections.
The country would normally be excited about the strong performances of Belarusian athletes. But mass demonstrations and fury against an authoritarian president have loomed over their tournament.
A plan by security agents to expel Maria Kolesnikova came unstuck at the border when she tore up her passport.
From Trump to Lukashenko, authoritarians are discovering that this isn’t their kind of crisis.
Forced underground in the 1990s to a life of cover gigs and guitar lessons, they are re-emerging amid the country’s political awakening.
Yesterday the four employees (pictured) of US-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in what appears to be an act of state-led retaliation, after the company’s founders joined protests against the 26 year-long regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko is widely believed by international observers to have rigged the country’s recent elections in his favor, preventing the election of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
PandaDoc — which has raised $51.1M and is now headquartered in San Francisco after debuting at a TechCrunch Meetup in Berlin in 2013 — issued a statement saying their Minsk development office was raided by police and the ‘Financial Investigation Department’ yesterday morning.
PandaDoc has released a statement on a new web site, SavePandaDoc, outlining the incident, saying employees had been prevented from leaving the office, refused access to lawyers, and a director was taken away by Police.
Four of the arrested PandaDoc employees have been charged with embezzling 107,000 BYR ($41,000) from company and therefore avoiding tax. The employees have been detained for two months.
However, PandaDoc released a statement saying: “We declare that this accusation is completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever. All activities of the company were carried out in full compliance with the legislation, which is confirmed by repeated international audits and inspections.”
Now held in custody are (also pictured):
Yulia Shardiko, Chief Accountant
Dmitry Rabtsevich, Director
Victor Kuvshinov, Product Director
Vladislav Mikholap, HR
Although the company HQ is in San Francisco, it has a large office on the Belarusian High Technologies Park, which was set up by the government supposedly to support the tech industry.
PandaDoc said the police raid was likely linked to the fact that the founders of PandaDoc, in particular Mikado, have protested publicly against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, but have done so strictly in a personal capacity.
Mikado recently became a leading voice in the protest movement. He set up an initiative, ProtectBelarus.org, offering Belarusian police officers who had decided to disobey orders to beat and torture protesters financial aid and re-training in the tech industry.
Belarussian police officers are effectively ‘indentured employees’ because they are paid in large sums at the beginning of their contract, but this immediately becomes a debt to the state the moment they decide to break leave their contract.
In a statement, Mikado said that as of August 29th, the platform had received more than 6,000 messages and almost 600 requests for help. The platform is run by volunteers and has no relation to PandaDoc, the company.
Mikado said in a statement: “We are asking international tech community to support PandaDoc by sharing this message and reaction to it with a #SavePandaDoc tag.”
“There is no more law. The authorities do not even try to act according to the law, they simply fabricate cases for political orders that come from above. And if you thought that this would not affect you, then we can safely assure you of the opposite – it has already affected everyone,” the statement reads.
“We will not be silent anymore! The country is full of legal chaos. The actions of the authorities cannot be called anything except genocide and repression. The further it goes, the longer the road back. And soon there will be a cliff. We demand to immediately release our colleagues, close the criminal case, let the company work normally and bring benefits and income, including to the state.”
The company now says it will be forced to close the company in Belarus and “will begin to establish an alternative to the Park of High Technologies outside the Republic of Belarus.”
PandaDoc only recently raised $30 million in a Series B extension from One Peak, Microsoft Venture Fund M12 and EBRD Venture Fund.
After the Belarusian presidential election on August 9th (which was not recognized as free and fair by the EU, the UK and the US due to widely reported and documented vote-rigging in favor of Lukashenko) the police violently cracked down on peaceful protests, leading to six reported deaths and 450 UN-documented cases of police torture.
How the leader frequently called “Europe’s last dictator” won power — and how he plans to hold on to it in the face of mounting protests.
The protests, strikes and brutal police response invite comparison to Solidarity’s campaign for freedom from Moscow 40 years ago. There are differences.
Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the autocratic president of Belarus since 1994, is no longer brutally suppressing demonstrations that have gone on for weeks, but he shows no signs of going away.
Comfortable urban elites long tolerated the eccentricities of the country’s ruler, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. Then came the coronavirus and a blatantly falsified presidential election.
He said in a television interview that Russia had formed a security force that could intervene if its neighbor “gets out of control.”